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.

 

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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 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.

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.