Wednesday, March 30, 2011

She Waits by Kate Sweeney

Book:  She Waits
Author:  Kate Sweeney
Publisher:  Intaglio Publications

I've mentioned it before in the blog, but it bears repeating that I grew up in Illinois.  I chose Kate Sweeney, and the first book of her Kate Ryan series because the heroine is from Illinois.  Granted, her world is about 10 hours north from where I grew up, but anyone that knows Illinois is singular not plural is a friend of mine.

And it doesn't hurt one little bit that she knows the pain of loving the Cubbies!

In this book we meet Kate Ryan, a soft butch nature photographer and former PI.  We learn that she left a successful PI business after falling in love with a murder, who almost killed both her and her partner.  She tries to be uber stoic, and mostly succeeds.  She is prone to panic attacks, but only when she's reminded of her greatest failure.  She's also prone to tripping, slipping, flipping, and going 'bump' in the night.  Kate is told of a friend of friends in the western part of the state that has had some problems.  Kate offers to help, but the help is rebuffed.  Still, as in any solid piece of lesbian literature, as she drives through the countryside, on her way to a lovely weekend, she, her dog, and her car, run, quite literally, into the lovely, auburn-haired Dr. Maggie Winfield.  Maggie is as high-spirited as her horse, Thunder, with a stubborn and sarcastic streak to boot.  Maggie's Aunt Hannah promptly arrives on the scene in a runaway golf cart, and the mystery begins.

Ooh, and if you haven't figured it out yet, Maggie is the 'friend of friends in the western part of the state that had some problems.'

Aunt Hannah piles the girls and the dog into the golf cart, and spirits them back to the mansion . . . yup, Maggie is loaded.  Long story short, somebody is trying to kill, or simply maim, Maggie, there is a ghost in the woods, the dog unburies Maggie's dead mom's long stolen jewelry, and the mystery is afoot.  Soon, Hannah kidnaps Kate's car, invites her to stay, invites Kate's sister and b-i-l to visit, and the mystery grows deeper.  So does the friendship, the appreciation, and the attraction between Kate and Maggie.

Oh, yeah, and the mystery finally gets solved!

This is a fun little who-dun-it, with some nicely compelling characters.  Kate is wounded spiritually, but her self-described 'emotionally detached loop' keeps most of the unpleasant things from slopping out over the sides.  Maggie is wounded as well, but hers comes from abandonment issues and loneliness.  Hannah is sweet, endearing, and a bit squirrely.  Teri is spooky but solid, and Mac is a good guy to have in your corner.  The book is also sprinkled with other minor, but completely necessary characters.

One of my peeves as a reader is when an author introduces a character to make something happen in the midst of a good story, then the character that played this really important role, just disappears.

Makes me want to flick their literary ear.  Twang!

But, by the grace of little, green, dancing leprechauns, Ms. Sweeney sidesteps this beat-over plot device in grand fashion!


The mystery was complex but tight; the leads had a plausible beginning, middle, and end; and there were no goofy red herrings that you could smell a mile away.

I loved the tension that surrounded Kate and Maggie.  I'll tell you now, they did not fall hopelessly in love by the end of the book.  They have a very point/counter-point relationship.  One minute they are on the same wavelength, the next they are annoying the snot out of each other.  Still, they are obviously drawn to one another, and everyone but them gets it.  The only thing they fall hopelessly into by the end of the book is a deep and complicated friendship.  Kate needs to face some of her demons, and Maggie needs to learn to trust and wait just a little bit more.

Of course, this is the first book in the series, so you have to leave a little somethin' somethin' to grow on.

And, I guess that's one of the things I really liked about this book - the author isn't rushing the bigger scope of the story.  She used the first book in the series to introduce the characters.  Yeah, yeah, there was a good mystery in here, don't get me wrong.  But, just like almost any friendship, we see the learning and trust building over time.

Another quick little thing I liked about the book is that the dog didn't always obey, she was loyal and loving, but she was a wuss and hid under the bed when things got scary.  If she had only peed on the shoes of the villianness, I would have been in hea-ven! [insert singsong voice]

I do have to say, though, I did guess the ending about half way through the story.  It just seemed to be telegraphed.  Of course, it is possible that the author intended this story to be more about the journey than the destination.  Meaning, watching Kate put the clues together instead of screeching, "Colonel Mustard in the Library with a nipple clamp!!!" at the first opportunity.

Bottom line is that I've read one Kate Sweeney book, and am happily about 60% of the way through the second, with more to come. She is a smart, careful, focused writer who doesn't force her readers to make huge leaps of faith.  Her characters stay consistent, and she weaves a solid story that doesn't take short cuts.

On the Rainbow Scale, I'd give She Waits a clear and present 5.3 out of 6.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Desire by Starlight by Radclyffe

Book: Desire by Starlight
Author: Radclyffe
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books

It was inevitable that I would get around to the Grand Dame of Lesbian Literature at some point. Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken me this long to launch a Radclyffe review.

Um, kiddo, maybe you're a wee bit intimidated that the collective Lesbian Literary Universe will come down on you like a Patchouli downpour if you say something stupid - which you probably will, so get on with it!

I've actually read two Radclyffe books in the last few weeks, Desire by Starlight, a romance's romance; and Blood Hunt, which is a Werewolfie/ Vampiro romantic thriller, penned under the nom de plume of L.L. Raand.

Kind of hard to believe both stories came out of the same twisted brain - twisted in a wonderful way, of course.

Desire by Starlight focuses on the lives of two women, Jenna Hardy/Cassandra Hart and Gard Davis. JennCass grew up in a trailer park, ran away to the big city at 17, and became a powerful and popular lesbian author. She's hot, needs to be in control, and has no desire to connect with anyone any closer than arm's length. Gard Davis, grew up in a wealthy, not-so-nice family, broke all ties and ran away to Vermont to tend to horse testicles and boar's teeth as a home-towney vet. They meet when an unknown relative of JennCass's passes and leaves her everything. JennCass, fresh from a post-coital fainting spell, flies off to Vermont to tend to these affairs and is greeted by uber-vet, coroner, and strikingly hot butch, Gard at airport. Sparks fly where neither wants them. They push. They pull. They push and pull some more. They're drawn to each other, but are afraid of getting too close.

They eat a lot of calorie-laden food, talk around the subject without getting anywhere, and finally jump in the pickup truck called happily ever after.

As I read this book, I thought it was definitely one of Rad's best pure romances. Mind you, all of her books are romances, but some of them are Action, some of them are Thriller, and some of them are the literary equivalent of a Bootie Call. This was a good old-fashioned romance, and we all need that in our lives.

When in the City, we saw JennCass building her walls, working too hard, not eating, not really talking with her only friend (and Manager, Alice). She's devoted to her readers and her writing, and has a night of passionless, but great, sex with a one-night stand. When in the country, we saw JennCass's walls didn't really protect her, she worked but allowed distractions, she ate diner food, and she found herself noticing Alice as a friend and a woman. Most of all, we saw her start to open up. Once that started, whether she knew it or not, those walls started to crumble one brick at a time.

Gard is well liked, friendly, hard working, and respected. In many ways, she's the less-stressed, small town version of JennCass . . . same walls, doesn't sleep enough, has friends but doesn't let anybody inside.  For some strange reason, she didn't want to play cops and doctors with Rina the smokin' Sheriff.

I liked Beam the dog, she was a total riot!

I was pleased that JennCass stepped in cow dung, then went out and bought some shit-kickers.

And, I was thrilled that the old lady died a happy woman.

A few things, however, made me shake my head a few times:

Why didn't Alice and Rina hook up? Perhaps there's a second book out there that will focus on them. Alice was certainly attracted to Rina. Rina kept chasing down the little red Audi convertible and giving her tickets. Rina was hot. Alice was hot. They annoyed each other.  Perfect recipe for delicious tension.

I say "small town, get it while you can".

Why, oh, why, did JennCass and Gard have their first soul-shattering orgasms in the rain, on a hill, under a double rainbow? Maybe I'm just getting old and practical, but wet sex is hot, soggy sex is messy no matter how lovely the view.

While I love that Diane Bleeker from the Honor Series, made an appearance, why was it only a token appearance? I get that the little old dead lady painted some nice pictures, but Diane drove up, we learned what she was wearing, she went to the dance, and was done. I think she only said a handful of words. Diane's character is rich and wonderful, and could have been used to put a little tension in the air between Alice and Rina. 

Could someone explain to me why every small town but mine is chock-full of lesbians or women who want to take one out for a spin?

And lastly, it was almost amusing how JennCass and Gard opened up to each other about their pasts. I mean, it was almost like this:

JennCass: "My birth mom disappeared, my dad died, Darlene the tramp took me in, I lived in a mobile home. I ran away before she turned me into a skanky Ho."

Gard: "My family was one step removed from the mob, I was becoming like them. I ratted them out to the Feds. I'm a bad, bad person."

JennCass: "I love you. You're not the bad person. They are bad. I love you."

Gard: "I love you, too. You are strong, and a wonderful person. I love you. Move to Vermont and live happily ever with me."

JennCass: "Well, I'll have to travel now and then, but okay."

Gard: "Cool".

The end . . .

Seriously, after reading for 200 pages about their sordid pasts and how it made them physically and emotionally distant to everyone . . . it juuuust seemed to wrap up a little too neatly.

Just sayin'.

But, you know what? I don't really care that much. I loved the book, really liked the characters, smiled every time Beam the dog hurled her body towards her mamma, and wanted to move to a farm in Vermont. In the end, that's the test of any satisfying book.

I'll give Desire by Starlight a 4.9 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Murder Takes to the Hills by Jessica Thomas

Book:  Murder Takes to the Hills
Author:  Jessica Thomas
Publisher:  Bella Books

Murder Takes to the Hills is the sixth installment of the delightful and quirky Alex Peres series.  For all you readers out there who aren't familiar with Alex, she's a sometimes PI sometimes nature photographer in Provincetown.  She and her partner, Fargo, the coolest black lab in literature, take on a host of shady characters while chasing disparate clues, eating too much pastrami, and drinking way too many Buds and Old-Fashions.  Her brother Sonny is a local cop, her best friend is a pilot, her girlfriend is a financial advisor, her mother is a hot widow, Aunt Mae grows herbs (the real kind), and Harmon the local loon chases the Mother Ship.   

It's a fun series with lovable characters, fairly intricate mysteries, and a vocabulary that would make Frasier weep with joy.  

In Murder Takes to the Hills, we find Alex and Cindy, along with Wells the cat and Fargo the dog, finally undertaking sweeping renovations on their home.  Even though they maintain Cindy's rented cottage as a relationship 'safe house', they are driven to distraction by the workmen, the mess, and the inconvenience.  At one point, the ever-immaculate Cindy has to be dressed by Aunt Mae . . . it wasn't pretty.  Harmon is convinced that several businessmen from 'outside Pittsburgh' want to have Cassie fly them and their drugs to an unlit cornfield in the middle of the night, and a stalker shadows and terrifies Cindy.  

When the girls have had enough, they grab Fargo, fill the car with snacks, and head to the lesbian friendly highlands of East Tennessee for a little rest and relaxation.

Of course, rest and relaxation is the last thing they find when they stop the car.  Once settled, they find themselves embroiled in a real estate scheme gone awry, and badly framed for murder.  They charm many of the locals, humiliate a dangerous bully, and hide a pistol under a sofa cushion before calling in the Senator, the Brother, and the State Police.  Crime Solved.

They return back to P'Town to find the stalker saga to come to a quick end, and then Alex finds that Harmon, while still wrong about the Mother Ship, was more right than anyone gave him credit for.  Crimes #2 and #3 solved.

Renovations complete.

Fargo bobs for pastrami in the new backyard fountain.

Most of the Alex Peres books have one central crime, conflicting clues, red herrings, and lively banter.  This book was a bit ambitious, and took on a host of competing crimes, the clues were fairly blatant, the red herrings more mauve, and the lively banter more restrained.  The story and all its plots seemed a little too much - as if there was so much going on, the whole story was watered down as a result.  For instance, the side plot of Cassie and the 'outside Pittsburgh" boys could have carried a book by itself, instead of being relegated to a nice little tie up in the last few chapters.

I also kept waiting for Alex and Cindy to really have a 'talk'.  Cindy seems to have developed a few new trust issues with Alex . . . not that Alex really did anything, they just sort of popped up.  But, after five books together, it seems like we should get to be privy to some of the depth in their relationship.  Instead, we know what Cindy wears, what they eat and drink, and that they love each other.  All good bits, again, I just want to be invited in for more of the connection that has developed between them.

Especially if the sex scenes usually start and end with, "And I followed her into the bedroom, kicking off my shoes as I anticipated licking the powered sugar from her lips."

I like Alex Peres, and want to read more about her mysteries and her interactions with the local P'Town color.  This wasn't my favorite book in the series, but it was still a fun romp with quirk, charm, and a handful of laugh-out-loud moments.

I'll give it a 4.3 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

Book: Port Mortuary
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: Putnam Publishing - Penguin Group

Patricia Cornwell is one of my all time favorite writers. I'll never forget that Christmas back in 1991 when I visited my parents in Southern Illinois. It was a cold and fairly brutal winter, even that early in the season. I had exhausted the ever present stack of Women's Day and Redbook magazines, and was starting to get a little stir crazy. My mom, who to my knowledge has never read a book in her adult life, handed me a copy of Postmortem, which she said she bought at WalMart because it "looked interesting".

Thus began an elicit love affair that has endured for 20 years - thanks, Ma!!!!

Port Mortuary is the 18th Kay Scarpetta book. We've followed her from Virginia to Florida to South Carolina, and New York City, and now to a second site in Massachusetts. The book starts with Kay on a temporary duty assignment at Dover AFB, working with the Air Forces Medical Examiner learning how to perform cutting-edge virtual autopsies.

This is very cool stuff, and it would have been nice if we'd had a little more virtual autopsy and a little less caffeine.

Kay is pulled from the shower by a Captain that she obviously has a hard time suffering. Seems trusty old Pete Marino and the studly Lucy Farinelli have shown up to drag her lovely blonde butt back to Massachusetts in the middle of a blizzard to address a myriad of problems: A potential homicide that may have actually been alive when he was brought in for autopsy, a handful of cases that may have been handled inappropriately, a Deputy that is MIA, a rusty scalpel, and a staff that has the discipline of a box angry cats.

The book deals with murder (was he/wasn't he, were they/weren't they, why/why/why), cutting edge technology (flybots, robo-gloves, and a tricked-out iPod), and enough distrust (is my office bugged, what aren't you telling me, who chewed the gum in my desk) to fill a C-5 loaded with angry cats.

I have no clue why I'm evoking angry cats, it just seems to 'capture' the moment, so go with it.

This is the first Scarpetta novel to be written entirely in the first-person - in the past, we've seen third person narrative as well as a hybrid where some parts are first-person and others in the third. While I give a huge thumbs up to Ms. Cornwell for changing things up to keep the series fresh, I have to say I hope this first-person narrative is a one-off thing. I found wading through Kay's exhausted but caffeine-addled thoughts to be tedious, frustrating, slow, and annoying. I kept waiting for something to happen, but very little did.

Actually, bunches of things DID happen, just outside of the narrative in her head.

That's not to say there was not a hugely complex and intricate story outlined in the book, because there was. But Kay spent most of her time speculating what people were hiding from her, being pissed off about what someone did or didn't do, and having very little sympathy for anyone but herself. She came off as paranoid, and more than a little snippy.

Granted, in the previous 17 books, we've learned that she has a complicated relationship with Benton, Lucy and Pete. We've also learned that she can be singularly focused to the point of distraction, and doesn't always harbor warm and tingly feelings towards other characters, reoccurring or otherwise.

In fact, the only things she seemingly does have warm and tingly feelings toward are garlic and good scotch!

A few books back, Kay's trusty assistant, Rose, passed away. In this book, we are introduced to her new assistant, Bryce. I love this guy, a true gay blade with high-top sneakers and enough flair to signal a ship of sailors at high noon! He's a great new character, that I hope she develops a bit more in future books.

Unfortunately, since we spend almost the entire book inside the walls of Kay's brain, we have very little update on the other characters. However, it appears that Benton is secretly a Fibbie again, Pete has a man-crush on anything military, and Lucy has split from that hottie DA, Jamie Berger.

Oh, and we learn that Jet Ranger still drools, and gets a new playmate in Sock, the jaunty greyhound with tender ears.

All-in-all, this has been my least favorite and least satisfying Kay Scarpetta book - the story was frightening and sad, but I kept wishing to read the story, not Kay's thoughts.

And, as I say that, I fully suspect that some people will have a completely different reaction - and that's just fine. To each their own opinions.

Regardless, I'm sticking with Kay Scarpetta, Benton Wesley, Pete Marino, and Lucy Farinelli for the duration, so there's no question that I'll jump on the next book as soon as it hits the streets. Patricia Cornwell is smart, clever, creative, and isn't afraid to tackle a tough assignment like a new perspective or new technology. And that's exactly what keeps me coming back for more.

Of course, truth be told, I'd like to do more than stick with Lucy Farinelli for a few chapters . . . huzzah!

On a Rainbow Scale, I'll give it a 3.6 out of 6 as I eagerly await the next book.