Sunday, May 22, 2016

Review of "Phantom: The Immortal" by Mitzi Szereto and Ashley Lister

Phantom:The Immortal is a slick piece of light erotic entertainment, playing out with a certain pulpish predictability, yet competently crafted and consistently enjoyable—beach readers take note! Mitzi Szereto and Ashley Lister’s stylishly steamy homage to The Phantom of the Opera at last brings the sexy essence of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 Gothic potboiler overtly to the surface in a way no other previous adaptation has dared—and it’s about damned time, too!

There have been so many versions of this story over the last hundred years: from the 1925 silent-film classic with Lon Chaney Sr. to the 1943 Claude Rains vehicle, and the 1962 Hammer films production, not to mention that giant, cloying, sugary “musical” detumescence of Andrew Lloyd What-the-Fu—sorry, I just threw up in my mouth.

All these versions treat the heroine as a kind of damsel in distress, a virginally un-self-aware airhead to be menaced by the Phantom and rescued by the handsome hero. And, one has to admit, titillation—far more than redemption—has always been a big part of this story’s appeal, the seething undercurrent of sex, bubbling sluggishly just beneath the action, calls to something in the deep subbasement of our psyche. We want—whether we’re willing to admit it or not—to see Beauty stripped naked before the horny Beast; we want—oh please!—to see Julie Adams carried off to the lung-man’s lair beneath the Black Lagoon to be shown how it’s done, her screams of terror turning to cries of salacious delight; and we really really want Christine to toss aside all that prissy vestal-virgin-on-a-pedestal pretense, and get jiggy with the Phantom. At least in this latter instance, readers can at last be satisfied.

She found herself staring at his lips. She wished she could lean forward over the table to catch them between her own, drawing them into her mouth and tasting the wine on his tongue. She wondered how they would feel against her skin, where he would kiss her, and if he would kiss her in that special place she most wanted to be kissed. She imagined him parting her thighs, his breath a hot mist against her folds.

Classic grand opera—what we automatically imagine when we think of opera—is, in essence, a ritual of elaborately sublimated eroticism. Sex is always—always—the dark singularity around which the story takes shape, from Massanet’s Thaïs and Bizet’s Carmen to Bellini’s La Sonnambula and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde all the way to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly to Berg’s Wozzeck and Hindemith’s explicit, hyper-erotic Sancta Susana. Gounod’s Faust, is certainly no exception, grand opera at its most grandiose, chastity is not one of its virtues; Faust’s satanically-assisted seduction of the pure Marguerite is central to the whole vast elaborate undertaking, and it was not by chance that Leroux (and, by extension, Szereto and Lister) employed Faust as the scaffolded superstructure of their story.

Phantom: The Immortal mines the melodrama of the source material for all it’s worth, yet never strays too far from its more down-to-earth erotic ambitions:

“This is how you make me feel. That’s what I’m trying to show you.”

He considered the remark and decided it was too obscure. Shaking his head, taking another sip from the brandy glass and drawing briefly on the cigar, he mumbled an apology. “I am sorry. I do not understand the connection.”

“You’re enjoying your favorite pleasures: the cognac and an Oscuro, yes?”


“You’re sexually excited, aren’t you?”

“I am pleased you noticed.”

When she next spoke, he could hear the delighted blush that colored her voice. “You’re enjoying those pleasures that make your life special. You’re enjoying the ultimate stimulation of your senses and your spirit, yet you’re still sitting in the dark.”

Understanding dawned on him, but, drawing again on the cigar, he said nothing.

She darted her tongue against the swollen dome of his glans. The teasing touch was so insubstantial it could have sprung from his imagination, but the gossamer lull of her breath told him it had come from a more substantial source. . .

Good, light, frothy, sexy diversion, not particularly deep or thought-provoking, this may yet open up a few long-locked synapses and set off a tingle or two. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Announcing new releases from TAS

A Song for the Girl with the Almond Eyes (A Novel)

Now available in paperback at:
coming soon to Barnes and Noble and all other retailers worldwide (on request).

E-book editions release Friday June 3, 2016
now available for pre-order at: 
Smashwords (all platforms)
(enter discount code QW79D on checkout to receive the special price of $1.50 (62 percent off).
This coupon will be good through August 1, 2016)

also available for pre-order at:
Amazon Kindle

Ben Bohring’s life gets interesting, taking a dark detour into obsession when he meets beautiful May-Lin Song during a summer week of teenage debauchery at a lakeside cabin. The vivacious young woman’s combination of classic Asian beauty and all-American attitude is more than Ben can resist, and he vows to have her some day in spite of the odds.

Ben’s quest propels him on a series of amorous, sometimes-violent misadventures, where unsettling secrets about the past are revealed and hard truths about the future learned at painful cost, ultimately leading to someone who may hold the key to questions that have haunted the young man his whole life.


newly revised and updated perma-free Smashwords editions

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Review of 'Blue' by L.N. Bey

There’s much to admire in Blue, L.N. Bey’s promising debut novel that draws its inspiration from some of the great classic BDSM narratives while remaining uniquely true to itself. An ambitious effort, the story is believably scaled, avoiding the credulity-straining grandiosity of so-much half-baked escapism, or the pretentious plot convolutions of would-be epics, which tend to collapse under the sprawling weight of their own inanity. Not that there isn’t a great deal of very imaginative, even fantastical storytelling here—this isn’t some drab novel of manners or cloyingly pointless foray into domestic realism—but everything here is decidedly to a purpose, and almost always to the point. The novelist seems to have learned the lesson some of her characters struggle with throughout the story: sometimes the greatest expressive freedom lies within a narrow set of well-defined limitations.

In essence, Blue is a novel about the pursuit of artistic vision, about the struggle to express one’s genuine self—or, perhaps more accurately, the search for a medium through which one may express that vision—be it film, photography, performance art, or, possibly. something a good deal more personal, subtly sensual and secret. The main characters, each in their own way, are driven by an ideal, and must find their own way ultimately to achieve that ideal.  

Young—thirtysomething—attractive, recently divorced, Janet has always been drawn to the stylized BDSM of ‘trashy’ erotic novels, though she remains hopelessly naïve about what goes on in real life, her experience of sex disappointingly vanilla and reflexively hetero-normative.  Her first introduction to the Lifestyle is not promising, and, yet, she is spurred on by curiosity, a disquieting realization that somewhere deep down, she got off on it,  was powerfully turned on in spite of the humiliation, aroused by the pain, but even more profoundly moved by a sense of belonging and at long last drawing near to knowing her place in the scheme of things.

In some ways, it’s possible to see Blue as a sort of sunny, secular reimagining of Pauline Réage’s  The Story of O—one of Bey’s cited inspirations. Where O’s introduction to bondage has the feel of a quasi-religious experience, a kind of mystagogic initiation into some ancient, esoteric mystery cult, Janet’s experience seems practically prosaic, almost commonplace in a world where very little remains to shock or scandalize. The action is transposed to the suburban American Midwest—the place feels very much like Kansas City, in fact—and there is an unassuming ordinariness about the characters and their settings. Yet, like O, Janet ultimately finds herself transformed to the very essence of her being, approaching an understanding of herself more complex and affirmative than even her most famously self-martyred predecessor.

None of this is to depreciate the novel as a work of erotic entertainment—far from it! When Janet meets Dmitri, an auteur of singular and disturbing vision, the results are nothing short of seismically arousing. (I do wish the author could have done more with these characters’ personal sexual  relationship.) Some effort has been made to add variety to the predictable patterns of power-exchange, which is not always an easy thing. Bey very skillfully explores the erotic possibilities of everyday activities, as when two men watching a basketball game, give a penitent slave a lash for each point scored—brilliant!—or a scene of abject humiliation beneath the gaze of security cameras in a liquor store.  And so much more!

The author avoids most of the pitfalls commonly besetting the frosh novelist, those tangent superfluities and preachy, self-indulgent digressions that are more about showing off one’s own cleverness than telling a great story. There is still a tendency towards excessive repetition, rehashing the same already-established plot points via the heroine’s seemingly endless fugue of self-doubt—a device right at home in a romance novel, but a tad tiresome here—and a few of the scenes feel like pale carbon-copies of each other—like déjà vu for the terminally incurious—although, this could be the author’s way of imbuing the narrative with a cyclic quality, rounding things off and tying it all together. I would have preferred more subtle recapitulations, and a good deal more variation throughout.  Some of the chapters were overlong and would probably benefit from being broken into two (or even three) shorter, more manageable units.

Still, not bad on balance. Not bad at all for a first try. The writing is assured, but never cocksure, the author’s vision broad but not overreaching. The story is sufficiently interesting to inspire curiosity about what happens next, the rising action is skillfully controlled with a clear sense of dramatic momentum, and the whole thing draws to a logically satisfactory, un-open-ended conclusion, without the pretentious promise (or would it be threat?) of an unnecessary sequel.

With a first novel like this, one can clearly look forward to great things in L.N. Bey’s future. In the meantime, Blue is recommended.