allis reviews Maye’s Request by Clifford Henderson

When I read the summary for this book I was highly intrigued by this part “[Brianna] parents form a perfect triangle: Mom, Dad, and her mother’s lover—who also happens to be her Dad’s twin sister”. From this, I gathered that the story was going to be quite unusual and promised to be at least interesting if not good. I was a bit worried about that actually. The premise was so intriguing and unusual that I feared the story could turn out to be really bad. But, to my great pleasure, it has not been the case.

I really enjoyed the start of the novel. We follow the narrator Brianna (a.k.a. Bean) through her way back from Mexico to the USA, where she is going to meet back with her Aunt, Dad, and mom who has contacted a very rare possible fatal illness. The writing is smooth and easy to read. The voice of the narrator is really pleasant and natural. As we travel with Brianna, we slip back from thoughts to actions really easily, as if we were traveling with her, lost in thoughts with her, getting introduced to all the background information about her family we need from her thoughts. At no moment does it feels forced. It’s the natural process of loosing oneself into ones thoughts while traveling.

When we reach the point of meeting with her family, we discover that the story is actually divided in two parts. The present with all of the characters, and the past which focus on the twins. Throughout the rest of the novel we are constantly balancing between the present with Bean’s point of view of the situation, and flash-backs from the past of her dad and aunt. But again the transitions are smooth and natural, and we switch from one period to the other very easily. The change of narration and tense helps a lot and make things easier for the reader, making sure he doesn’t get confused about when he is in time. Thanks to those flash-backs we slowly understand why her family is acting the way it did and still does. Placing the reader as a witness through the eyes of Bean was a really good idea. We are just as confused as her about the situation and just as eager to understand.

Plus, Bean is funny and feels very real which makes it easy to identify with her. She is not only guiding the reader through the present, she also have a life of her own with full development. She is very easy to rely to and make it uncomplicated to connect with the novel very rapidly, diving in from the start and only getting out at the end.

Another thing I really appreciated about this novel is the fact that it’s exactly what the cover says. It’s a story about love, longing, and family. It is the story of how Maye, but particularly Jake and Jen learn to live with each other again and learn to understand their history and past better, to leave it behind and move forward. But this is also the story of Bean and how she got caught in the mess the adults in her life created and how she is trying not to repeat the same mistakes and accept love. Some of the characters happen to be lesbians (Jen, Maye – though she is more bisexual than lesbian, and Bean). But there is no emphasis on it, it’s not the centre of the novel of even the point of it. That’s just part of who the characters are, who they love. I really appreciated that fact.

All in all it was a really good read and I am now planning to read other books from the same author. I definitely recommend this book. Some of the subjects treated are dark, but the tone is always real with a touch of humour which makes it very enjoyable to read.

allis reviews Valley of the Wolf by Kay Royalty

Valley of the Wolf by Kay Royalty is the story of Ruth, owner of a ranch, and Hannah, married to Josh (whose profession seems to be playing cards and drinking) who just arrived in town. The story evolves around those two women falling in love with each other while having to deal with the constant menace that Josh represents. The premise is simple but attracted me by being placed in a western setting. I am unfamiliar with that period in the USA and wanted something different than my usual readings, so this novel was perfect by being romance and western. That is definitely not a mix you find in my bookshelves.

The start of the novel offers a very beautiful and intriguing scenery with a horse racing against a train. This introduction caught my attention very rapidly and I was eager to learn more about the characters. However once this introduction is over, the writing becomes a bit shaky and put me off for a while. It seems that the author wants to give the reader as much information as possible from all points of view. Sadly the changes of point of view happen too fast and make the story hard to follow. You never stay with a character long enough to get used to its voice that you are already shifting to another one. But, once the exposition phase is over, the novel finds a more stable pace and we can follow the characters more easily, enjoying their story.

The love story between the two girls feels a bit forced at times. They fall in love at first glance (which I didn’t mind) but the way their feelings are described lack in subtlety, especially from Ruth who is supposed to have no idea what is happening to her. I would have liked to see her character struggle a bit more with herself. For example, after their first kiss she seems upset but very quickly she is not anymore and falls into the arms of Hannah, fully accepting her love for her and not questioning anything anymore. I guess the proximity of Jed and Jodie (a gay couple) and the exclusion of any other people around them helped Ruth not to question anything but it did seem a bit strange that almost no thoughts of doubts appeared in her mind.

I was also a bit saddened by the island the ranch provided. The characters rarely go into town and consequently the western aspect of the novel is not really exploited. Though the isolation of Ruth and Hannah with Jed and Jodie provides some really sweet « family » moments between the four of them.

The constant danger that Josh provides to the story is a good idea as it brings some action, but it is too easy to guess when and how he is going to act. He is the bad guy and that’s it. He seems to only be used as a plot device.

All in all it is not a bad read but the novel could gain in subtlety in its narration to make the actions and feelings of the various characters less obvious. The lack of any suspense whatsoever kept putting me off. As a result of this lack of depth I didn’t enjoy the novel as much as I expected to and I know it’s not going to end up in my « to reread » pile of books.

If you are looking for a light, quick and easy read about two girls falling in love in a vague western background – with a bonus of gay cowboys – this might be the book you’re looking for. Otherwise I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to you.

allis reviews Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters

Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters

In Keeping You a Secret, a high school student, Holland, who always had everything planned for her, is suddenly awakening to her own life and start seeing everything falling apart as she falls in love with Cece and has to make a choice between following expectations or going her own way.

The novel start with a classic introduction of characters, and straight away you know what will happen between the main characters. What is interesting, though, is the process of getting there and seeing how things will unfold.

We see the world through Holland’s eyes, and sinece she is an interesting and funny person, that makes the narration light. I wasn’t expecting it to surprise me, however. I was not waiting for anything other than Holland finding out about her sexuality and breaking out of the expectations everyone has for her. I was proven wrong when the idea of a gay club came up. Suddenly the atmosphere of Holland’s world changed and you could feel the animosity of the school towards homosexuality. I was quite curious to see this subject developed, but sadly it was rapidly put in the background to focus back on Holland. I would have loved to read more about the high school atmosphere and how it affected the characters, but the story is told from Holland’s point of view, and at this stage of the book she was growing more and more confused about her feelings for Cece. She was pretty much aware of only that aspect of her life, the rest disappearing in the background of her mind.

The topic wasn’t really dropped, though, as we quickly got back to it on a larger scale, including Holland’s and Cece’s families and their reactions to their daughters being lesbians. I thought it was quite a good portrayal of reality, especially Cece’s family. I loved how her mom tried to come to terms with her daughters being lesbians: not understanding it, but accepting it, because she has no choice and loves her daughters. On the opposite hand, Holland’s mom is everything but accepting and throws her daughter out of her home. Sadly, no hope is given for reconciliation between the both of them. And that’s when the gay community really came into the picture. I enjoyed those brief moments in which Holland found support and a new home. But as for the animosity of the high school, the topic is not really developed, just hinted at. This is, after all, not the main focus of the novel.

All in all, it was a very good novel. I enjoyed reading about all the problems that came up in Holland’s life when she found out she was a lesbian and when she came out. I thought the difficulties and confusion were well-portrayed, as well as the hope offered by the gay community, which provided a safe place to be for Holland.

Another thing I really appreciated in the novel is the character of Faith, Holland‘s sister-in-law. At first, Holland judged her only by her appearance and decided at first glance that she was not going to like her because she is a Goth. I loved how their relationship evolved though the novel. As Holland was breaking free of expectations and discovering a much wider world than she ever imagined, she became more accepting of her sister and who she is, going past looks and appearances. This is not just a coming of age novel about finding oneself and discovering ones sexuality and place in the world. This is also about acceptance and prejudices, about not judging people for their looks, sexuality or other little things that shouldn’t matter, but seeing people for who they really are and not thinking them “freaks” because they are not what society expects them to be.