Hotelles: A Novel

by Emma Mars

(Harper Perennial, $15.99, 592 pages)

Who is this author?

That’s a very good question. “Emma Mars” is the pen name of a writer who lives in France, and that is about all we know. Except for this, which the author wrote on

“The first thing to know about me is, definitely, that I am… French! Maybe this is a dull detail for you, but I think that who I am as a writer (I’ve written something like 12 novels, under several names) comes from that specific origin. Even when I create a story that does not take place in France (I have, a few times), I guess that the way I feel and describe my characters is French to the core. For instance, I’m obsessed with smell and perfumes, which is a typical French (bad) habit.

“Another great source of inspiration for me is to close my eyes and imagine a place I’d like to be. When I wrote the very first lines of Hotelles, I saw a beautiful hotel room, designed as a replica of a famous bedroom in a Napoleonic Castle, and just tried to guess what could happen to a young girl lying in such a gorgeous and mysterious place. Why is she here? Is she alone? What could make her presence here odd?

“Then I only had to write her story as I’d like it to be told to me – full of thrill, emotion, and sensuality. Also, before each writing session, I did some breathing exercises; my eyes closed, and tried to slip into Annabelle’s mind and body. To feel the same things as her, even what her belly or her sex could feel in such circumstances. To really BE her, before writing like her.”

OK, then.

What is this book about?

Forget the red cover — this book could have been clad in 50 shades of grey. What’s it about? A mysterious lover. Secret notes. Sex. And more sex. In Paris, in the Hotel des Charmes, whose rooms are named for legendary French seductresses. There Annabelle, a young woman who works as an “escort,” and is about to marry a rich and powerful man who doesn’t know about her occupation (or does he?), is taking on one last client, who turns out to be her fiance’s brother, a man who has a fetish for fetishes. Uh-oh.  Annabelle has much to discover about passion and desire and how they relate to true freedom. Readers of her story will learn a lot, too.

Why you’ll like it:

It’s sensuous summertime. What better time for a book that takes a cool look at a hot story? Far, far better written than the inexplicably popular “Fifty Shades,” this is an exploration of eroticism with a heavy French accent and with a good bit of mystery thrown in. Read this one with a tall, cooling drink handy: there’s a heat wave between those red covers. And it’s the first book in a trilogy!

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says in a starred review: “Pseudonymous French author Mars offers an intricate erotic tale that grabs the reader on its first page and never lets go. Annabelle is an aspiring journalist whose mother needs expensive medical care—so Annabelle becomes Elle, a paid escort for one of Paris’s most exclusive agencies. When she meets high-flying businessman David Barlet and he proposes marriage, Elle thinks her problems are over, but they’re just beginning. David’s brother, Louie, is one of Elle’s past clients, and he’s not above blackmailing her. Meanwhile, someone is sending Elle anonymous erotic notes. And her husband-to-be may not be as oblivious to his brother’s machinations as Elle thinks. As the mysteries unwind, Elle proves that she’s more than able to take care of herself. Clever details add an extra dimension for readers familiar with French language and culture, but Elle’s story is accessible to any reader. Rather than producing a Fifty Shades of Grey clone, Mars has created a sensuous, fascinating, and erotic achievement all her own.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: “Struggling to finish her journalism degree and help her cancer-stricken mother, a young escort finds herself swept up in an erotic education that threatens her impending fairy-tale wedding. Elle hopes her job working for an exclusive escort agency won’t last long. Obligated only to accompany wealthy men in need of arm candy to their social functions, she sometimes takes advantage of the after-hours, off-the-books amorous perks. Yet the encounters leave her dissatisfied. After a silver notebook mysteriously appears in her bag one day, Elle begins receiving erotic notes from an anonymous admirer. One evening, she meets the brilliant, charismatic media mogul David Barlet. A whirlwind romance ensues, and within weeks they’re engaged. Elle ought to be thrilled, but it all seems too fast; David hasn’t kissed her yet, and she’s still harboring a few secrets. Certain that David would drop her if he knew about her escort work, Elle is determined to quit but agrees to take one final job—which turns out to be with David’s charismatic brother, Louie. Her silver notebook starts filling with not only erotic notes, but also demands, presumably from Louie. He sets Elle a series of erotic challenges, each accompanied by a signature fetish and held in an aptly chosen room at the Hôtel des Charmes. Echoing The Story of O, most of the games arouse Elle’s desires to submit and to dominate. Yet others have an odd ring to them, such as her encounter with a man clad entirely in black latex wielding a whip, like a superhero deeply concerned about germ transmission. As the games continue, Elle starts to wonder about the death of David’s first wife, Louie’s motives and her own desires. Rife with sexual tension and mystery, this first tale in a trilogy will have readers eager for the translation of Mars’ next installment.”

When is it available?

It’s burning up the shelves at the Dwight and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Library.

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