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

Review of Venomoid by J.A. Kossler

cover49254-mediumVenomoid by J.A. Kossler

Thanks to Netgalley and Riverdale Avenue Books for the review copy.

Teenage vampire cop Lorin lives in a dangerous world. His duties as an enforcer for the IPO make him an enemy to his own kind, and his non-human status within the very organization he serves give them carte blanche to kill him for any reason, up to and including a poor performance report. To add insult to injury, the only way an adult vampire can be allowed to live, even as non-human non-citizens is if they become “venomoid” through the surgical removal of their fangs and venom glands.

His life gets even more complicated when he meets Lex the zombie, a member of a newly discovered unkillable race of hunters who must devour living human flesh in order to maintain their sanity. As you might imagine, it’s love at first sight, and the two quickly begin planning their life together. Away from the IPO, and away from the zombies and their strict tribal hierarchies. But will the villains on either side of what passes for law in these parts really let them be happy together?

Every couple of years women in the West will remember that women in other parts of the world endure the ritual removal of their clitori in various stages of horrific and gorey agony, and there will be a spat of articles written about it. Many of them detailing, not only the process of the operation in great detail, but the culture that makes it okay, and even the hours or days leading up to it. I have to say that this book reads eerily similarly.

Lorin, who became a Vampire at an extremely young age has been told nothing about his own physiology. Like women who live in clitorectormy cultures, he has virtually no knowledge about what function his own fangs serve. And like women who live in clitorectomy cultures, it seems like in this universe vampire fangs are largely a sexual organ.

Reading this book was like reading one of those articles, just waiting for the proverbial (and sometimes literal) ax to fall. It was fucking tense.

Outside of the physical and emotional oppression through cruel and unnecessary surgery storyline, I was nonplused by the rest of the plot. Not to spoil it, but there’s a pretty serious emergency event that the main character tries to solve through none other than grassroots activism, which is just weird. It’s the equivalent of trying to cure a venomous snake bite through a careful plan to fund the preservation of the natural habitat the snake would have lived and hunted in, far away from bite-able people.

It’s saccharine sweet. Which works in it’s favor, especially considering the fact that so many horrible things happen to this poor kid. But I can’t help but think that if somebody had flattened out the peaks and valleys and replaced them with character development, this would have been a much better read.

3 stars out of 5

Dirty, Sexy Slavery – Review of Bliss

cover48959-mediumBliss by
Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. Bliss will be available for purchase Aug. 18, 2014.

Trigger warning: Mind rape and rape rape.

Can I just say that I love Riptide Publishing? Good and bad, their books are always fun. You’re never in for a dull ride with Riptide.

That being said, Bliss is an ambitious novel. It would be an ambitious novel outside the erotica field. This is actually why I love this genre. If you add fucking to any subject, it automatically becomes more human. What would seem like an insurmountable feat for a vanilla writer ends up being way more accessible in the erotica field.

Bliss deals with some heavy shit. Set in a combination paradise/dystopia, main character Rory James is a new immigrant to the city state of Beulah when he becomes the victim of what would be an everyday crime back home. But things are different in paradise. Very different, it turns out.

After Tate Patterson accidentally assaults Rory in an attempt to evade police, he is offered what looks like an incredible deal. Serve the man he hurt for seven years, live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Maybe learn a trade. It seems too good to be true because it is.

Turns out Beulah has a secret. And now that he’s been implanted with a top of the line behavior-modification chip, Tate isn’t telling anybody. Least of all the only person who might give a damn.

This is a dirty, sweet, even uplifting story of obedience, loyalty, and ultimately of love found in a hopeless place.

Anybody with a sub/dom kink is going to love this shit. Especially if you enjoy non-consent that turns into emphatic consent. Consent in this case, being used lightly. Mind control chip, and all.

Political thriller fans, especially if they like whistle blowers, will also be pleased. Bliss doesn’t rest on cheesecake. The writers put the characters in danger, in distress, and the consequences are serious.

What can I say except that I loved this book. This is erotica that goes out on a limb. It’s totally different from the usual run of snarky, non-communicative bro-ish assholes chest bumping at each other. Compared to what I read most of the time, this book was a breath of fresh air.

Erotica writers, out of all the genres have the most ability to take risks, and yet it is the genre where risks seem to be taken the least sometimes.

Sex is so universal. It can happen in literally any setting, between anybody for any reason. More authors should reach out, try new things. Be fucking adventurous!

Unlike hard line sci-fi and political books, Bliss does get sappy at places. But I wouldn’t hold that against it. Considering some of the shit that goes down, it’s the only way it avoids being a boner killer. Which it absolutely is not.

5 stars out of 5 for being the most interesting thing I’ve seen in months.