Title: Lip Service by M.J. Rose
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Imprint: Atria Books
Genre: Erotic, Contemporary, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B
Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley
Lip Service is the seductive new novel that everyone is talking about. Crackling with eroticism and suspense, Lip Service probes the secret world of phone sex and one woman who becomes empowered by what she discovers there. Not since Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying has a novel so masterfully examined the relationship between sexuality and identity.
On the surface, Julia Sterling’s life seems blessed. Married to a renowned psychiatrist, living on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side, Julia deeply loves her stepson, and is forging a career as a journalist.
When a writing job exposes her to the world of phone sex, Julia glimpses a world that stirs her erotic fantasies but threatens her carefully constructed reality. As she explores her emotional and sexual connections to the men she knows and several she will never meet, she confronts evil, perversity, and her own passions.
Tracing the currents of desire, illusion, and psychological manipulation, Lip Service is an astonishingly vivid glimpse into one woman’s inner life. At the same time, this electrifying thriller grips the reader as it builds toward a battering climax.
Lip Service by M. J. Rose is a sensual journey of self discovery. For fourteen years, Julia Sterling has been content to allow her psychiatrist husband Paul make her decisions for her. With her stepson off to college, Julia is now noticing the empty spots in her life and she is ready to make changes. Her research for a book about an innovative sex clinic takes her deep into the world of phone sex and brings her in touch with her long buried and repressed sexuality.
To all appearances, Julia Sterling has the perfect life. A caring husband, a wonderful son and a burgeoning career as a journalist. That is until we see what goes on behind closed doors. Paul views Julia (and his son to some degree) as extensions of himself and he maintains tight control over their lives. Paul treats Julia more like a patient than a wife and constantly undermines her self-esteem. He keeps an emotional and physical distance from her, never acknowledging or treating her as an equal.
Tired of maintaining the status quo, Julia secretly agrees to write a book about the Butterfly Institute. She takes a hands on approach to research, training and then working as a phone sex therapist. She is at first uncomfortable with her role in helping men work through their fantasies. It is not long before Julia uncovers her own hidden desires, reluctantly exploring them in the beginning, but fully embracing them in the end.
Although her marriage to Paul is clearly unhealthy, Julia does maintain a few close friendships. She has a very complicated relationship with an old college friend, Jack Griffin. With Jack living in Florida, they heavily rely on their weekly phone calls to keep in touch. Their light and sometimes casual conversations are underscored with unresolved emotion and mostly unrecognized sexual attraction.
Julia’s closest confidante is Olivia Vernon. Although Julia occasionally lies to herself, she is always completely honest with Olivia about her private life. Fully understanding the complicated dynamics of Julia and Paul’s relationship, Olivia is the ideal sounding board for Julia as she tries to figure out what path she is going to take.
First published in 1999, I would not classify Lip Service as an erotic romance by today’s standards. It is definitely steamier than a conventional romance novel but it is quite tame in comparison to some of the erotic books on the market today. The phone sex scenes are graphic, but integral to the plot.
Lip Service is a fascinating character study with a little bit of mystery added to spice things up. M. J. Rose has an engaging writing style and she excels at character development no matter if the individual is a good guy or bad guy. A surprising twist brings the story to an unexpected but very satisfying end.