Vampires who can walk in the sun. An occultist book expert. A hooker with a heart of gold. Blood drops on nibbled penises. Runaway goth kids. Sound terrible?
I should probably out myself here as a complete lover of the paranormal genre. I’ve been hooked on “our world with magic” stories since my days of Roald Dahl and Christopher Pike. Almost everything I’ve written has also had a dash of magic to it as well, so I feel it fair to air my bias here: I love paranormal – when it’s done well.
It’s that qualifier that makes Blood Jaguar such an intriguing read. The cover lists Blood Jaguar as a Siobhan Bishop Underworld Erotica novel – and indeed, we’re with Siobhan Bishop for about half the time. She’s an expert on occult manuscripts and many forms of magic (including tantric sex magic, naturally) and the core of her narrative in Blood Jaguar arrives in the form of the Codex Rios – a book written by the conquering minions of the Vatican during the time of the decimation of the original peoples we today call the Aztecs. The Codex Rios holds all the rituals and lore of a people who didn’t have a written language of sorts, so even though it is written from the point of view of scholarly Christians who wanted to document the error of the Aztec ways, the rituals and their intent are in this book, and it is a major piece of history.
And it was mailed to Siobhan by basic US postal service, with no real protection, from a friend in Florida. Given that the book is supposed to be in the Vatican archive, this is a conundrum.
Siobhan’s story revolves around this dilemma – how did her friend in Florida get this book in the first place? She and her occult professor boyfriend Richard hop in the car and off they go.
Now, with no disrespect to the author intended at all, they weren’t actually the more interesting of the two tales being told in Blood Jaguar.
The other side of the tale follows Siobhan’s friend – Miranda – who is the one who sent the package with the Codex Rios to Siobhan in the first place. We side-step to Miranda’s daughter, Esther, who has walked out on her mother to be with her boyfriend – a boy with great charisma, sharpened teeth, and a powerful sexual ability to use both. Esther is turning tricks and garnering extra attention (and cash) for her “vampire blood sex” routine. This arouses the interest of her pimps (sisters and former whores Jackie and Jonquil) and sets things into a dangerous tailspin for Esther, her boyfriend, and the pimps – one of whom is the aforementioned hooker with a heart of gold.
Which, by the way, R. Paul Sardanas should be celebrated for writing with such effectiveness. That Jonquil garners such sympathy and empathy in the reader was no small feat. I daresay she was my favourite character in the book – a damaged middle-aged woman who has been searching for a way to feel actually happy and loved all her life.
It’s a tangled snarl, and you wonder how it will all connect. It does connect – the two stories weave together near the end – and there’s an aura of menace throughout as you – through Siobhan more than Esther – meet the “vampires” of the story. They’re the least vampirey vampires I’ve read – they are sun-worshippers, and the blood is more an erotic worshipping tool than sustenance. The sense of Aztec mythology pervades the story throughout, and it’s successful – I’m not sure I’ve read anything before that took this spin, and it was told with enough confidence that I don’t have the slightest idea if any of it comes from a basis in actual history, or if it’s all completely made up.
This is the second Siobhan Bishop story, which also bears mentioning. I had a hard time connecting with Richard, Siobhan’s partner, and I think that was due to having not read the first book in the series – he doesn’t have as much depth as the rest of the characters, and I didn’t always click with him. I’m fairly certain that had I “met” him in the previous book, this wouldn’t have been a problem, however.
Now, I’ve already talked quite a bit about the book, and I haven’t even mentioned the erotica angle yet. That’s on purpose – I wanted to make it clear that the book has a strong pair of narratives that weave into an interesting and fleshed out whole. I like Sardanas’ underworld. I’m definitely going to seek out his first book in this series.
But this is Erotica Revealed, and I’m sure you want to hear about the smutty bits. They’re there, and they’re good. I did have a couple of issues, though, that sometimes drew me out of the narrative.
One – and this is a personal preference thing that always undoes my suspension of disbelief – the word “vagina” (and, to a lesser degree, “penis.”) I know, I know, it sounds stupid to get hung up on language. But here’s the thing – clinical terms just aren’t that sexy to me. And I have a hard time imagining that someone in the throes of passion would think of their body in such a clinical terminology. Most of the time, Sardanas doesn’t do this, which made it all the more puzzling when it happened. But this is a minor caveat, and I imagine it doesn’t bother others as it bugs me.
Two – and this is probably the squeamish side of me – no matter how hard I try, the idea of someone puncturing a dick with a sharp tooth is never going to do it for me. Sorry, my initial thought will always be “ohmigod, ow, ow!” not “oh yeah, hot!” Again, this is a (somewhat) minor thing, and the non-cock-nibbling sex occurs more often than not.All of this to say the magic is solid, the plot is strong, the sex is good, the mystery interesting, and the setting intriguing. Sardanas is working on a third Siobhan Bishop book, and that’s a good thing. If you’re a fan of the paranormal and want to try something set very differently than your usual vampire or werewolf trope, Blood Jaguar walks the line splendidly.
Science Fiction is possibly the sexist of all the literary genres.
Although academics argue about the birth of the genre, some citing Gilgamesh, whilst others clutch at straws from the Mahabharatha, most of us will bypass Thomas Moore’s sixteenth century Utopia, ignore the new worlds discovered in Gulliver’s Travels, and plot a course for the birth of the genre with the 1818 publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Is Frankenstein science fiction? Well, it’s a narrative driven by the technological and scientific advances that could make the impossible possible. Is Frankenstein sexist? Well, we have a male scientist wanting to ‘give birth’ to a man of his own creation. That’s not exactly empowering the feminine. By denying woman her rightful place as natural life-giver, Victor Frankenstein is trying to upset the natural order of all humanity. If he’d got his way, and man had been able to create life without need for woman, who would be left to sleep in the damp spot?
Some argue that Shelley’s prototypical science-fiction novel is feminist. But the truth is we have a story of man trying to beget man without female involvement. It is a story where man creates a female creature for the male creature he has created. It is a story where the man kills the creature’s female. And it is a story where the creature kills Victor Frankenstein’s wife. If there is a feminist message behind Shelley’s Frankenstein it is simply that we live in a man’s world where women are either owned or pawned.
I’ve underlined the phrase Man’s World here because that’s the title of the book I am about to get round to reviewing.
So, if we accept that Frankenstein sets a premise for sexism in science fiction, we can also see that this sexism remains a common motif in the genre. Jules Verne excited his readers with titillating stories about masculine adventures onboard phallic shaped submarines. HG Wells wrote about The Invisible Man and The First Men in the Moon. Even when Wells was writing about The Time Machine we note that it was driven by a man. This is probably because it was perceived a woman wouldn’t be able to parallel park the time machine once it reached its destination.
And so the sexism trend continued into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with stories and films that feature phallic-shaped rockets, driven by men who are boldly going where no man has gone before. In truth, the one time a Star Trek spaceship was piloted by a woman it seems she got lost and spent the entire series trying to find a shortcut home.
All of which is mentioned to show that it’s not just a man’s world: it’s a man’s universe. Nevertheless, because Angela Caperton’s excellent book is entitled Man’s World, it might be fair to concede that the man’s universe is made up of many different man’s worlds. And Caperton’s novel takes place on one particular man’s world: the planet of Moulton.
As it says in the blurb for this title:
The battle of the sexes is millennia old, and the subject can be found all throughout humanity's literature. That this perennial topic of Golden Age science fiction should carry over into erotica is a no-brainer, but rarely has it been given as exciting or humorous a treatment as it has in Man's World by Angela Caperton, the latest novel from Circlet Press.
And the story does cover a battle of the sexes. Caperton’s hero is Stella Blue Darter, a courtesan and the ultimate in commodifiable female finesse. In many ways Stella’s prostitution liberates her, gives her financial, spiritual and emotional independence. However, because she’s selling sex to men (or, ostensibly male life forms) this means her femininity is ultimately subordinate to the masculine. And, rather than me spoil the promise of this title with my overly wordy thoughts on feminism, I’ll let Caperton show you her style with this paragraph.
He cupped her breast, bold and quietly demanding more and she acceded without thought, sliding her body against his. He smelled like musk and good spices with just a hint of the burning oil smell that permeated everything. She found she didn’t mind it on him at all.
"You’ve been with a man before, right?” he asked and she loved him for asking.
"Yes,” she answered simply and kissed his throat, her fingers working at the buttons on his shirt.
He lowered the straps of her dress and pulled it from her shoulders, kissing her lips, then her neck, apparently surprised at how easily her garment fell away, leaving her in her bra and panties, almost chill in the cool evening.
Man’s World follows Stella’s adventures as she drifts onto the planet of Moulton, a planet governed by a traditional patriarchal hegemony but on the verge of a female uprising. All together, as the brief sample above shows, Man’s World is a fun romp through unexplored corners of the galaxy, with Caperton treating the reader to out of this world sex. Whilst this title does little to redress the inherent sexism within science fiction, its strength lies in the fact that it embraces this inequality to tell a ripping, raunchy space yarn.
In my long-standing tradition of reviewing a book for what it is and not what it isn't, I'll discuss this work as erotic romance, not literary erotica. Be forewarned that I'm not a fan of erotic romance, and specifically this work hit several major pet peeves, so read this review with that in mind.
If you can completely suspend your disbelief, this story may strike you as a fun sex romp. Mandy, the main character, is a sex starved librarian in a dull relationship. He boyfriend only has sex with her on scheduled days. More than a little frustrated, how can she possibly resist the charms of a Brad Pitt look-alike library patron who wants to show her a good time? She doesn't really try. Then there's the geeky-hot co-worker Sean who has been waiting for an opportunity to pounce. As soon as he finds out that Mandy and whats-his-face the bf are splitsville, he does. Then she finds out that tightly wound neighbor James hasn't been watching her out of his upstairs window just because he wants to catch her breaking the HOA rules. Oh no. He's hunky, he has a good job, and he's not too sorry to see the bf go. What's a girl to do with so many hot suitors vying to give her the pleasure she's been denied? Sample them all, one at a time or in a group and have a ripping good time.So there you have it - a quick fantasy read chock full of sex and various flavors of lovers to enjoy. Sort of like a snow cone - to be consumed quickly while at the beach. That may be exactly what you're looking for. It's not so much a story as a bunch of long, long sex scenes strung together with huge chunks of monologue that no real human being would ever say, spoken by characters with some irredeemable traits (and I don't mean the villain), but I think that you're supposed to overlook stuff like that. I couldn't.
How should one evaluate an erotic anthology? Is it enough to simply consider each of the stories in isolation? Or should a reviewer also take into account the variety, the balance, and the degree to which the individual tales support the anthology theme?
I find myself wrestling with these questions as I sit down to review Rachel Kramer Bussel's collection Surrender. In her introduction, "Surrendering to pleasure - and power," Ms. Bussel makes it clear that she considers this to be a BDSM anthology, focusing on the sensual and emotional rewards that await a woman who acknowledges and acts on her need to submit. My personal feeling is that about a quarter of the tales collected here do not really fit this mold. This is not a criticism of the stories themselves, many of which are excellent. However, their very loose connection to the stated topic weakens the book as an integrated whole.
Let me begin, though, with the tales that strongly echo the theme. Possibly the most intense is Ms. Bussel's own contribution, "Belted." Some authors view BDSM as a kind of erotic play, but for the narrator of "Belted," submission is something so fundamental that she can barely explain it.
The belt is able to speak in ways that even the both of you, wordsmiths by trade, cannot always do. The belt is not a "toy" for "foreplay" but a separate part of your sex life, one that may appear at any moment. Its presence lurks while you casually sip your drinks at the bar, hidden but powerful; your fingers are itching to stroke it, if only so they can be slapped away. You never know if he will bring it out, how he will use it, how much of the belt and himself he will give you.
Tess Danesi's "The Royalton - a Daray Tale," expresses some of the same dark compulsion.
No one has ever hurt me more, but at the same time, no one has ever made me feel more alive and more treasured than Dar. The price for his love is high... I often wonder at my ability to fear him and to trust him at the same time.
Indeed, a common thread running through these tales is the paradoxical relationship a submissive has to the pain her dom inflicts. We both dread and crave it. Draped over her master's lap, Alison Tyler's narrator in "The Hardest Part" can't understand why she's done everything she can to invite her impending punishment.
But now that I'm here, I'd rather be anywhere else. Name the place, and I'd rather be there: in line at the DMV; waiting in the doctor's office; sitting at the back of coach on a packed flight... Why was I in such a rush to find myself over his lap? What was so urgent about him paddling my ass?
Donna George Storey's "Dear Professor Pervert" presents a lighter view of submission, though her grad student heroine is no less eager to obey her academic adviser's lewd instructions. Her master doesn't even need to be present in order to bend her to his will.
"First Date with the Dom" by Noelle Keely, and "Pink Cheeks" by Fiona Locke both capture the breathless excitement of a sub's first surrender. In contrast, "Veronica's Body" by Isabelle Gray paints a chillingly seductive picture of a woman totally, willingly, and permanently owned by her husband.
Some stories in the collection, though, just don't fit - even when they use BDSM scenarios. M. Christian's "In Control" provides a disturbing window into the mind of a twisted and self-absorbed dominant. The woman who surrenders to him is merely a prop. Shanna Germain's wonderfully moving tale "The Sun is an Ordinary Star" has more to say about fear, mortality and misunderstanding than it does about dominance and submission, even though the characters finally reconnect by reclaiming their kinky fantasies. "Schoolgirl and Angel," by Thomas Roche is a hot treatment of an unorthodox threesome, but once again, it's more about the dom's insecurities and insights than about the experience of his cheeky and demanding subs.
The collection also includes Justine Elyot's sizzling exhibitionist fantasy, "The London O" and Matt Conklin's insightful "Wild Child." Neither of these tales has much to do with surrender, in my opinion, though they were among my favorites - partly because both were new to me.
When I first opened this book, I was struck with a sense of deja vu. Had I read this book before? Was this a re-release? No, the copyright date was 2011. I certainly recognized most of the tales, though many are strong enough to merit a second reading. Then a check of the credits at the rear of the volume revealed that every one of the stories in Surrender has been previously published, almost all in other collections edited by Ms. Bussel. Since I tend to be a fan of her anthologies (and have reviewed many of them), the familiarity made sense. Still, nowhere in the introduction or front matter does the editor even hint that these stories aren't new. If I had bought this book, expecting a fresh set of kinky tales along the lines of Ms. Bussel's acclaimed Yes, Sir and Please, Sir, I would have been rather annoyed.
Thus, the need to assign a rating to this book leaves me in a quandary. If I look at individual stories, Surrender has much to offer - especially if you haven't read many of Ms. Bussel's earlier books. Considered as a thematically-unified whole, the collection is weaker than many of the editor's other offerings.
This collection of lesbian erotica by Beth Wylde is a set of feel-good stories featuring exuberant sex scenes and happy endings. Each one is told from a first-person viewpoint. There is just enough realism in the plots to show women striving to survive in a world that is often hostile to them, but love and pleasure compensate for sexist bosses and homophobic parents.
In "Necessary Roughness," the narrator hopes to be promoted at work and bring the good news home to her wife, Lynette. The narrator, Trisha, has a history as a domme in the BDSM scene, but Lynette has refused to take part in "rough sex." Trisha not only loses the promotion to a rival, but gets fired by a male boss who criticizes her for "dressing like a man." When she arrives home, Lynette offers consolation by appearing in a clingy silver outfit and confessing that she has been "stupid." She explains further:
"I've done the very thing to you that I despise. There is no room in our relationship for prejudice. Our conversation on the phone made me realize that I'm no better than that piece of shit you used to work for if I'm not willing to at least try to understand your ways. I'm your wife. I should want to do the things that please you too. A little pain is nothing compared to your happiness."
The narrator is amazed and very willing to show Lynette what she has been missing. Trisha tells her to choose a safe word, and Lynette says, "bigot." Trisha gives her an over-the-knee spanking that results in an equal amount of pleasure for both women. Trisha finds that her unemployed state has been driven out of her mind for the meanwhile. (And in the words of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, "tomorrow is another day.")
The rest of the stories follow a similar pattern. The imaginary world shown here is one in which dreams come true, and the object of a crush is usually more available than she seems at first.
In "Saddle Up," the narrator is a lesbian rodeo star who is approached by a female fan who has followed her from one rodeo to another. The men in this macho world fade into the background.
"In My Skin" is one of several stories about being afraid to break new ground, and having to overcome that fear. The narrator of this story is involved with Melissa, a tattoo artist who runs her own shop. Melissa has tattooed the narrator's name on her skin, and the narrator wants to return the favor, but she is very afraid of needles. However, she loves anal sex.
Melissa seems to want nothing more than to seduce the narrator in her shop, but she actually has another plan:
"Before I could utter a protest, Melissa did two things at once. She thrust a well-lubed finger deep inside my ass and lowered the tattoo gun against my skin. As she traced the first line, I hollered out loud and long, caught in a vortex of sensation that rapidly alternated between pleasure and pain.... Every time the needle became almost too much to bear, she'd do something wickedly tricky with her finger to distract me."
Somehow, Melissa manages to keep a steady hand. Eventually, the narrator sees the design on her own bottom:
The largest part depicted an inkbottle tipped sideways with Melissa's name flowing out of it in a flowery script.
The narrator decides she has acquired an ink fetish.
"The Real Thing" is a more conventional story about a first-time meeting in real life between two women who hooked up on-line. They are even more compatible in person.
In "Love on the Line," two women who have lived together for five years are temporarily separated when one goes away on business. A naughty telephone conversation leads to a delightful surprise.
In "Aim to Please," a sexually inexperienced woman, suffering from her first lesbian breakup, goes to a sex-toy store to cheer herself up. There she meets a saleswoman who is pushy in the right ways and who offers to show her how the merchandise works -- after closing up shop, of course. The saleswoman turns out to be the owner, and Jane the newbie gets the education of a lifetime.
In "Worth the Wait," the butch narrator goes clubbing with friends, but she secretly has her eye on a femme bartender in a particular bar. The attraction turns out to be mutual.
"Switching Sides" is a lesbian-initiation story about young women in a college dorm. The narrator is surprised to find herself responding to Kara's seduction after being lured to a gay watering-hole by a male "date" who has no sexual interest in women. The narrator learns things about her own body that she never guessed, and she learns that Kara, while gifted with sexual knowledge and skill, is technically a virgin. Both young women cross a line into new territory, and know they can never go back.
"Better with Age" is a long story (or novella) in five chapters. The narrator had a love affair with Aleesha when both were seventeen and in high school. The narrator had conservative Christian parents, and her relationship was doomed. At the time, the two girls were powerless against parental pressure. The narrator found a boyfriend, got pregnant, was pressured into a shotgun wedding and was abandoned before she gave birth. Not wanting to find another man or another woman, the narrator has raised her daughter alone.
The narrator is the mother of a young woman on the brink of adulthood when Aleesha reappears in her life. Can the two mature women pick up where they left off? Will they need to become acquainted all over again, and will they each like what they find out? How will the presence of the narrator's daughter affect this process?
In this story, the most romantic of the lot, secrets are revealed and loose ends are tied up. Love of various kinds is shown to be the antidote to intolerance.
These stories all have the innocent, curious, enthusiastic flavor of coming-out sex. Although some of the scenes seem like ads for particular sex toys, the action is believable and exciting in its context. This is the kind of book that makes you want to take it under the covers and read by flashlight, almost hoping to be caught in the act.