Carol by Patricia Highsmith

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The problem is this: in Germany, we don’t get to see movies in the English original, unless there happens to be a movie theater near that offers to do that. They didn’t offer Carol and I’m loath to watch the German dubbed version. What did I do? I bought the book.

The Price of Salt (the original title when it came out in 1952) has been on my reading list for some time, but as it always goes, I hadn’t come to it yet. The movie put the book in my local bookstore and there you go. I bought it, and I’m not sorry I did.

Here’s what Carol is about:

19-year-old Therese Belivet works in a department store over the holidays. Carol Aird is a customer looking for a doll for her daughter. Their eyes meet and from that moment on they yearn to be together. They try to be friends, but on a trip they take together they finally succumb to their desires. Waterloo is their downfall. But Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband has sent a private detective after them and their affair doesn’t stay undetected. The price of salt being the custody of Carol’s daughter.

Lauded as the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, this lauding took away the surprise of the ending. Because one could not help being surprised at a happy ending for a novel that seems melancholy. The love between the two women seems doomed and thus I had the feeling at the end that the ending doesn’t quite fit.

This however does not take away from the beauty of the novel. Told from Therese’s point of view, but not in the first person, it is a story of youthful awkwardness and misunderstandings. But it is a story of growth in a human being, maybe even more so than a love story. Through her love for Carol Therese grows into an adult. While Carol is certainly a guiding person, she is far from perfect. Her mood swings sometimes dramatically, and the audience – together with Therese – can only wonder at her attraction to the young woman. But it’s there, it is just hidden because Carol knows better than to fall for a woman again.

The book is an emotional roller coaster, and while one does not always understand Therese’s feelings or actions, they make sense for her. The same goes for her misunderstanding of Carol who remains a mystery for most of the tale.

Throughout the read, I kept underlining passages that are so beautifully written they took my breath away. While the book is of spartan discription, the inner musings are philosophical, sometimes poetic. The love falls in front of a cold backdrop, it being winter and even Therese wishing her feelings had fallen into spring. But love does not wait for the perfect backdrop, it just happens. And the book never doubts that it did happen for Therese, she’s not shy to even confess to them before she even knows that Carol feels for her too. These feelings overwhelm her, they’re too powerful to doubt them.

CarolThe Price of Salt – is a beautiful book, it’s an important book, it’s the book you should read in 2016 if you haven’t read it yet. I still can’t quite put my head around it, but it’s a great read, an emotional one too. It’s not a pleasant summer read, but it’s worth your time.

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.

 

Snow Falls by Gerri Hill

snowfallsThere are those times in your (reading) life when plot makes you irritable. When the mere mention of a complicated crime story makes you want to run for the hills (no pun inteded). You look at all the books you own, you browse through your ebooks and look for that one story that is not complicated, the one that will make you feel good without having to think about it too much. Such a book is Snow Falls.

Ryan lives a hermit’s life on a mountain in Colorado with her two dogs. She’s got her reasons for being a recluse and only one of those is that she wants to write another novel. But then her life is disrupted by the arrival of Jennifer Kincaid and an avalanche. The avalanche buries Jen’s car and the road down the mountain for the next seven weeks. Jen Kincaid captures Ryan’s attention and heart as the women spent the next seven weeks talking, writing and hiking the breathtaking paths of Ryan’s home. But time on the mountain is running out and Ryan has a secret she wants to keep.

I read this novel in two days but I’m not fooling myself that I’m back in the reading mood. Yet Snow Falls was just the story I needed to read. It’s not overly complex, it’s an easy read, a pleasant read and a rather typical romance. And it gripped me like few have this year.

Here’s Hill writing a good story with likable characters and little plot. The story flows from the page into your heart and makes you feel good about life, love and being trapped in a cozy cabin in the mountains with a complete stranger. The characters carry the story, they talk, they contemplate and fall in love, only to be seperated by their inability to reveal their hearts.

I already told you that Hill is one of my favorite romance writers, if not THE favorite. Mind you, she’s written better stories than Snow Falls but I actually cherished that this story wasn’t complex, that it simply led me to a good place where I wanted to stay. It’s a warm and cozy novel, the conflicts are not too overwhelming. This may sound boring to some but I found myself wholly captivated. It’s a story about two women. They have their lives, their problems but all is put on hold for seven weeks when they only have each other and two lively dogs to keep them company. I liked it.

It’s also a story about two writers stuck in a cabin. You know I’m not a fan of writers writing about writers, it’s a little self-congratulatory, a little masturbatory. But Hill has the sensibility to not bore us with pages over pages of someone agonizing over the writing process. She doesn’t complicate, she simplifies. Maybe it’s a little too much, maybe the main conflict is just too easily solved. But for me it was just the book I wanted to read, just the story I needed to become inspired myself. And I dare say, I will pick it up again and still like it. Maybe not as much as some of Hill’s other novels but well enough to read and read again.

The Killing Room by Gerri Hill

thekillingroomWhile reading this novel, I did something I don’t usually do – I read reviews about it on Goodreads (you can find me under Cori Kane :)). However, it was still so early in the novel that I couldn’t agree with the negative ones and I guess, I still don’t. There were different things that bothered me from what bothered others, but let’s discuss that after I gave you a synopsis:

Jake McCoy is recuberating from a gun shot wound in her cabin in the mountains when she meets Nicole Westbrook who’s lost. The attraction is so sudden and so overwhelming that they spend a day and a night having fabulous sex in a tent. When they part the next morning, neither expects to see the other again, but when Jake gets back to active police duty her first case of murdered women throws her back in the way of psychologist Nicole. And their mutual attraction is not the only thing they will have to fight to survive.

It’s one of Hill’s thriller-meets-romance novels but it’s not one of her better. I think the beginning – while maybe a little too clichéd with all the fabulous sex they’re having – is very well written. I like how Hill buids the two paths that ultimately lead the two women to the same spot in the woods. Hill is able to build these scenes with a wink, saying: yeah, these two lesbians happen to be at the same spot at the same time, what a coincidence. And, of course, they’re having amazing sex with each other.

It isn’t really the story that has me discontent with this novel. Hill is able to build a conclusive narrative out of an unlikely premise. It was really more some details that put me off. Like the character of Jake McCoy, for example. I didn’t have a problem with the male name, I’ve given a character a male name myself once and was surprised why people had a problem with it. But the novel is in part about the sensitive topic of domestic abuse, mostly husbands/boyfriends beating and raping women, and to have a rather dominant female cop treating the proposed victim, Nicole, with sometimes careless force, sometimes condescending protectiveness – it didn’t sit well with me. I get that as a cop, Jake is competing in a testosterone-driven field but at times she comes over as a player, then a total macho, before Hill turns her back into a sensitive female cop who’s trying to protect the woman she is falling in love with. The characterization is sometimes a little wild. I also didn’t like the premise of these two almost comically attractive cops, like tv cops, who had little going for themselves apart from their looks. It was a little ridiculous at times.

In Nicole’s case, there was also some inconsistency in her character. While she was unhappy with her life and her circle of friends from the first she’s not able to break from it or them until the end of the novel. She just repeats that it’s ridiculous to be tied down in the closeted world of powerful lesbians but she doesn’t do anything to change it. She’s trapped in repetitive arguments either against the way she lives, or the woman she is falling in love with (because ‘she’s not her type’), and it gets boring. One might have expected for her as a psychologist to acknowledge the repetitiveness and break free from it but it doesn’t happen until Hill has set the stage for a defiant dramatic gesture that comes too late in the book.

‘Staging’ is actually a good key word when it comes to the novel, unfortunately it’s all done by Hill. She sets up spaces and conventions, like The Killing Room itself, but they fall flat within the narrative. I’m not sure what happened but it all felt very staged, plotted, unnaturally build, disjointed. If Hill weren’t such a sure-footed story-teller, this book would have been unreadable. But somehow she and the reader muddle through to a somewhat fascinating showdown – only to draw out the ending unnecessarily.

In the end, I felt like the novel was simply too long, that things could have been edited more, that some phrases have been repeated too often (anyone remember ‘we have shit on this case’? yeah). It’s not an abominable read, many have liked it on Goodreads and it actually won a GCLS award in 2007, but to me wasn’t an enjoyable read. Hill can do better than this.

The Candidate by Tracey Richardson

thecandidateI don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this (but maybe you’ve noticed) I can be quite the bitch – or maybe we could call it a booksnob. In practice, this means that when I’ve read a book by an author and didn’t like it I may not read another book by same author – no matter how much amazon.de wants me to.

Of course, with just any mainstream genre it doesn’t matter so much since there’s usually more where that failed author came from. With lesbian romance, on the other hand, it can be limiting. I mainly read authors that I’ve read and liked before and there’s little space for those who failed in my eyes. But then, there’s always room to change one’s mind and I’m glad I did in this case.

I read The Wedding Party by Richardson a while ago and while it wasn’t abysmal there was something I attached to the writing in that novel that was not good. If you ask me what it was: I don’t remember. I just remembered that it wasn’t as satisfying a read as the synopsis had promised and I was disappointed. From my point of view, picking up another novel by Tracey Richardson was therefore risky – but it was the right choice.

The Candidate is a great read. I loved it. Here’s a blurb:

Jane Kincaid is campaigning in the primaries for the Democratic party to be their next presidential nominee. Alex Warner is a secret service agent on her first detail to protect a campaigning senator – Kincaid. But Kincaid is not your usual high and might politician, she’s an actual human being with a lot of heart and even more charisma. She’s also beautiful and caring and Alex falls for her. While Jane feels attracted to Alex, she isn’t going to risk her political career for a fling – or even love. Until an accident changes both her personal and political agendas.

The story line might not be entirely new. The celebrity-bodyguard plot line wasn’t new when Bodyguard came out in 1992 and it’s not any newer now but Richardson strings a story that is believable and charming. Jane and Alex feel more real than those stylized cliches of the star and their protector.

The story is carried mostly by the characterization and not by hastening from plot point to plot point. Jane’s reluctance to come out into the alienating media frenzy that surrounds her profession is understandable, as is Alex’s wish to be with the woman she has fallen for. Meanwhile, they’re both struggling with the taxing pace of their professions, the media, and an exhausting campaign trail through the United States.

The Candidate is well-written, it’s engaging, it’s well researched (at least from my standpoint as someone who doesn’t know squat about campaigning – and politics) and never boring. As I hear, it also has a sequel… yeah, I’m not so sure whether I will read that but it has nothing to do with this first volume, I’m just never sure about sequels.

Alma Mater by Rita Mae Brown

almamaterI read this novel years ago and in German. I read a lot of Brown back then and I loved her stories, mainly because they’re very Southern stories about Southern women and their relationships to each other (and not just lesbian relationships, I’m talking sisters, mothers and daughters,  aunts and nieces). While I come from nowhere near the American South, I can certainly relate to the female relations-part since like most of her characters I have very strong, very determined female relatives. They have influenced my life.

Since reading it last, I have always remembered Alma Mater as a book I wanted to read again – here’s what it’s about:

Vic Savedge meets Chris Carter and is besotted. She falls hard for the other young woman and the feeling is mutual – too bad that Vic has a boyfriend and all her relatives in Surry County expect her to marry him soon. While Vic loves Charly Harrison very much, there is just something missing from their relationship. Vic finds that piece of herself in Chris: it is unbridled passion. Between new cars, old acquaintances and the drink of the day, Vic has to find out where she belongs and with whom – never mind that life has its own ideas of what is going to happen next.

The whole story is a great big mess – just like life. Because life doesn’t wait until you have made up your mind and it isn’t fair if you can’t. Life just happens. And there’s a lot of life happening in Rita Mae Brown’s Virginia. Her characters walk, glide, stumble and fall into the full of it, usually with a sense of humor if not decorum. The voices are distinct, the dialect telling, the settings sometimes beautiful, sometimes bizarre but always close to home.

I guess you can tell that I like Brown’s stories. With Alma Mater, after all those years of not reading Brown, I realized that her style is quite disorganized. I’m not sure it’s the same with her other books but I rather liked that her writing is as unpredictable as the things that are happening. After reading so much about how to properly structure and paragraph a novel, it’s amusing to read somethig that defies the rules. But this is Rita Mae Brown and she can afford it – us mere mortals who are amateurs shall not.

There’s one thing about the novel that left me dissatisfied, though. While most of the characters get their share of exploration, Chris Carter remains a little pale to me. I couldn’t quite grasp her and would have wished for more time between her and Vic. Given, this is not a traditional lesbian romance, it’s much more of a family portrait, a book about Southern women and relationships. Still, the romance between Vic and Chris is why a lot of things happen but it pales in comparison to other relationships, even the one between Vic and Charly. I would have liked to spend more time with Chris, get to know why she did the things she did, where her convictions came from.

Apart from that: a great read, a wild ride, entertaining and quick.

Out of Love by KG MacGregor

outofloveI’m once again reading a lot of lesbian romance – I can’t seem to help myself, I blame my kindle.

Hotshot business woman Carmen Delallo and travel agent Judith O’Shea meet at a travel convention. The attraction is instant and palpable but Carmen is not as forthcoming with some information as Judith might have wished for and they part ways again. Only, neither is able to forget the encounter and now they have to see if they can build a relationship despite the many miles seperating them.

KG MacGregor wrote one of my favorite romances with The House on Sandstone. While I think it’s also her best (of those I’ve read, at least), Out of Love is certainly an entertaining and satisfying read as well. MacGregor has the ability to elicit something life-like from her characters, something so raw that it reminds you of the people you know and sometimes of the person you are. Her characters’ problems are real people-problems and that’s one thing I especially like in her writing.

The story has some interesting twists and Carmen and Judith’s journey takes us from New York to Chicago and back, and forth, and back again as this story shows how difficult it is to love a place and a person at the same time.

Family is also another important factor and a recurring theme in MacGregor’s writing. And something else I cherish in it. Really, there are few things that I don’t like about her writing and I can’t even think of a single one right now. So I just gonna tell you to read this because it’s good. I liked it – a lot.

Something in the Wine by Jae

somethinginthewineOkay, this is the first book I read on my kindle. I’ve decided to use it mostly for lesbian romances but that may change over time. I’ve also already put some classics on there – for once I get them for zilch, for another I really do need Pride and Prejudice in every readable format available (the power of Jane Austen).

But let’s look at Something in the Wine:

Annie Prideaux has finally had enough of her brother’s practical jokes after he sets her up with his friend Drew – a woman and a lesbian. While Drew Corbin is as nice as they get, Annie is straight. The two women plot their revenge on Jake but get caught up in their own scheme: as they try to convince him that they’re falling in love, they slowly do and this unleashes a lot of deeply-buried emotions in Annie that finally burst to the surface. Because nothing is ever as easy as falling in love.

After having read Second Nature by the same author, this is certainly a more traditional lesbian romance. I like the premise and it actually made me think about how I would do it. That is never a bad thing, it’s only a little frustrating that you didn’t have the idea and won’t be able to write it.

What I really like about Jae’s writing is that she gives her characters time to develop their relationship, be it through friendship or attraction. Friendships play a big role and I find that important, in life as in reading material. The same goes for family and I like how Jae builds the relationships within Annie’s family and how they have affected Annie her whole life, how they have also stunted her.

There is a lot of detail in the story-telling, a lot of character development. I usually find characters more important than plot points but, of course, things are still happening. Watching a presumably heterosexual woman fall for another woman is certainly not new in this genre but I like how Jae handles it, the turmoil, the insecurities, the denial. Maybe there’s a little too much of the latter for me but all coming-outs are different and maybe I simply had an easier time admitting to myself that I liked women.

As with Second Nature, there’s a lot of descriptive text and we usually get inside into both Annie and Drew’s feelings, often on the same scene. I still feel like she overdoes it a little on that front but as it’s all well-written and comprehensible it doesn’t hem the reading.

Something in the Wine is a solid romance, though I guess there should be a word of warning for those of us who like their romance on the erotic side: there’s no sex happening. There might be some of that in the short story Seduction for Beginners (it certainly sounds like it) which is a sequel to Something in the Wine. I haven’t read that yet but will probably check it out – and so should you if you liked this one.