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
A Country GirlA Country Girl
By: Jeanne Ainslie
ISBN: 143633179X
August 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This book has an autobiographical flavor, whether or not all the sex in it really happened. The first two chapters daringly describe teenage sex in a way which looks honest and faithful to the times and places of the author’s youth: a summer in the 1960s in the lush farmland of Ontario, and springtime in Ottawa, within sight of the Parliament Buildings of Canada.

The author describes A Country Girl as a sequel to an earlier book by/about the same narrator, Angela, published in 1975. The first few chapters of A Country Girl also seem to come from a time before the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s, when two government studies of pornography (one in Canada, one in the U.S.) and a flurry of court battles in both countries increased the anxiety of writers and readers about sex on the page, especially when it involves characters under the age of majority.

The sexual awakening of the young narrator in A Country Girl seems rare enough in currently-published erotica to be worth the price of the book. Here Angela “makes out” with William, the shy, hunky boy she meets during a summer in the country:

“We sat together hugging and kissing against the window on my side of the car under the shade of the cedar trees for three hours. How we could kiss for so long I'll never know, and I in my innocence not knowing much of anything kept on with the kissing never knowing we could do more but kissing and kissing until I was so hot and excited and love-filled that I could barely leave him.”

The next time Angela is alone with William, she finds out what happens when she persistently touches his large, hard and fascinating “thing:”

“Suddenly he groaned and kissed me. A white fluid came out all over my hand.

What's that?

That's what happens when you do that to me.

Oh William. I didn't know. My hand was wet and slimy as I held him in my hands.

You're sweet. Now you know.

Yes, now I know.

He had his fingers on my crotch and fingered me there. I felt all tingly and excited. I was very wet.”

Eventually, Angela and William go further under the moonlight beside a sweet-smelling hay field:

“Oh Angela, he moans. Oh Angela, I love you. I am burning inside on fire the walls of my cunt tingling with hot fire. He pushes to the back and I feel a dull sweet ache.

Love me! Love me! I say.

I am completely his. I will do anything for him. I will give myself to him. My virginity, my maidenhood, my love, my flesh, my cunt.”

The exhilaration of young love is doomed, of course. William and Angela must part when Angela is due to return to her home in town, and they both realize that they are too young to marry.

In the next chapter, Angela is attending high school in town and dreaming of escape. Her life is dramatic as only a teenager's can be:

“My first poem was about death. . . my next poem was about a graveyard. I would cry over my hero's grave, and he would emerge and we would make love. The birds were singing.

Or else we'd meet after death.

That was the answer. I began a death cult. I would die at twenty-eight in a motor accident. He [James Dean] died at twenty-four. I'd never live to be thirty. Of course I'd never marry. I was romantic, beautiful and sexually unfulfilled. I'd never make it.

My hero rode a bike. I fancied myself on a bike. I took to wearing black and leather. Tight jeans and windbreakers. I cultivated smoking a cigarette cupped in my hand and held backward, the way he did it.”

Angela meets a boy with a motorbike, whom she has to meet secretly:

“My parents wouldn't let me go out with Rex. A little too rough for them, just right for me.

I dreamed of bikes. Big, gleaming bikes. The speed. Mounting the shining black saddle. Astride, the feel of the bike between my legs.”

Angela enjoys wild rides with Rex, but as high school graduation approaches, it becomes painfully clear to her that she and he are headed for different futures.

In the next chapter, the shapely, green-eyed and curly-haired Angela is in university and has acquired a husband, Tony. She describes herself loving the earthiness of sex in the outdoors and the freedom of going braless. The suggestive sketches (charcoal drawings?) between chapters add a lot to Angela's story, and serve to introduce each new phase of her life.

Angela is sexually adventurous, yet she seems apolitical and unaware of the various strands of leftist ideology (the liberation movements for women, “gays,” youth and the racially-oppressed) which were fomenting on college campuses in that era.

For years, Angela wonders about the sexual tastes of her big-breasted classmate, Elizabeth. She is rumored to be interested in women, but is not associated with lesbians in general. Angela tells us: “Elizabeth was intelligent, ambitious, social, and yet inclined to be alone around campus.”

One evening when Angela is alone, Elizabeth invites her over for a drink, and presses against her. Angela responds:

“I betray myself. In my eyes. I can't help it. I desire her. It's going through me like a knife. I don't know what I am doing, I am swimming with desire.”

Angela has her first sexual experience with a woman. Elizabeth is worried about whether Angela will tell Tony, and how he will react. She does, he is delighted, and for the next session, all three pile onto Elizabeth's bed together.

In due course, Angela and Tony join up with other male/female couples for swinging scenes which include woman/woman action. There is an amazing lack of jealousy in these arrangements, and Angela's sexual interest in other women never causes her or anyone she knows to question her heterosexual identity.

In one poignant chapter, Angela struggles with a crush on a colleague, Eugene, who seems to have “something in his blood, mystic, barbaric, mysterious that I understand. For I have that in me too.” Angela explains that “Tony was trying to push me into a relationship with a couple that I didn't want.” She wants to choose her own object of desire.

Eugene is married and has a child. He is not a swinger. For an agonizingly long time, Angela wonders if she could ignite a spark in him. She does, but their mutual passion further complicates their lives. The sex between them is bittersweet.

A chapter on swinging with an American couple in Florida is detailed and convincing. This time, Angela's desire for the other husband threatens to upset the general merriment and good will. So far, the book is like an episodic and disproportionately sexual novel about a woman's life-journey. Angela learns that sex outside the box of conventional commitments carries an emotional price, but it is too thrilling for her to give up.

Angela continues to be fearlessly experimental in her way, but the interested reader looks for epiphanies and psychological development in vain. Angela and Tony get divorced and she goes on to meet new men, but she shows no signs of change. There are brief references to her post-university scientific career, but the non-sexual aspects of Angela's life have no effect on the repetitive sex scenes: one blow job and fuck after another.

The last chapter, “Call Me,” looks immensely padded to achieve a certain word-count. It is about Angela's telephone-fantasy relationship with a man who calls her from time to time to exchange sex fantasies and occasionally to meet her in person, although they start out with an agreement that actual sex is taboo. They share a variety of imaginary and real-life activities: oral, anal, bondage, even golden showers.

These scenes are clearly aimed at readers who would otherwise be reading porn magazines, yet it seems unlikely that those readers would have followed Angela's life-story this far. Her relationship with her gentleman caller, like her relationship with the reader, simply goes on and on without reaching any resolution.

Some of Angela's fantasies show a world-view which looks embarrassingly naïve, not to say appallingly racist:

“What about you getting a black boyfriend? He asks.

Girlfriend too.

And we'd have a threesome with a big black cock.


References to current events such as Hurricane Hugo (in summer 1989) make it clear that this chapter was written and takes place long after the era when White Anglo-Saxon Protestant perceptions of everyone else as alien life-forms accompanied widespread racial segregation.

Angela's story seems to be best in its beginning, when the reader's hopes are raised and anything seems possible. This book turns out to be a discomforting mixture of ambience and emotional realism with pornographic cliches. Sex scenes can certainly be combined with literary elements such as plot, characterization and a distinct voice, all of which are present here to some extent. In this case, though, the sex just isn't integrated well enough with the life.

A Ride to Remember and Other Erotic TalesA Ride to Remember and Other Erotic Tales
By: Sacchi Green
Lethe Press
ISBN: 1590213203
April 2011

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This single-author collection of lesbian erotica, A Ride to Remember, by Sacchi Green includes stories that first appeared in anthologies such as Best Women's Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Transgender Erotica, and two anthologies edited (and co-edited) by Sacchi herself. It's a pleasure to find them all in one place.

The strength of these stories is in the imagery, especially the sensual descriptions which seem to have no direct connection to sex. In every story, the setting sets the tone and blends with the sex scenes and the physical characteristics of the characters. In some cases, a spectacular natural environment (the Grand Canyon, the coast of New England) seems to inspire sex between women which could not have occurred anywhere else, or in any other way.

In "Petroglyphs," a woman who is at home in the wilderness senses that she has company:

Something moved among the Douglas firs where the forest sloped upward toward burnished rock. The short hairs at the nape of Sigri's neck prickled with the sense of being watched.

Sigri's mare shows a similar reaction.

A person with skin tones to match the burnished rock attacks Sigri, who fights back with the skill of long practice. Then the reader learns that the wrestling match is a game, not a historical battle of First Nations warrior against Viking explorer. The two women have an old agreement about which moves determine the winner. As the play-fight segues immediately into grappling of a different kind, the reader learns more about their relationship, and Sigri's commitment to her "wife" on the ranch.  

Rock formations play a large role in this story, as well as in “Of Dark and Bright,” “Long Meg,” and “Bright Angel.” The distinct shapes, textures and density of rocks in natural settings suggest the physical and emotional strength of butch women who have survived beyond youth. In lesbian culture, rock suggests “stone” (an unwillingness to be penetrated or to be sexually passive), but the women in these stories are willing to give as good as they get, and vice versa.

The fantasy elements in these stories all seem connected to earth magic, the power of the natural world to transport a susceptible person into another era (which the rocks, the trees and the rivers “remember”) or another dimension. The effect of the descriptions is uncannily plausible.

“A Dance of Queens,” set in the time of Shakespeare and Good Queen Bess, combines several of the major themes in the collection: the power of the natural world, gender-fluidity, and an actual person (the queen herself). In this beautifully-written story, the author makes good use of the theatrical tradition in which all roles were played by males. In the artificial world of the Elizabethan theatre, feminine-looking boys were chosen to play women, and women who wanted to act had to appear to be males with an exceptional talent for playing female roles. (This is the plot device behind the film Shakespeare in Love.) In this story, the narrator is an actor whose "love" is another member of the troupe, and the Queen's messenger is a magical female dwarf. Anything can happen on Midsummer's Night.

In another famous-person story, "Dietrich Wears Army Boots," Marlene Dietrich entertains American troops in Europe during the Second World War. As a German actress who defected from her country, she knows how it feels to be an outsider. When she meets a Red Cross ambulance driver who is not as male as he looks, she keeps his secret.

The author convincingly evokes the live-for-the-moment atmosphere of wartime. In two stories, "To Remember You By," and "Alternate Lives," an American nurse has an affair with a woman pilot in 1943, then reconnects with her in 1978. The queer politics of the decades after 1969 are simply not relevant to this plot. Kay, the narrator, is a sexually inexperienced young woman during the war, and she is swept off her feet by Cleo, who loves the open sky. Kay has an epiphany:

I'd admired women before, but only esthetically, I'd rationalized, or with mild envy; and, after all, I liked men just fine. But this flush of heightened sensitivity, this sense of rushing toward some cataclysm... This was unexplored territory.

The two women are pulled apart by circumstances at the end of the war. For years, no one in Kay's life suspects how deeply she was affected by her wartime romance.

Eventually, the wife of Kay's grandson proposes to make a documentary about American nurses in the war, and her questions bring all the memories back. These memories include the story of her bittersweet reunion with Cleo in Alaska in the 1970s, when women are finally admitted into the U.S. Air Force and "the WASPs of WWII got a little overdue recognition." By then, it is too late for Kay and Cleo to pick up where they left off.

This saga hits all the right notes. It seems as believable as my own mother's story of her lesbian romance in New York City in the late 1930s, when "gay" bars were unheard-of, but "Bohemian" culture and special circumstances created social space for same-sex relationships. In the social mainstream, a lesbian identity was hard (if not impossible) to maintain, and my mother's wartime photos include shots of her wedding to my father, a dashing U.S. Navy officer.

The title story of the book, "A Ride to Remember," is a historical piece with a steampunk flavor. In fin-de-siecle London, a young woman opera singer is invited to spend a decadent weekend with a group of young men-about-town, disguised as one of them. A mechanical genius unveils a steam-driven carousel as the climax of the house party. His audience seems unimpressed until the mechanical animals reappear with live female riders, all naked except for masks, boots and headdresses. The circular, up-and-down movement of the animals facilitates a dazzling sexual display. The young woman in trousers has a life-changing experience.

The different historical eras dealt with in this book are parallel to different stages of an individual life. Several of these stories show the "second adolescence" of an older woman in love. In "Of Dark and Bright," the narrator contemplates her crush on another woman:

Where does this surge of raging hungers fit into life's cycle? ...You'd think some wisdom would have been gained, in all that time; but not enough to ease me through this turmoil.

The author's own experience has clearly resulted in a richness of perspective. There are only thirteen stories in this book, but each is almost as complex and absorbing as a novel.

Bedding Down: A Collection of Winter EroticaBedding Down: A Collection of Winter Erotica
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
ISBN: 0061560634
December 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Oh the weather in this book is frightful, but the romance is as warm as hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire. This collection of stories by seven mistresses of erotic romance would be an excellent Valentine’s Day present for the right reader, preferably accompanied by roses and chocolates.

These stories are all competently written, and the sex scenes are plausible and arousing. This reviewer wouldn’t expect anything less from the writers assembled here. However, the theme tends to restrict the plots of these stories, each of which focuses on a woman in love with a man – in some cases, since childhood.

In several stories, the heroine is conveniently trapped with the man of her dreams in a confined space by the fury of nature. Having to face each other forces the hero and heroine to reveal their true feelings, which include mutual, irresistible desire. Several of these stories end with a promise of marriage, one ends with an agreement about childbearing, and several end with a hope that geographically-challenged lovers will agree to live together in one place for the rest of their lives.

To a large extent, these stories are driven by the romance formula rather than by the characters. Personal misunderstandings keep the lovers apart until a climactic moment, while most social and political conflicts in the real world are kept out of the world of the story. Monogamy is an unquestioned ideal, and heterosexual identity is taken for granted.
Responsibility for housework and disagreements over money are nowhere to be seen.

My favorite story of the bunch is the whimsical “It’s Not the Weather” by Alison Tyler, whose erotic stories are often set in Los Angeles, in and around the unreal world of the movie biz. The heroine here is a weather girl (meteorologist) who first works with, then lives with, a moody scriptwriter from New York who prefers the four distinct seasons of the U.S. east coast to the endless sunshine of southern California. The weather girl is so tired of revolving-door relationships and so determined to make this one work that she goes far out of her way to help her boyfriend feel at home and ready for sex, even after she learns that he is using her as comic inspiration. In due course, she gets the happy ending she deserves.

This story shows a witty approach to the seasonal theme of this collection and to the broader theme of heterosexual romance, yet it doesn’t break the conventions. Alison Tyler’s characteristic light touch prevents the heroine’s dilemma from descending into melodrama.

Subterfuges and plot devices that show the hand of Fate are too prevalent for my taste in several of the other stories. In “One Winter Night” by Kristina Wright, Susannah returns to her home town for her sister’s wedding after having left in a blaze of scandal, several years before. She protects her pride by pretending to be respectably married, even though she is divorced.

Susannah’s strategy makes sense when she arrives in town, wondering if the other townsfolk still see her as a Scarlet Woman who has returned to cause trouble. However, the revelation that Susannah (neat use of the name of a slandered Biblical heroine) is able to form a “legitimate” relationship with her former lover, now single and determined to win her back, only occurs near the end of the story, when it is too clearly intended as a means of removing the last barrier to a happy ending. Why Susannah would continue keeping her secret when she has every reason to admit the truth is unclear and unconvincing.

In “Hidden Treasure” by Sophie Mouette, a security guard and a tour guide in period costumes are conveniently trapped by a storm in an historic mansion. So far, so promising. However, two clownish intruders break in to retrieve the “treasure” promised to one of them by his deceased grandmother. When the “treasure” influences the budding affair between the guard and the guide, the reader’s credibility is stretched to its limits.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Marilyn Jaye Lewis and “Northern Exposure” by Isabelle Gray are both grittier stories about clashing desires in marriages based on love. In Lewis’ story, a chronic disagreement about when (whether) to have a first baby gets neatly resolved, and the reader can only hope that there will be no long-term resentment as a result. Isabelle Gray’s story is probably the most heartbreaking in the collection, and it looks like a serious response to Alison Tyler’s story about lovers who each want to live in a different physical and cultural milieu.

“Six Weeks on Sunrise Mountain, Colorado” by Gwen Masters is literally a cliff-hanger. The plot premise (celebrity recluse rescues the journalist who tracked him down in the wilderness) is one of the most unusual and dramatic in the book. Here is the first meeting of the hermit on the mountain and the woman who has risked her life to find him:

He found the woman at the foot of the ravine. Even in the moonlight, she looked pale as a ghost. Blood covered her forehead and a bruise was already flowering under her right eye.

Luckily, healing of various kinds takes place during six weeks of hibernation in a snowbound cabin, when the man and woman come to know each other. 

“Sweet Season” by Shanna Germain includes the most creative sex scene in the book, in which seduction accompanies a hands-on lesson in turning sap into maple syrup. The sights, sounds and smell of the setting are almost palpable. The author’s bio explains: “Shanna Germain grew up in upstate New York with a pitchfork in her hand, maple syrup on her tongue, and more first loves than she can count.”

This collection would certainly appeal to lovers of traditional romance with explicit sex, but it is uneven. Unfortunately, the restrictions of the genre result in some awkward and predictable writing strategies. The diverse and changing nature of heterosexuality in the real world provides plenty of raw material for fiction. The static world of romantic cliché leaves me cold.

Best Gay Erotica 2011Best Gay Erotica 2011
Edited By: Richard Labonte
Contributions By: Kevin Killian
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573444243
December 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

In the preface and the introduction to Best Gay Erotica 2011, the two editors explain how much the publishing market for male/male "porn" has changed since this annual anthology debuted in the 1990s. Consulting editor Kevin Killian claims:

I came of age in a different world. How different was it? It was so long ago that I wrote a pornographic book without having previously read one, and I acted in a porn film without having ever seen one. I didn't know what I was doing in either case, but thinking about it now, I suppose early on I conflated sex with representation or vice versa.

 Killian goes on to quote theorist Jean Baudrillard that in the current age of the internet, “there is no longer any pornography, since it is virtually everywhere.”

Series editor Richard Labonte comments on the demise of raunchy print magazines for gay men, some dating back to the 1970s, where at least one generation of gay-male erotic writers (or writers of gay-male erotica) first aired their fantasies in print.

Both editors ask whether there is still a need for anthologies such as this one in a world where (in Killian's words) "gay sex is fashionable and mainstream." Killian also points out that "sex sells," and it is used to sell every product on the market while distracting the public from social issues such as war and poverty. Both editors come to the conclusion that there is still a place for a book of sex stories that can be privately enjoyed by individual readers.

Amidst the loving descriptions of men's bodies (ripped, powerful or boyish) and cocks (long and slim, short and thick, monstrous, curved, veiny, with and without foreskin), there is actually a lot of discomforting contemporary reality. Although Kevin Killian claims that the U.S. war against Iraq haunts these stories as AIDS haunted gay-male erotica of the 1980s and '90s, the persistent homophobia of mainstream American culture is a clear theme in the stories by American authors, and it heightens the contrast between American culture and that of the stories set elsewhere.
Most of these stories reveal a society in which male-on-male lust is both widespread and denied, where real and virtual male bodies are easy to access (especially on-line or in porn videos), yet where a conservative establishment seeks to force all non-heterosexuals back into the closet, or (preferably) out of existence. While the technology in these stories is different from that of the 1970s, the fear, secrecy and distrust seem unchanged.

"Attackman" by Rob Wolfsham and "Bodies in Motion" by Johnny Murdoc both deal with the sweaty, homoerotic world of school sports. In "Attackman," a skinny skater-boy named Alex likes the crude attention of Max, the star attackman of the school lacrosse team. (Alex is supposedly a nineteen-year-old, but the dynamics between the two boys, the interest of their male English teacher and the constant presence of a Greek chorus of other jocks all reek of mid-adolescence.) Eventually the attackman attacks the school Gay-Straight Alliance in a semi-literate letter to the school paper before attacking Alex, once more, for being a "faggot" and for getting him in trouble with the school administration, which penalizes hate speech. Max can't leave Alex alone, and his motives become clear even to him.

"Bodies in Motion" looks at the love-hate relationship between a school jock and a school geek when both of them return to the same school as a science teacher and an assistant coach. This time, the geek is cautious and distrustful, and the jock feels rebuffed until the two men have an honest talk.

The most gripping depiction of this type of relationship is in "Saving Tobias" by Jeff Mann, a kind of modern-day Walt Whitman who sings the praises of the untamed men of the Virginia mountains. The Tobias of the title is both charismatic and repulsively self-satisfied:

His name befits him. Tobias. It's Hebrew for 'God is good.' God has been good to him indeed. So far. Handsome blond giant, wealthy, talented, powerful, he's as magnificent as Oedipus must have been a few hours before the truth, before the kingly fool thrust the pin of his mother's brooch, his wife's brooch, into his eyes. The truth can do that, certainly. Put out the eyes, splinter the soul, castrate, eviscerate, shatter. The truth is what I bring tonight.

So who is the "I" who stalks Tobias, a homophobic Republican senator? A vampire from the Scottish highlands whose lover was killed before his eyes in 1730. Derek the vampire is a kind of avenging angel who wants to save Tobias from his own ignorance and hatred while showing him the suffering for which Tobias is responsible. And while he's at it, Derek wants Tobias' blood and his ass.

Tobias is horrified when he realizes that his gun can't save him from bondage and worse. The violation of his flesh appears to dramatize Tobias' worst fear, but he eventually reaches the peace he has been unconsciously seeking. Of course, he expresses his surrender in Christian terms.

The theme of an encounter with a beloved enemy continues in several other stories.

"I Sucked Off an Iraqi Sniper" by Natty Soltesz (the title says it all) and "Hump Day" by Dominic Santi show the universal vulnerability of working-class men (however butch they may be) to political and economic forces beyond their control. In both these stories, lust and empathy transcend cultural differences.

In "Shel's Game," the young narrator was originally lured into a Dominant-submissive relationship by the balding, stocky, middle-aged Shel who used a sexy young man as bait. The narrator's first scene with Shel leads to many others which are both humiliating and thrilling. The narrator comes to realize that Shel, whom he ignored at first meeting, knows a few things about how to get him off.

In "Closet Case" by Martin Delacroix, the narrator explains his aversion to hypocrites:

Call me a jerk, but I have a problem with closeted guys, these so-called 'bi-curious' men. Deep inside most are gay, I believe, but they're scared to admit it. So they lead the straight life, looking down on us poor faggots. When the urge strikes they'll sneak off and slum with the queers, but an hour later they're back with the wife and the kids, safe and happy.

When the narrator, who has a fully-equipped "sex room" in his house, picks up a man who claims to be both married and inexperienced with men, the outcome seems predictable. However, there are several twists in this story. Both characters prove themselves to be untrustworthy but more compatible than they first appear.

Limited space does not allow me to describe every story, but each one is memorable in its own way. There are stories by Shaun Levin, Simon Sheppard and Shane Allison here, as well as a disturbing tale by Boris Pintar, translated into English from Slovenian. Remember "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, a classic of southern-gothic fiction often taught in college lit. classes? This story is a gay-male European version.

The anthology begins and ends with two strong stories. It opens with "Beauty #2" by Eric Karl Anderson, about a bug-chasing fan and an AIDS-infected Dom who remains dignified and resolute in decline. The concluding story, "The Last Picture. Show" by James Earl Hardy is a fascinating look at the career of an African-American porn star, seduced away from his original dream of writing the Great American Novel. Instead, he becomes a tragic hero who finds love only to lose it too soon.

The sex is this book is fully-described, but it is not a distraction from bigotry, injustice, generation gaps, power-struggles, or misunderstandings. These stories (including Jeff Mann’s vampire story and Shane Allison's dream-montage) tackle reality in all its complexity.

Best Lesbian EroticaBest Lesbian Erotica
Edited By: Kathleen Warnock
Contributions By: Sinclair Sexsmith
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573447528
December 2011

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Maybe I’m jaded from reading so much erotica for so many years. Or maybe the Best Lesbian Erotica series, compiled every year since 1995, has set me up to expect every story to be brave, experimental, poignant or multi-faceted.

Whatever it is, the latest edition seems to have an excessively high ratio of sex scenes to plot, character development and settings. Of course, you could say. It’s erotica. In all fairness, these stories are well-written. In this sense, the series consistently lives up to its title of Best Lesbian Erotica, if “best” means written by competent professionals to produce the desired effects.

Here is my beef, as far as I can explain it in words: things have changed.

When the series was launched in the mid-1990s, graphic descriptions of lesbian sex were harder to find than descriptions of sex between men and women, or men and men. Sex involving transgendered folks was rarely even imagined. (To a large extent, this is still true.) As Tristan Taormino, original series editor, explained in her first introduction, references to lesbian sex before that point were characterized by euphemistic lines like the famous description of the consummation of a lesbian love affair in The Well of Loneliness (1928):  “And that night, they were not divided.”

In 1995, detailed accounts of what could be done to stimulate, tease, torment or satisfy women’s most sensitive parts were a fairly radical thing even in a heterosexual context. When the graphic sex was woman-to-woman (or when it involved more than two female bodies), it was downright revolutionary. Anyone who remembered the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s was blown away by the vulgar, joyful, “male” (according to some feminist definitions) energy of this stuff, yet it was clearly not written by males. For one thing, the erotica in the Best Lesbian Erotica series showed a knowledge of female anatomy that few male writers (who are not also medical doctors or transmen) seemed to have. This writing looked like a message straight from the clits of the Amazon Nation. Or maybe from the g-spots.

The high-energy, high-impact quality of the erotica in this series has been maintained, but erotica has diversified since the 1990s. Probably more to the point, explicit sex has slithered into relatively “mainstream” fiction, including lesbian novels and short stories. “Mary fucked Sue” (and/or vice versa) is no longer the kind of plot which would get a lesbian writer kicked out of every lesbian-feminist community as well as her blood family.

I love the Best Lesbian Erotica series, and I have felt deeply honored to have my stories included in past volumes (in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009). However, it becomes painfully obvious over time that there are only so many ways to describe female plumbing and the things that can be done to or with it. Lesbians have sex, and we also have lives. My favorite lesbian fiction is the kind that acknowledges what sex is like in a complex, real-world context – or on Planet X.

In short, I would like to see a little more depth and diversity in the lesbian erotica of the second decade of the 21st century. I’ve probably been spoiled.

To give an example of the sexual descriptions in this collection, here is part of a scene from “Hot Yoga” by Anne Grip, a story that moves from a yoga session to a sex club: 

The next thrust was so deep it made her scream. Or sing. Or cry. Tears poured down her face. Or snot. Or lube. Or come.

The theme of we-shouldn’t-do-this-but-we-can’t-help-it runs through several stories, including the ironically-named “Vacation” by Ali Oh, in which the lovers must be discreet in an overcrowded family home:

She doesn’t do this, not in her mom’s house. After a whirlwind of movement, I’m perched on the counter tiles, boxers on but stretched to allow her mouth. She wrenches my legs apart and pushes me against the cabinets. Her head is between my legs and I grab a handful of her hair as my blood heats up, and I feel myself get wetter as her tongue circles my clit, as she flicks languidly up and down, over my slit.

In story after story, women burn, melt, thrust, gush, gasp, stretch and scream. Reading this book is like watching a sex show combined with an opera. As in past editions, several contributors to this one are performance artists, and it shows.

The most memorable stories in this volume contain something besides (or instead of) uncontrollable lust. The opening story, “Touched” by Amy Butcher is a brilliant take on a standard “coming out” trope: the schoolgirl crush. There is no sex at all here, if “sex” means genital contact, yet one girl feels as touched by divine energy as Saint Teresa of Avila, and the reader believes her.

“Blood Lust” by Giselle Renarde features a mysterious woman whose back is as covered in graffiti as a bathroom wall, all cut into her flesh. She shows the narrator how to add her own mark without leaving a single drop of blood on the carpet. This scene looks like an acting-out of the impossible deal in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: the merchant owes the moneylender a pound of his flesh as collateral, but the merchant’s clever female lawyer (disguised as a man, of course) points out that the contract doesn’t allow for the spilling of blood. In the world of Renarde’s story, pains morphs into pleasure, and the unbelievable becomes real.

Speaking of female blood, “Skin Deep” by Anna Watson is a realistic look at that touchiest of lesbian characters: a butch having her period. She doesn’t want to talk about it, but her understanding friend-with-benefits knows what she needs.

There is a refreshing amount of humor in some of these stories. “The Produce Queen” by Michelle Brennan is a lightweight anecdote about a woman’s fondness for raw vegetables. It’s not a new topic, but the author has a deft touch.

“Maid for You” by Deborah Castellano and “On My Honor” by D.L. King are entertaining scenes starring service submissives. In Castellano’s story, the “maid” is a friend-of-a-friend who shows up unexpectedly like a fairy godmother who materializes to relieve the narrator’s stress after a day of work, and in D.L. King’s story, the submissive has gone to a sex club on “uniform” theme night dressed as a Girl Scout.

“Never Too Old” by DeJay is the last story in the book, and it perfectly complements “Touched.” In DeJay’s hilarious romp, a sixty-year-old butch is taken aback when her “wife” of over thirty years discovers the world of sex toys.

On a more serious note, Sharon Wachsler’s “When You Call” is a subtly heartbreaking story about a disabled woman’s realistic fear of being left (again), and the patience of her committed lover. “How He Likes It” by Xan West, “Envy” by Lulu Laframboise and “Neck Magic” by Nancy Irwin are meditations on the emotional complexities of BDSM.

But if you like your lesbian erotica focused on a steady, uncomplicated climb to an earth-shattering orgasm (or several), there are plenty of hot quickies here. The one-handed stories work perfectly well. They might even work better for some readers than the more nuanced stories I prefer.

This annual anthology remains the gold standard of the genre.

Best Lesbian Erotica 08Best Lesbian Erotica 08
Edited By: Tristan Taormino
Contributions By: Selected and introduced by Ali Liebegott
Cleis Press
ISBN: 157344300X
November, 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Best Lesbian Erotica is an annual anthology first launched by Cleis Press of San Francisco in 1995 to fill a gap in the published erotica of the time. This year’s edition includes fresh stories with the hallmarks of the series: much sensory description, including juicy metaphors and a high concentration of explicit sex, gender-play, and more-or-less realistic plots (few fairy godmothers or other supernatural elements and no guaranteed happy endings).

As this year's guest editor explains in her introduction, these stories are a departure from a certain school of lesbian erotica, especially poetry, which sprang from the lesbian-feminism of the 1970s and was loaded with "tons of dolphin and mango imagery." There is not a dolphin or a mango in sight here, nor do any of the characters in Best Lesbian Erotica resemble cats or flowers: two other worn-out cliches in lesbian written and visual erotic art.

Several of these stories blend intense sex (often with a Dominant/submissive flavor) with vividly-described physical and cultural settings into a gestalt which is greater than the sum of its parts and which seamlessly combines plausible action with symbolism. Certain stories feature specific settings which are integral to the general effect.

Catherine Lundoff's "Spoonbridge and Cherry" (reprinted from her own lesbian story collection, Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing) is about a three-dyke sexual adventure on a whimsical, giant sculptural image of a spoon with a cherry, designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen for an outdoor sculpture garden in Minneapolis.

Isa Coffey's "The Bridge," despite having an over-used title, is a fiercely distinct description of an encounter in a car on the Coronado Bay Bridge in San Diego, which seems to have a magically aphrodisiac quality. The two women in the car are a white femme and a black butch who passionately explore each other’s limits before they learn each other’s names, and they are soon joined by a police officer and two interested onlookers. The excessiveness of the multi-woman pileup on the bridge is made convincing by the narrator's response to the sounds of traffic, the full moon above and the restless water below.

Aimee Pearl's ironically-named "Where the Rubber Meets the Road" is about the allure of rubber and leather at the Folsom Street Fair in September in San Francisco. In keeping with the setting (a daytime display of fetish and BDSM paraphernalia, available to all onlookers), Pearl’s story is about playful exhibitionism and experimentation, not high-stakes challenges or compulsions.

"And the Stars Never Rise" by Missy Leach takes place in the media-conscious culture of West Hollywood; it involves being stalked, “hosed” (secretly photographed without one’s consent) and photographed in a sexually-compromising situation as punishment. It would work well as an X-rated episode of “The L Word”, the lesbian soap opera set in Los Angeles.

D.L. King's "A New York Story" is a haunting tale (literally), set in a brownstone in the Greenwich Village of yesteryear, and it refers to a history of closeted lesbian desire. The building, which feels like home to a single woman who lives there for most of her adult life is essential to a relationship which could actually last forever, in extreme contrast with the immediate, get-it-while-you-can flavor of the tricks in many of the other stories.

Peggy Munson's "The Storm Chasers" is set in an atmospheric small town where Pennsylvania meets Ohio, where Amish teenagers plunge into a "storm" of extreme sexual experience during "Rumspringa ('running around'), described as: “the window of time when they can break the Amish rules before deciding if they want to get baptized."

Munson's stories have appeared in Best Lesbian Erotica every year since 1998, and her style has come to seem characteristic of the series. Here she demonstrates her ability to capture characters in a few deft sentences by describing Ellie, an Amish girl hell-bent on worldly knowledge, from the viewpoint of the baby dyke who wants her:

". . . suddenly, she puts the tip of her sneaker over mine, rubbing the rubber together. Burn, I think. Burn rubber. I'm thinking about masturbating in my bedroom with the plastic handle of this big pink makeup brush I fuck myself with, listening to albums she has never heard: I want to bring her into my world. But we just stay there, poured into molds of ourselves hardening, our breathing startled by its perpetuity."

These girls are simultaneously rebellious and representative of their generation and their backgrounds. Like the other characters in this volume, they want more than simple sexual release, and they are more than their demographics.

As usual, several other veterans and rising stars of lesbian erotica are here: Rachel Kramer Bussel, Radclyffe (owner of Bold Strokes Books, a lesbian press), Betty Blue, L. Elise Bland (Mistress Elise, former pro-domme and stripper from Texas), D. Alexandria, Shanna Germain, Jacqueline Applebee, Alicia E. Goranson, Roxy Katt, Tamai Kobayashi, A. Lizbeth Babcock, Valerie Alexander, Anna Watson. Amazingly, several other stories in this volume are first publications by novice erotic writers with talent. Each story has its own appeal, and all deserve to be carefully read—assuming that readers can be intellectually pleased by the kind of fiction which is intended to distract the mind.

Best Lesbian Erotica has spawned imitative series from other publishers and helped to inspire the cross-fertilization of lesbian fiction in various genres (erotica, romance, mystery, suspense, fantasy, sci-fi, history, biography, etc). These stories can’t satisfy every taste or adequately address every issue that arises in real-life lesbian social space, and some readers would undoubtedly have made different selections from the mass of submissions which pour onto Tristan Taormino’s desk every year. However, the series continues to be innovative and genuine, and the stories tackle the raw, messy stuff of lesbian life with exceptional literary skill. Ya gotta read this stuff.

Best Lesbian Erotica 2010Best Lesbian Erotica 2010
Edited By: Kathleen Warnock
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443751
December 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This annual anthology, originally edited by Tristan Taormino and a consulting editor, is now edited by Kathleen Warnock and a consulting editor. This year, the guest editors are the three members of an all-female band, BETTY. As Kathleen Warnock explains in her introduction:

How did I get here? I knew Tristan when we were both starting out as writers, and on the downtown New York city queer and women's rock/literary/whatever scenes. I bought copies of her 'zine Pucker Up, and thought I might try to write some of that lesbian erotica stuff. . .
In that monumentally creative downtown scene, I sometimes ran into Tristan at a popular lesbian rock party called Fragglerock, where woman-fronted and all-girl bands were featured, and fabulous musicians played in all-star pickup bands, doing tributes to their godmothers and godfathers. One night, I watched Elizabeth Ziff of the band BETTY lead a Queen tribute that included about forty people doing a cover of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' with a full chorus.

Ya had to be there, I'm sure. Series editor Kathleen goes on to explain why she invited BETTY to choose the stories for this edition of Best Lesbian Erotica:

Songwriters have the task of telling a life or a moment in a couple of dozen lines. It's a form that requires form, as well as style, craft, tempo, rhythm and talent to pull it off successfully. So I approached Elizabeth (who had moved on to work on a television show you may have heard of: The L Word), and she told me she was being treated for breast cancer, and recommended her sister, Amy. And, well, if you've got Elizabeth and Amy, you've got to have Alyson.

Later in the introduction, the editor notes

a strong international wave of submissions this year: this volume contains the work of writers from Ireland, Australia, Sweden, France and Germany (as well as someone who lives in my neighborhood).

Introductions like this always leave me with mixed feelings. Incestuous relationships among creative types who are all in the same "scene," however defined, shouldn't shock anyone. And lesbians who have been "out" for more than one relationship are aware of belonging to an army of ex-lovers; sometimes it seems as if every one of us is less than six degrees (i.e. six dykes) away from every other one of us.

But still, can a New York editor who inherited the position from another New York editor and who shared the honor with a local band honestly claim that the series has an international scope?

When Kathleen Warnock first experienced BETTY in the 1980s, much of the soundtrack of this reviewer’s life was provided by a three-woman band from the Canadian prairies, where I live. They were/are known for their beautiful harmonies, and their song, "The Woman Warrior," was at one time an anthem for Canadian lesbian-feminists. But it seems unlikely that they will ever be asked to guest-edit an anthology such as Best Lesbian Erotica. I’m just saying.

Now I've said all that, I'll admit that no one's taste is objective. By definition, taste involves discrimination. The stories in this year's BLE are all competently-written, as usual, but otherwise they are a mixed bag of cliches, poetic but porny descriptions of sex with a near-absence of plot, fabulous topical humor, witty fantasy, insightful realism, and spiritual allegory.

My favorite stories in this collection are by previous contributors to the series. "Jubilee" by Betty Blue is an atmospheric piece about a backwoods preacher, a "passing" butch who attracts women as honey attracts bees. Ruby, a juicy blonde damsel in distress, asks the Reverend for salvation, and her prayer is answered. The plot twist at the end surprises both the reader and the Reverend, who is reminded (like us) that everyone has a secret.

Probably the most memorable story (because it is the most unusual in this context) is "Uppercasing" by Charlie Anders, a San Francisco writer who chronicles (or satirizes, if that's possible) the local genderqueer/postmodern performance art scene. This story first appeared in Fucking Daphne: Mostly True Stories and Fictions (Seal Press, 2008). In this comic story, a farm girl from New Jersey named Daphne Gottlieb goes to San Francisco to find "herself," and finds a performance artist by the same name who takes her under her wing.

The more famous Daphne explains "uppercasing" to her protegee:

'We're all born with normal capitalization, but our task in life is to create the block-caps versions of ourselves. And most people never even try. Most people stay mostly lowercase, their whole lives.'

The narrator (the more lowercase Daphne) asks "if she had succeeded in becoming DAPHNE GOTTLIEB. . . But she said no." 

In order to help her namesake achieve an uppercase identity, the narrator consents to be tattooed, exposed, bound and fucked in various public places as a kind of doppelganger or other-half of her mentor. Daphne the mentor, however, teaches the narrator to expect the unexpected.

"Self-Reflection" by Tobi Hill-Meyer is a powerful fantasy about a transwoman's encounter with her future self. The catalyst that brings the future self into the present narrator's life isn't explicitly described, but by the end of the story, it seems clear that the narrator is less likely to commit suicide. While relationships between aspects of the same person are often presented as dangerous expressions of narcissism, this one is literally life-saving.

On a slightly more realistic level is "Blood Ties" by Alex Tucci, about a lifelong, near-incestuous attraction which is finally consummated after a wise mother-figure has written a prophetic letter to be read after her death.

"Lives of the Saints" by Holly Farris is a hilarious surrealistic look at a sexual fetish which is parallel to a traditional Catholic fetish for virginity as a sign of spiritual purity. On the feast day of an obscure female saint, the saint and her lover/tormentor show up in the kitchen of a troubled modern dyke to give her a message.
These are the stories I will probably remember long after writing this review. Then there is a set of lush, lyrical sex fantasies on familiar themes: sex at different times of day ("The Rendezvous Series" by Colleen C. Dunphy), first-time lesbian encounters ("In the Sauna" by Stella Watts Kelley and "Tasting Chantal" by D.L. King), a fantasy in Home Depot about a handywoman ("The Kitchen Light" by Nicole Wolfe), multi-person trysts ("Shameless" by two authors, Kymberlyn Reed and Anais Morten, "Thanksgiving" by Molly Bloom), a travelogue about dykes-on-bikes before Stonewall ("Girona, 1960" by Stella Sandburg), a tale of seduction in a library by a wheelchair-bound narrator ("Pinup" by Vanessa Vaughn), a story about the eroticism of hair ("Brush Strokes" by Elizabeth Cage), one about a kind of role-reversal ("Ridden" by Natt Nightly), one about sex on camera/film ("Flick Chicks" by Allison Wonderland), and one about a mysterious woman who could be a stalker, a phantom or a hallucination ("The Purple Gloves" by Gala Fur, translated from the French).

"From the Halls of Montezuma" centers on the narrator's intense, immediate reaction to a butch stripper who performs in the uniform of the U.S. Marines with a more traditionally femme counterpart in a club before turning her attention to the narrator. This fantasy is well-paced, well-written and satisfying for all the characters, including the narrator's supportive friends.

Like other stories set in specific locations or cultures, however, this one seems to need a footnote. I wonder how many readers outside the U.S. would recognize the title as part of the anthem of the United States Marines ("From the halls of Montezu-uma/To the shores of Tripoli/We will fight our country's ba-attles/On the land and on the sea").

Erotic stories with very specific references have their own charm; they can appeal to readers who have been there as well as to those who haven’t, and who therefore find the setting, the culture or the kink exotic. People have specific kinds of sex in particular contexts, and the context can be crucial. However, the references need to be clear to the intended readership.

The two stories I would have eliminated from this anthology are "Sexting: One Side of a Two-Way" by Kelsy Chauvin and "Amy's First Lesson" by Dani M. The latter is a traditional classroom fantasy in which a young university instructor shows her baby-dyke student the ropes. This story shows promise, but this ground has often been covered before, and with more style (if the fantasy is obvious wish-fulfillment) or more complexity (if the story is presented as realistic). "Sexting" is essentially one side of a generic telephone conversation. Future editions of BLE might well include evocative stories of encounters or relationships told in text-messages, but this one looks like a script that simply falls flat on the page.

Best Lesbian Erotica continues to be one of the better annual "best of" anthologies. As a series, it is still deliciously ground-breaking (as in "the earth moved") and trendsetting, but not everything in it meets the same standard.

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.

Between Love and LustBetween Love and Lust
By: Nikko Lee
Carnal Desires Publishing
ISBN: 1554046335
January 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Imagine a city in which supernatural predators and mortals live in an uneasy balance. Imagine that the predators all belong to more-or-less powerful clans reminiscent of Renaissance Italy or the modern Mafia, except for the desperate exiles who have been expelled from their clans for various reasons. Imagine rivalry within and among families, and a network of relationships based on greed, lust, respect, curiosity and even unselfish love. Imagine a sexy mix of humans and non-humans who all meet in a seedy bar where anything can be arranged for a price, or in the one nightclub which is known as neutral ground.

This is the world of Between Love and Lust, whose title doesn’t give a clear-enough indication of what lies between its virtual covers. This is an ambitious, well-conceived erotic vampire novel intended to be the first of a series. There is definitely enough material here for a series of novels, and for a cult following.

The author's version of a creation myth (how the first vampires came to exist) is similar enough to the mythos of Bram Stoker: in the ancient past, demonic blood got into human bodies that became "non-living" in the sense of unchanging. Nikko Lee adds the influence of love: a human's love for a demon and the demon's unwillingness to live without her. The Adam and Eve of the vampiric bloodline (now in “eternal rest”) were heterosexual, complementary, fiercely bonded and long-lived, although none of their descendants are immortal. These vampires appear to be immortal because they survive much longer than humans – so much longer that they tend to fall out of touch with current reality and eventually go insane, without exception.

Faith plays a role, however. Unlike agnostic modern vampires who can’t be stopped by garlic and crucifixes, Nikko Lee’s vampires are affected by holy water the way human flesh is affected by napalm. All the reader is allowed to know about this unusual weapon in the first novel is that it works because it is infused with fervent belief.

There is a lot of sex in this world. Vampires can mate with each other as well as with mortals, and their appetites are larger than life. Their appetites vary, however. Some of the surviving members of the original thirteen families (particularly the Lucienna, a family of "shadow warriors") have their own sexual value system which mandates sex only within "blood-bonded" relationships, which last until the bond-mates literally crumble into dust. Both the sex scenes and the hints of frustrated longing are believable and integral to the plot.

Mika the vampire is a central character, a kick-ass heroine who is beautiful and stronger than she looks. She lives in a loft above the nightclub run by her best friend Dahlia, where all the major players in the plot meet for business or pleasure beyond the turf of particular clans. When her "pater-sire" Jacob, formerly her lover, comes to tell her about the recent murder of a clan leader, the third-person narrator suggests a theory of fetishism or imprinting:

"Each vampire had his own vice that could be traced back to his original embrace, as her pater-sire had once explained. Some vampires longed for chemically-induced euphoria, especially if their would-be sire had drugged them, thereby aiding them to withstand the horror that followed the rapture of the embrace. Others longed to re-create the violent hunt that preceded their transformation.

"Mika did not need her pater-sire to explain to her the vice that was her weakness above all others. The memory of her embrace was seared into her soul and her sex. Hunger for blood produced such wanton desires in Mika that her lust would make a streetwalker blush. The feel of a lover's manhood hardening under her grip or her nether lips moistening against his lapping tongue produced a satisfaction that was only paralleled by the consumption of fresh blood."      

Despite her nearly-constant lust, Mika has a kind of innocence that has been protected by the now-fatherly but unreadable Jacob. When he bonded with Mika's "mater-sire," he joined a more powerful and prestigious clan than the one he was "born" into, but he still shows the unpredictable qualities of his birth-clan, the Seguines. Mika's "mater-sire," Jacob's former mate, was sentenced by the Council of Elders to "eternal rest," a punishment parallel to life imprisonment or execution. But the Council of Elders is known to be corrupt. Was Miriam really guilty of anything? Mika's memories of her seem to hover wistfully in the air.

The male vampire who ignites Mika's passion like none other is himself a Seguine by "birth," as well as an exile, sentenced to a kind of limbo by the Council of Elders. Jacob’s clan leader, Dawson, wants to reform the council into a more democratic organization which could rule the clans more fairly and effectively Yet most of the clans are more interested in their own concerns than in the business of good government, and a proposed change of regime is always opposed by someone.

Could the mysterious murders of high-status vampires be a sign of impending civil war in the vampire community? Are humans involved? And how is Hail, Mika's soul-mate, mixed up in things? As an exile he has been taken in by the exploitative Corbius clan that can always find a use for powerless vampires and humans. The once-proud Hail is the unwilling plaything of the clan leader's "little princess,” who degrades him publicly. Mika has her own kinky side (aside from the inherent kinkiness of surviving on human blood), but like Hail, she shows surprising integrity under pressure.

The great strengths of this novel are its complex plot, involving a large cast of characters, and the compelling qualities of the key players. At the heart of the conflict is an ideological clash which is echoed in the relationships between individuals, especially the Romeo-and-Juliet affair between Mika and Hail.

Vampires can inspire dread or desire, or some of both, and these vampires live up to the tradition. The way they produce "childer" mimics human reproduction, and it seems to rule out the homoerotic bonding introduced by Anne Rice and continued by her own literary offspring. Recreational sex between females happens a lot in this novel, often as part of a threesome scene. At one point, Hail sends a willing human female (a politician on the city council) to Mika much as he might send her a bouquet with an important message attached. (The message is a rhymed riddle lightly engraved in the skin of the woman’s back.) Mika shares the woman with Dahlia in an all-night party which largely takes place off the page, although there is a titillating reference to "necessary restraints." Sex between vampires and humans usually includes blood-drinking, but there is a general understanding that completely draining a victim is reckless and uncouth.  

This novel is engaging on several levels, and the BDSM ethos and culture implied by any vampire story is generally well-integrated with the other elements. There is one exceptional scene, early in the plot, in which Mika goes slumming in a BDSM club in search of information, even though the place is considered disreputable – by vampires. The mind boggles, though of course such hypocrisy is also very human. In this dive, Mika puts on a show by giving a male informant a blow job which looks tamer than most of what she does for fun. Apparently the shock-value of such behavior from a member of Clan Chavel supplies the necessary frisson for a jaded or hard-core audience. Of course, it could be argued that kink is in the eyes of the beholder.

Unfortunately, typing and spelling mistakes are not simply a matter of opinion, and there are too many of them in this novel. Sloppy editing does nothing to enhance the status of e-books, but with any luck, this one will be polished up and reproduced in print some day. It certainly deserves a longer shelf-life than many of its clan-members.

Blind SeductionBlind Seduction
By: Debra Hyde
Ravenous Romance
ISBN: 978-1607770619
January 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

In the first scene of Blind Seduction, a husband and wife are in their car, going on a trip for their tenth anniversary. Is this a sweet, sensual romance? A gentle meditation on the comforts of a marriage that has survived its first few bumps? Not exactly. 

Phillip and Leslie have explored BDSM before, but now Phillip is willing to risk their relationship by finding out how far they are both willing to go. Leslie consents to being blindfolded on the way to a BDSM resort, a typical haven for a novel in this genre. She is very observant and notices sounds along the way, but she can't be sure where she is going. She has to trust Phillip as her Master, and he has to trust himself.

When they arrive at their destination and settle into their private room, Leslie realizes that she is meant to be blindfolded all weekend. Her imposed lack of sight intensifies her other senses and forces her to rely on Phillip and other helpers. It also serves as a metaphor for her inability to foresee what will happen next, and her trust in the process. Phillip tells her that he is going to use her well during the next few days, and she shivers with pleasure.

All the characters are described in the third person, but most of the narrative is told from Leslie's viewpoint, so to speak.  During Leslie's first mealtime in a communal dining hall, Phillip helps her eat. He also keeps her off-guard by unlocking her chastity belt and spreading ointment on her clit and lower lips to keep her in an unrelieved state of sexual excitement.

Leslie hears something disturbing: It was the sound of someone else's breathing, someone panting in a pace close to her own. A man. Leslie discreetly signals to Phillip, who notices the stranger and lets him know that Leslie is not available without her Master’s permission. Leslie, Phillip and the reader all know that the man will reappear later, and that he is Trouble. Can a woman who is sexually aroused by Dominant men be genuinely afraid of one? Clearly the answer is yes, and Leslie’s instincts are shown to be valid.

Phillip and Leslie meet the first of their new friends when Mistress Blade introduces herself and her male submissive, Peter, and compliments Phillip's control and Leslie's responsiveness. It is easy to guess that the female-dominant couple will become friends of Leslie and Phillip, but their importance in the plot remains to be seen.

As Leslie meets other guests at the resort, they tell her their stories of "coming out" into the world of Dominance and submission, or of their most significant scenes. And while Leslie is learning about the quirks of Dominants, Phillip learns about those of submissives. The stories are instructional, and they have the effect of a chorus formed from diverse voices. 

Phillip places Leslie in a "slave holding pen" as a way of stretching her limits as well as his own. There Leslie meets a sister-submissive, Sylvie, who tells her that the sign hanging from Leslie's neck says she is only to be picked up by her Master. Still feeling nervous and alone, Leslie accepts friendly cuddling as Sylvie tells her a story about an elaborate banquet scene in which Sylvie was a human centerpiece, with another submissive assigned to join her in entertaining the assembled guests:

Over me, the slave-boy was a pitiful sight. Dressed in crotch-less panties, an ill-fitted bra, and a sheer marabou that draped to his hips, he was attired in a pink so vivid I knew his humiliation had already exceeded my fear.
Gladly, I opened my mouth and took his sheathed cock between my lips. We were compatriots after all, he in his girlie get-up and me as his repository joined together in a scene not of our own making. Yet as thrilling as our union was for me, his dick sat limp in my mouth.

'Recite,' came the second command.

'Oh, how we love and hug a great Priapus;
He that has such a one shall ne'er escape us.
And after once, if we can make it rise?
Must on again and bravely fight love's price.'

They were the words of John Wilmot, the famous second Earl of Rochester [1647-1680], pilfered from his obscene play, Sodom or the Quintessence of Debauchery.

Sylvie's tribal tale of her experience is in the literary tradition of BDSM as a lifestyle of the rich and cultured, and it reminds Leslie and the reader that “obscenity” has a long history. The stories-within-the-story that are told by various secondary characters also show the author's tendency to put careless, slightly-inaccurate words in the mouths of her storytellers. Sylvie's claim that the slave-boy "pilfered" the Earl of Rochester's words seems melodramatic. (Do actors "pilfer" the words of playwrights?)

This novel seems to have been written quickly to meet a deadline. If it was, the cumulative effect of the scenes and stories in the overall plot is especially impressive. While every scene (including recounted scenes) can stand alone, all of them together give a general picture of a largely-heterosexual BDSM community. Phillip and Leslie, two innocent newcomers despite their previous experience, mature in parallel ways as they find their places in the tribe.

Storytelling as an act of love and as the transmission of knowledge leads to a climactic scene after the villain puts his plan into action. The irresponsible behavior of one person shows up the basic human decency of all the rest, and the value of community spirit becomes clear to all.        

By the end of the novel, Leslie has made Phillip prouder of her than ever before, and she has helped her would-be protectors to recognize their own collective strength and overcome their sense of guilt. Phillip and Leslie, who left the routines of everyday life and the safety of home to seek their fortune, have been tested and found worthy, and they now have a circle of reliable mentors and friends.

In the last, private scene, Leslie takes off her blindfold and sees with new eyes:

Remembering the blindfold and all it had robbed from her, Leslie watched Phillip's every move. She stared into his face as he penetrated and took her, as he fucked her and used her, as he came. . . Then, with the gentle rhythm of his breath upon her neck, his warmth surrounding her, Leslie would close her own eyes. Finally, she would rest, safe and sure of her place in his arms.

Some have said that romance and BDSM don't combine well, but they are very compatible in this novel. Even after the wild weekend is over, married love is shown to be a greater adventure than the most extreme scenes of sex with strangers.

By: Jay Lygon
Torquere Press
April 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Much of the fun of reading an erotic story about paranormal characters is discovering new kinds of virtual sex between strange bedfellows: the seduction of mortals by ghosts or vampires, telepathic manipulation, spiritual bonding in the absence of old-fashioned hands-on groping--or in addition to it. Add a tongue-in-cheek look at gay-male culture in an actual city (Los Angeles), and you have a sit-com serial to rival the latest vampire sagas on the small screen and the big one.

Bonded is part of a series about vampires in L.A., most of whom were recently "turned," so they still seem at home in the 21st century. Their lord or godfather is Brandr, a thousand-year-old Viking warrior, once the "Terror of the Baltic," whose deepest secret (he thinks) is his compassionate side.

His appearance in public is always dramatic, although he apparently lacks the self-consciousness of an actor or a model:

Brandr's long black duster flapped around his lean legs as he strode past the line of heavy metal rockers waiting to get into the Whiskey A Go Go nightclub. One of them snickered and pointed at him. He tugged the brim of his black cowboy hat low over his ice blue eyes.

In a moment of crisis, Brandr swings his battle-axe through the air in an arc, a move which accomplishes nothing, but—like everything else he does—it “looks really cool.”

Brandr appears to be 25, his age when he was "turned," but he has enough vampire wisdom to know that "turning" others is unethical. He simply feeds on mortals as needed, and leaves them alive with no memory of the attack. Unable to hold down a daytime job, Brandr spends most of his nights writing historical romances; after all, he can give authentic accounts of the past. Since he acquired three "pets" (young male vampires needing guidance), he has had little time to himself. Like an aggravated but soft-hearted daddy, he tries without success to keep them in line.

Brandr's favorite is Kyle, a goth hustler who has a flair for home decorating. The other members of his family are Jamie, the Latino computer geek and Henry the yoga instructor. These vampires are fully functional, and never have to spend a night alone.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, Tyler is a mortal man with his own problem: a shiftless lover named Luke. Here they are at home:

. . . before passing out, Luke had been trying to put his hands down Tyler's pants. One of those hands still had the phone number of another guy scrawled across it. While they shared the bed, they hadn't touched each other in three months, and Tyler wasn't about to break that streak with a drunken, fumbling relapse.

Tyler and Brandr each have man-trouble, but aside from that, it is hard to see what they could have in common. For better or worse, they are destined to meet at sunset:

A tall, hot, blond guy was walking as if lost in deep thought. Tyler didn't want to intrude. It was so hard to get a moment of personal peace in a city the size of L.A. . . . The guy passed by close enough for Tyler to touch, but didn't seem to notice. He definitely didn't see the parking meter. He walked right into it.


“I got you.” Tyler grabbed the man's arm before the guy tripped into the gutter. Instead of thanking him, the guy went nuts and threw Tyler against his Jeep. Tyler was too surprised to let go. As he fell back, he yanked the guy into the metal cover of the Jeep's spare tire. Blood spewed from the guy's nose.

Tyler licked his chapped bottom lip and tasted blood. He licked again and swallowed. He didn't remember his blood tasting so good. At least his lip didn't feel as if it were busted. Then he groaned. Maybe it wasn't his blood. Maybe it was from the other guy. Oh, gross. He'd swallowed some strange guy's nose blood. He probably needed to get tested.

The guy bared fangs and hissed.

“I was just trying to help you out, asshole!” Tyler yelled as the guy rushed away.

Do you see where this is going? Tyler has swallowed vampire blood! Unfortunately, even Brandr doesn't know what to expect when he and a mortal are accidentally blood-bonded. And of course, Tyler thinks at first that he just had an encounter with a crazy person who will stagger off into the night, never to be seen again.

Then the fun begins. Brandr and Tyler each experience unfamiliar feelings: Brandr the outward stoic is disconcerted to feel Tyler's grief and loneliness when he breaks up with Luke, and Tyler, in the midst of a sexual fast, is jolted when Kyle works his sexual master on Brandr, his Lord. Forced empathy! Tyler is reluctant to admit to himself that the freaks who come out in the city when the sun goes down include real vampires, let alone that he might be intimately connected with one.

Since Brandr and Tyler each experience each other's sexual feelings, most of the sex scenes in this novella have a ménage vibe. Because this story is essentially a Hollywood sit-com with paranormal elements, the horror and despair are always undercut with camp humor as well as studly sex.

The bond between vampire and human answers the question: How much sex is too much? The two never become unbonded in this part of the serial, but they each gain something from the experience. Of course, there has to be a sequel, which this reviewer actually reviewed first. To learn more, find that review on my live journal page.

Beware of picking up this novella. Like the characters, you'll be hooked.

Bound in MoonlightBound in Moonlight
By: Louisa Burton
Bantam Books
ISBN: 0553384139
December 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Louisa Burton’s first book, House of Dark Delights, is an erotic fantasy set in a place which is literally enchanting. She has followed it with Bound in Moonlight, a collection of three stories, or novellas, which resemble a set of Russian wooden dolls, each containing a smaller doll down to the tiniest in the center. Each story takes place in a different historical period and each is referred to in a later story. In fact, the sexual imagery of objects hidden in other objects recurs throughout the book.

In a letter to her devoted French lover in 1922, a fictional American woman admits that she is the anonymous author of a scandalous novel published in 1903:

"Suffice it to say that “Emmeline's Emancipation” is something of a roman a clef. Which is to say, the events described in that book actually happened, more or less. I changed the names of everyone involved, of course, and altered some details to make it more entertaining and more difficult to identify me as the author. The most major change is the setting. It didn't take place in Scotland. It was a castle in France called Chateau de la Grotte Cachee."

The Castle of the Hidden Grotto, as it is called in English, seems to have been built in ancient times (at least in its original form) over a vaginal cave, which is a pipeline to inexhaustible sexual energy. Grotte Cachee resembles various real-world sites believed to be sacred because they are built over natural energy centers. The chateau is the "real" setting for each of the stories in this collection, and everyone who accepts an invitation to visit the place falls under its spell.

Snippets of "Emmeline’s Emancipation" are included with the author’s explanation of what “really” happened when she arrived, as a naïve American heiress hoping to meet up with her titled English fiancé, and found him busily enjoying two women at once. In the discovery scene, the fiancé is not at all apologetic, and he warns “Emmeline” that if she breaks their engagement and cheats him out of the immense dowry promised by her father, he will make sure that she never gets another proposal from anyone who “matters.” To top off his arrogance, the fiancé makes fun of “Emmeline’s” large picture hat, which looked like a fashion statement when she put it on, but which has been drenched by rain before her arrival at the chateau.

Years later, “Emmeline” recounts how she was rescued from emotional devastation by a seductive man who seemed to be a permanent resident of the place, and who showed as much interest in her pleasure as in his own. She was “liberated” from an Edwardian double standard and from the cold-blooded convention of marriage as a financial transaction. As a worldly-wise middle-aged woman in the 1920s, “Emmeline” is proud that she has never been bought or sold in marriage.

Ironically, the successful author’s French lover has proposed to her, and he is the man who matters most to her. Her letters to him while she recovers from a skiing accident show one side of a playful debate about how a man and a woman can best maintain an honest, satisfying relationship.

The middle story, “Slave Week,” is prefaced by a quoted passage from “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” by Lord Byron (circa 1812), and it is set against a background of the Napoleonic Wars. It shows the desperation of a proud young woman who is left with no respectable means of supporting herself, and her situation is both melodramatic and believable. The reader is reminded that “ruined” maidens were regularly fished out of rivers in that time, and that their fate was usually blamed on themselves. Financial considerations are unavoidable, and Caroline, our heroine, is eventually rescued from death, shame and starvation, but there are enough twists in the plot to prevent the story from being a conventional romance. During a secret week of debauchery at Grotte Cachee, Caroline is enlightened in several ways, and so is the gentleman who both rescues and torments her.

This story is the darkest and most gripping piece in the book. The two central characters both have depth, and they have both suffered from outrageous fortune before they meet. Cliff-hanging suspense is provided by the likelihood that these two people would rather continue to nurse their wounds in secret than surrender to love. The BDSM activities are not unusual (for modern readers of erotica), but the sex is emotionally intense.

The last story, “Magic Hour,” is bittersweet. It is set in current times, but it shows that hereditary roles and a sense of responsibility can still prevent a young man and a young woman from following their hearts. Isabel, a young innocent, somewhat like the Emmeline of yesteryear (and who seems to be named for a character in a novel by Henry James), stumbles onto the set of a porn movie version of Emmeline’s Emancipation, being filmed at Grotte Cachee. One of the stars is described as “Brigitte Bardot meets Edith Wharton.” Isabel is amused, but she is more interested in her childhood friend, the young lord of the castle who inherited the title of Seigneur on the death of his parents. Now that both of them are adults, he shares some of the secrets of the place with her, including the reason why he can never run away with her and why certain things happen as they do.

All three stories are elegantly written, and they give an impression of being just a sampling of the rich history of Grotte Cachee. The sex tends to be heterosexual, aside from a few couplings glimpsed on the sidelines and the existence of a being who seems able to change genders at will.

The charm of these stories is in the conception of sexual fantasy as an exclusive, luxurious and timeless place to which the author has given each of us an engraved invitation. Presumably, the kinds of sex that happen there are limited only by the imaginations of the visitors. This reader hopes that the energy of Grotte Cachee will inspire the author to continue the series.

Broadly BoundBroadly Bound
By: Beth Wylde
Contributions By: Syd McGinley, D.L. King, Kathleen Bradean, Cassandra Gold
July 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Those who remember the American TV sit-com named "Cheers" know the appeal of a home-away-from-home "where everybody knows your name." It’s a place where the regulars provide a comforting sense of familiarity and new customers prevent the series from growing stale. A bar, a nightclub, an apartment building or a hotel as the physical embodiment of a community or a "scene" as well as a unifying device for a series of episodes is not a new concept, but there are so many possible variations on this device that it still has charm.

In Broadly Bound, a new club named Broad Horizons is launched by its anxious owner, a lesbian Domme named Dani, who worries about losing her submissive femme girlfriend Maryanne because the club (like many new businesses) has taken over Dani's life, forcing everything else, including her relationship, into second place.

The first story in the collection, "Broadening Our Horizons" by Beth Wylde, introduces us to Dani and Maryanne, who have poured all their hope and all their money into this new venture, which is meant to be a home for the intersection of the queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or genderqueer) and BDSM (bondage/discipline/sadomasochistic, Dominant/submissive/fetish) communities in a town which might not be large enough to support it. In the culture of a medium-sized town in the eastern U.S., many members of sexual minorities can't afford to be "out" in public, and therefore they are hard to count. Dani must take it on faith that if she builds a place for them, they will come (in every sense). If they don't, she will be metaphorically screwed.

Dani's anxiety and Maryanne's touching faith in her seem characteristic of the general mood in a time of Recession as well as repression. In fact, the risk that they both take by investing in the club seems more extreme than the sex scene in which Dani shows Maryanne that she hasn't lost her sexual focus. Part of the risk they take involves the private invitations that Dani sends out to her friends for her opening night. No one without an invitation will be allowed in, and this way Dani can assure her “people” that they are in a safe space. Since the reader gets to enter the club on opening night, each of us is presumably one of the chosen.

The next story, "The Leash Has Two Ends," by Syd McGinley, is a study of another same-sex couple with realistic, contemporary baggage. Jake is a Dom by nature, but he has been disabled in war, and his damaged hand is more of a psychological disability than a physical one. Matt is submissive, but he is also Jake's landlord, and he has the challenging job of trying to restore Jake's faith in himself. The Grand Opening of Broad Horizons seems like a golden opportunity to Matt, if only he can persuade Jake to go. The author’s portrait of Jake as a man who is still attractive but shaken by self-doubt and a sense of failure looks like a realistic response to all the stereotyped military hunks in gay men’s erotica.

In D.L. King’s “Family,” that word has layers of meaning. At the heart of the household in the story is Ali, a Domme who lives with her submissive “wife” Glenda, a professional cook. Their “girl,” Missy, is a tattoo artist who dresses like a bratty goth schoolgirl. Their “boy,” Matt, does cleaning and odd jobs. Although Matt is good at his job, there is really no sexual role for him in the household, since he likes to bottom for male Daddies. The reader is told that Matt had to apply for the job, and was chosen over numerous other applicants who were clearly unsuitable, mostly because they were more interested in getting their own desires met than in what they could contribute. What makes Matt tick? He clearly enjoys being of service, and he might have been looking for the peace that can come from being removed from sexual temptation. Yet Ali, as the head of the household, has a responsibility for him.

Opening Night at Broad Horizons is the perfect occasion for play in various forms. Ali reserves a private room for her “family,” including Matt and two other men. An opening needs to be filled, so to speak, and the right person to fill it shows up. In this story, three different concepts of a non-biological “family” are neatly conflated, since the characters in this story are a group of friends, a group of friends with queer identities, and a group of queer friends for whom Dominance and submission are essential.

Kathleen Bradean’s “Opening Night” focuses on a pair of performance artists, the submissive femme Carrie, who tells the story, and the androgynous Zell, who demonstrates shibari (Japanese rope bondage) on Carrie, the model, for the crowd at Broad Horizons. The relationship between the two performers is intimate in a sense, since it involves trust and co-operation, but Carrie wants a more personal relationship with Zell, and she is not sure Zell wants the same thing. Here the author explores the complex relationship between life and art, or reality and fantasy, as well as the social ambiguity of a relationship between a “lesbian” and a person who is not female-identified.

Carrie tends to arrive late for rehearsals for reasons she herself doesn’t seem completely aware of. She is afraid that Zell might notice her sexual reactions to Zell’s touch and guess how Carrie feels about hir [the gender-neutral pronoun used in the story]. She is also afraid that Zell doesn’t return the feeling. Zell’s gender ambiguity seems like part of the impenetrable mask of a competent Dom, and on some level, Carrie wants to provoke a spontaneous reaction from hir. By the end of the story, the two performers have reached a new understanding, and they share their news with the crowd.

At first glance, “Trust” by Cassandra Gold has nothing to do with Broad Horizons or BDSM in general, and everything to do with clashing expectations in a gay-male relationship. Zach is attractive enough to attract men wherever he goes in the line of duty as a dedicated cop. His current fling, Lane, is satisfied with the sex but not with Zach’s refusal to let anyone get to know him well, which he can always justify on grounds that police work is confidential. Can this relationship be saved? Apparently not, as the reader discovers when Zach rushes to see Lane after spending six weeks cracking a case. Zach assumes that the weeks of silence from him have not changed Lane’s feelings, and that Lane will immediately fall into bed with him. Instead, Lane offers a cup of coffee and a chance to talk. When Zach refuses to discuss his feelings, Lane tells him gently that he can’t accept a relationship on those terms, and breaks it off.

Zach realizes that he no longer wants to flit from one man to the next, and that Lane is the best he ever found. He wants to win him back, but doesn’t know how until he visits his helpful younger sister (the go-between who introduced the two men in the first place) for advice. Luckily, Zach is still on speaking terms with his ex, Marty, who has a current boyfriend. And these two men received an invitation to opening night at Broad Horizons. When the invitation eventually reaches Lane, it is several times removed from the person for whom it was intended. Lane is intrigued but distrustful; why on earth would the man he rejected invite him to a BDSM club when BDSM was never part of their relationship?

The reader can guess that the two men will meet up again on opening night, and that something between them will be resolved. An unusual BDSM initiation takes place, and the risk-taking on both sides turns out to be worthwhile.

The sex is these stories is hot and consistent with the plots and the personalities involved. A mood of generous good humor prevails, regardless of how many hands and other implements land on how many bottoms. Although in some ways, Broad Horizons seems too good a place to be real, a sense of community is conveyed by the real-life teamwork of the five authors.

Paradoxically, the BDSM in this collection transcends gender, but it can enhance the “queerness” of same-gender relationships, loosely speaking. And the reader, regardless of sexual plumbing or sexual orientation, is welcome to join in. You won’t regret it.

Chairman of the WhoredChairman of the Whored
By: Lucy V. Morgan
Lyrical Press
ISBN: B007A2N2E2
February 2012

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Why would a promising solicitor moonlight as a whore?

I made up a dozen sob stories. None of them were really true. Suffice it to say, the
parents who paid for the education that brought me here--nearing the end of my training at a rather swanky firm, if I say so myself--could never afford it. I could have let the bank take their
house and their lives, if I'd been that kind of girl.

I wasn’t.

Novels that deal with the sex trade tend to be melodramatic. Prostitution is described as a trap from which an essentially innocent heroine needs to be rescued by the man who loves her (the plot of La Dame Aux Camellias), or it is described as the ultimate kink (The Happy Hooker).

This erotic romance with the groan-worthy title avoids the usual clichés while presenting a very traditional triangle: the first-person heroine, Leila, is discovered moonlighting as an upscale escort by her dangerous Alpha Male boss and her brotherly co-worker. Once her secret is out, the boss uses it to secure power over her, while Matt the co-worker offers her a more honest and considerate kind of love.  Leila is tempted by each of them in turn. She confides in her best friend Clemmie and her other co-worker (in an escort agency run by a gay man), the flirtatious, bisexual Aidan, and they give her insightful feedback.

Leila, who could have been shown simply as confused or weak-willed, is realistically complex. She is generous enough to save her parents’ business (holiday cottages for rent in an idyllic setting) and to appreciate the various good qualities of her friends, who honestly wish her well. She enjoys tax law as well as the theatricality of sex scenes with Aidan, performed for a paying audience.

Although Leila’s dilemma (private humiliation from the boss vs. good-natured teasing from Matt, his brother and his mates in a rock band and a rugby team) is one of the staples of romance as a genre, the mix of lifestyles and personality types is unusually well-described. Leila has a history and a believable life in southern England. Even specific references to such things as VAT (Value Added Tax, which Leila and her fellow-solicitors must calculate) give the novel realistic texture instead of alienating non-British readers.

Of course, there is self-consciously witty dialogue between Leila and the colourful secondary characters. (Think of Sex and the City with a different set of accents). Groan. But then, Leila herself groans and apologizes, as though to suggest that she is really a literary heroine trapped in a lightweight, popular genre.

There are a lot of sex scenes, and they are predictably varied (mostly het and vanilla with spice notes of menage, lesbian and mild bondage). The sex is well-described, and the imagery creates powerful motifs that run through the whole book: the smell of lilac as a comforting but overwhelming reminder of the setting of Leila’s childhood, and the metaphorical knives that divide Leila the solicitor from her alter ego, Charlotte the whore. The references to cutting and emotional pain reach a climax in a sex scene which is chilling but restrained, poetic and hypnotic.

This novel seems intended to be the first in a series; not all the loose ends are tied up by the end of this one. The author knows how to structure a novel, and how to involve a reader in the lives of her characters. The complications introduced in this book are worth following in the sequel.

Chaos MagicChaos Magic
By: Jay Lygon
Torquere Press
ISBN: 1603703691
April, 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

The Magic of Household Gods

The title of this gay-male BDSM romance or parable of sexual magic in the City of Angels is misleading. It is more about patterns than about chaos. The adorable young bottom who tells the tale has a plan for his life, and the minor deities that he has willed into being (the Goddess of Traffic, the Goddess of Negotiation and the God of Computers) have their own plans. The author's plan is the best of all.

Sam, who appears to be a SAM (Smart Ass Masochist), opens a psychic door to something new by literally praying for a new Daddy to appear in his life. This request is unusual for him, as he explains:

"See, to the Gods, most prayer was like the buzz of a hungry mosquito in a dark room late at night . . . Knowing that, I worshipped my Gods, but rarely prayed for anything. When I knelt before their altars and offered sacrifices, selfless adoration flowed off my soul much the same as when I gave my body to a Master. It was an incredible high to bow that low.

"Boundless faith, bottomless misery, and sheer desperation -- the holy trinity of prayer."

Sam reluctantly goes to the bar with his concerned friends, who want to help him get over his last relationship with a man who is very bad news. Unfortunately, Marcus the ex-Master is stalking Sam, and often appears in places where Sam has gone to escape from him.

Sam bolts out of the bar and into the arms of Hector, a mature and reputable dominant as well as a successful salesman of oil-rig equipment. Hector has no interest in tricks of any kind. Despite his frequent out-of-town trips, he wants to get to know Sam step by step, in an old-fashioned courtship that suggests the traditions of his Mexican ancestors. Hector even lives in the house of his dead grandmother, who appears as a ghost to Sam and his family of protective spirits.

On their first date, Sam expresses surprise that the oil-drilling business provides Hector with a good living in Los Angeles. Sam was raised in an eccentric family of pagan farmers in Oklahoma, and he is not familiar with all aspects of his adopted city. Hector explains it to him:

"Los Angeles is like sedimentary rock -- layers applied over each other and compressed together. One layer is entertainment industry, another is agriculture, oil, aerospace, fashion, meat packaging -- name the industry and it's here somewhere you've driven past a million times and never noticed."

This description of the local setting suggests the complexity of a plot that combines romance, hot BDSM, psychological realism and the paranormal. L.A. (or El Lay, as it has been called) is described as a place where anything can happen.

When showing his altar to Hector, Sam explains his religion:

"Gods aren't immortal. They don't live much longer than humans do. Every time a god spirit is reborn in the cycle, the Dewey Clan [Sam's family] stands ready to worship the new deity. That doesn't mean we have to though, except that Mom would scalp me if I didn't worship the family Gods. So I have altars for the God of Agriculture, the God of Weather, and of course, Mama Fertility, even though I don't farm."

Sam goes on:

"The minor deities share [an altar]. I'm never sure if those nameless ones are old gods clinging to life or new gods without much of a power base: the God of Exact Change, the Goddess of Please Let My Period Start... Think of how many prayers rise from human lips in the average day. People don't mind asking for help, but then they refuse to believe in their own Gods. It's sad. A lot of minor deities end up in therapy. No amount of hand patting and 'it's them, not you' can give a God the strength to go on. Only worship, faith and the occasional bottle of Stoli can do that."

Thus the reader learns how closely Sam's spirituality is connected to his sexuality. As his guardian god-spirits tell him, his faith is strong enough to keep them alive and healthy, and therefore any favors they do for him are part of a power exchange, not one-sided acts of charity as he believes. Their hardest job is to get him to believe in himself.

Sam at first appears vain, restless and eager to connect with dominant men on a strictly physical basis. As his story unfolds, the reader learns how dangerous Marcus is and how much Sam is in denial about the harm that has been done to him and about his own paralyzing fear. As Sam has reason to know, hell hath no fury like a Master scorned.

At first, Hector looks like the anti-Marcus. He offers Sam a chance to reconnect with the soil by growing a garden while living in Hector's house. Hector points out several times that he could easily support Sam, whose writing job on the fringes of the movie business barely pays his bills. Hector appears protective, concerned and generous. Is he the ideal Daddy or a control freak? Sam wants to be loved, like all other human beings, but no one living in L.A. could be unaware that exchanging sex and other domestic services for material things is a business. As Sam explains to Hector, a real relationship between them can't be about money.

When Sam's protective deities magically create houses in Hector's neighborhood so they can live nearby and watch out for their boy, none of the local residents seem to notice anything unusual. Even with supernatural guardians, Sam can't always be safe in a city where everyone seems to ignore all the "layers" or dimensions of reality outside their own.

Hector's demon seems to be a fear of disloyalty. He has been wounded more than he will admit by two previous boys whom he loved but lost when he caught each of them with other lovers. Hector is determined not to let such a thing happen again. Unfortunately, Sam's first reaction to fear is to run away first and explain himself later, if at all. And Marcus knows the weaknesses of both Sam and Hector. His plan is to convince Hector that Sam is too fickle to trust and to convince Sam that there is no alternative to a life of submission based on fear.

For awhile, Sam's relationship with Hector seems headed for disaster as surely as the plot of a Greek tragedy. Even when Sam realizes that Marcus is the God of Fear, it is hard for him to turn off the negative energy that has enabled the bully to grow larger than life. As the plot thickens, the reader becomes aware that this saga is a teaching story about the differences between loving, consensual BDSM and one-sided abuse and how easily one can slide into the other.

Does Marcus regain control of Sam's life? Does Hector learn to trust Sam? Does Sam learn to trust himself?

To discover how things work out, you have to read the book. Be warned, however: on the way to a conclusion, you are likely to be distracted by the hot sex scenes. Sam attracts everyone who sees him (even Mama Fertility, who wishes he were straight enough to mate with her), and he describes every blow job he gives and every spanking he gets. He even learns to accept sex in a form that always frightened him too much to enjoy before. As he and the reader learn, however, love and trust are the best forms of lubrication.

Crave: Tales of Lust, Love, and LongingCrave: Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing
By: Catherine Lundoff
Lethe Press
ISBN: 1590210336
April, 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Real and Unreal

"It began with small things," claims the nameless third-person narrator of "Kink," a story about a woman who seems to have a dull-grey life until a pair of spike-heeled leather shoes make her feel like "a woman no one could ignore." These shoes lead her to "the boots: full-length black leather ones that ran up her thighs." At first her boyfriend is intrigued until he realizes that the boots arouse her more than he does, and then he leaves. His absence leaves a hole in the woman's life, which is filled by an increasing leather wardrobe. She finds a leather bar and gets adopted by some of the "bears" (large, hairy men) who hang out in that urban den. The woman's quest for ecstasy shows a momentum, which could lead her to heaven or to hell -- or to one, then the other. Eventually, her new life in the bar leads her to a biker dyke who understands her fetish and who gives her the satisfaction she has been seeking.

Most of the fifteen stories in this collection begin with small things and escalate quickly until each lesbian central character reaches nirvana, enlightenment, disillusionment or death. It is hard for a reader to guess at first where desire will lead. "Be careful what you wish for" seems to be one of the themes of this collection.

So many of the author’s stories (not only in this book but in various anthologies and in her earlier collection, Night’s Kiss) feature magic and the supernatural that even her more realistic plots seem to shimmer with a pinch of fairy dust. In “Anonymous," a woman receives text-messages from an unknown admirer who encourages her to put on an impromptu sex show in front of her window. In this retelling of the ancient myth of Eros and Psyche, the narrator considers making an effort to discover the identity of her mystery voyeur, but then decides against it. She thinks: "Sometimes not knowing is the best part." The excitement of the unknown is so convincingly described that the reader tends to agree with the narrator.

The realistic stories in this collection could be considered tribal, since they all sound like anecdotes that are passed around in lesbian communities: the myths of lesbian culture. For readers who are unfamiliar with such stories, they are likely to seem like visits to a foreign country. For lesbian readers, these stories shed light on situations we have all heard of, but which we might not have analyzed in the same ways.

When the author is not exploring the strangeness of the real world, she explores the strangeness of the strange. “Spec fic,” as it is broadly defined, is this author’s forte, and the most imaginative stories in the collection are this reviewer’s favorites.

Lundoff reworks the conventions of sword-and-sorcery, of international spy capers, of Westerns, of romance featuring shapeshifters, and of sci-fi, providing a smorgasbord of styles and plots. In the fantasy realms of these stories, women play all the roles which have traditionally been played by men. For some readers, of course, that is the major appeal of a collection of lesbian stories.

While the author’s command of various genres is clear throughout the book, the emotional tone of these stories varies enormously. Some of them seem like witty spoofs of literature set in male-dominated cultures. Other paranormal stories in this collection are more genuinely poignant, suspenseful or eerie. All of them center on the mysteries of desire, not only for sex as a quick release.

The one werewolf story is named “Leader of the Pack.” This title, apparently a reference to a rock song of the 1960s about a Romeo-and-Juliet relationship which ends tragically, reminds the reader that the author is influenced by popular culture as well as by literature. This reviewer was also reminded of a witty werewolf story which appeared when Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes was a bestseller in the early 1990s.

In Lundoff’s version, the “leader” is a female werewolf in the old West who serves as the town sheriff by day and leads a pack of wolves (some of whom seem to be real wolves) by night. In true canine tradition, the leader dominates the pack, including her devoted submissive lover, a waitress in town whom she turned into a werewolf with a love-bite. Like very closeted leatherdykes in a hostile environment, the two female werewolves are in danger of being exposed and killed by human males. The climax of this story is as dramatic as the climax of the rock song by the same name. This story is entertaining, but its cultural references make it hard to take seriously.

The tongue-in-cheek quality of the werewolf story also appears in the fairy-tale takeoff, “The Hands of a Princess.” The hands of the title are not dainty and deft with an embroidery needle, as one might expect, but large, competent and legendary as lesbian sex organs. The princess’ mother, the Queen, had similar hands and a similar reputation among her servants and bodyguards. Will the princess really enter a diplomatic marriage with the man who was chosen for her? Or will she subvert an official tradition in order to continue enjoying “personal services” from the women who serve her? The answer is not hard to guess.

The title “Medusa’s Touch” is misleading, since it seems to refer to the Greek myth of Medusa, the snake-haired monster who turns men to stone. The story by that name, however, contains no magical man-hating dykes. The “medusas” are hair-like wires that are embedded in the brains of space pilots, who can use them to fly spacecraft by their thoughts alone. The author is a computer specialist, and the technology in this story could be seen as a more exciting version of the kind she deals with in the real world. In the story, an amoral dyke pilot-for-hire explains with a leer that the medusas can be used for more than official work. As in other space operas, the central characters must survive by their wits during the Corporate Wars.

A more obvious spoof of spy stories is “The Old Spies Club,” in which the repeated attempts of the two central characters to take each other out of the game is their version of flirting. Loathe to give it up when they reach retirement, a group of them have set up the club of the title.

Arguably the darkest and most gripping of these stories is “Emily Says,” which was previously published in an anthology of literary erotica. Emily is an invisible, irresistible lover who continually distracts the narrator from caring that her relationship with an actual woman (who has human limits) is quickly going downhill along with her life. Like a stranger picked up in a bar, Emily has no last name and no personal history that she is willing to reveal, but the narrator is unable to hang onto her sensible reservations in the face of overwhelming pleasure. The real-life girlfriend’s anguish is palpable.

“By the Winding Mere,” which reads like a prose ballad, conveys the flavor of oral history. The narrator is the daughter of a family of warriors, the only survivor of a battle over coveted territory with a rival clan. The battle-maiden must seek the witch who can heal her if she wishes to live, but she is very conscious of her duty to avenge her male relatives, who lie unburied until she can return to them. The witch, however, has an alternative value system, and she challenges the narrator’s concept of “honor” much like a pacifist feminist confronting a military dyke. Is it really honorable to kill and risk being killed? Is there no better way for a strong woman to avenge her slaughtered kin than by shedding more blood? The narrator herself has no answer for those questions, but she vows to find one.

The final story, “An Evening in Esteli,” raises similar political questions in the realistic context of Nicaragua in 1988, where an international swarm of leftist volunteers have come to support the popular regime. In an atmosphere of hope, solidarity and risk, a lesbian volunteer from New York is fascinated by a multiracial, multicultural woman journalist who grew up in “the States and Spain” and has lived in “many other countries.” A wall mural showing women coffee pickers with hopeful expressions serves as an icon for the New Yorker, who hopes that her relationship with the glamorous woman-of-the-world can also ripen and bear fruit.

In general, this collection shows a remarkable range. All the stories contain sexual heat in various degrees, but following the trajectory of each plot to find out what happens next is such a pleasure in itself that using these stories simply as masturbation material would be to miss out on the distinct appeal of each one. This book is highly recommended, and would make a good gift for any fan of lesbian erotica.

Crimson Succubus: The Demon ChroniclesCrimson Succubus: The Demon Chronicles
By: Carmine
Logical Lust
ISBN: 1905091109
February 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This collection of succulent mini-stories started appearing in 2001 as isolated pieces posted to the Erotica Readers and Writers Association list and to other on-line sites including the website of Logical Lust, the small press which eventually collected and published them in paperback form. Most of these stories are flash fiction: 100 words at most. These are suggestive without including much sexual description, and they prepare the reader for the longer, more diabolically explicit tales.

The central character, depicted on the cover in the style of a vintage horror movie, is described in the forward: 

“One of the lesser-known angels to fall with Lucifer at the climax of the battle between heaven and hell, Crimson Succubus imbues wanton desire without measure.”

Crimson Succubus actually seems to be every female demon in Judeo-Christian mythology. She is described as a daughter of Lilith, first wife of Adam, the first man. According to unorthodox Biblical sources, Lilith rebelled against her husband by refusing to “lie beneath” him, whereupon a patriarchal God banished her to the outer regions and replaced her with the more submissive Eve. Crimson Succubus, daughter of Lilith, is also identified as the Scarlet Whore of Babylon.

These stories about the shapeshifting demon, who appears in her “true form” as a black-haired, red-skinned woman with leathery wings, a forked tongue and a snake-like tail, look like bawdy teaching stories from the distant past. Passages like this help establish the atmosphere:

“Father Matthias wakened before dawn and stared at the moldering wall across from his bed. Upon the rancid plaster writhed an amalgamation of deformed creatures engaged in infinite forms of debauchery.”

As a reader who lived in cheap apartments in my youth, I can attest that “rancid plaster” can actually give this impression, especially when the tenant has been drinking too much.

Unfortunately, the author’s use of formal, archaic language doesn’t always work like a charm. Introducing Crimson Succubus in a structured poem (“To the Devil, a Daughter”) was a good idea, but authors with no sense of rhythm probably shouldn’t try to seduce their readers with song lyrics. Here is some evidence, with my comments:

Come here, my darling
And sit by our fire
Set free inhibition,
let loose your desire
Feel how the flames burst
[ooh – the catchy dactylic beat of the first four lines is slipping]
within this tenebrous pyre [and now it is totally lost]
Savor each struggling ember [apparently the author is trying to recover the beat here]
Climbing higher and higher [too little, too late].

“Struggling” seems to be a key word in this stanza. While the concept of a potentially endless saga about an immortal sex-demon seems promising, there are both technical and philosophical problems in the way her history is presented.

Most of the characters who interact with Crimson Succubus as adversaries or victims of seduction (or both) seem too obscure to be recognized by readers in a secular age, and they are not explained in footnotes or an index. A bigger problem, at least for me, has to do with the world-view from which a succubus could be born, or hatched. Do 21st-century readers share the dread of sexual sin and damnation which plagued our ancestors? Do we regard women with wills of their own as evil incarnate? (Well yes, patriarchal thinking is often impervious to common sense.) Are we supposed to find Crimson Succubus weird, horrifying, fascinating or campy? The author’s intentions don’t seem clear enough.

Like real “chronicles” of ancient or mythical worlds, these pieces are episodic and disjointed. Gaps and contradictions are characteristic of old literature which has been rediscovered, so the very thing that frustrates a reader’s desire for a coherent story also contributes to the period flavor of the collection.

Maybe the inconsistency of this collection is only a problem for curious readers like me. The stories are appealing as individual fantasies about a kind of archetypal Mistress or supernatural Domme. If they are read as BDSM scenarios, it needn’t matter very much that Crimson Succubus is not always on top, or that her desire to give and receive pain as well as pleasure sometimes makes it hard to distinguish winners from losers in her perpetual war of wills with other beings, male and female.

Here Crimson Succubus has a lesbian encounter with one of her enemies:

Seal of Solomon

 Demon-huntress Mytoessa stepped into the dark chamber, her shimmering blade at the ready. Along the obsidian-like floor writhed a young woman whose hands tugged at strawberry nipples while dawn’s dew painted her crescent-shaped cleft.

 Mytoessa’s mouth and slit watered. She dropped the blade and stepped into the woman’s sphere. She was accepted and both drank deep from each other’s honey-filled well. “You are mine,” Crimson Succubus said as her flesh turned sanguine. “I did not think you could be so easily fooled.”

“Seen from above, we form a hexagram.” Mytoessa grinned as she licked. “It is you who are trapped.”

Crimson Succubus seems more clearly dominant in her relationship with the Countess of Bathory, legendary vampire. After being seduced by the succubus in the form of a maidservant named Ruby, the Countess writes her own epitaph:

“Beauty is to reflection
As blood is to dust;
The minion is Beth Bathory;
The mistress, Crimson Succubus.”

In another story, Crimson Succubus invades a hidden temple devoted to “forbidden arts” where a Japanese “Master of ropes” asks her what she wants. She answers: “Excruciating pain, Master.” He strips her naked and uses elaborate rope bondage to turn her into an “ikebana,” a flower arrangement, suspended from the ceiling.

The succubus complains, “This is nothing!”

The Master explains: “You shall give pleasure to all my guests, for every night I shall hold a sumptuous repast in this very room. Their eyes shall gaze upon you, a thing of beauty. Ah, a true ikebana. Is this not a demon’s pain?”

Crimson Succubus sees his point, and lets “euphoria” pierce her heart.

One of the most memorable characters in the book is Shanna the hermaphrodite, who works in a whorehouse run by Crimson Succubus and performs as a human pony at Sanguine, the succubus’ “most exquisite residence.” Shanna has “full breasts,” “luscious hips,” and “eight inches of thick, round meat.” Crimson Succubus uses her as a tool to debauch those who can’t resist Shanna’s versatile charms.

Another sex worker whose life is changed by Crimson Succubus is the tragic Lupita Morales:

“Five years ago, Lupita was a senior in high school, active mostly in theater and cheerleading. She had wanted to become an actress, and upon graduation, she drove an old Volkswagen bus to Hollywood, which two years later spit her out like a rotten tooth. Then she worked as a waitress and later helped out at a warehouse, where she met Doug Stone. He introduced her to the lucrative world of pornography and prostitution.”

Some time after Lupita is disfigured by a disappointed john, Crimson Succubus offers to erase her scar and the signs of wear that have decreased Lupita’s market value. The succubus tells her:

“A whore requires beauty, not dignity. Relinquish the latter and embrace the sins of vanity, lust and sloth. Forsake the dust, for you are made of filth and sediment, much like the sister that imbues those who forsake the second one, who many call Eve.”

It seems unlikely that Lupita would understand such unclear advice. Nonetheless, she responds by screaming to her reflection in a cracked mirror that she is a whore. She accepts the skin-deep beauty offered by the succubus as well as the material rewards it brings. What happens to Lupita as a result ranks with the most extreme and unbelievable expressions of cruelty in the works of the Marquis de Sade.

As one who knows that prostitution has always been a default career for women who have lost their dreams one way or another, I was nauseated and confused. Are we meant to see Crimson Succubus as the ultimate “Scarlet Woman” (whore) and role model for all mortal whores, or as the ultimate sadistic vice cop? Or is Lupita’s grim story, like Countess Bathory’s epitaph, meant to suggest the illusory nature of whatever is physically desired? Is “Carmine,” the mysterious author, a disappointed john, a cynic, a lapsed Catholic, a fan of black comedy, or a woman trapped in a conventional life?

Some fans of BDSM fantasy can probably enjoy the adventures of Crimson Succubus without needing answers to any of these questions. As a thinking reviewer, however, I can’t help thinking that the colorful demon sometimes seems like the embodiment of ancient religious prejudices which have never deserved to be taken seriously. 

In any case, this book is food for both the intellectual and the sensation-seeking reader. Read it, and judge for yourself.

Crossdressing: Erotic StoriesCrossdressing: Erotic Stories
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Contributions By: with a forward by Veronica Vera
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573442887
August, 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Sexy outfits are an important element in much modern erotica, especially in stories that focus on fetishes. Leather and lace abound in that genre, and they have been named in book and song titles. (Readers of a certain age could probably hum along with me.) So does Rachel Kramer Bussel's latest clothing anthology unpack the same old wardrobe of push-up bras, thongs, tight pants and stilettos? Not exactly.

This collection of "crossdressing" stories is really more about gender-based role-playing than about clothing as such. The power of the clothes in these stories to make characters think, feel and behave differently than they usually do recalls stories about enchanted garments such as Cinderella's ball gown conjured out of spider webs by her fairy godmother, the "sorting hat" in the Harry Potter novels, cloaks that make their wearers invisible and battle-wear that makes them invulnerable. "Crossdressing" as defined in this anthology is a traditional concept, based as it is on the notion that men and women live differently, and that dressing as a member of the "other" gender is akin to shapeshifting. This book is about the deeply erotic implications of "drag."

Stories about males dressed as glamorous women could be expected in this book, but there are less predictable scenarios here as well. Despite the revolution in women's fashion which has made it acceptable for women to go almost anywhere in pants (trousers) and every other item of dress formerly reserved for men, the women in these stories who deliberately dress "as men" for specific purposes find that the experience changes their consciousness as well as their image. In Elspeth Potter's fantasy story, "The Princess on the Rock," the hero who comes to rescue the princess from a fearsome sea-monster is a woman dressed in the garb of a fairy tale soldier-of-fortune. Needless to say, the hero gets the girl, especially since making her less "pure" (and thus attractive to the monster) is part of the rescue strategy.

Several of these stories play with the notion that a relatively butch woman (especially a dyke) who puts on feminine dress is in "drag." In Andrea Miller's story, "Tori's Secret" (reprinted from Best Lesbian Erotica 2006), the narrator carries out an elaborate revenge scheme by pretending that she has always been a butch in disguise in order to outdo her ex-lover in the art of casual seduction. In "Tough Enough to Wear a Dress," by Teresa Noelle Roberts, a lesbian progresses from being a closeted teenager in a ruffled 1980s prom dress to "coming out" in college in leather and ragged denim to dressing up in a custom-made man-tailored suit to going out on a hot date in an ultimate gender-bending ensemble.

In the daring "Beefeater," by Lisabet Sarai, a heterosexual English girl fulfills her lifelong desire to wear the historic uniform of her uncle, a Yeoman of the Guard, by promising to give her cousin Phil the sex he wants in exchange for his help. The invasion of Uncle Geoff's closet for several illicit purposes excites both young lovers to fever pitch.

The stories about men who dress in feminine frills range from light and sunny (Rachel Kramer Bussel's "A Cute Idea," in which a young man agrees to wear his girlfriend's silky underwear) to poignant ("Higher and Higher" by T. Hitman, in which a frustrated man in a dead-end job and similar marriage finds the "dudette" of his dreams) to tragic ("The Sweetheart of Sigma Queer" by Simon Sheppard, in which a crossdressing young gay man is sexually used by a succession of men who regard him as a joke).

The theme of sneaking into forbidden places wearing "inappropriate" garb continues in stories about men, since "women's" clothing is generally more taboo for men than vice versa. In "More Than Meets the Eye" by Stephen Albrow, a businessman loves wearing women's lingerie under a suit. After defeating his corporate rival in a ruthless takeover bid, the character shows his alter ego, "Suzy", by taking off his masculine business armor in the men's lavatory, where the rival is allowed to "win" sexually.

In "Down the Basement" by Ryan Field, the narrator explains:

"One Halloween night during my senior year in college, I went to a costume party in a broken-down frat house, dressed as a character I'd been inventing for months--years, if you really want to get technical. I looked like any normal guy in college by then: short, sandy blond hair, blue eyes, white polo shirts, and khaki slacks . . Most people would never have guessed that I was gay or that I had a secret passion for lipstick, earrings and very high heels."

The narrator is invited to descend literally into an underworld of drunken frat boys who all seem to think he is a sexually-available girl. He worries about what they will do if and when they discover the truth, but one of them already knows.

Several of the stories deal with complex currents of lust among three or more characters, both crossdressers and their significant others. In a story about another Halloween party, two heterosexual couples explore their gender-variant sides when a husband and a wife change genders for the evening. Helen Boyd, the author of this story, also wrote two autobiographical books (My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married) about her crossdressing husband.

Several stories deal sensitively with the fear and hostility shown by characters whose sense of sexual identity is shaken by a partner's fantasy or by the attractiveness of a fellow-partier in drag. In the final story in the collection, "Some Things Never Change," a lesbian in Vancouver (the Canadian version of San Francisco), learns to accept the two spirits (butch and femme) in herself and in her girlfriend. Each persona has its own wardrobe, and both are equally valid. One of the themes of this anthology is the well-worn saying that before you can judge another person's actions, you must walk a mile in his/her shoes.

Throughout this collection, clothing is the tangible symbol and entrance-point into various states of mind and soul. These stories show that "drag" still has the power to shock the most sexually experienced observers, and to work magical transformations on everyone involved.

Curvy Girls: Erotica for WomenCurvy Girls: Erotica for Women
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Seal Press
ISBN: 1580054080
April 2012

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Who is “overweight?” Who is “plus-sized?” These loaded terms are more culturally-specific than many people seem to realize. This anthology contains no precise definition of “curvy,” but the fact that women’s clothing in Size 14 and up is usually only available in “plus-size” stores (at least in North America) neatly serves to divide women on the basis of size in much the same way that apartheid once divided people on the basis of skin colour.  Despite famous paintings of full-figured women and even famous centrefolds of the likes of Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, the current belief that gorgeous equals painfully thin seems to permeate Western culture.

This anthology not only aims to restore the self-esteem of “plus-sized” women, it aims to show why they are and always have been sexy. In these stories, fat-phobia is unpacked as a form of prejudice that is no more rational than racism or sexism. In fact, the equation of “overweight” with poor health is deliberately overturned on the first page of “Champagne and Cheesecake” by A.M. Hartnett: 

She called them her ‘victory tits.’

A whole year without smoking, and Sylvia had packed on thirty pounds, but she was no longer sorry for a single ounce of the blubber. In fact, now that she was staring at her reflection in the full-length mirror of the luxurious hotel room, she was feeling pretty good about the added girth.

Of course the hotel room where Sylvia has planned a tryst with two of her men friends is luxurious. Effective descriptions of sex, including scenes of mutual attraction and sexual tension, have always included delicious excess:  extravagant settings, luxury items, feasts, multiple partners, extreme sensations (including pain so intense that it transmutes into pleasure and vice versa), explosive orgasms. The message of this anthology that fat can be beautiful is consistent with the traditional exaggerations in much erotic fiction.

Several of these stories combine esthetic excess with references to past periods when the ideal woman was imagined as plumper than the models of today. In “Wenching” by Justine Elyot, Ginny is dressed as a peasant wench of the 13th century to serve at a medieval feast, where she meets her modern-day prince, and he explains to her why she should never feel ashamed of her body:

Think of all the words associated with a bit of extra flesh. Generous. Ample. Voluptuous. Bountiful. Beautiful, sensual words. Contrast them with their opposites. Mean. Insufficient. Meager. Miserly.

Ginny and her admirer sneak off to a hideaway where he shows her in the most convincing ways that he adores her generous flesh.

“Before the Autumn Queen” by Angela Caperton focuses on a nineteenth-century painting of “Autumn” as a majestic woman who seems to be offering herself to a lover. A modern-day male art-lover notices the resemblance of a woman who works in the art gallery to the painting that graces one of its walls. The resulting seduction seems like a threesome which involves the man, the woman, and the eerily life-like image.

Most of the couplings in these stories are heterosexual, and the man’s admiration for a woman with ample curves enables her to see herself through his eyes instead of through the self-punishing lens of the fat-phobic media.  Two of these stories (Hartnett’s “Cheesecake and Champagne” and “Appetite” by Elizabeth Coldwell) involve threesome scenes in which the woman shows her generosity and her appetite for pleasure by taking on two men. In at least one story (“Excuses”), the man-woman relationship is interracial, and the white man shows that he admires the beauty of a woman who is neither blonde nor skinny.

Three of these stories feature f/f sex between women who have defined themselves as lesbian for some time, and therefore their relationship with mainstream culture is different from that of women who have never lived anywhere else. In “Recognition” by Salome Wilde and Talon Rihai, two women exchange glances in an airport and recognize each other as having something important in common despite their differences in race, culture, occupation, relationship status and home city (one lives in Atlanta, one New York). Their brief hookup in the cramped space of a lavatory is not meant to be repeated, but it seems likely to affect them both for a long time. In “At Last” by Jessica Lennox, a pair of long-term friends finally act on the attraction which has been simmering for years. “What Girls Are Made Of” by Evan Mora is more of a prose-poem than a narrative, and it sings the praises of a “dapper butch woman with a little substance to her.” These stories encourage me to hope that lesbian culture will never adopt the degree of fat-phobia which causes too many heterosexual women to see their bodies as asexual and repulsive. 

The two male-Dominant BDSM stories, “Big Girls Do Cry” by Rachel Kramer Bussel and “Marked” by Isabelle Gray, make a necessary distinction between desire and contempt. In these stories, a man goes to extreme measures to take ownership of a curvy woman while assuring her that he is not punishing her for any “flaws” of body or character. 

The story which moved me the most, “In the Early Morning Light” by Kristina Wright, is told from the viewpoint of an exhausted mother of a newborn baby, not her first. The narrator dreads the thought of having to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs while she feels that her body is bloated and hideous. His gentle touch is miraculously effective at reawakening her old desire for him. By the end of the story, their relationship has shifted profoundly for the better.

While some of these stories are predictable, some challenge conventional assumptions with confidence and wit. In general, this is a collection of well-told tales that would especially appeal to women who have been bullied because of their size, and the ones who love them.

Disturbed by Her SongDisturbed by Her Song
By: Tanith Lee
Lethe Press
ISBN: 1590213114
August 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

If anyone here doesn’t recognize the name of Tanith Lee, she is a legend among fantasy writers and the author of over ninety novels. Her work has been attracting a cult following since the 1970s, when she sold her first book to DAW Press. Her tales are elaborate, but her words are as carefully chosen as precious jewels. Her eccentricities can be forgiven.

As an example of her quirks, she claims that this collection of stories was co-written by two other people. In “Meeting the Garbers,” Tanith Lee claims:

I first met the Garbers in the 1990s; that is, I met Esther [who then ‘wrote’ two books], and her brother, Judas. Anna didn’t turn up, though she subsequently sent me a polite and kindly note.

Why Anna chose to send the author a note instead of “turning up” is a mystery. None of the Garbers (two Jewish sisters and their half-Arabian half-brother, who spells the family name differently) is real. They are two or three alter egos of Tanith Lee.

All the stories in this book include same-sex relationships, so the use of several writing personae (including that of a gay man) serves the illusion that these stories are based on the direct experience of characters other than the author.

One theme that runs through this book is the contrast between youth and age, or between the chutzpah of the young and the world-weariness of those with more experience. In "Black-Eyed Susan," supposedly co-written by Esther Garber, young Esther goes to work as a maid in a shabbily genteel, nearly-empty hotel in a French town in winter. A silent woman with coal-black eyes can be seen walking down the corridors from time to time. Esther wonders if she is a ghost or simply an illusion, but comes to suspect that she is the younger spirit of an old woman who is part of the history of the hotel. In her prime, the dark-eyed woman was sexually attracted to women--like Esther. 

In "Alexandrians," Judas Garbah remembers his neglected childhood in Egypt, and the male friend of his mother who noticed him and explained something:

I'll teach you two new words. A woman who loves another woman is called for an island, Lesbos, a Lesbian. But a man who loves another man is called for Alexander, who was the son of a god, and loved men, and for his city by the sea, Alexandria. . . . Will you be an Alexandrian, Judas?

Judas was unable to answer that question at the time, but as an adult, he remembers this conversation and the tingling touch of the man who paid attention to him.

None of these stories includes explicit sex, but eroticism runs all through them, and desire is shown to be the stuff of life. Yearning for the body and the soul of another person is shown to be the thread that connects the present with the past as it offers a way to transcend each person’s essential isolation.

The title story, "Disturbed by Her Song," is the most haunting. Few writers could describe a one-sided crush at such length so movingly. Georgina, a minor singer/actress, first meets fellow-actress Sula Dale when both are in their twenties. Georgina is impressed with Sula's performance in a classical Greek play. Georgina tries to cultivate a friendship with her, but Sula doesn't respond. Over decades, Georgina dreams about Sula and wishes she could sing for her. After several unsuccessful relationships with other women, Georgina writes a play for Sula to star in. Sula is grateful for the work, but doesn't seem to remember meeting Georgina before.    

The key to the puzzle of this non-relationship is provided by an older man in the theatre world, someone Georgina respects. He tells a story within the story:

“Once upon a time,” Marc said to them. . . “there was a princess, outside whose high bedroom window a nightingale sang every night from a tree, a pomegranate, or perhaps a blossoming plum.

“While the nightingale sang, the princess slept deeply and well. . . However there came a night when the nightingale, for reasons of its own, did not sing but flew far away. In the morning the princess summoned a gardener and commanded that the tree be cut down. He protested, saying the tree was young, healthy and fruitful. But the princess would have none of that. She told him that all that one previous night a nightingale had perched in the tree, and her sleep had been very much disturbed by its song.”

The group of friends who hear this story in a restaurant discuss its meaning. Years later, Georgina remembers the conversation and realizes that she and Sula have each been a kind of absent presence for each other.

Tanith Lee's fiction always has the uncanny quality of dreams and fantasies, even when it seems to take place in the real world. She tells teaching stories whose lessons seem to hover somewhere just out of reach. If you haven't read her work before, you've been deprived. 

Enchanted Dreams: Erotic Tales of the SupernaturalEnchanted Dreams: Erotic Tales of the Supernatural
By: Nancy Madore
ISBN: 037360534X
September 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

The best paranormal or sexual fantasy stories transport the reader to an imaginary world which is parallel to this one: recognizable in some ways, completely exotic in others. Each of the seven stories in this diverse, single-author collection seems to be based on an intriguing premise and each includes sex scenes that really seem to take place in another dimension. However, not all the stories come equipped with the same amount of fuel, so to speak.

The thin line between "What an amazing setting/character/sex scene!" and "This is just too hokey" is drawn differently by different readers, depending on how long we can each suspend our disbelief. My own view of the world and my past experience of fantasy literature (I was raised on A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, Grimms' and Anderson's fairy tales) undoubtedly influence my responses.

The opening story in this book, "The Enchanted Forest," seems as beautifully heartbreaking (at least on first reading) as Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Match Girl," and for similar reasons. A fairly typical modern woman, seeking relief from stress, goes on a camping trip alone, and finds exactly what she has dreamed of: a natural environment that responds to her every wish and literally makes love to her.

Catherine, the heroine, is lovingly bound to a tree by sentient roots and branches. There follows a consensual assault by flowers (I kid you not) which resembles a scene from “The Nutcracker Suite:”

She peered down between her legs and noticed that each and every bloom, while brushing cross her trembling nether lips, cleverly turned its face toward them and thrust out its heavily coated stamens for a thoroughly intimate kiss that doused her with their nectar!

This is only the first round.

Catherine hears a high-pitched sound and sees a mist moving in the sky. When the “mist” approaches, she sees that it is a huge swarm of brilliantly-colored butterflies who have arrived to finish what the flowers started:

Catherine stared with wide, disbelieving eyes as they each, in turns, feasted on the banquet that had been so painstakingly spread out before them. Their activity tortured her in the most delightful way.

Remarkably, Catherine is able to survive on her own in the forest without any of the supplies she brought with her. Memories of her past life fade over time, and she feels no desire to contact anyone or return to a job or an apartment.

When she discovers something unexpected, the enchantment of the forest can be understood. Is this story about an afterlife? Read it and decide.

"Disenchantment" is a clever war-between-the-sexes story in which a woman tells her date, apparently a nice-enough guy, why men and women are not well suited to each other."'A woman's most fundamental need, at her core,’ explains Maryanne, ‘is to be desirable.'” She pauses for effect before explaining that everything men do after they have had sex with a woman for the first time “’is designed to diminish her belief that she is desirable.’” Maryanne sums up: “’I think it is an unconscious effort to ultimately destroy her desirability to other men.'" 

The man takes her explanation as a challenge and decides to prove her wrong. Will he be attentive to her for the rest of his life? Is his attentiveness a sign that he is truly in love or that he is trying to prove her wrong? Although the sex between them is completely mutual and romantic in its way, the two characters are clearly fighting a duel.

The conclusion of this story is as brutal as the woman's theory. It is both unforeseen (by one of them) and as predictable as the behavior of a predator in the wild.

There is a vampire story in this collection, and it follows the popular heterosexual pattern of Dominant vampire male with submissive mortal female. In this version, the woman has a reason to offer herself to the local vampire, whom she has been stalking for awhile. She even has an elaborate plan for getting what she wants, a kind of topping-from-below strategy. The story has a surprisingly happy ending, but the enchantment doesn't work for me.

"Expecting" is about the alien impregnation of Emilie, a woman who is happily married at the beginning of the story. Her life is taken over by something almost indescribable which creates a credibility gap between her and everyone she knows, particularly her bewildered husband. As in real-life testimony about alien abductions, the sanity of the witness is in question. 

Here is where the author’s use of a distancing third-person voice (which expresses Emilie’s consciousness) really works. There is objective evidence that something is happening in Emilie’s body, but the reader can never be sure what to believe.

Emilie has “dreams” or experiences which combine intense fear of the alien, reptilian invader(s) and an expectation of intense pleasure:

She could never be fully prepared for the creeping, slithering, clinging feel of them, weighty and slick as they moved sluggishly over her. The intrusiveness of their touch, so all at once eerie and repulsive, caused all of her senses to come startlingly alert.

Emilie comes to expect the intimate visits of beings she can barely see and whose motives she can only guess. The superhuman pleasure they give her is palpable, and her sense of having been chosen for an important mission is perversely flattering. However, like all such relationships—whether the mortal woman is visited by a fairy, a shapeshifter, a demon, by aliens or the Angel Gabriel—this one increasingly alienates Emilie from other human beings.

“Flowers for Angela” is a clever response to the award-winning short story (first published in 1959), novel and numerous dramatizations of Flowers for Algernon, the tragic tale of a laboratory mouse (Algernon) and his fellow-subject, Charlie, whose intelligence is manipulated by the mental-health establishment.

In Nancy Madore’s story, Angela is a psychologist who becomes suspicious of her male colleague’s methods when she is treating one of his former patients, a widow who can’t seem to move past her relationship with her late husband. The widow, who had first sought counselling because she and her husband were at odds, seemed to change abruptly from an independent thinker, who was not attracted to BDSM, to a devoted submissive who played the role of her husband’s dog whenever they were alone together.

Angela, as a career-driven professional, is also predictably separated from her husband, who would prefer a more appreciative wife. The one thing Angela and her husband can agree on is that their current relationship (not together but not yet divorced) is uncomfortable for both. Meanwhile, Angela decides to investigate her colleague under the guise of becoming his patient. The outcome is disturbing, especially when Angela’s colleague defends his methods in a male-to-male conversation with her husband.

While this story could be interpreted as anti-BDSM, it raises valid questions about marriage, two-career relationships, women’s rights, heterosexuality and the role of psychiatry (and counselling in general) in all of the above.

One of the author’s most convincing supernatural male characters is Jimmy in the story by that name. Like a teenage troublemaker who jimmies locks to steal other people’s stuff, Jimmy is a kind of archetypal bad boy who is magnetically attractive to (as well as attracted to) the central character, Sara, who lives with her boyfriend Ray, an understanding guy with whom she is totally compatible except in bed. Ray often climaxes before her and then falls asleep, not knowing that she is frustrated and too polite to tell him so. 

Like other demon lovers, Jimmy can only possess those who want him on some level—and Sara’s frustration gives him the opening he needs. Jimmy, as it turns out, tormented good-guy Ray in life. And after Jimmy’s premature death, caused by one risk too many, he is not about to stop.

The sex-addiction that Jimmy can induce is vividly described, as is Sara’s increasing desperation. How do you fight off an incubus?

The answer to that question is elegantly simple, and Sara’s good-guy vs. bad-guy dilemma actually has a solution which does not force her to give up dirty, edgy, thrilling and satisfying sex to hang onto the “normal” pleasures of love, a job and a life that includes non-sexual activities.

Unfortunately, the author’s exclusive focus on male-female sex sometimes leads her into the shallow clichés of romance fiction. In “The Incentive Program,” the concluding story, a computer expert named Georgia spends all her time on a program which predicts the future and which ultimately leads to actual time-travel. The end result of the combination of technology and government bureaucracy is that Georgia is able to identify with an alter-ego, several centuries in the “future,” who becomes the cherished female partner of three men in a society in which women have become scarce. Considering the space-opera framework, the sexual adventures of “Cassie,” the alter-ego, seem surprisingly bland. The sex scenes would be more suited to a contemporary romance novel about a woman and her male harem, in which she carefully divides her time among three good-natured, barely-distinguishable lovers.

Enchanted Dreams is part of a series by Nancy Madore which includes Enchanted: Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women, Enchanted Again and The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The series seems to have a deserved cult following. This author clearly has a way with paranormal subject-matter. She could be described as an enchantress who was born to cast spells, but whose power (like electricity) surges and wanes.

Erotic Interludes: Road GamesErotic Interludes: Road Games
Contributions By: Stacia Seaman
Bold Strokes Books
ISBN: 1933110775
May, 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Reading this anthology of lesbian erotica is like riding a rollercoaster or speeding down the highway in a vehicle that lets in a lot of fresh air. The theme of “road games” is broadly interpreted: some of these stories are about the brief ecstasy of long-distance lovers when they get together, some are about being stranded on the road by extreme weather, some are about taking one’s show on tour, and some are about games of chance in exotic locations. Kinesthesia, or the experience of movement, is important in these stories, which are all focused on immediate experience. Each of them involves a journey which is geographical as well as emotional, and a devilishly creative sexual game.

The plot of the story "Free Fall" by Julie Cannon seems characteristic of the collection as a whole. In this story, the lesbian narrator’s fairly humdrum life is interrupted when her friends send her on a tour for her fiftieth birthday. During an island stop, she impulsively chooses to go skydiving for the first time. The voluptuous female skydiving guide (who seems to be everything that the tourist is not) tells her: “I know exactly what you want and I’m going to give it to you. You are going to scream with desire and come so hard your body will explode. And then you’ll go home and tell all your friends what a wonderful time you had in my country. Am I right?”

To the narrator’s amazement, the guide fulfills her promise while secured behind her during the few minutes that both are in free-fall. The narrator’s feeling of weightlessness seems to combine seamlessly with her growing excitement as the guide strokes her body through an opened zipper in her suit. The pacing of the description matches the narrator’s sense of distorted time. After she has landed, she feels transformed:

“With one last knowing smile I turned and walked toward the hangar, knowing that I would never again be the woman I was before I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.”

The compromise between wish-fulfillment and plausibility in this story is characteristic of this generous collection of 31 stories, only one of which can be clearly identified as sci-fi. Not all of them end as happily as “Free Fall,” nor do they all affirm that impulse decisions are usually wise. In the stories about long-distance relationships, the lovers must face a decision to go their separate ways or make a commitment which will inevitably involve sacrifices.

The importance of careers in these stories looks like part of the gestalt of lesbian life in our time. The use of particular sports, games or professional roles as sexual analogies in these stories seems to be part of a trend in lesbian erotica.

Road Games is the fifth anthology in the Erotic Interludes series from lesbian publisher Bold Strokes Books. This series looks parallel to the annual Best Lesbian Erotica series from Cleis Press, which apparently started the trend in 1995, and a copycat series, Ultimate Lesbian Erotica from Alyson Books. Lesbian websites, magazines such as "On Our Backs" (no longer in print) and video companies have helped give rise to the current availability of lesbian erotica, as distinct from the lesbian romances of yesteryear, which coyly referred to sex by means of predictable erotic imagery: women who purred and stretched like cats, desire between women as a tide, a pool or a river.

The steady growth of lesbian erotica since the mid-1990s is parallel to the influx of women into a variety of professions since the 1970s. Women’s jobs now show up regularly in erotic stories as essential elements in the plot and in the characters’ sexual magnetism.

For instance, Road Games includes a story about musicians on tour by a writer who actually sings and plays guitar in a band, and stories about other artists (professional dancers, a wannabe-actor-turned-masseuse, a magical chef), athletes (golfers, basketball players, martial artists), blue-collar workers (a trucker, a cop, a demolition expert, a “repo” woman), business owners, computer-savvy librarians and a “gigola.” The skills and working personas of the characters are described as erotically as their curves, and these can be biceps as well as breasts or hips. Similarly, the authors of stories which would probably have been unpublishable twenty years ago now attract enough fans to keep the genre alive and growing.

In the final story, "Test Drive," by Radclyffe, publisher and editor, a prospective car-buyer and the saleswoman who takes her out for a test drive seduce each other in double-entendres:

’Do it,’ she whispered, and pressed down on the gas pedal.

The force of the engine accelerating surged through me, and I drew the slip of silk aside with one hand and stroked my swollen slit with the other.

‘Zero to sixty,’ I gasped, letting my head fall back against the window as I started to come. ‘In. . .oh, God. . . right now.’

Blaze laughed and reached across the space between us to caress my cheek softly. ‘That’s what I call high-performance.’

‘It’s not the engine,’ I murmured drowsily. ‘It’s the driver.’

There is a thin line between wit and camp in some of these stories, and that is part of their charm.

A thin line which seems more problematic is suggested by the three stories in this volume which were written by Radclyffe and the one by her co-editor, Stacia Seaman.

All four stories are diverse, entertaining, and well-constructed. However, an editor who also writes seems unlikely to have the same perspective on her own stories as she could have on the work of other writers.

Admittedly, the names of popular writers of lesbian erotica are guaranteed to pop up regularly in the same places. As a case in point, veterans Karin Kallmaker, Crin Claxton and Therese Szymanski all have stories in Road Games, and their novels and stories are also widely available elsewhere. And Radclyffe is certainly not the only editor who has arranged for the publication of her own work. Perhaps I tend to split hairs, but I can’t help wondering when the links between players in the same field become a conflict of interests. In fact, this type of ambiguity is one of the themes in the book under discussion!

Hair-splitting aside (unless hair-splitting is your pleasure), this book is exhilarating to read. It certainly isn’t your grandmother’s Oldsmobile.

Erotika: Bedtime Stories Erotika: Bedtime Stories
Edited By: Marcus Shockley
Sensorotika Press
ISBN: 0977769437
May 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

At first glance, the title of this book (Erotika: Bedtime Stories) and the name of the publisher looked vaguely sinister to me, like "Amerika" as used by the counterculture of the 1960s. In its context, this term seemed to suggest that the current United States was a version of Nazi Germany, with KKK-flavored racism. However, none of the stories in this anthology include BDSM scenes representing organized persecution.

So perhaps the alternate spelling of "erotica" and the term "sensorotika" (Sensual erotica? Is there another kind?) were meant to suggest a witty, sophisticated European sensuality, as distinct from the gauche American prudery that springs from fundamentalist Protestantism. However, none of the stories in this collection resemble Les Liaisons Dangereuses or the song "Lili Marlene" or any other cherished expression of European retro-sex.

The title of this book is especially misleading if it is meant to suggest that these stories are excitingly different from ordinary erotica. They are also not excitingly varied. One contributor, P.T. Cielo, has five stories in the book, Gwen Masters has four, Escarlata Cisneros and Ralph Greco Jr. each have two. Altogether, there are only twelve contributors.

This book is notably short on bells and whistles. No information is provided about contributors, and there is no introduction. No editor is named, so the reader is left to guess that every submission got into the book, exactly as written. Not all the page numbers in the table of contents are accurate. Twenty-one brief stories about sex are displayed like peaches in a makeshift fruit stand because there's a market for the stuff.     

The better stories in the anthology make good use of a limited word-count. "Love Rain on Me," by the prolific P.T. Cielo, describes a woman's erotic reaction to a storm at night:

"The air was electric. I drove to the freeway and floored it. I felt alive and beautiful. I reached up, pulling the band from my hair. Immediately my hair flew around my face, neck, shoulders and back. I laughed, feeling so good and happy."

After returning home, soaked to the skin, the narrator masturbates in front of a mirror as lightning lights up the room and thunder rumbles overhead. She watches the storm "roll away," then goes to her bed, "knowing that I had been touched, that I had been loved."

Gwen Masters also has a memorable female masturbation story in the collection. In this story, "Passing the Time," Amber consoles herself for the pain of waiting for a promised telephone call from a boyfriend who seems to be losing interest. She happens to notice her little red box, which contains "a variety of adult toys, from vibrators and dildos to pearls to clamps." Her mood changes quickly:

"First she got sad.
Then she got angry.
Then she got busy."

In general, Masters' stories are believable and centered on likeable women who overcome disappointment and get what they want without harming others. The happy endings are a little too predictable for my taste, but the stories are fun to read.

Cielo's "Control" and T.S. Knight's "The Airport" both deal competently with arrogant men who are outwitted by dominating women. "The Airport" is more detailed, complex, and carefully thought-out. It also has a much more drastic outcome for the male narrator who originally steps into a trap by arranging a Dominant/submissive trick while traveling without his fiancee. 

Despite some well-written surprises, most of the stories in this book need polishing. In "The Charade" by Sebastian Wallace, a sexy young woman tries to seduce wealthy men by pretending to be in their league. When she meets a suave, handsome stranger, his glance sends her into a fit of purple prose:

"She almost gasped, but somehow prevented losing her composure--at least externally. Deep within her body, a burst of heat ruptured, ignited by his stare of possession. He did not look at her, but within her. And her intense desire for him suddenly overwhelmed her."

"The Professor" by Cullen Dorn is based on a promising although well-worn premise: beautiful, seductive coed awakens the senses of a middle-aged male professor, as she has already done for his married colleague. However, the current professor's epiphany is described in a way that seems guaranteed to kill the reader's interest:     

"He did not go out to lunch as was expected that day. Instead he sat at his desk pondering his future. Ironic, how he should now look to a piece of time that had been nonexistent for him. All his life he dwelt in a past that gave him succor. Now he was compelled to realize his permanence in the reality of now, and of the world with all its dynamics and beauty that he must embrace." 

Two snappy "lesbian" stories are simply unconvincing because they lack a realistic social background. "The Proposal" by Peter Rosier is essentially a one-line joke in which a female narrator describes her romantic date with "Alex," who proposes marriage. The narrator responds: "My darling Alexandra, of course I'll say yes." Before this point, there is no indication that both characters are women or that they live in a place where same-sex marriage is both legal and socially acceptable.

In "The Fruits of Mark's Confession" by Ralph Greco Jr., a self-described "gay woman" joins her best friend Mark, a submissive heterosexual man, for a masturbation session as he recounts his latest scene with his dominant Mistress. The narrator claims: "It was many a time I fantasized Dorothy getting off on the fact that I succumbed to my lusts, in front of a man, for Christ's sakes!" So why has the narrator never contacted Dorothy directly, or proposed a threesome? If this story is set in an era when the term "gay woman" was current, where is the social climate of intolerance, fear and secrecy in which all "perverts" once had to live? If the narrator is really "gay," where is her social life with other lesbians? This story is certainly imaginative, but even a fantasy needs to work on its own terms.     

Other stories in this collection seem more like mood-pieces than actual stories, and the style isn't always adequate to establish a mood. Luckily, this slim book would be easy to slip into all sorts of carrying-bags. It could provide light entertainment on the beach or in a tent far from any well-stocked bookstore or library.   

Every Dark DesireEvery Dark Desire
By: Fiona Zedde
ISBN: 0758217382
July 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

"Dark" has a variety of meanings in Western culture: obscure, hidden, mysterious, unconscious, exotic, violent, dangerous, associated with death or night, richly pigmented. The massacre and exploitation of darker-skinned peoples by Europeans have been rationalized by means of racist theories about who is “savage” and therefore in need of control.

The parallel treatment of women and animals has been justified by parallel theories. The fifteenth-century Christian Inquisition claimed that woman (femina) had "less faith" (fe + mina) than man, and was therefore more inclined to be seduced to the "dark side" by the Devil, envisioned as a black man or a bestial being with horns and hooves.

For centuries, the patriarchal Christian mindset, which produced these ideas, has also separated "normal" sex (horizontal, heterosexual, marital, procreative) from all the "perversions" of the instinct to mate. Supposedly, these overlapping concepts are no longer taken seriously by the enlightened, but the “darkness” described above still inspires an endless amount of horror literature, art and movies.

Every Dark Desire reads like the worst nightmare of anyone who still lives by a traditional Western value system. All the central characters are lesbian Jamaican vampires who enjoy the kinds of "power exchange" sex that go with blood sports. While they are all equal-opportunity predators when their blood-lust prompts them to hunt mortals, they prefer female playmates.

Silvija, the charismatic leader of a group of twelve vampires, is a 350-year-old survivor of an attempt by white soldiers to hunt down and kill off maroons, escaped slaves living in the hills. By the 1990s, Silvija has created, nurtured and protected her own endangered "family" of the living dead. These vampires literally seem like the dark side of European colonialism, the ones who weren't meant to survive.

This book stands out from the red sea of current vampire erotica and casts its own powerful spell. Although they are repeatedly defined as "beasts" and "fiends," these characters attract the mortal reader as they attract mortal characters in diverse places in the real world: Jamaica and Alaska, with kinky weekends in Los Angeles.

The story begins in Jamaica, a tropical tourist magnet with an ongoing history of violence, where the rich lock their gates against the poor, and where the mortal prey of vampires can easily be disguised as victims of random theft, rape and murder. Life in a Jamaican village, as distinct from the cities, is peaceful enough for Naomi, a young woman who lives in a manless family with her mother and her beloved young daughter.

However, Naomi can't resist another woman who catches her eye in the city of Negril, and she slips away from her mother and daughter for a few hours. Naomi is irreversibly "turned" without her consent. After she escapes, she must come to terms with her transformation. She dreams of what she has lost:

"Naomi dreamed that she was alive. The sun touched her with its soft golden fingers, filtering through her hair left loose and heavy against her shoulders. Its heat snuggled into her bare throat and along her arms like an old friend. She leaned against the iron railing of the terrace, looking down on a gold and green Negril. The breeze was light. Laughter hovered in the air like music and she turned, smiling, to find the source of it. Her baby, Kylie, stood on the terrace, laughing and spinning in a circle, while the sun sparkled on her wheat biscuit skin. Naomi's mama stood nearby, watching. Her look was wistful."

Fiona Zedde is not the first author to use the changing of a mortal into a vampire as a metaphor for "coming out" into a new identity, but Naomi's grief and confusion seem uniquely heartbreaking. Even after she has given herself a new name, Belle, and accepted the necessity of living with others like herself, her love for her child is a connecting thread between her old life and her new one.

The love of parents for their biological children rarely seems to be a feature of vampire fiction, but in this sense Every Dark Desire is parallel to Anne Rice’s first novel, Interview with the Vampire, in which the child vampire Claudia represents the author’s desire to resurrect her actual daughter, who died of leukemia at age five. In Zedde’s version, Belle loses track of passing time while Kylie develops into an innocent teenager, not knowing what happened to the mother who is determined to protect her from “monsters” like herself. Could this story possibly have a happy ending? Read it and decide for yourself.

Separated from her human family by her disturbing blood-lust and her vulnerability to sunlight, Belle is claimed by Silvija, who calls her “puppy” and reminds her of how much she doesn’t know about her new lifestyle. Anyone who has survived adolescence can imagine the humiliation of Belle’s position, and she reacts predictably by resenting and defying her teacher. Belle finds herself unbearably attracted to Silvija. In the tradition of the best BDSM fiction, Belle’s ambivalence and resistance to what seems inevitable lead her to self-knowledge and intimacy.

Spending her first winter as a member of Silvija’s clan in their luxurious dwelling in Alaska (chosen for its long hours of darkness), Belle comes to know her new companions in immortality. She is especially drawn to Shaye, a vampire of approximately Silvija’s age who still seems to have the energy and curiosity of a young girl. Appearances are deceptive, however, and Shaye is not Kylie. As in other vampire fiction, these characters remain physically frozen in the stage at which they were “turned,” but they continue to learn and grow inside.

There is enough hypnotic sex in this novel to satisfy readers who want to skip to “the good parts,” but the sex scenes are not simply a distraction from other kinds of tension. The reader/voyeur learns that the vampires of the “family” sometimes have consensual affairs with mortal women whom they could kill at any time. The reader also learns that the vampire clan has a polyamorous group relationship which changes every time a new member joins the group. Every seduction advances the plot, which includes elements of a whodunit, a romance and a coming-of-age novel.

The sensuality of the narrative style, the intensity of the characters’ emotions, and the complexity of the plot are all satisfying. Several of the physical details, however, seem overdone or inconsistent. Persistent references to the flowery smells of individual vampires become cloying.
Belle’s habit of breathing heavily in moments of passion until she remembers that she doesn’t need to breathe at all (being “dead”) seem unconvincing.

In addition, the reactions of Caribbean vampires to the cold air of Alaska in winter seem inconsistent. Either they are impervious to the cold, being both “dead” and superhuman, or they need to sleep pressed together to conserve the warmth they can only acquire by taking the blood of the living, but it is hard to see how the author could have it both ways.

Aside from these details, this novel shows that there is still some life left in vampire fiction, a genre that refuses to rest in peace. Fiona Zedde has done a remarkable job of adapting the well-worn tradition of Dracula, the archetypal vampire as a European aristocrat in his remote mountain castle, to other places, cultures and desires. The “dark desires” of socially-marginalized characters might simply alienate some readers, but the magic works for me.

Flesh and BoneFlesh and Bone
By: Ronica Black
Bold Stroke Books
ISBN: 1602820937
June 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This collection of lesbian stories by one author works like an anthology based on a fairly broad theme that allows for diversity. In this case, the title, Flesh and Bone, is spelled out in the titles of the stories: "F is for Fantasy," "L is for Love, "E is for Erotic," "S is for Sensual," "H is for Higher,"  "A is for Animal," "N is for Never," "D is for Daring," "B is for Beautiful," "O is for Orgasm," "N is for Naughty," "E is for Everlasting." The emphasis in each story is on sexual pleasure, and the sex is described in loving detail.

These stories are meat-and-potatoes erotica. There is nothing strikingly original here, either in the author's writing style or in the plots or the characters. Occasionally, the author writes a clunker sentence like this:

She looked at me with openness, with honesty, with her same consistent confidence.

However, Ronica Black handles a traditional range of lesbian fantasies with gusto and sincerity. The reader wants to know these women as well as they come to know each other. When Black's characters ignore their realistic fears to follow their passion, this reader admires their chutzpah and cheers them on.

The author's brief, breathless introduction borders on the cheesy, but it has its own charm:

Flesh and bone. What every woman is made of. Beautiful, daring, naughty, sensual. She has a fantasy, she wants to go higher, she searches for her own definition of love. She never says never, has her first orgasm, yearns for the everlasting. This is woman. You, me, the girl next door. We are all flesh and bone.

The drama continues in the suspenseful opening scene of the first story, "F is for Fantasy:"

I wait by the door, fists opening and closing as if I'm waiting for the director to yell 'action.' My heart thuds, but so does my clitoris, the small cock in my jeans pressing against it. Both cause my hands and knees to tremble.   

 The fantasy of the title clearly originated with the girlfriend who will come home to find the speaker waiting to grab her and to say: "'I'm going to fuck you hard and fast. I'm going to fuck you hard and slow. I'm going to fuck you like you've never been fucked before." 

The arousal of the "victim" feeds that of the speaker, who finds that her girlfriend's fantasy is quickly becoming her own. When the scene seems to be over, the speaker wants reassurance:

“Was it everything you wanted?” I can't help but ask, my mind just as spent as my body.

A thorny look comes into her eyes. She picks up her panties and comes back to me, pushing me onto my back.

“It was, yes. But now it's my turn.” 

This “flipping” scene seems likely to be replayed over and over between the lovers.

"L is for Love" is a hurt-and-rescue fantasy involving Gina, a writer who is scheduled to do a reading at the library where her idol, the head librarian, accidentally knocks Gina to the ground and then makes amends and confesses that she has admired Gina for awhile.  

"N is for Never" has a somewhat similar plot: Professor Susan has no intention of ever admitting aloud that she has a crush on her bold student Tia, who reads part of a lesbian romance story to the class. But Susan has confided her feelings to her diary, which conveniently slips out of her briefcase and is retrieved by Tia, who reads it before going to Susan's home to return it. Tia must convince Susan that their forbidden attraction doesn't actually involve a conflict of interests. Student-and-teacher fantasies seem to have a perennial appeal, possibly because acting them out in the real world is usually more problematic and likely to produce messy results.  

"E is for Erotic" is about an office seduction: woman in raincoat stalks into the building where Julia, her workaholic girlfriend spends too much time, and makes an offer that Julia can't refuse. "D is for Daring" is about another office romance, but in this case, the speaker secretly admires one of the higher-ups, an apparently heterosexual woman who is going through a painful divorce. The speaker wants her to feel loved, so she woos her anonymously with presents and letters. In due course, Emily responds and shows that she already knows the identity of her secret admirer.

"A is for Animal" is another poignant story about a trapped, seemingly "normal" wife. In this case, the setting is a southern farm where “the missus” meets her lover Catherine in the barn more often than is safe, whenever the "boss man" is away. The possibility of a tragic ending is implied when the two women are almost caught.

"H is for Higher" is another story about risk-taking, appropriately set "atop one of the largest hotel casinos in Vegas." A femme named Eve accepts the dare of a butch named Broderick by coming to her room, where a device like an exercise bicycle has been modified to provide extreme sensations.

"N is for Naughty" is another adrenalin-driven story. It seems less realistic than most of the others, but is one of my favorites. The narrator, Diem Rushton, is a female vigilante who puts the fear of the Goddess into a mad-dog pimp and is then rewarded by a glamorous waitress who does a lap-dance to Beyonce's "Naughty Girl." The waitress is working her way through graduate school and has steadfastly refused to "dance" (sell sexual services) for men. Dancing for Diem, of course, is a different case.

Sex work as a labor of love is also featured in "S is for Sensual." In this story, a young American woman has an unforgettable encounter with two professionals in Amsterdam, paid for by her good friend who knows what Camille needs to recover from her painful breakup with an unfaithful girlfriend. The professionals, Anna and Maria, guide Camille through an hours-long ritual which begins with a soothing bath and escalates to bondage, massage, tickling, flogging, hot wax, tongue teasing and dildo action, followed by refreshing sleep. By the time Camille's friend returns for her, Camille has been healed. She appreciates the bilingual pun of the name of the establishment:

Camille boarded her bike and they set off down the road. As the wind played with her hair Camille thought back to the words on the sign. “De Mender.”

"The Mender."

Mending what is broken is a major theme in these stories. In several cases, visual art allows for the transcendence of limitations. In "B is for Beautiful," the speaker is impressed by Iris, the attractive woman she meets at a small-town gas station. She is surprised to discover that Iris is a blind artist who likes to sculpt clay images of her models after learning their bodies by touch.

In "O is for Orgasm," Lauren the photographer lures Therese into a photo shoot with two other models. The seduction which follows is actually what Therese needs to overcome the fear of intimacy which has previously kept her sexual responses -- and her relationships -- brief and unsatisfying. "E is for Everlasting" is a gentler story about a relationship between a woman who needs to heal from childhood sexual abuse and the resourceful lover who enables her to trust. This story concludes the book, and it implies that the two women will have a long future together.

These stories make good bedtime reading, and could lead to sweet dreams. Read them and see.

Girl Fever: 69 Stories of Sudden Sex for LesbiansGirl Fever: 69 Stories of Sudden Sex for Lesbians
Edited By: Sacchi Green
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573447919
June 2012

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This big collection of very short stories provides all the standard scenarios of lesbian sex, and many that are non-standard. The characters have fast but orgasmic hookups in all sorts of moving vehicles, on their way to somewhere else. They also do it in various cramped spaces and luxurious surroundings. The number 69 is a witty reference to a sexual position (or activity) which can function like speed-boil on a stove.

If you’ve ever read any lesbian erotica, you are guaranteed to recognize some of the names of contributors. The following have contributed more than one story apiece:
Cheyenne Blue, Shanna Germain, Sacchi Green (the editor), Roxy Jones, Jessica Lennox, Catherine Paulssen, Giselle Renarde, Sharon Wachsler, Fran Walker, Anna Watson and Allison Wonderland.

The beauty of this book, of course, is that if you don’t like one story, you can move quickly on to the next, which might have just the ingredients you crave. Something here is likely to appeal to everyone who has ever been sexually attracted to a woman.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I have a story in this collection, “Signature.” My piece, of course, is like a drop of water in the ocean. Even if I hadn’t been honoured to have a brief vignette of lesbian life accepted for this volume, I would have been honoured to review it.

These stories include a surprising amount of detail and suspense, which quickly gets resolved. In some cases, two women have to get it on within minutes before something else happens: before they are discovered, before they have to appear onstage, or (in one story) before they marry each other in a public ceremony.

Despite the social acceptability of lesbianism in some of these stories, the theme of sudden sex seems to work best in a context of secrecy and rebellion against the norm. Cheyenne Blue sets the tone in the first story, “Look at Me Now, Your Holiness!” The narrator thinks:

If only the pope could see me now.

My face is mashed so far into Christie’s pussy that my world consists of curls of hair and bitter salt.

The pope continues to be an imaginary witness to the scene until Christie and the narrator are both satisfied.

The theme of being watched by disapproving observers continues in “She Writhes Beneath Me” by Roxy Jones. Here the narrator describes what she and her sweetie “don’t notice:”

When we finally venture downstairs, eyes blinking in the light craving coffee and day-old pastries, we don’t notice the glances of our shocked, sleepless neighbours at first as they pick at their Frosted Flakes, but then it swells up behind us like massive waves of jealous whispers and their hollow eyes betray the hours they lay still, listening with cold, blue envy. They wonder, I imagine, how we were entwined, whose sweaty skin slid on sheets, whose knees were spread and held, whose face met the sky with a growl and a whimper as we arched up off the bed like we had learned to fly.

Most of these stories are plausible descriptions of sex-on-the-fly, whether the participants are long-term lovers or momentarily compatible strangers. The characters meet, greet, shed their own and each other’s clothes and make sexual contact with admirable efficiency.

Several of these stories are mini space-operas based on the reliable plot premise of an all-female crew in the close quarters of a space ship. In “Oh Captain, My Captain” by Cha Cha White, the captain of a group of space pirates discovers that the vessel they have boarded runs on sexual energy. To get things moving, of course, someone has to come.

“Floating in Space” by Dena Hankins begins claustrophobically: The airlock hatch bumps my shoulder, trying to close. I swallow at the sight of Cyfal’s asscheeks bisected by the safety harness’s straps. The two women manage to work around the physical awkwardness of their situation, as do many characters in more realistic stories about plane and train travel.

Few of these stories take place in fantasy worlds, probably because brief stories about “sudden sex” don’t allow much room for worldbuilding. Nonetheless, “In the Sculpture Garden” by Cha Cha White, which begins with the different reactions of a man and a woman to a beautiful female statue, moves quickly to a conclusion that seems to come from Greek mythology.

In a parallel story, “Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes” by Lucy Felthouse, another female statue in a garden attracts attention and arouses lust, but in this case, the character transformation is more believable.

Several of these stories could be classified as erotic jokes. In “Autocorrect” by Evan Mora, a text-message conversation between an employee and her supervisor goes awry due to modern technology or some higher power:

Hi, Cris, are you coming to the meeting at 4?

I’ll be there!

Great. Please meet me in my office in 5 minutes so we can have a brief cunnilingus beforehand.

Excuse me?

I have no words. I typed conference and my phone changed it. I am so sorry.

I’m on my way.

The mortified narrator thinks:  I’m going to be fired. No – first I’m going to be brought up on sexual harassment charges, and then I’m going to be fired. Luckily, what happens in the office is much better than the narrator dared to hope for.

A few of these stories, such as Sacchi Green’s “Snowbound,” are about sex as a means of staying calm in a crisis. As in the real world, fear and suspense make each minute seem longer than it would seem otherwise.

Altogether, these stories produce an impact out of proportion to their length, possibly because they seem to occur in real time; it takes approximately as long to read one as it takes the characters to reach nirvana. These stories are ideal for reading in brief intervals or waiting-periods, or for sessions of mutual reading-aloud.  So much for the old assumption that women’s lust – unlike men’s – has a long, slow fuse.

Girls Who Bite: Lesbian Vampire EroticaGirls Who Bite: Lesbian Vampire Erotica
Edited By: Delilah Devlin
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573447153
September 2011

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Vampire fiction has been a growth industry since Anne Rice changed the terms with her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, in 1978. Lesbian vampire fiction has a history that even predates Dracula. In the nineteenth century, fantasy female bloodsuckers were associated with the “femme fatale” that was featured in so much art and literature of the period.

Now that vampire fiction could take up a long shelf in the horror section of your local bookstore (or on-line bookseller), are lesbian vampires as scary as they used to be? Yes and no.

The title of this book is either disappointing or meant to be provocative. Feminists of the 1970s objected to the use of “girls” to define women of all ages, and sometimes reacted by avoiding the word completely (as in “Congratulations on the birth of your baby womon”). “Girl” as a designation for every female is parallel to the racist use of “boy” for every African-American male, and “garcon” (boy/servant) for every waiter in a French restaurant.  

Girls Who Bite as a description of scary women who feed on the life-blood of others sounds trivializing. This is probably the point, meant to be ironic. The central characters in a collection of lesbian vampire erotica are supposed to make the reader squirm. They are supposed to seem threatening, even creepy, but also sexy as hell. The BDSM dynamics are too obvious to need an explanation.

The cover of this book is just right: deliberately theatrical, suggestive of twincest and dopplegangers, it shows two pale, almost identical blondes wearing red lipstick, eye shadow and fingernail polish. They face each other, closing in for a kiss or something fiercer.

One of the themes in these stories is the interchangebility of "good girls" and "bad girls," or the difficulty of knowing which is which. In "Bloody Wicked" by Vivi Anna, a witch goes into the woods to cast a spell, propelled by her sexual energy. Soon afterward, a male deputy sheriff appears at the witch's door with Alexa, the new sheriff in town. The sheriff's grilling of the witch about a dead man is a thin cover for mutual seduction.

The world of law enforcement is also the setting for "Dark Guard" by Karis Walsh. Lisa is a cop assigned to investigate a series of killings, supposedly committed by "Marginals," despised supernatural beings who live in ghettoes. She is paired with a member of the "Dark Guard," Aurica the vampire. Lisa is appalled, especially because Aurica is so attractive. Lisa wonders why her male Chief would do this to her, but she soon discovers that Marginals in general are not the enemy.

Lesbian vampires appear in several of these stories as avenging angels who punish abusive men. In "La Caida" by Anna Meadows, the narrator is growing up in a Latino family of Naguales, women who can survive on blood, supported by their ordinary male relatives. The narrator refuses to feast on the blood of rapists or wife-beaters until she discovers a naked woman who is actually a fallen angel who needs to be rescued. Although the alarming number of "disappeared" women in Mexican border towns (especially Juarez) is never mentioned in this story, the existence of real-life cultures in which men may feed on the "blood" of women with impunity suggests that Naguales could actually make their communities safer. In the story, the family of blood-drinkers is accepted by their neighbors.

In "Dark Angel" by Paisley Smith, a closeted lesbian in 1930s Germany who married a Nazi to "cure" herself of her "unnatural" desires is attracted to a strange woman in a nightclub. Just after her husband shoots her in a nearby alley, a seductive voice asks her if she wants to die or to live. Her answer changes her future.

In "Red Horizons" by Victoria Oldham, Eleni the charismatic vampire is a passenger on a cruise ship run by Captain Jayne, a mortal. When Jayne goes ashore to satisfy her sexual itch, the vampire protects Jayne from those who might really harm her.

“The Crystal Altar” by Adele Dubois is an almost-satirical story about a strange “makeover.” The narrator’s geeky, unpopular cousin has gone to Europe and returned transformed – and she brought a coven of glamorous European girlfriends with her. When cousin Angela asks to have her birthday party in a crystal cave at night, the narrator wonders what is really going on.

In "Pet Door" by Angela Caperton, the vampire appears at the door of a diva as a stray dog, and the vampire remains in character as a submissive pet even when she has resumed her human form. The woman musician who orders the vampire to use the pet door (not the one intended for humans) is clearly in control, much like a dope dealer who controls an addict because she has what the addict needs.

"Bound Love" by Christine d'Abo is a parallel story about Maili, a vampire who craves the discipline that only her mortal Mistress can provide. Here Maili suffers from a desperate need for her next fix:

Being out of control was something she couldn't afford, not with the bloodlust riding her so close, so hard. She was too old, too tired, and if she let herself slip into the oblivion of the lust, Maili knew it was a pit she wouldn't be able to emerge from. The fine line between feeding her hunger and becoming a ravenous monster was one she dared not cross.

Several of these stories focus on one-to-one lesbian relationships which never grow stale. In "Al Dente" by Delphine Dryden and "Madeline" by A.E. Grace, long-term vampire lovers enjoy hunting mortal men together. The immortal female predators enjoy men as playmates and as food, but there is nothing like the companionship of a sister-immortal.

"Impundulu" by Regina Jamison is about an unusual woman from South Africa who recognizes the narrator, a woman who has apparently been Impundulu's soul-mate through the ages. The narrator is appalled by an image of herself participating in a threesome with a woman who has willingly offered herself as a blood sacrifice. Impundulu, representative of the African past, shows the narrator who she really is and reminds her that they will be together as long as one of them "remembers."

Two of these stories are set in museums, shrines to the past. In "Beloved" by Shayla Kersten, the vampire is an Egyptian warrior goddess, Sekhmet, who eternally seeks union with her opposite and lover, the goddess Hathor. According to the writeup for an exhibit:

Hathor personified love, motherhood and joy and was usually depicted with the horns of a cow framing a sun disk. Some legends show the two as a single goddess or aspects of the same one; others have them as separate entities. However, all indicate their destinies were intertwined. 

"Night at the Wax Museum" by the editor, Delilah Devlin, draws on existing vampire literature. Mina Harker, a character in Dracula, appears as a figure in a coffin that seems to be made of wax. She is part of a Halloween display in a museum, guarded by Krista, a military woman who is recovering from the trauma of war in Afghanistan. Krista discovers why several male guards have disappeared, and she learns that Mina still has a reason not to like men armed with wooden stakes.

In "The Gift of Lilith" by Myla Jackson and "She Knows I am Watching" by Rebecca Buck, the "vampires" don't seem to survive on human blood at all, but on energy, and their interest in mortal women is mutual. Their lure is palpable. Read this collection only if you want to be seduced.

Girls Who Score: Hot Lesbian EroticaGirls Who Score: Hot Lesbian Erotica
Edited By: Ily Goyanes
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573448257
August 2012

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Warning: this anthology is about women athletes who score with women as well as scoring on the field, the track or the rink. Why the warning? Because if you’re a writer like this reviewer, you probably had a love-hate relationship with jocks when you were growing up with your nose in a book. If I’m not mistaken, most of the contributors to this book grew up the same way.

Female athletes seem sexy by definition: strong, graceful, self-confident. In their youth, they seem to be the winners in the undeclared war between the Jocks and the Nerds. Yet girls who are good at sports rarely grow up to be professional athletes. And the few who do have a limited time in which to prove themselves. There is something bittersweet about any female athlete at the top of her game.

This anthology of sixteen diverse stories about sporty dykes captures their mystique. The sports described include relatively non-competitive activities such as long-distance running and scuba diving as well as team sports and hand-to-hand combat. However, competition is a major theme in almost every story. As it turns out, sports fans and nerds compete just as much as do sporty dykes, only less openly.

Each of these stories works in its own way, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be “No, Tell Me How You Really Feel” by the editor, Ily Goyanes. The narrator is a college student, an artsy type in black eyeliner, who tries to hide her crush on Julianne, a volleyball star, by insulting her intelligence whenever possible. After an encounter in the library, the narrator tells the reader that she went home, cried her eyes out, then I fucked myself silly with my purple vibrator, reliving the close-up shot of her eyes on my face and the feel of her large, strong hand wrapped around my tiny wrist. When the narrator follows the team to an out-of-town game, Julianne finally discovers her secret. The undeclared war that so many of us remember from adolescence has rarely been described so hilariously.

The second-funniest story in the book is “Out and a Bout” by Allison Wonderland, a pun-filled, slapstick description of a reluctant roller-skater’s introduction to the rink by a more seasoned skater in a roller derby. This story is among several that explore the erotic implications of a relationship between a coach or mentor and a fledgling athlete.

In “Chairs” by Sommer Marsden, a basketball star helps the narrator, a losing player, develop her thigh muscles by doing “chairs,” an exercise which sounds harmless but is actually an excruciatingly extended squat. The narrator’s crush on Chevy, her mentor, enables her to bear the torture for a whole minute:

I watch the anorexic second hand sweep the standard-issue clock and when the final fifteen seconds starts to rush toward me, Chevy leans on my trembling thighs with her forearms and presses down.

I make a noise like some dying thing and she grins at me, white teeth flashing in the fluorescent lighting.

Luckily, improved strength is not the narrator’s only reward for following orders.

In “Boot Camp” by J.T. Langdon, a woman in her forties who wants to firm up some of those places that had been squishy for so long signs up for a workplace exercise class taught by a very fit and sexy woman instructor. The class is so strenuous that the student almost drops out, but the instructor’s special, after-class encouragement persuades her to keep going.

In “Goddess in a Red-and-Blue Speedo” by D.L. King, the narrator takes a certification course for scuba-diving from Lorna, the “goddess” of the title, who makes it all worth her while.

In some of the mentor-student stories, the relationship is explicitly Dominant/submissive. “Cymone’s Dominatrix” by Paisley Smith is set in ancient Greece and describes the yearning of the gladiatrix prima for darker pleasures of the flesh after she has won a fight.

The most poignant stories in the collection are told by middle-aged women revisiting their youth as sporty girls who missed a chance. In “Facing the Music” by Kiki DeLovely, the narrator warily attends her long-term lover’s 25th high school reunion at a “very conservative, very Catholic” school where Nic, the lover, finally acts out a locker-room scene which was only a fantasy when she was a star athlete at the school. “Hail Mary” by Shanna Germain shows a former tennis player unexpectedly finding her old lover in the sports store where she brings her daughter to buy a good tennis racquet. The “Hail Mary,” an almost unbeatable serve, is a metaphor for the ending of a relationship which once seemed likely to last a lifetime.

In “Run, Jo, Run” by Cheyenne Blue (reminiscent of a 1959 story and film by British writer Alan Sillitoe, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”), a woman runs to escape her past, her emotional baggage, and the hell of other people. But then she meets her counterpart, another woman runner, in an open stretch of unspoiled English countryside.

Coming out as a lesbian is shown to be scary enough for teenage girls, even the ones who excel at sports. For professional athletes, the risks are much greater. As the narrator in Sacchi Green’s figure-skating story, “The Outside Edge,” explains:

 Being gay wasn’t, in itself, a career-buster these days. Sure, the rumourmongers were eternally speculating about the men in their sequinned outfits, but the skating community was united in a compact never to tell, and the media agreed tacitly never to ask.

Until the last paragraph of the story (and the last moment of the performance), the reader/viewer can’t be sure whether the narrator and her lover will reveal their true feelings in public.

Space doesn’t allow me to describe every story in detail, although each one is worth reading. The theme of insults or taunts as thinly-disguised flirting in a sports setting runs through several stories. In the over-the-top “Blood Lust” by Gina Marie, two female boxers face off:

Marinda moved in close and grabbed Rae’s ass, not once removing her dark, vicious gaze from Rae’s reflection in the mirror.

“I know what you want from me, Sugar Rae.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, I’ve been around.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Marinda.”

“It’s Lucinda to you, Miss Cherry Pie a la fucking mode.”

“Fine. Don’t fuck with me, Lucinda.”

“Oh, I will fuck with you. I will fuck with you till you can’t take it anymore. But you won’t get it that easy.”

In a surprise ending, both these characters—who address each other as “whore” and “bitch”--are shown to have a romantic streak. As they begin to get better acquainted after the match, they both show all the endearing awkwardness of two dykes on their first date.

This anthology about the sexuality of sporty dykes and the ones who want them is likely to become a classic. It probably won’t be the last work of erotic fiction on this theme.

Hat TrickHat Trick
By: A. J. Bray
ISBN: 978-1594267567

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

The title of this three-story collection is defined by the author: "Hat trick: noun - the scoring of three goals in a single game by one player."

Despite the implication that these stories are sports-themed, they are not about athletic competition or experienced players. The theme of this collection is first-time sex. One character in each story has a new sexual experience, which is hotly anticipated, scary, surprising but thrilling.

All three stories include sex between females (in a strictly biological sense), and in each case, the attraction between characters is described as natural, wholesome, mutual, and not dependent on the presence of a man, even when a man is present. Although the author calls her husband her "muse," she defines her sexual orientation as "queer," and she approaches lesbian sex with confidence and respect.

In the first story, "Drain Cleaner," a young single woman who considers herself heterosexual is puzzled by the androgynous charisma of a friendly neighbor:

" . . .while growing up in a rural, mountainous town in West Virginia, or while attending community college near said rural town, I had never seen a woman who was so intent on looking like a boy. Even more puzzling was that she was attractive. She managed to be simultaneously attractive as masculine and feminine; her lively eyes as pretty as any woman's, her pale skin flawless over squared, handsome features, and her physique broad-shouldered, strong, and lean as any man. My curiosity let my eyes stray to her breasts, which were obviously rather small, and clearly not enhanced by the lines of the tight sports bra under her shirt. I honestly had no fucking clue."

The narrator's confusion is endearing, especially as she becomes increasingly aroused by her neighbor's appearance, skill, chivalry and unsubtle flirting. The narrator's hillbilly background seems intended to explain her innocence, but is the existence of lesbians in the world still a mystery to any college-educated young woman? While this story requires a certain suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, the dance of seduction between the characters progresses at a believable pace.

By the satisfying conclusion, the reader is hoping that these two women can overcome the credibility gap between them. Interestingly enough, the worldly-wise butch (who knows all about wine, among other things) is a border-hopping Canadian, in contrast to the sheltered femme from West Virginia.

The second story is named "Hockey Stick," but the sport of hockey is hardly relevant to the plot. The significance of the title is that the hunk of male beefcake who answers a call to be the male in a threesome has well-defined muscles, presumably from playing hockey, and is willing to model sports gear for women who have a fetish for male athletes. He is an obliging dude, but then he has the delightful chore of satisfying two women who contrast with each other in classic porn style. The narrator is a willowy brunette and her small but busty blonde girlfriend is still a virgin in the traditional sense: she has never had sex with a man.

The man in this story is not a stranger to the narrator, and this complication makes him seem especially sexy to her. In the best porn tradition, a situation that could give rise to ugly jealousy, rage or exploitation in real life provides all the characters with just enough frisson to guarantee a good time for all.

Sex is described in loving detail throughout the collection, but the sex scenes are especially important in "Hockey Stick." In this story, the author finds or invents a long list of synonyms for sex organs. Here the narrator describes her methods of warming up her blonde friend:

"My tongue slipped easily into her flooding snizz, and I lapped at her greedily, I made certain to flick her clitty with each stroke, and I could already hear her moans and squeals from above me."

Soon afterward, John (the male guest) gives the narrator the attention she wants. She enjoys "the thrusting of his uncovered, throbbing rod." Later in the same paragraph it becomes "his huge prick" and "John's cock." The narrator sucks and licks her friend's "wet mound" and "her button." Luckily, her "snizz" never appears again.

The clunkiest passages in these stories convey the consciousness of innocent characters convincingly, but a narrator with greater perspective would be able to describe the experiments of youth with more insight, or at least with more art. Several sentences contain unclear or misleading words (uncorrected typos?) and omissions, which interrupt the flow of the narrative.

The third story, "Lucky Boy," departs the furthest from the clichés of stroke-stories, and it impressed me the most. Alex, a young man (by his own definition) in his first year of university, wants to lose his virginity, but he also has a secret which he fears will drive away every potential date. The love and support of his parents feels to him like too much of a good thing. And of course, the Goth chick that he hopes to impress discovers his secret before he can work up the courage to tell her. The characters are stunningly believable, and the details (including the importance of vending-machine food in dorm life) are just right.

When three students in this story discuss sexuality, they sound appropriately self-conscious, but never sink to Politically Correct stiltedness. A young man tells his dorm-mates:

" . . .It's not for everyone, but gender-fucking is a great experiment. It teaches you a lot about society's problems with gender lines. I personally couldn't care less about them. I'm attracted to people for who they are, regardless of what's in their pants or up their skirt."

The Goth chick exclaims: "I really don't give two shits about a person's genitals, as long as they're intelligent, kind and hot really doesn't hurt, either."

A second male asks: "What about people who have visited both sides of the fence, but are truly only attracted to people of one gender or the other? Are we unenlightened? Is being a straight male too pedestrian?"

His companions tell him in unison, "Not at all!" The girl explains: "The key . . . is that you weren't afraid to try something out of the normal boundaries. Not everyone is bisexual, just like not everyone is gay or straight, but at least you know for sure what you do and don't like. That makes you highly enlightened in my book."

As in the utopian sexual fiction of Carol Queen, characters with different sexual tastes form solid friendships based on mutual respect. In this story, university really does seem like the place where seekers can gain enlightenment. This reviewer wishes that the narrator of "Drain Cleaner" had attended the same school as the characters of "Lucky Boy."

Unfortunately, the author does not seem to analyze her own writing persona as well as she teases out the emotional truth of each of her characters. Her implication that she (as well as each character) "scores" brilliantly in each of these stories shows an unattractive lack of modesty. In "About the Author," she is said to have "an odd, yet delightfully eclectic approach." Her approach to erotic fiction seems far from odd to me, since her plot premises (a young woman who assumes she is “normal” is shocked and turned on by the suave gallantry of an experienced lesbian, two horny girlfriends find a well-hung stud, a shy young man is seduced by a confident young woman who appears fragile) have all been used before. Other erotic writers have also shown themselves to be “delightfully eclectic,” or capable of describing more than one type of sexual connection.

The third-person author of the author’s bio also claims: “In her writing, A.J. Bray enjoys tackling every angle of sexuality, leaving no kinky stone unturned." I can think of several kinky stones (or sex toys, fetishes, personality types, historical periods, situations, plot twists and genres) that were left unturned in this collection, at least. But then, turning over every kinky stone in the road does not seem to me to be the main purpose of erotic fiction.

The appearance of a certain unspoiled innocence in the author as well as the characters seems to be her greatest strength, as well as theirs. Despite their resemblance to characters in older stroke-stories, these young adults are experiencing it all for the first time, in their own unique skins, and the author seduces us into caring about them. This reviewer hopes that she will gain more technical skill without losing the gifts she already has.

I is for IndecentI is for Indecent
Edited By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443050
February 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This pocket-sized volume of fifteen stories is adorned with a radiant cartoon pinup girl on the cover, complete with a World War II-era sailor’s cap. This little book is part of Alison Tyler’s alphabet series, beginning with A is for Amour, B is for Bondage, and so forth. Each volume contains fewer stories than the average erotic anthology, but the whole collection will eventually include quite a range of styles, plots and sexual flavors.

Alison Tyler is a prolific editor as well as a writer of stories and novels which have been translated into various languages and circulated all over the world. Besides editing anthologies for Cleis Press, she runs her own small company, Pretty Things Press. She is a kind of one-woman industry, and her “brand” (to use a popular buzz-word) is usually easy to spot. The sex in her stories tends to be offbeat, spontaneous, fun and heterosexual. Her male characters sometimes mislead her female characters, or vice versa, but Tyler describes disappointment in a light and witty way. No one seems to get seriously hurt. If any of her characters have dark nights of the soul, these happen off the page.

This book is quirkier, stranger and darker than any of her other anthologies that I know of. These stories answer the question: Is anything considered indecent these days, even by those who consider themselves sexually free? (Or, to paraphrase a line from the 1980s music that Tyler loves, what would it take to make a pro blush?)

Several of these stories deal with exhibitionism in public places. Showing off in itself doesn’t seem shocking in works of erotic fantasy, but the characters in these stories deliberately risk violence, injury, arrest and unexpected emotional transformation. In “That Monday Morning Feeling” by Lisette Ashton, Mandy consoles herself for having to go to a boring office job by flashing her shapely butt and pressing herself against men in the London tube. “Have a Nice Day” by Mike Kimera carries the break-from-work theme further: an emotionally-detached male narrator sends his girlfriend a package at work containing a large dildo which she is ordered to stuff into herself before going to a “meeting” with a strange woman who ushers her into the narrator’s stretch limo, which seems equipped for every conceivable sexual activity.

Lisabet Sarai’s “Crowd Pleaser” describes a happy couple visiting New Orleans for their anniversary during Mardi Gras. Nothing about them seems unusual until the general revelry inspires them to have sex in a place where they are caught by television cameras before escaping from security guards.

In “The Installation” by Michael Hemmingson, a financially desperate young woman in graduate school agrees to perform sexually as part of an art exhibit. Her only reward, supposedly, is a fee which will get her out of debt. The older, experienced male artist who hires her awakens her capacity for pleasure and endurance. The change in her feelings, from grim resignation to the self-centered thrill of performing for a snobbish audience that loses interest after awhile, could have led to an ironic role-reversal. Would the artist simply forget his “object” after opening night? Would she contact him again, after resisting the impulse to do so during the lead-up to the public performance? The author doesn’t say.

In “Wet” by Janine Ashbless, a middle-class woman on a date with her husband searches in vain for an open public lavatory until she loses control of her bladder. Her public embarrassment leads to a passionate response from her husband, despite the presence of passers-by.

In “A Genuine Motherfucker” by Sommer Marsden, a female narrator tells the reader that she specializes in discovering the most shameful fantasies of the men she dates, and rubbing their noses in them (so to speak) when the men are most vulnerable. Parallel to this strategy for breaking down any semblance of dignity or self-esteem is the elaborate violation scene in “The Things You Do When You’re in Love” by Mathilde Madden, in which a domme seems to abandon her male pet in a rundown gas-station urinal after securing him to the plumbing. The scene is consensual enough in the context of a Dominant-submissive relationship, but it is hardly decent by any standards.

In “Daddy’s Pillow” by Rita Winchester, a more conventional male Dominant-female submissive encounter takes place via long-distance telephone call, and the physical absence of “Daddy” gives the narrator’s story of rapturous release a certain eeriness.

In “Waif” by Alana Noel Voth, an angry man who has been fired by his embezzling boss is approached by a young male prostitute who seems even more powerless than the unemployed corporate pawn. The story raises questions about corruption and responsibility while showing two wounded males warily responding to each other. The developing relationship between the hustler with nothing left to lose and his reluctant john shows a glimmer of hope for humanity in general, but the punch line removes any trace of sentimentality.

Thomas Roche’s black comedy, “Death Rock,” is an uncomfortably amusing look at a certain gay goth sub-community of young men who are literally in love with death. The ending, which mimics that of Romeo and Juliet, is both melodramatic and too plausible for my taste.

In “From Here to Indecency,” Stan Kent refers to a romantic movie about wartime lovers while satirizing Hollywood conventions in general. In a slapstick climax, three people who are far from glamorous are thrown together in the ocean off the coast of California. The looney-tunes romance which follows shows that Mother Nature is the best script-writer.

“Guilt” by Tsaurah Litzky is both gritty and bittersweet. The narrator’s situation suggests a line sung by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl: “Would a convent take a Jewish girl?” The breaking of sexual vows, whether to a human spouse or to God, seems indecent to all those who believe that promises should mean something. The dilemma of the guilt-ridden man in the story is that he has already proven himself a hypocrite, and he can’t do the right thing by his own standards without hurting himself and the woman who confronts him.

The stories by Rachel Kramer Bussel (who has co-edited anthologies with Alison Tyler) and Tyler herself seem downright sweet and innocent compared to most of the rest. In Bussel’s story, “The Secret to a Happy Marriage,” the “secret” is revealed to involve sex outside the marriage—and outside the heterosexual “mainstream.” The narrator’s encounter with a lesbian couple seems to be exactly the outlet she needs to remain faithful to her husband in her fashion. In Tyler’s story, “Milk and Honey,” a charming man meets a woman in a coffee shop and persuades her to drink her coffee differently than before. The delicious new flavors of sex that he introduces her to lead her to hope that something long-term might be developing between them. She learns that whatever seems too good to be true probably is.

Donna George Storey’s “The Cunt Book” also involves a dishonest man and the woman who is enchanted by his imagination even when she knows he is not telling her the factual truth. The photographic evidence of his seduction of her (or of her exhibitionist streak) suggests the woman-centered art and photography of lesbian artist Tee Corinne, which foreshadowed The Vagina Monologues some twenty years earlier.

These stories take risks and leak out of a predictable marketing niche. They could inspire you to find the sides of yourself that you’ve kept hidden from the light of day, desires which still feel indecent.

Leathermen: Gay Erotic StoriesLeathermen: Gay Erotic Stories
Edited By: Simon Sheppard
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443220
September 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

The cover of this anthology (complete with a moody photo of a dude in a leather harness over smooth, muscular flesh) looks both obvious and subject to interpretation. What is leather? Literally, it’s the treated skin of cattle, a substance with a variety of textures and a certain presence which distinguishes it from synthetic imitations.

Symbolically, leather can signify the range of activities summed up as bondage/discipline/sadism/masochism. “Leather” has been called a lifestyle, a code of honor and a culture with roots in outlaw gangs as well as in all-male military organizations. “Leather” as a deep-down urge to dominate or to submit is suggested in the negotiation scene of a story in this collection, “Willing” by Xan West. A topman describes his conversation with a breathless “boy:”

“His brown eyes stay fixed on the knife as I move toward him. I tease his lip with the tip of it and then speak softly.

‘How black do you flag?’

His eyes stay on the blade. He swallows.

‘Very black, on the right, Sir.’”

A black handkerchief on the right signals a desire to submit to extreme play—in this case, blood sports.

Few of the stories in this collection are “very black” in an SM sense, but actual leather appears in every one. In some stories, leather signifies masculine self-reliance, as in pioneer communities, and in other stories, it is the uniform of a 21st-century urban crowd with its own language and territory.

Simon Sheppard, as editor, shows his characteristic wit, both in his selection of stories by other authors and in his own poignant, post-AIDS leather-initiation story, “The Village Person.” Usually I have qualms about editors who include their own work in an anthology, but in this case, the editor’s story deserves to be in good company.

“Exposed,” the first story in the book, describes a gay man’s first submissive experience in a leather bar. It was written by the legendary Aaron Travis a.k.a. Steven Saylor, and first published in 1987, when it probably looked more groundbreaking than it does now. Initiation stories about “coming out” into a new sexual identity have become a well-worn tradition, but most of the stories in this collection tweak the leather code in new ways.

If the editor—whose essays are as engaging as his erotica—had explained the influence of Aaron Travis as a kind of “daddy” to a later generation of writers in the field, the relationship of the stories in this book would have been clearer. As a reviewer who can never get too much of Simon Sheppard’s writing, I would have liked to read an introduction summarizing this anthology.

All the stories in this book are competently-written, but some are airbrushed fantasies featuring characters who could have been drawn by Tom of Finland, while others are slices of real life featuring flawed, touchingly-honest men. Several of the stories describe the nonconsensual but well-deserved punishment of “bad boys.” Some describe male-on-male leathersex as emotional therapy.

A note on cocks: there are many of them in this book, as any reader might expect. Most are permanently attached to their wearers, but not all. (There is a transman here, as well as various phallic toys.) The loving descriptions of the definitive male sex organ indicate its various moods and significance. The cocks in these stories suggest intimidating power as well as sensitivity and vulnerability. Two cocks together, especially when exposed to each other for the first time, seem to trigger a shifting combination of empathy and rivalry. Often described as “meat,” these organs can only be ironically compared to sausages on a plate. Each one in this meat-market has its own personality.

Several of these stories are notable for their local color. These include Simon Sheppard’s, Bill Brent’s and horehound stillpoint’s tales of San Francisco as a gay-male mecca, Shane Allison’s story of an interracial encounter in a “southern gothic” house, Elazarus Wills’ story of a dusty but magical small town in Kansas, and Jeff Mann’s ballad of very closeted leathermen in rural Virginia, a kind of response to Brokeback Mountain.

Shaun Levin and Thom Wolf play with British stereotypes. Levin’s “master” is an impeccable English gentleman, while Wolf’s “rent pig” is a scruffy young man who grows up on the wrong side of the law.

Wolf’s story, “Community Punishment: The Story of a British Rent Pig,” is a first-person revenge fantasy told by a probation officer who first meets Callum when he is a “sixteen-year-old fuck-up, one of the first cases allocated to me in the Young Offenders Department.” Callum disappears from the narrator’s care, only to reappear as a “rent boy,” available to any man for a price.

The narrator’s cold-blooded lust is more disturbing, at least to me, than that of any other character in the book:

You dumb, horny, desperate fool, I thought as I fed him the juices of his rectum on my fingers. That single act was enough to convince me that this was a boy who would do absolutely anything to survive. He probably had, hundreds of times before. . . The notion thrilled me. I could do anything I wanted to this screwed-up cunt and he’d allow it.”

The narrator’s hunger to punish a broken young man seems bottomless, so to speak. By the end of the story, he is just getting started.

“Bootlegger” by Thomas Roche also describes a young hustler facing his comeuppance at the hands of older and tougher men, but the tongue-in-cheek tone suggests that there is no real hatred here. What happens in “the leather bar’s upstairs office. . . furnished in Late Post-Sleaze” seems to satisfy everyone involved.

“Capture, Test and Sell” by Christopher Pierce is another nonconsensual fantasy, as the title suggests, but the captured “prey” turns out to be more willing than his captor expects when he first picks him out of a crowd.

One of the stories about leathersex as a form of healing is by the only woman in the book, Alana Noel Voth, who also has a BDSM story in I is for Indecent (reviewed here previously). Voth’s story in Leathersex, “Salvation,” begins dramatically:

“Life, like death, came with a bang. With one laced-up black boot, this guy kicked a door open, then barged into a public bathroom, bleeding on the floor.”

The bleeder, who introduces himself as Steely Dan because he supposedly has balls of steel, seems at first to be more of a victim than the narrator, who was traumatized before Steely Dan burst into his life. By the end of the story, these two have formed a quirky and surprisingly nurturing bond.

The authors of these stories clearly know the score, and several of them satirize a too-rigid approach to “leather” as the lifestyle of Real Men without trashing the culture in general. In “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?” by Karl von Uhl, three older leathermen discuss changing times:

“’These younger people, they confuse everything,’ said Master Richard.

‘And none of them want to join the clubs,’ said Terry.

‘No, of course not, they can’t be bothered,’ said Master Richard.

‘The clubs will always be there,’ said Wade.

‘Not if nobody joins them,’ said Terry.”

The older men agree that educating novices is the way to keep leather culture alive. Meanwhile, they take turns “making a man” of an eager sissy-boy by blindfolding, shaving, plugging, paddling and flogging him.

This book could appeal to readers who “flag” in a variety of colors and positions. The culture of gay leathermen seems to have evolved over time, and most of these stories show a refreshing maturity

Lesbian Cops: Erotic InvestigationsLesbian Cops: Erotic Investigations
Edited By: Sacchi Green
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573446513
April 2011

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

The whole world is a bad neighborhood. Shit happens. Someone has to clean it up. And sometimes unexpected pleasure serves as a consolation prize.

This is the message of the stories in this collection, each featuring a lesbian police officer and a willing female civilian or rookie cop. It would be very easy for the contributors to a collection with this theme to write over-the-top fantasies about unstoppable woman warriors with bullet-proof flesh who rock-and-roll all night with sultry suspects, ignoring professional ethics. Luckily, none of the stories in this book is that kind of cartoon.

In "Dress Uniform" by Teresa Noelle Roberts, the narrator is a lesbian cop whose girlfriend has asked her to wear her uniform to a fetish fair. The narrator controls her temper, then explains:

I'm not a fetish, Lisette. My uniform isn't a cos-play outfit or a vest and leather pants. Every time I've spanked you, you've been spanked by a cop. By me. By a woman you say you care about. And if that's not good enough for you, if you need the fucking uniform, I don't know what to do, because I can't treat it like fetish gear.

The narrator feels used and misunderstood, but then she reflects on the nature of sexual attraction:

Sure, we happened to fit each other's fantasy look, but a lot of relationships started based on nothing more substantial than having an eye for curvy African-American women or redheads or tanned blonde athletes or whatever. Just because we each had a fetish for what the other wore didn't mean we didn't connect on other levels. We'd work this out somehow.

Lisette apologizes for pushing the narrator to accommodate her fetish, and the narrator finds a way to "work this out." She buys a "police uniform" in a fetish-wear store to wear for sex-play. In some sense, she agrees to play the role of sexy cop to please the woman in her life when she is not actually doing her job.

Several of these stories deal with the stress on family members, especially spouses, of police work. In "A Cop's Wife" by Evan Mora, the narrator gets anonymous telephoned threats for her wife Patrice, a Canadian cop who has captured violent sex offenders. As Patrice reminds her wife, the threats are a part of her job. Under the circumstances, sex between the two women is a life-affirming refusal to surrender to fear.

In "Raven Brings the Light" by Kenzie Mathews, another relationship story set in a harsh northern climate (Alaska), the schoolteacher narrator is shaken by a TV news announcement about the murder of a young woman she knew. The teacher's partner, a cop, "didn't want to talk about it when she finally came home."

The narrator explains her partner's background:

In Thomasane's family, no one ever dared to laugh or smile, much less talk.

The narrator even talks to her beloved rescue dogs. The two women bridge the gap between their communication styles by sharing traditional First Nations stories about Raven, a trickster figure who found a way to steal the precious light of the sun, moon and stars and throw them in the sky. It's a story of hope, and it's enough to convey the flavor of their relationship.

Another realistic story about an established relationship between a cop and her partner is "Chapel Street Blue" by R.V. Raiment. In this story, the cop is blessed or cursed with movie-star glamor, and she has to deal with a garden-variety horndog, the male cop she works with, while investigating the murder of a young sex worker by a more violent man. The cop's partner, the narrator, offers her the distraction of sex which ends dramatically:

A sudden surge and we are sliding sweat-soaked and laughing from the gorgeous peak, my lovely law-woman and I.

But that's not the end of the story, which concludes with a revelation about how this perfect partnership began.

The story with the grittiest emotional tone in the collection is "A Prayer Before Bed" by Annabeth Leong. Once again, the murder of a woman by a violent man is the catalyst that kicks off the plot. In this case, however, trust is in short supply between the woman cop investigating the case and the woman witness who knows she is instrumental to it. Sexual attraction is a spark between them from the moment they meet, and emotional intimacy follows slowly.

"Officer Birch" is about a woman cop whose "professional" distance breaks the heart of the lonely young lesbian who reaches out to her for recognition and guidance. In a bittersweet sequel to an unequal relationship formed in a high school, the officer responds to a love-note twelve years after it is pressed into her hand. The young dyke who has never forgotten her says bluntly: Whatever we are, whatever this is, is not a friendship. Whatever it is is intensely sexual.    

Stories that feature BDSM scenes (as distinct from rough sex) include "Hollis" by Jove Belle, set in boot camp, and "Riding the Rails" by the editor, Sacchi Green, set on a train on which the spoiled fourth wife of a sultan must be escorted to Washington DC by a woman cop who encounters a woman she has known for years, a fellow-officer. In a claustrophobic, rhythmically-moving environment that no one can escape until the train stops, who will do what to whom else? The suspense builds to a climax.

In "Undercover" by Ily Goyanes, the narrator resents her assignment:

A lesbian rookie vice detective going undercover as a hooker. . . who woulda thunk?

The narrator has no desire to arrest johns when more violent offenders are at large. When a car pulls up and a woman with an air of command asks for the narrator's services, the undercover cop faces a dilemma: to keep the wire that will secretly record their conversation, or remove it and risk her career in law-enforcement. As things turn out, both women get what they want, and no one would dare penalize either of them.

In the humorous "Torn Off a Strip" by Elizabeth Coldwell, a woman officer is called to a party where a young amateur stripper deserves punishment--not for showing her body or for selling sex, but for supplementing her income with theft. The sex is hot, and the ending is happy.   

Stories by Delilah Devlin, R.G. Emmanuelle, Andrea Dale and J.L. Merrow are gentler accounts of the routine stresses of police life and the challenge of a civilian who wants to seduce a cop.
In "How Does Your Garden Grow?" by Cheyenne Blue, a lush garden grown by an eccentric woman in the Australian outback is investigated by a policewoman who is really more interested in a different kind of bush than in digging up anything illegal. "Healing Hand" by Lynn Mixon features a woman in the witness protection program and the woman cop who wants to ensure her safety. In this case, the healing is mutual.

These stories vary considerably in tone, but all are memorable. This anthology is about sex for grown-ups, and about the nature and price of power.

Just don't steal it. You never know who might be watching you.

Lessons at the EdgeLessons at the Edge
By: William Gaius
December 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

“Mrs. Robinson” fantasies (referring to the older woman, Mrs. Robinson, who seduces a  young man, a recent college graduate, in that iconic movie of the 1960s, The Graduate) deserve their own niche. What heterosexual teenage boy, bursting with hormones, has never been intrigued by a female friend of his parents? And where is such a young man supposed to acquire sexual experience – from an equally green girl of his own age?

This novel is a fantasy that could appeal to many a man who remembers his youth. It is also a realistic “what-if” story. What if the boy’s seemingly hopeless crush were mutual? What if the older woman took him under her wing (so to speak), apparently with his parents’ blessing? What would be her motivation? And how would the relationship play out?

This first-person novel tells the story of the narrator’s education, formal and informal, after he leaves home to attend Stanford University in California while living with “Aunt RoseAnn,” a sexy divorced Latina who is his mother’s best friend. The whole saga has the old-fashioned, autobiographical flavor of a realistic nineteenth-century novel. It is an erotic bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story.

When eighteen-year-old Barry arrives at RoseAnn’s apartment in 1983, he is impressed to see that she has outfitted a room for him. To his great embarrassment, he comes as soon as she hugs him. To his amazement, she is flattered. He confesses that he has fantasized about her for years.

RoseAnn responds:

Do you really think I haven’t known that? It’s been in your eyes since you were thirteen. Now you’re a full-grown man, virile and handsome. You carry yourself like a man years older than your calendar age, but I wonder, how much experience have you had with women?

Barry mutters:

A few girlfriends.

RoseAnn’s work is cut out for her, and she outlines his new role: he will be her houseboy, cooking and cleaning for her, but she will make sure he doesn’t neglect his studies. And she will introduce him to sexual self-control by teasing and frustrating him until she decides that he deserves release.

RoseAnn explains that she loves being dominant, but she doesn’t want to be addressed by any title. Barry learns that she loves oral sex (performed on her by an eager suitor) and that he has a natural talent for it. RoseAnn is honest about her age, 37, which is “just a number” to Barry.

RoseAnn is one of the most likeable Dommes in erotic fiction. She knows what she wants and keeps no secrets. She has known Barry for most of his life, and knows him better than he knows himself.

RoseAnn explains that she left her husband because he took her for granted and hit her, assuming she would accept this treatment. However, she has always been more than a sex object or a housekeeper. She is an engineer with skills that are in great demand in the development of cellular telephones. She is well able to afford her own expensive apartment and an independent life.

This story is told by Barry, who is so hooked on RoseAnn that he is unable to understand everything she tells him. A mature reader can grasp the essence of her instructions immediately. RoseAnn admits to being selfish enough to exploit the sexual eagerness of a young man, but she is also generous enough to give him an education which is likely to benefit him for the rest of his life. Without defining herself as a feminist, RoseAnn makes it clear that she will never again tolerate a man who exploits her and neglects her needs because he is lazy, selfish and ignorant. She is determined to train Barry well while he is still very susceptible to her training methods.

Barry thinks he has everything he could possibly want, but he is still attracted to female classmates. He is especially attracted to Gloria, sassy red-haired daughter of a Nobel Prize winner in Barry’s chosen field of study. Gloria flirts with Barry from their first meeting. What’s a boy to do?

Barry struggles to honor his commitments and make it clear to others that he is “taken.” He tells RoseAnn he wants to marry her.

RoseAnn’s training methods go beyond housework in the nude, cunt-worship and sexual deprivation to include bondage and whipping. As painful and cathartic as the percussion play is, RoseAnn’s cruel-to-be-kind response to Barry’s dream of a shared future hurts worse. Barry discovers the depth of his emotions as well as his own resilience.

Lessons at the Edge is exceptionally well-plotted, and its solid structure raises it above the level of a masturbation fantasy aimed at teen boys. Every colourful detail is there for a reason which is eventually revealed.  And for readers who are still hungry for more on the last page, there is the promise of a sequel.

Edited By: Lindsay Gordon
Virgin Black Lace
ISBN: 0352345160
June 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Black Lace, an imprint of Virgin Publishing in the United Kingdom, now owned by Random House, is erotica by women for women. The stories contain a lot of sexual description and are mostly heterosexual romances with happy endings. The themes of the anthologies are broad and fairly conventional by now. Unlike quirkier collections from smaller publishers, these stories belong to a recognizable brand: well-written, effective as one-handed reading, but light on character development and philosophical analysis. These stories challenge the persistent double standard of sexual morality which still limits women's sexual choices, and they deserve to be read for this reason alone. Fiction which seriously challenges or illuminates the status quo needs to be found elsewhere.

As the saying goes, it is what it is. The Black Lace novels and anthologies continue to occupy a worthy niche between traditional “porn” (badly written and edited, cheaply produced, intended to be used once and thrown away) and literary erotica which thoughtfully probes, as it were, the significance of sex in the complex context of life. Black Lace books generally seem free of clunky prose, grammatical or technical errors, and they are attractively produced. I think of them as a verbal equivalent of Devon cream: an English treat which is irresistible, though not especially nutritious. Sex fantasies don’t get much better than this.

The theme of Liaisons is secret or uncommitted sex: trysts between lovers who are married to other people, lightning-strike attraction between new acquaintances, the consummation of seemingly hopeless crushes. This is a fruitful topic for both fantasy and tragedy, but all the stories are contemporary and realistic, loosely speaking, and all the characters seem to benefit immensely from their liaisons.

The jolly stories of adultery feature devoted, trusting husbands who never seem to guess how they are being deceived by their horny and clever wives. There are also several stories about the traditional male teacher-female student hookup, although in one case, the heroine's encounter with a younger, lustier and more honest man enables her to realize how her older, married lover (formerly her tutor) is exploiting her. In the cleverly misleading "Men" by Charlotte Stein, a woman "confesses" to her current lover that she has had memorable affairs with a variety of very different men -- yet the lover has no reason to feel jealous. "A Stroll Down Adultery Alley" by Portia da Costa is not about adultery at all, and the sexual attraction between the unlikely hero and the divorced heroine looks like a sign that they were made for each other.

The voyeuristic thrill of fantasizing about a mysterious stranger before acquiring carnal knowledge of him is evoked in two memorable stories: “The Woodsman” by Charlotte Stein, and “Glamour” by Carrie Williams. “The Woodsman” is set in a contemporary English forest, but it evokes hairy, half-wild men (or the “Green Man,” the spirit of the woods) in traditional tales and artwork, as well as the unspoken prohibitions in them. (The narrator knows that if she spies on her strange lover, or invades his privacy, she will be punished.) In “Glamour,” a young Polish immigrant to London earns her living as hotel maid although she is actually a musician from a country that is too full of them. Her life is lonely and frustrating, but she relieves the tedium by fantasizing about the important man whose room she is assigned to clean, and who never seems to be there. Eventually, Marta learns what makes him tick, and why he needs her as much as she needs him.

“Archeogasms” by K.D. Grace and “Junking” by Alison Tyler are very different stories, but in some sense they each deal with the fascination of the past. In “Archeogasms,” a woman archaeologist leads a team of researchers who are exploring a cave which is rumored to be the site of ancient fertility rites. She is surprised to learn that the man and woman in her team who grope each other in semi-public places enjoy watching her watching them, but the central scene in this story is not a threesome. When a curious male journalist interviews Dr. Allegra Thorn, she invites him to join her in the cave on the Summer Solstice, where they are both enlightened in several ways.

“Junking” by Tyler, the perky chronicler of sex in Los Angeles (“El Lay”), is about a distinctly American kind of historical research in the form of bargain-hunting for the artefacts of retro pop culture. Fiona the heroine runs a second-hand shop for which she is always seeking out merchandise while she lives with her yuppie boyfriend, a man who neither shares nor understands her passion for “junk.” He remarks: “There’s a fine line between ‘broken in’ and broken down,’” and this statement applies to his relationship with Fiona as well as to her former taste in men, who always turned out to be missing important parts (honesty, loyalty, job skills, a plan). On her search for good, well-preserved items, Fiona meets another “junker.” He is a good, well-preserved Dom who is outfitting a garage “dungeon” with used items that can be adapted to other purposes. Fiona has met her match.

“Advanced Corsetry” by Justine Elyot is a more elaborate and tightly-laced BDSM fantasy told by a  custom corset-maker who loves her craft. She is approached by a man who orders a corset for his “wife,” a woman who seems to be under orders never to speak. Following the “husband’s” instructions, the corset-maker is able to arouse the “wife” in unmistakable ways, but a disturbing question about the consensuality of the “fittings” hangs in the air. When the corset-maker is almost excited enough to ignore her own concerns, the “wife” breaks her silence to reveal her true motives. This story is essentially a lesbian romance to which a man has been added as window-dressing.

The best and most intricate of the lot, in my opinion, is “Table for Three” by A.D.R. Forte, in which two men and a woman explore their feelings for each other at a beach resort. The shifting currents of visual attraction, jealousy, exhibitionism and self-discovery are convincingly and poetically described in sections which jump from one character’s viewpoint to another’s. Eventually, the reader becomes intimately familiar with all three characters as the woman character learns that she can watch the interaction between male lovers without being shut out of a “gay” scene. Here she has the last word:
“It’s over. But it’s just begun.”

This anthology only includes thirteen stories, but it is a rich smorgasbord. And when you’ve finished devouring it, there are guaranteed to be more Black Lace anthologies available, both forthcoming and backlisted.

Like a Queen: An Anthology of Lesbian FairytalesLike a Queen: An Anthology of Lesbian Fairytales
Edited By: Cecilia Tan
Contributions By: Rachel Kincaid
Circlet Press
ISBN: 978-1885865830

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

As the title suggests, there are queens in this anthology: imperious women who expect to be obeyed and who openly seek carnal knowledge of wenches and princesses. What damsel could refuse them, and what man would dare intervene? However, the most fascinating characters in these stories are the witches, magical women who bend reality to their will and who recognize other women like themselves. There are some witch-queens here who combine characteristics of both, but in any contest of Who Is Sexiest of Them All, the resourcefulness of the witches beats the regal panache of the queens hands down.

This mini-collection of erotic fairy tales from Circlet Press is a companion volume to Like a Prince, a gay-male counterpart. Both these e-books have almost-identical introductions by editor Rachel Kincaid, who explains the special appeal of stories in this genre:

These stories are fun and sexy and clever, but they are also important. The original Grimm's fairytales were set without exception in a world of compulsory heterosexuality; even worse than being ostracized or punished, queer people didn't even exist. These stories are our way of writing ourselves back into our cultural consciousness; of making sure that the values that we're imbibing include us and our desire in a positive light -- a practice that's necessary no matter how many times it's already been done.      

These stories are all deliciously twisted versions of familiar stories, some featuring compelling characters and some with clever plots that wind their convoluted way to a happy ending. My favorite character of the bunch is the witch/stepmother in "Mirror" by Clarice Clique. In this story, the magical mirror that shows the beauty of Snow White to her jealous stepmother has become a metaphor for the similarities between the witch, self-exiled from the world of men, and the motherless girl who has always been aware of the witch in herself.

After the witch in this story has sought out Snow White's father, the king, and bewitched him into marriage, she leaves him drugged by a potion and seeks out Snow White in her bedchamber. To her surprise, the girl doesn't panic at the sight of the terrifying stranger at her bedside. Snow White explains:

"I try, every day, I try so hard to be good, to earn the praise and acceptance of those around me. But I've always known what I really am. That's how I know what you are. We are the same. I'm not scared of you. I'm scared of myself."

This Snow White, who doesn't hesitate to become the playmate of all seven dwarfs before the witch, her nemesis, catches up with her yet again, is far from a passive maiden. She can give pleasure as well as accept rough treatment. In some sense, she is wiser than the witch, who comes to realize that love is not her undoing; it is a newly-discovered source of power.

"Queen's Jewel," by A.D.R. Forte, features a similarly resourceful young woman who couldn't bear to be given to an old man in an arranged marriage. Her first-person account begins when a queen is directing her maids to help transform the narrator into a gowned and coifed seductress after she arrived, lost and bedraggled, at the castle door.

As the center of attention for a curious, sympathetic court, the narrator steals the heart of the queen's son, a wilful prince who has never found a princess to his taste. Will the strange visitor settle for marriage to a young man instead of an old man? Not exactly. But her presence in the castle gives the queen a perfect excuse to "test" her guest in ways that satisfy them both. 

"Gretel's Dilemma" by Kaysee Renee Robichaud is a more playful story, written in a breezier style. In this version of "Hansel and Gretel," Hansel is a clueless twin brother who manfully tries to "rescue" Gretel from a Mistress-and-servant relationship that thrills her to the core. As annoying as he can be, Hansel is her blood kin, reminder of the only family she has ever known. Like many a modern-day woman, Gretel thinks she must choose between the love of her family and a new relationship in which Gretel discovers a new sexual identity. Needless to say, the witch's desire to "eat" the tender flesh of children in the traditional story is turned into a sexual joke in this one.

"After the Hunt" by Michael M. Jones is a romantic comedy that combines elements from several folktales. Set in the Black Forest of Germany, it involves a fractured kingdom, a tomboy princess with eleven female attendants who can all pass as huntsmen in the service of a king, an inconvenient fiancé, and a droll, talking lion who turns out to be under a curse. King Matthias finds himself engaged to two women: to Princess Sophie, who still wears the promise ring he gave her when both were children, and to Princess Tatiana, whom he promised to marry for political reasons. As everyone else in the situation can see, however, he doesn't really want to be married to a princess at all. And the apparent rivalry of the two women barely disguises other responses. What to do? The solution becomes clearer as the story winds to a climax (or several), and all the loose ends are tied up in a way that looks impressively uncontrived.  

"The Stepmother's Girl, a Cinderella Story" by Quatre Grey is an intense BDSM fantasy which focuses more on the dynamics of a relationship between a Dominant older femme and a submissive younger butch than on the dysfunctional family of the original story. In this first-person version, the "Cinderella" character sees herself reflected in the eyes of her new stepmother soon after she arrives:

Lips the color of a dried rose curl at the edge as you smile, intrigued by this new toy, young, pure, boyish and eager. What servants are needed when a strong girl is willing to do the work?

The narrator wants nothing more than to please her Mistress, and stepmother is delighted as her servant passes increasingly harder tests of loyalty and endurance.

These stories vary considerably in style and tone, and each casts a different spell. Tales of strong women subverting predicted outcomes never grow stale. If woman/woman sex appeals to you at all, this collection is sure to enchant. 

Love Notes: A Music and Sex AnthologyLove Notes: A Music and Sex Anthology
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Ravenous Romance
ISBN: 978-1607770688
February 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This collection of 22 stories has a kind of silent soundtrack of all the songs that inspire overwhelming lust in a variety of fictional characters. This anthology could also be regarded as a textbook in how far a writer can go in referring to copyrighted material without being sued. Despite the warnings that have been posted in various writers’ loops (e.g. your characters can quench their thirst with “pop,” “soda” or a “soft drink,” but nothing more specific unless you can afford to pay a fortune to a large corporation for naming their product in print), the contributors to this volume name living artists and quote both song titles and lyrics. Here are a few of the story titles that made me gasp:  “Like a Prayer,” “Shania in the Chatroom,” “Cheerleading Zeppelin,” “Dancing Queen,” “Cherry Pie,” and “Simply Beautiful.” In case a reader doesn’t own a recording of a particular song and needs a memory prompt, there is plenty of “da-da-da-da-da- DUM,” and “oo-oo baby” in the descriptions.

In general, these stories do a remarkable job of describing something that is almost indescribable in words:  the effects of rhythm and melody on human psyches.  As the editor explains in the introduction, sex and music naturally go together. As she doesn`t explain, `playing` in one sense or another is hard to describe for anyone who isn`t in the scene at the moment. The references to real music are useful as a way to establish the mood.

The theme of this anthology is consistent throughout; every story uses music as an essential element of the plot. However, some of the stories read like catchy but quickly-forgettable pop tunes (a guy and a gal are moved by their favorite song to fuck to the beat) while some are more complex and worthy of experiencing more than once, like concept albums, fugues (consisting of several intertwined melodies), good jazz or musical comedies.

“The Main Events” by Eve Carpenter and “Musically Arousing” by Mariana Tolentino border on being groupie-masturbation fantasies. In each story, a female fan gets the thrill of a lifetime when a male musician responds to her breathless admiration. “The Main Events” is somewhat more believable, since the fan and her idol have met before, and the band isn’t wildly famous – yet. “Musically Arousing” is more of a classic Cinderella fantasy: famous rock star happens to meet girl-next-door when he stops at the gas station where she is stranded because her car broke down on her way to his concert. Of course, he finds her irresistibly attractive.

“Rock Star Baby” by Jocelyn Bringas is a variation on this theme. Roslyn, the central character, is a female rock star who snags a devoted male fan for the night. The symbiotic  effects of her talent and high-energy performance and his crush on her result in mind-blowing sex. In “Silent Crescendo,” a white male guitarist goes to hear the black female singer of his dreams and is amazed to learn that the admiration is mutual.

There is a variety of sexual pairings in this collection: het-male-dominant, het-female-dominant, female-female and male-male. The same-sex couples all have more-or-less equal power, and none of these characters is more famous than the one s/he hooks up with.

The theme of a fan’s obsession with a star (rock or otherwise) meshes perfectly with scenes of Dominance/submission to a soundtrack.  In “Closer” by Brandi Woodlawn, Reyna the dominatrix plays with her boy-toy, in a club, to appropriate music. In “Freedom” by Jincey Lumpkin, a woman who admires model Cindy Crawford drives herself to ecstasy while watching a video which combines Crawford’s luscious body and George Michael‘s song “Freedom.” In “The Special Fuck” by Graydancer, the male narrator plays the role of dastardly Captain Hook (from 1904 play Peter Pan and numerous later versions) torturing the Indian maiden Tiger Lily (his submissive playmate, bound to a St. Andrew’s cross) during a Halloween party. The recorded music for this event is hypnotic enough to enhance their sense of being in an alternative world. In “With Random Precision” by Emerald, the female narrator sinks deeply into sub-space while being bound with purple silk rope to the sound of a Pink Floyd classic, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

In contrast, “Dancing Queen” is not an homage to the group Abba. Not at all. A woman at a dungeon party is completely turned off by the squeaky-clean sounds of one of Abba’s signature songs, the choice of the party host. Before leaving, the woman arranges to hook up with the bartender later to play to a rougher beat. “She Loves to Hear the Music” by Delilah T. Jones is also about a turn-off or a disconnect between music and listener, as well as between a stripper/sex worker and the male customer she serves and dislikes.  The title is as ironic as the dialogue between the two characters.

Emotional discordancy between band members is also featured in “Breaking Up the Band” by Jack Stratton, in which general unhappiness resulting from one-way lust is the theme song of the day. The male narrator, the drummer, yearns for guitarist Kate, whose heart has been broken by band leader Stephen’s announcement that he is going to move in with his new girlfriend.  Can the band be saved? No, but their final performance is memorable.

In “Battle of the Bands” by J.M. Snyder, a fierce competition between two all-male bands perfectly captures the combination of lust and rivalry that can characterize same-sex attraction. The two bandleaders reach their own truce in a hot, spontaneous coupling. In “Barely Breathing” by Madlyn March, the emotional pain of the female narrator is almost palpable as she remembers Nadine, the lover who taught her the value of delayed orgasm, but who couldn’t be faithful.

I’ll resist the temptation to comment on every story in the collection. Suffice it to say that the ones I like best are the most unusual. “Bad Mother” by Elizabeth St. John is a lifelike portrait of the lesbian mother of a teenage daughter who doesn’t appreciate her mom’s heirloom 78 r.p.m. Mexican records, inherited from mom’s grandmother. Mom is called to the school to discuss her daughter’s behavior and meets a very attractive woman who enjoys Abuela’s sentimental music as well as old-fashioned school discipline.  If only motherhood were always this fun!

“Cheerleading Zeppelin” by Zack Lindley is also a kind of school story, set in 1977. Terry, rebellious male narrator, is thrown together with Lydia, a cheerleader and honors student. At first, the two seem to have nothing in common except their love for the band, Led Zeppelin. Then Lydia, lonely daughter of immigrant parents, drops a bombshell on Terry by telling him that he doesn’t “know shit” about her. She asks him (and the reader) to guess what “happens” when she is trapped at home with a predatory father and a mother who refuses to interfere. In spite of himself, Terry cares. The heavy-metal sound of Led Zeppelin captures both the despair and the hope of the two young adults on their way out of high school, and their story ends on a movingly upbeat note.

The editor’s own story, “Cherry Pie,” fits in well with this collection, despite my qualms about editors who publish their own work. It is sweet in every sense, and contrasts nicely with the darker pieces.  This anthology is guaranteed to get you moving, probably in the direction of your sound system and your music collection. Sex and music are such an obvious fit that I expect to see more anthologies on this theme in the future.

Making the Hook-Up: Edgy Sex with SoulMaking the Hook-Up: Edgy Sex with Soul
Edited By: Cole Riley
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443832
March 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

In his introduction, the editor says:

My quest to create this anthology stems from a conversation I had some years ago with Calvin Herndon, author of the bestselling Sex and Racism in America, who told me, shortly before I attempted my first erotic story:

‘When Black people are allowed to indulge the usual sins, the customary fetishes, and all the regular vices humans are permitted, then they will have achieved total sexual citizenship.  Otherwise, they will remain trapped in the usual stale stereotypes and labels the world has assigned to us.’

So Cole Riley set out to collect erotic stories about (and by, as far as this reviewer can tell) people of African descent.

“All the regular vices” is a mixed bag.  If the editor’s goal was to collect a diverse set of stories, he more-or-less succeeded.  These stories vary in tone and subject-matter, although most are heterosexual.

Attraction between men only occurs out of sight, on the other side of a wall, in “Keeping Up with the Joneses” by Reginald Harris.  In this story, a married man who claims to be squicked by the mere thought of two men in bed together is inspired to enjoy more sex with his wife by the sounds of bed-thumping from the gay neighbors in the house next door.  In “Velvet,” Fiona Zedde (a brilliant world-builder) describes a bittersweet lesbian initiation.

Several of these stories are essentially “dirty jokes” (a brotha gets some from a sista, heh-heh).  In “Three Kisses” by Preston Allen, Docta Love decides to seduce a well-built female dealer in a casino by offering her a large amount of money for three kisses over three nights.  She insists that she is happily married with children, but she could use some help in remodeling her bathroom.  The deal goes far beyond three kisses, and the reader is clearly meant to be amused, but this one was annoyed.  Docta Love comes very close to the traditional stereotype of a black pimp, dripping with bling and false promises, and he persistently refers to his love-interest as a PR (Puerto Rican).  Not that she deserves more respect than he does.  So much for breaking out of stale stereotypes.

“Got Milk?” by Monica Elaine is an unbelievable story about a horny woman who opens the door to a strange white man while she is wearing a bathrobe and nothing else.  It seems he wants to borrow some milk, but he has a white fiancée who is both suspicious and attracted to the female narrator.  At some point, all three are literally sliding about in spilled milk.  Huh.

Then there are stories of apparently random but plausible hook-ups such as the relationship between Aden and Yanni in “Rain” by Kweli Walker, a union of intellectual soul-mates that started with a wrong telephone number.

In the poignant “For Nita” by Jolie du Pre, a downtrodden wife gets out of her marriage and improves her life with help from her best friend Nita, a successful psychiatrist.  But as in most such stories of transformation, the mentor can’t control her creature or protégée, and when the newly-empowered woman trusts her instincts and a pair of strangers to give her what she wants, Nita disapproves.  The saying that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs seems relevant here.

In “Hung by Zetta Brown, a woman called to jury duty finds ways to cope with the frustration and boredom of being sequestered for weeks with other jurors, one of whom is definitely “hung.”  Of course, this term can be applied in a legal sense to a jury as a whole.  This sexual joke tickled my funny bone, since it implies that satisfaction can be found in the least likely places, in the midst of ambiguity and disagreement.

One of the themes of this anthology is the influence of Fate or serendipity in bringing the right two people together, and this theme can be found in almost any erotic anthology.  Then there are some themes that seem more specific to the African diaspora.  One is the attractiveness of women (especially) and men who would be considered fat by current  (white, mainstream) standards of beauty.  Lush, fleshy curves are described with enthusiasm in these stories.  As the male Master of two submissive women says in “Welcome Home” by Shakir Rashaan:

I’m a big man myself, so there’s not much that a petite girl can do for me but introduce me to her thicker girlfriend.  I’m sorry, but bones do hurt.

The mutual admiration and confidence of the full-figured characters in this book are a refreshing change from the images of anorexic fashion models that are often presented in the media as ideal women, in groups that usually include token featherweight women of color.

Another theme in this collection could be defined as “Roots.”  In these stories, characters discover, or rediscover, their sexuality by returning to their personal places of birth, or to the homeland of their ancestors, which seems both strange and familiar.  In some cases, characters heal themselves by revisiting an old trauma.  The best of these stories have a kind of magnetic power that suggests “roots” in the sense of magic, or kitchen voodoo.

In R. Gay’s “Strangers in the Water,” the female narrator brings her husband and twin sons from the United States to visit her grandmother in Haiti.  The narrator, unlike her mother, feels drawn to the scene of a crucial event:

I owe my existence to the frantic coupling of two strangers in 1937 in the shallow and bloody waters of the Massacre River that separates Haiti from the Dominican Republic.

In the story that has been passed down, the grandmother mated with a fellow-refugee in the river, where soldiers on both sides were hunting them down.  Jean-Marc, the temporary lover, had already been killed when the grandmother discovered that she was pregnant, but he lives on in family lore as the husband she never had.  The narrator’s living husband helps her to pay homage to the past.

In “Sex and Chocolate,” the female narrator comes home from New York City to the island in the Bahamas where she grew up, a place that (like Haiti) seems closer to Africa than to the U.S.  There she meets an honest homeboy who is wiser and better for her than the shallow playboy who tries to get her into bed.

In “Lights on a Cave Wall,” Kira and Imbe, a kind of generic couple, seduce each other in Cuba, in a climate described as sexy by nature:

It was the kind of heat she’d only felt in private places, places only he touched. As she sat on the fine gray sand near the mouth of the cave, she could feel the sun awakening her to memories that made her body ache.

This story borders on melodrama, but Imbe’s story of two kindred souls who seek each other through several generations fits with the slow and hypnotic sex he shares with Kira in the cave, their natural home.  By the last paragraph, she is convinced that she loved him even before they “met” in their current lives.

In a sadder, parallel story, “When the River” by Leone Ross, the heroine meets “a man of integrity” in an old, romantic hotel somewhere in Europe.  Rosemarie and her new friend try to resist their mutual attraction.  Even though they seem to be soul-mates, he refuses to break his commitment to another woman.

The theme of a healing sexual journey gets an unusual treatment in the editor’s own road-trip story about a traveling preacher-woman and a desperate man with a gun who thinks he has nothing to lose.  They only have one night together, but it is enough to change their lives.

To sum up, I found this anthology extremely mixed.  The best stories in it are ht, compelling, emotionally honest and as powerful as the best literary fiction anywhere.  The worst make adequate one-handed reading, but they (like the “petite girl” disdained by the “big man”) are just too thin in comparison.

Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 8Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 8
Edited By: Maxim Jakubowski
Constable & Robinson (UK), Running Press (US)
ISBN: 0762436336
January 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This thick collection of 41 stories is a banquet of sex in various forms and flavors, all predominantly heterosexual with a tiny amount of same-sex action sprinkled in for spice. The editor admits that his taste is "idiosyncratic." As a writer and bookseller of crime/noir fiction, he seems especially fond of erotica in those genres. He also has a fine eye for literary skill, so there are no clunker sentences or groan-worthy metaphors on any of the 460 pages of this book. (Not a single brooding detective in a rumpled raincoat meets a slinky dame, except in stories such as "Amour Noir" by Landon Dixon, in which an innocent traveler is bewildered, then aroused, then alarmed by characters in Iowa who seem out of touch with reality.)

Instead of relying on a select group of well-known writers to supply him with the year's best published erotica, Maxim Jakubowski has become famous or notorious for trolling the 'net for gems and republishing them with a minimum of communication with the authors. In fairness to him, the current general conception of "published" work includes anything posted in a public place, and Jakubowski seems to be pursuing authors more systematically now than in the past. A note in the acknowledgment for "Child's Position" by Dawn Ryan, first posted on the site "Sliptongue," claims: "Repeated attempts have been made to contact the author. Should she come across this volume, she should contact the editor c/o the publishers."

The results of the editor's treasure-hunt style of finding material (he also welcomes submissions) are impressive. In the introduction, he boasts: "Many names will be familiar to readers of past volumes, but I am particularly proud this year that eighteen writers appear in the series for the first time, and that a growing cohort of male authors also provides evidence that sexual sensibility is not just the domain of female writers."

Considering his professed open-mindedness, it seems ironic that he has not found any stories about sex between two men or two women worthy of publication, and the few stories about bisexuals (i.e. "menage" stories) emphasize the importance of male-female sex. There are no transgender characters in this collection that I could find.

The consistently high quality of this collection makes it hard to choose favorites, although as a member of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, I am always glad to find a good handful of stories from the ERWA website in this series. Probably the fairest way to describe the stories in this book is to identify general themes.

There is an interesting spectrum of Dominant/submissive relationships, although the kind of BDSM activities defined as "extreme" or "black-hanky" are largely missing. In "The Slave," the first story in the book, Julia Morizawa takes on the voice of a female character in a doomed D/s affair with a man who reacts violently to her complaint that he is "too gentle. . . Master." Love, as distinct from momentary lust, is the demon they both fear.

In "The Shoot" by D.L. King, eye-candy male submissives are arranged for the camera by their Mistresses. Like other stories of camera erotica, this story plays on the D/s implications of human models who can be dressed, undressed, painted and posed for photographers who capture the image of a moment for all time.

"Matching Skirt and Kneepads" by Thomas Roche is the closest to a gay/lesbian story in the book. A female submissive who spends much time on her knees is taken out by her Mistress, who introduces her to a pair of leathermen. The "girl" is recovering from a clit-piercing, but she is able to please Mistress' friends with other parts of her body. Her reward is a set of kneepads that match her skirt.

In "Incurable Romantic" by Lisabet Sarai, a male Dom with the female submissive of his dreams is able to learn some new things about his own desires. "Late for a Spanking" by Rachel Kramer Bussel is brisker and lighter, but it also plays with desires that could break the trust in a good BDSM relationship. Like the Dom in Lisabet Sarai's story, the man here knows he is lucky to have an almost-perfect female submissive, and he has promised to be faithful to her in his fashion, but a frisky girl who likes to be spanked is almost irresistible.

"The Unattainable" by Livia Llewelyn is an outstanding story in a book full of them. On the surface, this is a kind of country song about a one-night-stand between a woman who has returned to small-town Virginia and a hard-muscled rodeo rider who tells her that he "always wins." Below the surface, however, his deep, unexpressed desire to submit, and her desire to be "the thing he longs for most in all the world" can almost be felt by the reader.

"Victoria's Hand" by Lisette Ashton is an over-the-top scene of a marriage proposal in the Victorian Age. The suitor asks Victoria for "her hand." Enjoying his anxiety, she seizes her advantage and demands to see the goods before she will commit to anything. In an age when most women have few rights, she negotiates a marriage in which she will be in charge.  

D/s stories often overlap with fetish stories; the crucial difference seems to be that fetish stories focus on an object, a body part or a single activity rather than a relationship. Fetish stories in this book include: "Boot Camp" by Kristina Lloyd, a hilarious spin on recovery or detox centers. In this case, the narrator is a woman who loves to lick boots, and who has been sent to a camp for fetishists, supposedly intended to "cure" them. Not surprisingly, "Spitshine" meets a boot-wearer whose fetish is very compatible with hers. In "Supercollider" by Chad Taylor, a waitress meets a quirky customer who likes the same games that she does.

"I Am Jo's Vibrator" by M. Christian is a playful monologue by a vibrator who is thrilled to be brought home from the store to pleasure a young woman, and learns that he can also serve her boyfriend. In "Spin Dry" by Sam Jayne, a fiercely antisocial Englishwoman prefers the vibrations of her washing machine to the efforts of a man. When her washing machine breaks down, she must find a way to replace it. 

"Hair Trigger" by Nikki Magennis is a darker story about a woman who learns that her boyfriend, who will only see her at certain times, loves long hair more than he loves individual women. She takes revenge in an appropriate way. In "Slightly Ajar" by Jeremy Edwards, a woman and her husband discover the primal excitement of a woman pissing with the bathroom door slightly open. In "Glint" by Portia da Costa, a woman on vacation believes that the people in the next cottage are watching her and her husband on the beach, and the feeling of being watched transforms them both.

“Spider” by Donna George Storey features a seductive Japanese man who plays on an American woman’s fear of large spiders; he teaches her to enjoy being caught in a shibari web. “Paranoid Polly” is a more farcical story about a young woman who is equally surprised by the barely-hidden sexual relationship of two male co-workers and her own reaction to a stuffed toy when she accidentally sits on it.

Is incest a fetish? If so, the surrealistic “Narcissi” by N.J. Steitberger fits in with the other fetish stories. Joseph desires his twin and female alter ego, Josephine, but is she real? His (or their) mother doesn’t think so, but Mom is often in an altered state of consciousness.

On that note, there is a small but memorable group of fantasy stories in this collection, including “The Threshold” by Polly Frost, in which a high school virgin learns that supernatural beings from another realm have been attracted to her town by the freshness of her energy, on which they want to feed in an ancient ritual. And despite the bragging of her friends, male and female, she is far from the only unplucked rosebud in her school. “17 Short Films About Hades and Persephone” by Elspeth Potter is a powerful reworking of the ancient Greek myth about the god of the underworld and his abduction of his own niece, daughter of his sister, Demeter. “Sparklewheel” by Kris Saknussemm reads like a hellish acid trip through the modern industrial world undertaken by a man and woman who survive despite the odds.

The impact of disability on sex and sexual relationships might be considered anti-erotic, but it is brilliantly and sensitively dealt with in three stories. “An Early Winter Train” by C. Sanchez-Garcia is told by the husband/caretaker of a woman who has lost most of her memory. In “Objects of Meaning” by Savannah Lee, a female anthropology student gives a professor, who was accidentally mutilated years before, what he could not get from his fiancée. In “Skin Deep” by Kristina Wright, a man who must not overexert himself because he has a heart transplant meets a woman whose husband has been repelled by her mastectomy. In a poignant encounter which can never be repeated, they mirror each other’s beauty and strength.

Stories about heists, murder and contract killing include one by the editor himself, “L’Americaine,” about a cool American blonde who travels with two passports (much like this reviewer, except that I don’t do this for nefarious purposes) and who inadvertently rescues a young Italian woman from a sinister older man in Paris. “Murder Intermezzo” by O’Neil De Noux, set in New Orleans, is as dramatic as an opera. “Behind the Masque” by Sophie Mouette features the kind of surprise twist that is characteristic of this author.

The story which will probably resonate in my mind the longest is the chilling historical tale "Mr. Merridawn's Hum" by Cervo, based on a traditional ballad which has inspired other modern artists. (The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, an innovative folk-rock album recorded by the Incredible String Band in 1968, is one example, and so is the 1993 novel of the same name by Sharyn McCrumb.) The daughter of the hangman (whose presence at dawn brings anything but merriment) is a delicate flower whose grotesque sexuality seems logical for her circumstances:

She did, however, have a deep weakness for hanging owing to the fact that it so often befell the youngest and prettiest of men who were nimble enough to try -- but not to succeed -- at poaching, robbing the high roads, and sheep stealing. She would comfort them in the night by singing to them softly before they dropped away from the light at dawn. On more than one occasion she had noticed that despite all the unattractive results of hanging, many of these men were taken down with their cocks still hotly erect and they had clearly ejaculated at their final moment. This was for her a new discovery, and something to consider when thinking of a stiff prick. 

Desire, hope, mortality, greed, generosity, deception and illusion all mix together seamlessly in these stories, as does the comedy of sex and the tragedy of human loneliness. This is a book to be dipped into again and again.

*Editor’s Note:

Regarding the statement about Mr Jakubowski “trolling the 'net for gems and republishing them with a minimum of communication with the authors,”  he states that “In 15 years of publishing the Mammoth books, [he’s] only published 4 stories discovered online which [he] was unable to find the authors of, despite documented mails to editors of the websites where stories had initially appeared and all other possible sources.”  He further states “in ALL cases, bar the latest, authors [made] contact with [him] and were not only paid, but [were] delighted to be in [the] books.

Night Moves 1Night Moves 1
By: Matt Brooks
Contributions By: Erastes, Kiernan Kelly, Kira Stone
Aspen Mountain Press
ISBN: 978-1601680839
January 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Vampire erotica seems to lurk around every corner these days. The gay-male variety, especially when written by women, can be traced back to Anne Rice's groundbreaking 1978 bestseller, Interview with the Vampire, in which the vampires form larger-than-life but non-sexual relationships. (Rice's vampires, being "dead," apparently could not rise to the occasion despite having superhuman strength and sense perception.) Since then, the mating of gay-male erotica with vampire fiction has spawned an army of immortal lovers with various physical abilities which usually include mind-blowing sexual skills.

Night Moves is an interesting mix of stories in this hybrid genre. One of the challenges for authors who want to create sympathetic vampire heroes is how to explain their need for human blood (energy) without showing them as repulsive parasites. These four authors each approach this challenge in a different way, but their central characters are all so deep-down decent that none of them has to deal with the kind of self-hatred experienced by Anne Rice's Louis, a Catholic gentleman of the 1790s, after he becomes one of the "damned." 

In "Theron's Boys" by Kiernan Kelly, Theron is a nightmare pimp who seduces attractive young men into letting him "turn" them, then he forces them into sexual service. The filthy-rich (emphasis on filthy) old cads who treat the "boys" as fast food are similar to Theron. He is clearly a traditional vampire, a soulless user of the life-force of others, since he can't produce his own. Christian, David, and the rest of "Theron's boys" must decide how to deal with enslavement which could literally last forever. Despite being vampires themselves, they are not like their "Sire" or his mortal buddies and are only willing to do harm as a last resort. When two of the "boys" discover their love for each other, they confirm the difference between mutual attraction and one-sided exploitation. These "boys" are no threat to anyone else.

Both "Inferno" by Matt Brooks and "Immortal Steps" by Kira Stone show the "turning" process as proceeding in stages. The state of being half-vampire (or "latent") looks more uncomfortable than puberty, especially since the half-turned have no guarantee that anyone will finish the job, and they can't do it themselves. In the meanwhile, they are recognizable to any reader who has felt inchoate and alone, stuck in the cracks between socially-defined categories. Becoming a full vampire is shown to be much more satisfying than remaining forever in limbo, even if that were an option. In both stories, the half-turned must move forward or die.

If Anne Rice's vampires represented an emerging community of gay men (in a time when "gay" seemed to be a clear identity), it is tempting to see the vampires-in-the-making in these stories as an emerging generation of transgendered individuals, each occupying a different place in a spectrum between genders -- or a generation of entrants to the BDSM scene (especially on-line and especially involving "blood sports") who can't evolve without an adequate mentor.

"Inferno" is named for a nightclub where young Blaise goes to find his tribe. Having paid his entrance fee, he is "in the long passage that led to a narrow staircase and community."  He meets Robert, an older, experienced man who agrees to come home with him. Blaise admits to being a sexual novice, and Robert initiates him sexually. In the process, Robert discovers that Blaise is "stopped," still human but with a vampiric taste for blood. Robert asks why, and Blaise answers: "'He said I wasn't ready. Not really. Not enough of a predator.'" Robert is aghast at the callousness of Blaise's earlier bar pickup. Apparently not all vampire "daddies" in the infernal community have a sense of responsibility for their "boys."

"Immortal Steps" is a novella in several chapters in which the true nature of vampires and their community is revealed after suspense has been raised. Tain, the half-turned vampire whose skill at Celtic dancing seems to be a sign that he is more than human, is known as a heterosexual player, and he beds women when he has something practical to gain from them. When he learns that the "Dedicated Fan" who has stalked him with messages and gifts wants to see him in person, Tain is alarmed, especially when he learns that this person is male. Throughout much of the story, Tain fights the inevitable by telling himself that he is not "gay," and then by telling himself that his attraction to Kyle, a.k.a."Dedicated Fan," is based on Kyle’s resemblance to someone who had a formative influence on Tain, not a sign that he is queer in any sense.

Kyle strives to convince Tain that lust between men is not shameful, that love is not a myth, and that monogamy is more fulfilling than an endless round of emotionally meaningless encounters. Along the way, Kyle must also convince Tain that he has been a kind of guardian angel to him for years, and that he can be trusted. Kyle takes Tain from Edinburgh, Scotland, to John O'Groats, which Tain describes as "the end of the world." The dramatic Scottish landscape makes an appropriate setting for cliffhanging conflict and for dramatic revelations about vampirism, its connection to sexual arousal, and the organization which exists to protect vulnerable vampires from being killed off like members of any other stigmatized minority.

This story seems to have the least connection to eastern European folktales about vampires as the "undead" who feed off the living. In "Immortal Steps," becoming a vampire is a process of development which involves awakening one's biological potential. It not only suggests "coming out" as a gay man, but finding one's ancestral "roots" and one's present-day community as well as coping with an unusual medical condition.

"Chiaroscuro" by Erastes is a florid tale set in Florence, Italy, during the Renaissance. The bejewelled writing style perfectly suits the period and the plot, in which the narrator Michel, a young painter, must please his crooked patron and his demanding, aristocratic customers to enable his family to survive. The entire story unfolds as a series of visual scenes, and the chapter titles (“Subject,” “Sketch,” “Composition,” “Alla Prima,” “Perspective,” “Impasto,” Pentimento”) remind the reader that the whole novella is a metaphor for visual art.

Michel is introduced to a mysterious elderly Signora who wants him to paint the portrait of her gorgeous young male companion, who seems strangely reluctant to tell his name. Alone with the awestruck painter, the young man tells him: “I am light, Michel. That is why you know me. And love me.”

Michel decides that his subject must be posed in the nude on drapery and painted with wings, as Lucifer, the rebel angel who fell from heaven. Before the painting can be finished, of course, the subject inspires the portrait-painter in time-honored fashion:

“I hardly remember undressing; my clothes were nothing but dry leaves pushed aside, and the touch of his skin against mine was like being born, a shock so sweet and savage that I gasped like a baby taking its first breath. Everything was a series of firsts. The fist kiss, the first heat of skin on skin, the first hand sliding down my flanks and digging into my flesh, the first fingers--not mine--curled and tight around my cock."

Michel already has a suspicion that his Angel of Light and the Signora with whom he has a close but ambiguous relationship are not human. When Michel discovers beyond a doubt what they are, this is no news to him or to the reader.

However, there is still the problem of the crooked patron, who threatens Michel after finding him in flagrante. You need to read the story to find out what happens. It is a conclusion fit for an opera.

The only complaints I can make about these four “vampire” stories are that (1) they all take some liberties with the vampire tradition, which seems to be the only way to turn it from a decaying corpse into something that can live indefinitely, if not forever, and (2) they all resolve moral dilemmas with amazing dispatch, considering that vampires were once figures of dread. None of these stories has the gut-wrenching emotional and philosophical depth of Interview with the Vampire. That doesn’t seem to be their purpose. If you like male/male erotica with a little mystery and a little frisson, Night Moves is a delightful sampler.

Peep Show: Tales of Voyeurs and ExhibitionistsPeep Show: Tales of Voyeurs and Exhibitionists
Edited By: Rachel Kramer-Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443700
November 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Writing fetish stories is an art and a challenge. For this writer/reviewer, sex is a symphony of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and especially tactile sensations. Fetish stories isolate one aspect of the whole gestalt and describe it as a complete, satisfying experience which might not include genital contact -- or at least fucking (to put it crudely) is not the primary goal.

Rachel Kramer Bussel has edited (and co-edited) a whole spectrum of fetish anthologies, including collections about lingerie, rubber, feet/shoes, crossdressing, spanking, and previous collections about watching and being watched. The number of possible approaches to any particular fetish, as expressed in these anthologies, seems to be unlimited.

This anthology includes eighteen stories by an interesting mix of veteran erotic writers and newcomers to the field. Although none of the scenarios literally involves show biz, putting on a show (a planned display, intended to be watched by an audience) is one of the themes of these stories. The various show-offs and watchers, some of whom take great risks to get their kicks, shed light on the erotic basis of the performing arts.

Several of these stories are set in cultures that feature particular forms of sexual display. "Rosse Buurt" by Geneva King is set in the famous "red-light" district of Amsterdam, where sex workers lure passers-by from display windows. In this story, a female tourist is especially attracted to a particular woman in the window, but she has qualms:

My panties dampen, just a little.

I promptly feel ashamed. While I've had my share of one-time encounters, the thought of buying sex bothers me. To be honest, I probably did pay for it each time: a drink to loosen up the cute girl in the bar, dinner at a nice restaurant; all money out of my pocket and there wasn't even a guaranteed payoff at the end of the evening.. .

She [the woman in the window] widens her stance, so I get a good look at her body. You like? she seems to ask.

I like. I like it a lot.

On the last day of her trip, the narrator gives in to temptation.

"Clean and Pretty" by Donna George Storey (known for her stories of Americans in Japan) follows a white American woman who has been introduced by a charismatic Japanese businessman to a particularly "clean" form of prostitution: she masturbates in a shower for paying viewers who cannot touch her. "Clean and pretty" is described as a rough approximation of an almost untranslatable Japanese word, kirei

"Calendar Girl" by Angela Caperton is set in the late 1950s, a time when men could channel their interest in female bodies into amateur photography, and young women who loved being watched could model for them in "camera clubs." Desi, the heroine of this story, is inspired by the sight of a particular image in a "girlie" calendar in the garage where she works in the office:

All through that spring, sometimes when she was alone in her room at home, Desi stripped her clothes off and imagined posing. . .

Sizing herself up in the mirror, Desi thought she compared favorably to April [the image on the calendar]. Her breasts were bigger, with little dark nipples instead of pink points, and her waist was tight and curved, sexily, she thought, above the swell of her hips. From the back, her bottom was high and firm, rounded and symmetrical as a perfect olive, golden where the sun had never touched her. But what held her eye and tempted her fingers was the patch of silky fur that covered her treasure--Mom's name for her pussy.

A real girl, Desi thought, and slipped her fingers through the satiny moss, but a goddess too, sacred to men, naked and made to be worshipped.

This scene reminds me of the powerful moment in The Picture of Dorian Gray (thinly-disguised gay novel of the 1890s) when the formerly unself-conscious young man, Dorian, sees his own beauty in the portrait painted by his admirer, a male artist who magically transfers Dorian's soul to the canvas.

Most of the stories in this book feature male-female couples, but the eroticism of watching and showing off is complicated: the watcher can either desire or identify with the one(s) being watched, and the performers are usually not particular about who sees them. "Glass" by Nobilis Reed features a convoluted set of relationships among at least four people: Mira (a security guard who likes watching impromptu activity in a parking lot through the monitor), Lucy, Chris (a man), and an unnamed man who is Chris's fellow-voyeur in the bushes while two women (Mira and Lucy?) put on a show in a bedroom window. Each of the characters seems to have a fluid sexuality, which is not only triggered by watching, but by watching others watching them.
This story suggests a painting of a team of artists painting their own portraits. 

Several of the stories deal with the spread of modern surveillance systems. In “Audience Participation” by Elizabeth Coldwell, a female narrator named Kat explains her boss’s plan to bring a British company into the 21st century by setting up a webcam. Chris, the hot male techie whose job is to make this happen, invites Kat to join him in his own digs to watch the office after-hours. As Kat and Chris enjoy their mutual seduction, they are delighted to see something unexpected on the screen: their stiff-necked boss with his pants down.

Workplace seduction is also featured in “Superior” by Monica Shores, but in this case, the theme of watching and being watched seems less crucial to the plot, in which a classic lady boss torments and seduces her besotted male underling.  This is one of several traditional seduction stories in this collection. While not completely stale, these stories could as well have appeared in half a dozen other erotic anthologies.

Two of these stories, both well-written and memorable, seem especially off-theme. “Ownership” by Craig J. Sorenson is a grimly funny, realistic tale about a young man in the military who is itching to get laid, and is instead forced into the role of an observer who can watch but not touch anyone but himself. This story is as much about gender roles and miscommunication as it is about watching and performing. “Missing Michael” by M. March is a heartbreaking gay love story involving three good men who each get to tell the same timeless story from a different viewpoint. This story could be classified as m/m paranormal romance, and it is haunting on several levels. While it does involve watching and being watched, it is very different in tone from the surrounding stories.

In “The Theory of Orchids” by L.A. Mistral, a horticulturalist with the discreet charm of a male geek (like that of an authoritative voice-over) offers an attractive woman a presumably scientific explanation of the relationship between watcher and watched: live beings, including orchids, change in undefined but definite ways in response to being observed. Of course, the man and the woman, a budding exhibitionist, test this theory together and find it valid. They have each gone to Florida to get away from their ordinary routines, and they are literally showered with orchids when they attract attention from other tourists.

Each of these stories deserves to be read (or seen), but limited time and space prevent me from doing them all justice. The diversity of this collection is part of its strength. While few readers are likely to love all these stories equally, few fans of erotica would find all of them to be a waste of paper. For those who would like to understand the fascination of the theme – and perhaps, like a sensitive orchid, be coaxed into full bloom – this book would make a good instruction manual.

Punishment With KissesPunishment With Kisses
By: Diane Anderson-Minshall
Bold Strokes Books
ISBN: 1602820813
June 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

According to the author's introduction, this novel is loosely based on a book she read at a formative age:

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention William Bayer, author of the great psychosexual thriller Punish Me with Kisses. I read that book in eighth grade, out loud, to my new classmates at Payette Junior High, in Payette, Idaho. The kids loved my little dime store novel, so much so that Mr. Nelson, our generally laid-back English teacher, had me and the book removed from class . . Ever since I read Punish in the early '80s, I dreamed of a lesbian revisioning--and thankfully I got the chance here, with Punishment with Kisses. There is very little in common with the original but inspiration, born from my hormone-fueled adolescent fantasies and Bayer's warped words.

A hellish-red sketch of a babe in a black bikini graces the front cover of this paperback, while a glamorous photo of the author (in red lipstick and red dress with cleavage) graces the back. Before reading the book, I expected it to be beach fare: a mildly entertaining, disposable read.

I was surprised to find myself caring about the characters and caught up in the murder mystery while enjoying the sex scenes and the good-natured satire. There are a few stock elements here that stretch a reader's willingness to believe: the rich, dysfunctional family on an isolated estate (in the wilds of Oregon), the two sets of diaries (one censored, one "real") and the remarkable number of attractive lesbians in a small cast of characters. But then, the story is clearly defined as a romance and a lesbian fantasy, so the implication that every woman is at least potentially a woman-lover and a magnet for other women is predictable.

Despite the genesis of the novel as something close to fanfic (a revisioning of someone else's characters), there is a certain core of authenticity here, and a witty sprinkling of references to contemporary lesbian culture. The author is clearly familiar with “The L-Word,” the first lesbian soap opera to appear on prime-time television; at least one character from that series (set in the lesbian community of Los Angeles) seems to have traveled north up the Pacific coast to serve as a suspect and general object of lust in this novel. (Who, you ask? Shane, of course, the ultimate biker-dyke.)

A realistically complicated relationship between two sisters is at the heart of the story. In the opening chapter, Megan Caulfield has just graduated from university in New Orleans with a vague intention of becoming a writer. She has little work experience, but she can't claim her inheritance until she turns 23, which is several months away. She returns to the family manor, where her older sister Ashley seems to be deliberately provoking their conservative father to shut down her endless pool-party with other good-time girls. Megan resents living in Ashley's shadow. She also resents Tabitha, the young woman her father married after the death of the sisters' mother when Megan was entering high school. The apparent closeness between Tabitha and Ash (suggesting the results of a fire), as she likes to be called, seems like the last straw to Megan.

Alone in her room, Megan watches her sister and reads fiction by contemporary lesbians: Michelle Tea, Jewelle Gomez and Dorothy Allison, all known for their autobiographical work. They are Megan’s idols. She thinks her life-experience has been inadequate: 

That summer I came home, I wasn't a virgin, but I certainly wasn't the woman around town my sister Ash was. I'd spent most of college with my nose in a book, save for those few nights with Terra Moscowitz, which began innocently enough with us in her dorm room dry humping each other after a Take Back the Night rally that devolved into so much more. I'm not sure what it was about anti-rape rallies, but they certainly seemed to make Terra horny. Sadly, her girlfriend was around half the time, which meant I got leftover, hand-me-down sex--but I was happy to have it.

This passage looks like a parody of an earnest lesbian-awakening scene as well as a literal illustration of the 1970s slogan, “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” Terra even suggests Joan Rivers’ fictional character Heidi Abramowitz, a spoiled slut who arouses other women’s envy and resentment.

Megan feels terribly alone. She would like to feel close to Ash, as she did in their youth, but Ash seems unbearably patronizing to her “kid sister.”  As Megan and the reader both learn too late, appearances are deceptive.

Banished to the “pool house” away from the rest of the family, Ash is murdered one night. Seeing her sister covered in blood, Megan is overwhelmed with grief, regret and determination to find out who, how and why.

Megan realizes that she must leave the family home to rejoin civilization (the city of Portland), find a job, begin functioning as an adult, and learn as much as she can about her sister’s life in order to bring her killer to justice. Megan has already ventured out to a lesbian bar in the city where the irresistible Shane was waiting for her. However, Megan must wade much deeper into sexual variety and her own sexual nature in order to understand her sister’s life and death.

Luckily, Ash was more literary than Megan ever guessed, and she left voluminous journals behind. One set of diaries is meant to be found – and the information in it is shocking enough. Another diary, which contains the burning secret at the heart of the mystery, is hidden in a place that Megan remembers from her childhood adventures with Ash.

In her quest for truth, Megan matures and learns to defy her father’s authority, which has always been backed up by the threat of financial deprivation. She finds work as a journalist, and discovers her writing voice while her sister’s diaries lead her into a world of sex clubs, BDSM and porn films.

Meanwhile, Shane weaves in and out of Megan’s life in a way that is crazy-making for the reader as well as for Megan. Was Shane involved in Ash’s murder? Why does Shane work so hard to win Megan over, then cool off so fast? Shane’s role in Ash’s life and Megan’s feelings about her become clearer as Megan finds more pieces of the puzzle.

In due course, the murder mystery is resolved, and Megan emerges as a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Her sexual odyssey seems to be a temporary phase that she outgrows, yet it also seems like a necessary part of her coming-of-age process. The significance of BDSM as self-chosen punishment, as revenge, as a means of keeping lust and joie de vivre alive, as enlightenment or dangerous quicksand is never clear enough – or perhaps the author finds the subject too diverse to show from only one angle.

Although the sexual value system underlying the plot is as murky as the atmosphere of a dimly-lit club, the plot itself is fast-paced and well thought-out. This is a book I plan to keep.

[Editor’s note: Punishment With Kisses is a 2009 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in Lesbian Erotica.]

Redemption for the HypnotistRedemption for the Hypnotist
By: Hypnotic Dreams
Hypnotic Dreams
October 2011

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Have you ever been seduced by suggestive words? Have commands been implanted in your subconscious mind by one who knows how to bypass your conscious fears and doubts? Would you like to have this effect on someone else? As the author of this novel explains in an epilogue:

Although pop culture mostly portrays hypnosis as a way for a villain to control innocent victims, people have found a staggering variety of ways that hypnosis can enhance sexual pleasures, including reducing inhibitions, increasing arousal, amplifying orgasms, and of course, engaging in erotic power exchanges.

The hero of this saga is a mild-mannered former professor at the University of Arizona whose career and reputation were both destroyed when a female student wrongly accused him of sexually harassing her; to avoid “taking sides” in an apparently unprovable case, the administration expelled them both. Dr. Darren Braid was then ripe for recruitment by the FBI to investigate a recording company which seems to be involved in the disappearance of a stream of attractive young women. Are they being brainwashed or kidnapped and sold as sex slaves? Only someone on the inside can find out the truth.

Darren writes and records erotic stories intended to hypnotize women into states of arousal and (in some cases) into subspace, an intense desire to submit. Enter Lamarr and Tony, two sinister black men at the head of Luv Bandit Music. They are interested in trying out Darren’s recordings on a “focus group” of bodacious babes.

What follows is a thriller in which the investigators try to outwit the bad guys, and vice versa. Darren finds himself hopelessly attracted to a shapely and competent studio manager, a light-skinned black (or African-American) woman named Latoya (groan).
Can he afford to trust her? Meanwhile, a hot-blooded Latina named Marisa undergoes a drastic change of personality when she “goes under” and seems likely to remain lost in her role.

The action never stops as Darren and Latoya embark on a dating relationship featuring hot but frequently interrupted sex as they are each called away by the demands of their jobs. Latoya is clearly no fool or easy victim. When Daren learns that her sister went missing, he wonders if Latoya could possibly be part of a slave training operation or if she too is looking for answers.

Darren is out of his depth at the launch party for a new hip-hop artist, but his quiet charm and the effectiveness of his recorded stories never fail to impress everyone around him. In fact, Darren seems to be a Gary Stu: a larger-than-life version of the author.

In a brief bio, “Hypnotic Dreams” explains:

My name is Daniel. I’ve been an amateur hypnotist since the 1990s. I write, voice and produce hypnotic/erotic audio stories for women. The recordings mentioned in this book’s first chapter, Hypnotically Seduced and Obedient Desire, are just two of the erotic hypnosis recordings I have produced for women. I have also written and produced a few femdom hypnosis recordings for men. All are available from my web site www.hypnoticdreams. A select number of my recordings are also available at Amazon.

This novel is thus shown to be a marketing tool as well as one of the author’s products.

Suspense is an important part of the plot of this novel, and I wouldn’t want to give away any revelations. Suffice it to say that the slave-trading operation is real, and Darren the hypnotist redeems himself by being in the right place at the right time.

Like a predictable Hollywood movie, this fairly short e-book features ethnic stereotyping, mindless bimbos, petty thugs working for a smarter, more ruthless thug, and U.S. government intelligence that lives up to its name. It’s an entertaining fantasy, and the writing style is smooth enough not to break the spell.

This book is just the right length to read on a plane flight of a few hours. If you’re a male traveller sitting next to a hot babe, however, don’t read it aloud to persuade her to take off her clothes.

Rough Cut: Vincent Diamond CollectedRough Cut: Vincent Diamond Collected
By: Vincent Diamond
Lethe Press
ISBN: 159021109X
May 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

The central characters in Vincent Diamond’s stories are all men who are often attracted to each other despite cultural differences and emotional baggage. These are men with intense jobs as undercover cops, animal handlers, jockeys or firefighters. Some are honest employees of unethical bosses. Sexual attraction is an unexpected spark that complicates their lives, but it also gives them joy and hope.

In a clear, unadorned style, Diamond describes a world in which men are often pitted against other men, but the desire that can lead to understanding and even love is a saving grace. Several of these stories show lonely, wounded men responding almost against their wills to other men who are equally complicated.

In “A Cold Night’s Sleep,” Sandy is an ex-cop who lives alone as a Florida park ranger and draws pictures of wild birds. A stranger arrives at his door during a storm that has knocked out the electricity. Sandy offers him shelter for the night and a hot shower. The stranger accepts:

“Thanks, man, I am fuckin’ freezing.”  Tanner tugged off his wet clothing with the casual aplomb of a man used to locker rooms and barracks.

The sight of Tanner grasped Sandy by the throat, as if it were a beast. He stepped back into the shadows for a moment, his gaze moving over Tanner’s body, fine as a sculpture in a museum.

The two men have every reason to distrust each other, but they both need sexual relief and they are both attracted to each other. They enjoy what they each believe to be a one-night stand, but in the morning, they find that they can’t go their separate ways and simply forget each other.

The author, like the characters themselves, seems reluctant to walk away after one hot scene. Several of these stories are in groups that follow the same characters through several phases of their relationships, creating the effect of novellas. “A Cold Night’s Sleep” is followed by “Fire,” in which Sandy and Tanner join a group of Fire Academy trainees to cope with a practice fire which gets out of control in the wilderness park where Sandy lives. The fire is a clear metaphor for the excitement of a new relationship.

In an even more dramatic set of stories, police officer Steven goes undercover to investigate a man who organizes legal raves. This Canadian reviewer didn’t understand the scale or the intensity of the fictional investigation until I learned that the U.S. government “war on drugs” allows for everyone connected with the sale of illegal dope to be prosecuted—not only the dealer and the customers.

Steven knows before entering the rave scene that his sexual or emotional involvement with anyone there could become messy if he discovers dope, which seems likely. Without criticizing the law, the author shows Steven’s dilemma when he indulges in sex with a man who disapproves of illegal drug use but who could be arrested with guiltier parties as part of a sting.

These stories include most of the conventions of the romance genre: the occasional presence of rivals and other saboteurs, injury and illness as catalysts that draw lovers together as one nurtures the other back to health, Romeo-and-Juliet lovers from different sides of the tracks or the law who are both in danger, attraction between innocent newbies and older men with secret sorrows. The conventions are handled so smoothly that they don’t conflict with the apparent realism of the plots.

The dialogue in these stories seems just right. It comes from men of action whose expressions of desire usually make up in sincerity what they lack in poetry. Here Steven the undercover cop must tell Conrad the raver what he wants in order to get it:

Conrad turned me in the chair so he could straddle my legs. He kissed my forehead, my cheeks, my nose.”Say it.”

“Your mouth on me. On my cock.”

“Mmm,” the moan eased into a throaty growl from him. He held my face with both hands, the way he’d just held Jason. His eyes were dark, his pupils huge. He thumbed my eyebrows and nose, gentle. “What else?”

My cock burned, ached. A wet splotch of my pre-seed oozed out of me. I grabbed him hard, my fingers digging into his ribs, pulling him down onto my lap, grinding against him. He was heavy—over two hundred pounds. There was something unsettling about the size of him, how he could hold me down, how he could control me through sheer weight and force.

Unsettling and arousing.

“What else?”  he repeated.

“I want you to fuck me.” I said it too fast, afraid that I’d swallow the words if I didn’t ratchet them out before my brain reeled them back in.

The stories about cops, criminals, bystanders in the middle, and convicted prisoners show a side of life that is rarely covered this well outside of crime and mystery writing. One of the most moving stories in this collection is named “Shepherd” for the central character, a man who was convicted of killing the gang member who murdered his father and who is confronted in the joint with the question: “Wolf or sheep?” He decides that becoming a sexual predator is as unacceptable as becoming a victim, so he decides to be a “shepherd,” a protector of the “sheep.” This story originally appeared in a prison anthology, Love in a Lock-Up (Starbooks 2007).

Another set of stories in this book deals with racehorses, the farm where they are bred and trained, and the men who train, ride and tend them as veterinary students. Here the author is still on firm footing, so to speak, in creating a particular atmosphere. An actual mating scene between a stallion and a mare reminds the human handlers (as well as the reader) of the sexual potential in every encounter between humans, as well as other members of the same species.

The last story in the book, “Irish Cream,” is a poignant tribute to a time before the Stonewall Riots, when sex between men had to be as furtive as other illegal activities. The narrator introduces himself: “I’m an old man now, one of the hard-core race crowd that hangs around at Tampa Bay Downs most mornings.” The narrator, whose surviving cronies all seem to be small-time crooks and ex-convicts, remembers meeting a handsome jockey named Liam, whose “voice was warm, with a lilt of Irish brogue in it.”

The chemistry between Liam and the narrator as a young man in the 1950s is so strong that a knowing look between them speaks louder than words. They check into a motel room under false names where they “did things that night I’d only seen on the pages of smut books.” They repeat the fun as often as they can, but make no promises.

The narrator has never forgotten Liam, although he has not seen him in years. The strength of his feelings after half a century shows that perhaps there is no such thing as casual sex between two men who understand each other.

Vincent Diamond has a knack for telling the stories of men who would probably laugh at the notion of writing about their sexual relationships. Whether or not you are into “rough trade,” this world is well worth a visit.

Shameful Thrills: Girls Who Should Know BetterShameful Thrills: Girls Who Should Know Better
Harper Collins
February 2012

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This slim collection of nine stories by women about women doing reckless things looks like a reckless project in itself. Shameful Thrills: Girls Who Should Know Better, was produced by a relatively new publisher of erotica and erotic romance; there is no introduction.

Like a surprisingly attractive neighbour who poses naked in her bedroom window at night, this anthology is unadorned. All you get are the words of skilled writers who build suspense (OMG, what will happen next?) and play on several traditional fantasies based on women’s realistic fears of danger and humiliation.  

Here is the opening scene of the first story, “Raising the Stakes” by Elizabeth Coldwell:

Robin was wrong for me in so many ways. Married, a good twenty years older than me and, most importantly, my father’s best friend. The last person I should have ever considered fucking. But from the moment I stepped into the unlocked bathroom on the second floor of his Belgravia home and saw him with his head buried between the bare, spread legs of his children’s nanny, it didn’t matter that I should have known better. I simply had to have him.

Immediately, the sensible reader (maybe I should just speak for myself) is both intrigued and aghast. The narrator’s desire is likely to be satisfied, but she is heading down a slippery slope to all sorts of trouble. Someone should stop her from making a fool of herself! Yet this unfolding plot is as irresistible as the latest celebrity scandal in a tabloid newspaper.

Friendships, marriages, the nurturing love of parents for their children, reputations and physical safety all hang by a thread in these stories. Each story seems on the surface to be a cautionary tale, yet each one includes earth-shattering sexual pleasure which is all the more intense because it happens on the edge of a cliff, so to speak.

In “Great White Arcs” by Jennie Treverton, an urban planner has been inspired by the flow of milk through his wife’s breasts just after the birth of her child, and that’s just the backstory. A young single woman takes a ride with another married man in the same office, and encounters great white arcs of a different kind.

The theme of single-woman-attracted-to-married-man seems to continue in “Love Bites” by Chrissie Bentley, but in this story about enduring memories of first-time oral sex, the man has come to regret leaving the girlfriend of his youth for the one he married, and is glad to find Ms. Right again. The near-incestuous sexual in-jokes between the divorced man and his grown son, however, make this fantasy hard to believe in.

“Touched” by Ashley Hind is more over-the-top, and more feverishly written. In this tale, a long-term, one-sided lesbian crush has an effect on the next generation: a kind of condensed, F/f, sexually explicit version of Wuthering Heights.

“Slapper” by Rachel Kramer Bussel is probably the most romantic story in the batch. It begins with an on-line BDSM relationship, always cause for concern, but as it turns out, the submissive narrator is not misled by her instincts, and the man who understands her seems worth the 3000-mile trip to meet him.

Shame and risk-taking go well with Dominance and submission, including exhibitionist and multiple-dom scenes, and several of these stories would fit into a “best of” annual collection of BDSM erotica. In “The Auction” by Janine Ashbless, a frightened girl camper, captured, bound and sexually abused by badass bikers, is shown being auctioned to the highest bidder.  Of course, the non-consensual brutality of the scene is an illusion. 

In “Soaked and Dripping” by Valerie Grey, a small, thin college girl is tricked into entering a wet T-shirt contest in a bar by three female “friends” who contribute to her public exposure, but to her own amazement, the wallflower becomes the object of every man’s fantasy. “A Country Ramble” by Penny Birch also features unplanned, non-consensual nudity, but the sex with a stranger which follows is exactly what the naked woman was hoping for. 

“Watercolours” by Primula Bond plays on the erotic attraction between a nude female model and a male painter, a fairly well-worn theme in erotica, but in this case the model is also the canvas, and there is something magical (or hellish) in the paint itself.   All these stories dramatize the warning that you should be careful what you wish for – except that, in most of them, careless wishing leads to thrilling adventures.

Shop Stud & Other Tales of Gay Male Lust and LoveShop Stud & Other Tales of Gay Male Lust and Love
By: Laura Antoniou
Contributions By: Writing as Christopher Morgan
Sizzler Editions
ISBN: B0042P55I6
September 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This collection of fifteen stories of man-to-man lust is vividly written, but doesn't pretend to be literary. These stories first appeared in the 1980s and early '90s in stroke magazines and anthologies. As the author explains in her introduction, a widespread belief of the time was that no self-respecting gay man could get it up or get off to words written by a woman -- at least if he knew. And thus Christopher Morgan, a name meant to suggest an approachable man's man, was born as one of the author's personas.

Laura Antoniou's diverse body of work is being collected, edited and republished in shiny new formats, which makes it easier for fans of her writing to find it all. She is probably best-known for her omni-sexual Marketplace novels about a fictional organization for the training and leasing of voluntary slaves in various countries. This novel series as a whole has a complex plot with plentiful sex scenes involving every gender, orientation and implement a reader is likely to have met or heard of. The imaginary world of these novels is absorbing, and even the most minor characters are three-dimensional; their doubts and confusion are sometimes as intense as their desires, whether they are male, female, transgendered, Dominant, submissive, or any combination of the above.  There was nothing else like this when these books first appeared, and there still isn't.

Compared to the world of the Marketplace, Antoniou's porn stories are simple vignettes, peopled by social types that barely escape being stereotypes of the genre. It is easy to see why the earliest readers of these stories didn't associate them with The Marketplace or with the lesbian-oriented Leatherwomen anthologies written by Antoniou under yet another pen name.

Now that the author of all these works is "coming out" (her term) as one person, certain characteristics of her style can be seen running through all her work. The narrative voice in her fiction (even when it is third-person omniscient) tends to be direct, unpretentious, attentive to detail and (before her work was seriously copy-edited) sprinkled with grammatical mistakes. A few errors have survived the polishing process, but the reprinted versions of her works look better than the originals.

Here is the author's explanation of her methods and goal as Christopher Morgan:

Short story work is best suited for one-handed reading. Just long enough to catch your interest and get you going before you have to go to work, or out to the bars, or back to sleep. Novels require plots, and time spent not having sex. Short stories get right to the point. They meet -- they screw. It's easy, quick -- and fun.

These stories all feature oral and anal sex, and nothing more complicated. The title of the collection refers to one of three stories named "Dream Lover Interlude," each with a different subtitle. The first interlude is about an imaginary "shop stud," an unself-conscious working-class hero. The narrator imagines his crotch:

I can always see that special worn out area, that long, narrow tube down from the button fly, where my man's heavy cock rests during the day, rubbing the inside of those pants until there's a clear outline of pure sexmeat, showed like the finest craftmen's work.

The description of the dream-man, a fantasy within a work of fiction, combines physical characteristics with markers of occupation and social class:

His ass is tight and round in those heavy jeans, a shop rag or bandanna sticking out so he can get at it to wipe the sweat from his hard pecs, his thick arms, and his cut stomach. When it's really hot, he'll tie it around his forehead to keep the hair and sweat out of his deep blue eyes, and he'll look like an almost primitive man, a blacksmith or a woodworker, alone with his tools and his work, every pulsating inch of his body used and flexed through a long day.

The dream-man is generic and idealized, but he serves as a model for several of the other characters in these stories who appear just when the narrators wonder if they will ever get laid in the real world.

In every case, the admired "stud" turns out to be gay himself, or he is willing to be initiated into gay life. Each story is told by a first-person narrator who sometimes wants to run the fuck, sometimes wants to surrender to a charismatic Man, and sometimes wants a buddy who is willing to take turns.

The danger of lusting after a "real man" who doesn't seem "queer" is that he might not be. In one of the more realistic stories, "Looking for Bubba," a young man from the urban, white middle class travels through the American South alone in search of a "Bubba," a genuine southern redneck who will fuck him roughly. The narrator gets more than he wants when he exchanges a look with a man at a revival meeting, thinks he recognizes an invitation, then is threatened with rape by two men who call him a "faggot." They make it clear that it is not a term of endearment. The narrator is held by force, hit, kicked, taunted and threatened. To his great relief, he is rescued by a neatly-dressed black man who takes him home to be nursed back to health. As it turns out, this man is gay and well-hung as well as decent and considerate: exactly what the narrator needs.

Compared to the irony, symbolism, social commentary and virtuoso writing that have slipped into male-on-male erotica (including the annual Best Gay Erotica), these stories look as charmingly naive as small-town boys from yesteryear. One can imagine Christopher Morgan stroking his own dick while writing his fantasies with the other hand. How postmodern.

Smooth: Erotic Stories for WomenSmooth: Erotic Stories for Women
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573444081
October 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Have you ever dreamed about being suddenly naked in unusual circumstances? The emotional flavor of such dreams depends on how much you dread exposure or how much you secretly or openly yearn to be seen -- and it depends on who sees you.

A theme of nakedness in an erotic anthology doesn't seem brilliant at first glance, since sex generally requires a state of undress. These stories, however, explore all the implications of being uncovered, laid bare, shown for who one really is, deprived of a familiar cloak or disguise. A few of these stories are about discovering someone else’s raw, naked truth. It's a surprisingly diverse theme.

In her introduction, the editor explains:

At the gym, in the shower, on the subway, at a tea party, the women in Smooth leave behind their inhibitions and go where many women have only dreamed about. Sexy, playful, sensual and celebratory, these nineteen stories will be sure to entice you as they reveal so much skin.

In the imaginary worlds of these stories, nakedness is often embarrassing in a titillating way, but never really dangerous. And a naked woman (like the bare-breasted Amazon warriors in Monique Wittig's feminist fantasy novel Les Guerrilleres) can leave the onlooker disarmed.

In "This Night" by Suzanne V. Slate, a deceptively simple Male-dominant, female-submissive scenario is repeated with the roles reversed, although the woman is naked in both versions. In the first, she is ordered to strip by her Master, who forces her to display herself to a stranger. In the second, the woman calmly opens the door in the altogether, while her boy-toy is helpless to stop her.    

"Eden" by Molly Slate explores the implications of the Biblical story in which Adam and Eve awake from a state of blissful innocence by realizing that they are naked, and feeling ashamed. (In Slate's version, shame is also the beginning of lust, or fascination with the exotic body of the Other.) The body of a deer reminds Adam of mortality, then Eve thinks:

His neck jerked up. He glared at me with that blinking accusation again, and then something happened--something new. His face cracked. It was waterless, but I stared in amazement before I realized that I had broken open, too, and something new was spilling out, something good and merciful, like balm. Its hand pulled and twisted in my stomach. This isn't mercy--it's the thing you got in the trade, the thing you're left with when mercy's fled. It was loud; it was chaos.

After mutual misunderstanding and emotional pain, the first woman and the first man reach a fragile agreement.

Several of these stories deal with tattoos as a means of covering or enhancing bare skin. In "Ink" by Jennifer Peters, a woman with a tattoo fetish meets the man of her dreams, but waits to reveal her own body art. She explains:

Maybe it's because my mother used to call my best friend with the abundance of body art Sideshow Barbie, or maybe it's due to the fact that a date once called tattooed girls 'major sluts,' but I like to keep my own ink to myself.

In due course, she shows her tattoos to the man who can appreciate them, and her.

In "Adornment Is Power" by Teresa Noelle Roberts, Mara and Joel, who used to date in their clueless youth, reconnect after they have each discovered BDSM and their own versatile natures as switches. Their current sexual knowledge and self-awareness are represented by their body art.

In Lisabet Sarai's story, "Clean Slate," a female former gang-member is getting her tattoos erased so that she can be a suitable wife for her upscale fiance. As the attendant Luisa lasers the ink off Ally's skin, Ally regrets giving up her favorite tattoo:

I called her Lilith. She had huge tits with red-grape nipples and a glorious fat ass. Her skin was black velvet. Her pomegranate lips parted to show pointed teeth that gleamed with my natural paleness. Lilith lounged naked on my chest, luxuriant jet curls tumbling across my shoulder, the globe of her butt coinciding with the meager swell of my own tit. Lilith grasped a steel-blue sword in one hand and a hank of chain in the other. Nobody fucked with Lilith.

Ally learns that Lilith, as her alter ego or guardian spirit, can still be with her even when the tattoo is gone. This story is powerful, and it is one of my favorites in the book.

"Live Action" by Susan St. Aubin is an atmospheric story set in a foggy city with streetcars (San Francisco?) in some past era when pounding a typewriter in an office was the default job for a typical young woman from a smaller town. Ellen, heroine of this story, develops "a fascination with windows," where anything or anyone could appear. In due course, she sees a man who needs an audience as much as Ellen needs to learn the secrets of a worldly city.

"Ivy League Associates" by Donna George Storey is an unusually realistic and entertaining story about the sex trade, in which a woman who went to Princeton goes to work as a call girl, theoretically because she is researching a book (actually because she is a starving artist who needs the money). The client who orders her to come to his house in a raincoat over bare skin abruptly changes his tone when he and she both realize that they have met in different circumstances. Being addressed by her real name makes Erica feel much more naked than she did en route. A sexual encounter between these two characters suddenly becomes less inevitable, and more satisfying for both than they expected.

"Loyly" by Angela Caperton is literally a steamy story about rebounding from heartbreak. A woman who goes to a bleak hotel alone in a Michigan winter is cheered to discover the hotel sauna. She is first surprised, then aroused by an unself-conscious fellow-tourist, a man from Finland who teaches her that "loyly" in his language means both "steam" and "spirit." He introduces her to the healing potential of the sauna, a traditional haven for those who live in harsh northern climates.

The rest of the stories are competently-written, good-natured and well-paced, but they fall into predictable categories. The editor's own piece, "Chilly Girl," could fit in with her other stories that make distinct fetishes comprehensible for those who don't share them -- or who haven't explored them yet.

This collection as a whole is as colorful and varied as other Cleis anthologies, including the annual series, Best Women's Erotica and Best Lesbian Erotica.

By: Tamzin Hall
Brown Skin Books, Ltd.
ISBN: 0954486676
February, 2006

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

The Magical Past

This erotic romance about time-travel between New York in 1961 and an ancient African matriarchal queendom is fabulous in every sense. Anyone who likes the surrealistic, voodoo-and-jazz-infused 1970s novels of African-American writer Ishmael Reed but would prefer less male chauvinism need look no further. Anyone who loved "The Wiz", the African-American movie version of The Wizard of Oz, would love the larger-than-life drama of Sorcerer. Anyone who shares Ntozake Shange’s belief that “where there is a woman, there is magic” (from her 1987 novel about three sisters, Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo) could find confirmation in this woman-centered novel which includes strong men.

Chloe, heroine of the saga, is introduced to the reader as a young widow in Harlem who is just emerging from grief after her husband and son were tragically killed in a car accident. She has already lived enough to know that her conservative Christian mother misled her about sex, marriage and the purpose of life:

“Her baby had been her refutation to all that grimness and denial her mother had memorized and recited to her time and again, that passionate bodies together equaled sin, so that you in turn were born in sin. She had never said it to Mom, she had let Jimmy [her son] be her charming, burbling little proof that no, two people didn’t join together out of duty and then martyr themselves to raise new worshippers. . . Ecstasy, too, must be a gift from God.”

Chloe has stopped attending church, which upsets her mother and the minister. They assume she is simply rebellious because of her loss. Although Chloe does not take part in public protests against racial discrimination, she has enough intelligence and self-respect to ask her mother: “what are we doing, a whole bunch of Negroes packing into a church to pray to a God with—with what? Perfect chestnut hair and a white complexion?”

Chloe is ready for something new, even if her bitter mother (abandoned by Chloe’s father years before) does not understand. Since Chloe must support herself, she finds a job at the Marshall Historical Reference Library and Museum, a converted mansion which houses artifacts from the African and black (or Negro, in contemporary terms) American past, funded by the liberal government of John F. Kennedy. There, Chloe meets Ronald, a gentleman and a scholar.

By watching the apartment across the street, Chloe also meets a more exotic man, an African artist who paints in the nude. Ethan, who comes to the library/museum to make a far-fetched claim about several of its treasures, is as muscular and handsome as a work of art himself, and he wants Chloe. He seems at first like the perfect alternative to her lonely bouts of masturbation after work.

Sex between Ethan and Chloe is much more exciting than the married sex that Chloe remembers. It is also magical, as she discovers when her orgasms propel her into a different time and place, which seems to be the land of her dreams. Nudity is socially accepted in that other world, and so are group sex rituals, which she comes to recognize as an expression of something other than self-indulgence or “primitive” lack of self-control, as the conservatives of 1961 would see them. Most amazing of all, Chloe is treated like a queen in the other world. At first, she thinks “Queen” is simply an endearment.

Chloe is pulled back and forth between the accurately-described world of New York in the early sixties (complete with current clothing styles, television shows, jazz musicians, vinyl records and the invention of the birth-control pill) and the red earth, trees and architecture of an African nation which seems to exist before recorded time, and which has its own forms of spirituality.

Like a detective, Ronald researches “Orisha” (better known as a Yoruba word for “god” than as a place-name) to satisfy his own curiosity and to find out what Chloe is really involved in. From his first meeting with Ethan, Ronald suspects him of having a hidden agenda. Chloe assumes that the tension between the two men is simple jealousy until she learns more about Orishan politics. Even after she discovers that Ethan also exists in that other world as a courtier named Ethannes, she can’t be sure what or whom to believe.

Ethan introduces Chloe to Maurice, a strange man who runs a dusty “shop” of magical supplies. According to Ethan, he practices “Orishan” magic, but according to Ronald, he is a priest of Haitian voodoo. How do these spiritual practices differ? Could there be any overlap?

Like a queen who must make decisions of state under pressure from opposing advisors, Chloe must decide fast what to think and what to do because time is running out in the other world. Snooping through Ronald’s research material, Chloe finds the story of Makeda, the queen of Sheba (Ethiopia), who has an affair with Solomon, king of Israel.

According to the legend, their son goes to visit his father at age twenty, and when he returns to his homeland with the sons of his father’s courtiers, one of them steals the Ark of the Covenant and hides it somewhere in Ethiopia, where it is still said to be. Chloe is amazed to find this story about a powerful African queen and her connection with a Hebrew kingdom summarized in a passage from the King James version of the Bible. As Ronald repeatedly explains, much of history has been buried and distorted, so discovering the truth is a matter of sifting through the evidence.

The emphasis on heterosexuality in this novel seems logical in terms of the traditional mission of an Orishan (or Ethiopian?) queen: to find the best possible mate to father the child who will inherit her throne and (if necessary) save the nation from its enemies. Ethan, Ronald, and a villain in the other world all want to mate with Chloe, and they each have different motives.

As in more conventional romances, the heroine’s choice of a male consort is crucial. However, Chloe’s sensuous relationship with her best friend and chief lady in waiting in Orisha shows that she is not homophobic. The scenes of sex involving multiple players in this novel are both hypnotic and believable.

The author does an impressive job of keeping two parallel plots moving forward, although the past literally crashes into the present when the crisis in Orisha becomes urgent. The crisis is both political and ideological, and is all about the significance of pleasure as well as the status of women. Will the marvelously uninhibited, life-loving culture of the African past be destroyed forever?

Although modern readers think they know the answer to that question, the author manages to throw in a few miracles to change an outcome that seems inevitable. The increasing velocity of time-travel in the last few chapters is dizzying and somewhat over-the-top, but the author’s imaginary world is true to its own laws.

By the last chapter, Chloe has become consciously aware of living in the twentieth century as well as in the distant past, and she can choose where to be at any moment. She and her mother have not yet completely reconciled, but Chloe has opened her Mom’s eyes to an alternate reality. Loose ends have been tied up, and Chloe has found her faith.

The author seems as intriguing as her heroine: “Tamzin Hall was born in Florida but has spent many years as a nomad, having lived in Ghana, Belgium, Italy, the Bahamas and Brazil. She now calls London home and manages a small but popular jazz nightclub while studying languages.” Way cool.

The knowledge and skill which went into this novel suggest that Tamzin Hall might have written other material under other names. In any case, this reviewer looks forward to her next book.

Spankalicious: Erotic Adventures in SpankingSpankalicious: Erotic Adventures in Spanking
Edited By: D. L. King
Ravenous Romance
ISBN: B0078T675I
February 2012

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Does the world really need another anthology of spanking stories? When will the market for them become glutted? This was my first thought when I took my first glance at this one. Then I realized that spankings are no more similar than fucks. A spanking takes its meaning from the relationship in which it occurs (teacher/student, Dominant/submissive, etc.), it can involve more than two people (a witness/voyeur, spankee-in-waiting or assistant spanker can play a powerful role), and it can involve a wide variety of sensations.

This collection is different from the others I have reviewed. The cover image shows a woman from the back, her butt-crack exposed by a curved gap in her clothing which cleverly suggests the signature red “V” in the logo of the publisher, Ravenous Romance. This alone distinguishes the book from those produced elsewhere.

A surprising number of these stories involve threesomes; this seems surprising because spankings, by definition, seem to be a one-on-one activity. Even the stories with the most conventional plot premise (Dominant man spanks submissive woman) each have some unusual ingredient that raises the story above the level of cliché.

Like many other anthologies, this one combines stories written with different levels of skill and levels of realism. Helen Madden’s hilarious fairy tale, “The Unfair Maidens,” is a slapstick (literally) version of the revenge story (heterosexual male player gets what he deserves from the women he has played) as well as a parody of the kind of folk tale originally taken seriously. “The Birthday Boy’s Punishment” by Garland is a classic gay boy’s fantasy about getting spanked and fucked by a male teacher as soon as he turns eighteen. (Even in a daydream, it seems, all characters must be legally old enough to consent.)

“Dorm Room Disciplinarian” by A. Erin Golding is a parallel story about a male university student who finds the right female tutor. Instead of distracting him, her spanking focuses his mind so that he can learn better. In “Professor Kent’s Book Club” by Nina Tate Parker, a man who visits his academic mentor, Professor Kent, is amazed to learn that the professor has started a “book club” for submissive middle-aged woman who are not getting what they need from their husbands. The professor encourages Richard, his former student, to explore his own desires and to ask for what he wants.

The fantasy stories include two about the writing process itself. The one that entertained me best is “Inspired” by Martha Davis, a truly inspired study of the relationship of a woman who writes erotica and her devilishly handsome incubus-muse, Alexander, who must be spurred on to give her ideas. I’ve seen this concept embodied in erotic stories before; paradoxically, most erotic writers seem to need a charge of lust to be in writing mode, but writing is usually done best alone. Some versions of this plot are tragic: writer is so obsessed/possessed by fantasy lover (in some cases a ghost or evil spirit) that the writer is alienated from other humans.

In “The Roll-Top Desk” by T. Harrison, a pair of writers are determined to inspire and stimulate each other, even though their writing is not necessarily erotic. The male poet, who uses vintage writing tools (a refinished roll-top desk and an old manual typewriter), gets his girlfriend to read his latest poem aloud while he spanks her in rhythm. She suggests revisions, he literally tries them out on her, and both characters are thus recharged. Afterwards, they each return to their writing. This method could work.

Among the threesome stories are “His and Hers” by Ily Goyanes (a variation on the classic fantasy of a stern female librarian punishing a bad boy for breaking library rules), “Designated Hitter” by Big Ed Magusson (an initiation story about a husband and wife discovering the world of BDSM), “An Incentive for Penny” by Jade Alexander (about a submissive female employee and her Dominant female boss – but the submissive has been set up by her boyfriend) and “The Upper Hand” by D.L. King (in which a male Dom, who advertises for spankees in the newspaper, has a female assistant).

In a sense, threesome spanking stories seem very logical. Even in childhood, a real spanking (delivered by parents) is/was likely to be the result of a set-up: Child A tempts Child B to misbehave, thereby earning a spanking, or one authority figure (e.g. Mom) reports the child’s bad behavior to the designated punisher (e.g. Dad).

In several of the realistic stories, understanding friends or mentors play a key role in the initiation of newbies, some of whom don’t understand their own desires as well as others do. In “A Cure for Excess” by Annabeth Leong,  a young woman is devastated after being dumped by a boyfriend who complained that she was “too demanding” sexually. Her friend Rebecca, and Rebecca’s sexy boyfriend, offer to help spank this quality out of her. Of course, being part of a threesome was exactly what she needed.

In “The First Weekend” by Nan Andrews, a married woman (Miriam) lunches with her married friend Celia, who seems to be having much more fun than Miriam is. Then Miriam’s husband invites her to join him on a business trip, and he introduces her to the world of BDSM to spice up their marriage and bring them closer together. He spanks her even when she is pleading with him to stop, presumably because he knows that she needs an emotional catharsis. Feh. 

“Glass Slippers” by Leela Scott is about a married pair of ballet dancers who integrate spanking into their rehearsals. Both their dancing and their relationship are shown to be works of art which require much practice.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by George Glass is about a woman’s search for the right man; like Cinderella, she has to date many suitors who are not quite suitable until she finds the one whose desires mesh with hers. “On Switch” by Penelope Pruitt is a similarly realistic story about a young man who needs a spanking so badly that he knocks on his girlfriend’s door in the middle of the night, unable to rest until he gets what he wants; eventually, he discovers that he has to give something in return.  In “Little Boys” by Angela R. Sargent, men who crave the feeling of being boys again get when they want from a Domme.

Probably the most unusual story (and one of the best) is “Venus Callipige” by Cesar Sanchez Zapata, set in the Swinging London of the 1960s. The central character, a male clothing designer, is pestered by a model until he realizes to his amazement that his strait-laced persona and his efforts to brush her off are exactly what turn her on. While the happy ending stretches the reader’s credulity, both the style and the plot evoke a time when the energy of rock music seemed likely to transform the world.

Strangely enough, I was disappointed by the one convincingly lesbian story, “My Slutty Little Girl,” by Sinclair Sexsmith. The repetitious dialogue, which emphasizes the contrast of roles, is less sexy on the page than it probably would be in life. This type of pairing has often been described in lesbian anthologies, and it has been done better. 

Anthologies always include stories which will not appeal to all the members of the target audience. Spankalicious, however, includes enough gems to be worth checking out.

Surprise: An Erotic Fiction Anthology From Racy PagesSurprise: An Erotic Fiction Anthology From Racy Pages
Edited By: Tinder James
Rubicund Publishing LLC
ISBN: 0984371400
June 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

These 27 stories are brief, crisp and snappy. Like a box of breakfast cereal, each contains a surprise: an internet "friend,” met for the first time in real life, turns out to be different (but not worse) than expected, a kick-ass babe turns out to be transgendered, a formerly-predictable spouse or lover puts the crackle back in the relationship, a person who has done wrong is horribly punished in a way that is only made clear in the last line of the story. Several of these pieces are "flash fiction:" half-page stories that are complete in themselves.

The design on the cover of the book is part of the surprise. Inside a large black circle below the book title, the reader is told: INSIDE 20+ stories you can read anywhere OUTSIDE a subtle cover. On a white background, black dots and squiggles and gold stars appear to be randomly scattered. This image invites the reader to wander through the book, picking up anything that looks interesting, while wandering past oblivious strangers in public space.

The theme of "surprise" is consistent throughout, which means that it would be hard to identify any other theme. There are characters of all genders, ages and races in this collection. The settings vary. Most of the couplings are heterosexual, but not all. There is some relatively mild BDSM, and all the stories are "realistic" in the way that truth is often stranger than fiction.

In general, the shortness of these stories works to their advantage. There is little writerly self-indulgence or digression here. In some cases, the writer "tops" the reader by delaying the resolution while steadily building tension. Every plot looks tightly-constructed.

Unfortunately, not all the stories are equally well-written. In "Temptation Like a Muthafucka," Alicia C. McGhee's attempt to capture the sound of grass-roots dialect leads her into awkward tense shifts, misleading modifiers and a jumbled sequence of events. Here is an example:

His eyes scaled up and down my appeasing frame as I watched him watching me through my shades. T-bird opened the passenger door, sliding into the seat with a stack of CDs, letting the bass carry on through the cul-de-sac road.

The plot of this story is both plausible and intense, but the writing style is a constant distraction.

The list of author bios shows that novice writers are thrown together with competent professionals in this book, and that is one of the surprises. Several of the contributors write in other genres as well as erotica, and the influence of fantasy, sci-fi and horror tropes is evident in
their work. One hilarious story, “Adam Gets Perspective” by Kyoko Church, is about a male professional writer’s need for sexual relief in order to meet a deadline: “The first draft of his manuscript was due to his publisher in two months.” His resourceful housekeeper, a no-nonsense professional herself, finds a way to use distracting noise to help him reach his goals.

In several of these stories, the surprise is physical, and it can be summarized in a punch-line. “Detachable Penis” by Stephen Smith is self-explanatory, and it seems like a heterosexual variant of “Blue Light” by Stephen Saylor (a.k.a. Aaron Travis), an eerie classic of 1970s gay-male porn. “Addiction” by Felix Baron has a female heroine with a sexual “problem” that is parallel to that of Linda Lovelace, heroine of another classic of 1970s porn, Deep Throat (novel and movie). “Enhancement” by Theodore Carter is a male fantasy focused on male anatomy.

The stories based on a single plot twist or a physical quirk are entertaining and generally lightweight. Unusual body parts, especially those that are detachable and have wills of their own, are also characteristic of fantasy and horror literature, and they suggest both a fear of dismemberment and a fear of losing self-control. Stories about women who literally can’t live without something that only men can provide seem to be part of a locker-room tradition in which “porn” appeared in magazines that were written by men for men and literally sold under the counter.

Other stories in this book are more complex, and contain surprises with far-reaching consequences. “Goddard’s Curse” by Paul L. Bates appears at first to be about a man with insomnia, but his condition is gradually revealed to be more sinister:

Each tick of the clock resounded like a thunderclap. Goddard sat stone still, his eyes peering across the gloomy living room at the desolate cityscape framed above the bookcase. As always, he made an effort not to look at the offending timepiece.

It’s 2:45, he told himself against his will.

And then he receives an expected telephone call from an anonymous female voice: “I hate you. I hope you rot in hell. Fuck you, you selfish little prick—fuck you to hell.” Goddard has so many women’s names in his little black book of past and future “conquests” that he has no idea who she might be. Goddard is a very recognizable man who is shown collecting enough bad karma to keep him awake for the rest of his shortened life.

“The Senator’s Perfect Wife” by S.T. Clemmons is another bone-chilling story that is hardly erotic at all, since the sex in it is not consensual and not satisfying for the central character. This story would fit with other tales set in a dystopian future in which convicted criminals are punished and controlled in ways that are currently not possible.

“Leslie Goosemoon Rides Again” by Giselle Renarde is one of a whole series by this Canadian author about characters with unconventional gender identities AND non-mainstream ethnic/cultural identities who don’t appear to be walking stereotypes or sex jokes. The title character in this story is thoroughly human and sexy without working at it. Other writers who strive to write erotica “outside the box” (but from a Politically Correct viewpoint) could learn from Renarde.

“Old Flames” by Keesha Marie is hot in every sense. Although fire is becoming a tired metaphor for sexual passion, the various types of fire in this story shed light on the various reasons why the woman in this atmospheric story is drawn to the man who comes through a rainstorm to hold her in the warmth from her fireplace, and why she is uncomfortable with their relationship.

This collection is definitely worth reading, and you can read it openly on the beach, the bus, or the plane. Keeping a poker face when you reach the surprise in each story might be harder to do.

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.          

Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from under the Big TopTented: Gay Erotic Tales from under the Big Top
Edited By: Jerry Wheeler
Lethe Press
ISBN: 1590213440
August 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Like skilled acrobats, these stories straddle the line between realism and fantasy, and fly through the air between them.  Sexual attraction between men in the circus world seems like such a good fit that I wonder why no one compiled an anthology on this theme before. Like gay men, circus performers have traditionally been nomadic social outcasts, and the yearning of a lonely boy to “run away and join the circus” seems like a thinly-disguised desire to “come out.”

Several of these stories are set in a realistic past, when trained elephants in a travelling show were less controversial than the human performers and crew. In “Roustabout” by Dale Chase, the twenty-year-old narrator begins his story in California in April 1878:

“Jack Hodges was shot two days ago and while the man who done him in has been strung up, there remains an empty place in me that will not likely be filled by justice, be it vigilante or otherwise.” The narrator was Jack’s lover, and he goes to the circus with a barely-conscious plan to find some distraction for his grief.

An exchange of meaningful glances between the narrator and Tully, an older, muscular roustabout who is setting up a tent, leads to a fast hookup, which could possibly lead to a deeper relationship. But there are no guarantees.

“The Twenty-Four Hour Man” by Dusty Taylor shows a professional P.R. man through the eyes of a “rube,” an innocent young man in a small Kansas town in 1915. While seducing the whole town to come to the circus starring “Buffalo Bill,” the handsome stranger seduces the narrator, who has never met anyone like him before. The young man’s father had always warned him to beware of con men and circus types as moral ‘stumbling blocks,’ but even after the handsome stranger has left him forever, the narrator doesn’t regret their night together.

In “Circus Wagon Love” by Garland, a group of circus performers listen to the radio during the Second World War, wondering if they will be sent to one of the camps where people go in but never come out. When the narrator, a contortionist, learns that a Hollywood movie, Freaks, is being made about the sideshow, he feels ambivalent: I honestly didn’t know how I felt about it. His reaction is much like that of a gay filmgoer to a film that shows his “people” as freaks, but which gives them public exposure.

In the fantasy stories, the circus represents an imaginary world of unlimited sex and real monsters. The narrator of “The Midnight Barker” by William Holden is an immortal wraith, one of a circus `family` that survives on the energy of the living:

The young man we want has to have a tainted heart. He has to want it, need it, desire it. Through their desires, we create our Netherworld where we make their fantasies come true. Through their fantasies, we feed. The circus is a jealous whore, a ravenous hag that sucks the vitality right out of a person, just like a bloodthirsty vampire sucks the veins dry.

Like a vampire, the narrator seems likely to change his chosen victim into one like himself.

The title character in “The Great Masturbator” by Daniel M. Jaffe is rumored to cause gay men to disappear from the real world. When the narrator, whose life is going nowhere, goes to the circus to be cheered up, he learns what has happened to the missing men. He is trapped in a kind of limbo from which there seems to be no escape, but he tells the reader: I live in hope.

“Circus Maximus” by Sean Meriwether is set in a dystopian society run by clowns whose “patron saint” is John Wayne Gacy, serial killer of young men in the real world. The story is told by an “ant,” a young man whose lack of performing skill condemns him to the lowest rank and whose protective love for his younger brother drives him to kill. The two young men run away from the circus and discover a tribe of fellow refugees led by a magical queen who resembles the older wisewomen in The Matrix and Tommy. At last the narrator finds his tribe and the male mentor he needs, although the life of a fugitive won’t be easy.

“Oggie Joins the Circus” by the team of Jay Neal and R. Jackson is a lighter story: a teenage boy’s masturbation fantasy. Parker the Barker introduces young Oggie to the circus of his imagination:

Ah, young sir – we have many wonderful wonders ready to amazingly amaze you. Inside my pants – inside our tents, I mean – you will meet the world’s best-hung midget, incredible twin contortionists, Melvin the Magnificent – soothsayer, human goat and tattooed man – a mystifying fun-house of mirrors and a remarkable game of skill and luck, to mention but a few of our unique attractions.

Oggie discovers all these wonders before being welcomed “home.”

Steve Berman’s story, “Tell Me What You Love, and I’ll Tell You What You Are,” shows a contemporary circus as a slice of untrustworthy reality. Printed in two columns on each page, the story is an episodic two-ring show in which a rueful older man accompanies his closeted nephew and the nephew’s ‘friend’ to a circus of illusions. The handsome guy working the “Guess Your Height, Your Age, Your Fate” booth seems attracted to the uncle – or is he?  The reader can never be sure what is real and what is not.

In a parallel story, “Magic” by Matt Kailey, another lonely, disillusioned gay man discovers a circus that advertises only by word of mouth, where an incredibly well-hung performer chooses him for magically painless public sex.

One of the “realistic” stories (to use the term loosely) focuses on the role of a “fluffer,” a kind of roustabout in the world of porn films. “Charlie Does the Big Top” by Hank Edwards is an over-the-top “dirty joke” in which the circus is actually a porn-film set, and the central character gets paid to keep the stars as hard as they need to be.

“The Worker” by Cage Thunder is about “coming out” into another dream job. In this story, a bored college student has come home to Kansas for the summer. (Did The Wizard of Oz start a tradition of setting quest stories in Kansas?) At the circus with his former high school buddies, the narrator is fascinated by Steve Starr, a pro wrestler who helps “the kid” to find his calling and his stage name, Cage Thunder.

The remaining stories are more-or-less true to contemporary life, and are as captivating as the obvious fantasies. “Il  Circo dei Fiori” by Gavin Atlas suggests that the circus (as entertainment, business and  lifestyle) may be doomed, but the narrator tries gamely to save the “circus of flowers” which has been in his family for generations, and hang onto the man of his dreams.

In several of these stories, the appeal of circus performers for audience members and humble handymen is a source of erotic tension. In “Aiming to Please” by Nathan Burgoine, a knife-thrower seduces an enthralled audience member by hurling sharp knives that barely miss the target’s flesh while pinning him in place. In “Winter Quarters” by Tom Cardamone, young Jimmy (who works the concession stand) gets to wrap his idol, a performer of his own age, in cotton candy when the circus is not on tour. In the brief “Horse’s Ass” by Ralph Seligman, the handyman narrator has dramatic sex with a clown who uses white grease paint as lube.

The circus, as shown in these stories, is a powerful metaphor for collective and personal dreams and fears. The sex that takes place there is sometimes slapstick, sometimes scary, but always hot. It’s worth the admission price.

The Boy Can't Help It: Sensual Stories of Young BottomsThe Boy Can't Help It: Sensual Stories of Young Bottoms
By: Gavin Atlas
Lethe Press
ISBN: 1590210395
February 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

The “bottoms" in these stories are all willing, attractive young men who crave both sex and approval from men who are usually older and more powerful. In keeping with the D/s tradition of representing submissive characters with lower-case names and pronouns, none of the titles in this book have capital letters.

Here a porn star openly asks his therapist for what he wants:

“It would be easier for me to know you approved of me if you fucked me,” Tristan said. “That's how I know I'm good enough.”

Paul stroked his chin. “Yes. I'll show you how good you are. I'll give you so much approval you'll be sore for weeks.” Paul felt sweat on his palms.”'Have you...have you been taking your medication?”

“Yes, sir. I'm still constantly horny anyway.”

“Of course, you are.”

“Tristan" (from an archaic French word for “sad”) the porn star has hinted that he wants his therapist, Paul, to be “the rapist.” “Tristan” is so tempting for Paul that Paul discusses this case regularly with his therapist, Jack, a very straight man who reminds Paul to remain professional. Confused yet? Tristan has been starring in porn films since he was recruited by an older man at age sixteen. Although he enjoys more anal sex than most other people could stand, it is clear to both therapists and even to "Tristan" himself that being a fuck-toy for a potentially unlimited number of "tops" is not good for him. In this case, it seems there ain’t no cure for lust, whether it is a desire to fuck or be fucked.

All the stories in this collection feature young men with irresistible bodies (especially seen from behind) who can't say no, even when they are sore, exhausted and threatened with unsafe sex. Their horniness triggers that of the men who use them and invite their friends to join in. To complicate things further, even the most gorgeous young men and the most powerful silver-haired daddies are afraid of being rejected. In the stories with the happiest endings, a bottom who needs protection finds an owner who can use his "boy" as much as he needs to be used while keeping more dangerous predators under control.

In "Claiming Danny," a college student fulfills the fantasies of a group of older men. Here they simmer with frustration:

There was a small group of us over-fifty crowd, most of us coal miners, that huddled in a corner of the one gay bar in town and bitched about the stuck-up boys from the little liberal arts college that wouldn't give us any. We were always jawing on about what we would do to one of them if we ever got a chance.

Then the narrator's friend Howard tells him about Danny, a college boy who makes himself available to older men at all hours of the day or night. He misses classes, study-time and exams because of the men who come to his room regularly, take what they want and then leave. Working men who have always resented the sense of entitlement shown by some of the college students enjoy taking revenge on Danny.

It seems that Danny had an affair with a male faculty member who abandoned Danny when he moved away. Danny has been looking for a "Daddy" ever since.  

The narrator is moved by Danny's sweetness, turned on by his willingness, and disturbed by the callousness of the other men who use him. He decides to rescue Danny by carrying him naked to the narrator's apartment and telling him that from now on, Danny will live there and keep his grades up because the narrator "owns his ass." Danny happily consents. The narrator explains to the reader:

Yeah, he wanted constant savaging instead of love, but maybe I could help. I kissed him for the first time, softly on the lips, and he smiled the prettiest smile I've ever seen.

These stories are told in a straightforward, unadorned style that dramatizes the poignancy of the dilemmas of both bottoms and tops. Bottoms want to be appreciated for what they give, but the more they and their colorful reputations are passed around, the less respect they get. Tops are drawn to young, willing bodies, but they are reluctant to claim responsibility for anyone who can't be trusted.

The clashing desires of men on both sides of the divide resemble those of guys and girls in the double-standard dating scene that many of us remember from high school. In the midst of hot male-on-male sex scenes that look deceptively simple, the reader hopes that all the players will get their emotional needs met too, against the odds.

Gavin Atlas reveals the psychology of both tops and bottoms with equal skill. He even ventures into paranormal territory without losing credibility. In "slavery by degree," first published in Wired Hard 4.0 from Circlet Press, the bottom-boy (a version of Danny) is forced into space-age prostitution. When asked the classic question about why he got into the business, he brags that he is a slut. Later, however, he explains to the customer:

My parents have a lot of debt for investing in my future. When I didn't study hard enough for comps, I didn't get any scholarships, and there was no way they could pay back the loans.

This is only one story in which the bottom is forced into sexual slavery, which makes him constantly hard. In "the only bottom for a thousand miles,” another athletic college student is victimized by two demonic businessmen who take him to an island resort where he is the main attraction for hordes of gay male sex-tourists. If this story were not an amusingly over-the-top fantasy with a happy ending, it would be the stuff of nightmares. 

Several of the plots of these stories look similar, but the issues are presented from enough different angles that a second reading of each story can change a reader's reaction. The author is clearly familiar with this territory, and he doesn't dodge the intensity or the moral concerns that go with it.

The CollectorThe Collector
By: Kay Jaybee
Austin Macauley
ISBN: 1905609191
August 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This slim volume of twenty sexual scenarios is not quite a collection of full-bodied stories, but it has its own charm. The author explains that she is the “collector” of the title, and that she collects other people’s stories about sexual adventures:

Hungrily, I listen to the erotic acrobatics of total strangers and commit them to paper, usually whilst in a café or coffee house.

The author (whose pen name looks like three initials) suggests that she blends in with the middle-class “shopping population” of an English town, and that her interest in other people’s sex lives is matched by their willingness to tell her about them.

The author claims that she also does hands-on research by picking up strangers for experimental encounters. She explains her method:

This usually entails a trip away from my residence in Oxford to London, where I take a short lease on a flat, adopt a more suitable persona (I should have been on the stage), and explore areas of potential inspiration.

The combination of pseudonymous coyness and scavenger-hunt references to specific routes and locations (“the bus from Five Mile Drive to St. Giles in Oxford,” “a small conservatory attached to a coffee shop near Carfax,” “the oriental coffee shop at Waterloo Station”) will look familiar to anyone who reads the “true confessions” stories in certain sex magazines. Who is Kay Jaybee (or K.J.B.) really? If one looks for a glamorous yet chameleon-like woman holding a notebook and a pen in any of the places mentioned, could one be written into her next book?

Aside from a few rough-trade characters such as Kit the bleached-blonde American whore, the stars of these anecdotes seem likely to be as inconspicuous in public as the author. Their stories reveal a range of appetites. In her epilogue, the author claims:

The gambit [gamut?] of sexual experience within the bounds of this small country, indeed, within the bounds of the English Home Counties alone, is wide indeed.

Unfortunately, these sketches don’t capture a range of different voices, and the vocabulary drips with cliché. Here a young woman, “Jay,” is described being led into a lesbian scene in a nightclub:

Pressed against the mirrored wall, arms placed high behind her spiky red hair, a fantastically curvaceous girl had her eyes tightly closed. Kneeling before her, an eager petite woman was licking between her spread legs, soft fingers teasing the skin above sheer silk hold-ups. Jay took in the round exposed globes squeezed out seductively above the willing captive’s startlingly bright green basque. She didn’t need telling what to do. Jay’s tongue was quickly lapping at the right nipple like a hungry cat, while her escort greedily attacked the left.

It would be interesting to learn more about “Jay” and the woman who lured her into this scene. It would also be interesting to read about sex in a relationship which has existed for longer than a few hours, but the purpose of these vignettes is to turn the reader on, and the author does not deviate from her purpose. She explains that in some cases, her interview subjects only consented to reveal the details of their sex lives after she promised them strict anonymity. To keep her promise, the author supposedly had to eliminate all information which could identify them.

The stories in this collection cover a spectrum of situations, genders and activities. The relatively vanilla scenes are not separated from those based on popular fetishes (especially voyeurism and exhibitionism, which seem inherent in this collection) or percussion scenes involving various implements (a belt, a cane, a riding crop, a whip). Males and females mix and mate and impersonate each other in adjoining stories. This kind of promiscuity looks particularly English to me, and it suggests an upper-class tradition of specialized tastes under a façade of heterosexual respectability.

Objects used in the scenes include “sweets” (a lollypop used as a dildo, licorice boot laces for bondage, tingling powder licked onto skin). Then there is the lady who advertises her services in the back of a car magazine, and who is described stretched over the bonnet of an upscale vehicle, getting beaten and fucked while pressed into its smooth metal surface. In one notable experiment (called “Treasures”), the author introduces a male friend to her collection of sex toys, and he shows his submissive side.

Most of the Dominant/submissive stories are male-dominant. In a scene in an actual castle, a young man responds to his female friend’s request by playing the role of a torturer:

Paul, keeping the flame as close as possible to her cunt, began to blow softly against her vulnerable flesh. Heather leapt within her bonds as, for a fraction of a second, his soft breath brushed the flame onto her skin.

In another story, a young man in a nightclub picks up a bit of “rough trade,” a laborer whose van is parked outside:

He undid the back doors of the box van and almost threw me in. He really was as massively strong as I had fantasized. Not fat, but big and hard and toned. My mouth almost watered at what was about to happen.

The van-driver takes over:

He roughly pulled me closer and dragged my t-shirt over my head, leaving my bare chest to shiver against the van’s dank atmosphere. Then, forcing me to my knees, he offered his shaft to my mouth. I took it without hesitation. It almost filled my throat, forcing me to choke a little as I accommodated its width and length.

Without words, the van-driver does various other things to his willing victim until he is sore. Then the Alpha Male gently offers to “sort out” his playmate, and gives him relief.

This book can be read in short segments of time, and the sexual descriptions are playful and clear. The cover art is discreet. The author concludes:

I shall leave you now, and head off to continue my search. The fantasies of the British public are just waiting for me to find them. I’ll head to Scotland first I think, then maybe Devon and Cornwall, possibly Wales. . . I’ll see you there. . .

The reader is left with the sense that the story collection is unfinished and interactive, a good spur to the activities it is clearly intended to inspire. This reviewer would like to read something more filling, so to speak, but this book is what it is, and it does what it does. Enjoy.

The Mammoth Book of New Gay EroticaThe Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica
Edited By: Lawrence Schimel
First published by Constable & Robinson, UK, then by Carroll & Graf, New York
ISBN: 0786719656
April, 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Groan-worthy double-entendres (big, thick, meaty, rising to the occasion, capable of delivering what it promises) are hard to resist when describing this anthology of 32 stories by popular writers of gay male erotica, several of whom are award-winning novelists. Some of the stories are sweetly domestic, some are edgy tribal tales of initiation into Daddy/boy (or consumer and sex-toy) sex, some are haunting tragedies of lonely men who can’t find what they want and need, or who find it and lose it too soon. All the stories are written by seasoned writers who could (and in some cases, do) write critically-acclaimed mainstream fiction. All the stories are realistic, as though speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, fictionalized history) had no place in a book meant to be read as Literary Erotica.

The lack of fantasy material (except as dreams and stories-within-stories) is both disappointing and surprising, especially considering that the editor, Lawrence Schimel, acquired a cult following with his own collection of witty fairy tales, The Drag Queen of Elfland: Short Stories (1997) and an anthology he edited, Things Invisible To See: Gay and Lesbian Tales of Magic Realism (1998), both from Circlet Press, the brainchild of erotic writer Cecilia Tan, who since 1992 has published ground-breaking erotic fantasies (largely queer, or gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) which would have been rejected by traditional publishers. The belief that queer authors/characters and “spec-fic” have a logical affinity is now widely accepted, and is largely due to the influence of Circlet Press.

So the absence of a single supernatural being in an anthology of gay-male erotica edited by Lawrence Schimel is a letdown, although the "realism" (loosely speaking) in this anthology is imaginative. The stories are diverse, coming from a good mix of male writers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, Israel and elsewhere. (Lawrence Schimel has lived in Spain for years, and Spanish culture flavors his stories.) Local gay-male culture is never the focus of these stories, but it provides a fascinating context.

In "Gut Reaction," Australian Barry Lowe describes the brick toilet house in an urban park as a “beat” which is dominated after dark by “beat queens:”

“the people who live on scraps of sexual experience away from bright lights, scuttling from contact to contact, disappearing at the slightest hint of trouble, and so widespread and adaptable are their earth-wide foraging fields that they, too, like their insectoid counterparts, would probably survive a nuclear holocaust.”

The metaphor of cruising gay men as insects is a violently homophobic trope which makes the reader almost as queasy as the narrator, who needs to use the toilet for its original purpose after eating exotic food. The resentment of the “beat queens” is amusingly described, and the narrator’s uncontrollable physical processes are a grimly funny parallel to sexual release. The narrator’s effect on the star of the “beat queens” seems less convincing but consistent with the farcical tone of the story.

The gay-male tradition of the fast, anonymous pickup emerges in many of these stories, and it always has more emotional resonance here than it does in conventional porn. In "13 Crimes Against Love, or, The Crow’s Confession," Alexander Chee describes the casual seduction of men who are already in committed relationships as the theft of love by envious scavengers who want to spoil what they can’t have. In “A History of Noah, or How I Met My Boyfriend,” Shaun Levin describes a charming trick who seems incapable of settling down with one lover; ironically, he is useful as the connecting link between two men who are both looking for love. “PATH” by G. Winston James is an account of a daring seduction on the subway which does not lead to anything more profound than a missed business meeting.

Several of the tricks in these stories are whores, or professional sex-providers.

The exchange of sex for money is shown to be heartbreaking, since it sets up an illusion of intimacy which is likely to fool even those who think of themselves as realists. In "Eighty Bucks Plus Tip," an erotic “masseur” arouses the sympathy of a john who knows that the hustler is unlikely to achieve success in any other field, including “legitimate” massage. In "Little Stevie," an apparently hardened manager of a “cinema” in San Francisco which specializes in live shows reveals his weakness for pretty young men who have migrated there from small towns in the American heartland. Inevitably, his protégés develop addictions, find more impressive sugar daddies, or die.

"Dear Drew Peters" is a hilarious love letter to a porn star and escort from a devoted young fan. The innocent narrator’s lust, curiosity and admiration lead him to the slow-growing awareness that he does not really know his idol at all, and probably never will. In "A Ho’s Hieroglyphic," a hustler lives an eerily invisible life as the secret plaything of a rich man who keeps a trick apartment in San Francisco (gay-male Mecca), but while “John” is away, his boy finds another Daddy. In "Daddy Lover God," a male escort movingly describes his encounters with johns (especially regulars) as spiritual experiences outside of ordinary time. In this story, the prostitute-client relationship looks like a degraded version of one of the legendary ancient paths to enlightenment.

The grandfather of all such stories is City of Night (1963), the autobiographical road-trip novel by John Rechy, a gay male hustler of the Beat generation who survived against the odds in a conservative era. That book was enormously influential simply because there was nothing else like it at the time. The stories in The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica about male courtesans and their patrons at various social levels show that the genre, like the ambitious fictional hustler Drew Peters, has risen from its backstreet origins to acquire iconic appeal.

Another narrative tradition which appears in this anthology is the “coming-out” story.

The young men who go forth to seek their fortune in these stories (as in traditional folktales), usually right after high school graduation, have a variety of epiphanies about themselves, other men and life in general.

In "Unsent," Greg Herren's story of old New Orleans (pre-Katrina), a virginal young man who has joined the U.S. Air Force to "become a man" goes to a gay bar the evening before he is to be shipped out and persuades the bartender to take him home for the night. Having discovered the joy of sex with another man, he wonders whether it was necessary for him to join the military. Eventually, the bartender learns that the Air Force man consoled himself during the Gulf War with memories of their night together

In "Daniel is Leaving Tonight on a Plane," the confident, athletic narrator is counting the days before he can leave for college while he passes the summer working in a record store. His nerdy co-worker convinces the narrator to give him a ride on his motorcycle, and they end up in the woods where:

"A cacophony of tree frogs pulsed and ebbed and pulsed again with ever-renewed fervor. Led Zeppelin was never so noisy nor mad."

With the frog chorus as a background (shades of Aristophanes), the narrator accepts the sexual service which he feels is his due. Eventually, however, the narrator is more affected by the nerd than he ever thought possible.

"Eden" by “Aaron Travis” (Steven Saylor), published in 1981 as a serial named "Blinded by the Light" in the now-defunct gay-male BDSM magazine Drummer, recounts the post-high school road trip of the narrator, who hitchhikes from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles to reconnect with a friend he does not want to lose. En route, he catches a ride with a macho truck driver who seems dangerous and homophobic, and on whom he is completely dependent after he finds that his money has been stolen. The narrator comes of age in an unexpected turn of events.

A few of these stories describe desires which are never realized. In "The Bureaucrat," Andrew Holleran’s narrator disapprovingly watches an older man who regularly displays an impressive erection in the gym. The narrator goes out of his way to learn as much as possible about the older man, and refuses to admit to himself that he is bitter because he believes that the object of his attention is out of his league.

"The Dream People" by Rick R. Reed is probably the closest thing to a paranormal story in the book. The narrator has a series of uncannily realistic dreams about a charismatic man who wants him intensely, and whom he wants. When the narrator meets his dream-man in the real world, he sees why the dream-man is unlikely to approach him in reality.

The stories in which no sex occurs show that male-to-male eroticism does not require fountains of jizz erupting from poetically-described cocks, although most of the stories in this anthology include such descriptions. Sexually explicit or not, these stories show that the human search for personal love (which can be temporarily diverted into a search for immediate gratification) is no less important for men than for women, or for anyone in between.

This book would appeal to fans of gay-male erotica in general, and especially to fans of the particular writers represented in it (Jameson Currier, Trebor Healey, William J. Mann, David May, Kirk Read, D. Travers Scott, et al). This book is clearly meant to impress, and the professional team assembled by the editor does its job.

The MarketplaceThe Marketplace
By: Laura Antoniou
Circlet Press
ISBN: 1885865570
July 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Those of you who have toyed with or even lived a term of service may wonder at just how hard it could be to attain the level of excellence required by the Marketplace. After all, you muse, these are people who will be called slaves. Owned chattel, their lives formed and polished for the pleasure and use and amusement of those whose need is to control and improve.

Many of you believe that the right attitude combined with some physical charm would be more than adequate to the task. It is not. Even the most gifted of naturals, those individuals whose wrists are naked without restraints and whose souls are bleak without guidance, need to be trained.

This passage from the introduction to The Marketplace introduces the (submissive) reader to a fictional, international organization for the training and sale (or lease) of voluntary slaves. The unnamed narrator adds: I shall be awaiting you. You will learn to hate me. 

The discreet narrator is never clearly identified, and most of the novel seems to be written from an omniscient third-person viewpoint. By the last page, it seems clear that the person most likely to be telling this story is Chris Parker, the majordomo of the slave-training establishment. He serves the owners, Alexandra and Grendel, by training novices who wish to be made ready for sale to private bidders. He is not clearly a slave, yet he is not a master. Even his gender seems ambiguous.

The reader is introduced to four slave-trainees when they arrive at the training house, one by one. Claudia is small, cute and exquisitely poised when pouring tea, but her Mistress finds her limited and boring; if Claudia can't be trained to serve in a variety of ways, her Mistress is willing to sell her. Brian is an attractive young man in leather who persuaded his Master of the moment to bring him in for training. He thinks his looks and boyish pout should be enough. Sharon looks like a centerfold and is a magnet for men outside the world of the Marketplace; she finds her own way to the training house by dishonest means, and thinks her looks will assure her a position as a pleasure slave. Robert is a large man who left a suburban marriage and a good job to become the "maid" of a pro Mistress; after he lost all his confidence and was given away, he was brought in for training.

Alexandra and Grendel agree that none of the four novices has the quality they are looking for. They seriously consider rejecting them all as inferior "merchandise," yet the four characters have complementary flaws, and therefore they have potential as a group. They are all accepted, placed under Chris Parker's command, and kept naked for weeks. Under the authority of the owners, he develops a regimen for the four trainees that is intended to break their egotism while nurturing group spirit, new skills and true pride in service.

Interspersed with the third-person narrative are the personal stories of Claudia, Brian, Robert and Sharon, as told to each other after lights-out in their shared dormitory. Each tells the others how they came to the training-house that serves as a gateway to the Marketplace, the ultimate destination for those who are drawn to service. Each life-story is moving in its own way.

First published in 1993, this novel is one of the classics of the genre, and it is worth reading more than once. The discipline and the sex scenes appeal to a variety of tastes, but none of the characters is a cliche, and their development drives the plot.

Like representative human sinners seeking spiritual refinement, three of the four seekers discover their own potential. Sharon, the character who comes closest to being a stereotype, provokes punishment and gets it, but for her it is not a learning experience, and her fate is much different from that of the submissive Barbie dolls of BDSM porn.

The novel, like the trainees, began life in need of polishing. The original Masquerade Press edition, credited to "Sara Adamson," was full of minor grammatical and typing errors. After the demise of Masquerade, the book was reprinted by Mystic Rose Press with a subtle, upscale gray cover showing a photographic image of the training house that resembles a vintage postcard. The manuscript, however, was brought into print with the original glitches intact. The current edition, published by Circlet Press under its new Luster imprint, has been lovingly copyedited so that its style is now worthy of its content. The cover features a photo of a lock for a Marketplace slave collar being handed to an impeccably-suited character over the bent back of a slave-trainee against a background of Edwardian wallpaper.

Although Circlet Press specializes in erotic fantasy and science fiction, the realistic setting and plots of The Marketplace and its sequels seem like a good fit for Circlet and vice versa. Laura Antoniou's novels already have a cult following, and Circlet has a niche market. The launch of the Luster line, like Circlet's growing collection of e-book mini-anthologies, seems likely to help the press to survive in hard economic times. The other novels in the "Marketplace" series are all scheduled to be launched by Circlet in the coming months. In order, they are The Slave, The Trainer, The Academy (a theme anthology), The Reunion and The Inheritor, forthcoming.     

In the sequels, the reader learns more about slave contracts, specialized slave roles (including "grudge slaves," or official scapegoats for bitter or frustrated owners), training for the trainers, the administration of the Marketplace, individual relationships and the background of the mysterious Chris Parker. This is the kind of virtual world that has the same enduring appeal as those of the best fantasy novels.

The Secret TunnelThe Secret Tunnel
By: James Lear
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443298
October 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

In this hilarious erotic murder mystery set in the 1920s, Edward "Mitch" Mitchell, medical doctor and amateur sleuth, rides a fast train from Edinburgh to London to visit an old "friend" (ahem). Despite the highly illegal status of homosexuality at the time, Mitch finds plenty of willing men on the train. He rescues Bertrand, a Belgian youth in distress who has a charming accent and no ticket. After Bertrand has gratefully offered his favors to Mitch, both men meet Sir Francis, who prefers to be called “Frankie,” an aristocratic poof in the entourage of two stars of the silent screen.

Later, Mitch discusses Frankie with Bertrand:

’Charming. And generous too. He offered you a job.’

‘That, we shall see.’

‘And I think he would like to fuck you, too.’

‘Also that, we shall see.’

‘Ever had two men at the same time, Bertrand? Up that neat little ass?’

‘Oh, Mitch,’ he said, in a way that could easily have meant yes or no.’

Being under constant threat of illicit invasion was never this sexy.

This thick novel is full of references to straighter (in every sense) mysteries. Writer and editor Richard Labonte calls it “a send-up of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.” Bertrand’s amusing accent resembles that of Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Although Mitch is an American living in Scotland with a local lover, he is more reminiscent of the English amateur detectives Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey than of their hardboiled American counterparts.

The eccentricity or campiness of characters in earlier English mysteries has been translated by James Lear into evidence of gayness. In the world of this novel, there isn’t a man who couldn’t be seduced by another man. Lesbianism seems to exist on a completely different planet, and the only evidence of heterosexuality is the presence of several children fathered by married men who sneak away from their wives for a taste of cock whenever possible.

The author’s presentation of this world could easily have seemed insulting to the reader, but it doesn’t. The author’s witty manipulation of the conventions of the porn novel and those of the murder mystery lets the reader in on the joke.

Like the surrealistic world of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, this world has its own logic. How likely is it that every man on the train, including the engineer and the stoker, would have an irresistible desire for other men? To those who have recently “come out” into a sexual community which is largely hidden from the social “mainstream,” potential fellow-travelers seem to appear everywhere. How likely is it that bum-fucking (with and without lubrication) would be almost universal? Those who prefer certain sexual activities often assume that anyone who won’t openly admit having the same taste is an innocent who needs to be educated.

The general atmosphere of lust is parallel to the general atmosphere of suspicion. Just as every man on the train has a sexual interest in the other men, every person has a motive to kill the unfortunate victim or to frame someone else for his murder.

Blackmail (described this way in this novel – the current legal term is “extortion”) abounds in a culture in which widespread sexual activities are both unspeakable in polite company and illegal. However, it is not always easy to guess who is the paying victim and who is the financial exploiter. Blackmail, like any addiction, requires more cash than the victim is likely to earn from a legitimate job, hence it usually leads to other illegal activities.

As in any good thriller, the web of corruption is much wider than it first appears. As Mitch discovers, the case involves the movie business, the Royal Family and the British Fascist Party, represented on the train by old Lady Antonia, who snaps orders at her drab female companion, and who regards unscheduled jolts, stops and reversals as signs that British efficiency has been subverted by creeping Communism.

Lady Antonia seems as paranoid as the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, but could it really be coincidental that the train jolts to a stop more than once before the body is found in a lavatory? And why does the train need to reverse into a tunnel after being stopped in a tunnel, in total darkness? And why does one of the male passengers emerge from the darkness smelling of lemons instead of semen?

The murder in a murder mystery is usually just the catalyst for an investigation, but this one also appeals to the reader’s compassion. The man who is killed on the train is really just a pawn for those on the trail of secrets that the powerful want permanently buried, and he leaves a distraught lover behind.

Mitch applies both logic and intuition to the evidence he has, and he must keep discarding earlier theories as new evidence comes to light. When the train arrives in London after several hours’ delay, Mitch despairs of finding a thread through the maze once all the other passengers have scattered. As it turns out, there is much to discover in London, including a seedy and secretive “men’s club,” where orgies take place and inconvenient witnesses may be held and used against their will.

The fledgling movie business of the time is a successor to the disreputable stage, but the intrepid Mitch doesn’t hesitate to visit the office of the British-American Film company, where he finds himself surrounded by aspiring actors:

The waiting room was full, both of people and of smoke. Three young women and four young men were reading magazines and sharing cigarettes; as soon as I appeared in the doorway, the stream of gossip stopped and seven pairs of eyes were fixed on me. Four of those pairs were heavily outlined in kohl, at least three heads of hair had been bleached and hennaed, and it was impossible to discern who was wearing which scent, as the room was heavy with the stuff.

Mitch learns that the only way to get past the waiting room is to audition for a “blue movie,” the studio’s bread-and-butter compensation for more expensive “mainstream” flops. Mitch discovers less about those involved in the murder than he hoped, but he thoroughly enjoys the temporary role of a male-on-male porn star.

After wrapping up the mystery and bringing the villains to justice, Mitch advises his (ahem) “friend” from Cambridge to avoid trouble by staying in the closet. Mitch himself thinks: “This time tomorrow, barring any further adventures on the train home, we [Mitch and his live-in lover] would be reunited.” In the meanwhile, however, Mitch and his “friend” lock eyes, and Mitch’s cock rises again.

The novel thus ends with a promise that Mitch will continue to have adventures of various kinds, potentially for the rest of the author’s life. Mitch first appeared in a previous novel, The Back Passage, and the series could continue in volume after volume. For readers who like a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a hot, dark, intimate enclosure, these books contain the right amount of suspense and satisfaction.

The Sweetest Kiss: Ravishing Vampire EroticaThe Sweetest Kiss: Ravishing Vampire Erotica
Edited By: D. L. King
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443719
October 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This collection of nineteen vampire stories manages to enchant the reader, despite the glut of vampire fiction on the market. In these stories, the restlessness of modern travelers (mortal or immortal) meets the claustrophobic despair of static characters, like solid ghosts, who are trapped in particular places and old habits. The mortals in these stories are not the only ones who feel an ambivalent desire for the strange and exotic.

Here is Marta, the vampire narrator of Remittance Girl's story, "Midnight at Sheremetyevo:

Ever since I joined the family, the annual journey to Zurich to arrange our legal and financial affairs has fallen to me. I'm the only one left of us who still loves the cold, the only one who yearns for a nice crisp snowy night.

On her way to Zurich, Marta has to spend several hours in an almost-empty Russian airport where she meets a delectable young man who is drawn to her like a moth to a lightbulb. Both of them suffer as a consequence of their mutual attraction; dark romance doesn’t get much better than this.

Thomas S. Roche's story, "Wait Until Dark, Montresor," is also a traveler’s tale. The narrator gives detailed instructions to the reader, who presumably wants to meet a waif-like vampire author who lives in a room over a coffee shop. This route could be traced on a map:

The town of San Esteban is best reached by car on State Route 13, which slips off Interstate 101with subtlety, implying it doesn't wish to be noticed. Watch for the exit south of Ukiah, make your pukey, carsick way through the Coast Range and be sure to stop for an espresso and a home-baked brownie at Space Cowboy's shack just past the Chatelaine Reservoir about half-hour past Bargerville.

This story is as much about an otherwordly road trip in California, the state that has drawn so many of the curious and the hopeful from other places, as it is about star-fucking, or a cult of celebrity.

Other stories about rootless travelers include Maxim Jakubowski's story, "The Communion of Blood and Semen," in which an English writer who travels too much to form long-term attachments meets the female vampire of his dreams in cyberspace:

We'd met in Manhattan. On, of all places, Craigslist, the Internet Sargasso of obscene desire, barter, thievery, fakery and false identities. 

Strangely enough, this romance has a happy ending.

Several of these stories are set in particular cities, all shown at night (of course). Lisabet Sarai, an American living in Thailand, uses local color to good effect in her story, “Fourth World.” When two English-speaking male tourists meet a glamorous Thai woman whose motives aren’t clear to them, one explains the local culture to the other in terms that could apply equally well to the culture of supernatural beings:

An Aussie friend of mine says that Thailand is ‘fourth world’ – a world where laws and logic are indefinitely suspended. Where anything can happen, and usually does. It’s a surprising place.

Madeleine Oh’s “Nightlife” is set in nineteenth-century Paris, where an apparent lady of pleasure picks up a sad man who drinks alone while recording the nightlife of his city in his art. The perceptive reader recognizes him as an actual person who became as immortal in his own way as the lady is in hers.

"Cutter" by Kristina Wright is set in the night world of Las Vegas, which attracts risk-takers. It seems like a logical place for the meeting of a self-destructive young woman and a hungry but compassionate male vampire.

These stories manage to squeeze fresh juice (so to speak) out of the traditional themes of vampire fiction. Probably the most obvious theme is the erotic exchange of vampire and mortal victim as a metaphor for Dominance/submission or sadism/masochism, and the confused desire of the “victim,” which is usually more obvious to the mind-reading vampire than to the self-ignorant mortal.  In “Red by Any Other Name” by Kathleen Bradean, the roles of vampire as Dominant and mortal as submissive are neatly reversed as a professional Domme with human limitations responds to a telephone call from a mysterious male submissive whose taste for blood is expressed in a series of words for red, which are never spoken aloud.

Besides traveler’s tales, stories set in exotic locales and stories about the giving and taking of blood as power exchange, there are stories here in which bloodlust is a metaphor for addictions of various kinds and stories in which vampires function as eyewitness guides to the historical past.

The most powerful story (in this reviewer’s opinion) about bloodlust as addiction is “Once An Addict . . .” by A.D.R. Forte. In this story, a centuries-old female narrator (who is obviously a vampire) forces a modern man whose life is spiralling downhill to kick his habits and return to life and health, despite his resistance. Only when he has come to need her presence as much as he once needed mind-altering substances does she tell him why she chose him. They develop a mutual addiction:

I catch sight of us sometimes in mirrors, once with him behind me, his cock tight in my ass, and his bleeding wrist pressed to my mouth, our eyes glazed with euphoria, with the high.

The symbiotic relationship of vampire and mortal in this story points to a central irony in all the stories here that could be classified as romances with happy endings: even though vampires live parasitically on the essence of human life, several of these vampire characters fiercely preserve the lives of their mortal lovers even when those lovers are suicidal.
In “Blood and Bootleg” by Teresa Noelle Roberts, a debutante of the 1920s tries to distract herself with sex and illegal booze from the pain of losing her beloved twin brother in the Great War of 1914-1918. A handsome German guest appears at her birthday party, and responds to her hatred of “Huns” by letting her know that he has survived other atrocities in other times and places. In effect, he puts her grief in perspective while offering her consolation if she has the courage to accept it.

Singling out individual stories in this collection is hard because each of them is effective in its own way. However, one especially memorable story for me is the one lesbian story in this collection: “Devouring Heart” by Andrea Dale. In this heartbreaking tale, the good intentions of both vampire and mortal can’t make up for the communication gap between them. This relationship makes a valid-enough metaphor for real-life relationships in an incestuous lesbian community, and the story seems true to its literary roots.

The grandmother of such stories seems to be Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, a novella about a young woman who exerts an apparently magical (and harmful) influence on her female friends. It was published in 1872, approximately a generation before Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The one story in The Sweetest Kiss which seems out of place is “Kiss and Make Up” by Lisette Ashton, a kind of dark dirty joke about a vampire seductress who provokes her mate, Dracula, by seducing an innocent new male vampire who is unable to resist her charms or to realize that she has played this game many times before. Vampire humor is not a bad thing, but since it tends to debunk the tradition of vampires as objects of dread and desire, its appearance here undermines the mood that has already been set up.

In general, the quality of the writing in this book is vivid and hypnotic. Anyone with an interest in vampire erotica is likely to find at least one favorite story in this batch.

The Ways of LoveThe Ways of Love
By: Mele Shaw
Carnal Desires
ISBN: 1554047641
June 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This saga of an upwardly-mobile American family, starting with a couple from Russia who immigrate to New York in the time of the last Czar, resembles a history of the Kennedys or the Rockefellers. By the end of the story, the “Shore” family consists of a glamorous middle-aged couple, Art and Vita, who visit the overseas branch plants of the family business, and their three privileged children, two of whom want to learn the business from the ground up.

So how do they make their money? In the illegal business of porn, later defined as “adult films.” This story is as fascinating as the true Hollywood history of United Artists (originally formed by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks). The story of Gold Studios, the business of the Shore family, includes tragedy in the form of unexpected deaths and a mysterious mental illness. Aside from this, however, the history of the business and the family, covering almost a century, looks clean, uplifting and sanitized. The Shore family is shown living the American Dream; their methods seem only slightly more broadminded and creative than those of fellow-millionaires who made good by setting up widget factories. 

Art Shore, the key figure in the story, eventually turns a small underground operation that churns out black-and-white plotless films of people having sex on mats into a legally registered company that produces “Sex for Lovers” in settings as elaborate as those in other movies. He finds his way into the “porn” business through an introduction to Howie, owner of Gold Films in 1961, by Betty, a very nice woman who has called herself a “sex therapist” ever since she became too old to star in “dirty movies.” Art comes into Manhattan from the family home in Far Rockaway to spend weekends with Betty.  He pays her well and takes her to nightclubs.

Art, whose family had already acquired a comfortable nest egg by working for a bank, was introduced to Betty at age 18, by his older brother Vic, who had enjoyed her services for years. Considering the illegal and disreputable status of all forms of sex work in the early 1960s, the entry of the handsome, upscale Art Shore into that world looks unbelievably smooth. Howie, who inherited a rundown building from his father, a carpet seller, has to pay off the police to avoid arrest, and there is a reference to the Mafia somewhere on the sidelines. (Apparently that family was into bigger operations than Gold Films.)

According to the descriptions of the sex biz in the Bad Old Days, it didn’t include violence, drug addiction, extortion or betrayal in any form. When Art becomes an enthusiastic performer as well as a shareholder, he learns the story of “Chickie,” a small, bisexual man with a large dick and a Turkish name that Americans find hard to pronounce. As it turns out, “Chickie” (who dies gruesomely of syphilis after a long and reckless sex life) is a kind of pipeline for a British fortune that is eventually used to transform the bootleg porn film business in New York.

The subplot involving “Chickie” is a fascinating look at the convergence of underground sex services with an underground gay-male community before Kinsey brought the actual sex practices of Americans to the attention of the cultural mainstream. As the child of poor Turkish immigrants, “Chickie” is seduced by Jeff, a male counsellor at summer camp whose English parents are killed in a bombing raid in London in 1942, leaving him the owner of their property on both sides of the Atlantic. “Chickie” becomes Jeff’s long-term lover, and they turn an inherited brownstone into Rose House, a kind of community centre for gay men. Having no direct descendants, Jeff leaves his whole estate to “Chickie,” who becomes a shareholder in Gold Films. “Chickie” finds that he enjoys sex with women as well as men, and he is not offended when Howie chooses to film his impressive cock without showing any of the rest of him.

From time to time, the chronological narrative is interrupted with sex scenes, all heterosexual. The shifting viewpoint is disorienting. (Is this a slightly-fictionalized third-person account of actual events? In that case, who would know how many times Art came, or how satisfying it was?) In addition, the dialogue sounds as stilted as the speech of people who learned English as adults and want to be grammatically correct.

The central romance in the book is between Art and Vita, a beautiful young blonde who performs for Gold Films to support herself and her widowed, ailing, Swedish father. When Art first confesses that he has refused to perform (have sex with) Vita because he has “personal feelings” for her, she is understandably sceptical. Here he rushes up to her and tries to explain himself:

“Look, I am sorry. I am not playing with you as you think I am. I do not know how to explain what I feel about you, but I do. Do you believe me? I do not want to hurt you.”

Is this how Art’s Russian grandparents (who raised him after the sudden death of his parents) taught him to speak? As a native-born New Yorker, wouldn’t he have learned to use a few contractions on his weekends in Manhattan?

Despite the awkwardness of style and the unlikely goodness and generosity of a large cast of marginalized characters, this book is persuasive enough to seem like a peek at a largely-unknown history of New York, which includes an underground economy. This book could use a ruthless editing job, but it tells a story that needed to be told. If the Gold Company actually exists under any name, someone there should consider turning this epic into a major motion picture.

This is the Way the World Ends: An Anthology of Apocalyptic EroticaThis is the Way the World Ends: An Anthology of Apocalyptic Erotica
Edited By: Catherine Leary
Freaky Fountain Press
March 2011

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This excellent collection is not for the faint of heart. Here you will find aliens, vampires, fire, famine, revelations, dictatorships, corruption and desperation. Under these circumstances (where there is either total anarchy or extreme social control), a surprising amount of the sex is consensual. Some of it is even satisfying. And there are no zombies in sight, unless the cover illustration of tired-looking, greenish humanoid figures (“Train Commute, Tokyo Series 1 of 5” by Rebecca Meredith) is meant to suggest the living dead.

The editor has included a list of “trigger warnings” with a brief introductory explanation:

Being ‘triggered’ is when someone has experienced psychological trauma in the past, and as a result, experiences psychological distress in the current time when they read, see, or hear about something similar to their experience.

Readers who are susceptible to being “triggered” should probably read the list before reading this book.

In most of these stories, the origins of the apocalypse are vague or unexplained. What matters is that old concepts of what is “normal” no longer apply, many people have died or will die, and the survivors are desperate. In the opening story, “We Angels Eat Roses” by Gigi Brevard, the central character (known only as “D”) has broken into a pharmacy to steal a drug called Adderall to keep his panic at bay. The reader can sympathize.

D narrowly escapes being shot, and meets a gorgeous woman who defines herself as an angel sent by God to gather the righteous. In a version of Miami where all the cool people wear clothes soaked in the blood of their victims, Sex was a luxury afforded only to those badass enough to take a life. D had resigned himself to celibacy. D, a young man in his early twenties, learns that sex can be heaven on earth, but it requires a certain faith. He also learns that human dignity and an actual name are achievable.

“Lifting the Veil” by Kit O’Connell shows sexual ecstasy as analogous to the chemically-induced version. A new drug, XDMT, is the gateway to communion with mysterious otherworldly beings as well as with a loved fellow-human. As the central character comes to realize, the new high is also a means of understanding that the world is coming to an end.

Miraculously happy endings (or landing on a “Get Out of Hell” space in the game of Last Days) make several of these stories more bearable to read than they could have been, even though there is usually something ironic about the good news. In “man/woman” by M.J. Nicholls, a future British government reminiscent of the totalitarian regime in George Orwell’s 1984 issues a general warning:


The following is a transmission from the Subspecies Control Bureau. It has come to our attention certain rebel groups have been faking their heterosexual relationships in order to attain cheap housing as couples in the Safe District. We do not tolerate homosexuals posing as heterosexuals and we will not house couples pretending to be in love.

In an environment rigidly divided between the Safe District and “the wilds,” Francis (male) meets Frances (female). Each has reason to suspect the other of being an undercover agent of the Subspecies Control Bureau, which enforces gender roles, but Frances and Francis need each other’s help to survive.

There is very little sex in this story, but the determination of two powerless people to join forces for mutual support is heart-warming. By the end of the story, the man and woman who can’t change themselves into stereotypes have formed a bond which will help the next generation.

In “An Apple a Day” by Maxine Marsh, a young woman who has not eaten in six days is literally willing to do anything for food. The older man who takes advantage of her need and her unawareness of a food source seems at first to be a soulless predator. As the young woman comes to know him, so does the reader. We learn that his need for human companionship is at least as intense as his need for sex or her need for nourishment.

This story neatly dramatizes a traditional credibility gap between men and women about “the oldest profession;” men accuse women of manipulating men for material support, while women point out that men exploit women when they monopolize the means of survival and demand sex in exchange. The relationship in this story, like that between Adam and Eve, comes to include a level of tenderness and mutual understanding.

All the stories in this collection are worth reading, and each interprets the concept of apocalypse in a different way. In “Everything Is Chemical” by Robin Wolfe, the “chemistry” is provided only by hormones, not illicit drugs, and a drastic ending of life as we know it is only implied in the incestuous attraction of a man and a woman who are related by blood. In “Sparks” by M. Birds, sexual attraction between two young women is treated as nothing strange when the world is being consumed by fire.

General corruption is a major theme in “Playing at Savior” by Archimedes Flum, in which an expatriate American sacrifices himself to save a young woman who would otherwise be doomed to live (briefly) as the sexual toy of armed men in an Asian dictatorship. An insane lust for personal power has corrupted the central character of “Slave King Fuck Star” by John Burks, arguably the most disturbing story in the book.

In “Come On Down” by Susan Read, survivors watch television reruns and try to remember the world as they knew it. Forced to cope with present conditions, the narrator discovers that sex and an exchange of blood both facilitate shapeshifting.

“Blood Plague” by B.G. Thomas is a more conventional vampire story in which true vampires are more beautiful and powerful than mortals, while the “nosferatu” (like the “revenants” in Anne Rice’s vampire novels) are simply reanimated dead bodies with a craving for human blood. This story concludes the book on a hopeful note as the male narrator thinks about Gabriel, his immortal lover :

I thought about it. Could I love this… this man? Did I already? I guess only time would tell…

And for the first time, I believed there just might be time to find out.

This anthology is an outstanding example of a hybrid genre, horror erotica. The stories are memorable, and the authors show their ability to write beautifully about extreme ugliness. Brace yourself.


Edited By: Selena Kitt
Excessica Publishing
ISBN: 1452809135
May 2010

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

It has been said that a three-legged stool and a three-person relationship are both unstable—likely to rock, shift and change position. And a relationship of two men and a woman or two women and a man is hard to classify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian or kinky, since it can be all of the above. At best, a threesome or ménage involves three distinct one-to-one relationships. At worst, the three come to realize that a former couple has been divided for no good reason. Or an interloper, like a robber bridegroom, has seduced a formerly-faithful spouse, leaving her/his mate outraged or heartbroken. Whether threesomes result in bliss or heartache, they are fascinating to read about. You never know where everyone will be when the mattress cools.

Threesomes are the theme of this anthology, edited by Selena Kitt and published by her company, eXcessica. However, there is nothing self-indulgent about these stories.  All of them pay equal attention to each major character, and all the stories work on some level. Some have the complexity of real life, and some are classic sex fantasies.
My favorite in the bunch is “Crossroads” by Elliott Mabeuse, about extramarital temptation as a spiritual trap. The narrator is a collector of rare old blues records, and the story title refers to the legend that bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for musical talent at a crossroads before being killed by a jealous husband in the 1930s. The current-day narrator, James, can’t resist Ellen, co-owner of an antique store who shares his love of vintage blues, although her husband is an acquisitive and possessive type. The haunted atmosphere of the antique shop is almost tangible.

Several of these stories are about hauntings or reincarnation: past desire that is strong enough to draw lovers together over and over. “Break Neck Hill” by Jack Osprey is set on an isolated stretch of icy road in New England, where an attractive woman real estate agent is stranded in her car at night until she is both menaced and rescued by a pair of bikers who offer to keep her company. The suspense never ends until the reader discovers that the three have a very old, unbreakable bond.

“Dream Lovers” by Dakota Trace is an erotic romance about time-travel on native land in Ontario. A pair of sisters, Orenda the seer and Onatah the healer, see their village burned to the ground by the English in 1816, but they are both destined to reappear in 2010. A pair of male cousins, Ragtow and Jack, are Onatah’s lovers, and they must mate with her in the twenty-first century to save their people in some undefined way. The connection of the three-way consummation with the resurrection of the Iroquois Confederacy is not clear enough to satisfy a fan of historical fantasy, but the sexual-initiation scenes are well-paced and hypnotically described.

Several of these stories offer more familiar fantasy ground. In “Wife Sandwich” by Giselle Renard, a high school girl has an affair with an older, married man, and serves as the catalyst that enables his busy-executive wife to relax and learn to enjoy sex. Presumably, the reunited couple won’t need the younger girl after they have left the girl’s house together, arm in arm.

Another story about the healing power of a threesome is "I’ll Be Your Superman" by the editor, Selena Kitt. Like D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 erotic novel Lady Chatterley`s Lover, this story is about a disabled man and his able-bodied wife, and her need for more robust sex than he can give her. Unlike Lawrence’s novel of adultery, however, Kitt’s story is about three loving, generous people who find a way to satisfy each other. The references to the late Christopher Reeves, the real-life Hollywood star who played the role of Superman before becoming disabled, make this story especially poignant.

In “Jackie’s Boys” by Bekki Lynn, a married woman enjoys her husband and his twin brother—who was her boyfriend first. The lack of jealousy in this story seems almost miraculous to me, but it is a woman’s fantasy about earthy, domestic life in the country, featuring all the male attention a woman could want.

“He Started It!” by Willsin Rowe is a messier story about a family ménage. In this one, Nicole is a 36-year-old divorcee who is visited by her ex-husband’s nephew and his friend who is still grieving for his late mother. The volatility of the feelings of two young men, one of whom has a crush on the other, and a mature woman who has been sex-starved for years, is convincingly shown. Somehow it all works in the present, but there is no guarantee that peace will prevail.

The musical theme that begins with “Crossroads” continues in “I Am Nobody’s” by Emma Hillman, a wry and droll tale of the emotionally confusing role of the girlfriend of a musician who seems to dump her onto his male bandmate because he wants to be rid of her. She bounces from one rocker to the other until everyone’s real motivations come out.

In “A Beautiful Friendship” by Will Belegon, a young man in a band is awed and somewhat intimidated by both his kick-ass girlfriend (a martial-arts instructor) and his “older woman” crush, his former supervisor who is a young widow with a child. The sexual attraction between both strong women seems almost inevitable once the narrator discovers it. Best of all, both of them want to share the stud-muffin between them.

Body-art is featured in “The Chocolatier” by Saskia Walker and “Painted into a Corner” by Darcy Sweet, two stories in which a woman is coaxed out of her clothes to be literally turned into a work of art for the delight of the artist and a witness.

“Threesome” by J.M. Snyder is about a male hustler who lures a gay-male couple into an encounter in the men’s room of a bar. In the hands of some writers, this tale could have reeked of booze, piss, sweat, jism, grit and the soullessness of an anonymous pickup, but in Snyder`s hands it turns out to be almost sweet. The scene is exciting for everyone involved; the two lovers become more intimate, and the hustler does a brisk business.

The theme of this collection allows for a variety of flavours, activities and outcomes. Menage seems likely to be popular for a long time to come.

Twice the Cowboy, Twice the RideTwice the Cowboy, Twice the Ride
By: James Buchanan
ISBN: 978-1594267413
October, 2007

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

Picture the scene: two men with hard bodies, both rodeo riders, order the same brand of Mexican beer in a "dingy little dive" in the border town of El Paso, Texas. They notice each other. They both like what they see. They strike up a conversation.

The younger guy, Manuel, explains that he will be competing in "el floreo de reata" in the "Charreada," the Mexican rodeo. The white guy, the gringo, has no clear idea what the "reata" is. He throws down his own definition of manhood: "Real cowboys ride bulls."

Manuel is up to the challenge, besides being bilingual. In "a low, sensual purr," he replies: "Un charro es un vaquero dos veces." Jess doesn't get it, so Manuel translates: "A Mexican cowboy is twice the cowboy." Hot damn.

This book, a set of two romance novellas (Twice the Cowboy, first published on-line in 2006, and its sequel, Twice the Ride) is drenched in heat, dust, drama, action, rodeo lore and colorful sayings in Spanish. Even the rugged terrain just south of the Mexican border is thoroughly described. Forget generic terms like "desert" and "cactus." This landscape contains "crumbling sandstone," "black basalt," "thirsty cottonwood trees," "scrub mesquite," creosote" and "prickly pear."

Male-on-male erotic e-romances seem to be wildly popular these days, and they are written at various levels of skill and realism. Some are clearly fantasies, set in some alternative universe (or in some Japanese-flavored genre) where love between men has always been considered more honorable than any interaction involving women, and where men's bodies and personalities are androgynous, emotional and expressive.

This book, in contrast, drops the reader into the macho reality of the rodeo circuit, in which outfits are flamboyant but not flaming, and in which physical grace coexists with physical danger, not only from bulls and broncos. These cowboys live in particular towns, have past histories and jobs. Their bodies are functionally male. One of them has a family which is important to him. The magic of this book is not its ability to whisk the reader away from gritty reality, but to show how an unconventional relationship can survive in it.

These guys (and the author) clearly love the thrill of the rodeo, which serves as a metaphor for the thrill of "riding" a hot guy. Here is Manuel showing off for Jess in "el floreo de reata:"

"Ramrod straight in the saddle, Manuel controlled his mount with his knees; reins dangled unnoticed in his left hand. His right hand held the coils of a rat-tail rope. The beast tossed its head, knowing how beautiful they were together. Mexican rodeo counted style above all else.

"Manuel tossed his lariat into the air. It spun, ribbon like, over his head. Flicks of his wrist and the rope undulated around his body. Flowing like water, the lasso was the only thing that moved. Even his horse was a statue. Rawhide arabesques, corollas and calyxes danced about him to the rhythm of the mariachis."

Jess is suitably impressed, but then sympathy clinches the deal. After Manuel's leg has been scraped against a wall during a wild bronco-busting ride, Jess offers to tend to the injured leg in private. To Jess' delight, Manuel is willing and eager to take part in some private, horizontal action.

Scenarios involving illness or injury on one side and devoted caretaking on the other are a staple in romances, and they usually move the relationship to a more intimate level. James Buchanan uses this traditional formula more than once. (Eventually, Manuel is able to offer his healing love to Jess as needed.) The rodeo setting makes these events so convincing that the formula is hardly noticeable. Rodeo riders who never suffer a rope burn or a wrenched muscle would seem unbelievable.

The two men are shown to have distinct personalities and vastly different backgrounds, yet their relationship develops as a flexibly equal union. The author teases the reader with questions about who is really "on top" when a man "rides" (fucks) a man who craves his hard meat. Is "Chingar" ever a command? (Look it up.) Manuel is a kind of "horse whisperer" who has a gift for controlling horses, but Jesse has had more life experience and more varied job skills.

Occasionally, the third-person viewpoint suggests the consciousness of one of the characters, especially when Jess' silent but verbal response to Manuel (Hell, yeah) is inserted in italics into a sex scene. From the opening chapter, the reader is hoping that these two guys will continue to appreciate and support each other.

Of course, there are complications. Manuel's second-most important relationship is with his horse, Mango, and therefore anyone who wants to punish Manuel or simply mess up his life will naturally want to take the horse out from under him. The triangle of cowboy/cowboy/horse becomes a comfortable quadrangle when Manuel enables Jesse to meet and take ownership of the horse who is meant to be his. Even the two horses enjoy each other's company.

There is a surprising amount of sex (between human males) in this book, considering that there is also plenty of plot, lots of dialogue in two languages, and detailed descriptions of characters and settings. The reader is even told how much top-of-the-line saddles are worth ($5,000 U.S.!). For anyone with an interest in rodeos, horses, Mexican or Tex-Mex culture or (of course) sweaty sex between men, this book is manna from heaven. For readers (such as this reviewer) who simply enjoy solid world-building, plot arcs and characters, this book looks like the real thing. When a writer loves his (or her) subject, it shows. This ride won't disappoint anyone who feels drawn to the title or the cover image of a half-nekkid man in a cowboy hat whose well-filled white briefs light up the darkness.

Ultimate Lesbian Erotica 2009Ultimate Lesbian Erotica 2009
Edited By: Nicole Foster
Alyson Books
ISBN: 1593500912
January 2009

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This annual anthology of lesbian erotica was clearly inspired by the success of Cleis Press' Best Lesbian Erotica series, a groundbreaking concept when it was launched in 1995. By now, there are clichés in female/female erotica as there are in male/female and male/male erotica. Some of the standard scenarios can still be approached in fresh ways, but not all writers have the skill and imagination to do this.

The strength of this volume seems to be the variety of stories in it. They range from familiar tales of horny college classmates, exhibitionists in front of picture windows on high floors and seductions involving sexy lingerie to glimpses of woman-love in non-European cultures. Some of these stories could be defined as down-and-dirty sex fantasies, which have a loyal following. Other stories in this book feature psychological insights and literary style, and they would look appropriate in cream-of-the-year annual anthologies such as Best American Erotica, formerly edited by Susie Bright, or Maxim Jakubowski's Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. It seems unlikely that any one reader would like all these stories equally.

Several of these stories focus on the sexual initiation of a novice, a woman with no sexual experience with other women and no ideas about what to do.  Some of these stories are more convincing and effective than others. In "A Different Kind of House Call" by Madlyn March, the narrator stubbornly refuses to please her girlfriend by giving or receiving oral sex, thinking it is too messy and too intimate. The girlfriend hires a female porn star, "Anita Fok" (star of a film series, “Horny Hospital”) for an educational threesome, although a less patient girlfriend would probably have found what she needed behind the narrator's back. This is what the narrator assumes when she walks in to find Anita and her girlfriend naked in bed.  In “Les Triumphantes” by Lara Zielinsky, which takes place on a ship by that name, a high school teacher who wants to “come out” feels awkward and out of place on an all-woman cruise until the perfect stranger introduces herself and gently leads her to ecstasy.

The treatment of lesbian sex as an arcane ritual known only to adepts and their chosen students is entertaining but not strictly realistic. Young women who have never known other lesbians have figured things out together, both in real life and in fiction. It’s not rocket science.

The suggestion that lesbian sex is a sacred mystery is carried to its logical conclusion in two stories with an explicitly spiritual theme: “Holy Fuck” by Geneva King, a series of scenarios about sex between women in various religious contexts, and “The Day the Sun Goddess Got Laid” by Donna George Storey, a marvelous teaching story about the Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu, and her search for an explanation of erotic laughter.

The sacred and the sensual are combined in a rare art-form, banned by Christian missionaries for a hundred years and now revived, which is beautifully described in “Traditional Inuit Throat Singing” by Giselle Renarde. In this story, an Inuit woman from Canada’s far north introduces her lover, the child of Russian immigrants, to her relatives who are temporarily in a “southern” city to perform for a crowd, and then teaches her how to sing or chant a duet. It’s all about sharing vibes.

Most of these stories are realistic, including two similarly-named but distinctly different epistolary pieces,  “Love Letter” by Miel Rose and “P.S. I Love You” by Kissa Starling. The first of these is an intense, poignant letter to an ex-lover with whom the writer has lost touch, but who haunts her dreams and her waking thoughts.

The story by Kissa Starling is a sweet historical tale about two young women who hook up at Woodstock in August 1969, in an atmosphere of universal love. Many years later, one of them has a reason to reminisce about the good old days. The Woodstock scenes are groovy, and they include references to the actual bands that played there as well as the farmer who let thousands of people converge on his land for the event. However, the author has missed a chance to trace the development of a long-term lesbian relationship which would have been influenced by the sweeping changes in American culture since 1969, including the birth and development of both “women’s lib” and “gay rights.”

One story that acknowledges the influence of earlier lesbian literature is “BLR” by K. Sontz. Living in the 21st century, the two lovers who have “come out” in college face a familiar dilemma: their parents are upset to different degrees, and the lovers must meet in secret. The narrator’s girlfriend discovers that she has been reading Beebo Brinker, a lesbian novel of 1962 about going to Greenwich Village to meet beatniks and other queers. Both lovers agree that the lack of sex in lesbian fiction of that time is disappointing, but their instincts serve them well.

The only paranormal story besides Donna George Storey’s invented myth is “Rackula,” an overwrought vampire tale by Heather Towne. If this is a parody of horror fiction that takes itself too seriously, something like “The Rocky Horror Show,” this story sets the right tone. It begins thus:

“Upon my eighteenth birthday, when I became a woman in the jaundiced eyes of Romanian law, my mother sat me down in the musty living room of our ancient cottage and told me the story of the Countess Sabrina Comaneci—the evil, vengeful, undead, large-breasted seductress who haunted the backwoods byways of our impoverished province, deflowering virgins with her serpentlike tongue and jagged fangs, and the hungrily supping on blood from the rents she’d made in the young women’s maidenheads.”

From there it gets better, or worse.

Two memorable stories focus on clothing. “The Perfect Fit” by Stephanie Rose is an unconvincing but charming fantasy about a woman who has worked hard for a year to become fit, after sinking into depression and overeating after the death of her father. Her reward for herself is a private appointment with Miss Lila, glamorous owner of a lingerie shop who offers very personal fittings.

“Tight Sweater” by Jacqueline Applebee is a kind of quirky joke about a blonde Englishwoman who manages to encase herself in a sweater which is almost too tight to allow breathing. When she can’t remove it herself, she is forced to beg her attractive Nigerian neighbour for help, even though it is against her policy to get too close to anyone living in the same apartment building, since a falling-out would make the inevitable hallway encounters uncomfortable. As it turns out, the tight sweater makes an effective bondage device, and the Nigerian, who has been hurt by her neighbor’s apparent indifference, is able to satisfy them both.

“Something I Gave Her” by Sandra Roth is a threesome story in which the butch narrator fulfills her femme girlfriend’s fantasy by encouraging her to drink until she passes out, and then offering her to her closest friend. Chris, the friend, is understandably reluctant to grope a sleeping woman, and requires a lot of persuasion to join in the fun.

Chris eventually expresses an interest in ass-fucking, and the narrator tells the reader: “if you think I’m going to let someone else be the first to ream my girlfriend’s ass, you’re smoking some deadly weed.” Here is where the consensuality wears thin. The narrator is packing a larger “cock” than the one she has loaned to Chris, and she decides not to lubricate it because she lacks the patience to dig the lube out of her backpack “at the other end of the bed.”

The narrator explains calmly: “I swear I can feel Tara’s asshole tear, as the head of my rod rams through her tight sphincter.” Although Tara keeps her eyes closed, she screams. The narrator is turned on by the sound.

Admittedly, this story is a fantasy about a fantasy, but the narrator lost much of her appeal for me at that point. There is no indication that Tara ever wanted physical damage, and even if she had, a responsible lover would not ignore her welfare in a state of reckless lust. Feh.

“The Evolution of Party Girl” by Charlotte Dare is about two apparently mismatched young women from different sides of the tracks who must overcome their preconceptions and develop the maturity to appreciate each other. This is not an original theme, but the author handles it well.

“Earthy” by Anna Watson would appeal to anyone with a smell fetish and/or an interest in voyeurism. “Room 545” by Geneva Nixon and “Room with a View” by Kimberley LaFontaine are both hotel-room fantasies, one starring established lovers and one describing a hot scene between a chambermaid and a guest. “Beach Moth” is a fantasy about being cast away on an island with the woman of one’s dreams.

“Thursday Nights in Soho” is a thought-provoking story about a career woman who goes regularly to a lesbian watering-hole with her best friend to pick up chicks. As the narrator admits, her desire for sex without commitment causes her to behave like a boorish man. The narrator and her buddy meet their match when two stunning women enter the club, looking for paying customers.

This book contains enough treasures to be worth its price, but the plots, the styles, and the characters vary widely. Perhaps we are living in a Golden Age of lesbian erotica, when one-handed reading and literary fiction can still keep company.

Voyeur Eyes Only: Erotic Encounters in Sin CityVoyeur Eyes Only: Erotic Encounters in Sin City
Edited By: D. L. King
Xcite Books
ISBN: 1908766409
February 2012

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

These stories all share a common premise. All feature a kind of magical telescope that enables the viewer to see into hotel rooms at a distance, all involve the fictional Skylane Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada (“Sin City”) and the collection as a whole is a fundraising project to help finance the next annual conference of the Erotic Authors Association, which met for the first time in Las Vegas in 2011. In a sense, this collection captures the exuberant spirit of the first conference, which took place in the delightfully tacky Flamingo Hotel. A short elevator ride from the conference rooms, there were showgirls, slot machines, a sex shop and live flamingos. It was a place where, it seemed, anything could happen.

Despite the wish-fulfillment nature of the voyeuristic fantasies in this book, most of these adventures could have happened. The pacing (for lack of a clearer word) is exceptional in most of them. Each move is described in such detail that the sex scenes seem to occur in real time: it takes the reader approximately as long to read a story as it would to watch two (or more) strangers get it on behind huge, un-curtained windows.

In several of these stories, the strangers who are watched from a distance remain strangers, and that is part of their appeal. A vision of Las Vegas as an oasis in the desert where people from elsewhere come to indulge their appetites is prominent in some of the stories. In “Sin City” by Anandalila, the male watcher observes a rendezvous between a businessman and the mistress who consents to meet up with him in various cities, on his terms. She does this because he offers her sexual thrills she can’t get anywhere else.

Gambling, an activity which is exciting because it is risky, makes an obvious analogy for edgy sex, for leaving the curtains open so anyone can watch, and for masturbating while watching. Interestingly enough, most of the tourists in these stories are not experienced gamblers who win money. They know the cards are stacked in favor of the house. In most cases, however, their sexual experiences provide them with valuable memories.

In the humorous “Room 1101” by Nik Havert, a losing gambler returns to his hotel room, looks into the telescope and sees a gorgeous woman who is deliberately giving him a show. She writes her room number on a piece of paper and holds it up to the window, clearly inviting him to come join her. His mishaps along the way are frustrating but hilarious. Like a lost traveler in a past era, he finds his way past various obstacles until he arrives at his destination.

“Zoom In,” a Marketplace story by Laura Antoniou, can best be understood by readers who have discovered her novels about the Marketplace, a fictional international organization for the recruitment, training and selling (or leasing) of voluntary slaves. In this story, a British “spotter” comments on Las Vegas as the home of American excess while observing an heiress who reveals herself as a member of the pervarotti, a kind of aristocracy into which one must be born.

The other BDSM stories (to use a vast generalization) show that a Las Vegas hotel is the perfect anonymous place for activities that might be more awkward at home. In “Private Viewing” by the editor, D.L. King, the female narrator has come to the city to gamble, and is pleasantly surprised to see a sister domme playing with her boy-toy in another room. In “The Birthday Present” by I.G. Frederick, a domme brings her boy to Las Vegas to play, and he is delighted to run into a “brother,” his friend and fellow-bottom. What follows is a female-dominated threesome.

One would expect the sex trade to loom large in these stories, but the only scene that explicitly deals with prostitution is “Window of Opportunity” by Cecilia Tan, in which a female watcher has sent an inexperienced young woman to a male customer who thinks he is getting her, the woman who made the deal. The watcher is amused and aroused:

Fuck, is he good? Your face tells me he is. Maybe he’s one of these guys who imagines he’s in a porn film. He must have a nice view of his own reflection in the window there. Looks like he’s doing you nice and slow right now.

Several of these stories feature self-stimulation by ordinary people who are married with children and who surprise themselves by what they are willing to do while alone on vacation. In “Alone Time” by Cecilia Duvalle, Karen follows her husband’s instruction via long-distance telephone call. In a parallel story, “Dancing Waters” by Nan Andrews, Elaine follows the telephoned suggestions of a persuasive male voice.  In “Vegas Lights” by Jade Melisande, Grace learns what turns her on when she watches a cigar-smoking man blindfold a woman, then let two other men enjoy her, within limits. The next day, the man gives Grace a nod and a smile of recognition. Thus she is forced to think about her own desires in the sober light of day.

One of the themes of this collection is that voyeurs often learn more about themselves than about those they watch. In “Seeing Clearly” by Genevieve Ash, the male watcher realizes that the man and woman who are touching each other in front of a window are a couple, two people with an intimate, complex relationship. Love is shown to be the ultimate aphrodisiac, although (or because) it is not a physical activity that anyone can perform on a whim.

In “The Mist Between Us” by Penny Amici, the female observer watches a man put a collar and chain on his female plaything. The watcher, who has apparently not recognized lesbian desire in herself before, becomes aware that she is intensely attracted to the pliable, submissive body of the woman.

Much of the appeal of voyeurism comes from the revelation of hidden truth, including the secret activities of the servants or the staff when they are off-duty and unaware of being watched. In “The Art of Watching” by K.D. Grace, a maid is caught masturbating while watching others through the telescope. The male hotel patron who catches her thinks she is in his power, but all is not as it seems. In “Dazzle” by Dominic Santi, a man watches a series of scenes in the supply room, which is clearly a favorite meeting-place for the hotel staff.

This collection of stories is the next best thing to a trip to Las Vegas: not the Lost Wages of reality but the Sin City of imagination.

Wild CardWild Card
By: Madeline Moore
Virgin Black Lace
ISBN: 035234038X
June, 2006

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This novel is a rip-snorting pornographic fantasy, much like an X-rated cartoon movie. The characters make up in exuberance what they lack in depth, and the plot turns out to be clever and satisfying. Eventually, all the women get what they want, even if they don't know what that is until it sinks in (so to speak), and the male stud at the center (or centre) of the action receives the kind of justice he claims to believe in. This book is unlikely to win any literary awards, but it makes an excellent light snack. It seems physically smaller than the average paperback, as if designed to be carried in a small purse or a large pocket.

The author flirts with stereotypes, and the camp quality of the characters is part of the fun. Meet Victoria, a sensitive blonde widow with large pillowy breasts, a graduate degree in English which she has never used (she loves poetry), and a fortune which she has inherited from the man she married on the rebound. The only man she ever really loved is her fellow-Canadian, a hunk of manhood who manages to combine a roving eye, a tireless cock, a desire to mark shapely female bottoms with various implements, and leftist political convictions. This man, Ray Torrington, left her years ago to go to Cuba, a mecca for the socially-conscious and for refugees from northern winters. Now he is in London, England, to give a speech at a world conference on housing for the homeless.

Victoria, who is in England to wrap up the disposal of her late husband's estate, summons Ray to her hotel room by telling him that she has a potentially fatal heart condition. Neither he nor the reader knows how seriously to take her metaphorical broken heart, but Ray can't resist her luscious body or her need for his attention. Their reunion is the first sex scene in the novel.

Cut to a scene of the flame-haired English card shark, Penny, in a high-stakes game of poker with a bevy of distracted men. Penny is slim and cool, and she uses her sex appeal as well as her instincts to part rich men from their money. She learned to take care of herself while staying in Canada during the lean years of her youth, when she worked as a nightclub dancer. Few of her London rivals or admirers know of her shady past across the Atlantic, but Ray is part of her emotional baggage, or her unfinished business.

Much as he enjoys reuniting with Victoria, Ray never stops looking for new territory to conquer. Bai Lon from Hong Kong, who tells Ray to call her Lonnie, fascinates him for reasons which have nothing to do with his claim to be "so inspired by [her] decision to embrace the socialist perspective regarding basic human rights like housing and healthcare." Her hunting style is described:

"Lonnie liked to tease such a man by coming on slowly and then, just when he resigned himself to a night of polite courtship, dropping a bomb like 'I'm a sensualist, Ray.' With her dark little naively tilted eyes and creaseless lids, her gaze suggested she didn't quite know what her words implied, as if she had slightly misunderstood the definition of 'sensualist.' She would retreat behind her mask of Asian coolness, then dart out again when least expected and boom! Drop another bomb!"

Boom! Ray manages to shuttle back and forth between Lonnie the tease and Victoria the devoted submissive during one hectic day and evening. Meanwhile, in apparently unrelated chapters, Penny takes on a male movie star who wants her to teach him to play poker and a lordly African chief whom she happens to meet while waiting for the lift (elevator). Penny gets what she wants by taking risks with strange men both in bed and at the gaming table. Before leaving her hotel room, she carefully dresses to create the right effect on her audience. She wonders why her calls to Ray's cellphone go unanswered.

Each of the major characters has a distinct fetish or two: Victoria likes rough treatment, Ray likes to dish it out, Lonnie likes to tease and to be watched, Penny adores games of chance and anal action. And then there is Victoria's "nurse" (or is she?), Verushka the statuesque, no-nonsense Russian whose dialogue resembles that of Natasha, the sexy Soviet spy in an American cartoon show of the 1960s, "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show." Verushka's version of medical therapy is intense and effective.

Ray is intrigued by Victoria's self-centered mind-games, as he sees them, but he avoids giving a clear answer to her repeated invitation to come to Cuba with her at her expense. Will Ray continue to manipulate women while passing himself off as a savior of suffering humanity? Will they all continue to regard him as "King Fuck?"

To Ray's and the reader's surprise, solidarity eventually prevails among the oppressed (or screwed) masses. Women who appear at first to be sexually dependent on men discover their own attraction to each other, and not simply because the Man likes to watch.

After the camera’s eye of the narrative hops from one scene to another, giving the reader a brief glimpse of London landmarks along the way, all the major characters converge in the same hotel room for a memorable all-night group scene. At a delicious, pivotal moment, the traditional male fantasy of a traveling man collecting a harem changes to a scenario of sexually-empowered women playing with their boy-toy.

The climactic trip to Cuba which Victoria has been planning throughout the novel takes place on schedule, but with some changes in the seating plan. The merry band of players only leaves the hotel bed to pack quickly and board the plane which will whisk them away to a tropical paradise which is also politically correct. On the plane, Penny deals the cards. When asked what the game is, she explains: “Stud poker, of course. Queens are wild.” A kind of subtitle on the cover of the book brags: “The winner takes all.”

As part of the Black Lace stable, this novel is advertised as “erotic fiction for women by women.” It covers all the bases traditionally covered by “men’s” (sexually explicit) magazines and cheap paperbacks, but in a woman-centered way which does not dehumanize any group of human beings more than any other. As a Canadian writer, Madeline Moore has included two major white Canadian characters in a cast of fetishized national, racial and social types. She describes this as: “a first, I think, for Black Lace.” It’s heartening to know that someone is working to make Canadians appear both visible and sexy in this context.
This novel could keep you entertained on a plane or in a doctor's waiting room, but it is not a heavyweight in any sense. There is meatier stuff available for the connoisseur of erotic fiction.

Women Gone WyldeWomen Gone Wylde
By: Beth Wylde
ISBN: 1461198089
May 2011

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This collection of lesbian erotica by Beth Wylde is a set of feel-good stories featuring exuberant sex scenes and happy endings. Each one is told from a first-person viewpoint. There is just enough realism in the plots to show women striving to survive in a world that is often hostile to them, but love and pleasure compensate for sexist bosses and homophobic parents.

In "Necessary Roughness," the narrator hopes to be promoted at work and bring the good news home to her wife, Lynette. The narrator, Trisha, has a history as a domme in the BDSM scene, but Lynette has refused to take part in "rough sex." Trisha not only loses the promotion to a rival, but gets fired by a male boss who criticizes her for "dressing like a man." When she arrives home, Lynette offers consolation by appearing in a clingy silver outfit and confessing that she has been "stupid." She explains further:

"I've done the very thing to you that I despise. There is no room in our relationship for prejudice. Our conversation on the phone made me realize that I'm no better than that piece of shit you used to work for if I'm not willing to at least try to understand your ways. I'm your wife. I should want to do the things that please you too. A little pain is nothing compared to your happiness."

The narrator is amazed and very willing to show Lynette what she has been missing. Trisha tells her to choose a safe word, and Lynette says, "bigot." Trisha gives her an over-the-knee spanking that results in an equal amount of pleasure for both women. Trisha finds that her unemployed state has been driven out of her mind for the meanwhile. (And in the words of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, "tomorrow is another day.")

The rest of the stories follow a similar pattern. The imaginary world shown here is one in which dreams come true, and the object of a crush is usually more available than she seems at first.

In "Saddle Up,"  the narrator is a lesbian rodeo star who is approached by a female fan who has followed her from one rodeo to another. The men in this macho world fade into the background.

"In My Skin" is one of several stories about being afraid to break new ground, and having to overcome that fear. The narrator of this story is involved with Melissa, a tattoo artist who runs her own shop. Melissa has tattooed the narrator's name on her skin, and the narrator wants to return the favor, but she is very afraid of needles. However, she loves anal sex.

Melissa seems to want nothing more than to seduce the narrator in her shop, but she actually has another plan:

"Before I could utter a protest, Melissa did two things at once. She thrust a well-lubed finger deep inside my ass and lowered the tattoo gun against my skin. As she traced the first line, I hollered out loud and long, caught in a vortex of sensation that rapidly alternated between pleasure and pain.... Every time the needle became almost too much to bear, she'd do something wickedly tricky with her finger to distract me."

Somehow, Melissa manages to keep a steady hand. Eventually, the narrator sees the design on her own bottom:

The largest part depicted an inkbottle tipped sideways with Melissa's name flowing out of it in a flowery script.

The narrator decides she has acquired an ink fetish.

"The Real Thing" is a more conventional story about a first-time meeting in real life between two women who hooked up on-line. They are even more compatible in person.

In "Love on the Line," two women who have lived together for five years are temporarily separated when one goes away on business. A naughty telephone conversation leads to a delightful surprise.

In "Aim to Please," a sexually inexperienced woman, suffering from her first lesbian breakup, goes to a sex-toy store to cheer herself up. There she meets a saleswoman who is pushy in the right ways and who offers to show her how the merchandise works -- after closing up shop, of course. The saleswoman turns out to be the owner, and Jane the newbie gets the education of a lifetime.

In "Worth the Wait," the butch narrator goes clubbing with friends, but she secretly has her eye on a femme bartender in a particular bar. The attraction turns out to be mutual.

"Switching Sides" is a lesbian-initiation story about young women in a college dorm. The narrator is surprised to find herself responding to Kara's seduction after being lured to a gay watering-hole by a male "date" who has no sexual interest in women. The narrator learns things about her own body that she never guessed, and she learns that Kara, while gifted with sexual knowledge and skill, is technically a virgin. Both young women cross a line into new territory, and know they can never go back.

"Better with Age" is a long story (or novella) in five chapters. The narrator had a love affair with Aleesha when both were seventeen and in high school. The narrator had conservative Christian parents, and her relationship was doomed. At the time, the two girls were powerless against parental pressure. The narrator found a boyfriend, got pregnant, was pressured into a shotgun wedding and was abandoned before she gave birth. Not wanting to find another man or another woman, the narrator has raised her daughter alone.

The narrator is the mother of a young woman on the brink of adulthood when Aleesha reappears in her life. Can the two mature women pick up where they left off? Will they need to become acquainted all over again, and will they each like what they find out?  How will the presence of the narrator's daughter affect this process?

In this story, the most romantic of the lot, secrets are revealed and loose ends are tied up. Love of various kinds is shown to be the antidote to intolerance.  

These stories all have the innocent, curious, enthusiastic flavor of coming-out sex. Although some of the scenes seem like ads for particular sex toys, the action is believable and exciting in its context. This is the kind of book that makes you want to take it under the covers and read by flashlight, almost hoping to be caught in the act.