Ella Husted feels like she's burning up. Her skin is crawling with energy, she's so hot she can scarcely bear to put on clothes, and she's so horny that even her succubus roommate Kate is keeping her distance. In the bar she and Kate own together, men and women flock to her like ants to honey. She's raw sex, pheromones saturating the air, carnal power whipping through the environment like lightning. Her heart's beating so fast it is literally close to exploding.
Enter Dominic Sebastian, ancient, influential and (of course) breathtakingly gorgeous vampire, with his young (merely one hundred years old) surfer-boy lieutenant Rick. They've been charged with protecting the unwitting woman from hurting herself or others, and with educating her regarding her true nature. The first step in their mission requires an intense, three-way orgy in order to drain some of her sexual energy as well as her excess blood.
Dominic tries to ignore the evidence that Ella is his predestined soul-mate – the fact that they cannot read one another's thoughts, even though both are telepaths. For a vampire to bond with a human is rare and fraught with problems, even if that human is not a Benefactor as Ella appears to be – a genetically-determined natural donor who can satisfy a vampire's need for blood, indeed, who must provide some of her overly-abundant blood in order to survive. Benefactors appear normal until some vampire induces physiological changes by feeding upon them. Dominic and Rick must determine who induced Ella and why. Meanwhile they face the even more difficult task of persuading Ella to accept her powers and undergo the training necessary to use them safely. Ella is stubborn and a bit bitchy, an orphan and a pragmatist who does not believe in the supernatural, despite her own ability to read minds. She's also a woman with an overactive libido who loves sex but who runs at the hint of any emotions more enduring than pure lust.
As you can probably determine from the synopsis above, Intoxication is erotic romance, not erotica – indeed, an instance of the hopelessly overpopulated subgenre of vampire erotic romance. Nevertheless, the book has some original twists and overall provides an entertaining reading experience on the way to its predictable happy ending.
Ms. De Paulo's vampires are born, not made. They are not undead, but more like a different species or a genetic aberration. They have organized themselves into an elaborate hierarchy and maintain databases of other unusual sub-species such as succubi and Benefactors. Over the course of the book, we meet vampire senators, judges, enforcers, and obnoxious teenagers. They're not monsters at all, even the deliciously seductive female villain – at least not any more than a human might be.
Ella is a somewhat inconsistent but vivid character. She's totally shameless and delights in being a slut - “porno Ella” as she calls herself. Her history and her powers turn out to be a good deal more complicated than Dominic realizes, and she grows into her new role as she learns more about her heritage.
The sex scenes in Intoxication are graphic and arousing, though not particularly extreme or original. I liked the difference in emotional tone between scenes driven by paranormal sexual energy (including the initial ménage), and scenes where there is a deeper connection between Ella and her partner. Pervert that I am, I would have welcomed more multi-partner and lesbian action, but as the book goes on, Ella (in typical romance fashion) cleaves ever closer to Dominic, the man for whom she is destined and to whom she is psychically bound.
The writing is not particularly exceptional but on the other hand it doesn't get in the way of enjoying the story. I wish I could say the same about the editing; there are frequent problems with extra, missing or erroneous words which should have been caught in the copy editing stage. Ms. De Paulo introduces welcome flashes of humor that convinced me she was well-aware of the over-saturated quality of her chosen sub-genre. My favorite was a scene in Ella's kitchen, where Kate reveals her succubus nature and Dominic and Rick try to get Ella to believe they're blood-drinkers. As the reality sinks in, Ella grabs a bottle of garlic salt and starts sprinkling it all over the table and the counters. I laughed out loud.
The lurid cover for Intoxication, featuring a fanged hulk with radioactively-glowing green eyes and massive man-titties, may also make you laugh. However, I have to admit that my dire expectations for Intoxication were not realized. Ms. De Paulo's entry into the crowded field of vampire romances is actually quite a lot of fun, reminding me a bit of Richelle Mead, but with much more explicit sex. If you like the genre, you're looking for entertainment rather than enlightenment, and you're not allergic to romance, give it a try.
Shira’s best gay pal Jean is partnered with the handsome – and a bit too suave – Sebastian. Shira has made peace with the fact that she’s got a crush (if not outright love) going on for Jean, and takes her singleness more or less in stride, right up until the moment when the two invite her to come back home with them and watch them have sex.
This begins Remittance Girl’s Beautiful Losers and sets quite a bit of the tone for the whole book – which is to say that so much of this book is these three people – gay, straight, male, female, many nuanced shades of in between – wondering if it’s possible for the three of them to make it work, whatever “it” might be.
Shira’s an interesting voice for the story in that she begins from – and, to some degree, maintains – a vantage of “closer to normal” than the other characters. She’s less experienced, yes, but she’s also a lot more mainstream than she’d likely wish to believe. A three-way relationship isn’t something she even really considers until it’s spelled out to her, and when Sebastian talks to her about someone being “sub” she doesn’t get what he means. This “one step removed” voice works for the novella, providing a good intermediary for the a reader to feel their own concerns (if any) with the various snarls and tangles that are evoked by the ongoing evolution of the relationship the three are entering. Shira consistently struggles with understanding what she might want, and Sebastian isn’t shy in telling her what he’d like her to want. Jean sometimes falls by the wayside, as the dynamic between Shira and Sebastian has more drama and sexual tension to it. But Jean isn’t reduced to a minor character by any means – for all that Shira is erotically attached to Sebastian, it’s Jean who has her heart. Her point of view for the majority of the two hundred pages is one of entropy – Shira doesn’t stock much faith in this relationship working. That struck me as a wonderfully realistic point of view for her – after all, Jean is gay. She’s a woman. This is a major conflict for her, and the progression of Shira’s world views are intriguing.
I’ve said all this and I’ve not really touched on the erotic content or style yet – believe me, it’s there. Remittance Girl’s style is nearly languid, but can switch to a more frenetic pace at the drop of a hat. Sebastian is generally the driving force – though there are rare and welcome moments with Shira taking a more active role – and the roles, like the sexuality and gender, aren’t always defined. Many a scene, role, and activity are played out in Beautiful Losers, and they’re all done well. There’s some bondage; anal features centrally from a plot point of view; and some scenes with chocolate are bound to make the mouth water, just to mention a few.
That said, there are a few trigger warnings to note – there are characters here with child abuse histories, and there were times – and one moment in particular – where I found Sebastian a bit forceful when Shira’s responses to his requests are less than “yes.” Sebastian comes across as controlling, and he is a dom, but there was a conversation about Shira needing to shave herself where I found myself leaning a bit away from the book. Sebastian grew a little less enjoyable for me when his response to “No fucking way!” was to simply grow more forceful.
On the shallower side, if you’re not a fan of the Goth style, there might be a struggle for you here and there, since the characters are decidedly that, and much of the descriptive colour is painted in these tones for the characters – nail polish, dark lipstick, a relentless fight against the normal. It’s not particularly a look or style I personally enjoy, so I had to suspend some disbelief to stay alongside Shira and fall in lust with how a particular shade of dark cherry lipstick made someone look. These are minor qualms though, and they’re my own. In no way does it make the characters less sensual or their interactions less erotic, and I’d be hard-pressed to call it a flaw.
And there are times where that gothic flavor really does add to the fun moments of the book. I had a few laugh-out-loud moments at turns of phrases or moments that spun from the gothic make-up or propensity for the colour black. Characters offering thankful prayers to Liploc after particularly sloppy kisses, or a bemused Shira wondering where Sebastian would have found a beautiful black blanket – perhaps knitted by a group of lovely old ladies who had fallen to the dark side?
Remittance Girl spins lovely prose, dancing between more guttural language and some truly memorable turns of phrase – I liked that Shira’s voice is so different from Sebastian’s and Jean’s, and that the dialog between them deftly revealed character. The events of the book are set at a near breakneck pace – the men setting the tempo very much, and Shira’s frustration at not being given time to decompress and process is vividly portrayed. The guys don’t want to wait; Shira is much less sure. The revelations that offer stumbling blocks for each of them in turn feel all the more painful for their headlong race. They – and the reader – aren’t often offered a place to catch a breath, which suits the tale perfectly. These characters are overwhelmed by their feelings and their attempts to stave off the societal pressure that they feel to fit what they have into some sort of label or easily defended status. Shira and Jean, especially, suffer here, and the events that knock them off balance ring true.
If you’re looking for a well-written and erotic coupling of two men and a woman, I think you’d be hard pressed to find many tales as nuanced as Beautiful Losers. Like the three characters themselves, it’s not a simple, nor straightforward, relationship. I put the book down a little bit stunned, since of all the things I expected the ending might be, turned out to be wrong. It was not remotely something I’d foreseen (that’s not a criticism) and the story percolated in my head for a long time after. It’s not often that I have that reaction – this story made me think and really had me examining some beliefs, and that is always a good thing.
I hate to say negative things about a book, but setting aside Making Him Wait wasn’t an option any more than twisting the truth was so, with reluctance, I’ll state my observations.
I won’t blame formatting errors on the author (quotation marks and apostrophes were mostly absent, and commas appeared in odd places) but even with proper punctuation, many scenes would have been difficult to follow. The need for an editor became more apparent as I read further into the text.
The phrase “the artist” rather than using her name, or a pronoun, seemed like an odd choice at first then quickly grew irritating. So did characterization that should have been shown rather than told, and didn’t need to be repeated several times through the story. A brief review of the difference between disinterested and uninterested would have been a good idea. I was amazed at all the swelling breasts. When I see that type of mistake I assume, rightly or wrongly, that the writer learned everything he knows about heaving bosoms from pulp porn novels.
Inexplicably, the main character would pick up her phone in the middle of a seduction and swap texts with another character. One example:
As she let Sara explore and abandoned herself to the exquisite touch, Maddie tapped out another message, her fingers misspelling things as her concentration began to fracture.
Maddie: There’s a par [sic] of bashful figers [sic] playing with my slit.
Theo: Fingers? – Tell me more
Maddie: She is exploring me
Theo: Feel good?
Despite the fact that the light on her mobile was again flashing to tell her Theo had sent another instant reply, Maddie put down the phone. Sara had brought her face so close to Maddie’s nub that the artist could feel the other woman’s gulps of air on her slit.
The flow of the scene and any sexual tension the writer created up to that point evaporated when the character grabbed her phone. The idea was good. Texting someone a blow-by-blow account of sex could add an interesting layer of voyeurism to the scene, but not the way it was handled here.
Adding to that problem was the head-hopping. The POV character frequently and abruptly switches mid-scene. In one rather mind-bending passage, a scene came to a screeching halt when the artist initiated a text conversation then head-hopped to the electrician’s (now I’ve started doing it!) POV for a few paragraphs so we could watch him drink tea and get a hard-on, only to jump back to the artist to finish the scene, all interspersed with text messages. Given the missing punctuation marks in the text, it’s possible that there was a scene break symbol, but why then return to the first character’s POV to finish the original scene?
Characters in this novel were more caricature than substance. The plot was an excuse to string together many sex scenes, none of which seemed particularly important to the meager story. Again, I’m sorry to be so negative, but the frustrating thing is that I’ve read several of Kay Jaybee’s short stories and they’re usually much better than this.
It’s no secret that power games are at least as prevalent in big business as they are in sex, and when sex and business are intertwined, the power games are amped up to an orgasmic crescendo. They certainly are in erotica, at any rate, and we read enough in news accounts to conclude that there’s plenty of such play going on in the “real” lives of the rich and powerful.
The news accounts, though, can only provide mild titillation. It takes a writer with the skill and erotic imagination of Lisabet Sarai to really immerse us in this world of glitter and grit, silk and semen, financial power plays and BDSM role playing. In Nasty Business the financial stakes are high, the emotional swings are chaotic, and the sex is intense, inventive, and very nearly non-stop.
The story is told through three different viewpoints, a structure that could be hard to follow but turns out to be just right. First is young Ruby Chen, heiress to her deceased father Liu’s business empire as well as to his financial acumen and sexual appetite. Next is her assistant Margaret, also inherited from her father, and, unknown to Ruby, Liu’s longtime lover and submissive. The third is Rick Martell, an entrepreneur who challenges Ruby in a business affair that becomes personal as well as financial, striking even more sparks of lust than of competitive fever, until sex and business become inextricably tangled and dominance in both rebounds from one player to the other as though they were players in a frenetic handball game.
Each section is labeled with the name of the point of view character, and each of the voices is distinct. We get their accounts not only of what’s happening in the present, but what they remember from the past, expanding the range of sexual experiences we can see, and at the same time giving insights into their characters, as when Margaret recalls that “I was floating in a crimson haze, breathing in time with his savage strokes. I forgot myself, thinking only of him, basking in the intensity of his desire. I forgot to notice when, or whether, I climaxed. There was only Liu, his energy and will, his pleasure. That was the only thing that mattered.”
We also get to share their inner thoughts and fantasies; even in the throes of sex, Ruby imagines how she must look to Rick: “An image: my pale bottom, my swollen pink sex lips gripping the leather-bound rod, the black strands vibrating against my creamy skin. The stretched, torn lace of my flimsy panties, framing it all. Is this what he is seeing? I suck hard, my eyes screwed shut.” Rick has this same habit: “A part of me is watching myself, simultaneously shocked and amused. A new twist. A new category of victim, perhaps, unable to resist me? Is there any limit to what I'll do in the pursuit of pleasure and power? But these thoughts are swept away by the raw sensations in my penis, and returning images of Ruby.”
Rick’s “unable to resist me” attitude brings up my one semi-complaint about the book. He’s a hard character to like, and might even be said to put the “nasty” into Nasty Business, not that Ruby isn’t at least as ruthless in her drive for power. Rick is portrayed as not particularly handsome, which was at first a pleasant change from the typical perfection of characters in erotica, but then he’s shown to have some inexplicable magnetism that makes him irresistible to women. Ruby wonders, “Why does Martell have this overwhelming effect on me? Chemistry? Pheromones? It feels like something biological and irresistible. Or perhaps telepathy, empathy, some psychic force that allows him to catch and shape my thoughts.” But Ruby takes it as a challenge and part of the game; Margaret feels it as almost a violation.
In the long run, after many volleys and reversals in strategy and dominance and various different couplings (with Rick’s handyman Raoul and housekeeper Luna thrown into the mix), Rick turns out to be a reasonably good guy, or as good as any guy could be who has known all his life that women can’t resist him. At least Ruby is satisfied, so all’s well that ends well—and orgasmically. Every player has his or her turn on the top and/or the bottom, while the complexity of human desires is explored with considerable insight. My favorite character, though, is Margaret, who comes the farthest to find her true self, motivated not by greed but by loyalty and love. Margaret, in fact, may ultimately be the most powerful of them all, with the keenest understanding of the nuances and complexities of power exchange.
Nasty Business is top-notch erotica, written with a sure hand by Lisabet Sarai. Her prose is lushly evocative as well as explicit, and her imagery can even verge on the poetic when the situation calls for it. For me, the most memorable passage comes from the viewpoint of Margaret, watching the young housekeeper Luna who has just led her through a great moment of self-discovery: “She gathers a droplet from my thighs and licks it off her finger. Her eyes close as she savors me, and I am reminded of some flaxen-haired medieval angel, consumed by mystic ecstasy.”
Don’t worry. There’s plenty of raw sex, rough sex, kinky sex, revenge sex, even elegant sex, in Nasty Business. And there’s plenty of power play. But to have all that and the rare moment of mystic ecstasy too—well, that does it for me. Whatever does it for you, chances are that you’ll find it here, and some unexpected pleasures as well.
“Is that true, Mr. Baker…Christopher?”
“It is indeed.” He smiled. His eyes lit up. “It cannot be easy to grow up in a home without the warmth of a mother’s touch or the guidance of a father’s wisdom. But you have done just that, Master Addison. You are a strong and dapper young man for whom I have come to care a great deal.”
“I have you to thank for my guidance. I am seventeen and know nothing of life outside of this home except what you have taught me. I want to tell—”
He raised his finger to my lips, cutting off my words, and then reached into his topcoat.
“I have something for you, Addison, in honor of your birthday.”
He handed me a little silver tin. “Go ahead, open it.” He smiled as I lifted the cover. “Do you like it? It is a pin to hold your cravat in place.”
I have a penchant for period dialogue. The loss of the formality that was inherent within most forms of address during yesteryear is one of the things that make me think our society’s progress has come at a high price. Admittedly we now have internet technology, mobile phones and nyan cat games, but are any of those “advances” comparable to the thrill of being called “Mr. Lister” during an intimate tryst? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Secret Societies is set in the unenlightened yesteryear of 1724. Thomas Newton is cast out of his home by his aristocratic father. He goes to London and, as it says on the blurb: enters the underground world of male-male desire.
Holden has clearly researched this period. The story is compelling. The period detail is rich and enchanting. In short: this is well-written homoerotic fiction at its finest.
William Holden is a master of erotic storytelling and he knows how to balance complex plots, bildungsroman style character development and the vagaries of period writing.
Holden’s first book, A Twist of Grimm, remains one of my favourite titles and still sits close to my desk. One of the reasons why I respect this writer is because he is able to combine quality writing with first class erotica:
“I must have that ass of yours. Turn around and let me fuck you.”
I did as he said, knowing it would be the last ass he would ever enter. He pushed me against the stone ledge, shoved my breeches down to my knees, and plunged his rigid prick deep inside me. I yelled from the immediate and forceful thrust of his insertion. My cries of passion and pleasure echoed through the open land. My nails dug into the gritty fibers of the cold, damp stone as the assault on my ass intensified.
I knew all too well from many nights with James’s prick up my ass that he was not one who held out. His breathing became labored. He grabbed my shoulders and pulled my body to his as he thrust himself farther and deeper into my sore and hungry ass. I bent my head under my arm and peered behind our sweat-dampened bodies to get a glimpse of Mr. Willis. I could see his shadow deep in the brush. I could almost feel his eyes stroking my dangling prick.
“Oh, for the love of God, unleash your seed into me,” I begged as I felt his prick pulsing with unspent need. “Yes. Fuck my shithole. Pound me. Make me dizzy with pleasure. Oh, James, yes, I can feel your cock stroking deep within my belly!”
If I was going to nitpick I’d mention that British pronunciation favours ‘arse’ instead of ‘ass’. But that would be pretty petty nitpicking on my part. Secret Societies is a combination of mystery, romance, erotica and period drama. It contains something for everyone and deserves a place on the bookshelf of every discerning erotica reader.