Kristi reviews Best Lesbian Romance 2012 edited by Radclyffe

Best Lesbian Romance 2012
edited by Radclyffe

I was excited to be able to get hold of a copy of this through The Lesbrary, as I have not picked up the last couple of years’ worth of editions. Radclyffe does well once again with seventeen stories meant to warm the heart – and libido.

A theme of self-discovery runs throughout the stories, as women turn to best friends ( Geneva King’s Note To Self) and strangers (Rachel Kramer Bussel’s French Fried) looking for love and romance. None of these women are questioning their sexuality, but their abilities to love, to be loved, and to take that last step into a relationship. Whether a story covers a few hours or a few months, the passionate, playful, heartfelt connections tie together each plot and create women that you can connect to every time. I really enjoyed every story that made it into this collection, but personal favorites were the first and last. Anna Meadows’ Vanilla, Sugar, Butter, Salt evoked my passion for baking, but I also appreciated the underlying theme of changing your perspective of the world to accept another’s into it. In Evan Mora’s A Love Story, sharing the tale, tall or true, of that first meeting unwraps the emotional memories of falling in love from the blankets of time.

A wonderful collection of hot, sexy, and sweet love stories, there is sure to be at least one in Best Lesbian Romance 2012 to please every reader.

Kristi reviews On A Silver Platter by Linda Morganstein

I have never written a review about a DNF “Did Not Finish,” but after two months of trying to get through this particular title, I thought I would reflect on why I couldn’t make it.

Alexis “Call me Alex” Pope is acting as a stunt woman on the set of On A Silver Platter, the “tale of alien invasion based roughly on the beheading of St. John the Baptist” (12). On a sound set plagued by an overreaching script, a pompous director and no-nonsense producer, plus a stalker, the only thing that could make things more complicated would be a murder. Add to this a flirtation with a committed woman and a blind date with another, plus sudden stardom as Wonder Woman in a kinky lingerie fashion show, and Alex has more than enough on her platter.

All of this action occurs within the first hundred pages. Unfortunately, I could not get any farther than that. This book seems to go off on so many different tangents, I was not sure if I was reading a murder mystery, a lesbian romance, or some sort of fanfic for Lynda Carter (not that I don’t love the woman myself). The scenes are descriptive and decently written, but the story is so overwrought with multiple characters who have little relation to the main plot, assuming that would be the murder of one of the movie’s stars. I lost interest in what Alex might do, either in her short stunt career or as the ameteur sleuth, extremely quickly.

The set up of the book’s style is similar to Ellen Hart’s Jane Lawless books: a list of the “cast of characters” in the beginning of the book, a woman pulled into a mystery by a secondary involvement, who was introspective in terms of her self and surroundings. So, I was hoping for a similar nuanced style from Morganstein, but I feel like I know little about Alex or the reasons behind her actions. Nor could I really manage enough feelings for the book, beyond confusion, to really care. On A Silver Platter is the third book of this series, so maybe I will hop back to Ordinary Furies and see where Alex started.

Kristi reviews The Collectors by Lesley Gowan

Laura has a passion for collecting BDSM lesbian erotica. That passion also extends to her fantasy of becoming a real submissive. She never believed there was a way to translate her desires into real life, until her classmate Adele introduces Laura to her mistress, Jeanne. Laura finds herself a willing, if inquisitive, submissive to Jeanne and is transported to to a new level of sensual bondage, both emotional and physical. Yet while Jeanne shares Laura’s passions for art and sex, Adele is not willing to share her mistress with Laura. As Adele’s jealousy and anger spread through Jeanne’s organization, can Laura find a secure place in this erotic world?

Lesley Gowan’s The Collectors has a good premise: a fantasy-turned-reality erotic relationship. Laura desires the worlds she reads about in her BDSM erotica, and when she finds a way to meet a real mistress through her friend Adele, she takes her up on it and never really looks back. Driven by desire for a dominant, and for Jeanne herself, Laura insinuates herself between Adele and Jeanne as she accepts more and more advanced instruction.

This is the point where I start to fall out of the story. While Laura is an obvious novice, her incessant inquires about process and questions to Jeanne about their relationship are enough to strain the credibility of the storyline, even with the punishments she endures as a result. As a reader of other BDSM-focused writing (I appreciate the reference to Califa’s Macho Sluts, as it was one of my first), I cannot conceive of many dominants allowing this to go on for the amount of time it does in this book. The sex scenes varied between borderline erotic to superficial in description and tone, and that forced me out of the book as well. On top of this, the ending seemed to come out of nowhere, shifting the focus from Laura and her entrance into this world to Jeanne and her administrative struggles.

While I struggled with aspects of the story, Gowan does shine light on one woman’s personal journey into BDSM. Those who can ignore the flaws may find this a good read, but readers looking for immersion into the journey will find it lacking.

Kristi reviewed “Better With Age” by Beth Wylde

Olivia just went to pick up a birthday cake for her daughter Felicity, not to revisit the past. Yet when she discovers the shop owner is none other than her first — and last — love, Aleesha, everything comes back. As a kiss has Olivia thinking about her own mother’s actions which resulted in their parting, she faces a situation at home that, while Felicity may find hard to believe, Olivia knows all about. Will Olivia do the right thing by both the people she loves?

Beth Wylde presents a short story (only 42 pages) that packs a sweet and sexy reunion of two women separated by circumstance and a mother/daughter story that comes full circle. Twenty years ago Olivia and Aleesha were young lovers torn apart by Olivia’s mom. As both continued on with their lives, including careers and children, a chance encounter brings the passion back.  The secondary storyline of Olivia’s daughter, Felicity, and their meeting at home echoes what happened between Olivia and her mother, [spoilers] but with better results. A fast and cheerful conclusion to all, but who doesn’t want a happy ending? [end spoilers]

Kristi reviews Firestorm by Radclyffe

Mallory James is a cool-headed firefighter paramedic (aptly nicknamed Ice) who leads a band of smokejumpers six months out of the year in Montana. Training rookies in thirty days takes all her time and attention, but when Jac Russo shows up unexpectedly to fill a slot, Mallory finds herself fighting an attraction she hasn’t felt in a long time, which makes Jac trouble with a capital T. Jac has the skills to be on the team and is running from both the tabloids and her conservative father, who is on the campaign trail and courting followers. Mallory does her best to put Jac in her place, but Jac isn’t afraid to pursue the woman, or the work, she wants. The relationship heats up as a subtle cat and mouse game between the two women culminates in passion that cannot be denied. However, when Jac is called back to family duty, will Mallory let her go or fight for the one who finally melted Ice?

I liked this story. I do think it took a long time for the characters to come together, even with the obvious attraction between the two. Not that it wasn’t completely unbelieveable: workplace relationships, especially between supervisor and rookie, can be frowned upon. The emotional angst of the two were palpable: Jac has her conservative father and his Presidental run, Mallory has her loss of two smoke jumpers the summer before to increase her concerns about leading the group. The self-doubt would be enough for anyone to question their feelings about everything else in their lives. The whole twist of how Jac ended up in Montana was a bit convoluted, even for those involved in politics, but made the dramatic tension palpable through the end. Radclyffe has a way with words. Her scenes are vivid, both in their visual set up of scenes and the sensual and emotional tension between Jac and Mallory. Having the taunting instigator named Hooker made me chuckle through most of the book, but the secondary characters are solid, especially Sarah.

Radclyffe bring another hot lesbian romance for her readers in Firestorm.

Note: This electronic galley was provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Kristi reviews Jukebox by Gina Noelle Daggett

Harper Alessi is the little rich girl being raised by her grandparents in Arizona; Grace Dunlop is the precocious English-born debutante. Fast friends from age eleven, Grace and Harper grow even closer as they get older. What’s love got to do with it? Everything.

This is Harper’s story–her story of meeting Grace for the first time in 1984 during tennis camp and of going to private school in Arizona, raised more by her grandparents than her world-traveling parents. Her world revolves around Grace, and most of the time she doesn’t even realize it. Harper knows she loves Grace, and as they pursue college and summer trips together, they finally admit their love for each other. Yet it is a love in denial: of course they love each other, of course they are intimate, but that doesn’t mean they are lesbians!

Or does it? As Harper slowly comes into her own identity, she finally admits the truth of her love. Can she and Grace take that final step to truly be together, or will their own privileged circumstances keep them apart?

Sometimes when a story features rich kid characters, it is hard to get in the mood. The privilege of Grace and Harper’s early years really sets the tone of most of the story. The money, the private school, the lack of financial issues in college, the summer trips abroad. It both scrapes at my nerves with the sense of entitlement that all the characters seem to have from the beginning and makes the story that much more believable when conflicts arise with Grace’s mother and boyfriend, and surrounding Grace’s trust fund.

While the start of Jukebox deals with the back story from their childhood to the fateful evening that Harper declares her love and identity to Grace, the second half of it is set twelve years later, in 2005, as both Harper and Grace deal with the choices and feelings of the past. For me, this was the hardest part of the book to connect with. While some of the underlying feelings are completely believable (who hasn’t pined for a lost love?), the way that Daggett set up and broke various plot lines and characters in the story were rather hard to read without rolling my eyes. I also struggled to feel any empathy for Grace. She reminded me of those brash, assuming men in the Harlequin romances that turn the woman inside out and then say, “Hey, guess what, even though I shredded your heart and disappeared for twelve years, I do love you!” Um, no thank you.

On the plus side, I did connect to Harper’s struggle with her love for Grace and denial of her sexual identity. I also enjoyed Daggett’s scene-setting throughout the years. As a girl of the 80s who loves a working jukebox, that was a big draw for me. It was the songs in the jukebox that let Harper first express herself, from “Lost In Your Eyes” to “I Hate Everything About You.” Chapters are not numbered, instead they are titled with expressive songs through the years. Any woman who has made a mix tape for her love will enjoy the weaving of music through the book.

Gina Noelle Daggett was a 2011 Golden Circle Literary Award finalist as a debut author for Jukebox.

Kristi reviews Turn for Home by Lara Zielinsky

Turn For Home is the sequel to Turning Point (which was reviewed last month). The book begins after the holiday break for Time Trails, the sci-fi series that both Cassidy and Brenna star on. Trying to find time to continue building their relationship is full of pitfalls: not only do Brenna’s sons give her the cold-shoulder, but as well-known actresses, trying to hide from the reporters and photographers on their tails is all but impossible.  When Cassidy’s abusive ex-husband, Mitch arrives on the scene, the doors are thrown wide-open, leaving the women to face the challenge of surviving under the microscope of Hollywood.

Compared to its prequel, Turning PointTurn for Home moves at a much faster clip. This is an action-and-reaction based storyline, as opposed to the relationship discovery of the first book. When their relationship becomes public, Brenna and Cassidy must both face shocked and angry people in their lives. When Brenna is forced to give a statement to the press by the show’s producers, she experiences first-hand the animosity that some have toward gays and lesbians. For Cassidy it hits even closer to home as she once again must deal with her conservative, self-righteous father and passive mother. Zielinsky demonstrates that with the bad comes the good, as support comes at the hands of not only cast and crew on the show, but in smaller figures as a patient rights advocate. Brenna’s relationship with her sons and their activities is another focus of this book. While it becomes a nice plot device to bring Cassidy back into the boys’ good graces by having her act as the go-between for Brenna and her younger son, James, I found the sequence of events seemed more to tie the characters together neatly towards the end than any other reason. The active storylines overshadow most of the romance and emotion that was evident in Turning Point, but I believe still presents a relationship that is building itself in the face of adversity and self-recognition for both Cassidy and Brenna.

Turn for Home is an fast but engaging read. While not as romantic as its predecessor, it is one that will pack a punch for those who pick it up. It is a book of a new relationship that has to survive many obstacles, and many will recognize the love – or the pain – to connect to from their own experiences.

Kristi reviews Turning Point by Lara Zielinsky

Hollywood has its stars: as one begins to fall, another is there to shine. Cassidy Hyland has gotten the cold shoulder from her co-star on the hit sci-fi show Time Trails, Brenna Lanigan, for long enough. Hoping that her son’s birthday party will find a way to spark a connection between them, Cassidy has no idea that she will find herself longing for much more than a friendship with Brenna. From the warmth of an surprise hug to the heat on a sunlit mountain top, learning about each other brings Brenna and Cassidy closer to a truth – and a love – they never expected to find.

In Turning Point, Lara Zielinsky highlights two women who find themselves on opposite sides of the acting divide: Brenna is approaching the “over-the-hill” status that actresses over 40 find themselves facing; Cassidy is the younger, gorgeous woman brought in to bring a fresh face and look to the series. After a period of time of aloofness, Cassidy uses her son’s birthday party to show Brenna that she is a good person, sparking more than a truce in their dealings with each other.

The friendship that grows between the two women is born of work and motherhood, but the attraction is there from the beginning, more so for Cassidy. As she tries to figure out what draws her to Brenna, she works on disentangling herself from both her issues with her abusive ex-husband and her relationship with show writer Cameron, which puts her in more and more uncomfortable positions on set. Brenna’s second marriage to upcoming politician Kevin Shea was a fast decision and one that does not provide Brenna the stability she expected it to bring. The emotional connection between the two is tenuous at best, living and working long-distance. Brenna’s sons still refer to him as “Mr. Shea” even after a year.

At first I was concerned about how slow the story seemed to be progressing. Hollywood is full of “in bed in fifteen minutes” storylines, as are lesbian romances. After finishing the book, I realized that I knew so much about these two women and how they deal with their changing feelings. While the story take a long time to build, readers get to see not only the development of Brenna and Cassidy’s relationship, but glimpses into their lives as actresses and mothers. The plot uses some devices that seem a little far-fetched: both women travel to the same store in all of Los Angeles to shop for their fateful camping trip, Cameron catches the two in a kiss and immediately wonders if “Cassidy will let him watch”. Even with those trite moments, the growing love between the two, and the self-reflection that it causes them both, is sure to touch a memory in many readers’ minds. It certainly did mine.

Turning Point is a slow but steady heart-felt story of two women discovering their feelings for each other. Decorated in the glitter of stardom, it is the people behind the television characters that have to strip away the artifice to find the love they really want.