Maggie reviews Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

I was very excited to get ahold of this ebook, because I’ve been listening to a lot of YA audiobooks lately while doing other things, and so I’ve gotten on a fantasy YA kick. It’s great to read some exciting new releases and promote new books during a time when we all desperately need good distractions. Cinderella is Dead is not a re-telling of Cinderella, which is a trope that I do love but that I’m getting a tad bit weary of. Rather, it’s something I found even more exciting: imagining the consequences of a fairy tale after the tale, not just for the characters themselves, but generations down the line. Cinderella is Dead is perfect for those who want something more from the original Cinderella story.

The legend of Cinderella isn’t just a tale to the citizens of Lille. Rather, Cinderella was a real woman, and her legacy has grown and has been codified into the very law of the land. Every girl in the city must not only know the story by heart, but they are all commanded to dress up and attend a ball at the palace, just like Cinderella did. But rather than a romantic tradition, the events have been corrupted and used to control the citizenry by the corrupt monarchy. People pray to the spirit of Cinderella, not to wish for happiness, but to hope their daughters won’t be disappeared by the palace guard. Girls hope to find a suitor at the ball–but only because if they don’t they risk disappearing or being forced into menial labor. And they don’t get a choice about what man chooses them, or how he treats them after they get married. It’s truly a grim but intriguing imagining of how a beloved fairy tale could play out and be corrupted. CONTENT WARNINGS: this story deals with domestic violence, abuse, homophobia, human trafficking, and mentions of rape. The culture of Lille is dark, and its citizens who are not straight men go through a lot, which may seem like a lot in a book aimed at young adults, but what I find important is that our protagonists stand up to it, and meet and encourage other people to not accept these things as normal.

Enter Sophia, who harbors a forbidden love for her friend Erin, and a deep terror at being forced into a marriage where she will have no rights or say in her own life. Sophia refuses to accept the reality of Lille and wants to try to run away with Erin before the night of their own Ball when they’ll be trapped, but Erin can’t imagine taking such a risk and wants to do what is necessary to remain safe. The night of the Ball, Sophia is forced to flee by herself, and then she meets Constance, the last descendant of Cinderella’s Stepsisters. Confronted with new information about the true story of the Cinderella legend, and growing new feelings for a girl who is willing to fight by her side, Sophia has to decide how far she’s willing to go to create a better life for everyone in Lille.

It was really interesting to see not just the long-term effects of a fairy tale, but characters interacting with true events vs fictionalized versions. Over and over Sophia has to confront how the history she took as true but corrupted was actually propaganda from the start. And this book really took all the instantly recognizable elements of Cinderella–a blonde and beautiful Cinderella, glass slippers, the fairy godmother–and flipped them around while remaining firmly rooted in the original fairy tale.  The cover proclaims that Cinderella is Dead while Sophia stares out at us, Black, curly-haired, wearing the iconic blue Cinderella gown, but unabashedly, from page one, not interested in marrying a prince, and the story promptly drags us away from magicked pumpkins and mice and into witches, necromancy, and anti-royalist rebellion. In Lille, Cinderella was real, and her history was complicated, but her legacy is now Black, queer, and invested in taking down a tainted, misogynist monarchy.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun read, and the world-building and action picked up quickly. I really liked the slow peel-back of the Cinderella story, combined with how straightforward and brave Sophia and Constance were. [spoiler, highlight to read] I also really loved that Sophia had a first love, but then slowly realized she was more compatible with Constance. [end spoilers] The twists and turns managed to surprise me and keep me involved. It’s just a really good read, and we need more like it on the shelves, especially for young readers today.

Danika reviews Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

This book was a real rollercoaster of a read: I was intrigued by the beginning, felt the middle dragged, and then I was completely on board again by the end. It’s about Caroline, whose best friend, Madison, has just gone missing. Caroline hasn’t been having a great time even before this. Her mother sent her to a conversion camp (where Caroline then set the place on fire and escaped). Her father doesn’t believe in anxiety or depression, and would try to swap out her medication for a juice cleanse if her knew about it. The only light in her life was Willa, her girlfriend, who she’d see by driving across the border into West Virginia and hanging out at a seedy bar with a fake ID. But Willa broke up with her and moved away. And now her best friend has disappeared. Caroline has reasons to not trust the police, so she’s determined to find Madison herself.

This is, unsurprisingly, a dark book. It begins with the lines “Everything started with the body at the edge of the lake. I know that now.” On top of Caroline’s abusive family, there’s another unnamed narrator who has gone through her own horrors: she’s living in poverty, and has seen two of her mother’s boyfriends overdose. (Unlike Caroline, who goes to a prestigious private school.)

I recommended this book on All the Books, where I have recently become a cohost. I read a few reviews in preparation, and I found out that a lot of readers didn’t like the main character. They felt she was mean, and “unlikable.” Personally, when I hear someone say a book has an “unlikable” female main character, I head straight for it. Usually, it just means they’re flawed. In Caroline’s case, I think it’s because she’s angry, and rightfully so. Do I agree with all her decisions? No, but I understand them, and I can even respect them. She is a survivor. She hasn’t had a safe environment to grow up in. So she’s always got an exit plan, and she’s not afraid of using it, even if it’s “mean.” The one who tempers this is Willa. She was clearly Caroline’s anchor: she describes her as “Willa was quiet strength, endless optimism, the girl everyone told their secrets to because they knew they’d be safe with her.” She is unmoored without her, and prior to Madison’s disappearance, her entire focus was getting through the days until graduation and then her 18th birthday, when she could finally escape for good.

There are a few other characters here: two friends who help Caroline in her search for Madison. Both are possible love interests, putting this in the bisexual character with a male and female love interest category–sort of. Because Caroline has very little space to consider either of them as romantic interests, and is still very much in love with Willa. Also: what is with the bi love triangles where the guy is just a total asshole (and the girl is very sweet and on every possible level a better choice)? I couldn’t stand Jake, who says that some people are “puddles” (and Caroline, of course, is the ocean), and is judgmental of anyone who isn’t rich, and who asks Caroline, “Why do you like girls?”

As I said, I had an up and down experience reading this. I found it difficult to get into the writing style: things seemed to keep happening abruptly, and I felt like I had missed a paragraph or a page. It’s also weird that men being framed for rape/statutory rape is an ongoing motif. Considering how much this book has to do with misogyny and which women are considered victims (and worth seeking justice for), I found that a very strange choice. I should also note that because it’s a very dark book, there are trigger warnings for murder and violence, and there’s also smoking and drug use by the teen characters. For me, the ending made me glad I stuck with it, though I can also understand why it lost some people. If you’re interested in reading about an angry, flawed character who finds herself discovering a system that considers poor and racialized victims “throwaway girls,” check this one out. If you’ve already read it, or don’t care about spoilers, here’s what I think about the ending.

It was interesting, at this point in time, to read a thriller that is so skeptical of the justice system and the police. (Caroline was “rescued” by the police while running from conversion camp, who then delivered her back to her abusive mother.) [Spoilers, highlight to read] Because of that, the murderer made perfect sense. And although it’s an exaggeration, the idea of men with power weaponizing it against women, especially poor and racialized women, is not. Caroline, already angry at the world, is consumed with rage to learn that Willa has died–and that she was trying to reach out to her. She had the opportunity to save her, and didn’t realize it, didn’t put it together. It’s sickening, but it’s an interesting story choice. She is overly harsh with Madison, of course, but Madison’s choices did lead to her girlfriend’s brutal murder, so I think that’s understandable. The moment that really turned the book around for me, though, is that she shot him herself. Many stories take that moment, where the hero has a gun pointing at the villain, and have them walk away. That’s a valid choice in some stories, but not in this one. Caroline doesn’t trust the justice system. She is facing the man who killed the love of her life, and many other women. There is no reason she wouldn’t pull the trigger. But I was impressed with this YA novel following through on it. And honestly, I cheered for her attending his funeral just to spit on his grave. She may not be “nice,” but her choices made sense, and I didn’t blame her for them. I think they made for a better story, and I wish we had more stories about women’s anger. [end spoilers]

Danika reviews Witches of Ash & Ruin by E. Latimer

Witches of Ash and Ruin by E Latimer

Witches are turning up dead in this small Irish town–and they are following a pattern, one that has been winding through different towns for decades. Two rival covens must make an uneasy alliance to find and defend against this witch killer.

Dayna’s coven is the only place she feels at home. Her father is a conservative Christian who would never tolerate witchcraft, if he knew about it. He cast her mother was cast out for her mental illness, sending her to a Christian camp that she has only recently returned from, a stranger to Dayna. She also deals with somatic OCD, and has been ostracized by her community after being outed as bisexual. Now, the cozy family she has with her coven is being threatened, and she’ll do anything to defend it.

Meiner has been raised by her abusive grandmother, who also happens to be a terrifyingly powerful witch. Now, the King Witch is losing her memory, and often slips into irrationality or moments of delusion. Also taken in by this grandmother is Cora, who was “rescued” from an abusive aunt. She and Meiner used to be close, and even dated briefly, but now they have been pitted against each other for who is most worthy to inherent the coven. Cora will do anything for power, even if it means losing herself.

While Dayna and Meiner are clearly the main characters in this story, and their hate-to-love relationship is compelling, there are more point of view characters included. Dubh is the witch killer, and we see brief, chilling glimpses into his actions and motivations. Cora sometimes gets her own POV, revealing her desperation thinly veiling her vulnerability. We also get Samuel’s POV, who is Dayna’s ex, the Good Christian Boy, and is secretly obsessed with a serial killer.

I found it difficult to get into Witches of Ash & Ruin because of the constant POV shifts: it felt like there were so many starts and stops. I also found it difficult to keep track of so many names all at once (but that’s a fault of mine as a reader). By halfway through, although I didn’t remember all of the side characters’ names, I could appreciate what each POV brought to the story. I did get caught up on Samuel, though, who seemed more like a plot device to show things that the other characters necessarily couldn’t see. On the other hand, maybe it’s not that he’s unnecessary; maybe it’s just that I didn’t like him!

I think this would be a great October read for a blustery evening. There are murders taking place, and a real sense of foreboding. The characters are basically being hunted, and you’re not sure how or when they will be targeted. I was a little bit disappointed with the magic aspect, though: early in the novel, we’re told that the “witchlings” have all been waiting to ascend as witches, when they will get a direct link to their god and gain incredible power, unlike anything they could access before. But although two ascend fairly early on, there isn’t a lot of flashy magic being used until the very end of the book. Ultimately, although I appreciated a lot of this book, I just didn’t connect to it the way I wanted to. I think partly that was because I probably would have enjoyed this more in the fall, closer to Halloween, but also because I was overwhelmed with the amount of characters (everyone in both their covens, plus family members and friends), so I couldn’t remember who some of the major characters were, even by the end of the book. I don’t think that’s a fault of the book, though. If you enjoy dark stories about witches, and are interested in one set in Ireland, give this one a try!

SPONSORED REVIEW: Loud Pipes Save Lives by Jennifer Giacalone

 Loud Pipes Save Lives by Jennifer Giacalone

The city didn’t care. It lay serene as they all loved and teemed and scrambled and strove.

Loud Pipes Save Lives is a thriller with a noir feel, following a New York cop, a vigilante women’s motorcycle club, and the many people tangled up in the ensuing investigation. From the beginning, I was pulled in with the writing, which reminded me of an old noir mystery: Sparr’s partner is described as a “blond, butch slab of a woman.” This isn’t exactly a mystery, though: Sparr is moved to another district to try to track down the motorcycle club that has been beating down acquitted rapists and abusers. We’re soon given the points of view of these women, though, so the reader is fully informed of what’s really happening. The real mystery–and the reason Sparr has been relocated–is to investigate the seemingly closed case of her father’s death.

There are a lot of pieces to this story, and it demands the reader keep track of a large cast and their relationships and dealings. There are political machinations, family secrets, romances, and, of course, a motorcycle gang (sorry–motorcycle club). I lost track of how many points of view we get in this story–at least seven? By the fifth point of view change in a row with no repeats, my head was spinning. On top of the POV characters, there’s just a large cast in general: I found myself having to search my ebook multiple times to remember who people were, and some characters felt like they could have been cut out with no consequence for the plot. The frequent POV shifts also made me feel less connected to the characters, because I didn’t spend much time with any one of them. Sparr seems like she should be the main character, but I didn’t feel like I really knew her. The POV shifts also lessened the suspense, because we see almost everyone’s perspective.

It’s a shame to spend so little time with them, because this a diverse, interesting cast! The motorcycle club in particular is made up of many women of different races, nationalities, and orientations, and there are multiple major characters with disabilities. They are often complex and flawed–there are no perfect people here. This adds to the noir atmosphere: there are no clear winners, and justice is murky and undefined. It doesn’t have a catharsis of the good guys beating the bad guys and everyone riding off into the sunset. Instead, we have to sit with the grey areas and complexity.

One aspect I wish we could have spent more time on is the romance between Lily Sparr and Miri. They are partners in the force, and they act just like a couple. They want to be together all the time. They go to each other for comfort. They stay at each others houses. They dance together. But they’ve never pursued anything romantic. [minor spoilers:] It turns out that they are likely both asexual–that word isn’t used, but the text is explicit that neither of them is interested in any sexual acts. [end spoilers] This makes for a sweet couple of scenes, but it is a very minor part of the book. I can actually imagine this volume being expanded into a series, so we could get more of this romance and other characters’ development. There is so much that is touched on, but it competes with the many other aspects of the story.

Ultimately, I appreciated the pieces all working together to bring this story to life. The writing was precise and included some memorable lines. There was a huge diversity in the characters, and they all had their own histories and motivations, complete with complicated relationships with others. But because each aspect was so concise, and there was so much packed in, I would have liked a little more room to explore the characters and their relationships to each other. I appreciated the story on an intellectual level, but I didn’t get a chance to fully engage on an emotional level.

I also wanted to mention quite a few trigger warnings: violence and gore (described); mentions of: rape (incest and pedophilia), cutting, miscarriage, manslaughter, incest between siblings, ableist slur, police shooting of unarmed black man, sex work slur, death of sex worker, and depiction of a mentally ill person as violent.

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.

Megan Casey reviews Fighting for Air by Marsha Mildon

Fighting for Air by Marsha Mildon cover

This book is a prime example of why ebook samples should be longer. If Fighting for Air had been available as an ebook when I read it, I would have given up after the ten-percent sample that Amazon offers. At the time, however, there was no ebook—New Victoria came out with one in 2016—21 years after its paperback publication and several years after I read it. So I persevered and was rewarded. Am I rich because of it? No. But I gained something I didn’t have before.

Calliope Meredith is a private detective and former scuba diving enthusiast living in a coastal town in Canada. When she is invited to participate in a dive off Anemone Island, she is at first reluctant because her lover was killed in a diving accident only a year previously. But she is persuaded by her good friend Jay, who is running a diving certification class and wants Cal to help her out. Then the unthinkable happens: one of the students drowns and Jay is arrested for homicide-by-negligence. Unless Cal can prove that the diver, an Ethiopian graduate student named Tekla, has been murdered—and figure out who murdered him—Jay might be sent to jail for life, just as Cal is falling in love with her.

Mildon’s cast of characters is a rich one, with beautiful lesbians a-plenty: Cal, her best friend Danielle, Danielle’s lover Sally, and the likable old Faith, who keeps an eye out for all of them when she can. But many characters makes for many suspects, and one of Cal’s friends may be a murderer.

As mysteries go, this one is better than most, but you may have to do some research into scuba diving for it to ring true. I did, and I learned a lot about how poisonous carbon monoxide can find its way into scuba tanks. In fact, the whole diving motif was extremely well done—accurate and interesting. The author also goes into the theme of activism vis a vis third world countries. It seems that Tekla was a relation of the deposed emperor Heile Selassie, and harbored the grandiose  scheme of returning to his country and taking over power from the military. The history of Ethiopia’s aggression toward the neighboring state of Eritera is also gone into in some detail.

Cal is not a particularly noticeable character. She plods from one suspect to another determined to exonerate her lover even after Jay gives up and resigns herself to prison life. Cal’s status as a P.I. is stated but not gone into with enough detail for us to really believe it. These are a couple of minor but important detractions. A more significant flaw is in Cal’s relationship with Jay. Quite simply, it isn’t written very well. Cal’s previous friendship with Jay is told in asides and occasional flashbacks, not as part of the story line, so it seems very abrupt when Cal touches Jay’s shoulder comfortingly and shudders with sexual feeling. The flashbacks explain after the fact. And because Jay has heretofore been straight, I felt like I was missing out on a lot of foreplay.

Despite the flaws and the non-flaws, give this book an average rating. 2.5. You’ll learn some important things, but you’re not likely to be very engrossed in the story.

Note: I read the first New Victoria printing of this novel.

Another Note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Holly reviews Last Room at the Cliff's Edge by Mark McNease

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In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to make it known that this is the first murder mystery that I have read.  Due to my unfamiliarity with this genre, I admit that I may not be fully skilled in appreciating the nuances.  I think it’s important to note that this book contains descriptions of violence and sexual violence, which may be triggering for some readers.
This story takes place in the eastern United States.  The majority of the action occurs in a small town in which nearly everyone is queer, an accessory to murder, or both.  As the title suggests, the action centres around the Cliff’s Edge Motel, a local eyesore that residents of the town tend to steer clear of, unless they have nefarious actions that need to be carried out in a place of ill repute.  The protagonist is Linda Sikorsky, a retired police detective.  She and her wife, Kirsten McClellan, are driving to a writer’s retreat in Maine so that Kirsten can polish the final draft of her first novel.  When they are waylaid by inclement weather, they find themselves at the Cliff’s Edge Motel.  They decide to stay for the night in hopes of waiting out the storm.  Linda wakes to the sound of a struggle taking place in the next room, and the story goes from there.
This isn’t so much of a murder mystery, or at least not how I imagine a murder mystery should be laid out.  We know immediately who the murderers are and see who is working for whom.  I guess the interesting part of the read is supposed to be watching the retired detective work her magic in discovering useful tidbits of information and piece together the clues.  Major revelations regarding the back story of the characters and the underlying motives of the villain are made towards the end of the book, but by that point we have been presented with so many grisly and disturbing actions that these barely raise an eyebrow.  Sure, they explain the reasons behind the characters’ actions, but they are just drops in a bucket of indecency.
Linda’s partner seems to primarily act as a prop with which the author lays out Linda’s thought process for the reader to see.  Kirsten asks the, “why did you do that?”-type questions, and then we, the reader, learn the motives and methods of the detective through her response.  The relationship between Linda and Kirsten is unusual to me.  There isn’t a lot of affection shown between the characters, and a lot of the time it seems like Linda is merely tolerating her partner’s questions, not really appreciating her presence.  Maybe this is part of the cut and dry, rational, methodical, cold temperament of a former police detective, but to me it seems like there is distance between these two people.  You deserve better, Kirsten.
To me the most interesting character in this story is not the protagonist, but the villain.  McNease succeeded in writing a bad gal that you love to hate.  Meredith is manipulative and evil.  This deranged personality type is fascinating in a morbid, terrible way.  I am so glad to not associate with people like this in real life, and personally, I’m glad that I don’t spend too much time reading about theses types of people, either.
One thing in this book that I thought interrupted the flow was that all of the queer characters instinctively knew that the others were queer, and the author made a point of detailing this.  Everyone’s gaydar is off the charts.  As a person who is guilty of incorrectly assuming that every woman in a cowichan sweater is queer, I am baffled by the laser-like accuracy that these homos have in pinning one another down.
I am not the kind of person who watches crime shows because I have a difficult time watching people be mean to one another.  It seems that this aversion to ingesting suffering for the sake of entertainment also extends to reading descriptions of cruelty and malice.  I’m not saying that this book is poorly written or not well thought out, but I am saying that it’s not my cup of tea.  I like to read books that make me come away feeling happy or hopeful or thoughtful, or that contain beautiful prose, or that give me a different lens through which I can view the world.  Although it didn’t meet this high standard, this book did keep me occupied during a 13 hour drive from Smithers to Vancouver, so for that I’m grateful.

Megan Casey reviews Ten Little Lesbians by Kate McLachlan

ten little lesbians

There is a lot that can be said about this book, not just about whether it is good or bad, but also about the style of its composition, its history, and its characters. This is true of all good books, of course, but not all books are good.

It is no secret that Ten Little Lesbians is based on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, which was originally published under a name that had more negative racial overtones. I don’t want to go into that here, but Google the book if you don’t already know the story. In Christie’s novel, a number of people are invited to an island resort in order to kill them. Each has a guilty secret

In the more modern, Ten Little Lesbians, the guests are all women who are planning a “Women’s Weekend” at a bed and breakfast many miles from the nearest town. And yes, they all have guilty secrets. The two main characters are Beatrice Stone and her niece Tish. Bea has arranged the trip for two reasons—to get Tish away from her ex before she is arrested (again), and to accompany her friend Carmen, who is trying to get over a bad breakup. The other guests—as well as the inn’s owner and her single employee—of course have their own stories. One  character is blind, one is an ex-con, one is a Mormon, and so forth.

But except for a tidbit here and there, that’s about as close to Ten Little Indians as McLachlan gets. This is not bad because Agatha Christie is not a very good writer. Ooh, have I touched a taboo subject? Too bad, because although Christie could write an extraordinary plot line, very few of her characters are realistic or interesting. I exclude Miss Marple from this because I kind of like her, but Hercule Poirot was a windy buffoon; even Christie herself disliked him. And the vast majority of her incidental characters are utterly and immediately forgettable. Her prose is generally plodding and dull.

Ten Little Lesbians is a much more enjoyable book than its near namesake. Not only is the writing more lively, but the characters are all more interesting and individual. One of the reasons for this is McLachlan’s use of point of view. The book is made up of seven longish chapters, but each chapter is further divided into sections. And each section has its own point of view character. Chapter 1, for instance has at least one section from each character’s perspective so that we get not only different voices, but deeper backstories as well.

When one character disappears and another is found dead, the fun begins. In fact, the book reminded me as much of the 1986 mystery/horror movie April Fool’s Day as it did the Agatha Christie novel. And the story really is fun, despite the suspense. Tish is a sexy, engaging character and her aunt is a businesslike no-nonsense authority figure who harbors a tragic secret. “Aunt Bea” is pragmatic and philosophic and generally is the one who moves the book along. But it is the divergent lives and voices of the other characters that keep us anxious to follow her.

My one quibble is that I found myself wishing I knew earlier who was gong to end up as the main character. Tish dominates the first two chapters, then her aunt takes over almost completely for the next two. This is not necessarily a fault; after all, a number of series, such as Penny Mickelbury’s Mimi and Gianna Mysteries, are told from two points of view. I just came away with a suspicion that all is not as balanced as it might be. Give this one a 5 on the enjoyability scale and certainly no lower than a 4 in your final rating.

For other reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Marthese reviews Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Frog_Music_book_2871031c
Emma Donoghue is a phenomenal writer take is able to make you related to her narrative. So when I heard about a new book, I knew that I will someday buy it and read it especially one with such a nice cover!

Frog Music is a historical fiction with some basis in reality as it deals with an unresolved crime. It is based in 1876 in San Francisco and it follows Blanche, a French dancer. Blanche lives with her lover, Arthur and his friend Ernest. She is also friends with one Jenny Bonnet, who ends up murdered in the beginning of the book.

The book follows Blanche in her misadventures as she tries to do what’s best while at the same time searching for answers. Who killed Jenny? Who was Jenny?

Jenny is an interesting character and we get to see her through the story that swings between the past and the present. She’s a butchy character with seemingly no care in the world, but as later Blanche discovers, Jenny had a lot of mysteries surrounding her. Comparatively, Blanche is an open book. She’s a survivor and we see her character grow and mature in the book. Blanche is a character that may infuriate the reader, but one cannot help but pity her in turn.

I think this book should come with a lot of warnings. There is explicit heterosexual activities, some consent issues, victim blaming and slut shaming to begin with. Moreover, there was some gore (there was a murder after all), racism and neglect. A lot of the characters will make you angry as well but I thought that their actions were representative of their times and their believes and were realistic. I went through the last chapter really quick, I must have missed reading mystery and detective novels!

There is queer content in the book, but it comes up later on in the book. Frog Music in general has a lot of interesting thoughts on power dynamics, gender, race, consent and sexual activity, it is also a well done historical fiction book that shows its research and turns it into a vivid account of what it was like living in San Francisco in 1876.

Although I felt uneasy reading some scenes, even in the very beginning where there was gore and seemed like a horror scene (I don’t do horror) I thought that overall the themes were done well. It is an adult book, with adult themes that made me think about how it was to live life in those conditions; from clothes to housing to jobs and vehicles. The story was hooking and things were tied well. Like a good detective story, hints were there for us to notice later and leave us guessing until the very end. The end was not perfect, but it was fitting. It wasn’t happy but it wasn’t sad.

I recommend this book highly to readers that can stomach hard themes. The writing style is just exquisite. You will find yourself repeating sentences just so you can experience the writing again! I would give it as 5 stars for being a historically accurate crime story, whose background in reality was also interesting to read about (and Emma Donoghue did go out of her way and provide us with her research on the story, songs and glossary) and dealt with themes that are still relevant and good to question today.

Megan Casey Reviews 1222 by Anne Holt

1222

The first interesting thing I want to mention is that Anne Holt’s series is listed as The Hanne Wilhelmsen Novels. Not The Hanne Wilhelmsen Mysteries or The Hanne Wilhelmsen Adventures. The publisher—a traditional mainstream press—wants us to view these books as literary. In other words, something above the more lightly taken mystery genre, and certainly above the lesbian mystery subgenre. This is a bit troubling.

Holt is a good writer, though; way better than the average, and 1222 is an exciting and suspenseful novel that fits squarely into the class of Scandinavian writers like Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson, and Hennng Mankell. I generally read the first book in a series first, but for some reason, 1222 was the only one that was affordable. This may have helped this review, because I suspect that the protagonist, Hanne Wilhelmsen, has changed greatly since her inception over twenty years previous. This Hanne has left her active years as a police detective behind and is now a wheelchair user due to a crippling injury she received on the job. This Hanne is someone who wants to be left alone with her disability and not have people staring at her or offering sympathy.

She is on a train trip to see a specialist in a northern city in Norway when her train derails during a fierce storm and all the passengers are forced to wait for help in a nearby hotel. Then the storm turns into an actual hurricane, threatening thee hotel itself. Then someone is killed. Although Hanne has no desire to participate in finding the killer, she seems to be the only one who can.

The mystery is actually set up as a veritable whodunit—with the reader getting clues at the same time Hanne gets them. And I suspect tat when she gets the final clue, the reader will guess the murderer at the same time Hanne does. This spoils nothing. The setting—a hundred-year-old resort hotel, the varied and well-drawn characters, and the dangerous story, would be worth reading about even if there were no mystery at all. The truth is, I felt like I had been put through a ringer—a very cold one—before I had even finished half of this entertaining novel.

Although Hanne identifies as a lesbian—and there is a wannabe lesbian teenage suspect—there is no sex in this book, nor is there any attempt to feature a gay lifestyle in any of the characters or even in Hanne’s inner thoughts. I suspect I will have to read some of the initial offerings in this series to learn more about this side of Hanne’s life.

Quibbles aside, I would give this book high marks (if I gave marks at all) and I am anxious to go through the rest of the books in this awesome series, several of which have yet to be translated into English. Holt is a superior writer and deserves to be on anyone’s Top-25 list of Lesbian Mystery writers. It is to be hoped that her publisher will in the future be aware that this genre is an important one and not try to fool potential readers into thinking that it is something else.

For other reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey Reviews Whacked by Josie Gordon

whacked

Lonnie Squires has an unusual profession for a lesbian mystery protagonist; she is an Episcopal priest. As far as I know, Joan Albarella’s Nikki Barnes is the only other woman of the cloth in lesbian mystery fiction. In fact, it is unusual to find religious references at all in the genre other than casual references to “the goddess” is some of the earlier, more feminist novels. As we know, most churches have not treated the LGBT community with respect, but if you have a calling, you have a calling and the Episcopal Church has been more queer-friendly than most.

Even so, author Gordon makes is clear early that Lonnie’s “calling” had more to do with the fact that the church had a women’s soccer team than any burning bush experience. In her relatively short career as a priest, Lonnie has become known for her ability to effect reconciliation; to smooth out differences between members of the church. When her bishop promises to give her her own rectory if she will travel to Eastern Michigan to mediate between two splitting factions, she jumps at the chance. Little does she know that she will become embroiled in a murder.

Although I’m not someone who likes a lot of praying in my novels, I confess to being a fan of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. I also confess to finding Whacked enjoyable and strangely satisfying. But that satisfaction didn’t come easy. I found the setup to the mystery to be clumsy and less than plausible. For one thing, Lonnie lies to the police to protect someone she has met only half an hour before. Then she breaks into the murdered man’s house (before the police think of it, mind you) and finds a clue that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Having said that, it is absolutely essential that she do these things—there is no plot without them. But if I gave real star ratings for these books, Gordon would lose a healthy part of one for forcing the plot in this way. She knows she’s doing it; when Lonnie finds the clue, she thinks to herself, why is this here? Yet its presence is never actually explained. Likewise, a sheriff’s deputy, after a casual look at the body, tells Lonnie that he was killed with a shovel and that the shovel had been taken away. But if it had been taken away, how did he know it was a shovel, especially since it turned out to be an unusual kind of shovel? This is actually a major flaw in a mystery novel because most astute readers would assume that the deputy must be the killer. And this shovel is very important to the rest of the book.

Still, I like Lonnie and disliked her partner Jamie, as I was meant to—just about everything Jamie does in the book is disrespectful to Lonnie. I liked the description of the small Eastern Michigan town, especially its Dutch traditions and odd-sounding cuisine. I liked the insider look at the old Episcopal Church, and I very much admired the way that Gordon managed to use soccer metaphors throughout the book. Such as when Lonnie is questioning one of the suspects and thinks she may be about to learn something important: “This felt like a breakaway on an open net, though I knew the defenders were right behind me and gaining.” Her use of this extended metaphor is among the best I have ever seen—and that is saying something.

Lonnie’s philosophy of reconciliation not only goes to the heart of the novel, but to the heart of our society, divided now more than ever before: “Love had great power. People could do great goodness with the love they felt, once they got past anger and fear.” I’m willing to give Whacked the benefit of it being Gordon’s first attempt and I’m looking forward to seeing whether in Toasted, the next novel in the series, my feeling is justified.

For other reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries