As with my last anthology review…I’m sticking with the “top ten” format – that way I can keep the review as positive as possible (always best to look at things on the bright side, or so they say), the idea being to focus on what is best about the collection…since the things that annoy me usually don’t bother other people (I missed my calling as a hard-nosed, bitchy editress) – and if they annoy you…well, I don’t want to take all the fun out of finding those little tidbits – and I certainly don’t want to encourage you away from reading it.
Alright, now that I have the legal disclaimer out of the way (maybe I should put it in tiny print and move it to the bottom), on with the review…
What I love most about a well-constructed “sexy story” anthology is that there’s theoretically something for everyone between the covers. No two stories should bare too much (if any) similarity, and the topics, characters, and events should push a plethora of boundaries.
This little number, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (a Cleis Press favorite), does measure up in these regards. And while not every story blew a breeze up my skirt, the ones that did made the book well worth the price ($15.95) . After all, this is a book you wouldn’t want to keep to yourself – and even if you did, you’d probably read it more than once, folding down pages and marking particular “activities” you’d like to try.
For the most part, these stories seem written for an audience with any level of knowledge of BDSM. Some of the stories are sort of sweet and romantic, others are pretty hardcore.
Starting from the beginning, in order of their appearance in the table of contents – these are the stories that caught my eye (and, let’s be honest, made my panties wet):
1) “Coffee Break” by Kristina Wright (I’m really loving this woman as an editor and a writer)
I wait for him to call with the impatience of a hungry cat….
Instructions from a Dom can be exhilarating, challenging, even downright scary. In this story, the main character, sitting in a coffee shop, is given instructions to put herself on very public display in a manner that clearly pushes her boundaries. But she muses…
I say yes to everything he wants because I know I’m really saying yes to myself…
Some stories catch my interest because of their craft, others because of their emotion, and others–like this one–purely for the premise. This is one of those fantasy pieces that I would love to have really happen to me – IN MY MIND – but never in real life (I’m sure some people would). Reading it lets me experience it in a safe way. Plus, let’s be honest…this story just turned me on.
2) “The Letter” by Tiffany Reisz
The fear of having someone else find out your hidden desires, especially if you feel they are odd or outside the norm can be intense. This story explores the question: How do you tell someone you need to be owned? The main character takes the road I would…she writes a letter and sends it. But the letter isn’t an explanation…it’s a story – an analogy for what she wants most from him.
Naked, she waited on the bed…knees to her chest, arms around her shins, head bowed and eyes closed. As instructed. As always.
I have to admit, I was a bit put off by the “people like us” angle of this story – the concept that somehow people who enjoy BDSM are weird or have some sort of scary, contagious disease that must be explained in secret with a tinge of shame. And there was one rather glaring editing error…but overall, the story in the letter and the idea of sending one’s erotic wished via story was satisfying.
3) “Run, Baby, Run” by Vida Bailey
Oh, the joys of sex in the confines of family dynamic. Make a bit more complex by adding “alternative” needs to the mix. This story has a playfulness that really drew me in…right from the beginning. That parental “we know something you don’t” wordless language that keeps a couple’s sex life secret from the wee ones, made this tale quite realistic. This story puts a sexy spin on the childhood game of tag…imagine waking up in the middle of the night to a note on his side of the bed that simply advised you to Make for the trees…and then running, like hunted prey, through the darkness, not knowing when or where the predator might strike.
This one truly increased my heart rate. My only qualm is the jarring addition of back-story. It’s hard, in a really short piece, to go into much detail on the characters’ pasts, but in this story, I can honestly say, it just isn’t necessary. Besides, the back-story that is there (one paragraph) is interesting enough that I would rather see it fleshed out or left out. This story definitely is the seed of a novella or full-length piece – and I’d love for the author to explore the possibility.
4) “Safe, Sane and Consensual” by Ariel Graham (couldn’t find a website for this author)
Laugh. Out. Loud. That’s what I did through this whole story. The dialogue is wonderful, so well done I felt like I could hear the characters speaking. And the situation is one that so many could relate to.
Ever had a parent try to control things…even after you were married? Ever had to stand up to them and tell them to butt out or stop treating you like a child?
This story uses the D/s angle to show how it can empower the submissive, making him/her stronger and more confident, capable of standing up to the most formidable forces…even an overbearing mother.
And the humor and voice is just delightful. Truly one of my favorite stories in the anthology…I found myself reading parts out loud to my husband just because they made me giggle.
5) “Breath” by Mollena Williams
The man I serve is not the Prince Charming of my childhood fantasies. Neither is he the dominant I conjured up from my fevered imaginings once I uncovered the buried bunker that was my submissive self.
Breath play. It isn’t something I can imagine myself ever being involved in. But, this story makes the desire for it completely understandable. The author puts the reader in the scene, detailing every sense and emotion the character feels while she is being deprived of air.
This is also the first story in a short series that captured my admiration if for no other reason than craft. Basically, story aside, Williams is just a damn good writer. Her vocabulary is extensive and her descriptive ability is enviable…
…pushing me to the place where speech becomes and eel in my mouth and can’t quite manage words, stuttering and spitting syllables…
…I wasn’t even trying to pretend the ecstasy and he surreal glossolalia were due to anything but unrelenting pain and protracted torment at the hands of someone I trusted completely…
…the heat of his gaze as he took in my acquiescence, my submission to this torment, suffused me, his energy surging even as mine ebbed…
…Manifesting power to give control of my autonomous functions to another human being…and to do so voluntarily, to look into the eyes of another person and give him everything is a sweet emotional narcotic…
Honestly, this was so well-written and tight…not a wasted word or passage…not an extraneous detail in sight…that I found myself understanding the impetus for this kind of BDSM activity. In six pages of perfect erotic prose, she managed to make something that seemed utterly disdainful and weird (to me) sound poignantly sensual and romantic. Wow.
6) “Silver Fish in the Crystal Pool” by Gina Marie
After reading Gina’s bio, I found myself nodding. Pacific Northwesterner, photographer, poet…all of these show up in her writing. Her writing is dreamily poetic, relying heavily on metaphor and word choice, and her connection with nature is evident throughout.
He knows that the sun on my flesh is like food, that his lips against my blinded face and muted mouth are like fire that strokes my soul…
I can smell the molten core of my earth, bark and moss and spore, as it is lifted gently by the wind in the trees…
The drop of wetness on my thigh is now a rivulet, a cool little river of come leading from the mountains to the ocean…
I reach between my legs to feel it for myself, the quenched thirst of a thousand sunflowers blooming in the desert…
Maybe that’s why I found the last two paragraphs, discussing this all over dinner at a steakhouse, a bit clunky.
7) “The Secret of Time Travel” by Jacqueline Applebee
I could write an essay-length literary analysis on this one, it is so packed with style and craft to explore…some quite possibly unintentional, but nevertheless present.
The story deals in memory as time travel, and it is written in bits going from present to past and back again…pulling the reader through time quickly – keeping us deliciously disoriented and at her story-telling mercy.
But the story also explores age and age-play as a dynamic of “time travel”.
Time travel goes in two directions for us. When I regress, become little and sweet, my lover grows stern and domineering…
The story is a beautifully-crafted masterpiece of perspective, leading the reader through time in a unique and satisfying way.
8) “Bared” by Gray Miller
Animal lust and a primitive need to dominate and be dominated are central themes in this story. There is an overtone, from the beginning, of dangerous seriousness.
It is dark. There is no subtle mood lighting, no moonlight, no sharp diagonal streetlight cast on the wall through a slitted shade.
Romance is absent. This is all about two bodies meeting in almost war-like fashion, hungry and tense.
He bites hard, harder, more than most could take, but she is feral and a growl rises from deep in her throat. It escalates into a throaty cry as her head flies back, teeth flashing as she drinks in the dark joy of the pain made pleasure.
But the story also makes clear something that is often misunderstood about D/s:
…while one is bound and one is naked, one thrusting and one penetrated, they are equal opponents and collaborators, his temporary advantage quickly met by the eager press of her asscheeks up to meet every slam of his hips.
What I like most about this story is its “snapshot” quality. There is nothing beyond the moment. The reader is dropped into the scene and left to absorb it rather than think about it. Very darkly sensual, and very sexually satisfying.