“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.






Many reviews in one post!

1 05 2012

This post isn’t going to be a full fledged review of any one book. Instead, it’ll be capsule reviews of several books. I’ve neglected my reviewing lately, but I’ve been gulping books down. Didn’t want to miss the chance to get the word out about some great reads. (These aren’t ALL the books I’ve read lately, just the highlights.)

In no order below we have…

“Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon: If a book is set in Italy, chances are I’ll snatch it up. I loved my three weeks in Italy and so have a weakness for such books. “Death at La Fenice” takes place in Venice, and Leon does the city justice. Seeing gay, lesbian and bisexual characters in such a mainstream mystery was awesome. Even awesomer was looking at Leon’s other books (“La Fenice” was published in the early 1990s, although it just came out in ebook) and seeing that some of the lesbian characters return in future books. Observing the evolution of respect and tolerance for GBLTs over time will be interesting.

I got “La Fenice” for just 99 cents for the Nook. As of yesterday, it was still at the same price. Probably the same for Kindle. Warning: the rest of the books in the series are priced about $9.99 and higher. I’ve already put some on reserve at the library. Yep, back to reading some print books for me! 😉

Bottom line: great, gripping mystery and I am thrilled to  have discovered a new mystery writer.

“Word Painting” by Rebecca McClanahan: A must-read for any writer. This book on description will take your writing to the next level. I hope it does mine! I wish I had read this book a long time ago, but better late than never. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned writer, I reckon this book has something for you.

“Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer: If you can read only one book from this bunch, pick this one. It tells the story of several doomed Mount Everest expeditions, focusing on one in particular. It becomes clear why corpses dot the slopes of Mount Everest.  This book combines many genres in one: adventure, mystery, historical fiction, journalism, world affairs (the interplay among the various expeditions from different countries is fascinating. Krakauer didn’t think too highly of the South Africans, for example). I felt like I was freezing up there along with Krakauer. A must read.

“Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth” by James M. Tabor: An eye-opening read on the science of caving. There’s a race underfoot to reach the deepest place on Earth first. Where is it and who will win?

“Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan”: A must-read for anyone interested in politics and presidential assassinations. The Lincoln assassination fascinates me (JFK not so much, I don’t know why) so when I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. Reagan had a flair for comedy which alone makes this book worth the read. It’s compelling in all areas, though.

“You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself ” by David McRaney: The title alone is explanation enough for why you should read this. You’ll recognize yourself, even if you don’t want to or even if you won’t admit it to yourself.

“A Civil Action” by Jonathan Harr: I love legal thrillers/courtroom books and TV shows. There aren’t enough of them in books, but this nonfiction book scratched that itch and then some. I never realized putting together a class-action suit was so exhausting.

“The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean” by Susan Casey: A fascinating look at surfing and giant waves.

“Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch” by Sally Smith Bedell: A nice study of Elizabeth II’s life from her birth until now. Only three stars, though. It comes across as too much of an “official” biography. Rumors of Prince Philip’s cheating, for example, are swept under the rug with basically this explanation: “He didn’t do it.” Um? Need more than that, especially since many other biographies I read went into detail on WHY he did cheat. However, this book portrayed Diana much as I believe she was. It doesn’t flinch from her troubles, her psychological condition and her eating disorders. It even says that if one of the queen’s trusted aides hadn’t died before Diana, Diana would’ve had a much better chance fitting in with the royals. This book also gave the best look I’ve read so far on why Elizabeth, even if she wanted to, couldn’t let her sister, Margaret, marry her first love.

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? 😀

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! 🙂

Review of “The Sealed Letter” by Emma Donoghue

19 07 2011

My review of “The Sealed Letter” by Emma Donoghue is a difficult one to write. The bottom line is that this book is worth reading, but get a library copy if you can. A twist comes in the last two pages that does not match up with the rest of the book. If the build-up matched the twist, then great. The twist requires a big suspension of disbelief that while we were in two characters’ points of views, they would NEVER think about this certain issue. Yeah, right.

Overall, an interesting look into the 1800s with an asexual lesbian and a book based on a true case.

“Fingersmith” vs. “Tipping the Velvet” — Which First Page Is Groovier?

11 07 2011

Today we are comparing the first pages of two of Sarah Waters’ books: Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet.

WHICH FIRST PAGE IS GROOVIER? “Tipping the Velvet” wins.

Both first pages are quite good, but “Tipping the Velvet” has extra oomph. Waters’ voice is what carries these first pages. No overarching conflict is inherent, but I don’t care because the writing is so good and engaging.

“Tipping the Velvet” draws me in more. I have no desire for seafood and oysters, but by golly, I want to witness, touch and gape over one of these Whitstable oysters. I can picture the town and the oysters as if I were there right now. One reason this opening works: this way of life is unfamiliar to me–and to most people, I reckon. We’re drawn in by the possibility of learning about this person who was born in an oyster parlor. Like we want to touch or taste these oysters, we want to get to know the narrator.

“Fingersmith,” like “Tipping the Velvet,” begins with back story. And the back story in “Fingersmith,” while not bad per se, is not as engaging as in “Tipping the Velvet.”  The first page of “Fingersmith” does paint a compelling picture of an orphan and uses nice phrases (for example, “drunken woman catching at the ribbons of my dress”). Also books in the time period it is set in began with lots of back story. In this sense, “Fingersmith” fits great.
An important lesson: if you begin with back story, your voice and your writing better be extremely engaging.

Agree? Disagree? Take the poll.