Katelyn reviews Sandcastles by Suzie Carr


I was first drawn to Sandcastles by the element of psychics. As someone who grew up with a grandmother who called herself psychic and was told she also has a similar gift, I have researched and wondered about the world of psychics and energy and spirits for years. I often find myself stuck between the staunch skepticism of my mind and the gut feelings and intuition I feel so in tune with. I started reading this novel with the hope that it would explore a similar conflict, and it did not disappoint.

On the skeptical side we have Lia, a neurotic workaholic who uses her business as an escape from her struggles with love, family and friends. Then we have the psychic, Willow, a divorced mother of two who happened to go to camp with Lia and still harbors residual feelings for her from their childhood. The other main character is Dean, Lia’s assistant and best friend, who is somewhere in the middle—more open-minded than Lia but still caught up in work and the bustle of office life. When Lia and Dean run into Willow at a flea market, all three characters find themselves discovering new, unexpected paths in their lives.

One of my favorite things about Sandcastles is that it switches between Lia and Willow’s points of view, allowing readers to see how they see each other and their own insecurities going into the relationship. Willow expresses how deeply she was wounded by people who did not accept her psychic abilities and made a mockery of her, including Lia during their time at camp together. However, Lia gets to tell her side of the story, how she was scared of the things she did not understand (something she was taught by her upbringing) and was constantly vying for acceptance from her adopted sister—who also went to camp with them and was terrified of Willow—and her parents who put her sister on a pedestal that Lia could never reach.

Carr has one main message in this novel: life is meant to be lived. By trying to get this message through, Carr sacrifices some of the story’s depth. Halfway through the story, the novel becomes mostly about Lia and her need to slow down and become more open-minded. We get to see all of Lia’s dynamics, both good and bad. We learn about her family (and we get to meet every member of her family eventually) and how it operates, about her last serious relationship, how she met her best friend, how she started her own business. We see Lia being closed-minded at times, and we see her being selfish, but it’s all understandable and relatable because we’ve learned why her mind and her life operate the way they do.

Willow, on the other hand, gets a generic backstory of an ex-husband she never really loved who cheated on her, is not a good father, and is now remarried. Like Lia, she had parents who did not accept her and preferred her sister, and they were important to her discovery of her gift, but then they sort of fade away; her mother dies during her childhood from a vague, unexplained illness, and then Willow lives with her aunt who is also psychic and a lesbian. We don’t get to see much of her personality besides some playfulness that comes out in Lia’s presence, and we never get to see her being unfair or unreasonable, or if she is, she is not called on it like Lia is and she never gets to discover new parts of herself like Dean and Lia do.

The other characters mostly serve to pad the novel and reinforce the message of living life to the fullest, including a dying man who is somewhat of a cliché; he has more life in him than any of the other characters, he is always happy and joking, everyone loves him, and confronting death has made him the wise, all-knowing guru of the story. Some of his suffering comes through in the end, but it still does not feel realistic, which is a shame because he could have added some more emotional elements, especially at the end of the novel, but those moments mostly fell flat or took some of the power away from the spots where the writing itself made an emotional impact, such as Lia and Dean’s heart-to-heart near the end of the novel.

Despite some of the weaker aspects of the novel, it was fun to read. Best of all, there was always some kind of tension in the book to keep it interesting, and each of those plot points felt natural and realistic. Plus, this novel is dominated by women, and almost all of the most important characters are queer, and it is always refreshing to read a book like that in this male-dominated, heteronormative society.

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.