April 20, 2014

Review: Telling Tales by Charlotte Stein

Not surprisingly, this is another excellent book by Charlotte Stein. Although it is really just a very slightly different take on a familiar Stein characters, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Four old friends spend a month doing up a house - a spurious excuse to get them together for sexy times. Allie (first person narrator) has had a crush on Wade (compulsory dickhead) ever since College. Her friend Kitty is a good time girl, up for anything. Then there is Cameron, gorgeous repressed, submissive Cam, who has been in love with Allie for as long as Allie has been with Wade.

The revealing of all these secrets is through the telling and reading of deliciously filthy stories. Allie quickly realises that Wade is not for her and that Cameron is willing, eager, to do absolutely everything that Allie wants. It's total wish fulfilment. And utterly hot.

Obviously with four characters stuck in a big empty house, there is plenty of combinations. But the story sticks closely to Allie and Cameron, and the other two (especially Kitty, who isn't really much of a character in and of herself) are just there as a foil to Allie and Cameron. To be the other characters in their stories (sort of meta - stories in stories).

I love that Allie revels in her new found power. The things that Cameron wants - a sort of cuckolding, for him to be the slave, to be her and Kitty's toything, for her to take control,  - they turn her on. And frankly, most of it turns me on too. It skirts near M/f crappiness, but somehow it all seems like part of the relationship between Cam and Allie.

Anyhow, I sincerely enjoyed this. I give it a B+.

March 10, 2014

Femdom Round up of Indeterminate Length...

It's been rather a long time since my last post. I seem to have lost my inclination for blogging somewhat and didn't think that anyone would notice. People who did notice - hello! Thank you for getting in touch - I will do my best to be in contact soon!

I can't even say that I haven't been reading. I have. I finally got around to reading Holding the Cards by Joey Hill. I'd been putting it off, because unusually for Joey Hill, the reviews weren't that great. The reviews were right. This isn't that great. I might get around to a full review of it at some point. But given that at this stage, that would probably involve re-reading it, I might well not. Suffice to say that the plot was wishy-washy and the whole premise needed a lot of suspension of disbelief that the characters weren't strongly enough drawn to hold together.

I think that my current block on blogging is partly due to trying to read Taste, An Aristocratic Femdom Love Story by Beth Taylor. I wanted to like this, I really did. It came recommended. I wanted to at least read enough of it to be able to review it fairly. But it's still on my kindle, unread, because I found it literally unreadable. It's told primarily though email correspondence (a style which was fun in the 90s and seems to have unfortunately been brought back by FSOG). That wasn't the main problem though - it was the immediate past / immediate future / present tense story telling (I can't be bothered to really establish which is which - please educate me in the comments if you so wish) which was unbearable for me. Usually books tell stories in the past tense ("she went to the shops"); this told actions as they happened ("she goes to the shops"). Conventions are there because it makes it easy for the consumer. I couldn't see any reason for defying the convention and I didn't enjoy the change. It didn't help that the plot (as far as I got with it) seemed to be entirely made up of two brothers emailing each other and the conflict was going to be that one was a male sub. Really. WTF is it his brother's business, and aren't there better conflicts to have, anyway, than "OMG you're into F/m BDSM".

I've recently been enjoying the Magnus pack series by Shelly Laurenston. Not femdom really, she writes paranormal romance with heroines who are totally psychopathic and men who like them as truly gun wielding and insane as they are. The sex is a bit vanilla and M/f, but the heroines are pretty demanding and give as good as they get. The characters are great, even if the world building is a bit "eh, I'll ignore that, because laws of physics clearly don't apply here"... One reviewer said that you would enjoy one of the books if you liked heroines coarse and mannish. I bought it.

Other stuff that sounds promising is Love Enraptured by Jodi Redford. The blurb says:
"This book contains male groveling, the occasional blindfold and feather tickler, wicked sex magic, and a fae thief who isn’t afraid to wear ass-less chaps when the job calls for it."
That is probably good enough incentive to induce me to buy it.

As for publishers etc., you might like to hear about the awkwardly named Fanny Press. Classy. They have a selection of interesting looking tagged books, including hot wife, cuckold and dominatrix. Nothing labelled femdom though.

I also found time for watching the cult classic, The Princess Bride. I now can quote: "Inconceivable," with the best of them. The film though was... well.... Look, it was terrible. It was kind of hilariously terrible. I argued that it was so bad, it was good, as I did enjoy it even as I rolled my eyes and cringed all the way through. My sub was not impressed at all though. I agree that the bit at the beginning when he says "As you wish," is nice. But I rather thought that the whole thing went down-hill from there. Don't lynch me.

One last thing. Go and check out http://critiquemydickpic.tumblr.com/ It's fun for women and a valuable educational resource for me. And read what the author of the tumblr says she has learned about male insecurities and dicks. It's great. The whole thing is just awesome.  

October 10, 2013

Femdom book deals - Natural Law currently available free!

Yes, you read correctly. If you haven't already got it, Natural Law by Joey Hill is currently free as an e-book. I haven't checked all the retailers, but this is certainly true for Amazon. It's even got a nice cover now.

I loved Natural Law. Free is an insanely good deal.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | B-A-M |  Chapters | IndieBound | Powells | VRoman’s | Amazon Canada | Amazon United Kingdom

September 1, 2013

Review: A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

Starting with A Lady Awakened, I've reviewed all of Cecilia Grant's books so far. I thought I wouldn't break the streak yet, although I'm very, very late, as it was published months ago. Though this is by no stretch of the imagination femdom, it's a good historical romance with a heroine who has both a backbone and grey matter between her ears. She's smart and sexy and manipulative. If you like that in a woman, and like a bit of historical angst, then this could be for you. Regardless, since it's not really femdom, I will (try and) keep it brief. (update - and fail).

Kate is a self confessed social climber. She wants to be much richer and more influential than she is. Being beautiful and female, she sees marriage to a titled man as the best way to get it. Nick wants to be richer and more influential than he is. Being male he sees his profession as a barrister and connections to titled men (to get a seat as MP) as the best way he can to achieve this. This book is romance but is really about how people strive towards power and the way that gender was such a defining way of deciding how you tried to achieve this at this time.

As you might imagine, the people who dislike heroines who try and do something and don't just fall over and open their legs to an alpha male, don't like Kate. Me, I think that smacks of double standards. I like all of Grant's heroines. I feel they make tough decisions within the highly gendered historical setting that they're in and Kate is no exception. Further, one of the things I like about historical romance is the explicit way that beauty, partnership and gender are dealt with. I think that often these things are left unexamined in contemporary fiction/romance whereas the historical setting gives enough distance for a more interesting social comment. Anyhow, that's my rant about it. On with talking about the book.

Nick, like so many others, has already wanted to propose to Kate. She deftly deflected him and since then, they have become friends. An influential Lord turns up to provide the central conflict of the book: Nick (by keeping from him certain facts) becomes his oratory mentor. Kate wants to marry him (and thinks she may be able to ensnare him before he knows about her and her family.) Nick is horrified that Kate would use this man to better her prospects, but is doing just that himself. He might also have a teeny bit of self interest where Kate is concerned. The central question of the book is how and how long is it going to take for both of them to realize that using people is not the best way to achieve their aspirations.

A book geek like me also appreciated the Austen references. Kate picks up a copy of Pride and Prejudice and there are lots of obvious parallels there (I loved the snooty titled aunt turn about). But there are references to Emma (a turn about on Miss Smith/Emma's relationship) and probably lots more that I missed. Grant does details so well, and I usually only catch a quarter of them on the first reading. That, imo, is the sign of a truly brilliant book. When you can go back and read it and find something new in it every time.

I enjoyed this book. I think that in many ways, this is Grant's best book yet. It speaks of problems, past and present, that people deal with in how to negotiate between what they want, what they think they want and what society will allow them to do. Grant seems to like mirrors - literal mirrors in A Lady Awakened, but metaphorical mirrors in her two subsequent books. Sometimes it take a while for us to realize that someone is the other half of ourselves - the mirror image - especially if we don't really know what we are. If that was a bit too philosophical for you, I do apologize. I am striving for a regular schedule of F/m kinky sexiness.

As for grade. Weeeellll, it's not femdom. But I did enjoy it. I liked Kate. I thoughts she was straight - the kind of woman I'd want as a friend and who would say, 'that sounds like fun' when I told her tied down my husband. I've recently understood that the portrayal of female agency is really important to me in a book and this ticks that box. Nick is okay. He starts has character arc, starting stuffy and realizing there is more to life than impressing people. There aren't any warnings for this book, except that this there is not all that much sex (I can't believe I'm actually warning you that there isn't constant sex....). I think it's a B+, but with a reservation that this is vanilla. Nice vanilla. You know, with the little black bits that show it's real, good quality vanilla. But it's still vanilla.

buy at: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | B-A-M | iBooks | Chapters | IndieBound | Powells | VRoman’s | Amazon Canada | Amazon United Kingdom

August 25, 2013

Review: Nothing Ventured by Salome Verdad

Nothing Ventured: A twisted tale of high tech and high heels. Well, I got the twisted bit, and the high heels (boots actually, which aren't quite the same thing), but I missed out on the high tech and the ventured reference was also a bit lost. How to describe this book better than the title does is actually quite difficult - the sheer amount of WTF is almost overwhelming.

The story starts with Amanda drugging and date raping Ed - she insists on him licking her boots, threatens him that she will make sure the venture capital company she works for doesn't fund his tech start up (I think that's the ref in the title, but since it's really beside the point of the story, I was never clear what the significance of it was) and then has sex with him all night (literally). He is enamored of her and tries to contact her - she ignores him. Then she calls him and meets him to a lesbian bar - to keep her options open. She tells him that she drugged him with GHB. She also gave him viagra, though she doesn't tell him this at the time. And after a token protest he forgives her, takes her back to his place and lets her tie him up. This is all by chapter 2.

Really. It's normally heroines that I critisize for being TSTL, but what a dumb ass he is. Amanda has shown herself to be totally untrustworthy, is a self confessed psychopath and has just humiliated him by flirting with other women when she came to meet him. Also SHE DRUGGED HIM. So, I have two essential problems with this set up. 1) Her drugging him is totally unacceptable. 2) The way that she thinks she needs to train him to like being submissive by drugging him suggests that a man wouldn't 'normally' be receptive to it. This is just utter balderdash and only serves to make submissive men feel that they are wrong/not normal/blah. Grrrrrr.

So, one of the other big problems for me was the portrayal of lesbians in this story. Or dykes as Verdad so charmingly (and derogatorily) puts it. They're portrayed as unpleasant, perverted and evil. Amanda has a whole back-story about how she was put upon by the lesbian girls at public boarding school and this is why she's wants bad kinky sex now. The subtext is that if those girls had just had some boys to give them cock, they wouldn't have become lesbians, wouldn't have started with all that bad kinky stuff and wouldn't have driven Amanda to do utterly stupid things like drug men because she wants to be a top, but can't with her lesbian girlfriend. Using marginalized groups (gays, transvestites, kinky, etc.) is a really offensive way of creating villains imo.

So Amanda regularly thinks about her ex when having sex with Ed. When topping, she's thinking about wanting to bottom. I'm confused about why she's so hung up on her ex girlfriend. She also says that she only enjoys things when the man is unwilling, being forced. But.... how does she know if she's so inexperienced? She goes on and on about having succeeded as a top (now that she has Ed), and proven her lesbian ex wrong, and put to rest her demons. At the same time, she's supposed to have had four boyfriends who passed her licking her boots test, and numerous other men who she drugged and who didn't pass. And apparently she's gorgeous, so you wouldn't think she'd lack play mates if she wanted them. So frankly, I'm confused as to how she's such an inexperienced top. It just didn't hang together.

The biggest problem with the writing (as opposed to the plot) was that it was all tell not show. We're told that Ed makes Amanda laugh. We never see it. He doesn't make one witty comment in the whole novella. We're told that Amanda flirts with other women, but we never are shown what she does or how Ed notices and what it makes them feel. We're told that they have a great time together, but we never see them do anything but have negotiations about what sex to have. Because of this, as a reader it's difficult to believe in any of it and still harder to care. Just saying 'and then they had great sex' does not make it sexy experience for the reader.

The switching between first and third person voice wound me up as well. There was frequently "she thought" and then several sentences of first person (not italicized) which made me slightly pov sick (like sea sick, you know?).

Now, I know I was going to go cold turkey on spoilers, but I think that this merits them. Apologies. Look away now if you don't want to know.

Near the end of the story one of Amanda's lesbian ex dommes, along with a whole load of lesbian friends, kidnap Amanda to make a snuff porn film of her and Ed. An academic researcher (also a lesbian, in tweed and glasses) steps over the barrier from researching snuff porn to wanting to make it and her lesbian friends agree to help and be in the film. (Really? Really?) Also, why would you film yourself killing someone then put it on the internet? Wouldn't that make you rather easy to identify? Perhaps the implication is that lesbians are like - yay prison!

Amanda is kidnapped on camera (sort of - skype anyhow) while Ed watches from Vegas (don't ask). Shona also steals the key to his chastity device, says that she'll give it back to him if he comes to see her and that she will hurt Amanda if he doesn't agree. So instead of going and buying some bolt cutters, taking off his chastity device (that he is supposedly so annoyed about), and going to the police, what do you think Ed does? Oh yes, he decides that without any plan, any backup or any ability to look after himself, he's going to go and rescue Amanda. (Face palm.) I think it's that he turns up still in the chastity device that really gets me. FFS, a chastity device is about trust, it's not actually that difficult to get out of if you don't care about breaking the lock. This whole situation isn't helped by the fact that while Ed is away, he is suddenly fantasizing about dominating women - any women, not just Amanda, though her too. And obviously we've heard earlier that Amanda isn't a twue domme, because she still wants to bottom, thinks topping is too hard work and is thinking about Shona constantly.

Anyhow, Ed goes and is asked if he will hurt and rape Amanda for this film (he isn't told it's a snuff film at this point). Despite him having fantasized about topping and fucking Amanda, he virtuously refuses. (I wish these characters would decide what the hell they want.) So the evil lesbians overpower him and torture him with a cattle prod. The fluffy kitten lesbian hears about the snuff porn plan and helps Ed and Amanda escape. Before doing so, they somehow conveniently have gasoline and stuff to set the place on fire. Because that's not a dangerous thing to do when you still might get trapped/lost in the building. And arson with people in the building is totally okay if you've been told by a lesbian kitten that they were planning to kill you.

Amanda's old MG is conveniently outside, when they miraculously find their way easily out of the burning building. And Ed somehow knows how to hotwire a car, while Amanda has dissolved into incompetence and tears (she is a woman after all). Ed drives them away and then there is a car and motorbike chase scene, where Ed runs over one of the lesbian bikers - he even considers reversing back over her to make sure she's dead. Give that man an ethical award for remembering that when you're running away, the key is to run away, not stop and try and kill the people who want to kill you (and also film you). Amanda and the fluffy lesbian kitten are away crying and being pathetic somewhere. So Ed saves the day by running over the lesbians, and the book closes with Ed telling Amanda that they can continue to have a relationship, so long as they only have vanilla sex ever again.

So there you go. They're finished with the evil lesbians and promise never to have bad sex ever again. Great message. I found all of this so cartoonish as was totally unbelievable. Bat-shit crazy, and not in a good way.

***End Spoilers***

I'm at a loss to explain how silly I found most of this book. And it wasn't even sexy - all the sexual bits were rather perfunctory. Tab A, slot B. This toy, then that toy, then another toy (literally, Amanda even says "another toy" at one point). And you know, twisted is about it. This novella isn't femdom positive, it isn't female (agency) positive and neither is it kink positive. Given that I don't care for the portrayal of any of the things I love in this book, I can't possibly give it a good grade.

If you like your femdom crazy flavor, then you might enjoy this. Personally, I think there are better mad-cap novellas out there and this one had me blinking in bemusement and rolling my eyes in irritation. Call me old fashioned, but I really do prefer safe sane and consensual. D.

AmazonAmazon UK

August 18, 2013

Review: Red Grow the Roses by Janine Ashbless

I think I promised this review back in January. Sorry about the delay. Bad reviewer. Very bad reviewer. <Guilt /> One of the reasons for both the delay and the description of this book as "epic" is the impressive list of kink that it caters to. It think I counted: femdom; fighting; vampire biting; multi-partner M/M/f,  M/f/f/f/f/f, M/M/m/f; a cougar (sort of); humiliation (f); anal (m and f); forced seduction; bondage; rape (or possibly dubious consent); slavery (f); blood; corporeal punishment; torture of the not all that sexual type; torture of the sexual type. And a dual theme of power and roses. That might be it. But I can't guarantee that I haven't forgotten something that might squick you. (Though presumably you don't squick on roses....)

I'm always a bit wary of things that try to do too much (in both life and books) and thus other things have risen in the TBR pile, which to be honest, hasn't been well attended to anyhow (hence the lack of reviews recently.)

The way that Red Grow the Roses deals with the plethora of subject matters is by dealing with each chapter as almost a short story in its own right. Each chapter has a different first person narrator (and I don't think, given the heavy hint about the vampire and blood theme, that it's too much of a spoiler to say that several people, including some first person narrators, end up snuffing it). There are also several (six, one for each vampire I think) extended descriptions from the omnipresent author/god telling the reader about the vampires and where we might encounter them. A sort of intermittent field guide to vampires. If all this sounds a little disjointed, then that's about right. Though I think it is intentional and the threads of the story become intermingled and gradually it becomes (more) clear how everything is connected.

Perhaps you understood this from the long list I began this post with, but this doesn't actually feature a lot of femdom. There are really only two chapters you could tenuously describe as F/m. One ends on a bit of downer by saying that the Domme doesn't really identify with being female anymore. The other is first person from a female character who likes to be in control, but the scenario strips her of any power or agency. (I'm trying not to put in spoilers. I'm really trying.) So as far as femdom goes, this is a total fail. For the femdom aspect, I'd give it a C. It's okay, but it didn't really show femdom in a positive light. I suppose that really it suggested that all power is transient, but the F/m part of this didn't really do it for me. The rest of the book is mainly a combination of male/vampire dominance and women who like being bitten and fucked. Fine, though not my thing. There's some plot, later on in the book, which justifies some of the gore. Some bits are quite sweet: when the alpha vampire submits to having a blow job from his secretary (it's rather more lovely than it sounds). All the humiliation (of a woman) stuff wasn't for me. The male vampires dominating other men for whatever reason was pretty hot, even when it was quite violent. Other parts will turn sensitive stomachs, though its no worse than a standard-ish horror, which mixes up violence, sex, pleasure and pain until you're not sure what is what anymore.

TL;DR: Male vampire perpetrated biting and sex, in all orifices, with varying numbers of partners and degrees of consent. Not femdom. Not really worth getting through all the other stuff for the femdomish bits, unless you like the other stuff.

I don't know if a grade is very meaningful to this. It held my attention and squicked me, but didn't actually stop me reading, which is a testament to the good writing. I was engaged with some of the characters (though sadly not the dominant women, as there's almost nothing about them). It felt like one of those horror films that captures you and you can't look away. I was reluctantly intrigued and aroused. It didn't fill me with fury, like some books have (Ds, Es and Fs, I'm looking at you). So I guess that it's a C-, with a whole stackload of provisos.

buy from: Powell’s | Indiebound | Borders | B & N | Amazon

June 30, 2013

Review: In Her Service by various

Collections of short stories are always a bit hit and miss. In Her Service is no different. Another femdom labelled offering from Mischief books, I picked this up eagerly.

Predictably, Charlotte Stein's story is wonderfully awesome. A pegging story, with romance and anticipation and all the good things that a sexy story should have.

The next story is a switch girl to switch girl story, with feathers and serious stuff like that. I found it rather dull. And yet again, why are the women always switches?

The Perfect Mistress by Monica Belle is an amusing reflection of gender assumptions, those that are prevalent even (? - especially?) in BDSM type communities. David thinks his domme should lose a little weight, be a bit more beautiful and feminine and closer to his fantasy Domme. She is justified in being totally furious and enlists help to teach him the error of his ways. A little predictable, but no worse for that.

A Gift by Willow Sears is not predictable and surprisingly quite good in the same kind of way a horror film is. It does involve brother/sister and non-consent sex, which I squick badly on. But it's well written and funny and the narrator is such an over the top total bitch I found that I enjoyed it despite myself. It does however have that 'domme getting dommed' thing which I feel pretty uncomfortable with.

Chameleon by Lara Lancey is quite interesting, as it has a bit of a twist about who the heroine is. I won't spoil it, but I would say - you wouldn't see many stories where a Dom was like that. Oh no. Men can be normal and dominant, it's only women who have to be nut jobs if they're dominant.

The next story passed in a bit of a blur of nothing specialness, narrated by a forgettable female submissive characters.

The Houseboy by Aishling Morgan is a 'school for naughty boys' type fantasy. Not my thing.

Teasing Timmy by Primula Bond is apparently what happens when two women go and decorate a small cottage in Cornwall. Eye raising but entertaining.

Another 'domme getting what she deserves' type story finishes off the book. I find these really difficult.

So. Overall. I loved Charlotte Stien's story, but the rest was a bit meh. C.

For your convenience, I'm going to start putting in some buy links (when I remember). At some point I might also get around to getting an affiliate account so you can purchase and support Femdom book reviews.

buy from: Powell’s | B & N | Amazon | Borders | Indiebound

May 24, 2013

Review: Untamed by Anna Cowan

A cross-dressing Duke hero. That alone had my interest before anything else was said over at Dear Author. This book defies gender stereotypes in many, many ways and has genuinely interesting characters, who grow throughout the story. It's a tough read in places, for various different reasons, but it's still one of the most original books I've read in a long time. And the heroine is awesome.

Kit is in London with her sister Lydia, who is having an affair with the Duke of Darlington. Lydia's husband is furious. Kit realises that she needs to save their marriage, by calling the Duke off Lydia. The price he extracts for this favor is that Kit take him back to her county home. What she doesn't realize, is that he will turn up as a woman. What he doesn't realize is that her home isn't just not fit for a Duke, they are outright in poverty. That's the beginning, but a whole lot of other things are going on.

What I love about this book is that the heroine, Kit, really is the heroine. I mean that in the sense that she's the one that saves the day, in every way. Kit must be described as strong about a dozen times and its justified. She is robust both physically and metaphorically. She also does traditionally 'male' things. She goes out and chops wood in the rain while Jude looks on; she swears; she competently manges the family finances. Jude on the other hand lounges around, pouts, and causes more problems when he tries to help than if he'd just left well alone. Kit shoves Jude up against walls and won't take any crap. I understand that some people found Kit rather unsympathetic, or unrealistic. I didn't at all. I was with her every step of the way. She made tough calls but I felt that she had grit and integrity.

The other female characters are also good. More strong, well rounded women who are distinct and human, rather than wallpaper in dresses behind the main characters. Kit's family play a big role in this book and Sophie (Kit's mother) and her sister Lydia are both characters that at various times you are repulsed by and endeared to.

Jude is a bit of an arsehole. He's morally dubious, and not just in a vague, 'Oh he's a rake' kind of way. We seem him do things, including things to Kit, which are highly questionable. On the other hand, there is an awareness of his arse-holery in the book. It's not ignored, or passed off as him being an alpha-male. So although I was occasionally uncomfortable, actually I didn't mind, because I thought that Kit could manage him. He was brought pretty low and she was always portrayed as strong. (No crying in the corner for Kit, oh no, that's Jude's role.) He was quite gender queer, passing himself off as a woman (Lady Rose) for much of the book and was quite effeminate even as a man. I didn't quite understand his 'dark side', which was a meaner, slightly dominant version of himself. It felt a bit like shoe-horning a bit of male dominance in for effect, but there was very little of it and Kit usually pulled him up on his bullshit quickly.

The weakest part of this book is definitely the historical aspect. It seems to be set in a sort of regency-esque world, but it's never at all clear when (I think this is deliberate). It would have been better set later, maybe late Victorian, as some of the things that the women do in this book (particularly Kit, but also Lady Marmotte) are so anachronistic for the regency style setting, it makes them a little difficult to believe.

Another problem is some things that are made a big deal of and then dropped. Threads are left hanging. Jude's name takes practically a whole chapter for Kit to get out of him, but then it seems that everyone else knows it, which rather ruins the feeling that Kit is being given something special in permission to call him by it. It's never clear what Jude's motivation is to start doing a lot of things and that makes the ending slightly hollow. Hints early on that Jude is almost bankrupt actually turn out that he has money (or enough money anyhow). Kit's brother is an anonymous but successful author, but nothing is made of this, and it's not clear where the money he earns really goes. And there are plenty more things like this. For nit-pickers like me, this gapiness is frustrating.

Some I'm sure will be uncomfortable or disbelieving about a hero who cross dresses. Personally I think it's eminently believable - the male/female false dichotomy has always been evident to me. Women being passed off as men is so ubiquitous though, this seems like very fair turn-about. But if you disagree, it needs some suspension of disbelief.

The beginning is slow but persevere, it quickly becomes compulsive. At some points it makes you laugh, (Jude's pig, Porkie, is awesome). Other times, it deals bluntly then delicately with issues like rape, domestic violence and child abuse. Not only that, it skims lightly over homophobia (a bit too lightly really), greed, gambling, etc. Between this, and the strong personalities of the characters, along with some political plot lines, there's a lot going on.

TL;DR: A gender stereotype and trope breaking book with a heroine you'll want to team Domme with/have Dominate you. A deliciously androgynous hero, who she has to sort out. A difficult book with some plot problems, it's held up totally by the originality of the concept and the portrayal of the characters.

Overall, it's a difficult book to grade. It's emotional and gripping, but the protagonists are fairly messed up, so the HEA hard fought. I do believe in the HEA though, and I think that both Jude and Kit, as well as Lydia and James, deserve it. There's an acknowledgement that life isn't easy though, and that there will be arguments and tough times. I like that. Although there is heat, attraction and sex, it isn't primarily erotic. There are some gaping plot holes, but it gets away with it because it's so character driven. Though not really femdom, it features female protagonists who are strong, sometimes sadistic, belligerent and control their men. I'm conflicted. I didn't always enjoy this book but it is outstanding - it stands out. Overall, a B perhaps?

By the way, I've never quite established whether the character on the front of the book is supposed to be Kit or Jude. I like to think it's Jude - and that is hot.

May 12, 2013

Review: Still by Ann Mayburn

Concept: A military macho-guy has PTSD has a major crush on the untouchable military Doctor that he worked with in Afghanistan. When they meet again, she tells him that she's into the being the D bit of a D/s and BDSM relationship, but he's not sure. When he hits a particular low, including alcohol and a knife, and being arrested, he gets in touch. A gritty set up, no doubt. Michelle makes it clear that it's her way or nothing and Wyatt agrees. As a premise, this 'strong guy needs to submit to a strong woman' thing actually is one of my favorites (I always think of this pic). Perhaps my excitement and high expectations were a problem in this case, but I couldn't help feeling that this wasn't quite what I signed up for.

An ex-marine, Wyatt's PTSD has escalated back in Texas into alcohol abuse, suicidal tendencies and a lack of doing anything productive in his life. He winds up agreeing to stay with Michelle for a month and to obey her, to see how it turns out. The reader is filled in quite early on about how the two met when in service and generally I'm pretty okay with this book up until the point that they're at Michelle's house and I feel like the big issue of Wyatt's PTSD and possible alcoholism is forgotten in favor of Michelle's poor rich girl 'bad things happened in the past and so she can't trust or love or have sex in the present' story line. This I guess I could deal with, but there were other big problems that I just couldn't ignore in this book.

The first issue for me was that I didn't feel that there was any consistency in the characterization of either of the main characters. I feel like the book starts off with a woman who says that her first and main interest sexually is being a Domme, and a man who has never been involved with BDSM, but who slightly against what he thought was his usual inclinations is turned on by it and likes her enough to give it a go. But it's almost as if there are another set of characters, Jekyll and Hyde style, who keep seeping through. And you can probably guess what they are, right? Yep. It's the TSTL heroine who really wants a man to spank, protect, belittle and tell her what to do. And the alphahole who must take/fuck/possess/own/spank/blah his woman so that he can feel like a real man TM. For instance, the constant refrain in Wyatt's head (much of the book is in his third person pov) is that he wants to fuck her, he wants to spank her, he wants to come. Whenever she's in charge, he's plotting to subvert her. The rest of the time, she lets him take charge. I wouldn't mind this if there was some self reflection on this paradox, but there isn't. I think that the challenge of submitting, for a man who is used to being in charge, is a really interesting problem. But there's no feeling of that tension here, there's just 'I want to fuck her into the ground' and 'oh, when she talks about doing things to me, I get hard'.

Michelle's character is no less malleable. Part of that is that it's too much tell and not enough show. We're told that Michelle has only cried like, three times in the last ten years, but since we see all three of those crying incidents, the show (rather than the tell) of the book has her crying all the time. Now, I know that she needs to be vulnerable (because I'm beginning to understand that vulnerable=feminine and relate-able to many readers, though not me), but I think we could have seen Michelle being strong because she realizes that Wyatt needs her to be strong, and not fall apart over something that happened ten years ago when he needs her. There's more of the same though. Michelle's nickname in the military was the "Ice Queen" and yet, Wyatt describes her as "humble, kind" when she was in the forces. Those are not the sort of qualities that gain a woman the nickname "Ice Queen". This gave me the uneasy feeling of not knowing the characters very well, which makes it difficult. I think that part of the fun of a book is thinking, 'oh, she's going to be pissed when she finds out about that... ' or similar. When a character doesn't react in character, or is inconsistent with their description of themselves, it's disconcerting.

Related to the characterization problem was a stack load of gender crap. Particularly, gender generalizations which are at best annoying and at worst insulting to both genders. Gems like:
One thing she’d learned about men, submissive, Dominant, or just plain vanilla, they liked to be needed. It was hard coded in their DNA to protect and defend.
Can't wait until we find the gene for the need to protect and defend. Do you think they'll find it in dogs too?
"You give a man one good, toe-curling, I-rocked-your-fucking-world blow job and he’ll never leave you."
Damn, all this time I thought that couples stayed together because of mutual love and respect. If only I'd known that all it took was a proper blow job.
"Do you really think any man will truly understand any woman?"
I'm so bored by that discussion. As if same gender couples understand each other any better. Now, just one more eye rolling moment for:
He kept checking the clock, bemused at how he was the one waiting for his woman to come home from work, and not the other way around.
Right, because women who stay at home are just waiting around for their partners to come home. Not cleaning/child care/educating/life maintenance/cooking, or anything like that. It doesn't help that Suki and James, Michelle's BDSM friends, are the cook/housekeeper and the groundsman respectively. They're F/m, in fact, rather more convincingly that Wyatt and Michelle are, but why do they have such gender stereotyped jobs?

The wtfery didn't stop there though. I'm not going to go though it all, but there are all sorts of 'huh?' moments. Scents everywhere, dog and horse sub-plots for no discernible reason, disappearing/reappearing pants, gold allergy questions (seriously, no-one is allergic to gold. It's basically inert.) - I could go on, but I'll spare you all but one rant. Wyatt bites through her pants.
Using his free hand, he held up the soaked crotch of her pants and bit a small hole into the cloth.
What has he got, like razor teeth? We're told that she wears white cotton panties, so I guess it means those, but even so, no-one can bite through cotton. Unless he's a dog or something. Even then, I don't think it's possible. Unless he has razor-vampire teeth. But the next moment he's biting her clit, which given that his teeth are capable of going through fabric, sounds mighty painful to me. She seems to enjoy it, so I guess she's a masochist. Wouldn't she need stitches though?

Talking of which, there's a big deal made out of the Dommes not being sadists in this book.
Michelle giggled, allowing Yuki to draw her away from her dark thoughts. “You are such a sadist.”
“Much to James’ relief, my tastes don’t run in that direction.”
I don't understand this, because I really think that men make such perfect masochists - a big strong man taking pain for/from a woman is so incredibly hot. Men are big and strong and it's a matter of macho pride to take whatever is dished out in a fight/sport etc., why not in bed? And you can't have a masochist without a sadist - they go together. Why is masochism okay, but sadism not? Especially for women, that always seems to be the case. A dominant man who likes to whip his sub is just a dom. A dominant woman who likes to inflict pain is a "man hating, ball crushing".... blah, etc. Similarly, there is a double standard that is alive and well in this book about BDSM training. I've almost never seen a book where a male dom has done submissive training. But as usual, Michelle bottomed as 'training' and refers to the Dom who trained her when she 'messes up' by forgetting to give Wyatt a safe word (he hasn't needed one, doesn't in the whole book actually) and says that her trainer would have whipped her for that. Needless to say, she doesn't whip Wyatt for any of his many transgressions. Wyatt does make an effort to reflect that he was wrong in his initial thoughts, but really...:
His earlier ignorant views about all Dominatrices being man hating, ball crushing, sadistic bitches couldn’t be further from the truth if Michelle and Yuki were any example of what a Mistress was truly like. Everything she did to him, with him, was for their mutual pleasure and never once had he felt abused. If anything he felt cherished in a weird way.
Why is it weird? REALLY?! And lots of subs like a bit of consensual 'abuse.' But then Wyatt has an attitude towards BDSM that I'm not keen on full stop. He calls it "fucked up" or berates himself for being turned on by it. If the (change of) sentiment was part of his character development, I think perhaps a more nuanced exploration of his head might have been helpful - beyond 'that's so kinky - no, yes, next thing'. This is partly I think a consequence of the setting (small town America / Texas), so I think it's a given that the opinions of the characters are a bit closed. It's just not my thing.

Having said all that, in between there are some good bits. Sexy oral sex bits. A nice spanking. Nothing too kinky to be honest. When Michelle is getting her dom on, it's fun. And the initial set up of Michelle and Wyatt was great - I could see how they worked together and why they needed each other. The characters wibbled from about the point that they got to Michelle's ranch, but until then I was enjoying it a lot.

***Small spoilers***
But as the book progressed, I just began to feel constantly uncomfortable - either because I wasn't sure what version of their personalities the characters were going to be or because of the gender and BDSM stereotypes and braindumps. Most of all though, I was deeply troubled that Wyatt's (suspected) alcoholism and PTSD was not being addressed. Especially the alcohol. When the alcohol issue was addressed, I didn't feel that there was much sensitivity about how alcoholism is an illness. Michelle's reactions to Wyatt were very emotive, but then she was portrayed as over-reacting and that she should have trusted Wyatt. I know that a sit-down rational conversation is highly frowned upon in romancelandia, but this really did warrant one. Similarly, I really felt that it takes more than a stroke on the back and a guard dog to deal with PTSD. Clearly the series is going to explore Wyatt's problems more (or I hope it is) and I hope that part (not the whole of course) of that will be how submission can help him, kind of integrate the plots together a bit. Dogs too of course.

At the beginning of the book, Michelle took on the role of Wyatt's carer, but ended up being a bit pathetic and indulging in her own woes. Wyatt signed up to be her submissive but only ever seemed to want to dominate her (and she's not averse to the idea).
***End spoilers***

A brilliant premise, executed in a cookie cutter M/f gender stereotyped way.  Really, a book that takes on so much (PTSD, femdom, BDSM, small-town America) and struggles to tie together the different elements.

It's really admirable that this book is pushing at the boundaries of what is considered erotica/femdom/BDSM. Moving beyond 'femdom is bitches in leather' and towards 'femdom can be just what a strong female character and an alpha male character need' is good. It's progress. But this is part of a vanguard of these sorts of books and so there are inevitable tensions and problems. I think we'll see more like this, hopefully from this author and others, which will get better every time.


May 6, 2013

Review: Beyond Temptation by Lisette Ashton

The tag line is: there's only so much frustration a girl can take. I couldn't agree more.

I was attracted to Beyond Temptation as I'd had a good experience with femdom labelled books from the publisher, Mischief (aka Harper Collins). The period look of the cover suggested to me that it was set in 1930s, or similar. Actually it's mainly set in present day Scotland. Bit of a let down. Anyhow, the plot.

There are several plot lines that come (alright, cum) together at Manor. This means quite a lot of switching around of third person pov and it made it difficult to keep track of. There are also about six million characters and they have a lot of sex. With so many characters, it was difficult to get to the point of really feeling for any of them. Or understanding them.

The story also tried to pack in a fair amount of convoluted plot. It was a bit overwhelming. Half the interest in the plot (as opposed to the erotica) is driven by a ex-lover of Amelia and Yale, who is she who must not be named (SWMNBN) so that it can create suspense in the plot. It would work if it wasn't pretty obvious who SWMNBN was. The other bit of plot is Robyn and Harold, owners of an art magazine - Art (good name eh?!). Harold says that he's fed up with their open marriage and issues Robyn with an ultimatum - stop fucking other men, or he'll divorce her. Since Harold sounds like an prat, I'm never quite clear why she would actually want to stay married to him. Harold certainly doesn't - he actually wants to marry his secretary Sheridan, who is a rebellious but virginal pain in the ass.

Robyn goes to blah manor to get some space. She's followed by Yale and his devotees, who barge in and create erotic chaos. Robyn is trying to be faithful, but Yale won't back off. There's combinations of nearly all the characters in some sort of clinch, at some point. Some of the sex is good, some of it is so-so, other bits are bordering on rapetastic. There's certainly very dubious consent where Robyn/Dominic/Yale/Amelia are concerned.

The leading women in the book are actually quite interesting characters. Sheridan is totally immoral, using and manipulating men and women alike. She's smart, but makes stupid impulsive decisions, which are not really in character. Robyn is okay at first, teasing the men she wants and demanding what she likes. Amelia is good too, a sadistic Domme who takes out her pain on others.

However, they all are totally spineless when it comes to erotic artist Yale.  They worship at the mighty wang of Yale. They let him do whatever he wants and he's unreasonable and dictatorial. To complete strangers. This Alphahole behavior spoils the whole book for me. He's a complete asshole. I guess a lot of people love that arrogant artist trope, but it's really a turn off for me.

The other problem for me is that the motivations for the people in this novel are paper thin - they rely on most characters being really dumb and overly emotional. Pretty much irrational. Yale is supposed to love the Manor sooooo much. It's never clear why. He's in love with Angelica but still totally hung up about SWMNBN. Angelica was SWMNBN's submissive and is possibly still in love with her and is also in love with Yale. She's a dominant to the two submissives, but for Yale's mighty wang, she's submissive. The two submissives are just foils to show that Angelica isn't a 'real' domme, she's just mean and bossy (or something, they don't like to take orders from her) unlike Yale who is a real Dom TM.

I enjoyed the bits where Amelia was domming, but otherwise the pervasive mighty dickhead that was Yale and Yale worshiping was rather dull and frustrating. I wanted more Amelia. It's a short novel and there's not much space for character development, there's quite a lot of contrived plot sooo many characters.

In summary, there's lots going on. If you like complicated menage with super horny people all round, with convoluted plots and machinations then this might be for you. I found it very frustrating - I never understood enough about any of the characters to see what motivated them (beyond sex, obviously) and it skipped around between all the characters so much, I never really engaged with it. Except to shout at Yale. Arrogant rapey dickhead. I wanted Amelia to put him in his place, but she turned out as idiotic as the rest of them.

It sort of classes as femdom as Amelia is dominant most of the time and when the female characters aren't around Yale, they're pretty strong. But as a whole, there was much too much of Yale (did I mention that I didn't like him?) and male dominance with an undertone of rape for this to be particularly enjoyable.