A Grave Talent

A Grave Talent

17883605 “A Grave Talent” by Laurie R. King

Synopsis: This gripping debut of the Kate Martinelli mystery series won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery, generating wide critical acclaim and moving Laurie R.King into the upper tier of the genre. As “A Grave Talent” begins, the unthinkable has happened in a small community outside of San Francisco. A string of shocking murders has occurred, each victim an innocent child. For Detective Kate Martinelli, just promoted to Homicide and paired with a seasoned cop who’s less than thrilled to be handed a green partner, it’s going to be difficult case. Then the detectives receive what appears to be a case-breaking lead: it seems that one of the residents of this odd, close-knit colony is Vaun Adams, arguably the century’s greatest painter of women, a man, as it turns out, with a sinister secret. For behind the brushes and canvases also stands a notorious felon once convicted of strangling a little girl. What really happened on that day of savage violence eighteen years ago? To bring a murderer to justice, Kate must delve into the artist’s dark past — even if she knows it means losing everything she holds dear.

*******

2 out of 5 stars

I didn’t like this very much at all.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I finished this book. I felt like I HAD to for some reason, as it features a lesbian main character. I felt that I needed to read something written about one of my people, you know?

Let’s begin with what I did like: The premise. It had a lot of promise. There is a serial killer of children outside of San Francisco and all leads seem to point to a reclusive painter that lives in an off the beaten path colony. The painter was convicted and served time for the killing of a child in her care and has since removed herself from society.

The two detectives assigned to the case are an older cop, with years of experience and a newly minted rookie detective with fresh eyes. That’s Martinelli. And, that’s it.

Now, the list of what I didn’t like: The language read as European to me. I kept getting confused and forgetting that the story was set in California as it didn’t read that way at all. The phrasing was off, or maybe just extremely condescending.

The story meandered for a while in the middle, which is one of the worst sins a writer can commit in my opinion. I need that hook in the beginning to grab me right away but then you have to keep my interest. I ended up reading another book in the middle of this one (which will not be reviewed here as it’s extremely taboo) just to break the tedium.

Lastly, the attitudes of the characters. Martinelli is an EXTREMELY closeted lesbian. I mean extreme to the point that her work friends know her as Casey and her real life friends know her as Kate. And never the two shall meet. It’s odd. Even though the book is set in 1992, it’s also set in San Francisco. Kind of a LGBTQIA mecca, especially during the 90s. Martinelli says something to the effect of that she doesn’t want to be the representative of the Leather Dyke Brigade for the police force – I probably have the exact phrase wrong but it was odd to read a lesbian character who displayed such homophobia.

Also, there was one therapist who was just a creep. We found him in bed with his client, just sleeping, as part of the therapy and no one found anything wrong with that. Nope. So much no.

I finished it. That’s really all I can say about this book other than my overwhelming disappointment.

Cover – it’s a bridge. Seriously?

Always

Always

156930 “Always” by Nicola Griffith

Synopsis: Aud Torvingen is back — contemporary fiction’s toughest, most emotionally complicated noir hero returns to teach a new round of lessons in hard-hitting justice, and to confront new adversaries: her own vulnerability and desire.

The steely shell of Nicola Griffith’s seemingly indomitable protagonist Aud Torvingen appears to be cracking. The six-foot-tall fury (who proved in The Blue Place and Stay that she can kill you as easily as look at you) is shaken by the shocking consequences of the self-defense class she’s been teaching, and her investigation of what seems to be run-of-the-mill real-estate fraud is turning out to be more than she bargained for.

Always brilliantly intertwines the dramatic episodes of Aud’s class with the increasingly complicated investigation that introduces Aud to the limits of self-reliance, and to the scary and beautiful prospect of allowing oneself to depend on other people. What emerges is a thrilling, thoroughly engrossing novel that imbues Griffith’s “classic noir hero” (The New York Times Book Review) with an emotional complexity that far exceeds the boundaries of the genre, and will push Griffith to her well-deserved place at the front rank of new-wave literary crime writers.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

Nicola Griffith is still fairly new to me as an author and quite frankly, I have been missing out.

“Always” is the third book in the Aud Torvingen series and while it can stand as a read-alone book, it does help to read the first two. This is a very fast paced thriller set in Seattle, with an additional story line set in Atlanta.

Let me say, right up front, that I am more than a little in love with Aud. She’s completely self-contained to the point she’s mostly unaware of how people and emotions work. She’s a martial arts expert. She teaches self-defense to a group of women who desperately need it. And, at least in this book, she has to figure out how to be vulnerable.

There are so many parallels between Aud and the author, Nicola Griffith. Griffith lives in Seattle with her partner, taught self-defense classes, and is living with MS which also features prominently in this book. Aud is very real as a character because Griffith is able to draw on so many of her own real life experiences without having to just do research on the subject.

What I liked: Again, this can be read as a stand alone book. There are two separate story lines taking place – one in the present in Seattle and the other taking place in Atlanta just before Aud travels to Seattle. The plot switches between the two but there is never an interruption of the flow of the story.

Aud seems to be a bit of a sociopath at times because her responses are a little off the mark and she does not hesitate to do what she feels needs to be done. There were a few shocking moments in this book which I won’t ruin with a spoiler that speak directly to her personality. She’s extraordinarily pragmatic and sees the world in black and white, no grey areas. She’s also terribly damaged and I feel so protective of her, even though she could kill me with her bare hands.

In the Atlanta story line, she is teaching a group of  women self-defense. Aud knows by body language, and words left unsaid who in the group has been brutalized and why they are there. This was a fantastic plot for me and I would have enjoyed reading more about them. Griffith writes so powerfully about how women have been trained from a young age to be “nice” even when our gut instinct is to run. It really made me think.

The Seattle story line is the main plot in this book and that’s where we spend most of our time reading. Aud travels there to check on her real estate investments and ends up caught in her own mystery. There is a new relationship for Aud and I enjoyed reading how her her need for power in all things wars with her new found feelings.

What I did not like: There is a lot of real estate scamming going on that I have zero interest in and zero understanding of. I skimmed much of it.

I loved this book and loved the series. If you are looking for a mystery thriller that features a six-foot lesbian who knows ten different ways to kill you with her bare hands, this book is for you!

The cover art is some of the worst I have ever seen. A fist. A purple fist. Purple maybe as an analogy for a bruise? The fist coming right at you? I like to think about what’s inside the book, not have to figure out what the cover might mean.

At Her Feet

At Her Feet

17290869 “At Her Feet” by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Synopsis: During a night of Web surfing for celeb gossip and masturbatory material, digital marketing producer Suzanne Kim stumbles across an intriguing thread while checking her profile on kinklife.com. Suzanne isn’t exactly looking, but the request for a very specific type of submissive from the attractive mistress, Mami-P, is hard to resist. Though the two hit it off during their first online conversation, Suzanne never imagines how strong their real life attraction and compatibility will be. After a few missteps in training, trust, and communication, Suzanne finds a deep love with her mistress, Pilar.
Overworked and overstressed in her daily life, Suzanne comes to crave their relationship for the visceral escape it provides, but before they can make the ultimate commitment, someone from Suzanne’s professional life threatens to disrupt their perfectly balanced bliss.
**This title includes BDSM and sexual situations some readers may find objectionable.**

*******

4 out of 5 stars

In my own experience with BDSM and kink, I have known several Daddy/girl relationships (with different genders making up the various Daddys and girls) but I have never known anyone who was in a Mommy(Mami)/girl relationship.

Weatherspoon does a fantastic job of exploring that dynamic in this book. Suzanne is a biracial digital marketing tech, who has some experience with kink and submission but her past experience hasn’t given her what she craves the most – an intimate, loving connection with someone who cares for her, not just someone who sees her as a plaything.

She finds Pilar’s post on a kink website. Pilar is a Mami looking for her little girl and the ad strikes a chord with Suzanne who responds. The story is their coming together and building a relationship.

First, this story has some very hot f/f sex scenes. Very Hot! The sex was incredibly well written, but still has an element of romance as the two fall in love. I also liked how diverse the cast of characters are. Both main characters are women of color, but it’s written as fact, not as a fetish in itself. Minor characters cover the spectrum from gay men, butch lesbians, and trans-identified girls. I love that such a diverse spectrum is not the fetish focal point.

Pilar is also a woman of size and I loved that she is described as “round and lush”, and seen as hot and desirable. It’s nice to read something that doesn’t include body shaming.

I did not much care for the ending of the book. I appreciated the plot twist, but felt it was a bit rushed at the end. Still, definitely worth a read if you want something juicy! This is the softer side of kink, and while this particular fetish is not something I am into I can see it’s appeal through this story.

The cover art … no, just no. The cover shows a thin Caucasian woman. No one in this book is a thin Caucasian woman! It’s a definite miss.

 

 

 

Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender

Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender

25787396 “Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender” by Rae Theodore

Synopsis: Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender is creative nonfiction that takes an unflinching but humorous look at living as a butch in a pink/blue, boy-girl, M/F world. Here’s my theory: I’ve always been a butch. When I was a child, it was called being a “tomboy” (also known as “embarrassing my mother”). Back then, I liked to think I was a boy-girl hybrid, perhaps grown from special heirloom seeds. Later in life, I came out as a lesbian, which explained my fondness for flannel and sensible shoes, as well as my masculine ways.
Still, something wasn’t quite right. I watched spectator-like as my hair got shorter and my clothes started coming from the opposite side of the department store. When someone called me “sir” for the first time, I realized I had unintentionally crossed over into foreign territory — that sliver of space that exists in the middle place between the absolutes of boy and girl.
Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender is for anyone who has ever felt different, especially those who have found themselves living in the gender margins without a rule book.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of “The Flannel Files” blog for some time now, and have enjoyed reading it for a butch perspective. I was beyond thrilled when asked if I would like to review a copy of “Leaving Normal”.

The book is fantastic. Written in small chapters, each chapter is a snapshot of a time in the author’s life. It’s an easy read and sucks the reader in so quickly. I finished it in a day and think most readers will too simply because it’s so hard to put down.

As you read, you experience life in the author’s shoes for that moment in time, both good and bad. Good when Theodore witnesses a grandmother saying “Whatever” to her grandchild’s correction of her misgendering Theodore. Bad when Theodore is trapped in a public restroom because a small child keeps saying “There is a man.” The book is painful in parts, painfully sweet, funny, and pure hurt in others.

As a femme, I am not misgendered. I don’t have that experience. But boy, can I relate. I have my very own butch who is called “Sir” and gets a double-take in the women’s restroom. I can also relate with my own experience of being marginalized and having to come out over and over again.

This book is for everyone. Everyone who has felt alone or separate because of their gender. Everyone who has felt marginalized due to their sexuality. Everyone who has been ashamed because someone used the wrong pronouns, or used the one they wanted to hear by mistake. Everyone who has ever felt like they were the only person in the world who felt the way they did.

I hope to see more books by Rae Theodore in the future.

Beyond the Pale

Beyond the Pale

19420326 “Beyond the Pale ” by Elana Dykewomon
Publisher’s Synopsis: Elana Dykewomon’s Lambda Award-winning novel Beyond the Pale announces itself to the world with an infant’s scream–“a new voice, a tiny shofar announcing its own first year.” The midwife attending this birth is Gutke Gurvich, a half-Jew with different colored eyes and a gift for seeing into the spirit world. Beyond the Pale is Gutke’s story, detailing her odyssey from a Russian shtetl to a comfortable Manhattan brownstone. But, as Dykewomon puts it, “Whenever you tell the story of one woman, inside is another,” and this rich, multilayered novel is also the story of Chava Meyer, the baby girl Gutke delivered that day, as well as the story of the important women in both of their lives: mothers, sisters, neighbors, lovers, friends. After seeing her mother raped and killed during a particularly vicious pogrom in her native village of Kishinev, Chava immigrates to America. There, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, both she and Gutke find themselves involved in the nascent labor union and suffrage movements. Dykewomon has clearly done her research here, and Beyond the Pale presents a beautifully detailed account of life among turn-of-the-century immigrant Jews, from classes at the Henry Street Settlement House to the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Through the lens of several lesbians’ lives, Dykewomon draws a portrait of an entire Diasporan community living through the terror and uncertainties of both Russian progroms and life in the New World.

*****

5 out of 5 stars

This book is amazing. Written as historical fiction, this is a perfect capture of the last turn-of-the-century working class environment. It also is a story that touches on so many different topics: racism, sexism, feminism, migration, and lesbian/transgender issues.

It’s a difficult book to review. I loved it, yes, but it was not an easy read. The story revolves around Russian Jews and the treatment and emmigration of two families to America. My own knowledge of Judaism is limited; I live in an area that is predominantly Jewish and have celebrated Passover and Hanukkah with friends and that’s about it. My understanding of Yiddish is non-existent and I had trouble with some of the words in the story but was able to muddle through.

I found it fascinating, learning about the strict gender roles and beliefs held in that period in time. Dykewomon paints a very vivid picture when describing the pogroms, and the East Side tenements where our characters live. The story starts with Gutke, born in Russia and thought to be touched by Lilith as she has two different colored eyes. Trained to be a midwife, she makes her way to America on the arm of her husband, Dovid, who is a transman of that time. One of the children she delivers before leaving Russia is Chava, and the two women’s stories intertwine throughout the rest of the book.

Chava is orphaned when a pogrom breaks out in her village. She makes her way to America with her extended family and her cousin, Rose. The state of the ships, the filth in the steerage is detailed and vivid as well as the fear in passing through Ellis Island. Chava and her family wind up in a slum on the East Side, and are able to find factory work to survive.

The factories are sweatshops that Chava tries to rise above by joining labor organization and the suffragette movement and becomes an activist in her own right.

And she falls in love with her cousin, Rose, who shares her bed every night.

Tackling such difficult subjects such as the Shirtwaist Fire, and the sweatshops, the pain of hidden love, and the bravery of the characters in the book, I feel this is a must read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction as well as anyone who wants a peek into lesbian history.

Huntress

Huntress

9415946 “Huntress” by Malinda Lo
Publisher’s Synopsis: Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.
To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.
The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.

*****

3 out of 5 stars

Huntress is another YA novel, loosely written as a prequel to Ash in that it’s set in the same world and has a similar feel. This book is also a fairy tale and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Huntress stands on it’s own as a story – you don’t need to have read Ash beforehand.

It’s so nice to read young adult fantasy novels and more so LGBT novels. I really enjoyed the story told in Huntress but I had a few issues with the actual writing. The story is a questing fantasy. Kaede and Taisin are students at the Academy; a school to teach magic and the students to become sages. The Fairy Queen, who has not been heard from for hundreds of years sends an invitation to visit her city and Taisin and Kaede are chosen to go, along with the Prince of the realm.

The journey is filled with danger as they travel through the Woods (the same woods we encountered in Ash, filled with creatures that mean them harm). There are battles along the way and they lose several members of the questing party. The journey also allows for the time to build the love story between Kaede and Taisin. It’s done slowly and sweetly and what I would expect from a YA book.

What I do love about this book is that the fact that our two main characters are both women is of no consequence. It doesn’t matter in this world who you love and who loves you.

My issues with the book don’t stem from the story itself – I really like this sort of fantasy and thought this was an original take on a fantasy quest. I feel like there are things missing, or rather that could have been added to make this a more well rounded book.

We are told at the beginning that sages are celibate, and Taisin’s end goal is to become a sage regardless of her love for Kaede. Along the journey she struggles with this choice and meets a former sage that has refuted all that the sages stood for. It’s hinted at that Taisin was never told the complete truth at the Academy and that she should question the “why” behind some things she took at truths. We never find out more about this though, and I wish I could have learned more about Taisin’s final decision.

Also, I thought the book actually finished when there was still a chapter or two left. I felt tlike this additional quest was just an add-on and the book could have stood on it’s own without it.

Huntress was a quick and easy read and I liked it, I just felt it was a bit rushed in spots.

Ash

Ash

6472451    “Ash” by Malinda Lo

Publisher’s Synopsis: Cinderella retold
In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.
The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.
Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

*****

3 out of 5 stars

This is Malinda Lo’s debut novel and once again, I found myself reading YA fiction. This is heralded to be the lesbian Cinderella and you know I love fairy tales so I was prepared to enjoy this book.

This is a very different retelling of the Cinderella story. The writing is lovely and we are able to learn about and mourn along with Ash the death of her mother who we know virtually nothing about in the traditional version. Her mother was a greenwitch, an earth witch that practiced the old magics. The story opens with her death and memories of her are woven into the rest of the book.

Ash’s father remarries the expected stepmother and her two daughters and then mysteriously dies. She is then uprooted from all she knows, moved far away from her home, and forced into a life of servitude. Sound familiar? Here is where the story takes on it’s own life.

Ash wanders the Woods when she can escape from her stepmother, a scary place said to be filled with all sorts of mysterious creatures. She meets Sidhean, a fairy prince who is cursed to love a human girl (no fairy godmother in this book!). Dangerously seductive, he begins a strange friendship with her at the same time he her warns her away again and again. He grants Ash’s wishes, but all wishes come with a price.

She also meets Kaisa, the Huntress, while wandering the Woods. Kaisa is the King’s Huntress and becomes Ash’s reason to love again. Their friendship develops slowly, and slowly blooms into love. Very well done for a YA novel.

The Prince is almost a non-character in this retelling and I get the impression that he is there just enough to stay true to the original tale. The two step sisters are more than just plain evil. Not the nicest of people but they are indeed people and we are able to see them as such, filled with hopes and insecurities. I do wish Sidhean as a character was more fleshed out; that he was more than just the fairy prince that granted Ash’s wishes. He loves her but just kind of disappears at the end of the book.

A well written YA novel, it has some flaws, but it’s worth a read.