Megan G reviews Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

Megan hasn’t spoken in months. Not since that horrible day. She worries that if she starts talking, she won’t be able to stop, and there are some things she simply cannot tell anybody. Except suddenly Jasmine moves to town; kind and talkative Jasmine. And for some reason, Megan finds herself wanting to speak again.

This is one of those typical young adult books that those of us who enjoy YA eat up, and those who don’t roll their eyes at. I have to be honest, I think I would have rolled my eyes a bit if the main couple hadn’t been two girls. It’s just that type of YA book.

I mainly picked this book up because the main character’s name was Megan, and I have to admit that I did enjoy her as a protagonist for the most part. She’s obviously very internal, as she doesn’t speak, but Rushton still manages to do a good job of displaying her character through her inner thoughts and her actions. My only frustration about this is that at times her actions can feel random and quite jarring, and are never truly explained beyond the overall theme of “she’s sad and lonely.” These moments seem to be there more for the sake of drama than to truly advance Megan as a character.

Jasmine, Megan’s love interest, is very interesting and enjoyable overall, but at times falls a little flat. Again, this is a very typical young adult book, so of course the love interest at times feels like she’s there for little more than to be the love interest. Still, as far as young adult love interests go, she’s decently entertaining and at least somewhat fleshed out.

All the young adult cliché’s aside (which, honestly, are not much of a deterrent for me, especially in queer YA), the main thing that frustrated me about this book is that there is a background male character who is assumed to be gay, and bullied because of this at random intervals throughout the book. Halfway through the novel the author seems to forget about him, so the last we see of him is him running from homophobic taunts while Megan thinks to herself that she’s glad she isn’t the one being bullied for once. I’m a big fan of mlm/wlw solidarity, and that was severely lacking in this particular book. I almost rather that tiny little subplot hadn’t even been included, as it doesn’t really add anything to the story and just made me feel annoyed.

Still, overall this is a cute and charming little story with a bit of a mystery to it and a sweet wlw love story. It’s a fast read that I think any YA-loving wlw will enjoy.

Megan G reviews We Love You, But You’re Going to Hell by Dr. Kim O’Reilly

We Love You, But You're Going to Hell by Dr. Kim O'Reilly

“The first place homosexual should be able to turn to is the Church. Sadly, it is often the last.”

I am deeply honoured to have been given the opportunity to read and review We Love You, But You’re Going to Hell by Dr. Kim O’Reilly. This is a very important book, one of which I believe we need many more of in this world.

This nonfiction book delves into the current crisis of Homosexuality vs Christianity. In her introduction, Dr. O’Reilly encourages people to read this book even if it is simply to strengthen their own beliefs. She clearly wants to get this book in the hands of as many people as possible and to encourage discussion. The introduction is non-confrontational, something I think is very important when dealing with issues like this. It is merely asking that people read this book with an open mind, to question both their currently held beliefs and the ideas given throughout the book. It leaves the door open for a lack of change of mind – which, when challenging people’s long-held beliefs, particularly religious beliefs, is incredibly wise.

As I was reading this, I could think of about ten people I wanted to pass it on to, friends and family alike. It covers a variety of topics, almost all of which are brought up in most debates about homosexuality. It answers questions, gives private testimony, and also analyzes scripture in a way that few likely have.

This book works as a marvelous introduction to the debate of Homosexuality vs Christianity. It encourages further study, but gives brief overviews and thoughts based on the author’s own beliefs. It would be perfect for anybody who has never challenged their own beliefs on this topic. Someone who maybe just found out a loved on is queer and is struggling with their love for them vs their love for God. Someone who wants to know more, or who wants to hear an opposing view on a strongly held belief. Personally, as somebody who has been deeply invested in this particular topic for going on a decade, I felt it a little light at parts, as though the author could have gone deeper. However, I am fully aware that I am not the target audience for this book, and that by going deeper or heavier Dr. O’Reilly may have alienated some of those who are the target audience. So, in many ways, I understand why she did it.

One thing to be aware of about this book is that it is very United States-centric. It is clearly written by an American and for Americans. Because of this, as a Canadian, there were a lot of things I was lost on, or that I felt weren’t present in my own experience growing up as a queer Christian. While this is not enough of a negative for me not to want to show this book to other non-American’s, it is something I feel I have to warn about, as in some sections the amount of American-centrism was quite jarring (at one point the author states that one member of the couple being a citizen of the United States is a requirement for being married with no follow-up specifying that this is obviously only a requirement in the United States).

There also isn’t a lot of discussion about transgender issues, or people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, or polysexual. Similar to what I said above, this could be because the author felt it would alienate the target audience to throw so much queer vocabulary at them. I am not sure. But it is something to be aware of.

My final criticism, and this is really the only one that might hold me back from giving this book to certain people, is that too often there are quotes for which no reference is provided. Almost every quote credited to “anonymous” does not have a source, and there are multiple quotes throughout the book that are not credited to any speaker and do not have a source. This lack of crediting causes these quotes to lose credibility – after all, anonymous could be the author herself for all we know. Because of this, I would be hesitant to give this book to any academically-minded Christians, or really anyone who would read this with the intention of proving it wrong. Seeing as the author is a University professor, this feels like a surprising oversight.

Despite these things, however, I still feel this is a very important book. I would recommend it not only to Christians who are unsure about their views on homosexuality, or who are looking for something to challenge them, but also to any member of the LGBT community who has felt alienated by the church. I hope that this book sparks more similar books – not just for Christians, but for people of all religions.

Marthese reviews Seer and the Shield (Dragon Horse War #3) by D. Jackson Leigh

Seer and the Shield by D Jackson Leigh

“She wanted the guard to relax and see them as people, not just the enemy”

Seer and the Shield by D. Jackson Leigh is the third and final book in the Dragon Horse War trilogy. This book focuses on the conclusion of the story and on Toni and Maya, who was introduced in the previous book. This review will contain some spoilers for the other books in the series but I’ll keep them vague.

At the end of last book, something happened which leaves some characters in a distressing situation. Thankfully, these characters all have powers and they balance each other, because the four of them need to work together while keep the extent of their gifts secret.

Maya, who is Kyle’s sister, is a pacifist who believes that warriors harm others and are suicidal and in her opinion, they have negative gifts. Toni at first isn’t much of a warrior. He likes to keep an organized inventory and she’s more of a shield that protects but Maya still sees her as a warrior. Maya has been attracted to boys and girls in the past, but she doesn’t like that she’s attracted to Toni, until Toni continues to proves herself. These developing feelings that the two characters have are developing in the presence of an empathy… that must have been interesting.

There is a lot of adventure, this being the last book in the series. In the beginning, there is a plane crash and its aftermath. I think that survival stories, foraging and engineering things to fit the situations are always interesting because in their remote possibility, they are realistic. There is also an epic fight at the end, whose parts from it have been foreshadowed by characters – I mean, one of the protagonists in this book is a Seer. There was also a cool twist with Laine. Mama bear to the rescue.

I liked the character development of some of the characters. Toni, who thanks to the situation and her powers and Michael thanks to his relationship and also his powers, have both evolved. Michael is an intersex character and I hope that more authors choose to include marginalized identities.

We also get to see the Network in action!

While the focus is on Toni and Maya, we get a variety of POVs in this book, among which, we have the villains too! We also have some past characters, some of which were a surprise. Something happened towards the end of the second book, which is resolved, with a great price in the last book.

A pet peeve of mine during this book was when Toni and Maya used terms of endearment towards each other. I get that they are supposed to be essentially soulmates, but they still barely know each other! There was also the famous trope of villains explaining all of their plans which makes it easier to stop them.

On the other hand, a super like in this book would be that experts are consulted when needed and that professions like farmers and geologists are regarded well. This however, isn’t done to the extent of the mangoverse series, which I adored. But hey, anyone that does justice to workers has a good place in my books.

Through the adventures of this series, the characters learn something. I liked that this was the case, rather than they go about as if they were 100% right in the first place. The epilogue shows where everyone is at. I personally thought that some characters and character dynamics were underused. I would have liked if there was more team bonding and relationships – after all these warriors have spent many lifetimes together but the primary focuses were the romantic relationships and the overall plot.

This book is great for those that like romance with a hint of fantasy and adventure. For those that prefer the latter, this series is good but there are better queer fantasy series that develop on the action and team dynamics.

Danika reviews Moonstruck, Vol. 1: Magic to Brew

Moonstruck Vol 1

I adored this book when I started it. The pastel colours, the adorable art style, the world packed full of magical people of all varieties (living plants! ghosts! centaurs!), and the coffee shop setting. Then you get a f/f romance between two fat poc werewolves (Selena is Black and Julie is Latina)! It also has a nonbinary centaur character who uses they/them pronouns. I was gearing up for a five star rating.

Unfortunately, I ended up giving this one three stars, because I am conflicted about it. Although the plot pulled me through the story and I loved the aesthetics, the adorable relationship quickly devolves into something… icky. Selena is sometimes controlling and even insulting. Julie reacts with tears. They fight, multiple times, including physically (as werewolves). I fully admit that I prefer my romance fluffy and basically conflict-free, so I am bringing my own baggage into this, especially because I can feel so much empathy for Julie, who is a raw nerve of vulnerability and sensitivity.

I still want to continue with the series, because everything else was 5 stars for me, but because I was expected fluff, the downward spiral of the relationship really soured it for me. The book does address their dynamics and has some accountability, but it still didn’t seem to match the happy tone of the rest of the book. I’m interested to see if the next volume course corrects in that, or if I’ll have to accept that this one isn’t for me.

Danika reviews Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

I’ll get this out of the way first: Top Ten is about Gabby and Ryan: their unexpected friendship, and their constant will-they, won’t-they. It starts on the night of their graduation, when their complex friendship gains a whole other complication, and then describes the “top ten” moments of their friendship, not in chronological order. This is about the two of them, and there is a romantic component, but Gabby is bisexual, and just as much time is given to her long-term relationship with Shay, her girlfriend, as there is to the M/F relationship. (There’s not really a love triangle, and there’s no cheating, these are just relationships at different points.) So this isn’t a F/F romance (though it does include one), but it is queer.

On to the story itself. I enjoy reading about complex friendships, and Gabby and Ryan definitely have that. We see their friendship from both perspectives, and they both clearly rely on each and value each other, but there is also a lot of other things going on. Their insecurities get mapped onto the other. They don’t always know how to communicate with each other. Their conversations can go sideways and explode into serious fights–they’re so invested that can’t always get the perspective they need. They’re both insecure and are subconsciously looking for slights. And they both have their own issues: Gabby struggles with her anxiety, and Ryan keeps getting concussed playing hockey (but feels like hockey is his only possible future). Their interplay is sometimes frustrating, but relateable. They often confront each other on things no one else will bring up, but they still don’t always address the things that most need talking about.

I was a little bit worried that because the book focuses on Gabby and Ryan’s relationship, Gabby and Shay’s relationship would be seen as second-best, doomed, or trivial. Instead, we get a really cute scene of them meeting and getting together, and I did like their relationship. Although it’s not the focus of the story, they get enough space to develop a dynamic, and the difficulties that come up have nothing to do with Ryan. So I appreciated that it wasn’t as if the F/F relationship was a stepping stone to the ~important relationship. It was developed and significant in itself.

As for the structure of the story, it was interesting, but I’m not sure it really worked for me. For one thing, I already have difficulty keeping track of time, so scrambling the events made it difficult. It also made it harder to connect to the characters, because I didn’t get a great sense of their change over time. Sometimes I was actually confused, like when one chapter would refer to a previous fight, and I couldn’t remember if that was something I’d already read about or not. (Listening to this as an audiobook probably didn’t help that.) Perhaps partially because of that, although I was interested in Gabby and Ryan’s dynamic, I didn’t feel really connected to either of them individually. I was losing track of things, like the ages of Gabby’s sisters, which made scenes with them difficult to understand. the motif of Buzzfeed-style lists was mentioned a few times, but it didn’t seem like a strong enough theme to frame the whole book around. Although I liked elements of this, unfortunately I didn’t connect as much as I wanted to.

Megan G reviews Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Leila knows she’ll never be what her parents want her to be. She doesn’t want to be a doctor (she isn’t even good at science), she has little interest in sports, and she has no plans to marry a Persian man. In fact, she doesn’t plan on marrying a man at all. These all things she figures she can deal with in the future, but when she befriends the beautiful new girl, Saskia, she realizes that keeping at least her sexuality from her parents may be more complicated than she thought.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is not your typical coming out story. For one, Leila, the protagonist, already knows that she’s a lesbian when the story begins. It’s kind of refreshing to get to skip the self-discovery process, since it means that there is no frustrating compulsive heterosexuality to deal with. Leila doesn’t feel the need to experiment with dating men – she already knows it won’t go well. Even though I know it’s something that many lesbians experience, every now and then it’s nice to see one who doesn’t.

This is a character-focused story. The plot takes a backseat to Leila and her feelings, thoughts, and worries. She drives the story, and while her decisions can be frustrating at times, they’re also very realistic and lead to an impressive amount of character growth. By the last page, Leila is not the same girl we met on page one in the best way possible.

There is a bit of internalized homophobia, though it’s mostly shown in how Leila reacts to a group of girls she assumes are also lesbians, as well as a gay classmate. At first, she is not kind to them, and seems hellbent on the fact that, even if she comes out, she’ll never be like those lesbians. Watching her get to know these girls and realize that there is nothing wrong with being like them is one of the most satisfying bits of character development.

The romance aspect of this story is not at all what I expected. This initially annoyed me, but by the end I was more than happy about it. Out of respect for spoilers, however, I will say no more.

Another aspect of the story I greatly enjoyed was the focus on Leila and her family. Her genuine anxiety over what her sexuality will mean for their close relationship is painful to read in its realism. But we also get to see her grow in her friendship with her sister, someone she initially views as competition for her parents affection. [Major spoilers] I also loved the reaction that her parents had to Leila’s coming out. Many people might not, as they do not immediately accept her, but it’s very clear that they are trying and working toward full acceptance. As nice as it is to read stories where families accept their queer children without pause, it’s also enjoyable to read about parents who may not be happy about it at first but put in the effort to understand and love their child. Especially since I think this is a more common experience than is spoken about [End spoilers].

The only thing that lowered my enjoyment of this story was that at times the plot seemed to go in unnecessary directions, where it spent too long for such a short novel. One such directions also happens right at the end, which is disappointing. As well, the portrayal of one character felt steeped in internalized misogyny. This is mostly counteracted by the fact that all the other female characters in the story are well-developed, three-dimensional women who are allowed to make mistakes and grow from them. It is still frustrating to find even one character that falls into sexist stereotypes, though.

Overall, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is a solid, quick, feel-good story that will definitely put a smile on your face.

Mallory Lass reviews Liquid Courage by Hildred Billings

Liquid Courage by Hildred Billings

Liquid Courage is about two people coming together through a comedic course of events. It has been a long time since these leading ladies have had a steady relationship…but, have they found the one in each other?

Vivian “Vivi” is a legal secretary who is recovering from a serious illness that has left her weak and emaciated. Vivi has been in recovery for six months, having spent the last week texting with Shari, a woman she met on a dating app – she decides she is ready to dip her toe in the dating scene again. But, she still lacks confidence about her appearance and self-worth which even a few racy messages can’t shake.

Kat is the head bartender at a local women’s bar, she also works part time down at the docks sorting fish. She hasn’t been serious about anyone in years, not since Sheri broke up with her for looking “too masculine” and shattered her self esteem.

Shari, local lady killer and serial dater likes to frequent Kat’s bar. Kat’s long ago ex, and Vivian’s first attempt in the dating pool knows how to leave a mark, and not in a good way.

This story takes place primarily in a the bar Kat works at, and unfortunately doesn’t really go anywhere from there.

I enjoyed the characters, and it is nice to get a butch/masculine of center female main character in Kat. The sex between Vivi and Kat is hot, and there was even mention of safe-sex, a plus in my book.

Unfortunately none of the characters really experience much growth. I found the plot a bit boring and it suffers from weak conflict points and an unredeemable antagonist. Overall I found it really hard to get into Billings style, the narrative is filled with too many rhetorical questions, exclamation points, and colloquial language for the characters to believably be in their late twenties/early thirties.

Megan Casey reviews Fighting for Air by Marsha Mildon

Fighting for Air by Marsha Mildon cover

This book is a prime example of why ebook samples should be longer. If Fighting for Air had been available as an ebook when I read it, I would have given up after the ten-percent sample that Amazon offers. At the time, however, there was no ebook—New Victoria came out with one in 2016—21 years after its paperback publication and several years after I read it. So I persevered and was rewarded. Am I rich because of it? No. But I gained something I didn’t have before.

Calliope Meredith is a private detective and former scuba diving enthusiast living in a coastal town in Canada. When she is invited to participate in a dive off Anemone Island, she is at first reluctant because her lover was killed in a diving accident only a year previously. But she is persuaded by her good friend Jay, who is running a diving certification class and wants Cal to help her out. Then the unthinkable happens: one of the students drowns and Jay is arrested for homicide-by-negligence. Unless Cal can prove that the diver, an Ethiopian graduate student named Tekla, has been murdered—and figure out who murdered him—Jay might be sent to jail for life, just as Cal is falling in love with her.

Mildon’s cast of characters is a rich one, with beautiful lesbians a-plenty: Cal, her best friend Danielle, Danielle’s lover Sally, and the likable old Faith, who keeps an eye out for all of them when she can. But many characters makes for many suspects, and one of Cal’s friends may be a murderer.

As mysteries go, this one is better than most, but you may have to do some research into scuba diving for it to ring true. I did, and I learned a lot about how poisonous carbon monoxide can find its way into scuba tanks. In fact, the whole diving motif was extremely well done—accurate and interesting. The author also goes into the theme of activism vis a vis third world countries. It seems that Tekla was a relation of the deposed emperor Heile Selassie, and harbored the grandiose  scheme of returning to his country and taking over power from the military. The history of Ethiopia’s aggression toward the neighboring state of Eritera is also gone into in some detail.

Cal is not a particularly noticeable character. She plods from one suspect to another determined to exonerate her lover even after Jay gives up and resigns herself to prison life. Cal’s status as a P.I. is stated but not gone into with enough detail for us to really believe it. These are a couple of minor but important detractions. A more significant flaw is in Cal’s relationship with Jay. Quite simply, it isn’t written very well. Cal’s previous friendship with Jay is told in asides and occasional flashbacks, not as part of the story line, so it seems very abrupt when Cal touches Jay’s shoulder comfortingly and shudders with sexual feeling. The flashbacks explain after the fact. And because Jay has heretofore been straight, I felt like I was missing out on a lot of foreplay.

Despite the flaws and the non-flaws, give this book an average rating. 2.5. You’ll learn some important things, but you’re not likely to be very engrossed in the story.

Note: I read the first New Victoria printing of this novel.

Another Note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Mallory Lass reviews Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes

Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes cover

Content warning: violence against women, murder of women, homophobic father, abandoned by father, alcohol abuse

Unsolved serial murders committed by one, or maybe two people, will keep you guessing in this thriller that takes place in the dead of winter. Nothing like solving a murder over Christmas. It is low on holiday feels, and high on intrigue.

Joanna, an ex-cop who served time for killing a serial offender in cold blood, just can’t seem to let her old life go. Or maybe, her past has a way of catching up with her. Her life after prison is simple, if not boring. She works in a warehouse and spends time with her two straight female friends: a former fellow inmate, Kira, and the IAB cop that sent her to jail, Vanessa. Her and Vanessa spend most of their time together getting drunk, arguing, and picking up respective one-night stands. An attempted murder in her hometown, with a profile like one of her old cases, forces her to navigate her relationship with her former partner on the force, Theo.

I went through a Patricia Cornwell phase where I read about twenty Scarpetta novels in a year, and I’ve watched my fair share of crime shows, but crime thrillers are not my go to genre, and I haven’t read many lesbian ones. This was a good entrée into the genre.

Killer Instinct is an entertaining read. I didn’t personally like the snippets into other character points of view—it happens infrequently and with different characters points of view being told throughout the book that it seemed more distracting than beneficial. I would have preferred finding out plot points and relevant case information at the same time the protagonist Joanna does. But, as a reader, knowing outside information did increase the suspense factor. My other critique is that the supporting cast was not developed enough to be really invested in them. I wanted to know more about their back story and certainly more about Joanna and Venessa’s road to becoming friends.

Overall, there were enough twists and turns for me to consider this book a “page turner”, and at 165 pages it is definitely a quick read. This is a thriller, but there is also a romantic undercurrent, and despite Joanna’s penchant for one-night stands (the sex throughout is of the fade to black variety), she might have finally met a woman worth having a relationship with. Will her past will keep coming back to bite her, ruining her chances at a longer term relationship? Will she help her old partner solve the case and finally exercise her demons? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

Genevra Littlejohn reviews The Woman Who Tried To Be Normal by Anna Ferrara

The Woman Who Tried To Be Normal by Anna Ferrara cover

I read a very great deal, but I’m kind of like a butterfly; while there are some things which will always draw my attention the most, I flit around quite a bit otherwise.  When The Woman Who Tried to Be Normal landed in my inbox, I was intrigued to see that its protagonist was a synesthetic woman.  I freely admit that I opened it strictly on that basis alone.

Synesthesia is basically a cross-allocation of the senses. While there are a lot of different expressions of the phenomenon, and I’ve never met two people whose responses are the same, it works more or less like this: a syesthete might see the bright blue color of a bus driving down the street and because of experiencing that color they also hear a sound, or even music.  They might taste a flavor and see shapes in the air, or feel sensations traced on their skin. One of the most commonly-recognized forms causes the person to perceive colors when they see letters or numbers;  if you’ve heard just a little about synesthesia, that’s probably the form you know. I’m drawn to stories about synesthetes because I’m one myself, and it’s always interesting to see the difference between how non-synesthetes and synesthetes write about the experience.
That said, this was an odd novel, and I’m still chewing on it.
The premise is that it’s 1975, and Helen Mendel, Stepford-wife wannabe, is doing her damnedest to come off as normal.  Every action she takes is calculated, down to the tiniest tics of her facial expression.  She feels no emotion beyond irritation shading to anger, and she doesn’t fit in with the “normal” wives in the suburban neighborhood her husband has just moved her to. But she has a goal: blend in and find out what her husband is keeping from her.  Her next-door neighbors are the family of his best work buddy, and the story is in particular concerned with Ethel, a Valium-addicted alcoholic who hates life and whom Helen blackmails and seduces in short order.  Their husbands are airplane engineers–supposedly–and both of them are stereotypical in their demands for sex, dinner on the table when they walk in the door, and unquestioning wives with smiles on their faces.  The skin of “normal” life is very thin over horrors everyday and extreme.
There are no sympathetic characters in this novel, with the possible exception of Gigi, Ethel’s nanny.  The men are all brutes, Helen is an emotionless, manipulative automaton, and Ethel pinwheels between sexually demanding and vicious with no seeming reason. Ethel’s baby appears in the story mainly to cry and irritate the adults in the room, Gigi’s husband only exists so that she has someone she needs to be saved from. The whole comes off largely like a forcefully-arranged stage play where one character freezes when the spotlight is on another, or like a box full of windup dolls. There’s an implacability to the way that they go through the motions, not one of them seeming to enjoy anything for more than a moment, all the smiles coming off as soon as the attention passes to someone else.
It is definitely horrific in ways great and small, from Helen’s repeated quiet attempts to make scrambled eggs to her husband’s specifications to sudden ultra-violence. There is a sense throughout the entire work that she is alien, is other in a way that makes her inhuman. But it isn’t until the climax that it’s revealed why–and the more seemingly mundane part of that revelation distressed me a little.  You see, besides the poorly-camouflaged synesthesia, Helen is autistic.  This, explains the narrative, is the reason behind her emotionless manipulations, her dispassion and total lack of attachment to almost anyone or anything. I am not autistic, and so far as I know I have only one relative on the spectrum, but I’ve had more than enough autistic friends to know that this isn’t right.
The synesthesia is also portrayed inelegantly. My own form of it is not one that gets written about a lot. It’s mild, and not usually visual (though once, when an industrial fire alarm went off directly above my head, my vision filled with glorious expanding silver geometry).  Usually it’s that I smell and taste things which aren’t there for other people to perceive. Everyone I am close to has a scent, and their voices have a color–but I don’t *see* the color so much as know it is part of the person I’m talking to. The sound of an ice skate cutting fresh ice tastes like cherry hard candy, for instance, and my partner smells like snow clouds, and my old friend Gin’s voice has almost precisely the color of light through a good whiskey.  But the thing about all of these impressions, all these bits of knowledge, is that they’re not interruptive.  This is not a disability, and it doesn’t impact daily life negatively. And I’m not just speaking about my experiences, here. Many people don’t even realize that they have synesthesia until they’re adults. I was in my twenties before I found out that walking under the stars doesn’t taste like spearmint to everybody. When it’s how it has always been, there is no need to talk about it, and so there’s no way to know that anything is unusual. But Helen’s synesthesia, descriptions of which constantly interrupt the storytelling, are definitely what I would class as a disability. It blinds her, it fills her ears with raucous trumpets and gunshots and her mouth with foul flavors. Bluntly, it’s not the synesthesia I, any of my siblings, or any other synesthete I have ever met experiences. It seems likely to me that Ferrara did some research about synesthesia, but probably didn’t consult anyone who actually lives with it.
This work had some of the benchmarks of a self-published piece without a paid editor. There are a handful of grammatical errors which probably would not have survived a professional second pair of eyes, as well as a tendency to repeat the same verb or phrase too closely, sometimes twice in two sentences. The pacing is strange, from slow-motion sameness to a host of quickshot dramatic events in the last quarter of the piece.  But it must also be said that a lot of self-published works are in genres or portray characters which would not find mainstream publication, so I tend to consider these errors and issues to be basically the entry fee to getting to read imaginative fiction.  So while I wouldn’t use those problems as an excuse to write off the book on its own, one should go into reading it expecting them.  And honestly, it was thinking about that that ultimately led me to a better understanding of the book.  I went to the author’s homepage, where there’s a brief description of the characters’ appearances as she imagines them.  Discussing the husbands, she says “You can think James Stewart or Gary Cooper or whichever traditional American man you can envision, though I know you probably won’t even bother…” and I realized all at once that this book is more or less stripped down to just the parts she wanted to write, anything she considers superfluous consigned to the wayside. It doesn’t matter what the men look like, they’re only here to drive the angst  and get in the way of the porn. It doesn’t matter where that container of acid came from, or where the clean room with genetic experimentation tools might be, it doesn’t matter what their husbands are actually up to.  Like a nightmare, only the high points are important. To that end, if you’re looking for a beach read  that doesn’t have the hero riding in to save the day of the heaving-bosomed heroine, or maybe a book where the day isn’t saved at all, this might be for you.
WHAT I LIKED: The relentless pressure and horror of the situation was, to me, pretty believable for the era. It was nice to see any representation of synesthesia at all, even if so unrealistic.  There were some really fun ideas now and again. It’s not common to see an author really commit to such an unlikable main character, so I had to tip my hat to her for that.
WHAT I DISLIKED: The thing which knocked me out of immersion in the narrative worst was that there were many instances of what John Scalzi refers to as Flying Snowmen.  For me these were events and actions which were scientifically impossible in a way I found very distracting. I don’t mean the genius, the telekinesis, the super senses.  I don’t even mean the obviously magical element of her being able to fly for no stated reason but that she “figured it out.” I’m talking impossible like the way it is repeatedly noted she can move “at the speed of light,” the real-world physical consequences of which would be catastrophic to her body and, well, the planet. She’s capable of things which if possible at all would require a great deal of time in a clean lab, but no such place or expenditure of time is ever hinted at. A single container of fluoroantimonic acid “three times the size of a bullet” is sufficient to dissolve an entire human corpse in moments, and so on. This strained my willing credulity a bit too far.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Infant death. Repeated instances of violence against women, brief mentions of horrific childhood and institutional abuse, possible rape, murder, desecration of a corpse, gore and temporary dismemberment, drug abuse, fat-shaming from the POV character. Sexually explicit.
OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS: The mundane setting, 100% unreliable narrator and sort of creeping, inexorable dissolution of normality into something much darker reminded me a little bit of Violet LeVoit’s spectacular and very-recommended horror “I Miss the World,” available in electronic format from Kingshot Press and Amazon.
 FINAL SCORE: 3/5 .