- Title: Camellia
- Authors: Cari Z. and Caitlin Ricci
- Print length: 152 pages
- Publisher: Less Than Three Press
- Publication date: May 7, 2014
- 4 gingersnaps (out of 5 gingersnaps) for content(1)
- 4 gingersnaps for craft(2)
- 5 gingersnaps for its handling of kink themes(3)
- Comprehensive score: 4 gingersnaps (recommended)
Review copy provided by Less Than Three Press
Although I rarely write book reviews of my peers, Camellia by Cari Z. and Caitlin Ricci caught my eye during KT Grant’s Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the teaser posts and looked forward to the book’s publication. F/F spanking…what could I not like?
The periphery details:
Formatting is well-done, the pdf file automatically comes in a size optimized for reading, and the chapter links worked on my Kindle. I would have liked a table of contents with links on my pdf copy, but that’s a small complaint. There were a few errors in the manuscript, but overall it was cleanly edited.
Danny Breaker lives at home with her rowdy brothers and parents while working as a model. She auditions for a job at a kink convention, meeting the elegant Lucy Culpepper. Lucy teaches tea appreciation classes at her store, and she also enjoys demonstrating her expertise while modeling clothes her friend designs. After screwing up the first interview in a hilarious bit of comedic writing reminiscent of I Love Lucy, Danny manages to earn a second chance to impress Lucy. While working together at the convention, Danny learns more about Lucy, the world of kink, and her budding desires.
Camellia’s best point, hands down, is its characterization of the two women who dominate–pun intended–the pages and readers’ hearts. While Lucy’s family backstory is drawn along skimpy and perhaps unnecessary lines (it read too much as a crib sheet to understanding Lucy in a few short sentences), the brief glimpse into Danny’s family life was drawn with perfect comedic timing and understatement. We are struck, as Danny is struck, by Lucy who conducts her life with grace, graciousness, and good taste. The growing fascination of Danny for Lucy is written with exquisite sensuality and longing. We respect Lucy, as Danny does, because she attends to Danny’s needs and slowly, cautiously introduces her to the joys of kink. It’s not easy to write a dominant woman who comes across as both caring and powerful, but Lucy is a joy to behold. She is the perfect foil for Danny, who is impetuous, innocent, and at times crass.
Camellia’s second-best point is its sensuous, loving descriptions of Lucy and Danny negotiating their new relationship within a professional and kink setting. One description of Danny transforming a crawl into an act of seduction was particularly well done. Another is the pitch-perfect response of Lucy to Danny’s insecurities.
The background descriptions of the costumes for the convention, the friendship with secondary characters Natasha and Lillian, and the attention to detail in setting each scene pay off for the reader. At times, the book reaches an atmospheric, almost fairytale quality.
While the writing technique was overall quite good, some sentences read a bit awkwardly. An odd misstep was the description of one costume as “Asian-inspired.” To put this in perspective, it would be analogous to describing a dress as “Caucasian-inspired.” In the context of the detailed notes regarding Japanese teas, the odd reference jolted me out of the story.
I won’t mention details to avoid giving spoilers, but a few plot twists concerning the tea ceremony made me raise my eyebrows. Yes, they worked well dramatically and highlighted Danny’s growing trust of Lucy. However, given the cost of quality tea and Lucy’s profession as a tea expert, the episodes did not ring true. But since writers have taken artistic license from the beginning of time, this is only a small point.
My main complaint about this story, however, is the gratuitous sex. While the book is labeled as containing “some explicit content” and I understand such scenes help with marketing books for sale, I found the first sex scene disappointing. It did not further the plot, it was not necessary, and it broke the atmosphere so exquisitely created by the first chapter. Z. and Ricci demonstrate talent to evoke nearly limitless sexuality in their understated, subtle, intelligent prose. Danny’s first scene meeting Lucy conveys sexual appeal to far greater effect than the first sex scene. In effect, the first sex scene cheapens the narrative and brings it down to a voyeuristic level. The uncomfortable tension between the graphic sex scene and subtle sexuality detracted from my enjoyment of the book. Were Camellia an average erotic novel, the reader might expect such a scene. When Camellia begins by setting the bar high on class and intelligence, however, the first sex scene feels like pandering to a different type of reader than it woos with its other chapters.
Conclusion: Camellia enchants with its characters who walk off the page and into readers’ hearts. While the narrative stumbles in playing too hard to the “sex sells” market, its happily-ever-after ending is sure to charm those looking for a love story with explicit themes.
- Content refers to the themes and structure of the book. For fiction, this includes macro elements such as the book’s premise, character arcs, and how well the conflict and resolution fulfill the promise of the book. For non-fiction, this refers to the information that is conveyed.
- Craft refers to the level of writing technique, ranging from clarity of text to carefully edited prose.
Additional note: The combined score generally is a mathematical average of the three ratings, unless an individual rating is especially low or high.