Frisky Fates and Fortunes In the enchantingly erotic Witches, Princesses, and Women at Arms fairy-tale anthology from Cleis, common millers, fighters, and farmers find their lives intertwined with ethereal wood nymphs and royal daughters in disguise. Jackie Ashenden continues the trend with Billionaire Beast, in which polar opposites Phoebe and Nero come together to create something electric. Jaded Dominatrix Amélie finds her routine thoroughly shaken up by gorgeous, unbroken alpha-sub Olivier in Kristen Ashley’s “Honey” series debut, and downtrodden Lucky’s life finally lives up to her name in Zara Cox’s seductive Beautiful Liar. We also cover an erotic reading at Bluestockings, wherein authors present excerpts from Cleis’s steamy Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Vol. 2.
Ashenden, Jackie. The Billionaire Beast. Swerve: St. Martin’s. (Billionaire Fairytales, Bk. 2). Mar. 2017. 176p. ebk. ISBN 9781250136770. $3.99. EROTICA
Brutish billionaire hermit Nero de Santis is on the hunt yet again for an in-home assistant. He has a bad habit of driving them away quickly with his outrageous demands but is intrigued by docile Brit Phoebe Taylor, the newest candidate, who has her own tough reasons for seeking an impossible job with an equally impossible salary. The two launch into a battle of wills from the start, with Nero taking any tactic to push the envelope and break Phoebe’s patient demeanor. Phoebe finds herself intrigued by the temperamental recluse despite herself, and Nero is pleasantly puzzled to find someone who won’t run away. As their enmity grows into something much stronger, both Phoebe and Nero must face fraught personal demons and overcome their internal obstacles to love. VERDICT Recommended for readers seeking an adult perspective on “Beauty and the Beast,” with a very modern erotic twist.
Ashley, Kristen. The Deep End. Griffin: St. Martin’s. (Honey, Bk. 1). Mar. 2017. 480p. ISBN 9781250121110. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250121127. EROTICA
Ashley’s “Honey” series opener sees seasoned Dominatrix and Bee’s Honey Club member Amélie Strand growing bored with the scene and realizing that she wants to play with a permanent partner for the first time in her life. As if on cue, in walks broad, buff alpha-sub Olivier Hawkes. Olly shores up excitement and a deeper feeling Amélie hasn’t had in a long while. Although his submissive demeanor is unpracticed, his cheeky nature makes him difficult to break, much to Amélie’s delight. Little does she know that Olly’s membership to the elite club started as a con, a shortcut into a world that had long piqued his interest. He was unprepared for stunning, commanding Amélie to enter his life, nor for the effect she has on his libido. But will their connection survive complications when it’s taken beyond the walls of Bee’s Honey? VERDICT Though the slightly lengthy prose occasionally complicates the raunchy action, overall, this latest from Ashley (Motorcycle Man) is an enjoyable title for femdom fans.
Cox, Zara. Beautiful Liar. Forever: Grand Central. (Dark Desires, Bk. 1). Apr. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781478945383. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781478970187. Erotica
Quinn, alias Q, is a notoriously reclusive, emotionally unavailable billionaire, with a disturbing secret and an expiration date. He copes by taking solace in as many vices as possible, one of which is filming rough pornography for auction and donating the resulting small fortune to charity. Lucky, his latest costar, is a downtrodden yet feisty young woman whose experience so far has been anything but lucky. Growing up in the grips of a brothel called the Villa and mistreated by everyone in her life, she runs to the chaotic wilderness of New York City, with Villa’s ruthless boss Clay hot on her trail. When the opportunity to earn big money for a risqué job arises, she can’t say no. As she starts to fall for her billionaire boss and the enigmatic voice behind the camera, the ghosts of Lucky’s past catch up with her and begin wreaking havoc in the present. VERDICT Recommended for dark erotica fans seeking a twisted thriller à la 50 Shades.
Witches, Princesses, and Women at Arms: Erotic Lesbian Fairy Tales. Cleis. May 2017. 216p. ed. by Sacchi Green. ISBN 9781627782289. pap. $16.95. EROTICA
Cleis’s newest anthology casts quite a spell, with sexy spins on classic fairy-tale tropes. Poignant, touching submissions abound, including H.N. Janzen’s “The Prize of the Willow,” about a lonely farm girl’s forest foray that leads to a lifetime of happiness with a wood nymph. A.D.R. Forte’s lyrical contribution recounts a warrior’s epic quest in search of her princess, directed only by a song in the wind. Heavier entries are balanced by playful ones—in Emily L. Byrne’s “Toads, Diamonds and the Occasional Pearl,” a wannabe knight finds herself reluctantly rescuing caustic Princess Eliann, a childhood crush afflicted with a most interesting curse. Allison Wonderland’s punchy “SWF Seeks FGM” portrays courtship from the perspective of the oft-misunderstood evil stepmother, who is turning over a new leaf with a flirty Fairy Godmother. There is one creative hit after another. Familiar themes arise of butch “common” women paired with femme royalty and witches, but each tale is rendered so skillfully as to make any repetition unique. VERDICT An excellent series of Sapphic fantasies. Highly recommended.
Best Women’s Erotica Warms up Winter Crowd
There was quite the turnout on February 11 at Manhattan’s Bluestockings Bookstore & Café, as folks filled the indie activist venue for a night of sweets and lust out loud. The audience was treated to free cupcakes and readings from Cleis anthology veterans, including Best Women’s Erotica editor Rachel Kramer Bussel, Stella Watts Kelley, and Annabeth Leong, along with fresh faces Vierra Lai, Ella Dawson, and Abigail Ekue. Leong read from a scorching erotic piece and meditation on gender identity, “On Some Maps, but Not on Others,” while Kelley detailed a saucy spin the bottle round that holds promise of a thrilling threesome in “Teacher Appreciation.”
On the newcomer front, Lai debuted “A Hint of Lime,” and Dawson’s “Serious Faces” showcased a knack for blending titillation with snarky commentary on start-up office culture. Ekue rounded out the reading portion of the evening with a sensual, smoky tale of a woman finding far more pleasure than she expected during her afternoon gift run to a cigar store in “Cigarro Tarde.” Bussel also read on behalf of absent authors, including Winter Blair’s “At the End of the World,” wherein a hopeless m/m/f find a moment of passion and peace in their deserted, postapocalyptic landscape.
The reading was followed by a Q&A, the majority of which focused on the unique aspects of crafting erotica, finding sexy inspiration outside one’s own bedroom, and navigating writing for distinct genres.
When asked, “How much of your writing is drawn from your own experiences?” Bussel stated that while that was how she started out, she now plays around with scenarios and characters specifically unlike her own history, a challenge that Ekue also incorporates in her creative practice. Lai contributed valuable advice she received for the perfect steamy scene: combine three of your personal best sexual experiences, and go from there. A similar draw to the unfamiliar has spurred her newfound wanderlust; Lai cited travel as a means of writing better stories set afar. To expand one’s perspective further, Bussel encouraged technical research: heading to online message boards, exploring communities to inform one’s work. Focusing on the commonalities between herself and the character she’s creating also helps. Ekue mentioned a preference for building characters and their personality before delving into the sexual aspects of any story.
Not surprisingly, most of the evening’s authors admitted to wearing multiple writing hats, with collective backgrounds in the realm of nonfiction. Bussel cited erotica as a playful break from less imaginative genres, while Dawson expressed interest in blending the political with the erotic. Ekue described her trajectory into the genre as natural; a longtime short story author and screenwriter, she found sex scenes always ended up in her work and decided to try to include them intentionally. Kelley, on the other hand, had a very practical incentive for pursuing erotica: compared to her pieces in other genres, she said these works are far more likely to be published, which serves as strong commentary on erotica’s major upswing in the past few years.