This post is probably NSFW (Not Safe For Work).
This is NOT my usual Postcards fare. Although this blog isn’t SO heavily focused on Juv/YA anymore, I usually shy away from reviewing books that are much more than PG-13 (this one is definitely NC-17 — I’m going to be very vague about the erotic elements and I won’t quote any of the super salty language, but you may still want to be careful) because they very rarely align with my general interests. I briefly kept another blog for those rare ones that did, and I’m leaving it up even though I’m not actively updating it anymore.
I was actually planning to review a different book today — a very personal Feel Good Fright that got me through a horrible week exactly a year ago. To put it vaguely, I was in the hospital and that book was such an over-the-top Jerry-Springer-meets-Sweet-Valley thriller (it even involves twins, and it takes place in October!) that it made me want to stay and heal long enough to find out how it ends.
But re-reading it more recently, I kept noticing things my mind had glossed over or ignored the first time — things that were preeeeetty hard to miss now that I was focused on more than the plot.
Basically, I found myself mentally drafting too long of a disclaimer, and a few too many trigger warnings besides, until I realized this wasn’t the kind of escapism I wanted to focus on right now. I may still talk about it in the future, because I want to acknowledge that not all books Feel Good in the same way to everyone, and it is possible to find something worthwhile — lifesaving, even — in a flawed book. If you’re really curious, please feel free to see me in the comments!
But for today, I’m going to skip ahead to a VERY pumpkin-spicy romance that’s MUCH more progressive and upbeat, and which I’m sure will fit Just Right for those Bookwyrms in the mood for something definitely-not-PG.
That said, again, I’m going to be VERY vague about the actual erotic parts because, as much as I support the concept, I still had to skip past most of those scenes to keep my face from freezing in a permanently uncomfortable cringe (that’s not a reflection of the quality of those scenes; I’m just very, very Vanilla).
Overall, I’m going to focus on the inverted Cinderella plot, the super unique New York riverside bar setting, the realistically complex characters, and the wonderful messages about self-worth and fully-informed consent. And it’s absolutely a testament to the strength of those elements that they kept me going even when I was feeling particularly squeamish.
Anyhoo, I’m also counting my review as this week’s #FaeFriday response (delightfully similar to Kristy’s response, in fact!) because fairy tales in general — and steamy fairy tales in particular — are absolutely great for the colder months when we gather around bonfires and hearth fires and tell stories of Pumpkin Kings and the badass, self-made creepy dolls who love them.
Laura Lovely. Pumpkin Pounder. Laura von Holt Creative Enterprises, 2019.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Yelp reviews that will eventually catch the attention of relevant New York authorities, forcing The Tug Boat to get up to code, dramatically reducing its original appeal.
Recommended if you like: fairy tale erotica; really progressive and sex-positive romances; settings you wish existed in real life; really fun, quotable lines; fairly well-rounded and relatable characters with very unique quirks; totally unfiltered Halloween parties; and homages to The Nightmare Before Christmas.
- “Pumpkin Spice (Everything),” by Tony Two-Step — this R-rated song totally matches the narrator’s love of All Things Halloween, and the music video is super Fall Festive.
- “Ginger,” by David Devant & His Spirit Wife (definitely check out the music video ;-D )
- “Ginger Ninja,” by Fox Comet.
- “This is Halloween,” from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack
- Basically, just Google “pumpkin spice playlists” or “songs about pumpkin spice” and you’ll get a plethora of seasonal soundtracks. Here’s one from Bustle … here’s one from odyssey … here’s one on Spotify … and here’s an indie/folk list from Daily Nexus.
“Laura Lovely” is one of the pen-names of Laura von Holt, host of The Mermaid Podcast (which I HIGHLY recommend). She’s written several mermaid-themed romances, including a Splash-themed story (which I also recommend if you’re into sexy fairy tale remixes, cult-classic movie homages, and spandex mermaid tails). Plus, the 2020 Collector’s Edition has a Bonus Epilogue that takes place during the quarantine and, for several months, proceeds went to the Food Bank for New York City).
As far as I can tell from the two novellas I’ve read so far (Splash Me is only two chapters long, while Pumpkin Pounder is four), these books offer a very light, very inexpensive form of escapism; the e-versions are between $0.99 and $3.
Pumpkin Pounder takes place on Halloween Night in west-side Manhattan. The narrator and her roommate Rachel head to the riverfront, where their favorite bar is all decked out (pun completely intended) for the occasion. The Tug Boat is exactly what it sounds like — an old ship converted into a semi-secret, semi-illegal bar docked at an otherwise unused pier on the Hudson River.
Everyone knows it’s only a matter of time before someone stupidly writes about it in an official “best of” list and the authorities force the owner to fix it up. Which, on the other hand, encourages visitors to throw their whole selves into the experience — act like it’s The Tug Boat’s last night and whatnot.
Anyhoo, the narrator and her roommate each have their goals for the night — the former’s being to find yet another hot redhead to…ahem…party with. Apparently, “pumpkin pounder” is sex slang for someone who prefers gingers. She even dresses like Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, as “an inside joke with [herself].” Get it? Because Sally loves The Pumpkin King?
And of COURSE our Sally/Cinderella finds The Perfect Guy within an hour. The only problem is, once she realizes she might like him for more than just physical reasons, a twist in fate nearly pulls them apart forever, leaving our Cinderella “without even a shoe to go on.”
So! Themes! This story is totally pro-sex and, at the same time, portrays the characters as more than just eye candy. No one ever shames the narrator for being promiscuous or considers it a conflict with any of the other facets of her life, and although she doesn’t stay aromantic for the whole book, there’s no sense that there’s anything wrong with people who are aromantic long-term. Weeell, except for a few lines about “looking for something real,” but even those seemed like individual, narrator-specific musings rather than pure generalizations.
The author does toe the line into stereotype territory with her portrayal of the redheaded Love Interest, who comes from Ireland (I know) and whom the narrator refers to as “the Irishman” for most of the story. But, as it becomes clear later, that’s part of her usual attempt to stay at surface level with men. As she gets to know him better, the narrator realizes she values the guy as more than just a type (and yes, you do learn both of their names), and she re-evaluates her assumptions about what she wants out of life and relationships.
She realizes that, although there’s still nothing wrong with sex for its own sake (and she makes sure both she and her Pumpkin King know exactly what to expect from that experience, as well as fully agreeing to certain guidelines), she also has the right to want something more emotional in the long run.
On a related note! I love the story’s realistic, non-cringey portrayal of therapists. The narrator’s therapist, Emily, is nowhere near the cliché Freud worshipper that you see in more two-dimensional stories. She validates the narrator’s desires — both the physical and the emotional ones. She helps the narrator see that, while she’s “not ashamed to be a woman with a sex drive,” she’s also not wrong to change her mind about how much of a priority that is over her other features. She helps the narrator to see herself as “a keeper” in every sense, not just for one night.
Finally, I LOVED the fun, quotable lines sprinkled like nutmeg throughout the story. A few examples:
Re: The endearingly cheap and unofficial nature of The Tug Boat:
So what if the bartenders are drinking as much as their patrons? Take your crappy drink and love your life!
Re: The New York Dream
New York is a magnet for talent and dreamers, and it’s my opinion that any break those talented dreamers can catch is just the tax New York must pay to keep its citizens interesting.
The narrator’s very savvy roommate, re: date safety:
Rachel whips out her phone. Before The Irishman knows what’s going on, she’s snapped a photo of him. “I watch Law & Order, sir. If anything bad happens to her, I have your face.”
Emily the therapist, on changing desires:
“It’s okay to change your mind about what you want. Your desires are allowed to evolve. It takes time to learn about ourselves, and it’s normal to make mistakes while you figure it out.”
Disclaimer, again: the “mistake” she’s referring to is NOT the desire to prioritize sex over romance; it’s the narrator’s assumption that she’s only ALLOWED to want that one thing for the rest of her life.
Overall, I thought this was a very cleverly twisted Cinderella story with very modern messages about self-esteem and second chances. The Tug Boat setting is so much fun I wish there really was such an upcycled bar (or coffeehouse!) in real life (only, yeah, I would prefer an up-to-code, grounded version…less motion-sickness on my part, and I’m really not the nonchalantly-risk-getting-busted-by-the-police type).
The only reason I docked half a point was for the personal squick factor. I just can’t with those super-detailed scenes, you know? Which, I know, is the whole point of erotica, and I definitely knew what I was getting into from the start, but dang it, I’m allowed to be as subjective as I want on my own blog.
Anyhoo, what about you, Bookwyrms? Any very genre-specific books you’d like to pair with a pumpkin spice latte and caramel apple pie? Any genre books that twist or subvert the usual formulas or assumptions? Any books you somehow picked up even though they’re waaaay out of your wheelhouse and that ended up delighting you?
Pumpkin patch clipart from the no-longer-existant kathleenhalme.com