Thursday, March 29, 2012

L World by Taryn Rose

Book:  L World
Author:  Taryn Rose
Publisher:  Ravenous Romance

“They glared at her the way any intelligent persons ought to glare when what they need is a smoke, a bite, a cup of coffee, a piece of ass, or a good fast-paced story, and all they're getting is philosophy.”
                                                 ― Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker

The one true constant in lesbian literature is that every reader has a unique set of likes and dislikes.  Some readers prefer classic romances, while others gravitate to the tough and chewy butch with a gun.  Some readers love lusty werewolves and sexy vampires, while others like their heroines sporting six shooters or sharp and shiny sabers.  A handful of readers like to explore the exploits of mystics, magic, and mythical mayhem, while a very few like to kick it up a notch with handcuffs and the cat o' nine tails.

And, lest we forget the big batch bootie calls that prosper in the ubiquitous anthologies of niche lesbian erotica.

I bring this up because recently, a reader pointedly asked how and why I choose the books I review on TRR

I’d love to say that I have an elaborate algorithm plotted that considers all the lesfic subgenres, calculates the newly released books as a function of all books released to date, and then extrapolates the ratio of self-published books to niche publishers and mainstream publishers in order to determine the weekly common denominator that will become my next lucky victim. 

But, in all truth, I’ve been trying my best to give a nod to authors and publishers that have the guts and temerity to ask me to read and review their work.  And, as a book reviewer trying to evaluate the full spectrum of Lesfic subgenres, it’s not uncommon to find myself reading and reviewing stories that fall outside my personal preference. 

I’ll admit that I have to be vigilant about separating my likes and dislikes for particular kinds of books, and assess each story against a common set of standards.  These include a long laundry list of things like quality of writing, originality of plot and themes, development and believability of characters, appropriateness of dialogue, and pace.

On rare occasions, I consider cover art, editing, use of humor, and sums of money quietly transferred into my offshore bank account in Cyprus.

In all seriousness, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

My goal with The Rainbow Reader is to make sure potential readers of all subgenres have enough information to make a sound buy/no buy decision, and to ensure authors have feedback on what works and what doesn’t. I want to give new authors a chance to find a wider audience, and see established authors have an opportunity to reach readers that haven't found them yet. Beyond that, the publishing houses and distributors need to sell books to stay in business and fund their author’s future pursuits, and those authors that are self-publishing need additional voices to get the word out so they can keep writing.  

Now, please pardon me while I hop off this little soapbox and get down to business. 

After an ill-advised meltdown at a tony salon, recent divorcee Blake Sanders, a well-heeled partner at a top Manhattan law firm, has a change of heart and tracks her young and beautiful hairstylist, Janie to a downtown bar called L World in an attempt to make things right.  However, once inside the trendy lesbian bar, Blake finds herself intrigued by and attracted to the much younger woman, and after an unexpected and brief pursuit, the women launch into a torrid affair. 

But, Blake is not really sure she’s gay, and her fear begins to influence her growing relationship with Janie.  Unable to cope with coming out to her 17-year-old son Wes, Blake breaks things off with Janie, and tries to return to her conservative world. In spite of this, when Dom, the enigmatic owner of L World comes to Blake ask for help in avoiding bankruptcy, Blake finds herself sexually drawn to the sexy Lothario, and she is forced to once and for all answer the question, “Am I a lesbian?”

L World by debut author, Taryn Rose, is a smokin’ hot and quick read at 153 pages.  It explores a range of intriguing issues from internalized homophobia to age bias, violence, and work addiction, and even takes on a few interesting legal matters.  More than anything else though, L World focuses on the lusty, animalistic, and steamy sexual exploits of its main characters.  The author unabashedly paints a glorious tableau of carnal delights that includes slippery folds, moist love nests, sweet boxes, love pouches, lady parts, pink nubs, hot holes, engorged love sacks, and honey pots that taste like the ocean.

While the story of Blake’s coming to terms with her attraction to women, and Janie in particular, takes a back seat to the erotica, several of the characters in L World came to life inside the story.  In particular, as a reader, I find myself interested in and wanting to learn more about Blake’s process of self discovery, Wes’ process of growing up and accepting his mother and helping her accept herself, and Dom’s larger-than-life-life.  On the other hand, the characters of Janie, Christine, Brianna, and Sofi would be much stronger if they were written more completely into the overall storyline.  In addition, the richness and naughty pleasure of Ricki as the spurned lover sadly played out after only one solid right cross.

As erotica, L World lives up to the Ravenous Romance brand­­––the lady parts are swollen, the sex is hot, and every last woman is out of control.  The story, however, is in dire need of strong editing, falling victim to an abundance of perspective shifts within scenes; and the character dialogue needs to be more appropriate­, since a top Manhattan attorney is unlikely to repeatedly think “what a hottie” her girlfriend is.

If anything, the overall narrative of L World would benefit by having more focus placed on the storyline and less on the pure and unadulterated sex scenes, which seem to overwhelm the interesting concepts and characters.  Still, for lovers of hot and steamy lesbian erotica, Ms. Rose delivers the goods.  I’m giving this torrid tale a tight and tingly 3.8 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pennance by Clare Ashton

Book:  Pennance
Author:  Clare Ashton
Publisher:  Self-Published

Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems is a smart and snappy little collection of poems by a couple of fellas named William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Originally published in 1798, it is generally considered to have marked the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature.

Ironically, it is also generally considered that the end of the English Romantic movement was marked by the 1982 release of Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran.

But, I digress….

Most of the poems in the 1798 edition were written by Wordsworth, with Coleridge contributing only four poems to the collection, including the narrative poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  In this ballad, a nameless narrator begins by telling the reader a ghostly, preternatural, and mysterious tale about an ancient seaman who stops a man on his way to a wedding to recite a strange and terrifying story that traverses the high seas from the Atlantic to the Pacific and all the way to the South Pole. 

The story is rife with naked Deities, scurvy, sea snakes, reanimated sailors, beautiful angles, a smelly hermit, and a dead albatross…a little something for everyone.

While the poem is known for its clever use of poetic effects such as inversion and enjambment; its rich use of alliteration, anaphora, irony, metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, personification, and synecdoche; and its novel juxtaposition of end rhyme to internal rhyme and iambic tetrameter to iambic trimeter; it is the theme of sin and redemption––that Man is a sinful creature, but redemption awaits him if he repents his wrongdoing and performs penance––that sets the stage for the further exploration of the ideas of respect for nature and confrontation of the supernatural.

As an aside, It also sets the stage for a frisky little game of winner-takes-all Craps between the swarthy, mustachioed Death and that naked little blond hottie named Life-in-Death.

Pennance, by debut author Clare Ashton, tells the story of Lucy, a bright, talented woman struggling after the death of her partner, Jake, in fiery car crash a year earlier.  Set in the village of Pennance in Cornwall, Lucy is emotionally overwhelmed with the aftermath of the accident, and seemingly unable to move forward with her life.  She remains a virtual recluse, avoiding her nosey mother-in-law and the pity-laced stares and hushed whispers of the locals.  She survives on canned soup, refuses to light a fire to warm her home or ride in a car, and feels the ever-present spirit of Jake in their cold, dank cottage.  While on a run one day, she sees Karen, a mother of two children who is divorcing and has returned to her homestead after the death of her parents.  The two women bond almost immediately upon meeting, and Lucy slowly begins to come out of her shell.  Almost at once, she develops a warm and playful relationship with three-year-old George, but is unable to break through to his older and more sullen sister, Sophia. 

Over time, and as their relationship deepens, Karen admits to having an affair during her marriage, and Lucy admits the truth about the car accident and her feelings for Jake.  However, things start to go awry as someone breaks into Lucy’s home, leaves a ghastly voodoo doll on her doorstep, and sets fire to her home.  Is it Tom Riley, owner of the Garage that messed up the brakes on Jake’s car and whose life has been destroyed and business forced to close because of the lawsuit?  Is it Ben, Jakes brother, who is secretly in love with Lucy and jealous of her growing relationship with Karen?  Is it someone or something else with an axe to grind?  The truth changes everything for Lucy, but will she ever be able to reclaim her life and happiness?

Will she ever mop her floor, wash her dishes, or clean the toilet again?

Clare Ashton’s Pennance is a tale of sin and redemption through, appropriately enough, penance.  Written in the first person narrative, the reader is given a first-hand account of the depths of trauma generated by oppressive guilt and obsessive denial.  We are introduced to a main character who isn’t particularly likeable, and doesn’t generate much pity as a result of her internal dialogue.  Yet, at the same time, we are lead to believe that her behavior is a result of PTSD-like symptoms as a result of the accident and overwhelming sense of loss of her partner.  This creates an intense set of dueling emotions, which is apt and effective given the narrator’s state of sense and mind.  It becomes even more fitting as the narrative progresses, and we see Lucy both opening up and shutting down across a wide array of situations dealing with Karen, the children, and Ben.

One of the most challenging elements of writing in first person narrative is finding a way to add depth and voice to supporting characters.  In Pennance, Ben and George are, for the most part, fully developed characters that have effective depth and voice––this is especially impressive, given that George is a 3-year-old with plastic dinosaurs.  However, other characters, such as Karen and Sophia, seem a bit underwhelming and flat––a bit of a disappointment given their vital roles as the love interest and the powerfully petulant teenage Baby Jane. I will give due credit to Ms. Ashton, though, for creating the enduring presence of Jake through noted similarities with brother Ben and through the ebb and flow of his ghostly presence in the Cottage––there isn’t much of him in the story, but what’s there works well.

While there is not an albatross to be found, Pennance is a successful and intriguing tale of transgression and liberation, which addresses varying degrees of right and wrong, truth and lies, and good and evil––its power comes from the raw images and emotional self-flagellation, which is apropos of everything.  The book is in dire need of a good editor, but this is surprisingly true of many books being released on the market today, not just those that are self-published.  Ultimately though, Ms. Ashton gives her readers an interesting take on penance, and has written a story that starts out a bit slow, but is well worth the wait for its sweet redemption.  I’m giving this tense and gutsy little debut a 4.6 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Eat Your Heart Out by Dayna Ingram

Book:  Eat Your Heart Out
Author:  Dayna Ingram
Publisher:  BrazenHead

Earlier this week, I was looking at my blog schedule for the next several months, and saw a fresh and frisky list of contemporary romances lined up like quarters on the pool table in the back room of the Liquor Barn.  It occurred to me that, perhaps, I needed to consider throwing a little more variety into the schedule so that I can continue to serve the varied wants and needs of the lesbian reading community.

It also occurred to me that I need to buy dog biscuits, change my sheets, and call my mother, but my twitchy little dyke priorities prevailed.

Lesbian literature comes in all shapes and sizes.  With a wee bit of effort, any reader can find a long list of genres that meet her reading proclivities.  There’s romance, mystery, adventure, drama, poetry, paranormal, and erotica—just to name a few. 

If you get really picky, you can even ferret out a few esoteric subgenres, such as erotic poetry that involves blood sucking, big busted, space pirate floozies, loosely based on Marlowe’s The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.

SpecFic isn’t easy to define, mostly because it’s an umbrella term for the more fantastical fiction genres, which include science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian/dystopian fiction, apocalyptic/ post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate time history.

If you follow The Rainbow Reader, you’ll notice that I haven’t really covered much speculative fiction in my reviews—mostly because zombies totally freak me out, but also because authors and publishers haven’t poked me in the belly and said, “Hey! Lady! Read this!”

I know that a fairly significant number of Lesfic readers don’t “get” speculative fiction, and avoid it like dental dams in favor of more traditional romances and mysteries.  Still, I suspect it would surprise most readers to learn that works by Euripides, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Heinlein, and Bellamy are all considered well within the SpecFic genre.  In addition, LGBT themes and characters have flourished within SpecFic, even before it was considered cool, edgy, or politically correct.

How else would you describe the angsty relationship between Gollum and Precious?

In Dayna Ingram’s debut novella, Eat Your Heart Out, Devin’s daily routine as a low-level manager-in-training at a furniture outlet store in Nowhere, Ohio, is wildly disrupted when a real-life zombie eats a star struck, Firebird-driving, tweed-coated octogenarian on the doorstep of the store.  Before Devin and smokin’ hot, badass, zombie killing, B-movie actress Renni Ramirez, who just happens to be couch shopping, can make a move, the zombie invasion begins, and friends and neighbors become tasty morsels for the throbbing throng of slick, suck-swallowing zombies that are invading the city center.

Over the course of the next twenty four hours, Devin and Renni fight zombies, share clothes, eat minibar munchies, have desperation sex as a hoard of zombies close in on them, briefly join Nick Fury and his rogue band of government generated zombie killing genetic mutants, discover the existence of delirious psychosomatic undead, and are saved by the gum popping Cherry, the foul-mouthed Brad, and the cheating ex-stripper girlfriend-cum-gun-wielding warrior, Carmelle Soufflé. 

Original Movie Poster
Eat Your Heart Out is a 146-page orgy of heart pounding, rip-roaring, sidesplitting, sex saturated, action-packed goodness wrapped around a gooey zombie center.  The characters are rich and filling, and the dialogue is sharp and clever.  This novella proudly displays each and every one of the over-used conventions and eye-rolling effects that make cult films like Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead so bad they’re good.

And I’m talking about stumbling, shuffling, lurching, crawling, lip-smacking zombies, rotting flesh, bone saws, government virii, sex at the most inopportune time, and tater tot breath.

The story, which is carefully constructed in the first person present-tense narrative, contains moments of sharp humor, keen insight, fresh descriptions, frisky flirting, and true grit.  The zombies are crafted of viscous gore and grisly, ghoulish appetites. Devin is self-effacing, smart and quaintly quirky, and Renni is a badass zombie killer in real life. 

Dayna Ingram is an author to watch out for in the future, and Eat Your Heart Out is an instant classic: the lesbian equivalent of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, only with Naked Twister and a preponderance of truck balls.  Even if you’re not a fan of SpecFic or zombies, this book should not be missed.  It’s a quick read, full of humor, action, and crisp flirtations, and I’m giving it a 5.0 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.

I want more, even if it means I have to sleep with the lights on.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Indelible Heart by Marianne K. Martin

Book:  The Indelible Heart
Author:  Marianne K. Martin
Publisher:  Bywater Books

This chicken crossed the road
because Bojangles biscuits
are totally worth it.
Why did the chicken cross the road?

This iconic riddle first appeared in The Knickerbocker back in 1847, and has virtually endless variations, including ducks, dildos, divas, dinosaurs, and Brett Somers.  Be that as it may, the answer always comes down to cause and effect.

A cause is an action or event that makes something else happen.   

An effect is what happens as a result of the cause. 

Causality is the relationship between one event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first.

For centuries, philosophers and authors have worked to explain and define the occurrences of each concept.  Aristotle had his concept of telos, Machiavelli developed an early application to politics, and Hume argued its merits related to economics.

Heck, even Boy George got into the mix with Karma Chameleon…

For the record:
  • Aristotle would stress that the chicken crossed the road to actualize its potential.
  • Machiavelli would deem the chicken crossed the road so that its subjects will view it with admiration as a chicken, which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear: for who among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? 
  • Hume would pronounce the chicken crossed the road out of custom and habit.
  • Of course, Boy George would prattle on that the chicken crossed the road because she's in denial that she's a hen and not a rooster.

And it's Rainforest
Alliance Certified
Marianne K. Martin explored the concepts of cause and effect in her 1999 classic Love in the Balance.  While that story primarily focused on the burgeoning love affair of Kasey and Connie, it touched on a tragedy that forever changed their world, and that of the mostly-closeted gay community around them.  In this long-awaited sequel, The Indelible Heart, we reconnect with not only Kasey and Connie, but also with Sage and Deanne and Sharon and Laura. 

A lot of things have changed in the decade since Charlie Crawford shot and killed Donna and Evonne.  Kasey and Connie are secure in their relationship, Sage and Deanne have a beautiful daughter named Cayley, but Laura left Sharon when her partner’s obsessive activism and drinking became too much to handle.  The breakup triggered Sharon’s spiral into a depression, which remains fueled by the stuttering pace of justice against hate crimes.

At her lowest level, Sharon finally sought help for her depression and recovered enough to maintain her business with Kasey and find a new girlfriend.  However, news that Charlie Crawford is terminally ill and seeking an early release to die at home surrounded by his family, triggers another spiral that threatens her sobriety, her job, and her remaining relationships.  Learning that Laura is back in town and not interested in seeing her, compounds the descent.  Sage remains the only one who will listen and hear her, while Kasey uses tough love to help Sharon regain control of her life.

Enter a tiny, helpless puppy, a speeding truck, a kind neighbor, a few blind leaps into self-awareness, solid boundaries, and trust. Sharon and Laura find themselves with a second chance, but love isn’t always easy and forgiveness isn’t always automatic.  It doesn’t matter if you’re friends or lovers, or both: you can’t change the past, you can only alter the future.  

If you really want to, that is.

Marianne K. Martin is not simply an author, but a storyteller.  The Indelible Heart doesn’t merely continue the narrative started in Love in the Balance, but explores the causes of actions and events, and then tells the tale of the effects of both love and hate on the characters.   She uses a deft touch in creating complex relationships that seem familiar and true to life—friends who have your back, yet aren’t afraid to slap your face when you need it most; lovers who are willing to walk away because they love you that much. 

Her characters are flesh and blood women who have bad backs and creaky knees.  They roll their eyes when they know their partner’s drunken friend is calling to rant about some injustice, and they want to solve a daughter’s problems even if she’s doing a fine job on her own.  Her characters tell bad jokes.  Get their hackles up when they see their best friend’s ex in the pharmacy, and then find a way to be happy when they get back together.  Sometimes her characters find a way to forgive amazing and painful wrongs, and sometimes they don’t.  Occasionally, her characters look inside themselves, and find a better person lurking deep within.

The Indelible Heart is built on a foundation of love and hate.  It is the story of cause and effect, and strength and honor. I read this book twice - the first time through, I had not read Love in the Balance, and that made it a much different book.  Still powerful, but it made me question why I cared about Sage and Deanne, and why Kasey was such a powerful influence on Sharon.  After I went back and read Love in the Balance, I suddenly understood everything.

The Indelible Heart is a rich and tender book that has surprisingly sharp edges and more than a few splinters.  However, by the end, the masterful Marianne K. Martin manages to smooth out the edges and sand the splinters away until we’re left with a well-fought and triumphant story of love and justice and hope for the future. 

I’m giving this worthy sequel a strong 5.0 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale, but strongly recommend that you pick up Love in the Balance first, if you haven't already read it.