Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review of V. Moore's "Youthful Indiscretions" series: "Ten Reams", "Nude and Tattooed", "Illustrated Woman"

V. Moore and her generation should give us all hope for the future of humanity. A promising newcomer, this self-described alt-girl has re-choreographed the traditional mating dance for a new century, and while not exactly reinventing sex itself, brings a refreshing open-mindedness and casual maturity long lacking in many so-called “adult” discussions of the subject. Sex among today’s youth is not some tortured metaphor for life, nor is it some dirty little secret to be euphemized and talked around, set on some ineffably sacred pedestal, closeted, hidden or compartmentalized from the rest of existence. It is what it is, a normal aspect of being, seamlessly integrated into the fabric of everyday reality, to be spoken of as naturally as one speaks of the weather. This trio of short stories—surprisingly good, ultimately rewarding—offers a furtive glimpse into the erotic minds of contemporary twentysomethings—and we are the richer for being allowed to look.

Moore’s stories are understated, realistic, and straightforward. She effectively occupies the minds and bodies of her characters—both male and female—to reveal authentic emotion and internal conflict without resort to florid simile or pretentious homiletic asides. These three tales are loosely interconnected, populated by an extended circle of acquaintances, friends and lovers, easily referencing one another. Each story is a little slice of life, a sharply focused vignette depicting the most seemingly mundane moments of workaday life, mined for their erotic potential. A young man buying office supplies fantasizes about the cute clerk who waits on him (Ten Reams). Another guy waits nervously in a coffee shop for a meeting with his ex (Nude and Tattooed); and later, the ex gives us her side of the story Rashamon-like (Illustrated Woman).  


At its best, Moore’s writing is taut, weightless; unburdened by superfluous ornament. The narrative is succinct and well-organized, flowing with a pleasing natural rhythm. At times though, the texts are troubled with a number of glaring editorial flaws, and the careless bandying about of stale “porn-o-centric” clichés.  (Why must every mention of bodily parts come with the same gratuitous adjectives? Why repeatedly modify anatomical description with words like huge, long, fat, thick, round, throbbing, hot or wet? Why not allow the reader to use some imagination every once in a while?)  


Such easily-fixable concerns aside, after reading each story several times, I must confess myself thoroughly entertained, enlightened, impressed, and pleasantly turned on. Who could ask for better?


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review of Andre SanThomas' Sensual Submissions series

NOTE: The following reviews first appeared on Amazon in June of 2012. Thought they might be fun to revisit just in time for Valentine's Day 2013. Enjoy! TAS


Andre SanThomas is a talented writer with a decided gift for descriptive prose. She is rapidly establishing herself as one of the brightest new voices in erotic "crossover" fiction; combining elements from different--often seemingly disparate--genres to create new and interesting sensual fantasy worlds. Her excellent Realm of Janos series cleverly hybridizes High Fantasy and classic tales of bondage and submission. This title, Pursuit is the second entry in her contemporary Sensual Submissions series, an artful mélange of erotic romance and BDSM epic.

By all appearances, Garrett Wilkins is one of those romance-story demigods; older, magnetically attractive, über-wealthy and hyper-confident; a guy who always gets exactly what he wants, no questions asked. He sets his jaundiced eye on Botany, a struggling young college student, aimless, diffident, lovely, if vaguely rough around the edges. Garrett quickly insinuates himself into Botany's life, surprising and upsetting her with a dazzling gift--the sort of extravagant high-end bling she doesn't feel right accepting. Here, she tries returning it to her admirer, only to be seduced:

"Try it now. Let me just see it on you. Isn't that fair? I went to quite a bit of trouble to get it, don't I at least get to see if it's as perfect as I imagined?"

She was wavering. He pressed the button and the box opened in front of her. He picked it up delicately by the chain, holding it before her. "Try it for me Botany. Let me see if it measures up to your beauty or not."
He stood and came around her. Just like last night, she didn't protest, didn't pull away. He scooped her hair from the back of her neck, pushing it to the side. He draped the necklace against her throat, letting the fine stones rest against her sweater. He leaned close, his breath touching her skin. He brushed his fingers over the nape of her neck then secured the clasp. His touch lingered on her, teasing her before he whispered in her ear.
"You're a masterpiece, Botany. Don't ever forget it. I won't forget it. Ever."

Obviously, there's much to like and enjoy in this writing. SanThomas has an eye for the intimate, and the best parts of Pursuit are in its discrete episodes; individual scenes, interesting vignettes that feel like embryonic short stories; visits to a sex-toy shop, a bizarrely bespoke jewelry store, and a piercing salon; a wrestling match between two "subbies;" truly tantalizing. But beyond these lucid flashes of atmospheric brilliance, nothing really animates the narrative as a whole. It is as if a composer set out to write a full-length symphony with themes better suited to small-scale chamber music; a painter with far too broad a canvas and not enough variety in her palette to cover it convincingly. In fact, we are led to wonder if this aspiring novel might have worked better as a series of loosely interconnected short stories. As it is, there are some serious problems with structure, pacing, and characterization.

The novel adheres too rigidly to genre conventions, often at the expense of tension. Much of Pursuit is choreographed like a mainstream Romance; the girl playing coy; the guy trying to keep her off balance; it is the familiar ritual mating dance reduced to fossilized formula. Romance requires love; but here, love seems to come out of left field, almost as an afterthought, the heroine "talking herself into it" some four-fifths of the way into the book, and even then not wholly believable in the context of these people's relationship.

The characters themselves are robotic and one dimensional, shallow constructs; their roles rigidly defined by genre archetype-casting; their psychologies superficial and largely unexplored. Garrett is a selfish a-hole; but even a-holes have some self-doubt from time to time; some inner conflict; some redeeming contradiction and paradox to lend depth and interest. (If not, what we have is a sociopath to whom no self-respecting woman would ever willingly submit. Just because you play at BDSM, doesn't mean you're sick or perverted!) And if Garrett always gets everything he wants, using his wealth to overcome any and all obstacles while Botany's submission is inevitable; where's the story?

Botany is too weak a character to be an effective foil for Garrett; she is often too passive; too easily dominated; too willing to go along with whatever her "master" demands, even when he is overtly sadistic and uncaring beyond the definition of their game. In retrospect, the seduction is too easy, too pat; drained of drama. Where's the uncertainty that makes the tale worth telling--that compels readers to keep turning pages? Where's the conflict--the pursuit?

And where are these characters' backstories? We are told little of Garrett's past beyond a few of his own disparaging references to an ex-trophy wife and a disappointing daughter. In fact, forty per cent of the way into the book, we know more about his servant's home life and backgrounds than we do of his. (The weirdly casual, almost incestuous relationship he has with the servants tends to strain credulity. How did such a relationship develop?) What, beyond his fabulous wealth, formed his rather banal, predictable tastes? If Botany has dreams, we don't learn about them until near the end of the story, and by then, they seem to have appeared spontaneously out of nowhere, glued on like craft-store glitter. What is her "ruling passion" (as James N. Frey would call it); her central motivation; the thing she truly wants? For far too long, we simply don't know--and that's a problem.

This story could have benefitted from more overt action beyond the bedroom and the dungeon. There were several intriguing missed opportunities for dramatic story-telling. If Garrett is portrayed as such a controlling jerk, why isn't he also jealous? I kept wishing for a good fist fight to break out over some misunderstanding about who is and isn't allowed to touch or talk to Botany; but the green-eyed monster never reared its head--not once. Alas.

In sum; not a terrible or bad book; but it could have been considerably better. Andre SanThomas clearly has the talent to do something better--even brilliant, and I sincerely hope she will with her next offering.


With Driven, Andre SanThomas has given her fans an interesting new world to explore, populated with realistic, recognizably modern characters. Another clever mash-up of genres; this one melds contemporary romance with BDSM epic, and does it quite successfully for the most part.

SanThomas' language is, as always, lovely and evocative, a considerable cut above the dismal norm of so much recent erotic writing. Here's a good example, taken from her first chapter

Honestly, he didn't think such things were real. Greg assured him they were though and now here was the proof. The house was a mansion secluded with security gates and gorgeous landscaping, trickled over the hillside with spectacular views. It rose two stories in the front with a huge picture window perfectly situated to take advantage of (the) beauty of nature. Instead, tonight at least, the naked beauty of nature was on the other side, held in a web of hemp and illuminated by the spotlights hidden in the foliage.

The two well-drawn main characters are likeable and sexy, engaging and believable. Cerena is a magnificent creature, imbued with beauty, verve and humor; a willing submissive, but never a pushover. She embodies the spirit of the ancient Greek hetaera, the Japanese geisha, and the Gorian slave girl, all in one delightfully vivacious package. For Cerena, the thrill of bondage and submission is the comfort of unconditional belonging, the certainty that transcends pain.

Alec, Cerena's lover and a first-time "master," is portrayed with just the right amount of self-doubt and uncertainty. He is the kind of sensitive, romantically-inclined male many women claim to look for in a relationship; and he must overcome his doubts; his reticence; his initial reluctance to inflict "loving pain" on the woman he adores, even as she begs him for it.

So what happens to these people--apart from their having a lot of fantastic, mind-blowing sex, that is? A good novelist gets her characters into trouble early and often. Throw a villain into the mix, and we have the makings of an intriguing dramatic plot. The first inkling of conflict comes at exactly the right moment in the story. The villain, Cerena's loutish ex-master, Hal, wants her back. His off-stage machinations cast a shadow between the two lovers, and haunts them throughout the story.

Unfortunately, the villain is more talked about than seen; we are told a great deal about what a lousy excuse for a human being Hal is, but seldom shown how in terms of real action. This almost feels like gossiping behind someone's back--a guilty pleasure, to be sure, but lacking the more satisfying adrenaline rush of direct confrontation. The author's consistent use of a third-person-limited point of view works well when alternating between the two main characters--avoiding the common pitfall of "head hopping"--but does, in fact, limit our understanding of the other characters. We never get into Hal's head, and that could be incredibly interesting or unbelievably scary and probably both. Instead, we miss out on a great deal of potential insight.

Readers might also benefit from more backstory in order to understand the events and motivations leading up to the climax of the novel. Again, we are "told" that Cerena's family disapproves of her lifestyle, but there's not enough detail or substance in these oblique references to make what happens seem wholly plausible in the end. Characters have a tendency to pop up as needed, whack-a-mole-like out of nowhere; but it would have been so much more suspenseful to have seen them coming from at least a little ways off. Far too many interesting things seem to occur out of sight, ultimately related to the reader as hearsay, and explained after the fact.

Still, all things considered, this is a fine effort and well worth a look. As with all her previous titles, Andre SanThomas' Driven is cleverly imagined and deftly written, helping to fill a new and growing niche in contemporary erotic fiction. Her fans will not be disappointed, and this might very probably gain her a few new ones as well.