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Radclyffe, who established Bold Strokes Books, has written a beautiful, old-west lesbian romance, Innocent Hearts.
It is early 1865, and the Beecher family: Martin, Martha and their eighteen year old daughter Kate, have moved from Boston all the way to New Hope, Montana Territory, giving up the comforts of the east to experience adventure in the west. Kate, just now the right age to marry, has enjoyed more freedom than many other young women, such as her father letting her pursue photography. She is sweet with an inquisitive streak, gladly wanting to explore her new world. Kate meets Jessie Forbes, a young female rancher who owns her own land, wears pants and carries her own gun like the men. She is the definition of independent, and is respected in her town. When Jessie meets Kate, the two women begin to develop strong, tender feelings for each other. Soon, they are deeply in love and want to spend their lives together.
Innocent Hearts does an excellent job capturing the love between Jessie and Kate, from their warm words to their tender lovemaking. Both women are good and honest with each other and their love feels genuine and completely right.
There are many obstacles throughout the book that Kate and Jessie must overcome, such as bandits, an epidemic, and the narrow-mindedness of Kate’s parents. Mr. and Mrs. Beecher have high hopes for their daughter to find a good man to marry, so they are confused when Kate refuses to take the handsome men that court her as husbands. Having never been around openly gay people, Kate’s parents are completely shocked when Kate tells them the truth. They try to prevent the women from seeing each other again, and must reconcile to their daughter’s happiness. The reactions of Mr. and Mrs. Beecher is, in my opinion, accurate for how two parents used to the old ways would respond to their gay or lesbian child coming out to them in the 1800s. And their feelings of shock, discomfort, denial and sadness mirror the reactions of many present-day parents as well as past ones.
All the characters have their own quirks and flaws, and their emotions are weaved into the storyline in a way that adds to it, such as Mae, the prostitute who has feelings of her own for Jessie. She is an interesting addition to Innocent Hearts with her wanting her friend to be happy, but at the same time wanting Jessie to be hers. Mae’s conflicted feelings can relate to a lot of people suffering from the same unrequited love.
Innocent Hearts tells its audience how rough and difficult ranch life was in the old west through Kate and Jessie’s experiences. It paints a picture of danger and hardship, but also shows the good side of humanity through the love between Kate and Jessie, and the camaraderie of the citizens of New Hope. Loyalty and friendship runs deep in the book, and gives a perfect sense of hope for things working out.
For anyone looking for a lesbian romance in the west, this is a great place to start. The story is like a beautifully done painting, with every part of it adding up to make the story more real and giving a great quality. Innocent Hearts should be among the classics!
This was another (in addition to The Haunting of Hill House) book I intended to read in October, but didn’t come in to the library for me until November, so I’m extending my Halloween reads! When I went to pick it up, I was surprised to see that it was billed as erotica: I didn’t think I had requested any erotica. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that it’s because originally the book’s tagline was lesbian vampire stories, and was changed to “erotica” in the new edition. Knowing that made the collection make more sense. Although there is a lot of sex in Dark Angels, I wouldn’t exactly call it erotica. The introduction especially takes the subject matter pretty seriously, discussing themes of vampirism and goddesses, dark angels, Lilith, etc. Although some of the stories pretty quickly just get into sex scenes with fangs, others are without sex–including “Bloody Countess”, which is just a long description of various tortures Erzsebet (Elizabeth)Bathory performed on girls.
I have read and own Pam Keesey’s previous lesbian vampire collection, Daughters of Darkness, and I really enjoyed that one. The introduction to Dark Angels explains that while its predecessor was lesbian stories with vampire themes, this collection is vampire stories with lesbian themes. Perhaps because of this, I didn’t enjoy Dark Angels as much as the first collection. There are some stories that I really liked, especially the writing of “Presence” and “Cinnamon Roses”, and the intrigue of “Blood Wedding”, and I did enjoy the explicitly-queer-for-Victorian-times story (“The Countess Visonti”). Overall, though, the erotica stories weren’t particularly titillating to me, and the more literary stories weren’t as memorable as I’d like. (Unlike Daughters of Darkness‘s lesbian-vampire-in-space story!)
Perhaps predictably–we all know the lesbian vampires joke–there is also a lot of menstruation in this collection. Which makes sense, and was something I’d appreciate being addressed in one of the stories, or a few, but the frequent returns to the subject were a little much for me. I was also bothered by the “Tale of Christina” positing lesbian sex as fundamentally incomplete/unfulfilling. Also, “The Bloody Countess” is the longest story in the collection and is second to last. The list of (supposedly real-life) tortures that ran on for 16 pages kind of turned my stomach, and seemed a little weird in the context of “erotica” stories. I also felt like the introduction dragged on for me, especially considering that it didn’t really seem to match the tone of the stories included. As you can probably tell, I wouldn’t recommend this collection. Try Daughters of Darkness instead.
I thought I would do something a little differently today and do a video review! I’ve started a booktube (book-themed youtube) channel, but this is the first lesbian book review I’ve posted. Let me know what you think, and whether you’d like to see more or less of video reviews at the Lesbrary.
After I read Tipping the Velvet, the debut novel by Sarah Waters, I was hooked on her writing. She published Fingersmith in 2002 and it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize. It won the CWA Ellis Peters Dagger award for Historical Crime Fiction.
The descriptions in Tipping the Velvet wowed me. What dazzled me in Fingersmith was her ability to keep me guessing. At times I started to get angry. Every time I thought I had it figured it out I realized I was completely wrong. I started to feel stupid. This sounds like a complaint, but it isn’t.
The novel chronicles Sue Trinder’s life. Sue is an orphan under the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer” living in Victorian England. Mrs. Sucksby raises Sue as if she were her own. The house is always full of babies doused with gin to keep them quiet. Also, they share a home in the slums with fingersmiths, petty thieves.
Sue’s life changes drastically when Gentleman, a con man, enlists her help to swindle a rich heiress, Maud Lilly. Maud will inherit a large sum of money when she marries. The plan involves placing Sue into Maud’s home as the heiress’s maid and Gentleman will seduce Maud and marry her. Once the money is safe and sound, they’ll ditch Maud in a lunatic asylum. What could go wrong with this plan? Trust me, you have to read it to believe it. Each twist caused me to gasp. This novel kept me on the edge of my seat and I stayed up past my bedtime several nights in a row.
Not only did the reversals shock the heck out of me, but the subject matter in this novel angered me. The treatment of women in the lunatic asylum hopefully will make you shudder. My friend who recommended this novel calls Waters a social historian. I readily agree. Not only does she know how to spin a fantastic yarn, but I learn so much from her stories.
What an interesting book. A Very Civil Wedding follows the announcement that the Princess of Wales has gotten engaged… to her girlfriend. (This is set in 2014.) Following this is the media frenzy, the backlash, and the planning involved. The book is structured in all kinds of different snippets, arranged chronologically. These includes descriptions of a meeting of politicians, a blog post by an anti-gay activist, a news bulletin, a description of the princess and her fiancee having a conversation, etc. It reads less like a novel and more like living through a few months in the future. It felt surreal to read because it was so realistic. It really feels like the mishmash of information you would get if you were actually living through this, especially as, say, a family member of the people involved.
My favourite realistic element was the description of the media, which seemed extremely accurate. The sensationalizing Daily Express headline ”UNAPPROVED SPERM DONOR MEANS QUEEN WILL NOT CONSENT TO ALEX AND GRACIE’S MARRIAGE” was especially, hilariously apt. It is this realism, however, that can also make A Very Civil Wedding a tough read. There is a lot of homophobic comments in this book from detractors, ranging between the pseudo-accepting “I love homosexuals, I just don’t think they should get married” to the openly hateful. Most of it, because it is mostly major media, is closer to the beginning of that spectrum, but that is painful enough to read, especially when it echoes things you can actually hear on the news right now.
The narrative presents both pro- and anti-gay protestors, including Christians on either side of that fence. I do, perhaps naively, think that the backlash presented is more extreme than I imagine would actually happen… Or I really, really hope it is. Of course, as a story, it is obviously in favour of this couple and their marriage.
I was surprised by this book. The format is so different from anything I’ve read before, and I really think it worked well. As I’ve said, it felt hyper-realistic: more like catching up on the news than reading a fictional narrative. That did sometimes work to its detriment, because there wasn’t a really fast-paced plot to pull me along, and the constant switches of perspective and medium could slow down my reading pace. (There was this little bit of mystery in someone’s journal entries that keep appearing throughout the book without having them named, however, and I thought that was a nice touch with a good reveal.) But I don’t think it was meant to be a quick, breezy read. It almost seems like a thought experiment. And I really think that A Very Civil Wedding succeeded in what it aimed to do.
That isn’t to say there weren’t some faults. Because of all the different people you encounter, I found that names ran together (especially when they were referred to by title or first name or last name). There were a few typos. The word “transsexulity” is used a couple times a catch-all term, instead of transgender. And towards the end, especially, there is a lot of religious speeches, if you’re not into that. One thing I was most worried about was the civilian (as opposed to politician, media person, etc) homophobic protester was a Muslim woman. I still think it’s a questionable decision to make the most prominent homophobic character a Muslim (there aren’t really many other people of colour characters that I can think of), but she does get to be a three-dimensional person by the end, so there is at least that.
I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you’re interested in the Royal Family, or like the idea of the different format choice, or are from the UK (though to be fair, I’m not, so I can’t say if there are any big inaccuracies). At the same time, if you’re not able to stomach reading homophobic comments and a sort of bittersweet depiction of the progress of gay rights, this probably isn’t the book for you.
This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.
The Courage of Outliers by Elizabeth Samit is a collection of ten mystery short stories, all with some gay or lesbian content, usually with a lesbian protagonist. I don’t read a lot of mysteries: I tend to be terrible at spotting clues, and usually I end up not only surprised but confused by the big reveal. This is the first collection of mystery short stories that I read, so I can’t claim to be familiar with the genre. I found it to be a very different experience that a full-length mystery, because there isn’t really any space to subtly drop clues and misleads. I felt like it was impossible to figure out the culprit more than a paragraph or two before the protagonist because of this. As a result, it didn’t have that mystery feel to me, because it was less a puzzle to solve, and more of a traditional narrative, but one that features a crime. I also felt like so much information and so many characters had to be packed into a story to fulfill the mystery element that I began to find it difficult to keep track of names, though that could just be my own bad memory.
I definitely think that the biggest strength of this collection is the characters. Samit is great at quickly establishing a character’s personality in each short story, and they feel very believable and interesting. There is also a big variety of protagonists between the stories, of different ages, sexualities, races, and backgrounds. Most of the protagonists were people I wish I could spend more time with, and even though they only lasted a dozen pages or so, their lives seemed to be fully imagined.
Unfortunately, I did also have some issues with the collection. Although the characterization was strong, personally I found most of the plots not very compelling. This could be because I’m not a big mystery reader, but again, I felt like it was missing that slow reveal of clues that I relate to mysteries. Most of the time, I just wasn’t very invested in the solution to the murder, because the victims weren’t characters that I knew or cared about, and the circumstances weren’t puzzling enough to make me compelled to find out how it was done. I also did find the writing a little clunky at times, including the odd use of quotations around words that I would consider pretty well established, like ‘ex-girlfriend’ or a police ‘statement’. Although the main characters were believable, sometimes the characterization of minor characters seemed rushed, such as with this description: ”Raised in a tough South Boston neighborhood, Officer Valerie Hawkins–whose daughter had committed suicide–had been briefly assigned to assist another officer in the new cyber-crimes section.” That’s a pretty big aside. Another sentence that made me do a double take: “That night, it was on the eleven o’clock News that Mercedes Vega, the ex-wife of Paul Farnsworth and former piano teacher, had been discovered robbed and fatally attacked by her daughter.” To clarify, she was discovered by her daughter, not attacked by her daughter.
There were also some questionable moments in the stories, such as the word “transvestite” being used without context, and a (non-Romani) main character describing herself as a “gypsy” because she travels a lot. One story mentions, again without any more context, that a woman has an affair with a “married man whose wife was disabled.” Also, one story involves the murder of babies born with disabilities, and another has a child with disabilities who is (or was) very violent. Combined, those don’t make for the best representation of people with disabilities. Though, there is also one protagonist who was in a psychiatric ward. Those were moments that made me uncomfortable, especially since this collection does seem to be actively trying to be diverse.
As you can tell, I was a little conflicted on this one. I would still recommend it if you are a fan of mystery/crime short stories, especially with queer characters, but there are definitely some flaws as well.
This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.
Radclyffe’s Homestead is a departure from the romances featuring doctors and first responders and so on that usually characterize her books. It’s a sequel of sorts to 2007’s When Dreams Tremble (which I don’t think I’ve read–sometimes it’s hard to tell them all apart), exploring the same upstate New York setting and featuring that couple in a minor role.
Tess Rogers has always wanted to be an organic farmer, and she finally has the chance to put her plans in motion when she inherits the family farm from her uncle. It’s not easy operating a small farm, especially as a woman in a male-dominated field, but Tess is determined and has laid her plans very carefully. However, things get complicated when a powerful oil company rolls into town with R. Clayton “Clay” Sutter as their representative. There’s precious, precious oil under the farmland in Tess’s town, and the easiest way to pump it out involves access to the farm that Tess is trying to get certified as organic.
It has been many years since Tess and Clay had their summer tryst at Lake George, but neither ever fully recovered from the end of the relationship. Clay, who was vacationing incognito before beginning college, never told Tess that she was the presumptive heir to a global energy business worth millions. When Clay’s father threatened to interfere, she left abruptly and hasn’t spoken a word to Tess since. For her part, Tess has tried to move on but never found anyone who made her feel quite the way that Clay did. Now that big oil has driven them together, the stage is set for a reawakening of their love!
So here you have a romance that involves multiple conversations about fracking and a lot of hurt feelings about the way things ended however many years ago. Throw in Clay’s attractive assistant/bodyguard, town resentment that results in an attempt on Clay’s life and sabotage on the drilling site, a betrayal courtesy of Tess’s dead uncle, and a check-in or two with the protagonists of When Dreams Tremble, and you have a romance with a lot of parts that don’t always flow smoothly together.
Despite all this, I ended up believing that Clay and Tess could make it work. My major complaint is that Clay’s father, portrayed as a distant and controlling businessman whose interference ruined the young lovers’ chance at happiness, is consistently set up as the villain. However, there is no scene where Clay is given the opportunity to confront her father and truly become independent of him. It felt like a lot of buildup and no payoff, at least as far as that aspect of the plot was concerned.
Beyond that, it seemed like Clay could have gotten in touch with Tess at any point in the intervening years of her own volition before being forced to do so as part of her job. Coming into Tess’s town as an antagonist and trying not to still have feelings for her might have been an excellent dramatic decision–there would hardly be much of a story otherwise–but it makes Clay’s character seem particularly ineffectual and/or insensitive. It’s a little hard to root for someone to reunite with their lost love when Clay could have reunited with Tess at just about any point–or at least allowed her to make her own decisions.
I might go out and read When Dreams Tremble to see how it ties in with Homestead, but I probably wouldn’t re-read this one. I was glad to have the opportunity to read an advance copy through Netgalley, but it wasn’t my favorite Radclyffe effort by a long shot.
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High Rise Series by Harper Bliss was reviewed at Lesbian Fiction Books.
Darkness of Morning by Samantha Boyette was reviewed at Good Lesbian Books.
Anything That Loves: Comics Beyond “Gay” and “Straight edited by Charles “Zan” Christensen was reviewed at Feministing.
Pretty When They Collide (Pretty When She Dies #0.5) by Rhiannon Frater was reviewed at Lesbian Lipstick Reviews.
When the Clock Strikes Thirteen by Lois Cloarec Hart, L.T. Smith, Emma Weimann was reviewed at The Rainbow Reader.
The Collection edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod was reviewed by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.
Love Cake: Poems by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was reviewed by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.
Affinity by Sarah Waters was reviewed at Estella’s Revenge.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters was reviewed at Good Lesbian Books.
Secret City by Julia Watts was reviewed at Lambda Literary.
Pink by Lili Wilkinson was reviewed at Bisexual Books.
Strangely enough, the title of Lesley Dimmock’s new novel, Out of Time, not only describes the plot, but also the general feeling of the book. Dimmock’s created a nice story and compelling characters, but the narrative still feels hasty and rushed,
The book opens with Queen Elizabeth the first on horseback bickering with her courtiers. Dimmock does do a nice job of creating a comfortable period tone. The 16th century passages have a casual feel to them that helps the reader inhabit the world, instead of bursting with references and overwhelming dramaturgical prowess. While out, the Queen and her entourage stop in a circle of stones rumored to have mystical powers. With a clap of thunder, the Queen disappears.
We next see her in a back garden in modern-day Australia, an unexpected jump for all involved. The garden belongs to Lindsay ap Rhys ap Gruffud, a Welsh ex-pat and the ostensible hero of the story. From there charming romp unfolds as Lindsay, her best friend Meg and the mysterious and beautiful librarian, Kate Spencer, try to find a way to send the time traveling Queen back to her own epoch.
It’s a fun story. Dimmock seems to know how to move her plot along gracefully, but doesn’t seem to fully know what her plot is. There are several scenes that, while entertaining, don’t seem to add much to the story. The moments of time travel are exciting, but mostly unexplained and one can’t help but wonder more about how time travel exists in this world.
As the plot flew through its paces, there were also scenes that could have used some more time and development. All the characters are thoroughly charming and fun to read about. Unfortunately they exist on such a surface level that we barely get to spend with them. The romance between Kate and Lindsay is very sweet and it could have taken up more of the book and been used to further develop the characters. All of them needed a bit more time for narrative and exposition instead of only existing in the dialogue. The build-up of each character’s narrative arc lacked any unexpected revelations and while they were charming, some depth might have added an element surprise and discovery to their interactions.
Really, the problem with Out of Time is it’s just good enough to leave you wanting more time both with the plot and the characters, but still missing that payoff.