Monthly Archives: February 2016

Stowe Away

Stowe Away by Blythe Rippon
Ylva Publishing
January 2016
Available from Ylva, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and your local library via Overdrive.
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Love isn’t always where you expect to find it or with whom you think it should happen.  Stowe Away grapples with expectations versus reality and attempts to figure out a way to reconcile the two.  Samantha “Sam” Latham, a young woman bound for prestige as a medical researcher attempts to stow away her feelings and ambitions when life doesn’t fit into her plans.  She eventually discovers through hard won lessons that she can Stowe Away along a more fortuitous path.   

Stowe, Vermont, for Sam Latham, is a dead-end, and high school graduation can’t come soon enough.  It’s easy when you’re a kid to view life in a small town as suffocating and dull and family drama as the sum total of the world.   Sam views College as the Promised Land, where smart, worldly people gather and life begins.  She declares herself as the town’s “only lesbian”, another reason she longed for a realm where her people (brainy, gay, driven, etc.) congregated and thrived.  Her propensity to focus intensely on a course of action allows her to achieve great success, but also limits her ability to pick up on the signals and sensibilities of the people around her. 

Seeing herself as a party of one sets her up for a hard fall when she meets Natalie at a dormitory meeting their Freshman year at Yale.  They begin a close and complicated relationship over their four years of undergraduate study.  Their friendship is at times nurturing and toxic.

Sam is intensely focused on her studies and has a route mapped out for her career trajectory.  Natalie is almost an exact opposite of Sam, both in temperament (very sociable) and focus (vacillates between majors).  The two women muddy the emotional waters to the breaking point at the end of their senior year at Yale.  For many relationships, that could very well spell the end of things.  Sam immerses herself in her PhD medical studies at Stanford University.  Natalie moves in with her new girlfriend in San Francisco while pursuing a masters degree in Public Policy.   

After life away in New Haven, Connecticut, and San Francisco, California, pursuing her studies and the romantic affections of her unavailable best friend, Natalie, she returns to Stowe.  Sam learns that there was more than met the eye when it comes to the people and general way of life in Stowe. As she assists with her mother’s rehabilitation from a brain aneurysm, she struggles through a long, dark night, and ends up learning that her hometown is full of surprises.

Maria Sanchez, proprietress of the cafe “Stowe Away”, is one such surprise.  Though the two women attended Stowe High School together, Sam doesn’t know much about Maria or the fact that her mother Eva and Maria have become close friends in Sam’s absence.  After a tragic loss in high school, Maria rebuilt her life.  Without Maria’s presence in the story, Sam would have struggled to recover her way and found healing for her relationships.  She is a strong, resourceful, and intelligent woman who gives no footing to Sam’s self-pity or other destructive behaviors.  Maria, her brother Pauly, and the surrounding community, make Sam’s transformation possible.

When I first read Stowe Away, I thought Natalie was taking advantage of Sam’s obvious crush (touching, gifts, asking her to comment on outfits she tries on at the store).  It seemed cruel to string Sam along.  Natalie doesn’t rebuff Sam directly, even when it’s painfully obvious to everyone that Sam carrives a torch for her.  It takes a strong bond to save a friendship from sinking under the weight of a one-sided obsession.  When the two women cross a huge line late in their time at Yale, it’s hard to imagine that there is a way back from that.  There is enough doubt woven into the story (whether on purpose or inadvertently) to cast a shadow over Natalie’s intentions.  A lot of what goes on between Sam and Natalie can be chalked up to hormones, college, and the general shenanigans of your early twenties.

It’s easy to empathize with Sam.  She loves her mother, but it’s an emotionally  draining relationship.  It’s an uncomfortable position to be in and the answer is not always straightforward or easy.  However, at the same time, she doesn’t give the people in her life enough credit for leading rich lives.  Her metric for interesting and fulfilling creates a distance between her and people in her life.  She also puts strain on her friendship with Natalie by ignoring all of the signs that “she’s just not that into you”.  If this novel had taken place in 2016, Sam would have used her smart phone to stalk Natalie online, dogging her every virtual step, agonizing over every Instagram post and Facebook relationship status.  How Sam and Natalie ever managed to salvage their friendship and establish it on honest footing is one of the marvels of the story.  It was a stretch for me, but that doesn’t mean that the continuation of their friendship couldn’t happen in real life.

Stowe Away romances the reader with the possibilities of Love with a capital L and love.  I recommend this story to anyone who enjoys reading about small town life, collegiate settings, and empathizes with losing sleep over unrequited love (and the messiness that ensues).  

Thank you, Ylva Publishing, for the opportunity to review this title.

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Categories: fiction, lgbt, netgalley, romance | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Language of Hoofbeats – audiobook review

 

Summary

When the opportunity arises for Paula to take on a Veterinarian practice in the small California town of Easley, she and her wife Paula round up their menagerie of animals, along with their adopted son, Quinn and two teenage foster children, Mando and Star.  Before the movers have a chance to unload the first box from the truck, taciturn Star angers their neighbor, Clementine (though Vern, her husband, weary of his wife’s unrelenting unhappiness, has other concerns on his mind), when she trespasses to visit the horse, Comet.  Jackie and her family struggle with Clementine’s behavior.  A tragic past event plunged Clementine into a dark, bitter place and she seems determined to stay that way.  It takes another jarring event to allow the wounds of these families to begin to heal.  The novel explores family relationships,  humanity’s connection with animals, and dealing with intense grief and disappointment.

Narration

 Catherine Ryan Hyde’s writing paints a range of emotions and promotes a deeper understanding of human behavior.  The Language of Horses (LoH) is complex, yet accessible.  Seasoned narrators Kate Rudd and Laural Merlington are a perfect fit for this story.  LoH alternates between Jackie’s and Clementine’s points of view.  Rudd narrates the “Jackie” chapters.  Merlington narrates the “Clementine” chapters.  They craft distinct primary and supporting characters.  The pacing of the dialogue appropriately reflects the differences between the characters and where they are on their personal journeys.  It is quick or slow, high or low, varying as needed, to bring the world into focus.  Listeners will look forward to this wonderfully engaging production.

Narrator Kate provides youthful buoyancy and intensity to the children’s voices, as well as a mixture of levity, uncertainty, and strength for Jackie and Paula.  We hear the emotional journey the characters take and how they evolve as the events unfold.  Kate’s voice hitches when eight year old Quinn is seized by the fear that he will lose his family, again, if they ride together in one vehicle; rises when tempestuous Star talks about Comet, the neighbor’s horse; and descends into a deeper, hesitant register as Clementine flounders with her anger.  Kate masterfully lifts the characters off the page and infuses them with life.

Narrator Laural gives additional weight to the complicated emotions swirling through Clementine’s heart and mind.  The older woman has an insistent need-to-know everything-about-everything (and hate it)-right-now personality that has her voice rising, with quick repetition of her words when she wants to make sure she’s heard.  Vernon, her husband, speaks with a more measured cadence and has a thoughtful tone to his voice. Although Vernon is a man of few words, Laural’s skillful narration amplifies his every word.  It is because of Laural’s nuanced narration, that I found myself empathizing with the almost impossible to like Clementine.  No small feat!

———-

There is a slim selection of audiobooks featuring lesbian protagonists in the three public library systems of which I am a member.  Perhaps I just need to fine-tune my search strategy.  Aside from Sarah Waters complete catalogue, I find titles if they have record tags for “lesbian” or if I know a specific title, author, or publisher.  I purchased The Language of Hoofbeats from Audible.com.

My goal this year is to locate as many sources for lesbian audiobooks as possible, without breaking the bank.  If you have a favorite narrator, story, or audiobook production company, drop me a line in the comment box below.  

Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
Narrators: Kate Rudd, Laural Merlington
Produced by Brilliance Audio
Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Audible, iTunes, and your local bookseller.
Join the conversation on Goodreads.

Categories: audiobooks, family relationships, fiction, lgbt | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Julie Thompson reviews The Warrior, the Healer, and the Thief by Diane Jean

Source: Julie Thompson reviews The Warrior, the Healer, and the Thief by Diane Jean

Thank you, Less than Three Press, for the opportunity to review this title.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sweet & Steamy Valentines, Part 2

Hot Date

ble valentine

Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year: 20th Anniversary Edition (BLEY20)

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been twenty years since the inaugural volume of Best Lesbian Erotica was published.  As an avid reader of the past several collections, I eagerly awaited my ebook to arrive.  From start to finish, I was not disappointed by the quality of the writing.  The erotic build between the characters in the stories is a result of well-crafted depictions of emotional and physical connections.  One of my favorite aspects of this collection is how the stories let me taste and touch and see everything: juicy heirloom tomatoes;  the crowded, over-bright London Underground; bright red belt welts on tender flesh; and more.

Editor Sacchi Green explains her idea of what “Best” translates to on the page, in her introduction to the collection: 

Above all, “best” should mean original ideas, vividly drawn settings, creative imagery, fully developed, believable characters (even if occasionally that requires readers to suspend disbelief for the sake of arousal), and of course, plenty of steamy sex, with intensely erotic scenes that flow naturally from vanilla to BDSM to edgy frontiers that defy classification.”

Green’s parameters for “Best” are inclusive, with women and genderqueer partners represented; and a wide range of body types, occupations, and ages visible.  The stories she curated for the BLEY20 deliver on her erotic vision.  There’s no guarantee you’ll like any of the stories, but no matter what how your tastes run, I think there’s a good chance you’ll find something savory in this box.

Cleis Press – http://cleispress.com
Edited by Sacchi Green
Published: February 9, 2016

Categories: erotica, lgbt, romance, short stories | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Times of Our Lives

 

Times of Our Lives

Julie Thompson reviews Times of Our Lives by Jane Waterton

Welcome to OWLs, a veritable paradise in Australia. OWLs has its genesis in the facility’s owner and manger Louise’s determination to create a safe haven for mature lesbians. Louise worked in a nursing home in the late 1980s. During her tenure, she worked with elderly lesbians who had been separated from their partners by their families. Together, with the assistance of her partner, Caro, her vision for OWLs became a thriving reality. The retirement complex welcomes its 10th anniversary and it is at this time that the reader observes the singular, yet deeply connected lives of the women who call OWLs home.

Within this microcosm, the reader becomes privy to the stories of eight women. Retirement for many of these women doesn’t mean checking out of life. They find community, friendship, and love as the new chapter of their lives unfolds. The main underlying theme is that it is never too late to live your life. Waterton uses the seasons to frame the changes that develop in the lives of her protagonists over the course of a year. Their fears and desires seem to both hinder and help them, resulting in humorous situations and heart wrenching consequences.

A couple points drew me to this story. For starters, the women are all over the age of 60, with the exception of the OWL’s owners and a couple other minor characters. Waterton illuminates the third age in the lives of these women as a time to fully engage in and explore themselves and the world around them. Gone are the senior citizens who are shunted off to “old folks’ homes”, where the men and women await death and sit forgotten by society. As Sparrow, one of OWL’s residents, remarks,

“When my grandmother was my age, although she kept fairly active, it was if she had lived her life and was just waiting to die.” (ebook p. 75)

Secondly, the setting: Australia! Ever since childhood, I’ve been enamoured by the “Land Down Under”. I couldn’t resist trying to read all of the dialogue with an Australian accent (not aloud, though!).

Waterton weaves individual, couples, and group story lines together. Each pair of women reflects relationships at different stages. There are a pair of women partnered for nearly fifty years; best friends who would rather stay friends than risk losing that bond by professing their love; a new couple excited, yet wary; and two women partnered in love and business.

Pat and Bella, partners for over 45 years, have made their home at OWLs for the past several years. Although they have strong bonds, Bella’s fight with cancer has both women struggling to define their personal boundaries. It’s in the moments when they turn to their friends for comfort and advice that we witness the depths of their guilt, discomfort, and love. Their storyline culminates (or rather, begins anew) with a celebration of their love and a renewal of their commitment to each other through better or worse. Waterton presents Pat’s and Bella’s (and Pat and Bella’s) emotional journey through illness and aging with sensitivity and humor.

Meg Sullivan and Allie Richards have been best friends for over 40 years. They may not always agree – Meg is impulsive and sporty, while Allie errs on the side of caution and loves to cook, but it’s those differences that enrich and balance their friendship. From close friends to casual acquaintances, everyone picks up on the unspoken love between the two women. Their fear over losing the person they care about most by saying “I love you” is a feeling to which many people can relate. Even when after a health crisis, the two women still cannot own or put a name to their feelings. However, their friends rally around them. This support network is one of the most important elements in this book and really shines in the scenes in which the women struggle.

Daphne Williams and Sparrow Hopkins are the community’s new couple. They start off slowly, going on a few dates, before they fall headlong into a passionate romance. And then just like that, Daphne withdraws from the relationship. Sparrow, however, is not as delicate as her name may suggest; she instead shows a kind of tough love as she waits for Daphne’s head to catch up with her heart. Just as the novel shows how one can make new choices and alter their routines, it also shows through Daphne and Sparrow’s relationship that there are certain things that may not be worth compromising on.

Caro and Louise provide the indefatigable, unwavering foundation of OWLs. While Times of Our Lives directs most of its attention to the dramas surrounding the residents, it does give insights into the women who make this retirement community possible. The inter-generational chemistry between the middle-aged owners and the Older (sometimes) Wiser tenants is wonderful to read.

Some of the stand-out group scenes include a Tupperware presentation that turns the representative into an unwitting accomplice in the re-purposing of kitchen tools and an after-hours pool party where the women throw more than just caution to the wind. These events add levity and allow new friends, like Sparrow, with opportunities to integrate into the group dynamic.

Waterton has delivered a wonderful debut novel. Times of Our Lives is a jubilant celebration of life that leaves you reconsidering what it means to grow older.

Jane Waterton – http://www.janewaterton.com.au/
Ylva Publishing – http://ylva-publishing.co.uk/
Publication date: November 1, 2015

 

Thank you, Ylva Publishing, for the opportunity to review this title.

Categories: fiction, lgbt, romance | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sweet & Steamy Valentines, Part 1

Once-in-a-Lifetime

Curious Wine valentine

Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest

I love this book so much, I have all three covers shown above in my personal collection.  The first copy I acquired was via a forum on AfterEllen.com.  Someone was trying to interest people in free lesbian fiction and, surprisingly, there were no takers.  Free + Lesbian + Books, arguably one of the most tantalizing equations ever constructed, and I was the only one to snatch them up.  (I concede that sharing your home address with a stranger is not always the smartest idea.)  This past week I learned that an audiobook version exists.  It’s waiting for me to finish my current audio dalliance.

Curious Wine is love at first read.  I try not to measure other romance novels against it because that wouldn’t be fair.  It’s in a class all its own.  The more I love a book, the more trouble I have articulating why it’s so wonderful.  Every year I curl up with the two lovers, Diana Holland and Lane Christianson, and watch the slow snowfall of their love unfold. 

I love Katherine V. Forrest’s use of language.  She paints a vivid, textured world with her descriptions of the setting, choice of words, and rich, fluid dialogue.  It’s beautiful and genuine.

The story takes place in the late 1970s and was originally published in 1983 by Naiad Press.  Diana and Lane find themselves at a cabin in Lake Tahoe, as part of a small gathering of women, most of them either strangers to or acquaintances of the two protagonists.  It’s a veritable winter wonderland, secluded from the outside world.  The sprawl of glittering casinos hasn’t completely overtaken the cabin.  Diana resigns herself to a weekend away at the insistence of her friend Vivian.  Lane is similarly drawn away from her law practice to enjoy a weekend on the slopes. 

The story is full of subtlety – a look, a touch, an observation made in the moment…  Diana and Lane bond over “their poet”, Emily Dickinson,  Peggy Lee’s Pretty Eyes, and shared humor.  While Diana feels immediately drawn to and protective of Lane (whom the other women deride as aloof and snobby), Lane is hesitant to remove self-imposed emotional barriers.  Diana’s past relationships with men, most recently her break with her long-term partner Jack, have never consisted of two equals.  For her, she never gave any thought to having a romantic relationship with women.  Lane, however, has been running from her desires for women; she doesn’t want risk loss and disappointment.  The anticipated reactions from family and friends also play a role in their steps forward.

Towards the end, when it seems like Yes!  They’ve made it!, we encounter the last bridge they must cross in order to build a lasting future together.  When Lane asks Diana to wait a month with no contact whatsoever between them, the wait nearly does Diana in.  We never hear the detailed agony on Lane’s half of the wait, though we get clued in on it after the pair reunites.

“It’s fast, Diana, so fast for us to know…We’ll have problems, Diana, being together.”

“Yes, I know.  But we’ll be together.  You asked me when we first made love how I knew how to touch you and I told you I just knew.  I just know about this, too.”  Diana quoted,

“The Soul selects her own Society —
Then
Then — shuts the Door…”
“I love you,” Lane said.

Diana said, trying out the words, tasting them.  “My dearest…” (very last page)

A trigger warning for the following scene: rape

There are more than a few charged scenes that are difficult to read.  One evening at Harrah’s Casino, Diana, hurt and confused by her uncertain relationship with Lane, follows a former pro football player up to his hotel room.  When she decides that there is nothing and no one who can replace Diana, she tries to leave.  The man isn’t willing to take no for an answer.  She escapes, but doesn’t call the police.  It’s devastating and heart wrenching and terrible.  After she runs a skin-scalding bath, she drives back to the cabin and back into Lane’s warm embrace.

/// 

On the second night, the women congregated at the cabin play a series of “encounter” games.  The women are encouraged to trust each other with their intimate selves as the games progress.  As the night wears on, the women become increasingly drunk and stoned.  Liz Taylor, the host, is especially mean-spirited.  Some of the women break under the toxic environment, but by morning, the mood has shifted again.  Everyone is too burdened with their own baggage to notice what is developing between Diana and Lane.

///

I’ll close with the Emily Dickinson excerpt that precedes the first chapter.

Emily Dickinson

 ***Golden Crown Literary Society names Curious Wine as the 2016 recipient of the Lee Lynch Classic Award.***

Categories: lgbt, romance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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