Traipsing Through the Tropes: Toxic Desire by Robin Lovett

It’s our last Enemies to Lovers book, and I went with a highly erotic space tale, Toxic Desire by Robin Lovett. It kicks off a fantastic series. We discuss the horny bits and the word building. As always with this type of post, spoilers abound so know that before you keep reading!

Me: So…Toxic Desire. What did you think?

Him: It was … good?! Mostly? It think. Yes. It was good.
It almost lost me halfway through.

Me: Definitely the horniest book I’ve ever gotten you to read. 
What almost lost you?

Him: Totes horny.
The horny with no plot or character development.
As in, it was almost character de-evolution the more they fucked.

Me: That’s kind of the point of the toxin. 

Him: Which, I guess, is the point of the book / planet / scenario.

Me: hahaha

Him: Yes, yes. I know.
I guess the continued spiral into increasing horniness almost felt like the characters were losing agency – EVEN though they kept talking about preserving it.

Me: So what got you back on board?

Him: When the actual science fiction world-building entered the scene.
It’s one thing to listen to the two characters hate themselves for feeling compelled to fuck their sworn enemies.It’s another to get the backstory on that animosity.

Me: When they got back to the human ship?

Him: Yes. When Nem’s friends from the ship found them.
As in, they found Nem with her pussy pounded into near oblivion.

Me: Yes. She’d definitely been over-fucked. 

Him: To be clear – I don’t need the author to hold my hand while explaining plot devices and backstory.
But some context is important.

Me: What did you think of the fact that the rebels we meet are all women? Surprised?

Him: I was pleasantly surprised by that. I expected a relatively even split between men and women.
But an all-woman crew was a delightful surprise.
I also enjoyed the “We ran from the fascism of Earth, so we are going to try democracy again” framing.
Very apropos given how 2020 is going.

Me: True. It came out in 2018. Before its time. 
What about the fact that Nemona had to become Ssedez?

Him: I’m not sure I liked that. I thought she could have formed a bond with Oten without changing her species/form.
I liked their conversations. I liked the bond they felt for each other.

Me: They had to come up with a way for her to match his life span. Happily EVER after. 

Him: That’s true. I forgot about that.
It was the reverse of Arwen deciding to shorten her elvish lifespan to be with Aragorn.

Me: LOTR can GTFO. hahahahaha

Him: You say you’ve never watched the movies or read the books, yet you KNEW WHO I WAS TALKING ABOUT.

Me: It’s like herd immunity. 

Him: There was a bit of “not all humans” and “not all Ssedez” to how they arrived at their cultural understanding.

Me: Show your work. 

Him: Umm… Oten said that the Ssedez fired on Nem’s ship as a matter of self-defense. The last time the humans came near the Ssedez, humans attempted mass murder of the entire race.
While Nem did acknowledge that was wrong, she said that there was a small contingent of rebels who had always been fighting the fascists.
Her ship represented the people who weren’t like other humans. They were explorers who wanted to find a different way.
Fine, fine – it wasn’t literally “not all [enter group in power here],” but it felt close to it at times.
I could be over-analyzing.
I’ve done that before.

Me: That’s fair. 

Him: So, that’s rather thin “work,” but I tried to show it.

Me: Now, what I like about the book is the horny parts. I think the sex toxin is interesting and amusing. I like the Fellamana, who we get more of later in the series. And I like Oten’s Attachment and the way Nemona fights it. Even though I’m kind of over “I can’t love because I’m so damaged.”
I gave the book four stars. 

Him: The horned-up parts were highly descriptive and detailed. Lots of variety to keep things fresh and interesting.
The idea of the toxin is a good one.

Me: His “ribbed for her pleasure” dick amused me as well. 

Him: It reminded me a lot of the toxin from “The Naked Time” in Star Trek TOS and “The Naked Now” in Star Trek TNG.
And the fact that the literal weakness of the entire race was found unwrapping his exoskeleton starting with his dick.
Just a “chef kisses fingers” level of detail.
Why else did you like the book? Besides the copious doin’ it?

Me: I said it above. 

Him: Yeah, I saw that. Tell me more about The Attachment and why you don’t always like the “I’m too broken to love” trope.

Me: I like when the hero falls first and just treasures the heroine. And when Oten goes to protect her, he realizes how dumb that was because she’s smart and strong enough to protect herself, even though at that point she’s totally human.  

Him: Oh yes – Oten realizes early on that Nem is very strong and capable. I liked that.

Me: I just find the “too broken to love” or maybe just feeling unloveable in general uninteresting as a conflict. Personal preference. Slightly different from “I can’t love you because I’ll hurt you” which I’m ok with. 
Or I was hurt by love and I’ll never love again. I can be ok with that if it’s done well. 

Him: I get how those two perspectives are alike but just similar enough to make a difference.
Like most tropes – they must be done well.

Me: Truth. 

Him: I was instantly curious about the Fellamana.
What can you tell me more about that species without spoiling the later books?And can I guess that Nem & Oten’s respective assistants fall in love in Book #2?They are very emotional and emotive and sensual. 

Me: Good guess!
And Koviye is a protag in book 3. 

Him: Very cool.

Me: They’re very comfortable with sex. As you could tell by the glass walls and sex furniture everywhere. The Sex Games show up again in Book 2 and there’s participation. 

Him: I like their collective “We’re voyeurs, but we’re appreciative, not creepy” take on sex and sexuality.

Me: I have trouble with their unexclusive polyamory because I prefer commitment, no matter how many people it is. Also, I imagine them as very cool looking. Like living auras. 

Him: You’ve mentioned your preference for exclusive polyamory before.
And yes, I also imagined them with ever-present auras that reflected what they were feeling.

Me: I’m glad you mostly liked it. I purposefully picked a very erotic romance for you this time. Combining space with extreme sexy times. 

Him: I did mostly like it!
I guess I wanted 25% less fucking and 25% more exposition about intergalactic conflict.

Me: That’s fair. I was satisfied with the actual ratios. 

Him: Robin Lovett is a very good writer.
Excellent descriptions of the planet, gear, species, the technology, etc.

Me: I think you have to be to keep that much fucking interesting and not monotonous. 

Him: Very satisfying as a Star Trek nerd who likes technobabble.
Most definitely.
Any final thoughts?

Me: Just…do you think you’ll continue in the series?

Him: I think I could, mostly because the Fellamana are interesting as a concept AND because I guessed correctly about the protagonists for Book 2.
But it’s not jumping my TBR queue any time soon.
No offense.

Me: That’s fair. Someone’s got to keep the lit fic “she breasted boobily” authors paid. 

Him: Wow.
Just wow.
No one is reading Jonathan Franzen ’round here any time soon.

Me: Follow @menwritewomen on twitter. 

Him: I do. Don’t you worry.
I found that account through you.

Me: You’re welcome. 

Well, that’s all for this installment of Traipsing Through the Tropes and next month’s post will be a whole new trope to explore. I’m thinking Fake Relationship. Do you have any recommendations? We like to do one contemporary, one historical, and one paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy of each trope.

Traipsing Through the Tropes: Work for It by Talia Hibbert

We continue with Enemies to Lovers with a discussion of Work for It by Talia Hibbert, who I consider to be the writer of my heart. Her stuff resonates with me on a deep level so there was a lot of pressure for my husband to like it. Let’s see how he felt!

Me: So, what are your first thoughts about Work for It?


Me: Elaborate, please

Him: Tortured. Emotionally stunted, yet curiously vulnerable
Look – I mostly read literary fiction and contemporary science fiction. Both of those genres are notorious for terrible sex scenes, though there are a few who do it well.
Marlon James & NK Jemisin write lively sex stuff. Their characters have agency and strong libidos.
But Olu and Griff are just horned up all the time.

Me: But they don’t even hold hands until 50% in!

Him: Which – not to sound like a prude – took some getting used to.

Me: It was a slow burn, I tell you!

Him: But they talk about it all the time.
The book opens with Olu going cruising at a club for some dick.

Me: It’s a coping mechanism. 

Him: But when he gets the guy back to the room, he doesn’t want it any more – even though the guy is naked in his bed.

Me: He’s depressed!

Him: Of course it is – but he still thinks about it.
And the first time they meet in the village pub, they talk for about 10-15 minutes before Olu wants to go to the alley.

Me: I thought it was fewer minutes than that. 

Him: All of that to say, yes – it is a coping mechanism for Olu, but Griff talks about it lots, too.

Me: Prudey pruderson. 

Him: That’s me! Prudey Pruderson.
Talia Hibbert is a fantastic writer.

Me: Tell me more…

Him: She has a gift for authentic inner dialogue that most “literary” authors only dream of possessing.
Her descriptions of the scenery are VERY tactile.

Me: Yes. This was her first book in first person POV. She nailed it. 

This was her first time writing first person POV?

Me: Yes. 

Him: You couldn’t tell!

Me: She usually does third person limited omniscient with head jumping. 
Or does that make it fully omniscient? If you get both perspectives just never at the same time?

Him: Fascinating. I’m used to head-jumping from Star Trek.
I’d say it’s limited.

Me: What did you think of Olu?

Him: Class A jerkface.
Type One Alpha Asshole.

Me: But is that the real him?

Him: I mean – probably not to that degree, but still a bit.

Me: Fair enough. 

Him: A lot of it is probably tough guy persona from having to navigate upper-class British school waters as someone who doesn’t belong there under the traditional class system.
Olu has lots of defense mechanisms.
Including the “Keynes” moniker he deploys.

Me: And his depression. What did you think of the mental health rep?

Adam: Very authentic, from my experience.

Me: His inner monologue is so damn real. 

Him: Most definitely.

Me: Now, what did you think of Griff?
Don’t talk shit about my tiny giant bb Griff. I will fight you. 

Him: Griff was much more down-to-earth and relatable than Olu.
I think a lot of that had to do with how his mom raised him, how she left him, and how tight his friendship with Rebecca was.

Me: Sure. 

Him: Neither of them let Griff totally hide from a world that didn’t want to accept him.

Me: And neither does Olu!

Him: Indeed! I think Griff gets that.
That’s eventually what forges their connection – they don’t let the other give up on themselves.

Me: So true. 
What Hogwarts House is he? (Olu is obvi — Slytherin). 

Him: Griff is Hufflepuff.
He’s Sprout’s not-so-secret protege.

Me: Good call. 
The plants. 

Him: The plants. The willingness to serve others at the expense of his own interests.
So he’s an Enneagram 2?

Me: And Olu is so 4 it hurts. 

Him: Griff is totally a 2.
I don’t think Olu is full 4, but he has some 4 traits.

Me: Interesting. 

Him: What do YOU like most about the book?
You’ve read it three times AND have it as an audiobook.

Me: Most? The beautiful, clever, hilarious turns of phrase. 
I love Olu’s progression. 

Him: Hibbert is such a wonderful writer!
Clever and witty without going over-the-top.
Those turns of phrase serve a purpose.

Me: From depressed grumpy loner asshole to on-the-road-to-less-depressed, grumpy, partnered jerkface who loves someone. Well, two someone’s. He already loved his sister. 
One of my faves: My brain tries to tell me I’m an idiot. I tell it we don’t think things like that anymore, and it it’s not going to be a positive part of the team, it can piss off. 
I’ve started telling myself that. 

Him: I like that! That’s a very tactical and pointed mantra that’s not all hippie-dippie.

Me: But the weaknesses swear that Griff isn’t like everyone else, that we’re something entirely different together, something precious,  never-before-seen under this sun. Something perfectly us. 

Him: I liked Olu’s story, but I preferred Griff’s progression – from melancholic loner footstool with only one close friend in the world to someone who’s found the love of his life and stands up for himself.
“Something Perfectly Us”

Me: Fair enough. Griff is so solid. He’s there for Olu without being demanding. 

Him: Sounds like the name of the book you need to write.

Me: He would say “You will never exhaust me” to Olu. 

Him: He’s not demanding, except when he puts his foot in his mouth by prying too much and trying to get some sort of forward motion from Olu.
Griff would TOTALLY say “You will never exhaust me” to Olu.

Me: I want an epilogue story of them with kids so bad. 

Him: That would be fun.
It was just an excellent read filled with superb characters who were complex, layered, and realistic.

Me: I guess I identified with Olu. Not just because of the depression. But mostly. 
It was just so well done. 
And the discussion of pills. Perfect. 

Him: And I identified with Griff. Putting his head down, sacrificing himself for others, stumbling when he doesn’t know how to navigate his feelings.

Me: Yes. I’m glad I picked this one for you. 

Him: And I’m glad you picked it for me. I really enjoyed it.

Me: Good. Even if there were a lot of sexy times?

Him: The sexy times didn’t bother me or scare me away.
It was just more intense and more …
shall we say “descriptive” than I’m used to.

Me: Yessss…Another thing I love about Talia Hibbert.
She uses the c-word when writing about vagina sexy times. Which is still very taboo to me, even if I don’t want it to be. 

Him: **Note to self**

Me: I love her descriptive sexy times. Not specifically that she says cunt. 

Him: I was more interested in how she described the intimacy and romantic nature of the afterglow.
They both loved just being together more than they probably thought.
Sure, the fucking would be good, but their internal thoughts about the post-coital bliss made me happy.

Me: “I want to fall asleep on top of him like he’s a mattress”

Him: Which brings to a running thought in the back of my head throughout the book:
I’m almost positive she says Olu is 6’2″ or so at some point. Olu is not a small man.
But Griff must literally be a giant.
Olu calls him “My Giant” at some point.

Me: Yep. He’s a big motherfucker. 
And burly. Dad bod. I had issue with the cover model. 
Not enough  meat on them bones. 

Him: Was the cover model Griff?

Me: I think so? White guy. 

Him: Yeah. No.

Me: Beard. 
Olu doesn’t have a beard. 

Him: That cover model is in NO WAY anything like Hibbert describes.
His muscles are too well-formed, and he’s not bear-ish enough.

Me: Yep. 
Ok, so final thoughts?

Him: Good story. Good characters. GREAT inner voices.

Me: Cool. 

Him: Just an all-around excellent read.
You know how to pick ’em!

Traipsing Through the Tropes: A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare

Welcome to the first in a new monthly series here at HEA or GTFO: Traipsing through the Tropes, where I get my husband to read a romance novel and we discuss it via Google Chat. We’ll pick one trope and read several books from different subgenres and then go on to the next trope. We will be discussing the book in detail so spoilers abound. You’ll probably enjoy these posts more if you’ve already read the book we’re talking about. The idea was to kick things off with the One Bed trope, my personal favorite, but you’ll see where we ended up in the discussion.

We’re kicking things off with A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare. It’s the first novel in her Spindle Cove series. They’re standalones, but we do discuss other couples in the series so fair warning if you’d rather be surprised.

With that said, and one last reminder that spoilers abound, let’s go!

Adam: Good evening!

Here we are. “A Week to be Wicked.”

I truly enjoyed – once I got into it.

The first time I attempted reading this one – about a year ago – I remember being thrown off my the nomenclature.

Jennifer: At what point would you say you got into it?

What nomenclature threw you off?

Adam: Really got into it? After the stuff with the brigands.

The overuse of “rake” and other such terms.

I was like, “Did people really go around calling people notorious / infamous rakes to their faces?”

Jennifer: I think it would be like calling someone a player. Or maybe a jerk. 

A jerk player

Adam: I get that. In theory.

But then, I realized it was something akin to the “technobabble” used in science fiction – especially Star Trek.

As in, this is the lingua franca of the genre.

It’s the ebb and flow of the actual style of writing / reading / creation.

Jennifer: You do have to get into the rhythm to enjoy romance. 


Adam: Exactly!

As in, this is the part I have to take at face value if I want to appreciate the deeper story.

Rhythm joke!

First innuendo!

Jennifer: So what did you think of the characters?

Adam: Minerva was a top-notch heroine.

Jennifer: What do you think of Colin?

Adam: He was obviously written to be a jerk with a heart of gold.

Which I assume to be a common trope.

Giving him a tortured sort of backstory was nice.

Jennifer: Very common. Or jerk to everyone but the heroine. 

The only thing that keeps me from hating him is the list of M names he made. 


That was a genius revelation 3/4 through the book.

Truly a chef’s kiss detail by the author.

Jennifer: Yep. Oh, I realized on a reread, it’s not a true one bed trope romance. 

Adam: Why do you say that?

Jennifer: They negotiate sleeping together before the journey starts. One bed is usually a surprise, something they’re forced into by circumstance. 

Adam: There were a few times they had to share one bed.

Ah. Well then. I guess that’s a technicality.

But kind of a key one. 

You’re the expert.

Jennifer: What makes one bed so delicious is the forced proximity aspect. 

Adam: We could start with “Enemies into Lovers.”

Jennifer: Yes, this is definitely that. 

Adam: I found her love of science believable. She’s not a Mary Sue. She just loves geology.

Jennifer: Yeah, Minerva rocks. hahahaha

Adam: Tessa Dare is an excellent writer.

Jennifer: She is. Her stuff is always imaginative and funny. 

Adam: I was pleasantly surprised at the level of humor that runs rampant through the book.

And by surprised, I mean, “The romance novels my Mom read when I was in high school always looked laborious, cookie-cutter, and completely over the top.”

Dare imbues her characters with HEAPS of life, agency, and personality.

Jennifer: I always like her heroes even if they are a type I would usually dislike. 

Yep. It’s more than angst and doing it. 

But the doing it is integral to the progression of the story. 

Adam: Exactly. “Angst & Doin’ It” – the name of your podcast.

Jennifer: I don’t do angst. I like fluff. 

Adam: The doin’ it was VERY integral to the progression of the story.

Jennifer: You’ve read lots of literary doing it in your many travels, but what did you think of this type of writing of the doing it?

Adam: I was just thinking about that, and it’s mostly boring or faux-edgy.

Jennifer: replace literary with “literary”

Adam: This doin’ it was hot.

As in, straight white dudes can’t write sex scenes for shit.

Jennifer: That’s what I was about to ask. 

How it compares

Adam: I mean, there’s very little comparison.

This was well-written, creative, erotic, purposeful, and integral to the story.

Jennifer: Yep. The centering of women’s pleasure, the female gaze. 

Most sex in literary fiction is dry, rough, very dude-centric, and lacking creativity. Lacking vitality too. And nowhere near what sex is like in real life. Not that all romance novels are near what sex is like in real life either….

Adam: Most definitely.

This was wet in every positive sense of that word.

I really enjoyed this read. The only scene I didn’t like was getting captured by the brigands.

Jennifer: What didn’t you like about it?

Adam: I get that their conversation while walking with Francine AFTER she frees him is important, but the whole thing felt like just one MORE obstacle.

It didn’t really add much, IMHO.

Jennifer: I don’t know. I think her saving him was important. 

I think that’s why Dare didn’t waste a lot of time seeing him being captive. 

Adam: I’ll grant you that. The scene itself didn’t take up much of the book. She didn’t bother herself with overwroght descriptions of him being tortured.

It just happened, and the next morning/day, Minerva appears with Francine and saves him.

Jennifer: I don’t think they’re apart overnight. 

I think he gets captured early in the day and she rescues him at like 3pm. 

Several hours later. 

Adam:  I can see that. Obviously the timeline blurred in my head a bit.

What did you think about everything that happened in the Sex Castle BEFORE the smokin’ hot sex?

Jennifer: I thought it was hilarious. And a good setup for the Duke as a hero later in the series. 

Minerva as Melissande was great. 

Adam: Agreed. It took me a few pages to see where Dare was going, but that was probably me being unfamiliar with the genre.

Jennifer: Here’s a question. What side characters do you think get their own book(s)?

Adam: The obvious guess is Kate Taylor, since she gets her own little POV vignettes.

Jennifer: Can you guess her hero?

Adam: Again, I assume it’s the crusty Corporal Thorne.

Jennifer: Good job!

Adam: Thanks!

Jennifer: Does the guaranteed HEA detract from your reading experience at all? Like removing suspense or something?

Adam: Not at all! It was very akin to reading a Star Trek novel. I know my space friends will mostly be all A-OK by the end, but a good writer will make the trials and tribulations come alive EVEN if you know the end.

Jennifer: Oh…I have a good space alien enemies to lovers we can read.

Adam: And that’s exactly what Dare does so expertly. Just because I know Colin and Min get together in the end doesn’t mean I know exactly HOW it will happen.

Part of me wanted to see Dare make even more hay with Colin’s money (or lack thereof or lack of access to it) hanging over his head, but that’s a minor quibble.

Jennifer: Interesting. I don’t think I would have liked that. 

The first book actually talked about that more. Colin whining about not being able to leave Spindle Cove because of his money. 

Adam: I get that. It would have introduced a level of detail about his finances that could have bogged things down.

Jennifer: These are standalone but they really do build on each other. 

Adam: Him whining about it is all we really need.

Because obviously enough people know about it if Minerva can bribe him with 500 guineas.

Jennifer: I don’t think he ever cared about the 500 guineas. 

And I’m too lazy to google. Is a guinea more than a pound?

Adam: IDK. I thought about googling it while reading, but I just assumed that it WAS more than a pound.

That’s the impression the novel gives us, and that’s the hallmark of a good writer.

Dare didn’t feel it necessary to launch into a few pages of exposition about currency in Regency Era England.

Jennifer: It’s one pound and five pence. 

Adam: So – just a little MORE than a regular pound?

That system makes no sense.

Jennifer: yes. 

It’s ridiculous. This is why JK Rowling came up with her insane exchange rate. 

They do weird stuff with money in England. 

Adam: **Insert comment about creating a single global currency here**

Jennifer: And on that note…any other comments?

I think we’re wrapping it up. 

Adam: No comments at this time other than I really enjoyed the read, and I’d like to read more in the future.

The scales have been removed from my eyes.

Jennifer: More Tessa Dare or more romance or both?

Adam: Both – as long as they write as well as Tessa Dare.

I just wonder if I will prefer historical, contemporary, or fantasy/science fiction.

Jennifer: She’s hard to match for wit. 

Adam: If this novel is any indication, I’d probably enjoy everything Dare writes.

Jennifer: I could see the fantasy/science fiction annoying you for being too far from the tropes for that genre. 

Adam: As in, being too far from traditional sci/fi tropes?

Jennifer: Yes. 


Adam: That’s a fair assessment. You have a good idea of the science fiction I read – not even considering Star Trek.

This has been fun!

I look forward to doing it again next month!