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Monday, August 13, 2012

'The Siren' The Original Sinners #1 by Tiffany Reisz

 Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Notorious Nora Sutherlin is famous for her delicious works of erotica, each one more popular with readers than the last. But her latest manuscript is different-more serious, more personal-and she's sure it'll be her breakout book...if it ever sees the light of day. Zachary Easton holds Nora's fate in his well-manicured hands. The demanding British editor agrees to handle the book on one condition: he wants complete control. Nora must rewrite the entire novel to his exacting standards-in six weeks-or it's no deal. Nora's gruelling writing sessions with Zach are draining...and shockingly arousing. And a dangerous former lover has her wondering which is more torturous-staying away from him...or returning to his bed? Nora thought she knew everything about being pushed to your limits. But in a world where passion is pain, nothing is ever that simple.

Zachary Easton has just been given the hardest job of his career – to take on popular erotica author, Nora Sutherlin, as his new pet-project before he leaves his New York publishing firm in six weeks time, and moves to Los Angeles.

Cheap-thrills erotica may be all the rage at the moment, but Zach is not amused by the thought of editing smut. But, as his boss J.P. points out to Zach, in this current economic climate if you can’t eat it people aren’t buying it (and a credible reviewer called Sutherlin’s latest novel ‘edible’). So Zach is tasked with editing Nora’s latest work, and overseeing the possibility of a contract for her at the prestigious publishing house.

Smut her writing may be, but Zach is surprised when he meets Nora Sutherlin in person – and finds a beautiful, articulate, straight-talking and quirky woman. But while Zach is impressed with the woman behind the guttersnipe persona, he also quickly comes to realize that some of the more outrageous rumours about this famous erotica writer are indeed, disturbingly, true. . . . and in the case of Nora Sutherlin, some things are even stranger than the fiction she writes.

She has a nineteen-year-old ‘house boy’ called Wes. A sweet Southern gentleman and determined virgin living under the same roof as the infamously sexy Nora Sutherlin. Nora also has a strange, tangled history with a man called Søren – whom she had been in love with since she was 15, and was in a 13-year relationship with him until a recent, disastrous break-up that is still hurting her. About this, Zach can sympathise. It was the degeneration of his marriage to Grace that sent Zach to New York, and he’s still heartsick over losing the love of his life.

But perhaps the strangest truth that Nora Sutherlin holds close is the fact that she really does participate in the BDSM scene she also writes. But Zach has no idea just how deep into the sadomasochistic culture Nora is, until she tempts him to join her dark side. . .

‘The Siren’ is the first book in a new erotica series called ‘The Original Sinners’ by Tiffany Reisz.

Truth be told, I was a little hesitant to start this book. I hate the cover – HATE it. I kept thinking that was a pair of knickers falling down around ankles instead of rope (either way – I still get the impression of seeing ankles under a bathroom stall door). I know that there is some great erotica out there; it has just been a small gripe of mine that those books don’t have covers that reflect their worth.

Cover judging aside, I can imagine that there are many people starting this book who may be going in with some trepidation and eye-rolls at the ready, assuming (like I did) that this would be part of the uninspired ‘Fifty Shades’ band-wagon. Weisz counteracts that initial hesitation though, by beginning the book introducing us to Zachary Easton who is just as reluctant to edit erotica as some people may be to read it. I loved the few opening scenes with Zach arguing with his boss, J.P., about his having to take on renowned ‘guttersnipe’ erotica author, Nora Sutherlin. I can actually imagine that there are many publishers and editors having this very argument right now;

“Nora Sutherlin?” Zach infused the name with as much disgust as he could muster, a considerable amount at the moment. “You must be joking.”
“Yes, Nora Sutherlin. I've thought about it, looked at the sales projections. I think we should acquire her. I want you to work with her.”
“I will do no such thing. It’s pornography.”
“It’s not pornography.” J.P. peered at Zach over the top of his glasses. “It’s erotica. Very good erotica.”
“I had no idea there was such a thing.”
“Two words - Anaïs Nin,” J.P. retorted.
“Two more words – Booker Prize.”

Thus begins ‘The Siren’ and my pleasant surprise at finding a truly great erotica novel, hidden under that garish cover.

Reisz’s book is actually a hard one to pin down. On the one hand, it’s very much a story-within-a-story, with Reisz acting as a veritable erotica magician and revealing some of the wonderful techniques behind a genre that most people would describe as ‘throw-away’, ‘low-brow’ trash (or, in Zach’s words, ‘pornography’). I loved that Reisz partly used ‘The Siren’ to put to rest a few uninformed opinions about ‘guttersnipe’ erotica. She pulls out names like Anaïs Nin (one of the first female erotica writers) and discusses the literary techniques behind writing *good* erotica – and for anyone who thinks ‘literary erotica’ is an oxymoron, I'd call you close-minded and point you to Reisz’s book for an education;

“I've noticed you usually shy away from the long descriptive passages in your book,” he said.
“I know people think erotica is just a romance novel with rougher sex. It’s not. If it’s a subgenre of anything, it’s horror.”
“Horror? Really?”
“Romance is sex plus love. Erotica is sex plus fear. You’re terrified of me, aren’t you?”
“Slightly” he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.
“A smart horror writer will never put too much detail in about the monster. The readers’ imaginations can conjure their own demons. In erotica you never want your main characters to be too physically specific. That way your readers can insert their own fantasies, their own fears. Erotica is a joint effort between writer and reader.”

But in beginning ‘The Siren’ I did think the book would be a straight-up erotica romance (in the same vein as ‘Fifty Shades). It’s not. And it is. Like I said, this is a hard book to pin down. Initially I thought this would be a love story between Zach and Nora – the erotica writer and her reluctant editor. But that idea is quickly dispelled, when it becomes apparent that Zach is still very much in love with his wife, Grace, who he left behind in London after a year of their marriage slowly (but not entirely) collapsing in on itself.

Then there was Nora’s relationship with Wes – her ‘house boy’ she so enjoys flirting with, but who she must remember is for looking at, not touching. Wes is a Southern, church-going virgin who Nora met in a class she took at Wes’s school (he’s a medical student who needed an arts strain). Nora pays Wes to maintain her house while she’s in a writing fugue – but there is also something of forbidden love between them. Wes is very preoccupied with keeping Nora away from her old BDSM lifestyle, particularly from a man named Søren who Nora recently left after a 13-year love affair. But while there is something romantic, there’s also a hopelessness between Nora and Wes – that she is also recapturing in her latest novel (under the character names of Caroline and William).

And that finally brings us to Søren – Nora’s first love, and old ‘dominant’. He is the biggest mystery of all, and still a pervading presence in Nora’s life. Søren was a very tricky character – before readers (and Zach) meet him, we learn a lot of unpleasant things about him that are at war with Nora’s romantic notions of what they used to have. And when we do meet him, it becomes apparent why he is such a giant in Nora’s romantic life – but we’re also meant to be very wary of him for a number of reasons (not least of all being his profession).

‘The Siren’ is really about Nora connecting with these three men in her life – Zach, Wes and Søren. But readers shouldn’t expect a romance to come straight away because Reisz is a true believer, like Nora, that erotica is more akin to horror than romance. All three characters, Nora especially, are messy and imperfect – they make poor decisions and live with the weight of their mistakes. Throwing them all together creates a masterfully tangled web, and by the end of ‘The Siren’ I was relieved to learn that Reisz has at least two more books due to continue Nora’s story – ‘The Angel’ coming September, and ‘The Prince’ in November. Because I can assure you that nothing is settled by the end of ‘The Siren’ – not by a long shot.

Tiffany Reisz’s ‘The Siren’ may be being touted as a ‘fill the void’ read after ‘Fifty Shades’, but I would say this is a far richer story than that best-seller. Reisz’s writing is, on the whole, marvellous and further help in putting to bed that old rumour that there’s no such thing as ‘literary erotica’. I generally loved her writing. There were some scenes and lines that really struck me and stayed with me;

“Genesis 1:1, God said let there be light and there was light . . . God created the world with words, Eleanor. Words are the thread in the fabric of the universe.”

She does not sacrifice character for smutty plot, but neither does she skimp on the nitty-gritty details of the BDSM world. But perhaps best of all is that she shows both sides to this sexual underground – never denouncing its practice, but at least explaining the compulsion behind sadomasochism. Zach and Wes are the ones who don’t understand Nora’s need to hurt and be hurt. And Reisz does write murky waters – Søren certainly won’t be every woman’s cup of tea let alone their idea of a romantic hero, and I think many more will be frightened/revolted by him because he is a pure sadomasochist – only able to feel sexual gratification in hurting others. But for all that the sex and discussions of BDSM are uncomfortable, I appreciated that Reisz showed both sides to the lifestyle – and I really don’t think she set out to convince or disapprove either way. Some readers will come away from ‘The Siren’ thinking that Nora’s relationships are unhealthy, others may be more lenient and see that sex is as complicated as love in its manifestations. The point is that Reisz writes from all sides in a most spectacular way.

If I have any complaints about the book it’s that quite a lot of emotional action is jam-packed into the last sprint, particularly concerning Zach, and I finished the book wishing we could revisit him but guessing (from the blurbs of her upcoming books) that we won’t I have it on good authority (the lovely author Tweeted me!) that Zach will be making another appearance in the series! That being said, there is more than enough drama between Nora and Wes, Nora and Søren and a few interesting secondary character to carry this story over a series . . . and I do fully intend to read everything else Tiffany Reisz writes.

There is erotic and then there is good erotica, ladies and gentlemen, and Reisz writes damn good erotica – just read ‘The Siren’ if you don’t believe me.

4.5/5

The Siren will be available from 29 August online at Harlequin www.harlequinbooks.com.au and in bookstores nationally for RRP AUS $19.99.

2 comments:

  1. I adore this review, and I loved that book to bits. Brilliant, shocking and very raw. Miles away from Fifty. So glad you liked it, and I'll definitely be reading more of Miss Reisz.

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  2. YES!!! I loved it (with reservations) too. Can't wait for The Angel. (What's up with the cover of The Prince? He looks like he's got some sort of facial deformity...I don't remember that from the books. Am I forgetting something?)

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