LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Heating Things Up | Erotica Reviews, November 1, 2016

Summer HAS TURNED TO FALL, but the characters in this month’s picks are heating things up. English nanny Sophie Henshaw expands her professional and very personal horizons with an insatiable couple in Our Little Secret, while Beautiful’s Jensen and Pippa spend a road trip exploring New England wineries and each other’s bodies. Queer naughtiness abounds in Cleis’s 2016 edition of Best Lesbian Erotica, as it does in J.A. Rock’s raunchy “Subs Club” finale, Slave Hunt. On the Regency front, Deepest Desires’ Duke of Sinclair discovers that his old flame Portia may not be quite the ­naïve gentlewoman whose heart he broke ten years ago, and Ruby finally gets her happy ending in A Very Ruby Christmas. We’re also taking a look at two sizzling summer erotica events: the annual BDSM Writers’ Con and Flame Con’s Queer Erotica Panel.

redstarBest Lesbian Erotica of the Year. Vol. 1. Cleis. Dec. 2016. 200p. ed. by D.L. King. ISBN 9781627782166. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781627782173. EROTICA

bestlesbiantwo-jpg103116Now in its 21st year of continuous publication, Best Lesbian Erotica truly lives up to its name with this powerful collection of F/F fantasies. Dramatic tales of heady revenge sex (Tasmin Flowers’s “Act Two” and Roxy Katt’s “A Cooking Egg”) are interspersed with sweet snippets. In Geonn Cannon’s “Ink and Canvas,” submissive narrator Sydney fondly recalls the development of a cherished body-marking ritual with Dominant lover Lina, while an omniscient narrator plays an unconventionally inter­active role during Emma and Anna’s weekend getaway in Elna Holst’s quirky “Two Women Having Sex.” Additional highlights include Evey Brett’s “Coyote Girl,” a mystical tale of a grieving Mexican healer finding tenderness with her mysterious patient, and P.A. Nox’s “A Sense of Coming Home,” the anthology’s closing submission in which two ex-lovers tread a beautiful path toward a new beginning. VERDICT A ­dazzling, diverse volume of erotic lesbian love stories. Recommended.

Ellis, Jenna. Our Little Secret. Pan Macmillan. Nov. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9781447266785. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781447266792. EROTICA

In this scorching debut novel, Manchester, England, native Sophie Henshaw feels stagnant in a run-down flat with her conventionally attractive yet bland boyfriend and no grand plans. A leap of faith application to a magazine ad for an “exclusive” nanny position in America takes her beyond any world she’s ever known—the lush lifestyle of wealthy, enigmatic couple Edward and Marnie Parker. Hopelessly seduced by glamour and luxury, Sophie finds that it isn’t long before she is falling for the couple themselves. She knows her job and her morals are in jeopardy with each step closer to their bed but cannot resist Edward’s perceptive intensity, or Marnie’s thrilling spontaneity. Yet, when her deepest fantasies finally become erotic reality, Sophie receives a shock that will leave her forever changed. VERDICT ­Ellis’s strong writing and passionate sex scenes weave a tempting web, as ­Sophie becomes a willing pawn in a sensual game. With the promise of a sequel, readers will be craving more by novel’s end.

Kent, Lavinia. A Very Ruby Christmas. Loveswept: Random. (Bound & Determined). Nov. 2016. 144p. ebk. ISBN 9780399593871. $2.99. EROTICA

rubychristmas-jpg103116In this holiday interlude in the “Bound and Determined” series, brothel owner Madame Rouge has finally found love but has yet to find contentment as she waits for her Captain Price to return from yet another seafaring journey. Meanwhile, she is battling a reticence to sell her establishment to the highest bidder while helping a relative who has turned up with an urgent plea. During this in-house drama, Lord Colton and his wife, Angela, are living out her deepest spy-captive fantasy, seemingly worlds away. While Ruby’s primary plot progresses, readers are treated to a plethora of steamy scenes as her clients arrange kinky Christmas “gifts” for their wives involving gags, riding crops, Dominant/submissive power play, and much more. VERDICT A sexy holiday bow to Kent’s (Mastering the Marquess) series. Recommended for fans of historical erotica with a touch of light BDSM.

redstarLauren, Christina. Beautiful. Gallery: S. & S. (Beautiful, Bk. 5). Nov. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9781501127991. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781501128004. EROTICA

When Pippa Bay Cox discovers her boyfriend Mark’s infidelity, she decides to take a break from it all (terrible job and murky London scene included) and clear her head with a visit to family in Boston. Pippa is seated next to the handsome yet rigid Jensen Bergstrom on her flight, and her words flow as freely as the in-flight alcohol, much to Jensen’s dismay. The two part on awkward terms and un­expectedly reunite on a group trip through Northeast wineries. Meticulous, uptight Jensen is undone by Pippa’s openhearted charm, and the two embark on what they both imagine is a temporary fling. But as each faces the ghost of past decisions, they realize a big leap toward the unknown might be in store. Writing duo Christina Lauren bring their ­characteristic blend of drama, sex, and silliness to this conclusion to the “Beautiful” series, tempering the heavier topics of un­resolved heartbreak and crippling loneliness with rogue garden sprinklers, humorous banter, and impromptu wood-chopping contests. Happy endings abound as each “Beautiful” pair find their own version of domestic bliss. VERDICT This feel-good read showcases a raunchy reunion of each beloved character in the series. Sure to be a hit among loyal fans.

Page, Sharon. Deepest Desires of a Wicked Duke. Kensington. (Wicked Dukes, Bk. 3). Nov. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781617730962. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617730979. EROTICA

Ten years after their disastrous engagement, the Duke of Sinclair can’t shake his yearning for gorgeous ex-fiancée Portia Lamb, whom he dumped for a life of opium dens and sexual deviance. When Portia is kidnapped to lure him to a sex party far from home, Sin has no choice but to stay by her side until the kidnapper is found. Portia, curious despite her nature, learns that there’s more to sex and sexuality than she even dreamed possible, as she watches the guests pursue their own carnal pleasures. What begins as an odd affair soon becomes a grisly crime scene when murder is thrown into the mix. Steamy flashbacks of Sin’s first tastes of group sex pepper the present-day story line of Portia and Sin reconnecting in the midst of danger and succumbing to a decade’s worth of lust. Page (Deeper in Sin) concocts a wild tale of suspense and sensuality that will keep readers turning the pages. VERDICT A delightfully dirty historical novel with momentum, mystery, and plenty of passion.

Rock, J.A. Slave Hunt. Riptide. (Subs Club, Bk. 5). Nov. 2016. 166p. ISBN 9781626494701. pap. $16.99. EROTICA

The members of the Subs Club are thoroughly enjoying their respective forays into coupledom—Dave is living with his stoic Dom D; Gould has found a balance with Master Kel and her husband, Greg; Miles and Drix are coparenting Miles’s adopted son; and oddballs Kamen and Ryan are as love-drunk as ever—until a competition from kink club Riddle shakes things up. The big challenge is the Slave Hunt, a community-­wide paintball game wherein Dominants hunt submissives and tie their captives to whipping posts for (pleasurable) punishment. Though all in the name of fun, the contest causes tension that nevertheless brings out new sides in each relationship. What transpires is a lighthearted, kinky spin on The Most Dangerous Game, as each player explores their motivations within the woods and gets up to some delicious mischief along the way. Rock’s “multiplayer” POV offers a glimpse into the psyche of the club members and their significant others, delightfully capturing the motley crew’s assorted quirks of expression. Though the novel (after 24/7) is on the shorter side, there are plenty of escapades, sexual and otherwise, to keep readers entertained. VERDICT A fun, frisky conclusion to this playful M/M ­series. Recommended.

A Tale of Two Cons

bdsmwriters-jpg103116The third weekend in August saw the return of two burgeoning New York conventions: BDSM Writers Con and Flame Con. This is the third year of the BDSM Writers Con in NYC, an exploratory conference to provide information and education for people interested in accurately portraying BDSM in erotica. The increasingly successful event has since expanded to include a West Coast cohort in Everett, WA. Flame Con, New York’s first and only pop culture convention catering to the LGBTQ community, returned for its second year in Brooklyn. The convention was started by queer group Geeks OUT! in an endeavor to replicate Comic Con, with safer spaces and relevant programming for LGBTQ attendees.

BDSM Writers Con

Per previous years, the 2016 BDSM Writers Con boasted content suited for genre readers, writers, and lifestyle enthusiasts alike, as well as the BDSM Writers Con Anthology, which is published concurrently with the conference each year and features authors who are usually nominated for the Golden Flogger Award. Though there did not appear to be separate “tracks” (prior iterations have included a track geared toward the generally BDSM-curious and another focused on common author concerns, such as the logistics of publication and advice from best-selling writers), this year’s panels still provided a solid mix of experiential learning and professional skill development.

Event programming kicked off with an opening ceremony and “BDSM Intensive” led by founder Charley Ferrer. The Golden Flogger Award Ceremony, another conference staple, recognized authors for outstanding contributions in categories such as Para­normal, Dark Erotica, LGBT, and Nonfiction. The Publishers’ Panel was a con highlight, with industry editors providing valuable insight on submissions (the manuscript variety), publisher/author etiquette, and current trends in the genre in order to set authors up for success.

Familiar faces led the instructional demos that comprised most of Saturday’s programming, showcasing rope bondage, the electro-stim device known as the Violet Wand, and various forms of what could be considered “edgier” play (i.e., knives and mind games). Demonstrations took place alongside workshops addressing creativity and power dynamics in kink, including “Scenes from Both Sides,” a 101 class discussing the emotional and physical distinctions of a Dominant/submissive relationship, led by a couple in the lifestyle.

Flame Con

flamecon-png103116Flame Con presented a highly entertaining and informative “Importance of Queer Erotica” panel. Moderated by comics artist and writer Tab Kimpton and featuring panelists Blue Delliquanti, Lewd Alfred Douglas, JC Etheredge, Kori Michelle, and Fyodor Pavlov, the session afforded an opportunity to discuss the purpose, pleasure, and challenges of creating queer erotic content.

From the outset, this panel proved an intriguing contrast to BDSM Writers’ Con panels, as evidenced by the flexible attitude toward the controversial term porn. Unlike BDSM Con speakers, who have often expressed a desire to differentiate the erotic from the pornographic, Flame Con panelists found social aversion to the term reminiscent of enforced respectability, choosing instead to resist the necessity of distinction. The discussion opened with the historical significance of pornography, with Kimpton naming it “a taboo that will never not be taboo.” Scandal aside, erotica can serve as an educational experience; many of the panelists cited smut as potentially formative media, both as a means of fantasy exploration and of placing personal desires in a normalized context. When the concept of representation vs. fetishization arose, Douglas was a vocal advocate for ethical representation, stating that diverse bodies and couplings can reinforce to consumers that they are worthy of desire.

But how do artists ensure their erotica is ethical? As with any genre, detail and complexity are key. Characters should be people, not tropes defined by a singular aspect of their identity. Pavlov encouraged introspection, as well; when creators analyze their own kinks, fantasies, and character portrayals, it only makes their work “smarter.” This rule resonated with the group’s next topic, a hot-button issue for contemporary media overall—best practices for creating ethical, nonobjectifying erotic content with characters who don’t share their creator’s identity traits.

The latter portion of the session was dedicated to industry pet peeves, namely the difficulties of printing and distributing erotic materials—a particular issue when companies can use the vague yet loaded “obscenity” claim to shut artists down entirely. All of the panelists recounted tales of printing companies refusing or penalizing creators for their explicit content, or having to alter book titles to remove “salacious” elements that might lead to undue product inspection. Pavlov brought up the uniquely high bar of trans bodies in erotic media and the limitations placed on their depiction, regardless of whether sexual activity is taking place.

Wrapping up on an optimistic note, the panel closed with each creator describing what they’d like to see more of in the industry. Kimpton called for “sex scenes that change [me]” and serve to complement the wider story, not fill it. Delliquanti requested more long-form erotic works and graphic novels, while Michelle cited broader depictions of trans and nonbinary characters seeking pleasure in unconventional ways.

Ashleigh Williams is a New York–based freelance writer

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