Tuesday, August 30, 2011

All Things Gay Radio

All Things Gay is the first gay radio program in New Hampshire.  It's located on Portsmouth community radio at WSCA 106.1 FM.  Marianne Martin and Joan Opyr were recently interviewed, so I thought I'd give you the links in case you want to listen to them talk about their books, careers and experiences.

Marianne Martin: http://audio.wscafm.org/audio/ALLGAY/WSCA_08-29-2011_08-00.mp3

Monday, August 22, 2011

When Rachel Returns by Balticbard (Barbara Leyva)

Publisher:             iUniverse

Sometimes you read a book that's so good you want to go back and reevaluate any books you've rated before because you rated them too highly.  Other times you read a book that's so bad, you want to change the ratings because you didn't rate the other books high enough.  When Rachel Returns unfortunately fits in that last category.

The book has a thinly plausible plot - girls meet, girls get together, girls separate, years later girls rediscover their true love for each other.  That's where the believability of the book ends.  Ann Williams goes to the Division of Motor Vehicles to renew the tag on her car and finds herself standing in a long line that isn't moving.  Rachel Stone, who manages the office, propositions Ann to get her paperwork processed quickly if Ann will have lunch with her.  During lunch they realize they have fallen madly in love with each other, despite the fact that they've never seen each other before and Ann, up to that point, has been straight all her life and has a fiancée waiting for her.   

Their affair lasts for about two years until Rachel decides Ann is boring and runs off with a younger woman.  Ann's old fiancée takes her back and they live happily until he dies in an accident.  Meanwhile, Rachel's girlfriend cheats on her, runs off and devastates Rachel so badly she becomes a derelict drug/alcohol addict on skid row.  One day Rachel sees a story on TV about Ann's husband, then immediately decides to fix her life and go reclaim Ann's love.  Rachel travels to the university town where Ann teaches and is hired to be Ann's secretary.  Another professor who is married is chasing Ann, but his wife is a lesbian and they have an "arrangement."  This story only gets more bizarre.  Before the end, the lesbian wife makes a play for Ann; hires a hitman to kill her husband, but nearly kills Ann instead; Ann takes Rachel back; and the lesbian, her husband and another female professor end up living together.  Throw in some more unbelievable characters and situations and you have this book.

This is a story that first appeared online and then was published by the author.  That is the problem with self-publishing.  There is no one to tell you to forget it and not waste your money on a project like this.  The dialogue is poorly written, there are many printing mistakes and the story itself is totally unbelievable in many parts.  It is almost impossible to find something redeeming about this book. This is one that is better left unread.

Under the Big Montana Sky by Jillian Carole

Publisher:              AuthorHouse

Sometimes self-published books come out OK and then there are books that needed help before they were published.  Under The Big Montana Sky is one of those.

Sarah Erickson and Alice Thompson have been email friends for over five years.  Despite their difference in age, they have bonded and Sarah travels to Montana to finally meet Alice.  She doesn't know that Alice is a very wealthy woman who lives on a large sprawling ranch or that she has a daughter Jo who thinks Sarah is a gold digger.  Jo is furious when she discovers that her mother has created a trust fund for Sarah to be able to pursue her art career and, despite the fact that Sarah doesn't know about the fund, Jo is determined to prove to her mother that Sarah is no good.  What Jo doesn't anticipate is that Sarah will win her over with her naïve personality and Sarah is about to discover things about herself that explain some unanswered questions in her life.  The two women are drawn together until a tragedy forces them apart.  Sarah returns to her home in Houston unsure of how Jo feels about her, while Jo's life spins out of control.  The question is whether anything can get Sarah to return to the Big Sky Country of Montana to give them a second chance at happiness.

The story itself is fairly standard lesbian fare and flows at an even pace.  The problems with the book could have been solved if the company had provided a decent editor to work on it.  There are too many grammatical errors, incorrectly used words, and poorly written dialogue.  Often it's difficult to determine if a character is talking to another character or thinking inside her head.  Then there are mistakes in details.  An example is when the receptionist in the law office tells Sarah everything about her trust fund over the phone, which anyone should know would be a breach of confidentiality.  The relationship is dealt with in a somewhat superficial manner because of a lack of development and the ending seems abrupt.  None of these are flaws that couldn't have been corrected or improved by a skilled person going over the story and making suggestions.  Unfortunately, that wasn't done.  Still, if you can ignore the mistakes, the story isn't bad.

The Skin Beneath by Nairne Holtz

Publisher:               Insomniac Press

Sam O'Connor's sister Chloe is dead.  That much is certain.  She died in a hotel in New York City five years before the book opens.  That much is certain.  Everything after that becomes murky.  Sam was allowed to believe that the older sister she idolized killed herself with an overdose of drugs, but she receives a postcard telling her Chloe died of a gunshot wound and that it might not have been self-inflicted.  This sets Sam on a quest to learn what exactly happened to her sister and why her father hid the truth.  Her search takes her to Montreal, Toronto, Detroit and New York, following every twisting thread of Chloe's life, trying to find out who her sister really was.  She encounters paranoid conspiracy fanatics, possible Middle Eastern intrigue, supporters of paramilitary organizations, prostitutes and a possible love interest in Chloe's old roommate Romey, an exotic dancer.  Each bit of information Sam discovers leads her to a new mystery and a new city.  In the process she tries to free herself of the domination that Chloe's personality always had over her.  At the end, that might be more important than finding out the truth about how Chloe died.

This book has been nominated for the McAuslan First Book Prize in Canada where it was published and has received good reviews from publications there, which is perplexing.  Perhaps this is one of those books that appeals to certain cultures though it's hard to believe that Canadian and American tastes are that different.  This reviewer found the plot confusing in that it doesn't resolve anything.  First, it appears to be a murder mystery; then it seems to be about political intrigue and conspiracies.  In the end, it's not clear what it is about.  The story moves from scene to scene with bizarre characters who take the score for paranoia right off of the scale.  None of the pieces seem to fit together except that Chloe walked through them and there is no resolution at the end.  Parts of the story seem to contradict each other.  Ultimately the inclusion of all of the side stories about conspiracies and having Sam run all over the place don't make sense if the ending doesn't make them significant.  And, if these people were as paranoid as they are described, why would they so willingly share things with Sam?  If Chloe killed herself, then what was the point in anyone sending Sam the postcard?  The failure to tie up loose ends leaves a very unsatisfying feeling. 

It might be easier to ignore the confusion in the plot if the characters were more appealing.  Sam never reaches out and touches the reader so that you care about what she is trying to do.  It's not until page 208 that an insight is given into the fact that Sam is trying to escape her sister's influence and from where the book gets its title, but the rest of the story that follows muddies everything up again.  Sam's relationship with Romey has no depth and, though Sam claims to madly love her, it's apparently not enough to keep her away from other women.  The one really interesting character, named Amanda, is the one that is most incomplete.  She's intriguing because of her behavior and all of the suggestions made about what she "might" be, but it would have been nice to have one of them resolved.

The Skin Beneath is a perplexing book.  Some people will probably find it enjoyable.  This reviewer didn't.

The Qualilty of Blue by Valarie Watersun

Publisher:                 Publish America

Jewelry designer River Tyler believes she has started a new life when she moves from a small community in Virginia to live in the Florida Keys.  Her parents, who she describes as aging hippies, have been supportive, but also smothering.  River hopes that by becoming the manager of Designs by Deidre, where she will design individual pieces of jewelry, she will have a chance to experience a few things in life.  What she doesn't count on is meeting Larken Moore, the charismatic woman who buys gems and stones for the company.  Larken seems to like and get along with everyone, except River.  Larken believes that River has her job because of her ties to Simon Minorca.  Minorca is a financial backer of the store and is reputed to have ties to organized crime and Larken assumes that River is his latest mistress.  Despite that, she can't help but feel drawn to the innocence that she feels coming from River.  As the two women are attracted more to each other and begin to fall in love, they know they will have to deal with Simon, but neither can imagine what he is willing to go do to get what he wants.  Eventually there is a confrontation which threatens all of their lives.

There is a good framework to this story, but it needed more definition.  Everything passes too quickly without any development.  There are a number of areas where the story should have been expanded.  The relationship between River and Simon before she arrives in Florida is unclear; therefore, the incidents that occur between them seem rushed and incomplete.  Larken mentions the difficult conditions she has to endure to obtain the gems for the store and a further description of what she goes through would have expanded the story in an interesting manner.  It would have been particularly informative to read about her efforts in troubled nations to obtain what are called "blood gems," those produced by slave labor in order to finance wars.  And the final scenes between River, Simon and his rather bizarre mother just don't seem realistic.  This book reads like a first draft of a story that an author typically goes back over and fleshes out with more detail.  Only the details aren't there, so the book is very superficial.

This isn't a bad book.  It's just a very ordinary story.  Be prepared though to wish that there had been more to it.  This seems to be a book that you can read, enjoy for what is there and then forget about.  

The Illusionist by Fran Heckrotte

Publisher:              L-Book

The Illusionist is a good example of a book where everything happens too quickly.  There is the good basis for a story, but there are a lot of holes that needed to be filled in to help the reader understand what exactly is going on.  Heckrotte plans a sequel and may have wanted to hold back some secrets for that book.  The problem is there are questions that should have been answered in this book to increase the reader's comprehension of the story.

Yemaya Lysanne is The Illusionist.  She performs around the world astonishing people with what she is able to do.  What her audience doesn't know is that she is exerting power and control over them that they don't realize.  Dakota Deveraus is an investigative journalist who is trying to uncover Yemaya's secrets.  She thinks she's been hired to do an expose on people who perform stunts and doesn't realize that she is actually the tool of a powerful CEO who wants to control Yemaya's power.  The two women are quickly drawn to each other, so there is no hesitation when Yemaya invites Dakota to accompany her back to her homeland Moldova.  This is an actual country that lies between the Ukraine and Romania, generally in that area more famously known as Transylvania.  When Dakota arrives, she discovers a county true to the stereotypes – thick fogs, mysterious houses, and villagers totally loyal to Yemaya and her brother Raidon, who are treated like the ruling royalty.  There are also wolves that have a connection to Yemaya and serve as her protectors and assistants.   

Agents working for the CEO have followed the women home and there is a madman stalking the village, not to mention various spirits and old gods who come to play a part in the story.  Amidst all of this, plus death threats and attempted kidnappings, the two women find themselves falling in love and discovering that they are soul mates.  The question is if they can survive all of the forces attacking them to establish a life together.

Yemaya and her brother are definitely not human (they say so themselves) and she can communicate directly with the wolves, but it's not clear exactly what they are.  The villagers seem typical of what appears in the Frankenstein and Dracula stories, but they see the Lysanne's as protectors against the monsters, not as the monsters themselves.  The book has a dark and mysterious tone, so you certainly expect something to leap out at you.  The spirit of Dakota's ancestor, who was a pioneer woman on the Great Plains, makes frequent appearances and provides some comic relief, but the "dialect" she speaks is nothing but irritating.  Finally, there is the relationship between the women.  They have hardly met when they realize they are totally in love and absolutely devoted to each other.  There is very little development in the relationship.

The Illusionist isn't a bad book.  There is a story to be read in it, but it needed a little more work to be complete.  Another 15-20 pages would have helped the flow of the story.  There is adventure, suspense and romance.  When you finish the book though, you'll feel like you still don't know the whole story.

Southern Heart by Katie P. Moore

Publisher:               Intaglio Publications

Kari Bossier hasn't been home to Louisiana in over three years and she isn't thrilled to be headed that way at the opening of the book.  She has been summoned to the family estate by her mother to participate in the annual garden party, an event steeped in old Southern traditions, none of which appeal to Kari.  She is happy living in Seattle, far from her mother and sister, especially her mother.  The two of them seem to have nothing in common and have never had anything but a difficult relationship.  Kari also has a secret because she has discovered she is a lesbian.  She hasn't done anything about that yet, but this is an issue that she definitely doesn't want to discuss with her mother.   

The trip home is more momentous than Kari could ever imagine however.  Soon after arriving she meets Regency, the beautiful daughter of the gardener, who enjoys flirting, hot sex, and introducing Kari to a world that she had only dreamed about.  Kari also finds herself reluctantly having to entertain Lani Trusdor, the daughter of one of her mother's friends.  Lani, who is robust, sturdy (oh, heck, just say plus sized) and quiet, is nothing like Regency.  At first she appears to have no hope of attracting Kari's attention, but Kari begins to realize there is more to Lani than just appearance.  Eventually, Kari finds herself questioning which woman is really the more attractive person.  And in the process, discovers a secret about her mother that alters their entire relationship.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this book is the character of Lani.  She is not your typical central player in a lesbian novel.  She isn't tall and beautiful with startling magnetism.  Lani represents what many women are like, a little bit of a weight problem, a shy personality, not necessarily the center of attention in a crowd.  She has quite a competitor in the flashy, charismatic Regency, but you'll find yourself hoping that Lani wins the girl because she possesses the attributes that should be important. 

There is one drawback to this book.  It should have been longer.  Katie Moore could have spent more time on developing her characters and explaining their motivations.  The reader knows what Kari does, but not always why.  By the end of the book, you know who she chooses, but why Kari chooses her is harder to grasp.  This is a good book that, with some more time and development, could have been much better.

She's the One by Verda Foster and BL Miller

Publisher:                            Intaglio Publications

She's the One is the story of two police officers, Sgt. Laurel Waxman and rookie Nicole Burke, who become partners and friends, then discover that there is an attraction between them.  This isn't acceptable because Laurel is a senior officer and Nicole has a policy of not dating anyone that she works with.  Nicole made that mistake before and doesn't intend to repeat it.  The problem is that their emotions want to take them places where their heads say they shouldn't go.  To make the situation more difficult, their families are intertwined in various ways (Laurel's uncle is a mentor to Nicole's teenage brother), so they are brought together in their personal lives as well as on a professional level.  The women are caught in a situation of being drawn together while they try to push each other away. Ultimately, there seems to be only one way to solve the dilemma, but there is no guarantee that it will make either woman happy.

This is a simple story of two women discovering each other and trying to find a way to work out a relationship.  There is some character development, though not a great deal, and very little background story, just enough to explain some of Nicole's situation.  There is a little bit of action as the women go about their police work, but not enough to keep adventure lovers entertained.  There's nothing complicated about the book, just a straight forward telling of the events.   If you are a fan of Foster and Miller's previous works, Graceful Waters or Crystal's Heart, especially the former, don't expect that level of book from this one.  This one doesn't draw you into the story or involve you with the characters.  It makes a couple of hours of pleasurable reading, but it isn't one that will be considered a classic.

She Waits by Kate Sweeney

Publisher:               Intaglio Publications

Kate Sweeney introduces a new mystery series with her first book She Waits.  Her heroine Kate Ryan is a klutz.  She doesn't mean to be, but Kate can't seem to do much without having an accident of some sort.  It actually makes her rather endearing.   

Kate was once a private investigator, but, after a horrible incident that is never fully explained, she gave up that occupation to become a very successful wildlife photographer.  When the book opens, she is on her way to Galena, Ill., to spend a peaceful weekend with her sister.  While she is in the area, some friends have asked her to visit a friend of theirs who is having some problems.  Maggie Winfield has had some strange things happen to her and her friends are hoping that Kate can help her figure out what is going on.  Maggie doesn't want anyone else to help her, especially Kate after the way they meet.  Kate is driving down the road and nearly hits Maggie as she crosses the road at a high rate of speed on her horse.  For a while, things go downhill from there.  As the mystery unfolds it is clear that Maggie's rather eccentric family is hiding secrets and that these secrets are related to what is happening to Maggie.  There is a string of unusual deaths, including Maggie's parents and a long time family employee.  Maggie is quite wealthy and her death would make someone very rich.  Then there's the ex-girlfriend Allison who seems to be tied into everything.  Kate has more clues than she knows what to do with and they don't seem to fit together. 

Two of the best characters in the book are Maggie's Aunt Hannah and Kate's dog Chance.  Hannah is the walking definition of blunt, irrepressible and buttinski.  Sometimes it's difficult to tell what interests her more, solving the mystery or getting Kate and Maggie together.  Chance is a gem.  Totally dedicated to her mistress….or whoever will scratch behind her ears, and with a sharp nose that keeps turning up the clues in the case.  Add to these two Kate's sister Teri and her husband Mac and you have the supporting characters that should transfer with this series very easily.

Sweeney has written a well-structured book to introduce a new series.  She Waits contains an interesting mystery that isn't solved until the final pages.  A possible relationship between Kate and Maggie is set up for exploration at a later time and enough hints have been dropped as to what the tragedy was in Kate's life that readers will be encouraged to buy the next book.  She Waits is a very satisfactory introduction of a new character in lesbian fiction.

Relief by L.E. Butler

Publisher:               Regal Crest Enterprises

Katie Larken is escaping from her past in Boston.  After eduring a murder-suicide in the family and a stay in a mental hospital, she is a slave to the drugs that help her to cope with her life, except that she isn't coping very well.  She thinks that Venice, Italy, will give her a chance to start over and live off of her painting.  Venice in 1912 is a center of bohemian art and radical politics and, at first, Katie, is totally lost.  When she meets Rusala, a Russian ballet dancer, she is drawn into a world of artists, poets, and various ex-patriots.  The women dream of making a life from their art and escaping to where they will be comfortable to be together without anyone telling what to do.  Katie paints, Rusala dances and they plan while being surrounded by a unique group of friends.  Katie still has serious lessons to learn about the undependable characters of friends and the betrayal of love.  Everything revolves around a secret Rusula is keeping that can destroy all that they hope for.

Relief is a different type of book.  The setting of the book is very lush and the life of turn of the century Venice provides a unique atmosphere; however, the characters are difficult to relate to and are more interesting than likeable.  It's never quite certain if Katie is going to go off the deep end and lose it completely to insanity.  Her nervousness translates into the book and gives it an edge.  Rusula is a shadowy figure, not quite honest and not quite a charlatan, or so the reader will want to believe.  The relationship between the women doesn't seem to click or generate any real emotion and their friends are as shallow as they are portrayed. The description on the back of the book promises an erotic love story and a mystery.  Some readers will say that is misleading.  The love story is understated to almost not existing and the ending isn't so much a mystery as a surprise that probably should have been expected.  Readers who have been asking for books that depart from the typical formula should find this one fits the bill.  This story doesn't promise happily ever after or that love is eternal.  It also shows that lesbians can be as deceptive and manipulative in a relationship as heterosexuals.  That alone makes this a different story.

It's difficult to know if a reader is going to like this book or not.  One of the perplexing details is where the name Relief fits into the story.  It's not clear that anyone feels relieved over anything at the end.  The reader is most likely to finish this book with a "Huh!" rather than a feeling of completion.  If the reader is looking for a tale that is about a place and time and the peculiar people who inhabited it, then this book is worth trying.  If it's a standard romance that is sought, keep looking.

Reality Bytes by Jane Frances

Publisher:            Bella Books

Reality Bytes is the sequel to Frances' earlier novel Reunion.  It continues the story of partners Cathy and Lisa and their friends Emma and Toni, with the emphasis this time being on Emma and Toni.

Reality Bytes is set one year after the end of the previous novel, one year after Cathy and Lisa were reunited and one year since Toni lost Cathy to Lisa.   Cathy and Lisa go off for a month long vacation in Italy to celebrate their anniversary and Toni is left to run the accounting firm.  Unfortunately, Toni comes down with a serious case of chicken pox and is confined to her house for most of that time.  Meanwhile, Emma is trying to recover from the hurt of her unrequited love for her straight neighbor who has decided to get married and wants Emma in the wedding.  Emma also finds herself job hunting after she is forced out of the veterinary practice she had been a member of for years.  Both Toni and Emma turn to the Internet and chat rooms to fill their time and establish new friendships.  A surprising twist will bring them a greater chance at happiness than either of them anticipated.  They could be solving their problems while Cathy and Lisa have discovered one.  Cathy wants to start a family, an idea that Lisa had never considered or desired.  Could their trip to Italy be the end of the relationship instead of a celebration of the beginning?  Friends, problems and how they deal with them is the theme of Reality Bytes.

Frances writes a very routine story. It follows the traditional pattern of women meeting, developing an attachment and working out if a relationship is possible.  There's nothing wrong with the story, there just isn't anything to make it stand out either.  There's no suspense, no adventure, nothing new.  The characters are presented with just enough details to tell the story, but there's no great development of their personalities either.  Unlike some books, you won't feel a connection to the women or what is happening to them.  The few questions that are presented in the book are solved rather quickly and predictably.  

If you're looking for something to read to just pass the time or for pure enjoyment without any effort, this book should satisfy those requirements.  If you're looking for something refreshing and different, keep looking. 

Private Dancer by T.J. Vertigo

Publisher:                  Intaglio Publications

Private Dancer is the story of Reece Corbett, who runs a gentleman's club (read strip joint), Cori, one of the dancers and Faith Ashford, a wealthy woman whose family disinherited her when she decided to become an actress in New York City.  Reece has led a hard life and seen her share of trouble.  If she had not been taken in by the man who once owned the club and used her as his enforcer before his death, she probably would  have spent the rest of her life locked up in a prison somewhere.  Except for Cori, who has managed to penetrate her protective shell, no one means anything in her life until she meets Faith.  Faith may be the person Reese has been looking for to complete her life, if she can find the ability to trust her.

Private Dancer is a disappointing book for more than one reason.  The plot is exceptionally thin and reminiscent of Therese Syzmanski's Brett Higgins series, except this story isn't told as well.  There is absolutely no depth to these characters and their relationships with each other are, at times, extremely confusing.  Reece is not a character to be admired.  She thinks nothing of using women and discarding them like used tissues and, if you believe the story, all of the women she encounters can't wait to experience this miserable treatment.  She's supposed to be a hard as nails, street-wise dyke who takes one look at Faith and becomes totally unhinged with love.   

The interaction between Reece and Cori is often confusing and makes no sense.  Cori is supposed to be a poorly educated waif whose only talent is taking her clothes off.  Apparently she has a bizarre ability though to be able to understand the motivation behind any behavior Reece exhibits.  For example, Reece will do something extreme like smashing a glass and then Cori has a revelation that this is caused by some trauma from her childhood and reflects Reece's need for love and acceptance from a special woman.  What is never explained is how Cori comes to her startling interpretations of what Reece really means.  What is the basis for this understanding?  

 The character of Faith is the most perplexing.  She starts out as a naive rich girl who is abandoned by her family because she wants to be an actress, a story line that is never developed, is living in a terrible part of New York City without any adjustment problems and goes from knowing nothing about sex to performing some acts that might make a stronger woman blush.  And none of these women have a problem with performing sex acts in front of each other or other people.  In fact, they seem to enjoy it.  Unfortunately, the "good" parts of the book aren't enjoyable because the reader should be wondering what is wrong with these women.

A suspicion is reasonable that Private Dancer exists for the purpose of tying sex scenes together.  The author biography says that T. J. Vertigo has a web site where this story was originally posted.  As a story that is free and available on the web, it's perfectly fine.  As a book that was bought, it's not.  If you want to read the story, find the web site, save yourself some money.

Once by L.T Smith

Publisher:              P.D. Publishing

Relationships can be very damaging.  If your partner tells you you're unattractive and leaves you for someone else, it tends to make you believe her words.   

Beth Chambers knows exactly how that feels, only her experience was worse because she found her lover having sex with another woman as if to emphasize the point.  Beth isn't sure she'll ever trust another woman, but that's OK because she has Dudley.  Beth may have no self confidence, but she knows Dudley loves her unconditionally.  After all, that's what dogs do.  Which is why, when Dudley gets away from her one day during his walk and Beth is sure he's chased his ball right into the river, she doesn't hesitate to plunge into the icy water fully clothed to save her friend.  That's where Amy Fletcher finds her.  Standing in the middle of the river, soaked to the skin, crying desperately as if her world has come to an end.  Amy has only gone there because the handsome little dog with the ball in his mouth that ran into the café where she was having coffee was insistent that she follow him.   

In Beth's eyes, Amy has it all, beauty, personality, a good job, she's everything that Beth isn't.  They might be friends, but nothing else could ever come from them spending time together.  Even when the friendship begins to show signs of something else, Beth can't believe that she's worthy of someone like Amy or ready to trust herself in another relationship.  What she doesn't know is that Amy has been hurt also and needs Beth just as much.  It begins to look doubtful that the women will realize what is happening between them, but never underestimate the power of Dudley.

Once is a nice story about two women trying to learn how to trust again.  It has a lot of natural humor in it, which makes its biggest weakness stand out even more.  At times Smith tries to push the humor too much, Beth comes off as being almost too "cute" to the point of irritating.  Smith needs to let her characters tell their stories and go with the natural flow of the tale without forcing it.  When she does that, she's quite successful.  Developing Amy's background more would have given her character more depth, but the book is definitely supposed to be predominantly about Beth.   

This is a story many women will be able to relate to.  They have been hurt by the actions of someone they thought they were close to and looked for some fault in themselves to blame.  Beth and Amy are sympathetic characters and their struggle to believe in each other has a ring of reality to it.  They almost lose everything because they are afraid to say what they feel and take a risk, which is a situation many have experienced.

Once isn't a romance loaded with sex scenes, but it can be an enjoyable afternoon or evening spent watching these women work out their feelings.  And then there's Dudley the scene stealer.  Two lesbians and a cute dog.  It's pretty difficult to go wrong with that.

Love is Love by Donna Barnes

Publisher:                   Alpha World Press

This book is so poorly written that there is no point in wasting time summarizing it.  The story itself isn't bad, although it's been told many times before in lesbian literature. A writer falls in love with a movie star she has a crush on and the movie star is afraid to admit her feelings because it might ruin her career.  

The problem is that the reader can't get through a page without finding a mistake - words left out, words spelled incorrectly, wrong verb forms, wrong forms of words like they're/their, your/you're, double words like "She they decided...." It's not a matter of three or four errors in a whole book, which can be excused, but every page. And the dialogue is terrible. If the reader had to listen to two people actually talk this way, the reaction might be to either wonder what planet they dropped from or to want to get away from them. When the couple finally makes love they refer to body parts by their scientific names.  It was like listening to a lecture on the female anatomy.  

This is one of those books that it's just painful to read because of the mistakes. Save your money and invest in some of the other, much better written, books out there that tell the same story.  Read this at your own peril.


Heart Trouble by Jane Vollbrecht

Publisher:             Regal Crest Enterprises

Heart Trouble presents a reader with an interesting dilemma.  The story is well told and follows the usual formula for romances, but the personalities and behaviors of both of the lead characters make them unappealing.  The two women are unlikable for different reasons, but at times it makes it difficult to focus on the story.

Jackie Frackman is a management consultant who travels the country giving seminars and training sessions to employees of other companies.  Her company pays her to fly in, present workshops for most of a week and then she moves on to the next town.  That suits her fine since both her family and her love life don’t give her much reason to stay at home.  At one of the seminars Jackie meets Beth Novotny. Jackie’s attraction to Beth is overpowering, but she finds Beth confusing.  Beth seems to welcome her attention, but is obviously hiding something from Jackie.  Undaunted however, Jackie arranges to meet Beth when she is in her area for another seminar.  Jackie plans a week of romantic encounters only to discover why Beth is being mysterious.  Beth is living with a woman she has been in a relationship with for a few years and the woman is abusive.  Beth assures Jackie that, once she’s found a way out of the relationship, they can be together forever, but Beth is closeted, secretive and doesn’t mind telling lies to everyone, including Jackie.  Beth keeps insisting that, though she is trying, it will take time to end this relationship and Jackie just has to keep hanging on and putting her life on hold until Beth can do that.  And Jackie has to make sure that she doesn’t become a victim of the jealous girlfriend who is hot on her trail.

In trying to decide how to describe these characters a scene from “Moonstruck” came to mind.  It’s the one where Cher, after hearing Nicholas Cage profess his love for her, slaps him across the face and yells, “Snap out of it!”  That’s exactly what Jackie and Beth needed in this book.  They see each other across a crowded room and are immediately, passionately in love, though they barely exchange words.  Jackie is constantly realizing that she’s being made a fool of and in the next breath can’t wait to get her hands on Beth.  For a character that can make so much sense one minute, it’s frustrating that she then turns around and acts like such a goof.  The really unappealing character is Beth.  The way she meets her partner is creepy, then she cheats on the partner, has all kinds of hang ups and isn’t honorable in the way she treats Jackie, though that’s hardly surprising based on her other behavior.  It makes it almost impossible to enjoy the story when the questions that keep coming up are, “What in the world is wrong with these two?” and “When is Jackie finally going to get some sense about this woman?”  Let’s repeat that, technically, the book is well written and the story does eventually resolve itself.  And there are other characters in the book that come off better.   

Perhaps it’s a true measure of the author’s ability that the story does keep the reader reading even if the main characters aren’t very sympathetic.  What exactly it is that keeps a person reading is perplexing however.  Hopefully, it isn’t because the reader sees any of herself in either Jackie or Beth.

Contents Under Pressure by Allison Nichol

Publisher:                          Intaglio Publications

Attorney Drew Morgan and her partner Stephen are working in a task force in Washington, DC, about bank robberies when they’re called to Provincetown to investigate another one.  Things are peculiar from the beginning when they find a dead female robber and a dead dog in the bank.  As the investigation progresses, they conclude that this robbery isn’t one of theirs, but by that time they’re caught up in another situation involving a murder and possible drug connections.  

Drew is also involved in personal trouble.  Six months before her lover Maggie deserted her without a word after ten years together.  Drew discovers that, while she’s been waiting for Maggie to return and continue their life together, Maggie has been living in Provincetown as a successful photographer and has no plans to go back to Drew.  Drew’s investigations bring her together with the beautiful Dr. J. J. Austin and there is an attraction, but Drew doesn’t know what to do about it.  She still feels like she would be cheating on Maggie.  Drew throws herself into solving the murder case because she can’t solve the turmoil in her life.

Contents Under Pressure could have been an interesting mystery combined with a romance.  Drew’s story about her relationship with Maggie has enough aspects to be explored that it could have been a good story.  The murder mystery does add some suspense, but basically the book fails to deliver on what it could have been.  The whole story turns out to be implausible and lacks focus.  The original crime is all over the place, first a bank robbery, then a disguised mob hit or maybe about drugs.  The curious part is why the government would send lawyers to investigate a crime.  It would seem more logical to send the FBI or some other law enforcement officials.  The dialogue is simplistic and not engaging.  The failed romance between Drew and Maggie and Drew’s dalliances with J.J. are handled better, but there are big holes that need filling in.  The biggest drawback is that the characters don’t click with the reader.  They aren’t very appealing and you don’t really care about what they’re doing. 

Contents Under Pressure is an irritating book.  There are glimmers of what the book might  have done and the reader will keep hoping the story will develop, but it's going to be a disappointment.  

Chance by Grace Lennox (Jennifer Fulton)

Publisher:         Bold Strokes Books

Should a writer only write about things that she knows or has experienced?  That is a question that is frequently discussed, with varying opinions.  The answer is not necessarily, but, if a writer is going to venture into an area that is unknown, the reader might have to expect a book that is thin in some places.  Such is the case with Chance by Grace Lennox.  What is confusing is to read other reviews and wonder if the reviewers are really discussing this book or if they are writing about the author because they know that Lennox is really an alter ego for Jennifer Fulton.  Even the synopsis on the Bold Strokes Books web site doesn't really indicate the direction that this book takes.  The blurb on the back of the book does get closer to the story.

Chantelle (Chance) Delaney is a young lady with issues in her life.  Her job in a lesbian bookstore is a dead end, her romantic life is dormant and she's the adopted daughter of hippies who have doted on her, but she has questions about her birth mother.  Her life doesn't seem to be heading anywhere and she needs to change that.  Everything seems to spring into Chance's life as a surprise.  She leaves the bookstore to go into dog grooming, for which she has no training, but no one seems to mind.  Through that she stumbles into a job in the all woman rock band Virgin Blessing where she becomes the lead singer despite the fact that she really can't sing.  And, of course, they end up with a No. 1 song thanks to a woman Chance met in another very strange situation.  She agreed to help a gay friend fool his family into thinking that they were getting married, only to have the friend and his cousin use her for a different agenda.  Chance has a night of exhilarating sex with the cousin Layla, convinced that she has found The One, only to be betrayed the next morning and dumped by Layla, who later turns out to be a major song writer.  If there aren't enough threads in this to perplex you yet, Chance then plunges into the world of a rock star with access to easy women, easy drugs and a startling romance at the end.  And the discovery of Chance's natural mother and the situation involving her birth tops everything off.

Chance is not a badly written book.  Jennifer Fulton doesn't write badly.  There do seem to be gaps in the story though.  It's as if there was a framework and the story needed to be gone through one more time and more details added, with story lines tied together better.  The story is a readable one, but not one that draws you back to the book with an intense interest to find out what is going to happen next.  Whether or not this is because Lennox (Fulton) wrote about a lifestyle and industry she is not very familiar with would make an interesting conversation.

Colder Than Ice by Helen Macpherson

Publisher:           Regal Crest Enterprises

Dr. Allison Shaunessy, an archaeologist from Australia, wants to launch an expedition into Antarctica to find the possible remains of the Finlayson Expedition. She is trying to prove that Finlayson was actually the first explorer to reach that continent, but she's having trouble raising the money to cover the costs. Enter Dr. Michela DeGrasse, a psychologist with the International Space Research Institute, who is working on psychological studies for the first Mars mission and would like to go on the expedition to study how the team interacts under adverse circumstances. Michela manages to find the descendent of Finlayson, who is willing to fund the project, with the stipulation that Michela must be the expedition leader. Allison has the permits and transportation to get a team to the exploration site, but, as someone who needs to be in control of things around her, can she accept being second in command of an expedition that could establish her academic career?  Her team also presents some challenges in that it contains her fiancée, who feels he should be leading the expedition, and the daughter of the department chairman at her university who has an agenda all her own.  The story unfolds as these two strong-willed women get to know each other and try to find a way to work together, while struggling with a physical attraction that surprises both of them. They do find Finlayson and a surprise they hadn't counted on. And they discover something about themselves, too.

This is Helen MacPherson's second novel and, like And Those Who Trespass Against Us, it features interesting characters and an engaging story.  It is an adventure story first, with a struggling romance as the second theme.  MacPherson has obviously done meticulous research about life in Antarctica and how an expedition like this would function.  The characters find themselves interacting with nature as much as each other.  The descriptions of the terrain provide a magnificent and dangerous setting for the story.  This is a satisfying book all around and a good read.

As Far As Far Enough by Claire Rooney

Publisher:              Bella Books

Collier Ann Torrington is a fugitive from her own family.  She ran away on her wedding day when her father, a powerful US senator, tried to force her to marry a man who would further her father's career.  She doesn't have a plan except to keep running so that Senator Torrington can't use his extensive resources to find her.  An accident that damages her motorcycle strands her in the Blue Ridge Mountains however and she finds herself hiding on a farm owned by Meri Margaret Donovan.  Meri has suffered her own trauma and prefers the life of a semi-recluse, shying away from interacting with the world.  These two would seem made for each other, but there's still the problem of Collier's father and the ruthless way he may deal with both of them.  With the help of Meri's old boyfriend, they come up with a unique plan that leads to a confrontation with Collier's parents, the shattering of her family and a dramatic change in the senator's fortunes.  Maybe a quiet life on the farm will be possible after all.

As Far As Far Enough is pedantic reading that can provide a couple of hours of diversion.  The basis of a good story is there, but the characters are sometimes superficial and underdeveloped.  At times the reader doesn't care what happens to them because there is little to no engagement.  The solution the women come up with to free them from the senator's control is ridiculous at best and disturbing for its callousness.  Without giving away a plot point, suffice it to say that what they do is done for all of the wrong reasons.  The different elements of the story don't blend, but come in fits and starts and sometimes don't ring true.  When Senator Torrington finally makes his appearance, he comes off more as a Mafia don than a skilled politician.  The collapse of the Torrington family is awkward and Meri's behavior often borders on neurotic.   
The story does have redeeming points however.  The plot line, though not fully developed, has some directions that aren't predictable and therefore keep it interesting.  The supporting characters are indeed "characters."  Aunt Beatrice strikes a nice balance between being shocked and then supportive when she discovers the women's relationship and there is a horse that provides some humorous incidents.  The people in the town are perhaps a little too "rustic," but that doesn't mean they aren't accurate to some places.

As Far As Far Enough shows that Claire Rooney has the basics of storytelling and it will be interesting to see how she develops her skill in later books.  The book is a short, quick read and fine for a few hours of entertainment.  That's probably what most readers are looking for in the first place.

All the Bold Days of My Restless Life by Sharon Stone

Publisher:                  Alyson Books

Zany was a term that was sometimes applied to the screwball comedies made for television and the movies in the 1950s and 1960s.  It meant something that had little redeeming quality except that it was hilariously funny.  If there was ever a book that fit the definition of zany, this one is it.  Very few things make me laugh out loud, but I found myself roaring at many of the incidents described and the closing scenes had me literally howling.

Bailey Conners is the head writer for a soap opera called All the Bold Days of My Restless Life.  She presides over a writing staff made up of people who are only slightly less nutty than the actors she has to deal with.  There is Peter, her assistant, who is determined to help Bailey meet Ms Right after her girlfriend dumps her.  He manages to arrange three blind dates from hell.  The first is with a woman who has a midnight online sex show and likes to use her dates as her "special guests." The second regales Bailey with intimate details about why she has six children and how that has convinced her to start dating women. Then the last is a cop who gets drunk and starts shooting rats as they walk down the street, causing an encounter with some of New York City's finest.  Encouraging Peter is his partner Alec who absolutely refuses to wear his glasses so he is constantly mangling everything he reads.  For example, he berates Bailey and Peter for the poor offerings on TV, until Peter points out that what he has read in the TV Guide as "Ten With Macaroni" should have been "Tea With Mussolini."  When Bailey isn't trying to avoid more of Peter's dates, she's dealing with a goofy bunch of writers, the idiot daughter of the boss who has been added to her staff, and a truly weird assortment of network executives and directors.

Then there is the show itself.  Every horrible cliché that can be written about a soap opera applies to this one.  What can you say about a show that has a main character named Aruba, her mother is Myrtle Beach and her stepsister is Bermuda Schwartz?  And then there is the fact that the two major stars of the show spend all of their time trying to do each other in professionally.  Derek Young is the vain aging leading man who has built his entire career around this show and he is determined to have the female star fired.  Morgan Gable, who plays Binaca, is a hold over from the glory days of Hollywood.  She's not only smarter than Derek, but more attractive to both sexes.  These two haven't had a line written for them that they can't twist while on air, giving their ad libs wholly different meanings than what Bailey's writers intended and driving the censors crazy.  The final scenes of the book deal with a special "live" performance that will leave you weeping with laughter.

This is a tremendous spoof of soap operas, much like the movie Soap Dish, but better.  If you have read Sharon Stone's other book, Love Letters in the Sand, you will not be prepared for this book.  They are so different it's difficult to believe that the same person wrote them.  If you don't  like satire and take your soaps seriously, this is not the book for you.  However, if you enjoy a book that reads quickly and makes you giggle, check this one out.

A Matter of Degrees by Alex Marcoux

Publisher:             Harrington Park Press

How many conspiracy theories can one story accommodate?  After reading Alex Marcoux's work, A Matter of Degrees, it would seem that answering that question was one of her major objectives in writing the book.

A Matter of Degrees brings back Marcoux's heroine Jessie Mercer, a novelist who has the gift of precognition.  Jessie often finds that she writes a story and then it comes true, with her in a starring role.  This time, Jessie's brother Steve, a news reporter, is working with a colleague on a story about the Freemasons and their connections to other secret societies supposedly cooperating for world domination when he suddenly dies.  The police believe it is suicide, but Jessie isn't sure about that, especially when incidents from her brother's life begin to mimic what is in her most recent story.  She decides to assume a disguise as a man and find out what happened to her brother by becoming a Thirty-third Degree Mason.  Television newswoman Rachel Addison, one of Steve's friends, assists Jessie in her quest.  As the story unfolds, Jessie finds herself dealing with the Freemasons, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, the Roman Catholic Church, a story similar to the premise of The DaVinci Code, and flashbacks to a previous life in ancient Egypt.   Even the Secret Service is portrayed as a surreptitious hit squad used to enforce the leader's wishes.  She has to contend with all of this while she disappears from her own life for almost a year and keeps her lover songstress Taylor Andrews, who is on a world tour, from finding out what she is doing.  The ending of the story culminates with a totally different conspiracy and puts Jessie in danger of losing her life.

Marcoux's first two books, Facades and Back to Salem, were extremely enjoyable and dabbled in the supernatural in a believable manner.  A Matter of Degrees however stretches creditability well beyond the breaking point.  The book has a slow start, perhaps because Marcoux lays a foundation based on the idea that all of the conspiracy theories in world history, including various assassinations, are not only true, but connected in a confusing pattern created by the people who really control the world.  One conspiracy might seem logical; maybe two if the reader chooses to believe the current theory that says secret societies are linked in the New World Order.  After a while though there are so many theories and suspicious circumstances that occur with no one being the wiser that it becomes impossible to accept the premise of the book.  The end of the book is somewhat flat and predictable.  A character that has been omniscient for thousands of years doesn't have the ability to see what is going to happen next. 
Marcoux says on her web page, "As you will soon see, my stories are a bit more complex than my earlier work".   A Matter of Degrees is proof that more complex does not mean the story is better.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Worth Every Step by KG MacGregor

Publisher:              Bella Books

KG MacGregor uses the beauty of Africa and the majestic setting of Mt. Kilimanjaro as the setting of this novel about doing something daring in your life.

Mary Kate Sasser feels a need to do something spectacular in her life.  Life in a small Southern town is stifling her and she craves adventure.  She can't explain to her fiancé and family so that they'll understand why she needs to go to Kenya and climb Kilimanjaro, but go she must.  Addison Falk is headed to the same location for a similar reason.  She has just finished her MBA degree and her father expects her to come to London and take her place in the family firm.  Addison isn't sure what she wants to do with her life, but she knows working for her father isn't it.  She decides that climbing Kilimanjaro will give her a chance to do something exciting and some thinking.  When the women are paired together as climbing buddies, they form a pact to help each other reach the summit.  That act comes to be symbolic not only of them achieving their quest, but finding themselves and each other.

There are three major characters in this story, the two women and the mountain.  As with all of MacGregor's books, the characters are well written and the story is solid.  It is the mountain that sets the tone though.  No matter what happens to Mary Kate and Addison the mountain is there hovering over them.  Massive and dangerous it represents the challenges they face and the decisions they have to make.  There is plenty of humor and sexual tension, but always there is the adventure and the need it represents in both of them to change their lives.  MacGregor has put her personal knowledge of that environment to good use in this book.

Anyone looking for a book to provide some hours of enjoyable reading should give Worth Every Step a chance.  Adventure, suspense, romance, sex, it has a little for everyone. 

Witch Wolf by Winter Pennington

Publisher:              Bold Strokes Books

Kassandra Lyall is a witch by birth, a werewolf by circumstance and a licensed Preternatural Private Investigator and Paranormal Huntress by choice.  She lives in a world where vampires are an accepted part of society and werewolves aren't. That is why Kass prefers to work alone, but she's often called in by the police to help with cases.   

When mutilated bodies show up, Kass finds herself working on two cases that could endanger her own existence.  It's obvious that there is a rogue werewolf involved in the murders and another werewolf asks her to help find her missing brother.  The cases bring Kass into contact with a world she has tried to avoid and a woman she finds frightening and irresistible, Lenorre Countess Vampire of Oklahoma.  Kass feels the cocoon of safety she's built around herself being ripped apart.  She has to find a way to make her changing paranormal situation, the murder investigation and her complicated relationship with Lenorre come into sync and maintain her identity. 

Winter Pennington fell into a twist on the proverbial stew of biting off more than she should have chewed in Witch Wolf.  It's a first book in a series she intends to write about these characters and she spends more time introducing them and how they fit into the picture than she does in telling a story.  She either should have written more or tried to cover less territory; then what is a passable story would have become a better book.  

The publisher brands this as a romance which only works if that's interpreted in the classic definition of the word.  There's very little development of a love story, which is what most readers will expect from the label.  The mystery that is supposed to tie the characters together never really has much suspense about it and the answer to what is happening is apparent fairly quickly.   

Pennington is trying to create a complex world with complicated characters, but it would have worked better if she had let the different aspects she wants to cover show up gradually in each book instead of trying to pour it all into one.  She makes a reference to something significant that happens to Kass then never mentions it again in the book.  Since the title of her next book has already been announced, it's clear that this situation will be important then, but it has no relevance to this book.

What is interesting about the book is the characters and the potential they show for the future.  Kassandra Lyall is a complicated personality and has a lot more to reveal about the different aspects of her life.  The world of vampires as represented by Lenorre isn't typical and could be an interesting story line by itself. There is a scene about what happens to a vampire at the end of a night that describes a process not usually discussed.  The strength of the series will depend on how Pennington develops the story lines from now on.   

Although the story in Witch Wolf is thin, it will provide a strong platform to launch the rest of the series.  All the characters need are story lines that develop as they do.

Who'll Be Dead For Christmas by Kate Sweeney

Publisher:                     Intaglio Publications

Kate Ryan strikes, um, bumbles, um, stumbles, oh heck, Kate is having her usual run of luck. She thought she made a really good deal when she bought a renovated brownstone in her old neighborhood in Chicago, then she learns it was such a steal because the previous tenant was murdered there. Poor Kate. All she wanted was a nice place to bring her lover Dr. Maggie Winfield, but strange things begin to happen almost immediately and she’s sucked into a mystery against her will. 

Kate discovers a journal hidden in the floor and a CD in a secret compartment in the fireplace that seem to indicate the former tenant was involved in some kind of medical experimentation that was connected to the government; then someone breaks in and tries to bash out her brains with one of her own dining room chairs. She  hears footsteps in her apartment; someone drugs her and there are two attempts on Maggie’s life. All of this concerns Kate, but none of it scares her as much as trying to find the courage to say “I love you” to Maggie. If she doesn’t find out quickly what is going on and why people seem to be spying on not only her but Maggie and her new friends who are the other tenants in the building, she may never get a chance to say those words.

Kate Sweeney has provided another opportunity to spend some time with her accident-prone detective Kate Ryan. This time she is surrounded by a new cast of characters. There is the aging hippie couple, Summer and Todd Lockwood, who own a natural food store and see conspiracies behind everything. Ironically, this time they prove to be correct. Living across the hall are Jerry O’Neill, who owns a research company, and his partner Matt Johnson, a restaurant owner.  Matt insists on speaking to Kate as if he were in the Medieval Age and likes to compare Kate and Maggie to Tracy and Hepburn. They provide a nice complement to Kate’s confusion.

As usual, Kate tries to solve the mystery without anyone else getting hurt and they all end up in the soup. This plot is more complex than the previous Kate Ryan mysteries and it’s not clear at the end exactly who the “bad” guy is. In fact, there seem to be several different ones. The resolution of the case gets bogged down in the cross purposes of certain government agencies and private interests and following who did what gets a little muddled, but, as usual, it’s fun getting there with Kate.  

Who’ll Be Dead For Christmas should provide some reading fun for a few hours.