Friday, February 25, 2011

Dying to Live - Kim Baldwin & Xenia Alexiou

Book: Dying to Live
Authors: Kim Baldwin & Xenia Alexiou
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books

Note to self: When suffering from a high fever, pounding headache, and severe chest congestion, do not read a book about a genetically engineered uber virus with a near 100% mortality rate, no matter how hot the women are between the covers.

Dying to Live is book #4 in the Baldwin & Alexiou Elite Operatives Series. It's 384 pages of hot, humid, flea-infested, gut-wrenching, tilt-a-whirl action that holds you hostage until the final word.

It's the story of Fetch, an Elite Operative who's strength is going deep undercover on Search & Rescue missions. She's embedded and serves as a Medic with the FARC, a radical guerilla group that kidnaps and ransoms unsuspecting folks. Her mission is to rescue three Italians and two Kiwi's, but ends up being asked to include Zoe, a seemingly self-centered, immature, socialite who picks up the wrong girl in a Columbian gay bar. Our jungle girls square off, first against each other, then against the guerillas, the jungle, and then the uber virus. We're reintroduced to Domino, Allegro & Lynx, heroines (and their respective gal pals) from the first three books, Reno (the token male agent who sits at a computer in Colorado and hacks things on demand), and Monty Pierce, Joanne Grant and David Arthur, EEO's Kerberos.

The book starts off a tad slow, as we're introduced to the dastardly scientist that creates the uber virus; and Zoe, her fall from Grace, and her kidnapping. 

There was, admittedly, a little blip of life as Zoe gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "head of the table" . . .

I digress, nothing wrong with a slow building up, I was just excited to get to know Fetch.

I know that probably sounds whiny, but I have a crush on every one of the Elite Operatives (except Reno, of course), so for me, the book started when Fetch slipped her sunglasses on and thought lovingly of the drugs the EOO slip her to make her a better machine. Thump. Thump.

The villains in this book truly display the pock-marked faces of evil. From the sicko Dr. Andor Rozsa, to the smelly Diego Barriga, and almost every male in between.

Well, except for Reno . . . he's not much fun at parties, but he knows how to sit, stay, roll over, and transfer money from Swiss bank accounts.

We're reintroduced, in fairly great detail, to Domino and Allegro - some of the best dialogue in the book comes from the interaction between these two Operatives. Domino is still fairly focused and serious, but Allegro is on a roll and delights the reader by baiting Domino at every opportunity. Of course, it's all in jest, since they see each other as 'sisters' and best friends.

Speaking of 'sisters', just a point here: The EOO discourages the Operatives from developing personal ties to anyone. Yet, Domino has Haley (and her baby bump), Allegro has Kris, Lynx has Phantom Jack, Fetch was going to marry Sam, until she got flattened in Afghanistan (but now she has a reluctant thing for Zoe); Monty is getting it on with Joanne, but sees both Lynx and Phantom Jack as 'daughters' (maybe?) . . . oh, and David Arthur has a special spot for Fetch, his perfect little automoton soldier.

I wouldn't change a thing, but it seems to me that Kerberos needs to reevaluate the fraternization section of it's Employee Handbook . . . just sayin'!

Okay, I loved, loved, loved this book (and before I read it, I reread the first three to get me into the mood) . . . but with the good, comes a few things the authors need to think about . . . any maybe they have, but I'm being impatient: They give hints of back story for each of the Elite Operatives, but never really fill in the blanks. For instance, why does Fetch and a few other Operatives need to take Provigil, Propranolol, Electroporation, and Biafine? Perfect soldier? Sounds like perfect addict to me . . .

(is anyone else humming Michael Jackson's 'The Way You Make Me Feel'?)

Likewise, in Missing Lynx, Book #3, the authors allude to some sort of long lost, special relationship between Phantom Jack and Monty Pierce, but by the end of Book #4, we still don't know what or why. Anyway, I guess I just want to know 'the rest of the story'.

I don't want to give the ending away, but I'll tell you that we have the requisite nipples straining against t-shirts and appreciation of firm asses in camo.  I bawled my eyes out and did a happy jig all in the space of thrity minutes - the ending is slippery, fast-paced, intense, and painful. It keeps you on the hook until the final word, which made me almost angry, but only because I want to know what happens next.

I'm not normally a fan of collaborations in literature, but make no mistake: Baldwin and Alexiou are an unparalleled, dynamic duo that can write the heck out of these characters, while dropping them in and plucking them right back out of the deepest, darkest heart of Bigbadville.

I'm already tapping my foot loudly for Book #5, Demons are Forever.

On the Rainbow Scale, I'll give it a 5.8 out of 6.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Whitewater Rendezvous by Kim Baldwin

Book:  Whitewater Rendezvous
Author:  Kim Baldwin
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books

It's been a few days since I've posted a fresh review - I've been reading, but not sure what sort of book I wanted to put up next to bat. I've read some nice romances [thump, thump goes my squishy little heart] and some adventure tales [full of studly butches and femmes who actually kick off their shoes when they need to run from the bad guys], but nothing that really smacked me up side the head. So, I went back through my collection and pulled out my trusty Kim Baldwin Romances . . . what I love about Kim is that she always has a delectable, adventuresome, androgynously handsome butch with slick skills [thump, thump], and another chick that causes her to change her solitary ways.

And who doesn't like a little lovin' in the wilderness with a Grizzly Bear gnawing on your tube of toothpaste and swarms of mosquitos buzzing outside the tent?

Whitewater Rendezvous is the tale of Chaz Herrick, a veritable triple threat: She's a popular Biology professor, an experienced wilderness guide, and has lovely breasts. While leading a whitewater expedition for the Broads in Broadcasting, a cornucopia of network straight, bi- and lesbian executives, reporters, camerawomen, and writers from the Windy City, she comes face-to face [and a few other places] with a woman that rattles her sense of propriety and causes her to burn her hash browns. 

Megan Maxwell is a VP at World News Central, and is five-years into a denial-induced stressathon - her ex, the lovely Rita had an affair, took up with another woman, and left her with nothing but her own lovely breasts. Angst and frustration ensue when Megan finds out that Chaz looks oh so similar to Rita. Megan tries her darndest to freeze out Chaz, but her best efforts are for naught as she finds herself falling quickly for her guide. And Chaz, our concertina-playing adventurer is driven to such distraction, she totally misses the musk ox.

Have no fear, the musk ox was late for a date with a big ol' pile of native grasses, reeds, and sedges.

Kim Baldwin has admirable skills when it comes to capturing the great outdoors - she knows her rapids, respects the flora and fauna, and is able to plop down a little political shout out to maintaining conservation causes without sounding preachy and 'know it all'. Her main characters are people you want to know, and her secondary characters actually contribute to the story. All too often, writers bring in friends and colleagues only as a vehicle to get a certain point covered in the book, then the friends and colleagues disappear for the rest of the story. Ms. Baldwin gracefully sidesteps that gravity pit, and is heartily cheered, here in this study!

In my review of The Target by Gerri Hill, I dinged her a bit for having too many secondary characters in the group of women hiking through the mountains - occasionally one of them would say something, and I'd get lost as to which one she was supposed to be. In Whitewater Rendezvous, Kim Baldwin introduces her own gaggle of women, but each is fully described, different enough from her compatriots, and presents distinct personality facets and dialogue traits. 

Of course, Gerri Hill had ten women [most of them straight and dowdy] and Kim Baldwin only had six, so there was a bit of natural momentum on her side.

Here's a point I want to linger on for a bit:  Megan, our uber-VP has a photographic memory. 

I always wanted to have that, but instead got a jaunty cowlick and bad eyesight. 

The only problem I have with her memory is that she's a workaholic, but still found time to read every publication ever written about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge so that she could talk intelligently and in great detail with our biology professing whitewater wonder, Chaz. In my considerable estimate, that would be a wee bit of our famed 'literary license'. 

Not enough of a bother that it even remotely ruined the book for me, but just sayin'.

There was also a bit of a leap between Megan giving Chaz the cold shoulder, and Chaz being annoyed by this latest out-of-touch 'muffy', and them both suddenly catching elicit looks at each other's breasts, and developing their own secret crushes. Still, as a reader, I wanted it to work, took the leap, and didn't mind that much in the end.

So here's where we stand with Whitewater Rendezvous . . . 

The book had action: A grizzly bear deciding to share a tent with Megan.

The book had adventure: A hoard of fun broads amiably paddling down a wild river in the deepest heart of Alaska.

The book had suspense: Will Megan survive when her kayak flips?

The book had drama: Will Chaz fall prey to Elise's naked ambush in the hot springs?

The book had food: Pasta primavera, blueberry muffins, lasagna, Caesar salad, brownies, grilled fish.

The book had improbable sex:  Including a night of wild, lusty passion in a bear-ripped tent, in a snow storm, awaiting a rescue helicopter on the banks of a raging river, with a sprained shoulder and a nasty gash on the forehead.

In other words, this book has a little somethin' somethin' for everyone!!

Seriously, I love Kim Baldwin's books. They're fun, interesting, and have a nice balance of action, adventure, and romance. Her women, while messed up like the rest of us, are smart, sexy, and not afraid to wear flannel with lacy panties.

Oorah!! Keep 'em coming, Kim!

On the Rainbow Scale, I'll give it a fun and fabulous 5.4 out of 6.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Descent by Julie Cannon

Book:  Descent
Author:  Julie Cannon
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books

Julie Cannon's novellas deftly rub every plane of love at first sight with the nectar milked from the lush fruit of the horizontal happy tree.

All righty, then . . .

Descent is the tale of two world-class downhill mountain bikers who were high school lovers, until daddy and the dean disrupted a study session gone wild during finals week of their senior year. Miscommunication and parental interference ensues, causing our gearheads to become estranged for the next decade. Still, they find themselves competing for the world title, and unable to convince anybody but themselves that it's over for good. A few pushes and pulls, a sweaty night in bed, a handlebar into the solar plexus, and 24 hours in the saddle later, the gals finally figure it all out.

My butt still aches after readying this story . . . seriously, imagine 24 hours on a hard piece of plastic the size of a Dorito!

Here's the good, bad, and the ugly of Descent: I'm a sports nut, so I tend to like any book that shows women as God intended . . . dirty, sweating, and in tight shorts with no bra.

Can I get an 'amen'!

Shannon and Caroline are likable characters, with a few intriguing elements.

Shannon waffled between dumb, dumber, and amazingly insightful. I caught myself scratching my head a few times, but still rooting for her. And I'm fairly certain I would have bitch-slapped Caroline at least twice in the course of this book - girlfriend really needed a few anger management sessions. Of course, since everything comes easy to Shannon - money, fame, women, road rash, etc. - why not blame her for walking out of your dorm room and not trying hard enough to get back to you?

Really, Caroline, a decade later you're still holding on to anger directed at a confused, lonely, hurt 17-year old lesbian who was caught, quiet literally, with her hand in your cookie jar?!?

Confused. Lonely. Hurt. That still describes Shannon, who uses her natural talents, her dashing good looks, and her womanly bravado throughout the book to fool everyone, most of all, herself. It wasn't a coincidence that Caroline had her family and a best friend with her everywhere she went, while Shannon had an entourage of groupies and race fans. I'm not entirely sure that Caroline, even in the end, really acknowledged that aspect of Shannon's life. Of course, with Caroline as Shannon's happy ever after, that wasn't so relevant anymore.

Never mind . . .

Survey says: obsessive anger and daring leaps to the distant shores of conclusion aside, I was rooting for our intrepid (but not butchy) girls to get back together - the author expertly wove the backstory into the present day to show the reader what the girls hadn't quite figured out - it wasn't just adolescent lust all those years ago, it was love.

And I love me a good forever after.

On the Rainbow Scale, I'd give it a 4.9 out of 6.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Killing Room by Gerri Hill

Book: The Killing Room
Author: Gerri Hill
Publisher: Bella Books

First up, two quick points before I dive into the review:

(1) I know this is the second book in a row by Gerri Hill, but it was next up on my e-reader. Get used to seeing a string of posts for the same author because as a kid, I developed a habit of scarfing up everything written by any writer I liked all at once. This is the sort of behavior that develops when your town library has mostly trashy dime store romances and Zane Grey paperbacks; and (b) In my previous post, "The Target by Gerri Hill", I made a slightly snarky comment about a "retired cop with a bad hip" riding in to save the day and disappearing with her trusty dog almost immediately. Well, I got my books out of order - I should have read The Target after The Killing Room - seems said gimpy cop is the tough and chewy butch with a gun in today's book.

Oopsie . . .

Now! On the the review.

[drumroll, please]

The Killing Room is a story about a generally well adjusted Denver cop who is recovering from a nasty gunshot wound to the leg. She and her trusty steed, er, dog, retire to her cabin in the mountains to do a little mental and physical healing. Surprise! While relaxing, naked of course, in a secluded hot spring near her property, she and her "perfect breasts" are discovered by Nicole [and "the nicest ass"], a lost and burned-out semi-closeted therapist who just happens to be hiking solo in the mountains as self-therapy. Sparks fly, the girls hook up, and after a day and night of torrid passion, go their separate ways. Well, at least until a deranged serial killer starts raping, strangling, and dumping several of Nicole's patients. Of course, the super cop assigned is [wait for it] Jake McCoy, our gimpy detective. Will they or won't they stop the killer in time? Can Nicole break away from her designer suits and Manolo Blahnik pumps and be happy with pizza and beer? Does a techno-geek have the stones to fire a handgun?

Should Jake keep feeding her dog people food? 

Okay. Here's the thing - I really liked this book. Overall, it's a well-rounded mystery, that keeps you guessing right up until the Big Bad is revealed. There was a nice smattering of humor and passion, main and secondary character development, and nothing that forced the reader take a running leap onto the "ol' literary license express".

. . . and the characters actually consumed more than bad coffee.

Another thing I liked about the book was that neither of the main characters tragically lost her respective parents in a flaming car accident as a child - that plot device should be doused in lighter fluid and driven off the closest cliff at high speed!  I mean, come on!  I'm a 44-year old woman, and I don't know a single person who lost their parents [and usually all other siblings and sometimes the family dog, cat, alpaca, etc.] like this!!  Why does it seem to happen to the majority of lesbians in literature?

Just making a little point here.

I digress . . . Nicole has seemingly normal parents, and Jake's parents drive around in an RV and leave her alone.  That, I can relate with . . .

Gerri Hill also tossed away another over-baked plot device in this book [thank you, very much].  I liked the little character twist that Jake [and we never do learn her given name] generally keeps to herself and likes solitude, but she's liked by most of her coworkers, is tight with her partner, and talks to her dog.  On the other hand, Nicole hates her friends, doesn't like her job, and pretends to fit in so well that she's a miserable, hot mess.

Now THAT is refreshing - why do the tough & chewies always have to be so screwed up?

So, with the good, always comes a little bad - If there's anything I didn't really like about the book, it's that when we find out who the "Big Bad" is, I just have a really hard time believing that he could be so outwardly "normal" for so many years, do so many horrible things then and now, and only start to get a little squirrely in his day-to-day actions toward the end.  

Of course, not being a serial killer . . . I'm just sayin' is all.

And there you have it, The Killing Room is a great read that gets pretty intense, makes sense, ties up the loose ends . . . and nothing bad happens to the dog!

On the Rainbow Scale, I'd give it a 5.3 out of 6.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Target by Gerri Hill

Book:  The Target
Author:  Gerri Hill
Publisher:  Bella Books

One of the best things going for lesbian literature in 2011 is the simple element of easy access - even two years ago, the average reader looking for new and interesting books had to 1) find a book store that carried any stock; b) pray you hadn't already read everything on the self; and iii) hope you could remember the secret handshake as you approached the cash register.

Yeah, well, those days are pretty much over.  While I hate to see the decline of book stores, I do a little happy dance every time I log on to one of my favorite publishers, browse their electronic shelves, and plunk down my well loved credit card.  I have an e-reader, so I'm even happier with the instant gratification of downloading my book and diving in immediately.

Yeah, that's the life!

The reason I digress with this point is that a whole universe of "new" authors and books have made their way into my consciousness and e-bookshelf.  Lately, I've been on a Gerri Hill rampage - I'm a sucker for mysteries, romance, and a "tough on the outside/chewy in the center butch with a gun".

So shoot me!

Seriously, I just finished The Target this morning - the premise of the book is fairly simple:  Take one tough and chewy detective, one fiercely independent business woman fresh from a stint on Oprah's couch, and sprinkle in a dastardly dad, some fresh mountain air, and a gaggle of naked women splashing about some secluded hot springs.

Thought that might get your attention . . .

Yep, Gerri Hill is a master in writing about adventure in the back country - the reader gets the sense of the beauty, the serenity, the danger, and the adventure her characters face.  She's also quite adept at creating not just likable main characters, but supporting characters that are interesting and real.  In the Tori Hunter series, we got to know and really like Detective John Sikes. In The Target we meet Sandra, a chubby divorcee who is transforming from a doormat into a bulldog, and we like it - I just wish we could have had more of her later into the book.

Of course, there are also a bevy of secondary characters in this book - perhaps too many.  The book follows a group of women who are on a two-week hike through the Rockies to reclaim their self and confidence. The problem is that with ten women and our two main characters, I tended to get a little confused as to who was saying what - half the number of women would have allowed for the reader to get a better sense of the individuals, without loosing anything.

One of the major head scratchers early in the book was why the Denver Police signed up for the squirrley FBI scheme in the first place.  It just didn't really set well with my logic-seeking brain that an FBI agent would waltz into the DPD and say [not a direct quote, here] "we need a chick detective to go undercover hiking with a bunch of ladies to thwart an assassination attempt.  And oh, by the way, no one else in the DPD is supposed to know, just tell them she's on 'vacation'."

Really?  Vacation?  Really?

Two other plot points sort of made me do a double take:

A retired DPD cop with a bad hip is asked to hike in solo [well, she did have her dog with her] and try to hook up with the women once the Real FBI and the DPD start to figure out that something was a little fishy.  Okay, I can live with that - she knows the mountains, why not?  It's just that she and the dog show up, shoot off a couple of rounds, then disappear.  

"Glad I could help, just give me a ringy ding next time you need me to shoot at someone in a deserted ghost town in the Rockies!"

And then there's Jaime and Sara . . . who has a night of steamy girl sex when an assassin, who has already shot two people in your party, is lurking somewhere "out there"?  

I'm a Midwest girl, and therefore sort of hardwired with that practicality gene, I just don't see that situation screaming, "I'm hot for you!"

On a positive note, Gerri Hill writes some great characters that find themselves in the midst of some serious evil, they are generally loners who grow during the course of the book, they usually have a wicked sense of humor, and they almost always find their true love.  

And I do love a happy ending . . .

So, there you have it The Target was not my favorite Gerri Hill book - but that is a far, far cry from saying it's bad book.  Quite the contrary . . . it was a fun and intense cat and mouse thriller, even though it hit a few gravity pits.

On the Rainbow Scale, I'd give it a solid 4.8 out of 6

Welcome to The Rainbow Reader

Greetings, and welcome to a new blog called The Rainbow Reader.

I am an avid reader, and like to think of myself as a connoisseur of fine lesbian literature.  My goal with this blog is to provide fair, unbiased reviews of old and new books written for, by or about lesbians.  I want to discuss writing styles and approaches of various authors, talk about publishing companies, and focus on various issues, trials, and triumphs facing those brave souls with the guts, grit, and stamina to take on this niche market.
I invite readers to comment freely, make suggestions about recent and upcoming releases, and spotlight emerging authors.  More than anything, my goal is to make sure the best writers and the best books get into the hands of as many readers as possible.