Book Review

Strange Attractions by Emma Holly

B+

Title: Strange Attractions
Author: Emma Holly
Publication Info: Berkley Sensation 2004
ISBN: 0425198219
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Emma Holly was recommended to me by my sister. How cool is my sister? Pretty fucking cool, because she’s the kind who doesn’t hesitate to recommend fun, smutty books to her younger sister. This may not sound like a big deal; hey, we’re all adults, right? Well, you have yet to meet my family. Most of them are firmly convinced I’m still a ditzy 14-year-old who can’t remember where she left her keys most of the time, which so does not apply any more. I’m now a ditzy 27-year-old who can’t remember where she left her purse half of the time.

This book started off with a bang. I mean, it pushed allll the right buttons for me. How good was it? Let’s just say that after reading about 6 pages in the bookstore, I toddled right up to the counter and bought it. Unfortunately, the fun sexiness of the book is dragged down by sloppy New Age pseudoscientific feel-good squishiness masquerading as quantum mechanics, not to mention a completely unnecessary suspense side-plot. I get what Holly was trying to achieve with the suspense-y bits, but when I can hear the Deus Ex Machina clanking away busily to create the necessary setup, that’s a sign that the author should’ve tried something else. Luckily the psychobabble and the Machine don’t make too many appearances, which means the happy, sexy bits outweigh the clunkiness.

The setup is pretty simple: B.G. Grantham is a Scientist of Very Big Brain who lives and conducts research in a mansion located in an isolated part of Washington. When he’s tired of conducting research into the more arcane aspects of quantum physics, he turns his attention to human psychology. Specifically, he’s interested in the mechanics of desire and how people behave when the circumstances surrounding their sexual release are tightly regulated, and to this end his entire household participates in a sexual game in which he has the ultimate control. Every once in a while he invites new candidates to the mansion to participate in the game. He’s assisted in this endeavor by his childhood friend and long-time lover, Eric Berne, who becomes the guest’s “keeper” throughout his or her stay.

Their latest candidate is Charity Wills, who’s beyoootiful (aren’t they always?) and sassy but not exactly on the fast-track to success. Charity is initially skeptical, but agrees after they promise to pay for a college education—a promise that’ll be honored whether or not she decides to play the game for the entire duration. Eric rating five out of five rrrowrs on the Studliness Scale doesn’t hurt, either. Eric, of course, finds himself moved in all sorts of uncomfortable ways by Charity.

The rest of the story can be summarized thus: Much Crazy Sex Happens, occasionally interrupted by the aforementioned squishy claptrap and suspense plot. Along the way, Eric falls in love with Charity, B.G. finds more than his trouser monster being moved by Charity, and Charity? She has two hot men sexing her up and then some. That lucky bitch is having a ball.

Er. I swear the pun was completely unintended. But it’s making me snicker and it’s pretty appropriate, so I’m leaving it in.

The sex scenes and the love story in general break several taboos held dear by many traditional romance novels, namely:

1. The hero and heroine shall be straight as an arrow. If anyone has gay urges, it’s going to be the villain, y’hear? Bonus points if he molests children, double bonus points if the children are his, triple bonus points if he molests the family pet and THEN the children.

2. The hero and heroine shall be monogamous. Once the hero meets the heroine, that’s it, he’s found his soulmate, and he won’t be able to get it up with his mistress even if he tries because the power of True Lurve® will have sucked all the vigor from his dicky-poo, said vigor being restored only by the unschooled yet wildly arousing touch of the heroine.

3. Hot, skanky, meaningless sex with minor characters shall be indulged in ONLY by either the villain(s) or the hero before he meets the heroine.

4. Heroes shall be plentifully be-furred, especially on their chests, to indicate their virility. Shaving body hair is for women and faggots, and you know how we feel about faggots. See point 1 for reference.

Holly breaks all these taboos with great glee, and hoo boy is it fun to read. Like the first time Eric and B.G. get down when Eric comes back from college for summer vacation? Damn. And when Eric and Charity finally hop in bed with B.G. and decide that he needs to be hoist with his own petard? GOOD GODDAMN.

It’s not that I haven’t read other books with lots of rumpy pumpy in them. I’ve read a fair share of Susan Johnson, for example, but reading too much of one of her books in a sitting often leaves me feeling mentally numb because those geysers of love are just squirting non-stop in them thar hills and well, it gets kind of monotonous after a while. What makes Strange Attractions stand out from other sex-fest novels is how Holly creates genuinely likeable characters. Eric, Charity and B.G. all have baggage, but they’re decent people and minimally annoying, despite B.G.‘s resemblance to a particularly lifeless android when he talks. Holly also introduces a lot of variety in the scenes, and she makes the characters wait. And wait. And wait. AND WAIT. B.G. figures out early on that Charity savors the sexual suffering of others brought on by pent-up desire. All I can say is: me and her both, buddy.

The book, alas, isn’t perfect. B.G. is a typical romance novel geek, for one, a peeve which I’ve already discussed at tedious length. When he’s having sex, or when Holly isn’t paying attention and allows B.G. to talk and act like a human instead of an RNG, he’s pretty damn sweet.

And then there’s the parts in the book where the author extrapolates the science wildly and sloppily, like countless other people who read about quantum mechanics and subsequently have their minds blown by the idea of wavefunctions, or by the fact that quantum entanglement (a.k.a. non-locality) has been proven to exist. This leads to mush-minded talk about how “consciousness creates reality” and “you are a quantum being and you embody all possibilities”—shit a knowledgeable quantum mechanician like B.G. should’ve been embarrassed to say because it so grossly misrepresents the science. I’m not going to address all the silliness in this review (I know, big sigh of relief all around!), but if you’re interested, this excellent article debunks some popular misconceptions revolving around quantum mechanics.

One particularly heinous part I will mention, though. Towards the latter half of the book, B.G. explains that particle accelerators can warp spacetime severely enough that the effect can be felt by the whole mansion. Why? Ostensibly because the sub-particles it generates from the collisions travel at the speed of light and therefore pull “pure, undigested quantum stuff” into our dimension. Leaving aside pressing questions such as “What in the fuck is ‘quantum stuff’?” and “What does a quantum gastrointestinal tract look like?” this badly misrepresents how particle accelerators may be able to affect time.

Yes, I know it’s a romance novel. Honestly, I’m not expecting rigorous scientific detail along the lines of hard science fiction, but I would’ve appreciated it if the appalling pseudoscience had been left out. Quantum mechanics is pretty fucking cool as it is—why add extra kookishness to it?

Oh, and the suspense side-plot: really, the less said about it, the better. Let’s just say that some of B.G.‘s experiments have yielded unexpected and not necessarily desirable results, and ultimately it’s all a very transparent machination to speed up the HEA. I don’t object to suspense plots in general; I just want them to feel less slapdash.

However, despite all my bitching and moaning, this book is definitely a keeper. It has the honor of being the first novel specifically labeled as “erotic romance” that I’ve enjoyed reading. It’s also the first love story I’ve read in which the affection and attraction felt by two men equals, if not surpasses, that felt between the hero and heroine—but this is the first romance I’ve read that involves two bisexual heroes who love to play.

May it not be last.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    cw says:

    Your review makes me want to try SA again, since I skimmed it and didn’t get into it the first few times I tried it. I wasn’t as impressed by, say, IN THE FLESH or VELVET GLOVE (or COOKING UP A STORM, which I only skimmed), but I liked TOP OF HER GAME, and I think that had to do with the romance factor in the last. I’m sad, I know, I know…

    I think my favorite EH is either MENAGE (though it’s a little saccharine) or PERSONAL ASSETS. The secondary romance in PA is better (and hotter) than the primary, I think, as the whole daddy-replacement thing kind of icked me out there. :)

    Oh, and EH’s novella in HOT BLOODED was a good vampire romance. Rosario’s rec, there. :D

  2. 2
    Jorie says:

    Thanks for the review.  I’ll be trying it!

  3. 3
    Rosario says:

    I’m about half-way through SA (I confess I started it after reading the first couple of lines in Candy’s geeks post :red: ), and so far, I have to agree with both what you liked and what you didn’t. I’m really looking forward to the BG hoist with his own petard scene!

    cw: glad you liked the Hot Blooded story! Ménage is my favourite EH, too, so the next I’ll read will definitely be Personal Assets!

  4. 4
    Sarah says:

    I just have to say, I quantumly laughed my ass off – rumpy pumpy?! HA!

    I’m also doubly giddy because I know Candy is going to shrink wrap that book in titanium and mail it to me so I can experience the petard-hoisting for my self.

  5. 5
    Kate says:

    That’s the one that Ellen M at AAR loathed—her review got people in blogland off and ranting about the “dang it! Do not review the rumpy pumpy** books if you’re a reviewer who hates erotica.”  http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=244

    **I’m going to use this phrase at least three times today.

  6. 6
    Wendy says:

    Get thee to a bookstore and buy more Emma Holly :-)

    I loved COOKING UP A STORM, and PERSONAL ASSETS is also quite good (like cw, the secondary romance is better than the primary one).  Ohhh, and IN THE FLESH – I really, really liked that one. 

    What I really love about Holly is that she does break taboos.  Repeat after me, gay/bisexual characters do not have to be evil ;-) I also like the fact that her heroines actually enjoy the rumpy pumpy before meeting up with the hero.

  7. 7
    Yummy says:

    deus ex machina?  Fancy.

  8. 8
    Candy says:

    Oh yeah, the library has several different Emma Holly titles, and I’ve put many of them on hold. THIS IS NOT HELPING MY TBR SITUATION, AAARGH.

    Sarah: book will be on the way today. If I don’t spaz out and forget it, like I almost always do. It’s sitting right here, looking all bubble-wrapped and accusing, so hopefully writing this down will help me remember.

    Kate: thanks for the link to the AAR review. Veddy veddy interesting—it’s basically a polar opposite review: what I loved, she hated, and what I disliked, she was interested in.

  9. 9
    sybil says:

    love love love Emma Holly!

    The only erotica I don’t have is In The Flesh.  I have Cooking Up a Storm but haven’t read it yet and Top of Her Game is my fave.

    That being said, I pretty much agree with your review.  LOL like it matters but whatever.

    I need to read her were books.  I have them but haven’t gotten to them.

  10. 10
    Jorie says:

    I loved Emma Holly’s two Victorian novels—Beyond Innocence and Beyond Seduction.  But I couldn’t get into Personal Assets which is the book that made me realize that I don’t want explicit sex on page 7.  I think I need a little more lead time or I’m just left cold.

    So, I’m hoping PA isn’t quite so fast off the mark.  But we’ll see.

  11. 11
    Sarah says:

    I am surprised to note that Books(not)Free has Emma Holly titles, and I have put a bunch on my queue. Hooray – I shall have more rumpy pumpy all to myself. Oh, I am so quantumly happy.

  12. 12
    Wendy Duren says:

    I loved this book.  When I reached the last page, I actually flipped back to page one and read it over again.  The rule breaking, the bisexual heroes, the removal of male body hair, made me a Holly fan for life.

  13. 13
    Candy says:

    Wendy: I’ve never slept with a shaved guy before, but I’ve had accomodating gay friends who shave let me feel ‘em up a little and WHOA. It feels gewd. So reading about B.G.‘s shaven-ness definitely added a bit of zing to the scenes.

  14. 14
    Candy says:

    On re-reading that last comment I made: DUDE, TMI MUCH?

  15. 15
    Sarah says:

    Hello, my name is Candy, and I feel other men’s balzacs.

  16. 16
    Candy says:

    HA! My gay friends aren’t THAT accomodating. They’d have to charge me if I wanted to do that. I should’ve specified that the areas fondled were pretty innocuous—chest, arms and legs.

    OK, I’m just going to curl in a corner and just die of mortification, mmmkay?

  17. 17
    Kate says:

    Is that because Sarah outted you as a man?

  18. 18
    Candy says:

    WTF? Kate, how’d you guess it was me prancing around in my Manties on thesisterisamister.com’s webcam portal?

  19. 19
    cw says:

    OMG I’m dying here. I thought you meant you got to cop a feel of the nethers, too! Hehe.

    I never quite got the appeal of a too-hairy guy (just saying that brings up the picture of the Baathist captured in Pakistan, whose shirt was literally floating an inch above his skin because of the body hair). C’mon, hairy abs? (not to mention backhair) Just…ew.

  20. 20
    Sarah says:

    There is nothing delightful about a man so hairy you can run your fingers through his hair and not stop till you get to the bottom of his feet.

    Eeeyew.

  21. 21
    Wendy Duren says:

    Candy—I’m away from my computer for a couple of days and return to find you’re grabbing gay sack!  Oh kewl are you?

  22. 22
    Candy says:

    That’s my Indian name, doncha know? “Crazy Chinese Bitch Who Grabs Shaven Gay Sack.”

    Oooh, and my Captcha word is French69. Dirrrrrty.

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