REVIEW: Never Have I Ever by Alisha Rai
Dear Ms. Rai:
I don’t know about anyone else, but I read the Author promo thread every month and your blurb intrigued me. I bought it over at Amazon for the princely sum of $3.60. To give you a little history, I really enjoyed the first menage you wrote and published with Samhain but I confess that the follow up books have only generated a lukewarm response in me.
The difficulty in writing erotic romance, I believe, is straddling the line between sexy and ridiculous. Often erotic romances relies heavily on bedroom shenanigans, strange were creatures, and crazy club scenes (if I never ever read another sex club scene, I would die a happy girl). While this story has a menage scene in it, I felt like it worked within the overall scheme of the story without being gimmicky.
Ana and Taylor have only been married one year when Ana receives an anonymous email with a set of photographs showing Taylor engaged in sexual activities as a young man that he’s never once intimated enjoying to Ana. In fact, their sexual interaction is very vanilla, hot and passionate, but definitely not as outre as depicted in the pictures. Taylor’s secrets makes Ana wonder about the stability of their marriage and Ana decides to test Taylor and his commitment to the marriage during a vacation they have planned.
Taylor, however, doesn’t want to let go with Ana. He’s spent 10 years turning his back on his kinky side, and more importantly, his otherness and he is afraid if he shows any of this to Ana, he will lose her. Taylor acknowledges that his life is pretty mundane – the job, the hours, the suburban home, but it is all worth it because it netted him Ana.
When Taylor and Ana get to the vacation cabin, Taylor immediately starts regretting his choice of location. The cabin is one he hasn’t visited in the past 10 years and it seems to the strain the bounds of his civility, of the mask he has so carefully constructed to obtain his heart’s choice: Ana. He is certain that his past, his secrets are too dark for her. But even beyond his desire for Ana is his own fear of his desires, of the things he did when he was younger, when he was other.
Ana knows, however, that their marriage cannot withstand the secrets (only she doesn’t know the extent of the secrets). Ana pushes Taylor and Taylor lets go, inch by inch, which allows for some very sexy scenes as Ana takes baby steps to exploring her own sexuality to pushing Taylor to admit his own. The sex scenes all move the emotional arc farther. You use the scenes to challenge each characters’ complacency and move the emotional relationship deeper. It’s not just sex for sex’s sake.
But even the play at dominance doesn’t get to the heart of what Ana has seen in the pictures and she knows that Taylor is still holding back from her. The title of the story is based on the game “Never Have I Ever” and the way that Ana uses the game, as a last ditch effort to get the truth out of Taylor, wasn’t cheesy or contrived.
This book contains some BDSM and a threesome but beyond that there was a good emotional arc about Taylor learning to let go and accept himself, different desires and all because Ana loves him in all the expressions of his desire and Taylor is thrilled to find that Ana’s desire for edgier sex matches his own.
What is problematic in this story is the inclusion of Taylor’s otherness. I liked, on the one hand, how Taylor’s otherness was blunted as a result of his mixed race but more than one reader mentioned that the insertion of a paranormal element was unnecessary and distracting. I didn’t mind it but I agree that it didn’t seem to be well integrated into the storyline and the use of the paranormal aspect to explain Taylor’s sexual proclivities didn’t extend to Ana. Still, this is a very good erotic romance. B