Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Magick by Trish Milburn

Title: Magick (Coven #3)
Author: Trish Milburn
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Release Date: 09/27/2012
ISBN: 1611941784

I'm going to be very, very honest about this and say that despite how negative this review might occasionally come across, I did greatly like this book. It's just that the biggest flaw of this was that it was far too condensed and would have been greatly improved by stretching it out for at least another 100 pages, if not another book entirely.

The covens are coming for her. But is she a White Witch or a Dark Witch? 

In a war for control of the witch world, the answer will save-or doom-everyone she loves. In White Witch, Jax gained friends she'd die for and a staggering power that threatens them all. In Bane, Jax did the unthinkable and killed a supernatural hunter to protect her friends. She found herself lost in darkness and prisoner to the Bane, a secret society of witches sworn to prevent the use of the dark magic. 

Now, in Magick, the powers of Jax and her friend Egan have been magically bound by the Bane. She must convince the Bane she can learn to control her power and become a White Witch in truth. She's their only hope now that the dark covens have called a Conclave with one purpose-to kill this generation's White Witch and anyone who has ever stood with her. If Jax can't amass an army of her own, rebuild the trust of her friends and boyfriend, and find the White Witch's elusive weapon against the dark, it may be too late.

OK. Here's the skinny on the book: it's very skinny. As in everything happens far too quickly. There are some excellent ideas in here and the plot is fantastic. So fantastic that it really needed more time to unfurl and let things happen at a slower pace. There's such a rich story line, from ancient evils to white magic, to predictions for the future that I couldn't help but feel slightly cheated that this book was only 166 pages. Milburn does a decent enough job to where you won't pitch the books afterwards, but you will sigh and wish that she'd gone for a 300 page work instead.

That aside, there is still a lot that Milburn can do with this series and she leaves it open for further books if she were to choose to do so. And I'd really like for her to continue on. The world here (what we can see of it) is fairly rich with history and descriptions of various magics. Jax is likable for the most part, which means that readers will be able to commiserate with her pretty easily and her relationship with Kellan is sweet.

It's just that throughout this I couldn't forget that this progressed far too quickly and even with the consideration that this book was written for younger readers, it's still hampered by a far too quickly moving plot line. It's like putting size four shoes on a track runner that wears a size eight, then asking them to sprint. They still perform, but not nearly as much as they would otherwise. I do recommend it and I can say that I'll re-read this in the future, but this could've been so much more.

3.4 out of 5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rape Erotica Part Deux: It's been going on for a while

Recently I posted a blog about a mini-brouhaha surrounding writer Marata Eros, who writes in the genre of rape erotica. It basically boiled down to readers downloading the book without realizing it was rape erotica, then posting one star reviews to Amazon and other sites detailing their disgust. Eros said she had a disclaimer all along, others said she didn't. The author was a little defensive, but ultimately the true gist of the reader response was because the idea of rape as erotica was disturbing to many.

I'd mentioned this to some of my friends on Facebook and was pretty surprised to be told that rape as titillation has been around for years and used to be a fairly common plot device in romance. For example, Catherine Coulter's Devil's Embrace features a female character that is stalked, kidnapped, and repeatedly raped by her captor... who she eventually returns to because she's fallen deeply in love with him. A little more sleuthing brought up Savage Surrender by Natasha Peters, where you have a fair young maiden getting her booty forcibly and repeatedly plundered by several scallywags, one of which is- you guessed it, the guy she is obviously destined to fall in love with. There's others, such as Christine Monson's Stormfire, where the guy not only rapes her but also backhands her, starves her, and generally humiliates her in about every way possible. You could look back even farther and find the writings of the Marquis de Sade, which is considered classic erotica by some.

I could probably find more, but you get the gist of things. Rape as erotica and entertainment has always been around. I'd elaborated on some of the reasons psychologists gave for people enjoying the genre and writing fiction, most of which center around the concept of freedom. By having their choices taken away from them, the women are free to engage in encounters where they have various sex acts done to them that they might not otherwise have done, with there being the implication that since they didn't have to assume guilt or responsibility afterwards. At least, that's what was in the reports. It's pretty freaky but the studies are an interesting read and if you're like me, researching this sort of thing helps to demystify something that baffles and quite frankly, frightens me.

I just wanted to elaborate a bit more on this, as it's pretty intriguing. It almost makes me wish that I was taking a degree is psychology, because this would be an excellent senior thesis.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Manga Review: Strobe Edge Vol 1 by Io Sakisaka

Title: Strobe Edge Volume 1
Author: Io Sakisaka
Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: 11/06/2012
ISBN: 1421550687

There are some definite pros and cons to this manga. The pro is that quite obviously, the artwork is rather nice. One of the cons is that at times I felt that the lead character of Ninako was a little overly dippy. Luckily for you, the reader, the two sort of balance each other out and the promise of more character development kept me interested.

Having no experience in romance, the vibrant Ninako curiously explores the meaning of what "love" really is, and is surprised to feel a colorful range of emotions as she grows closer to the school heartthrob, the quiet yet gentle Ren, who also happens to be involved in a longtime relationship. With every intention of keeping her head held high, Ninako prepares to face the mental pain of this one-sided love that she had allowed to take root, facing a series of trials that would either contribute to her growth as a headstrong woman, or break her as it did with other girls. However, is this really a one-sided love? Or had something been silently sown in the most hidden part of Ren's heart?

Ninako is a huge trusting ditz in this book. She's far too trusting and while part of me wonders how she survived this far in life without being mugged or smacked around by irritated peers, Ninako also has sort of a cute charm to her that kept me from being truly irritated by her to the point where I'd stop reading. It's also part of the story line, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt for the time being, but I'll warn potential readers that if you have a low tolerance for happy-go-lucky ditzes, you'll either want to approach this with caution or avoid it. It'd be a shame to completely dismiss  it for this factor alone, as the artwork in this really is nicely done. The other big problem is that there are a lot of traditional manga tropes. I've peeked around on the internet for reviews of the later volumes and I've been reassured by them that the series will improve.

Although at the end of it all, there's still a charm to this manga that convinces me that many of the manga's initial faults won't really bother that many people and that this will more than likely get a nice following. There's a lot of potential here to grow and despite all of this, I can't help but get drawn into the cuteness of everything. This won't bring in people looking for series with more edge to it, at least not yet, but it's something that I'll keep my eyes on as far as future volumes go. The artwork is really what I love the most about this and I've bought entire series of manga just because the artwork hit some sort of quirk with me.

Overall, my recommendation is that this is something that die-hard fans of shoujo should absolutely get. The rest of us? Other than the groups that obviously wouldn't like it, this will be something that I'd recommend flipping through at the bookstore first, although don't be surprised if you end up getting it.

3.9 out of 5 stars

(Review copy provided by publisher)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rape culture: The case of Marata Eros

I recently came across a discussion on Goodreads about a book by a relatively new author, Marata Eros. The book is Reapers and it's getting quite a bit of discussion.

Why? Well, as you'd expect by now, there's a bit of an issue involving the author posting the following:

*REAPERS is a 21,000 word/72 page mixed genre paranormal novella (1-2 hours reading time) in the following categories: Erotica/horror with an undertone of romance. 

**WARNING- possible objectionable material: This book is intended for an adult audience and contains marginal consentRAPE, multiple partners, forced breeding, vampire sex, and oral play.

** **A note from the author: the above cautionary qualifier is in place (as it has been from the beginning), so that readers may make an educated choice prior to the download of this erotic story. After receiving twelve, one-star reviews in which the reader chose a story that did not suit their taste, I elected to bold the key wording above. Further: TDB novella series is an erotic-driven romance. This means that the sexual context of the story is primary and the romance is secondary. In subsequent installments, romance is flavored a little more strongly but does not overtake the erotic element. This is the first installment and is not a "stand-alone" as such. Thank you.

 Update: Reviewers who post a one-star rating for content they've been warned about, have only one review (for this work) and whom are not verified purchasers of said work are suspect.

Needless to say, if the term "badly behaving author" isn't being bandied about now, it's only a matter of time. All I'm going to say about this is that it's entirely possible for someone to leave a review without a "verified purchase" point. It's optional and not everyone likes using it. It's also available on Barnes & Nobles, and there are some that like posting reviews on multiple sites or specifically on Amazon because it's more visible. Specifically saying that a review is suspect for this is sort of bad business because while it is slightly suspicious, you could say the same for the reviewers that gave positive reviews to this book and other books by indie authors. Especially since not all of the positive reviews have the "verified" label on them either. That label is no guarantee of the review being genuine. There's also some drama over someone going into various reviews and commenting.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Does a book deserve a lower rating for having content the reader finds controversial? Yes and no. In the end it boils down to whether or not the reader likes the story and when you write erotica with predominant rape themes, you're going to get criticism. ESPECIALLY if you publish in any format where it's accessible by the general public. After posting some content warnings, readers should expect to see rape portrayed in an overly glamorized and romanticized manner. However that doesn't mean that they can't comment on the way the story is written, whether or not it's believable for the main part, yadda yadda. If they went into it expecting to dislike it due to the rape themes, they need to be honest about that in the review and use it as a disclaimer at the top. There's no shame in getting a book due to hype, whether negative or positive. It's how I discovered Fifty Shades of Grey, the book everyone loves to hate or hates to love. You just need to be honest about what your mindset was going into it because that very much plays a part in how you perceive the book.

Rape erotica does exist, obviously, but I do need to stipulate that while it endorses it within the bounds of the story, most authors and readers do not endorse it in real life. It's akin to how you can have people that enjoy watching things like "Faces of Death" or play violent video games, yet wouldn't harm a fly. This isn't always the case, but I need to stress that these are are not the norm.

So other than the idea of a blossoming potential author drama, this brings up a more interesting question and something that really should be more of a topic for discussion than whether the author should or shouldn't have commented at all on the negative reviews. Why is it that people like reading rape literature or indulging in rape fantasies in general?

One answer is obviously that it is a form of escapist literature. An article for Psychology Today states that many women feel that it allows them to go into fantasies and actions that they wouldn't otherwise have liked. It also plays into the idea that the woman in the fiction or the woman in the roleplaying is such a hottie that the guy can't help them self. There are other reasons, but ultimately they fall along similar themes to where the women feel like they're entertaining ideas that they wouldn't otherwise have.

But this brings up the idea of whether or not it's healthy. There are different levels of fantasies involving rape or force. Some involve a token amount of protest before pretenses are completely thrown to the wayside in favor of completely consensual sex. Others continue the roleplaying until it's completely over.

I honestly don't know what to think about the idea of rape as erotica. On one hand I find it disgusting because I don't understand how anyone can romanticize rape. It's disturbing to me and I can understand why so many people are having such a strong reaction against the book and against the idea of anyone conceivably enjoying any rape erotica or rape play. Then again, another part of me keeps reminding me that liking such things does not mean that they actually condone the actual act of rape. After all, the fictionalized portrayals of rape are usually so overly glamorized to where they rarely resemble the actual act. While I've not set out to read rape erotica, anyone that reads online erotica as a whole will inevitably come across it in some format. Most of what I've read, which admittedly isn't much, is about as accurate a portrayal of traditional rape as "Debbie Does Dallas" is an accurate portrayal of the cheerleading profession. I want to stress traditional rape, as rape isn't limited to the traditional perception of such an encounter. Rape can happen in so many different formats, such as one person using something to get a consent they otherwise wouldn't have gotten (usually drug or alcohol related). For some rape lit might bring up shades of rape that they or someone they have known has gone through. Rape isn't just "pin her down and take her while she's screaming no", after all.

In the end this is a rather grey area that isn't easily solved by saying "don't read" or "you should expect this". Anyone writing in the rape erotica genre and publishing it in any mainstream format should expect a backlash. You might write something that is perceived as being well written (as in the case of the Marquis de Sade). You might write something that has a huge following. But as soon as it's out there in the mainstream, you're going to get flak for it. Look at the reaction to FSOG, where the sex is entirely consensual. If people are going to talk about a little slap and tickle in their erotica, they're going to talk about it when you're portraying outright rape. It's the responsibility of the author to understand that there will always be people complaining about this sort of literature based upon its content. Then again, as readers we need to try to approach the situation and any reviews about this genre with extreme caution and diplomacy. After all, this is a situation that isn't easy to paint in black and white. It's really hard for me to type out anything that provides an argument in defense of rape lit, as I find it morally disgusting, but I feel that outright condemning it without at least trying to discuss it in some depth isn't really explaining either side.

The only thing I can say without hesitation in this scenario is that Eros should have clearly marked the book with a disclaimer from the start. It would have circumvented a lot of the controversy over this book, which pretty much all started from people picking up the book without knowing it was rape erotica. After that point? It becomes a little harder to pick sides as to whether rape erotica is right or wrong since it ultimately boils down to individual cases.


I do want to state that this disclaimer has not always been labeled as such on the books. The series was initially entitled The Druid Breeders and the content was originally labeled as such: (taken via Barnes and Nobles)


A paranormal erotic vampire romance novella.

Novellas 2 & 3, BLED & HARVEST, available now!

The vampires are a dying race, their females sterile. When it's discovered that human females of Druid ancestry can be viable breeders...the harvest begins.

The thing is, this doesn't openly identify it as rape erotica or erotica that plays with rape or forced consent. I again must stress that when you release controversial erotica into the mainstream public, you have to be extra careful to specify that this features the concept of rape as a form of erotica. The author isn't legally obligated to specify this, but when you figure that the general public has freaked out over books that feature BDSM between two willing and fully consenting adults, they're probably not going to react well to "Surprise! Rapesex!" portrayed as something to be titillated or aroused by. The public reaction to the Japanese game RapeLay would also second this, and the "rape as entertainment/erotica/gameplay/etc" subculture is marginally more visible there. Even if everything was clearly labeled, at some point you're still going to get some guff over it because the idea of any subversive behavior being placed in a positive light is going to attract debate. That's ultimately it. At some point you can either embrace the dialogue and use it as an opportunity to open a conversation about the merits and/or downfalls of rape literature. I'd imagine that there's a good many that just saw "free book" and downloaded it, having never experienced rape erotica. This is a good chance to educate rather than lambast.

Of course us readers now have an obligation too. Since the theme is now very visible, it's not fair to negatively rate a book because you dislike the idea of rape as entertainment. The author does have the freedom to write as she pleases as long as it's obviously fictional. If it were to be about the stalking, abduction, and rape of a famous person like Snooki, then it'd go into the greyer area of whether or not it'd be acceptable. If you read the book and feel that the writing wasn't good enough, or because none of it really made for interesting reading for you, that's fine. But writing a review with the purpose of negging it because you personally don't approve of rape as erotica isn't really fair because that's not really you reviewing the book itself. It's you reviewing the concept of rape as erotica and while everyone is free to have an opinion, such debates are best kept to non-review formats unless you are going to work it into a valid review for the book.

*Why do women have erotic rape fantasies? Psychology Today
*Women's Rape Fantasies: An Evaluation of Theory and Research
*Reapers on Amazon
*Reapers on B&N

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery by Jim Bernheimer

Title: Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery
Author: Jim Bernheimer
Publisher: EJB Networking
Release Date: 08/20/2012
ISBN: 1479165077

If I can be honest, I'll say that most sci-fi is wasted on the likes of me. I'm not a huge sci-fi buff, my experience with the genre peaking in high school with my lust for all things Star Trek. As a result, I'll openly admit that I'm really not the target audience for what I call "hard core sci-fi" (ie, anything on the level of Blade Runner), but my experience with Bernheimer has shown me that he's a rather clever author. So with that mindset, I had to give it a whirl. That this was partially typed on a phone keyboard was pretty neat as well.

Homicide Detective David Bagini awakens on a strange world only to discover that he is, in fact, the forty-second clone of the Bagini line. With no memories of why his Prime entered into a clone contract, he wants answers. The first problem is his Prime is dead and Bagini Forty-Two is in charge of the investigation. The second problem is all the clues point at a clone from his line and they already know all his tricks. How can he solve his own murder when every suspect has his name and face?

I have to admit that I was fascinated by the technology in this and some of the implications of the clones' treatment was something I could sink my teeth into. One thing that specifically intrigued me was that the original person (AKA Prime) could take a portion of each clone's pay. For some of the wealthier clones this might not automatically seem like a lot, but for the ones making less money this could mean the difference between living in a garbage dump or living in a place where muggings aren't the typical way of greeting someone. Is it right to do this, considering that each of the clones are a copy of you and your memories, especially since so many in the book's universe and IRL consider clones to be lacking souls? The concept of a clone's humanity is a reoccurring theme here and despite this being somewhat of a well-used theme in fiction overall, it's always one that can set up a story fairly well. Especially since the gist of the mystery is that one of the clones of David Bagini Prime supposedly killed him. Does this mean that the capability of murder is always there or is this something brought out by the situations the clone was placed in? No spoilers, but again- the discussion points for something of this nature are pretty endless. I could write an endless review just based around this idea and believe me, I was awfully tempted to.

Now for the story: like I said, I'm not a huge reader of anything beyond the lightest and fluffiest sci-fi stuff, but this was pretty good. It took me a while to kind of catch up to speed on all of the technology, but the idea behind a lot of this was pretty interesting. Clone therapy? I bet that could fill a book to itself. I also liked how detached 42 was at times, despite others thinking he might not be as such in the case with him discovering his Prime had a wife and daughter. What really sets this apart is how well the ending was. I could sort of predict what was ultimately going to happen to a certain degree, but that didn't make it any less fun. After all, isn't one of the goals of mystery lovers is to try to guess the whodunit, sometimes almost like it's a contest? (If you're curious, I was only half right, so point to Bernheimer on this one.) I still couldn't get the nagging feeling that I wasn't the right audience for this out of my mind, though, as I hit points where I kept wishing for a leather wearing witch or a vampire to jump out from somewhere. Fans of sci-fi will undoubtedly love this, though.

If you're looking for something nice to snuggle down with and read, give this one a try. Despite it not being my thing, I liked the mystery and I loved the questions it brought up.

3.7 out of 5 stars

(Reader copy provided by author)