Book Review: The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham

If you’ve been reading my posts here on Sexy Romance Stories, you know I have an insatiable curiosity about all things Biblical. So when a dear friend recommended THE PASSION OF MARY MAGDALEN by Elizabeth Cunningham, I promptly bought it in February, 2011, looked at the beautiful cover of this 620 page book and told myself to get back to work. Now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to read it.  Then again, perhaps things really do happen for a reason. But I digress.

WARNING: If you are offended by feminist interpretations of the Bible, do not read on.

Elizabeth Cunningham, descendant of nine (9) generations of Episcopal priests, knows whereof she speaks in all things biblical. My impression of this author is that she literally ate, drank, slept and breathed Bible stories from birth—no from conception. And, rather than hew to the party line, so to speak, she listened for the voice of the women in these tales and found them missing. In THE PASSION OF MARY MAGDALEN, Ms. Cunningham gave Mary Magdalen and the other two Marys of the New Testament, not only voices, but brains, bodies, spirituality and backstories.

This is the second in the Maeve Chronicles, but you do not have to read the books in order. The author provides an excellent summary of the first book in a non-intrusive manner. She gives the reader enough information to understand where we are as the story begins and weaves in more later. I never felt lost reading the story. I felt as if I was firmly anchored in Mary’s point of view throughout the book, in large part because of the author’s skillful use of the first person.

We know from the New Testament that Mary Magdalen was a prostitute; what we don’t know is where she came from, why she was in that occupation, and what her relationship was to Yeshua, aka Jesus. The first half of this book tells us about Mary’s life as a prostitute and takes place in Rome. Born a Celt named Maeve, she escaped certain death in her home country, only to be captured by a tribe intent on using her as a breeding vessel. She escapes again, only to be drugged by the sea captain. The book opens with her in an open air market in Rome where her captor is extolling her wares. Stripped, poked and prodded in the public setting, she maintains her Celtic backbone and lives up to her bright red hair by cursing the man in three different languages. Amused by her antics and intrigued by her body and brain, the brothel owner and madam knows a good value when she sees one and buys Maeve.

Maeve becomes a craftsman at her trade, taking pride in her work as a whore. Sought after by generals, senators and wealthy land holders, she becomes a favorite of the patrons and the other women in the brothel. The only problem is she isn’t just a worker bee; she’s also a priestess of Isis and strange, supernatural things happen around her at inexplicable times. It is a bawdy, fun, gripping read and the details of daily life in 1st Century Rome are seamlessly woven in without becoming a history lecture. I felt as if I was there at the feasts and in the Temple of Isis. Throughout it all, Maeve never forgets the young man she fell in love with in her home country: Esus.

The second half of the book takes place in Jerusalem, Israel, where Maeve has taken up residence after a series of misadventures in Rome and being bought, sold and finally released into the wild. Setting up a Temple of Isis in a Jewish country occupied by Romans is not an easy affair. While she has financial backing from Joseph of Arimathea, support from some of her fellow whores from the Roman brothel, and a flair for finding hidden sacred springs, she still has to stay under the radar of the religious and Roman dictators. True to her profession and her calling, her temple is offers healing and sexual services, for men and barren women. Between cleaning up an old estate and vineyards, she visits the Temple searching for any sign, any word of Esus. Here the author excels in providing the reader with insights into the people of the day, including the larger than life figures in the New Testament. She also gives us a window into the era’s religious practices, including animal sacrifices, and gives us an idea of how power can corrupt all, even those who claim to act on behalf of Yahweh. Everyone has an agenda in Jerusalem, and the only ones in charge with swords and spears are the Romans.

I won’t spoil the story for you, let me just say that if you want to see, smell, taste, hear and touch that era from the eyes of a very important woman in our collective history, I highly recommend this book.

Angels versus Demons: Who’s Sexier?

In celebration of Leia Shaw and Carrie Ann Ryan‘s new paranormal romance releases in June and July, we’re participating in an angel and demon themed blog hop! (Click here to go to Leia and Carrie’s blog).
Leia’s book, Destiny Bewitched, features a sexy as hell (pun intended) demon named Geo, and Carrie’s, Dust of My Wings, hero is an angel named Shade.

Angel and Demon sexy storiesWe were asked to let readers know which we’d rather have to…uh…cuddle up with at night – angels or demons? And what are our favorite angel or demon books? Since we have four authors on this blog, each of us has a different opinion and a different book. Here’s what the Sexy Romance Stories authors had to say. We’re giving away a Sexy Romance Story ebook to one lucky commenter! (Good all over the world!)

Jennifer Lynne: Do I prefer an angel or a demon? Hmm, if we’re talking about real life then I vote for an angel, but when it comes to fiction and the most delectable romance hero a woman could wish for, then my vote almost always goes to the demon lover! There’s just something about a bad boy that really gets to me – maybe it’s the possibility of redemption through the love of a good woman. Maybe it’s the promise – or delicious threat – of violence just at the edge of all that passion. Whatever it is, I love reading about bad boy heroes, and most of the time I like writing about them, too. My heroes usually have a dark side. While I haven’t created an actual demon or angel as yet, I do have a Greek god or three on offer! My Gods of Love series that began with menage a trois erotic romance, Platinum Passion, continues with the just-released transsexual romance, Aphrodite Calling. This erotic novella features Himeros, an ancient Greek god of sexual desire who knows exactly how to answer the call of need in every mortal who asks. Here’s a brief snippet that illustrates the complex light/dark aspect of his nature:

“We do have a couple of onlookers.”

His soft words, murmured into her hair, had her thighs tightening involuntarily around him as the burning excitement grew. Who was watching? And what show did they want to see? Straight sex between a man and a woman, or sex between two people who both had a penis?

Are you wondering if I really had the op? If there aren’t actually two hard dicks here right now, hidden by my skirt, sliding up and down against each other and dampening my panties with all that leaking pre-cum?

Too bad.

A sudden flare of anger ignited inside of her toward the peeping Toms, whoever they were, and she dug one of her heels into the crease of his ass, rubbing it up and down with just enough pressure to elicit a moan of protest from Himeros.

She stopped. “Sorry.”

“Ah, but I enjoy the lick of pain, Gina.”

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Roz Lee: Whether or not you believe actual angels and demons live among us, the concept is familiar. Demons are bad and angels are good. Demons influence us in dangerous way, and angels come along to guide us on a better path. Demons are destructive, and angels help us heal.

We’re all familiar with the sayings, the devil made me do it, and there was an angel on my shoulder. Most people don’t believe those in a literal sense, but refer to the battle of wills going on inside us on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s as simple as deciding to tell the cashier she gave you too much back in change or smiling at your good fortune and keeping your mouth shut. Other times, it’s deeper, darker.

In my current work in progress, Jason’s inner demons have served him well, giving him the drive and determination to overcome the odds and build a successful career in major league baseball. But on a personal level, those very same demons that make him such a good baseball player, manifest themselves through sexual needs Jason has long denied. With another failed relationship behind him, Jason is forced to confront his dark desires before they destroy him.

What does Jason need here? An angel, of course! He finds one in Carrie, a woman who understands and accepts his dark side. She brings light to the dark corners of Jason’s life, and through her he finds a way to express himself in a constructive way. She’s the angel he needs to balance the demon inside him. Their relationship isn’t without conflict, but with the help of his angel, Jason will finally put some demons to rest.

Look for Jason’s story, the second book in the Mustangs Baseball series, later this year. Here’s a snippet –

Jason took a few moments to get his head screwed on right as he watched his new sub through the glass. She’d followed his instructions to the letter. Wearing white lace panties and bra, she looked like an angel, minus the wings. He’d have to reward her before he took her to task for disobeying him the night before.

After tonight’s game, nothing would please him more than to give this angel an orgasm she’d never forget, then sink his cock into her heavenly heat. But that wasn’t going to happen. No orgasm for her, and the one he had planned for himself would be fun, but nowhere near as satisfying as he’d hoped. He reminded himself that he was in this to build a lasting relationship, and in the grand scheme of things, one more day wasn’t much to set the right tone.

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Chellesie B. Dancer: Some people are mostly angels, and others are pure demons, but in my upcoming erotic novella “Restless,” free-spirited Cassie has both competing in her head. She’s had the same devoted husband for seven years.  They’ve lived in the same lovely house for six.  And she’s had the same practical career even longer. At thirty years old, Cassie is restless–there’s a hot wind blowing through her that just won’t be satisfied. Then her husband loses his job, his confidence, and his libido. Her inner demon grows stronger and Cassie indulges in some risky flirtations, but her inner angel keeps her mindful of her beloved husband. When a dark enigmatic stranger moves into their home, the devil inside makes her body burn for him. Can she stay cool-headed and loyal, or will she let the fire engulf her? Can her husband accept that his angel is equal parts devil? What happens if she gives in to both?

“You like to watch me, don’t you?”
Taken aback, he just nodded his head. This was the perfect opportunity to try her plan.
“Do you ever…imagine…that it’s you I’m with?”
Long pause. His shoulders were clenched so tight his neck disappeared.
She mentally kicked herself for going too far, but knew enough to keep her mouth shut.
“I don’t mess with married women.”
BINGO!  He was attracted to her and he’d practically admitted it. “Of course not, and I wouldn’t cheat on my husband…”
His shoulders relaxed, and he took a breath.
“Not even with a tempting hunk like you.” She lowered her eyelids seductively as she smiled.

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Sharon Buchbinder: Women, especially strong women, struggle with how they are perceived by men. At times woman are demons, at other times angels. One of the earliest known she demons identified in Sumerian and Kabbalistic Judaism is the seductress and succubus, Lilith. The first wife of Adam, Lilith was his equal in every way. She had no desire to be bossed around by him, so she left Adam and Eden for more interesting company, male demons who hung out around the Red Sea. Apparently, the demons wrote on cave walls, “For a good time, call Lilith!” She coupled with them all and bore hordes of demon babies.

The flip side of the coin is the maternal, angelic being, also from the Kabbalistic literature, the Matronit. This powerful female figure was considered God’s wife. When Israel was threatened, she became a warrior goddess, one capable of riding blazing chariots and destroying armies to defend her chosen ones. But when the second Temple was destroyed, the Matronit grieved and left God to go off on her own until her nation repented and was restored to glory. In the interim, Lilith gives solace to God, because after all, he is a male with needs.

When I wrote Desire and Deception, I wanted to have a strong villainess, a man-eating woman, who also had a side the reader could empathize with. Isabel Ramirez is haunted by her duality–she is Lilith to some and the Matronit to others. She struggles with this duality until she finds a man who loves sees the angel hiding behind the demon within her. Here’s a snippet from DESIRE AND DECEPTION that depicts Isabel’s conflict between seductress and mother.

A hard slap landed on her ass with a cracking sound.

About fucking time he got it right. “Yes! Give me ten like that!” The noise of slaps blended with the scent of her arousal and his grunts with each smack. He rubbed his erection between her legs, touching her wet lips, pressing them apart. She shook her head and panted. “Not yet.” At last when the stinging crescendo hit the right peak, she shouted, “Now, Sean, now!”

He plunged deep inside her.

Her breath came in ragged bursts. “Harder.”

Sean complied with faster, deeper thrusts. Her thighs banged against the desk with each push. She pulled his hands around to her breasts, and placed them on her rigid nipples. “Pinch me.”

He twisted her nipples and thrust harder. She screamed, Sean groaned, shuddered, and fell against her back and hugged her close to him.

Isabel pushed him away. “Get off me.” She handed him a wad of tissues. “Clean me up, and make it snappy. I have to get home before my husband decides to fuck the nanny.”

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We hope you enjoyed our snippets. Now tell us a bit about your preference: Angel or Demon?

Leave a comment to enter to win one of two Grand Prizes – A Kindle Touch or a $60 Amazon or Barnes & Noble Gift Card – or you could win an eBook from one of the lovely ladies at Sexy Romance Stories! Don’t forget to leave your email address – just in case!

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Does Erotica Empower Women? Or Do Empowered Women Read and Write Erotica?

From my childhood through my young adulthood, my mother wore the mask of the “Perfect Mother, Girl Scout Troop Leader, and Sunday School Teacher.” But her behavior when at home, away from the scrutiny of other adults, was anything but perfect. One of the first short stories for which I won an honorable mention from Spinetingler Magazine (yes, horror!) was called Goody Two Shoes. It was my first public foray into exploring the roles women play and the masks women wear.

My full length erotic romantic suspense novel, Desire and Deception, explores these same themes. Similar in heat levels to noir movies like Body Heat and The Postman Always Rings Twice, my story differs from these notable examples because it ends on an upbeat note. In Desire and Deception, polar opposites sex siren Isabel (Izzy) Ramirez and goody-two-shoes Sarah Wright-Rosen become fast friends and seem destined to be BFFs until Izzy’s terrible secret is unearthed–literally and figuratively. Convinced she is unworthy of redemption, because she believes she cannot be anything but the “bad girl,” Izzy goes down a take no prisoners’ path, halted only by her younger lover, Sean Richards.

For her part, having been raised by an alcoholic in a “you’re-only-good-if-you-enable-me” paradigm, Sarah discovers shades of gray in her formerly black and white world. She also learns the powers of forgiveness and love can transform not only how she sees the world, but also her own self-image. In the end, Izzy becomes more like “good girl” Sarah–and Sarah becomes more like her “bad girl” friend. Izzy is the larger than life embodiment of all that is forbidden to “good girls.” Izzy embraces her sexuality and desires, takes control of her life and the men in it, and pleases herself. Sarah is “everywoman;” she works hard, plays by the rules, collaborates and facilitates consensus. She believes she can only be “good” one way, i.e., by constantly trying to please others.

This binary, yes/no reasoning is faulty, but I believe many women struggle with this duality in our lives. The question is not to be or not to be, but who are we supposed to be versus who do we want to be? Our role models may or may not be good ones, depending on how healthy our parents’ upbringing was. If you come from a dysfunctional household, one with crime spoken daily, can you break out of that mold? Or are you ever going to be able to explode from those constraints? Likewise, if your home appeared to be the epitome of perfection to the outside world, but was hell behind closed doors, can you ever overcome the damages of a self-righteous hypocrite?  Izzy and Sarah discover their true selves through the redemptive power of love and realize that they can be what they want to be, in spite of their pasts.

In writing Desire and Deception, I wanted to tell a sexy suspenseful tale about smart, powerful women and the men who love them. I wrote about society’s expectations of what a woman should be versus what a woman wants to be. And since the standing advice to writers is to “write what you know,” I then placed these characters into the setting I knew well, the rigidly hierarchical academic world where tenure and promotion are the duo brass rings. With Isabel and Sarah chattering at me the entire time, Desire and Deception is a story that practically wrote itself.

I am fascinated by powerful women. By making her the pampered princess, daughter of a Mexican crime boss, I was able to make her a modern day woman warrior who lives by her own rules. In her non-fiction book, The Warrior Queens, Antonia Fraser analyzes the lives of real women who led in times of war. Fraser looks at the historical data, legends and myths surrounding these women through a modern lens. She gives a list of adjectives and categories that men create for these astonishing, strong females, one of which is the lustful “Voracity Syndrome,” aka the “Man Eater.” Izzy is the archetypal Man Eater: smart, sexy, sassy, funny and deadly. Female and male readers can live vicariously through Isabel because she embodies all the things women are told not to do. Don’t be too smart. Don’t be too aggressive. Don’t put your desires ahead of other people’s wants and needs. Don’t talk back. Don’t enjoy sex. Don’t be in charge in the bedroom. Don’t be in control of your life. In other words: DON’T BE EMPOWERED. I made Isabel over-the-top on all of these traits and more, because she had to be strong to endure her early life and to lead her troops.

Like Meadow Soprano, Izzy grew up with all the privileges of being the mob boss’s daughter.  She was given the best of everything: nannies, schools, clothes, cars, horse-riding lessons, whatever her parents thought would make her more cultured. She was also given the worst of everything: horrible role models, a Machiavellian world view, and a very dark childhood secret that no child should ever have to carry with her. Because of this complex background, she becomes a female warrior in her own right. Where others would collapse, she survives and thrives. She is a flawed heroine–with redeeming qualities and compelling reasons for her behaviors.

Here is an example of Isabel’s empowered behavior:

After swinging by the daycare center, Isabel headed to the grocery store with the three kids. Ramon pushed a grocery cart, and the girls ran up and down the aisles shrieking. Enamored with all things chocolate, the twins stood in the middle of the candy aisle, yanked bags off the shelves and tossed them into the basket. Serious-faced, Ramon placed boxes of kid tested, mother approved cereal on top of the candy. Sometimes that boy looked like an undertaker. Isabel shook her head, pushed another cart with the adult purchases, and ignored the pointed stares of the other shoppers.

An elderly woman approached her with a dour expression. “Young lady,” she shook her finger at Isabel, “Don’t you know how harmful all that sugar is for children?”

Isabel gave the crone her favorite look reserved for morons and meddlers. “Old lady, don’t you know how harmful it is to interfere with a child’s self-expression? Who wants to grow up and be an uptight rectal sphincter like you?” She laughed out loud at the woman’s face, an excellent impression of a fish gasping for breath. “Dictionaries, aisle ten.” Isabel turned on her heel and continued shopping.

The woman sputtered behind her. “Why you cheeky–”

Isabel flipped the bird in the air and kept walking. She arrived at the checkout and turned to Ramon. “Pick out three boxes of cereal and one bag of candy. Ditch the cart in the produce section.” Now on their third lap around the store, Sherry and Ruby appeared to be slowing down. “Get your sisters. We’re outta here. I have to make another stop.”

I bet every mother who reads this has been there. Your kid(s) are rambunctious, but not really evil, you’re minding your own business and some busy body decides to give you a lecture about child-rearing. Can you honestly say you never wanted to respond that way and give the meddler the finger? And I love the scene from the perspective of the character’s growth. Izzy has had a nanny for her brood for quite some time. Now she’s forced into taking care of them and is becoming more attached to them and more protective of them. She has a maternal side to her that she never expected. She grows and continues to grow. In her own weird way, Izzy is protective of her brood and is working on being a good mother.

Looking back in your lives, have you seen yourself in either of these roles: people-pleaser or empowered woman? How do you think you were encouraged (or programmed) for these roles? Do you think erotica helps to empower women? Or do you think empowered women read and write erotica? Which came first? The chicken or the egg?  What do you think is the best way we can help ourselves and other women to become empowered?