40+

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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Heartwood – Catherine Lane

Heartwood - Catherine LaneA well written and complex plot of then and now. 1960’s and Beth, the small town girl, falls head over heals for the cosmopolitan – and straight – Hollywood star, Dawn. Present day and renowned author Beth is a recluse locked away in her mansion, but her cook, Maggie, thinks something is wrong with her care.

Maggie has always gotten in trouble for her mad imagination, so it is going to be a struggle to convince anyone of a conspiracy, especially the buttoned up and controlled lawyer, Nikka, sent to stop the town’s small businesses using Beth’s books as a tourist attraction.

A mix of old fashioned love story and a tragedy, Ms Lane cleverly weaves two romances throughout the beginning of the book and gradually brings them together for a charming denouement. While complex, the mix of voices and timelines is well done and easy to follow and the author manages to clearly differentiate the accepted social mores of the time without having to lecture.

It’s an interesting tale, meshing the then and now, merging the lives of the women, and offering us a range of complex and powerful characters. Each one of the players is well portrayed, but Maggie and Nikka are particularly sympathetically drawn. 1960’s Beth’s naiveté and fear make her rather painful to read, and Dawn is self centered. Perhaps the intolerance of the time justifies her behavior, but on a personal level her scheming is simply cruel. They create their own tragedy.

Heartwood is well written and edited, it has humour and pathos, moments of joy and yet is based around a deep life-altering tragedy. The conspiracy is tenable and while some of the bit players are rather stereotypical others, notably the characters of the modern day town, are rendered with obvious affection. Josie is particularly adorable and I would love to know more of her story in a whole other novel.

And yet, the tale of ‘then’ didn’t grab me. I liked the plot concept and how it was done, but I didn’t like Dawn, I found 1960’s Beth annoying, and without giving a spoiler her inaction in the aftermath of the pivotal crisis did not ring true. For me, her deep flaw, then and now, was rather simplistically depicted. I loved the Maggie and Nikka storyline, however, and look forward to reading more from this obviously talented author.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 247 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Ylva Verlag (July 15, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01I0N3JW4
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Desert Places – Erica Abbott

Desert Places – Erica AbbottI liked the main characters, Deputy County Attorney Jean McAllister and Sherriff Lea Hawkins’s, both strong independent and well established women. I particularly enjoyed meeting the Hawkins family, whose warmth and welcome were charming. For once the wicked homophobic family members (Jeans’ mother and brother) get their due comeuppance.

The mystery is not hard to solve, but adds layer of storyline which intertwines neatly with the gentle romance and family relationships. We certainly know who the nasties are.. but whether they are the baddies and how far their perfidy has spread makes enough of an mystery to keep the pages turning.

Erica AbbottMs Abbott uses her native Colorado to great effect with stunning scenery, moonlight walks and sunset rides. The love of place is evident and adds a depth to the story, where the Hawkins are firmly rooted in the land and the community.

Good storytelling, likeable characters and a charming romance… I thoroughly enjoyed this, a light and fast read, perfect for a summers day in the garden.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • First published 2015
  • Publisher: Bella Books (July 19, 2015)
  • ASIN: B01258EGGI
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