“The Dreamer, Her Angel, and The Stars” — and A Few Other Capsule Reviews

26 05 2012

I’ve not been reading as much lately because I’ve been going up against writer’s block. Bleeeck! However, I HAVE accomplished some reading. I’ve yet again neglected my long-form reviews, so here’s another capsules roundup. Some great reads I want to share.

1) “The Dreamer, Her Angel, and the Stars” by Linda S. North: Arranged marriages are a staple of straight romance, but for obvious reasons, they’re rare in lesbian romance. So, since this book features an arranged lesbian marriage, I was instantly intrigued. Usually, you marry someone you love, right? You meet, go through dating and maybe you live together and get a pet. You discuss kids. THEN comes the wedding.

Ariel and Kiernan do it backward except they meet first. As is usual in many love affairs, the feelings are deeper on one side at first (Kiernan’s side in this instance). Ariel resents having to marry Kiernan, but eventually she comes to realize that while the marriage was arranged, she did have a choice in the matter. She chose to marry Kiernan, and it’s up to Ariel to decide how she reacts. She can continue pouting or make the best of it.

She decides to make the best of it—and not a moment too soon.

This book is an interesting break from traditional lesbian romance and well worth picking up for that reason alone. Kiernan is a believable LIPS (Lesbian in a Power Suit).

This book has no forced intercourse and no Stockholm syndrome, as a couple of reviews indicate.

I felt a few scenes were too long and/or unnecessary, but overall, a solid debut novel. I’d definitely read Linda S. North again.

2) “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick: An engrossing tale of whaling, race and survival at sea. And yeah, um, cannibalism. Read this! One of the best non-fictions I’ve read.

3) “Defending Jacob” by William Landay: I really liked this book. It’s bound to make you think, which is always a good thing. I love how the author captures the voices of teenagers. If you like crime books, pick this up.

4) “Kill Switch” by Neal Baer: The authors’ backgrounds are in TV shows, and it’s obvious. The book reads like a TV show, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just not my style. Don’t expect characters with too much depth. DO expect utilitarian, bare-bones writing. Two stars out of five on my scale.






In “Pennance,” a Star Is Born

23 03 2012

One of the best (and somewhat rare) feelings I get when I read a book by a first-time published author combines my author/editor/reader personas. It’s this feeling: “Wow. This person will be a star someday.”

How can I tell? Voice. Turn of phrase.  Writing style. Differentiation. It’s simple to explain yet complex, too. Pretty much any book has flaws, and it’s very telling (to me, anyway) when the above four characteristics rise to the top despite the flaws.

I had this “oh yeah!” feeling the other day when I started “Pennance” by Clare Ashton. I must admit to having a small bias here, though. The book is set in England, and I love British stories, British mysteries, British character-driven tales. Think Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell, for example. Plus, it just seems to me that many British stories do a great job of making the setting a true character in the story. This is definitely the case with “Pennance,” which is set in a town of the same name.

Here’s the blurb of the book from Amazon: Lucy is haunted by the death of her partner, Jake, and lives in paranoid fear and reclusion. She lives in a small, introverted village in Cornwall called Pennance, and is surrounded by Jake’s family and memories of him. She feels intensely guilty about his death and thinks someone is out to get her in retribution. Relief appears to come when a new neighbour, Karen, enters her life, but is that when the real threat begins?

Pennance is a creepy, odd character, and when the story opens, it has shaped Lucy into what basically amounts to a shell of a person. The story takes its time unfolding, which mirrors life in Pennance. By the 1/4 point, the central conflict has yet to appear, which may turn off some readers. It’s a tradeoff that seems to have paid off for Ashton, though. We see Lucy make her once-weekly trip to the store, we see her avoid her dead  boyfriend’s mother, we see her shrink in fear at visitors, we see her interact with the ghost/presence of her dead boyfriend. That’s Lucy’s life, and while she isn’t happy, she deals with it and has made her lot with it. The appearance of Karen, a new neighbor (and who is also a new love interest) and her children changes everything.

There is no doubt Ashton can write, and she’s bursting with potential. I fully expect some issues with first-person POV to be resolved for her future books. One example: “Pennance” has an overuse of “I felt,” “I wondered,” “I imagined,” etc. This plays with the flow of the story and makes the journey to the real conflict feel slower than it should. Lucy, especially at the beginning, is a character who very much lives in her head and who doesn’t interact much. “I felt sick” is also overused, and I was not clear on HOW Lucy was sick. Saying “The walls squeezed in” or “Nausea stung my throat” instead of “I felt sick” would have been more demonstrative plus would’ve made for less “I” subjects. This is a pretty easy thing to correct for future works.

Despite the bumps in “Pennance,” Ashton’s talent is evident. I will most definitely be checking out her future books. She’s a star in the making.

Pieces Form the Whole — a Review of “Sistine Heresy” by Justine Saracen

27 02 2012

This is a review of “Sistine Heresy” by Justine Saracen, but a little background first.  I’m an author as well as a reader (hmm, it should be understood that all authors are readers! 🙂 ), and I posted a review of “Third,” my most recent release, on Facebook. Justine Saracen, whom I’d really had no dealings with up to that point, commented on the review. We got to talking about how sales of both our books were on the low side. Reasons could be aplenty (for example, “Third” is quite cross-genre: lesbian fiction, nontraditional romance as in polyamory, time travel and historical fiction),  but Justine said historical fiction, including her book “Sistine Heresy,” tends to not sell so well in lesfic. We made a deal that we’d buy each other’s books. I love the Borgias, so I was eager to read the book (see a review I did here on a couple of Borgia books).

So, fast forward a few weeks later. “Sistine Heresy” is a great book, actually a bit (or a lot) of an anomaly from lesfic publishers, and I decided I’d review it for this blog. That fact alone says a lot, because I’m usually hesitant to review lesfic books on this blog. I’m a lesfic author myself, and I don’t want to risk alienating anyone by saying something the least bit negative. I was a bit off about one thing, though. “Sistine Heresy” really isn’t a Borgia book. Borgias are tangential, and while one of the main characters is a Borgia by marriage, she’s fictional. She never existed. This isn’t the book to read if you’re craving Borgia yumminess.

OK, so here’s the “Sistine Heresy” blurb on its Amazon page:  Eros, art, and gorgeous blasphemy… Adrianna Borgia, survivor of the Borgia court, presents Michelangelo with the greatest temptations of his life while struggling herself with soul-threatening desires and heresies. Her growing passion for the painter Raphaela Bramante mirrors the sculptor’s damnable interest in a castrato in the Sistine choir and in the ideas of secular humanism. Claimed as the epitome of Christian inspiration, Michelangelo’s ceiling is revealed as a coup of Eros upon religion, a gorgeous blasphemy and a paean to forbidden love in the very heart of the Church.

So, it’s pretty  obvious the book isn’t a romance. Also, while Bold Strokes Books puts out gay men’s fiction, it’s known primarily as a lesfic publisher. “Sistine Heresy” is just as much, if not more so, a gay men’s story than a lesbian story.

“Sistine Heresy” isn’t an easy book, and I mean that in the best way because it comes together in the end to reveal the purpose of all the individual pieces that may have seemed extraneous. For example, the book is told from many, many points of view, although the POVs of Adriana Borgia (a fictional woman) and of Michelangelo help anchor it (Adriana is a bit more dominant POV-wise than Michelangelo). There are scenes, such as a meeting between Pope Julius II and Alfonso d’ Este, Duke of Ferrara, that had me puzzling over their points. Why bother to show these scenes?

“Sistine Heresy” is a book, but in many ways, it’s like a giant painting. I have to think the author did this on purpose because of the book’s subject matter. Purposeful or not, it’s a brilliant move. If you look at only one piece of a painting, you might not understand that piece’s point until you’ve looked at the painting as a whole. The pieces come together, the purpose is clear, everything clicks. This could also be an allegory for people who believe in God; He behaves in mysterious ways. You don’t know His purpose because you’re only such a tiny part of the whole.

If you like costume dramas (think “Rome,” “The Tudors” and the two Borgia shows), you’ll probably like this book. It reads in many ways like a TV show: the multiple POVs, for example, and the vast lineup of characters. “Sistine Heresy” reminds me most of “Rome” because “Rome” had a lesbian subplot (a nice one that surprised me in a good way, because I hadn’t known it was coming), but the subplot was only one cog in the machine.

“Sistine Heresy” isn’t a lesbian book or a gay book, although many of its characters tilt that way. It’s really a book about people trying to reconcile their physical desires, their faith in God and a corrupt church. Both Michelangelo and Adriana, in the end, find their ways to do this, but in vastly different methods. For Adriana, slow and steady wins the race. It takes a great tragedy for her to wake up to what she needs to do.  Would’ve been nice if she could’ve done it without the tragedy, but it is what it is.

Just a few quibbles with this book: there’s a bit too much “As you know, Bob” dialogue, and okay, heck, yeah, I wanted to see more “relations” between Adriana and Lucrezia Borgia. 😉

This book gets my recommendation fo’ sho.
** Edited to add another quibble: yeah, the celeb walk-ons did seem unnecessary.

Nancy Drew for Lesbians

16 01 2012

Who doesn’t know Nancy Drew, right? She’s that blond detective so many girls (me, at least) loved to read about when we were kids. My inner little-girl lesbian kept wanting Nancy and George to get together, and from what I gather, I was not the only one.

I am an adult now (though always a kid inside), and I don’t read Nancy Drew any longer. Side note: I do have an ex who still reads Nancy Drew. She gets the books in lots really cheap on eBay. No, that wasn’t why we broke up. Anyway, I digress 😉

I was happy to read a book the past couple of days that is basically Nancy Drew for lesbian adults. The adults part comes in because of the language (cursing characters) and because of lust and sexual desire. Letting teenagers read this book is probably OK, though.

Thankfully, some of the annoying staples of the Nancy Drew series are gone, such as ending every chapter with an exclamation point! Like this! Annoying! Yes!

Even better, there is a gender-bender character named George. And by George, George gets the girl!

The book is “The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe” by Patty G. Henderson. It’s set in the early 1800s as the U.S. heads into the Revolutionary War.  Henderson labels it as a Gothic romantic suspense, so it fits a particular framework. Like with the Nancy Drew books, the bad guys are baddies. Period. They collude a certain way, they use secret passageways, they cackle.

Constance Beechum is the lead character, and she’s sent to care for a dying woman whose family is less than loving. Constance fends off advances from the women’s two sons while trying to solve a mystery. The solution to the mystery is pretty obvious, but the point is the journey. It’s like in a romance book; we know the couple will end up together. But how do they get there? How does Constance fend off these slimy men, does the dying woman live, and does Constance get her love? The journey here is worthwhile.

It seems Henderson used an editor for this book (one is listed, in any case). However, the book could have used another go-over by a different editor. “Gerard’s” is used both as a plural possessive (should be “Gerards’ “) and as a plural (should be “Gerards” with no apostrophes anywhere). Other basic editing errors, such as adverb overuse, are especially apparent in the first quarter or third of the book but go down as the book progresses. (These adverbs may be part of the particular framework for the book, though.) The editing probably won’t bother other people to the extent it did me (I am a professional editor).

The ending leaves room for a sequel, or sequels. This would be awesome. Constance and George have lots of potential for sleuthing together. Who needs Bess, right? 😀

“Strange Bedfellows” is on sale now!

26 08 2011

Awesome cover design by Joy Argento

“Strange Bedfellows” is for sale in e-book at Amazon.com and BN.com. A print version is coming in about a month.

Summary: What happens when the queen of the ex-gay movement decides to come out of the closet? The person who helps Frances Dourne with this enormous task is a call girl Frances hires. A call girl with a secret of her own. Can they learn to trust each other enough to find the love they seek in each other’s arms?

Buy it at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/3kg7c9x

Buy it at Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/3hegq8f

Here is an excerpt:

“We need to figure out how we’ll introduce you to my family.”

The prostitute undid Frances’s ponytail and moved her hands into Frances’s hair. “I like your hair down.”

“I like yours down, too.”

“Strawberries and cream?” Her breath tickled Frances’s ear and neck. Goosebumps prickled and swayed on Frances’s arms, legs and stomach. The prostitute again smelled of watermelon, but that did not bother Frances. Not now.

Frances felt soft lips nibbling her neck. Her thoughts spun. Her insides spun. The prostitute continued nibbling. Her hands curled around Frances’s waist, coming to rest on her stomach. Her hips and her breasts pressed into Frances’s back.

“Your name,” Frances managed. “We need a name to tell my family. Make something up.”



“I don’t want to lie to you. Not tonight, anyway. We have time to think of a name.”

“It’s not lying if I tell you to do it.”

“I suppose.”

“Tell me something about you.”

“I want you, Frances Marie Dourne. Let me please you.”

Damn, she was good. You don’t want me. You want my money. The next time Frances was with a woman would be right. True. She wanted deep, heartfelt kisses, excited, eager tongues. Gentle caresses, maybe whispers of: “I love you.” Not a prostitute’s rules, such as no kissing, no touching here or there, no this or that.

“Tell me something about you,” Frances insisted.

“I brought you the necklace.”

Frances’s heart thudded. What?

The prostitute reached for her briefcase and presented the necklace. The necklace did not have sand in it, not technically. The “sand” was pieces of fake green crystals. No matter. The necklace was lovely, and Frances traced its smooth, gold surface. It’s not the same necklace. She bought a look-alike. I hope. “I couldn’t. I really couldn’t.”

“Yes, you can. Turn back around so I can put it on you.”

She’s angling for a big tip. She’s doing her job. Well.

Frances imagined for a moment that the woman before her was her lover, not a prostitute. She pretended that maybe they would make love that night. Her need to open herself up like a flower to another woman, to taste another woman, to kiss her, have their juices mingle, was great. Perhaps too great.

She had never tasted another woman. Pathetic.

The other prostitute–Frances had never asked her name–had been utilitarian. Workmanlike. She went down on Frances mechanically. Frances had not been tempted to touch her. Contempt shone in her eyes. Yet Frances returned week after week, until shame got the better of her. Frances was not sure why she had kept returning. Perhaps to spite the prostitute. Two could play that game. If the prostitute was not going to respect Frances, Frances was not going to respect her, either. Stupid. Petty. Chicken.

This new woman, this new prostitute, was different. She would be good. Frances longed to feel the heat of bare, female skin on her. One hotel room. One night. Maybe even just one hour.

She needed this. Deserved this.

“Let’s get the necklace on you,” the prostitute urged.

“I really couldn’t.”

“Are you sure?”

“Is it yours? Or one you bought today?”

“It’s mine. I want you to have it.”

“Tell me who gave it to you.”

“I hardly wear the necklace. You’d wear it. It’s beautiful and deserves to be worn. That’s all there is to it. Okay?” The prostitute guided Frances to the mirror on the wall. The prostitute’s breath on Frances’s neck was hot. The area between Frances’s legs clamored to be addressed. Three years was a long time. Too long.

The prostitute put the necklace on Frances. The combination was Christmassy, with the green close to Frances’s red bra. Frances met the other woman’s hazel eyes in the mirror. “Thank you.”

Which Prologue Is Groovier? “Damaged in Service” vs. “Last Chance at the Lost and Found”

25 08 2011

Today, we are comparing prologues from two books: “Damaged in Service” by Barrett and “Last Chance at the Lost and Found” by Marcia Finical.

WHICH PROLOGUE IS GROOVIER? The one from “Damaged in Service.”

“Damaged in Service” opens with a prologue. Often, that’s a strike (look for a blog post soon on whether to prologue or not to prologue). “Ohhhh boy,” was my thought when I realized the book had a prologue. Prologues irritate many people, and many people skip the prologues. Worst are the prologues that go on and on for pages. This prologue seems to work, though. For one thing, it is short, and there is a character whose head I can get into and identify with.

A seeming negative (at least for me) is the use of “she” for a bit too long with no noun identifier/no name. (See where it bothered me in “Above All, Honor”.) However, it doesn’t bother me here in “Damaged in Service”; the scene was set well, this person is the only character in the prologue, and she is in a scary situation. I can immediately put myself in her place, and I might not have done so as readily if she had been identified by name up front. In the other book, there was no mystery, and the nameless character was being reamed out by her boss.

Another seeming negative: After a few paragraphs, the character wakes up. She has been in bed. This usually is cause for another “Ohhhh boy” from me. (See Nathan Bransford’s blog post here on five openings to avoid: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/06/five-openings-to-avoid.html). However, this aspect doesn’t much bother me in this prologue, perhaps because this is not a mere dream. These events happened, and that creates a hook and sets the stage. The author seems to have approached this prologue deliberately and has reasons for each of its elements.

However, the italics are a bit of a problem, especially when they necessitate having the character’s thoughts show up as regular text (instead of italics). For the prologue, I would have used a different font instead of using italics.

Now, about the prologue of “Last Chance at the Lost and Found.” It IS intriguing in its own way. It definitely is short and snappy. Its main flaw is that compared with the beginning of Chapter One, Chapter One shines and grabs attention much better. One issue I had was this prologue was mostly “tell” and not “show.” There is really no character to connect with. Chapter One is a much stronger, dare I say, SMASHING, opening. This book just might have done better to nix the prologue.

What do you think? Vote!

Which First Page is Groovier? “Above All, Honor” vs. “Safe Harbor”

8 08 2011

Today we’re looking at the first sections of two of Radclyffe’s books: “Safe Harbor” and “Above All, Honor.” For both selections, read from Chapter One to the first *.

WHICH IS GROOVIER? “Above All, Honor” wins.

Safe Harbor (Provincetown Tales) — Sorry to say, this section did not do much for me. The writing skill is there, obviously, and I would read on. However, you’ve probably noticed from previous blog posts that I’m not crazy about scene setting or weather setting this early in a story. This story could be about anything. Nothing distinctive about this opening. No hook.

Above All, Honor (Honor Series) — This one is better. The hook is there. The conflict is there. The tension is there. However, this is a lesbian story. I would’ve liked to be in the female character’s point of view instead of the (male) assistant director’s. (Assistant director of what, by the way? I assume Secret Service, but it should have been said explicitly.) Also, the female character is “her” or “she.” No name, and that bugged me. Even if I know the names from a previous book in a series or from a blurb, I want to know names as soon as possible. Because of the no name and being in another POV, I didn’t really connect with this female character.

What do you think? Comment and vote! 🙂