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Five Shades of Smart: Erotica for the Educated Reader

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It’s been a while since E.L. James’ ‘Fifty Shades’ books hit the shelves with a bang, and a whole lot of controversy. There followed a glut of similar-feel stories, but it’s rare to find a raunchy read that’s emotionally compelling and smart. Today’s romance readers are highly educated, successful in life and work, and largely female. We still seek a red-hot read, but one that reflects our own intelligence. We need emotionally charged, not emotionally abusive. Give us characters that are smart, dialogue that is fresh, story that is relatable. Here are five books for the educated reader, with not a shade of Grey in sight.

Pleasures of the Night

Pleasures of the Night brings us effortlessly into the other-world of Aidan Cross, a dream guardian. Guardians work to protect humanity, and, in Aidan’s case, provide a red-hot role in a woman’s erotic dreams, feeding her pleasure, protecting her from pain. He becomes whatever fantasy she dreams up, and never fails to satisfy. I’m not into fantasy fiction, but the prologue hooks immediately—Aidan moves quickly from enthralling his ‘dreamer’ with intense sexual fantasies that she herself has wished for, to slaying a plethora of Nightmares who want to attack the sleeping woman’s psyche with her deepest fears and painful memories.

Guardians nurture and heal, but one dreamer puts up barriers against all those who are trying to protect her. This skill makes Lyssa stand out for all the wrong reasons, so when it threatens the realm’s survival, Aidan is charged with discovering Lyssa’s secret. If he fails, for the good of his realm, he must eliminate her. Heavy stuff, but the world Day builds is deftly drawn: the pacing alternates between intense and fun, but authority and intelligence remain. 

30 Days

When Alyssa loses her husband Rob, he charges her with a task much tougher than grief: move on, mentally and sexually. He has left suggestions—sex cards intended to heal and comfort her, and crucially, help her over the last hurdles of loss. Told with humour, this story entices with its warmth as we watch a woman struggle to align parts of her life that grief has ripped apart, to slowly rediscover her sexuality and the woman she is now. D’Abo’s human tone infuses every page, meaning there is less ‘widow’ and more ‘woman’. Big sister Nikki is frank and hilarious, but what I like about this story is how relatable Alyssa is—mortified in the sex shop Nikki forces her to visit, smothered by the guilt that recurring grief brings. And when faced with life’s shittier predicaments, she says what we all mutter now and then: ‘Aw, f**k it’. 


So is this one where the title says it all? Yes and no. In Dirty, Elle makes sure she enjoys sex on her terms. She knows a bad chat-up line when she hears it, but her encounter with a brand new guy is poor escapism, erotic with a touch of romance. Hart has always written for the smart reader, and here’s why: her character portraits go deep, as deep as her sex scenes, and with frank language and unapologetic behaviour, her scenes in this erotic tale leave little to the imagination.


Pay no mind to the cringey title, there’s nothing Dad-like or Grey (sorry) about Brandon, an older man who’s spent his life in Temperance Falls raising his daughter, as he fights his growing attraction to a much younger woman. There’s something about this town (there’s a whole series set there): it’s a place where May-December romances are ten-a-penny, including Brandon’s own daughter who’s in a relationship with his best friend. But when Brandon falls for his young-adult daughter’s best friend, Gen, the mind goes ‘huh?’, but the pages just keep a-turnin’. Gen takes no crap, she wants what she wants, and although Brandon struggles with the age difference and his need to be responsible, the attraction between these two—intellectual and physical—is equal in every way. I enjoyed the super-fast pacing, the characters’ original slant, and the dual point of view proving the lust between these two is as mutual as it gets. London Hale is a partnership of writers Brighton Walsh and Ellis Leigh, and they manage to maintain a sense of respect while igniting passion in a big way. Brandon is a guy to fall in love with—he’s genuine and kind and fabulous in bed, because as the by-line goes, ‘experience counts’.

The Master: Submissive 7

You’d be forgiven for thinking that writing BDSM is easy. Well, it isn’t, but writing good BDSM is where Tara Sue Me comes into form. She writes respectfully and knowledgeably (or so I’m told) about the very real world of BDSM and the strong women and men who people it. Sasha Blake has had bad experiences in the past—who hasn’t? But if you’re a woman who’s into submission, however strong you are, however much you enjoy it, one bad ‘scene’ experience can destroy any attempt you make to enjoy it again. Despite her past hurts, Sasha wants to return to this lifestyle, but needs help from Cole. Casual in social circles he may be, but in a playroom, this man is a firm Dominant. Despite the use of ‘Master’-this and ‘Sir’-that, the story threads a fine understanding of this oft-ridiculed genre, laces it with strong human emotion, and shows that beyond the playroom there is a chemistry between two people who fulfil each others’ needs in the sexual world they both adore. 

Like every fiction genre, erotica has its share of rotten apples, but these five novels shine through to delight and entertain. Have you enjoyed other erotic titles? Let us know below.  


Nicola writes web content, including pieces for the Irish Independent, SavvyAuthors.com and a dating website. She writes romantic fiction under the name Nikki Weston. She lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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