Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Agony/Ecstasy anthology edited by Jane Litte

Why I read it: Sometimes, I'm in the mood for a short story, kind of  like a sorbet.  I'd had this on my TBR for some time, having bought it ages ago, and I decided to intersperse the stories with my other reading.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  All new stories of punishing extremes and unbearable pleasure... 
With historical, contemporary, and futuristic backdrops, this outrageously diverse collection of original stories explores every conceivable variation of BDSM erotica--from knitting circles to the Titanic to a retelling of The Little Mermaid. Featuring all-new stories by Meljean Brook, Jean Johnson, Bettie Sharpe, Jill Myles, Margaret Rowe, Sara Thorn, and more, this book has everything a reader could hope for in an erotic romance.

What worked for me (and what didn't): 


Transfixed and Transformed, the two stories by Anne Calhoun in the anthology (one each in Agony and Ecstasy) were about the same pairing, one from her POV, one from his.  I liked these stories very much and could happily have read a whole book about them.  That said, the stories did feel complete and I didn't feel at all shortchanged.  For me, these stories showed how a skilled writer can immerse me in a character in a very short space of time.  After I got finished enjoying them, I did sit back and think about how cleverly it was achieved.  Short is not my forte, so I'm particularly impressed when it's done as well as this.

The Sybil by Jean Johson had a Warprize/Game of Thrones type feel to it.  I liked the worldbuilding which was fairly detailed for such a short story, but the ending was not only unclear but it also bent toward the traditional and that kind of let it down a little I thought.

Caged by JK Coi - This one was somewhat surprising and took a turn I wasn't expecting.  I liked it right up until the too ambigious ending. I really wanted to know what was next.

Each Step Sublime by Bettie Sharpe - A twist on The Little Mermaid tale which felt a bit disjointed to me.

Stitch and Bitch by AL Simonds - I liked this f/f story set in a yarn shop.  The ending felt a bit rushed. I would have liked more. I haven't read much (hardly any really) f/f but this story does inspire me to try more of them.

Safeword by Delphine Dryden - I quite enjoyed this story, about two best friends and work colleagues - she is kinky and convinced he's vanilla all the way.  But things aren't alwasy as they appear.  I would have liked a longer book of these two because there were a lot of aspects left unexplored.  But it was a cute short.

Bachelorette Party by Jessica Clare - Sexy story about a woman about to be married who has one fantasy to tick off her list before the big day.  Her BFF arranges a special bachelorette party. It was cute and fun.

Wicked Wedding Night by Margaret Rowe - I was a little uncomfortable with this book about Regency newlyweds after a hurried wedding, as the sex was non-consensual at the start and I didn't quite buy the turnaround by the new wife. The groom had war trauma which meant he could only be aroused by pain and again, this troubled me.

Shameless by Edie Harris - a young woman in Philadelphia has sex with her fiance for comfort after her mother dies.  Fiance decides she's not worth marrying and she is suddenly a mistress instead.  He dumps her at the theatre, where she spies a sexy rougher-looking guy off in the wings.  The story is of their encounter but there isn't a relationship and I had questions about what would happen to Caro afterwards.

Taken by Rebecca Lawton - This book has a captivity narrative - young white woman taken by a Native American scout group to be a new wife to a man who'd lost his wife the previous year.  Again, the non consensual nature of the sex (at least at the beginning) made me uncomfortable.

Wetwire by Sunny Moraine - This story was interesting.  It had a kind of Matrix-y feel to it I guess, with the heroine being plugged into a console.  It wasn't terribly romantic - the story was more episodic than that - but the concept was novel.


Transformed by Anne Calhoun - as above.

Rescue Me by Meljean Brook was surprising and not what I thought it was going to be - in a good way.  

The Wooden Pony by Shoshanna Evers - I liked a lot about this story. I found the end abrupt and it wasn't entirely clear to me what would happen next (not that it had to be clear I suppose) but this story about a blind date for a whipping was engaging and sexy.  I was a little uncertain about whether BDSM play is an appropriate substitute for cutting but I'm not expert so maybe??

Kiss of Life by Lily Daniels - I felt this story tried to do too much in a short space of time. The heroine was on board the Titanic and was basically rescued by the hero's cousin.  Hero marries her after heroine's former fiance proves himself a douchebag.  Also, I have a personal aversion to the word "bum" in sex scenes.  It just throws me right out.

Silverhouse by Sarabeth Scott  -To be honest, I didn't really get this story.  I couldn't place where it was set and I didn't quite understand it.  It was definitely historical but beyond that, it had no sense of place for me.

Bruised Ego by Christine D'Abo - An under pressure CEO with a taste for pain is sent by his business partner to a therapist of a different sort.  I think I would have enjoyed this one better if it had been expanded by a few more pages.

On My Skin by Dionne Galace - I liked this story about a girl getting a tattoo from sexy artist but felt they moved to the sex part too fast and I was uncomfortable with this.  The author did such a good job of making the heroine unattractive in many ways, I was wondering why the hero was so into her and this made me feel he was perhaps a bit skeevy.  I don't think I was supposed to think that.

Just Say Yes by HelenKay Dimon -This story was about a high level corporate type who has the hots for her assistant.  After they succumb to mutual lust, she gets an attack of the guilts because it is against company policy and totally inappropriate to have a relationship with her subordinate.  Her sexy assistant doesn't take no for an answer (in a good way) and comes up with a solution which works for both of them.  It was a little too quick for me to sink into the characters, but enjoyable.

Into The Red by Cameron Belle - This m/m entry is based in a sort of dystopian type world where (mostly) criminals fight in gladiatorial games to the death. I was happy to see an m/m entry in the anthology and I really liked this one.  I wouldn't have minded reading a longer story actually.

Overtaken by Sara Thorn - In this story, the boxer hero has broken up with his girlfriend because he doesn't want to admit to her he's a sadist.  Three months later, she finds him, wanting to know what went wrong and determined to fix it.  As it happens, she's not at all averse to a little (or a lot of) pain. I liked this one - it had some uneven moments but was mostly a win.

Overall: This was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some stories didn't work for me at all, some were more erotic than romance-y (and therefore less successful) and some were really great, especially the Calhoun duo and the Dryden.  If you like erotic stories, I think there's probably something in here for everyone.

Grade:  C+/B-


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