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
By: Julie Hilden
Constable and Robinson
Originally published in 2003. Rereleased September 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

For some, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac: power to control a partner, to wring pleasure or pain from the other's body at a whim, to  submerge her in shame, humiliation, even terror, yet still see her obey. For others, ecstasy can be found only in surrender, in the freedom that comes from opening the self to the lover and holding nothing back. When someone of the first type comes together with someone of the second, their complementary passions can produce a bond of awesome, dangerous strength.

Maya and Ilan have a love like this, pure and fevered, a connection that sets them apart from the world. Ilan's power is borne of knowledge. He sees Maya truly when everyone else quietly ignores her: her rilliance, her vulnerability, the physical and emotional depths of which she is capable. They meet when they are in their late teens, but Ilan has insight and sexual skills beyond his years. He teaches Maya about her capacities, tapping into her need to be  mastered even as he molds her into the woman he wants her to be. Thirsty for love, Maya submits eagerly, seduced and transformed by Ilan's focused desire.

Ilan need for Maya is equally intense. He basks in the totality of her  devotion. But for him, she is not enough. He needs to prove his mastery by captivating and bedding other women. When Maya discovers  him in flagrante, his pain at the possibility of losing her is nearly as great as hers at the betrayal. And so they strike a bargain. Maya agrees that he can have other women - but only if she is present and included.  Gratefully, Ilan responds by marrying her.

For a while, it appears that they have found a perfect, if unconventional, solution. Maya finds their kinky games with the women  Ilan chooses doubly arousing. Not only is she pleasing him, she finds her own pleasure in the silky, wet flesh of their partners (deliberately selected to resemble her, with the same red hair and  slight frame).

Each time Maya acquiesces to Ilan's demands, however, they become crueler and more extreme. Little by little, playful bondage and blindfolds give way to "play" with razor blades and revolvers. Maya begins to understand the darkness edging the blaze of their passion. She senses that if she does not eave Ilan, he will eventually kill her. Still, she is paralyzed, unable to imagine life without him.

The twists of plot that follow are part of the delight and anguish of reading '3'. Maya escapes from Ilan, and yet she can never escape him. I will not reveal the details here, but merely warn that the story is shocking, surprising, and deeply revealing.

Ms. Hilden writes with authority and sensitivity about the darker aspects of sex. She shows clearly how Maya and Ilan's connection, rooted in complementary perversities, becomes an obsession that literally threatens their lives.

Here is Maya speaking, after Ilan is gone:

That first night at home, I let sleep take me very early in the evening. As I become drowsy, watching the light outside the windows fail and fade, it is as if I begin subtly to feel myself disappear.

As I shimmer out, I begin almost to see you, Ilan; the dark bruise-like circles under your eyes start to resolve. I cannot help it; my heart races with a mere glance...Burning, I rise in sleep, like a body jerked upward by invisible strings -- as if in a moment I will levitate. Pleasure runs through me like a tremor, like a seizure, like faith.

This is no ordinary love; it is diabolical and all-consuming.  Nor is  the sex in '3' of the ordinary variety. An edginess pervades every sex scene, even the most vanilla. The characters are constantly pushing  boundaries, and pleasure is always tainted: by fear, by shame, by insecurity.

I do not mean to imply that '3' is not arousing. Ilan and Maya's  encounters, on their own or in their contracted threesomes, have a breathless immediacy that pulls the reader into the scene. However,  the sex in '3' is always a cipher, a physical manifestation of motivations and conflicts far more tangled than the intermingling bodies. Even as my pulse raced, I was acutely aware of the ambiguities and dangers lurking below the surface.

Ms. Hilden has created a compelling and disturbing novel, one that  will haunt you long after you have finished reading, as the vanished Ilan haunts Maya. Weeks after I completed the book, it still colored  my thoughts. I suddenly recognized the irony in the title. No matter how many women Ilan brought home for ménages a trois, finally there remained only Ilan and Maya, only two. Or perhaps, in a seductive, frightening and yet starkly true sense, one.


I first read '3' six or seven years ago. The review above dates from that first reading. The book has been reprinted (if you can use that term for an ebook) by Constable and Robinson as part of their Modern Erotic Classics series, which includes other favorites of mine such as Neptune & Surf by Marilyn Jaye Lewis, Meeting the Master by Elissa Wald, and Remittance Girl's Beautiful Losers. I re-read the book with mixed trepidation and curiosity (and without consulting my old review first). I remembered the dark eroticism of the book, but not the plot details, and I wondered whether my reactions, after more than half a decade of reading and writing erotica, would have changed.

This time around, I found myself more aware of the undercurrent of violence that suffuses the book and less tolerant of Maya's inability to extricate herself from Ilan's influence. Although ultimately she proves strong enough to save herself, I found myself losing patience with her devotion to her cruel lover. The first time through, also, I was as fascinated and aroused by Ilan as she is, identifying him, perhaps, with my own master. However, on this reading, Ilan's seductiveness was offset by his manipulative selfishness. I saw how severely damaged he is and found it more difficult to believe in the incandescent love the two appear to share at the beginning of the book. Perhaps I have become more cynical or more jaded, less starry-eyed about the redemptive power of BDSM.

With more writing experience under my belt, I was also acutely conscious of Ms. Hilden's considerable craft. For instance, I noticed that '3' is divided into three parts, which fit together like a cleverly designed puzzle. I probably missed the foreshadowing the first time around, swept away by vicarious lust, but upon this reading I realized how deliberately each detail in the story is arranged to heighten the emotional effect. I admired the language too, Maya's distinctive voice is simultaneously crazed and literate, desperate and analytical, and (despite my annoyance with her) eminently believable. After all, there are many women who die at the hands of their abusive partners, bound to them by some twisted sense of devotion.

This new Constable and Robinson imprint sounds exciting. However, I must warn readers that the ebook I received (which I believe is as-published, not an ARC) had serious format problems. Many pages contained instances of weirdly garbled text. My theory is that the manuscript was created by scanning the original print volume and then applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to produce the digital version. This procedure typically produces many errors (this is where Google's CAPTCHA strings come from) which must be corrected via manual editing. Obviously these corrections did not happen, at least in some cases, with this book.

In addition, the font size changes dramatically at the start of Part 3, becoming so large that there are only four or five words per line. There did not seem to be a way to change this in the PDF version I read.

As an author myself, I feel some sympathy with Ms. Hilden. '3' is a compelling book, probably deserving the appellation of “modern erotic classic”. It is unfortunate that the publishers did not make the effort to present the novel in as clean and readable form as the original.

37 Stories About 37 Women37 Stories About 37 Women
By: Brian Whitney
Fanny Press
ISBN: 1603815066
September 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Let me say at the outset that 37 Stories About 37 Women is not erotica, at least not by my definition, despite being released by a publisher that specializes in that genre. There's a lot of sex in this book – though it's incorporated mainly by offhand reference, rather than described – but precious little desire, even of the physical sort. For the author/narrator/hero of this volume, sex appears to be something you engage in by default when you can't figure out what else to do, and especially when you're drunk, high, broke, depressed, feeling self-destructive and figuring you'd like to pass that mood along.

The book is a series of thirty seven vignettes, two or three pages long, each labeled with the name of a woman (with the exception of chapter 32, entitled “Sean's Whores”). They're written from different perspectives and points of view, which is initially confusing but ultimately adds to one's sense that this book is a deliberately constructed work and not merely a collection of miscellaneous ramblings.

Rachel:  “He was going to leave you until he found out you were doing Morphine.”

Kristie:  “I was fascinated with Kristie during her trial for murder.”

Melissa: “I never thought you would be getting off work at seven. When one's girlfriend is a waitress, that possibility does not enter one's mind.”

Erin: “Cody used to hit me so I left. It wasn't that simple of course. But that isn't what this story is about. I liked Brian. I had seen him at the Portside or at Pearl. He wasn't with that gorgeous blonde girlfriend anymore. I think he was with someone else but I knew that much anyway.”

When I began reading, the book struck me as snarky, facile and clever, a sort of literary version of the movie Sherman's March, where the main character is constantly hijacked emotionally by the various women in his life. Warren Zevon's song “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” kept playing in my mind:

These young girls won't let me be.
Lord have mercy on me.

The further I read, though, the darker and more disturbing the book became. Women who had headlined in one chapter turned up as side characters in other chapters. Little by little I started to piece together the disastrous web of sex, lies and illusions that linked all these women together.

He was cheating on his wife with three women at once. All of whom worked together. One who thought he was going to leave his wife and marry her. Two who didn't know about the other two. And one chubby formerly straw-hatted young woman who knew he was fucking three other women.

He could get nothing done. His life had become nothing but a bad porno. All three of them constantly cycled in and out of his office. He would go into Jenna's office and put his cock in her mouth, then go into Amanda's and do the same. Then at lunch he would go to Brynne's, and she would get on her knees for him.

It was at times like this when a person is no longer in any doubt that he is completely and totally out of control. (Chapter 18, Brynne).

Amanda has her own chapter. Jenna didn't even rate one, unless he changed the names, which is possible. In one chapter he seems confused as to whether the woman in question is called “Brooke” or “Krista”, although in general the editing in this book is excellent.

The longer one persists in reading about these poor women, the sadder and more desperate one feels.

The author/narrator/hero is a top. He likes to spank his women, make them crawl, suffocate them, even knock them out with chloroform and fuck them while they're unconscious. There's no joy in these encounters,  none of  the closeness or mutual respect I look for in a D/s encounter (real or fictional). The stories reek with misogynistic self-pity, with the narrator completely focused on what he wants. And yet he seems as lost and miserable, as addicted and depressed, as any of the dozens of females who seem willing to offer him their bodies.

Perhaps the most revealing of the so-called stories is Chapter 26 – Ashley. “I used to pretend to be other people. I did this on the Internet...So this one time I was Ashley.”  Ashley is a total illusion, an imaginary blonde eighteen year old with an equally fictional vicious and dishonest boyfriend named Jake. Ashley posts about the terrible things Jake does to her, but also about how she loves him. People come out of the woodwork, urging her to leave him. The narrator and his druggy friends play the tale to the hilt, writing blogs, leaving comments and posting photos, until national media contact “Ashley” wanting to interview the poor abused teen. When she suddenly disappears from view, her on-line fans and friends frantically call the police, convinced that she's been murdered by her violent lover.

The author and his cohorts find the situation endlessly amusing. In fact, the way Jake treats poor illusory Ashley mirrors not a few of the stories that supposedly discuss real women.

By the time I'd finished 37 Stories About 37 Women, I had endless sympathy for these thirty seven and the others that he probably forgot. I wanted to hate the author for his callous attitude. I couldn't quite manage that, though, because despite all the darkness, there are sparks of genius in this book. Furthermore, it's clear the author carries enough self-hate that my meager contribution would hardly affect him.

Chapter 23, Brittany, may be the shortest in the book. For a page, the author strips himself bare. All the bravado, the attitude is gone. There's nothing but need and regret.

I could try to write a book about all the women I have known. Or I could try and write a book about you....

If I were still with you this book would be peaceful. It would be inspirational. It would be about coming together and moving on to the other side. It would be about overcoming mental illness, overcoming addiction. It would be about stupid ex-husbands and alcoholic millionaires.

It would be about reading in bed, seeing movies, going to The Porthole and running errands with my hand on your leg in the car. It would be about doing good deeds and knowing just how much cream to put in coffee. …

It would be about being loved and understood.

But you know I fuck up all the time, and you know I am crazy.

So I wrote this piece of fucking shit instead.

I hope you like it.

I can't say I exactly liked 37 Stories About 37 Women.  I find it a bit offensive that such a sex-negative book is being marketed as erotica. But it isn't the piece of fluff I originally expected. It's a hard book to read. Despite the flippancy of some of the tales, I suspect it may have been hard to write. I hope that it brought the author some kind of peace.

A Darker Shade of BlueA Darker Shade of Blue
By: Angela Campion
Brown Skin Books
ISBN: 0954486668
October, 2006

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

In 1926, Sara Newsome, daughter of a black British physician and his high-society white wife, journeys to glitzy bustling Harlem to make silent films. Sara doesn't merely want to act, however; she wants to produce and direct her own movies, movies about love, life and sex aimed at a black audience. She has the gift of revealing the sensual truth even in a feigned sexual encounter. Furthermore, she's not afraid to break the rules and expose the naked flesh and raw emotion of actual couplings - working both in front of, and behind the camera. Struggling against economic and social constraints, Sara nevertheless assembles a small, dedicated band of talented black actors, writers, directors and technicians, and founds Sapphire Films in a flat upstairs from a hardware store on 125th Street. The company makes blue movies with a difference: plot, intelligence, emotion, fantasies that nevertheless speak directly to their audience.

A Darker Shade of Blue follows Sara's life and career through roaring twenties New York, with its speakeasies and rent parties, to Hollywood during the Depression, though the Second World War and into the repressive Fifties. Sara's beauty, wit, creative genius and unfettered spirit draw both men and women. Her lovers include Gil, her director, collaborator and creative rival; alcoholic playboy Benjamin Austen, whose cynical humor hides his deeper feelings; and the charismatic, ambitious and radical Paul Robeson. She faces challenges from bigoted politicians and empty-headed studio executives, as well as from the people she cares for. She is lionized and abandoned, achieves notoriety as well as some genuine artistic regard, but is eventually ousted by the directors of the studio she founded, and left to begin again.

This book is a genuine historical novel, but does not completely fit my definition of erotica. Although it includes multiple graphic sex scenes between Sara and her various partners, as well as a few matings in front of the camera, sex is not a primary motivator of the narrative. In fact, the sex could be removed or at least muted to the PG-13 level without impacting the story significantly.

This is not necessarily a complaint. The tale of Sara's odyssey from porn extra to cultural icon is engrossing in its own right. Furthermore, the sex is not gratuitous; it does help develop Sara's character and those of her companions. It's also generally enjoyable, hot and sweet, slightly naughty without dark edges.

I suppose that ultimately, the category to which one assigns a book does not matter. The real test is whether the work leaves you satisfied or disappointed. Although I enjoyed A Darker Shade of Blue, while I was reading it, in retrospect I was aware of its weaknesses.

It's obvious that Ms. Campion engaged in significant amounts of research in preparation for writing this book. She dwells on historical details such as the advances in movie-making technology and the social structure of 1920's Harlem. Somehow, though, she did not manage to bring history alive, at least not for me. (This is, of course, an extremely difficult feat to accomplish.) Her New Yorkers feel more like tourists than denizens. The book spans nearly five decades, but I didn't have a strong sense of the changes those decades brought - changes in mood and world-view. Every now and again, an anachronism was jarring enough to completely pull me out of the scene. For example, I'm fairly sure that no woman in the twenties would gush over a man's "abs" and "pecs".
My other disappointment relates to the character of Sara, and is more idiosyncratic. She is a believable character, an admirable character - but ultimately, despite all her carnal encounters, she struck me as cold. The book covers much of her life, and during that life she experiences many lovers, but little love. She feels affection, respect, lust even jealousy. However, there is no great love in her life, no relationship that even begins to mean more to her than her ambitions and artistic vision. I'm undoubtedly being influenced by the conventions of the romance genre. However, without that romantic spark, I felt that her life, full as it was of adventure, innovation, and achievement, was somehow empty.

I must admit that I loved the ending of the book. It's the early seventies, the era of anti-war protests and black power. Sara and Gil are invited to address a Film Studies class at Columbia University, to discuss their early silent work. They screen one of Sara's first films, one which broke taboos by showing Sara and Gil actually making love. The scene has as much impact on this audience of hip young people as it did when it was first released, shattering their presumptions and exciting their senses. The reader remembers the chapter, early on, when this scene was created, and smiles with the sense of completion.

A Darker Shade of Blue is an original and quite ambitious novel that explores little known corners of black American history. While it is not without flaws, it is different enough to be worth reading.

Accidental SlaveAccidental Slave
By: Claire Thompson
Renaissance E Books
ISBN: 143922742X
March 2010 (Rereleased)

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Accidental Slave opens in a dungeon.  A dom named Gary ferociously whips a bound and gagged submissive while ruminating on his anger towards his boss Elizabeth.  He transfers that rage to his flogging, continuing to lash at the slave even after she executes the gesture they've agreed upon as a signal for him to stop. He even calls the poor woman Elizabeth.

I'll be honest. I nearly stopped reading right there. The scene set all my red lights flashing. If I had not committed myself to reviewing the book, I probably would have tossed it out, assuming (incorrectly) that this was an example of the kind of crude non-consensual smut that gets some people off.

As it turns out, that would have been a huge mistake. In fact, Claire Thompson's novel revolves around the sort of ethical, tender and romantic D/s relationship that pushes all my buttons. The individual introduced in this first scene is the villain in Ms. Thompson's saga.  Passed up for a promotion to vice-president when his company decides to hire the eminently qualified Elizabeth Martin, Gary Dobbins plans a devious revenge on the woman he sees as his nemesis.  Accompanying her to a company-sponsored charity function, he spikes her drink with a date rape drug and leads her to a BDSM club, where he offers her for sale at a slave auction.  Handsome, wealthy dominant Cole Pearson  purchases twenty-four hours of play with the gorgeous brunette, only to have her pass out on him when he gets her home.

From this point, the book focuses mostly on the relationship between Elizabeth and Cole. They are irresistibly attracted to one another, but Cole wants more than just sex or even love.  He seeks a true D/s partnership with a woman who is as serious and committed to exploring the boundaries of power exchange as he is. His first marriage fell apart because he couldn't be honest about his real needs. He is determined that this is not going to happen again.

Ambitious, intelligent, and work-obsessed, Elizabeth initially seems like an unlikely submissive. However, Cole sparks her curiosity with his talk, and his demonstrations of the seductive nature of erotic power.  Gradually Cole leads her deeper into submission, to the point where she agrees to spend two weeks (her long delayed vacation time)  in 24/7 slave training. This is a make-or-break experiment for both protagonists. Although Cole has the typical confidence of a dom, he really doesn't know if Elizabeth is capable of the sort of surrender he requires.

The book includes a subplot in which the evil Gary attempts to blackmail and disgrace Elizabeth, while she and Cole struggle to unmask his deceptions. For the most part, however, Ms. Thompson is concerned with the growing attraction and trust between Elizabeth and Cole. Elizabeth's work is a serious obstacle to their deepening bond. She uses it as a shield to keep Cole from getting too close, as an excuse for lateness and even disobedience. Cole's patience is tested again and again, but unlike Gary he understands that anger has no place when punishing a slave.

Accidental Slave is smoothly written and professionally edited. And of course it involves my personal favorite erotic scenario: initiation of a new submissive by a caring yet authoritative dominant.  By the time I reached the chapters detailing Elizabeth's training (which are relatively hard-core BDSM, not merely a few bonds and spanks), the book was pushing my buttons and influencing my dreams.

Somehow, however, I found the end of the book less satisfying. As the two-week training period nears its end, Elizabeth's resistance has melted away. She has been transformed into the willing and skillful slave of whom Cole has dreamed. The two look forward to an idyllic future together. In short, the book concludes with a happily-ever-after (except for Gary, who is subjected to a particularly appropriate revenge).

In trying to analyze why this conclusion felt like a let-down, I came up with two theories. First, it was too easy.  Elizabeth is not going to abandon her work, and there are bound to be conflicts with her relationship, committed as she is. Second, although the book includes many climaxes with a lower case 'c', there is no real Climax, no single transcendent interaction that pushes the D/s connection to a higher level.  A collaring, a branding, some ritual in which Cole seriously took possession of Elizabeth, would have helped. After the emotional intensity of the earlier parts of the book, the ending was surprisingly bland.

 I debated for a long time how to rate this book. (I really wish that Erotica Revealed didn't have these ratings, to be honest.)  Starting the book with the villain's scene was, I think, a mistake on Ms. Thompson's part. Readers with tastes similar to mine will be turned off and not continue. Ending the book with a ho-hum HEA also detracts from what, overall, is an arousing and competently written BDSM tale.  However, I ultimately recognized that very few erotic books manage to engage my personal fantasies the way Accidental Slave managed to do for much of its length. For this accomplishment, the book deserves a thumbs-up.


Addicted to Fang: IntoxicationAddicted to Fang: Intoxication
By: Dena De Paulo
Ravenous Romance
October 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Ella Husted feels like she's burning up. Her skin is crawling with energy, she's so hot she can scarcely bear to put on clothes, and she's so horny that even her succubus roommate Kate is keeping her distance. In the bar she and Kate own together, men and women flock to her like ants to honey. She's raw sex, pheromones saturating the air, carnal power whipping through the environment like lightning. Her heart's beating so fast it is literally close to exploding.

Enter Dominic Sebastian, ancient, influential and (of course) breathtakingly gorgeous vampire, with his young (merely one hundred years old) surfer-boy lieutenant Rick. They've been charged with protecting the unwitting woman from hurting herself or others, and with educating her regarding her true nature. The first step in their mission requires an intense, three-way orgy in order to drain some of her sexual energy as well as her excess blood. 

Dominic tries to ignore the evidence that Ella is his predestined soul-mate – the fact that they cannot read one another's thoughts, even though both are telepaths. For a vampire to bond with a human is rare and fraught with problems, even if that human is not a Benefactor as Ella appears to be – a genetically-determined natural donor who can satisfy a vampire's need for blood, indeed, who must provide some of her overly-abundant blood in order to survive. Benefactors appear normal until some vampire induces physiological changes by feeding upon them. Dominic and Rick must determine who induced Ella and why. Meanwhile they face the even more difficult task of persuading Ella to accept her powers and undergo the training necessary to use them safely. Ella is stubborn and a bit bitchy, an orphan and a pragmatist who does not believe in the supernatural, despite her own ability to read minds. She's also a woman with an overactive libido who loves sex but who runs at the hint of any emotions more enduring than pure lust.

As you can probably determine from the synopsis above, Intoxication is erotic romance, not erotica – indeed, an instance of the hopelessly overpopulated subgenre of vampire erotic romance. Nevertheless, the book has some original twists and overall provides an entertaining reading experience on the way to its predictable happy ending.

Ms. De Paulo's vampires are born, not made. They are not undead, but more like a different species or a genetic aberration. They have organized themselves into an elaborate hierarchy and maintain databases of other unusual sub-species such as succubi and Benefactors. Over the course of the book, we meet vampire senators, judges, enforcers, and obnoxious teenagers. They're not monsters at all, even the deliciously seductive female villain – at least not any more than a human might be.

Ella is a somewhat inconsistent but vivid character. She's totally shameless and delights in being a slut -  “porno Ella” as she calls herself. Her history and her powers turn out to be a good deal more complicated than Dominic realizes, and she grows into her new role as she learns more about her heritage.

The sex scenes in Intoxication are graphic and arousing, though not particularly extreme or original. I liked the difference in emotional tone between scenes driven by paranormal sexual energy (including the initial ménage), and scenes where there is a deeper connection between Ella and her partner. Pervert that I am, I would have welcomed more multi-partner and lesbian action, but as the book goes on, Ella (in typical romance fashion) cleaves ever closer to Dominic, the man for whom she is destined and to whom she is psychically bound.

The writing is not particularly exceptional but on the other hand it doesn't get in the way of enjoying the story. I wish I could say the same about the editing; there are frequent problems with extra, missing or erroneous words which should have been caught in the copy editing stage. Ms. De Paulo introduces welcome flashes of humor that convinced me she was well-aware of the over-saturated quality of her chosen sub-genre. My favorite was a scene in Ella's kitchen, where Kate reveals her succubus nature and Dominic and Rick try to get Ella to believe they're blood-drinkers. As the reality sinks in, Ella grabs a bottle of garlic salt and starts sprinkling it all over the table and the counters. I laughed out loud. 

The lurid cover for Intoxication, featuring a fanged hulk with radioactively-glowing green eyes and massive man-titties, may also make you laugh. However, I have to admit that my dire expectations for Intoxication were not realized. Ms. De Paulo's entry into the crowded field of vampire romances is actually quite a lot of fun, reminding me a bit of Richelle Mead, but with much more explicit sex. If you like the genre, you're looking for entertainment rather than enlightenment, and you're not allergic to romance, give it a try.



Afternoon Pleasures: Erotica for Gay CouplesAfternoon Pleasures: Erotica for Gay Couples
Edited By: Shane Allison
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573446580
June 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

"Happy families are all alike," according to Leo Tolstoy.  After reading Afternoon Pleasures, one might begin to wonder whether this is true of happy couples as well.

In this volume, Shane Allison has gathered seventeen explicit tales of gay sexual encounters, the preponderance involving men in long term relationships. True to its subtitle, the book serves up tale after cum-drenched tale about men enjoying each other's bodies. Quite a few of the authors interpret the book's title literally, writing of lust-filled, stolen afternoons in hotel rooms, trailers, log cabins, movie theaters or in one case, a museum.

This anthology includes some noteworthy stories. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it lacks variety. At least three quarters of the tales explore essentially the same scenario: a committed gay couple keeping the spark alive by inviting others into their sexual play, or by introducing new toys or activities, or by swapping roles. The style tends to be rather similar from one story to the next as well. With two exceptions, all the tales use a first person POV.  Big, hairy bears predominate. The sexual descriptions almost universally involve copious amounts of bodily fluids. I found it difficult to keep the stories separate in my mind because of these commonalities.

One of my favorite tales in the collection was "Public Displays of Affection" by Logan Zachary, humorous fantasy that nevertheless manages to be very hot. Couple Quentin and Casey are both employed by the same museum and have trouble keeping their hands off each other during working hours. The situation comes to a head, so to speak, when they take delivery of a dozen anatomically correct male mannequins intended for a costume exhibit. The well-hung dummies turn out to be ideal play partners. Things reach an unexpected crisis when the museum's most important donor unexpectedly shows up to inspect the new exhibition.

Kyle Lukoff's "Something Different" was another story that kept my attention. A sub discarded by his first master decides to try being dominant for a change. The beautiful FTM transsexual he encounters in the BDSM club is more change than he'd bargained for, but both participants in the scene find a connection beyond the physical pleasure.

Although it is based on a similar premise to many other tales in the book, I particularly enjoyed "One Afternoon in the Bible Belt" by Jeff Mann, because of its skillful use of language and dynamic characterization. The narrator's a burly bear, a hot-headed good 'ole Southern boy, but his partner is a lean, self-contained Yankee. The eager young submissive they make into their "boy" for the afternoon is equally distinct.

Pepper Espinoza's "Tokens" also deserves mention, not only for its vivid characters (I loved Jake, the laid-back Mediterranean bad boy who hides his corporate lover's shoes in order to keep the man in his bed), but also because it deals with the beginning of a serious relationship as opposed to one of long standing.

Overall, though, the stories in Afternoon Pleasures are forgettable, at least partly because they are so much alike. I suspect that this may reflect the editor's preferences. It makes sense that he would accept stories that he personally found arousing. It's possible that his target audience (gay couples) would agree with his choices, of course.

If you decide to read Afternoon Pleasures, by the way, do not miss Shane Allison's deeply personal  introduction, "Sex is a Cock-Ring Clad Angel." It's romantic, heartfelt and sexy all at the same time. Reading it, I have some sense of what Mr. Allison was trying to accomplish in this collection, and an uncomfortable feeling that maybe I'm looking at the book through too literary a lens.

If you're looking for commitment, happy endings, and lots of hot dick and ass, this may indeed be the book for you.

Ambers AttractionAmbers Attraction
By: Annabeth Carew
Pink Flamingo Publications
October 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I love BDSM fiction - both to read and to write. Some of you perusing this review, I'm sure, will nod your heads in agreement, possibly even more enthusiastic than I am about the genre. BDSM is sufficiently complex, however, that the same book might affect us in totally different ways.

The acronym itself signals the disparate, overlapping components of "kink." Bondage and discipline. Dominance and submission. Sadism and masochism. For some people, physical constraint and pain provide the turn on. For others, the excitement hinges on the power differential, the experience of taking control, or relinquishing it.  Some readers prefer cruel, untouchable dominants and submissives reduced to the status of objects. Others focus on the ritualistic connection between the partners in the D/s dance. BDSM may involve humiliation, fear, disgust, shame, and sexual deprivation, as well as pleasure, sexual satisfaction, pride, and devotion.

Given this broad spectrum, both physical and psychological, Amber's Attraction by Annabeth Carew will very likely appeal to some readers of the genre. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

Amber, Ms. Carew's heroine, is an aspiring actress in her twenties, distinguished mostly by her full-bosomed blonde beauty and her naughty sexual imagination. Amber attends an audition for a role as hostess for a high-profile television game show called Infinite Fun, directed by enigmatic maverick Garrett Ellison and funded by millionaire tycoon Roland Hadley. Her first meeting with Ellison excites and disturbs her. She realizes that her trepidation is justified when, on the call-back interview, he requires her to masturbate in front of the camera (and the crew). Still she doesn't refuse her screen test, even when it involves wrestling her gorgeous co-hostess Karina in a pool of lime jello. Despite her uncertainty, the chance to exhibit herself in lewd and embarrassing ways excites her tremendously. After the screen test, however, she comes to her senses and seeks out the commanding Garrett to object. He takes control, physically and psychologically, forcing her to admit to her unseemly desires and claiming her as his slave.

Amber's contract with the studio requires her not only to participate in the game show, but also to act in more private scenes for the benefit of Roland Hadley's investors and their friends. With Karina and  Damon Cavill, the charming and charismatic host of Infinite Fun, Amber participates in a wide range of outrageous sexual scenarios, each more bizarre and humiliating than the last. In the books climactic scene, Karina and Amber are dosed with a potent experimental drug that supposedly turns women into nymphomaniacs and then gang banged by an entire Australian soccer team, including the coaches. The directors of this orgy, Garrett and Roland, simply watch.

You may think from the synopsis above that I object to the over-the-top sex scenes in Amber's Attraction.  In fact, that's not true at all. Ms. Carew shows considerable originality in her carefully orchestrated sexual extravaganzas. Although the lime jello struck me as rather disgusting, (because of the jello, not the girl-on-girl sex!) some of the others definitely appealed.  My favorite requires Amber to take the role of a prize pet pig,complete with a pink rubber mask and curly tail appended to a butt plug. She is rudely examined by the "judges" before wallowing in a pool of mud (spa quality!) and then being fucked by her doting "farmer" (Damon) while the horrified "farmer's wife" (Karina) whips her. Another outstanding scene, entitled "Three Ring Circus", casts Amber as a trapeze artist who has sold out to a rival circus. A pair of thuggish, tattooed strong men join Damon and Karina in exacting a painful, penetrating "revenge."

It's all lusty and exciting, with plenty of ropes, chains, whips, belts, dildoes, butt-plugs and gags, not to mention rampant erections, swollen nipples, soaked pussies, and stretched rear holes.  No, the sex in Amber's Attraction isn't the problem. What bothered me was the characters and their relationships.

Amber is, quite frankly, shallow and stupid. She appears incapable of doing anything aside from looking gorgeous, shopping, going to spas, and having orgasms. Garrett treats her horribly (more on this later) but she doesn't have the self respect to walk away, even when she believes that she's in physical danger. It's obvious to everyone but Amber that the "experimental aphrodisiac" is a fake, a set-up to allow Amber to shed her last inhibitions and release her inner slut. Even after working with Garrett for weeks, she's not intelligent enough to understand how his devious mind works and to see through his machinations.

The Natural Submissive, who needs the Dom in order to learn about her True Self, is an archetype in BDSM literature. Female readers, especially, tend to identify with this sort of character, imagining themselves in her place. Maybe some readers will have that reaction to Amber. I couldn't - even though I've personally experienced something like the BDSM initiation to which she is subjected. She's just too wishy washy. She walks into a room, determined to stand up for her rights, only to turn to weakly protesting mush at a look from Garrett.

Meanwhile, I found Garrett truly despicable. He is arrogant and inconsiderate, showing no respect for his slave and only marginal concern for her comfort or safety. Amber apparently enjoys being humiliated, and Garrett is only too happy to oblige.  He "smirks," "sneers," "jeers" and "mocks" his way through the book, ridiculing her poor attempts to understand what's going on, rarely showing the slightest interest in her feelings or well-being. He's the kind of Dom that makes some people equate BDSM with abuse.

His most grievous sin, in my eyes, is lying to her. The trick with the fake drug is simply cruel - partially because he knows she's not smart enough to figure it out. For me, the sine qua non of a BDSM relationship is trust. Garrett Ellison is not to be trusted.

There's also an element of dubious consent in this book. Certainly, there's no negotiation and no safewords. Amber never really decides to become Garrett's slave. She's totally consumed with lust for him; he proclaims that when she swallows his cum, she'll be his, and she believes him. Basically, she becomes his whore, forced to sexually satisfy Roland's disgusting cronies, making money for Garrett and Roland by acting in their porn shoots. The fact that Amber at some level seems to enjoy this doesn't necessarily make it all right - at least not in my eyes.

Of course, as I noted in my introduction, not everyone will react the way I did. Some readers find this sort of interaction arousing. They believe that the role of a Dom is to reduce the sub to nothing, to strip away every hope, every comfort. Amber's Attraction may be exactly what they're looking for.

Before concluding I want to mention the writing. Although Amber's Attraction is definitely not romance, the style borrows heavily from that genre, with plenty of purple-tinted prose. For someone who writes such extreme, diverse and unrelenting sex scenes, Ms. Carew seems to have a curious aversion to using the word "cunt" or even "pussy." (I couldn't find either one in the entire 111 pages.)

Here's a particularly egregious paragraph from page 27:

He put her out of her torment with one long, strong thrust, sinking into her hot depths without a word. Amber screamed into the black leather, overwhelmed by the sensation of the log of solid flesh stretching her tight sheath. Her sex muscles clung to his thickness while every nerve ending in her femininity sparked with delight. As he began to ram his cock backwards and forwards, Amber became almost delirious with excitement, experiencing an unparalleled intensity of sexual pleasure. Her entire being was transported by the power of his possession and she lost all sense of time and space.

Fortunately the imaginative sex tended to distract me from the writing through much of the book, though I did notice Amber on page 70 “sucking and slurping at the oasis of his loins as if she was dying of thirst.”

I'm really sorry that I didn't react more positively to this book. I wanted to. I wanted Amber to wake up and show some spine. I wanted Garrett to display a bit of sympathy, to offer her that sense of being cherished that, for a sub, makes every pain and trial worth enduring. It never happened.

Other readers might not care. But I did.

American Casanova: The New Adventures of the Legendary LoverAmerican Casanova: The New Adventures of the Legendary Lover
Edited By: Maxim Jakubowski
Contributions By: M.Christian, Michael Crawley, Carole Ann Davis, O'Neil De Noux, Stella Duffy, Sonia Florens, Mike Hemmingson, Vicki Hendricks, Thomas S. Roche, Mitzi Szereto, Lucy Taylor, Matt Thorne, Mark Timlin, Sage Vivant, Molly Weatherfield
Thunder's Mouth Press
ISBN: 1560257660
May, 2006

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

What happens when you begin an erotic novel with a fascinating and provocative premise, and then invite some of the most prominent authors in the genre to serially contribute individual chapters? The result could be inspired chaos, a kaleidoscope of erotic visions and fractal views of the main characters through the lens of each writer's unique style. Alternatively, the novel could end up as an incoherent and annoying muddle. Unfortunately, American Casanova is more the latter than the former, though it does offer occasional flashes of brilliance.

Maxim Jakubowski sets the stage and introduces the protagonist in the intriguing first chapter. Giacomo Casanova, burdened by the decrepitude of old age and the bitterness of lost loves, drifts into deathly sleep in Venice in 1798 and awakens in 2005. Reveling in his renewed vigor and youth, he immediately resumes his old ways by seducing an apparently innocent Italian girl who works at the local cafe. Christiana mentors him in the strange and outrageous ways of the modern world, as well as regaling him with the pleasures of her flesh. She accompanies him to a mysterious private party where the sexual excess of the guests shocks even his debauched sensibilities. It is here, at this lascivious ball, that Casanova first glimpses the intoxicating woman he calls Athena, leashed and collared, clearly a slave, yet with a beauty and presence that pierces even his jaded heart. As Athena disappears, he vows to find her and make her his own, thus beginning the quest that will drive (albeit in fits and starts) the novel to its conclusion.

The first few chapters unwind themselves in a reasonably consistent and satisfying fashion. Christiana helps Casanova discover the source of his invitation to the ball, the enigmatic Power Company. When he makes his way to their headquarters to confront them, he is drugged and abducted. He wakes on an enormous ship, a sort of floating dungeon, where he is forced to watch Athena being abused and debauched, even as he himself provides perverse entertainment for the ship's passengers. Christiana reveals herself to be no innocent, but a lustful slut who tops and bottoms with equal zest.

The ship docks in Key West, where Casanova escapes and nearly drowns. By the time he makes land, he finds that Athena (or O, as she turns out to be named) is being auctioned to a vicious punk rocker, Toby Faith. Along with D, one of the slaves from the dungeon ship, and with the help of a local cowboy, Casanova pursues Faith's caravan, driven by his need to possess O.

At this point, the narrative begins to fall apart, careening wildly from Key West to New Orleans to Seattle to San Francisco and finally to New York. Each subsequent chapter introduces new minor characters, who pop in and out of the story, changing roles and tugging the flow of the tale out of its main channel and into weird, distracting eddies.

Mark Timlin's chapter begins the dissolution by starting to tell the story from O's point of view. Before too long, there is also a thread narrated from D's perspective. We lose the pleasure of seeing the modern world and its sexual extremes through the eyes of Casanova, a cultured gentleman from another era as well as a sexual predator, and with that loss, much of the grace and intrigue of the tale.

Mitzi Szereto violates the perfect image of O by turning her into an idiot. She sends O on a benighted quest for enlightenment, seeking a God that she identifies with Kurt Cobain among bemused drug addicts and religious fanatics in Seattle. Then Michael Hemmingson's chapter layers on the wretchedness, filth and degradation in his characteristic neo-Beat style.

The plot thickens to the consistency of sludge as new chapters introduce yet another secret society, The Order, which exists to liberate and rehabilitate slaves from the clutches of the Power Company. D, Christiana, and various other characters reveal themselves to be double, or perhaps even triple agents, in this worldwide battle for flesh and souls. Casanova (who has by this time become almost passive, suffering lust and torment as he again and again catches up with O only to lose her) realizes that he has been brought back to life by the Power Company for some obscure purpose. This intriguing concept, alas, is never elucidated, although we discover by the end of the novel that O is also a revenant, the famous submissive of Roissy who has been brought to life in the new millennium after an untimely death in the 1950's.

Maxim Jakubowski makes a valiant attempt to tie up loose ends in the final chapter, which includes dark echoes typical of his writing. The final scene returns to Venice, with satisfying unity that is sorely lacking in much of the book.

As a single narrative, American Casanova lacks coherence and focus. On the other hand, from such an assemblage of erotic luminaries I would expect some beautiful, disturbing or evocative writing, and I was not wholly disappointed. Thomas S. Roche delivers an arresting chapter in which an aroused and conflicted Casanova chastises O and wins her devotion. John Grant's chapter includes one of the most intense sex scenes in the book, a coupling between Casanova and Croy, the in-your-face black DJ/chauffeur/body guard who works for the Order. And Sage Vivant's chapter, early in the book, provides a deliciously ambiguous encounter between Casanova and a woman who might, or might not, be a resurrected ex-lover from his own time.

I was ultimately disappointed by American Casanova. I can't help but wonder about the motivations of some of the authors as they fashioned their chapters. Building on someone else's plot twists and characters must be quite difficult, but I know from past reading experience that these writers could have done better. I had the sense that some contributors were playing a game in which each tried to outdo predecessors in offering ever wilder and more outrageous characters, events and interpretations. Certainly, in many cases, there seemed to be little consideration paid to the narrative as a whole.

Although the cover glosses the book as "An erotic novel directed by Maxim Jakubowski", it's clear that he exercised very little direction over his contributors. The result is a novel that I suspect is quite different from what Maxim imagined, based on the glimpses provided by his initial and final chapters. That novel, I think, I would have greatly enjoyed.

Ancestors of Star (The)Ancestors of Star (The)
By: William Gaius
ISBN: Lulu ID: 2196691
April 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Lately, it seems that I have gotten a reputation as a fan of femdom erotica. I have reviewed several femdom titles and I’m in process of reading another for an upcoming review. I receive unsolicited emails from femdom authors, begging me to look at their work.

Though I’m always intrigued by power exchange, I must admit that the staple elements of fetishistic femdom usually do not excite me. Many of the books I’ve read in this genre blur the line between domination and abuse to the point where I’m frankly uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who has read my own stories will know that I don’t shy away from heavy BDSM scenes. I don’t mind pain, as long as it is illuminated and transformed by desire. But in much of the femdom I’ve encountered, that desire is missing. The powerful women are merely cruel. They despise the men they dominate. Safe, sane, consensual – these concepts don’t seem to exist. Perhaps this is exactly what thrills those who enjoy this sub-genre, but physical and psychological abuse unleavened by any shred of responsibility or concern falls outside my personal definition of erotic.     

The Ancestors of Star by William Gaius identifies itself as focused on “female domination”. However, the mood and tone of this novel differs markedly from most other femdom titles that I’ve read. The Ancestors of Star is the extended tale of a young man coming to know and to worship a powerful older woman.  He is in some sense her slave, but a willing, even a joyous slave, who receives the most acute pleasure and satisfaction from serving his beloved mistress.  

Tim Hyatt takes a year off from college to work in the clinic at a remote American Indian reservation. His motives are hardly altruistic; strapped for cash to go to medical school, he is hoping that the experience among the Lagalero tribe may earn him a scholarship and help him climb into the social stratum of his Chicago high society girlfriend Natalie.

The clinic was founded and is managed by Elaine Yellow Star, a tough, intelligent native RN who has a well-known weakness for handsome younger men. Working for Star is a true education for the immature, macho city boy.  He learns firsthand about the bleak and brutal lives of the folk on the reservation. He begins to appreciate the spiritual bonds that unite and elevate the Lagalero community. He overcomes his original distaste for cunnilingus in order to become an enthusiastic servitor between Star’s thighs. He becomes willing to forgo his own release in order to give her pleasure. Gradually he acquires a sense of personal responsibility, and the maturity to recognize and claim what he really wants – the long-term love and respect of his demanding boss.

The Ancestors of Star includes some steamy sex scenes. Furthermore, its core conflicts deal with sexual pleasure, trust and commitment in the context of a relationship that is not exactly vanilla. In both these senses, the book can stake its claim to being an erotic work. However, the novel is far more than a book about sex. Mr. Gaius paints vivid pictures of the blasted New Mexico countryside around the reservation: stark beauty and terrible isolation. His characters, too, are vivid – not just Star, but more minor characters as well: Metal Head, the Vietnam-vet-turned-shaman; Matt Hunter, the tribal cop; Lucy White Eyes, crystal meth addict and shaman’s apprentice; Dr. Frank Willis, the honorary Navajo who is Star’s former lover. Then there’s Natalie, whose disastrous visit to the reservation demonstrates to Tim how much he has changed. Shallow, prissy, ultra-chic Natalie is almost a caricature, but her interactions with Star, the woman she senses is her rival, keep her believable and human.

I was virtually left out of the conversation, but after a few minutes, a light dawned in my thick male head. Star had somehow read Natalie’s suspicions and was cleverly disarming them. How did women do it? They read one another’s innermost thoughts, and carried on battles and alliances and betrayals, right in front of unsuspecting men, who thought the conversation was only about schools and clothing.

Soon, they had moved on to weddings, and Star told of the high point of the Lagalero wedding ceremony, which used a special pot made with two spouts. If one person tried to drink from it, he or she would get soaked. But both partners could drink from it with ease. After the drink was taken, and they had eaten cornbread from the same basket, the two were considered married.

Although the literal subjects of the conversation didn’t interest me, I listened carefully, not knowing what I might be called to account for later. In my head, I tried to translate the innocuous conversation of women:

Natalie: “My parents want us to have a big, traditional wedding, in the church. Me, I’d just as soon get married at City Hall.” Translation: ‘I’ve fought off other women before. I can fight you off, too.’

Star: “If I had gotten married, it would have been a traditional Lagalero wedding.” Translation: ‘Tim knew nothing of real sex before I got to him.’

Natalie: “That would be nice, to keep up the old traditions.” Translation: ‘I finally seduced Tim into going down on me. Once I got him to do that, he’s mine, and you can’t have him.’

Star: “Just as well, I was born on the rez, and I expect to die here and be put with my ancestors.” Translation: ‘Well, guess who taught him that, Sister! Not only does he go down on me nearly every day, he cleans my room and does my laundry and gives me back rubs. He even shaves my legs.’

Natalie bent the conversation back to the privileges and duties of a doctor’s wife. It began to dawn on me that this was Natalie’s real ambition. She was going to be a doctor’s wife. If I happened to play the part of the doctor, that would be nice. But it could be anyone, really, so long as he had ‘M.D.’ after his name.

Mr. Gaius writes with grace and insight. His prose reveals character and situation, without getting in the way. The Ancestors of Star is a long book, more than 300 pages, but I never found myself bored. This is despite the fact that the novel does not have a traditional plot arc from an initial state up to a crisis and then down to a resolution.

Instead, the novel is episodic, offering a series of mini-crises: Star’s rejection of Tim after he asserts his macho side; Tim’s near-death experience among ancient, treacherous ruins; a traditional hunt for prong horn sheep set against the background of rivalry for Star’s affection; a drug buy gone bad that leaves two young natives dead.

At one point it occurred to me that Mr. Gaius had perhaps adopted Native American narrative conventions, which do not follow the same rules as our own. Toward the end of the novel, however, I understood. The Ancestors of Star is a classic quest tale. The callow young protagonist sets out on his journey to self-knowledge and emotional fulfillment. He undertakes trials and overcomes obstacles on the way to achieving the goal that, at the outset, he does not even understand. Star is both his guide and his greatest challenge. By the end of the novel, he has become a sort of hero, glorified by his willingness to submit himself to Star’s desires and needs, as well as by his sincere commitment to her culture and her people.

I greatly enjoyed reading The Ancestors of Star. It’s a serious book, with more depth than one normally expects from erotica. At the same time, I did find it sexy, far more so than most of the other femdom works I’ve read. Tim is uplifted by his servitude to Star, and the reader is, too. The theme of sexual pleasure as a healing and ennobling force is hardly original, but that does not make it any less satisfying.

As She's ToldAs She's Told
By: Anneke Jacob
Pink Flamingo
ISBN: 1934349992
December 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I've often observed, both in my stories and in real life, that the most erotic moments derive from complementary fantasies. Exhibitionist and voyeur. Sheik and harem girl. Strict schoolmarm and naughty schoolboy. And of course, Dom and sub. You want to do something. Your partner wants to see/feel/taste/touch you as you do it. Each participant is aware of the other's desires. That awareness sets up an erotic circuit, each person's excitement amplifying the other's arousal.   

Anneke Jacob's remarkable novel As She's Told presents an extreme case of this sort of reciprocity. Her heroine, Maia, craves complete submission. She wants to be owned—the life of a slave with no choice at all. She has harbored these desires since childhood, struggling to make her way in the world, pretending to be a "normal" person, but knowing that only this total relinquishment of her will can make her feel whole and safe.

Anders is Maia's complement, a dominant who finds the games and play parties of the BDSM scene silly and frustrating. He wants complete control over a woman—the freedom to do anything at all to his slave, to require any service, to experiment with any sort of pain or bondage that appeals to him. He wants a woman to be his belonging, his chattel,"his own thing". When the story opens, though, he has almost given up hope of ever satisfying his deep-seated desire for total control.

Anders first encounters Maia in a BDSM chat room, where she asks, in response to a discussion about negotiation: "but doesn't that spoil it?" and later adds: "I mean if a sub chooses that means control. Contradiction in terms."  Anders hardly dares to believe that he might have finally found his counterpart, but when they meet in person at a "munch", mutual understanding and mutual attraction are both immediate.

The early chapters, when Maia and Anders first realize that their dreams may have come true, left me breathless. Despite their lightning attraction, Anders forces them to go slowly. Step by step, he leads Maia into a new world of unquestioning obedience. All does not go smoothly. Although she is desperate to please, Maia is also sloppy, irresponsible and occasionally rebellious. In addition, she is unrelentingly horny, and Anders rarely allows her any release for her sexual tension.

In each chapter, Anders introduces new torments or requires new adjustments. A waist chain is replaced by a tight corset, then labial piercings, then a chastity belt, then a bit and bridle and leather mitts that turn Maia into a dumb animal. In the early stages, he regularly checks with his would-be slave to make sure that she has not changed her mind. By the time they have been together for a year, however, she is truly his, and he stops asking her to describe her feelings or give him feedback.

 Anders is a perfectionist, a construction contractor with a passion for detail. As She's Told is almost obsessive in its descriptions of the equipment he designs to decorate, test and torture his slave. The book includes all the familiar trappings from the BDSM canon: the slave suspended and whipped; the slave plugged with dildos and vibrators but not allowed to come; the slave used as furniture; the slave eating out of a dog bowl; the slave harnessed to a cart and forced to trot and gallop. (Ms. Jacobs also dreams up some more unusual and imaginative kinks, but I won't spoil the impact by describing them here.)

 We've seen all these notions before, in Carrie's Story, in the Beauty Trilogy, in The Story of O. The difference is that in As She's Told, these are not treated as fantasy. Ms. Jacob is convincingly realistic in her depictions of what Anders does and how Maia feels. At some level, this book is still a fantasy, a thought experiment exploring how an extreme Master/slave relationship might develop, but the tone demands that the reader take the whole process seriously.

In fact, parts of this book are sufficiently extreme that they may be difficult for some readers. I found that I could not read more than a few chapters at a sitting because, despite my long-time fascination with BDSM, they made me uncomfortable.

This is not  (despite some horrified reviews on a story of abuse. Anders does not negotiate, but he cares for his slave and makes sure that she will not be seriously injured.  When he offers his brother, cousin and several women friends free use of Maia's body, he makes sure that they use condoms, even for oral sex. He is giving Maia what she wants, and she is suitably grateful. Still, I wouldn't want Anders for my Master. He's too interested in stripping away Maia's pretensions of being human. He delights in turning her into an animal or even an inanimate object. Toward the end of the novel, Maia spends eight weeks without the use of her hands, sleeping in a stall, forbidden to speak, and worst of all, banished from her Master's bed. I can scarcely imagine this—it sounds too horrible to be endured (far worse than being forbidden to or unable to come). But then, I'm not Maia. Ms. Jacobs managed to make me believe that Maia could and would endure it, in order to please Anders.

As She's Told is not without its faults. It is a long book without much plot. Each chapter pushes new limits, but there's no climax and very little conflict. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Maia to rebel or for someone to be hurt or killed, for some revelation or resolution, but in fact nothing much happens. We're led to believe that this relationship will continue, satisfying both of the participants, as they live out their complementary fantasies together. I think that this is Ms. Jacob's point, to suggest that such a relationship could actually exist and that it could be healthy and mutually fulfilling.

I don't know whether I am completely convinced. People change. Maia is very young (she graduates from college in the course of the book) and Anders not much older. Furthermore, it seems that there must be an objective limit to the escalation Anders practices on Maia. My Master and I have debated the question of escalation, the continued pushing of limits. Clearly there must be some point when you can't push any further without doing serious physical harm. What happens then? Do the participants get bored or jaded? Or is it the case that a truly imaginative dominant will never run out of things to do with his slave?

 The very fact that I'm thinking about these issues, though, is a tribute to Ms. Jacob's skill. As She's Told is a rare item, a serious novel about BDSM relationships that does not sacrifice realism for titillation. I found it exciting, disturbing and challenging. I just bought a copy for my Master.


Editor’s note: As She’s Told was the winner of the 2008 National Leather Association-International Pauline Reage Novel Award.

Bad Romance: Bad Romance:
Edited By: Robin Wolfe
Freaky Fountain Press
February 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

These days romance rules the publishing world. Romance is the fastest growing segment of the industry. Every day, it seems, a new romance e-publisher opens calls for submissions, hoping to cash in on the romance bonanza. I just read (I'm writing this review in May) that has announced their very own romance imprint.

The romance genre has diversified and matured, admitting explicit sex, kink, GLBT characters, ménage and more. It has become far less stereotyped and constrained than it was even a decade ago. However, one firm requirement remains, written more or less in stone. All romance must have a happy ending. The protagonists must overcome the obstacles that separate them and have at least some prospect of a delightful future in each other's arms. 

Of course, in the real world, relationships aren't necessarily like that. Furthermore, erotic intensity isn't necessarily linked to that sort of happy connection. Freaky Fountain's outstanding volume Bad Romance explores love affairs that would make the average romance author throw up her hands and run away screaming.

The contributors to this  collection aren't afraid to explore the darkest aspects of desire. They break taboos left and right. The book includes incest (both consensual and non-consensual), rape, physical abuse, humiliation, drugs, cutting and castration, as well as more conventional BDSM scenarios. It's not for the faint of heart. I do not believe that the authors were aiming at shock for its own sake, though. As suggested by the sub-title, these stories actually do focus on the relationships between the characters. The relationships may be painful, twisted, frustrating, even deadly, yet they still fulfill some need. The characters know they should walk away, but they don't. Lust, and sometimes love, overwhelms reason and they find a kind of release in spite of all the darkness.

Practically every story in the collection is exceptional in both conception and execution. Jeanette Grey opens the book with the amazing “Bleeding Red,” the story of a painter and his former model, how they devour and destroy each other but cannot let go:

There's the sound of glass on the pavement, the ground littered with tiny shards. I can still see them on the back of my eyelids as they close, and then instead of ice, there's heat. Groaning into a kiss I know will only hurt me, I stare into blackness and taste hot skin. I feel tongue and teeth, and I bite down on his bottom lip, exulting at the tang of copper salt.    

More subtle, but equally devastating, is Chris Guthries “Three Days in Summer.”  It begins with a woman begging for a man's attention and ends with her discarding him. Over the course of the story, the power shifts, as the woman satisfies her yearning to be abused and the man becomes dependent on her submission.

“Maleficent” by Lydia Nyx is probably the most depraved tale in the collection and yet one of the most arousing, in spite of its violence and copious bodily fluids of every sort. The story is a compelling reversal of the vampire-meets-soulmate trope so popular in normal romance. Homicide detective Darius is seduced by an infinitely cruel and kinky dancer in a club. In Jordan's presence, under his tutelage, Darius discovers how savage and perverted he can be. The bloody finale is horrible yet compellingly erotic.

Jordan dropped to his knees in front of him. A dull blue light shone down from somewhere up above – blue, like they were under water, drowning. The light gleamed on Jordan's hair and filled his freakish eyes...The light glinted on the silver rings Jordan wore – a skull, a cross, a jagged winged dragon. He watched Jordan's tongue slide around the head of his cock, the tip hard and pointed under the ridge, the flat caressing the rest, then all of it sliding past his lips, into the molten recess of his mouth. All sensations were amplified almost to the point of pain.

Not every story in Bad Romance reeks of this sort of drama and evil. Some, like Anya Wassenberg's “The Affair” and S.L. Johnson's “Love Letters” focus on the banal but very real pain of attraction in the face of incompatibility – the way we sometimes seek out exactly the wrong person. “Sam and Jessie” by Ben Murray is a funny tale of two lovers who fight constantly despite their mutual affection and lust, each striving for the upper hand. It remains humorous even when the real nature of their relationship is revealed. Maxine Marsh's “Coma” portrays a “relationship” between a bereaved doctor and a woman who is immobilized but retains some level of consciousness – a truly extreme case of being unable to communicate with one's lover. Ryder Collins' “Her Heart is a Screen Door, Too” is a strange, almost poetic description of a woman who is always victimized yet remains open to love:

These are the things that Homegirl remembers from that night; these are not the only things that happened and some of them may not have even happened because Homegirl's been so drunk she's hallucinated from the drink like Toulouse-motherfucking-Latrec at least twice before that night. So it's possible that some of it's all made up.

It's possible, but I know it's not made up.

One feature of this anthology that I particularly enjoyed were the “afterwards.”  Each story is followed by the author's bio, plus some comments on the genesis of the stories. I found some of these almost as fascinating as the tales themselves.

Bad Romance will not be to everyone's tastes. It will offend some readers, not only because of the extreme scenarios it portrays but also because it most definitely does not qualify as “sex-positive” erotica. I'm not really comfortable myself writing the sort of violent, dystopic tales featured in this collection. Actually, I feel a bit guilty that I enjoyed the book so much. But I couldn't help it. Bad Romance is both outrageously hot and a literary treat.

Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories about Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns and MoreBending: Dirty Kinky Stories about Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns and More
By: Greta Christina
Dirty Heathen Publishing
April 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

“These are not nice stories,” begins Greta Christina's introduction to her collection Bending. She warns the reader to expect borderline and even total lack of consent, sexual manipulation, degradation, violation, humiliation, “a lot of fucked up shit.” Of course, one isn't completely surprised by this, given the book's deliberately provocative sub-title. Furthermore, I agree with the author's assessment. Some of the activities chronicled here are extreme even for a kink connoisseur like me. Perhaps the most notable example is a scene in the novella, which gives the collection its title, where a woman is fucked in the ass while her Domme repeatedly forces her head into the toilet water. Then there's “Christian Domestic Discipline,” in which playful mutual exploration of spanking as punishment for a wife's “sins” turns into fanatic cruelty. Or “Craig's List,” where a woman advertises for a man to literally abuse her, and finds someone who more than meets her specifications. Or the more subtly disturbing “What She's Not Telling Him:”

Their arrangement is, in theory, completely consensual. Safewords, and limits, and all the usual stuff.

What she's not telling him is that, the moment he orders her in for a punishment, all of that disappears. The moment he tells her that she must be punished – no, even before that, the moment he gets the gleam in his eye that prophecies a punishment – her submission takes over her mind, and her safeword and limits and understanding that she has consented to this are obliterated. What she's not telling him is that, for her, the game of sadistic master and obedient slavegirl is real, and is becoming more real with every passing week.

The thing is, her partner begins to change. He starts as the model dominant, asking for feedback, checking her status, remaining aware of her as a person and a partner in kink. The harder he finds he can push without her resorting to her safeword, though, the more sadistic he becomes. As he administers ever more painful punishments and demands more degrading and disgusting indignities, she becomes her own fantasy: an object with no will, no rights, no recourse. As is characteristic of many of these tales, Ms. Christina allows the reader to decide what happens next.

This book overflows with physical perversity: a woman who gets her kicks opening her pussy for audiences to admire (“Open”); an ex-nun who pays to be chastised in order to expiate her guilt, only to find she feels even more culpable than before (“Penitence as a Perpetual Motion Machine”); a couple of escapees from a religious cult who recreate the savage beatings they received for “purification” (“Deprogramming”); intense breast torture (“Breasts”); being forced into porn (“Dixie's Girl-Toy Gets Spanked for the First Time”; brutal and anonymous butt-fucking in a filthy men's bathroom (“The Rest Stop”). However, the true action in these stories happens in the mind. These stories aren't really about physical sex – they're about obsession, fetishes, psychological games, terrible fantasies, all the secret and shameful notions that run through our minds no matter how safe and sane, rational and independent and centered and mature and careful we pretend to be.

These are wank tales - Greta Christina comes right out and says so – and her attention is on the psychological impact, because that's what turns her on. It's obvious, given their recurring themes, that many of these stories represent personal fantasies. Indeed, this author is a good deal more honest than most in proudly admitting this.

Consider the opening of “This Week:”

Here's what it is this week. A girl, a college student, is being spanked by her college professor. She's young, nineteen or twenty, young enough to be in college, but old enough to have some sexual knowledge. He's older, of course, probably in his forties, dressed casually but with dignity, a trim beard with a hint of gray. She is dress, not in the schoolgir outfit of porn cliché, but in regular modern clothing that merely implies the schoolgirl look: a short skirt with a flare, a simple blouse, white panties. The white panties are important. She is bent over his lap with her skirt pulled up and her panties pulled down, and he is spanking her with his hand.

We have the setup here for this week's masturbatory scenario. Not particularly creative or unusual, but then, fantasies often are not. From here, though, the story takes a different track than the standard, because interspersed with the spankings and the scoldings, the red ass cheeks and the tears, Ms. Christina shows us what both the girl and her professor are thinking and feeling, and that's where the main erotic charge lies.

He's not an idiot. He's an adult, a middle-aged man of the world, and he can see what she wants. He wants it too; she's a lovely girl, she makes him feel powerful and wise, and the thought of bending her over his lap makes his dick twitch. At the same time, he's not an idiot. He knows how much trouble he could get into if he's guessing wrong, or for that matter if he's guessing right.

The tension between lust and responsibility – the awareness of one's own depravity and the fact that this doesn't diminish the fascinated desire – this is the payoff, not the spanking or the fucking or the abuse by itself.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the wonderful story “The Shame Photos.” There's no sex in this tale at all, just a conversation between a porn photographer and a businesswoman at a bar, during which he encourages her to elaborate on her fantasies of sexual shame. That's the key element that excites her, the element she says is lacking in the photos of his that she's seen online. Gradually it becomes clear that she will become his model, that she will let him create the shame photos she describes, that she can't help doing this because this is the essence of who she is and what turns her on. The story ends with him ordering her to go get a hotel room. The fact that she's about to obey him is the most shameful thing of all, and yet, it's just the beginning.

Ms. Christina leaves us to imagine the rest on our own.

Bending is organized into several sections, grouping together tales that the author felt were similar, under the following headings: Bad Ideas; Force, Power and Messed-Up Consent; Unicorns and Rainbows (which contains a single bizarre, hilarious story about a jilted unicorn fucking a rainbow); Religion; Sweet Stuff; and the novella “Bending.” I feel that the book would have been improved by mixing things up and providing more contrast. Some of the tales are seriously dark (as you are warned at the start). It would have provided some relief to alternate these with lighter or more emotionally fulfilling stories (like the delicious “A Live One,” about a surprisingly real encounter between a peep show performer and a customer). Also, some of the categorizations seemed strained. “The Rest Stop,” for example, the only gay story in the collection, is thrown into the religion section, simply because the characters know each other from church. 

The novella, though, is in a category by itself.

Dallas, the main character, has a very specific fetish. She dreams of being bent over. What happens next can vary: punishment, fucking, simply being forced to immobility in this vulnerable position. All she really cares about is the sensation of bending, the knowledge of accessibility, the uncertainty about what will come next. She acts this out on her own; she struggles to find sexual partners who will indulge her; she has insatiable craving to be nothing but an ass in the air.

Enter Betsy, an imaginative and horny dominant who fulfills her needs as no one has ever done, and gets a huge kick out of the process. They're perfect together, until Betsy notices Dallas is still restless, and asks her what she wants.

Unfinished. That was it. It dawned on her on the bus ride home. She felt unfinished. Hungry still. Like she'd had a huge meal, with chicken and potatoes and two slices of pie, and was still staring at the pie thinking that a third slice might be nice. And for all her sex-positive, slut-positive, I-am-woman-watch-me-fuck attitude, she still thought her hosts would think she was greedy if she asked for that third piece of pie. And not without reason. Some of her hosts had thought she was greedy for wanting the first one.

Unfazed, Betsy arranges for them to take two weeks off from their jobs, and promises to bring Dallas to the point where even she has had enough. Betsy fulfills her promise, but the psychological results are not what either of them expect.

Bending is just amazing, a brilliant exploration of the inexplicable, irresistible, labile nature of sexual obsession. The earlier stories in this collection impressed me, but this final offering dazzled me with its insight even as it made me squirm (yes, me!) with its filthiness. I wanted to applaud.

The book concludes with an extensive kink resource guide: websites, hotlines and books. This useful material, along with the cautionary introduction, frame the fiction in between, emphasizing the distinction between what happens between your ears and what happens in the real world.

Bending will not please everyone. It might shock some of the readers of Erotica Revealed, and even if  you're not shocked, you might not find the stories arousing. Indeed, my kink buttons are a bit different from Greta Christina's. I've never found shame to be a turn-on. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book for its clever language and deep understanding of what makes us perverts tick. Bravo.

Best Bondage Erotica 2013Best Bondage Erotica 2013
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Contributions By: Graydancer
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573448974
December 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

In the wonderful introduction to Best Bondage Erotica 2013, Graydancer promises truth – truth that can be embarrassing or uncomfortable as well as thrilling, truth that transcends the overt activities of bondage and discipline celebrated in this collection. I gave a mental nod, understanding the point exactly. I know, from personal experience, how deliberately choosing restraint can shatter fears and defenses, deliver new insights, rearrange reality. I was eager to dive into the book, anticipating more than just the clever and creative kink Ms. Bussel reliably delivers in her anthologies.

Best Bondage Erotica 2013 partially fulfills Graydancer's promise. Some of the tales touched me deeply. Some of the others left me feeling a bit cheated, focused as they were more on the actions of bondage and submission than on the emotional impact.

Of course, after the introduction, I had, perhaps, unrealistic expectations.

I particularly appreciated Valerie Alexander's “The Moons of Mars,” about a non-traditional relationship between a charismatic gay astronomy professor and his female assistant, who is hopelessly in love with him. Their strange accommodation partially fulfills the fantasies of each, and in the process binds them more closely to one another than most lovers.

I also loved“Public Spectacle” by D.L. King, an exquisite vignette that provides an inner snapshot of a female dominant using her slave in public, highlighting the love and trust that illumine the humiliation and pain.

I can sense the people around us. I know they can feel the transformation too. They have seen the plain Jane you wouldn't look twice at on the street transformed into an object of desire. As her submission deepens, she will become even more desirable, and I will become even more desirous of her.

Evan Mora's “You Can Look...” is another deliciously depraved F/f tale in which the most important bonds are the ones that connect the dominant and submissive protagonists.

“Tying the Knot” by Tiffany Reisz, in which a dominant fiancé is summoned on the eve of the wedding to remind his frantic and nervous betrothed what's really important, uses humor to expose the way submission can be a mechanism for coping. 

War is a terrible truth. Three of the twenty two stories in the collection have military themes. All deal, in different ways, with the healing power of BDSM.  In “This is Me Holding You,” by Annabeth Leong, a female soldier struggles with guilt, fear and incipient despair as she prepares to return to duty. Andrea Dale's moving tale “Steadfast” features a heroine trying to reawaken the desire for dominance in her wounded, Iraq-veteran husband. Louise Blaydon explores the out-of-time quality of BDSM encounters with her story “Interlude for the Troops,” in which an Army captain seeks the solace of surrender with one of his comrades.

Peter says nothing, but then,Tom doesn't expect him to. They both know that. His hands are bound at the small of his back with a length of rope that rasps at the skin, and the position thrusts his shoulder blades up and out painfully, like thwarted stubs of wings. The floor of Tom's little medic's hut is hard and unyielding under his knees and yet, somehow, these are comforting pains, compassionate hardships. Tom controls them, after all. It is out of Peter's hands.

The original bondage in Giselle Renarde's “Tree Hugger” involves bungee cords and a huge, rough-barked tree trunk. Ms. Renarde's vivid descriptions pulled me into the story, even as the sensations bring her protagonist into a new kind of communion with nature, and her lover.

“Passion Party Purgatory” by Logan Zachary stands in a category of its own. This totally filthy, over-the-top fantasy (that's a compliment!) features a sadistic and highly inventive host (Charles) who “entertains” the husbands of his wife's friends in his basement recreation room while the women are upstairs enjoying a Tupperware-type sex-toy party. Is there truth here? I suppose the fact that the Charles' straight-as-an-arrow victims discover that they're aroused by bondage, pain and homoerotic activity might count as a revelation. Anyway, the story definitely made me sweat.

The editor's own story “Foot and Mouth” concludes the collection. Rachel Kramer Bussel paints a chilling but arousing portrait of deep masochism and its perverse satisfactions.  

It's not the wealth of lovers he's had before me on whom he's honed his Dominant skills, either. It's that he wants each time to be better than the last. He wants it to matter. He wants me to feel it not just on the tender surface of my skin but inside, deep down, all the way, where it counts. When he takes out his knife and traces it along the swell of my breast, he wants me to wonder, even for a split second, if he'll be careless – or, worse, careful – and break the skin. He wants me to wonder, when he tells me he's bringing guests while I'm all trussed up, if he really is, and how many. He wants me to be uncertain whether he'd actually try to get his gigantic fingers insight my tight but eager ass without lube.

Ms. Bussel's truth is uncomfortable indeed – both literally and figuratively – and yet in it's own way transcendent. I couldn't identify with the particular physical torments her Dom inflicts, but I definitely recognized the emotions.

Overall, Best Bondage Erotica 2013 offers BDSM aficionados a wealth of kinky fun – with sufficient instances of deeper insight to satisfy even a picky reader like me.

Best Fantastic Erotica: Volume 1Best Fantastic Erotica: Volume 1
Edited By: Cecilia Tan
Circlet Press
ISBN: 1885865600
November 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Fantastic has several meanings.  In the context of Cecilia Tan's new anthology, the word refers to fiction which has elements of the supernatural or the futuristic.  At the same time, “fantastic” also serves as a superlative, a synonym to “wonderful,” “exceptional” or (in today's parlance) “awesome.”  I have no hesitation in using the word in its second sense to describe this collection.  Cecilia Tan and Circlet have winnowed down a set of more than five hundred submissions to present eighteen of the best erotic science fiction and fantasy stories that I, at least, have read in a long time.

This anthology is noteworthy both for its originality and its diversity.  The tales range from Arinn Dembo's exquisitely lyrical “Monsoon” to Thomas Roche's hilarious satire, “The Night the New Hog Croaked, Or the Lascivious Dr. Blonde: A Romance”.  Kal Cobalt's “The Lift” is pure cyberpunk, set in a world in which the lines between human and machine have become tragically blurred.  “The Caretaker,” by Fauna Sara, offers a deliciously traditional fantasy world inhabited by unicorns and their virgins.  “The Bridge,” Connie Wilkins' contribution, gives us a war-scarred veteran who encounters the mythical Green Man, while Catherine Lundoff's “Twilight” presents a sassy, modern half-vampire who meets her match in the sexy descendant of a legendary vampire slayer.

Several of the stories contemplate the distance, or lack thereof, between man and animal.  In Robert Knippenberg's “And What Rough Beasts,” a faddish treatment that allows humans to become part animal results in the gradual disappearance of homo sapiens. Jason Rubis' enigmatic and disturbing “Circe House” considers transformation from human to animal, from male to female and back, as a sort of extreme fetish.

Any contemporary volume of erotica is likely to include some BDSM, and this collection is no exception.  However, in the hands of these Circlet authors, the themes of surrender as a gateway to freedom; pain as a precursor to pleasure, become newly exciting.  Corbie Petulengro's “The Harrowing” concerns an evil sorceress who exacts a ransom of sexual servitude from a brave female warrior, teaching her young slave how to accept her craving for submission and suffering.  “Marked,” by Cody Nelson, one of my favorite stories in a book full of candidates, presents an odd plague that confers heightened sensuality and sensitivity upon its sufferers while at the same time condemning them to horrible pain if they touch each other.

“Zach forcefully unclenched his teeth and slowed his shallow breathing.  He rubbed his aching cock against the mattress and felt its steady throbbing.  He moved his hips rhythically under Brendan's hand.  He let the pain wash through him, felt its circuit flow from point of contact to point of contact, butt to belly to breast to arm to hand.  He felt the electric pricks and tingles and bites.  And he relaxed his mind and invited the pain in.

Something changed then.  The pain didn't go away and didn't abate, not one bit.  But it was no longer something to be feared and shunned.  It was searing and gorgeous and wonderful, and Zack found his body racked with laughing sobs at the joy of it.”

In the end, Zack is cured – only to realize that he still wants the lust and the pain that he has left behind.

There are many more wonderful stories in this volume.  “Music from My Bones,” by Anya Levin, explores a different kind of submission, in which a woman allows her body to be played as an instrument in a performance of sexual ecstasy.  Jean Roberta's “Smoke” entertains the notion that Lucifer was a woman, with all the attendant implications.  “Nocturnal Emissions,” by Joe Nobel, is a delightfully sensual chronicle of an elderly Christian priest in the sixteenth century who comes face to face with the old gods and his own suppressed carnal desires.

“The Gantlet,” by B. Lynch Black, offers a parable about the dangers of too much control, set in a classic sci-fi dystopia.  Renee M. Charles' “Opening the Veins of Jade” gives us oriental magic and feminine power.  Argus Marks' “Copperhead Renaissance” is a creepily erotic picture of mutual addiction.  “Venus Rising,” by Diane Kepler, takes us into the familiar territory of android sex toys, but adds an ironic twist.  Last, but hardly least, Carolyn and Steve Vakesh offer the clever, funny “Capture, Courting and Copulation: Contemporary Human Mating Rituals and the Etiology of Human Aggression”, part of the dissertation research of a young dragon sociobiologist.  (“We are educated, politically correct dragons.  We do not eat humans anymore.”)

Normally when I review anthologies, I don't mention every story.  Usually there are at least one or two that are better left in the dark.  Often I want to allow the readers to discover some of the tales on their own.  In the case of this collection, every author deserves a mention, for all of the tales are exceptional for their craft as well as their creativity.

Best Fantastic Erotica is, indeed, fantastic.  I'm hardly surprised, since every Circlet anthology that I have read or reviewed deserves the superlative.  For Cecilia Tan, every Circlet Press book is a personal labor of love.  It shows.

Best Gay Bondage EroticaBest Gay Bondage Erotica
Edited By: Richard Labonte
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443166
June 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I’ve been reviewing erotica for more than six years. During that period, I’ve probably read and passed judgment on at least fifty titles. (I’ll know exactly one of these days, when I finally find the time to update the publishing history page on my web site!) I wouldn’t be surprised if a quarter of these titles began with “Best”. Sometimes I wonder whether anthology editors or publishers just lack originality. Wouldn’t “Worst Bisexual Alien Leather Erotica” attract more attention?

Seriously, though, when I open another “Best” collection, I tend to do so with a barely suppressed sigh. Rarely, in my experience, do erotica anthologies deserve the superlative. Most commonly, erotica collections will have a few stories that are stellar, a few that are appalling, with the remainder being predictable and workman-like but unmemorable.

Richard Labonté’s collection more or less fits this pattern.

On the positive side, the stories in this anthology are surprisingly diverse given the narrow theme. Bondage includes rope, leather, silk, latex, hand-cuffs and even live snakes (more on this below). The essence of bondage is constraint, whether self-imposed or inflicted by another. The authors in this collection explore the broad limits of this definition. There are several tales – Larry Townsend’s giddy “My Eighteenth Birthday” and Simon Sheppard’s uncharacteristically light “The Man Who Tied Himself Up”– in which the main characters accomplish some amazing feats of self-restraint. Then there’s Doug Harrison’s sweet and satisfying tale, “The Harness”, which demonstrates that bondage isn’t just for bottoms.

My favorite tale in this collection is Shanna Germain’s “And Serpent Becomes Rod”. (I notice that Ms. Germain has received top kudos in several of my recent reviews.)  The protagonist in this story, a wealthy submissive so jaded that he has become impotent, treks through the jungle to the summit of a volcano in order to meet the shaman-master whom he hopes will cure him. The shaman lives in a shack lit by hundreds of candles and inhabited by dozens of snakes. The snakes bind the man while the master takes him and makes him new.

When he stepped back, I tried to follow. The snakes held me there with a raised head, the slip of a tail along the curve of my balls. Everything drew up tight. Still. I bowed my head as much as I could without losing my breath. I waited for the man that I knew would save me.        

...Something flickered at the crack of my ass. Snake tongue? Man tongue? I moaned, low in my throat.

The story is vivid, intensely physical, and unrelentingly arousing. What impressed me, though (other than the creative notion of using snakes as bonds) was the clear connection between sex and spirit. This acknowledgment that bondage might mean something, might be something beyond a mechanism of arousal, is missing in most of the tales in this collection.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Hot, anonymous sex is great, and gay fiction especially seems to like to celebrate it, as illustrated by Bill Brent’s enjoyable contribution, “Keeping It Under Wraps”:

We catch our breath, staring at each other and grinning like idiots. Soon we will leave this couch and become separated by ever-growing number of men, miles, days, years — but right now we’re just two blissed out guys, happy to be together in this room, no longer horny.

Bondage can be dangerous, though. It’s not the sort of thing one wants to undertake at the hands of a stranger. Bondage can also be a route to enlightenment, but few of the authors in this collection seem to view it this way.

A disturbing number of tales in the collection feature non-consensual sex and bondage. Perhaps the most extreme is “Marking Territory” by Sean Meriwether, about a petty criminal being pissed on, beat up and sodomized as punishment for double-crossing the boss. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would find this arousing — not because of the acts themselves (hey, I’ve fantasized about golden showers) but because of the absolute cruelty with which these acts are inflicted. Then there’s “The Taking of Brian Krowell”, which details a carefully planned rape. I have to admit that even though this story by Shane Allison left me queasy and uncomfortable, I was also aware that its remarkable portrait of a man driven to violence by frustrated lust made it one of the better stories in the collection.

His dick tensed in my mouth, beyond my tenacious lips, cum surging through his black body, willing or not... I left him stained with his cum, my cum, my spit, his jelly. Done. His never was my now.  

TruDeviant’s “Number Twenty-Four” offers a similar scenario, a neglected and abused fag obsessed with a baseball player. In this tale the rape, though vivid and visceral, full of sweat-soaked uniforms and locker room odors, is nevertheless only fantasy. Does that change things?

At some level, all fiction is fantasy, though in some cases this is more obvious than others. Certainly the sex slave in the temple of the Owl Goddess in David Holly’s slightly ridiculous “A Gift to the Rising Dog Star” is pretty transparent, as is the world-weary dirty old man in “Norceuil’s Garden” (Andrew Warburton). In many cases, the fantasy aspect of these tales subordinates the story. There’s no real plot. The characters exist only to act out the author’s fetish. I might find a story arousing, but afterwards, when the tale releases me, I’m empty.

Some of the stories in this collection are well-written. A few show noteworthy originality. All in all, though, this anthology does not, in my opinion, completely merit its title. “Gay Bondage”? Certainly. “Erotica”? In some cases. But “Best” would be better reserved for a collection that more consistently challenges the mind and stirs the heart, as well as exciting the senses.

Best of Singapore EroticaBest of Singapore Erotica
Edited By: L.Q. Pan
Contributions By: Richard Lord
Monsoon Books
ISBN: 9810553013
January, 2006

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Anyone who is at all familiar with Singapore, in reality or reputation, will find the concept of Singaporean erotica rather difficult to believe. Who could be publishing erotica in prudish, politically restrictive, cleanliness-obsessed Singapore, where one can be fined for chewing gum or not flushing the toilet, where I once saw a movie ("Cave Girl" with a young, nubile Daryl Hannah) so severely censored that characters showed up in the credits that I'd never seen on the screen? In fact, the publishers of Best of Singapore Erotica received special permission from government censors to produce and sell this book, with the stipulation that it had to be sealed in cellophane to protect those who might be offended or corrupted by its salacious content. It was with considerable curiosity that I tore off the wrapper and began to sample what the authoritarian city-state had to offer in the way of sexy writing.

What I discovered was a collection of stories, essays and poems that help clarify why Singapore has a sex-hostile reputation. Legal restrictions on homosexuality and other "deviant" sexual acts are only the beginning. The obstacles to satisfying sex in the city-state appear to be many and formidable: ferocious upward mobility and a punishing work ethic; shortage of affordable housing, which leads to young adults living with their parents in situations with little privacy; traditional values that favor security over romance; and finally, a complex, multi-racial class hierarchy with social distances that are near-impossible to bridge.

In spite of, perhaps even because of, all these barriers, some of the authors represented in this volume do succeed in creating arousing and emotionally involving tales that I would classify as erotica. One of my favorites is Ricky Low's "Clean Sex," in which a successful young Chinese businessman falls in love with an Indonesian housemaid, only to lose her when she's accused of stealing the expensive presents he has bought for her. Another highlight is "Naked Screw" by Alison Lester, which portrays an initially confrontational but ultimately sensual encounter between a free-spirited ex-pat who likes to walk around her apartment without clothing, and a traditional South Asian laborer who claims that her nakedness offends him. Meihan Boey's "A Dummy's Guide to Losing Your Virginity," in which she chronicles her methodical approach to finding and bedding her first lover, is a clever comic gem:

"Feel free to fit us both into any convenient category of human behavior. Rest assured, I will not complain. Complaining, I find, is the refuge of the weak and unimaginative who have neither the courage to put up with shit nor the wherewithal to get out of it."

"And Then She Came," by Jonathan Lim, is a creepy yet unquestionably sexy story of a helpless student "not sober enough to be superstitious," who attracts the attention of a voracious female ghost. Aaron Ang's "A Perfect Exit" is a sweet, sentimental and finally surprising story of geriatric lust. I also enjoyed "Self-Portrait with Three Monkeys," by Chris Mooney-Singh, although it is more a character study than a story, the heroine a middle-aged career woman who consoles herself for her loveless couplings with an orgy of art. Another notable contribution is Weston Sun Wensheng's "An MRT Chronicle," a wry commentary on the trials of being young and horny in a society that offers no privacy at all.

Some of the other stories in this collection, however, made me suspect that the authors had not had much opportunity to sample currently available erotic literature. Some entries like Robert Yeo's "What We Did Last Summer," Gerrie Lim's "Walking the Dog," and Emilio Malvar's "Expeditions in the Twilight Zone," are dispassionate essays about sexual topics that are moderately intriguing but hardly engage the senses or emotions. Other tales like "Do You Have a Toothbrush?" by Lee Lien Mingmei, Rachel Loh's "Body Drafts," and Felix Chong's "Dancer from the Dance," are little more than descriptions of sexual encounters, with little if any plot. I suppose that in Singapore, the impact of simply having sex might be enough to make a story seem worthwhile, but for a reader who has been spoiled by the likes of M.Christian, Alison Tyler and Marilyn Jaye Lewis, just sex is not sufficient. Finally, there is Richard Lord's "The Phoenix Tattoos," which has the makings of an incredibly intriguing story, but which simply ends without resolution, intensely frustrating, for this reader at least.

Best of Singapore Erotica also includes a handful of poems. Most are, in my opinion, undistinguished, however Jonathan Lim's Speedo Dream is an exception, a sleek, streamlined homoerotic meditation:

i could not breathe
air whispered thinly around me
whispered sins that sounded like heaven

i longed to lick the salt off that skin
coat the smoothness with mine

All in all, Best of Singapore Erotica is uneven, but worth reading, not only for sensual thrills but also for cultural education. Although some contributions seem amateurish, the editors deserve respect for making an attempt to foster the development of erotic writing against considerable odds.

I noted that the book is available online from I can't help but wonder if it arrives securely wrapped in cellophane.

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

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled. “I like your tweets.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bittersweet: Stories of Tainted DesireBittersweet: Stories of Tainted Desire
By: Amber Hipple
Logical Lust
ISBN: 978-1905091317
March 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

This slim volume of short stories is subtitled “Stories of Tainted Desire.”  The description is apt. Ms. Hipple's evocative prose-poems summon the sharp pain of regret, the ache for opportunities lost, the searing fire of anger and the ice of a lover's disdain. There is beauty, passion, even sweetness in these tales, but they are a far cry from the light-hearted romps so common in contemporary erotic story collections. Ms. Hipple writes from the heart -- from personal experience, I suspect. She does not shy away from darkness: cruelty, drunken self-pity, the seductive lure of suicide when one is desperate and lonely.

Bittersweet includes twenty-two brief stories. Many are no longer than two pages. In fact, few are stories in the classical sense; they offer no plot arc and no character development, though they often chronicle changes in the narrator over time. The pieces in this volume are meditations, fantasies, extended flashbacks, vivid erotic scenarios that exist solely to evoke emotion. In “Blood on Snow,” a woman descends ever deeper into submission, until at long last her lover fulfills his promise to shed her blood. “Let It Be Uncomplicated” offers a snapshot of a marriage in which sex has become a constant reproach due to the woman's inability to conceive. “I Promise I Won't Break You,” with more of a plot than most, shows how abandonment can lead to despair and then beyond, to a hardness that even the lover's return cannot shatter. In “Waiting in the Rain,” a woman spends the day fantasizing about her husband's arrival, only to have him reject her, while in “Seems Like...” a husband reprises the decades with his beloved as he gazes on her corpse.

Some stories are told from a male perspective, some from a female. The two I liked best both have F/F themes. “White Musk” illustrates the evocative power of the sense of smell. A middle-aged wife and mother, shopping for Christmas presents, catches a whiff of the perfume favored by the woman she loved in her youth and is submerged in memory. In “Mar,” a woman who lives alone by the ocean is visited by lyrical and mysterious dreams of a gorgeous female sea-creature.

Ms. Hipple's prose is sensual in the truest sense, steeped in descriptions of sight and smell, sound, texture and taste. She skillfully captures the connection between environment and emotion. Sun, wind, mist and rain mold and reflect the characters' moods. Her sex scenes are more poetic than graphic, though you'll find no euphemisms here. The flesh is filtered, always, through the prism of emotion.

On the negative side, the stories in this collection are distressingly similar in their style. Every one is narrated in the first person, often in the present tense, with the object of passion a frequently unnamed third party pronoun. The most begin with some description of the weather or the season, setting the emotional tone.  As I note above, Ms. Hipple does this quite well. However, it becomes monotonous after a while. Even though the stories explore a range of situations and emotions, I found it difficult to separate them in my mind. Another initially effective device that is overused is the reprise of the title in the last paragraph of the story. After three or four tales, this starts to seem amateurish.

The book would also benefit from more extensive editing. I noticed quite a few misused words, some of which are clearly typographic errors (“chain” rather than “chair”) but others clear confusions (“travesties” instead of “trials” or “tortures”). An effective editor could also have curbed Ms. Hipple's over-fondness for run-on sentences, three or four independent clauses joined by “and”.  I read an Advanced Reader's Copy of the book that perhaps was further edited before release. I do hope so; if this were my book, I would be a bit embarrassed by these mistakes.

If I had encountered one of the stories in this book in the context of a typical erotica anthology, I would have been excited and impressed. Ms. Hipple explores themes and emotions not often addressed in popular erotica, with an original, sensual style. However, reading twenty-two of these stories, all in the same vein and using the same style, one after the other, tends to diminish their impact.

Bound for Trouble: BDSM Erotica for WomenBound for Trouble: BDSM Erotica for Women
Edited By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1627780270
July 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

In her introduction, Alison Tyler informs us that Bound for Trouble is the tenth bondage-themed anthology she has edited for Cleis. It's hardly surprising that this collection sparkles with kinky energy and glows with heat. Ms. Tyler definitely knows what she's doing. At this point in my editing and reviewing career, I'm fairly difficult to impress, but I believe Bound for Trouble will delight anyone who finds D/s content arousing.

What's so great about this book? Diversity for one thing. Almost every story attacks the theme from a different direction. There are M/f, F/m and F/f tales in almost equal proportion and even one M/m contribution. Some authors write about long-established couples, some about casual playmates, some about  just-met strangers. Meanwhile, the bondage mechanisms explored range from classic ropes to robots to symbolic chains made out of paper.

Ms. Tyler's own story, “Sitting Pretty,” keeps the reader guessing. For the first few pages, you have no idea about the identity or even the gender of the narrator. Only at the end do you begin to understand who he is and what he wants. This tale is both beautifully crafted and deliciously transgressive. Who would have imagined that allowing one's hair to be cut could be an act of submission?

“Magic Boots” by Amy Dillon offers one of the most insightful takes on fetishism that I've encountered in a long time. To arouse and entertain her foot-worshiping husband, the narrator secretly buys a pair of expensive, outrageous high-heeled boots they've both admired. As she wears the boots around the house before revealing them to her spouse, trying to break them in, she discovers her own perceptions and desires changing.

Complementary fantasies play a key role in several of the tales. In Benjamin Eliot's exquisite “Unwinding Alice,” the female of the title enjoys being tightly bound and locked in a closet for hours. Her husband confines her in order to please her; he finds the notion far scarier than she does. Meanwhile, he lives for the sight of the rope marks her trials leave behind. Their kinks are distinctly different, but interlocking, providing satisfaction and peace to both.

She flings her arms above her head, and I see the lines on her skin flow north with the motion. She's striped and crossed and dotted with the evidence of my control and I groan. Because seeing that evidence robs me of my current control. I'm powerless against the unwound Alice. I'm humbled by her strength.

The healing potential of dominance and submission is another common theme. Annabeth Leong's  “Paper Chains,” Theresa Noelle Roberts' “Ropenosis,” K.Lynn's “Business Wear,” all feature submissives wound tight by worldly responsibilities or hidden fears. Paradoxically, bondage sets them free.

Sommer Marsden's brilliant story “What She Has” struck me as one of the most realistic in the collection. The subtleties she portrays in the relationship between the submissive narrator and her Master, the ebb and flow of envy, anger, fear and love, amazed me. How can love and cruelty be so closely intertwined?

In contrast, Giselle Renarde's delicious fable “It's Not a Scrunchie” is pure play, a man's wildest fantasy made manifest in the person of a voluptuous, uninhibited gal who just happens to like tying guys up.

The mood in Bound for Trouble is lighter than in some of Ms. Tyler's anthologies (her Love at First Sting comes to mind as an example of darker, more ambiguous BDSM), but these authors don't spare the rope or the rod. Nearly all of the stories are entertaining. And a few will linger in your mind, long after you've closed the cover or turned off your e-reader.


Boy Crazy: Coming Out EroticaBoy Crazy: Coming Out Erotica
Edited By: Richard Labonte
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443514
June 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I always enjoy reading collections assembled by Richard Labonte. He has a finely honed literary sensibility, and tends to choose stories for their emotional intensity as opposed to their physical extremity. He views the gay world with compassion and wisdom, revealing its complexities to outsiders like me. Boy Crazy is sweet, hot, occasionally silly, and on one occasion, brutal, but always respectful of the challenges faced by gay men in a het world.

This anthology is subtitled “Coming Out Erotica” but I think “Initiation Erotica” would have been more appropriate. Most of the stories feature young men—in their teens or twenties—finally experiencing the homoerotic intimacies they have imagined for so long. While a few of these boys—the bookish cello player in Dale Chase's “Army Brat,” the “lumpish, clumsy” hero in “Larry and His Father” --go through the painful experience of admitting their sexual orientation to their family and friends, most of these tales are concerned with more private revelations.

Being a teenager—constantly horny, eternally insecure, perpetually misunderstood, at odds with family and the world—is hell for most of us. Being a gay teenager must be far worse. On top of everything else, there is the isolation, the inability to share one's fantasies with anyone for fear of being rejected, ostracized or even beaten up. These stories make that isolation real for non-gay readers. In both Michael Rowe's evocative “August” and Martin Delacroix's lusciously detailed “A Beautiful Motorcycle,” the boy is forced to endure the torture of seeing the object of his affections in the arms of his self-involved older sister. In “Paperboys,” by Natty Soltesz, two boys in lust pretend that they are just kidding around as they share their bodies. The heroes of these stories insist that they are not interested in men, even when they are dying to touch and be touched by one.

In some sense, there's only one story here: boy meets boy, or boy meets man, and is recognized, accepted, usually fucked and changed forever. As with a fairy tale, the reader knows how the story will end, but that doesn't diminish the pleasure of reading. The emotions make it all worthwhile, the unendurable longing and the incredible intensity of that first touch, when the longing is finally satisfied. These stories are a celebration of requited lust, and sometimes love.

One of my favorite tales in the collection is Alana Noël Voth's “Sundelin”, in which a college kid is obsessed with the barista at the local coffee shop. One reason I loved this story was that, paradoxically, it included no sex other than the narrator's outrageous fantasies. (It's also the kinkiest story in the book, since those fantasies are submissive in the extreme.) Ms. Voth leaves the reader to imagine what will happen next.

Another standout is “Game Boyz” by F.A. Pollard. In this incendiary tale, the narrator is swept off his feet and into the back alley by a gorgeous tough guy named Zen, only to be discovered in flagrante by his straight roommate.

Nearly all the stories in the collection are told from the perspective of the “boy” being initiated. The one exception is the amazing “The Pasta Closet”, by Davem Verne. Verne's narrator lusts for years for the hairy, meaty body of Gino, his childhood friend in Boston’s Little Italy. But it's Gino, the local Italian Stallion, who is ultimately forced to realize that he craves men as much as or even more than women.

A review of Boy Crazy would not be complete without a mention of the peculiar, outrageous, silly and entertaining tale “The Dolphin Temple”, by David Holly. This story, set in Crete under the Minoans, postulates a religious cult in which the primary ritual is mutual masturbation. The young hero Androgeous (!) is literally initiated into the mysteries of the Dolphin God by Phaeax, his boon companion and the object of his nocturnal fantasies.

The “brutal” story is William T. Hathaway's “Coming of Age”, which includes a gut-wrenching description of two hippie guys on their way from Kansas City to San Francisco being raped by a bunch of red-neck military men. Overall, I found this story a bit distancing, especially when it skipped over two decades of gay history in a few paragraphs, but the earlier scenes hammered home the pain faced by boys who love boys, but who can't or won't admit it.  

Overall, this intelligent and moving collection offers a sympathetic and exciting perspective on first times. Its unabashed sentimentality balances the anonymous physicality that I see in some gay erotica. Readers, gay or not, will identify with the boys in this book.

By: I. G. Frederick
The Nazca Plains Corporation
ISBN: 1934625809
August 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

When I was assigned to review Broken, I quivered with anticipation. Here was a serious BDSM novel, or so I’d heard, written by a lifestyle Domina with years of experience in the scene. I expected that her book would not only get the details right, but would succeed in conveying the emotional impact of a D/s relationship—the intimacy of submission, the intensity of enduring pain in order to serve one’s master or mistress, the thrill of topping a willing slave. 

Alas, I was sorely disappointed. Broken does indeed describe punishments and pain in lovingly graphic terms. However, the psychological dynamics behind these relatively extreme scenes are distorted or missing, to the point where I sometimes found the book offensive.

Jessica, the book’s protagonist, is a spoiled rich girl gradually working her way toward a Ph.D. in psychology while shopping, eating out and driving around in her Mercedes. When her father commits suicide, Jessica learns that she is suddenly penniless. In order to survive and continue with her graduate work, she is forced to drop her preferred research topic and advisor, and beg for a T.A. or R.A. position from Professor Lawrence, the creepy head of the department. The Professor refuses unless she also agrees to serve him as his collared slave. Desperate, Jessica agrees. She is savagely beaten and abused, by the Professor as well as his gorgeous subs Felicia and Sandra. The Professor requires her to submit not only to him, but also to his party guests. In addition, he finances his lavish lifestyle by renting her out to his kinky colleagues, giving her a pittance of the proceeds.

Jessica endures all this, but only because of the money. She despises her master and all the other men who use her. She cheats, arranging private engagements with her most devoted customers, delighting in the fact that she’s getting the better of her sleazy Dom. Although she does appreciate the Professor’s intelligence and connections as he works with her on her dissertation research, she can’t wait to be free of him. Her experiences in the BDSM world gradually lead her to the understanding that she is a natural dominant herself. As she begins to exercise sexual power over others, including a delightful little blonde named Dora whom she steals from the Professor, she finally experiences some pleasure and satisfaction.

Broken is competently written, but the characters are unsympathetic to the point of being repellent. Jessica is scheming, selfish and judgmental. She takes advantage of everyone, whenever she can. She has no sense of devotion or even responsibility to her master. Her servitude to Professor Lawrence does not break her, as suggested by the novel’s title. It merely hardens her.

Meanwhile, I will admit that, apart from his intelligence, the Professor offers nothing to inspire devotion in a slave. He is bald, short, dumpy and impotent. He too is selfish, and genuinely cruel, caring nothing for the welfare or happiness of his subs. Worst of all, he is disgustingly mercenary. His beautiful slaves are nothing but his meal tickets. Meanwhile, he uses the lure of money to enslave them.

For the most part, I found the “sex” scenes in Broken completely unarousing. Certainly, Jessica is never aroused. She is nothing but a body to be beaten, pierced, bound, whipped, raped. She knows this as well as her partners do. Her primary desire is to get through the scene somehow, avoiding pain as much as possible. She and her tormenters share nothing, no connection, no understanding, no sympathy.

This changes toward the end of the book, as Jessica recognizes her sadistic tendencies and acquires her own slave in Dora. At this point, some sparks fly, precisely because Dora has willingly and lovingly submitted to Jessica. Even Jessica melts a bit when confronted by such perfect devotion. Alas, at this point, the damage was done, at least for this reader. I shook my head as I watched Jessica turn into a Domme just as money-hungry and superficial as her former master.

I may be naive, but I felt that this book violated some of the core tenets of the BDSM lifestyle. Jessica’s enslavement stretches the meaning of consensuality nearly to breaking.  Yes, Jessica agrees to become the Professor’s slave, but her submission is borne of desperation. Furthermore, it is not genuine. She shames the collar that she wears by cheating her master.

Not that the Professor deserves her devotion or respect, of course. In fact, he is nothing but a well-educated pimp.

I will admit that there were one or two scenes in this book that engendered a kind of queasy excitement, despite the novel’s emotional sterility. Two and a half pages devoted to needle play had me squirming and wondering whether I would, could, endure that, at my master’s hands. I had strange dreams afterwards. For Jessica though, this was not a test of submission, not a peak experience, not a pushing of limits. It was merely one more thing to be gotten through, for the sake of the money.

Broken left me feeling cheated and depressed, hoping that it was not, in fact, an accurate picture of the BDSM lifestyle that so fascinates me.

Can't Get Enough: Erotica for WomenCan't Get Enough: Erotica for Women
Edited By: Tenille Brown
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1627780343
July 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

“Too much is never enough.” That's the title Tenille Brown chose for her introduction to this anthology, and it sums up the theme quite nicely. This is a book of stories about sexual insatiability, about lust that can't be denied and sometimes can't even be satisfied, for more than a few minutes at least. The characters in these stories get plenty of sex, plenty of pleasure, sometimes plenty of delicious pain as well, but it's never sufficient.

How well do the tales in this volume explicate this theme? As usual, some are more effective than others. At the top of my list is Preston Avery's  amazing “Won't Last the Week.” The narrator meets the woman of his dreams at a party. They spend the night on the beach, so entranced by one another that they forget to exchange phone numbers.

She isn't skinny like the girls I usually go for, like my ideal “on paper” woman, but curved and soft and she fits me just right. Her breasts are big with a delicious slope to them, and I know they will overflow my grasp. I could bury my face in the valley between them and never come up for air. I could have seconds and thirds and fourths of her and die a gluttonous happy man. She does everything I lead her into. I don't ask – words are still lost to us. The first time I lower one of my hands to those gorgeous mounds, hidden between a thin blue cotton shirt, she doesn't protest or push me away- she arches into me, into my touch, and makes the most beautiful noise in her throat. That moment, those moments, are all that I can feel. The future is as unreal to me as a unicorn on the planet Saturn. That place where names and phone numbers matter is at least a world away.

As the week goes on, dreams and fantasies of the lost woman consume the narrator's life. Will he somehow manage to find her? Or will he go mad with need and frustration? The beautiful urgency of this story left me in wet wonder.

Another highly apt contribution is Kissa Starling's cautionary tale “Blue Balls.” A young man too busy with his career to pursue a relationship receives a pair of mysterious blue balls from the gypsy he consults for advice. The balls provide instant orgasms, of such intensity and delight that the protagonist soon finds himself neglecting all other aspects of his life in the quest for ever-increasing pleasure.

“Before They Burn” by Beatrix Ellroy is a delicious tale of power and surrender, as a party guest teaches the hostess in the kitchen just how much she loves to be dominated. As he brings her down from her orgasm and allows her to take the cookies from the oven, he tells her: “Next time, Orya, I will take my time with you.”

In Giselle Renarde's exquisite “The Girl on Your Skin,” a lesbian couple with an explicitly open relationship discover that the scent of a casual lover on one of their bodies creates a virtual three-some, kindling a whole new kind of desire.

The editor's own contribution, “Famous Last Words,” is notable for its clever and insightful portrayal of “break up sex.” It's not necessary to love someone, or even to like them, to be swept away by lust for their body. In fact, one of the aspects of this entire book that I particularly liked was the fact that not all its stories end happily. Stupendous orgasms are not necessarily the key to long-term happiness.

On the other hand, they're not something to be rejected, either.

Given the title, I expected Ms. Brown's story to be the last in the collection. However, that place belongs to Annabeth Leong's incredibly perverse “Objects of Desire.” Once again, Ms. Leong articulates sexual complexities that few other authors would even recognize. This tale of shame, need and kitchen utensils is one of the kinkiest – and most insightful – things I've read in months. It made me squirm, which I have to believe was the author's intention.

I've only mentioned the stories that particularly grabbed me, but overall, Ms. Brown has assembled a solid collection of erotic fiction, with considerable diversity in tone, content and gender pairings. I believe this may be her first time editing an anthology. She can afford to be proud of the result.

Come Again: Sex Toy EroticaCome Again: Sex Toy Erotica
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1627781250
April 2015

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I get a bit tired of saying this, but according to my definition, erotica is not primarily about sex, but about the experience of desire Your mileage may vary, of course. Personally, I don’t find stories that focus mostly on physical pleasure to be particularly arousing. Since enhancing physical pleasure is the raison d’être for sex toys, I approached Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica with some sense of trepidation. After all, how many stories about vibrators and butt plugs can one read without getting bored?

In terms of diversity, I needn’t have worried. The toys in these tales cover a wide range. From the customized pedal-driven fucking machine in Oliver Hollandaize’s “Bikery” to the stainless steel claws in the editor’s own story, “Claws Out,” the characters in these stories take many routes to release. 

The stories as a group show considerable creativity in their underlying scenarios as well. In “A Tale of Two Toys,” Chris Komodo explores the very plausible possibility of two remote controlled vibrators on the same frequency interfering with one another. Valerie Alexander’s “The Cure for the Common Lay” conjures what may be the ultimate toy, an immersive virtual environment where one only has to imagine something to make it true. “The Superman Dildo” by E. Bellamy is a rather sweet story about the fragility of the male ego, while Dena Hankin’s “Gift” provides a rare (at least in erotica) glimpse of the sex lives of two elderly women. Rob Rosen’s “In the Pink” involves a straight man who convinces his gay colleague to help him accustom himself to anal sex, in preparation for being penetrated by his wife.

Despite the variety, though, I have to admit to being unimpressed by most of this collection. I would read a story, then immediately forget it. To some extent, I blame my own tastes for this. As I’d expected, the bulk of the stories concerned themselves with immediate sexual gratification, with few of the emotional complexities that make a story memorable for me. 

There were, however, three exceptions.

“The Prototype” by Malin James was one of the sexiest short stories I’ve read in a long time. This is due partly to the nature of the sex toy involved (which I won’t describe, so as to avoid spoiling the fun) but even more because of the relationship between the protagonists and the clever, expressive prose.

Edward smiles at me. His eyes, behind his glasses, are earnest and adorable. Edward invents things for fun. In real life, he does something abstract with currency markets, but in his dreams he has an underground lab and a henchman. At the moment, he’s wearing his eureka! face, which means he’s onto something.

Okay, I admit I have a real soft spot for sexually experimental nerds. But even readers who don’t share my preferences in this regard will be delighted by Edward’s ingenuity and his partner’s reactions.

“Sex Kitten” by Errica Liekos introduces the reader to a submissive with attitude. When her master chides her for buying a sex toy without permission, she’s startled.

She briefly considered apologizing, then decided against it. She wasn’t a puppy, after all. She liked curling up at James’s feet, but she was also the type to stretch a limb across his newspaper or keyboard, casually encroaching on whatever space was most central to his needs. She liked biting and scratching instead of talking to get his attention. Some owners have submissives, she thought, and some have slaves. You, Sir, have yourself a cat. I want to rub up against you, pretending your focus isn’t somewhere else. I want to demand you keep a hand free to stroke me, oblivious to your other obligations. I want to sleep in a sunbeam and stretch half the day, wander the house insolently, then settle in to find you’ve made me dinner. I have opinions.  I’m the pet who owns you back.

“My tail,” she said pleasantly, “is not a toy.”

This subtle, sexy story is beautifully written, which I guess is a prerequisite for keeping my attention.

Finally, Giselle Renarde’s “Must Love Dolls” takes a rather ordinary premise and makes it extraordinarily sexy. When a couple splurges on a high-end Japanese sex doll, they discover they’ve embarked on a true three-way relationship.

Honor set the brush on the nightstand and slowly slid her hand down Natsuki’s soft shoulder and along her arm.

“You can touch her breasts,” Tom said, like he could read Honor’s mind. “She’s ours now, babe. You can touch wherever you like.”

Honor’s stomach knotted with nerves as she cupped one of Natsuki’s perky silicone breasts. She could hardly breathe as she carried that significant weight on her palm. It had been ages since she’d touched any breast but her own.

“How does it feel?” Tom asked.

“Heavy.” She sank onto the bed, wrapping her arms around the love doll, pressing both big breasts together and wishing she were naked too. “Her skin’s so soft. Her hair smells like lilies. God, I’ve missed this.”

“Playing with dolls?” Tom asked.

“Playing with women.”

He smiled. “I know, babe. Take off your top.”

Having sex with a mannequin definitely counts as kinky, but it’s the intensity of anticipation that makes this story so arousing.

Should you read Come Again? Probably, especially if you’re less picky than I am. Like all Cleis anthologies, it’s impeccably edited and beautifully presented. If you’re looking for brief, hot tales where the sex is front and center while other considerations retreat into the background, this book’s for you. On the other hand, if you’re crazy enough to want thematic complications or literary language, like me, you might want to pick up something else.


Coming Together: In FluxComing Together: In Flux
Edited By: Nobilis Reed
ISBN: 1466440279
October 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Most of the anthologies I review have fairly concrete themes. During the past year, I've tackled collections on the topics of lesbian lust, dysfunctional romance, one night stands, female submission, and gay sex in the afternoon. Indeed, one sees calls these days for stories focused on particular sexual events: anal sex, oral sex, orgasms, spanking. Books like these target specific audiences who want to know exactly what they can expect from the stories inside. 

When I picked up ComingTogether: In Flux, a charity anthology on the slippery topic of “transformation”, I had little idea what I would find within. Having finished the book, I find myself astonished by the myriad creative ways the authors of these tales have interpreted the theme. About the only things these stories have in common are originality and exceptional craft.

The book begins with Angela Caperton's “Lawman”. An aging, retired member of an elite cadre of morality police enjoys the first blow job of his life as he tries to let go of the craving for the chemicals that made him a superman, but denied him desire. Even with a stranger, the experience of unfettered sex changes everything.

“Final Note” by Shanna Germain comes next – a wrenchingly honest portrayal of a woman whose long-time partner lies dying.

“Clara, Clara, Clara.”

My name slips from her lips, caw-cawed as though she is a dying creature on a sidewalk and not a full- grown woman. Not an adult, not a lover, not the former fabulous Raven Freemont. Just a fragile thing, wings crushed, beak croaking out the only word it can still remember. I need to end it.

The darkness of this tale is relieved by startling passion, as Clara burrows into the body of another woman to soothe the pain she can scarcely admit.

After this difficult story, editor Nobilis Reed transforms the mood completely in “Actual Size”, a bawdy tale featuring hypnotism, ménage and self-expanding breasts. He takes the anthology theme more literally than many of the other contributors, balancing philosophy with raunchy physicality. His other story later in the volume, “Explosion”, features psychological transformation, as the fallout from a mysterious blast turns women into insatiable, demanding dominants.

In Xan West's “Ready”, an uncertain young man trusts his rough but loving Daddy to take him where he needs to go. I'd read this story before and loved it. I found it every bit as intense and poignant upon rereading.

Ann Regentin's “Meltdown” is more an essay than a story. In luminous prose, she draws an extended comparison between the ruined, twisted environs of Chernobyl and her own experience of sexuality mutated by disability. Defying expectations, she paints her life as fundamentally changed but not necessarily diminished.

I, too, have stabilized, and I think I seem asexual to most people, just as Chernobyl seems quiet under its concrete lid. Who would imagine a disabled woman otherwise?

But in solitude, I have gone feral, able to give in to every desire, and fiercely defensive of my territory. Female sexuality is a powerful force, one that most cultures put enormous time and effort into controlling, and mine is now unchecked. It can go anywhere it wants, burning through what was supposed to contain it, consuming everything manmade and transforming into something no one has ever seen before, including me.

Several of the stories feature science fiction themes. Peter Tupper's “Upgrade” envisions an increasingly depopulated world as humans elect to “upgrade” their consciousness, transferring their memories and cognitive processes to a sort of group mind. Two late adopters – strangers - come together for a last, wistful coupling before relinquishing their physical bodies and their separateness.

“Feast of the Incarnations” by Gayle Straun is a wildly imaginative political fable of corrupting power and liberating sexuality, where the ruling class do nightly backups of their consciousness so that they can be reincarnated in the event of their assassination.

The book includes several stories about shape shifting: ancient vampires in Skylar Sinclair's “Love Everlasting,” werewolves in Mildred Cady's “Three Moons,” finned and scaled mer-creatures in Jhada Addams' “Water Shaman.” Meanwhile, Kissiah Aiken's “Transformative” deals with a real world shape shift, as the narrator crosses genders from female to male – and then realizes this is only the first stage in her change. 

Possibly the most erotic tale in the mix is the lovely “Unlock My Heart”, by R. Taylor, about a female automaton, created as a servant for humans, seeking her one true mate.

She knew her lock by heart, having examined it with mirrors and fingers often. It was set low in her abdomen, decorated with silver filigree that stood out against the deep purple of her ceramic skin. It had a rounded upper opening extending to a long rectangular hole, seven tumblers waiting inside to be depressed by the properly-shaped key. The man gazed at her lock as his key extended with a small grating sound. It seemed to be a match, with its curved top and oblong base, and crenellations that looked as though they would fit into hers. But only the test would tell.

The ending of this story took me by surprise – but then, pleasurable surprise was a common experience for me while I was reading this volume.

If you're looking for a whole book full of stories about the specific kinks that push your buttons, you might find Coming Together: In Flux a disappointment. If you're more like me, capable of being aroused by a novel premise or a stunning sentence, buy this book.

All profits from the sale of Coming Together: In Flux benefit the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.

Coming Together: Through the StormComing Together: Through the Storm
Edited By: Nicole Gestalt
Coming Together
ISBN: 1494982056
January 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

On November 8, 2013, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded slammed into the southern islands of the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan created a storm surge as powerful as a tsunami, a giant wave that more or less wiped the city of Tacloban off the map. Over six thousand people are confirmed dead, with many people still missing and bodies still being found, months later. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless and without resources. The Philippines is a poor country, compared to the U.S., Europe and even the Southeast Asian state where I live. Haiyan's victims started with little, but many now have nothing.

In response to this catastrophe, Coming Together, the original home of altruistic erotica, rallied the faithful to put together a brand new anthology, Coming Together: Through the Storm. Edited by Nicole Gestalt, this volume collects thirteen tales exploring the erotic possibilities of weather. Hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms and heat waves serve as the backdrop for a delightfully varied range of sexual adventures.

Teresa Noelle Roberts has two stories in the book, and they're both among my favorites. In “Storm Surge,” a couple who share a dangerous addiction to difficult weather head out to Cape Cod to experience the fury of a Nor'easter – and their own passion. “Country Pleasures” takes its protagonists to a country castle in rainy Ireland, where they discover the sensual aspects of rubber – as in rubber raincoats!

Spencer Dryden's “Storm Across the Prairie” unfolds in Tornado Alley, where the narrator rescues a stubbornly independent young lady in a tent from the ravages of a “Nebraska gully washer.” This was the only story in the collection taking a male point of view. The narrator's voice is wry and engaging.

There's nothing that gets me in the mood for sex like the sound of rain on the roof of a motor home.

“Everything gets you in the mood for sex,” my wife Linda chimes, hearing me trying to dictate a story with this new fangled device.

“Thunder,” by Karenna Colcroft, gives the theme of storm-enhanced arousal a bit of a paranormal twist, while Skilja Peregrinarius creates an entire new world wracked by vicious winds in the richly detailed fantasy “Inside the Eye.”

Several luscious lesbian tales add to the mix. Annabeth Long's “Sinkhole” is about getting muddy, letting go, and learning to trust yourself and your desires. Ice barely helps to cool Brantwijn Serrah's heroines who escape to the roof “In the Heat of the Night.” “Duet” by Lady Grey portrays the deliciously ambiguous coming together of two very different women as rain pummels their roof.

Appropriately, two stories focus on the devastation and disorientation wrought by a hurricane. Leigh Ellwood's “And Lily Makes Three” illustrates how the passions of nature can inflame those of her creatures. “Take Me Like a Hurricane” by Naomi Bellina takes place after the wrath of nature is spent, when electric power is spotty, food, water and air conditioning are scarce, and tempers are short. A man and woman both claim the last available motel room and end up sharing more than just accommodation.

Of course, authors have often used weather as a metaphor for human emotion. Like weather, sexual passion can be violent, disturbing, even frightening. Both can irrevocably change the world. This collection captures that truth.

All proceeds from Coming Together: Through the Storm support the Mercy Corps, one of the charities working in the Philippines and elsewhere to help victims recover from natural disasters. However, this arousing collection would be worth buying even without the altruistic motivation.

By: Charlotte Stein
Accent Press Ltd.
ISBN: 1907016449
January 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

As any devoted reader or author of erotica knows, complementary fantasies are a potent aphrodisiac. Dom and sub, voyeur and exhibitionist, butch and femme - whatever the pairing, it's an incredible rush to realize that by satisfying your personal kink, you're giving your partner exactly what he or she desires. Charlotte Stein's original and arousing novel Control uses this dynamic to wonderful effect. In Control, two rather quirky and twisted individuals gradually discover the erotic power of their mirror-image desires.

Madison is the introspective, insecure, perpetually horny proprietress of Wicked Words, a bookstore that specializes in erotica.  She's a woman who lives as much in her mind as in her body, fiercely determined to chart her own course in life, yet puzzled by her seeming inability to commit to a relationship. When she hires shy, nerdy Gabriel Kauffman as a shop assistant, she tries to convince herself that it's an intellectual decision. After all, she could scarcely hire the other applicant, Andy, who somehow managed to fuck her during his job interview. Despite Gabe's social awkwardness and bookish appearance, he stimulates Maddie's fertile imagination to the point where she can't leave him alone.

Gabe Kauffman is the most anti-alpha hero I've ever encountered. He's big and rather clumsy, with thick glasses, heavy eyebrows and tons of body hair.  A thirty year old virgin, he was brought up so strictly by his possibly schizophrenic parents that he's been permanently warped.  At the same time, he's obsessed with sex, a diligent student of dirty books who, as he puts it, is good at putting theory into practice. I adored him.

As Madison teases and flirts with poor Gabe, she begins to understand his desires: to be controlled, "forced" to do things he's afraid to try on his own, pushed beyond the limits imposed by his strange history.  Meanwhile, she discovers that taking what she wants coincides almost exactly with giving Gabe what he craves. They're perfectly matched. Every encounter - even those in which cocky, ambi-sexual Andy plays a role - brings them closer. Yet Madison almost loses Gabe when she underestimates his deep-seated lack of confidence in himself.

The description above might suggest that Control is BDSM erotica. It's true that the book includes a bit of spanking, some humiliation, and lots of power games. The interactions, though, are not really typical of the BDSM genre. Maddie's far too much at the mercy of her emotions and physical reactions to be a true top. She really has no idea what she's doing; she's just following her instincts. Her scenes with Gabe rely on inspiration and intuition, and she's as much a slave to her arousal as Gabe.

Control is written in the first person present tense.   The intimate perspective allows Ms. Stein to mix sensory detail with minds-eye fantasy.  Ms. Stein has a breathless, dizzy, stream-of-consciousness style that conveys a sense of urgency. Madison is a sharp observer, marking every subtle shift in Gabriel's behavior and mood.  The sex in Control is fabulously complex and nuanced as a result. Madison is unbearably turned on, most of the time, and you will be too.

He doesn't try to fuck me, however.  No - I guess he can't wait for that. He just ruts against me - first over my back and the firm swell of my arse, and then... oh then. He fumbles and finds the cleft between, and suddenly increases the frantic, jerking pace.

I just lie there, and let him. Mainly because I can't believe that the slick feel of his prick between the cheeks of my arse, rubbing and rutting, filthily, actually manages to thrill arousal through me. After that huge orgasm. Still.

'Is this OK, is it OK?' he asks, but it's a minute after he's started and his voice is so up and down that I can't take it seriously. I'm right not to, too, because almost at the same time as those words, his body locks against mine. He grunts so gutturally, it sets my hair on end.

And then I feel the hot spurt of his come, all over my arse and my lower back. Which feels so delicious and dirty, I bite my lip and try not to wonder when he'll be up for another round.  I'm guessing it's not going to be soon, because a second after he's done it all over me, he apologises. He apologises for making a mess. For fucking...whatever it was that he fucked.

At which I definitely want to do it all over again. Immediately. Continually. For ever.

Seriously - when can we do it again, for ever?

The book has a happy ending. Madison and Gabriel declare their mutual love and even consider living together. Don't let the romantic elements fool you. Control is twisted, filthy, and deliciously perverse - in the tradition of all great erotica. For Maddie and Gabe, sexual connection leads to love rather than the other way around.  
With Control, Charlotte Stein has penned an intelligent, funny, perceptive and hugely enjoyable novel. If you like steamy, messy, creative sex involving characters that defy the stereotypes, get yourself a copy today!

Dangerous PleasuresDangerous Pleasures
By: Fiona Zedde
ISBN: 0758217404
January 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

The first few pages in any book are critical. In those pages, an author must grab the reader's attention, stimulate her curiosity, and motivate her to continue reading by previewing both the characters and the author's style.

Dangerous Pleasures by Fiona Zedde opens with a reasonably promising line:

You should fall to your knees and thank God that you're single again.

However, the page that follows this opening would have discouraged me from reading any further, if I had not been committed to writing a review.  That page was the most egregious example of confusing POV shifts that I have encountered in years. Two female characters are conversing. The point of view switches from one to the other in each paragraph, without any cues or warning. I had to read the page four times before I could come up with a consistent hypothesis about who was saying and thinking what. Not an auspicious beginning.

Fortunately, I noticed far fewer problems of this sort as I got further into the book. However, I can't deny that my first impressions of Ms. Zedde's writing were tarnished by this experience.

Dangerous Pleasures focuses on the sexual and emotional quests of two twenty-something women who have been best friends since their childhood. Mayson is a free-spirited lesbian who owns and operates a yoga studio.  Renee, an artist at an advertising agency, is newly divorced after four years of marriage to Linc, a man who (we are told) claimed she was frigid and tried to remake her according to his preferences rather than allowing her to be herself.  Renee feels lost and unsure where to turn after  extricating herself from her damaging relationship. Mayson encourages Renee to indulge in some no-strings-attached sexual liaisons in order to satisfy her physical needs, build her self-esteem, and get Linc out of her system.

Mayson practices what she preaches; much of the book is devoted to her steamy encounters with the voluptuous, horny women who happen across her path. Meanwhile, urged on by the far more self-confident Mayson, Renee places a personal ad and begins to meet strange men in hotel rooms, seeking physical pleasure without any kind of emotional connection. She carries anonymity to extremes, insisting that her couplings take place in complete darkness or wearing a blindfold in order to remain ignorant of her partner's appearance and identity.

Ms. Zedde proves adept at penning intense sex scenes, both heterosexual and lesbian. Mayson's and Renee's sexual adventures are by far the most involving aspect of the novel - a positive point since sex probably takes up at least 50% of the book's pages. It takes considerable skill to interest me in a sexual encounter without commitment or emotional involvement. When nothing is at stake beyond a few orgasms, I tend to find sex boring. Fiona Zedde succeeded in holding my attention.
In other respects, I found the book less successful. The episodic plot wanders from one sexual adventure to another, switching from Renee to Mayson and back, without any clearly defined conflict. Then, quite suddenly, a challenge arises and the plot resolves itself in a twist that I found difficult to believe. I don't want to give away the ending, but I think it's fair to say that despite all the recreational sex in the book, by its conclusion Dangerous Pleasures feels very much like a romance, with all that entails.

Before I conclude this review, I would like to mention the back blurb. The blurb focuses completely on Renee's heterosexual experiments and implies a focus on BDSM (which does not appear, by the way). It neither mentions Mayson nor hints that the book includes a great deal of lesbian sex. Now, I am not the sort of reader who picks her books based solely on their sexual orientation. While I may have enjoyed the lesbian erotic content more than any other aspect of the book, I know from listening to readers on reader lists that some women (and this is a woman’s book) find female/female interactions distasteful. It is my impression that the Dangerous Pleasures blurb is misleading and borders on false advertising. Kensington may find itself with some irate purchasers.

In summary, Dangerous Pleasures offers steamy sex between beautiful people and a happy ending. While danger doesn’t really materialize, there is plenty of pleasure. If you’re looking for an uncomplicated read, you may enjoy this book.

Dangerously HappyDangerously Happy
By: Varian Krylov
Amazon Digital
May 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

When people start throwing around labels like “gay,” “straight,” or “bi,” I hold on to the conviction that most of us are attracted more to individuals than to a specific gender. This proposition can feel threatening to some, suggesting as it does that one might stray from a comfortably heterosexual life over to some unpredictable dark side if one met the right person. Nevertheless, I believe it's true. Teenage circle jerks with buddies; girlhood crushes; wine-drenched, one-of-a-kind evenings where you end up in bed with your best friend of the same gender; we tend to discount these experiences as flukes, but to me they demonstrate the flexible nature of sexual attraction, as well as how thoroughly it may be entangled with other emotions.

Rarely have I read a book that conveys this truth as effectively as Varian Krylov's Dangerously Happy.

Aidan is a shy, struggling musician, working a cubicle job to make ends meet while writing his songs and performing with a couple of bands. He's totally straight; he's had plenty of women as lovers including two serious relationships, one of which almost ended in marriage. Nevertheless, he's fascinated (and somewhat intimidated) by Dario, the owner of the vast downtown loft that serves as weekend gallery, theater and party space for a crowd of arty friends. Dario, a successful novelist, is handsome, articulate, and self-confident. “He was the one who looked like a rock star despite the fact that he was the writer and I was the musician... More than all that, it was how people always seem to hang on every word of his as if he were Socrates or the Dalai Lama or something, unless the cluster of acolytes in his orbit was bursting into sudden laughter at some witty remark of his...”

Weekend after weekend, Aidan's band plays for the impromptu gatherings in Dario's space. During the week, Dario invites the band to use the loft as rehearsal space. The charismatic author acts cordial with Aidan, but always a bit distant. Aidan wonders why after nearly three years of knowing one another, they're not closer friends. 

Then one evening, Aidan shows up for rehearsal to discover that the other band members have canceled. Face to face with Dario, without a crowd to act as a buffer, Aidan feels the other man's magnetism more strongly than ever. Aidan plays one of his songs for Dario. Dario offers Aidan one of his stories to read. “It's … vaguely pornographic,” he warns.  “In the most literary sense of course.” Aidan finds himself becoming aroused by the gay erotic tale and is terrified to realize there is a sexual dimension to Dario's appeal. The writer confesses that he's been attracted to Aidan for a long time – that his cool demeanor has been a compensatory strategy to avoid scaring Aidan away.

The two men begin a relationship – fierce, ecstatic, tender and profound. Their carnal connection goes beyond anything Aidan has ever known, but sex is only a part of what draws them together. Aidan finds he's “dangerously happy” as he struggles to accept his own homoerotic desires and to cope with Dario's wounded past.

The novel focuses on the development of Aidan's and Dario's relationship, with all its challenges and reversals. In this sense, it has something in common with a romance. However, both the barriers that divide them from one another and the acts that demolish those barriers are sexual. Violently raped as a youth, Dario has a paradoxical attraction to D/s power games. He initiates Aidan into bondage but the inexperienced musician misinterprets his lover's desires, jeopardizing their future. Dario makes rash decisions that similarly imperil their love. Each crisis brings them closer to one another but sometimes at great emotional cost. Still, they persevere, determined to surmount the obstacles created by societal attitudes and personal history.

I enjoyed reading Dangerously Happy. With their insecurities and their secrets, the characters are convincingly real. Mr. Krylov is skilled at evoking emotional nuances as well as the physical aspects of sex. The first person narrative, from Aidan's perspective, provides an intimate sense of both his joy and his confusion. 

Readers looking for plot-driven fiction might be disappointed by this novel. Most of what happens involves shifts and realignments of the relationship between the two main protagonists. Also there's one segment – when Dario invites his female friend Vera to join them for a threesome – that felt gratuitous and artificial to me, mostly because of the extreme BDSM involved. While I could imagine Dario wanting to fulfill Aidan's sexual desire for a woman, I couldn't believe that a neophyte like Aidan would participate so readily in dominating a stranger.

The three way scenes with Xavier, on the other hand – a hulking Dom with whom Dario also has a prior history – felt genuine. Xavi recognizes and adapts to Aidan's inexperience in a plausible way. Furthermore, Xavi plays an important role later in the plot.

Overall, I strongly recommend this intelligent, sensitive novel about love that transcends labels. Although Dangerously Happy is distinctly different from the rough, anonymous, physically focused interactions that characterize some gay erotica, I found it both arousing and emotionally satisfying.

Dark Secret Love: A Story of SubmissionDark Secret Love: A Story of Submission
By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573449563
September 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Some men just know.

Thus begins Alison Tyler's scorchingly honest memoir, appropriately titled “A Story of Submission.” Her prologue continues: “I've been lucky enough to find those men several times in my life.”

Dark Secret Love chronicles Ms. Tyler's journey through relationships with several dominants, as she struggles to accept her own needs for punishment and for pain. She was only eighteen when she met her first Dom – no virgin, but well aware already that “normal” sex didn't really satisfy her.  “I didn't need to tell him anything,” she writes. “He saw me and gave me his number scrawled on a paper napkin. Call me, was all it said.”

To be so transparent to a Master – to be recognized for what you are and what you crave – in fact, not only recognized but approved and valued – is a heady experience for a submissive. (I can testify from personal experience.) No ordinary person would have guessed the author harbored the dark and deviant fantasies that consumed her. In her teens and twenties, Ms. Tyler (or maybe I can call her Alison, after the intimate confessions in this book) was smart, witty, self-confident, petite and pretty, responsible and hard working, a good girl in every way. Nobody would have guessed that she wanted to be beaten, used, humiliated, punished – that all her fantasies involved pain, that (in the words forced from her by one of her Doms) “It has to hurt.”

Nobody, that is, except those few men who in fact could give her what she needed. First there was Brock, the motorcycle-riding petty crook ten years her senior:

I have a photo of him following a night of no sleep. He's wearing black jeans and no shirt under an open blazer and he's smoking a cigarette, but barely, the butt dangling from his lower lip. He has that insolent fuck you look that has always made me wet in a minute.

Then, after she moved in with her rich, narcissistic, hopelessly vanilla fiancé Byron, there was Connor, young, brash and California blond. Ultimately, her raw, stolen moments with Connor are the reason Byron throws her out on the street, not even allowing her access to her clothing.

Once she's free (or perhaps “set adrift” would be more appropriate), Connor arrives at her door with flowers. And a crop.

Alison's account of her three years with Byron will be enough to convince you that the skeleton of this tale is true. No one would fabricate such a stupid decision as to move in with a guy like him. Still, you can understand her motivations to some extent as a desperate attempt to be normal and socially acceptable. Externally Byron was everything a woman should want. Furthermore, as one of her Doms points out later, she did submit to him, for three years, wearing the clothing he chose, decorating his house the way he liked, suppressing her real self in a (hopeless) attempt to please him.

However, to paraphrase Shakespeare, kink will tell.

Connor leaves for Georgia, to pursue his own dreams. Alison stays behind in LA. (“We didn't have love. We had lust.”) Sleeping on a couch in the group apartment of a friend of a friend, the author gets involved with her two male roommates, Garrett and Nate. Both turn out to be well-practiced dominants, though Alison goes far deeper with Nate. This is one episode that felt fictional to me. Perhaps the ratio of dominants to the general population is significantly higher in Los Angeles than the rest of the world, but honestly, what are the chances both guys you're living with are hot, kinky, and skilled in the dominant arts? As well as kind and supportive?

Of course, maybe the author was more fortunate than most of us.

Finally, Alison encounters Jack, a steel-willed, frightfully powerful, intermittently cruel older man who not only sees what she needs, but forces her to admit it.

“Say it. I want to hear you say it.”

A deep, shaking breath. “This isn't punishment.”

“What isn't?”

Eyes shut tight now. “The fact that you're going to use your belt on me.”

“I'm going to whip you.”

Oh, Jesus, please.

“You're going to whip me,” I repeat obediently. “But it's not a punishment. It's a reward.”


“Because I need it.” I choked on the statement, so difficult to admit, so hard to confess.

Jack brought his mouth close to my cheek then, kissed me fiercely, and when he spoke, his words were so soft I could barely hear them. “Don't worry so much, Sam. I need it, too.”

Jack strips away whatever shreds of normality the author has left. He insists that she be absolutely faithful and obey him without question. He punishes her when she's resistant or disobedient – and when she's not. He's more extreme and more manipulative than I would ever want in a Dom, but somehow he's exactly the Master the author has always dreamed of. Dark Secret Love has a happily ever after (apparently, at least), of a peculiarly difficult sort that only BDSM aficionados will appreciate.

I believe this book. I've read many of Alison's short stories, and I recognized the scenarios from some of my favorites. We erotica authors all mine our pasts for fictional material. Now I understand why those brief tales felt so intense. They're slices of life, in the truest sense.

In addition to relating Alison's voyage of sexual discovery, Dark Secret Love also documents the history of her distinguished career as an author. She has written “forever” but only under Nate's benevolent dictatorship does she manage to actually finish a novel and submit her work. Writing has always been easy for her. She's merely capturing the events and revelations as they occur:

And when we were done, if I wasn't too drained (or if he had decided to undo the straps holding me to his bed), I'd head back to my notebook and write it all down. You want to know how I can still remember different nuances, subtle lighting, scents, changes in the weather, the way the cool metal of his cuffs felt on my skin, the way I felt when I heard other girls' voices on the answering machine? That's simple. I recorded it all. Every important moment.

Later, Jack gives her rare permission to travel to New York on her own, to meet with publishers and editors, a thrilling experience that marks her transition from amateur to professional. Indeed, all her dominants support her literary aspirations. I'm very grateful.

If you're tired of the dozens of stories that whitewash BDSM – tales where the sub has more orgasms than stripes, where the first Master who recognizes her as a “natural submissive” turns out be her soul mate, where her fear disappears with the first mild slap on her bare ass – check out this book. Ms. Tyler makes it clear that being a submissive isn't necessarily easy. It's a process of growth. It may take years to unequivocally accept your own dark fantasies and be willing to live them without embarrassment or regret.

Darker Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of RomanceDarker Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of Romance
Edited By: Mitzi Szereto
Tempted Romance
ISBN: 1940550009
December 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Madness. Darkness. Death, and what might lie beyond. Gothic fiction takes us to the edge of comfort, icing our wonder with a blast of cold terror as we confront the unknown – including the unplumbed depths of our own own hidden desires.

Mitzi Szereto’s latest anthology marries the tropes of the Gothic genre with graphic erotic content. The results are surprisingly varied, transcending the clichés of windswept moors, haunted mansions and buried crypts to provide some impressively original tales.

Possibly the most startling is Benji Bright’s “Blood Soup.” An exacting master chef concocts daily feasts for his reclusive noble employer, whom he has never met. The extraordinary repast he concocts from cow’s blood brings a summons, a moment of shared release and the revelation of secrets. I loved the twisted logic in this tale, laced with somber power.

Another standout tale is “The Wildest Spirit,” by Sacchi Green. Two beings on the edges of society, both scarred by their wild abilities, find common cause and unexpected passion when they try to stop the deliberate slaughter of coyotes. With its simple, concrete language, this eloquent story has some of the flavor of a fairy tale, but it’s not at all clear a happily-ever-after awaits the characters.

Ms. Szereto’s own contribution, “The Dracula Club,” is a delight. 

I knew early on that my calling to the Old Country was not the result of some youthful fancy, which was how my family, schoolmates and teachers had always dismissed it. There’s not a huge amount of interest in Transylvania where I’m from, nor is there a huge amount of interest in Goth culture. Everyone thought I was crazy to be working all hours answering phones in a grubby warehouse office in the daytime (where no one had to look at me), then serving up greasy fast food and watery ice cream at the Dairy Queen in the evening (where I could be seen, but the country bumpkins and hot-rodding juvies were usually too drunk on cheap beer to care).

But I had a plan—and it was to save up enough money to fund my trip to Romania and have a bit left over to keep me going until I figured out how to earn a living. What did I care what the local yokels thought of me or my goals? I’d always been an outcast with my dyed black hair and my face and body piercings, my heavy black eye makeup and weird black clothes. The only people back home who dressed in black were the Amish—and they sure as hell weren’t Goth.

In a grimy Transylvanian pub, the narrator meets two gorgeous Gypsy boys – Dragos and Bela – and gives herself completely into their hands – both literally and figuratively. Their smutty, uninhibited three-way couplings are among the most erotic scenes in the book. Meanwhile, bit-by-bit, the beautiful Gypsies lead the transplanted Goth girl toward her dark destiny. She’s more than willing to follow.

T.C. Mills’ “The Wicked Wife” provides a fevered modern-day reading of Bluebeard that definitely got my blood boiling. “Reynolds’s Tale” by Adrian Ludens features Edgar Allen Poe as a character, and is written in a style reminiscent of that master of horror. Rose de Fer’s “Moonfall” gives us a Victorian werewolf, incarcerated in an asylum for the insane by her evil husband and rescued by her mortal lover. “Zapada Alba” by Tracey Lander-Garett is another shape-shifting tale, told in lush, sensual prose.  Gary Earl Ross’s “Sister Bessie’s Boys” is a surprisingly sweet ghost story with a strong sense of place.

I would not, by the way, call this collection romance, at least not in the modern sense – but I guess that’s necessary these days to sell books. In perhaps half of the stories, requited desire leads to the promise of a future as a couple. The others are, thankfully, far more ambiguous. 

Darker Edge of Desire offer vampires, were-creatures, demons and succubi – but don’t expect them to follow the rules of popular fiction.  Overall, Mitzi Szereto has assembled a strong and diverse collection that showcases the creativity of her contributors.


Divine TormentDivine Torment
By: Janine Ashbless
Virgin Black Lace
ISBN: 0352341513
October, 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

A year ago, I reviewed Janine Ashbless’ Burning Bright, the sequel to Divine Torment. At the time, I commented that I was curious regarding the main characters’ history. In Burning Bright, we learn that both Myrna and Veraine had betrayed their peoples and their destinies for the sake of love, but little more. Thus I was delighted to receive an invitation to read the volume that details the adventure that brought Myrna and Veraine together.

In Divine Torment, the warrior Veraine, scion of a great general of the Irolian empire and a slave girl, is dispatched with his army to protect the vassal city Mulhanabin from the devastating attacks of a fierce Mongol-like horde of nomads. Mulhanabin, an ancient stone edifice at the edge of the desert, is the demesne of the Malia Shah, the Yamani goddess of destruction, pestilence and chaos.

The latest incarnation of the Malia Shah is a copper-haired, dark-skinned girl trained to disregard both pain and pleasure in her quest to escape from the cycles of rebirth. She becomes Veraine’s obsession from the moment he sees her, yet she appears to be serious and aloof, insulated from mortal concerns. Whether performing ceremonies of human sacrifice or enduring the disgusting worship of the eunuch head priest Rasa Belit, she remains unmoved. Yet she dreams of overwhelming passion in the arms of the Sun, experiencing in her visions the annihilation of individuality that is the essence of godhead.

Not much happens after Veraine arrives. The Horse-Eaters attack the temple-city and Veraine’s army, though desperately outnumbered, defeats them, assisted by an earthquake invoked by the Malia Shah. Rasa Belit attempts to murder Veraine and of course fails. Veraine witnesses the Malia Shah’s bloodthirsty rituals, yet his horror is not sufficient to kill his desire. Finally, the two fated lovers come together, in a marathon coupling that leaves them bruised and sore, yet completely unsated.

Only when they are discovered does it become clear that both of them have thrown away their present lives for the sake of their love. The goddess, caught in the blasphemous act of fucking a mortal, is interred in her room and left to die slowly. Rasa Belit prepares to carve up Veraine’s genitals, slice by tiny slice.

I will not reveal any more of the plot, although the existence of the sequel obviously means that both protagonists survive.

I have very mixed feeling about Divine Torment. The early chapters are bland and lack coherent structure. Random sex scenes occur to liven things up, but the plot seems to limp. The Malia Shah is more an absence than a character. Her primary attribute is her cultivated lack of emotion, which makes her seem other-worldly but hardly the figure to ignite such desire in an experienced cocksman like Veraine. Of course, they are destined soul-mates, so perhaps no justification is required. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to care about his obsession because it seemed arbitrary and implausible.

The last seventy five pages, on the other hand, pulse with passion and drama. When Veraine and the Malia Shah are torn apart, the full weight of their choice and its consequences crashes down upon the reader. The worst aspect of their individual punishments is their separation. This is high romance, well-executed, with the emotional intensity that I’d been waiting for through the earlier sections of the book.

In my review of Burning Bright, I praised Ms. Ashbless’ ability to vividly portray differing cultures and exotic locales. Divine Torment does not measure up in this regard. I never really developed a clear sense of the temple and its precincts. Although Mulhanabin lies in the desert, I never felt the dryness in my nostrils, suffered under the parching sun, saw the dust swirling in the narrow lanes of the city. The religion of Mulhanabin borrows heavily from the Hindu cult of Kali. It was audacious of the author to make her goddess frightful and cruel rather than beneficent, but the theology is hardly original.

And yet, when I go back and re-read selected passages of the novel, I find thoughtful, well-crafted prose. I don’t fully understand why my overall reaction is so luke-warm:

"I feel the fly tickling across my thumb onto the back of my hand. The sensation is like a line of light drawn across a dark place; I can’t ignore it. The feeling is there. It is an insect, so I should be irritated and flick it away. But if it were not an insect, if that same sensation were a fingertip drawn across my skin by a man, would it be pleasure I felt instead of irritation? It depends on which man. The meaning is not in the feeling, it is in my response."
. . .
He is not the master of his flesh. He has not learned that significance is a habit of mind. I was taught long ago that it is not necessary to give meaning to sensation. Pain does not matter any more than pleasure. Lust is not more significant than an insect itch. The marks on the scroll do not have to be words. If you look at them, they are just marks.

But, she thought, the poem is beautiful.

I do not want it to be lost when the priests die."

I leaf through the book and find pages like this, quiet and glowing insights into the mind and heart of the girl-goddess. Perhaps it is because they are so quiet that they made so little impression, on my first reading. Perhaps it is because they are scattered, unpredictable, among the rough actions and unreflective decisions of the brave but somewhat boorish Veraine.

Perhaps if I reread the book from the start, I’d find more that I missed.

As this is an erotica review site, I probably should say something about the sex scenes in Divine Torment. What shall I say? The first such scene in the book, a frolic involving Veraine and two slave girls, screams “gratuitous sex”. It neither furthers the plot nor reveals character. Other scenes have more to redeem them. The second, a tale of sexual discovery and torment recounted by Veraine’s cultural attaché Rumayn, has the virtues of illuminating Yamani superstition and cruelty. There is a male-male scene, in which Veraine inflicts his frustrated lust upon his handsome and willing chariot driver, and a breathlessly intense coupling between Veraine and the Malia Shah that turns out to be a dream. There is a brothel scene, and a prison/bondage scene, and a wonderfully kinky and repulsive scene in which the high priest grovels at the goddess’ feet. If you are looking for sex, this book offers quite a bit, but in some cases it is not well integrated with the plot.

Finally, I am left with confused impressions: searing passion and mundane lust, unearthly wisdom and ordinary confusion, divine fate and mortal blindness. I think I must recommend that readers form their own opinions.

Dragon CandyDragon Candy
By: Talia Skye
Silver Moon Books Ltd, Gainsborough
ISBN: 1903687888
April, 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I am basically a kind person. I believe in the Golden Rule, or put another way, in karma. What goes around comes around. I’m convinced that simple courtesy could solve quite a few of the world’s problems. So, I hate to write a profoundly negative review. An author myself, I can vividly imagine how I’d feel if the tables were turned.

Unfortunately, having committed to reviewing Dragon Candy by Talia Skye, I have little choice.

To put it simply, Dragon Candy is the most poorly written book that I have read in at least five years. Ms. Skye’s frequent errors in sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary make me wonder whatever inspired her to turn her hand to writing. Her prose suffers from overuse of the passive voice, run-on sentences, participles without a subject, overblown description and incorrect word choices. Allow me to provide some examples.

“The two individuals became extremely agitated and the angry tones in their voices gave sudden cause for concern. Addressing them in the fragmented Japanese she had been encouraged to learn for business dealings, the conversation suddenly ended and the transmission was cut off at the source.” (page 10)

“The blank gaze of the beast was almost lost beneath a knotted frown and it snarled as she pawed vainly at the strangling grip. One hand let go and returned as a balled fist that sent knuckles dancing across her temple. The impact jerked her head aside and dazed her so severely that she could offer no resistance to its next vindictive action. With a whirling turn, the monster threw her against into the wall. A brittle crunch sounded and it was followed by a soft crumpling thump as Candice folded into a slack heap, her consciousness expelled by the collision.” (page 15)

“Candice bit her lip and held back a wanton cry. The feeling of him charging into her bound and owned body was surprisingly intense. When he nudged to her deepest recesses she broke into a quivering fit and gasped for breath. Her legs curled up and locked around him. Her thighs tightened in fits as he began to shift his hindquarters and thus commence a dilatory ravishment.” (page 42)

I wish I could say that these are extreme examples, but they represent only a few of the painfully contorted and obscure passages that I marked while reading.

Dragon Candy is billed as a BDSM novel, so I was hoping that the novel’s content would distract me from the terrible writing style. Alas, the book offers a not-very-original rehash of John Norman’s Gorean themes, mostly without the philosophy. Candice, a powerful and successful businesswoman, is swept by a mysterious vortex into a savage parallel world where she has value only as a slave and rather suddenly discovers that she is a submissive and masochist.

Ms. Skye spends considerable attention describing the restraints and bondage devices inflicted on her heroine. Unfortunately, her descriptions are so confusing and difficult to follow that in most cases I could not visualize the physical situations at all. My personal taste in BDSM runs more toward the psychological than the physical, but I realize that some people become highly aroused by descriptions of extreme physical abuse. Perhaps those readers would enjoy Dragon Candy – if they can follow what is going on.

There is one scene in this novel that, despite all odds, I found intriguing, even arousing. Candice (now known as Candy) has become a favored slave of the Kami, a society of sadistic half-gods. In an intense session with the Lady Uzume and her henchman, Candy finds herself so overwhelmed by masochistic desire that she begs her tormenters for more punishment. She experiences the ultimate satisfaction in pleasing her masters, by enduring ever more intense pain. The dynamic was sufficiently genuine to pull me into the scene, despite the writing.

Alas, this was an isolated experience. For the most part, I struggled to get through Dragon Candy. More than once I was tempted to simply toss the book in my wastebasket. However, I have decided to keep it, in order to remind me how much grammar and vocabulary and editing matter.

I think that Ms. Skye may have some original ideas and I suspect that she personally finds BDSM arousing, which is critical to getting readers aroused. As the book neared its conclusion, and I learned more about the Kami and their politics, I began to find the story more interesting. However, if Ms. Skye wants to write additional novels, I strongly suggest that she find a writing class, a critique group, a competent editor, or all three. Writing is a craft that can be learned. In acquiring this craft, Ms. Skye has a long way to travel, but if moved by passion, perhaps she should attempt this journey.

Ekaterina and the NightEkaterina and the Night
By: Maxim Jakubowski
Xcite Books
ISBN: 190800696X
November 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

“Will you tell other women stories about me when we are over?” she asked Alexander.

He wanted to be truthful and say no, but already she knew him too well. He was who he was, and aware that the temptation would be too strong not to talk about her, to improvise tales of beauty and fury, of lust and longing, songs of adoration and missing.

This self-referential quotation encapsulates Maxim Jakubowski's latest novel – a book of tales about women, lust, love, and loss. Although ostensibly focused on the relationship between Alexander, an introspective British author, and Ekaterina, a wild-hearted Italian journalist decades his junior, Ekaterina and the Night spends at least half its time tracing these two characters' travels through the lives of other lovers and sex partners, before and after their brief, intense connection.

The novel begins with sixteen year old Ekaterina's decision to seduce her handsome, urbane tennis instructor. She considers that it's high time she discarded her virginity, but she changes her mind when confronted with the grossness of male lust.

The scene shifts to Alexander's early explorations in the world of women. Both sensual and sentimental, Alexander finds astonishing variety in the female body and soul. His heart breaks more than once as he treads the torturous paths of pleasure. Although he recognizes his own susceptibility, he still cannot resist falling for the women he fucks. 

Twenty-year-old Ekaterina meets Alexander when she interviews him for an article. No sparks fly, at least at first. A creature of words as she is, he woos her long distance with missives both tender and obscene. When they arrange an encounter, in the terminally romantic city of Venice, passion has snared them both. 

Even from the beginning, though, both protagonists seem to believe their love is doomed – by geographic and social distance and even more, by the gap of age and experience that separates them. They call themselves Lolita and Humbert, although in fact they have little in common with Nabokov's creations. The fantasy scenario of the innocent and the beast inflames them, inappropriate as it is. 

Over the course of several years, they meet, infrequently, in fabled cities – Paris, Rome, New York – share a few days of ecstasy, then part. Because they expect their love to fail, it finally does. Ekaterina cuts Alexander out of her life completely. Alexander, who craves women like an addict craves drugs, moves on to other conquests. Time marches forward – but decades cannot completely erase the marks the two have left on each other's souls. 

Ekaterina and the Night offers a third major character in Emma, the personification of the night referenced in the title. Emma is a harvester of souls, a sort of emissary or assistant to the angel of Death. Several chapters follow her as she arranges the demise of individuals she has been assigned to harvest, some of whom are minor players in the lives of Alexander or Ekaterina. Emma is extraordinarily beautiful and strangely compassionate despite her role in the universe. As the novel progresses (if one can use that term for a book that jumps back and forth in time the way this one does), Emma's trajectory has near misses with those of the other two protagonists, until finally she arrives for her appointment with the aging Alexander.

I found myself surprised at the book's rather sudden conclusion. I read it in ebook form; one characteristic of ebooks is that it's not always obvious when you're nearing the end. Based on the blurb, I expected a three-way encounter among Emma, Ekaterina and Alexander. That never happened. Instead, Ekaterina fades out of the book completely, despite her prominence in the title.

In fact, I should warn readers to ignore the blurb and the cover (a shapely, boot-clad foot with a steel cuff around the ankle), as both are totally misleading. There's no BDSM to speak of in this novel, and there's nothing particularly shocking about Alexander's and Ekaterina's relationship, as claimed by the blurb. I blame the publisher for this; I suspect people who purchase the novel based on the marketing information will be annoyed when they discover how different the reality is from the hype.

Maxim Jakubowski's style offers a refreshing change from more commercial erotic fiction. His prose is simultaneously dispassionate and full of sensory richness. One has the impression of looking through glass, imagining the smells, sounds and tastes rather than directly experiencing them. Indeed, I think the author is gazing through the lens of recollection, evoking cherished scenes from the past and filling in the details from oft-rehearsed memory – telling his favorite stories, as Ekaterina intuited that Alexander would.

As in previous books, Mr. Jakubowski lovingly describes the geographies in which his characters come together. Indeed, cities, cafés, and hotels are practically minor characters, each one distinct with its own individual personality. Occasionally I found his metaphors jarring (such as a comparison of a woman's nipple to a pizza crust), but overall his literate, observant prose is a pleasure to read.

And is Ekaterina and the Night erotic? Arousing? Yes, and no. The novel includes a great deal of sex – some tender, some raw, some brutal, some boring. The encounters range from transcendent to banal. After Alexander and Ekaterina break up, for example, she falls on hard times economically. To support herself and her lover, she works providing remote sex shows by web cam. There's a long scene in which, on camera and in return for a large amount of money, she allows herself to be taken anally for the first time. There's no pleasure or joy in this scene at all. Other chapters offer accounts of similarly disastrous, uncomfortable, or unpleasant sexual activity. These sections of the book detract from the delicious eroticism one finds elsewhere in the book.

Do not misunderstand me – this is not incompetence. I don't believe that the author intended these scenes to be arousing. Since they do not contribute much (in my opinion) to either the plot or the character development, I'm really not sure why he included them.

And did I enjoy the book? Again, I feel ambivalent. At its best, Ekaterina and the Night is a melancholy, nostalgic evocation of lost love and vanished youth, a meditation on the transforming power of sex and the connection between romance and death. At its worst, it is a set of barely connected vignettes that sometimes arouse and sometimes disgust the reader, but all too often seem rather pointless.

A reader who's looking for a traditional plot, with a core conflict, rise in tension, climax and a resolution, should probably avoid this novel. Someone seeking a more subtle emotional and intellectual experience may well enjoy it. Ekaterina and the Night isn't really a story. It's stories, plural, braided together and united by a wistful sense of remembered joy and a consciousness of mortality.

Fantasies I: Four Tales of Erotic FictionFantasies I: Four Tales of Erotic Fiction
Contributions By: Alessia Brio, Leigh Ellwood, Bridget Midway, Ann Regentin
ISBN: 1594265569
March, 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Short stories can be frustrating. Just when you're getting interested in the characters, really eager to discover what happens next, the story ends. Sometimes, too, a short tale can produce sexual frustration; there's rarely enough space for more than one steamy scene, and who can really be satisfied with just one?

Fantasies I, an eBook published by Phaze, offers a solution. This volume is comprised of four multi-chapter erotic novellas, each about sixty pages long, by four woman authors. Each can be read in a single sitting; each offers a generous helping of sexual shenanigans along with more plot and character development than could be crammed into the word limits of a typical short story.

Alessia Brio leads off with "¡Pura Vida!", a sizzling exploration of polyamorous, pansexual relationships. Charlie hasn't seen Stormy in a while, but has white-hot memories of their previous encounters. When his travel business brings him to Costa Rica to consult with Stormy about an advertising campaign, she meets Charlie at the airport with her handsome Latin assistant Pietro in tow. She makes it clear that Pietro is her lover as well as her business associate, but that doesn't bother Charlie - if anything, he finds it exciting. He's used to sexual groupings that are flexible with regard to both gender and partners, since his company back in the States is made up of individuals who tend to mix business with pleasure. In the course of this story, we don't meet Jess or Sam, while Mia and Richard are just voices on the phone, but we're told that:

"If intimacy was the sun, they orbited it like planets – each independent, but influenced by the pull of the others...While their interactions might seem seedy and tabloid-worthy to the unfamiliar, within their ranks they functioned much like a Heinlein family."

The reference here, of course, is to Heinlein's classic exposition of free love, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Stormy, Charlie and Pietro embark on a quest that takes them through the exotic landscapes of Costa Rica, trying to capture the essence of what makes the country so special as a travel destination. At the same time, they explore the sexual territory of their mutual interactions. Ms Brio treats the reader to a variety of couplings and menagés, including an intelligent, realistic and arousing scene in which Charlie and Pietro help Stormy to truly release control and simply allow her body to react. The tale climaxes with an incandescent male-male scene that is no less intense for its inevitability.

I grew up with Heinlein. I find nothing sexier than mixed gender, multi-person menagés, where inhibitions and prejudices drop away and nobody is jealous because everyone is sexually and emotionally satisfied. Hence, Ms Brio’s story strongly appealed to me. However, I felt that it suffered from excessive description and too much backstory.

Costa Rica provides an appropriately exotic backdrop for this amorous tale. Sometimes though, the author seems to forget that this is just the setting. I think she's personally in love with the place, and it shows. However, I occasionally found myself getting annoyed at all the cultural details. I wanted to focus on the action.

This story is clearly part of a series involving the same characters. There are too many references to these past adventures, including allusions to events that seem irrelevant to the current tale. It may be that Ms Brio is trying to influence her readers to go back and read the other installments. Personally, though, I think this made the current story less coherent and compelling.

The second tale in Fantasies I is Leigh Ellwood's "Midnight Passions". Colleen is a divorced single mother who's trying to balance her own sexual needs with the desire to be a responsible parent to her pre-teen daughter. Her self-centered boyfriend Daryl doesn't make life any easier, but he turns Colleen on so much that she doesn't dare to complain. She endures his crassness and sexual selfishness, until the night she discovers that he's also seeing other women. As she tries to throw him out, her rented duplex begins to rattle and shake and the air is filled with a menacing voice, ordering Daryl to leave. He scuttles away, terrified, clutching his jeans in front of his genitals.

Naked and dazed, Colleen steps out onto her front porch to survey the damage from what she supposes is an earthquake. But all is quiet. Just as she realizes that anyone in the neighborhood can see her nude body, her neighbor and landlord, Professor Spence, steps up and offers her a luxurious satin robe to cover herself. Thus begins a series of erotic surprises that ultimately bring Colleen more love and fulfillment than she had ever dreamed of.

The delightful and unexpected twists in this story are one of its best points, so I won't spoil the experience by revealing any more of the plot. All I'll say is that it involves literature, magic, and lots of sex. "Midnight Passions" turns out to be a genuinely fantastical story. The outrageous events later in the story, and its sexy fairy tale resolution, contrast sharply with the painfully mundane but realistic description of Colleen's relationship with Daryl. In fact, if I hadn't been working on a review, I might have given up the story in the face of Daryl's churlishness and Colleen's insecurity. They were just too real to be enjoyable. I'm glad that I kept reading.

"Service Recall" by Bridget Midway is the third story in this collection. This is more of a conventional romance; an impoverished, discouraged and sex starved divorceé meets the man of her dreams when she calls for a plumber to unplug her sink. Although this is familiar territory, the story is engaging and well written. Unfashionably voluptuous Carla is convincingly needy but has a bit of sass. Duke is competent, solid and warm, middle-aged attractive and believably unsure of himself. Their torrid couplings will raise your temperature, and you're guaranteed to despise cruel and sarcastic Roy (Carla's ex) and the cold, upwardly mobile Allyson (Duke's previous girlfriend).

The final tale in this volume is Ann Regentin's "Midnight Conversations". Although it includes romantic elements, this story is also a beautifully crafted exploration of individual and societal attitudes toward sex, as well as a sensitive portrayal of the effects of emotional abuse.

The story begins in the middle of a conversation between two unidentified voices:

"'He was amazing in bed. That's why I married him.'"

"'Tell me,' I said. I needed to hear as much as she needed an audience."

The story of seduction continues, the speaker and the listener both find release, and we still do not know the participants in this conversation.

Gradually Ms Regentin reveals the truth about the voices, ghosts in a house left vacant for thirty years because of its haunting. Little by little we get to know the narrator Cass, a frightened and angry woman pursued by her own ghosts. As Cass works on the old house, strips the wallpaper away and rips up linoleum to expose hardwood floors, we slowly learn more about Cass and her past and why it is so difficult for her to trust anyone. Meanwhile, the ghosts converse with her in the night, sharing their experiences of sexual highs and lows: audacious seductions, impossible attractions, extramarital affairs and forbidden loves.

Gradually, too, Tristan Millman, the former owner of the house who originally refused to sell it to her, woos Cass, tries to show her how the future could be different from the past. She resists him every step of the way, despite being drawn to his generosity, calmness and self-confidence. The story is over before the two of them actually climb into bed together. Still the growth of their mutual attraction mirrors the intensity of Cass' midnight conversations, and the result is a story at least as arousing as the three more explicit tales that precede it.

Together, the four tales in Fantasies I offer a welcome relief from short story frustration. I look forward to reading other offerings from Phaze.

Fast Girls: Erotica for WomenFast Girls: Erotica for Women
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443840
July 2010

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

When I was in high school, “fast girl” was a barely polite term for a slut—a girl who'd do anything with anyone, at any time. Unlike “slut,” however, the term carried a hint of admiration. Fast girls didn't worry about their reputations, at least not when that conflicted with their pleasure. Fast girls were brave and bold. They went places and did things that the more timid, good girls, might only dream about.

Rachel Kramer Bussel's collection Fast Girls pays tribute to this image of the girl (or woman) who is not afraid to defy convention in the quest for her own satisfaction. The theme is evocative without being too constraining. The stories that Ms. Bussel has assembled take a variety of perspectives on the concept of  “fast.” Some authors, like Jennifer Peters in “Confessions of a Kinky Shopaholic” or Kayla Perrin in “Temptation,” give us women who are willing to act on attraction to a stranger.  Others—Jacqueline Applebee in “Five-Minute Porn Star,” Tenille Brown in “Speed Bumps,” Charlotte Stein in “Married Life”—show that it's possible to be “fast” in the context of a committed relationship or even a marriage.  Angela Caperton's “Playing the Market” and Rachel Kramer Bussel's “Whore Complex” explore the forbidden allure of playing the prostitute. Kristina Wright, on the other hand, creates a heroine who gets her kicks playing on the right side of the law in “Chasing Danger.”

The Table of Contents includes many familiar names, and practically every story is worth reading. I thought I'd mention my personal favorites.

Tristan Taormino's “Winter, Summer,” the only lesbian tale in the anthology, is an exquisite tale of a bar pick-up that turns out to be much more. The unnamed femme narrator tells us at the start that her motto is Get close enough to get off. No closer. Yet the dominant butch who claims her manages to break through her frosty shell.

It was as if she had diligently studied my body and knew all its curves and tender spots by heart, like she knew the pool table: hands gliding, stroking, pressing until my soft flesh relaxed into warmth and wetness underneath her, ready to go into whatever deep pocket she was pushing me. She pulled back from me and stood studying my body with her acute, extreme eyes. Her concentration and the quietness that surrounded us were terrifying. Electric.

Stunningly beautiful and lewdly intense, this is the story that will stay with me the longest.

Another exceptional contribution is D.L. King's femdom fantasy “Let's Dance.” I have to admit that one reason I loved this tale was the fact that I know D.L. King personally—and this is a very personal story.  The narrator, an author of erotica, notices a cute guy dancing, discovers (through some first-hand exploration) that the boy's genitalia are shaved, and decides (with his enthusiastic agreement) to take him home, tie him up and flog him. The scene in Eve's loft is explicit and arousing, but what sets this story apart is the humorous, natural dialogue and the way it shows off Eve's fast girl attitude.

Once in the cab, I said, “Hey, Cute Boy, who shaved your boy parts?”

A blush began at the top of his ears and traveled to his cheeks. “Uh, I did,” he said.

“What made you decide to do something like that?” The blush spread to his forehead and neck simultaneously, and he looked at the floor of the cab. “Aw, c'mon, you can tell me.” I rested my hand on the inside of his thigh and gave him a good-natured squeeze. […]

“Well, see, I was reading this book...and the guy in it—I guess it was a dirty book...” He looked out the window at the Manhattan Bridge.  “Where do you live?”

“Brooklyn. Go on.” […]


“Don't worry about it. It's not a foreign country,” I said.

A third tale that touched me is the breathtaking D/s saga “Lessons, Slow and Painful” by Tess Danesi. The terrifying sincerity of the heroine's submissiveness struck a deep chord.   Ms. Danesi takes the “fast” in the anthology title literally. Her master punishes her for taking shortcuts, doing things too quickly.

“Beg me to cut you, Tess,” he whispers darkly. “Beg me, bitch.”

I don't hesitate. I can't pretend I don't want this. “Do it, Dar. Do it. Go on and just do it,” I reply.

“And you expect me to do it hurriedly, Tess? I don't think so,” he says, accompanied by a cruel little laugh that chills me.

And lest visitors to Erotica Revealed wonder why all my favorite stories appear to involve BDSM, let me also mention Donna George Storey's lively and intelligent “Waxing Eloquent.” The narrator, house sitting at her brother's Manhattan Beach condo and trying to break up for good with her married professor lover, ends up falling into bed with the television actor who lives next door.  She decides to get her pussy waxed in order to have the full L.A. experience (“I guess in L.A. a woman is supposed to look like Barbie with her clothes off, too.”) and discovers that the reported heightened sensitivity of a bare pubis is only the beginning.

As I ride him, slowly, then faster, I realize I am much more sensitive down there. It’s as if my time on the salon table was a kind of rough foreplay, priming me for his cock. Cody’s wiry curls chafe my tender lips, and I feel as if I’m straddling not just him, but a knife’s edge—one side is pleasure, the other sweet pain.

Okay, there's that familiar pleasure/pain dichotomy, but I swear, this story does not involve any bondage or discipline!

Cherry Bomb's brief but eloquent contribution “That Girl” seems to sum up the entire collection.

I’m a promiscuous girl…only not the way you think. Oh, I know what they say about me. I hear them back home, clamoring in judgment, their whispers. They don’t even wait until my back is turned anymore. I know what they think of me, which is why the second that you show any interest in me, any desire to get to know me, they will come to you with the same words on their lips:

“Watch out for her. She’s dangerous.”

And I guess I am. What else would you call someone like me? Someone so emotionally reckless, a dangerous fuck. I am the girl that wants everyone and everything, the girl with the uncontrollable lust and insatiable hunger.

--This is what it means, to be a fast girl. But it's not as simple as it sounds, as the authors in this collection demonstrate.

Rachel Kramer Bussel has what is likely to be another success on her hands with Fast Girls. For its variety, intensity and quality of writing, I have to give the collection two thumbs up.

Geek Love: An Anthology of Full Frontal NerdityGeek Love: An Anthology of Full Frontal Nerdity
Edited By: Shanna Germain
Contributions By: Janine Ashbless
Stone Box Press
March 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Good evening, everyone. My name is Lisabet, and I'm a geek.

Myopic as a mole, I started wearing glasses when I was seven, but, unaware of the physical requirements, I still wanted to be an astronaut. In junior high school, I won a state-wide televised science quiz show. In high school, the smartest guy in the class dumped me because he said I made him feel inadequate. For years I made my living designing and writing programs (and fixing mistakes in code written by others). Now I teach a new generation about software, trying to show them its magic – how pure ideas, expressed in a formal symbolism, are transformed into artifacts that change the world.

Shanna Germain and Janine Ashbless might very well have assembled their magnificent collection Geek Love especially for me. With more than 250 pages of erotic tales and artwork, the book  celebrates the glories of nerditude in its many guises.

We geeks may not be famous or popular, or even socially accepted, but we're not going to remake ourselves just to fit in. We may prefer books to people upon occasion. We may be obsessed by numbers or machines. We enjoy playing games, both intellectual and carnal, and we're interested not just in reality but in possibility. And although I don't  have any objective data to support this claim, my personal experience suggests there's a correlation between geekiness and kinkiness. Certainly the stories in Geek Love could be viewed as evidence for my theory.

The many dimensions of nerdity make Geek Love fabulously diverse, while still providing a general thematic unity.

Kristina Lloyd kicks off the book with “Black Gold,” an ironic tale set in a post-fossil-fuel civilization where coffee is forbidden but BDSM scenarios can be ordered off a menu more complicated than any Starbucks. Despite its hardcore action, the tale has a romantic slant that suggests some things may never change.

I've never had any personal interest in exploring the “furry” subculture, yet for some reason I found “Goodness, Her Tail,” by Camille Alexa, to be one of the most arousing stories in the book. Suzanne's mundane existence as an office girl is just a facade. She's only truly alive at night, when she dons her ears and whiskers and frolics in the park with her furry friends Mowse and Rattatle Pie. A glimpse of her co-worker Mellie's peachy-pink tail turns her world upside down, and may very well turn you on in the process.

Peter A. Smalley's “The Journey of Mary Freder” begins as a steampunk parody. In classic Victorian epistolary style, a brilliant and talented female lab assistant writes in her journal of her eagerness to prove herself to her illustrious mentor  - Dr. Sextus Halifax, an expert on pneumatic processes and electrical phenomena “recently returned from a Continental sabbatical with that Teutonic colossus of science Herr Doktor Deitrich von Grossenschaft.” The story takes a darker turn as young Mary becomes obsessed with the well-oiled brass-and-clockwork female automaton that is Dr. Halifax's life work.

In “Raid Night,” by James L. Sutter, a woman's patience with her online-game-obsessed partner finally snaps, and she finds herself taking what she wants from him – to his surprise and ultimate delight.

M. Christian's affecting and insightful story “The Hope of Cinnamon” imagines an extra-dimensional world called Stonewall, where men are free to enjoy life and one another without fear or constraints. Gen is a Helper, dedicated to assisting the Rescued –  gay men snatched from the nightmare persecution of Nazi Germany – in their adaptation to Stonewall society. His role requires him to be a mentor, a teacher, and when necessary, a lover. But  Bissou, his latest client, has important lessons to teach him in return.

“Electric” by Wendy N. Wagner is a brief, vivid peek into the mind of celibate genius Nikolas Tesla – a universe of passionate connections shot through with lightning.

Michael M. Jones conjures a geeky gal who inherits her crackpot uncle's hopelessly disordered comic books store in “The Secret Life of Ramona Lee.” Irene, a fugitive AI originally developed by the government, offers organizational assistance – incarnated as a curvy, blue-eyed brunette whom Ramona finds difficult to ignore.

“The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Is Extinct,” by Bill Nobel, offers up a trio of bio-geeks: three horny academics crammed together in a bird watching blind seeking some evidence of a rare species. I won't mention the gender of the characters because, as in many of the well-warped tales in this volume, it hardly matters.

Shanna Germain's  contribution to the collection is original, dark and haunting. One character in “Saving the World” is a transgendered amputee superhero rock star. The other is a craftsperson, a dominant, a lover, whose gender is never revealed. The action in this tale is hot violence laced with devotion. The language is lyrical, raw, and achingly beautiful:

The band behind her, they've got capes over their jeans and t-shirts. But no cape for her. It gets caught in her heels, she says, but you know it's because it covers too much of her. She likes to show off those hot-damn hips, that fine-as-rain-ass, those missing legs that end in something different every show.

Tonight  they're steel filigree from her knees down; leaves and flowers and a hundred tiny metal creatures tucked into the empty spaces. She's got a thing for whimsy wrapped in an enigma tucked into a weapon. Her legs, her feet really, end in six-inch knifed heels that could kill a man. Probably have killed a man. I don't ask most times, because I don't need to know. Sometimes she tells me anyway. And that's when I have to buy a bottle of fine-ass whiskey and walk away from her, go down to the strip where the boys play ball in corner pockets and they're all-too-happy to wield a fist to a face, a paddle to a place where the ass meets the mind.

“Downtime” by Tanya Korval would be at home in many contemporary erotica anthologies, but it fits in well enough here. A couple of young PC techs forced to work late, one a jealous dominant, the other a glutton for punishment, especially when exhibitionism is involved... use your imagination. They do.

“The Pornographer's Assistant” by A.C. Wise is another mesmerizing tale about the word made flesh. A robot amanuensis buried in a desert bunker awaits her long-dead master, whose tales of fleshly excess she used to transcribe. Instead, a desperate, broken girl finds her way to the pornographer's hidden lair and is healed by the power of the pen. 

Craig Sorensen's “Opening Juicy Lucy” includes no robots or electronic marvels, just a geeky college guy who receives an unexpected and intimate request from the cheerleader queen he thought barely knew his name. Like most of Craig's stories, this one features complex and believable characters that make it a joy to read.

A.L. Auerbach conjures shades of Cthulhu with a lesbian slant in “A Great Old Time.” Fans of tentacles will not want to miss this story.

“Binary – consisting of, indicating, or involving two” is Preston Avery's light-hearted evocation of horny gal with a head for math. She meets her match in a guy who can turn a computer programming assignment into a love – or lust – letter.

I read “Morphosis” by Jak Koke three times, and I still didn't fully understand it, at least at an intellectual level, but it moved me nevertheless. According to the author's notes, this story sprang to life fully formed from a dream. Given its shifting imagery and emotional nuances, I find this plausible.

Andrea Task contributes “Who Am I This Time?” a definitely sexy power exchange tale influenced by “Choose Your Own Adventure”. The ties to the geek theme are less strong than in some other tales in the collection, but I'm certainly not going to complain about any well-written story featuring a D/s threesome.

“Voyeuristic Beauty” by Elise Hepner puzzled me, mainly because I couldn't see thematic relevance in this re-telling of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of an enchanted mirror that watches her over her hundred years of slumber. Nevertheless, I liked the deviations from the classic fairy tale. In this version, Aurora doesn't need to wait for her destined prince to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.

J.A. Shirley's “Fuck the World” is a lot of fun, a conspiracy caper in which two female scientists posing as call girls infect the world's leaders with a virus intended to alter the course of history.

In “At the Faire,” Andrea Dale celebrates a rather neglected corner of nerdiness, namely historical reenactments and creative anachronism. As someone who has personally experienced the earthy influence of a Renaissance Faire, I strongly identified with her heroine, the lusty Mistress Maggie.

Janine Ashbless, like her co-editor Shanna Germain, slips to the darker side in her contribution “Grinding,” which relates a hapless gamer's encounter with an electronic succubus. I loved her opening:

Time was, when humans guarded their souls. They'd fence them about with prayer and rabbit's feet, with four-leafed clovers kept in a pocket or medallions of the saints. In those days, it was only when they slept, and their souls wandered away from their bodies, that I could find them and feed.

It's so much easier now. 

“Command Prompt” by Ed Grabianowski, provides an original take on BDSM and remote control. Harry Markov's “Pages and Playthings” envisions a book that actively alters the consciousness of the reader – and hence reality. “Player Characters” by Lucia Starkey offers new uses for dice.  “Ho Pais Kalos” by Molly Tanzer is narrated by a sentient phallus from ancient Greece, who observes and ultimately participates in the unplanned coming together of two young men studying archeology. Alison Winchester's delightful “RJ-45” offers a wonderfully fresh voice, focusing in alternation upon a savvy female “code monkey” and a lowly IT support gal with a fondness for kink. “F-RPG” by Vivienne Ashe explores the multiple identities players build in role playing games, and the truths hidden beneath those choices.

I enjoyed all the tales above, but three stories in the latter part of the book particularly impressed me. Kirsty Logan brilliantly captures the loneliness of modern Tokyo in her gorgeous lesbian tale “The Purpose of Tongues”:

In the electric city of Akihabara, nothing has a taste. There are endless promises: girls dressed as maids offering tea and cream cakes, girls done up like cats offering bowls of flavored milk, girls plastic-wrapped and LED-eyed with lips like strawberries.

Girls, girls. All delicious. All tasteless.

Then there's Jesse Bullington's funny, insightful “Porn Enough at Last,” set in a post-apocalyptic future where people huddle in isolated bunkers, fearful of contamination, poring over censored hentai porn. The hero (or is it heroine? The author very cleverly avoids telling..) has artistic talent and spends his/her time restoring the pixellated dirty parts and selling the results. The creativity and craft in this story made me grin in admiration.

And the final tale in the collection, Sommer Marsden's “Magdalene,” left me close to tears. A genius misfit fashions the perfect robot companion, the ultimate love-doll, and accomplishes more than he knows. Magdalene must hide her feelings from her Sir, even when he decides to “put her to sleep” after getting involved with a human woman.  

Normally, when I review an anthology, I'll mention half a dozen of my favorite stories. With Geek Love, I just couldn't choose. While some tales impressed me more than others, the collection as a whole left me with a feeling of awe.

Hence this lengthy review, which has already run to four pages – and I haven't even mentioned the cartoons, drawings, paintings and photos yet. Or the fact that this remarkable volume was funded by donations on Kickstarter, made by people who thought the world really needed some geek love.

I don't have space to say much about the artwork or the exquisite visual design – you'll have to buy the book and see for yourself. However, I did want to mention the extensive authors' and artists' notes that conclude the book. Many were as much fun to read as the stories themselves. I'm always curious to learn where other authors' stories come from. Geek Love allowed me to indulge that voyeuristic tendency.

In the author notes, a number of contributors said that they'd actually written their story years ago. These tales had been submitted and rejected multiple times, judged as just too weird for publication, until Geek Love came along – the perfect home for them. Like all of us nerds, scorned and ridiculed, dismissed as clumsy, queer or overly brainy, they were just waiting for the right audience – people who appreciate intelligence, unconventionality, and of course, sex.


Editor's note: This book is not available on Amazon. If you want to purchase an electric copy, click on the cover and join the site. I do not know how print books may be purchased.

Gotta Have It: 69 Stories of Sudden SexGotta Have It: 69 Stories of Sudden Sex
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573446475
March 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

He was already two knuckles deep into my cunt, so asking for his name was kind of pointless.

Thus begins Kathleen Bradean's wonderful contribution to Gotta Have It, entitled "A Good Stiff One." I start my review with Ms. Bradean's story not only because it's one of my favorites, but also because it captures the essence of Rachel Kramer Bussel's new collection of flash fiction - stories that turn on the heat from the very first sentence. The subtitle of this book is definitely appropriate. With no more than 1200 words available, these stories tend to race into the clinches, leaving both the characters and the reader a bit breathless.

The best tales in Gotta Have It, however, are more than just fast and furious sex scenes. I was extremely impressed by the depth and originality some of these authors managed to pack into a small package. Ms. Bradean's story is a case in point. It captures all the awkwardness, the inwardness, of fucking a stranger at a party - the lack of emotional connection even as you're being propelled into the sensual stratosphere, the judgments one can't help oneself from making.   

Consider Carmel Lockyer's lesbian lust-fest, "Pink Satin Organza." "Here's the problem; Sonya isn't even my friend," the narrator begins, guilt-tripped into acting as a bridesmaid for her sister's best friend. The bride's stern aunt provides some rough consolation, though. By the middle of the tale, "Her red lipstick is being equally shared between her mouth and mine."  The characters in this story could easily sustain a much longer piece. I'd love to see the narrator and the aunt at the next "fitting."

Gotta Have It offers considerable variety in orientation, kink, mood and even explicitness. There's the high octane collision between two women on the leather seats of a vintage Corvette in Evan Mora's "My Femme," the improbable but irresistible M/M butt-fuck at 35,000 feet in Mike Bruno's "The Copilot," the deserved punishment of the deliberately clumsy waiter in Sommer Marsden's "Laugh," and the unabashedly naughty exhibitionist in Jeremy Edwards' "No Blame, No Shame" ("Even the hum of the ice machine sounds libidinous.") Shanna Germain offers up an ironic woman Bible teacher in "Genesis" ("I don't hunt them down. They come to me.").  D.L. King serves up a sizzling version of the stern librarian fantasy in "Punishment Befitting the Crime." In "Intersect," Burton Lawrence gives us a zero-G liaison between two space freighter captains that's constrained by physics to no more than seventeen minutes.  "After Ten Years" by Christen Clifford masterfully conveys the complex joys and disappointments of sex after a decade of marriage. And Salome Wilde wins hands-down in the category of originality (or possibly bizarreness) with "Too Wondrous To Measure," about the love affair between a human woman and Godzilla. (I'm not kidding!)

Of course, given who I am, I was particularly drawn to some of the BDSM-themed stories. Mike Kimera's chilling "Need-Leash" manages to be arousing and disturbing with no actual sex at all. "My nipples stretch the silk the way my desire for you stretches my morals," says the nameless female narrator, only too aware of her own abasement. "Over His Shoulder" by Maximilian Lagos is a more light-hearted tale about the erotic power of the written word. Teresa Noelle Roberts' story, "Laughter in Hell," highlights the paradoxes in a power-exchange relationship. ("My cane still makes her wet and her laughter still makes me hard." Possibly my favorite BDSM tale was Valerie Alexander's "Don't Struggle," which gives us a peak into the thoughts of a manipulative but appreciative Dom. The insights in this story will stay with me. (I read it at least four times.)

Of course, with sixty nine stories, I can't begin to mention all the stories I enjoyed. This is a huge book - over three hundred fifty pages. Overall, Ms. Bussel has done a great job assembling work by both familiar and new authors. Having edited anthologies myself, I'm in awe of the amount of effort that must have been required, managing communications with sixty-eight contributors. (The collection includes one of the editor's own stories as well.)

The depth and breadth of Gotta Have It means that there will be something here for every reader. If you're in the mood for a quickie, I highly recommend this book.

House of RoostersHouse of Roosters
By: Amanda Jilling
Amanda Jilling
May 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Ask a woman about her favorite sexual fantasies. She might talk about being tied up and spanked, or covered in chocolate and licked clean, or ravished up against a rough alley wall by a dark, dangerous stranger. This sort of exotica will vary a lot from one individual to the next. Most straight women, though, even the most vanilla, will likely agree that they'd like to have more, and more pleasurable, sex – sex without guilt or self-consciousness or repercussions – sex with men whose main concern is satisfying their partners rather than themselves. Amanda Jilling's House of Roosters is a lovingly detailed instantiation of that fantasy.

Book 1 of this series is narrated by thirty-something Melissa, an independent single woman who makes a good living working for a bank, but who's been enduring a long dry spell in her love life . While she's having her nails done at her regular salon, she overhears some gossip about a place called “The Happy Ladies' House of Roosters,” where women can go to have their sexual needs met by accommodating men. Before long, she and her more extroverted and adventurous best friend Ellie check out the rumors. Their research leads them to an ordinary-looking split level ranch house owned by Dorothy, a plump, vivacious Latina whose goal is to “create a network of women who will then facilitate the types of erotic entertainment that they most enjoy... a club... like the old gentleman's clubs in Victorian times with yearly dues and a board of directors.”

Both Ellie and Melissa join the board of directors, along with a diverse group of other women, and little by little, the House of Roosters begins to take shape. Ellie takes on the official role of “rooster tester”, though the other women are welcome to join in the hands-on trials required before a man will be accepted into the fold. The board has high standards. Still, it's not as difficult as one might think to find potential roosters, sensual males who love to lavish attention on the female of the species, whatever she might look like.

The House hosts outrageous parties where the attendees are free to request sexual services from any of the men present, and the men are required (and generally eager) to comply. The roosters receive financial compensation for their time and effort, but most participate as much for their own enjoyment as for the money. As time goes on, the core groups of Ladies and Roosters both expand. Their frequent mutual pleasure and their shared commitment to the club's goals mold them into an intimate community, forging emotional connections on top of the physical ones.

Although the House has highs and lows, crises and growing pains, overall it experiences phenomenal success. Dorothy, Ellie, Melissa and the other founding members begin to search for a larger, permanent home for the club. An abandoned factory proves to be a good fit. Book 1 comes to a close with Melissa “christening” the newly remodeled building with contractor-turned-Rooster, Derek, and then a wild, orgiastic farewell party that overflows the bounds of Dorothy's suburban home, the original House of Roosters.

I wouldn't call Ms. Jilling's book literary erotica, but I have to say, it was great fun. For one thing, House of Roosters has to be one of the most sex-positive stories I've ever read. There are no victims in Dorothy's club – no exploitation. Everyone – lady or rooster – gets a piece of the action. The values of mutual respect and mutual pleasure govern every encounter. There's affection and tenderness, too, if that's what you're looking for, though the main focus of the House is sex without strings.

In her tongue-in-cheek forward about condom use (or lack thereof), Ms. Jilling reminds readers that the book is a fantasy. Nevertheless, House of Roosters is far more realistic than many examples of the same genre. Rather than embodying physical perfection as in some porn, the characters come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Dorothy is unabashedly ordinary, aside from her prodigious sex drive. There's senior citizen Ethel, who believed (before finding the House) that she'd never have sex again; shy college student Brandon, a closet artist who loves older women; Little Tom, named for his penis size, who's much in demand for his oral abilities; potty-mouthed, bisexual black mama Barb; Janet, who gradually becomes confident enough to get naked and reveal her mastectomy scar; timid Nicole, who gets the opportunity to act on her secret desire for black men; Gloria, a veteran of Iraq who has lost both her legs; and many more. The message here is clear – everybody can, and should, enjoy sex, regardless of what you look like or where you come from.

The sex party scenes recognize the fact that even the horniest man or woman will become exhausted eventually. The orgy room alternates between frantic activity and languid caresses as the participants recover. This matches my own experience at sex clubs and swing parties. Lying around naked and relaxed can feel as transgressive and satisfying as frenzied fucking.

Ms. Jilling's attention to the organizational details of the club as it grows also struck me as realistic. The only issue she neglected involved the legality of Dorothy's brainchild. Most cities would fight tooth and nail against an establishment like the House of Roosters. Maybe this is another area where fantasy won out. Ms. Jilling invites readers to imagine a world where everyone lives according to the time-honored mantra: mind your own business!

I've mentioned a few of the characters above – but only a few of many. The author introduces them gradually, and identifies their distinct characteristics, but I still found myself having difficulty remembering who was who. I think the book would have been improved by having a smaller number of core characters, developed more completely. Even Melissa, the narrator, felt a bit shallow to me. Aside from her sexual urges, her conflicted desires for her friend Ellie, and her transient emotional connections with Brandon, Derek and a few of the other roosters, she's something of a blank slate. In truth, this isn't really Melissa's story at all – she's just the vehicle for describing lots of sex.
Ms. Jilling's writing tends to be direct and unadorned when she's penning dialogue or describing orgies. It doesn't get in the way of the action. When she slows down to focus on Melissa's internal experience, however, she adopts a more metaphorical style that felt stilted and self-conscious to me. 

How long we continued this sensual ballet I have no idea. The concept of time had no meaning when my being was centered on interpreting the significance of the captivating choreography flowing across the endings of my nerves. I followed the ebb and flow of Brandon's cock within my sensitive walls with a timeless concentration as the secret music that informed our dance grew in ardor. I could tell by his movements that Brandon was close to coming. Feeling the power of his urgency sparked my own need for orgasm. We joined in a fevered duet to reach our elusive mutual goal. Then it was there, first for him and then for me. 

On the other hand, I noticed very few grammatical or typographical errors in the book, despite its being (I believe) a self-published work.

Overall, House of Roosters is a rollicking, explicit piece of wank material that gets a big plus from me for its inclusive, sex-positive values. I suspect there's a big audience for this particular fantasy world – not just among women but also men who might like to imagine themselves in the rooster role. My personal fantasies tend in a more kinky direction, but I have to admit that reading House of Roosters for a while in bed motivated me to jump my hubby's bones. And, like the roosters, he was happy to oblige me.

Hungry for More: Romantic Fantasies for WomenHungry for More: Romantic Fantasies for Women
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1940550041
August 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Let me begin by warning readers that the subtitle of this collection is distinctly misleading. Anyone who buys this collection looking for romance will be sorely disappointed.

What could be less romantic than Greta Christina’s “Craig’s List,” a tale of a woman seeking extreme anonymous sexual encounters via the personal ads, sticking to self-imposed rules about having to accept all comers no matter how repulsive? This phenomenal tale, which I first read in Ms. Cristina’s single author book Bending, is extremely arousing in a squick-inducing sort of way, but romantic? I suspect it would make a true romance fan run away screaming.

Then there’s “Jailbait Torch Song” by Valerie Alexander, one of my favorite stories in Hungry for More.  This tale chronicles a feverish, hopeless affair between an almost-thirty single mother struggling for respectability and an eighteen year old high school student. It’s gorgeously written, flooded with genuine heat, but there’s no possible happy ending. Both participants know this from the start.

I thought the editor’s own story, “A First Time for Everything,” was one of her best  (and I’ve read many, many stories penned by Rachel). It’s full of smart, funny, heartfelt observations by the narrator, who decides to fulfill her darkest fantasy by staging a bukkake party (basically a gang jerk-off where the many men present all drench her in their cum). In this tale, her gay best friend rounds up a quintet of hot guys (most of whom she has never met), “men I admired and respected enough to welcome into my home to defile me...It takes a special, enlightened, intelligent kind of man to treat a slutty girl like me just right.”

Later, in the midst of the action:

“Just then, I felt the first jet of cream land on my back, and I whimpered as best I could with a mouth full of cock. I looked up into the eyes of Rob, and he cradled the back of my head gently in his hand as I sucked him. This may sound crazy, but it felt spiritual to me, a moment of bonding that went far beyond the mechanics of sex. Or maybe I’m just the rare girl who can have a holy moment with five gorgeous cocks surrounding her.”

Despite the sexual epiphany (which I don’t mean to disparage - I’ve had those moments, too), I don’t think these guys would really qualify as her soul mates!

In Tiffany Reisz’ tale “Bringing the Heat,” the heroine Jada dumps her arrogant, homophobic date at a minor league baseball game and ends up hidden in the locker room, where she watches a handsome, athletic ball player get his butt fucked by his equally buff sports therapist. The (hot and well-written) sex scene would be right at home in a gay erotic romance – without the secret observer. I suppose it may qualify as vicarious romance.  

Katya Harris describes a wildly erotic public coupling – in the middle of a dance floor – between two individuals who are mere acquaintances. Sexy, definitely, but romance? There’s certainly no HEA. “His firm lips caught at hers, his tongue flicking out to lick across her mouth. Lila’s eyelids fluttered; her breath hitched. She leaned forward for more, but he was already melting into the crowd with a wink and smirk.”

Erzabet Bishop’s “Red Lipstick” chronicles the BDSM initiation of a cosmetic salesgirl by one of her regular customers. In this lighthearted tale, the elegant and self-assured Mistress provides her submissive with plenty of pleasure, but there’s definitely no mention of commitment. Giselle Renarde’s “Happy Ending,” another F/F tale, brings the intimacy and intensity of a full body massage to glorious life – but as the masseuse reminds the heroine after her stunning release, this is “work.”

Several of the stories that made an impression on me do feature committed couples doing various naughty things. Jeremy Edwards’ “Tickle Day” made me smile.  Although I have to say that personally I find tickling annoying rather than erotic, Mr. Edwards excels in bringing out the playfulness of his characters.

“She clutched his idle wrist and thrust the open expanse of her tender underarm toward his tickle hand, urging him on. She was vanilla ice cream, and he was a million soft, tiny spoons.” Now there’s a novel metaphor!

Meanwhile, Tilly Hunter’s “My Pillar-Box Red Cock” relies completely on the trust between two long-time lovers. When the heroine, prodded to reveal her darkest fantasy, confides that she wants to fuck her husband in the ass, his initial reaction is rejection. Then, weeks later, he reveals that he has bought a set of butt plugs and has been training himself to take her cock.  The story brilliantly captures both the thrill and the uncertainty of that first penetration.

But then, in contrast, there’s Rose de Fer’s chilling and arousing kidnap tale, “The Instructor.” A woman wakes from a confused dream to find she’s a captive, chained naked to a bed in a bland, windowless room. She has no idea who has taken her, or why.  A man appears, interrogates her, slaps her face, whips her, and reveals the truth:

“The air is heavy with the implicit threat and he lets the silence hang for agonizing seconds while I tremble and wait. At last he speaks again.”

“‘I am the instructor,’ he says simply. ‘And you are here to be instructed. Specifically, you are here to be trained to be a slave.’”

Ms. de Fer manages to kindle real fear, edged with inescapable arousal.

Not exactly the stuff romance is made of.

Why am I making such a big deal of this mislabeling, you might ask. After all, here at Erotica Revealed, we attempt to exclude romances from the works we review – not because we disapprove of the genre, but because there are already dozens of review venues that cover romance. In contrast, few if any sites, other than Erotica Revealed, are willing to review sexually explicit fiction that does not feature committed relationships or happy endings. So if this book is billed as romance, but turns out not to be, I should be pleased, not sorry.

The trouble is, the publisher seems to have believed that this book of erotica needed the label “romantic” in order to sell. That bothers me greatly. I suppose this is a marketing decision, but to me it feels both dishonest and a bit cowardly.

Anyway, if you’re looking for “romantic fantasies,” I would not recommend that you buy this book. On the other hand, if you want to read a fairly diverse and well-executed collection of erotica, Hungry for More might be a good place to start.

Impossible PrincessImpossible Princess
By: Kevin Killian
City Lights Publishers
ISBN: 0872865282
November 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I worry about superlatives. The cover of Kevin Killian's short story collection Impossible Princess claims that the author is “the greatest unsung genius in contemporary American literature”. Susie Bright calls the book “impossibly captivating” and “an endless inspiration”. Another blurb gushes that each story is “a little outburst of brilliance”. 

I worry that there must be something wrong with me when I don't agree with the general consensus. Impossible Princess is definitely not ordinary. It's bizarre, obscene, violent, and, I suppose, original. However, with the exception of one gem of a story, I would not call it erotic, although it oozes sex (and I believe that ooze is the appropriate term, evoking as it does the primordial depths where primitive, sightless creatures squirm and wallow). Yes, this book is soaked with semen, sweat, piss and blood, but most of the time I found the sex empty, mere physical contortions unleavened by the emotional experience of lust, which I consider to be the sine qua non of erotica.

I am not even sure that some of the pieces in this volume deserve the title of short story—memoir might be more appropriate. Mr. Killian is the central character in many of his tales, which reminisce about his past antics and excesses. In some stories, this works. “Hot Lights” vividly recounts the author's experience acting in low budget gay porn during his wild late teens. Other tales, such as “Dietmar Lutz Mon Amour”, struck me as self-indulgent rambles without any point.

Then I begin to feel embarrassed. Maybe the point is there, but I just don't get it. I am after all a white, well-educated product of the middle class with little experience on the edge Mr. Killian walks: drugs, drunkenness, vagrancy, rough and anonymous sex with guys who are disgusting but still turn you on. I've never liked stories that deliberately go out of their way to shock. Perhaps I am the problem, not the book.

I can appreciate the fact that Killian's writing sparks with flashes of genius, interspersed with malapropisms, lazy fragments and run-on sentences. Consider the following passage from “Spurt” (one of my least favorite stories in the book):

Something magical about really flogging your car, and the clear stretch of highway ahead; and feeling the motor and its complex accoutrements shudder under your heavy foot. And dipping an elbow out into the hot summer night and watching towns go by like reflections in shop windows—whole towns and neighborhoods, gone, gone, gone. You lose touch with the world—a car is an island all its own, another world from which, perhaps, you might never return. The radio, staticky and shrill, burst out with bass-heavy Motown, then the abrupt, insinuating guitars of the Eagles. A low-slung, dark car passed me on the right, gleaming like a streak of phosphorescence under a Jamaican sea. Sucker must be doing a hundred easy. Lotus. Then the driver seemed to slack in speed and I was passing him. I saw his face—couldn’t help it, he was staring right at me.
One hand rested on top of the wheel, lazily, as though he could drive without looking ahead. I sped up, and he sped up too. Cruise control. I caught him looking at me, again and again, and he flicked on the driver's seat light, a plastic dome that filled his car—for a brief moment—with a thin plastic light, like cheap statuary of the Church. I guess he knew how hot he was. His lips parted. I could see him starting to speak, or signal. Eighty miles an hour and his mouth was saying, “Wanna fuck?”  I nodded, he nodded, I got hard, I shifted the bottle, the Eagles wailed, over and over, about how dangerous life was in California.

This passage will give you a feeling for Killian's style, which doesn't vary much from story to story. Sometimes he erupts with incredible images that make you catch your breath. Sometimes he meanders along, the same sort of breathless stringing together of words that might or might not make sense, the same kind of blissful disregard for grammar and punctuation.

Okay, I'm being tight-assed here. I'm a writer myself—I know that once you've mastered the rules, you can break them. Killian doesn't care about rules and I suppose that's not really a problem. Neither did James Joyce. The problem is, perhaps, my expectations.

Despite my reservations, Impossible Princess is worth reading for the one tale that I did find erotic, despite its darkness.  “Zoo Story” is a brief, first person account from a man with a cat fetish. What makes it unusual in this collection is the fact that Killian places the reader convincingly in the head of the narrator. He makes the insanity believable and even beautiful despite its brutality.

Next time you see kittens batting a catnip toy around, think of me on the cold concrete floor of the cage, pushed around, my neck snapping, their paws wet and warm on my chest, my legs, their claws retreating and contracting as they contrived to spread my thighs open to their hot rotten breaths.

I want to mention one other story: “Rochester,” a collaboration with a younger author named Tony Leuzzi.  Tony narrates, explaining how he met veteran gay author Kevin Killian in a dirty chat room and decided to make a pilgrimage to Rochester, New York, where the aging writer lives in degradation, exiled from the glittering metropoli (New York City, San Francisco) of his wild youth.  In the back room of Killian's filthy house, Tony discovers a human-sized chimp who spends the day typing, generating the raw material for Killian's stories and predicting the future. 

I liked this story for its wry humor and self-deprecating honesty. I'm just an ape, the author seems to be saying, churning out nonsense that includes occasional insights and flashes of brilliance. 

Is Impossible Princess really a consummate work of art? Am I simply too conventional to see the truth that's obvious to erotica luminaries like Susie Bright? Every reviewer brings his or her prejudices and preferences to the task, and I'm no exception.

You'll have to read the book and judge for yourself.

[Editor's note: Impossible Princess is the winner of the 2009 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Erotica.]

Killing Johnny FryKilling Johnny Fry
By: Walter Mosley
Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 159691226X
December, 2006

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Walter Mosley is well known as a writer of crime and mystery novels. Needless to say, his first foray into the genre of sex writing has occasioned a flurry of skeptical and childishly embarrassed media commentary. I first became aware of Killing Johnny Fry when someone on the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Writers Forum ( posted the URL of Jennifer Reese's scathing review from Entertainment Weekly.

Ms Reese has given Killing Johnny Fry a place on her list of worst books of the year. According to her, the plot of this "pornographic novel" is "but a flimsy excuse for the raw sex scenes"' the writing is rife with hyperbole and cliche; the entire book ranges from ridiculous to depressing. According to her, Killing Johnny Fry is not even "good porn", although she then admits that she's never really considered just what might deserve that label.

Rather than dissuading me reading Killing Johnny Fry, this sex-averse tirade made me intensely curious. Could a book by the popular and acclaimed author of the noir classic Devil in a Blue Dress and the eerily spirtual science fiction novel Blue Light really be so awful?

My conclusion after reading Killing Johnny Fry is that Ms Reese's review says much more about her own lack of comfort with sex and lack of understanding of erotica/pornography than it does about Mr. Mosley's talent.

Killing Johnny Fry is indeed full of raw, extreme and even violent sex. However, the sex is in no sense gratuitous. Although the story is narrated in plain, matter-of-fact language (despite Ms Reese's complaints), it has a mythic quality. This is a story of passions and revelations, a pain-filled odyssey of personal discovery.

Cordell Carmel, the protgagonist, unexpectedly drops by the apartment of Joelle, his lover of more than nine years, to find her being sodomized by Johnny Fry, a mutual acquaintance. Cordell slips away unseen, but the experience shatters his world and his sense of identity. Previously he was a mild-mannered, middle-aged schmoe, hardworking, abstemious and responsible, a considerate but unimaginative lover. After viewing the graphic evidence of Joelle's betrayal, he undergoes a transformation. He finds himself constantly aroused, especially by the ambiguous dynamics of D/s situations. He is newly, inexplicably potent. Women are drawn to him, and he takes them when they offer themselves, bringing them to painful ecstasy even as his own orgasms reach apocalypic proportions.

Meanwhile, emotionally, he is confused and lost. He understands the emptiness of his previus life, but cannot comprehend the changes that seem to be tearing him apart. Tortured by headaches and nightmares, he turns to the mysterious Cynthia, a desembodied voice on a phone help line, for comfort. Meanwhile his world becomes more and more bizarre as he oscillates between raging lust and pitiful self-doubt, incandescent anger and paralyzing fear. In a twist that stretches credibility but works in the context of the story, he meets Sisypha, the star of a pornographic video with which he has become obsessed. She becomes his guide to a sexual underworld, his White Rabbit in a terrible and thrilling Wonderland.

Killing Johnny Fry explores the relationships between sex and anger, and between freedom and desire. This is far from a trivial fuckfest. Cordell is a sexual Dr. Jekyll; seeing Joelle's secret self, the lust-crazed, abuse-loving creature that she becomes when she is with Johny Fry, releases his Mr. Hyde. He experiences many climaxes, but little satisfaction, as he tries to understand his motives and to reconstruct his life and self-image.

In Killing Johnny Fry, Mosley also concerns himself with the complex interactions between race and sexual identity. Like most of Mosley's main characters, Cordell is black. So is Joelle. Johnny Fry is white. Mosley makes it clear that Cordell's previous well-ordered, compliant life is an attempt to make it as a black man in a white world, to be accepted and financially successful and to prove to his abusive father that he is worthwhile. Johnny Fry steals not only Cordell's lover but also his manhood, his pride as a black man. The historical echoes of slavery are there; Mosley doesn't have to harp on them.

Is Killing Johnny Fry erotic? My initial reaction would be negative; most of the sex scenes did not particularly arouse me while I was reading them. Yet after finishing the book, I found myself in the grip of intensely erotic dreams, so the work must have touched something in my unconscious.

Certainly, Killing Johnny Fry is a serious book about sex and identity -- or at least it pretends to be reading some of Mosley's coments about his own work, I began to wonder if in fact it's all a sham, a publicity stunt. Perhaps the book was intended to be exploitative, banking on its controversial subject matter to attract media attention and stir up sales.

Even if this is true, the book stands on its own merits. I found it intense, though occasionally uncomfortable. The sex is messy and dark but somehow fascinating. You can't look away. The cleverness of the final plot twist left me with a smile, and relieved some of the tension that knotted my stomach so badly that I couldn't read more than a few chapters at a time.

Could Mosley have written a serious novel, despite himself? You, the readers, need to decide. Don't pick up this book if you're squeamish about rough sex. If you're curious, though, about just how hardcore a mainstream-published novel can be, I recommend it.

Kiss It BetterKiss It Better
By: Portia da Costa
Virgin Black Lace
ISBN: 0352345217
August 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Divorced, practical, thirty-something Sandy Jackson runs a café in the suburban British town of Kissley. When she's not waiting on customers or worrying about her finances, she dreams of the young man who rescued her from a mugging fifteen years before.  Jay Bentley can't forget his sweet princess, the girl whose lips he tasted briefly after driving away her attackers but never saw again. Years of debauchery and an auto accident that left him scarred, impotent and in pain haven't been enough to erase that precious memory. When he visits Kissley to inspect the property his wealthy father is about to buy, he recognizes Sandy as his long-lost princess and realizes that his father's plans are likely to drive her out of business.

 Pretending to be a stranger, he has little difficulty in seducing Sandy, who reacts with uncharacteristic ardor to Jay's advances. Within fifteen minutes of their meeting, he is licking her pussy in the garden of the notorious Waverley Grange Hotel (which has featured in several other novels by Ms da Costa). Their incredibly intense sexual connection soon has them engaging in various carnal activities in a wide range of circumstances: in the washroom of Sandy's cafe, under the table in a classy restaurant, parked in a country lane, on the food preparation counter in her café kitchen, and of course in Jay's room at the naughty inn. Jay both teases and instructs Sandy, introducing her to a variety of minor kinks and making her marvel at her own constant horniness (as well as his).  As they spend more time together, though, it becomes increasingly difficult for Jay to hide his identity--or to imagine living without her.

Will Jay's secret destroy their incendiary passion and their growing intimacy?

Of course not. Jay and Sandy are destined for each other.  Each has haunted the other's fantasies for more than a decade. Their sexual affinity might seem like casual randiness (as Sandy tells herself, to blunt the impact of Jay's inevitable disappearance), but in truth it stems from their unacknowledged mutual love.

 The simple plot of this novel screams "romance," however, Kiss It Better can also be viewed as  erotica, pursuing as it does the classic theme of sexual awakening. Jay serves as Sandy's sexual mentor, encouraging her to act out her fantasies and revealing to her the depths of her own lasciviousness.   Like the accomplished dom that he is, he pushes her limits, daring her to explore new extremes of sexual abandon.

 There is a lot of sex in Kiss It Better, arousing and satisfying sex that involves the characters' whole selves, not just their bodies. Ms da Costa excels in turning up the heat by giving the reader a window into the lovers' sensations and emotions. Most of the novel is presented from Sandy's perspective, but we get occasional glimpses of Jay's bitterness, confusion and frustration. His private cynicism and insecurity contrast with the image of the wealthy, self-confident rake he presents to Sandy.

Sandy is a vivid, appealing character with a distinctive voice and a streak of stubbornness. From the first moment I met her, inwardly cursing the high heels she'd borrowed in order to look elegant, I loved her.  She's irresistibly attracted to Jay and perpetually astonished by her own reactions, not to mention her daring. Practical, responsible, a bit conventional, she manages to shock herself again and again as Jay leads her into ever more outrageous sexual situations.

Jay feels less well-rounded and realistic, possibly because the author identified more strongly with her heroine. He's the Flawed Hero, in capital letters; his sins are visible in his scarred visage. His fixation with the princess from his past seems less plausible than Sandy's fantasies of her prince. Still, he fulfills the role of master and mentor with sufficient conviction that Sandy succumbs, and the reader likewise.

I should warn the audience of Erotica Revealed that despite my using the terminology of dominance and submission to describe Jay and Sandy's relationship, the actual power games they play are far milder than what you will find in many of the books we review.  A bit of spanking, a little bondage, a butt plug or two--the kink here is recreational rather than fundamental. Nevertheless, Ms da Costa manages to communicate the thrill of Sandy's surrender, which I believe is the essential aspect of a D/s interaction. 

Kiss It Better is a bit predictable, but that doesn't stop it from being arousing and entertaining. The book doesn't push any boundaries, but it delivers what it promises: lively characters, creative sex, and a happy ending.

By: Alma Marceau
Studio Loplop
ISBN: 096774590X
Originally published June 2001, rereleased 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I've come to the conclusion, after considerable deliberation, that Lofting is intended as an elaborate joke. The fictitious Alma Marceau (Lofting was actually written by a man), widely traveled in "the Paleo- and Neotropics", author of a PhD dissertation entitled "On the Genealogy of Morels", has penned a self-consciously literate, extravagantly smutty novel that pretends to be serious erotica. In reality, the author winks at the reader on nearly every page. How many more mindless sex acts, how many more pints of semen spattered across our heroine's anatomy, how many more obscure nouns and overblown metaphors will it take, dear reader, before you realize that I'm poking fun at the whole concept of literary erotica (and possibly, at you, esteemed reader, as well)?

Lofting begins well. Claire, a brilliant, articulate New York psychotherapist, engages in witty and erudite cyberchat with the equally glib and mentally adroit Andres (a married man who lives in Denver). Gradually their double-entendres metamorphose into cybersex and then phone sex. Claire discovers an unsuspected submissiveness lurking in her psyche. She also begins to fall in love with Andres, who predicts that she will soon encounter a real world lover who will more completely satisfy her needs.

The early chapters of Lofting are probably as overwritten as the later ones, but I didn't notice. The intellectual, sexual and emotional connections between Claire and Andres were sufficiently genuine to invite my identification. When Claire meets Nick, however, the man who will become her new master and mentor (and who, tellingly, originally enters her life as a prospective patient), I abruptly lost interest. Nick is virile and handsome, but he is also dishonest, manipulative and shallow. He lacks both the sympathy and the cleverness I found in Andres.

Nick engages Claire in a variety of extreme and occasionally repulsive sexual scenarios: masturbating her to orgasm in the reptile house of the Staten Island Zoo while she watches a python consuming a dead rabbit; taking her from behind in a deserted corner of Macy's house wares department; handing her over to be used and abused by friends and associates, male and female. These scenes are not even slightly arousing (in my opinion), mostly because, despite Ms. Marceau's purple depictions of Claire's eventual orgasms, Claire really doesn't seem to be enjoying herself. Nick and his cohorts are genuinely cruel and depressingly selfish in their assaults on Claire's body. Their primary concern seems to be self-gratification, even though Nick claims to be orchestrating these activities for Claire's benefit.

Lofting perverts the D/s dynamic. There's hardly any real communication between Nick and Claire, and little if any trust. At times, Claire fears that Nick really has lost touch with her completely, and this fear seems justified. Nick (and Ms. Marceau) clearly have not studied SM 101. Some of the bondage scenes struck me as distinctly unsafe. Meanwhile, the book focuses on the physical activities and accoutrements of BDSM, completely ignoring the psychological and emotional interactions that are the essence of power exchange.

I should mention that although the sex in this novel is frequent, graphic, and attempts to present itself as incredibly perverse and decadent, it has little claim to originality. With the exception of the snake interlude (which in retrospect I believe was intended as an overly-clever Freudian allusion), there is nothing in Lofting that I haven't encountered in a dozen other dirty books. The final chapters unfold at the stereotypic remote mansion where the entire cast of characters (including, implausibly, Andres) converge to perpetrate one indecency after another on our poor heroine. (Yawn.)

I also felt that despite being recounted by Claire in the first person, Lofting's sexual descriptions have a distinctly male focus. There is, for instance, a preoccupation with the color, copiousness and consistency of semen that seems incongruous in a female narrator.

M.J. Rose, in her 2002 review of Lofting, claims that the book is "written in polished, evocative prose" and praises its "legitimate literary qualities." I have enormous respect for Ms. Rose's own subtle and sensual writing; thus I was a bit surprised by this evaluation. It's true that Ms. Marceau's vocabulary is astonishing, and that she peppers her dialogue with literary references and sly puns. However, the pages of Lofting are rife with bizarre metaphors and gratuitous polysyllabisms that are sometimes painful to read.

It's a bad sign in a dirty book when you notice the figures of speech.

Consider the following passage:

"I was close to coming, my speech halting and clipped. At the penultimate moment, Nick's hands found my nipples and twisted them savagely - exquisitely apposite torture that served only to precipitate the crisis. But fearing the cruel mercy of a silent, glassy descent, I begged Nick to fuck me full force. He answered my call with an allegro of half-thrusts: like a pestle striking a mortar, his cock pounded my vagina with short, percussive blows until, tumbled across the collapsing face of the swell, I lost muscular control, fell twisting and writhing onto my belly, and finally came to rest, splayed out like storm-cast wrack on the draggled beach of the bed sheets."

Or, another sample:

"Nick was splendid at the end, his face frozen in rapture, his muscles rigid, his cock hard and red as an ingot spewed hot from the blast furnace. His penis recoiled violently as he climaxed three long strokes, casting turbid aspersions of semen in broad, flossy arcs upon my belly, breasts and throat. Drenched in his warm emission and my own copious juices, I lay back in bed and stretched my sore limbs before curling with satisfaction into a fetal crescent."

"Turbid aspersions of semen?" I just cannot believe that prose this purple could be accidental. I continue to suspect that Lofting was deliberately constructed to parody literary erotica by combining near-ridiculous hyper-intellectualism with crude carnality. The result is a strange hybrid that in my opinion offers little literary merit (except as a clever parody) and less eroticism. As she continues her researches into "fungal systematics", Ms. Marceau must smile to herself when she reads the puzzled but effusive reviews she has received from readers who have taken Lofting seriously.

Love at First Sting: Sexy Tales of Erotic RestraintLove at First Sting: Sexy Tales of Erotic Restraint
Edited By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 157344281X
June, 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

If I had noticed Love at First Sting on the shelf at a bookstore, I probably would not have picked it up. The main title is awkward and derivative, the subtitle makes the book sound like frothy porn, and the olive drab cover, featuring a blurry, corset-clad torso, is hardly compelling. If I hadn't been asked to review the book, I probably would not have read it. This would have been a shame, because this collection is one of the best erotic anthologies that I've encountered in a long time.

I read a lot of BDSM, partly from personal interest and partly because as a reviewer I've been pigeonholed (accurately, perhaps) into the "kinky" category. Alison Tyler's new volume is a refreshing contrast to some recent anthologies that focus on the more recreational aspects of spanking, bondage, and other perverse sports. The stories in this collection (with a few exceptions like Lisette Ashton's frisky "Bound to Kill" and "The '76 Revolution," a sweet tale by Nikki Maggennis) concern themselves with the darker side of dominance and submission. Temptation, obsession, guilt, fear, ecstasy and revelation - these stories crackle with serious emotion. These are not about "play parties".

In Teresa Lamai's breathless "Small Windows," a man and a woman are drawn together by mutual needs that neither can fully understand, or control.

"I have one cell phone just for his calls. When it vibrates, I drop everything. I feign sickness if I have to. I once left court and ran twenty blocks in the fog because there were no taxis. I thought my heart would burst.

Each time he opens the door the fugue starts again. I know once I see him I'll feel the shock in the solar plexus, the painful flash of heat behind my pubic bone that sears out all other questions, that cauterizes my mind until it's closed and quiet. With Josh I'm a starfish, spread flat and writhing gently, mindless and swollen and tingling."

James Walton Langolf's raw and lyrical "Abraham" begins:

"She is his Isaac laid out on the hood of his Ford - open, bared to his blade."

The tale continues, a fierce conflagration of a fuck between a man who's lonely and a woman who's desperate, but all the roughness ends in redemption - "the rain is washing her clean."

In the quieter darkness of Alison Tyler's "The Kiss," a master deliberately traps his sub in an impossible situation by forcing her to disobey him, and then makes her suffer the consequences.

Vida Bailey's "Torn" features a severe older woman and the disobedient young man whom she's tutoring. She tans his hide to improve his motivation, but the focus here is not on this classic situation, but on the dominant tutor's reactions and regrets:

"She watched his back; his long legs walking down the lane, away. His stride was more careful than the one he had come with. He was tender. Tears rose in her eyes. If she could she would keep him tied, to her bed, to her body, to move within the circle of his warmth and have him smile a smile that was for her only, secret, teasing and possessive."

Silence is Golden is perhaps the best story I've ever read by the prolific Rachel Kramer Bussel. When she is bound and gagged, a talkative woman learns to really pay attention:

"The silence rang in my ears as I came, the absence of sound coaxing me over the edge as saliva pooled in my mouth, my burning wrists took the imprints of the rope, and I reveled in his fast, hard, hammering thrusts. When we were done, there was no need to speak."

Two other tales that deserve special note are Sommer Marsden's "She Looked Good in Ribbons," and Brooke Stern's "The Art of the Suture." The former is a beautiful, intense account of two strangers meeting for the first time to fulfill their most cherished fantasies. The latter is a highly original pseudo-historical tale which may be the most perverse in the entire collection, even though it includes no graphic sex.

My favorite piece in this book is Donna George Storey's "Blinded." A woman and her lover stumble together into an escalating series of games involving a blindfold. Their physical communion masks the misunderstandings between them, which climax when he seems to be threatening to kill her. The story is an amazing roller coaster of emotions: lust, terror, uncertainty, silence, anger, love. I was shaking when I finished reading it.

Dominance and submission have been claimed by popular culture, and tamed into bedroom games played with fur-lined cuffs and whips made of feathers. Undiluted, in its original form, though, BDSM is strong stuff. A few stories in this collection were too rough, too cruel, for my personal tastes. Overall, though, Love at First Sting recaptures the thrill and the terror of genuine power exchange. Readers who have no experience with BDSM may find it confusing and disturbing, or possibly enlightening. Initiates are likely to recognize themselves in these stories.

Love RunesLove Runes
By: Jay Lygon
Torquere Press
ISBN: 1603703683
June 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

True love is supposed to involve mutual understanding. Real lovers are on the same wavelength. They instinctively comprehend each other’s desires. They thrill to the notion that perhaps, as predestined soul mates, they can read each other’s minds. There might be some conflicts that arise from differences in experience or goals, but these are superficial, insignificant compared to the lovers’ communion when they are together.

It ain’t necessarily so.

In Love Runes , Jay Lygon gives us a relationship which, without a doubt, involves true love. The protagonists, Master Hector and his boy Sam, care deeply about one another. Each is miserable when separated, emotionally or physically, from the other. They also share mutually complementary sexual kinks. In the dungeon, Hector knows how to give Sam what he needs; Sam delights in suffering the way Hector wants. At a deeper level, though, the two are not in touch. Sam lies to his Master and hides behaviors that he knows Hector would criticize. Hector is jealous and moody. When he’s feeling hurt, he rejects and isolates Sam. Love Runes is the story (continued from Lygon’s first novel, Chaos Magic) of Hector’s and Sam’s quest for a relationship based in trust rather than suspicion and fear.

This might sound like a rather tedious soap opera, but in Lygon’s hands, the premise is emotionally involving and impressively believable. This is despite the fact that Hector and Sam live in a world of specialist deities who are intimately involved with the lives of ordinary mortals: Aggie, the God of Agriculture; Crash, the God of Computers; Deal, the Goddess of Negotiation; Angelena, the Goddess of Traffic. In fact, Hector and Sam discover at the end of Chaos Magic that they are themselves the God of Love and the God of Sex, respectively. Alas, supernatural power doesn’t guarantee emotional success. Hector and Sam have to work out their problems like any other pair of benighted humans.

As befits the God of Sex, Sam is irresistible. He’s the ultimate Boy Toy, with a pretty face, a gorgeous body, and a butt to die for. He believes that his boyish appearance is the primary reason for  Hector’s attraction and so he surreptitiously trades some of his power to the Goddess of Eternal Youth, in order to keep himself looking nineteen. Meanwhile, Hector is waiting for Sam to grow up, to release some of his childish insecurities and habits and become a man who can meet him halfway emotionally. Hector discovers Sam’s subterfuge, and the revelation comes close to severing their fragile connection. But of course, since this is a romance (albeit an unconventional one), the two men reconcile and move forward to greater trust, before it is too late.

Jay Lygon writes deftly, with confidence and style. He is particularly skilled at evoking the physical and social environment of southern California, where Hector, Sam and their fellow Gods reside. At times, he skirts the edge of parody, but never tumbles over. Consider his brilliant picture of the predatory Goddess of Eternal Youth:

“Sammy!” The Goddess of Eternal Youth stood in front of one of the many bookcases lining the walls of the living room as if she were searching for something to read. Her perfume preceded her across the room. As she advanced on me, she held out both hands, grasped mine, and squeezed until her rings cut into my fingers. Even though it was the middle of the night, she wore a tailored suit, ecru blouse, and a strand of pearls like drops of pale honey. I had no idea if she had a day job, but if she did, I bet she sold multi-million dollar mansions in parts of Los Angeles so exclusive that I’d never heard of them. ...

She started to sit in Hector’s big poppa chair, but I glared at her, so she perched on the arm of the couch and carefully avoided the old crocheted blanket draped across it as if it might infect her. She crossed one svelte leg over the other. The skirt of her suit clung above her knees with the kind of modesty only a very expensive suit could provide, showing just enough skin and shadow but not a hair’s-breadth more.

Equally sharp and amusing is the scene in which Deal, Goddess of Negotiation, accompanies Sam to a job interview in a hip LA restaurant.

Deal sniffed the air. “Do you smell that, Sam? Power. Raw money power. I love this place.”

Then there are the sex scenes, primarily BDSM, invariably intense – occasionally heavy enough to make me uncomfortable. (Even if I don’t have balls, I can imagine the pain of having them abused.) If the participants were strangers, one might really worry. However, it is clear from the very first that Hector and Sam are truly soul mates from a sexual perspective, at least. The goal (usually achieved) is mutual satisfaction, and the aftermath always involves some tenderness.

Hector plunged his tongue in my ass. To show him how much I loved being rimmed by a stiff tongue, I set my lips in a tight circle and slowly pushed them down over his cockhead. That got us both moaning. I was so damned hard. He loved to torture me with a long rimming session while I squirmed and begged to be fucked. I was trying to concentrate on his body, though, so no matter how much I wanted his cock inside me, I didn’t plead. Hector lapped at the outer ring of my hole. I swore I was going to shoot if he didn’t stop.

He sank his teeth into the cheek of my ass. The pressure of his bite intensified. Just when I thought he’d break my skin, he lapped my hole again, and then bit my other ass cheek. His hand gripped where I’d been bit.

It was too much. “Sir, please.”

He mercilessly tongue-fucked me for a while and then asked, “What, Boy?”

I could barely speak. “I’m going to come.”

Hector shoved me off him, pushed my face down into the tangled sheets, and smacked my ass until it burned. “You don’t tell me when you’re going to come. I tell you.”

“Yes, Sir.” My ass got smacked harder. “Yes, Sir! I’m sorry, Sir!”

If you enjoy this sort of rough action, you will find plenty of it in Love Runes.  Floggers and gags, clamps and torture racks, handcuffs and rope, leather and chains, this book is a cornucopia of kinky gay sex. (There’s no group sex, though; Hector and Sam are emphatically monogamous.) The gusto with which Sam and Hector engage each other in the bedroom (and the dungeon, and the car, and the street) pushes this novel over the line from romance (which it is, thematically) to erotica (which I believe is how the author would prefer to see it categorized.) The scenes are narrated from Sam’s point of view, but they’re arousing from the perspective of a bottom or a top.

I enjoyed Chaos Magic when I read it a few years ago, but I thought it had a few rough edges. Love Runes is smoother and more consistent. It is always a pleasure to watch an author developing a distinctive voice.

In summary, Love Runes is lively and engaging, sharply observed and carefully crafted to arouse both empathy and lust. I recommend it to anyone looking for an original piece of gay erotica.

Master of OMaster of O
By: Ernest Greene
Daedalus Publishing
ISBN: 1938884043
October 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Steven Diamond is an extremely successful trial lawyer in his early sixties, with strong opinions, expensive tastes, a penchant for dominance, and a heart as impervious as his last name. When his younger half-brother Ray gives him the lovely and talented fetish photographer O to be his slave, Steven’s first inclination is to decline. As one of the founding members of The Mansion, a luxurious private venue catering to practitioners of kink, he has ready access to a stable of well-trained submissives on whom he can practice his deviant desires. Steven knows how much Ray cares about O and doesn’t want to see his somewhat feckless sibling hurt. One night with O, though, is enough to make Steven realize that she’s unique. He has never met a submissive more finely attuned to his needs and preferences, nor one so eager and so able to endure the extremities he loves to inflict. She is his equal in intelligence, spirit, and evil imagination. As Master and slave, they make a perfect pair, but as time goes on, Master Steven finds he wants more.

In Master of O, Ernest Greene borrows the characters from Pauline Réage’s erotic classic, but aside from the emphasis on BDSM, the two books have little in common. The original Story of O focuses on the slave O’s experience, both physical and emotional, as she descends more and more deeply into total submission. Master of O, for the most part, is narrated from Steven’s perspective, as O walks into and, ultimately, out of his life. Story of O is a slim 200 pages, while Mr. Greene’s book runs to over 900. While Réage’s novel partakes of a dream-like quality, with O drifting in and out of scenes of pain, humiliation and debasement, Greene’s opus is hyper-realistic, laden with detail that at times becomes excessive.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about Master of O, but I can honestly say that despite its length, I did not get bored. The story, which revolves around Steven’s deepening attachment to O as well as their joint plot to hook Ray up with one of O’s models, moves along smartly, punctuated by frequent, lengthy and explicit BDSM scenes. A lively cast of secondary characters joins in the orgies of bondage, flogging and fucking. Most of the time, the nicely varied sex scenes do play some role in advancing the plot and/or revealing the natures of the characters. In some cases, they’re just for fun, for instance, a wild six-way romp in a private jet, with several Mansion slaves costumed in latex stewardess uniforms.

Steven and O live in a world where D&S activities are the norm. Everyone around them is kinky. Ray makes his living publishing a high-class fetish magazine. O’s photographs of beautiful women bound and abused are partially responsible for the magazine’s success. Steven’s ex-wife Marie runs The Mansion as well as supervising a bevy of aspiring slaves in her own home. Even Steven’s secretary is comfortable with bondage, piercings, and nipple clamps, at least as a spectator. And everything is consensual – the slaves clearly enjoy their roles as much as the dominants.

At the same time, this book does not treat D&S entirely as play. The scene in which O accepts piercing and extensive tattooing to mark her as Steven’s property has an almost transcendent quality - a dignity, a level of ceremony, that attests to its significance in the kink community. As O willingly undertakes painful hours under the needle, she is surrounded by her sister slaves, as well as Marie, Ray and Steven. All are left spell-bound by her beauty and her glad suffering.

Steven’s and O’s interactions go beyond mere amusement or sexual satisfaction. Linked by complementary fantasy and mutual perfectionism, they engage in a quest for increasingly total control – Steven’s control over O, O’s control of herself.

In one of the most memorable scenes, Steven and O contemplate a set of erotic drawings together:

The image was powerful. A tall, spectacularly curvaceous woman of perhaps thirty-five lolled in the arms of a muscular, bearded man many years her senior. He stood, holding her barely upright, close against his broad chest. His penis, jutting up under the woman’s back, was equally impressive. He looked down at her with a strange combination of severity and tenderness. The woman’s eyes were closed. Her face was transported with an ecstatic transcendence familiar from the images of martyrs O had seen on the walls of many an Iberian church. 

But the most arresting aspect of the drawing was  the scrupulously rendered evidence of intense and  prolonged flagellation. The woman was marked from  her collarbones to the bottoms of her feet. A variety of  different instruments had been used on her with great  patience and skill. A layer of broad strap marks had  been applied first, followed by a global lashing with  some kind of slender, cutting whip that left long narrow welts, the deepest of which oozed tiny rivulets of blood.  The whipping had obviously gone on for hours until  ever inch of her exposed flesh was covered in thin stripes inflicted with sufficient restraint to fade within a  couple of weeks.  

The woman was collared but otherwise  unrestrained and though clearly too exhausted to flee or  resist, showed no evidence of wanting to do either.  Something profound had clearly transpired between the  two of them. The viewer was left to conjecture the  specifics from the visible aftermath. 

“Now that’s my idea of a good whipping,” Steven  said. 

“You could whip me like that if you wanted,” O  replied without an instant’s hesitation, eager at the  prospect.

Steven looked over at her gravely. 

“Careful what you offer. You know I’ll do it.”   

“Why would I offer otherwise?” 

They looked into each other’s eyes for a long  moment.

This is one of the most erotic moments in the 900 page novel, in my view. All Steven’s clever instruments of torture don’t begin to turn me on like this admission of shared deviance.

Later, toward the end of the book, Steven makes good on his promise – at O’s insistence. Shivers run up my spine at the thought – not of the beating itself, but at O’s determination to endure it.

As illustrated by the quote above, the writing in this novel ranges from mostly competent to occasionally inspired. Mr. Greene has a talent for clever observations.

The shades were down over the glass wall, and no light came from beneath. Somewhere deep in the empty park across the boulevard someone was playing the violin, quite expertly. Once again, Steven laughed at the town where the Department of Incidental Surrealism was the only agency that worked overtime. (p 142)

Performing complex procedures without losing concentration on their purpose was the BDSM equivalent of walking and chewing gum, yet few of those who had topped her possessed that ability.  (p 631)

[When you’re out about being kinky] “Try making a campaign contribution and see what happens. You know you’ve achieved infamy when politicians won’t take your money.” (p 683)

In short, Master of O provides plenty of kinky action, a bit of deeper exploration into the psychological aspects of BDSM, and decent writing. Why do I say that I have mixed feelings about the book?

First of all, it’s rife with typographic errors, missing or incorrect words, even sentences that trail off without completion.  At one point, I noticed that the main character’s name was misspelled. At first I bookmarked each error; after about hundred pages I didn’t bother anymore. An author who allows his book to be published with these sorts of problems loses a lot of my respect, no matter how sexy a story he has penned.

Second, despite his generally competent command of language, the author has serious problems maintaining a consistent point of view. I’m not a purist, eager to condemn “head hopping” in any form, but in this book the POV shifts from one character to another without any signal or justification. In some cases this tendency interferes with comprehension. In others, it’s merely irritating.

Finally, the book’s obsessive descriptions can become wearying. I understand that, by mentioning every element in Steven’s wardrobe, including his watch, his pen, his jewelry and his wallet, the author is trying to convey the character’s preoccupation with, and desire to control, these details. Once or twice would have been enough, however, to make this point. Instead, whenever Steven goes out – throughout the full 900 plus pages - we’re treated to a litany of clothing and brand names.

Some of the BDSM scenes suffer from similar problems. By exhaustively describing every implement and recounting every action, the author paradoxically reduces the immediacy and intensity of the scene.

In some cases, though, the book’s preoccupation with detail makes it more effective. Unlike the encyclopedic enumeration of Steven’s (and Ray’s) clothing, the descriptions of the female slaves and their fetish gear managed to be arousing rather than annoying. The scenes of Steven’s fencing lesson,  O’s photo shoot, and Ray’s computer graphics session all benefit from the realistic details. I really liked the occasional mention of Steven’s testosterone pills and Viagra; they lent verisimilitude to his potency in his role as a Dom. And I truly appreciated the fact that Mr. Greene describes the physical toll a BDSM session takes on both the top and the bottom.          

Overall, I enjoyed Master of O. I’d consider reading another book by this author – if and only if he manages to find a better editor!

Judging from the enthusiastic reviews on Amazon, I gather that many readers don’t really care.

Minority Affairs: Intense Interracial EroticaMinority Affairs: Intense Interracial Erotica
By: Scottie Lowe
Amazon Digital
September 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Race is a dangerous topic for a writer. So, of course, is sex. Combine the two and you have an explosive mixture ready to ignite the outrage of readers from all regions of the racial, ideological and cultural spectrum. As an author – or a reviewer – considering race is bound to open you to accusations of prejudice and stereotyping. Even the height of political correctness can be read as ignorance or arrogance. How do you tell the truth without kindling someone's ire?

History provides one truth. In the U.S., and elsewhere, blacks have suffered as literal slaves, possessions rather than people – abused, controlled, bought and sold, subjected to almost unimaginable cruelty and degradation. Sexual oppression – rape, secret “perversion”, unwanted pregnancy - was a very real part of this history, with power differentials an inescapable element of the erotic equation.

Scottie Lowe recognizes another truth: the cultural relics of slavery still fuel dark fantasies on both sides of the racial divide. Interracial sex, for many, is still associated with imbalances of power – edged with cruelty or disdain, spiked by sentiments of guilt or defilement. There's no point asking whether such fantasies are evil – they exist, and they can be intense and compelling, deriving at least some of their potency from their historical echoes and from the consequent lure of the forbidden.

I applaud the courage it takes to bring these controversial fantasies to life on the page.

Ms. Lowe begins her collection of interracial erotic tales with a snippet in which a provocatively-dressed blonde goes slumming in the ghetto, looking to “scratch an itch.” The woman encounters a gang of uneducated, thuggish, shaved-head homies playing basketball in a vacant lot. The author continues:

Thus begins the vast majority of interracial erotica. The white character is the central focus, hiding their desire for “dark meat” from their white-bread, colorless world and the Black characters are barely literate ghetto dwellers with an insatiable lust for white flesh. Black women are sure to roll their necks and Black men are all hung like horses and just standing around waiting to fuck white women who get lost in the hood.

If that's what turns you on, this is not the book for you.

In the sixteen stories that follow, Ms. Lowe sets out to defy these stereotypes. Her black characters are well-to-do and cultured, professionals or artists, articulate and self-assured. They find physical attraction, sexual satisfaction, and emotional completion with members of their own race, rather than viewing whites as particularly desirable. They see themselves as the heirs of ancient Africa, not the descendants of slaves.

On the other hand, while rejecting some stereotypes, Ms. Lowe blithely perpetuates others. She portrays whites, both men and women, as fundamentally neurotic, dishonest, not in touch with their real selves, pale, clumsy, weak, sexually inadequate, and inevitably drawn to the power and beauty of their black mistresses and masters. White men have tiny penises, unlike their black counterparts (who tend to be more than adequately endowed, despite the protests above). In story after story, whites of both genders abase themselves, dying to be used as cum sluts and flesh toilets, eagerly serving the base physical needs of the blacks whom they admire. Indeed, it is in this service that they find both sexual and spiritual fulfillment. Their fundamental nature is to submit to the superior black race.

As an acknowledged submissive, I will admit that some of these stories aroused me, though more because of the power games than the racial dynamics. Normally I wouldn't discuss my personal sexual experiences and preferences in a review, but given the delicacy of the racial issue, I feel compelled to add that I've had sexual relationships with several black men (though never a black woman) and that I frequently find dark-complected individuals attractive. At the same time, race play (as distinguished from D/s) is not something that particularly pushes my buttons.

After a while, I found these tales of ludicrous, pathetic whites debasing themselves to serve noble and powerful blacks began to get a bit boring. In addition, the author's blanket pronouncements about the nature of whites started to annoy me.

[Cynthia] was, and is, so very typical of white women all across the country, in every town, in every city who feign indignation, shock, horror and conservative outrage at anyone who gets caught cheating, while she is committing the very sin herself. And because race is still such a taboo subject, and because Black sexuality is so deeply entrenched in white America's secret lusts, it was not hard for her to rationalize that her husband would NEVER in a million years understand her desire to be an insatiable, cock-sucking slut for a very well-hung Black man.

I'm sure that these generalizations are true of some people, but not all. Isn't this as bad as claiming that typically black men are horny animals who can't get enough white booty?

A few stories took a different tack, much to my relief. “In the Heat of the Night” begins:

It was steamy night in Atlanta and there was a power outage. There was no light except from that of the waxing moon that hung low in the sky, all the entire city could do was sit and sweat and sit and sweat some more. Luckily I live on the top floor of my condo so I could go outside naked as the day I was born and enjoy a little breeze without anyone peeking at me.

Ebony, the heroine of this sensual tale, gets a call from her white downstairs neighbor Kristen, begging to come up to the roof to get some air. As you might expect, the two women generate even a good deal more heat as they consummate their mutual attraction. While there weren't many complexities in this story, it stands out in this collection because of the equal relationship between the black and white lovers.

“Taking It to the Hole” provides a comparably egalitarian M/M scenario. A closeted gay Italian-American from Brooklyn hooks up with a gorgeous, sensitive black artist named Flex, and learns that he can receive as well as give pleasure.

“Dominant Black Tales,” as suggested by the title, concerns a D/s relationship between a black Mistress and Master and Bryan, a married, suburban white man who can't control his secret hunger for black domination. What makes this story interesting is the fact that the dominant couple lure Bryan's wife into the D/s games as well. The previously estranged couple finds a new connection in admitting and acting on their racially-oriented submissive lusts. The author appears to have a bit more respect for these white characters than she does in many of the other stories.

Finally, I liked “Queening for a Day.” Although this story once again features a white male submitting to a dominant black woman, the characterization felt more subtle and realistic than in most of the other offerings in Minority Affairs. Furthermore, this story features a more gradual buildup in sexual tension, although it eventually blossoms into a D/s scene as extreme (and for me, arousing) as any of Ms. Lowe's tales.

Given that it has no ISBN, I suspect that Minority Affairs was self-published. Ms. Lowe would have done well to hire an editor before sending her erotic visions out into the world. Although the book includes some examples of considerable insight and is often erotic, the writing in many places is rough and amateurish, with run on sentences (note the quote from “In the Heat of the Night”), grammatical errors, and point-of-view problems (the dreaded “head-hopping”). The author also has a tendency to insert herself into the story, introducing her tales with lengthy analytical commentary, and to dump information about characters in a declarative mode rather than allowing them to reveal themselves through their actions.

Many readers might not care. Personally, I find these sorts of problems seriously interfere with my enjoyment of a book.

Before I close this review, I should mention that Minority Affairs also includes several series of interracial erotic photographs which provide a pleasing counterpoint to the text. In these illustrations, white and black individuals are equal partners in passion.

Minority Affairs feels very personal to me. I could of course be wrong, but the thematic repetition makes me suspect that Ms. Lowe was sharing sexual scenarios she herself finds arousing. One has to respect her level of honesty, even while noting that she is no more immune to stereotyped interracial fantasies than anyone else.

We could pretend that such fantasies don't exist - but sex is not nice, or safe, or politically correct, and never will be.

Multi-Orgasmic: A Collection of Erotic Short StoriesMulti-Orgasmic: A Collection of Erotic Short Stories
By: Lucy Felthouse
ISBN: 1508702942
March 2015

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

My favorite story in Lucy Felthouse’s collection is the one in which nobody comes.  “The Only Bitch for Me” is told from the perspective of a vet returned from Afghanistan, who meets up with his former lover in a pub.

“So you’re back then,” she said, eyeing me, as if looking for scars or wounds. I had none. Others hadn’t been so lucky.

“Um, yes.” I said, confused. Of course I was back, was I not sitting right in front of her?

“I meant for good. Back for good, smart arse.”

“Sorry. Yes. I’m back for good. I’m now officially a civilian.”

“So that means no more taking orders without question, huh? You have your own free will to do what you want, when you want.”

Before I could respond, I felt her foot slipping in between my legs. But this was no stocking-clad caress. She was still wearing her stilettos, and the pointed toe of one of them pushed against my cock, which had begun to swell within my underwear. I gulped.

“I guess not. Not in my professional life, anyway.”

She raised an eyebrow.

It soon becomes clear that what he wants—what they both want—is for him to be her worshipful slave. There’s no explicit sex in this brief tale, just a long, slow, agonizing tease, but it definitely got my motor running in a way most of the stories in this book did not. In retrospect, I believe I was reacting to the erotic tension in the piece, the steady and unrelenting build-up of unconsummated desire.

That tells you something about me and my tastes in erotica.

Most of the other tales in Multi-Orgasmic are less nuanced and more direct. They get right down to the sex, which frequently has a mildly kinky bent. For instance, in “Naughty Delivery,” a couple receives a long-awaited shipment of sex toys ordered on-line, only to discover that due to some error, their package includes a spanking paddle and bondage equipment rather than the vanilla toys they’d timidly requested. Needless to say, Ben and Sonia take this in stride, discovering that orgasms can be a lot more intense when prefaced by some bottom-walloping.

In a similar vein, “Her Majesty’s Back Garden” zeroes in on an exhibitionist couple having sex behind the bushes on a tour of Buckingham Palace.  “It Takes All Sorts” shows the delightful changes that can happen to a marriage when the wife starts reading BDSM erotic romance.  In “Heat Upon Heat,” a woman fantasizes about the handsome, well-hung young handyman she watches in the yard, then promptly brings those fantasies to fruition. “The Not-So-Blushing-Bride” features a limo chauffeur who meets a bride-to-be as eager to fuck as he is. Hot, shirtless employees and a vibrator help the heroine get off inside her sudsy vehicle in “At the Car Wash.”

These are all perfectly fine stories, but they didn’t push my personal buttons at all. I’m more interested in the emotional and psychological dimensions of sex than the physical ones. Ms. Felthouse’s tales, as suggested by her title, lavish their attention on the delightful activities leading up to orgasms. Her characters’ motivations are more or less taken for granted. There’s no suspense, no complexity, no guilt or confusion. It’s all about pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against pleasure. I’m just one of those people who like a bit of mystery in my erotica, the intensity of wondering whether those forbidden desires will be satisfied, or remain cherished but unrealized.

The characters from “The Only Bitch for Me” return in a later story, “Without Question.” It’s a delicious femdom scene, but it didn’t affect me nearly as strongly as the prelude. I did like “Why I Love Her,” though, which has a neat twist and also features one of my favorite fantasies. (I won’t tell you what it is, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.) I also enjoyed “The Unexpected Submissive,” in which a man comes back exhausted from a business trip to find his cleaning woman masturbating in the bathtub. I know I’m predictable, but I’m always aroused by the tacit complicity between serious dominants and submissives.

Erotica is a big tent. If your tastes run to naughty stories full of fellation, cunnilingus, spanking and fucking, you’ll definitely enjoy this book. There are more than enough orgasms to go around. If, like me, you believe eroticism begins in the mind—if you’re more aroused by the experience of desire than its physical gratification—you might be a bit disappointed.

My RenaissanceMy Renaissance
By: Julia Chambers
Rosa Mundi Press
December 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Julia Chambers begins her lush, erotic, pseudo-memoir My Renaissance with an “Author's Note” stating her intentions. After rummaging in the fabulous pornography collection at the British Museum Library, surveying Reage and de Sade, Black Lace and the twentieth century classics from Olympia Press, she complains that pretty much everything she has read was penned with a male audience in mind. Her extensive research really didn't unearth what she was seeking in the way of salacious literature: erotica created by “women who wrote from the cunt by way of a mind that considered sexual parity with men to be a given.” So she decided to produce her own.

I have to admit that this rather high-handed, self-consciously intellectual foreword predisposed me not to like this book. However, I ended up enjoying My Renaissance despite myself, although it's not at all similar to what I would have written under the circumstances.

The book begins with a delightful framing narrative. On her fiftieth birthday the author encounters, by chance, “the American”, a lover from three decades earlier, an affair that ended suddenly and inconclusively. “The effect of the voice on my memory was astounding. My blood was shaking and I could not breathe for fear I would gasp like a banked fish.” He tells her “I still have your panties.” and of course the reader immediately starts to imagine what sort of history the two of them share. Over coffee, he tries to rekindle their relationship. Gently but firmly she rebuffs him and returns home to bathe (clearly an experience the author finds sensual as it is recreated multiple times in this volume). The sudden apparition from her past tempts her to look back. She begins to recount the erotic adventures she enjoyed when she was twenty, spending a year teaching English in Milan and exploring her burgeoning sexuality.

Her initiation into the unrepentant carnality of the Milanese begins at the hands (and tongue) of one of her students, Mrs. Corallo – a wealthy, voluptuous matron who wastes no time seducing the lovely young Englishwoman whom the Italian insists looks like Botticelli's Venus. Although the narrator is not completely innocent, her afternoons with “Mrs. C” prove tremendously educational, and not only in the ways of the flesh. Mrs. C. gives Julia both tangible and intangible gifts – a copy of Dante, a sense of fashion, a new appreciation of her own desirability.

Trying to escape the unwelcome attentions of a fellow teacher, Julia accepts the offer of a free apartment in a dodgy area of town. Here she becomes entangled with Luigi, the landlady's son, a young man with the face of an angel and the body of a god. Every night he visits her; they share an exquisitely physical passion that seems to sustain itself without any intellectual or emotional connection.

Luigi kissed me and licked his semen from my lips and I tasted myself in the folds of his wings. I remember his arms around me and the strong smell of our sex on our skins and while I was musing on the beauty of this man I fell asleep. I was awakened by the morning pouring in through the open window, a shower of golden light. I flung back the covers that Luigi had obviously lain across me when he left and for a few luxurious moments admired the honeyed richness of my limbs, still langorous with the exertions of last night, and ran my hands around my breasts and over my belly. I rose warm and naked, plugged in the kettle, and commenced the rituals of the day.

When Julia discovers Luigi's sordid daytime occupation, he loses his halo. However there are dozens more virile men eager to partake of her charms. From each lover she takes new knowledge, most especially knowledge of her own sexual power.

In one of my favorite chapters, the narrator travels to Florence and meets a painter, who prevails upon her to sit for him in the pose of Venus rising from the sea. Although there's no explicit sex in their interlude together, the erotic tension is devastating. One wonders whether fucking might not have spoiled it.

In another episode, one of Julia's adult students, a married man who is short and unattractive but also urbane, articulate and persuasive, convinces her to masturbate in front of him, while he does the same. All the while he regales her with filthy, explicit fantasies. This scenario is perhaps the kinkiest in the book, and possibly the one that aroused me the most.

Ms. Chambers' sexual tastes are aggressively vanilla, at least compared to mine. Again and again, starting in the foreword, she reminds readers of her total lack of interest in anything involving restraint, pain or the like. After a while, one wonders whether she in fact protests too much.

Knowing me, you might expect that I'd get tired of an erotic book without the slightest whiff of D/s. However, Ms. Chambers’ luscious prose kept me reading. She describes all her (or her narrator's) experiences in Italy with an eye for sensual detail. We feel the warmth of the sun, taste the wine and the coffee. Our heads swim with the women's perfume. I don't know Italy at all well, but her sharp observations on the society of Milan and the nature of its inhabitants reminded me of my own early experiences in foreign environments.

This erotic coming-of-age tale winds up very neatly, bringing Julia to her first incandescent encounter with “the American” and its sudden end. After this peak experience, she leaves Milan, claiming homesickness, possibly having learned everything the city had to offer.

The emotions fueling this book pulled me back to my own period of erotic awakening. I remember a time when adventures of the flesh waited around every corner, a time when I suddenly and inexplicably became an object of lust.

I often wandered around Milan in a daze, the ground falling from under my feet, my belly on fire and my womb contracting in spasms of remembered desire – the images that filled my head of others filling my body were more inebriating than any drug and I would sway from the straps on the tram, aware of the scandalised eyes on my shaven armpits (only the travestiti  on Corso Garibaldi shaved their underarms).

With all her adventures, though, she remains fundamentally alone, joined only superficially with her partners in pleasure.

My sex life was for the most part skin play, surfaces like light on water, like neon flashing on the painted night faces, like the flames of candles flickering over my naked form. All intercourse was of the flesh.

Despite its rich language and sensual detail, this book left me with a sense of sterility. The narrator glories in her own desirability, but ultimately that comes to feel like narcissism. Even after fifty years, she is focused mostly on pleasure. She delights in her unlined face and still-beautiful body as she prepares to meet her old lover. The connection remains purely physical.

As I indicated, this isn't the book I would have written. It is, however, literate, stylish and unquestionably erotic, in the classic sense of the word. For some readers, that will be enough.



On DemandOn Demand
By: Justine Elyot
Virgin Black Lace
ISBN: 0352345438
April 2010

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Sex – even juicy, well-written, moderately transgressive sex – is not enough. Not enough for me, in any case. Justine Elyot's On Demand, one of the last books to be published by the now disbanded Black Lace, returns to the roots of that imprint. It offers chapter after chapter of enthusiastic and explicit sexual high jinks: anonymous couplings in parking lots, workouts in the gym, dildoes and strap-ons, peep shows and corporal punishment, anal initiations and orgies. Unfortunately, there is little in the way of character development or plot to tie all these lovely sex scenes together.

I believe that On Demand is intended as a novel. By the traditional definition (and On Demand does not strike me as a literary experiment) this implies a core set of protagonists with possibly some supporting characters that move the action forward, and a plot arc with a problem or conflict that will be explored and resolved by the end of the book. Perhaps there will be a subplot involving the minor characters that illuminates or contrasts with the primary narrative exposition.

On Demand offers none of this, really. Instead, the book is a collection of sexual anecdotes linked only by their setting, an upscale British hotel and conference center. Characters appear without any justification and disappear (in some cases) completely after the services of their naughty bits are no longer required. There is in some sense a “main” character (the receptionist Sophie) and a primary problem (her lust for the stern hotel manager Chase and the fact that he persists in ignoring her charms), but Ms. Elyot abandons this narrative thread for chapters at a time while she describes the sexual adventures of other visitors to the hotel and even Sophie herself (who certainly is not sufficiently debilitated by her unrequited passion to mope, moan and stay celibate).

The mechanisms used to introduce these unrelated romps tend to the clumsy. Most often the experiences are recounted to Sophie by the characters involved (implausibly, without leaving out any salacious detail or losing the slightest bit of immediacy). In at least one case Ms. Elyot adopts an omniscient point of view, just for the duration of the chapter, in order to tell the reader about the characters' history as well as their current sins.

I cringed.

The book begins well. Sophie, a bored office drone with a lascivious imagination, misses her train and heads over to the fancy hotel across from the station for an espresso and a more pleasant wait. She falls into fantasy, stimulated by the cushy surroundings and the delicious sense of anonymity engendered by hotels. Ultimately she picks up a stranger and screws him in his car. I was licking my lips, eager for more. The author managed to pull me into Sophie's head. She also allowed Sophie to be just a bit horrified by her own daring.

Alas, that lovely spark of shame is soon lost. Before long Sophie is regularly visiting the hotel bar, picking up one or two guys, even men she finds unattractive, just because she can. I started to get bored. (I would assume that Sophie must have been also, since she didn't give all that many details.) Then the dishy hotel manager Chase offers Sophie the job of receptionist, presumably because he has noticed her seductive behavior and her pick-ups. Sophie is struck with a thunderbolt of lust and the reader thinks, “Ah! That's better. A conquest that means something!”

However, Sophie's pursuit of Chase is desultory in the extreme. Not only do other characters get their rocks off again and again without moving her any closer to her goal—it appears that FOUR YEARS pass, while Sophie consoles herself with the personal trainer, the lifeguard, and the endless supply of businessmen passing through.
?Then, all of a sudden, the book lurches in an entirely different direction as Ms. Elyot introduces a new character (on page 186 of a 240 page book) who is, it turns out, THE ONE-- the man who will not only fulfill Sophie's every fantasy but also give her the emotional connection she didn't even know she needed. Chase conveniently fades away without any explanation as to why he ignored his luscious receptionist for so long.

Other than the fact that Chase's evaporation strained my credulity, the last chapter or two were more complex and involving than most of the earlier chapters. Ms. Elyot clearly can write arousing sex and characters who are more than just cardboard. I only wish that she had done more of this in On Demand. The book feels like a short story or novella that was padded with truly meaningless sex in order to get it to novel length. If the author had eschewed most of the minor characters and focused only on Sophie, she would have written a far better book.

Once BittenOnce Bitten
By: Lisette Ashton
Xcite Books
June 2010

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I'm American, but since I've been networking with fellow authors from "across the pond," I've picked up a bit of British slang. There's "bollocks," for instance, a far more elegant way to swear than our one-syllable American curse words.  I love to say that I'm "chuffed." It's the perfect word to describe that excited, proud, cocky state we writers enter when we learn about an acceptance or first see our work in print. The other day I told my husband, “Don't get your knickers in a twist”. Aside from the fact that he doesn't wear knickers, this phrase is a magnificently evocative description of annoyance and discomfort. And then there's the slang usage of the word "brilliant."

Everyday American English applies the term "brilliant" to works of surpassing artistic genius, like Mozart's "Requiem," or to the inspired leap of intellectual power that leads to great scientific discoveries, like the structure of DNA.  Brits, however, appear to use "brilliant" to describe aspects of contemporary culture that are clever, well-executed, and wildly entertaining.

 In the British sense, Once Bitten by Lisette Ashton is definitely brilliant.  Once Bitten is that exceedingly rare article, an original vampire story.  It is also sly, sexy and hilariously funny. 

Forget about gothic mansions, shadowy crypts or fog-hung alleys.  Ms. Ashton's heroine, a twenty-something slacker named Tessa Cameron, is made a vampire on the couch of her dingy rented flat, in the throes of a Sapphic encounter with her best friend Melinda. As far as Tessa can tell, the main features of being undead are heightened senses, an immortal body that can heal itself of any wound other than a stake through the heart, and an insatiable libido. Oh, and the fact that she can't see herself in mirrors, a detail that causes the somewhat vain Tessa a bit of consternation.

Tessa doesn't even drink blood. She drinks vodka, a clear holdover from her very recent days as a mortal.

We'd been drinking vodka. Mel had found the bottle in the kitchen cupboard of my third floor apartment. It was next to a mouldering loaf of bread and a rusting tin of spaghetti in tomato sauce.  The bottle wasn't anything special?one of those made-up Russian names (Glasnost, Prada, Kervorkian or something) that are meant to sound authentic and as though it had been shipped direct from behind the Iron Curtain. The main thing I remember is that it was cheap, the aftertaste wasn't too bad, and it mixed well with the dregs of the Dr. Pepper Mel had brought to our impromptu girls' night in.

Tessa's few qualms about making love to a woman vanish almost immediately under the influence of the vodka and Mel's seductive caresses. However, it turns out that Mel's motives are far from merely sexual. Tessa's century old pal has turned Tessa in order to bring her as an offering to the man she loves, a handsome, tortured and very kinky priest named Alan. By bringing him a vamp to exorcise, Mel hopes to win his affection. Alan, however, betrays Mel herself into the hands of the mysterious Legion of Vampire Hunters, a band of rogue monks dedicated to eradicating the undead--very slowly and painfully.

Tessa may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but she has many positive qualities. She is fiercely loyal and admirably stubborn. She is determined to rescue her friend from the clutches of the villainous League. In pursuing this goal she interacts with a variety of individuals, both vamp and human: her well-hung but boring ex-boyfriend Dean (who happens to be a cop), a gorgeous, titian-haired, blood-sucking lawyer (or is that redundant?) in a power suit named Christine; and the swarthy, hairy, charismatic vampire Dom, Carlos san Miguel.  A good deal of the book takes place in Carlos' luxurious home, sort of a cross between the Playboy Mansion and a house of horrors. With the enthusiastic assistance of his voluptuous blonde subs, the Ron Jeremy-esque Carlos subjects poor Tessa to delicious and painful sexual torments that would likely kill a mortal, in an attempt to make her submit. The indomitable Tessa takes it all in stride. Sternly, he demands again and again that Tessa beg for his horse-dimensioned organ.  Focused on her objective of freeing her friend and just plain annoyed by the greasy Dom's arrogance, Tessa manages to resist her very strong temptation to comply.

The tale climaxes (so to speak) in Priest Alan's church, where the hapless Mel is bound to the altar and ravaged by members of the Legion. In the course of the scene, a vampire is killed and Tessa is held responsible. In fact the entire novel is narrated within the frame of her trial for heresy, treason and murder. The logic and decorum of Ms. Ashton's vampire court is reminiscent of the Red Queen's.

I don't think I'm giving away too much by telling you that Once Bitten ends happily for all concerned (except the murdered villain, who definitely deserves his fate) and indeed, that true love conquers. The fun of this book is in the journey, though, not in the destination.  The frequent and inventive sex scenes (including an abundance of delicious lesbian interaction), the meticulous attention to details of costume and setting (the look-a-like trio of subs are particularly vivid) and the occasional off-hand social commentary make the book a delight to read. It's difficult to write humorous erotica without slipping over the line and becoming ridiculous, but Ms. Ashton succeeds wonderfully.  The sex scenes manage to be arousing even though they tend to be (as we Americans say) "over the top". This is partly due to the intimacy of Tessa's first person narrative (and the fact that she's an exceptionally horny young vampire).

No, I don't think it's an exaggeration to call Once Bitten brilliant. It might even be appropriate in the American sense. In a literary scene awash with vampires, Tessa stands apart. She might not make you swoon, but she'll definitely make you howl--with laughter and perhaps even with lust.

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

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open For Business: Tales of Office SexOpen For Business: Tales of Office Sex
Edited By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443115
June 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I've been looking forward to reading Open for Business for months, ever since the book arrived and took its place at the bottom of my stack of commitments. As I watched it move closer to the top of the pile, I admired its sassy cover - a conservatively dressed couple stretched out under a desk, obviously very busy. The book title is cleverly displayed in an uneven Courier font that looks just like the output of the old typewriter I used in college.

When I finally opened the book and read a few stories, however, I'll admit that I was a bit disappointed. The stories were sexy, fun, generally well-written, but they were so short! Each one was a hot little vignette, but there didn't seem to be anything other than sexual hanky panky to keep me interested. Characters were sketched lightly, with a very broad brush. Conflict was more or less non-existent.

Perhaps I'm too demanding, but even in a brief story, I want some meat, and I don't mean instances of the male organ. I’m looking for an original premise. I crave characters who are distinctive, with personal voices that make them seem real. I want some physical or emotional barrier that stands in the way of the consummation of their lust, or perhaps a plot twist that violates my expectations without being ridiculous.

Fortunately, as I read further, the stories began to come closer to meeting my admittedly severe specifications. "Headhunter," by C.B. Potts, was the first tale where I turned down a page, my method for reminding myself to mention a story in my reviews. A female exec from one investment firm takes a savvy lady from a competing company out for drinks. Of course they end up in bed, but on the way there's some wonderful repartee. These characters have substance, even though the story is short. And they are adversaries, at least at first, making the mutual seduction much more intriguing.

"You're making half as much money as you could be. We're familiar with Langston, and even with a generous year-end bonus, you're not going to earn fifty percent of what we're willing to pay you."

Cradling my glass between wide-splayed fingers, I said, "You're talking about half a million dollars."?
Meredith laughed. "Nice try. We're talking about three hundred thou--plus more chances for advancement than you'll ever get at Langston."

"Because I'm Chinese?" Sullyman's Pacific Rim division had been doing well lately. Very well.

"Because you're talented as hell. We watched the O'Hare purchase. It took balls to route that through Kenya. Not many traders would have sent that much money into Africa."

I smiled. "I have a soft spot for emerging market equity."

My next pick was Maxim Jakubowski's "In the Empire of Lust." There's no sex in this story, just the lustful imaginings of a manager with a corner office, about the various women who work for him. Well, actually, there is the narrator's lonely masturbation, but what brings the tale to life is the vivid, emotionally nuanced portraits Mr. Jakubowski paints of each of his subordinates.

I was quite enchanted by Rachel Kramer Bussel's "Secretary's Day." I normally enjoy her work, but this was the first story of hers that I'd read that was told from a male point of view. She managed to be quite convincing. "Secretary's Day" is a spicy exploration of female dominance, related by a young man who adores being used by a smart, powerful woman. There's even a lick of romance in the mix
Then there's the peculiar but engaging "One Cubicle Over," by Jeremy Edwards, about two people with nothing in common who nevertheless are sexually obsessed with one another. This tale of the triumph of pheromones over rationality is cleverly told, and despite its tongue in cheek tone left me with a big smile.

Savannah Stephens Smith offers "Lonely at the Top," the confessions of a female executive who fucked her way up the corporate ladder and enjoyed every minute of it. The narrator's no-nonsense voice and gutsy pro-sex attitude did not prepare me for the bittersweet ending, but then, I enjoy surprises.

Possibly my favorite story in the volume is "On the 37th Floor," by Tulsa Brown. Ms. Brown's characters are so sharply drawn, they cut you to the bone, and this story is no exception. She also has a sense of how where you come from influences who you are, a knowledge that plays a significant role in the plot of this sensual, celebratory F/F tale.

There are twenty two stories in this volume. Half a dozen of them really grabbed me. The remainder? They're not bad stories, not at all. The collection includes many acclaimed erotica authors. Lisette Ashton, Donna George Storey, Mike Kimera and Alison Tyler are all among my favorites. Alas, none of their stories in this anthology made me sit up in bed and go "Wow!" I enjoyed them, but I'm not all that likely to remember them.

Maybe I'm just reading too much erotica. Perhaps I've become jaded and overly critical. Or perhaps there are just too many anthologies coming out these days, and not enough stellar stories to fill them. I did notice, with some concern, that about a third of the stories in Open for Business were previously published in other anthologies -- including some by the same editor. At least one story I immediately recognized, and couldn't bring myself to reread.

Maybe we need some fresh blood. Or maybe we need to move away from the notion that the primary goal of erotica is to titillate or arouse the reader as opposed to telling a story or exploring some of the less obvious aspects of sexuality.

Or perhaps I should just get off my soapbox and finish this review, before I really offend my illustrious colleagues. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

By: Melanie Abrams
Grove Press, Black Cat
ISBN: 0802170471
April 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

For generations, sado-masochism has been characterized as a disorder of the psyche. Those who subscribe to this position view the sexualized desire to inflict or suffer pain as abnormal and unhealthy. Usually, they claim that this desire can be traced to traumatic events in the deviant individual’s past that caused discipline or punishment (as either giver or receiver) to become linked with sexual excitement. No one could possibly want to participate in such bizarre sexual rituals, they reason, without some childhood experience that warped their sexuality into perverse forms.

Nonsense. That has always been my reaction. I’ve found intense pleasure, joy and fulfillment in a BDSM relationship, yet I had the most normal, supportive, loving childhood anyone could ask for. It’s true that I was drawn to submissive scenarios at a very young age. Many practitioners of BDSM will say the same. But I don’t think anyone will find the key to this early attraction in my real world history.

After reading Melanie Abram’s novel Playing, however, I do find myself wondering whether this perspective of kink as pathology might in fact be true for some people. Certainly, Ms Abrams paints a convincing portrait of a woman tortured by her past, seeking momentary release in the punishments inflicted by her dominant lover.

Josie is a smart, attractive young woman, just starting her graduate work in anthropology. She takes a job as live-in nanny to a borderline autistic boy, supposedly to eke out her stipend, but actually because she feels drawn to the boy and his beautiful, vivacious mother. Mary reminds Josie of her own mother, with whom Josie has an extremely conflicted relationship – but Mary seems to accept and approve of Josie in a way that her own mother never could.

Josie’s and Mary’s relationship is strained to near breaking when Devesh, a charismatic Indian surgeon whom Mary wants for herself, chooses Josie instead. It turns out that Devesh is sexually dominant.  As he and Josie  “play”, he fulfills fantasies that have haunted her ever since the death of her infant brother. For Josie, their scenes of discipline and desire are cathartic and overwhelming. Little by little they break down the walls of self-deception she has built to protect herself from the awful truths of her childhood.

Josie is an extreme and yet believable character. Though she is in her late twenties, she is in some sense a victim of arrested development. She sulks and throws tantrums. She is petulant and deliberately disobedient. Though she has an adult’s sense of responsibility, she acts like a child.

Devesh loves her, and thinks that he understands her, but he can’t see the dark secrets that swirl inside her, the nightmares that will release her.  As he comes closer to knowing the truth, Josie pushes him away. He begs her to join him on his visit to India, but she refuses. Finally, disappointed and hurt, he travels by himself, leaving Josie to face her demons alone.   

If erotica is defined as writing intended to arouse, I’m not sure that Playing qualifies for this label. The scenes where Devesh and Josie “play” constitute a relatively small portion of the novel, though they are sufficiently intense that their influence lingers:

The unfairness of it pricked her, and she tried to turn her back to him, but he held her still. He ran his fingers through her hair and held tightly. “Now,” he whispered. “I’m going to give you five more, and you’re to count each of them, nice and loud. Do you understand?”

It was unfair, but she felt her head expand, her body yield, and she nodded.

“Good.” He stepped away and brought the crop down, a hot fiery snap.

“One,” she said.

Quickly, he did it again, and she cried. “Two.” It was electric, and she could feel the welts rise, the heat emanating from the crop to her flesh to her very center. “Three.” The top of her head seemed to open up, and with the next molten snap of the crop, she felt sucked into the ether. It was a familiar feeling, this going outside herself, but this time, her consciousness disintegrated, leaving her body below and counting. “Four.” Just bones and flesh planted firmly. “Five,” and then he was telling her to beg to be fucked, and she was begging, over and over until he was cupping one of her breasts in his hand, and then pushing inside her, his mouth tight on her ear, telling her all the nasty things she’d only thought to herself for years and years and years, and her head was pushing into cold iron, full of nothing but space and air, her insides alive and present, her outsides his completely.

As illustrated by this passage, the novel is far less explicit than most work characterized as erotica. At the same time, this book primarily is about sex, about the intricate relationships between sexuality and all the other emotions in our lives. The core conflict revolves around Josie’s guilt, which has become eroticized and now can be expiated only through punishment at her lover’s hand.

Playing succeeded in making me wonder, briefly, whether there is in fact some key childhood experience that accounts for my kinkiness, something that I’ve blocked from my memory but which continues to affect me. And yet the novel concludes by suggesting that D/s fantasies can be as much a cure as a symptom, if they’re played out in the context of a loving relationship.

Devesh readily admits to having had dominant desires for as long as he could remember.    Still, he denies that this is pathological. For him, BDSM is simply a path to intimacy and pleasure. Josie, on the other hand, needs to confront the reality of her past, stripping away the sexual charge that has accumulated around her deeds and those of her family. Once she does this, she discovers that playing with Devesh, surrendering her self to him, becomes a process of healing. 

Playing is an intelligent and reasonably well-crafted inquiry into the dynamics of sexual “deviance”. Although it is not one-handed reading, it satisfies on other levels.

Pleasure Bound: True Bondage StoriesPleasure Bound: True Bondage Stories
Edited By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443549
July 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

We're all guilty. All of us authors, I mean. We take a personal experience, an actual erotic encounter, and turn it into a story. We burnish it. We perfect it. Then we offer it to the world, usually pretending it is fiction when in fact it's the truth, retouched with fantasy.

Pleasure Bound purports to be a book of true confessions. I am not willing to go out on a limb and guess which stories are “real” and which are not. It's a continuum anyway. Every erotic story contains at least a germ of personal truth. Some of the stories feel more genuine than others, but that could reflect the author's craft as much as the reality of the experience.

So I'll treat all of the contributions in Ms. Tyler's volume as fiction and review them as such. As my husband often claims, “There's no such thing as reality.”  Especially when you are talking about erotica.

Possibly my favorite tale in the collection is Alison Tyler's own “Stickler for Details”. The author/narrator contacts a Dom for research purposes. He chides her for using capital “I” in her emails to refer to herself, and she's justifiably annoyed. When she finally meets him, however, his presence overwhelms her:

He was there, waiting, his silver hair brushed back from his forehead, his suit jacket open over a stark white shirt—no tie, no frills, crisp and smart as Courier font.  From his gaze, I realized that I no longer had to worry about my Is or my eyes, because the sense of submissiveness fell over me like a cloak.  I didn’t have to think about how to behave…I wanted to be his with a capital H… When I pulled up a chair at the table, when I said my greetings, when I brought out my notebook—every gesture about me whispered of my desires.  Every story I’d ever written had led me to this point.

Okay, I'll admit that I'm ready to believe this tale. It was too heartfelt not to be true.

Another standout is Teresa Noelle Robert's “Big Hands.”  It's one of the few stories in which the female is dominant—at least for a while. Jim is tall, dark, handsome and built so solidly that he was one loincloth and some archaic weaponry away from being a fantasy barbarian warrior, just the sort of guy to give a girl a spanking she'll never forget. But Jim has other ideas, and they turn out to be as arousing as the narrator's original notions.

Having maintained my own long distance BDSM relationship for more than two decades, I identified strongly with “The Visit” by A.D.R. Forte.

“How would you like to be fucked here?”

I was exhausted and filthy from traveling for more than a day. My back ached and my eyes hurt, and I hadn't eaten except for the lone hot dog in Chicago and countless bottles of caffeinated soda.

I looked at him and my breath caught in my throat.

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes what?” he asked as he came to stand before me, and I took a deep breath. It scared me that it came so easily, that we'd picked up our old ways so seamlessly.

“Yes, Sir.”  And I was trembling as I said it. “Please.”

The emotion is genuine. Never mind the facts.

Other standouts include Shanna Germain's “Deal”. Ms. Germain paints a gritty portrait of  a last semester in high school, two couples playing cards, the narrator fucked and near strangled by the other girl's boyfriend and loving it all. “Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones Will See You Now,” by Malcolm Harris, gives us a blow by blow (literally) account of a man's visit to a dominatrix--a visit funded by his wife. The story succeeds in convincing the reader that BDSM is the road to physical as well as mental health, at least for some of us. Annette Miller's “Do I Look Like I'm Joking” is a humorous and arousing tale of a husband pushing his wife's limits. “Bound to Act,” by Brooke Stern, incorporates more extreme submission and suggests that in order to be an effective actor, you literally need to let go.  Thomas Roche's “Ghosts of the Wildflower” is smart and sharp and slightly wistful in its portrayal of a compulsive liar who happens to adore bondage.

One of the things that I appreciate about Alison Tyler's anthologies is her willingness to explore the darker side of BDSM. Some stories in this volume—Sophie Valenti’s “On the Mend,” Tess Danesi's “Tears of All Kinds,” Stephen Elliott's “Once More Beneath the Exit Sign”—dwell more on the sadism component in the acronym. I don't necessarily prefer stories of really rough sex myself, but I know that they're part of the power spectrum and I applaud Ms. Tyler's discernment in including them in her books.

I am not talking about a lack of consent here. Mercy isn't in Marc's vocabulary—and for that I'm thankful begins Ms. Valenti's story. That sums it up. Some people crave a level of pain beyond what I'd seek. For some, real fear is truly arousing. Ms. Tyler recognizes this, unlike some editors who shy away from the darkness and treat BDSM as a kind of game. 

Pleasure Bound is another exceptional collection of BDSM fiction--or is it fact?—from a daring and sensitive editor who clearly understands her topic from personal experience.

Power PlayPower Play
By: Charlotte Stein
March 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

When he tells me to lift my skirt and bend over his desk, there's a moment where I hesitate.  There's always a moment. It's like the feeling just before the lock springs under the pressure of the correct key you've somehow chosen. My body goes completely still and the word no makes a fist in my throat, and then I just do it.

Thus begins Charlotte Stein's new novel, Power Play. From this brilliant, breathless opening paragraph,  you might guess that Power Play is a classic male dominant, female submissive story, but if that was your conclusion you'd be wrong.

Before the end of the first chapter, the Dom in this first scene, the narrator Eleanor Harding's boss Mr. Woods, has been sent packing, and she has been promoted to his position as managing director of a small publishing company. Meanwhile, she has become curiously obsessed with Woods' personal assistant, a big, shambling, disheveled, but curiously appealing American lad named Benjamin. Ben's a bottom through and through, and he's not afraid to admit it. Still, in some sense he controls the action, as he provokes Ms. Harding into severe acts of discipline which simultaneously arouse and horrify her.

Although their scenes engender guilt and self-disgust, Eleanor can't seem to resist the urge to torment her peculiarly sexy subordinate. For one thing, he clearly enjoys the worst she can dish out. The more she abuses him, the more excited he becomes. Even more disturbing than the pleasure she achieves in dominating him is the tenderness he lavishes upon her. Ms. Harding has built her existence around strict self-control; she's terrified by the suggestion that Ben might breach the carefully constructed walls around her heart.

Neither lust nor love will be denied, however. Before long, Eleanor can't deny that her interactions with Benjamin are more than just kinky power games – that he has taken charge of her soul as completely as she possesses his body.

Reading Power Play is an arousing, intense experience. Ms. Stein's signature first-person-present narration brings an intimacy to every scene, focusing on sensory detail and highlighting the heroine's confusion and conflict. Eleanor doesn't plan the tortures she inflicts on poor Ben. They arise spontaneously from some part of herself she never guessed existed. At the same time, the author manages to suggest the psychological linkages between Eleanor's previous submission and her new role as a dominant.

Benjamin is a delightful contrast to the stereotyped alpha hero. He's clumsy, awkward and ill-dressed, with a puppy-dog eagerness to obey Eleanor's every command. Appearances are deceiving, though. He turns out to be far more insightful than one would expect, about both his own needs and about Eleanor's conflicts. The contrast between his impressive sexual expertise and his reportedly limited experience puts some strain on the character's credibility, but he's still more believable than a virile sexual superman who brings his partner to orgasm with every penetration.

Eleanor's personality seems, paradoxically, less well motivated. I say paradoxically because we spend the entire book inside her head and yet, she's still a cipher. Although the reader experiences the world through her senses and is apprised of every perverse fantasy that crosses her mind, every shift in her emotions,  it's still not clear why she's so closed and conflicted. She has obviously had many sexual encounters and yet she claims to have never been in a relationship. She suggests that her life outside work is empty and sterile – but why? I would have liked the author to dig a bit deeper, to give us a more plausible and in-depth appreciation of what makes Ms. Harding tick. On the other hand, when Eleanor describes her submission to Woods, one can see that this was the first step in her real sexual awakening. The freedom she found in those encounters prepares her for her “natural” role in dominating Ben.

Power Play has little in the way of plot. The entire 280-page book chronicles the development of Eleanor's and Ben's relationship, through a series of intricately described sex scenes. This, however, is anything but boring. Ms. Stein spends page after page building delicious sexual tension, capturing every flickering mood, every scent, texture and taste. Indeed, the whole novel might be viewed as one long sexual encounter, since when Eleanor is not physically involved with Ben, she's fantasizing about him.

The novel's ending veers toward a romance Happily Ever After. Then again, a really satisfying sexual relationship does often lead to deeper connections. After reading Power Play, I'm definitely convinced that Ms. Harding will be spanking, sodomizing, humiliating and otherwise tormenting a very happy Benjamin Tate for a long time to come.

Power Plays: A Sex and Politics AnthologyPower Plays: A Sex and Politics Anthology
Edited By: Jamaica Layne
Ravenous Romance
ISBN: 978-1607771142
May 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

“Power tends to corrupt”, wrote Lord Acton in 1887. When I opened the erotic anthology Power Plays, I was looking forward to a set of decadent and decidedly corrupt stories about the way that people in politics wield their power in the sexual realm. I rubbed my virtual hands together at the prospect of feverish trysts fueled by the charisma of a popular leader. I expected that some of the authors would bring together the notions of political power and the “power exchange” that is at the heart of BDSM. Perhaps I would see political potentates gladly surrendering to the erotic power of a master or mistress. Maybe some author would explore the implications of a seasoned Dom being elected as president or prime minister. 

For the most part, I was severely disappointed. As a group the stories in Power Plays do not exploit the potential of the anthology theme. They are mostly rather ordinary sexual romps in which the political affiliations of the characters have little impact on the conflict, the plot or the interactions. Several of the stories, notably “The Sanctuary” by Olivia London and “Changing Moon” by Angela Cameron, stretch the definition of “politics” well beyond what seems reasonable. Ms. London's story chronicles an affair between an office temp and her supervisor, with a passing mention of “office politics”. Ms. Cameron's tale is a sexy and atmospheric werewolf romance concerned with a leadership struggle within the pack, a sensual tale, but too far from the book's proposed topic to fit well.

“Filibuster” by Vanessa Vaughn offers a tasty ménage with a bit of an edge, but it hardly matters that female and male protagonists are both members of Congress. We might see these office antics in any company or organization. Victoria Lacy's “A French Tryst” gives us the first woman president, seduced in a museum by a classically sensual Frenchman. Their coupling is torrid but the scenario (a U.S. president, on her own without security?) is completely improbable. In any case, the heroine could be any high-powered businesswoman. There's sex here, but no power, no politics. “Board of Directors” by Jen Bluekissed, is set against the backdrop of a corporate election, but its main focus is sex and chocolate --always a popular topic, but not really related to politics and power.

A few stories save the collection from total mediocrity. Maryn Bittner's “Whatever It Takes” is a satiric gem. Set in Florida during the disputed presidential election of 2000 (and with artful references to the future election of 2004), the story is told by a savvy Republican mover and shaker, sent to guarantee a Bush victory. He meets a wealthy and distinguished man who promises to deliver just that – but at a carnal price.

“Voter Registration” by L.A. Mistral is also noteworthy for its original voice. Gorgeous and horny Tequila, the main character, is a power junkie turned on by the politicians she sees on TV:

The onscreen politician reached out to her and her alone from the high-def, quantum-leap megapixels of her TV. His sturdy, knowing hand reached out for support and for national unity. I want to support you, he said. I'm reaching out to you, he said. Tequila imagined his hand on her, holding her, supporting her. His four-square image and the conviction of his imagination spread over her pale body like a symphony, plucking every secret need and every unspoken melody. His words untied her diaphanous robe and let it fall away. Her red robe was so sheer, it was more of a whisper than a word. His face smiled over her body as she lay open for him, his eyes appreciating her favors, her rapt attentions and her pledge of support. Tequila did the rest.

Despite the occasionally mixed metaphors, the author manages to create a unique character here, one for whom politics is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

A third story with some unusual aspects is “Small Town Tastes”, by K.D. Grace. A randy congressman attends a small community's annual picnic and is captivated by the mayor's nubile daughter. We think we know the outcome, but in this story, nothing is quite as it seems.

Overall, however, this collection is far from outstanding. I found the editor's one-line commentary at the start of each story gratuitous and annoying. For the most part the production of the book is adequate, but for some reason the final story was marred by such serious formatting flaws that it was nearly unreadable.

I approached this book with a frisson of excitement. By the time I had finished, I felt like I'd been through yet another one of those electoral contests in which one votes for the lesser of multiple evils.

Rock My Socks OffRock My Socks Off
By: Jeremy Edwards
Xcite Press
ISBN: 1907016015
January 2010

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Followers of Erotica Revealed know that, at times, sex is the mirror of the soul. Sexual congress can be a spiritual experience, an act of rebellion, an expression of need or an existential confrontation with one's own mortality. The erotic genre explores the multi-layered nature of desire--its meaning for the individual and for society. Erotica can be inspiring, enlightening, shocking or educational.

Sometimes, though, it's just plain fun. Jeremy Edwards' novel Rock My Socks Off is a prime example.

Rock My Socks Off is a breezy tale featuring a brilliant, gorgeous and unrelentingly horny astronomy professor named Normandie Stephens. (“My parents called me Brittany, and when I turned sixteen in a sea of other young Brittanys, I said 'Fuck this' and swapped it for the next French province over.”) If there were a Nobel Prize for lust, Normandie would win hands down. Jacob Hastings is the lucky journalist who catches Normandie's eye at a grad student party and eventually wins her heart (with many and varied clinches along the way). Normandie desperately wants tenure--almost as much as she wants Jacob--and over the course of the book they concoct a half-way accidental scheme that wins her national acclaim, almost destroys her career, and brings them into contact (and I use the term advisedly) with a collection of other equally randy characters. These include Normandie's department head Kate (a savvy and salacious bisexual cougar), Jacob's photographer Susan (superficially shy but with a deep appreciation of the erotic--at both a professional and personal level) and the dumb but charismatic dance club god Brandon.

There's a lot of sex in this book. In fact the thin plot has little function other than to provide the sexual superstructure. This is clearly intentional rather than an artistic flaw. I have read other examples of Mr. Edwards work and I know he produces a realistic story with non-trivial conflicts if he has a mind to. Rock My Socks Off is a romp with a capital R. Everyone gets off, all the time, in a wide range of environments including in the traditional utility closet, on the department chair's desk, at a roadside rest area and in the audience of a TV game show.  All the while, Jacob and Normandie engage in witty repartee, emphasizing the fact that Jacob is as enamored of Normandie's prodigious intelligence as he is of her pert ass.

In some ways, this book reminds me of classic Victorian erotica like The Pearl. It is pure wish fulfillment. No one is ever too tired to fuck. No one ever gets jealous. There's enough cock and pussy for everyone. Normandie is an educated man's dream (well, she'd be my dream if I were an educated man!): articulate, self-confident, funny and horny, with a streak of mischief a mile wide and a huge wardrobe of candy-colored bikini panties that are perpetually damp.

Curiously, my most serious complaint about this book relates to the sex scenes. They are frequent but often very short, a paragraph or two. Not only are they brief, but they are also short on detail, emotional or physical. There's little time to build up tension. When a character itches, he or she scratches--or gets a partner to do so.

The characters are revealed almost entirely through their conversation. We rarely if ever get a glimpse into their minds or hearts. Even Jacob, the point of view character for most of the book, rarely shows us more than his whole-hearted appreciation for Normandie.

On the plus side, I liked the fact that sex in this tale means more than just fucking. In Mr. Edward's fictional world, sex is a whole body experience. Oral sex, groping or kissing can be just as satisfying as whole hog penetration. Probably half the sex scenes involve something other than intercourse. Furthermore, the characters enjoy bringing each other off almost as much as they like coming themselves. Not every scene is symmetric and that's just fine with everyone involved.

If Jacob Hastings reflects his creator at all (and I suspect that he does), Mr. Edwards really adores women. Jacob is not in the least submissive, but he's almost awed by Normandie and willing to let her take the lead. He has a healthy attraction to other women as well, which Normandie encourages. She's smart and experienced enough to know that his attitude is rare and precious.  

You’re not a little boy who’s trying to compete with me, and you’re not a big boy who’s trying to own me, and you’re not a selfish boy who wants me to just shut up and fuck.  …Do you realize how special that makes you?

Mr. Edwards paints a delightful picture of a relationship grounded on mutual respect and mutual horniness. The result is satisfaction for all, including the reader.

If you're looking for deep insights or revelations, don't buy this book. On the other hand, if you're in search of some good-natured, cheeky entertainment, I recommend it highly.

Safeword: ArabesqueSafeword: Arabesque
By: Candace Blevins
October 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Negotiation can be sexy. That’s one of the main messages I took away from Candace Blevin’s novel  Safeword: Arabesque. In some BDSM erotica, dominants and submissives engage in spontaneous scenes without any prior consultation, but Ms. Blevins’ characters invest considerable time and energy discussing their desires, fears, fantasies and limits. Given that the book revolves around a four-person polyamorous relationship, such discussions are clearly necessary. Luckily, they don’t slow down or preempt the action.

To admit one’s interests in kinky practices can be as deliciously scary as actually indulging in the transgressive acts themselves. Even the most matter-of-fact discussion of a planned scene can  trigger anticipatory arousal.  In Safeword: Arabesque, negotiations cover not only what the submissives are willing and able to accept, but also what the dominants crave. There’s erotic tension in the frequent distance between those two positions. The sub wants to satisfy his or her master. How far is he or she willing to go to accomplish that? The Dom itches to inflict real pain and evoke real tears, but he’s also concerned about the sub’s well-being. 

Safeword: Arabesqe  does an excellent job articulating these complexities. However, it’s not all talk. The book features numerous and varied sex scenes that range from mild to extreme.  Either the author is herself involved in BDSM or else she has really done her research. I encountered several techniques of which I’d previously been unaware.

As noted above, the novel tracks the developing ties among four individuals. Cassie is a psychiatric nurse with no exposure to or prior interest in BDSM. Still, she experiences a queasy sense of arousal when she sees Frisco (whom she knows from her martial arts classes) leading the sexy ballet dancer Cameron on a leash. At the request of their mutual friend Samantha, Frisco gives Cassie a light introduction to the pleasures of submission. Cassie wants more intensity and pain, but Frisco refuses, claiming he only dominates men. Frustrated and hurt, she turns to another dominant, Isaac, for what she needs, only to discover that he has been Frisco’s friend from childhood. Despite his strong attraction to and affection for Cassie, Isaac refuses to top her until Frisco has had the chance to reclaim her.

Meanwhile, Cam’s education as a slave is nearly complete. Frisco plans to find a suitable Master for the accomplished young man, as he has for the other slaves he has trained. Cam confesses his love for his sadistic Master, begging Frisco for the privilege of staying and serving him. Instead, Frisco throws him out, claiming that Cam has violated his training contract. The traumatized Cam moves in with Cassie, who has participated in some of his scenes with Frisco.

As the book progresses, these four characters resolve their internal and external conflicts and explore their true desires. By the end, they’ve become an unconventional family, each member dedicated to caring for, and satisfying the others. Given the differences in their personalities, needs and sexual roles, it’s quite a complicated dance, but the author makes their mutual accommodations believable.

I liked many aspects of this novel. I found the realistic approach to kink a huge relief after the fanciful and inaccurate portrayals one finds in a lot of erotic fiction. I love stories that feature polyamory, which matches my own interests (if not my practice). Some of the sex scenes definitely pushed my buttons, especially those between Frisco and Isaac.

Nevertheless, after more than four hundred and fifty pages, the book left me somewhat unsatisfied. Ms. Blevin’s characters are distinct individuals, not stereotypes, but still the characterization felt superficial. I didn’t feel I really knew any of the four principals. This may partially be a consequence of the frequent shifts in point of view. I’m not talking about “head-hopping”. Each scene is firmly anchored in the view of one character. However, Safeword: Arabeque does not have a focal character. Although we spend more time in Cassie’s and Cam’s head than Frisco’s or Isaac’s, the narrative shifts freely back and forth among the four protagonists. Perhaps the novel was intended to be Cassie’s story; however, it doesn’t really feel that way. Certainly, I did not strongly identify with her.

Furthermore, the novel lacks a well-defined plot progression. As the foursome gradually bonds, it faces various challenges, but there’s no overarching conflict to be resolved, no continuous rise of narrative tension. By half way through the book, the reader understands that Cassie, Cam, Frisco and Isaac will become an emotional and sexual unit. The remaining two hundred pages are episodic, charting the incremental progress toward that ultimate state. Dramatic events like Cassie’s rape do not seem to receive any more emotional emphasis than mundane activities like group dinners.  I suspect the short chapters – typically only a few pages long – exacerbate this impression.  Rarely if ever does the author create a sustained ramp of emotional intensity.

These criticisms might be literary quibbles. Safeword: Arabesque is competently written and edited, which is more than one can say about many erotic titles in the market today. Readers who choose their erotica based primarily on the sex rather than the language and style will have no complaints about this novel.

Sapphic PlanetSapphic Planet
Edited By: Beth Wylde
ISBN: 1466479086
February 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

In the excitement of the ebook revolution, lesbian erotic fiction seems a bit of the poor stepchild. True, Cleis Press publishes a couple of high profile lesbian collections each year, and Bold Strokes Books continues to offer F/F books to a mostly lesbian audience. Still, lesbian erotica is dwarfed by the enormous popularity of M/M and M/M/F erotica and erotic romance. I know from personal experience that it can be quite difficult to find a market for lesbian stories. And as a reader who enjoys quality F/F fiction, I've discovered my options are surprisingly limited.

Beth Wylde founded the Sapphic Planet authors community to provide support, advice and visibility for writers of lesbian fiction. The Sapphic Planet anthology is the first full length product of this community. The book offers nineteen stories in a range of styles and moods. Overall it admirably fulfills its goal as a showcase for the group's talented members. For someone like me, hungry for smart, sexy F/F stories, the book was a real treat.

The women in these tales cover the gamut of humanity – intellectuals, hairdressers, cops, beauty queens, femmes, butches and bois. Some stories focus on the erotic interactions of established couples, while others explore the intensity of chance encounters. Every story, though, features great sex: hot, wet, and explicit, with plenty of tongue and not a few toys as well. Though some stories are gentler than others, there's hardly a euphemism to be found lurking in this collection.

Possibly my favorite in the collection was Fiona Zedde's gorgeous “Love, Zora,” a sensual imagining of an affair between a young Haitian waitress and author/anthropologist Zora Neale Thurston during the 1920's Harlem Renaissance. The incandescent glory of first lust and the thrill of a power differential make this tale one of the most erotic things I've read in a while.

“Do you like me?” she asks, but does not wait for my answer. Her taste is sweet, like a mango in the heat of summer, her arms and throat brushed with the fine fur of peaches. She slides her hand under my skirt and lifts it, chuckles when she finds me wet and ready. Her fingers slide into me and I watch her greedily pushing under my skirt, looking for a place to call home in the wet folds of my quim. She doesn't mind that I don't move, that my eyes only flutter half closed as she pleasures me. My breasts feed her thirst, pebble and tremble beneath her tongue and teeth as they jut past the gaping blouse and jacket.

“You taste like caramel cream,” she murmurs into my skin. I forgive her the cliché as her mouth suckles and milks and I shudder quietly in passion. Her fingers plumb deep inside with a noise of decadence and of want spilling into the quiet space. My heart races. My neck bows. The air inside the car is hot. I come with the sound of a thousand sighs.

She's timed it perfectly. As the car slows down in the front of the building she pins up my hair, re-situates my hat. She is sliding her own gloves on when the driver opens the door. I know the smell of pussy floats out before us, announcing our pleasure like red banner in the chill night breeze.

Another outstanding story is Jodi Payne's “Licked.” Her heroine is a confident dyke on a business trip who's looking for a one night stand in the local lesbian bar.

I'm going home with someone tonight. Yes, I'm always this sure of myself. Tonight, I didn't even bother with a hotel room. I am seeing someone regularly at home, but like I said, home is a thousand miles away. As a wise man once sang, 'If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with.’

Of course, anyone this arrogant is bound to get her comeuppance. The narrator finds herself intrigued, charmed and finally overwhelmed by a slight boi who's unexpectedly dominant. She doesn't regret it, even when she ends up being the one who's been taken, used, and dropped.

In Roxy Katt's irrepressibly kinky yarn “The Ungirdling,” a young office temp with a fetish for foundation garments seduces and subdues her matronly, girdle-wearing boss. The fact that this story is hilarious did not decrease its sexual charge, at least not for me.

Jean Roberta's insightful “Fame” turns on envy and hero-worship. The narrator thinks she's invisible to her famous-author neighbor, but she couldn't be more wrong.

Nan Andrews' story “Her Smile” is one of the longest tales in the book, recounting the gradual rapprochement of two very different women. Aside from its sympathetic heroines, I loved this story for its spot-on depiction of appearance-conscious Los Angeles:

The crowd at Jolene's was the hippest in town. All the right labels, all the right plastic surgery. It was surprising they ate or drank anything at all. No one here seemed larger than a size two. They sipped their neon-colored drinks, and I wondered why I'd come.

It wasn't for the food. Jolene's was known for having the most erratic menu in town. Raw food, foams, towering creations of air and straw; anything and everything as long as it was trendy. Some meals were truly inedible, but that wasn't why my agent wanted to meet here. It was to see and be seen. 

“Brotherly Love,” by Beth Wylde, is a warm-hearted tale of a woman who thinks her sapphic tastes are a secret – until her brother-in-law sets her up with the girl of her dreams.

I was delighted to see a story from Tenille Brown, the first (for me at least) in quite a while. Her “Taming Tildy” features a woman's discovery of how she can make her spoiled brat lover behave.

Dylynn DeSaint's “Haircut” is a very naughty tale of a woman's after hours encounter with her hairdresser. I loved Ms. DeSaint's description of her heroine's sensations as she dons her harness, inserts her cock and steps out into the streets of New York.

Allison Wonderland's “Bathing Beauty” provides a playful, arousing snapshot of a committed couple, proving that there's nothing better than getting wet.

These are just some of the book's highlights. Practically every story was sexy enough to be worth reading. My primary complaint about Sapphic Planet is that the majority of tales in this collection are too short for my personal tastes. The book is 280 pages long, but in the format I received, each page held only a couple of paragraphs. I suspect that most of the stories fell into the 2000-3000 word range – enough time for an intense sexual encounter, but not much leeway for complexities or character development. I'm not faulting the craft in the most of these tales, but I found myself a bit frustrated when story after story ended – just as I thought things were getting interesting.

If you're looking for lots of lesbian sex, though, in all its moods – sweet, hot, rough, desperate, moody, guilty, mysterious, bittersweet – you can't go wrong with this collection. Hopefully there will be other, similarly entertaining volumes coming from Sapphic Planet.


Seventy Three (Oakham)Seventy Three (Oakham)
By: Rebecca Symmons
January 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Surveying the current state of the publishing world, one might conclude that language and literary craft   are not important in determining success. Even the biggest fans of E.L. James or Dan Brown admit that these authors will win no prizes for the quality of their writing. I've had my own readers tell me that what they really care about is the characters and “the story.”  They're willing to forgive awkward sentences, head hopping and even the occasional grammatical faux pas as long as these problems don't interfere too much with their immersion in the story and their identification with the hero and heroine. Lost in the story world, these readers might not even notice the language problems.

At best, many top-selling authors produce prose designed to vanish into the background: simple, direct, concrete and explicit. We've left behind the days in which the language in which a story was told mattered as much as the story itself.  

I guess I'm a throwback to that earlier age. I can't read without being aware of an author's language. A felicitous turn of phrase or a vivid image delight me as much as a fascinating protagonist or a clever plot device. Conversely, poorly written prose will destroy the pleasure of reading for me, even when a  book is one I'm predisposed to enjoy.

Rebecca Symmon's self-published opus Seventy Three offers an interesting and moderately original take on the tropes of dominance and submission. Her heroine Kate is no innocent virgin, but a professional woman in her forties, owner of an upscale art gallery and spouse of a technology entrepreneur who spends a lot of time traveling.  Kate and Richard enjoy a lively sex life – at least when he is in town - but Kate knows something is missing. She has fantasized for as long as she can remember about giving up control and being forced to perform shameful and degrading sex acts on strangers. When she confesses her desires to her husband, Richard tries to fulfill her fantasies, but he just can't bring himself to be nasty enough to satisfy the woman he loves. Then Kate discovers that one of the artists she represents lives the life of a slave, bound by contract to a mysterious organization known as Oakham. Painter Elizabeth and her master Robin recommend Kate to the administration of Oakham. Kate and Richard complete lengthy applications full of intimate details. Eventually, Kate is accepted for training as slave number 73.

Most of the three hundred seventy odd pages of the novel detail the ordeals Kate must face and her reaction to them. There are whippings, canings, cock sucking, cunnilingus, public humiliation, forced exhibitionism, and lots of unlubricated anal penetration. I liked the fact that, through all of this, Ms. Symmons focuses on the psychological impacts of her heroine's experience. Unlike some fantastical BDSM tales, the severe beatings in Seventy Three really hurt and the Oakham members who use slave 73 are sometimes brutal, callous, or unattractive to the point of engendering disgust. Brave and proud, Kate takes it all. The author emphasizes over and over that her heroine doesn't crave pain or humiliation, per se. What Kate loves is the knowledge, after the fact, that she has successfully endured whatever trials her owners have meted out.

Kate's understanding of her own needs and the true nature of submission evolve over the course of the book. Perhaps even more intriguing, though, is the way Richard changes. He can't dominate Kate himself but, somewhat to his own surprise, he finds turning her over to the members of Oakham to be infinitely arousing. Gradually he becomes complicit in his wife's utter debasement, setting up tests for her and then reveling in her helplessness as she attempts to perfect her identity as a slave.

Anyone who knows me, and my tastes, might guess that I'd love the story above. Unfortunately, although the book has a lot of promise, the terrible writing prevented me from enjoying it. Ms. Symmons' prose abounds in run-on sentences, with three or four independent clauses comma-spliced. The point of view wanders freely from one character to another without any warning. The dialog feels stiff and artificial. Misspellings, malapropisms, and misplaced modifiers pop up on almost every page. Possibly the most annoying aspect of her prose is her tendency to shift from one tense to another, sometimes within a single paragraph.

Here's a typical example:

The two say their goodbyes, kiss and leave the cafe. Kate returns to the gallery to find the electricians near to the completion of their task. By two-o-clock Harry and Keith had finished work, tested the new lighting, cleaned up their mess and left. Helen was up to date with her list of jobs and Kate was hungry. Maybe it was turning out to be a good day after all. “Shall we close up and go to lunch, Helen?”

“I thought you'd never ask, come on.”


“But are you sure it's fun for you Kate, it sounds like pretty heavy stuff?” They both knew Melissa was fishing for more information without asking direct questions.

“It's not as bad as it sounds. The thrill is, that I don't know what's going to happen to me or to be done to me, I've given my permission beforehand for them to do whatever they want, even if I don't agree at the time. But strange as it sounds, I'm still in control, I can say no and end it.”

“Wow, sorry Helen. I mean fancy going out and not knowing what will happen by the time you come home.”

“Yes, I don't make any of the decisions so I'm not to blame for doing things, no guilt see.”


Having arrived at the gym early it was still very quiet, office workers not yet finished with their days toil Once in the changing room Kate prepares to shower, removing her sweat top as she always did in front of Helen.


The meal was a joyous affair, good wine, excellent food and friendly banter. After finishing a generous helping of desert [sic] the liqueurs were passed around the table. The festive atmosphere and copious amounts of drink began to take their toll as the dancing took priority. Returning to the table to relax Richard's roaming hand came to rest on Kate's thigh.

One has to wonder whether the liqueurs enjoyed their dessert, and where Richard's hand had been roaming before it returned to the table.

It's hard to resist the urge to ridicule this sort of error. However, that would be doing Ms. Symmons a disservice. I believe that she put her heart and soul into this book. It has the intensity (and the occasional didactic quality) of a personal quest explored in fiction. I recognize the signs; my first novel was the same way. The dedication reads “To those still living with hope.…” Perhaps I'm wrong, but I suspect that throughout the writing of this novel, Ms. Symmons imagined herself in her heroine's shoes (or bonds), as she hoped her readers would.

Hence, I don't blame Ms. Symmons for this book, as poorly written as it is. She clearly didn't know any better. I blame the current system, which makes it possible for someone sincere to embarrass herself by offering the world the cherished fruits of her imagination, wrapped in such a poor package. Before the advent of self-publishing and the ebook Gold Rush, this book would never have seen the light of day in its current form – and that, in my opinion, would have been a blessing. Although perhaps the story of Seventy Three deserves to be told, I found the process of reading it to be painful.

I gather from Amazon that this tome is the first of a trilogy about Oakham. I strongly recommend that the author hire a skilled editor – or maybe even a writing tutor – before bringing out her next volume.

Sex and CandySex and Candy
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Pretty Things Press
ISBN: 1576122999
November, 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

The minute I started to read Shar Rednour’s Foreword to this collection, I realized that I was the wrong reviewer. I have an anti-sweet-tooth. At age two, family legend claims, someone gave me a lollipop and I didn’t know what to do with it. I could live for months without ever craving dessert. When I do want something sweet, it’ll be fruit, or crême caramel, or maybe ice cream, certainly not something gooey or chocolatey. Never (alas dear Rachel) have I yearned for a cupcake!

I’ve engaged in the traditional sexual experimentation with whipped cream. I’ve been as turned on as anyone by the famous eating scene in the classic film “Tom Jones.” For the most part, though, my personal sexual proclivities do not tend toward the sorts of sugary adventures portrayed in this book.

My overall feeling after finishing Sex and Candy is that the book is not up to the usual standards of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s collections – for instance the amazing He’s on Top: Erotic Stories of Male Dominance and Female Submission, which I just finished reading.

Even though Sex and Candy includes many of my favorite erotica authors, the majority of the stories felt superficial: sweet, sticky, sometimes nasty romps without much plot beyond the avid consumption of the focused confection. What I can’t decide is whether this is a realistic view of the collection, or whether it’s conditioned by my own personal tastes.

I’d suspect my subjectivity was the cause, except for the fact that the book does contain two completely wonderful stories that follow the theme, but take it much further and deeper than most of the contributors. Shanna Germain’s “Kneading” left me in wet, astonished awe. It is lyrical and tough, intense and original, featuring characters so far from the stereotypes that I guarantee you, too, will be amazed. The editors showed great wisdom in using a quote from this tale as the introductory blurb for the collection.

“At home, I don’t let her touch me. There is only this: my fingers tangled in her thin apron strings, cascade of cotton and flour against the floor, Macy’s dark arms iced with sugars and spice. My recipe is simple: Macy and me, hands and skin, kneading and heat. ‘The best recipes just taste complicated.’ This is something I plan to teach her.”

Equally fine, in a different way, is Donna George Storey’s “Six Layers of Sweetness.” The tale is as carefully constructed as the dessert in its title. Sharp, spicy layers of physical desire alternate with more subtle emotional flavors. Ms. Storey is an expert chef, and it shows.

A few other stories in the book have bent over pages, meaning that I felt they were worth mentioning. “Cling,” by Tenille Brown, is the delightfully tongue-in-cheek tale of a mature woman who can’t quite bring herself to give up her lover even though she knows he’s not “marriage material.” I enjoyed Bianca James “Green Chile Chocolate” largely because her “Chile man” so completely matched my image of male sexiness. R.Gay’s “Other Girls” is a carny romance, shot through with the wistfulness of a man who’s always just passing through. And Catherine Lundoff’s “Phone, Sex, Chocolate” offers a sticky, poignant look at a hopeless lesbian fantasy:

“We make plans for lunch next week and you sign off with some flippant comment about beauty sleep. I drop the phone, sending both hands between my legs to rub soft chocolate on my clit in tight, firm circles. I imagine you in your power suit, taking me on your desk with expensive chocolate dripping onto your memos and I come hard, my back arching against the couch.”

If you like sugar, if you think that having sex in a pool of fudge or on a bed of crushed cupcakes is hot, if you’re turned on by eating marshmallows from between your lover’s breasts, or sticking a peppermint candy cane into one of your lover’s orifices, then you’ll love this book. If you’re like me, someone who could live the rest of her life without caring if she ever tastes chocolate (and I realize this sounds incredible to some of my readers), Sex and Candy might leave you a bit hungry.

Sex in the City: DublinSex in the City: Dublin
Edited By: Maxim Jakubowski
Accent Press
ISBN: 1907016236
September 2011 (UK)

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Let me begin by admitting that I am at a distinct disadvantage in reviewing this book. Despite its literary reputation, I've never been to Dublin. The closest I've been to Ireland is Boston. I've read some Joyce but found myself confused at least partially because of his references to places and historical events with which I was totally unfamiliar. Hence, I'm not particularly well-qualified to evaluate whether the stories in this collection succeed in bringing the city in the title to life.

So I have to judge this anthology based on whether the stories created a distinctive world that I could clearly imagine - whether I'd recognize Dublin if I visited after reading these tales. Of course, the normal criteria for reviewing erotic fiction also apply. Is the story original? Is the writing competent? Are the sex scenes intriguing, arousing, emotionally involving?

Sex in the City: Dublin includes two exceptional stories that do all of the above and more.  Stella Duffy's "Of Cockles and Mussels" offers a lyrical portrait of an earthy fish monger named Molly Malone, who claims she fucked James Joyce and was the inspiration for Molly Bloom. Never mind the literary references, though. This gorgeous story evokes all the breathless intensity of first love, or first lust (it has never been too clear to me whether the two can be teased apart).

If there's one thing I know to be true about Molly Malone, it's that she was not sweet. Not sweet at all. She was wild and funny and exhausting to be with, she could be cruel too, had a mean temper and a hard jealous streak. But God she was good, to watch, to drink alongside, to play, to laugh, to fuck.  And definitely more salt than sweet. Alive, alive oh.

The story also paints a vivid picture of working class Dublin, in the rhythm of its language as much as its descriptions. The narrator is a dirt-poor, hard-working Catholic girl:

Middle child of five and all those boys, you know my mother didn't have anyone else to help her keep them all clothed, fed, washed, clean. I hated doing the laundry, all that endless scrubbing of filthy boys' shirts and underpants. My brothers are not the only reason I started with women, but knowing a little too much about the ways of men certainly did make a woman a more interesting possibility when I was just sixteen.

When she catches Molly's eye at the market and gets invited to visit, the narrator's  mother, surprisingly, doesn't raise a fuss. The mother understands that her daughter may be treading a different path than her own and is glad of it. That's only one of the joys of this story.

The other standout tale, for very different reasons, is "Picking Apples in Hell" by Nikki Magennis. In this sassy, sexy story, the narrator Niamh meets up with her old lover Frank, who has returned to Dublin for some undoubtedly dodgy purpose. Once again, the language catches the rhythm of Irish speech:

"So what's dragged you back, Frank?"

"Oh, c'mon now. Can't a man visit his home town without good reason?"

"Don't try telling me that you were missing the ole place," I said, keeping my voice nice and flat.

What I didn't say was: tell me you were missing me, tell me you couldn't forget me, tell me you'd cross the sea for one more shot of that filthy, mind-blowing fucking we used to do.

Niamh discovers that Frank is indeed involved in a dangerous and illegal game, but she can't help surrendering to her lust - and her nostalgia:

That mouth. It might have produced some of the filthiest lies you've ever heard in your life, but there's no denying that when Frank McAuley kissed you, it was enough to make St. Peter forgive the devil. He tasted of whiskey and wet nights on the town, he covered my lips with his own and devoured me, drew me forward so it felt like I was falling.

I loved this story for its colorful depiction of the seedy underside of the city as much as for the characters and the sizzling sex. The fact that Ms. Magennis pulls off a deft surprise ending was an unexpected bonus.

Compared to these two stories, the other contributions are at best workman-like but unremarkable. Ken Bruen's "Love is the Drug" is a wry, humorous piece about a regular guy from New Jersey who travels to Dublin looking for love, only to have all his romantic illusions about Ireland shattered. "Abstract Liffey” by Craig J. Sorensen offers complicated and ambiguous characters with whom you can identify - a hallmark of Mr. Sorensen's fiction - but as far as I could tell, the story could have been set anywhere.  Elizabeth Costello's "The City Spreads Startlingly Vast" is an eloquent tale of sex as an antidote to grief, but once again, did not seem particularly Irish. Several of the stories I actively disliked - but of course, that's only one reviewer's opinion.

This isn't a bad collection, but I will admit that after having read Sex in the City: New York, I was disappointed by this other volume in the same series. I'd chalk up my reaction to my unfamiliarity with Dublin, but the fact that two of the tales did succeed in making me see, smell, and taste the city suggests that the problem lies elsewhere.

Smut by the SeaSmut by the Sea
Edited By: Lucy Felthouse
Contributions By: Victoria Blisse
House of Erotica
ISBN: 1782341811
September 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Freedom. Sensuality.  Unsullied nature. Deliciously tacky bars and souvenir shops. Succulent fried fish and icy beer. Scalding sun, gritty sand, salt on the breeze and on your skin. A sense that everyday rules are suspended, that almost anything can happen.

This is what I think of, when someone suggests a seaside holiday. After reading this delightful erotic collection, I know I'm not alone. Victoria Blisse and Lucy Felthouse have assembled more than a dozen luscious tales that celebrate life and love alongside the ocean – tales of temptation and transgression, self-indulgence and sweet release.

Most of the authors in the book are from the U.K., and at least half the stories are set in British ocean resort towns like Scarborough, Brighton and Bridlington, with their boardwalks, fun fairs, and ice cream parlors. Lexie Bay's “Last Chance Summer” chronicles a young woman's torrid fling with a well-muscled carnival attendant, who gives her a ride she'll remember all her life – even as she moves to London and into the adult world. In “Ice Cream Kisses,” M.A. Stacie's harried heroine enjoys a thrilling, sticky encounter inside an unconventional ice cream vendor's closed kiosk.  There's more ice cream, of an Italian flavor, in Slave Nano's “One Scoop or Two”. I don't normally find food sex arousing, but imagining a cold stainless steel ice cream spoon being smoothed over hot, sensitized breasts definitely did the trick.

Lucy Felthouse takes us back to the fun fair with “Dodging”, in which a gal sneaks away from her friends, determined to seduce the God-like bumper car attendant. Tanith Davenport's story “I Like It Wet” is another Scarborough romp, this time among the waves. Victoria Blisse shows us Scarborough in a less sunny, more pensive, but equally sensual mood, in “A Proper British Seaside Holiday,” with a rainy tryst atop an open-air bus. In “Of Moon and Sea,” Cassandra Dean paints an image of Scarborough in an earlier time – perhaps Victorian or Edwardian. Heroine Olivia throws propriety to the winds as she surrenders to her new husband.

In counterpoint to these classic holiday romps, K.D. Grace offers a haunting portrayal of an encounter between a woman and a selkie in her exquisite tale “Skin”. This is perhaps the most serious story in the collection, ripe with mystery and bittersweet echoes of loss. Another delicious oddity is Cynthia Rayne's “Communing with the Mighty Neptune,” an arch fantasy about a woman and a very well-endowed merman. I loved this funny but very sexy story.

Paying tribute to a pagan god is never an easy task. It's not like a simple Christian ceremony where you have to go to the local church, pray, and you're all set. No, there's always a ritual that needs to be translated from some archaic language. Then there is the obscure ingredient list. Of course the ritual must be done at just the right time on just the right night. And then there's the outfit that must be worn, or rather, lack of outfit.

“Swashbuckling,” by Lily Harlem instantiates one of my personal favorite fantasies: running off to sea with a black-haired, virile, and very kinky pirate. Surfing idyll “Against the Current,” by Heidi Champa, breaks the mold as the only gay story in the collection as well as the only one clearly set outside of England. It's a bit too sandy for my tastes, but sultry nevertheless. Finally Justine Elyot's “Love in the Low Season” is a pitch-perfect invocation of a Tom-Jones-like crooner on a downward slide who gets a second chance with a former one-night stand.

Although I associate Victoria Blisse and Lucy Felthouse  more with romance than erotica, many of the stories in Smut By The Sea celebrate the intensity of brief encounters as opposed to long-term relationships. Indeed, holidays by the sea often have the quality of stolen time, a reality separate from the drab world of work and commitment. The ocean constantly changes. You can't hold on to the tide. And the love you find on the beach is meant to be savored and then released.

This was my first experience with a book published by House of Erotica. I was favorably impressed by the production. The pages were tinted a creamy peach color, which actually made them easier to read. Victoria Blisse leads off with a lively introduction, expounding on the book's vision and defending the term “smut.” Author bios follow the stories. I always enjoy finding out more about the people behind the tales.

Another round of copyediting would have improved the book further. I did notice some typographical and grammar errors. However, they weren't sufficiently common to really interfere with my enjoyment of the book.

In summary, Smut By The Sea is a light-hearted celebration of life, sex and salt water. If you can't get to the beach in reality, it's the next best thing.

By: Simon Sheppard
Lethe Press
ISBN: 159021031X
July 2010

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I've reviewed dozens of erotic books in the last decade, but never one with such an in-your-face title as Simon Sheppard's new short story collection, Sodomy! What a title to have screaming from your bookshelves, in red upper-case letters, complete with exclamation point. Better not leave it out when your more sensitive or squeamish friends come by, not unless you want them to know the whole truth about your kinky-slut, polymorphous-perverse alter-ego!

 Given the title, plus my previous experience reading some of Simon Sheppard's tales, I was expecting something quite different from what I found within the covers. I was anticipating brutal butt-fucks, anonymous hook-ups, live-on-the-edge extreme couplings, sweat and spunk, maybe even shit and blood – a raw picture of rough gay sex through the eyes of a veteran. By contrast, the stories in Sodomy!  turned out to be, in many cases, almost quiet – graceful, clever, literate, emotionally evocative narrations in which even casual encounters turn out to touch some chord beyond the physical.  Don't misunderstand – there's plenty of butt-fucking in this collection, not to mention cock-sucking, spanking, and other sexual delights. Overall, though, the mood of these stories is more contemplative than shocking. A more appropriate (but I suspect far less marketable) title might be borrowed from the Victorian era classic: The Romance of Lust.

Perhaps the clearest example is “The Hula-hula Girl.” An aspiring writer turned dock worker in nineteen forties San Francisco picks up a young sailor in an all-night diner.  On his way to Hawaii, Karl the Navy boy has a tattoo of a hula girl on his chest.

 Maybe the smart thing would be to ask him to put on his clothes and get out. I figure I can handle him, whatever comes up. But the hula-hula girl just won't shut up. Come lie on the beach at Waikiki, she purrs, all colored ink and firm young flesh, and let the warm waves wash over your body.

 It's not clear that Karl is exactly gay, but he's more than willing to have his cock sucked when he's shipping out on the morrow. The nameless narrator informs us that he's never considered a tattoo – too permanent, he says. Why tempt fate? Yet two months later, a month after the Pearl Harbor attack has apparently dragged Karl down to a watery grave, he's standing in front of his mirror with his own hula-girl tattoo and getting ready to enlist.

The romance genre is about everlasting love. In contrast, Sheppard's stories focus on impermanence, transient relationships that flare bright and then subside (or literally die).  Still, the sense of romance is there, the feeling that one can be moved and changed by the experience of shared lust.

“Days” offers another, less dark instance of this theme. The narrator (many though not all of the stories in Sodomy!  use first-person point-of-view)  meets a young, innocent-seeming lad named Howard outside the Castro Theater. “Not a very sexy name, huh?” Howard comments, completely aware of his appeal, “perfectly imperfect” in the eyes of the narrator. An intense, kinky scene ensues.

I'm really rather good at spanking, if I do say so myself, and I tried to do my level best with you. It was so lovely to watch your fleshy ass move with the blows, like little tidal ripples of sex...I kind of hate it when people use religious metaphors for SM – it both seems rather pretentious and gives the game away – but this was becoming a spiritual experience, no doubt about it. At least for me.

They see each other a few more times and then the relationship comes to an “indecisive close.” No forever after, not even close. Yet the tiny perfect moments in those sexual encounters, the instants of simultaneous joy and complementary fantasy, remain real and somehow important. 

Several of the tales take stereotypic porn scenarios and turn them on their heads. When you hear the title, “Two Bikers in a Room at the Motel 6,” you think you know what the story will be about. You wouldn't guess that one guy would be a married, straight Harley rider who just happens to like taking it in the ass, and the other a well-groomed gay college professor on a fancy Suzuki. “Brutes” is a hot yet heart-warming tale about a fat guy with a wrestler fetish, who discovers that the blond, muscle-bound star he idolizes just happens to be partial to heavy-set men. “About Gordon” is told by an experienced older man (Hal) who meets a sexy, geeky-looking young guy on the Internet (Gordon). The reader expects that Hal will show Gordon the ropes, but the reality is quite the opposite.

The story that came closest to my expectations was “Barebacking,” which concerns itself with the possibly fatal attraction of unprotected sex. The tale is raw, dangerous, and seductive, but even here there's hesitation, second thoughts. Sheppard leaves the reader to decide whether the narrator will continue his pleasurable but risky activities or not.

As Sheppard notes in his insightful introduction, many of the stories in this book are about writers.  Two notable tales, “Lorca” and  “Marcos y Che,” effectively alternate scenes from “real life” with excerpts from stories a character is in the midst of writing. The sharp, funny initial story in the collection, “A Retired Writer in the Sun” involves a gay graduate student named Quilty, interviewing an aged, legendary author of gay porn called the Witch of Capri for the purposes of his dissertation. As the Witch “sipped his gin and tonic and looked off to the horizon, where an improbably lovely sunset, freighted with metaphor, colored the afternoon”, he pontificates on the “lamentable” current state of erotic writing and mourns that fact that everyone wants “narrative consistency”. When the Witch becomes director of a smutty scene between  Quilty and the serving boy Paulo, Quilty starts to understand the differences between life and literature. 

I don't want to cover every story in the book – better to allow you to discover these jewels on your own – but  I must mention “Three Places in New England” because of its structural perfection. Three places – Boston, New Haven, Montpelier. Three men, two of them strangers, one the committed partner of the narrator. In a mere nine pages, Sheppard constructs a masterful exposition on the difference between lust and love, managing to suggest, to me at least, that love may be at a disadvantage. Narrative consistency is only the beginning.

With this collection, Simon Sheppard demonstrates that literate porn is not an oxymoron. The stories in this volume offer a good deal of humor, some of it self-deprecating, but ultimately I think Sheppard is serious when he says, in “A Retired Writer...”

“I'd bet that many of us who write dirty stories do it, at least in part, in an attempt to master lust. Not to overcome it, but to make it, through thought and word, our servant. To capture desire, quintessential desire. And in this we are damn well bound to lose.”

 Personally, I think that Simon Sheppard is far too pessimistic here. His tales, by hints and indirections, do succeed in capturing some of lust's strange magic. Sodomy! might have surprised me, but it did not disappoint.

Submission: A Treasury of Women Who Like to Give InSubmission: A Treasury of Women Who Like to Give In
Mischief, HarperCollins
February 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Bondage, discipline, dominance and submission have always been popular themes in erotica. For years, discriminating readers of kinky fiction have relied on editors like Rachel Kramer Bussel, Alison Tyler and Violet Blue to supply explicit, arousing, beautifully crafted stories of power and surrender.  The explosive success of The Book Which Shall Not Be Named, however, has dramatically increased the market for BDSM books. People who previously were unaware of or uninterested in D/s are looking for stories to feed their fantasies. Quite naturally, authors and publishers have responded by producing a flood of BDSM titles. Submission: A Treasury of Women Who Like to Give In is an example, an ebook-only short-story collection published by the new Mischief imprint of Harper-Collins.

I have to say at the outset that I was unimpressed by this book as a whole. With no introduction, no editor credited, no author biographies, it felt thrown together. Of course, Cleis collections like Please Sir: Erotic Tales of Female Submission and Love at First Sting: Sexy Tales of Erotic Restraint set the bar high, but I still try to judge each book on its own merits. As a long-time devotee of D/s erotica, I found Submission a bit disappointing.

For one thing, the contents do not uniformly reflect the title. A “treasury” suggests an abundance, an extensive collection, but this book contains only nine tales, none, I would guess, over 4000 words. Furthermore, several of the tales have little to do with female submission. As it happens, these stories are among the best in the book from a literary perspective – possibly because they are not burdened by the stereotypes of the BDSM subgenre. Primula Bond's The Ugly Duckling is a deliciously sensual story in which an awkward art student is seduced by her female teacher and mentor while touring the masterpieces of Italy. By my definition at least, there's no kink in this tale. I loved the honest and affecting You Already Know by Charlotte Stein, a tale of strange love between a shy store clerk and a dangerous-seeming hooligan. Once again, though, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with submission.

Meanwhile, some of the stories that adhere most closely to the theme suffer from over-familiarity. Of course, this is a risk one faces in writing in a popular genre replete with standard scenarios.  For example, “Best in Show” by Rose de Fer features puppy-play. The heroine allows her master to exhibit her to other owners of submissive “puppies,” and reaps the sensual rewards of being an obedient dog. I found myself confusing this fairly predictable story with another puppy-play tale in a different anthology I'm reading for review.

“The Usual Dress Code” by Elizabeth Coldwell employs another common premise – a younger woman in emotional thrall to an older, more experienced man, who dictates what she should wear (usually something suggestive or slutty). Despite the fact that I've met this basic outline many times, Ms. Coldwell's tale did arouse and entertain me because she so brilliantly evoked Matilda's inner life:

She can't believe that he's extended such an offer, but the word that would call a halt to all this remains unspoken. There's no point pretending she doesn't want this. She's always wondered quite how far she'd be prepared to go in following her master's instructions, and it seems to be quite a lot further than she'd ever believed. Why else would her fingers fly back to the hem of the skirt, ready to push it up further if Daniel accepts the invitation?

“There's no point pretending she doesn't want this.” This sentence succinctly expresses the essence of submission, for me at least. Ms. Coldwell's tale stands out for its insight as well as its finely-crafted language.

“Corporate Punishment” by Kat Black brings us into yet another favorite BDSM setting, the corporate boardroom, where business adversaries play out their rivalries in games of sexual power. Cate has won contract concessions from her opponent James Grey, knowing full well that she'll pay for them later, bent over her desk or on her knees swallowing his cock.

“Yours (A Letter to Willow Sears),” written by Willow Sears, is one of the more extreme and filthy stories I've read in a while. (I offer my congratulations to Ms. Sears.) It focuses on a lesbian submissive who is punished for daring to look lustfully at another mistress. The epistolary form gives Yours a distinctive and original tone, but its content may disturb some readers.

Chrissie Bentley's “A Different Kind of Tension” actually bothered me a lot more than “Yours”. The heroine is basically tricked into a bondage scenario by a couple who have relationship problems. The ménage scene that ensues left me cold, partially because of its superficial focus on the physical but more importantly because of the selfishness and dishonesty exhibited by everyone involved.

“The Game” by Kyoko Church is another older master/younger submissive tale, but with an unexpected homoerotic twist that made me smile.

Finally, Terri Pray's “Making Up is Hard to Do” deals with a woman who has left her long-time lover because she believes he has been unfaithful. When she returns to discuss the matter, he reveals himself to be a rampant Dom who wants to teach her several lessons – not only that she should trust him, but also that she adores being topped. I found it rather implausible that a couple would have lived together for such a long time yet never discovered their reciprocal kinks. The narrative frame seemed to be mostly an excuse to write a spanking scene.

Submission is not a bad book. The quality of the writing ranges from acceptable to exceptional. The stories feature plenty of sexual shenanigans, with a satisfying mix of gender orientations. A reader who is satisfied with familiar fantasies will probably not share my disappointment. I know I'm pretty hard to please. 

Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real SexSugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex
Edited By: Erica Jong
ISBN: 0061875767
June 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Let me be clear at the outset. Sugar In My Bowl is not a collection of erotica. Although the book includes a few short stories, most of the twenty-nine contributions are essays concerning various aspects of sex. There's also a wonderful theatrical piece (a “triologue”) that reads more like poetry (“Skin, Just Skin,” by Eve Ensler), a pseudo-scientific parody on the influence of sex toys and guides, complete with footnotes (“Best Sex Ever: A Systematic Guide with Meta-Analysis” by Jessica Winter), and a hilarious sequence of drawings about having a clone of oneself, with a cock (“Cock of My Dreams: A Graphic Fantasy” by Marisa Acochella Marchetto). The pieces range from wistful to hysterical, lyrical to analytical, as each author does her best to fulfill the editor's instruction to write about the “best sex you've ever had.”

Despite the subtitle, the contributors to this volume are a highly selected subset of “real women,” mostly writers, often feminists. The roll includes such luminaries as Fay Weldon, Susie Bright, Susan Cheever, Eve Ensler, and Ms. Jong herself. As a result, their offerings tend to be literate, articulate and insightful. Their individual approaches to their “assignment” vary greatly.

In “My Best Friend's Boyfriend,” Fay Weldon, at 79, describes losing her virginity at the age of eighteen and discovering, after a childhood of ignorance and prudishness, how much she loved sex. She notes that in 1949, there was no contraception, no abortion. Sex could destroy your life. As a result, she comments, sex was a dangerous thing, far more interesting and erotic than it is now.

Liz Smith writes about her first time, too, in “Going All the Way.” She evokes the sexist, racist, anti-intellectual attitudes of nineteen thirties Texas, describing one luminous night with her first cousin that was never repeated.

Some of the contributors paint searingly erotic pictures of relationships where passion mingles with darker things: anger, fear, addiction, doubt.  “The One Who Breaks My Heart” by Rosemary Daniell chronicles her multi-decade affair with a troubled man who was unquestionably her soul mate, despite his faults.  In “Do I Own You Now?” Daphne Merkin describes a summer in her youth, where she was supposed to be working at a prestigious writers' colony but instead was sneaking off to New York City to be with her moody, possessive lover.  It couldn't last, of course, that kind of is-this-love-or-is-this-hate entanglement, but I swear it makes my brain smoke just to consider it all these years later.

Many of the women consider their own sexual selves in the context of their parents. Julie Klam, daughter of sexually permissive nudists, titles her piece “Let's Not Talk About Sex.” Now a mother herself, she begs to be relieved of the need to tell her daughter about the facts of life. She writes:
If evil governments are really looking to torture prisoners, they should forget about waterboarding and just have them sit in a room beside their parents having loud sex. I'd talk!

In her more meditative essay, entitled “Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, Gladly,” Meghan O'Rourke discusses the influence of her parents' sexual history on her own. At the age of seventeen, her mother eloped with her twenty two year old Latin teacher from her Catholic school (Meghan's father). Interspersing this romantic yet shocking tale with her own sexual awakening, Ms. O'Rourke contemplates the similarities and differences across the generations.

Perhaps the most pointed generational contrast comes from Molly Jong-Fast, the editor's daughter.  Her essay, “They Had Sex So I Didn't Have To,” marvels at the fact that she's married, with three kids and a sexually-conservative, non-experimental life style, despite being the child of the woman notorious for having invented the zipless fuck.

Almost every piece in this book has something to offer. My two favorites, I think, were the very different essays by Jean Hanff Korelitz (“Prude”) and Susan Cheever (“Sex with Strangers”). In some sense these two authors are at opposite poles of the sexual spectrum.

Ms. Korelitz writes about her life-long discomfort talking about sex. Despite being a prude, after having her “serious” novels rejected again and again, she spends her two weeks at a writers' workshop penning a graphic erotic novel. When she publishes it under a pseudonym, this somehow breaks the barrier. She goes on to multiple successful  novels, but she can't forget the shameful fact that her first publishing credit was a dirty book.

While I can't begin to identify with her attitudes toward the erotic, I found her insights into the experience of authorship surprisingly congruent with my own. Writing fiction has always been something of an out-of-body experience for me, and it isn't at all unusual for me to read a sentence from one of my published novels and not have the slightest memory of having composed it. That's exactly how I feel, when I reread my work – except that I'm not embarrassed by its content.

Ms. Cheever's essay captures the thrill and occasional transcendence of sex with strangers. One night stands can be spiritual in another way: they can be sex without expectations. They are a leap of faith because you never know quite where they will lead. I know exactly what she's talking about. In her case, a one-night stand turned into a multi-decade, married relationship.

Sugar In My Bowl includes many other notable contributions. While most are not physically arousing (there are a few exceptions), you'll find much to stimulate your intellect and emotions – and occasionally your funny bone. I recommend the book highly.

Surrender: Erotic Tales of Female Pleasure and SubmissionSurrender: Erotic Tales of Female Pleasure and Submission
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573446521
March 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

How should one evaluate an erotic anthology? Is it enough to simply consider each of the stories in isolation? Or should a reviewer also take into account the variety, the balance, and the degree to which the individual tales support the anthology theme?

I find myself wrestling with these questions as I sit down to review Rachel Kramer Bussel's collection Surrender.  In her introduction, "Surrendering to pleasure - and power," Ms. Bussel makes it clear that she considers this to be a BDSM anthology, focusing on the sensual and emotional rewards that await a woman who acknowledges and acts on her need to submit. My personal feeling is that about a quarter of the tales collected here do not really fit this mold. This is not a criticism of the stories themselves, many of which are excellent. However, their very loose connection to the stated topic weakens the book as an integrated whole.

Let me begin, though, with the tales that strongly echo the theme. Possibly the most intense is Ms. Bussel's own contribution, "Belted." Some authors view BDSM as a kind of erotic play, but for the narrator of "Belted," submission is something so fundamental that she can barely explain it.

The belt is able to speak in ways that even the both of you, wordsmiths by trade, cannot always do. The belt is not a "toy" for "foreplay" but a separate part of your sex life, one that may appear at any moment. Its presence lurks while you casually sip your drinks at the bar, hidden but powerful; your fingers are itching to stroke it, if only so they can be slapped away. You never know if he will bring it out, how he will use it, how much of the belt and himself he will give you.  

Tess Danesi's "The Royalton - a Daray Tale," expresses some of the same dark compulsion.

No one has ever hurt me more, but at the same time, no one has ever made me feel more alive and more treasured than Dar. The price for his love is high... I often wonder at my ability to fear him and to trust him at the same time.

Indeed, a common thread running through these tales is the paradoxical relationship a submissive has to the pain her dom inflicts. We both dread and crave it. Draped over her master's lap, Alison Tyler's narrator in "The Hardest Part" can't understand why she's done everything she can to invite her impending punishment.

But now that I'm here, I'd rather be anywhere else. Name the place, and I'd rather be there: in line at the DMV; waiting in the doctor's office; sitting at the back of coach on a packed flight... Why was I in such a rush to find myself over his lap? What was so urgent about him paddling my ass?

Donna George Storey's "Dear Professor Pervert" presents a lighter view of submission, though her grad student heroine is no less eager to obey her academic adviser's lewd instructions. Her master doesn't even need to be present in order to bend her to his will.

"First Date with the Dom" by Noelle Keely, and "Pink Cheeks" by Fiona Locke both capture the breathless excitement of a sub's first surrender. In contrast, "Veronica's Body" by Isabelle Gray paints a chillingly seductive picture of a woman totally, willingly, and permanently owned by her husband.

Some stories in the collection, though, just don't fit - even when they use BDSM scenarios. M. Christian's "In Control" provides a disturbing window into the mind of a twisted and self-absorbed dominant. The woman who surrenders to him is merely a prop. Shanna Germain's wonderfully moving tale "The Sun is an Ordinary Star" has more to say about fear, mortality and misunderstanding than it does about dominance and submission, even though the characters finally reconnect by reclaiming their kinky fantasies. "Schoolgirl and Angel," by Thomas Roche is a hot treatment of an unorthodox threesome, but once again, it's more about the dom's insecurities and insights than about the experience of his cheeky and demanding subs.

The collection also includes Justine Elyot's sizzling exhibitionist fantasy, "The London O" and  Matt Conklin's insightful "Wild Child." Neither of these tales has much to do with surrender, in my opinion, though they were among my favorites - partly because both were new to me.

When I first opened this book, I was struck with a sense of deja vu. Had I read this book before? Was this a re-release? No, the copyright date was 2011.  I certainly recognized most of the tales, though many are strong enough to merit a second reading. Then a check of the credits at the rear of the volume revealed that every one of the stories in Surrender has been previously published, almost all in other collections edited by Ms. Bussel. Since I tend to be a fan of her anthologies (and have reviewed many of them), the familiarity made sense. Still, nowhere in the introduction or front matter does the editor even hint that these stories aren't new. If I had bought this book, expecting a fresh set of kinky tales along the lines of Ms. Bussel's acclaimed Yes, Sir and  Please, Sir, I would have been rather annoyed.

Thus, the need to assign a rating to this book leaves me in a quandary. If I look at individual stories,  Surrender has much to offer - especially if you haven't read many of Ms. Bussel's earlier books. Considered as a thematically-unified whole, the collection is weaker than many of the editor's other offerings.

By: K. D. Grace
Mischief (HarperCollins)
April 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Francie and Dan are desperately in love with one another, but they aren't having an affair – not technically. During their private meetings in the lavish grounds of Dan's opulent estate, they don't touch each other. Instead, they engage in simultaneous masturbation, encouraging one another with dirty talk until each reaches an independent climax. In Dan's view, at least, he's still being faithful to his wife Isabel.

Dan assures Francie that he'll eventually divorce Bel, but he isn't ready yet to take that step. He believes that Bel is too emotionally fragile to handle the shock. Meanwhile, although Bel employs Francie as her kitchen gardener, they're also close friends. Torn apart by guilt and sexual frustration, Francie decides to leave her job for one that plays less havoc with her feelings.

To persuade her to stay, Dan enlists the help of his college chum Simon, a handsome landscape architect who has a lot in common with Francie. According to the plan, Simon will become Dan's surrogate, making love to Francie while Dan watches and directs. Simon agrees, primarily because he's strongly attracted to the earthy, uninhibited young woman himself.

Unbeknownst to her husband, Bel is engaged in some extracurricular sexual shenanigans of her own, in the company of her masseuse Ellen. When Dan finds out, the kinky possibilities re-ignite his lust for Bel – even though he tells himself he loves Francie.  Secrets unravel, motives are misunderstood, and for a while it appears that nobody will end up satisfied. That illusion is dispelled, however, as each character ends up matched with the partner he or she deserves.

I loved The Initiation of Ms Holly, the last book by K.D. Grace that I reviewed, so I opened Surrogates with eager anticipation. Unfortunately, I found myself rather disappointed by this book. The plot premise felt contrived, an insubstantial ruse to justify the sex scenes. The sex itself, though copious and well written, was pretty pedestrian compared to the wildly imaginative scenes in Ms Holly. There are M/F/M and M/F/F ménage interludes and a whole lot of wanking, as well as the obligatory corporal punishment scene, but somehow all of this bonking lacked conviction. There were no surprises, no shocks or risks, no breath-stealing excitement or delicious shame. This may be in part because so many of the sexual encounters were literally staged by Dan, in his attempts to have his cake and eat it too.

The voluptuous Francie is an appealing character. (I keep finding myself wanting to write “well-rounded” or “fully fleshed-out”...)  She's passionate, unaffected and genuine, with a powerful connection to nature – a true goddess type. It's no wonder she inspires such desire in the men around her. She rings true – the descriptions of her passion are among the best parts of the book – and I would love to have met her in a deeper and more engaging story.

The sensitive but virile Simon is her perfect match, though it takes a surprisingly long time for her to realize this. Dan, on the other hand, struck me as so selfish, self-centered and self-deceiving that he's almost a caricature. Toward the end of the book Ms. Grace suggests that he may be punished for his dishonesty and sexual greed, but one gets the impression he'll enjoy that chastisement far more than he should. He's so unsympathetic that I found it implausible that someone with Francie's virtues would ever be attracted to him.

The plot of Surrogates smacks a bit of a Shakespearean comedy, with its deceptions, misdirections and revelations. I found myself thinking of Titania and Bottom. Perhaps one should view Ms. Grace's characters from that perspective, as comic archetypes manipulated by the author for the pure fun of it. Certainly, with the possible exception of Francie, they didn't strike me as at all realistic, but maybe that was intentional.

Surrogates is not a bad book, if you're looking for stroke fiction. It races along smoothly from one orgasm to the next, raunchy and playful, amusing and pleasant (as long as you can put aside the urge to kick Dan in the butt). However, I know from experience that K.D. Grace is capable giving the reader more than a quick wank, that she can produce erotica with a great deal more depth, insight and passion than is evident here. I'm sorry this book doesn't fulfill that promise.

Sweet and DirtySweet and Dirty
By: Christina Crooks
Kensington Aphrodisia
ISBN: 0758238738
January 2010

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Clichés are a hazard for any author. They are a particular problem in the BDSM subgenre, partly because a very few influential works have strongly shaped readers' expectations and writers' imaginations. How many dozens of slave-infested mansions have I encountered in my reading? How many S&M clubs where hapless submissives are publicly beaten and abused, where cruel mistresses drag their pets around on leashes and masked Doms glower and posture?

Cristina Crooks' inappropriately titled Sweet and Dirty offers two novellas (Baring It All and Forbidden Heat) that unfold in these prototypical S&M settings. Thankfully, though, she has done an admirable job in avoiding the clichés by focusing on unconventional and at least marginally complex characters as much as on the dirty deeds in which they're involved.

Michelle, the heroine in Baring It All, has been bullied all her life by her family, and then later, by her fiancé, Ted. After an unfortunate episode in which her attempt to be assertive ends badly, she flees her old life in Alabama, taking up residence in big, bad Los Angeles. Despite her desire to free herself from her past existence as a doormat, she finds herself under the thumb of Posh, proprietor of the doggy day care center where Michelle finds work. Meanwhile Ted shows up at her apartment door to drag her back to her “real life” in Alabama.

Then Posh sends Michelle to a fetish emporium to buy studded collars for the kennel's clients (one of the less plausible aspects of this tale) and Michelle encounters dominant Ro Kaliph (interrupting him in his demo of flogging).  Michelle manages to stand up to Ro's anger and asks him to teach her how to be more dominant herself. Ro is certain that Michelle is fundamentally submissive, but he's willing to play along. The action unfolds at his newly-opened BDSM club The Dungeon, and provides a number of surprises. 

Ro is a great character, an ex-lawyer who has quit his lucrative practice with his father in order to follow his heart and provide a safe, sane and sexy place for people to play. Ms. Crooks emphasizes the fact that he's not classically handsome, a relief in the world of erotica and romance, and he clearly has doubts both about his struggling club and his mixed perceptions of Michelle (or Lizbeth, as she decides to call herself when she steps into Ro's world of pain and passion).

 Nora Sabine, the protagonist of Forbidden Heat, is a very different sort of person from little Michelle. A high-powered, hard-working businesswoman, she usually knows what she wants and is unafraid to take it. When she discovers that the Twisted Wood B&B her fiancé Ryan has booked for a long weekend vacation is actually a “Bondage and Breakfast” establishment, she takes it in stride. She has never done anything kinky before and she's hardly a submissive, but she has long-cherished fantasies of being captured and raped. She wonders, especially when she sees Sylvester Vincent, the craggy owner of Twisted Wood, whether her fantasies might not be fulfilled over the fateful weekend.

Sylvester has his own demons to fight, however, stemming from a past incident where he misread the signals from another submissive. Despite his fierce attraction to Nora, he holds back, leaving her to the ministrations of the other guests at the luxurious mansion: refined and sadistic Master Andre, dominatrix Mistress Kiana, the intriguing switches Black and White, and the enigmatic Mage, master of rope bondage and electric torture. Ms. Crooks draws each one of these characters in precise, loving detail, as well as the “service submissives” Little Peter and Kitten. Unlike many tales of  Roissy-wannabe S&M hideaways, each dominant and slave is a distinct individual. Being a submissive does not mean having your personality erased. I ended up caring about almost all the characters, even as I waited breathlessly for the heroine and the hero to finally get together.

Ms. Crooks does descend almost to the level of parody in her portrayal of the two boyfriends in these stories. Both are such slimy weasels that you have to wonder how the likeable heroines ever could have gotten involved with them. Ryan is particularly horrible and dishonest, insecure, self-involved, immature, with no sense of responsibility for his supposed lover. The contrast between Ryan's despicable behavior and the sensitive, caring attitude of even the cruelest dominants at Twisted Wood is undoubtedly deliberate.

There's a hint of romance in these tales; both end with the heroine and the hero as a couple--but there's a lot of hot sex with a variety of other people before that point.  Both stories fit the classic erotica mold of the sexual quest—characters exploring their own needs, suffering or enjoying a variety of experiences on the way to fulfillment.

The portrayal of BDSM is overwhelmingly positive. Both stories emphasize the need for consent and the responsibility of the dominant for the submissive. That does not prevent Ms. Crooks from presenting some fairly extreme scenes. The interaction between Nora and Mage is particularly intense, and also ends with a great twist.

Occasionally I had the sense that Ms. Crooks lacked knowledge or experience with BDSM. The blocking in some of her scenes felt awkward; I couldn't imagine the positions she was describing.  Her description of the fetish store did not match any one that I've ever visited. However, most of the time I was able to forget these quibbles as I was drawn into the action and the characters' actions and reactions.

Overall, Sweet and Dirty is entertaining, arousing and will not insult your intelligence. I wouldn't call the book startlingly original, but simply avoiding the traps of S&M stereotypes is a significant accomplishment.

Swing! Adventures in Swinging by Today's Top Erotica WritersSwing! Adventures in Swinging by Today's Top Erotica Writers
Edited By: Jolie Du Pre
Logical Lust Publications
ISBN: 978-1905091171
April 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Swing! has a fabulous cover and, as promised by the sub-title, an impressive roster of contributors. I have been eagerly awaiting this collection, my interest stimulated by the impressive pre-release publicity campaign orchestrated by its dedicated and energetic editor, Jolie du Pré.  Still, I felt some trepidation when I opened the book to discover that it was 437 pages long.  Despite Ashley Lister’s introduction hailing the diversity of the tales in this anthology, I wondered whether a subject like swinging might not be too narrow to support a book of this length.

My concerns, it appears, were not completely ill-founded. In my personal opinion, Swing! would have been a far better book had it been cut to half its present length. The collection includes some exceptional tales, including Ms du Pré’s own contribution, “Before the Move,” a clever commentary on hypocrisy that manages to arouse despite its ironic bite. However, other stories struck me as uninspired in the extreme, shallow and predictable, and a few are just plain badly written.

Let me talk about the stories that shine.  “Dez Moines,” by Alicia Night Orchid, appears on the surface to be the standard swinger tale.  Young man marries innocent college sweetheart, only to discover that she has perverted desires he would never have imagined, which lead them into an escalating series of sexual encounters with their friends.  It is the characters in this story that make it vivid and memorable. They feel like flesh and blood, with voices that remain with the reader after the story is done.

Donna George Storey’s contribution, “John Updike Made Me Do It,” once again explores the scenario of close friends brought together on a vacation and swapping partners.  As she often does, Ms Storey brings her literate fantasies into the mix.  The real world swinging is colored by her fascination with the fictional couples in John Updike’s world, whose indiscretions loom large in her personal sexual mythology. 

“The Best of Friends” by M. Millswan is refreshingly different in both its distanced third person narration (“let me tell you about something that happened to a friend of mine”) and its bittersweet tone.  The protagonist finds himself making love to the woman he has desired since high school while her husband watches, yet he understands that the encounter, satisfying as it is, means much less to his partner.

Tawanna Sullivan’s “Just Desserts” is a tasty tale of two lesbian couples stranded in the airport by bad weather.  It’s a swinging story in the sense that the two couples swap, but says more about the erotic potential of chance than about any kind of “lifestyle.”  The initial scenes where the women eye each other and then share dinner in a typical, tacky chain restaurant are close to perfect, capturing the awkwardness of strangers and the intimacy of flirtation.

M. Christian’s contribution to the volume is entitled “Bob & Carol & Ted (But Not Alice).”  What sets this story apart, aside from its cleverly allusive title, is the way Mr. Christian explores Bob’s barely articulated desire for other men.  In too many erotic stories, the characters blatantly announce what they want and then go after it.  Here, the character is realistically confused and unsure, even as he is aroused.

“One Weekend in Toronto” by Claudia Moss is an extravagantly decadent, gender-bending pan-sexual romp that will make you hot and bothered whatever your orientation.   Amanda Earl’s “Ghost Swinger” succeeds in bringing to life the lost sexual spontaneity of the hippie years, the golden era after the Pill and before AIDS.  “The Twenty-Minute Rule,” by Ashley Lister, proves that there are exceptions to every rule, especially in the domain of sex.  In “Be Careful What You Wish For,” D. L. King conveys the reader to her fantasy world of strict but scrupulously careful Dommes and the male slaves who gladly serve them.  I should also mention the arousing and disturbing “Initiation,” by Rick R. Reed, in which a gay man undergoes a series of creative and increasingly extreme tests in order to gain admission to a mysterious sex club.  I really did not see what this story had to do with swinging, and I found the shock ending a bit difficult to deal with, but I must admit that the rest of the story pushed my buttons.   

Many of the stories that I have not mentioned above could have been excised from the manuscript without doing any damage.  Most are not bad stories – I just found them rather uninteresting.  As would be expected from an anthology about swinging, most feature sexual encounters with friends or else visits to swing clubs or parties. Several focus on a woman’s initial sexual experiences with another woman in the context of swinging.  Typically, a couple explores their desires for sex outside their relationship and then draw closer to each other as a result.  This is fine, but hardly surprising or exciting.  I mean, certainly, the sex might be feel great, but after all, it’s just sex, usually with someone who is almost a stranger. There’s little depth there, little complexity, none of the emotional nuances that drive the best erotica.  It’s an old story, and it takes some special twist or a particularly gifted writer to give it new life.

I wanted to give Swing! an unabashedly positive review. When I realized that I could not honestly do so, I wondered whether my own experiences swinging were influencing my perceptions.  My husband and I have visited swing parties and clubs.  We’ve posted and answered personal ads for sexual partners.  We’ve experienced ménages a trois with close friends of both genders.  Only the last adventures were truly satisfying, from my perspective at least.  I love the sexualized atmosphere at a club or party, but I find that it’s difficult for me to really enjoy sex with a stranger, unless there’s a rare, special spark.  Was this why so many of the stories in Swing! seemed to fall flat?

I don’t think so.  For one thing, some of the outstanding tales in this anthology offer the same basic scenario, yet managed to excite and impress me.  I can be pulled easily into the fantasy of the perfect swap, if the storyteller is sufficiently skilled.

In the final analysis, I think that Ms du Pré should have said “No” more often.  With her enthusiasm for revealing the world of swinging to her readers, she accepted stories that diminished rather than enhanced the power of her message.  

Tasting Him: Oral Sex StoriesTasting Him: Oral Sex Stories
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443239
September 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

When I agreed to review Tasting Him: Oral Sex Stories, I had some serious reservations. How could a collection of twenty-plus stories with such a narrow theme sustain any level of interest? And wouldn’t a focus on a single, physical sex act – fellatio – tend to move the content away from the psychological and emotional explorations that I view as the essence of erotica toward more superficial presentations reminiscent of bad porn?

I am pleased to report that my concerns were largely unfounded. Rachel Kramer Bussel has succeeded in assembling a surprisingly varied collection of tales that feature cocksucking but focus less on the activity itself than on the reactions of the characters involved.

Most of the tales involve a woman going down on a man. However the volume also offers Radclyffe’s exuberant “Blessed Benediction,” in which a drop-dead-gorgeous femme demonstrates (in public) how she can make her tough butch lover cream by sucking her strap-on. This story, perhaps more than any other, illustrates my oft repeated claim that arousal begins in the mind. Simon Sheppard is uncharacteristically cheerful but sly and entertaining as usual in “It’s a Wonderful Blow Job,” about a gay man who’s especially turned on fellating a married man. The protagonist in T. Hitman’s “Long Relief” is ultra-straight, a baseball player on tour, but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying a blow job from one of his team mates. Lori Selke turns the tables in “Cocksucker,” with a submissive male who begs to suck his girlfriend’s artificial dick. Shanna Germain takes the switch one step further in “Sculpted;” her heroine’s strap-on is an actual replica of her lover’s cock.

All of the stories in Tasting Him are on the light side – no deep conflicts, no secrets, no scars – but there’s a pleasing variation in tone and point of view. Tsaurah Litzky’s wonderful “Tony Tempo” is told in the wry voice of a former jazz great who is suffering through his golden years in the Crescendo Home for Aged and Indigent Musicians, treated like a child by the nurses but still dreaming of his deceased wife’s blow jobs. “This Just In” by Heidi Champa, gives us a second-person account of a woman living out her fantasy of sucking her commentator husband under the desk while he reads the news. Editors often reject second-person accounts as amateurish, but the perspective works in this story. “Getting Used to It,” by Tenille Brown, is a folksy third-person narrative featuring the very ordinary Herbert Miller, his wife Evelyn, and their next door neighbor Minnie, along with brisket, pot roast, peppermints, and of course, blow jobs.

My unquestioned favorite tale in this collection is Alison Tyler’s “Prego.” Although the protagonists are a long-established couple, it still manages to be outrageously spontaneous and intensely erotic.

Even our most vanilla activities tend to involve accoutrements such as rubber dishwashing gloves, velvet blindfolds and Wesson oil. So I suppose I shouldn’t have found it odd at all to walk through the swinging doors of our kitchen and discover Jackson fucking the jar of spaghetti sauce.
But I did.

Both find him, and find it odd.

As it turns out, the sauce in question is the last jar in the cupboard, intended for the pasta about to be served to the dinner guests currently assembled in the next room. It hardly matters; the lure of Jackson’s tomato-marinated cock is irresistible.

Craig J. Sorensen’s “Equanimity Unbound” was another stand-out, mostly because I empathized with the uptight, workaholic main character. Fortunately, the Goth beauty he meets at the Tshirt and novelty store in the mall knows how to loosen him up.  Then there’s the original and intelligent “A Treatise on Human Nature”, by Robert Peregrine, where the bisexual male narrator undertakes to fulfill his recently-encountered companion’s request that he teach her “how to give head like a man”.

Overall, I found Tasting Him frequently entertaining and occasionally arousing. Against significant odds, Ms. Bussel has managed to put together a collection that is varied and satisfying enough to make the reader want to swallow the whole thing.

The Big Book of Orgasms: 69 Sexy StoriesThe Big Book of Orgasms: 69 Sexy Stories
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573449636
October 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Let me begin by confessing that I don't generally find orgasms erotic. I'd rather read about obsessive, irresistible desire than its fulfillment. I often find what's going on in lovers' minds far more arousing than anything involving their bodies. In some sense, climaxes are anti-climactic, the predictable denouement of practically every story that has ever appeared in a Cleis anthology.

Hence, I approached this massive collection of very short erotic tales – none longer than 1200 words – with a certain degree of wariness. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to compress  three-dimensional characters, a recognizable conflict, a narrative arc and a resolution into a mere three or four pages. I expected a parade of shallow sexual scenarios, each one leading inexorably to the money shot. When I opened this book of “sexy stories,” I feared I'd find far more emphasis on the sex than on the story.

I wasn't completely wrong. At least fifty percent of the contributions focus almost purely on the physical, albeit in a wide-ranging set of circumstances. I forgot these stories pretty much as soon as I'd read them, though I'm sure there are readers who'll have a different – probably more physical – reaction. Among these somewhat commonplace offerings, though, I discovered more than a few gems: stories with an actual plot, dealing with real problems; stories whose originality made me smile or ache; stories where the language made me gasp in admiration; stories with truth and heart.

Possibly my favorite tale in the book was “Matinee” by Suleikha Snyder. A college student in America returns to India to find herself smothered by the constraints of traditional culture. A young man named Azad  (which means “freedom”) greets her in the park, where she is walking with her scandalized cousins. In defiance of society's standards, she allows Azad to take her to the movies and there, in the darkened theater, with him barely touching her arm, she finds herself drowning in arousal.  “Her knees were covered,” Ms. Snyder writes, “but everything else was stripped totally naked.” Rarely have I read such vivid evocation of youthful lust.

Preston Avery's “White” is another standout. “When I make you come, what color is it?” asks the narrator's wife. As she teases and torments him, every nuance of sensation takes on a hue. “All I want to do is come, and I am red with it. Orange, yellow then blazing electric blue.” The story is as gorgeously erotic as a Georgia O'Keefe painting.

“After the Funeral” by Jeanette Grey, introduces two complex and troubled characters, with a sexual history we can only guess. As they come together, awkward and angry, driven by grief and loneliness, they find a kind of transcendence, at least for the moment. Who are this woman and man? What's their relationship, to one another and to the deceased? Who died and under what circumstances? The unanswered questions only add depth to the tale.

If I were asked to choose the one story that personally turned me on the most, I think I'd pick “The Morning After” by David Salcido. This luscious, pan-sexual, post-wedding menage is cleverly designed to keep the reader guessing as long as possible about the gender of the narrator. But then, that issue really doesn't matter in Mr. Salcido's story-world, where everyone gets a generous piece of everyone else.

Tenille Brown and Logan Zachary win special accolades for originality. Ms. Brown's contribution, “In Her Hands,” features a couple of homeless people as the main characters – definitely not your standard erotica protagonists. When Randall gets picked up by a wealthy woman who feeds and clothes him in return for sex, Button decides she needs to take charge in order to get him back. Mr. Zachary's “Remote Control” is an outrageous fantasy about a device that can alter reality in whatever way its operator desires. I won't spoil the fun by revealing just what desires get fulfilled.

I've already confessed that I find the mind more arousing than the body. Hence, I loved Xan West's tale
“Baxter's Boy.” The narrator, a high femme lesbian, is obsessed by Baxter, a legendary FTM transsexual interested only in males. Her extreme encounter with Baxter and his submissive boy takes place entirely in her imagination, but that does not render the effect any less real.

I don't have time or space to provide details on every story I marked as exceptional. Others included:

“How You Christen a Bed” by Thomas S. Roche, a wise and humorous examination of incompatibility, told in evocative, clever prose;

“Her Lover is a Flame” by Cecilia Tan, an exquisite prose poem in less than three hundred words;

“Payback” by Emerald, sexual second chance offering a pleasing symmetry;

“Pushing Boundaries on Public Transit” by Victoria Blisse, smutty, heartfelt fun that will leave you smiling;

“Icing on the Cake” by Lula Lisbon, a filthy femdom snippet with kinks that will squick some and make others squirm;

“Meeting Cute” by Vanessa Madison, another steamy movie house flirtation featuring red licorice Twizzlers;

“Queer for Mike” by Shane Allison, a sad, believable story about taking what you can get;

“The Park” by Elise Hepner, ultrashort, enigmatic and evocative, set in an after hours amusement park;

“Meeting Myself” by Anya Levin, a sincere and moving look at a widow reclaiming desire after her husband's death;

Even with all these excellent stories, I found myself getting a bit burnt out by The Big Book of Orgasms. Then, a few pages from the end of the collection, I encountered the astonishing “Should You Ever Be Allowed to Feel This Good?”  by Lillian Ann Slugocki. This story is in a category by itself, so powerful that it's scary. I read it over three times. I'm sure I'll go back and read it again.

It's not easy knowing that tonight is the night – the mask of Lilith, like a shadow on the bed.

When he was gone, I finally looked at myself – and saw that my legs were tattooed up and down with bite marks. As if a rabid dog or a wolf had gotten control of me, sunk his incisors deep into my flesh, and wouldn't let go. I needed a rabies shot, antibiotics and cold compresses. I needed to see a doctor, a shrink, a shaman, a priest. I needed to call my mother but she was dead.

It's almost worth buying the book, for this story, alone.

Someone who has read and reviewed as much erotica as I have tends to get a bit jaded. I don't necessarily expect much. I'm happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the sexy stories in the The Big Book of Orgasms. Meanwhile, if you're more of an orgasm fan than I am, this collection offers an almost inexhaustible supply.

The CollectorsThe Collectors
By: Lesley Gowan
Bold Strokes Books
ISBN: 1602822085
February 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Erotica exists to fuel fantasy.  PhD student Laura understands this only too well. Her extensive collection of BDSM lesbian erotica might be valuable in its own right, but Laura cherishes her books mostly because they are the closest she can get to the experience of surrendering to a powerful and demanding mistress. She lives in a sexual vacuum, a submissive without a dominant to serve, until Adele, a university acquaintance, offers to introduce Laura to her own mistress Jeanne. 

Wealthy, stylish, cool and self-assured, Jeanne embodies all Laura's fantasies. Laura quickly realizes that her reading has hardly prepared her for the realities of a D/s relationship. Jeanne tests both Laura's patience and endurance. The young graduate student makes mistakes. She disappoints and occasionally disobeys her mistress. However, Laura's intelligence, enthusiasm and unfailing trust gradually convince Jeanne to accept her service. The dominant pushes Laura to new limits, discovering an unusual level of personal satisfaction in her interactions with the novice sub.

Jealous, insecure and vindictive. Adele turns out to be the snake in this BDSM paradise. Her machinations ultimately threaten not only Laura but Jeanne as well. In confronting Adele and her cohorts, Laura and Jeanne draw closer to one another, building a relationship based not only on the exchange of power but also on love.

The Collectors is a fast, smooth read, written in clear, unpretentious prose. Laura's first person narrative allows the reader to taste her excitement and uncertainty when she gets the opportunity to trade fantasy for reality. Jeanne is appealingly flawed, so sure of herself that she's astonished when the Society of doms and subs that she founded turns against her. Unlike some fictional dominants, she is far from omniscient. Expert at reading the reactions of a submissive, she's barely in touch with her own deeper needs.  Her emotional susceptibility to Laura seriously disturbs her.

Despite these positive factors, overall I found this book unconvincing and a bit shallow in its portrayal of BDSM. Laura's submission was just too easy, with none of the fear or conflict I would expect from a total beginner. Jeanne's immediate attraction to Laura also struck me as implausible. Most importantly, I didn't personally feel the intensity of most of the BDSM scenes in the novel. The narrator tells us that she's aroused, that her deepest desire is to please her mistress, that she's just had the most explosive orgasm in her life, but somehow I couldn't identify. Something about the exposition seemed to distance me from Laura's emotions.

Laura repeatedly emphasizes the difference between the erotic books in her collection and the actual experience of submission. In fact, many of the scenes in this novel follow common BDSM literary formulae. There's even a luxurious country house, a sort of modernized Roissy, where lesbian dommes bring their subs to share with one another and where new members of the shadowy Society are initiated.

Finally, some of the BDSM activities in this book struck me as unrealistic and even unsafe. In one scene, Jeanne binds Laura in a contorted position and then uses her as a footstool while watching two movies in a row – a duration of more than four hours. This would surely cause damage due to constricted blood flow. In another segment, a sub is suspended above the floor in a backwards-bowed position by a rope that pulls her head back by her ponytail. Perhaps this is feasible, but it sounds like a recipe for spinal damage to me. After spanking, caning, bondage and ass-fucking, Laura mentions that she's “sore” - I would have expected that she could barely move.

Of course, BDSM erotica focuses on fantasy, not fact, and sometimes requires a suspension of disbelief. Extreme scenarios can be a powerful turn-on, even when they could never really be enacted. If a reader stops to take note of an unrealistic or dangerous scenario though, that shatters the erotic illusion. This occurred more than once for me as I was reading The Collectors.

It may be that my standards for BDSM erotica are more exacting than some readers'. Overall, though, I found The Collectors to be something of a disappointment.

The Film Student and MeThe Film Student and Me
By: Julie Hilden
Pocket Star Simon and Schuster
August 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

When a suicide appears in the first few chapters of a book, one expects death, or at least violence, to show up before the end. In the case of Julie Hilden's novella The Film Student and Me, the victim is a female photographer whose erotically themed work adorns the walls of eponymous film student Jared Smithson's palatial and barren penthouse apartment.

Most of the Woodman photos are nudes of Francesca herself or of other women, and I find them powerfully erotic and powerfully disturbing. Just like Jared. No wonder he chose them. There's a darkness, a sadness, in these photos, and in him.

I don't know what to make of the photos where the women's faces are obscured or blurred, while their bodies are clearly shown. They are a strange mix of disturbing and dangerous and arousing, all at once.

I worry for a moment about the emphasis of bodies over faces. These seem to be the only pieces of art he owns, and thus an important clue to who he really is.

And in looking at these photos, I think I have been duly warned as to what I am in for. Something disturbing. Something sexual. Something where my body will be the focus, but in a dangerous, forbidding way.

Even without having read Ms. Hilden's chillingly erotic novel 3, (which I reviewed for Erotica Revealed a few months ago) you can't help but catch the sense of anxiety here, the threat lurking beneath the surface, the imminence of terror and pain. These emotions might trigger enough discomfort that you stop reading, though more likely, you'll persevere, fascinated by the tangled connections between sex and evil, drawn (as I am) by that promise of madness.

In The Film Student, however, the author does not fulfill this promise. What begins as a trip to the dark side of desire fizzles out into a happy ending that's both conventional and implausible, given the early chapters of the book.  

Let me back up and introduce the characters and the plot. Rebecca, the narrator, lives the perfect life, or so she believes. Married to a wealthy, dynamic financier, with two lovely and talented preteen daughters, she has traded her youthful dreams of a PhD for comfort and security. True, the physical bond between her and her husband has more or less disappeared, but she tells herself that this is a natural consequence of age and familiarity, and that they still love each other.

This fantasy of satisfaction crumbles when she discovers her husband is having a passionate affair with a much younger colleague. Stunned at first, Rebecca decides to respond by taking a young lover of her own. She wants to avoid a divorce at all costs, out of concern for her children, but she figures that she deserves some extra-curricular fun.  

At first, she steers her own sexual journey, donning revealing clothing for the first time in her life, basking in the masculine attention she attracts, flirting with the men who notice her and considering, almost clinically, which one she should select for her affair. Then she meets Jared in the NYU library. Almost immediately she gives him control over her body and her pleasure – as he invites her to do. She's frightened of the self-involved, amoral film student, but irresistibly attracted as well. Despite her better judgment, she finds herself obeying his every whim, even those that involve pain, humiliation, and the risk of exposure. He rewards her with pleasure beyond anything she's ever imagined.

Who could give up this kind of pleasure, pleasure that's so intensified by the waiting that it is almost unbearable, that it's almost pain. A delicious kind of pain, but pain nevertheless.

For this pleasure many sacrifices would be made, and many moral codes broken.

I'm afraid I found Rebecca superficial and unconvincing. She claims that her girls mean everything to her, yet manages to completely forget them once she's in Jared's sway. She talks about how frightened she is by her lover's extreme demands, yet she comes back again and again. Finally, despite her avowed addiction to the film student, at the end of the tale (spoiler alert), she walks away from the supposedly life-changing relationship with scarcely a second thought.

Jared, on the other hand, managed to fascinate me nearly as much as he does the other women in his life. Orphaned by his parents' car crash (rumored to be due to carnal activities while they were driving), he grew up wild, buying his way out of trouble – especially sexual trouble. By his teens he was already expert at getting females to do whatever he wanted. Early in the book, he tells Rebecca the story of Krista and Belinda, two girls at school whom he turned into his sexual slaves. They hated one another, but they roomed together so that when one was with Jared, the other would know. Years later, they still come when he calls them.

Jared's a bit insane, demanding and irrational, damaged and lonely, but inordinately proud of his phenomenal erotic abilities. When he shares his cautionary tale of Krista's and Belinda's degradation, he's both warning Rebecca and tempting her.

“This is what I do, Rebecca. It's the thing I'm best at in the whole, entire world: seducing women. There's a million things I'm terrible at, believe me. I suck at sports and I'm only okay at school. A big donation got me into NYU film. But when it comes to seduction, I'm a genius.”

To be the focus of that sort of confident power, especially when backed up by knowledge and intuition, can be intoxicating. One would do anything, risk anything, for the experience. And after Krista and Belinda's terrifying story, after the foreshadowing photos, Ms. Hilden had me believing that Jared truly was dangerous.

In fact, the prophesied violence never appears. The scenarios Jared orchestrates to push Rebecca's limits are moderately transgressive, but have none of the life-threatening quality of Ilan's games in 3. What begins as an exploration of power and surrender turns into a love story. And finally, abandoned, Jared simply disappears from the narrative.

I don't buy it.

The darkness is real, at the beginning of this tale. By the end, it has gone underground, buried under romantic platitudes and feminist rhetoric. A reviewer should not, perhaps, speculate about an author's intentions or inner state, but I can't help thinking that with this book, Ms. Hinden started out to write something like 3, something vital and raw, vicious and seductive, and got scared – whether personally, or about the book's marketability. I don't know the history of The Film Student and Me, but both the language and the structure suggest that it was written before 3, which reads like a more mature work. On the other hand, it's possible that this novella is in some sense a sequel, cleansed and brightened to appeal to a wider audience. 

The Film Student and Me is far better written than many of the erotica titles I review. It has flashes of brilliance and truth. In the end, though, I was disappointed that the author did not follow through on her promises.

The Harder She Comes: Butch Femme EroticaThe Harder She Comes: Butch Femme Erotica
Edited By: D. L. King
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573447781
March 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I'm probably not the ideal reviewer for The Harder She Comes. I'm bisexual and I definitely enjoy lesbian erotica – I've written some myself. However, I'm pretty clueless about lesbian sub-culture, with its myriad labels, roles and self-identifications. Sure, I've heard the terminology – baby butch, boi, high femme, transman, and so on – but I don't have the first hand experience, the sociocultural background if you will, to fully appreciate the intended distinctions. It's a tribute to D.L. King's acumen as an editor that I enjoyed (and understood!) most of the stories in this book despite my ignorance.

A simplistic definition equates “femme” with feminine traits, appearance, and behavior, and conversely, “butch” with masculine attributes. One of the messages of this collection, however, is that the real meaning of these terms  varies dramatically with the individual. On the one hand, we have Evie, the slinky flapper in Evan Mora's “Speakeasy,” and Jay, the dressed-to-the-nines “gentleman” who claims her during Roaring Twenties night at the local lesbian salon. The roles are well-defined, with Evie literally swept off her high-heeled feet by Jay's confident conquest. At the other extreme, there's the unnamed narrator in Aimee Herman's “Channeling Charles Bukowski.” Impersonating the notorious poet from the title for a Halloween dress-up day at work, she is discovered in the men's room by Emily from accounting, who has changed her usual feminine garb for a cowboy costume. In the steamy encounter that ensues, it's not at all clear who's playing what role – but it doesn't matter.

Up until now, I had never let a girl go there, minus a few times in college. I am a top, wrist grabber, dominant thruster. Allowing anyone down there puts me in too vulnerable a position. But I'm not me today; I'm not political butch bull dyke; I am a man who was too boozed up and covered in poems to say no or to have a type, so I just let go.

Suddenly, I understand what it feels like to be bisexual – the best of both worlds – except my genitals are sexual multitaskers, transforming shape and desire. My dick wants to be sucked on, to stick itself into something, someone.  My pussy wants to be stuffed, filled, suffocated. 

In between these two poles, The Harder She Comes offers a million variations along the two dimensions of male/female and dominant/submissive. “Winner Take All” by Andrea Dale features a shy, sincere butch who's trying to win a truck for the animal welfare non-profit where she works. Teddie's only real competition is Grace, a petite, glamorous woman who distracts poor Teddie by whispering the most filthy, kinky suggestions the poor butch has ever heard. Ultimately Teddie wins the truck, and Grace takes Teddie as her own prize.

“It's So Peaceful Out Here” is a funny, sexy story about a naughty femme going camping with a bunch of butches. Flirty, exhibitionistic Frankie is bound, clamped and brutally fucked by her Daddy, just the punishment she deserves – and just what she wants.

“Manchester 2000” by Stella Sandberg describes a New Year's Eve encounter between the butch narrator and a voluptuous straight woman who apparently believes she's screwing a biological man – or does she?

“Valentine” by River Light is hard-core BDSM, again with the femme on top. Silvia, the narrator's mistress and lover, presents the butch narrator to her own top, Casey, as a Valentine's gift. The physical trials Casey inflicts are not nearly as difficult to endure as the fear that the narrator has been abandoned.

In “Farmhand,” Miel Rose creates a confusing but delicious ménage involving a married butch/femme couple and the butch young woman whom they hire to do farm chores in return for rent. From one scene to the next, the power shifts in unexpected but exciting ways. “Official” gender roles are discarded in the pursuit of pleasure and connection.

Two of my favorite stories concern long-term relationships, in which the butch/femme roles are not really the focus at all. Kathleen Bradean's (literally) luscious “Tamales” is a snapshot of a couple's Christmas traditions, which involves cooking and other sources of heat. “The Bucket List” by Charlotte Dare deals with the unrequited love between a thirty-something butch and her married fifty-something best friend, highlighting the nonsensical barriers to their own happiness people sometimes erect.

The cocky butch in Valerie Alexander's “A Date With Sharon Tate” seems at first to epitomize the stereotypes. Yet her determination to win back the affections of her ex-girlfriend Shandra (who left because of a lapse in the narrator's fidelity) reveals a level of need she can barely admit.

In Anna Watson's “Bienvenido”, Daisy doesn't just want to play a masculine role; she's desperate to actually be a man. Wade, an unusual consultant, tutors the young butch in male attitudes, behavior and  manners, turning the protegé into an accomplished Southern gentleman well-equipped to satisfy a lovely lady.

Other contributors to this collection include Shanna Germain, Beth Wylde, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Sinclair Sexsmith, C.S. Clark, Crystal Barela, and Teresa Noelle Roberts.  The fact that I haven't specifically called out their stories should not be interpreted as negative. I want to leave some tales for readers to discover on their own! Also, these stories in many cases reprise strong themes of dominance and submission that I've already mentioned, sometimes with the butch on top, sometimes the femme.

Overall, D.L. King has done a great job with this anthology. Whether your criterion of excellence is deft writing, intriguing characters, sizzling sex, or all three, you won't be disappointed by The Harder She Comes

The Initiation of Ms HollyThe Initiation of Ms Holly
By: K. D. Grace
Xcite Books
ISBN: 1907016430
January 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Ever since Fanny Hill, the lusty wench has been a stock character in erotic fiction. Starting from a state of relative innocence, she dives with reckless abandon into the "warm waters of sins of the flesh", eager to experience every variant of sexual pleasure. No one can resist her erotic enthusiasm. She attracts both men and women, less because of her physical attributes than because of her inexhaustible capacity  for arousal. It is her sexual curiosity, responsiveness and openness that set her apart from ordinary women and mark her for a special fate.

Rita Holly, the heroine of K.D. Grace's highly entertaining novel The Initiation of Ms Holly, is a prime example of this literary tradition. Rita is a modern, independent, intelligent young woman, a transplanted American working as a journalist in London. She is attractive but not really sophisticated or elegant. An encounter with a stranger on a blacked-out Eurostar train stalled under the English Channel reveals her true nature: exquisitely sensitive, sexually voracious, and possessing the rare ability to completely suspend her rational self when in the throes of carnal delight.

Rita never has the opportunity to see Edward's face, but his touch, smell and taste set her on fire. Before long, she learns that he belongs to an ancient sexual society known as the The Mount, which hides behind the facade of an exclusive London restaurant and dance club. A mysterious vow requires him to wear a mask in her presence, but he introduces her (in the most physical sense) to other members of The Mount's High Council: golden-haired, androgynous Alex, who teaches the tango and other dances of passion; stern but succulent butch Aurora, who serves as waitress and enforcer of The Mount's rules; grizzled, solid Leo, in his bush helmet and khakis, looking like he just returned from safari; curvy, elegant Lorelei; exotic Morgan, his body tattooed with leopard spots; and the impossibly beautiful and elegant Vivienne, the head of the Council. Edward convinces Rita to apply for membership in the elite society and she is accepted as an initiate despite Vivienne's opposition.

Most of the novel recounts, in loving and lascivious detail, Rita's undertaking of the various tasks and sexual rites of passage devised by the Council members. Needless to say, Rita passes every test with flying colors. A week as a pet in a human zoo, an explosive coupling bound to a motorcycle, "forced" oral service to both males and females, whippings and spankings, public exposure, a week as a slave to the vicious Vivienne, nothing can stand in the way of Rita's desperate need to know who Edward really is. Even as she questions her own sanity, she is a more than willing participant in the many flavors of debauchery to which she is subjected.

The Initiation of Ms Holly is erotic fantasy at its best. The sexual scenarios are wonderfully varied and imaginative, and unfailingly arousing. I flew through the book, devouring one luscious sex scene after another, as eager as Rita herself for the next trial.

The book includes a variety of D/s activities and given my usual preferences, I would have expected these scenes to be my favorites. However, the interlude that Rita spends in Leo's "zoo" turned out to be the most arousing section of the novel for me. Leo treats his beloved pets as animals, but they are not used, abused or forced to "serve" their masters, as "pets" sometimes are in BDSM tales. Indeed, pets are not allowed to have sex with humans. The thrill in the zoo is the way its denizens drop their human pretensions and give full rein to their animal nature. For a week, Rita does not speak. She uses the senses of smell, taste and touch to communicate with her fellow pets, and glories in the permission to enjoy sexual pleasure without any of the societal baggage we humans carry. Ms. Grace describes this experience in a vivid, visceral way.

This novel does require considerable suspension of disbelief. Despite its fantastic plot, though, the characters are distinctive and moderately realistic, except for their prodigious sexual capabilities. Vivienne, the gorgeous bitch who emerges as Rita's adversary, is particularly well drawn. The scenes in which she imagines taking Rita's role show a significant level of psychological insight.

I found the resolution of the novel slightly disappointing, relying as it does on a mater ex machina.  However, I might have been influenced by the fact that all the delightful carnal games were drawing to a close. Appropriately, the novel ends with an orgy as Rita becomes a full member of The Mount and Edward removes his mask. Of course, an abundance of orgasms are enjoyed by all.

Overall, The Initiation of Ms Holly is great fun, following in a time-honored literary tradition.

The Magician's Lover: The Prophecy Girl Trilogy Book OneThe Magician's Lover: The Prophecy Girl Trilogy Book One
By: Danielle Austen
Xcite Books
ISBN: B00960YQ46
September 2012

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Lindsey Wade is nobody special – or at least that's what she believes. She holds down a boring job as receptionist for a law firm, lives in a modest suburban row house, rarely (unlike her glamorous best friend Cammie) wears make-up or dresses at all fashionably. Although she's not a virgin, she has been sexually scarred by her eight year on-again-off-again relationship with a guy who finally dumped her, deciding he was gay. All that uptight Lindsey wants is peace and quiet, the chance to live her life outside the spotlight.

When Lindsey wins a ticket to a magic show by the world-renowned Angelito Tarrago in an office charity raffle, she's almost too embarrassed to walk up and retrieve it, but Cammie insists that Lindsey attend the performance. The next thing Lindsey knows, she has attracted the attention of the charming, wealthy and sensual magician. With dazzling speed, she is wined and dined, then licked, sucked and fucked. Needless to say she comes to the conclusion that Tarrago is truly the man of her dreams. As he introduces her into his high-society world of gender-bending carnal excess, Lindsey discovers she's far lustier and more sexually daring than she'd ever guessed.

Meanwhile a dangerous but seductive stranger named Dmitri stalks and then abducts her. Her kidnapper reveals that Tarrago is a member of an ancient society of sorcerers and that Lindsey is a descendant of one of their members, the first female magus in their history. Dmitri himself is a magician, outcast from the group. Gradually, Lindsey realizes that Dmitri, not Angelito, is her true soul mate. In fact Tarrago is working on an evil scheme to steal the power of his fellow magicians, a scheme that requires Lindsey's body to be totally debauched by every single member of the society.

Let me begin with a summary, in case you have something better to do that read this review. The Magician's Lover is a pretty dreadful book. The actions and reactions of the shallow characters alternate between being painfully predictable and totally implausible. The sex scenes (which I will admit are numerous) suffer from a lack of motivation (referring both to the individuals involved and to the requirements of the plot) and an overabundance of anatomical detail without any depth or originality. The prose is awkward and overburdened with generic adjectives and adverbs, as well as errors in word selection. Every so often, the steady stream of pornographic description will be interrupted by a paragraph or two full of euphemism and starry-eyed sentiment that would be far more at home in a traditional romance. For the most part, Lindsey is the POV character, but occasionally Ms. Austen flutters off into the head of someone else, without a scene break or other warning.

A few examples will serve to illustrate my criticisms. Here are some of the malapropisms that grabbed my attention:

He had a day or two's worth of dark stubble around the sharp definition of his jaw, and his intangibly bright green eyes seemed to almost sing to her. (p7)

The couples began to ingratiate with one another. One man fucked one girl who had her face buried in the arse cheeks of another, and so on, until Lindsey couldn't tell where the chain started or ended anymore. (p 136)

They kissed like they had been separated for years. No words were said, but they moved in perfect synchronicity. (p 199)

Here's a typical snippet from a sex scene:

With no teasing, she leant forward and hungrily licked at Lindsey's soaking wet slit, making her groan loudly in the process. Lindsey opened her eyes and saw Cammie's perfect arse right in front of her. She paused to admire it a moment: the surprisingly large, round, firm cheeks, and the wet open folds of her sex. Then she gripped her friend's arse with both hands and pushed it downwards toward her face. She plunged her tongue deep inside Cammie's pink slit, the tip of her nose nuzzling against her friend's inviting arsehole. (p167)

I should mention that early in the book, when Lindsey wakes from an arousing dream, she has a totally different reaction:

She had never consciously thought of sex before, let alone touched herself. (p 7)

For the most part, the grammar in this novel is far better than what I've seen in some other first novels, but Ms. Austen seems to be confused about the past tense of the word “grind” (a rather common term in sexual situations), and her editor (if she had one) did not see fit to enlighten her.

She felt their eyes on her and her pussy contracted involuntarily. She rested her hands behind herself on Angelito's knees and grinded her hips in a circular motion. (p 140)

The above error occurs at least four times in the book.

Finally, here's one of the more egregious examples of head-hopping:

As he neared Lindsey he reached out and embraced her tightly, and she felt the proudest and happiest she had ever felt in her life. They kissed like newlyweds.

Once they broke the embrace, Lindsey said, 'Angelito, I'd like you to meet my friends, Jason-' Angelito firmly shook Jason's hand, and something in Jason's eyes gave away how star-struck he actually was '-and Cammie.'  The magician held Cammie's dainty hand and kissed it lightly. Cammie melted inside, and tried to fight the feelings that were tearing their way through her body. (p 157)

One thing that this novel does have to offer is lots of sex – especially girl-on-girl sex and orgy scenes. The reviews on Amazon make it clear that this is enough to satisfy some readers. It's true that some of the sex scenes involve minor characters, interrupt the narrative and do nothing to further the plot. If you're primarily interested in wanking, though, you might be willing to forgive these weaknesses.

To be fair, many of the problems that interfered with my enjoyment of this book could have been remedied or at least ameliorated by some vigorous editing. Unfortunately, it appears (based on the final product) that the book received at most a quick once-over.

If I were Ms. Austen, I would be seriously frustrated with Xcite Books. She's new to the publishing scene. The flaws I've highlighted are common to many beginning authors. Given that Xcite accepted her book, they have a responsibility to guide her and to help her avoid some of her personal weaknesses. They did not fulfill this responsibility.

In fact, they didn't even bother to check the PDF review copy they sent me. Due (I assume) to some problem in the conversion from the primary Kindle format, my copy of The Magician's Lover is rendered in a mix of two different fonts, one serif and one sans serif, one bolded and one not, which switch back and forth, even breaking in the middle of words. It's practically unreadable.

On the positive side, the fundamental plot of The Magician's Lover has some promise. The climactic scene, in which Lindsey and Dmitri engage in an apocalyptic battle with Angelito, had enough drama and intensity to engage my attention and distract me from the quality of the writing. The book's ending foreshadows the next installment of the trilogy. I might even be tempted to read it – if it were penned with greater skill and professionally edited.

The Perfect SubmissiveThe Perfect Submissive
By: Kay Jaybee
Xcite Books
February 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Of all the sub genres of erotic literature, none depends so much on convention as BDSM. Eternally popular scenarios occur again and again: the stern schoolmistress and the disobedient pupil; the Victorian master and his innocent maidservant; the secluded mansion that serves as a playground for  perverse, decadent sadists and their abused slaves. Connoisseurs of D/s fiction (among whom I count myself) experience a warm surge of pleasure when we recognize one of these classic tropes. Despite the fact that we've encountered them again and again, these scenes have what it takes to push our buttons.

Authors of BDSM tales (again, a group to which I belong) have a difficult task. Somehow we need to use the emotional impact of these familiar scenarios without becoming trapped by stereotypes. In some cases, the key to keeping BDSM erotica fresh lies in creating distinctive, involving characters that draw the readers' empathy. In other stories, a skilled author may twist or invert the conventions. The student may end up caning the professor or the maid may turn out to be a good deal naughtier and more experienced than her employer realizes. Whatever approach we take, we face a tremendous challenge.

The Perfect Submissive by Kay Jaybee does not completely succeed in meeting this challenge. This novel recycles traditional scenarios without adding much that is new.  The one-dimensional characters for the most part fail to engage the reader's sympathy or interest. The BDSM activity offered by the book is relentless, occasionally creative, and frequently extreme, but neither the dominants nor the submissives seem to be motivated by much beyond a desire for physical release.

The novel is set at The Fables country hotel. Owner/manager Laura Peters maintains a special set of rooms on the fifth floor for guests looking for more than bed and breakfast. Room 50 is a dungeon, 51 a Victorian study, 52 a school room, and so on. Laura employs a number of staff to assist her in catering to her guests' desires, including the sexy, stern dominatrix Miss Sarah and the jack-of-all-perversions bartender Master Lee. When twenty five year old Jess Saunders takes a job as The Fables' new receptionist, Laura is convinced that the demure, curvy red head is a natural submissive and sets out to initiate the poor young woman into the delights and dangers of BDSM.

Jess is the most appealing and believable character in the book. Her demanding, unpredictable employer both intimidates and arouses her. Consistent with Mrs. Peters' intuitions, Jess discovers that  the scenes played out on the fifth floor turn her on more than anything she's previously experienced. She's appalled by the personal perversity her training reveals but helpless to resist her own lust. Her uncertainty and confusion ring true.

Mrs. Peters, in contrast, seems superficial, arrogant, self-centered and cruel. She uses Jess for her own pleasure without the slightest sense of responsibility. I suppose that some readers enjoy bossy, ultra-bitchy dominants who hurt their submissives just to prove that they can. That sort of emotional dynamic doesn't interest me, however. I prefer mistresses and masters who recognize the value of the sub's surrender and show some concern for his or her well-being.

The other characters exist mainly to serve as props in the kinky fifth floor scenarios, including the climactic test of Jess' discipline and endurance in the ominous room 54. They are all, of course, physically attractive and sexually insatiable.

In addition to its general lack of originality, The Perfect Submissive suffers from some rather poor writing. Ms. Jaybee's prose exhibits confusing POV shifts, ungrammatical sentences, and incorrect punctuation, as well as what I would consider an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs. Many of these problems could and should have been caught by a competent editor. Consider the following passage, which I found by opening to a more or less random page.

Hastened into position by his mistress, Paul's shirt was torn from his back, his smooth torso bent over the desk's leather inlay, and his outstretched muscular arms grasped each side of the desktop. Jess gasped at the sight of his arse. It was truly gorgeous. She was so close to him, only two metres away. She could smell his desire and almost taste the frisson of fear that ran down his spine; prone and vulnerable, as he anticipated the first strike.

Balling her hands into fists, Jess's fingernails dug into the flesh of her palms as she waited in unexpected harmony with the man before her...

Verbal modifiers ("Hastened..." and "Balling...") followed by an inappropriate subject in the main clause are one of my pet peeves. I'd also like to know how one could taste a frisson of fear.

The awkward, amateurish prose begins on the very first page. If I had not made a commitment to review the book, I would have given up on the book immediately.  Now I'm glad that I didn't stop, though, because reading this book taught me a lesson. Despite the problems I've cited, I did find some parts of The Perfect Submissive arousing. Ultimately, it didn't matter that the writing was flawed or that the characters were shallow. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that the stereotypes still turned me on. The journey of a kinky soul discovering her true nature is a theme dear to my heart. I enjoy a tale of  erotic self-discovery even when it's told badly.

The Roman SlaveThe Roman Slave
By: Alexandros
Whiskey Creek Press Torrid
ISBN: 978-1603130134
December 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

The Roman Slave is a 395 page historical erotic novel set in 161 B.C., the era of the Roman Republic.  I particularly mention the number of pages because, to be honest, I struggled to get through them.  I tend to read in bed, and alas, I fell asleep more than once with my eReader open during my perusal of this book.

 The problem was not a lack of plot.  The Roman Slave starts with the focus on a hot-headed, ambitious tribune, Messalla, who has been exiled to the hinterland of Macedonia as a punishment for raping a noblewoman.  Messalla, with the help of his battle-scarred centurion Procinus, devises a scheme to attack and plunder a remote but wealthy village during a wedding festival.  He reasons that the gold he can supply to Rome's coffers, plus the many slaves he will capture and sell, will both make his fortune and restore his reputation.

The story then shifts to the peaceful village of Therapnae, where the reader meets Lavinia, the tomboyish eighteen year old who is the intended bride as well as a future queen, and her family of Spartan warriors.  (I could not quite figure out what Spartans were doing in Macedonia, but I let that pass.)  Lavinia receives training in both pugilistic and erotic arts in preparation for her nuptials.  On the eve of the wedding, Messalla and his men swoop down on the unprepared village, capturing Lavinia, her heroic grandfather  and village headman, Leonidas, plus her grandmother, her mother and brother and a host of other unfortunates.  The captives are divided and reach Rome by separate routes, but eventually all are reunited in the Imperial City.  Leonidas and Lavinia literally beat some sense into Messalla's head.  He is nursed back to health by a Spartan sex trainer, with whom he falls in love.  He sees the error of his ways and makes amends to the noble Spartans he had enslaved.  Everyone lives happily ever after.

Between our initial introduction to Messalla and his ultimate conversion into one of the good guys, Alexandros introduces characters with an abandon worthy of Tolstoy:  slaves, merchants, cooks, centurions, gladiators, consuls, street punks, sausage vendors, wives, mothers, sisters, cousins, and aunts.  All right, I don't recall anyone being explicitly identified as an aunt, but I could not begin to keep track of all these people.  For the most part they were one-dimensional cut-outs with few individual attributes, although sometimes they have their own plots and plans which the reader is expected to follow.

 The most prominent character trait, shared by almost all the characters in The Roman Slave, is inexhaustible horniness.  Women and men couple, often with multiple partners, at the drop of a tunic.  In fact, many characters habitually walk the streets of Rome naked.  Public orgies are routine.  Women have pleasure slaves to keep them satisfied, but don't disdain the erotic attentions of other women as well.  Hardly a page goes by without a phallus finding its way into a cunnus, or some other convenient orifice.  Jealousy hardly exists, as husbands and wives both recognize the primacy of lust.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it?  Unfortunately, the author's treatment of sex is so superficial that I found it tedious.  He dwells only at the physical level--which body parts are being inserted where, who is covered with come, who is climaxing and how many times.  He seems to view sex as something of an athletic performance, or a contest, one in which his main characters Leonidas (who has the physique of a giant and a cock as thick as a normal man's forearm) and Lavinia (who is graced with a clitoris three inches long) are always the victors.

Here's an example, more or less randomly chosen (from page 212):

“This is Leonidas, and this girl here is Lavinia.  Lavinia, remove your tunica and get on that table there.  I want to see what you can do.”

Valinus stripped off his knight’s tunic, more comfortable than the toga he wore earlier, saying, “Let’s start, as I have a long day ahead.  Leonidas, I want you to go with Livia and choose some women.  I really want to have a firsthand look at your erotic skills, so don’t hold back.”

Livia had already begun to undo Leonidas’ subligaculum.  She gasped when she saw his cock, which sprang erect and well above his waist.

“Look, Master Valinus,” she said, indicating Leonidas. “It is so much like my husband’s, but much bigger.”

“Quickly, Livia, time is money for me,” said Valinus, as he climbed on the wide table where Lavinia already waited for him, lying on her back with her legs held high up and spread out.

Valinus reversed himself on her and buried his face between her legs, licking all around her clitoris and pushing his fingers deep inside her cunnus, while she reached up and swallowed his cock to the root.  Gratianus and the Egyptian girl joined them soon on the table, excited by the loveliness of Lavinia.  Gratianus knelt near them, using the tip of his tongue to probe her anus, while the Egyptian girl sucked him to an erection . Once he was hard, he positioned himself before Lavinia, driving his cock deep into her ass, even as Valinus continued to suck on her clitoris like a ripe fruit.

In the meantime, Leonidas picked out six women from the group Livia showed him and had them all climb on another wide table along with him.  Taking three of them, he first stacked them one on top of the other.  Kneeling, he began to stimulate their cunni alternately with his fingers and tongue, while Livia and the other three women swarmed under him.  As he knelt, their tongues attacked his immense cock and roamed all around his huge testicles.  Livia knelt behind him and buried her face between his cheeks, to tongue his anus.  Soon, Leonidas made another stack of three women and repeated the same process.  In a short time, he was on his knees before the first stack, driving his cock in and out of their cunni alternately, while his fingers continued to stimulate the women on the other stack.  Although he couldn’t see, as Livia had climbed on his shoulders and wrapped her legs about his broad shoulders, he never missed his mark and continued thrusting alternately into the three women, before moving to the next stack, where he repeated the process.

Valinus, who had already ejaculated two times into Lavinia’s mouth by then, had stepped down to watch Leonidas at work with the seven women.  He had never seen anything like it before and he watched him with mouth open, as did everyone in the room, except Lavinia and the six men who were pleasuring her.  She fixed herself on Gratianus who lay back on the table, her sphincter tightly gripping his cock at the base while one man knelt over her and drove his member alternately in and out of her cunnus.  Another slave knelt near her and sucked her elongated clitoris.  Two others knelt on either side of her face, with a third kneeling over her chest and with a perfect rhythm, she turned her head from side to side or up and down in front, swallowing one or the other cocks.

I suppose that some people might find the scene above (and the dozens more very much like it that this novel offers) to be exciting.  I have the notion that Mr. Alexandros was aroused when he wrote this, mostly because he repeated the overall pattern so many times.  However, when he was penning this scene, he probably identified with one (or more) of the characters.  He imagined their thoughts and their feelings.  None of the inner life of any of the characters is actually expressed in the text.  We don't know what they're feeling, even on the level of the senses, let alone emotionally.  Perhaps the mere suggestion of such uninhibitedly lustful activity is enough to turn on some people.  For me, piles of bodies are simply boring. 

 There are other problems with The Roman Slave.  It takes more than a few Latin words and disparaging references to Cato's puritanical morality to establish a sense of place and culture.  Like Mr. Alexandros, I've always been fascinated by classical Greece and Rome, but I don't feel that this book conveys the reader to a believable world of the past, as effective historical fiction should do.  Blog entries by the author suggest that Lavinia's home, the lascivious city of Mithir, was located in Phrygia (central Turkey) but he never follows up on that cultural note in this book.  In particular, he misses the opportunity to focus on the Phrygian tradition of worshiping the Mother Goddess, Cybele, though this would have fit very well within the confines of the story.

The Roman Slave does have some points in its favor.  It is definitely sex-positive and has a feminist bent.  Everyone participates willingly in the randy activities throughout the book.  Everyone comes, many times.  Women's sexual satisfaction is viewed as essential for health and harmony, and it is the women in Alexandros' Rome who keep the men as pleasure slaves.  I'd love to have a more nuanced view of these women's experiences. Unfortunately, even Lavinia, the most fully realized female character, is rather shallow.

Secondly, I was relieved to find that this book was not another tired fantasy in which the slaves are bound, beaten and otherwise abused for the reader's titillation.  Anyone who is at all familiar with my work will know that I love a well-written BDSM tale.  However, the slaves-in-chains scenario has been so overworked that it is rare to find someone who can give it a fresh twist.  Mr. Alexandros does not try.  Aside from some incest (at least, I think the protagonists were brother and sister - it was hard to keep track!), there's little kinkiness in this book (By my definition.  I suppose that not everyone would call orgies vanilla.) 

In short, I applaud Mr. Alexandros' energy in penning this substantial work.  I only wish that it offered the substance that its length requires.

The Sweetest ThingThe Sweetest Thing
By: Julius Addlesee
ISBN: 1499389469
August 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Do you remember good old vanilla lust? Before FSOG or A.N. Roquelaure’s  Beauty Trilogy? Before music videos full of lewdly prancing, half-naked androgynous bodies? Before twerking and sexting? Before being gay became a fashion statement? Do you recall watching your next door neighbor hang her undies or wash his car and thinking you were going to die of desire? Do you remember when sex was rare, when it was private, when you dreamed about it non-stop?  

Julius Addlesee’s collection The Sweetest Thing will take you back to those days. Although the characters and situations in this book vary, all these stories focus on mutual heterosexual lust, seasoned by serendipity, affection, and, in many cases, lingerie. Julius’ characters often start out lonely, but when a carnal opportunity presents itself, they seize it with both hands (and get other body parts involved as well). Although most are set in contemporary times, these tales feel old-fashioned because the characters experience desire in such an enthusiastic, uncomplicated way. No one takes sexual pleasure for granted, but no one questions it, either. There’s no guilt, no angst, no inner conflicts other than some occasional embarrassment at having one’s arousal unmasked.

There’s an innocence about these tales. The mostly male narrators display a sense of wonder when confronted with the glory of women. Characters linger over foreplay, delighting in the tastes, smells, and textures of their partners, who tend not to be model-thin or movie-star handsome but who are nevertheless almost unbearably desirable. Sex is special,  a sweet mystery to decipher, a gift waiting to be opened.

In “There Comes a Time,” for instance, we meet twenty five year old Justin.  “Life had conspired to make him a virgin, or rather, to keep him a virgin.”  His buxom, fifty-ish neighbor Brenda knows just what to do about that problem.

Neighbors help one another out again in the exuberant “Mrs. MacLeod.” In this case the protagonist is a widower who admires the lady of the title as she walks by his house each day:

His late wife had accused him many times of being a tit man. He was a tit man. He loved all the other bits, too, but it was a woman’s boobs that always drew his first glance. That, or rather those, were what made Mrs. McLeod special. Hers were big. By most standards they were too big, but when you’re a real tit man, it’s hard to ascribe the words ‘too big’ to any woman’s breasts. Hers fascinated him.

He never missed his sightings of them. She was perhaps five-eight, and although wide of hip and heavy of bust, she bore herself with considerable grace. Her breasts varied their position on her chest, no doubt depending on her choice of bra. Their bounce factor varied too, for the same reason, of course.

One glorious day, he’d seen her obviously braless. Just the once. She’d no doubt realized, as did Reg, that her breasts were too heavy to be free like that. But their heavy movement and very, very obvious nipples had been a remarkable sight. The next day, he’d even set his alarm clock - just in case. But there’d been no repeat of that delightful performance, that morning or since.

Julius likes his ladies with plenty of flesh. Age doesn’t really matter. His heroines may be fresh and sassy or mature and nurturing. In “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hewitt,” a voluptuous twenty-something woman shows up in Graham Hewitt’s office, dressed in a garter belt, lacy black stockings and a tiny thong, and proceeds to give him a very special birthday gift – only to discover her services had actually been booked on behalf of Graham’s twin brother Gordon. In “Perfect in Every Detail,” orderly and somewhat repressed Milly receives a box of exquisitely detailed, penis-shaped chocolates, mistakenly delivered to her confectionery shop rather than to the adult toy store next door. When she returns them to their rightful owner, she is introduced – much to her eventual delight – to the real-world model for the candy cocks.

Some of the stories, like “The Airman and The Lady” or “Six Miles High,” focus on chance encounters or once-in-a-lifetime adventures. Others, like “Crumpet Buttered Lips,” “Waking Dream” and “Her Fuck Was Coming,” offer peeks into the lives of established couples. Even when the couple involved are strangers, the tales in this collection take a romantic view of sex. More often than not, there’s at least a hint that the wonderfully satisfying sexual encounters chronicled in the story will be repeated in the future.

One of the more unusual stories, and one of my personal favorites, is “Time Travel Made Easy.” This scifi fantasy takes place two centuries in the future. Fertility has dropped dramatically. The narrator works in the “Female Acquisition Department,” where androids deliver healthy young women fetched from the twentieth century. The females’ eggs are harvested before they’re returned to their own time. Due to a system glitch, copper-haired Arabella shows up in the acquisition pod – a woman from 1699 rather than 1999. Born in a benighted time when women were property and men were more or less brutes, Arabella has never experienced foreplay or the pleasures of a considerate lover. As you might guess, she turns out to be a fast learner.

Another favorite was “Pussy-holic,” about an author of erotica who is more of less stalked by one of his fans. Together, they act out what had previously been only fiction.

The author is very much present in these tales. His personal feelings about women – something just short of worship - blaze bright in every story. In addition, several of the stories feature historical or cultural notes, especially the tales that draw on the author’s own career in aviation.

Overall, The Sweetest Thing is an arousing and entertaining, if unfashionably straight, book. It left me with a sense of nostalgia – as well as an appropriately moist pussy.

The Things That Make Me Give InThe Things That Make Me Give In
By: Charlotte Stein
Virgin Black Lace
ISBN: 035234542X
December 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Envy. It's one of the hazards of reviewing work in one's own genre. Every so often you encounter a book so wonderful that you can't help wishing you'd written it yourself. If you're not careful, it can spoil your whole day.

The Things That Make Me Give In is one of those books. Charlotte Stein has penned a collection of imaginative, intense and extremely nasty erotic tales, which manage to stimulate the senses without neglecting the intellect. I'd love to claim it as my own. This book, though, belongs uniquely to Charlotte, because I believe it's a brazen exploration of her personal fantasies (and perhaps her experiences). Usually I refer more formally to authors in my reviews, but this volume demands a more intimate tone. In this book, Charlotte bares all. 

She has a distinctive voice, brash, energetic, self-deprecating, introspective, full of sentence fragments and body parts. Her stories rush forward, born along on the current of an inner monologue.  Not every tale is first person (though many of them are), but they might as well be. We're in the head of the main character (in every case but one, a woman) who is simultaneously analyzing everything and oozing for some action. To give you a taste, here's a segment from one of my favorite tales, “Dirty Disgusting You:”

His leg brushes mine, and it's terrible but I like it. I think about last week in the cinema, watching pinkly sweet bodies pretend to enjoy each other on the screen, the screen then fading to black just as it got to the really good bits. And him whispering through the darkness at me: Do you want to make our own good bits up?

I did. I do. But then he asked me to touch myself and I couldn't do it. I told him so, too, and he laughed. Though he hadn't laughed at all when I told him that I'd never touched myself. Not ever.

The look on his face! As though a grown woman who never masturbated was the equivalent of a straight man never looking at a big pair of tits. That shocked, slightly condescending expression made me say some spiteful things to him, but none of them landed. Or, at least, he never made me feel bad for saying them.  

The voice is cheeky, fresh and a bit wild. The stories vary, but the voice is consistent. This is perhaps, the book's main weakness. In some ways it feels more like a novel than a collection of stories.  The woman whose mind we inhabit differs superficially from one story to the next, but somehow I had the sense that she was really a single character, a single woman, whom I'm fairly convinced is Charlotte herself.

This woman likes big men, sometimes more than one at a time. She's turned on by power games, whether she's on the top or the bottom. She pretends to be innocent but is willing to do just about anything if someone teases her enough. She loves to be fucked hard and deluged in come. She's drawn to strangeness, otherness, feeling kinship with people who are “Different on the Inside,” to cite the title of one tale.

In “Because I Made You So,” she's a student lusting helplessly for her stern professor. In “Her Father Disapproves,” she's the girl next door, teasing the junior accountant her father has invited to a summer getaway.  “Just Be Good” puts her in the role of the juvenile delinquent, challenging the town sheriff to put her in handcuffs. In “Yes/,”,she agrees to do whatever her partner orders; in the paired tale  “/Yes,” she's the one giving the orders. In neither case does she get exactly what she expects.

The sex in The Things That Make Me Give In is visceral and messy, but it's never just sex. There's always a subtext, always the analysis. Talking is another kind of fucking (the whole point of her bittersweet tale “Phoned In”).  Charlotte understands the feedback loop between mind and body; she can't turn off her mind even when someone is trying to fuck her brains out.

I part the lips of my pussy myself, and let that slippery tip slide against it. Pleasure surges and tries to force me over the edge into orgasm, but I hold off. I want him to rub against my clit and then push his cock into me. I want him to fuck me the way that he just fucked himself, in punishing strokes that make me pant harder and say more than I'm doing now.

And when I tell him all this, he sings my praises.

I sing his right back. I tell him all the things I've always wanted to, but left by the wayside because they sounded too cheesy or too clichéd or too much. When he pushes his cock through my slit and down to my wet and waiting hole, I tell him that he's so big, that he fills me like nothing else, that I love his cock in my pussy.

He tilts my hips to meet his thrusts, one-handed. Just one big hand on my hip. His fingers stir against my clit, and my orgasm begins something like fluttering. Wings beating against my skin. Saying something now only makes them beat harder.

Given all the fucking and sucking and coming in this collection, I find it interesting that my favorite tale involves no physical sex at all – only stories about sex. “For You,” one of the darker contributions in the book, is narrated by a nurse caring for a cardiac patient who is waiting for a transplant heart. Dwelling in the shadow of death, he concocts lascivious fables of irresistible desire for his caretaker. His words leave her damp and twitching as they bear him away to the surgery he might not survive.

This story could, of course, represent the entire book in a nutshell.

The Wicked Sex: Tales of Female DominationThe Wicked Sex: Tales of Female Domination
By: Lance Porter
Virgin Nexus
ISBN: 0352341610
January 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Different strokes for different folks. Reviewing erotica has made me realize the truth of this aphorism. When I read a book for review and find that it does not arouse me in the least, is that the author's fault, or my own? Is it possible for me to honestly assess the erotic potential of a work that bases its appeal on some fetish that I find completely uninteresting or even disturbing?

This question reared its head as I was reading Lance Porter's collection of femdom stories. I'm sure that Mr. Porter thinks that his stories are titillating. Virgin Books/Nexus must think so too; this is at least his second publication with Nexus, the first of which was apparently nominated for an erotic writing award.

So when I find that five of the six tales leave me unmoved at best, annoyed and disgusted at worst, is this because I'm not a femdom enthusiast? Because I am too blind to see the erotic elements in a scenario where a woman uses and abuses a man or men for her own pleasure?  Well –I've written such scenes myself, and thought that they were pretty hot. On the other hand, much of the femdom work that I've reviewed has left me cold, or worse. Is Mr. Porter the victim of my lack of erotic imagination?

I don't believe so. The Wicked Sex has some positive features, but I think that generally it lacks a critical characteristic that is a prerequisite for an erotic experience, at least for me: sympathetic characters with whom I can identify. Mr. Porter's characters, both male and female, are either stereotyped caricatures, or selfish villains, or both.

The first story in the collection, “Bound by a Woman,” is the worst. Gunther is a middle-aged German restauranteur who is waiting to meet his gorgeous Asian mail order bride. Bee, the bride, turns out to be a cruel and self-centered creature who, when she discovers that he's not as rich or young as she had hoped, binds Gunther with her stockings, stuffs her panties in his mouth, and hangs him from a hook on the wall of his apartment while she goes out shopping on his credit cards. Eventually she screws his younger and more virile neighbor, and then leaves, with Gunther still dangling from the hook.

Bee treats Gunther despicably, not because it arouses her, or him, but because she's angry with him and doesn't care in the least what happens to him. On the other hand, one can't really feel much sympathy for Gunther (at least I couldn't), who is a chauvinistic liar marrying strictly for sex (and the satisfaction of showing off his Asian beauty to all the German women who rejected him over the years). Since I really disliked both the main characters, how could I get emotionally involved in the story?

To compound the problem, this story in particular had some very sloppy writing, most notably a sudden and confusing shift in POV from Gunther to his neighbor Siegfried during the climactic cuckolding scene. Then there are sentences like the following:

“He roared in response, squeezed her juddering ass cheeks between his clawing fingers and drove himself with ever-greater vigour. “
“Juddering” may not be the least erotic word in the language, but if I were trying to paint a sexy picture, I'd avoid it!

“Teen Tease”, the second story in the collection, is more tightly written. The narrator is an eighteen-year-old sexpot who gets her kicks tormenting her ex-gangster stepfather and making her ex-stripper mother jealous. The tale offers some sly humor in its images of the narrator and her classmates in Catholic high school, trying to seduce the incorruptible Father John. I also found the unexpected twist at the end quite clever. But arousing? With whom am I supposed to identify? The truly wicked teen narrator, who delights in her cruel power? The disgusting mafioso pervert who drools at her feet? Sorry, but the only person for whom I felt the least concern was the beleaguered priest.

The third tale in The Wicked Sex is entitled “The Land of the Giant Supermodels.” The title says it all. A group of fifty or so men, applying to appear in a commercial with some famous beauties, are abducted to a world inhabited by women fifty feet tall. One by one the men try to escape and meet various horrible fates, until the narrator, the last remaining prisoner, is crushed to death in a supermodel's vagina.

This tale really is as ridiculous as it sounds. Actually, it's rather humorous, and again, has an ending that is more subtle than I had expected As erotica, though, it fails miserably, at least in my opinion.

“Heartless,” the fourth story, is a rather incoherent tale of a young man driven mad by his lust for the woman who spurned him. “Imperatrix,” the last story in the volume, postulates a competition between two dominant women to see which one can exhaust the most men. In this story, at least, the men are willing participants, well paid to service and satisfy Valerie Sales and her archrival Katerina Dominova. The story is fun, if not very original, with a few genuine fireworks set off between the two women. (The men here are  no more than animate sex toys.)

The one story that did strike some sparks for me was “Mistress of the Hunt.”  This tale, loosely based on the classical myth of Diana and Actaeon, succeeds in evoking an aura of mystery as well as a terrible sense of tragic inevitability. Young, virile Acton is hired to care for Mistress Delia's hounds. He suffers unbearable desire for her chaste beauty, yet at the same time resents the haughty manner in which she wields her power. When he spies on her bathing, she exacts the ultimate in punishment. Mr. Porter manages to suggest that this scenario has been played out many times in the past, and that the future would see new incarnations of the Huntress and her eternal prey. Although the exposition is a bit rambling and Mr. Porter throws in a variety of characters that distract from the central theme, this tale does merit the description “erotic.”

All in all, however, I cannot honestly recommend The Wicked Sex. Possibly a true afficionado of female domination would find something in this volume that I missed. I know from personal experience that if a work of fiction pushes your buttons, you're willing to overlook (or maybe don't even notice) the literary rough edges. Possibly the right reader would finish this book with racing heart and engorged genitalia. I'm certainly not that reader.

Thirty-One DaysThirty-One Days
By: Ronan Jefferson
Ronan Jackson Jefferson
April 2014

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Erotica is about the journey. Whereas romance focuses on the end of the road, the elimination of obstacles and the consummation of desire, erotica frequently concerns itself with the twists and turns required to get to that point, and sometimes, with the mishaps that send you hurtling off the highway and over the precipice.

Thirty-One Days details the erotic journey of its narrator, a self-absorbed, egotistical, insecure young man, from het-sex god to gay submissive to (possibly) mass murderer. Related in an informal first person that's not quite stream of consciousness, it's a harrowing trip indeed. To call this book “raw” would be an understatement. Extreme sex, extreme violence, pain, humiliation, drugs, knives, branding, blood, piss, shit and vomit – you'll find all this and more in this four hundred plus page novel. Yet I would not say the book is pure exploitation. I don't think Ms. Jefferson (Amazon identifies the author as female, a surprise to me) wrote this tale purely to shock. There are nuggets of truth buried in even the most outrageous scenes. The main character (dare I call him a hero?) feels real, with his alternating doubt and bravado,  his continued attempts to resist the temptations of his dark side and his continued failures. The book definitely made me squirm at times, yet I wanted to keep reading – not because I particularly like the violent and degrading sex, but because I was fascinated by the protagonist's downward spiral.

As the book begins, it's the first of December. The narrator (whose name I never noticed, but whom Amazon identifies as “Derek”) and his drinking buddies dream up a crazy challenge. Each of them will fuck thirty one different women, one per day until the New Year. The other three guys who take the pledge last no more than a day or two. Derek, on the other hand, is a chick magnet. All he has to do, it seems, is smile and the woman's in his bed.

The book gleefully recounts the details of each encounter. Initially, Derek targets girls his own age – ex-girlfriends, the bartender at the local watering hole, visiting coeds he meets at holiday parties. As Christmas approaches, his conquests become more ambitious and risky. He beds a sexually curious sixteen year old one night, then her insatiable forty-something mother the next. He stalks the classy, curvy middle-aged librarian, who just happens to be his next door neighbor, and buggers her among the stacks. At a company party, he tempts the pregnant wife of a colleague into the restaurant kitchen and fucks her until she bleeds.

Ms. Jefferson has a finely tuned sense of timing. The structure of Thirty-One Days is deliberate and artful. The fateful thirty one days of debauchery unfold in flashbacks, interspersed with scenes from the present, where Derek haunts the narrow, spunk-scented corridors of gay sex clubs, trying to convince himself he's not a homosexual. Despite his determination to do nothing more than prove his dominant masculinity, he is repeatedly drawn into situations where he allows himself to be bound, beaten and sodomized by other men, particularly a skinny, effeminate but intelligent guy named Stevie who is both his nemesis and his mentor. The book alternates between Derek's confused, increasingly violent homoerotic adventures and his heterosexual pre-New-Year's fucks, which each day grow more extreme but less enjoyable. The narrator hints at a crisis, but only in the last quarter of the book do we discover what event has sent him spinning into the world of leather, poppers and glory holes. Of course, we suspect (as does he) that a sexual attraction to men and a craving for abuse (as both receiver and giver) were latent in his nature all along, but something had to snap before he could consciously consider such a thing.

So, is this so-called erotica arousing? Thirty-One Days is powerful, visceral, uncomfortable, disturbing, disgusting at times. Many readers will find the blatant misogyny of its narrator acutely offensive. Although his thirty one women ostensibly consent, many of his conquests deserve to be called rape. He doesn't kill any of his women – quite – but he comes close in several cases. He's concerned at first, both about their pleasure and their safety, but as the month goes on, his cruelty and callousness reach almost unbelievable levels. Some readers may feel he deserves the rough handling he gets at the hands of the “queers” to whom he finds himself attracted. 

With all these caveats, I have to admit that some parts of the book pushed my buttons. The encounter with Cathy, the librarian, was one of the hottest scenes I've read in while.  Then there's the protagonist's barely remembered meeting with “God”, the mysterious Uber-Master of the most vicious club he attends. God, it turns out, is trans and exquisitely powerful and alluring. The dream-like interlude perhaps sums up the narrator's sexual confusion. The Master's dualism is a mirror of his own nature.

Ultimately, I'm not sure it was the author's intent to arouse, or at least not exclusively. Some readers will call this book pornography of the worst sort, the kind that glorifies the abuse of women and equates sex with violence. Perhaps they're correct. On the other hand, Thirty-One Days is also a well-crafted, thought-provoking novel that asks difficult questions about the nature of desire. If it's porn, it's some of the best-written porn I've ever read, though not necessarily the sexiest.

Threesomes: An AnthologyThreesomes: An Anthology
Edited By: Lori Perkins
Ravenous Romance
September 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Sometimes I hate being a reviewer. I'd rather just be a reader, with no goal other than self-entertainment and occasional enlightenment. Instead, I'm engaged in ongoing evaluation every time I open a book or a PDF file.  It doesn't matter whether I plan to review the book or not. The critical mindset becomes a habit. These days I can't just read; I have to judge.

When I was still innocent--many years ago, before I began writing reviews--I might well have loved Threesomes. I've always been attracted to the notion of ménage (even before I had the chance to participate in one). I especially like group sex where everyone gets it on with everyone else regardless of gender or ostensible orientation. Threesomes indulges my polymorphously perverse tendencies by serving up pretty much every combination imaginable: gay men who are still not opposed to having sex with a woman, straight women drawn into lesbian embraces or bonds, straight men willing-- no, eager--to bend over and offer their butts to their queer companions in the mini-orgy. Even"straight" male-female interactions take on new spice in the context of additional participants.

I give Ms. Perkins, the editor of this collection, two thumbs up for the variety of its stories. I wish that I could say the same for the quality of the writing.

Of the dozen stories in this anthology, only three stand out for me as both original and well-written. "Center Part" by Hobart Glass offers an intriguing three-way lesbian encounter in which one of the participants is in some sense imaginary. Natalie is seriously in lust with her gorgeous hairdresser Hillary, but still holding a torch for the mysterious Safi who was Natalie's first woman lover. Safi returned to her native Africa and then disappeared, leaving a huge hole in Natalie's life. Hillary manages to conjure Safi to join in Natalie's sexual healing. The result is arousing and erotic in the truest sense of the word, as rich with the ache of desire as with its fulfillment.

 Cynthia Genty's contribution "Just Friends" is fascinating because of the complex relationships between its characters.  "Back when Matt and I were trying to be lovers, he used to talk dirty to me on the phone," Ms. Gentry's tale begins. Matt and the narrator have a powerful sexual connection, but personality and circumstances become obstacles too serious to overcome. They decide to be just friends, but when they meet for a seemingly casual drink, the narrator discovers that Matt still recalls her fantasies and is eager to fulfill them. There's no happily ever after, though--at least not for her and Matt.

The third gem in this anthology is Kilt Kilpatrick's hilarious "Later, Day Saints":

I know, I know, this is the part where I go straight to hell. But can you honestly blame me? Are you trying to tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing in my place? Bitch, you are such a liar!

So listen, there I am, minding my business in the Swinging Bachelorette Pad. I should have been working on my term paper, but I was still collating my data and letting the outline marinate a while. Get off my case already, that's my process, and you have to respect that, right?

I was giggling already, but my amusement turned to awe as I watched how the narrator systematically seduces and corrupts the two (extremely cute) Mormon missionaries who show up at her door.  Actually, this is not the first story I've read based on this premise. (The other was equally good, but the main character was different enough that this seemed original.) The sexual shenanigans that ensue are playful but intense, cleverly skirting the edge of parody without stepping over.

Moving from the special to the adequate,  Em Brown's "And Damian Makes Four" and Brit M.'s "Two Men and a Lady Prequel" are competently composed stroke fiction, replete with sexual activities but with little plot or point. Readers whose main interest is arousal will probably enjoy them.

The remaining stories in the collection are hackneyed, badly written, or both. As a policy, I don't mention the names of stories that I rate negatively. I'm an author myself, and I know how much that would hurt. Suffice it to say that the other offerings in Threesomes ranged from the implausible and incoherent fantasy scenarios buried in purple prose, to painfully amateurish efforts that read like offerings on a free "true confessions" website. (Sorry but I don't consider references to a woman's "rack" and "jugs" to be at all erotic.) In one case, I debated whether the story was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, a clever imitation of some vintage tale from the days of the newsgroups. I decided, alas, that this was not the case.

Group sex is a potent fantasy, and this book tries to tap into that erotic potential. It succeeds only occasionally. One might ask whether a few noteworthy tales might be enough to save a book. However, I've read some anthologies lately in which almost every story was exceptional. Those books set the bar pretty high.

As I said, unless you're snarky by nature, it's no fun being a reviewer. Readers less particular than I might get off on Threesomes, but I can't really recommend it. 

Tight Women in Hard PlacesTight Women in Hard Places
By: Alicia Night Orchid
Logical Lust Publications
ISBN: 1905091753
July 2010

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I don't think that it is possible to write erotica without exposing oneself. To arouse our readers, we authors must write what turns us on personally. True, we may disguise our personal fantasies. We may displace our kinks and fetishes, assigning them to characters who are superficially quite different from us – a different age, a different socioeconomic stratum, perhaps even a different gender. The emotional kick, though, reveals all. We are able to draw our readers into a world of deviance and delight because we, the authors, already reside there.

Tight Women in Hard Places is a deeply arousing and profoundly personal set of erotic stories. Alicia Night Orchid shares her visions, ranging from the romantic to the perverse, embroidering upon her personal experiences and desires. Each tale she tells contains a sliver, or more, of personal truth.

Ms. Night Orchid's protagonists vary widely, from the inexperienced but sexually ripe grad student in “The Royal Orleans” to the jaded forty-something country singer in “I Saw the Light.”  “Ray's Opening” is narrated by a cocky, self-obsessed attorney while “Third Shift” tells the tale of a divorced, down-and-out waitress at a diner. Despite the difference in their voices, one gets the feeling that all these women are aspects of the author.  Her character warns in “The Royal Orleans,” as she is making up outrageous lies to fascinate a man she's just met, “never forget that everything that a writer tells you is partly truth and partly fiction.” In reading this collection, I took this caveat to heart. Still, the more extreme Ms. Night Orchid's stories became, the better I felt that I knew her.

Alicia Night Orchid writes long, tangled tales with endings you do not expect. She does not write “sex scenes.” Instead, she manages to infuse passion into every paragraph. One of the best stories in the collection is “Smoke,” the chronicle of a woman's unusual but irresistible fetish. Another standout is “Torn in Two,” an erotic noir fantasy that explores the dangerous, seductive links between sex and death. “Savage Nights” recreates the dope-drenched aura of the Sixties, when all the flowers, drugs and sex in the world couldn't quite drown out the screams of young men dying in 'Nam.  “Voyeur Nation” is the sad, funny tale of a woman's determination to get her life together, derailed by her horny, exhibitionistic neighbors. “Fridays Without,” one of my favorite stories, shows what happens when one gives in to temptation.

I commented earlier on the twists taken by some of these tales. I realized upon reflection that only three of these thirteen tales have unambiguously happy endings.  In the rest, after the sweat has dried and the breathing has returned to normal, we're left to wonder, “what next?”  The characters are changed by their passion – indeed, if these stories have any common message, it is that sex can profoundly alter one's life and self. Much, however, is left unresolved. This makes the tales more realistic and also more unsettling. There are no simple answers in Alicia Night Orchid's realms of desire.

Tight Women in Hard Places deftly evokes the many moods of arousal – from a stranger's desperate attraction to the joyful rediscovery of one's long time partner. Overall, it's one of the best single author collections I have reviewed in a long time. I recommend it highly.

To Serve is DivineTo Serve is Divine
By: R. E. Hargrave
ISBN: 1492367109
October 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

A lonely submissive waits in line outside Dungeons & Dreams, an exclusive BDSM club that holds “no membership required” nights only once a month. Erin’s nipples are clamped under her blouse. Her pussy is bare under her brief skirt. New in town, she has moved to Texas from California to escape her harrowing past. Since arriving, she has tried to suppress her need to be dominated, without success. Tonight she hopes she’ll be granted admission to the club, to scratch that itch she can’t ignore.

An olive-complexioned, dark-haired, breathtakingly handsome man passes her on his way into the club. Their eyes meet, before Erin remembers that her role requires her to keep her glance lowered. He speaks to the doorman, and moments later, she’s escorted into the club, into the realm of Master Jayden.

Jayden has been frustrated in his attempts to find a sub who’ll willingly endure the pain he longs to inflict. He’s so difficult to satisfy that his Dom friends tease him about his unrealistic expectations. When he encounters Erin, or Catherine as she calls herself when she’s in scene, he can’t believe his good fortune. She seems to have everything he’s been seeking: beauty, intelligence, excellent training, a natural love of kink and a true desire to serve. She even cooks. (I am not kidding.) In record time, they’ve concluded a contract and Erin is wearing his collar. Their formal agreement covers all the details: soft and hard limits; safe words; requirements for Erin to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and get monthly checkups. Furthermore it stipulates that their relationship is fundamentally sexual. Any sort of bondage is allowed, but no emotional strings.

Of course, Erin quickly falls in love with her powerful, skilled, considerate and highly appreciative master. Being a guy, Jayden pretends for much longer that his feelings for Erin aren’t anything more than just those of a responsible Dom. Eventually, he’s forced to admit he loves her, that he wants more than just a power exchange relationship.

Thus ends book one of The Divine Trilogy, at 422 pages. Two more books wait in the wings.

If this story sounds familiar to you – well, you’re not alone. I suspect there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of erotic romance novels with this same basic plot. And yes, this book definitely falls into the category of romance. It’s not erotica. The author’s main concern is the developing relationship between Erin and Jayden. The sex is explicit but muted. The kink is mild, with little real pain despite Jayden’s self-described sadistic needs, but rather, with a focus on the submissive’s pleasure.

Here’s a fairly typical  snippet:

“Stand,” Sir ordered.

Catherine complied and her dress slipped from her body to gather around her feet in a shimmering scarlet puddle. She could feel his gaze devouring her almost translucent body and she shuddered. His touch was gentle when he leaned forward and took her ankle in his hand, lifting first one foot, and then the other before moving the dress out of the way. Sir’s fingers trailed up her legs until he was near her sex. Teasing her at that point they traveled outward – rather than upward – around her hips to cup her ass. With a tight squeeze, he pulled her forward until Catherine could feel his hot breath on her freshly-shaved pussy.

Oh, please. Please lick me, Catherine thought.

His tongue flickered out and parted her labia, taking a languid lick. He growled out, “Fuck, you taste good, slut.”

Catherine felt her nipples tighten and her pussy become wetter.

“You will not come without permission, Catherine,” he instructed.

The familiar reminder was unnecessary, but helpful to transport her deeper into that space in her head she longed to go. The command threw open the door to her submissive self.

In general, we eschew reviewing erotic romance at Erotica Revealed, because there are many other review sites for that genre, while there are few if any for erotica. Sometimes, though, a book slips by. In the case of To Serve is Divine, we probably should have read the “praise” from R.E. Hargrave’s fellow author J.C. Clarke at the start of the book before agreeing to review it:  “It was so refreshing to see that an author has taken the time to research this genre carefully before putting pen to paper and not just thrown porn into the written form... If you are new to the lifestyle or have read a lot of `smut' out there, I urge you to give this a go.”

A book that so carefully distinguishes itself from “porn” and “smut” probably doesn’t belong at Erotica Revealed.

So, did I hate To Serve is Divine? Actually, no. Despite its predictability, its rather shallow characters and the moderately frequent editing gaffes, I rather enjoyed it. A sub myself, I found it pretty easy to identify with Erin, especially with her pride when her master praises her for her self-discipline and obedience. There is a deep pleasure in serving, which this novel successfully conveys. I liked the emphasis on safety and consensuality in the kink community – and the sense of community in general. The book provides a much more accurate picture of mainstream BDSM practices than FSOG. The novel also draws a clear line between kink and abuse such as Erin experienced at the hands of her previous “master,” Spencer. It shows how the trust required by a BDSM relationship can have a healing effect.

While I didn’t find most of the sex scenes very arousing, they weren’t ridiculous or offensive. There’s one scene near the end of the novel, when Jayden offers the use of Erin to a Dominatrix friend, that pushed my buttons to some extent.

As the excerpt above illustrates, Hargrave’s prose doesn’t really merit the description “literary”, but at least it’s comprehensible most of the time. (I do wonder how Erin’s body became “almost translucent,” though.) It doesn’t get in the way of the story (such as it is).

In short, if you’re looking for a typical BDSM erotic romance, you don’t care much about originality, and you aren’t going to wince when an author names her Dom (without intentional irony) “Jayden Masterson”, you might enjoy this book.

I suspect that many visitors to Erotica Revealed, however, might find it too hackneyed and too tame for their tastes.

By: Saskia Walker
ISBN: 1452808864
June 2010

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Unashamed is a collection of eighteen sexual adventures from the pen of British author Saskia Walker. Sixteen of them have been previously published in various anthologies. Although I recognized a few from books that I'd read or reviewed, many were new to me. Collecting one's back list of stories into a single volume is a perfectly reasonable endeavor, especially when epublishing has made production and distribution relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, in this case, I felt that the whole was less than the sum of its parts.

Erotica can be defined as stories about sex, and certainly Ms. Walker's tales fit this definition. Alas, they are for the most part just about sex. Nearly all the tales in this book focus on a single sexual encounter, spun out for most of the length of the story, with little conflict or suspense and almost no concern with issues other than arousal and satisfaction. Personally I prefer more variety and perhaps more depth in the erotica I read. Obviously this is not true for everyone. For someone seeking a book of quick, hot fantasies, this might be just the thing.

The sexual encounters in Unashamed are moderately intense, offering heterosexual, ménage and lesbian scenarios, with plenty of fetish wear, toys and exhibitionism thrown into the mix. The overall effect (for me), however, of reading one tale like this after another was boredom. One story of this type, read in the context of an anthology and contrasted with other authors' work, can be fun. A long series of such stories eventually becomes tedious. (Again, this is my personal opinion.)

My favorite stories in the book were “In Pursuit of Knowledge” and “Edward's Experiments.” The former differs from most of its companions in that it takes place over a matter of days, as the narrator gradually draws closer to a regular visitor to the library whom she finds attractive. Ms. Walker ratchets up the sexual tension, bit by bit, as the narrator moves her seat closer to her target's habitual place, embarrassed to reveal her lust and yet unable to stop herself. This story climaxes (in every sense) with a lovely encounter, drenched in moonlight, in a dusty, hidden room after library hours.  The latter story describes the narrator's relationship over a period of time with her quirky empiricist lover Edward, who views even sex as a way to satisfy his scientific curiosity. Ms. Walker brings Edward to life – he is by far the most real of any of the book's characters.

Other stand-out stories include the two lesbian tales “Making it Easy” and “Matilda's Touch,” both of which involve a more knowledgeable and confident woman initiating a nervous beginner. I found the lesbian interactions in this book, in general, to be more arousing than the male-female scenes. They have a greater emotional intensity and quality of honesty than many of the heterosexual encounters. In fact, even in Ms. Walker's three- and four-way scenarios, the woman-on-woman interactions are better written and more engaging. I am fairly confident that this is more a reflection of Ms. Walker's preferences or style than my own predilections. Of course, one can never be completely sure when reading erotica how much of the effect is the responsibility of the author and how much derives from one's own kinks. There are few genres that depend so strongly on the reader's psychological constitution.

Another weakness of this collection was its need for better editing. Perhaps due to the fact that I've been spending so much of my own time lately wearing my editor hat, I noticed frequent problems that should have been caught and corrected before publication: purple prose, repeated words and phrases, run-on sentences, incorrect word use, grammar mistakes, and so on. These issues definitely diminished my enjoyment. The prior publication credits are at the end of the book. I was surprised to discover that most of the stories had been previously published, given the roughness of the language and the grammar.  I wonder if Ms. Walker used her original manuscripts for the stories in assembling the book, rather than the edited versions that appeared in the original sources. I do know that eXcessica, unlike many epublishers, does not supply editors but rather expects authors to have edited their own books. (It is an authors' collective rather than a profit-making publisher.) In this case, Ms. Walker could have benefited from an external editor's eye (and red pen).

In summary, Unashamed offers short, relatively simple tales of hot sex. If that is what you're looking for in your erotica, you will probably enjoy the book.

Whispers of the FleshWhispers of the Flesh
By: Louisa Burton
ISBN: 0553385305
September 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Whispers of the Flesh is the third volume in Louisa Burton’s Hidden Grotto series of erotic novels. In 2008, I reviewed the first two books in the series, noting that they were carefully crafted and highly entertaining. Entertainment and relatively wholesome titillation appear to be Ms. Burton’s objectives in this series, and Whispers of the Flesh succeeds in achieving these goals at least as well as the previous installments.

The series is set in the mysterious valley of the Grotte Cachée, hidden in the mountains of Auvergne, France. Despite its isolation, the valley has been inhabited for long ages by a variety of peoples. It houses sacred altars among ancient oaks, a marble bath house decorated with outrageous erotic sculpture, a volcanic cave with a healing spring and psychotropic vapors, and the medieval chateau where generations of seigneurs have lived out their lives over the centuries.

The valley is also home to a quartet of immortals whom the seigneurs have sworn to protect and serve. Inigo the satyr is a happy-go-lucky ambisexual with prodigious genitalia and a libido to match. Lili is a stunningly beautiful Mesopotamian goddess who requires sexual congress with mortals in order to survive. Elic is a Norse demon who can assume the shape of either male or female in order to couple with humans of either sex. Finally, Darius is a djinn with the power to assume animal shapes and to heal. He is cursed with an irresistible sensitivity to human emotion; if he senses a human’s desire, he cannot help but fulfill it. 

The earlier books were structured as a series of vignettes jumping back and forth through time. Through privilege or chance, humans would visit the chateau and be drawn into the sexual games and intrigues of the four “follets”. The follets need a continuous supply of human lust. The lord of the Hidden Grotto is committed to providing this. Across the centuries, the chateau has played host to innumerable seductions, orgies, slave auctions, and mock satanic rituals. The humans involved rarely come to understand that their primary role is to fulfill the sexual requirements of the immortals. Nevertheless, they usually leave sated, and often wiser, for their experiences

Whispers of the Flesh offers a slightly different structure. The action occurs in three time periods: the eighteen twenties, the early nineteen seventies, and the present. However, the stories are intertwined. Back in the nineteenth century, a rigidly chaste Jesuit arrives at the chateau, ostensibly to complete a landscape design plan but actually to investigate persistent rumors of demons and black magic.

At the height of the hippie era, a clot of young pleasure seekers converge on the valley for a week of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Among them is the future wife of the current administrateur, the seneschal whose descendants over the ages have organized life for the seigneur of the Grotte Cachée.

In the present, the adminstrateur Emmett Archer lies on his deathbed, suffering from aggressive pulmonary fibrosis. His daughter Isabel has arrived at the chateau to spend what are probably his last days, and to contemplate how to refuse the responsibility of taking over his hereditary position. She cannot bear to spend her life serving the young seigneur Adrian Morel, for whom she harbors an impossible passion. Also visiting is Hitch, an old comrade of Emmett’s from the days of the Vietnam war.

Each thread of the tale influences future events. To avoid revealing to much, I won’t say anything more about the plot. However, the new structure of this novel gives it a different rhythm than the previous books, in some ways more effective.

When I reviewed the earlier books, I commented that the characterizations of the follets seemed   less fully realized than those of the humans around them, partly because they do not involve themselves emotionally with their  “victims”. I found Whispers of the Flesh more satisfying in this regard. Both Darius and Lili reveal themselves more fully, especially in their interactions with the priest David Beckett. Elic and Lili, lovers who cannot physically consummate their passion, suffer from jealousy and remorse. And Isabel, a woman from the outside world despite her familiarity with the follets, has some serious conflicts with them.

Although it delves somewhat deeper into the immortals’ history and motivations and even has intimations of tragedy and death, Whispers of the Flesh still struck me as a light-hearted romp, full of extravagant sexual excess enjoyed mostly for the pleasure of it. The two exceptions are Lili’s seduction of Beckett, who struggles against his own vows of chastity, and Isabel’s apparently doomed coupling with Adrian. Both of these scenes offered an emotional intensity lacking in most of the sexual interactions. 

Ms. Burton’s sex scenes are a lot of fun. Also, the entire attitude of this series is emphatically sex-positive. Sex almost always produces favorable outcomes.

On the other hand, my personal notion of eroticism requires something more than just mutual pleasure. For me, a story needs to have some sort of edge to be erotic. Something more important than a climax needs to be at stake. Thus, though I found Whispers of the Flesh to be entertaining, it was only occasionally arousing. This of course is a personal reaction. For some people, the very notion of unbridled sexual activity is exciting. The follets gleefully violate taboos left and right. For some readers, this will be a turn on. I may just be jaded.

In any case, Whispers of the Flesh offers safe, sane, diverse and diverting sex, set in an historically-convincing environment laced with just the right amount of magic. If this sounds appealing, I recommend the book highly.

Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex StoriesWild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories
Edited By: Sacchi Green
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573449334
June 2013

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

How does one evaluate a collection subtitled True Lesbian Sex Stories?

Originality counts as one of my top criteria when reviewing fiction. A startling premise, a setting or a conflict I haven't encountered in the past, will immediately predispose me toward enjoying a story. Can this be applied to real life tales, though? To a large extent, we don't choose our experiences, although authors will clearly exercise discretion in selecting the events to recount. Still, given the fantasy-oriented nature of much erotica, the more creative and unusual premises often tend to be the most implausible.

How about the arousal generated by the stories? This is a highly personal criterion, depending as it does on one's own sexual proclivities. A couple of tales in this collection definitely pushed my buttons, especially “The Insatiable Travel Itch,” by Evan Mora, which brilliantly exposes the narrator's frustrated fantasies, and “Delinquents,” by Catherine Paulssen, a gorgeously sensual first-time tale. Given my usual tastes, one might have expected me to mention some of the kinkier offerings, such as Mia Savage's “Kat's House,”Danielle Mignon's “Are You My Mommy?” or Cheyenne Blue's “Nurse Joan.” However, I have no experience with and relatively few fantasies about F/F dominance and submission, so these titles had less of a visceral effect on me than I would have guessed.

Writing quality, then? No problem here. With one or two exceptions, the offerings in Wild Girls, Wild Nights are as well-crafted as I'd expect from an award-winning editor like Sacchi Green. Vivid descriptions, believable characters, variety in subject and voice: if this were a fiction anthology, I'd have no reservations about giving this book a definite thumbs up.

But therein lies the rub. For the most part, these tales read not like true confessions, but like fiction. They have initial hooks, plot arcs, conflict and resolution. Real world experience is messy, confusing, and usually inconclusive. Ambiguity reigns. There's no ending, happily-ever-after or other. These tales, however, are mostly polished, self-aware, self-contained nuggets with a point and a punch-line.

Of course, this isn't all that surprising. Most erotic authors mine their own sexual adventures in creating their fiction. One gets into the habit of focusing on some details and glossing over others, ramping up the heat and playing down discomfort or insecurity, twisting the outcomes in directions that make them more satisfying for readers. I've certainly done this myself, in dozens of stories.

Then there's the fact that perceptual experience is notoriously difficult to recall accurately. It's generally not possible to give an accurate account of past events without “filling in the blanks,” whether consciously or not. When the experience in question occurred decades ago (as is obviously the case for some of these authors), the imagination-to-fact ratio increases dramatically.

When I recall my first Sapphic experience now (after more than thirty years), I remember only a few salient details. If I were to recount this for a book, I'd have to recreate – or invent – almost all the context. And then there would be the temptation to change the outcome – the fact that this woman, a dear friend, and I have never talked about that one night again. That doesn't make a good ending, after all.

So I don't fault the authors in this book for producing stories that feel like – stories. However, that makes me admire the few authors whose accounts really did feel more like “being there.”

“Higher Learning” by Charlotte Dare fell into that category. I liked this account because of the unconventional relationship between an older woman returning to college and a much younger student who is nevertheless old enough to know what she wants – and what she's doing. The uncertainties of the older narrator come through clearly and ring true. Every woman, after a certain age, wonders how she could possibly be viewed as desirable. Most of all, I appreciated the fact that the story ends with a question mark. The two women pursue separate career paths in different states. Neither wants to end the relationship, but will it survive the stress of geographic separation? Ms. Dare leaves us to wonder.

Another stand-out for me was Catherine Henreid's “Odds.” This story, set in Tel Aviv, has enough disasters in it that I can't help believe it. The quirky and unpredictable encounter between the narrator and her bisexual housemate, who is in some sense a total mystery, was both intriguing and arousing.

I've already mentioned “Delinquents,” about two girlfriends who experiment with lesbian sex while their parents are away. I strongly identified with the narrator's concerns about how this would alter the relationship – naturally, given my personal experience.

Finally, I have no doubts about the truth of Dawn McKay's “Hot Summer Nights,” in which the author,  a military medic in what is likely Iraq, shares a single night of healing passion with an off-limits officer. The sense of risk, of desperation, of sorrow, that permeates this story make it one of the most intense in the volume.

“I'll see you around,” she said.

“Yeah.” I knew I wouldn't. So did she.

She left as quietly as she had come, slipping from my tent in the middle of a sandstorm.


I have to reserve special mention for Allison Moon's “Foxy and the Ridiculous Lesbian Orgy.” In terms of the activities it describes, this tale is by far the wildest in the book, and certainly one of the funniest. The events in the tale undoubtedly took place – because the author staged them in order to have some content for a live girl-on-girl storytelling event.

I had no story to tell, but the flyers had gone out, and time was short. I had no choice. For the sake of science – nay for the sake of art, I had to take matters into my own hands. I had to throw a Ridiculous Lesbian Orgy.

Now, I know what you're thinking. If you construct the context for a story, are you actually experiencing the story, or are just experiencing yourself experiencing the story, thus negating the veracity of the experience? If it's really happening but in an artificial context, does it count as “true”? I'm a writer, these are the things I think about.  

I'm an author, and I think about these things too. Wild Girls, Wild Nights is a bit of an epistemological puzzle, all the way around. However, if your main interest is simply in reading some hot, believable, girl-on-girl tales, you won't be disappointed.

Woman of the MountainWoman of the Mountain
By: Angela Caperton
Extasy Books
ISBN: 1554107938

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

Zenthe is the Earth Mother, the supreme Goddess of fertility and desire. Zenthe is also the volcano that towers over the far-flung lands of Corsinium, from the lush fields of Margate to the desert frontiers at Damtown. The dark waters of Zenthe’s Mirror, the bottomless lake that half-fills the crater, reflect the gleaming spires and halls of her centuries-old temple perched along the volcano’s rim. Within the temple, High Priestess Adita, the latest ever-young incarnation of Zenthe, presides over orgiastic rituals of fleshy bliss and waits for the one true Lover who will claim her forever. Adita struggles against loneliness, resisting the despair that has been the downfall of so many of her predecessors. Meanwhile, the rising power of a violent, paternalistic faith threatens to subjugate and destroy the Goddess and her people.

In Woman of the Mountain, Angela Caperton has created a vividly sensual world maintained by an intriguing mythos. Woman of the Mountain is about religion and sex. It is also concerned with the feminine, nurturing principle, contrasted with the masculine instinct to conquer. As I am personally fascinated by the spiritual aspects of sex, I found Ms. Caperton’s thesis exciting. Unfortunately, she does not completely succeed in realizing the promise of her theme.

One problem (and I’m certain my readers will find this astonishing) is the fact that Woman of the Mountain includes too many sex scenes. Perhaps I should qualify this and say that the book contains too many scenes where the characters couple purely for immediate pleasure, without any deeper connection. In Zenthe’s world, sex should be a sacrament, but all too often, even among the folk of the temple, it seems to be no more than a recreation. Rarely is there a sense of reverence; a sense of communion in the flesh should sanctify Zenthe’s rites.

A second difficulty lies in the characters, who are generally too simple and one-sided to be realistic or to invite identification. Adita, in particular, seemed empty, a sketch of a woman who fills a necessary role in the plot but who never comes alive. Casmin, her loyal captain of the guard, has more depth, with his steadfast faith in the Goddess and his earthly but suppressed desire for Adita, but he is still the archetypal hero, with no flaws to make him real. The scheming, sexually opportunistic priestess Rivah was particularly disappointing. When we first meet her, she is an ambitious novice in Zenthe’s temple. There’s an almost childish glee in the manner with which she blackmails an older Priestess into granting her the boon of ordination. I was hoping that Rivah would prove to be a complex villain, or at least a powerful one. Ultimately, she turns out to be treacherous, but weak and uninteresting in her uninspired evil.

Perhaps the most successful character in this tale is Sul Tarkus, the prophet of the Father-God Kahmudj, leader of the hordes who lay siege to the holy mountain and the body of Adita. With his charisma and his fanatic certainty that he is the incarnation of his god, he is intensely believable (and indeed, familiar). When he finally stands face to face with Adita and is vanquished by his own doubts, the reader feels relief and joy, but also sympathy.

Woman of the Mountain is at its best in the scenes of high drama, when the mysteries of divine power are made manifest. When Sul Tarkus captures and opens the sacred floodgates on the River Sorrow, loosing the torrent to flow into the desert lands even as he dangles the sex-besotted Rivah above the abyss, I hardly dared to breath. I half-expected him to sacrifice her to his brutal god. I half-expected the power of Zenthe to rise in the traitorous priestess, calling her back to fulfill her long-ignored vows. When Sul Tarkus confronts Adita, alone at the pinnacle of Zenthe’s Needle, I knew that a miracle was imminent. And when the volcano/goddess belches lava and steam to fight off her attackers, I became a true believer.

All in all, I found Woman of the Mountain diverting but disappointing. The grand themes of sexual union as a sacrament, of devotion and sacrifice to a higher power, of love as a force transcending death and time, rise in the background, but they are obscured, like Zenthe’s face behind its seductive veil. I have the sense that Ms. Caperton wanted to write a different book, a book of erotic mysteries that celebrates the magic of the flesh. Of course, her audience may prefer the book that she actually produced, full of saucy wenches and lively, superficial rolls in the hay. As for me, I regret the loss of the vision that I sense behind this book, the hints of transcendence that are, for the most part, unrealized.

Women in Lust: Erotic StoriesWomen in Lust: Erotic Stories
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573447242
November 2011

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

I opened this book in a rather skeptical mood. At first glance, “women in lust” seems like an overly generic theme for an erotic anthology. Couldn't any erotic story (except, of course, gay male erotica) be viewed as appropriate? Isn't lust what erotica is all about?

Yes, and no. The implicit contrast in the tales collected in this volume is lust - as opposed to love. It's not that these stories all feature casual sex or encounters with strangers, although many do. Some of the most intense tales involve long-term partners, and even some of the less committed couples obviously love one another. The overall premise of Women in Lust, however, is that desire and its fruition can be intense, fulfilling, life-changing, on its own, regardless of whether love is present. With my current immersion in erotic romance, where love is the sine qua non of any sexual activity, I find this perspective refreshing.

“Guess,” by Charlotte Stein, is a case in point. In this tale,the hero and heroine play a game, where one is blindfolded while the other perpetrates various acts upon his or her body. The story makes it clear that they've indulged in this activity many times before – but the uncertainty, along with the purely physical sensations, keep it new. The focus is on arousal, here and now, even though the couple's shared history deepens the experience.

Donna George Storey's “Comfort Food” lingers lovingly – or perhaps I should say “lustfully” - on the sensual pleasures of preparing and consuming food. Ms. Storey's forty-something heroine savors the body of the young chef she seduces with equal delight. The heroine's recent divorce and subsequent loneliness provide an emotional backdrop, but the focus of the tale is mutual pleasure, not existential healing.

In the original and insightful “Bite Me,” Lucy Hughes illustrates how lust comes first and perhaps, love might follow afterward. A college boy admits his masochistic cravings to his female pal, and she discovers that the process of inflicting that pain is far more exciting than she would have ever guessed. 

Elizabeth Coldwell explores the thrill of rough, filthy, anonymous sex in her elegant story “Smoke,” then turns the tables at the conclusion by bringing marriage into the mix.  In “Cherry Blossoms”, the deliciously sensuous offering from Kayar Silkenvoice, a visitor to Kyoto has a peak experience of exquisite release in the hands of her female masseuse. Portia da Costa's “Naughty Thoughts” turns on the ever-popular trope of the insightful Dom who intuits a woman's submissive desires even when she tries to hide them. Does he love her? When he spanks her, it hardly matters. Clancy Nacht's “Bayou” teems with the languid, steamy sensuality of the swamp, where fevered desire can be kindled and quenched in a matter of minutes.

Shanna Germain's stunning “Beneath the Skin,” a chilling yet believable portrayal of knife play, deserves special mention. The narrator must love the man who cuts her – how could she trust him if she did not? - but the experience of coming under the knife has an immediacy that pushes everything else into the background:

Each pull of the knife is different from the last, and the same, too. The way it starts, sharp pinprick; the way it slides, slippery line of pain; the way it ends, fading so quick  into nothing that I am already aching for the next one. I feel like a knife myself, lying so straight and still, everything honed. Invincible even as Kade is opening my skin, exposing the part of me that no one else has ever seen.

“Don't come,” he says. “You'll shake too much.”

This is lust refined by fear, lust that does more than kindle pleasure, lust that strips away illusions and reveals truths so dark one can scarcely bear to look at them – and yet cannot look away.

Women in Lust includes many other notable tales, some by familiar favorites (Justine Elyot, Jacqueline Applebee, K.D. Grace, and Ms. Bussel herself), others by authors new to me. Almost every story revs up the heat. Overall, this is a strong collection of well-written tales that demonstrate the many varieties of lust that women can experience – no happily ever after required.

Women of the BiteWomen of the Bite
Edited By: Cecilia Tan
Alyson Books
ISBN: 1593501587
October 2009

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

It's tough to say anything original about vampires. I'd estimate that at least 20% of the ebooks rolling  onto the 'Net each month feature blood drinkers of some sort or other. Of course, most of these beguiling monsters are not lesbians (though quite a few are gay). Cecilia Tan's collection gives lesbian vampires their day in the sun (metaphorically speaking). All in all, these tales succeed remarkably well in providing a variety of scenarios and styles, taking the classic themes of love, blood and death and ringing some exciting changes.

Possibly the most creative tale in the book, and one of my personal favorites, is Lori Selke's "At the Pageant, the Vamp". The vamp of the title is none other than Theda Bara, super-star of the silent screen, whose dark allure captivated her generation. "Men fall at her feet like cherry blossoms," Ms. Selke writes. "She consumes her lovers to the bone. The century is still an adolescent, and she is the ultimate expression of the era's New Woman: independent, predatory, sweet and deadly as a poison flower's kiss." When the diva is asked to judge an international pageant of female "vampires," however, she discovers that she is just a pale imitation of the real thing.

"Till Death," by Fran Walker, gives us a lesbian vampire couple with relationship problems that seem all too familiar. The nameless narrator gets turned on by danger. Her girl Valerie is more cautious and can't give her what she needs. The silences, the half-truths, the recriminations, are achingly realistic despite the paranormal nature of the characters. There's a happy ending, though, involving a wooden stake.

Cat Rambo's "The Queen of Goth and Sugar" begins: "Some people read palms; I read groceries." The queen of the title is an elegant vamp with a taste for candy, who obligingly helps the narrator escape from her abusive boyfriend as well as provides a sample of vampire sex.

"A Sunny Sky," M. Johnson's tightly-written contribution, revolves around two dykes, one of whom has a huge crush on the other. Against a background of nicely orchestrated BDSM, Ms. Johnson spins a satisfying tale of female power and lust.

Sacchi Green's story "Jessabel" is set post-Civil war, where a woman living as a man discovers the girl she loved and lost to death dancing in a saloon. The dialect and the emotions in this story both ring true.

Meanwhile, Jewelle Gomez' tale, "Hope on the Mississippi: 2025," paints a future in which individuals struggle against corporate dictatorship and an ex-slave turned vampire returns to meet the grand-daughter of her human lover.

The awkwardly-titled "When Not to Be Receives Reproach..." by Elizabeth Thorne, is a philosophical tale in which Moira tires of eternity and chooses to become mortal. After this decision, she encounters her long-time vampire lover Celia. Their coupling, a moment snatched from time as Moira ages, is poignant and intense.

"Strange Bedfellows" by Moondancer Drake gives us another battered woman, this one a vampire fleeing with her children. Sari, a woman of the Wolfen clan, harbors her, loves her and helps her to free herself from her abusive mate.

Not every story in the book deserves praise. Several struck me as contrived and over-written. One had an appealing start but became so confused and incoherent that I really didn't get the point. No collection is perfect, however, and this one includes some exceptional stories that balance the less successful ones.

Furthermore, even the stories that I liked less offered some creative premises: a fallen angel ravishing an innocent at the altar; a trio of lesbian vampires pulling a bank job; a vampire and a werewolf matched by a computer dating service.

Creating a vampire tale that doesn't get lost in the crowd is a challenge. I know, because I've tried. Women of the Bite offers more surprises than you'd expect from this somewhat over-exposed genre.

X: The Erotic TreasuryX: The Erotic Treasury
Edited By: Susie Bright
Chronicle Books
ISBN: 0811864022
September 2008

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

A few years ago, my dear friend Seneca Mayfair wrote a wonderful erotic story entitled “The Bookseller's Dream,” which was published in my Cream anthology. The heroine in this story, Alexi, has a book fetish; she loves to touch books, smell them, rub them all over her body until she comes.

X: The Erotic Treasury would have had Alexi wet in an instant. Bound in claret silk patterned with a swirling floral design halfway between William Morris and Georgia O'Keefe, with gold lettering embossed on the spine and thick, smooth pages, the book is heavy enough to secure my teetering pile of manuscripts, but not, of course, too heavy to read in bed. It comes in a slip box decorated with the same pattern, with a bold X carved out of the front so that silk shows through.

It's a tasteful and beautiful volume.  It's not, in Seneca's words, a “one-night stand book.” Susie Bright and Chronicle Books were brave to publish it now, at the hefty price of $35, at a moment when the world is reeling from compounded financial catastrophes. On the other hand, for that price you get forty stories, three-hundred-sixty plus pages. Less than a dollar per story. And rest assured, nearly every one is more than worth the cost.

X is a rich collection culled from Ms. Bright's illustrious decade and a half as editor of the Best American Erotica series. Aside from its impressive size and elegant presentation, it is notable for the uniformly high quality of the writing and for the diversity of themes and styles.

Michael Dorsey's “Milk” offers the dreamy eroticism of a young Russian man confronted with the essence of femininity.  Anne Tourney's astonishingly perverse “Full Metal Corset” explores the irresistible beauty of pain. “Slow Dance on the Fault Line,” by Donald Rawley, takes a stroll through a night-time carny world in which the ugliest man may be the one to fulfill your true desires. Matthew Addison's gentle fable “Wish Girls” is a meditation on the pitfalls of fantasy.

The book includes raw encounters with strangers (Paula Bomer's “On the Road with Sonia”) and    couples' games on the edge (“Yes” by Donna George Story and “Red Light, Green Light” by Shanna Germain). There's tear-inducing romance (“Valentine's Day in Jail” by Susan Musgrave), irony (Robert Olen Butler's “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”), humor (“Gifts from Santa” by Tsaurah Litzky and “Loved It and Set it Free” by Lisa Montanarelli) and gory horror (Vicki Hendricks' “Must Bite”).

A few of these stories have happy endings, but most conclude ambiguously, some even tragically.  Many offer life lessons.  In Susannah Indigo's “Ratatouille,” a man learns that if he tries to hold on to his perfect lover, he'll lose her.  In “God's Gift” by Salome Wilde, a horny rock-and-roll idol known as a womanizer is reincarnated as a vibrator. “Inspiration” by Eric Albert is an exceptionally raunchy fantasy spun by a man at the request of his partner who is on her deathbed.

I spent more than two weeks reading this book. This was not a consume-it-and-throw-it-away collection.  I couldn't tackle more than two or three stories at a sitting.  I wanted to savor each one, not rush on to the next.

My one complaint about this book is that, despite its stylistic diversity, it is overwhelmingly heterosexual.  Among forty tales, there are only two or three with lesbian themes or activities, and no gay male erotica at all, aside from Carol Queen's rowdy reminiscences of a Mexican bathhouse.  Clearly, as an editor, Ms. Bright has the final decision on what to include.  However, the slip box boasts “If there's only room for one book on your bedside table, this should be it.”  I don't think that it is fair to suggest that this book represents the full range and richness of literary erotica available today. This is Ms. Bright's selection, and it presumably reflects her tastes.  Other editors (including yours truly) might have made different choices.

Overall, however, X: The Erotic Treasury succeeds admirably in its objectives, offering a double helping of stories that are both sexy and thought provoking.  The volume would make a wonderful birthday or anniversary gift.

Time to start dropping hints to someone you love.