intense sensations

Archive for the ‘Hot Stuff’ Category

Beginning with ForeverBeginning with Forever by Lan LLP
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel was like an exotic cocktail. It went down very smoothly but had quite a kick. Its very strong storyline is helped by a trio of memorable characters and their sharp exchanges. I adored Lily. She is one of three narrators and I loved the sections where she took up the story. Her way of looking at the world and the language she used really drew me into her budding romance with Carson Bradley. It was like getting a long letter from a close friend. At times she seemed like more than a friend, because she doesn’t skimp on detail. She tells you all the juiciest bits and in the choicest language, so you feel you are right there with her, savouring every moment.

Carson was one of the other narrators. He was more business-like and brusque but the change of viewpoint worked very well. Quite often he’d reveal a completely different perspective on something Lily had just described. The effect would be to make you laugh or wince.

Carson is not without his weaknesses. Perhaps the most glaring of these is his ex, Bianca. Besides being the third narrator in the novel, she is a cold-hearted villain who schemes to destroy Carson’s relationship with Lily. These schemes become darker and more deadly as the story progresses.

The multiple viewpoints are handled expertly and give the story variety and pace. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and couldn’t wait for bedtime so I could dive between the sheets again with Carson, Lily and even the evil Bianca. (There is an intriguing under-explored storyline in Bianca’s life.)

The action, I should say, is not entirely between the sheets, but it’s a story that’s best read in bed. Some of those juicy bits are simply too good to be wasted anywhere else. If ever a book deserved to be called erotic, it’s this one. In fact it’s the most erotic book I’ve read this year.

Coming Together Presents: Remittance GirlComing Together Presents: Remittance Girl by Remittance Girl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How time flies! I’ve been meaning to review this book for so long that I’ve almost forgotten what the stories are about or why I thought they were so good.

I’ve had it at least a year.

And what a year it’s been! This time last year I was looking back on my career as a writer and remarking on how little I’d written.

Well, and during the Christmas holiday last year I wrote a story called Scandal! I was very proud of it and thought it was quite deep but I’d rushed it onto the page in only three days and I thought I should let it settle a bit before publishing it. In March or April I re-read it and decided it could be quite special if I was patient enough to let it germinate for a while and come to full maturity.

And it is germinating still. But let me assure you, it’s good!

Apart from that, and a fiery little outburst some months ago, I have had another fallow year and I’ve spent more time reading than writing.

I haven’t even been reviewing what I’ve been reading. Instead — and this is the point, in case you are wondering why this review is so far all about me and not at all about Remittance Girl — I have been studying how the professionals do it. I’ve discovered that book reviews should really be all about the reviewer rather than the book, as in this adorable example from Leo … someone-or-other. It’s very clear he’s a Leo, don’t you think?

In case you are thinking … Aha! She can talk! … Let me tell you at once that I’m not a Leo. Just a little crab.

And as a little crab, I often crawl sideways along the shore, staring goggle-eyed at the overwhelming tide of creativity all around me.

Remittance Girl is perfect company for me on my travels because she is a writer’s writer. She is literate, reflective and wise. She is a discriminating reader and draws upon her reading to stay fresh, inspired and quirky.

Whether she’s erotic or not, I’m not sure. She writes about erotic experiences. She is a storyteller. And she is fascinating.

The problem with reviewing collections of short stories is that there is so much to comment on that it’s hard to keep the review fairly short and still put in lots of information about me. But, as if reading my mind, Remittance Girl has solved this problem by including a story set in Limehouse, London, which I happen to pass through every day on my way to work.

In the old days, Limehouse was London’s Chinatown, full of shady warehouses, brothels and opium dens. This provides the backdrop for a rather prickly story about a profligate young man and a seductive Chinese woman called Mai.

“Mai seemed to be very much at home. She stepped delicately to a low table supporting two bronze lions in the Chinese style and put the flame from a small oil burner to three slender sticks of what Gerald learned later to be incense. Then, when the sticks were sending up hair-like tendrils of sweet-smelling smoke, she took up a small metal rod and struck it against the body of one of the lions. It chimed sweetly.”

It’s the stuff of fantasy. And yet it is very concrete and the descriptions are precise. There are sensual moments. You can see even from this very brief excerpt that Remittance Girl knows how to appeal to your senses. But at its heart the story is deeply philosophical. It is sharp and to the point. It ought to be, for it is called ‘The Pipe of Thorns.’

You must be prepared for sexually explicit passages. But, heavens above, who isn’t these days? But here, as in so many of her stories, the truly adult theme is what Remittance Girl does with this explicitly sexual encounter. She gives it a twist so brutal that young minds would instinctively shy away and shut down.

So these are adult stories, adult in the sense that they question and challenge our preconceptions and predilections. They can be delicate and they can be brutal. But they are never gratuitous, for they show all the seriousness of a writer who takes writing very seriously indeed.

private livesThe early lives of authors have always interested me. Not just authors but artists, actors and musicians too. Trying to earn a living by artistic means can be a titanic struggle and a real test of character. We take it for granted that Shakespeare wrote, directed, performed and produced his own plays. We pay homage only to the works, forgetting the huge entrepreneurial effort he put into building his career and scaling the uppermost ranks of English society.

And what of Noel Coward? When you listen to the exuberant, hilarious dialogue in Private Lives you might think, like me, that he was born successful. How could it be otherwise when every line he writes exudes confidence and social savoir faire? Well, it’s true that at the age of 24 he caused a theatrical sensation with his play The Vortex, of which he was the star, the author, the director and the decorator. But the following year he was spat at in the street when people didn’t like Sirocco.

Such is the precariousness of success.

No-one can doubt, though, surely, the enduring appeal of Private Lives. It is not only entertaining, it is an essential resource. When infuriated by your lover, don’t stutter platitudes or seethe in awkward silence. Snap with panache. Prick him with needle-sharp sarcasm. Be sexy. Destroy him with lethal one-liners.

Private Lives picks apart the complexity of sexual relationships with rare candour and precision. It is funny because we recognise the truth of every word. It exposes with ruthless flippancy the vanities, the vulnerabilities, the secrets and the lusts of the two central characters. Packed with passion and brilliantly performed by Paul Scofield and Patricia Routledge, two of England’s most distinguished actors, this audio edition makes it possible to listen to their riveting quarrels again and again and enrich your own private life with their biting wit. Although written in the 1930s, the play is astonishingly modern. You can lift entire phrases and drop them seamlessly into your own erotic bickering. Your lover will find you at once more sexy, more sassy, more classy and more desirable.

You can find this production on AudioGo, the home of BBC audiobooks. There are different versions of the site for different countries, so make sure you are looking at the site applicable to where you live.

And if, like me, you listen on the go, you can impress your fellow passengers with frequent worldly smiles and the occasional guffaw, before going home and scintillating with your lover.

StrummedStrummed by Stella Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On those days when you have your most rapturous sexual experiences, you can’t help feeling deep in your heart that there is nothing trivial or superficial about sex. If you are going to talk about it, you are going to be as articulate as you can. If you are going to write about it, you want to find the very best words. And if you are going to read stories about it, you want them to be chosen by Kojo Black at Sweetmeats Press.

The very best writing flows like music. Sex is a lot like music too. It has sounds and rhythms. It is amplified and enriched by the synchronous movements of your body. So it makes perfect sense to have a sexual anthology themed to music, and to the idea that your body is an instrument that can be strummed.

Since it is an anthology compiled by Kojo Black, you would expect “Strummed” to include some of the very best writing, conveying, through its sounds and rhythms, the pleasure and profundity of sex. And you would be right.

Here is an example of some beautiful musical writing by the very refined and very sensual Harper Eliot, from her story “And the Midnight Trio.”

As he reached the angular shape of her hip, he kissed her shoulder, pausing there to let her feel the rough stubble on his chin.

It was moments like these, always moments like these, that allowed Violet to escape the mundanity of day to day life. She wasn’t sure when exactly she had agreed to sit and live with boredom, but she went to sleep each night with the wish that she was living a more extraordinary life. Meanwhile she made no attempt to create any constant excitement, living instead off feelings such as these, the stubble of his chin grazing her milky flesh.

The other stories have moments like these too. The writing is not grandiose or pompous but it touches you. It sinks into your subconscious and resonates there.

In “On the Highway 17” by B.Z.R. Vukovina we meet a folk singer called Cob who knows in his soul that he is going to be famous. Cob’s journey has a mythic quality that is expressed not just through the juxtaposition of black bears, totems and the rugged beauty of the Canadian landscape, but also in rhythms like these:

Cob heard the water before he saw it: a faint buzzing that intensified like a swarm of insects, steady without the monotony of mechanisms, always on the verge of crashing, of waves, like the string of a guitar plucked hard, once-and-forever.

The trees ended.

He emerged from amongst them and approached Winnie, who was already standing on the slick, rocky edge of the white rushing water of the (“They call it the Dead Horse.”) river.

The other stories in the collection are more prosaic but the impression they make is no less emphatic. We meet several highly creative cellists in “Well Played” by Stella Harris. There’s a rampant rock chick in “Raw” by Amélie Hope. And in “The Vicar’s Organ” by Percy Quirk we meet the plain spoken Mrs. Evans and the even more plain spoken Mr. Creasey.

“You’re a horny little slut, Mrs. Evans,” he said to me, smirking. My nipples were dark and erect. I could already imagine his hands on my breasts, roughly kneading them, hurting and exciting me. “Get on with it,” he said, gesturing impatiently with his hand.

I unfastened my skirt, again folded it, and laid it next to the blouse on the sofa. I was down to my stockings and knickers.

“Leave them,” he told me. “I will only use your mouth today.”

One of the advantages of reading an anthology is that you get variety. Variety of phrase, of image, of voice. Variety of situation and, let’s be blunt, variety of sexual position. There are different insights and different obsessions. But one of the particular advantages of a Sweetmeats anthology is that the stories are relatively long. They have time to evolve.

I have only given you a hint and a taste of them here. A few chords and motifs. To get the full effect you really need to dive in deeper. So get the full works and immerse yourself in this stereophonic symphony of sex.

Orchid PinkOrchid Pink by Toni Sands
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book surprised me with the depth and complexity of its characterisation and, to be quite honest, with the quality of its writing. Xcite is a blatantly erotic publisher and as such could be seen as off limits for many readers of fiction. When I saw that this novel is about a well-to-do Victorian young lady who enjoys Sapphic romps with her maid, I was wary, to say the least. What drew me in were the orchids, which are my favourite flower.

And I’m so grateful to those orchids for if I had passed this book by I would have missed something quite exceptional.

This is a very well-researched book and you can feel the depth of that research in the way it is written. I have read many historical novels that have clunky dialogue and use contemporary idioms and cadences that would have been quite unavailable to their characters. This novel, in contrast, feels like it was written by a Victorian young lady and the dialogue is simple, effective and authentic.

At first I thought it clever. Then, as I was drawn into the story, I thought it profound. The author has become so immersed in her subject that everything about it rings true. She shows great empathy for the plight of her heroine, which is a very real plight that must have affected a good many young women in Victorian England. She explores Adelaide’s dilemma in detail and we can’t help but become caught up in the drama. We feel for Adelaide as she struggles to overcome the obstacles that fate, her father, her husband and history lay across her path.

Yet, let us not forget, Xcite is an erotic publisher. So, yes, the novel deals explicitly with Adelaide’s sexual feelings. It includes masturbation, seduction, penetration and a deluge of orgasms. For the kinkier reader there’s a leather dildo and dark secrets. The sexual content is explicit, erotic and tasteful. Much of it aroused me. There are many circumlocutions but they enhanced the authenticity of the experiences and I’m glad they were there. In fact I would say that the sexual content deepened the way I experienced this story. I felt I really got inside Adelaide and understood her from the inside out.

But what I enjoyed above all about this novel was the deep, literary flavour of it and the sensitivity with which it described subtle nuances of feeling. It is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, packed with surprising observations from an author steeped in the pleasures of reading and the evocative power of words.

Thrill SeekerThrill Seeker by Kristina Lloyd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The publisher has called this novel controversial. I’m not going to argue with that.

Not everyone is going to like it. Some people will hate it. Probably for the very reasons that make it so good.

I first came across Kristina Lloyd in the Mammoth Book of Erotica 2009. Her story in that collection was exceptional and ever since then I’ve rated her as one of the very best writers in the genre. Thrill Seeker does nothing to change my view but I have to admit that it presents a few challenges.

One of the things Kristina does very well is to stimulate your physical senses. This alone would make her worth reading but Kristina goes further, teasing those elusive other senses of imagination, anticipation and lust. This is where she excels, in my view, for she does it very simply and subtly and with consummate skill.

Here’s an example. Disturbed by the sounds of an intruder while giving her boyfriend a blowjob, Natalie goes downstairs to investigate…

My fingers inched over the wall’s rough stone as I descended to the kitchen. I heard nothing, saw no shadows shifting. I crept down the final few steps then switched on the light. Scanning the room, I tried to make sense of the mess. Shards of glass sparkled on the drainer of the sink. The windows were intact. No one was here. One window was open, its drooping metal handle scraping against the outside wall, hinges banging in the clattering rain. The damp gingham curtains fluttered in the breeze, ditsy flags of surrender. A vase. My glass vase on the windowsill had smashed. A wine glass too by the looks of it. The back door was ajar. My heart was thumping, my throat parched.

Liam’s feet banged on the first flight of stairs. ‘I’m coming, you OK?’

On the kitchen table, as if waiting to be filed, was a sheet of A4 paper in a clear, plastic poly pocket. It wasn’t mine. I snatched it up. Across the page, in glued lettering cut from newspapers, were the words: CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW.

It’s because she works on your senses with all those succinctly provocative physical descriptions that the psychological impact, when it comes, is so powerful. The first time I read those paragraphs, my skin tingled.

Film makers would kill for that kind of reaction. The scene could in fact work very well on film. It has another ingredient that screen writers like to sprinkle into their work, which is foreshadowing. Those ditsy gingham curtains are not just damp and fluttering because they are exposed to the hidden dangers of the darkness outside. They are flags of surrender.

Surrender is one of the novel’s key themes. In this respect it has a lot in common with Kristina’s earlier novel, Asking For Trouble, which was hugely popular and sold very well. But Thrill Seeker goes deeper and hits harder than the earlier book. In some respects it is more serious. I think it really stretches the limits of the genre. It’s about surrender but it’s also about being honest with yourself and finding what you want. And for this you need to be tough enough not to give in to another kind of constraint – the constraint of public opinion.

Natalie has the courage not to surrender to the censures of society but to surrender instead to her sexual cravings. She is a strong woman who likes to be dominated and abused. Like her predecessor in Asking For Trouble, she does not believe in compromise. There are no safe words for her. Where is the thrill in danger if you know it’s not real? She likes to go to the very knife-edge of consensual sex. She doesn’t so much flirt with danger as issue an open invitation to the worst possible kind of sexual pervert to seize her and do his worst.

This is probably not every woman’s idea of a romantic story. “Plenty of people out there think that what I’m doing is ridiculous or wrong,” moans Natalie. And I must admit that I am not, like Natalie, turned on by “arrogance, ingratitude and disdain.” I do not enjoy being sexually degraded. For me, therefore, there was a distance between the pleasures I seek and some of the the sexual activities depicted in the story.

Then I started to wonder, Do we really want men reading this stuff? Do we want them to think women really have these kind of fantasies? When there are real sexually-motivated horrors emerging every other day in the newspapers, do we really want to give men this kind of licence to do their worst under the misguided impression that they are giving us what we really want?

But that is partly the subject matter of this book, that very serious social issue. It is not an irresponsible book. It’s a very serious one.

And as a writer, everything Kristina does is spot on. The writing is so taut and controlled that I was fixated on it, unable to look away. The sex, of course, is sometimes gratuitous. The descriptions are long, lingering and detailed. All well and good, you might think, but what about the characters? Well, the characters are true to themselves. The dangers escalate and the climax has a dizzy inevitability. This is not a how-to manual for BDSM neophytes. Natalie is no role model for the internet dating generation. But this is an important, exciting and provocative book that really throws down the gauntlet for anyone wanting to take up the challenge of writing a BDSM thriller and says, “Top that!”

And, in her next book, if rumours are to be believed, Kristina will do exactly that.

I can’t wait!

The Flamethrowers: A NovelThe Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am always interested in what the competition is doing and, being on the verge of publishing a new story called Playing With Fire, I couldn’t help but be drawn to this coruscating new novel from Rachel Kushner which has as its epigraph Fac ut ardeat – Made to burn.

The narrator is an artsy biker girl. She breaks the women’s speed record in the Salt Flats in Utah. She has the hots for young firebrands and trailblazers. She mixes it up with artists in New York. She writes scorching prose.

I can’t drive, I have to admit, and I have never ridden a motorbike, except once as a terrified passenger, going at 17 mph in congested rush-hour London. (Never again!) But yet I could relate to this book and this heroine, who is called Reno, although that isn’t her real name.

In Nevada she meets a man called Stretch (possibly not his real name), who lets her sleep in his room because the motel he runs is full. He doesn’t take advantage of her. Instead he only comes into her room to shower.

While the water ran I hurriedly pulled on my leathers. I was making the bed when he emerged, a towel around his waist. Tall and blond and lanky, like a giraffe, water beading on skin that was ruddy from the hot shower. He asked if I minded covering my eyes for a moment. I felt his nudity as he changed, but I suppose he could just as easily claim to have felt mine, right there under my clothes.

This is hot, very American, very rakish – almost masculine – modern prose that doesn’t bother about predicates but has lashings of flair and attitude. There is an authentic cadence to the dialogue that made me shiver.

“I never met a girl who rides Italian motorcycles,” he said. “It’s like you aren’t real.”

(I get that a lot. “I never met a Chinese girl who writes erotica. Are you for real?”)

Reno doesn’t have sex with Stretch, even though he’s almost poignantly desperate to rub his nearly naked body up against her leathers. Instead she has imaginary conversations with him years later in which they say very American, seventies things to each other in a romantic setting.

“Were you ever in Vietnam?” I’d ask, assuming some terrible story would come tumbling out, me there to offer some comfort, the two of us in the cab of an old white pickup, the desert sun orange and giant over the flat edge of a Nevada horizon. “Me?” he’d say. “Nah.”

This is an ambitious book. You can tell it’s ambitious because many reviewers mention how brilliantly it is written while admitting that they struggled to finish it.

(That’s a reason that I write short stories and novellas, by the way.)

But I recommend this big, sprawling, hardback treasure of a book. It’s a great inspiration for writers and if you’re truly hungry for great writing, its length isn’t an obstacle at all. Prose like this can be consumed greedily and in haste, the way a well-oiled engine sucks in air and petrol and spews out a great whooshing tongue of flame.


Books by Vanessa Wu

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