Marthese reviews Dragon Horse War: The Calling by  D. Jackson Leigh

‘’I am this animal because they need me and my warriors to protect their reign of peace’’

I made a yearly resolution to read more fantasy, especially series since those are the kind of books that I end up enjoying the most. I did some research and found this series which is centered around queer women (after I got the third book as an ARC on Netgalley…I thought it better to start from the first!). Happy Woman’s day (for yesterday!) this book series does contain some kickass and imperfect women.

The story is set in the future. After religious wars, people have recognized the Collective and most people are enlightened on the fact that they had past lives. The story follows Jael and Alyssa, however, there are some parts told from other characters’ point of view. In fact, the story starts from the antagonist’s Cyrus’ point of views and there are some parts from his views, but only a little. Most of the chapters follow Jael and Alyssa. Jael has been a warrior for the Collective in all her lives. She burns the bodies of those that die alone in order to release their soul; she also kills those that are badly-born in one life in order to have peace in another. Alyssa is a healer type and an Advocate for the Collective. Jael has some interesting abilities and Alyssa also. They are the ultimate power couple…only they do not always agree on the methods to use. This is very much a plot where one character finds light and the other darkness, in order to form gray together.

As I mentioned, some parts are told from other characters’ points of views. One of them follows Kyle, Cyrus’ daughter. Cyrus became a prophet for the One – a monotheistic god from ancient religions. He also became a preacher for capitalism in a world that distributes fairly and treats everyone equally. Kyle is very much not like him but for a while, she does not know what to do.

The main plot point is that the Natural Order formed by Cyrus is becoming too dangerous. Food and medicine is being stolen and redistributed by them in a world which is facing many natural disasters in all of its borderless territories. The Guard, which Jael is the leader on, are assessing people that have heard the Collective’s calling and training them…to become Dragon Horse warriors. Yes, the Guard have a bond with horses that come darkness, sprout wings.

This book is part of a trilogy – both the name and the plot itself show this. This is only the beginning. It does not start too fast but the end has some interesting action. I have to admit that it took until almost the end for me to become interested in what would happen.

I have been researching and discovering what makes good plots and characters and this book had all the right things in place. However, one thing really bothered me, enough for me considering quitting. This book was published in 2015, so not that long ago. To me, there were two main problems. The first is that the Guard are pureblood descendants. The Natural Order is also preaching pureblood-ness (and are racist, unlike the Guard). At least, the Guard have a reason for this, although it confused me why they should keep to ethnic couples if they all had the gene. Perhaps that will be explained later on. I admit to not knowing a lot of biology. This factor bothered me a bit but I could understand that it was a plot point not ideology pushing as the people of this Collective world, do not care much for ethnicity.

The second factor that bothered me was that the author, in my opinion, confused gender and sex. A person that is intersex but identifies more towards being male, is said to be a third gender. There was also the phrase ‘same-sex oriented’ being used which is used in today’s reality but it would be more accurate to say, especially towards one particular character, that it was same-gender oriented. I have to admit that I cringed a bit with all these happenings in the book. At one point, ‘gendered’ is used. It’s also a very binary world still…you would think that it being set in such a fair and enlightened future, that it would be otherwise.

Despite this, the world building was okay. It was interesting to see what things from today would be called then. The horses were interested and the powers as well. It was interesting to see how Jael and Alyssa changed each other. Jael is a realist and Alyssa is an idealist but they both question what needs to be done. Jael at times was a bit too aggressive and at the beginning to sexually driven (she saw Alyssa as a sort of spoil of war! That changed quick however). Alyssa was very interesting. Although she’s a first life-er and Jael has so much experience, she isn’t pushed around. Even during sex, she doesn’t just sit there but she initiates as well and is active. There isn’t a lot of sex scenes although there are a few. There was one however, where even I (somewhat asexual and I tend to skim them) thought it was very hot and different from how they are usually written.

The fact that they like each other, doesn’t resolve their problems and their incompatibility. The characters are realistic, not always likable and that’s ok. Their relationship has chemistry but I found it a bit squeaky that they had sex before discussing and that one is super-protective even though Second, another character, said that Alyssa is a grown adult who makes her own decisions. Jael especially is ethically dubious, not in the fact that she must kill people but in the way she acts.

Overall, I’m intrigued enough to continue reading the series. I would give this book 3 stars. The ending was better than the start or the middle. I want to see the characters evolve. Whoever is interested in reading the series should proceed with caution on the topics mentioned above.

Kristi reviews Hold Me Forever by D. Jackson Leigh

hold me forever

When Southern debutante Mae St. John learns from her grandmother’s will that not only is the family fortune gone (with all the remaining income designated for the care of Big Mae’s poodle), she thought things could not get more surprising. Then a note left by Big Mae reveals that Mae’s long presumed dead father is in fact alive and living in Louisiana. With no ties left to bind her, Mae heads out to meet the father she never knew.

Meanwhile, Whit Casey has come home to Louisiana to take care of her father’s racing farm in his declining health. Not that the move was not helpful in breaking off her dying relationship with Avery, a closeted lawyer, but Whit did not need another person to be responsible for. Maneuvered into hiring Mae to write for her online racing magazine, Whit believes Mae to be a trust fund baby with no credentials, but is quickly proven wrong by Mae’s enthusiasm and her growing relationship with Whit’s father. A relationship soon grows between Whit and Mae as well, yet both are keeping secrets from the other. When Mae’s investigation into possible horse cloning causes trouble for Whit, the women soon discover that Whit’s farm, and their relationship, are both in jeopardy.

I always approach “straight woman discovers her lesbian identity” stories with a jaded view. I believe this trope is overdone, yet I would like to give credit to Leigh for her depiction of this May-December romance. Sometimes Mae seems a lot younger than 28, with her tendency to talk on forever and constant mentions of her sorority sisters, which made me wonder if these traits were to further enhance a “Southern debutante” profile. Yet it is Mae’s engaging manner with her surroundings – both setting and people – that brings a modern twist to the romance. Mae’s discovery of her attraction to Whit is very circumspect, and she does not waffle in her feelings. Mae believes in the attraction, yet has the foresight to go on a date with another woman to see if she feels that same pull. I found it refreshing to see the “newer” lesbian unafraid of dealing with her feelings.

There were still some obvious plot lines of jealousy, secrets causing betrayal, and hidden enemies that brought the book into some overly familiar plot territories. However, the character interactions between both women, their fathers, and Whit’s ex Avery gave some unique tweaks to the story.

Danika reviews Call Me Softly D. Jackson Leigh

I’ve got to tell you, I am perhaps unreasonably impressed by this book. I’ve been reading a lot of self-published lesbian fiction, and I’m sorry to say that that often lowers the bar.

Besides, Call Me Softly even corrects some common published lesfic annoyances, in that it has a plot unrelated to the romance. A plot! There is mystery and suspense and murder and family secrets and horses! I mean, there are actual things happening other than girl meets girl, girls fall in love with each other, girl inadvertently screws it up with girl (usually due to a tragic misunderstanding), and girls eventually get together after all. Other things! So, if you are not as easily impressed by these things, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about it.

Oh, and also, the writing doesn’t distract from the story! Okay, well, I have to admit that the sex scene writing seemed a little odd, and in places awkward to the point of being unbelievable (the dialogue, especially), but that was the only place I had a problem with it.

Did I mention horses? See the horse on the cover? They feature prominently in the novel. If you went through a horse phase growing up (or still love them now!), this will probably be a plus. Even if you don’t have a particular interest in horses (like me), however, I don’t think you’ll find it distracting. Unless maybe you’re not an animal person at all.

Usually I avoid mysteries because I’m so terrible at picking up on clues that I feel completely lost by the end, but in this one I could see one of the big reveals coming. Again, I don’t think it really detracts from the novel, but you most likely won’t have to think too hard about the mystery aspect, especially if you’re an experienced mystery reader.

The ending seemed to be rather sudden and dramatic, but in retrospect I’m not sure how else it could have been done. I would have preferred, however, and epilogue or something to get back to the slower pace the rest of the novel has, but that’s a very minor point.

This review is a bit all over the place, but overall I think this definitely an above-average lesbian romance and I would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a little more interest in their lesfic.

Check out MFred’s review for more info about the plot and characters (and let’s face it, a little more cohesive of a review).

MFred reviews Call Me Softly by D. Jackson Leigh and Jukebox by Gina Noelle Daggett

Around the time I was ten years old, “horse girls” emerged and it was clear I definitely was not one of them.  Sure, I tried.  I read Black Beauty and watched National Velvet.  But I was way more into the Babysitter’s Club and Nancy Drew; horses just did not appeal.

Imagine my surprise, twenty-some years later (oh god), to find myself enjoying Call Me Softly.  As the book opens, all of the Wetheringtons have been killed off, except Lillie.  On her grandmother’s deathbed, she promises to return to the polo estate in South Carolina, and deliver herself over to Swain Butler. Swain, her grandmother promises, will help keep Lillie safe.  Swain is the Wetherington’s famed horse trainer and polo player, and unbeknownst to her, also at the heart of some serious family secrets.  Lillie carries these secrets–and all their dangers– back with her, but finds herself falling for the gorgeous horse woman too.

One thing I really liked about Call Me Softly was the even-handedness with which Leigh wrote Swain and Lillie.  Swain is fairly butch in appearance; works a traditional male job, but she has made a place for herself in her community and the wider equestrian world. Leigh allows Swain to be confident, sexy, and unapologetic about herself.  The same can be said for Lillie– who by description sounds pretty high femme to me, but never once exhibits any of the “oh god am I gay enough” crises often encountered in feminine lesbian characterizations.  It’s nice to read two queer women who are drama-free about it.

If I was going to pick at this book for something, it wouldn’t be the paper-thin mystery or the occasional lapse into passive-voiced telling by the narrative voice.  The identity of the villain wasn’t really much of a mystery– I guessed who it was within the first few chapters.   And yeah, the “will-they-won’t-they” between Swain and Lillie was a bit drawn out, because really?  It’s a romance.  They will.   Get on with the smooching already!

No, my main issue was the slut-shaming.  The book opens with a sex scene between Swain and another woman.  It’s obvious this woman is sensual and voracious; but Swain is a willing participant and enjoys having sex with her.  Later, when this Lolita shows up to make some moves on Swain, Lillie (and friends) get real ugly.  Call her a slut and a hussy, behind her back.  I found it jarring.  It completely pulled me out of the story and engaged all of my feminist ire.  Leigh probably meant this to be a sign of Lillie’s growing feelings for Swain, but hell, Swain slept with this woman too.  And Swain does nothing to defend her former partner!   I mean, it’s a romance novel– it seems a little hypocritical of Leigh to imply judgement of one woman’s sexuality while writing pretty hot sex scenes involving two others.  Hard enough being a woman and a queer, know what I’m saying?  We don’t need to be shaming each other too.

Over all, though, the book was entertaining and fun to read.  Not the greatest romance novel in the world, but not the worst either.


Mfred Did Not Finish Jukebox

I don’t care how romantic a love story may be, if the writing is bad enough, I will hate reading it.

Example #1:  Would you like to read the most boring food fight scene in the history of the world?  Ok! Here it is:

One morning, Harper and Grace had been abnormally raucous with one another.  It had started the night before when they were making cupcakes and Grace smeared chocolate mix across Harper’s face.  That alone had resulted in an all-out chocolate cake war in the Alessis’ gourmet kitchen.  When they were done, mix was on the ceiling, all over the thick wood island and matted in both girls’ hair and clothes.  Fortunately, no one was home at the time.

In the end, Grace won the cake war, pining Harper to the floor, her slippery chocolate-covered knees restraining Harper’s arms until she conceded defeat.  Grace pushed buttons inside Harper, buttons she enjoyed having pushed.

First, this scene is all set up for another food fight that starts the next day!  So why is it so detailed?  It shouldn’t take two paragraphs of exposition to set up a scene.  Second, PASSIVE VOICE IS BORING VOICE.  There is no action in this scene!  Third, what exactly is the the most important sentence here?  Grace pushes Harper’s buttons and she likes it.  Did this scene actually tell me that?  No.  The narrative voice did, and that is BORING TOO.

Example #2: Would you like to read a confusing and also strangely icky orgasm scene?  OK!

As Grace split Harper in half, she held held onto the bed sheet with both hands, crumpling it like wads of paper.

Harper squeezed tighter, again, trying to make it last.

Until finally, she let go.

Somewhere deep below the surface, as Harper’s young, fragile frame shook, her foundation gave way–just like in the earthquake–and everything about her crashed down the hill into the vineyard and olive grove.  There was no more imagining.

The big one finally hit.

When Harper smelled herself on Grace’s face, something inside her released, popped open allowing all the fear which had consumed her to dissipate.  With intention, she squirmed away from Grace and got on top; Harper was ready to dive into what she’d dreamed about since she was a teenager.

My thoughts, in the order they occurred:

  1. First of all, may the good lord keep me from ever being split in half.  Sounds frightening.
  2.  And how does one, exactly, get split in half while also squeezing tighter?
  3. “Smelled herself” is the kind of physical detail that isn’t detailed enough– is it titilating, or is it gross?  Are we really meant to wonder that, right after Harper’s first orgasm?
  4. If this orgasm was so physically and emotionally intense, why is she immediately rolling over and making moves on Grace?
  5. I mean, can a sister heave a sigh, maybe lay in bed for a second, to consider the ramifications of losing all of her fear in one fell swoop?

This is too much thinking. And this is only about 60 pages into the book!

I made it about another ten before I realized I actually hated, hated, reading it.  All of the possibilities of the story, the small delights of meeting new characters, disappeared under the passive and inconsistent voice.  So I gave up.