Wednesday, May 8, 2013

CURIO by Cara McKenna - Book Review

[Note: This review was originally published October 5th, 2011, on] 

Rating: 4.5/5 - Writing down the title so I can recommend it to everyone.

Title: Curio

Author: Cara McKenna

Format: ebook

Published: 2011

Genre: erotic romance

Publisher:  Ellora’s Cave Publishing

Landed in my hands: purchased myself


Caroly Evardt never expected to find herself patronizing a male prostitute. Then again, she never expected to be weeks from her thirtieth birthday and still a virgin.

When a friend mentions that a gorgeous male model in Paris sells his body as well as his image, Caroly’s intrigued. Finally, a chance to sample the gifts of a beautiful man—no strings, no stakes, no fear of rejection.

But she soon discovers that Didier Pedra amounts to more than a striking face and talented body. He’s a kind, charming, damaged man, and after a few evenings of pleasurable education, Caroly’s interest blossoms into something far deeper than mere lust. Her simple arrangement is suddenly feeling downright dangerous…


Here’s a secret that’s no longer a secret: I like to read what I affectionately call smut. Yep.

I also have no shame, so I’m bragging about it here.

What makes good smut? Well, it’s not the sex, if that’s what you think. Surprising, yes?

Good smut is a difficult thing to pin down. It's not like other genres, where you can deconstruct typical elements and make an opinion. Based on the presence of certain criteria — or lack thereof — you can decide whether a story is well-written or slap-dash.

When it comes to sex, though, the difference is that everyone has different tastes. “No kidding,” you say. Certain diction might sound alluring and sexual to some readers, while at the same time completely put off others. It's like the act itself: everyone has a preference, and what some folks find hot, others find disgusting. To say word choice is tricky is an understatement.

(Seriously. If you haven’t heard the debate about the word “moist,” I suggest you Google “moist word” and have at it; the intense aversion is quite a phenomenon.)

For the record, McKenna missed my own personal list of "oh, hell, that is not sexy," when it comes to words. But I can't speak for everyone.

Anyhow, not here to talk about diction — though that can make or break good smut, for sure.

No, what makes good smut (in my humble opinion in this little corner of the Internet) is character. If an author creates characters I can care about, multidimensional characters I feel could walk around the corner any minute, well... then I care whether or not those characters get laid.

So you know what Curio is? Curio is one of those rare stories that, despite being within the taboo-ridden realm of erotica, is so well done that I have to out myself as a smut-lover just to spread the word.

Curio is intelligent. And sexy as hell, of course! Didier and Caroly are characters of depth, with identifiable issues and distinct voices. They share an interesting dynamic through Caroly's filter, and as a reader I am pulled by her insecurities as well as her wistful naiveté, even as she reminds herself that Didier's charms are a transaction. I particularly enjoy how she reduces their arrangement in order to justify it:

This was a date. A meal, drinks, the promise of foreplay if not sex. I didn’t let myself diminish it, knowing I was paying for his company as surely as I’d purchased the wine we were enjoying. He’s extraordinary, that way. He doesn’t trick you into believing this is something other than what it is. He merely makes what it is a thing of substance. I’m buying Didier as I might a gourmet meal or an evening of live music, a fleeting indulgence. Does it really matter that I paid for any of them, that I didn’t prepare the food or compose the music; that others could enjoy the pleasures if they too were willing to pay for them? Was it really all some New World hang-up, the demand for permanence and ownership and exclusivity? I hope so.    

Caroly is intimidated by the newness of shared sexuality, and while she learns much from Didier, he in turn learns from her, as well. Their story is at turns hot and heartbreaking in its compassion, honesty, and simplicity.

It’s human.

Truly, I’d give this novella top marks, except for some flips in tense and questionable punctuation that pulled me out of the narrative — and even those tiny blips were small enough that I'm still questioning my own pickiness.

Worried you’ll be caught reading smut? Handy thing: it’s an e-book. If you’ve an e-reader you can download the compatible format for your device, or it comes in a .pdf file that you can easily read on your computer. So check it out. Do it. You'll be intrigued. If I can unabashedly wave my smut-reading flag, you can at least discreetly click a link and discover a well-written story that, while about sex, is also about so much more.

Risk it.


  1. Thank you for feeding my erotica addiction! We'll have to trade titles at some point. ^^