General/Literary

The Urn Carrier – Chris Convissor

The Urn Carrier - Chris Convissor When her great aunt dies and the family gathers, nineteen year old Tessa finds herself tasked with taking a road trip to spread the ashes. Provided with her aunts antique caravan and a brand new truck to pull it, taking just the dog for company, she sets out to follow the prescribed trail through the places her aunt so loved. Along the way she finds herself, of course, but also her heritage and her family secrets, explores the space of being alone and the wonder of a peaceful life on the road. Ultimately what started as a chore nobody else would take on reveals itself to be a gift her aunt has left her in a myriad of ways.

This is an excellent piece of writing. The descriptions are full and sensuous, bringing the reader to the scene with a sense of wonderment for the beauty of the landscape and clearly showing the authors deep love of nature and appreciation of the old ways. Tessa’s ethnicity is not specified but her connection to the land is strong and forms a solid thread throughout the story.

Tessa is an interesting character. She isn’t filled out in great detail and takes a long time to emerge, patience is required, but as her character unfolds it is clear both because of her own story, and who she is, why she is sketched in so slowly. And yet despite that slow emergence she is a person of joy and lightness, she fills the pages with youthful enthusiasm despite the heavy darkness that has surrounded her and the threats she faces along the journey.

This is a classic American road trip, with challenges and failures, highs and lows. As well as a journey of self development it is also very strongly a tale of an emerging adult, finding herself partly in the land around her, partly in the solitude, and partly from learning about her aunt and the people she meets along the way. Chris Convissor’s sparse writing style elegantly reveals several lives in one intertwined tale, as she explores Tessa’s father and mother, her aunt and her friends.

Overall an intriguing read, it kept me glued to the pages as the author balanced teenage angst, fear of failure and joy for living with the exploration of dark family secrets and emerging adulthood.  The editing lets the book down which is a shame, as the writing  is beautiful and flows with a well rounded style that shows amazing craft for a debut novel.

I would recommend it, a thoughtful and engaging read.



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: 250 pages
  • First published 2017
  • Publisher: BINK (September 1, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01GQQVW6W
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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 Liberators of Willow Run – Marianne K. Martin

The Liberators of Willow Run By Marianne K. MartinSome books are just important. Important to read, to feel, to remember. Some books remind us where we came from and how much we have gained. Some books can lift us up in a time of darkness and remind us how strong we are to have gotten where we are. “The Liberators of Willow Run” By Marianne K. Martin is one of those books, and reading it right now reminds us of the giant strides all women have made to take control of their lives, that lesbians have made in fighting to be open and equal.

Set in the Second World War we have two threads, a ‘Rosie The Riveter’ working at the B-24 Bomber plant in Detroit along with her mixed team of men, women, and the wonderfully self possessed Nona, an African American woman determined to make her way in the world despite her skin colour and her gender. Our “Rosie” is Audrey, heartbroken, hidden and determined to keep her independence.

The second thread brings us Ruth, entombed in a home for pregnant girls with a bullying matron and daily doses of moral education meant to teach the girls a lesson and set them on the ‘right’ road to marriage and social acceptability. Ruth is all too aware of the mistakes she has made, but they aren’t quite the ones Matron is bashing them all for.

Audrey feels she will never have the chance of love and settles in with work to fill her life, and friendship with Nona to fill her social time. Ruth escapes the home and family determined to set up on her own. Both have a huge amount of pain to deal with in  a harsh world, where their crimes are simply being who they are. And both have something to prove – that they are strong enough to not only fight their own demons, but help others along the “Willow Run”.

The characters are deep and rounded, the relationships and friendships realistic and well drawn. The story flows, the drama is real and the history detailed and yet not overwhelming with facts and figures but integrated skillfully into these women’s lives

We ache for the pain of the girls in the home, we fight along with Audrey and Nona for their team to not only top the production line figures every day, but to stand up for each other across gender and racial boundaries. And most of all we want Ruth and Audrey to find peace from the pain of their pasts. And yet all along we somehow wait for the other shoe to drop, hoping against hope that nothing will tear their worlds apart.

An enthralling read, a genuine glimpse into life in the 40’s, a world of secrecy, fear and a constant fight for basic self determination. This should be compulsory reading for every lesbian in the US struggling to hold on to hope in the face of a fascist administration. We fought then and we will fight to hold on to those gains. No matter what ‘executive orders’ are signed, we will not be put back into those boxes.


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: 250 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bywater Books (October 17, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01IMJQNT2
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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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Along Came the Rain – Alison R. Solomon

Along Came the Rain - Alison R. SolomonAlong Came the Rain is an unusual book from page one. It is not an easy read, it’s not an easy story, yet it pulls you along with some inexorable force and keeps you tied to the chair until you finish.

Wynn is a middle-aged jewellery maker with a flaky memory and a ditzy personality who forgets to walk the dogs and put the diner on. Barker is her long suffering social work partner, frustrated by her forgetfulness and concerned with the growing signs of memory loss. When two of Barker’s 15 year-old foster care clients go missing their relationship comes under scrutiny – how will their personal histories impact solving the mystery of why the girls have gone missing and who is responsible?

Written in the first person point of view and with a step by step – backwards – narrative, this is a challenging read until you get far enough in to it to have a handle on the story. That is not a criticism of the writing, I cannot imagine how else Ms Solomon could have done it without loosing the essence of the novel, but until we, the reader, catch up with who and when, the plot is hard to follow. It is so unusual we just aren’t used to it.

When you do come to terms with the retroactive storyline it makes perfect sense and leaves you with a feeling of having unwrapped a very complex three-dimensional onion. The layers of fact and emotion are the very core of this tale, and as it unfolds we are drawn into a deep psychological whodunit where almost nobody is innocent of some wrongdoing, however naively they got involved.

The characters are complex, to say the least. Their back-histories and personalities are, essentially, the story. As the plot develops and we begin to see the clues as to who, the ‘why’ is left hanging because there are so many possibilities.

The writing is excellent, the words flow, the dialogue and narrative are well done, there is a lot of internal monologue, but it’s an integral and essential part of the story. In some ways it is the story.

Ms Solomon takes us to the brink in many different ways, she makes us uncomfortable then pulls back before we tumble over the edge. That is particularly true of what happens to the girls, where she builds the suspense, gives us an expectation of something much worse than it actually is. Clever writing and excellent technical skills in a debut novel.

Fascinating read. Without giving spoilers it is hard to explain, but the author puts the reader into the mind of a women with serious mental issues and it is both intriguing and disconcerting to be taken on the journey with her. This isn’t a book you will forget in a hurry.

(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: 199 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Sapphire Books (April 15, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01CQ0ODHC
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Christmas at Winterbourne – Jen Silver

Christmas at Winterbourne – Jen SilverWil and Gabby own a lesbian retreat, Winterbourne House, previous home of a famous lesbian author. This Christmas they have a full house of guests, friends and relations, as well as a baby due any day. While their extended family are there to enjoy the season and support Wil and Gabby, not all the guests have such innocent motives.

A nosy writer, a long lost lover and a disappearing girlfriend all make this an interesting tale of the interaction of a group of people over the festive season. It is a Christmas story, but not overly so, more an observational drama that happens to be set in the Christmas season.

All of the characters are well drawn and fleshed out. Although some take centre stage more than others, this is definitely not a tale about one couple; in fact the life of the author is as dominant as the current inhabitants. We have the tension of a woman who thinks she is being cheated on, the regrets of a lover who should have followed her heart, and the anguish of a partner abandoned. It is not all doom and gloom however, as we also have happily married and partnered couples whose gentle interactions show the give and take of long-term marriages. Oh and snowball flights and skinny-dipping to lighten the mood.

Jen Silver BioJen Silver uses the house and the weather to great effect, making them an important part of the story. The feeling of warmth and cosy hospitality, despite the various stresses of supporting and providing for a large group, are central to the feel of the book, and this is decidedly a feel-good tale of good will and good intentions.

There are moments of romance, comedy, anguish and love. The group, predominantly women and lesbian, provides an interesting mix. And despite the number of characters, rooms and scenes Ms Silver does an excellent job of keeping it all clear in our minds without ever falling into the trap of the constant repetition of names; even the flashbacks are clear and well defined.

Thoroughly enjoyable read, excellent Christmas present and delightful English situation drama.

(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: 170 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Affinity (October 31, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01M8PUZDV
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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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Locked Inside – Annette Mori

Locked Inside - Annette MoriThis is an unusual tale and definitely caught my attention. Belinda has been in a comatose state for 6 years when a doctors daughter, Carly, notices the slightest of reactions to her voice. Carly devotes her volunteer time and persistent energy into not only helping Belinda begin the long road to recovery, but to ensuring her carers and family recognise that she is awake inside the paralysed shell of her body. As Belinda and Carly work together their bond grows along with their love for each other. The only questions are how far can Belinda go, and what form that love will take.

The concept of this story is intriguing and extremely thought provoking. Watching Belinda fight to regain her life, seeing the world through the retrospective viewpoint of a paralysed teenager is a tale that I suspect many authors would find daunting. Annette Mori has handled it extremely well. Without the viewpoint of a person who has suffered a disabling illness it is hard to speak for that section of society, but it felt extremely sympathetic and positively portrayed.

Carly and Belinda are well rounded, interesting individuals, and they are well supported both literally and figuratively by a cast of friends and family we would all love to have behind us. The romance has enough twists and turns to make it interesting as a sweet exploration of coming out and first love, but for me the story of Belinda’s rebirth was far more compelling.

This is my first Annette Mori read and I can’t therefore tell if the writing style of this book is her normal tone, but here she certainly pulled off the voice of a teenager coming to terms with a ginormous personal challenge on top of the normal teenage growing pains of finding out who we are and how love works.

Entertaining and absorbing, definitely one I found hard to put down.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Affinity Press NZ (November 29, 2015)
  • ASIN: B018RGA8YQ
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The Right Time – Susan Meagher

The Right Time - Susan X. MeagherA love story full of angst, heartbreak and missed opportunities, this is a romance that stretches out over 10 years. A story very much in 2 halves. In the first a self destructive and self-abusive rich kid and a girl from the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks find a bond that forms a lifetime connection. In the second 2 women with complex lives and relationships reconnect over and over again, but never seem to both be in the right time and place.

Susan Meagher is a great storyteller, she creates meaningful plots, strong characters and deep emotions. She deals with complex situations and real life issues with care and attention.

The first half of this book was not an easy read for me. I appreciated the intent, and the way in which the author deals with such a difficult subject, but it was too long, too drawn out, too much angst. The goody is just too good and her denial too prolonged, I couldn’t bring myself to like her. The point of the first section, as well as defining the characters and history, dealing with the impact alcoholism on the individual and their children, is to set the scene for the deep-seated love these women share.

This leads us to a more traditional romance, where we see both women long for something they think they’ve lost the chance of, and as each one reaches for it the other seems to have just moved away. The denouement is everything we expect… except the author fades to black, ending the novel without giving us the expected thrill, an unusual move from an author who is not normally shy of explicit sex scenes.

Susan X Meagher - biogFor me the second half of the novel was just intriguing enough to overcome my frustration of the scene setting, but only just. I struggled to get through that first section without giving up, and that is the first time I have ever had to force myself to read on in one of Susan Meagher’s books.

This story will speak to many women out there who have struggled with their own addictions, or those of their loved ones, especially a parent or child. It is extremely well done, and like a great tragedy from a classic author, it takes work from the reader. Not a light read or a gentle romance, but worth the effort.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • First published 2015
  • Publisher: Brisk Press (September 25, 2015)
  • ASIN: B015UIINOQ
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