October 20, 2012

Femdom-ish Book Review Round-up October 2012

I started this blog because I found it difficult, or impossible, to get reliable reviews of books that were Femdom, F/m or even just women on top -ish. I still find this a challenge, so I've been thinking that I should highlight what look like reliable reviews or recommendations for books in related areas when I see them. There are also some new releases which come to my attention, which I don't have time to read and review, so perhaps they might appear here too. Whether this will become a regular feature, who knows. Anyhow, all of the following comes with the proviso that I take no responsibility, your mileage may vary, etc. etc.

Her Majesty's Plaything recently posted a review/summary of The Vanilla Dominatrix. HMP did a series of three posts, looking first at the book, then two more considering Her Majesty's thoughts on the book and how The Vanilla Dominatrix relates to the relationship that he is in.

I thought that all of HMP's posts were an interesting reflection on developing real life F/m relationships from vanilla relationships. I'm not sold on the "Vanilla Dominatrix" concept, as it seems rather inflexible - if you only play part time, you're a Vanilla Dominatrix. That seems tantamount to saying "she's not a real domme" and that whole argument is very tedious. I haven't read it, but on balance it seems to me that despite this issue, this book is probably doing a social good. Men pointing out to other men that women are unlikely to be willing to conform to their porn-informed fantasies of a leather clad bitch, but that women to whom they are attracted (strong women who like to take charge) would most likely be willing to give kink a try, seems like a very good thing to me.

In other news, Ariane Arborene published Classic FemDom Stories Volume 3 last month. I haven't read any of her work, but new femdom is always a cause for celebration. :)

Not so recently (alright, a long time ago on the internet), Sarah Frantz from DearAuthor reviewed a couple of Femdom books. Amongst them, The Christmas she Rules. This seems like it's okay, but very short (this is a common gripe that I have about femdom stories. So often they are much too short.) Velvet Submission sounds more like it, and is on my TBR list, with slight reservations. The way that Sarah reviews suggests to me that she probably picks up similar issues to the ones that bother me in stories, and generally DearAuthor reviewers are pretty reliable (for non femdom genres) in my experience.

Have you noticed any recently published femdom books? Or read anything good recently?

October 13, 2012

Review: Control by Charlotte Stein

I put off buying Control because I was unsure who, if either of the men we meet in the sample, was going to be the HEA hero. The book more or less opens with the heroine being fucked by a potential employee, Andy, over the kitchen table. Gabriel walks in on them and is subsequently employed in Madison's erotic book store. I was concerned that Madison was going to get her HEA as the submissive. There wasn't anything particularly to suggest this - it's just depressingly common in stories that female switches, or even dominants, have to be submissive. My worry was unjustified. I don't think it gives too much away to reveal that quite quickly Madison realizes that tentative submissive virgin Gabriel is the man for her. Andy is a foil to their kinks, to their relationship and to Madison's fear of commitment. He drives the emotional plot and the sex forward and therefore it doesn't feel unnatural for him to be in the story and I don't feel that he poses a risk to the HEA. A nice compromise all in all.

So anyhow, the plot. Madison owns and runs a book store selling erotica, and needs an assistant. The kind of assistance offered by Andy, her first interviewee, is not exactly what she had in mind, but she's enjoying it all the same. Her second applicant walks in on them. Despite herself, Madison thinks about him:
...his too thick glasses and his tweediness and those hunched shoulders...
Well! We've not met a hero like that before and I LIKE IT! It's never quite clear how Madison then employs Gabe, but she does and all sorts of teasing ensues. Andy reappears to fuck Madison, but she gets off much more on teasing Gabe, the thought of him knowing or watching her fuck Andy and the image of him, awkward and turned on by her deliberately provocative actions. At one point, Andy is fucking her and she is thinking:
Gabe bent over me, fucking me the way Andy is while I tell him - I don't beg him - to do it harder. Do it harder, babe, yes. Give it to me I want you. I want you. Just you. 
Though Madison is a switch and somewhat of an exhibitionist and is submissive to Andy, she actually uses him to work out her feelings for Gabe. At one point, Madison and Andy are fucking in the kitchen (again) and Andy says to her:
'Make up your mind, hon. I'm going to come pretty soon and then you'll kick my arse out of here.'
So although when they're having sex she's Andy's submissive, in many other ways, Madison is in control. Which makes it somewhat surprising that Madison doesn't spit it out when it appears that she wants to be dominant with Andy and Gabe together. Madison doesn't say anything. So you have moments like this:
'Maddie doesn't know what she wants. Isn't that right babe?'
I'm sure I do. I do, right?
It's moments like that that I think that this book could just as easily have been called Confused as Control. And:
I hate Andy. I don't know why I 'm not telling him to get out.
Madison, it's because you like the idea of having two men. Also, he's hot. And you seem to get off on being used. I don't however get off on being used, and I find it difficult to get out of your first person head-space and into Andy's, directing you and Gabe, in order to enjoy the scene.
And again:
Andy just grins - his expression saying dance, puppets, dance, very clearly. I've no idea how he took the reins so quickly, but I understand this much for sure: my own efforts seem weak and third rate, by comparison.
This is, I think, the crux of the issue. It's the old trope of the insecure, nervous heroine: the placeholder heroine. In this case, I think that Madison's unsureness about what she wants and her insecurity about being a dominant is supposed to reflect the reader's potential nervousness about switching from submissive to dominant. It is supposed to make us empathize with Madison, that she can't speak up, or stand up to Andy. Placeholder heroines who are wet blankets generally make me want to slap them. And Madison, when she continually doesn't say anything to Andy when he takes control, really needs to snap out of it.


And the miraculous thing is, that in this story, she pretty much does snap out of it. Not exactly the way I would have liked, but good enough to stop me, mid grump. There's a misunderstanding in their threesome while they're having sex. Gabe thinks that Andy is hurting her. Technically, he is, but Madison is enjoying it, but somehow cannot articulate this to Gabe. (A lot of the problems that need to be overcome in this book are to do with Madison being unable to spit out what she really means at the crucial moment.) After they establish that Madison was quite happy, Gabe asks Madison to domme Andy, and she does. The scene that follows is awesome. Though I have reservations about how she got to this point, I find something delicious in the role reversal of Madison protecting Gabe from Andy, and humiliating Andy. Gabe gets off on humiliation, but even so, it's surely the dominant's right /duty/pleasure to protect their submissive. Everyone's happy.

 In another amusing gender trope reversal, it is Gabe who runs away because he thinks that Madison doesn't love him (the classic Harlequin Presents scenario is that the heroine runs away because she believes that the hero doesn't love her). Gabe thinks that Madison loves Andy, who can switch and dom her, whereas he can only be submissive. Madison, thank god, comes to her senses, chases after him and they have their HEA. I'm not quite sure what causes Madison to suddenly decide that she doesn't need to be submissive anymore, when she was being submissive to Andy only the night before. But hey, let's not allow technicalities to get in the way. This is a pretty convincing switch to F/m HEA and that is sooooo good <happy sigh>.

***End Spoilers***

A comparison between this book and Power Play is unavoidable. The characters are very similar: an up-tight heroine who is discovering that she loves being in control; a hero who is discovering just how far his kinkiness goes; a third person that both brings the pair together and keeps them apart. The emotional plots are similar; the setting (work) is similar. Even the covers are the same - with an identical photo of the same couple and a pink color scheme. Both Power Play and Control are written in a visceral first-person narrative and have a great build up of the sex and the relationship and the decent into spine-tingling kinkiness. And they are both HOT HOT HOT.

For me, the plot is more cohesive in Control, and the threesome is much better integrated into the story and the relationship. Power Play blindsided me with unexpected submissive scenes that jarred with the relationship and left me with concerns about the future happiness of the protagonists. Not so in Control.

In terms of characters, the heroes are actually quite different. Gabe is a geeky virgin, whereas Ben (in Power Play) is cooler and more knowledgeable. I felt that Gabe cares much more about Madison than Ben did about Elenor. Comparing the two, I wonder if Ben is more interested in his kink than he is in Elenor, whereas the opposite is definitely true of Gabe.

Often, the review length is inversely proportional to how much I liked the book. Not so here. I've talked about some of the tensions in the story, but I haven't said how amazing the scenes are between Madison and Gabe. Where he licks her out, repeatedly, follows her orders, is teased, denied, directed, spanked and humiliated, it's wonderful. It's incandescently good. The multiple, almost continuous sex scenes are spectacularly erotic. Definitely NSFW and totally distracting.

TL;DR: I have some reservations about this story, but overall, it's a gem. If we're really lucky, perhaps one day Charlotte Stein will write a full femdom story, where the heroine is dominant all the time. Until then, Control is pretty damn good.


October 4, 2012

Review: Cruel to be Kind by Stephanie Vaughan

Cruel to be Kind is a small town America romance novel, in every sense of the concept. If you like books by Susan Elizabeth Philips and other classic 'going back to hometown from the big city' type stories, then this might be for you. If you like your men to drink beer and your women to realize the error of their ways in wanting to live in a city. If you like your men to men and women to be women, and want a hint of F/m, but not anything scary. If that's you, then this review might offend you.

Small town America. Where men are REAL MEN and women are real women. Where gender stereotypes are still alive and well. Being a REAL MAN, for those not initiated into small town America stories, means that you drink beer, drive a truck, act like a dick and though you would happily fuck a woman in the ass, no-one could possibly put anything near your sacred hole, because that would mean that you're not a REAL MAN. Being a real woman means that you are an over-emotional martyr to the idiotic behavior of your man, you make pie and have children, own your own cupcake company (or something equally saccharine) and will happily humiliate and prostrate yourself to the hero in the name of twue love. If you get the impression that this is not my favorite concept, you're absolutely right. This misguided trope is one of the reasons (IMHO) that wonderful submissive men feel inadequate and undervalued and dominant women feel that they aren't going to have their own HEA. I am profoundly offended by it and I wasn't expecting it from this story. I was blindsided by bigoted opinions in Cruel to be Kind, and I'm not happy about it.

Anyhow, the plot. Megan is running her sister's business while the sister is busy have babies, so Megan dropped her whole life and came running. Megan is eying up a good bit of beefcake in a bar while she does the accounts for the business, when Steve (said beefcake) notices and comes over to hassle her ask her out to dinner. There's a pretty hot scene where she orders him to stroke himself through his pockets in the bar. But then, she walks out, ordering him to meet her tomorrow, and it begins to become an oddly paced / spaced series of 'dates' between them, that don't hang together well for me.

One of the issues is that this novella is full of cliches.  Take this exchange: they're in Steve's house. The last thing that was said was Megan saying about liking all sorts of food, then asking Steve if he had help decorating (he did, though nothing is every made of this).
"You mocking my he-man club house?"
"I wouldn't dream of it."
"Good. You'd better not be playing with me. A man doesn't appreciate having his big-screen mocked."
Megan's eyelashes made a slow sweep downward before eyes like bittersweet chocolate flicked him with a sidelong glance. "Oh, I'll play with you, alright..."
Is that seriously what passes for witty banter these days? I'll play with you, alright. It sounds dull and inane to me. I should mention too, that I've added paragraphs when different people are talking to the quote above. No such courtesy was done for me. There are random paragraph splits, often mid sentence. Each time a new person speaks, it is convention to start a new line. This is one cliche not adhered to in this story. Whole conversations are run together in a confusing mess.

Not only is this story packed full of cliches, it's also full of the same phrases. God is mentioned 21 times (usually as an expletive), Jesus 5 times. Fuck - also usually as an expletive, is used 46 times. "So good." or some variant (like "So fucking good!") appears 9 times. It's like the characters can't think of anything to say. 

The story is also full of plot holes. When Steve first meets Megan, she's eating shepherds pie. But then, when he orders food for them, he orders fettuccine, in case she's a vegetarian. Right, Steve. Megan made such an impression on you, that you didn't notice that she was eating shepherds pie - that well known meat-free dish. Or anchovies in the pizza that you ordered the night before. This is either lack of continuity, or Steve is stupidly unobservant.

As another instance of a plot hole, the first night they get frisky together, Megan gives Steve photocopies of her driving license, medical summary and work information. She says that he won't get any of the goods until she sees the same from him. This doesn't make much sense to me, as the most D/s thing she does that night is make Steve hold his hands behind the back of a chair. But okay, she's super conservative about playing by the book and being a responsible dominant. Which is fine, but then this little regulation is promptly forgotten and two weeks later she's letting him have sex with her without a condom (WTF!!). And of course, Steve has a disappointed look in his eye that she's on the pill - he wants to have a baby with a woman he only just met. Of course.

Because this is a small town story, it is full of extraneous detail. The sister makes an unessary cameo. As does an older woman who mentored and dommed Megan (apparently you have to train as a submissive before you can be a dominant - it sounds a bit like graduation).  We are told about Megan cutting up vegetables five times in this novella. Five times - doesn't she have something more interesting to do?! We might as well have been told about her taking out the bins...


Anyhow, back to the plot. So everything is going pretty well for Steve and Megan. There is a minor hickup when Megan wants to try some anal play, and Steve vetos it strongly, verbally and physically. Megan backs off, berating herself for taking it too quickly. This is despite him having confessed to fantasizing about poking her back entrance. (Clearly, anal is okay for women, but REAL MEN don't take it up the ass.) Then at work, one of Steve's friends is telling the story of how he intruded on his girlfriend's privacy and looked at her porn films. They included titles such as "Bend Over, Boyfriend" and "Babes Ballin' Boys". The male audience laugh at their friend and the story teller lashes out.
"If anyone's getting fucked up the ass, it ain't gonna be me."
Winking at Rick behind Robert's back, Steve couldn't resist getting in on the ragging. "Well, I don't know there, Robert. Maybe you'd like it. I hear that after you get used to it, it feels pretty good. You know. 'It's only weird the first time'."
"Yeah, I guess if anyone would know it would be you, Steve-o."
"What the fuck's that supposed to mean, Robert?" He wasn't pissed. But his arms unfolded from their formerly relaxed position across his chest. He was just flexing his fingers, that was all. He wasn't going to hit the little cocksucker.
"Nothin' man. Just, if it's got hair like a chick, and tit jewelry like a chick..." The little shit was enjoying himself way too much. The smirk on his face made Steve itch to put his hands around ol' Bobby's greasy little neck and squeeze. "No shame in being a catcher in a world full of pitchers, man."
Rick's face was suddenly in Steve's and his brother was holding him back. ...... [Steve's brother drags him away and Rick says to him: ]
....."Hey, I'm sorry if your bother doesn't like looking in the mirror. I'm just surprised it took him and Manly Megan this long to hook up."
I'm not sure I have the energy to go into the multitude of ways that this whole scene offends me. I will let you puzzle over it yourself. (Feel free to comment.)

The next time he is due to see her, Steve stands Megan up, then blanks and brushes her off when she sees him at the bar. Presumably, Steve is scared that if he hangs out with Manly Megan he won't be a REAL MAN.  But we don't know, because although we are 'in' Steve's head a lot, all he does is lust after and be possessive and jealous over Megan. We don't see why he decides to blank her. We don't see why he changes his mind a week later. He is just a ginger boy with muscles and lust. He has zero personality. Certainly no feelings. (I think having emotions violates a REAL MAN rule anyhow.) 

As Steve tries to rid himself of these unwanted thoughts of Megan, he recalls previous women he'd been intimate with. (How sweet, how coy...). Including the foreign exchange student and older woman who'd helped him lose his virginity in his fourteenth year.. This really horrified me. That's statutory rape. Consensual or not, people (of both sexes) are put in prison for having sex with minors. That's the law. It's not a variable question of morality, it's against the law. The careless way that the author mentions this makes me very angry. I also feel because of the context, that this is supposed to explain why he is submissive. Countless studies have shown that there is no connection between sexual abuse (which is arguably what happened to Steve) and D/s. This insidious connection between statutory rape and D/s is wrong. It devalues the consensual nature of the D/s that the majority practice. I think that it is additionally supposed to imply that Steve is a total REAL MAN because he lost his virginity young. Again, I think this is a damaging and irresponsible thing to suggest. Mentioning casually an illegal activity in the middle of an erotic story is like dropping a nuclear bomb right in the plot and wreaks the same damage.

Steve eventually comes to his senses and is immediately forgiven by Megan. They go off into the sunset, but not before Steve has dommed her. It's tame, but there is an unmistakable shift of power. There's no emotional reason for it that I could see. But then, there's very little reason to any of this story. To be honest, by this point I didn't give a toss about either of the characters, or the story.

***End Spoilers***

I don't even know why this story is called Cruel to be Kind. Megan isn't cruel to Steve. She is distinctly tepid and overtly respectful of his arbitrary boundaries (actually, all she does is give him lots of orgasms). He is emotionally cruel to her, but I don't think that is cruel to be kind either.

TL,DR: Cliched in story, characterization and phrasing, this tepid story of small town America had me rolling my eyes and wishing, like bad sex, that it would be over quickly.

I'm sorry. I didn't like this much. There might have been some hot scenes in this book somewhere, but I was so busy thinking WTF, I couldn't enjoy them. I don't like the gender roles that this story upholds and I think that the only personality characteristic that the hero has is that he is an bigoted asshole. Megan is the least dominant/feisty, dominant woman I have ever read about. The plot is full of inconsistencies, the phrasing is repetitive and the lack of formatting drove me crazy.

I'm going to be genuinely cruel (to the book) to be kind (to potential readers) and give this a D. Maybe even an E. I don't care really. Whichever you like.