Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For Frying Out Loud by Fay Jacobs

Book: For Frying Out Loud - Rehoboth Beach Diaries
Author: Fay Jacobs
Publisher: A&M Books

Oh, jeez, where do I begin?

It seems like every year there’s some movie, album, or book that captures the world’s imagination, and suddenly it’s everywhere. Everyone rushes out to watch, listen, read, or recommend it to anyone that even remotely looks like they might care – and more than a few that clearly don’t. 

There’s Oscar buzz.  There’s Grammy buzz.  Ooh, yeah, there’s that coveted spot in Oprah’s Book Club.

I find, more often than not, that when this mass adulation occurs, I should run the other direction as fast as my size 6 1/2s can take me.  Why?  Three Words:  Glengarry.  Glen. Ross.  Yeah, that’s the “astonishing”, “spectacular” 1992 Oscar nominee that starred Pacino, Lemmon, Baldwin, Arkin, Harris and Altman.

It’s also the cinematic marvel that conscripted more than 100 minutes of my life into the darkest trenches of Hell, and convinced me that I’d rather play patty cake with a methed up badger than sit through one single minute of it again.  Ever.

So, imagine the emotional roller coaster ride I went through when Fay Jacobs sent me a truly lovely email saying she’d read the blog, and wondered if I’d consider doing a review of a few items from A&M Books.   It went a bit like this:

Fay Jacobs sent me an email (whoot, fist pump)
Oh, God!  She wants me to review her book (Munch’s Scream face)
Everyone says it’s great (happy dance, booty shake)
Everyone says it’s great (Glengarry Glen Ross scream face)

It went on like that for another stomach sloshing two and a half minutes, but ultimately I knew I had to read her book and give Ms. Jacobs a fair and honest opinion.  

I also knew it probably wouldn’t hurt if I started planning a post book review blogging life . . . maybe something safe, like chicken sexing.

For Frying Out Loud – Rehoboth Beach Diaries by Fay Jacobs is a jaunty little collection of essays and soliloquies that covers her day-to-day life in Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach and the world beyond.  No topic or bodily function is sacred, as she takes on politics, intolerance, LGBT history, technology, transportation, rendered meat products, demon dog sitting, simple home repair, NSAIDs, and chilled adult beverages.  Each entry, regardless of its subject matter, is approached with refreshing honesty, a healthy dose of self-deprecation, and enough mirth to make your face hurt from smiling by the time it’s done. 

I am impressed with Ms. Jacobs’ mastery of colloquial writing.  That is to say, her ability to tell each story in a simple, engaging way that makes the reader feel like she’s sitting across the table sharing stories as the margaritas flow faster and faster.  The essays are tight, focused, and refreshingly didactic without being judgmental or haughty; and the subject matter is often familiar, because many of us have had the same general experiences, observations, and conversations – we’ve just never managed to do it with the wit, flair, and je ne sais quoi that Ms. Jacobs and her merry band of Rehomos achieve time and again.

So, admittedly, going into this, I was more than a little nervous that For Frying Out Loud was going to be one of those books that didn’t live up to all the hype and hoopla.  However, I can assure you, that thinking is completely off base.  The book is fun and fabulous, it’s classy and heartwarming, and it manages to remind us that we’re all in this together.

Now, if I can only convince Fay and Bonnie to hire me as their dog walking, Cosmo shaking, GPS translating, Cabana girl . . .

So, everything you've heard is true - Fay Jacobs and For Frying Out Loud are a two-for-one American treasure.  In my opinion, the madcap Ms. Jacobs deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Mike Roykos and Dave Berrys of the world.  For Frying Out Loud gets a lip-smacking 5.4 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale – it’s delightfully bent and bawdy, and chock full of whimsy, but a girl can still learn a lot from it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beautiful Game by Kate Christie

Book:  Beautiful Game
Author:  Kate Christie
Publisher:  Bella Books

As a reviewer, books find their way into my blog via a scattershot approach- sometimes, I wander through my personal e-book shelves and pull out a story that seems to be calling to me in a somewhat breathy, seductive voice. 

Hey baby, wanna do me again?  I’ll make it worth your while . . . .

Ahem.  (cough, cough)  

Sometimes, authors ask me to review their book, so I do my best to oblige them. 

Why thank you, I’d be delighted to read your book and give it the full treatment . . . .

Other times, I browse the e-book shelves of any number of publishers looking for a new author with a strong voice or an established author with something new to say.

Ooh!  Ooh!  This one looks good . . . .

And, very occasionally, a book finds its way into the blog because I buy it, not to review and share, but as a simple, guilty pleasure for me and me alone.

Mineminemineminemineminemine . . . .

And that’s how this review came to be.  I bought Kate Christie’s Beautiful Game because it sounded fun, and I’m in a post Women’s World Cup soccer frenzy.  This one was supposed to be just for me.

But then it had to go and be fantastic, make me warm and happy inside, and refuse to let me go until I had finished the last sentence and hugged my Kindle to my chest with all the strength in my little blogging body.

Beautiful Game follows a year in the life of Cam Wallace, a soccer player on a partial scholarship at San Diego University.  She’s an out and proud athlete, and loving life as a gay co-ed. However, a chance meeting with the chronically unfriendly school tennis phenom, Jess Maxwell, begins an unexpected yet tentative friendship.  Of course, Jess surprises Cam time and again by reaching out.  This is fine with Cam, she has a definite crush on Jess and her long, strong legs, but reads her signals clearly – close, but only so close.  Their friendship slowly deepens, and on a few occasions appears to skirt the edge of mutual attraction.  But, it can only get so far.  Jess doesn’t share much of her past with Cam, and Cam senses something powerful is lurking just outside her reach.  But, Cam finally has to admit that she’s in love with Jess, and the push and pull can’t go on forever.  At last she confronts Jess with the truth, and comes face-to-face with the secrets and the strengths behind all the walls. 

So many things made Beautiful Game a satisfying book.

Patience is a virtue, and I love the pace and the patience of the story, not just between the two main characters, but also by the author not to rush the story.  Cam is a patient woman, and Jess needs patience – by allowing the trust to grow slowly and steadily through the book, the relationship feels honest and real.  And, the push and pull Jess exhibits also feels real – two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, and one step to the left. 

I also appreciate that Cam is more than a gay athlete lusting after another gay athlete.  She has friends, some she genuinely likes and some she merely tolerates.  She actually practices and plays a sport, and feels angry and hurt when people are disrespectful.  She studies, goes to classes, and writes papers.  She has a summer job in another state, and she drives a beater Tercel.  She has a soccer tan.  And, in spite of the reputation as a playgirl that everyone wants her to have, she is respectful of boundaries.  In other words, she is a fully developed character - as a reader you really get to know her, and thus appreciate the journey you share with her.

How utterly refreshing!

I also have to say that I like how I didn’t guess why Jess is the way she is.  I suspect, other readers will figure it out long before I did, but for me it was unexpected.  That makes the showdown (for lack of a better term) between Cam and Jess more powerful and moving.  It also provides a brilliant moment where we learn how strong Jess is, and how far she’s come just to get to this conversation with Cam.

Beautiful Game is a complete story from start-to-finish - no overused plot devices, no convenient characters, and nothing left undone. 

And the girl gets the girl, which always makes my squishy, romantic little heart go pitapat.

I don’t know why some books make a bigger impression than others; I just know that they do.  It could be sunspots, a sudden change in my fiber to protein ratio, or a surge of this hormone or that.  To me, Beautiful Game is a beautiful story.  

I really did hug my Kindle lustily when I finished it.

This one is just too good to keep to myself.  That's why I’m giving this spirited little book a 5.1 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale, and making a note to pick up Kate Chrisite’s first two books the next time I whip out the ol' plastic. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beyond Instinct by Lynn Ames

Book: Beyond Instinct
Author: Lynn Ames
Publisher: Phoenix Rising Press

Several years ago I found myself needing to be somewhere without roads, and flying first class on a “private” airline called something snappy like Daryl’s Airplane.  As I recall, the ride looked like a converted school bus without doors, and the pilot wasn’t wearing shoes.  He was, however, wearing pants, and had a shoulder holster with a vintage .38 S&W. The co-pilot was drinking a Tusker and talking to himself in hushed tones.

I was the one seated on a chicken crate near the back holding a spirited conversation with a goat.

The point is that sometimes things don’t go the way you expect them to, and you have to make it up as you go.

Beyond Instinct is the seventh novel by perennial favorite, Lynn Ames.  In this fast-paced story, we’re introduced to Vaughn Elliott, a former hotshot handyman for the Company.  For the last year, she’s been riding a desk after an unauthorized job went south and took the life of her friend and lover, Sara.  The physical wounds have healed, but not so much the ones to her heart.  She’s been moved to the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Force, and was handpicked by someone high up in the US Government to oversee security for a visit by congressional VIPs to Mali, a small West African nation. Upon arriving, she is greeted by her handler, the striking Sage McNally, who works at the U.S. Embassy in Mali.

The two women tussle with an instant attraction, but quickly give in to the thrumming, humming lust and share a wild night of steamy passion. The next morning, though, Sage disappears while running, and Vaughn’s spidey senses send her in hot pursuit.  Vaughn quickly figures out that something is rotten in the state of Mali, and calls a few select friends to help find and recover Sage. Thus begins an full tilt, around-the-world sprint that exposes a tangled web of treachery, pits shiny good versus slimy evil, and tests the boundaries of attraction, friendship, and duty.

Part of the beauty of any Lynne Ames book is that we’re introduced to beautiful, strong, talented women with a powerful sense of right and wrong.  They usually have equally strong and talented friends – men and women – and their relationships tend to run deep and wide.  Beyond Instinct is no exception to this rule.  Here we’re introduced to Justine, Sebastian, Jackson, and Nate.  All are powerful allies, and all willing to put their lives and their livelihoods on the line for Vaughn. We’re also introduced to serial bad guys - the malevolent men who are willing to destroy the lives of anyone that steps in their path, usually to protect some secret borne of hubris and astoundingly poor decision-making.

And, no doubt, exacerbated by an unfortunate case of erectile dysfunction.

Beyond Instinct is an all-out, start-to-finish rush to save the girl and save the Senate Majority Leader.  I loved the techno-geekery, learning how to kidnap a girl on a camel, and how to turn chicken cordon bleu into a screaming one-nighter.  Our merry band of rogues always manages to out think, out perform, and out pace the seemingly endless conga line of bad guys nipping at their heels.  And, Vaughn and Sage manage to cuddle in various states of dress (and undress) when they’re not squabbling over “I love you/You can’t, I’m not good enough for you.”  All of this was fun, created some tasty tension, and kept the story moving at a fevered pace.

However, there are a few pesky little odds and ends that hogtied me . . .
The greatest of these is the bothersome convenience of everything:  Sage looks like Sara; An unending stream of friends willing to die and/or sabotage their careers to help out; Friends of friends taking on the CIA as a “sure, m'kay, no problem”; Nobody in any West African country willing to sell out to CIA muscle or money; Senator Stowe just happening to know all about the bad guys, and be on top of the assassination plot; Edgar keeping a log of all his dastardly deeds as they were planned and then thwarted; the FBI brother in just the right task force; the good guys walking up and arresting the bad guys at their front doors; and Guilty on all counts.  Don’t get me wrong, I get that Vaughn and Sage were pawns in someone else’s game, but everything just falls into place too easily.   

Perhaps it’s unfair of me as a reader, but when I got to the end, the first words out of my mouth were, “Really?  That’s it?!?” 

The other thing that makes my left eye twitchy is how quickly Vaughn jumped out of bed, and what she is able to accomplish after having her chest cracked open and an aorta repaired.  While I have no doubt she is one of the rare and few Super Lesbians with the secret power of instant regeneration, even for her that had to leave a mark. 

Not to mention, hurt like an ever lovin’ mother . . .

So, with the good comes a little bit of bad.  I’m a fan of Lynn Ames, always have been and probably always will be.  I love her books, love her characters, and love what she can do to just about any plot she gets her hands on. 

But, there were things I really liked about Beyond Instinct, and a few I really didn’t.  On the Rainbow Scale, I’m giving it a 4.1 out of 6, because something was missing for me.  

It’s not enough to stop me from reading her next book or the one after that, it’s just that this one didn’t stick it’s landing.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

Parties in Congress by Colette Moody

Book:  Parties in Congress
Author:  Colette Moody
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books

I moved to Washington, D.C. back in the early summer of 1989.  Fresh from graduate school, I was young and invincible, full of hope, brimming with ideals, and clutching a plan that was going to make the world a better place. 

[Insert record scratch]

I was also fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and gay as a border of pansies in a late October garden.  So much has happened in twenty years, and while Washington is no longer the buttoned-up schoolmarm she once was, some things never change. One of those is the steadfast rule that you always have to choose a side, because if you’re not with us, you’re against us.  And, if you’re against us, you can’t play in our sandbox.

For the record, Entropy is another one of those rules - for instance, no matter where you buy a house or rent an apartment, your job will always be relocated to the other side of the Beltway within six months.

Colette Moody pokes, tweaks, and resoundingly rewrites the stodgy Washington playbook in her latest offering, Parties in Congress.  Here we’re introduced to Bijal Rao as she prepares to take her first paid position as a political researcher. Rao, the fiscally conservative progeny of hippie parents, begins working for the little known, small town Republican mayor, Janet Denton, who is running against the incumbent lesbian Congresswoman, Colleen O’Bannon, for the House of Representatives seat in Virginia.  From Day One, Bijal is conflicted in her new job.  While she supports many of her candidate’s positions, she also has grave concerns about the campaign players and many of their decisions.  Being the new kid on the block, Bijal is sent to videotape a speech being made by Representative O’Bannon.  But things quickly go haywire when she finds out that the sexy suit in the elevator she’s openly cruising is none other than the Congresswoman.

Of course, time and again, the fates conspire to draw Bijal and Colleen together on and off the campaign trail.  The attraction is immediate and runs white hot, but both women know that anything more between them is taboo, at least until the election is over.  Colleen’s campaign, empowered by her convictions and refusal to play the worn-out game of partisan politics, grows stronger and stronger.  Meanwhile, Janet Denton’s campaign begins to crumble at a staggering pace due to ill-timing, flip flops, poor ethical choices and a memorable trip to The Justice League.  As with any good love story, no matter what they try, Bijal and Colleen can’t keep the attraction from deepening.  Then, as the campaign hits it’s final fevered days, Rao’s candidate pulls out the low punches, and the girls may be torn apart before they ever get together. 

But, it’s a love story, so Bijal and Colleen throw propriety to the wind, give in to their throbbing libidos, and spend a sweaty weekend that leaves each and every one their moist, happy places sore from overuse.

The sole reason I chose Colette Moody’s Parties in Congress is because I needed to freakin’ lighten up a little.  Well, apparently I picked up the right book because right now I’m nursing a serious book crush.  

Hmm, I wonder what Parties in Congress would do if I sent it a note asking if it would go steady with me? 

I digress.  While the storyline seems a bit too convenient at times, the characters are fresh and fun, the dialogue is fast-paced and playful, and the bad guys are more annoying dumb shit than evil genius.

One of the things I love is when an author steps outside her wheelhouse. In this case, I’m thrilled to see Ms. Moody writing characters that are women of color.  Bijal and her roommate, Fran, are delightful examples.  Their relationship is one of the tastiest bits of the book – it is part sisterly love, part ‘she poked me’, and part Lucy and Ethel.

Of course, I’m pretty sure Ethel never grumpily opined that the picture of the bikini model in her magazine wasn’t scratch and sniff.

The banter between these two characters really set the mood for the story, and it was a gift that just kept on giving.  Of course, Fran, in all her promiscuous glory, tended to get a little pejorative with Bijal.  The reader could look at this attitude as either preachy or concerned.  I took the boat to Concernville.  Fran didn’t otherwise come off as having a preachy bone in her body, and since we weren’t made privy to Bijal’s romantic history, I can only surmise that Fran really didn’t want to see her best friend’s heart torn apart by the big, bad lesbian politician.  Or, maybe it was her own heart she didn’t want to see torn apart, and she was just projecting.

Ah, heck, where’s Dr. Phil when you need him?

Bijal’s relationship with Colleen hit the interstate at full speed, careened around a few corners, and then tore down the backstretch with everything it had.  There is lust, complex carbohydrates, thrumming motorcycles on overheated flesh, and a treasure trove full of snappy repartee.  However, I sort of feel that the conflict over the ‘you allowed your candidate to say some really unfair stuff about me’ was never addressed.  I know, I know, the whole bomb-exploding thing was a game changer for both women, but still, hurt feelings really tend to linger.  And then, there had to be some sort of emotional repercussion for Colleen after the bombing, especially since she lost her long-time partner to a bomb.

Still, once all is said and done, Parties in Congress was the magic elixir that my soul needed over the weekend.  I’m a forgiving reader, so the handful of soft spots in the story gets a pass from me.  I giggled.  I laughed.  I snorted wine through my nose. 

I’ve read three of them now, so it’s confirmed that Colette Moody’s books are a balm for the soul.  They’re smart, playful, funny, and capable of making a reader feel warm and happy inside.  She writes some memorable characters, and I always do a fist pump when I know I get to read one of them.

Parties in Congress is a hands-down fun read, and it gets a big, fat 4.9 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.  A little more meat on the bones and Colette Moody could find herself in a throw down with the honored members of the Lesfic Romance High Council.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Redback by Lindy Cameron

Book:  Redback
Author:  Lindy Cameron
Publisher:  Clan Destine Press

According to Paul Erdős, any set of five points in the plane in general position has a subset of four points that form the vertices of a convex quadrilateral.  In the dark and edgy world of discrete geometry, this devious little theorem is known as the Happy Ending Problem.  It looks a bit like this:

 Spellbinding, isn’t it?

Okay, maybe not, but the reason I bring it up is because Lindy Cameron’s globetrotting action adventure, Redback, nimbly manages to illustrate this particular theorem through the tapestry of a wild, fast-paced, in-your-face romp seemingly and frighteningly plucked straight from recent headlines. 

Commander Bryn Gideon and her highly trained, privately funded Redback Retrieval Team rescues thirty-six hostages, including Prime Objective, Dr. Jana Rossi, from a ragtag yet high-tech band of Pacific Island rebels. Meanwhile, author and freelance journalist, Scott Dreher, who is researching computer war games as a recruiting tool, stumbles across an altered copy of a popular video game that hints of disturbing connections between homegrown and international terrorist groups, government agencies, and arms dealers. Thus begins a harrowing journey around the world, where unrelated ritualistic killings, a bomb on a passenger train in Luxemborg and another in a Dallas parking garage, a bizarre political assassination, a rocket attack on Ft. Hood, the bombing of the American Consulate in Peshawar, and the murder of an expat hippie in Mexico combine to signal the emergence of a new and diabolical enemy even more clever, devious, and deadly than Al Qaeda. 

The good guys happily prevail, and the adventure is smartly concluded with a banner that scrolls, “They all lived happily ever after” as the theme from Jaws (Duh dun. Duh dun. Duh dun. Duh dun.) swells and the credits roll.

The beauty of Redback is that it’s yet another quality entry into lesfic’s newest genre’ where sex and romance are not the driving forces behind the story.  Instead, we’re treated to equal parts political thriller, action adventure, mystery, and intrigue – all of which just happen to be topped off with a studly butch with a gun and her brainy sidekick.   

Who, coincidently, reminded me of a modern day, Season 1, Xena and Gabrielle.  Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.  Eh, either way, it’s not the focus of the larger story.

I appreciate what Ms. Cameron has done with the lengthy cast of characters, all of which had roles in advancing the story:  The women of Redback are all strong and well written, even the female mercenary with the ass tats.  The men of the Redback Team are great guys and solid comrades.  The terrorists are appropriately evil.  The spooks are singularly focused on their individual missions.  The politicians are smarmy.  And, the computer guys geek out.   Even the bit characters had a purpose and function.  None of this was easy, given the sheer volume of characters populating the Redback landscape.

I also appreciate the amazingly intricate plot that worked its way through seemingly unrelated stories and brought everything to a heart pounding head.  The reader travels to a Pacific Island, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Mexico, the USA, England, France, Luxemburg, Pakistan, and a few other spots of intrigue. We’re treated to the camaraderie of the Redbacks, the absurdity of some of our past and present political figures, and more than a few people who actually want to do the right thing for the right reasons.

If there is even the smallest hiccup in Redback, it is that the Americans (for which I feel somewhat qualified to speak) all spoke with a bit of an Aussie accent.  As an American though, I sheepishly must admit that American authors have penned the majority of fiction on my bookshelves.  And, as I say this, I can’t say one way or another whether American authors paint characters of other nationalities with American linguistic traits. 

More than likely so, which is why I  . . . ooh, look.  Isn’t that Salman Rushdie in a pair of pedal pushers?

Joking aside, Redback is a great story populated by interesting characters, feats of kick-ass derring-do, dastardly, evil intent, and tickety-boo.  It’s smart, well written, funny, and the perfect launching pad for a new series.  Lindy Cameron has put this band of Aussie heroines and heroes on the map, and has made me itchy for more. I’m excited about getting my hot little hands on the sequel, Trapdoor, which is currently being written.  

I’m giving this action-packed tilt-o-whirl a 5.2 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.  Lindy Cameron deserves a spot on the bookshelf of the discerning lesfic reader looking for just a little more.