The Lust Diaries Series by Tasha Harrison
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Erotica
Series? Yes (must read all 3 books to reach the single story's conclusion; two additional novellas are optional to the series)
Primary Tropes: Love Triangle, Tortured Heroine, Abuse Survival
Secondary Tropes: Forbidden Romance, Familial Strife, light BDSM
Spoiler-Free Plot Description: Yves, an underemployed writer who blogs about her sexual exploits, is approached by closet fan Elijah, an editor for a big deal publisher. They both stand to gain if he helps launch her to literary stardom, so he leads the conversion of her popular sex blog into a memoir. The writing process forces Yves to face her inner psyche, and her dubious relationship with sex, while juggling the expectations of people she’s not ready to face. Her critical mother, an abusive ex, and intense attraction to the sexy artist, Julian are complicated by a double life she begins to lead with Elijah when he leads her to open an unexpected Pandora’s Box.
Spoiler-Full Plot Description: The central character conflict for Yves relates to her sexual identity and her sense of place within intimate relationships. She is a survivor of physical and sexual abuse, but struggles to reconcile an authentic arousal she feels from rough sex with the abuse she sustained. Harrison throws in three men who serve as the perfect foils: the abusive ex (who triggers confusing arousal within her despite their irredeemable past), the forbidden colleague (who legitimizes her kinks by giving them context, yet harbors his own issues that complicates hers), and the soulful artist (who has more integrity, self-awareness, and purity of heart than any other character in the book and is the man she knows she should want to be with). All of these men want her, but if Yves is to transform, she has to do something she never has—choose a path that is deeply gratifying and healthy all at once.
What Makes It Stand Out: This is a love triangle that transcends the typical sophomoric setup. Less adroit authors want readers to fall a little in love with both idealized love interests before promptly picking a side and jockeying for their horse. In the Lust Diaries, Harrison discards this “Team Edward vs. Team Jacob” dynamic for relatable grown-up complexity. This inspires the reader to fully identify with Yves rather than to experience the love triangle as a Mary Sue. Themes of attainability, timing and the quest for self-discovery add tension and realism to the story. The best part of this triangle is that it does not feel binary; I’ve come to think of it as a love trident. Yves doesn’t have two choices—she has three. It is never treated as a foregone conclusion that she will end up with either Elijah or Julian; she might reject both men and choose to be by herself.
What You’ll Love About It: Truly original characters are a rarity, but this book has them in spades, and with subtleties that affirm Harrison’s mastery of her craft. At the same time as they are nothing like the characters we see in so much contemporary romance, they are exactly like people we know in real life. Yves smokes on the back stoop with her elderly neighbor. Her best friend is ride or die for her, but she’s also jealous and resentful of the way Yves steals so much sexual attention. Yves and her sister aren’t enemies, but they’re not close either and their relationship is painfully awkward. Elijah’s mom is a functioning alcoholic. Elijah’s dad is a casual racist. The tension and entertainment value created by characters this real is a towering strength of the book.
Truisms, Complexities, and Other Themes: I loved that this series could have ended so differently. This series inspires discussion and would create interesting debate in a book club setting. We understand her final decision, but two other outcomes would also have fit. As in life, there is no clear, singular answer. As in life, each character has serious imperfections. Any choice she could make will be bittersweet.
The Standout Side Character: Every great book has a secondary character who stands out. In this series, it is Marcelo, Yves’ brother, who trusts her unlike anyone else in her life. Yves is subject to manipulation by nearly every character who is close to her, yet Marcelo reminds us that Yves’ confusion need not undermine her wisdom, and that only Yves can decide what is best for herself.