Foreign Affairs - erotic book by Cleis Press Inc. - review by Petite Valentine

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Not an affair to remember...

It's like that great vacation you always dreamed of... but the flight encounters turbulence, the airline screws up your vegetarian meal and loses your luggage, the hotel can't find your reservation, and you realize too late you should not have drank the water. It was a sound idea for a collection, but the execution gets a thumbs down from me.
+ Authors do an excellent job of describing the locales
+ A few non-heterosexual stories
- Overall melancholy tone
- Prose is self-conscious in places
Rating by reviewer:
extremely useful review
Mitzi Szereto opens up Foreign Affairs with a short, but enticing introduction promising a sexy travelogue that will arouse both mind and body. Like every traveler, I was excited to clutch the piece of paper (back) that could transport me to exotic lands and in this case, erotic encounters. Twenty-one stories of the hot and heavy abroad! My mental bags were packed and I was raring to go.

But how upsetting: this tome does not make for easy traveling. Whereas the other Cleis titles I own are a travel-friendly 7¾" x 5½" x ½", Foreign Affairs is about 9" x 6" x 1". You've got me, it's not The Bible or War & Peace, but try to stuff it in a small bag or lug it around long enough and you will notice it is larger. Also, the taller spine means it might not fit on the same bookshelf as my other titles. Call me anal but I like to keep my erotica grouped. It's as annoying as having to check a bag you thought you could carry-on. At least there's no fee...

So, seatbelts fastened, ready for takeoff. The itinerary includes Vietnam, Jerusalem, Jamaica, Biloxi... say what? Yes, that is correct. Nestled among the glamorous destinations of Paris and Beijing are stories set in Whitewood, Louisiana (I think), Roswell, New Mexico, and Silverthorne, Colorado. Think of it as a slight hint of the familiar among the mysterious.

The same can also be said of the contributors. The list is a nice mix of I-know-you! and new: Christine Bellerose, Cheyenne Blue, Helena Sattimana, Carole Rosenthal, Opal Palmer Adisa, Des Ariel, Linda Jaivin, Mitzi Szereto, Rachelle Claret, Gwen Masters, Gerard Wozek, Diane LeBow, Tabitha Flyte, Grevel Lindop, A.F. Waddell, Jai Clare, Lisabet Sarai, Sage Vivant, Donna George Storey, Debra Hyde & Holly Farris. (FYI: Stories by Rosenthal, Settimana, Storey & Jaivin may seem very familiar since they've previously been published either in whole or in part.)

So, what do we find on our trip? Beautiful locales, hot sex (of the hetero and homo variety), romance, reminiscence, assault, alien mastication, death... say what? Yes, you read that correctly. If you're expecting lots of happy couplings among the foreign flora and fauna, some of these stories will take you by surprise. Granted, the alien mastication (not masturbation, though there is that too) is done with a great dose of humor, but most of the stories in this collection end on something other than a happy note. Sexual delight and happily-ever-afters don't always come hand in hand. If this strikes you as odd, consider this insight offered by the editor during the recent Naked Reader Book Club discussion:

"I think it's all about human experience, of touching the reader in some way. I mean touching not necessarily on a "stroke" level, but reaching into their minds and hearts and making them feel. There are happy endings and sad endings and endings of all sorts. It's a matter of taste. That is why the traditional romance market is so geared to the happy ending. But after awhile it's all the same old, if you know what I mean." (full discussion here)

These are not run-of-the mill destinations and this is not a run-of-the-mill romance novel.
This was a disappointing (mental) trip. I may be a small island surrounded by vast seas in my opinion of this book, but unlike the others who've read it so far, overall I didn't like it.

There were a few bright spots. I loved Grevel Lindop's "Through the Looking Glass" about an abandoned bride and the two-way mirror in her Italian hotel room. Holly Farris' overworked airline attendant's "Continental Breakfast" in a Brittany Bed & Breakfast made my mouth water. I also wouldn't mind enjoying some "Peking Duck" — and other delights — with a Chinese street performer like Linda Jaivin's Australian photographer. If you want to keep me in the mood there doesn't have to be a HEA, but death is a major no-no. These stories end on a high note which is how I like my erotica.

Humor is also acceptable. I liked the fluidly gendered extraterrestrial romp of "One Day on 375" by Helena Sattimana and Diane LeBow's "Sex Critic" was like a buffet of mini-sex morsels. However, neither aroused me. The same was true of Debra Hyde's "Remembering Andrei." The narrator reminisces about a hot sexual affair with a young Romanian waiter, but it's tinged with such sadness it doesn't excite me mentally or physically. Sorrow and depression have little to no place in my erotica and there is way too much gloom in Foreign Affairs. I wish that was my only complaint.

Mitzi Szereto is an esteemed editor and a highly respected erotica writer (she writes under the nom de plume M.S. Valentineno, we're not related), so I was very surprised when I realized that many of the stories she chose left no impression on me whatsoever. When it came time to discuss, I couldn't remember them. Say what you like about my memory, but I've never been to a foreign place and forgotten all about it. And I've read lots of collections: I may forget a title. I may forget an author. But I do not forget the story. Yet, for many of these had to go back and start re-reading to trigger any memory. That is a bad sign, to put it mildly.

I was also put off by some of the prose. "...already half of my organs have slumped down between my thighs. My heart is pounding wildly against my vaginal mucous walls, my lungs are trapped inside of my gummy labia holding their breath, my brain hits rock-bottom clitoris, my saliva dries out from my throat morphing into a tidal wave inside of my tweaked-out cunt." I believe we have a surplus of adjectives and metaphors here. On several occasions I completely disengaged from stories to question word choices. That is a very bad sign, to put it mildly.

I recognize that the editor and authors put a lot of thought and work into Foreign Affairs, but as the reader there is too much here that I have issue with. My opinion may be unpopular, but I feel the book rates only a single star.
This product was provided free of charge to the reviewer. This review is in compliance with the FTC guidelines.
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This review was edited by
  • Shellz31 Shellz31
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  • Edited reviews: 385
  • Shellz31
    As always - great work

    I'm kinda hoping my experience with this one is a little better. I'm not a big reader at the best of times so I need something that will hold my attention. I'll soon find out.
  • Antipova
    Sorry this was such a disappointment. I'm currently reading a different erotica title that's almost all depressing stories... it's great writing, and it would have been great as an anthology of short tragedies---but, like you, I don't really find sorrow to be arousing. Bummer that Foreign Affairs is so overlookable, for you.
  • Ivy Wilde
    It's really interesting that we had such polar opposite views of the same book. It just goes to show that everyone has different tastes. Admittedly, I didn't like every story, but I really enjoyed the book overall.
  • Lindsey123
    How deep can you deep throat?
  • darkkitty
    Very nice review!
  • mmmmm
    Thanks for the review
  • Aydios
    Great review
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