Danika reviews Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino

Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino cover“A new magic has entered the realm of the Sidh–and its name is rock n’ roll!”
Gossamer Axe front cover blurb

I will admit that I picked this up primarily because of the cover. A woman in high fantasy/ancient Celt robes, hair billowing behind her, playing an electric guitar? Add in the cover blurb (and the promise of queer content), and I was on board. Because I bought it mostly for cover appeal–I collect lesbian pulp, so I clearly have a weakness for ridiculous covers–I didn’t rush to start reading it. Instead, I waited for a time when I felt like reading something fun and a little bit silly. Unbeknownst to me, Gossamer Axe takes its rock n’ roll Celtic fantasy premise very seriously.

Christa is a woman who grew up in ancient Ireland. She was an expert harpist, but when she attempted to learn from the Sidh–a fairy-like magical race–she and her lover got kidnapped into their unchanging realm as punishment for her hubris. Christa escaped, but she wasn’t powerful enough to bring her lover with her. Now, she bides her time in modern (80s) America, trying to improve her musical/magical prowess enough to rescue her. She finds possibility in an unlikely place, trading her harp for an electric guitar, and forming a girl band to collectively stage a final battle.

While  still think the premise sounds kitschy–Ancient Celt harpist rescues her girlfriend from a timeless dimension using the power of rock and roll!–the book is not light or silly. It deals with heavy subject matter. A lot of it. Child rape/incest, someone dying of AIDS, homophobia, racism (including slurs), misogyny, abuse–to name a few.

But it’s also about chosen family, healing, and rebirth. Christa is bi, and where/when she grew up, two women falling in love was a little unusual, but unremarkable. Only the Christians disapprove of their relationship. Although she is living in 80s America now, she carries with her the confidence and power she learned in her youth. While all the women in the novel deal with misogyny, Christa acts as a source of strength for them. A note, though: the girl band mentioned on the back cover of the novel doesn’t get together until more than 100 pages into the book. It is a bit of a slow build. They do form of the heart of the book, though. They are very different people, but they become a kind of family.

I especially appreciated the friendship between Christa and Monica, which does not begin from a very promising place. There’s a sort of unquestioning sisterhood formed here that I love, and that seems rooted in its 80s feminist context. Christa shares her beliefs with her friends, and even if they aren’t converts, they draw strength from it. Christa believes that all women are priestesses, and she uses her rituals to remind them of their own capabilities.

Despite the dark subjects covered, at its core, Gossamer Axe is about persistence and healing. Although the characters go through incredibly difficult things, they are able to survive it, and to re-emerge as new people. This was not the book I was expecting, but I enjoyed it. If you can handle the subject matter (and are okay with this being very 80s), I recommend it. I will be checking out more from this author (silly cover or no).

Megan Casey reviews The Dead by Ingrid Black

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In a 2013 interview, Anne Laughlin lists Ingrid Black as one of her favorite lesbian mystery writers. It isn’t clear from the interview whether she was aware that “Ingrid Black” is actually two writers—Ellis O’Hanlon and her husband Ian McConnel. Nor is it mentioned whether she was aware that O’Hanlon, a journalist, has written flippant comments about people identifying as transgender.

But having gotten that out of the way, The Dead is a right good serial-killer mystery. Saxon, the main character, writes books on true crime. Like Shiloh in Paulette Callen’s excellent Command of Silence, Saxon has only one name, but this doesn’t seem to hinder her greatly. After all, her significant other—Grace Fitzgerald—is Detective Chief Inspector of the Dublin Police, so Saxon can get away with a lot.

The story begins when a man calling himself Ed Fagan begins murdering young prostitutes and leaving religiously themed notes at the scene of the crime. Trouble is, Saxon knows for a fact that Fagan has been dead for years. In fact, she knew the man well enough to begin writing a book about him. So with the help of two profilers, a medical examiner, and of course her S.O. Grace, she decides to hunt for the killer’s real identity before he kills too many more people.

But maybe it’s me that’s being flippant, because, despite what seems to be a same-old, been-there-done-that plot, The Dead is a wet, cold, and dark investigation. Saxon herself has been numbed by her proximity to death and death dealers. Her point of view is a depressing, introspective, quasi-philosophical one. This is how she describes a crime scene, for instance: “A place where there had been such pain and terror was always afterwards so quiet, and yet it would never be entirely free of its past. Bad things lingered, and it turned those places bad in turn, so that other bad things happened in turn.” This is not light reading and the novel sometimes seems to have as many twists and turns as Dublin has dark alleys.

The writing itself is very good and O’Hanlon and McConnel’s voices blend so perfectly that Anne Laughlin (or any other reader) can be forgiven for not suspecting a collaboration. I hope she can forgive me if I am wrong about suspecting that she patterned the unfortunate ending of her first book, Veritas, on this one. On the other hand, the ending of The Dead is first rate.

Downsides? Well, Saxon doesn’t sound much like the American she is supposed to be–and even less like a Bostonian. She knows that baseball teams field nine players, but most of her expressions are Irish or British. Too, there is no sense of lesbian community here; Saxon’s relationship with Grace could just as easily have been with a man—and vice versa. There is no sex, no romance, not even much touching. It makes me wonder why the authors chose to call either Saxon or Grace a lesbian. Since neither author has evidently had much experience in being a lesbian, why not identify their characters as straight—especially if they are going to act the part?

Despite this, I would give this book close to 4 stars, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series, hoping they fix the weaknesses in this one.

For more than 175 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

Marthese reviews The Princess Affair by Nell Stark

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“You deserve a princess, Kerry, but a princess who will hold your hand in public” – Harris

I admit that I am not much of a romance book reader, but this summer I was travelling and wanted to read something light that didn’t get me hooked, so I could drop it if I needed to. The Princess Affair, for being a romance story was quite good. I was in the awkward position of liking a few clichés but disliking others and I think that this book, did well with that.

This is a romance story between sporty, nerdy and American Rhodes scholar Kerry and Princess Sasha (Alexandra) from the house of Carlisle. The chapters varied in POVs between them. The Royalty factor is the cliché bit, but I have to admit that I could be a bit of a romantic and the idea of a royal romance story leaves me with a warm feeling. I wanted the story to be realistic; to be romantic because it was do-able and I think this book succeeded in that.

Princess Sasha comes off as pretentious and wild (“the princess seemed wild around the edges”) but there is more to her and she had depth, she’s not perfect but she’s human. Kerry is quite likable and I could relate to her a lot. Sasha and Kerry learned to see through each others’ masks and see the baggage the other one had. I liked the chemistry that the two women had together it seemed genuine. They also talk about their relationship and though at times there are misunderstandings they work for the relationship to work but they have trust issues. Sasha doesn’t think she can have a real relationship while Kerry doesn’t think Sasha will stay with a women for the long run.

A thing that I liked was that they did not have sex from the start; at first not for lack of trying but then they decide to take it slow so it was towards nearly the middle of the book when it happened. It was not insta-love although there was insta-attraction.

As usual, I have a tendency to like side characters. I liked Ian and Harris as characters and what they gave to the plot. I liked that they were gay and their friendship and working relationship with queer women. I also like how Ian warms up to Kerry while still being protective of his charge and how Harris helps Sasha and still being on Kerry’s turf. However, I didn’t particularly like Miranda. In her scene with Kerry in the club towards the end, she was less annoying but I still do not think she was redeemed from haven proven that she was not a good friend to Sasha.

The cherry on top was their trip to (North) Ireland. I was reading that bit when flying to (South) Ireland so that gave it more perspective for me.

In the end I love how Sasha stood up for herself and all she represented. How she stood up for gay rights (though I think she meant this as an umbrella term for queer people considering her previous comments) and learning (dis)abilities. I liked the tidbits of politics and architecture thrown in and media assumptions and affects. It has a good ending I think and worth a read if you want to read a queer women romance.