The Kiss Quotient
Steamy, witty, and oh-so-romantic, The Kiss Quotient is a vivid tale filled with depth, humor, and a universal sense of humanity. The protagonist, Stella Lane, has Asperger’s and wants to learn more about intimacy—so she hires a professional to help her out. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan … from foreplay to more-than-missionary position.
Edna Pointillier sabotages her stifling marriage through infidelity in late-19th century New Orleans and Gulf Coast Louisiana. But husband and lover only play supporting roles in this one-woman show: “Whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.”
Rules of Civility
Set in 1938 New York City, 25-year-old Katy Kontent goes from the Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper classes of New York City after she meets Tinker Grey, a handsome banker in a Greenwich Village jazz bar. Amor Towles’s debut (before his mega-bestseller, A Gentleman in Moscow) is delectably atmospheric.
Rita Mae Brown
A modern classic, Rubyfruit Jungle unravels the unapologetically bawdy coming-of-age story of Molly Bolt (based on author Rita Mae Brown), who explores her fluid sexuality during the 1970s. It’s the sex-positive, crass-yet-sumptuous novel we all need.
Fear of Flying
This 1973 novel was instantly controversial for its portrayal of female sexuality. Narrated by 29-year-old poet Isadora Wing while she’s on a trip to Europe with her husband, the story tells of how she decided to indulge her fantasies with another man. Readers call Isadora the original Anastasia Steele.
Adèle is a sex-addicted journalist, wife, and mother, who plans her days around erotic extramarital affairs. Leila Slimani writes elegantly and evocatively of a woman struggling with addiction and also purposefully pushing the boundaries of her freedom.
Lady Chatterley's Lover
D. H. Lawrence
Nothing says “sexy but smart” like a literary masterpiece that was initially banned in the UK and the U.S. as pornographic. Rest assured it was “pornographic” only by 1928s standards, as it narrates the sexual awakening of an aristocratic woman lost in a loveless marriage through an affair with her estate’s groundskeeper.
A sexy mystery man rolls into town and women are falling into a trance at his very presence, losing control and giving themselves to him completely. Then he meets one who’s possibly his reborn soulmate who killed herself years ago when she thought he was dead? Some say horror—we say passion.
Story of O
This one’s just for adults. If all that “play” in Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain intrigued you more than just a passing curiosity, this is the book for you. It’s got all the S&M you could ask for, when a naive young protégé is taken under the wing of a more experienced man.
You’ve probably seen the movie, but you won’t realize how much of the subtext you’re missing until you read the book, which gives more space for the wives and lovers of the Corleone men with much more detail, including Michael’s first night of marriage to his young wife in Sicily.
The English Patient
In this case, the movie did justice to the written word. But we definitely recommend the book if you want to slow down Count Almásy’s torrid love affair with the married Katherine Clifton, his chaste love with his nurse in a bombed out monastery, and her affair with a Sikh bomb-defuser in WWII Italy.
Originally L’Amant in French but translated into English for our reading pleasure, The Lover tells of the affair between a French teenager and her Chinese lover in Saigon. Both are outcasts for different reasons of race and class in the twilight years of France’s colonial presence, and it all plays out in their wildly passionate love story.
The Age of Innocence
The engaged Newland Archer and the mysterious divorcée Countess Ellen Olenska are torn between duty and passion in New York City’s Golden Age. The two fall madly in love but manage to maintain some restraint, proving that just a kiss on the wrist can have you fanning yourself if done with enough sexual tension.
There’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ pulpy romance novel—you know the sort, with the covers you don’t want anyone on the train to see? Trust us, we’ve read our fair share. But while eye candy’s got its time and place, sometimes a reader wants something sexy and literary. Here are some of our favorite books that turn up the heat but don’t lose anything in the quality department.
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