Megan G reviews One Exquisite Night by Annie Anthony

Allie Jordan is a 38-year-old single mother who just recently came out of the closet. Terra Rossi is a 40-year-old who just ended a decade-long relationship with her married best friend. They are brought together by an unusual dating service called 1Night Stand. Neither expects more than a single night of passion and fantasy, but that is, of course, until they meet each other.

I had mixed feelings while reading this story. On one hand, it was so refreshing to read a story about older women becoming infatuated with one another (I really don’t want to use the words “falling in love”, since the story takes place over the course of 24 hours, but it really does feel like the author was going for “falling in love”). It was especially refreshing considering this is an erotica, and women over the age of thirty are often portrayed by the media as less sexually appealing (which just isn’t true). Allie and Terra were turned on by each other, and their sexual encounter did not feel any less sexy because of their age. If anything, their interesting combination of experience and lack thereof made for a more unique, satisfying read.

On the other hand, I felt as though the emotional side of the story was pushed a little too hard. It’s clear from the first moment they meet that Terra and Allie have a connection that will transcend the single night they paid for, but by the end of their time together they are talking about plans at least a year in the future. Having a connection is one thing; talking about still being a couple a year in the future after spending a day together seems a little intense. There is also a rather extended section of the story in which Terra and Allie give detailed speeches about their past partners, which felt a little strange considering the length of the novella, as well as how little time the women have known each other. I would have much rather more time be spent on the sexual connection between the women than have an overload of emotional connection after only a day. It’s clear these women will be seeing each other again after their one night is over. There’s no need to beat your reader over the head with it.

As this is an erotica, I think I would be remiss not to mention how scorching hot the sex scenes are. These women are incredibly attracted to one another, and it shows. My only complaint is that a few of the scenes felt cut unnecessarily short. As already mentioned, I would have rather read longer, more drawn out sexual scenes between the women, than get bogged down with a continuous repetition of “these women are soulmates”.

My only other complaint is that there was a moment in which the author could have included mention of trans lesbians, but instead chose to keep things rather cis-gender specific.

I know it sounds like I’m being a little harsh, but the truth is that I did enjoy this story. It was hot, it was original, and it left me wishing it had been a full-length novel, which is always a good sign of a novella. I would recommend it for anybody looking for something quick and sexy to read

Shira Glassman reviews Bliss by Fiona Zedde

Bliss by Fiona Zedde is a finding-your-place story as much as it is a love story; or you could say it’s a love story between a woman and the self she’s supposed to be or the type of life she’s supposed to be living. It’s also highly erotic, reveling in the sensuality of its characters’ bodies, but in a respectful and almost reverential way that elevates ordinary body parts to a sort of glowing, visceral divinity.

Bliss Sinclair, a Jamaican-American woman who goes by Sinclair in honor of her dead mother’s surname, has been living a fairly tropey “money can’t buy you happiness” existence as a high-powered accountant on the gazillionth floor of a fancy building. She doesn’t really have friends who mean anything to her and she tolerates her boyfriend’s affection because it’s what you do. Lesbian identity is sitting on her emotional front porch stoop playing on its phone but she hasn’t quite had the courage to open the door yet.
When she finally does get a chance to figure out that she’s really only attracted to women, she gets taken advantage of by a woman who is pushy and misleading. The inevitable happens, at which point she heads back to Jamaica for an extended vacation to see her father and meet his new wife and kid.
She quickly winds up introduced to the local lesbian community and has to learn everybody’s old drama as she’s also getting used to being around her family again. I found most of the supporting characters and the relational world Zedde sets up for this story really appealing–there’s an immense sense of interconnectedness that includes the dead characters we never get to meet in person as well. Zedde also gives us a rich, vivid, and easy to picture world of tropical plants, Jamaican food, what kinds of things there are to do in Jamaica if you’re there on vacation, and what kinds of jobs the locals do. Whiteness hovers in the background as a clueless, absent employer but is never really present on-screen.
There is a lot of sex in this book, but there are also a lot of scenes of the main character playing tourist on beaches and historic buildings, going to parties or restaurants, enjoying time with her family, etc. I just feel like if I had been counting the sex scenes I would have run out of fingers (and yes, I phrased it that way on purpose 😛 )
This is not a book that ignores the violent reality that anyone visibly queer in Jamaica may encounter, but because Zedde is writing from the inside and not from the point of view of some privileged white non queer writer, both the book’s scenes of attempted sexual violence from the hands of multiple strange men are:
1. foiled, completely and utterly
2. take up a very brief space in the narrative; they occur over the course of a page or two, are fended off, are processed emotionally with tears or a day of quiet or whatever else is necessary, and then we move on
3. they are not intended as a rejection of Jamaica. This is important. Over at WritingWithColor, we all get questions from people outside various marginalized groups trying to write about the ways that group mistreats vulnerable folks within its own LGBT community. I prefer to leave this narrative to people in the overlap of both groups, because comparing what Zedde writes to what some of these privileged writers write you can see the difference — at one point, one of the Jamaican lesbians even says “you have to love Jamaica anyway.” This is home; the food, the culture, the scenery, the history, the music. The problem is recognized but it’s not enough to drive them out and away into other places that may very well be just as physically dangerous.
I found the main character herself more appealing as a person than any of her love interests, honestly — obviously the first one was pushy beyond belief, but one on the island came on really strong as well and I had to just believe in Sinclair’s immense attraction to her being what wore down her initial “I have a broken heart and you come on super strong, meep” feelings.
Another topic about which Zedde writes much better than a privileged person trying to write about a marginalized community further marginalizing its LGBT members, is Sinclair’s father’s reaction to her lesbianism. I was stunned at how well this was pulled off because I’d never seen a character come around so realistically and so quickly. He’s upset, but a few pages later he dials it back and says that a lot of his upset is probably unfair. Can white, non-queer people trying to write about “oppressive” non-white or non-American parents please take a lesson from this book?
Anyway, aside from that issue I thought it was a great and realistic and familiar depiction of what happens when a parent who loves their child has discomfort with their choice of partner or sexuality but is trying to work around it. We don’t see too much of that in LGBT fiction; I’ve seen a lot of either ultra-acceptance (realistic for some of us, and even those who aren’t need some wish fulfillment) or ultra-disgustingness (cathartic and important to write from the inside; tragedy porn and sometimes not even written in a way that rings true, when writing from the outside.) A family that invites a girlfriend over for dinner and no horrible “I knew you’d ruin the evening!” argument happens even though one of the members feels negatively about the idea of a gay daughter is another way to be realistic, and belongs on the page. And it’s not like you as a reader are constantly made aware of his negativity, either.
Some choice quotes, so you can get a feel for the book’s snappy dialogue and evocative descriptors:
Sinclair: “Do you come downtown often?”
First girlfriend: “If you’ll let me, I’ll come at least two times today.”
Waitress: “Can I get you two anything to drink today?”
One of the main characters, about the other main character: “Some manners for her.”
Island love interest about the first girlfriend: “If she was worth half your sighs she would have been here with you on her knees apologizing for hurting you.”
Description of main character’s young stepmom: “short reddish hair that stood up around her head like a tamed flame”
Overall, the story tells itself; it flows really well and makes you want to keep reading. This isn’t the kind of book where you read a paragraph and then have to read it again because you didn’t catch what happens. In other words, Also, kudos to Zedde for using the phrase “maggot-white penis” to refer to a naked white guy in a BDSM club, because it reminded me of those posts pointing out how nobody talks about whiteness with the kind of evocative overscrutinizing detail usually afforded to darker skin in fiction.
Trigger warnings: two foiled attempts at sexual assault by multiple men in the Jamaica half of the book. The second time the women beat up the men pretty badly; it’s over quickly and you can skip the second time if you nope out for a couple of pages when they get to a place in the woods with tons of pretty tropical flowers.
Also, the first girlfriend’s behavior is borderline abusive in the sense that she puts Sinclair in situations she doesn’t want to be in and basically demands a veto as negative consent instead of asking if things are okay beforehand, and I’m talking big deal things like surprising her with orgies or kink clubs. Sometimes they are okay and sometimes they are not and Sinclair takes steps accordingly each time. Plus, she’s the kind of person who says “You’re an incredible fuck. Yet you’re so naïve. You’re like my lost childhood. My virginity.” which I know someone who had that said to them in real life and I’ve always found it super creepy (so does Sinclair.)

Julie Thompson reviews Freiya’s Stand by Anastasia Vitsky

Freiya’s Stand gives room for queer women to embrace their religious faith, kinky desires, and career aspirations, as well as room for dreaming. Freiya and Sabrina live strictly compartmentalized lives as teachers at St. Agatha of Sicily, a private Catholic school for primary and secondary students, lest anyone find out that they’re dating. Both women grew up in Catholic families and value their faith, even though this sets them at odds with school policy and family. The couple alternates commute routes, maintains a professional facade, and keeps spanking behind closed doors. They also face staff lay-offs, dwindling funds, large classroom sizes, and reduced support for teachers. When the principal mandates all teachers sign a “Covenant of Faith” condemning “perverted sexuality” and other “immoral or unethical behavior”, Sabrina and Freiya butt heads. Sabrina wants to sign the form, but Freiya resists. Most of the faculty eventually go along with it in order to keep their jobs. When Freiya fails to play ball with the new requirements, her life falls under the principal’s close scrutiny.

The novella alternates between past and present, illuminating pivotal moments in the women’s lives that color their relationship, family interactions, and careers. Quick pacing allows Vitsky to move between key events and establish character personalities. Sabrina is an exemplary high school English teacher with exacting standards, both for her students and for her choice of ketchup. Freiya, a new kindergarten teacher, has a soft heart for her students and a penchant for culinary confections. Sabrina’s Gran is the most vibrant and essential secondary character. A full-length novel treatment would give room for fleshing out events mentioned only in passing and for less nuanced characters that seem to exist primarily as plot drivers. Certain elements of the conclusion (the final two to three pages, in particular) feel rushed. It works well, for the most part, as a novella. Overall, Freiya’s Stand is a thoughtful and engaging tale.

Freiya and Sabrina have a consensual kink arrangement. This drives their dynamic at home, as well as how they behave in the wider world. One of my favorite moments involves Shakespeare and spanking. I’ll let that sit with you until you read it for yourself! While Sabrina assumes the dominant role, Freiya is vocal in what is and is not okay. Readers first encounter this aspect of their relationship after they disagree over the “morality” contract at school. Some of the interplay between emotional and physical exchanges becomes muddled as their stress increases. It does not cross over into domestic abuse. However, some readers may find certain passages distressing.

Catholicism also plays an integral part in how the characters view themselves, deal with challenges, and guide their lives. Both women value their faith, but don’t agree on how it intersects with their sexuality and public life. This provides much of the friction between them throughout the story. This is the second story that I’ve read in which the reconciliation of faith and queerness are central themes. The other story (which I definitely recommend) is Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown.

LGBT+ folks can still lose their jobs in many states or have limited protections based on sexuality and gender identity. Visit the Human Rights Commission at HRC.org for more information. It is heartening to see local religious congregations marching in support at Pride and to see rainbow flags near the front doors of churches, welcoming everyone.

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

Danika reviews Thirteen Hours by Meghan O’Brien

I know, I know. “What is that cover??” I can explain. (No I can’t. It’s a terrible cover.)

There’s a useful term they use on Book Riot: “genre kryptonite“. It describes those tropes that immediately make you want to pick up a book. The buzzwords that leave you helpless to add a book to your TBR. For me, one of my genre kryptonites is enclosed spaces. I’m not sure why (claustrophilia?), but any story that has characters trapped together in an enclosed space piques my interest. So when I heard about a lesbian erotica novel that had two character trapped in an elevator together for 13 hours, I knew I was going to read it eventually (even though I don’t usually gravitate towards erotica).

This book was both better and worse than I was expecting. From the first few pages, I knew I wouldn’t be rating this book highly. I knew that part of the tension of Thirteen Hours was that the two women didn’t get along before they got stuck in the elevator. What I wasn’t expecting was the instant loathing that I had for one of the main characters. Dana is working at her office when she is surprised by a stripper, who has apparently been hired by a coworker for her without her knowledge. Obviously it’s fair that Dana feels super uncomfortable and even angry about this. But she reacts by being over-the-top cruel and insulting to this woman, including saying that she’s afraid she’ll “catch something” from her.

I realize that this was supposed to be the basis of their dynamic when they get stuck in the elevator, but I was so immediately sympathetic to Laurel (the stripper) and repulsed by Dana that I couldn’t understand why Laurel was so understanding about it. She seems to think that her defending herself and reacting to Dana’s insults is just as bad as Dana’s spontaneous vitriol.

On top of not liking their romance, I found the elevator scene to be less engaging than I was expecting. It was basically just them chatting, getting to know each other. And then playing truth or dare (and, obviously, sexy shenanigans follow).

What I was surprised by, though, was the second part of the book, which shows their emerging romance. If I had read that part without reading the first couple chapters, I would have enjoyed the book as a whole a lot more. The depiction of BDSM, especially, is well done. They have clear communication and consent, and there’s a playfulness to their sexuality.

Unfortunately, the underlying disgust with sex work that permeates this book really detracts from its strong moments. Laurel does defend herself and stripping, but she does so by distancing herself from “hookers”. And despite her defense of other women who strip, she quits that job to make Dana happy.

So although I actually quite liked their relationship together post-elevator, this wouldn’t be a title I would recommend (even if it’s your genre kryptonite, too).

Rachel reviews Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

tippingthevelvet

British novelist Sarah Waters is known for her historical novels, some of which take place in Victorian England and/or have lesbian protagonists. Her debut novel, Tipping the Velvet, first published in 1998, is viewed as a lesbian classic by many readers.

The story opens in Whitstable England, 1888, with eighteen-year-old Nancy Astley, who helps her family run their oyster business. Restless and wanting new experiences, she attends a theater one evening and gets her first glimpse of Kitty Butler, a performer who dresses as a man for her act. After becoming friends, Nancy grows strong romantic feelings and eventually joins Kitty’s act, taking the stage name “Nan King” and earning countless admirers. She is thrilled when she and Kitty admit their love for each other and begin a relationship, although Kitty insists on keeping it a secret. After an unexpected betrayal, Nancy leaves Kitty and takes to the streets, resorting to prostitution and masquerading as a boy to make ends meet. She is determined to forget her past, becoming reclusive because of it. Over the years she comes across countless people who shape her decisions. While a lot of the changes she experiences are difficult, others offer Nancy hope of turning her life around and falling in love again.

Sarah Waters’ writing is extremely rich in substance as she describes Nancy’s world, the people she meets, and the hidden lives of homosexuals. Scenery and surroundings are so well-detailed there was never any doubt where Nancy was or what was around her. The writing style seemed authentic for the time period, making Tipping the Velvet appear to have been published in the 1880s instead of a century later.

The novel’s characters each had their own differing views and personalities; it’s obvious that Waters put a great amount of effort into creating them all. Nancy herself was a bright young woman who did make some poor decisions, but also had a strong will to keep going. Her impulsive, vocal character both clashed and complimented with Kitty, who was a quiet thinker.

Two other people in the novel stand out for me the most, and they’re both polar opposites. Diana Lethaby was wealthy and well-connected, taking Nancy in at one point in exchange for a sexual relationship. But though she provided Nancy with nice clothes and an elegant home, Diana was really possessive and treated her lover like property. I despised her character and shared Nancy’s shock at her actions.

The other character is Florence Banner, a charity worker Nancy later befriends. She was easily one of the most complex characters in the book. Her personality shifted between cheery and grim, and sometimes she worked so hard helping others she didn’t think much about her own feelings. I was intrigued by her and wondered about her family and what kinds of experiences she had. As the story progressed and I learned more about her, it was much easier to sympathize with Florence and see the true, gentle-hearted person she really was.

Tipping the Velvet was an interesting take on sexuality in Victorian London. All through the book, Nancy meets a whole underground of gays and lesbians, which adds to her story because, although homosexuality was seen as a crime and perversion, there were still countless men and women who were trying to live their lives yet also acknowledge their feelings. Very little is really known about this world as it was almost never spoken of. But Waters makes strong parallels between then and now. Like today, there were bars and social circles where gays and lesbians found their refuge, and literature they read in secret, like Sappho’s poems.

Tipping the Velvet is a wonderful story for lesbian literature, although some readers may be uncomfortable with the erotica tone. I found it to be a masterpiece and look forward to reading Sarah Waters’ other books.

Lauren reviews The Little Sisters of The Holy Vessel by Vincent Cross

the-little-sisters-cover

The Little Sisters of The Holy Vessel is a short story about an order of nuns that administer exorcisms. In particular, readers are introduced to Sister Teresa and Sister Elizabeth. The sisters have traveled to a small village to assist Father Gregory with a recent crime that he believes will require a spiritual interrogation. At first, nothing seems odd about the nuns. They are dutiful with religious and cultural etiquette. Fast-forward past the opening and Cross unveils the “worldy” side of these women, which removes the veil between the reader and the historical setting, and allows Teresa and Elizabeth to add deeper hues to the story.

Given this is a short story I can’t delve into the plot without risking spoilers. Therefore, I’ll shift to the parts of the narrative that interested and concerned me.

First off, Little Sisters is erotic, which augments the relationship between the characters, as well as the banishment of evil. The erotic is more than sexual. It exists in several layers. It’s physical and spiritual and romantic. On this same note, there is a layer of Cross’ eroticism that pestered me as the story escalated and climaxed. And it started with this sentence:

“We want the thing to smell our scent, but we don’t want our bodies to betray us.”

Sparing the details, I asked myself why is it necessary for these women to use their vessels in such a risky way? Arguably, they are asked to sacrifice their sanctity. Do their actions convey that women are powerful beyond measure? Or, is this just another instance of women “using” what God gave them to make themselves relevant in an unequal world and an attempt to maintain balance between good and evil? Which, ultimately, saves men. If the tables were turned and male clergy were responsible for the exorcism, how would the climatic event in this story change? To me, it would be much different.

There are times when the erotic can be liberating.  There are times when the sexuality and the erotic gaze are self-serving and only maintain sexist ideals. I feel that Little Sisters walks a fine line. The story is well written, but where (and if) readers teeter along this line is subjective, of course.

I would have liked for Cross to allow the nuns to address two of my lingering questions: first, who are they protecting, and second, do they feel their holy vessel is the only way?

As a reviewer, I rarely feel the need to strike an iron hammer by recommending or not recommending a read. Therefore, I’ll end as I usually do. Little Sisters is story for those who enjoy short stories and want to venture into an old world, erotic, and paranormal read featuring religious women that boldly face demons.

Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, “The Dawn of Nia.” Outside of reading and writing, she volunteers as a child advocate and enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter,www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.

Aoife reviews Of White Snakes and Misshapen Owls by Debra Hyde

of white snakes and misshaped owls

Miss Charlotte Olmes is the classic turn of the century ‘woman detective’ – clever, enlightened, and progressive, with a penchant for cross-dressing. She lives with her companion and partner Joanna Wilson, who appears slightly more respectable – but I mean, they’re a live-in lesbian couple in 1880s New York, so respectability is somewhat relative here.

After a morning spent instructing a society lady and her maids in parasol self defence, Charlotte and Joanna’s services are engaged by the lovely Miss Tam, whose employer has gone missing. Their investigation takes the reader on a rather enjoyable tour of period New York, complete with violent street gangs and Chinese/Irish racial politics. It’s evident that Hyde did some research on her setting; I particularly liked the ladies’ trip to the morgue and police station.

White Snakes is the first novella in the Charlotte Olmes series. At 73 pages, it’s short and sweet; a quick, light read. Hyde’s writing is fun and fairly well crafted, and her language did an excellent job of conveying place – although, while I appreciated the inclusion of appropriate slang, it did lessen my engagement because I had absolutely no idea what it meant.

I didn’t enjoy it so much as a mystery; while the majority of the ‘clues’ were laid out for the reader, the necessary context was not quite so clear, which left me kind of detached from the mystery storyline – in my mind, the best kind of mystery is where the reader can guess the killer or the criminal or whatever, but only if they read carefully/cleverly. While I can kind of see the enjoyment of only being ‘along for the ride’ – as if you were Hastings in an Agatha Christie, perhaps – it just doesn’t do it for me. It was written with split perspectives between the killer and Joanna, which was fine; I personally would have preferred it to be all Charlotte and Joanna all the time, partially because it’s so short, but it did work, and I did enjoy a couple of the not-ladies scenes.

I loved the dynamic of Charlotte and Joanna’s relationship – it rather reminded me of the Amelia Peabody series, just with wlw and BDSM. They were sweet together, with a good working relationship, and great chemistry. I really liked that Joanna was the narrator; Hyde did a really excellent job of establishing them as equals. It would have been very easy to write them as one fully dominant and one fully submissive, but despite the shortness of the book, Hyde neatly sidesteps that cliché and, in doing so, created much more three-dimensional characters. I wasn’t super into the whole language of exoticism and orientalism that accompanied the Chinese characters, an unfortunate and fairly common convention in period mysteries; it wasn’t the worst, but it did detract from my overall enjoyment. Ditto with the pity-attitude towards sex workers – obviously historically women haven’t always had a lot of choice with regards to this, but that doesn’t need to translate to a disrespect of sex work.

I’d love to see it fleshed out into a full book. I wanted to spend more time with Charlotte and Joanna – particularly in the space where they’re just Charlotte-and-Joanna, not Lady-Detective-Charlotte-and-Companion-Joanna or Charlotte-and-Joanna-having-hot-sex. Those sides of their relationship are both well done, but I’d liked to have seen equal time between the three to fully explore all the versions of themselves that they are with each other.

Overall; fun and too short. I’ll probably read the other books in the series if I can get my hands on them, and I’d like to check out some of Hyde’s longer works. According to the bio in my edition, ‘all of her work is available in ebook, and her short story backlist is about to be republished in a mini-anthology format with Sizzler Editions’. So if you read and enjoy this, you might want to check that out!

Trigger warnings for descriptions of violence and a (not very graphic) murder.

This and other reviews by Aoife can also be found at https://concessioncard.wordpress.com/.

Julie Thompson reviews Me and My Boi edited by Sacchi Green

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“Gender has no boundaries, and neither does lust.” — Sacchi Green, Introduction

Me and My Boi, edited by Sacchi Green, is a collection of twenty erotic encounters between those who, in addition to identifying as lesbian, also identify as bois, butches, masculine-of-center, or eschew gender labels altogether. These individuals seek out sexual romps and emotionally charged situations. Sometimes they satisfy existing desires or discover new ones when paired with the right partner at the right time. The diversity of experiences showcased in this volume allow for a greater possibility of connection with readers. That being said, not every story will resonate with every reader; we all have personal preferences that will find a home in (hopefully) at least one or two of the stories presented here.

The stories unfold against quotidian and risqué situations, well-worn paths and the unknown. Readers peer in on a car garage in the English countryside as two women get acquainted (“A Fresh Start” by Melissa Mayhew); join long-term partners on their Parisian honeymoon (“Gargoyle Lovers” by Sacchi Green); and get locked into a bar bathroom with a bittersweet memory (“Hot Pants” by Jen Cross). The characters negotiate intimacy dynamics and grapple with what their choices may or may not communicate about their identities (“Nisrine Inside” by Pavini Moray; “Resurrection” by Victoria Villasenor).

While I enjoyed the collection overall, there were a few stories suited to my personal taste and that I look forward to revisiting. Strong women who are handy with a tool, sport grease smudged jeans, and possess a subtle tenderness, are the characters that melt me to the page. In Sommer Marsden’s Bennie, Ava finds her long held desires reciprocated with the handsome butch-next-door, Bennie. I appreciate how Me and My Boi (M&MB) shares a range of sexual desires, which include needs for hard and soft; fast and slow; bound and free; and more. For people who want to flirt with danger, M&MBhas it. For people who want a safer, yet no less lusty fling, they’ll find it here. I admit that I struggled with the first half of “Resurrection” because I wasn’t sure how much was consensual seduction and how much was coercion. I know that as a reader I engage with stories through my own lenses. I’m interested in how other readers interpreted that portion of the story.

Other stories engaged me more on an emotional level than on an erotic one. One such story  is “Not Just Hair” by Annabeth Leong. Darla is eager to find a butch that will allow her to act out her desires as a femme top. The usual kink crowd gathers around scenes of controlled lust or cruise for playmates. Observing and participating femmes, butches, tops, and bottoms assess each other for possibilities and compatibility. Darla struggles against the restrictions imposed on her as a femme, by her partners, and by the group. When she thinks she’s spotted an unfamiliar butch, she eagerly approaches, only to find that it’s someone she knows. Shawn, at heart a butch bottom, is also breaking out of the stifling role as a femme bottom that her partner had expected. The two women see each other and embrace the opportunity to be who they are inside and out.

The stories offer reflections of how we see ourselves and how we see others, as well as how we believe others should think of us and of themselves. It’s a mouthful and a mindful to process. Yet, more often than not, erotica at its best is a delectable mixture of physical, intellectual, emotional elements.

Elinor reviews Best Lesbian Erotica 20th Anniversary Edition edited by Sacchi Green

Best Lesbian Erotica 20th Anniversary Edition, edited by Sacchi Green, delivers seventeen creative stories with all the heat you’ve come to expect from the series. It offers everything from a pro Domme feeling more than expected for a hot female client (“A Professional,”) to tryst with a hitchhiker (“Dust”) to werewolf sex (“Hot Blood”). A cop and a jewel thief get it on in a moving subway car in “The Further Adventures of Miss Scarlet.” Doppelgangers switch roles again and again in “Mirror, Mirror.” In “Luscious and Wild,” a kinky young couple enjoys a weekend in a hotel room. A troupe of drag kings pull an audience member on stage for flirtatious attention and she surprises them all with her response in “Easy.”

This edition had a surprising number of musician-themed stories, so if you’re longing for lesbian musician erotica, you should definitely pick this up. Girls form a band, and fall into bed with each other, in Liverpool in the 1960s in “Ascension.” An aging rockstar has a secret, kink-filled relationship with an emerging star and tour mate in “Reunion Tour.” In “Give and Take,” a former up-and-coming musician turned venue tech has a one-night stand with a younger up-and-comer.

In addition to “Ascension,” this anthology has a few other stories set in the past. “The Royalty Underground” shows two young British women meeting and having sex in a crowded tube station-turned-shelter during a World War II air raid. In “Grindhouse,” a burlesque dancer in 1950s New York dabbles in kinky female-only films and gets exactly what she wants from her co-star after the cameras stop rolling.

My favorite story was probably “Tomato Bondage.” In this, the only story about long-term partners, a pair of farmers–and switches–get creative with outdoor bondage. I appreciated the practicality of these inventive heroines, and that the sex in the story seemed to benefit as much from the couple’s bond as from their originality. I also really liked “Make Them Shine,” in which a fat femme dominant gets her boots shined, and more, by a genderqueer sub. The descriptions in this story were rich and evocative, and I loved the narrator.

There were a few stories that weren’t my cup of tea, though they might be yours. In fairness, I’m in the first trimester of pregnancy right now (yay!) and I know my distaste for “Smorgasbord,” in which a food artist and a food writer indulge in a sexual and artistic food-filled romp, was due in part to the all-day morning sickness I’ve been experiencing for weeks. Descriptions of all sorts of culinary delights smeared on somebody’s body are a lot less appealing after weeks of unrelenting queasiness and I couldn’t judge this story fairly. I’ve also been hormonally emotional, and the grief of “Tears from Heaven’s” narrator over her recently deceased dog, lost due to absentmindness on the part of her younger lover, made it more weepy than erotic for me. Similarly, the infidelity-themed “The Road to Hell,” which begins and ends with the narrator lying to her partner of two decades, bummed me out tremendously. All of these are perfectly fine stories if they sound appealing to you.

My only real complaint is that I would have liked more diversity in this anthology. Only two stories appeared to explicitly feature people of color, no one seemed to have a disability of any kind, and nearly all of the stories were about sex with new partners. I especially like erotica that features long-term couples who still have a sex life along with a domestic one and there wasn’t much of that here. That’s my bias and I know not everyone is looking for that.

There were a lot of interesting scenarios, though. There was plenty of hot sex ranging from vanilla to kinky, many different voices and styles, and many sexy characters. I highly recommend it.

Anna reviews Behrouz Gets Lucky by Avery Cassell

behrouz gets lucky by avery cassell

“I wrote this book because I wanted to see more people like myself represented in smut and romance,” writes Avery Cassell in the introduction to Behrouz Gets Lucky (Cleis, 2016), the author’s first full-length erotic romance.

I wanted to see older genderqueer and butch masculine-masculine couples having hot sex and BDSM shenanigans. I wanted to read about people with full lives, lives that included adult children, grandchildren, parents, books, marvelous food, over-the-top drag, and cuddly cats along with lots and lots of hot fucking. I wanted reality, with heartburn, forgetfulness, and aching joints. I also wanted protagonists that cared about San Francisco and were activists, in their own quirky way. And finally, I spent most of my childhood in Iran and love Iran as my other home. I wanted to include a little bit of that amazing and beauteous country in this tale so that my readers could get the chance to love the country too. (viii)

As this paragraph suggests, Behrouz contains an ambitious political agenda and a busy social schedule. I was excited to read this romance because it contains a lot of elements that I typically loved to see in my romance novels: queer characters, older characters, characters with mixed racial and ethnic cultural experiences, a lot of domesticity alongside political awareness and people having sex. Unfortunately, although I am still rooting for all of these things to happen, and happen more often, in romance literature, Behrouz felt more like a rough first draft than a finished novel.

Behrouz is strongest when it comes to the (many and varied) sexual encounters between the title character, Behrouz, and their lover and eventual spouse Lucky. Lucky and Behrouz meet online through OKCupid and after a three-hour first date at a local coffee shop return to Behrouz’s apartment to get it on. Both characters identify on the transmasculine end of the gender spectrum and this work succeeds in its mission to create delicious sexual intimacy between these two characters whom most cultural narratives suggest are too similar to enjoy — let alone sustain — sexual chemistry.

Where Behrouz falters is in the extra-sexual narrative, which often feels like dense authorial notes on plot development, setting, and character description than they do finished prose. I kept wanting to say “slow down and show me this happening rather than tell me it did!” Too often, the characters — secondary ones particularly — failed to emerge out from under their representative types. Self-aware typecasting can, at its best, allow an author to paint a loving portrait of a well-known place or community (think the early installments of Armistad Maupin’s Tales from the City) — and Behrouz at its best reaches toward a smuttier version of the sort of episodic ode to the Bay Area of the pre-Google age that is Maupin’s forte.

Yet overall, narrative shortcuts mean that the reader is given a list of physical descriptors, identity labels, and group affiliations that end up standing in for three-dimensional individuals. To give two such examples, both drawn from the same scene in which Behrouz and Lucky host a potluck for their friends shortly after becoming a couple:

Maxwell looked long at Lucky and me, Lucky in her 501s, aqua linen button-down shirt, mustard-and-aqua windowpane wool waist-coat, and Wescos, and I in my black pleated pants, pink-and-gray floral shirt, dark-gray knitted necktie, and black-and-red cowboy boots. (48)

I’d forgotten about how judgmental people could be, particularly when others start coloring outside of the lines. Masculine-masculine couples were not common in the dyke and queer community, and many folks saw masculine pairings as distasteful, taboo, and unnatural. Or only good for tricks, something to relieve the itch if there wasn’t a femme around. There were a smattering of dyke and genderqueer Daddy-boi couples in the kink community, but they were mostly people under the age of forty. Dykes, queers, and transmen over the age of forty were pretty strongly invested in butch-femme or FTM–gay men dynamics. There was even the Butch-Femme Social Group, and TM4M Cruising Night at Eros for transdudes and gay men. (48)

In both of these instances, important markers of identity (clothing choices) and the social-political dynamics a particular moment within San Francisco’s queer subculture are condensed into lists of attributes and identity affiliations that stand in for character and plot development. I wanted to say, “These are your research notes … now go write me a story.”

Another facet of the social-political at work in Behrouz is the titular character’s identity as an immigrant.Behrouz’s experience as a Persian-American genderqueer individual — “I’m Middle Eastern to my part-American core” they observe early in the narrative (3) — is given scant attention until the second half of the book, when the couple travels to Tehran. I was disappointed not to have a better sense of Behrouz’s experience as a queer  American of Middle Eastern descent in the post-9/11 era.

I also had concerns about the way the couples’ visit to Iran, which involves the decision to marry so that they can pass as a straight couple while abroad, serves as touristy background to the American queer experience. The cross-cultural encounter is, of course, complicated by the fact that Behrouz, like the author, spent part of their childhood in Iran. Yet as Americans with American passports and established lives in San Francisco, Behrouz and Lucky interact with Tehranian culture as outsiders, not insiders, and that privilege is not allowed to really settle into the bones of the narrative, with all of its complex implications for individual and collective meaning.

Overall, Cassell’s first novel is an ambitious project that delivers on its promise to represent “older genderqueer and butch masculine-masculine couples having hot sex and BDSM shenanigans” in erotic romance. I expect that there will be an audience for this book if only for the sexually explicit scenes, which could be read in isolation from the connecting narrative as delicious shorts. The narrative structure around these scenes, however, tries to pack too much into less than two hundred pages of prose. I hope that in subsequent installments — the author indicates they are working on a sequel — the non-erotic elements of the story will be allowed to flower more fully.