August 2012, Erotica
Mira, $13.95, 432 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778313530 Part of a series
Note: This review contains slight spoilers.
There are some books I recommend because they charm me and I absolutely adored every moment of reading them. However, "endearing" is not an apt word to describe The Siren because while some portions of the story were very moving, other parts will likely make readers extremely uncomfortable or even angry. Yet the writing in this book is near flawless most of the time, and the author shows great insight into her characters and their world. Even at the times when I couldn't entirely enjoy this book, I could greatly respect the writer's skill and the artistry of what I read.
First of all, readers should be aware that while the cover blurb suggests this tale to be an erotic romance between an author and her editor, this novel is most definitely not a conventional romance novel. While it contains love stories and various romantic elements, I would consider this book erotica rather than erotic romance. The dynamics between Nora and the various men in her life by turns intrigued, disgusted, and touched me deeply, and I found the characters fascinating, but in the end, the author tells us Nora's own story, rather than a romance involving a primary couple. In fact, I think Nora herself describes parts of this book when she says,"A love story is not the same as a romance novel. A romance novel is the story of two people falling in love against their will. This is a story of two people who leave each other against their will. It starts to end the minute they meet."
While Nora spoke of a fictitious book her own character writes throughout the course of this novel, her description fits at least a portion of The Siren perfectly. So, if it's not a genre romance, what is this story? Primarily, it's the tale of Nora Sutherlin, infamous author of erotica, who wants to make the transition to publication by a mainstream publishing house. Zach Easton has gotten the assignment to edit Nora, and he starts off feeling somewhat less than thrilled. Zach sees himself editing literature, and he considers Nora a peddler of smut rather than a legitimate author.
Not surprisingly, Zach finds his perceptions getting altered once he meets Nora and begins to see what she is capable of writing. He demands extensive revisions of her, and she delivers text as fraught with emotion as it is with sensuality, and Zach finds himself gradually coming to respect Nora's writing talent. He also finds himself intrigued and at times, extremely turned on, by the brazen and often quite humorous author herself. This gives the scenes between the two a dynamic that kept me reading as both the professional and personal chemistry between the two caught my imagination.
While Nora often shows a bold manner and fondness for tweaking the sensibilities of others, she has hidden depths as well. In addition to flirting with her editor, she has a gorgeous college student named Wesley living with her as an intern. Though she and Wesley do not have a sexual relationship, they share a deep friendship and there is a tension between these two that leads to some compelling scenes throughout the books. The dynamic between Nora and the much younger Wesley allows for a great deal of emotional exploration. Nora lets down her guard around Wesley, and readers see sides of her as a person that do not come through in other aspects of her life.
And then there are Nora's secrets. Nora not only writes erotica, but has lived in the BDSM scene for years, including many spent in a relationship with the mysterious Soren. In the beginning of the book, we learn little about Soren, but it is obvious that he has a strong influence over Nora and it becomes apparent that he still haunts her life even though the two broke up years before. The glimpses readers get of their previous relationship aren't exactly hearts and flowers, but there is a raw emotional quality that grabs one even as some of the BDSM elements and power issues between the two can cause one to cringe. Without spoilers, I will simply say that the more I learned about Soren, the less I wanted to see of him in Nora's life. And yet, even as I found Soren creepy, his character also struck me as the most glaring weakness in an otherwise strong book. His wise, all-knowing persona seemed just a little too omniscient, almost inhumanly so.
This book contains intense sex scenes, as well as scenes showing almost overwhelming emotion. In some ways, reading this book was a very intense experience as Nora's life alternately moved me, repelled me, made me respect her, and sometimes even broke my heart. The author does an absolutely phenomenal job of showing rather than telling, and I loved that she could do this not only with Nora's life and various love stories, but also with the writing process Nora went through as an author. Readers really get to know Nora as an entire person and not just as a body acting in BDSM scenes. There's plenty of kinky sex in this book, and there's also introspection, friendship, work, and so much more. Some of the scenes where Nora tries to make sense of her background and her religion packed every bit as much punch as the most intense of the sex scenes.
This book contains all kinds of material that could be triggering (or at least offensive) for some readers, so it's not a book I'd recommend for every single reader. However, it's one of the most unique books I've read in quite some time, and for those brave enough to enter Reisz's world, The Siren is a compelling, unforgettable story. Though I read plenty of things that made me truly uncomfortable, I also found myself feeling deeply, caring about these characters as I read, and coming away from the book with whole passages of words seared into my memory. It's a downright unsettling book in more than one way, but it's darn good writing.
-- Lynn Spencer
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