Monday, May 28, 2012

Marching to a Different Accordion by Saxon Bennett

Publisher:     Bella Books

Marching to a Different Accordion continues the story of Chase Banter, her partner Gitana, their daughter Bud and their friends who were introduced in the earlier book Family Affair.  For those fans who like Bennett for her quirky characters and funny plots, she doesn't fail to deliver in this book.

Chase, as usual, finds herself at the center of a human tropical storm.  She and Gitana are trying to parent a child who is smarter than both of them.  Bud at four reads philosophical tomes, collects dictionaries and teaches herself foreign languages.  This doesn't seem to faze Gitana, but has Chase in turmoil as she struggles to stay ahead of her daughter.  Chase's career writing heterosexual mystery novels is very successful, but it's drawn the wrath of the Pink Mafia, who accuse her of deserting the lesbian community.  They demand that she write a lesbian novel immediately and Chase is afraid not to do it.  Adding to the distractions is Chase's friend Lacey who has decided to open a lesbian center from which lesbians will launch their bid for world domination.  Chase has to wonder how out of touch she has become with her lesbian world because she didn't know they were trying to achieve domination.  As usual, Chase, who is a control freak, is not in control of her own world, but her family and friends will keep things in some sort of order for her.

Marching to a Different Accordion features two Bennett trademarks – there are numerous funny episodes and the children seem light years ahead of most of the adults in maturity and intelligence.  What is different about this book is the rather serious discussion that goes on about the nature of the lesbian community and whether or not it's losing its culture as it is assimilated into the mainstream.  Bennett doesn't deliver a lecture, but handles this with her typical humor.  Chase becomes quite concerned that she's "losing her lezzie" and the topic keeps coming up, so that the reader eventually has to think about where she stands on the issue.  It provokes a number of questions about what will happen to the homosexual community as its members become more accepted and have less need to hide themselves.  It also reflects the beginning divide between those who will support inclusion and those who advocate separation, an argument that has occurred in other persecuted minorities.  Where Bennett shows her ability and experience is that the two different themes don't conflict with each other and one does not affect the enjoyment of the other.

The reader can enjoy Marching to a Different Accordion just for the humorous situations that occur around Chase.  For the reader who is looking for something with a little more depth to it, that is also here.  Either way the reader will enjoy the experience.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sarah, Son of God by Justine Saracen

Publisher:        Bold Strokes Books

Justine Saracen is a master at combining mystery and history.  She sets her characters in a real setting and time and then twists the facts gently to create a story that seems plausible.  She can also spin a tale so that the reader can't be sure where it's going to end.  In Sarah, Son of God Saracen takes a hint from Dan Brown and puts her own spin on the events around the founding of Christianity.

Joanna Valois is a Renaissance historian who receives a grant to go to Venice and research the circumstances surrounding a mysterious diary written by a woman who escaped from the Inquisition after publishing a "heretical" book.  Joanna wants to find out what happened to the woman and what exactly the nature of the book's heresy was.  She's joined in her search by Sara Falier, a beautiful transgendered woman, who has decided to live her life the way she chooses to and not according to how society dictates she should.  The women discover that the author of the diary made a very similar decision in her time.  They also discover that they are delving into information that powerful forces in Italy and the Roman Catholic Church would still like to keep hidden.  If they are able to discover all of the clues and reveal what the book hints at, the very foundations of Christianity will be shaken.  Even though the reader will know what Saracen proposes is extremely unlikely, there is the outside possibility that it could have happened.  She  creates an illusion and draws the reader into it.

Saracen has a real gift for creating intricate plots that flow smoothly through a book.  While they are sophisticated, they never leave the reader confused as to what is going on in the story.  The historic aspects of the novel teach lessons in the best way possible, painlessly.  While the reader thinks she's consuming a story, she's also learning a lot about the past.  Saracen also knows how to tease a story.   She hints at a mystery, then drops clues throughout, with a few red herrings, without revealing the solution until the end. 

The plot of Sarah, Son of God is especially interesting because it includes the story of Sara Falier, how she develops in her identity and the unique relationship that develops between her and Joanna.  That story alone would make an interesting book.  It's easy to forget that Sara still possesses a man's body because she conducts herself in every way as a woman and that's clearly also confusing to Joanna as she develops an attraction for the other woman.  Their story parallels nicely with the stories in the journal and the heretical book.  It poses interesting questions about how exactly a relationship of this type would progress.

Justine Saracen is an accomplished author.  She writes books that are deceptively simple, but never quite follow a predictable pattern.  Anyone looking for a quality book to read won't be disappointed with anything by Saracen, especially Sarah, Son of God.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Waiting in the Wings by Melissa Brayden

Publisher:       Bold Strokes Books

Jenna McGovern receives the best graduation present possible.  No sooner does she finish college than she is cast in a famous touring Broadway show starring television star Adrienne Kenyon.  When Jenna and Adrienne become lovers everything seems to be going in the right direction; then Jenna receives an offer she can't refuse, but it costs her Adrienne.  Years later they meet again when they are cast in the same movie.  They slowly learn to reestablish their trust in each other and begin to consider giving their relationship another chance; then Jenna gets another offer, the best of her career.  What will she decide this time?

Waiting in the Wings is Melissa Brayden's debut novel and she demonstrates that she has mastered the requirements for a romance.  She has a well developed story and two appealing central characters.  She also manages to include gentle love scenes without verging into erotica.  The reader will like both Jenna and Adrienne, which might explain one of the flaws in the book.  Some passages are confusing because Brayden appears to be saying that Jenna is responsible for the course of the story, then she switches to Adrienne being the one at fault.  It's also misleading when one moment Adrienne appears to be totally involved in the relationship, then Brayden indicates that she isn't.  It's difficult to tell whether this is due to Brayden's inexperience as a writer or because she couldn't make up her mind.

Actually, I was expecting more from this book because of other reviews and the fact that it's a finalist for an award as a debut novel.  I thought the story would be stronger and show more ingenuity.  That is one of the pitfalls of reading comments before the book is read and establishing expectations.  What I discovered was an entertaining, but ordinary story.  It's fine reading for entertainment, which is all it really needs to be.  A reader looking for something fresh or different will need to look elsewhere though.