All posts by VL

The Carousel – Stefani Deoul

The Carousel - Stefani DeoulI absolutely loved “The Carousel”. It’s the tale of a lost women, literally, figuratively, emotionally, physically, who accidentally finds a dismembered carousel in a small town junk yard, and in saving the carousel not only saves herself but the small town community she was just passing through.

Glorious characters, good, bad and ugly, in depth relationships new and old, a plethora of interesting and absorbing personalities and an almost simplistic plot for them to revolve around. It is a triumph of human observation set in a tiny community of people, people who had lost themselves and each other. Watching the ebb and flow of rediscovery is, quite simply, joyful. 

Secrets Well Kept – Lynn Ames

Secrets Well Kept - Lynn AmesOne of the wonderful developments which has been made possible by the spread of the “information age” is our access to the hidden histories of women, particularly in the 20th century when their work was recorded and noted, but not publicized. With our ever increasing access to the cinematic and TV reels, the notes and minutes of a dramatic century we are coming to recognize the contribution of so many women to the huge endeavours that have changed the world: Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first algorithm intended to be executed by a computer, Grace Hopper was the first person to design a compiler for a programming language, Hedy Lamarr who developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes which was later incorporated into Bluetooth technology and used in legacy versions of Wi-Fi, Katherine Johnson, the mathematician we met and loved in “Hidden Figures” who took them to the moon and brought them home again.

Lynn Ames latest novel is exactly on point with a fictional historical romance based on the lives of the women who extracted the uranium used for the first atomic bombs. Unrecognized, either for praise or blame, women worked the dials, extracting the uranium the US needed to win the arms race and ultimately to force Japan to its knees. The majority of these women had no idea what they were doing, just did their best to support the war effort. But one woman did know, did understand the enormity of what they were doing, even if she couldn’t have imagined the destruction and human cost of the bombs that were dropped.

In Ames’ first book in the series “Chain Reactions” we meet the elderly Nora Lindstrom and learn of her immense contribution to the US war effort, not least her silence, and her subsequent grief and guilt for the impact of those dropped bombs. In Secrets Well Kept we jump back to 1943, to the reality of being the only woman with top level clearance at Oak Ridge, the site built for uranium extraction in Tennessee, part of the wider Manhattan Project. Alongside the sole woman physicist we meet the girls given training to turn the dials, balance the voodoo science that extracts the uranium.. “girls” who proved more competent at the task than the male PhD’s who always wanted to know why.

But like all Lynn Ames’ excellent stories there is a romance, illicit in many senses; 2 women goes without saying, but compounded by boss/worker and the explicit need for secrecy in terms of sexuality, relationship and war effort, doubled for Nora who knows what they are doing and the likely impact of their work. The romance is sweet and poignant, set in monumental times, which, literally, changed the world.

The history is compelling, given what we now know of the devastation caused to so many millions, and while we can recognize the Allies desperation to end the war with Japan, we will always question the annihilation of a whole city of souls, and then another, to make the point. The emotional impact of that later understanding on the people who made those bombs cannot be imagined, and the girls who worked the dials were purposefully kept in the dark, adding to the shock of discovering what they had been doing.

Overall an impactful book, made human, as always, by Lynn Ames’ excellent writing, her attention to detail and her emotive and sympathetic characters. But for me personally the real impact is that of a bunch of high school graduate level women, with no scientific training, being the instruments – and they were literally the tools – of the war machine that was determined to win the nuclear race and use that victory to end the war.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • First published 2017
  • Publisher: Phoenix Rising Press (15 July 2019)
  • ASIN: B07TBT2212
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

Incognito – VK Powell

Incognito – VK PowellJust finished VK’s latest crime romance and it’s a cracker. Set in the US and Australia, a team of US Marshalls and a semi-feral DEA agent hunt for a crime boss and his sidekicks as they flee from arrest. It’s fast paced, action packed and keeps you glued to the page. The whole team are engaging characters and would definitely work as an ongoing series (pretty please VK?). It’s a classic “will they won’t they” romance as the MC’s have a ton of baggage each, some ancient but inescapable, some very recent and raw. Great reading as always with VK Powell’s cop based romances.

Chain Reactions – Lynn Ames

Chain Reaction“Chain Reactions” finds elderly scientist Nora Lindstrom forced, in the face her own mortality, into contacting her long-estranged family. Her great-niece, Diana, convinced her aunt has been dead for twenty years, nevertheless responds to the plea from Nora’s lawyer and visits her beloved aunt, Diana’s inspiration for becoming a scientist and so much more. Shocked into the reality that her parents have lied to her for 35 years, Diana must quickly adapt to both the reappearance and frailty of her aunt as they begin to explore their new relationship.

The 100-year-old Nora needs live-in care Diana can’t provide but her scheming doctor introduces them to Brooke, a burnt-out paediatric nurse who has taken refuge nearby to heal her pain from losing too many cancer patients. Between them, Brooke and Diana care for the wilful old lady, supporting her fading strength and indomitable spirit, and in so doing both become fascinated by the history Nora has been part of, and the unspoken sacrifice of an inspirational woman.

Lynn Ames’ multi-layered romance presents us with a modern-day pathos, an ancient mystery, a slice of untaught history, and a poignant parallel between the generations. Nora is a classic representation of her era; stoic, realist and patriot, who stepped up when called by her country, proud to have served her part, yet plagued by the responsibility for her actions and ultimately sacrificing her own personal happiness as a consequence. Modern-day Diana has taken a similar route, putting medical research above a private life, and Brooke, the more empathic of the three, has made a comparable sacrifice, giving her energy to the care of others.

As the two younger women discover Nora’s personality and uncover her history, they inevitably form a bond, and despite the strain of the situation, lay the foundation for a tense friendship. As the strain of Nora’s final days grows, Diana and Brooke are drawn together, and Nora’s final wishes will push them both into a new reality.

These are three powerful women, exquisitely drawn, each with strength and sadness, each having chosen a path that has put their career first at the cost of personal happiness. Ames cleverly reveals them through the medium of their interaction and their exploration of each other, showing us their hidden pain as they are laid bare on the page. Nora, atoning for her self-imposed guilt, a huge figure in the fight against leukaemia, Diana, battling to find a cure for epilepsy and Brooke, caring for frequently terminal leukaemia patients, each has given their individual strength to the battle they have chosen.

Love suffuses the pages of this romance, love for family however distant, love that hasn’t faded despite the years, and love that grows even through the tension of caring for a dying relative. Nora’s love of her great-niece is a powerful force that neither Diana nor Brooke can ultimately withstand.

Emotional, poignant and touching, “Chain Reactions” will pull your heart strings every which way, leaving you bereft by Nora’s loss, awed by her history, yet buoyed by the overwhelming sense of hope that Diana and Brooke might not repeat her mistakes. Lynn Ames has the ability to pull a historical thread and bring it alive through her characters, women we cannot help but fall in love with. I guarantee you won’t put it down, and I cannot wait for the prequel.

Zero Sum Game – Stefani Deoul

Zero Sum Game - Stefani DeoulStefani Deoul has an amazing knack for creating an absolutely brilliant, light-hearted, witty and fun adventures based on the geekiness of a bunch of high school seniors. That may not be a shocking concept but what is shocking is how totally enthralling the stories are when those seniors are literally light years away from our own personal experience. I knew nothing about LARP’s – until I read “LARP”, and very little about MMPRPG’s until I read “Zero Sum Game”, but despite that watching a bunch of geeky teens solve crimes using techno-savvy and comradery turns out to be simply beguiling.

“Zero Sum Game” finds our racially, culturally and sexually diverse team close to grounded after the escapades in “On a LARP”. While an inter-school robotic project is the officially sanctioned character building exercise that releases them from parental disapprobation it is the theft of one of the posse’s online game inventory which creates a new cyber adventure and ultimately puts them back on hero status.

Half of what I’m saying sounds like gobbledegook even though I now know what it means… and hence the awe given that we, the readers are unlikely to have any knowledge of this teen cyber world unless we have teens of our own, yet Deoul teaches us, leads us and manages to entertain us in this brave new world.

The characters are charming, the plot convincing and the crime all too easy to believe. The inter-relationships between the gang, school colleagues and family members adds depth and grounds the personalities into reality. And most of all we can feel the love shine through from author to page and from Sid and her friends, bathing us all in the light.

Brilliant series;  charming, intelligent, authentic and genuine. If you haven’t read “On a LARP” go get reading. “Zero Sum Game” is an excellent follow-up and I can’t wait to see Sid take on ASL and find her green-eyed beauty.

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: 190 pages
  • First published 2018
  • Publisher: Bywater Books (December 11, 2018)
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

Thorn – Anna Burke

Thorn - Anna Burke“Thorn” is a lesbian feminist fairy-tale with a vengeance, highlighting the power and vulnerability of women, the expectations of society and the literal battles, both emotional and physical, that women fight to be themselves.

In true fairy-tale style, the evil ice queen rides a bear, leads a pack of wolves and exacts an awful revenge on anyone who dares enter her lands to take what is hers. Yet under the frightful cold exterior is a woman trapped by her own arrogant narcissism into one too many acts of cruelty which has been punished by the local witch. To escape she must lose everything she holds dear, and that which she cannot bear to lose.

Our Cinderella is the wealthy merchant’s daughter fallen on hard times, reduced from the high life of the city to a small cottage and meagre living, sold off to the local lord for his sons betrothed to cement her father’s mercantile ambitions. Mourning the loss of her beloved mother, her father’s act of kindness on her birthday enslaves her to the evil Queen and life in the barren castle at the heart of winter.

Full of passion, love and loss, one woman must lose everything to regain herself, the other must risk everything to become the woman society has repressed.

Anna Burke’s second novel is so far from the first as to be incredible. From “Compass Rose”, Sci-Fi fantasy in a future drowned world, to a twist on a classic Ice Queen fairy-tale set in a medieval landscape. And yet the world-building, character development, complex interpersonal relationships and deeply entwined use of nature as both a proactive setting and physical presence are so strong in both that when you recover your wits and think about both books you can see the powerful similarities.

The writing is exquisite. The imagination behind both books is awe inspiring. And even more when you reach the end and realise that without ever making a “thing” about it Burke has subverted the whole but having women take all the major characters; the men are ineffectual wanna-be’s in secondary roles.

An epic romance, a dramatic adventure, an exploration of what women are capable of, both good, bad and ugly. And all wrapped up in a story worthy of a blockbuster Netflix fantasy. Just brilliant – Ms Burke is one to watch.

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: 215 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bywater Books (January 29, 2019)
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

Calendar Girl – Georgia Beers

Calendar Girl – Georgia BeersAddison Fairchild has spent her whole life trying to impress her powerful mother, creator of the extremely successful Fairchild empire. Now her mother has announced her retirement Addison has given up all semblance of a real life and is working herself into the ground to show she deserves to step into the top job. When her health collapses under the strain Addison is forced to accept an assistant, but determined to use her in the most basic ways, collecting her dry cleaning and picking up her groceries.

Katie Cooper accepts a part-time second job at Fairchild Enterprises because, quite frankly,  her family need the money. Her father’s dementia is deteriorating and they need full time care, but the bills are mounting along with her mother’s worries. Having given up her business degree to move home and help her mum, Katie will put up with almost anything to hold on to the well paid PA job, however difficult her new boss is to work for.

This is a classic office “ice queen” romance and an excellent example of opposites attract. The main characters are likeable and well developed, Katie’s backstory is particularly poignant and Beers explores the impact of dementia on a family with subtle but keen observation. Addison’s relationship with her Mother and sibling rivalry are the building blocks of her character and her intensity has made her blinkered to the fact they are, first and foremost, a family that love and care about her. And thus the stage is set for Katie to find room for her own life while also helping her family and Addison to find that her family desperately want her to have a life.

Both families are important to the story and again reinforce the “opposites” theme, the Fairchild’s as high powered business people who can barely meet once a month at a restaurant for dinner and whose absentee father never appears; the Coopers, warm, domestic, welcoming and close-knit where caring for each other comes first. I also really liked our main characters BFFs and there is definitely room for a follow up to allow Sophie and Samantha’s stories to develop.

Georgia Beers writes some damn fine romances, we all know where this is going and how it will end, but there as some fun moments along the way. The cast are loveable and the main characters have genuine journeys they need to take. I thoroughly enjoyed it, excellent ‘happy place’ reading.

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: 233 pages
  • First published 2018
  • Publisher: BSB (November 13, 2018)
  • ASIN: B07JHG5YY3
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

Black Ridge Falls – Jody Klaire

Black Ridge Falls – Jody KlaireWhen ex-con and person of interest, Aeron Lorelei, goes on vacation with Commander Renee Black all they want is peace and quiet in the Colorado mountains. But peace and quiet aren’t exactly what follow Aeron and Renee around, and they, along with the rest of the SIG special ops team, soon find themselves fighting for their lives as old enemies come back for revenge and old friends step in to help them.

The three key members of SIG, Aeron, Renee and Frei, are masters of their crafts, physically tough, elite members of the special services, and, in their own individual ways, super agents as well. Aeron is the empath and healer, but also, unbeknownst to her, the physical rock whose stubborn determination means she never quits when her friends need her. Commander Renee Black is the crème de la crème of specialist soldiers, with more decorations than room on her uniform she is the Bond style super-agent. General Ursula Frei is the head of SIG, the is the toughest, meanest and strongest of them all, leading by example with her hyper-intelligence and superhero physical skills.

But underneath their amazing abilities these women are the best of friends with a deep and genuine love for each other. They are very real human beings who have insecurities and fears, worry about their capabilities and want to be the best they can, each for very different reasons. And supporting them are a brilliant array of friends and family, real and incorporeal, who we have come to know as well as the core trio over the series of heavyweight action adventures.

Book 6 of the Above and Beyond series follows on shortly from “Noble Heart”. This is very much a serialised story, and while each book is a complete story arc in itself, the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts. In this episode we learn a whole lot more about Frei’s emotional depths, about Renee’s family background, the truth about the death of her father and brother, and watch with amused affection Aeron’s bumbling realisation of her feelings.

Which is an odd way to describe an action-packed storyline which makes Bond, Mission impossible and Tomb Raider added together look tame. While the story starts with a gentle reunion it is soon ramped up to a multi-scene encounter with the baddies, SIG under attack on several fronts while the Frei and Lorelei families employ their varied skills to support our heroes. The core of the action boils down to a vicious running battle across Renee’s infamous Black Mountain with multiple nail-biting moments and a breathless final escape.

And in the end the cliffhanger from hell, taking us right back to the opening of the series in “The Empath”… and quite frankly ready to wring the author’s neck if book 7, the last in the series,  doesn’t come out fairly soon.

It’s a huge series, epic isn’t big enough. It’s a love story, it’s a deeply engaging tale of three powerful women fighting against cruel and inhumane criminals, it’s a masterful ensemble piece where we have grown to know a huge cast of players, and it is a breath-taking action adventure that will have your mind reeling as it races around the various settings and the diverse groups interact.

There isn’t praise high enough for a series that absorbs the brain and imagination on so many levels. Its breath-taking, enthralling, engaging, well written and simply stunning. If you love good stories, strong women, fast-paced action, deep characters, wide casts and a book you can’t put down you really need to read this series.

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: 310 pages
  • First published 2018
  • Publisher: Bedazzled Ink (October 25, 2018)
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

Love All – Rachel Spangler

Love All – Rachel SpanglerAs one of the senior tennis players on the women’s tennis tour, former star Jay Pierce has lived through the ups and downs of life on the court, as well as surviving vicious personal slander and the worst of the paparazzi. Making a final comeback with her signature sarcastic wit and humour, she battles her demons and keeps her self shut-down in self-defence.

At the opposite end of the spectrum up and coming Destiny Larson breaks into the senior tour at 17, expecting to be a star and finding the competition much tougher in the bigger pond. Supporting her in every way is tennis mom Sadie Larsen, a woman who chose to be a single mother from the start, rejected settling for anything, and who will fight like a Grizzly for her daughter.

When Destiny’s coach throws them together to help both their tennis and their finances, sparks fly on and off the court between all three women; the bitter older player, the precocious and sometimes bratty teenager and the Mom trying to keep the peace, bring up a well-rounded human under the pressures of the tour and the woman who has never allowed herself to have a life.

This is Rachel Spangler’s best book yet. She continues to grow as a writer, to refine her craft, deepen her emotional pull and combine wit, humour, pathos and tension into a wonderful story about the growth of three women all wrapped into Spangler’s well-researched sports settings.

Jay is damaged goods but so easy to love as a character, she simply resonates as a deeply traumatised and hurt woman. Her tennis, her personal life, her mental health and her professional standing have never recovered from a spiteful incident that rocked the tennis world and essentially destroyed her career along with her self-belief. She fights on a daily basis to maintain some level of decorum in the face of unending attacks from the press and the drain that has on her emotionally and physically.

Destiny is a teenager thrust into the big stage; hating the limelight, impacted by the pressure, her game falters. A typical teen she must learn to play the ‘professional’ game, make nice in the post-match interviews, smile for the cameras, and realise that sponsorship and her professional standing depends on more than just her ability on court. She must also learn that a spiteful comment can have severe consequences and that, as a grown up, she must take responsibility for her childish actions.

Sadie is the rock, the mum we wish we had, but also an adorable woman inside and out. She is the foundation upon which her daughter’s life, character and career is built; she becomes the strength that supports their doubles partnership. But she must learn to let Destiny become a woman and, after 17 years of putting her daughter first, that she has a right to her own life, a life that includes standing up for, and with, the woman she loves.

The tension in this story is palpable. On the court, back stage, in private – between each of these women locked into a triangle of mutual need, want and pressure. To call a sports-based romance a page-turner might seem extreme, but the emotional anxiety makes it very hard to put this book down. Spangler has created a wonderful trio of characters, ably supported by a few key secondaries who also have lessons to learn, and she literally pulls you into their world. It is so real you feel like you are eavesdropping on the tour, not reading fiction. And the crescendo is nerve-wracking; having become so emotionally invested in the characters, the cliffhanger of who will hold up, who will do the right thing, who will step up… breath taking.

It is wonderful to see a romance writer hone her craft, work to grow and improve, and follow along on the coat-tails. This story showcases Spangler’s ability to develop the emotional intelligence of her characters, tackle multiple complex women and their individual needs, and merge the whole into a spell-binding story of personal achievement and growth. I literally couldn’t put it down.

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: 299 pages
  • First published 2018
  • Publisher: Bywater Books (October 16, 2018)
  • ASIN: B07H8NQ427
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

In the Vanishers’ Palace – Aliette de Bodard

In the Vanishers’ Palace - Aliette de BodardYên, scholar and healer’s daughter, feels worthless and unworthy, knowing her place in the village is tenuous and her value low. When her mother summons the magic of the dragon to save the village leaders daughter from a fatal virus, Yen is not surprised when the all powerful village elders sacrifice her to the dragon.

But rather than being torn apart Yênfinds herself in the Vanisher’s Palace, servant to the dragon Vu Côn and teacher to her teenage children. As the attraction grows between Yên

and Vu Côn both must learn some hard lessons; Yên that she is worthy, Vu Côn that her power dos not make her right.

This is, undoubtedly, an unusual take on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast. Set in post-apocalyptic Vietnam and infused with Viet language and customs, we are transported to a version of the world where a cruel and heartless race of aliens, the Vanishers, have come, abused, tested and broken the world, leaving behind them fantasy palaces and mutating gene viruses. They have also left behind magic, the magic of words, a little of which remains with the healers and the one remaining dragon, Vu Côn.

Aliette de Bodard’s writing is exquisite, lyrical, flowing, pure poetry in prose form. The descriptions, both physical and emotional, leave you with vivid mental images; from the village with its poverty and minimalist survival to the Escher like Palace with its magic powers and fantasy proportions, and the horror of the Plague Grove, you cannot read this and be untouched.

Ethics and integrity play a fundamental role in the telling of the tale, from the abuse of power to the nature of real power, the treatment of a subservient race to the place of servants and the role of masters. And, unlike in the original fairy-tale, the consequence of abduction and virtual slavery is questioned and challenged. Even the happy ever after we would expect remains a completely unknown quantity until the very end, because in this cruel world what could possibly be a happy ever after.

This isn’t the easiest read, at times it is a steep learning curve to catch the sense of the complex worldbuilding and customs. It challenges the reader to learn, adapt and follow, while also giving an intricate and very adult take on the morals of a world torn apart and the people scraping by to survive.

It’s not something I would normally pick up, but I am glad I have read it and been introduced to this amazing author and her wonderful prose.

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: 145 pages
  • First published 2018
  • Publisher: JABberwocky (October 16, 2018)
  • ASIN: B07H43M4KT
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.