Melanie Abrams
Julius Addlesee
Shelley Aikens
A. Aimee
Jeanne Ainslie
Fredrica Alleyn
Rebecca Ambrose
Diane Anderson-Minshall
Laura Antoniou
Janine Ashbless
Lisette Ashton
Gavin Atlas
Danielle Austen
J. P. Beausejour
P.K. Belden
Tina Bell
Jove Belle
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Ronica Black
Candace Blevins
Primula Bond
Lionel Bramble
A. J. Bray
Samantha Brook
Matt Brooks
Zetta Brown
James Buchanan
Louisa Burton
Angela Campion
Angela Caperton
Annabeth Carew
Julia Chambers
Dale Chase
M. Christian
Greta Christina
Valentina Cilescu
Rae Clark
NJ Cole
Christina Crooks
Julius Culdrose
Portia da Costa
Alan Daniels
Angraecus Daniels
Dena De Paulo
Vincent Diamond
Susan DiPlacido
Noelle Douglas-Brown
Hypnotic Dreams
Amanda Earl
Hank Edwards
Jeremy Edwards
Stephen Elliott
Madelynne Ellis
Justine Elyot
Aurelia T. Evans
Lucy Felthouse
Jesse Fox
I. G. Frederick
Simone Freier
Louis Friend
Polly Frost
William Gaius
Bob Genz
Shanna Germain
J. J. Giles
Lesley Gowan
K D Grace
K. D. Grace
Sacchi Green
Ernest Greene
Tamzin Hall
R. E. Hargrave
P. S. Haven
Trebor Healey
Vicki Hendricks
Scott Alexander Hess
Richard Higgins
Julie Hilden
E. M. Hillwood
Amber Hipple
William Holden
Senta Holland
David Holly
Michelle Houston
Debra Hyde
M. E. Hydra
Vina Jackson
Anneke Jacob
Maxim Jakubowski
Kay Jaybee
Ronan Jefferson
Amanda Jilling
SM Johnson
Raven Kaldera
J. P. Kansas
Kevin Killian
D. L. King
Catt Kingsgrave
Kate Kinsey
Geoffrey Knight
Varian Krylov
Vivienne LaFay
Teresa Lamai
Lisa Lane
Randall Lang
James Lear
Amber Lee
Nikko Lee
Tanith Lee
Annabeth Leong
James W. Lewis
Marilyn Jaye Lewis
Ashley Lister
Fiona Locke
Clare London
Scottie Lowe
Simon Lowrie
Catherine Lundoff
Michael T. Luongo
Jay Lygon
Helen E. H. Madden
Nancy Madore
Jodi Malpas
Jeff Mann
Alma Marceau
Sommer Marsden
Gwen Masters
Sean Meriwether
Bridget Midway
I. J. Miller
Madeline Moore
Lucy V. Morgan
Julia Morizawa
David C. Morrow
Walter Mosley
Peggy Munson
Zoe Myonas
Alicia Night Orchid
Craig Odanovich
Cassandra Park
Michael Perkins
Christopher Pierce
Lance Porter
Jack L. Pyke
Devyn Quinn
Cameron Quitain
R. V. Raiment
Shakir Rashaan
Jean Roberta
Paige Roberts
Sam Rosenthal
D. V. Sadero
C Sanchez-Garcia
Lisabet Sarai
R Paul Sardanas
R. Paul Sardanas
Elizabeth Schechter
Erica Scott
Kemble Scott
Mele Shaw
Simon Sheppard
Tom Simple
Talia Skye
Susan St. Aubin
Charlotte Stein
C. Stetson
Chancery Stone
Donna George Storey
Darcy Sweet
Rebecca Symmons
Mitzi Szereto
Cecilia Tan
Lily Temperley
Vinnie Tesla
Claire Thompson
Alexis Trevelyan
Alison Tyler
Gloria Vanderbilt
Vanessa Vaughn
Elissa Wald
Saskia Walker
Kimberly Warner-Cohen
Brian Whitney
Carrie Williams
Peter Wolkoff
T. Martin Woody
Beth Wylde
Daddy X
Lux Zakari
Fiona Zedde
Best of Best Women's Erotica 2Best of Best Women's Erotica 2
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443794
February 2010

Reviewed By: Ashley Lister

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Marcy Sheiner published the first Best of Best Women’s Erotica.  “Best of the Best” is one hell of an accolade to foist upon anyone’s shoulders and I honestly don’t envy Violet Blue having to judge which stories from the Best Women’s Erotica series should be placed in the compilation title Best of Best Women’s Erotica.  Yet Ms Blue has managed this task with style and aplomb and I can’t see any stories in this collection that don’t deserve such elevated praise.

The collection is prefaced by a highly personal introduction from the editor, which is as arousing and well-paced as any of the stories included.  It then moves onto Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Animals”: a tour-de-force encounter that celebrates the physicality of sex in a powerhouse rush of literate erotica.  This is followed by Kristina Wright’s “Call Me,” an obscene phone call that successfully uses dialogue to impart conflicting ideals of taboo-breaking and arousal.  And then there’s Teresa Noelle Roberts’ “Voice of an Angel” which imbues a deliciously unreal sexuality and passion to baroque opera.

I could go on, listing author after author, and producing an incredibly dull review that is the antithesis to an incredibly exciting collection.  Instead, I want to focus on two stories that highlight the diversity of this anthology whilst illustrating its phenomenal power to consistently arouse.  The titles are “Heat” by Elizabeth Coldwell, and  “Chill” by Kathleen Bradean.

“Heat” is a story of sultry, smoldering passions.  Coldwell writes with graphic intensity that hurtles the reader toward the satisfying conclusion of this sweat-fuelled fantasy.  The simmering tension between the central characters is exemplified by the following extract:

When I think of Ian, I think of heat.  The heat of the sticky days of summer and sweaty sheets.  The heat of the flame that draws in the moth.  The heat of passion, and shame.  I think of that sultry August night, and the things he did tome, and I still hate him—and I still want him.

Coldwell’s story is written to inflame.  The story produces a warmth of welcome arousal as well as the uncomfortable glow of embarrassment.  It’s an erotic encounter that many will find reminiscent of tasting forbidden fruits: a discovery that the flavor is so delicious it should be forbidden.

This contrasts with Bradean’s treatment of arousal in “Chill.”  Here the story dwells on a single and uncommon fetish.  The fetish, as suggested by the title, includes an extensive use of ice cubes and an emotional distancing that enhances the story’s powerful premise.

It wasn’t healthy, this thing, this need.  I’d go for months without it, and then I’d be on the phone with a client, or at dinner with friends, and I’d yearn for the cold.  Thinking about it would make my breasts ache.  I’d cross and uncross my legs, and fidget in my chair.  Sometimes, I’d take an ice cube from my drink, put it into my mouth, and excuse myself to the ladies room, where I’d rub the cube against my clit until I came.  Then I’d smooth down my clothes and take my seat, and no one would ever guess.  But it was never a really good orgasm.  It was a shadow, a knockoff, a little something to see me through.

Bradean’s use of language is as cold and clinical as the fetish that drives her protagonist.  The story employs such intense description it blends the heat of arousal with the chill of the fetish, accumulating in unprecedented peaks and troughs of physicality.

And I mention these two stories because they show the perfect balance Violet Blue has achieved in this anthology—selecting stories that can warm the reader, or chill them to the core—without losing sight of the focus that these stories are written to arouse.

There are other stories in this collection, and a collection of respected names from the genre including Kristina Lloyd, Donna George Storey and Kay Jaybee, all of whom deserve their place in a collection entitled Best of Best.  If you don’t regularly subscribe to the annual collection of Best Women’s Erotica, you’d be foolish to miss out on the Best of Best Women’s Erotica 2.

Best of Best Women's Erotica 2Best of Best Women's Erotica 2
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443794
February 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This is the second compilation of stories from five years of the annual Best Women's Erotica series. Considering the flood of story submissions that are sent to the editor each year, and the number of published stories that found their way into all the volumes from 2006 through 2010, choosing stories for Best of Best Women's Erotica 2 must have been a challenge.

In general, these stories are polished and effective in delivering sexual frisson in a variety of styles. However, this reviewer prefers two editors to one for anthologies like this: a series editor for continuity and a consulting editor for a different viewpoint. Two heads together would have interpreted “best” less subjectively.

The anthology opens with "Animals" by Rachel Kramer Bussel. In this story, the female narrator tells the man in her life that she wants to be treated like an animal. He responds beyond her expectations:

With just his bare hands, he became an animal for me, one who wouldn't take no for an answer because he didn't even speak any language, let alone English. He became exactly what I hadn't known I needed until then, his paws digging at me, burrowing deep inside, stretching not only my pussy but my boundaries as he bit and dug and pinched and thrust.

This story sets the tone for the collection, which is not exactly leather or noir but is beyond sweet romance. Kathleen Bradean's story, "Chill," is one of the more extreme fantasies here, since it focuses on necrophilia. (Luckily, no characters are actually killed in this story.) It is told by a female narrator who wants to be the succulent corpse herself, if only temporarily.

"Call Me" by Kristina Wright and "Voice of an Angel" by Teresa Noelle Roberts are both about the erotic appeal of the human voice. In "Call Me," a woman who thinks she is making an "obscene call" to her boyfriend learns that she is seducing a stranger. The mutual attraction between her and her "wrong number" seems likely to create complications in her formerly monogamous relationship.

In "Voice of an Angel," the female character is a costume designer who must design perfectly-fitting breeches for a male opera singer, a countertenor with the kind of high but powerful voice that used to be characteristic of castrati, singers who were mutilated as young boys to prevent their voices from deepening. Despite stereotyped assumptions about men with high voices, Daniel the singer is attracted to Jessie, the costume designer who must touch him during fittings. While she is thrilled by his sexual attention, she can't reach the release she wants until he sings for her.

The fine-art theme continues in "Just Watch Me, Rodin" by Cate Robertson, in which an artist pushes his model further and further for his art, and she shows him that she can deliver all that he could want. In "Amy" by Heidi Champa, a Dominant man torments his former lover by sending her DVDs that record the submission of other women.

In "Rear Window" by Scarlett French, (a reference to the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller by the same name) a woman who has just moved into a new city apartment is inspired by the sight of two men in another apartment. Apparently they are tricks, not established lovers, and the thrill of discovery extends to the witness, or voyeuse. In "The Upper Hand" by Saskia Walker, an older woman discovers that a group of young college-age lads has been spying on her, and she resolves to make them pay.

On the theme of voyeurism, or one-sided fantasizing, "Another Assignation with Charles Bonnet" takes a woman's fascination with a man she doesn't know to the ultimate extreme. She is determined to find him again by his smell alone, and she succeeds. 

On the theme of literary or cultural allusion, "Fly" by Valerie Alexander is a brilliantly sexual interpretation of that classic children's story, Peter Pan. In this version, Peter is an irresponsible boy who kidnaps the virginal Wendy from her bedroom, watched by Tiger Lily, a completely different kind of girl, the one he has overlooked. By kidnapping Wendy, (who really doesn't mind) Tiger Lily is able to lure Peter into a confrontation. The magic trick of "flying" in the original story takes on another meaning:

What I want, she [Tiger Lily] thinks, is to fly. And then it's happening, his cock pushes into the initial tightness of her pussy, demanding and inexorable yet torturously slow.. . Already she's beginning to throb as they start to thrust, his heat and his hardness driving her up and up into blinding wet bliss, and then they're really fucking, faster and faster until at last Tiger Lily is flying.

Erotic punishment is predictable in a collection like this. "Becky" by Kay Jaybee is a classic BDSM fantasy about an office where female employees are spanked by their male boss. "Penalty Fare" by Jacqueline Applebee is a more unusual story about a rushed, clandestine encounter on a train, the female passenger's penalty for boarding without a ticket. "Cruising" by Lee Cairney is an atmospheric story about anonymous sex in the dark woods where a woman is not supposed to invade the local gay-male "cruising" area.

My least favorite story (based strictly on personal taste) is "Heat" by Elizabeth Coldwell. If "Becky" is a fun fantasy about erotic pain and humiliation on the job, Coldwell's story is a grittier and more realistic version. In this story, the narrator is working in a pub during an unusually hot summer. In the absence of the easy-going owner, a hardass manager arrives and immediately warns the two barmaids that he will not tolerate any slacking off, and he will be watching them. As the heat and the tension mount, they both come to hate his contemptuous scrutiny, yet the narrator can't help wishing he would fuck her. When she gets her wish, nothing changes between them. He is still the boss, and he makes it clear that he doesn't consider her special. He doesn't give her any promises (or contact information) before he leaves, yet afterward, she seeks him out in all the places where he might be working. Urggh. This story is all too believable, and this is a tribute to the author's descriptive skill.  

Another story that disappoints, although it is effective in its own way, is the mysterious "Lost at Sea" by "Peony." The narrator begins with questions:

Has it been that long? The clocks and the calendars are conspiring once again. Surely not? Have I been wandering, trapped in this haze, paralyzed by the thought of you? What day is it?

None of these questions are really answered as she seems to be submerged in an altered state of consciousness brought on by sexual surrender to an unnamed "you."

In general, this volume is guaranteed to appeal to fans of the series. Besides the stories mentioned, it includes work by Alison Tyler, Donna George Storey and Kristina Lloyd, among others. The passion can almost be tasted.

Best Women's Erotica 08Best Women's Erotica 08
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573442992
November, 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

What do women want?  Freud’s perennial question recurs again and again in my wanderings as a reviewer through the thickets of contemporary and classic erotica.  Violet Blue’s latest anthology of erotic fiction by women, and presumably for women, offers a possibly surprising answer.  Women want the thrill of an anonymous encounter, the sensual high of breaking taboos, the peak experiences of pleasure or pain without the complications of a long-term relationship.  Almost all the stories in this excellent volume fall into the category of sublime quickies with near strangers.  One might almost call the anthology “erotic non-romance.”

Violet Blue sets the tone with her compelling introduction, “For All the Johnnys.”  She begins by telling us that introductions are boring, but then treats us to a smoldering and possibly true account of sharing a lap-dancer with her fuck buddy and maybe-lover, Hacker Boy.  “I never saw Johnny again,” she writes, “but I wish I could read this entire book to her.”  The tale reeks of alcohol and come, garnished with tattoos and desperation, but it is sexy as hell.

Jacqueline Applebee’s “Penalty Fare” offers a furtive blowjob in the cramped bathroom of a train, an exchange for a deliberately lost ticket.  Jordana Winters’ “Peekaboo” gives us a plain Jane who discovers at a sex club how much fun it can be just to watch.  Saskia Walker’s lovely “Winter Heat” offers a bit of sweetness as a woman reminisces about her first orgasm, but still, it’s at the hands of a young man chance met at a bus stop.  EllaRegina’s prize-winning story, “The Lonely Onanista” is an original account of a woman who lives inside the Washington Square Arch and screws any passerby who knows how to find her.

One of my favorite stories in the collection, probably because it taps into my own fantasies, is Xan West’s “Please.”  The narrator meets an intriguing guy in a bar, and he fucks her, body and mind, in the bathroom.

“Here are the rules.  I do what I want to you.  You don’t touch me without permission.  If you want me to stop, you say ‘stop.’  That is the only word that will stop me, but if I hear it, I will stop immediately.  I won’t do anything to harm you, but I may want to hurt you a little, and I definitely want to fuck you.  Are you game?”

Imagine hearing these words from a stranger, and then discovering, at this stranger’s hands, the purest pleasure, the truest release, that you’ve ever known.  In a sense, this story distills the essence of what Violet Blue is trying to present – the intoxicating notion that the ultimate sexual experience waits for you, just around the corner, in the most unexpected places, with people that you haven’t met but who are destined to fulfill your dreams.

Of course, there are some stories in Best Women's Erotica 2008 that don’t exactly fit this mold.  In “Strangers in the Water,” R. Gay’s narrator returns with her uncomprehending American husband to her native Haiti, to the river where her grandmother conceived her mother in a furtive tryst with a fugitive.  Alison Tyler’s “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” is a high-spirited romp that will make you want to return to college.  Donna George Storey takes us back to the Japan of her novel, Amorous Woman, in the elegantly sensual story “Wet.”  “You Can Do Mine,” by Cerise Noire, gives us a couple who have been living together for a while, pushing their limits.  And then there’s A.D.R. Forte’s deftly-written tale, “Mercy,” about three co-workers whose pair-wise relationships meld into a scorchingly original ménage.

“Picture the cast of characters:  Rhys — dark hair just a little too long at the neck, tie loosened slightly because it’s hot here at the hotel bar, pretty-boy mouth set in that unintentional but totally fuckable pout so at odds with his seriousness; Kyle — half a head taller than every man in the room, blue eyes, wearing the power suit to end all power suits; charisma and control in different ways.

And me, staring at both of them over my glass of cabernet, my mind so deep in the gutter I’m afraid I’ll need scuba gear to find it and drag it out again.”    

Finally – well, not finally, because I haven’t covered every one of the excellent stories of the book since I want to allow you to discover some by yourself – still, I have to mention the strange and poetic “Lost at Sea,” by Peony.  This story is hazy and potent, like a dream; I read it three times and I still wasn’t sure that I understood it all:

“You.  A synapse fires inside my head.  Somewhere near the surface I can see a faint glow fractured by surface ripples.  I must be a long way under.  We shouldn’t have.  We did.  It’s done and cannot be undone.  We’re on the other side of that which had grown so large between us, the lust that devoured us, swelled fat from the absurdity of it.” 

In a way, this tale echoes the exhilaration and desperation of Violet Blue’s introduction.  This is what lust can do, these stories say: strip you naked, rip you open, leave you with scars that you will finger longingly in the future, when your lover of the moment is long gone – remembering.

Best Women's Erotica 09Best Women's Erotica 09
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443387
December 2008

Reviewed By: Kathleen Bradean

Best Women’s Erotica is an annual anthology offered by Cleis Press. For the past several years, the editor has been Violet Blue. I believe this will be her last BWE. While the strength of this series may be partially due to the occasional change in editorial vision, I’ve enjoyed Violet Blue’s years at the helm. If this is indeed her last BWE, she’s chosen to go out on a high note.

In a Best Of anthology, you’d expect every story to be well written, and Best Women’s Erotica 09 delivers on that promise. So the stories that work for you are going to be the ones that speak to your desires. Lucky for you, there’s a wide range of fantasies covered here – finding joy in her body, pleasuring his, taking control or giving it up, forbidden fruit, and role playing.

“On Loan” by Lauren Wright and “Fast Car, Not For Sale” by Trixie Fontaine are at opposite ends of the forbidden fruit spectrum. In “On Loan,” the woman goes to a hotel room for a tryst set up by her husband. The man waiting for her turns out to be her father’s best friend. Wright handles the reality of the awkward situation believably, and then lets the characters use that to make the fantasy even more forbidden and tasty. In “Fast Car, Not For Sale,” the character seduces a barely legal boy with the assurance of a woman who can handle turbo-charged power.

“Switch” by Vanessa Vaughn is a sweet, hot look at gender play. At home, gender roles often reflect tradition rather than the contemporary mores of society, and Vaughn uses this to her advantage.  

Exhibitionists and voyeurs will enjoy Elizabeth Coldwell’s “Live Bed Show,” “Waiting for the River”by Kris Adams, and “Decorations” by Sommer Marsden.

If power exchange is your thing, “Lucky” by Xan West, “The Bitch In His Head” by Janne Lewis, “Good Pony” by Scarlett French, “The Girl Next Door” by Kay Jaybee, or the “Secret History of Lust” by Donna George Storey will fulfill that need.

And for those looking for just some good, hot, sweaty sex, “Snug Designs” by D.L. King, “Cardio” by Elisa Garcia, and “What If” by Cheyenne Blue are a good place to start.

One of the things that impressed me most about this anthology is how varied women’s expressions of desire have become. Sometimes I wonder if we’re daring to have wilder fantasies, or just getting bolder about sharing them. I think it’s the latter. Somewhere in this anthology, you’re bound to find a story that either grabs you by the libido or gently strokes it to wakefulness. Either way, you’re going to enjoy yourself.

Best Women's Erotica 2010Best Women's Erotica 2010
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443735
November 2009

Reviewed By: Ashley Lister

According to the introduction of Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica 2010, editing anthologies is a lot like professionally tasting chocolate.  I can embrace this opinion because I’ve worked with some editors who seem equipped with nothing more than the skill to masticate, and most of those types often appear to have a mouth that’s filled with brown stuff. 

Not that all editors are like that.  I can name at least three I’ve worked with who aren’t like that.  Four, if you include Violet Blue with whom I don’t think I’ve worked, but who has always struck me as a dedicated and competent professional.  And Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica 2010 shows (as always) that she is capable of producing a world -class anthology of high octane erotica brimmed to bursting with exciting explicit fiction.

Alison Tyler’s “In a Handbasket” is a witty tale of ostensibly mismatched lovers finally finding each other.  Kay Jaybee’s “Equipment” is a raunchy yarn of one woman switching roles on her partner.  Emerald in “Shift Change” is tempted by an Apple and shows that computer repairs are not always interminable drudgery.  I could go on and praise the abilities of Sommer Marsden, Angela Caperton, Kristina Lloyd or Rachel Kramer Bussel and a host of other sensational authors.  This really is a wonderful anthology of highly-charged stories that are filled with surprises, sex and scintillating scenarios.  

So, call me a curmudgeon, but I always wrinkle my nose with disapproval when I see the words ‘women’s erotica’ on the cover of an anthology.  Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing else annoying about the title.  The word ‘best’ deserves its place.  The date 2010 (even though I’m reviewing this title at the arse end of 2009) is close enough to be accurate.  But I have to shake my head with dismay at the words “women’s erotica” and wonder if this isn’t an anachronistic holdover from an antiquated age.

As I say, the stories in this anthology deserve the word “best” because they’re all bloody good.  But why do we need to differentiate between ‘women’s erotica’ and other erotica?  (Notice there that I didn’t say “men’s erotica.”  There are no titles out there that I can find that market themselves as ‘men’s erotica.’  There are some books listed as ‘erotica for men’ but that is semantically and pragmatically different.  Presumably the reason there is no ‘men’s erotica’ is because it’s a known fact that men can usually tug off to nothing more erotic than the memory of partially glimpsed underwear in a launderette).  But referring to a collection of world-class erotic stories as “women’s erotica”strikes me as labeling for no good reason. 

In the publishing world it was once commonplace for people to discuss “women’s fiction” as a separate genre.  The term referred disparagingly to romantic stories, usually with ubiquitous purple prose and an obligatory “Happily Ever After.”  The term was seldom used as compliment and even Ms Blue, in her introduction to BWE 2010, suggests that the sight of too much florid euphemism is enough to send her heading to Harlequin HQ with a pitchfork, a can of gasoline and a road flare. Which makes it all the more puzzling as to why the term “women’s erotica” is so warmly embraced. 

Could it be that this collection is only for women?  Admittedly, the possessive ‘s’ in the title would suggest as much (in the same vein as the words women’s clothes in clothing stores and women’s studies in academic disciplines) but I personally think this is unlikely.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading BWE 2010 and I’m guilty of being very male.  I’m so male I drink beer, never go shoe-shopping and drive a Ford with a stick-shift.  That’s how very male I am.  If I had any interest in competitive televised sports I’d be exceptionally male but I can only honestly carry a stereotype so far. 

Admittedly,  the stories in BWE 2010 have all been written by women, but does the author’s gender ever make a difference to the style or quality of the story?  Literary theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes famously said, “the author is dead.”  Barthes assertion has been used predominantly in literary criticism to indicate appraisal of a text from the reader’s interaction solely with the words, rather than a mystical relationship between the reader and the distant (and invariably unknowable) author.  It’s an attitude that makes sense to me.  It also circumvents issues of whether the author is a man, woman or kangaroo. 

As I say, it’s hard to understand why such a wonderful book of stories should be blighted by such anachronistic and arbitrary labeling.  Nevertheless, I would urge every aficionado of erotica to overlook the title and simply rush out and buy a copy of the book now.  It’s good writing and won’t disappoint any woman (or man) who enjoys quality erotic fiction.

Best Women's Erotica 2012Best Women's Erotica 2012
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573447552
December 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Using the superlative “best” in an anthology title sets the bar high. Picking up this volume, a reader has the right to expect every story to be exceptional – in concept, in craft and in emotional impact. Some of the tales in Best Women's Erotica 2012 definitely deliver on this promise. Others, however, do not.

The collection begins with the sensual and original “Drought,” by Olivia Glass. A woman driving through the parched hills north of San Francisco while fantasizing about her lover is brought to a halt by traffic jam. She pulls over, abandons her car and climbs to the summit, where the physical world, as well as the inner world of desire, take on a new perspective.

The blades prick through the thin fabric of her shirt. The breeze whispers to her, across her.  She slides her skirt up her legs and settles it around her hips. The wind teases her, gently. Her left hand drifts across her breasts, slowly stroking her erect nipple.

She has never been so awake or alive; her nerves are naked wires, her skin the wet pavement during a lightning storm. Her mind frees itself, expands. She feels as if a fault line along her breastbone has come apart, and now she is open to the air, her lungs expanding like slick balloons into the dusty ozone, her heart throbbing.

“Drought” is both gorgeously written and deliciously hot, a perfect pick to lead off a collection of “bests.”

“Tweetup,” by Louise Lush, comes next, a light-hearted, clever tale about the latest variety of cyber relationships.

He smiled. “I like your tweets.”

I laughed. “Now there's a twenty-first century compliment!”

The heroine encounters an on-line admirer and despite her real-world shyness, finds herself living up to the racy identity she's adopted in her forays into the Twittersphere. The story, though simple, satisfies with its good-natured, unpretentious lustiness.

K.D. Grace comes next, with her outrageous voyeuristic fantasy “Eddie's All Night Diner.”  Ms. Grace's heroine gets her kicks sitting panty-less on her bench at Eddie's, watching the other customers flirt and more:

What starts as the old I'll-let-you-taste-mine-if-you-let-me-taste-yours ploy rapidly evolves into oral sex on a fork, tongues darting, lips smacking and teeth just barely grazing the flash of stainless steel as they devour sweet tart creaminess. A generous dollop of meringue topples slo-mo off his fork down into his colleague's generous cleavage.

One night a stranger invites himself into her booth and subtly dares her to become an actor instead of a spectator – with his enthusiastic participation. Not since the sixties movie “Tom Jones” has food been made so sexy!

Next in the book is the astounding “Pleasure's Apprentice” by Remittance Girl. In measured, polite, almost distant prose, the author introduces ex-college student Rebecca, who's found work in a traditional company that repairs and sells silver artifacts. Working under the tutelage of taciturn, authoritarian Mr. Pierce, Rebecca learns to polish spoons and make tea for the sales staff. It turns out that her gruff, forceful supervisor has other things to teach her as well:

It seemed to Rebecca that he held her like that for an eternity, but it couldn't have been more than a few seconds. She had the sensation that somehow, she'd just stepped off a ledge and into thin air. It lingered until, with her ass pressed tight against his hips, she felt the slow and strangely frightening press of his cock as it came alive. With his free hand, he covered her breast easily. At first the pressure was warm, gentle, but it grew into something demanding and raw. He squeezed until she squirmed, and, when she did, his other hand pushed down the front of her skirt, massive fingers wedging into the space between her legs and cupping her roughly.   

“Pleasure's Apprentice” captures the gradual build-up of sexual tension better than anything I've read in years, as well as offering a fresh take on the nature of dominance and submission. 

These first four stories raised my expectations for more of the same. Most of the other tales in the collection don't come up to the same standard, though. They are, for the most part, quite competent stories (although two tales which I won't name exhibited an alarming lack of control over POV, and one had me quite confused by just whose voice we were hearing). They include plenty of sex, including voyeurism, BDSM, ménage, and even a bit of gay eroticism. I enjoyed many of them. But they were far from the best erotica I've read, even the best I've read this year.

Two exceptions are Amelia Thornton's “Dolly” and Zahra Stardust's “Lolita.”

The former is a stunning first person narrative by a submissive whose “Daddy” has given her a real live doll to “play” with. The tale is shocking, even cruel, but I found its evocation of interlocking fetishes incredibly compelling.

The latter has the luscious, hazy sensuality of an opium dream. Like “Dolly,” it explores the eroticism of complementary fantasies, in this case those of a young woman and a much older man.

Now Lolita is sitting on a couch opposite a man in a hostel in Tehran. He is watching her eat watermelon that is wet and heavy as a swollen clit. The juice is leaking down her chin and she is spiting out the seeds, but they are landing on her top, already carelessly stained with juice, or on her bottom lip.

He is watching her curl those lips into a half smile to the side of her mouth, which is a bleached pink, and how somehow this makes her cheeks glow. He watches her undress him with her eyes, lazily exotic in a way that is impossibly beautiful. 

Probably I am judging this collection too harshly. Many of the stories I haven't called out as appropriate to the title are nevertheless worth reading. The book includes tales from many of my favorite authors - Elizabeth Coldwell, Kay Jaybee, Tsaurah Litzky, Sommer Marsden, Jacqueline Applebee – as well as entertaining contributions from authors new to me, such as Chaparrita and Valerie Alexander. If you buy this book in the hope of reading some engaging, sexy stories to be consumed and then forgotten, you will get your money's worth.

If, on the other hand, you take the title literally, and open the book seeking erotica that truly stands out from the crowd, erotica that is extraordinary, you might, like me, be a bit disappointed.

Best Women's Erotica 2013Best Women's Erotica 2013
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573448982
December 2012

Reviewed By: Ashley Lister

In short:

Good book. Great stories. Must buy.

In long:

Cleis Press make a quality product. The content is skillfully selected and meticulously edited by a competent expert in matters erotic. The stories themselves are written to the highest standard by authors of renown.

Best Women’s Erotica 2013 is no exception.

Including stories from the likes of Janine Ashbless, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Alison Tyler and Charlotte Stein, it’s a collective of respected names and powerful, passionate prose.

I’ve been fortunate enough to review several Best Women’s titles over the years. Having enjoyed each of these books I thought that this time I would dip into the work of an author I hadn’t previously encountered.

Thank you Violet blue for introducing me to the writing of Krissy Kneen.

Krissy Kneen’s story, "Susanna" first appeared in Triptych; an Erotic Adventure, published by Text Publishing Australia. It’s a complete story that deals with one young woman’s association with the erotic world through Auslan – the Australian sign language used by the deaf community.

I happen to be fascinated by sign language, so this story hooked me instantly. I am intrigued by the relationship between hand movements and cognitive understanding. To some extent I suppose this is a non-verbal extension of the Saussurean relationship between the sign and signifier. But, in truth, I’m simply fascinated by the idea of communicating silently and studying an interlocutor with the rapt attention I normally reserve for Shakespearean plays or high quality porn.

Kneen’s story seems to accommodate this level of prurient interest.

David was a good lover, expressive. His fingers demonstrated to her what he could not say. His mouth, passive throughout the day, was put to better use in the evenings. His lips formed shapes that spoke to her body as words could not. His tongue found ways to express his desire without the use of vowels and consonants. She learned from him a language of love that was as utterly different from the general machinations of sex as Auslan is different from English itself.

It’s an innovative approach to an erotic story, made all the more powerful because it makes the reader focus on the content of communication rather than way communication is expressed.

And, because verbal communication is such an integral part of our sexuality, the following is far more visualised, as the reader is shown the physicality of this powerful scene where Susana loses her virginity.

He seemed amazed by her, amazed by her virginity and her body’s impatience to be rid of it. His face so close to the part of her that no one else had ever seen, watching her. He made the sign for slow down, both hands held out as if to measure the surface of something reclining, the right hand tilting up as if to halt her progress. Slow down, slow down, but even the act of signing was too much of a pause for her. Susanna lifted her hips, taking the stop sign of his hand and pressing it into herself. So much slipperiness. So much sensation, the joy and pain of it fused, too much to bear, her blood slick on his fingers, his body quickly pressing forward into the path that they had newly discovered. He shifted; the gorgeous pressure of his pubic bone pressing where only moments before his tongue had been. Blood on her chest where he took her breast in his fist, blood on her face where she kissed him. She opened herself to him in a pact of spilled blood and when he came there was a second tearing, the condom destroyed, the pact sealed with the jet of his seed finding its way into her, a glorious tragedy, and they remained fused like this, slippery with sweat and blood and ejaculate and every movement of his hips fed her hunger again.

There’s a lot of damned fine writing in Best Women’s Erotica 2013. Susana is only one of eighteen sensational erotic stories that make this anthology a perfect way to start the new year.

Or, as I said at the start of this review: Good book. Great stories. Must buy.

Best Women's Erotica 2014Best Women's Erotica 2014
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1627780033
December 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

What makes an erotic story memorable? You know the stories I mean, the ones that stick with you long after the book is closed (or your ereader is turned off). The stories that you recall days or weeks later with a frisson of arousal or a glint of joy, even when you can't quite summon the title or the author's name. What is it about those haunting, persistent tales?

For me, it takes something special. An original and surprising premise. Unusually intense, believably evoked emotion. An atmospheric environment that mirrors and amplifies the nature of the characters or the events. Or particularly creative and skilled use of language, the sort of consummate craft that triggers delight, admiration and envy, quite independent of the story content.  

It's not the sex. Let's face it, even in real life, the thrills of physical stimulation and release, no matter how exquisite or overpowering, fade quickly from memory. What stays are the psychological, affective and spiritual aspects of the experience – the sense of connection or of transgression – the bittersweet knowledge that pleasure is always fleeting – the terrifying flare of understanding as you discover truths you'd always hidden, even from yourself. The stories that manage to capture these complexities and consequences of sex are the ones I'm most likely to appreciate when I read them, and to recall later.

The latest volume in the Best Women's Erotica series includes a few of those stories.

Please don't misunderstand me. Every tale in this collection is well-written and at least moderately hot.  If you're looking for two or three hours of stimulation, I recommend this book highly. Both Ms. Blue and Cleis Press are known for producing high quality anthologies. (The explicitly labeled “Uncorrected Proof” I received had far fewer errors than many of the published ebooks I've had inflicted on me lately.) But for the most part, I found these stories to be mere diversions, tales of fantasies fulfilled that may well get you off, but which won't hang around tickling your imagination later.

Which tales will I remember from this book? Certainly I'd have to include Lucy Debussy's unusual  “Mary Lou,” which features a woman masquerading as a man and working as a stoker on a steamer. I found the gender-bending premise as well as the unabashed sensualism of this story delightful, even if it strained the bounds of plausibility a bit.

Then there's “Her Forest, Her Rules,” by Laila Blake. The heroine in this tale is a member of a club that enacts fantasy scenarios each weekend, rather like the Society for Creative Anachronism. In the midst of the forest, where her group normally plays, Amy – or Amariel, as she calls herself, when acting her chosen part as an elf-woman – is taken captive by a guy with a sword, a man she's never seen before. Their banter and their connection are just delicious, a reminder that role-playing frequently reveals much about our true selves. The setting, tone and characters of this tale are all enchanting.

Another favorite was Sommer Marsden's “Gentleman's Valet,” a BDSM tale involving a married or at least long-associated couple. Looked at in one sense, there's nothing very remarkable about this story. I've read dozens of scenes with the same elements – paddles, alligator clips, and a viciously hard fuck. What distinguishes it, in my mind, is the portrayal of the dominant's emotions. D/s stories frequently focus on the sub – her fears, her paradoxical desires, her satisfaction. Ms. Marsden's story reminds the reader that doms are in it for their own satisfaction as well as for that of their subs – and that the sweetest experience a Dom can offer his submissive is the knowledge that she has pleased him.

In the gorgeous writing category, my top pick goes to Rose de Fer's  “Nyotaimori.” I'm quite certain I've read at least one story with same premise: a woman bound upon a table and used as a presentation platter for food – in this case, sushi. (It's possible that I'm thinking of this exact tale, although it's not listed in the credits for previously published work.) However, this author brings the scene to life with painstaking and mouth-watering sensory detail.

My eyes betray nothing but gratitude for his offering as he places the tiny soft egg against my lips. With only the slightest movement I part them just enough to taste the salty juice with the tip of my tongue. It is heavenly. I close my eyes as I slowly draw the egg inside my mouth, bursting it with my teeth. It's only one little taste, one tiny bit of flavor, but it makes me sigh with pleasure. It mingles with the delicious scents all around me. The fish, the ginger, wasabi and soy sauce, his wife's perfume.... I feel myself growing even damper against the flask of sake, and I clench my inner muscles to intensify the sensation.

Reading this story, I was reminded of my first taste of sushi, after a lover had described it to me as “an orgasm of the palate.” I also loved the pan-sexual quality of this tale, the way eroticism seeps into every sensation and desire expands to encompass every act and every gender.

Speaking of gender, I want to mention Nikki Adams' story “Chrysalis,” which chronicles an encounter between a high-achieving, domineering, lesbian lawyer and a sexy, feminine, pre-op transsexual. I found this story intriguing, although a bit overwritten. One doesn't encounter trans characters very often in Cleis' female-focused collections. The story is memorable because of its differences, not to mention the way the experience shatters the main character's self-confidence.

Finally, I loved Alison Tyler's “Close Shave.” Ms. Tyler's tales are always a guilty pleasure for me. More than any other story in the book, this one – where a cheeky girl wanders into a barber shop and demands that the studly young barber shave her pussy – pushed my personal buttons. Having recently reviewed Ms. Tyler's erotic memoir Dark Secret Love, I saw new depths in this barely-disguised fantasy, echoes of actual events and real people who made a difference in her life.

Rereading this review, I see that I've mentioned six standout stories. Out of a total of seventeen, I guess that's actually pretty impressive. Every anthology has stronger and weaker contributions. Every reader will resonate with different tales, depending on her own preferences and kinks. Not every story in this collection will stay around to haunt you. But I'd be surprised if you didn't find at least one or two that will.

Best Women's Erotica 2015Best Women's Erotica 2015
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1627780882
December 2014

Reviewed By: Ashley Lister

This is Violet Blue’s tenth year as editor of Best Women’s Erotica and, once again, she has compiled an engaging collection of short erotic fiction that is well-written and entertaining from beginning to end.

I’ll hold up my hand here and admit I feel more than a little marginalised reading this collection.  This is a collection of stories written by women, with no stories written by male authors.  I assume this is some holdover to the facile idea that some women can feel more comfortable reading stories that are written by women.  Perhaps the idea here is that the social construct of gender is detectable from words on a page depicting a fictionalised reality. Personally I don’t hold with such notions of arbitrary segregation but I would say that: I’m a man.

This is not to take anything away from the great stories that are contained within the anthology.  Obviously there are familiar literary tropes, some of them more familiar now to the post-Fifty Shades readership of erotica.  These lines are from the opening pages of “The Ghostwriter” by Valerie Alexander:

Rain plopped on the glass.

“There will be the usual nondisclosure agreements,” he said. “And you’ll have to clear your calendar for the next few months.” He lifted his green eyes from the laptop screen. “You would come to this conference room every day. Recording our sessions is fine, but I would need you here for at least three or four hours a day. The publication schedule is tight.”

Power relationships in sex and contractual obligations hadn’t previously been as predominant in much of mainstream erotic literature.  That said, Alexander’s writing has more literary merit than Fifty Shades and the story is a delight to enjoy.

Of equally high literary calibre is Tamsin Flowers’ “Roxanne.”  A text with wonderful overtones of Cyrano de Bergerac’s removed relationship with his beloved Roxanne.

“So ask her out.”

Christian went red as cherry-pie filling and I stared at him. He nodded. “Yeah, this is what happens every time I try to talk to her.”

I could relate to that.

“So text her,” I said. Yes. I am that expert at giving dating advice to lovelorn jocks and broken-hearted he-men.

“You think?” Christian’s teeth were so goddamn white.

He held out his cell phone and I took it—I don’t know why.

And that’s how it started. I typed in a text.

Want 2 compare magnetic attraction coefficients Thurs night?

I showed him.

“Seriously? I don’t even know what that means.”

“She will.”

“How well d’you know her?”

“I sit next to her in Physics 360.”

That seemed to satisfy him. He hit send and ten minutes later she replied.

Horizontal or vertical?

He showed me her text, his chest heaving with excitement.

Up 2 you, I texted back.

CU Thurs.

“Fuck me, Syra, you did it,” he said loud enough to earn us a harsh look from the professor.

He did a little wiggle with his arms. “Gonna get laid. Gonna get laid.”

That stuck in my craw some and I should have called a halt right then, but this was a love story and I was hooked.

“Roxanne” is a witty, engaging and sexy story.  The characters are painted as realistic and the whole package is entertaining.

Best Women’s Erotica 2015 contains some of my favourite erotica authors, including Alison Tyler, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Annabeth Leong.  The title also includes gems from authors I hadn’t previously encountered and now adore, such as Dani Bauter, Evey Brett and Ariel Graham. 

There’s something in Best Women’s Erotica 2015 to please the taste of every reader, unless the reader is specifically looking for something written by a man.  Quite why a reader would be looking for something written specifically by a man is a mystery to me.  But then again, I’m not sure why a reader would be looking for something written specifically by a woman. 

One Night Only: Erotic EncountersOne Night Only: Erotic Encounters
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573447560
January 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I don't have anything against happily ever afters. I write erotic romance myself, and I appreciate the appeal of a love that lasts, growing deeper and burning hotter as time goes on.

At the same time, I must admit a fondness for one night stands, both actual and literary - those intense, unexpected interludes where you suddenly connect with a stranger. In those few minutes or hours of startling intimacy, you become truly naked, your lust fully exposed to the gaze of your partner (or partners). Surprising epiphanies can emerge from what seems like a mere indulgence of animal appetites. Even when such encounters don't spark those sort of insights, the emotional high that comes from pushing boundaries, violating taboos or simply experiencing new peaks of pleasure can last long after the orgasms have faded away.

Violet Blue's anthology One Night Only celebrates the intensity, and the variety, of sex without strings. She has assembled a collection of exceptional stories that range from deliciously raunchy fantasy to  searing realism. 

Alison Tyler's tale "Seeing Stars" kicks off the book.

You've heard the clichés: The bells. The whistles. The flashes of bright light. Our connection was different.

The heroine, a student of astronomy who works nights at a Hollywood movie theater, gives in to impulse and takes off with a strange man who looks a lot like her, to couple on a roof under the stars. I'm used to raw kink in Ms. Tyler's stories. This one felt more tender, less subversive than many, but still provides the emotional honesty and physical heat for which she's renowned.

Does every woman have a man like this in her life? asks the narrator in Donna George Storey's contribution "Hole in My Pocket", a story about temptation and long-suppressed lust. The heroine has flirted with and fantasized about her colleague for years. When he passes through her town for a single night, she seizes the chance to act on her desires, though she knows he's claimed and the moment will never be repeated.

The first thing, if you were me, was that you didn't want to seem needy. Second, you didn't want to be uncool. And third, a cliché: you didn't ever want to be a cliché, but always extraordinary, not commonplace in any way. So I seemed together and in control, interesting and cool, up in my tower above it all and better than anything that happened to me. ... Confession: I was a needy, uncool cliché, and a really lonely girl.

Thus begins Daniel Burnell's astonishing tale "Breathing," in which the narrator finds herself on a couch, in the dark, at the tail end of a party, touching and being touched, breathing but not daring to speak for fear of breaking the spell. Mr. Burnell's delicate prose teases apart the tangled desires and motivations of his young, inexperienced heroine, allowing the reader to feel every brush of a fingertip and hear every sigh.

The three stories above approach the anthology theme from a moderately realistic perspective. At the other end of the continuum are fantasy tales like Kristina Wright's playful and outrageous "Just a Little Trim."

There was a reason I was the top stylist at the salon- the only thing hotter than sex is the temptation of sex. Temptation pays the mortgage, baby. Lulu's a pro when it comes to teasing her customers, but the well-muscled ex-Marine who books her services for a quick cut and shampoo induces her to make an exception to her policy of deprivation.

Then there's "Three Pink Earthquakes," by Thomas S. Roche, an over-the-top account of a woman's dalliance with an Italian tourist couple under the table in a San Francisco gay bar. There's no limit to what Molly's willing to do with, and to, Ilaria and Jeff, once she realizes that they're up for absolutely anything at all. I cringed a bit at Molly's description of the disgustingly sticky floor of the bar, but if you're looking for pure raunch, you'll find it in this tale.

Lily K. Cho offers another fantasy-fest in the "The Spoiled Brat," in which a woman gets picked up by a gay male couple who share their heat as well as their dildo and harness with her, while N.T. Morley provides a graphic account of a woman fulfilling her desires to be gang-raped in "Audience of One."

Perhaps the most erotic tale in the collection, in my view, is Cynthia Hamilton's "Performance Art." Tourists Julie and David meet at a Paris museum of erotic art, and before long find themselves surrendering to the lust on display all around them.

Thinking back later, she would be fairly sure that she was the one to cross the velvet rope, to pull him down on top of her on the mussed sheets, locking him against her with a leg hooked around the back of his thigh. ... But only fairly sure.

Before long, Julie and David have an audience, as other visitors to the gallery wander into the exhibit they've taken over for their coupling. Deliciously, though, this story is not about the kinky excitement of being watched, but quite simply, the thrill of being together in the moment.

"Not for them,' he breathed at her lips between humid, hard kisses. 'For us."   

I've highlighted a few of my favorite stories, but in fact nearly every contribution to this collection deserves praise. May Deva's steamy "Subway Subterfuge" proves that an erotic story does not need to include intercourse in order to arouse. In D.L. King's fabulous "Whore", a neurosurgeon is mistaken for a woman of the night, with wildly pleasurable results. Abby Abbot's original tale "Tournament" explores the interaction between competition and lust, demonstrating that sometimes you can be a winner even when you lose. In "Rock Star Rewards", Rachel Kramer Bussel channels a flame-haired giantess rock legend who consumes the tasty "boys" who adore her with genuine relish. And Heidi Champa's "Chasing Jared" gets my vote for the most creative location for sudden sex - inside the cramped confines of a hamburger vender's cart.

I loved this book while I was reading it - an activity I approached slowly, one or two stories at a sitting, wanting to savor each one. As I re-read some of the stories, seeking quotes for this review, I became even more impressed. One Night Only ranks as one of the best erotic anthologies I've read recently. While this may be partly due to my personal attraction to the theme, I'm certain the diversity and the quality of the writing are also significant factors.

If you like original, honest, seriously hot stories - and you don't require a happily ever after - get yourself a copy of this book.

Sweet Danger: Erotic Stories of Forbidden Desire for CouplesSweet Danger: Erotic Stories of Forbidden Desire for Couples
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573446483
March 2011

Reviewed By: Kathleen Bradean

In her introduction to Sweet Danger, editor Violet Blue mixes a bit of romance - committed heterosexual couples - with games that they play while fulfilling sexual fantasies. What would you do if your significant other was willing to indulge your wildest fantasy? What would you do for him or her? How far would you be willing to go?

Donna George Storey's “Picture Perfect” leads off this anthology with style. A husband and wife film their sexual exploits for a connoisseur of homemade porn. It's safe exhibitionism, one step removed from the man watching them while they're fucking, but not exactly tame either. “Takes all Comers” by Ainsleigh Foster explores the same theme, with a wife talking to her phone sex customer while her husband listens in on the conversation.

In “Old Friends” by N.T. Morley, a man catches his wife in bed with her college friend. He's upset at first, but when they tie him down and have their way with him, his anger melts away along with his inhibitions. “Richard's Secret” by Saskia Walker is also a three-way between a married couple and a friend, only this time, the friend is male.

If you're into cuckoldry, “In the Back of Raquel” by P.S. Haven might be just what you're looking for as a man watches his wife suck the cock of another man in the back seat of his prized vintage car. “Pearl Necklace” by Jolie Joss has a keener psychological edge as a woman leaves her husband on their anniversary to hook up with a guy from the internet. The man she's cheating with uses her phone's camera to take a picture of her sucking his cock, then sends it to her husband. “Greedy” by Eric Emerson features a well-organized gangbang of a suburban hot wife. The civility of the whole scene, as the husband whisks into the room long enough to provide drinks, fresh sheets, and even padding for his wife to recline on while taking on several guys at once was funny in an almost surrealistic way, and I hope that was intentional. 

“Performance Art” by Oscar Williams, “Dress Me Up” by Erica Dumas, “House Rules” by Sara DeMuci, “Rest Stop” by Felix D'Angelo, “Evening Class” by J. Hadleigh Alex, “Dinner Out” by Marie Sudac, and “Moneymaker” by Isabelle Ross tread the extremely popular and well worn paths of female submission and humiliation. If you're into that, you're going to get your fill of it in this anthology.

“Medical Attention” by Skye Black was one of the few truly unique kink/fetish stories in this anthology. It's nice to read something that I haven't seen before. A woman is immobilized in casts and undergoes a medical exam. The professional detachment of the nurse and doctor play wonderfully against what they're doing to their patient. Thomas Roche also shares a hot gun play story in “Cocked and Loaded” that isn't your same old BDSM scene. “My Number One Fan” by Sarah Sands self-references in calling itself a rape fantasy, and the sex is rough, but if you're really into rape fantasy, it might not fit your definition. “Alice” by M. Christian features gender play and cross dressing in a sweetly approachable story. “Daddy's Boy” by Elizabeth Colvin also includes gender play with a touch of queer sensibility to it.  The couple is hetero, but I felt as if I were reading a very hot butch/femme lesbian piece instead. Don't let that put you off. It's a damn fine story, A damn fine story with a certain unidentifiable vibe that set it apart - in a good way.

Violet Blue knows how to put together an anthology that will appeal to a broad range of tastes. Her stated aim was a touch of romance, and for the most part I had the feeling that these characters cared about their partners and their relationships. At least they had reached the point where they felt that they could trust their partner with their deepest, darkest fantasy. Sadly, not many real life couples can. So you get a double fantasy here - a good, strong, loving relationship, and the ultimate sexual fantasy fulfillment. One, or more, of those fantasies might be yours. You might not be willing to share it with your partner, but you can read about it between these covers. Come on. You know that you want to peek inside.

Sweet Love: Erotic Fantasies for CouplesSweet Love: Erotic Fantasies for Couples
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443816
March 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Sweet Love is a collection of scenes that are both realistic and staged. In each story, a heterosexual couple acts out a shared sexual fantasy. In some cases, the more adventurous person seduces a shy-but-willing partner into going where he or she has never gone before.

I'll demonstrate. Here is the opening scene from "A Little Push" by Felix D'Angelo:

How had I let her talk me into this?

As Bolero pounded slowly toward its climax, Carrie stretched out on the bed with legs spread wide, thick pillows under her hips. This position tipped her perfect ass upward at just the perfect angle. Her asshole, glistening and virgin, beckoned to me between her slightly spread pale pink cheeks.

If you've guessed that this game involves anal sex, you're right. So why is the male narrator made nervous by the sight of Carrie's virgin asshole? The agreement between him and her is more complicated than it looks at first, that's why.

Kay Jaybee, author of The Collector, a book of sex fantasies presumably collected from new acquaintances in coffee shops, introduces the first-person story, "Searching for Her," like this:

Fifteen years ago I read my very first erotic story. From that moment I had a powerful recurring fantasy based entirely on its contents. Each relationship I've enjoyed since has had that one sexual expectation wrapped up in it.

The narrator's fantasy sends her on a search for the right woman to join her and her husband for a threesome. Along the way, she has various encounters which don't involve any man at all. When the expected three-way scene finally happens, the two women seem to have as close a bond as the narrator and her man, who imagines himself as sultan of the harem.

The format of most of these stories (sexual adventures in the context of established relationships) allows for some violent scenes of "rape" and bondage, which would be much more disturbing if presented outside a framework of trust and communication. More reassuringly, the "rapes" are eventually revealed to be deep-seated, long-term fantasies of the female "victims," whose chivalrous, understanding lovers or husbands have agreed to act them out despite the risk that concerned witnesses might intervene or call the police.

Here is the heart-pounding opening scene of "Playing Rough" by Kat Black:

Click, clack, click.. .

The woman's heels spike the concrete floor, staccato beat rebounding off the hard, straight lines of the subterranean tunnel. Each step echoes, a solitary sound in an otherwise oppressive silence.

Soon, however, the silence is broken by a resounding thud when an exit door to the car park is closed by someone who then approaches with a steady masculine tread.     

The sinister setting (where no help is available), the terse assailant and the polished but increasingly frightened, disheveled and excited career woman are all so effectively described that for most of its length, this story looks out of place in an anthology about "sweet love." The ending of the story allows the reader to come down from an adrenaline high, but it also reveals the sex scene to be misleading, since it is not the account of a random, opportunistic attack.

All these stories are well-written, well-paced, hot and juicy. As the editor's introduction makes clear, they can be used as scripts for real-life scenes, since every scene in the book is plausible, and most can be acted out in one's own home with minimal props and costumes.

So why do I feel as if some essential ingredient is missing? Because most (not all) of these stories are about breaks or digressions from the daily routine of a long-term relationship. Fantasies always reveal something about the fantasizers, but in too many of these stories, the characters come across as cliched or undeveloped. This reader, at least, would like to know more about the individual and combined histories of the players of these games.

There are some exceptions to the general trend. In one exceptional story, "Storming the Castle" by Andrea Dale, the reader is shown why the female narrator has begun masturbating alone: her relationship with her boyfriend has become boring. Here she confides the problem to the reader:

I loved Joe. That's what made it so damn hard. I loved him and respected him. We fit well together at work and at home, with similar interests and habits. Everyone thought we were perfect for each other, and I was hard-pressed to come up with a good reason why we weren't. It was just that the spark was gone.

As it turns out, the shared vocation of the narrator and her man (archeology) enables them to reconnect on the site of a castle in Wales which is scheduled for demolition, much like a relationship which appears to be crumbling despite its strong foundation. Their passionate coupling in the moonlight is both romantic and "feudal," suited to the setting, and it neatly resolves several dilemmas.

In another exceptional story, "Jump or Fall?" by Janine Ashbless, the female narrator is far from bored with her fellow-performer in an acrobatics act. On the contrary, she finds him intriguingly hard to read:       

Blayne is a locked box and I don't have the key.

Izzy the narrator pushes Blayne for a closer relationship until he tries to warn her away from him:

He grins without any amusement.  "There's this thing I do. It's. . . a part of my life. It doesn't come as an optional extra. And it's not something you'd be at all happy with."

Izzy is still intrigued. She can't be sure she would enjoy the same kinks that Blayne can't live without, but she also knows she is interested enough to "jump" into a new act which enables her to discover a side of herself she has been afraid to acknowledge. These two characters seem made for each other, and their performances together are integral to their relationship.

In general, however, these stories are focused on the pleasure of the moment. As one-handed reading, they are resolutely upbeat, even though this requires being oblivious of the deal-breaking potential of some sexual adventures “on the side” – and of the hard work involved in being truly polyamorous.

Is a woman who is eager to "try out" various women for a threesome really doing this only to please her Master? When a woman discovers her husband's stash of man-on-man porn films (in "Better Bent Than Broken" by Amanda Fox), can she afford to trust him when he tells her, "No, I'm not gay" - and can she completely satisfy him by herself? The denials in these stories are only convincing if one believes that a primary male-female relationship is the basic human connection that everyone needs, and that any heterosexual commitment can be saved by sexual variety.

For couples looking for new fantasies, this book would make a good anniversary gift.