Kathleen Wheeler reviews Finding the Grain by Wynn Malone


Finding The Grain by Wynn Malone is, in my mind, one of those rare treasures destined to become a classic- if not an instant classic, it is certainly a cut well above.  It’s one of those books that, as a writer, I read and get jealous because I WISH I could write like that!  Maybe some day if I keep at it…It’s not that the story is particularly unique necessarily; the basic elements are pretty common, in fact (at least at first glance).  Girl meets girl, they fall in love, there’s something that keeps them apart but in the end their love is just too strong to deny, etc.  But it’s SO MUCH MORE than that, and it’s HOW the story is told that makes this one special.  It is how this story is told that will keep me coming back to it again and again.

Finding the Grain is the story of a woman named Augusta Blue Riley, Blue to most, and takes place over a couple decades (+) and several states.  It’s about love, loss, the human spirit, and finding your place in the world- a place to call home.  Yes, it’s a romance; but for me, the romance of this book is secondary to the journey this woman takes to get where she needs to be- it’s a catalyst, it’s an engine and it’s one of the rewards, but it’s not the real point.   For me, this book is about growth, trust, strength of spirit and love.  Not just fleeting romantic love, but the real, abiding and lasting love between people that are bonded at a soul deep level- whether it’s the family we’re born with or the family we choose- and letting that love in.

Ms. Malone’s descriptions of people and places bring them to life in a way that isn’t so common in recent work; it’s the sort of description and insight that can only come from having been there or from having the sort of deep empathy necessary to get the story right. Whatever the case for Ms. Malone, she definitely gets it right.  I’ve lived in Alabama.  I’ve been to Colorado and the west coast and Mississippi and North Carolina and I can tell you that it’s 100% spot on.  But it’s more than that.  It’s not just a passive expression, but the kind that gets as under your skin and into your bones as real time spent in a real place with real people. I laughed, I cried, I got angry; I felt the hurt and the heat and the resentment and the joy right along with Blue and the other wonderful people her path crosses.

If this reads like a glowing review for this book, GOOD.  I LOVED IT.  And I was sad when it ended – not because of the ending, but because I wanted it to go on forever.

Kathleen Wheeler is Author of Changing Shape and GCLS Nominated The Immaculate Chaos of Being




Kathleen Wheeler reviews Rain Falls by Kelli Jae Baeli


This is the first of Ms. Baeli’s work I’ve read and I’ve gotta say, I enjoyed it.  It was a quick read, entertaining, funny in places, steamy in others, just enough suspense to keep it from becoming stale and overall a well conceived story.  I’m not going to go into detail about what the story is or who the characters are, that would be giving it away.  (Plus, I HATE SPOILERS! And if you want them, you can find them somewhere else.)

I will say this, however: her characters aren’t your average run of the mill, read about them a million times in a million different books people; they are faulted and faulty.  Ms. Baeli’s treatment of them, I feel, is both sensitive and straightforward.   Her characters are who they are and that’s that, and over the arc of the story, they each help the other to be better than who they are separately simply by being themselves.  This, I think, is especially true for India, but I’m saying too much.

Also, some of the images Ms. Baeli paints on the page are just so….brilliant is the only word I can come up with.  She has a quirky way of wording things, of describing things- ordinary, mundane things even, that are at once very funny and also very apt.  This is something I absolutely appreciate.  If you decide to give this one a try, I’m sure you’ll see what I’m talking about.

If you’re looking for a fun read that I have very few complaints with, this is one I’d recommend.

Kathleen Wheeler is Author of Changing Shape and The Immaculate Chaos of Being



Kathleen Wheeler reviews Flowers from Iraq: The Storyteller and the Healer by Sunny Alexander



‘Flowers’ is at once riveting, heartbreaking, uplifting and cathartic.  While I can’t say, ‘Oh my God, she’s writing about me,’ to the specifics that these women go through as the story progresses, there is a human element that is wonderfully portrayed and very easily relatable on a deep level (for me, at least).  Sunny Alexander has created a beautiful story of love, compassion, fear, determination, perseverance, and emotional growth; it’s more than just a story of survival, but of the human spirit and I found myself drawn into the written world and connecting with her characters on a primal plane.  We all have that scared little girl living within our hearts, the one we are trying to protect from the harshness in the world, even if the reasons and means differ from those that main character Kathleen Moore faced in her life.

The issues Ms. Alexander tackles in ‘Flowers’ are heavy and all too real for far too many, not just women and not just Americans and certainly not just soldiers.  She addresses these issues not only with sensitivity, but with a directness and a rawness that speaks to her years of experience as a psychoanalyst and as a human being.   Issues like abandonment, childhood abuse, PTSD, identity and self acceptance, sexuality, the closet, connecting with others….the list goes on and rather than making this some sort of strange dissertation on abnormal psychology, I find that these are the things that make her characters real.  They are people, with lives and pasts and hearts and minds and problems and struggles and triumphs and all the rest- fleshed out in a way that ultimately makes them more human.  Yes, there is a heavy element of therapy within the pages, but I don’t view that as a bad thing.  We could all use someone to talk to from time to time, someone to help us see ourselves, help us grow.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and it takes a certain strength to be able to say, ‘I need help with this.’

A few of you might find the writing style a bit stilted in places, or that the descriptions are too descriptive and the pacing a bit too slow overall.  Admittedly, I found myself checking the number of pages and my progress and wondering at times if things were going to ever happen – but just when I thought I might explode with anticipation BOOM! It happens.  And it happens in a way that made me smile and made me think.  In fact, Ms. Alexander has a way of manipulating time that I quite enjoyed overall.  I felt like I read a book 2 or 3 times as long as it actually was and I was still sad when it ended (because it ended, not because of how it ends).  She packs so much information into the space of an average length book that it felt like I actually read something, you know? It was meaty- meaty in a way that really draws you in and makes the places and people and things that happen real in a way that sticks.

It was also refreshing to discover that this is not a book about the politics of war, which I had thought might be the case when it first came out, and is what prevented me from reading it sooner.  In fact, there isn’t anything political at all really within these pages.  There is war, which is simply a matter of fact and a huge part of Kathleen’s experience in life, but whether that war is right or wrong is left to the reader.  There is no political agenda (at least not in an overt way).  I left this with the reinforced belief that war is the wrong way, but not because the author told me so.  This is something I applaud Ms. Alexander for.  It would have been so easy for her to go there, and she didn’t- instead she stayed true to the heart of this story and in doing so, I believe, does a real service to the men and women of the armed forces who have seen the things we can’t imagine.

I would have liked to get more development from the Claire character, but I realize this was more a book about Kathleen and her personal journey than anything else.  For this purpose, Claire is exactly as she needs to be- and knowing there’s a sequel on the way gives me hope that I will come to know and understand Claire as deeply as I do Kathleen.

I look forward to everything Ms. Alexander writes from this point on; if we improve with experience, her second and third and so on promise to be absolutely amazing.

Review by Kathleen Wheeler, author of Changing Shape.

Carol reviews Changing Shape by Kathleen Wheeler

Publisher: KatWheelerBooks (self published)

Book Description from Amazon:

Elizabeth Thornton has worked hard to get where she is in life. An only child raised by a single mother in a small Colorado town, she has risen through the ranks and sits at the top of her field. She has a great career with a top company, a townhouse in a prestigious Boston neighborhood, and all the trappings of success- everything she thought she wanted; but for some reason she hasn’t found the one thing her soul most yearns for. When her mother is diagnosed with cancer, Elizabeth puts her life on hold to return to Colorado to see to her care. A recent transplant to Carbondale, Hailey Jensen is starting over in a new life of her own making, far away from the daily reminders of everything that she was and is. She is soon befriended by the local bakery owner who becomes a sort of mother figure and forces Hailey to face her demons when she suddenly collapses at work. This is the story of 3 women, whose evolving relationships with themselves and each other teach them how to be who they are, how to be brave in the face of deep potential sorrow and that love can come from surprising places and take surprising shapes. Can the bonds they forge with each other survive the cards they’ve been dealt?

Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is Kathleen Wheeler’s first book and she’s given us three interesting and dynamic characters in Elizabeth Thornton, her mother Patty, and Hailey Jensen.

Hailey comes from an affluent and wealthy family and was raised interacting with the “upper crust” of society.  With the recent death of her father she has inherited the family wealth and business.  However, despite all these advantages she didn’t get to adulthood unscathed.  Her brother was left brain damaged, and eventually died, when he as in a car accident at the age of 17.  Hailey’s mom was the one driving the car and shortly after the accident she abandoned the family and ran off with another man.  Hailey was only 9 years old at the time.  As a result, Hailey has had abandonment issues and protects herself emotionally from people who could hurt her in a similar way.

Elizabeth was raised by her single Mom who struggled financially to raise her daughter while starting and building her own business, “The River Rock Bakery”.  They may not have had a lot of money but Patty made sure that Elizabeth knew that she was loved and supported.

When Elizabeth’s mom falls ill she receives a call from Hailey, who is friends with Patty, explaining that Patty is in the hospital and that Elizabeth should fly out to Colorado asap.  Throughout the rest of the story the reader learns more about all three women and gets to watch as their relationships intertwine and deepen.

This was an enjoyable easy read.  When I say easy I mean that I wanted to finish the story although I was not compelled to read it in one sitting.  What I enjoyed about it was that both Hailey and Elizabeth were strong, smart, successful women.  Yes, they each have issues they need to address, but neither of them came across as being “damaged” or caricatures.  Rather they felt like real people who I might encounter (if I hung out with millionaires) in everyday life.  If you enjoy romance novels I would definitely recommend this and I’m looking forward to Kathleen’s next story.

Kathleen Wheeler reviews Kung Fu Lesbian by Dan Curry

I have to admit that I was a bit reticent to read this book at first- I mean it’s a lesbian book written by a man- what could he possibly know?  And then there are the other examples of lesbianism created by men that were floating around in my head, mostly in film: ‘Chasing Amy’ being one of the worst…’Bound’ being the best (in my experience).   But the title had me intrigued so I thought ‘What the hell, why not?’  I’m glad I did.

If you enjoy film as much as I do, perhaps you’ll appreciate this; this book read much like a movie for me.  If you’re a fan of Tarantino and Rodriguez and all the other modern day throw back filmmakers who create celluloid homages to the grindhouse, kung fu and spaghetti westerns of the 60’s and 70’s then this book is definitely for you- gay straight or otherwise.   It was as if ‘Jackie Brown (’97), ’ ‘Pulp Fiction (’94) ’ and ‘Kill Bill (‘03/’04)’ all teamed up and got it on with ‘The Human Tornado (‘76)’ and made a little lesbo book baby- with a little ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico (’03)’ tossed in for added spice and ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (’63) for fun.   It was fast paced, smart, sexy, hilarious, and thrilling.  Curry’s use of language and history made the time come alive again and the constant barrage of colorful characters kept it from going stale as it progressed- and not in a way that made it hard to follow, just in a way that made it exciting.  I never knew what the hell was going to happen next, and something was always happening.

It starts off with a woman Holly, a badass Pam Grier lookalike with a sordid past and mad karate skills, watching her father’s dojo go up in smoke; all part of the half baked plot to get the ‘master plan’ safely out of the city where presumably Holly and her father (a.k.a. the karate man from Fillmore Street) could pull a Houdini and vanish.  But the die had been cast, the dominoes had already been set in motion and a motley crew of rogues and renegades, bandits, assassins, CIA agents and double-crossers all want the master plan for themselves- and they’re willing to do anything to get it.

Enter Heidi, Holly’s onetime-let’s-make-up-and-start-over-again lover and brainiac roller derby queen turned badass revenge exactor.   While on the run from the big bad mofos of San Francisco, Holly decides to take a swing over to Bakersfield where Heidi lives with her uber-conservative white power parents.  I don’t want to give anything away, but trouble seems to follow Holly like stink follows the trash truck and soon Heidi is on the run as much as Holly is, but for different reasons.  Thrown together now in this they team up and head on out to the wild blue yonder; this would be fine if not for the gaggle of deadly lapdogs hot on Holly’s trail and the human and situational potholes they encounter along the way.

Enter Ms. Smith, A.K.A ‘The Mormon’.  She’s a sexy good ol’ girl next door Farrah Fawcett-Majors doppelganger with a thirst for blood and violence and the skills to back it up.  Excommunicated from her super over the top and insane splinter cult (read ‘Big Love’ on steroids) she goes mercenary and is hired by the karate man’s nemesis to retrieve the master plan- whatever it takes.  Leaving a trail of death in her wake, she is bound and determined to succeed in her task, eliminating all who would stand in her way and try to take her prize.

Add to this all the other entities after our girls and the briefcase they are trying desperately to protect and you have yourself one hell of a powder keg of action.  Who to trust?  Who to kill? Everyone’s got their eye on the prize and given the chance even a ‘friend’ could turn foe.   There are drugs, sex, fast cars, dudes with guns, kick ass bitches who take no shit, The Nation [of Islam, Black Panthers], a Zionist cult, matchstick men, the feds, Satanists, bikini bandits, the cops – every seedy faction you can think of and then some- all beautifully fleshed out and playing their roles to perfection, painting the picture vividly, provoking thought and sheer enjoyment as this story unfolds (at least, for me). There are twists and turns right up to the end and nothing is finished until the final page is turned.

But this isn’t just a shoot-‘em-up, kick ‘em in the balls story about a couple of hot lezzies on the run.  No, it’s also a story about finding your true self and accepting the responsibility that comes with finally recognizing who you are and the power that comes with that.  It’s about love and strength and family- even it’s all kinds of fucked up.   It’s about the ‘70’s and the craziness that was reality at that time.  It’s about finding the perfect conditioner to keep your bangin’ ‘fro from going wooly caveman on your head.  It’s about more than all that and after reading several hundred run-of-the-mill (although totally awesome in their own right) novels this one is a refreshing standout in my mind.

It’s not a romance.  It’s not a drama or some cathartic heart string tuggin’ life lesson vehicle meant to teach you some universal truth about being a woman or a lesbian.  It’s not even what I would consider to be a lesbian book; in truth, the fact that there are lesbians at all seems tertiary to the point- just a simple fact of life and only one small part of who our main protagonists are and an even smaller plot point (although it’s treated with the utmost respect).  So if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll be disappointed.  This IS an exciting action novel with really smart and thought provoking things of its own to say, and overall a worthwhile read even if for the sake of reading something different for a change.