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.

 

Legend by Marie Lu

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This book… feels sexy. It does. It’s got a roughened cover and just feels nice. Yeah, I know book cover fetish, but seriously, if you find it somewhere (the Speak edition from 2013): feel it.

And it doesn’t just have a sexy outside, the inside has its own magic you might want to discover. Here’s what’ what:

The North American states (that’s the Republic and the Colonies) are at war. Before this background, June Iparis wants to avenge her brother’s death. Only suspect is Day, a much sought-after criminal, who’s never killed before. But before June even knows that she’s found him, she spent some time with him undercover and (of course) falls for him. Turns out, he did not kill her brother, but others did. And they have more than that one secret to protect.

There’s much more to this story, naturally. This is a different North America from what we know, but it’s not Suzanne Collins united version, either. The Republic is a sinister place where the lines between rich and poor are quite severe. Much like in The Hunger Games and Divergent, there is a Trial children have to go through – this one is to rid the gene pool of its bad apples.

Day is such an apple. Even though he had a perfect score in The Trial, he was told he failed and was given over to experimentations (while the public thinks, children who failed The Trial were send to labor camps). But he survived and he wants revenge on a corrupt system. June is a prodigy of the system. She also had a perfect score, but because she was born to rich parents, she started training for the military, following in her brother Metias’ footsteps. But her family has a secret of their own, and as she finds out about it, her loyalties are tested until they break away.

I already compared this to The Hunger Games and Divergent, and it’s not far fetched. And yet, Legend is also different. Lu decided to break the book into two distinct voices, June and Day’s. Both are equally important, both are the main characters, and also I-narrators. I think she solved the problem I had with Divergent (or rather its sequel Insurgent) cleverly – giving Day his own voice, keeps this book from being about Day in June’s voice, while June is free to explore her own story.

Yes, there’s quite a bit of romance between the two characters, and I must confess, those pages bored me a little. But the story is so well written, so well thought through, that they were the only moments I did not entirely enjoy. It also made apparently clear to me how much I yearn for a story like Legend, or The Hunger Games with a queer protagonist (or two queer protagonists).

Legend is a really good book and it’s part of a series, followed by Prodigy and Champion, which I will probably read soon and will probably tell you about. I honestly hope Legend will get made into movies, and I also hope that these movies will not white-wash Day who is half-Mongolian. In fact, Legend lends itself perfectly as a series that could bring more Characters of Color to a ‘whitened’ genre.

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.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.

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!

The Red Files by Lee Winter

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So, last Saturday over at Facebook (yes, Facebook – hate it or love it, most of us have an account), Ylva Publishing offered the opportunity to chat with three of their writers – Jae, Lee Winter, and Jove Belle (and as I hear, this is planned as a monthly event – not with the same authors, of course). Oh, the fun we had. And besides being able to ask these writers questions, there were also ebooks to win. And I won myself a copy of Lee Winter’s debut novel The Red Files.

I had actually ogled this one for awhile, but haven’t come around to it yet, so, this was a treat in itself – winning something. And then I started reading it and, let me tell you, I lost sleep over it. It was so good.

What is it about?

Lauren King is a young hopeful journalist, but her superiors don’t seem to think she can do anything but write about celebrity parties. It being L.A., one might think that Lauren would be excited about it, but she wants to be a political writer, not some celebrity stalker-type.

Catherine Ayers has been where Lauren wants so desperately to be. She was at the top, but fell deep when Washington decided she got a little too nosy for their tastes. Now she has a similar job to Lauren, with 15 years more experience.

These two have a war of wits going on whenever they meet. But when Lauren discovers some shady dealings at a business launch party, Ayers offers her experience and contacts to help Lauren uncover the story of a lifetime. And what a story it is! And what a chase it is! And what a killer body Catherine has! Oh wait, does that mean, these two women could actually find each other attractive?

Read the book and find out. You seriously won’t regret it. Winter writes a witty, suspenseful tale about two women who risk everything for a story. She might just have given us a modern His Girl Friday, and this comparison should tell you just how much I love this book.

Reading it, you will delve into a well-written, delightful, exciting story with two remarkable protagonists and great supporting characters. You’ll just love it, trust me.

Tales of the Grimoire (book one), edited by Astrid Ohletz and Gill McKnight

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It’s going on Halloween and you may have realized I love that holiday just a little more than I love all the others. One reason is all the new shiny stories who bite themselves into my flesh and won’t let go until they drank me dry. Sorry, for the bad metaphor there, but what better time than Halloween for awfully gory metaphors?

Ylva Publishing’s 2015 Halloween anthology is once again full of very entertaining and very different stories, all concerned with the scary, the supernatural, the downright sexy of All Hallow’s Eve. I find myself in a rare mood this year and enjoy stories about characters who do things and just happen to be queer a lot more than the ‘look at me, I’m gay’ stories. Luckily, this anthology delivers on that front.

We have zombie slayers, witches, a succubus, demon possession, and dryads. We go back in time and into a dystopian future, and rediscover an actual murder case. And, of course, we wouldn’t be satisfied if our all time favorites, werewolves and vampires, weren’t part of the mix, too. Between all these goodies are short scary snippets by Cheri Fuller, interludes that will make your skin crawl. I loved those, they were surprising and rounded out the anthology perfectly.

While I enjoyed all the stories, I do have favorites. This year, Centralia, 2013 by May Dawney, Still Life by Jess Lea, and The Crocodile Eye by Gill McKnight pulled me into their worlds and shook me up. But all stories were well-written, well-thought through, well-done. Ylva Publishing puts together another great anthology and I can’t wait for book two. When will that come out, anyway?

If you love well-written scary stories with female protagonists. If you don’t mind a little lady-love happening. If you are alone on Halloween, have already assembled your candles, murder weapon, and cauldron – muahahaha – buy this book to read with a spiked hot chocolate. You won’t regret it.

The Secret of Sleepy Hollow by Andi Marquette

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We continue with more reading for Halloween, folks. This story is maybe a little less on the gory than the one before, but who doesn’t like a nice mystery with their ghostly. Also: romance, and that isn’t too bad to have either, especially when you’re trying to solve a mystery.

Abby Crane is writing her doctoral thesis about the legend of the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow; and what better place to begin her research than in the town itself? She also wants to find out more about her own ancestor Ichabod Crane and his disappearance. In Katie McClaren she finds a fellow nerd on the quest to uncover the secret of Ichabod. Katie, herself a descendent of Katrina van Tassel, has her own theories about the mystery that bounds Abby’s and her ancestors. And then there is their own story which involves a headless horseman and an attraction beyond their comprehension.

I must confess, I never read the story by Washington Irving (the reading list back in my first year of studying American lit had Goodman Brown on it). Of course, I watched the Burton film and I really love it, but I never even knew that it wasn’t quite the same as Irving’s story. Marquette taught me better. She tells a lot about the story behind the legend, makes up her own spiel about the Crane mystery and brings it all together in an entertaining read.

To broaden the focus of such a well-known story and to make it plausible and entertaining is quite a chore, but Marquette does it with finesse. Her solutions may not always be surprising, but it’s still fun to accompany Abby and Katie on their quest for the truth. And Abby and Katie are themselves great protagonists with a wonderful chemistry.

If you like new takes on old tales (and I’m aware that’s not for everybody as I hear shouts of ‘sacriledge!’ in the far background), you should give this one a go. Marquette spins a fun tale with some ghostly elements and a sweet love story or two. You’ll probably like Ichabod and Katrina even better after reading this. You’ll at least get a new perspective on an old legend.

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.