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Lip Service

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.Ad writer M.J. Rose’s self-published novel is the first-person account of Julia Sterling, age 38, a Manhattan wife of the silver spoon set who, without telling her control-freak husband, takes a job as a phone-fantasy therapist at the high-toned Butterfield Institute. (This “progressive sex clinic” is no doubt named after John O’Hara’s call girl novel, Butterfield 8.) It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure, about which Julia plans to write a book. Though Julia is a therapist, not a call girl, her role-playing conversations do get steamy, and she discovers unsettling things about her call-in clients. Her own banked fires of passion become aroused there, too; at home Julia’s husband is far more interested in the TV’s remote control than unbuttoning her blouse. Worse, he’s an infuriatingly smug shrink (trained by her shrink father!) who belittles her; tries to define her as the nervous-breakdown case she was in her promiscuous, screwed-up youth; and attempts to shut her up with anti-anxiety pills. He’s emotionally AWOL and refuses to discuss it, nor will he heed Julia’s urgent decorating needs (there should be a green Chinese art deco area rug in their apartment, darn it). Men!

Will Julia succumb to the Butterfield Institute’s director, who quotes Robert Herrick and “To His Coy Mistress” with classy lasciviousness? Or will her college newspaper chum–newly divorced and in New York–escalate their ancient flirtation? Will Julia’s husband’s charity foundation get nailed by the IRS? Will the Butterfield Institute get exposed as a sex shop? Julia’s adventures are more logical than a Danielle Steel heroine’s, although Rose lacks Steel’s dizzy velocity. But if Julia’s plight piques your interest, then you might be interested to find out what happens when she discards her fear of flying. –Tim Appelo

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