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Yearn: Tales of Lust and Longing by Tobsha…
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Yearn: Tales of Lust and Longing

by Tobsha Learner

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A prize from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program that I was super excited about! I can’t even count the number of boxes Yearn’s synopsis checked off for me: “Atmospheric and Lyrical” erotica “for readers eager to move beyond Fifty Shades of Grey“.

Happily, it more than lives up to this description.

Yearn has also been described as “a thinking woman’s erotica,” something I am extremely fond of given my propensity to overthink my reading material. However, I don’t think the logic of all these stories stands up to intense thought–in retrospect, some incidents go naggingly unexplained and unresolved, while others just become ridiculous.

Ink–Somewhat unusually, this short story collection puts one of the longest pieces first. All the same, I devoured it in one sitting. Ink is a fun, well-researched historical fantasy piece, written with a light hand–it is not only lyrical but also reveals a sense of humor through the interjections of a first person narrator who is supposedly an established figure in British literature (perhaps Charles Dickens?). I genuinely enjoyed the twist ending which, among other things, redeemed what at first appeared like very tired exoticism in the origins of D’Arcy’s little magic ritual. Oh, those zany Polynesian natives, amirite?

Flight--Although I don’t contest the description of Learner’s writing as lyrical, I counted four out of nine stories in this collection beginning with “It is a…” or “It was a…”. An extremely minor nitpick, but it came to my attention when both Ink and Flight opened this way. It was not, at least, a dark and stormy night.

All the same, like Ink, Flight opens with a lot of telling rather than showing. While Ink was introducing me to the fascinating world of 19th century men of letters, in this case seeing the actor protagonist’s life story and ambitions being laid out so plainly made him look a bit ridiculous. Perhaps that was the point. I did love the callback to Ink which hints at a Cloud-Atlas style interconnected setup for this volume.

Barrow Boy–This story continues with the collection’s pattern of male POVs (an intriguing choice for “women’s” erotica) and tying in to previous stories (I especially enjoyed this one for further developing a character from Flight). It opens differently though, strong from the start with dialogue and conflict. Metals trader Edward finds himself lying to his aristocratic future in-laws about going to Oxford. On the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, Eddy experiences a crisis of his own, as questions over his identity implode when he encounters an old school love and spends a night on the town with her. Only a few pages in I began reading the words with a Cockney accent. It was splendid.

Fur–Like Ink, this story has a strong fantasy element, although a very haphazardly executed one. It also suffers from its opening. Losing a loved one or family member to mental illness is a buzzkill even the sexist mood would not survive. But May’s affair with the werecat her perhaps-delusional, perhaps-possessed former boyfriend gives to her proves interesting, especially as more is implied about the magic here than stated outright.

Tigger–A older woman finds love with a younger man in Melbourne. I liked seeing a woman who knows what she wants, and though I have some minor nitpicks about the couples' dynamic, the chemistry between the two is palpable and grows to genuine affection, which makes the revelation of the just-askew-of-first-person narrator poignant if not entirely unexpected.

Pussy and Mouse–This tale of a Second Life dominatrix has some excellent moments as it explores the capacity of totally immersion in virtual reality. I almost felt like I was reading science fiction, which says a lot about the technology we currently have and its effect on willing minds. However, as with Tigger, the “twist” was predictable and seemed very reliant on coincidence. Pussy and Mouse also, disappointingly, shares with 50 Shades of Grey a point of criticism: that True Love makes the protagonist give up those wicked BDSM ways (to be fair, those wicked ways were only practiced in an online fantasy life).

Weather–A woman develops an extreme crush on the weatherman. This is a ridiculous premise, of course, but Learner manages to sell it by her extremely lyrical descriptions of said weatherman and his methods of illustrating oncoming rains, winds out of the southwest, etc. Even her descriptions of the actual weather are elementally sexy. Unfortunately, as I mentioned with Fur, losing someone to a mental illness is a major buzzkill, and there is no way our protagonist cannot be assumed to be extremely unbalanced. Sexily unbalanced, though.

Flower–A newly divorced woman conquers her uncertainties about her sexuality with the help of a gay escort and a fascinating sculpture of flower-vaginas. There is an interesting parallel made between female circumcision and vaginoplasty, although it falls somewhat flat to me after reading about the actual debate over cultural imperialism’s role in the battle against FGM. Our wealthy Western protagonist is on much more solid ground managing her own liberation as she comes to terms with the fact that natural labia are unlikely to resemble those of a pornstar.

It’s better than it sounds, honestly. Thinking women’s erotica indeed, with excellent potential to spark conversation among a book club or other literary circle with very particular tastes.

The Alchemy of Coincidence–All the stories in Yearn tie into their predecessor, and this features one of the closet ties–the sculptor of vaginal flowers from Flower is preparing a new art show, and perhaps a magical one at that. Satisfying as magical realism as well as erotica, this piece follows her adventures as she sculpts the face and body of a man glimpsed in a magazine, hoping her image-making will produce a coincidence drawing him to her.

I ending this collection hoping for a unifying “theory of everything,” and perhaps the theory of image-making and binding coincidences is as close as it comes. Between Ink and Alchemy of Coincidence, Yearn begins and ends with magic. As a fantasy fan, I appreciate that. Unfortunately, as a fantasy fan I like my magic to come with rationality and completeness, and this set of “thinking woman’s” sexy stories leaves many lingering questions–most pressingly for me, what happened to Mitch from Fur, and/or the sorcerer now inhabiting his body?

A longer review of this volume, with a few more nitpicks, appears on my author's blog. ( )
  TC.Mill | Apr 14, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
These stories were of a much higher literary quality that I usually find in erotica anthologies. That alone made it worth reading for me. The fact that the stories were also entertaining was a bonus. ( )
  NicoleCenteno | Jan 29, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Yearn is a book filled with erotic short stories that tend to lean toward the literary side. I wasn't enthralled with this book, but it was an adventure! ( )
  Sarah_Hearts_Books | Jan 7, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was fortunate to receive an Early Review copy of Yearn, by Tobsha Learner. This is the first book I have read by Ms. Learner. I thought the stories well written and I liked the “thread” between the stories. The only negative I could add is that some of the stories seem to be just regular stories with sex dropped in to transform them into erotica. Not that I expect erotica from the first paragraph but I do like to be enamored in the first few pages. "Weather" was my favorite along with "Flower."
  coker74 | Jan 5, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Tobsha Learner's newest erotic fiction Yearn Tales of Lust and Longing is a collection of 9 short stories. These works tie in a more subtle and not a smack in your face type of erotic fiction. They work their way slowly thru the story probing the complexities of desire. Even though each story is different they fell to come together and flow as one. Each story is much more than can be written in a review. I particularly liked "Barrow Boy" about a self made millionaire who meets a lady of the night and realizes she was an old friend who he went out on a date with when they were teenagers. There are themes that have a hint of the supernatural. Like a cat who controls a woman's dreams and makes them highly erotic. There also is a longer story about an eighteenth-century biographer and a magic erotic ritual. Overall this is a good book for those that enjoy erotic fiction with more of a story than just sexual content. ( )
  realbigcat | Dec 29, 2013 |
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A collection of nine sensual, witty and mystical stories marking Tobsha Learner's return to the short story format after the success of both Quiver and Tremble, and exploring the universal experiences of near-miss romantic encounters and secret regrets.… (more)

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