Enchanted – Nancy Madore

Cover - Enchanted by Nancy MadoreOnce upon a time, a young woman stood at the edge of the library stacks, wondering where, oh where, she’d find her perfect story. Years went by, and she continued to seek the perfect story. One was too hot, one was too cold, very few were just right.

Still she kept reading, deciding that no one tome would fit her every mood. She settled on a mix of stories, figuring variety was the spice of fantasy. After all, there is a great difference between story and reality. One always ends just right, the other, well, you know how it is when you wake up to cat vomit. Or morning breath. They sometimes smell the same.

Nancy Madore’s Enchanted is a collection of erotic bedtime stories for women. Being a woman who goes to bed, I am totally the demographic for this book. The stories in this collection are based on fairy tales and popular female fantasies. You know, the little dreams that help us get through our days.

In theory, this is a great concept. The idea of the fairy tale as erotic story was most popularly mined by Anne Rice (writing as A.N. Roquelaure). She told the tale of Sleeping Beauty and her awakening. Suddenly fairy tales were less horror stories and more female fantasies. When these books were published, they were both mainstream and utterly shocking. They were also emotionally cold. Despite the intense themes of dominance and submission and humility and the right of kings (also, queens), the stories were told from a distance. Emotions skimmed the surface of the characters. Never once did we feel like future rulers of Rice’s kingdoms had experienced true humility in a way that made one think they’d be considering the little people when they raised taxes.

Madore’s fairy tales have the same type of emotional distance. In her introduction, she, rather assertively, states that the stories are based on the most popular female fantasies…but, never fear, they’re going to be quite safe. No reader kinks will be harmed in the telling of these stories. And I will remain fully feminist and self-determined at the end of the process. Not that I worried.

Rarely has an introduction made me feel less…aroused. I don’t need to be reassured by the author – up front – that these stories (and the very real fantasies they represent) won’t harm the women’s movement. The whole point of these fantasies, in my opinion, is the fact that they suggest all manner of politically incorrect things, an element of danger. Real women don’t fear their fantasies.

I deplore rape and all of its connotations and denotations (seriously, buy me a glass of wine and you’ll get a good hour or so on the topic, complete with loud ranting and raving, possibly pounding on tables); still, I, like many women, can understand a rape fantasy. Mostly because I understand the difference between said fantasy and actual violence upon a body. Likewise, I’m happy to read about situations I (probably) wouldn’t participate in personally. I mean, I’d be completely happy with six dwarves-turned-princes. Seven is overkill.

All the usual suspects are present in this collection.Beauty and the Beast. Snow White. Cinderella. Cat and Mouse. In Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, particularly, Madore starts with a bold position: happily ever after ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Beauty starts off the story collection noting that she misses her beast, and despite my lack of engagement with the story and characters, ends with one of the most surprising, wrenching lines I’ve read in a while. Had that raw emotion been present throughout the story – nay, book – this would be a different review. You know me, I rarely get tingly over sentences (okay, not true; I force great sentences upon innocent bystanders). This one convinced me to read on.

Cat and Mouse showed great promise as the characters played with notions of dominance and submission, but it, sigh, devolved into every “alpha male and the woman who tamed him” romance novel you’ve ever read. With considerably cooler sex. Again, it was the lack of emotion emanating from the characters. Madore employs a storyteller voice throughout this book, and given the subject matter, an omniscient third person point-of-view is distancing for the reader. Also, the odd reluctance to put real names to body parts. Fairy tale characters surely have slang terms for penis, otherwise my faith in fiction is completely dissolved.

Today’s erotica often relies upon very graphic sex to titillate readers; this is why it feels disposable and dull. Good erotica evokes deep emotional (and, okay, physical) reaction. Like the Rice novels, the stories in Enchanted create a barrier between the reader and the characters. I never wanted to turn the page, and probably wouldn’t have finished the book. But it turns out there’s a “you have to finish the book” rule here at PBR.

As I write this, I am living a sort of fantasy of my own. A robot is scrubbing my kitchen floor. A. Robot. Is. Scrubbing. My. Kitchen. Floor. I mean, it’s like watching a man vacuum. I can look and see visible evidence of cleanliness. And I feel great pleasure. I feel intense joy. I am anticipating what happens when said robot encounters the secret space under my desk. The deep recesses of the bathroom. The hidden spots that I like to call forbidden.

Fantasy comes in many shapes and forms, but it must touch an emotional core. I love the idea of alternate versions of fairy tales – anything to erase the horror story aspects they suggest – but the distant voice employed by Nancy Madore in this collection of stories left me cold. Maybe I’m old-fashioned or maybe I’m just old, but I don’t want my erotic bedtime stories to put me to sleep…

You can find Nancy Madore here (okay, you can’t, either no website or it’s Google-proof). You can buy Enchanted here or here. And extra kudos to Spice for the great covers on their books. Really.

11 thoughts on “Enchanted – Nancy Madore

  1. Thanks for the review. I saw this book at Borders, but didn’t get it.
    FYI. Francesca Lia Block (an YA author) has rewritten nine fairy tales with the emphasis on a strong heroine. The book is Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold. Ms. Block is not a “safe” author. She often tackles gritty subjects. It may be a book worth checking out.

  2. I bought and read some of this book. I loved the cover, and the premise, and I bought it as a treat when I had a weekend evening to myself.
    Interesting that you compared it to A N Roquelaure’s books–which I loved–because I didn’t love this book. It was all right. I agree with the fact that there’s a barrier between the story and engaging our emotions (quite frankly, I read erotica like The Sleeping Beauty series and The Story of O for the hot sex and barely for the story), and I enjoy the fantasies for the same reasons you mentioned that you do. I’m comfortable in my feminity and feminism enough to enjoy the fantasies, knowing that they are just that.
    Anyway, I did find the sex in this book “cool” and it didn’t really engage me. My favorite of the stories was Goldilocks–as I said, I loved the premise and thought what Madore did with this particular story was fun. But the descriptions of the sexual activity weren’t all that erotic to me; they were definitely “removed.”
    I think you hit the nail on the head in your review. The distance is what kept this book from working for me!

  3. I can honestly say I have never heard of this book or the author.
    And, we impose the “you have to finish the book” rule as away of torturing the PBR reviewers. Well, I’m sure we disclosed the torture tactics when we forced you to join us. I’m reasonably sure…

  4. I got this one from PBS, but after a few stories I set it down. I just didn’t find anything to like in it. Frankly, it wasn’t even that erotic, just a bunch of sad sex scenes.

  5. Colleen — thanks for validating me. I kept rereading pieces of the book, trying to figure out what I was missing and I kept coming back to the coolness of the stories. The Sleeping Beauty stories kept coming to mind because, while they were certainly hot on the sex scale, they didn’t make me want to come back to them. Interestingly, rereading them years later, they felt rather stilted and staid. Not sure why.
    I can live without graphic descriptions, but, oh, how to say this?, I found that I could read this book on the treadmill. There are a lot of books I wouldn’t consider taking to the gym. This one seemed to work just fine. I suspect the author was going for a very stylized storytelling voice. It simply didn’t touch me on any level.
    HK — remember the day we cut the lines to get the books from the Spice authors??? Just saying…
    Nicole — your observation is interesting. There was a lot of sadness here. A lot of loneliness, too. The Beauty and the Beast story comes to mind because it started the collection and the tone there was definitely sad, a rememberance of a time gone by.
    Sandy — I haven’t read Block, but a friend of mine is a photographer, and she did a session with Block. I can still close my eyes and see one picture, and, crazy but true, I sort of love that shot and don’t want to know anything else about the author. Someday I will get past my bizarre emotional problems, I swear (g) — I’ve heard that she’s really fun to read.

  6. I am confused. Are we thinking of the same book? I ordered Nancy Madore’s Enchanted online and I was delighted with it. I am not familiar with the other books you mention here. I have just recently graduated from romance to erotica and have been reading books like Aqua Erotica (boring), 5 Minute Erotica (talk about unemotional) and the Best Women’s Erotica series (mildly good). When I got to Enchanted I could not believe the difference. The first thing I noticed was that the writing has class and style…a thing that is missing in romance and other erotica. It was very tastefully writtin yes, but “cool”? Have you read some of the other stuff out there (besides books from the 80’s? I mean stuff released lately? All thats out there really are detailed descriptions of womens private parts. I really was impressed by what the the author was trying to do here, concentrating on erotica, not giving women a complex like so many of the other books. There was lots of variety, with different fantasies in each story. I’m not sure how the stories could have been more explicit. After I read the book I had my husband read it and I have to say that both of us loved it and anyone who could fall asleep after reading it either doesn’t have an imagination or a pulse.

  7. I have been assured that I have a pulse (my doctor did a little check recently) and, according to my husband, I have an overactive imagination. We probably are talking about the same book — it clearly worked for you, but didn’t do a thing for me. As I noted, the only time I felt intense emotion — and I think you can have classy, elegant writing that touches a range of emotions — was the final line of Beauty and the Beast. Otherwise, I felt remarkably distanced from the stories and characters. I read a lot of erotica and agree that quite often the emphasis on graphic sex overshadows the emotions that the writing should arouse. Literally.

  8. Joan – I haven’t read this book. My only reference here comes from having read reviews and disagreed with reviewers’ comments in the past. From that perspective, I would offer the possibility that just because someone disagrees with your opinion does not mean the person is unimaginative or pulse-free.
    For instance, here at PBR Wendy has demonstrated an inability to appreciate the works of Jayne Ann Krentz. Now, I find this remarkable since JAK introduced me to romance (through her work – not in person) and, frankly, since Wendy usually has the good sense to agree with me about authors and books (forgetting for a second her love for THE ENGLISH PATIENT which, after four attempted reads, has the power to bore me into a coma-like sleep before chapter two). I happen to know Wendy has both a pulse and an imagination. We simply disagree on JAK. That doesn’t make her wrong about JAK…’tho I say that in public with some reluctance. Also, I’ve spoken with Kassia in person and online. I can say with some authority that she, too, has a beating heart and working brain. Not everyone can speak as eloquently about computers as they can about literary fiction. Kassia can.
    All this is my way of suggesting that saying people who disagree with you are wrong doesn’t really further the discussion. Neither do broad generalizations such as: “All thats out there really are detailed descriptions of womens private parts. I really was impressed by what the the author was trying to do here, concentrating on erotica, not giving women a complex like so many of the other books.” Or this point: “The first thing I noticed was that the writing has class and style…a thing that is missing in romance and other erotica.”
    Admittedly, as a romance author, that last comment struck a bit close to home. Confused me as well since, while I find some romance fiction lacking, being classless hasn’t been the issue. A lack of craft, well, sometimes. Unlike the broad conclusions stated, the reasoning behind those statements can lead to an interesting and open dialog. For instance, I’d like to discuss the style and class issues you mentioned, if for no other reason than to understand why romance fiction fails for you. It fails for me at times as well. In fact, we likely all have theories on what works and what doesn’t – some of those theories being more imaginative than others. If you’d like to discuss those issues, I’m in.

  9. HelenKay and Kassia,
    I apologise if I seemed to be criticizing you personally. I was responding to your review, and the comment about the pulse was really just kind of a joke, meant to bring a chuckle.
    I am a long time reader of romance I love romance novels. Jayne Krenz is a long time favorite of mine. But my old favorites started to get stale. Maybe its me and not the authors, but I started to feel like I was reading the same story over and over and over again. It seems hard to find something new. The other thing that bugged me was that the editing and the plots of romance novels are unprofessonal and sloppy. I’ll give you an example of what I mean…if you read a lot of romance you know that many times mystery is put in the story for a plot line. How many times…with bestselling authors mind you..have you read an ending where the killer stands there with the gun explaining the story? Ive read that ending over and over. This makes me so mad to think that just because I am a reader of romance novels the authors and publishers think I am a total dunce. Romance readers are readers, and reading in my opinion is a clear sign of a working, thinking brain.
    The other thing I started to hate was the way the female characters are glamour queens. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand anything by Danielle Steele and others like her for that reason. Its like, enough already. I am reading this for romance, not for a rundown on what this author thinks a woman has to look like to get a man to fall in love with her. How is that romantic?
    I was impressed with the way Nancy Madore handled this in her book. I wish other authors would pick up on this. I have found a few that do but they are few and far between. (Another of my favorites is the author of “Nobody’s Angel” which is a fantastic romance that is also really funny but I can’t at the moment remember the author’s name). The point is I think romance and erotica should center more on things the man is doing and the interaction between the woman and the man and not so much what the woman’s body looks like. And that is what I felt when I read Enchanted. I was surprised when I read your comments about Cat and Mouse because that story was all sensual interplay between the two characters. There wasn’t anything else in there. And Beauty and the Beast is my favorite story. I read it several times, and every time I was impressed by how graphic the author gets without using graphic language. I just thought the effort and the effect were much appreciated.
    In your review you mention books I never read but you pretty much said you didn’t like those either. If these are the books you dont like, what do you consider good romance and erotica?

  10. I was online searching for this book (its sold out at B&N and Amazon) and saw this post. I too have read the book and was actually trying to buy more copies for gifts for my friends for the holidays. I was surprised by the negative reviews here. This is an amazing book! On so many levels. As I read it I was thinking the same things as Joan above…and I really appreciated the efforts this author made to speak to me as a woman. It in inconceiveable to me that someone would not be able to finish this book! If nothing else curiosity about the fairy tales and what the author would do with them would keep someone reading. Are these reviews just negative for the sake of being negative?

  11. Felicity – I’m a bit surprised by your comment about our reviews being negative for the sake of being negative. If you read through our reviews, you’ll see that we love many books, don’t love others and in some books we both love and don’t love some aspects. We try to present those views in a professional manner. Our reviews aren’t negative – they’re honest.
    One thing has become clear during PBR’s existence and time reviewing the romance/women’s fiction genre: many people can’t tolerate honest reviews; viewpoints that are different from their own; or any suggestion that a book or some part of a book could be better. Almost all of us who review for PBR are also writers. We understand the potential impact of both good and bad reviews. We get it. We take this seriously. We want to love every book and wish we did.
    As I wrote previously, just because you disagree with Kassia’s view of this book does not mean Kassia is being mean or vindictive. It simply means the two of you disagree. She’s stating her view on the book and her reason for the same. You disagree. That’s fine. The reviewers at PBR often disagree about the same book. We encourage different viewpoints. What mystifies us is that so many readers and fellow authors believe this can’t be done without namecalling and without attaching negative motives to our reviews. Frankly, we don’t understand this hard-line Us V. Them mentality.
    If you want all-positive-all-the-time reviews, there are plenty of sites out there that practice this way. We’re not one of them. As our Mission Statement says, we started this site because we found a lack of honest reviews about the romance genre. We read romance, enjoy it and wait impatiently for certain titles to be released just like any other dedicated reader. Out of our collective love for romance fiction and our desire that it continue to thrive and grow, we started this site. While I’m sorry you found your time at PBR dissatisfying, we’re very proud of our work here and will continue to be honest – even when it would be easier not to be.

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