Thursday, February 23, 2012

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

Book:  Carry the One
Author:  Carol Anshaw
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

Admittedly, most of us tend to space out a little bit when we hear someone nattering on about the practical applications of mathematics in everyday life.  But, the simple fact is that math pokes its mulish little husky head into everything we do.  For instance, one of the most common and important artifacts of mathematical theory is known as Carry the One. 

Most of us are familiar with the base-10 notational system, also known as Decimal.

Deci means 10, and is represented by the numbers 0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  and 9.

When you count in Decimal and get past the 9, you add 1 to the next column—this is what we were taught in our earliest days in school as the principal of Carry the One.

Raise your hand if you know that 9 + 1 = 10 in base-ten math.

Now, here’s the cool and quirky thing: no matter which notational system you happen to be using, the same rules apply whenever you carry the one.

Let me explain….

Binary is the name for the base-two notational system – this is generally used in computing.

Bi means 2, and is represented by the numbers 0 and 1.

So, when you count in Binary, you can only go as high as a 1.  That means if you count above a 1, then you have to “carry the one.”

In Binary 1 + 1 = 10, but 1 + 1 = 2 when you’re counting in everyday Decimal.

Likewise, Quaternary is the name for the base-4 notational system, which often occurs in human language and genetics. 

Quat means 4, and is represented by the numbers 0  1  2 and 3.

Since Quaternary only goes as high as a 3, if you count above a 3, then you once again have to “carry the one.”

That means in Quaternary, 3 + 1 = 10, when we all know 3 + 1 = 4 in Decimal.

And that is how, even if you apply the same rules, everything changes when you carry the one.

Carol Anshaw’s fourth novel, Carry the One follows a trio of siblings on a 25-year odyssey following an ill-advised car ride that kills ten-year-old Casey Redman.  Following the hastily planned wedding of pregnant sister Carmen to Matt, stoned brother Nick calls shotgun as his equally stoned mail-carrier girlfriend, Olivia takes the wheel. Lesbian sister, Alice and Matt’s sister Maude continue their post-wedding dalliance in the back seat while folk-musician, Tom, clutches his guitar and watches the show.  No one expected a ten-year old girl to be in the road at 3 a.m., but she was.  All of the passengers in the car casually step back as Olivia is sent to jail, not so much for the death of Casey or for driving under the influence, but because of the bags of undelivered mail found in her trunk.

Carmen, the political activist, whose marriage to Matt falls apart while son Gabe is still young, remarries a good man whom she isn’t really sure she wants, all the while championing important liberal causes on both the local and national fronts.  Alice, the talented lesbian artist, sees her career ebb and flow as she drifts from relationship to relationship because she can’t move past her love for Maude, who moves to Hollywood to become a straight, B-grade actress.  Nick, the gifted astronomer, tries to clean up and be a good man for Olivia after she’s released from prison, but drifts from addiction to sobriety and back, in an increasingly tight spiral. 

Carry the One captures bits and pieces of everyday life for each of the siblings, often passing over landmark events to focus on the more routine elements of relationships, careers, family, and shared memories.  We see Nick and Olivia travelling the competitive cat show circuit, Carmen and her anorexic stepdaughter at the Hammam in Paris, and Alice’s jam jar of wet butts and long list of ex-lover teas.  We follow as Carmen and Alice drop Nick off at the front door of yet another Rehab facility—then learn from Nick the best high you can get for your money.

The story is full of curious parallels that sneak up on the reader in hushed, but not-so-subtle tones.  We learn that father, Horace, an aficionado of tragic operas, foreordained the lives of his children through their birth names.  Alice was born Lucia after Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Nick was born Nabucco from Verdi’s dramma tragico of the same name. And Carmen kept her birth name, which came from Bizet’s bourgeois opéra comique. Of course, Horace was likely named after the Roman lyric poet known for his scurrilous iambic verse, which, ironically, is viewed as "the common currency of civilization."

Ms. Anshaw’s presentation of these three tragic characters is both nuanced and flawless.  We are given an Artist, an Astronomer, and an Activist.  Three completely different people with different minds, different personalities, and different pathways, who are all interconnected through the thin threads of blood.  We learn that the siblings likely would not be friends if not for the family connection, yet the shared connection to their parents is more tenuous and fractured than their connections to each other.  When Horace is diminished with Alzheimer’s, his role in the book and in the lives of his children fades to nothingness.  Similarly, when mother Loretta dies alone from cancer, the loss is not so much felt as it is validated.

Throughout the book, the reader follows Nick through his addictions to drugs and booze, and witnesses his earnest yet insincere attempts to remain clean.  The reader wants Nick to succeed, much more than he ever does, and we eventually become almost numb to the deeper depths of his addictions.  And, while we see Alice kick an addiction to cigarettes early on, we soon learn that her real addiction is to Maude.  However, unlike with Nick, the reader remains engaged with her obsession—but her friends do not.  And, through Carmen’s addiction to right the wrong du jour, we reach another level of numbness, which is brilliantly defined by her son Gabe’s avoidance of her as she sits on the bench in the train station, wearing her activist uniform and holding her hand made sign that simply reads, “Hope.”

Three siblings, three addictions, and three lives half-lived is a powerful symbol contrasted against that of the young girl killed that night in 1983, who remains alive within each of them.  Nick remembers her as she was. Alice, the artist, paints her as she would have been. And Carmen fights for a better future she will never have.  

And once again, this is how, even if you apply the same rules, everything changes when you carry the one.

Carol Anshaw’s novel, Carry the One is a powerful story about life and death and everything in between.  At times, brutal and honest, it is balanced with understated humility and humor.  Her prose is beautiful, verging on lyrical, and her ability to capture the effects of time on love, addiction, memory, and responsibility is both gifted and skillful. 

I’m giving Carry the One a 5.5 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale, because several days after finishing, I’m still thinking about the characters, their lives, and their choices.

Simon and Schuster provided a pre-release copy of this book for review.  

Carry the One will be released March 8, 2012.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Better Off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Book:  Better Off Red
Author:  Rebekah Weatherspoon
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books
Today is Valentine’s Day, traditionally a day in which we take a few minutes to tell that special person in our life how much we love and adore her.  It’s also the perfect day to pull out The Rainbow Reader Top Five.

Today’s question:  Why do lesbians love romances?

#5. The sketchy cover art.  Hot women on motorcycles, hot women with tantalizingly bared skin, hot women kissing, hot women scowling, hot women with pouty lips, hot women with tool belts…a veritable all you can eat buffet for the eyes, what’s not to love?
#4. The thinly veiled porn.  As Gloria Leonard, publisher of High Society, is fond of saying, “The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting.”
#3. The sex life surrogate. The vast majority of lesbian romance novels are rife with hot and heavy ninky pooh.  If the rest of us had as much sex as the lesbians in romance novels, we wouldn’t be able to hold down a full-time job.  Think of it as career clitoral damage.
#2. The other thinly veiled porn. This time, I’m talking about the emotional porn – jilted women, broken hearts, unrequited love, sick pets, kidnapped children, and lost memories.  The higher the ratio of uncontrolled sobs, the more invested we are in a happily ever after.
#1. The heroine. Let’s face it, whether she’s a tough and chewy butch with a gun or an ad executive with a push up bra and a large trust fund, she inevitably is most everything we want to be (save for the occasional Too Dumb to Live Heroine).  And, because try as we might, we can fall a little bit in love every time we open a book to read.

In the world of Lesbian Romance, every day is Valentine’s Day.

Better Off Red: Vampire Sorority Sisters Book 1 is the debut novel from author Rebekah Weatherspoon.   Freshman Ginger Carmichael is a good girl with a high GPA from a solid, well-adjusted family.  Perky roommate Amy wants to rush the sororities at Maryland University, and drags her reluctant friend along for moral support.  Of course, Ginger doesn’t really care much about the cliques and the great parties, but her interest is suddenly peaked when she encounters the women of Alpha Beta Omega (ABO).  The ladies are diverse, gorgeous, strong, smart, and sexy as hell.  That last part is an added bonus, since red headed Ginger, has come to accept that she’s a lesbian.

When the invitation to ABO arrives, Ginger finds it interesting to note that she and Amy aren’t given a choice to accept or reject.  But then, it’s an honor to be asked to join ABO, so both girls happily move into initiation.  However, initiation with ABO isn’t like it is with other sororities, and Ginger and Amy learn that their pledge is more than a bond of sisterhood, it’s a lifelong pact to serve a pack of demon vampirii with healthy appetites, and even healthier libidos.

Ginger learns that because her birth mother drank from a demon, she isn’t able to be a feeder to the Sister Queens like the other pledges, but she is warmly welcomed into the nest.  None welcomes her more than the beautiful, dark, and mysterious immortal Queen, Camila.  Ginger and Camila are sexually attracted to each other, and begin an emotionally confusing yet sexually satisfying relationship.  Soon, Ginger begins to realize that her feelings for Camila are real, but that telling an immortal demon you love her is a little harder than studying for midterms.

As the semester progresses, relationships grow stronger, secrets are revealed, and darkness descends upon ABO and its brother fraternity.  Lives are forever altered, and life and death decisions have consequences that change everything Ginger, Camila, Amy, and the others think they know. 

In Better Off Red, Rebekah Weatherspoon has crafted a feisty little debut that forever changes the image of sororities in lesbian literature.  Her protagonists are strong, smart, sensible, and surprisingly human, for all the demon blood surging through their veins.  Within the first few pages, she is able to develop characters of depth and veracity, and create an atmosphere in which the reader is as willing and able as the characters to accept this totally unexpected, new reality. 

Her sorority girls have supple lips, support each other, go to classes, meet curfews, bake cookies for charity, and shop for crotchless panties, all the while feeding demons and having amazingly intense orgasms on a regular basis.

Perhaps, one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of Better Off Red is Ms. Weatherspoon’s fresh take on Vampire Mythology.  Forget the Mesopotamian precursors and the hackneyed modern interpretations of vampirism, these blood-sucking demons don’t turn into bats, don’t sleep in coffins, don’t get staked in the heart, and don’t have a problem with sexually active coeds.

And, while they are extremely photosensitive, they drive nice cars and pay union wages.

Better Off Red is a fast read, with equal bits of humor and pathos sprinkled throughout its pages.  I appreciate the moments of subtle juxtaposition where demons are portrayed as good, just, and fair, while the humans struggle with anger, frustration, and selfishness.    This isn’t completely true throughout the story, but is true enough to keep the reader guessing about who is good, and who is evil, to the very end.

Paranormal romance is a growing and much loved niche in Lesfic, but I struggle with this as the proper classification for Better Off Red.  The story is 288 pages long, but includes 46 uses of pussy, 52 of clit, 32 of moan, 22 of soak, 20 of slit, 51 of nipple, and 35 of wet.  In addition, numerous pairs of panties were harmed because of overly sharp fangs.

Then again, now that I think about it, if any two normal women had as much sex as Ginger and Camila, their relationship really would be classified as a "paranormal romance."

Besides the excess of eroticism, my only concern with Better Off Red was the pacing.  I found that the first 30 or so pages were used to set up an interesting and engaging story, the next 180 pages focused lightly on the story and heavily on the sexual relationships, and the final 80 pages saw a full throttle return to the story of good versus evil, and the relationship between action and consequence.

Overall, Better Off Red is full of lush and memorable characters, sexy coeds, moral demons, and low lighting.  The author was masterful in setting up a world where demons and feeders are feasible, and a good pair of flip-flops is worth going back for.  Not all fans of romance “get” stories that take place in the paranormal plane, but I’m giving this fun little debut a 4.7 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.

Note that an extra 0.1-point was awarded to Ms. Weatherspoon because she valiantly resisted the urge to use the word “turgid” anywhere in this novel.

Thursday, February 9, 2012



One year ago today, The Rainbow Reader stumbled onto the thriving, thumping midway of the lesbian literature scene. 

Like any good roller coaster ride, things started out a bit slow, but picked up speed as a few willing and even more unsuspecting authors leapt onto the knuckle whitening TRR Tilt-a-Whirl. 

Looking back to that cold morning twelve months ago, it's an honor and a privilege to know that 30,000 visitors have accepted my invitation to step in, strap on, and go for a ride.

This blog wouldn't be possible without the authors, readers, publishers, commenters, guest bloggers, other reviewers, and that creepy guy from Kansas who coincidentally forgets how to spell Bobby Jindal's name every Monday evening.

As an expression of my most sincere gratitude, the first 600 visitors today will receive a literary cupcake  liberally dusted with rainbow sprinkles and a tasty cup of Lucy's Lesfic Punch, courtesy of Super Squirrel Bakeries.

Thank you all 
for your support 
and encouragement!

TRR One-Year Anniversary design courtesy of Tree House Studios

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hidden Truths by Jae

Book:  Hidden Truths
Author:  Jae
Publisher: L-Book ePublisher

Every one of us has experienced insight that has altered some prior perception.

For instance, pleasure and happiness may very well result from the organic satisfaction that often accompanies base knowledge. Conversely, angst and fear may then result from a disturbing realization:  If what I once believed to be true now proves false, then it stands that other beliefs may prove to be false as well. It follows, therefore, that if this new insight involves self-understanding, then accepting the new information would obviously entail altering self-perception.

Sis boom bang!
Kind of like what happens when you cross the hot wire with the neutral…

Every day, we are flooded with information that challenges our self-image, and in an effort to avoid damaging it, we often deceive others and ourselves.

Consider, for just a moment, some of the great characters in literature who have practiced self-deception, along with various forms of external deception, as a means of maintaining some sort of tenuous control.

Jean-Baptiste, the main character in Camus’ The Fall, serves as one example of an individual practicing self-deception. The story describes Jean-Baptiste’s confession to a man in a bar, and throughout, he emphasizes his extraordinary ability to forget: “To be sure, I knew my failings and regretted them. Yet I continued to forget them with a rather meritorious obstinacy."

In Melville’s novella, Billy Budd, Sailor, the simple story of a conflict between shipmates plays a subservient role to the discussion of self-deception. At the center of this discussion is Captain Edward Vere.  There is a constant struggle between Vere’s morality, and the naval laws he must uphold as captain. In deceiving himself, Vere is able to justify his actions and resolve the struggle.

And in an act of ultimate deception, Billy Budd, Sailor has come to be known as Billy Budd, Foretopman in certain spurious literary circles, and you know who you are...

1st Edition
Paperback Cover
Vonnegut begins Mother Night with a moral to the tale: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."  His characterization of Howard Campbell, a well-known American born playwright living in Germany during the Nazi's ascent to power, illustrates a classic account of self-deception. Campbell relays secret messages to Allied Forces, but because they are embedded in enemy propaganda and delivered so persuasively, he inspires the Nazis.  In the end, the reader is left asking: “Whom is Campbell really helping?” The answer to that question portends the very question of identity:

Will the real Howard Campbell come on down?

In late 2007, author Jae released Backwards to Oregon, the award-winning tale of Luke Hamilton, a woman living as a man, and Nora Macauley, a young mother escaping the brothels of Independence, who undertake a two thousand mile journey along the Oregon trail and into a life of love and mutual acceptance they never dreamed they could have.  Hidden Truths, the much-awaited sequel, finds Luke, Nora, and their two daughters, Amy and Nattie, living on a thriving horse ranch seventeen years later. 

Luke, his foreman Phin, and another ranch hand head off to Fort Boise to deliver horses to the U.S. Cavalry.  Luke has left oldest daughter, Amy behind and in charge of the ranch.  Amy is young, tough, and female, qualities that do not sit well with one of the ranch hands. In fact, only three people know that Luke is a woman, and that short list does not include either of her two daughters. Amy takes after Luke in so many ways, and feels a driving compulsion to prove her ranch management skills worthy of Luke's trust.  As the men and the horses head off to Fort Boise, Hendrika (Rika) Aaldenberg, posing as Phin’s mail order bride, arrives in Oregon.  Her recently deceased friend, Jo Bruggeman, was really Phin’s paramour, and Hendrika took her place, hoping only for a chance at a better life. 

Things immediately heat up; Amy begins fighting feelings for Hendrika, Luke and the boys encounter Indians and demented Cavalry men, the angry ranch hand takes justice into his grimy paws, and Nora’s old friend Tess and her confounding cousin show up. Rika proves herself worthy of needed ranch chores, and begins to see Amy in a different light.  However, Amy is twisted and torn for her feelings for women, and this torment causes Luke and Nora to consider risking their home and their lives to give Amy the chance at happiness. Along the way, secrets are exposed, trust is earned, and honesty changes the lives of everyone at the Hamilton Ranch.

The author Jae chose an apropos title for this long awaited sequel to Backwards to Oregon, since every character is hiding something that could destroy them and the people they love.  Luke is hiding that she’s a woman, and Nora is hiding that she worked in a brothel.  Luke and Nora are hiding that Amy and Nattie are not the product of their marriage.  Amy is hiding her feelings for women, and Rika is hiding her true identity.  Phin and Nattie are furtively falling in love.  Tess and Frankie aren’t really kissing cousins.

And, I honestly suspect that Hunter the Dog secretly has a taste for chicken Carpaccio.

Jae is a strong writer, with a special talent for telling an epic tale.  Her characters exhibit depth, personality, and individuality.  They are both strong and honestly flawed, and the big bad always gets his comeuppance in the end.  Her story telling is sound and well conceived, and her books are hard to put down.  In Hidden Truths, she has excelled at telling a complicated story of interwoven secrets, in which the exposure of any one of them threatens to bring the walls tumbling down on everyone.  This takes exceptional vision, planning, and patience; and is a skill lacking in a great number of lesfic writers.

I appreciate the careful thought that went into making the reader believe that Luke Hamilton is a man, husband, and father.  At times, it is almost disconcerting to see Luke living in both worlds as a man and a woman, and this mental juxtaposition fits perfectly with the feelings the daughters and Rika experience and come to terms with as they learn the secrets Luke and Nora have been hiding for almost twenty years.   Jae constructed this tricky element of the story with grace and compassion.

Hidden Truths is an entertaining and engaging story, even though a few elements of the construction took a hard left turn into the land of questionable necessity and plausibility.  Namely, the clichéd coincidence that Rika’s evil boss in Boston is Nora’s long lost brother, which adds nothing to the overall story; and that Baker Prairie should henceforth be dubbed by The Michelin Guide as The Lesbian Mecca of the West, especially since Bernice, Hannah, and Nattie are the only women in town that weren’t card carrying Lesbyterians by 1871.

Minor flaws aside, Hidden Truths is a fun read and a worthy follow up to big sister, Backwards to Oregon.  Jae’s characters have a way of tunneling deep inside the reader and setting up residence.  I’m giving this historical lesbian tale of sex, lies, and saddle soap a solid 4.9 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.