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Saturday, April 15, 2006

BOOK BLOG: Eloisa on Gemma Bruce's "Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed?"

There's a couple of things that you should know about this book right off the bat. The first is that the little French maid with the devil tail and horns is...a mystery. And not a mystery connected to the book either. In other words, this isn't a paranormal about that a sexy tribe of French maids who happen to have tails. The second thing to know is that this is a Brava. For those of you who may not know, Brava is the publisher Kensington's "hot" line. VERY hot. HOT HOT HOT.

Now we have that established, let's talk about Very Hot for a moment. There's a lot of it being published these days, and every time I open Publishers' Weekly there's talk of a new line of books opening up, everything from Harlequin's new Spice line to Avon Red. I love a sexy, erotic story -- the problem I find is that it's a real art. In some ways, I think it may be harder than writing a romance (some people call these erotica). Just think about it: the parameters are fierce, and the more requirements you put on a writer, the harder it is to make a good story, in my opinion. Not only do you have to have a romance (at least in most of these stories), but it has to end happily--and you have to spend a lot of time describing sex. There are two immediate challenges there: one is that you don't have as much time to describe the hero and heroine because they're too busy boinking to get to know each other, and second, you run the risk of getting repetitive, not to mention, boring, while talking about sex. Let's not kid ourselves: writing good sex is a huge challenge. Now let's add a third challenge: make the book a set of three novellas. The problems above just tripled themselves: short number of pages, lots of sex, no space for character development.

All that means, from the reader's perspective, it's not all that easy to find great HOT Books. Or at least that's been my perspective. But then there's Gemma! She's actually only written two books, but I've read both of them, so I'm pretty much a Gemma expert at this point. I've learned a lot from reading those two books. First of all, hot books with a sense of humor are SO much more fun to read than straightforward boinking. Second, the hero and heroine need to have sharply distinguished characters off the get-go (to give them time for the boinking and have us still remember their names). Here's how the first novella in Gemma's collection opens:

"The trouble with giving up casual sex, thought Nan, frowning at her fingers splayed open on the steering wheel of her Jeep Liberty, was that she hadn't had any sex at all. Not for six months, maybe more." Nan's funny, breezy personality is out there immediately. This is going to be a story about Nan getting lucky -- but it's phrased in a hilariously realistic way. For example, Nan and Damon end up in the parking lot, only to be interrupted. The scene is from his point of view, and what I loved was how realistically cross he has when she hissed at him to "Move it" and tried to wrench up his zipper. He bats her away because "this was a delicate operation." He's such a guy. By the time Nan and Damon actually have sex, I'm celebrating it. The sex itself is as funny and individual as the characters. From a writer's perspective, one of the hardest things is describing orgasms. We tend to flounder around with description of fireworks and curling toes. I like this: "She added her voice to his; like a couple of alley cats. It was earthy, lusty, and it sure was sweet."

OK, there are three of these stories. They move really fast and they include a mystery as well as all that sex, so that means that the mysteries are kind of silly. But the men are gorgeous. In my opinion, Gemma writes best from the male point of view. In the second stoory, Genie's first boyfriend has come back from living abroad for years.

"I always thought you'd grow up to be one of those taut, lean executive types," she says. "But you're so...so...rugged."

God. She made him sound like Neanderthal who'd wandered in off the tundra.

Gemma Bruce is brilliant at the kind of internal commentary that gives a story this short the kind of intimacy that makes us love the characters. In the third story, Delia has been cruelly dumped by her husband Vincent (who was unfaithful) because he said she was fat, among other things. She's lost some weight, but she still doesn't have any confidence in herself -- and now she needs to seduce a millionaire because she's working as a PI. It was a lot of fun to watch the scene through Delia's commentary:

She ran her finger along a wet spot on the bar then wiped it on her sweater right at her cleavage.

No response. Damn the man was impervious...

She took a zip of seltzer and just for fun sucked in a piece of ice and rolled it around her tongue. Hell, she'd always been good at this seduction business. She was still good at it in spite of Vincent You've-let-yourself-go and I-don't-love-you-anymore Dunmore.

Is there anyone not cheering for Delia to hook her man? The story isn't just telling us that two people met and had lots of sex; it sets up a situation in which we're sympathetically tied to the characters AND enjoying all that sex at the same time.

So has anyone read Gemma Bruce's books? Or do you have another great hot book like this one to recommend -- one that uses humor in the same pages as red-hot?
Eloisa James, 7:30 AM