General/Literary

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)

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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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Cast Me Gently – Caren J. Werlinger

Cast Me Gently - Caren J. WerlingerCast Me Gently is a story of growing up, of loneliness, of coming out and the transformative affects of falling in love. Caren Werlinger always writes intriguing novels about complex and very real people. Once again her well-crafted plot and elegant prose transport us into the lives of her characters with all consuming intensity.

Ellie is alone; she lost her mother early and her brother to the streets. She has carved a life for herself, growing up fast and surviving by shear hard work. Somehow she has managed to keep her dreams of travel and finding her brother, as well as her kindness and humanity alive.

Teresa is part of a huge Italian-American family and while she is older, educated, mature, professional and responsible, she hasn’t really grown up or out of the confines of her family business and home.

Caren Werlinger BiogSet in the early 1980’s in rust belt Pittsburgh we see the grittiness of the city during an economic recession, with large unemployed and homeless populations. Like Ellie and Teresa the city shows us two sides, the strong closely knit ethnic groups and the down and out wandering the streets and surviving on hand-outs.

The period is a complex one, post Stonewall but way before any gay rights, Ms Werlinger uses this recent past to set very real roadblocks for the romance, issues and concerns that most of us will remember. As always her use of place and time is subtle but real, from the ever-present smokers to the grim reality of the streets and the prejudices of the time.

This is an Intricate and delicate story made up of pain and hardship, love and loss, real life emotions that every one of us will empathise with. The themes of growing up, loneliness, even ostracism, make Ellie and Teresa’s journey painful and reminds us just how hard being honest with ourselves and our lives can be. But in the end it is a tale of love, of the joy in finding that “one”, and having the strength to stand up for what will make us whole.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • First published 2015
  • Publisher: Ylva Publishing (October 15, 2015)
  • ASIN: B01678SJDI
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A Christmas Tail – Parker and Dixie Ames (As told to Lynn Ames)

A Christmas TaleI am bemused to find myself reading books written by dogs… but hey its Christmas; its well written and funny so I can’t complain. Better than some I have been forced to read.

No seriously, a delightful little tale. Dixie and Parker joining up with La Luce to make Mama smile again after a difficult year. Written to make a lot of us smile actually, particularly this week.

I was aware of Parker’s dry humour and OCD – I suspect he may have British heritage there, or is it his NY upbringing? But I hadn’t cottoned Dixie Chik’s sarcasm or realised she took courses and it’s always fun to learn personal things about our favourite characters.

Ms Ames certainly made me smile – laugh out loud on occasion. Fun to read and a sweet sentiment for all of us this Christmas. As she says in the dedication, laughter really is the best medicine.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 44 pages
  • First published 2015
  • Publisher: Phoenix Rising Press (December 20, 2015)
  • ASIN: B019MZNDJI
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Backcast – Ann McMan

Backcast - Ann McManIt is so much harder to review a great book than it is to review a good book. With a good book you can slam dunk that it’s a good story with good characters, say you liked it and you are done. When you read remarkable books, you have to think about it so much more – how to express why a book it significant without sounding sycophantic or fantastic.

So Ann McMan’s Backcast is a great book. It is not just an excellent read, but an important book in a line of notable publications we are seeing from our really good lesbian authors. Lesbian writers who are moving the lesfic genre on; who make us think, challenge us, entertain us. Authors who want to write – can write – amazing books, who happen to be lesbians and don’t sell out their personal story line to make their books mainstream – despite having the obvious ability to be lauded mainstream writers.

Before people start shouting, I am not criticising everybody else, or downing other authors. I love all sorts of lesfic from romance and erotica to fantasy and crime, and we need it all. But I also want us to have literary lesfic, modern lesfic that will stand up with Woolf and May-Brown, Miller and Forrest. Lesfic that shows off our great writers, that promotes good writing, that showcases the breadth and depth of our genre which has moved way beyond the ‘penny dreadfuls’ of the early days.

Backcast is one of those books. On the surface it is a fairly straightforward tale of 13 women who come together for two weeks at a writers workshop, from which the organising artist will create an exhibition. This simple plotline gives Ann McMan the platform to create 13 strong, individual, extremely powerful and eccentric characters. Out of such a seemingly modest beginning we have drama, romance, history – except it really is herstory this time – and a deeply personal glance into what makes these women who they are.

Ann McManAs always, McMan’s books are elegantly and cohesively put together. Her words flow and the balance between the elements is so perfect you forget you are reading. Her characterisation and dialogue are immaculate presentations of real people, they must be real for her descriptions to be so tangible and the characters to be so authentic. And to add flavour we have 13 shorts in the voices of our 13 women, again realistic, authentic, the expressions of genuine women’s lives.

It made me laugh, a lot – McMan’s books have a deep-seated humour running through their veins. It made me cry – I defy any of our friends and family of choice to read ‘Heal Thyself’ after recent events and not weep. But most of all it made me feel like I was there, sitting on the lawn chairs, drinking the cocktails, hating the aspic, enjoying these women.

There is a flavour of the women’s scene from yesteryear for me personally. Maybe it has survived in the conferences and festivals in the US, but I haven’t been in that atmosphere of exciting, creative, challenging women since the 90’s. I think it no accident that most of these women are not spring chickens, and many have literally been around the block.

You see it has me enthralled. I have to read it again. I don’t have a choice. One reading simply isn’t enough to garner even a part of the richness and depth of these women and their interactions – let alone know all I need to know about competitive bass fishing.

I rarely give books 5 stars anymore because if I give out too many 5’s what’s left? Needless to say this is a 6. Read it.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

    • Paperback: 288
    • First published 2015
    • Publisher: Bywater Books (November 16, 2015)
    • ASIN: B0175P4C38
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The Paths of Marriage – Mala Kumar

The Paths of MarriageStarting with a story of a girl from the lowest caste in rural India who is refused even the most basic education, Ms. Kumar leads us on a journey that follows successive generations of women as they fight for their own education and try to make a place for themselves. In a culture that places huge restrictions on the roles of women, each generation faces a slightly shifting battle as their circumstances and the world around them change.

What makes this saga addictive is the impact each woman’s own battle has on the way she treats her daughters. Each woman wants to do her best, but has been molded by her own experience, forcing her daughter to take paths they had themselves fought against.

Ms. Kumar has managed to narrate each story in a different voice, a different style, to suit each generation and time period. Her descriptions, particularly of rural India, are exquisite. The sights, sounds, and smells of Chennai flow off the page like a pool of color to surround us.

Each character is detailed and endearingly whole. The secondary characters, mainly husbands/fathers, play an important role and are themselves well rounded—but always as a background to the main protagonists.

This is a saga about personal growth—each woman struggles with her own dreams and the real-world challenges thrown at them. Ultimately it is the combined wisdom of the generations that resolves the novel and releases them from the bounds of their own conventions.

The underlying theme in all these lives is prejudice. We are led from the most basic of existences through emigration, moving from caste prejudice to racial discrimination and isolation. While the menfolk battle away in the background to improve their own positions and that of their family—from fieldworker to doctor to neurosurgeon—the women battle for their personal place in the world against both cultural and social restrictions.

A thoughtful and interesting journey, punctuated with personal dramas and enough pace to keep it moving along, this is an excellent novel. It should speak to all women, whatever our cultural background, and—as with all great writing—should make us think. In this case the lesson is one of recognizing our mothers as individuals who had their own battles and made their own sacrifices.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Bedazzled Ink (September 24, 2014)
  • ASIN: 1939562589
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Hypnotizing Chickens – Julia Watts

hypnotising chickensThis is a charming and amusing novel about a woman’s growth and the realization that the home she left behind still has some valuable lessons to teach.

Chrys is 40 years old, working in a local college and living the ideal life. Until her alpha gf leaves her for a younger model, and she realizes that giving up her University position and relocating might not have been the most sensible move. She decides to go home for the summer to care from her Gran, and so begins a journey back to herself, her family, her roots – and her future.

Be warned… this is NOT just a simple romance, although it contains the quietly charming beginnings. It is more a tale of a woman’s recovery from the pain of being dumped and her re-birth – as herself. A story most of us will recognize when we have sunk below the waters of a full on relationship and emerge to find we arent sure who we are.

It is well written, well edited and well put together. The characters are excellent, Ms Watts produces a great cast of family members with strong personalities, hopes and desires. Of course gran tries to steal the show, but Mum is a large presence and learning about her sacrifices teaches our heroine that she was not the only one with dreams.

Full of observational humor, insight into the simple Appalachian life and a loving portrayal of a southern family, warts and all, Ms Watts has produced an entertaining read.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Bella Books (14 April 2014)
  • ASIN: B00KJMV3HI
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