Sexual awakening is a tried and true fictional story. Romance novels and other literary works use it to great effect but the story is usually chaste. The consummation of underlying passions normally occurs after great trial and tribulation for the main character. When erotica authors tackle the subject there’s a guarantee of sensual exploits. Babysitting the Baumgartners by Selena Kitt explores a young woman on a vacation that changes her life. Kitt uses the novel to walk some fine lines in terms of content. She does an excellent job in creating an atmosphere believable enough for the character’s inhibitions to be subverted.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Sunday, December 15, 2013
I ran across an article on one of my favorite blogs that highlighted this book. A Modern Christmas Carol by Bob Seidensticker is a retelling of Dicken’s classic with an atheist twist to the story. It’s an independent novella and I’m all for stepping outside of the major publishers’ circles. As an added bonus, it’s a holiday-themed book. The result is a mixed bag both in terms of method and message.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
The nature of evil has proven to be excellent fodder for fiction since the inception of storytelling. Few villains ever see themselves as evil, unless purposely written as such by the author. What are often shown are rationalizations, half-truths, and misperceptions the villain uses as justification for their behavior. There are characters in fiction that possess no redeeming qualities, who typify the debased, selfish nature of evil. In Jim Butcher’s Death Masks, the hard-boiled wizard detective Harry Dresden is confronted with true evil, which reflects on the morally gray landscape of his world so far established.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Voluntary bondage is a subject begging for examination in fiction. Most fiction dealing with bondage, dominance, and sexual slavery does so by using forced situations in which a heroine reluctantly accepts her status as a slave. Boddice-ripper stories tend to follow this model as do romance novels that involve a splash of kink. Kingsbridge Book 1: Jeanine by Orpheus forgoes such tropes and presents a young female protagonist who chooses to become a sexual slave.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
A caricature is not the same thing as a character. The ability to satirize an entire culture requires the creation of a caricature, the embodiment of all that is wrong with that culture. The more depraved the targeted society, the more depraved the embodiment must be. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis targets the vapid, shallow, and disposable 1980s in a way only transgressive fiction can. It is far from a perfect novel but it is a significant addition to its genre.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Greetings. A temporary assignment at work led to me being thrown off my normal reading and reviewing schedule. Due to that, I'm pushing back the review that was due on 10/27/13 to 11/3/13. The review will be for American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Connections (New Adult Romance)
When a person cannot connect to another human being, even on a superficial level, that person is missing one of the joys of living. By ingrained needs in our evolutionary biology, humans have the often overwhelming desire to connect with other individuals. Whether that connection is as friends, family, or lovers, we need the emotional support to ground us in everyday reality and to make that reality bearable. Connections by Selena Kitt examines one person, Cathy, who has always had trouble connecting with others and how that changes for her.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Sunday, September 1, 2013
The natural world is a microcosm of forces in constant struggle against each other. The magic (if I may use a rather loaded word) of passing seasons, of vibrant summer giving way to harsh winter, is a storytelling idea that has been constant throughout literature. In certain cultures, particularly the mythologies of central and upper Europe, these opposing forces were personified by the Fae or Fairies. The Seelie Fae represents summer while the Unseelie are cold winter made flesh. Jim Butcher’s Summer Knight brings the Fae of Dresden’s universe to the forefront, revealing the supernatural politics that drive the frenzied spirit realms.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
“If light is thrown on the audience, they don’t laugh…”
Reading a book is a solitary exercise. Sometimes we don’t want others to know what we’re reading or the reasons we’re reading something. Writing is also a solitary exercise for the inverse of those reasons. Like writing, comedy is a profession that puts its practitioners through great and terrifying rigors. Standing up in front of strangers seeking their approval and approbation seems to me to be a herculean task. And yet the result is laughter and joy in the darkness. Comedy as a solitary craft involves seemingly endless hours of preparation with no guaranteed payoff, much like writing. Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up exposes that craft through poignant writing, revealing the emotional bumps and bruises necessary to make a career out of being silly onstage.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
As a child, the world can be filled with wonders and terrors in equal measure. When an adult recalls their childhood there’s a haze over the recollections, a thick mist where only specific memories can be discerned but not with perfect clarity. The memory of a man as a boy serves as a starting point for Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane to explore the fears and wonders a child encounters.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
For those without a passing understanding of the BDSM world, the idea of slavery, especially sexual slavery, is repellant. It is a fascinating relationship dynamic, built on trust, communication, but most of all consent. Taking a page from Indecent Proposal, this novel asks the questions: Would you consent to be a slave for millions of dollars? Do you have a price? I.M. Tellings The Slave Factory ponders these questions and delves into the motivations of those who choose to serve, those who train, and those who seek to be Masters.
The sordid, blood-soaked history of slavery, of forced subjugation, is well-documented. What is discussed in this book is a far-cry from the abomination of forced slavery. To willingly give of one’s body is an act of submission, an agreement between consenting adults that serves as one of the closest relationships found in the BDSM community. Telling introduces his audience to Per il piacere del Maestro, an international organization that connects wealthy people with those who have a willingness to serve for a price. The name of the group roughly translates to “For the Master’s pleasure”.
It’s an interesting concept for a story and a departure from what is typically depicted in the genre. Most mainstream stories that explore this idea use it as a backdrop for coerced sexual slavery. Telling avoids this well-used trope, instead allowing the audience to follow a training class from start to finish. Each of the trainee’s brings a unique character to the story. The characters are endearing and all of them have a difference perspective and reason for agreeing to join the organization. There are times where the characters are not fully three-dimensional but those instances are not overwhelming. I found myself caring for these characters by the end of the journey. I feel the narrative structure may have been tighter if only one or two characters would have been the focus but that is only a minor gripe on my part.
The central conceit of The Company, as its referred to by the trainers and staff of The Academy, does sometimes stretch the boundaries of believability but it is little more than a secret society, of which there are plenty believed to exist in the world. Repeatedly throughout the novel allusions are made by the staff characters and the omniscient narrator to some of shadier aspects of The Company. It’s reasonable to expect that an organization engaged in global prostitution would have some blood on their hands. Several of the clients and upper echelon members of The Company are revealed toward the end of the novel. Most of the clients are shown in a decent light but there is only so much humanity that can be shown. The clients, particularly Mr. Green, have an air of (sometimes) extreme detachment that one would imagine as common to sadists and masters of their social and economic stature. Mr. Green, in particular, is a standard sadist who earned wealth but not the respectability that often follows. Anyone in the BDSM community would recognize the Mr. Green archetype as the one person you warn new members of the community about.
Since this is an erotica novel, I should mention the sex. There’s a healthy amount of sexual activity in the book and more than a little fetish play. Activities such as orgasm denial, impact and stinging play, needle play, etc. are written with exquisite detail. Telling manages to capture the inherent eroticism of such activities without delving into hyperbole. This novel would be a good introduction to BDSM concepts and scenes for someone with an interest in them who has never had much exposure.
There are a few inconsistencies in the book, however. Several times there are misspellings and grammar errors that can trip up the reading, but these are not overly disconcerting or found too frequently. The choice of omniscient narrator does give Telling the ability to use exposition but there are times where it’s a bit heavy-handed, particularly when discussing the background of The Company and the futures of some of the lead characters. There were a few scenes I would like to have read involving a pair of unlikely couplings at the end of the novel but I chalk that up to writer’s prerogative. The ending is emotionally satisfying but expected. I feel a less optimistic ending might have been more appropriate but I can see why Telling decided on the ending presented. The idea of one of the characters ending up in a dire circumstance might have been too much to use as an ending.
The Slave Factory explores a world where servitude, class, secrets, and money coalesce into a dark sensuality. The question of cost is raised frequently by author through the characters. It isn’t just the cost of the servitude in terms of dollars that is examined but also the emotional cost of agreeing to become someone’s slave. The Master/Slave relationship is a challenging dynamic to tackle, even for people within the BDSM lifestyle. Telling’s novel scratches the surface of this dynamic, providing an intriguing glimpse with a spectacular setting. As a novel, I enjoyed the work and highly recommend it. As an entry into fetish erotica, it’s a fine addition and begs to be explored further, discovering more about the dark recesses of human sexuality.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
How dangerous are the dead? In our world, the only dangers the dead present are disease and a cause for more violence. In Harry Dresden’s world, the dead in all their various manifestations are unfathomably dangerous. Jim Butcher’s third entry in the Dresden Files, Grave Peril, is a tale all about consequences and the price they often exact on one’s person, one’s friends, even one’s soul.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Erotica novels and stories are tough to critique for a number of reasons. If you remove the sexual content, do you still care about the people? The characters and writing have to be compelling in order to tell a good story. Adding to the rigor of critiquing the story itself one has the added expectation of reading exciting sexual encounters, which also must make good sense story-wise and present good descriptive writing. It’s a tall order for any author to attempt and a difficult task for a reviewer to engage in. If the characters aren’t relatable, the sex doesn’t matter. If the sex is badly-written, what’s the point of including it in the story? Selena Kitt’s Temptation: Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed managers to blend characters of sufficient depth and scintillating sexual dalliances, creating an expressive reading experience.
Monday, June 3, 2013
Anytime an author in any type of fantasy genre invokes the Moon in their title, something furry is making an appearance. Werewolves, much like vampires, are old-school monsters that have never really fallen out of fashion. The popularity of such creatures waxes and wanes but they never truly fade away. Stories like Fool Moon by Jim Butcher help cement the werewolf as a literary monster with enough juice left to still thrill and frighten.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Literary serial killers are a strange conundrum for readers. On the one hand we should be repulsed by their actions. On the other hand they make for excellent character studies. It’s rare to find serial killer characters that capture the public’s attention (Dexter and Hannibal Lecter come to mind). Barbie Wilde’s The Venus Complex delves deeply into the neuroses and mental degradation of a serial killer. It’s a bold but flawed work and I found myself enjoying the novel for the most part.
Recently I reviewed Hellbound Hearts, an anthology series of short stories related to Clive Barker’s Hellraiser setting. Barbie Wilde’s story “Sister Cilice” stood out from the bunch due to its strong connection to the deeply sexual themes explored in Barker’s original tale. My significant other informed me that Wilde had written a full length novel. Wilde’s first novel continues her exploration of the twisted depths of human sexuality and the connection sexual desire has with horror.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Having recently reviewed Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, I was informed that there were other print stories (none by Barker himself unfortunately). Hellbound Hearts is not a true sequel to Barker’s original tale of sexuality and brutality. Instead it is an anthology of stories from other authors tied into the same literary universe or have some tangential connection to Barker’s novella. This anthology possesses many strong horror stories that keep the spirit of Barker’s work fresh without aping his novella too directly.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Southern Gothic stories are tricky to pull off. On the one hand, they can be atmospheric in mood and tone. On the other hand, these stories can be the scene of high camp. An example of the latter would be the admittedly tongue-in-cheek Sookie Stackhouse mystery novels. A wonderful example of the former is Seed, the first novel by Ania Ahlborn. The novel is steeped in religious metaphors and the darkness some believe exist within and outside of the human mind.
Monday, April 8, 2013
MISCALCULATION: A Noir Tale of Skull Morgan (SIMON VECTOR)
One of the benefits of the science fiction genre is the flexibility it provides a writer. A setting involving advanced technology and progressive human evolution allows a storyteller the ability to incorporate other genre motifs with little difficulty. A splendid example is the latest Entrypoint novella from JAK Holding entitled Miscalculation. Holding infuses this story in the Simon Vector universe with shady, corrupt characters and crime noir circumstances which turns it into a highly engaging sci-fi tale.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Consider for a moment that magic is real, as real as science, in fact. Now consider the type of person who could or would wield such a power. Such a character would need to be nearly saint-like to avoid abusing such immense abilities. In Jim Butcher’s Storm Front, we are introduced to Harry Dresden, a private investigator who happens to be a wizard. While not a saint, Dresden is a good man in a bad world, an archetypal crime noir hero with just a hint of magic.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Sunday, February 24, 2013
The line between pleasure and pain is often so thin as to be completely nonexistent. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of sadomasochism knows that receiving and inflicting pain can be a singularly euphoric experience. Few books ever explore this dichotomy as openly as The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker. Barker managers to plum the common human psyche, the dark recesses of our collective unconscious so to speak, and present a vision that can be seen as a cautionary morality play. Because sexuality is a primary impulse (in much the same way that food is) it can be both exhilarating and dangerous. Barker captures the darkest aspects of human sexuality in his tale.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Horror stories often involve the supernatural or the extra-ordinary. Often times the only mundane subjects in such stories are the principal characters, generally mortal men and women bereft in a world that once made perfect sense. But what if the world never made sense? What if the horror itself was mundane and the result of a sometimes banal landscape? Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye is as semi-autobiographical as his other novels except this one deals primarily with his coming-of-age. The horror to which I spoke of earlier in the paragraph is growing up feeling like the world has something against you, which is the general sense one gets reading this novel.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Anthology books can often be a tough read because the tone can shift sharply from one author to the next. The editor of an anthology shares in my mind the majority of the responsibility for the success or failure of the collection. Add to this the subject matter of the end of the world (where stories can range in tone from deadly serious to farcical) and you have the potential for an uneven, scattershot collection. Thankfully, John Joseph Adams’ collection Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse is a taunt, often harrowing view of the aftermath of a lost world.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Death Be Not Proud (P.S.)
When a writer wants to tell the truth, they write fiction but when they want to tell a good story, they write nonfiction. A good story can be made of many parts, equal in measure to the subject on whom it is based. John Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud is a great story based on a tragedy that I cannot even begin to imagine: the slow, deteriorating death of one’s child.