My knowledge of Japanese culture has never extended much beyond sushi, karaoke and bukake, and all three of those leave a fishy taste in my mouth. I suppose it’s my own fault for choosing to sing tracks from "The Little Mermaid" when I go to a local karaoke night.
In my youth I did once think of visiting Japan. I was going to go with a girlfriend but we eventually decided against the plan because she was a large lady. A very large lady. The main worry that stopped us from going was the fear that, as soon as her elephantine feet started clomping through central Tokyo, the Japanese authorities might mistake her for Godzilla and start shooting at her with tanks.
That relationship didn’t work out for three reasons. She kept saying I was insensitive to her weight issues and she claimed I never listened to what she was saying. I can’t remember if she told me the third reason.
But, I only mention these points to show that my knowledge of Japan had never stretched much further than bukake and Godzilla. (Please note that reference there was to Godzilla AND bukake as two separate events – not Godzilla performing or receiving bukake, which would be surreal at best and possibly a little disconcerting. Although it might suggest the terror in the actors’ eyes when they all screamed, “Godzilla is coming! Godzilla is coming!”)
However, Donna George Storey’s Amorous Woman has helped me bridge some of my ignorance of all things Eastern.
For those of you who follow erotic fiction, the name of Donna George Storey will already be familiar. Donna is a mistress in the art of the short story and has been in more anthologies than the word copyright. Donna’s shorts are renowned for being hot, exciting and invariably blend intelligent storytelling with sexually arousing subject matter. Amorous Woman is Donna’s first novel length exploration of erotic fiction.
And it’s a bloody good read.
For those of you who don’t know Donna, she is a talented American author who has always had a penchant for Japanese culture. This affection comes across powerfully in Amorous Woman, a story that has its roots passionately thrust into Japan’s civilised heritage. The amorous woman of the novel’s title is an inter-textual reference to Ihara Saikaku’s seventeenth century fantasies of a Japanese courtesan-turned-nun. Donna brings this story up to date with her protagonist (Lydia) who isn’t quite a courtesan but is a long way from being a nun.
The first thing that struck me about this book is the fact that the author is maddeningly clever. The eloquence of Donna’s writing matches the elegant style of Japanese culture (as it is probably perceived by those who aren’t boorish bukake/karaoke/Godzilla louts). As I mentioned before, I’ve previously encountered Donna’s work in her wonderful short stories. Amorous Woman is similarly presented in a series of short and manageable chapters which, despite their brevity, are each exciting, arousing and carry the narrative along with startling swiftness.
And it’s definitely a narrative worth pursuing. Lydia, teaches Japanese culture to American businessmen. Lydia knows her subject inside and out. And Lydia enjoys teaching and learning. The story begins when Lydia is indulging in a little tsukiai, the Japanese custom of bonding over drinks after work, with two of her American businessmen students. As she relates her intimate history to them, we get to learn about some of this remarkable heroine’s fantastic adventures.
The central theme of this Bildungsroman story is maturation and the passing of innocence to experience. Donna cleverly works this tale so we can see her heroine maturing, but we’re always wondering if she has finally grown up.
As I said before, Amorous Woman is beautifully executed. The text is accessible and easy to read, but it carefully mimics the ritualised politeness of so many familiar elements of Japanese culture. From the carefully worded section headers, ("A Dancing Girl of Easy Virtue," "A Monk’s Wife in a City of Worldly Temptations" and "Lusts of Learned Men" – to name three of my favourites) to the skilfully recreated scenes of passion (there are too many of these to name favourites) the inherent politeness of the Orient is effortlessly woven throughout the fabric of this enchanting story. The end result is as exquisitely economical with words as the most well-written haiku; as cultured and civilised as the most ritualised tea ceremony; and as satisfying as the most gifted geisha.
Lydia’s progression from naive student, to experienced sensei is carefully catalogued and, although Donna clearly knows her Japanese culture, there is never one place where she leaves the reader behind or patronises with her skilfully worded translation for an unfamiliar term.
If your knowledge of Japanese culture could do with a little stretching, or if you simply enjoy well-written erotica, you won’t go far wrong with meeting this “Amorous Woman.”
I am basically a kind person. I believe in the Golden Rule, or put another way, in karma. What goes around comes around. I’m convinced that simple courtesy could solve quite a few of the world’s problems. So, I hate to write a profoundly negative review. An author myself, I can vividly imagine how I’d feel if the tables were turned.
Unfortunately, having committed to reviewing Dragon Candy by Talia Skye, I have little choice.
To put it simply, Dragon Candy is the most poorly written book that I have read in at least five years. Ms. Skye’s frequent errors in sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary make me wonder whatever inspired her to turn her hand to writing. Her prose suffers from overuse of the passive voice, run-on sentences, participles without a subject, overblown description and incorrect word choices. Allow me to provide some examples.
“The two individuals became extremely agitated and the angry tones in their voices gave sudden cause for concern. Addressing them in the fragmented Japanese she had been encouraged to learn for business dealings, the conversation suddenly ended and the transmission was cut off at the source.” (page 10)
“The blank gaze of the beast was almost lost beneath a knotted frown and it snarled as she pawed vainly at the strangling grip. One hand let go and returned as a balled fist that sent knuckles dancing across her temple. The impact jerked her head aside and dazed her so severely that she could offer no resistance to its next vindictive action. With a whirling turn, the monster threw her against into the wall. A brittle crunch sounded and it was followed by a soft crumpling thump as Candice folded into a slack heap, her consciousness expelled by the collision.” (page 15)
“Candice bit her lip and held back a wanton cry. The feeling of him charging into her bound and owned body was surprisingly intense. When he nudged to her deepest recesses she broke into a quivering fit and gasped for breath. Her legs curled up and locked around him. Her thighs tightened in fits as he began to shift his hindquarters and thus commence a dilatory ravishment.” (page 42)
I wish I could say that these are extreme examples, but they represent only a few of the painfully contorted and obscure passages that I marked while reading.
Dragon Candy is billed as a BDSM novel, so I was hoping that the novel’s content would distract me from the terrible writing style. Alas, the book offers a not-very-original rehash of John Norman’s Gorean themes, mostly without the philosophy. Candice, a powerful and successful businesswoman, is swept by a mysterious vortex into a savage parallel world where she has value only as a slave and rather suddenly discovers that she is a submissive and masochist.
Ms. Skye spends considerable attention describing the restraints and bondage devices inflicted on her heroine. Unfortunately, her descriptions are so confusing and difficult to follow that in most cases I could not visualize the physical situations at all. My personal taste in BDSM runs more toward the psychological than the physical, but I realize that some people become highly aroused by descriptions of extreme physical abuse. Perhaps those readers would enjoy Dragon Candy – if they can follow what is going on.
There is one scene in this novel that, despite all odds, I found intriguing, even arousing. Candice (now known as Candy) has become a favored slave of the Kami, a society of sadistic half-gods. In an intense session with the Lady Uzume and her henchman, Candy finds herself so overwhelmed by masochistic desire that she begs her tormenters for more punishment. She experiences the ultimate satisfaction in pleasing her masters, by enduring ever more intense pain. The dynamic was sufficiently genuine to pull me into the scene, despite the writing.
Alas, this was an isolated experience. For the most part, I struggled to get through Dragon Candy. More than once I was tempted to simply toss the book in my wastebasket. However, I have decided to keep it, in order to remind me how much grammar and vocabulary and editing matter.
I think that Ms. Skye may have some original ideas and I suspect that she personally finds BDSM arousing, which is critical to getting readers aroused. As the book neared its conclusion, and I learned more about the Kami and their politics, I began to find the story more interesting. However, if Ms. Skye wants to write additional novels, I strongly suggest that she find a writing class, a critique group, a competent editor, or all three. Writing is a craft that can be learned. In acquiring this craft, Ms. Skye has a long way to travel, but if moved by passion, perhaps she should attempt this journey.
There can be no question that this book is about spanking and that it gets at this activity with a serious intensity from as many angles and techniques as possible. As Rachel Kramer Bussel points out in her introduction, the spankings in this anthology explore a range of passions including, “love, anger, sublimation, awakening, desire, fulfillment, foreplay, fun, prodding, patience, surrender, exhibitionism, demand, pride, want, lust, punishment, reward, humiliation, power, surprise, daring, learning, lessons, teasing, and goodbye.” Phew! And I thought I was fond of lists.
For reasons best illuminated by the editor in the book’s introduction, more female bottoms are bared and smacked in this volume than male ones. That may seem a disappointment to some femdom devotees, but a fair amount of jockey shorts are jerked down, as well as arrogant butts unboxered. They are punished at length by an assortment of unforgiving female hands, whether equipped with an implement or descending by their own domme momentum.
What makes this book essentially a success is its frank, seriously painful, salivating, and intense focus on spanking the adult bare bottom for whatever reason or rationalization that pops into the spanker’s head. There are no excuses or half-witted psychologizing here. What’s more, a good, hard spanking is worth its weight in several volumes of blabbering romance novels. Spanking is the ultimate hanky panky as Madonna once observed, and it makes sense. Done right it is a complex form of love play while filling many other aspects of one’s life where appropriate. What more can love do?
There are three types of stories in this anthology all of them oriented to a very broad stripe of spanking tastes. The first is the dungeon spanking. Characters inhabit these stories in exotic outfits made of leather or rubber that would make most of us look like hopeless mistakes from central casting. You have to hit the gym twice daily to strut well in skin-tight. “Outing Isolde” by Anne Blakely is one of these. The spankings are delivered with high ceremony during which doms say things like, “Prepare yourself.” They are described while cropping a girl’s bottom as, “pushing her as he punished her, letting her show off the strength that she had within.”
Despite the dangling preposition, there is a place for these stories as the dream vision of those who attend BDSM clubs, or wish they did. All this Star Trek sort of gear and talk makes up for the desultory reality of such establishments. I find them so scripted that I am inclined to mutter to myself, “I can’t hold her, Captain, she’s going to blow!” with a Scots burr as I read them, even though I am not quite sure what I mean when I say it.
In the second type of story, shiny and polished characters looking (and sounding) like models glitter and squeal as the palm, brush, and cane lands. These are the perfect people of an earlier era of porn/erotica. They talk like some bizarre combination of Mary Worth and Danielle Steele. The plots are thin by design. The clothes always fit and cover super sexy underwear. We all wear that to the office every day, right? No grey jockeys here, or safety pinned panties marked “Thursday.”
The circumstances are improbable. How often do you think a Human Resources manager summons her male assistant to her office because she is desperately – if reluctantly -- in need of a very hard spanking? Kristina Wright’s story regards this scenario as one of the “Perks of the Job.” It’s a lovely thought. Who has not thought of spanking their pretty, overbearing, cranky little boss? Or better still, being spanked by her? How would she broach the subject of giving you, her strapping assistant, a dose of the strap? Out of sheer bossiness, one would hope.
The third variety of story is one that fixates on spanking as experience. One might call it la obsession rouge, for the redder the bottoms get, the more deeply the passion runs to further redden them to a deep aubergine. The strongest of these stories, not surprisingly, is Ms. Kramer Bussel’s own, “Queuing Up.” It is no surprise that it is a femme spanko’s heated confession of how she will gladly wait in line for ever more vigorous spanking accompanied by every sort of lubricious delight to heighten the experience of having her bottom blistered time and again. As the narrator says at the zenith of her ecstasy, “Our asses could take on the world,” which given the vigor and intensity of the story seems a reasonable assertion, if a rather disconcerting image.
This sort of story done well is like the litany of sexual delights that Wilde’s Salome offers Herod in payment for the head of John the Baptist. Another excellent example is Ashley Lister’s “Chippendale Library Chair” wherein an otherwise subdued couple test the merits of a particularly sturdy antique chair as spanking furniture. They do so in the recesses of an antique shop, which activity proves no end of delight to the proprietor who joins in on the spanking fun. Mr. Lister’s story is far more serene than “Queuing Up,” but that does not mean that the behind being so soundly spanked is not equally sore, or the pleasure any less intense.
Given that there are 30 stories in this volume, there is most certainly something for every spankophilic taste, need, desire, lust, and peculiar enthusiasm. They are not all of equal merit and so in the weaker cases, stories that focus on spanking as an activity can turn into a redundant list of whackings. Character and plot are never much of an issue here, but the book is clearly about naughty spankings so it endeavors to ‘get to the good part’ straight away. In fact the selection seems to eschew anything that might provide deeper context or character perhaps by design.
I think the key to this book lies in Ms. Kramer Bussel’s introduction to this volume, which speaks to her admirable dedication to spanking in her own life. She says, “In fact, right now as I write this, my ass bears bruises from my most recent spanking session, and I feel that special soreness every time I sit down. Editing this volume has only increased my interest in this topic.” One can only admire such a frank expression of appetite that is clearly reflected in her editing and writing. It is hard not to be drawn into such genuine enthusiasm. It is provocative, evocative and stimulating without apology.
Picture the scene: two men with hard bodies, both rodeo riders, order the same brand of Mexican beer in a "dingy little dive" in the border town of El Paso, Texas. They notice each other. They both like what they see. They strike up a conversation.
The younger guy, Manuel, explains that he will be competing in "el floreo de reata" in the "Charreada," the Mexican rodeo. The white guy, the gringo, has no clear idea what the "reata" is. He throws down his own definition of manhood: "Real cowboys ride bulls."
Manuel is up to the challenge, besides being bilingual. In "a low, sensual purr," he replies: "Un charro es un vaquero dos veces." Jess doesn't get it, so Manuel translates: "A Mexican cowboy is twice the cowboy." Hot damn.
This book, a set of two romance novellas (Twice the Cowboy, first published on-line in 2006, and its sequel, Twice the Ride) is drenched in heat, dust, drama, action, rodeo lore and colorful sayings in Spanish. Even the rugged terrain just south of the Mexican border is thoroughly described. Forget generic terms like "desert" and "cactus." This landscape contains "crumbling sandstone," "black basalt," "thirsty cottonwood trees," "scrub mesquite," creosote" and "prickly pear."
Male-on-male erotic e-romances seem to be wildly popular these days, and they are written at various levels of skill and realism. Some are clearly fantasies, set in some alternative universe (or in some Japanese-flavored genre) where love between men has always been considered more honorable than any interaction involving women, and where men's bodies and personalities are androgynous, emotional and expressive.
This book, in contrast, drops the reader into the macho reality of the rodeo circuit, in which outfits are flamboyant but not flaming, and in which physical grace coexists with physical danger, not only from bulls and broncos. These cowboys live in particular towns, have past histories and jobs. Their bodies are functionally male. One of them has a family which is important to him. The magic of this book is not its ability to whisk the reader away from gritty reality, but to show how an unconventional relationship can survive in it.
These guys (and the author) clearly love the thrill of the rodeo, which serves as a metaphor for the thrill of "riding" a hot guy. Here is Manuel showing off for Jess in "el floreo de reata:"
"Ramrod straight in the saddle, Manuel controlled his mount with his knees; reins dangled unnoticed in his left hand. His right hand held the coils of a rat-tail rope. The beast tossed its head, knowing how beautiful they were together. Mexican rodeo counted style above all else.
"Manuel tossed his lariat into the air. It spun, ribbon like, over his head. Flicks of his wrist and the rope undulated around his body. Flowing like water, the lasso was the only thing that moved. Even his horse was a statue. Rawhide arabesques, corollas and calyxes danced about him to the rhythm of the mariachis."
Jess is suitably impressed, but then sympathy clinches the deal. After Manuel's leg has been scraped against a wall during a wild bronco-busting ride, Jess offers to tend to the injured leg in private. To Jess' delight, Manuel is willing and eager to take part in some private, horizontal action.
Scenarios involving illness or injury on one side and devoted caretaking on the other are a staple in romances, and they usually move the relationship to a more intimate level. James Buchanan uses this traditional formula more than once. (Eventually, Manuel is able to offer his healing love to Jess as needed.) The rodeo setting makes these events so convincing that the formula is hardly noticeable. Rodeo riders who never suffer a rope burn or a wrenched muscle would seem unbelievable.
The two men are shown to have distinct personalities and vastly different backgrounds, yet their relationship develops as a flexibly equal union. The author teases the reader with questions about who is really "on top" when a man "rides" (fucks) a man who craves his hard meat. Is "Chingar" ever a command? (Look it up.) Manuel is a kind of "horse whisperer" who has a gift for controlling horses, but Jesse has had more life experience and more varied job skills.
Occasionally, the third-person viewpoint suggests the consciousness of one of the characters, especially when Jess' silent but verbal response to Manuel (Hell, yeah) is inserted in italics into a sex scene. From the opening chapter, the reader is hoping that these two guys will continue to appreciate and support each other.
Of course, there are complications. Manuel's second-most important relationship is with his horse, Mango, and therefore anyone who wants to punish Manuel or simply mess up his life will naturally want to take the horse out from under him. The triangle of cowboy/cowboy/horse becomes a comfortable quadrangle when Manuel enables Jesse to meet and take ownership of the horse who is meant to be his. Even the two horses enjoy each other's company.
There is a surprising amount of sex (between human males) in this book, considering that there is also plenty of plot, lots of dialogue in two languages, and detailed descriptions of characters and settings. The reader is even told how much top-of-the-line saddles are worth ($5,000 U.S.!). For anyone with an interest in rodeos, horses, Mexican or Tex-Mex culture or (of course) sweaty sex between men, this book is manna from heaven. For readers (such as this reviewer) who simply enjoy solid world-building, plot arcs and characters, this book looks like the real thing. When a writer loves his (or her) subject, it shows. This ride won't disappoint anyone who feels drawn to the title or the cover image of a half-nekkid man in a cowboy hat whose well-filled white briefs light up the darkness.
Where the Boys Are promises stories of newcomers to the queer-friendly neighborhoods of the Castro, West Hollywood, and Chelsea who have fled presumably hostile smaller towns. With that premise on the cover, I was disappointed that the cities weren’t more prominent in the stories. It’s difficult to make a city a character in a story, especially in a short story, but with the exception of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Live From New York,” there was nothing about the settings that seemed to influence the characters. Simon Sheppard’s “Wild Night” is a historical tour through the Castro that used to be – which is sort of interesting, but it’s a memoir, not a story.
There are some fine stories in this anthology. Many are bittersweet memories of love lost. “Taming the Trees” by Jeff Mann, is about a man who has not been able to let go of the love of his life. His longing for the man he lost to the city is intense. Years have passed, the man has changed and moved on, but the narrator is stuck in a mourning phase that will probably never end. Jeff is becoming one of my favorite erotica writers because of his ability to deliver a solid emotional punch along with raw sexual imagery.
Alpha Martial’s “The Birds and the Bees”, like “Taming the Trees,” is about a man choosing to return to country life after venturing into the city. It means losing a lover who won’t, or can’t, fit into a rural setting. Not everyone thrives in a city though, and after giving it a go, some people simply have to move on.
“Drug Colors” by Erastes is one of the better stories in this anthology. It cuts close to truth of some messed up relationships. I enjoyed the scene of the punk rockers performing ‘like they’re expected to,’ on the train so that the other commuters can leave adequately outraged by their behavior.
Dale Chase’s “Half-Life” is set in San Francisco, but moves between worlds. One is the suburban middle-class heterosexual married life, where the main character has been marking time. The other world is the Castro. After the main character suffers a heart attack, he begins an affair with a man at work who introduces him to a part of the city he’s never dared visit. He rethinks his life and decides not to waste the years he has left following the wrong path.
I’m torn on the rating for this anthology. Few of the stories engaged me. However, different stories appeal to different readers, and you might find more that you like. Most of these stories are well written but not many were erotic except in a peripheral sense. While I don’t like to judge a book by what it’s not rather than what it is, I have to give this one a sideways rating.