Megan Casey reviews Fearful Symmetry by Tasha Fairbanks

For me, good books are the hardest to review. I mean, it’s easy—and sometimes not even fair—to find flaws in the work of writers who really don’t understand writing, but what do I say about a writer who does? Sure, Tasha Fairbanks’ characters are good, her prose is compelling, her plot is exciting and unusual—but these are things that we expect from a good novel.

One thing I can do is to say what other books this one reminds me of. The scene and part of the fin de siecle tone is somewhat similar to Clare Sudbery’s sometimes-brilliant The Dying of Delight, right down to the literary title. What the book reminds me most of, though, is J.K. Rowling. No, not the Harry Potter books, but the others. The setting and multiple point-of-view shifts are reminiscent of Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy and the detective reminds me of Rowling’s Cormoran Strike, with his flawed character and his super assistant.

In fact, Sam Carter, trying to get over a failed relationship, is pretty down and out. She has an office and a drinking habit and that’s pretty much it. Her job as a private detective has been reduced to serving writs. But when an old acquaintance calls and asks her to investigate the murder of her foster daughter, Sam knows that she must clean herself up before she can clean up the case.

And what a case it is. It involves a runaway girl, a murder, a fertility clinic, a genetic lab, S&M, and a righteous, bigoted, right-wing church. But it is really the characters that move the story. Sam is steady, well-spoken, professional, and believable. Her bouncy sidekick—young reporter Sarah Ginsberg—has issues out the yin-yang: mother issues, boyfriend issues, career issues, even sexuality issues. But Fairbanks handles all her characters masterfully.

Lotsa characters and lotsa third-person points of view. In fact, one criticism I have of the book is that there are too many points of view. Some characters appear seemingly out of thin air and disappear just as quickly. It is distracting when you have to pause in your reading and wonder, “Now who is this character? Have I seen her before?” before realizing that it is a new character altogether.

Another flaw is that some of the important characters disappear without even a by-your-leave. Just because they don’t figure in the denouement doesn’t mean that we don’t want to know what happens to them. Finally, Sam’s love (if you can call it that) interest isn’t all that special. In fact, the sexual tension between her and two of the other characters is quite palpable while it is nonexistent in the woman she fancies.

So give this one as close to a four as you want to without going over. Less if you are as disappointed as I am that Fairbanks or her editors didn’t see Sam Carter and Sarah Ginsberg as worthy of a fine series instead of simply a one-off.

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

Megan Casey reviews Red Rover by Liz Bugg

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I confess that I like this book a little more than I originally thought I would. Maybe it’s because I liked the design and feel of the Insomniac paperback version, which is very easy on the eyes. Or maybe it was the very professional pace that Bugg was able to adhere to throughout. I also liked the theme of the mystery, which involved the protagonist’s intense search for a missing young lesbian in Toronto.

Calli Barnow gives off reminders of many other lesbian private investigators without actually borrowing anything and without being given any remarkable qualities, such as Abigail Padgett’s Blue McCarron, who has no qualms about giving the reader her views on psychology or statistics, or Caroline Shaw’s Lenny Aaron, who specializes in cats and who knows every breed. Callie is just a normal 40-something woman trying to make a decent living for her and her partner Jess, and hoping that she doesn’t get into something dangerous. The one quirk that Bugg does bestow on Calli, though, is a good one. She has anxiety attacks that tend to almost paralyze her unless she pops a Xantax. I like that kind of human weakness in a character. And I like the backstory that helps to explain it.

In her search for the missing woman, Calli comes into contact with babydyke Lisa Campbell and almost falls for her. It is only her love for Jess—who is out of town during the entire adventure—that saves her from her roving eye. The trouble is, I really liked Lisa and, at first, wanted them to get together. Jess was kind of an amorphous telephone presence that did not let me know why she and Calli were together. Lisa, on the other hand—again, at first—was the most exciting and lively character in the cast.

Bugg’s prose is average, no pops and crackles, but she tells a pretty good, exciting story. Although I frown on the type of ending she chooses—I have disparaged it in several other reviews—Bugg does it with a little more believability than, say, Anne Laughlin. In all, it reads like a first novel, but one that lets the reader know that there are better times ahead. Put Calli on a list with other Canadian sleuths such as Helen Keremos, Harriet Fordham Croft, Jil Kidd, and Aliki Pateas. It’s not a bad bunch at all. I suspect—and hope—that you will be reaching for the second Calli book before any of those mentioned above.

For more than 200 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Lauren reviews The Melody of You and Me by M. Hollis

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Meet Chris Morrison, a young music lover who works at a bookstore and takes life in as it happens. When Josie— an attractive, high-spirited and easy-going ballerina— is hired at the bookstore, Chris falls head over heels, often losing her wits in the awkward butterfly moments. This leaves Chris caught in the middle of a budding friendship, but her recent departure from an unhealthy relationship keeps her cautious.

Overall, M. Hollis characterizes Chris well. I appreciated the interiority and parts of the story line (e.g., Chris’s talent and educational pursuit). And sprouting relationships are warm and cute. I wish I could provide more insight into this story. But, I can’t. And this is due to the story’s primary weakness: a lack of conflict.

Conflict helps to create interest, and when there’s interest the story stays far away from the pits of boredom. Granted, the internal conflict in this novella is present. For example, Chris’s relationship with her parents is torn due to her decision to leave school; for too long, she has felt uncertain about the path her life will take and haunted by the trail of damage she’s left behind, mainly due to her ex-girlfriend, Tabitha.

External conflict propels the protagonist into a string of interactions beyond her control, which allows the reader to become vested in the main character’s journey and outcomes. This is what the Melody of You and Me is missing.

The one instance in this story that mirrored external conflict (i.e., Chris’s encounter with Tabitha) passed quickly and was only quasi conflict because nothing before or after this instance affected Chris, her new relationship, or the trajectory of the story.

As a reader (and writer), I’m not a fan of unnecessary drama, but I appreciate the role of conflict and I expect the main character to experience some degree of external challenges somewhere in the plot. Otherwise, and in this case, the character is going through the motions; the reader is introduced to supporting characters that do not have significant (or any) effect upon the protagonist’s victory or downfall; and, the story is predictable—no excitement or surprises. I slid through the pages of this story never experiencing any type of highs or lows that propelled me to emotionally connect with Chris. In other words, Chris’s journey is too insular to fully place myself in her world. She had nothing to lose; nothing was at stake except fleeting embarrassments.

To end, The Melody of You and Me is a syrupy romance. There were many sweet moments between Chris and Josie, which would make f/f romance lovers fond of these characters. But, if you’re a reader who needs salt and sugar, you may reach the last page wanting more.

Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, “The Dawn of Nia.” Outside of reading and writing, she volunteers as a child advocate and enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter  (@LaurenCre8s),www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.

Megan Casey reviews Chicken Run by Alma Fritchley

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Letty Campbell, ex insurance agent, becomes the owner of a small chicken farm in the small town of Calderton, a half hour outside Manchester, U.K. . When the niece of a neighbor asks her to introduce her shy but recently-out-of-the-closet aunt to the lesbian scene in the nearby large city, Letty finds herself smitten with the woman. But also, through a series of coincidences, she also finds herself hosting a big-bucks automobile auction at her farm.

The most curious thing about this mystery is that is doesn’t seem to be a mystery at all. With only three chapters to go, the only unexplained happening is Letty’s suspicion that someone broke into her house for no reason and stole nothing.

As lesbian mystery novels generally go, the sex in this one is rather tame, with the the horrid word “after,” beginning more than one paragraph. But this is certainly no surprise in a mystery that is generally classified as a cozy. The writing is simply adequate, the mystery kind of nonexistent, and the humor—much praised in the blurb—muted at best.

I’m terrifically glad I was able to get hold of this book so I could judge it for myself. It is one of the few cozy lesbian mysteries and a welcome change from some of the blood-and-guts dramas and high-octane sex I have found in several other lesbian mystery novels. Still, I doubt I’ll go on to the next one in the series. Quite frankly, I didn’t find Letty very interesting. And when your main character is bland, your book tends to be rated less stars they the author might wish. There are four of these “Chicken” novels, all written between 1998 and 2000. I suspect that Fritchley gets into a better stride in the next novel, makes Letty use more of her wits, but that is for another reviewer to decide.

For more than 200 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries