The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

At one point in this novel a character mentions that in regards to BDSM “everyone should experience it at least once”. Ummm…no thanks, I’m good.

What’s it About?

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Notorious Nora Sutherlin is famous for her delicious works of erotica, each one more popular with readers than the last. But her latest manuscript is different—more serious, more personal—and she’s sure it’ll be her breakout book…if it ever sees the light of day.

Zachary Easton holds Nora’s fate in his well-manicured hands. The demanding British editor agrees to handle the book on one condition: he wants complete control. Nora must rewrite the entire novel to his exacting standards—in six weeks—or it’s no deal.

Nora’s grueling writing sessions with Zach are draining…and shockingly arousing. And a dangerous former lover has her wondering which is more torturous—staying away from him…or returning to his bed?

Nora thought she knew everything about being pushed to your limits. But in a world where passion is pain, nothing is ever that simple.

First Impression

Our story opens with two posh editors debating the prospect of bringing an author of ‘smut’ into their company, whilst also discussing the superiority of Hamlet and poetry. Why do I get the feeling it won’t be too long before we’re tumbling down a very deep and dark rabbit hole of depravity? I went into this book with a bit of hesitancy. I’ve only read one Tiffany Reisz novel before this one, and it was a bit outside my comfort zone in regards to BDSM. Let’s just say that at one point the female lead was…pleasured with a Perrier bottle. So yeah, I guess when I picked up this little diddy I was slightly worried with what I might encounter. However, all things considered I must say it really wasn’t that bad! Would I call it vanilla? Oh hell to the no. We do encounter some pretty graphic scenes of BDSM with whipping, candle wax, multiple orgasms, f/f sex, etc. Again though, in thinking back to that one other novel I read by the same author I suppose it was mildly tame in comparison!

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Erotica Prejudice

Personally, I felt the synopsis was slightly deceiving. Based on the description, it almost seemed as though our editor Zach would be the slightly kinky one. What with the mention of his need for control, his demanding personality, as well as his “exacting standards”. While Zach is certainly a strict editor, our female author Nora is actually the one who brings all the sexual expertise to the table. Zach always assumed he had a pretty wild sex background before he got married, what with the few times he’d had sex in a car, or in a public park. How could he have imagined that upon meeting the Ms. Nora Sutherlin, he’s basically a prude. Zach’s prudishness particularly comes to the forefront upon his initial opinions of Nora and her books. He openly discusses with his fellow editors, as well as with Nora directly, that the last thing he wants is to be involved with a writer of smut.

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The snobbery and prejudice which is expressed against her work is something that many of us romance/erotica fans have probably heard a thousand times over. Even when Nora is attacked by a crazed fan at a book signing, Zach essentially blames her, asking what she expects considering the depraved things she writes. As Zach spends more time with Nora and her book though, he realizes there is much more to this woman than meets the eye. He discovers that the intimate scenes which mix both pain and pleasure are things which Nora has personally lived through, and that she is still involved with. At first, Zach insists that he doesn’t want to know any of the explicit details regarding Nora’s past or present life involving BDSM, but he quickly becomes fascinated despite himself. As for Nora, she’s more than willing to show her hard-ass editor what it’s really like in her world.

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Welcome to the 8th Circle

For the first half or so of the book, the majority of the graphic details involving BDSM are reserved to scenes in Nora’s book. In a way, I found it sort of lessened the shock I would normally have felt when presented with such detail because it dealt with characters in a book within a book. We’re more removed from them. However, eventually Nora decides it’s time to provide Zach with a glimpse into her world by taking him to the 8th Circle, aka the sex club where she is second in command behind her former lover, who also happens to be a priest. This is when Nora’s BDSM lifestyle goes from black and white, and evolves into full technicolor. We and Zach are witnesses to a world very much unlike our own, and one which can be difficult to understand at times.

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While I can’t say I enjoyed reading about what went on in this club, I must say I appreciated the reality of Zach’s reaction to all that he saw. His responses are probably similar to those I assume most of us would have. People are getting hurt. It’s dangerous. It’s sexist. What was even more interesting though was that for every concern or question he raised, there was always someone there to provide a seemingly legitimate and reasonable explanation. People are getting hurt? Sure, people get hurt playing rugby too. Dangerous? Only if you don’t trust the person you’re with, or you forget your safe word. Sexist? Pfft. Some women in the club are more dominant than any of the men could ever dream of being. It might be difficult for most of us to understand the appeal of this world, but some of these explanations really do provide us with a window into how it might appeal to some.

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The Discovery

Eventually Zach discovers Nora is actually a very well sought-after dominatrix, and decides that his time with her and her book are over. Umm…are you really that surprised?! She basically took you to her playroom in an underground sex club. Wake up and see the riding crop on the wall already. I will say her reaction to Zach declaring her book won’t be published kind of made me giggle. When I get overwhelmed with the stresses of life and things not going my way, I might bake a cake, go to the movies, maybe crosstitch for a few hours whilst listening to an audiobook or having Friends on in the background. Nora? She goes on a dominatrix binge with clients for a few days. Well…whatever works for ya I guess! Zach equates the situation to prostitution, and at first I was all ready to come to her defense since she usually just ends up smacking her clients around for a few hours. Hell, if anything it’s like an overpriced gym membership with a personal trainer. But then she insists it’s not prostitution because she only sleeps with the women. Oh…well in that case…yeaaaah might be borderline prostitution.

DOLLHOUSE, Eliza Dushku, 'A Spy In The House of Love', (Season 1, airing April 10, 2009), 2009-2010.

A Question of Morality

As you can see, many characters in this book like to try and explain away some morally questionable behavior. Nora’s former lover is the king of trying to bring a sense of legitimacy to everything that Zach is witnessing in this sex club from hell, but at the end of the day I feel as though there were some issues that couldn’t simply be explained away by a smooth-talking priest. First of all, he’s…a…priest! He first met Nora when he was a priest. Their entire relationship of 10 years happened when he was a priest. And he’s still a priest! He tries to brush it aside by saying that Nora is the only one he’s ever broken his vows for. Still not ok. Nora claims that this priest was the only man who never hurt her, yet she’s been put in the hospital on more than one occasion after being with him. Swollen cheek, cracked lip, bruised rib, etc. True, she’s never uttered her safe word in these scenarios, but I feel like most other BDSM novels explain how a dominant who makes his submissive bleed, bruise, or scar is doing it wrong. And yet this is almost the foundation of Nora’s relationship with her priest.

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Beyond the priest element, and the possible prostitution feature, there are several other moral issues presented in this book that sort of made me question whether or not it was an enjoyable read. At one point Nora has sex with a 15-year-old boy. Our priest again tries to justify it by saying that the boy was suicidal because he couldn’t understand why his sexual proclivities were so beyond the norm, and that Nora saved his life by showing him it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, but maybe a therapist could have told him that too. Then there’s the fact that Zach is still married to his estranged wife back in England, and while he’s more than willing to entertain the idea of having an affair with Nora he still desires to get back together with his wife. Then…maybe you should give her a call in the evening instead of having Nora give you a blow job? Oh gosh, I guess I’m the biggest prude of all in this scenario!

Series: Original Sinners, book 1. I don’t know if I can mentally prepare myself enough to take on book 2 in this series. Maybe one day, but I might need to do a shot of tequila before giving it a go.

Final Impression: I will say I did enjoy the moments where Zach and Nora worked on her book together, as it pushed the limits of Zach’s understanding of pleasure, and helped him let his guard down a bit. Once they drift away from discussing the book though I did lose some of the connection to the plot. This is when the BDSM aspect is more fully explored, and everything becomes almost too explanatory. Like a lesson in the mechanics and psychological component of BDSM rather than any emotional connection with the characters. I also felt there was a lack of focus in terms of what the novel was supposed to be highlighting. We have Nora and her priest, Nora and Zach, Zach and his wife, Nora and her 19-year-old virgin intern, Zach’s introduction to BDSM, and Nora’s book. There’s definitely a lot going on.

Smut Level: Nora and Zach have agreed to not have sex until after they are finished with her book, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do other things before then 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. MIRA Publishing. 428 Pages.

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The Red by Tiffany Reisz

I feel like we all need to take a moment to admire the ethereal beauty of the cover art. Just look at it! Gorgeous!! As for the book itself, well…let’s just dive right in, shall we?

What’s it About?

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Mona Lisa St. James made a deathbed promise that she would do anything to save her mother’s art gallery. Unfortunately, not only is The Red painted red, but it’s in the red. She soon realizes she has no choice but to sell it. Just as she realizes she has no choice but to sell it, a mysterious man comes in after closing time and makes her an offer: He will save The Red if she agrees to submit to him for the period of one year. The man is handsome, English, and terribly tempting…but surely her mother didn’t mean for Mona to sell herself to a stranger. Then again, she did promise to do anything to save The Red…

First Impressions

This was my first ever Tiffany Reisz novel, and my first impression was pretty immediate: I am waaaaay out of my element. Having never read a Reisz novel before I didn’t really know what to expect. If you’re a fan of her style of storytelling, I have a feeling that you’ll enjoy this one. Personally, I found it rather hard to review. On the one hand the writing is downright exquisite. You can’t deny that fact. The scenes are outlined in such particular detail you feel like you’re right there in the room with the characters. On the other hand I really didn’t want to be in that room. The sex scenes were excessively graphic and raw to the point where I just couldn’t enjoy them. This is the kind of book which intentionally tries to make you question your preconceived notions of pleasure and sex, like a psychological mind game. For me, it was done to excess, and I was uncomfortable reading it for the majority of the time.

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A Deal with the Devil

While our mystery man might not be the actual devil, we get the sense pretty early on that there’s something different about him in the paranormal sense. Malcolm comes upon our heroine when she is at her lowest: half a million in debt and on the brink of losing her mother’s beloved art gallery. He offers to give Mona one million dollars if she gives him carte blanche over her body for one night every 2-3 months for a year. If she agrees, he’ll provide her with a priceless work of art after each and every tumble. Well…that’s a new kind of sexual deal I’ve never come across before.

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You gotta give it to this guy, he doesn’t f*ck around. Malcolm couldn’t be more blunt when outlining this arrangement with her. There are no flowery words of love, and he acknowledges right off the bat that he’s treating her like a whore. Literally. “I think you’ll make a fine whore” is a direct quote. Interestingly enough, his continual label of her as “whore” eventually comes across as a pet name rather than an insult. Malcolm admits he just wants to f*ck her, and has no interest in love or marriage. I guess you kind of have to appreciate he’s being upfront and not trying to manipulate her?

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The whole thing is sort of conducted like a business deal, and is the first introduction of some interesting examples of juxtaposition throughout the book. This man gives off a dignified air when discussing something so overtly sexual. They carry out their sexual contract in a seemingly pretentious art gallery, yet are surrounded by erotic art as they indulge in excessively carnal and scandalous acts. Mona acknowledges how weird it is for him to just jump right in with his head between her thighs without any wining and dining beforehand. Malcolm is thoroughly using her body, yet she states multiple times how much she enjoys being used by him. Sooo…yay for it being consensual?

A Lesson in Art

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Nymphs and Satyr by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

I will say, while this book wasn’t my cup of tea there was one feature that I really did enjoy, and that was the art aspect. Before each coupling, Malcolm would provide Mona with the title of a piece of art that would come to represent the theme for the evening. This is when the paranormal aspect of Malcolm’s persona really comes to the forefront, as he is able to transform the back of Mona’s art gallery into any setting, from an elaborate maze to a secluded clearing in a fairy tale forest. Every chapter is entitled with the name of the artwork, and it was kind of fun to look them all up on Google before proceeding with the chapter. Definitely something I would recommend to all readers who take this one on!

 

Out of My Wheelhouse

I had trouble wrapping my head around several elements of this novel. The first was Malcolm’s literal treatment of Mona like a whore. What I found so bizarre though was that he didn’t look down on her for selling herself, and she too seemed to enjoy it. He admits, “I have trouble respecting a woman who gives away for free what she could sell for good money.” Well, doesn’t this just make you question everything you were taught growing up? It’s kind of freaky how much a smooth talker this guy is, where you start to think, “Wait, am I…am I supposed to think he’s right?” You start to realize that he doesn’t just want to f*ck her, he wants to f*ck with her by playing mind games of what’s real and what’s fantasy.

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Dora and the Minotaur by Pablo Picasso

There were two scenes in this book which stood out to me, mainly because they were the ones which confused me the most. The first was the enactment of The Slave Market painting. In addition to Malcolm, four other men come to Mona’s gallery to poke and prod her, suck her, examine her breasts, mouth and nether region. She mentions how she’s humiliated, she hates it, she wants to cry. And yet…she also loves it. She doesn’t understand it. I don’t understand it! Let’s move on.

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The Slave Market by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Then towards the end of the novel we have a rather demented version of 99 bottles of beer on the wall. Instead, it’s smacks of Malcolm’s riding crop. Mona gets 100 strikes of his cock for 100 strikes of his crop. Malcolm whispers words of encouragement and adoration throughout this scene to the point where Mona loves him and his kindness, while also curling up in the fetal position and crying tears from the pain. After every strike of the crop he would kiss her, which made her eventually see every strike as a loving kiss itself. Now…that’s a psychological mind game right there! Personally, I couldn’t help but see it as a disturbing window into abuse.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-alone

Should you read it? If you enjoy the work of Tiffany Reisz I would say give it a go. I did enjoy the artistic element of the novel, it has some interesting twists, and the writing itself was spectacular. This book is seemingly all about the heroine discovering herself, and I guess for me it made me discover that for a genre of novel like this I am a total prude when it comes to sex! The sex scenes presented were simply too over the top hardcore for me (which is definitely saying something!), and therefore made it a rather uncomfortable read.

Smut Level: Malcolm penetrates Mona with a glass water bottle. I’ll never be able to look at another bottle of Perrier the same way ever again.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. 8th Circle Press. 250 Pages.