Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Walking the Labyrinth by Lois C. Hart

Publisher:       Ylva

Lois C. Hart does not issue books as frequently as some authors, but when she does have one come out the reader can be sure that it will be an interesting story that is well produced.  Walking the Labyrinth continues that pattern.

The death of her wife from cancer has caused Lee Glenn to descend into a private hell where she doesn’t eat, doesn’t leave her house and has cut herself off from everything.  Her life has come to a shocking halt until her friends finally stage an intervention and she is forced back into the world.  Lee and her partner in a successful private security company decide she will take on a protection detail for a spoiled ex-model who says she is afraid of her husband.  This should be an easy assignment to help Lee ease back into things because the client wants to return to a remote part of Canada where she was raised.  Lee doesn’t realize she is about to meet a unique group of people who are going to help restore her soul.

Lee Glenn, a woman in her sixties, is about to discover that there is life after disaster.  Her guide on that trip will be Gaelle Germaine, the spoiled model’s mystical, spiritual mother.  Gaelle is building a labyrinth to help with her meditation and she coaxes Lee into helping her with the job.  Lee thinks spiritualism is “hooey,” but Gaelle is fascinating.  Just as feelings develop between them, Lee discovers something about Gaelle that is horrifying and it causes her to flee from what can only be more pain.  Lee isn’t the same person however and she cannot forget what she has learned from Gaelle.  Now the question is, is she strong enough to follow a new sense of being?

Where to start with the wonderful things about this book?  First, the story is about older characters.  This is particularly enjoyable in a genre that seems to be dominated by younger people who are just beginning the lessons that older women have completed.  The book also has a very appealing spiritual quality to it.  It doesn’t advocate any particular system, but opens the reader to probing thoughts and questions that can be pondered outside of the book.  The characters are also interesting.  Many people have known someone who has been destroyed by the tragedies of life.  They also know that calm, reassuring person who seems to radiate wisdom from a place deep inside.  These are the people you want to be like when you meet them, if you can just figure out how they developed that state of being.  And all of this is wrapped up in a story that is completely understandable.  No convoluted vocabulary or esoteric ideas that confuse the reader and get in the way of the message.

Lois Hart isn’t finished writing yet, but Walking the Labyrinth may turn out to be her magnum opus.  If so, she couldn’t hope for any better.

This is a highly recommended book.  Read it and prepare to go on a journey of your own discovery.

On the Rocks: A Willa Cather and Edith Lewis Mystery by Sue Hallgarth

Publisher:                   Arbor Farm Press

There is nothing worse than a book that doesn’t deliver what it says it is.  If a title says it is a mystery, then there should be a mystery.

The book starts with a murder.  Willa Cather actually owned a home on Grand Manan, an island in the Bay of Fundy, and the story is set there.  While she and Edith Lewis are out in a boat one day, they see a man’s body thrown off of a cliff.  The rest of the story is more an explanation of village politics and the events that follow the murder than it is a mystery.  Who committed the crime and why becomes clear early in the story.

On the Rocks is more about the relationship between Cather and Lewis than it is about the mystery.  For people who are Cather fans, this might be interesting, except it’s based on conjecture.  The book assumes that Cather and Lewis were lovers.  That is a topic that is much discussed in the literary community, however, since Cather refused to address it herself and there is no direct evidence in either direction, writing the story this way reflects the author’s own interests more than the truth.  At any rate, that doesn’t make the book a mystery.

The book is rather bland for mystery fans and anyone else should remember it’s listed as fiction.  It isn’t challenging reading.  Keep that in mind if you decide to buy it.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Angel's Touchd by Siri Caldwell

Publisher:       Bella Books

Angel’s Touch is a paranormal story that brings together familiar themes – financial interests versus preservation.  In this case, it’s the preservation of sacred land near a spa.

Kira Wagner specializes in developing property, selling it and moving on to the next place.  This time she has settled in Piper Beach where she wants to renovate a hotel and build a spa for women.  Megan McLaren is the best masseuse in town and Kira wants to hire her for the spa. 

Megan agrees to consult with Kira on the building of the spa, but her reason is to protect the ley lines, power lines where angels gather, that run through the property.  Megan believes in angels, past lives and soul mates.  She uses that knowledge to deliver a healing touch with her massages, but she also knows there is a downside.  She and Kira have known each other before, more than once, and the endings have never been happy.  As the women develop feelings for each other the problem becomes that Kira cannot understand Megan’s resistance and Megan doesn’t know how to explain what she experiences to Kira or why the land is so important.

Angel’s Touch is a well written romance with a slightly different plot line.  The reader isn’t required to suspend much belief to feel the story is realistic. The characters are interesting and the book is well produced.  The book was quick to read and provided a few hours of good entertainment.  Overall it was quite enjoyable.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rush: Books 1 and 2 by CJ Reid

Publisher:       ReadReid

Usually two books would not be included in one review, but they comprise a series and the same comments apply to both of them.

This is a perfect example of a fairly good story that was ruined by not having a good editor or production staff.  The mistakes in the book are so numerous that not finishing the first one was a real consideration.  The second volume didn’t fare as well.  It's not just a matter of spelling mistakes.  Before the first two pages could be finished there were six grammar mistakes, several uses of the wrong words (Reid has a real fondness for saying "passed" when she means "past') and incomplete sentences.  It's also clear that what has been issued as two books could have been one good book if a competent editor had gone over them.

The series features women who race cars on streets in LA and make their living that way.  They’re tough talking and acting.  Each club forms a family that every member is ready to defend with her life.  According to this story, these women spend all night driving and partying (alcohol and drugs) and most of the day sleeping it off.  Getting into a club requires an initiation and a ceremony of acceptance.

This is the world that Dylan Kelly stumbles into with her brother.  They come from a broken home and are barely making it when Dylan meets a member of the Femme Fatales Racing Club.  Dylan quickly discovers that she can’t resist the world that the club represents, even if it means lying to her brother.  The two books follow her efforts to join the club and then how her presence threatens to destroy it.  Meanwhile, there’s plenty of racing, information about cars, tension and sex.

This culture may exist, certainly it exists for men.  Frankly, the book reads as if CJ Reid is trying to create a community where this exists for women.  Parts of the book just don’t ring true, but they might be.  The books would have much more punch though if they were edited down into one volume.  That would intensify the action and spare the reader from so much talk about car parts.

If you like stories about hard driving women who act like men, this might be your book.  You have to get past the numerous mistakes though which do interfere with the pace of the reading.  It might be better to save your money and look for other books about the same topic.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The demise of Blue Feather and the role of small companies

I've been thinking for a while about what to say about the news that Blue Feather is closing.  I keep trying to straighten out the jumble of thoughts I'm having.

First, like everyone, I'm sad to hear about Blue Feather.  I talk to Emily Reed a lot and I know she's been struggling to keep the company going by herself while she dealt with children and a full time job and life in general.  I thought highly of Blue Feather before I ever met Em.  She focused on quality and not quantity, which appeals to me more and more.  She also published "different" authors.  By that I mean those that didn't always fit the cookie cutter mold.  I didn't care for every book the company put out, but I found them refreshing in their uniqueness.  How can you argue with a company that brought us Joan Opyr, Kieran York, Chris Paynter, Erica Lawson, Kelly Sinclair and others?  And I would defy anyone to find a mistake in a Blue Feather book.  Yes, this is a great loss indeed.

I don't think we give our "smaller" publishers enough credit.  It's almost funny talking about smaller publishers among small publishers.  Even Bella and BSB are small in comparison to mainstream companies, but our small presses are truly small. 

My sister Leigh and I toured the Bywater plant when we visited Marianne Martin recently.  It didn't take much.  We stepped from the house into the garage and there it was.  There is a little office with a copier and then the books are stockpiled in another section of the garage.  If you order a book from the Bywater site, you might not know it, but it's sent to you by Marianne Martin herself.  Yet, when I looked on the shelves, there was Joan Opyr, Bett Norris, Wynn Malone, Jill Malone, Georgia Beers and Marianne.  I suspect there are similar setups at Affinity, Bedazzled, Sapphire and the others.

In the rush to self-publishing, we need to give the really small presses more credit.  They usually can't hire full staffs.  They hire editors and cover artists by the job and when you email the company, you're just as likely to hear directly from the owner.  They don't have warehouses, secretaries or whatever.  They may use a distribution company, but that's about it.  Yet, many of the words I used about Blue Feather would also apply to these companies.  Bella and BSB turn out huge numbers of books now, but, with a few exceptions, they have a disturbing familiarity.  It's the really small companies that are taking a risk on some of the more daring writers.  For that reason alone, I hope we don't lose more of them.

Chris Paynter and Karen Badger have already announced they're going to self-publish.  Karen has a snappy logo for Badger-Bliss Books.  I hope they do well.  Catherine Wilson gave a wonderful presentation at the GCLS conference about how time encompassing this is if you really want to sell your books.

To the other authors, don't disappear on us.  There are companies that will probably come to you.  Find a place where you are comfortable.  Let us know what you're doing and keep the books coming.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why you need to attend a GCLS conference if you read lesbian literature

In ancient times, it was common for tribes to split up their members and send them to live in different parts of the territory so that everyone would have plenty of resources to survive.  Once a year however, they would have a meeting of the tribe to reconnect with friends and family, celebrate accomplishments, perform important rituals and make decisions for the coming year.  It occurred to me today, as I began my journey home, that this is exactly what a Golden Crown Literary Society conference is about.  It is a coming together of a tribe.  We meet, we greet, we support, we laugh, we cry.  We hug, we argue and we tease each other.  Most importantly, we learn things about each other, the books and the components of putting them together.
I think this year's conference might be the best one ever.  I don't know if it was by planning or luck, but the sessions seemed to be very seriously planned and they provoked some very interesting discussions about the literature and where it is headed.  There were a lot of new people here and people who don't come very often.  I hope they're encouraged to keep coming after this conference.

The speeches by Ann Bannon (about what she went through to get published) and Lori Lake (about the history of the literature) were particularly effective and reached the crowd.  There was a powerful session where readers spoke out about what they wanted to see in the books.  I was very happy to see that a number of authors attended to hear what we had to say.  KG MacGregor facilitated a panel called "I Wish I'd Written That" that involved Georgia Beers, Katherine Forrest and Karin Kallmaker.  Salem West led a discussion about "Editors' Pet Peeves."  Excellent.

I attended the first half of a class by Lynn Ames and Sandra Moran on researching and writing historical fiction, then had to miss the second half to attend a session on character building given by Linda Kay Silva.  It's a shame they were against each other because every author could have benefited from them.  My sister attended the session about young adult literature offered by Andi Marquette and felt that it was very good.  I took notes on Katherine Forrest's Master Class about what has to be in a manuscript and there was a spirited discussion in the session on the role of tragedy in LGBT novels.  Catherine Wilson gave a commanding explanation how how to market your novel to the mainstream.  She had me convinced it could be done, if you're willing to invest the time.

Other sessions included writing freedom, how to write mysteries and horror stories, create cover art, researching complex issues in government, politics and law and many others.  There were also author chats and author readings.  There were things to engage a variety of people and, while a lot of serious discussion went on, there was plenty of laughter.  There was even a discussion about how to write about food, which I made a point to avoid.

After going through some shaky years, the GCLS seems to be on a firm footing and growing.  More importantly, it appears to be growing into the type of organization that I have advocated for over the years.  A number of the winners of this year's awards gave credit to members of the GCLS who mentored, beta read or edited for them.  They met at the conferences.  There are education programs being offered, online interview shows, and more and more books being nominated from companies and people not associated with the bigger publishers.  Now GCLS is going to make a push to add more diversity of all kinds to the membership.  We need to get those younger people involved.  GCLS can be meaningful for a lot of people.  My sister, who is the niece and sister of lesbians and the mother of a young gay man found Ann Bannon's speech especially meaningful.

GCLS is not cheap to attend.  There's the conference, room, food and other things to pay for, but the members didn't hesitate to dig into their pockets andto raise money to help support the programs and create scholarships.  A number of women attended because of the generosity of other women and even more will be able to do so next year.  It's not just a great learning experience, but where else can you get warm and strong hugs from so many women, many of whom are the authors you enjoy.  One young author said that, because of where she lives, she didn't think she'd ever been in a room with more than two or three lesbians at a time, so seeing 300 of them at once was a life changing experience.

The conference is in New Orleans next year during the last week of July.  That's the lower middle of the country, so most of us are within reach.  I feel pretty safe in saying that, once you attend a conference, you'll wonder why you didn't before.  Come and see if I'm right.