“Too much is never enough.” That's the title Tenille Brown chose for her introduction to this anthology, and it sums up the theme quite nicely. This is a book of stories about sexual insatiability, about lust that can't be denied and sometimes can't even be satisfied, for more than a few minutes at least. The characters in these stories get plenty of sex, plenty of pleasure, sometimes plenty of delicious pain as well, but it's never sufficient.
How well do the tales in this volume explicate this theme? As usual, some are more effective than others. At the top of my list is Preston Avery's amazing “Won't Last the Week.” The narrator meets the woman of his dreams at a party. They spend the night on the beach, so entranced by one another that they forget to exchange phone numbers.
She isn't skinny like the girls I usually go for, like my ideal “on paper” woman, but curved and soft and she fits me just right. Her breasts are big with a delicious slope to them, and I know they will overflow my grasp. I could bury my face in the valley between them and never come up for air. I could have seconds and thirds and fourths of her and die a gluttonous happy man. She does everything I lead her into. I don't ask – words are still lost to us. The first time I lower one of my hands to those gorgeous mounds, hidden between a thin blue cotton shirt, she doesn't protest or push me away- she arches into me, into my touch, and makes the most beautiful noise in her throat. That moment, those moments, are all that I can feel. The future is as unreal to me as a unicorn on the planet Saturn. That place where names and phone numbers matter is at least a world away.
As the week goes on, dreams and fantasies of the lost woman consume the narrator's life. Will he somehow manage to find her? Or will he go mad with need and frustration? The beautiful urgency of this story left me in wet wonder.
Another highly apt contribution is Kissa Starling's cautionary tale “Blue Balls.” A young man too busy with his career to pursue a relationship receives a pair of mysterious blue balls from the gypsy he consults for advice. The balls provide instant orgasms, of such intensity and delight that the protagonist soon finds himself neglecting all other aspects of his life in the quest for ever-increasing pleasure.
“Before They Burn” by Beatrix Ellroy is a delicious tale of power and surrender, as a party guest teaches the hostess in the kitchen just how much she loves to be dominated. As he brings her down from her orgasm and allows her to take the cookies from the oven, he tells her: “Next time, Orya, I will take my time with you.”
In Giselle Renarde's exquisite “The Girl on Your Skin,” a lesbian couple with an explicitly open relationship discover that the scent of a casual lover on one of their bodies creates a virtual three-some, kindling a whole new kind of desire.
The editor's own contribution, “Famous Last Words,” is notable for its clever and insightful portrayal of “break up sex.” It's not necessary to love someone, or even to like them, to be swept away by lust for their body. In fact, one of the aspects of this entire book that I particularly liked was the fact that not all its stories end happily. Stupendous orgasms are not necessarily the key to long-term happiness.
On the other hand, they're not something to be rejected, either.
Given the title, I expected Ms. Brown's story to be the last in the collection. However, that place belongs to Annabeth Leong's incredibly perverse “Objects of Desire.” Once again, Ms. Leong articulates sexual complexities that few other authors would even recognize. This tale of shame, need and kitchen utensils is one of the kinkiest – and most insightful – things I've read in months. It made me squirm, which I have to believe was the author's intention.
I've only mentioned the stories that particularly grabbed me, but overall, Ms. Brown has assembled a solid collection of erotic fiction, with considerable diversity in tone, content and gender pairings. I believe this may be her first time editing an anthology. She can afford to be proud of the result.
The other week I was trying to produce a working definition for the concept of genre. It seemed like a straightforward enough task. We’ve all purchased books based on genre. We all understand the term loosely beyond its dictionary denotation. Most of us read genre fiction, some of us write genre fiction, so we must know what genre means.
Well, to be honest, I never got to the point where I could produce a working definition. There were too many variables. Just because a story contains a werewolf, does that mean it has to be a horror story? When does a story stop being part of the mystery genre and start being a supernatural yarn? When does a story shift from being a romantic adventure to becoming an adventurous romance?
My studies produced a lot of questions which have been difficult to answer. Next time I’m doing something so bold as trying to define a term like ‘genre’, I shall take a shortcut and simply ask Lisabet Sarai.
Lisabet Sarai is a master of genre and Rajasthani Moon proves as much. Set in a steampunk imagining of an empire-forsaken Victorian India, Rajasthani Moon contains aspects of fantasy, action-adventure, supernatural, science-fiction and, of course, erotica.
“Really? If you’re on an official diplomatic mission, why were you travelling in disguise?”
“As you note, sir, your countrymen are known for their violence and lawlessness. A woman openly journeying as Her Majesty’s representative would be especially vulnerable to attack by brigands and highwaymen…”Cecily stopped short, overwhelmed by memories of her time with Pratan. Her nipples knotted under the thin fabric of her bodice and moisture painted her thighs. Once again embarrassment heated her face. She tried to tear her eyes from the Rajah’s but he would not allow it.
He shook his head. “I really don’t know what I should do with you.” He flipped the gauzy train of her sari off her shoulder, exposing the swollen nubs that strained the fabric of her top. “Though I imagine I’ll think of something.”
For an instant she expected him to reach for her brazenly erect nips, to pinch or twist them. She knew he’d be cruel. A shudder of anticipation raced through her. She sucked in her breath, expecting—no, craving—the debasement.
He didn’t touch her. Instead, he favoured her with an ironic grin and settled back into his chair. “Sit here, then.” He indicated a nest of pillows piled to one side of the throne. “For now, I shall pretend that you’re telling the truth, Cecily, and treat you as the honoured representative of a foreign monarch.”
I’ve been a huge fan of Lisabet Sarai’s work since I first encountered her short story ‘Butterfly’ in Mitzi Szereto’s anthology, Erotic Travel Tales II. Not only does Lisabet have a sophisticated command of detail that brings each narrative to life, she also has an astute focus on plot that allows her to create and combine genre tropes as she tells a specific and enjoyable story.
When she opened her eyes, Pratan stood in front of the horse. The sight almost undid her.
He had removed his clothing. Muscles rippled along his arms. His sculpted chest gleamed with sweat. The scratches from his fight with the palace guards had faded, though they were still visible. His thighs, parted by a foot or two for balance, were like the trunks of great trees. At their juncture his proud cock reared up, nut brown crowned with strawberry red, its slickness further testimony to his arousal.
In his hands he held a cat-o’-nine-tails. He trailed the leather strands through his fingers. A teasing smile graced his lips, but his ebony eyes held something darker and more serious.
The horse swung her backwards, out of range. Then, like a pendulum, the device brought her back within reach—no more than six inches from where he stood.
At a mere 145 pages, Rajasthani Moon is a slim novel, but packed with all the necessary elements to provide an entertaining and satisfying read. As with all titles written by Lisabet Sarai, this book is well worth the investment. You will enjoy.
In his introduction to Sensual Travels, editor Michael Luongo comes close to calling these stories true reminiscences, the authors “revisiting them in their minds as they wrote them down for these stories.” The Publisher’s note, on the other hand, states unequivocally that “This book contains works of fiction,” and the rest of the usual disclaimer. I only mention this because some of the writers do seem to be writing in travelogue style, more a series of anecdotes than fully rounded fiction, but some of the best pieces could just as easily be weaving true adventures into fictional form because that’s what these writers do best.
Besides the travel theme, the editor makes a point of telling us that the book is “literotica,” not “just erotica,” and I wondered whether some of the writers had taken this a bit too much to heart. Not that I mind literary references, but I couldn’t help noticing how many names from art and literature were inserted into a few stories. Frida Kahlo and Hans Christian Anderson were referenced twice, in fact, although I couldn’t make up my mind whether the one where the narrator goes to an exhibition honoring Hans Christian Anderson and a performance of Mary Poppins before getting down to extensive raw, dirty sex was intended to be a bit tongue in cheek.
None of this makes any difference to a reader’s enjoyment. The theme of the book is gay sex in the context of travel, and it certainly delivers all that. Some stories are a bit heavy on the travelogue-as-infodump front, but most of the local color and background is nicely—and sometimes exquisitely—handled. As to how well the sex is handled, well, that depends on one’s taste, but as a more or less objective observer I’d say that the erotic aspects won’t disappoint anyone with an interest in gay sex.
All of the stories are well done, in their own suitably various ways. The writers are all experienced at either travel writing or erotica, and sometimes both, so perhaps the editor can be excused for not taking too many pains with editing. The sort of errors my editorial eye catches are the kind of thing we all miss occasionally in our own writing, and it says more about my own tastes than any real problems that my list of notes was mostly about a few typos until I got to Lawrence Schimel’s “Water Taxi” and began to sit up and take notice. About time, too. I realize that my review has been altogether too bland so far.
Lawrence’s story is light, playful, and hot, with a committed couple in a public threesome on a pleasure boat off the coast of Spain, and plenty of erotic images. The one that really got my attention was the narrator’s comparison of his partner to the Colossus of Rhodes, imagining what it would be like “sailing between those massive thighs and gazing upward.” What can I say? I’m a whore for clever turns of phrase and ingenious imagery.
After that story, my notes overflowed with too many tasty bits to include them all here, and in any case readers with a more intense interest in the sex won’t care. Trust me, the sex is there, and so is sexual tension, as well as fleeting fantasies that sometimes can’t be realized, and never can be repeated. There are gay bars and sex clubs and bathhouses in Paris, Tokyo, Zagreb, and Bangkok, among others; there are hookups via the internet, romantic student encounters, train (and bus) sex, and a wide variety of scenarios both traditional and innovative.
I shouldn’t try to choose favorites among the stories, since I tend to get more of a charge from the sexy writing than from the sex, but I’ll do it anyway. Several of the writers were familiar to me already, and their work here was every bit as good as I’ve found it to be elsewhere. Felice Picano, Simon Sheppard, Lawrence Schimel, Trebor Healey, and Jeff Mann are folks whose work I admire no matter what they’re writing about, and they’re all in good form here. I have to say that Jeff Mann’s “Bondage Tape in Budapest” was also arguably the sexiest of them all; there may be someone, somewhere, who isn’t turned on by the image of a supremely strong man being tied and gagged and fucked, and reveling in his own helplessness, but even then it would be hard to resist Mann’s voice and style. Plus his rhapsodic description of Dobos torte, “rich, intense, and decadent,” is as sensual as the sex.
Of writers I hadn’t encountered before, I especially liked Sebastion V.’s clever voice in “Fantasy Night Train to Estonia,” with his reflections that “Traveling is all about letting go,” and “Fantasies and memories are soul mates, after all.” And Jay Davidson’s “Fest Noz” was both a charming ode to Brittany—“As much as I love Paris for its monuments and grandeur, I appreciated Quimper for its lack thereof,”—and a rueful memory of what almost might have been, but wasn’t.
My choices are really irrelevant, though. There’s something to enjoy in every story here, and someone whose buttons will be pushed by each one. If you have a taste for gay sex, good writing, and far-away places, it will be worth your while to see which ones take you where you really want to go.
To be honest, I deserved this book. After a few rough months of reviews, it was definitely my turn to read something wonderful. I perked up the moment I saw Tristan Taormino’s name, and Ali Leibegott? Oh man. I’m such a fan of her work. Reading her introduction, “Dumpster Diving” was a bonus treat- the dark, sweet Luxardo maraschino cherry on top of some rather delicious tales.
Hmm. Which ones to pick to talk about?
If you’re one of those readers who can be seduced by technique alone, “Paradise” by Valarie Alexander will have its way with you and you’ll love every moment of it. Revisiting old lovers in stories usually feels like opening a box with cabbage roses printed on it and gently tugging at faded ribbons around old letters. Not this one. Time hasn’t dulled anything about this all-consuming affair. You’re going to have to fight to slow your reading pace and enjoy the luxurious writing while the story tugs on you to rush along with its frantic glory.
Peggy Munson. The name brings back several fond memories. Her short stories are in so many of the annual Best Lesbian Erotica anthologies—with good reason. But her novel Origami Striptease was where I first encountered her writing and it still holds a special place in my heart. (Although she really, really didn’t like my review of it.) In her contribution to this anthology, “The Storm Chasers,” she captures complicated lives. It seems like an odd way to describe a story, but it struck me like a film in black and white, a panoramic vision of a vast space with roiling Constable skies overhead, where characters are together but still isolated. There’s something beautiful about the starkness of this tale. You may get a completely different vibe off it, but you won’t be unmoved.
Since I’m obviously getting off on the literary quality of these offerings, I have to mention “Angie’s Daddy” by A. Lizabeth Babcock. The dynamic isn’t anything that interests me, but the way this story was written was so tantalizing that I didn’t care. It teeters toward poetry and stream of consciousness, but it’s kept firmly focused. Need and desire are rarely shown so raw that it almost hurts. Excellent piece.
But wait! There’s more!
How do I limit myself to talking about only three when there’s such a wealth of stories here? Are there women out there like in Betty Blue’s “When She Was Good?” I want to meet her. In Roxy Katt’s “The Ant Queen,” the BDSM dynamic was refreshingly original, and she aptly pulled off one of the most difficult approaches to erotica with a story that was funny and arousing. “Native Tongue” by Shanna Germain will linger with me for a while, as will Anna Watson’s “Chronic.” These aren’t happy stories, but the emotions are honest in these two tales that explore something most people would rather die than admit to – selfishness is therapy, self-defense, and sometimes necessary to happiness.
I am such a happy reader right now. So many good stories to choose from. But you’ve been good, right? So you can have them all.