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BOOK REVIEW Lysistrata Cove
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Liz Baudler

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By Dena Hankins, $9.99; Bold Strokes Books; 264 pages

For an erotic novel, Lysistrata Cove reveals itself a little bit slowly at first.

Jack Azevedo, captain of the pleasure-cruise schooner Lysistrata, navigates to a gorgeous deserted island. But, alas! It's not deserted, and there's an incredibly sexy woman hiding out on it. This woman happens to be Eve La Sirena, famous recording artist and a particular favorite of Jack. Why is she hiding on the island? She and her lady love, Harmonie, are planning to take down the music industry by running a pirate bay from an island they've digitally erased from the map.

Eve wants to Jack to go away—or does she? Jack is both incensed by her insistence that he leave—boating rights are a big deal—and enthralled by her presence. He finds excuses to dock at her island every time he passes by. Eventually Eve's sexual curiosity gets the better of her, and her natural dominance seduces Jack.

Whether in an tropical mansion or inside a sex club, the atmosphere and and practice of BDSM permeates Lysistrata Cove. Consent is essential. There's a scene where Jack and Eve lay out all of their boundaries, and in addition to being really hot, their negotiations feel like a great model for real-life engagement, and the sex itself is intense, vivid and well-delineated. Remarkably, author Dena Hankins has mastered the art of casual inclusion—there's a lesbian top with a wheelchair, for instance—and Jack is a transman who occasionally dissects his gender identity to his friends. None of this overwhelms the plot in the slightest, and likely makes a wider spectrum of readers feel at home.

If Neal Stephenson, author of such sci-fi classics as Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, wrote BDSM erotica, tonally it would feel a lot like Lysistrata Cove. In addition to the BDSM specificity, characters go on extended technical monologues and rants about boat construction, capitalism, and the music industry. Oddly, all of these diversions and their level of detail make the sexual interactions seem more credible, part of a piece with the rest of the character's passions. About the only real quibble is that the plot seems wildly fantastical, particularly in the book's latter third, but c'mon, it's erotica, and ultimately the ridiculously high stakes provide swashbuckle reminiscent of the Hardy Boys.

Hankins, a former sex educator, specializes in writing queer and trans leads, and it's absolutely something she should continue. Lysistrata Cove fetishisizes no one and will probably kickstart its readers' erotic imagination—while helping them learn a little bit on the side.

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