Danika reviews The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

theredtree

For October, in honor of Halloween, I’ve been picking up some appropriate books. This one I was especially excited about, because there aren’t a lot of lesbian horror books. Besides, the premise really appealed to me. Here, I’ll just paste part of the the blurb.

Sarah Crowe left Atlanta, and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship, to live alone in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant-a parapsychologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property.

I love lesbians and book and any combination therein, so a lesbian book about a book (the manuscript)? I’m in! I was a little worried, partly because the blurb doesn’t mention it, that the lesbian content would be more of a one-off line about her ex-girlfriend. I was totally wrong, however, and part of what I enjoyed about The Red Tree were things like Sarah lamenting that with her luck, her new neighbor would be straight. (Woe!) And it was just as literary as I was hoping: Sarah is an author, and the book is mostly comprised of her journal entries. There is also a fictional editor’s preface, explaining the context of the entries (namely, Sarah’s subsequent suicide), and included within the entries are lengthy excerpts from the manuscript Sarah discovers, as well as a short story of hers. The whole thing is fiction within fiction, so in those aspects it was exactly what I was looking for.

In fact, I spent the whole first half of the book wanting to thrust it into people’s hands and say “This! This is what you want to read in October!” It was just the right kind of creepy and atmospheric. Slow-moving, not grisly, just unsettling and compelling. Also, I loved Sarah as a character, though you might disagree. She’s sometimes rude and sarcastic, and generally caustic, but believably so. She’s also self-deprecating, so she doesn’t spare anyone. I found it quite funny and times, and definitely a well-rounded, memorable character.

As for the plot, most of it is just setting up the story, establishing the mood, slowly heightening the creepy factor. The manuscript excerpts fill you in on more and more of the bloody back story of the property, and that tree in particular. As I’ve said, it’s precisely the kind of understated creepiness that I’m looking for in a Halloween read. It is almost 400 pages long, however, and I felt like around the middle or three-quarter mark, it began to lag a little. Still, rounding on the end of the book I was glued to my seat to finish the last fifty pages, wondering how she was going to wrap this up. Unfortunately, I felt disappointed.

[spoilers, highlight to read] I’m not usually one to see the end of stories coming: I tend not to look to critically at the clues in the story until I see them in hindsight. I don’t usually read mysteries partly because I get lost and can’t figure out what’s happenings. But I saw this ending coming a mile away and was really hoping that I would be wrong. I just feel like it’s the most common trick in the book for creepy stories. And because I saw that coming, it wasn’t nearly enough of a shocker to be the final reveal, to me. I expected there to be something else in addition to that, at least, but that was the whole punchline. It really dragged down the book for me. Where I would have rated it maybe 5/5 for a great ending, it now feels more like a 3.5/5. Alas. But the other rating on this book on Amazon and Goodreads seem almost all positive, so that may just be me. [end spoilers]

Overall, I think I would still recommend this one for a creepy read, but I would warn against expecting a stupendous ending, or expecting much of a resolution. I still enjoyed most of this book a lot.

Edited to add: I should note that I wrote this review immediately after finishing the book. Reading some other reviews, I realize that I misunderstood the ending, at least in part. I still feel disappointed, but not to the same degree… I may feel differently about this book after some time to think about it.

Alyssa reviews Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt

SometimeYesterday

In addition to being a romance story, Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt is also a horror mystery. I really enjoyed this book; it had a couple iffy parts, but overall I had fun reading it and was caught up in both the romantic plot and the mystery.

There are two lesbian couples in Sometime Yesterday, which mirror each other: one in the past, and one in the present. In present day we meet Natalie, a painter who has just divorced her ex-husband and purchased an idyllic-looking house in a small town. She soon meets Van, a butch landscaper with a tragic past and a chronic avoidance of commitment. Natalie’s new house turns out to be haunted, and through the haunting, she and Van learn about the two women who used to love each other in that house. The lovers of the past were doomed by circumstance, but Natalie and Van have a chance at a future together.

I enjoyed the romance in the story the most, although the haunting, which escalates over time, gives it vital tension. Van and Natalie make a believable pair, and reading about them was a sweet experience. The haunting and its mystery unfold well, although it was at times too gory for my tastes. If you don’t like gore or violence, I would look for your romance elsewhere. For the record, since I like to note these things down in my reviews, the cast is mostly white (except for an important background character who I believe is supposed to be Hispanic), and the characters are gay but not very queer. I’d also like to warn for the following triggers: abuse, rape, and murder.

I would definitely recommend Sometime Yesterday if you’re looking for an enjoyable lesbian romance, and don’t mind some ghosts thrown in—or vice versa.

Danika reviews The Abandoned by Ross Campbell

I learned about The Abandoned from Good Lesbian Books’s Lesbian Fiction list. A lesbian zombie graphic novel?! Sounds too good to be true! I tried to brace myself before reading it. Maybe there would just be gay undertones. Nope! It’s established from the first couple of pages that Rylie is into girls, though romance isn’t really a big plot line in the book. And when I actually got The Abandoned in my hands, it looked even better. A fat lesbian PoC protagonist?! And the art is amazing. Rylie is just as awesome as she looks. She and the other characters in The Abandoned have their own interesting personalities and interactions with each other. Rylie is the only person of colour character, but there are other queer characters. Honestly, the only complaint I have is that there isn’t more! I read The Abandoned in one sitting. Apparently, there were supposed to be two additional volumes, but they got cancelled. I wouldn’t say, as some reviews do, that this volume ended on a cliffhanger, exactly, but it is open-ended. The Abandoned also has some hardcore zombie gore. You do see people torn apart. So if you like zombie gore and lesbians, I highly recommend this!

Laura reviews Fist of the Spider Woman edited by Amber Dawn

Fist of the Spider Woman, edited by Amber Dawn, is an anthology of 16 poems and short stories written in the queer space where fear meets desire. With subject matter ranging from vampires to pubic lice, this coolly creepy collection is the perfect paperback to pick up as Halloween draws near.

As Dawn notes in the introduction, “Fist’s contributor’s know what it means to operate outside of the norm. This puts us in a position to uncover distinctively queer, distinctively woman-centered horrors, and bring life to empathy-worthy victims and villains rarely seen before.” Yes, yes, and yes. The overall execution is marvelous; I’ve been turning these stories over in my head for weeks now, and I’m still not sick of it. If you’re looking for vivid characters and situations, this collection has it in spades.

While I wouldn’t say that all the pieces are hits, none are misses, either. A few are just stunningly, dazzlingly, take-your-breath-away beautiful. Here are a couple of my favorite passages:

From “All You Can Be” by Mette Bach:

“Do you believe in fate?” Brianna asked. “Do you think that maybe all this was meant to happen so that we could meet?”

Sal, who had always been an atheist and a practitioner of science, mathematics, and calculable randomness, heard her voice declare without hesitation, “Yes. I believe in fate.”

“I really like you, Sal.”

The phrase, like butter melting on toast, seeped into Sal.

“I really like you too, Brianna.”

From “Shark” by Kestrel Barnes:

I’d been scared that Carling would be born a shark, but she wasn’t, I soon satisfied myself of that. Her eyes were green as the tidepools and filled with life. Her mewls held no menace, her mouth was toothless and birdline. She smelled like the rainforest after it rained. She couldn’t swim, not in the bath, where I carefully examined her — no fins, no gills, no cartilage, and no tail. After that I knew for sure Carling wasn’t a shark. She was just my little sister.

For a memorable fix of fantasy mixed with a little terror, you really can’t do much better. Check out this exquisite read out for yourself: $17.95 from Arsenal Pulp Press.