April 28, 2012

No such thing as a free read - or why I write this blog

Free stuff - it's great, but it can be difficult to find stories that are really good (or in some cases, even striving towards adequate). So if you've read a good femdom story on literotica, bdsmlibrary, or similar, please share it in the comments. Yep, I mean you. Just keep scrolling to the comments at the bottom of the page. Don't hang around here. There's nothing to see in the rest of the post except a load of pontificating.

That was a bit blunt wasn't it? Sorry about that. This post has been through numerous incarnations - I was finding it difficult to get down what I wanted to say. That first paragraph was what I really meant, without ifs and buts and ands.

I tend to read ebooks from major retailers, but I've been wondering about that recently. Essentially there are two categories of online reading: There are various sites which allow users to share stories that they've written, from literotica to fanfic sites, and they're almost always free. Then there are 'books', often procured through that well known online retailer and almost always paid for. There is also obviously some crossover: ebook retailers often have some books available free for a short period of time to gain exposure and reviews; the extensively discussed 50 Shades of Grey started off as free online fan fiction and is now a paid book bestseller. So there's a sort of continuum between paid/not paid.

When I started reading books online, I never paid for them - ever. Several things changed that.  My financial situation eased, I began to get fed up of searching through dross to find something good to read and my tastes in fiction became more specific and so 'free' became an untenable criteria. But I appreciate that many people will still be in the situation I used to be in, especially that first one. So, given that reviews should help people find good stuff to read, should I review freebies?

I tend to think no. If someone has been kind and brave enough to put their work up for free, I think they deserve to not have it picked over by fussy people like me. If you're looking for money for it, I think that's different, because an exchange of money has an implied contract about the quality of the goods. I think that also goes for books which are briefly free but normally paid, from ebook retailers, because the intention is for the freebies to generate paid sales.

So I'm not willing to review free reads but I still I want to know what the good free reads are. Why? Because it isn't just money that you invest in books or stories. There's the time that you spend reading synopses, samples, the first few paragraphs. Then there's the emotional investment that you input when you're engaged with a character's welfare or the outcome of the story, the anticipation that you think you've found a new author that you'll like. And if you're like me, you'll analyse a book extensively afterwards.

So there are different costs involved with free books. When you read the first few paragraphs of a sample of a paid book, you get return: you know whether you like the author's style or writing and whether you're likely to enjoy the book. From the investment of a few paragraphs, you might well get a return of 200k words of enjoyable reading. The short stories available free online by comparison, usually need the same amount of time reading to establish the same facts, but are often only 1-2k long. That is to say, for the same investment of time, you get a much poorer return of enjoyment for free reads.

So how do people discover new stuff to read? If you're representative of book readers in general, mainly it is through word of mouth. But that's frequently not an option. (I can just imagine me asking my vanilla friends if they can recommend a good book where the heroine pegs the hero and he loves it. That'd be an awkward silence.... ) So with real life recommendations not an option, that leaves online reviews and recommendations - from retailers, blogs etc. On ebook retailer sites, I find reviews to be inconsistent in their veracity. Sometimes, the reviews are as a fictional as the novel. Ditto with starred recommendation systems like goodreads - they're easily manipulated. The reviews of femdom books I found on blogs tended to be sincere but from M/f bdsm reviewers, who obviously have their own take on femdom which doesn't really work for me.

Ultimately, I couldn't find a reliable source of reviews or recommendations for femdom books or free stories and that's why I set up this blog. I hoped that people who wanted similar things out of their fiction would stumble across this blog and let me know what they've read that they liked.

So I'm asking. Please. Tell me what you read - free, paid, whatever. If it was good, share it. To get started, here are some literotica stories that I've enjoyed:

The Third Way by AAkasha  A Mistress pup-naps her submissive and non (ish) consentually rapes him. Three ways. A delicious female first person pov piece.

The Shower by ExoticNeurotic  Quite a subtle short story of a shy submissive. Written as the domme speaking directly to her nervous new sub.

The Executive by Bootfrau  A violent but nicely written non-consent kidnap story.

All the above comes down to this. I don't think that it's appropriate or worthwhile to review free short stories, but I do think it would be useful to create a list of recommendations. If you would help me with that last, I would be very grateful.

April 21, 2012

Review: Power Play by Charlotte Stein

Reasons this book is exciting:

  • It's only just published - March this year.
  • It's by an author I've only just discovered, who has written other femdom books.
  • It's part of a new erotica/erotic romance line - Mischief, which features more than one title labeled explicitly as femdom.
  • It's very, very hot.

Power Play is a disingenuous title. Yes, there is definitely a theme of power games in this book, but not really play. Play implies light hearted and for me, this is quite a serious book featuring power games. In many ways, it is all the better for that. 

Elenor Harding (Ms Harding) is a editor in a publishing house and in the opening scene she is fucked up the ass by the boss, Mr Woods. Literally. In the next scene, she's fucked up the ass by Mr Woods metaphorically. Woods has left suddenly and Ms Harding has been promoted into his place and is left with a mess of a department since his alcoholism and D/s play has been higher on his priority list than doing his job. Despite her best efforts, Elenor soon finds herself following his example with D/s, (though thankfully not with the scotch) and engages in D/s games with Woods' PA (now her PA), Ben. As Ben and Elenor's relationship develops, it becomes clear that it wasn't just Elenor who was on the end of Woods' sexual power strings.

One of the delicious things about this book is that the build up is really good. Although it is packed full of very hot sex scenes, the beginning of the relationship between Ben and Elenor develops at a nice pace. Erotica can easily fall into the trap of being: meet, lock eyes, fuck, keep fucking, HFN. This isn't like that at all. They're work colleagues and there is a sense of that barrier and a natural progression from fantasy to reality.

I really liked the writing style and the fact that it's written in the first person from the dominant female character's point of view. This seems to be pretty rare, but it gives an awesome 'there in the moment' feelings. I never felt that I was shut out of the headspace of the submissive character, because he was written very much as a 'heart on his sleeve' kind've guy.

One little irritation was that the way that some of the sections/paragraphs were written, I wasn't sure how much time had elapsed since the previous scene, or sometimes even the previous sentence. Several times I ended up scanning back trying to figure out when things were happening.  It was only a minor thing, but it jerked me out of the book, giving me a 'huh, what's going on?' feeling.  

About mid-way through I had pretty much mentally written my glowing review, with my only reservation being what I felt was a token M/f anal sex scene at the beginning. This felt like it was tagged onto the beginning of the book so that there was a sex scene in the sample, but isn't really in keeping with the rest of the beginning of the book which is such a brilliant crescendo. Near the end though, a new question emerged, along the lines of WTF? This next bit contains lots of spoilers.

***** Spoilers *******
Everything has sort of come full circle and yet again, and Elenor is being fucked in the ass on the desk, rather like she was in the opening scene. Except this time, it's Ben, not Mr Woods, Elenor is in control and the whole thing feels much stronger emotionally - she feels out of control and about to bare her soul to him. Then Aidan, Elenor's second in command, walks in. Basically, he takes control of the situation. Oh, Elenor still has some agency but she has to fight for it and I don't really see that she wins. The thing that made me really uncomfortable was this:
'Enough,' I say, but this time he doesn't obey immediately. He waits - he actually waits - until Aidan suggests the same, which probably just makes matters worse. I'm very aware of how disastrous I look, how little power I now have, and I can't deny that those things contribute to the way I then behave.
 Elenor thinks of Aidan's look that,
It's too much like a challenge, which I unfortunately have to meet.
And goes on to order Ben to suck Aidan off, whilst clearly wanting Ben to say 'no'. So the scene effectively ends up being a kind of power struggle between Aidan and Elenor. Ben is suddenly side-lined to being Aidan's plaything and I feel really uncomfortable with that, though it's clearly consensual on his part. I think the issue for me is that I interpret the reason that this scene has Aidan (an otherwise wallpaper character) rather than say, Woods, in it is that it's supposed to be clear that he plays no emotional role. But all I can think is how on earth are they going to work together again?  Elenor allows her professional subordinate dominate her and her submissive, so I don't see how Elenor can continue to credibly be the boss professionally. This isn't resolved in the book, so as a reader I'm left with a big question mark about Ben and Elenor's HFN.

The other issue with this scene is that for a book that is otherwise quite strong on emotional sub-texts, this non-quite menage with a marginal character ends up quite incongruous. In a book full of scenes with just Ben and Elenor, the sudden appearance of this extra scene with another characters feels like it was an add on to fulfill the kinkiness quota. I understand that the point is that Elenor is trying to push Ben's limits to have an excuse to break off the relationship. But Ben doesn't say no, and I feel that it compromises Ben and Elenor's relationship in a way that is difficult to define.
*****end spoilers *****

Elenor is an interesting character. Since it is written in first person, it's actually difficult to really get a hold on what sort of person she is objectively. From inside her head, she's a bit giddy, almost panicky, that she suddenly has control and is constantly second guessing herself even as she's turned on by what she's doing to Ben. It's only really later in the story that we get little glimpses of how others see Elenor as an ice queen. There's also a late mention of a hard childhood. This feels like a justification, along the lines of 'the reason I'm a female who is into domination is because I had a tough childhood'. Yes, it's implied that this bad childhood is the reason for her ice queen-ness, but it's so briefly touched on it doesn't add any insight for me into Elenor's character. It's just there to 'explain' a personality characteristic which doesn't really need justifying or explaining. Elenor is in many ways portrayed as quite a vulnerable, perhaps even weak character. I'm sorry that she isn't portrayed as being a bit stronger and unapologetic for being dominant. Though to be fair I'm being pretty picky, she's an interesting, multi-faceted character, and that has to be a good thing.

Ben, by comparison, is the perfect beta male submissive. He's truly adorable: clumsy and impulsive like an eager puppy. He's not portrayed as stupid or weak, he just truly gets off on being submissive and humiliated. Yes, he tries to force Elenor's hand to get what he wants by deliberately doing his job badly, but I don't see him emotionally or professionally undermine her, so I can easily forgive that. If anything, he's a bit too perfect. But as a character, I love him for being so different to the composed, emotionally repressed dom male or the snivelling worm submissive. He's just a man and that's just wonderful.

I feel that there are unresolved power tensions at the end of this book. We have a nominal HFN for Ben and Elenor, and I believe in that. But are Woods and Aidan going to cause trouble for them? I don't know about that. It's not neatly tied up and in some ways that's quite a nice novelty, quite like real life. But I don't really read for real life, I have enough of that of my own!

All that said, this is great book. As straight up femdom erotica it is hotter and has a more cohesive plot than anything I've read for quite a while. I less read it than consumed it. If I have criticised it, it's because the characters are so engaging that I was disproportionately upset when I found things that I didn't like. Power Play is well written and incredibly visceral and arousing.


April 14, 2012

Review: Yes, Ma'am. Erotic Stories of Male Submission. Edited by Rachel Kramer Brussel

My husband has had this book for a while and it's a long time since I read it. It's odd, because I don't remember liking it, but re-reading it now, I realize that my recollection was completely wrong. I really did like this collection of vignettes, a lot actually. I think I was confusing this book with another, completely different, book of short stories.

There are 18 short stories, some of them only a few pages, others 30 or so pages. Like all books of short stories, it's a mixed bag. Some really good, some indifferent. On balance though, they're good. A lot are very short though, so it's a bit like eating popcorn - light, tasty and compulsive - you have one and one isn't enough, then two, three and before you know it you're at the end of the book. Again.

The stories vary in topic to some extent, but not in tone. That is to say, they are well judged by the editor to be about the same 'level' when it comes to their content. They're all pretty non-threatening, quite 'mild'. There are simple stories about a husband massaging his wife's feet, with a promise of something to come, as well as stories featuring bondage and humiliation. The mix of stories about new relationships/femdom as a new aspect to a relationship/established femdom relationships also really worked for me.

Nearly all the stories put the relationship at the centre; these aren't vignettes where the mistress walks in, fucks the faceless sub and walks out again. The focus of most of the stories is the emotion interplay and power transfer. This is something a little more nuanced than straight erotica and I liked it a lot. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't class these as stories as romance - not by a long shot - but they're definitely aimed to cause some emotional arousal as well sexual arousal.


April 7, 2012

Review: A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

Hot, funny, touching, a controlling heroine and featuring scenes where she ties him to the bed.

I thought I'd get that in right away, before you look at the cover and title of this book and think WTF. But this book is not quite what you expect, whatever you expect. Clearly this is a more of a historical romance than anything else, but the love scenes are subtly femdom, as is the whole relationship dynamic.

Martha has been recently widowed and when she discovers that the heir (her late husband's brother) is rapist misogynistic pig, she has to do something to protect the female servants. 'Something' is hiring her feckless neighbor Theo Mirkwood to impregnate her so that she can have a son who will inherit. They're opposites - she holds herself tightly together, repressed even and antisocial. He's an aimless, reckless boy.

Martha (Mrs Russell) is determined not to enjoy fornication, and nothing Theo can do will persuade her. She's stubborn; he's stubborn. If you've ever read a romance novel you think you know what to expect - but no. They don't have fantastic sex their first time together and she isn't set alight by him when they touch. They both have (especially Theo) their own character arc, independent of the relationship. When they finally do fall in love, it's explosive. Martha is a strong, principled character and Theo has to find a way to work with her on her own terms, and he does this, without giving up who he is (a sociable, fun loving person). They genuinely meet in middle and the changes in power dynamic are great to read.

The reason I've included this otherwise straight romance book here is that the love scenes (as opposed to some of the sex scenes) have a definite femdom tint. The emotional relationship between the two protagonists also has a F/m slant. I don't want to spoil it for you if you read it (and I strongly recommend that you do) but if you need more persuasion...

****Spoilers *****
The love scenes of the book, unusually, occur late in the book. The concept is that Martha needs both to know Theo and to be in control - and that he needs to allow himself to trust her to be in control both in real life as well as in the bedroom for them to come together as a couple. And for her to come. So when he gets her to tie him to the bed, in some ways she has already decided that she wants to take her pleasure with him. In a lot of these 'men tied down' scenes I'm frustrated that the man is still running the show. But I didn't feel like that about this book. I felt that if anything, Martha was always controlling their sex - permitting him, paying him actually - to spill his seed, but controlling her pleasure and severely limiting his by refusing to engage with the process emotionally until she was ready.

In one of the other love scenes, they play out a scene of a stablehand servicing his Queen. That felt distinctly femdom! Early in the book he jokes that men pay good money in London for the scowls and hard looks she gives him - love that.

****End Spoilers****

This is a very unusual novel and will not be to everyone's taste. The phrasing, especially the use of 'one' (as in: 'One tries not to think of him') takes a little getting used to, but I like it as it is very much in character for Martha. Personally I love the jokes about 'duty sex' and the way that they begin to dispatch the sex in order to talk about agriculture. But I understand that some people might find this book a bit slow in terms of the 'good bits' (sex), or a little facetious.

The whole book is written beautifully - thoughtfully. It's a touching book but it's also laugh out loud. I couldn't stop reading.