Julie Thompson reviews Translucid: Dragonfire Station, Book 1 by Zen DiPietro

Translucid, Zen DiPietro’s first installment in her “Dragonfire” series, is a riveting space onion. And by “space onion”, I mean that Translucid is a tightly wound mystery, set on board the Dragonfire Space Station. No one is what or who they seem. Chief Security Officer (CSO) Emé Fallon awakens in sickbay with no memory of her personal identity. The shuttlecraft she piloted crashed into the side of the space station: an unusual malfunctioning coil pack, but nothing most crew members would consider anything but damned bad luck. Before her bed stand a distressed Sarkavian woman named Wren Orritz and a Bennite doctor named Brannin Brash (chief medical officer). Fallon’s initial confusion starts to sound like the Cars’ song, “Once in a Lifetime”. Who are these beings and why are they staring at me? Wren, it turns out, is her wife of six months, not to mention a high-caliber engineer on Dragonfire.

The how and why of Fallon’s memory loss are at the center of the action. Personal memories,  gone. In their stead, Fallon relies on instinct to suss out the person she is supposed to be, as well as tapping into the ship’s personnel records to glean whatever tidbits she can. She knows her height, age, noted abilities, and that she is of Japanese descent. Her skills and working knowledge of the ship, her duties, and protocol, on the other hand, reveal themselves to her as situations arise in which she has need of them. And aside from the black swirl-patterned tattoo on her hip, Fallon has no distinguishing characteristics. She has become one of my favorite characters because of her analytical mind, her constant drive for self-improvement, and her stalwart loyalty to her friends. She is also a total badass.

Some of the novel’s most poignant scenes occur between Fallon and Wren as they relearn their relationship. Fallon plays her cards close to the vest and does not readily accept her domestic situation. Indeed, she and Wren don’t share a bed when she returns to their quarters. It’s painful and confusing and awkward. These moments blend Fallon’s pragmatic disposition with a little-seen tender side. Later on, it’s revealed that the CSO’s marriage is improbable in more ways than one.

Fallon relies heavily on her instincts and her work routine aboard the station to uncover her “true” identity, a notion that becomes increasingly tenuous. Who can she trust, if anyone? Can she even trust herself? Was she a loathsome, duplicitous person? What were pre-accident Fallon’s motives and goals? As she and her carefully vetted band of confidantes probe for answers, more questions crop up as a result. The investigation is akin to finding the key for a room, only to find that the room contains more locked doors, that also have locked doors, that also have locked doors.

DiPietro has crafted a richly imagined universe in which species from across the galaxy meet to conduct business and personal affairs. The space station is part of the Planetary Alliance Cooperative (PAC), a large confederation of species. Raised on dreams of interstellar adventure, cooperation, and discovery, via Star Wars, Star Trek, and countless films, this world feels attainable–if just out of reach–for those of us existing in the early 21st century. Among the wondrous entities on board, you’ll find humans; the humanoid Sarkavians, Bennites, Rescans, and Atalans; and the Briveen, a species evolved from reptiles. For Fallon, knowing how to balance protocol and the well-being of the crew and residents with intergalactic multiculturalism is an essential and enjoyable part of her job. Welcoming a delegation of Briveen aboard the station, for example, requires lengthy social rituals. Other intriguing secondary and tertiary characters include Captain Nevitt (Dragonfire), an ambitious professional who does not disguise her disdain for her second-in-command; Brak, a Briveen who specializes in neural implants and travels with the hospi-ship, Onari; and Cabot Layne (Dragonfire), a Rescan who trades in antiquities and hard to find items. There are other figures who play crucial roles, but that information is classified (at least until you read the book!).

The main challenge for me in writing this review was capturing the spirit of the story while not giving away how the mystery unravels, which is key to the story. DiPietro’s writing style evokes vivid imagery. A few, well-placed brush strokes reveal a complex, exciting world in which everyday activities, such as shopping for artwork and eating out at restaurants, happen alongside cosmic diplomacy and neural implants. DiPietro only shows readers only what pertains to a scene or what Fallon discovers. This tight control of information is crucial to maintaining an atmosphere of paranoia and uncertainty. Weeks after reading the final page, I’m still chewing on it. Thankfully, DiPietro doesn’t leave readers hanging. The second installment, Fragments, followed in October 2016 and book three, Coalescence, came out in February 2017.

 

Until next time, then: “Blood and Bone”!

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

Shira Glassman reviews Date with Destiny by Mason Dixon

date with destiny mason dixon

Date with Destiny is a Black lesbian thriller–written by a Black woman, prolific author Yolanda Wallace writing under the name Mason Dixon–set in the banking industry of Savannah, Georgia. Rashida, the lead, is a driven, frugal Black bank executive who has risen to the top of the bank her grandmother once cleaned as a janitor. Her work-oriented but lonely life is headed for a collision course with the unemployed, blue-collar Destiny, who she meets at a coffeeshop one morning. Is finding Destiny a job at her bank a worthy act of kindness or a dangerous temptation? After all, the bank has strict policies against workplace dating–but Destiny’s sexuality is practically a force of nature.

There’s a lot more going on here than I can even describe without spoiling the plot, so this is a good bet for you if you like twists, suspense, and intrigue. I’d even say it’s reminiscent of movies like Memento and The Usual Suspects, including the way Dixon employs the device of showing the same scene through different character’s eyes. (Some readers may find some of the repetition tedious, so feel free to skim through it looking for the new information.)
As a beautiful old city, Savannah makes a wonderful backdrop for the story’s dramatics. This obviously won’t apply to readers outside the coastal South but it’s fun getting to read an adventure and recognize all the places from real life instead of from other works of fiction–Richmond Hill? I can picture the highway exit. I know what I-16 is.
I found the prose well-paced and easy to breeze through; I read the book pretty rapidly over a weekend and never got bogged down or bored. There’s some negative messaging about closeted vs. non-closeted queer people that I didn’t agree with — we still live in a world that sometimes necessitates closets, sadly — but it wasn’t a loud enough message to significantly tarnish my reading experience. There’s representation of lesbians who have endured family rejection and moved on, recognizing the event without wallowing in it as tragedy porn.
I’m not sure how I feel about the ultimate ending of the book; I do want the ending the author gave us, but I would have preferred being more convinced about it. That scene in particular I think would have been more effective on film. However, I do like the fact that Rashida was finally enjoying herself after a lifetime of workworkwork and having to overachieve to overcome misogynoir. She deserves it after working so hard and what the plot put her through.

Date with Destiny is full of sensuality between women and eventually love but it’s not entirely a romance; it’s a thriller that will be more fun for the reader if they go in expecting a wild ride.

Mfred reviews This is Devin Jones by Kristen Conrad

this is devin jones

Oh, hey. Were you looking for a book about a lesbian badass MacGuyver-ing herself out of tight situations while taking out the bad guys and saving the world? Then you should read This is Devin Jones by Kristen Conrad.

Former model and actress turned Beverly Hills Police Detective Devin Jones is on the blind date from hell. Hoping to escape the emotional aftermath of a newly ended relationship, she agrees to a date to the Hollywood Screen Awards. While the date goes badly, it’s a good thing Jones is at the show. A madman interrupts the broadcast, taking a group of famous actors hostage. He starts killing them off one by one in front of the cameras while demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom money from the horrified public. The only person left who can take him on? Devin Jones.

So, it turns out Devin Jones is the greatest cop that the LAPD has ever seen.

When the door opened — everything happened in a flash. As one guy came in, Devin grabbed his arm, bent it backwards, dislocating his shoulder and as he went down palmed his gun, flipped it into her hand and used it to shoot the other guy in the heart as he aimed his gun at her, his finger milliseconds from pulling the trigger. (Loc 1545)

Not only can she take on a whole league of bad guys all on her own, she can turn a disposable camera into a taser, even hot wire a car, all while wearing a Prada dress and Dolce & Gabbana heels. Also, if you haven’t figured it out yet, she is incredibly attractive. I’m not entirely sure what kind of cop school Devin went to, but she learned some incredible fighting and sleuthing skills.

The best part of this book is how enjoyable it is, especially given how far-fetched the plot gets. Conrad writes cinematically, the action leaping off the page. The situation is urgent, the death count growing, and Devin is without weapons or backup. But she is smart and savvy and uses everything around her to her advantage. The book is a lot of fun and it is particularly enjoyable to watch a woman competently and confidently kick ass and take names. There is even time amidst all the chaos for a little romance!

The characters don’t have a lot of depth, it’s true.  And while the story is thrilling, it is never very suspenseful. The mystery unravels pretty quickly. But this isn’t meant to be a particularly complex or deep story; it’s entertaining, exciting and delightfully over the top.

Marthese reviews The Girl on the Stairs by Louise Welsh

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This book was my first thriller in a while if not ever and this affected how I saw this book. I had some reservations when I started reading this, due to the mixed reviews. I have to say that overall I enjoyed it.

This book is about Jane, who is pregnant and lived with her partner Petra in Germany. Jane starts having suspicions and investigates the neighbours daughter who she thinks is being abused. The fact that they are a same-sex couple is not the focus of the book though, and I quite liked that- the background was there but it was not that part of Jane’s identity that was explored.

The book is convincing and you almost start thinking that Jane is paranoid, until the last twists which I thought were executed quite well. Almost none of the characters are likeable, especially Petra and Tielo but also Jane, however, towards the end you start understanding them more and feeling sympathetic towards them.

The ending is a mix of tragedy and happiness. At points it is also heartbreaking and frustrating that a girl is being abused, and no one believes Jane. This thriller also makes you aware of the plight that dependent people face. In a way, it is quite real.

Another good touch were the words in German and the descriptions of places which gave more background and more layers to the story. The words were as if someone was trying to learn or re-learn German, by labelling some things in the language to practice. As someone that knows basic German, this reminded me of what I do.

I read this in a day for a reading challenge and was quite easy to go through. The short chapters did wonders for my short attention span, so if like me, you find long chapters to be difficult, this book should be for you (especially if you like thrillers and chills). Will definitely try the other books by Louise Welsh that have a queer touch.

Danika reviews The Disciple of Las Vegas: An Ava Lee Novel by Ian Hamilton

Disciple

I was recommended this book (and subsequently offered it by the publisher) while putting together a list of Asian lesbian books. Ava Lee is a Chinese-Canadian lesbian forensic accountant (she tracks down millions of dollars) and a certified bad-ass. I actually just realized when looking this book up to link it that this is the second book in the series. (The first is the Water Rat of Wanchai.) Oops. But you can definitely start here, because I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. She starts out with an injury from a previous job, but that’s about all to indicate that you might have missed something. I think what I most want to say about this book is that if you’re looking for a mainstream thriller that just happens to have a lesbian protagonist, this is it. She exchanges some flirty emails with a woman throughout the book, and that’s about as significant as that subplot gets. It isn’t revealed that she’s gay until 50 pages in (though maybe you’d already know if you read the previous book…) I worry that this sounds negative, but I actually felt the opposite! This is a book of the future! When people’s race or sexuality are layers to their character, not the center plot of the novel.

Again, this book reads like what you’d expect from a mainstream mystery/thriller: the writing is not especially remarkable, but not distracting (though there is a lot of brand name dropping, which I think is pretty typical of the genre). There is a lot of description of things like scenery and outfits, so if you aren’t a visual reader, that might be a little distracting. For the plot itself, Ava is trying to track down millions of dollars that have been cheated out of a very wealthy CEO of a company in the Philippines. Ava communicates with her partner (an older businessman with never-ending connections) in Hong Kong as she travels around the world following leads. And I mean travel. The book hops from location to location extremely quickly. Ava often spends less than a day in a country before booking a flight for the next one. (But it was cool to see her visit my city!) Characters pile up as she follows the money, gaining new enemies and allies on the way. Occasionally this got a little dry, because it is a financial mystery, and there are discussions of paper trails and bank transfers. Still, because Ava starts the book with bruises from her last job, you know that her line of work can get ugly, and there is some graphic violence at the end.

If you like the thriller/mystery genre, and especially if you’re looking for more mainstream books with lesbian or PoC (or Canadian, or PoC lesbian!) characters, definitely check out the Ava Lee series. If you’re not really into thrillers/mysteries, there isn’t a significant enough lesbian romance to overcome that, so don’t go in expecting a romance novel. I really am impressed with this novel for having a PoC and queer main character when it isn’t dictated by the plot and is professionally published (I shouldn’t have to be impressed by that, but I am), but I did have a minor quibble: at one point Ava is asked out by a guy and she says that she’s a lesbian and then says something like “from my first sexual impulse” (also she then kisses his hand?). That didn’t ring true for me. Would someone really say “From my first sexual impulse” to an acquaintance while outing themselves? Also, it assumes that being a lesbian is based in sexual “impulses”, when it’s just as much (if not more) a description of romantic attraction. Still, pretty minor.