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REVIEW: “Commanding Acquisitions” and “Firm Touch” by Christine d’Abo (with bonus:...

Dear Ms. d’Abo.

I became interested in your writing after seeing that Jane had accepted one of your stories for her Agony/Ecstasy anthology. So I hied me on over to Ellora’s Cave and bought these two stories. I’m glad I did and I look forward to your anthology story even more now.

Commanding Acquisitions

Simon’s bookstore is slowly sinking into the red and his personal life is non-existent, because the local kink-friendly club is more about teenage poseurs than real players. One day, he finds a mysterious business card in his mail. All it says is 1-800-DOM-help. He’s pissed enough to call the number and intrigued enough to go to the club that “The Operator” tells him about. There he meets Gavin, a willing sub he finds attractive enough to beat, then fuck. But Gavin runs away. Then shows up unexpectedly as the business consultant Simon hires to help him with his store. They have a strictly business relationship for three weeks until they both break, have another great night, and Gavin runs again. Gavin, of course, comes crawling back soon enough for   a wonderful reunion.

The reason Gavin runs is…unexpected and both sweet and slightly eye-rolling. Simon’s lack of a sex life is never really explained. He’s never had a relationship that included kink. He’s had subs and boyfriends, but apparently they were never the same person. He’s also a stubborn shit, too “domly” to take business advice, which is just stupid. And did they REALLY work 12 hour days for THREE WEEKS?!?! on a business and advertising plan for a small-town bookstore with one storefront?! I’d think Gavin’s bosses would NOT be pleased with him for that, forget about sleeping with his client!

Those issues aside, though, I really enjoyed this story. It’s 95 pages long, not long enough to make me really want to slap Simon, but close. The sex is hot and the BDSM is (unfortunately) pretty tame. Gavin groveled well at the end. And I enjoyed the angst of will-they-or-won’t-they-get-together at the end enough that I’m looking forward to more of your writing.

The super-mysterious Kinky Klub of Doom, though…isn’t it possible for kinky people to find each other the same way other people do? Through mutual acquaintances, chance meetings in bookstores (and hey, Simon owns one!), bumping into each other running at the park…anything? Sigh.

The review sounds like a C grade, but the reading experience was a B-. So…

Grade: B-

Book Link | Kindle | All Romance eBooks | Ellora’s Cave

Firm Touch

Despite the truly hideous cover, I bought this book precisely because it’s a book about fisting. As much as many of the m/m romances out there flirt with it and talk about it and threaten to do it sometime, very few of them actually go there, so I was interested to see how this one would do when that’s what it was explicitly promising.

I loved the first chapter of this 40 page short story. Leo sets his preparations to fist Max all the while flashing back to the drunken conversation when Max finally tells him that this is what he wants. The tension of the preparations and Leo’s hesitation with what he’s doing are multiplied by Leo’s memories of desperately trying to get Max to tell him what he really wants for Christmas. It’s very well done and a lot of fun.

The actual scene of fisting itself was also great. What I loved was that it wasn’t all about the act of putting Leo’s hand in Max’s ass; it was about the relationship, the emotion, the need and desire and love between them, as it should be:

Time dropped away. Nothing mattered beyond Max. What he was feeling, the looks on his face, the soft noises escaping him-’Leo’s attention locked onto everything. A rush of power flowed over him, the knowledge that Max had given up complete control, trusted him to do something that could seriously hurt him if done wrong-fuck, Leo wouldn’t have believed anyone who’d told him how much of a turn on it would be.

Don’t get me wrong, you detail the actual physical act brilliantly. But the love and trust comes through loud and clear during the whole short, making it a romance, rather than just stroke fiction. The ending, after the scene, was a bit over the top (and really, if things aren’t going brilliantly between them, it also seemed a bit of a risk), but it was romantic and fun and cute nonetheless. After reading this one, I really can’t wait to read your Agony/Ectasy story.

Grade: B

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

Book Link | Kindle | All Romance eBooks | Ellora’s Cave

And a bonus:

Dear Ms. McKenna.

Someone whose opinion I trust told me to read your Willing Victim, which we’ve already reviewed here at Dear Author. I’ve still got that on my phone unread, but I loved the excerpt of Brazen too much not to buy it too.

Catherine is a photographer and a divorcee, rich, living in a large house by herself in Boston. She tells her assistant that she wants a harem and the ensuing conversation about specifications for the men in her harem is exquisite and the reason I bought the 45 page short story.

Of course, as soon as I get passed the excerpt, we find that Catherine doesn’t actually want to have sex with the men, or, more accurately, the boys. She wants to torment them, make them come, and send them on their way. She doesn’t want a relationship, she wants to objectify them. As she says, it gets her off.

Sean throws her plan into disarray. He’s disobedient, he’s too old, he kisses her, he torments her. Although the story is told entirely from Catherine’s point of view,  I love the mix of submissive and dominant in Sean, the need to see to Catherine’s desires, to do what she says, but also the cheekiness that makes him push her again and again.

The sex between them, as a result, is super-hot. Jane often says how difficult she thinks it must be to write truly arousing sex. I’m firmly (harhar) of the belief that truly arousing sex is all about breaking through emotional barriers. It’s not hot unless it’s breaking a character’s own taboos, unless it’s threatening their emotional existence, moving them forward somehow. You do that brilliantly here, showing how Catherine fights against her desire for Sean because of how it threatens her hard-won balance. That’s what makes the story so hot. And it’s definitely hot.

This is not a romance. Sean and Catherine do not establish a relationship, although the story is certainly left open at the end.   As much as I loved the smartness, the sly, seductive fascination of this story, I don’t want Dear Author readers to think it’s a romance. It’s fascinating, clever, hot erotica, and it makes me want to read all your other books, especially the Shivaree/Backwoods/Getaway trilogy of shorts, but it’s not a romance.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

Book Link | Kindle | All Romance eBooks | Ellora’s Cave

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

7 Comments

  1. jayhjay
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 15:22:09

    Great reviews Sarah! FWIW, I just read Sloan Parker’s More (which I loved) and it has a fisting scene in it.

  2. Cara McKenna
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 17:41:08

    Joan/Sarah,

    Wow…I must admit, a review of Brazen was not something I was expecting to stumble across today. That was my very first published story, out for nearly a year now. I did so many things “wrong” with this book, looking at it from a reader-conscious point of view, and with a year’s worth of hindsight… It’s written in first person; it’s too short; it’s seen through the eyes of a difficult-to-love, glib heroine; its “hero” is arguably submissive; its ending is vague. People seem to either love this story or despise it. In more than one way, it’s the complete opposite of Willing Victim. But it launched my tiny career, so it will always hold a very special place in my heart.

    Setting writerly self-consciousness aside, I’m delighted you enjoyed it! It reminds me yet again why I love this job. There is a funny little wonky hole in the publishing world where I seem to fit…or at least an unguarded crevice I’ve managed to cram myself into. Just try’n pry me out!

    I sold a new erotica this very morning-’my twelfth contract, and the weirdest book I’ve yet convinced any of my charming editors to buy. To find a kind review for my very first [and nearly equally weird] story has put a truly delightful cap on the day.

    My deepest thanks,
    Cara McKenna

  3. ~ames~
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:01:34

    Great reviews.

    I fell in love with d’Abo’s writing when I read No Remedy. It’s a great sci-fi menage a trois caper. :P

  4. Kaetrin
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 19:15:10

    When I see a good review from Sarah I just know it’s gonna cost me money. This one is no exception! My bookish self thanks you. My wallet may not. ..who cares about stupid wallets anyway… :)

  5. Christine d'Abo
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 20:41:37

    Dear Joan/Sarah F.

    I want to start off by saying thank you. Commanding Acquisitions was my first attempt at writing BDSM, and I’m glad I didn’t fall on my face with it. I’ll happily take that B- and cuddle it (before I whip it into submission).

    Firm Touch was one of those, should I/shouldn’t I discussions I had with myself. I wanted to focus on the emotions because it was the only way I could show the balance with the potential harshness of the action.

    I’m grinning here, so thank you again. :)

  6. Tweets that mention REVIEW: “Commanding Acquisitions” and “Firm Touch” by Christine d’Abo (with bonus: Brazen by Cara McKenna) | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 21:35:20

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Christine d'Abo, Melissa Walker. Melissa Walker said: Lookie here! @caramckenna http://tinyurl.com/4g3gev4 Love this story, well deserved love. [...]

  7. Delphine Dryden
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 11:14:58

    Yay, Christine and Cara!

    Hey, Christine, we’re averaging out to a B- or B…this bodes well for our steampunk zombie space smut project!

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