August 15th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

Around Christmastime last year, I read and reviewed Best Bondage Erotica. Also around that time, I was listening (as I always do at that time) to the Mozart Requiem — which, okay, I know is not exactly Christmas music, but its sound fits December better than it does the Easter season, for me — and I was thinking about its controversial last section, the Lux aeterna, and reading that book… and so I particularly noticed the name of one author, Lux Zakari (which you could sing to the Requiem music, if you tried).

So when I had the chance to interview that very author, of course I jumped at it. She has a new novel that is just out (complete with music! really!), and has already published a number of short stories as well as another novel. So I asked her about writing, and the difference between short stories and novels, and her new book, and of course her name. For those who like to skip ahead, the dirty bits (a hot excerpt) are down there at the bottom. *wink*

Shar: I love your name! Is there a story behind it?

Lux: Thank you—and there is! But the truth is actually very uncool. Without getting into the details, I’ll just confess that similar to deriving one’s porn star name, I invented a new pen name formula: name of an intriguing female character in literature + the mispronounced name of the foxiest guy you’ve ever seen in your life (i.e., my last name is pronounced Za-KAR-ee, not like Zachary).

Shar:  I figured that’s how Zakari was pronounced, because otherwise it won’t fit to the Mozart. So, you’ve published one novel, are on the verge of releasing a new one, and have published a dozen or more short stories. I’m in awe of novelists. What, for you, are some differences between writing a novel and writing a short story? Do you always know in advance whether an idea will go long or short?

Lux: I definitely notice a difference between my short stories and my novels. My novels tend to have more dialogue and a sense of humor, while my short stories – as most short stories do – focus on one pivotal scene, usually of a sexual nature. Short stories let me test the waters, explore an idea I know couldn’t be blown up into a full-length novel. They also give me a chance to reach a wider audience; someone picking up Best Bondage Erotica 2011 may never have heard of me otherwise.

Shar: As the was case for me! So yay for that book. Now, as you sit down to type out Chapter 1 of a novel, do you have most of the plot elements already mapped out, or are you venturing out into the unknown?

Lux: Chapter one is too scary, too overwhelming! I usually don’t start there. Instead, I bang out whatever scene is most well developed in my head; that usually ensures that I’m writing at least something. Sometimes I’ll even write the ending before the beginning. It’s fun – albeit sort of challenging – to go back later and think of ways to link all the pieces together.

But usually, I do write with a synopsis planned out; it helps give me direction and focus but does leave some room for surprises. However, one year I started writing a novel with nothing more than a list of things I thought would be funny or cool to have in a story, and with zero expectations, I just went for it, and it turned into something I’m incredibly proud of. It needs a lot of editing, perhaps even a major overhaul, but I hope to someday have something come of it.

Shar: OK, now I want to read that one! So remember to let me know when it’s finished. I admit that I had never thought of not starting a novel with Chapter 1. I’m always curious about how other writers go through “the process.” Once a short story or novel is finished, how much (if at all) do you change things like plot or characters’ personality? Or is the editing you do pretty much only for grammar and word choice?

Lux: I read through the story again to get the overall picture – which is key, since I’d been writing out of order all along! – and I try to discern what’s working and what isn’t. I try to be honest with myself in terms of that and trust my gut, even if that means cutting something I love.

Shar: Now, when you write short stories, are they generally tailored for a specific publication or website, or do you write what you feel like writing, and then later look around to see if there’s a suitable place to publish them?

Lux: I do the latter – write it then look. For me, that makes sense; otherwise, if the story doesn’t get picked up, I’m stuck with a story tailored only for one specific publication. However, I often run into the problem where my word count is nowhere near the specified range! There’s a bright and dark side to everything.

Shar: So tell us about the new one! Could we have a brief description of Finale, and maybe some information about how the idea came to you, or why you decided to write this story?

Lux: The inspiration for Finale may strike some readers as obvious, but it goes beyond the bare-bones concept of a music legend dying under sudden circumstances and leaving his three children behind. This isn’t the music legend’s story. I wanted to explore the idea of what the aftermath of his death would be like for all the parties involved, and I wanted to intersperse the story with a complicated love story providing evidence behind the decision to leave the children under the guardianship of a person who never thought of anyone but herself.

And now, the official blurb:

When music legend Jonathan Levant dies in a motorcycle accident, no one is more stunned than his former lover Olivia Gray, a hedonistic ex-celebrity who learns she’s been inexplicably named the guardian of his children. Olivia’s reluctant acceptance of the new parental role obliterates her hope of resurrecting her songwriting career as she faces sarcastic teenagers, suicide attempts, and séances. The upset to her self-indulgent life forces Olivia to finally face the truth about the cruel decisions of her wild past, her now uncertain future and her secret, turbulent relationship with a man who, even in death, continues to upend her world.

Shar: You noted in an email to me that you’re working on a soundtrack for the story. Tell us about that! Will this be available somehow to readers?

Lux: It will! Music features very heavily in the story, and as a dabbling songwriter, I interspersed lyrics I’d written throughout Finale. Then I approached my talented musician friend Paul, about creating a soundtrack for the story, and he’s been working on writing the music to the tracks. We are still in the midst of the recording process, but I hope to have the music posted on YouTube and available for free via iTunes. I’m very excited about this and can’t wait for everyone to hear the project!

Shar: How about a short excerpt from the new novel? Either something that shows the tone or writing style of the book, or — heh heh — one of the “naughty bits”?

Lux: It would be an honor!

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Like it’d been my intent all along, I circled the piano, stood in front of the wine and casually refilled my cup. I was all too aware of Jonathan standing far too close on my left. I’d no sooner taken a sip when he asked, “Am I making you nervous?”

I spun around, my back against the piano and my heart pounding. “Why would you say that, Mr. Levant?”

“Ah, answering a question with a question—a sure sign of nerves.” He gave me a rakish grin and took a step closer to me, an act that made my mouth dry. “You know, before it was always ‘kiddo’ or a sarcastic ‘Johnnie.’” He placed his palms on the piano, trapping me in from all sides as he leaned toward me, unapologetically self-assured and sexy. “Now I’m Mr. Levant. What’s changed?”

“Absolutely nothing.” Faced with the inevitable and desperate for control, I closed the paltry distance between us, pressing my lips against his. Plusher than I’d remembered. He groaned softly but responded accordingly in a way that made my mind cloud with want.

We slid to the floor, trading open-mouthed, end-of-the-world kisses. My eyes rolled to the back of my head as his fingers slid beneath my shirt to cup my breast, plucking my sensitive nipples to life. His tongue licked a path down my throat, and my breath hitched at the expertise of his touch and the surprising reaction it evoked in me.

This was not the Jonathan Levant I knew, yet it was, a reminder that further triggered my arousal.

“Isn’t this the part where you push me away?” he murmured in my ear as he tore the shirt from my body with an urgency that excited me. “Aren’t you supposed to make a dramatic exit after yelling at me for taking advantage of you?”

I couldn’t believe he wanted to trade quips at such a time like this, let alone had the ability to do so. I shook the fog of desire from my head and forced myself to be Olivia again—the Olivia capable of rational thought who did not allow good-looking boys to dictate her emotions for better or worse. “Who says I’m the one being taken advantage of?” I asked, reaching between us to give his cock, still confined in his pants, a pointed squeeze.

“All right.” His body trembled with a shudder of pleasure, but he covered my hand with his and rolled us over so I was pinned to the floor, his body wedged between my open legs. “Have your way with me then.”

“That would sound more believable if you were on the bottom.” I was proud of myself for regaining a bit of self-control, but that small amount vanished once again when Jonathan reared back and tugged down my pants, taking my panties with them.

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OK, that worked for me! ;) Purchase Finale here, her previous novel Coercion here, and be sure to check out Lux Zakari’s website here.

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July 17th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

Nice Girls, Naughty Sex (Seal Press, 2011) is a collection of 20 erotic tales edited by Jordan LaRousse and Samantha Sade, who run the Oysters and Chocolate erotic website.

As is the case with the stories published on the website, the stories in this collection are divided into four categories: Vanilla, Dirty Martini, Licorice Whips, and Oysters. Now, I’ve read stories on the website itself more times than you need to know. But to be honest, I never paid any attention to what category the stories were in. I either read the ones that were listed first, or sought out favorite authors.

However, when reviewing a collection, one should be a bit more focused, no? So I devised a system. I’d read one Vanilla one, then one Dirty Martini one, then one Licorice Whip, and then an Oyster; and then another Vanilla, and so on.

This system fell apart with the first story, Sommer Marsden’s A Technicality, which is the first piece in the Vanilla category. Now, this was my fault, to be sure. I did read the descriptions of the categories, and right there under Vanilla, it does say, “these stories dance with exciting lovers in daring locations.” Still, though, that word — vanilla — carries a connotation. Kinky people use it to mean “usual” or “standard.” Not quite “ordinary,” but… well, OK, it is used to mean “ordinary.” Even “ho-hum” (a connotation I resent, since vanilla is a favorite flavor and scent of mine, but it exists just the same). But this story — it’s not regular or ordinary at all, and it sure as heck isn’t ho-hum. Its two main characters meet in a hospice, where each is visiting a terminally ill relative. So the sex is tinged with those circumstances—sadness and a longing for release and an affirmation of continued living and some guilt for that continuation, all mixed in with lust and love. Plus lots of imaginative spots to slip away to and some very creative hotness. Hardly “usual.” And don’t get me wrong, it’s not only a great story, but a great one to begin an anthology with. But is it “vanilla”?

I checked the description in the front of the book again. Vanilla stories have straight sex between one man and one woman; Dirty Martini stories have… well… “unconventional” things, like toys or exhibitionism or group sex; Licorice Whip stories have a domination/submission theme; and Oysters are lesbian or bisexual. (Why no category for gay men, then? Just curious.) But honestly, I don’t seek out stories based on how many people are in them, or whether or not a toy is used. What I look for is more, well, stuff like mood, plot, character, writing… it’s like how Supreme Court Justice Douglas famously defined pornography — I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

So I chucked the “one of each in turn” system for the “completely random” system. I opened the book at random, read whatever story was there, and continued in this way till I’d read them all. I figured at that point I’d go back and see which ones I liked best, and see if they fell into any particular category.

Hmmm. Well, I didn’t find any stories I didn’t enjoy (which is saying a lot, for a collection of 20), but the ones I enjoyed most were those in the Vanilla category and the Licorice Whips category, with some favorites also in the Dirty Martini section  and in Oysters. From which I conclude… well, you see the problem.

Now, I can’t review every story (considerations of space and, frankly, your own attention span), and you mustn’t conclude that I didn’t enjoy the ones I’m not mentioning. I’m not even going to say that the ones I’m describing in more detail are my favorites. I think my overall favorite, if I had to pick one, was Evelyn, by Julian Augustus Finisterre. But I don’t want to describe it. It was… different (in style more than content), and while it didn’t much mirror any experiences of my own, or even my fantasies, there were still parts — small parts, tucked in here and there — that spoke to me of me. Which parts? Oh, well. Reading is very personal sometimes. But it’s a lovely moment when you read something that rings true for you, perhaps even more so when the truth is revealed in very unfamiliar circumstances.

Here’s one I thoroughly enjoyed: Serving Ms. Paden, by Talia Kelley. In this story, a stablehand gets the best of his arrogant boss-lady by essentially abducting her and carrying her off and ravishing her. On horseback. I don’t just mean the carrying off, I mean the actual ravishing! Yep, on horseback. At first the horse is walking, but at one point the word “canter” is used. Now, I ride. I can assure you that something like this … well, it’s not gonna happen that way. First off, no rider would be that irresponsible with his or her horse (let alone him/herself). I mean, if you’re fucking in the saddle—with one partner still squealing and squirming to get away because she thinks she doesn’t want it—you’re not perfectly balanced, and I don’t see how you could be holding the reins or using your legs—using them on the horse, in any case. Most horses would just stop and eat grass (they’re going over a prairie at this point); mine would probably spook and bolt off, leaving the riders on the ground. And at a canter? Please. I know these characters were riders, sure, but … I mean, I’ve tried horse vaulting (check from minute 1:45 on—that’s a canter, and do notice that someone with a lunge line and a whip is in charge of the horse at all times); it’s harder than it looks, and it doesn’t look easy!

So no, this was not a realistic scenario. And you know what? I didn’t care one bit. That’s the fun of fiction, the fun of fantasy. It’s your chance to say, instead of “Oh, that couldn’t happen,” it’s your chance to say “But what if! Wouldn’t it be hot if … ?” And it was hot.

I didn’t think at first that I would care for Behind Bars, by Saranna DeWylde, because the guy was a cop, and I’m not fond of stories with police officers (and there were three in this collection! OK, that’s my only gripe!) or uniforms or stuff like that, even though I know they’re wildly popular (and no, for the record, I am not running from the law). But this story was such fun because of the humor in the writing. Example: It’s a hot day, and the office isn’t air-conditioned. Betsy closed the logbook and took a drink of water, which seemed to be an exercise in futility. It would have been easier if she’d dumped it on the floor, cut out the middle man. She hated sweating. Actually, the writing reminded me of the American south, somehow, so much so that I even checked the author’s bio in the back to see where she’s from (it didn’t say). But there was lots of feisty verbal sparring between the two characters, which was thoroughly enjoyable, and then just raw passion, like here:

“Tell me this is what you want. Right here, right now. Me.” His breath was harsh and ragged in her ear, and it sent chills through her body.

“I want this.” Her voice was a whisper, a traitor to her mind, but a slave to her body.

See? This is why I love erotica. Because lines like that — a traitor to her mind, but a slave to her body — I don’t care how cheesy they are, they’re true. Anyone who’s been in lust knows that. It’s such a potent combination of honest and fun.

Other favorites include Blow Me (Rachel Kramer Bussel), Good Doggy (Janine Ashbless), and Honeymoon Suite (Donna George Storey).

I think there’s a tendency to look at sex writing and sex reading to see if it “means” anything about you. Are you revealing your hidden fantasies? Exposing your desires? Showing your true personality? Well, perhaps there’s some of that. So if I look that the stories I responded to the most, I can see that they’re the ones that were realistic; or totally unrealistic; or serious and poignant; or humorous and snarky. Hmmm. Seems like I like a lot of different things. I imagine most folks do too. Those folks would probably enjoy this excellent collection of erotica.

Pick up your copy of this erotic collection at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Still want more? Then check out other books by the same editor/author team here (because how could you resist a book whose title is Penis Genius!?).

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May 17th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

I wasn’t quite sure I should review this book at first — it’s “steampunk,” you see, and I had no idea what that actually was. I felt in any case that it was only fair to warn the author, but he seemed quite unconcerned, and that’s what convinced me. I figured if the author was that confident that someone unfamiliar with the genre would enjoy it and review it fairly, then I should go ahead and give it a try.

I’d like to say I did some serious background research into steampunk, but let’s be honest — I checked wikipedia and emailed a few friends. Most definitions seem to start with “It’s kind of like” — It’s kind of like alternate history, it’s a little like science fiction, it’s sort of like historical fantasy. Then you get a lot of examples, which apparently not everybody can agree on, so these authors/filmmakers may or may not exemplify steampunk: Jasper Fforde (I’m a huge fan), Hayao Miyazaki (can’t stand his films), Jules Verne (he’s OK), Mark Twain (what? huh? But that’s what wiki says…), The Golden Compass (a far better book than movie), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (I enjoyed it). So it was a little hard for me to tell from this exhaustive (ahem) research whether steampunk would turn out to be “my thing” or not.

In a way, it reminded me of re-reading 1984 a few years ago (note: 1984 is not, as far as I know, considered steampunk). I first read 1984 in the late ’70s, when it was still set in the future. Now, of course, it it technically set in the past — and yet it still reads as if it’s the “future.” So it’s a sort of … “other future” that still seems nostalgic in a way, because of the past-ness in the prose and some of the setting. Steampunk strikes me like that — it’s the past, and it isn’t; it’s the future, and it isn’t; it’s our world, and it isn’t.

As such, it works nicely for me. One of my difficulties with some science fiction is how long it takes you to figure out the whole reality. You get pages and pages (and if you are unlucky, chapters and chapters) of things like “Xyr knew he had to wharrump the morytyr of Haxio, or he would never be able to enphusiate the Zingy of the grand wowzeer.” Some days… I just don’t want to work that hard at my fiction, you know? I want names I can say in my head and actions I can follow. Crazy, but there you are, that’s me. So an alternate reality in which some of the settings and background and devices are familiar helps me open up to those that are different.

This work is a collection of six long-ish short stories. I didn’t always get pronounceable-in-my-head names from these stories, but I’m going to forgive that because they were great reading. The first ones I’m not even sure I’d classify as “erotica,” really, but rather stories that had, at some point, some erotic elements and scenes. The later stories were more erotic, including one with some lovely BDSM-ish scenes, and it’s on the basis of those that I decided to put the review here on my blog. So it’s certainly not a volume of, well, wank material. But it’s got some uncanny insights into people’s motivations for having sex, and then some delicious descriptions of what they do together.

The stories, though they each stand alone, are all about the same “world,” and some characters recur, which gives the collection a nice unity. The settings are rich (although I didn’t notice much actual steam… is that necessary for steampunk?), but what I liked best were the characters and the plots. I had an e-book version, so I don’t know if I could call it a ‘page turner,’ but it was certainly a ‘screen scroller.’

I loved the literary allusions, too, which added an extra layer. Some are quite obvious (one story is a re-telling of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde tale), some less so (I don’t know if people still read Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress?) and others are more obscure (The Perfumed Garden, which I’ve heard of but never read). Some places mentioned exist (Samarah) and some I wasn’t sure about (Arimaspia). As is the nature of such things, you smile when you find something familiar (a character at one point sings “Pirate Jenny” — I used to sing that while mopping the floors of a house I lived in), but if the reference doesn’t ring a bell, it doesn’t keep you from understanding or enjoying what’s going on.

A nice surprise at the end of the collection was a commentary by the author on each story, with notes on where he got his ideas and why he chose some of the elements he did.

It’s an intelligent, well-written collection. I’d recommend it to those who already like steampunk, and also to those who, like me, are trying it out for the first time. Based on this collection, I’d read more.

Get your own copy of The Innocent’s Progress here at Amazon for the Kindle and here from the publisher (Circlet Press) in other e-formats. Circlet also has links there to other e-book distributors such as Smashwords and All Romance eBooks, if you have a favorite.

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January 15th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

This was a hard book for me to pick up. I mean that literally, because I lost it for a few weeks — in my own house. It arrived in December, with its attractive cover and enticing contents, just a few days before my conservative parents arrived for the holidays. I tucked it into a concealing brown fabric cover and tucked it unobtrusively, spine inwards, into a shelf of books somewhere. Somewhere. But I have a lot of books in a lot of bookshelves, and upon my parents’ departure, I couldn’t find it again.

If I’m waiting for a book to arrive in the mail, I don’t really think about it until it arrives. But searching for this volume (a bit frantically, because it would be rather embarrassing to have to buy myself another copy), I found myself considering its possible contents.

I hope it doesn’t mean something bad about me that I was thinking about what I didn’t want. For one thing, I didn’t want to read about bondage practices that were distractingly unsafe or unrealistic. Master Marchand looped the rope around his slave’s neck, tightened the slipknot, and then tossed the other end of the lasso around the horn of his nervous stallion’s saddle. No, that wouldn’t do. But neither did I want a safety lecture: Having earned his EMT license, Lester carefully adjusted the wide flat strap against Felicity’s skin. “Notice how I can slip two fingers under the bond, assuring me that circulation is not cut off?” he asked the paramedic watching in the corner. I also didn’t want a how-to demo: Domme Dominique leaned in and breathed into Sam’s ear, “Now, the right end of the rope is a good three inches longer than the left. I take that right end in my hand, and then the rabbit goes around the tree, down the hole…”

Oh, joy! There was the book, sandwiched between Tahar Ben Jelloun’s L’Enfant de sable and L’Écrivain publique. I guess I’d figured my parents weren’t going to be poking around that shelf since they don’t speak French.

I know you probably saw this line coming from the beginning, but I’m going to say it anyway: a hard book to pick up, but then a hard one to put down. One nice thing about short stories is that you can read them one at a time, so if you only have a few moments you can still slip a little reading in — which is what I had been intending to do, actually, but I wound up reading it in three sittings. Oh well! The stories are all good enough to go back and re-read, so I will still be able to stretch it out.

This volume contains 20 short stories, all linked by the theme of bondage. Not a medium-quality story in the whole lot. Truly. This is an excellent collection. I had my favorites, sure (and not necessarily the ones I would have predicted if I’d read a summary first), but every single one was good. What I especially liked was the level of insight in each story. They’re not how-to manuals; they’re more how-it-feels and why-I’d-want-this stories, and they felt true to me. And they are, above all, stories, with plots and compelling characters and settings you can picture.

If I fully reviewed all 20 stories, my parents would be back again before I could finish, so I’ll just give a few sentences about each one and some representative phrases.

The Long Way Home, Elizabeth Coldwell. This was one of my favorites. A great premise, and extra credit for descriptions with just the right amount of details: a laburnum tree; a nonchalant click. Very hot and  and very loving, two qualities I especially appreciate in erotica.

His Little Apprentice, Jacqueline Applebee. Usually stories have the dominant partner the more experienced, so this was a nice twist, where the person to be bound lures the … binder? bondager? guy-who-does-the-tying, whatever he’s called. “Mine.” Yeah, that says it all.

Foreign Exchange, Evan Mora. I loved the concept behind this title — first of all, it’s about a Canadian couple in New York; sometimes culture shock is the stronger for being unexpected (as when you move from one country to another that you think is quite similar); then this couple meets another with different ways. It’s the way she says it: that perfect tone that implies my permission is not being sought and that compels my immediate compliance.

The Ingénue, Janine Ashbless. A historical! (At least, that’s how it read to me.) She wanted to prick the bladder of his arrogance… Many books and sites on writing bang on and on about the need for a punchy, clever beginning, but I have a weakness for a strong ending, like this story had.

Reasoning, Tenille Brown. The point was, Ray was trying to fuck her to death. This story was such fun. The only way the heroine could get her guy to shut up and listen was to force him. So, Carlotta had said “No,” just like that, and it hadn’t really felt bad at all. It had felt damned good, in fact.

Subdue, Dusty Horn. Another favorite. Fantastic descriptions (rich even alto; morsels of orders), hot lines (“This is not your collar. It’s mine, for you to wear.”), and, as I mentioned above, insights into the mind of the person submitting (“I don’t always know how to be good.” / “I guess I just don’t want to go down without a fight.”).

Relative Anonymity, Emerald. An ex-husband who parted on good terms returns — with a surprise. At that moment, she would have sworn he had just watched the same movie of their lives together with her, some connection in their look allowing them to share the same memory.

Closeted, Emily Bingham. What really goes through the mind of a submissive being punished? …I’m supposed to be thinking about something important while I’m in here. Like the true nature of my submission. Screw that, I’m going to piss in his closet — that will show him. Yeah, but later, she gets hers: Apparently, I am a whore and loving it.

Vegas Treat, Rachel Kramer Bussel. A nice treatment of a girl’s first time being tied; not the innocent who needs to be pressured, but a natural who just needed the opportunity: I wasn’t a virgin, or anything, obviously, but maybe I’d been meeting the wrong men because none had ever proposed so much as a threesome, let alone bondage and sex toys. I loved this sentence: His voice was so sensual, so smoky and intense, the aural equivalent of rich Texas barbecue, that I melted into it the way barbecue melts on my tongue.

The Cartographer, Angela Caperton. This one blew me away. I actually teared up a little in the middle of reading it. The man is tattooing a map onto his lover’s body; but what will he do when his canvas is completed? From the opening: My body is a map. The continents are accurate and bold, the oceans pale peach. Arching shoals rise in the curves of flesh, and muscles cradle the gentle bend of bay shores. Beautiful, throughout.

The Apiary, Megan Butcher. I want her to spin a story, a fairy tale of our time together, not this story with no happy ending. Sweet and deep, a look at how a couple recovers from an encounter gone wrong.

Wired, Lisabet Sarai. Geek love! Computers and online shenanigans and a “mysterious foreigner” programmer. A timely update on the “office sex” theme. I rocked back and forth on Krishna’s ergonomic chair… I liked too the willingness of the protagonist to try whatever her crush was into. It’s hot if the object of your desire finds it hot.

How the Little Mermaid Got Her Tail Back, Andrea Dale. You know the original story, right, not just the Disney version — the mermaid trades her tail for legs, so that she can live on land with the man she loves, but she must also give up her voice; and because she can’t talk to him, he falls for another, and as her penalty for not winning his love, she dies (or becomes sea foam, in gentler versions). Not exactly my idea of a happy ending. Finally! A story to put things right again. She teetered on the knife edge of honesty and terror, and that’s what made her come so hard, time after time.

The Lady or the Tiger, Bill Kte’pi. A nod to the classic Frank Stockton short story. “Our only choice is to stride through the door with dignity.”

Sealed for Freshness, Jennifer Peters. One of the few stories told from the Dominant’s point of view. For a moment I contemplated berating him for the obvious show of pleasure, but I knew his punishment would teach him a lesson, even if he happened to enjoy parts of it a little too much.

Stocks and Bonds, Rita Winchester. No, not that kind of stocks, the other kind; you know, like from historical Williamsburg. Roleplaying after a Renaissance Festival. He knows I love the dirty words. Whore and slut and trollop: all of them, they make me crazy and wet. Just plain fun, this one.

Helen Lay Bound, Suzanne V. Slate. The contrast of an old-fashioned corset, laced tight, under regular clothes. For school we dress in what we call “academic drag”: jeans, boots, thick baggy sweaters. The corset is our secret. A long, sensual tease, with historical and philosophical reflections on bondage.

The Rainmaker, Elizabeth Daniels. Hope brought Amy to her knees, head bowed, cuffed hands outstretched. … After five months of sexual drought, there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for an orgasm. A couple deals ingeniously with one partner’s loss of sexual desire.

Do You See What I Feel? Teresa Noelle Roberts. My husband is evil and perverted and I love him for it. And he’s set up a literal blind date for his wife.

Truss Issues, Lux Zakari. And trust issues as well. “I guess I’ve seen too many instances where people have put their faith in the wrong lovers.” Isn’t that one of the ultimate fantasies? Someone who knows you better than you know yourself — and uses that knowledge for good.

If you don’t have young children in the house, and you’re quite sure my parents aren’t planning to visit you, you might want to display this handsome book on your shelf. The paper copy can be bought here. For the more discreet, there’s a Kindle edition. Or, like me, you can take the middle road, and get a paper copy that you disguise. Just don’t forget where you put it.

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December 13th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Like a Veil (Circlet Press, 2010) is a collection of stories by four different authors tied together by a fanciful “Arabian Nights” theme. As editor Michelle Labbé explains in the introduction,

Shahrazad and her tales have inspired other storytellers from the beginning. The earliest surviving manuscript dates from the fourteenth century, and comprises only about three hundred nights of stories. Since that time, legions of anonymous writers have appended their own tales onto that number, each making their own contributions to fill the framework with the thousand and one nights promised.

It’s no surprise that the idea of a collection like this would appeal to me, given my writing name (which I have discussed previously here). I travel a bit in the Middle East, and have read both modern traveler’s accounts and traditional tales (think djinnis/genies, desert travelers, plot twists, lessons learned).

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Her Way, by Anya Levin, about a group of archaeologists searching for a mysterious lost city, says this about the desert:

Stories discounted as mythical or euphemistic in countless ancient storybooks become eerily reasonable to a mind subjected to the open sprawl of the desert and the baking heat of the sun high above.

That could be a clever bit of foreshadowing, but I have to say, it is entirely true. You do feel different in the vastness of a desert. It’s so still and endless. Things you wouldn’t believe at home in your living room seem quite plausible on those immense dunes that feel like water under your feet. While reading her story, I remembered landscapes like the one below, and how I felt there (that’s the edge of the Sahara—yeah, just the edge!):

When you walk in sand like that, you can sink in up to your ankles; but turn around, and all but the last few footprints have already been erased by the wind. No problem understanding how sand like that could bury a city.

The travelers come upon a tent in the desert, which houses a sort of gatekeeper to the city. As is the way in such tales, she poses questions to the travelers about their intentions and purposes. A satisfactory answer wins admission to the city. But it isn’t just a question of guessing what the gatekeeper wants to hear—as is also the way in such tales, she can see through subterfuge.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

The woman raised a brow and asked, “What do you want to do?”

The question set off the arousal that had been smoldering, the simple words leaving my body and mind in a blaze fit to immolate. “And what if what I want isn’t polite, or nice, or…”

“All the better, then,” the woman said composedly. “For in the city,” and here she gestured behind her with one long, sleek arm, “while being polite is a good policy, honesty is valued above even that social nicety.”

What her honesty reveals about herself leads to the erotic elements of the story, so I know you wouldn’t want me to reveal that here. ;)

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Blue-Eyed Djinn, by Angela Goldsberry, begins like this:

The sun was sinking low over the Arabian desert when the old man arrived at the walled city.

“Please,” he begged the guard at the gate, “night is almost upon us. I am but a poor old peddler with a half-dead camel. I have no defense against bandits and wild dogs. Please grant me admittance for the night.”

Oh, perfect! I love stories like that. Mysterious Arabian walled cities, like, oh, this one:

Of course, the old traveler gets to meet the Sultan, and offer him a gift—an intriguing little glass bottle with a guess what inside.

The Sultan laughed heartily. “A blue-eyed Djinn! Now I have heard everything! And what, pray tell, will this djinn grant me? Power? Riches? Women? I have all of these! What can he give me that I do not already have?”

She, my Lord! She will give you a night — just one, but a night filled with such pleasure that I cannot begin to describe it!”

The genie performs exactly as promised, and yet not in a way that you’d expect.

One thing I particularly appreciated about this story was a light sprinkling of cultural elements — an article of clothing, a piece of fruit — that lent authenticity to the story. If you’ve never traveled to such places, those details wouldn’t hamper understanding in the least, and add a pleasing exoticness. But if you have, they add the perfect touch. [Note: It has always bugged me that “exoticity” is not the nominal form of “exotic.” Can this be changed?]

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I will confess that I had to read the first part of Sunny Moraine’s Catch and Release (a title that cleverly works at several levels) twice to fully get it. Not because it was obscure or poorly written, not at all, but because it caught me by surprise.

The central hub of the ship is turning in its slow grav-spin and he sometimes thinks that he can feel it when he’s between decks like this, bouncing in the lower gravity with his hands on the ladder, so close to freefall he can taste it.

Wait, what? Is this science fiction? Well, yes. But it makes a perfect third story to a collection of four, with a different spin on the setting that still fits in very well. Space is a kind of desert too, isn’t it? And what the protagonist finds there takes him back in a way to the more traditional setting:

She is Baghdad, he thinks fitfully. They are one and the same, new, ancient, enticing, hungry. Baghdad rebuilt, center of the new world, rich with the wealth of the global economy, swelling with all the nations, reaching out to take him in. Trying to hold on. Which is why he had run, and now he is caught again. She is Baghdad, gleaming and seductive; she is the stars over him and the hot roof beneath, she is the lights and the noise and she is touching him, and this time he doesn’t pull away.

Can’t say I have any photos in my personal collection that are appropriate for it, though!

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The Eater of Stories by Sophia Deri-Bowen took me back to a familiar place: dusty at-the-edge-of-the-desert towns, where storytellers visit (or, as in this tale, story gatherers):

He came when we were young. The caravans come through often where we are. Ela is no backwater, though it is neither so grand as the big oases. Still, it’s not so rare, even these days when we are diminished.

He wasn’t strange, until you looked again. His robes were then a little too white, and you realized that the jewels on his fingers sparkled when they shouldn’t. They would have gleamed in a sealed box, buried in the sands and forgotten.

This story was more melancholy, though it wasn’t ultimately sad, and I was touched by the power and importance of stories, stories told and stories heard. A fitting final story to the collection.

I suppose it might seem a little odd to review a collection of erotic stories and not (so far) say much about the naughty bits. It’s not that they weren’t there, or that they weren’t wonderful, it’s just that the other parts of the stories were so compelling. The other main element that ties these four stories together is lovely language. I know that’s a highly subjective statement, but then this is a subjective review. Not too long ago on this blog we engaged in a discussion off in the comments to some post about word choice – should writers eschew the ten-cent words and less common choices? No, I don’t think so. A well-chosen word is such a pleasure. Each writer in this collection had a distinctive style, but they all used good words well. I liked the sentence variety, too, and the poetic flow. Not artificial or put-on, but just right given the story type. Sentences like this one, from Catch and Release: There is a story behind it. Of course there is, Suleiman thinks as he turns restlessly, as if dreaming, and she whispers in his ear with her hot lips, smooth and organic as blown glass.

I’ve done it again, I’ve skipped the sex! Unforgivable. The erotic elements were very well done. Explicit without being crude, detailed without being mechanical. Passionate and loving. Between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples. Between two humans, and between one human and one “other.”

It wouldn’t be a Shar review without some mention of a quirky detail, so here’s that part. One hesitation I have with e-books is the look. I don’t want to read something that looks like someone’s forwarded Microsoft Word document. This e-book looked lovely. I loved the fonts! Papyrus for the titles (how appropriate), and Hoefler Text (a somewhat old-fashioned-looking serif font) for the stories. I would have preferred ragged right margins, but that’s getting a bit picky, even for me. You could tell that this book was put together by people who cared about it, from the selection and sequencing of the stories to how they looked on the page.

All in all, it was a wonderful collection. Got me all nostalgic and warmed up, in more ways than one.

Like a Veil can be ordered from Circlet Press here, for $3.99 (if for some reason you prefer to buy it elsewhere, at the same price, there are links there to a number of other places such as Smashwords, Scribd, the Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble, etc.). A buck a story, people, and it zaps over immediately to your inbox. You’re not going to do better than that!

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