Authors
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Melanie Abrams
Julius Addlesee
Shelley Aikens
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Jeanne Ainslie
Fredrica Alleyn
Rebecca Ambrose
Diane Anderson-Minshall
Laura Antoniou
Janine Ashbless
Lisette Ashton
Gavin Atlas
Danielle Austen
J. P. Beausejour
P.K. Belden
Tina Bell
Jove Belle
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Ronica Black
Candace Blevins
Primula Bond
Lionel Bramble
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Matt Brooks
Zetta Brown
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Dale Chase
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Portia da Costa
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Noelle Douglas-Brown
Hypnotic Dreams
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Stephen Elliott
Madelynne Ellis
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Aurelia T. Evans
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William Gaius
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K. D. Grace
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Catt Kingsgrave
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James W. Lewis
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Ashley Lister
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Clare London
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Jeff Mann
Alma Marceau
Sommer Marsden
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Sean Meriwether
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I. J. Miller
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Peggy Munson
Zoe Myonas
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Craig Odanovich
Cassandra Park
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Christopher Pierce
Lance Porter
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Devyn Quinn
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R. V. Raiment
Shakir Rashaan
Jean Roberta
Paige Roberts
Sam Rosenthal
D. V. Sadero
C Sanchez-Garcia
Lisabet Sarai
R Paul Sardanas
R. Paul Sardanas
Elizabeth Schechter
Erica Scott
Kemble Scott
Mele Shaw
Simon Sheppard
Tom Simple
Talia Skye
Susan St. Aubin
Charlotte Stein
C. Stetson
Chancery Stone
Donna George Storey
Darcy Sweet
Rebecca Symmons
Mitzi Szereto
Cecilia Tan
Lily Temperley
Vinnie Tesla
Claire Thompson
Alexis Trevelyan
Alison Tyler
Gloria Vanderbilt
Vanessa Vaughn
Elissa Wald
Saskia Walker
Kimberly Warner-Cohen
Brian Whitney
Carrie Williams
Peter Wolkoff
T. Martin Woody
Beth Wylde
Daddy X
Lux Zakari
Fiona Zedde
Ancestors of Star (The)Ancestors of Star (The)
By: William Gaius
Lulu
ISBN: Lulu ID: 2196691
April 2008





Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





MasqueradeMasquerade
By: Clare London
Eternal Press
ISBN: 978-0980458121
December 2007





Reviewed By: Kathleen Bradean

Clare London’s short story collection, Masquerade, is m/m erotic fantasy. Oh I know, what erotica isn’t fantasy? In this case, I mean science fiction/fantasy genre, so maybe speculative fiction is a better description, but other than geek girls like me, who uses that term? I was torn over classifying this collection as romantic erotica, but only two of the stories fit that description. So I’ll stick with m/m erotic fantasy.

Have you ever wondered what’s up with the m/m? The term ‘M slash M,’ or slash, comes from the world of fanfic. I’ve heard that the first slash stories were Star Trek universe with intimate pairings between Kirk and Spock, for example. I suspect that young Victorian ladies dreamed of Van Helsing and Dracula necking though. Heck, while Bathsheba was putting on a bathing beauty show for King David, she might have been indulging in Cain and Able slash. (Trust me – women don’t soak in a tub for an hour because they’re trying to get clean.) Like the term Yaoi, slash refers to stories generally written by women for women that feature male lovers. As in any genre, there’s a wide range of work out there. Some of it is hardcore erotica; some of it is sweet romance. Some of it’s even written by gay men. No longer confined to fanfic, the term slash now can apply to original characters and stories. It is the fastest growing corner of the erotica/romance world. Yes, straight women like reading sexually explicit stories featuring gay men. The secret is out.

Now that you know, back to discussing Clare’s collection for four short stories:

“Bonded” is the most romantic story in this collection. The narrator, Chariz, is full of his own importance and bored. So very bored. He will tell you this many times as he recounts his tale. A strange servant named Oriel is brought into Chariz one morning as Chiraz is recuperating from a night of debauchery, which is his usual custom. He quickly dismisses the servant as unimportant, but on close inspection, the man Oriel fascinates him. They end up in bed.  Chariz, who is used to having many bed companions every day, and never the same ones for long, disdains all others and learns to love Oriel, who seems to soothe Chariz’s long buried angst. Oreil, however, has unusual powers and people who are jealous of him want him dead. They almost succeed, but Chariz, having now grown a heart, sacrifices his beauty and fortune to save the slave he loves. While the language in this one started off stilted, it eventually smoothed. I found myself wanting to see more of the world, but that’s more of a testament to Clare’s world-building ability than a complaint.

In “Trickery,” two young squires are trying to find the Prince they were supposed to follow on a quest. Everyone got separated during an attack by bear-cats, and at some point dragons too, but it was never clear if those were separate attacks or if the dragons and bear-cats were inter-species allies against questing Princes. The Prince hired a magician with a rather questionable reputation to help with the quest, but along with the Prince and the guards, the Magician has disappeared. The squires know that the Prince is looking for a tower, and they stumble upon a tower in the middle of the forest, so they climb it in hopes of finding their Prince. Near the top, they find many guards who have obviously been indulging in wild sex asleep as if deeply enchanted. In the room at the top of the tower, a person who appears to be their Prince is having his way with a servant boy. The older squire realizes it’s the magician in the guise of their Prince and slays the magician. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. If the magician could cast an enchantment that made everyone want to bend over for him, why did he need to look like the Prince? And why did the magician have to die? But that wasn’t by far my biggest problem with this story. I’m not a fan of nonconsensual sex. Call it an enchantment or roofies, rendering a person incapable of saying no to sex does not mean they said yes. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have enjoyed this story a lot more. The language was much more relaxed than in the first story and the banter between the squires hinted at a growing relationship between them. I wished it would have focused more on that relationship and skipped the scene in the tower.

“Possession” is the Godfather meets Dracula. Lucas is about to lose the family business when a mysterious stranger named Mr. Arnaud makes him an offer he can’t refuse. As if he has a choice. Mr. Arnaud will allow Lucas to sell a priceless collection of rubies in exchange for Lucas’s body. Lucas has the hots for his assistant Valentine though. Ah, but Valentine wants to marry Lucas’s sister. What to do? Give in to one desire or another. That’s all Lucas can do. While Possession doesn’t add anything new to the vampire genre, it’s as lush as velvet.

The last story in this collection is “Threadbare.” The owner of a textile mill is drawn to a young man who works in his factory after the gruesome death of the young man’s friend on the factory floor. All the workers in the young man’s group are of the same clan/family/background, and during their spare time they work on a tapestry that captures the mill owner’s attention. I wanted the sex to be more explicit than it was, but if you like your erotica on the softer side, you might not mind. This story bordered on science fiction, but don’t let that scare you away.

Usually, I have a strong conviction on my rating. This one, I’m waffling. On one hand, there were problems with the editing (italicized words for emphasis in dialog is a huge pet peeve of mine) and the writing in the first story was a bit stilted. Masquerade is definitely slash fiction with a softer focus on the sex. However, I enjoyed most of the stories. Since I’d rather go with my positive instinct, I’m giving Masquerade a thumbs up.  



Miami PurityMiami Purity
By: Vicki Hendricks
Busted Flush Press (Originally published by Random House)
ISBN: 0979270936
May 2007





Reviewed By: Ashley Lister

A lot of people have described my writing as hardboiled.  Or was it half-baked?  It had something to do with cooking and the foreign words they used probably meant “noir” in French.  Early on in my writing career someone actually said, “Your writing reminds me of Mickey Spillane.”

“Is that because it’s a good story that’s well told?” I asked.

“No,” they said.  “You remind me of him because I can’t stand that bastard either.”

I mention all of this only because I’ve been reading Vicki Hendricks’ hardboiled noir thriller, Miami Purity, and I figured it would be apposite to indicate that I’m familiar with this genre, if not an authority. 

Miami Purity has been rightly described as “a modern noir masterpiece.”  The story follows the first person narrative of Sherri.  Sherri is trying to get her life back together after a spell in prison, the accidental murder of her long time partner, and a history of substance abuse that she wants to put behind her.  Working at the dry cleaners – the eponymous Miami Purity – seems like the ideal way to get rid of the dirt from her past and make a clean start.

But Sherri hasn’t anticipated meeting someone like Payne.  And, whilst Sherri has enough emotional issues to disturb the sleep of a trained psychiatrist, Payne is an even darker character.  By most people’s standards Payne should be a bastion of the community and ideal material for a heroic template.  He’s a hard working businessman, takes a personal interest in the company’s finances and the staff’s development, and he loves his mother.  However, it’s possible to take all of those beneficial traits to a sinister extreme and Payne does all of that and then some.

One of the repeated failings of contemporary noir is that post-modern cynicism is often overtly represented, masquerading as black humour at the author/reader level – usually above the level of character interaction.  Invariably this comes across with the I-narrator making some abstract intertextual reference that is intrusive for readers familiar with noir and too oblique to be relevant for those new to the genre.

Yet Miami Purity has none of these failings.  Hendricks’ protagonist has a fresh voice and enthusiasm that flourishes and shines within the bleak world of noir Miami.  She is practical enough to realise that life is crap, hopeful enough to believe that change might just be possible, and sufficiently pragmatic to deal with the after-effects when everything starts to fall apart. 

Sherri’s healthy appetite for sex, its application hindered by the accidental murder of her previous partner, is foregrounded early on in the story.  This incessant libido drives her into the arms and the bed of the story’s disturbed antagonist Payne.  The sex in this story – used as a device to provide depth for Sherri, complications for Payne, and a motive for the story’s progression – is harsh, brutal and (usually) satisfying. 

It is genuinely refreshing to read a stylish noir thriller that is not trapped in the quagmire of patriarchal hegemony.  Admittedly, Sherri could be considered socially oppressed by her occasional lapses back into stripping and easy, casual sex.  And her salacious sexual appetite is one of the driving forces that power the plot to its delicious, dark denouement.  But Sherri’s resolve to get the job at Miami Purity, her determination to conquer Payne and to forcefully deal with the issues that trouble and threaten their relationship, make her dynamic enough to be a post-modern icon of the feminist femme fatale.  Whilst the genre still subscribes to the belief that men are men and women are either dangerous or convenient, Miami Purity brings a fresh approach to this masculine-dominated world of story-telling.

Miami Purity is neither a HEA [happy ever after] romance nor is it erotica, even though elements of love and the erotic are presented in the narrative.  From beginning to end Miami Purity is 100% hardboiled noir and every page is worth the investment.  So, fill your glass with neat bourbon, light up a smoke and have your weapon close by as you sit back to enjoy Vicki Hendricks’ Miami Purity



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





Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Rough CaressRough Caress
By: Lisabet Sarai
Eternal Press
ISBN:
April 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Rough Caress by Lisabet Sarai is an entertaining e-collection of her BDSM stories that shift the dominant role from gender to gender as well as between the same ones.  Thus there is a whacking good time for all. What makes the book particularly entertaining is that the stories are not simply S/M.  They are based in the way that I think people fantasize about the excruciating sexual adventures they would like to have.  The net result is that a lot of these characters, such as the protagonist in “Poker Night,” take a great deal of bottom blistering punishment that a beer quickly repairs.  Better still, the abuse always leads to what would be a skull splitting orgasm, and yet no one ever seems to want an Excedrin afterwards. 

I can’t fault Ms. Sarai for taking this surreal route with her stories as they become a refreshing relief from the usual tormented souls in S/M erotica who seem so overwrought by the fact that they have any sexual urges at all.  Worse still, are the truly mindless examples of erotic fiction in which sex is on the characters’ brains 24/7 to the exclusion of all else.  Someone has to take out the garbage after all, and let in the guy who reads the meter.  In my experience he or she is not often the sort you want to throttle and carry into your bed once she/he’s collected their data for your gas bill. 

Waking fantasy then deserves its rightful place in the world of erotica and nowhere else is that more justified than in the sexual realm of BDSM.  Such relationships are complicated and they require a lot of forethought as well as insight to turn a session of love-making into more than the esthetic equivalent of beating a rug and then pissing on it. 

Make no mistake, Rough Caress contains more than its share of vigorous, graphic, and lively beating and punitive pissing.  Yet for the most part, it succeeds in rising above the usual trap of being a list of repetitive, icky-sounding activities.

That is a function of two things that Ms. Sarai does very well.  The first is that she is unusually good at entering into the minds of her characters so that their perception of each stroke, lick, finger, and poke is realized in a way that is plausible to the imagination.  You don’t care so much about what is going on as you do about how much the character is enjoying it, even if, at times, they are howling and peeing from the excess of sensation as they do so. 

The second strong weapon in Ms. Sarai’s delivery is her sensibility to local atmosphere.  She is not quite given to Hemingway’s dictum that one should always describe the weather in any fictional account of a place.  However, she understands, as so few do these days, that every city has its own atmosphere, and within it, districts and denizens who respond to the demands of circumstance. 

The best example of this is a brooding murder story called “Bangkok Noir”that carries the reader through the steamy streets of that city’s red light district.  We make the trip through the eyes of a good-hearted, street-wise Lesbian S/M madam whose supply of fetching mistresses is being depleted by a serial killer.  A stickler for authenticity and quality, the madam recruits only the best and the killer is hacking into her profits not to mention her lovelife. 

All of that is balanced off by a stiff-necked Thai policeman who, though eminently corruptible on some levels, resists mightily being sexually bound to the madam’s harsh attentions.  The atmosphere is so rich that it is impossible to put the story down as much for one’s curiosity about the outcome of the plot, as the lyrical turns of sexual play that Ms. Sarai spells out in the text.

If I were going to fault this collection in any way it is that sometimes the writing style is not quite the equal of the task it assays.  “House of Shadows” is the prime example.  A wealthy woman of the Edwardian era yearns to be whipped and otherwise roughly mastered by a domineering male.  The problem is: how does a respectable lady of the upper crust go about getting her jollies without ruining her pristine public façade?  Her perfect husband seems utterly clueless about her desires, and propriety would never tolerate such appetites among the upper echelon in any case.  It might be perfectly fine to spank your wife soundly for some impudence or flaw, but neither one of you had better admit to enjoying it. Thus she finds her way to the underground pleasure dome of the House of Shadows.

Well, okay, that’s fine, but the trouble is that Ms. Sarai cannot manage the languid idiom of Henry James much less the titillating indecorousness of Frank Harris.  Edwardians were masters of subtle indirection, which strove to make the lurid appear commonplace amid the banal.  One thinks of Aubrey Beardsley here, and even more so, his imitators in the home décor field.

Ms. Sarai’s heroine instead affects a stubbornly blind sexual naiveté that becomes plain silly after a while.  This lady knows perfectly well what she wants, and no matter how hopelessly she romanticizes her appetites, they remain brutally clear to her mind and body.  The only person who seems unable to accept that, is she.  The resulting story is a strangely unsatisfying whipping romance.

On the other hand, I defy anyone to fault the style and atmosphere of “Wednesday Night at Rocky’s Ace Hardware Store”in which a rollicking BDSM couple test drive all sorts of handy home gear for all sorts of daily chores in the realm of bondage and discipline.  The Mrs. is bound, bent, bared, and beaten in the aisle next to the ladders with a wide range of gear and gadgets that is helpfully made available because, “Ace is the place for the helpful hardware man.” Indeed he is, and without question, he is a genuine believer in the Do It Yourself disciplined approach to regular home maintenance. 

You may not fantasize at the Home Depot about being spanked by your lover.  But I am willing to bet that, given the level of tedium most ladies experience in waiting for their other half to decide between two identical buckets of plaster, they have a wild assortment of fantasies up and down the aisles from here to plumbing supplies and on to small appliances.

The point is that Ms. Sarai understands the imagination and how it can pick up little things and turn them into day-long adventures of sensational, decadent, throbbing sexual fantasies. That after all, would seem a good explanation of why we need fiction in the first place.