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

Down and Out – Review of Counterpunch

cover53372-mediumCounterpunch (Belonging Book 2) by Aleksandr Voinov

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

This is the second Voinov novel I’ve reviewed, as well as the second Belonging book, which you’ll recall was the controversial series set in an alternate universe where slavery was never abolished.

Like the first novel, Counterpunch brings up questions about the nature of love and relationships in a society where equality is illegal, but also examines a draconian criminal justice system that takes everything from a person, making redemption impossible. This book starts with a the question: what does a man have when he has nothing left to take?

When all else fails, when one can no longer emotionally manipulate one’s captors and owners in exchange for even the illusion of safety, what is there? What choice is left to someone who has no legal right to choose? Alternately, what happens to good men in a cruel system where there’s nothing but choice?

Brooklyn Marshall was a freeman, a cop and a husband until an accident on the job sent him to prison, and then into slavery. Now he’s the property of a conglomerate that buys and trains boxers, and he’s set to become the slave heavyweight champion of the world. But that doesn’t keep “the management” from hiring him out to the highest bidder to do whatever they want with him.

Little does he know that his next playing customer, Nathaniel Bishop, has other plans for his time… plans that are destined to crumble just like everything else Brooklyn ever loved.

Like Anchored, Counterpunch isn’t erotica so much as it’s a socio-political think-piece made possible by virtue of the fact that it’s ostensibly erotica. On the face of it, Anchored is a much more intellectual book. Counterpunch shies away from both the extreme violence that Anchored tackles head on, and the difficult realities of the universe in which it takes place. I don’t mean that one book is inherently better than the other, but Counterpunch is way less heavy, and therefore less difficult to read, but it didn’t get my brain going like Anchored did.

4 stars out of 5

I am the Vassal of Fuck Review of Icebound

cover52909-mediumIcebound by Corinna Rogers

Thanks to Net Galley and HarperImpulse for the review copy.

This was a page turner. Set in a world where magic is a new development, where fae creatures actively meddle in the lives of mortals, Drake and Shane are former lovers turned enemies by the very bond they shared. Faced with a choice ten years before, Shane enslaved himself to the Ice King rather than watch Drake die, but what should have turned him in to an unfeeling automaton only seems to make him a sharper warrior. So why can’t Drake see that?

Drake is tormented by the empty husk of his first and only love, unable to turn him away, unable to take him back, the last thing he wants is for them to work together, but when they learn about an opportunity to save the world… and Shane, how can he refuse?

I admit, I was bugged by the fact that the entire book was written in first person present. It’s exhausting to read for long periods of time, and it’s more than a little disorienting. Other reviewers have pointed out the lack of character development, the terrible dialog, that the author tends to show and not tell. Considering that this looks like it was Rogers’ first foray into full-length monographs, I’m not as scandalized by the lack of proper world-building as others have been.

She has something that kept me turning page after page, bad one-liners and everything. Her sense of narrative urgency is superb, and her sex scenes are the exact right kind of depraved. All the sweet love-making I’ve been reading about lately is nice, but this is the good stuff. The kind of rough and tumble assfucking that warms the cockles of one’s cock. This is not a skill to be easily dismissed.

It’s all well and good to have relatable characters, but if it isn’t hot, why take the time to write erotica? The other skills can be developed. Writing an impactful sex scene is a talent that even the majority of porn writers seem scared to embrace.

2.5 stars out of 5, but I will be keeping my eye on this author.

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

The Worst Book in the World

cover45527-medium Clipped by Devon McCormack

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Seeing as how this is a first book by a new writer, I don’t want to discount the achievement that publishing is, in and of itself. However, finishing a manuscrupt and shipping it off to Amazon is not the only thing successful book writing requires, and as much fun as this may have been for the writer to write, it was severely lacking in that department for me, the reader. Ben and I have actually been calling it The Worst Book in the World in discussions amongst ourselves.

Imagine 50 Shades of Grey author E.L. James teamed up with an ESL student and an emotionally disturbed eighth grader, and you have a general idea of what reading Clipped is like. About halfway through, I made it my life’s ambition to finish this whole book just so that I could absolutely say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is entirely crap from cover to cover.

It is.

Mister McCormack is in sore need of a vocabulary primer. He also needs to hire a nun to stand behind him and hit him with a ruler every time he uses the words “biceps” or “abs”. In addition to other parts, people have arms and torsos, which in their turn play host to various muscle groups. While biceps and abs are two such groups, they are by far not the only ones, nor can they be interchangeably used in references to other body parts. For example, you wrap your arms around someone, you can not wrap your biceps around them unless you’ve just performed a rather gruesome home surgery, or perhaps if you are plastic man.

3020845-plastic-man

Anatomy, in general, seems to be an issue in Clipped. The sex scenes are… gruesome, for lack of a better word. And that’s coming from me. It’s no secret that, as a result of being spanked (etc.) overmuch in my youth, I enjoy those activities quite a bit as an adult. To the extent that most average people find my interest in that area to be problematic. And yet, this book put me over the sad/bad/gross side of that edge.

In regular erotica when a dude with a huge dick dry fucks another dude in conjunction with an angry fist-fight, it’s minimally rapey, and ultimately insanely pleasurable. The exact opposite of what it would likely be in real life. In the world of porn, big dicks are both for looking at and for playing with, because in porn world, there’s no such thing as maximum elasticity or anal fissures. There’s also pretty clear indication of consent, even if it’s just through radiating need, or whatever tired cliche is hot right now. And if anything gets dangerous, there are always extenuating circumstance that keep the main characters from being villains. Clipped snatches that fantasy away from it’s readers with malice.

The sex scenes feature massive anal injury, to the point of gushing blood, and on at least one occasion, is followed by a shit-dick joke. One character repeatedly sustains injuries a man would die from were he not hospitalized. Also, my inner editor wants me to point out that the general lack of vocabulary we see in the bicep/ab situation is similarly present here. There are about seven hundred English words for pain. And yet, the pain is so painful, the characters radiate pain. Someone please buy this man a thesaurus. And probably some therapy. Or at least a primer on writing BDSM.

The plot is also terrible. I knew who the bad guy was about three chapters in. The main conflict centers around a really stupid lack of communication, and the ending is devastatingly depressing, completely bone-headed, and setting up for a second book. I can’t. I mean, I’ve read other reviews, there seems to be a market for this. So by all means, please continue, if only to provide those of us who dream of someday writing a whole book with the knowledge that, no matter what, someone will probably like even that.

This book is awful, do not buy it.

Zero stars.