Twisted, by Lola Smirnova, is a nightmare journey into the life of Julia, a young woman from Ukraine who, struggling for a future, follows her sister’s path into the sex trade. In the post-Soviet break-up world, there is little to offer in the way of traditional jobs. Skilled doctors in the state hospitals earn a couple hundred a month, but a woman working in a cabaret, strip club, or as a call girl in one of the nearby countries can earn several thousand. All she needs to succeed is what she was born with and the ability to skillfully size up a client’s needs and perform to his expectations, while trying to stay out of prison. Yet, Julia quickly learns the money comes with a price in violence, degradation, and addiction.
Smirnova takes us on a philosophical and pseudo-psychological pilgrimage through the sexual underworld as Julia, in first person narrative, describes her struggling introduction into a profession where she can ply the only skills currently marketable. Twisted follows Julia’s self-destructive voyage and is often graphic, but not gratuitously so. The sex and violence aren’t there to titillate – they show a world most of us will never see, nor would we want to first-hand. Smirnova doesn’t hold back in her depiction of that underbelly world and the people that populate it, providing a solid backdrop in which Julia acts and reacts. The characters are real, dialog intoxicating, and the plot well crafted. Whether Julia is soaring or plummeting, you are along for the ride because Twisted pulls you in, whether you’re a willing participant or not. Well done!
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Sex isn’t always sexy, and, let’s face it, sometimes it’s a hassle. But for the girls in this raw and revealing novel, that’s okay, because with the hassle and the ugliness comes something more important: money. ‘Twisted,’ written by Lola Smirnova, tells tale of three sisters who leave the downtrodden economy of post-Soviet Ukraine in search of opportunity, hope, and an escape from an otherwise inescapable cycle. Narrated by Julia, the youngest of the three siblings, it carries readers deep into the belly of the sex industry and explores the guttural circumstances, situations, and responses these “entertainers” deal with daily. Neither for the faint of heart nor the conservative thinker, it graphically depicts the girls’ sexual encounters, from what one would consider “normal” activity to the most absurd, scandalous, and depraved deeds imaginable (though many scenes are beyond even the most ambitious of imaginations). As the story unfolds, so too does the nature of Julia’s character, which, beneath the cloud of empty sex, good drugs, and bad luck, is surprisingly strong, resilient, and aware of her social, political, and moral surroundings, even if numb to her own internal feelings. This numbness, however, turns to painful pins and needles as ‘Twisted’ winds to its conclusion, and when the book closes, so much more is left open – not just for Julia, but also for her sisters.
To be sure, despite whatever genre into which sellers or librarians would cast this title, ‘Twisted’ is by no means erotica or sexually-stimulating fiction. It is not meant to serve as fodder for anything but long, hard thinking and is much deeper than it is dirty. Although it may, at times, offend some of your higher senses, it speaks to basic drives that we all have somewhere inside us and reminds us that, with every choice we make, there are consequences. I highly recommend ‘Twisted’ to open-minded readers who aren’t afraid of a little blood, sweat, and semen. It’s sure to shock and surprise you, with both its storyline and its literary value.
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Twisted takes a brash and unflinching look at the nuanced, complex workings of the sex trade.
Sex workers are among the few groups still subject to open intolerance in Western societies; few other occupations are so stereotypically represented in popular culture. But not so in Lola Smirnova’s Twisted , a fast-paced novel that treats its characters with an uncommon dignity.
The protagonists are three sisters from Ukraine who travel abroad to work in the lucrative sex industry in order to achieve goals that, due to economic decline, wouldn’t be possible otherwise. They are intelligent and nuanced, and, most importantly, they have agency. They are not tricked into joining the industry and are confident about their choices, and although they don’t always love their work (who does?) and must navigate the risks it exposes them to, they make the best of it. They are neither wide-eyed innocents nor immoral sirens. They are refreshingly empowered and human.
The youngest sister, Julia, has come after hearing tales of quick money from the two older women who’d already spent time there. Thin and blond, outgoing and assertive, “Jul” excels at her work and soon outsells the other women regularly. But she has also discovered a taste for recreational drugs, which render her a liability for her employers. Her spiral into drug dependence, leading her to take on more and more dangerous work, threatens to descend into caricature at every turn but is saved from that fate by Smirnova’s dedication to keeping the narrative focused on Jul’s resourcefulness and self-awareness.
Twisted takes a brash and unflinching look at the inner workings of some areas of the sex trade, examining, usually without judgment, not only the “traders’” motivations for working but also the clients’ reasons for buying. It is up front and direct; Smirnova thankfully avoids the guileless euphemisms that writers with less comfort about sex and sex work use in their sex scenes. It also explores the business with a sensitivity and respect—though not approval—that is rare. The story is paced steadily, never lingers in melodrama, and can easily be read in one sitting.
Its dramatic climax shapes the book into one particular kind of narrative about sex work, but the nuanced and complex experiences that the protagonists and their coworkers have throughout tell a wider range of truths about the industry. As with any job, there are as many realities as there are workers, and Twisted does a service to a broader conversation about sex work by eschewing stereotypes and representing a range of these realities with respect.
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TWISTED – Lola Smirnova
Pop Fiction – 3.5 stars
Hand-cuffed, ball-gagged and wearing nothing but a motorcycle helmet – not your typical introduction, but it’s how readers first meet Julia, a young Ukrainian woman whose ambitions for a better life land her in an illogical place: the seedy world of the sex trade industry.
TWISTED centers on the escapades of Julia, who follows the lead of her more experienced sisters, Nataliya and Lena, by seeking work in a Luxembourg champagne club – a shifty European bordello where clients purchase bottles of bubbly along with sexual favors. While the pay far exceeds Julia’s earning potential in her native country, there are many trade-offs that threaten to undermine her well-being, safety and aspirations for a financially secure future.
Her occupational lark quickly turns grim, dragging Julia deeper into the murky world of prostitution. In order to stomach the more disturbing realities – many of which are graphically described – she insulates herself with drugs. When her addiction spirals out of control, she is turned out by the club owner and forced to take her services elsewhere. As Julia navigates the maze of sex-for-money on her own, she encounters an increasingly perverted clientele as well as the usual suspects: thieves, liars and the occasional maniac. Crises loom, bloom and resolve to a point, which keeps the reader turning the pages.
That’s an even greater accomplishment considering that the writing is flawed. As the narrator, Julia is inexplicably omniscient at times, and there are several instances of confusing shifts in voice and awkward dialogue. The allusion to an “ugly” incident involving Julia and Lena’s first love, Serega, is set up early as a pivotal event, but falls flat when the revelation is finally delivered. Rather than providing insight, it comes across as a weak attempt to explain Julia, a woman who – in one of the few moments readers are invited to go deeper into her psyche – declares she is comfortable with her moral choices because she is a “pro.”
The author does, however, offer a compelling insider’s view into the economically depressed and politically rumpled Ukraine from which she hails. These glimpses provide meaningful context to the story, helping readers to better understand why a woman would turn to prostitution to escape a country in which dreams die and education results in, at best, moving a few rungs up the poverty ladder.
TWISTED is not a novel for the squeamish – sexual depravity is depicted with a gruesome realism that suggests this author, who once worked in the sex industry, is blurring lines between fiction and truth. The authentic feel of these moments is tough to turn away from, however, even when Julia knowingly subjects herself to situations that send the sirens going off in her own head as well as the reader’s.
TWISTED moves at a steady clip, though the author stumps her toe on more than one occasion. While the subject matter does not make for a light read, a breezy writing style and Julia’s willingness to fully and shamelessly lift the veil on her controversial lifestyle makes an irresistible combination.
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From debut author Smirnova comes a novel about a young Ukrainian woman’s adventures in the sex trade.
With job opportunities scarce in post–Soviet Union Ukraine, Julia decides to go with her two sisters to the wealthy nation of Luxembourg to seek a seemingly lucrative form of income. Finding herself as a bar girl whose goal it is to sell customers champagne, she soon launches into prostitution, since the men frequenting these types of bars are looking to do much more than get drunk on expensive drinks. Dealing with a variety of sexual deviants—many of them sad, some of them sadistic—Julia learns to treat her trade as if it were any other job. Though the hazard of frequently drinking to excess take its toll, Julia’s life is relatively safe compared to when she decides to try her hand at prostitution in Istanbul. Heading east without the support of her sisters, she experiences new levels of depravity even if her attitude remains relatively upbeat: “I am not feeling used and have nothing to complain about. It is my choice to do what I am doing.” As an addiction to cocaine blossoms, however, readers might wonder just what sort of mess Julia will find herself in next and if she’ll ever be able to get out of it. Neither glamorizing Julia’s occupation (she must do a lot of awful things) nor demonizing it (she’s a prostitute by her own decision, making much more money than she would in her home country), the novel succeeds in treating Julia as a real person. While most supporting characters—particularly Julia’s largely interchangeable fellow prostitutes—leave little impression and aren’t especially memorable, Julia appealingly comes across as an empathetic, if reckless, protagonist. Charged with some disturbing sexual scenes (including rape), the book manages a steady, readable flow as it shines a light on the multifaceted world of the European sex trade.
Many characters lack much in the way of depth, yet the story as a whole offers a revealing glimpse of a taboo way of making a living.
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As a book reviewer specializing in the BDSM erotica genre, it’s rare for me to be asked to read and review a book that is outside my area of expertise. Such is the case for “Twisted” by Lola Smirnova, a fascinating and depressing look into the eastern European sex trade, with a healthy dose of “why drugs are bad for you.”
For years I’ve been an advocate of legalized prostitution, working from the premise that by legalizing the trade, the United States would take the power and money behind prostitution out of the hands of organized crime and put it toward the women actually engaged in the trade. Legalization would allow government to generate revenue from the business, would stabilize the trade for licensing, medical examinations, and verification that the women involved weren’t being intimidated or controlled via drugs or violence. It would create environments where the women are respected and cared for, rather than abused. I’ve always thought that legalized prostitution would decrease the amount of human trafficking and child abuse as crime syndicates were forced to other avenues to generate their revenue. And as terrifying as it sounds, “Twisted” serves as a primer to demonstrate that mafia lords and their crime syndicates will scheme to get their money in any way possible.
Smirnova’s story, which is no doubt based upon true life experiences, follows a young Ukrainian girl named Julia, whose family is struck with poverty after the fall of the Soviet Union. Her two older sisters leave home and become sex workers, glossing over the more distasteful aspects of their occupation, planting the seeds of both curiosity and greed in young Julia. She eventually finds the lure of easy money too beguiling and begins her journey into the darker aspects of drug abuse, drunken stupors, and the horrid and loveless life of a sex-for-sale prostitute. She is subjected to all manner of abuses, from “debts” incurred to an “agent” supposedly responsible for finding her a club to work at, to the cramped and barely livable spaces the girls are given, to the non-stop drinking and drug use ideology that keep the girls compliant.
This is not a book of erotica in any sense of the word. In fact, the few “sex” scenes described are mostly so disgusting and horrid that few would find them appealing, an attitude echoed by Julia through the tale. And yet her story becomes compelling, like a Dickensian tale where only more pain and suffering is brought down upon the main character’s head, a sort of morality play where the reader shouts at the unfortunate soul and says “good Lord! How can you be that stupid?” Reading the tale of Julia creates an imperative need to find out how it ends. Is there a happy ending? Thank God there is.
The writing itself is well done, surprising for someone for whom English is probably a second language. Written in first person mode, in present tense, the author does a good job in establishing characters, setting, and the connection between the reader and the story. More journal than formative plot, “Twisted” encapsulates the reader and literally drags them along through the drug and booze soaked life of a girl for whom circumstances and bad choices have created something that can only be described as a nightmare.
If nothing else, “Twisted” serves as a warning to other young woman who might be tempted by the flush of “easy” money presented by soliciting themselves. Throughout the story Julia is constantly forced into actions she neither desires, nor wants; is frequently subjected to almost lethal (if not stupid) levels of intoxicants, and allows others to use her in practically every manner. If there were a “how not to do this” manual, this would be it.
I suppose the saddest aspect of Julia’s life is that sex itself is relegated into something mundane or even disgusting. As an erotica author myself, I was almost offended at the demeaning way the act of sex is treated in “Twisted,” yet I know that the reality is exactly as Ms. Smirnova has described. It is a conceit amongst men that prostitutes “enjoy it,” that they are nothing more than walking sex dolls, constantly horny, always willing to “put out,” and that the money is only to abate the unattractive traits or desires of their clients. Julia’s experience exposes that conceit and reminds us that the act of sex, even between two strangers, is not just a physical exertion with a hedonistic ending, but an emotional one as well. For Julia, each client damaged her psyche just a little more and she turned to drugs and booze to cope. Hopefully “Twisted” will cause every male who frequents “houses of ill repute” to treat these women with a modicum of respect.
In summary, “Twisted” is an amazing book that is well written and provocative, but despite it’s appetizing cover and the teaser, can not be considered erotica in any sense of the word. I give “Twisted” a strong 8 out of 10, even though I generally rank for the eroticism of a story. This book is still a worthwhile read.
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An Unusual Way Out
By Lola Smirnova
Lola Smirnova’s Twisted is the story of three sisters who have grown up in the small town of Kherson in southern Ukraine shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The narrator of the story is Julia, the youngest of the three. Her eldest sister is Natalia and the middle sister is Lena. Their family is poor and barely making a living. They yearn for a way to make money and live better lives. Their mother goes to Turkey for work and takes Natalia with her. The work is not easy, the hours are long and there are many complications. It is not a positive situation. A friend, Irina, invites Natalia and Lena to join her in Luxembourg. She says she dances at a club and she can arrange for them to do the same. Since she is spending a lot of money, the sisters decide to join her, hoping they will earn money too. Of course, ‘dancing’ is a euphemism for more sexually creative endeavors and the sisters are aware of this prior to joining Irina. A year later, Julia joins the others.
“It didn’t matter what occupation or job you had – doctor, teacher, scientist or student – all ex-soviet folk struggled equally, seldom able to stretch their money further than the rice or potatoes on their plates.”
As the narrator, Julia relates a variety of encounters she and her sisters have with the men they are being paid to entertain. She also tells of her extensive use of cocaine as part of that scene. Her sisters’ concerned comments are minimized and glossed over. Her situation becomes more and more compromised leading her eventually to accompany another friend to Istanbul to work in the same sort of profession while her sisters remain in Luxembourg. Without them, she hits even deeper lows, although Smirnova tells everything in an upbeat tone.
The sexually explicit scenes are not arousing. Instead they are matter-of-fact descriptions of the demands on a “working girl.” It is told without embellishment or sentimentality and reads more like a memoir than a novel. The book is a dark, straight-forward tale of how a young woman becomes a prostitute.
Reviewed by Mary-Lynne Monroe
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Reviewer’s Bookwatch: September 2014
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575
Synopsis: In the corrupt economy of post-Soviet Ukraine opportunities are scarce. Young and eager sisters – Natalia, Lena and Julia – harbor dreams of a better life. Naive and tempted by the allure of ‘quick’ money, the girls set off on an adventure that changes their lives forever. Can they stay out of trouble enough to fulfill their ambitions? Can they hold on to their idealism in a world where depravity and danger are constant companions? How far are they willing to go to make a buck?
Critique: Although a work of fiction, “Twisted” reveals the contemporary sex trade as it currently exists in the troubled nation of Ukraine with uncanny and unsentimental accuracy. A gripping and mature story deftly woven by Lola Smirnova, “Twisted” is the kind of suspense novel that will linger in the mind and imagination long after it is finished and set back upon the shelf. “Twisted” introduces an extraordinarily gifted author to an appreciative readership looking eagerly toward her next literary effort.
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A quick look at the cover of Twisted, one may draw the conclusion that it is a highly provocative erotica book. On the contrary, it does not fit that genre at all. Twisted is the raw and unsettling story about a young woman’s experience in the sex trade. Amid the overwhelming premise of prostitution, Smirnova’s eye-opening debut novel is filled with accounts of human tragedy.
Penned in first person, Smirnova’s narrative relays the story of Julia Lazar, who leaves her post-Soviet and depressed socioeconomic Ukraine for a better life with better pay. She is not alone, though, since her two sisters are in the same dire straits. The three siblings venture over to Luxembourg, where they get involved in the sex-oriented establishments. When Julia decides, against her sisters’ wishes, to head out to Istanbul, she learns first hand that business dealings over there are not quite the “free-rider’s paradise” she expects.
Based on her background in Ukraine and her personal work experience in the adult entertainment industry, rising author Smirnova has crafted a gripping story that takes readers into the mind of a woman who is grappling with why she is “morally comfortable with what she’s doing.” Smirnova includes a number of literary tools to keep her narrative constantly moving. On the top of that list of tools is her use of paradox. A good example is Julia’s racing and often disturbing thoughts that run concurrent to the salacious services she offers to a host of sleazy characters. Smirnova also keeps her chapters short and alternates them between Julia’s clients, love life, and interactions with her sisters.
Julia is indeed a dynamic character. She is definitely conflicted . Her love/hate job is lucrative, but at what price? Although she appears to have a hardened personality, Julia definitely has a human side. For example, Julia may not admit that she longs for real love in her life, especially to her middle sister who fantasizes the perfect home life. Nonetheless, she experiences emotional pain when her lovers abandon her. Smirnova also contrasts Julia’s work life with the love between her sisters. Juxtaposing horrific scenes with sisterly emails that are filled with love and concern for Julia’s well being is nothing less than poignant.
Twisted is not an easy read and not intended for the faint of heart. While it ends with a cliffhanger, readers can look forward to its sequel, which Smirnova is currently working on. In the meantime, Smirnova hopes that Twisted will raise awareness to the problems of the sex industry. “Victims are usually inexperienced young women, who suffer, dream and love in the same way as anyone’s girlfriend, sister or daughter. I wanted the reader to realize that these working girls are humans.” Kudos to Smirnova for an outstanding job achieving that goal!
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Thank you to Kelsey at Book Publicity Services for sending me a copy of this book for review.
When I first saw the blurb for this book I thought it sounded very intriguing but I was quite worried, worried that I’d hate it or that it would be so horrible to read I’d have to stop. Yes there were some scenes that were hard to read, but this book is so gripping you can’t put it down. I read it in 1 day whilst I was also at work.
Twisted follows the lives of three sisters Julia, Lena and Natalia, who decide to leave poverty stricken Ukraine where they have been struggling to get by and move to Luxembourg to sell their bodies for money. Julia struggles to adapt to their new way of life which leads her into a whole new world of trouble and Natalia and Lena must try and save her. Obviously, prostitution is a terrible thing and you may judge this book by learning that’s what it is about, but it is much more than that. We get to learn why people do it and the things they have to put up with, that the reason most of them are on drugs is just to cope with the terrible things they are putting themselves through to earn a bit of money. This book is such an eye opener and shows you that you shouldn’t judge people for selling themselves, yes they have chosen to do this, but in this book Lola explains why and you do start to understand.
This book jumps straight in and has you hooked from the first page.It is based on Lola’s real life experiences as a sex worker and this shows by the detail and in-depth characters Lola has created in this book. You can’t help but feel sorry for all three of the girls and hope they can find a way of getting out of the life they have. Lola has a brilliant way of telling you her story, her writing style is so easy to follow and it feels as though she is just talking to you.
Each of the characters are so likeable, all three sisters are each there for one another and help each other out, Julia was my favourite character because she was just so easy to connect with and you want her to be happy. There is quite a few times in the book you think she is going to the happy ending she deserves then something happens so she is back to square one again.
This book is at times hard to read and quite disturbing which may affect you but it has so much emotion and real life that you just can’t stop reading. Every detail that Lola has added into this book works so well in telling you her story. I would definitely recommend this book, it is well worth a read.
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‘Twisted’ was definitely a fitting title for this book. ‘Twisted’ is also based on real life events. To begin my review I wasn’t to say I am terribly sorry that anyone has to go through these twisted events. I am glad that someone decided to share their story.
I think ‘Twisted’ was well written, it gave a lot of information in a short period of time so for me it was a fast read. I think the dialogue could use some polishing and just a tad bit more character development was needed. However that didn’t ruin anything in the book for me.
I will say this book is not for the faint of heart. There are explicit sex scenes and drug use. So if you cannot handle that, then this book is not for you. I believe this book was done very well and I found it very interesting. It’s definitely a book out of the norm; that might be why I liked it even more. ‘Twisted’ is a fast paced, captivating read. It is an interesting read and an eye opener. I hope to see more work from Lola, I am most definitely a fan.
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The Bottom Line: Inspired by the author’s own struggles as a sex worker, this gritty, sharply written tale transports readers into a perilous world where every breath could be your last.
There’s no shortage of suspense in Lola Smirnova’s pull-no-punches novel about a young Ukranian girl named Julia, whose family finds itself poverty-stricken after the fall of the Soviet Union. In a world with few alternatives, Julia follows her older sisters into the sex industry.
Twisted opens in Luxembourg City, a wealthy municipality that squeezes 60 champagne bars into a town half the size of Disney World. Smirnova is careful to ensure that we won’t mistake Twisted for the erotic thrillers that are all the rage right now. “Champagne bar, whorehouse, brothel, house of assignation, bordello, den of vice; call them what you like, it does not change the core of these places. Although they are often called cabarets, and occasionally there is even strip-dancing involved, you shouldn’t associate them with merrymaking or extravaganza. ‘Trade’, ‘sex’, ‘transactions’, ‘carnal’,‘barter’ or ‘perversion’ would be the better words to portray this type of nightery.”
Further dispelling any sense of glamour, the offending traits of Julia’s clients are duly magnified. Every drop of sweat, blood stain and fluid described in painstaking detail. The passage where Julia does business with a guy named “Death” is easily the most brutally graphic passage I’ve read all year.
And yet it is through the dark lens of realism that Twisted gains its humanity. There’s never a moment when we aren’t invested in Julia’s plight, especially as she ventures to Istanbul in hopes of some easy money. Beautifully juxtaposed with the scenic extravagance that only places like the Bosphorus can provide, we’re constantly aware that Julia’s clients aren’t the only thing she has to be afraid of.
If it isn’t already obvious, Twisted is an adults-only novel that isn’t for the squeamish. But it’s also a story of truth and courage that I, for one, thank Smirnova for writing.
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2014 – Adult Fiction – Realistic Fiction
The Story: Julia wants to make a better life for herself, so when her sisters head to Luxembourg to find work, she tags along. She quickly finds herself working for a cabaret. Her job is seemingly simple – entice men to pay for champagne. The amount and quality of champagne they purchase translates directly to how much personal attention will be lavished on them by one of the girls. The money is good, but Julia finds herself disgusted, endangered, and shockingly numb to the acts she performs as she simply tries to survive.
The Opening Line: “Sag es!” he screams at me.
What I Loved: This almost read like one of the industry tell-alls that I love so much. And with good reason too – the book is based on Smirnova’s experiences working in the sex trade. While extremely graphic, Smirnova never shied away from the details, good and bad. It was an enlightening look at a trade so clocked in secrecy and shame.
What I Didn’t Love: Sometimes the writing felt a little bit stilted and broken instead of flowing easily. And while the sparseness of the language fit the tone, I just wanted a little more in the way of writing.
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From the opening page, “Twisted” by Lola Smirnova captivates the reader with a gritty story about a woman working in the oldest profession. I was really impressed with this book. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. While it was extreme in parts and very shocking – This book was a real eye opener. The cover may be a bit misleading as there is nothing erotic about this, at times it felt tragic – it shows how an error of poor judgement can forever change a young persons life. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who has a beating heart. This book made me think about what makes people do the things they do.
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A 2015 favourite read. 5 STARS
I can’t believe I won Twisted approximately a year ago, and never had the chance to read it then. Before you go thinking it was due to the fact that it was one of those books one had to gently get into, either because of the provoking cover, or the book’s content, you’d be wrong. In fact, the first time I saw this cover and read the blurb, I was more than interested. Hence me entering to win a copy, not so?
Whilst still on holiday at the beginning of this year, it was the perfect time to read something again. The very first title that popped into my head was Twisted. So, I grabbed it off my bookshelf and sat down, with no expectations whatsoever; meaning, I wasn’t stressed over the fact that I had to like it as I was reviewing it for the author, or that despite the cover and blurb intriguing me, I would hate it. There’s nothing worse than starting a book and from the first page alone, I know I’m not going to like it.
What was my immediate thought when I started Twisted? I was blown away within the first couple of pages. The way I was expertly pulled into the story immediately grabbed my attention. I did have one expectation, and that was that it would be an erotic story. It’s anything but, and shouldn’t be classified as such. It’s also in first person, which I’ve mentioned quite a number of times is not my favourite, with the exception of a handful of authors who are masters at this POV. Ms. Smirnova is now another. It’s not a lengthy book and can be read in one sitting, but I didn’t for the simple fact that I was truly invested in the lives of these young ladies, and when a story grips me right off the bat, I prefer to savour every single word.
I won’t go into details of where this book takes place, as the blurb is self-explanatory.
This a true to life story, penned by the exceptionally talented Lola Smirnova. Being based on real life events, the insight we are offered within Twisted’s pages was beyond enlightening. What I thought I knew in regards to the sex trade, sex trade workers and/or prostitutes as they are more often than not called, was apparently and obviously nothing. What we think we know should be tripled. To say I was shocked in certain paragraphs is putting it mildly. To be honest, at least one or two made me physically ill. This is truly not for the faint-hearted, but rather for adults who are open-minded―as I am―and are able to ingest stories and situations that pull no punches. I was quite horrified as to how far the men who habitually visit these kinds of establishments dare go. And I was taken aback at how some of the women, against their better judgement, eventually acquiesce to their demands. Sometimes, to their detriment. As what happened with the main character, Julia.
Being involved in this trade, it’s inevitable that drugs come into play, with dire consequences often times. Again, Julia succumbed. I loved the fact that Twisted wasn’t only in Julia’s voice, but was interspersed with tales, e-mails and other snippets from both her older sister, Natalia, and her middle sister, Lena. There was also this interesting situation where Julia would be performing whatever act was required of her, yet amazingly enough she’d be thinking about a certain someone romantically. I guess that no matter the situation, we all want what seems to be within our grasp at one point or another; the all-consuming love affair. To be loved for who we are, despite what we do. I hoped, right along with Julia, that this would be her way out. It’s sad when someone builds up hope, to then not only have it crushed underfoot like a pesky bug, but made to feel like they’ve been ripped to shreds, used and abused, and then thrown away like garbage.
For a debut novel it was riveting, and for a first time author, Ms. Smirnova is one of not many that manage to get it right the first time around. Now that, for me, is what I call talent. The characters were finely tuned and fleshed out, the pace of the story was just perfect, and there was not one single bit of this book that made me feel like it was dragging in order to fill up space. Indeed, it was anything but. Ms. Smirnova told her story as she wanted to tell it, precisely, accurately and exactly how it should have been told. No frills, no fuss, and no holding back on cussing. It was perfect! To say I look forward to the second book is an understatement. Craved is on my top-of-the-list-to-read books.
In the end? I cried. It’s how much these ladies and story got to me.
Shocking? Without a doubt.
Explicit? Damn straight.
Funny? Oh, yeah.
Never sentimental? No. Don’t agree. Or I wouldn’t have cried.
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Julia Lazar, a young woman living in post-Soviet Ukraine, is struggling to survive (along with the rest of the country). When she and her sisters hear their friend’s stories of how to make quick money dancing in Luxembourg cabarets, they jump at the chance for a better life. Eager and naive, they set off to make a better life for themselves. Their idealistic hopes and dreams are dashed when they discover that their new jobs require a whole lot more than dancing: they’re officially part of the European sex trade. This story is written in a similar style to Good Fellas or Wolf on Wall Street, where the narrator takes a moment to explain some history or background information, which I found fascinating. It was interesting to note that the ladies were only allowed to keep a fifth of their earnings, what everyday life is like in a brothel, the things they think about, what’s important to them. It was a very honest (and often graphic) introduction to the world of a sex trade worker. The content is explicit, often describing the “twisted’ things Julia was paid (or forced) to do. I think if you keep an open mind and understand the “whys” and “hows” of how she got into her situation, you will see Julia and her sisters with compassion. (CK)
* * *
Story Rating: 4 out of 5 paddles
Sting Factor (kink): 1 out of 5
Twisted is an astonishing first novel, which chronicles the experiences of Julia, an 18 year old Ukrainian girl, in the sex trade, during the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s a compulsive read, I finished it in a day, fast paced and blackly comic but it is not an erotic novel. Unless, that is, you find scat arousing. I don’t but her description of the scat obsessed yogi had me weeping with laughter.
Julia is 18 when she makes her decision to join her two older sisters as an ‘entertainer’ in the Luxembourg champagne bars. These young women are not naive victims of sex trafficking but are well aware of the risks involved in the European sex trade. The work is often dull and arduous and the clients are a mostly repellent bunch and I did wonder why three well educated young women from a stable and loving family would choose this particular occupation. The author gives the following explanation;
“You never know what lack of money, poor social security, alluring TV shows with their fabulous people and luxury things, a desperate desire to have a decent life and young age can do to you”.
Julia’s sisters attempt to advise and protect her but she is stubborn and willful and soon finds that copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine are the aids that help her deal with the realities of sex work.
Broke and without the protection of her sisters, Julia moves to Istanbul, where she negotiates a much more hostile environment than the Luxembourg champagne bars. A second novel by the author is due for publication in 2015, this time set in South Africa. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Reviewed by Ariadne
* * *
Wow – although I feel as though wow isn’t sufficient for the barrage of emotions this book brought out in me. You shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover? I did – the beautiful cover is the reason I clicked on this book and I’m happy I did. This is unlike any book I’ve ever read before and I’m glad I chose it. Warning – this book is not for anyone who can’t handle the twisted depravity that some people possess. It is a disturbing, heart wrenching, emotional, terrifying look at a world that not a lot of people witness, well not in my area of the world at least. The fact that it’s based on a true story just makes it that much more horrifying.
The story is about a young Ukrainian girl named Julia, growing up in the corrupt post-Soviet Ukraine. She sees everyone around her living their lives barely able to survive. Going to work to put a minimal amount of food on the table and barely able to support their families. Her father has lost his job and the family is struggling to survive. She grows up in a strong, loving, intelligent family and has to contemplate life after school – will she go to University for 5 years to get a salary of $120 a month. To get married and have a family and barely be able to feed them? How is that something someone is to look forward to?
She sees friends coming home from Luxembourg with tons of money from working in the Cabarets. She is regaled by tales of the glamorous lifestyles and eventually her sisters go there too. No one wants her to join them there, but she struggles with the decision. She wants money, she wants to be able to live her life, her way, no financial issues – but what will she have to give up to do so?
Basically this is the story of the pieces of herself she has to give up for this lifestyle – and the ways she finds to cope. Drinking & Drugs. The things she is made to do is absolutely horrifying and literally made me cringe. The ways she is treated, like nothing more then a piece of meat, an object used to satisfy someones sexual appetites – no matter how disturbing they are – is really heartbreaking. Now there is the argument, she chose this life – as a lot of girls do – but how can you know what you would do in that situation. There is no ‘promoting’ the lifestyle, but it really is a very realistic look at what these woman have to do. I had to constantly remind myself that this is truth. There are people that live like this, that do this daily – it sure as hell popped the little bubble I live in. The thing that really bugs Julia is that she is OK with a lot of the things that happen to her. Could it be because of an incident in her childhood? Or is it because she really doesn’t have any other viable options? There are a lot of moral questions raised in this book and it really makes you look at both sides of the coin – well it did for me anyway.
Trying to accept this lifestyle, while using too much blow and drinking too she trusts too easily. That bothered me a lot – the amount of trust she put in people, while seeing what degradations people are capable of. I don’t think I’d trust anyone – but again, that’s coming from my little bubble of suburban Canada – who am I to say? Needless to say, she gets screwed over … a lot. She is drugged, she is raped, she is sodomized and she is lost. Feel for her or don’t feel for her, the story fascinated me as this is the world we live in. This does happen. It’s heartbreaking really.
OK, so I’ll stop rambling and say this is really a book that I recommend. I found it fascinating and disturbing at the same time and I couldn’t put it down. I’m so happy there will be a book two as I really want to see where this goes. Thank you Lola & I look forward to seeing more books from you!
* * *
5 of 5 stars
Twisted by Lola Smirnova immediately captures your attention from the first page as she brings you into the hidden world of sex slavery. Be warned, it is not for the faint of heart, it’s a dark tale so take heed and is the first part of a trilogy.
This is a tale of three young sisters striving to make their lives better, as they endure the tribulations of the sex trade industry in Eastern Europe. Lola Smirnova offers an uncut peek into this world. As you read, you can’t help but feel you are there with the author in those rooms, observing like Alice through the looking glass with unprecedented access, to a world that’s completely alien to us but unfortunately really exists.
The main character Julia has such strength and fortitude that as a reader I truly felt Smirnova made her seem real, it read like a personal account in places and the daily dangers, abuse and tribulations Julia had to endure were truly horrifying. But this deeply disturbing novel is beautifully written. I can’t recommend this book enough for being bold enough to tackle such topics and for not ‘prettying’ up some scenes which other writers maybe wouldn’t have included.
4 of 5 stars
I was given this book for an honest review and all I can say is wow. it open my eyes up to alot. myself having a daughter, it made reading a little uncomfortable. Lola did a great job telling the story. I’ve not really read a book like this, so true, heart breaking.
* * *
This is one instance where the title definitely suits the book. TWISTED is very twisted, and graphic, and violent, and shocking, and, at times, a bit Sade-ian, verging on torture porn. TWISTED is about the sex industry and Smirnova doesn’t shy away from that — in addition to gratuitous amounts of sex, there’s also sex toys, anal play, scat (1 & 2), blood play, several instances of rape, drug use, and descriptive passages of what it’s like being a prostitute.
By now, I think you all know how I feel about most new adult and erotic books on the market (i.e. I hate them). They’re all carbon copies of one another and don’t try anything new or daring, too afraid to deviate from the standard formula.
What made me read TWISTED? This little doozy on the author’s profile:
“Lola’s work is inspired by real-life events…”
Holy shit, really? REALLY?
Well, all I can say is that I can’t even imagine what kind of real-life events inspired this book. I really hope they weren’t as dark and awful as the ones that the main character, Julia, experienced, but man. Overcoming something like that & writing a book about it? Now that is the very definition of strength.
TWISTED is set in the Ukraine. In addition to being a novel setting, the author talks about the lingering effects of communism and what they have done to her country. There isn’t a lot of opportunity for upward mobility. In fact, there isn’t a lot of opportunity – period.
Julia is really tempted when her two sisters come back and spin tales of easy money. All you have to do is – wait for it – have sex for money. But Julia’s greed is her weakness (and she succumbs to it multiple times). She and her sisters go to Luxembourg and start prostituting themselves.
Julia is blonde and slim, and finds herself making money easily and quickly. But beneath the surface, she’s quite naive, and ends up getting drugged by a pervert and raped several times. She’s traumatized by the incidents and does learn from them (sort of), but I think Smirnova does a pretty good job of showing how these incidents really aren’t the woman’s fault – it’s the man’s for going against the agreed terms, and taking advantage. Moreover, Smirnova also shows (in the book) that prostitutes really get the short end of the stick when such things happen because nobody believes that they can be raped. An asshole character in MR. KISS AND TELL sums it up best when he says, “But isn’t that shoplifting, not rape?”
At one point, Julia goes to Turkey and here the book takes another interesting turn as Smirnova talks about the paradox of Muslim men’s beliefs when they use prostitutes (scorn for indecent behavior, and a belief that women must guard their virtue, versus actually seeing how hot the prostitutes are and wanting them – according to Inna). Turkey is one of the most liberal Muslim countries, but Julia encounters all sorts of problems here that illustrate the inherent sexism. Including…more rape.
As I said before, TWISTED is very graphic and there were several moments where I had to put this book down because it was all too much. TWISTED makes FIFTY SHADES OF GREY look like two little kids having a tea party while pretending to be married. It is probably the most graphic thing that I have ever read, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.
The writing in TWISTED does have an odd quality to it. There are moments where the writing breaks pace and seems a bit out of character, and some of the narrative doesn’t quite fit. There is a definite “indie” feel to the writing but rather than detracting from the prose, the flaws are endearing and give the book a more honest feel – if that makes sense. One of the other reviewers of this book said it had the vibe of a “tell all memoir,” and I can definitely see that. It feels…authentic. And since at least parts of TWISTED may be a bit “thinly-veiled memoir” themselves, this makes sense.
Julia is an interesting, very flawed character. There were moments when I was shaking my head at her stupidity, but I could understand being poor and desperate and wanting a chance at easy money. I was a little surprised that she didn’t contract an STD though, from all that unprotected sex. I’m reading a memoir of Las Vegas prostitutes right now, and even they had issues despite wearing condoms regularly, so this was a bit jarring. It seemed unrealistic. (But what do I know?)
Overall, I liked TWISTED a lot more than I thought I would – and considering that this is a genre I usually don’t like, with a subject that breached all my comfort zones, that is saying something.
If you like really dark erotica without any sort of romance, this is the book for you.
I will definitely be keeping my eye out for the sequel!
3.5 out of 5 stars.
* * *
Wow. This book is one hell of a read, from start to finish.
Based on true events, Twisted is a book about three sisters navigating life in the sex trade. Going into this book, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Whatever I had been expecting, however, didn’t prepare me for my reading. This book is intense. It’s dark and gritty and crass- definitely not for the faint of heart. The realism is a striking, and often a hard to swallow one.
It’s no surprise to my regular blog readers that I often read erotica and sex positive literature. However, that is NOT what this book is about. Sex is in no way romanticized or made to be glamorous. It is a harsh, manipulative, and necessary part of life that fuels a dark life. Add in the seedy nightlife underground, drugs, and alcohol, and this gets all the more real. That’s exactly why this book has such a disturbing undertone: this is something that has and is really happening.
Twisted is gripping in an almost perverse way, and the writing itself is really detailed and well done. The thriller/suspense aspect has a sort of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo vibe to it, which I liked since that’s one of my favorite books. I was also impressed since (it is my knowledge- correct me if I’m wrong) English is not Smirnova’s first language. You wouldn’t be able to tell by reading this. I also appreciated that non-English words were in Italics, helping the reader know its meaning by context.
Unrelated to the story itself, I really like the cover of this book. I think it’s a good hint of what’s inside, and I think it’s pretty and quite striking.
This book is an eye opener, and is not one to be taken lightly. That said, it is definitely one worth reading. Be warned that this book is NOT for those under age 18: there is sex, violence, drugs/alcohol, and profanity aplenty. Also be warned that if you’re like me, you won’t be able to read this in one go- it got so intense that I had to take a breather or two. This is the first book by Lola Smirnova and with writings like this, I’m sure it won’t be her last.
Thank you to Book Publicity Services for my copy in exchange for my honest review.
* * *
First of all, this is an Adult book! Like be very ready, its amazing and very sexy, but make sure you are fine with adult material! It really isn’t for the faint of heart.
This book brings up the problems in the sex world and hopefully it’ll shed some things that are happening. So the girls all decide to leave home. They don’t want to struggle, but one way or another this new world won’t be struggle free. Its a hard life and not just anyone can do it. Plus they learn the hard way when drugs and alcohol start to take a huge part in your life.
I felt for these girls and wished that they did have a better life after leaving home. But that’s not always the case and they learned it the hard way. No matter what you will like these girls and be there for them.
I did enjoy the story. It was done well and gives you insight into this world, so it makes it just a little more than just a sex book. I’d def read more from this author.
* * *
Before you read this review, please proceed with the understanding that this book is not for those who shy away from violence and sex. I don’t review books which have erotic content in it. I have made an exception here out of choice.
Is money a very decisive factor in our lives? Sitting in our own cocoons we cannot nod our heads sagely and look down upon those who beg to differ. The first thing that strikes me about this story was the background in which it was written. The author has declared that this story has been inspired by real-life events. Someone who has seen sex trade by being a part of it. My curiosity was piqued by this bold statement for watching about it in the movies as to why a woman enters sex trade or why a man becomes an animal enough to degrade women to such an extent. This story is set in the 90s when Soviet Ukraine was going through a devastating depression due to its flattering economy. It was during this time, when three sisters,Natalia, Lena and Julia were forced to go to Luxembourg, Western Europe to make some quick money.
Each one of us are born under different stars. While one sister was a strong one and could mange to come out of it with dignity, the second one was one of those who fell in love easily, got hurt easily and recovered easily. The story concentrates on the third sister Julia. As a character, I found Julia very contradictory. Her vulnerability was in constant battle with her sense of independence. It was definitely not good for her. As a reviewer, I don’t want to judge the morality of her behaviour but the way the author has portrayed Julia’s behaviour and the direct consequence her actions had on her life has some tear jerking moments.
I’m not apologising
Not one instance shows Julia as one who is sorry for choosing this path. She is drugged, abused, raped and betrayed. But after each incident she feels surprised and this is what surprises me. Did she not expect all these things to happen to her the moment she set her life into this path? Feminists out there may question me regarding my supporting a man for doing the things he does to Julia. I am not. In fact. I don’t want to talk about any man featured in this story for they all come out like animals.
To quote Julia on her non-apologetic actions:
“The only paradox that can’t stop stirring in my head is why on earth am I so morally comfortable with what I’m doing? I do not feel ashamed or dirty because I’m a pro.”
But then only those who can pocket the morality and can walk on this path has to have a part of the mind or heart locked up – not to be seen by strangers or even one’s own conscious. It is only when we question if actions are good or bad, then only the fear of the “society” comes into our heart. But Julia was very clear when she had stepped into this world.
“What’s more, this trade wouldn’t be my first choice if there were other well-paid jobs available. Trust me, if teachers earned the same as sex traders, I would not hesitate to change my clientele from adults to the under aged.”
With this attitude, who would have thought that she would have landed – where she ultimately lands.
Julia has never been portrayed as the weak, brainless character. She always knew where she was going and what she was doing. Yet some of the incidents she lands into, I keep on wondering as a woman, how she could not have seen it. How could she not understand that she was going to land up in danger or she was being cheated? Some of those moments are very heart-wrenching.
For the Bold
As I have already said, this book is not for those who are not comfortable with explicit sex scenes. But if you can wade through that you will find a story full of courage, coming of age and most of all f understand what happens when a person is unable to differentiate between the right and the wrong how members of the family stick together to support and guide the person towards light. The role the sisters played in Julia’s life left me stunned Were they for real? Guiding her towards sex-trade and then bringing her out of it. It left me amazed at the bonding the sisters had.
If it has to be based on morality I would have given it a one star. The girls were not pushed .. they made a choice. But this is a story which was told with a lot of elan and boldness and as a writer I can appreciate that. But some details were unnecessary. They made me want to throw up. Was it really needed .. not once but twice? Was it done for the effect to shock the reader? I understand the pain.. but it was a choice made by Julia.. so can I as a reader also have the same choice. Not read those puking parts? It was suddenly slammed on my face and believe me I had some tough time even to eat that day. Not fair on me.
Would I recommend it:
For those who have not read this kind of book, I would suggest stay away since there are some very puking moments in this one. But If you want to read about a real life story of a sex trade worker and anyone really can tell you a tale as it is then only it can be one who has seen it all. It takes guts and courage and as a reader I can respect that. As a woman all I can say is this book will give you some food for thought – to appreciate your own life.
Line that stayed with me…
“I guess now I know that there is only one thing that can be worse than death, and that is to wait for it – the absolute certainty that your life is over while you’re still breathing.”
Rating: 3 stars.
* * *
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“They may use my body but my mind is free. In my mind I escape.”
—-Gladys Lawson, an author, a microbiologist in pathology management and also volunteers as an inspirational mentor.
Lola Smirnova, an Ukrainian author, pens her debut book, Twisted that revolves around the horrifying truth and pain behind flesh trade. Written from her own experience, Smirnova spins her story in such a way that it’ll grip you with the vivid and raw details about the sex trade.
This story is a complete eye-opener, in short, the details are so intricate that you are bound to call it explicit, but that’s the truth what Smirnova has written. Based on real-life experiences, the author follows the journey of a young and naive Ukrainian girl, Julia and her elder sisters, Natalia and Lena, who leave their poverty-stricken life to lead a comfortable lifestyle by joining the sex trade. But the greed for easy money lures Julia into the deepest, darkest part of this trade where she finally stumbles upon and where only drug use can take her away from the filthy and disgusting lifestyle that she led.
This book is like a window to the back-stage or behind-the-scenes activities in flesh trade in the European part of the world. Through Julia, we see the grim and horrifying activities happening in the life of a professional prostitute just for a few quids. Moreover, her living condition to the her lifestyle to her demeanor and those around her, especially agents, are filthy and poor. In short, the prostitutes are treated like slaves by the sex-starved men and whatever money they earn, they spend it on drugs and other harmful intoxicants.
The writing is articulate with a fast moving pace. The coarse and harsh words are used to express the emotions. The author have strikingly depicted the painful and sad emotions in her plot, thus making us contemplate with the storyline. Some sex-scenes are way too graphic, explicit and vulgar, but unfortunately, that author have portrayed the hard-core truth behind this business with her book. The narration is so edgy and free-flowing, that it keeps us hooked on to the storyline. But what I liked the most is the way the author have put up each piece of this sad and shocking story with proper emotion and depth.
Since this is a trilogy, I’m definitely waiting to read the second book in the series, which I believe will be equally captivating to read and see.
Verdict: A must-read book for every women but for a mature audience.
Courtesy: Thanks to Kelsey from Book Publicity Services for a review copy of this book.
* * *
She Reviews Books
Lola Smirnova’s Twisted is an adult suspense thriller that is written by a former sex worker. The book is packed with action, and starts off in the midst of a sex scene. In this way, the stage is immediately set for how the rest of the book will play out. The main character’s name is Julia, whose two sisters Natalia and Lena have moved to Luxembourg in search of making money as cabaret workers. Julia is the youngest and sees the lifestyle as a way to get out of the squalid life she is living and to try to escape from a meaningless future. She is joins her sisters in Luxembourg to become prostitutes in Luxemburg city. Along the way, Julia realizes that the lifestyle comes along with much more than she signed up for.
The story is written in first person and delves deep inside the lives of those who live and work in the sex industry. It is an interesting opportunity for the reader to be able to understand the social and economic circumstances that made Julia, and perhaps real-life workers in the business, consent to becoming a sex worker. Julia cannot not see the difference between people who stay in relationships for reasons other than attraction or love and those who honestly name their own price for sex. At the same time, she describes her workplace as a champagne slaughterhouse, and within a few chapters, it is easy to see why.
Anyone who reads Twisted will see an exceptionally raw, dirty depiction of the sex industry, unabashedly recounted by Julia. Julia’s life is traumatic and saddening, filled with sibling fights and rivalries, fetishes, psychotic customers, drug overdoses, rape, betrayal, and poverty. There is no sugar-coating here, and yet this is not the narrator preaching against her lifestyle. She simply presents it the way it is, and provides commentary for how she feels about her experiences along the way. I would recommend this book for adults who want a realistic, explicit story about a prostitute’s harrowing experiences and her fight for triumph.
* * *
This was definitely a darker book. It was very realistic in the way that things happened that you believed could actually happen to a person in real life. And the characters were all….like they could have been people you knew. And that really brought this book home to me. It was the characters that had trouble and yet they were still very likable. Take Julia for example. In a different book she might have been portrayed as the problem or bad character but this book is told from her perspective and goes to show that there’s always a story.
The writing itself was captivating. It drew you in, held you captive and didn’t let you go. The first person narrative was enjoyable as it felt as if Julia was actually telling the story to you after the fact, as if it was a cautionary tale or you were a friend that hadn’t been there for that part of her life. This made it a very familiar way to tell the story and I enjoyed it.
Twisted was a dark read but it does show the sex trade in a different light. It certainly gives a new perspective.
* * *
There’s something intriguing about reading sex worker’s memoirs. It’s dark, fascinating, and impossible to put down. This novel is a fictionalized account of what it takes to “make a living” working in the post-Soviet Ukrainian sex trade. Julie and her two sisters are desperate to find work, jobs are few and far between. When a friend tells the sisters how much money can be made by working in the “cabaret” (whore house) they decide to try their hand at making some quick money. Julie (the youngest sister and narrator of this story) especially has a hard time avoiding hard drugs and booze because it helps take the edge off of what she is doing. She isn’t ashamed of being a call girl, but sometimes she just needs to forget some of the nasty things she does for money (namely an old man named Death). Her sisters try to get her to get clean, but Julie is convinced that there isn’t a problem. This story spans about a year and chronicles Julie’s descent into greed and addiction. Compelling, dark, and impossible to put down, this quick read will make you feel a little better about your life, or will maybe cause you to rethink your life’s decisions.
I received this book for free from the publisher in return for my honest, unbiased review.
* * *
A dramatic, dark story about sex work in Europe, Twisted had all the potential to be one of those depressing books that show some of the ugliest aspects of life, following truly disturbing events. Yet, it fails in this mission. Unlike other similar novels inspired by true events that can make your whole day miserable, Lola Smirnova’s Twisted is written with an effortless sense of humour, making the whole reading process an easy ride.
The story is centred on three young Ukrainian sisters – Natalia, Lena and Julia. Each of them completely different from the other two, what they all have in common is lack of opportunities within post-Soviet Ukraine. Dreaming of a better life and a job that can bring them quick money, the sisters set off to Western Europe, where they join the growing sex industry of Luxembourg.
The narrator here is the youngest sister – Julia – and she tells the whole story of how they decided to join the sex trade and what that life brought to them, from her perspective. Needless to say, Julia is not the most reliable of narrators, as she is just a naïve, teenage girl, quick to jump to conclusions. Her likeability is also questionable. I have to say I found it really hard to like her since most of her decisions were rather poor and her character pretty tough to connect with. Some might put this down to her young age, but this is certainly not an excuse of the way she treats other people, even her sisters. Anyway, I am not someone who needs to like the protagonist in order to enjoy the book, so this did not bother me at all.
Now, for the sex work and all the details. Twisted is very (very!) graphic – so, be warned! Smirnova definitely does not shy away from sharing with the reader sexually explicit images, and some of those images are going to be hard to wipe out, believe me! The way she describes the many sex scenes is very natural, making the scenes so alive that you can easily see them in front of you, even if you have never been in a similar position yourself (pun unintended). The descriptions come to live, the characters (the many clients that the girls see) – even more so. You might even get a little scared of visiting Luxembourg in case you run into one of those shady men (but then again, don’t forget that this is a beautiful, little European country!).
However, the strongest point to this novel is its humour. As Julia takes us on this ride, she speaks of all the things that happen to her (some of them truly atrocious) with such an easy-going tone and even self-irony, that she makes you feel as if she is telling you the whole story over a cup of coffee. The humour is what makes the book believable. After all, even in the darkest of times, the human mind manages to find some light. Maybe not immediately, but in time – definitely, by the time he or she, is ready to tell their story.
Finally, Twisted is a very interesting, fast paced book. Personally, I do not think it took me more than a couple of days to finish it – the story is too gripping to be put down. I wanted to keep reading and reading, and see what is going to happen to the girls; where is this life going to take them. Thanks to the easy language and the lightness of the prose, this was an easy task. As long as you know what you are getting into, and you do not mind some quite explicit content, you are probably going to enjoy it. And better make your mind up fast for Smirnova is preparing to turn this one into the first title of a trilogy!
I was kindly sent this book by Kelsey from Book Publicity Services & all opinions are mine.
* * *
When I was first approached by Book Publicity Services to see if I would be interested in reviewing this book, I was immediately intrigued by the premise. Not long previously I had attempted and failed to read three other New Adult titles where the MC was either selling her virginity or entering into a mistress situation for money. In all three cases, I had to abandon the books because the writing was awful and absolutely nothing about them rang even remotely true. With “Twisted”, I thought finally I’d be reading an authentic account of prostitution from someone who has been there and knows what they’re talking about. And holy crap, that’s exactly what I got!
This book is absolutely not for the faint of heart. It took me quite a long time to read it because I found I needed to take frequent breaks. My heart broke over and over again for Julia, and even though “Twisted” is fictional, I can imagine many girls get into situations like Julia did in real life every day. That is just so scary, but truly eye opening. I’m glad this book has been written and is available for anyone wanting to read a more realistic portrayal of prostitution.
I’m not sure whether other readers will appreciate “Twisted”, but I really hope they will, as long as they heed the warning on the front cover. As for me, I am glad I read it, but I’m not sure I have it in me to finish the trilogy. We’ll see, I’m not ruling it out, but for now, “Twisted” will remain an intense yet unforgettable read for me.
* * *
Short, but not sweet, Twisted by Lola Smirnova takes us into the world of human trafficking. Whether the author meant to take us along on this journey is a moot point as we find ourselves in Luxembourg City where three sisters work as “entertainers” in a local Cabaret, encouraging the purchase of cheap drinks for expensive prices in exchange for their favors. The more the customer spends, the bigger the favor. After a six month stint, they bring the money home to help support their family since poverty, brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union, is a way of life in 1990s Ukraine where industries have shut down leaving even college graduates starving. Their parents look the other way at their “waitress” daughters with their pockets full of cash. After all, what mother or father will admit that their daughter is a whore?
While the reader might argue that prostitution is a choice, I would counter that the realities of poverty push young girls (and boys) to do things they might not ordinarily consider. Whether by coercion or on purpose, the cycle of abuse found is a form of situational slavery. And if you are an American reader, don’t be so smug – the same sorts of activities occur in the United States. In fact, the US is the number one location for Human Traffickng. So, as you read this book, try not to be judgmental, but keep an open mind to the realities of prostitution and its prevalence in modern society.
In the Eastern European Sex Trade, human flesh, controlled by drugs or violence, is sold to a willing audience who like to watch, touch, or satisfy their urges – normal, kinky, or perverse. Julia Lazar, a recent high school graduate from the Ukraine, while tagging along with her older sisters, Natalia and Lena, is caught up in the dream of easy money. Although her siblings seem to be able to handle their customers, Julia finds herself addicted to drugs and alcohol which clouds her mind and leads to poor judgement in some difficult, even life threatening situations. She rationalizes her behaviors by comparing herself to wives who remain in loveless marriages for financial security. Don’t read this one for the sex, which tends to be horrifying rather than titallating. Choose instead to be educated by a novel based on real life situations, told in first person present tense as if Julia is confiding the details of her life directly to the reader.
Lola Smirnova, brought up in the Ukraine, but currently living in South Africa, has presented the first book in a Trilogy, bringing to light some of the sordid details of the seamier side of humanity. This one is not for the squeamish, but those willing to pursue an ugly, dark subject will be rewarded with a fascinating, albeit abhorrent, tale. I would like to thank Netgalley and Quickfox Publishing for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Four stars.
Review also posted on Goodreads.
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I was contacted by Book Publicity Services to review this book. This is usually not the kind of book I read but I decided to take a chance. I must admit I was intrigued by the way the author has written this story and the issues brought out through this. At a few points in the story I did wonder at the relevance of some of the situations but on the whole the story comes together pretty well.
It is indeed a shocker to read about how the protagonists of the story enter into the sex trade with the notion that that is their way out. Through this they get to see several places and earn more money than they could at home over some months. The author brings out the allure that money has and how it draws people into it’s depths keeping them captive and wanting for more. The author also explores the power drugs have over the psych of people.
There is a message I found while reading a book which is along the lines of how we are a product of the choices we make. Most of the things that happen to us in life are a result of our decisions. It is up to us whether we take the easy way out or take the harder path but perhaps lead a better life. There are no guarantees in life but we can try.
There is a lot that the reader is made aware of through this story and some revelations are quite shocking. All this will indeed set the reader thinking and reflecting on life and how theirs would compare to that of the protagonists. The author’s style of writing is a little different if not crude and it’s nice how she has not tried to sugar coat anything. She has described things as they are in a clear manner for us to understand. This story is informative in its own way and is worth the read.
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What a Twisted Ride!
I was attracted by the book’s blurb and I hadn’t the slightest clue of what I was going to encounter. The title itself describes the book in a nutshell.
The story follows Julia and her sisters Lena and Natalia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, they find themselves poverty stricken and in desperate need of making some easy cash. Lena and Natalia leave first and Julia, lured about making easy money, shortly follows her sisters in the sex trade. Easy money but of course, nothing in life is easy.
There were many “ugh” moments and certain parts of the novel that were so raw and gritty that I actually didn’t want to continue reading it. I had to put the book down and absorb what I just read, hoping to make sense and to understand why anyone would put themselves in that situation. Yet, the more I read, the more I understood and actually found myself rooting for the sisters to find a way to free themselves of what they had to go through.
The writing was easy to read and the story moved smoothly. The scenes to be so graphic that I felt the main purpose was to put perspective on how dark this type of profession is/was for those out there living it. The author’s first language isn’t English (basing this on the fact that the novel is based on real life experiences) so I was impressed with how easy it was to read. Again, some scenes were graphic yet necessary to accurately describe this life to those from the outside, looking in.
After I finished the novel, I had to take a few moments to sit back and soak in what I just read. I wouldn’t describe this novel as erotica as sex is not romanticized (and I’m not a fan of erotica.) I don’t know how to categorize this novel and that may be a good thing.
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I received a message from Kelsey of Book Publicity Services asking if I wanted to review Twisted by Lola Smirnova. Under normal circumstances, I most probably would have graciously declined since I’m not really comfortable with the subject matter. But then I was intrigued by the fact that this was “inspired by real-life events”, so I decided to take the leap and said “yes”. Let me tell you guys…this is more than what I expected.
Julia is the youngest among three sisters.Both of which are very protective of her, but she feels the need to prove her independence resulting to reckless and downright stupid actions. She loses herself in drugs and alcohol, all because she feels the need to prove herself.
Natalia is the eldest and the first to get in the world of “entertainment”. She’s the “perfect daughter”, the one who gets all the support and praises. Envy and jealousy arises because of this, resulting to more complications.
Lena is a hopeless romantic and a complete idiot when it comes to men. She falls in love easily because it’s too easy for her to believe the BS that guys who pursue her spouts off.
The story was “real”. There’s no denying that thousands of families all over the world struggle to survive. They are willing to do anything for the slightest chance of getting out of their miserable situations, even if it means selling their mind, bodies, and souls. There were no sugar-coating in this book, which I truly appreciated. Details of the sisters’ hardships were clearly detailed; the men they had to “entertain”, the environment of which they had to function in, even the messed up fetishes, habits, and sexual situations they had to endure. It was so easy to understand why Julia turned to alcohol and drugs to escape her life — her reality. I’ve always been aware of the unfair situations many people face, but reading Twisted, it gave my concern, fear, and sorrow for those people a renewed flame.
Lola wrote this book in a way that is somewhat humorous. There were a few quips that made me think, “Look at that, she can still joke around.” I thought it in an affectionate way of course. The stunts the girls also pulled just to satisfy their clients and employers while trying to be “intact” as much as possible were very creative and quite amusing…in an I-feel-very-sorry-for-you-women kind of way.
This is a trilogy so it was to be expected that the ending wouldn’t really give the readers closure. But that? After all they’ve been through, that was how this book was going to end? I was very much bothered by that.
I give Twisted 4 stars. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I believe that it’s a book that we must all read to somehow be aware of the darkness, pain, and injustice that is just around us.
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Twisted by Lola Smirnova
Reviewed by Amy W. on WeStoleYourBookBoyfriend.weebly.com
If there’s ever a title that perfectly fits a book, it has to be Twisted by Lola Smirnova.
Readers meet Julia, a young prostitute fro the Ukraine, and follow her experiences. This is not a book for the sexually repressed. Instead, it is a gritty story at what a girl does in order to survive. Sometimes comical, other times sad, it’s a roller coaster of emotion.
For the most part, the story flowed well. As a pampered American, it was a bit challenging for me to understand such a cultural difference when it comes to prostitution as a viable career option. The author pulls no punches with this dark and graphic novel. Each encounter strips away a bit more of Julia’s humanity as she gets caught up in drugs and alcohol. Yet it is not all doom and gloom because Julia has a truly amazing sense of humor.
Be warned that there is a cliffhanger that alerts the reader to a continuation. This is not a warm and fuzzy story, but it’s a depiction of strong young woman struggling to survive.
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I would like to thank both Lola Smirnova for allowing me to review her book and to Book Publicity Services for contacting me in the first place and offering me a review copy or I may never have come across such a captivating and alluring book.
I cannot describe how much I enjoyed reading Twisted, nor how much I cannot wait to read the second book in her series; Craved.
Twisted followed the story of three sisters in their bid to survive poverty and depression in the 90’s Soviet Union.
What I loved the most about the book was the language. Smirnova writes in a way rarely seen in most books like this; honest and blunt without overly romanticising the content. The book is neither underplayed nor overdone. It is simply perfectly written to reflect the story.
That may sound over the top on my part but it is my opinion nonetheless. Often I come across books that overplay the sexual nature within their stories, or make the notion of prostitution either too ‘rose-tinted’ or degrading to the women who work in the profession. Smirnova, on the other hand, shows the sex trade from both sides in equal measure, it can be fun, but it is still the sex trade.
The characters of the three sisters were humorous, sarcastic and incredibly entertaining to read about. I could go on forever about the book, but I do not want to give anything away. All I will say is READ IT! You will not be disappointed.
I wish to end this review with a quick word of caution. Please be advised that there is an age warning on this book as the content is of a highly explicit nature and therefore is not suitable for young readers. I would only recommend this book to readers above the age of 18!
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Edgy and Gritty
Twisted is a raw gritty and emotional journey of a young woman’s life in the sex trade industry. Travelling to Luxembourg with her sisters to find work she ends up in the clutches of an industry that leaves her feeling numb to the acts she performs.
The Characters are well rounded and the world was so vivid it was like I was there with them traversing the streets along side them. I was intrigued and yet found parts to be so disturbing but I could not put it down. The writing was in parts disconnected but it did not take away the enjoyment of the book. I am looking forward to the next installment.
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I reviewed Craved, the second part in Twisted trilogy, not long ago, and I was fortunate enough to receive the prequel of this amazing book as well by the publicist for review [also the author was kind enough to send me a signed copy for this one!] So, please ignore that I’ll be comparing this book to the next one which might seem odd taking into account that this is the 1st book in Twisted trilogy.
I absolutely loved this awesome and entertaining book! It’s every bit as entertaining and as engaging as its sequel.
Once again the writing of author Lola Smirnova totally blew my mind off by its simplicity and the ability to keep me glued to the book the entire time. Time flew like a bird and I was left craving for more.
Though the book is about the life and struggles of Julia, a prostitute, author Lola has successfully managed to keep the incidents and the serious bits as light as possible, making this book a really pleasant read and not a disturbing one as one might expect from a book based on true life events, esp. that of a prostitute.
I was in the story right from the minute I started it and felt a really deep connection with the lead of this book, Julia, as well as her sisters (whom I feel like I already know closely from my earlier read.) The witty interludes and author’s sharp sense of humor kept me entertained as well as crackling for most of the time. It was dangerous as well as refreshing to get a glimpse inside the life of a person willingly entering the sex trade and trying to play by her own rules.
This book is a masterpiece and is awesome o so many different levels. The severity of the topic always stays just below the surface but never does it ever surfaces to make the reader uncomfortable. This technique of storytelling is where this book really scored for me.
This book is worth all the praise and all the money. I’m really falling short of words here in describing how much I enjoyed reading this book. The story, the plot, the flow of the incidents, the linearity , the pacing, the beginning, the ending, etc, everything is perfect and I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a good book to read.
So go ahead and grab a copy of this book and its sequel to meet Julia and her sisters and to accompany them on their unusual yet dangerous journey of sex, drugs and alcohol.
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I read this book several months ago and planned to write this review but after reading it, I had to decompress, get my thoughts together before attempting this review. I may have never gotten around to it but, I got an email today as to my interest in reading and reviewing Craved, the second book in this trilogy.
I am not certain what I expected when I started reading Twisted, an erotic novel, an erotic suspense thriller or what. What I got was a frank, gritty dark novel about the European sex trade. While set in Europe, what goes on could be any spot on the globe. Ms. Smirnova has pulled the curtain back revealing the seedy, many times sick, dangerous and profitable sex trade. I had read this was based on true incidents and I have to believe it because it exposes the dreams, too few realized and most times shattered of those seeking a better income and therefore a better life. What they too often get is bittersweet. This could only have been written with the frankness and the honesty that it is by someone who either lived it or was close to those who did live the life.
The book in my opinion is not sexy or erotic. It is often times funny and at times hard to read. At the center of the story are three sisters Natalia, Lena and Julia who looking for a better life, join the sex trade. All three sisters are developed and likable characters. I found myself wanting a “Pretty Woman” scene for each of them but sadly I am still waiting (maybe in Craved).
While not for everyone, it is a book that will stay with you long after you have read the last page. It will make you think. It will disturb you. It will make you laugh and if like me, make you want to continue on with the next two books to see if the ambitions are realized or if they are the avenue of broken dreams.
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This is definitely not a Pretty Woman prostitute story! It is raw, dirty, and shocking. It had some jaw-dropping moments. I’m not going to pass judgment on Julia or her sisters. It’s not my place. They chose to go into prostitution- they weren’t forced into it. They could’ve made a living with a regular job had they wanted to, but prostitution was simply more fruitful. With that said, Julia made a lot of mistakes. She didn’t make things easy on herself at all, but she’s tough. I have to say, I had high hopes for her and a certain someone. I wanted it to work out, but he turned out to be a douche. I guess it’s hard to fall in love when you’re a hooker…only works out for Julia Roberts. I have a copy of the sequel to Twisted and I’ve been requested to read it so I will most likely do that soon. I definitely think it’s worth the read. Twisted is not for the faint of heart or anyone with a weak stomach.
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Twisted is certainly the best title for this book although on first thoughts I assumed it meant the main character would have a twisted personality. This was the total opposite. Twisted tells a tale of how one woman’s life is twisted and turned from one moment to the next.
Jul or Julia as the main character is referred to is a Sex worker from the Ukraine this book takes you on a journey of sex work in a club/brothel and how her life is constantly a struggle from each person she meets.
Twisted is written in a first person point of view and you read the book like Julia is sitting in the room telling you her story in person. She is excited by the wealth her sisters are coming home with from their Sex Work and she decides she needs to earn come cash too so hops along. After not doing too well, sniffing, drinking and smoking her money away she meets a client who seems to be the perfect man only he tricks her and takes her earnings. She doesn’t have much luck along the way and tries again but always seems to fail.
Julia is a character I don’t have much in common with however I still relate to her and almost feel sorry for her the life she has and her bad luck seem to be never needing. I found the whole book captivating and couldn’t put it down. Despite this book being out of my usual comfort zone I found it so interesting, I just wanted to read on to find out what happened next.
I do not know much about Sex Work as a whole however I know that there is a dark side to the sex industry and this book depicts the real and rawness of the situations women face just to earn and provide for their families. Wither it be getting raped by some men who trick them to being conned or disrespected by their pimps/bosses. I think Twisted is a great way to express the not so glamourous side of sex work without being too gruesome.
There where parts in the book that I found heart wrenching with Julia being left in a field bruised wounded and Torn to pieces after being raped. Also the part where she got drugged and robbed where parts where I really felt awful for her. Just when you think her life can’t get any worse there is another scene that involved her sister’s former lover and his friend sexually assaulting her. However this was a flash back/dream but it all generally started from there that was the first Twist in this story.
I recommend open minded people read this book, for those that like a good real life story. Or those that generally are interested in what it’s like behind the scenes of being a sex worker. Or those of you that like me just like a good novel really check out Twisted. Upon first glance it seems Julia is the twisted one however the more the story unfolds the more you see it is the people she meets and the way her life has planned out that is twisted.
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