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 .

Megan G reviews A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

A Line In the Dark by Malinda Lo cover

Jess Wong is the girl nobody sees, and she’s okay with that. She likes to keep to herself, and to her art. The only person close to her is her best friend, Angie Redmond. Angie sees Jess, even if it’s not the way that Jess wishes that Angie would see her. It’s enough for Jess. Until Angie starts to fall for Margot Adams, a girl from the nearby boarding school. As Angie’s relationship with Margot progresses, Jess and Angie are drawn into a world of wealth and secrets, of privilege and cruelty. A world where terrible things happen. A world where, suddenly, Angie doesn’t see Jess anymore.

This is a difficult book to review, because, despite its short length, it almost feels like two books merged into one. The first book is about a co-dependent relationship between two best friends, one of whom has a crush on the other. The second is a murder mystery. It just so happens that both books have the same characters.

The first part of the book is told from Jess’s perspective. Jess Wong is an unreliable narrator, to say the least, who paints her relationship with Angie as not only normal, but healthy. The problem is that it isn’t healthy, which I think Malinda Lo makes very clear. Every time Jess thinks about how wonderful her friendship with Angie is, Lo shows her doing something that proves it isn’t. In fact, the co-dependency between the two (but especially from Jess) can be difficult to read at times, as you can tell how much better these girls’ lives would be if the other weren’t in it.

In a way, I sort of appreciated this. I went into this book fully expecting this to be a pining, friends-to-lovers story, with a murder mystery twist. Instead, the twist is that the reader can tell full-stop that these friends should never become lovers, and in fact probably shouldn’t even be friends at all. Some of the things that Jess does when she and Angie fight are a little frightening, but Jess wants us to think that it’s totally okay. It’s realistic in its portrayal of the co-dependency found amongst many friendships, particularly teenage friendships, and like I said, I appreciate that. As well, I can look past the argument that would usually be building in my head (“There aren’t nearly as many stories about queer women as there are about straight women, so why can’t the ones about queer women be happy for once?”) because Malinda Lo has provided us with four incredible, happily-ending stories about queer women. She has proven that she believes queer women deserve happy endings. She now gets the benefit of the doubt that other authors might not.

I don’t want to say much about the second half of the book, because I don’t want to spoil any of the mystery. All I will say is that you should not read this book if you are hoping for a fantastic who-done-it. At its core, this book is about a toxic friendship, and how these types of friendships can shape who we are and the things we do.

As well, I think it’s important to mention that Jess is not only an Asian character, but she is also described as being fat. I didn’t realize she would be when I went into this story, and it was a very pleasant surprise for me. I do believe there is a little bit of internalized fatphobia, but never to the point of extreme dieting, or even considering extreme dieting. Just the typical thoughts of a woman who doesn’t quite look like the women who surround her.

Overall, I found this story intriguing and interesting, but incorrectly marketed. Although it is, in fact, a murder mystery, that is not what the novel is truly about. I will say right now that if you go into this novel just for the mystery, you will feel disappointed. This is a story about friendships and relationships, and how easy it is for them to become toxic, even when nobody is going out of their way to make them so. It explores human dynamics deeper than any of Malinda Lo’s previous works and sets itself aside as something new and unique. As that type of book, I recommend it. As a murder mystery, however, I would not.

Marthese reviews My Summer of Love by Helen Cross

My Summer of Love by Helen Cross movie cover

‘’Something within me sighed in relief and slotted into place like a bridge completes’’

My Summer of Love by Helen Cross was nothing like I expected. This was a library find and knowing that there was a lesbian movie with the same title, I borrowed it. Only, I had no idea what the movie was about and the book blurb didn’t offer many hints as to what was to come.

The plot follows Mona and Tamsin. Mona’s family own a pub, where she works but she also volunteers at the Fakenham’s estate to look after a horse; which is where she meets Tamsin again. Tamsin is back from boarding school and up to no good. This is perfect for Mona, who is interested in crime and gambling her money. Throughout the book, there are many hints that something will happen that summer and indeed, what happens was shocking.

‘’from the first real moment of our meeting I was already a criminal and she was distinctly witchy’’

Tamsin and Mona do get together. They love booze, dressing up and drama – lots of drama. What struck me was that what they loved about each other the most was probably the drama. They are inherently toxic for each other, and they know it. Tamsin has a superiority complex. She’s critical and cynical. Mona just wants to leave her family and is very jealous and spiteful. Both are alcoholics. Family relationships are an important aspect of the plot. The plot gets thicker when they live in Tamsin’s house alone for the summer.

While the plot was not what I expected, the writing was great. Some things were executed really well such as the chapters which were all named after a drink or food which was then mentioned in the chapter. If we had to keep in mind the time and place that this book fictionally took place in, the ideas about society and women and the nuclear war (cold war), the ideas presented feel very real. This does not mean that I want to read on how the protagonist thinks that ‘’with a tan and a pair of heavy breasts you need not worry about independence.’’ I am using more quotes than my usual reviews so that you, as potential readers, know what you are signing up for.

The ending was very disturbing, which is why I think this book belongs to the ‘horror’ section. The kind of horrors that are more disturbing because they could happen. This is not a Bury-your-gays book, but the ‘villains’ are queer. I kept hoping for the best and for a while, I thought it would happen but no, it didn’t. Mona and Tamsin liked to power-trip each other and scare each other on the regular.

My thoughts on this book are mixed. On the one hand it was executed half-well. There are still some sub-plots which I feel were left open and not like the main open-end but just left hanging. There was constant mention of one girl that went missing. It’s not explicit what happened to her and I felt like it was a wasted opportunity. Had I known what the book was about, I would have been ready for it, but as it was – I wasn’t. Some words left me perplexed. It took me many chapters to realize that ‘mesen’ meant ‘myself’.

The book offers a lot of introspection and is very depressing. This book has a whole list of trigger warnings. There is a lot of family issues, a lot of body image issues – this book could be very triggering. There’s a lot of body shaming as well and some animal neglect and child neglect. There’s also murder and suicide. There’s a lot of harmful bodily stuff, things that would make medical professionals cringe. There’s a lot of sexism, coming from everywhere, including the protagonists. It does offer a lot of thoughts on women. I particularly liked the message on the bodily fluids. I don’t think it’s something that a lot of writers touch upon and it’s something many people live every day.

In conclusion, while this book is Sapphic, unless you are in the mood for a dark read – don’t read it. Just when I thought there was hope for Mona…there wasn’t. This is the ultimate example of what peer pressure and being caged and  wanting attention and having darkness that is not addressed in a healthy was could lead to. It’s pretty disturbing and I was also not sure if the two protagonists actually loved each other or whether it was a matter of two dark souls meeting and corrupting each other further.

Megan Casey reviews Murder in the Castro by Elaine Beale

Lou Spencer, your normal, tomboyish young Englishwoman, has fled to San Francisco to escape a bad relationship in her home country. Five years have passed, and although she has been celibate the entire time, she has found a meaningful job as office manager for a LGBT Crisis Management Center. But when one of the Client Advocates is murdered in his office after hours, her rather insulated existence is disturbed to the max. All the indications are that this is a random hate crime, but is it?

A literary theory professor I know once said that whether or not a reader likes a novel has little to do with its importance. I don’t like Madame Bovary, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that Flaubert didn’t influence generations of writers. Elaine Beale isn’t Flaubert, yet my friend the professor’s tenet still holds true. I didn’t care for the novel, yet I realize that there are many things unique and, yes, important about it. Let’s start with these.

First of all, this is what I might call a Movement novel: one that chronicles some form of LGBT or women’s politics in the last years of the 20th century. Think of Vicki P. McConnell’s The Burnton Widows, Barbara Wilson’s Murder in the Collective, or Mary Wings’ She Came Too Late. Chronicling the history of this movement is important not only for what the movement accomplished, but because it was so relatively short, coming in with the hippies and out with the yuppies. Beale gives quite a nice description of an office whose purpose is to help gays and lesbians who have been abused on the street or in the home.

The second excellent thing about this novel is the mention of same-sex domestic abuse; Lou has come to the U.S. to escape from her abusive girlfriend.  While many lesbian novels focus on the abuse of a female character by a husband, father, or other family member, few lesbian authors feel comfortable confronting abuse in their own domestic partnerships.

The mystery, too, is an interesting one. I found myself wanting to know who the killer was, although an observant reader could have guessed who the culprit was on page 22

It is a fast-paced novel, moving quickly from one clue to the next. To the author’s credit, she uses similes instead of plain description. Unfortunately, a lot of the comparisons are overstated, such as when, at a local news conference, Lou describes the media as being “like sharks at a feeding frenzy,” or “if I ever became mayor, I’d not only make car alarms illegal, but possession of them punishable by several years hard labor.” Most of these turns of  phrase could have been (and probably should have been) used to better effect somewhere else. Like in a stand-up comic’s routine.

The investigating officer is homophobic to the point of cliché. Although this is not so unusual in lesbian mysteries (see Kate Delafield’s first partner)—or even in real life—it just isn’t very interesting or pleasant to read about them. Unlike Kate Delafield’s partner, who seemed real, with a real family and real plans, there is nothing distinctive about this man, which tells me that the author really didn’t know her characters as well as she should have. The ending, too, is obviously staged for effect, not coherency. Give her a half star for bringing up same-sex domestic abuse, but take it away again because she only refers to it obliquely—she never really takes us as deeply as she might have into Lou’s abusive relationship with her ex.

All in all, there is nothing terribly wrong with the writing, or the characters, or the mystery, or the romance. The writing style and point of view are similar to that of Mary Wings. In fact, Wings also wrote a book with The Castro in the title in the same year as this one. Fans of Wings and Sarah Dreher will probably like this book. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of either. You know how you sometimes meet someone and the two of you—like me and Flaubert—just don’t click? It is the personality of the writing—and necessarily of the first-person narrator—that keep this book from getting more than 3 stars. But that is still a fairly good rating, considering.

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

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

Marthese reviews A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame

‘’Duty and service come first’’

I have a soft-spot for queer royalty romance books. I have said it before and I stand by it. When I discovered A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame, it was an immediate add to my TBR. When I saw there was an audiobook, I took the opportunity to honour one of my New Year’s resolutions. The audiobook is narrated by Lesley Parkin, and let me just say that the voice was fantastic.

Set in the future, Frame’s A Royal Romance follows Princess Georgina (soon Queen) and Beatrice Elliot, a Republican charity worker. Georgina is the first openly gay monarch and the first woman to be first in line before her brother. The royal family were (almost) all a delight; they were so supportive of Georgina – although as head of the family, they rely a lot on her. Who will she rely on?

Beatrice and George meet after Georgina becomes Queen. On her road for coronation, George wants to support one main charity – to give them patronage and exposure. She chooses Beatrice’s charity for their great work and Bea, as the regional manager, is the only person who can take her around the country on site visits. This sets some sparks flying. They clear things enough to be able to work together, but the class and cultural divide is ever-present, and it doesn’t take much for hostility and misunderstandings and feelings of inferiority and inadequacy to take over. A lot of misconceptions have to be cleared up first.

Bea is refreshing to George. They both challenge each other to think in a different way. It’s a monarchy match, especially because George has to marry and she prefers to marry for love…she just has to convince Beatrice.

Sarah and Reg Elliot, Beatrice’s parents were also a delight. It’s the kind of family most people dream of.

The ending of the story was action packed. Some tragedy and lots of celebrations.

The world building in the book was deeply researched and it shows. I learned a lot of new things about monarchy and places. There were a lot of staff positions, creating this intricate web of people surrounding the royal family, although at times I felt there were too many people involved. There were also a lot of traditions (George is old-fashioned) and protocols (much to Beatrice’s annoyance). All this added up for the story to feel realistic.

While I enjoyed the story I felt there were some things that could have been better. There was the generic discourse of ‘gay or straight’. Moreover, despite the story being set in the 2050s, it’s still ‘man or woman’. I would like authors that acknowledge other sexual and/or romantic orientations and a diversity of genders! I also had minor problems with lack of explicit consent or delayed consent.

I also felt that their relationship moved too fast. Granted, there was a timeline and it’s not like they could afford to have privacy, but Bea’s character would have at least said something.

The narrator was great. Parkin gave different voices to each character and distinguished them from the narration voice. At times, I forgot it was just one person. My only issue was with the Belgian accent but accents are very hard to replicate. George’s voice is very poised, whereas Bea’s voice is saccharine sweet.

Despite loving royalty in books (they spice things up), I’m much more of a presidential republican but the reasons given in the book for Monarchy actually made sense and I went on the journey with Beatrice.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It entertained me during many hours on the bus. The struggle for Georgie’s and Bea’s relationship was real. I would recommend to romance lovers, monarchists or British lovers. This is a perfect beach (or cozy) read.

Quinn Jean reviews Taking Flight by Siera Maley

[This review contains spoilers and a brief mention in paragraph four of homophobic abuse and alcoholism in the novel.]

Taking Flight is a young adult coming-of-age novel by Siera Maley where lesbian LA-born and bred high school senior Lauren gets in trouble for skipping school and is sent to live with a middle-aged Christian youth worker David and his family in rural Georgia. When she arrives Lauren discovers she’ll be sharing a bedroom with David’s daughter Cameron, a very beautiful church-going cheerleader, and you can probably guess how Lauren feels about that.

There are a lot of things to like about Taking Flight, not least of all the tender love story at its core. The lead character has been sure of her sexuality and comfortable with it from a young age which is a pleasant contrast to many formulaic WLW YA books where the protagonist has a sudden lightbulb moment after meeting a bold new person who pushes them out of their comfort zone. Taking Flight doesn’t particularly play in to tired stereotypes about the southern USA either. And Maley doesn’t waste time doing too much boring set-up before throwing Lauren into the far more interesting fish-out-of-water premise of the novel, instead filling in gaps later as need be.

There are a lot of plot holes though, some big and some small, and Lauren as a character isn’t particularly three-dimensional, instead seeming to serve as a bland narrator that the reader can substitute themselves with. For a lot of readers this might be ideal, it just would’ve been nice for Lauren to have more hobbies, interests, quirks and motivations of her own to go with those of the other major characters, even if she had found those once she arrived in Georgia. Also Lauren’s entire family history doesn’t quite make sense; both her parents’ long Hollywood marriage after meeting as teenagers and the press’ complete disinterest in the child of an A-list actress are implausible in the twenty-first century.

To its credit the novel realistically depicts people’s varied responses to different characters coming out throughout the story, with many characters being accepting if not always enamoured of homosexuality, while one character’s aggressive reaction is one of the only potentially distressing scenes in the book. Additionally the complex feelings Lauren has towards her father due to his functional alcoholism are also handled sensitively. Ultimately the  central love story where two very different people from contrasting worlds give each other the space to express themselves and offer open-hearted support for each other’s innermost feelings and dreams is undoubtedly the most beautifully realised part of the novel and certainly what makes it worth reading.

Taking Flight gives the impression that the author wanted to offer readers a teenage gay love story that unfolded slowly, and was built on kindness and respect, and had an uplifting (excuse the pun) ending. While there are some weak spots, for the most part Maley succeeds with soaring colours (couldn’t help myself).