Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Wedding Party by Tracey Richardson

Publisher:         Bella Books

When is a wedding more than a wedding?  When it's the background for a group of people to find out a lot of information about themselves.

Dani and Shannon have been planning their wedding in Las Vegas for a long time.  Shannon would have preferred something less elaborate, but Dani feels like a big event is a sign of her love for Shannon.  She has paid to fly in their closest friends for a week of activities before the wedding and everything will be perfect.  It has to be because afterward Dani has to tell Shannon that she's been out of work for more than a month, she really can't afford any of their plans and their world is about to fall apart.  Shannon is hiding a secret of her own that could be just as devastating to their relationship.  It soon becomes clear that their friends Jordan and Claire and Shannon's niece Amanda have issues of their own to resolve.  Whatever answer each woman settles on will change the group dynamic significantly and could end relationships that have taken years to build.

The Wedding Party ostensibly starts out as the story of a group of friends celebrating a wedding; however, Richardson soon takes it into an exploration of what keeping secrets and not trusting people can do to relationships.  Dani and Shannon cannot admit certain truths to each other despite their long relationship.  It raises the question of how you can commit to someone if you can't trust them with the truth.  Jordan, the eternal womanizer, is afraid to admit that she's finally reached a point where she wants stability and Amanda is afraid to trust the person she has been the closest to all of her life.  Claire is hiding more than anyone, not only from her friends, but from herself.  The reader might question how this group can be so close when the members are keeping so much from each other, but the reality is that people often hide things from those they rely on the most.  What Richardson shows is the consequences of this behavior and possible solutions for these situations.

Tracey Richardson is very good at writing stories that have more depth than appears on the surface. The Wedding Party can be enjoyed as a character study of a group of friends, but a little more thought shows that it's also about the importance of openness and honesty in maintaining a group dynamic.  A standard story is used to mask a more important lesson.  Richardson writes well.  It's always easy to recommend her books.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Love Another Day by Regina Hanel

Publisher:         Regal Crest Enterprises

Sam Tyler enjoys her job as a park ranger at Grand Teton National Park, most of the time.  Sometimes she's thrown into dangerous situations, but every day offers something new.  That helps distract her from a tragedy that occurred two years ago and that she hasn't recovered from.  Sam isn't pleased at first when she's given a special assignment to work with photojournalist Halie Walker, but she's more cooperative when she finds out that Congress is considering closing Grand Teton Park and Halie's article might help prevent that.  As the women experience the park together, they grow to appreciate the work that each one does and to develop an attraction.  Sam is afraid to let anyone into her life though and Halie can't tolerate being around her as just a friend.  A helicopter crash could be the catalyst for changing everything.

Love Another Day is a standard romance.  The story follows the usual formula with no surprises.  It does give an interesting picture of how diverse a park ranger's job can be.  They do much more than direct tourists to scenic views.  Anyone who has read many romances will know where the story is headed before reading many pages.  The romance develops too quickly and complex questions have simple solutions; however, the reader who is looking for something light to pass the time with will find it acceptable.

The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe by Patty G. Henderson

Publisher:       Black Car Publishing

Constance Beechum is in an unenviable position.  She is single and penniless in a time when a woman without any prospects has little hope of respectability.  A letter arrives from her uncle offering her a position as a nurse/companion to Lady Elizabeth Gerard and Constance has no choice but to accept even though she has no experience at doing either.  The trip to Castine, Maine, is dark and spooky, but not nearly as spooky as Edward and Roger Gerard and Edward's wife Catherine.  Constance devotes herself to making Lady Gerard's last days as comfortable as possible, something which doesn't appear to interest her family, but does appeal to the mysterious George Kane.  Constance uncovers a mystery about "Mr." Kane and together they try to battle the evil which seems to be about to engulf them.

Patty G. Henderson has reached into the style of the Gothic novel to tell her story.  She captures many of the most common traits – a brooding old house with secret rooms, a damsel in distress from a tyrannical male, an upstanding hero, supernatural or mysterious events and a heightened sense of emotionalism.  People who read this book have to approach it with an understanding that Gothic is a very particular style requiring characters and the scenery to behave in certain patterns.  What might appear to be stilted or overblown to the modern reader is part of the format that has to be followed.  The characters are somewhat flat, but that could be because they are written according to a template.

Classifying this book for a modern reader is difficult.  Though the main character is lesbian, there isn't a typical "romance" that many require.  The atmosphere is bleak and looming, but the "mystery" never is very mysterious since the answer is apparent almost from the beginning.  Most of the book is predictable from the early chapters.  Followers of Gothic literature will probably find it more satisfying than most typical readers.   However, if the reader is looking for something different and an entertaining story, The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe will do fine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Girls Club by Sally Bellerose

Publisher:        Bywater Books

Your sister.  For a woman, she's the person who knows you better than you do yourself sometimes.  She knows your secrets, your strengths and how to push your buttons faster than anyone else.  She'll torment you incessantly and then punch in the nose any bully who tries the same thing.  Sisters form a girls club unlike any other.

The title of Sally Bellerose's debut novel has a double meaning.  One refers to a lesbian bar that has particular appeal to one of the characters.  The other refers to the ultimate club shared by Marie, Renee and Cora Rose LaBarre.  Like most sisters they fight, they compete and they form a united front against the world, most of the time.  Cora Rose is the youngest sister and the focus of the book.  Her life is a jumble of issues from her conflict with her Catholic upbringing to the fact that she ends up married to a man she doesn't love because she tries to conform to what society dictates and ends up pregnant.  The truth is that her attraction is to women, but she doesn't know how to cope with it.  Leave it to her sisters to understand her needs better than she does.  Blunt, direct Marie calls her on the issue when they are still teenagers and sophisticated, beautiful Renee will help guide her to the light eventually.  In the process they deal with unplanned pregnancies, men who fail to meet their needs, drug and alcohol abuse, creating careers, dealing with family issues and the general struggle with life.  Cora Rose deals with two extra issues, her sexuality, which she doesn't understand, and a chronic illness dubbed the Dreaded Bowl Disease.  That last issue isn't one that normally appears in books, but it plays a central role in what happens.

Bellerose has created a book that doesn't easily fit into any category.  Cora Rose is a lesbian, but her life does not revolve around that.  There are no torrid love scenes to appeal to romance lovers, but there is a type of romance that develops between the sisters.  Their love for each other, even when it is disguised as something else, is the strongest relationship in the book.  There is no mystery or adventure here, except that which normally appears in life.  Instead there is a complex story of how people interact, especially within a family, and struggle to find direction in their lives.  Marie, the most direct sister, takes on life with a "take no prisoners" attitude.  Renee, the perfect child, is a study in unfulfilled potential and Cora Rose is a passive aggressive personality, letting life shove her from event to event, resenting much of what she is presented with, but basically incapable of directing her own story.  When she finally begins to assert herself and establish her own course, there is no surprise that the two people who are pushing and leading her along are the ones with whom she has spent her whole life. 

The title The Girls Club would seem to refer to the lesbian bar that Cora Rose can't resist, but it's really about a much more intricate relationship.  Readers will find much to relate to in this story as they recognize how the sisters interact.  Instead of depending on emotionally powerful scenes, Bellerose makes her point by letting the reader just watch the sisters and their lives unfold.  It has a slow steady pace, but it becomes clear by the end that the pace that is used is the only one that works.

This book won the Bywater Prize.  That means the reader can expect a story that is deeper and more intricate than the average lesbian novel.  It requires more attention than just sliding through a typical story of girls meets, girls resolve their conflicts and live happily ever after.  It's similar to watching an intricate dance or drinking a fine wine.  The reader won't get the full effect until the end.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two for the Show by Chris Paynter

Publisher:         Blue Feather Books

Two for the Show is Book Two of Chris Paynter's Playing for First Series.  It picks up the story of Amy Perry, the first woman to play in the professional baseball league, her partner Stacy McCrady and their friends.  "The Show" is the term used by baseball people for playing in the major leagues and Amy has finally been called up permanently to join the team.  She and Stacy will have to divide their time between two cities, but the transition will be easier for Amy because her best friend Lisa Collins has also been moved up to network reporting, with the particular assignment to cover Amy's team.  Things seem to be going wonderfully until personal tragedy strikes Amy's family.  Her emotional trauma leads to her inability to hit the baseball or contain her anger on the field.  She reacts in a totally destructive manner that might not only threaten her career, but her relationship with Stacy.  Amy is totally out of control and if she can't get it back, she'll lose everything.

On the surface this is a sports story, but it's also a story about working your way through the hard spots to reach the good. Amy is crashing down barriers for women and often running a gauntlet of homophobic demonstrators.  Her ability shows that women can play in the professional leagues with men, but her determination to live her life as an out lesbian draws as much, if not more, attention as her talent.  The strength that helps her to deal with that situation is the very thing that may destroy her life.  Amy is the strong, silent type who holds her emotions in.  The consequence of that is that she can't deal with what is happening to her and she lashes out at the people who try to help, especially Stacy.  It takes a great deal of trust and strength on Stacy's part to deal with the situation.

This is a story of a woman who has to cope with difficulties in her professional and private life.  It's also about how important family and friends can be to that process.  Perhaps most importantly it's about how reaching for help is not a weakness and can create a stronger person in the long run, but it can be a difficult process for a person to go through, especially if someone is very stoic.  Amy will learn that some of the lessons she's learned on the ball field will apply equally well to her life.

Paynter's books will appeal to readers who like series characters.  Each new volume gives the reader a chance to catch up on what has been happening to familiar figures, very much like reading Facebook entries.  That can also be a weakness.  After a while, the characters simply seem to be moving forward through life.  The sense of drama can be lost in place of a comfortable story.  It will be interesting to see how long Paynter can keep these characters fresh and interesting so that readers will care enough to want to find out what is the latest development in their lives.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

In A Family Way by Karen D. Badger

Publisher:           Blue Feather Books

Billie Charland isn't looking for more complications.  She's working two jobs as a paralegal and an aerobics instructor; then she spends time with her son Seth who is in a coma after being struck by a drunk driver.  When Caitlan O'Grady joins the aerobics class though, it's clear that the uncoordinated doctor needs some help.  Billie agrees to give her private lessons that lead to a relationship developing slowly between the women.  Caitlan has a daughter from a previous relationship and her family uses their resources to help Seth, so Billie and Caitlan are well on their way to establishing a new family when Billie's ex-husband catches up with them.  This provides more complications for women who weren't looking for any at all.

In A Family Way addresses a number of issues.  The characters fight prejudice and a neighborhood that is at first hostile to the lesbians who infiltrate their street.  Billie eventually finishes a law degree and becomes a crusader to change the state laws.  The main story however deals with creating a family.  They face issues of acceptance by relatives, cooperation from school authorities and the adoption of children.  There is a lot going on in this story, but it captures a picture of what lesbians go through in trying to gain acceptance for their families.

Karen Badger has experience as a writer from stories she has posted online and previously published books.  She knows how to create characters and  to make a story flow.  She has created a book that makes for pleasant reading.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Verge by Z Egloff

Publisher:       Bywater Books                                          

Is it possible to like a book but not like its main character?  Verge will give the reader a chance to decide that.

Claire McMinn is a recovering alcoholic and sex addict who wants to be a film maker.  Unfortunately, she slept with the wife of the professor who controls whether or not she can stay in the film program at her college and she got caught.  Now Claire is scrambling to save her career.  If she can complete her class project, maybe she'll be allowed back in the program.  Hope resides in Sister Hilary, who works at a community center where Claire volunteers.  The center owns video equipment and Claire is given permission to use it if she will make a film about the center. Complications pile on top of complications between Claire's peculiar family, her best friend Shelby, with whom she has on and off again affairs, and Sister Hilary.  Whether or not Claire is going to be able to accomplish any of her goals is highly doubtful.

The best way to describe Claire McMinn is to say that she's a mess.  She's certainly irresponsible and her own worst enemy.  In quick order she sleeps with her professor's wife, her best friend, who identifies herself as straight, and then seduces a nun.  Some of her behavior can be explained by her being in an alcoholic haze, but there's also an underlying feeling that Claire thinks she can do anything she wants to and get away with it.  She always seems perplexed when other people don't see things that way.  If she was deliberately trying to ruin her life, she couldn't do a much better job at it.

A description of this book says: "Verge will appeal to readers who are interested in spirituality, addiction recovery, the madcap humor of gay/lesbian AA, the creative arts, and the lives of twenty-first-century nuns, as well as the trials and tribulations—and adventures—of contemporary lesbians."  The book certainly touches on some of those subjects, but not in a very convincing manner.  If this is supposed to be a picture of the lives of contemporary lesbians, then it's a disappointing one.  While Claire says she's dedicated to recovering from her alcoholism, her behavior calls into question her true dedication to the underlying problem. She makes bad decisions.  It's hard to know whether to be pulling for Claire as she bumbles through her life or hope that someone finally confronts her for what she's doing and holds her accountable.

The same feeling involves the whole book.  Verge is structurally well written.  That can be said with certainty.  Z Egloff knows how to write.  It has received acclaim from some well-known writers and was a finalist and winner of some awards.  The question is if the acclaim is for the production of the book or the story within it. No matter how well the story is written, the main character is irritating to the point of wanting to sometimes slap her for her behavior.  Perhaps that is the essence of creating a realistic character.

Going back to the original question, is it possible to like a book but not like its main character?  Maybe it's best to leave that up to the reader to decide.  This reader's answer would be "No," but there is room for discussion.