Lynne Connolly’s new contemporary erotica novella, "Strangers No More", starts with a relatable problem. Heroine Whitney Carmichael’s personal life is in complete shambles, something she attributes to her unfortunate looks. Whitney takes pride in her physique, but she dislikes her large nose and facial moles. While many readers will be able to understand and empathize with her insecurities, not everyone will be comfortable with the drastic action Whitney takes to find affirmation that she is attractive. In order to have a fulfilling sex life, she registers at a website called Stranger Danger, an website where strangers get each other’s information so they can meet up for anonymous sex.
It is refreshing to read about a heroine who takes decisive action to get what she wants, however, it is more than a bit disconcerting to know that Whitney is so willing to leave herself vulnerable, naked and alone with someone she has never met. Someone who’s only vetting is that he has access to a computer and email address. Fortunately for Whitney, she has gotten lucky on her first foray onto the site and has found a lover she has quickly become addicted to. Meeting after hours in dark hotel rooms around Los Angeles, Whitney and the man she calls “Stranger” can’t get enough of each other.
What Whitney doesn’t know is that the anonymous Stranger is actually her colleague Jay O’Neill. Jay saw that Whitney was going to find a sex partner online and decided to teach her a lesson. He arranged a meeting between them, not revealing his identity, and he got ready to scare her hoping that this would cure Whitney from meeting up with strangers from the Internet. (And While I applaud Jay’s message of safety, it is a little difficult to think of him as “hero” material considering that he had no qualms about freaking a friend out by tying her up and showing her weapons.)
Ultimately his plan didn’t work and instead of teaching Whitney the perils of the dating world, Jay's prank goes too far and the couple end up having sex. In the dark. While Jay speaks in a foreign accent in order to keep his identity a secret from Whitney.
And believe it or not, these sexual encounters are hot. Like grab-the-fire-extinguisher-because-the-room-just-caught-fire hot. Thinking that it is anonymous, Whitney feels completely uninhibited with Stranger. Willing to try new things, partly because she doesn’t feel the need to show her face, her every desire is completely fulfilled. There are no judgments or awkward "morning after"s. She can be whomever she wants in the dark.
These sex scenes are definitely the best parts of the story, which makes me wonder why the author dispenses them so few and far between. Instead of using these erotic moments to develop the characters, the author separates the lovers as Whiney focuses on her inner turmoil about her looks. Whitney has lots to think about when she is offered free plastic surgery through a charity to correct her looks.
Citing her need to look the part of a journalist in order to advance her career, Whitney makes the decision to go through with the surgeries. However, this is not based on her own wants and needs, but more because she feels pressure to change her appearance. It is sad to see Whitney making a choice to undergo invasive procedures that will certainly change her life forever just so she can potentially get a job on TV.
Whitney does get facial work done and while in recovery Jay is right beside her as a friend and co-worker. But at no point does he A) tell her that he is her lover “Stranger” or B) let her know that he was the one who nominated her for the surgery. (Well, at least the heroine isn’t the only one showing poor judgment, right?) It is a long, long time before Jay comes clean and even after he does, readers will probably still feel a bit betrayed.
Overall, erotica fans will appreciate the smoking hot sex and the unique story line. But readers beware, for romance fans whose ultimate desire is to be loved for who they are, regardless of their looks, "Strangers No More" is a blow. Is the story’s message that having a big nose can ultimately stop a person from finding true happiness? Because if this is the case, then perhaps Jay, Whitney as well as this story are all best left in the dark.
- Dawn Crowne