Book Review

Buy a Contemporary, Save the World: Flat Out Sexy by Erin McCarthy

Title: Flat-Out Sexy
Author: Erin McCarthy
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book CoverJane has mentioned before that the contemporary romances that doesn’t feature vampires, campy vampires, werewolves, immortal peril, mortal peril, suspense out the wahoo, or extraordinary extraterrestrial extraneous circumstances seem to be fewer and far between. Every now and again I hear declarations that the contemporary romance is a dying subgenre and it’s harder and harder to find, and that if you’re not an established name, you’ll never get anywhere, because fewer people want to read contemporary romance.

So when we read Flat Out Sexy by Erin McCarthy, we were both blathering to each other about how awesome it was and how refreshing to have actual conflict between people caused by realistic tension stemming from ordinary life experiences between two marvelous characters. Contemporary romance done right? More please! So, following this review, read more about a multi-level contest sponsored by Dear Author, Smart Bitches, Berkeley and Erin McCarthy, a contest we hope will be a semi-regular feature here and at Dear Author where we try to Save the Contemporary.

Let it be said: This is a NASCAR romance. I had a ball reading it. There’s a lot of assumptions made about NASCAR fans and the folks who participate in the sport, particularly as far as class and intellect are concerned, and many of those assumptions are plain looneytunes. From the skill and endurance needed to be a successful driver to the extensive education in engineering (at a minimum) needed to be in a pit crew, NASCAR is a greatly misunderstood but very interesting culture. Hm. I wonder if there are any book genres like that. 

NASCAR creates a unique environment for contemporary romance in particular because it allows for an entirely new setting for some traditional elements of romance. First, there’s the class and status that come with belonging to a racing family, or being a crew member thereof. Then there’s the wealth of the drivers, their families, and the generations ahead and after them that continue in the racing circuit, and the sheer shitfuckton of money involved in the foundation of the sport itself. Add to that literal life and death stakes and you have plenty of opportunities for external tensions acting against the protagonists that, when placed on a NASCAR track, seem completely different and allow for a new examination of traditional tropes.

What makes Flat Out Sexy so charming and refreshing is that the conflict between the couple stems mostly from between the couple and their perceptions of themselves, but I never once got the feeling they were standing in their own way merely to prolong that tension. Single mom Tamara Briggs is finally reentering her old social circle a few years after her NASCAR driver husband was killed in a race. Elec Monroe is one of the hottest rookies in the current group of drivers, but since he’s a handful of years younger than Tamara, she doesn’t recognize him when she literally runs into him at a cocktail party. Theirs is an instant attraction, and Tamara decides that a one night stand with a man as hot as Elec can’t be a bad thing. And of course, the sex is as incredible as the attraction hinted it would be. But when they wake up the morning after and she realizes that not only is he younger than she is but the son of a family that’s had a longstanding feud with her husband’s family, she’s horrified at herself and decides that once ought to have been enough.

Trouble is, she doesn’t necessarily want that to be the case, and Elec definitely doesn’t want theirs to be a one shot deal. The conflicts large and small that affect their relationship range in size and tenor, from the feud between their families to Tamara’s own feelings of insecurity about her body after giving birth to two children. There’s also the fact that she has children and has been a single, independent mom for a few years now, and is fiercely protective of her family, her routine, and their privacy – particularly in a sport like NASCAR with its own gossip mill. Elec has his own set of issues, including a very personal and sad secret that he keeps from everyone. But Elec is determined to swerve past all of these blocks and simply be with Tamara.

What impressed me time and again about McCarthy’s skill in creating these two characters was their responses to everyday human conflict: they acted like grownups about it. Seriously. Even at her most embarrassed, Tamara owned up to her self consciousness about her body, and Elec was dumbfounded (because really, what guy notices the things a woman notices about herself?) and deliberately thoughtful in how he responded because he wanted to be careful of her feelings. When Elec faced a rip roaring confrontation with his sister, who handles his PR, he admits to having completely forgotten about an appointment she’d made for him, and apologizes. No spoiled diva behavior, no taking for granted his sister’s hard work: he mans up and says he’s sorry. McCarthy’s skill with dialogue – never once did I think “Come on now, people don’t talk like that,” – yields true characters, protagonists and supporting cast alike, who are wonderfully realistic, with nuanced depth and at times heartbreaking problems.

I was rooting for both Tamara and Elec equally throughout the story simply because they had to deal with realistic problems and because they dealt with each one like adults – adults who have the serious hots for one another and can barely see straight from the spicy hot attraction. Dinner parties will never be the same again in my imagination, lemme tell you. Plus, can I say how awesome it was to read about a romance heroine who is middle aged, who has two kids who are elementary-school aged, who holds down a full-time job plus manages her home and family and yes, finds it exhausting but doesn’t need rescuing from her existence? Tamara would be the first to tell you her daily routine is tough – particularly when the kids have the chicken pox – but never once would she wish for some knight on a stallion or some stallion at night to come sweep her out of her life. She loves her life. But sweeping her off her feet for hot sex? That’s another story. She’s on board for that. Me, too.

So what kept the book from solid A status? There was one particularly monumental conflict between them that was never explained in full, never really amounted to the Big Freaking Deal that it did in Tamara’s head, and was never truly resolved even after they’d experienced their super shiny happy ending. (Highlight to read teh spoilerz)

The family feud between the Briggs family and the Monroe family originated with the fathers, and the bad feelings between them come up several times from different characters during the course of the story. But the cause of the feud is never explained, even after Tamara and Elec’s relationship is public, and despite their relationship, the reader never learns how the Tamara’s father in law and Elec’s father deal with the bad blood between them. It’s a huge plot thread that seems to be left dangling, and the lack of resolution is jarring.

As I mentioned, McCarthy has Mad Character Creation Skillz, and the population of characters surrounding Tamara and Elec are ripe for stories of their own. I believe that the next one is about Ty, another NASCAR driver, and Tamara’s teaching assistant, Imogen, a super-intellectual Yankee who decides that a close and personal examination of the social and sexual culture of NASCAR is a great subject for her thesis. I’m down with that. Particularly because the initial sparks between Imogen and Ty are as incendiary as those between Tamara and Elec. Erin McCarthy is a fiercely skilled writer, and I’m upgrading my pants from happy to gleeful that I’ve found a contemporary romance that is complex and fascinating, but based firmly in the reality of human conflict, emotion, and triumph.

And Now: Buy a Contemporary, Save the World

Here’s the deal: we dig this book. We dig this book like damn and whoa, and we think you will too. So, in order to spread the word and the opportunity to read it we’re doing a multi-level giveaway in tandem with our reviews of Flat Out Sexy.

Part the First: free books! Leave a comment, and you’re automatically entered to win a copy. We each have 10 copies of the book to give away, so drop a word here and at Dear Author and double your chances. Comments will be open for 24 hours starting now.

Second: Spread the Word! Below is a Sprout widget about our campaign, and a simpler animated graphic. Right-click-and-save the graphic, or grab the Sprout for yourself, and put it on your site. Let us know that you’ve done so via email, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of the book, and a $100 gift certificate to, where you can buy many, many books. Oh, the delightful zest of the phrase, “Many, many books.” Spread the word, let us know, and you’re entered to win. That’s it.

Buy a Contemporary, Save the World

The Spread the Word winner will be announced in 1 week, so tune in on Monday 27 October to see who wins a fierce Benjamin in our quest to Save the Contemporary.

Why? Because if there’s one thing that makes us sad, it’s the idea of contemporary romance dying out. So spread the word, buy a contemporary, and save the world.


Comments are Closed

  1. Y halo thar, I can haz free book plz?

    I have never been much interested in racing, but I’ve been watching a lot recently because my son loves it.  I wonder if there’s a market for Dakar Rally romance?

  2. Moom says:

    There’s only so much historical/werewolf and fantasy romance a body can take. I’ve got to say though that if you’re happy to have two female protagonists in your plot there’s some pretty good lesbian romance out there. ‘Sequestered Hearts’ is one that springs to mind for me.

    (Totally jonesing for a good book here, too.)

  3. eaeaea says:

    but never once would she wish for some knight on a stallion or some stallion at night to come sweep her out of her life. She loves her life. But sweeping her off her feet for hot sex? That’s another story. She’s on board for that. Me, too.

    Me, too, too.

    Great review. I wanna read this one.
    I am so over para-normal. Give me normal.

  4. Deirdre says:

    You guys write such good reviews.  It would never occur to me to read a Nascar story but this has me convinced to give it a try!

  5. hollygee says:

    Me, I wanna read this, too. Please.

  6. ev says:

    There’s a lot of assumptions made about NASCAR fans and the folks who participate in the sport, particularly as far as class and intellect are concerned, and many of those assumptions are plain looneytunes.

    Ya think? So the fact that number 88 permanently resides in my truck windows doesn’t make me a totally unedumacated redneck?
    I am looking forward to a good NASCAR story. This will definately be on my go buy it list and soon.

    I wish I had a website to post this on. Will it work on Facebook or MySpace? And if so, how? Technically challanged here. Now give me my toolbox and I am happy. Like the toolshed I put up yesterday.

    Oh, damn, there’s that redneck thing again.

    I thought you said he was a handful of years younger than her?? this is more like a couple of handfuls and feetfulls too!

    spamword-lay36. I wish

  7. Helen says:

    I didn’t see anything that said otherwise, so I assume you’re happy to send it to Australia if I win?

    It sounds like a great story, anyway, and I do like variety in my reading so I’m on board for not letting the contemporary romance die out. I like paranormals but I wouldn’t want them to be my only option.

  8. Lindz says:

    Huh.  I don’t generally like NASCAR, but this sounds interesting enough for me to overcome my anti-racing sensibilities.

    Indiana= Corn & NASCAR

  9. Pearl says:

    I have always liked Erin McCarthy’s writing, since I came back to the world of romance reading after a hiatus. And yes, thank goodness for a book wihtout supernatural/paranormal stuff: I think I am close to baked on the attractions of vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and aliens—and let’s face it: the genre is getting too familiar (or anemic?) compared to the early stuff.

  10. theo says:

    My DH works for a NASCAR team owner. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read any of the stories for one of the reason you mention here. There is a lot of misconception about not only those who participate but the intelligence level of the fan as well. I’ve been around this sport for 25 years and it’s a rare occurrence to find a real ‘dumb redneck’. Most fans might be guilty of rabid fandom over a particular driver, doesn’t mean they have no brain.

    If the story itself can overcome the stereotypical fan representation, then I think I’ll have to give this one a try.

    Ya’ll do know, right, that us dumb rednecks find it real hard to read though, right?

    (jab intenteded) 😉

  11. Sarah Frantz says:

    Oh, I’ve been wanting a good contemporary.  Me please!

  12. Thirty two is MIDDLE AGED? Sarah! Say it ain’t so!

    (spam word: since31)

  13. StacieMc says:

    Count me in please!

  14. Joanne says:

    Diana Peterfreund said on…
    10.20.08 at 03:31 AM |
    Thirty two is MIDDLE AGED? Sarah! Say it ain’t so!

    LOL! It’s all relative I guess.

    Elec? See, it’s not the Nascar theme that would stop me at the blurb but the name of the hero.

    But I do like Erin McCarthy’s writing, including her vamps and demons so I would read this based on her paranormals… and I think it’s that diversity is what makes the romance reader’s world go round.

  15. Evaine says:

    Oooh… it’s not one of the Harlequin series of Nascar romances!  This could be interesting!  I shall add it to the ‘to be acquired’ list.

    *points to her orange #20 slippers* 

    We like Nascar up here in Canada too!

  16. Gail says:

    Want book. Please.

  17. Marsha says:

    I guess here’s a good time to, uh, woman-up and say that I’m ready and willing to learn more about the NASCAR culture.  Although I (hope I) don’t perpetuate erroneous stereotypes I certainly haven’t been one to be first in learning more.  If I can read this book to start on the path to my own personal NASCAR healing and save the world at the same time, so much the better. 

    Will try to widget my blog tonight.  I am usually woefully inept at that kind of stuff but try I will.

  18. Danielle says:

    I can haz competition entry? 🙂

  19. snarkhunter says:

    Ooh, this sounds *fun*.



  20. Faellie says:

    Not sure this one will make it over the pond any other way, so maybe you’ll end up helping out one of your European readers?

    spamword “hard99”

  21. Chantel says:

    I also lament the lack of great contemporary romances as I am not a particular lover of the paranormals that seem so popular right now.

    Being an Aussie living in Scotland I must confess to knowing absolutely nothing about Nascar. And romance protagonists behaving like adults – taking responsibility for their own lives and actions – hell yes!

  22. Susan G says:

    As much as I like Erin McCarthy’s writing I doubt I would have read this book without your recomendation. I live in “Race City USA” NC so it’s really hard for me to get away from all things NASCAR.  It’s not my favorite sport so I don’t look for MORE of it in my life! But this sounds very good so please put my name in the hat.

  23. Lori says:

    Oh it sounds like a great book.

    And my spam word: distance61. Guess I’m going the distance (or I have already since I’m way past middle aged if middle age is 32).

  24. Wendy says:

    No death of the contemporary please!  ….and not just because I have accidentally found myself writing one.  😛 And because I like well-crafted characters, I comment.

  25. Nadia says:

    Count me in for the giveaway.

    BTW—your review’s just great.  Makes me wanna go read it now.  🙂

  26. Gill says:

    No vampires, werewolves, or shapeshifters? Oh my!

    Sign me up, please!

  27. rm says:

    I’d love the book!

    I’d also love to spread the word, but am unfortunately technically as well as blogistically challenged -as in, don’t have one. 🙁

  28. SB Sarah says:

    Thirty two is MIDDLE AGED? Sarah! Say it ain’t so!

    Well, I’m thirty-three and figured I was, but age is entirely relative. You totally do have a point, there. I admit: I’ve been inculcated by so many young heroines that I think the default age is somewhere in her 20’s.

  29. Castiron says:

    Definitely sounds worth a look!

  30. Rustybelle says:

    I hope contemporaries aren’t going to die just as I’ve finally raised my head above the regency parapit (is that an oxymoron or merely a really mixed metaphor?).

    So may I please be entered for the loot?  Ta muchly.

  31. Poison Ivy says:

    I find it scary that you and Jane think the contemporary is in jeopardy.  But contemporaries have definitely been seeming worn out lately. I take that as a sign that we need a new paradigm in what is considered the classic straight relationship between a man and a woman. I can’t imagine what it will be. But I can’t wait to see it.

    Meanwhile, this book does sound interesting for its honesty in the relationship. But NASCAR? Sigh.

  32. Lori says:

    Oooh, sounds great!  Sign me up!

  33. Hilcia says:

    ROFLMAO—32 is NOT middle aged!  Says who?

    I miss, miss, miss good contemporary romance!  YESSSS!  Thank you Sarah and Jane!

  34. dzurlady says:

    I’ve never really been that into contemporary novels, but your post has made me think again about the genre. And FOS sounds really interesting.

  35. Eunice says:

    Hey, I’m 24, and I’ll tell 32 ain’t middle aged!

    Also, put me in for wanting a copy. Commenting, commenting…

  36. Elizabeth says:

    I love Erin McCarthy. Well, the 2 books that I’ve read which were You Don’t Know Jack and A Date With the Other Side and I’ve been eager to read more of her books but my library only had those 2. So, you know, I’d appreciate a free book.

  37. Marilyn says:

    I love Erin McCarthy, I love Contemporaries, and I love NASCAR! Hooray Jimmie Johnson! Pick me, Pick me!

  38. Vicki says:

    So true about the difficulty finding a contemporary that doesn’t have were-somethings in it. I like the idea of urban romance but how many demon spawned heros/heroines can you have? Hope I win the book or I may just have to go out and buy it.

  39. Lori says:

    Erin McCarthy is great!  Count me in.

  40. Eve says:

    Having lived below I-10 for most of my life, I’ve definitely been inundated with NASCAR culture, and not always in a good way. 🙂

    Your review, however, definitely makes me want to read this book. I love when the characters are strong, sexy and the heroine doesn’t need or want to be rescued!

    I enjoy paranormals, but everyone needs a break now and then. How many brooding, nightwalking, bloodsucking creatures can there be??

    Thanks for putting me in the hat!

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