Danika reviews Macho Sluts by Patrick Califia

Macho Sluts is a book that apparently needs a lot of introduction: 75 pages of it out of the 400 page book. It makes sense, though, because a lot of the appeal and importance of Macho Sluts comes from the reaction to it. It was originally published in the 80s, during the feminist sex wars. BDSM was seen as a patriarchal power display, and something lesbians just didn’t do. Macho Sluts inspired a lot of outrage, but it also just kept selling.

Its role making lesbian BDSM visible is important enough, but it became even more pivotal when the book was imported into Canada. Little Sister’s Bookstore, a gay and lesbian bookstore still in business today, kept ordering the book and kept having it stopped at the border for being obscene. This meant that any shipment with Macho Sluts in it was delayed or even destroyed. But the thing that makes it interesting is that Little Sister’s kept defending Macho Sluts by saying it had literary value. And after long arguments with Customs, they had to agree and release the shipment–if it hadn’t been destroyed. Except that every time Little Sister’s tried to get the book again, it was stopped at the border again, and they had to go through the same argument. They couldn’t just refer to their last decision; they had to start all over. Meanwhile, non-queer bookstores that ordered Macho Sluts would be able to get the book just fine. Other books were given the same treatment. (If you’ve ever seen the movie Better Than Chocolate, Ten Percent Books is based on Little Sister’s.) Little Sister’s took Customs to court for discrimination, and it went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Little Sister’s won. It was a landmark decision and has a big place in queer history, especially Canadian queer history. Macho Sluts played a big role because it showed that porn could be literary, and that complicated things. It’s not a big surprise that Little Sister’s decided to republish it as a Little Sister’s classic with that background.

As well as explaining the historical relevance (and the author’s transition from initially publishing Macho Sluts as Pat Califia, now Patrick Califia), the introductions also stress two major points about the book: 1) it is well-written and 2) it is probably too intense for you and it’s okay if you need to put it down and not read any further. After 75 pages of this, it gives the actual stories a lot to live up to. On the first point, I can definitely see that the stories are well-written, especially by porn standards. Characters have personalities and outside lives. Sentences flow well. Califia says in his introduction how important good writing and editing is to him, and because this was stressed so much in the introductions, I was a little disappointed to find a few typos. That’s a pretty minor quibble, though.

[trigger warning for rape and incest, this paragraph only] As for the intensity, however, Macho Sluts does not disappoint. Califia states in his introduction that he did not bother to try to make BDSM seem safe or approachable. One story features an incestuous possibly pedophilic family (I thought it was pretty clearly pedophilia, but the transcript of Califia in court says that he intended it to be between people after the age of consent). Another features what appears to be (male) police rape of a lesbian. Another story, “The Calyx of Isis”, is described in the On Our Backs review as leaving the reader exhausted, not turned on. I’m used to erotica, including BDSM erotica, starting strong but then ending when, in my opinion, it had only just gotten started. I can’t imagine anyone finishing “Calyx of Isis” thinking there should have been more. I felt worn out when I thought the story was wrapping up, and then realized there were only taking a break. Personally, I disagree with On Our Backs in that I don’t think it’s a failing, but it is definitely an epic of a erotica story.

Macho Sluts is from the 80s, and there are a few descriptions that date it, but it ages well. If you’re looking for lesbian BDSM, or a little more background in queer literary history, or even just a book to expand your mind by making you a bit uncomfortable–because no matter who you are, there is likely at least one part of Macho Sluts to make you uncomfortable–I definitely recommend picking up Macho Sluts.

Danika reviews Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica edited by Sinclair Sexsmith

I had high hopes for this collection, and I am very happy to say that it lived up to them! In any anthology, the thing I’m most looking for is consistent quality of writing. Every collection will have some I like more and some I like less, but that should be because of personal taste, not because the writing was sub-par. Say Pleasewas obviously very carefully put together. The stories definitely show a higher standard of writing than I’m used to in erotica collections. They also show a range, from light BDSM to heavier stuff. The relationships are loving and committed, completely fleeting, or in between.

In a conversation on Lambda Literary, Sinclair Sexsmith admits that this collection is labelled “lesbian” BDSM erotica for marketing purposes and that she considers the collection queer, and that she is seeking to broaden the definition of “lesbian” for collections like this. (I can definitely empathize with this–I chafe at calling this a “lesbian book blog” and in name excluding lots of people I want to include, but I can’t find a better word.) There is definitely a lot of gender dynamics at work in Say Please. One of my favorites was “Strong” by Xan West, which features a trans butch dom and a genderqueer sub that switches between playing girl and playing boy in a scene. As Sexsmith mentioned on Autostraddle, this collection is reflective of her taste. There is a lot of strap on use in Say Please: the vast majority of stories use one. There are also a couple “Daddy” stories, as well.

One of notes I kept writing while reviewing this book was “So short!” The majority of the stories show a very small section of time. As much as I was left wanting to see more from some stories, I appreciate it overall, because many erotica stories overreach and end up losing my interest. Luckily, lots of the stories are very succinct in establishing a relationship dynamic and personalities between the people involved. “Going the Distance” by Elaine Miller was another one of my favorites because I immediately enjoyed the playful relationships that so clearly shone through in such a short space.

Probably my favorite story, however, was written by the editor herself (“Not Without Permission”). Again, the small details quickly contextualize this night in the rest of their lives.

I really enjoyed this collection. I ended up reading it almost in one sitting in order to have this review up in time for the blog tour, and I don’t exactly recommend it. My partner said I had a “contact BDSM high… without the contact.” You end up vicariously experiencing all of these scenes. It was a little overwhelming, but definitely not unpleasant.

Check out what other people have said about Say Please on their blog tour! Link are listed below.

April 1      Say Please release party in SF
April 1 Viviane http://www.thesexcarnival.com
April 3 Rachel Kramer Bussel http://lustylady.blogspot.com
April 4 Giselle Renard http://donutsdesires.blogspot.com
April 5 Evoe Throw http://www.wholesexlife.com
April 6 Liz http://AlphaHarlot.com
April 9 Roma Mafia http://www.romamafia.com
April 9 Daniela http://www.thecsph.org
April 10 Official release date! Sinclair http://www.sugarbutch.net
April 11 Dede / deviantdyke http://deviantdyke.blogspot.com/
April 12 Helena Swann http://www.cuntext.com
April 13 Kim Herbel http://www.butchlesque.com
April 13   Say Please release party in NYC
April 14 Lily Lloyd http://theblackleatherbelt.com
April 15 Kelli Dunham http://www.kellidunham.com
April 16 Lyzanne http://sexpositive.tumblr.com/
April 17 Lula Lisbon http://www.lulalisbon.com
April 18 Ali Oh http://www.madeofwords.com
April 19 Jameson http://www.ftmbutchdude.com
April 20 Rhys http://girlfriendjunction.org
April 21 Charlie Ninja http://charlieninja.tumblr.com/
April 22    Say Please release party in Boston
April 22 Meredith Guy http://meridithguy.tumblr.com
April 23 Wendi Kali http://astrangerinthisplace.blogspot.com
April 24 Lolita Wolf http://leatheryenta.com
April 25 Audrey at Babeland http://babeland.com/blog
April 26 Seth B http://smokebellyscorner.wordpress.com
April 27 Danika http://www.lesbrary.com
April 28 DL King http://dlkingerotica.blogspot.com
April 29 Kiki http://kikidelovely.wordpress.com
April 29 Kyle http://www.butchtastic.com

Maryam reviews Sugar & Spice edited by Mira Paul

Winter break is over and it is back to school for me! And what better to distract me from the winter cold and an endlessly busy schedule than some BDSM fiction? Well, it beats dong homework(no pun intended).

Sugar & Spice is an S&M anthology edited by Mira Paul. I took Danika’s advice and saved the first story, Elizabeth Thorne’s ‘Nothing Like the Sun’, for last. I’m glad I did; it is clearly the most well-written vignette in the whole book. The other stories are entertaining, but don’t hold up to the caliber of ‘Nothing Like the Sun’; my other favorite was ‘Für Elise’ by Maggie Morton, about a first-time sub – there was the great dichotomy of being the top throughout other aspects of the relationship but subbing to a femme girlfriend, and the characters were very tender and real. There were some stories where I could just not suspend my disbelief – San Francisco Sex University?!?! – and while I loved the D.E.B.S-esque ‘Enforcement’ by Dorla Moorehouse, I caught a continuity error(You can’t spank a satin-covered ass when you JUST explained she got her THONG pushed out of the way, come on!) Not the greatest set of stories, but an entertaining read for sure, especially if you have a weird sense of humor like I do and can’t help laughing at dialogue like “Would you kindly prep the anal beads?”

Kristi reviews The Collectors by Lesley Gowan

Laura has a passion for collecting BDSM lesbian erotica. That passion also extends to her fantasy of becoming a real submissive. She never believed there was a way to translate her desires into real life, until her classmate Adele introduces Laura to her mistress, Jeanne. Laura finds herself a willing, if inquisitive, submissive to Jeanne and is transported to to a new level of sensual bondage, both emotional and physical. Yet while Jeanne shares Laura’s passions for art and sex, Adele is not willing to share her mistress with Laura. As Adele’s jealousy and anger spread through Jeanne’s organization, can Laura find a secure place in this erotic world?

Lesley Gowan’s The Collectors has a good premise: a fantasy-turned-reality erotic relationship. Laura desires the worlds she reads about in her BDSM erotica, and when she finds a way to meet a real mistress through her friend Adele, she takes her up on it and never really looks back. Driven by desire for a dominant, and for Jeanne herself, Laura insinuates herself between Adele and Jeanne as she accepts more and more advanced instruction.

This is the point where I start to fall out of the story. While Laura is an obvious novice, her incessant inquires about process and questions to Jeanne about their relationship are enough to strain the credibility of the storyline, even with the punishments she endures as a result. As a reader of other BDSM-focused writing (I appreciate the reference to Califa’s Macho Sluts, as it was one of my first), I cannot conceive of many dominants allowing this to go on for the amount of time it does in this book. The sex scenes varied between borderline erotic to superficial in description and tone, and that forced me out of the book as well. On top of this, the ending seemed to come out of nowhere, shifting the focus from Laura and her entrance into this world to Jeanne and her administrative struggles.

While I struggled with aspects of the story, Gowan does shine light on one woman’s personal journey into BDSM. Those who can ignore the flaws may find this a good read, but readers looking for immersion into the journey will find it lacking.

Danika reviews Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Love as thou wilt.

Such is the precept of Elua, the most important deity of Terre d’Ange, where Kushiel’s Dart takes place. If that sounds like the perfect commandment for a queer novel, it pretty much is.

Kushiel’s Dart is the first of a trio of trilogies based in the same world, though only the first trilogy feature Kushiel’s Dart‘s protagonist, Phèdre. If I could describe Kushiel’s Dart in only two words, it would be sex and politics, but religion would be a close third.

This is a 900 page book, which makes it pretty much impossible to discuss without some spoilers, but I’ll keep them to the first 100 pages or so. This is the story of Phèdre, sold as a young child to a… well, it’s tempting to say brothel, but in this world being a sex worker is being a Servant of Naamah, a semi-spiritual, respectable life. After all, love as thou wilt. Anyway, Phèdre goes on to become a pupil of an intellectual, taught to listen and spy while exercising her unique talents as (minor spoiler) an anguissette: the rare trait of experiencing pleasure in pain. As such, Kushiel’s Dart has graphic, but tasteful, I think, descriptions of sex, including sadomasochism.

The first half of the novel builds slowly, with Phèdre reporting to Delauney, her tutor, the things she learns through being an anguissette. Personally, I found it difficult to follow all the names and politics, but I have a terrible head for that. It didn’t stop me from enjoying it, though. The second half is more fast-paced, with greater stakes. It includes conspiracy, love stories, and quite a bit of travel.

Phèdre may have the most involved relationships with men during the course of the novel, but she takes both male and female clients, like most Servants of Naamah, and perhaps the most erotic relationship Phèdre has is with a woman.

I’m sorry this review seems little jumbled. I liked Kushiel’s Dart, but it was definitely a thorough world-building, one that lost me few times, since I couldn’t always keep track of the names or politics. I won’t be picking up the next one, but I definitely enjoyed Kushiel’s Dart and I’m hoping to eventually re-read it.

 

Have you read Kushiel’s Dart or another lesbian/bi women/women-loving-women Fantasy novel? What did you think of it?