Susan reviews Partners by Gerri Hill

Partners is the conclusion to Gerri Hill’s Hunter trilogy (the previous books reviewed here and here.), and it brings the trilogy round full circle. Casey, the detective introduced in In the Name of the Father, has officially joined the homicide department and has been assigned to partner new detective Leslie Turner on a serial murder case, which would go better if they didn’t find each other intensely distracting.

Okay, this book.There are things I genuinely quite like about it, so let’s start there. Sam and Tori, the detectives who started this series have hit a delightful stage of warmth and commitment–they’re buying a house together, Tori has adopted Casey as a sister, everything about the family that they’ve built is lovely. The revelations about Casey’s backstory and family history are very well done, because I was absolutely furious about it; “I don’t have a problem with homosexuality as long as it’s not my daughter” is an awful thing and the book acknowledges that very well. The way that Casey deals with it by building her own family felt very true to me. Plus I feel like the “hurry up and wait” pace of the investigation works quite well for building the character relationships and for representing police work a smidgen more realistically. It’s tense and dramatic when it needs to be!

(I think this nod to realism is why no one’s backstory gets resolved; Tori’s backstory was deemed unsolvable in the first book, and Casey’s officially given up on hers, which I can respect from a writing standpoint but am somewhat frustrated by as a reader.)

But despite the things that I like about it, it has some quite significant flaws that I have to mention. Please bear with me.

First and most obviously: the relationships. I mentioned above that I appreciated the family that is being created, but the beats Casey and Leslie’s relationship hit are remarkably similar to the ones that Tori and Sam hit in Hunter’s Way. Stop me if this sounds familiar: an openly queer detective falls reluctantly in love with a woman who a) is in a relationship with a sexist man that she does not love and b) has to contend with the fact that she is actually a lesbian. (Once again, bisexuality isn’t an option!) The reasoning for the characters is different, but it’s very similar, and I couldn’t honestly tell you if it’s a deliberate contrast of the value of support networks and/or realising that not being straight is an option, or just a retreading of the same story.

Second of all, I have some issues with the representation in this book. There is one (1) person of colour in this book, who does not any lines and is regarded with active hostility from one of the main characters for someone else’s actions in the first book. The depiction of mental illness is not great, with the character in question treated as a childlike innocent by both characters and the narrative (even though he is a peeping tom?) and SPOILERS: he is thrown under a bus for a neurotypical woman. And while we’re still doing SPOILERS: the murderer is assigned male at birth (it’s not clarified how they actually identify) and wears a dress to gain access to women’s apartments so they can commit murder. I know the book was written in 2008 and the author had no way of knowing that would be the core surface-justification of awful transphobic panic in 2016/17, but seriously. I am willing to anti-rec Partners on basis of that alone.

… Also while we’re doing SPOILERS, the ending is full-on “DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT THIS IS A HORROR MOVIE!” levels of nonsense, and it’s completely out of character. I was so annoyed.

The long and the short of it is that I don’t think I can recommend this book. There’s nothing wrong with it on a technical level, and the depiction of friendships and romance between the lesbian character’s is fine? But there’s enough going on around those relationships that I’d be uncomfortable recommending it.

Caution warnings: homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexual assault.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Susan reviews In The Name of The Father by Gerri Hill

In The Name of The Father by Gerri Hill is the sequel to her 2007 novel Hunter’s Way (which I reviewed here at the Lesbrary!), with Hunter’s newest case being investing the murder of a Catholic priest, complicated by publicity issues, homophobia, outside interference, and the attempts to bury any suggestion that the victim may have been in a consensual gay relationship.

In The Name of The Father is… Definitely not as enjoyable as Hunter’s Way, but it does have plus sides. For example, there is less onscreen rape and transphobia here, which I will take as a win. It does also resolve the potential issues that come from Hunter’s and her girlfriend Sam being work and romantic partners. (This solution does manage to effectively sideline both her and one of the two named PoC on the main cast, which isn’t a great look.) The fact that Tori and John (one of the other detectives) have mellowed in the year since Hunter got together with Sam is also a nice touch, although it might disappoint people who were enjoying an angry, aggressive heroine. Plus, In The Name of the Father introduces a new detective, Casey O’Conner, who is smart and energetic, and who I find quite charming! The way that this book expands the cast and its focus works quite well for me, especially because seeing how all of the different characters react to the PR manager for the church is really interesting.

I think that the relationship are quite well-handled too, and quite different – Hunter and Sam are an established couple, very much in love, having to deal with being separated for the first time since they got together and the insecurity that comes from that, while’s Casey’s romance is much more focused on the physical side of things. Plus, the friendship between Hunter and Casey is pretty great.

However, I have so many problems with the constant attempts to cover up and dismiss the murdered priest’s life, both on the part of the church and on… Pretty much anyone who is not a police officer? If you have hit your limit on how much pearl-clutching you can deal with, I would give this one a miss, seriously, especially as there’s some really repugnant views expressed (Like bringing in Casey from the Special Victims Unit, to give the impression that the victim wasn’t in a relationship). I’ve also mentioned that the way this book handles its PoC bothers me; one character is sidelined with Sam, one barely gets any lines, and and rest I feel are handled quite stereotypically.

As a note: I found that the ending just didn’t hold together. Without spoilers: I like denouements where the villain’s master plan is revealed, but the way that In The Name of The Father handles it is infuriating. The way that the mystery shakes out makes everything that led to it feel entirely wasted! The way that the book itself ends feels like the narrative was trying to have the moral of “You can’t beat the system” to go with Hunter’s storyline, while also having emotional catharsis, which means that doesn’t deliver either. Your mileage may vary!

On the whole, I’d say that it’s worth picking up if you enjoyed the previous book, but it has some significant flaws to be aware of!

Caution warnings: constant consideration of sexual abuse and rape, mentions of child abuse, homophobia (in the church and out of it).

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Susan reviews Hunter's Way by Gerri Hill

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Hunter’s Way by Gerri Hill revolves around two homicide detectives: Tori Hunter and Samantha Kennedy. They are the classic opposites buddy-cop duo: Hunter is aggressive and antagonistic, burning through six partners in seven years but apparently being a good enough detective alone to make up for it. Samantha Kennedy is on the surface a much more personable officer who has to juggle a new job, a demanding boyfriend, and Hunter.

There are a lot of moving parts to this book; the relationships between both Sam and Tori and Sam and Robert, a suspected terrorist attack, drug busts, and a serial killer attacking young lesbians. With so much going on, it’s only inevitable that pacing seems a little odd – beats of the crime that you’d expect to have more resonance or time spent on them (for example, the death of a named character who had been helping the investigation gets barely a page and is never mentioned again), and some scenes are repeated over and over (such as Tori’s emotional conflict about getting close to Sam, or Robert’s constantly contacting Samantha and saying he’ll take it to dinner.). I appreciate that the former is presumably to make room for everything else, and the latter is to emphasis how terrible Robert is as a partner, but taken together it seems odd.

The pacing does leave enough room for Sam’s slow realisation of her own sexuality, which I appreciated a lot. Sam trying to work out her own feelings by talking to people and reflecting on what she wanted seemed quite reasonable and realistic to me, even if some of the responses were disappointing. It especially entertained me that some of Sam’s ideas about lesbians appeared to be quite stereotypical; there’s a scene where she has to go undercover at a gay bar, and her idea of appropriate wear is mostly her normal clothes, but no bra; other people’s feelings may vary!

I like the way the relationship between Tori and Sam builds as well; they have complementary skills, and once they start bonding (over escaping from armed men!), I enjoyed reading about them getting closer. The characters of everyone who isn’t Tori, Sam, or their commanding officer are left a little sketchier though; even some of the plot critical characters like fellow detectives Adams and Donaldson are given only the barest scrape of personality. I don’t feel like the mystery seemed to be handled quite as well; the resolution seemed rushed and the escalation to be very sudden; there are quite a few revelations that could have been seeded into the story before the last couple of chapters, and that might have evened the pacing up a little and given some of the blander characters a little more depth.

(Or a related topic: all of the murder victims are queer. There are a number of young lesbians who are murdered, and a trans person is murdered and the investigation is handled badly. Please bear that in mind if you’re going to read it!)

SPOILERS AND CAUTION WARNINGS IN THIS PARAGRAPH: Sam is raped in the middle of the book, and I’m not going to lie: it’s not great. I can’t shake the impression that it was put in as a way to establish that Robert is an awful human being (his immediate response is to make her rape all about him and his feelings, I hate him.) and force Tori and Samantha to get closer. I feel like the same effect could have been achieved from the scene where Tori getting shot? But on the plus side, no one suggests that the attack on Sam has anything to do with her lesbianism, which is something that I was braced for all the way to the end of the book.

Hunter’s Way is mostly enjoyable; it’s a queer police procedural, and that’s what I want. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and I’m very excited to read the rest of it!

Caution warnings: murdered lesbians, there are some transphobic comments and police mishandling of a trans person’s murder; onscreen rape.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Tierney reviews The Roundabout by Gerri Hill

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[Trigger warning for sexual assault and online harassment.]

The Roundabout is a gentle, lighthearted romance – with one serious flaw, which unfortunately is a deal-breaker.

In the small and very gay town of Eureka Springs, an unattached queer woman is apparently a hot commodity. Megan Phenix is being courted by a variety of women whom she has no interest in dating – and when newcomer Leah Rollins arrives in town she is pursued as well. Naturally, the two make a pact and pretend to date each other to stave off the unwanted overtures – but the lines between truth and make-believe start to blur, and Megan and Leah begin to fall for one another.

The romance is cute – the whole “let’s pretend to date – oh whoops, we’re falling in love” thing reads like goofy rom com. Sadly, something happens at the beginning of the novel that completely taints any enjoyment one might get out of it: Megan gets drunk at her birthday party and ends up falling asleep in the bed of Mary Beth, one of her would-be suitors – who proceeds to take naked pictures of her while she is sleeping. Mary Beth then posts the pictures online, with recognizable details removed, and tries to blackmail Megan throughout the rest of the book, telling her she will post the pictures in their entirety if Megan does not go on a date with her, despite the fact that Megan repeatedly asks her to take them down.

Taking naked pictures of someone while they are sleeping is sexual assault. Posting those pictures online is online harassment. But for some reason this sickening behavior is shrugged off throughout the entire novel – Megan expresses her intense discomfort with Mary Beth’s behavior and other characters repeatedly tell her to lighten up, and ultimately this disturbing plot line is never resolved in a way that makes it clear that this behavior is disgusting and predatory.

It’s too bad, because there was otherwise a lot to like about The Roundabout – it depicts a romance between women who are closer to middle age than the first blush of youth, and it showcases one of those wonderfully idyllic romance novel towns in which almost every single character the reader encounters is queer. But the issue of taking and posting nude photos without the consent of the person in them is a very serious one – and this novel’s lighthearted treatment of it is thoroughly repugnant.

Anna M. reviews At Seventeen by Gerri Hill

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I established a habit of purchasing and reading every Gerri Hill book as it’s released. I tend to like her generic romances more than those with thriller elements, but I foresee myself reading her new books until I am seriously disappointed by something she writes. The curse and benefit of this extensive knowledge of Hill’s back catalog is that I can compare the books to each other, and At Seventeen (released July 2013) explores some familiar narrative territory.

When she was ten, Shannon Fletcher moved into Brook Hill’s finest house–the Lansford mansion, where her mother worked as a maid and cook. The elder Lansfords were wealthy and distant, but their daughter Madison became Shannon’s clandestine friend. Over time, their friendship grew into love, and Shannon and Madison spent every moment they could together before high school ended. Even though Shannon knew that Madison was destined to take up her rich girl mantle and someday marry a rich boy, she threw her heart into their relationship and has never quite recovered from its end.

Fast-forward twenty years, and Shannon is planning to move back to Brook Hill. She and her older brother own a chain of fresh markets and are looking to build a new store, and their retired mother has been struggling with illness. Shannon’s run-ins with Madison over the years since their split have been painful and unsatisfying, leading her to avoid Brook Hill as much as possible. But now that she’s moving home, Shannon knows that she probably can’t keep avoiding the past.

For her part, Madison is unhappy with her marriage, although she has a precocious son, Ashton, who is heading off to college at the age of fifteen. Her mother hand-selected her husband and her house, and still picks out her clothes, and although she is thirty-seven, Madison feels so unfulfilled that she allows her mother’s interference to continue. But with Ashton leaving home and Shannon returning to Brook Hill, Madison feels like it might finally be time to take control of her own choices. Even if she and Shannon can only be friends.

And of course they aren’t just going to be friends.

The backstory of the young love between the girls is revealed in a series of flashbacks as Shannon tells her friends of six years’ standing all the reasons she’s been avoiding Brook Hill. I appreciated that we got the “history” portion of the narrative out of the way quickly, but the frame story was clunky and left me wondering why Shannon claimed to be friends with these people when she hadn’t really told them anything about her life. I guess it could be an illustration of how she hasn’t really been living since Madison left for college, but it still seemed awkward, especially when those characters were reinserted later in the story to cause some drama. The other problem is that it means the reader’s view of the past is all from Shannon’s perspective.

After Shannon’s return to Brook Hill, the story’s perspective alternates between Madison and Shannon, and things proceed as you might expect–they try to be friends, Madison has difficulty with her old money family, particularly her mother, about leaving her husband, etc. There’s a feeling of inevitability about the resumption of their relationship, and not just because this is a romance. Everyone in both main characters’ lives that actually cares about them sits them down at some point and says “I know you were in love with her then and you’re still in love with her now.” It’s not clear to me why it took the twenty years for Shannon’s mother (who loves and cares for both Shannon and Madison, who became close to her in Shannon’s long absences) to talk to her daughter about her obvious emotional pain. And why on earth would Shannon spent twenty years pining for someone without even the wherewithal to pick her own clothing? Why wouldn’t she at least tell her mother she was gay at some point? I ended this book with too many “why” moments.

I purchase Hill’s books to easily re-read them when I have a few hours, but I’m not sure that I’ll be picking up At Seventeen again. Not only is there a serious Winger earworm to contend with every time I so much as glance at the cover, but I prefer Behind the Pine Curtain (2006) as a story of young love revisited, or even Love Waits (2010). I don’t mind going over the same ground again–what dedicated romance reader would?–but the structure of the story, and Shannon and Madison’s sometimes perplexing choices, put me off.

Anna M. reviews Snow Falls by Gerri Hill

SnowFalls

Gerri Hill’s latest romance, Snow Falls, was published in December 2012 and revisits a setting and characters from an earlier novel (No Strings), although it features a new pair of women: the reclusive heiress Catherine Ryan-Barrett, known as Ryan, and the aspiring novel writer Jennifer Kincaid. Jen becomes stranded in the Colorado mountains on her way to a writer’s workshop, and Ryan comes to her rescue as the yearly avalanche thunders down the mountain–at the cost of her prized solitude, as it means that they will be stranded together in Ryan’s secluded cabin until the roads become passable again in the spring.

Ryan has spent the last 10 years hiding from her family and her family’s fortune after publishing a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. She’s been looking forward to spending the next several months alone, working on her next book. Although she becomes resigned to sharing her space and food with a stranger for six to eight weeks, she isn’t willing to share information about her past with Jen, or reveal that she’s a writer herself. When the relationship between the women settles in to friendship and eventually mutual attraction, Ryan feels that it’s too late to come clean about who she really is, even though she feels closer to Jen than she ever has to anyone.

Homeschooled through high school, Jen was raised by very conservative grandparents, and the idea that Ryan is a lesbian is startling to her at first. But Jen has spent the last several years putting some distance between herself and how she was raised, and her natural curiosity–and the close quarters–lead her into an easy friendship with Ryan. And since Ryan claims to be an editor, she spends some time learning about the craft of writing as well. Soon their closeness erodes the personal space she’s always carefully maintained, even with her boyfriend . . .

When the snow thaws and Jen returns to her job and boyfriend/potential fiancé, Ryan is left to the solitude she once prized, wondering if she and Jen will ever share anything more than a passionate kiss. After weeks of enforced companionship, “getting back to normal” turns out to be very lonely. [spoiler, highlight to read] With the help of Ryan’s friends Reese and Morgan (of No Strings fame), the couple overcomes the barriers between them, including Ryan’s past and Jen’s uncertainty, but not without a nice helping of drama. [end spoiler]

Although I have been getting a little tired of the “discovering I’m a lesbian when I’ve only dated men” trope, it was a solid romance and a nice take on the concept of being snowed in. I did have to overcome my irritation with Ryan for evading the truth about her identity and then missing many subsequent opportunities to rectify that once she got to know Jen. A quick, enjoyable read.

Anna M. reviews Keepers of the Cave by Gerri Hill

Gerri Hill, known for writing romances and “straight” procedural mysteries, dips a toe into paranormal waters with Keepers of the Cave (published July 2012), in which FBI agents Paige Riley and CJ Johnston are sent undercover to a girls’ reform school, situated adjacent to a creepy community of cult-like family members. The community of Hoganville is under suspicion in several cases of missing people dating back over fifty years, but the enclave is populated only by Hogans, most of whom are completely off the grid. To get as close as possible to their suspects, Paige and CJ find themselves feigning newly-bedded lesbian bliss and posing as a gym teacher and a security guard at the nearby all-girls’ school, also connected to the Hogans. Unearthly howls disturb the peace at night, and the Hogans on staff at the school are . . . a bit odd, to say the least. As Paige and CJ struggle with their attraction (and memories of a one-night encounter months ago), trouble in Hoganville escalates. Will they uncover the mystery of the caves before it’s too late?

Hill takes a lot of the mystery out of her mystery early on by alternating chapters from Paige and CJ’s viewpoints with those from the cult leader “Mother Hogan” and Fiona Hogan, a sympathetic figure who teaches at the school and suffers the horrific consequences of interaction with the creature who inhabits the caves. Mother Hogan’s powers are otherworldly, and her relationship with the creature and the flock of Hogans is definitely creepy. The plot suffers a bit from genre confusion–as if it can’t decide whether to fully commit to mystery or romance, and transitions between them are sometimes choppy–but the sexual tension is realistic (even if the circumstances of the plot are somewhat unbelievable) and the “bad guy” perspectives were an interesting twist. However, Hill also throws in viewpoint sections from Paige and CJ’s male partners, as well as another male FBI agent, when the story might have benefited from more streamlined perspectives. Despite this, Keepers of the Cave is a quick and engaging read.

Anna reviews Storms by Gerri Hill

I’ve read almost all of the books Gerri Hill has written. I’ve enjoyed romances like Behind the Pine Curtain and Love Waits and been more skeptical of recent “action-romance” pieces like The Scorpion. Thankfully, Storms (2011) falls more into the mold of the engaging romances I favor, in both good and bad ways.

Carson Cartwright is an heiress who has spent the many years since being exiled from her family’s Montana ranch traveling and having casual sexual encounters. She is very careful not to get too attached to any person or place. When her twin brother, Chase, entreats her to visit their father on his deathbed, she returns home for the first time since her mother’s tragic death–for which she was blamed by her father. The prodigal daughter is not welcomed back with open arms by all of her four brothers or her father, however. She soon discovers that the ranch is failing, and the brothers have grudgingly agreed to hire an attractive consultant, Kerry Elder, to advise them on transforming the property to a lucrative guest ranch.

Carson immediately perks up upon encountering Kerry, even though her brother Cody (all of the siblings have C-names) feels that he has a prior claim and warns Kerry of her woman-stealing ways. Kerry, who considers herself straight, was not above strategically flirting to get a contract, but bristles at Cody’s protective attitude. When the women are left alone together as the brothers participate in the ranch’s cattle drive, sparks begin to fly as storms rage across the prairie landscape.

The chemistry between Carson and Kerry is believable and ably depicted, although I did sigh a bit when I got to the “Kerry isn’t straight, she’s just never been with a woman before!” discussions. The book was comfortably predictable in terms of the romance, employing such tropes as the older housekeeper who secretly roots for Carson and Kerry to get together; the jealous and violent family member; the prodigal child returning; deathbed drama; and violent storms as a metaphor for internal turmoil. However, all of these things are well-worn and recognizable in the way a favorite pair of shoes might be. And I will likely wear this pair again, the next time Hill releases a book.