From the title alone, I assume that The Cross of Sins is the first in a series. Fathoms Five refers to the five gay nuggets (sexy boys) who work for the blind Professor Maximillian Fathom: Jake Stone – Indiana Jones, Eden Santiago – Brazilian doctor and biologist, Will Hunter – Batman, Luca daRoma – Italian art expert, Shane Huston – cowboy. The Cross of Sins refers to the artwork they’re trying to find before a rival group of Catholic fanatics called the Crimson Crown destroys it. If you’re thinking this sounds like an action adventure genre novel like Di Vinci Code and Ocean’s Eleven, but with some explicit sex scenes, you’d be right.
The story opens with Jake Stone climbing into the guts of a volcano to retrieve a diamond idol of a wealthy French collector. Jake barely escapes with his life from the erupting volcano, only to have the idol taken from him by the French collector’s henchmen. Left for dead, he’s hauled out of the water by a local fisherman and the Brazilian nugget – sorry, Eden – who was sent to fetch Jake for the Professor. Jake doesn’t want to join the group, but he grudgingly goes along when tempted with a chance for revenge.
The team splits up to go in search of clues that will lead them to the hiding place of the historically and artistically significant or sacrilegious - depending on your point of view - Cross of Sins statue. Danger lurks everywhere. Since you can’t keep a good nugget down, the boys make time for some hot sex despite being pursued by the murderous Crimson Crown cronies (Knight calls them minions, but I like the alliteration). The opposing forces meet at a masked ball in Venice as they’re both trying to steal an important artifact from the French collector. As the body count and stakes crank higher, both sides race to the Cross of Sins statue, and the big showdown.
You’re either the kind of person who can enjoy an action adventure yarn, or you’re not a fan of the genre. I like a page-turning adventure. I love it when things blow up, and a truly despicable villain is one of the great guilty pleasures in life. I’ll suspend my disbelief pretty far for fast-paced action and stomach-clenching suspense.
What can’t be suspended though are the rules of good writing. Some of the characters needed to be fleshed out more. The action sequences were harmed rather than helped by frequent and redundant sentence fragments. In the big action scene near the end, overuse of the word minion pulled me out of the story. What this book needs, and deserves, is a great editor. The pieces are there for a really good genre read. They simply need to be put together better. For those reasons, regretfully, I can only give Cross of Sins a sideways review.
This collection of lesbian stories by one author works like an anthology based on a fairly broad theme that allows for diversity. In this case, the title, Flesh and Bone, is spelled out in the titles of the stories: "F is for Fantasy," "L is for Love, "E is for Erotic," "S is for Sensual," "H is for Higher," "A is for Animal," "N is for Never," "D is for Daring," "B is for Beautiful," "O is for Orgasm," "N is for Naughty," "E is for Everlasting." The emphasis in each story is on sexual pleasure, and the sex is described in loving detail.
These stories are meat-and-potatoes erotica. There is nothing strikingly original here, either in the author's writing style or in the plots or the characters. Occasionally, the author writes a clunker sentence like this:
She looked at me with openness, with honesty, with her same consistent confidence.
However, Ronica Black handles a traditional range of lesbian fantasies with gusto and sincerity. The reader wants to know these women as well as they come to know each other. When Black's characters ignore their realistic fears to follow their passion, this reader admires their chutzpah and cheers them on.
The author's brief, breathless introduction borders on the cheesy, but it has its own charm:
Flesh and bone. What every woman is made of. Beautiful, daring, naughty, sensual. She has a fantasy, she wants to go higher, she searches for her own definition of love. She never says never, has her first orgasm, yearns for the everlasting. This is woman. You, me, the girl next door. We are all flesh and bone.
The drama continues in the suspenseful opening scene of the first story, "F is for Fantasy:"
I wait by the door, fists opening and closing as if I'm waiting for the director to yell 'action.' My heart thuds, but so does my clitoris, the small cock in my jeans pressing against it. Both cause my hands and knees to tremble.
The fantasy of the title clearly originated with the girlfriend who will come home to find the speaker waiting to grab her and to say: "'I'm going to fuck you hard and fast. I'm going to fuck you hard and slow. I'm going to fuck you like you've never been fucked before."
The arousal of the "victim" feeds that of the speaker, who finds that her girlfriend's fantasy is quickly becoming her own. When the scene seems to be over, the speaker wants reassurance:
“Was it everything you wanted?” I can't help but ask, my mind just as spent as my body.
A thorny look comes into her eyes. She picks up her panties and comes back to me, pushing me onto my back.
“It was, yes. But now it's my turn.”
This “flipping” scene seems likely to be replayed over and over between the lovers.
"L is for Love" is a hurt-and-rescue fantasy involving Gina, a writer who is scheduled to do a reading at the library where her idol, the head librarian, accidentally knocks Gina to the ground and then makes amends and confesses that she has admired Gina for awhile.
"N is for Never" has a somewhat similar plot: Professor Susan has no intention of ever admitting aloud that she has a crush on her bold student Tia, who reads part of a lesbian romance story to the class. But Susan has confided her feelings to her diary, which conveniently slips out of her briefcase and is retrieved by Tia, who reads it before going to Susan's home to return it. Tia must convince Susan that their forbidden attraction doesn't actually involve a conflict of interests. Student-and-teacher fantasies seem to have a perennial appeal, possibly because acting them out in the real world is usually more problematic and likely to produce messy results.
"E is for Erotic" is about an office seduction: woman in raincoat stalks into the building where Julia, her workaholic girlfriend spends too much time, and makes an offer that Julia can't refuse. "D is for Daring" is about another office romance, but in this case, the speaker secretly admires one of the higher-ups, an apparently heterosexual woman who is going through a painful divorce. The speaker wants her to feel loved, so she woos her anonymously with presents and letters. In due course, Emily responds and shows that she already knows the identity of her secret admirer.
"A is for Animal" is another poignant story about a trapped, seemingly "normal" wife. In this case, the setting is a southern farm where “the missus” meets her lover Catherine in the barn more often than is safe, whenever the "boss man" is away. The possibility of a tragic ending is implied when the two women are almost caught.
"H is for Higher" is another story about risk-taking, appropriately set "atop one of the largest hotel casinos in Vegas." A femme named Eve accepts the dare of a butch named Broderick by coming to her room, where a device like an exercise bicycle has been modified to provide extreme sensations.
"N is for Naughty" is another adrenalin-driven story. It seems less realistic than most of the others, but is one of my favorites. The narrator, Diem Rushton, is a female vigilante who puts the fear of the Goddess into a mad-dog pimp and is then rewarded by a glamorous waitress who does a lap-dance to Beyonce's "Naughty Girl." The waitress is working her way through graduate school and has steadfastly refused to "dance" (sell sexual services) for men. Dancing for Diem, of course, is a different case.
Sex work as a labor of love is also featured in "S is for Sensual." In this story, a young American woman has an unforgettable encounter with two professionals in Amsterdam, paid for by her good friend who knows what Camille needs to recover from her painful breakup with an unfaithful girlfriend. The professionals, Anna and Maria, guide Camille through an hours-long ritual which begins with a soothing bath and escalates to bondage, massage, tickling, flogging, hot wax, tongue teasing and dildo action, followed by refreshing sleep. By the time Camille's friend returns for her, Camille has been healed. She appreciates the bilingual pun of the name of the establishment:
Camille boarded her bike and they set off down the road. As the wind played with her hair Camille thought back to the words on the sign. “De Mender.”
Mending what is broken is a major theme in these stories. In several cases, visual art allows for the transcendence of limitations. In "B is for Beautiful," the speaker is impressed by Iris, the attractive woman she meets at a small-town gas station. She is surprised to discover that Iris is a blind artist who likes to sculpt clay images of her models after learning their bodies by touch.
In "O is for Orgasm," Lauren the photographer lures Therese into a photo shoot with two other models. The seduction which follows is actually what Therese needs to overcome the fear of intimacy which has previously kept her sexual responses -- and her relationships -- brief and unsatisfying. "E is for Everlasting" is a gentler story about a relationship between a woman who needs to heal from childhood sexual abuse and the resourceful lover who enables her to trust. This story concludes the book, and it implies that the two women will have a long future together.These stories make good bedtime reading, and could lead to sweet dreams. Read them and see.
Divorced, practical, thirty-something Sandy Jackson runs a café in the suburban British town of Kissley. When she's not waiting on customers or worrying about her finances, she dreams of the young man who rescued her from a mugging fifteen years before. Jay Bentley can't forget his sweet princess, the girl whose lips he tasted briefly after driving away her attackers but never saw again. Years of debauchery and an auto accident that left him scarred, impotent and in pain haven't been enough to erase that precious memory. When he visits Kissley to inspect the property his wealthy father is about to buy, he recognizes Sandy as his long-lost princess and realizes that his father's plans are likely to drive her out of business.
Pretending to be a stranger, he has little difficulty in seducing Sandy, who reacts with uncharacteristic ardor to Jay's advances. Within fifteen minutes of their meeting, he is licking her pussy in the garden of the notorious Waverley Grange Hotel (which has featured in several other novels by Ms da Costa). Their incredibly intense sexual connection soon has them engaging in various carnal activities in a wide range of circumstances: in the washroom of Sandy's cafe, under the table in a classy restaurant, parked in a country lane, on the food preparation counter in her café kitchen, and of course in Jay's room at the naughty inn. Jay both teases and instructs Sandy, introducing her to a variety of minor kinks and making her marvel at her own constant horniness (as well as his). As they spend more time together, though, it becomes increasingly difficult for Jay to hide his identity--or to imagine living without her.
Will Jay's secret destroy their incendiary passion and their growing intimacy?
Of course not. Jay and Sandy are destined for each other. Each has haunted the other's fantasies for more than a decade. Their sexual affinity might seem like casual randiness (as Sandy tells herself, to blunt the impact of Jay's inevitable disappearance), but in truth it stems from their unacknowledged mutual love.
The simple plot of this novel screams "romance," however, Kiss It Better can also be viewed as erotica, pursuing as it does the classic theme of sexual awakening. Jay serves as Sandy's sexual mentor, encouraging her to act out her fantasies and revealing to her the depths of her own lasciviousness. Like the accomplished dom that he is, he pushes her limits, daring her to explore new extremes of sexual abandon.
There is a lot of sex in Kiss It Better, arousing and satisfying sex that involves the characters' whole selves, not just their bodies. Ms da Costa excels in turning up the heat by giving the reader a window into the lovers' sensations and emotions. Most of the novel is presented from Sandy's perspective, but we get occasional glimpses of Jay's bitterness, confusion and frustration. His private cynicism and insecurity contrast with the image of the wealthy, self-confident rake he presents to Sandy.
Sandy is a vivid, appealing character with a distinctive voice and a streak of stubbornness. From the first moment I met her, inwardly cursing the high heels she'd borrowed in order to look elegant, I loved her. She's irresistibly attracted to Jay and perpetually astonished by her own reactions, not to mention her daring. Practical, responsible, a bit conventional, she manages to shock herself again and again as Jay leads her into ever more outrageous sexual situations.
Jay feels less well-rounded and realistic, possibly because the author identified more strongly with her heroine. He's the Flawed Hero, in capital letters; his sins are visible in his scarred visage. His fixation with the princess from his past seems less plausible than Sandy's fantasies of her prince. Still, he fulfills the role of master and mentor with sufficient conviction that Sandy succumbs, and the reader likewise.
I should warn the audience of Erotica Revealed that despite my using the terminology of dominance and submission to describe Jay and Sandy's relationship, the actual power games they play are far milder than what you will find in many of the books we review. A bit of spanking, a little bondage, a butt plug or two--the kink here is recreational rather than fundamental. Nevertheless, Ms da Costa manages to communicate the thrill of Sandy's surrender, which I believe is the essential aspect of a D/s interaction.Kiss It Better is a bit predictable, but that doesn't stop it from being arousing and entertaining. The book doesn't push any boundaries, but it delivers what it promises: lively characters, creative sex, and a happy ending.
Whenever I tell people I’m superstitious, they laugh at me. Maybe that’s my curse? I appreciate that superstition is, for want of a better word, ‘stupid.’ However, I was raised and educated by stupid people and some parts of that learning have stuck. I don’t walk under ladders. I touch wood for luck and I go to painful extremes to avoid spilling salt.
I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to do with black cats. Some cultures tell me black cats are lucky – others say they’re unlucky. Inside my head black cats offer the same imbalance of cognitive dissonance as the cancer/comfort appeal I get from cigarettes. I could genuinely go insane brooding on the subject for any length of time.
I constantly carry lucky charms. I have my lucky silver pen, my lucky silver lighter, and I used to have a lucky rabbit’s foot. I carried the lucky rabbit’s foot until I realised it hadn’t been that lucky for the rabbit and it was probably that particular trinket which gave me Myxomatosis.
And then there’s the number 13. I try not to leave the house on Friday 13th. Ironically I’ve lost jobs because of this. How’s that for proving that the date is genuinely unlucky?
I know I’m not alone in this superstition. The fact that the fear of Friday 13th has a specific name (paraskavedekatriaphobia) indicates that it must be a problem for more than just me. There is even a name for a general fear of the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia) which also suggests that I’m not the only stupid person on the planet with that similar aversion. When I take into account the number of buildings without a thirteenth floor, and the difficulties talked about by estate agents trying to sell properties burdened with the number 13, I realise there are probably millions of us labouring under this irrational and stupid superstition.
However, I am rational enough to accept that the number 13 is not always unlucky. There were thirteen figures painted in the picture of the last supper. This doesn’t mean the number is inherently ‘lucky’ but you have to admit that Christ looks happier in that portrait compared to all the miserable ones where he’s nailed on a cross and looking characteristically disconsolate.
And 13 is also the number branded on the cover of Sommer Marsden’s collection of short stories: Lucky 13. Sommer Marsden is an erotic wordsmith par excellence. Her short fiction appears in so many anthologies I’m not even going to start listing them here. It’s sufficient to say, if you own an anthology of short erotic fiction, the chances are that you’re already familiar with Sommer’s work.
And, if you’re familiar with Sommer’s work, the chances are you won’t want to miss this fun collection of erotic short stories from an über-competent mistress of the genre.
Lucky 13 is subtitled Thirteen Tales of Getting Lucky. The unifying theme of this anthology (aside from the skilled penmanship of Ms Marsden) is that the central characters ‘get lucky’ in the most erotic sense of that idiom.
Noelle, the first person protagonist in the collection’s first story, “Pause,” would probably not be considered lucky on an initial examination. She’s just broken up with a partner and is suffering the typical unhappiness associated with such a devastating blow to her relationship status. However, when she is consoled by an old friend, Noelle does manage to get lucky.
Similarly in “Underpass,” the first person protagonist Brenda does not appear to be lucky in having a forceful, jealous and domineering partner like Jared. However, as the story continues, and as Brenda gets lucky, the complex relationship between the characters is exposed to illuminate the fine distinction between what we consider fortunate or otherwise.
Sommer Marsden’s skill as an author is in her ability to depict living breathing human beings and make them interesting, exciting and entertaining. The fact that she chooses to write in the erotic genre means that we lucky readers get to see these vibrant individuals enjoying the complexities of a passionate and carnal existence.
If you enjoy well written erotica, and you want to get lucky with your choice of reading material, it’s a safe bet to pick Lucky 13.
Reading Oysters and Chocolate edited by Jordan LaRousse and Samantha Sade makes me think of Paris. The French have a peculiarly vivid understanding of how, why and when you should put things in your mouth. These stories are bonbons, those being the plump round candies that are filled with assorted lush, sweet, mysterious flavors. They are designed to surprise and intoxicate one a little.
The bonbon – like each of these stories -- is made with French chocolate, which, unlike any other country’s chocolate, has a deeply complex, unique flavor invoking a wide range of tastes and senses. It is not simply sweet, but arrogant in its defiance of the usual Nestle’s. It is unapologetically a little bitter and can even bring a sensual sort of remorse for too much pleasure, while remaining inescapably delectable. Such is the nature of this book. If you are not an epicure of sex, you might feel a little guilty for reading it. If your erotic palate is cultivated, why then chow down, I say, with vigor.
Each story stands like a solitary oyster; it’s promise is discovered by the unraveling of its deep, moist, slippery folds. They may have a familiar literary structure, but the saucy treatment is always unique. The oyster at its best has the tangy bite of the sea and glides carelessly – if not recklessly – over the tongue on its way down the throat. Anyone cultivated in the eating of oysters will tell you that this unpredictable, slightly wild, eagerness adds greatly to the allure of consuming them. These stories often finish with a fillip of unexpected spice.
The book is organized in a series of alternating narrative themes so that each presents itself to the reader as an unpredictable, but tasty erotic amuse-gueule of its own particular sort – gay, SM, lesbian even straight, what have you. They all contain a highly charged level of genuinely artful sexiness which is made all the more appetizing by the presence of some small, subtle but powerful degree of irony. The editors have made reading this book a delicious act of play very much like the experience of slow and patient dining with a lover. Each heated thrust, spank, kiss and slurp is moistened by dewy grace notes of authentic wit. Thus we may say of Oysters and Chocolate that we have here an offering for the erotic pallet that is truly for once, original.
One might venture to guess that part of that is the fact that the table of contents is populated by so many new voices in our sub-genre. Better still, we have what appears to be a new imprint on the scene in “Heat” from Penquin Books. Those little well-dressed birds know what they are doing.