Monday, December 31, 2012

Clandestine by Cheyne Curry

Publisher:      Blue Feather Books

Tia Ramone and Jody Montgomery come from different worlds.  Tia is a former CIA operative whose career was ruined when she was accused of botching an assignment.  Jody comes from a prestigious and wealthy family, though she prefers charity work and aiding homeless animals to the society functions her mother would like her to attend.  Those worlds collide when Tia is blackmailed into kidnapping Jody.  Tia realizes that her drinking problems have gotten her into this situation, but she can’t understand why anyone would want to do something like this to Jody.  Anthony, Jody’s husband, appears to be a successful businessman, but appearances can be deceiving.  As Tia comes to know her hostage better she develops feelings for her and wants to help Jody.  She just needs to find a way to get both women out of the situation alive.  Anthony has some definite ideas about thwarting that.

This could be a standard romance of rich girl meets poor girl of her dreams and off they go happily ever after.  Curry is a better writer than that however.  She knows how to present her characters to create just the effect that she wants and that keeps them interesting.  Tia could easily be a character that the reader doesn’t like, but, instead she comes off as a “Sad Sack” who deserves a break.  Jody is almost too innocent in her view of the world, but when juxtaposed against her mother and her husband, she becomes a sterling example of a human being.  Curry doesn’t pull her punches either.  Jody’s mother and husband come off as being just as vicious and double-dealing at the end of the book as they appear from the first.  There is no softening of the characters to redeem them.  Curry creates a story that is a romance with a little adventure in it and some really despicable characters who are trying to thwart the lovers.  That leaves the reader cheering for her main characters.

Clandestine is an interesting book to read.  The main characters are appealing, the pacing is right and it holds the reader’s attention.  Those are all of the ingredients for an entertaining experience.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Frozen by Carla Tomaso

Publisher:              Carma Press

What is your worst nightmare?  Carla Tomaso has come up with a worse, but funnier one.

Elizabeth always had a difficult relationship with her self-centered domineering mother Helen.  Now she’s in her forties, alone, suffering from low self-esteem and, frankly, looking forward a little bit to when the old woman finally dies.  Helen is sick, crippled and possesses a sizeable fortune.  In Elizabeth’s mind, death would be a kindness to both women.  When Helen dies, Elizabeth discovers that her mother has concocted the ultimate “gotcha.”  Helen has found an experimental process that not only freezes a person to bring her back, but regresses her age to an earlier point.  If Elizabeth wants to inherit her mother’s estate, she has to agree to adopt Helen as a child and raise her.

Elizabeth believes she’s been given a second chance with her mother.  She can raise the baby properly and create a better person than Helen was in her past life.  They will have the loving relationship that they never really had before.  All will be right with the world.  Imagine her surprise when she gets to the facility and discovers that Helen has only been regressed to the age of ten, still has all of her memories and, worse, her attitudes.  What follows is a hilarious and slightly scary story of what happens to both women as the years progress.  Think of a slapstick version of The Omen.

Carla Tomaso has a different sense of humor.  It might not appeal to everyone, but that would be a shame.  She takes on some of society’s biggest taboos and twists them, including gender rivalry, infidelity, and murder.  Tomaso approaches the subjects from a decidedly altered viewpoint.  This allows the reader to consider some serious issues while laughing at the situations.  She manages to do this without changing her characters, which many authors would find the normal course.  There is no happily ever after second chance for this mother and daughter.  Elizabeth is always rather hapless in knowing what to do about her mother and Helen never becomes endearing.  Helen managed to ruin the one true relationship in Elizabeth’s life and tries to do it again.  In the end Elizabeth will come to realize what she should have done differently the first time around and that some scientific discoveries should not be explored.

Suspend your sense of propriety.  Feel free to giggle at things that you know you shouldn’t.  Frozen is an enjoyable, if sometimes guilty, pleasure.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Jacob's War by C. P. Rowlands

Publisher:      Bold Strokes Books

Anyone who suggests to C.P. Rowlands that she should write anything besides an adventure/thriller book should be taken out and punished….harshly.  Her first book Lake Effect Snow was excellent; then she wrote a romance.  Fortunately, she has returned to what she is very good at with Jacob’s War.  She needs to stay in that genre.

Allison Jacob is an ATF agent who is working on a joint task force trying to uncover a drug ring operating around Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Katie Blackburn is a business owner whose world collides with Allison’s the night she comes out to her car and finds a bloody woman in it.  The woman is one of Allison’s contacts and now Katie finds herself pulled into the investigation.  Katie has a connection to the drug ring that she won’t be aware of until the end of the book, but it leads to her cooperating with Allison to try and find the leader of the gang.  Such a close working relationship leads to a closer romantic relationship, but both women have been hurt before and are reluctant to commit.  Then there is that shadow connection of Katie’s, which could get them both killed.

Most Americans are probably not aware of the serious meth problem going on in the northern Midwest of their country.  Traveling through those states, which most people associate with the dairy industry and healthy living, can be a shock when the numerous signs and postings about the drug situation become apparent.  Rowlands, who lives in Wisconsin, obviously is very informed about the problem.  She’s done extensive research on the drug war and the police procedures involved with trying to combat it.  This gives a feeling of gritty reality to her story.

Rowlands is excellent at creating suspense in her stories and in crafting multidimensional characters.  Neither Allison nor Katie is a simpering, weak woman dependent on the other for her strength.  Most “suspense” stories seem to require that one character fill that slot.  Instead, they are both strong women, with weaknesses.  This makes them fuller and more interesting characters.  Rather than wanting to scream at the silliness so common in some female characters  in this genre, the reader becomes invested in what they are doing.  The reader gets an inkling of what is really going on before the characters do, but this adds to the suspense.  It’s similar to being in a movie theater and yelling at the character not to open that door because the viewer knows that what is behind it isn’t good.  Jacob’s War is a page turner right up to the end.

C.P. Rowlands has done a masterful job in allowing her main characters to develop their personal identities and of capturing the danger of dealing in the drug war.  The cover of the book suits the story perfectly, though the description on the back is a little sketchy.  There is a running tag line on the front cover that says “Drugs, murder, drugs, sex, drugs….”  What should have been added is “suspense, suspense, suspense.” The book is fast paced and draws the reader along.  This is easily a book that can be read in one sitting.  It wasn’t intended that way probably, but putting the book down is difficult.

Jacob’s War marks the much needed return of C.P. Rowlands to the mystery/suspense genre.  Let’s hope she doesn’t forget how to find her way there again.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Kiss Before Dawn by Laurie Salzler

Publisher:      Blue Feather Books

A Kiss Before Dawn is a romance and a story about horses, two things almost sure to appeal to many people.
Chris Martel works very hard to make her horse breeding business successful.  She devotes her time to her horses, her dogs and her eighty-one year old neighbor, Frances Cook, the only real friend Chris has.  Occasionally she visits a lesbian bar to pick up a woman, but she prefers to be alone and doesn’t make commitments.  Chris isn’t impressed the first time she meets new vet Mary Jo Cavanaugh because Mary Jo is over confident and handles a situation with a horse badly.  Things begin on a rough note, but, with Frances acting as a matchmaker, the women become friends and discover that they have a number of common interests.  A romance grows between them and when a woman from the past tries to wreck vengeance on Chris, it clarifies for the women what they mean to each other.

A Kiss Before Dawn is a standard romance.  The characters are set up, tension arises between them and then it’s resolved.  The two major characters are well defined and there is a lot of information about horses, maybe too much as the plot drags in places.  The flaw in the book is in the pacing.  It meanders along as the relationship develops and covers a lot of information that doesn’t obstruct the plot, but really isn’t necessary.  It might be argued that this is because Chris is slow to trust anyone, but the primary reason seems to be that it adds length to the story.  Then when the crisis arises it appears out of nowhere.  There’s practically no set up and it concludes quickly.  The situation doesn’t ring true and it appears to be there simply to add a stressor to the story.

Anyone looking for a decent story to read and something to pass the time will find this book suits both purposes.  It’s a good example of a first novel and shows enough promise to give the author a try when another book comes out.

Review by Lynne Pierce 


Monday, October 29, 2012

Lesbian Fiction Readers' Choice Awards closing

I received this announcement yesterday and I thought I should post it here.  Those of you who have been members of the Lesfic_Unbound Yahoo group from the beginning may remember that these awards were originally an idea that Mickey Minner and I came up with and Mickey was nice enough to agree to host on the web since I knew nothing about that sort of thing.  Actually, a lot like now with some slight improvement.  The awards  arose out of a widespread dissatisfaction that was running through many of the online groups with both the Lambda Literary Society and Golden Crown Literary Society awards.  We were hoping to give readers a chance to really express their opinions about the books.

Mickey and Jo Fothergill took it over and went in a different direction from what we originally talked about, but I remained a member and watched its activities with interest.  Although it had over 600 members, the participation in the awards was never what I had hoped it would be.  Winning an award is always nice, but I've been critical of the awards for not truly reflecting readers' opinions.  In the last selection of outstanding book covers, only 47 votes were cast for 22 nominated covers.  The highest vote getter only got 9 votes.

I would like to think that these awards failed because of some serious reform issues that have been pressed with Lambda and GCLS.  There is still some room to improve both of them, but there have definitely been steps made in the right direction by each group.  I still think there is a place for an award that reflects the average reader's choices, but people can't be forced to participate.  With the closing of the LFRCA, it's more incumbent on us than ever to make sure that the awards that are given stand for something.  I think that's something we can all work for.


The Lesbian Fiction Readers' Choice Awards were founded in order to provide a voice to lesbian fiction readers who often are left out of other award programs. We believed it to be important to give voice to this essential segment of the lesbian fiction community. However, during the past six years, while the LFRCA membership steadily increased, member participation, to nominate and vote, steadily decreased.
Consequently, we have reluctantly concluded this indicates that the LFRCA is no longer providing a relevant opportunity to the readers of lesbian fiction. Although, we continue to believe in the LFRCA and the readers of lesbian fiction, we simply can no longer justify the time required administering the LFRCA in view of this lack of member participation.
Therefore, we have, regretfully,decided to discontinue the Lesbian Fiction Readers' Choice Awards and will delete the Yahoo Group on November 5th.
Mickey Minner
Jo Fothergill

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Heart Stopper by R J Samuel

Publisher:      CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Heart Stopper is a medical mystery and suspense story.  Its topic is so realistic that it’s frightening and it makes the title especially appropriate.

Priya Joseph is a woman caught between cultures.  Although her parents came from India, she was raised in Ireland, so she identifies as Irish, but can’t escape the expectations of an Indian daughter.  She also is a gay woman living in a straight culture, a situation her parents refuse to accept.  Priya retreats into the world of cyber code where everything is supposed to be black and white, pure and logical.  Emphasis is on “supposed.”  She is a very successful programmer for a company that makes heart pacemakers when her life starts to unravel.

Priya’s nightmare begins when she wakes up in the apartment of her boss and he’s dead.  She can’t remember how she got there, so she panics and flees.  Her boss’s sister Reyna first suspects Priya of having something to do with his death and then expects her to help uncover what happened to him.  The facts slowly reveal a conspiracy with frightening possibilities and that it may all be based on research that Priya did years before.  Pacemakers are being used in a way never intended.  As Priya tries to sort out the situation, she finds herself developing an attraction to Reyna and being hunted by people who don’t want the secret of what they are doing revealed.

This book could have used a stronger editor.  There are mistakes through it and some scenes needed to be cut back.  The medical jargon and details about pacemakers will probably be skipped by most readers.  The opening scene doesn’t seem necessary or pertinent to the rest of the book, but that’s a small issue.  On the whole though, the book is well paced and the characters are complex.

At least Heart Stopper is different from many of the books that are flooding out of lesbian presses now.  The story is unique and depends on true suspense to carry the plot.  It’s not a cookie cutter version of the usual mysteries that aren’t mysteries but vehicles for a love story.  The conclusion of the book also takes a different path from the usual easy happy ever after version.  With stronger editing, R J Samuel could emerge as a major writer in the genre.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder

Publisher:        Bywater Books (reissue)

Jesse Blackadder went on a hunt to discover the origins of her family name and arrived at a fascinating telling of a period in Scottish history.  Her curiosity about her roots gave readers a very entertaining novel.

Alison Blackadder was raised by her father to believe that her family’s lands and heritage were stolen long before she was born, but that one day they would be reclaimed.  To protect her from assassins who are hunting her family, Alison was raised as a boy, Robert.  That gives her the ability to slip in and out of both the male and female worlds, a skill that brings her to the attention of Mary Queen of Scots.  Mary has just returned from spending most of her life in France and knows very little about her own country or the political forces there.  Alison comes to the court planning on using Mary to recapture her inheritance.  Instead, she becomes Mary’s weapon in trying to control Scotland and its notorious nobility.  Alison teaches Mary how to move among her people in disguise, to find out what they really want and need, but, as any student of history knows, it won’t be enough.  As Mary’s weaknesses begin to work against her, Alison, who now realizes she serves the queen out of love, fights for a future for her family, her country and herself.

Students of history might question the version that is presented in The Raven’s Heart.  Mary is portrayed as being more noble and heroic than most accounts would make her.  The basics of the story are true however and knowing what eventually happens does not weaken the tale that Blackadder spins.  If anything, Mary Queen of Scots is portrayed as a much stronger and determined woman than history would lead one to believe.  The book is marked by detailed character development, both in the strong and weak characters.  Blackadder’s descriptions of tavern life, the protocols in a royal court and the descriptions of the people’s daily lives create an atmosphere of reality.  It’s so realistic that the danger is in the reader believing that this is the way the real events unfolded.

The Raven’s Heart is an unusual lesbian novel.  Although the love interests are present, the story focuses on intrigue, dangerous escapades and 16th century life.  Love affairs play a minor part as the reader will be swept up in the rich dialogue and twists and turns of the plot.  This is a book for people who like strong, interesting stories and fast paced action.  The fact that it might teach a little history is an added bonus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Seminal Murder by Mary Vermillion

Publisher:         Regal Crest Enterprises

Seminal Murder is the third installment in the Mara Gilgannon mystery series and centers around the murder of a sperm bank director, a friend of Mara’s, but it touches on other issues as well.  Mara’s former partner is going through the heartbreak of a failed series of artificial inseminations.  This gives the story a chance to talk about what some women have to go through in their attempts to have children.  There is also a young character who is trying to find her birth father and is encountering problems because of privacy laws protecting sperm donors, so another sub plot deals with the rights of children to find out about their birth parents.  Finally there is an ultraconservative Christian minister and his flock who may remind the reader of Fred Phelps and his fanatical congregation at the Westboro Baptist Church.  For a book that isn’t very long there is a lot going on.

Mary Vermillion does a good job of tying these different strands together to create a cohesive story.  It would be easy to lose track of the murder with the various topics that are covered, but she never loses sight that, for Mara, it’s about who killed her friend Dr. Grace Everest.  Some of the characters are quirky and, at times, Mara is rather sad.  She’s supposed to be in a relationship with another woman, but she obviously still pines after her ex-lover.  Vermillion doesn’t overplay this however.  It’s a series and she has time to work out that situation with later books. The book has a good pace and the solution to the murder isn’t clear until the end, always a good point for a mystery.

Seminal Murder is a quick entertaining book to read.  It might help to read the first two books in the series to have the background of the continuing characters, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.  This is one of those books that is good for an afternoon.

Tabou, Book 1 by Suzanne Stroh

Publisher:           Publish Green

This will be short and sweet.  I was sent this book to review, so at least I didn’t spend money on it.  I got about half way through the book and had to stop.  I should say here that I never stop reading a book.  I always push through to the end to try and find something redeeming about it, but this book makes absolutely no sense at all.   The confusion starts with a prologue that is incomprehensible. I read the blurb that is listed on Amazon and kept looking for that story, but had not gotten to it by the time I gave up.  The characters’ conversations make no sense most of the time.  The events jump around and there are constant references to things that have nothing to do with the scene.  There are references to people from the past and comments as if the characters were there, but also living in the present.  Since the events were seventy years apart and the characters are much younger than that, it doesn’t seem likely.  The main characters seem to meet at a party where everyone has assumed a different persona and are intrigued by each other.  From then on the relationships between the different characters becomes nothing but more confusing.

Save yourself some money and don’t buy this one.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Campaign by Tracey Richardson

Publisher:        Bella Books

The Campaign is the sequel to Tracey Richardson’s very good book The Candidate.  As is appropriate in an election year, Richardson picks up the story of Vice President Jane Kincaid as she is preparing to run for re-election to a second term.  Kincaid and her partner Secret Service Agent Alex Warner have built a successful life in the public eye and don’t anticipate any problems in the campaign until two unexpected events occur.  First Julia Landon, Alex’s ex-lover, is assigned by a newspaper to cover the campaign.  This causes stress on Alex, especially when Corey Kincaid, Jane’s sister and campaign manager, develops an interest in Julia.  Then Julia uncovers a scandal involving the president that could either destroy everything or launch a new opportunity for Jane.  The interplay between the four women could decide the future of the United States.

It’s interesting to read a book about US politics written by a Canadian.  Richardson gets her details right, but she puts an emphasis on areas that an American might not pay attention to.  It gives the book a little different feel to it.  She also takes a chance in a book that is intended for a primarily lesbian audience.  The bad guy in this book is a powerful gay man who manipulates information in an attempt to gain power.  It works though because it shows the character of Jane Kincaid at her strongest.  There is also a scene that takes place when Jane visits the troops overseas that will wrench the reader’s emotions.  Powerful stuff.

The Campaign is a political story and a love story.  As usual with Tracey Richardson, it’s well written with strong characters.  A reader can’t ask for more.

Deerhaven Pines by Diana McRae

Publisher:       Bella Books

This book is so outrageously flawed that the first question is how the publisher could have allowed it to be released.  The fact that Katherine V. Forrest is listed as the editor makes it even more mind boggling.  The sad thing is that deep down there is a story that could have been very interesting.  It’s so badly mishandled though that it destroys the enjoyment of the book.

Lesley Windsor is sent by her husband to attend the funeral of his mother, a woman Lesley has never been allowed to meet.  All she knows is that her husband comes from an eccentric family that lives in an old mansion in the forests of California and that the area around her in-law’s home has a forbidding feeling around it.  That doesn’t improve when Lesley and her young son are met at the door by her mother-in-law’s ghost.  What follows is a story of secrets, a mysterious library at the center of the house and fanatical forces from outside that are determined to destroy everything.  Lesley must fight for her son, newly discovered emotions and a heritage that she doesn’t fully understand.

Unfortunately, the book breaks down in a number of areas.  There are the mechanical failings, such as words missing, characters that change names in part of the book and scenes that add nothing to the story, but take it in directions that do nothing but distract from what is going on.
The dialogue is inane, archaic or ridiculous depending on the scene and which character is speaking it.  At times it’s difficult not to laugh out loud when Lesley describes her lover’s body as have a “tiny tongue” between her legs.  Issues that should have been caught in the editing process, like the story saying that Lesley was a nine year old child in 1984, but the blurb on the back saying she was a typical 1970s housewife, abound.

Deerhaven Pines also contains problems in the plot.  Often the characters’ actions are unbelievable.  Lesley’s son is in a hospital fighting for his life and she’s running around the countryside and having a sexual encounter with a woman she just met.  Other characters appear to be nothing but schizophrenic in that they switch personalities at the drop of a hat.  Lesley has never had a thought in her head about being a lesbian, but takes one look at her husband’s sister Rachel, who at that moment is tied to a bed raving mad, and Lesley falls instantly in love and abandons everything else in her life for this woman she’s never said hello to.  Later, when each woman has her first sexual experience with another woman, not only do they know exactly what to do, but it results in hours of orgiastic sex.  Neither of them seems to know how she achieved that blissful state however.  The explanation of why the library exists might be appealing to some gay people, but really comes off as silly.  There is never an explanation of who built the library, why the house was put in place to guard it or how any of the people connected to it were chosen.  The evil Others who are trying to destroy everything are never explained, nor how the women control the power they use to combat them.  There are nearly as many unanswered questions at the end of the book as when the story starts.

The cover of Deerhaven Pines will draw the reader in.  It’s masterfully done and promises an interesting story.  Sadly, the book doesn’t deliver. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tighter, Tighter by Lynn Kear

Publisher:      CreateSpace (Independent Publishing)

You can’t go home again.  Well, you can, but it can be very problematic if someone thinks you committed a murder you’ve been hiding from for years.  Kath Branch disappeared from her hometown in 1975 and went on to become a famous rock and roll star.  She doesn’t realize that a local shop owner Billy Carlson was killed that night or that Billy’s daughter-in-law prosecutor Meredith Carlson has Kath pegged as the murderer.  Meredith convinces Kath to return to town for the first time to perform in a charity event.  Meredith thinks she’s going to expose Kath as a killer, but she unleashes secrets that the Carlson’s, Meredith’s family and Kath have kept hidden for a long time.  What follows is a perfect example of why you should be careful what you start because you may not like where you end.

Tighter, Tighter shows that Kear’s writing is progressing, which is always a good thing to see in an author.  This book has a complex story with different sub stories that weave around each other to create the larger tale.  She switches scenes between the past and the present without being confusing and gives the reader a chance to see how attitudes have changed in thirty-five years.  This is crucial for understanding the outcome of what happens.  Kear includes a lot of details without letting the story bog down and lose its pace.

Most people would probably put this book in the mystery category.  It’s true there is a murder at the heart of it, but the larger story is about the relationships between people and what drives them to make the choices they do.  It shows how the choices made years before shape what comes after them.  Sometimes when those decisions are made, you know they aren’t really what you want to do, but they are what you have to do.  That was especially true years ago of people who had same sex attractions and that perspective plays a huge part in this plot.  Finally, the story is about keeping lies and how, even when done with the best of intentions, that can lead to tragic complications in people’s lives.

Tighter, Tighter had a few editing mistakes in it, but, overall, it was an enjoyable book.  The solution to the mystery isn’t really known until the end and that’s always a plus.