Daughter of Baal by Gill McKnight

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Another one from The Law Game series, and another excellent one. If you’ve never heard of Gill McKnight (and why haven’t you?) I highly recommend her book The Tea Machine, because it may just be one of my favorites.

Daughter of Baal is another novella and it’s a good one. It’s set in the 1920s in England. The two protagonists are as different as they could be, but they agree that all the deaths at Clamp House must stop and the killer or killers be brought to justice. How the lady and her chauffeur will go about that, I will not tell.

What I will tell you is that the novella is beautifully written and the characters are charming. The case happens to be quite surprising, and that is an important part of a good mystery. You have it all here. As with Archer Securities, it’s only a little sad that it’s not longer.

If you like a short read, an entertaining read, something to pass the time pleasantly, this is for you. You might also wanna check out the other books in the series as they’ve all been written by very good writers. Now, go get and I’ll be here reading and telling you what to read next.

Archer Securities by Jove Belle

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As you can see, this is part of a series of books from Ylva Publishing called The Law Game. Crime books. I know what you’re thinking: but you’re always saying you don’t like crime books. Well, I don’t and yet I do. Just like with crime shows, some are too predictable. But there are also really good ones, brilliant even.  And some are not even that much of crime books, if all is said and done.

And maybe, I’d like to put Archer Securities into that latter category. After all, there is no murder to solve, no gory description of dismembered bodies, no psychological profiling of a psychopath. It’s about something else:

Laila Hollister is a private investigator whose uncle Samar has asked for her help. The books of his company, Archer Securities, show discrepancies and he wants her to find out who’s stealing from him. Easier said than done, as Laila finds out, because cyber-Robin Hood Trinity Washington re-distributes Archer’s resources so cleverly that she doesn’t leave a trail. And Laila isn’t quite sure who’s the cat and who’s the mouse in this investigation.

It’s a lovely novella. Jove Belle is slowly becoming a favorite for mine. She’s practically sucking you into her worlds, leaving you wanting more. Especially since this is a novella and you really want to read like a whole encyclopedia about Laila and Trinity. They’re wonderful characters, flawed, but so very good.

Belle understands the intricacies of family relations, her characters are never shallow, never one-dimensional. The story she tells is straight forward but never simple or boring. The characters and the plot will keep you chained to your ebook readers and kindles.

This is really a fantastic read and I think you should all go and get it. Only thinking of you here, because it’s really that good. You can thank me later.

Blurred Lines by KD Williamson

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I’ve read so much in January and early February that I needed to slow down a little. Just ticking the ‘read’ box, makes me lose touch with the characters I’m reading about. And with this one, that would have been really bad, because its characters’ inner lives is what Blurred Lines deals with.

It was different in that way from what I had expected. Maybe I watched (and read) too much Rizzoli & Isles, but I thought this would be more of a procedural, a case where cop and doc work together to solve a crime. It was not. Here’s what it’s about:

Detective Kelli McCabe has been shot on the job. During her recovery at the hospital she meets surgeon Nora Whitmore, her partner’s attending physician. The two women connect in a strange but endearing way, challenging each other with each meeting. And suddenly meeting becomes as important as having their morning coffee.

While Kelli is working through recovery (her own and her partner’s), she also has some urgent family problems to solve. Nora, on the other hand, almost loses her job over a sexual harassment accusation. They become each other’s shoulders to lean on, but there is more than just being needed, there’s being wanted, there’s falling in love – and both of them might just run scared of that possibility.

Their journey toward each other and away from convictions of how life should be is at the forefront of this tale. Neither Nora or Kelli are well-equipped to dealing with deep emotions and they need time to figure themselves and each other out. But when they finally do, it’s beautiful and fulfilling.

Williams writes a compelling tale about characters that never feel like characters. They feel like the flawed people we ourselves are, like the people we’re dealing with every day. Relationships are not perfect, some people cover their own shortcomings with drama, things get ugly sometimes. But at other times, you find someone who understands what you’re dealing with, who listens and helps. And that’s where Kelli and Nora start out.

Yes, this novel was different than I expected, but that was actually a good thing. It was also a wonderful start into spring with a love story that doesn’t take itself for granted. And I’m looking forward to reading more about Whitmore & McCabe in the upcoming Crossing Lines.

 

The Tea Machine by Gill McKnight

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First, how do you like the cover? Because I simply love it. I think it’s my favorite from all of the Ylva Publishing books yet.

And I’m so glad that the inside meets the promise of the outside, because The Tea Machine is an incredible read.

Here’s what’s in it:

Millicent Aberly is upset with her brilliant brother because he’s used her favorite parasol for his newest invention: a time machine. In the attempt to get at least a piece of the parasol back, she engages the machine and is catapulted to a strange place in a strange timeline, where a strange warrior woman dies because of her.

Trying to save this woman’s life over and over again, Millicent, her brother Hubert, and his fianceé Sophia are trying to walk the stony path of histories with as much dignity as it allows, changing the world and their own fates – maybe forever.

Well, there’s also a giant squid, Amazons, and steampunk galore in this story, but where to put it in a short blurb? This story is a breathless adventure with so many delicious parts that you can’t put them all together by retelling.

I’ve never read a steampunk novel, though I am intrigued by this subculture. And if all novels that include this phenomenon are as wild and wonderful as this one, well, then I’m a fan. McKnight understands the intricacies that come with time travel and never loses track of her story. I’m truly fascinated and enthused about her imagination.

There is some romance, but the story is more important. McKnight creates entertaining and charming characters and not all of them are human. But all of them are overwhelmed by the magnitude of Hubert’s invention and at a loss how everything will turn out in the end. McKnight takes the time to explain what happens. Her time travel story is well thought through and it’s possible to follow it and not get swallowed by plot holes, because there are none.

This is an entertaining, fascinating read. The only regret I have is that it was over too quickly, but as I’m told that there will be a sequel, The Parabellum, I’m looking forward to it.

Even if you’re not a fan of science fiction stories, even if you think steampunk is ridiculous, give this story a try. It’s really funny and smart and entertaining. Go, read!

A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

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Since I started reading Stephen King when I was only ten, I never really read young adult novels when I was a young adult. I’m pretty sure there weren’t as many around as there are now, I’m also doubtful that they were as good as some of them are today.

To these good ones belongs A Spy in the House, the first part of Lee’s The Agency series.

Mary Lang is kidnapped from her way to The Gallows, where London rids itself of its criminals by hanging. When she awakes, she finds herself in a school where she receives a formal education in the years to come. Same school is also a cover for The Agency, a covert operation helping the police and other interested parties to gain information. Like their students, all their agents are women.

Mary’s (now using the last name Quinn) first assignment for The Agency places her as a female companion in the house of the Thorolds. Mr. Thorold is suspicious in several crimes under the cover of his trading company. Mary tries to gather information, but gets involved in far more than just Thorold’s shady businesses.

If the summary sounds a little muddled, that’s my fault, because nothing in Lee’s novel is muddled. She did her research, she wrote an excellent, exciting tale. I couldn’t get away from this book, because I wanted to know what happened next, and next, and next.

Y.S. Lee spins an intriguing tale around her protagonist. Mary Quinn is a modern heroine trapped in times which treated women as anything but heroines. Victorian England is not for the faint at heart, and Mary surely isn’t. She has moments of doubt, moments of emotional turmoil, but she fights to be someone better than her lot in life has dealt her.

Mary’s story and the whodunit tale of the novel are woven into each other. We get to know Mary better as she unravels the mystery surrounding the Thorold family. And she finds herself a male adversary in James Easton. While their war of wits is charming and engaging, Easton is never put before Mary. She is the heroine, it is her story.

This is a book you will like, no matter if you’re 17, 37 or 67. While the main protagonists are in their late teens, they’re mature and interesting, the story is exciting and mysterious, the setting believably narrated. This is a truly wonderful tale. I bet you’ll like it too.

Barring Complications by Blythe Rippon

barringcomplicationsBack from the vestiges of dark narration, I’ve chosen an actual romance – as opposed to an abusive relationship masked as romance. And since many have said that Barring Complications is something worth reading, I wasn’t about to resist. And I’m not disappointed – even though it is not just a romance.

Here’s what it’s about:

Victoria Willoughby is a supreme court justice about to make history. This year’s agenda gives her the possibility to be instrumental in overthrowing DOMA. But what the public is really interested in at this point, is her private life which she kept under tight wraps since college. Back then she was in a relationship with Genevieve Fornier, now one of the lawyers presenting the case of the plaintiffs for marriage equality. The spark between these two successful women is still there, but giving voice to newly awakened feelings would jeopardize the case that is dear to both their hearts.

‘Kay, as you can see, I’m not lawyer-speech-savvy, but Blythe Rippon is. She builds a gripping story about a historical case before the supreme court. She weaves a tale that is suprising in its understated romantic ambitions. To me, it’s a jewel in its genre because it is not typical, it’s never showy, it simply tells a story of law, social injustice, and two women in love.

Rippon knows her history and her legal vocabulary. For me, as a student of North American Studies (I’m European, in case you forgot) it is especially interesting to see what happens when the text books write: ‘… the supreme court decided…’ or whatever they write. It was a practical course at what happens behind the Scenes. But don’t be fooled by my geekery, this book doesn’t read like a text book. It’s a romance well-told and it’s a tale worth telling. It will lift you within your little rainbow-colored world and make you proud of the progress we’re making, especially in our generation. Yes, it’s an American tale, but we all know that these changes are being made throughout the Western world.

It’s a wonderful read, go and get.

Unbreakable by Blayne Cooper

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Blayne Cooper – another one of my favorites from Xena-fanfiction days, ’cause who could forget Madam President and it’s sequel First Lady. I sure haven’t and I enjoy a reread every once in a while. Still, I haven’t read a lot by Cooper and don’t know why. Her style is compelling, her story-telling prowess impressive. But what I like best is her sense of humor, her tendency toward siliness and downright slapstick. Here’s a writer who makes me laugh.

This goes for the aforementioned novels as much as it does for the one I’ve recently read – Unbreakable. It’s the story of five girls who became friends when they were nine. Ten years later they have a falling-out. When one of them turns forty, they meet again – as promised – and discover that their friendship might have been buried but is essentially unbreakable.

While it is not a typical lesbian romance, a lesbian love story is part of the novel. Jacie and Nina become fast best friends and just a little more, undetected by the other girls in their club. While Jacie accepts her feelings early, Nina pushes the realization of what she might be away until their desire breaks through the heteronormative world their friend Gwen has build for herself.

The really compelling part of the story are the relationships between these girl, young women and adults. The chemistry is wonderful and comical and heartwarming. The characterization leads the story sure-footed toward a surprising plot twist that is sure to drive the friends apart once again, but is ultimately solved.

So mainly, I loved the story because I loved the characters. Still, as is often the case, there are some parts of the story, I don’t agree with. And I think there should be a trigger warning applied to it – rape. It’s a graphic scene, a violent and disturbing chapter. And it dampens the mood of the novel severely. I’m sure I will read this novel again some time, but I will at least jump this chapter. I don’t agree with rape scenes which are mere plot twists… or rather, I don’t agree with perpetuating rape culture at all.

There are a couple of minor style mechanisms which I didn’t agree with either. Pushing for the most dramatic effect in a couple of scenes is one of them.

But neither of these things makes this a bad novel, because it’s enjoyable. If a novel makes you laugh and cry, you can be sure you’ve found a favorite and that holds true for me with Unbreakable.

Reading in 2014

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[I took this picture on a clear, cold day in Travemünde, just a few days ago.]

It’s done and over with – 2014, that is. And I’m glad of it ’cause it really wasn’t a good year, overall. The reading was okay, even though I didn’t read nearly enough. I only started in March, 26 novels and anthologies in all. They were mostly good, also mostly lesbian romances and some rereads. I want to spread out more this year but for 2014, it was okay.

My favorites among the new ones I read were Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt, Wicked Things, edited by Jay and Astrid Ohletz (which contains my short story ‘A Lesson i Magic’), and Roller Coaster by Karin Kallmaker.

But apart from the books I’ve read there were some I haven’t finished in 2014. There are always some of those each year. I often lose interest in books, but that’s not the only reason for not finishing a book. Let me just run down those unfinished books of 2014.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth – While I liked the first volume of the series, the second part has too many elements of that other series that treats its female protagonist like a second-class character. There were also some plot bunnies that didn’t make much sense, apart from the basis of the whole series being a little far-fetched.

The Age of Innocent by Edith Wharton – I love Wharton’s work and I would really like to read more from her. The problem is that I want to study her, but I’m not quite at a point where I can solely concentrate on a body of work by one author, especially one who has been studied by far more intelligent heads than mine. I haven’t gotten beyond the first chapter – though I rewatched the movie this year.

When the Clock Strikes Thirteen by Ylva Publishing – I contributed a story to this year’s Halloween anthology and wanted to read last year’s. I have read the first few stories but I haven’t gotten beyond them yet. I will pick this anthology up again to continue reading, I just got side-tracked.

Coming Home by Lois Cloarec Hart – This is one of my all-time favorite Xena-Uber fanfictions and now I have the paperback. But I haven’t gotten around to reading the whole book yet. I want to, but it’s been a while since I read it and I would hate to discover that it’s not as good as I remember it. That’s stupid, of course, Hart is a good story-teller. I’m just being silly, is all.

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton – This is part of my research about supernatural creatures. I’m looking forward to writing my first supernatural story this year (probably come June) so I may finish this one yet. It’s good, so far.

Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran – I’m trying to get involved in some gay (male) reading, but so far haven’t been very successful (as I’ve started and not finished At Swim, Two Boys last year). I like the narration so far but it’s a little more heavy-duty than I want to engage in at the moment.

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan – This is a sweet story about a coming out of a lesbian teen. I’m going to continue reading this at some point but not right now.

Heart’s Surrender by Emma Weimann – I really like the beginning of this one and if you ask me why I haven’t finished it yet, I can’t even tell you. My focus got diverted and I haven’t redirected it at this novel yet. I will, probably sometime this year. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier – The third part of the series, a good, solid series. But I got a little tired of the narrator’s voice by the third book. Sometimes listening to teen first narrators gets a little tiresome. I like the premise of the story and the story, too. I will finish it, though I’m not sure when.

Blind Bet by Tracey Richardson – The Candidate by the same author was brilliant, I loved it. The Wedding Party was all right but I had some beef with it. And now this one… I don’t know. There were just some things in this I had a hard time working through. The writing is good but some of the plot bunnies are positively rabid. Not sure I’ll pick it up again.

2014 is over. Let’s see what 2015 brings. I’m looking forward to reading in 2015.

 

From the Boots Up by Andi Marquette

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I know some people feel like self-publishing and electronic books have ruined the publishing world. But I find that there’s so much more stuff that can be read that way – and I’m happy. I’m aware that some of what comes out of the woodwork is not worth the reading, but there are also treasures that otherwise wouldn’t have been discovered. So, you can keep your cynicism when it comes to these new forms of publishing, because I love it. And I don’t mind reading something bad every once in a while – there’s a time for trashy stories, too.

Fortunately, From the Boots Up is not one of those. It’s a good one. Here’s a synopsis:

Meg Tallmadge works on her father’s dude ranch when classes are over for the summer. Her recent coming out is still a sore spot on the otherwise good relationship with her dad, Stan, when she meets Gina Morelli, a reporter come to the ranch to write an article about it. While the two women are attracted to each other, Meg doesn’t want to compromise the work ethics on the ranch – but can their passion for each other be contained by mere will power?

As said, I liked it. It’s a well-written novella from a woman who knows her story-telling. I must confess, I’m partial to stories set on dude ranches – or other kind of ranches. The romantication of the (wild) west has worked for me all my life and I’m drawn to lesbian romances that involve boots, hats and horses, and have read my fair share.

Still, I find From the Boots Up different in some respects. For once, it focuses entirely on Meg’s point of view and while her feelings for Gina are at the core of the story, her life does not only revolve around them. There are other things going on, other people in her life, her studies, her plans for the future. Gina does not step into a void, she rather disrupts Meg’s already full life, and Meg struggles with her feelings because they come at a inopportune time – as those feelings tend to.

There is a sequel to this story called From the Hat Down and it’s already on my reading list for next year (this year is already filled with books that made it to my kindle before this one). If you are like me and love stories with a western feel to them, if you care for well-written, well-told, well-established characters and plot, you should give From the Boots Up a try – you won’t be disappointed.

Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt

sometimeyesterdayOctober – what better month for reading a ghost story? I’m diving bookwise into Halloween this year and Yvonne Heidt’s Sometime Yesterday is certainly a worthwhile read for the shorter days and longer nights – who are hopefully filled with steamy love rather than scary ghosts.

Here’s what happens – in the book:

Life after divorce. For Natalie Chambers it’s a new beginning with a new house. But the realtor never mentioned the ghosts that are already living in the Victrian mansion Natalie bought. Two lesbian ghosts who stir feelings in Natalie she hasn’t known before, and one ghostly husband terrorizing the living like he once terrorized his wife and sister. Their history does not not only involve the dead but also Van Easton, a landscaper Natalie is falling in love with.

It’s a lovely story. Heidt paints a convincing picture of the house and its garden in two different eras with two sets of female protagonists. They meet in a dreamscape and slowly the secrets of the past are revealed. Sometimes in vivid violent scenes that involve Beth’s husband Richard, a psychopath, sometimes in sexy love scenes between Beth and her sister-in-law Sarah.

The story is beautifully set and well written. The prose is a little choppy, a style I’m usually not comfortable with, but Heidt describes this magical world so captivating I couldn’t stop reading.

Sometime Yesterday is the perfect read for October when we’re awaiting Halloween with a cup of hot chocolate. But not just for that time, because there’s never a bad time to be scared, to feel indignant about the injustices of the past or simply fall in love. This novel gives you all this and then some. You should read it. I guarantee you’ll love it.