Story of O

Written by Pauline Réage

Peel: A fictional novel following the female protagonist in her submission to her lover.

Throughout the novel, O’s consent is asked for, though there are situations of potentially dubious consent featuring other characters. The reader sees O blindfolded, whipped, chained, pierced, branded, masked, and trained to always be available for any type of intercourse with anyone approved by her lover. Additionally, the reader sees O proudly showing off her welts, branding, and piercings to her female lover.

Trained at the chateau of Roissy by a group of upper-class men, O did not know what her lover had or had not done when she was whipped and taken as was frequently blindfolded or partnered with men wearing masks. At the end of this training, her lover gives her to a more dominant master: Sir Stephen. Her lover claims that it is very important for O to learn how to serve someone she does not love, and who does not love her. However, as the training progresses, O falls in love with Sir Stephen, and she is under the impression that he loves her as well. O chooses to remain with Sir Stephen instead of her lover, and is branded and pierced with his initials and crest.

There has been some feminist backlash against this novel. Dworkin, for example, argues that having the protagonist’s name shortened to O represents her being zero, empty, and nothing more than an orifice. It has also been argued that the novel is just about the ultimate objectification of the female, and that it glorifies the abuse of women.

In this light, the character of O does delineate being submissive as a person from being submissive in a sexual context. We do, however briefly, see her life in the outside world as a successful photographer. Furthermore, I think it is useful to keep in mind that Réage wrote this as a series of fantasy letters to her lover, a de Sade fan.

I would not recommend this to anyone uncomfortable with mixing pain and pleasure; otherwise, it’s an interesting fantasy.

Nibble: “And yet all she was aiming for was to make the silks, the furs, and the laces more beautiful by that sudden beauty of an elfin creature surprised by her reflection in the mirror, which Jacqueline became in the simplest blouse, as she did in the most elegant mink.”

Rating: 7 out of 10 rouged red apples

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library; cross-posted on their website here.

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Secrets & Lies

Written by Tracy James Jones

Peel: This is an un-sugarcoated romantic drama. The story closely examines four characters’ lives, past and present, and how they interact with one another.

The book starts by laying out the four main characters quickly, so that one can jump right into the novel without any character confusion. Between all of the characters’ motivations and secrets, the suspense builds up. I loved how diverse the set of characters were in terms of sexuality, gender, race, and to a slightly lesser shown extent socioeconomic status, without that being, for the most part, a main piece of the plot. The characters’ only similarities were penchants for holding secrets and their beauty. For most of the beginning of the book all conversations and actions were sexual or romantic. A bit of non-romantic plot twist occurs at the end of the book, but before that it’s mostly sex-related drama. Almost all of the non-romantic or sexual pieces of the novel ended up being secrets, so the reader learns about them far later than they’d expect. This book is also pretty dialog heavy.

The character development arc goes far for each of the main characters, and thus their likability grows further. I found it believable for all but one character, for whom the development just seemed a little too drastic too quickly. As a warning there are adult situations, and many generalized gender statements.

Nibble: “There are thousands of secrets hidden behind the whitewashed fences and clapboard sidings for the residents of this quaint little town.”

This is the second book by Jones that I’ve reviewed [first], and this one I preferred. I would definitely suggest reading this novel first, and then if one likes Jones’ narrative style diving into the other works.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading dramas.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 spotlight-stealing apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author.

Tracy James Jones’s Site

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In the Flesh

Written by Portia Da Costa

Peel: Beatrice posed for some nude photographs that got leaked to the public, destroying any chance of her receiving a respectable marriage proposal. Her brother has gambled away their money, and things are looking rather grim for Beatrice. Ritchie, a wealthy and powerful man, happens across the photos and decides he must have her.

The book is a lovely combination of historical romance and erotica. The author keeps the two well balanced, and doesn’t unrealistically dive into either too soon. In the beginning there’s a gentle building of anticipation and suspense, while the characters become more rounded. Beatrice’s character is quite likable, she also lacks any major flaws, and throughout the book is treated like a queen. The author also uses some gorgeous imagery, and never breaks away from the time period. The book is around three hundred and eighty pages, but between the plot and dialog feels much shorter. Most gender and sexuality roles are traditional, though there is a polyamorous couple to mix things up.

Throughout the story Ritchie seems to always know what Beatrice is thinking. It happened a few too many times for me, and made his character less realistic.

Nibble: “…she almost purred into his mouth like a plump and lazy kitten accepting his affection…”

I would recommend this to anyone who would like some plot to go with their erotica and romance.

My rating: 9 out of 10 sumptuous red apples

I received an advanced free copy of this book from the publishers, Harlequin,via NetGalley.

Portia Da Costa’s Site

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A Waltz at Midnight

Written by Crista McHugh

Peel: A woman receives a completely unromantic letter from a potential suitor, and turns to her servant to dissuade him. Susanna, posing as Charlotte, continues writing to the suitor and their letters become increasingly personal.

This is a fun short story, and the beginning is especially entertaining to read. The main character is rather likable, though she lacks any flaws. McHugh’s language is quite descriptive, and pushes the reader through the entire story.

Often Susanna would write as if she were the voice of all women, which I found rather annoying. The ending tied up everything rather quickly and superficially, either a longer ending or an epilogue would have made the ending seem more likely. All in all, I liked the idea behind the piece but I wasn’t huge on the execution.

Nibble: “If he ever showed his face here, she personally would give him such a tongue-lashing, his pride would limp for days.”

I would recommend this as a quick sweet distraction.

My Rating: 5 out of 10 sugary sweet apples

I received an advanced electronic copy from the publisher, Carina Press, via NetGalley.

Crista McHugh’s Site

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Lady Seductress’s Ball

Written by Eliza Knight

Peel: Olivia is unfortunately married to the aged Earl of March who she neither loves nor cares for. She dreams of another, Tristan, but she doesn’t want to do much while Lord March lives.

There is plot with this erotica, but it’s pretty well balanced. The erotica is rather steamy from an evening in a gazebo to an enticing masquerade.

Most of the language is true the Regency setting, but there are a few places where a modern phrase jumped out. My only problem with having serious romance in this story was that all we knew about Tristan was he was attractive, got around, and was allegedly in love with Olivia. The whole story was about Olivia, which is fine, but contributed to their relationship seeming only lust based. Perhaps if this had been the length of a novella, rather than a short story, the romance would have felt more authentic and less lust-confused-for-love. So in conclusion, lovely erotica, fine plot, heavy romance that could have used more space.

Nibble: “Waving that delicate fan would never calm the fire building between the two of them.”

I would recommend this to any erotica lover.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 scarlet steamed apples

I received an electronic copy from the publisher, Carina Press, via NetGalley.

Eliza Knight’s Site

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The Wolf Gift

Written by Anne Rice

Peel: Set in present day California, the story begins with a young reporter is sent to cover a story on an old house for sale. The reporter, Reuben, is enchanted by the house, its history, and its current inhabitant. One bite shifts Reuben’s life, character, and interactions with his family and friends.

This novel was very slow moving and built up a thorough storyline. It didn’t read like a fast-paced crazy paranormal story, and I enjoyed that. After a few chapters, the story hooked me in; the characters, dialog, and reactions all felt very realistic. Rice’s language was light and pretty, and rather conducive to lovely imagery. The book flitted between feeling historical to erotic to violent.

There is a bit of religious preachiness at times. Especially towards the end, the book goes into the explicit origin story, and potential philosophical and religious ramifications. I would have preferred more moral ambiguity in the character’s view of himself. One of the powers he develops is to smell the difference between innocence, evil, and being neutral. This made it far too easy to establish the moral standing of any character. He does bring up some interesting questions in a few of the articles he writes on werewolves, but we never see him grapple with them. Instead, the main character is a nice handsome guy who takes everything in stride. As a warning there is quasi-bestiality and lots of violence.

All in all, she’s a wonderful storyteller and it was an interesting take on the werewolf tale.

Nibble: “As for his father, he saw death in the falling leaves.”

I would recommend this to anyone with a love for werewolves.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 bitten apples

I received an advanced copy from the publisher, Knopf Doubleday, via NetGalley.

Anne Rice’s Site

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Inappropriate Thoughts

By Ian Dalton

In this story we have a romance novel writing divorcee Jillian as the protagonist, her crazy friend Victoria, her son Rob, and his visiting hot friend Brian. Brian, by virtue of being the protagonist’s interest, attracts every female in the novel and is flawless. Jillian is more down to earth and human feeling. Victoria I was most curious about, as she seemed to have the most potential for depth and an interesting backstory; though in this story she’s not really a sympathetic character.

The first half or so of the book is erotica: amusing, sexy, and fun to read as it flits between different characters’ view points. The ending part of the novel… not so much. Suddenly there’s boatloads of drama and feelings everywhere, and the light style that was present earlier in the book slips away. The book started off very funny, self-aware, and sexy, and slowly spiraled off. Perhaps if everything hadn’t been tied up so neatly this wouldn’t have happened, and the ending could have been stronger.

All in all though I did find this a fun sexy story, and I have high hopes for a novel explaining Victoria. I would recommend this story to anyone who would like a short romantic and erotic piece to read before bedtime.

Nibble: “She wore a nightshirt that wasn’t all that sexy, but what she was typing was—or at least it started out that way…”

My Rating: 7 out of 10 steamed red apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Of Moths & Butterflies

By V.R. Christensen

Set in the late nineteenth century, this novel has a female protagonist trying to escape her past and monetary fortune, a very curious man, some over-friendly cousins, and a few greedy folk for good measure. An arranged marriage appears to ease our protagonist’s troubles, but instead new problems arise everywhere.

I particularly liked how dialog heavy Christensen was in this novel. Christensen’s dialog felt natural, restrained, characterized excellently, and smoothly flickers between intense and amusing. Though the novel was almost six hundred and fifty pages, it still felt like a light read from the interesting drama and dialog. In these pages there’s a slow build up and shaping of the plot, and characters’ interactions with one another.

However, I would have liked to see the protagonist humanized a little earlier, her light flaws become apparent rather late into the novel. Almost every other character loves her or hates her right upon meeting her, only towards the ending do we see other characters moving away from the extremes of feelings for her.

As a warning, there are references to past sexual abuse.

Nibble: “Her conflicting and tumultuous emotions betrayed themselves only in her occupation of busily fingering the fringe of her paisley shawl.”

After reading the book, I found the author’s blog post about it rather interesting and made me rethink themes of the book placed in contemporary times. Most interestingly, what happens if one goes into a marriage with absolutely no expectations? The blog post is here, http://vrchristensen.com/http:/vrchristensen.com/why-of-moths-butterflies/ .

I would heavily recommend this book to anyone looking for a dramatic romance, and furthermore I think this book would be lovely for fostering conversation at a bookclub meeting.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 red glass apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Anything

By Michael Baron

The concept of this story is interesting. You have the protagonist, Ken, given the offer to change the past of his significant other, Melissa, and thus make her life better. After watching his wife’s traumatic past, he immediately decides he must fix this.

How the story actually plays out though is rather messy. Ken views his partner’s past without asking any permission, and only did it out of idle curiosity. Naturally Melissa does not take learning that he uncovered her dark past well. He then purposes ‘fixing’ her past by making it so the horrible event never happened without any real thought to possible negative repercussions. In the new universe alternate Melissa’s life appears to be perfect, and she does not know Ken. Ken realizes he can not live without her, and endeavors to try and become acquainted with her in the new world.

I found that this created an interesting tension in my view of Ken. He clearly acted to try and better his love’s life, and then latter to give significance to his own. However, I don’t think he had the right to do what he did. He essentially destroyed the old Melissa without once pondering if her alternate life might be worse than the one she already occupied. This seems to be a huge risk as we see Melissa happy with Ken, financially well off, and enjoying her work. In fact, we only really see the dark side of Melissa’s life once we see alternate Melissa- which shows that Ken did not realize how potentially unhappy the original Melissa was.

The ending wrapped things up far too cleanly for me, and I found this dissatisfying. The first three quarters of the novel or so were interesting and curious to read though. There’s one queer character in the book who is portrayed completely negatively as a “disgusting deviant”. She is a nightmarish woman who’s also a pedophile. I found this to be unnecessary and rather offensive. If the author did not mean to portray queers in such a way, he easily could have included either another side queer character who’s positive or simply made her male.

All in all, I found this an entertaining story to read and interesting to examine personal and privacy rights further on a deeper level. The narrator also comes across as completely sincere, which made it an easy, and slightly predictable, read.

I would recommend this story to someone who wants a Nicholas Sparks-like romance novel.

Nibble: “And everything is in synchronous motion, from birds flitting among budding trees to office workers shedding their pinstripe skins.”

My Rating: 6 out of 10 apple slices dipped in cheese fondue

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story

By Shahriar Mondanipour

This was hands down the best piece of metafiction I’ve ever read. Not only do you get into the head of the author, but the characters he creates are also complex and interesting. On top of that he tackles the problems of writing in Iran currently, in an interesting and witty manner. There’s a censorship character, Porfiry Petrovich[yeap, Dostoyevsky’s], and we see the narrator anticipating what Petrovich would cross out, as he himself crosses sections and words out. The basic plot is the author trying to publish a love story in Iran, and it includes an interior love story. Throughout the second half of the novel though things begin to get twisted with some magical realism, and the characters developing their own wills. This book was also a lovely reminder of how important intellectual freedom is.

I greatly enjoyed this piece for its aesthetics, plot, and eye-opening commentary on life and writing in Iran.

I recommend this book to everyone.

Nibble: “Imagine you live in a country where you are not even free to be insane.”

My Rating: 10 out of 10 apples without flesh or seed.