If you’re not burned out on novels about rich, powerful older men and naïve young women, you could do worse than give Ashley Lister’s A Taste of Passion a try. Even if you think you are burned out—especially then, in fact—you may well find this variation to your taste. It kept me reading right along, not wanting to stop even when I had other urgent business (like going to bed.) When I’m reading with a review in mind, that’s a very good sign.
The setting is a city in northern England and its rural surroundings, modern but with a sense of history, which is refreshing in itself. The rich (but not overwhelmingly rich) older man is a famous chef, with his own three-star restaurant, while the young woman has a mind of her own, a brand-new degree with honors from a culinary institute, and a plan to start a new online pastry business with her two housemates. That she enjoys getting spankings as much as he enjoys delivering them is only one facet of their complex personalities.
Lister makes fine use of this food and restaurant concept to weave together the senses of taste and scent and sight and texture, intensifying the scenes of backstage gourmet cooking and those of sex as well. We get sound, too, in the chaotic kitchen, and, more to the point. when spatulas and wooden spoons play a part in the sex.
Wisely, Lister doesn’t overdo the food-sex connection, but I did appreciate such bits as the “rich and delicious sting” of a spanking that “echoed hollowly from the kitchen’s flat acoustics,” and the “slightly-sweetened saltiness” of an encounter of a slightly different nature. Very deftly done, as are many other sensual details, even those describing the forested area outside the city where the young woman runs for exercise. Maybe it’s just that I have a thing for forests and non-urban settings, but “the crisp intersecting ripples of bark” on ash trees delighted me as much as any tantalizing image of food.
The sex is abundant, to say the least, and since this is, after all, an erotica novel, I won’t quibble about some degree of repetition. Satisfying sex can be worth repeating.
I do, however, have a few quibbles, largely concerning editing that could have been better. I’ve enjoyed Ashley Lister’s writing in the past, and I did, on the whole, enjoy this book, but the level of editing seemed more lax than in previous books. Repetition of certain words and phrases bothers me where it probably wouldn’t matter to most readers. As an example, “sultry” is used twelve times, which wouldn’t seem like much in a book of 278 pages if it weren’t concentrated toward the beginning, and in one case occurs twice on the same page—and in the same paragraph.
Another issue is that as the fairly complex plot works itself out, there are a couple of instances where the same significant statement is made twice, but seems to come as a surprise to the main character the second time. There are also plot elements that don’t make much sense except as providing the requisite difficulties and misunderstandings to be overcome, but this is so far from being rare in any work involving relationships that it’s hardly worth mentioning.
My own naivité is responsible for my disappointment at the end of the book. I knew all along that this was Book 1 of the Sweet Temptation series, and that a series seems to be a requirement for books like this, but I thought that the following books might deal more with some of the other characters, or further developments affecting these main characters after the current problems were resolved. I should have known better than to hope for any resolution at all. It’s like a cliff-hanger at the season finale of a TV series.
The theme of Ageless Erotica has a special appeal for me, and the Table of Contents has a high percentage of writers I’ve long admired, so I had high expectations. At the same time, I felt some trepidation as to its general appeal. When Joan Price starts her introduction with “Older folks still enjoy sex—boy do they!” my first reaction was, “Of course! Why would anyone doubt that?” But my next thought, which I’ll bet most of us share if only subconsciously, was, “But, well, how old? Do many people—okay, do I—really want to read erotica about them?” Then I read a few lines further to discover that she’s talking about “erotica by, for, and about women and men ages fifty to eighty-plus.”
FIFTY? Fifty isn’t old! But then I remembered doing a reading of Best Lesbian Erotica in NYC some years ago, and opening my turn by saying that I was there to prove that there’s life after fifty. I certainly knew then that some people, maybe even most people, do think of fifty as old. It’s a truth not generally acknowledged that our perception as to what constitutes old age keeps changing as we get older, always hovering some distance beyond wherever we are now. For that matter, our perception of what constitutes sex may undergo a certain degree of adjustment. But age brings experience, and no lack of imagination. Where there’s a will there are many creative ways, and yes, the will lives on, as intensely for the eighty-pluses as for those young fifty-ish whippersnappers.
I’m glad to report that the work in Ageless Erotica displays a lively variety that rings all the chimes you’d enjoy in any good assortment of erotica, as well as playing some new, ingenious, and ultra-seductive tunes. As with any anthology, some stories appeal more to me than others, and the order in which they appear leads me to think that the editor shares my taste, front-loading the book with some of the real standouts. The middle part, with several exceptions, has several perfectly okay pieces that just don’t have as much of the spark and flow of really good writing. Some of them lean more toward the informative than the seductive, telling more than they show, and after a while there gets to be some inevitable repetition. Toward the end, though, as a good editor should, Price gives us more of the beautifully crafted work that could appear in some of the best anthologies in the genre without being limited to the “ageless” theme, as, indeed, several of them have.
Erobintica leads off with “To Bed”, a sweet and poignant story of love between long-term married lovers that sets a high standard for the similar stories to come.
Dale Chase’s “Dolores Park” gives us a change of pace, where two aging gay men in San Francisco, after lives spent in the atmosphere of the too-prevalent focus on youth and fitness, share a bench by chance in the park and watch the buff boys go by. It begins with; “Nice butt,” says my bench companion, and ends, after the two have found something much deeper together, and are relaxing at peace with each other, with; Then I slide a hand onto his bottom. ‘Nice butt,’ I say. I do love well-rounded story arcs!
If you’re thinking of adding a new fetish to your sex play, Kate Dominic’s “Hand Jobs” may inspire you, unless you’re already an old hand at this one. A woman with arthritic fingers that always feel cold decides to start us both on track for a total glove fetish, which turns out to be a tactile treat and a thoroughly arousing success.
Doug Harrison’s “Smooth and Slippery” gives us a sympathetic and totally frank picture of how an aging man with age’s usual drawbacks maintains his own confidence and his much younger lover’s devotion, knowing the value of experience and expertise. He also broadened my education with detailed instructions on the use of a dick-pump, something of which I’d been only vaguely aware.
Tzaurah Litzky’s “Tony Tempo” is deeply touching, with perhaps the most memorable character of all, who says, I never thought I’d end up like this, in the Crescendo Home for Aged and Indigent Musicians—I, Tony Tempo, once known as the trumpet king of swing. I’m heading towards that last command performance. But he and his trumpet do still have at least one more command performance, thanks to a night nurse who’s old enough to remember when he was famous, and appreciates the man he still is.
There are too many more stories worth mentioning for me to go into as much detail as I’d like to. There’s fine work by Donna George Storey, Bill Noble, DL King (as soon as I saw her title, “Mr. Smith, Ms Jones Will See You Now”, I knew we’d be treated to one very well-seasoned dominatrix), Evvy Lynn (a jaguar of a lover—yum!), Cheyenne Blue, Rae Padilla Francoeur, Johnny Dragona, Erica Manfred (who won my heart with her My answer was a resounding yes, yes, yes, yes. A Molly Bloom of a yes--it’s a James Joyce thing--and Sue Katz. If I didn’t have a deadline I’d happily expound on any of these at length. In fact, as I scan the table of contents again and recall something of each story, I realize that any piece in this book could easily be someone’s favorite, or even mine, if I happened to be in the right mood at the right time.
All Night Long is a smooth read, one that pulled me right along, the flow of the prose, especially the dialogue, even making me forget that I should be taking notes for this review. What better proof could there be of Madelyne Ellis’s skill as a writer?
The plot isn’t particularly complex—Black Halo, a popular metal band, is thrown into confusion mid-concert by the lead singer Xane’s declaration just before he storms away that he’s leaving and the band is breaking up. Soon enough, though, it becomes clear that the survival of the band is really only a sub-plot, and the real action rests in the developing relationship between Ash, the band’s leader, and Ginny, the girl who waylays him in his dressing room, as hundreds of girls have done before. Will Ginny recognize how much more she wants than the single, all night long fuckfest she asks for? Can Ash overcome the wounds of his past and break through the bonds of determined non-commitment? Is there really any question? It doesn’t matter that we’ve seen this sort of set-up over and over again. Ellis knows how to get the maximum mileage out of that familiar scenario, and how to insert the maximum of mind-blowing and often creative sex without being repetitive.
Somehow it all feels believable. Some readers might wish that the heavy metal band setting had a darker tinge, with more gothic moodiness and angst and destructive behavior. I didn’t mind at all that the band members, behind their eyeliner and flamboyant quirkiness, are quite likeable guys. The three of them, deserted by the defector Xane, hide out from ravening fans in Ginny’s scruffy hotel room, so her “all night long” fantasy doesn’t turn out quite the way she envisioned it. But after some playful group sex the other two band members have the decency to remove themselves to the van and the bathtub, respectively, so Ash and Ginny get enough steamy one-on-one time to make them realize that they’re made for each other, however much they try to resist that truth.
Readers who are not particularly turned on by clever word-play and imagery may not savor such phrases as “the event horizon [of orgasm] sped towards him,” and “Water droplets clung to the fishnet strands, so they looked like spider silk hung with raindrops,” the way I do, but they’re not likely to be disappointed, or unmoved, by the sex described. Eroticism drives the whole book, with hints of deeper emotions. This is just as well, since the plot thread about the possible break-up of the band are not resolved at all, which only makes sense when you read the author’s note at the end. It turns out that All Night Long is part of a series, and not intended to stand alone. I found this rather annoying, but in fact I should have noticed that the book’s parenthetical title was Black Halo Unplugged #1 and not been so surprised.No guarantee, but I just may be hooked enough to look for the next two books about these characters (along with the missing singer Xane, and Ginny’s missing roommate Dani, who turn out to be missing together, but not missing much.)
Appetites: Tales of Lesbian Lust is an anthology loosely themed around cravings, which is fine with me, partly because it allows for variety, something I crave as a reader, and partly because any good story needs characters with an intense desire for something.
The cover image suggests a connection with Valentine’s Day, and the title suggests gustatory pleasures, but the stories aren’t constrained by those concepts. Editor Ily Goyanes says in her introduction, “No, you will not be reading about food in every story, in case you were wondering. Nor will every story revolve around Valentine's Day, a holiday which I deplore. The one thing that every story has in common is that they all feature characters who are hungry, whether it be for love, romance, excitement, acknowledgement, respect, pain, control, or blood.”
I’m happy to say that the book delivers on this promise. Some stories will appeal to certain tastes more than others, which is as it should be, and all of them do what they set out to do well. The editor’s arrangement of the stories keeps the whole book flowing nicely in terms of comparison and contrast and varying themes and voices. I had a few favorites, of course, but every reader’s mileage may vary, so here are brief tips as to what each story offers.
Allison Wonderland starts it off with her trademark wit and wordplay in “Be a Gal Pal,” about a celebrity impersonation act. “I love Lucy and she loves me not,” the Ethel half of the act begins, and goes on a few lines later, “She doesn’t know I want to hug her and kiss her and wrestle her in a vat of grapes.” Need I say more?
In “Two Meals and a Funeral” Foxy Kettir does focus on food, with cooking school proving to be a better cure for Lesbian Bed Death than dabbling in “open relationships,” although not in the way you might think.
D.L. King’s “Hot Blood,” on the other hand, is about nourishment of exactly the kind you’d think from the title, with engaging characters and a nice contrast between everyday realism and wild nights under the full moon.
“Kissing Whiskey” by Lauren Jade contrasts ambition in the business world with the very personal charms of a cozy neighborhood bar, and lets the protagonist enjoy the benefits of both.
“The Sweetest Fruit” by Elle sets a more somber (but ultimately redemptive) tone, with ex-partners meeting reluctantly over the hospital bed of the mother-figure they both love.
The next story, Erzabet Bishop’s “Naughty Cookie,” comes as a welcome change of mood and is memorable both for its colorful coupling of lovers on opposing Roller Derby teams, and the joyfully sexy banter of the characters.
The story that really warmed the cockles of my fusty old-school literary heart is “The Tomb of Radclyffe Hall,” by Bonnie J. Morris. Yes, the protagonist, a women’s history professor on a trip to London as a birthday treat, does do a bit of lecturing, especially when she falls in with a tour group cruising past Radclyffe Hall’s tomb in Highgate Cemetery, but I loved it. And the “international meeting of wenches and tavern keepers— basically, women who own or run lesbian bars,” culminating in a costume party with a Radclyffe Hall theme, was so appealing that it’s improbability hardly seemed to matter. The ghostly bathroom scene combining the heat of desire with “the chill of the tomb” was so beautifully written, so evocative of the past living on into the future, that I gladly suspended disbelief.
Transitioning from a literary ambiance to the world of paint and canvas, in “A Taste of Home” Liz McMullen deftly draws a brooding atmosphere of despair, with New England sleet outdoors and dark, jagged brushstrokes in the studio, as an artist fights the demons of a personal tragedy and ultimately finds the beginnings of healing in generous sex and the remembered taste of blueberry muffins.
“The Second First Time,” by Ashton Peal, is a real stand-out for its beautifully sensitive and sensual handling of a different sort of transition, when a wife and the wife she first knew as a husband cross the last bridge to melding their old relationship with the life they have and cherish now. Lovely, lovely work.
In another shift of mood, Jillian Boyd’s “Kicking the Habit” is a clever riff on the cheating ex who’s still all too irresistible, with an appealing setting of indie entrepreneurship.
Then Beth Wylde’s “Tiger by the Tail” sweeps us right over the startling edge into the paranormal with a “sexually induced shapeshifter” who turns out to be looking for lust in all the right places.
Jean Roberta’s “Labels” brings us back to a realistic earth worth living in, with a hugely likeable butch who travels by skateboard, runs her own Brake and Muffler business, and is lured by lustful attraction into tackling a panel on Gender Identity for a Pride Week event. Queer theory was never this much fun before.
“Lucky in Lust” by Kiki DeLovely takes the fun in another direction, with performers on tour, sexy encounters behind the scenes interrupted by calls for sound checks, spankings in supply closets, all presented with as much wit as wetness.
The final story in the anthology, “No, Tell Me How You Really Feel” by Ily Goyanes,
turns from extroverted performers to an introverted “emo art-school girl” who fights her own hankering for the college volleyball captain by persuading herself that she despises the jock type, and by meeting any attempts at friendship with cutting disdain. Here, with repression as the spice of lust, interspersed with vivid masturbation sessions driven by fantasies of the gorgeous athlete, the reader knows just where things are going, and enjoys every minute of the ride.
The whole book is an enjoyable ride with views along the way that may linger with readers according to each one’s particular tastes. Even if a few happen to slide by you without lasting impact, they’re far from boring--and if you need to ask, “Are we there yet?” you haven’t been paying attention.
It takes real balls for an editor to lead off his gay erotica anthology with a story that satirizes the genre itself. I say “balls,” but I admit that as a frequent editor of lesbian erotica anthologies I’d be tempted to do the same (or rather the equivalent) if I had as brilliant a piece to work with as “Different Strokes” by Richard Michaels (although I wouldn’t then claim to have “real balls,” just figurative ones. Maybe.) Michaels pulls off the tricky feat of being outrageously witty and still providing the nuts and bolts (and grease) to construct down-and-dirty sex scenes. Multiples sex scenes, in fact, or segments thereof, one after the other in a wild choose-your-own-adventure fuckfest. He piles cliché upon metaphor upon over-the-top image, switching imaginary partners from robust black stud to collegiate blond and still maintaining a convincing sexual tension between the writer/narrator and the reader in their shared quest for an ultimately rewarding wank-off. There are so many gems of descriptive overdrive here that it’s hard to choose just one quotation, but here’s a fairly tame taste:
…even with the deep-throating technique that all we narrators of these hyperbolic flights of erotica learned the moment we wrote our first word, I could not ingest all of his munificence…like driving a truck through a tunnel that’s almost too small, steering this truck with its precious cargo on the glistening highway of my tongue until the front of the cab, with its retracted grillwork of flesh, struck a roadblock and could go no farther, so I put the truck into reverse and backed it up, and then metaphor breaks apart, as it always does in these stories, and we get back to basics: I sucked his dick.
In case you can’t tell, I loved this story. The danger of a lead-off like this, though, is that the reader becomes sensitized to overblown prose and may be tempted to laugh rather than pant if other writers in the book get into a formulaic rut. I shouldn’t have worried, as it turns out, since, on the whole, all the stories are well-written, and some are memorable even aside from the sexual content. A few do get rather deeply into a morass of metaphors, but erotica readers develop the capacity to swallow plenty of that without gagging, so I’m not really complaining.
Onward to other stories that I found memorable. “Choice” by Rhidian Brenig Jones features a pair of likeable guys from Poland working in the UK, and their more-than-friendship with a young Catholic priest. “Feygele” by Alex Stitt mingles ornithological metaphors with the talents of a street firedancer in London. Gregory L. Norris’s “The Man In Black” is a science fictional tale wherein a shapeshifting alien gives the protagonist what he’s longed for from the various “men’s men, manly men” in his life who would never give him more than friendship. “Like Magic” by Salome Wilde involves a young man with a crush on a has-been vaudeville magician, not a very appealing object of desire, so readers seeking a vicarious erotic charge may not be satisfied, but the writing is excellent. Dale Chase’s “Nothing to Lose” is a complex and nuanced study of gay weddings, determinedly casual sex, and working through loss to healing. “From Here to There” by Xavier Axelson deals tangentially with a gay wedding, but what you’re likely to remember best is a fine use for lobster butter.
The final story, “Super Service” by Michael Roberts, is right up there with the first piece, “Different Strokes.” There’s a similar sly wit, and a knowing embrace of cliché, in this case the time-honored scenario of workmen coming to a home to fix plumbing, paint walls, whatever—three of them here—and using the tools in their tool boxes as well as those below the tool belt. The narrator stakes his tongue-in-cheek claim to upper-class erudition right away:
The vision in front of me wore an immaculately white crew-neck T-shirt that hugged his chest as if it and the torso had fallen in love and intended to cling to each other as closely as possible. I couldn’t blame the T-shirt. A fanciful image, peut-êtrè, but the sight made me absolutely giddy.
Later he stakes his claim to ordinary humanity by admitting that he can’t manage to get through the Henry James novel he keeps leaving behind in his chair and then sitting on. A sexy romp with attitude, similar enough in tone to “Different Strokes” that I wondered whether Michael Roberts and Richard Michaels were, perhaps, different sides of the same pseudonymous coin, but I’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter.
Now that I’ve been scrolling down the table of contents, I realize that all of the stories are memorable in their way, each one worthy of being someone’s favorite. As so often happens in reviewing, I’m not the target audience for the erotic aspects of Best Gay Erotica, so there’s no reason to be swayed by my opinion on anything besides the quality of the writing. Some appealed to me more than others on that basis, but I can wholeheartedly recommend the book as a whole, with no if, ands, or peut-êtrès. (Admit it, you thought I was going make an obvious pun there. Shame on you.)
Contributing to a worthy cause gives you a warm glow, but seldom does it heat you up the way the Coming Together books do. (The charity benefitting from the proceeds of this book is GMHC.org, an AIDS/HIV care and prevention organization.) Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl, edited by Lisabet Sarai,ramps up the heat especially well. Amanda seduces not only the libido but also the mind, sometimes subtly (although the sex is seldom subtle) and sometimes very blatantly indeed. In the editor’s introduction the book is described as “literary—and literate—erotica,” which is quite true. There are frequent literary references, and characters with backgrounds in (or aspirations to) the literary world, but the sure-handed quality of the prose—raw when it needs to be, even brutal, introspective at times, poignant, complex, and memorable—is what makes it both literary and literate.
I was especially intrigued by the variety of points of view in these stories. Often (but not always) female, occasionally older women with younger men, with a nice range of characterization from deliciously dominant to deeply submissive to downright surreal.
The first-person narrator of the opening piece, “Mind If I Sit?” takes full advantage of sitting next to a young, blond, somewhat nervous “golden boy” with a contradictory “rebel look” on an airplane. She has what it takes to get his attention; “Long legs: check. Flimsy mini skirt: check. Big tits in a low-necked blouse: double check.” Her copy of Kerouac’s On the Road doesn’t hurt, and is the first of many literary references that fit naturally into the flow of the prose. “I’m a capricious bitch,” she tells us. Newly turned forty, resolved not to “sit back in your comfort zone” and let life pass by, she’s a complex, arresting character, good company for the reader as well as the for guy who gets to share her under-the blanket games.
The narrator in the second story, “Real Irish,” has a very different self-image, at least at the beginning. She thinks of herself as a “middle-aged spinster” with indecently lustful thoughts about a good-looking Irish barista and a stream-of-consciousness novel eternally in progress. By the end, though, thanks to her best friend who resembles Botticelli’s Venus and lets nothing stand in the way of what they both want, her stream-of-consciousness has more to celebrate than her most lustful thoughts had imagined. The hottest threesome I can remember ever reading, and the most fun.
We also get a ruthless legal secretary with a “Daddy Complex”, a housewife whose secret is that instead of AA meetings, she goes off to wear a catsuit at a BDSM hideaway specializing in rubberists, and a girl who thinks she’s desperate for domination, pain, and humiliation from a stranger, but has the sense at last to resist a scene that goes too far, and the luck to get away.
In a few of the stories the sex is entirely in the minds of the protagonists, their lust no less arousing for being unfulfilled, with a melancholy tone that provides a contrast to more carefree encounters. In “The Vessel,” the point of view shifts between two not-quite-lovers, each so scarred by their pasts that they can’t believe the other could find them worthy of desire or love. ”Typing for Jack” begins with the woman losing her long-held virginity with a man she’s met at a funeral, but it’s Jack’s funeral (yes, that Jack,) and the defining act of her life has been typing the manuscript of his On the Road. For all her fantasizing, and all the opportunities Jack offered, she knew she could never handle his freewheeling sexual habits, so she handled only his manuscript, and takes cold comfort in a report that he was holding it when he died. And in “Sex with an Old Woman” the fifty-ish narrator can’t imagine her much younger male friend finding her sexually attractive, and tortures herself with imagining how repulsed he would be if he saw her naked. I kept thinking, “But fifty isn’t all that old!” until she revealed how much more than age her body had endured.
I was encouraged by a later story about a woman of fifty who is unabashedly “boy crazy, man hungry,” and thinks of herself (with reason) as “irresistable,” but there’s a dark undertone here as well. “The Adulteress” stalks her literary prey—novelists, poets, playwrights—and seduces them, married or not, with no difficulty. Adultery just adds extra spice. The sex is hot, raw, and described, by the woman writing it all down afterward, with explicit attention to detail a well as evocative imagery. Even at the height of arousal she thinks about what she’ll write afterward, how she’ll “frame this later on the page.” Truthfully, don’t all writers of erotica think sometimes about how we’ll describe sex even as we’re (almost) swept away by its delights? Should we feel guilty? Does it cheat our partners in some way, or does our secretly enhanced excitement intensify their own experience? The latter, I think, but who knows? In the case of the woman supposedly narrating this story, one even begins to wonder how much of what she describes really happened that way (in the context of the story) or is magnified by her writerly imagination. The nuances of this piece are tinged with melancholy, deftly written, and the final paragraph is a masterly handling of perspective. I’ll leave readers to discover that for themselves.
I’ve only mentioned nine of the twenty-four stories in this collection, even though all of them are just as worthy of consideration. Some, of course, will appeal to certain tastes more than to others. My own tastes run to literary references and older protagonists, but the book provides plenty of other viewpoints and scenarios that I found just as enjoyable. I should also note that several stories are of the science fiction or fantasy persuasion, and they’re worth an entire review of their own. I’ll just mention that one involves an orgy in heaven and another has a nice twist involving its deliciously snarky narrator. I may already have come too close to revealing “spoilers” about the other stories I discussed, though, so I’ll leave the rest for the reader to discover. And to savor, just as I did.
The Coming Together series is a worthy project headed by Alessia Brio, with the proceeds going to benefit various charities, in this case the National Center for Lesbian Rights. I’ve contributed stories to a couple of the anthologies, and feel a bit guilty for not doing more, so you can understand why I approached reading the book for this review with some trepidation. Nobody wants to be less than supportive of such a good cause.
I shouldn’t have worried.
I have to admit that I’d only read the two volumes my stories are in, but those were both excellent, so there was no reason to doubt that this one would be just as good. My only real complaint, in fact, is that the table of contents lists the stories’ titles, but not the authors’ names. If I’d seen those names right away I’d have known I was in for a treat. Most of the authors are familiar to me, several have written for my own anthologies, and they’re all in top form here.
As with anthologies in general, not every story will appeal equally to every reader, which isn’t a bad thing. Variety may be even more important in erotica than in other genres. Some of these pushed my buttons harder than others, but my buttons are on the jaded side, and I tend to like a story to be about more than sex, or about sex in new and complex contexts.
This (plus the masterful writing) is why Lisabet Sarai’s “Sundae Bloody Sundae” was the standout here for me, or at least the piece that sticks in my mind the most. Can a Dominant/submissive relationship be expanded to deal with problems like eating disorders? How far can dominance in a sexual context go to counteract a submissive’s self-destructive tendencies? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of deliciously hot sex on the way to answering that question.
Salome Wilde’s “The Princess’ Princess” appealed to me in a different way, with a fairy-tale aura but believable characters, and lush, vivid imagery. Kate Atwood’s “The Same But Different” is memorable for the imagery of D/s sex against a TV news background of raging fires in Australia; some of this worked for me, and some of it didn’t, but that’s just a matter of personal taste. The first story in the book, “Angel” by Ms Peach, was well-done and fit the book’s theme of “girl on girl” in the sense that the phrase is subtly different from saying “lesbian.” One of the characters is pretty clearly straight and fooling around with the other just as a reaction to breaking up with her boyfriend. But (personal taste again) I was happy to find that all the rest of the stories came down clearly on the lesbian side of the spectrum. I was also happy to find such a wide range of erotic scenes, vanilla to kinky, heartfelt to one-shot, and of settings, including an art gallery, a hot air balloon, and outer space.
The outer space story, “Fair as the Moon, Clear as the Sun” by Laurel Waterford, also one of my favorites, was already familiar to me from Women on the Edge of Space published by Circlet Press. Another reprint that I loved the first time around and enjoyed revisiting was the highly original “Winner Take All” by Andrea Dale, first encountered in The Harder She comes: Butch Femme Erotica edited by DL King for Cleis Press. I’m fine with reprints—in fact my two stories for Coming Together anthologies were reprints—and there may well have been more than I noticed, but my first reaction was that I wished there had been a list of where they had been previously published. On second thought, though, I understand the necessity of keeping expenses as low as possible when charities are getting the proceeds, and every page saved counts, which also applies to the lack of author names on the t able of contents. I shouldn’t complain.
There are things to praise in all of these stories, and I highly recommend the book as a whole. In fact I expect that the entire series of Coming Together books is well worth reading. Where else can you get so lucky while doing good?
At first glance, the title of Deviant Sexual Desires seems more like someone’s midnight search phrase on Google than the heading for a work of fiction, but on further consideration that might not be such a bad thing in terms of sales. It could also, very briefly, be mistaken for a scholarly work by academic sexologists, but not once anyone got a look at the table of contents.
The book turns out to be a collection of short stories and longish poems, with the kind of unevenness one expects more from an anthology than a work by a single author. There’s no mention of whether any of these pieces have been previously published, but my impression is that they were written over some period of time, and arranged with the oldest first, which was, in my view, a mistake. Both the writing and the editing improve considerably as the book progresses, and, while there may be something to be said for a chronological arrangement, it’s easier to hook a reader with more of the best bits at the beginning—“best bits” being, of course, subjective.
Before I get down to editorial nit-picking, I do want to say that there are some good bits, and some very good things about the book as a whole. What I find most appealing is the joyful celebration of lesbian women of color, women with skin described in terms of chocolate, honey, caramel, mocha, most with “locs” of various lengths, tints, and degrees of intricate styling. The point of view characters range from femme to butch, hair stylists to rock stars, CEOs to girls-next-door, and they all seem to speak convincingly (and vividly) from inside the woman of color experience rather than exoticizing it from the outside.
That’s not to say that the sex is any more realistic or original or groundbreaking than in the general run of erotic fiction. For the first few stories I was wondering when anything worthy of being called deviant sex would actually appear. There was plenty of good-natured Daddy-girl play without much in the way of actual power exchange, and most of the techniques expected of lesbian sex along with a great deal of anal action. Beyond that, I suppose there are still readers of erotica who consider anything with LGBTQ themes to be “deviant.” But somehow, call me jaded, I’d expected more from a book with this title. Eventually, though, we do get some mild bondage scenes, quite an entertaining fantasy orgy, and even directions for constructing a dildo out of ice. (As a side benefit, we get to see the term “twerk” used apparently authentically, and clearly written well before the recent Miley Cyrus uproar.)
Now for the editorial nit-picking. The author mentions those who did editing and proofreading in her Acknowledgments section, but the editing and proofreading are so uneven that it seems clear that no one person oversaw the whole collection. As an example, I was thrown out of the first complete story (a poem came first) before I had a chance to really get into it by this construction: “’Can I get you another drink?’ She asked.” This occurs several times in the course of the story, sometimes with a period instead of a question mark, and once with an appropriate comma but still a capitalized “She.” It wasn’t the Dominant/submissive capitalization protocol, because “she” wasn’t always capitalized. It was a great relief to find this only happening once in the second story, and not again except for a single instance on page 124.
I made a considerable list of other editing and proofreading lapses that irritated me, but there’s no point in going on at great length about them. Readers might be caught up in the stories enough not to notice things that catch my editorial eye, or just not care, and, as I said, things got better toward the middle and even better by the end. Stylistic points such as overuse of “as” and an overload of participial phrases won’t bother many readers. The continual use of “caused me to” instead of “made me” (or some alternative construction) grates on me because it has a stilted feel and interrupts the flow of the prose, but I’ve been seeing it so often lately in fiction that it must be a fashion that I can only hope will be short-lived. When it comes to sex scenes, more variety would have been nice, and so would more clarity—wait, could she really be doing this from that position when her other hand is over there?—but erotica often has a high degree of fantasy to it. I did find the frequent images of “fully seating all 10 inches of her inside of me” distracting, especially when referring to anal penetration, but if it works for the reader, what’s anatomical accuracy got to do with it?
There were several stories featuring food, especially fruit, and somewhat to my surprise these were the ones I liked best. Fruit/sex imagery is nothing new, but it’s handled well here. The sex scenes were more sensuous when the pace slowed to incorporate the dual appeal of flesh and fruit, rather than racing through every permutation of penetration and physical contortion too fast for any of them to be fully savored. My favorite piece may be “The Seven-Up Club”, featuring a fantasy repast of exotic fruits decorating naked girls, accompanied by bowls of warm honey, chocolate and caramel, an echo of the earlier appreciations of the skin tones of the various characters.
As usual with erotica, these stories are better off being read one at a time with intervals between rather than all in one gulp. In this particular case, be assured that the writing and editing do get somewhat better as the book unfolds, which is a hopeful sign with regard to further work by this author.
Hotel sex is a classic theme for erotica, and the ten stories in Do Not Disturb won’t disappoint anyone who feels the allure of a setting removed just that slight degree from everyday life, and focused suggestively on a bed and what can be enjoyed thereon. There’s a nice variety of perspectives here, and if some include “twists” that come as no surprise, they’re written so well that you don’t mind. I won’t spoil things by telling you too much about individual stories, but a few tantalizing bits about each should give you an idea of what the book offers.
In “Something Extra,” Flora Dain sets the scene with a woman in the bar of a “plush hotel,” nervous in her unaccustomed role of seductress, listening to the commands of her uber-alpha master coming through her earphones. Atmosphere, characterization, sensuality are all spot-on, and any writer who provides the image of “his reflection looming over my shoulder like a demon in a painting” definitely gets my attention.
Jason Rubis throws us a bit off-balance, just like the man in “Room 414.” Is he delusional? Confused? Or under the supernatural spell of the room and the woman who comes to him there? How much does it matter? A nice change from expectations.
“Ice is Nice” by Louise Hooker makes the most of a chillingly exotic locale, a hotel made entirely of ice. I’ve read that such places are quite popular in Scandinavia and Canada, and this one has the right balance of frozen walls and steaming hot tubs to melt any inhibitions.
Rachel Kramer Bussel may not be the first to write Skype erotica—I don’t happen to have seen seen it before—but I can’t imagine anyone doing it better. “Flashing” combines the emotional component of a loving couple far apart on New Year’s Eve with the hyper-sexual tension of voyeurism, sex toys, and directed masturbation, bringing both characters and readers to one flash point after another.
“Suite Surrender” is almost too clever for its own good, but Willow Sears takes good advantage of the luxurious hotel setting, where the girl determined to surprise the object of her affections on his birthday is equally determined not to waste the opportunities offered by the great four-poster bed that dominates the suite. One doesn’t often find four-posters in the common run of hotels and motels, so it’s nice to have a setting where such a thing could reasonably be expected.
“A Touch of Class, a Bit of Rough” by Rose de Fer is my favorite piece in the book, partly because the top-notch English country-house hotel is almost a character in its own right. This upper-class setting makes a fine background for the irreverent shenanigans of the working-class staff, who take advantage not only of the four-poster beds but the fancy duds of the guests while the latter are occupied elsewhere. Not only is the sex abundant and hot, the characters are so appealing that you enjoy the fun almost as much as the couplings.
Elizabeth Coldwell’s “An Airport, Anywhere” is another story from the viewpoint of a hotel’s staff member, in this case the night receptionist. Lauren makes up for the boredom of nothing happening at night by writing urban fantasy stories about a female demon-hunter, and models some of her villains (who get killed in such ways as being impaled on a gargoyle) on particularly disagreeable hotel guests. The man who calls the desk a two AM to complain about a faulty hairdryer might seem likely to deserve similar fictional treatment, but he turns out to be worthy of many a written sex scene instead. Lauren was possibly my favorite character in the anthology, maybe because she aspired to be a writer, but mostly because she was drawn in such depth by the author.
I can’t say for sure that Cesar Sanchez Zapata intended “Poison” to be satirical, but it certainly comes across that way. The middle-aged academic torn by lust and angst, angst and lust, along with a huge dose of guilt, is such a staple of “literary” writing that the over-the-top treatment here might actually be taken seriously in some circles. The barely-legal young woman who seduces him so energetically —oh horrors, his friend’s sister!—takes control, has a jolly good time, and fulfills every middle-aged academic’s wet dream, while he indulges in an orgy of self-recrimination and existential philosophizing along with the plenitude of fleshy pleasures. Okay, yes, I’m sure it’s a satire, and great fun.
“Scheduling Conferences” by Kathleen Tudor has an academic theme of a different flavor, taking place in a hotel hosting a literary conference of some sort. The lovers only manage to meet, illicitly, at such conferences, taking advantage of every possible minute together and communicating meeting times and room numbers via coded lecture questions and answers. The sex is as hot and heavy and extended as anyone could want, made all the hotter for the participants by its covert and forbidden nature.
The last story in the anthology, “Sshh No Speaking!” by Tabitha Kitten, deals with an online affair about to move into in-the-flesh territory. The lovers plan to meet each other for the first time in a hotel bar and then to proceed with role-playing their combined sexual fantasy, formerly only played out in e-mails, texts, and phone calls. They’ve agreed not to speak a word to each other until after their fantasy has been fulfilled. Sex does, indeed, ensue, but with certain complications.The anthology as a whole does a good job of delivering what one might expect of a series called the Mischief Collection, providing relatively light but heavily erotic entertainment, and it does it without skimping on the quality of the writing. Do Not Disturb turns out to be disturbing only in the best possible sense of the word.
I love fantasy stories with evocative descriptions and well-researched world-building. I may even love them a bit too much. There were times in the course of reading Lisette Ashton’s Dragon Desire that I was almost distracted from the sex by the skillful writing. Right away in the Prologue, for instance: As he spoke he lifted the crystal carafe and splashed a gill of the golden liquid into each of the three waiting goblets. This made me think, “Oh, gill/golden/goblet--lovely use of alliteration reminiscent of the Norse saga style!” Fortunately Ashton got me back on track with what followed: He didn’t need Caitrin to reiterate the legends that were associated with dragon horn. He knew all of them and had made up many more. Dragon horn was a legend amongst legends. Nevertheless, he longed to listen to her whisper all the salacious rumours about the reputed benefits of the drink. There were few things more arousing than the voice of a chaste woman talking about illicit sex.
Needless to say, that’s about the last we hear concerning chaste women, although a certain mage does have a spell to restore the physical semblance of chastity, and considerable skill in its application. Illicit sex, however, is nearly omnipresent, with or without the aid of the legendary draught of dragon horn.
The plot of the novel revolves (and twists, and turns, and backflips) around the quest for dragon horn, a rare, very effective, and extremely valuable aphrodisiac derived in some unspecified (but probably harmful) way from dragons, although the dragons in this world have no horns. Even relatively close exposure to dragons produces some of the same effect.
The couplings (or triplings) among the major characters shift from day to day and hour to hour. First Tavia and Caitrin, the twin daughters of the castellan, have a dragon-horn-induced orgy with Robert of Moon Valley, who turns out to be…well, I’ll try to avoid spoilers. Later Tavia gets it on in a dungeon with Alvar the Seer, who turns out to be…well, never mind that. And Caitrin gets special treatment in a dark tower from Nihal the very talented Mage. And their older, married sister Inghean seduces the dragon-keeper Owain (who has to pretend to be…never mind) in the stables. And then she makes out with the loathsome Gethin ap Cadwallon, who is actually… And later there’s much changing of partners in the labyrinths below Gatekeeper Island and the temple above, with the inclusion of Meghan the Dragonmeister and a trio of expert bath attendants. You get the picture. Clue meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a faint aura of Game of Thrones in the way the chapters switch from the close viewpoint of one character to another, avoiding head-hopping within chapters.
It’s all very well done, and, above all, it’s great fun. The sex scenes are frequent, extensive, and explicit; so frequent and extensive, in fact, that there’s some unavoidable repetition, but chances are that only a picky editor would notice it. The premise that drinking dragon horn makes sex exponentially more fabulous than sex without it makes a bit of a problem, since even the sex-without seems hard to surpass, but why complain? And when sex turns out to have a component of true love, one can certainly believe that it’s the best sex of all. This is, after all, a fantasy story.
I can certainly recommend Dragon Desire to those who like well-written, hot-as-a-dragon’s-breath erotica with a fantasy setting. I can even recommend it to those who love fantasy in general, although they, like me, may turn out to wish some of the sex scenes were more, well, compressed, without being any less intense, so that we could get along to more of the intriguing story. Ashton might even think about writing novels with more of the fantasy story elements and less of the sex…as long as the sex stories keep coming too, of course.
A vulnerable young woman. A rich, powerful, supremely handsome (and relatively young) highly placed executive in the bank where she works. You know where this is going, right? I thought I did, and neither of us is exactly wrong, but I made the mistake of ignoring the book’s title and more or less forgetting about a cryptic passage at the beginning that hints of dramatic upheavals beyond anything usually encountered in romance, however erotic.
There’s more to Fix: Sex Lies and Banking than just another twist on the long tail of the 50 Shades phenomenon. It’s not only the setting, although that helps; the upper echelons of a major investment bank in the financial heart of London and its surroundings are shown in convincing and entertaining detail, though at rather more info-dumping length that is really necessary. And it isn’t particularly the sex; there’s plenty of that, but a large percentage of it is in the form of flashbacks in Patrick Harrington’s first-person train of thought, where he gets off on his own awesome appeal to women, and gets more enjoyment from despising the women than from the sex itself. Not much there to empathize with, at least not for women, who are more likely than men to be reading this sort of book.
The “lies” part of the story is what makes the difference. At one point Patrick tells himself that he lies so much because he’s so good at it, as, in his own opinion, he is at everything, including unethical risk-taking with the bank’s assets. For a while I wondered whether the author really thought that readers would admire this narcissistic character, who admits to feeling “smug about the disarming effect I have on women.” I suppose a hero has to have faults so that they can be overcome by true love and mind-blowing sex, but Patrick’s obsession with luxury and power and his own superiority are hard to take.
Alexandra Fisher, on the other hand, is quite likeable, and no fool, except for falling for Patrick, which can be forgiven since he does, after all, lie so well. The author makes some attempts to portray her as naïve and unsophisticated, as seems to be required in such stories, but they’re not all that convincing, although Patrick insists on seeing her that way so that he can maintain his sense of superiority. When he does a Facebook search (yes, he’s a creepy stalker) and finds pictures of Alexandra vacationing with friends or an ex-boyfriend in numerous exotic and expensive locations around the world, he still thinks of her as “unworldly.” The only indication of any real lack of sexual experience is that she doesn’t recognize a butt plug when she finds one while snooping into his bedside drawer.
The unused butt plug (and mutual fetishes for uber-expensive designer shoes) are the closest references to kinky sex in the book, except for the unfortunate plot device of Alexandra’s father having committed suicide because of an addiction to BDSM, giving her an excuse for the occasional traumatic flashback. Patrick doesn’t seem to have any interest in that sort of edge play, although he keeps trying to persuade himself that he only spends so much effort on Alexandra so that he can “break” her and subjugate her, and then presumably despise her the way he does the other women who fawn on him. The only women he has any respect for seem to be his mother back in Ireland, and a mature, elegant prostitute who reminds him of how his mother looked at that age. Hmm.
You’ve probably gathered by now that this book is not particularly to my personal taste. Usually I try to review books in terms of how they will appeal to the readership they’re meant for, but this one has me puzzled. Can many readers put up with such an unlikeable male protagonist, however rich and handsome and in need of a good woman to redeem him? It’s true, though, that in spite of hoping against hope for most of the book that Patrick would get taken down as he so richly deserves, eventually, when it began to seem possible that this would happen, I wanted almost as much for Alexandra to get what she wanted and be happy.
I did admire several aspects of the writing. The text is well-edited, on the whole, with just a few places where past and present tense trip over each other, a danger inherent in long passages of first-person present-tense prose heavily laden with flashbacks. The descriptions of places and atmospheres were sometimes quite striking, and Alexandra’s flashbacks to her student days and friends at Cambridge made me wish that Lily Temperley would write an entire book about those times.
Do you want to know whether Patrick did indeed get taken down? All I’ll say is, “it’s complicated.” And, as so often happens these days with this sort of book, it’s a cliff-hanger. Yes, there is expected to be a second book, and most likely a third. Am I interested enough to see how Lily Temperley handles the dramatic tangle she’s created? Well, maybe.
I don’t quite know what to make of Good Pussy Bad Pussy: Rachel’s Tale. I’m not sure the author did, either. The title sounds like a lighthearted, sexy romp, and the first part is certainly sexy enough, but Rachel is foolish rather than lighthearted, and some of the situations she gets herself into are too grim to be considered romps.
This isn’t a bad book by any means. The writing is good on a sentence-by-sentence level, even if the overall pattern is somewhat confusing. The central character is likeable enough, even when one wants to give her a clue-by-four (or six, or eight.) The sex is well written, although by the second half of the book there’s very little enjoyment involved.
Rachel, an American, is bored with her husband in Amsterdam, so she leaves him (and her four year old son) and runs off with blond, buff Stefan to Nice, convincing herself that “it was true love, great passion, high romance.” Life on the Riviera seems to be everything she could want, and so does the sex with Stefan. Sex with Stefan’s boss is even better. But sex with the boss’s brutish business associate is not, and Rachel feels guilty that she comes to orgasm even with someone who repels her. (She never seems to realize how lucky she is that all the men she fucks, even the brute, are skilled at giving women oral sex.)
Rachel also feels guilty now and then about leaving her son, but she’s so intent on living her life to the fullest, on having “freedom” and “being someone” (at least in a sexual context,) that she ignores such guilt as much as she can. She also ignores certain facts of life (as do the men, somewhat unbelievably,) and sure enough, she gets pregnant.
Here’s where the story takes a turn or two away from anything remotely approaching a romp. Stefan rejects her; her husband in Amsterdam reluctantly takes her back, but that isn’t working out well; and suddenly she gets word that her father in New York is dying and she must fly there to be with her family.
What follows is a mix of positive—Rachel’s mother is a strong woman who supports her daughter even while they’re both grieving—and over-the-top negative, chiefly due to Rachel’s brother-in-law, a gynecologist who has lusted after her for years and now goes batshit crazy over her with assault after assault. I don’t want to give away every detail, but if the pregnancy itself isn’t supposed to be seen as a punishment for all the joyful sex she’s had, the cartoonishishly obssessive brother-in-law certainly fills that bill. After all Rachel’s rhapsodizing over the glories of sex, is she supposed to be learning a lesson?
Then romance reaches out unexpectedly from the past, and the pregnancy may turn out to provide a reward instead of punishment. If this is meant to be a morality tale, Rachel’s one redeeming act has been refusing to get an abortion.
As I said at the start, I’m not sure what to make of it all. A morality tale or a paean to sexual desire, the greatest life-force? It’s not that I feel a need for every book to be strictly categorized, but in this case I couldn’t help wondering what the reader was supposed to take from all this. Still, every reader is different, so for some, Good Pussy, Bad Pussy may be just what their fantasy lives ordered.
As a title, Gracefully Aroused is a clever play on words for a collection subtitled The Best of K D Grace. It’s entirely my own fault that it seemed to me at first to be a bit on the tame side as titles go, suggestive of lovely but rather languid sexual encounters. It didn’t take more than a few seconds of reading to realize how wrong I was.
There’s nothing tame or languid about any of these stories. K D Grace packs them with hard-hitting, no-holds-barred sex, and does it with prose that really does turn out to be graceful in a way that requires great skill. Blunt when needed, lyrical when that’s the better choice, paced just right to speed or slow the action, her writing brings her characters (and readers) to the highest pitch of whatever flavor of sensual pleasure she’s serving up.
The way these ten stories are arranged has a pattern of its own. She begins with classic themes that could seem hackneyed, but in her hands they remind us why they became classics in the first place. The first three pieces are from the women’s point of view, and the men the women are viewing are very much of the manly/studly variety, alpha when that’s what works, sensitive as needed, with a few secrets to be revealed. Delicious.
The “Hired Hand” makes the lonely woman farmer reflect:
Working bare-chested might cool him down a bit, but it only made her hotter. She had nearly forgotten the clit- stiffening scent of sweaty maleness, earthy and slightly piquant, a scent that, amid the barnyard animal smells, caused her own animal nature to squirm and stretch and sniff.
The “Personal Trainer” is in complete command of conditioning not only the muscle tone a bikini will display, but every delectable bit even a bikini conceals:
“A few push-ups, maybe some dumbbell flies and your cleavage will give every bloke on the beach wood.”
His gaze is like a magnet pulling my nipples all taut, and I wonder if it’s my cleavage that has given him wood, or if it’s just a permanent condition for the macho
The “Accidental Hitch-Hiker” is in luck with the trucker who rescues her when her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere:
What had been hidden beneath the poncho was not the stereotypical American trucker she had expected. He ran a hand through damp auburn hair in need of a cut. It hung in unruly curls around the soft stubble on his face. There was no beer belly, no good-ole-boy tattoos, no missing teeth. He wore a faded T-shirt stretched over his chest... The overall effect made her pulse race, and the feeling low in her belly was like the deep vibration of the lorry motor, only inside her.
The next two stories take entirely different tacks, both from the viewpoint of the man. In “Productivity,” a high-powered lady efficiency expert schools a nervous CEO in the power of orgasms to increase confidence, not to mention general health. “Flaws” also involves a man learning from a woman, but in this case the woman is a witch who does sex spells for a fee, but draws the line at the much more dangerous love spells. This taste of fantasy is a nice variation, and gives just a hint of some wilder excursions beyond everyday reality that come later in the book.
That’s the first half of the book. The first three stories of the second half are sexual romps of one kind or another, the first two with a tongue-in-cheek attitude (even when the tongue is elsewhere at the same time,) and the third has a humorous slant as well even though the setting is more realistic. “Hard Times At the Nymphomaniac Rehabilitation Center” is a title that pretty much speaks for itself, and the girl in “Confessions” with her fetish for priests could easily have matriculated (and masturbated) at that same institution. The archaeology students in carnal pursuit of their professor in “Excavations” are out for a fun prank as well as a good boinking, and the professor is more than equal to them when it comes to both.
Good as all these are, the last two stories go to a higher level entirely. Intensely sexual and arousing in physical terms, they also stimulate the mind and imagination, not only with their concepts, but with the startlingly vibrant descriptions.
In “Seeing Red,” the main character has a strange power:
One day, Jenny woke and found she could actually see body heat, the body heat that showed up in the infrared spectrum in glorious swirls and splashes of colour from burnt orange all the way to spilt-blood black. Watching it was like watching fireworks, subtle living fireworks.
And in the final piece, “Pheromones,” the super power is claimed by the sense of smell rather than sight:
By his scent, Chloe could tell if her landlord had got shagged and if it had been by his wife. Chloe could smell every detail of her flatmate, John’s, sex life. His girlfriend, Kim, was an olfactory layer cake. Deodorant soap and perfume could never completely mask the fact that she worked at a chippie. All those smells fought a losing battle against the tidal pool of scent emanating from between her legs, a scent that was always flash fire urgent.
There are so many passages of brilliant description combined with creative sex scenes in these two stories that I can’t possibly choose just a few, and, in fact, I shouldn’t. This whole collection is varied, balanced, and beautifully—even, yes, gracefully—written, and you shouldn’t miss a word of it, so reading it all yourself is the only way to go.
With a book like Midnight Caller by NJ Cole I get to feeling like a broken record (and yes, I’m so old that I remember the vinyl origins of that idiom.) So here I go again: if you like this sort of book, you’ll like this book. You may even love it. Which means, of course, that if you love the Twilight series (but aren’t totally fixated on vampires,) and if you’re turned on by the 50 Shades of Grey saga (but don’t mind a bit of a paranormal element,) you’ll probably enjoy Midnight Caller.
We have Rebecca, the pretty young thing with a submissive streak who would seem virginal if it weren’t for her frequent energetic bouts of masturbation in her glass-walled high-rise apartment. And we have Oliver, the somewhat jaded dom who watches these bouts from a window in the next building, able to see intimate details no human could make out, because, of course, he’s not human at all. His Bocaj ancestors came from another planet in another galaxy eons ago, and, though they look like humans, Oliver (AKA “Sir”) tells us that, “we were more similar to the trees of Earth in our biology than any mammal on the planet.” This, however, does not appear to apply to their sexual proclivities, which are very mammalian indeed. Oliver goes on to say, “The greatest difference between our kind and humans, besides the fact that we absorbed the energy needed to sustain life from the sun and the small amount of food and water we consumed, was that our lifecycle was more comparable to that of a redwood tree. The average life expectancy for my species was nearly two thousand years.”
Oliver himself, we discover, is only about two hundred years old, which may account for the fact that in spite of his dominant nature, he occasionally seems closer to adolescence than adulthood, as when he gets all flustered mentioning oral sex in the presence of his mother, who clearly has far more experience in all things sexual and/or kinky than he can yet claim.
For the most part, though, Oliver is exactly the masterful type that Rebecca longs for, and she’s perfect for him, more dangerously perfect than he realizes at first. He had grown bored with his previous submissive because she was too perfect to give him reasons to punish her, so Rebecca’s not-so-perfect tendency to get flustered is just what he thinks he wants.
Of course the Bocaj folk are immensely strong, with venomous bodily fluids (although apparently some fluids aren’t necessarily as venomous as others,) so he has to be careful not to injure her too badly, or possibly kill her. For quite some time the relationship is limited to his phone calls letting her know that he can see her masturbate, and his own masturbation inspired by hers, so that one hopes that in spite of the aforementioned small amount of water required by the Bocaj, both of them are getting enough liquids to replenish those emitted in such mutual gushing, flowing, geysering abundance. Eventually he gives in to temptation and appears as a colleague at her workplace (owned, of course, by his people) without letting her know that “Oliver” and “Sir” are one and the same; and she, of course, in the best Superman and Lois Lane tradition, doesn’t catch on.
I really shouldn’t be sounding so snarky. Chalk it up to being old enough to remember actual broken records. Midnight Caller is well-written enough, with prose that flows smoothly, characters worth the necessary suspension of disbelief, and very few typographical errors. The sex flows, too—did I mention the geysering abundance?—and the D/s relationship, while a bit on the light side, is likely to be many reader’s cup of…well, tea. I was annoyed for a while by the way almost every scene was described twice, once by “Sir” and again by “butterfly” (Rebecca,) but I got used to it.
Midnight Caller was published almost two years ago, so I suspect it was influenced by the Twilight series more than by Fifty Shades of Grey, which had itself originated in Twilight fan fiction. In the “About the Author” note at the end of this book we’re told that there were over two million reads of NJ Cole’s online work in the previous six months, so it seems fair to conclude that she too has some experience in the world of fan fiction. It’s also fair to conclude that she has a very wide and appreciative fan base, which emphasizes my initial point that if you like this kind of book, you’ll probably love this one.[A guilty admission: when Oliver mentioned the closeness of Bocaj biology to that of trees, especially redwood trees, I thought of the rash of books about sex with dinosaurs, Bigfoot, any and all types of super-powerful and therefore presumably sexy monstrous beings, and wondered for a moment whether something like “Ravished by a Giant Sequoia” would be a viable title. Hmmm…well, nevermind.]
It’s no secret that power games are at least as prevalent in big business as they are in sex, and when sex and business are intertwined, the power games are amped up to an orgasmic crescendo. They certainly are in erotica, at any rate, and we read enough in news accounts to conclude that there’s plenty of such play going on in the “real” lives of the rich and powerful.
The news accounts, though, can only provide mild titillation. It takes a writer with the skill and erotic imagination of Lisabet Sarai to really immerse us in this world of glitter and grit, silk and semen, financial power plays and BDSM role playing. In Nasty Business the financial stakes are high, the emotional swings are chaotic, and the sex is intense, inventive, and very nearly non-stop.
The story is told through three different viewpoints, a structure that could be hard to follow but turns out to be just right. First is young Ruby Chen, heiress to her deceased father Liu’s business empire as well as to his financial acumen and sexual appetite. Next is her assistant Margaret, also inherited from her father, and, unknown to Ruby, Liu’s longtime lover and submissive. The third is Rick Martell, an entrepreneur who challenges Ruby in a business affair that becomes personal as well as financial, striking even more sparks of lust than of competitive fever, until sex and business become inextricably tangled and dominance in both rebounds from one player to the other as though they were players in a frenetic handball game.
Each section is labeled with the name of the point of view character, and each of the voices is distinct. We get their accounts not only of what’s happening in the present, but what they remember from the past, expanding the range of sexual experiences we can see, and at the same time giving insights into their characters, as when Margaret recalls that “I was floating in a crimson haze, breathing in time with his savage strokes. I forgot myself, thinking only of him, basking in the intensity of his desire. I forgot to notice when, or whether, I climaxed. There was only Liu, his energy and will, his pleasure. That was the only thing that mattered.”
We also get to share their inner thoughts and fantasies; even in the throes of sex, Ruby imagines how she must look to Rick: “An image: my pale bottom, my swollen pink sex lips gripping the leather-bound rod, the black strands vibrating against my creamy skin. The stretched, torn lace of my flimsy panties, framing it all. Is this what he is seeing? I suck hard, my eyes screwed shut.” Rick has this same habit: “A part of me is watching myself, simultaneously shocked and amused. A new twist. A new category of victim, perhaps, unable to resist me? Is there any limit to what I'll do in the pursuit of pleasure and power? But these thoughts are swept away by the raw sensations in my penis, and returning images of Ruby.”
Rick’s “unable to resist me” attitude brings up my one semi-complaint about the book. He’s a hard character to like, and might even be said to put the “nasty” into Nasty Business, not that Ruby isn’t at least as ruthless in her drive for power. Rick is portrayed as not particularly handsome, which was at first a pleasant change from the typical perfection of characters in erotica, but then he’s shown to have some inexplicable magnetism that makes him irresistible to women. Ruby wonders, “Why does Martell have this overwhelming effect on me? Chemistry? Pheromones? It feels like something biological and irresistible. Or perhaps telepathy, empathy, some psychic force that allows him to catch and shape my thoughts.” But Ruby takes it as a challenge and part of the game; Margaret feels it as almost a violation.
In the long run, after many volleys and reversals in strategy and dominance and various different couplings (with Rick’s handyman Raoul and housekeeper Luna thrown into the mix), Rick turns out to be a reasonably good guy, or as good as any guy could be who has known all his life that women can’t resist him. At least Ruby is satisfied, so all’s well that ends well—and orgasmically. Every player has his or her turn on the top and/or the bottom, while the complexity of human desires is explored with considerable insight. My favorite character, though, is Margaret, who comes the farthest to find her true self, motivated not by greed but by loyalty and love. Margaret, in fact, may ultimately be the most powerful of them all, with the keenest understanding of the nuances and complexities of power exchange.
Nasty Business is top-notch erotica, written with a sure hand by Lisabet Sarai. Her prose is lushly evocative as well as explicit, and her imagery can even verge on the poetic when the situation calls for it. For me, the most memorable passage comes from the viewpoint of Margaret, watching the young housekeeper Luna who has just led her through a great moment of self-discovery: “She gathers a droplet from my thighs and licks it off her finger. Her eyes close as she savors me, and I am reminded of some flaxen-haired medieval angel, consumed by mystic ecstasy.”
Don’t worry. There’s plenty of raw sex, rough sex, kinky sex, revenge sex, even elegant sex, in Nasty Business. And there’s plenty of power play. But to have all that and the rare moment of mystic ecstasy too—well, that does it for me. Whatever does it for you, chances are that you’ll find it here, and some unexpected pleasures as well.
Erotica is in the eye of the beholder, right? I try to write my reviews with an eye toward how well a book will appeal to people who like its particular flavor of erotica. Of White Snakes and Misshaped Owls: Volume One of the Charlotte Olmes Mystery Series by Debra Hyde rings a whole carillon of my personal chimes, so if you share my tastes you’ll like this book, and if you don’t, you won’t. To be more specific:
So consider yourself forewarned if you don’t happen to share my tastes in these matters. Also be forewarned that, while the crime and investigation are well-drawn, this is a novella-length story, and with all the deliciously erotic scenes the mystery part may seem a bit rushed, and even a bit unfair to the reader since it depends on the detective’s knowledge of the lowlife jargon of the times. On the other hand, the reader gets what may seem like all too much help from scenes that switch to the viewpoint of the murderer and others associated with him. I didn’t mind, being more preoccupied with the various other kinds of switching being described.
The author says she hopes to continue the series with more crime cases and more about the team of Charlotte Olms and Joanna Wilson. They fit their times and relationship very well, since, after all, Victorian-era gentlemen didn’t get to have all the fun, no matter what we’ve been made to think.
One Saved to the Sea takes its title from a tale told in the Orkney Islands of northernmost Scotland. Selkies, shapeshifters who are seals in the sea and human on land, can be trapped and forced to remain human and in servitude to whoever steals their sealskins while they are in human form. The story as related in fragments in the book is that a selkie woman has been freed and given back her skin, returning to the sea, and repays the debt by saving three children who wander into deep water. “One saved to the sea, three saved to the land.”
Many stories have been woven around the subject of selkies, and many songs sung; I especially remember the hauntingly beautiful folksong Joan Baez made famous in the 60s. Any such stories I’ve read since then haven’t stuck in my mind, but this book by Catt Kingsgrave comes close to being as hauntingly beautiful in its own way as the folksong, and I’ll remember it just as well.
The story is beautifully written, sometimes lyrical, sometimes grittily realistic, in a blend that fits the setting and the characters exactly right. Mairead, the protagonist, tends a lighthouse on the rocky coast of an Orkney island while her three brothers are away fighting in WWII and her grief stricken father is sinking into dementia.
We see her first in all her necessary strength, wielding an oar as a weapon against a local low-life who has stolen a selkie’s skin and then dropped it when Mairead clipped him hard on the head. When he tries to get it back, she tells him, You wasn’t born wearing it, and her that was will be wanting it back again. Then she clips him again.
When she searches for the selkie to return the skin, we see a different side of her.
The moonlight revealed no soft curve of white skin on the river-mouth island; no trembling whorl of wood-dark hair in the shadows of sea-carved stone.
She has watched the selkies dance on rare moonlit nights since she was a child, and now fears that they’ve been scared away for good.
God, how she would miss it. The dancing, yes; the flash of limbs in the moonlight, lovely girls pale as foam and plump as plums, their dark hair glimmering as they danced under the moon, but later. Oh, later. When they danced in pairs and threes, tangled like driftwood in a restless tide.
The tone and rhythm of the writing are just right, evoking the rough, wild setting, the people who have eked out a living there for generations, and the poetic turn of mind that produces such legends. Besides the lovely language, there’s an engrossing plot that becomes clear early on and thus has no big surprises, but keeps the reader involved just the same. I won’t go into the details, so as not to reveal too much in the way of spoilers, but events unfold in ways that seem inevitable and are, for the most part, satisfying.
This is fantasy that fits seamlessly into a story that is otherwise quite realistic, and the language fits both aspects. Some terms from Orkney dialect take a while to understand, but the context makes them clear.
The sex scenes are no exception. Here are just a couple of tastes:
One of them made a desperate, hungry sound, equal kin to sob and sigh, and with a single, shocked wriggle the kiss fitted itself snug and solid between them. No room for words, for shame, for a lick of care that anyone might come and see, and watch Mairead drowning in arms and eyes and a rain of dark hair far softer than any fur pelt... and
She had lain with this girl, this mad, wild, fey creature—had lain with her and loved her now enough to let herself be led nearly naked to the shallow trink, and the holm rising beyond it. How could she begin to worry about the sin of it now?
For all the book’s exquisite writing, however, I’m not sure it should be classed as erotica, even though I personally love works that have much more “story” to them than sex. And I am sure that many wouldn’t class it as a novel, being about eighty pages. By my rough computation that’s a bit under thirty thousand words, novella-length by professional fantasy and science fiction standards.
This in no way makes the book less worth reading than any other, though. It’s a fine, fine novella, and, just as with wild sex without regard to sin, there’s nothing wrong with that.
In Out of the Shadows Into the Darkness Senta Holland tells a story of extreme BDSM desires that manages to be both dreamlike and piercingly, even brutally, explicit. Her writing has a fragile beauty combined with startling imagery, so much so that I made notes of passage after passage that I wanted to mention, and finally realized that there were so many there was no point in jotting down more.
Senta is the name the point of view character has chosen to use in her internet search for someone who can fulfill her dreams of complete sexual and spiritual submission. It’s also the name the author has chosen to use. At the end of the book the publisher has inserted the usual disclaimer of “This novel is entirely a work of fiction” etc., etc., but the scenes, however extreme, are so nearly believable at times that it might have been a good idea to put this passage at the beginning. In spite of Senta’s occasional assertion that she avoids any permanent physical damage, some of the punishments she endures for the sake of absolute submission could, indeed, be dangerous.
The story has a well-defined shape, although the many flashbacks are confusing at times. Senta saves up for a long time to be able to afford a round-the-world adventure which includes meet-ups with potential Doms she’s contacted online. Her search ends in Bangkok, and so does her journey. A wealthy young man whose American family has become firmly established in Thailand turns out to be the Master (or “Nai” in Thai) that Senta has longed for, and as they gradually grow closer, their BDSM scenes grow ever more intense. There are ups and downs, and even as Senta pours out all her pent-up need to show her devotion, utter obedience, and endurance of pain, she recognizes that her Nai’s need to dominate is rooted in his own sense of insecurity. There are occasional lapses into extraneous philosophizing about BDSM and railings against the cruelty imposed by the rest of the world on those who crave it, complaints which tend to seem dated now that a certain trilogy of bondage books have made BDSM all the rage, or so it seems, but they do turn out to have a place in the plot. I won’t go any further into the progression of events, since they should be revealed in the author’s own words, but the story is deeply involving and well worth reading.
I will, though, share some of the author’s own words in passages that struck me as being especially effective. Describing her lover’s weight pressing down on her, Senta feels it as “a counterweight to the slow turning of the earth.” Walking with him near the river in Bangkok she feels that the voice of reason is drowned out by “the night carpet of silvery mosquitoes,” while “under my bones, my blood was singing.” During thunderstorms she watches “huge strong paths of lightning, standing still in the sky. So high in the sky that I couldn’t tell where they started, the clouds hung in many tiers like the runaway balconies of a giant vaporous opera house.” When her Nai binds her with brightly colored ropes, she thinks of them as “snaking over my body and the bed sheets, wrapping around me like the solidified paths of fireworks, petrified gas, fixed in time and space, blown into three-dimensionality by so much energy that it warps the sluggish cosmos.”
But of course someone who reads this sort of book will be most interested in how well the sex and dominance/submission scenes are written. They won’t be disappointed. I won’t share much of that, but here are a few brief tastes. Of having sex while standing in deep seawater, Senta says, “I felt the wave of my own orgasm building up. Every movement of his penis made me contract, and the point behind my cervix where the tension collects before it opens out and swallows sea water until it drowns, happily, was gaping its hungry mouth.” Of a more land bound session, she says; “I
come. And come again. And again. Earthquakes push up from the deepest fault lines, breaking the surface. I don’t know where it originated, but it is there. I am there. And I need, need, need more.”
There is, of course, much more. And the insight Senta gives into the depths of her need to submit are just as striking. I’ll leave the extended pleasure/pain/punishment/sinking-into-subspace passages for the reader of the book to savor, but it seems to me that one recollection near the end works well as a summation. “The strokes of your whip made my body dance in the water. It jumped and contracted and opened out, not in response to the wishes of my mind but subjected to your power. My body obeyed you not me. It bypassed my small self. I was the dancer but I didn’t know the dance.”
Readers with an interest in BDSM, especially from the submissive side of the equation, are likely to enjoy Out of the Shadows and Into the Darkness. It shouldn’t be taken as the last word on the subject; I know dominants and submissives with very different tastes and outlooks from those Senta describes, and some of the punishments and tortures her character willingly endures go beyond any boundaries of safety and even physical possibility; but the book is, as stated above, a work of fiction, and a very good one at that.
Roman Discipline’s main feature is its historical setting, on which sex scenes are hung like clusters of grapes on a vine. To the author’s credit that particular metaphor does not appear, although the descriptions do go over the top from time to time. That’s pretty much inevitable when so many characters have so much sex in so many configurations within so few pages, with each encounter obliged to surpass all previous ones in order to provide for any story arc or structure, and on the whole the writing is quite good.
The story arc here works well enough for its purpose. Julia, a young Roman lady with an aristocratic husband, Marcus, and two infant sons, is despondent when that husband decides that he needs someone even younger for his bed. He graciously permits her to have discreet affairs of her own, as long as she helps him find a suitable slave girl or two and trains them in how to please him, since she already know his ways so well.
Julia does try, even though what she wants most is for him to want only her. She heartily enjoys a series of orgies, assignations with slaves and rentable athletes, and erotic adventures with a pair of slave girls from Lesbos who, of course, turn out not to be at all the willing and enthusiastic bed-partners Marcus hoped for. But in between the admirably varied and strenuous bouts of humping and spanking, Julia still longs for the love and undivided attention of her husband.
The characterizations are a bit tricky, but the author does manage to make Julia a fairly sympathetic figure. She’ll beat a slave in anger, then apply unguent to prevent infection in the whip marks, and even muses briefly but not too convincingly about the morality of owning slaves. It’s always hard to make the customs and attitudes of long-past eras mesh with those of modern readers, and in erotica of this sort I’m not inclined to be a stickler for historical accuracy in this area.
The book as a whole is reasonably good in terms of historical accuracy. The author has done her research when it comes to clothing and customs, as far as I can tell, and I suppose that when an occasional term sounds too modern we can shrug and admit that there was probably some similar term in Latin. The one thing I found unbelievable—well, all right, there were other things, but after all, this is erotica--was that Marcus would give his wife permission to fool around, with no apparent consideration that she might get pregnant. He saw no problem with producing bastards of his own with slaves, but no Roman of that standing would be happy if his wife did likewise.
Roman Discipline can’t be said to transcend the expectations of erotica, but it does fulfill them, with the added benefit of a setting portrayed with just the right amount of detail to maintain interest without being distracting. A short book, teeming with sex, with a nice bit of scenery and a hint of romance; not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. You might even learn a thing or two about ancient Roman garb and hairdos.
When we pick up a book with a title like Seductress: Erotic Tales of Immortal Desire, edited by D. L. King for Cleis Press, we have certain expectations. When the cover blurb confirms that yes, this is succubus erotica, our expectations get ramped up as high as the libido of the traditional sorcerer summoning a sex demon. “Sexy, immortal women with the power to steal what they need from human beings through seduction,” the editor promises in her introduction. At this point, the reader’s needs had better be met, as well.
Seductress does not disappoint. In some ways we get a better deal than the sorcerer, since we can share the pleasures of both the human and the succubus, and count on surviving. (My one quibble about the book as a whole is that there’s a bit too much surviving going on. Still, it’s a tricky business to draw a reader deeply into the persona of a character, as most of these stories do, and then polish him or her off abruptly at the end, so maybe it’s just as well.)
D. L. King wisely starts off with two relatively traditional pieces. The first, “Harvest” by Aurelia T. Evans, has just the right tone and atmosphere, and a most satisfying succubus (with an especially talented tail.) “’I will hurt you. But in the end...’ That predatory smile again, like the glint of a sharpened blade. ‘It will be more pleasure than you have known or will know again, made more potent by the fact it cannot kill you.’” Yes, that’s exactly where we wanted to go when we opened the book.
The second story, “A Surprising Summons” by Kaysee Renee Robichaud, has just as much of a traditional feel even though the seductress quickly adapts herself to the modern world of her summoner. Over three encounters separated by a good many years. The sex is just as intense as in the first piece, but more nuanced, and so are the characters. The ending is poignant, moving, and well-earned by what has come before. A nice variation on the ancient theme.
I’m a big fan of variations. However clear my expectations may be, there comes a point when enough of them have been met that what I want most is to see wildly different treatments of the theme, and the parts that stick longest in my memory are the ones that startled me.
What catches my attention could be a macabre, disturbing, yet lovely description of a setting, as when Kannan Feng says in “Before a Fall,” “Last year, I attended a moon-viewing party over the River Nekane. A hundred skin lanterns floated in the water, throwing back ruddy, sullen shadows.” The story that follows is beautifully written and intensely erotic, though I did find myself wishing for more details of this particular world of demons.
Or the hook for me could be an imaginative set piece, like the submissive man cowering on the step below his mistress in a lavishly decorated department store as he rides with “The Girl on the Egyptian Escalator” by NJ Streitberger. This one was also quite satisfying in that the man was so easy to dislike.
All the stories here are good, each in its own distinctive way, and all deliver abundantly when it comes to eroticism. Since women are always in charge, and their needs are paramount, reading too many stories in a row too quickly may give an impression of repetition when it comes to the elements of sex, but that’s pretty much inevitable. The men certainly get everything they can handle, and then some.
The stories that really blow my mind (and everything else) are the ones combining well-crafted writing with startling originality. Three in particular stand out in this respect.
In Evan Mora’s “Star-Crossed,” the legendary lovers achieve an immortal life together, but at a price. Romeo has an accidental encounter with a vampire, and Juliet, in order to stay with him, makes a deal with the devil. But the vampire Romeo has no life force to feed on, and Juliet the succubus has no real blood in her veins. “And that’s us in a nutshell: Romeo and Juliet, the star- crossed lovers, a pair of immortals who can’t give each other the very thing necessary for their continued existence. The Devil, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.” That, of course, is only the beginning; the pair work out their system through several centuries, and eventually Juliet shares an episode when they go clubbing to hunt down a meal satisfying to both of them. A clever concept, developed with style and passion.
Sasha Bukova delivers a memorable character in “Zach’s Last Ride,” a stunt-rider whose feats of speed and danger feed the lust for more than soaring through the air on his motorcycle can satisfy—until he meets the mysterious girl on a bike that’s “all big engine and wide tires with high, wide handlebars that resembled devil’s horns.” Both of these characters are larger (and darker) than life, but Bukova somehow makes them touch us deeply.
The final piece is Kate Dominic’s “Soaring.” Kate takes originality to unexpected heights, with a seductress who passes for a photojournalist embedded with American troops in Afghanistan. This succubus feeds on the sex-gorged dreams of soldiers far from their homes and loved ones, while bonding with them on very human terms, until a final twist raises the transfer of erotic essence to a whole new plane. Brilliantly conceived, beautifully realized.
So, yes, in case there’s any doubt, I liked Seductress very much, and quite a bit of it I loved. The fact that I’m a writer and editor myself is bound to affect my opinions, so take that into account. That said, I do think that anyone who is intrigued by the notion of succubus erotica will have their needs and highest expectations met here—and then some.
In his introduction to Sensual Travels, editor Michael Luongo comes close to calling these stories true reminiscences, the authors “revisiting them in their minds as they wrote them down for these stories.” The Publisher’s note, on the other hand, states unequivocally that “This book contains works of fiction,” and the rest of the usual disclaimer. I only mention this because some of the writers do seem to be writing in travelogue style, more a series of anecdotes than fully rounded fiction, but some of the best pieces could just as easily be weaving true adventures into fictional form because that’s what these writers do best.
Besides the travel theme, the editor makes a point of telling us that the book is “literotica,” not “just erotica,” and I wondered whether some of the writers had taken this a bit too much to heart. Not that I mind literary references, but I couldn’t help noticing how many names from art and literature were inserted into a few stories. Frida Kahlo and Hans Christian Anderson were referenced twice, in fact, although I couldn’t make up my mind whether the one where the narrator goes to an exhibition honoring Hans Christian Anderson and a performance of Mary Poppins before getting down to extensive raw, dirty sex was intended to be a bit tongue in cheek.
None of this makes any difference to a reader’s enjoyment. The theme of the book is gay sex in the context of travel, and it certainly delivers all that. Some stories are a bit heavy on the travelogue-as-infodump front, but most of the local color and background is nicely—and sometimes exquisitely—handled. As to how well the sex is handled, well, that depends on one’s taste, but as a more or less objective observer I’d say that the erotic aspects won’t disappoint anyone with an interest in gay sex.
All of the stories are well done, in their own suitably various ways. The writers are all experienced at either travel writing or erotica, and sometimes both, so perhaps the editor can be excused for not taking too many pains with editing. The sort of errors my editorial eye catches are the kind of thing we all miss occasionally in our own writing, and it says more about my own tastes than any real problems that my list of notes was mostly about a few typos until I got to Lawrence Schimel’s “Water Taxi” and began to sit up and take notice. About time, too. I realize that my review has been altogether too bland so far.
Lawrence’s story is light, playful, and hot, with a committed couple in a public threesome on a pleasure boat off the coast of Spain, and plenty of erotic images. The one that really got my attention was the narrator’s comparison of his partner to the Colossus of Rhodes, imagining what it would be like “sailing between those massive thighs and gazing upward.” What can I say? I’m a whore for clever turns of phrase and ingenious imagery.
After that story, my notes overflowed with too many tasty bits to include them all here, and in any case readers with a more intense interest in the sex won’t care. Trust me, the sex is there, and so is sexual tension, as well as fleeting fantasies that sometimes can’t be realized, and never can be repeated. There are gay bars and sex clubs and bathhouses in Paris, Tokyo, Zagreb, and Bangkok, among others; there are hookups via the internet, romantic student encounters, train (and bus) sex, and a wide variety of scenarios both traditional and innovative.
I shouldn’t try to choose favorites among the stories, since I tend to get more of a charge from the sexy writing than from the sex, but I’ll do it anyway. Several of the writers were familiar to me already, and their work here was every bit as good as I’ve found it to be elsewhere. Felice Picano, Simon Sheppard, Lawrence Schimel, Trebor Healey, and Jeff Mann are folks whose work I admire no matter what they’re writing about, and they’re all in good form here. I have to say that Jeff Mann’s “Bondage Tape in Budapest” was also arguably the sexiest of them all; there may be someone, somewhere, who isn’t turned on by the image of a supremely strong man being tied and gagged and fucked, and reveling in his own helplessness, but even then it would be hard to resist Mann’s voice and style. Plus his rhapsodic description of Dobos torte, “rich, intense, and decadent,” is as sensual as the sex.
Of writers I hadn’t encountered before, I especially liked Sebastion V.’s clever voice in “Fantasy Night Train to Estonia,” with his reflections that “Traveling is all about letting go,” and “Fantasies and memories are soul mates, after all.” And Jay Davidson’s “Fest Noz” was both a charming ode to Brittany—“As much as I love Paris for its monuments and grandeur, I appreciated Quimper for its lack thereof,”—and a rueful memory of what almost might have been, but wasn’t.
My choices are really irrelevant, though. There’s something to enjoy in every story here, and someone whose buttons will be pushed by each one. If you have a taste for gay sex, good writing, and far-away places, it will be worth your while to see which ones take you where you really want to go.
Bexhill School for Girls, Book 3: Six Across is hard for me to categorize, unless there’s genre for Jolly Good Fun. I did, to my surprise, enjoy it, but I can’t quite consider the book to be erotica, or BDSM, or, for that matter, a book, at only 85 pages. It’s more of an installment of a serial story, but what the heck, Dickens did that and got away with it, so why should I quibble?
Tom Simple, the Bexhill author, sets the mood with his quite amusing note at the beginning directed to “the Moral Police – that ethereal army of self- appointed do-gooders which has taken it upon itself to patrol cyberspace.” Then he kindly includes a reader’s review that provides a clue as to the nature of the book. This reviewer, who has presumably read the first two titles in this series, A Spanking in Time and By the Cane Divided, assures us that this is “One of the very best school spanking stories I have read. Very well written...there is nothing offensive...it is descriptive…easily pictured in the mind...”
Did you know that there was a whole genre of school spanking stories? I can’t say that I’m surprised. I did, after all, read and re-read an ancient copy of Tom Brown’s School Days in my own adolescence, and ferreted out a few old girls-school novels from thrift shops and second hand bookstores. English boarding schools were fertile grounds for fiction long before Harry Potter came along, and the sad lack of corporal punishment scenes in the Potter books has been compensated for by many a writer of fan fiction.
These Bexhill School books may be written to appeal to a mature audience whose formative years were far enough in the past that they have fond memories of the days when spanking, caning, switching, and indeed pretty much any form of punishment were considered perfectly acceptable and even necessary ways of dealing with students. Such historical scenes do continue to be quite popular in some BDSM circles, though, so the audience is probably far more extensive.
On further reflection, I’ll have to rethink my opinion on the erotica front (or, in this case, rear.) Erotica is in the eye of the beholder, and, of course, in the reaction of various other regions of the anatomy. If the beholder is turned on by picturing schoolgirls bent over to receive punitive spankings, then it’s erotica, even though most of the spankings are not presented in a particularly sexual way from the viewpoints of the miscreants being punished. They genuinely dread the canings, in spite of being proud of how well they bear them. Still, four of the girls, recognizing spanking’s potential, form a club to play out punishment scenes in the school’s stables when no else is around. They don’t get much attention in this book, and I’d have liked to see more of them. Apparently they do get more coverage, so to speak, in some of the other books. For the most part the girls seem strangely indifferent to sex as such, even though there’s a boys’ school just over their back fence, and the boys are definitely interested.
Most of the plot devices consist of pranks and other transgressions for which the girls are punished, the punishments being the main point. The major dramatic set piece is a field hockey game that results in a violent free-for-all with the result that just about everybody gets caned afterward. The game itself is described in such great detail that the images of girls in hockey kit rushing up and down the field wielding sticks may have been meant to be as arousing as the resulting paddling of behinds. For readers who appreciate that sort of thing, the book is, indeed, erotica. I still have a hard time considering a book of which a reviewer has said “There is nothing offensive…” to be particularly erotic or kinky, but then again, he (or she) added the part about “easily pictured in the mind…” so it’s clearly a matter of taste, and the pictures in the reader’s mind.
The adults involved—a few members of the school staff, a pair of local constables, one set of parents—do get right down to brief spurts of hot and steamy action, but by far the major focus is on the girls, who are an appealing blend of mischief, wholesomeness, and adolescent angst. My sympathies are all with the girls.
As I said at the beginning, I did enjoy Bexhill School for Girls, Book 3. I enjoyed the girls’ school ambiance, the camaraderie, the British turn of phrase. Tom Simple (whoever he or she may be) does a good job of retaining the rather odd charms of boarding-school stories, and elaborating on what the local constable thinks of as “nubile backsides being tanned” while still showing the girls as sympathetic characters. If you like your school spanking stories mixed in with plenty of adolescent Jolly Good Fun, this—and likely this whole series of books—is for you.
I used to take pride in being able to judge a story from the viewpoint of its intended audience, even if I myself didn’t share those particular tastes, but The Kiss of Death has been a real challenge.
I do admit that there are elements to the story that I can appreciate; the underlying premise of an immortal vampire who draws his strength from the sexual energy of others is scarcely new, but it can be serviceable for erotica. The old “fangs in the neck” routine seems to be reserved here for recruitment, while sex (often augmented by exotic aphrodisiacs) is the real source of nourishment; I never thought that the blood connection was particularly sexy, anyway. The descriptions of settings are often well done, from rituals in Dymastic Egypt to the ruined Cathedral in Whitby (with a reference by one character to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, of course) to the various set-pieces arranged for the orgies held in an abandoned country house. Winterbourne, once used for training British intelligence agents during WWII, has become an exclusive bordello protected by the fact that its clients are all rich and powerful and politically connected—as well as the presence of an immortal vampire (the Master) imprisoned inside a magical crystal in a sepulcher in a bricked-up room in its cellar, with enough power remaining to manipulate and prompt the bordello’s owner, and even, fueled by the ambient erotic energy, to take over the owner’s body for limited periods of fun and games.
So far, so good. And even better is the depiction in the middle of the book of how the Master, wandering the world after his soulmate, Sedet, has been imprisoned and hidden away by rival Egyptian priests, passes some of his time as Rasputin corrupting the Czarina (no wonder they couldn’t seem to kill him!) and then in Sicily as tutor to Aleister Crowley’s crew of nouveau-occultists, and finally as advisor and personal sorcerer/fortune teller to Hitler, a thankless job since Hitler would never belief his warning or take his advice. I could appreciate a whole book written around this premise, especially the part where Allied sorcerers trap the Master, imprison him in his own magic crystal, and wall him up in the cellar of Winterbourne. WWII with dueling sorcerers! What’s not to like?
My problem is that by the time I got to any of these interesting bits, I’d been slogging through so many repetitive, florid, bloated, adjective-overladen sex scenes that if I’d been able to use the traditional editorial red pen on the manuscript it would have looked as bloody as any vampiric orgy. Yes, the main point of erotica is to arouse the reader, and plenty of sex is just what’s expected, but I had a hard time imagining the audience for this particular jumble of sex scenes. I have nothing against orgies. In reading about them I prefer a focused point-of-view character to provide a sense of participation, rather than a flailing mass of body parts in cameo appearances, but I can see that the idea of being an observer could be titillating, even though the paying participants are, for the most part, made deliberately unappealing. Would even aging stockbrokers fantasize about aging stockbrokers team-fucking a well-paid whore? This may be part of the general thrust to make uninhibited sex feel “evil” enough to give the reader that pleasurable frisson of being naughty. The repeated claims of “No limits! Nothing is forbidden!” don’t seem to result in any new, creative perversions, just the old dishes reheated and served again and again.
The most original erotic encounter, in fact, occurs in the research room of a public library, between the only two characters who are developed at all as three-dimensional human beings, and who seem to be potential foils for the Master. It was a relief to find people one could conceivably root for after the stream of color-me-evil cardboard villains.
So what’s my problem, aside from some awkwardness of continuity? I’m a language junky. Too many “love-shafts,” “carnal lances,” “bags of love juice” (on males) and “torrents of love juice” (from females) even when love clearly has nothing to do with it. Too much repetition, and, when an attempt is made for original metaphors, too many that made me either laugh or cringe. Breasts like “juicy amber fruits” with nipples like “twin stalks” isn’t all that bad, until you see the terms “rising stalks” and “burgeoning stalks” applied to masculine appendages. The difficulties with portraying prolonged, ever-increasing lust are noticeable when at one moment a man’s “wild electric eel” is “thrashing” against his belly, and a few moments later, with even more provocation, it merely “twitches compulsively.”
Kiss of Death is part of a series called Modern Erotic Classics, and I suspect it was written quite a bit longer ago than the 2008 and 2012 dates for its recent publications. I may be judging it by unfair standards. The author may well have been deliberately trying for the style of, say, Bram Stoker, although Stoker, fortunately, did not attempt full-blown erotica. I was curious enough to do a bit of research, and discovered that Kiss of Death has a sequel published in 1993, The Phallus of Osiris. I admit to being glad of that, because I’d been about to close with a warning against getting too fond of the relatively good guys (or girl and guy.) In fact, in spite of all my ranting about the less stellar aspects of the book, I might well read the sequel if I come across it, to see whether good sex and love prevail at last. At least it’s not called The Burgeoning Flower Stalk of Osiris.
This book was a challenge, to say the least. I try to assess erotica according to how successfully it would appeal to its intended readership, but The Raptures of Time is such a tangle of genres that it was hard to get a handle on just who that readership might be. The science fictional element of a time loop with some vague connection to long-gone aliens doesn’t have enough consistency for serious science fiction fans, and those whose main interest is gay anal sex may appreciate the variations made possible in an alternate world, but get impatient with trying to follow the twists and turns and gaps in the plot.
Still, the book has a certain elusive charm to it, especially in the earlier parts, and eventually it dawned on me that the right mindset for appreciating it is very similar to the suspension of disbelief that makes (or made—does anyone read Edgar Rice Burroughs these days?) The Land That Time Forgot a fun read. Don’t try to make sense of it; just go with the flow (and, in this case, the occasional blow.) So what if a vicious predator in a hundred-and-thirty degree jungle setting has white fur? Why fur? And why on earth white? Never mind. Just tap into your inner adolescent and enjoy the ride, and be happy that these days you can get fantasies of endless buttbanging and addictive semen and rectal orgasms along with your adventure story.
The world-building is based around gay sex being the central focus of the various cultures encountered, often as a type of religious ritual. The first couple of tribes encountered are described in detail with some plausibility; male-on-male (and male-in-male) sex makes sense as a means of limiting population in a hunter-gatherer society where nature supplies enough food for limited numbers, and there’s no need for agricultural laborers. But as the book goes on, there seems to be less and less attempt to make sense of the world, and in the scenes set in the future, the major difference depicted is just the great advance in underpants technology.
As far as the sex scenes go, you do certainly get plenty of buttbanging for your buck. You get creativity too, to the point where you might wish the author weren’t trying quite so hard. A reader whose blood has been diverted from the brain by the exceedingly (and sometimes impossibly) hot sex may well not care what happens in the intervals in between, but as the story goes from culture to culture in this alternate world (or worlds) it gets more and more likely that some of the details will exceed your squick-out tolerance.
My favorite aspects of the book involved the occasional sly commentary on politics and religion. The use of “Raptures” in the title (and frequently in the sex scenes) was clearly a dig at the current “Rapture” cult, and my one laugh-out-loud moment came when the main character wonders whether, if he ever gets home again, he’ll be able to register as a Republican. “After sucking cocks and taking them up my ass, I might have to register as a Democrat.”
All in all, if you think your horny inner adolescent would enjoy a science fictional adventure story filled to bursting with gay sex, you could do worse than reading The Raptures of Time. Just go with the sensuality and don’t try to make much sense of the plot.
I enjoyed reading The Seductress, and if that surprised me, it says a good deal about my own jaded expectations as a reviewer. Mea culpa. I do try to review books in terms of their intended audience, whether they appeal to me or not, but this time it was no stretch. Vivianne LaFay writes with a freshness and attention to historical and artistic (as well as anatomical) detail. What could have been just another formulaic travel framework to support sex scene after sex scene becomes a journey with as much fun to it as heat, and the colorful “Gay Nineties” era in all its contrasting licentiousness and repression makes a perfect setting.
Emma, Lady Longmore, has been happily married for a year or so to a much older man who has taught her a great deal about sex, and has encouraged her to explore his epicurean library of literature on that subject. She is, of course, exceedingly beautiful, but she’s also intelligent, well educated, clear-headed, and able to be self-sufficient, which turns out to be a very good thing when the family doctor determines that she is unable to bear a child. Her husband, although he’s been very fond of her, decides an heir for his estate is more important than a beautiful, intelligent wife, and pressures the doctor to declare that their marriage was never consummated and can be annulled.
Emma is saddened, but adjusts, and, after agreeing to depart without making a fuss as long as her ex-husband will support her financially for a while, she begins to realize the benefits of her situation. She does indeed become a seductress, rationalizing her first adventure as doing a favor for a young cousin whose clergyman fiancee clearly needs some education in matters of the matrimonial bed. When her travels present her with more occasions to provide such instruction she comes to truly believe that teaching young men (and eventually a few young women) what they need to know to be skilled lovers is her true calling, and a noble one.
None of this sounds especially original, but Emma goes about her crusade with compassion as well as passion, and humor as well as explicit eroticism. In Paris she educates a young Englishman just out of boarding school who has never seen a naked woman before.
“I would never have dreamed that female anatomy was so... complicated,” he declared. “When fellows talked of a woman's thingummy I imagined a front passage like the back passage, and that was all.”
This attitude is echoed some time later by a student in an elite Swiss girls’ school where Emma spends a short time teaching etiquette of various sorts.
“I had no notion that a woman's parts were so complex,” Faith declared, in wonder. “I thought we just had a hole down there.”
“So did I,” confessed Lotte. “Now, when I am alone I shall take my hand mirror and look at myself down below.”
They could scarcely have a better instructor than Emma Longmore.
There are, of course, many scenes of more sophisticated and dramatic eroticism, including visits to notorious haunts of the demi-monde such as The Jockey Club in Florence, and what Lily, a high-class courtesan Emma meets in Paris, refers to as “‘Parisian low-life in all its dubious glory.'” The descriptions of the arts and free-ranging culture in the 90’s may be my favorite aspects of the book, with references to Toulouse Lautrec and Oscar Wilde, Gustave Moreau and Nelly Melba, Art Nouveau décor and Charles Worth fashions, and many other icons of the times that convinced me that the author did her research well. I was especially delighted when Lily mentioned a bar called ‘A La Souris’ which is frequented by those ladies which our sainted Queen Victoria believed could not exist, leading Emma to say, after a moment of puzzlement, “Oh! You mean women of the Sapphic persuasion!”
LaFay makes Emma a heroine to inspire affection as well as lust, so when the requisite dark, mysterious stranger appears to be stalking her from city to city and attempting to win her over, while she reacts with a combination of unwilling attraction and repulsion, I hoped against hope that her self-possession and independence would not be diminished by the inevitable romance.
I needn’t have worried. We proceed to get plenty of mature, experienced sex, quirky, varied, occasionally innovative, and agreeably over-the-top. We also get a satisfying romance on Emma’s own terms, although the revelation of her lover’s deep dark secret falls rather flat, but the book already had me in a good mood, so I forgave that.
I was in such a good mood, in fact, that I forgave some stumbles in editing toward the end, as when one minor character is repeatedly called by two different names with no apparent reason other than the author’s failure to change all the occurrences when she changed her mind, or the blank left which she must have meant to go back and fill in when she decided which term for “penis” to use this time. I even managed not to wince too much at the very frequent uses of “she smiled” as a speech tag. Yes, I know, it’s very common usage these days, but just try envisioning actually forming words while you’re smiling. Not a pretty picture on the whole.
LaFay has written two sequels to The Seductress: The Mistress and The Actress. On the basis of this very entertaining book, I’d say those should be worth checking out as well.
A multitude of sins can be often be forgiven if the sinfully sexy scenes outweigh the “what the fuck!” moments. With Voyeur, outrageously lax editing threw me out of the story so often, just when I’d begun to feel, well, involved, that “wtf” was tipping the balance through much of the book.
As a writer and editor of erotica myself, I admit that I have certain biases. Many readers would glide right over egregious spell-check fails such as “her body froze to a statute-like state,” or an “opaque glass participation that divided the front and back of the vehicle,” or even the repeated use of “pre-empted” when “realized” or “predicted” were what was meant. But other readers might well have been distracted by these and many similar instances. What was the publisher thinking? Or the editors? Did the author get to review the final version?
I realize that Voyeur is intended to appeal to readers who like to be immersed in a world of non-stop BDSM sex as they imagine that world to be. On those terms, it certainly delivers. People with real experience in BDSM circles would be spluttering with criticism, but they’d be looking elsewhere for their reading pleasure in any case. I’ve seen my share of dungeons and play parties, charismatic tops and bottoms deep in sub space, and the real BDSM scene is far from anything depicted here. But most erotica has a certain gilding of fantasy, and there’s nothing wrong with writing for those who like it laid on with a heavy brush.
Still, some might prefer prose with a bit more finesse. Many of the sentences here are so long and convoluted that they have the effect of slowing the action. And, while avoiding repetition of words is a worthy aim, describing breasts, for instance, as “tits,” “teats,” and “globes” all in the same paragraph is overdoing things (especially since tits and teats are essentially the same term.) Speaking of terminology, for a character to refer to her own breasts in conversation as “globes” does nothing to enhance her believability. Readers more concerned with being swept up in what’s being done to certain body parts than with what they’re called won’t quibble about points like this, though, and the author does a creditable job in the sweeping-up department.
Now that I’ve got some of the editorial pickiness out of my system, I’ll move on to the more important matter of content. The characters and general structure of the story are familiar to readers of kinky erotica, with a few moderate variations. Here we have two submissive women with one dominant man who demands obedience, but prefers to record the women having sex with each other or with other men and women. He orchestrates scenes rather than participating personally, and gets his own kicks later while watching these filmed encounters in private.
Voyeurism can be an intensely erotic theme, especially combined, as here, with an undercurrent of the struggle for self-control by one who controls others. The parallel of a dominant who is as bound by his obsession as the submissives are by their mechanical bonds is intriguing, although I’m not sure it’s intended. Still, I found Mark, the voyeur, unappealing. Others’ mileage may, of course, vary. The two women were easier to like, even though it took quite a while for their individual personalities to be at all clear, and none of the characters were developed in much depth.
The kinky sex is virtually non-stop, often repetitive, and generally predictable, which may well be pluses for devotees of this sub-genre. The characters themselves acknowledge these points; one remarks, recounting an intense multi-player scene apparently meant to be an ordeal for her, “It was all a bit obvious, really; candles, food and stuff.” The concept of a series of challenges, each building stamina for the next, gives a structure to the story, and near the end some actual plot elements are revealed and the voyeur Mark is shown to have a degree of humanity. While none of the details were particularly startling, I have to admit that as events unfolded toward the end I was curious enough about what would happen next that I was caught up in the flow, without paying as much attention to editing faults or clichéd prose. I even had a sense that the author was caught up in it, too, and writing a bit more smoothly than in the beginning. There were some holes in the plot, such as it was, but here again readers in the game for the sex will probably not care, even if they notice.
All in all, the pluses didn’t outweigh the WTF moments for me, but they occasionally came close, and for someone not burdened with an editorial instinct they might come even closer.
If you’ve already read the first two novels in KD Grace’s The Mount series, you probably don’t need to read this review, and have most likely already devoured this novel. I haven’t read them, and I even skipped the introduction section of the book out of a desire to let the main text reveal itself to me with no preconceptions except that of knowing KD Grace to be a first-rate erotica writer, so bear in mind that my early knee-jerk reactions were based on ignorance of the bigger picture. Still, there’s something to be said for knee-jerk reactions, so I’ll take you on this ride more or less the way I experienced it.
My first reaction: An olfactory superpower that lets her even catch emotions and hidden desires? Hmm. Well, okay, could be interesting, if done well. My second: Okay, with descriptions like, “There was no denying it was the primal smell of male. It was the smell of desert lightning, of sage and juniper and thick, dark night,” it’s being done well. In fact the most memorable parts of the book for me were the way the central character Liza describes what she smells. An angry stranger smells like “mustard and a wet dog.” Nervousness has a citric tang. Hot metal goes with a predatory nature. Curiosity is a blend of cinnamon and nutmeg, while coriander signals skepticism. Cinnamon and vanilla figure strongly in sexual situations, along with various metallic tones, and so do honey and butter and tidepools and the ozone produced by lightning. Once in a while it occurred to me that in my experience some of the scents of human sensuality can’t really be compared to anything besides themselves, but what the heck, this is fiction, and if we readers can believe in the incredible sexual stamina of the characters, we don’t need to quibble about what’s possible and what isn’t.
To say that sexual situations and their panoply of aromas figure prominently here would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Even apart from the sniff-fest aspects, the sex is varied, intense, and written with skill and style. The story’s plot line involves an elite perfume company in Rome creating an irresistible scent based on what Liza tells them about what she smells during sex, her own and that of others she monitors, so sex in all its various couplings and contortions isn’t just recreation, it’s research.
My third knee-jerk reaction: Just when I was getting really engrossed in the story, an apparently what-the-fuck ploy made me roll my eyes. Liza, arriving as a journalist writing a story about the perfume company, is sent to the depths of their building into the lair of the security officer, Fidelia, an over-the-top lesbian dominatrix (or at least she role-plays the part.) Somewhat later, cryptic references to The Mount and Fidelia made me roll my eyes—surely the story didn’t require a stereotypical secret sex club! If I had read the introduction, however, I’d have realized that The Mount was the central feature binding together a series of novels, and, as it turned out, was of importance well beyond its convenience for the aforementioned research.
The plot also involves a business rival’s attempts to destroy the perfume company and incriminate Liza, a story line not by any means as interesting as the sexual and romantic and olfactory elements, or the lovely and striking descriptions of the beauties of Rome itself, but it does provide dramatic tension at almost the end. The very end, of course, is reserved for a tour-de-force of celebratory sex and scent that builds and then satisfies all the tension a reader could hope for. This reader, in fact, is downright envious of all the research the author must have done for such a scene. No fair skipping to it, though—it’s worth the wait.
When Jove Belle’s collection of three erotic novellas turned out to be my assignment for this month’s review, I was especially pleased because the final story in the book, “Hollis,” is an expansion of a short story originally published in one of my own anthologies. Those characters were clearly etched into my memory, and I looked forward to spending more time with them. I clung to my principles of reviewing, and resisted reading that piece first, since the order of stories in a collection is an important aspect of the whole, and a fair assessment of a book takes into account the way the parts work together.
The bit of text on the cover, cleverly positioned in the curving space between a pair of stiletto-heeled shoes, gives the reader a clue as to what the book offers: “Sometimes sex is the only way to say ‘I love you.’” This is both promise and warning. Many devotees of lesbian romance would rather not get too far into erotica, and some readers of erotica would prefer not to have the sex get too diluted by romance. Like it or not, this book intends to offer both, and just how far the author intends to go is made clear by the pair of steely handcuffs encircling those lipstick-red stilettos.
This is truth in advertising. Each of the novellas delivers on both counts, and if I found the erotic aspects more memorable than the romantic parts, that says more about me than about the writing. If I found one of the three pieces more compelling than the other two, that again is a matter of taste. Overall I was most impressed by the erotic passages, done with a sure hand and a pacing slow where it needed to be savored, accelerating when it demanded resolution.
The first novella, “Raw Silk,” is a good choice for the lead-off position because it tackles a tricky subject in romance, that of threesomes, while emphasizing the deep bond between two committed partners. I was at first put off by the office setting, even though I know that office sex is a popular sub-genre. I’ve spent a considerable lifetime avoiding that milieu, and the initial conference-room meeting complete with the sexy new female client making moves on the company’s only (apparently) lesbian employee left me cold. As far as I could tell there was no mention of what the company did or what the client wanted besides sex. But the real story was the central character June’s resolve to stay faithful to her wife, Ashlyn, no matter how tempted she was, and her wife’s reaction to the situation. Ashlyn, a quirky artist working from home, becomes the most interesting character, and she won me over so that by the end I really liked this story.
The second novella, “On Her Knees,” also has a big-business ambiance, in this case a law firm, although more happens at the company’s social events than at the office. Abby is a “beard” for her closeted gay friend Gavin, who works where her nemesis (and crush) from high school Simone comes to work. Much misunderstanding and miscommunication ensues, and long-suppressed anger on both sides complicates matters. The set-up is, shall we say, predictable, but the writing is good, the dialogue sometimes witty, sometimes heartfelt, and the sex is very good indeed, with some original turns of phrase. This wasn’t my favorite piece in the book, and I’m glad it didn’t come first or last, but it could easily be just the thing to resonate with someone else.
Before I move on to the last story, I’ll take a minute to slip in a couple of complaints. These are matters of editing more than the writing as a whole. In the first two parts there seemed to me to be all too many confusing passages when it came to which “her” was doing or saying what to whom. It wasn’t so much that pronouns instead of names were used, as that when names were inserted it often wasn’t in the most effective places, and sometimes even easier fixes could have been used. The whole same-sex pronoun problem is magnified, of course, when a threesome is involved, but I noticed it through out these first two pieces. I also saw a hint that “Raw Silk” was originally written in first person rather than third, since a copy editor forgot to change “between us” to “between them” (and right in the middle of a long sex scene—maybe she was too distracted.) To my mind first person would have worked better all round, but here I have to admit that my own editorial preferences are just that, my own, and shouldn’t influence my reviews too much.
So now I get to move on to “Hollis,” which is every bit as good as I remembered, and even better with the expansion into a novella. Both of the central characters are strong women, in their forties, experienced in their work and in the BDSM scene. Jude, the one whose thoughts we get to follow, is a police Detective taking an FBI course in terrorist control as a change of pace from some soul-searing criminal cases. Hollis is the kick-ass FBI instructor. They strike adversarial sparks right away, since Jude has no hesitation in contradicting Hollis on matters she herself knows more about from experience, but they also recognize something in each other that can feed a hotter fire. When Hollis whispers in her ear, “I want you in my office…After class,” Jude’s unspoken reaction is, “Holy Fuck. She’d been summoned straight to hell…and she couldn’t wait to get there.”
The writing is skillful, tight, clear, evocative. Details about Jude’s past and its influence on her character are presented succinctly and with maximum impact. While Hollis scans Jude’s dossier and notes the times she’s been decorated for bravery, and the times she’s been shot, Jude thinks about her second promotion after she’d brought in a serial rapist, and why she then asked for assignment to Homicide, where at least “the victims didn’t cry when she found them.” Hollis says, “Everything in here reads like a chief’s wet dream…So why are you here being such a pain in the ass for me?” That they’re each other’s wet dreams doesn’t need to be said. That they can become something more to each other develops more slowly, as it should. An excellent novella, worth the price of the book, and anyone who isn’t an obsessive editor and office-phobe like me will probably enjoy the other two stories just as well.
In Untouched, Annabeth Leong may have written the hottest book you’ve ever read, with the height of sexual tension, at least for those who can appreciate the pleasures of the female body being vividly presented by a female viewpoint. There are male-centered pleasures, too, but the central character Celia is always the one who observes, describes, and usually inspires the hot and heavy scenes that make up pretty much the whole book. Celia is always in control of the narrative, even though much of the story is driven by her feelings of self-doubt and lack of control.
As the title indicates, touch is at the core of the story. Celia can’t bear to be touched, except by herself, even though she’s intensely turned on by being watched as she expertly and creatively pleasures herself. Her panic at the thought of being touched by any living thing, even grass, might be thought of as pathological, but as the story progresses the central point becomes her passionate desire to be accepted just as she is, to be admired and desired for what she can offer, without a lover pressing her for more or being disappointed by what she can’t offer.
A woman in a nearly constant state of arousal could seem like a ploy in a cheap porn film. Celia goes about, even at work, with sex toys imbedded where they’ll provide the most stimulation, and she allows (with insincere protests) a former and quite naturally frustrated lover to post photos online of her in every possible phase of masturbation. But there’s a great deal more than that going on in this book. Celia has been shamed and hurt and made to feel guilty and worthless because of her inability to be “normal,” and her journey to accept herself as well as to find acceptance is the central theme of the story.
Celia craves love and connection on her own terms, and finds these things to some extent with Eli, who responds to her detailed classified ad. But that’s only the beginning. With Eli, Celia gains insights, and a degree of confidence, and eventually a sense of connection so close to actual touching that she can sense the heat of the body that she can’t quite touch.
Two scenes at private sex parties are high points, first when Celia is masturbating with an audience and Eli, being fucked by several women at once, is looking only at Celia. “There was no doubt in Celia’s mind that she and Eli were connected. They were fucking each other right now, even if most people wouldn’t have realized that. It was obvious to her in every line of his face, in the way he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She knew that her gaze made this moment possible for him, just as his did for her.”
At the second party, Celia gives such a bravura solo performance that her voyeurs are awestruck, and women beg her to tell them how she achieves such stupendous orgasms. Her confidence grows, and in another encounter, when she and Eli pick up an appealing woman in a bar and Celia gets to direct the other two through a night of steamy sex, she realizes the powerful effect of being in control. All these things bring her closer to being able to overcome her fears, but they don’t change her deep-rooted need to be accepted for the way she is without any expectation of change.
Celia is appealing enough that I rooted for her to get exactly what she wanted, even while I couldn’t suppress a feeling that it wouldn’t really be good for her. Her story is pretty clearly intended to be symbolic of anyone’s divergence from the norms enforced by our culture, the pain they feel at being despised, and their longing to be able to go their own way without pressure to change.
Another character weaves in and out of the story, Marie, Celia’s former almost-lover. Near the beginning she appears to play the role of the villain, and later developments confuse the issue. Toward the end an extended dialog of what could be termed “processing” slows the flow of the narrative, in contrast to the otherwise well-written prose, but that may just be a matter of my own perception.All this doesn’t do justice to the complexity of Untouched, so you’ll have to search out the subtler aspects for yourself, but you can be sure that the explicit, inventive, no-holds-barred sex will make it a stimulating journey of discovery.
There are some books aimed at such a specific audience (though in this case quite a wide-spread one) that a warning may be in order. With Christopher Pierce’s Winner Takes All: Master/Slave Fantasies, pay attention to that subtitle, and to the small print at the top of the copyright page that says, “Winner Takes All is erotic fantasy not intended as a guide to real-life Master/slave relationships.”
At this point you’ll know whether the subject matter is up your alley, so to speak. If you want gay male Dominant/submissive scenarios populated by impossibly macho studs (and beautiful slaveboys) who could have stepped right out of the art of Tom of Finland, this is where you’ll find them. If your reading experience is enhanced by being told the height, weight, and general build of each character, as well as more personal measurements and details, you won’t be disappointed. And if you prefer your erotic literature to be gritty, visceral, over-the-top, and well-written as well, you won’t be disappointed on that score either.
The sixteen short stories here, and the first parts of the concluding novella, were all published previously in magazines that specialized in gay Master/slave porn, which is not to say that Pierce’s work is “merely” porn. An Editor’s Note here calls the writing “Value-Added Porn,” and “porn-plus,” both terms I rather like. He also tells us that the original stories were extensively revised to “take them up to the next level” for this collection.
I won’t speculate on which parts are enhancements, although my guess is that the emotional and psychological aspects of submission get more emphasis here. They don’t interrupt, or dilute the constant action, or take the reader as deeply into “sub-space” as they might, but most of the submissive characters get turned on by feeling that their only purpose is to give their Masters pleasure, that they themselves don’t matter at all, and that’s the way they want it. Hard as that mind-set may be to understand by those of us who don’t share it, some people I know well have described their feelings in just that way.
Pierce clearly knows just what he’s doing here, and just what readers he’s doing it for. Considering the tightly focused theme, the stories vary enough to keep up interest, and the author’s remarkable range of “dirty” words enables him to reel off strings of descriptive names for body parts and bodily fluids without seeming repetitious. The first-person submissive characters are not differentiated as much as the dominant men seen through their eyes, but for this kind of fiction that may be the norm, so that the reader can put himself more deeply into the scene. The sex and “punishment” are, of course, over-the-top, just what the reader needs to get the thrills without the actual bruises. It’s all fantasy to one degree or another, and in a few cases it’s fantasy-fantasy, like the faux-medieval setting of “The Executioner’s Boy” in which rape fantasies can be indulged with impunity. Actually, the term “rape” is used rather casually and loosely from time to time, which bothered me a bit, but it’s always from the viewpoint of a very willing “victim,” so I can accept it as just a trope of the wider “scene” mentality.
The final piece, a five-part novella that gives the collection its title of Winner Takes All, does, I think, achieve “the next level,” as the editor put it. The last two parts were written expressly for this book, and I assume the first three were re-written to make a convincing whole—convincing, at least, if you’ve already suspended any disbelief as to the physical improbabilities of most of the action. The length allows for even more sex and punishment, making room for both the expected moves and more inventive measures, while the relationship is developed on a slightly deeper level, and the point-of-view character is allowed to step outside his role-playing and see himself as a real person. In jerk-off fiction slaves have no rights, no opinions, no decision-making power, and no feelings, he muses, as he comes to terms with what he really wants.
M. Christian, whose opinion I respect, wrote the foreword for this book, worth reading in itself for his discussion of the erotic potential of power exchange, which is really at the core of the whole Master/slave dynamic. Christopher Pierce fleshes out the concept with no-holds-barred jerk-off fiction unashamed of its origins, and unashamed to be written with literary skill and style. If this is the sort of erotica/porn/porn-plus you’re looking for, you’ve found it here (and you know you’re not alone.) If it isn’t your cup of sweat and semen, well, you’ve been warned.
Wiseass surprised me. Usually I try to figure out the intended readership for a book, and do my best to assess it by that standard, but this time it wasn’t long before I was entirely seduced by the narrator and her distinctive voice.
The story is aimed toward aficionados of dubcon and noncon, subgenres of BDSM that have no particular appeal for me, although I understand how folks can enjoy them in a fictional context. (I don’t need to define dubcon and noncon for you, do I? No, of course not, but I’ll do it anyway, just in case. We’re talking about kinky sex and sadomasochism with dubious consent, and even downright nonconsensual torture.) C. W. Stetson starts right out by warning, “I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway: This is a work of fiction. Don’t try any of this at home. If you do, use a safe word.”
The narrator, Linda, doesn’t get to have a safe word. She isn’t a masochist, and she only consents to being a sex slave accidentally (by not reading the fine print in the contract for a sales job at a sex toy store,) and later under extreme duress as a means to survival. Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? But Linda herself isn’t grim, she’s smart, resourceful, witty, and, as a kid who grew up in a variety of foster homes, she knows all about survival. In fact she knows a great deal more about many things than is entirely believable, and the explanation (a foster parent who happened to store boxes and boxes of books in his barn) isn’t convincing. Still, as the disclaimer above points out, “This is a work of fiction.”
I kept jotting down notes about passages I found especially witty, or descriptive, or illuminating. Near the beginning, Linda tells us, “About eleven in the morning, a tall, elegant woman walks in like she owns the place. She’s between thirty and forty, wearing a loose grey silk dress that costs more than the car I can’t afford. She is seriously good-looking, although I don’t even really swing that way. NTTAWWT. That’s Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That, for all you non-internet-using readers.” Then near the end, after two members of the secluded estate’s security patrol make the huge mistake of trying to rob the owner, she echoes that early statement with, “Now, you legal sticklers out there might observe that I’m accessory to manslaughter, or at the least obstruction of justice, or I dunno, littering or something. Tell you what: take it up with the attorney general. He’ll be at her next party. Probably drunk and covered in whipped cream in a pile of strapping young men. NTTAWWT.” Of course by that time the relationship between the two main characters has reached the stage where Linda can figure on at least a 50/50 chance of getting away with the wiseass remarks she sometimes can’t resist making. She’s suffered a great deal, but it hasn’t broken her, or hardened her heart (though perhaps it should have.)
I don’t want to do too much quoting, or reveal too much of the plot. Yes, there is a plot of sorts, and more action than just bondage and punishment. There’s even character development, although nothing surprising for a story with the classic premise of a super-rich, super-powerful sadist amusing herself with an apparently naïve young woman who has no family or close friends to wonder what’s become of her. The girl’s wit, intelligence, courage and breadth of knowledge gradually make her captor see her as a real person rather than a pet to be viciously abused or coddled at will, and Linda herself, who knows all about Stockholm syndrome and succumbs to it with eyes wide open, drags the reader with her so that somewhere along the way I stopped hoping against hope that the abuser would come to the bad end she deserved for her unforgivable brutality, and realized that it was too late to resist finding her fascinating.
I was still amazed at how much I turned out to enjoy the story, not so much for the sex, of which there is more than enough, as for the characters and the writing. Whether readers who are seriously into dubcon and/or noncon sex and slavery will enjoy it, I really can’t tell. I knew at least one very-much-in-demand sadist quite well, but she was strictly into consensual bondage and beating, and only with submissives who truly got off on pain and humiliation. She also had no patience at all with wiseass remarks. If you share that mind set, you’ve been warned. If you just want a good, diverting story, well, if you can handle the harsh parts, this might be for you.
A story has to have something going for it when you’re truly engrossed even though you already know, if you have the slightest interest in history, how it comes out in the end. In the case of Wyatt: Doc Holliday’s Account of an Intimate Relationship by Dale Chase, it’s not just the premise that does it, even though a Doc Holliday/Wyatt Earp pairing is a blindingly obvious avenue for speculation. And it’s not the sex, even though you get such a bang for your buck in that department that you may be feeling pretty chafed in the saddle before you’re halfway through. It’s not even Chase’s mastery of the written word, although skilled writing is something I value highly, and in this case the language has just enough flavor of the historical time and place to feel authentic without being distracting.
What really drew me in, and kept me itching to get back to reading, was the finely drawn character of Doc Holliday. A man who knows he’ll die young of tuberculosis has a complex outlook on life, even more so when he lusts after other men when satisfaction must always be a matter of danger and secrecy--but not, for Doc, of shame. Wanting what he sees as “what all men want even if they’ll never admit it” bothers him no more than his notoriety as a gambler who can kill a man with no hesitation or compunction if his honesty is challenged and a gun is drawn.
The book is foremost, of course, a gritty Western seething with explicit erotica, and adhering to more historical fact than most since its protagonists are well-known figures in both history and mythology. There’s plenty of action and violence, and even more sex. Fair warning; the sex scenes are not for the fastidious. Doc Holliday was noted for being particular as to cleanliness and attire, and Wyatt Earp is generally shown as grimly upright and law-abiding, but their no-holds-barred encounters get as up and down and dirty as anything you’re likely to come across.
The relationship between Wyatt and Doc is one of mutual respect and, often, of mutual exasperation, Doc isn’t by any means submissive, but he is by choice a definite bottom, even though some of the positions they get up or down to are creative enough to be unclassifiable. The initial surge of attraction is purely sexual, but over the years it develops into something much deeper for both, though they express it differently, and we only have Doc’s thoughts on the matter.
Early on he reveals the beginnings of an emotional attachment, as when he says, after an exhaustive bout of sex, “I moved my arm the couple of inches between us, nudging him as I spoke. This small touch felt most good as it bore another kind of intimacy, and I found myself wanting all he had.” But Doc’s always careful not to be too explicit about tender feelings, both because he knows Wyatt has a hard time dealing with such things, and because he knows he won’t be around all that much longer due to his malady. He’s hungry for all he can snatch of life, for good or ill. In the midst of a much later encounter, Doc says, “As a person undoubtedly headed for hell, I nevertheless knew none but heaven at this juncture, for Wyatt and I were both descending from satisfaction while ascending toward a repeat. The only better place a man could find himself would be in the throes of climax.” And then, minutes later, “’Hell, Doc,’ Wyatt said as he pulled out and fell beside me. ‘We’re gonna kill each other,’ to which Doc replies, “Not a bad way to go.”
Through years of gunfights (the OK Corral episode was only one among many), reversals of fortune, tragic losses, and brutal vengeance, these two come to find in each other their truest homes, a term Doc uses often and Wyatt admits to. Their story would be well worth reading even if it were told in euphemistic terms of close comradeship, but in Dale Chase’s hands it goes far beyond an adventure tale to stake an unshakable claim on the deepest desires and rawest urges of two exceptional icons of the Old West—and on us lucky readers as well. Wyatt: Doc Holliday’s Account of an Intimate Relationship is definitely on my recommended list for those who appreciate such stories.