I feel the need to preface my review here with the sad truth of just how white I am. I’m not just white – I’m British white. The Burgoine family tree is completely pale. I make snow look street. And in the direct light of a Canadian June sun, I can cause damage to unprotected corneas.
I was a wee bit nervous when I got A Hard Man is Good to Find. I feel stupid admitting that now, but in the interest of an honest review, if you’ve ever looked at a book and thought “I am so not the audience for this” then let my reading of A Hard Man is Good to Find be a lesson to you.
I loved it.
In Michelle, James W. Lewis brings a heroine with a brash conversational voice to visit, and you’ll enjoy her stay. She’s a joy – her stream of consciousness, with its many visits to her currently underfed sexual appetites – is a blast to read, and hilarious in its candid tone. Michelle takes you on a brief tour of some miserable exes – or one night stands – before launching you on her tale of what might just be the best thing that could happen to a sista in years.
(Okay, I tried. The moment I typed “sista” there, I winced. You can’t hear my voice, so you don’t know how horrible that was, but I promise never to do it again. Also, the sun is coming out, please don your sunglasses and do not stare directly into the white boy.)
Anyone and everyone can connect with Michelle’s fantastic romp through the horrible exes. The guy intent on attempting to try some anal without getting Michelle’s permission first; the guy with next to nothing below the belt and the stamina to match; the guy who seems allergic to bathing – these are experiences to which everyone can nod knowingly, raise one hand, and agree. Dating? Sucks.
But with her attitude and a desire to see herself get what she deserves – and Michelle deserves plenty, thankyouverymuch – Michelle decides to change her method. She focuses on herself for a while. Hits the gym, gets healthy, finishes her degree...
...and meets Daryl.
Daryl looks like sex on a stick – and Mr. Lewis here can be absolutely confident in his ability to make a man a mouth-wateringly enticing experience through Michelle’s voice. Her comparisons are solid, and rooted in contemporary culture, and make a visual image complete with a weak-in-the-knees effect. Daryl and Michelle definitely click, things get playful, then simmer, then...
Then Daryl suggests they slow down and Michelle should go home.
I beg your pardon?
This tease is the last half of the book and it is this omnipresent – and hopefully not impotent – struggle Michelle now faces: Daryl just doesn’t seem to want to get it on. Is she his woman on the side? Is he – oh please no – on the down-low? Is he in need of a little blue helper? Does all that scratching mean he’s waiting for something to clear up? As she gets wrapped up in potential rationale after potential rationale, you’ll laugh and smirk at her antics as she tries to figure out if Daryl is “the one” or if he’s just another one of the losers she’s managed to attract.
I won’t ruin the mystery, but I will say that I did see it coming and delighted in the reveal nonetheless. Michelle’s snark is a blast to read, and her ricochet from theory to theory makes you laugh and groan all at once. I also greatly appreciated her in-your-face desire. An internal dialogue with the reader, Michelle is not one to mince words. After weeks with a beautiful man, she wants some action, and she’s not shy about telling you so. And who could blame her? Daryl looms on the page like a dessert you want to gobble whole.
My only issues with the book are minor. Sometimes new characters pop in and out without a real introduction – Michelle has a sudden new friend that she has apparently met at class – a place we’ve never gone with her – and it jarred a bit. Something similar happens near the end, where suddenly new people are involved in her life, and the explanation of who they are comes after they’ve been around a bit too long. It left me wondering if I should already know who these people were, and made me think I had I missed something earlier. It’s a small criticism, and easily forgiven since Michelle’s narrative feels so natural. Also, as this is an erotica review site, I do feel I should mention that while Michelle’s exploits with her exes and losers at the start of the book are – amusingly – blunt and erotic (if poor lovers can be erotic), most of the book has the erotic content entirely in Michelle’s head as she tries to suss out what the hell is keeping Daryl from stepping up to the plate. If you want sweat soaked erotic content on every page, this isn’t the book for you. Personally, I really didn’t mind waiting for the big reveal.The end result of A Hard Man is Good to Find is a satisfied reader. I adored Michelle. I liked Daryl. The friction and frustration of Michelle’s desire being unfulfilled was absolute fun. Definitely give this a go.
Using the superlative “best” in an anthology title sets the bar high. Picking up this volume, a reader has the right to expect every story to be exceptional – in concept, in craft and in emotional impact. Some of the tales in Best Women's Erotica 2012 definitely deliver on this promise. Others, however, do not.
The collection begins with the sensual and original “Drought,” by Olivia Glass. A woman driving through the parched hills north of San Francisco while fantasizing about her lover is brought to a halt by traffic jam. She pulls over, abandons her car and climbs to the summit, where the physical world, as well as the inner world of desire, take on a new perspective.
The blades prick through the thin fabric of her shirt. The breeze whispers to her, across her. She slides her skirt up her legs and settles it around her hips. The wind teases her, gently. Her left hand drifts across her breasts, slowly stroking her erect nipple.
She has never been so awake or alive; her nerves are naked wires, her skin the wet pavement during a lightning storm. Her mind frees itself, expands. She feels as if a fault line along her breastbone has come apart, and now she is open to the air, her lungs expanding like slick balloons into the dusty ozone, her heart throbbing.
“Drought” is both gorgeously written and deliciously hot, a perfect pick to lead off a collection of “bests.”
“Tweetup,” by Louise Lush, comes next, a light-hearted, clever tale about the latest variety of cyber relationships.
He smiled. “I like your tweets.”
I laughed. “Now there's a twenty-first century compliment!”
The heroine encounters an on-line admirer and despite her real-world shyness, finds herself living up to the racy identity she's adopted in her forays into the Twittersphere. The story, though simple, satisfies with its good-natured, unpretentious lustiness.
K.D. Grace comes next, with her outrageous voyeuristic fantasy “Eddie's All Night Diner.” Ms. Grace's heroine gets her kicks sitting panty-less on her bench at Eddie's, watching the other customers flirt and more:
What starts as the old I'll-let-you-taste-mine-if-you-let-me-taste-yours ploy rapidly evolves into oral sex on a fork, tongues darting, lips smacking and teeth just barely grazing the flash of stainless steel as they devour sweet tart creaminess. A generous dollop of meringue topples slo-mo off his fork down into his colleague's generous cleavage.
One night a stranger invites himself into her booth and subtly dares her to become an actor instead of a spectator – with his enthusiastic participation. Not since the sixties movie “Tom Jones” has food been made so sexy!
Next in the book is the astounding “Pleasure's Apprentice” by Remittance Girl. In measured, polite, almost distant prose, the author introduces ex-college student Rebecca, who's found work in a traditional company that repairs and sells silver artifacts. Working under the tutelage of taciturn, authoritarian Mr. Pierce, Rebecca learns to polish spoons and make tea for the sales staff. It turns out that her gruff, forceful supervisor has other things to teach her as well:
It seemed to Rebecca that he held her like that for an eternity, but it couldn't have been more than a few seconds. She had the sensation that somehow, she'd just stepped off a ledge and into thin air. It lingered until, with her ass pressed tight against his hips, she felt the slow and strangely frightening press of his cock as it came alive. With his free hand, he covered her breast easily. At first the pressure was warm, gentle, but it grew into something demanding and raw. He squeezed until she squirmed, and, when she did, his other hand pushed down the front of her skirt, massive fingers wedging into the space between her legs and cupping her roughly.
“Pleasure's Apprentice” captures the gradual build-up of sexual tension better than anything I've read in years, as well as offering a fresh take on the nature of dominance and submission.
These first four stories raised my expectations for more of the same. Most of the other tales in the collection don't come up to the same standard, though. They are, for the most part, quite competent stories (although two tales which I won't name exhibited an alarming lack of control over POV, and one had me quite confused by just whose voice we were hearing). They include plenty of sex, including voyeurism, BDSM, ménage, and even a bit of gay eroticism. I enjoyed many of them. But they were far from the best erotica I've read, even the best I've read this year.
Two exceptions are Amelia Thornton's “Dolly” and Zahra Stardust's “Lolita.”
The former is a stunning first person narrative by a submissive whose “Daddy” has given her a real live doll to “play” with. The tale is shocking, even cruel, but I found its evocation of interlocking fetishes incredibly compelling.
The latter has the luscious, hazy sensuality of an opium dream. Like “Dolly,” it explores the eroticism of complementary fantasies, in this case those of a young woman and a much older man.
Now Lolita is sitting on a couch opposite a man in a hostel in Tehran. He is watching her eat watermelon that is wet and heavy as a swollen clit. The juice is leaking down her chin and she is spiting out the seeds, but they are landing on her top, already carelessly stained with juice, or on her bottom lip.
He is watching her curl those lips into a half smile to the side of her mouth, which is a bleached pink, and how somehow this makes her cheeks glow. He watches her undress him with her eyes, lazily exotic in a way that is impossibly beautiful.
Probably I am judging this collection too harshly. Many of the stories I haven't called out as appropriate to the title are nevertheless worth reading. The book includes tales from many of my favorite authors - Elizabeth Coldwell, Kay Jaybee, Tsaurah Litzky, Sommer Marsden, Jacqueline Applebee – as well as entertaining contributions from authors new to me, such as Chaparrita and Valerie Alexander. If you buy this book in the hope of reading some engaging, sexy stories to be consumed and then forgotten, you will get your money's worth.
If, on the other hand, you take the title literally, and open the book seeking erotica that truly stands out from the crowd, erotica that is extraordinary, you might, like me, be a bit disappointed.
Why would a promising solicitor moonlight as a whore?
I made up a dozen sob stories. None of them were really true. Suffice it to say, the
parents who paid for the education that brought me here--nearing the end of my training at a rather swanky firm, if I say so myself--could never afford it. I could have let the bank take their
house and their lives, if I'd been that kind of girl.
Novels that deal with the sex trade tend to be melodramatic. Prostitution is described as a trap from which an essentially innocent heroine needs to be rescued by the man who loves her (the plot of La Dame Aux Camellias), or it is described as the ultimate kink (The Happy Hooker).
This erotic romance with the groan-worthy title avoids the usual clichés while presenting a very traditional triangle: the first-person heroine, Leila, is discovered moonlighting as an upscale escort by her dangerous Alpha Male boss and her brotherly co-worker. Once her secret is out, the boss uses it to secure power over her, while Matt the co-worker offers her a more honest and considerate kind of love. Leila is tempted by each of them in turn. She confides in her best friend Clemmie and her other co-worker (in an escort agency run by a gay man), the flirtatious, bisexual Aidan, and they give her insightful feedback.
Leila, who could have been shown simply as confused or weak-willed, is realistically complex. She is generous enough to save her parents’ business (holiday cottages for rent in an idyllic setting) and to appreciate the various good qualities of her friends, who honestly wish her well. She enjoys tax law as well as the theatricality of sex scenes with Aidan, performed for a paying audience.
Although Leila’s dilemma (private humiliation from the boss vs. good-natured teasing from Matt, his brother and his mates in a rock band and a rugby team) is one of the staples of romance as a genre, the mix of lifestyles and personality types is unusually well-described. Leila has a history and a believable life in southern England. Even specific references to such things as VAT (Value Added Tax, which Leila and her fellow-solicitors must calculate) give the novel realistic texture instead of alienating non-British readers.
Of course, there is self-consciously witty dialogue between Leila and the colourful secondary characters. (Think of Sex and the City with a different set of accents). Groan. But then, Leila herself groans and apologizes, as though to suggest that she is really a literary heroine trapped in a lightweight, popular genre.
There are a lot of sex scenes, and they are predictably varied (mostly het and vanilla with spice notes of menage, lesbian and mild bondage). The sex is well-described, and the imagery creates powerful motifs that run through the whole book: the smell of lilac as a comforting but overwhelming reminder of the setting of Leila’s childhood, and the metaphorical knives that divide Leila the solicitor from her alter ego, Charlotte the whore. The references to cutting and emotional pain reach a climax in a sex scene which is chilling but restrained, poetic and hypnotic.This novel seems intended to be the first in a series; not all the loose ends are tied up by the end of this one. The author knows how to structure a novel, and how to involve a reader in the lives of her characters. The complications introduced in this book are worth following in the sequel.
Coming Together has produced some of the most interesting collections of the erotic short story available. These are charity collections to raise money for various causes chosen by the author. Teresa Lamai chose Amnesty International, a cause that holds deep personal interest for her.
Editor Lisabet Sarai mentions in her forward that she first encountered Teresa Lamai on the Erotica Readers and Writers Association (ERWA) site. I also had the good fortune to read Teresa's early work there and many of her stories stay with me. Of all the erotica writers I've read, Teresa's stand out as luminescent, even though the subjects she often illuminates are the darker places in our souls. Teresa was a dancer, so many of her characters are too. But it's not the beauty that the audience sees that she portrays. It's the pain and suffering behind the art. Jealousy is a common theme. Desire, more consuming than passion, in her characters is so ravenous and destructive that it makes the reader slightly uncomfortable, yet the language is so compelling and beautiful that the reader can't look away.
I've read many of these stories before, but years ago. Teresa vanished. She became one of those memories erotica writers spoke of with wistfulness. Where did she go? Then, as time passed, we stopped asking as frequently. I never truly forgot her stories, but so many writers stop producing work for so many reasons that I regretfully accepted it. Then this collection came into my hands for review and it all came rushing back. Yes, I'd read many of these stories, and their impressions lingered, but what a delight to get to read them all over again. Words don't go stale, thankfully. Hers never lost their vibrancy.
Usually, I pick several stories to comment on, but in this case, it's better to let the writer's words speak for themselves:
The craftsmanship is enough to make another writer jealous. This is exquisite art. Like Remittance Girl, who also has a Coming Together collection, Teresa Lamai delves deep into sensuality and delivers flawlessly every time.
I don't bother turning away when I light my third cigarette.
By now I almost want them to see me. Or at least to suspect that someone's out here, watching.
It was surprisingly easy to get up on the warehouse roof. The rusty nitrogen tank has a nice little ladder. I can see downtown Portland from here, sparkling scarlet and sugary white across the river. The moss-scented mist settles, fine as cobwebs, over my cheeks, my hair.
I lean back and watch my old apartment.
The window glows, poppy-bright in the wet darkness. The front room is exactly the same, amps and mixing boards stacked to the ceiling. Jed sits at the tableau's center, guitar in his lap. His black eyes are trained on the music stand, his brows furrowed. He's let his hair grow out, wavier, glossier, almost long enough for a ponytail.
Fuck it. I should know by now that I'm going to cry every time I look at him. The stinging starts in my eyes and then fills my head.
My friends keep telling me how much happier I am without him. I haven't eaten in days. I live on coffee, cold air, and the anxious thrum of waiting, watching. I couldn't tell you what I'm looking for; I just find myself here every night. My life has shrunk around this bright, oblique conviction that if I wait long enough, if I watch hard enough, these barriers of glass and time will dissolve.–I'll be back inside.
I reviewed the original version of this book six years ago when it was first released. Who would have thought that anal sex would still be popular six years later on? Here’s what I said about the original imprint:
“Luscious includes a foreword by Tristan Taormino where she tries to explain our cultural obsession with most things related to the anus. Tristan is an intelligent lady, and an authority on this subject, and her eloquent explanation puts forward some viable theories. However, if she had really wanted to help us analyse the erotic appeal of anal sex, she need only have said, “Read these stories!”
The thing that leaps from the pages of these stories is the sense of fun involved. Tristan Taormino is correct in her assertion that anal sex does “…challenge societal norms…[and] …test the limits of the body.” But the stories in this collection remind us the act is most often performed between consenting adults because it’s extremely enjoyable.
Attitudes, expectations and approach differ greatly. Bryn Haniver introduces a pair of cheeky protagonists in ‘Sometimes it’s Better to Give,’ while Alison Tyler’s curious heroine, Gina, goes on a path of discovery to find out if the forbidden act is ‘Worth It.’ Saskia Walker (who writes her narrative with a smutty grin on her lips) recounts the deliciously enjoyable details of ‘Edward’s Experiments.’
Luscious combines an eclectic blend of sexual preferences and brings them neatly together in this exciting and innovative anthology. With a cast list that includes Kate Dominic, Ayre Riley, Greg Wharton, Sage Vivant and Jean Roberta (amongst many others) it’s an ASS-ET for anyone’s collection.”
And here we are six years later and they’ve managed to squeeze more inside this one than they did before. This revisitation to Luscious is bigger and includes two new stories: “The Missing Kink” by Sophia Valenti and “Anal Submission…or Not” by D L King.
I adored the first release of this anthology. The re-release is a masterful update of a classic anthology – particularly as this topic is such a culturally sensitive one.
Sex in itself is an act of trust. We are trusting our naked bodies in the hands of another. We are trusting our emotional and spiritual wellbeing with someone who may not necessarily have the vested interest of maintaining the balance of those delicate states. In short, we are placing our trust in the intimacy of another person.
And for some reason, contrasted against conventional sex acts, the act of anal sex heightens that level of trust.
We could argue here that this is because the act has connotations of greater intimacy than conventional sex acts. It involves a part of the anatomy that is normally omitted from polite conversations. We could make this argument but it wouldn’t be true. All sex acts, conventional or otherwise, carry connotations of intimacy.
We could argue that anal sex is taboo in many societies and even illegal in some – therefore making it a darker and more dangerous act with heightened echoes of risk-taking and potential punishment. Again, even though there are some cultures fatuous enough to try and dictate the sexual antics of consenting adults, the existence of people denouncing the act wouldn’t wholly explain the broad appeal of anal intercourse.
Personally, I believe it’s the heightened sense of trust involved in this act that has it hailed as a zenith of erotic encounters. And I believe my opinion is reflected in the content of Luscious.
Take for example the opening lines Shanna Germain’s wonderful “Cherry Bottom” which start the fiction in the anthology:
“You okay, babe?” Andrew’s voice above me was half sexual rasp, half concern. His warm, oiled hands had moved from the outside curves of my ass to the inside of my thighs, and they were resting there, not pulling or teasing, just resting against my skin. I kept my eyes and mouth closed and tried not to think about my naked ass in the air. I nodded against the pillow.
Notice here the concern that is being shown between the lovers in this scene. The first words are a question for confirmation that one character is comfortable. It’s an obvious act of profound concern and affection. Or ‘love’ as it might be more commonly known.
This theme of love returns frequently in this anthology. It’s a theme that returns more often than in other collections that focus on more conventional sex acts. Such as in this passage from “Trophy Wife” by Kate Dominic:
I couldn’t do romantic language for shit. I thought it was ridiculous. But for Sharon’s sake, I did my best. Hooking the ring at the end of the beads over my left middle finger, I picked up the smallest bead. “Relax your nether sphincter, my love. I am about to invade your delicate bottom passage.”
Charlotte’s wife may have been startled at her spouse’s forward ways, but my sweet, demanding wife knew exactly what she wanted. She smiled her appreciation at my literary attempts, shivering with delight as her anus seemed to reach out, relaxed and trembling, to suck the first bead in.
Or as in these lines from the opening of D L King’s “Anal Submission…or Not”
“So, is it?” I asked. “Is it a submissive act, when I tell you to fuck me in the ass? Or, is your doing it the submissive act?”
The thing is, I love anal sex. I mean I really love it. I love receiving it and I love giving it.
In short – if you love anal sex, then you’ll love Luscious. The anthology is well-written, exciting and entertaining. Moreover, it stays true to the theme of pleasurable shared intimacy that is inherent in this most intimate of sex acts.