A smutty book guide for first-time erotica readers to seasoned spice fans

By Kelcie McKenney
Photos by Travis Young

I love a good book that makes me curl up under a blanket, spend the afternoon in, and… reach for my vibrator. We’re talking smut, babes, so buckle up. Bodice rippers, erotica, chick lit, spicy books, naughty fanfiction—whatever you’re reading, erotic literature has a long history of giving women a safe space to explore their sexuality and get off.

The thing about fiction is it allows us to escape into fantasy, and fantasy is a great place to explore our sexuality. In mainstream media—movies, male-written books, porn—women are more often than not depicted with a lack of agency over their bodies and own sexuality.

“In the media, representations of sexuality are still mostly white, cisgendered, and heterosexual,” said Chelsea Reynolds, an assistant professor at California State University Fullerton studying sex in media told Mashable in 2018. “For many, fanfiction represents an important site of resistance, sexual exploration, and identity transformation.” (Humble brag, Reynolds was a mentor to my student magazine in college and she seriously rocks. Hi Chelsea!!)

Fanfiction and women- and queer-authored fiction centers our own pleasure—whether that’s female pleasure or a queer protagonist’s pleasure. And beyond that, spicy books give us the chance to explore fantasy and kink in a safe way. We can explore things on pages that don’t impact IRL people—and determine if our interests want to stay on those pages or if there are kinks we’d like to explore in our sex life. Call it ethical orgasms. #Reading

In the last year, I’ve reawaken my incessant love of reading thanks to, well, you know, the inability to leave my house. And a good chunk of the books I’ve been reading are spicy AF. (Add me on goodreads, it’s a safe space.) I’ve also found myself on TikTok’s community of #booktok and #spicybooktok, so my To Be Read (TBR) list is ever growing. I’d like to share with you a few of my recent favorites. Whether you’re new to smut or a long-hauler, I hope you’ll find something you like.

Happy orgasming reading!

Lot’s of plot, a little spice

For those fresh to the smut scene or if you’re looking for a romance read that covers all the bases.

A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury, a Court of Wings and Ruin

Sarah J. Maas

The ACOTAR series is an easy entry point to spicy reading. It’s a New Adult fantasy book with lots of world building, a few surprises, and a dash of spice. The first book is light on the spice-front—and I know a few erotica readers will glare at me for calling this book spicy, but there are a few quality scenes. There’s a reason so many women bookmark chapter 55 of A Court of Mist and Fury, people (see photo above). Plus, I had to include it because it’s the series that kicked me off on my smut journey this year.

Uprooted

Naomi Novik

Putting this on a spicy book list is a little bit of a stretch, but it’s such a stunning tale of inner strength and individuality with one of my favorite unique depictions of love that I have to include it. There is one tiny spicy scene, but this book is so beautiful and such a gentle way to see how you feel about a little bit of spice in your literature.

A Deal with the Elf King

Elise Kova

Who doesn’t love a forced-marriage trope? And with the Elf King at that. This standalone romance has a touch of enemies-to-lovers and juuuuust the right amount of steam. It’s a slow-burn, so it fits right into our little bit of spice category.

Fantasy Smut

Worlds that are so far from our reality you’ll forget about 2020—and climax.

From Blood and Ash, A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, The Crown of Gilded Bones

Jennifer L. Armentrout

If you read anything from this list please read the Blood and Ash series. I loved this series so much I read it TWICE this year. Hell, the release of the third book made it to Amazon’s top selling list FOR A REASON. Deliciously detailed scenes, an interesting world with twists and turns, and a love interest who frequently stars in my dreams. #honeydew

The Winter King

C.L. Wilson

Please do not let the cover of this book deter you. It’s a breath takingly written tale of vengeance and love with a powerful heroine and love interest. Plus magic. Weather-changing magic. It’s hot, but like, also cold, ok?

Never Seduce a Scot

Maya Banks

This book made me want to run to Scotland, forsake my family, and get under a Scottish warrior’s kilt. Tartan aside, this was a really beautiful story and I might have cried shhhh. If you couldn’t tel from the cover, this is the kind of smut your cool aunt totally read. I will warn you, this book is a little bit cheesy, but in a good way. Ok fine, it’s a lot cheesy. But just read it!

Hades & Persephone Retellings

Interpretations of a classic Greek story with significantly more nudity.

A Touch of Darkness

Scarlett St. Clair

This somewhat-present-day Hades and Persephone retelling is addictively hot. The ancient Olympians live in a modern world and they cause all the problems they did in Greek mythology. Plus, St. Clair has like 100 books in the series from both Persephone and Hades’s perspectives. Plenty of fodder for your vibes, ladies 😉

Neon Gods

Katee Robert

All the usual joys of a Hades and Persephone retelling but with… voyeurism. Like getting dirty in front of a room full of people. Give it a try, you might like it. Plus, Robert has more books on the way in this Greek universe: Electric Idol is out in January and is a retelling of the Psyche and Eros story.

Rich, Hot Guys

What can I say? Dom guys with big bank accounts make me hot.

The Wolf Hotel: Tempt Me, Break Me, Teach Me, Surrender to Me 

Nina West/K.A. Tucker

Ok, first thing we need to get out of the way: This series has a few names, a few different covers, and the author wrote it under a pen name? Do not let the confusion or—frankly—very cheesy past covers stop you! This series is so, so hot, but the development of our protagonist Abbi Mitchel is what makes it incredible. We get to watch her explore her sexuality in such an empowering and invigorating way that it’s hard to put this four-part series down.

Crowne Rules

C.D. Reiss

It’s hard for me to give 5/5 stars to smutty books. They’ve got to have the right balance of steamy scenes, character development, and plot. C.D. Reiss nails it in Crowne Rules. Forced proximity and one very naughty man. This is the third in a Crowne series by Reiss. I won’t stop you from reading the first two, but this one is my fave.

Crossfire: Bared to You, Reflected in You, Entwined with You, Captivated by You, One with You

Sylvia Day

I could not tell you much of what happened in this five-book series, but I was there for the ride. I do remember the limo sex, and boy was it hot. Also I vaguely remember there being a lot of DRAMA, but the spicy scenes were good enough for me not to care. I enjoyed this book enough to buy it when my library didn’t have it, so I think that says enough. No thoughts, just smut.


P.S. I realize our story cover photo was one of the least spicy books on the list, but all my naughty reads are on my kindle and we’re going for aesthetics here!

P.P.S. You think that’s all the smut I’ve got! HA! As if. Check back in for more book recommendations and maybe a few fanfiction reads to try out next.


Kelcie McKenney (she/her) is a writer, editor, and artist who is passionate about feminism, local activism, queer representation, and strengthening community. You can find Kelcie on Instagram with #kcdaddy, where she talks about her three-legged cat Luna, thrift finds, and ways to overthrow the patriarchy.


Travis Young (he/him) is a Kansas City based photographer with roots in photojournalism and visual storytelling. He enjoys using film cameras to help him process, celebrate, and challenge his understanding in topics of race, gender, status, and mental health. When not behind a camera, you can find him creating things in 3D, obsessing over your grandmother’s dope Volvo Wagon from the 80’s, or getting lost in some tedious cleaning activity because he is a relentless Virgo.

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