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Book Review: Set Adrift by D.S. Kenn (Series, #1)

April 4, 2015 5 comments

Book Review: Set Adrift by D.S. Kenn (Series, #1)Summary:
Terric, nickname T, a half shifter half demon, and his girlfriend Jordyn, full vampire, have decided to move from New York City to Provincetown, Massachusetts.  T has an opportunity to work as head of security at a nightclub and bar that caters to the supernatural, and he thinks the move will be good for he and Jordyn.  Jordyn had a nightmarishly abusive past, and T has been helping her heal through a safe, consenting BDSM relationship.  But his love for Jordyn is not one of a mate; it is one of a friend.  He intuitively knows that his mate will be a man but he struggles to accept this, due to suffering he has endured in the demon realm.  When Jordyn decides it is time for her to stand on her own two feet and move out, she also encourages T to confront himself and grow as well.  But all T feels is set adrift.

Review:
Every November/December I open up to submissions for books to review in the upcoming year on my blog.  When I saw this one in the submissions, I was excited.  Not very much paranormal romance is submitted to me, and paranormal romance with a bisexual main character is nigh on impossible to find.  Plus, I love Provincetown.  This paranormal romance features a unique set of characters and a wide variety of sex scenes but its world building struggles some.

The strongest aspect of the book is that its main character Terric is so unique in paranormal romance.  Terric actually describes himself perfectly:

I’m an anomaly. A fucking bisexual demon shifter. Not really all of any one thing…. I don’t really fit in most categories, you know. (page 33)

First, I love love love the fact that the hero of the book isn’t just bisexual, but he actually uses the term to describe himself as such.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it is quite rare to have a character self-identify as bisexual and simultaneously have that character be one of the good guy leads.  I really applaud the author for going there.  Terric struggles with his sexuality but not for the reasons the reader might expect.  Provincetown, for those who don’t know, is known for being a small town with a large accepting queer community.  T’s community would accept him for who he is, but he struggles with accepting and loving himself.  The reason given for this is that when he is summoned to the demon realm (as a half demon, he is subject to hell’s dominion), he is sometimes subject to punishment that consists of rape by other male demons (or half demons).  The reason he has trouble imagining being mated with a man is due to this trauma.  Bisexual men experience a higher rate of rape than straight or gay men (source), and I think it’s a good thing that the author works this into T’s past within the context of his supernatural world.  The rape is not misrepresented as causing his bisexuality but rather as a trauma he must get over to fully embrace his sexuality for what it is.  It’s not a storyline seen very often, and it’s handled well.

Similarly, the BDSM subplot in the first half of the book is also handled well.  The BDSM is completely presented as something both partners have consented to with pre-agreed upon boundaries that are respected.  It is also shown as something that is therapeutically used to help Jordyn overcome her past trauma.  This is a use for BDSM that some readers may not know but it is clearly well-understood by the author and well presented in the book.  Plus, the BDSM scenes are well-written and just the right level of steamy.

Unfortunately, the world that T and Jordyn live in is not as well fleshed-out as they are.  In particular, the workings of the supernatural world are never fully explained and can be a bit confusing.  For instance, vampires can apparently have children (as in, conceive and give birth to them, not as in turning humans into vampires), but it is never explained how.  Also the logistics of mixing different supernatural races are unclear.  For instance, there is one character who is 100% shifter, but his parents are both half vampire and half shifter.  Even the character himself doesn’t know how that worked out to him being pure shifter.  Some readers probably wouldn’t be bothered by the lack of details and world building regarding the supernatural and just how it works in this world, but others will be.

There are a few minor editing mistakes, the most startling of which is that the book on page 142 suddenly changes from indenting new paragraphs to having a line space between them (like how paragraphs appear on this blog).  I have no preference for one over the other, but consistency throughout the book is preferred.  There is also one plot point that bothered me.  At one point a character is established as being tipsy.  He then kisses someone and, freaked out about it, decides to leave and states that he can because he is “sober as a judge,” and the other character agrees he is fit to drive (page 152).  Unless that kiss lasted an hour or two, there’s no way he went from tipsy to sober as a judge in the span of one kiss (unless something supernatural was going on that was not explained).  Similarly, sometimes the book veers too far into telling rather than showing, particularly in the scenes that are not sex scenes.  For instance, in one scene, this occurs:

He told Kevin a little bit about his own upbringing, just the basics. (page 144)

At this point, the reader does not know much about this character’s upbringing.  Why not write out the dialogue in which the character tells Kevin about it, rather than telling the reader that the character tells Kevin?  The sex scenes never veer into this telling rather than showing zone, and it would be nice if the plot points didn’t either.

There is also a chapter that is called the “epilogue,” which kind of bothered me since it is a direct continuance of the plot in the previous chapters.  No significant time is skipped, nothing in the future is explained.  It is basically the last chapter in the book.  I am uncertain as to why it is thus called an epilogue.  I was expecting it to update me on the future of these characters, not simply continue the story in a direct linear fashion from the last chapter.

Sex acts in the book include: anal sex (male on female), BDSM (male dom, female sub), and M/M kissing/touching.  Rape is mentioned as an occurrence in the past but is not depicted.  Those readers looking for more in-depth M/M scenes should keep their eye out for the next book in the series, as it appears that a M/M relationship will be building to greater intimacy in the next book.

Overall, this is a welcome addition to the paranormal romance genre, featuring a unique cast of characters, including a bisexual half-demon, half-shifter male hero.  The book contains a wide variety of sex scenes, including M/F BDSM and M/M kissing/touching.  Readers interested in in-depth world building may be disappointed by the lack of explanation of the supernatural world these characters inhabit.  Those looking for a quick, steamy read will enjoy these characters and the development of them that goes on in-between their well-written sex scenes.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today by Kate Bornstein (Audiobook narrated by Alice Rosengard)

June 27, 2013 1 comment

Red lettering on a yellow background stating "A Queer and Pleasant Danger" black lettering around the edge says the subtitle of the novel, "The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology, and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today"Summary:
Kate Bornstein is a playwright, gender theorist, and queer activist.  She chose to write a memoir as a way to reach out to her daughter, Jessica, who is still in the Church of Scientology, and thus, must not speak to her.  Her memoir talks about growing up Jewish in the 1950s, feeling like a girl inside a boy’s body.  It then talks about why and how she joined Scientology (still identifying as a man, Al), climbing Scientology’s ladder, marrying, fathering Jessica, and finally getting kicked out of Scientology and becoming disillusioned.  From there the memoir explains to Jessica how and why Al decided to become Kate and talks about the person behind the queer theory, trying to explain who the incredibly unique parent she has truly is.

Review:
I was feeling bad about how far behind I’ve fallen in writing up reviews for the books I’ve finished reading, but with the historic DOMA ruling in the US yesterday (giving official federal support to marriage equality), I’m really glad I had a GLBTQ book in the queue ready to be reviewed.  And not just any GLBTQ book. An amazing one!  You can’t read that title and not be intrigued. It’s impossible.  I spotted it on tumblr and instantly knew I had to read it.  A memoir about a transwoman who was a member of Scientology?! It’s the intersection of three topics I find fascinating.

Kate is unabashedly honest about the fact that this book exists as a letter to her daughter, Jessica.  The prologue explains that this memoir came about as a way for Kate to reach out to Jessica and her children, even after Kate has passed away.  This lends a tone to the book of an elderly neighbor sitting down to tell you their life story, and you finding out gradually that your elderly neighbor is, in fact, a bad ass, and age has nothing to do with how cool a person still is to this day.  And Kate doesn’t hold back because of this perspective.  If anything, she is more brutally honest than she might otherwise be.  She wants Jessica to have a whole, clear picture of who she is.  Flaws and all.  One technique that I thought was brilliant for a memoir and helped establish trust in truth between the reader and the author was the fact that Kate would tell a family story she heard growing up and then say, well, that was a lie.  I thought it was true, but it turns out what people told me was a lie.  Given that, how can we ever know what really is true? Just because we think something is true doesn’t mean it is.  It’s an excellent grain of salt to be given in a memoir.

After the prologue, Kate tells her story chronologically.  Her story can be roughly summarized as the following sections: growing up a gender queer person, joining Scientology, break-down after getting kicked out of Scientology and coming to terms with her queerness, transitioning, life as a lesbian trans activist, finding BDSM, and overcoming depression and suicidal thoughts.  It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride, and one cannot help but feel empathy for this person just struggling to find a place in the world.  Personally, I think Kate’s life story is an excellent argument for breaking down the binary gender divide.  A lot of Kate’s struggles come from the rigid gender norms and expectations placed upon her by others.  It would have been much simpler for people to have let her be gender fluid, and indeed, Kate in more recent years has come to be an activist for gender fluidity and queerness (as is evidenced by her book Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us).  This memoir of course explores trans issues, but it also is an amazing gender queer memoir.

The Scientology section was surprisingly mundane compared to what I thought actually happens in Scientology.  Yes, there was abuse and lies and many other things going on that demonstrate the fallacies of L. Ron Hubbard, but honestly none of it was that much worse than religious extremists of any religion.  Scientology expects its followers to cut themselves off from people deemed poisonous and to proselytize non-stop.  It takes over the lives of the people in the upper-echelons, controlling every aspect of their lives.  We can see all of this in Kate’s years in Scientology, and while it was interesting, none of it is shocking to anyone moderately informed on Scientology.  I actually was more interested in how Kate wound up joining Scientology.  Scientology teaches the the soul is genderless, and you also reincarnate.  Everyone has been in both male and female bodies.  Kate (then Al) found this incredibly comforting.  It’s possible that his soul was just more frequently in female bodies, and so that’s why he felt like a girl inside.  What an appealing concept to a confused, unsupported trans or gender queer young adult.  I think this part of the book demonstrates clearly why it’s important for families and loved ones to be supportive of their glbtq teens and young people.  You don’t want a harmful group of people snapping them up with promises of understanding and caring and information that sounds more supportive than the people they live with.

Interestingly, the much more shocking section was the one in which Kate discusses discovering BDSM and getting pleasure from pain.  Kate was part of a BDSM triad for quite some time, and this is addressed.  It does, however, come with a warning for Jessica and readers who might not want to hear the details so they can easily skip over it and still get the most important information without getting all the details.  I thought that was a nice touch from Kate, showing her maturity and openness.  Of course, I read that section, and I will say that Kate had a more intense BDSM relationship than you tend to see in literature, and it was interesting to read about.

It’s also interesting to note that from the prologue Kate is honest with the reader about being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder years ago.  This is not something I knew coming into the book, and I don’t think Kate’s mental illness played very much into the book.  I certainly think she would have had a better time coping with her mental health issues if she had had a supportive environment for her queerness.  Even within the GLBTQ community, she was ostracized for some of her less mainstream beliefs within that community.  It’s sad that even a community of people ostracized by the larger society, people can still be unaccepting and unloving.  In spite of the fact that the book talks a lot about depression, self-injury, and other mental health issues, I am hesitant to label it as counting for my Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge.  I don’t want the casual reader to think that I’m equating being queer with having a mental illness.  However, the fact remains that Kate herself states she was diagnosed with BPD, and trans and queer people certainly can have mental illnesses.  One does not cause the other, although certainly I think lack of acceptance and loving increases symptoms of mental illnesses.  In any case, for this reason, I am counting this read for the challenge, but I want to be crystal clear that this is due to Kate’s BPD and NOT her queer/trans orientation.

The narration of the audiobook was perfect.  Thankfully, they chose to use a female narrator throughout, which fits perfectly with the image of an older Kate Bornstein telling her life story to her daughter.  Alice Rosengard was a perfect narrator.  She became Kate in my mind, and there’s not a better complement you can pay a narrator than that.

I feel like I’ve rambled a lot about this book.  It’s hard to succinctly discuss a memoir as unique as this one, let alone a book you love as much as I loved this one.  It’s amazing. It’s unique.  It does exactly what a memoir should do. It tells a unique life story in an engaging way that forces the reader to put herself into someone else’s shoes and feel empathy and maybe even come out of it with a changed worldview, however slightly.  I strongly recommend this book to everyone, really, but especially anyone with an interest in GLBTQ history/theory/studies or an interest in the first few decades of Scientology.  I will definitely be reading more of Kate’s works, myself, and want to thank her for being a pioneer, in spite of everything.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Two women's faces behind a hole in a bloody door.Summary:
When Kate saves her bellydancing instructor from a random assault in the parking lot then brings her home to a party at her house full of 20-somethings, she doesn’t expect much to come of it. But before she knows it, she finds herself inexplicably attracted to her…not to mention tying her up for some BDSM.  That’s unexpected enough, but when Jamie and others turn pasty gray and start craving human flesh, Kate and her roommates find the world falling apart around them.  Thanks to an STD-style zombie plague.

Review:
Zombie erotica is its own special kind of erotica, and this is not the first of its kind that I have read.  Zombie erotica basically consists of….zombies and erotica. Also punny titles.  The title is definitely the best part of this book.  Everyone I said it to when they asked what I was reading totally cracked up.  The basic concept is rather ordinary, and the execution, while it has a few laughs, is mostly ho-hum.

Making the zombie plague an STD is a logical leap.  Many illnesses spread sexually, and often they spread before there are any visible symptoms.  In fact it’s a great way to spread an illness because of the amount of *ahem* proximity between carrier and the previously healthy person combined with the fact that people almost always will be having sex.  Toss in that the virus amps up attractiveness and/or promiscuity, and you’ve really got an epidemic.  The problem, of course, is that at some point the carriers have to actually turn into zombies.  Beamer handles this transition moderately well.  It is eventually understood that the carriers are basically irresistible crack-cocaine to the nearby uninfected, so that even if they know this person is about to turn into a zombie, they will still hook up with them.

It’s unfortunate that such a creative zombie plague is wrapped in a mostly ho-hum storyline that only becomes interesting when it becomes borderline offensive.  For the most part the story features two of the roommates in a household of 20-somethings approaching the zombie apocalypse getting separated early on, approaching the zombie apocalypse in their own way, then working to get reunited.  Michael tries to pull the household together when Kate abandons ship pretending that nothing is happening to keep her “date” with an older man that is actually more of a sugar daddy appointment.  Michael’s storyline is fairly straight-forward and believable, whereas Kate’s quickly goes off the rails.  I also am not sure that I’m a fan of the whole writing her as a huge slut who winds up having to pay for her crimes whereas Michael is the golden guy thing.  I don’t think Beamer intended it be read that way, but it certainly does not come across as sex positive.

The other part of the storyline that bothered me is that there is a rape. Now. I am not against rape as part of the plot in anything but erotica.  It is a crime that happens and pretending like it doesn’t happen is bizarre. But rape in erotica is an entirely different ballgame.  Erotica is all about turning on the reader, and I do not condone using a very real rape to turn a reader on.  Clearly two consenting adults can agree to act out a scene of non-consent if they wish, but within the book, this is not a consenting scene of non-consent.  There is no prior discussion, no safeword. The character is definitely raped.  To me it is no different from tossing in a pedophilia scene. It is an awful, heinous crime, and it shouldn’t be running around turning people on.  When a book’s entire point is to turn people on, it should definitely not be all up in my erotica.

All of that said, I must still admit that the book is well-written.  It is engaging with a unique plot.  I truly feel it is a book that each reader must decide upon for themselves, but I do hope that readers will come into it better informed than I was, knowing about the questionable sex positivity and the rape content.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: King of Paine by Larry Kahn

December 16, 2011 5 comments

Sillhouette of a woman in front of Atlanta skyline.Summary:
Frank Paine was a Hollywood A-list leading man until he let the woman he loved deal with a BDSM scandal in the news on her own, thereby destroying her career and saving his.  The guilt got to him, so he ended up leaving Hollywood and joining the FBI in an effort to bring justice to the world.  His first case in the Rainbow Squad, however, involves not child rape or molestation but adult, BDSM style rape-by-proxy, and his ex-girlfriend is a suspect.  Meanwhile, a former Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who’s been drowning his sorrows in alcohol finds himself swept up into the life of Angela del Rio and and discovering rumors of a place called The River.

Review:
I’m of two minds about this book.  I felt the need to find out what happened in the end, but I also didn’t enjoy the meat of the story very much.  It’s kind of like when you find yourself watching a marathon of The Biggest Loser and wondering why, exactly, it matters to you who gets voted off when the show get so many nutrition and exercise facts wrong and why exactly are the competitors cut off from their family anyway?  Actually, it’s exactly like that.

Kahn builds suspense well.  He’s clearly paid attention to just how much and how often to ramp up the violence and intrigue to keep a reader reading.  I also appreciated the two separate story-lines that then intertwined.  Of course, the reader knows they’re going to intertwine, but how is not immediately obvious.  That was a nice touch.

Kahn also moves smoothly between real life dialogue and the chats on an online BDSM website that are a key part of the investigation. It was definitely crucial to a modern story to include the internet, and he switches between real life and the internet quite well.

That said, other crucial parts of telling a story fell flat for me.  Kahn does not write women well.  On looking back, it is evident that women in his story are divided into the classic dichotomy of angel or whore.  There is no real room for three-dimensional characterization, making mistakes, or understandable motivations.  For instance, Paine’s ex goes from calling her brother to threaten to kill him to getting back together within a week.  That’s, um, fast?  Similarly, although Kahn slips back and forth easily between Paine’s and Roger’s perspective, he never shows any of the women’s perspectives, even though they are the ones being raped, beaten, tricked, used, and abused.  I can understand using the perspective of an FBI agent, but why couldn’t the second perspective have been Angela instead of Roger?  Or why couldn’t he have made the reporter a woman?  Regardless, none of the women in the story were believable, real characters.

Similarly, I was ultimately disappointed with who the perpetrator of the crime ultimately is.  Without spoiling it, suffice to say the choice is stereotypical, bordering on racist.  It was a choice lacking in creativity or sensitivity.

Overall, although the suspense reeled me in, the content of the story left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  I suppose if you want a junk food style suspense, or if the negatives I pointed out wouldn’t bother you, you may enjoy this book.  Those looking for thought-provoking, realistic suspense should look elsewhere, however.

3 out of 5 stars

Source:  Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop (series, #1)

August 17, 2011 7 comments

Girl holding glowing thing.Summary:
In this fantasy matriarchal land, people are ranked by their power based on what color jewels they are mystically assigned to wear when they come of age.  The darker the jewel, the better.  The women all have some sort of witchcraft power, but none have had the power of The Witch in hundreds of years.  Corrupt women have messed with the structure of society turning it from harmony to darkly using the men and women to their own advantage.  Men in particular are used by controlling them via a ring of obedience (placed around their penis).  Into this messed-up society the much waited for Witch is born, but most do not recognize her.  Lucky for her, the demon dead Saetan and his two living sons, Daemon and Lucivar, do.

Review:
This is what I would call high fantasy.  The only thing missing really is knights in shining armor.  A friend gave me this trilogy for my birthday as it is one of her favorite series, and she thought I would like it.  I can see why she thought I would like it.  It’s dark, graphically violent and sexual, and the choice to depict a messed-up matriarchy instead of patriarchy is unique.  Unfortunately I just couldn’t get into it.

First there’s the whole jewels and traveling on webs and wind and speaking on a soundwave that only people with that jewel can hear thing.  None of these things are ever particularly explained.  They just are.  Ok, so that probably works for fantasy fans, but I’m a logical, scifi reading lady.  I want explanations for things.  Also, how society fell apart is kind of massively unclear to me.  I’m not sure how things went from good to bad or what the properly functioning society is supposed to look like.  It’s all very confusing, and frankly, I can’t remember the order of the ranks of the jewels.  I just remember that gray is second-strongest and black is strongest.  But then later in the book some people say they’ve worked their way up to stronger jewels than their birthright.  Um, what?  When did that happen?  How can that happen?  If you can do that then why does your birthright jewel matter at all?  None of this makes any sense. Agh.

Then there’s the ring of obedience.  So they put this on violent males who are now sex slaves, apparently.  They serve witches.  The ring makes it so they can’t get a hard-on without pain.  But they don’t take the ring off for sex, which means these women are using sex slaves but never actually having intercourse. Who would want that?!  How does that make sense?  Also, Daemon can apparently pleasure women and tie them up just with his mind.  He can do this but he can’t get a ring off his dick?  This feels like badly-organized erotica.  Which would be fine if it was erotica, but it’s fantasy, so wtf Bishop.

So then we have Jaenelle, The Witch.  She’s eleven or twelve, I can’t remember exactly which.  Her family thinks she’s crazy because she’s super-powerful and travels around meeting mystical creatures and told them about it, which was a bad move.  She got sent to an asylum then brought home, and she’s been all Miss Mysterious Dark Eyes That Are Actually Gorgeous and Sapphire ever since.  This is the main mystery of the book.  That and the manly threesome trying to protect her from the big bad queen witches who want her dead.  So Daemon is working in her house and basically falls in love with her.  He’s never felt sexual desire for a witch before, but now he does.  He feels horrible that he feels it for one so young and vows to wait until she’s grown up enough to be with him, but he still feels it.

Then we *spoiler alert* find out the asylum is just a cover-up for pedophiles, and of course Jaenelle gets raped, and a good witch saves her, and Daemon and Saetan work together to try to save her, and in her mind she tells Daemon that he just wants her body just like everyone else, and he basically makes out with her in her mind to show her he wants to be her lover not hurt her.  This makes her come back to her body and heal it. Then she escapes to Saetan and Daemon escapes off to a brothel.

Can we just HOLD THE PHONE for a minute.  I am not at all against a pedophilia storyline or plot device.  These things happen in real life, so it’s ok for them to be in a story.  I do have a problem with the “good guy” having sexual feelings for an eleven or twelve year old when he’s literally centuries old.  He himself admits this is bad, but instead of going away from her, he makes out with her in her mind (when she’s in half-horse form no less).  I just….what.  What the what.  What am I supposed to think about this?  How am I supposed to feel about a book written by a woman in which the matriarchy basically abuses everyone and yet the men still wind up with most of the power (the manly threesome) over this young girl who is supposed to become the awesome ruler one day, and one of the guys has pedophilic feelings for her. WTF.*end spoilers*

I suppose it’s possible that Daemon is an anti-hero, and we’ll find that out later in the series.  That Jaenelle will triumph and prevail over everyone and fix everything.  We can only hope.  I do suspect that part of my issue with the book is just point-blank never feeling comfortable in the fantasy world Bishop lays out.  I just don’t do high fantasy.  When will I learn this?

That said, it does seem well-written, and I think if a fantasy fan can handle very dark and graphic violence, sex, and themes, they will probably enjoy this trilogy.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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