The Book that Called Uncle – Review of The Flesh Cartel

cover52093-mediumThe Flesh Cartel, The Complete Collection by Rachel Haimowitz and Heidi Belleau

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

I requested The Flesh Cartel back in the Fall of 2014, and every time I would sit down to read it, then put it down again, I thought that I was just having a bad day. I’d go on and read other books and review them, and then try to come back to no avail. I’m finally throwing in the towel. It’s unfair to continue to think that I will someday finish this book.

I blame my own headspace for this one. I tend to love this stuff. Stories of intense BDSM relationships and situations are usually right up my alley. I was totally excited to read The Flesh Cartel, I’d been hearing about how great it was for years.

For those not in the know, this popular series centers around two orphaned brothers who are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, where they are meant to be trained as the perfect submissive slaves.

The first several chapters are straight up terror and pain. Again, usually it’s totally my thing, but it was hard to get through. The original serial nature of the piece made it seem drawn out in book form. A lot of intense things happen in every chapter, because they were originally set as stand-alone pieces meant to sustain a reader until the next installation, but the plot moves incredibly slowly, a least at first.

The boys are likable characters, and they are very clearly not enjoying any part of their situation. I usually prefer my hardcore to be similar in caliber, but with an eventual kernel of consent or underlying secret desire, and while that is threatened, it’s not something that happens. So I begin to feel more than a little bit like the bad guy by continuing to read these characters into deeper and deeper depths of insanity. Yes, I am the kind of crazy person who actually (sort of) believes that I put the characters into and out of danger by reading or not reading. It’s a sickness.

I do know that the boys eventually escape, and I have a feeling that the story gets way less repetitive after that, but it was difficult to get there for me. I’m going to keep going back to the work, and when I do finish it, I will be updating this review, but I wanted to get something out after so long in draft.

3 out of 5 stars

Pushing Buttons and Butting Heads – Review of Burnt Toast B&B

cover58649-mediumBurnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

It was nice to see both Belleau and Haimowitz again. After my 5 star review of Bliss, which Belleau co-authored with one of my faves, Lisa Henry and Haimowitz’ cereberal slave/master piece, Anchored, I was really geared up for a good performance in book 5 of the Bluewater Bay series, which I’ve enjoyed so much.

And it totally delivered.

Burnt Toast isn’t my absolute fave BB book, but I was really happy to see a major title with a trans lead, and a story that didn’t shy away from the tensions, both psychological and personal that come up when a narrow-minded thinker is challenged to be greater than they are by the people and situations in their life.

Butch ex-logger Derrick has some deep seated issues with his own masculinity, born of a seriously internalized homophobia. So when he inherits his parent’s beloved Bed and Breakfast, the idea of making nice in a stereotypical gay paradise is beyond him. As the B&B falls deeper into debt and disrepair, he decides he’s done his filial duty, and it’s time to close up shop.

Fortunately for everybody, sassy stuntman Ginsberg, who you may recognize from the first Bluewater book, Starstruck is here to save the day. Except it looks like he’ll be ruining it first.

Derrick wants Ginsberg out of his house so he can sulk in peace, but he’s too polite and repressed to tell the kid to fuck off, especially after Gins says he’s trans. Derrick may be a grumpy bastard, but the last thing he’d ever want is for anyone to think he’s transphobic.

For his part, Ginsberg can’t get a read on the moody proprietor of his cheap new digs. After breaking an arm on-set, he needs to lay low and recover without expense. He knows more than anybody how quickly a sure thing can turn into a shit sandwich.

The sexual tension is amazing right off the start, but for a man who considers himself a fierce, self confident queer, the overgrown, underdeveloped Derrick is a little bit outside of Ginsberg’s normal level of acceptability. The fact that the man seems to go from nice, funny, and charming in one second to sub-verbal cave-douche the next is both annoying and frustrating.

Derrick finds himself thinking of Ginsberg all the time, but when it comes to the guy himself, he’s all elbows and thumbs. He completely ignores the shit Derrick means to be offensive, and takes offense to the shit he considers to be regular human interaction.

Can Ginsberg overcome his history in order to give Derrick a chance? Can Derrick trash his heteronormative hypocrisy in order to win the man of his dreams?

The only part of this book that didn’t make it my fave in the series is that Derrick really reminds me of myself sometimes. My own weird butch shit made me hate Derrick like cold fuck, but my love for Ginsberg and the supporting cast made me stick around. Also, I wish there was more sex, but Bluewater Bay books don’t usually have a lot of sex scenes anyway, so it is in keeping with the series.

4.5 stars out of 5 for an awesome read

The Most Thought Provoking Slave/Master Porn You’ll Read This Year – Review of “Anchored” by Rachel Haimowitz

cover53361-mediumAnchored by Rachel Haimowitz

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

Riptide does it again. There’s no wrong way to go with these guys, is there?

Anybody who doesn’t have a stomach for violence, or for alternate universes where basic human rights are not only not a thing, they’re kind of a new idea altogether, should not read this book. There are horrific beatings, and violent rape, although they’re not told in such a way as to be arousing, unlike some other books I’ve reviewed with varying degrees of approval.

Anchored is one of two books set in a universe where slavery, specifically Western slavery, where slaves have no rights, was never made illegal. It is an extremely dark look at the notion of privilege, ownership, and power, and how those things can influence relationships. A psychologist would have a field day with these characters.

Daniel is a successful news anchor and lifelong slave, owned by the corporation who produces his show. When the flagging network turns to “leasing” him out nights and weekends, he can only be happy that he’s been leased to one man, and not hundreds, like some other television slaves.

Carl buys Daniel as a companion, not only because he’s admired him on TV, but also because he’s a fellow news man, and thinks Daniel would be a good friend outside of the bedroom. His complete lack of insight into the horrors of slavery was familiar to me in that I’ve seen the same shocking obtuseness in some of my #notallmen friends. To a much smaller degree, both situations tend to look like an otherwise good man trying, and mostly failing to peer across the veil of culture to see the very real divide between himself and someone he would have as a fellow.

Daniel is terrified of getting fucked by his strange new master, and the man’s inability to see his reality comes across as either cruelty or idiocy more often then not. Something I’m sure a lot of us can relate to. Whether they can get along, whether they can provide any small comfort to each other in a world so stratified, is yet to be seen.

This is the second edition of Anchored. Riptide has revised it, and added more than 10,000 words, which sort of makes me wonder what it was like before. The emotional twists and turns that a person is required to make in a situation where he does not have the right of choice are on display, as are the issues we find when a person of privilege tries to relate to someone on whom that privilege is built. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s amazing in it’s own right.

The scope of Anchored is broad, and the emotional landscape it lays out is a veritable mine field, but but it succeeds in being an extremely compelling and provoking thought-experiment that tries to answer the question: Can a slave truly love a master?

Because the only context I have for this is, of course, my own reality, I ended up interpreting a lot of the interaction through the lens of privilege, and to that end, this is a fascinating read all around. Every character is so real in their imperfection, in their raw humanity, that they could be people I know in my own right. When another, wise and maternal slave advises Daniel that it would be better for him if he resigned himself to what she regards as his sexual obligations to their master, I could almost hear my own mother and grandmother speaking in that moment. Her own history, and her own experience keep her a sympathetic character even after this horrific mutation of the birds and the bees talk. For this, and for so many other reasons, this book is a must-read for anyone who can take the violent, disturbing nature of the content.

Ultimately, things get a little too poly-anna for my feminist heart, but I also wasn’t outraged by the turn, and I could easily see myself being pissed had things gone another way. The fact that there is about 50% of a happy ending was, I think, a good choice given the venue. On the one hand, there’s no way a writer could have been so flippant as to give a life-long slave a happy ending, on the other hand, there’s no way a writer could be so cruel as to not give a life-long slave some kind of happy ending. Basically, I ain’t mad.

4 stars out of 5