Sinclair Sexsmith reviews A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

I got my hands on an advanced reader’s copy of A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee, which is a dark academia, witchy, teenage boarding school sapphic romance which includes seances, a three hundred year old murder mystery, and ghosts.

After seeing about it from the author herself on Tiktok, I had to keep an eye out for it. I suspected I would enjoy it, and I really did. I will definitely pick up other work by Victoria Lee.

It was easy to read, very much a page-turner. Lee set up the suspense in the story from the very beginning, trickling out bits of information from when the main character, Felicity, had attended this spooky but elegant Dalloway boarding school in the past before having to take a year off. We get many clues and hints into what happened in the past, including a romance with the brilliant and now dead Alex, but it takes a good amount of time for it to all be explained. Meanwhile, Felicity meets Ellis, new to Dalloway but already wildly popular since she is a famous novelist, and they begin a whirlwind, intimate friendship.

I don’t want to give away much of the actual plot, moreso just a feeling for the tone of it. I looked forward to reading this and found myself making time to read, which is always a good sign that I’m enjoying the book. I enjoyed the characters, and loved how the book dealt with queerness — as just reality, not necessarily something to be deeply reckoned with or to have an existential crisis over. I loved how clever and intimate the characters were, and especially the whole tone and setting of the boarding school with witchy vibes. Highly enjoyable read.

Victoria Lee’s A Lesson in Vengeance is out August 3, 2021.

Sinclair reviews The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

A friend recommended I read The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison, saying it was one of her favorite novels, and I trust her taste, so I picked it up. I was hooked immediately.

I didn’t know a ton about it going into it, so I don’t want to say too much about the plot so as to give you that same satisfaction of watching the events unfold.

I will say that it’s a speculative fiction novel, with a woman main character who is bi, and a lot of feminist commentary about surviving in a post-virus US. There’s a fair amount of survival skills and navigation happening throughout, too. I read it early on during sheltering in place, and while it was eerie to think we might be heading there, I still just could not put it down.

If you love speculative fiction that is queer, feminist, very thoughtful, and badass, this is the one for you. Just a warning, though — it was very violent in parts, and sometimes disturbingly so.

The book is the first of in a trilogy, and it only gets more queer, and the violence continues, as it goes along. I loved the last book, called The Book of Flora, and it goes even deeper into what it means to be a woman, to have a place in culture, if it’s possible to be redeemed or forgiven, how choices bring similar people to vastly different conclusions, and more big human themes.

What was so great about it? The entire world that Elison built is fantastic, and I love how much it reads like a historical document because of how she’s set up the unfolding of the timeline. (You’ll see what I mean when I read it.) It’s incredibly well written; I adore these characters and I feel the way I felt after finishing the TV show Six Feet Under: that I miss these characters and want to hang out with them. Perhaps I feel they have something to teach, or I have something to learn from them?

Speculative fiction (particularly books geared more toward YA, but adult too) is one of my favorite genres, and I’ve read it more than ever this year, despite our world feeling like we are in a novel like that sometimes. I go to it for escape and entertainment, but also because it grapples with big questions, particularly around trauma, survival, and psychology, and I love sitting with them and pondering. Now more than ever, we have to figure out how to take care of ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and take care of the planet. The cutting edge writers of speculative fiction have been pointing us toward motivation, inspiration, and action for a long time, and it’s time to listen.

In short, there’s some horror in this book. Nasty behavior of a sick, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, racist, and colonialist society. But there’s hope, too, and beauty, and love, and illumination of so many things worth fighting for, and worth living for.

Sinclair reviews Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Untamed by Glennon Doyle Amazon Affiliate link

I was skeptical about this book. Remember back in May 2020 when nearly the entire bestseller list was taken up by anti-racist titles such as How To Be An Anti-Racist, Me & White Supremacy, and My Grandmother’s HandsUntamed was also on there, and I felt skeptical about a white woman’s voice being amplified so loudly during such a critical time. I knew it was a memoir, but someone told me it also addressed her personal journey with her own whiteness and coming to an anti-racist identity.

Hmm, I thought.

I was disappointed to see so little of that in the book, but that’s not Glennon’s fault — I had bad information. It does have a little bit about it, but it’s just one medium-length essay among dozens of others — not even a major theme, really.

I was skeptical because I knew who Glennon Doyle was: a white, feminine woman with a conservative Christian background who fell in love with a (famous, queer) woman (soccer player Abby Wombach — who also wrote a book, Wolfpack) and left her husband. I knew she had quite the social media following, and my impression was that she was in that category of inspirational speakers and motivational self-help that is usually geared toward white wealthy mainstream women, and of which I tend to be very critical for the ways it reinforces capitalism, hegemony, beauty standards, and even patriarchy.

I struggled to relate to a lot of her work because she is so mainstream. I have been out as butch and queer since 1999 — more than half my life now — and my entire adult understanding of myself comes from counter culture, activism, being critical of the overculture, and and being very actively against indoctrination. I not only came out into counter culture, I grew up in it, outside of the contiguous US, and have never had a mainstream US world view. So when she describes her process of expanding and transforming outside of her mainstream world view, I applaud her — but parts of it are not all that radical or even all that interesting to me. Those things seem kind of like a baseline, not a revelation.

What was really interesting — fascinating, moving, and even inspiring — was the ways she describes that transformative process.

I am so impressed and have much respect for her process in general, and how much she had to trust herself in order to re-build her life, going against almost everything she’d known. So many of the short essays that make up this book are about how she trusts herself, the personal process of naming her inner Knowing, the consequences, the social expectations of placing trust somewhere outside of one’s self in order to know what’s right.

The major takeaway for me was about the cost and construction of abandoning one’s self. I know from early childhood development theory that our attachment styles, and sometimes relational trauma, are wrapped up in how we abandon ourselves to seek outside approval. For some of us, we have a pattern of others overriding what we know to be true and right for ourselves, and that often, for me personally, when resentment brews and gets directed at others, it is a clue that I have not been being true to myself at some deep level.

I am surprised to be so moved by this book. If you like personal transformative reflections, parenting, spiritual seekers, truth seekers, you may enjoy this book. I found it very easy to read and digest, with many profound moments.

Krait reviews Sweet and Rough: Queer Smut by Sinclair Sexsmith

sweetandrough-cover

Sweet, sensual adoration and dirty, rough sex meet in this anthology of queer smut penned by Top Sex Blogger Sinclair Sexsmith. The complete collection includes sixteen of Sinclair’s best queer erotica short stories, full of dapper dates, femmes in pretty dresses, flogging, bondage, flirting on the subway, bold moves, and (of course) strap-ons. From ongoing lovers to one-night stands, the kinky queer butch top protagonist delivers heart and dominance, over and over.

Sweet and Rough opens with an introduction discussing enthusiastic consent, in both erotica and real life. An introduction talking about such a serious topic could have been a mood-killer, but Sexsmith handled it very well. There’s an excellent touch of humor and I left the introduction with my curiosity piqued.

The stories all feature Sinclair and a variety of ladies, some newly met, some long-standing lovers. Sinclair describes themselves as “a cock-identified lesbian-feminist queer dyke,” and most of the stories (all but the last three) majorly feature their strapon. There’s all sorts of bondage, an excellent rope scene, and impact play. I really enjoyed how thoughtful Sinclair is as a dom – the narrative makes it very clear that they’re enjoying figuring out what their partner needs. They also do a great job of establishing enthusiastic consent – everyone’s having fun and boundaries are respected.

In the moment, Sexsmith relies on stream-of-conscious writing that really feels visceral and hot. I think the one thing I would’ve liked out of this particular book is a little more variety. Each individual story is hot, but they start to blend together a little when read straight through. This might not be a problem if you take the book one story at a time, or if you really enjoy strapons as a kink.

Otherwise, be aware that there’s a lot of language that would more commonly be found with male characters (hardening cock, that sort of thing), but once I got over my surprise, it’s easy to adjust to. In general, I really enjoyed Sweet and Rough – “All Five Senses” is definitely going on my to-be-reread list – and I think it’s an excellent addition to queer erotica.

Sweet and Rough can be found http://www.sugarbutch.net/sweet-and-rough/

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

SayPlease_13
Reviews for this anthology abound, because it was a big deal when it came out, continues to be a big deal, and will be a big deal for a long time. I first heard of Say Please in an interview with Sinclair Sexsmith on Autostraddle in April of 2012, and while it seemed really interesting I definitely wasn’t ready for something that played with gender dynamics the way everyone said it did. Now that I’ve finally buckled down and read it, I’m exceedingly glad I did, particularly because of the play with gender dynamics. Sinclair Sexsmith had also gone under my radar until Say Please, and so far this is the only writing of hers I’ve read, but the quality of her writing and her taste leaves me sure I’m going to seek out more as soon as possible.
The introduction to Say Please is straightforward and functions to be both enticing and to warn away from kinks the reader may not be into (for example, even though I did read it, the vomiting in “Purge” is on my list of squicks to avoid and I appreciated the warning so I could brace myself). So if you have particular kinks you’re interested in or would like to avoid, the introduction is very clear for each story what the kink basis is.
What really makes this collection for me is how well each author ties everything together. It’s about BDSM, yes, but each character has the kind of depth that really draws a reader into every story. I don’t remember thinking at any point that any character was flat or boring, or that the pacing for any of the stories was off– just the opposite. The only way I managed to spread out my reading of Say Please was by only reading it on my lunch breaks at work, and even then it was over too soon.
The gender play and playing with what defines “lesbian” really resonated with me, though the emphasis most stories had on toys and referring to them as “cocks” rings differently with me on one day than it does on another. Anyone seeking only femme-identified lesbians in this anthology might be disappointed, but for a diverse selection of genderqueer dynamics, Say Please can’t be beat. For its being erotica, the writing and characterization for each piece is fantastic, making for a great collection.

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