Book Review: Best Women’s Erotica 2015

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I’m having trouble writing this review of Best Women’s Erotica 2015 because I just want to say, “I masturbated a lot to this book.”

As someone who lives and breathes erotica, I rarely find it sexually arousing to the point of needing to release tension. The more erotica you read, the less novelty there is until it rarely fazes you. This isn’t a bad thing—I love reading erotica on the train and appreciating it as literature rather than as wank material. I’ve made it clear on this blog that I prefer my erotica cerebral and challenging—sexy with a side of psychoanalysis or social commentary. It takes something brilliantly written or inventive to actually get me going.

So… this anthology earned its title. Big thumbs up from this girl. Once again, Violet Blue has curated the strongest stories in the genre for a collection that is smart, varied, and steamy as fuck. I’ll comment on my favorites to give you a taste, but at the end of the day you need to just trust my multiple orgasms and buy the book.

Valerie Alexander opens the collection with “The Ghostwriter,” a rough and unhesitating BDSM story that knocked me out cold. It hits all the buttons that Fifty Shades aimed for and missed—the leading man (and CEO) is brutal, powerful, and equally matched by his would-be sub and ghostwriter. “The Ghostwriter” isn’t afraid to get real when it comes to degradation, humiliation, and head games—subjects which are triggering for me when done wrong but so, so deliciously hot when an author gets it right. This story made me uncomfortable in the best way. Continue reading

Book Review: Femme Fatale

GDP002-FemmeFatale_30I’ll be blunt. This anthology fucked me up.

Femme Fatale: Erotic Tales of Dangerous Women, edited by Lana Fox and published by Go Deeper Press, is a petite but walloping anthology about women you really don’t want to fuck with. Fuck, sure, but not fuck with. Its pages are full of theft, murder, love, and power, and its stories are difficult to swallow and exceptionally written. That’s exactly the sort of intelligence and daring I’ve come to associate with Go Deeper Press.

I knew I’d love this anthology from Fox’s introduction alone, which starts with the line, “Just like many other women who have written erotica, I have often been viewed as a femme fatale of sorts.” Excuse me while I snap my fingers in agreement like a pretentious slam poet. According to Fox, femme fatales are rebellious, witty actors who deliciously subvert expectations of femininity. The characters of this anthology pick up where the famous femme fatales of hard-boiled detective films left off, some abandoning gender identity altogether. They are queer, smart, determined, and complex, satisfying my hunger for difficult characters in erotica while bowling me over with the sheer holy shit violence and bite of plot. Continue reading

Book Review: Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors

tumblr_nec2gzHH4M1tjspnyo1_1280So here’s a little known fact about me: I really like a good historical romance. Sure, genre romances usually follow a predictable formula and lack complicated character development, but there is something comforting and satisfying about sinking into a huge page-turner full of lush description and sexual tension. Generic historical romances are my cotton candy. They’re basically my literary problematic fave: I admit they’re whitewashed, heteronormative, and have weird messages about class, but I read the shit out of them anyway.

So I’ve been pumped about Cleis’s new romance imprint, Tempted Romance. I suspected romance coming out of a smart, socially conscious publishing team would be top notch, and this theory seems on point from what I’ve read so far. I really enjoyed Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors. Like, I really did. Genuinely. I didn’t expect to like this title in particular much, as I’ve missed the whole highlanders craze and the book cover is, let’s be real, a bit ridiculous. But fortuitously I’ve been on a masculinity kick—what a friend is referring to as my “muscular renaissance”—and this anthology has that market cornered. The male characters are deeply physical and ambitiously calculating, walking the line between dangerous and gentle. Plus they’re smart. Smart is good. From Susannah Capin’s “Wicked”:

He straightened, towering over her. Long and lean, built for power and speed. A deadly combination of brains and brawn.”

Is it fluff? Totally. Eventually I will write a more coherent post about the female gaze in erotica and erotic romance, but for now I’ll just say I dig it. Sometimes you just want a guy who can pin you. I’m not above admitting that. As far as escapist fantasy goes I think this is pretty harmless. Continue reading

Book Review: 10 Shades of Seduction

10 Shades of SeductionSo I’m a big Alison Tyler fan. She pretty much rocks my world. When she tweeted about having copies of 10 Shades of Seduction available for anyone who wanted to write a review, my response was essentially, “Gimme.”

For those who want to avoid spoilers, maybe tune out now and just go order the book. It’s worth it. Scout’s honor.

Tyler has two novellas in this gigantic anthology from Harlequin (is this the first Harlequin title I’ve reviewed? I think so!). In case you couldn’t guess from the title, the theme is BDSM erotica romance. Now I read a surprising amount of BDSM erotic romance for someone who doesn’t actually like BDSM erotic romance, and that’s usually all Alison Tyler’s fault. She’s just so fucking good at writing it, at manipulating its predictable tropes into something clever and gorgeous. Continue reading

Blog Tour: The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica

Digging into my personal copy after work.

Digging into my personal copy after work.

This must be the fall of mind-blowingly erotica.

Confession: I spent most of my internship at Cleis Press this summer hoping I would go to work the next morning and discover The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica had arrived in the office. When that day finally came, I was so eager to kneel on the floor with a box cutter and slice those puppies open. I coveted my nice, shiny, gigantic copy and brought it with me everywhere until I had devoured the entire thing. I even read it on my plane back to the East Coast, much to the discomfort of the body builder sitting next to me in coach.

This book is fantastic. Rose Caraway, newbie anthology editor but experienced erotica audiobook narrator and podcaster, has put together the most diverse, well written, and entertaining collection I’ve ever seen. This book has everything: male and female authors, different types of couples, ghosts, talking alcohol bottles, the list goes on. It’s living proof of the fact that “erotica” is a genre with its own genres. There’s sci fi, horror, realistic fiction, steampunk, historical fiction, BDSM, romance, etc. I’m admittedly not a genre reader, but maybe that’s a good thing—each story in this collection was a surprise, so many windows to types of erotica I never knew existed.

4e36338e2890952bef47269bb6d39da7So this is a great collection for someone new to erotica who wants to discover what they might like, but also a must have for the tried and true erotica fans. It really is a library, complete with its own card catalogue Caraway painstakingly assembled herself (the dewey decimal listings are all real). Not to be That Trite Reviewer, but this would make a perfect gift for your newly single best friend, a lover you want to shake things up with, a bachelorette party present… It’s so accessible. Continue reading

Book Review: The Boss

71kmA235KZL._SL1500_Okay, I almost don’t know where to start with how much I appreciated this fantastic, sexy powder keg of a book. The Boss by Abigail Barnette just won my ‘favorite feminist erotica ever’ trophy. This review is going to be long, disorganized, and ecstatic. Get ready, folks.

I talk a big game about the possibilities of feminist erotica, about a literary genre where women are sexually empowered, savvy, satisfied, but still real. It is my belief that feminist erotica can deliver the sex education most teenagers are deprived of due to abstinence-only curricula, can provide sexual role models for readers to respect and learn from, and can still turn them on. But the crux of feminist erotica, for me at least, is realism. Feminist erotica engages with the fucked up parts of sex, the confusing elements, the issues we bump into as we screw around and try to navigate both our politics and our pleasure. And this book, this fucking book, is what I have been waiting for.

A summary of the book will sound familiar: Sophie works at a magazine as the assistant of an Anna Wintour-look alike when Porteras is sold and gorgeous, rich, sexy Neil Elwood takes over. The only problem is that Sophie slept with Neil during a layover at LAX six years ago, and the sexual tension is thick. Oh also he’s super into BDSM. In the abstract this plot seems riddled with cliché, and I’ll admit I pegged it at first as a well-written, fun, but generally unsurprising romance novel.

Yo, I was so wrong. Let me offer a few reasons.

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Consent, Children’s Lit, and Ella Enchanted

Copy lovingly borrowed, as mine is in a box of 'Little Ella' books in Connecticut.

Copy lovingly borrowed, as mine is in a box of ‘Little Ella’ books in Connecticut.

When I was little, my favorite book was Ella Enchanted. Some relative bought me a copy of Gail Carson Levine’s paperback because my name was also Ella, and little me thought this was the best thing to have ever happened, especially when my hair was also brown and I was also something of a weirdo. I read and reread that book until its pages were torn and falling out, and I regularly took the audiobook out from Greenwich Public Library to listen to the cassette tapes on my canary yellow Walkman (#90schild). Ella Enchanted resonated with little Ella because its characters were smart, relatable, and well intentioned in a world that kind of sucked. I was growing up in a heavily class-conscious suburb, the commercial district of the aforementioned Greenwich, Connecticut, so its themes of class stratification helped me make sense of the world around me. My childhood love for Ella Enchanted wound up being formative in ways I would not realize for over a decade. Far more than little kid lit, it ingrained in me the vital principle that everyone had the right to say no.

I just spent the weekend with my boyfriend in Los Angeles, and on day two of my mini-vacation I finished reading the only book I had brought with me. Lucky for me, my partner relished the opportunity to give me a tour of every bookshelf in his family’s home, stocked with everything from the classics to a smorgasbord of YA lit. There, nestled among the shelves, was his yellow-tinged copy of Ella Enchanted. I spent the next day racing through its familiar stories, feeling like I had rediscovered an old friend. I was maybe thirty pages in when I realized it was a book about consent. Continue reading

Book Review: Active Duty

ActiveDuty_hires I should begin this review of Neil Plakcy’s Active Duty: Gay Military Erotic Romance by saying that I have never read M/M erotic fiction before. Aside from my pre-teen days of following Sirius Black/Remus Lupin fan fiction, I fall outside of the gay male fiction demographic. That isn’t to say women do not read M/M, and several of my close female friends do. I just want to preface this review by saying I am a total newbie to this genre. I probably wouldn’t have picked up Active Duty other than to gawk at its spectacular beefcake cover, but my first real task as an intern at Cleis Press has been to manage its blog tour. I read the paperback to get to know its authors and to select excerpts to send to bloggers, a surprisingly difficult task considering I kept forgetting I was reading the book for work and not for my own enjoyment. Active Duty is in turn sweet, funny, sexy, and graphic, and I’m glad my internship gave me a reason to read it.

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Ebook Review: WHAT KIND OF TROUBLE?

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It scares me when people say I’m sweet because I’m not. I’m bitter enough to burst, half-sick with rage on my good days. I wish someone hated him the way I did, so that I could stop, so that I could get rid of this fury that rots & blooms inside of me. This is a terrible way to think: if you really loved me you’d want him dead. I’m so tired of boys saying I’ll kill him because they never follow through. It’s just a loud thing to say before they try to touch me and then I’m left with him in my head: laughing, rolling his eyes” (Nicola Maye Goldberg).

WHAT KIND OF TROUBLE? is a fever dream of the confessions of women just like me: teenagers or women in their early twenties, losing and finding themselves at the same time. They are girls who are jaded and too old and too young, angry and fucked up and frightened and poetic, throwing around phrases like “façade of escapades” (Gabby Giullano). It’s a bit like a “best of” review of tumblr word posts. If well-curated wounded female poetry is your thing, Sara Sutterlin has the hookup. WHAT KIND OF TROUBLE? is by the girls, for the girls, except we would find you calling us “girls” patronizing. We are women, or at least we might be some day soon.

This collection felt intimately familiar to me for two reasons. The first is that one of my friends from college is listed in the table of contents, her poetry just as powerful as the prose I got to know during a shared creative writing course. The second is that this is poetry I could have written myself (if I were a better poet). Every piece about thinly veiled (or not veiled at all) emotional abuse, about struggling to be strong enough, about driving in endless loops around our hometowns, about being raped, about the entitlement of (white) teenage boys, about the value of female friendship in the face of misogyny, about loving a man who under no circumstances is worthy of that love… it’s basically the past decade of my life in an ebook. Continue reading

Book Review: Daddy, a Memoir

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Today I want to talk about Madison Young’s ‘Daddy: a Memoir’. In the interest of full disclosure, I should start this post by mentioning I am one of two literary interns on Team Madison, promoting Young’s memoir ‘Daddy’ and helping with future publishing projects. I cannot be impartial as a reviewer, and I won’t try to be. After all, as any publicist knows, the true pleasure of the work lies in promoting a book you believe in so much, alongside people who inspire you.

‘Daddy’ is the book I have been looking for, for a very, very long time. The academic in me loved the memoir’s introduction, a two page negotiation of consent between Young and the reader. How do we make feminist pornography and erotica? By reinventing the relationship between the consumer and the consumed. “I cannot hear the consenting “yes” seep from your lips,” Young writes, “But by the simple turn of this page you will be physically consenting to this journey, to this scene, between me and you.” She goes on to encourage the reader to listen to their own limits. “If you need to use a safeword, do so, close the book, leave the room, go for a walk, and breathe deeply. I will not take offense. Instead, I will respect you even more for knowing yourself, for communicating your needs and meeting them.” To be blunt, this is just really cool. The well-spoken acknowledgement of consent is due to Young’s career as an educator and performer, but it shows a deft awareness of her responsibility as a sex-positive, feminist author as well. I thought about consent in terms of depicting the consent of characters within erotica while I was writing my thesis, but I never considered the consent of my readers. This preface is both a disclaimer and a poetic political reinvention of consent itself.

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