40+

An Outsider Inside – RJ Samuel

An Outsider Inside - RJ SamuelR J Samuel’s latest novel “An Outsider Inside” is a polychromatic phantasmagoria – a constantly moving kaleidoscope of colour and character in which very few of the myriad players stand still long enough to be observed.

The overarching themes of identity, love, trust and belonging weave together as we move backwards and forwards between the life of an Indian couple coming to terms with their arranged marriage in small-town Ireland and the current incarnation of the various players with whom their lives have become intertwined. Overlaid on all of that is the complex undertone of prejudice… patriarchal, racial, homophobic, biphobic; external and obvious or internalised and just as damaging.

R J Samuel is an excellent storyteller and accomplished writer who somehow manages to lead the reader from A to B with side tours to P, X and J, while simultaneously challenging us to reconsider our own prejudices. This isn’t a difficult read in the sense of being unpleasant in any way, but the very complexity of the characters’ lives, combined with issues such as domestic abuse, arranged marriage, gender identity and mental health, make it a challenging read in that it challenges us to reconsider our own prejudice.

Like all really good literature this book will make you think. It will entertain, inform and enlighten the majority of us who have never experienced the life of a foreigner with a different skin colour in an extremely white and parochial community, or the concept of total sacrifice for the family, and while many of us have suffered homophobia, few have grown up in a society where the whole culture believes it is an abomination. The personal choices facing many of these characters will strike a chord; we are drawn in, caught up and immersed in their lives, and can’t help but want to save them, sort them out, and see them live the “happy ever after” they deserve.

RJ Samuel BiogEach of R J’s books shows her development as a master craftswoman. The prose is delightful, the characters complex, the plot twisted into knots and the settings are beautifully described. Add onto all that a deep and meaningful observation of humanity and a clever portrayal of the impact of multiple prejudices and our very personal reactions to them and you have an excellent and thought provoking novel.

This is one book I will find the time to reread, it will take at least 2 visits to really see the subtle interplay of personalities and fully appreciate the complex personal journeys that RJ has woven into this colourful tale.



Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • First published 2017
  • Publisher: Amazon  (July 5, 2017)
  • ASIN: B07379TC9V
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Running From Love – Jen Silver

Running From Love – Jen SilverBeth and Sam have been together 14 years, married two, and as far as Sam is aware everything is settled and solid. She comes home from a business trip to find her wife gone, her cat in kennels and her life in tatters. Pulling herself through the dark times and never quite accepting Beth has gone for good, she takes on a research project which should help her get away from it all.

Temperley Cliffs Golf Resort is the brain child of Lady Freya Temperley. Set up as a luxury hotel and teaching course Freya also hopes it will become a mainstay of the Women’s European Tour, and her ‘friend’, Golf Pro Andi, has designed the course to Open standards. They are about to run their first teaching course for women beginners and while Freya may have planned to the last degree, she hasn’t counted on the emotional interaction of 20 women in a resort for a fortnight.

Jen Silver writes great realistic and empathetic characters we can all recognise and understand. Here she has brought together a wide range of women, from the loud and obnoxious to she shy and retiring, with some seeking love, some surviving heartache and others trying to find a way to say just how they feel. Full of keen observation of human interaction, like “Christmas at Winterbourne”, “Running From Love” is another great character driven drama.

Jen Silver BioThe settings always play an important role In Jen Silver’s books and the north coast of Cornwall provides a stunning backdrop to the golfing and romance. Drawn with loving humour the golf itself is a constant thread, but doesn’t overwhelm or baffle a non-golfer, in fact the women at the resort are just as bemused, and through them we learn at least some of the basics.

Well written and well plotted, Jen Silver has given us another solid exploration of relationships new and old, examining how women interact and behave in a variety of situations. I would have liked to see more exploration and discussion of why Beth left, but that is just me wanting to explore the deeper psyche of these characters.

Another enjoyable read, entertaining and amusing at times while dealing with very real emotions of heartache, loneliness and fear of commitment, in a world where far too many women still have to worry about what society will think of them.



Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 301 pages
  • First published 2017
  • Publisher: Affinity (June 1, 2017)
  • ASIN: B071ZRGRLR
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Life In Death – M Ullrich

Life After Death - M UllrichThis is a powerful and moving book about two difficult subjects written in an unusual and clever style. Mary and Suzanne Dempsey are happily married, settled and solid. Then their adorable daughter Abigail is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Suddenly their almost perfect world is torn apart and rather than pull together the cracks deepen, almost unimaginably ending in divorce. But Abigail’s death, while devastating, also brings Marty something she has given up on, the glimmer of hope.

We are told up front the calamitous tragedy of the novel in a surprisingly revealing blurb that removes the suspense. But this book is all about the ‘how’, and while the blurb removes the factual anticipation, it in no way diminishes the emotional impact of those events. In addition the loss of a child is such a trigger the author and publisher no doubt felt it critical to pre-warn ‘romance’ readers of the content. And yet this is, truly, a romance.

Life In Death is an intriguing read. A serious psychological exploration of how a tragedy can impact the lives of a couple; how they react is the core of the plot. At first we aren’t engaged, Abigail’s illness understandably dominates and her Moms seem almost like cyphers with whom we have little empathy. But as the ‘plot’ develops Mary and Suzanne are filled in, each woman’s coping mechanisms drawn out and analysed through the impact their actions have on the family catastrophe.

Core to the break up is the interesting concept of who is to blame. The obvious culprit who fails into a moment of needy infidelity, or the guilt ridden wife whose own self doubt destroys the connection between a loving couple. And once seemingly destroyed, can that connection ever be reforged.

Add into this an unusual writing style where the then and now are literally woven together, with a flashback and a current scene in every chapter and this is simply a fascinating read. Despite the complex timeline we never lose where we are, the point of view is clear at all times and the plot flows effortlessly back and forward. I might have put the infidelity before the reconciliation to push the emotional tension higher, but this plot never loses its sense of anticipation. A genuine page turner that pulls you in, twists you up and makes you desperate for the happy ever after on offer.

My first book from this author and it certainly wont be my last; one of the best books of 2016 without a doubt. Such a joy to discover a ‘different’ romance with more mature women going through a real life scenario and an author who gets her teeth into gritty and difficult subjects with style and grace. Absolutely excellent reading.

BTW – I have tagged this 40+ because of the maturity, the exact age of the MC’s is irrelevant – VL


Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes (October 18, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01M0R6716
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The Roundabout – Gerri Hill

The Roundabout - Gerri HillThis isn’t my normal type of review – and there’s a spoiler about the storyline, so be warned.

On the one hand this is a lighthearted enjoyable read about slightly older women in a small town searching for love. Its starts with a bunch of single friends and through a series of sometimes funny and sometime poignant happenings we get to the expected happy ever after. It’s full of humour and the main relationship is delightful to watch.

As with all Gerri Hill’s books its well written and crafted, well edited. I liked the main characters, particularly Leah who I thought was a particularly gentle and genuine woman. At times I was slightly frustrated by the amount of emphasis on “I am too old to fall in love” or “They cant possibly get together they are too old”.. I don’t know how old Gerri Hill is but at 52 I certainly hope to fall in love again.

<SPOILER>
However one  of the storylines is one older woman bullying another character. This is going to be controversial, and I think many women will be upset and offended. If ‘light hearted’ but rather creepy and stalkersh cyber abuse, done as teasing and playing around, but taken too far, will upset you – don’t read it.

It didn’t completely ruin the book for me, but I think the plot could have started with this storyline as a tool to create the situation, then it could have been dealt with much earlier and the moral of the story not allowed the perpetrator to get off with ‘sorry’ and get her own HEA ending.

I normally love Gerri Hill’s books, and it’s great to see a story about older women finding love, just unfortunate in how one storyline has been dealt with. I suspect neither the author or publisher will have expected the strength of emotion this has generated among some readers and reviewers.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bella Books (December 13, 2016)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594935206
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The Review – Annette Mori

The Review – Annette MoriWhen a successful lesbian romance writer sets up a competition to meet her greatest fan, all manner of people can feel slighted and upset. Silver Lining, the author, knows who will win, as only one person has read the book pre-release, but she doesn’t expect the winners ex to get involved, or jealous stalkers to take a hand.

This is a fun read, complex and thoughtful but with a lot of humour. It deals with two difficult subjects – the guilt of moving on from losing your wife and mental illness. It also highlights how easy stalking is in the internet age where ‘fans’ can not only find everything they need on line, but hide behind intricate tech walls to protect themselves from discovery. And ultimately it’s a sweet romance, one in which two women need to emerge from difficult pasts and have the courage to take a step into the future.

The characters are well done and varied, their emotional issues, whether sympathetic or not, are carefully constructed and believable. While the main focus is on 6 women, the appearance of a classic gay bff, Preston, lightens the drama and creates a real sense of amusement.

Annette Mori BioThe tension is real. Annette Mori cleverly builds up a classic stalker profile in our minds, and then spins us around when we are completely confident we know what is happening. There’s a point of high drama, and a kind resolution, overall a well done story arc and a pleasing flow.

Ms Mori takes interesting subjects and writes good books. I did think there were a few places at the beginning that could have been tightened up with sharper editing, but once past those the story sweeps you away. I always enjoy reading this author and this is no exception.

Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Affinity (September 30, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01LXE57N4
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When Butches Cry – Genta Sebastian

When Butches Cry - Genta SebastianTraf is the archetypal tomboy, the first girl to play football with the boys, competing with her brother in everything, ringleader and troublemaker. As she grows from a child to a feisty teen she realizes she is more different than just her hatred of the confinements of skirts and ladylike behavior. In the extremely regimented and catholic word of the Portuguese Azores in the early 1960’s she must fight to be herself and carve a life in a tiny community where there is nowhere to hide.

This is an interesting read. We have stories of British and American lesbian life in the ‘50s and 60’s, but this is the first I have come across set in another country, and the differences are intriguing. The old-world Island of Terceira is tiny and the populations small: the group of ‘maria rapaz’ (tomboys) stands out and draws attention. The island is extremely conservative in many ways, girls not even allowed to dance with boys until they are formally courting, and their courting done with a chaperone present at all times. Women have a very clearly defined role and are forcibly not allowed to step out of them.

Vitoria (Traf) was never cut out to fit in the world of parental and patriarchal control and rebels in every conceivable way. As she grows she draws a group of like-minded women around her, and over time they form into a butch and femme group; friends, lovers, community and club. While their struggles to find themselves and establish a lifestyle is similar to tales from elsewhere, the level of violence they suffer for being visibly gay is shocking and at times heart rendering.

Life on the island is fascinating, showing us a different world in both terms of the rural lifestyle and the old fashioned ways. Ms Sebastian uses it to great effect as both a backdrop and as a way to place these women in a different world. The landscape is very much part of the story and the land a strong presence in the women’s lives.

The group of lesbians are a colourful mix, themselves set into rigidly defined roles of butch and femme that constrain their lives. Even there Traf rebels, constrained by the perceived role of a butch but frustrated by the rules which expect her to act like a husband and yet denies her sexual release.

Everything about this book feels very slightly alien. It’s a glimpse into a life where generations of customs and religious beliefs have regimented every aspect of women’s lives, with a European twist and a Portuguese flavour.

There’s a twist in the tale that suggests this will become a series, and I will want to read what happens next, whether Traf escapes the confines of her life through her career in the US Air Force, or convinces herself to stay loyal to a home and girlfriend that seem wholly too small for her.

(publisher review copy received)

Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 277 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Sapphire (December 15, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01M0G13HC
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Rainbow Gap – Lee Lynch

Rainbow Gap - Lee LynchSometimes it is hard to write a review because you can’t find the words, in this case it’s hard to find words big enough to describe such an epic tale. Set in Florida in the 50’s and 60’s Lee Lynch has constructed a story that creates a movie style landscape in your mind.

It opens with the portrayal of two young school friends, one the circus freak with too much testosterone, the other the pretty girl who choses her friend above popularity. The plot is 15 years of simple day-to-day living, with their small personal dramas, but set in the midst of complex times that frequently touch their lives. A brother away in Vietnam, the first battles of women’s lib, the early stirrings of gay rights, the communist threat, and the on-going racial segregation all form a backdrop to the changing world around them.

Jaudon and Berry form an instant bond that in small town America in the 1950’s literally had no name. They forge a life together based on nothing more than their absolute belief that they belong. With no role models, no community and very little support they just ‘are’. Each step, from the first tentative kiss to finding their own place in the world, individually and as a couple, is an exploration of how to be.

The Florida swamp plays a powerful role in the novel, from how the girls grow up in the most basic of shacks to the ever-present voice of frogs and the bite of mosquitos. More than just setting the scene the landscape is a living being with a character and a sub-plot of its own, almost a will of its own, taking action in the lives of the families who carve out a life in the encroaching greenery and the overwhelming heat.

We meet a broad range of characters from the distant overachieving mother to the warm and loving gran, the gay boys who struggle to be themselves and a bunch of recognisable 1960’s feminists beginning to fight for women’s rights. For anyone old enough to have lived through those heady days of the women’s groups and early gay community it rings so many bells. The strident activists, the surreptitious gatherings, the support and the angst of women learning the hard way how to fight for change.

Lee Lynch bioThis is both a coming out and growing up story, but also a timeless work of literary fiction, with classic writing that draws you into it’s world. The plot may be simple but the characters, interactions and subplots are the history of lives lived at a time when literally everything they did was unknowingly revolutionary.

Rainbow Gap will win awards across the board, and deservedly so. It is simple in plot, but complex in emotion. It is a genuine classic telling of nothing more or less than real life. More than anything it’s a story of the birth of our community and the fight to be openly who we are.

 

(publisher review copy received)

Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (December 13, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01MSO1NY5
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Lone Ranger – VK Powell

Lone Ranger - VK PowellEmma Ferguson is a wannabe reporter in shock from her girlfriend’s heartless infidelity. She is running away to escape the fall out and another failed relationship. Emma accepts an assignment from an elderly lady in a small town to write the family history, but all is not as it seems and we soon have a cold case murder mystery on our hands.

Booked into to stay in a park cabin Emma immediately meets the eccentric Ann, an out lesbian from a time when dealing with small town issues was even harder than now, and her park ranger niece, Carter. Ann and Carter are incredibly close, surviving a series of tragic losses, and forming a strong bond. Unfortunately Emma’s digging is literally going to force all sorts of family history out into the public view.

The who-dunnit is interesting, merging 37-year-old history and characters with modern day threats and aggression intended to hide the truth. The villain becomes obvious fairly early on, but we are never quite sure which of two characters is the real baddy, and there is enough suspense to keep the pages turning. Add in a series of attempts to drive Emma off the trail, and a twisted ‘stalker’ cop and the mystery was well done.

VK Powell BiogEmma is insecure, warm and caring, struggling with the on-going impact of her father’s disappearance, while Carter is emotionally cut off, giving them the classic ying and yang of lesbian relationships. At time Carter’s wavering was a little overpowering, on the one hand she is a king and intuitive woman working with children, on the other she wont listen to her gut responses to her on and off again lover. We know why Carter acts like she does, but it still irked.

Ann is charming, funny, kind and with a great back history. The small town and settings are also well done, with just enough divergence from the stereotype to save the secondary characters, especially the amusing Fanny, the intelligent Sherriff and the lightly drawn Sissy and Clem – and although I did find the ex’s rather too shallow to be credible they did add humour.

Soundly written and healthily paced with VK Powell’s usual attention to detail and well plotted storyline this was an enjoyable read. There were times I wanted to shake the main characters, but the steamy sex scenes more than made up for my short lived annoyance with them. I would definitely put it as a romantic suspense and murder mystery rather than a romance.

NB while the MC’s aren’t over 40 Ann certainly is and I found enough synergy with her struggles to rate this of interest to 40+ readers

(publisher review copy received)

Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (Nov 15, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01MA6JTAP
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Don’t Let Go – Sheryl Wright

Don't Let Go - Sheryl WrightNothing is quiet so refreshing as a something completely different to the norm. Don’t Let Go is a traditional romance, set in the corporate world and with a twist of a corporate intrigue to add to the action. What makes it unusual is that the main character in both the romance and the corporation is a Vet who has suffered a traumatic brain injury and is suffering from a range of seemingly catastrophic after effects.

Georgie is still the dynamo inventor and project manager for the family’s engineering company, despite her injuries. But her social skills and interactions have been deeply impacted by the TBI. Her ‘handlers’ feel she needs a secretary /baby-sitter, she knows she needs somebody with a much wider remit.

Tyler is an unemployed professor who is reluctant to take on a job she initially perceives as beneath her, but once she gets over herself she realises that there is far more to Georgie than first appearances suggest.

Georgie is an amazingly complex character. Her wit and intelligence is hidden behind her lack of comunication but demonstrated in her genius, her TBI restrictions are extremely well portrayed, obvious but subtly drawn, and her internal battles and frustrations cleverly presented through her internal dialogue and actions. Tyler takes a little time to grow into a likeable character, her self-absorption at the start of the novel is not attractive, but as she comes to understand Georgie she grows in stature and becomes a more empathic character.

There is a huge family and extremely complex family dynamics. I am not sure even now that I am quite sure who is related to who and how, but while that might sound chaotic in some ways it doesn’t matter. What we do get is a very strongly drawn line in the sand of who is and who is not Georgie’s supporters and fans.

The romance was slightly less interesting than the character development and the corporate shenanigans. There were a few strands which were left untied, (I wanted to know what happened within the company after the corporate intrigue plays out) and a few bumps I found a little untidy along the way. But overall I really enjoyed this – primarily because Georgie is such a refreshing and well-drawn main character. Her gentle emergence from the seeming isolation inside her head, combined with the slow reveal of how much support she actually has, made it something I couldn’t put down.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bella Books (September 18, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01M15D24X
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In the Distance There Is Light – Harper Bliss

In the Distance There Is Light - Harper BlissJust finished Harper Bliss’s newest creation, and have to admit to some mixed feelings. On the one hand it is an extremely well drawn, complex and emotional story about love and loss, both strongly intermingled throughout. On the other it is a romance that cant help but raise the eyebrows if nothing else.

As always it is well written, the characters are deep, three-dimensional and emotionally complicated women, although we get almost no physical clues about them at all.

The romance is hot and steamy, the sex scenes realistic and explicit without falling into the pitfalls of repetition.

The background is scant, and even the supporting cast are lightly drawn because there literally are three people in this romance, and one of them is the recently departed Ian, who is mentioned, talked about and remembered in almost every scene.

The grief is handled exceptionally well, with the long slow and painful process of hurt and anger explored through interior monologue and letters to the deceased.

The romance is surprising, without giving explicit spoilers it is hard to explain. I couldn’t lose myself in the passion without being conscious of the situation and I did find some of it a little hard to take – some of the scenes such as the pantry. I also thought Sophie got over her guilt/angst a little too easily each time for having overstepped what for most would be such a massive boundary on so many levels.

But hats of to Harper Bliss for putting it out there and inviting the comment. This will certainly stay with me for a long time and I may find that my opinion changes on reflection. I enjoyed it. I was just never completely comfortable with it.

 

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Ladylit Publishing (September 8, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01LWAB4RL
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