“Handmaiden’s Fury” by JM Guillen

I spent most of an afternoon drawn into JM Guillen’s free short fiction over at Irrational Worlds, and was quickly hooked by the rich and evocative worlds conveyed in just a few paragraphs.  Needing even more, I decided to try the novella Handmaiden’s Fury.

Handmaiden’s Fury is the story of a young priestess named Keiri.  She is a devotee of the goddess Rydia, whose grants power through sexuality.  Keiri’s power allows her to bond with people, control them, and even destroy.  Of course, it is not without personal cost, as the rituals to channel Rydia’s power involve a fair share of pain and submission.

When Keiri’s master discovers an evil sorcerer who smuggles slaves and ritually tortures innocent victims, he decides to use Keiri to put a stop the vile magic.  As he and Keiri work together to defeat their foe, Keiri realizes the depth of love and passion that she and her master share.

As with the short fiction at Irrational Worlds, I was immediately drawn into the story, which combines elements of horror, dark fantasy, and erotica.  Sexuality is an important part of the story, but is handled tastefully.  The bond between Keiri and her master is something to be treasured, and it keeps Keiri’s power from consuming anything in its path.  The magic system is unusual and well-developed, and the city in which the story is set seems like an organic part of a much larger world.  My only real complaint about Handmaiden’s Fury is that it didn’t come to a complete resolution, leaving me wanting more.  I hope that Guillen returns to Keiri’s story one day.

Categories: Erotica, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Petals and Thorns” by Jeffe Kennedy

Petals and Thorns by Jeffe Kennedy is an erotic retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  I’m a sucker for reimagined fairy tales, so I had to give it a try.

Amarantha is convinced by her family to marry the Beast.  The Beast has agreed to divorce her and give her family a fortune if she doesn’t agree to consummate the marriage in a week’s time.  While he can’t take her virginity, nothing else is off-limits.  The Beast introduces Amarantha to BDSM, while at the same time emphasizing the fact that he’d never cause her real harm, and that he cares about her well-being.

At first, Amarantha is terrified, but she quickly realizes that she finds the Beast exciting.  She also realizes how empty her life with her family was, and that they care more about money than they do about people.  As she falls in love with the Beast, she realizes that her new life is far more fulfilling.  Meanwhile, the Beast is portrayed as a multifaceted creature.  He’s intelligent, caring, and has interests and personality outside of the bedroom.

I first became familiar with Kennedy’s work after winning a copy of Ruby during Armchair BEA.  Conveniently, it lined up with a project I was doing for a genre fiction class at the time.  Even though I don’t read much erotica, I realized that I had misjudged the genre as a whole.  As in Ruby, I was blown away by the character development present in Kennedy’s books.  They aren’t just about the sex, but rather use it as a way of showing how a character grows over time.

I’m quite impressed with Jeffe Kennedy’s stories.  Clocking in at a little under a hundred pages a piece, they’re good for a relaxing bedtime read when you want a book with a happy ending.  Petals and Thorns was no exception, and I would highly recommend it.

Categories: Erotica, Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ruby” by Jeffe Kennedy

My final class of graduate school is a course on genre fiction, and as part of an assignment, I’m writing a paper on erotica.  After working on it for a while this afternoon, I decided that my brain hurt, and that maybe I should read some erotica instead of just researching it.

Conveniently, I had also just won a copy of Jeffe Kennedy’s “Ruby” from a giveaway during Armchair BEA.

Danielle Sosna is a type-A, ambitious young woman who coordinates photo shoots for magazines.  She’s just been offered a coveted job working for Vogue in Paris.  Her last job before she leaves takes her to New Orleans, where she meets Bobby Prejean, a famous Cajun chef.  A battle of wills in his restaurant leads to a whirlwind BDSM affair as Prejean shows Dani all that New Orleans has to offer.

Kennedy does a fantastic job building her setting, incorporating the flavors and aesthetics of New Orleans into her story.  Prejean’s dishes sound heavenly and decadent, and his dates with Dani are filled with masquerades and revelry.

I’m very impressed.  It’s hard to find romance or erotica that work for me, because I need to see characters that aren’t ditzy, possess a modicum of intelligence, and respect each other.  Here, the characters are smart, sexy, and self-possessed.

Prejean and Dani’s entire relationship is based on respect, both for each other and for their own limits.  The main conflict/drama in the story is related to the workplace and not the dynamic between the two lovers.  That’s refreshing, and absolutely necessary in a book that explores a kinkier relationship.  One of the (many) things that I was disappointed with when reading Fifty Shades of Grey was the fact that the characters had an inherently dysfunctional relationship, and Christian Grey didn’t seem like the kind of person one could fully trust.  Prejean is the opposite–he pays careful attention to Dani’s level of comfort and her limitations, and it allows both of them to fully explore their desires in a responsible way.  Oh, and the best part?  The two of them can actually hold a conversation with each other outside the bedroom.  I like the relationships between my fictional characters to be based on more than just mind-blowing sex.  Dani and Prejean’s personalities complemented each other perfectly.

When I started reading “Ruby,” I was looking for a quick and relaxing read that would help relieve some stress.  Jeffe Kennedy delivers, and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series.

Categories: Erotica, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

“Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James

If you haven’t heard of E. L. James’ smash hit erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey,” then you’ve probably been living under a rock.  I’m a bit late to the game; everyone and their mother has read it by now.  By “everyone and their other,” I even mean my mother.

I hadn’t planned on reading the book, but I have a copy of Fanny Merkin’s parody “Fifty Shames of Earl Grey,” and I don’t feel like it’s fair to read a parody without first reading the work that it’s poking fun at.

It took every ounce of willpower that I had to finish “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  I was very tempted to DNF it (for those of you who aren’t book bloggers, DNF=Did Not Finish), but that would mean admitting defeat.  I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED BY A POORLY WRITTEN EROTICA NOVEL!  NEVER!

The basic story is that Bella interviews Edward Cullen for the school newspaper (Okay, it’s Ana Steel and Mr. Grey, but it’s pretty much the same thing).  The two of them are instantly attracted to each other, but Mr. Grey is into BDSM and Ana spends the entire book deciding whether or not she can live with the fact that she’s dating a guy who likes kinky sex.  Then there’s a bad metaphor about Mr. Grey being fifty shades of fucked-up, which comes completely out of the blue and makes no sense.  I mean, fifty shades?  Really?

Let’s look at Ana.  She’s supposed to be a senior in college.  However, James expects us to believe several things about her:

  1. Ana’s still a virgin.  While somewhat remarkable, this one’s still within the realm of possibility.  She’s also incredibly naive about anything sexual, which is even harder to believe.
  2. She’s never been drunk.  Um, did she go to college under a rock?  Still within the realm of possibility if she’s going to BYU, has a medical condition, or never leaves her dorm room, but it’s highly unlikely.
  3. Ana doesn’t have a computer.  Having a computer is pretty much required in college these days, and borrowing your roommate’s won’t cut it when you both have papers due the next day.  Pair this with the two points above and you’re in dangerous territory.  The suspension of disbelief is just not happening anymore.
  4. SHE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A FRICKIN’ E-MAIL ADDRESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Okay, so I started yelling in shouty caps locks there.  This is 2012.  They give you a lovely .edu e-mail address when you enroll in any college.  In fact, you get one if you even take a single class.  *facepalm*

For someone who supposedly reads a lot, Ana’s remarkably stupid and ditzy.

One should also note that adding the phrase “Holy shit” or “Holy cow” to the end of a paragraph does not make your narrator sound like a young adult.  The colloquialisms that the author used were all wrong, and so Ana sounded like a middle-aged British woman pretending to be a teenager.

Throughout the entire book, Ana has an incessant habit of referring to her inner goddess.  Within the first few chapters, I wanted to find a revolver and shoot Ana’s inner goddess in the face.  I’m the peace-loving hippie pacifist type and don’t do the whole violence thing, but 300-some pages of inner goddess sorely tested those limits.

And then there’s the sex itself.  I expected a lot more based on the way that everyone seems to be reacting to it, but all we get to see is a bit of light bondage and spanking.  This would be fine if we didn’t have to listen to Ana incessantly whine about how much it freaks her out even though at the same time she admits that she enjoys it.  Having read other books that explore the topic of BDSM, I also got rather annoyed that Mr. Grey couldn’t seem to explain at all what’s in it for the sub, such as massive endorphin/adrenaline rushes and the stress relief that comes from letting somebody else be in charge (which is why it’s surprisingly popular with modern career women).

Spoiler alert:  I’m going to bitch about the ending for a few moments.  Spoiler text is in white, so you’ll need to highlight it to read it.

Can anyone say anticlimactic?  Not to mention dumb.  “Oh Mr. Grey, show me your worst!”  “Okay… are you sure?”  “Oh yes!”  *spanking commences*  “Oh noes, I didn’t really mean that!”  *Ana runs away*


So as not to be completely one-sided, there were a couple things that I thought the book did well.  One thing that I will give the author props for is the fact that Ana and Mr. Grey always used protection.  This isn’t one of those books where characters have unprotected sex five times a day but somehow miraculously never get pregnant.  Another thing I liked is that James is not afraid to use explicit terms to refer to having sex or to the genitalia.  It bothers me when authors try to use phrases like “throbbing member” to describe a dick.  It’s a total mood-killer, by which I mean I usually start laughing too hard to take the scene seriously.  I was happy that James wasn’t afraid to use four-letter-words when they were warranted.

Overall, I would not recommend “Fifty Shades of Grey” unless, like myself, you’re reading it as preparation for reading a parody.  I like my porno novels to be well-written, thank you very much.

Pro-tip:  If you find yourself forced to read the book, it’s helpful to pretend that the novel is satire and to mentally replace Mr. Grey with Gaston from the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.  It eventually stops working, but it helps.

Categories: Erotica, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 71 Comments

“Best Erotic Fantasy & Science Fiction” edited by Cecilia Tan & Bethany Zaiatz

I don’t normally read a lot of erotica, but this title caught my eye while I was at BEA.  I’m not the type of person who is turned off by adult content in stories, but I do expect there to be some measure of a story and not just sex, otherwise I get bored rather quickly and go back to reading about dragons and robots and space pirates instead.  The idea of mixing erotica with SF/F appeals to me because it means that authors have stepped outside of the rules of our own universe to create something new and imaginative, and each story is inherently a part of a larger world.  There’s not much that I can say about the book as a whole, so here’s a brief look at each of the stories that it contains:

“Vaster Than Empires” by Allison Lonsdale – This is the story of a woman who is a creative and slightly crazy virtual reality artist.  She has an affair with a man with a fetish for flowers.  I enjoyed this one a lot, and I felt that the world that the author describes is a logical continuation of our own (and I’m basing this in part on my own observations from when I decided to briefly check out Second Life a few years back… for every artist/company/visionary creating stuff, there are at least a handful of people seeking to use new technology to fulfill formerly impossible fetishes).  It’s imaginative, and Lonsdale perfectly captures the personality of an eccentric and tormented artist and juxtaposes it with the digital world.

“Fulgurite” by Vylar Kaftan – A college-aged virgin makes the decision to have sex with her boyfriend after a unicorn-cockroach vision tells her that she will be struck by lightning that day.  Some obvious metaphors going on, and it made me feel as if the protagonist was mentally unbalanced rather than in a story with fantasy elements, but still interesting.

“Now I Live on the Street of Women” by Jason Rubis – This one has a post-apocalyptic feel to it.  There’s been a war, and the protagonist was injured and left mostly paralyzed on the streets.  Some women find him and pimp him out, and he comes to accept it because they take care of him when no one else will.  In a weird way, they’re almost a family.

“Double Check” by Pete Peters – This was a very short story, so I’ll sum it up in two words.  Sadistic chess.

“Metamorphosis” by Deb Atwood – A man who is mourning the loss of his ex meets a new guy at a bar.  You don’t get the SF/F till the twist at the end.

“The Heart of the Storm” by Connie Wilkins – This one was among my favorites in the collection.  It’s a well-developed alt-history featuring lesbian witches during WWII.  Win!

“Alienated” by Helen E. H. Madden – A guy at a bar ends up hooking up with an alien and learning that there is more to intimacy than just a physical connection.  It’s a cute feel-good story.

“Younger Than Springtime” by Grant Carrington – Two time travelers watch their younger selves.  This story was sweet in an “Aww, how cute!” kind of way.

“Make Work” by Bryn Allen – I was impressed by the world-building here.  It’s about a girl named Sarah who works for a religious order that keeps tabs on magical creatures who have become sentient.  She ends up falling in love (and sleeping with) the guy she’s supposed to check up on, even though she’s not supposed to have feelings herself.  I kind of wished there was more to the story; the society described seemed interesting.  (Note:  This is why I don’t generally read erotica.  I’m reading a story about sex and the world-building is what I’m drawn to.  Conversely, this is why this collection of SF/F erotica was so much fun to read.  There can be sex AND worldbuilding.  *evil grin*)

“The Digital O” by Kal Cobalt – A gay programmer named Corbin has a robot and programs him to enjoy giving sexual pleasure.  This robot happens to be on the edge of sentience.  The programmer’s partner has to learn to deal with the fact that their robot now wants to have sex, otherwise it’s feelings will be hurt.  Meanwhile, he’s jealous.  I liked the whole “nerdy programmers don’t necessarily think about the ramifications of their creations until after they’ve made them” subtext that was going on here, and the story made me laugh.

“Taste” by Jean Roberta – A woman has a dream about lizard creatures (use your imagination, I’m not going into detail).  Very strange.

“A Feast of Cousins” by Beth Bernobich – Starts out at a family dinner, where we find out that the main character had her heart broken by her lesbian cousin.  Then she receives a mysterious gift for an erotic massage.  Weird, definitely weird, and I did wonder a bit at how the whole extended family seems so amenable to having sexual relationships with one other.  Maybe it’s the inbreeding.  *shrugs*

“The Boy Who Loved Clouds” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff – This was my number one favorite in the collection.  It’s about a boy who grew up in a village in India, but moved to New York City to become a writer.  While he lived there, he forgot both his roots and his inspiration.  When he returns to his village for his father’s funeral, he glimpses a woman amidst the clouds who helps him to find himself.  Beautiful, superbly literary, and not at all what I expected to find when I opened the book.

“Rainmusic” by Eric Del Carlo – A former rockstar lives alone  on an outpost moon after an accident with his tech that killed a lot of people at a concert.  One day an elemental sentient slime creature comes out of the rain and takes human form.  Yup, you know where this is going.  This story was also quite well-developed, and delved into the rockstar’s feelings about his accident and his decision to withdraw from the world.

“Passion Play” by D. L. Keith – Oooh, another of my favorites, and I wish that this one were a whole book.  There’s a spy, and she’s delivering information to a contact in an artsy theater that happens to use variations of sex as their medium for performance.  However, our spy finds that she’s been sold out, and ends up taking the stage, as it’s the last place that her enemies would look for her.  She ends up starring in a play with an S&M vibe to it.  I would love to learn more of the background behind this one; it feels almost like a scene from a larger epic fantasy work.

“Caught” by Paige E. Roberts – Fun space opera.  Diana’s the captain of a starship, and she’s fighting against a rebel named Wolf.  When he’s captured, she gets to interrogate him, and ends up beginning to doubt her own allegiances.

“Sybariote” by Diane Kepler – While on a mission, a man finds a sex doll robot and she slowly takes over his life.  This was another one with fantastic world-building that feels like a glimpse of a wider saga.

One very very very minor thing that bothered me about the book is that the intro said there were sixteen stories, but there were actually seventeen.  This shouldn’t bother me, but I spent about ten minutes counting and recounting and thinking that I was going crazy.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection more than I’d expected.  Erotica is outside of my usual comfort zone when I’m looking for reading material, but this collection managed to intrigue me because each story felt like there was more to it than just sex, even if sex was the major plot point of the story.  It makes good bathtub reading.

Categories: Erotica, Fantasy, Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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