Mfred reviews This is Devin Jones by Kristen Conrad

this is devin jones

Oh, hey. Were you looking for a book about a lesbian badass MacGuyver-ing herself out of tight situations while taking out the bad guys and saving the world? Then you should read This is Devin Jones by Kristen Conrad.

Former model and actress turned Beverly Hills Police Detective Devin Jones is on the blind date from hell. Hoping to escape the emotional aftermath of a newly ended relationship, she agrees to a date to the Hollywood Screen Awards. While the date goes badly, it’s a good thing Jones is at the show. A madman interrupts the broadcast, taking a group of famous actors hostage. He starts killing them off one by one in front of the cameras while demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom money from the horrified public. The only person left who can take him on? Devin Jones.

So, it turns out Devin Jones is the greatest cop that the LAPD has ever seen.

When the door opened — everything happened in a flash. As one guy came in, Devin grabbed his arm, bent it backwards, dislocating his shoulder and as he went down palmed his gun, flipped it into her hand and used it to shoot the other guy in the heart as he aimed his gun at her, his finger milliseconds from pulling the trigger. (Loc 1545)

Not only can she take on a whole league of bad guys all on her own, she can turn a disposable camera into a taser, even hot wire a car, all while wearing a Prada dress and Dolce & Gabbana heels. Also, if you haven’t figured it out yet, she is incredibly attractive. I’m not entirely sure what kind of cop school Devin went to, but she learned some incredible fighting and sleuthing skills.

The best part of this book is how enjoyable it is, especially given how far-fetched the plot gets. Conrad writes cinematically, the action leaping off the page. The situation is urgent, the death count growing, and Devin is without weapons or backup. But she is smart and savvy and uses everything around her to her advantage. The book is a lot of fun and it is particularly enjoyable to watch a woman competently and confidently kick ass and take names. There is even time amidst all the chaos for a little romance!

The characters don’t have a lot of depth, it’s true.  And while the story is thrilling, it is never very suspenseful. The mystery unravels pretty quickly. But this isn’t meant to be a particularly complex or deep story; it’s entertaining, exciting and delightfully over the top.

Mfred reviews Slow Burn in Tuscany by Giselle Fox

slow burn in tuscany giselle fox

What a sweet and emotional book! Slow Burn in Tuscany by Giselle Fox is light on plot but heavy on love and romance.

Recently divorced, Brianna decides to take a tour of Italy with her best friend. Amazingly, her high school nemesis, Madison Blake, shows up on the same tour. Brianna discovers some shocking truths about the past and it turns out Madison isn’t quite the bad person she remembers. Instead, a growing attraction blossoms between them and they find themselves falling in love. As Brianna gets to know Madison better, she is forced to make a difficult decision about how she wants to spend the rest of her life.

Fox is a good writer with a strong command of language. She writes lyrically about both the growing love between Madison and Brianna and the beautiful Italian scenery. As someone who has traveled to Italy, I felt very immersed in the setting Fox created.   

We reached for the door handle at the same time and our hands brushed in mid-air. They settled against the handle together, hers on top of mine. I held my breath as I heard the softest moan escape her lips. She picked up my hands and held it a moment. Then, pressed it to her chest. I could feel her heart pounding, fast and hard against my palm.

“That’s just from looking at you,” she whispered. (Loc 1338)

Brianna and Madison are both fleshed out characters with their own motivations, wants, and desires. As the love grows between the two women, their seemingly implausible relationship (high school enemies reunited after 18 years!) grows naturally under Fox’s steady hand. Although the transition from enemy to friend to lover happens rather quickly, it never felt rushed or false.

The only criticism I have is that there isn’t much of a plot. The story is focused intensely on the emotional journey of each woman, both apart and together. The romance is sweet and the sex is plentiful and hot, like a good romance novel should be. But not much actually happens. They travel, they eat, they fall in love, they eat some more (it is Italy after all), they break up and come back together. If you are in the mood for an emotional exploration of a relationship between two women set in beautiful Italy, then this is the book for you.

Mfred Reviews Out of Time by Paula Martinac

Out of Time is one of those books that had everything going for it, except conflict.  Interesting premise, solid characterization, good writing– but lacking that fundamental tension that gives the reader a reason to keep reading.

Ducking into an antique shop to get out of the rain, Susan Van Dine finds and then steals an old scrapbook, mesmerized by the photos of a lesbian couple and their gang of friends in the 1920s.  She takes it home and immediately begins to be haunted by the women, specifically the author Lucy Weir and her lover, Harriet.

The first half of the book is interesting and engaging.  Susan’s life is unraveled by the presence of Harriet and Lucy, even as she starts investigating their lives and stories.  Taking a leave of absence from her doctorate program, Susan spends more and more time obsessively reading the scrapbook until she literally becomes part of the photos, speaking to and interacting with Harriet and Lucy.  Martinac does not write this haunting as something frightening or threatening.  These ghosts’ interaction in the real world is instead presented with a style similar to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende.  Whether Susan is slowly going crazy or if some terrible event happened to Lucy and Harriet that compels them to seek Susan’s help are open questions that drive the story forward.

Unfortunately, in the second half, Martinac keeps rescuing Susan via plot devices that rob the story of interest.   If the first half is an exploration of history and it’s presence in the modern world, the second is a series of lucky and fortuitous events that undermine the conflict and wrap up things that were maybe never meant to be tidy.

Martinac can be commended for not only telling a story of one modern (well, early 1990s) lesbian story, but also shedding light on the lives of lesbians during the first half of the 20th century.  However, I wish the story of Susan, Harriet, and Lucy had a little bit less consciousness about it’s place in the historical record and more interest in the storytelling part.

Mfred Reviews A Field Guide to Deception by Jill Malone

I feel a little like I got tricked into reading Malone’s A Field Guide to Deception.   I downloaded a ton of books to my eReader, started one, started another, and then finally got sucked in by Malone’s beautiful prose.  It really is such a pleasure to read a well-written book; it can even get a genre-fiction devotee like myself to sit down a read a novel about normal people living everyday lives.

The novel is about people, as they make good and bad decisions, and how those affect their lives.  Claire, a young single mother of a stunningly intelligent child, Simon, hires a contractor, Liv to work on some projects around her house.  Claire is still reeling from the loss of her aunt, with whom she lived and worked.  Liv, a tough, secretive, taciturn woman with multiple chips on her shoulder, is quickly undone by Simon’s warmth and openness, and the two women sort of fight their way into a relationship.  Liv’s friend Bailey, harboring the kind of unrequited love for Liv that borders on nasty, becomes the third part of the story, and then halfway through we (and Bailey) meets Drake, turning the romantic triangle into a square, if you will.

Over the course of the story, Liv and Claire get together, fight, come apart, and rebond.  Bailey and Liv’s fractious friendship follows the same path.  Even Bailey and Claire become close, hurt each other, pull apart only to make it work again.  Compared to all the verbal and physical abuse the three put each other through, Drake remains rather flat, actually.  At one point in the story, Claire makes Bailey a financial offer that she pretty much can’t refuse, and in the shock of Claire’s terrible  largess, Bailey accuses her of being a monster.  And it was like the entire book crystalized to one discernable point, and I completely agreed!  Claire’s generosity, following every detail of the plot to that point was monstrous, and yet also incredibly understandable.   This is a novel in which no character, except maybe Simon since he is a child, is easily likable all the time.  They all make selfish, bad decisions, but the beauty of the novel is that they are always very human choices.  Malone masterfully presents people as they are– sometimes great, sometimes heart-rendingly awful.

Unfortunately, the last fourth of the book takes a bad turn, plot and character-wise.  There is ominous foreshadowing, everyone is suddenly very obtuse and lacking in sensitivity, and a very minor, unimportant character comes in out of nowhere to become central to the story.  Followed by a weird epilogue that kind of goes nowhere.  It didn’t ruin the book, for me, but it came close.

Mfred Reviews Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

Well, I finally read Rubyfruit Jungle.  I’m not entirely sure what to think of it.

Is it well written, tightly plotted, compelling, and interesting?  Not really.  One meandering story runs into the next, sometimes without pause.  It is very picaresque in that sense; so perhaps Brown purposefully sacrificed plot in order to maintain that genre’s style.  I can’t say that it really works.  As a loose collection of adventurous anecdotes, I would have prefered the book to be better framed into chapters and sections, rather than literally going paragraph to paragraph, one story to the next.

On the other hand, is the book funny and entertaining, with a refreshingly frank protagonist and consistent narrative voice?  Absolutely. As both a child and an adult, Molly Bolt is always herself.  She knows what she wants and she knows how to outsmart everyone around her to get it.  Brown’s book is fairly revolutionary simply because Molly never really struggles with being queer– whatever unhappiness comes her way has more to do with society (personified as her parents, co-workers, classmates, etc.) and its inability to accept her as a normal.

In the last part of the book, Brown indulges in some fairly stilted dialogue between Molly and various characters, especially on the topics of heterosexual privilege, homophobia, and feminism.   It’s not only obvious and heavy-handed, it slows down an already poorly plotted book.  Most disappointing, though, is the dated, myopic judgement Molly expresses for other queer people.  The condemnation she has for butch/femme dynamics, while totally suited to a book written in early 1970s, is painful and disappointing.

Mfred Reviews Fire Logic by Laurie J Marks.

A friend recommended Fire Logic to me, partly because I am a long-time fantasy novel enthusiast, but also with the specific note that it is one of those “invisibly queer” books. By invisible, I do not mean closeted, repressed, or filled with subtext– instead, Fire Logic presents a world where queer characters are never explained; their lifestyles are never narrated as being capital-Q Queer, they just are. Characters never question their sexuality, defend it, or even really discuss it. Rigid gender roles do not exist either; a sword-fighter is as likely to be a woman as a man, and the same for farmers, metalsmiths, etc., and all with very little discussion or explanation. It is a refreshing and delightful thing, to encounter a world where subculture is ordinary, and magic is everyday.

Fire Logic is set in a country at war– the land of Shaftal, left bereft after the leader died without passing his magic onto an heir, was invaded by the ruthless Sainnites. For fifteen years, a guerilla army has been resisting the occupation, with decreasing success. The story is divided between three main characters, Zanja, the sole survivor of her tribe (although, thankfully, this is not a rape-revenge fantasy novel), Emil, a scholar forced back into soldiering by the occupation, and Karis, a metalsmith with a terrible drug addiction and even more powerful secrets. Warfare, politics, romance– Marks rather deftly weaves all together into a well-written story that is both thoughtful and interesting.

I will admit that the prose is, at time, strangely distant. I occasionally struggled to be emotionally engaged. The first third of the book is very slow, and so I had a hard time paying attention to the intricate details and politics. It does pick up, however, and I did become more engrossed– even if I was a little bit removed. Overall, I really liked it, and I look forward to continuing the series.

(Fire Logic was also reviewed previously by Danika)

Mfred Reviews Fearful Symmetry by Tash Fairbanks

This review is the result of one of those serendipitous fishing expeditions on  I found Tash Fairbanks’ Fearful Symmetry completely by chance.  It is an enjoyable, engrossing read.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any other fiction novels from this author.

A coastal town in England is in the grips of hysteria– a teenager claims to find a fetus with the head of a goat and body of a human in the woods near the genetic lab.  A reporter looking to get back at her scientist mother writes incendiary, shocking articles making barely factual claims against her mother’s genetics lab and the local women’s clinic.  A day or two later, a local disabled girl is found murdered on the lab’s grounds.   The town church immediately begins rallying against the obvious satanic influence of liberals and feminists, things are made worse when scientists at the lab claim they are actually trying to find and cure the gene for homosexuality.  Sam Carter, private investigator (and recent returnee to sobriety after a bad breakup), is asked by the murdered girl’s mother to investigate.

It’s a lengthy read, divided into short chapters that tend to focus on just one or two characters at a time.  Sam Carter is the central element to the novel, but does not necessarily get the most page time.  Fairbanks surrounds her with characters just as well-developed and fleshed out, that each own part of the mystery and are important to its denouement.

For being over 20 years old, the story is fairly fresh and vivid.  The power of shock journalism, the infighting between different social progressive groups (factions within factions of lesbians, feminists, disability rights groups, etc.), the religious hysteria and manipulation; all of it was very familiar to me as a modern reader.  Refreshingly, when characters discuss these social issues, it didn’t read as dry or boring exposition, it felt organic to the conversation and plot.

Overall, I thought this was a great mystery novel, and was disappointed to learn that I won’t be able to read the further adventures of Sam Carter.

Mfred reviews Nicola Griffith’s Stay and Always (Aud Torvingen #2 and #3)

I really loved the first Aud Torvingen book. And was pretty disappointed in the sequels.   This review contains a lot of plot spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

Stay (book #2)  started off strong, and because I was so committed to the first book, I was as lost in Aud’s grief as she herself was.  But then Griffith has Tammy show up and I find myself caring about the book less and less.   I don’t really like Tammy and I don’t think the reader is supposed to — she isn’t a likeable character.  I followed faithfully while Aud rescues her and am even thrilled during the explosive action scenes. Griffith can write some page-turning stuff!  As the romance goes along, I find myself checking out.  It’s just not there.  And without the romantic drive that the first book had, the mystery plot thins out, the noir becomes slightly ridiculous.  By the time we get to poor, abused Luz, it’s too far-fetched for me– and that it really saying something for a noir crime thriller starring a semi-psychopathic/superhero Norwegian ex-cop.

In Always, the 3rd and final book, each chapter skips between the recent past in Atlanta and the present Aud in Seattle.  Griffith’s hints about ominous doings in the ATL are heavy handed. With each Atlanta chapter I feel more and more like I am attending a lecture on violence against women.  It’s expository, boring, and also terribly obvious.  Somebody in the self-defense class did something terrible with Aud’s teachings, and Aud is carrying the guilt for it.  By the third or fourth chapter, I’m certain who it is and what she did, and I can’t sustain an interest in the plot any further.

Aside from seeing her mother, I never quite buy what the hell Aud is doing in Seattle.  If you are a trained martial artist, and know so much about violence against women, then maybe you too should have seen the incredibly obvious plot points I saw in Atlanta?  And then Aud is conveniently poisoned, and it’s off on the mystery train.  Kick, Aud’s new love interest, is a shadow of a character and the physical attraction Aud feels isn’t enough to sell me on the relationship.

About half way through, I skim the end, confirm the who did what in Atlanta, and put the book down for good.


Mfred reviews Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity edited by Rose and Camilleri

I felt somewhat disconnected from the essays in Brazen Femme.  Many, especially in the beginning, were written in that stream-of-consciousness, grammarless, spoken-poetry-confession style which does nothing but irritate me.  I also do not respond to “I am Woman!  I am Femme!” type essays that revel in celebrating something without taking it apart a bit first.  I couldn’t quite grasp the flow of the book, wished for more structure, and also perhaps more historical or social analysis to help give context to many of the essays.  However, this may be more reflective of the fact that I am a fairly literal-minded, detail-oriented, practical person.  Others of a different bent may really appreciate this collection of essays.

While most of the book is written in a similar style, there is some diversity in voice.  There are essays by fat-positive feminists, sex workers, drag queens, and essays on the black femme experience.   Interestingly, I really disliked Sky Gilbert’s Drag Queens and Feminine Women: The Same but Kinda Different.  All of his assertions about the shared femininity between drag and femme felt assumptive, or even invasive, of female sexuality and social history.


However, when Daniel Collins recounted a weekend spent in fishnets and tulle dresses at a radical faerie camp, I was delighted by the way he described male queer femininity.  With Gilbert, I felt spoken at about things I experience everyday, whereas Collins was inviting me to share in his life story.  Similarly, Michele Tea’s essay about going to the roller rink as a teenage girl gave insight without demanding that I shared that same social marker of girlhood (I hated the roller rink with a passion, actually).

I really did not start engaging with the text until about halfway through, with Kathryn Payne’s essay on the intersection of prostitution and femininity.  Payne takes on a fairly scholarly tone while also exploring her own biographical story as a former sex-worker and now professor.  Another highlight was the conversational piece between Abi Slone and Allyson Mitchell, Big Fat Femmes: Squeezing a lot of Identity into One Pair of Control top Nylons.  At one point, they wonder what a historical analysis of femme culture and identify would look like: would there be fashion trends for femme women through time, like the ubiquitous sleeveless flannels of the 80s butch?  The moment I read these words, I desperately wanted to read that book.

Mfred Reviews The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith

Within the mystery genre, I’d place Nicola Griffith’s The Blue Place closer to James Ellory than to more typical whodunnits and detective stories.  Similar to Ellroy’s noir thrillers, Griffith’s book is populated with unreliable narrators, deep psychological complexities, and intense, frightening violence.

Griffith uses  descriptive language much more lush and lyrical than anything Ellroy writes, thatI found evocative and compelling.   I also loved the way Griffith plays with her story– violence is portrayed as both shockingly out of place and terribly mundane/realistic. Aud, the protagonist, is so horribly emotionally vulnerable but physically, totally impenetrable or unbeatable.

The only downside to the book is how quickly and completely Aud falls in love with Julia. Its simply too quick and too out-of-character for someone who is portrayed as being just this side of a psychotic criminal.  The “I just met you but I’m completely in love” thing is an obvious plot device and boring to read.  I felt a little cheated to spend two-thirds of the novel sympathizes with a damaged and difficult character only to find myself headed towards an obvious Doomed Lovers are Doomed ending.

However, even if I finished the book slightly disappointed, the character of Aud has stayed with me since reading it. I crave knowing more about her, am semi-desperate to continue reading the series, and found myself unable to read anything else for thinking about Aud. Butch, mysterious, violent, Norwegian– I kind of love her.