Katelyn reviews Wet Moon Volume 1: Feeble Wanderings by Sophie Campbell

wet moon feeble wanderings

I must start this review by saying that I never read graphic novels—not for any particular reason besides that I never felt drawn to any—but this one intrigued me. The cover itself looked so ethereal yet dark and gave off the same vibes as the Southern Gothic stories I loved so much as a teenager, which is funny since the series is about a group of goths in the South.

Wet Moon Volume 1 follows Cleo Lovedrop and her friends as they begin their freshman year at an art school in the fictional town of Wet Moon, Florida. There is romance, mystery, and something even more sinister just beneath the surface of this swampy town…at least I think. Even after reading through the first book three times, I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to be happening, mostly because nothing seems to be happening yet. It is clear that some of the characters are not straight though, so I do know that much.

It seems to me that Campbell meant for this book to be an introduction to the series, but it’s a hazy introduction at best. It’s clear that there are issues between certain characters (like Cleo and the mysterious guy she keeps bumping into) but it isn’t clear enough to build suspense necessary to keep me reading.

The lack of plot and clarity are part of a bigger issue: the writing. Campbell’s writing is the biggest downfall. Writers who say can a lot in a few words are hard to find, and that’s what this book needs to have the same impact that the artwork has.

However, even without much of a plot or much clarity, the book probably could have been saved with well-rounded, interesting characters. Unfortunately, the characters seem more like middle-schoolers than college kids, and none of them are very likable; when they aren’t at each other’s’ throats (they don’t seem to have healthy or even pleasant friendships) they come off as generally uncaring toward other people, or in Cleo’s case, whiny and needy. The most likable character seems to be Audrey, but she still isn’t very interesting.

Reading this book was a bit of a struggle, not just because of the writing quality, but also because the words themselves were sometimes hard to decipher. They seem to be written in Campbell’s handwriting, which means that when one character has a lot to say, the words are crammed in one giant bubble. The journal entries were especially hard to read; I found myself spending a long time trying to read  them, and then when I finally did, I was frustrated to discover that they added very little to the (almost nonexistent) plot.

The one saving grace of this book was the artwork; it is absolutely gorgeous, and all of the characters are unique and diverse in terms of race, body type, etc. My favorite panels are the ones where Cleo and Myrtle look at themselves in the mirror. In some comics, they would have been drawn to look sexually appealing, but instead they looked like real women in the privacy of their bathrooms.

I only wish Campbell had hired someone else to write the book or to work with her on it. The artwork deserves much better accompaniment.

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Marthese reviews Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

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“There’s more to you than how you look, you’re more than a package”

Fat Angie is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while because it seemed like a complex and intersectional queer read. Spoiler: it is.

Fat Angie is about Angie, a rerunning freshman in Ohio who has a lot to deal with but never seems to give up. She takes on her sister’s advice and tries to ‘follow through’. Her sister, who, after a stint as a great basketball player, joins the army and is taken hostage. Angie still has hope that her sister is alive and fights everyone that tries to mud sling her sister.

Angie is bullied but she does stand up for herself sometimes. She wants to please her mother who sends both her and her brother Wang to therapy (and is dating their therapist) but her mother is never pleased. Be warned that her behavior could be triggering to some. Despite this, I find the characters in this book to be multidimensional. The bully may have reasons, the perfect popular star may not be perfect, the main character herself makes mistakes. Most characters are hurting and they cope differently.

Then there’s KC Romance, the new girl who falls for Angie and Angie falls for who sees Angie as Angie, without the fat. KC is a complex character, who is seen as ‘alternative’ but is popular yet she has a somewhat dark past but whose mother probably is the only mentioned parent that’s a parent role model.

Angie copes with her sister’s ‘MIA’ status with two, seemingly paradoxical things: binge eating and sport (first basketball in the steps of her sister and then another sport). At the beginning of the year, it is mentioned that Angie tried to commit suicide and this became a public event. Yet, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t fit in, she’s awkward but she takes steps to move on despite being stuck somewhat in the past, when her sister was still with them.

Angie’s and KC’s relationship is deep, connecting, sweet with a cup of drama and misunderstandings and awkwardness thrown in. It’s a mature, teenage relationship that is not perfect but supporting the individuals within it.

Be warned that this book contains some triggers: suicide attempt, self-harm, body issues, mentions of death and torture, bad parenting and bullying. Sometimes, especially with Angie’s mother and her therapist, the reader is left bubbling with anger. At the end, I think that although not justified, we see also different sides to the characters that we do not like. The character development in this book was subtle, but well executed.

I would recommend this book, which I rated as five stars, to people that want to read a queer book where the main focus isn’t the relationship (it’s still a big part though).

I listened to this book as an audiobook- my first one- thanks to the Sync Audiobooks Summer program which means that this audiobook is free to download until today (21st July 2016)! I will try to read the book in the future to compare my experience but I think that the narration was done quite well and helped to immerse me in my experience (I coloured while I listened).

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Korri reviews Pembroke Park by Michelle Martin

pembroke park michelle martin

As an avid reader of historical romance novels and lesbian fiction, I have long known of Michelle Martin’s Pembroke Park; it has a legendary status among readers, which is only heightened by the fact that it is currently out of print. When I got my hands on a copy via AbeBooks, I eagerly delved in.

Published in 1986, Martin’s delightful book (billed as the first lesbian Regency novel) is more in the vein of Jane Austen than contemporary romance novels. The social intricacies of the era are observed: the heroines know each other for months before addressing each other by first name; gossip spread at public balls in the Herefordshire countryside can ruin reputations; and the villains of the story are an arrogant, overbearing brother and propriety rather than some dastardly foe with a complicated scheme.

Amid this simplicity, it was wonderful to read about the growing attachment between new neighbors Lady Joanna Sinclair and Lady Diana March. Though Lady Diana’s habit of riding astride shocks the locals, including widowed Lady Joanna, the two women become close. Who could help but love the unconventional Diana, a woman who is free in her speech, exotic in her attire, and who was once hauled before a court in Alexandria ‘on charges of drunk and disorderly conduct, assaulting an officer of the law, liberating a trader’s camel, and soliciting the English Ambassador for prostitution’? Joanna’s playfulness with her daughter and repressed talent for painting endears her to readers and to Diana.

The slow-building attraction between Joanna & Diana is charming. The secondary characters offer other portrayals of same-sex love and ground Joanna & Diana within a community. I only wish the happily ever after had given us more time with the heroines, showing readers what their life was like as a family with Joanna’s daughter Molly. This novel has earned a place on my keeper shelf next to other Regency romances.

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Megan Casey reviews Tarnished Gold by Ann Aptaker

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I can’t think of a better time to post this review because Tarnished Goldthe second book in Aptaker’s Cantor Gold series—has just been named the co-winner of the 2016 Golden Crown Literary Award in the Mystery category. It was previously named co-winner of the Lambda Award, making it the only book ever to have won both awards.

Tarnished Gold finds the dapper art smuggler Cantor Gold in trouble not only with the police, but with the New York mob as well. It seems that her client, for whom she recovered a Dürer landscape  painting from a Nazi in Europe, was brutally killed shortly after Cantor made the delivery. A mob boss is suspected, so to stop the cops from nosing around his business, he wants Cantor to find the killer—or else.

I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, so the fact that this book is set in 1950 already makes it a plus for me. But to keep on my right side, it has to sound like it was written in 1950 in addition to being well written and having interesting characters. Well, fear not, this book has all those. It may not be as good as Deborah Powell’s two novels about Hollis Carpenter, set in the 1930s, but it is well on the way. What it reminds me most of, though, is Therese Szymanski’s When the Dancing Stops, whose main character, Brett Higgins, also operates on the wrong side of the law.

Cantor Gold, like Brett, is a pretty unlikable character. For one thing, her face gets so continually banged up that many people’s first reaction would be to wince (she is, in fact, the Tarnished Gold of the title). She is intelligent, but selfish and she treats her women poorly. Her devotion to Sophie—a missing ex-girlfriend—may be sweet and honorable, but not at the expense of others who deserve better. As Cantor herself says, “I was always mystified by what Sophie saw in me.” Well, join the club. She also says, “I can be a cad and I know it.” But having a louse for a main character doesn’t mean a whole lot when the author is able to wield a keyboard as well as Aptaker does. In fact, it seems that she enjoys pointing out Cantor’s flaws.

When her woman-of-the-moment, Vivienne Parkhurst Trent, takes her to task for her ill treatment, Cantor agrees, although silently: “I’m speechless now, as if my tongue’s been cut out with the sharp blade of truth.” It is this kind of self-realization—and this kind of poetic writing—that puts this book in the way-above-average category. And Aptaker is a wiz with a simile. A police squad car—which Cantor loathes—is described as having “a chrome grill that looks like a mouth ready to spit.” It also“hugs the curb in front of my building like a rat claiming territory.” Not only are these descriptions vivid, but they are appropriate both for the time period and for Cantor’s mindset. It’s hard to get any better than a simile that works on three different levels.

I’ve already mentioned Szymanski’s book, but Tarnished Gold also reminds me of the fine novel by Lisa E. Davis, Under the Mink. The protagonist, Blackie Cole, is a 1940s nightclub singer who sometimes finds herself to the left of the straight and narrow. Like Cantor, she dresses mannish—so much so that she is always frightened that her place of business will be raided by the police and that she will be arrested for impersonating a man. The same holds true with Cantor and her friends—and the police in Tarnished Gold are not exemplary representatives of New York’s finest. The main cop in the story, Lieutenant Norm Huber, would do virtually anything to put Cantor in prison or in a psych unit. His vitriol is so palpable that we get the idea that he would gladly kill Cantor just to get such a pervert off the streets. I mean, it was bad in those days. Real bad.

Cantor, with her sidekicks Rosie the cab driver, Judson the information gatherer, and Red the tugboat skipper, have to delve into the very depths of New York’s criminal society to try and find out who is killing people and stealing their paintings. There are several more characters that increase the enjoyment of the story. One of them is Esther “Mom” Sheinbaum, a fence who seemingly can find out info on every piece of stolen goods in New York City. She reminds me much of Mrs. Sucksby, from Sarah Waters’ excellent Fingersmith. Sorry to drop so many names into this review, but I love it when an author pays homage to those who have gone before.

The novel has a few flaws (some of which I have communicated privately to the author), but nothing to bring it down to less than a 4.

Note: I read the Advanced Review Copy of this novel which was kindly provided by the publisher through Netgalley in e-book form.

For 200 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website atchttp://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

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Rachel reviews The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber

therebellionofmisslucyannlobdell

LGBT people have existed from the beginning of humanity, although too many historical records prefer to omit this. As a result, many real stories of queer men and women have been lost. William Klaber’s novel, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, is a fictional take on the life of a real woman in the 1850s who wore men’s clothes, married another woman, and went by a male identity.  (It isn’t completely clear whether Lucy was a lesbian or transgender, but the novel depicts her as a woman.)

The story opens when Lucy, abandoned by her husband, leaves her young daughter in the care of her family, hoping to eventually find a job and a place for the two of them to live. Lucy knows that men have a far easier time finding work, so she cuts her hair and dresses in men’s clothes. This book follows her first twenty years as Joseph Lobdell, from the time she taught a dancing school to meeting and marrying her wife, Marie Perry. An epilogue reveals what became of Lucy, Marie, and Lucy’s daughter Helen after the year 1876.

William Klaber really respects Lucy Lobdell, and it shows in his novel. He makes Lucy so real and believable with the way he describes her thoughts and conflicting emotions, and the details of her surroundings also give her story the feel of a real memoir. The historic aspects of Lucy’s time, such as the outfits the people wore and the laws they followed, are incredibly accurate. Clearly a lot of research was done to make the story authentic.

While Lucy’s story is fascinating, many times it can be very hard to read about the ignorance she faced. The ideas of a woman wearing men’s clothes, posing as a man, and loving another woman were seen as perversions and crimes, leading to imprisonment or lifetime lockups in asylums. In the novel, Lucy does encounter misogynistic people, and their narrow-minded comments and taunts are infuriating. Many of the characters in the story who discover Lucy’s secret react badly, from shunning to outright violence and imprisonment. It is distressing and heart-breaking to read of all the atrocities Lucy is put through, knowing that back then the prejudice was thought to be justified. Her ultimate fate is also very sad; she wanted to live her life in peace, but people’s hatred and ignorance refused to allow it.

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell is a heavy, often depressing, story, but this is also the account of a queer person’s life, a life that had for a long time been forgotten.

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W. Davidson-Rhodes reviews Poppy Jenkins by Clare Ashton

poppy jenkins

[Possible Spoilers Ahead]

I wouldn’t call this a retelling, but Poppy Jenkins is very reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  The setting is similar, a small community of good albeit sheltered people.  Far from the hustle and bustle of the big city life.  I could imagine the quaintness of it all.  The way author Clare Ashton describes it, I see the shire in my minds.  Old, rustic, charming.

The titular character, Poppy, is Ashton’s Elizabeth Bennett, and her love interest, Roselyn Thorn (I love name puns, by the way) is, in this case, Ms. Darcy.  A key difference is that Poppy and Roselyn were childhood friends who had a falling out as teens and reconnect fifteen years later.  I love the second chance at love romance trope, which made me excited to read this novel.

The more I read on, the more frustrated I got with the story and Poppy in particular.

Like Fitzwilliam Darcy, Roselyn isn’t thought well of by the small town she lived in.  The citizens of Wells found Roselyn (and her parents) to be snobbish interlopers who don’t fit into the the culture of the town.  Rosalyn was blamed for a lot juvenile trouble in the town, and was thought of badly by most townspeople–members of Poppy’s family included.  I didn’t understand why Poppy was so obtuse as to why Roselyn had such a negative feelings towards Wells.  It’s not necessarily a character flaw to call out bullcrap when you see it and to not take actions and people at face value.  I understood why Roselyn was reluctant to come out at such a young age and was miffed that Poppy didn’t get it.

Poppy’s entire life, or at least from what we’ve seen on page, has been relatively easy.  Everybody loved her, there wasn’t a mean thing to say amongst the townsfolk.  For the most part, Poppy being accepted as a lesbian was simple with very minimal negative reactions.  She’s never really had to fight for anything and that was made clear in both instances when she just let Roselyn go without much flare.  Poppy immediately thought the worst seeing Roselyn with her ex-girlfriend going off into the night.  Didn’t go investigate, didn’t go lay claim to the woman she loved.  Poppy just went home and had a pity party and at that point I was well and truly done with her.

I don’t want to say I didn’t like Poppy.  Her Disney princess schtick was cute at first, but her gullible optimism started to grate.  I know what’s it’s like to have pride in my hometown, where no one is allowed to talk bad about it (except me, and others from there).  But you can have pride in your town and call out the issues you see in it, not just be willfully ignorant because you don’t like what an ‘outsider’ is saying.

This story dragged on a bit too long.  Once the town’s crook got caught and Roselyn made her grand gesture, I just needed that happy ending.  I needed Poppy to get off it and see and accept all the good Roselyn did and KISS ALREADY.  And by the time I finally got to the end, I just wasn’t as satisfied.

Roselyn lowkey saved the town Poppy loved so much, saved the best friend’s wedding, uprooted her life, altered her career, provided Poppy a stage to expand her cafe business, provided a solid business plan to put roots down and settle, remodeled a house that the two could share together, and Poppy still was mistrustful.  But an apology (that personally I don’t think was needed) about a misunderstanding that happened fifteen years ago was what made Poppy take her head out of her behind?

By the end I was left wondering if Poppy Jenkins truly deserved a woman like Roselyn Thorn.

 

Poppy Jenkins was provided by the author via The Lesbrary for an honest review

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Elinor reviews The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

payingguests

Set in London after the end of World War I, The Paying Guests is a gorgeous and haunting novel. It begins with Frances Wray, a single woman in her mid-twenties, and her widowed mother waiting for their new lodgers. The loss of Frances’ father and the discovery of his poor financial decisions has reduced the once-wealthy family to a meager existence, with only their beautiful home to sustain them. The lodgers, or paying guests, are Lilian and Leonard, a young married couple coming up in the world at the same time the upper class Wrays are slipping down. Frances’ life is bleak. She’s lost both her brothers in the war along with her own dreams of independence now that she is all her mother has left. A former activist who once hoped to forge her own life with a woman she loved, she spends her days attending to the tedious tasks of managing the household, occasionally visiting her ex (and ex’s new girlfriend), and steeling herself against the disappointment of her life.

To Frances’ surprise, the paying guests bring much more than desperately needed money. Her growing friendship with Lilian and Leonard gives Frances unexpected joy. Then as she and Lilian grow even closer, the possible price of this happiness looms.

The later part of the book centers around a murder investigation that is not a whodunit. Though you the reader know what happened, the motivations of characters become less clear as the police look into the death of a resident of the household. Secrets about the characters come to light, changing what you thought you knew. The investigation raises difficult questions about what is the right thing to do.

I found this book a slow start but absolutely worth the effort. The writing is emotionally evocative, stirring in turns resigned disappointment, desire, joy, horror, and profound uneasiness. The vivid portrait of life in the Wray household is unforgettable without being flashy or fawning. This is an intimate book, revealing the quiet and everyday, which makes the dramatic events grounded and much more disturbing than they might have been in a more sensationalist novel. Though this book is quite long–well over five hundred pages–and not the sort you’d read over a weekend, it’s worth the time. For one thing, you’ll want to savor Waters’ writing and her ability to transport you completely into another time and another life. Reading this is not a frantic rush to figure out what will all happen in the end. It’s about enjoying the journey, one that will stay with you long after you put the book down. Folks looking for a light read won’t find it here but I highly recommend this novel.

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