Kalyanii reviews The Morning After by Jae


If ever there were a lesson to be learned in distinguishing between the intentions of the author and those of her protagonist, it would be within Jae’s short story, “The Morning After,” which recounts the Valentine’s Day misadventures of actress Amanda Clark. Whereas I assumed the role of the indignant reader on my first pass, pinning Amanda’s tendency to stereotype on the author herself, I found myself remorseful for my misunderstanding on the second. To my chagrin, what Jae accomplishes within the piece is the very dismantling of her protagonist’s stereotypes with a subtlety and profundity that is nothing less than masterful.

Having barely made it to the entree before ditching her dinner companion who had begun planning their future together in the midst of their first date, Amanda decides to pop in on an Anti-Valentine’s Day party, advertised on a flyer that had been placed beneath the wiper blades of her car, for a quick drink before heading home. What she doesn’t anticipate is the effect of the first “Mind Eraser” the bartender hands her or those to follow, which land her in a state of undress upon awakening the next morning in a complete stranger’s bed.

As much as I appreciated the tone and pacing of the story overall, the handling of the “morning after” was what I found to be most impressively executed. It’s as though the reader rises alongside Amanda, desperately trying to deduce where she is and how she got there. The detailed description of her surroundings — the smell of masculine cologne, the man’s watch on the nightstand — bring the story so vividly to life.

However, if one were to remain mired within the smug displeasure to which I initially clung, all of the strengths exhibited within the tale would surely be overshadowed by Amanda’s references to the person who rescued her the evening before as “the butch,” expressing surprise that she knows how to cook and just so happens to enjoy the company of children. Over the course of the morning, Amanda does begin to question her assumptions but not to a degree anywhere near true acceptance. And there we have what is known as damn good (and realistic) character development.

Initially, I was befuddled as to how Jae could have broached Amanda’s lack of respect and misguided assumptions in a way that might prove less alienating. Then, I allowed Amanda the freedom to be precisely who she is, in spite of her biases, which stuck so firmly in my craw. Although it remained a challenge to cut Amanda slack, her character arc revealed promise, which is, indeed, something.

It’s my understanding that Amanda and “the butch” appear once again in Jae’s novel, Departure from the Script, which I will no doubt purchase. Jae’s narrative is just that engaging. Thus, I am willing to give her characters the benefit of the doubt, banking on the hope that they will evolve in a manner that allows them deeper insight into themselves and one another, so they might ultimately enjoy all that resides beyond the scope of their own limited worldview.

Kalyanii reviews Slow Burn by Marlene Leach



If truth be told, very little offends me. After all, I spent several years reviewing erotica back in the 1990’s, before the genre assumed any sense of responsibility with regard to consent, transparency or human dignity. However, in spite of all that fell short within Slow Burn, author Marlene Leach succeeded in utterly sickening me with scenes in which women with traumatic histories were either taken while in a dissociated state and physically incapacitated or used for the reclamation of one’s own fractured sexuality. That being said, what put me over the top was one particular scene in which continued sexual manipulation was condoned for its ability to heal the victim. I am floored that any author, especially one writing for the LGBT community, would dare promote sexual practices that perpetuate trauma as a means to a happy ending.

But, I get ahead of myself…

The year is 2048. The country is on the verge of collapse as corporations have taken over virtually every aspect of society, from governmental functions to the school and transportation systems as well as access to information and technology. The air is unfit to breathe, and domes are established within cities — until the money runs out. Testing determines one’s future, while those who exhibit dissenting tendencies are promptly medicated and monitored.

A year to the day that her lover, Leah, a renowned social critic and political activist, is captured by government agents and presumed dead, Lydia is prepared to end her own life; yet, a rap on the door late in the night interrupts her plans. When Lydia frees the latch, she discovers a young woman of eighteen, named Kay, who informs her that Leah is still alive and that she is willing to help Lydia find her. Kay explains that she was introduced to Leah’s writings by her history teacher, later deemed to be a Dissenter, and had found that her words and ideas helped her to feel less alone in the world. Leah was her idol, a brilliant and influential woman with whom she had hoped to one day study.

After a series of unlikely events which facilitate their journey from Maine to California, Lydia and Kay rescue Leah from Pennington Labor Camp. Leah is emaciated, reeks of her own waste, is missing teeth and suffers from oozing open wounds. Though Leah is unable to walk, the three women are able to find shelter in the woods, where Kay assists in her recovery. Rather than contribute to the restoration of Leah’s health, Lydia, absorbed in her need for closeness, performs oral sex on her partner while Kay is away on a supply run. The way the scene is written, wherein Lydia determines that Leah deserves the pleasure of her lover’s “eating her out” while Leah is yet unable to ambulate or take food, proved simply gruesome. Call me conventional, but this is simply not something I would expect of a loving and committed partner.

At varying points in the novel, both Lydia and Leah express their attraction to Kay, who has endured more than her fair share of pain and is described as being emotionally stunted. Whereas Lydia cuddles her in a manner that comes across as downright creepy but supposedly nurturing, Leah takes full advantage of Kay’s trust and admiration in order to touch upon her own lost ability to access desire. Rather than stopping the behavior upon realizing the gravity of her destructive behavior, Leah continues to seduce Kay so as to assist in her healing.

The novel overall is clumsily executed and wholly unbelievable, from the introduction of the characters right down to its victorious conclusion. Yet, it is the condoning of sexual manipulation and exploitation that continues to stick in my craw. Bring on the edginess and the challenges to sexual mores; but, once a traumatized adolescent is used for the pleasure of the middle-aged woman who she upholds as a teacher and mentor, I’m no longer on board.

Kalyanii reviews One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks


In honor of Carellin Brooks’s latest release, One Hundred Days of Rain, I chose an overcast weekend for which drizzle as well as thunderstorms were predicted to cozy up with my e-reader. I considered myself fortunate to have no pressing time commitments or obligations and donned my most comfortable pair of jeans so that I might fully embrace her story of lost love. However, in spite of my best intentions at cultivating a calm mind and tender heart, I found myself enduring one of the most tiresome literary experiences in recent memory.

Given the ninety-nine chapters in which the various qualities of rain are explored, it’s probably safe to assume that Brooks was invested in utilizing her allusions to precipitation metaphorically. Constant but ever-changing, one can easily draw parallels between the rain and the unnamed author’s suffering, which may have had a bit more impact had the resulting prose poem not been so undeniably tedious.

After the demise of her marriage with M, the narrator finds herself navigating the day-to-day post-breakup challenges of finding an apartment, reporting her income to the courts and changing buses multiple times in order to get her bicycle to the repair shop as well as more monumental stressors, including a brief stint in jail and the devising of arrangements (among herself, M and the child’s father) pertaining to the custody and visitation of her five-year-old son. Unfortunately, the nonstop mention of rain dampens any of the rawness one might expect to feel in the midst of sorrow. Rather than enhancing the melancholy, the predominant literary device employed completely detracts from the heart of the tale.

One aspect of heartbreak that does come across with unfailing clarity, however, is the self-absorption and exclusionary perspective that often accompanies loss. The narrator’s vision proves utterly myopic, alienating even the reader who has made a point to seek out the opportunity to empathize. In spite of the narrator’s attempts to distract herself amid rendezvous with S, a long-time lover, and Nurse, whom she begins dating shortly after the breakup, the narrator never becomes fully human. Seldom if ever is any depth of emotion expressed.

Although I tend to do a second read-through of any work of fiction in order to fully appreciate the nuances of the plotline and character development, it crossed my mind to consider a single reading of One Hundred Days of Rain to be enough; yet, my conscience got the best of me and I opted for another go, desperately hoping that I had missed something profound, which in the end was simply not to be.

Kalyanii reviews Pissing in a River by Lorrie Sprecher


Throughout my reading of Lorrie Sprecher’s latest release, there was no denying the frustration — in fact, near torment — I endured in witnessing the chasm between what Pissing in a River is and what it could have been. One might equate the experience to an encounter with a woman who inspires boundless passion and devotion given qualities so rare that one wouldn’t think to pass up the opportunity to get to know her better and the realization that this same woman also possesses flaws so glaring that they are right up there with anyone’s top deal breakers. Oh, the agony of deciding whether to let yourself fall for what stands before you, as imperfect as it may be, or to walk away disillusioned, jaded that the potential recognized at the outset will never be fulfilled!

Amanda, the quintessential anglophile and aspiring expat, ventures to England initially as a student and years later on a tourist visa in order to track down the two women whose voices speak to her within her own head. Having been given diagnoses with varying degrees of validity over the years by mental health professionals who she believes were operating in accordance with their own agendas and biases, Amanda finds her symptoms abating as she encounters the physical manifestations of the voices she hears, Dr. Melissa Jones and a girl named Nick, with whom she becomes acquainted after intervening when Nick is raped in a dark alley late one night.

Thrust together in the aftermath of that trauma, the three women grow to find sanctuary within their friendship, providing support and understanding when they need it most. Whereas both Melissa and Nick are haunted by their experiences of sexual assault, Amanda grapples with messages internalized over years as a consumer within the mental health system. As is the case with many who struggle with psychiatric disorders, Amanda is sensitive to the emotions of others and thus endures feelings of guilt and shame, not only for arriving too late to prevent Nick’s rape, but also for injustices carried out around the globe. Without question, Amanda gleans a great deal of her identity from her appreciation of punk music as well as political activism and social advocacy.

I was impressed with the way the book addresses the often overlooked challenges to healing in the aftermath of an assault as well as the daunting task of navigating the internal and external obstacles presented by a mental illness. Pissing in a River boldly broadens the accepted definition of rape and promotes mental health parity, reducing stigma and improving access to treatment while allowing for greater compassion and acceptance. Lest I neglect to mention, Sprecher writes with sensitivity to the potential for fluidity within one’s sexual orientation, which I took to be empathic as well as astute.

Indeed, Pissing in a River has all the makings of an extremely influential, entertaining and thought-provoking work; however, it is also laden with less desirable elements that, for me, proved impossible to ignore. Many of the events, especially within the ass-kicking scenes, are not at all believable; and, primarily early on, so much attention is placed upon irrelevant details that the momentum and interest generated with regard to Amanda’s internal landscape are forever compromised. That being said, it was the multitudinous references to what band merchandise the characters are wearing and the incessant quoting of lyrics that did me in. (T-shirts/Sweatshirts are referenced 97 times.) The importance of punk music and culture to Amanda’s self-concept is abundantly clear without these tedious elements which halt all movement within the story. Even if it were intended as a reflection of Amanda’s OCD, there are certainly more effective means of communicating the impact of the disorder upon the various aspects of her life.

What prevents Pissing in the River from realizing its potential as a groundbreaking work are a lack of consideration for the integrity of the writing itself and the need of a heavier hand in editing. Not only does the novel, as it currently stands, serve as a disappointment to the reader who invests herself in the telling of Amanda’s tale, but there remains a profound sense that the characters themselves are slighted for their truth appears to be ruthlessly sacrificed for the sake of the author’s own. I can only hope that this work will see a second printing with revisions that allow it to live up to its most extraordinary potential.

Kalyanii reviewed Fly and Other Stories by Anneliese Poelsma


Among our most memorable literary experiences, can any truly compare to the excitement of discovering a new voice, most notably one that is capable of surprising, enlightening and toying with her reader to the extent that we are left to teeter on the cusp, craving each successive insight, nuance and twist in the plot? Having come to Fly and Other Stories by Anneliese Poelsma with no prior knowledge of her writing style or other works, I was pleased to find myself enthralled by the collection, primarily for  the way in which the author skillfully presents the macabre as just another variation on the day-to-day experience of those who, like us, are more than a little bit broken.

Given that madness is identified by behaviors that fall outside the norm, which is in and of itself a slippery slope as this often has more to do with the norms themselves than the individual exhibiting abnormal behavior, it makes sense that the characters who appear within the collection would not think to question their reasoning, much less their sanity. In fact, I’d contend that it is this assumption of normalcy that makes each story incredibly captivating. Whereas the husband in “I Live in the Bathroom” is painted as deranged for locking up his wife, her decision to drown their child is mentioned as a mere afterthought; all the while, Georgia, who steals a young couple’s baby in “Where Maisy Went,” believes her means of satisfying the desire for a child to be completely justifiable, especially in her elation to join the local mother’s group.

Beyond the tales of broken hearts, babynapping and infanticide, the piece I found to be by far the most intriguing and well-crafted is revealed as a hidden treasure midway into the collection. Entitled “Jennifer,” the story is offered as one woman’s account of deeply-held friendship, which the reader understands is in reality a most haunting obsession. Whereas Jennifer views herself as well-liked and popular with co-workers, the story’s opening paragraph alone assures us that her self-concept is not simply inflated but downright delusional, a truth confirmed as she interprets her captive officemate’s revulsion as a reciprocated expression of caring. Given the authenticity in the narrative’s depiction of mundane workplace dynamics, all unlikeliness is superseded by a sense of the completely plausible, which makes “Jennifer” so irresistibly creepy.

In spite of the disturbing elements which seep and ooze from the page, each story ultimately addresses a basic human need, whether it be the the search for true love, the quest for freedom, the desire to be appreciated, the attempt to self-soothe or the need to belong. The oddity, from my perspective, resides simply in the degree to which fulfillment is pursued as well as a dramatic skewing of perception. As much as we might attempt to keep each of these characters at arm’s length, it is their humanness that captures our imagination and begs us to question just how removed we truly are from telling our version of the very same story.

Kalyanii reviews Chamber Music by Doris Grumbach


Whether it be within the epochs of our lives or the novels that engage us, we tend to so desperately seek resolution. Uncomfortable sitting with our emotions as they are, we placate ourselves with baseless assurances that at some point an outcome will be reached, allowing the experience to be neatly tucked away within the deepest recesses of our memory. At the same time, we profess that there is a reason for everything and that our circumstances are meant to convey a meaningful lesson or help us grow. Having told myself some version of the above countless times, I’ve come to respect the life — or the fictional account — that simply is what it is and doesn’t presume to be anything loftier than that.

Written under the guise of a historical document to be included within a grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music by Doris Grumbach is a truly original work of fiction for the narrator, Caroline (Newby) Maclaren, also presents as the writer herself. Nearing the age of ninety, she has been given the task of documenting the life of her deceased husband and renowned composer, Robert Glencoe Maclaren, so as to obtain funding to restore the Maclaren Community, which at one time served as a retreat for musicians so that they might immerse themselves within their work; yet, the details of Mr. Maclaren’s life and career come to take a backseat to Caroline’s experience of their cold and lifeless marriage, the progression of his debilitating and gruesome illness and the way in which she finally came alive upon falling in love with Anna Baehr, the young woman who nursed Mr. Maclaren at the end of his life.

The tone in which Chamber Music is written is so very true-to-life that I continue to find myself relating to it as a memoir rather than a work of fiction. With most of the events taking place around the turn of the twentieth century, I can’t help but to wonder if Grumbach, who was born in 1918, acquired an inherent sense of the time period from friends, family members or other associates just slightly older than herself, making formal research largely unnecessary. The discretion, speech and sensibility of the time appear consistent, genuine and respectfully regarded as far as I can tell. Although I’ve never been one for historical fiction, I must admit that I found myself utterly enraptured with each and every turn of the page.

That being said, I would have appreciated a more visceral sense of the relationship between Caroline and Anna. Although we are told that they were deeply in love, I didn’t feel as though I had a palpable understanding of the dynamics between them. Their shared experiences and moments of intimacy, for me, lacked depth such that I came to wonder if something in their relationship was amiss. On several occasions, Caroline questions whether Anna experienced closeness and connection in the same way that she had, and Anna’s desire to comfort one of the melancholic musicians (who was also in love with her) illustrated, if nothing more, at least an inability to establish proper boundaries.

In spite of a niggling feeling that Caroline and Anna’s romance was not as idyllic as it was made to seem, I found the novel as a whole to be compelling from start to finish. Indeed, the strength and honesty of the climax solidified my immense appreciation for Chamber Music as well as a desire to explore the author’s other works. Whereas one seeking resolution or pithy life lessons is likely to be disappointed, I found Grumbach’s handling of the conclusion to be perfectly suited as a lasting testament to the life of a woman who knew what it was to live for only the brief span in which she knew what it was to love.

Kalyanii reviews The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith


My journey through The First Person and Other Stories, a collection by British writer Ali Smith, manifested as a perpetual pendulum swing between rapt attention to the tales’ unfolding and an uncomfortable sense of groundlessness mingled with a fair degree of alienation. I’ll admit, at several points along the way, I entertained the idea of abandoning the work, just before I was drawn back in. Midway through, it dawned on me. I wasn’t responding to the merit of the writing itself; I was reacting to the way in which the writing was affecting me.

Several of the most poignant stories are written in the first person, addressing “you,” which can’t help but to hit pretty close to the bone, especially given that all contextual clues lead to the understanding that “I” and “you” are former lovers. Boasting a couple of bruised egos, a few resentments and a whole lot of ambivalence, the relationship is revisited and perhaps even reconvened via the rewriting of history. If we can assume that it is the same couple featured throughout the collection, we begin to glean a deeper understanding of both women and their history as we witness their interactions at various junctures.

Among these particular stories, I found “The Second Person” to be most engaging given how very ludicrous we civilized adults can be when protecting our heart in the presence of the woman to whom we once offered it so freely. Claiming to know who the other person truly is and how she would behave in an utterly rhetorical circumstance, the first person narrator describes with utter certainty the way in which her former lover would purchase an accordion with very specific qualities “precisely because” she can’t play it. The former lover then retaliates with her own version of how the scenario would play out had the narrator been the one to make the visit to the music shop. The entire progression and escalation of the conversation is priceless.

I’d have to note “Writ” as perhaps the most touching piece within the collection as the narrator sits across the table from her fourteen-year-old self. Witnessing the expression of insolence that her younger visage “makes a thing of beauty,” she finds herself quite proud; and, while she yearns to give her a heads-up as to who she ought to trust as well as who to and not to bed, she also aches to provide assurances that things are going to turn out alright. She cannot utter any of it, however, for the journey lies in the unknown, which should be denied no one.

From my perspective, the most disturbing tale by far was “The Child,” which initially struck me as simply absurd until I picked up on the greater meaning. The story opens with the narrator’s discovery of a chubby, blond-haired, “embarrassingly beautiful” baby boy in her grocery cart when she returns from tracking down bouquet garni for her soup. As adorable as the child may be, surrounded by strangers gushing over his loveliness, his behavior in private becomes quite another matter. When alone with the narrator, who finds herself developing an increasing tenderness for him, the baby unleashes a flurry of horrifyingly misogynistic and otherwise offensive jokes and pronouncements most frequently attributed to those on the far religious right. One might deduce that the child’s attitudes serve to align motherhood with an overarching culture of women’s oppression.

I wasn’t quite as keen on “True Short Story” and “Fidelio and Bess” as well as a couple others merely because they didn’t resonate with me. They also tended toward the more experimental, and I fear I didn’t appreciate Smith’s approach as well as someone else might. There were also a few instances in which her stream of consciousness tested my patience, compromising my willingness and ability to follow along.

Smith does indeed push the envelope in exploring the boundaries, whether real or imaged, of the short story form. Time and time again, she appears to break all of the cardinal rules of writing, only to create a more profound impact than one would expect, regardless of how true-to-the-rules it is crafted. Each story is written in incredibly simple language yet contains more nuance than can be grasped in a single read-through. Just when I felt that Smith was betraying the basic tenet of “show, don’t tell,” I discovered that very little of what was happening actually appeared on the page. It was all written between the lines.

Playfully scoffing at our tendency to seek absolutes and a tidy resolution, Smith illuminates the contradictions inherent within our nature as well as the messiness of our attempts to reconcile the incongruent parts of ourselves with the most vulnerable parts of those we love. Just as there’s likely a bit of the autobiographical within the writing of The First Person and Other Stories, there’s little doubt that, as readers, we can expect to find our most imperfect selves mirrored within the “I” and “you” as they appear upon and beyond the page.

Kalyanii reviews Don’t Bang the Barista by Leigh Matthews


If truth be told, my initial interest in Don’t Bang the Barista probably had something to do with my long-held crush on the red-headed, fresh-faced beauty who works the morning shift at the coffee shop a couple of blocks from my office. However, with the turn of the first few pages, it became clear that I had stumbled upon something special. Touted as “a fresh take on the classic genre of lesbian pulp fiction,” Don’t Bang the Barista proves intriguing, endearing and utterly captivating throughout.

Lest anyone be put off, the title is simply an allusion to the advice that Cass offers her friend Kate while discussing the politics of pursuing a barista crush. After all, imagine how awkward it could be if, after a few dates, it all went wrong. Who wouldn’t tread lightly? Yet, could it be that Cass’s concern has more to do with her feelings for Kate than a desire to protect the sanctity of their social space? Cultivating a burgeoning friendship via early morning conversations at the dog park, Cass and Kate enjoy an effortless rapport… until Cass begins to act a bit out of character.

Unable to figure out what lies beneath Cass’s tough-girl exterior, Kate assumes that Cass wants Hannah, the barista, for herself; yet, Kate is too preoccupied with her ex’s return to town to truly reach out and discover what it is that’s bothering her friend. All the while, Cass grows increasingly moody as well as distant. Though others find Cass’s feelings for Kate to be rather obvious, it is only upon determining with whom her own heart lies that Kate discovers it just may be too late.

For all of its light-hearted quirkiness, Don’t Bang the Barista does not shy away from an exploration of the challenges often encountered amid non-traditional relationship dynamics — without any disruption in the tone or flow of the narrative. The way in which Kate supports her bisexual friend, Em, in navigating her desire for a female lover while protecting her primary hetero relationship illuminates just as much about Kate and Em’s friendship as it does the validation of polyamory and conscious/consensual decision-making. The emotional impacts of in vitro fertilization, social alienation and heartbreak are investigated without for a moment compromising the novel’s hip and sexy vibe.

I was struck by the way in which the LGBT-friendly locale of East Vancouver allowed for a more nuanced presentation of the issues mentioned above and a more complex understanding of the characters who encounter them; whereas, in less accepting communities, identity issues — let alone physical and emotional survival — supercede more subtle human needs out of necessity alone. It’s basically a manifestation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once we feel safe within our environment, we are better able to enjoy the journey toward self-actualization, creating a meaningful and satisfying existence, which at the end of the day is precisely what the women of Don’t Bang the Barista are seeking.

[Editor’s note: also check out Danika’s review!]

Kalyanii posted Her Name by Alicia Joseph


There is a good chance that any woman who has experienced the sense that hers is not the life she was destined to live will find something of a kindred spirit in Madison Andrews, the protagonist of Alicia Joseph’s novella, Her Name. Especially for those of us who have heard the not-so-distant ticking of the biological clock, quiet moments may have a way of calling forth feelings of yearning, disappointment or bewilderment as we contemplate the multifarious forces that brought us to this place in time. Yet, are our lives really destined to turn out the way they do or do we have a greater influence over our circumstances than we realize?

Teetering toward forty, Madison doesn’t lack for a social life, has enjoyed her share of romantic entanglements and maintains gainful employment; but, it just isn’t the life she envisioned for herself. Longing for a loving marriage and family, Madison is admittedly lonely and rather desperate for a meaningful relationship. She can only wonder why the fulfillment of her most heartfelt desire has eluded her. Where is the beautiful, blue-eyed woman of her dreams?

In her dreams, of course.

Night after night, Madison closes her eyes, entering into a dream world that feels far more vivid, far more right than her waking life. In fact, the events that take place in her dreams point directly to those that have taken place during her waking hours, the only difference being that the love of her life is there with her through it all. Indeed, the woman she encounters as she sleeps treasures her in a manner that she has never before known; yet, in spite of reciprocating such deep caring, Madison awakens each morning with a knot of disappointment in her stomach as she finds herself alone in bed. Merely tolerating her days, she awaits the moment that she can slip back between the covers and into her lover’s arms.

Madison’s enthusiasm for her dream world is not shared by others, however. When she tells her best friend, Shelly, about the life she shares with the blue-eyed woman, she finds none of the validation or understanding she seeks; rather, she is mercilessly teased until, ultimately, her sanity is called into question. In an attempt to appease, Madison tells those who express concern that she is seeing a therapist, which is not true for she is certain that the life she knows with the woman is quite real and refuses to risk someone stripping her of her happiness.

It was the genuinely heartfelt style of Ms. Joseph’s writing that kept me reading from the first page straight through to the last; and, I remain utterly in awe of how fully the author captured as transcendent a connection as that between Madison and the woman who meets her on the other side of wakefulness. The interactions between the two women were so natural and believable that I didn’t for a moment question the existence of the blue-eyed woman or the love they share. Without a doubt, Her Name felt to be more of a dear friend’s diary than a work of fiction.

That being said, I found the climax to be handled in a manner that was a bit awkward. I was so completely surrendered to Madison’s experience that it was jarring to witness an unfamiliar dynamic between her and her lover. The tone also shifted in such a way that I felt myself thrust out of the story, which frustrated and pained me given how wide open my heart had grown; yet, I had invested so much of myself into the experience that I made a conscious decision to let this go. It wasn’t worth sacrificing what had resonated so clearly with me up to that point.

Her Name is far more than a love story, though I’ll admit that it is one of the most touching romances I’ve encountered as it offers a sense of hope and a framework for making sense of Madison’s experience as well as our own. Given how essential the concept of interdependent co-arising becomes to an exploration of this book, it’s quite clear that Ms. Joseph has challenged us to broaden our perception of destiny and to acknowledge our part in it.

If truth be told, there will likely never again be a night that I don’t turn down the covers, anticipating the presence of my true love — though I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath. One thing is for certain, however. I will make a concerted effort to approach each moment as fully present as I’m able so as to prevent my very destiny from slipping away.

Kalyanii reviews Tangerine Twist by Suzie Carr


I’ll admit that I’ve never quite understood the draw of a character who one “loves to hate,” and I’m even more baffled by a character who one “hates to hate” as I did the protagonist of Tangerine Twist. Willing to give virtually anyone a pass for their idiosyncrasies, poor judgement or blatant stupidity, I found it difficult to empathize with the self-absorbed Becca James as she forges ahead on a journey that would have been harrowing and perhaps even poignant if not for her schmaltz and theatrics.

Covering the musicians’ smoke breaks at the local pub where she waits tables, Becca dreams of becoming an accomplished musician herself. With her guitar, Tangerine Twist, slung about her, she keeps her dream alive alongside the memory of her grandfather, who nurtured her aspirations and helped to hone her skills as she plucked the strings of his upright bass when she was a young girl. Yet, since forgetting the lyrics while performing at her grandfather’s funeral, she lacks confidence, which prevents her from coming into her own — both as a musician, always settling for the backup role, and as a woman, puppy-dogging after her lover. This dynamic is witnessed time and time again after she stumbles upon her big break as part of a sizzling hot female duo, for it is her partner, Kara, who commands the stage just as she does Becca’s every insecurity and desire.

Drawn to Kara from the first glance, Becca proves utterly incapable of resisting her allure, the shape of her lips and penchant for the wild side. Given that her relationship with the sweet and wholesome Kelly Copeland has grown a bit stagnant, she barely gives a second thought to her neglect of what truly matters up to the point that Kelly sets her free. Even then, Becca doesn’t view the breakup as a wake-up call but as an excuse to dive headfirst into the dangerous waters of Kara’s reckless lifestyle.

Embracing her new-found freedom and professional success while succumbing to Kara’s naughty-girl influence, Becca adopts a persona that leaves those who care about her angry, hurt and frustrated with the person she has become. However, Becca sees no validity to their concerns until she awakens one morning amid rather sordid circumstances well outside the realm of who she knows herself to be.

There is nothing within me that cares to wax moralistic regarding Becca’s choices or Kara’s propensity for edginess; and, I was pleased to see the author assume a similar stance. On more than one occasion, Carr makes a point of mentioning that her characters, specifically Kara and Kelly, are simply being who they are and that the real issue is that Becca has yet to find herself. Thus, at the end of the day, Tangerine Twist is a story about the cultivation of self-awareness and the courage to live one’s truth.

Although well-written overall, I found specific passages to be rather clumsy. It seemed at times that Carr was attempting to be more literary than was natural or appropriate. On one occasion, she describes Kelly’s hair as “shining just like ice.” At another point, the exposed stuffing from Becca’s bulging couch cushions looks “like an unkempt beard lacking the melanin of youth.” Then, there is the mechanic whose smile is “as clean as freshly laundered sheets.” The use of simile, as exemplified above, came across as awkward and detracted from the story itself. In the same vein, I would have done anything for Becca’s guitar to be named something other than Tangerine Twist. It just didn’t work for me.

Had Becca been a more likeable character, I wouldn’t have had the slightest reservation in touting Tangerine Twist as a truly outstanding work of LGBT fiction. Sadly, she wasn’t presented in a manner such that empathy could arise. She simply felt like that high-maintenance, high-drama friend who we all try desperately to avoid. Nevertheless, a part of me wonders if it isn’t the mirroring of the ugliest parts of our nature that incites our aversion to Becca, leaving us to seek redemption, just as she does, in uncovering our most genuine sense of self.