heartsstarve

Hearts Starve, Patricia Russo’s haunting novel, is a story about loss. Not the act of losing, the reality of loss. People who have already lost things and must confront their doomed actuality. For such depressing subject matter, it’s still a beautiful and heart wrenching book.

Told as a dark, urban fairytale, the story follows three different people in various states of desperation. Marleen, arguably the story’s protagonist, lives with her wife and her wife’s dying father and feels more and more trapped in her situation. Corrie, an unemployed drifter, tries to turn her life around and finds obstacles at ever turn. Gil, the most unexplained character, barely exists in reality and tries to understand his own impulses and urges. All three are loosely linked by their dealings with two otherworldly brothers who seem to wreak havoc on anything they touch. One, a nameless man in a red coat, slips something into Marleen’s coat that permanently alters her reality and brings into Corrie’s orbit as they briefly try to help each other.

The fairy tale aspects of this story represent an interesting way for Russo to highlight each character’s loss. Here are three people who were already doomed before they were touched by the book’s fantasy elements. The unexplained chaos of the two brothers doesn’t help them or bring them any peace, if anything it just brings the desperation of their situations into sharper focus. It’s a good device but one Russo probably could have mined more from. She clearly knows a lot about this world, but, perhaps because of the darkness of each character, we don’t get to see much of it. Each character’s situation is unique, making hard to get a grasp on the rules of the world which probably would have brought the weight of understanding the end of the story. Regardless, the final scenes are still poignant and, days later, I’m still thinking about this book, which must mean Russo is doing something right.

DaughterOfMystery

Daughter of Mystery is a debut historical fantasy/romance by Heather Rose Jones set in the tiny, fictional European country of Alpennia in the early 19th century.

Baron Saveze of Alpennia has spent his life amassing a prodigious amount of wealth. A capricious man, Saveze has long kept a female duelist in his employ, despite it not being quite “the thing.” Barbara has spent many years serving as the Baron’s personal bodyguard and duelist, but the ailing Baron has–in her eyes–promised her freedom upon his death. Margerit Sovitre is the baron’s goddaughter, though connected only distantly and from a much more humble background. She’s being introduced to society and is expected to make an eligible marriage, but Margerit would much rather be studying philosophy at the university than finding a husband.

Upon the Baron’s death, Margerit suddenly finds herself in possession of a large fortune…and Barbara. Enraged that she’s been denied her freedom–at least until Margerit comes of age–Barbara nonetheless accepts the task of keeping her new employer safe. One person in particular, the new Baron, bears a grudge after inheriting nothing but the title from his uncle. When Margerit decides to pursue her mystical studies in the capital, there are unforeseen threats that even Barbara might find difficult to overcome.

It may sound strange to say that a fabricated country felt well-researched, but it’s clear that Jones did her homework in terms of crafting Alpennia from a combination of historical and fantastical detail. All the subtle pieces, down to the particularity of the names and their pronunciation, felt like they contributed to a vibrant and compelling whole. If you like women with swords, court intrigue, mysticism, interesting female characters, dashes of romance, scholarship, and family secrets, give Daughter of Mystery a try. Especially recommended for fans of Sherwood Smith.

I’m an avid reader of historical romance, particularly Regency and Georgian, and Daughter of Mystery had just the refreshing twist I’ve been looking for. News of a sequel in the works made me very happy indeed. See this post for more about how Jones approached her work.

southernsin   hild    missedher

Autostraddle posted Read A F*cking Book: Sometimes Being Bad Is Good In “Southern Sin”.

Lambda Literary posted What LGBT Book Saved Your Life?

The Outer Alliance posted Outer Alliance Podcast #40.

Ivan Coyote was interviewed at CWILA.

“Experimental Poetry and a Good Old-fashioned Mystery: Lesbian Staples to Live By” was posted at Huffington Post.

sistermine   Silver Moon by Lundoff   cominghome

All That Lies Within by Lynn Ames was reviewed at Les Books.

Coming Home by Lois Cloarec Hart was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff was reviewed at Bisexual Books.

Finding the Grain by Wynn Malone was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

farmersdaughter    haitiglass   midnightonamountaintop

The Farmer’s Daughter by Robbi McCoy was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Haiti Glass by Lenelle Moïse was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Midnight on a Mountaintop by Amy Dawson Robertson was reviewed at C-Spot Reviews.

ChaChing

Anyone who’s attempted to outrun her demons will attest that the endeavor is ultimately futile; however, it’s something that most of us have given a shot at some point in our lives. Would we have learned as much about ourselves had we done the “wise” thing and heeded the warnings of those around us? Could we understand the journeys of others as well as we now do had we just stayed put, waiting to see what unfolds? I’m guessing that your answer may be the same as mine.

Even if you’ve simply entertained the notion of escape, there’s a good chance that the story of Theo, the unlikely heroine of Cha-Ching! by Ali Liebegott, will resonate with you. On the cusp of thirty, Theo is convinced that if she leaves San Francisco to start over in New York, she will become the person who she wishes herself to be. She can see it so clearly — She wouldn’t drink, smoke or watch television; rather, she’d prove herself well-read, beginning with the complete works of Dostoyevsky and the biographies of legendary artists. Perhaps she’d even take a painting class, become an inventor and entrepreneur or read Crime and Punishment on the stationary bike at the gym. After all, she plans on getting a membership.

Moments before departing on her cross-country adventure, complete with her Butch Bathroom Wig to keep her from being hassled at truckstop restrooms given her gender ambiguity and military-style haircut, her destiny collides with that of another wounded soul — a pit bull who she names Cary Grant. Together the two of them embark upon a new life.

Arriving in New York, Theo does the best she is able with what she’s got, both in terms of internal and external resources. Not only does she have a small handful of cash in her pocket, an acquaintance to look up and enough charm to get by, but her alcoholism, problem gambling and loneliness have also come along for the ride. Although she makes a valiant effort to navigate her addictive tendencies, it isn’t long before she discovers that the addict within her is alive and well.

Although I was drawn to Theo from the start, I found her lack of jadedness somewhat disconcerting. Identifying as butch, Theo frequently refers to herself as a “timid sirma’amsir.” I had a hard time buying into the idea that she wouldn’t have adopted some sort of defense to safeguard her vulnerability; however, it is only while gambling that she endeavors to talk down her fear. In any other context, Theo possesses very little armor to protect her heart in spite of declaring a numbness that is betrayed by her rather frequent experience of emotion.

I also couldn’t let go of the fact that Theo’s reasons for wanting to flee San Francisco are never revealed. None of us make it through three decades without a story to tell, and I desperately wanted to learn of Theo’s history in order to understand more about the person who lived it. In passing, she makes a brief reference to arrests, lost girlfriends, a stint in a mental hospital and a “suicidal streak,” but there are no details provided and no mention of the catalyst for the move.

In spite of a few minor incongruities and the lack of backstory, I found myself unable to put Cha-Ching! down for a moment much less overnight and ended up reading it straight through — twice. What was the drive to keep reading? It wasn’t the quest for answers because there really are none to be found; rather, it was the desire to spend time with Theo in her world. After all, as familiar as I found her internal landscape to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if an understanding and acceptance of Theo just may allow us to extend the same humble courtesies to ourselves.

Lo_Adaptation_HC_600x900

 

I read Malinda Lo’s Ash and Huntress in the past, and though I enjoyed them, they didn’t stick out as favourites in my memory. So though Adaptation came out with lots of great reviews, and I picked up a copy soon after it was published, I didn’t actually get around to reading it until a couple days ago, after it was announced that Malinda Lo will be at Leakycon 2014. And I’m so glad I did pick it up, because Adaptation has easily become one of my new go-to books to recommend.

To get a sense of the experience of reading this book, check out the quick review I wrote immediately after finishing it on FY Lesbian Literature, the Lesbrary’s tumblr. Adaptation is just so exciting to read! Usually, I don’t go for plot-driven books as much as I gravitate towards character-based stories. But Adaptation‘s plot had me absolutely hooked. The book begins with Reese, the main character, waiting at an airport for a flight home, when birds begin dropping dead out of the sky. Immediately after, several planes are reported to have crashed because of mass bird strikes. But there’s more: coverage of the plane crashes seems to be disappearing from news sites, and conspiracy theorists begin talking about government involvement and cover-up. Panic spreads, and chaos erupts–including looting. This is all in the first chapter or two. With this abrupt lurch into action, the pace never seems to slow down. The feeling is so tense. I would pause between chapters to curse before jumping back into the story. This sci-fi, conspiracy-theory-laden storyline is something I think will appeal to dystopian fans, though it doesn’t quite fit under that umbrella. It’s definitely the plot that makes this such a memorable read, but it has more going for it as well.

For one thing, there’s the reason it’s on the Lesbrary: it has a bisexual main character! Reese has two love interests in Adaptation: her (male) debate partner that she’s known for years, and a girl she has only just met, but has an immediate attraction to. I wouldn’t call this a love triangle, because the two are never pit against each other. Although part of the tension of this book is emotional drama, it’s never over-the-top or contrived, and it always meshes well with the overall plot. Basically, Reese ponders her feelings during down time, but most of the time she has much more pressing concerns. And each love interest plays a very different role in Reese’s life, so their interactions don’t have the same tone to them.

The characters do feel well-rounded and believable, as well. From her on-again-off-again parents to her black, conspiracy-obsessed, gay best friend, to her Chinese-American debate partner, they all seem like they have their own back stories and motivation, even if they don’t get central stage in the story. I was so interested to pick up a bisexual sci-fi teen book, but this is actually how all books should be written: it’s diverse, but that’s not the whole story. You aren’t expected to pick up this book because it has a bisexual (though she doesn’t–yet?–identify with that term) main character; you’re expected to pick it up because the story will have you racing to get to the end. It feels so natural, which shouldn’t even need to be said.

The only complaint I have about Adaptation is that the third book in the trilogy isn’t out yet. I have ordered the second book and can’t wait to devour it. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough: after finishing it, I still had an adrenaline buzz for hours from how intense this book was. It’s almost embarrassing how into Adaptation I was while reading it. This is definitely one I’ll be pressing into people’s hands and demanding them to read.

SomethingIntheWine

Coming out stories are nothing new to the lesbian romance genre; and, if you are anything like me, you may approach such fictional accounts with a healthy dose of skepticism and relatively low expectations. After all, we’ve all been burned a time or two in attempting to invest ourselves in stories that ended up being clumsily crafted or just plain over-the-top. At last, I am pleased to offer my most heartfelt recommendation of Something in the Wine, one of the most skillfully written narratives of a woman’s coming to terms with her sexuality that I have encountered to date.

Annie Prideaux, senior accountant at Cargill & Jones, asks for little more out of life than to conduct her career successfully, enjoy her books and avoid the incessant barrage of practical jokes of her party-boy brother, Jake. In her thirty years, she has yet to figure out how to escape falling victim to his pranks; however, when he sets her up with Drew Corbin, an old college buddy who just so happens to be female, the two women devise a plan to teach Jake a lesson by convincing him that his matchmaking has worked so well that his straight-laced sister has fallen head-over-heels for Drew.

I’ll admit, the premise is a bit contrived and requires some suspension of disbelief, but the enjoyment of the novel is well worth the humble effort. Plus, who could resist Drew? Having taken over her family’s vineyard and winery, she produces exquisite varietals from the rolling hills of her lakeside estate. Her hands are stained with tannin, and her thighs are strong from tending the vines. She is smart, funny, patient, intuitive, a good listener and comfortable in her own skin. If I were to agree to a blind date, as Annie did, I could only pray that such a woman would be awaiting my arrival.

In the process of rehearsing the loving gestures intended for Jake’s benefit, Annie gradually becomes more at ease with proximity to Drew and a friendship based on mutual caring and respect develops between them. Just as Annie nurses Drew through illness, Drew encourages Annie to speak up, set boundaries and develop a healthier sense of herself. Although Annie is initially uncomfortable sharing emotion, Drew cultivates a sense of trust within their friendship that allows for the sharing of histories and the revealing of emotional wounds.

In spite of their best efforts, Jake doesn’t buy a bit of their charade. (Is their connection a charade or something more?) Thus, Annie and Drew set their sites on the Thanksgiving holiday, when Drew is to accompany Annie to her family’s celebration. Concluding that their affectionate rapport has been too subtle for Jake, they decide upon a more obvious approach, planning to bring Annie and Jake’s emotionally unavailable parents in on the joke. What transpires around the table sets the stage for what is by far the most satisfying scene of the novel.

Given that I’ve never been shy about my sexuality, Something in the Wine provided me with an understanding of the challenges that some women may face in the process of coming out. Annie’s discomfort with the feelings that arise within her, the anxiety she experiences on the cusp of closeness, her self-judgment and her fear of the judgement of others allowed me to grasp the gravity of reaching a point where hiding from one’s truth is no longer an option. The finesse with which Jae handles Annie’s inner-landscape illuminates a sensitivity within the author that contributes to the depth of the novel as a whole.

Something in the Wine is the entire package when it comes to romance. Drew and Annie became so real to me that I felt a tugging at my heartstrings at nearly every turn. The dialogue flowed naturally and believably; and, there was a consistency in the dynamics among the characters, accompanied by supporting nuances. The novel held my interest and kept me entertained while providing insight into experiences not my own. Last but certainly not least, the images of Drew Corbin’s stained hands and muscular thighs are sure to inspire my imagination long after the final page has been turned.

thesummeriwasntme

Before picking up The Summer I Wasn’t Me, I was in a bit of a reading slump. I just didn’t feel like reading anything. After reading the first couple sentences of this one, though, I was ready to give it a try. Instead, I read it in two days, impatiently waiting for when I could pick it up again. I have a soft spot for lesbian young adult novels, and part of that is because YA tends to be so easy to read. Despite the emotionally heavy subject matter, the writing makes this easy to fly through.

The Summer I Wasn’t Me is about an ex-gay camp (aka a “pray away the gay” camp). From this premise alone, I already knew it was likely to be very emotional. But just a handful of pages in, I already felt heartbroken for the main character, Lexi. Her father passed away six months ago, and since then her mother has retreated inside herself, leaving Lexi to take care of the both of them. When her mother discovers that Lexi is gay, she acts as if she has lost Lexi, too. Feeling like the only family she has left is slipping away from her, Lexi agrees to go to a camp to “fix” it.

The camp itself is jarring. It seems goofy at times (think But I’m a Cheerleader), but is in turn horrific and traumatizing. Both aspects seemed over-the-top in parts, until I realized that these things actually do happen. It may seem cartoonish for someone to claim that Harry Potter encourages satanism, but that is a claim that was actually made. And violence and abuse clashes with the comic aspect of these pink and blue play-acting exercises, except that abuse did happen in these camps. (I say “did” because I’m not sure how common these types of camps are anymore, after the disbandment of Exodus International.)

As for the characters, I loved the main characters. Lexi is very sympathetic, even though I want to shake her a lot. She spends most of the book questioning whether the ex-gay camp can work, and whether it’s a force of good or not. She seems naïve at times, but I guess that’s to be expected in this situation. She desperately wants to put her family back together, and she’s willing to overlook a lot to accomplish that. Matthew quickly becomes a close friend of Lexi’s, and he is loudly skeptical of everything about the program. He’s sarcastic and funny, but also pushes too hard sometimes. Absolutely believable and endearing. And then there’s Carolyn, Lexi’s love interest. Yes, Lexi walks into a “pray-away-the-gay” camp and immediately develops a crush on a pretty girl. I couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity of putting a bunch of gay people together in order to make them not gay. If you couldn’t suppress liking girls surrounded by straight homophobes, how are you supposed to resist being surrounded by cute lesbians? Carolyn isn’t perhaps as well-developed as Lexi and Matthew, but you can see why Lexi’s fallen for her, and their interactions are adorable. The other characters, though, feel flat. They are assigned four people groups, and apart from Carolyn and Matthew, Lexi’s group also includes Daniel. Although Daniel gets a lot of page time, he never seems as interesting or well-rounded as the others. And the other characters don’t make much of an impression. I can’t help compare this book to The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which has an excellent, realistic depiction of a “gay conversion” camp. In Cameron Post, the people running these camps seem to have good intentions. You get to understand them, and they’re developed as fully as the main characters. This story just doesn’t do that. I wasn’t interested in the people in charge, and they seemed interchangeable for the most part. In some ways, I feel like this is a book meant to educate straight readers on this level of homophobia. I think most queer people are aware of ex-gay camps, but skimming the Goodreads review of this title brings up a lot of people who were horrified to learn that they exist. (For example, no, there is not any discussion of bisexuality in the novel. And there is also no acknowledgment that trans people exist, as they’re discussing the “true” nature of men and women. This is not just from the people running the camp, but also from Lexi herself.)

I have troubles settling my feelings for The Summer I Wasn’t Me, because it was a quick, easy read, that was usually enjoyable, but it also has some very dark, triggering scenes. [Trigger warnings that may also be spoilers, highlight to read: attempted sexual assault of a minor, violence, homophobia] It left me feeling muddled. But at the time of reading, I was absorbed. I found myself making faces at the book as I read it, frowning sympathetically and grinning in turn. And I was invested in Lexi’s journey, [spoilers] feeling sick as she resigned herself to a sham of a life, and cheering her on as she fights against that. [end spoilers] So I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that despite the easy-to-read writing style, and the goofiness of the camp, do be prepared for the narrative to face the actual consequences of the homophobia that goes into these institutions. At the same time, if you’ve reading The Miseducation of Cameron Post, don’t expect quite the same nuance from this story.

midnightinorlando   midnightonamountaintop

Midnight in Orlando and Midnight on a Mountaintop is a duo of romance novels by Amy Dawson Robertson. They follow Susan, a lawyer, and Nic, a writer and paralegal, who meet in Orlando at a convention for lesbian fiction. Susan goes to the convention as a reader of lesfic. Nic, neurotic and reclusive, in a burst of courage forces herself to attend the convention as a featured author and the keynote speaker so she can finally meet some of her readers.

The two meet each other in an elevator, after Nic had just fallen into a pool, and Susan helps her find her room. The rest of the story continues in this vein of adorable awkwardness. At their next encounter Nic, in her usual impulsive, abrupt way, asks Susan out. The romance grows between the two women and culminates in a midnight rendezvous near the end of the first book. At the end of their four-day vacation, the two lovebirds find it difficult to part.

The second book picks up four months later. Nic and Susan have been apart the entire time, but talk every single day. In Midnight on a Mountaintop they finally have a chance to see each other again, on another vacation together, this time in West Virginia in a picturesque mountain cabin. Both Susan and Nic have separately begun to feel that it’s time to take their relationship to a new level, but before they get a chance to fully settle into their vacation time together, Nic falls down a steep slope and gets lost! Susan worries and braves the snow and wind and mountain terrain to find the quirky, accident prone woman she has fallen in love with.

The writing is easy and unforced, affording some truly genuine laughs at times. The plot is believable enough for the genre. I liked the characters but I didn’t love them. They are written well and are 3-dimensional. There was nothing excellent about the characterization that made me wish they were real people I could meet, for even though there are nice little details that makes the characterization ring true, the overall effect is inconsistent and falls flat at times.

These books are made for vacations. If you’re chilling beside the pool or snuggled up by the fire in a cabin and want a light romance to pass the time, this duo is a good fit. As you escape from the everyday grind for a while, why not read about characters who are doing the same?

 

icantthinkstraight

Shamim Sarif’s novel, I CAN’T THINK STRAIGHT, focuses on several issues that are close to my heart: love, friendship, and families. Many of us can relate to these topics on some level, even if the main characters come from different backgrounds.

Tala is a Palestinian who lives in London. In the opening pages, she’s preparing for her engagement party. This isn’t the first time she’s been engaged and Tala’s mother and sister fear that she might blow this opportunity again. Tala loves the man she’s engaged to, but feels like something is missing.

Leyla, a British Indian woman, is also involved in a relationship with a man. Again, she likes him, but doesn’t feel the spark.

When Tala and Leyla meet there’s an attraction, but neither can put their finger on it right away.
This is a sweet romance between two women torn between their feelings and family obligations. While their mothers love them, at least I think they do, they also have traditional values. For them, getting married to a man is a fact of life. Both of the mothers care a lot about their traditional values and what others will think. And they want their daughters taken care of. They worry like most mothers.

The daughters are free-spirited. They just have to realize it. And act on it. It’s one thing to admit to yourself the truth. It’s a whole new ballgame to proclaim it to the world.

This novel takes the reader on an emotional roller-coaster. There’s happiness, love, pain, and loss. What shines through is the beauty of relationships, whether they are romantic, family, or friendly.

aPiratesHeart

Pirates are one of those passions that tend to capture people in a phase, like your teenage mutant ninja turtle phase. And just like how I will always love those pizza pounding turtles, there will always be some part of me that jumps at anything about pirates; particularly when I can come across stuff about female pirates. That’s probably why I scooped up A Pirate’s Heart before knowing anything other than it involved pirates and ladies in love.

This particular pirate tale follows two sets of ladies: Emma with Randi, and Tommy with Rebekah. Emma the librarian and Randi the private investigator are in modern times, and unravel the mysteries of the great pirate Tommy Farris with only bits and pieces of the journals and letters that survived for over two hundred years, including the search for a treasure map!

Meanwhile Tommy Farris and Rebekah Brown are caught in the turmoil of discovering they may love each other while handling a terrible situation involving another jilted pirate, Avery Shaw. After all, the last thing Tommy expected to be her downfall was a scorned conquest from her past. But ever since Shaw became a pirate he’s been a thorn in her side.

The uniqueness in this entire novel happens to be the way the two stories were weaved together, through means of jumping between past and present to tell some of the story with third person narrative following Tommy, and then switching to first person with Emma Boyd. The biggest stick for this was the total jarring kick in the face when you are reading the novel and then suddenly you move to another chapter and the second story is just thrown at you.

The first change in perspective comes at such a random moment, a couple of chapters in, and exactly when you wanted to start reading more about Tommy Farris that it can definitely throw you off at first. I almost thought it was some interruption in the story for the author to talk about how she researched Tommy Farris, but as I kept reading I realized it was when Emma and Randi came in.

Despite the initial hiccup, once you are ready for the breaks in the story to be occurring they actually happen at perfect frustrating moments, to where you can almost feel the agony Emma went through of continually wanting to jump Randi’s bones and not being able to, in the form of always getting to a good moment in the story and then you have to jump to the next story!

Still the way these two stories were formed and put together was absolutely perfect. You completely get resolution with both of the stories, which I have to say is a heck of an accomplishment when many novels struggle to just finish the one main story line it has, this one had two main story-lines and a number of side plots mixed in that are all finished off in the one book. And while the breaks can be frustrating it is only so because the entire plot is so well done and the characters interesting enough that you wanted to keep reading about them.

This has to be one of the better pirate books I’ve read, but that could be that for once it was a pirate book about women! You really don’t get to see as many of those. Even knowledge on the different women pirates is pretty rare, let alone fictional stories about female pirates. So this is definitely one of those stories you should grab if like me, you were craving some more women pirate stories. Oh, and did I mention that it has a number of non-white female main characters in it? Total bonus there. Although I should mention that since it stays true to period there are some phrases and words some people might not like to see, particularly around the black characters.

Other than that the story is worth it, and unique; especially for the little supernatural surprise at the end of the book which just gave it a worth-while ending.

Oh, and always remember: While I breathe, I hope.

 

 

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