In Animal Attraction, editor Vincent Diamond offers stories about men brought together by animals. This is a great theme that the writers freely interpreted as best fit their talents. House pets aren’t the only animals to be found on those pages. From an elephant refuge in Thailand to a jaguar who might be a goddess to raptors, livestock, bears, and elk, there’s plenty of wildlife too.
Torquere is known for its authentic southwestern roots, and these show in many of the stories. The cowboys of BA Tortuga’s "Brahamas and Pitbulls," the Thoreau Scholor and Game and Fish warden in Elazarus Wills’ "A Hound, a Bay Horse, and a Turtledove," and the photographer and ecologist in Sarah Black’s very good "White Mountain" are all part of the modern world while still holding on to the admirable code of the historic West.
Kiernan Kelly’s "Chasing Sampson" uses the mercurial nature of house cats to great effect. Anyone who has ever had a cat knows the frustration of searching the neighborhood for a wayward cat who would never deign to come to the call of, “Here, kitty, kitty.” Luckily for Keene Gray, someone else answers the summons, and he looks so damn good in that uniform.
"Horseplay," by Sean Micheal isn’t exactly what you’d think. This isn’t randy college boys playing around. Micah owns a riding stable and Byron brings patients there for therapy. They’ve been eyeing each other for a year, neither making a move. Once they make the move though, things get hot and serious fast.
In several of these stories, dogs help owners connect. A therapy dog in J. Rocci’s "Puppy Tax" attracts a cute doctor to the owner of a doggy day care center. In Neil Plakcy’s "Canine Connection," the dogs mirror their owner’s personalities. A rather uptight Yorkie takes a while to warm up to a fun loving Golden Retriever. The dog’s pet parents get along a lot better until the dogs, and their differing styles, almost tear them apart. After a little break, they all decide that a little give and take is worth it.
I’ll admit that part of my bias for "Gerbil Falls in Love" by Dianne Fox is the title, but I also loved that the hamster’s life and the narrator’s mirrored each others. Both had been solitary for too long; both took some time to adjust to a new companion. While I’m all for a rush of passion, it was a nice change of pace to read about guys who dated a bit before getting into bed. Once they did though, things heated right up.
While several stories in this anthology touch on the emotional healing pets can bring, "What We Leave Behind" by Shanna Germain is absolutely stunning. Not only does she show the healing power of pets, but also sex. It is beautiful and sad and hopeful – a difficult combination to deliver, but Ms. Germain deftly crafted a winner.
This anthology was a pleasure to read. Vincent Diamond did a great job picking stories with a range of styles and emotions that will appeal to many readers, and overall the stories are well written. Recommended read.
Polly Frost’s Deep Inside: Extreme Erotic Fantasies engages my attention in a way that is very unusual for the erotic genre. Fiction of any merit engages the reader, which is I think, why we read in the first place. Some authors take us into a different state of mind that is alternately exhilarating or dreamlike. Still others use the metaphorical nature of fiction to comment on the world we experience from day to day. A few can do both and Ms. Frost is one of them. Her stories are funny, clever, dark and often very disturbing.
Most erotica struggles to be genuine fiction very imperfectly because the author is using the story to get back to the subject of sex. Much of the stuff is redundant bilge in which we are invited to revisit the author’s obsessions through their grimly tireless lack of talent. The problem is not the sex, but that sex in itself is not inherently interesting as a mechanical catalogue of things done to and around various orifices. Sex by its very nature, comes from and leads to other things.
There is plenty of sex in Ms. Frost’s collection of stories, which runs the gamut of extremity from the ironic to the surreal. Sometimes it could be said that Ms. Frost writes one sexual stunt too many as opposed to making a few of them really shine. Men play a secondary role in these stories as does the penis. Dildos abound and some even have magical, very dangerous powers. Really hot sex here is between women who lick suck, spank and goose each other with relentless energy.
When she gets it right, her eroto-gymnastics are very sexy and imaginative. It does indeed leap off the edge of reality into the supernatural, but its sources are always from deep inside (as the title would suggest) the sexual wellsprings that make us human. Her first story, “The Threshold” gives us the erotic worldview of catholic schoolgirls. Schoolgirls are indeed the stuff of a long tradition of lurid fantasy in erotica.
It is almost a dismal cliché that the very school uniform that seeks to hide their sexual energy re-enforces its presence in the mind of the reader as well as the seedy, tweedy voyeur who is the customary protagonist. Frost, however, does not make her girls the object of sexual scrutiny. There is no aging voyeur. We are strictly in the world of teenage girls.
Frost allows her teenage dollies to use their allure as a means to their own satisfaction and near destruction. They are no more innocent than the old roué who usually appears in such fiction. We see the unvarnished sexual hunger, with its attendant adolescent ignorance, of teenage girls. They are cute girls, and they know it. Most of their energy, however, is strangely aimed at each other in a sort of savage sexual competition.
They are not romanticized. They are also not 50s teenage sluts. They are no nicer than they need to be to survive. They are often selfish and short-sighted like everyone else. Most of all, they are sexually curious, competitive, and as ripe as they will ever be. That is what makes them behave like vampires toward each other. It is also what allows them to deal with a real vampire who walks among them. They are Buffy without the Orange County sheen and the wisecracks.
A good part of "The Threshold" is positioned in the inner sanctum of the girl’s bathroom at the school. Frost does not serve up the usual hand-rubbing about the mysterious things girls “do in there.” Instead it becomes a place to strategize and compare notes in the search for satisfaction, whatever that may be, from the right lip gloss, to the ripest act of cannibalism. Now and then we get some maidenly masturbation, but it is in no way presented as anything other than getting off in a stall in a john.
Ms. Frost’s stories may not last beyond this era, but they speak to it uniquely well. Her characters are products of the arbitrary self-esteem movement. They have been encouraged to do what makes them feel good and to feel good about themselves. They speak and think in the half-formed idiom of a generation for whom part of the thought is enough. Unlike most authors, she does not treat them as not only vapid and selfish, but also as the ironic counter-result of exactly what their parents intended. They feel good, so why fight it? What is more they know it.
In "The Dominatrix Has a Career Crisis" we are presented with a young Ivy League grad who thought it would be chic to have a meteoric career as a woman who abuses those who worship her. After all, she has grown up abusing her dishrag of a mother who seems to yearn for ever more air-headed sadism. We are both horrified and amused to learn that Mom wants Katie (her daughter the domme) to, “move back home” when Katie is suspended for tardiness and sloppy work at her dungeon.
In truth, Katie knows there is something out of joint. Even as she surrounds herself with all her childhood medals, ribbons and awards, she knows there is a void in her being. She is as empty as her accolades since every kid in the class got the same awards to reduce their anxiety about being a loser. Is Katie a loser? Yes and no. She is so lazy that she cannot get to the dungeon on time even under threat of dismissal. She cannot deal with pressure to such an extent that she cannot give a good, hard, efficient beating to one of her gen-X female clients who works in the financial industry and is on a tight schedule. Is Katie simply a bum from the suburbs? It’s easy to say, “Yes!”, but frankly, no.
Katie is a perfectly awful person but so what? What she has going for her is that she understands that she is a walking set of mindless contradictions. She goes on a sort of eroto-rampage and does indeed wind up moving home where she temporarily pursues her career in sadism as a receptionist in a pilates parlor. Meanwhile she has decided to go to law school after which she can abuse people at her leisure and get well paid for it. As such, her gender and her skills at torture, may help her make partner all the sooner.
What is so appealing about all this is that Ms Frost is perfectly serious about her supernatural sex. These people are all so dreadful even they don’t know how awful they are, but the universe does. Her narrative context makes the stories truly funny, erotic and frightening. So much of sex takes the form of casual afterthoughts, deeper impulses that we could never admit except in the heat of passion. Yet they reveal so much about us.
The world of Ms Frost’s stories is one of seething chaos that bubbles beneath a Formica surface that is willfully and tiresomely humdrum. Her sense of the “She” pokes holes like a naughty teenager in that surface just to see how we will react, but it is not an exercise in vacant self-indulgence. Ms. Frost is an impudent eroto-anarchist in the grand tradition of American fiction that does not so much support anarchy as it accepts it as a fact of American life. She has not quite come to terms with that paradox. She has not learned the lessons of the master, Elmore Leonard, that one does not tsk and cluck over anarchy, you simply learn to use it. Thus she seems to be shaking a moral finger at us long after she has gone too far as an author to assume some sort of higher moral ground.
Her heroines are often bratty and self-serving, but they are neither saved nor corrected from that condition by some lover with hard thighs. They are often irritated and confused by themselves. They know they are hot stuff. They know how to get what they think they want, but none of it fits together when they get it. They may not have learned how to reflect and organize their thoughts, but they know that just scoring in some vague amorphous game is not enough. On the other hand, however dissatisfied they may be with the world, they know that it is a mess and that’s the way it is. Thus, whatever else, they are not suckers.
Ms. Frost is not the stylist she may one day become. She has not really found her own voice as yet as a writer. On the other hand, she has a truly remarkable ability to hear and create hyperbolic mimicry of the idiot idioms of our time. Whether it is the self-esteemers pushing vacant joy, or the tinsel thin aspirations of the latest Hollywood actress as in "Playing Karen Devere," Ms. Frost is a mistress of irony. She captures each crank pop idiom she tackles, from sci-fi to witchcraft to erotica with delicacy and surgical regard. She then uses plot to carry her stories one step further than the reader expects turning them into cautionary tales. In that sense she reminds one of Rod Serling at his best.
In the introduction to this book, Alison Tyler says, “I don’t want nice and clean. I don’t want good and kind. I want hot and fast. Dark and dirty. Basically, I want hardcore.”
It’s a sentiment I’ve echoed myself, although it’s seldom a successful way to start job interviews.
H is for Hardcore is the latest anthology in Alison Tyler’s erotic alphabet. It might be worth mentioning here that H is also for HORNY and HARD-ON. H is also for HOT, HOTTER and HOTTEST. This collection of twelve short stories comes from a pantheon of erotic authors who have gleefully produced fiction that meets Ms Tyler’s original remit. This is hardcore at its horniest.
Mathilde Madden, Gwen Masters and Radclyffe. John A Burks Jr, Jean Roberta and Sophie Mouette. Chris Costello, Rakelle Valencia and Shane Allison. Teresa Noelle Roberts, Michael Hemingson and the inimitable Ms Tyler herself. The combined talents of these authors have been used to produce an anthology that is graphic and gratuitous: sordid, sexy and splendid. The content is extremely hot and exceptionally fast. The stories are wonderfully dark and deliciously dirty. The anthology is, in a word: hardcore.
Hardcore is a peculiar word to define. One person’s definition of hardcore is another person’s idea of tame. Or another person’s version of too extreme. To illustrate this point, I was recently eavesdropping on two friends who were discussing hardcore. One friend claimed she liked some hardcore activities, and these included using the F-word – although she drew the line at the C-word. The other friend said that no cunt had ever told her what the C-word was, and her definition of hardcore started with rusty barbed wire and at least four pairs of nipple clamps and it invariably ended with a scream.
Yet this collection of shorts manages to consistently deliver fiction that can only be described by that single word: hardcore.
Mathilde Madden opens the collection with a first person narrative of bondage and teasing to outrageous excess. Gwen Masters follows with a torrid tale that plays with the power balance between a protector and the protected. Radclyffe then takes the reader into the darkened corners of a BDSM world and blends male terminology with female anatomy in a disconcerting meld of the boldest and most brutal sexuality.
John A Burks Jr. has written a satisfying story that introduces the reader to a powerful man who, at the beginning of the narrative, can best be described as “anal.” Jean Roberta, always a pleasure to read, stuffs her tongue in her cheek as her characters mix role-playing with bondage. Sophie Mouette takes bondage to the next level as her characters are bound together in an inevitable climax.
These are forceful stories that evoke passion with a capital P. Every one of them is hauntingly hardcore. Each could be adequately described as hotter than hot.
Chris Costello tells a tale of girl meets girl, but with a wealth of kinky twists to keep the reader riveted. Rakelle Valencia’s characters rope and ride an unsuspecting rancher. Shane Allison gives us a homoerotic taste of full-on, fantastic foot fetish.
All of these stories are written by authors who know how to excite. The sex scenes are gloriously graphic. The erotic content is constant and consistent in its strength.
Teresa Noelle Roberts writes about a woman with a passion for knives. This rarely written kink is perfectly exploited in "On a Knife Edge" and, after the tour de force of the anthology’s previous stories, manages to introduce the reader to a delicious and deviant new delight. Michael Hemmingson’s, "The End of Celibacy," presents a girl who has been looking for love in all the wrong places. The stilted dialogue between the characters perfectly matches their stilted relationship. The delicious twist to this story is wicked, wild and wonderful. Alison Tyler’s "Ashes and Diamonds," raw passion embodied in three short but intense pages, concludes this collection in a powerful and satisfying climax.
H is for Hardcore is undoubtedly the strongest of Alison Tyler’s alphabet series to date. The focus is fixed firmly on erotic extremes. Ms Tyler asked for hot and fast. She asked for dark and dirty.
The result is the sensational H is for Hardcore.
The title of this three-story collection is defined by the author: "Hat trick: noun - the scoring of three goals in a single game by one player."
Despite the implication that these stories are sports-themed, they are not about athletic competition or experienced players. The theme of this collection is first-time sex. One character in each story has a new sexual experience, which is hotly anticipated, scary, surprising but thrilling.
All three stories include sex between females (in a strictly biological sense), and in each case, the attraction between characters is described as natural, wholesome, mutual, and not dependent on the presence of a man, even when a man is present. Although the author calls her husband her "muse," she defines her sexual orientation as "queer," and she approaches lesbian sex with confidence and respect.
In the first story, "Drain Cleaner," a young single woman who considers herself heterosexual is puzzled by the androgynous charisma of a friendly neighbor:
" . . .while growing up in a rural, mountainous town in West Virginia, or while attending community college near said rural town, I had never seen a woman who was so intent on looking like a boy. Even more puzzling was that she was attractive. She managed to be simultaneously attractive as masculine and feminine; her lively eyes as pretty as any woman's, her pale skin flawless over squared, handsome features, and her physique broad-shouldered, strong, and lean as any man. My curiosity let my eyes stray to her breasts, which were obviously rather small, and clearly not enhanced by the lines of the tight sports bra under her shirt. I honestly had no fucking clue."
The narrator's confusion is endearing, especially as she becomes increasingly aroused by her neighbor's appearance, skill, chivalry and unsubtle flirting. The narrator's hillbilly background seems intended to explain her innocence, but is the existence of lesbians in the world still a mystery to any college-educated young woman? While this story requires a certain suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, the dance of seduction between the characters progresses at a believable pace.
By the satisfying conclusion, the reader is hoping that these two women can overcome the credibility gap between them. Interestingly enough, the worldly-wise butch (who knows all about wine, among other things) is a border-hopping Canadian, in contrast to the sheltered femme from West Virginia.
The second story is named "Hockey Stick," but the sport of hockey is hardly relevant to the plot. The significance of the title is that the hunk of male beefcake who answers a call to be the male in a threesome has well-defined muscles, presumably from playing hockey, and is willing to model sports gear for women who have a fetish for male athletes. He is an obliging dude, but then he has the delightful chore of satisfying two women who contrast with each other in classic porn style. The narrator is a willowy brunette and her small but busty blonde girlfriend is still a virgin in the traditional sense: she has never had sex with a man.
The man in this story is not a stranger to the narrator, and this complication makes him seem especially sexy to her. In the best porn tradition, a situation that could give rise to ugly jealousy, rage or exploitation in real life provides all the characters with just enough frisson to guarantee a good time for all.
Sex is described in loving detail throughout the collection, but the sex scenes are especially important in "Hockey Stick." In this story, the author finds or invents a long list of synonyms for sex organs. Here the narrator describes her methods of warming up her blonde friend:
"My tongue slipped easily into her flooding snizz, and I lapped at her greedily, I made certain to flick her clitty with each stroke, and I could already hear her moans and squeals from above me."
Soon afterward, John (the male guest) gives the narrator the attention she wants. She enjoys "the thrusting of his uncovered, throbbing rod." Later in the same paragraph it becomes "his huge prick" and "John's cock." The narrator sucks and licks her friend's "wet mound" and "her button." Luckily, her "snizz" never appears again.
The clunkiest passages in these stories convey the consciousness of innocent characters convincingly, but a narrator with greater perspective would be able to describe the experiments of youth with more insight, or at least with more art. Several sentences contain unclear or misleading words (uncorrected typos?) and omissions, which interrupt the flow of the narrative.
The third story, "Lucky Boy," departs the furthest from the clichés of stroke-stories, and it impressed me the most. Alex, a young man (by his own definition) in his first year of university, wants to lose his virginity, but he also has a secret which he fears will drive away every potential date. The love and support of his parents feels to him like too much of a good thing. And of course, the Goth chick that he hopes to impress discovers his secret before he can work up the courage to tell her. The characters are stunningly believable, and the details (including the importance of vending-machine food in dorm life) are just right.
When three students in this story discuss sexuality, they sound appropriately self-conscious, but never sink to Politically Correct stiltedness. A young man tells his dorm-mates:
" . . .It's not for everyone, but gender-fucking is a great experiment. It teaches you a lot about society's problems with gender lines. I personally couldn't care less about them. I'm attracted to people for who they are, regardless of what's in their pants or up their skirt."
The Goth chick exclaims: "I really don't give two shits about a person's genitals, as long as they're intelligent, kind and hot really doesn't hurt, either."
A second male asks: "What about people who have visited both sides of the fence, but are truly only attracted to people of one gender or the other? Are we unenlightened? Is being a straight male too pedestrian?"
His companions tell him in unison, "Not at all!" The girl explains: "The key . . . is that you weren't afraid to try something out of the normal boundaries. Not everyone is bisexual, just like not everyone is gay or straight, but at least you know for sure what you do and don't like. That makes you highly enlightened in my book."
As in the utopian sexual fiction of Carol Queen, characters with different sexual tastes form solid friendships based on mutual respect. In this story, university really does seem like the place where seekers can gain enlightenment. This reviewer wishes that the narrator of "Drain Cleaner" had attended the same school as the characters of "Lucky Boy."
Unfortunately, the author does not seem to analyze her own writing persona as well as she teases out the emotional truth of each of her characters. Her implication that she (as well as each character) "scores" brilliantly in each of these stories shows an unattractive lack of modesty. In "About the Author," she is said to have "an odd, yet delightfully eclectic approach." Her approach to erotic fiction seems far from odd to me, since her plot premises (a young woman who assumes she is “normal” is shocked and turned on by the suave gallantry of an experienced lesbian, two horny girlfriends find a well-hung stud, a shy young man is seduced by a confident young woman who appears fragile) have all been used before. Other erotic writers have also shown themselves to be “delightfully eclectic,” or capable of describing more than one type of sexual connection.
The third-person author of the author’s bio also claims: “In her writing, A.J. Bray enjoys tackling every angle of sexuality, leaving no kinky stone unturned." I can think of several kinky stones (or sex toys, fetishes, personality types, historical periods, situations, plot twists and genres) that were left unturned in this collection, at least. But then, turning over every kinky stone in the road does not seem to me to be the main purpose of erotic fiction.
The appearance of a certain unspoiled innocence in the author as well as the characters seems to be her greatest strength, as well as theirs. Despite their resemblance to characters in older stroke-stories, these young adults are experiencing it all for the first time, in their own unique skins, and the author seduces us into caring about them. This reviewer hopes that she will gain more technical skill without losing the gifts she already has.
Zenthe is the Earth Mother, the supreme Goddess of fertility and desire. Zenthe is also the volcano that towers over the far-flung lands of Corsinium, from the lush fields of Margate to the desert frontiers at Damtown. The dark waters of Zenthe’s Mirror, the bottomless lake that half-fills the crater, reflect the gleaming spires and halls of her centuries-old temple perched along the volcano’s rim. Within the temple, High Priestess Adita, the latest ever-young incarnation of Zenthe, presides over orgiastic rituals of fleshy bliss and waits for the one true Lover who will claim her forever. Adita struggles against loneliness, resisting the despair that has been the downfall of so many of her predecessors. Meanwhile, the rising power of a violent, paternalistic faith threatens to subjugate and destroy the Goddess and her people.
In Woman of the Mountain, Angela Caperton has created a vividly sensual world maintained by an intriguing mythos. Woman of the Mountain is about religion and sex. It is also concerned with the feminine, nurturing principle, contrasted with the masculine instinct to conquer. As I am personally fascinated by the spiritual aspects of sex, I found Ms. Caperton’s thesis exciting. Unfortunately, she does not completely succeed in realizing the promise of her theme.
One problem (and I’m certain my readers will find this astonishing) is the fact that Woman of the Mountain includes too many sex scenes. Perhaps I should qualify this and say that the book contains too many scenes where the characters couple purely for immediate pleasure, without any deeper connection. In Zenthe’s world, sex should be a sacrament, but all too often, even among the folk of the temple, it seems to be no more than a recreation. Rarely is there a sense of reverence; a sense of communion in the flesh should sanctify Zenthe’s rites.
A second difficulty lies in the characters, who are generally too simple and one-sided to be realistic or to invite identification. Adita, in particular, seemed empty, a sketch of a woman who fills a necessary role in the plot but who never comes alive. Casmin, her loyal captain of the guard, has more depth, with his steadfast faith in the Goddess and his earthly but suppressed desire for Adita, but he is still the archetypal hero, with no flaws to make him real. The scheming, sexually opportunistic priestess Rivah was particularly disappointing. When we first meet her, she is an ambitious novice in Zenthe’s temple. There’s an almost childish glee in the manner with which she blackmails an older Priestess into granting her the boon of ordination. I was hoping that Rivah would prove to be a complex villain, or at least a powerful one. Ultimately, she turns out to be treacherous, but weak and uninteresting in her uninspired evil.
Perhaps the most successful character in this tale is Sul Tarkus, the prophet of the Father-God Kahmudj, leader of the hordes who lay siege to the holy mountain and the body of Adita. With his charisma and his fanatic certainty that he is the incarnation of his god, he is intensely believable (and indeed, familiar). When he finally stands face to face with Adita and is vanquished by his own doubts, the reader feels relief and joy, but also sympathy.
Woman of the Mountain is at its best in the scenes of high drama, when the mysteries of divine power are made manifest. When Sul Tarkus captures and opens the sacred floodgates on the River Sorrow, loosing the torrent to flow into the desert lands even as he dangles the sex-besotted Rivah above the abyss, I hardly dared to breath. I half-expected him to sacrifice her to his brutal god. I half-expected the power of Zenthe to rise in the traitorous priestess, calling her back to fulfill her long-ignored vows. When Sul Tarkus confronts Adita, alone at the pinnacle of Zenthe’s Needle, I knew that a miracle was imminent. And when the volcano/goddess belches lava and steam to fight off her attackers, I became a true believer.
All in all, I found Woman of the Mountain diverting but disappointing. The grand themes of sexual union as a sacrament, of devotion and sacrifice to a higher power, of love as a force transcending death and time, rise in the background, but they are obscured, like Zenthe’s face behind its seductive veil. I have the sense that Ms. Caperton wanted to write a different book, a book of erotic mysteries that celebrates the magic of the flesh. Of course, her audience may prefer the book that she actually produced, full of saucy wenches and lively, superficial rolls in the hay. As for me, I regret the loss of the vision that I sense behind this book, the hints of transcendence that are, for the most part, unrealized.