Review: Best Women’s Erotica

Rachel Kramer Bussel by Laura Boyd
Rachel Kramer Bussel (shot by Laura Boyd)

Readers familiar with Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s erotic fiction anthologies know that they are guaranteed a rollercoaster ride. Best Women’s Erotica of the Year certainly meets the mark, being not only skin-tinglingly exciting but richly diverse (across ages, ethnicities and writing styles). I read the collection within a weekend, eyes bulging and, inevitably, wobbly-legged: be warned!

Among my favourites in the volume was ‘The Altar of Lamented Toys’: a cleverly-woven tale by Jessica Taylor, set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which sex toys once so beloved can no longer be charged. Paying homage to their transportational power, the story is both original and moving.

‘Alvin’s Night’ by Elizabeth Coldwell is masterfully written: the work of an author who has long proven herself in command of her words. Here, we observe the power of the long tease, of role-play and power-play. Her dialogue is faultless; her details crystal shards of anticipation.

tiffany reisz erotic fiction author erotica romance
Tiffany Reisz

On the theme of allowing our desires free reign, there is Tiffany Reisz‘ ‘The Assistant’ in which our heroine attends a masked party and, safely behind her veil of anonymity, enters into an encounter more thrilling than she could have imagined: ‘She found the prospect arousing, the thought of being passed back and forth between them’ and ‘Jack had warned her Lennon would be rougher with her than he was. But Jack hadn’t warned her it would feel this good. He was fucking her so hard now she could feel it in her stomach.’ However, she soon realises that she seeks not anonymity but more intimate connection, and her mask is, at last, lifted.

rose caraway author erotic erotica fiction literature
Rose Caraway

For those daring to enter the dark recesses of a sex dungeon, there is Rose Caraway‘s ‘Carnalarium’, in which all pleasure and pain awaits. Here, the true theme is not simply the lure of the forbidden but the agony of parting from a lover, allowing them to be free. Rose’s tale explores the nature of ‘possession’ and of love.

J Crichton and H Keyes’ ‘Revisiting Youth’, set in Tokyo, begins with an opening line commanding of attention: ‘Aya went out that night looking to feel.’ At first sight, the story is standard fare: an older woman on the prowl picks up two young men and takes them home to play. However, there are deeper themes swimming beneath: notably, how far our sense of emotional and intellectual self (and self-worth) is entwined with our sexual self, and our belief in our desirability. The story navigates smoothly towards its highly charged threesome, ending, at last, with the words: ‘Adventures only stop happening when you stop looking for them.’

Ms. Kramer Bussel’s own addition to the collection, ‘Flying Solo’ is both tender and sexually thrilling. We peek through the lens at a marriage, like most others, of mutual love and respect, except that, here, there is some extra spice in the mix. Our happy couple regularly invite a third person into their bed and, in doing so, enhance their understanding of (and admiration for) one another.

lisa gabriele  l marie adeline SECRET erotic novel fiction author
L.Marie Adeline

Also well-delivered is Lisa Gabriele’s ‘Matilda’s Secret’ (writing as L. Marie Adeline). Again, we are invited to explore the theme of an older woman’s sexual self-esteem, and the complexities of desire v. love. Recruiting men for S.E.C.R.E.T (an agency orchestrating women’s sex fantasies) we glimpse ‘behind the scenes’.

Another little gem in the anthology is Lazuli Jones’ ‘Starstruck’: what happens when, as a mature woman, you meet your teenage celebrity crush, and he measures up to all those years of hero-worship…

Rachel KB has done an admirable job of collating stories which seek to explore unusual ‘edges’ within the genre: ‘Enter Me’ by Tabitha Rayne, is both tender and raw, her heroine redefining her sense of self on having lost her hearing; Dorothy Freed’s ‘Two Doms for Dinner’ features men and a woman of much older years; Theda Hudson’s ‘Lighting the Pyre’ tackles loss of sexual libido following cancer treatment; and Rose P Lethe’s ‘Out of the Ordinary’ features a transgender protagonist.

jade a waters author erotic fiction erotica
Jade A Waters

Tara Betts’ ‘A New Canvas’ is a poetic rendering, in which we can feel the artist’s pen drawing upon our heroine’s skin. Valerie Alexander ‘Demimonde’ is sexy vignette of a woman’s secret fantasies, daring parlour games, and an illicit liaison in her carriage, in 19th century New York. Jade A Waters‘ ‘Ophelia the Second’ is a subtle journey through the attraction between actors on and off-stage, and Ria Restrepo‘s ‘Restitution’ offers a wonderful twist (no spoilers!).

rachel kramer bussel review best women's eroticaSo many stories, and perspectives, each awaiting the reader’s own interpretation.

An anthology to snuggle down with…

To see where my own saucy pen has been leading me, you may like to visit my Amazon page

Peep Show: a review

The exhibitionist in us wants others to disapprove, as well as to admire, for it is in this that we find the tantalising ‘edge’.

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt
Photograph by Elliot Erwitt (1950)

Here is the line in the sand, and here we are, stepping over it.
Here is my body; here is my lust.
See it in my fingers and in my eyes, and in my quickening breath.
Look away if you don’t like what you see…
Except that I know you won’t.

Peep ShowPeep Show: Tales of Voyeurs and Exhibitionists, edited by the Queen of Erotica, Rachel Kramer Bussel, is a gem of an anthology: each story perfect in its own right, original and well-crafted, surveying the paired delights of voyeurism and exhibitionism.

‘Clean and Pretty’, by Donna George Storey, is a sensual masterpiece, displaying the very paradox at the heart of the collection: that the essence of our desire to be watched, to ignite the flame of arousal in others, is based not just on the notion of seeking admiration but also on a yearning to defy boundaries, to defy the watcher’s approval, to defy commonly-held canons of ‘decency’.

Bruce Webber
Photography by Bruce Webber

Every act of exhibitionism is a performance, as in Jennifer Peters’ gloriously bold ‘People in Glass Hotels’, and in Lolita Lopez’s ‘Indecent’.

Of course, the coin’s reverse is all the more potent when illicit. Forbidden pleasures are, inevitably, the sweetest, as we see in Elizabeth Coldwell’s tantalising ‘Audience Participation’, and in Nobilis Reed’s cleverly rendered and multi-threaded ‘Glass’: both extolling the joy of watching, uninvited.

Hans Mauli
Photograph by Hans Mauli

Rachel KB’s own contribution to this treasure trove, ‘I’ve Only Got Eyes For You’, and Angela Caperton’s ‘Calendar Girl’ end the collection on a note lavender-sweet and dumpling-soft, showing that exhibitionism is not confined to the shadow-world. Every one of us can enjoy the act of display, and there are so many ways in which to do so, to the enrichment of our self-esteem, while feeding a secret desire to shock.

Perhaps the jewel in the crown is L.A. Mistral’s exploration of the relationship between the knowing performer, and the open watcher, writing in ‘The Theory of Orchids’: ‘The more we cherish something with our eyes, the more it flourishes. Our attention changes both who we are and what we look at. Our watching changes everything.’

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931
Photograph by Manuel Alvarez Bravo (1931)

We read for entertainment, but also to know ourselves better, to find an echo within the pages, and to witness parallel universes. Knowledge of each ‘other life’ opens a door within our own.

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge (1968)
Photograph by John Claridge (1968)

Reading, of course, is an act of voyeurism in itself, and this anthology, by its very nature, encourages us to embrace the process.

Read, and watch, and enjoy.

(For more voyeuristic delights, you may like to visit my Author Page on Amazon to see where my pen has been tickling…)