Megan Casey reviews The Girl in Gold by Beth Lyons

I recently received a couple of review copies of books in which the private investigator protagonist has paranormal powers. The first, Geonn Canon’s Underdogs, has its shape-shifting PI use her powers to do surveillance for a client in the first few pages. Perhaps I should have read on, but using paranormal powers to solve a case—or any part of a case—is verboten as far as lesbian mysteries go. The mystery genre should be a cerebral one—one in which, ideally, the reader can empathize with the detective, weighing clues and solving the mystery concurrently with the detective. Because readers are not canidae, it is difficult to empathize in Canon’s book. In other words, a dog can watch a house without arousing suspicion; a human cannot. So for me, the book became primarily paranormal.

So it was with some foreboding that I began The Girl in Gold, in which 23-year-old part-time P.I. Vox Swift is an elf.

Vox seems to be one of two employees of Boleian Investigations, the other being Boleian himself. She also works as a messenger for a family business called Swift Messengers, which was fortunate, because during one of her deliveries, she becomes aware of a murder. Seems that the victim—dressed loudly in gold—has just been discovered in the library of a famous author. Then, the same day, another girl about the same age and size—her face unrecognizable—is also discovered.

Vox is studying to be the type of magician called a Bard, which is one who sings songs as she investigates, asking the universe as it were, to help in her discoveries. The first time she uses this magic, she is simply trying to ascertain if magic was used in the murder. To me, this was okay—the magics were canceling each other out because, in fact, there was no magic used in the crime. But when Vox questions a maid in the house where the murder was discovered, she uses a charm that causes the girl to spill everything she knows. This was a no-no. It’s not something a human detective could do. So the book can not be truly considered a lesbian mystery. Rather, it is a lesbian fantasy. But I had already read five chapters so I went on. Later, she casts a spell to find a secret door where she can eavesdrop on an important conversation. Shake my head.

The idea of a town that had humans, fae, elves, and dwarves living in relative harmony was a good and interesting one. Vox herself has promise, and her budding relationship with the human paladin Jesskah Morningstar was tantalizing.

Still, in rating the book just for myself and for whoever reads this, just about everything about it gets a 3: the mystery (which everyone solves before Vox dose), the writing style, the relationships, the emotions, and even the universe are all above average, but just barely. It isn’t something I can’t recommend, but neither am I going to warn you away any more than I have. Those readers who specialize in reading lesbian mysteries are going to like it less than those who prefer fantasy.

Note: I read a review copy of this book kindly provided in ebook form by the publisher through Lesbrary.

Another Note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews The Ultimate Exit Strategy by Nikki Baker

Hmm. This book was published by Bella Books in 2001, which would have made it one of their first publications. This means that for some reason Baker bailed on Naiad, who had published the first three books in this series. Naiad was subsumed by Bella two years later. The copy I read for this review was probably the only printing.

The fourth and last Virginia Kelly mystery takes place in the world of finance. The company Virginia has been working for since college, Whlytebread, Greese, Winslow, and Stoat, is about to be subsumed by a larger firm, Gold Rush Investments. This will make most of the Whytebread employees, including junior partner Virginia, fairly rich when they trade in their old company shares. There’s just one problem: Whytebread’s CEO, Wes Winslow, is murdered just a few days before the merger is scheduled to take place. If the murderer is not found, the deal will not go through. So Virginia sees it as her duty to solve the crime.

Like Baker’s other books, this one is too good to miss. Her flashbacks—often within other flashbacks—are not your basic narrative, but she manages to do it flawlessly—the reader always knows exactly where the story is going. Virginia is her old ironic self and her BFF Naomi Wolf is back to keep Virginia on her toes. To complicate the investigation, Virginia gets taken up with Detective Cassandra Hope, an old flame she would heartily like to rekindle. Then there is her faltering, long-distance relationship with Spike, who we met in Long Goodbyes. Virginia suspects that Spike is using her for her expectations and that Cassandra is using her to solve the case.

The British novelist C. P. Snow was a master at conducting dialogue without using actual quotations. Passages like: James was astonished when I told him that I knew his sister from my days at Cambridge. He told me that he had no idea that I had attended school there. Other novelists have done this as well, especially those that were not very good at rendering dialogue. But Baker goes Snow one better, blending active and passive conversation. Here’s an example in a conversation between Virginia and Naomi:

“I called Spike tonight and I broke up.”  I’d thought it was the best timing, considering Cassandra and all.

“Ok right.” Naomi picked up the mention of Cassandra as if it were a detail she’d forgotten. 

An article should be written on the best buds of lesbian sleuths. Certainly Naomi is at the top of the list, followed by Nyla Wade’s Audrey Louise and Jane Lawless’ Cordelia. Oddly, many of our protagonists’ BFFs are actually gay men (see Barbara Johnson, David Galloway, et al). Whenever Naomi is present, there is a spark—not only in Virginia, but in the story. Yet the reader senses that a romance between the two would be a mistake. In this novel, Naomi is trying to give up smoking, which makes her even bitchier than usual. And, as always, she figures out things just a little before Virginia does.

I have seen a review of this book that complains that Virginia is not black enough for the reviewer’s comfort. It reminds me of another review I read about a lesbian sleuth that was not lesbian enough. Virginia is a product of her time and her culture. She did not grow up in a ghetto, her parents were not divorced, and she completed a good college education. In fact, this is a brilliant portrait of a black woman who is trying to make it in the predominantly white profession of personal finance. The book does not dwell on Whitey vs. Blackie. It dwells on a sensitive and very intelligent young woman trying to survive in a world she has chosen. Bravo.

The Ultimate Exit Strategy is as good as the first three novels in the series, or at least it would have been if not for the sloppy job Bella Books did on both the editing and the proofreading. But the author has to shoulder some of her blame herself for not going over the final galleys more carefully (presuming that Bella provided any). The specter of HIV is thrust into the plot at the last minute and not only was it not foreshadowed, but it seems to come to nothing. Somebody missed something, or a couple of somethings. Like the half-dozen discretionary hyphens that pop up in the text. And the more-than-usual typos. In short, Baker made a mistake changing publishers. Maybe she thought that Naiad’s current editor would not be as good as Bella’s. She was probably wrong. Maybe the relative failure of this title made Baker rethink her aspirations as a writer. After all, she has published nothing else in over 15 years. Yet The Ultimate Exit Strategy does not end like the last book in a series. Like the author, Virginia ends up leaving her Chicago firm. Many adventures seem to lurk in the future.

Will there ever be another Virginia Kelly mystery? Who knows. But regardless, Nikki Baker is wildly underrated and underappreciated. Her books need to come out in new editions, including e-book editions. Give this book—and this series—a near-perfect rating, despite the editorial glitches.

For over 250 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

Megan Casey reviews Long Goodbyes by Nikki Baker

This is the third novel in Nikki Baker’s Virginia Kelly series. It is an odd novel. For one thing, unlike her other novels, it isn’t a mystery. Nor is it a thriller or a romance or any of the other typical genres. Although Virginia Kelly is the protagonist and the story is told in her inimitable voice, the location and the cast of characters has changed. Yet, except for a slightly sloppy ending, Long Goodbyes could be ranked high on a list of literary novels

Virginia Kelly, has traveled from Chicago to her home town of Blue River to attend her 10-year high school reunion. Because her relationship with her girlfriend Emily in Chicago seems to be over, Ginny becomes fixated on Rosie Paschen, her first love and her first lesbian dalliance, who has contacted her after a decade of silence to beg her to attend the reunion. But Blue River is not the same as it was when Ginny was a girl, nor are her friends. “I imagined many pasts in my home town, as many as there are individuals, as many as there are points of view. If they took up space, in the air overBlue River there would have been a huge traffic jam of individual perspectives returning, making it hard to avoid unfortunate accidents of colliding perception.

Ginny is looking forward to her meeting with Rosie  in order to complete an unfinished transaction, to show courage where she once felt fear. But when the two finally connect, Rosie is distant and standoffish. Ginny’s r near-obsession causes her to initiate sex with a reluctant Rosie anyway. And then Rosie completely disappears. The book is Ginny’s attempt to find her and make the kind of connection that she has been fantasizing about for years. Something that she hopes will validate her life and everything she has done up until this time.

Although Baker introduces Ginny’s parents and high school BFF Sandra, I missed the laconic Naomi Wolf, Ginny’s bud from Chicago. Without her, this novel is darker and more brooding, more desperate and haunting than the first two novels in the series. And I think this is the point. Ginny’s search is our search; the same search animals might make when looking over the fence or across the road or wondering what is on the other side of the mountain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Baker conceived this novel as a stand-alone, with someone other than Virginia Kelly as the protagonist. But it works as it is and I was glad to connect with Virginia in a different setting. It must have been a difficult book to write—and to edit: Katherine V. Forrest missed a couple of convoluted paragraphs and seemed to be unable to get Baker to cut out unneeded scenes or characters—such as her gay friend Emery from high school. He was an interesting character and I would have liked to see him in another novel, but in this one he was extraneous. At 235 pages, Long Goodbyes is more than 60 pages longer than In the Game, which is a gem.

Despite its shortcomings, Long Goodbyes is a good addition to the Virginia Kelly series, and to lesbian fiction in general. It shows us another side of Ginny—one that most authors would hesitate to write. Anyone who is turned off by anything in the first two novels will certainly be turned off by this one. But for those of us who like Baker and Ginny, Long Goodbyes is simply another pleasure.

For over 250 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

Megan Casey reviews The Lavender House Murder by Nikki Baker

The Lavender House Murder by Nikki Baker cover

The second installment of the Virginia Kelly mystery series finds Ginny and her friend Naomi vacationing in Provincetown. Both are having girlfriend problems and simply need a break from their daily grind. But soon after they arrive, a famous lesbian journalist is killed in an alley. Seems that the woman was a gay rights advocate who believed that outing other LGBT folk—especially white-collar ones—was for their own good and the good of the cause. Now who would want to murder her? Well, the list is a long one.

The list should also be long for people who should read this book. Like In the Game, it has adventure, romance, and some of the best internal dialogue anywhere. Virginia Kelly, financial analyst by day and cruising lesbian by night, waxes poetic about her failing relationship with her lover Em. “There seems to be an irresistible force that causes all my relationships to self-destruct after a prescribed number of years. A kind of siren song that makes me want to hurl myself over the precipice into infidelities and deceit. And “What I wanted was a woman as flexible as builder’s putty to fill in the empty spaces in my life. I wanted a woman as large as a circus tent to wrap around me and keep me safe . . . to make a home for me in the ugly world. ” I can go on and on about Baker’s writing skills. Here’s a description of one of the suspects: “Her face had taken too much sun on its way to middle age, and her eye makeup was pastel blue. It was a school of beauty that had lost out in recent years to realism.” Ginny is sardonic, almost jaded—interesting but odd traits for a woman under 30. Through her introspection, The Lavender House Murders becomes not so much a question of finding a murderer, but of finding out about the world and solving questions in her own life.

While staying within Ginny’s point of view, the first half of the novel flashes back and forth between her and Naomi’s arrival in Provincetown, and Ginny’s discovery of the body a day or so later. It is tricky writing, but she pulls it off grandly. Baker’s cast of characters—all lesbians except for the obligatory gruff police officers—are varied and well-drawn, although a little clichéd at times. Ginny and Naomi are unique and thoroughly engaging, as is the lifestyle the author pictures with fine detail.

A similar book—one about a lesbian Bed & Breakfast in a coastal vacation spot—Death at Lavender Bay, was probably influenced by The Lavender House Murder. Even the titles are similar. This one is way better. In fact, this book was better than the excellent first novel in the series. Stay tuned for my review of the third next month at this time.

For over 250 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

 


Megan G reviews Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Sophie Bishop was clean when her best friend Mina was murdered before her eyes. She’d been clean for nine months, two weeks, and six days. Not that the police or her parents believe her, especially considering the evidence to the contrary found in her jacket pocket. Everybody thinks that Mina’s death was a drug deal gone wrong, but Sophie knows different. She knows Mina was murdered; what she doesn’t know is why. But now that she’s out of a stint in rehab that she didn’t need, she’s determined to find out.

Published back in 2014, Far From You was not originally marketed as an LGBTQ+ novel. The blurb on the back gives no explicit indication that Mina and Sophie shared any form of romantic attachment, other than a cryptic mention of a “secret” they share. Despite all this, Far From You does not read like a typical “gay plot twist” novel, because that is not the point. Mina and Sophie’s relationship is hinted throughout the book, and explicitly revealed about 40% of the way through. The point of the novel is Sophie trying to solve the murder of the girl she loved. There is no double plot twist where we find out who murdered Mina and that she and Sophie were lovers at the same time. All things considered, it could have been dealt with a lot worse.

Because of the inherent plot of the novel, I’m sure you won’t be surprised by the warning that this book deals with a dead lesbian. It also deals with a character who is a drug addict, having become addicted to pain killers during her recovery from a traumatic car accident, which left her permanently disabled. This second aspect of the novel, while dealt with in depth, does not mention that not all people who take this type of narcotics will become addicted to them (and the author, Tess Sharpe, is aware of this and has discussed it on her twitter). So, if this is a trigger point for you, I would recommend avoiding this novel. Tess Sharpe has also talked about the problematic aspects of the dead lesbian trope on her twitter (though I am having trouble finding the link to that thread right now). Hearing her talk about these issues is actually what encouraged me to give this book a try. Knowing the author is aware of the problematic aspects of her stories makes me more interested in reading them, as I know that any future writing will most likely avoid those same tropes.

A couple more warnings about this novel include some ableist language (mostly spoken by a disabled person about herself), and a lack of diversity in the characters. It is set in a small town, so the fact that nobody’s skin colour is described heavily implies complete whiteness. As well, there are no fat characters, or any character’s that live outside the gender binary. Again, this can be explained by the small-town setting, but still bears mentioning. There is also some explicit violence, and [major spoiler warning] talks of a sexual relationship between an underage girl and an adult. [end spoiler]

I’m a lover of all murder mystery, and that aspect of this novel did not disappoint. I love when I cannot guess who the murderer is, especially since, after all the murder mysteries I’ve read, I tend to suspect everybody. This time, I was caught off guard. The second plot twist was a little less shocking to me, as I felt [minor spoiler warning] that the character wasn’t as developed, and therefore the reveal made less of an impact. Still, Sharpe does a fantastic job of slowly unraveling the mystery, and keeping you guessing until the very last moment.

The characters are fantastic. Fleshed out and flawed. Sophie makes for an incredibly dynamic lead. I was happy that her disability is continuously dealt with throughout the book, instead of shoved under the rug or forgotten. She also makes for a fantastic witness in a murder mystery, considering how unreliable she is based on her drug problems. Of course, if that weren’t the case the police would have solved the mystery a lot sooner, but what would be the fun in that? Also, I find it very important to point out that Sophie explicitly calls herself bisexual, which surprised me for a book that wasn’t originally marketed as queer.

Overall, this book is fantastically written, and provides a host of dynamic (though, admittedly, homogenous) characters. It is emotional and will probably have you reaching for the tissues more than once, as it’s portrayal over the grief of losing someone you love (especially someone nobody knew you loved) is incredibly real. Head the warnings, but if you enjoy YA fiction, and murder mysteries, as well as well-developed bisexual characters (who also happen to be disabled!), then definitely give this book a try. I promise it will make you smile, even as it breaks your heart.

 

Susan reviews Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet by M. Fenn

Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet is a hardboiled scifi mystery by M. Fenn; Piper Deez is sent to investigate thefts on a mining planet owned by the clan that she serves, where there are definitely no factions, no bubbling undercurrents of resentment, and only a few murders.

Hello, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, lesbian detective fiction is where I live. Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet was always going to be my jam.

The world building is quite cool, and has some interesting imagery – I felt a bit blinded with science at first, but once the story finds its stride it’s easier to enjoy the imagery of a tiny town huddling beneath a permanent ice storm and unpick the politics at play. I also find it a cool distinction in the world building that there is a specific difference between being married and being monogamous, as the default appears to be polyamory in this setting.

Plus, I did like that it tried to talk about class privilege in this universe – there are multiple clans, which have a definite hierarchy, and I enjoyed the discussions of smaller clans unionising to gain more bargaining power. Making Piper Deez a member of a more prestigious clan is an interesting choice however, as it gives her more privilege (and ability to get her job done, or protect people) than I expected from a hardboiled investigator. It does engage with it a little, but it mostly seems to be “Piper hates using the power of her clan but does when it would help her,” which is appropriate for the setting… And kinda nice to see for a queer woman of colour, actually. (And yes, people without clans are treated exactly as well as you expect from all this.)

I found this to be part of the interesting spins on the hardboiled detective tropes – Piper Deez is a newly-wed who is very upfront that she used to be into casual sex before she got married, but is now monogamous, and she actually (tries to) stick to that even in the face of the classic femme fatale, which is honestly more than I expected of a pulp detective. (Her wife doesn’t show up in the story, but is mentioned a lot and with genuine fondness.) And as I said, she’s not only gainfully employed, but she’s actually coming into this story from a position of (relative) privilege, which is fascinating.

The mystery itself is a lot of fun, and it was honestly nice to see a story where the protagonist did reach out to others for help and received it without immediate betrayal. There were aspects that didn’t feel quite built up enough, but they were close enough to genre conventions that I could roll with it – police corruption and harassment are a staple of the genre, so the scenes of look closer, not everything is as it seems weren’t exactly a surprise. On the other hand, the last third felt quite rushed in terms of reveals, consequences, and how the actual ending went down; I had my suspicions about who was behind everything but even with that I was left going “Wait, no, slow down, shouldn’t you talk to someone about this reveal —?”

But it worked! Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet was a short and pulpy mystery, and while the ending didn’t quite gel together for me, I really enjoyed it rolling familiar tropes into a sci fi setting.

This review was based on a copy provided by the author.

[Caution warnings: partner abuse, abuse of power, police harassment, oppression]

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-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Whitney D-R reviews Motor Crush Volume 1

Domino Swift lives Nova Honda, a city where almost everyone lives and breathes racing.  You’re either a sponsored racer in the World Grand Prix or racing at night against biker gangs.

If you’re Domino Swift, you do both.

From the very first page, you’re rooting for Domino.  You want her to “crush” the competition, even if you’re first introduced to Domino when she’s racing a slew of biker gangs– and kicking all their butts.  These night races, called cannonballs, are a new definition of racing for pinks.  Instead of the pink slips to cars one would win at the end of a race, Domino is racing for a neon pink substance called crush.  Crush is mostly used to give a biker’s engine a boost, but Domino needs it to survive.

Domino must lead a double life and it causes contention with the people she loves, namely her ex-girlfriend, Lola.  (Though I hope they’ll get back together in the next volume.) Even though they’re not together, you can tell the love is still there between them.  Domino still tries to protect Lola when she’s get in trouble with some loan sharks.  They initially broke up because Domino kept Lola in the dark about her nightly activities and who she really is.  Lola wanted an all-open, honest relationship with Domino or nothing at all.  But how can Domino be honest when she doesn’t even know who she is or where she came from?

How can you tell the woman you’re in love with that when you take a neon drug meant for motors, you become one with the speed force?  Is she some human-machine hybrid?

There’s more questions than answers so far in this series, but you’ll be instantly sucked into to this high-stakes world.  The art is vivid and gorgeous, the storyline easy to follow, and I can’t wait for the next volume.


Megan Casey reviews A Quiet Death by Cari Hunter 

One of the reasons I read books is that I don’t like to watch TV. So it’s not necessarily a compliment when I say that A Quiet Death could easily be made into an episode of Broadchurch: death among dark and brooding scenery. But because of the shared point of view of the two main protagonists, it’s like watching a mixture of Broadchurch and Grey’s Anatomy.

Don’t get me wrong, this book has the same grittiness and excitement as the first—somehow I missed the second—maybe too much the same. In this book—as in No Good Reason—an abused girl or woman escapes from captivity only be found either badly injured or dead on the rugged slopes of the Dark Peak area of North England. As in the first book, the story starts out a bit slowly but revs up after a few chapters.

The rotating chapters between Sanne Jensen, a police detective, and her girlfriend Meg Fielding, a doctor specializing in emergency room medicine, are not only interesting in themselves but often act as brief respites between some of the horrors that are almost continually revealed. The fact that they end up intertwining is also a big plus. It took a lot of thought and good writing to accomplish that.

Sanne and Meg, lifelong friends who dated occasionally, have finally decided that they want to be a real couple, although they still prefer to have separate residences. They are kind of a model couple, but for some reason scenes from their domestic life are a lot less interesting than their chapters apart (kind of like when Mary Beth Lacey goes home to her husband at the end of her shift). In fact, the first chapter was so bland I found myself wondering how I could have liked the first book so much. Yes, it gave the reader information on the two main characters, but it was information that could have been worked in elsewhere.

But it got better quickly and Hunter’s agenda—this time it is sex trafficking and sex slavery—is not only horrifying, but important. Bravo for bringing this subject to everyone’s attention. Repeating another theme from the first book, the local scenery plays an important part of the book, as does Sanne’s familiarity with it. And one last similarity to the first book: one of the characters gets trapped alone with bad guys, but it happens by accident, not stupidity, like you see in so many other similar books. Formulaic? Well, yes. Kind of like those TV shows I mentioned earlier. But here’s another kudo, the author has cut down her use of the word “grin” from 31 times in the first book to only 10 in this one. It would be interesting to know how many times she uses it in the second book. Anyone?

It’s hard to think of giving this book less than 4 stars, so I won’t. But I did have reservations about a couple of things. First, a third character—Sanner’s supervisor—gets several of her own point of view sections. For me, this is an artistic hiccup that means the author has taken the easy way round. I don’t believe that Penny Mickelbury or Gina L. Dartt—who also have dual protagonists—would introduce a third point of view just because some scenes might take place without either of the main characters being present. And the several confusions about how to pronounce Sanne’s name gets old very quickly.

The writing is better than average, but not exceptional. The good lines—“I have a meeting at stupid o’clock” —are matched by poor or overwritten ones—“She took a moment to curse every deity known to man, plus a few more she’d made up.”

In any case, this one is recommended for all readers, but especially for those who are trying to wean themselves from too much TV. CSI Derbyshire, anyone?

Note1:  This book was just named the winner of the 2017 Rainbow Award.

Note 2: I  read a review copy of this novel, which was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley.

Note 3: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews Only Lawyers Dancing by Jan McKemmish

I’ve had to create a new shelf for this one called Lesbian Crime Fiction. There is a lot of crime in this book, and a couple of lesbians, but nobody actually solves a mystery or a puzzle. At least, I don’t think they do. The fact is that Only Lawyers Dancing is so literary that it’s often difficult to follow the thread of the several stories that are going on simultaneously. The author uses first person present point of view not only for Frances Smith, the lesbian protagonist, but also for her co-protagonist, Anne Stevens, a straight woman. And for Anne’s boyfriend Harry, who may or may not be a mobster. But she also goes into third person at times, but told as if one of the other characters is relating it. And stream of consciousness abounds.

Anne and Frances are very old friends from two very different backgrounds. Anne’s father was a policeman while Frances’ was a crime boss. One of he recurring narratives in this book is a crime that took place over two decades earlier—one that eventually led to Anne’s father having a nervous breakdown. But despite the fact that these murders are referred to again and again, they seem to have no relation to the rest of the book, which is mostly concerned with a well-known hit man named Max hiring Anne to make him look good in court. The rest of the book deals with various criminals connected to Max and their relationships to both Anne and Frances.

But McKemmish did not write Only Lawyers Dancing for the plot or the story. She did it because she loved writing and the opportunities it often offers to bend genres. She wrote it because she loved words and the many possibilities they give to communicate ideas in different ways. Think of a hybrid between the prefaces to the chapters in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic movie Blow-Up, and Clare Sudbury’s odd crime novel The Dying of Delight. But don’t really expect things to make sense. The author knows exactly what she is doing and isn’t shy about letting us know it. “The trouble is you keep expecting it to make sense, like a serial moving tortuously slow through the labyrinth of side plots and byways toward an order, a clarity, a closed book.”

In some places the writing is pretentious, in others it is engaging and downright brilliant. Like, “ . . .the new week looms like a mountain in the mist when you’re on a cheap-fare-to-Europe aeorplane and hoping, hoping hoping that the radar works.” But there is murder, embezzlement, theft, and even a kidnapping on the way to denouement. It’s not certain what satisfaction the characters get from all this, but we can only hope they all live happily ever after. I give it 4 stars.

For over 250 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 A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman

‘’Not everybody reads encyclopaedias for fun’’

A Harvest of Ripe Figs is the third book in the Mangoverse series. It takes place a bit after the epilogue in the second book. I loved this book so much I binge read it.

This book combines two genres which I love: fantasy and mystery. Shulamit and her family have settled with what happened at the end of  book two . Things are quiet, and indeed, the plot does not revolve much around Shula’s group drama! A violin/fiddle of importance gets stolen (I’m still confused about the difference between a violin and a fiddle!) and Shulamit uses her intellect and deduction skills along with some help from her family to discover what happened to it.

During the mystery, it comes out that Shula is a good interrogator (no torture involved–don’t worry) while Riv stops a lot of bullshit – which I loved. Isaac is smug but helpful and Aviva is supportive and introspective. There is a lot of gender talk and criticism of stereotypes.

I liked the down to business element. For example Riv may be attracted to Isaac but she focuses on her job first. There is no ‘but they couldn’t help themselves’ element.

The accepting diversity is what draws me to this series and in this book, there is very minor ace representation (like blink and you miss it; but I appreciated that it was there).

There is also young trans representation! Aviva sums it up perfectly ”That’s the boy who exists. Anything else is a story” and although Shula doesn’t get it at first, she is very protective of her people. Indeed, she’s a great leadership example (despite it being not a democracy). Shula has plans for giving more females more power in her city. She’s ok with sharing power.

Another thing that was super squee worthy for me was the mention of pests and tropical plants. At the moment, I’m working on a campaign for fair and sustainable tropical fruit (make fruit fair) so it’s something that I became familiar with. The pests are a real problem to our food security and farmers’ livelihoods and Shula really cares about her farmers – the backbone of Perach.

Shula is all about responsibility -whether her own of the wrongdoers responsibility. Wish the world was more like that.

The word ‘Feminism’ is actually used! Women supporting women is also another feature of the book. There was lots of body positivity – especially surrounding maternity and different sizes.

There’s also an example of a toxic relationship and an entitled ‘nice guy’ who wants to be the center of attention and expects things for his ‘sacrifices’. This is dealt with rather than ignored or condoned.

Apart from all the simply narrated but complex topics, it’s simply a fun read. There are some funny elements like the stories about Riv – which turn out pretty helpful in the end.

For me, a good mystery isn’t necessarily complex but it must be clean and rounded-up. Things that were mentioned throughout find their use in the conclusion to the mystery and so for me, while predictable it’s a good mystery.

There were many metaphors also about ripening and maturing – people developing and becoming more themselves. Of course, much food talk as well which I came to expect from this series.

What I wanted to see was Kaveh and his companion again (see I even forgot his name). They were mentioned but in passing. Would have been good if they visited or had visible correspondence at least; considering that they are family.

All in all, it’s a fun read. Fluffy-ish fantasy without too much drama. The pages just seemed to scroll by. I was already used to the world and the characters and it was an enjoyable and fun read. While it may seem an easy read, it still points critically to problems in our society and speaks about different issues.