March 31, 2012

Review: Tempting the New Guy by Alegra Verde

This is a sequel to Taking her Boss, featuring the same cast, plus the title's new guy, Clement Johns. This review contains quite a few lots of spoilers. Ultimately though, it's a short story, (582 kindle 'locations' long), so everything you say about it is going to be a spoiler. Anyhow, you've been warned.

The brief synopsis is: Glory flirts with the new guy, she has a duty fuck with Bruce and he tells her that he doesn't want her seeing other men any more. She goes on a date with the new guy. She and Bruce have a pretty weird cunnilingus scene. She goes out with the new guy again, fucks him, then Bruce announces his presence at her flat. They make up and he leaves for the weekend. Then she hands in her resignation, resolving to be rid of the whole thing (Bruce, the new guy, etc.).

If that sounds disjointed, that's because it is. I want to like this book, really I do. But I was left profoundly unsatisfied. In case there's an doubt, the sex scenes are: a jealousy fuck with him in charge; a slightly odd her in charge sex scene; then a vanilla sex scene with the new guy of the title. In between these scenes, I'm not really sure where the story is going. We have relationship development between Glory and the new guy, but there's always Bruce in the background. And Glory's attitude is downright strange. Contradictory, or lying to yourself, I could deal with but she's rather beyond that.
I was beginning to feel like an indentured whore who'd let out her vagina for the duration of her employment at Davies and Birch. What began as a little fun was becoming a duty.
There's nothing sexy in that for me. Then two pages later, she's wiggling around, putting on a show for him. Then she gets her lipstick and applies it to her labia. Yes, that's the word used. Again, that doesn't do it for me (no disrespect to those who like this idea). So he gets her off, or I think he does anyhow, the phrase is:
Ignoring the pain [of her pulling his hair], he continued the assault [of his tongue] until my womb began to tighten and spasm.
That sounds, um. Unpleasant actually. Like period pain. So, anyhow, he's there and aroused, so she decides to use his cock and won't allow him to touch her. That should be really hot, but Glory seems so genuinely angry that as a reader I can't enjoy the ride (pun intended). Since the story is told in the first person it's difficult/impossible to get away from how Glory feels. Bruce touches her (against her command) and comes. She walks out and I'm not sure whether she's enjoyed the experience, whether she's come (is "tingling stars" a euphemism for orgasm?) and I certainly don't feel that she's really asserted her authority (which is the point of the scene. I think.).

And then there's the brief sex scene at the end with Johns. Presumably Bruce witnesses the whole thing, which could be hot. But Bruce is emotionally non consensual in both his watching them have sex and her having sex with other men. That makes me uncomfortable. I can like a lot of things if you can convince me that all parties are into it. But if there isn't explicit consent, there needs to be strong tacit or implied consent. This story doesn't give me either and I find Glory's attitude really irritating. I understand that we're supposed to sympathize with Glory because she feels confused and powerless. Or at least, I think that's why we're supposed to sympathize with her. But instead I just feel jerked around.

I said in the review for Taking her Boss that I hoped that Glory would grow into her dominance. I don't feel that she has in this installment. So it's a disappointed C-

March 24, 2012

A view: Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews with Hideous Men

One of my recent purchases has been Clarisse Thorn's bookConfessions of a pick up artist chaser: long interviews with hideous men. This isn't a review of the book so much as such as some of my ponderings as a result of the book.

CoaPUAC (sorry, I can't write out the whole title each time) was a bit of an unusual purchase for me, being not a novel but a semi-autobiographical factual/philosophical account about the author's experiences with pick up artists and the pick up artist (PUA) community. It also was unusual for me because I try (for the sake of all around me) not to engage with things that are liable to make me rant. And men being assholes are liable to make me rant. A lot.

However, all is going well so far and Clarisse does most of the snarky remarks for me, so I don't feel the need to tear the book, or the opinions of the people in the book, apart. (This is no minor achievement.) CoaPUAC has made me think - in a good way. One thing has struck me (so far) especially. Thorn's description of The Game and PUAs in general rather reminded me of The Rules, a sort of equivalent dating guide for women. Just in case you're unfamiliar with these titles, The Game is essentially a men's self help book to get women to sleep with them; The Rules is a women's self help book to get men to treat them well and marry them.

Self help can be truly ridiculous, but I sympathize with Thorn and the PUAs, as I agree that the unspoken societal rules are frankly confusing to those of us who, for whatever reason, didn't pick them up by osmosis. Some women are born with that 'something' that means that they're successful in relationships and never get messed around. Some men are born with charisma that makes women want to sleep with them. For the rest of us books are a help. (Incidentally, if this idea intrigues you, I recommend How to make anyone fall in love with you, which cover similar ground from both male and female pov. I liked it a lot more that The Rules.)

An over simplified summary of The Rules is this: take control and don't put up with any nonsense. The Game, and PUA in general, also seems to be very much about taking control of the situation. When I first started thinking about this, I saw The Rules and The Game as two opposite ends of a spectrum: female control on one end - male control on the other. A kind of tug-of-war between women searching for love/marriage vs men searching for no strings sex. As I continued to read CoaPUAC, I began to wonder about that. Thorn quotes a PUA who says that 80% of men who are involved with PUA turn up with a girl they want to get together with in mind, then are never heard from again once they (presumably) succeed. Most of the PUA men probably wanted a relationship - but that doesn't make good male friendly advertising copy, because it sounds sappy. So maybe The Rules and The Game aren't two ends of a spectrum, but just gender differentiated views on the same issue of engaging with people in a way that builds a good relationship (regardless of duration).

The anti-feminist view of PUA also intrigued me - seeing PUA as pandering to women. The PUA viewpoint is perhaps, to some extent, that women have something men want (sex) and it's up to men to persuade them to give it to them. (I guess the anti-feminist view is that rohypnol is the male dominant way to get sex.) For a Rules girl, sex is partly a tool to get a man to commit to you. What is most interesting in all of this is that sex becomes a commodity or currency, a bargaining chip, reward and something that can be taken. It's a pretty old fashioned idea - that cliche of the wife who gives her husband sex for birthdays, anniversaries etc., or the idea of a man 'taking' a woman's virginity.  I thought that as a society we had gotten past 'sex as a commodity' and begun to see it as an activity. Clearly not.

How far you condem or condone the outlook of PUA probably depends partly on your own pov and partly on the extremes to which the men involved take it. It's easy to see women as the innocent victims of PUA (though Thorn doesn't). The point that I see Thorn making is that some of these PUA are assholes, regardless of the PUA label and the gender label and I agree with her. For me, I see PUA in itself as not really much more dubious than being a Rules girl. However, the kind of people attracted to non-consensual power games and manipulation can be really nasty pieces of work, regardless of gender.

I could go on and on about this book and the discussions I had with it and about it (in my head - obviously...). It's a bit of a cliche to say it, but CoaPUAC really is thought provoking. It's not always a pleasant or comfortable read but it is undoubtedly interesting.

March 16, 2012

Review: Taking Care of Business by Megan Hart and Lauren Dane

Taking care of Business is written by two authors, about two women at a business conference. Leah and Kate are old friends who once tied up a man in a barn and both had sex with him. Frankly, that mental image is worth the admission price.

So there are two intertwined stories here, of the two friends. Both have aspects of D/s. The Leah and Brandon story is F/m, the Kate and Dix story is M/f. I found from Megan Hart's website that she wrote the story of Leah and Brandon. That makes sense to me, as I've liked Megan Hart's books before. There's also a note that originally, it was going to be two novellas. That also makes sense, because that's how it reads - like I got two novellas for the price of one book - and I didn't like one of them. Whenever I'm really getting into Leah and Brandon's story, it stops and resumes with the other couple. (That's always the problem with those 2 for 1, or 2 in 1 book deals isn't it? One is good, the second is rubbish.)

So, Leah and Brandon's story. Leah has just split up with her boyfriend - that morning in fact. She's fed up with being his submissive slave and an early morning blow job demand was just one thing too much. Brandon is the bar manager and comes over to see Leah and Kate when they're having a drink. When Brandon begins to just do what Leah demands, no questions or hesitations, it wakes something up in her that she had forgotten. She wants to be in control and Brandon allows her to take control. Neither of them have ever been in a F/m power dynamic. They gradually realize that what they want is each other and a D/s dynamic, with Leah in control. Brandon's submission is just sublime. Leah grows into her desires in a realistic way, with conflicts, doubts, confidence and so much hotness. I can feel Leah's buzz as she tells Brandon to get to his knees and lick her out, and he does it.

There is also a very sweet aspect to the story that Brandon's knees are bad from an old football injury, how they work around it, and how it comes to symbolize that you can have power over someone and still care about them. Leah works around his injury without compromising and it makes the whole thing more real and more tender. The whole thing is just magic, with a great balance of tacit communication and pillow talk that isn't stupid or cliched. And the belt scene, ohh......

As for the other story, Kate and Dix have been working together and what started off as emails and flirting has turned into fucking occasionally. They're both ready to take it further and the story details how they figure it out, around his possessive ex wife and her need to be seen as not screwing her way to the top.

My problem with this half of the book is Dix. His name is just too appropriate. He's arrogant, inconsiderate and oblivious. He belittles Kate, bosses her around, persuades her into a compromising situation and hasn't noticed that his secretary is a corporate spy and potential bunny boiler. I don't like him, I think he's a dick. Singular. It doesn't help that he's a stereotypical alpha male: dominant, bossy arrogant, a high flyer. I'm sure I can think of some more cliched adjectives. Suffice to say, if you like Harlequin Presents arrogant tycoon male characters, you'll like Dix. (I don't need to say that I loathe Harlequin Presents do I? No. I thought not.)

The Kate/Dix story also suffers from some inconsistencies in character portrayal. Dix says to his ex wife:
"Beautiful, intelligent, you run a successful business, there are many men who would love to snap you up."
This is the same woman who, we are told constantly, couldn't open a jar of pickles and phoned her ex-husband to come and do it for her. I'm sorry, but there is no consistency of character there at all, she's just a plot puppet to create conflict between Kate and Dix. There are no women who run successful businesses who can't figure out on their own (or maybe with google's help) how to open a stubborn jar of pickles. It also irritates me that since running your own business is the sort of romance 'gold standard' for being an independent woman (who knows why), by comparison Kate and Leah seem like corporate bitches. It also makes Dix look like an idiot too. In seven years he hasn't figured out that his ex wife who runs a consulting business (not a flower shop or something fluffy, oh no, a consultancy) could probably change her own car wiper blades and arrange her own house repairs.

So I have a difficulty. I LOVE the half of the story about Leah and Brandon. It's all kinds of good, and if it were just that, this would be an A book. But I got more and more bored and irritated with Kate and Dix. Especially Dix. I must add to be fair, if you like a romance dynamic of a domineering man and a heroine who stands up for herself (mostly) then you probably won't mind Kate and Dix. I just seem to have a very low threshold for putting up with dominant male characters at the moment.

Overall, I did enjoy it. I thought the two author's voices worked well together, and though you could clearly see the delineations of each author, it was very readable. Kate and Leah are both good, strong female characters, the kind of women you'd want to have as friends (I wish I'd had a friend like that when I was young and tied up a guy with her. So hot.). Brandon is great character too, realizing his submissiveness whilst being a competent and confident guy as well. It's definitely worth a read if you can manage not to be irritated by the Dick Dix.


March 8, 2012

Review: Branded Sanctuary by Joey Hill

Chloe isn't sleeping well. She's been an emotional (and therefore physical) wreck since she was attacked. At the beginning of the book, there's an evocative scene where Chloe is too scared to get up and go to the loo (sounds silly, but it works well). On a whim, she calls Brandon, a guy who gave her his number at her boss' wedding. He patiently talks to her and she manages not only to get over her fear and make it to the bathroom, but to indulge in some friskiness over the phone with him.

Brandon turns up on her doorstep the next morning. Chloe doesn't know how to react. The attack has left her unstable, confused about who she is, scared and angry. And at various points in the story, all of these emotions spill out over Brandon. Her character arc is getting over these emotions.

Brendan is the perfect sub, living to serve a Mistress, or any Dom, with no concern for himself. His character arc is accepting that he is a person who wants things for himself.

So there's no complaint about lack of character arc. There's oodles of character arc. What I don't understand is why Brendan likes Chloe. He's a complete submissive, what does he see in vanilla Chloe? She's not naturally dominant, and when she tries to be, everyone tries to talk her out of it. I don't get it.  Neither do I really understand why Chloe likes Brendan. He's sweet and lovely and all that, but he's branded (literally) by another woman, insensitive to the point of idiocy when it comes to introducing her to bdsm and ultimately seems to want to have his Mistress cake and his relationship too.

What irritates me in this story is that everyone (possibly including Chloe) don't want Chloe to express her emotions - they want her to go back to being the sweet girl she used to be. More to the point, no-one wants Chloe to use bdsm to work out her issues. She's thrown in the deep end of bdsm at weekend play party, disapproved of when she attempts to get involved, then made to feel awkward when she cops out and is upset. I'm not keen on the portrayal of Chloe's induction to bdsm at all. It's like bdsm is an exclusive members only club that she's being introduced to but not allowed to actually join. At one point Chloe says:
"Oh right, I forgot - I can't understand this. I don't know the secret handshake."
And I know what she means. Mistress Marguerite is Brendan's real domme and it feels to me that there is no room for Chloe. A character put in for tension says that Brendan really only wants Marguerite. And you know what - I believe him. I don't think that Brendan is 'over' Marguerite, or vice versa, to be honest. I even wonder if Brendan has fixated on Chloe because she is sort of Marguerite's vanilla pet, her friend. Brendan even says that Marguerite would always be his Mistress, Chloe his Beloved. It feels like Chloe and Brendan are both Tyler and Marguerite's playthings, or younger siblings. They are both taken under the dominant couple's care. Perhaps it's a real bdsm dynamic, (I wouldn't know), but it doesn't do it for me at all. I want to shout at Brendan and Chloe to get out of there and be themselves, work out their relationship themselves without the manipulations of their big brother and sister (metaphorical not literal).

There's one more thing that annoyed me about this book. I have no idea how long it is between Brendan and Chloe first meeting, and Chloe phoning him in the middle of the night. At one point is seems like it's a realistic few months, then at another a unfeasible year and a half.

There's plenty of hotness, lots of interesting conflict and that's all great. There are touching, emotional scenes, where you can feel the connection between Chloe and Brendan, especially at the beginning and the end of the book. The problem is, I don't believe the relationship really. I'm not sure if they're just the proteges of the dominant characters or whether they really are together for themselves. Don't get me wrong, this is still a good read. But for me, it's not emotionally satisfying. I probably wouldn't have had such a problem with that if it wasn't so close to being emotionally satisfying.


March 3, 2012

Review: Natural Law by Joey Hill

So far there has been a theme on this blog of books that don't quite do it for me, for one reason or another. I'm going to spectacularly break that trend by talking about one of the best books I've ever read. I keep returning to read Natural Law because I believe in the relationship it portrays.

Mac is a homicide detective working on a case of a domme killing submissive men. All the victims so far have been members of The Zone, an exclusive BDSM club, so Mac is sent undercover to The Zone to investigate. There he catches the attention of Violet. Their attraction is instant and sizzling. Their first confrontation is just that - a battle of wills. He tells her to go for an easier target, she responds by thrusting her riding crop between his testicles. So there's no lack of physicality in this relationship, which makes it all the more surprising that what really works is the emotional side of it.

Mac has always treated BDSM as a workout; Violet calls him on this and won't fall for his tricks or accept anything less than the total submission of his "heart, soul and cock" to her. Both characters seemed real to me, I think because they had existence outside of the their straight D/s dynamic. That is to say, when Violet was not being The Dom, she was a human being, with normal wants, needs, emotions, a dog and a job. Lots of stories seem to 'soften' their female doms by giving them secret submissive tendencies, or have them be absolute cold, heartless bitches all the the time. Violet is neither. She is a dominant and doesn't need to prove that to herself or anything else. She doesn't need to be sadistic and mean to show that she's on top, but there's never any doubt that she's the boss. The only question is whether she is the right dom for Mac, and whether he will accept that she is.

It's funny, because although there are several scenes in Natural Law which involve multi-partner play, or at least spectators, the main focus is always the developing relationship between Mac and Violet. This book doesn't get so caught up in hot bdsm sex that it forgets about the feelings of the main protagonists. It does rather forget about the murder suspense sub-plot, but to be honest, that doesn't bother me in the least (though if you're expecting a proper thriller, you will be disappointed). The main part of the book takes part in a relatively small amount of time, but there is progression to it, development from strangers and sex to two people in love.

There is really very little that I don't like about Natural Law. Alright, there is something I don't like about Natural Law. I think the cover is naff. The woman's fingers freak me out a bit. It's not bad, but it is very 90's and naff. I won't hold that against it though.