I love BDSM fiction - both to read and to write. Some of you perusing this review, I'm sure, will nod your heads in agreement, possibly even more enthusiastic than I am about the genre. BDSM is sufficiently complex, however, that the same book might affect us in totally different ways.
The acronym itself signals the disparate, overlapping components of "kink." Bondage and discipline. Dominance and submission. Sadism and masochism. For some people, physical constraint and pain provide the turn on. For others, the excitement hinges on the power differential, the experience of taking control, or relinquishing it. Some readers prefer cruel, untouchable dominants and submissives reduced to the status of objects. Others focus on the ritualistic connection between the partners in the D/s dance. BDSM may involve humiliation, fear, disgust, shame, and sexual deprivation, as well as pleasure, sexual satisfaction, pride, and devotion.
Given this broad spectrum, both physical and psychological, Amber's Attraction by Annabeth Carew will very likely appeal to some readers of the genre. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.
Amber, Ms. Carew's heroine, is an aspiring actress in her twenties, distinguished mostly by her full-bosomed blonde beauty and her naughty sexual imagination. Amber attends an audition for a role as hostess for a high-profile television game show called Infinite Fun, directed by enigmatic maverick Garrett Ellison and funded by millionaire tycoon Roland Hadley. Her first meeting with Ellison excites and disturbs her. She realizes that her trepidation is justified when, on the call-back interview, he requires her to masturbate in front of the camera (and the crew). Still she doesn't refuse her screen test, even when it involves wrestling her gorgeous co-hostess Karina in a pool of lime jello. Despite her uncertainty, the chance to exhibit herself in lewd and embarrassing ways excites her tremendously. After the screen test, however, she comes to her senses and seeks out the commanding Garrett to object. He takes control, physically and psychologically, forcing her to admit to her unseemly desires and claiming her as his slave.
Amber's contract with the studio requires her not only to participate in the game show, but also to act in more private scenes for the benefit of Roland Hadley's investors and their friends. With Karina and Damon Cavill, the charming and charismatic host of Infinite Fun, Amber participates in a wide range of outrageous sexual scenarios, each more bizarre and humiliating than the last. In the books climactic scene, Karina and Amber are dosed with a potent experimental drug that supposedly turns women into nymphomaniacs and then gang banged by an entire Australian soccer team, including the coaches. The directors of this orgy, Garrett and Roland, simply watch.
You may think from the synopsis above that I object to the over-the-top sex scenes in Amber's Attraction. In fact, that's not true at all. Ms. Carew shows considerable originality in her carefully orchestrated sexual extravaganzas. Although the lime jello struck me as rather disgusting, (because of the jello, not the girl-on-girl sex!) some of the others definitely appealed. My favorite requires Amber to take the role of a prize pet pig,complete with a pink rubber mask and curly tail appended to a butt plug. She is rudely examined by the "judges" before wallowing in a pool of mud (spa quality!) and then being fucked by her doting "farmer" (Damon) while the horrified "farmer's wife" (Karina) whips her. Another outstanding scene, entitled "Three Ring Circus", casts Amber as a trapeze artist who has sold out to a rival circus. A pair of thuggish, tattooed strong men join Damon and Karina in exacting a painful, penetrating "revenge."
It's all lusty and exciting, with plenty of ropes, chains, whips, belts, dildoes, butt-plugs and gags, not to mention rampant erections, swollen nipples, soaked pussies, and stretched rear holes. No, the sex in Amber's Attraction isn't the problem. What bothered me was the characters and their relationships.
Amber is, quite frankly, shallow and stupid. She appears incapable of doing anything aside from looking gorgeous, shopping, going to spas, and having orgasms. Garrett treats her horribly (more on this later) but she doesn't have the self respect to walk away, even when she believes that she's in physical danger. It's obvious to everyone but Amber that the "experimental aphrodisiac" is a fake, a set-up to allow Amber to shed her last inhibitions and release her inner slut. Even after working with Garrett for weeks, she's not intelligent enough to understand how his devious mind works and to see through his machinations.
The Natural Submissive, who needs the Dom in order to learn about her True Self, is an archetype in BDSM literature. Female readers, especially, tend to identify with this sort of character, imagining themselves in her place. Maybe some readers will have that reaction to Amber. I couldn't - even though I've personally experienced something like the BDSM initiation to which she is subjected. She's just too wishy washy. She walks into a room, determined to stand up for her rights, only to turn to weakly protesting mush at a look from Garrett.
Meanwhile, I found Garrett truly despicable. He is arrogant and inconsiderate, showing no respect for his slave and only marginal concern for her comfort or safety. Amber apparently enjoys being humiliated, and Garrett is only too happy to oblige. He "smirks," "sneers," "jeers" and "mocks" his way through the book, ridiculing her poor attempts to understand what's going on, rarely showing the slightest interest in her feelings or well-being. He's the kind of Dom that makes some people equate BDSM with abuse.
His most grievous sin, in my eyes, is lying to her. The trick with the fake drug is simply cruel - partially because he knows she's not smart enough to figure it out. For me, the sine qua non of a BDSM relationship is trust. Garrett Ellison is not to be trusted.
There's also an element of dubious consent in this book. Certainly, there's no negotiation and no safewords. Amber never really decides to become Garrett's slave. She's totally consumed with lust for him; he proclaims that when she swallows his cum, she'll be his, and she believes him. Basically, she becomes his whore, forced to sexually satisfy Roland's disgusting cronies, making money for Garrett and Roland by acting in their porn shoots. The fact that Amber at some level seems to enjoy this doesn't necessarily make it all right - at least not in my eyes.
Of course, as I noted in my introduction, not everyone will react the way I did. Some readers find this sort of interaction arousing. They believe that the role of a Dom is to reduce the sub to nothing, to strip away every hope, every comfort. Amber's Attraction may be exactly what they're looking for.
Before concluding I want to mention the writing. Although Amber's Attraction is definitely not romance, the style borrows heavily from that genre, with plenty of purple-tinted prose. For someone who writes such extreme, diverse and unrelenting sex scenes, Ms. Carew seems to have a curious aversion to using the word "cunt" or even "pussy." (I couldn't find either one in the entire 111 pages.)
Here's a particularly egregious paragraph from page 27:
He put her out of her torment with one long, strong thrust, sinking into her hot depths without a word. Amber screamed into the black leather, overwhelmed by the sensation of the log of solid flesh stretching her tight sheath. Her sex muscles clung to his thickness while every nerve ending in her femininity sparked with delight. As he began to ram his cock backwards and forwards, Amber became almost delirious with excitement, experiencing an unparalleled intensity of sexual pleasure. Her entire being was transported by the power of his possession and she lost all sense of time and space.
Fortunately the imaginative sex tended to distract me from the writing through much of the book, though I did notice Amber on page 70 “sucking and slurping at the oasis of his loins as if she was dying of thirst.”
I'm really sorry that I didn't react more positively to this book. I wanted to. I wanted Amber to wake up and show some spine. I wanted Garrett to display a bit of sympathy, to offer her that sense of being cherished that, for a sub, makes every pain and trial worth enduring. It never happened.Other readers might not care. But I did.
Beating About the Bush can’t seem to decide whether it’s trying to be amusing or erotic or a combination of both. Whichever it’s aiming for it didn’t quite work for me on any level.
But don’t just take my word for this. Here’s a sample from the introduction:
“OK, listen. The tension created by the Foreplayers [sic] innovative writing style gives rise to an array of multi-faceted characters and story-lines not usually associated with an erotic novel. Readers will be as surprised as authors Luscious Lorraine, Temptress Theo, Sultry Shelley and Juicy June, by the outcome of Beating about the Bush.”
“Can’t you just say we’re four nymphettes who team up to write a racy novel?”
“But we’re real authors, with book, magazine and newspaper credentials…”
“Credentials? Excuse me Luscious, but what kind of credentials do readers want?
The idea behind this book sounded like a lot of fun. The writing is not all bad. As evinced above, the authors claim to have credentials in book, magazine and newspaper publishing. But this project needed an editor to oversee the production of the pages and collate the thoughts of four disparate authors into a cohesive whole.
That, I feel, is what’s missing.
Erotica is an unforgiving medium. It takes little more than a dangling modifier or a missed apostrophe and the reader is torn from the suggested physicality of the fictional world to the reminder that they’re reading a fiction. Do this two or three times in a novel and the reader won’t want to return to the author’s writing. Do this two or three times on a page and the reader or reviewer won’t bother finishing the title.
Here’s another example:
Small talk seemed unwise. She was no longer in the land of, change-the-subject-and-we’ll-forget-the-whole-thing. What land this was she was not quite sure, but one thing she did know - George was a whole new species. A picture of him standing in the middle of the Stock Exchange floor flashed in her mind’s eye. It was George, in colour, surrounded by a hushed, staring mob of traders; all of them ex-lovers, all in black-and-white. It was a visual interpretation of what her intuition already knew – don’t mess with George in Georgeland – at least not with the old rules.
As the outer perimeter of The Lodge came into view, Sam’s apprehension faded, and her cadence relaxed. George however, maintained his pace and left her in his wake.
They went their separate ways, stretching an invisible thread that connected their libidos under the heading, ‘A Challenge’. Their groins pulsed in unison as they each sought their separate relief. Sam headed for her room where a bubbly bath caressed not only her ripe clit, but also her diabolic desire to domesticate, and then discard her new prey.
I recently read an article about the invisibility of editors. In some ways it was saddening to think that all the hard work of an editor goes relatively unnoticed. But the truth is it doesn’t go unnoticed. For me, the absence of an editor on Beating About the Bush is consistently apparent.
Am I being harsh? Yes. Quite possibly – and I apologise to the authors if I’m coming across as a bitch. I know how much work goes into producing a full length work of fiction and it looked like a lot of time and imagination had been invested in this piece. But for me, I thought it needed those finishing touches that would be provided by having an editor work on the MS and transform it into a cohesive whole.
Obviously this is just one reviewer’s opinion and I’m sure others will get lots of the intended pleasure that was envisioned when the Foreplayers began Beating About the Bush. But I can’t honestly recommend this title to anyone looking for well-written erotica.
There’s a wonderful Walt Whitman poem I love so that includes the following lines: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” If that seems like a stuffy and odd way to introduce a review of Cruising, by Shane Allison, just bear with me for a bit.
Cruising is a collection of just that – erotic encounters where strangers negotiate quick trysts with the flick of a glance, the tap of a foot, or any other myriad signals that have evolved between men trying to hook up with other men for some quick relief. There’s often something of a dichotomy at play here – these are marginalized men (as Shane points out in his introduction) who haven’t got the typical outlet that straight society has – these are men resorting to the stink of a dirty highway bathroom, tea room, or dark bookstore stalls. There’s the edge of desperation here, as well as the shiver of anticipation of finally – finally – having some fun with whichever random stranger comes along. It’s dirty. From the outside, it seems empty and sad – but in the hands of the right authors, it can be all the more titillating for the rushed danger of it all. And in some cases, it’s only the outside appearance after all.
The “empty and sad” does have its place, and in the opening tale by Bob Vickery, “School Queer,” the overwhelming presence of this isn’t entirely unwelcome. The one boy that everyone knows is queer – but blows the straight boys behind the boathouse – carries this mix of pride and outcast status perfectly. This is what Pete can get right now, and he’s damned good at it. When something “more” appears – in the form of popular and handsome Bill, who is taking an odd amount of interest in Nick, another boy Pete services, there’s a tangle of power that starts to unravel a bit.
I look up into his face, but his eyes are trained on Nick’s spit-slicked, fully hard cock. Bill’s the big man on campus, and I may be the queer boy with zero status, but tonight the tables are turned.
I think this was a major part of “getting” the anthology for me in terms of theme. I’m not sure if I found something that wasn’t put there on purpose, but there’s a projection of power and freedom in many of these stories – especially from the characters most trapped and powerless – that breathes a freshness into what otherwise might have been an anthology like many others: eyes meet, clothes fall, orgasms happen. Instead, in many of the tales, there’s a sense the characters are claiming these moments and making their lives their own – even if that happens in a seedy bathroom stall.
This is not to say there is no danger. Anytime Jeff Mann’s name pops up, I sit up and pay attention, and with his tale, “Keeper,” a young trucker bear is about to learn the dangers of taking unknown cargo for some extra cash. In this case, an innocent cruising at a truck stop could lead to murder. Fans of Mann will know they’re in for a great piece of erotic prose with that edge he manages so well: bondage, rope, deprivation, and perhaps an end very final. Mann’s ability to leave you unsure until the last few moments plays out as strong as ever. It’s dangerous, violent, bloody and terrifying; all these things should not be erotic, but in Mann’s hands they rage. Again – the sense of contradiction so prevalent in the anthology.
I have to also mention “The Tuggle Muggs Magic Cave Ride” by Jonathan Asche as an amusing favourite in that it has a lighthearted and amusing tone throughout. Trapped with his sister and nephew at – horrors – an amusement park, here the narrator makes eye contact with a handsome stranger, and takes a quick trip to a closed amusement park ride to find some relief. The occasional sounds and theme park music overlaying the enjoyment the two men find inside the cave is funny, and I had a few good laugh out loud moments with this one. It brought a less seedy fell to the anthology.
Mark Wildyr’s “Bully” bothered me in a different way. It’s not to say that the erotica wasn’t well written, but more that the main character’s evolution left me feeling nauseous. From bullied to bully – especially over a smaller, more innocent character who never does anything wrong to him – Toby generated no empathy from me, and I was left more disgusted than anything else. This could easily be a case of “too close to home” though, in that having your face kicked in generally leaves you unable to connect with bullies thereafter.
The settings vary more than I’d thought they might. Beyond Mann’s truckstop, Asche’s amusement park, and Vickery’s boathouse, we’re also treated to Shaun Levin’s cemetery, Donald Peebles Jr.’s subways, Jeremy Anders Windsor’s greenhouse – there’s a good mix of age and body types, as well. And in a funny retelling of “Little Shop of Horrors” Gregory L. Norris gives us the “Little Shop of Hummers.” Another laugh-out-loud fun story.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with Cruising. Dirty anonymous sex, sure, but how could an entire book of those stories continue to be interesting? Well, put in the hands of capable authors, it can be done. These are not endless married men on the down-low (though some of their tricks might be), these are guys getting off incognito, and mostly doing so with a sense of empowerment I honestly hadn’t really considered before. Cruising is definitely worth a toe tap or two.
The back cover of Model Men poses the question: Whether gazing at a billboard or flipping through a magazine, who hasn't felt a jolt of longing for the stunning male model who gazes back? Unfortunately, that person who hasn't is me. Since the idea of pretty men isn't an automatic turn-on the premise of this book is lost on me, so the stories I liked tended to be more about the characters than the idea of physical perfection. Fair warning.
If your kink is medical play, you're going to love “Medical Model” by Logan Zachary. As a favor to a doctor he likes to flirt with, a man volunteers to be a test patient for medical students. He receives a folder with a description of his problem and he acts it out with the intern. In the first scenario, he pretends to suffer from migraines. It's a breeze, right? But his doctor friend sets him up for a prostate exam with the hunky intern who walks in next, and then decides to lend a hand. Things get decidedly kinky from then on.
In “It's All About the Attitude” by Aaron Michaels, a model is failing at a photo shoot. He asks for a brief break and calls his boyfriend in a panic. After his boyfriend gets him into the right frame of mind, he returns to the shoot and delivers what the photographer is looking for. This one I liked for the (dare I admit it?) light romantic tone that follows the sex. It turns out the boyfriend likes being someone he'd turn to, and what was probably going to be a temporary relationship deepens into something permanent. (And this is probably the last time I'll ever admit - or feel - that the romantic side of an erotic story was what set it apart for me)
But never fear for my momentary lapse! Because “Head Shots” by Neil Plakcy was the next story to catch my eye. Sure, his characters have the looks to model, but this story isn't about ethereal male beauty. Nope. Just healthy, horny young naked men doing what comes naturally. Yes, someone is taking pictures of them while they enjoy themselves, but it's not about showing off or posing, and it's definitely not about the underwear they're supposed to be showing off.
“Beautiful. Dirty. Rich.” by Clancy Nacht deserves a special mention for being the ultimate fucking the unobtainable fantasy in this anthology. And in “Pink Cowboy Hat,” Gavin Atlas writes about the pursuit of beauty that few of us could afford. Yes, his narrator is shallow, but somehow endearingly forgivable.
If the thought of male models is enough to get you in a steamy frame of mind, you're probably going to enjoy this anthology. This is listed as gay erotica, but I noticed quite a few slash (M/M - and yes, there is a difference) stories. So this can appeal to both male and female readers. Given that this wasn't fantasy fodder for me, I still found stories I enjoyed, so I'm giving Model Men a thumbs up review.
Does the world really need another anthology of spanking stories? When will the market for them become glutted? This was my first thought when I took my first glance at this one. Then I realized that spankings are no more similar than fucks. A spanking takes its meaning from the relationship in which it occurs (teacher/student, Dominant/submissive, etc.), it can involve more than two people (a witness/voyeur, spankee-in-waiting or assistant spanker can play a powerful role), and it can involve a wide variety of sensations.
This collection is different from the others I have reviewed. The cover image shows a woman from the back, her butt-crack exposed by a curved gap in her clothing which cleverly suggests the signature red “V” in the logo of the publisher, Ravenous Romance. This alone distinguishes the book from those produced elsewhere.
A surprising number of these stories involve threesomes; this seems surprising because spankings, by definition, seem to be a one-on-one activity. Even the stories with the most conventional plot premise (Dominant man spanks submissive woman) each have some unusual ingredient that raises the story above the level of cliché.
Like many other anthologies, this one combines stories written with different levels of skill and levels of realism. Helen Madden’s hilarious fairy tale, “The Unfair Maidens,” is a slapstick (literally) version of the revenge story (heterosexual male player gets what he deserves from the women he has played) as well as a parody of the kind of folk tale originally taken seriously. “The Birthday Boy’s Punishment” by Garland is a classic gay boy’s fantasy about getting spanked and fucked by a male teacher as soon as he turns eighteen. (Even in a daydream, it seems, all characters must be legally old enough to consent.)
“Dorm Room Disciplinarian” by A. Erin Golding is a parallel story about a male university student who finds the right female tutor. Instead of distracting him, her spanking focuses his mind so that he can learn better. In “Professor Kent’s Book Club” by Nina Tate Parker, a man who visits his academic mentor, Professor Kent, is amazed to learn that the professor has started a “book club” for submissive middle-aged woman who are not getting what they need from their husbands. The professor encourages Richard, his former student, to explore his own desires and to ask for what he wants.
The fantasy stories include two about the writing process itself. The one that entertained me best is “Inspired” by Martha Davis, a truly inspired study of the relationship of a woman who writes erotica and her devilishly handsome incubus-muse, Alexander, who must be spurred on to give her ideas. I’ve seen this concept embodied in erotic stories before; paradoxically, most erotic writers seem to need a charge of lust to be in writing mode, but writing is usually done best alone. Some versions of this plot are tragic: writer is so obsessed/possessed by fantasy lover (in some cases a ghost or evil spirit) that the writer is alienated from other humans.
In “The Roll-Top Desk” by T. Harrison, a pair of writers are determined to inspire and stimulate each other, even though their writing is not necessarily erotic. The male poet, who uses vintage writing tools (a refinished roll-top desk and an old manual typewriter), gets his girlfriend to read his latest poem aloud while he spanks her in rhythm. She suggests revisions, he literally tries them out on her, and both characters are thus recharged. Afterwards, they each return to their writing. This method could work.
Among the threesome stories are “His and Hers” by Ily Goyanes (a variation on the classic fantasy of a stern female librarian punishing a bad boy for breaking library rules), “Designated Hitter” by Big Ed Magusson (an initiation story about a husband and wife discovering the world of BDSM), “An Incentive for Penny” by Jade Alexander (about a submissive female employee and her Dominant female boss – but the submissive has been set up by her boyfriend) and “The Upper Hand” by D.L. King (in which a male Dom, who advertises for spankees in the newspaper, has a female assistant).
In a sense, threesome spanking stories seem very logical. Even in childhood, a real spanking (delivered by parents) is/was likely to be the result of a set-up: Child A tempts Child B to misbehave, thereby earning a spanking, or one authority figure (e.g. Mom) reports the child’s bad behavior to the designated punisher (e.g. Dad).
In several of the realistic stories, understanding friends or mentors play a key role in the initiation of newbies, some of whom don’t understand their own desires as well as others do. In “A Cure for Excess” by Annabeth Leong, a young woman is devastated after being dumped by a boyfriend who complained that she was “too demanding” sexually. Her friend Rebecca, and Rebecca’s sexy boyfriend, offer to help spank this quality out of her. Of course, being part of a threesome was exactly what she needed.
In “The First Weekend” by Nan Andrews, a married woman (Miriam) lunches with her married friend Celia, who seems to be having much more fun than Miriam is. Then Miriam’s husband invites her to join him on a business trip, and he introduces her to the world of BDSM to spice up their marriage and bring them closer together. He spanks her even when she is pleading with him to stop, presumably because he knows that she needs an emotional catharsis. Feh.
“Glass Slippers” by Leela Scott is about a married pair of ballet dancers who integrate spanking into their rehearsals. Both their dancing and their relationship are shown to be works of art which require much practice.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by George Glass is about a woman’s search for the right man; like Cinderella, she has to date many suitors who are not quite suitable until she finds the one whose desires mesh with hers. “On Switch” by Penelope Pruitt is a similarly realistic story about a young man who needs a spanking so badly that he knocks on his girlfriend’s door in the middle of the night, unable to rest until he gets what he wants; eventually, he discovers that he has to give something in return. In “Little Boys” by Angela R. Sargent, men who crave the feeling of being boys again get when they want from a Domme.
Probably the most unusual story (and one of the best) is “Venus Callipige” by Cesar Sanchez Zapata, set in the Swinging London of the 1960s. The central character, a male clothing designer, is pestered by a model until he realizes to his amazement that his strait-laced persona and his efforts to brush her off are exactly what turn her on. While the happy ending stretches the reader’s credulity, both the style and the plot evoke a time when the energy of rock music seemed likely to transform the world.
Strangely enough, I was disappointed by the one convincingly lesbian story, “My Slutty Little Girl,” by Sinclair Sexsmith. The repetitious dialogue, which emphasizes the contrast of roles, is less sexy on the page than it probably would be in life. This type of pairing has often been described in lesbian anthologies, and it has been done better.
Anthologies always include stories which will not appeal to all the members of the target audience. Spankalicious, however, includes enough gems to be worth checking out.