Friday, August 31, 2012

Gordon The Giraffe by Bruce Brown (REVIEW)

While I don't read a lot of children's books, and my son isn't quite old enough to yet read them with me, I am always on the lookout for stories we can enjoy together when he is old enough to sit still (without eating the pages).

As certain as giraffes are tall, there are some who fear anyone that is different.

Gordon The Giraffe is the story of the hidden kingdom of Ugladunga, where children pair up (always one boy, one girl) to play the game of Mulunga Doo. When Gary ask him to play, Gordon is at first excited (nobody has ever before asked him), but ends up fleeing the taunts of the other children . . . straight to his mother, who tells him he must follow his heart. When Gordon goes looking for Gary, the other giraffes plan to teach him a lesson . . . but he ends up coming to their rescue instead.

Because giraffes have the biggest hearts of all the creatures. They can't help but love . . . even those that are a bit different.

This is a cute story, beautifully illustrated, with a subtle but heart-warming theme of acceptance at its core. Even thought Gordon is never branded as gay, the suggestion is there, backed up by his mother's understanding - and, more importantly, acceptance. While most children may not pick up on it, those who feel a bit different themselves - about anything - or those who may have parents that are a bit different will certainly appreciate the message.

She didn't know what to say at first, but when she looked into her son's saddned eyes she knew.

Well worth picking up for anybody who reads (or plans to read) to a child.

[Reviewed by Sally]

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Trudi in Paris by Adrienne Nash (REVIEW)

I'm so glad that Adrienne Nash decided to put out book two in Trudi's saga, which picks up where book one left off and follows young Trudi's glamorous life through her twenties. In Trudi the little boy had become "Trudi the Model" and accepted her benefactor's invitation to move to France where he set her up to live in comfort so she could study medicine.

Trudi in Paris is a look into the epicurean world of the wealthy, where the rich deny themselves nothing and partake in the finest food, automobiles and designer outfits. In this world, Trudi is able to retain her humanity and continue to blossom as a sophisticated, intelligent and stylish young woman, all while she maintains her medical studies. In addition, as in the first book, there are also wonderful scenes of deep sensuality between Trudi and her lover, the enigmatic Simon. There is also an interesting mystery to be solved as this novel reaches a crescendo.

At the end, we want even more of Trudi and the author offers us the promise in a future book. I'm looking forward to that!


[Reviewed by Samuel]

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday - Fantastic Erotica: The Best of Circlet Press 2008-2012

"Waiting On" Wednesday spotlights upcoming releases that everyone's excited about (created by Jill at Breaking The Spine).


Fantastic Erotica: The Best of Circlet Press 2008-2012 edited by Cecilia Tan

Circlet Press celebrates its 20th anniversary with this "best of" anthology of erotic science fiction stories. The leader in the unique literary genre that is erotic science fiction and fantasy, Circlet Press continues to draw the best talents and hottest erotic voices to their fold. This anthology showcases the very best of those authors who have published with the company since the advent of the ebook. 

The digital publishing world is full of uncurated self-publishers and exotic pioneers, but Circlet Press continues to maintain the quality of literature that has brought them praise from Publishers Weekly, Salon, and many other publications in their 20 years of publishing. 

With topics ranging from shapeshifters to space travel, FANTASTIC EROTICA contains only the very cream skimmed from the top of all the many anthologies published digitally by the company in the past five years. Harnessing the power of the reader, the top stories were ranked by Internet poll on circlet.com and the final selections from among the top-ranked stories were then made by Circlet's experienced team of editors. [Oct 1, 2012]


A very happy 20th anniversary to the team at Circlet Press! They always put out such fantastic work, I'm sure much of this will be familiar to me, but it's still nice to revisit and discover the stories I may have missed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Playing With Dolls by I.G. Frederick (REVIEW)

I actually finished reading Playing With Dolls over the weekend, but it had such a profound emotional impact on me that I needed to take some time to regroup, to distance myself from the text, and attempt an intelligent review. I.G. Frederick has accomplished something remarkable here, crafting a story that works on all levels - educating, arousing, inspiring, empowering, and (most importantly) emotionally connecting with the reader.

This is as much a story about gender as it is about sexuality. Jesse (never just Jess, if you please) is an effeminate young man who can best be described as genderqueer. He likes to do his own makeup, style his hair, wear skirts and blouses, and sport some very cute high heels. It's not because he feels he should have been born a woman, or because he dreams of the hormones and surgery that would change his gender, but because that is the gender expression with which he is most comfortable. There's no conflict here between his emotional/physical self, no regrets regarding his birth gender, and no burning desire to correct or alter something about himself. I so loved that he just prefers to express himself in a feminine manner, without attaching any emotional baggage to that expression.

Where there is a conflict, however, is in his sexuality. His parents have always assumed that such an effeminate boy must be gay, and the counsellor they see every week agrees. In fact, so do his friends, his classmates, and society in general. Since everybody assumes it, and continually assures him it must be the case, Jesse assumes that he must be gay. He dates cute boys, holds their hands, snuggles, kisses, and (when absolutely necessary) performs a little oral sex in the back seat to keep their minds off anything further. The problem is, he doesn't enjoy it. Figuring there must be something wrong with him, he finally agrees to give up his virginity on his eighteenth birthday, but suffering through the ordeal provides him no more pleasure than the obligatory oral sex.

Meanwhile, lesbian porn, along with the very public sexual escapades of his best friends, Ashleigh and Rachel, gives him the erection no man has ever managed to coax to life. The problem is, he's been so conditioned to accept that he's gay, he doesn't recognize what all this suggests about his own sexuality. Things begin to change when the girls press him into joining them with the local BDSM scene, but it's a slow process of discovery. He finds that the endorphin high of being whipped and flogged provides the comfort, the pleasure, and the emotional escape that sex has never achieved, but he can only achieve that bliss (and become hard) at the hands of a woman.

While being pushed into the BDSM scene is just another example of other people making assumptions and pressing him to do what they feel is best, it does provide Jesse with the opportunity to explore his gender and to discover his sexuality. It's not an easy process, and it introduces him to the confusion most of us struggle with during our adolescent years, but Frederick does a masterful job of slowly and carefully taking us through it. There's no single WOW moment that changes everything, just a few encounters that raise some questions, and some discussions that begin to erase the assumptions he's been saddled with. As Snakeman tells him at one point, "Allowing other people to identify and label you just disempowers you. You’re the only one who can determine your orientation, sexual or top/dominant/bottom/submissive.” That begins the process, but it's a long drive home with Lady Nell that finally opens his eyes once and for all, with the revelation, "What you wear, how you act, your speech -- none of that determines your sexuality."

There's so much going on beneath the surface of the story, that I'm reluctant to spoil more that I already have. Suffice to say, I see a lot of myself in Jesse, and a lot of my parents in his - particularly the way his mother rejects the expression of his gender at every turn, and the way his father bravely struggles to love and understand him no matter what. It's their final conversation that struck me so hard, with Dad coming to grips with the fact that his son isn't an effeminate gay man, but a straight submissive sissy with masochistic tendencies. As apologies go, I'm not sure there are any so sweet as, "I’m so sorry I made assumptions instead of letting you grow up and figure things out for yourself."


[Reviewed by Sally]

All Wrapped Up edited by Elizabeth Hyder (REVIEW)

Tentacle erotica - it's amazing how much power two little words (just seven syllables) can hold over our imaginations, immediately and indelibly painting a picture so vivid, we can almost feel the flexible appendages creeping slowly up our legs. Originating in Japan, it's been a long-standing fixture of hentai (erotic cartoons and graphic novels) there for more than twenty years, but has only recently begun to creep (pun intended) out of the realm of Cthulhu-inspired horror and into Western erotica.

While it's not a fetish I would have ever imagined reading, two things demanded I give the taboos of All Wrapped Up a chance - it's from Storm Moon Press (I always love their work), and it's edited by Elizabeth Hyder (who proved adept at handling reptilian erotica with Trust Me). Having said that, I still went into the anthology expecting to read about lonely astronauts or barbarian heroes being attacked, raped, and mind-controlled by sexually voracious tentacles. Much to my surprise, the stories here are as far from the hentai cliche as you can imagine. They are, instead, stories of men in love (or lust) who just happen to encounter some tentacle invaders that, invariably, spice things up.

Laylah Hunter's Ground Mission kicks things off with a tale of two genetically engineered, technologically augmented soldiers, sent on a reconnaissance mission to discover the fate of the vanished human colony. In a case of opposites attract, Adrian and Simon quickly establish themselves individuals, slightly damaged, with their own personal torments, who find solace in each other's arms. This is very militaristic sci-fi, and done very well, with some real tension present in their situation. Rather than simply having some tentacled alien hold the men down and have its way with them, Laylah goes the Alien route and infects Simon with a tentacled bite. It's a rather chilling surprise when the tentacles begin emerging from his back, but the way in which the scene develops, with Adrian reluctantly succumbing to their touch in order to prove his love for Simon is rather stunning - both erotic and romantic.

Thea Hayworth switches genres on us with Wildwood, offering up a fantasy tale of a forest ranger tasked with patrolling a land abandoned by its guardian spirit and allowed to run wild. Except, as it turns out, the spirit hasn't really abandoned its duties, and it needs Koster's help. I absolutely loved the way in which Irsing was described, a tree-like figured formed of twisted branches, with oddly tentacle-like roots. Thea keeps us at arms length for most of the story, jumping between scenes and points-of-view that help to flesh out the larger story, establishing a mythological fantasy tale with a romantic core. Altogether wondrous, it quite delighted me with its take on tentacles.

Shifting into the realm of dark fantasy (bordering on horror), Gryvon gives us Dark Covenant. If there was a story in the collection to make me feel uncomfortable, then this is it . . . although the fault lies solely with mankind. A story of magic, fine-print contracts, and betrayals of trust, it begins with a young man reluctantly agreeing to be raped on a regular basis by the authorities at the strange school in which he has enrolled. I'll be honest, those scenes pushed me so far away from the realms of romance and erotica that I had trouble settling into the story. I only skimmed the rest of it, so it's not really fair to give it a review, but it was well-written and the atmosphere was appropriately heavy and dark.

It was with some trepidation that began Morgan Harcourt's Situation Normal, but it pretty much brings the anthology full-circle, both in terms of genre and theme. Our hero here is a down-on-his-luck young man named Sebastian, who ends up having his ship commandeered by a reptilian peace officer. In a homoerotic twist on the old buddy-cop action-comedy genre (set in space, of course), Sebastian and Ten start by antagonizing one another at every opportunity, complete with witty/sarcastic banter, but eventually succumb to their sexual desires. It's definitely odd to find such cute humour mixed in with hot, tentacle-bondage erotica, not to mention the very real danger of the second half, but it all works very well, in part because it is such a welcome relief from Dark Covenant.


Overall, another strong collection from Storm Moon Press, taking the tentacle taboos in directions I had not anticipated and providing some solid storytelling at the same time. I'll definitely be looking for more from Thea Hayworth, and should Morgan Harcourt ever delve back into the story of Ten, count me in!


[Reviewed by Sally]

Monday, August 27, 2012

56 Sanchez by Rene Jax (REVIEW)

In the novel 56 Sanchez, author Rene Jax provides an amazingly detailed and riveting account of the transition of Richard, a gender dysphoric male who adopts a female presentation to become Rachelle, while pursuing employment with the San Francisco Police Department during the late 1970s.  It is a narrative that chronicles the vicissitudes of Rachelle’s life well into the 1980’s.  A lengthy, yet very readable effort, Jax does a masterful job at portraying the seamier side of life in the “City by the Bay,” a view that is also vividly depicted by another transitioning transsexual, Christine Beatty in her graphic memoir, “Not Your Average American Girl.” In addition to sharing locale, both books are set at just about the same moment in time, when drug use, sexual freedom, and the AIDS epidemic are all beginning to find confluence.

This is a book that provides a down-to-earth portrait of Rachelle’s exploration of her sexuality and gender, set against a backdrop of substance abuse and social injustice. Written in a tone that conjures up the grainy intimacy of old-style detective movies, the reader is confronted with some very disturbing questions, forcing us to delve into matters we may know about but generally do not explore, except perhaps in a work of fiction such as this, or an insightful memoir about a transgender person or maybe by watching the Jerry Springer Show.  It is fraught with horrible examples of violence and bigotry directed at someone who merely wants to live authentically; a transgender individual representing a minority that pose absolutely no threat other than possibly not fitting in with our cultural norms. We are offered a very raw look at the injustices, violence and even rape that may be carried out against those of us who are only different by virtue of our gender expression.

Written by an author who has obvious familiarity with the San Francisco Bay area as well as a keen understanding of the inner workings of the San Francisco police force, author Jax deftly captures the essence and flavor of the Bay area, while honing in on the glamour and grit of a law enforcement job.  Jax also writes about intense transphobia, particularly at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department, a group responsible to the public trust to “Protect and Serve.”  This intolerance is sometimes presented covertly in “mere” prejudicial attitudes, but often much more obvious in the bigotry and even violence directed against our heroine, Rachelle.  It brings to mind still another fine novel, “Shadowboxer,” by Paula Sophia, a book that eloquently depicts in a fictional account, a similar experience with the vicious transphobia of the Oklahoma City Police Department.

Offering a haunting profile of someone struggling to be accepted and live her life as a “normal” woman, this book is almost guaranteed to challenge the reader’s beliefs, evoke anger or perhaps bring tears. Because the characters are well crafted and the dialogue honest, the reader is guided through the full range of emotional experience as Rachelle fights to find a place in the world as a woman, all the while battling both her internal demons and the malevolence of those around her who reject her for her differences. In so doing, this book provides is with a graphic reminder that we all struggle to accept ourselves and be accepted for who we truly are.

This novel (or is it really a memoir?) moves the reader through the author’s astute and deft crafting of the very real people it portrays. The storyline is excellent and there are enough plot twists so that there is never a dull moment. The characters are a microcosm of a prejudicial society that permits institutionally invoked intolerance, casts shame and all to often hurls violence against hapless victims who are unfortunate enough to be caught in the middle. It is a rare work of fiction that explores the plight of a transgender person so profoundly and rarer still to incorporate such an assessment into the macho world of police work.

At the conclusion, we are left wrung out, but happy to find that the ever-resilient Rachelle finally frees herself from her substance abuse issues and cleans up her act, realizing that she must have the SRS procedure to feel complete as a person. In keeping with an old running joke that weaves through this novel about a suicide jumper who, upon his descent down past the lower floors of the building is asked the question “How’s it going?” (by some idiot, I would guess), Rachelle leaves a cryptic, yet very understandable phone message about the results of her surgery for her best friend, Dan.  The simple communication left on Dan’s tape is, “So far so good.”

With this, we can finally take comfort and pleasure at knowing that Rachelle, at least in that particular moment, has no regrets and is ready to savor every remaining morsel of her life.


[Reviewed by Samuel]

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau & Violetta Vane (REVIEW)

Such a beautifully strange story we have in Hawaiian Gothic - a cross-cultural, coming-out, romantic ghost-story. Weave all those threads together, and what you really have is a classic quest tale, one in which friends must brave unknown terrors and unimaginable odds in order to not only save a life, but realize a long-suppressed love.

I took this one on for a review because I was attracted to the couple at the heart of it, Ori and Kalani, a mixed martial artist (turned disgraced soldier) and his boyhood best friend, with the soldier actually being the one placed in peril. I was fascinated by the potential there, and the romantic possibilities presented by the spiritual element. What I did not expect was to be so engaged by the the ghost-story at its heart or the cultural elements of the tale.

The first half of the story is actually pretty straight-forward, a bittersweet tale of unrequited love and the healing power of friendship. I found myself being lulled into the rhythm and cadence of the words, almost hypnotized by the telling. The darkness was there, but more hinted at and alluded to, giving the reader time to really connect with the characters before things get crazy.

And get crazy they do!

When the story takes its dark turn, with a journey to the Hawaiian spirit world, complete with all the monsters, tests, trials, and tribulations of a proper quest . . . all wrapped up in a gloriously gothic package that manages to be both familiar and completely original . . . well, that is when the fun starts. There were aspects of the tale that truly creeped me out. It felt strange to be so unsettled by the darkness of a tale set amid the sunshine and sandy beaches of Hawaii, and it is that unexpected contrast that I think makes the story work so well. The use of flashbacks adds to the feeling of being unsettled, taking us in and out of the story, but they work well to add some structure, even as the illuminate the background story.

It takes a while before anything physical develops between Ori and Kalani, and I will not spoil the how's and why's of it (other than to say I have never been so intensely aroused by a wrestling match), but their relationships ends up being one of the most touching, sincere, and satisfying couplings I have ever encountered on the page.

For those who find themselves similarly unsettled by the strange change of pace/theme mid-way through, I urge you to stick with it. This is probably one of the more emotionally challenging romances I have read in a very long time, but once the pieces all come together and you see what Heidi and Violetta have crafted, you will be glad you stuck around for the happily-ever-after.


[Reviewed by Bobbi]

Incursion by Aleksandr Voinov (REVIEW)

For me, science fiction has always been a genre of ideas, offering an experimental, imaginative, limitless canvas upon which to explore the world. It offers a separation from the 'real' world, freeing readers to embrace those ideas outside of society's stereotypes and prejudices. When an author like Aleksandr Voinov immerses himself in the genre and deals with issues of humanity and sexuality, as he's done inIncursion, the geek gurl in me tends to . . . well, get a little excited.

Here we have a young man, crippled by a Glyrinny weapon, leaving him with a deep, dark, dangerous hatred for the shape-shifting race. In order to obtain the prosthetic surgery that would give him back a semblance of normality, he embarks on a mission to capture and kill a Glyrinny. Complicating matters is the fact that the captain of the mercenary ship he's hired is a member of a warrior class to whom he had once aspired, but is forever denied because of his injury.

The affair that develops between Kyle and Grimm is an interesting one, and one which explores multiple levels of physical and emotional distance. Kyle claims he doesn't want a relationship to complicate his mission, but the truth is that he feels inferior . . . damaged . . . and unworthy. That, of course, offers a very unique form of attraction for Grimm, who is part of a caste that sees it as their duty to offer comfort and healing to others, as a balance for their warrior duties.

Aleksandr also offers an interesting take on gender here, with the Glyrinny being a race of beings that can read minds and take on forms either terrifying or appealing, based on those thoughts. Their gender is completely fluid, depending on the shape they've taken, and their ability to shape-shift also extends to the ability to heal themselves. I won't say much more about them or their role in the story, for fear of spoiling the mystery/tension, but they are a remarkable creation.

This was such a wonderful read, well-written, and absolutely inspired in some places. The emotional dynamic between Kyle and Grimm is glorious to behold, and I appreciated the fact that Aleksandr doesn't fall into the trap of using sex to validate the relationship. As with all good science fiction, however, the relationship is only one element of the book. There is also a very strong plot here, full of tension, excitement, and adventure. The military aspect of the genre is usually my least favourite part, but here it works exceptionally well, illuminating the characters while driving the story forward.

Not what I expected, and all the better for it. Highly recommended.


[Reviewed by Sally]

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite by Lianne Simon (REVIEW)

My advance review of Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite has been just posted over at Rainbow Book Reviews. Thanks, as always, to the lovely Serena Yates for the opportunity to contribute!


Should that be enough to spark your curiosity, then don't miss the next issue of Frock Magazine for my full review!

[Reviewed by Sally]

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Strix by Amber Skyze and Katalina Leon (GUEST POST)


After drawing a piece of amber from a witch's wish bag, Arcona awakens to a past life as a vengeful Celtic witch - a Strix, who used blood and sex magic to get her way. She turned the gladiator Tyr into a bloodthirsty Slayer. Now Tyr wants his revenge…

That’s how The Strix starts but it soon gets so much more complicated. The Strix is book one in the Bag Of Tricks book series and explores a few of my favorite themes, chiefly that love is bonding and eternal, and we have lived before.

I feel deeply drawn to the time of the Roman Empire and all the drama it provides. This was a thread I found irresistible to follow.

The Strix is a vampire tale of enchantment gone wrong but it’s also a story of redemption and connecting with our better angels. I loved that this story allowed me to write one woman’s two very different experiences, in two very different time periods with the same man.


Excerpt:
(Arcona is speaking to Salem witch Dame Bishop in the Silver Moon Scrying Shoppe)

“Are you familiar with the legend of the Strix?”

“No.” Arcona shook her head, noting that the amulet was warming almost too quickly in her cool palm.

“You won’t find this myth in many books; few know or speak of the Strix. The Strix was a compilation of all ancient Rome’s guilty fears about the so-called barbarians they enslaved, punished, and brought under their own roofs as domestics, lovers, and lethal entertainment. The Strix combined fearful barbarian lore and Roman superstitions in a single horrific creature that traveled the night as a grotesque bird of prey, sucking the blood from innocent people and turning them against Rome.

“The Strix might start life as a worshipper of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft and necromancy. She could be born Roman or Celtic and work as a healer, witch, or midwife, but somewhere along the way, hatred and the need for revenge against the oppressor corrupted the witch’s capacity for doing good. Rage and destruction took the place of healing acts. Stray witches made bargains with dark forces in exchange for the power to grant invincibility in battle to others, who in turn would walk the earth in violent wrath.”

Arcona grimaced. “The Strix sounds absolutely repulsive.”

“She isn’t, and by the way the Strix is always a she. The essence of Venus imbued the Strix with the power to seduce and sexually torment any young man she approached. She sought out strong, battle-worthy men. Her victims were powerless to refuse. At the climax of the sexual act, she’d drink their blood and send them into a violent rage. During these unnatural couplings, rarely but sometimes a male, Upir Likhyi, was created.”

Arcona was almost afraid to ask. “What’s an Upir Likhyi?” She struggled to pronounce the unwieldy words.

“It’s an old pagan Baltic term for wicked or foul vampire. It is a revenant, or undead soul, that seeks the thrill of blood sport and warfare. In ancient times many were recruited to secretly serve Mars.”

A shiver trembled up her spine. “We certainly don’t need any more of those violent, bloodsucking sorts hanging around, that’s for sure.” She laughed with nervous self-consciousness until she noticed Dame Bishop’s serious face. It was apparent she did not share the dismissive attitude.

Arcona struggled to compose herself. “I don’t mean to sound so disrespectful, because I love mythology too. It’s had a huge influence over human history, but myths are just a way to explain human desires and behavior. I’m a bit puzzled that you’re talking about the Strix as if it’s a real entity.”

Dame Bishop blanched. “It is a real entity. Make no mistake; every myth carries a grain of truth within. There are realms loosely tethered to this one far stranger than anything you can imagine. To say these realms are less real than ours is to profess the Earth is flat. It is a statement only the ignorant can speak freely.”

“I’m sorry.” Damn, she really put her foot in it. Arcona gently lowered the amulet back into its box. “Thank you for sharing this with me. It’s fascinating.”

She gazed at the skeletal bronze birds and strange craftsmanship one last time. “How exactly did you come across this? A rare artifact of this age seems like it should be safely stashed in a museum.”

“I agree.” Dame Bishop’s expression brightened. “Some associates of mine at the Universita di Roma know my interest in such things and were kind enough to allow me to examine the amulet.”

“I’m familiar with the University of Rome! My ex-husband once taught there. Who are your contacts; perhaps I know them?”

“I highly doubt it.” Dame Bishop’s mouth drew tense. “My colleagues are very private people.” Her gaze dropped toward the amulet. “Tomorrow it’s headed to the Smithsonian in an armored car. I just wanted to share it with one last soul before it continued on its journey to lie locked away in some sterile vault until the curators can figure out what to do with it.”

A heightened gleam shone in Dame Bishop’s eyes as she lifted the amulet from the box and held it toward Arcona. “Why don’t you try it on? Just to see what it feels like.” A sly smile crossed her lips. “This is a bit of living history. You may never get an opportunity like this again.”

Something about the amber riveted Arcona’s attention. The center of the amulet was translucent and glowed like a fiery ember. Against her better judgment about carelessly handling antiquities and possibly ill-gotten property, she reached for the leather thong and looped it around her neck.

The amulet hung heavy and prominent atop her breasts. Arcona glanced downward. This was a big, bold piece of ornamentation obviously meant to immediately identify its wearer as a witch who had wandered over to the dark side.

A loud knock pounded on the front door of the shop.

Arcona started.

“Excuse me.” Dame Bishop pulled the curtain to the back room aside. “Let me see who’s at the door.”

(Guess who’s at the door, could it be an enraged gladiator?)

The Strix is not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy gritty life challenging erotic adventures with brave women who kick ass and gorgeous men who know what they want, check out The Strix!

“Claimed By Dragons” a sizzling hot dragon-shifter ménage co-written with Amber Skyze is book 2 in the Bag Of Tricks book series. Claimed By Dragons will be available September 28th!



Get The Strix here:




See The Strix book trailer on YouTube:


Thank you so much for having me as a guest.
XXOO Katalina Leon


Monday, August 20, 2012

Our Lesbian Husbands by Crystal Veeyant (REVIEW)

Taking a break from her Shemale Lesbian Gangbang series, Crystal Veeyant offers up a very retro-feeling hot and sexy piece of erotica in Our Lesbian Husbands that crosses several kinks and genres.

It all starts with that familiar staple of transgender erotica - the crossdressing husband, caught by his wife, enslaved, and forcibly feminized. What separates Crystal's work from (and sets it above) the competition, however, is the creative twists she incorporates into her work. Here we have two husbands, one of whom is willing to endure a little crossdressing in order to get out of the dog house, while the other is eager to be pushed as far as his wife will take him - even if that means into the realm of plastic surgery and permanent enslavement. Toss in a pair of wives who, upon discovering their husband's indiscretions, fall into each other's arm and discover a new kind of love, and a shemale dominatrix, and you have all the ingredients for a smoking-hot story.

Even when she is so firmly entrenched in the realm of sexual fantasy, Crystal still manages to keep the story feeling authentic. The contrast of the two husbands is important, in that is dispels the myth of TG fantasy that every man can be magically sissified and transformed with nothing but a pair of panties. Watching one hubby resist his wife's ministrations, express his doubt and fears, and ultimately be broken by a combination of fear, guilt, and repressed desires is almost more interesting than watching the other beg, plead, and squeal with girlish glee at every new development.

I say 'almost' because, as regular readers will know, nothing delights me more than a happy, content, well-adjusted, feminized boi, especially if he is pursuing his dreams of sissy servitude and shemale submission!

Having the wives discover their latent lesbian tendencies, not to mention a previously unexpressed dominant streak, is what really brings the story together. Yes, they are punishing their husbands for their indiscretions, but the ladies are also creating their ideal love slaves (and life partners) - with the help of a few dominant shemales. Getting back to the idea of authenticity, I love that there is a natural point where the story of the two boys diverges, with one having hit his limits and just biding his time until he can return to a life of macho masculinity, and the other committing himself, body and soul, to the development of his shemale self.

While definitely an unorthodox happily-ever-after ending, Our Lesbian Husbands manages to satisfy just about everybody involved.


[Reviewed by Bobbi]

Someone's Angel by London Shey (REVIEW)

Maria (Someone's Angel) and Jillian (Someone's Angel) are two novellas by the same author, London Shey, that fit together hand in glove. As a matter of fact, it appears that they must have originally been written as one book and then broken in half by the author. If this was a clever ploy to collect $2.99 twice, it certainly worked in my case. If you are going to read them, read Maria first. I have mixed feelings about this combo. Ostensibly, these works are about children who have been kidnapped, sold into slavery, and then feminized to make them “desirable” and highly marketable quantities for their despicable captors. This is a horrendous phenomenon, disgusting beyond words, that most likely actually occurs in real life. How does the writer characterize these events? On the one hand, the author has depicted a tale of horrible and tragic abuse. On the other, she has cleverly crafted a stimulating tale of romance, sex and love in the context of a great escapade that eventually leads to a great escape.

On the positive side, a good job has been done in the portrayal of the dynamic that the psychological community describes as “Stockholm Syndrome,” where the victims bond with their captors. In addition, these little books are pretty well written and edited. However, there is definitely something very “freaky” about how these young children, although somewhat predisposed to the feminine side prior to their abductions, so readily embrace their transition and new lives of slavery. On balance, I believe these two tales carry some redeeming social value, if for nothing more than calling attention to this horrible issue. That they do so in a somewhat salacious and titillating manner is a bit of a concern, but one must remember, this is just fiction.


[Reviewed by Samuel]

Friday, August 17, 2012

Safewords by Candace Blevins (REVIEW)

Safeword Davenport and Safewords: Davenport and Chiffon are two halves of a longer story, one that begins with a woman slowly, almost reluctantly, recovering from the death of her husband (the only Master she's ever known), and a man recovering from the death of his wife (not the only, but the most significant slave he's ever known). There's a romance there, a promise of an outwardly seeming normal relationship, but one built around the idea of a total power exchange. As you might expect, it's a story that blurs a lot of lines, and occupies the shadows between those lines.

Between fantasy and reality.

Between romance and erotica.

Between domination and sadomasochism.

Between pain and pleasure.

I struggled with this one a lot, finding myself equally drawn to and repulsed by what was happening. The romance worked (both despite and because of the darkness), and the power exchange itself was undeniably attractive. Dana and Zach are both fascinating characters, well-rounded and well-developed, and the supporting cast is far more than just the usual Master/Mistress/slave background participants. I quite liked the start honesty of the writing, and the loving attention to detail in every scene.

Having said that, the shadows had me uncomfortable, particularly those between pleasure/pain and domination/sadomasochism. Personally, I am quite attracted to the idea of the power exchange, to the giving up of control, but Blevins takes it to an extent I've never before encountered. The idea of a safeword is something I've always known as being synonymous with 'stop' or 'enough,' a clear request to be respected without question. Here, there is a price to the safewords, a request granted but only at a cost. While the story rings true, the authenticity of that 'reality' definitely challenged my 'fantasy.'

For me, the second book was definitely the stronger (and more balanced) of the two, mostly because it introduced a level of honest communication and the fair exchange of ideas that I felt much more comfortable with. Jacob and Brent really bring something special to the story, which rather surprised me, since I wasn't sure what kind of role they would ultimately play.

Definitely a remarkable tale, and one that's exceptionally well-told - so long as you don't mind some winces and shudders mixed in with your gasps and shivers.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday - Heiresses of Russ 2012 by Connie Wilkins

"Waiting On" Wednesday spotlights upcoming releases that everyone's excited about (created by Jill at Breaking The Spine).


Heiresses of Russ 2012: The Year's Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction by Connie Wilkins

In this, the second release in the annual Heiresses of Russ series, Lambda Literary Award winning editor Connie Wilkins joins Steve Berman in choosing the best of the prior year's published speculative fiction with lesbian themes. An unexplained astronomical phenomenon brings a woman and her grandfather closer while she questions the meaning of faith. African villagers are sent automatons rather than human relief workers. Mermaids devour men drawn by their song but what will happen to a steampunk submersible piloted by a woman? Two teenage girls discover that memories are held in the fine aromas of perfumes. A family of sisters in Mexico discover a fallen angel. These are tales of the strange, the wondrous, the eerie but all are richly told stories of women facing the unknown and how they are changed by the experience. [Oct 1, 2012]


I just got my hands on an advance copy of this, so watch for my review closer to the release date.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

GUEST POST: Tentacles and Sensuality - Two complementary flavors

Tentacles and Sensuality: Two complementary flavors.
by Elizabeth Hyder

One thing that one is always, always going to find in erotica is sensuality. Whether it's the sight of smooth muscle sliding under skin, the musky scent of bodies, the slide of fingers on sweat-slick skin, the taste of semen on the tongue, or the sounds of lovemaking, from low moans to the slap of flesh on flesh—sensory input is one thing that gets readers going, and it's always found in spades in erotica.

When I was writing the initial blurb for the All Wrapped Up anthology from Storm Moon Press, I asked some friends what it was about tentacles that made them want to read it. Myself, I tend to be a fan of things that push limits: xeno, dub/non-con, brainwashing/mind control, etc. My friends came up with interesting responses, though; they were able to dissect the reasons that they liked tentacles in a manner that I had not previously considered.

There's the xenophilia aspect, they said, but there's also the sensuality aspect.

Sensuality? I asked. It wasn't something I'd really associated with tentacle sex, up until then, though my mind was already racing with possibilities: the feelings were different. The comparatively rough feeling of human skin verses the soft, smooth, slick feeling of a tentacle's skin. The soft yet firm feeling of fleshy tentacles or the supple flexibility of vine-tentacles verses the callouses of fingers and hands and the distinct feeling of digits, of fingernails. Tentacles, without a doubt, have sensuality in spades.

But my friends' responses surprised me: Just the all-encompassing feeling, you know? With tentacles, your lover can fill you up completely. Every hole you have can be filled, plus you can have tentacles wrapped around your arms, your wrists—everywhere at once!

And that was when the light went on: tentacles are often about dealing with overwhelming sensations. Being touched in so many places at once, completely engulfed in what one's body is feeling, no chance to stop and catch one's thoughts, no chance for anything but passion and pleasure.

Oh yeah, I thought. Tentacles are hot as hell. Sensual, sensuous, sensitive... anything connected to the senses that I could think of, there was some way that tentacles lived up to the word. So now, whenever tentacles come to mind, I imagine the character whose lover knows what they like and is willing to deliver, willing to buy them a one-way ticket to the realm of the senses and see them happily on their way.

I think about the differences in feelings, too: fingers grabbing or tendrils wrapping, slick, cool, long, and curved verses warm, short, bony, and dry... the list goes on and on when it comes to the differences sensation-wise between humans and tentacles. And with the number of different types of tentacles—vines, fleshy, tapered or uniform, magic—there's no end to the sensations tentacles can evoke.

There's the idea of complete differentness, or xenophilia, and of giving in or accepting that differentness, and that is what I am going to talk about tomorrow over at Book Wenches! Thank you for having me here at Bending the Bookshelf; I know I am in good company!

All Wrapped Up, Now available from Storm Moon Press for just $6.99! Order in paperback directly from SMP and get double the reader reward points toward free books!

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Long Sleep by Stephen Mellor (REVIEW)

The Long Sleep by Stephen Mellor is a little like a car that's a “crossover vehicle,” one that is built on a automobile platform and combining features of a SUV with those of a passenger car. It’s a book sitting on a sci-fi chassis, featuring a detective story against the backdrop of a forced gender swap. The author does an excellent job with this strong and believable tale set several hundred years into the future.

This is a time of the beginnings of space travel to distant stars, a droid police force, “AI” humanoid beings and a wealth of scientific projections from a very creative and fertile mind. However, after all these years the basic and fundamental character of the human race hasn’t changed one iota. There are still power corrupted and antisocial despots running the world while the populace acts like sheep, with the exception of one brave young woman and the male detective she hires to investigate the cause of the explosion that ripped apart a star cruiser, just as it was about to reach its final destination after a thirty-year journey.

Was it sabotage and if so, why?


[Reviewed by Samuel]

Aphrodite Calling (Gods of Love) by Jennifer Lynne (REVIEW)

Aphrodite Calling (Gods of Love #2), by Jennifer Lynne is a beautifully written, almost poetic novella. It features Gina, a post-surgical transgender woman, who through the divine intervention of Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, finally rids herself of all vestiges of the guilt and shame of her transition that she carries with her like a boat anchor.

Through the erotic kisses, gentle caresses and sexual passion of Aphrodite’s studly male envoy Himeros, not to mention the explosive sensuality of their coital couplings, Gina finally achieves the powerful experience of life as a truly female being. This little novel is so wonderfully graphic, descriptive and incredibly titillating that the reader is privileged to be able to ride to this experience, stroke by stroke, right along with Gina.


[Reviewed by Samuel]

Friday, August 10, 2012

Slipstream by Michael Offutt (REVIEW)

This was such an odd book, such a weird clash of genres, that I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about. There are aspects of Slipstream that would definitely brand it as a YA novel, but then there are others that are simply too mature for such an audience. It is a very smart novel, and one with a fantastic premise, but the characters themselves, as well as some of the narrative phrasing, seems crafted to appeal to a younger audience.

Like the book itself, the main character, Jordan, is something of an ill-fitting enigma. He is an orphan, a family boy, a risk taker, an ice hockey star, and a full-blown math and science geek. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see a character who straddles the stereotypes, but he seems a bit too good to be true. Without going into too much detail, he ends up discovering a parallel Earth that was all-but destroyed by the atomic bomb testing of the 1940s. Once there, he’s forced to join a sinister hockey league in order to gain information on how to defeat the evil soul-sucking (literally) corporation that holds sway over the world.

Maybe I’m showing my age a bit, but the narrative phrasing, with its emphasis on brands and brand-names, kept throwing me off, especially early on. I’m sure it rings true for a younger audience, and probably serves to draw them in, but it kept jarring me out of the story. The dialogue was a bit of an issue for me as well, coming across as a little too stilted and direct, at times, and a little to obviously hip at others, to sound entirely natural. That aspect did evolve as the story went on, as Offutt seemed to settle into his characters, but there were still occasions where the dialogue was used to info-dump on the reader.

On the other hand, the romance between Jordan and Kolin was exceptionally well-done, and provided a much-needed emotional core around which to build the story. It takes a while for them to come to grips with their feelings, much less to do anything about it, but I loved the slow burn of their intimacy. If you've ever questioned whether a gay teenager could pull off the role of romantic hero, Jordan does it. I wasn’t sure, at first, what kind of role would be left for Jordan’s sister to play, but Kathy is a strong character in her own right, and one who helps keep the reader engaged on a human level. She does slip a bit into the convenient damsel in distress mode from time to time, but she's definitely not alone in being put into jeopardy, and she is by no means a helpless young woman.

Like I hinted at earlier, the ideas and concepts here are incredibly clever, and the world-building is extremely detailed (even if a few elements did seem a bit derivative of other stories). I quite liked the contrast between the two worlds, and really appreciated the ways in which Offutt explored the different branches of society’s technological evolution. The spiritual, good vs evil elements were a bit too simple for my tastes, but the genre does often lend itself to the black and white, so that can be excused.

Overall, I admired the book a great deal, and liked parts of it a lot, even if the package as a whole didn’t completely work for me.


[Reviewed by Sally]

All My Crimes by Tal Valante (REVIEW)

With her debut, All My Crimes, Tal Valante manages to pack a surprising amount of detail (and emotional attachment) into a story that’s less than 50 pages long. Told largely via flashback, by a narrator who isn’t entirely sure of himself or his memories, the uncertainty and distance makes for an intriguing tale.

What we have here is not so much a tale of the war between elves and humans, but one of the aftermath . . . and the consequences. Valante forces us to examine the causes of conflict, the excuses behind our hatreds, and the moral justifications for our atrocities. It’s often been said that history is written by the victorious, but this is one instance where that story is not one of triumph and justice served, but rather one of guilt and a conscience forever stained.

Teregryn is an intriguing character, in that we see him suffer greatly, and come to sympathise with him . . . but we cannot quite distance ourselves from his role in the genocide of the elves. His king, on the other hand, is an almost entirely despicable man, a master of genocide and betrayal. The depth of their past relationship is only hinted at, but it left me torn, desperate for answers, but not sure I really wanted to know more.

The atmosphere here is fantastic, and the details so cunningly provided, it’s easy to become immersed in the world Valante has created. Although the story works very well as it is, and might lose something without the intensity of its focus, this is one story I wouldn’t mind rereading as part of a larger novel.



[Reviewed by Sally]

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

GUEST POST: Underlying Themes of Thicker Than Blood

Underlying Themes of "Thicker Than Blood"
by Avery Vanderlyle

As a bisexual author, it’s exciting to find sites like Bending the Bookshelf that aim for a readership interested in diverse subjects, diverse kinks, diverse relationships. Thicker than Blood, my new story from Storm Moon Press, is a bisexual post-apocalyptic erotic romance about finding love and family, but also about prejudice, identity, and the relationship between society and technology. I’d like to highlight some of these aspects of the story.

Sex and romance in a broken world

David, the protagonist, was born with nanobots inherited from his mother, which should not have happened. When he was five, most of the ‘bot carriers, including both his parents, die in what becomes known as the Crash. In the chaos that follows, anyone with the ‘bots who had survived becomes a target. David has had to hide the bots he was born with his entire life, severely limiting his chance for romance. He also doesn’t know if the bots might be sexually transmissible, so safe sex is a must.

David meets Ayana, a dancer with ‘bots tattooed onto her skin. She is not only gorgeous, but brave. She’s a symbol of everything he’s been repressing by living in fear. When she makes a pass at him, he leaps at the opportunity.

Ayana has a female partner, Yan, who is obviously fine with this liaison even though she leaves it ambiguous how much she will participate. It’s clear that Ayana and Yan have a strong relationship built on absolute trust.

David also meets Ayana’s brother James, and there is an immediate chemistry between the two men. It’s James who reaches out to David and makes it clear that there is a place for him with James and his family.

Family ties

Thicker than Blood is a twist on the old saying “Blood is Thicker than Water.” In this world, those who have the 'bots are connected with a bond that goes beyond blood, much as GLBT folks have built families of choice out of necessity when biological families didn’t support them. But there are also two sets of siblings in the story who do support each other.

David’s brother Rich has a supporting role in the story, but it’s clear he was always there for David. Most notably, he protected David during the Crash, and he has never treated David as inhuman or abnormal for having the bots.

James and Ayana are the other pair of siblings, and they are also very loyal and supportive of each other. Ayana would do almost anything to help her brother when the need arises. James obviously loves and supports his sister as well, and his affection for Ayana’s partner has grown over the time the three of them have been traveling together.

When are we no longer human?

In Thicker than Blood, a massive flaw with the nanobots has killed hundreds of thousands and caused a panic that sets society back decades. But the nanbots have also mutated and evolved on their own, giving rise to a new generation born with these technologies in every cell, who can analyze and create more effectively than those without the 'bots.

Much of society has declared those with the 'bots inhuman. But Yan believes the advances the 'bots give people are exactly what is needed to rebuild society. Is the majority marginalizing their best hope for survival? Or does the possibility of another Crash make it not worth the risk?

We’re on the cusp of many advances in nanotechnology and other advances that raise important questions about the nature of humanity. As a science fiction geek, I wanted to explore some of these questions in a setting which presented neither a rosy view of the future nor a bleak sense that hope is lost.

There is love to be found in the world of Thicker than Blood. Families still support each other. Technology has proven to have a dark side, but renewal is possible. David, Ayana, Yan, and James will all play a part in the rebuilding.

Here's an excerpt:

***

David watched Ayana dance. Her breasts bounced as she conjured up yet another tale. Abstract designs. Dawn. Hope. Rebuilding. Her short braids swayed as she dove to the floor, sending a wave of doves fluttering out from the bird-like marks across her shoulder blades. They swooped out into the room, cooing, and then began fading away. The music rose again in a crash of distant gongs, and then hushed into the stirring of wings. Then gone.

The silence held for a final moment as the dancer panted face down on the floor, hands out in supplication. Then, the thirty people in the crowd exploded into applause, whooping and stomping their feet.

As Ayana rose and bowed, sweat gleaming on her skin, David poured two more cups of ale. They were almost out, and the performers deserved a drink. Yan joined her for a bow. The DJ cut an androgynous figure in dark glasses, jeans and an ancient leather jacket two sizes too big.

Some nights the crowd lingered, but tonight most people slipped away to continue their conversations in the warm night before it got too late to be safe. David sold some take-away bottles, trading them for cigarettes and jerky. He stayed behind the makeshift bar, cleaning up. Rich would fill him in on any important news.

Yan approached, fiddling with the glasses. They had a string of blue lights along the top—some new European fashion? As David watched, the lights all blinked green for several seconds before flipping back to the first color. Ayana came up to Yan, swinging an arm around the DJ's shoulders. The dancer smiled at David as he pushed the drinks toward them.

"Thank you." She took an appreciative sip, eyes closing. "Very nice. You make it yourself?"

"Yeah." He blushed. He was always careful—it was just easier not to say too much. But she'd be safe. "Rich helps. But he says I'm better at it than he is."

"I bet you are." Ayana smiled at him. "Rich is your brother?"

"Yes. I'm David."

"Pleased to meet you officially, David." She offered her hand. He took it, returned her grip, but wasn't sure when to let go. She gave his hand another squeeze and slipped her fingers from his slowly.

Yan nodded to him, but didn't offer to shake hands. David wasn't sure of the DJ's gender, but now that they were close, he guessed female. Not that it mattered. "We appreciate the chance you all took on us. It was a good crowd."

"They were comfortable enough to let their guard down," Yan added. "That's unusual."

"We escaped the worst of the Crash. It was the breakdown in trade and supplies that really disrupted things."

"You're lucky," Ayana drawled the word out, eyes on David's. Then she glanced at Yan, who gave a quick nod.

"David, honey, after a show, I always have a hard time coming down from the high by myself." She grinned. "Any chance you're free?"

***

Pick up Thicker than Blood from Storm Moon Press, Amazon, or at your favorite e-book romance site. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 6, 2012

REVIEW: Undercover Girl - Growing up Transgender by Jill Davidson

Undercover Girl: Growing up Transgender examines, with exceptional depth, what it is like to be a gender variant individual, born in a male body, who makes a transition to a female gender role rather late in life.  Apparently originally written in the form of a web blog and compiled into book form, the author (Jill Davidson), who is a wonderful writer working as a school psychologist, examines existential issues of life and death and more mundane ones such as sexuality, relationships, the effect of hormones and testosterone blockers, transitioning in the workplace, discrimination, transphobia, struggle with vocal presentation and most of all, her agonizing and continued journey to self acceptance.

In this very personal and extremely frank account, the author takes the reader on a  very lengthy, yet continuously fascinating, humorous, and sometimes gut-wrenching journey to the acquisition of her womanhood.


[Reviewed by Samuel]

REVIEW: Mark 947 by Calpernia Addams

A few years ago I rented and watched the 2003 movie, Soldier’s Girl, as many of those who may be reading this review probably did. This movie is based on the true story of love affair between an Army soldier and a transwoman, depicting a lovely and innocent romance between the two. It culminates with the savagely vicious hate crime killing of the soldier, PVT Barry Winchell. Barry was murdered by an ignorant, viscous, possibly developmentally challenged, homophobic “comrade in arms,” egged on by another bigoted soldier.  I had noted with interest that the murder victim’s real-life love interest, Calpernia Addams, had been a consultant for the movie, a task that must have been a difficult thing for her to do, requiring exceptional courage by a person squarely facing her demons. Courage being something that Ernest Hemingway once aptly defined as “grace under pressure.”

This movie was eventually followed by Calpernia’s own memoir, Mark 947: A Life Shaped by God, Gender and Force of Will. I had looked forward to reading this book for some time and was pleased to learn that it had finally been recently released for Kindle, text to speech enabled, which is my major reading medium these days.  Eloquently written, Calpernia's memoir did not disappoint in the least as it built toward a haunting and inexorable conclusion.  Although I knew the story well, I was still shocked and deeply moved by the depiction of this terrible crime against an innocent, the ripples of which directly changed the lives of many and has affected the Armed Forces policies toward gay and gender issues. There are also wonderful passages and descriptions of Calpernia's early years and her transition process.  If you haven't read it already in paperback, Mark 947 on Kindle is a very worthwhile acquisition.


[Reviewed by Samuel]

REVIEW: Confessions of a Transsexual Physician by Jessica Angelina Birch MD

The significance of the title, Confessions of a Transsexual Physician, was not lost on this reviewer, as the author, Dr. Jessica Birch, a former practicing Catholic, pulls no punches in terms of the intimate revelations expressed in this extremely frank memoir. ”Confessions” provides an often sad and gut-wrenching glimpse into the life of an individual who happens to be a physician who is also an MTF transsexual, taking us on a journey through childhood, early adulthood, marriage and family, gender transition and beyond.

In so doing, this memoir provides a very up-front and self-critical case study of a person who has a history of making impulsive, sometimes narcissistic, co-dependent, oft obsessive and/or self-destructive decisions. However, it is a touching book that is ultimately about a human being who originally viewed herself as a victim, not accepting much responsibility for her actions, but has finally come to terms with her life. She has done so after moving on to her new gender role and repairing and improving those relationships she could salvage while building fresh and strong friendships with others who are now in her circle while developing brand new interests and outlooks.

The writer, a person who experienced intense gender dysphoric feelings from her earliest memories, relates an honest and gripping account of her difficult journey across gender roles, pulling no punches in her account of the struggles toward self-acceptance as she moves us through her transition. Most importantly, her story makes a powerful case for the "normalization" of transgender issues.  Here is a person who, until later life was a tortured and depressed individual who often went to extremes in an attempt to obtain relief from the suffering of existential angst in an attempt to lead a happier, more fulfilling life. It is well-written true-life tale about someone born into the wrong body, resulting in a sad and extremely painful life of trying to fit unnaturally in to a male gender role, eventually leading to an impulsive, headlong “damn the torpedoes” and “take no prisoners” approach to gender transition that eventually rights itself to what appears to be, at least for now, a peaceful, serene if not yet totally happy ending.

This well-written, exciting, titillating, yet often depressing memoir held my interest from start to finish. Although this book could have benefited by a slightly better editing job to remove some of the redundancies that were included, overall it was an extremely compelling read. I was impressed with the author’s writing style as demonstrated by her wonderful flowing passages, her literacy and insights while occasionally providing a glimpse of a doctor’s technical, clinical and scientific approach. But what I enjoyed most about this memoir were the frequent portions that provide a rather touching reading experience, such as the author's descriptions of the loving relationship she finally developed with her mother, a person who abused her as a child, and whose love and acceptance she sought over the years until finally gaining it in a female gender role.

I also appreciated how the author candidly reveals the side of her that contains some serious emotional issues she would have been much better served to have first worked out before making her gender change. I believe that in the final analysis she would acknowledge that handling these problems first might have been preferable to adopting behaviors that were tantamount to rejecting family and friends in an impulsive and headlong plunge to find herself by getting to what she perceived to be the root of her problems, her gender. Ultimately, she realized that even with such a dramatic life change, the basic unresolved issues always re-emerge. All and all, this powerhouse work is a wonderful and moving memoir that underneath it all presents a logical rationale for enabling people to be who they really are.


[Reviewed by Samuel]

Thursday, August 2, 2012

INTERVIEW: Tanya Allan (author of Behind the Enemy & The Hard Way)

Good morning, all!

Joining us today is one of my favourite (and most prolific) authors of transgender fiction, the lovely Tanya Allan, author of Behind The Enemy (her latest), The Hard Way (her most popular), Monique (her best reviewed), and many others.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

♥ Thanks so much for stopping by, Tanya! For those who may be new to you and your work, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in the 1950s as an only child. I was brought up and privately educated in Scotland to a middle class family of military background. After leaving school, I embarked on a career that took in the military and law enforcement (which answers a question further on). I retired from that a number of years ago.

♥ For the past several years you have proven to be an extremely prolific (and well-reviewed) author. When did you first begin to write professionally?

Define professional?

I suppose I started getting paid for my writing in April 2011 when I uploaded my first titles to Amazon Kindle. I have been writing and posting my work on various sites for the last eight years, but decided to try to sell some, just to see if they would sell.

♥ What was it that first attracted you to the genre of transgender/intersex fiction?

I don't just write trans/intersex fiction, but I suppose it was what started me off. For many people the realities of believing that perhaps nature played an unpleasant trick on one by placing one's brain in the wrong body is not something one deals with easily. Life is tough enough without carrying such a burden.

I carried that burden and for too many reasons to go into here, I was unable to do anything about it. Having taken a decision early on to live with what cards nature had dealt me, I just got on and made the best of things... and didn't do such a bad job, even if I say so myself. A loving and understanding partner was a must, and I was very fortunate. We talked through my inner feelings early on, and at that point I decided, sorry, we decided, to keep things as they were. However, there had to be an avenue of escape for she who was within, and the writing became just that.

I was able to live another life through my writing, and it proved to be exactly what I needed.

I also write with my REAL LIFE hat on, and they are /spy/crime/thrillers in the main. But, to be honest, Tanya is far more successful.

♥ To what extent have your own life experiences influenced your writing? Do you think you write a bit more of yourself into the characters, living vicariously through them, than a so-called mainstream author might?

Absolutely! Most of my characters contain a good deal of what I would have liked to have been. I do live out my other life through them, but as I have had a very varied and eventful career and life so far, I am able to bring a lot of what I have experienced into the plots and sub plots. They say that one's characters have to be sympathetic, but I like to actually display empathy to my characters - they are each a little bit of me and react to things in a way that I relate to.

♥ Do you have a schedule or a routine to your writing, with a pre-planned outline in place, or do you let the words flow as they demand?

The latter. I am wholly at the mercy of my muse, who will sit me down and start me writing. My problem is not enough hours in the day, with everything else that is going on. The other problem I have is that I will get an idea that may not fit into a story that I am writing, so I start another one, and so on. I have around 43 unfinished novels at different stages of completion.

♥ Really? Nice to know I'm not alone in dealing with a scatterbrained muse! For some authors, it's coming up with a title, and for others it's writing that first paragraph - what do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing?

Ha ha... finishing them. Seriously, it's getting sufficient time to focus and get a substantial amount done at each sitting. RL is so bloody hectic for me at the moment, I find it hard juggling work, (yes I do have to do some occasionally) grandchildren, and elderly and infirm parents. The main reason I have not produced anything recently is the above.

♥ Many of your main protagonists first present as male, only to have circumstances beyond their control cause a sometimes overnight shifting to female gender roles. How did that particular theme originate, and why do you feel it's so attractive to readers?

I started to write only for me. It never dawned on me that anyone would ever be interested in my work, so I wrote to placate the inner creature that craved peace. The theme started in my daydreams at school when I was around 8 or 9, and never really left me. I wrote my first story, recently posted on The Big Closet as THE DREAMER when I was fourteen. It was my daydream of the moment. I think they are as popular as they are because the feelings they invoke are universal amongst those who carry the same or similar burdens.

♥ Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Has a twist or turn in your writing ever surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

I have never had an original plan or plot sketched out beforehand. The characters always surprise me and do the strangest things. It is weird, but I often feel as if the story writes itself, and all I do is bash away at the keyboard.

♥ I love it! You’ve published your work online (most notably at sites such as Big Closet and Sapphire's Place), for the e-book market, and more recently in paperback. Does one give you a greater sense of accomplishment than the other?

I'm still a sucker to see my name in print, on paper, but the trend is away from paper, so I'm not going to buck the trend. Certainly, having sold over 8,000 books on Amazon Kindle alone, I can't complain. The paperbacks have sold in tens rather than thousands.

♥ When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write primarily for your own satisfaction?

As I said earlier, I never intended my work to be read by anyone else, so I never used to think about the readers, but now I do a little. If I like it then I think that those who like my work will like it. As for reviewers, I'm not really sure how one could write for them, as they seem to have a different agenda. I've had some great reviews and pretty awful ones from the same book, so I've learned that you can never hope to please all the people all the time. I'm just thrilled that I can please some of the people some of the time.

♥ Good thing I've always considered myself a reader first, and a reviewer second! What is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've ever encountered?

That anyone likes it enough to want to buy more! Actually, a few people have bought my work believing it to be more on the lines of fetish erotica and were pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't.

♥ I couldn't have asked for a better segue! While your work does sometimes have explicit scenes, it's more grounded in fiction/plot than mere fantasy sex. Do you feel the sexual/fetish emphasis on transgender identities in fiction has had a negative impact on the community, or do you feel those fantasies can lead to a positive means of self-exploration/expression?

Sexually explicit and fetish sex has a place, but as I neither read nor write it, I feel I am not qualified to comment. However, as in all things, there is a market for it, so I suppose as long as what it is is clear to the buyer, then I don't have a personal problem with it. As I mentioned above, I have noticed that a few people have bought my books believing they were of this variety, and were surprised enough to give me a good review when they discovered something quite different. The one thing about fantasies is that everyone has them and many people share common threads. My stories are fantasies dressed up as books, but written so that the reader can escape into a different world for a short while and become in tune with the heroine.

♥ Your novels display an obvious knowledge about war, weaponry, police tactics, and political history. How did you come by such awareness?

I have always had an interest in history, and over 30 years in the military and law enforcement did the rest.

♥ That explains it! Is there a favourite quote or scene from one of your stories that you feel particularly fond of? Something that reminds you of why writing is important to you?

Gosh, that is a tough one. I adore all my heroines and they all possess what I'd like to be. As for a favourite quote or scene, I have to say it depends on my mood. I rather like the scene in the train toilet in FLIGHT OR FIGHT when Katrina helps an escaping British officer. I also like the way what started as a sort of prank became a serious subterfuge in THE HARD WAY.


♥ Is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who refreshes your literary batteries?

Robert Heinlein and Georgette Heyer. I adored I WILL FEAR NO EVIL and The MASQUERADERS. The contrasting settings and styles couldn't be more different.


♥ Hmm, I own several copies of Heinlein's classic, but it seems I need to get my hands on Heyer. Based on your stories, happy endings are important for you. Do you think Tanya will ever see a happy ending in real-life, or is she someone who will continue to thrive strictly through your writing?

Tanya is receiving a happy ending every time someone buys one of her books. I'm satisfied that my life has been about as happy as it could get, under the circumstances. I'm never one to complain about something that is largely outside possibilities, so happiness is a highly illusive quality. I learned early on that if one strives for goodness, then happiness will follow. Seek happiness and you may never find it.

♥ In the past few months you seem to have taken a little break from publishing new books so, I must ask, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

Oh yes . . . lots and lots and lots . . .

CANDY CANE 2 - DEAD END is not far away, as is WHISPERS IN THE SOUL, and one I've been slugging away at recently, A CHANCE WOULD BE A FINE THING. The latter one is a new venture for me - World War One and a dip into reincarnation. I wanted to create a realistic character who lived as a male through both world wars and died as he was born, but not quite ready to meet his maker. Knowing early on that he was one of nature's hiccups, he (perhaps like me) made the best of what he'd been given but was not ready to cash in and accept an eternity as something he never wanted to be in the first place.

I also have BEGINNINGS END, the sequel to Behind the Enemy nearing completion, and EXTRA SPECIAL AGENT in the latter throws of being finished. The second book in the MARINE series is slowing me down with a lot of research into Roman history required. In fact MARINE 3 is almost finished, but it will have to wait for 2 to be completed.

Another new venture is TAMSYN. This is a story about a crossover from reality, fantasy and RPG, where a middle-aged and out of shape male gets the opportunity of a lifetime. Does he take it? You bet!

And there are more... 40 of them....

All I need now is peace and quiet to finish them, and at least and extra 10 hours a day, two extra days a week and a year clear of grandchildren and elderly parents.


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A huge thanks to Tanya for finding the time in her frantic life to stop by. For her fans, I apologize for so selfishly taking away from her writing, but I think you'll agree it's worth it if we can drive a few new readers her way to help repay her efforts!

For those of you who haven't given Tanya a read, I also suggest checking out Every Little Girl's Dream, The Other Side of Dreams, The Queen of Hearts, and Ring the Change.