Megan Casey reviews Edited Out by Lisa Haddock

Edited Out by Lisa Haddock cover

It would be easy to just say that this is a really good book and that you should put it high on your list of things to read. but I guess that would be shirking my responsibilities as a reviewer. But if you’ve read any of my other reviews you’d know that several things catch my imagination when I read, three of which are the writing, the plot, and the characters. Edited Out is written in the point of view most favored by lesbian mystery authors, first person past—“I did this, I went there” etc. It’s a good point of view because it brings the character closer to the reader than standard third person limited or omniscient. But it is also an easy POV to make mistakes in because it most easily reveals a character’s personality. And if you don’t like the personality of the main character, chances are you won’t like the book.

I like Carmen Ramirez. She is the daughter of a Puerto Rican dad and a mom of Irish descent. After her mother’s death when she was still a baby, Carmen was sent by her dad to live with her racist, homophobic, and bible-quoting grandmother in Frontier City, Oklahoma—a very thinly disguised Tulsa, complete with a famous evangelist and religious university. Somehow, Carmen has come through her girlhood strong enough to embrace her sexuality and to land a job as copyeditor for the local newspaper. But when she is assigned to work on a story about the murder of a young girl by a lesbian schoolteacher, she must make the hardest decision of her career.

When I first read the description of this book, I was hesitant to open the pages; it was bound to be filled with depressing scenes of homophobia and confrontation. But Haddock manages to turn the story in a completely different direction. Even when Carmen interviews a number of unsavory characters, she does it with such style that even if her questions are not answered, I felt I had nevertheless learned something important.

Like many lesbian detectives in the genre, Carmen is running from a bad relationship (see Claire McNab’s Kylie Kendall, Elaine Beale’s Lou Spencer, ad infinitum). She has been very shy of getting into another until she meets college student Julia Nichols (who reminds me very much of a young Aimee Grant in Katherine V. Forrest’s novels), who identifies as straight. Their developing romance—as well as Carmen’s love/hate relationship with her grandmother—give balance to the book and intersect with the plot in important ways. All the elements combine for an exciting—and hopeful—finish. It’s hard not to credit editor Katherine V. Forrest for the smoothness of this book, especially after having just read several Naiad books edited by others.

There is a lot of religious stuff here but again, Haddock uses the subject as a literary device without actually proselytizing or bashing. Remember that the book is set in Bible-Belt Oklahoma, where churchgoing is as natural as breathing. Does it get a little over the top sometimes? Well, maybe, but there are some enjoyable parts, too, like when Julia argues scripture with her fundamentalist cousin in order to rescue a confused young woman from a room filled with Prayer Warriors. And maybe there are a few too many coincidences in the solution, but hey, doesn’t every mystery have these?

And here’s a question for someone to write an article about: why do so many lesbian mystery protagonists have a gay man as their best friend (not counting their lovers of course)? Carmen has one. So does Bill in Joan Opyr’s books, Lamaar in David Galloway’s Lamaar Ransom, Private Eye, Barbara Johnson’s Colleen Fitzgerald, etc, etc. Is this true in real life? Very few, like Nikki Baker’s Virginia Kelly and Vicki P. McConnell’s Nyla Wade, seem to have same-sex best friends.

Ultimately, Edited Out is a really good book and you should put it high on your list of things to read. In the same league with She Scoops to Conquer, give this one a 4+.

For more than 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Alice reviews Escape to Pirate Island by Niamh Murphy

Escape to Pirate Island cover showing a woman in a flowing red dress looking over the ocean at a pirate ship

This book! I want to take this book, parcel it into treasure map wrapping paper, and post it back in time to my fifteen year old self. Not that it’s a book for teenagers specifically, but it’s the book I craved so deeply back then. I loved it, it really did, and I hope you do too.

The story follows two daring ladies and their friends, the daring, smart smuggler Cat Meadows, and the brave, proud Lily Exquemlin, as they flee the day they lost everything and peg all their hopes on a ship and the hope of treasure. With pirates, betrayal, marooning, and swinging from the high ropes, this book is thrilling. You, my friend, are on the edge of an adventure.

It’s is a well-written tale, with an engaging and distinct cast of characters which all manage to come across and individual, self motivated people, with clear personalities. Perhaps the bad guys are little too bad guy without reason, but it wasn’t something I even noticed when I was reading as my heart was in my mouth all the way through for Cat, Lily, and their friends.

Sadly, despite being a pirate story, there is no apparent racial diversity in the book, and the only disabled character in the book gets killed off nice and quickly to put the main character down the path she needs to for this story to work. This is always frustrating with pirate stories, as pirates came from all corners of the world, and with sea surgeons hacking of every other limb to stop gangrene, there were plenty of seafarers who weren’t as able bodied as the cast of this story.

I grew up on the British coast and this story made me heartsick for the sea, for the promise of freedom that the horizon seems to promise, and why else would you be reading a pirate book? The romance was sweet and standard for a YA, which I feel is where the story tone sits best, but be aware it does have one ‘Mature’ scene. The story celebrates loyalty, yet understands loyalty.

Honestly? Read this story. It’s fun, well paced, well written, you lose all track of the real world when reading it… it’s a wonderful little book. I recommend it for anyone who is fed up of the mundane and wants a swashbuckling adventure alongside a cast of real people whom you’ll feel you know well.

Megan Casey reviews The Slayer by Nadine LaPierre

Whoa. Here’s something I wasn’t expecting. I purchased The Slayer primarily so I could get free shipping for a recent book order. At the time I ordered it, I was not even sure that it was a mystery. The book, when it arrived, was an attractive size and it was well formatted—more accessible for my taste than the often-unwieldy RegalCrest/Quest books. Because it was almost certainly printed by CreateSpace, I assumed it to be self-published (under the aegis of Frisson Books. So far so good.

The prologue—although just as unnecessary as most prologues, was written better and held my interest better than most. Then we meet RCMP Constable Danielle (not Dannie, please) Renaud, who has left her birthplace near Quebec to take a job in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At first blush, she is simply Claire McNab’s Carol Ashton transplanted from Australia to Canada—an incredibly beautiful, statuesque out blonde with a hard-to-match work ethic. But I think Danielle is a more rounded, more-professionally written character than Carol. And she has a good backstory. She has a habit of speaking her ideas into a tape recorder: a convincing and fairly unique motif. So, still good.

In fact, once you get through the first dozen chapters and figure out who the characters are, The Slayer is a pretty remarkable book. On loan from her department to the Special Crimes Unit, Danielle is assigned to look into a cold case—the death of a nurse a year and a half before. Danielle digs into this seemingly impossible-to-solve case and manages to dig up a few new facts no one else had been able to find, while trying to juggle a personal life that includes no less than five women dancing around each other like mating birds. Misdirections abound—but they are misdirections well conceived.

The reader (along with Danielle) learns a lot about forensics and psychology without the author making us think of homework. Danielle’s knowledge of different types of data searches gets a bit forced, but everything else—including a knowledge of veterinary supplies and types of drugs—are spot-on believable. And hey, LaPierre knows her way around the bedroom, too; you can look forward to a couple of delicious sex scenes that are almost worth the price of the book (plus shipping).

The author takes a lot of chances and almost always gets away with what she attempts. The plot often careens like a tilt-a-whirl, but rather than thinking that there might be a method to the madness, I suspect that there is genius in that madness instead. The Slayer is simply one of the most well-plotted books I have ever read. Add this to a plethora of interesting characters and a total lack of typos, and you have the makings of a must-read.

But the book is not all gold and emeralds. It is difficult at times to figure out who is romancing who, a couple of these relationships are not properly brought to a close, there are a few clumsy point of view shifts, needless dream sequences are thrown in here and there, and don’t even get me started on the last paragraph!

All in all, though, it is an exciting and well-written mystery. I recommend this book pretty highly and wish the author would tweak it just a bit. And here’s a clue. Books published at CreateSpace are free to revise and the author doesn’t have to even buy any copies herself. Ditto for e-books. Second edition, anyone? As it is now, I’ll call it 3.7.

For over 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/ or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Danika reviews Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

This is a story that I still miss days after reading it. I was completely absorbed in the story, and I read most of it in one day. Jordan’s double life (disguised as a boy to join an all male capella group), the arts academy environment, and the world of a capella was all fascinating. Add to that Jordan’s struggle to fit into an elite private school on a scholarship while her family struggles to make rent, as well as an ever-more-vicious rivalry with another a capella group, and I was hooked.

I also found it interesting to read a crossdressing narrative that addresses the queer subtext. There is a long history of crossdressing in queer narratives, but usually the queer possibilities are swept under the rug as much as possible. This is a modern crossdressing story that faces them head on. Jordan isn’t trans or genderqueer, but the story acknowledges the existence of trans people, which is the first I’ve seen in this genre. Jordan borrows tips from trans websites and feels guilty about using them. When people begin to find out about her other life, they initially think that she is trans and are accepting about it, but she explains that she is cisgender.

The way crossdressing narratives usually flirt with queerness but ultimately sidestep it is by having a woman fall in love with the woman-in-disguise. The woman thinks she’s a man, so it’s not queer! Once her disguise is discarded, that romance evaporates. Meanwhile, the woman in disguise falls for a guy, but he only falls back once the disguise comes off. [mild spoilers] In some ways, Noteworthy plays into this: a girl kisses Jordan while she is Julian, and she falls for a straight guy while in disguise. The difference is that Jordan realizes through this experience that she’s bisexual. She names herself as bisexual. Unfortunately, the girl she kisses is straight, so there’s no significant F/F romance, but there’s no mistaking that Jordan is bi. [end spoilers]

The only thing that fell flat for me was that some of the members of the Sharpshooters blended together—only a few felt like fleshed out characters. (I did really love Nihal and Jordan’s relationship with him, though.) The author is obviously very familiar with a capella, so some of the details of the arrangements went over my head, but that wasn’t distracting. This was an absorbing, nuanced, and utterly enjoyable read.

Megan G reviews Kiss Me Again, Paris by Renate Stendhal

Never has a memoir enraptured me as completely as Kiss Me Again, Paris. Renate Stendhal reached through the pages and took me by the hand, pulling me back into Paris in the 1970’s and into her skin. To read Stendhal’s account of her life in Paris is to live it. Never has reading a book felt so much like watching a movie. Every intricate detail she dives into came alive before my eyes, not just through her masterful prose, but through the gorgeous pictures scattered throughout the memoir.

Although there are two explicit love stories present in Kiss Me Again, Paris, the implicit love stories between Stendhal and her friends, and Stendhal and her city are the most visceral. Paris is Stendhal’s mistress, more so than any of the lovers she describes, and her love for the city and the life she lived there is breathtaking. I myself have only been to Paris once, but after reading Stendhal’s memoir I feel as though that is not the case. I have never yearned for a city as I yearned for Paris while immersed in this book.

During many scenes depicting Stendhal and her friends, I knew I should feel like an outsider, privy to a conversation far too intimate for my perusal, but that was never the case. I will admit, I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of all the women in Stendhal’s life–which backstory corresponded to which name, and with whom had she slept? Still, the closeness of her tight-knit group of “Sinners”, as they called themselves, made it easy to forget my confusion. Regardless of backstory or personal history, the love Stendhal felt for these women shone through. These are friends who can call each other whenever one is in need, and within minutes they are at each other’s doors. They dance together, they drink together, and they love together. The atmosphere of Paris just adds another layer of decadence to their lives.

Stendhal’s feelings toward the two women her heart aches for in her memoir–a fickle actress named Claude and a mysterious red-headed woman who keeps re-appearing in her life–are the strongest throughout the memoir. She lays it all bare for her audience. Every lustful thought, every prickle of jealousy, every irrational moment of hope or despair. I craved more knowledge on the so-called “Woman in Red”, desperate as Stendhal was to know more, to be near her. As the story unfolds, I often found myself looking up Stendhal and her life-partner Kim Chernin on Wikipedia, hoping to gain even the smallest hint that Kim Chernin was the “Woman in Red”. Unfortunately, I found none, and it makes me wonder how such a deep, wonderful, all-consuming love story could have eventually found its end. I was hooked on Stendhal’s every word, and my heart pounded with every emotion she felt. Her frustration with Claude, yet desire to continue seeing her. Her questions about the “Woman in Red”, her obsession with learning more about her. It was as though Stendhal had a hold of my heart, making me feel all the anguish, hope, and love that she herself felt.

The book is not perfect, of course. It is riddled with casual transphobia that would have been common-place in the 1970’s, but feels rather shocking to read in a book published in 2017. There is, as well, at least one racial slur for Romani people within the text, and a prolonged and explicit scene depicting a girl between the ages of twelve and fifteen being photographed entirely nude.  Still, despite these short-comings, Kiss Me Again, Paris brings the author’s experience to life better than any other memoir I’ve read. The specificity in the detail is astounding, and the decadence in the language will leave you begging to read more.

Kiss Me Again, Paris by Renate Stendhal will be available for purchase on June 6, 2017.

Megan Casey reviews The Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson Series by Sandra de Helen

The Hounding  (Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson Series Book 1)

Pastiche: “a literary, artistic, musical, or architectural work that imitates the style of previous work.” For decades, the word pastiche was commonly used to refer to stories about Sherlock Holmes that were not written by A. Conan Doyle. Perhaps the most famous is The Seven-Percent Solution, which was a best seller for Nicholas Meyer in 1974. More recently, Laurie R. King (who also writes lesbian mysteries featuring Kate Martinelli) has created the Mary Russell Mystery Series, which features the iconic sleuth. Holmes also appears in Carole Nelson Douglas’ Irene Adler series. In fact, Amazon.com lists over 7000 paperbacks inspired by Holmes.

As far as the lesbian mystery genre goes, characters based on Holmes and Watson appear in Nene Adams’ Gaslight Series, Olivia Stowe’s Charlotte Diamond Series, Debra Hyde’s Charlotte Olmes Series. There is more than a subtle similarity to Holmes and Watson in Iza Moreau’s The XYZ Mysteries, with Xande Calhoun as Holmes and her sister Yolande as Watson. There are stories about Holmes and Watson as lesbians and Holmes and Watson as gay. Now, Sandra de Helen has become one of the latest pasticheurs with her series about Shirley Combs and her friend Dr. Mary Watson. In the first novel, The Hounding, neither character is either gay or lesbian, or even hetero. But we’ll get to that in a paragraph or two.

We don’t hear the word pastiche much any more. Today, it’s called “fan fiction.” I suspect that The Hounding began as fan fiction, and perhaps that’s why it isn’t as strong as it could be. For one thing, the author makes over 15 references to Sherlock Holmes himself. A couple of the characters joke about the Sherlock Holmes/Shirley Combs vocal similarity. And the language sometimes is just too Holmesian (despite the story being set in modern-day Oregon) to be anything but fan fiction. Here are a couple of for instances:

“I have been engaged by Miss Goldenhawk Vandeleur to enquire into the circumstances surrounding the death of her mother, Pricilla Leoin.”

“Only a slight upward movement of Shirley’s left eyebrow would have given away her surprise, and only an observer as keen as Shirley herself would have seen it.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with fan fiction, which may be the newest literary genre. In The Hounding, the writing is strong and the mystery is worthy of the master himself. In short, a woman is mauled by dogs, causing her to have a heart attack and die. But who set the dogs on her and where are they now? Shirley Combs, private investigator and portfolio analyst, takes on the job of finding the answer. But unless an author is actually writing about the real Holmes and Watson, it is not a good idea to stick too close to the original.

There is little backstory about either Shirley or Mary. Both consider themselves asexual and both live alone: Shirley in Portland, Oregon and Mary in nearby Lake Oswego. And neither, unfortunately, seems to have a very interesting personality. Of the two, though, it is Mary—the primary narrator—who has the most promise. It is she who gets an odd feeling when she sees an attractive woman and it is she who continually questions her strange relationship with Shirley. Shirley seems to question nothing.

And I can’t let this review go without discussing point of view. As you will remember, most—but not all—of the original Sherlock Holmes stories are narrated in their entirety by Watson, who sees all and hears all. Holmes includes him in his adventures just so that Watson is in attendance, not only as a friend, but as an observer. De Helen knows this well, but often finds it difficult to insert her Watson into the action, although this action is important to the story. Here’s how Mary Watson explains her ability to do it. Evidently, like Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe detective series, Shirley has a photographic memory and is able to give a thorough account of her outings, as when Mary says, “she dictated her word by word account for me.” Then Mary continues, “I use my creative license to add what I imagine to be the thoughts and emotions of all the players.” She adds later, “It’s easy to imagine what happened next.” This is one of the cleverest point-of-view ploys I’ve ever seen, but it’s still a glitch in the artistry.

But that’s enough skating around. As fan fiction, The Hounding is as good as most–as creative literature, not so much. But despite everything, it is an interesting and well-developed mystery. I recommend it for any Holmes/Watson obsessives.

The Illustrious Client (Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson Series Book 2)

One of the many good things about this, the second novel in the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson series, is that it stands alone very well. Conversely, perhaps the best way to review this novel is by contrasting it to its predecessor.

Let’s start with the Holmes/Watson comparisons. In the first book, de Helen refers to the original iconic detective no less than 15 times. Well, guess how many comparisons she makes this time? Answer: zero. What this means is that the author has become more confident in her talents and more creative in her thinking. Ditto about her “explanations” about inconsistent point of view. Although her narrative shifts once or twice from Dr. Watson to omniscient, the author genuinely tries to stay within Watson’s experience. Not perfect, but a vast improvement.

The plot is fairly complex, as was the previous book’s. Shirley is hired to dissuade a famous young pop star, Oceane, from her romance with international playgirl Zaro, who was once (while disguised as a male) a soldier in the Afghan army. But when Zaro is attacked with acid, the sleuth’s job becomes one of finding the culprit. Although, as I said, the story is a good one, the main merit of this book is the growth of Mary Watson. Although in the first book there were a couple of exquisitely tiny hints that Mary might not be quite as asexual as she believes, in this book she discovers, quite by surprise, her lesbian identity. Although from puberty, she assumed she was simply asexual, she suddenly found that “something had awakened in me,” when she met real estate agent Beth Adams. The idea of a romance—maybe even a sexual relationship!—causes her to gush, “I was excited to the point of near-hysteria.” This is really good stuff: details that are all-too-rare in lesbian fiction, although we have all been there.

A touch worth noting, Shirley’s new “administrative assistant” has the greatest first name in lesbian literature: Lix. Hopefully in the next book we will learn her last name and some backstory. And maybe some more about Shirley, too. Or maybe Lix and Shirley will get it on. Whoo weee. I can’t wait. And Lix should get her own series. You heard it all here first.

Finally—and I rarely comment on this—the formatting of the e-book for this novel is the most sophisticated I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. It may presage the day when e-books can look identical to print versions.

Negatives? Well the POV thing is still a little glitchy, as is Shirley’s lack of real individuality. And now that Sherlock himself is absent from de Helen’s pages, maybe it is time to stray from rewriting actual or nearly actual Conan Doyle titles.

Bottom line, give this one close to a 4; it is certainly worth a read. With the author continuing to hone her talents, I am looking forward to the next one.

For more than 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website athttp://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Quinn Jean reviews Stir-fry by Emma Donoghue

Trigger Warning: this novel depicts sexual harassment of underage people by an adult, discussed in this review’s fourth paragraph.

Also spoiler warning for several important plot points in this review.

Stir-Fry is an impressive debut novel, presenting a very relatable and thoughtful protagonist in Maria while also rejecting several tropes usually found in contemporary young adult novels written in the last half century. The novel takes place at the start of 17-year-old Maria’s first semester at university in Dublin after moving from her family’s home in a small village. Maria is dissatisfied living with a conservative, dull aunt in the city and answers an ad from two women seeking a flatmate, finding herself invited to dinner with 20-something students Jael and Ruth. Jael is extroverted, directionless and equal parts obnoxious and charismatic, while Ruth is a reserved but passionate feminist activist, and Maria quickly becomes close to them both after she moves in and naively doesn’t question why Ruth and Jael would share a room and a bed.

For those readers who aren’t aware of how conservative 1980s Ireland was (and the novel never explicitly explains this), it may seem a little far-fetched that Maria wouldn’t twig that her flatmates are lesbians in a relationship, but with the context of a poor, Catholic, isolated country it is distinctly plausible. This context also indicates why Maria would never have questioned her own sexuality before. The author’s presumption of reader knowledge here might make the novel feel a little inaccessible to some audiences at first, but the excellent descriptions of life in Ireland at the time paint a picture of a place where people might be pushed to be so oblivious to their own and others’ divergent sexualities. Maria’s pedestrian conversations with her classmate Yvonne–a friend Maria knows she should have but often struggles to tolerate–provide stark contrast to the vibrant, unpredictable interactions she has with her housemates, and Maria and Ruth both show miserable but resigned commitment to visiting bland family members even when the older people’s narrow ideas about life clash with the young students’ rapidly expanding intellectual worlds. The book makes it easy to empathise with Maria’s constantly changing understandings of who she is, and of the people around her, as the novel goes on and the reader sees her experiences diversify even further.

Stir-fry often feels as fractured as memory with scenes ending at ambiguous moments and skewed indications of how much time has passed. There are frequent disjointed jumps between intense conversations on raining streets to calm lounge room scenes, and Maria seems to change and recognise so much within herself, as do Ruth and Jael, and the novel ultimately only covers three months. Almost no scene in the book ends in a definite or clear manner, with characters’ last lines often leaving the reader with more questions than answers about what they mean. The scene breaks and narrative ambiguity give Stir-fry an unconventional structure and force a different kind of reading to typical young adult coming-of-age novels where characters’ thoughts and feelings are generally more clearly stated. Analysing relationships and revelations within this text requires deep concentration and thoughtful interpretation which is unexpected and rewarding.

One major criticism of the text is that an adult character at least a decade older than Maria makes advances towards her while fully aware that Maria is still a teenager and very unsure of herself sexually and romantically. This would be somewhat redeemable if there was any sort of indication anywhere in the novel that this behaviour is wrong, but it is never implied to be anything more than misguided and insensitive. These scenes toward the last third of the book may be distressing or triggering for some readers, and are certainly a large flaw in an otherwise brave, interesting and creative work.

Megan G reviews 18 Months by Samantha Boyette

lfriend Lana disappeared. She was found dead several months later. Now, Alissa’s current girlfriend Hannah Desarno has gone missing as well. Not only that, but Alissa keeps receiving mysterious notes; notes that make her think that perhaps Lana and Hannah’s disappearances have something to do with her.

I want to start off by saying that this book is incredibly trigger heavy. First and foremost, there is a dead lesbian in this book, and her death is central to the story. Homophobia is a big theme, and while the homophobia coming from external sources is addressed, the internalized homophobia isn’t. Going off of that, there are mentions of anti-gay camps, and [vague spoiler] Lana’s mother denies Lana’s sexuality after her death [end spoilers]. It’s very clear that Alissa’s mother has some form of eating disorder, and she often fatshames herself and Alissa. There are explicit mentions of sexual assault of a lesbian by a straight man, and a lesbian has several kisses forced on her, most of them by a straight man. A few cases of ableist language. [major spoilers] Someone is drugged several times throughout the book. Also, the only character who is explicitly non-white (at least, as far as I could tell) is not a very good guy. It’s implied that Hannah is black, but he’s the only character who is explicitly stated to be a person of colour [end spoilers].

If you can handle everything mentioned above, then I urge you to give this book a read. My original draw to it was that it was a murder mystery featuring a lesbian protagonist, and both aspects of the story delivered better than I could have imagined. Alissa and Hannah have an incredibly sweet relationship, and it’s clear throughout that Alissa would do anything to get Hannah back. The flashbacks to their relationship are some of the highlights in the book for me. Also, I want to give Boyette kudos for writing the first queer YA novel I’ve read where the protagonist has been in a relationship before. Don’t get me wrong, I love stories about first loves, but I also appreciate the acknowledgment that sometimes your first experiences aren’t with the person you end up with forever, and that’s okay, too.

Now, I don’t want to give away too much about the murder mystery aspect, because I believe it’s something you should read for yourself. All I will say is that I spent the entire book thinking that I knew exactly what was going on, and then when everything came together my jaw dropped. I’m somebody who has read far too many murder mystery novels, so getting my jaw to drop at a reveal is a pretty big accomplishment.  Especially considering that one of the main reasons I read the book as quickly as I did was because I wanted to see if my instincts on the who-done-it were correct (that, and I adored Alissa and Hannah’s relationship and wanted to know as much as possible about them).

Of course, it’s not a perfect book. There are several casual mentions of things that I wish they had gone into further. Alissa has multiple times where she wishes she could just be “normal” ie straight, and while I know there are people who feel this way, it always exhausts me to read about it; especially when nobody ever takes the time to tell her that she is normal. If you’re triggered by any of the things mentioned earlier, I would suggest you give this book a pass; a lot of it is dealt with rather explicitly, while some of the more serious things are sort of brushed under the rug. Still, 18 Months has got one of the most organic f/f love stories I’ve ever read, and one of the best plot twists I’ve read in years.

Megan Casey reviews The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

This novel reminds me of everything, so forgive me if I drop more names in a short period of time that maybe I should.

The plot is a simple one: a world-famous pop star who calls herself Molly Metropolis vanishes in the middle of her tour. An obsessed journalist and fan, Caitlin Taer, is determined to find her. That’s it; that’s the plot.

But it’s also so much more. It seems that Molly has herself become obsessed with a French cultural group that were called The Situationists, led by a thinker named Guy DeBord. Their philosophy encompasses sociology, geography, architecture, and cultural theory. DeBord and his followers dreamed of building a new type of city which would ultimately foreshadow a new world. Caitlin and her girlfriend Gina Nix, who was once a top aide to Molly Metro, begin to study the writings of the Situationists in an attempt to locate the missing singer, who seems to have left cryptic clues as to her whereabouts almost everywhere. Among other ideas, the Situationists believed in the concept of detournement, which is basically the idea of “culture as common property.” In other words, one should be able to “take pieces of culture, like pop songs or photos of famous actors, and shove them next to or on top of other pieces of culture or cultural references, to create something new.” Kind of like “sampling,” but to the x power.

Bottom line: Disabato’s book is simply a concrete example of DeBord’s detournement. She is taking the ideas of her betters and shuffling them together to form something else. Let me explain in more detail.

I see so much here that is derivative. Disabato’s style is a lot like Thomas Pynchon’s . Molly’s disappearance reminds me somehow of Tyrone Slothrop in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The secret Situationist group reminds me of Pynchon’s Tristero in The Crying of Lot 49. Many previous reviewers have likened Molly Metropolis to Lady Gaga, although many other artists could have done just as well—Miley Cyrus, Prince, Grace Jones, Elton John. I am reminded most of the protagonist of Pinball, Jerzy Konsiski’s underrated novel, about a flashing rock star who was purportedly based on George Harrison, although I saw the protagonist as Elvis Costello. In The Hermit of 69th Street, Kosinski uses a great deal of footnotes, ostensibly to prove that the writing is authentic. However as intelligent and well-read as Disabato is, I doubt she has read Hermit of 69th Street. or Pinball. More likely, then, she was influenced by David Foster Wallace’s uncanny Infinite Jest, which abounds in footnotes and secrets and cultural savvy.

Oddly, the story is mostly told by an aging English professor named Cyrus Archer, who has become interested in Molly’s—then Caitlin’s—disappearance. As an academic, Cyrus writes in PMLA style, much like a series of encyclopedia articles complete with footnotes. And if that does not distance the reader from the material enough, he, too, disappears and leaves his unfinished book to our author, Catie, who attempts to finish it for him.

Disabado’s invention of the Situationists is a wonderful sleight of literary prose, reminiscent of the even more brilliant philosophical system in Neal Stephenson’s gargantuan futuristic novel Anathem She is hitting all the bases, to be sure. Caitlin’s search for Molly is also somewhat reminiscent of the wonderful Lesbian Mystery novel Looking for Ammu, although, again, this is a book that the author has almost certainly never heard of.

There are at least two flaws to the book, one major and one almost major. The lesser flaw is an inability of the author to show Molly Metropolis as a real musical artist. We are told about (although we never actually see) her designing costumes, working with dancers, and even writing lyrics, but it isn’t obvious that she has any real musical knowledge or ability. We never see her wrestling with words, practicing an instrument, or trying to create melodies. It is as if she becomes a pop icon simply by willing herself to be one.

The main problem I have though, is in Disabato’s choice of point of view. We all know that third person point of view is less immediate than first person, but Disabato decides to filter what she tells us even more by having the narrator be someone not directly involved in the action. He is simply a researcher reporting what he finds out. Not only that, she then filters it even more by bringing herself into the story as a sort of overseer, giving us her opinions of what Cyrus Archer has written. Disabato’s attempt to be incredibly literary is obvious. She made a very conscious decision to distance the reader from the text. So give her a point for considering alternate point of view narratives; take off 1.2 points for her making the wrong choice. I like the characters of Molly Metropolis, Caitliln Taer, Gina Nix, and Nick Berliner—but I would like them far better if Disabato had allowed me to know them more intimately. Her footnotes make the text seem academic, although most of them are simply not necessary. So too, an academic style precludes much experimenting with words and language, but I suppose that the Situationists would consider any artistic attempt at using words as pretentious. I don’t. Literature is art, no matter how you try to disguise it.

The chances The Ghost Network takes force me—as a former academic—to give this book a solid 4 stars. But before you rush out and buy it, I recommend you start with any of the novels I have mentioned above. They are the real thing. Disabato is young and talented enough to, in time, write something comparable.

For more than 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Danika reviews Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

This has been a much-anticipated read for me! Back in 2016, I saw a tumblr post by Barbara Dee’s daughter talking about the upcoming release of her mom’s book, Star-Crossed: a middle-grade book with a bisexual girl as the main character. The first middle-grade novel with a girl who likes girls as the main character! And with an adorable cover! I was sold, but it was still months before it came out.

Unfortunately, the next time I heard about this title (other than the endless reblogs on tumblr) was when I read Barbara Dee’s post, Please Don’t Talk About Your Book. (Which got me so upset that I wrote Let’s Talk About STAR-CROSSED: Why We Need Bisexual Kids’ Books, Backlash or Not at Book Riot.)

Needless to say, I was pretty eager to read this story myself! I was pretty biased going into it, I’ll admit, but I felt that it lived up to the hype. This is a very sweet story that balances Shakespeare references with the dizzying experience of middle school crushes. The characters and middle school politics felt realistic and well-rounded. Even the “mean girl” isn’t dismissed as one-dimensional.

This story revolves around the 8th grade production of Romeo and Juliet, and there is lots of discussion about the play and Shakespeare. Each chapter starts with a related quotation from the play. I was impressed with the discussion that takes place with the material–the play is not only explained, but also critiqued and complimented by the kids performing it. I think it shows what you can gain from really diving into a story looking at in depth. It begins to be relateable and personally valuable.

As for the representation in the story, the word “bisexual” isn’t actually used, but it’s explicit that she acknowledges that she can get crushes on boys and girls. Mattie worries what people will think if they find out that she has a crush on a girl, but there’s very little homophobia on the page. (More detail and spoilers in following paragraph.)

[Spoilers] The only homophobia on the page is one kid saying “That’s gay” about something and the teacher and his classmate (the popular girl who’s been kind of a jerk otherwise) both immediately say that wasn’t okay and that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of. Mattie comes out to her sister, teacher, and friends without ant of them really batting an eyelash. She doesn’t come out to her parents by the end of the book, but doesn’t seem worried about it. She asks Gemma (her crush) out on a date, and she accepts! [End spoilers]

This was a light, fun read, and I’m so happy it’s out in the world now. This would be life-changing for kids questioning their sexuality/romantic identity! It is fluffy enough that I don’t expect I’ll reread it or that it will stick with me in a huge way as an adult reader, but it’s well-written, entertaining, and much-needed.