Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tangled Roots by Marianne K. Martin

Publisher:                   Bywater Books

A good book has engaging characters and a plot that holds the reader’s interest. An outstanding book takes those attributes and adds a message, teaches a lesson or allows the reader to understand something that may not have been clear to that person before. An author rises to the top of a genre and gains the respect of the people who read those books by developing this ability. Marianne Martin has produced a string of award winning books because she spends her time writing carefully, researching the topic and going over the book to make sure it is in the best form possible before it is released. Martin also isn’t afraid to tackle difficult topics, which is abundantly clear in Tangled Roots, the prequel to her earlier work, Under the Witness Tree.

Tangled Roots is set in a period of US history that was almost as stressful as the civil war it followed.  Many of the characters remember that war and the period of adjustments that followed it. Those changes led to others that will sweep in the Progressive movement, a time when many people, especially women and African Americans, hoped that true justice and political equality would be achieved for everyone. Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching battled with the creation of the NAACP and the eloquence of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. The stifling concept of women as nothing but breeders and homemakers was confronted by the steely determination of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul for women to have greater opportunities. The conflict in the book comes between those who cannot accept the new ideas and those who yearn for them.

The story focuses on Addy Grayson, her granddaughter Anna and Anna’s best friend Nessie, a descendent of the slaves who once worked for the Graysons. Addy survived the Civil War, but questions whether she has the energy to deal with raising her granddaughters and confronting their bigoted father. She is rejuvenated when a younger woman introduces her to new ideas and she finds the ability to finally deal with an old secret. Anna and Nessie begin as two little girls who like to play with each other and share dreams. They don’t recognize the racial divide that both of their families keep throwing in their ways until they are older, but they share the frustration of being told that women can’t have the lives they hope to pursue. They are caught up in the stresses of their time, the expectations of both families and the growing awareness that their childhood love has turned into something much deeper and forbidden. Addy is the pillar they both lean on.

Tangled Roots is a compact novel. It’s hard to believe that Martin deals with so many complex issues in just over 200 pages. She’s able to do so because she chooses her words and her scenes carefully. This isn’t meant to be a history of the period, but a snippet, the events as seen through the eyes of her three main characters. Martin avoids the trap of wandering around addressing issues that were important to the time, but not to her story. Yet there is a richness in the scenes that comes off of the pages and leads the reader to have a beginning understanding of what this period and these women were about. This is the type of book that is not too heavy to bog down people in the many conflicts of the period, but that leads readers to other books and resources to find out what else happened during this time of drama and change, triumph and dreams deferred.

Marianne Martin has written a book that weaves a tapestry of history and romance with the lives of the characters. It will cause the reader to think, but not to feel that she’s been lectured to. Don’t let its size fool you. There is a lot to be absorbed here. An outstanding book has engaging characters, an interesting plot and leads its reader to greater knowledge. Tangled Roots certainly does all of that.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Fire and Ice by Gaelle Cathy

Publisher:       Affinity eBook Press

Writing a book about lesbians would seem to be controversial enough in some circles, but then an author comes along and throws another kink in the story.  There are no spoilers in this review, but, if you choose to read it, expect a “family secret” to shake up the story and many people won’t care for the way it is resolved.

The Beckett family has retreated to New Hampshire hoping that the more peaceful area will allow them to recuperate from a terrible experience in New York City.  This is how college student Emma meets a local artist Charlie Campbell and love blossoms.  The Becketts are thrown for a loop because Emma has never shown any inclination to be lesbian since she’s had more than one boyfriend, but Charlie is charming, sensitive, experienced and all of the things that are apparently appealing to Emma.  Gradually they fall in love and then the family secret comes into play.  The reader can decide how well that situation is handled.

The main problems with Fire and Ice stem from its inconsistencies.  There are places where the wording is odd, which is probably due to the author not being a native English speaker.  That doesn’t explain the rest.  The main characters know things about each other’s lives that they have no way of knowing or at least aren’t explained in the story.  They use odd cues that make no sense to decide if someone is a lesbian.  No, not gaydar, peculiar ideas.  The continuity editor truly failed in this story because a cat named Liloo is introduced in the present, then later in the book it’s revealed that the cat died years before.  Perhaps every cat was named Liloo.

This is not a strong book and the end of it will certainly be controversial for many people.  If the reader is just looking for something to pass the time and can borrow a copy of this, then go ahead.  If not, pass on by and read something better.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Something in the Wine by Jae

Publisher:       Ylva Publishing

What do you do when you decide to play a joke on someone else and the joke turns out to be on you?

Annie and Jake Prideaux have a typical sibling relationship, she’s an adult and he’s a perpetual kid.  One of Jake’s favorite things is to play practical jokes on his long suffering and “unconnected” sister.  He tells Annie that he’s going to set her up on a date with a close friend that he just knows she’ll like.  Jake neglects to tell Annie that his friend Drew Corbin is a woman.  Drew is totally focused on her vineyard, but has begun to realize that she needs more in her life.  She’s seen Annie before and is happy to have the date, but not when she discovers what Jake has done to them.  Instead of the explosion that Jake expects, the women decide to turn the tables on Jake and act like they have actually fallen in love.  This includes attending Prideaux family events where Jake discovers that he’s very uncomfortable with the situation and accuses Drew of confusing his sister.

Annie and Drew are both confused by the middle of the book.  Annie has never experienced feelings for a woman before, not that she took seriously anyway, and Drew knows that getting involved with a straight woman is disappointment waiting to happen.

Jae is becoming a young legend in the field of lesbian fiction.  Her books are longer than most romances and full of details and plot that have made her a multiple award winner.  What usually amazes her readers however is that she is a native German and writes better in English than a lot of her contemporaries.  Her books are amazingly free of mistakes, which means the reader isn’t distracted by errors that interrupt the story.

Something in the Wine is a coming-out romance about a slighter older character than is usually found in those stories and the typical already burned lesbian.  Though it isn’t Jae’s strongest book, it’s still an enjoyable story and entertaining.  If you like lesbian literature, it’s difficult to go wrong with this author.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cate Culpepper's passing

It's all over Facebook, but, for those of you who don't know, we lost a giant this weekend.  Cate Culpepper passed away after a long illness.

I only met Cate once at a GCLS conference, but she has emailed me a number of times and posted frequently on Lesfic_Unbound.  She was supportive and funny and kind.  I didn't realize how ill she was or I would have written her more often.  It's one of those things that we always wish we had done.

Cate's books are amazing.  Her Tristaine series is well known, but, if you haven't read her stand alone books, you must.  They were always masterfully done and wonderfully told.  She didn't waste words, but painted clear and powerful scenes.  I can't think of one that I didn't enjoy.

If you can measure a person by the way she is remembered, then Cate led a full and purposeful life.  Many of our authors are posting better words than I can about her, but it is clear that she touched many lives, those people she met and the ones she inspired.  This is a terrible loss, but she left us something rich to remember her by.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Miss-Match by Erica Lawson and A.C. Henley

Publisher:                   Affinity Press

Miss-Match reads like an experiment that did not work.  It has to be difficult enough to write a book with two authors, but especially unwieldy when one of them is dead and cannot be consulted.  The pace of this book is extremely uneven and, while it’s supposed to be funny, it often feels forced to achieve that.  The company didn’t do this book any favors either.  It’s poorly set up as far as the pages, spacing and so forth, then the editing notes were left in it in places.

Clancy Fitzgerald is twenty-nine, single and the matchmaker she’s been using has run through all of the men she has available.  The matchmaker decides to set Clancy up with a woman, without telling her.  She also doesn’t tell the other woman, Carmen Pratka, that Clancy isn’t expecting a woman.  Carmen immediately realizes that Clancy’s problem has been all along that she’s really a lesbian.  Someone just has to prove it to her and Carmen wants to do that.  What follows is a silly dance between Clancy and Carmen to create a relationship and that gets caught up in the intrigue of a religious group to try and buy up all of the gay and lesbian bars in town to put them out of business.

Erica Lawson is usually a much better author than this and her books are better produced.  Perhaps it was trying to finish someone else’s story that created the problem.  At any rate, leave this one on the shelf and try a different book.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Falling Colours by RJ Samuel

Publisher:       Self-published

Let’s start by saying this is a fun book to read.

The major character Kiran is unique.  Although she was raised in Ireland, her parents are from India, where they now live.  From her father she has inherited the ability to be a vision painter.  A person can pay Kiran to paint what he or she most desires and it will come true.  Since she is the only vision painter in Ireland, Kiran has plenty of work, but it’s not easy.  The effort is draining and she must live by the restrictions imposed by the painters in India.  The most serious of those is that she is not supposed to bring anyone back from the dead. 

Of course, that is exactly what happens when Kiran meets Ron, who is devastated by the suicide of his wife Marge.  She was a terrible woman to everyone else, but he loved her and can’t understand why she killed herself.  All he wants is a chance to talk to her again.  Kiran has no idea what she is about to unleash.  Marge comes back just as dominating as she was in life and totally tuned out to what other people need.  Ron is thrilled, their daughter Ashley is appalled and Kiran has to fix this mess.  In the process, she falls in love with Ashley and finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery.

Samuel may not have intended this book to be so funny, but Marge takes it in a direction that can’t avoid it.  Once she makes it clear that she was murdered and did not commit suicide, Marge won’t give up until the mystery is solved.  The fact that she is a ghost and really shouldn’t be appearing in front of people doesn’t impress her in the least.  She exasperates Ashley and drives Kiran to a near nervous breakdown, but nothing will stop her on her quest.

RJ Samuel has used the theme of a person caught between two cultures before, but Kiran has a comic twist that makes her fun while revealing the struggle she goes through.  The book is a slapstick mystery in the best tradition of the old 1930s movies.  It would be great to have a sequel to this book to see where Samuels could take the characters, but Kiran would have to bring Marge back again.  That might be too much for any of them to take.

Read Falling Colours.  It’s fresh; it’s different; it’s worth it.