Bessie reviews The Red Parts and Jane by Maggie Nelson

jane-maggie-nelson red-parts-maggie-nelson

Nelson is a wonderful writer, whose memoir/queer theory explosion The Argonauts was probably the best book I read last year. It got me interested in checking out some of her earlier work, The Red Parts and Jane, which are very different from The Argonauts, and from each other, but both exceptional books.

I wasn’t sure about writing about these books here, because Nelson doesn’t address her sexuality at all, but they’re both so good. We’re more than a single aspect of our identity. Here Nelson is writing as a daughter, a niece, a young woman who sees herself in her aunt’s fate.

I read The Red Parts first, and it opened up the world of Jane to me. Though it was written later, I think I’d recommend this reading order. Both books deal with the story of Nelson’s aunt, Jane, who had been murdered thirty-five years before. The crime was never solved. Nelson grew up with this story as a part of her family history. It shaped her childhood in ways that she didn’t really understand until she got older. Jane is the book of poetry she wrote trying to understand her aunt and the murder. Just before Jane was going to be published a detective called Nelson’s family and told them that they had found the murderer. The Red Parts is the memoir she wrote about this news, the ensuing trial, and how Nelson’s perspective on the case shifted with new information.

The Red Parts is a really compelling mix of true crime/detective story, family history, and writer’s journal. Nelson’s relationship to Jane’s death is informed by the fact that she just spent years writing a book of poetry about it. She’s done the research, she knows the facts, she’s visited the sites. And now all of this information is being presented in the new context of a trial. From her family it is just Nelson and her mother who are able to attend every day of the trial. We also see how Nelson went about writing Jane. Having her describe the process that created these poems made me really want to read them.

That Jane is an artifact within The Red Parts informed how I approached it. It gave a backstory for how these words wound up on the page. In the poems she tracks down her aunt’s old boyfriend — we see more of how this happened in The Red Parts. It gives more history and context for everything that happened. While I’m sure the poems would stand on their own, having the memoir as well enriches the experience.

What really struck me reading Jane was the way it commented on the vulnerability of being a young woman. Jane was coming of age during the late sixties. She was rebelling from her parents, and starting to create her own life, which was suddenly halted because women, especially young women are vulnerable to male violence. While Jane was not raped, at the time her death was linked to a serial killer who did really horrific things to his victims. Nelson’s writing about violence against women, including sexual violence, is so raw. This vulnerability is something she shares with her aunt, something that has not changed or gone away. Both books riff off an Edgar Allen Poe quote wondering what the most poetic topic in the world is, and deciding it must be the death of a beautiful woman. That is almost the subject of Nelson’s poetry, but she’s equally preoccupied with asking what is it about our world that makes this a correct answer.

Both books are the sort of writing that sweeps you up and holds on. I didn’t mean to read The Red Parts in one night. I was going to read a little bit before bed, but not much, because I was worried about the true crime element giving me bad dreams. But then it was so good, and so compelling, and I couldn’t put it down. I spent a wonderful raining afternoon with Jane. It’s such a narratively gripping collection of poems. Even though I knew the story already from The Red Parts, I wanted to follow Nelson’s train of thought, and see where her poetic journey into her aunt’s murder lead. They’re beautiful, tragic books.

Queer Witches, Comics for Orlando, and Visible Bisexuals: Link Round Up September 4 – 24

black wave michelle tea   myeducation   all-that-sang-lydia   salt roads   labyrinth lost

Autostraddle posted

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posted My Favourite Bisexual Women’s Literature @ BCLA LGBTQ and My Favourite Bi+ Books of 2016 (So Far).

Lambda Literary posted New in September: Bob Smith, Ari Banias, Tim Lawrence, Michelle Tea, and Emma Donoghue.

LGBTQ Reads posted LGBTQIAP+ YAs Available in Audio.

As I Descended robin talley   before-ke-payne   answer rebecca sugar   darkly-beating-heart   swan-riders-erin-bow

Women and Words updated their New Releases & Coming Up page.

Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe and author of The Answer, was interviewed at PBS about writing LGBTQ stories for kids.

“Comic Book Artists Create Publication to Honor Orlando Victims” was posted at The New York Times.

“Cold revenge and sweet love A queer femme of colour looks at The Handmaiden” was posted at The McGill Daily.

“One To Watch Out For: Celebrating the Genius of Alison Bechdel” was posted at Comics Alliance.

“What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA September and October 2016” was posted at School Library Journal.

poppy jenkins   georgia peaches and other forbidden fruit jaye robin brown   spirits-abroad-zen-cho   Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard   Here Comes The Sun dennis benn

Poppy Jenkins by Clare Ashton was reviewed by Shira Glassman.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown was reviewed at GLBT ALA Reviews.

Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho was reviewed by Shira Glassman.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (audiobook) was reviewed at Omnivore Bibliosaur.

Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality by Katherine Franke was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard was reviewed at Autostraddle and Malinda Lo.

four-steps-wendy-hudson   princess princess ever after katie oneill   radical-e-m-kokie   not your sidekick   vow of celibacy erin judge cover

Four Steps by Wendy Hudson was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Radical by E.M. Kokie was reviewed at queer lit on my mind and Lambda Literary.

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee was reviewed at queer lit on my mind.

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill was reviewed at The Mary Sue.

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

The Answer (Steven Universe) by Rebecca Sugar was reviewed at Okazu.

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Danika reviews Searching for Sappho: The Lost Songs and World of the First Woman Poet by Philip Freeman

searching for sappho philip freeman

I always want to know more about Sappho, but perhaps that’s a doomed quest. No matter how many books I pick up about her, the truth is, we just don’t know very much. Searching for Sappho doesn’t claim to uncover anything previously unknown about Sappho, but it is a serviceable overview of what is established about her life.

It’s not surprising that a new book about Sappho came out in the last few years. A poem of hers was discovered for the first time in 2014, and from there the clock was ticking for a truly complete collection of her poetry to come out. Searching for Sappho fits this bill, but I couldn’t help the cynical conclusion that this was the only reason it was published. (Only about half of this book is a biography of Sappho: the rest is a collection of all of her poems discovered to date.)

This book sticks to the facts of Sappho’s life (as well as telling the story of the recent discoveries), but because those are so few and far between, they’re supplemented with general facts about life in ancient Greece. This did feel a little bit like padding, but at the same time, it was really enjoyable. I didn’t pick up Searching for Sappho as a general history book, but the tidbits about things like ancient Greek medical advice had me cringing and laughing.

I did also appreciate the undercurrent of feminism throughout this book, especially since–and this may be unfair of me–it was written by a guy. There is just a brief chapter on Sappho’s love of women, but the book focuses around the sexism women faced in this society, and discourages the reader from seeing even women Sappho feuded with as being sexist caricatures.

This isn’t a revolutionary take on Sappho, but what could be? The cold reality is, we have only scraps of information about her life, and this book is a fine overview of them. As for me, I think I’ll keep hunting for the stories we tell about Sappho, because I think that what we believed about her is just as interesting a story as they life she really led.

Marthese reviews Climbing the Date Palm by Shira Glassman

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“Bravery isn’t all swordfighting and  riding dragons”

Climbing the Date Palm is the second book in the Mangoverse series by Shira Glassman. This series is a fantasy series with Jewish traditions and has a diverse cast with the main characters being Queen Shulamit and her girlfriend Aviva and Rivka, Shula’s head guard and Isaac, her companion.

The book picks up a little while after the first book ends and starts with Aviva encountering a near-to-death horse rider who turns out to been Prince Kaveh from the city of red clay who came to Riv- who is mistaken by most as a man, who has a male companion- to ask for help as his sweetheart Farzin was imprisoned by his father.

Our group of intrepid heroes, or well Shula’s group of close friends work to save Kaveh’s life. Rivka’s mother also joins the palace while Shulamit, who more than ever has her whole country on her shoulder comes up with a plan to sire and heir with the bisexual prince.

The plot follows the casts’ trials as they try to save Farzin’s life. Farzin, an engineer and old friend of Kaveh’s was imprisoned for siding with his  workers when they were not paid as they should; as well as for ‘corrupting’ Kaveh.

More than the plot, the story offers interesting conversations between the characters that allow the readers to think about life and its lessons in a very simplified way. The way that Glassman put things into perspective may sometimes be too simplistic but still very thoughtful. Things like bisexuality- and not being interesting in everyone, stereotypes on women and gay and bisexual people, parenting, being responsibility and insecurity and discussed in a mature but not complex way. Isaac provides very good pointers on how to strike up a conversation, if you ever need to gather intel!

I felt that this book, as mentioned, deals with heavy and exhausting topics – most of which many of us have to repeat over and over- in an interesting, sometimes metaphorical and simple way that almost everyone would be able to get. I felt it was more complex than the first book and the characters are growing into themselves. As it’s the second book, I cannot give much spoilers but the answer to problems in this world is answered with geekery from everyone, charm, persistence, team-work and effort.

The relationships in this book are very mature for the most part. Although there was a lesbian couple, and Shula is the protagonist; the story was more than that and included a lot of flashbacks from Farzin and Kaveh’s time together. The diverse characters work well together and are like a puzzle that fits with the story.

Climbing the Date Palm was a highly enjoyable read and as it’s part of a fantasy series, we get to immerse ourselves in the world for the duration of other books as well! I’ll definitely continue with this series.

Megan Casey reviews The Small Town Series by Iza Moreau

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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

Rachel reviews Country Girl, City Girl by Lisa Jahn-Clough

country girl city girl lisa haun clough

Over the years, lesbian novels have become readily available for people of all ages, including teenagers and young adults. Because each age group varies, the subject of homosexuality is handled in different ways for the targeted audience. One book I’d suggest to girls in their teens just realizing their sexuality would be Country Girl, City Girl by Lisa Jahn-Clough.

Thirteen-year-old Phoebe Sharp lives with her father and brother on their farm in Maine. It is the beginning of summer, and Phoebe’s vision of a quiet break from school is ruined when her father announces that Melita Forester, the daughter of a family friend, is coming to stay with them while her mother receives treatment at a clinic. Melita arrives from New York City with a hard attitude, instantly irritating Phoebe. After an initial period of distrust the girls find themselves confiding in each other, and despite their personality clashes they become friends just like their mothers had. Phoebe grows deeply fond of Melita, and feels the first stirrings of attraction. She begins to realize that she may be in love with her best friend, but it’s not clear to her if Melita feels the same way.

This novel by Lisa Jahn-Clough accurately depicts the budding sexuality of a young girl. All through the book Phoebe’s feelings for Melita become more and more apparent until she finally must acknowledge it to herself. One of the most interesting aspects of the book was that although Phoebe knew she loved Melita, she never once had a coming out moment to herself. She was in love and that was all that mattered. The only negative feelings she had toward her lesbianism was her fear of ruining her friendship with Melita. In fact throughout the entire novel the words “homosexual”, “lesbian”, and “gay” are never used once. I found that brilliant on the author’s part. She was able to convey Phoebe’s growing love for another female without putting a label on it.

Jahn-Clough also gives insight into both Melita and Phoebe’s lives. The novel begins at the Sharp’s farm, and later on in New York City. Both girls struggle to fit in at each other’s respective homes, and each have the feeling of being the “outsider” at some point. In time, Melita learns that Phoebe has no memory of her late mother, while Phoebe hears Melita’s stories of moving place to place, never being able to settle down and make friends. They are willing to help each other through tough times, their bond becoming stronger and stronger as they do.

The supporting characters in the story like the two leads have their own distinct personalities and struggles. One of these is Mr. Sharp, Phoebe’s gentle but strict father who is grieving over his wife’s death, and despite the years that have passed the pain is so deep that he can’t talk about her. This is frustrating for Phoebe, as she wants to learn more about her mother. One of the best characters is Gerelyn, Melita’s mother. A celebrated actress, Gerelyn juggles the responsibilities of working and raising her daughter alone. Though her intentions are good she has too often thrown herself into her acting and not spent enough time with Melita. Her hectic lifestyle and emotional exhaustion causes her to make some poor decisions. When Gerelyn is released from the clinic, she has to accept that her daughter is still hurt and resentful of her. But she is willing to acknowledge her own shortcomings in order to be a better mother.

Country Girl, City Girl handles lesbian love and friendship with great sensitivity as well as other important subject matters, making this one of the more touching books in LGBT fiction.

JJ Taylor reviews Split City Waltz (Morgan Investigations #1) by Ada Redmond

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Split-City Waltz takes places in a futuristic London where society has become sharply divided, philosophically and physically. Above-ground in the shiny Metropolis live everyone embracing technology that tracks and reports everything about their lives. Below, in the old underground network, live the network of people rejecting constant, invasive monitoring.

Allyn Morgan lives topside, working as a PI after being fired from her position as security chief because of a mysterious event that left her with major cybernetic reconstructive surgery. Allyn is a plucky and smart heroine, though just foolish enough to do a favor for an ex who she already suspects is working her. She ends up in deep trouble, and the only one who can help is the hacker, Terminal, a resident of the underground. This isn’t a romance so much as a How We Met story, with Terminal remaining mysterious throughout. Though she earns Allyn’s trust through their adventure. The penny waiting to drop is whether or not they’ll ever see each other again after they resolve their mutual problem.

Split City Waltz has excellent world-building, crafting a believable cultural shift that split the city into two groups – those who are tracked and those who forcibly removed their trackers in an event seared into the collective memory. It’s is a fast-paced, tech-filled run of break-ins and general sneaking around.

The only problem is that it was 15,000 words long and I was expecting a novel. Shame on me, honestly, for not checking the word count, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been fooled by this shape of a story in this genre. Can we give it a name? The short prequel? A novellatroduction? It’s too big a world for a short story, because it’s meant to be introducing a larger universe, and in this case, a series. But it’s too small to be a stand-alone. You’re left wanting by design.

I was three-quarters of the way into it when I realized it was almost done! Credit to Ada Redmond for keeping me on the wild ride, but it brought me up short when I realized we weren’t getting anything more than the set-up for a romance.

Sequel-delayed gratification makes sense, since Allyn is still working through her issues with her ex. The majority of scenes were action, so there was little time for Terminal and Allyn to even be in a room together, nevermind flirt. Terminal does hack directly into Allyn’s ear, so that was badass and a great opportunity for uncomfortable intimacy, but Allyn’s mission to find out Who Burned Michael Weston who set her up kept us moving forward. All romance had to wait. For the next book.

Read Split City Waltz if you love cyber-enhancements, hackers, the brains and the muscle pairing set-ups (Definitely recommended for fans of Person of Interest’s Shaw/Root!), and world-building of a future society that seems pretty plausible. But beware that it’s fast and short, and you’ll have to be patient for the next installment of Allyn and Terminal’s story.

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

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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.

Korri reviews Petticoats and Promises by Penelope Friday

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I love historical romance novels, especially those featuring women who love women (see Pembroke Park). The high stakes of that love when women could not earn a living and had to secure their livelihoods and social position through strategic marriages automatically creates tension and drama. Petticoats and Promises, a Regency romance by Penelope Friday, is a mostly entertaining read in that genre.

A few weeks before their joint coming out ball, Serena Coleridge is astonished to realize that she is in love for her best friend, Clara Battersley, and that the feeling is mutual. As the young women discuss the fact that their debut is an announcement of availability on the marriage market, Serena confesses that she cannot imagine loving someone as much as she does Clara. Their tête-à-tête is interrupted that afternoon but their feelings do not remain unspoken for long; soon the girls share passionate kisses and sensual encounters. On the eve of their coming out ball, Serena’s father’s stocks plummet, leaving no money for a season. Serena does not mind the loss of the social whirl – she is more concerned about losing access to her beloved. An invitation to visit the Coleridges in London is the perfect excuse for Clara and Serena to be together – until they are caught by Clara’s mother, who sends Serena home in disgrace. The rest of the novel follows the aftermath as Serena is cut off from Clara, who quickly marries; deals with her parents’ sorrow and mortification; and navigates the turbulent waters of society. She is sponsored in town by her Aunt Hester and becomes friends with the awkward but kind Mr. Feverley and Miss Kate Smith, another “invert,” which helps her to heal.

Penelope Friday doesn’t try to imitate Jane Austen (or Georgette Heyer imitating Jane Austen) – she allows Serena Coleridge’s first person narration to render acute observations about social interactions and give readers a glimpse of what life was like in the Regency period. Friday is good at depicting the constraints of the era – never being alone or having time to oneself without servants or parents around, the need to abide by rules and strictures of good breeding. The problem with such insularity, of course, is that the novel focuses solely on Serena’s internal emotional life and yearning for Clara, without the cutting wit and sense of irony that makes Jane Austen’s writing so beloved. Since Clara and Serena share so much history then spend most of the novel apart, it can be difficult to feel invested in them as a couple. The endless misunderstandings between Serena and Clara are another issue with the novel; if only they spoke openly and thoroughly, their happily ever after could have come much sooner. But there is a happily ever after indeed!