TwixtbySarahDiemer

Sarah Diemer is an author that I am pretty familiar with from her online presence, but I’ve only read one book by her, The Dark Wife. One of my favourite Booktubers, Jessie Quinn from Cup of Books, reviewed Twixt pretty positively and recommended it as an October read, so I figured it would be a good one to pick up during Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon. (Now that all the links are out of the way…)

Twixt is a sort of dystopic fantasy young adult book. It drops you immediately into this world of Sleepers and Snatchers, a walled in town where monsters swoop in and snatch people who try to leave, a place where hair is bartered like money and memories are drugs. It’s overwhelming at first, and I spent most of the novella trying to get my bearings. This is a story that I feel like is based around the world and setting. Although the characters are interesting, I didn’t feel like they were fully realized. I also appreciated a lesbian romance in this setting, but because I didn’t feel connected to the characters, I wasn’t invested in the romance, either.

Because the setting is so unique, the whole time I was reading it I thought that the ending/explanation would really determine how I felt about the novella as a whole. The explanation is satisfying in that it is fittingly odd, and does make sense for the story, but afterward I felt like some elements were unnecessary (spoiler, highlight to read: specifically the doubling of the sixers–the two-as-one thing seemed unexplained and unneeded. Also some details like the rivalry between the houses felt superfluous).

Overall, I found the story interesting and intriguing, but I wanted more from it: more development of the characters and more detail of the setting. I would have liked to see this fleshed out into a novel-length work. It feels like the bare bones of a richer, more thorough narrative. But this may just be my own experience. In addition to Jessie’s review, also check out Katie’s very positive review at the Lesbrary.

downontheotherstreet

 

This short story collection focuses primarily on bisexual characters, and all but one of the stories star a bisexual woman. Bi and pansexual women often get short shrift as characters, and it was great to read about bi women as main characters. The women in Cie’s stories were portrayed as everything from unapologetic to in love to angry to vulnerable, and above all, completely human. Just five stories long, and some of them quite short, this book is a quick read. It’s also affecting. Cie is an excellent writer with a lovely command of language. This self-published book does have a handful of typos, and my copy had a formatting error that put one page in the wrong story, which distracts slightly from the excellent quality of the work.

Four of the stories are written to a “you,” casting the reader in a role important to the narrator. I found this technique confusing in the brief, furious story, “F&F.” The vignette “The Five: Time With Red Freckles” pulled it off better, though I wished the story were a little longer and included more background information. “Intellectuals Are Fools,” a story documenting every person the narrator had ever kissed and retelling the tales to a former caretaker, reminded me a little of a Thought Catalogue article circa 2012. (That can be good or bad depending on your preferences). The technique worked best in the opening story “The Photo.” This moving relationship story makes the reader the beloved, and is the only story with a male narrator. By the end of “The Photo,” I had tears in my eyes. It managed to be touching without being cloying, and to be sweet while still remaining honest.

The final story, “The Blue Bullet,” about an extra marital, interracial relationship in the late 1930s and early 1940s, was the longest and most fully realized. I dare you to read it without having your heartbroken at least a little. Though many of the characters in this collection are searching for acceptance of their whole selves, the protagonist in this tale stands firm in her own identity, refusing to be defined by anyone else. The story was complete, but I found myself wishing it were a novel so I could dive deeper in the story.

I highly recommend this short story collection. It’s beautifully written, emotionally engaging, and puts bisexual women center stage. I’m also going to be on the look out for more from Jennifer Cie. She’s a writer worth reading.

Gravitybetweenus   wishbone   dontbangthebarista

AfterEllen posted 8 Lesbian Romance Novels That Will Get You Hooked on the Genre.

Autostraddle posted Lez Liberty Lit #58: We Have Always Lived In The Bookshelf.

Lambda Literary posted

Queer Romance Month posted Queer/Were: L.L. Raand’s Paranormal Romances by Ruth Sternglantz and Tragedy and Lesbian Love by Sarah Brooks.

Karin Kallmaker posted No Rage Stalking Here – Why I Welcome Critical Reviews.

aliceandfreda  badfeminist   tellmeagain

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder In Memphis by Alexis Coe was reviewed at AfterEllen.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay was reviewed at Bisexual Books.

The Lightkeeper’s Wife by Sarah Anne Johnson was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Eight Dates by Lori L. Lake was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

deepmerge   100crushes   anatomyofagirlgang

Anatomy of a Girl Gang by Ashley Little was reviewed by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

100 Crushes by Elisha Lim was reviewed at Lindy Reads and Reviews.

Deep Merge by Linda North was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Spheres of Disturbance by Amy Schutzer was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

How To Be Both by Ali Smith was reviewed at Lindy Reads and Reviews.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitter pageWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and tumblr.

DownOnTheOtherStreet1

This short story collection focuses primarily on bisexual characters, and all but one of the stories star a bisexual woman. Bi and pansexual women often get short shrift as characters, and it was great to read about bi women as main characters. The women in Cie’s stories were portrayed as everything from unapologetic to in love to angry to vulnerable, and above all, completely human. Just five stories long, and some of them quite short, this book is a quick read. It’s also affecting. Cie is an excellent writer with a lovely command of language. This self-published book does have a handful of typos, and my copy had a formatting error that put one page in the wrong story, which distracts slightly from the excellent quality of the work.

Four of the stories are written to a “you,” casting the reader in a role important to the narrator. I found this technique confusing in the brief, furious story, “F&F.” The vignette “The Five: Time With Red Freckles” pulled it off better, though I wished the story were a little longer and included more background information. “Intellectuals Are Fools,” a story documenting every person the narrator had ever kissed and retelling the tales to a former caretaker, reminded me a little of a Thought Catalogue article circa 2012. (That can be good or bad depending on your preferences). The technique worked best in the opening story “The Photo.” This moving relationship story makes the reader the beloved, and is the only story with a male narrator. By the end of “The Photo,” I had tears in my eyes. It managed to be touching without being cloying, and to be sweet while still remaining honest.

The final story, “The Blue Bullet,” about an extra marital, interracial relationship in the late 1930s and early 1940s, was the longest and most fully realized. I dare you to read it without having your heartbroken at least a little. Though many of the characters in this collection are searching for acceptance of their whole selves, the protagonist in this tale stands firm in her own identity, refusing to be defined by anyone else. The story was complete, but I found myself wishing it were a novel so I could dive deeper in the story.

I highly recommend this short story collection. It’s beautifully written, emotionally engaging, and puts bisexual women center stage. I’m also going to be on the look out for more from Jennifer Cie. She’s a writer worth reading.

storyofruthandeliza

 

The Story of Ruth and Eliza // self/help/work/book by Kristen Stone is a double-sided chapbook, with one side being the novella The Story of Ruth and Eliza and the other side the poem self/help/work/book. The poem is eight pages and has to do with abusive relationships. It’s fragmented, and it’s unclear which segments are connected, but they come together to establish a discomfiting mood, and communicates a lot in a small space. I appreciated how Stone used different techniques throughout the poem, from one run-on look inside someone’s mind to short, stark sentences that stand alone in a section. I read this after The Story of Ruth and Eliza, but I would recommend starting with the poem instead, or reading them in different settings, because Ruth and Eliza overshadowed self/help/work/book some for me.

The Story of Ruth and Eliza is a novella (or lengthy short story?) that revolves around two characters: Ruth, a witch, and Eliza, a nurse. The story is told in many small sections, some several pages long and some only a few lines. Each is titled, and though they are written in prose, they seem to act like poems. Stone definitely bring a poetic element into the story, and so many of the lines seem as carefully chosen and evocative  as poetry. Ruth and Eliza meet in a sign language class, and they are brought closer by working on a group project together. Ruth is lonely, and envies Eliza’s home, which is filled with the presence of her children and husband. They are both drawn to each other, but this isn’t exactly a love story.

I instantly fell in love with Kristen Stone’s voice, and found myself reading out lines to my roommate, though I wouldn’t be able to explain why those sentences struck such a chord, like this paragraph, in the section “Dog Kickers”:

When Ruth sees something cure she immediately imagines someone doing damage to it. Crushing its face. Once in the library she heard a woman holding a tiny baby say to another women, I’ll be so glad when she’s too big to fit in the microwave. Ruth wishes for a child but know she can’t. She would think only of the microwave.

I also actually laughed several times while reading, too, which I don’t usually do, and at lines like: “Emmaline and Eddie both seem to think there would be dinosaurs at the zoo. They had confused the idea of a museum and the idea of a zoo and the film Jumanji.

Besides the voice, I most enjoyed the backstories given in The Story of Ruth and Eliza. Both of them are really interesting characters, but it was Eliza’s childhood that really stuck with me. These are definitely characters that are going to stick with me, and that’s especially impressive considering how short this story is (61 pages). There’s also an element of magical realism to the story–is Ruth a witch? What does that mean?–which is left up to interpretation, which adds to the interest.

I was definitely impressed with this chapbook. There were a few typos, but only two or three, and other than that it felt polished and thoughtful. I have another book by Kristen Stone, Domestication Handbook, on my TBR pile, and after reading this one I’m really excited to start it.

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If you enjoy being drawn into a story, so that every breathe you breath is in time with the characters, then Carry The Sky by Kate Gray is a must-read.

I was immediately entranced with the skilful beauty of Gray’s poetic sentence structure. Her freedom from traditional prose constraints allows the independent expressions to grab you by the heart and knock the emotional wind out of you time and time again.

The boarding school based narrative is told from varying perspectives, centring on new rowing coach Taylor Alta and physics teacher Jack Song. Taylor is grieving the loss of the woman she loved, while coming to terms with her school responsibilities. Jack is grappling with his Asian American heritage and its impact on his relationship with a student. Their independent journeys are connected through school expectations and student interactions.

While I’ve simplified the plot for this review, the intricacies of the character self discovery and development provide a feast for any hungry bibliophile.

A significant character, in its own rights, is rowing, described in luscious language usually reserved for the intimacy of a lover. I felt connected to the descriptions, as though they were my own thoughts and this embedded me deep in the narrative.

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Personally, I found Taylor’s voice to be more believable, whether because of my self-association with her character or the author’s semi-biographical input. I often found myself wanting to skip over Jack’s voice to get back to Taylor’s heartache. That in mind, the difference in character tone is a credit to Gray’s talent; they are entirely separate entities orbiting within the same universe.

Carry The Sky is hands down one of the best books I’ve read recently. It captured the intensity of school bullying without victimising the victim. It took hold of my spirit and wouldn’t release me until weeks after the last page.

For those who are similarly enthralled, you will find the interview at the end of the book an insightful read. You can also follow author Kate Gray’s blog.

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getmethroughthenight

Joss, Caroline, and Izzy were best friends. At nine, Caroline was abducted. At 17, Izzy was murdered. At 31, Joss is a tough-as-nails waitress at a bar in Chewelah, Washington, and she lives across the trailer park from her mom. Joss is not given to introspection, and the joking banter she engages in at work stands in for intimacy. Despite an almost galling lack of self-knowledge, Joss has a considerable and unwieldy psychic talent, and she reads tarot cards on the side.

An old classmate, Tammy, needs a reading. Weird stuff goes down, Joss passes out, and Tammy bails. Joss is displeased. They rejoin forces, because it seems the dead may not be staying dead. Other players from Joss’s past are called in including Elena, an old high school teacher. Strange happenings abound. Soon circumstances get way beyond anything Joss, Tammy, and Elena could ever control. They call in some assistance, and the cavalry rides in in the form of a lesbian Wiccan couple from Spokane. What’s going on in Chewelah?

This is a series opener. I have been a copy editor for over a decade. And I would pick up (or download) the second title in this series when it’s released, and that’s saying something. Let’s just get this out of the way–this book desperately needed a copy editor. Particularly one with a basic grasp of homonyms.

The book is also seriously uneven, and it sketches in its background and characters in broad strokes. At the beginning this is problematic because there’s really no hook, and it’s a plot-driven novel. Some of the plotting is brilliant. There are some amazing fundamental big ideas. But some of the plotting is clunky. How much abuse and murder can one tiny town hold? But–and stop, stop, just wait–after some hitches and starts, “Get Me Through the Night” takes off. It flies along for a while really enjoyably.

Despite Joss’s initial one-dimensionality, she’s an actual character. She grows and changes. She has some severe denial going on. And while I mentioned the Wiccan couple above, they’re great characters with an established relationship, but the real Lesbrarian interest spark is with Joss, who has never really felt–or acknowledged to herself that she has felt–anything for anyone. I appreciated that her initial romantic awakening isn’t overblown. It’s well in keeping with her character. And Emily Ryan guides your series-reading eye toward where Joss might be headed next, relationship-wise.

That’s one of the big strengths of this book: it’s a great setup. Joss is a character you’ll want to follow, having spent a good bit of time enjoying her company in the first book, at least after the initial chapters. She’s in a setting where you’ll want to see what transpires, and there’s a whole lot that could transpire, both personally and in general. (An excerpt from book two is appended.) And I think the best part–and this is so tough not to give away, because it was really just a brilliant bit–is that there is a gorgeous potential setup of a great Big Bad.

 

Never Too Late is the first book from Bold Strokes Books author Julie Blair.

After they attend a Melissa Etheridge concert together, a one-night stand in Atlanta between Jamie Hammond and a woman named Carly leaves both women profoundly affected. However, Jamie wakes up the next morning to find her companion gone with only a note of thanks. She returns to California to join her father’s business and become a full-fledged chiropractor, a fate she somewhat unwillingly embraces.

Twenty years later, Jamie’s business is in financial trouble because of an employee’s embezzlement and its consequences. She needs a new office manager, and Carly (now Carla Grant, soon-to-be divorced mother of one) walks through her door. Carla and Jamie recognize each other immediately, but each pretend not to, since this is a romance novel. Jamie has a closeted partner, Sheryl, who turns out to be the principal who tried to prevent Carla’s lesbian daughter from holding hands with her girlfriend at school. Jamie decides not to tell Carla or Sheryl about the other’s existence.

Carla fell in love with Jamie all those years ago in Atlanta, but chose duty and responsibility over self-discovery–she was pregnant when they had their one-night stand, and returned to marry her boyfriend. Now, her husband has discovered he’s also gay, and they’re separating amicably. Carla has the opportunity to start life over again as an out and proud lesbian, and she’s suddenly been confronted by the woman who made her realize what love could be. Carla and Jamie must negotiate their work and personal relationship through the difficulties presented by Jamie’s money troubles, her villainous partner, and her workaholism. Is it too late for them to have a second chance?

Never Too Late felt unbalanced as a romance: the focus was so much on Jamie and her problems that it sacrificed some intimacy between her and Carla in favor of exploring her character growth. Which is fine, unless you were expecting a romance that gave equal weight to each main character; the obstacles in the book were almost all created by Jamie. The obstacle of Jamie’s preexisting relationship was handled through the vilification of Sheryl, who [spoiler alert]:

  • is closeted
  • is obsessed with her potential work promotion
  • shops all the time and spends Jamie’s money
  • is unsympathetic
  • wears perfume Jamie hates
  • is totally cheating on Jamie WITH A MAN (*gasp* how could she!)

Sheryl is almost cartoonishly terrible, but Jamie doggedly stays with her anyway, far past the point where any reader would want her to. Despite these flaws, I was rooting for Carla and Jamie to cut through the tangled mess of Jamie’s life and get together. There are the seeds of a solid romance here, they just needed to be fertilized properly. There’s a lot of plot and a lot of characters to manage, and the romance ended up getting lost in the shuffle. Fans of Melissa Etheridge will enjoy frequent references to her work. For another tale of casual-to-serious lovers, try All the Wrong Places by Karin Kallmaker.

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In which I review another book from Bold Strokes Publishing.  This YA drama enters around a girl names Riley, whose childhood has been traumatic – double orphaned and abused by her aunt and uncle, her and her brother Aiden grow up in a foster home where she gets yet more abuse from Mean Girls. As she grows up, she has to learn how to deal with her past and navigate dating as a young lesbian. And, well, that’s it.

First, let’s get the bad out of the way.  The plot lacks suspense or excitement. There’s a prologue which shows Riley in a dramatic moment, and this has been copy-and-pasted directly from the climax of the book. This, to me, is just lazy writing. It also backfired, because I forgot completely about the prologue until I reached that point in the book and realized that it sounded vaguely familiar.

Second, the book is so heavy on the telling and light on the showing that it kind of reads like a really, really, really really long synopsis. “This happened and then this and then this and then she felt this way but then this happened and she realized that this was not an interesting style to read at all.” Basically, as soon as one scene is set up, the reader is whisked away to another scene and given no time to be absorbed by the story.

And third, the characterizations. Riley is the epitome of the Not Like Other Girls.  She finds other girls shallow and vapid and doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t like her, working constantly towards her goals and never relaxing and also being consumed by “demons of fear.”  Throughout the book, however, Riley displays very little personality. Her responses are limited to responding in abject fear or unreasonable anger to situations, with no real in-between.

I can’t mention Riley’s characterization without mentioning the Other Girls as well. During her time in a group home, she gets intensely bullied both by the girls she lives with and the ones she goes to school with. This seems more like a gimmicky plot device on Rice’s part to make Riley a more sympathetic character with an even more traumatic past, because the bullying seems all out of place and the reactions to it vague at best. Having been a girl who went to high school, I am aware that bullying does occur, but if it gets to the levels described here, something is usually done about it. And not everyone in the world is a bully, yet Riley has no friends, or even acquaintances, during high school. Not a one. Zip. Nada. All other girls are described as faceless, shallow beings who exist purely to torment her.

In college, these faceless girls are given a name and a voice in the form of Riley’s new roommate, Brooke. Brooke goes out drinking and partying, has a boyfriend, and is mean to Riley. Again, Other Girl syndrome. Luckily, as Riley overcomes her problems and makes friends, Brooke kind of symbolically vanishes into the ether, so that’s good I guess.

Alright, enough with the negativity. Let’s talk about the good. Because despite all of the massive problems that this book has, there are some good points as well.

Riley’s relationship with her brother is presented very well. They have a funny, sweet and believable bond that was probably the only thing that kept me reading through the first part of the book. Their repartee, while verging into annoyingly witty at times, was a breath of fresh air after all the telling-not-showing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that dialogue and presenting relationships are Rice’s strengths as a writer.

Which brings me to talking about Riley and her sexuality. She’s a bullied unpopular high school kid, so doesn’t have any relationships then, but her burgeoning awareness of her sexuality is presented casually and naturally. She has no moments of big coming-out declaration – she just knows, and her brother takes it as par for the course. And I think that’s GREAT.  That no matter who you’re attracted to, it’s all equally as valid and real and there’s not always a big climactic coming-out moment.

And again, in college, there’s no drama about ‘finding the other lesbians’ – she just meets girls, who also happen to be gay, and is attracted to them, or becomes friends with them, and that’s cool too.  Because again, we’re not in some secret club and hide out. There are lesbians everywhere! You find us in coffeeshops and bookstores and bars and recital halls! Again, normalizing the LGBTQ community is fantastic.

The relationships that Riley builds in college are also done fairly well and probably my favorite part of the book. I could see a young me relating to her in her struggles to navigate the gay dating scene – because it’s not like we get any tips from mainstream media. And this point, that her relationships are valid and fairly well-written and relatable – is the main redeeming feature of The Melody of Light. It’s the only reason I’d recommend it to someone.

If you’re looking for an exciting read with high-quality writing, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you want something featuring high-quality lesbian relationships and a bit of mediocre drama doesn’t put you off, then you may want to check it out.

If you liked this review, you can check out my book review blog at http://booksishouldhavereadalongtimeago.wordpress.com

tangerinetwist

I’ll admit that I’ve never quite understood the draw of a character who one “loves to hate,” and I’m even more baffled by a character who one “hates to hate” as I did the protagonist of Tangerine Twist. Willing to give virtually anyone a pass for their idiosyncrasies, poor judgement or blatant stupidity, I found it difficult to empathize with the self-absorbed Becca James as she forges ahead on a journey that would have been harrowing and perhaps even poignant if not for her schmaltz and theatrics.

Covering the musicians’ smoke breaks at the local pub where she waits tables, Becca dreams of becoming an accomplished musician herself. With her guitar, Tangerine Twist, slung about her, she keeps her dream alive alongside the memory of her grandfather, who nurtured her aspirations and helped to hone her skills as she plucked the strings of his upright bass when she was a young girl. Yet, since forgetting the lyrics while performing at her grandfather’s funeral, she lacks confidence, which prevents her from coming into her own — both as a musician, always settling for the backup role, and as a woman, puppy-dogging after her lover. This dynamic is witnessed time and time again after she stumbles upon her big break as part of a sizzling hot female duo, for it is her partner, Kara, who commands the stage just as she does Becca’s every insecurity and desire.

Drawn to Kara from the first glance, Becca proves utterly incapable of resisting her allure, the shape of her lips and penchant for the wild side. Given that her relationship with the sweet and wholesome Kelly Copeland has grown a bit stagnant, she barely gives a second thought to her neglect of what truly matters up to the point that Kelly sets her free. Even then, Becca doesn’t view the breakup as a wake-up call but as an excuse to dive headfirst into the dangerous waters of Kara’s reckless lifestyle.

Embracing her new-found freedom and professional success while succumbing to Kara’s naughty-girl influence, Becca adopts a persona that leaves those who care about her angry, hurt and frustrated with the person she has become. However, Becca sees no validity to their concerns until she awakens one morning amid rather sordid circumstances well outside the realm of who she knows herself to be.

There is nothing within me that cares to wax moralistic regarding Becca’s choices or Kara’s propensity for edginess; and, I was pleased to see the author assume a similar stance. On more than one occasion, Carr makes a point of mentioning that her characters, specifically Kara and Kelly, are simply being who they are and that the real issue is that Becca has yet to find herself. Thus, at the end of the day, Tangerine Twist is a story about the cultivation of self-awareness and the courage to live one’s truth.

Although well-written overall, I found specific passages to be rather clumsy. It seemed at times that Carr was attempting to be more literary than was natural or appropriate. On one occasion, she describes Kelly’s hair as “shining just like ice.” At another point, the exposed stuffing from Becca’s bulging couch cushions looks “like an unkempt beard lacking the melanin of youth.” Then, there is the mechanic whose smile is “as clean as freshly laundered sheets.” The use of simile, as exemplified above, came across as awkward and detracted from the story itself. In the same vein, I would have done anything for Becca’s guitar to be named something other than Tangerine Twist. It just didn’t work for me.

Had Becca been a more likeable character, I wouldn’t have had the slightest reservation in touting Tangerine Twist as a truly outstanding work of LGBT fiction. Sadly, she wasn’t presented in a manner such that empathy could arise. She simply felt like that high-maintenance, high-drama friend who we all try desperately to avoid. Nevertheless, a part of me wonders if it isn’t the mirroring of the ugliest parts of our nature that incites our aversion to Becca, leaving us to seek redemption, just as she does, in uncovering our most genuine sense of self.

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