This is the third monthly installment of Book Reviews. This month I’ll be reviewing a novel by my friend, Aurelia T. Evans. Being that she is someone I know, I risked not being able to be completely impartial, so from here on out, I will not do a review for a book from an author I know. As for Aurelia, you can find her on WordPress or on Facebook.
For this month’s book review, I have selected an erotic novel, Winter Howl by Aurelia T. Evans. Let me be totally honest and say that erotic fiction is not a genre I’m all too familiar with, but be that as it may, I jumped right in, and quickly took a quick cold shower. Who knew erotica meant sex? Okay, I did, but still…wow!
The story follows Renee Chambers, proprietor of a no-kill dog sanctuary nestled on the borders of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. The sanctuary, founded by her parents, is a shelter where all dogs, except those of a violent disposition, are accepted, and cared for. They also created an adoption program to help find loving homes for their charges.
What they didn’t expect was to find themselves playing host to guests of a different nature. Renee stumbled onto another world when she found a puppy who shifted from a wolf-like dog into a young girl, around the same age as Renee. The family took her in, not knowing what to do about the fact that they had canine shape-shifters in their midst. Ultimately, they came to an agreement; that they could stay, as long as they helped out with the care of the sanctuary.
Many years, later, after the deaths of her parents, Renee is now in charge, helped out by an unlikely group of shape-shifters, all who live on the ground unanimously. Her best friend, Britt, who happens to be the young pup that introduced the family to the shape-shifting world, lives in the house, along with her boyfriend and a few others that provide help in return for a place to live.
However, it is Renee that is the focal point of the narrative. Renee is an agoraphobe, – from the Greek αγορά meaning gathering place or market; and φόβος/φοβία, -phobia or fear – and has trouble going out in public, relying on Britt, who assumes a role as a service dog.
Her social anxiety has manifested in such a way that she rarely interacts with people off her property, and it has led to a de facto celibate lifestyle. The shape-shifters, Britt included, live with a different set of moral and ethical behaviors, including sexually, and Britt helps Renee develop healthy bonds with people, including slowly introducing her into the joys of sex.
This is all disturbed by the appearance of Grant, who turns out to be a werewolf. Werewolves and shape-shifters are natural enemies, and the enmity is evident as soon as Grant arrives. Renee, as owner and executive of the sanctuary, has the ultimate say as to whether Grant stays or leaves. Opting to give him a chance, it is through him that Renee experiences her first, true taste of sexuality, raw, over-powering, uninhibited. Through him, she relinquishes control, much to the dismay of Britt and the rest of the shape-shifters in her care.
At first glace, I thought this book was primary a sex novel, tawdry, cheap, but still highly arousing. What I missed, but soon realized to my satisfaction, is that the story is actually a look into the group dynamics of an insular group. It also illuminates the struggles of a person suffering from an anxiety disorder. (Geek side note: Sometimes it’s diagnosed as a feature of a Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia (300.21 DSM-IV), but can also be diagnosed as Agoraphobia Without History of Panic Disorder (300.22 DSM-IV-TR). Note: There is a fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-V 2013, but I’m unable at the moment to locate a copy.)
It’s fascinating because you can gauge the internal struggle our heroine faces as she tries to live her daily life, and as she takes the first tentative steps into sexually intimate relationship, first with Britt, and then with Grant. There’s also the dynamic between the core group of and the outsider.
It begs the question, why would a woman like Renee, who is quiet and reserved and is not one to take undue risk, go for a man like Grant? Why would she abandon control, giving it over to someone who is obviously dangerous, and quite possibly homicidal? Then there’s the helplessness and betrayal that is felt by the core pack on the sanctuary, especially Britt, who looks to Renee as both a friend and a lover.
It’s easy to dismiss the book as solely a sex novel, but it’s so much more. The book is about the dynamics of a woman and the company she keeps. It’s about how a person suffering from anxiety tries to cope, wanting to gain more from life as she yearns to break free from the prison of her safe little world within, and discover the world without, in spite of the costs and the risks.
Looking at it from that perspective, the use of sex is not gratuitous but a deliberate vehicle to push the bounds of our character. The loss of innocence/virginity is seen as a rite of passage in our society, and in exploring that side of her womanhood, she discovers a little more about herself, and those around her.
Aurelia does such an amazing job weaving her story that it’s easy to overlook what really is at stake. What are we willing to sacrifice in order to live our lives? What are we willing to lose in the pursuit of interpersonal contact, including and especially that of an intimate nature? Why does it seem that we are willing to risk our safety to be with someone who is an obvious threat when there is someone closer to home, one who is infinitely more wholesome and a better fit?
My verdict? I recommend this book, as long as you are not puritanical in nature. It is well written, well thought out, and leaves you anxious as to what will happen next. And the straight and lesbian sex is nice as well. It’s definitely a good read. Check it out on Amazon!