I first saw this cover three-odd years ago, and it struck a chord. A hot chick with a black point d'esprit veil; that's all it took. The hot makeup and the smoke were secondary. And the title promised me it was going to be a bit more far afield than the traditional adult erotic fiction. The cover sub-title--not an actual, official sub-title of the book, mind you--promised taboo subjects. Yes, I checked, thinking maybe "Taboo Erotica" was some sort of specialty imprint of Cleis Press. Nope. It's just promotional copy, something the boys downstairs came up with to catch your eye and move the product, something to get you to past contemplation to buy.
And I bought. It took me a few years to work my way to it, but I bought.
And sadly, there is nothing even close to taboo in this book. The "fire" is metaphorical, playing with danger, playing with loss, playing with fidelity, risk of exposure, embarrassment, etc. I get that, and more or less expected it. There is even some true fire here--no branding or burning, nothing like that--but none of the adventurous and truly bold content I imagined when I saw that cover, title and sub-title.
So, what do you get? Including Alison Tyler's introduction, you get 22 stories in 162 pages. That's less than nine pages per story, so things get up and move out quickly, and resolve themselves just as quickly. Some stories are real shorties (the opener and "Texas Hot" at one page), while a couple of them do go on a bit.
There's a bit of bondage and power-transfer, some gay/lesbian, and spanking, of course. Lots of extramarital action, but then again, this is more or less the theme.
"Burned" is a story within a novel about writing a novel, about characters and characters' characters, uh, I think, and that's about when I gave up and moved on to the next one.
"The Salsa Bar" is an inane, rambling thing about a night out in Nice, France. First the beach is rocky, and a few paragraphs later it's sandy. I've been there, and it's a pretty tall order to conceive of a threesome happening right there on the beach, given the beach's proximity to the boulevard, sidewalk and the buildings, not to mention all those private beach areas. Sounds sexy, but it's not very credible. "Fanning the Flames" is similarly disappointing, a trite setup with weak and predictable characters and settings leading to the painfully obvious finish.
"Out of the Frying Pan" is a good one, in that you're really not too sure of what is going on with these two couples. Interesting and randy things have happened and are happening, and its five pages are just the beginning of this very intriguing tale. This one had me thinking well after it ended, well past the boinky-boinky to what exactly is going on between these two couples and the four individuals. Good story.
"One Hot Slut" is a gem. Wonderful narration from a wife preparing herself thoroughly for the attention and service she decides her man deserves. It builds and twists very nicely, and the end is another twist. Great story.
In "Trial By Fire," she says she wants to "look like art..." Simple and very good stuff, quite lovely.
"Where There's Smoke" is another good one about a relationship and some extras, with a nice twist at the end.
The closer is "Just Add Water" where a woman revels in her "darkest desires" by putting in a see-through shower curtain so she can watch her guy. This is a dark desire? This is playing with fire? Never mind the physical problem of condensation on either glass or plastic, this simple voyeur tale was about as far as you could get from playing with fire. It's not a bad story, but is completely out of place in this collection.
Bottom line: Don't be taken in by the packaging and titling. There is nothing that scorching here, and there most assuredly is nothing taboo. It's another collection of mostly well-written erotica, that's all.