Francie and Dan are desperately in love with one another, but they aren't having an affair – not technically. During their private meetings in the lavish grounds of Dan's opulent estate, they don't touch each other. Instead, they engage in simultaneous masturbation, encouraging one another with dirty talk until each reaches an independent climax. In Dan's view, at least, he's still being faithful to his wife Isabel.
Dan assures Francie that he'll eventually divorce Bel, but he isn't ready yet to take that step. He believes that Bel is too emotionally fragile to handle the shock. Meanwhile, although Bel employs Francie as her kitchen gardener, they're also close friends. Torn apart by guilt and sexual frustration, Francie decides to leave her job for one that plays less havoc with her feelings.
To persuade her to stay, Dan enlists the help of his college chum Simon, a handsome landscape architect who has a lot in common with Francie. According to the plan, Simon will become Dan's surrogate, making love to Francie while Dan watches and directs. Simon agrees, primarily because he's strongly attracted to the earthy, uninhibited young woman himself.
Unbeknownst to her husband, Bel is engaged in some extracurricular sexual shenanigans of her own, in the company of her masseuse Ellen. When Dan finds out, the kinky possibilities re-ignite his lust for Bel – even though he tells himself he loves Francie. Secrets unravel, motives are misunderstood, and for a while it appears that nobody will end up satisfied. That illusion is dispelled, however, as each character ends up matched with the partner he or she deserves.
I loved The Initiation of Ms Holly, the last book by K.D. Grace that I reviewed, so I opened Surrogates with eager anticipation. Unfortunately, I found myself rather disappointed by this book. The plot premise felt contrived, an insubstantial ruse to justify the sex scenes. The sex itself, though copious and well written, was pretty pedestrian compared to the wildly imaginative scenes in Ms Holly. There are M/F/M and M/F/F ménage interludes and a whole lot of wanking, as well as the obligatory corporal punishment scene, but somehow all of this bonking lacked conviction. There were no surprises, no shocks or risks, no breath-stealing excitement or delicious shame. This may be in part because so many of the sexual encounters were literally staged by Dan, in his attempts to have his cake and eat it too.
The voluptuous Francie is an appealing character. (I keep finding myself wanting to write “well-rounded” or “fully fleshed-out”...) She's passionate, unaffected and genuine, with a powerful connection to nature – a true goddess type. It's no wonder she inspires such desire in the men around her. She rings true – the descriptions of her passion are among the best parts of the book – and I would love to have met her in a deeper and more engaging story.
The sensitive but virile Simon is her perfect match, though it takes a surprisingly long time for her to realize this. Dan, on the other hand, struck me as so selfish, self-centered and self-deceiving that he's almost a caricature. Toward the end of the book Ms. Grace suggests that he may be punished for his dishonesty and sexual greed, but one gets the impression he'll enjoy that chastisement far more than he should. He's so unsympathetic that I found it implausible that someone with Francie's virtues would ever be attracted to him.
The plot of Surrogates smacks a bit of a Shakespearean comedy, with its deceptions, misdirections and revelations. I found myself thinking of Titania and Bottom. Perhaps one should view Ms. Grace's characters from that perspective, as comic archetypes manipulated by the author for the pure fun of it. Certainly, with the possible exception of Francie, they didn't strike me as at all realistic, but maybe that was intentional.
Surrogates is not a bad book, if you're looking for stroke fiction. It races along smoothly from one orgasm to the next, raunchy and playful, amusing and pleasant (as long as you can put aside the urge to kick Dan in the butt). However, I know from experience that K.D. Grace is capable giving the reader more than a quick wank, that she can produce erotica with a great deal more depth, insight and passion than is evident here. I'm sorry this book doesn't fulfill that promise.
A multitude of sins can be often be forgiven if the sinfully sexy scenes outweigh the “what the fuck!” moments. With Voyeur, outrageously lax editing threw me out of the story so often, just when I’d begun to feel, well, involved, that “wtf” was tipping the balance through much of the book.
As a writer and editor of erotica myself, I admit that I have certain biases. Many readers would glide right over egregious spell-check fails such as “her body froze to a statute-like state,” or an “opaque glass participation that divided the front and back of the vehicle,” or even the repeated use of “pre-empted” when “realized” or “predicted” were what was meant. But other readers might well have been distracted by these and many similar instances. What was the publisher thinking? Or the editors? Did the author get to review the final version?
I realize that Voyeur is intended to appeal to readers who like to be immersed in a world of non-stop BDSM sex as they imagine that world to be. On those terms, it certainly delivers. People with real experience in BDSM circles would be spluttering with criticism, but they’d be looking elsewhere for their reading pleasure in any case. I’ve seen my share of dungeons and play parties, charismatic tops and bottoms deep in sub space, and the real BDSM scene is far from anything depicted here. But most erotica has a certain gilding of fantasy, and there’s nothing wrong with writing for those who like it laid on with a heavy brush.
Still, some might prefer prose with a bit more finesse. Many of the sentences here are so long and convoluted that they have the effect of slowing the action. And, while avoiding repetition of words is a worthy aim, describing breasts, for instance, as “tits,” “teats,” and “globes” all in the same paragraph is overdoing things (especially since tits and teats are essentially the same term.) Speaking of terminology, for a character to refer to her own breasts in conversation as “globes” does nothing to enhance her believability. Readers more concerned with being swept up in what’s being done to certain body parts than with what they’re called won’t quibble about points like this, though, and the author does a creditable job in the sweeping-up department.
Now that I’ve got some of the editorial pickiness out of my system, I’ll move on to the more important matter of content. The characters and general structure of the story are familiar to readers of kinky erotica, with a few moderate variations. Here we have two submissive women with one dominant man who demands obedience, but prefers to record the women having sex with each other or with other men and women. He orchestrates scenes rather than participating personally, and gets his own kicks later while watching these filmed encounters in private.
Voyeurism can be an intensely erotic theme, especially combined, as here, with an undercurrent of the struggle for self-control by one who controls others. The parallel of a dominant who is as bound by his obsession as the submissives are by their mechanical bonds is intriguing, although I’m not sure it’s intended. Still, I found Mark, the voyeur, unappealing. Others’ mileage may, of course, vary. The two women were easier to like, even though it took quite a while for their individual personalities to be at all clear, and none of the characters were developed in much depth.
The kinky sex is virtually non-stop, often repetitive, and generally predictable, which may well be pluses for devotees of this sub-genre. The characters themselves acknowledge these points; one remarks, recounting an intense multi-player scene apparently meant to be an ordeal for her, “It was all a bit obvious, really; candles, food and stuff.” The concept of a series of challenges, each building stamina for the next, gives a structure to the story, and near the end some actual plot elements are revealed and the voyeur Mark is shown to have a degree of humanity. While none of the details were particularly startling, I have to admit that as events unfolded toward the end I was curious enough about what would happen next that I was caught up in the flow, without paying as much attention to editing faults or clichéd prose. I even had a sense that the author was caught up in it, too, and writing a bit more smoothly than in the beginning. There were some holes in the plot, such as it was, but here again readers in the game for the sex will probably not care, even if they notice.
All in all, the pluses didn’t outweigh the WTF moments for me, but they occasionally came close, and for someone not burdened with an editorial instinct they might come even closer.
I'm not sure how we're assigned books to review at Erotica Revealed. Once, in our past - is it six years now? - I requested a book I knew would be submitted, but every other book has been the choice of Erotica Revealed's D.L. King. She knows I love fantasy, so maybe that's why I was lucky enough to review Thrones of Desire. Fans of fantasy will not be disappointed.
So many stories to choose from. Where does one start to discuss the contributions to this consistently good anthology?
Dragons, of course.
“Here There Be Dragons” by Ashley Lister was a lovely treat. I expected it to be. He knows how to tell a tale. The keeper of a dangerous collection, or perhaps zoo, of dragons is confronted by a man who could give her everything she desires, including an end to her loneliness. She makes a warrior's decision that made me smile.
“Hot As a Dragon’s Blood” by Eric Del Carlo explores society's taboos as a bisexual man (or a gay man who rises to the occasion) and a woman work around the artificial limitations their people impose to answer the call of duty in time of war.
The opening paragraph of “The Last Sacrifice”by Zander Vyne is one of those finely wrought works that makes other writers envious. If you're a fan of shapeshifting, especially if you were a girl who really liked horses, this one is for you. (And there is a dragon.)
Janine Ashbless is another writer I can always count on for a thoughtful tale. Her “Of High Renown” challenges ideas of consent and guilt. The words coming out of her character's mouths are so spot on perfect that they're timeless. This is a story that you'll reflect on long after you've read it.
“At the Sorcerer’s Command”by Kim Knox offered a glimpse of a world I'd love to see developed further, although this tale stands alone. It set my fantasy fan heart fluttering with some rather interesting sex magic and a young woman who saves the day.Megan Arkenberg's “Jericho” at times borders on lyrical. The visuals conjured by her words are amazing. The best part of fantasy is when it pulls you in so deep that you don't want to leave the world or you wish you had more time to explore it. This story left me wanting more.
This is from the opening pages of Unchain Me. I’ve used these passages to illustrate some of the reasons why I didn’t enjoy this novel.
“We’re stockbrokers. We’ve been here for about three years, we love the city life.” They shared a condo on the upper floor of a condo high rise, quite impressive to all the women they brought there.
Grammatically speaking, the condo would have been impressive to all the women they TOOK there. It would only have been impressive to all the women they BROUGHT there if this piece of narration was taking place at the condo.
I know it’s a small and picky detail but it’s called grammar. It’s subject verb agreement. Writers should really know about stuff like that, shouldn’t they?
They had yet to find the right girl, not sure what she would even be like, but they did enjoy bedding all the others that vied for their attention. They were handsome, wealthy, young and from what they were told, good in bed. “How about you?” Scott took a sip of his drink, put it down, so his hand could go to her leg and rest it on it. Her skirt was short, so all he found was a naked, lean leg. It was a fifty-fifty proposition that she would push it away, but Natasha barely acknowledged it.
Exposition is a technical term in writing. It refers to the act of telling the reader rather than supplying the reader with a story. This passage is pure exposition.
Curiously, we’re told that these characters had yet to find the right girl. I’m not quite sure whether this is grammatically correct or not. If Scott and Davis are both looking for one girl to share, then it’s correct. If they’re each looking for their own girl, then we’ve gone grammatically snafu once again.
I won’t even go into the sexist suggestions of men looking for girls. I get weary of pointing out that men should really look for MEN or WOMEN. Men who look for girls usually end up in trouble with the police.
“We’ve been in the city for a month now. We started a nursery school and it’s doing exceptionally well.” The hand felt good on her leg, but she knew there would be no pleasure for her tonight. The hand began to move, but slowly and sensuously as though it was in time with the music. She let her leg relax.
This passage immediately follows what’s gone before.
Some editors refer to this as head-hopping. But I’m not sure an editor saw this book before it went to print. We were given the thoughts of Scott. We were given the thoughts of Natasha. The story goes on to give us the thoughts of Davis.
Davis looked at the beautiful girl next to him. She hadn’t even said a word, but he could feel the heat of her body next to him. She smiled so sweetly at him, he watched as she took a sip of her drink, her lips moist and glistened so erotically. His cock was hard at the thought of bedding her tonight. “That’s pretty impressive that you have your own nursery school. You must be very successful, Kelly.”
“Yes, we do very well,” Kelly, purred to him in her soft voice. “We are talented.”
The chances are this book improved spectacularly after these opening pages. That’s usually what I’m told when I’ve given bad reviews for books in the past. I’ll be honest here and say it could well have improved. I don’t think it could have gotten worse. I didn’t bother reading any further.
There’s some fantastic erotica out there and some wonderful entertaining and engaging titles. This is not one of them.
Richard Labonté opens up Wild Boys with an admission: he’s not a wild boy. In fact, he’s pretty much the anti-wild boy. Besides giving me a good chuckle – I could certainly relate to Labonté’s position here – it framed the collection nicely. I went in to the collection expecting these wild boys to be intermingling with the nice guys who just can’t help but find the bad boys alluring.
With a few exceptions, that’s the general theme of the anthology – men finding themselves with young studs who are definitely not the “bring them home to the parents” types. Back alleys maybe, and definitely to a knife fight, but not home to the parents.
You can always count on Labonté to collect a good range of story types, even within a theme. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him twice, and so when I glanced through the table of contents, I found a nice mix of masters of the erotic genre, a few new names, and a few names I’m starting to see pop up quite a bit in various anthologies. This is – as usual – a strong collection that holds to the theme but mixes it up in the specifics quite a bit.
The type of story I was expecting most from the collection was Michael Bracken’s “The Hitter and the Stall.” Here we’ve got a cute young blond who picks the pocket of the wrong guy – someone better at that job than he is. Here there’s a kind of mentoring involved, but the younger punk’s attitude and nonchalance was exactly what was conjured for me with the title, cover, and description of Wild Boys . That the two men end up sharing more than pickpocketing skills is a given, and the narrator’s awareness that this boy could be trouble, even as he’s tumbling the fellow into bed, rang true.
Dale Chase turns back the clock in “The Outlaw Paulie Creed.” This is one of Chase’s trademark westerns, involving a sheriff, who should – and does – know better than to mess with the young man locked up in his cell, but gives into temptation and has to live through the fallout. The sex scorches, but taking a wanted man is sure to leave the sheriff burned. Chase always manages to give an amazing flavour to historically set pieces, and “The Outlaw Paulie Creed” is no exception. I always know I’m in for a treat, and including this piece in the collection gave it real variety. Like I said, Richard Labonté knows what he’s doing.
Jeff Mann’s “Satyr” also twists the theme just a notch sideways with a young man that the narrator has admired from afar for a while now finally making his way into his car via hitchhiking. Mann’s story had the main character with the most awareness, I’d say – he knows this kid is trouble, and this kid is availing his body to the man for cash, but there’s more going on than appears at the surface, and the untangling of the sweaty mess – and of course the knotting up of the sweaty boy – is all a part of Mann’s usual skillful narrative.
These three stories give you an idea of the variance going on in the tales, but there’s more to explore in Wild Boys still. Dominic Santi’s “Red Right” gives the reader a fisting story, with a top who wants to see his new boy explore his dom side. Joe Marohl’s “Mr. Lee’s Men” has a pair of boys fighting at its core while the eponymous Mr. Lee watches. “The Devil Tattoo” by Jonathan Asche deftly explores the uncle-and-his-niece’s-boyfriend scene it creates with a sly dark wink or two. And in the rest of the tales, there’s some boot worship, some punishment, and of course a wild boy for every tale.
There’s likely something here for everyone who has even that brief reaction of attraction to the bad boy. The collection’s varied tales are exactly that – varied – without losing the theme, and the end result is what I’d expected in the first place from Richard Labonté: a solid anthology.