Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Touch Me Gently by D. Jackson Leigh

Book:  Touch Me Gently
Author:  D. Jackson Leigh
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books

Witch trials aside, at last count there were thirty-one states across the USA that hosted a vast array of towns named Salem.  Add on a few adjectives like New, South, and West, and then toss in a handy little grammatical device like the dash, and that number rises to thirty-five.  Salem even shows her pearly whites in countries far and wide, including the likes of Burma, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, India, Israel, Palestine, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K.

Vosper's Salem
Within the world of entertainment, a quick search on LexisNexis shows there are no less than four rock and heavy metal bands that perform under the name Salem, which is also the name of the cat in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.  Just about everyone with a grandmother knows that the fictional town of Salem is the setting for the U.S. soap opera Days of Our Lives, and gamers worldwide are starting to discover Salem, a bizarre 17th century alchemy-based, massive multiplayer, online roleplaying game.  And, for those whose tastes are more genteel and skew decidedly toward the world of art, Sydney Curnow Vosper’s most famous and notorious work, Salem, is considered one of the most beautiful pictures of the religious life of Wales in olden times.

By the by, while many believe the face of the devil can be seen in the folds of Siân Owen's shawl, art historians have since proven it to be the face of Charles G. Koch.

For the geek in each of us, α > 1 is known as a Salem Number if all its conjugate roots have an absolute value no greater than 1, and at least one has an absolute value of exactly 1.  There’s even the highly prestigious mathematics award, the Salem Prize, which annually goes to a budding mathematician doing work in the ever-sexy Theory of Fourier’s Series.

History books show that between 1908 and 1959, the U.S. Navy commissioned three separate ships, a scout cruiser, a minelayer, and a heavy cruiser—all named USS Salem. And, for those politically minded among us, who can forget the supertanker, Salem, which was scuttled off the coast of Guinea in early 1980, after secretly unloading 192,000 tons of oil in a breach of the South African oil embargo?

All that, and Salem’s a damn fine menthol cigarette, to boot.

I bring this up because Salem can be found almost everywhere if you just take the time to look around…kind of like Channing Tatum.  [rimshot]  But in all seriousness—in all my years, I’ve never run across another person named Salem until I picked up D. Jackson Leigh’s fourth southern romance, Touch Me Gently. 

To tell you the truth, it was kind of creepy, but mostly because the character carries a purse and wears lipstick.

Devastated by the unexpected death of her deeply closeted and philandering fiancée, Salem Lacey disrupts the carefully orchestrated funeral, and tells the world that she and State Representative Eve Sutherland were lesbian lovers.  This ill-timed outburst alienates her well-heeled friends and gets her ushered out the door of her cushy corporate job.  With nowhere else to turn, she takes off to Oakboro, the small southern town that became home to her estranged father.  It is there, while trying to sort out the business aspects of the insurance company her father left her, she meets the enigmatic Knox Bolander, who has returned to Oakboro after the recent death of her own father.

Knox is smart, beautiful, and talented, but she’s hiding a lifetime of secrets.  The two women have an easy camaraderie, and quickly realize that there may be more between them than business.  But before they can explore their growing feelings, Salem must get to the bottom of the irregularities in her father’s business, face down an ugly homophobe, and learn some things about her dad that she’s not quite ready to know.  Likewise, Knox must come to terms with her responsibilities from the past, find a way to manage her special gifts, and open her heart, mind, and body to someone who challenges her very ability to maintain control every time she walks into the room.

D. Jackson Leigh understands the value of branding, and delivers more of the familiar and welcome story elements that set her novels apart from other authors in the romance genre. Touch Me Gently offers up the handsome butch and a beautiful femme, a stable full of regal horses, a healthy dose of southern charm tempered by bits and pieces of bigotry, a smattering of wicked humor, and a nasty big bad with enough secrets to destroy a budding love affair before it has a chance to blossom. 

The protagonists are well written and carry the story, but the supporting cast of characters shines brightly.  From Alisha and the red-haired Dolly Parton, to Doc Evan, Gina, and Guard, these bit players liven up the somewhat maudlin ruminations of the protagonists, and add enough zest to keep the pace fresh and light for Salem and Knox. 

Added to this wonderful list of supporting characters is the town of Oakboro, which is so typical of small southern towns.  While it is firmly a bastion to bible-thumping traditional conservative values, it is also full of gays and lesbians who are generally accepted because they and their families are long standing parts of the community. This idiosyncrasy is oddly common in small communities where the hierarchy of prejudice is logically illogical, and the author does a wonderful job of capturing it without making it cartoonish.

Which, coincidently, leads me to the one element of the book that seemes delightfully out of synch with this traditional southern lesfic romance.  Specifically, it relates to Knox’s special skills and her backstory.  Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that this part of the story arc was unexpected, inventive, and grin-inducing, but it still has me thinking more about tricked out computer labs, Psylocke, and the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning than about lesbian romance, soft kisses, or butter smooth skin.  In fact, it makes me want to challenge D. Jackson Leigh to step away from her horses for a bit [pun intended], and take on a new series featuring reluctant lesbian superheroes.

by Chris Bachalo &
Tim Townsend.
Tight-fitting spandex suits aside, I love a good romance and Touch Me Gently delivers the goods. 

For readers wanting a traditional girl-meets-girl-and-rides-off-into-the-sunset story, this one might be a stretch—but if you’re looking for a solid story with something a little different, then this jaunty little juiced-up romance is worth a try.  I’m still a little freaked out by reading about a femme named Salem, but that’s neither here nor there in the larger blogosphere.  The bottom line is that this novel gets points for characters, conflict, dialogue, pacing, and having the guts to try something different.  I’m giving D. Jackson Leigh’s Touch Me Gently a 4.8 out of 6.0 on the Rainbow Scale.