I mentioned in my review of Raw that I'm going through some "dark" erotica books as part of a project with my college book club. I also said that I wo...moreI mentioned in my review of Raw that I'm going through some "dark" erotica books as part of a project with my college book club. I also said that I wouldn't be writing reviews for most of them because I already know they're not my thing and no one wants to read my constant negativity. But I have decided to comment on a couple that made a significant impression on me.
There's no rating from me for this book because my own tastes would skew it, but I will say: if "dark" erotica is your thing, then this is one of the better ones. It does carry the usual tropes, but in a subgenre that is essentially rape and abuse wrapped up in an "I-am-so-sexy-it's-okay" package, then this book stands out as being well-written, compelling and even romantic at times.
There is a rich man and a relatively inexperienced student. There is a quirky best friend. There is rough sex. As I said, no surprises there. But there is no abuse and any sexual "control" is completely consensual and respectful - to the point where the guy constantly checks to make sure Karissa is okay with everything. He loves and cares for her but, more than that, he respects her as an autonomous individual and frequently asks what she wants.
The "dark" side of this book actually didn't feel that dark to me, but maybe that just means I've seen way too many gangster movies. Usually with these kinds of books, the "dark" aspect is centred around the guy having kidnapped the woman and/or abusing her in some way. Until she inevitably falls in love with him - did you know that it's not really rape if the rapist has a pretty face? Neither did I. But the guy's (still refusing to call him Naz) dark secret in Monster in His Eyes is only indirectly linked to their relationship. It's more to do with his questionable "professional" antics on the side - which I was able to forgive. Unlike actions such as rape and abuse, which I view as unforgivable.
So, my mind hasn't changed about this subgenre, but if you were on the lookout for dark erotica books that don't actually make you want to cast yourself from the nearest tall building... here you go ;)(less)
This book should really just be called: Sex. Repeat.
Which I suppose wouldn't necessarily be a problem if that's your sort of thing, but I felt like I...moreThis book should really just be called: Sex. Repeat.
Which I suppose wouldn't necessarily be a problem if that's your sort of thing, but I felt like I was back in Real again with all the cringy descriptions of unsexy sex. Actually, no, I felt like I was in a less poetic version of Tampa where the narrator thinks only in terms of where her next shag is coming from. One sex scene followed by another followed by another. This lady lives for one purpose, it seems, and that is to screw the two men in her life. I'm not slut-shaming, go for it. But come on, I don't know how these people's sex parts haven't fallen off by now.
"He welcomes me home with a kitchen fuck, my ass bare on the counter, legs wrapped tight around his waist." Nice to see you too.
I felt nothing for any of them because personality is a hard thing to get a sense of when the characters spend the whole time rolling around on their backs. Plus, the descriptions are just icky and boring.
There's something very clinical about the way sex is described in this book. There's no build-up of sexual tension in any scene, it's straight down to business. He grabs, he pounds, he comes (though always after she does like a good romance novel male). I don't think I've read a book that has so many sex scenes that are just so... vile. Or boring. The people greet each other already sexually aroused, he "takes her to orgasm", then there's some more "constricting and squeezing", before he "takes her to orgasm" again. The "orgasm" word is the only one saving this from being a mechanic's job description. Not that there isn't any foreplay. There is. But that's also about as titillating as cleaning an oven.
The story is about a woman called Madison who loves two guys, screws two guys and they're both aware of it. Obviously, this was always going to be a temporary arrangement. But now there's another woman lurking on the sidelines, watching Madison play her game with these two men and wanting exactly what she has. I'm sure this sounds ridiculous to some of you, but I'm intrigued by this kind of story. I deliberately picked Sex Love Repeat after reading the GR description because I genuinely want to see if an author could make this kind of threeway relationship work convincingly without having the reader hate one or all of them. In this case, it didn't work for me. But if anyone has any suggestions, I'll take them. Because it's a bold move to sell such an unconventional relationship and I do love a bold move.
But perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this book is the ending. I think we were supposed to gasp with shock or something but I just laughed. I'd heard there was some kind of twist coming at some point during the book but it wasn't what I secretly hoped for (that Madison and the other woman would realise their love for each another and forget about Paul and Stewart - I mean, how much better would that have been?!) Alas, t'was not to be. I still think this could have been a solid three stars if the sex was, you know, sexy. Meh.(less)
There are some people who view the line between consent and non-consent, between sex and rape, as blurry. There a...moreWarning: this review is not censored.
There are some people who view the line between consent and non-consent, between sex and rape, as blurry. There are some people who would gladly place blame for rape on that drunk girl in the short skirt who was "asking for it". There are some people who would view flirting and dancing suggestively as an invitation that should be followed through no matter what, it's not the other person's fault for holding the suggestive dancer down and raping them, afterall, it's not really rape if they were flirting first. There are some people who think rape is erotic. And there are some people who think serial killers are sexy.
I am not one of those people.
I'm sure people will start to make assumptions about the kind of person I am as soon as they see my negative rating. I'm sure I can't do anything to change most people's minds. But I am going to tell you a few things about me. For one, I am not a prude. I like reading books about sex. Sometimes I like reading books about kinky sex. I don't mind reading books that push the boundaries with kinky sex into just plain old weird sex. People have their odd kinks and who am I to judge? You want to go home, tie each other up and urinate on one another? You have my full blessing. But there is a line. And that line is drawn, for me, at consent. It isn't a blurry line, it's a straight, permanent marker type line. No non-consensual sex. No sex with those who are not in a position to give consent which, in case you were wondering, includes the mentally unstable, children and animals.
This book isn't a love story. This book is about a rape victim and a rapist. This book is not sexy. This book is not BDSM. This book is not okay. This book is abuse. This book makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like My Little Pony. This book makes Story of O look romantic. This book is rape. The actions in it are inexcusable. It makes me sick.
Now, people do bad things. No argument there. And I don't mind when authors show that. Even when they show it graphically, sometimes I think you need to be graphic about it to emphasise the seriousness of the bad that people do. And Stockholm Syndrome is a serious thing that many people have suffered from. I'm not disputing any of this. The issue I take is with the portrayal of this bad as maybe not being so bad, as maybe even being erotic and sexy. My problem is not with the idea that abuse begets abuse (as this story tells us). My problem is when said abuse is used as wank material. Because Olivia is a victim of rape and severe abuse. There are no blurred lines of consent here. She is kidnapped, raped, beaten, humiliated and dehumanised and we are supposed to find it sexy. When even Reage's nameless "O" participates of her own free will.
I'm sure there will be readers ready to point out the sexual responsiveness of Olivia in this book. Well, to that I only wish I still had the link to an article I once read about rape. Rape is, for me, possibly the vilest thing a person can do to another. Because it takes something that on a physical level can be good (sex) and uses it as a weapon by turning it into something completely monstrous. This article I read talked about the embarrassment some rape victims face because their bodies respond to the stimuli that they are biologically programmed to. Some can even experience orgasm from rape. This doesn't make it any less serious or any more consensual. It does not make me feel better in this book when Olivia's body responds to the sexual abuse. I felt like I was watching a dancing bear being tortured into a humiliating performance. It doesn't dance because it wants to.
Caleb is supposed to gain our pity because of his abusive past. And maybe I could have pitied him on some level, maybe I would have found it in my heart to see him like I see Heathcliff - the abused abuser. Maybe I could offer understanding, if not forgiveness. But I cannot offer acknowledgement of his supposed sexiness. A man who does this is not hot:
- he beats her with a belt - he washes her and hits her when she won't open her legs so he can clean her genitals. - he thoroughly enjoys beating her into submission and humiliating her - he gets aroused by her fear and distress
There is also a disturbing link being made here between gender and roles of dominance and submission. This doesn't exist in BDSM. BDSM relationships can be M/F, F/M, M/M, F/F and anything in between. Captive in the Dark suggests that the dominance and submission between Olivia and Caleb is natural because she's a woman and he's a man.
"He was a man, and I? I was nothing but a girl, not even a woman. I was meant to fall at his feet and worship at the alter of his masculinity, grateful that he'd deigned to acknowledge me."
"Male and female, masculine and feminine, hard and soft, predator and prey."
It made me nauseous.
I'm sure someone will be willing to tell me I didn't get it. That I'm too narrow-minded to appreciate the complexity of what's going on here. Well, yes, fine. If you think it makes me narrow-minded to find the kidnapping, beating and raping of a girl unacceptable and not remotely erotic... then yes, I am narrow-minded. I'll drink to that.
I'm talking about an erotic novel here, so maybe don't read my review if you tend to get offended by open and frank discussion about sexual acts. Just...moreI'm talking about an erotic novel here, so maybe don't read my review if you tend to get offended by open and frank discussion about sexual acts. Just warning you in advance :)
Okay, firstly, this is porn. Just porn. Not a great literary achievement, not something that will sit snug in your mind with the Austen and Bronte classics... PORN. It got quite a reputation for being the first pornography to appear in novel form, and it also got a reputation because it was banned for multiple centuries and resulted in a prison sentence for the author. Being published in 1748, I can't say I'm surprised. In fact, the much more surprising thing is that books like Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) and Delta of Venus (1977) caused such a controversy when Cleland's work had already beaten them to it two hundred years beforehand.
This is far more scandalous than Lady Chatterley's Lover and about on a par with Delta of Venus. The story is a rather disturbing (even by today's standards) tale about a fifteen year old girl who engages in sex with both men and women, participates in mutual masturbation, almost gets raped, falls into prostitution, takes part in orgies, whips a man for his sexual pleasure, and witnesses two men having anal sex only to report them to the local villagers. During this time, Fanny also manages to fall in love several times and - to give credit where it's due - does experience quite a bit of growth as a woman and as a human being.
The plot, though, is completely ridiculous, moves too fast, and ends up feeling sloppy and careless. Fanny runs from lover to lover in what feels like a bunch of short stories about sexual encounters than a full novel about a woman's sexual exploration. It must be pointed out that Cleland's portrayal of female sexuality and the ability for women to have sex for pleasure, not just to make babies or appease their husbands, seems incredibly before it's time. However, Fanny Hill is not a particularly strong character and her circumstances are often a result of where others put her, not where she takes herself.
When it comes to this kind of book, I always try and look it at from two angles and see if it delivers on either: 1) as a novel, or 2) as porn. I don't believe it delivers on the first beyond introducing the eighteenth century to the exploration of female sexuality. As for the second, well, I guess there's something for everyone stuck in here somewhere. Especially if you get hot when female genitalia is described as "clammy" and a guy's penis is described in this way: "not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a maypole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant." Are you fanning yourself with desire? Then this is the book for you!(less)
I never had any intention of reading Story of O until I was recently asked to review it. I knew I wouldn't like it, that it is not the kind of erotica...moreI never had any intention of reading Story of O until I was recently asked to review it. I knew I wouldn't like it, that it is not the kind of erotica I usually waste my Sunday afternoons with, so rather than purchasing the whole thing, I instead decided to read the Amazon Kindle sample. That, I'm afraid, was way more than enough. I'm not sure whether the sample starts at the beginning of the story or not, the first chapter felt a little out of place, but then none of what I read really followed the format of a regular novel.
The sample starts as it means to go on:
"Get in," he says. She gets in.
I laughed at this. Perhaps I shouldn't have. Perhaps I shouldn't laugh at the fact that O allows herself to be objectified and used sexually, perhaps I should pity her for feeling that it's okay to be ordered around in this way. Oh well, I'm just a firm believer that if someone tells you to jump off a cliff and you jump off said cliff, then it's your fault for being a cliff-jumping moron. Just sayin'...
Anyway, as far as your regular run-of-the-mill sex goes, there's hardly any description. It's all entering and plunging and then it's all over. The whipping, however, gets a lot more attention than the sex does, the whole sample doesn't actually feel like erotica unless you're the kind to masturbate while Crimewatch is on. This is a story of violence, not sex. Because sex is a two (or more) way thing regardless of whether it is BDSM or straight-up (lol, pun!) vanilla. If all the participants aren't invested in the sexual activities and aren't getting pleasure out of it then it isn't sex, it's rape.
Okay, okay, before I get carried away with that idea, it's kinda important to point out that it wasn't clear as to whether O was giving consent to what the people were doing to her. She screams and she cries, which to me is something negative, but I'm no expert on how people behave during this kind of sexual encounter. We are not treated to O's thoughts, only her actions and the actions of the people around her. She doesn't express regret, sadness or even pain inwardly.
The only thing that is clear to me (and makes me feel sick) is that the men who are doing all this stuff to her are not concerned with her pleasure. Which, as I said in my review of Fifty Shades of Grey, is important because all parties are supposed to get something out of it. In BDSM relationships, submission is something that a person chooses to do and wants to do because they enjoy what it gives them and what it gives the dom. It is not forced out of someone. The psychological aspect of BDSM is a lot like how it is (or should be) with regular sex. You give pleasure, you get pleasure. However:
"If you do tie her up from time to time, or whip her just a little, and she begins to like it, that's no good either. You have to get past the pleasure stage, until you reach the stage of tears."
These men are evidently trying to break O. They rejoice when she is in pain, when she is distressed, and when she screams or cries. For me, trying to hurt someone for the sake of hurting them - not to give them what they want - is no different from rape. It is sick. This is sick:
The gag stifles all screams and eliminates all but the most violent moans, while allowing tears to flow without restraint. There was no question of using it that night. On the contrary, they wanted to hear her scream; and the sooner the better.
You could argue with me that O actually wants all of this to happen, so I have no point. We are not told what O is thinking, she never speaks to say whether she wants it or not, but I cannot be the only one thinking that this is not the sign of a woman enjoying herself:
Then one of the men, holding her with both hands on her hips, plunged into her belly. He yielded to a second. The third wanted to force his way into the narrower passage and, driving hard, made her scream. When he let her go, sobbing and befouled by tears beneath her blindfold, she slipped to the floor, only to feel someone's knees against her face, and she realized that her mouth was not to be spared.
Though, personally, I think her mouth is the least of O's problems if he's shagging her belly. What's that all about? (view spoiler)[For you clever dicks out there, I'd just like to point out that yes, I do realise that he is actually talking about her vagina. (hide spoiler)]
So, has Story of O changed my opinion about BDSM erotica and whether it is dehumanizing/sexist/etc.? Nope. But I'm learning more and more that people automatically categorize books that combine pain and sex as BDSM, even though they're not, or it's questionable. In BDSM, both the dom and the sub have got to want what's happening, or else it's simply abuse. Though O is hard to understand, there are about twenty quotes from the sample alone that suggest she isn't enjoying being tied up and hurt. And that's why this story is not erotic, but merely fucked up.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I have finally made a decision about Fifty Shades of Grey. I know, I know, my review of this isn't really needed, everybody's talking about this book,...more I have finally made a decision about Fifty Shades of Grey. I know, I know, my review of this isn't really needed, everybody's talking about this book, everybody's got the general gist of what it's about. But I've spent quite a long time thinking about this novel, the characters, and the relationship portrayed. I've been thinking about all the reasons people hate this so much and love it so much. I need to confess - for those who missed it - that I originally reviewed this first book immediately after finishing it and before I started (and finished) the other two books in the trilogy. I gave it three stars, I expressed all that Fifty Shades of Grey had made me feel: annoyed, frustrated, confused, and also entertained. I have since then felt like I have much more to add.
The reason I personally think that opinions differ so greatly on these novels is not because people have different sexual tastes. For some, yeah, this will come into play. However, I think the main reason is that this book and the characters send out a confusing mix of messages. When I finished Fifty Shades of Grey, I had no idea what kind of book I'd just read. Was it BDSM erotica? Or the tale of a man's childhood abuse and how this impacted on his sex life later on? Were Christian Grey's sexual tastes supposed to be erotic or wrong? Let me tell those of you who haven't read this: it isn't clear.
This book appears to be an erotic BDSM romance at face value. But Ana makes it clear early on that she doesn't want that kind of relationship, that Christian is "fifty shades of fucked up", that the way he behaves isn't right, but is actually the result of an abusive upbringing. Ana later contradicts her early decision and gets all pouty when Christian won't play kinky with her... and yet the previous time he'd done it she spent the evening crying and feeling sorry for herself. Some people seem to see Christian as the big bad man who abuses a weak young woman. This is not the case. There is nothing, I repeat nothing, that happens between the two of them that Ana doesn't give consent to. Sure, she may whine about it afterwards, or use the excuse that she doesn't want to lose him, but she makes the choices, she holds the power.
Here's what I think is the ultimate problem with Fifty Shades of Grey: Ms James' terrible writing. It's nothing new, she even admitted it herself, but that is why we all can't figure out what it is about this book that makes it some parts entertaining, some parts annoying as fuck. Because I'm trying to categorise this so I can begin to understand it, so that I can form my opinion and write my review accordingly. But we cannot understand what doesn't make sense. And James' characterisation does not make any sense at all. She writes Ana as a naive student at the mercy of Christian's abusive past, then she writes Ana as a sexual manipulator who actually likes BDSM. Is Christian sexy or a victim? I'll tell you: he's both and neither, because James cannot create characters and relationships to save her life. She contradicts herself, she changes her mind without logical reason. This is why it is pointless analysing the relationship between Ana and Christian. One minute it's sexy, the next minute it's fucked up. One minute it's BDSM, the next minute it's abuse. How do you accurately review a book that changes its mind every two minutes?
I also feel I need to say something about BDSM. Any more than a small amount of kinky doesn't really interest me, but it doesn't bother me either if it is between consenting adults. However, there are two things I can say about this matter in Fifty Shades of Grey: 1) it really isn't that kinky, and 2) for the most part, this isn't really a BDSM relationship (I don't think the author actually understands what one is). I can't say that I'm experienced in visiting those kind of clubs down the dark allies of Soho, but I've done not a small amount of reading on the psychological aspect of BDSM relationships. I have a keen interest in feminism and I have often wondered if something like this is nothing but a hindrance to the progress of women and equality. I would conclude from my reading that it is not.
Firstly, BDSM relationships are about give and take. The dom and the sub each give one another what they want/need. It isn't about abuse, it isn't about selfishly taking what you want, and because these relationships involve relinquishing control to another person, there is a deep amount of trust required. Also, it is important to note that the power of the dom is an illusion, the sub holds all the power, they say how far it goes, when it stops, what is too much. The key thing is that both of them get something out of it. Which is why the relationship in Fifty Shades of Grey can only be called BDSM when Ana does an abrupt u-turn on her opinions and decides she wants a bit of spankiness. The parts where she is upset about the relationship Christian wants - that is not BDSM. The parts where she reluctantly allows him to get his way - that is not BDSM.
I think there is nothing wrong with BDSM erotica. I think there is nothing wrong with doms, subs, sex slaves, whatever... if that is what the person wants. But Fifty Shades of Grey is about 10% BDSM relationship and 90% bad writing that just fucks with your head until you're not sure what the hell you're reading. Ms James has created one mess of a book, whether you'll look at her mess and see something entertaining or horrific, well that's kinda just like looking at this picture and asking whether you see a rabbit or a duck.
The moral of this story: the quickest way to a woman's heart is through her ass.
This story was the slightly better of the two I read in the Surrender To Fire book and the sex scenes were fairly hot at times. I'm still unsure why anal sex is a requirement that goes hand in hand with love when it comes to Lora Leigh's writing, but I didn't feel quite as sick during the dirty talk episodes. Unfortunately, the guy was as openly foul-mouthed as nearly every one of Leigh's heroes.
The thing about a lot of Lora Leigh's novels, from what I've gathered so far, is that they might work for a lot of people as erotica because there's plenty of extremely graphic sex, but they flop down on their faces as soon as Lora tries to turn it into a romance... which she does a lot. In pretty much every story she tells, somewhere amid the spanking, gross language and anal, one or both characters realises they are in love.
Love works in erotic romance, look at Lorelei James, look at Shayla Black, even look at the first Lora Leigh novel I read: Wild Card. But it only works when there's a story and a relationship that goes beyond doing someone in the ass. There's something about a lot of Lora's work that fills me with revulsion, I know I should walk away but it's so hideous I can't stop reading. I must break this habit fast and read something I can feel positive about for a change.