Marthese reviews Tracker and the Spy (Dragon Horse War trilogy #2) by D. Jackson Leigh

Tracker and the Spy by D. Jackson Leigh

“Not a sparkler, a blazer”

Tracker and Spy is the second book in the Dragon Horse War Trilogy. I have to say that I liked it better than the first book, mostly because the main characters were Tan and Kyle, which I liked better as a pair than Jael and Alyssa. We still see parts of the story from the other characters’ POVs, though, and there is continuation. This review may contain some spoilers from the first book, however, I’ll keep them to a minimum.

Kyle and Tan’s first meeting is tense. Kyle, as the resident expert on the Order, is asked to infiltrate them. Her father and Simon are in two different parts of the world, and the problem is who to target first, as they are both dangerous. A lot of the first chapters, though, focus on the mating of two dragon horses which affect people too. That is, Tan isn’t exactly clear headed.

I liked that we see more of Tan: her gentleness with children and her demons, which she tries to exorcise by punishing herself. Although Tan has trust issues, she does eventually start to trust Kyle. For her hardcore persona, she could be submissive at times. It wasn’t cleared up whether this submissiveness was due to her punishing herself though… I wouldn’t like it to be. Kyle and Phyrrhos – Tan’s horse – seem to bond as well and we see why later on!

Tan and Kyle are both outsiders. They take care of each other without judgment, even when they may not necessary like each other.

I had some problems with the world building. For example, in the case of polyamoury, it was explained as only a cultural custom rather than an identity. If this series is set in the future, wouldn’t it make sense for it to be more progressive? Seeing as everything else (apart from the confusion between sex and gender) is?

Another thing that was a bit of a pet peeve was a wasted opportunity. It could be that it will happen in the third book, but originally Kyle was looking for Will, her new friend and fake fiancée, who she lost touch with during the solar train attack. There were several opportunities for them to have a reunion, not least towards the end. I’m a sucker for friendly reunions. I kept expecting it. Bonus though for Will and Michael apparently being together. I did wish to see more of Michael too. We did get to see him a bit in the first book and as a rare intersex character who is male, it would have been interesting to see more of him.

There was problematic language usage so be warned; some instances of ‘real penis’ and another where someone that has graceful lines and so couldn’t ‘be anything but female’. This kind of language use is what makes me cautious. Trans and gender minorities exclusion is not fun. Authors please take note!

There are a lot of characters so I get that there cannot be focus on everyone. I feel like we know about Raven the least. I did like when Diego, Furcho and Raven had a joking moment. These people have known each other for many lifetimes. Their team and family dynamic must be very interesting.

Needless to say that Cyrus was a misogynistic asshole also established in the first book early on…but towards the end, you understand him better. However, as Kyle said, it still does not make up for what he has done – mental health or not.

An interesting element in this series is that it is critical towards capitalism. According to Simon, who has resources = has power and so he hoards resources to make people do what he wants. The world council on the other hand, distributes resources.

There are two secondary-ish character deaths. One gets the farewell that they deserve, the other is towards the end, but it was their wish. I also like how Furcho and Nicole have a mature conversation on their future. No grand gestures without discussing it first! That was done nicely.

At the end there was a lot of page turning action. Really the question of this book is: two evils, two threats, who do you go for first?

The end had a twist. There were hints of it but things are getting interesting. The two characters from the next book are evident in this one. Toni had been a minor character in book 1, in book 2 she developed a friendship with Kyle, is Alyssa’s apprentice and has an interesting power of her own. Maya is Kyle’s younger sister and she has been taken hostage…

While I am critical of the language use and the binary elements in this book (THEY ARE NOT FUN TO READ) it is an interesting series and unfortunately, there aren’t that many fantasy series with queer women at the front so I’d recommend for anyone looking for such series.

Megan Casey reviews The Small Town Series by Iza Moreau

news-in-small-towns

It’s not that hard to review an entire series of lesbian mysteries as long as you read them consecutively and within a fairly short time. Unfortunately for the genre, many series novels are just the same book written again and again with different minor characters who commit slightly different crimes. The Kylie Kendall mysteries by Claire McNab, are a case in point. Kylie solves cases for Australian clients while trying to find a way into her gorgeous colleague Ariana’s fashionable trousers—that’s pretty much all you need to know—and all you will remember. This is not to say that the Kylie Kendall mysteries are not enjoyable: they are. It’s just that there is no history in them; the characters do not evolve. Kylie is funny and uses quirky Aussie slang, but by the third book you are pretty tired of the same old.

The Small Town Series by Iza Moreau is quite different. In this literary, four-book series, the main characters age, mature, and even move on, all the while solving mysteries that range from quirky puzzles to serious crimes in their small community in north Florida.

In the first novel in the series, The News in Small Towns, Sue-Ann McKeown is introduced as a successful war correspondent in Iraq. She is called home to her small home town of Pine Oak, Florida after her mother dies in a riding accident. Burned out by the war and suffering not only from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but also from a debilitating illness called Graves Disease, she decides to stay in Pine Oak, the only job she can get being that of a lowly reporter for the town’s small newspaper. And if things are not bad enough, the business manager for the newspaper is none other than Gina Cartwright—her old high-school nemesis—who just happens to be dating the editor. And that’s when the fun—and the romance—starts.

And hey, Sue-Ann is not only a pretty famous reporter, she was once an alternate on the U.S. Olympic archery team: she carries a bow and she knows how to use it. She is also a dedicated lower-level dressage rider. She is helped in her adventures by an elderly, napalm-scarred Vietnam veteran called The Creeper who lives in a mysterious compound in the woods with other battle-scarred solders—and with his grandchildren Gamma and Smokestack, who are the main deejays in the pirate ratio station located within the compound.

Unlike McNab’s Kylie and Ariana, who seem to have been born with the word DYKE tattooed to their foreheads, neither Sue-Ann nor Gina initially considers herself a lesbian. Remember that they both grew up in the 1970s in a very southern, very rural, very homophobic area. One of the strengths of these books is that, in addition to being fast-paced adventures, the author chronicles the doubts and fears and surprises of both Sue-Ann and Gina as they grow closer and closer together. Their relationship, in fact, overshadows the mystery in the book, which has to do with the very odd subjects of animal sacrifice, voodoo, and parental neglect.

madness-in-small-towns-iza-moreauIn the second book, Madness in Small Towns, Gina disappears, and Sue-Ann, in addition to solving a couple of puzzling mysteries—one having to do with a murderous escapee from a mental hospital who seems intent on skewering her with a samurai sword—has to find her. As in the first novel, there is a chapter about Sue-Ann’s 6-month posting to Baghdad—the friends she met, the boozing she did, and the tragedy she experienced there.

The third book, Secrets in Small Towns—which delves into the shadowy subject of child molestation in halfway houses—shows Sue-Ann and Gina as a happy, but still-secret, couple. In a small town in rural North Florida, not only could neither afford to come out, but no one else could either, so they lived their lives in the type of vacuum that so many gay women and men in small towns find themselves sucked into.

Well, why don’t they just leave? For one thing, Sue-Ann loves her job at The Pine Oak Courier, especially after she takes over as editor in Madness. She is also reluctant to leave the farm that her mother worked so hard to build, and the horses that live there. But mainly it is because she has already had her moments of glory and excitement. She is no longer interested in reporting—or shooting arrows—on the world stage. Been there, done that. She simply wants a quiet life with Gina

Those who are familiar with Robert van Gulik’s series of mysteries featuring Judge Dee in 7th Century China, know that his mysteries make use of the ancient tradition of writing in that era, having Judge Dee solve several cases—sometimes unrelated—in the same novel. Moreau follows this tradition, although her plotlines always merge at the end. Each book includes a chapter flashing back to the Iraq war and generally shows her skill both with horses and with her bow and arrow. And, of course, with her developing relationship with her former rival.

The fourth book in the series, Mysteries in Small Towns, is a collection of short mysteries featuring Sue-Ann and Gina. Although this is not unusual in the general mystery genre—we are all familiar with Agatha Christie’s books featuring short stories about Poirot and Marple—it is rare in lesbian mysteries, with only one other author—Barbara Wilson—attempting to augment her series novels with stories. Moreau’s short stories are, unlike her novels, more traditional mysteries with more obvious crimes and criminals that have to be brought to justice.

So the series is important on a number of levels, but maybe the most rewarding is the evolution of Sue-Ann’s and Gina’s relationship. They go from assuming their absolute heterosexuality to admitting that they are interested in each other—but just in each other. They then run the rest of the gamut of suspecting that they may be bisexual to finally eschewing men altogether and accepting that they are lesbians through and through.

For those readers that dislike reading about heterosexual sex, be warned; there are a couple of man/woman couplings in the beginning of the first novel, The News in Small Towns, but they are included to provide a realistic background for both Sue-Ann and Gina. If the subject offends you, either begin with the second book or read something else. Author Moreau has posted on her website that there will be no further Small Town Series books, but the four that she has left us will probably be around as long as there are lesbian mystery readers.  All four are available separately as inexpensive e-books or you can buy all four for under $10 from most e-book retailers.

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

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).