Monthly Archives: January 2014

Secret Lies – Amy Dunne

GCLS clean logoSecret LiesJenny is one of those popular girls who appear to have it all. She is attractive, put together, confident. The other girls want to be her, the boys want to have her. But underneath the false bravado is a mess. She blames herself for the death of her adored Gran, hates what she has made herself into and the never-ending pretence to keep it up. She hates herself to the point of self harm. She has sought help, but that doesn’t stop the feelings, doesn’t stop the pain. 

Nic is the outcast. Wearing her winter uniform in a heatwave, ostracized as an oddity, she doesn’t mix, doesn’t integrate. She is bullied and abused by the girls at school. She feels invisible. But under the long sleeved top she hides a terrible secret, one of violence and abuse. Away from the nastiness of teenage girls she is fighting for her very survival.

Nobody would ever expect these two 17 year olds to be friends. They inhabit polar opposite places in their social world. But a chance encounter makes Jenny reach out in kindness, revealing to Nic that there is another side to her from the shallow, selfish, bully. And as Jenny coaxes Nic to open up a friendship starts to form.

Nic is the observant one, more sensitive to other people’s emotions. Soon she recognizes that Jenny also has a secret. And although it takes her a while to break through, her gentle persistence eventually allows Jenny to open up for the very first time.

As their friendship develops so does their attraction. Thrown together by an accident, they quickly become each others strength. Together they can escape from the secrets and lies, from the pain they have both suffered.

They both know that ‘coming out’ is a huge step. They plan to keep their love secret while they sort out their lives. But Jenny’s bitchy and dominating older sister, alerted by her spys, comes home for the very purpose of removing Nic from Jenny’s life. When she discovers that Nic is a lesbian, she uses every means to separate and destroy them.

Will Jenny fight for her new found love, fight to be the person who is emerging from under the brittle façade or will she cave in to the social pressure and bullying older sister? And while Jenny is deciding who she wants to be, can Nic hold on to hope for a future and stop the abuse to reclaim her own life.

————–

This is an excellent and enthralling first novel.  Amy Dunne has caught the mood of 17 year-old emotions and experience brilliantly. On the one hand it is a tale of young adults emerging and exploring, with all the angst and melodrama that entails. On the other it is a serious exploration of both abuse and self harm and the impact they have on these girls internal and public lives.

The two main characters are wonderfully complex and layered. They are still children, investigating live and love, finding their sexuality and passion, learning who they are and who they want to be. But they are also adults, at least partly because of the secret pain they both suffer and the growing up that has caused.

What we see is the juxtaposition of those – the young adult emerging and trying to balance their teenage hormones and dramas with adult sensibilities and emotions. One minute they are falling in love and in lust, they next they are sulking and fighting like children. They both understand the pressures of their social world, but are not yet quite sure how to manage it and be themselves.

The story resonated with me. Despite being old enough to be their parent it brought back memories of those angst filled days. The pain of falling in love, the fight to be oneself, to create a space and a separate identity while still wanting and needing parental support and love.

Ms Dunne’s portrayal of the abuse was hard to read. I can’t speak to its realism as a survivor, but it felt all too real. Nic’s internal fight to stay alive, stay sane, stay together under the brutal mental and physical torture was intensely emotional. And Jenny’s self loathing and self abuse was extremely well written, along with her Rizzo like shell and underlying vulnerability.

The book flows. It is well written and well crafted. The dialogue is realistic. It is a well paced story which kept me reading into the night. As well as the teenage melodrama of first loves and social pressure the novel contains real tension. There are places you can see the pain about to descend and almost want to stop, but were dragged forward waiting to see how these two girls would survive, if they would survive.

amy dunneThere are also ongoing and layered peaks and troughs. Jenny and Nic face emotional battles coming to terms with their new sexual identity both internally, between them and with family and friends. At the same time they are facing a literally physical battle to stop Nic’s abuse, and in the build up and aftermath there is real fear for the outcome.

My only criticism, and this is minor, was that Elizabeth’s complete reversal from Bible-bashing super-bully bitch to supportive sister was hard to believe. Unlike Laura and Jack who are lightly drawn and allowed to develop their natural goodness, Elizabeth’s transformation feels forced. Her ‘protective’ excuse for her overbearing behavior is not enough to explain her extreme volte-face. In retrospect she was, perhaps, too viscously drawn as a homophobic bully to realistically change so completely.

But that slight jar does not detract from a wonderful book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, couldn’t put it down. Congratulations to Amy Dunne for an excellent first novel and to BSB for picking it up. While the American audience will no doubt complain that they don’t understand our school system (we Brits have had to learn yours) I for one am delighted to see a new British talent emerge. Looking forward to watching Ms Dunne develop this gift.

(Publishers review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • First published 2013
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (15 Dec 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HCRF7FM
Amazon.com
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback edition – click here.
buy-from-tan To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback edition – click here.

Absolution – S Anne Gardner

AbsolutionTragedy overtook Cristina Uraca Alacala when she was 9 years old. Her socialite parents, linked to the Spanish Royal family, killed in a road traffic accident along with her adored younger sister. Ever since her loving grandmother has shielded her from the world and refused to talk about her family.

But inside she seethes with the need to know what really happened. She knows there was scandal, but nobody will explain why. She knows she has blocked memories – she didn’t speak for a year after the trauma – but nothing has yet triggered her recall.

Eventually she breaks away from her grandmother’s enforced cocoon to search out the answers in America. Her research uncovers just one name, Annais Francesca D’Autremond. So when the opportunity presents to meet the woman who can explain her past Christina cannot resist.

She knows her life will never be the same, but has no idea how far her discoveries will take them both.

—————

This is the third of S Anne Gardner’s books I have read and reviewed. They are all well written, well crafted and, most unusually, all completely different.

Unlike the more traditional lesbian romance of “The very thought of You” (which I loved) I complained that “Till there was You” was melodramatic and bodice ripping. It was. But now I have read “Absolution” I think there is also a trace of madness in the overwhelming passion.

“Absolution” was an interesting read. Almost the whole book is written in the first person. We only get Grandmother and Francesca’s emotions from Christina’s viewpoint. Inside Christina’s head is not a settled and balanced place to be. As the story unfolds her moods and emotions take increasingly wide swings which make it heard to follow and sometimes hard to empathize with. As her memories wake she is literally torn between the desire to forget and stay in a cocooned ‘here and now’ with Francesca, and the history which is dragging her into reality and self realization.

I am not going to discuss the end of the book, not even close, as the concluding chapters take us somewhere I didn’t expect to go. No matter how clever you are you wont have guessed all the twists this plot unfurls.

What I can say is that what we witness is a character unraveling as the truth invades her sheltered mind on all sorts of levels. From her own memories, the poignant reminders Francesca brings, visiting Spain, everything leads her to a tortured place which took me back to the “Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Having spent her life believing she was different from her selfish and uncaring parents she gradually recognises quite how like her family she really is.

What the book left me with was a sense of disquiet. I think I enjoyed it, I was certainly challenged by it. I am glad I read it. And now I can’t quite decide if I am really looking forward to Ms Gardner’s back catalogue or feel like following Christina’s example and walking away from reality.

Product info:

  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Affinity Ebook Press NZ LTD (20 Jan 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HYQZE22
buy-from-tan
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.

Hoosier Daddy – Ann McMan and Salem West

Lambda Literary FInalistHoosier DaddyFriday (Jill Fryman) is stuck in a dead end town doing a dead end job at a truck factory which appears to be on its last legs. Processes are failing, management only cares for profit, and the safety and welfare of the assembly line workers is bottom of the list. After 10 years of trying to improve things in her own way, keep the peace and help as much as she can without management authority Friday has lost her way and doubts her own value. Add to that a series of poor relationship decisions and she is pretty far down on the scale of self worth.

When the UAW agitators arrive to drum up support for a Union vote the future of the factory seems even more dubious, but Friday finds herself attracted to the gorgeous El who may be the catalyst which destroys the local towns economy.

As the plant management fail to protect its workers and support for the Union vote increases, Friday is torn between her growing attraction for the agitator and her knowledge that once the union campaign is over El will be off to the next battle, leaving her even more empty and alone.

—————–

As a Brit who has never been to the Midwest, let alone a small town dominated by the automotive industry I have to put my hands up and say there were may things in this book which took some time to understand. Having read a huge number of US based LesFic romances I thought I had read a reasonably broad range of American experiences from blue collar to high society and from Southern Belles and California babes to East Coast Alpha power players.

If you don’t have any reference points then the assembly line practices, the family interactions and the small town society can all feel alien. To be honest the first third of the book felt like I was reading about a different country, possibly even in a different language. In the UK all auto factories are unionized, it’s a given, so even thinking through the choices US workers face was a challenge.

But these characters grow on you. They are warm and human and well rounded. Their relationships are founded in love and knowledge, and a huge amount of small town tolerance for each other.

The story takes us on a journey, it challenges us to think about the politics and the implications for a small community whose whole economy is routed in one failing industry. Both Friday and El are aware that there are 2 sides to every argument and while in a poorly run plant the union might be essential to protect the workers, it wont benefit everybody.

At the same time we have the budding and yet troubled romance between the two women. El who has run away from a personal mess and Friday who has lost herself. Their attraction is obvious and their growing affection is humorously written and lovely to watch. The interaction and intervention of Friday’s friends and Grammy as the story unfolds make this a tale set in a level of love and understanding not many of us have encountered.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. And if you struggle at the beginning because it isn’t a familiar environment I would strongly recommend working your way in to the town, the people and the romance. It will definitely be on my re-read pile for the future.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • First published 2013
  • Publisher: Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company
    (22 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1939562368
  • ISBN-13: 978-1939562364
buy-from-tan
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback edition – click here.

High Desert – Katherine V. Forrest

Lambda Literary FInalistGCLS clean logo High Desert, Katherine V. Forrest

High Desert is the ninth in the Kate Delafield detective seriesand once again plunges us into a combination of crime and personal crisis. Nearly ten years after the last instalment Kate has retired and now faces an empty world without ‘the job’ which has filled her world for 25 years and the love of her despairing partner, Aimee. She even has to cope with the imminent prospect of losing her best friend, Maggie Schaeffer.

Kate has always struggled with her own demons, and in this book they provide the biggest battle. She can still front aggressive bikers, sweet-talk nutty neighbours, out-think pyromaniac murderers and out-run a ring of fire. But she has yet to deal with her own internal issues.

The plot finds Kate helping her old lieutenant, now Captain Walcott, who is concerned that Kate’s ex-partner has vanished while on enforced leave. Kate soon discovers that he has disappeared on purpose and carefully covered his traces. As her off-the-record investigations develop she tracks down his sister and finds the reason for both his long-term reticence to share his family background and his current precarious hideout, where he is waiting for his vengeful brother to appear.

Of much more importance to long-term Detective Delafield fans are the personal stories threaded around and through the ‘detective’ novel. First Maggie Schaeffer, owner of the Nightwood Bar and Kate’s closest friend, confidante and rock, is dying of lung cancer in a hospice, and pleading with Kate to help her end her life with dignity. Second, Kate’s forced retirement has left not just a void, but a vacuum in her life. She was ‘the job’ and without it she is lost. But even more than that, the horrors of a life filled with death can no longer be buried by the next case and the next crisis, and so they come back to haunt Kate in blood-drenched dreams.

Kate’s reaction to a lifetime of loss, a lifetime of suppressing her feelings and protecting those around her, both physically and emotionally, is to drink until she can no longer feel. And so the adorable and long-suffering Aimee, on-again, off-again partner of 19 years, has gone as well – relegated to a cold and empty rented cottage, living out of boxes and reading magazines while she waits for Kate to sort out her life.

For those who just read this book as a one-off crime novel this may all come as a revelation. But for those of us who have been reading Forrest’s books for 30 years, Kate and Aimee, Maggie, Joe and all the rest are old friends. They have lives and histories and have been part of our psyche since the first novel, Amateur City, was published in 1984. Revisiting their lives, remembering the earlier stories and re-engaging with them 10 years on is like going to a school reunion with a bunch of people you had forgotten, but never stopped loving.

Forrest’s brilliance is in the depth of her characters and the honesty and integrity of her story lines. Both her main players and the minor characters are very real. Kate has always touched the lives of many during her investigations; indeed, it is her interactions with the people she meets which make her more than just a detective – from women at the Nightwood Bar who became her family to the Hollywood has-beens of the Beverly Malibu. High Desert reminds us of them and introduces new faces. The lightest of touches brings back Patton and her yachting cap, Taylor’s retirement to grow avocados in Fallbrook, Tori and the friendly fire.

We have a myriad of lesbian crime and lesbian romance novels these days, in no small part thanks to the pioneering work and leadership of Forrest herself. What sets the Kate Delafield novels apart is that they are painful for their characters, they are not easy rollercoasters to follow and they don’t have happy emotional endings. The characters have matured as the series has progressed, as have we, the readers. The only person who hasn’t developed is Kate herself, because she has refused to face the biggest truth: that ‘protecting’ those closest to her has allowed her to hide from herself.

The importance of Katherine V. Forrest in modern lesbian literature cannot be overstated. Curious Wine was the first unabashed, modern and full-on lesbian romance written by a woman for women. While today it may strike some as tame and dated, at the time it was groundbreaking in its honesty. Before Curious Wine we had the depressing melodrama of Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness and the pulp fiction novels of the 1950s and ’60s that felt more like male porn than something women could relate to. Forrest gave us something romantic and soppy, unrealistic in its simplicity, but real in terms of how we felt and how we loved. Then she introduced a whole new genre – the lesbian detective novel. Before the hugely successful Val McDermid, before Claire McNab, Radclyffe and all the others who have followed, there was Katherine V. Forrest’s Kate Delafield.

Katherine V ForrestForrest has won multiple Lambda Literary Awards, a Golden Crown and the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Pioneer Award. She was senior editor at Naiad for 10 years, and supervising editor at Spinsters Ink during the critical blooming of lesbian fiction. She has edited hundreds of women’s works and dozens of anthologies, and has written book reviews and articles for many major publications. She served on the Lambda Literary Foundation board as president for many years and was instrumental in founding the LGBT Writers’ Retreat.

For many writers and readers Forrest is not only a groundbreaking leading light who opened up lesbian literature for new authors and audiences; she is one of the cornerstones who has supported, improved and developed the whole genre. Perhaps now she has retired from her key roles her fans can look forward to a flurry of books to make up for the long silence. Roll on the next Kate Delafield story – I can’t wait.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Spinsters Ink Books (18 Jan 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935226657
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935226659
      USA FlagAmazon.com
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback – click here.
buy-from-tan
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback edition – click here.

Before It Stains – R. E. Bradshaw

before it stainsStephanie has it all, great relationship, successful company, wonderful home and a son to be proud of. So when the first inklings of betrayal appear she is completely blindsided and incredulous. But when proof is put in front of her all hell breaks loose, chairs through windows, blood on the walls and her life in tatters.

An emotional journey. In a small mom and pop community where everyone watches every move and gossip rules the airwaves, can Stephanie find the strength, and the will, to work her way through the pain.

——————-

This is an interesting book. It departs from the standard girl meets girl, overcome the impediment and live happily ever after. For once we see the exploration of a long-term relationship, how we forget what is important, take each other for granted, let kids and jobs and ambitions overpower the central relationship in our lives.

On the one hand the story is hugely recognizable – we have all had our hearts broken one way or another, but on the other it is a challenge. Looking back did you fight for your previous relationships? Could you have forgiven infidelity?

I loved the interaction of Stephanie with the local Moms and Pops at the ball games, her relationship with Randy, finding out that she was Molly Kincaid’s’ first real love. Her relationship with her mother is excellent, clever and deep while written with the lightest of touches. Watching her internal struggles was intriguing, and it really made me wonder how well I would do in similar circumstances.

RE Bradshaw bioAs always Decky’s characters are well rounded, real people we can relate to and empathise with. We sympathise with Stephanie and feel anger towards Mo, but as the story progresses I doubt even the staunchest ‘anti-cheating’ heart among us hasn’t softened to her anguish and regret. This is an emotional plot, not an action filled one, but even so she manages to add suspense and anticipation of the small actions and bigger emotions. But most of all is the loving humour that surrounds the characters, well drawn and amusingly filled out.

The denouement is classic. You just want to shout “GO GIRL” as the “new improved” Stephanie takes on the world.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • First published 2011
  • Publisher: R. E. Bradshaw Books, LLC (8 Dec 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006K538JY
buy-from-tan
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback edition – click here.

Breaker’s Passion – Julie Cannon

Breaker's PassionWhen Elizabeth takes a 10 week vacation from her stressful job as a College Principle and her life as a buttoned-up and repressed History professor, all she has planned is a schedule of research for her first foray into writing literature.
She doesn’t expect to fall into the thrall of the incredibly attractive Breaker (as in heart-breaker) within 24 hours of arriving on the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii.

But as well as being drop dead gorgeous, fun, interesting and sexy as hell, Breaker, aka Colby, has a huge secret which has kept her locked in a terrible past for three years, cut off from friends, family and living her life.

Can the two women move beyond a holiday fling to find a way out of their sterile lives?

———————-

Julie Cannon always produces great story lines and interesting and engaging characters. She specializes in stories where emotional baggage prevents the obvious romance developing. Many other LesFic authors use the same mechanisms, but Ms Cannons ‘baggage’ tends to be deeper, heavier and fuller than most. To quote Breaker: “She was a mess, carrying enough emotional baggage to fill an oil tanker”.

As always her plots are well paced, her characters believable and the facts, narrative and sex scenes feel realistic and something we can relate to.

Well written and edited, a hugely enjoyable read.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • First published 2011
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (18 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1602821968
  • ISBN-13: 978-1602821965
buy-from-tan
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback edition – click here.