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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Marianne Martin and Joan Opyr on the Advocate web site

Marianne K. Martin, left, and Joan Opyr.
Lesbian Authors on Alcoholism, Abuse, and Acceptance
By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on September 18 2012 4:00 AM ET
Marianne K. Martin and Joan Opyr come from very different backgrounds, and write very different books. But an uncanny ability to temper the tragic with humor unites the two lesbian authors. Martin shares her memories of a chosen family of fellow lesbians in her home-state of Michigan, recalling that such community informs her novels, including her most recent, The Indelible Heart. Martin also coached both high school and collegiate championship basketball and softball teams, and in 1973 won a landmark legal case establishing equal pay for women coaches.
Opyr, on the other hand, comes from a Southern Baptist household, and is all too familiar with the sense of isolation that comes from growing up in an antigay environment. Her latest novel — written between classes and working on her Ph.D. dissertation — takes a page from her own upbringing in a family that struggled with alcoholism and abuse. Shaken and Stirred finds the humor in tragic moments, as the Idaho wife and mother of two shares in the following conversation.
Joan Opyr: Though you and I write very different kinds of books, we're both pretty damned funny. Do you ever find yourself laughing at your own jokes as you're typing? Or is that just my own bad habit?
Marianne K. Martin: I do, indeed, especially if the story has been particularly emotional or heavy. I need to laugh or to find a way to relieve the tension, so I let one of my characters jump that line and do it for me. But your humor has an innate quality to it. Where does that come from?
Opyr: Life. Life is ludicrous. That's the foundation of all humor. Bugs Bunny, happily tunneling across the countryside, pops up through a random hole and meets Elmer Fudd and his shotgun. Of all the holes in all the world, why did Bugs pick that one? It's a mystery with potentially tragic consequences — for Bugs, it's hassenpfeffer! In the face of death and destruction and despair, some of us fall to pieces. That's tragedy. Others of us think, I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque. That's comedy. We laugh to defuse tragedy but also to understand it. 
Martin: One of the things I find remarkable about your writing, especially in your latest book, Shaken & Stirred, is that ability to use humor so poignantly to handle some of the most difficult and emotional life situations.
Opyr: I'm not being poignant deliberately. I think it arises out of my own and my family's natural reaction to trial and tribulation. There's a story in Shaken, where Hunter is lying on the living room floor, passed out drunk, that's taken straight from life. While there's nothing funny about your grandfather in a drunken stupor, what happens here is funny. It's ridiculous, it's awful, and it's comic.
My father was abusive. All of my uncles were alcoholics. But as often as our home was full of violence and turmoil, it was also filled with laughter. The Southern sense of humor is indomitable. We will forgive much in those who can tell a good story.
One of the things that I enjoy most about your work is that you write roman fleuve? Do you find that it limits you in any way?
Martin: No, I find it affords me room for the characters to change and grow, to have their day in the sun. I find something that intrigues me about a minor character in one book, and explore it in another. Sharon Davis, for instance, was a character who pulled together, somewhat rudely, the two main characters in Legacy of Love and played an important role in Love in the Balance, and she is now the main character in my most recent book, The Indelible Heart. She was an all-or-none kind of person, hard to win over, but once you did she was there through the worst of it. So, I asked myself how she would react if the murderer from Balance had the possibility of an early release from prison. That's what started the new storyline, and then I just kept throwing situations at poor Sharon.
Opyr: Your stories arise from this closely-knit group of lesbians who experience a degree of affiliation that can only be described as family. Do you yourself have a group of friends like this? For me, your books aren't simply stories — they're also a kind of "It Gets Better" message. Even when you deal with incredibly dark subject matter, I always finish your books with a feeling of hope.
Martin: I was a lucky, blessed young lesbian, despite growing up in a world that demanded that I not recognize who I was and that if I did somehow make that recognition, that I reject it, and hide it from the rest of society. There was an alternative world, if you could find it, based on secrets, operated on trust and instinct, and communicated through signs and codes. I found that world when I was very young, through sports. That group of friends became my family. I had a team of lesbian mothers and big sisters. They watched over me, kept me safe, gave me rides everywhere, and made sure that I stayed out of trouble. I found that what I missed most when we went away to different colleges and jobs was that closeness, that security and trust that I had experienced with them. And that has definitely formed much of what I write. So many gays and lesbians feel isolated, so alone in their struggles and fears. I want them to know that we are here, we are everywhere, and that our best hope of making a difference is to do it together.
Opyr: I wished I'd had your network, Marianne. I wasn't ready to come out to my family — they're Southern Baptists, and I feared their reaction — so, I led a double life. I even married briefly. I wasn't confident enough in myself or in my family to come out until I was in graduate school, and then one after another, they all said, "I know. But thanks for telling me." Hell's bells! If they knew, I wish they'd told me! I hated hiding who I was. I hated dating men — I felt so dishonest. I never liked the feeling of using another human being as my cover story. And I loved women.
I remember coming home from kindergarten upset over some playground incident of sexism, and telling my mother, "I'm going to be a boy when I grow up, and no one can stop me!" I was going to marry the great love of my life at the time, an older girl named Beth Wilder, and we were going to be a family, the expectations of others be damned. My mother, to her everlasting credit, didn't argue with me, she just let me be me. That’s where I was lucky.
Martin: And we're lucky now to be able to write our stories, and send them out there to entertain and empower.
Opyr: And help us understand ourselves. Something I don’t see my psychology class doing right now. Art is so much more effective at that than psychology, don’t you think?
Martin: I do, yes. Analyzing what happened and why, verses feeling what happened and caring why. It gets right to the heart of why we write what we write. But, we have no more room to talk about it.
Opyr: You’re telling that to a Southern woman who believes it’s rude not to let everyone in on all the stories we shared.
Martin: Then you’d better get writing, Joan.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Broken Shield by Isabella

Publisher:        Sapphire Books 

Tyler Jackson and Ashley Henderson are both damaged women.  Perhaps that is the source of their attraction.  Tyler gave up her career as a paramedic and returned to being a firefighter after witnessing the deaths of her wife and her mother and being unable to prevent either one.  She devotes her life to a series of one-night stands to suppress the pain she feels and avoid establishing a relationship with anyone else.  Ashley Henderson is a police officer who is concealing a secret she fears could have a serious impact on her career.  When they are victims of a common violent incident, they become a support system for each other.  This might be the beginning of a friendship.  Anything else will require both women to grant the kind of trust they have both given in the past and are afraid to grant to anyone now.

This is an example of a book that is damaged by a lack of good editing.  There are a large number of mistakes in spelling and grammar, which many readers find distracting and serious enough that they will stop reading books and may not read more by an author.  While the overall pacing of the book is acceptable, some parts have unacceptable timelines.  Some parts just aren’t realistic.  The women are seriously injured and can hardly move, but that doesn’t keep them from having sex.  A good editor should be able to eliminate these problems.

The book addresses some important issues.  There is the grief that a spouse can become stuck in after a partner dies.  Tyler shows how self-destructive a life can become.  Ashley’s story is about spousal abuse and its ramifications.  This is a topic that isn’t covered enough in literature, but this one has a special aspect since a police officer is involved.  Either of these could have been explored more and made Broken Shield a more significant book.  What happens to Ashley could have been a story by itself and raised important questions with the reader.  Unfortunately, these opportunities were sacrificed to a routine romance.

Isabella has shown that she knows how to create a good story to hold the reader’s attention.  It would be nice to see her turn her work into something with more depth, especially if she’s going to pick important topics.  Anyone looking for a book that provides some entertainment will find this suitable.  It was a story with potential that was unfulfilled though.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

What's Best for Jane by Bett Norris

Publisher:       Bywater Books 

What’s Best for Jane is the sequel to Bett Norris’ earlier novel Miss McGhee.  Ten years before Mary McGhee shocked the town by taking over control of the town mill, fighting for civil rights for African Americans and starting a relationship with Lila DuBois.  She established herself as a controversial person and, while that hasn’t changed, in this book many things have. 

Mary is alone after Lila’s tragic death and she is a shell of the person portrayed in the first book.  She seems content to spend her days sitting on her porch, drinking tea and often fighting with Lila’s brother Jimmy Jackson and his wife.  Mary appears to be marking time to an uneventful death until she meets Lila’s niece Jane.  Jane looks like her aunt, but more importantly, unlike the rest of her family, she shows great promise for the future if she can only get an opportunity.  Mary makes the goal of her life to educate, nurture and provide for Jane.  Jane may look like Lila, but she often acts like Mary and has her own streak of independent stubbornness. The book covers eight years as this unlikely pair, an old lonely woman and a lonely precocious child, struggle to determine who really knows what is best for Jane.

Bett Norris has a gift for capturing the feel of a small Southern town.  The reader can almost feel the heat radiating from the pages and smell the honeysuckle blooming.  There is a languid pace for the book that matches the region.  For those who read the first book, this one may be a sad story.  This Miss McGhee has lost her spirit since Lila’s death and seems to enjoy being the town curmudgeon.  When her relationship with Jane proceeds in a dangerous direction, she is so disconnected from life that she fails to see its implications at first.

The best developed character is Jane.  When the story opens she is a ten year old girl who avoids   the harshness of her life by escaping into books.  Though her family life is extremely difficult, she understands her responsibility to them and is willing to stand up to Mary to defend them.  By the end of the book, Jane is ready to attend college and escape the narrowness of the town.  As she has matured, she has provided Mary with a purpose and a challenge.  As Mary descends into her final days, she does it with a sense of regret that she won’t see the final product that Jane will become, but confident that she has given Jane the opportunity for a new life that Lila would have wanted for her.

What’s Best for Jane is one of those books that subliminally speaks to deep issues while the reader believes she is just reading a story.   It covers a number of topics – intolerance, family dynamics, the grief of loss, and the hope of the future.  Norris doesn’t lecture however.  She reveals.

The book does present the reader with a conundrum.  The personalities of Mary McGhee presented in the two related books are so different that it may be difficult to reconcile them, although people do change as they age.  Some of the references in the second book go back to the first one and may not tell the reader enough to know why they are important.  So, the question is, should Miss McGhee be read before What’s Best for Jane?  It probably isn’t, but to do so could enhance the experience.  They’re both very good books, so reading them is no loss.

What’s Best for Jane isn’t standard lesbian fare.  In fact, lesbianism is a small part of the story and it could appeal just as easily to lesbian or straight readers.  It is well written and tells an interesting story, so it’s easy to recommend it.  Be prepared for a gentle, yet moving experience.