Abigail reviews Out at the Inn by K’Anne Meinel


Yes, that title is a pun.

Unsure what I was in the mood to read, I started this book because from my cursory glance at the description I thought it was a mystery novel. It quickly became apparent that it was not. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was enjoying the novel, a modern drama set in central California. An update on the rags-to-riches story, at first this book almost reads like a slice of life. The writing style is casual (and could use some editing, but if you’re not a stickler for grammar or irked by improper punctuation, it is perfectly readable). A huge portion of the book is basically a how-to manual on refurbishing an abandoned mansion to turn it into a working inn. It brought back fond memories of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but without the professional crew. Instead, the work was mostly done by one woman: the main character, Leah Van Heusen.

Leah starts out as a simple delivery woman with a dream. But we soon find out that she has a surprising past. Her parents were unbelievably rich owners of a huge corporation. When they died young, however, Leah was left in the care of her unscrupulous Uncle Chet, who eventually cheated her out of every penny her parents left her. Leah escaped dependence on him and began to make her own way in the world, holding down a job and leading  a simple middle-class life. However, when he needs a favor from her, she suddenly has leverage to demand payment from her uncle for services rendered. With the sum from her uncle, Leah feels closer to realizing her dreams of buying, fixing, and re-opening the inn she discovered hidden away on a cliff overlooking a beach. She decides to name it Windswept Inn of San Simeon.

As Leah goes through her adventure meeting new people (some long dead – for the Windswept Inn, like all good old inns, is haunted) and receiving invaluable help from all of these wonderful new acquaintances, her thoughts occasionally stray from her entrepreneurial dreams to different dreams: of love. And although she still primarily focuses on the project of fixing the Inn, her uncle makes a repeat appearance as the antagonist, trying to get his claws back into her life and bank account. After this interruption culminates in a hairy legal battle, things go back to business as usual at the inn… Until a Hollywood star books a few weeks at the Windswept Inn and becomes interested in Leah. Over the next year they grow close. And to make it interesting, apparently the ghosts of the Inn approve of their growing relationship!

Out at the Inn was a pleasant read, good for idling a rainy day away or reading in the chilly autumn evenings to come. The premise requires some suspension of belief, but at the same time fits a certain realm of possibility that is not too far removed from the familiar. Leah’s status as a super-rich heiress was a bit surprising, but not too unusual for a work of fiction. Her chance meeting with a Hollywood star makes sense in context considering Hollywood stars need a place like the beautiful and discreet Inn to vacation from their hectic schedules. The two beautiful women meeting and falling in love is not that big of a stretch after that. Yes, the ghosts are a bit much, but they serve as a garnish to the story. If you think about it, they are quite appropriate for the subject matter. What’s a huge, abandoned turn-of-the-century building without ghosts? It’s practically unheard of. Overall this was a good read, though maybe a little tedious at times if home improvement and gardening isn’t the sort of action you look for in a novel. Personally, I found it relaxing and even comforting to read. It was a feeling like watching an episode of “This Old House” with my grandparents. Maybe that just depends on one’s personal upbringing. I recommend this book for light reading for someone who has a bit of free time on their hands.

Abigail reviews Puzzled by the Clues by Jean Sheldon


“Fill me in, Nora. A dope-buying professor, a group of Nazi sympathizers, this is way beyond Chicago politics as usual.”

That quote seems to nicely encapsulate the ambience of the second book in the Nic and Nora series. Puzzled by the Clues is involved with a much more dramatic plot than its predecessor, She Overheard Murder, which I reviewed previously. This installment in the 1940’s lesbian noir mystery series follows two threads of action.

The first is an investigation into a suicide that Anna Owen, aunt of one of the series’ title characters, Nic Owen, strongly believes was actually a murder since it did not make any sense that the victim, an old friend of Anna’s, would take his own life. Charles Bohn worked creating crossword puzzles for the newspaper. After his untimely death, it is up to the Owen women and Nic’s girlfriend Nora to find the clue Charles left behind that could point to the real cause of his death.

The second plot thread involves a mysterious and sinister organization that causes mayhem at construction sites and attempts to murder not only a city official, but also Nic herself, for reasons that are not at all clear to begin with. Eventually it begins to seem as if this shady group might have had something to do with Charles Bohn’s death, for he was snooping around in their business, and the research he left behind becomes invaluable in the detectives’ investigation. But the case is not so cut-and-dried; aside from the suspicious nazi-like group he was investigating, it seems Charles Bohn had other enemies as well! The plot thickened continuously throughout, twisting and turning among Chicago’s myriad faces and conspiracies of corruption and hate, and keeping me interested while also keeping me guessing!

The characters were as engaging as ever. Just as in the first book, I felt a warmth for and connection with the main cast of characters, making me wish they were real people, people I could meet and with whom I could become friends. I love reading about kind and good characters with fun personalities and strong common sense. The dialogue is natural but lively, and the emotional journeys each character’s arc takes them on are realistic and at times quite relatable.

If you enjoyed the first book in this series, you have to read this one. I think you will love it. Puzzled can be read alone, however, and if you don’t have the time to start a new series, or if you just don’t think you will like reading a series of mysteries, then I recommend skipping the first book and at least reading Puzzled by the Clues. It has more adventure, excitement and fun packed into it and will keep you flipping the pages till you find you’ve finished it faster than you wanted and leave you hoping for the next book to be published soon!

Abigail reviews Child of Doors by J.S. Little


This book was a wild read from start to finish. It has been a while since I read some truly weird speculative fiction like this. That’s about as specific as I can be about the genre of this book. It was part horror, part paranormal, part science fiction, part fantasy, and possibly meant to be somewhat allegorical. It reminded me a lot of Philip K. Dick, or Cordwainer Smith: the kind of science fiction that is infuriatingly philosophical in a way that is impossible to reason out a real meaning and actually learn anything from it. That is because, of course, these are the types of stories that are meant to draw out feelings and not thoughts. Despite how confusing the narrative was, it did draw me into an emotional connection with the characters. One of those emotions was fear. As I mentioned, there are some elements of horror in this book. There is plenty of gore and death and body horror, so if you don’t like those, you might want to skip this book. If you grew up on creepypasta, X-Files, and horror manga (like I did), Child of Doors may be right up your alley.

The events are told from the point of view of Arc Litchfield, a lesbian who is described as having dark skin and is at one point ambiguously described as “exotic” by another character, leading me to believe she is a woman of color. Aside from that, Arc’s appearance is never elaborated upon, except to say that she is out of shape. So the hero of the story (and she is a hero, in a very traditional sense of the word. It becomes quite clear early on that there is something very special about Arc that no one else in her world seems to have.) a fat lesbian of color, provides representation for demographics who do not often see themselves in this sort of traditional spec fic setting. Every other character is a woman as well, with the exception that proves the rule being the bad guy.

The antagonist, for lack of a better word, is a tall man in a suit, faceless, but with its head cocked to one side as if scrutinizing its potential victims. This is a creature of the type so common in ghost stories and horror media that it is instantly familiar and yet, at least in my opinion, still very scary. This book got me wondering what it is about faceless monsters that drills so deep into our subconscious and makes us so uneasy? I didn’t come up with an answer, but I certainly appreciate the stylistic choice the author made to use the “faceless man” monster in Child of Doors to such good effect.

The problem I run into reviewing this kind of story is that any criticisms I have might just be a case of me “not getting it.” For example, the pacing is uneven and jarring. This might be the author’s method of getting the reader into the mindset of the main character, who experiences blackouts and lost time repeatedly throughout the narrative. I certainly felt myself feeling the effects of confusion and desperation as her terrifying circumstances wore on Arc throughout the story. The narrative was hard to follow, and was left with so many questions and loose ends that I wished were explained better. Perhaps this too was on purpose, for it emphasizes the uncertainty of life and the complexity of the world and of our own minds. It seemed like Arc understood more about what was happening to her than the reader could be expected to glean from the narrative. Maybe her deepest thoughts and feelings of acceptance for her fate and role were her own private business, and the reader, an outsider, can only accept the character’s decisions based on their respect for her agency as a survivor and a hero.

In summary, this book is everything I have been looking for in speculative fiction! A book in my favorite genre with a protagonist who is not a white, straight male? Yes please. It’s definitely the kind of book you have to read at least twice to understand it. I plan to pick it up again soon just so I can enjoy it again, and maybe the second time around I will gain more insight into what exactly happened. Even then, if it’s still unclear, what really matters to me is the beautiful story, the words, the interections, the brief vignettes of normalcy that end up ripped apart by terror and chaos. It’s these elements that make the story resonate in an impressionistic way and feed your mind and your heart. That’s what I love about speculative fiction, and it’s why I fell instantly in love with this shining example of the genre.

Abigail reviews Miss McGhee by Bett Norris


The setting is the Southern USA during the span of time from 1948 – 1965. The title character is sent to the small town of Myrtlewood, Alabama, to work as a secretary for Tommie Dubose. Mary McGhee soon realizes, however, that she is not really working for Tommie, but instead her employer is the beautiful and precious Lila Dubose, Tommie’s wife. Mary becomes infatuated to the point where she can not remain silent but must make her feelings known. Once that small piece of the narrative is surmounted, the real story takes off.

This is a book about the civil rights struggle as seen from the microcosm of a small town in the South. Arguably, towns such as this were the front lines of the struggle. Trigger warnings apply for racism, violence, racist and misogynist slurs, and mentions of the KKK and its activities in every chapter. The author is white but does not censor the use of the n-slur in her writing.
The main characters are believable, even relatable. They have that subtle style of racism that comes from ignorance and is hard to recognize as part of the problem. And they get called out on it (by other white people). I don’t like that the story of the black civil rights movement is told entirely from the perspective of these rich white characters, with the one main black character, Annie, being there to nod and confirm that the white people are in fact right, racism does exist and it is a human rights violation. She is probably thinking “good job catching up on a child’s-level understanding of the issue,” but the book never actually shows what Annie is thinking. Annie is only finally given some character development and agency during the events at the end of the book.
On the other hand, the story does show a very good example of how to use white privilege to help marginalized groups, black Americans in particular. If more people like Mary and Lila (rich white people) put their money where their mouth is and helped the oppressed groups of our country, the social justice movement might finally accomplish some actual justice. Beware viewing the story through a lens of the white savior complex, however, lest we downplay the importance of the struggle that black Americans went through in those turbulent years and still encounter today.
Although the overarching story is that of real history, namely the civil rights movement, there is a major balance of focus on the cast of characters’ interpersonal relationships; between the two main characters, Mary and Lila, between Mary and her arch-nemesis Gerald Buchanan, between Lila and Annie who is her maid, and Lila and her disabled husband Tommie, and many many more characters, all fairly well-rounded and representing different types of people. The social politics of a small town are complicated and dynamic, and Bett Norris does a skillful job of portraying it well.
The one bisexual side character was shown in a bad light, or so I thought at first. The more she developed as a character the more I liked her, despite or perhaps because of her flaws. There was also a hint that she was gender-non-conforming , although no labels and no discussion of any depth about such things was included in the narrative.
In sum, the narrative is well paced and well written, the characters are fleshed out and flawed so as to read like real human beings, and the subject matter is very important, though in this instance it is being discussed by an inappropriate voice. White readers aware of race relations might take away a lesson here and there, as long as they are mindful of the problematic elements in the book. Black readers, especially ones who are lgbt, looking for representation and for their own history, will be disappointed and, quite rightly, insulted to find nothing for them. It is up to white readers whether we can stomach something that is clearly offensive to our fellow human beings, ones who are less privileged than us and used to being ignored and talked over. It would be easy to make excuses, and concentrate on the book’s merits, but I am washing my hands of this book. Despite the fact that it was a pleasant enough read for me, I cannot recommend it knowing that it is not fair to others.

Abigail reviews Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones is a fantasy in the style of a historical romance. Set in a world that is not our own but resembles Europe in medieval times, the book tells the story of Margerit, a young heiress who inherits her godfather’s wealth, mansions — and his armin (a duelist and bodyguard), Barbara.
From the first moment Margerit and Barbara meet, you know they belong together. Their chemistry is sweet and wonderful and unfolds for the reader in an agonizingly teasing way. Their relationship is a slow burn: in this 800+ page book, it is not until a little over a third of the way through that they begin to realize they might have romantic feelings for each other. The tension of a forbidden romance between mistress and servant is only somewhat relieved by their lovely friendship and the adventures they embark on together, helping each other solve their respective mysteries.
Margerit has a magical ability to see miracles at work. The study of miracles is considered heretical by the church, for miracles and saints are meant to remain as mysteries. Barbara supports Margerit’s desire to study the physics behind the spiritual, and acquires forbidden books for her even as she is dealing with her own, more down-to-earth mystery: who her father was and what her name is. On top of these personal concerns, the two women must deal with politics and power struggles among the nobility,in the church and the university, and among Margerit’s family and acquaintances.
Heather Rose Jones writes masterfully. Her style is at the same time beautiful and easy to read, delightful and commanding of attention. The characters are ones which the reader can truly fall in love with and become emotionally invested in their well-being and endeavors. The setting is convincing and natural, a fully-realized world that seems almost familiar, like a fairy tale setting that has been visited before, or a world that was grown rather than invented. The book is long but worth the time it takes to enjoy it.

Abigail reviews She Overheard Murder by Jean Sheldon


I never thought to wonder why, but Chicago is the best place for a mystery, and that’s a fact.

Lately I have been craving a mystery to read, so I decided to check out She Overheard Murder, by Jean Sheldon. This LAMBDA-nominated story is set in Chicago after the end of WWII and is the first in the new Nic & Nora series of mystery novels. The heroine of the story has just found a job voicing a female private eye for a radio program. A dark cloud hangs over her new job, however, for the voice actress she replaced in the cast has been murdered. When police suspicion falls on her, she is motivated to find out who the real killer is.

When I started reading, I thought the length of the book, at just over 450 pages, was daunting. However I was pleased to discover that the pacing was so good that I was able to breeze through the book in a matter of a couple days. The writing style is fresh and uncomplicated, making the focus fall on the characters. Our heroine Nic Owen investigates alongside Nora, who was the girlfriend of the deceased actress and the police’s number-one suspect. Nic is convinced that Nora did not kill her partner, and Nora is equally certain Nic did not murder her to further her career, so the two band together to prove the police wrong about both of them. Joining and practically heading up the amateur sleuthing is Nic’s Aunt Anna, a middle-aged woman who voraciously reads mystery novels and idolizes Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.

The setting of a radio station is interesting and evocative of the past, and I wish the author had gone into some more detail to get a real noir atmosphere. I suppose, however, considering the many problematic practices and mindsets of the 1940s, I shouldn’t complain that the narrative’s perspective seemed somewhat modernized. Even so, it felt as though the setting of big, bold, dark, magical, mysterious Chicago was under-utilized in the overall story. Chicago should feel larger than life but it came off as diminished, just a place to have the characters live, rather than a living, breathing, aesthetic influence in and of itself.

The plot is simple and direct. Unlike some mystery novels there was no mind-blowing twist ending. It is in the style of the classic whodunnit where the clues are all there for the reader to solve the mystery alongside the detective characters.

Overall the charm of this book lies in the characters themselves, and their growth as people. Each of the characters is recovering in their own way from the war. In addition, Nora has to deal with her lovers’ death and the danger she is in during the investigation. Nic is acclimating to her new job and new thoughts and feelings she learns from her new co-workers and friends. Aunt Anna shares some of her past, things she has never told her niece until now, and is given an opportunity to pass on some wisdom she had learned from difficult times she went through. The entire main cast of characters are lovely women and their adventures are enjoyable.

Abigail reviews Midnight in Orlando and Midnight on a Mountaintop by Amy Dawson Robertson

midnightinorlando   midnightonamountaintop

Midnight in Orlando and Midnight on a Mountaintop is a duo of romance novels by Amy Dawson Robertson. They follow Susan, a lawyer, and Nic, a writer and paralegal, who meet in Orlando at a convention for lesbian fiction. Susan goes to the convention as a reader of lesfic. Nic, neurotic and reclusive, in a burst of courage forces herself to attend the convention as a featured author and the keynote speaker so she can finally meet some of her readers.

The two meet each other in an elevator, after Nic had just fallen into a pool, and Susan helps her find her room. The rest of the story continues in this vein of adorable awkwardness. At their next encounter Nic, in her usual impulsive, abrupt way, asks Susan out. The romance grows between the two women and culminates in a midnight rendezvous near the end of the first book. At the end of their four-day vacation, the two lovebirds find it difficult to part.

The second book picks up four months later. Nic and Susan have been apart the entire time, but talk every single day. In Midnight on a Mountaintop they finally have a chance to see each other again, on another vacation together, this time in West Virginia in a picturesque mountain cabin. Both Susan and Nic have separately begun to feel that it’s time to take their relationship to a new level, but before they get a chance to fully settle into their vacation time together, Nic falls down a steep slope and gets lost! Susan worries and braves the snow and wind and mountain terrain to find the quirky, accident prone woman she has fallen in love with.

The writing is easy and unforced, affording some truly genuine laughs at times. The plot is believable enough for the genre. I liked the characters but I didn’t love them. They are written well and are 3-dimensional. There was nothing excellent about the characterization that made me wish they were real people I could meet, for even though there are nice little details that makes the characterization ring true, the overall effect is inconsistent and falls flat at times.

These books are made for vacations. If you’re chilling beside the pool or snuggled up by the fire in a cabin and want a light romance to pass the time, this duo is a good fit. As you escape from the everyday grind for a while, why not read about characters who are doing the same?


Abigail reviews Riding Fury Home by Chana Wilson


A woman telling her own story in her own words is a powerful emotional force. Riding Fury Home by Chana Wilson packs an extra punch because we are invited to witness not only the story of the author’s life, but also of her mother Gloria’s life. The two women are so connected in so many ways; in love, in resentment, in pain and healing, but, at the deepest level, in life— life lived and shared and fought for.

Gloria, married and with one child, attempted suicide after the woman she loved left her. This was all kept a secret from her daughter until Chana was in her twenties and came out. The following years were spent rediscovering and rebuilding their mother-daughter relationship as two women, two lesbians.

Riding Fury Home is an important book for lesbian history. The main narrative covers four decades, from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. It shows the good, the bad and the ugly of being a lesbian in those eras, the ugly being the homophobia of the fifties, when homosexuality was considered a disease of the mind. (This facilitates an exposé of the dismal ableism mental patients endured, subjected to terrifying and dehumanizing abuse at hospitals.) The bad being the long and difficult road to recovery, and the good being the women’s lib movement of the ’70’s, and Chana and Gloria’s beautiful, successful heart healing. In the back of the book are questions that can be used for a book discussion group, and I highly recommend the book for lgbt+ groups to read together.

This is not an easy read. Because it deals with subjects like suicide, depression, anxiety, drug dependency, vertigo, homophobia, racism, mental hospitals and hospitals in general, there are some people who would be safer not reading it if mentions and descriptions of these things could trigger panic attacks and flashbacks.

I was moved to tears several times. At one point I even thought to myself that I should put the book down and walk away because I was becoming way too sad. I could not put it down, however, invested as I became in the narrative, and I stuck to it through the difficult parts. It occurs to me that while I had a choice to put the book down, Chana and Gloria had no choice but to survive the tragic circumstances that were thrust on them.

The primary theme and lesson I took away from reading about Chana’s life was that anger can be one of the most healing emotions. I have experienced this type of healing myself, but the concept never solidified for me until I read Chana’s and Gloria’s experiences. I learned many things, about lgbt history, about women’s lib history, and even learned some things about myself. I think that a huge majority of readers will be able to take away something of benefit from reading about Chana’s and Gloria’s struggles.