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.
I’ve always loved collections of single-author works. For one, short-fiction junkie that I am, it’s certainly easier and more cost-effective than tracking down all the stories individually (not that that has stopped me from doing so before, many times, with authors I particularly enjoy). For another, if I haven’t read that person before, a collection of their short fiction is a wonderful way to get to “know” them from pieces they have written throughout their career.
A Love Drive-By is a perfect example of this. I’d not read Susan St. Aubin before, but the stories included in this collection come from publications between 1985 and 2010 – that’s a twenty-five year progression, and the end result is a wide-angle view on a really enjoyable author.
In almost every way, this book draws upon full ranges rather than narrow fields of view. For lovers of kink, there’s more than a few different – and lesser seen – glances to be had. In particular, I think the first story in the collection, “Hands,” does a brilliant job of painting a character whose fascination with the hands of others in a fascinating (and erotically charged) light. As the first story, it also keys in the reader to expect the unusual, but not be overwhelmed by that. No matter the kink, the style of the story and the erotic tone of the telling will work together to satisfy the reader, and this first character – who is bisexual, fluidly aware of the simplicity (and error) of viewing the world in gendered binary, and who has this fascination with hands – is a perfect example of the depth of character St. Aubin seems to effortlessly craft.
For those of us a little tired of the perfect-bodied heroines of a young age, yes, another range is also explored throughout the collection. Here, “Afterlife” – the final story in the collection – really shone for me. A woman with many years under her belt is exploring new avenues of sexuality – including shifting from being with a woman to being with a man. That her partner of many years has died is one facet of the story, and it’s handled lovingly and yet doesn’t detract from the heat of her time with this new man. And again, the kink involved (bondage and more than a little bit of sexual release denial) doesn’t distract from the sensuality of the characters.
Age, body type, kink, personality, sexual fluidity – St. Aubin doesn’t linger in one place long before moving to another, and in all cases, the destinations and the journeys are well written, smart erotica that leaves the reader with something to think about. There are even a few stories – “Live Action,” and “This Isn’t About Love,” spring to mind – that play with the reader’s preconceptions before shifting suddenly sideways and ending on a note sure to make you stop and consider. In “Live Action” the notion of exhibitionism and voyeurism is taken in a different direction by virtue of a woman who sees what others aren’t seeing. And “This Isn’t About Love” has the most incredibly hot (and absolutely non-fetishized) encounter with a man with physical disabilities I’ve read. Both pack more of a surprise punch at the end than I’d imagined when I started them.
As erotica, these are good. But it’s safe to say that as literature, these are just as good. This is a rare collection that has such strength of narrative that I – for one – was really captivated throughout the entire journey. I think fans of literary erotica will be just as taken in by St. Aubin’s turns of phrase and storytelling prowess.Certainly, short fiction junkie that I am, you can bet I’ll be looking for more from St. Aubin.
If you think you’ve seen every kind of succubus out there, I’d posit you’ve probably not had a gander at M.E. Hydra’s “A Succubus for Christmas.” To say that there’s variety in the temptress demons that delight in draining men dry in these tales would be quite the understatement. Within the group of stories, we move from the more typical seductress succubi – bat-winged, but big-breasted – to some of the more original creations I’ve come across for demons in fiction.
There are plant succubus creatures, and ones that seem to walk only in dreams; there is even a bubble-bath succubus – as in, formed from frothy bubbles – that is one of the more creative stories in the collection. The stories range in setting and form, but not as much in conclusion. Steven Ennis, in the title story that opens the anthology, is gifted a Succubus through a mystical object, and is hooked by the coquettish demon right from the start. Tempted by such a mistress of sex – with a prehensile tail, no less – you feel for him as he can’t quite work up the nerve to spare his friend’s soul, which is feeding the demonic lust. That things don’t work out for Steven, either, isn’t surprising, and it sets the tone for the rest of the tales. The men – most of whom aren’t the nicest guys, or are just a little stupid, or looking for something on the side – share the same fate as Ennis by the end of nearly all the tales: quite literally sucked dry, but with one heck of a smile on their face.
It’s in this that I have my only real caveat to offer – if you’re not open to the idea of erotica ending darkly, this collection won’t be for you. I didn’t have trouble connecting with the eroticism of the characters – and I’ll admit that knowing what was likely to happen to some of the jerkier fellows had its allure – but once or twice I was surprised by these endings in a non-titillating way. In one tale, the story ends with someone having their skull crushed by a pipe, which jarred me a bit and made me take a break from the collection.
“A Succubus For Christmas” is a dark erotica collection, and M.E. Hydra absolutely hits both marks there – the dark is in full force, and the erotica is as well. The anatomy of the various succubi are paranormal without breaking verisimilitude – if you accept that this is a demonic seductress, you’re not going to stumble on the things her body can do – and I was quite taken with M.E. Hydra’s use of vocabulary as each story progresses. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s noticeable that as the demon becomes more overtly evil, the metaphors are dropped for cruder language. It evokes the change well. The women – or demons – are described with a fleshy eroticism not lacking in detail. The men are painted with much broader strokes. The deaths are there, but if you know what you’re getting into and have a predilection for the dark seductress vibe, it’s worth a visit. I didn’t gobble the stories – it becomes borderline relentless in one sitting – but that’s the joy of the anthology format.
Still, it might take me a while to use bubble bath again.
A couple of years ago, when I first bought my Kobo and had purchased only one book for it, I ended up stuck in an airport for about six hours. I’d finished the book I’d bought, so I started to peruse the 100 free books (copyright expired classics, for the most part) that had come bundled on the device. I came across Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and realized I hadn’t read it in years, and decided to give it a go.
It certainly didn’t fill all six of the hours (Jane Austen had the honor of using up most of them) but my jaunt through Alice’s Adventures reminded me of how – as a child – I’d read it a chapter at a time over the course of a week or two as a bedtime tale. In my head, it was in many ways a collection of short stories – each chapter was very much separate from the last, and the language was over-the-top and sort of forced and fun in a way that I enjoyed.
I had to stop and remind myself of all of that when I began reading Adventures in Fetishland. Within the first page or two, I was a little worried. The language seemed a bit overwrought:
As she made her stately progress across the tiled floor she mused on the aptness of the symbolism that reflected the extremities of the world she inhabited and held sway over: darkness and light, cruelty and kindness, pain and pleasure, humiliation and reward.
Thus we meet the Red Queen of the tale in the prologue. The prose here was a bit overwhelming and somehow discordant. I won’t lie – it had me noticing specific word choices and wondering how deliberate they were. It knocked me a bit out of the narrative. By the end of the prologue, we’ve met the Red Queen and have been let into the crux of the tale: somewhere out there (in our real world, we’re left to assume) there’s a young woman who will be the ideal slave submissive (and yet also a bit dominant, in the sense that the Red Queen could command her to dominate her other slaves) and the Red Queen is ready to go get her back.
Yes, back. This woman (I was waiting for her to be referred to as “Alice”) has already been in the Queen’s Nemesisland once before.
So let’s meet Alice. Or, rather, Kim. Kim is working at a “massage parlor” (nudge, nudge) and is dealing with a pretty nonverbal (though muscular and smooth) client.
Kim turned her naked client onto his back and knelt over him. She had to admit his erection was impressive, he certainly had no problems in that department. She leant over him so that her cleavage, squeezing out of her tight leopard-skin print bra, was hanging over his face and his gaze was drawn to her heaving breasts.
Again, that language that seems just a bit “off” was distracting me. By the end of the first chapter, there’s been an attempted anal rape, and the arrival of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the rescue/abduction of Kim.
I’m going to break here to put in that I have a personal frustration with attempted rape (or rape committed) in erotica. Here’s the thing: I personally just can’t find anything titillating about rape. Period. So whenever I stumble across this sort of scene, it hits that particular trigger for me, and I get frustrated. I understand the literary idea of the “rescue” and the feelings that can develop between the rescued (almost) victim and the rescuer, but I just find it a real turn-off, and not too likely. Almost being raped strikes me as not the turn-on it’s often presented to be in a narrative.
That side note aside, Slave Nano doesn’t follow through in that regard: Kim is not so grateful to her rescuers that she falls into bed with them, so that trope was avoided.
What the chapter did do, however, was remind me of what I was reading – this is an erotic piece following the style (and some structure) of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The lightbulb went on for me when Kim, after almost being raped, turns to see that her rescuers (who’ve clubbed her attempted rapist over the head with a pan) are standing behind her.
She’s naked. She’s just almost been raped, and this is her reaction:
This reminded Kim of something. She racked her brains (sic), trying to recall stories from her childhood. Then she remembered – Tweeledum and Tweedledee; they were characters from Alice Through the Looking Glass. How odd. What could they possibly be doing in a massage parlour in Manchester?
It was the “How odd?” that did it for me. This is a tale about to be told in the same – more or less – style of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice didn’t pause much when she nearly fell to her death or awful creatures attacked her or yelled at her. She sort of took it in stride, though she often had a bit of a sharp tongue and berated them for not making sense. Kim was Alice, and in this version of events, nothing like a potential rape was going to derail her from realizing that these two rescuers were, well, kind of out of place.
I started to ease a bit more into the tale after that. The language, the odd reactions of those involved, it all suited a bit more when I filtered it through the lens of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I started looking at the narrative on its own strengths, and found it easier to get past the language to do so. The adverbs and adjectives didn’t startle as much as before, and the overall effect was a kind of gauzy, dreamy approach to a fetish-laden erotic story of Kim and the Red Queen.
Basically, the story follows in an Alice fashion – chapters are new scenes, for the most part, and the reader is treated to a variety of fetishes, as the title would lead you to expect. There’s definitely some furry content (the hare, the cat, quite a few of the animals are sort of manimals, though their descriptions are often not quite flushed out enough to hand you the full image, allowing you to create your own borderline between fur and flesh), there’s a lot of bondage, some mummification, and – here’s something we don’t see often enough – the women are often in the dominant role. We have some teacher-student, some nurse play, basically scene after scene through the fetish scope, with a heavy emphasis on role-play through uniform and costume choice, and bondage.
Between those chapters, however, is the part of the tale that I thought had the most cleverness. We start to unfold the mystery of who exactly the Red Queen is, along with her enemies, and there’s a historical content here that I really did find interesting. As the tale unfolds, there’s a kind of paganism and feminism that is quite engaging, and learning Kim’s role in all of this is ultimately a nice ribbon-on-top of the whole package, and was maybe I place I would have liked to have spent more time.
Adventures in Fetishland is a bit of a mixed bag. The scenes are there, and once you get your head past some of the prose style – understand, I think this is a very purposeful echoing of the style of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I think it can be a fun read for those into the style and the slightly “wacky” feel that presents. The “B” plot of the history of the Red Queen and Kim is engaging. The scenes are erotic – though the language can sometimes disconnect the reader a bit as it seems somehow oddly put. I liked the denouement well enough, but the inclusion of the potential rapist in the tale at not just one place but two left me a bit sour – but that’s my hang-up, and not necessarily an issue for other readers.
I’d honestly suggest you take a quick perusal of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland if you’re not familiar with it, or if it has been a while since you read it. Somehow, having recently (enough) experienced the book made my easing into the language style of Fetishland less awkward. It’s a transition that works for the tale but I think could work against readers. I leave that determination up to you.
How do you feel about plot, mystery, revelation and narrative in your erotica?
The answer to that question will tell me whether or not to recommend Andrea at the Center.
If what you’re looking for is a series of scenes with a wide variety of kinks, you’re in luck. Andrea at the Center starts with the erotic content pretty much from step one. It’s also well done, from Andrea’s discovery of her bisexuality, to submissions, dominations, bondage, group scenes, shaving... Well, like I said, it runs through a wide variety of kinks, and as scenes, they’re successful, individually.
The crux of my trouble with Andrea at the Center was two-fold, though. One, my answer to the question of plot, mystery, revelation and narrative is that I love them. I want them in my erotica. I like to have something to figure out – even if really all I’m figuring out is that the heroine will end up with the hero (or whatever permutation I’m reading). I want those miscommunications and depths of character, and I want to see an arc where the character grows.
Andrea at the Center just didn’t quite give me that.
To my point, let me explain the set-up to this story: Andrea is jogging, and is abducted and kidnapped. While she spends a short time teary and begging to be let go and promising not to press charges, it seems to last roughly five minutes or so before she calms down enough to learn she’s been taken to the Center – a castle where people are kidnapped and they learn to be themselves before they’re let go again.
This premise actually had me intrigued. Who would do this? Why Andrea? But Andrea seemed to calm down far too quickly – and indeed, as soon as she gets to her private cell, she’s masturbating in the shower and having a right good orgasm. Because..?
That’s my second problem with Andrea at the Center. Despite the title, I never quite “got” her. She didn’t make a connection to me. Or, rather, I couldn’t connect to her. I never felt like I understood anything about her, what her life was about, or why she loved Michael (she’s engaged to Michael, but I never quite felt like she was all that shook up about not being with him). Lip service is paid, but between the shattering orgasms and throbbing breasts I just never found Andrea’s core.
Again, this isn’t to say there isn’t enjoyment to be had with Andrea at the Center. Her sexual evolution/education/abduction is interesting. Individually, the scenarios are hot and expose Andrea to more and more that she finds arousing, or frightening (or both) and deliver on their promise.
But the whole story of the Center? How it works? Why it’s there? What happened and why Andrea was selected? If that premise is one that you find intriguing – like I did – don’t expect any sort of resolution. That was the biggest let-down of the whole book, and the actual ending paragraphs made me groan out loud in frustration. I don’t need a narrative that explains every wrinkle. I don’t need a story that ties it all up for me in a bow. But I do need something better than what came at the end of Andrea at the Center.
It’s too bad. The premise had such potential. The writing itself is really good. But the narrative just annoyed me too much.
Shira’s best gay pal Jean is partnered with the handsome – and a bit too suave – Sebastian. Shira has made peace with the fact that she’s got a crush (if not outright love) going on for Jean, and takes her singleness more or less in stride, right up until the moment when the two invite her to come back home with them and watch them have sex.
This begins Remittance Girl’s Beautiful Losers and sets quite a bit of the tone for the whole book – which is to say that so much of this book is these three people – gay, straight, male, female, many nuanced shades of in between – wondering if it’s possible for the three of them to make it work, whatever “it” might be.
Shira’s an interesting voice for the story in that she begins from – and, to some degree, maintains – a vantage of “closer to normal” than the other characters. She’s less experienced, yes, but she’s also a lot more mainstream than she’d likely wish to believe. A three-way relationship isn’t something she even really considers until it’s spelled out to her, and when Sebastian talks to her about someone being “sub” she doesn’t get what he means. This “one step removed” voice works for the novella, providing a good intermediary for the a reader to feel their own concerns (if any) with the various snarls and tangles that are evoked by the ongoing evolution of the relationship the three are entering. Shira consistently struggles with understanding what she might want, and Sebastian isn’t shy in telling her what he’d like her to want. Jean sometimes falls by the wayside, as the dynamic between Shira and Sebastian has more drama and sexual tension to it. But Jean isn’t reduced to a minor character by any means – for all that Shira is erotically attached to Sebastian, it’s Jean who has her heart. Her point of view for the majority of the two hundred pages is one of entropy – Shira doesn’t stock much faith in this relationship working. That struck me as a wonderfully realistic point of view for her – after all, Jean is gay. She’s a woman. This is a major conflict for her, and the progression of Shira’s world views are intriguing.
I’ve said all this and I’ve not really touched on the erotic content or style yet – believe me, it’s there. Remittance Girl’s style is nearly languid, but can switch to a more frenetic pace at the drop of a hat. Sebastian is generally the driving force – though there are rare and welcome moments with Shira taking a more active role – and the roles, like the sexuality and gender, aren’t always defined. Many a scene, role, and activity are played out in Beautiful Losers, and they’re all done well. There’s some bondage; anal features centrally from a plot point of view; and some scenes with chocolate are bound to make the mouth water, just to mention a few.
That said, there are a few trigger warnings to note – there are characters here with child abuse histories, and there were times – and one moment in particular – where I found Sebastian a bit forceful when Shira’s responses to his requests are less than “yes.” Sebastian comes across as controlling, and he is a dom, but there was a conversation about Shira needing to shave herself where I found myself leaning a bit away from the book. Sebastian grew a little less enjoyable for me when his response to “No fucking way!” was to simply grow more forceful.
On the shallower side, if you’re not a fan of the Goth style, there might be a struggle for you here and there, since the characters are decidedly that, and much of the descriptive colour is painted in these tones for the characters – nail polish, dark lipstick, a relentless fight against the normal. It’s not particularly a look or style I personally enjoy, so I had to suspend some disbelief to stay alongside Shira and fall in lust with how a particular shade of dark cherry lipstick made someone look. These are minor qualms though, and they’re my own. In no way does it make the characters less sensual or their interactions less erotic, and I’d be hard-pressed to call it a flaw.
And there are times where that gothic flavor really does add to the fun moments of the book. I had a few laugh-out-loud moments at turns of phrases or moments that spun from the gothic make-up or propensity for the colour black. Characters offering thankful prayers to Liploc after particularly sloppy kisses, or a bemused Shira wondering where Sebastian would have found a beautiful black blanket – perhaps knitted by a group of lovely old ladies who had fallen to the dark side?
Remittance Girl spins lovely prose, dancing between more guttural language and some truly memorable turns of phrase – I liked that Shira’s voice is so different from Sebastian’s and Jean’s, and that the dialog between them deftly revealed character. The events of the book are set at a near breakneck pace – the men setting the tempo very much, and Shira’s frustration at not being given time to decompress and process is vividly portrayed. The guys don’t want to wait; Shira is much less sure. The revelations that offer stumbling blocks for each of them in turn feel all the more painful for their headlong race. They – and the reader – aren’t often offered a place to catch a breath, which suits the tale perfectly. These characters are overwhelmed by their feelings and their attempts to stave off the societal pressure that they feel to fit what they have into some sort of label or easily defended status. Shira and Jean, especially, suffer here, and the events that knock them off balance ring true.
If you’re looking for a well-written and erotic coupling of two men and a woman, I think you’d be hard pressed to find many tales as nuanced as Beautiful Losers. Like the three characters themselves, it’s not a simple, nor straightforward, relationship. I put the book down a little bit stunned, since of all the things I expected the ending might be, turned out to be wrong. It was not remotely something I’d foreseen (that’s not a criticism) and the story percolated in my head for a long time after. It’s not often that I have that reaction – this story made me think and really had me examining some beliefs, and that is always a good thing.
Opening up an anthology from Richard Labonte is like snuggling into a comfortable blanket you’ve had for years. I know exactly what I’m going to get – a quality anthology with solid narratives (and spicy moments, if it’s the yearly Erotica anthology). I was a little surprised to find the introduction – by Paul Russell – talking about editing the anthology. Then I remembered to put my trust in Richard, and read through Paul’s introduction, and was left with the impression I was in for a treat.
Paul Russell’s introduction was wonderful – a reminder of how furtive and lost we gentlemen of a certain age were before the grand invention of the internet. Finding anything gay used to be so impossible. Physical books, magazines, and actual films projected on actual screens were miles away from where many of us were, and even if we were in the grand metropolitan areas we still had to be so careful.
Now the digital gay offerings are huge. Easy. So, Russell asks, why would we still bother with print?
The answer – and the story, and the memories from that story – was a minor delight that was unexpected from an introduction (and I won’t ruin it). Unintentionally or not, the bittersweet tone of the introduction set up a vibe for me that carried throughout the anthology. Not in a bad way – I’m of the opinion that a bittersweet romance (or a bittersweet erotic romance) is one of the harder things to pull off well, but all the hotter for the admixture of potential loss. There’s also a great sense of triumph in the stories – often coming first from a more forlorn place.
I’m not saying that Best Gay Erotica 2013 was sad. There were definitely some fun and flirty stories (“The Farmer’s Son,” by Karl Taggart, made me giggle at its own self-efficacy), but it was in the tales that had that bittersweet yearning that I really found the collection gained cohesion. It’s not often you can say an erotica anthology was moving, but this one was.
No surprise that Jeff Mann’s “Daddy Draden” was so erotically charged with a BDSM flare that walks the line between poetic and visceral – but the aching tone of probable dissolution in the story was stunning. I had to pause and reflect after the story, and felt – as always – a little in awe of Mann’s ability to take his tales to so many different emotional places.
The first story, “The Pasta Closet” by Davem Verne, had a kind of sad victory to it. Again, this didn’t cheapen the story at all – quite the contrary – instead infusing it with a powerful image of those grown men who live in the closet, and those who find ways to give them release.
Not bittersweet, but still on the theme of the passage of time and how things change was Larry Duplechan’s “Big Chest: Confessions of a Tit Man.” I adored this short biopic, and the glimpse into the life of an (to be quite frank) incredibly hot fellow that had more of that sense of triumph to it.
Tom Mendicino’s “A Little Night Music,” and FA Pollard’s “Game Boyz” and Erastes’ “Drug Colors” move through different times and places and – again – these aren’t exactly joyful tales, but they’re erotic, and well put together.
I’ve often said that one of the things about living my gay life openly, of which I am most proud, is being one of the walking wounded. None of us are unscathed, and though I’ll quibble with the oft-spoken “that which does not kill you” platitude, I will say that there’s a real sense of coming through as well as coming out to all of these tales, and I’m glad to have read them. I may need to go find something fluffy and light now, but I certainly don’t regret the time with this anthology in the least.Thank you, Richard and Paul – that was a great collection.
It’s fair to say that most people see change as something inspiring nervousness at the least, or outright fear at the worst. People don’t often do well with change, and people like things to stay the way they are. I think that’s something we queer folk can understand – the oppositions we face are generally built upon that fear: different is scary, change is unwelcome.
So allow me to tell you that there’s a major change with Best Gay Erotica 2014, and that you shouldn’t fear anything.
Richard Labonté is a literary hero of mine. The man has been at the helm of the Best Gay Erotica titles since 1995, and I’ve long known that any anthology I pick up where Richard has had a hand involved is going to be a good one. More, I’ve been lucky enough to work with him a few times, and every time his guidance as an editor has been fantastic. Cracking open a Labonté book is a happy habit, and one I’ve grown accustomed to.
Richard has hung up his hat for the series as of this anthology.
I read that in the introduction by Larry Duplechan with my mouth a bit open. In my head I was still stuck at the notion that Richard Labonté wouldn’t be leading me through the anthology, and it took a bit to get past. I gave myself that moment, then read the rest of the introduction.
I’ve read Larry Duplechan in more than a few anthologies, and I know to expect great things from his stories, and by the time I got into a few of the tales in the anthology, that knot of worry about change had unraveled, and I was happily enjoying the collection that Duplechan has built. Moreover, the judge for the collection is none other than Joe Mannetti, which definitely strikes the right tone, no?
This anthology, like the many Best Gay Erotica titles that have come before, has a solid mix of well-known writers and new (or new-to-me) authors. There’s a real range present, and I was quite happy to see that range get some really fresh takes.
“The Piñata Conquest” springs to mind here. Boot LS puts together a really fun scenario here, and fans of spanking and bondage will all have a good time with this story of a fellow who is made to endure the gang-spanking (and reward thereafter).
Some of the stories drive a straight line (pardon the pun), such as “The Power Man,” by Lee Hitt, which involves a blackout and a hot electrician flipping all the right switches, but even those straightforward tales of men hooking up in moments of kismet are enjoyable and well-written.
In fact, I found myself smiling through many of these stories. There’s even a lovely conversation-free comic mid-way through the book, “Everybody’s Doing It,” by Dale Lazarov (script) and Jason A. Quest (art) that is sure to make you smile – the ending is nigh upon heartwarming.
Similarly, my day-job in the mall made Huck Pilgrim’s “Five Finger Discount” chuckle-worthy, with a hunk of a mall-cop and a petty thief getting his come-uppance in more ways than one. If only the mall-cops in my mall looked that edible.
None of these stories are misses. Fans of threesomes (and moresomes), bondage, hairy fellas or smooth fellas, hook-ups and long-term relationships, and lovers of a fine range of kink are all going to find something here, and it’s all done with a strong eye for flow and cadence of the tales in the greater whole.
Am I sad to say goodbye to Richard Labonté? Of course. It feels like the end of an era to me, and if it wasn’t for Richard championing the first collection in which I ever had a story printed to Cleis Press, I doubt I’d have even begun my own writing career. I’ll probably always have a wee pang at the lack of his name on the cover of this beloved series. But change doesn’t have to be scary or a bad thing at all. And Larry Duplechan proves that beyond a doubt with his debut turn at Best Gay Erotica 2014.
Give him a hearty welcome. It’s obvious he cares about the job.
I have to admit that I went into this collection a little unsure. It’s not that I don’t trust Cleis or Shane Allison – I know their work well and know they do strong erotica – it’s that, frankly, I’m sick to death of college athletes in erotica. The Big Man on Campus isn’t remotely erotic to me, personally, and I find the closeted swaggering lugs to be vaguely enjoyable to watch at best, and incredibly annoying at worst.
So I tried to check my own internal baggage here when I stepped into the collection, and that made the stories like the ones I was expecting a bit more fun to read. But the big thing is that I didn’t have to do it all that often.
Don’t get me wrong, the handsome strapping college studs are near-constant in many of the stories, but more often than not they aren’t the character telling the story, and the authors do a good job of letting you know the effect those studs have through that narrator’s voice. There are also more themes at play here than would perhaps occur to the reader at a glance. While yes, there’s a lot of secrecy running about – guys who aren’t out, and/or don’t want to be (“Big Ten” or “Physics Professor Proves Kinky”) – and sometimes that blurs even further to blackmail for grades or a job (“Making the Grade,” or “Meeting Expectations”) – most of the stories are actually the starts of relationships.
This isn’t to say that the erotic charge in all the stories is off. That’s not the case at all, and having read Cleis anthologies in the past that Shane Allison has edited, I knew from the first step I was in for some hot scenes, and every story absolutely gives the reader the hot moments they’re looking for. Again, this does lead to a few stories that are more scene than story, but I know that’s a popular vibe, so again I’ll tuck away my love of foreplay as personal, and note this as a likely strength for many readers. More, there’s some kink, some submissive stuff, a few sweatier and raunchier tales (“The Jock and the Professor”) – enough, I think, to please a wider audience than I would have expected.
Is there original stuff here? Yes. Particularly clever was “TILF” by Martha Davis, putting a writing student in the class of a hot teacher and having the student try to seduce the teacher with his writing assignments. For the kink lovers, “Leather Dreams” by Dominic Santi had a nice progression to it and the erotically charged reaction the character has to leather was well written and felt real. I also liked the sweetness of “Robin’s Hood,” by C.C. Williams, which had a softer side to it, a tale of coming out and acceptance among peers that was nicely placed in an anthology that otherwise was a bit more rough and tumble.
Jocks abound, of course, as so often the Big Man on Campus is exactly that – the burly, strong, popular athlete. There was a good range of sports, though – swimming, football, wrestling, basketball – and also enough variety to the physicality of the men involved that it wasn’t just buff blond jock after buff blond jock. There was even a solid mix of racial diversity, which is always a welcome breath of fresh air.
All in all, Big Man on Campus was a pleasant surprise for me. Enough of the stories strayed far enough away from what I expected them to be that I had a good time with the collection as a whole. And the stories I was expecting didn’t read too much like a stereotype or a rehashing of old ideas. There was freshness even when the professor was approached by the handsome athlete for a better grade, and that’s not an easy task.
I’ll probably always have to remind myself when I see “Jock” or “College” anthologies that I should back off on my own preconceptions before I open the book, and Big Man on Campus was a good reminder of that.
I just came back from the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, and while there I finished reading my review copy of Black Fire - oddly enough, right around the time I was gearing up for a panel about reviews.
One of the points that came up during the panel was how important it is to emphasize why something doesn't work for you, given that it might be a plus for someone else. I'll use the same example I used then: I can't handle gory scenes. Medical thrillers will never be my thing if I have to hear about the viscera. They're also incredibly popular, and people love them.
I like my erotica with a big helping of story. For me, much - in fact most - of the titillation is in the lead-up and foreplay. Scene erotica doesn't often work for me. It's a dive, rather than a slow wade.
So when Black Fire began with Landon Dixon's "Fitting Room" I'll admit I was a bit worried. It's not that the scene doesn't scorch - by no means is that the case - but the scene between a clothing clerk and a well-hung and fashion-conscious customer was immediate. I wanted more from the characters before the blowjobs and sweaty sex began. The sex is hot, the men were hot, but I didn't manage to connect. But if you're one who likes your erotica to launch from the springboard, you'll likely enjoy this piece just fine.
That said, the very next story, "Alex's Adventures in the Land of Wonder China Emporium" was as fun as it was hot, and the characters were incredibly well woven. Jamie Freeman has a whimsical re-telling of the Alice tale here, complete with musclebears Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Alex's attempt to head on back home is amusing - and hot - throughout. I'm a lover of the retelling of tales, and Freeman's erotic retelling is a blast. Definitely one of the more memorable stories.
"Mutinous Chocolate" by Tom Cardamone is another standout. Blurring the lines with a paranormal twist via magical chocolates that managed to titillate as well as deliver a bittersweet - pardon the pun - tale that was as moving as it was erotic. The sheer variety of the magical chocolates as they deliver sexual release to the character on a slow spiral of a breakdown is great. I want a box of these chocolates, and I hope Cardamone knows where I can place an order.
The theme of the erotica collection itself - Gay African-American Erotica - is presented in a range that doesn't shy away from some of the stereotypes, but doesn't wallow either. S.J. Frost's "Like a Dream" was my favorite of the collection. It's a great story of second chances and conveys a deft sense of the extra depth the closet often holds in the realm of the black male. There is a sense of the romantic, often lost in erotica. Garland Cheffield's "Tomorrow" gives us a club-culture snapshot, and delivers a wry and sexy story of a couple meeting in the frenzy of dance and music. But there's more - clandestine sex parties, boot fetishes, master-slave, college seduction and sex on the down-low. There's range.
The stories that had fleshed out plots were strong and definitely kept my attention. There's enough in here if you're like me and prefer your erotica to hold a tale while delivering the tail. If you're a fan of shorter, in media res scene erotica, then I think this collection will be all the stronger for you. It's a mix - like many anthologies - but didn't fall and stay trapped in cliché - a risk this theme might have easily presented.
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.
To me, “steampunk” has always brought to mind Victorian idealism – and repression – blended with a lovely mix of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. It’s often a tough combination to do well and adding erotica into the mix seems like it would be quite difficult.
Happily, D. L. King gathered a group of authors up to the challenge. In the introduction, King describes this lovely contradiction of the Victorian culture – so incredibly wound up, so guarded and hidden between such lovely – and tight – clothing; and yet they give birth to some great erotica. Whether that’s despite or due to the Victorian culture of women’s hysteria and gentlemanly actions, the reality is those Victorians definitely had their thoughts about sex. Shall we add in steampunk creations and see where this takes us? Yes, please.
The collection is aptly titled Carnal Machines. It would be easy to get lost in the devices of this ersatz era – they could so easily steal the show – but it is that the tales don’t do this that makes the collection shine. I’m a firm believer in the strength of narrative in erotica, and it’s obvious the authors in this anthology are cut from similar cloth. The devices are indeed carnal, but it’s the characters who take you there.
Case in point, the opening story, “Human Powered.” Teresa Noelle Roberts gives us a woman inventor who believes she has found a way to store the power created by sexually frustrated women, but the device needs tweaking. Unfortunately, a woman of the times can’t go about discussing such matters, and so she brings it to the one man she feels she can trust – her late husband’s former engineering partner. The slow boil between the two characters – and our heroine’s desire – tells a story perfectly set in this time period, and has a wry smile to deliver at the end alongside the sex.
“Sleight of Hand” by Renee Michaels, gives us a lady thief. Cassie is a character that’s wonderful to read, coming up against a style of lock that challenges her skill set, and leaves her at the clutches of a man she knows all too well – her husband. The uncovering of the reasons behind her fall to thievery and their broken marriage parallel his seduction of her with his clever inventions, and the end result is satisfying on both levels.
I daresay my favourite of the collection was Tracey Shellito’s “Lucifer Einstein and the Curious Case of the Carnal Contraption.” Here we have a fantastic heroine in Lucifer and her silent sidekick, Earnshaw, who read as a kind of Holmes and Watson of a cheekier bent, and who come across a mystery in a series of devices designed to mete out pleasure for those most in the need – but who could be the one behind these gifts, and what could be the motive? This story was laugh-out-loud enjoyable for its banter, and the series of steampunk devices – each more tuned to the individual’s needs than the last – was teasingly delightful.
The machines themselves, however, aren’t limited to steampunk dildoes – and here is where the cleverness of the authors D. L. King has collected is obvious. Kathleen Bradean’s “Lair of the Red Countess” leads a gentleman explorer to a device designed to bare his soul to the phenomenally wicked lady of the house. “Infernal Machine” by Elias A. St. James was somehow tender, funny, and sexy all at once, as a pair of young men try to figure out what a particularly complex chair-based machine might do. While Elijah worries that his Sasha might be leaving, he focuses his efforts on the confounding chair, to delightful – if unplanned – results. In “The Treatment” D. L. King gives us an ever so slightly darker story, where a woman has found a unique way to use the vigour of young men to her own ends, and the dialog here is witty and sharp. And in “The Succubus,” Elizabeth Schechter gives us a delicious voice – the device itself – which operates as an entire floor of a brothel and definitely yearns for company of the most erotic sort.
D. L. King has gathered stories from a world I’d love to visit. If only I could find my ornithopter...
I have nothing but admiration for how well the authors in this anthology carried off the theme. There’s no real sense of repetition – each story is a fresh taste – characters ranging from thieves to sky-ship captains and even Dr. Watson pays a visit; settings run the gamut as well, from trains to brothels to space; and the journey is a worthy one to take.
Bad boys are a staple of fiction. The slightly broken guy who is on the shadier side of society evokes something in the reader that is titillating. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s got smouldering good looks and isn’t afraid to do things that aren’t done in polite society. He’s the one the heroine starts to think about while she touches herself, wondering if a man who isn’t necessarily good for her would be good to be with.
When I’m reading, the most successful “bad boys” are the ones who are on the wrong side of the tracks (or the law, or society in general) because they’ve had no choice. Their reputation isn’t wrong – it’s just the result of taking a bad option from a list of poor choices. The scoundrel isn’t all bad, there’s a redemptive element to him, and when push comes to shove, the realization of this knight in slightly-tarnished-armor comes with a bit of relief. You want to like him, and now you have a reason.
In Coercion, I couldn’t quite find that sense for Michael. He’s spoiled, petulant, dates a girl who is equally spoiled and petulant, and has a kind of hot-and-cold desire for the heroine of the tale, Valerie, whom he basically treats as a throw-away sexual release valve whenever he and his girlfriend are on the outs.
Valerie herself is a woman who was once chubby but has slimmed and toned herself with diet and exercise, and is suddenly attractive and desirable to men – but her proper ways and virginal inexperience seem to put off the guys around her – or she just doesn’t really notice they’re looking. Except for Michael, who definitely notices her and fingers her in a parking lot when he’s struggling with his girlfriend – and then doesn’t speak to Valerie for weeks.
Valerie is an apparently smart and gentle sort. Her desire for Michael is something even she admits to herself is foolish, and yet she falls into the traps of the low self-esteem. She wonders if he’d like her if she were as thin as his girlfriend, for example, and although I understand the allure of the handsome rake, by that point I was starting to get annoyed with her. Yes, I’ve been attracted to people I shouldn’t be. Who hasn’t? And especially in college – the setting for Coercion – the raging hormones are flying in all directions, but I wanted to slap Valerie. This guy has spoken to you twice all year – both times fingering you and then leaving immediately thereafter, by the way – and he drops you like a rock whenever his girlfriend pays attention to him. And you’re pining after him? Grow a spine.
Instead, Valerie allows herself to be used by Michael more and more. I wanted to enjoy the erotic prose – which is well written, well crafted, and builds at a surprisingly slow pace throughout the novel, nudging Valerie into deeper territory – but I just couldn’t get past disliking Michael thoroughly and getting annoyed at Valerie’s inability to realize what a cad Michael was. When she does realize he’s a jerk, she’s helpless to her desire, her body reacting regardless and her mind unable to turn away from Michael’s touch. Which, okay, it’s an erotic story but it just goes to underline Valerie’s hopelessness and lack of conviction or strength.
By the time Valerie gathers some self-worth, it was on the edge of being too late for me. If I hadn’t been reviewing the book, I’m not sure I would have made it past Michael’s request that she go ask her friend to join in – which she does, though mercifully her friend reacts like a sane woman given how Michael has treated Valerie from step one.
I should mention that at no point is Coercion written poorly. The writing is good, the descriptions do well to evoke the time period of the piece, and the characters – for all that I found them unlikeable – are consistent. This is not a badly written story, which is part of the confusion for me. The zero empathy factor I had for the characters shot me down.I’m not sure where Coercion was intending to lead me. I think it was aiming to be a “coming of age” for Valerie, but it felt like it took her too long to get a clue. It very likely could be that this just wasn’t the right kind of story for me by virtue of the characters. Valerie’s weakness left me so frustrated, and Michael just seemed without redemption. Michael’s girlfriend seemed like a female version of Michael, and I just found myself caring for almost no one in the tale, with the exception of the one nice guy who seems to like Valerie, but he barely blips on the radar throughout the story. The story is saved by its ending somewhat, which I won’t ruin, but overall Coercion left me more angry than titillated.
A few things really stood out when I read Selena Kitt’s Colors. One, I was surprised – pleasantly – to find a mix of straight and gay stories in the anthology. This may be far more common than I’ve encountered myself, but this was a nice surprise for me (especially being a gay fella). Two, the range of the stories was a heady mix; some of the stories were sweat-soaked and down and dirty, some were a bit more romantic, one was a spec fic piece, and one walked the line near paranormal horror.
All in all, Colors was unexpected.
I was a bit worried that a collection with this focus – interracial stories – might somehow descend into trope or racial stereotypes, but Kitt didn’t snag that sort of tale for the collection. I enjoyed all the stories, and never really bumped into anything that made me squirm except for the M.E. Hydra story, but that made me squirm for a very different reason.
Though it’s hard to call any of the stories “traditional,” some were closer to a down to earth feel than others. Kitt’s own “Shorn,” which had an unusual pairing of an older woman with a younger man in a scenario that practically hummed with frustration. This is a woman who knows what she has is not going to last, but the fierceness of her emotions felt all the more real for it.
“Honey Trap,” by Giselle Renarde has a fun feel to it – a woman trying to use sexual blackmail to get something she wants ends up with more than she bargained for. This was a fun story with a twist ending that made me smile.
For those enjoying some submission, “Harvey’s Bargain” by Tristan Cole was a hot gay tale with a distinctly submissive twist – the character in question has always had an attraction – and a desire to submit to – black men. Added to that a difficulty in saying “no” to anyone, and Harvey soon finds himself tangled in a deal that grows more and more extreme, but may just be everything he’s ever wanted. Cole walks right up to the edge of a fantasy that’s just shy of taboo, and the story is all the more enjoyable for the journey. For those who prefer their submissive stories involving men and women, “A Most Extraordinary Orgasm” by Samantha Jones had a wonderful narrative path – a woman hired to be a submissive for the evening is puzzled by the lack of interest her master seems to be giving her – and the end result was another one that made me grin.
The two biggest surprises for me in the collection though were M.E. Hydra’s “The Skinning Knife” and “Jungle Bunny” by D. B. Story.
The former is a tale that is borderline horror – having read M.E. Hydra’s succubus tales, I went into “The Skinning Knife” cringing a bit and waiting for a tragic ending, but was surprised – if a bit squicked-out – by where the story went. I’m pretty sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the story was solid and well crafted. A mixed race couple who are getting grief from both families decide to take a very dangerous – and mystical – path to potentially being together forever. But if they fail... Well. You’ll see.
D.B. Story’s “Jungle Bunny” was probably my favourite of the collection. Despite the racially charged title, the story itself managed to use speculative fiction – in this case, a robot designed with the appearance of a black woman – to discuss more than itself. I love speculative fiction, and to have this mix of a clever story, erotic content, and some wonderful character development (especially in the form of the robot herself) was just such a welcome surprise. Definitely worth the read, and I’ll be looking for more D.B. Story.
All in all, my impression of “Colors” was one of surprise. I liked the freshness of the tales, as none really felt particularly “been there, done that.” Even the few stories that were more-or-less traditional weren’t stale, and the mix of stories that crossed boundaries (or genres!) had a wonderful effect. I really enjoyed this, and my time with the collection.
In her introduction, Lisabet Sarai begins with a statement that I had to chuckle over.
“Not another vampire book....”
I have to say: every time I spot another vampire on the cover of a book I have the same sinking sensation. The “here we go again” of vampires does tend to wear a bit, and when you bump into the same old vampire tropes over and over (and over) again, it’s enough to make you swear off blood-suckers for good.
Which is why Coming Together: In Vein was such a pleasant surprise. It’s obvious that Lisabet Sarai is well aware of the tropes and has gone out of her way to collect stories that take at least a step (but usually two or three) away from the usual vampires – did I really just say ‘usual vampires’? – and bring something fresh to the collection.
Before I delve into the stories, I’d also like to take a wee moment to point out that this collection of stories gives you something you don’t see often in erotica – a good deed. Funds from the book go to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctor’s Without Borders) – so this is a collection worth scooping up for more than just the quality included.
And just to be clear? There is quality included.
Right from the get-go, we find ourselves in refreshing new territory with “Nixie’s in Love” (C. Sanchez-Garcia) who gives us a foul-mouthed German vampire on perhaps the narrower edge of sanity, whose human lover has found a novel solution to the blood-drinking, and is attempting to bring a normalcy back to their life (and a very fun dose of role-play and hunter-and-prey to their sex life). It’s fun, and lively (if you’ll pardon the pun) and a wee bit manic. Definitely not your typical vampire erotica.
Of a different tone is “The Taste of B Negative” (Cheyenne Blue), which is dark, full of an ethical snarl, and has a conclusion that left my inner revenge-glutton feeling fully sated. Lovely.
I’m also starting to learn you can always count on Xan West to bring you a phenomenal story that steps to the side and then trips up your expectations. “Willing” is brutally brilliant, a mix of sex, BDSM, and boundary pushing that leaves the reader breathless and unsure of the possibility of a positive outcome. “Willing” deliciously defies expectations.
“It’s Lovely, It’s Horrible” by Kathleen Bradean is another bravura performance in defying expectations from the reader and mixing up dichotomies. Fear and sex, lust and desperation, captive and hunter – the spin of this story is dizzying, leaving the reader so tied up in the chase that there’s little hope for escape. This is a story that turns “vampire” on its head – and satisfyingly so.
Lisabet Sarai’s own story, which concludes the anthology, “Vampires, Limited,” left me with just the right tone for the collection. A mix of blithe and dark, “Vampires, Limited” tells the tale of a woman who has been using the Vampire mythology to sell magazines – and turn a tidy profit. She is presented with the reality when hunting for a new cover model, and finds that there’s a reason it’s called mythology.
Coming Together: In Vein was a very welcome surprise. None of the stories felt familiar or typical (some even crossed into speculative fiction territory) and it was a very welcome reminder that given the right authors, even something that feels as “done” as vampires can – pardon another pun – gain new life.
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.
Summer Zahova is a New Zealand violinist who, at the start of the novel, is in a flat and boring relationship with a handsome man who just won’t be naked enough, dirty enough, or... well... interesting enough for her. He’s embarrassed when she’s naked. He thinks her taste in classical music is incorrect. He’s basically a snob in every way. He exits the story pretty much right upon being introduced, and he’s just one of the people in Summer’s life who doesn’t seem to care about her one way or the other.
On the one hand, Summer’s journey was interesting. At first, sexually (and emotionally) unfulfilled, Summer’s realization that she enjoys the kinkier things in life is well drawn. A series of events conspire to push her past her comfort zone. One, her violin is broken while she is busking (and she’s pretty much broke, so that’s a problem). Two, having left her flat and boring guy, she has no real friends to hang with and hooks up with her friend-from-a-while-back Charlotte, who is definitely more experimental in her sexual appetites. Three, an offer from a stranger to replace her violin in exchange for unstated demands comes to her online.
These three key points set off the novel. Charlotte gets Summer to be daring; Summer needs a new violin; Dominick (the man behind the offer for the violin) replaces said violin if she’s willing to put on a naked performance for him. Dominick is of course incredibly wealthy (inherited; he’s a literature professor) and handsome and – as his name suggests – a dominant. His requests grow bolder, Summer’s desire to please and obey grows stronger, and the two enter an odd relationship.
The first two thirds of the book is taken by this story progression, and I enjoyed the book very much through these points. Summer’s pleasure is very much central to Dominick’s approach, and although he is a dominant and very controlling, their relationship never quite reaches the point where Summer’s submissiveness wipes out her personality or character.
And then the last third of the novel hit, and I started to get frustrated.
Here’s where my own views come into play – I’m so tired of the narratives of submissive women who become completely sublimated by the men around them, especially when the internal dialog of the woman involved doesn’t synch with the events around her. Without spoiling too much, I’ll say that – as in every romantic or erotic relationship story – Summer and Dominick have a falling out. Summer ends up being left somewhat solo in the kinkier side of sexual culture, and Charlotte – who had been something of a friend to Summer – instead turns out to be intensely selfish and just cuts and leaves her to go on alone. Summer’s involvement with the BDSM crowd then completely sours – everyone is out to just use her, and a minor first-act character becomes central in this, attempting to force Summer into a slave role rather than a submissive one.
Summer’s own thoughts are clear enough at the onset of this plot arc: she is a submissive, not a slave. It bothers her. It angers her. And yet she basically folds like a wet rag, and instead of standing up for herself in any way, shape, or form, she capitulates and mentally “goes away” while things are happening to her that she’s not entirely enjoying.
And there I would have given up had this not been a book I was reviewing.
I will say that ultimately, Summer does actually take control of her own destiny, and that was refreshing. It came a bit too late for me to not have a sour taste in my mouth, but it does come. And it could just be my ongoing frustration with the submissive woman character being so incapable of speaking up about what she does not want.
I also got very, very tired of everyone in Summer’s life being so uncaring about her. In the last third of the book, the BDSM culture around her felt creepy, had a constant vibe of usury, and seemed born from the pages of rape culture instead of a network of people who enjoyed dominance and submission. Charlotte flipped too quickly into someone dislikeable, Summer lost the confidence and strength of character that let her leave her boring and flat fellow at the start of the book, and Dominick’s issues for falling out with Summer seemed somewhat laughable, given the scenarios he’d contrived for her.
I liked the first two-thirds of this book enough to suggest it. This book also launches a series, and is very well received. And I did indeed like the final few moments of the book once the Summer I enjoyed from the first of the book reclaimed the parts of her that seemed to mysteriously vanish in the latter third. Perhaps the authors just took me a bit too far afield for Summer, in a kind of “hitting rock bottom” they felt she needed. For me, it went on too long and too low before she bounced back.
Erotically, the book is well written. Summer’s sexuality and her arousal is so keyed into senses that aren’t usually at the forefront – her love of music, most centrally. Dominick spends a lot of time with a slow seduction, with voyeurism and exhibitionism, and a mix of texture and some costumes and role-play tossed in as the book progresses. The sex itself is indeed sexy. And though I got a little frustrated with the rampant disregard for safe sex in the latter third of the story and Summer not even giving it much mind, the scenes are varied and titillating right up until Summer decides she’s not enjoying herself and “zones out.” Obviously, this is not a woman having a good time, and those involved in these moments don’t seem to care – and that truly bothered me.
My concerns, though, are born of that singular thread. If you can handle – or enjoy – the kind of fall of a submissive woman at the hands of a dominant who doesn’t care about her at all (not Dominick, I should clarify), then Eighty Days Yellow will likely delight.
Oh super. More frat boys. Just what the world needed.
Okay, that sounds harsh – and I suppose there’s some bitter in there, too – but in the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that my own personal experiences with a frat were anything but erotic. Frustrating, discouraging, and outright mean would be closer to the truth. It will likely surprise no one that in the long run I didn’t end up in a frat – though to be fair I made some good friends in the process. But when I got a copy of Frat Boys, I cringed. To me, frat boys are about as sexy as Big-C Conservatives (which are Canada’s answer to the republicans).
Now, I’ve definitely been one to have my preconceptions slapped around before, so I opened the book – and tried to do the same with my mind – and delved in.
First story? Jeff Mann.
There’s nothing like finding a story from Jeff Mann to make me sit up and pay attention. If you haven’t read Fog – his most recent erotic novel – I insist you stop reading this review and go order it somewhere first. I’ll wait here.
Ordered? Okay, good.
That novel you just ordered is full of Mann’s astounding ability to pull erotica from violence, bondage, or the edge of things usually left to the realms of fear and pain. So imagine my surprise when I read his story, “Blue Briefs,” and found myself suffering from a bittersweet heartache and the sniffles. It was the perfect way to lead off the anthology – a story that brought me to a place I’d never expect to end up in an anthology about frat boys: somewhere bittersweet (after a brief stopover in the world of sublimely sweaty and hairy bondage, of course). The ending was startlingly unexpected, and all the better for it.
As was the collection. It’s in these surprisingly fresh tales that Allison’s anthology shines.
Gavin Atlas brings forth another of his trademark style: a tale of an insatiable bottom who struggles with how he enjoys the humiliation and dominance of his frat brothers in “The Laius League.” This is another story where I wasn’t sure where the author was taking me, and even though I know and love Gavin Atlas stories, I didn’t quite see the ending coming. Again, that’s a good thing.
Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Stripped” was another great story – a pledge colliding with a she-male stripper that the frat has hired mostly to humiliate him, and the dawning self-worth and self-realization that the meeting inspires. I loved this story, not the least of which for turning the usual frat boy tale on its head and slapping it around with some gender fluidity. Thank you Rachel Kramer Bussel.
That said, there are also some well-written stories that delve in the more typical arenas of the frat boy trope. Hank Edwards gives us “Old Glory” – named for a glory hole “stall” the frat has set up in the basement where the guys bring their very drunk ladies for some through-the-hole pleasure. That the young man in the tale ends up inside the booth is no surprise, but the story itself teases in just the right ways. C.C. Williams steps outside the frat for his main character, Noah, who has been watching frat boy Jerry from afar in “The Pickup Game.” The sparks – and the meddling of Noah’s friends – had a genuineness to them that was charming. “Lessons in the Library” by Rick Archer tells us the story of a young man who came out – and the fallout was terrible from the frat he was pledging – and how the scars might heal. “Lessons” showed a more plausible side, from my experiences, and I appreciated its inclusion.
All this to say that I was surprised – pleasantly surprised – by Frat Boys. There are some very original ideas in the book, and even those stories that aren’t exploring new ideas are told with verve and definitely sizzle. For the Jeff Mann-Gavin Atlas-Rachel Kramer Bussel trifecta alone, this anthology is a worthy grab, but the rest of the tales aren’t filler, either. It’s a sexy book, with some great surprises, and an overall variation to the theme that keeps it from being just another collection alongside Daddies, Jocks, and Twinks.
And when you’re done, you’ve already got Fog on order, too.
I love the retelling and re-imagination of old tales, and I think I’ve mentioned here at least once that I adore it when someone can take something that’s been pushed almost to the edge of total saturation and turn it sideways. I also love – via this gig at Erotica Revealed – how I get to so often find anthologies that I never would have bumped into otherwise, and likely wouldn’t have picked up for one reason or another (most centrally that in the world of erotica, so often you don’t know what’s out there, let alone where to get it and which title might be worthy of a gamble). I have read so many things in the months – wait, are we at years yet? – I’ve been on board that I likely would have put aside as “not my kink.”
Leather Ever After hits all those points, dead center. These are not the tales that the Brothers Grimm gathered, but they bear resemblance enough to the original stories that you’ll find yourself grinning at where the authors send the characters you’re used to imagining in far more innocent surroundings.
When I say these retellings turn a tale sideways, I mean the stories like “Each Step For Him,” by Lee Harrington, which begins where the Little Mermaid ends, giving her a brother, and envisioning a version of the story where this young merman falls hard for a leather man and faces a similar trail: what must be given up to live on land with the man he loves? The clever twist to the “every step the pain of a thousand knives” and the ultimate scene of the tale left me grinning and tantalized with a view of a community I don’t know well.
I also mean “Hair Like Gold,” by Nalu Kalani, where Rapunzel’s beautiful hair is used to bind and tease, and whose freedom can only be bought through release of a different kind. Cynthia Hamilton likewise takes a staple and kinks it up with “The Mistress and the Pea,” wherein it’s the Prince who is seeking some discomfort, and what happens on the top of the huge pile of mattresses is an exchange of power and submission.
The anthology itself has common fairy tales retold – Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood – alongside some others that are less obvious or less often seen in these types of collections. D.L. King’s revision of “The Seven Swan Princes” was fantastic – nettles have never been used to build such tension, and the trails to restore her beauty at the hands of her goth prince all but cracked aloud. The almost tangential retelling of the Frog Prince in Karen Taylor’s “Iron Henry” is another favourite – cleverly set up, and executed with a rich style. And the gender fluidity of “Cinderfella” – which also has my favourite ending of the whole collection – has put Sossity Chiricuzio dead center on my radar.
And I should mention when I say that it’s anthologies like this that expose me to stories I would have put aside as “not my kink” in the past, I definitely picture “House of Sweets.” – “House of Sweets” has needle play – something that would frankly send me racing from a room in double time. And yet even when faced with something that leaves me personally ready to bolt, Miss Lola Sunshine keeps an erotic edge humming, and every dimple of flesh at the tip of a sharp needle is a moment of pain and pleasure wrapped into one package of torment that still tantalizes. It’s no small thing to accomplish keeping a reader interested when he’s cringing. I can imagine fans of needle play would salivate here.
That’s my overall impression, actually: there will be something in here for everyone, and for those of you with edgier tastes, I think you’ll be even more pleased. Leather, bondage, rubber, the aforementioned needle play, whipping, shoe worship, knife play... The range is quite wide. It’s a rare collection that dares to step a bit further away from the gamut of what could be called mainstream kink (if that’s even a classification I can beg you to consider), but Leather Ever After takes that risk and successfully spins straw into gold.
The best thing about an anthology for me is in enjoying the wide range of places a group of writers can go within a single theme. You can take something mundane and almost cliché – daddies, twinks, frat boys, jocks – but if you’ve got one of those great anthologies in your hand, you still end up with a surprisingly fresh collection of stories.
Variety – I imagined – was going to be pretty high when the theme opened up the collection from the typical boy-meets-boy duality. I went into Middle Men: Gay Erotic Threesomes looking forward to seeing what the authors had done, and the length and breadth of stories that Shane Allison had combined for this collection, and though I did like it some – mostly on the strength of specific stories – I wasn’t blown away.
I did like Middle Men, but it took me a while to read the whole collection. If that sounds like faint praise, I suppose it is. The problem I kept having was that the stories – for the most part – were about quick trysts. It felt like most of the stories had a similar set up - three ways happening spontaneously between guys meeting for the first time. I was a little surprised that there was only one story where the three men involved were actually involved in the sense of having a long-term trio relationship. I may be misremembering, but I think of the rest of the tales, only two (or three?) also had couples that were having a third (or in one case, fourth, and fifth and maybe sixth and seventh) join them for a dalliance.
It’s not that the erotica doesn’t burn and sweat in all the right ways. Most of the stories have scorch. It’s more that I felt a lack of set-up in many cases; most of the tales are very quick, and as I’ve mentioned before, I like my erotica to have a narrative lead-in, rather than be “scene” erotica.
There are exceptions to this in the anthology. I liked the clever set up and play of “Middle Man for Madam Blavatsky” (one of the stories where a couple are enjoying a playmate). Here a deck of tarot cards open up the door for a young fellow to realize that it’s going to take time to convince his partner that they could bring another fellow to their bed. “Grip” by Sleepy Lopez was another story with a couple – this one with a gritty urban take, and the gap between childhood friends who have grown apart while one has been in prison, and their reconnection thereafter. The third couple story that stuck in my memory was “The One in the Middle” which was still somewhat a “scene” piece (we join the couple already having sex with at least two other men) but actually had a trace of kindness and sweetness between the couple involved: I was left with the sense that this couple’s relationship was built on a very solid love – and a love of being the guy in the middle. It probably was the single story that seemed to have nailed the theme of what I thought I’d find in Middle Men the most.
On the clever side was “Fox Goldman and the Three Bears.” This was the story where there is a three person relationship, and the play of a modernized Goldilocks and the Three Bears was as sly as the sex was hot – the “Goldilocks” gets to enjoy one of the home movies the bears have made while he lounges in their conveniently empty home.
I also liked “Dogging It” by H.L. Champa, who gave me a character whose desire for exhibitionism simmers with a realistic steam, leading to a public display in a park for all to watch.
Those five stories (out of the eighteen in the collection) stuck with me. If what you’re looking for out of Middle Men is some hot scenes where three guys get it on, then I think you’ve got an adequate choice here. I wanted to like this more, but I was left with a kind of foggy memory when it came time to look over the table of contents at the end of the book to write this review. Many of the stories blend a bit too much. Boy meets boy meets boy, followed by sex. Sometimes it’s rough, sometimes it’s escorts, sometimes it’s cops, sometimes it’s strippers, but there was a repetition in the stories that wore a little thin. I had to put it down quite a bit, and pick it back up again later. Again – that might be what you’re looking for, if you’re a fan of quick and dirty shorts with three men colliding by happenstance and riding their good luck out to the finish.
I just wanted a bit more variety.
When J.J. places an ad seeking a mature woman to show him the ways of love, he’s sure he’s got nothing to lose. He’s a loser already, a “buddy” guy that all the girls want to dance with and talk to, but when they’re done talking about their relationships or their lives, they head home with their boyfriends and leave J.J. drunk, frustrated, and back at his apartment once again by himself. He’s a simple guy from a simple state in the city at college with no skills when it comes to the opposite sex – though he knows he’s got the right equipment for the job.
It’s also fun that Mrs. Kaufman and Me is set in the days of bell-bottoms and frizzy haired hippies. It’s not a time period I see often in erotica.
At first, the ad gets him crank calls, a prostitute, and a guy or two offering to show J.J. the ropes, but among those calls is a woman who eventually reveals her name as Elaine. J.J. feels a connection to her from the start of these phone calls, and before long, they’ve met – and in a parked car on a public street, they begin his education.
For me, it’s Elaine that steals the show. For all that we’re following J.J., Elaine has more substance to her. She is a woman married to a professor at the college where J.J. attends, and her husband is a cheating gadabout who long ago stopped being interested in her sexually and has moved on to every young woman on campus who has need of a better grade in his class. Elaine’s attitude is plausible: she rationalizes that she’s “teaching” J.J., and that since he’s not married, her own husband is contemptible, and there is no depth of emotionality to the relationship, it’s safe to have some fun and – of course – sex with J.J.
The story grows in strength as it progresses. Narratively, the first quarter of the tale or so is Elaine and J.J. meeting up on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Elaine “educating” J.J. in various ways, positions, techniques, anatomy, and grooming. Their relationship grows a little tender, which was sweet, and J.J. begins to care about this lovely woman who sets him off so easily – and is teaching him not to explode at a single touch.
Elaine has laugh lines, and her breasts are not super-pert and her stomach is not flat – she has carried a child and her body, though good, is not in the realm of science fiction. I liked that. It gave her another realistic quality that I enjoyed. Similarly, although J.J. was an athlete in high school, he hasn’t made any of the teams in college, and admits he’s getting a little soft around the edges. These are not two gorgeous people having pornographic sex, they’re two regular people having good erotic fun together. The difference is palpable.
Their connection continues throughout the story – Elaine slowly unlocks her kinkier side and her fantasies become more public and exhibitionistic as the story progresses. She comes to life for a second time and her journey is usually an empowering one. She is often “in control” but also surrenders control sometimes as well. As for J.J., as grows his confidence – and his erotic repertoire – so grows his success with girls his own age.
I will admit that I thought I saw where the tale was going, and then it went in a completely different direction. J.J. is – hormones notwithstanding – a sweet guy, and when he starts to gravitate towards a young woman his age, I was waiting for the eventual parting of the ways between him and Elaine, and a denouement that was as sweet as it might be sad. Instead, things grew more kinky, threesomes became moresomes, and although it was a satisfying tale, I did feel slightly jarred. That said, if you enjoy tales of the young and aroused opening their minds more and more to the ideas of exhibitionism, group sex, toys, shaving, partner swapping and the like, you’ll not be let down.
The sex sizzles – and sometimes fizzles in a fun and fresh way. It’s refreshing to read about a young man who isn’t immediately a natural. The occasional “No, you’re doing that wrong” from Elaine is a nice touch, and all the more satisfying as J.J. figures it out.
Descriptively, there was one obvious omission – and this could just be the gay male reader in me – when a second man becomes involved in the group dynamic, we get no real description of him whatsoever, beyond his age. And when Elaine wishes to take on both fellows at once, there’s a laugh-out-loud moment where the guys don’t want their balls to touch, and a pillowcase comes to the rescue. Really? You were both just tag teaming Elaine a few moments ago – I imagine something brushed something else once or twice already.
That’s my only real gripe, though, and overall I liked the progression of J.J. and Elaine – though I definitely enjoyed her narrative more. Randall Lang has brought a fun and sexy story here and turned the “older woman mentoring the younger man” trope just a smidgeon sideways in the process.
I first bumped into Rachel Kramer Bussel with her story in Frat Boys, and have since run into her stories or edited anthologies enough times to realize that I adore her. She has a fresh take on any theme she approaches, and so when I was given Only You for my January review, I breathed a sigh of prescient contentment. I was sure a great book was ahead.
After reading the introduction, I knew my intuition was going to be spot-on. One of the things I loved about Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Suite Encounters was how the stories selected told stories throughout such a range of people in a variety of places in their lives – coupled, single, older, younger – and I loved that – as a whole – the anthology was one that touched a larger range of themes than I’d ever expected.
Angela Caperton’s “Driven” begins the anthology, and deftly drops a parallel metaphorical start of a new relationship just ready to turn into something hot and ready. If you’ve got the remotest fantasy of enjoying a car ride in a more carnal sense, “Driven” will be right up your alley. I also loved that this story opened up the anthology with a couple that aren’t in their early twenties – this is an anthology for couples, and placing “Driven” first delivers the message that this will not be an endless parade of youth.
Similarly, “Forgotten Bodies” by Giselle Renarde touches upon the changes that come with age, and how we can disconnect from ourselves as we feel time’s pull – but how a reconnection can come with exploration (and maybe a nicely timed spanking).
Startlingly unique was “The Love We Make” by Kristina Wright. It has an edgy roughness to it that might take many readers aback, but I adored this story. The narrator here is fighting with the desire to be slapped by Paul, her boyfriend, and to discover if he wants to slap her. There’s a real deftness to this one, and it tells one of the more rare tales I’ve read.
“Married” by Abigail Grey is a mid-life tale, where jobs and comfortable clothing and Netflix have replaced the silk and lace and hot, sweaty nights. But a forgotten instant messaging system pings back to life, and Jane realizes that those long-ago days of exploration are still there for the conjuring. I loved this story.
Cassanda Carr’s “Saved” is the penultimate story in the anthology, and steers the reader towards the close with a perfect note. This is a relationship where a wife has realized her borders are widening – thanks to a generous helping of BDSM erotic romance novels – and now she is making the riskiest move – asking her husband to make some of these fantasies come true.
And finally Rachel Kramer Bussel brings us home with “For the Very First Time.” A clever story about the first time a couple are going to have sex, this story – of a woman in her forties and a young musician – has deft layers. Moving through the various steps that lead toward various “firsts” between the two is a kind of sexy joy, and has that fluidity of role and gender that I’ve grown to love from Kramer Bussel’s tales.
All in all, you will not find Only You remotely stale – the sex scalds, but the stories aren’t just sexy, they’re fully formed, richly descriptive relationship stories as well. I haven’t mentioned every story, but none were “duds.” The arrangement is purposeful and the progression from tale to tale was just shy of perfection. I was already a lover of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s tales and anthologies, as I mentioned before – but I fear I need to upgrade that to adoration. Hopefully she won’t mind.
Pandora is an American living in Prague with her husband Ty, who has returned to the Czech Republic after the upheavals there to build a business and reclaim a sense of his homeland from the corrupt regime. Running her own lingerie shop, “Pandora’s Box,” was part of the deal for moving, and Pandora finds she’s in love with the “music box” of a city.
There eroticism of Pandora begins from the start – Pandora enthusiastically enjoys sucking her husband, and delights in swallowing him (he drinks Pineapple Juice every day, and has a sweet taste) – but she notices that he’s more in tune with the video he’s watching than with her ministrations. His pillow-bed confession that he has – in the past – enjoyed having sex with two women at once and sometimes fantasizes about doing so with her leaves Pandora a little flustered at first, but the conversation moves on, and she considers forgetting it.
Then Cerise enters her store, and Pandora begins to realize that she has more of a fantasy life than she knew. Cerise is overtly sexual – a private dancer who can cross the lines for the right clients – and stirs something in Pandora for the first time. Before long, the hint of where this is going bears fruit, and then it’s Pandora whispering to her husband of a fantasy or two.
While the background story – Ty trying to achieve permits for his business deals and real estate venture, Pandora running her lingerie shop, and Pandora’s friendship with Cerise – plays out, we follow Pandora and Ty on a journey of sexual experimentation and fantasies realized that progress through any number of partners, combinations, and scenes. The sex is erotic and liquid and well written, though there’s not much beyond mild kink and those who prefer their sex to scorch with toys or submission or dominance won’t find that in Pandora. Pandora’s taste for swallowing is a recurrent theme – and her ability in this area leads her to a wonderfully triumphant moment near the book’s conclusion.
The narrative is enjoyable – I particularly found the sexually omnivorous and carefree Cerise to be a character who sometimes stole the show from Pandora and Ty. Cerise’s ending felt a little rushed and forced, but other than that, there were few moments in the story structure that gave me pause. Likewise, the eroticism is well done – though there are occasional times where terms grew a bit too clinical for my personal taste.
All said, Pandora is enjoyable erotica – at just shy of 200 pages, you’ll feel like you’re zooming through the book – and if it doesn’t do anything exceptionally unique, that isn’t to say it’s flawed in any way. It’s erotic but manages to be gentle to its characters (and reader) even when there are threesomes, foursomes, or moresomes in play. Pandora would be a perfect book to pass to someone dipping their toes into erotica for the first time, and, as Christmas approaches, a good gift for someone in that scenario – there’s enough titillation and frank prose to give a sense of the genre, but nothing so shocking as to startle someone not used to the style and content it generally holds. That might mean that people who’ve read a lot of erotica will find Pandora plays it a little safe, but I enjoyed the softer touch. And it was certainly a welcome change to find women who were taking what they wanted, and not being consistently and constantly submissive. Pandora works with Ty to explore her sexuality – and, most of the time – takes charge of her own path.
I went into Revolt of the Naked in the wrong frame of mind. I am a big science fiction fan, but came late to the party, and haven’t done much back-tracking. It was only a couple of years ago, for example, that I read Ringworld. Ringworld has a kind of “out-of-date” charm to it. As did I, Robot. No one would swear by saying “Sizzling Saturn!” for example. I flinched a few times reading those, and then got past it to the stories at the core – which I enjoyed.
This was, more or less, my experience with Revolt. At first, something about the writing rubbed me the wrong way – but it took me a little while to realize what I was reading. This is – and I hope I’m not doing a disservice to the author here by saying so – set up to read like one of the golden age of science fiction stories. Rockets, and pod-like plants; plastics mentioned as some sort of uber-amazing material; all manner of science fiction tropes that you’ve not really seen since Flash Gordon hung up his golden shorts.
My resistance faded at the same time I had that realization. Read in this way – as a kind of homage – the book has real charm. I was waiting for someone to ride in on sky chariots with “laser guns” or something, and it started to be quite fun.
The crux of Revolt of the Naked is – unsurprisingly – a tale about an upcoming revolution, the revolution itself, and then some of what happens after. The planet Talanta is the furthest colony from Earth that was colonized, and maybe the only one to survive the plague that hit and wiped out almost everyone (and did cause the death of all the women). What were men to do but turn to genetic engineering of naked male slaves to do all the work while they drank, played, and had sex? There’s some interesting cultural shades to the tale – in the city above the jungle, men don’t allow themselves to be topped (that’s for the man-whores and the nakeds – who are slaves bound with the inability to disagree with any command given to them by their owner). In the city, men are basically rutting all the time and trying to trick each other into bottoming – which is the highest form of social ruin once this happens to someone – and then moving on after the conquest to the next. Down in the jungle, where the Jungle Men (no, seriously) draw the healing waters up to the city, they’ve got a more, uh, versatile outlook, and look up pityingly at the city folk with their naked slaves and hang-ups about anal pleasures.
I mean seriously. You’d think the future would have gotten over it by now, eh?
But! The revelations start to come – along with social upheaval – once the Jungle Men learn just where the Nakeds come from, and then the untimely arrival of a natural disaster does the unthinkable: the Nakeds are freed from their control, and then there’s the titular revolt, and everything starts to change. But will it be too late for Talanta? Have they lost the ability to clone more of themselves and make future generations? Is this the end of (incredibly hung) man as we know it?
(And I’ll just add here, without ruining it, that the solution to this particular problem was stunningly retro sci-fi and worthy of a genuine amusement – and I don’t mean that in a bad way.)
The story is linear, and more or less predictable, but that’s not a criticism. Again, if you’re reading in that “golden age” frame of mind, you’ll enjoy that. And this being an erotica review site, I should also say that every single man in this book is described as better than most burly fellas you’ve ever seen in real life. Not to mention hornier.
Part of this stems from the – of course – genetic engineering done on mankind to idealize him (which, for the record, means increasing both ball size and how low said balls hang, as well as general length and girth of said fella’s “meat.” Also included is a generally ramped up sex drive, with the ability to have six or seven orgasms every other moment). Everyone is muscular, everyone is sexy, everyone is ready to stop and get off. Compliments about each other’s body and “meat” (one of my only real complaints with the story is how often “meat” is used as the synonym of choice) abound. They’re also fashion-confused, since they’re constantly bulging out and/or showing skin despite putting on those tiny little loin-cloths. Fun-fact: man parts grow when aroused, next time, try lycra! I joke, but it’s another recurring theme to the tale – only the Nakeds wear nothing on hot Talanta, but Talanta is hot, so everyone else just wears sandals and loin-cloths. Specifically, loin-clothes that are designed to fail. It’s hilarious – again, in a good way.
Sex is explosive and sticky – and constant – and there are enough iterations and combinations that I think the author managed to hit pretty much every position, activity, and/or set-up in the 200 pages Sadero had to work with. Similarly, the descriptions and emotionality of the characters are also seen through that “golden age” lens: the epiphanies come quickly (as do the orgasms) and though the character progression can feel simplified because of this, it doesn’t feel out of place.
There’s a couple of dom characters, a submissive “but I like getting fucked a whole lot!” aw-shucks character, more than a few orgy moments, hairy guys, smooth guys, despicable bully/rapist guys, man-whores with hearts of gold, and loving guys with shady secrets. And they all have sex with each other, pretty much all the time. Characters come and go throughout the plot in a way that can sometimes jar – “Wait, what happened to so-n-so? And who’s this guy?” – but if you read the tale as a tale about Talanta, rather than any particular people on the planet, it works to that end.
Revolt of the Naked is a curiosity. If you read it expecting today’s standard of Science Fiction, you’ll be let down. I nearly was – I had to stop, reset my mind frame, and start again. I’m still waffling over whether or not that meant I should nudge my rating to two-hands sideways, but I don’t think I will. If you enter Revolt of the Naked with a “Sizzling Saturn!” ready on the tip of your tongue and a willingness to enjoy it as a pulp sci-fi, I think you’re going to have a good time. It’s campy. It’s fun. It’s dripping with sweat and “juice” (which comes from the “meat”) and dialog that you always wanted Flash Gordon to say.
Especially in a loin-cloth.
Without a doubt, Rye was the most fascinating erotica I’ve read since I started reading for Erotica Revealed. That may sound condescending, and I don’t intend it that way in the slightest – from the first page, I was captivated by the characters in Rye.
Though not my first brush with genderqueer, gender fluid, or trans stories – here I should shout out to D.C. Juris and Rachel Kramer Bussel – Rosenthal’s novella is the first full-length tale I’ve read. As such, there’s a lot more time to give to genderqueer and trans discussions, and Rosenthal does so with relish.
The voice of the tale, Matt, is a father, biologically male, poly, and identifies as genderqueer – and much of the discussions Matt has with other characters revolve around one or more of these facets of himself. His preferences for androgynous looking biological women – he likes bois, and is sometimes unsure of his own state when he finds himself with biological males who otherwise fit his preferences – is the source from which most of the narrative flows.
Matt’s relationship with the titular Rye – the boi in question – is more or less a love story, without the traditional trappings of gender and singular traditional relationships, and the road is all the more rich for the detours from the typical. Matt’s son Mischa, and a second boi – Rain – offer the other two pivot points for Matt. While Matt wants to be with Rye, Rye is in another city, and Matt doesn’t want to move away from Mischa, or move Mischa away from his mother. As Rye and Matt grow closer, there’s a hesitation on Rye’s part to relocate. Rain offers different complexities, and the revelations occur with a gentle sort of pacing.
Matt’s desires run a wide range beyond his predilection for androgynous bois, as a top, as a role-player, as a lover of “scenes,” and this is where the erotic content generally comes to the forefront. Here the writing can effectively descend into the near guttural, and where Matt’s discussions and thoughts about gender fluidity, gender roles, societal norms, and his desires are scholarly and literary in style, the sex is sweaty, sticky, and real. It’s effective, as I said, though it did smack me a bit out of the narrative now and then shifting from these two styles throughout Rye.
Sensually speaking, most of Rye delivers. I had to skip a few scenes with Rain – I’m not sure I have it in me to ever find role-play scenes where someone is in the role of an adolescent successfully erotic, rather than cringe-worthy – but the play of voyeur and exhibitionist, verbal play (often over the phone or computer) and Matt’s visits to SexxCamp were well written and dirty in the right ways. At the same time, I struggled with my own limitations while reading – I fumbled over the imperfect world of pronouns, struggling to recall which character was being referred to a few times – and found that Rye was so far removed from my own personal tastes that it was sometimes hard to connect with the boi as wholly as Matt did.
Rye is hard to pin down, and I can’t help but feel that’s purposeful. The discussions Matt has with others about genderqueer, identity, fluidity and polyamory are thought-provoking and interesting in a way that captivated. Rye is a wonderful foil for many of Matt’s points of view, and their discussions crack on the page. Mischa, and Matt’s relationship with his son, is another delight among the telling of the tale, and it was refreshing to find a character in an erotic novel who had a child – and all the mundane and life-affecting issues that come with a child – that wasn’t a walk-on/walk-off character. Rain, similarly, was an intriguing character, who begins as a mild mystery that is unveiled in pieces, but soon became my favourite piece of the overall puzzle that was Rye.
I’m glad I read this, which is likely the best thing I can say. I think there’s so much in this novella that made me stop and ponder and rethink some of my own points of view that I came out of it with a few new ways of looking at the world – which can never be a bad thing. If some of the scenes didn’t quite connect to me from an erotica point of view, that’s okay. For someone else, this might be just the right thing. In many ways, that’s something Matt exemplified: he knew what was right and what worked for him, and wasn’t too keen on labels or words to thereafter sweepingly identify what that was for everyone else. We should all be so willing to live outside the lines.
I adore mythology. When it comes to the Greek or Norse myths, I could read and re-read for hours, especially since so many of the tales have been written – or re-written – in so many different voices. Interpretation, so often key in any historical pursuit, is everything, and where different tellings of the “same” tale can go can astound me. So I had high hopes for Seducing the Myth, and maybe that came into play a little bit too much, but the end result was a mixed bag. In her introduction, Felthouse says it was a close call between doing a mythology anthology and a paranormal anthology – and I have to agree, except that’s how I felt about Seducing the Myth.
It’s not that the myths the authors chose to tackle in the anthology were uninteresting – I actually found the range of myths quite intriguing, and many of the ideas were very clever. But there was an unevenness that crept in a bit too often – many of the stories read more paranormal than mythological.
The opening tale, “Djinn and Tonic” by Lexie Bay, was quick to illustrate that we weren’t going to be playing with just the typical Greek myths. I liked that – but then I found that I sincerely disliked Laura, the main character of the story. She likes her man more or less – it’s hard to tell if she loves him – but gosh if he isn’t just sad in the sack. But, he’s rich and he loves her and he’s a nice guy, so she’ll make a go of it – even if she does think he has a weak chin. When she thinks to herself that she’s being a bitch, I whole heartedly agreed, and had to struggle through the rest of the story. The erotic contents of her journey with her mother-in-law’s djinn – which she’ll inherit along with the house when she marries her husband – left me more annoyed than aroused. It’s not that the sex wasn’t well written – it was, and the author had a lot of fun with the wish-granting djinn – it’s just that this horrible woman was going to end up with everything. At no point did I have the slightest wish for her to end up happy.
Fulani’s “Andi in Chains” follows – and tackles the myth of Andromeda by turning everyone involved into crime families on a modern day coastal city. This story was my favourite of the anthology – taking the bare bones of the myth, twisting it perfectly into a contemporary setting, and heating up the temperature to a high pitch. When Perseus (a ruthless gun for hire) comes across Andi all trussed up for some pirates due to a turf war gone bad, well, things happen. I loved the retelling here – crime families, drug cartels – and it sizzled as well as being an incredibly clever idea.
Some of the stories show this same cleverness (Medusa in K.D. Grace’s “Stones” and the wonderfully done “Aspara” by Burton Lawrence, which tackled South Asian mythology), some less so, though they did grant some well-written erotic prose (“The Weary Traveller” by Indigo Skye, for example, is sexy but didn’t really reinvent the wheel). Some stories were good but didn’t really hit on a particular myth – they’re more magical realism or urban fantasy. Again, that’s not a bad thing – “Logan’s Treasure” by Lisa Fox had a decent plot – a captain finds a treasure that leads him to an island of bliss that might come with a terrible price – but I spent a good amount of time wondering if there was a myth I was forgetting or just missing. Was this supposed to be Theseus, maybe? Mermaids, the Undead, Fairies, Lost Seductive Souls – I kept struggling.
Similarly, “Beltane Fire” by Hawthorn – a really solid story, scorching sex, and as someone who has always loved watching the wheel of the year turn, I was very happy to see Beltane get some representation. This was another story I really thought was well-written and engaging, and wonderfully sexual in a very affirming way – but mythological? I’m not sure.
“The True Folly of Icarus” by Saskia Walker, “Saving Orpheus” by Indigo Skye, “A Temple for Hera” by Maxine Marsh and “In the Springtime” by Elizabeth Thorne are probably the stories that are the most like what I was expecting. These are myths re-told with an erotic lens. Others, like “Blooming April’s Flower” by Jillian Murphy, straddle the line a bit between paranormal and mythological.It’s this sometimes lack of focus that left me a bit befuddled with the anthology. There are some seriously strong stories here – again, I really enjoyed what Fulani did to the Andromeda myth – but overall, there was a lack of cohesiveness. If you read Seducing the Myth as a loose collection of erotic stories with some mythology, some magic, some spirits, and some paranormal, then I think you’ll have a good time. But for every two mythology stories, I felt like I bumped into one that fit more the paranormal niche instead.
I’m going to let the cat out of the bag right off and say that, with Sex and Love, I.J. Miller has written some of the best literary erotica I’ve yet to come across.
For me, character and narrative are king (and queen) of my enjoyment of a short story. In Miller’s collection, almost every story has a captivating character (or two) and a narrative that takes you on a journey you look forward to completing. Opening with “Lonely Man” – where the action begins with a man in bed with a woman who has a knife at the ready – Miller immediately captures your attention, and then weaves a series of stories that move throughout the gamut of poignancy, sadness, strength, tenderness, and self-realization. The tales are very different from one another, though they loosely link with the title of the collection; these are all tales of men or women somehow struggling with love, sex, or the strange gray area between the two.
As in any collection, there are standouts and stories that grab you more or less than others. Indeed, the opening tale, “Lonely Man” left me impressed with Miller’s writing style, but not so sold on the story itself – but luckily the next story up to the plate blew me away. “Cell” – narrated by a straight woman out with a friend is hit on by another woman who leaves her cell phone in the narrator’s purse – has a wonderful set up, a strong follow-through, and then twists “just so” at the end to leave you moved.
“The Professor and the Biker Chick” is another strong tale, where the main character – a self-professed boring writing professor – is drawn into an attraction of a woman in his class for the first time. This story had my favourite “twist” of all the stories, and left me with a real smirk on my face at the clever move.
“Single Woman,” a much longer story that almost tipped me into feeling I was reading a novella, was phenomenal. In it, a woman and her friend go out to celebrate their win-win: one is pregnant, the other (our heroine) has just turned thirty and has become engaged. A drunken egging-on leads the newly engaged woman to have a fling with a handsome man the two spy – and the course on which this leads her is superb. These characters lived and breathed for me, and I adored Miller’s dedication to making the fallout realistic and yet still providing me with a denouement I could truly enjoy.
Other stories aren’t as impactful, but still please. “Tennis Pro” is a cuter tale with such a stereotypical set-up that you’re not sure it’s possible to make the story fresh, but Miller breathes enough character into the tale that you don’t mind. “Cyberslut” takes a few turns and twists before giving you an abrupt halt. “Husband and Wife” and “The Night of the Wedding” are two stories that deal with the endurance of love – and the potential fading of sex – and how the two intersect in a couple.
I should also take a moment to mention that the erotic in this literary erotica is exactly that – Miller takes mostly average people and turns the eroticism up high (extra credit here for using these mostly typical people, though of course the perfect breast or the washboard abs do pop up from time to time). The steam is indeed steamy – but Miller weaves this within the wonderful narratives and characters I praised earlier.Last in the collection is “Longing.” I fell in love with this story, which so delicately spins a compassionate tale told by a straight man who had a gay friend in his youth, and the sense of unfinished fulfilment that has hung in the mind of the narrator ever since. Their connection is beautiful and loving without feeling forced or unreal, and it is a superb place to end the collection, which walks the fine line between the two things which all these souls are trying to navigate: love and sex. Miller completely charmed me, and I look forward to more of his work.
Sex with strangers isn’t the freshest theme for an anthology, so to some extent I went into Sex and the Stranger with a bit of a worried eye. Could the collection have anything new to share? I wasn’t really sure, and having finished the collection I’d say if there’s a flaw to Sex and the Stranger it’s that there were only a couple of “aha!” moments for me.
This isn’t to say those moments weren’t worthwhile. “The Only Man Worthy” by Aishling Morgan, for example, had a wonderful punchline to it that made me laugh out loud. In it, we find an incredibly driven woman who has secured the perfect husband for herself – but one she finds unworthy of fathering her children or taking her virginity, and so she seeks out a virile and handsome gene donor of her own volition. That she’s not including her husband to be in her plans makes her a little hard to like, but the resolution of the story is perfect.
Similarly, I think “Something Between Them” by Ashley Hind had the best mix of naughty and sweaty – a humid and hot train-ride on a packed train turns erotic, and the dirty talk between the couple sandwiching the very flustered – but very willing – heroine of the tale is superb. The exhibitionist streak in the story (this is something happening on a crowded train, unnoticed by the other passengers) was a nice touch.
But it’s the last tale, “I Have You” by Charlotte Stein that was the one that offered the largest – and most skillful – surprise. Here a woman and the stranger are having sexual encounters that border on complete detachment, though she is slowly feeling her body warm and return to sexual releases. Her journey – from ice to fire – is as intriguing as it is erotic, and the big reveal was a swift, sharp, shock that left me more than a little impressed, and very surprised. It’s just that good. I enjoy when erotica goes to new places, and Stein did this wonderfully.
Of the ten stories, those three were the ones that I remembered after turning off my Kobo and letting a day pass. This isn’t to say the other stories were poor – I don’t think any of the stories were badly written, nor did they fail to titillate – they just didn’t have a lot of staying power once I was done.
On the basis of the three stories I mentioned above, I’m glad I read Sex and the Stranger (especially Stein’s story), but the rest of the collection as a whole isn’t breaking any new ground. There are some fun moments, a character or two that might resonate more with you than with me, but I can only see myself revisiting this collection to share Stein’s tale with someone, or to re-read it myself when I need to remind myself how to push an erotic tale somewhere further than the usual.
I’d like to posit that there’s a glorious case of pride involved in exhibitionism, and a deep well of desire – often unfulfilled – in voyeurism. I was recently at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, and one evening after a shockingly good dinner and a memory deadening cocktail known as Sazerac I found myself with some excellent company at a club where mostly naked fellows danced on the bar counter for the enjoyment of all.
Show-offs was actually quite fresh in my mind. When I review for Erotica Revealed, I will usually make sure I’ve read the book at least twice. While visiting New Orleans I was on my third perusal through the collection and the reality of the strippers in front of me was certainly helping cement my thoughts on the collection.
So, a confession. It turns out I don’t actually enjoy strippers that much. Something about their buffed and perfect bodies (seriously, is chest hair an offence?) and the crowd around them (who are so often seemingly made of the sad and lonely, though I could be projecting) doesn’t combine to titillation. The real world, as is so often the case, doesn’t deliver as well as fiction.
Which is to say, Show-offs delivers in full.
When Richard Labonte collects stories for an anthology, I know that he’ll put together a collection that has a mix of tales that bring the expected – to settle the theme solidly before the reader – and the unexpected to just as quickly unsettle the reader and bring a fresh take on the idea. The idea of watchers and those who are watched has what at first appears to be a pretty narrow window that is soon cracked wide by the authors in the collection.
“Vacancy,” by Jamie Freeman, doesn’t so much open the window as shatter it. Taking a vaguely guilty pleasure – watching a neighbour masturbate while he watches porn – and tying in something darker gives this story a real edge. Realizing that while he is watching his neighbour, he is himself being watched by someone who might be dangerous, the final few moments of the story leave a delightful shiver in the base of the spine.
“My Best Friend’s Dad,” by J. M. Snyder, ends the collection with a take on voyeurism that I wouldn’t have considered: hope. This is a cleverly designed tale of a young man who stumbles into a fantasy scenario that gives him a picture of what can happen in his future. Sort of an X-rated It Gets Better, only with more sweat and a decidedly happy ending. Kudos to Snyder for coming up with this angle, and for Labonte to place it so perfectly at the close of the collection.
Between those two brackets, the stories bob and weave between the usual scenarios (a hot man who knows he’s a hot man and likes others to watch him, in “Golden Shadows,” by David Holly) to some humorous beginnings that turn to something sexier in Rob Rosen’s “You’ve Been Spunked.” Of course, I’d be remiss to miss mentioning Dale Chase’s fasntastic “Chisholm Trail Boys” – every time I speak of Chase, I feel like all I can do is babble that no one does western erotica like Dale Chase, but it bears repeating, and spinning a voyeur/exhibitionist angle without breaking her trademarked earthiness is no mean feat. Similarly, Jeff Mann is once again in fine form, bringing a man with a real sense of verisimilitude to the topic – a man feeling the desires of other slip somewhat from his grasp, but who fills his fantasies with those who he has watched from a distance through his days. This tale, “Harem,” best captured the widest range of takes on the theme in one place, and of course didn’t skimp on the usual BDSM lens through which so much of Jeff Mann’s work is seen. And finally, “What Pleases Him Most,” by Thomas Kearnes, shone a harsh light on how love can be hard work, and how the predilections of one partner can leave the other pushing their limits for their love. That the result is successful was all the more stirring, given the young man in the tale who doesn’t really enjoy being on display, and his partner who likes to watch others be with him.
Show-offs surprised me in the sense of completeness I felt once I was done. The writing is sexy, and varied, and everything I knew to expect from Labonte’s work, but somehow this collection had more weight to it. The reality is that I can’t help but be wowed when I open a collection of erotica and discover pieces that are thoughtful and inspire revisiting notions I’d allowed myself to cement in my own mind. Voyeurism and exhibitionism as hopeful, as love-notes to a partner, as a rich fantasy that fulfills a place we cannot usually go were all things I hadn’t really considered.
Now I can watch differently.
Before I say anything else, can I just raise my hand and praise Lucy Felthouse and Victoria Blisse for using the word “smut”? I love the word smut. I write smut. I read smut. As much as the preferred term is erotica, sometimes I think “smut” does such a better job as a descriptor.
So, hey. Big approval on the smut.
Also, big approval on Smut Alfresco, as a whole. The subtitle – “Tales of Outdoor Adventure” – paints an accurate picture of the general thread connecting the tales in this anthology, but the stories selected do run a pretty strong variety of settings and heat levels throughout the collection.
Major props to the first tale. I loved “Being Free” (by Lucy Felthouse) probably the most of all the stories in the collection, which may surprise you when I explain a little more. It’s a solo story – a young woman, Violet, is being forced to work some overtime and she’s just about ready to flip out on her useless boss. She’s working through the weekend and she’s hitting that point of no-return. She gives up, takes off, and in a dash through the nearby park, she’s caught in a rain shower, and the glorious sense of freedom that comes from the whole scenario leaves her with the urge to get off, and get off quick. And she does. By herself. In a rainstorm in a public park. I can’t remember the last time I read a story where masturbation was actually shown in a positive light, not something done as a standby or a second-best. Violet’s physical and emotional journey in this wee tale had me grinning from ear-to-ear. She got herself off and it was hot and empowering and did I mention hot? Bravo.
For sheer originality (and some lovely sexual fluidity), you’d be hard pressed to beat Kay Jaybee’s “The Mattress” in which the eponymous cast-away mattress tells the tale of the men and women who furtively meet with it in its out-of-the-way location where it has been dumped. This was a clever little story, and made me think of the phrase “if these walls could talk” (except it’s the mattress doing the talking) and had a lovely surprise of a few moments of some man-on-man action for me.
The final story in the collection, “Shine,” by Jenny Lyn, had a strong plot to it and could definitely have been drawn out into a full novella-length story and stood fine on its own. I loved the characters – young woman from a family on the wrong side of the law, and a sheriff who fulfills the uniform fantasy in every regard – and their spark, connection, and frustrations of the bridges they needed to gap made for a really engrossing tale.
Other tales that are definitely worth spending your time with included “When the Rains Come,” by Nicole Gestalt, which built one of the strongest back-stories in the collection, and just a slight trace of magic in the form of a rain-dance that brings more than refreshing showers. “Little Wonders,” by Victoria Blisse was another meet-cute story, but it’s the granny who really made the tale for me (I love seeing older women shown as sexual creatures). Don’t worry, though, the young granddaughter definitely gets to have a hot time. “Into the Woods,” has some kink for readers looking for a bit of spanking fun and light bondage (and Demelza Hart knows how to write an aloof alpha male without making him annoying as hell).
End result? Smut Alfresco lives up to its promise, and has a cheeky good time delivering. Apart from a few editing glitches (my copy had some line-break issues), the end product is worthwhile and none of the stories felt like duds, and there were some real gems among the collection.
I’m definitely going to look into more of the “Smut” series.
Since I’ve been with Erotica Revealed, I’ve learned that I’ve pretty much come late to the party of the world of quality erotica short fiction. There are so many wonderful writers out there that I’ve yet to encounter, and every month the list grows. When I read and reviewed Frat Boys (edited by Shane Allison) the most standout story that struck me as hot – and different – was Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Stripped.” I loved that story, which had a gender fluidity to it, and a full narrative alongside the hot erotic content.
Getting a copy of Suite Encounters to review, then, made me smile in anticipation. I’d had that one small dose of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s work, and I couldn’t wait to see what one of her collections would bring.
Short version: Suite Encounters is a fantastic collection, with a range of stories and characters I rarely encounter in an anthology. The theme is tight – hotels, which our editor lovingly discusses in her introduction as a kind of erotic tabula rasa. Taking a narrow theme and collecting authors who can spin that theme into such a wide range of stories is a mark of a great editor, and Rachel Kramer Bussel does just that.
The stories themselves are all quite short. Usually, and I’ve mentioned this before, short “scene” pieces aren’t typically my favorite. I like my erotica with a very strong helping of narrative and character (and character development). If there’s any flaw in the collection – and I wouldn’t say there is, really – it would be the brevity of some of the tales. I often wanted more.
Yet somehow, in the majority of these tales, short is still very much sweet without cutting down on depth and variance of character. I think it’s the wide range of the characters that really captured me. Married couples looking to rekindle their spark (“Unbound at the Holiday Inn” by Lily K. Cho), night counter clerks with crushes on rent-boys (“Night School” by Valerie Alexander), 70’s blacksploitation actresses making a comeback (“Stiletto’s Big Score” by Michael A. Gonzales) – it felt like every story had a fresh character for the reader to enjoy. Age, race, kink level – the variety here was superb.
I feel I should point out a favorite or two, but in no way does this mean the other stories were lesser. “Tailgaiting at the Cedar Inn” by Delilah Devlin was scorching hot, and I loved seeing the situation turned around to empower the woman involved – who takes control of a situation with two hot fellas interrupting her sleep on her way to a new life. That her new life isn’t one she’s looking forward to makes the scorch factor rise, and the reversal of her attitude was a lovely one-two punch amid the sweat and sex dripping from the page.
On a completely different note, “Return to the Nonchalant Inn” by Erobintica was a lovely piece with a man and a woman reminiscing on the erotic adventures of their youth – but from a vantage point of an older, wiser – and still sexually heated – perspective. I think the inclusion of this story, with a woman confident and content in her mature body, was an absolute win for the collection – and a very strong reminder that eroticism doesn’t die with the passing of years.
Lastly, I should mention that the final story in the collection – contributed by the editor herself, leaves just the right note ringing in the mind of the reader. “Special Request” spins a tale of a woman at a high priced hotel who is known for her ability to acquire anything the guest would like – but when the guest would like her – and a half dozen or so others – for an orgy, is she up for the challenge? Given the collection, I daresay you can answer that question, but it doesn’t make the journey any less hot or enjoyable.
It’s interesting – I’d never really considered hotels a particularly intriguing location. It may be that I traveled too much to really think of them that way, but after a month with Suite Encounters, I may need to change my mind.
As a huge fan of short fiction, the first thing I want to say about Justine Elyot’s The Business of Pleasure is that it reads half as short fiction, and half as a novella – and that this “short fiction” half is a good thing.
The half that reads as a novella is about Charlotte – a submissive woman with a boring job who has decided to contact “the Number.” The Number is a business catering to the sexual desires of its clientele, and we see Charlotte live out her fantasy of being submissive to two men in the first chapter – and then return to Charlotte every other chapter thereafter.
Charlotte’s course takes her further and further into the machinations of this company, and she gets more and more involved with the two strange men who run the Number. That these two men are dominant sexually – and both arouse her in different ways – is the major crux of Charlotte’s story, and the central tale to the narrative in general. Unfortunately, I had a hard time connecting to Charlotte’s story.
The alternate chapters, however, were where The Business of Pleasure caught and kept my attention. As I mentioned, each reads almost as a short story – though some characters will carry over into another chapter or step into the Charlotte narrative – and involves a single client of the Number setting up their first appointment with the company and finding release from their daily lives.
These chapters were more varied – though for the most part all the women in the book, with one exception, are submissive – and brought a more varied sense of sensuality to the book than the Charlotte chapters. I did find myself wishing that one or two of the women would have been a bit more sexually dominant, but the various scenes purchased by the women – the dirty mechanic shop, an exhibitionist window, a porn stage, a pleasure harem – weren’t cookie-cutter clones of each other. The characters themselves were also varied, and didn’t read as clones of each other. Though their fantasties were ones where they were treated as sexual objects, the women’s personalities weren’t all passive and meek. Even the men involved –mostly actors picked up by the Number – had some depth to them in a few of the non-Charlotte chapters. These stories were where it was at for me, and I’d say that if you’re a lover of short erotic fiction, they’ll suit you.
The Charlotte story itself left me frustrated at times, though not in an erotic sense. Throughout the whole story, The Business of Pleasure has scorching, well-written erotica. There’s the occasional turn of phrase that might make you blink (orgasms that take off like a jet pack?) but the overall scenes and erotic interactions are hot. It was Charlotte’s incredibly submissive character that I had trouble connecting with. Her dilemma (which man of the two men) annoyed me at times, since in my reading experience it seemed that she only emotionally connected with one of the two men. It left me feeling like it should have been an easier decision, but this isn’t to say it didn’t make sense for Charlotte to waffle. She is a character not very able to be forceful in any way, and making a choice was a part of this. Unfortunately, that left me more annoyed with her than empathetic to her.
If there had perhaps been a few stronger women in the storylines tucked between the Charlotte pages, this might not have stuck out so much. Charlotte is one of the most submissive personalities I think I’ve read in erotica so far – and between all the other women who desired to be treated as whores or tarts or sluts, it just hit a point of overload in my mind. I needed a woman – or two – to take charge to take the reader in a different direction for a moment.If you like erotica with submissive women, however, this story will suit you more than fine. I didn’t realize I had this bias until about three quarters of the way through. As I said, the alternating non-Charlotte chapters read like high-heat erotic short stories – and I did enjoy those. I’m curious to see if Elyot has any short fiction collections, as I’d be interested in reading those.
If you’ve ever made a bet and realized that you were going to lose, then you’ll have no trouble connecting with the characters in this wonderful – and absolutely sexy – set of stories written by Darcy Sweet. If you’re not the betting type, don’t worry – you’ll still get suckered into anteing up by Sweet’s clever and fresh approach to what could otherwise have been a tired repetition of a romantic trope.
The series of bets with their winners and losers moves from the artsy subculture to the world of journalistic one-upmanship, and from campus life to corporate wheelers and dealers. There’s very little sense of repetition in Wanna Bet? In most anthologies with a tight theme, I find I need a break between the stories.
Wanna Bet? I gobbled whole.
I credit this to Sweet for delivering a very different flavour of tale from story to story but holding to her theme throughout. The five stories sizzle on the page and offer a wide variety of pleasures. My favourite of the bunch, the phenomenally told “Hypothetically Speaking,” has a gem of a set-up; the two girlfriends of some rambunctious college studs finally agree that they’ll do what they’re asked to do to each other by their boyfriends – but only if their fellas also do the same to each other. “Hypothetically Speaking” is just plain hot, and after the steam settled, the story delivered a punch-line that made me laugh out loud. The ménage and exhibitionism crackle with sexual energy in the first story, “Painted Into a Corner.” Inara, the heroine discovering that the cost of losing a bet is going to be a fairly public display of her painted body, evolves from timidity to a luscious sensuality as the story. And in “Told You So,” I found one of the most masterfully written scenes of a woman delivering dominant oral sex I’ve ever encountered – again, after the heroine has a personal evolution.
The core strength to Sweet’s work is in the way her characters grow – they aren’t simply erotic puppets putting on a quick peep show for you, these are fully developed individuals on a journey. In every story, you watch at least one of the characters develop sexually, usually crossing a new boundary or discovering a new sexual appetite. They’re vulnerable, or jaded, or yearning in some way, and much of the joy in these stories comes from seeing them get in touch with something more. Add to that the sheer dirty heat that Darcy Sweet pumps into her stories, and you’ve got a great compilation with something sure to please everyone. The author bio at the end of the anthology says Sweet “has a head full of wicked stories.” This is good news indeed for erotica readers.
One thing’s for sure: losing a bet has never been so good.
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.