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outofthisworld

For once, I’ve found a lesbian erotica novel that has good proofreading, a solid plot, and steamy scenes that don’t make me cringe. And it’s not every day that I find one of those.

Let’s get into a bit more detail here.  First, the synopsis.  Protagonist Iris finds herself trying to make a new beginning and get over her ex by traveling to Amsterdam. In a taxi from the airport, the world around her changes – she falls asleep in said taxi only to find herself waking in a beautiful woman’s bed. Predictable scenes ensue, but again they don’t make me cringe! It’s so very exciting. Now her new lover Anandra reveals herself to be from a different world, a world full of magic. And Iris is stuck in this world.  Anandra and Iris set out to find a way back to Iris’ world, and lots of steamy sex ensues.

While I find the plot secondary to the sex scenes, which is my main complaint with this book, it does fulfill its niche.  However this does mean that the characters come across as rather flat and, dare I say, unfulfilling? Not that everyone is going to find this one a drawback, but I feel it fair to lay out my own observations here.

Now, on to the writing itself. It’s pretty good! It’s solidly constructed, titillating without being over-the-top, and the grammar is excellent. For a grammar perfectionist like myself, finding a well-edited and proofread book from a small publisher is a major bonus, and a gift not to be taken for granted.

As a further bonus, the lesbian relationships are seen as legitimate things, which again is a surprisingly common problem – a book features lesbian/bi/queer protagonists, only for their relationships to come off as slightly (or not so slightly) inferior to their straight counterparts. And sex is seen as a positive, not something shameful or embarrassing, which is yet another good point for this novel.

Overall, I’d give this a score of 4 out of 5 if you’re looking for some steamy lesbian erotica, and a 2.5 out of 5 if you’re looking purely for a solid fantasy book that just happens to feature lesbian protagonists.

The author, Maggie Morton, published her book with Bold Strokes publishing. Out of This World was published this year and if you enjoy it, Morton has published quite a few other books in the same general vein, all erotica, and most a bit more spicy than this one.

puzzledbytheclues

“Fill me in, Nora. A dope-buying professor, a group of Nazi sympathizers, this is way beyond Chicago politics as usual.”

That quote seems to nicely encapsulate the ambience of the second book in the Nic and Nora series. Puzzled by the Clues is involved with a much more dramatic plot than its predecessor, She Overheard Murder, which I reviewed previously. This installment in the 1940’s lesbian noir mystery series follows two threads of action.

The first is an investigation into a suicide that Anna Owen, aunt of one of the series’ title characters, Nic Owen, strongly believes was actually a murder since it did not make any sense that the victim, an old friend of Anna’s, would take his own life. Charles Bohn worked creating crossword puzzles for the newspaper. After his untimely death, it is up to the Owen women and Nic’s girlfriend Nora to find the clue Charles left behind that could point to the real cause of his death.

The second plot thread involves a mysterious and sinister organization that causes mayhem at construction sites and attempts to murder not only a city official, but also Nic herself, for reasons that are not at all clear to begin with. Eventually it begins to seem as if this shady group might have had something to do with Charles Bohn’s death, for he was snooping around in their business, and the research he left behind becomes invaluable in the detectives’ investigation. But the case is not so cut-and-dried; aside from the suspicious nazi-like group he was investigating, it seems Charles Bohn had other enemies as well! The plot thickened continuously throughout, twisting and turning among Chicago’s myriad faces and conspiracies of corruption and hate, and keeping me interested while also keeping me guessing!

The characters were as engaging as ever. Just as in the first book, I felt a warmth for and connection with the main cast of characters, making me wish they were real people, people I could meet and with whom I could become friends. I love reading about kind and good characters with fun personalities and strong common sense. The dialogue is natural but lively, and the emotional journeys each character’s arc takes them on are realistic and at times quite relatable.

If you enjoyed the first book in this series, you have to read this one. I think you will love it. Puzzled can be read alone, however, and if you don’t have the time to start a new series, or if you just don’t think you will like reading a series of mysteries, then I recommend skipping the first book and at least reading Puzzled by the Clues. It has more adventure, excitement and fun packed into it and will keep you flipping the pages till you find you’ve finished it faster than you wanted and leave you hoping for the next book to be published soon!

daite

Daite by Hildred Billings has the makings for an entertaining romance. There are sexy women, drama, love, broken hearts, and steamy scenes.

Jun is dedicated to her job and she hopes to run her family’s hotel business someday. When she finally thinks her uncle is about to hand over the reins to her, she discovers that he’s sending her to Nagoya to become the new local general manager. This transfer is crushing since she believes her dreams of inheriting the Nippon Royal Hotel empire is dead.

That’s when she meets Saya, a younger woman, who turns Jun’s life upside down and then disappears just as quickly. Jun throws herself into her work again, but she keeps hoping to meet Saya again. When she does can Jun keep the young woman in her life?

While it took me some time to warm up to this story, I admired the main character right from the start. Too often, romance novels have flat characters with sexy scenes to keep the reader interested. This book has sexy scenes and strong characters.

Even the supporting cast is wonderful. Jun’s coworkers really add to the story. And I found it fascinating to read a lesbian romance novel set in Japan. I’m not too familiar with Japanese customs and beliefs and it was interesting to see how the culture affected Jun not only at work but in her personal life. I love to travel, even traveling in books, and I always learn something.

This is my first novel by Hildred Billings and I’m intrigued enough by her writing and character development to pick up another one of her stories.

gravity

For many gays and lesbians, religion, be it Christianity or Judaism, can be very hard to reconcile to and keep true to their identities at the same time. Gravity by Leanne Lieberman explores these very problems for a lesbian Orthodox Jewish teenager.

It is the summer of 1987 in Canada, and fifteen year old Ellie Gold, the younger daughter of two Jewish teachers, goes to stay with her grandmother for the summer. With her Bubbie, Ellie feels more freedom than she ever had at home with her strict parents. During her vacation, she meets Lindsay, a Christian girl with strong rebellious tendencies. They become unlikely friends, and soon share their first kiss, which leaves Ellie confused about herself and her faith.

Once summer ends and Ellie goes back to school, she begins to painstakingly research what the Torah says on homosexuality. The answers she gets from the Torah and her school counselor lead her to feelings of shame and self-loathing. She tries to push her thoughts of Lindsay away, but the girl keeps entering her mind. Soon, she questions the accuracy of the Torah and wonders if she has a place in her faith.

This story of one girl’s soul-searching is gripping and can easily resonate with questioning lesbians of any faith. I found Ellie to be a highly relatable character; her alarm at her first stirrings of attraction, her questioning and agonizing “Is this wrong?” “Why can’t I change?” repeats the same questions of lesbians everywhere. I saw my own pain and fear in Ellie. And her feelings of having no place in her religion is a major issue for lesbians today.

Gravity, besides having serious religious questions, can also be comical. Ellie’s Bubbie is funny and provides a few laughs. Ellie’s sister Neshama is a rebellious teen trying to make her own way in the world. She and Ellie exchange some banter, but really care for each other, as evidenced by Neshama’s accepting attitude towards her sister.

Leanne Lieberman does a good job showing the customs of Orthodox Judaism, as well as the language spoken during prayers. In the back of the book is a glossary of Hebrew words and names of the holidays Ellie and her family celebrate, such as Purim and Rosh Hashanah.

There are good subplots to the story as well, such as Neshama’s secretly applying to universities and Ellie’s mother’s struggle to find her own niche in the Jewish faith. There’s also the enigmatic Lindsay, who has issues of her own to deal with. Each subplot adds in to the story so that the reader sees multiple things going on, not just Ellie’s relationship with Lindsay. It gives the book a more realistic feel to it, and brings out the characters a lot more.

Anyone who is into lesbians trying to reconcile their faith should pick up this book. Though it takes place over twenty years ago, Gravity still resonates with modern lesbians. With its realistic characters and plotlines, people will be drawn in to Ellie’s story and see their own at the same time.

emlynandthegremlin

Upon discovering rummaged jewelry boxes and messes young Emlyn knows she did not create, Emlyn confronts her two mothers about the probability of a mysterious gremlin sneaking into her bedroom at night. Determined to find out which creature was indeed responsible for displacing shiny items in her room, Emlyn disregards her mothers’ claims that no such gremlin exists and plans a trap to catch the little gremlin. A wonderfully colorful and fun read for children and parents alike, Emlyn and the Gremlin, written by Steff F. Kneff and illustrated by Luke Spooner, is a bed side must have for your children’s sleepless nights.

Emlyn and the Gremlin encourages children to not judge a book by its cover. Prior to meeting the gremlin, Emlyn assumes this creature is a troublemaker. After exchanging a few words with the gremlin, Emlyn realizes that the gremlin does not mean any harm and is enamored by glittering jewels as she does not see such gems where she lives underground.

Even with the wide variety of children’s books available on the market, it is rare to find stories featuring two mothers. It is refreshing that while the sexuality of the mothers remains in the background, readers are sweetly reminded that lesbian parents are just as normal and wholesome as traditional families with a mother and a father. Every opportunity to further educate and illustrate the notion that all families are special (and quite similar in parenting approaches) is guaranteed to inspire more individuals to accept one another. Emlyn and the Gremlin should be available in both school and community library settings as well. Children learn a lot about themselves and each other in school. Unfortunately, this is also a breeding ground for teasing and bullying those who are looked at as different. While we all come from diverse backgrounds and are taught different values at home, school is an opportunity for children to develop their own thoughts and to enlighten their parents on issues that they might have been taught wrongfully. One of the main reasons why people are hateful towards others is the lack of understanding of a particular characteristic or behavior another person possesses. By providing material that acknowledges nontraditional families, the door is open for positive communication.

With delightful rhymes and brilliant pictures, Emlyn and the Gremlin is absolutely enjoyable. Looking forward to what Kneff and Spooner will come up with in the next installment of Emlyn and the Gremlin and the Mean Old Cat, available for purchase December 2014!

jolt

Jolt is the first novel by Kris Bryant and will be published in September by Bold Strokes Books. I read a review copy courtesy of Netgalley.

Mystery author Bethany Lange hasn’t recovered from a bad breakup three years ago, when her closeted partner abruptly left her to be with someone else. Since then, Bethany has lived a solitary existence, kept company by the dead poets (Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and William Shakespeare) that she talks to in her mind. Bethany spends the summers volunteering at a camp for children of lesbian and gay families, which is where she meets the beautiful–and out–musician Ali Hart.

Ali is a popular folk singer taking a break from her tour to help out at the camp. For Bethany, the chemistry between them is instantaneous and intriguing, especially after she’s felt nothing for so long. However, a little injudicious googling leads Bethany to understand that Ali has a girlfriend and is therefore unavailable. After they straighten out that misunderstanding, the pair has one day with which to get to know each other and figure out if they want to embark on a long-distance relationship.

After their first date, the road to happiness is not particularly easy for Bethany and Ali; Bethany is plagued by doubt and finds it difficult to open herself up to love. Ali is on the road for long stretches of time, and has strong ties to her Massachusetts family. After another misunderstanding between them leads to separation and angst, it’s not clear if the topic of love will ever be broached, or if the two are doomed to remain estranged forever. However, it is a romance, so everything is resolved in the end.

Jolt is written entirely from Bethany’s perspective, which means that the reader gets the benefit(?) of understanding her every hesitant and self-doubting foray toward Ali. Bethany spends a great deal of time in her head, some of it conversing with her imaginary friends in a strangely intimate way. The book might have benefited from a balanced number of scenes from Ali’s perspective, or from more well-rounded secondary characters, or perhaps from a more condensed denouement as Ali and Bethany struggled to define their relationship. These flaws were somewhat redeemed by the well-written sex scenes, but by the end I found it difficult to care whether Bethany got it together or not. For a great story of long distance romance, try Emma Donoghue’s Landing instead.

tippingthevelvet

I’m ashamed to say that Tipping the Velvet is my first Sarah Waters read, but pleased to report that it didn’t disappoint.

Taking place in Victorian England, Tipping the Velvet is a mix of the coming-of-age and coming-out genres; its themes (if I am to reduce a twist-filled tale to such banalities) include leaving home, self-acceptance, and not giving time to people who can’t accept you (and themselves).

What is most memorable, though, is Sarah Waters’s writing. You can always tell a good writer by her food descriptions. Nan starts off as an oyster girl, and wonderful paragraphs are devoted to the texture of their shells, the dirt they leave beneath Nan’s fingernails when she cracks them, and, of course, their taste. I, personally, don’t like oysters, but when Waters describes Nan’s luxurious enjoyment of them, it leaves me craving her version of oysters. Likewise, the first time Nan sees the performer Miss Kitty Butler on stage, the scene is electric. I could literally feel Miss Kitty’s magnetism, and felt just as compelled as Nan to learn more about her.

The book, particularly around the third quarter, becomes much darker than Nan’s initial, sheltered life as an oyster girl. Sex work is discussed openly, and it’s nothing less than depressing. In fact, at times Nan’s situation becomes so dire that I doubted the book’s ability to redeem itself. [spoilers follow] I expected a sad ending; I was pleasantly surprised.

While Nan’s life sinks very, very low, the resolution would not be so satisfying if it didn’t. And, ignoring her darkest hour, this novel is full of scrumptious, sensual depictions of food, fame, clothes, and the stage.

santaolivia

Santa Olivia is one of those books that’s really hard to describe. You’ve got a dystopian 10 minutes into the future United States, a daughter of one of the genetically-modified “Wolf Boys,” and boxing. But Carey weaves all of those disparate parts into a ridiculously good story.

Loup Garron is born in Outpost 12, a militarized border outpost between Mexico and the US that started as the Texan town Santa Oliva. The citizens of Outpost are trapped behind walls and the US army, cut off from communications, technology, and news. Loup’s father was one of a group of escaped super-soldiers, genetically engineered to be stronger, faster, tougher than a regular human, and quite literally fearless. He vanishes shortly before Loup’s birth, leaving her to inherit those traits and a warning of the dangers of feeling no fear. The book follows Loup from her birth to young adulthood as she loses her family and finds a passion – boxing – that just might be her ticket out of Outpost 12.

Although she never labels her sexuality, Loup develops a lasting relationship with Pilar, a beautiful girl who grows up with her at the church-run orphanage. Pilar is definitely flawed, but I ultimately enjoyed watching her grow up into a better, more mature person.

The art of boxing plays a fairly heavy role in the story after a certain point; Carey’s descriptions are visceral, which may be overwhelming for some readers. I found the explanations fascinating, and it definitely felt like she did her research.

If you’re familiar with Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, expect a very different authorial voice in Santa Olivia. Though it definitely has complex themes, Santa Olivia is primarily a coming of age story. The book gets dark at times, but Loup’s inability to feel fear and the tight third person perspective helps to cushion the blow. The story focuses on character development and Loup’s powers are a liability most of the time, rather than a boon.

Overall, I love Santa Olivia. I’ve reread quite a few times, and it’s probably my favorite of Carey’s books. Loup’s relationship with Pilar is sweet and sexy, although it generally fades to black. If you enjoy the first one, there’s also a sequel – Saints Astray – that winds up being a much lighter book

onefootontotheice

[This review contains some spoilers. -ed.]

Kiki Archer’s lesbian romantic comedy, One Foot Onto the Ice, and its sequel When You Know, are the fun tale of Susan and Jenna. Susan is an uptight teacher at the British boarding school she attended just under a decade ago.  Jenna is her free-spirited former classmate, now a ski instructor in the Alps, who spends most of her off hours hooking up with every woman in her path. One Foot Onto the Ice begins when Susan leads her school’s week-long class ski trip, Jenna turns out to be the ski instructor.  Jenna charms Susan, Susan fascinates Jenna, and it isn’t long before the two are sleeping together and falling in love.  However, Susan’s repulsive coworker, Marcus, believes he and Susan are heading toward a relationship and that Jenna has conned Susan into sex. Marcus sets out to wake Susan up to Jenna’s supposed lesbian trickery.  Jenna’s recent fling, Amber, would like to be more and stirs up plenty of trouble for the couple as well.  The students, ages eleven through eighteen, provide some entertaining and interesting subplots.

When You Know is what happens in the months that follow that whirlwind fling, with Jenna and Susan attempting to build a relationship despite being in different countries, having dramatically different social lives, and being pretty new at the whole serious girlfriend thing.  Their efforts adjusting to the relationship, and the resolution the sequel provides around secondary characters like Marcus, ties up the loose ends of the first book nicely.  This book also deals with social media use and the problems it can cause.  By the end, When You Know finally gets our heroines living in the same place, with compatible lives, and both characters are a bit more mature.  Reading the sequel resolved most of the few concerns I had about its predecessor, which is one of the best things a sequel can do.

These books are campy, full of slapstick, and made me laugh.  They are mostly light, and easy and fast reads.  I enjoyed them a lot.  Archer manages to show Jenna and Susan’s chemistry through delightful banter.  While it indulged in some clichés, Archer made these forgivable.  Yes, Jenna and Susan are in love and in a “committed” relationship after less than a week, with Jenna making some major life changes because of it.  Yes, Jenna goes from having sex half the women on the mountain to dedicating herself to monogamy with Susan at breakneck speed. But they’re also twenty-six, both inexperienced in relationships, and caught up in powerful feelings and an exciting connection.  They also both have flaws in their judgment, with Susan incorrectly convinced in both books—despite all evidence—that Marcus is harmless, and Jenna oblivious to the possibility that her instant-romance with Susan might tick Amber off or, in the sequel, that going out drinking until 5 a.m. on her first night away from her brand new girlfriend could stir up Susan’s insecurities.  These hints at naivety make it more realistic that they could jump into a “serious” relationship after a couple of days.  Susan voices some reasonable doubts in the second book, which helps too.  I’m not sold on their relationship being an easy one in the future, but I was thoroughly convinced that people might behave like they did and feel the way they felt.

I was less convinced of Susan’s innate sexual prowess and quick adjustment to her new lesbian identity.  Susan had very little sexual experience, none with women, and was not even aware of her attraction to women until Jenna entered the picture.  She goes from considering Marcus as her best romantic option to being comfortable as Jenna’s girlfriend exceptionally quickly, with no exploration of whether she’d ever had feelings for women before or whether she’d ever been attracted to men either.  She and Jenna have mind-blowing sex almost as soon as they attempt it (though this is preceded by an endearingly awkward scene of Susan trying to rid herself of pubic hair as soon as she sees Jenna naked, with disastrous consequences). The sex scenes are pretty hot but sometimes a little over the top.

It is a romance though, and a very entertaining one at that, so I’ll grant it leeway. I recommend these books to anyone interested in lesbian romance.  The books are best together, and as a pair they make one of the most fun lesbian romantic comedies I’ve read.

girlsiverunawaywith

Rhiannon Argo’s Girls I’ve Run Away With has been on my “To Read” list since Autostraddle mentioned it in their “Read a F*cking Book” column last October. After diving into the world of sixteen-year-old skater girl Lo, I can easily see why it was recommended so highly.

Argo’s novel was a stark contrast to some of my most recent reads about femme-y young lesbians growing up in relatively accepting social circles. Lo’s world is not kind to queer people (an unfortunate reality for so many LGBTQ teenagers), and sometimes reminded me of Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

I will try to refrain from spoilers, but suffice it to say that this book’s title could never contain all of the adventures (good and bad) that occur when Lo decides to run away with her high school sort-of girlfriend, Savvy. One of Lo’s best qualities is that she has guts, but not without restraint, which makes the reader trust her even when she is in a crazy situation. Lo’s rebellious nature is a method of survival, and even if she makes a questionable decision, you have to admire her for the types of risks she takes.

Some of my favorite parts of the novel are when Lo grapples with whether to follow Savvy, the reckless dreamer, or to face the harsh reality of her family situation. Argo excels at capturing Lo’s adoration of Savvy, allowing her to be totally enamored with the girl without forgetting her rough-around-the-edges, fierce core. Lo is a fighter first, but is also vulnerable as a young lesbian in love, and that combination is what makes her so compelling as a character.

Argo also does a good job of showing how class intersects with sexuality, and how it can complicate a teenager’s decision to leave a bad situation. Financial security repeatedly competes with Lo’s need to run away, both with Savvy and in general. When she eventually gets to her breaking point and vows to leave a hostile place, Lo is forced to choose between two evils – living with people who don’t accept her or having no home at all.

Girls I’ve Run Away With confronts these realities head-on, as she details the rollercoaster of Lo’s search for stability. I found myself emotionally tired after reading about one of Lo’s hardships, only to be comforted a few chapters later by her renewed sense of hope. Though the heaviness can be hard to swallow, it is balanced by moments of happiness and joy, and overall, is definitely worth sticking with. I’m excited to hear that Argo is already working on a sequel and look forward to seeing where Lo runs to next.

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