Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review of 'Hotel: A Literary Erotica Anthology' (ed. Megan Lewis)

The second of three themed anthologies released this year by Minnesota-based Mugwump Press, Hotel features some splendid writing, if not always the most imaginative storytelling. But then, it had a pretty tough act to follow: coming right on the heels of editor Megan Lewis’ brilliant Wanderlust—one of the finest erotica anthologies of recent memory—this new endeavor often lacks the lyric effervescence and  imaginative variety of the earlier title, never mind that many of the same authors are featured in both collections. The thirteen stories in Hotel run an uneven gamut from the scintillating to the mediocre, though all are more-than-competently written. The problem seems to be one of creeping sameness in narrative attitude, scenario and style—a pitfall, one suspects, of the essential requirement that every story be set in a hotel of one sort or another.

Granted, there’s a lot of latitude within this stricture, and, for the most part, this group of authors rises to the challenge with more than sullen resignation. Along the way readers are treated to just about everything from the seedy to the posh: satin-sheeted rendezvous in high-end penthouse love nests to hardboiled rough play on moth-eaten mattresses in fetid hourly-rate hookup holes. Rustic inns, far, far from the madding crowd, flaunting their quaint historically-themed charms, to lonesome roadside dumps in deserts where nothing human ought to be, boutique auberges trading in discretion, and gaudy urban palaces, oozing bright flashing-neon excess. Yet, there’s something about hotel rooms themselves that seems to breed cynicism and ennui in otherwise perfectly well-adjusted human beings; the most ordinary and indifferent of spaces—describe one and you’ve likely described thousands just like it—stubbornly defies poetry. In the end, it has to be the characters that make these stories memorable, their desires, hopes, dreams, conflicts, that which gives the narrative true depth and color.  No setting--no matter how exotic or colorful--can save an uninteresting character. 

This being said, there are some truly outstanding stories here: Valerie Alexander’s scintillating genderqueer fantasy Zero Gravity, and Arden Ellis’ gritty and gorgeously written f/f Grey Bar Motel in which a pair of bank robbers hide out in a desert dump as they consider their next move—a superb study in character dynamic and psychology:  T.C. Mill’s effectively atmospheric f/f My Body is a Haunted House, describing the encounter between two women with nothing in common but a man they once knew, after the man’s funeral, and Reiver Scott’s heart-wrenching The Witching Place in which a selfish Dom is forced to see himself through the eyes of the woman he thought was his perfect sub.

Also of note:  J.S. Emuakpor’s At the Crossroads conjures orgiastic and terrifying images in an ostensibly abandoned hotel somewhere in the California desert—a liminal space where vengeful gods may lurk: Parker Marlo’s lyrically noirish Easter 1992:  Zac Blue’s Rolling the Die in which anticipated retribution comes in the most pleasantly unexpected of ways: Rhidian Brenig Jones’ m/m/m Tricks of the Trade where a pair of male escorts service a wealthy client, the only opportunity one of the rent boys has to fulfill his hopeless love-born fantasy of being with his professional colleague: Sara Dobie Bauer’s Breathing Underwater, movie stars encounter in a hotel pool, and  In the Long Nights of Our Never Enough—great title!—by Christian Fennell, a lyrical description of a beautiful woman’s first outing as a high-class escort.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review of 'archetypal' erotica by Samantha McCleod, Emmanuelle de Maupassant and Janine Ashbless

Death and Beauty by Samantha McCleod
Viking Thunder by Emmanuelle de Maupassant
Named and Shamed by Janine Ashbless

I am a sucker for the archetypal, erotic stories grounded in myth, legend, fairytale and folksong. High Fantasy, sword and sorcery, well-researched historical saga; give me something skillfully written, cleverly conceived, subtly executed, and I will be your purring lap cat for an hour or so. Tell me a story in a way no one else has. Turn me on with the force of your imagination. Make love to me with your words. Dazzle me, dammit!

Here are three titles, recently read, that hit my ever-moving sweet spot with uncanny precision. Samantha McCleod’s Death and Beauty and Emmanuelle de Maupassant’s Viking Thunder both appeared earlier this year, while Janine Ashbless’ magnificent Named and Shamed from 2012 has by now attained the status of an erotic classic. All three are superbly written.

Death and Beauty tells the story of what happened to the Norse god Baldir after his death. First of the Aesir to die, the god is bewildered to find himself in Nieflhel, the realm reserved for the ordinary dead, those mortals who do not fall gloriously in battle or spend eternity feasting and fighting in Valhalla. Surely, there’s been some kind of mistake? Baldir sets out to confront Hel, the infamous goddess of the dead who appears to her subjects half living flesh, half rotting corpse. An unlikely scenario for a sweet erotic romance, but McCleod makes it work with surprising skill. There’s plenty of humor to go with the sex, and a great deal of humanity to set this apart from the average mindless romp. This is a fun, fast read, and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant’s Viking Thunder is an exquisite piece of writing by any standard, imaginative historical fiction at its finest, and one of the sexiest tales I’ve had the pleasure to read in—ever. Told from the point of view of Elswyth, a young Anglo-Saxon woman, promptly made a widow when a band of Northmen raid her village, this is a clash-of-cultures story enlivened by lots of deliciously lurid action, pillage, fire, and, yes, rape--treated with appropriate gravity. Elswyth, not ungrateful to be rid of her feckless husband, quickly catches the eye of the Viking leader, Eirik, and is befriended by the shield maiden Helka, Eirik’s sister who functions as interpreter, cultural go-between and a counterbalance of quiet reason to her brother’s fiercely impulsive nature. Yet, more than mere escapist adventure, Viking Thunder has its thoughtful moments, too, a bit of comparative theology and myth, reflection on love, fate and destiny, cheek by jowl with unapologetically explicit descriptions of sex, heady as the sweetest mead. First in a yet another series from the remarkably prolific Emmanuelle de Maupassant, I, for one, can hardly wait for more. Highly recommended!

Janine Ashbless’ Named and Shamed is a relentless, orgiastic tour de force, a groaning board of pansexual delight unencumbered by the sort of repetition or slacking off in intensity that dooms so many full-length erotic novels. Drawing broad inspiration from Gaelic folklore and pagan myth, the story begins with the theft of a priceless imaginary manuscript, the unexpurgated first draft of Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market, obtained through a cynical act of seduction. In order to return the manuscript without drawing the bloody ire of its owner, Tansy, the reluctant heroine, must seek out the help of a “thing that looks like a man, but wasn’t,” one of the shadowy preternatural entities collectively known as Them There. Of course, the demon’s assistance comes with a sexy price, seemingly pleasant to pay, before its sinister after-effects become apparent. Tansy becomes insatiable, and none too picky about her partners along the way to finding an antidote to her raging nymphomania.  Sex of practically every variety and permutation is described in exuberant detail, whether with a group of horny auto mechanics in a greasy garage, or with just about every mythical creature populating the dark corners of the human imagination—a scene with a randy troll under a bridge is particularly memorable.

Illustrated with a series of captivating line drawings by John LaChatte, Named and Shamed is an essential addition to any library of classic modern erotica. Print copies are increasingly difficult to find with the recent demise of the original publisher, but, as of this writing, the novel was still readily available with the illustrations in a Kindle edition. Highly recommended!