Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review- Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

by Jane Eagland
Young Adult/Historical (Victorian)/Gothic/Lesbian Romance
Novel (352 pages)

By Guest Reviewer M.A.

Buy it Amazon
They strip her naked, of everything—undo her whalebone corset, hook by hook. Locked away in Wildthorn Hall—a madhouse—they take her identity. She is now called Lucy Childs. She has no one; she has nothing. But, she is still seventeen—still Louisa Cosgrove, isn't she? Who has done this unthinkable deed? Louisa must free herself, in more ways than one, and muster up the courage to be her true self, all the while solving her own twisted mystery and falling into an unconventional love . . .

Originally published in the UK, this well-paced, provocative romance pushes on boundaries—both literal and figurative—and, do beware: it will bind you, too.

I found Wildthorn's premise and cover art intriguing. The novel itself left me with very mixed impressions. The author built an interesting, informative storyline around a powerful, admirable heroine. Setting and atmosphere portrayed in beautiful language captivated me until I couldn't put the book down. This novel boasts all the earmarks of excellent gothic romance and throws in a pinch of social commentary. Eagland's descriptive writing is well above average, compelling and lyrical.

The plot unfolds via Louisa's struggles to survive the indignities of her seemingly fraudulent commitment to a lunatic asylum alternating with flashbacks portraying past events leading up to her institutionalization. Use of flashbacks often risks distracting a reader or losing his interest, but Wildthorn is a novel where this method works very well and packs quite an impact. Chapters separate flashbacks from the main narrative, so it’s hard to get “lost.” 

The author provides insights and hints as to why Louisa might have been diagnosed as mentally ill and who might have diagnosed her and committed her. Readers familiar with the Victorian era should have a better sense of the causes leading to Louisa's situation, but the dehumanization, loss of privacy, and other abuses Louisa faces or witnesses at Wildthorn are no less horrible for the knowledge. These points are meticulously well-researched, as are other aspects of Victorian culture. Period and setting are alive and well in Wildthorn.

Although I enjoyed this book in most respects and considered it well worth my time, I felt characterization and plotting suffered, particularly during the book's falling action and ending. I realize Louisa is supposed to be a "modern woman ahead of her time," but I found some of her attitudes and characterization improbable. It struck me as unlikely Louisa (daughter of a comfortable, middle-class Victorian family) would lack basic understanding of etiquette, the importance related to family social connections and "good breeding," and so on. Louisa is an intelligent, sensible female, and most highly intelligent people learn how to conform sufficiently to function in society. We are frequently shown how intelligent Louisa, an aspiring medical student, is, but at other times she sounds like a complete social moron. I believe Eagland intended to make Louisa more relatable to present-day readers, but it cost authenticity. Louisa doesn't sound like a genuine Victorian girl/woman. Even Victorian women pushing for suffrage and other social reform adhered to some degree to the social and cultural standards of their time. Instead, Louisa sounded like a 21st century girl trapped in the past, constantly bewildered and horrified by limitations placed upon her due to her gender.

I have mixed feelings about the romance subplot revealing Louisa's same-sex preferences. On one hand, I applaud Eagland for introducing interesting and very human lesbian characters. At the same time, Louisa's lesbianism struck me as a tad gratuitous and not relevant to the plot. The romance itself wasn't all that pertinent to the story and, for me, at least, Eliza's romantic attraction to Louisa cheapened her willingness to believe Louisa's story and aid in her escape. I also doubted Louisa's sincere feelings for Eliza; Louisa's situation as an inmate at Wildthorn was so horrible, it seemed to me she'd love anyone who showed her any kindness or compassion. Eagland did her best to portray realistic affection and attraction growing between Louisa and Eliza, but I just couldn't buy it given the circumstances.

The tight storytelling fell apart near the end when the mysteries behind Louisa's ordeal are revealed and the subsequent aftermath. Eagland seemed to go out of her way to absolve everyone involved of real blame. The responsible parties are all either stupid, jealous, misinformed, impaired by substance abuse, or a combination of the above. I liked that Louisa found forgiveness and prepared to go on with her life on her own terms, but I would have felt better about it if the principles in the conspiracy experienced real consequences directly related to their actions.

As for the final chapter and "happy for now" resolution to Louisa and Eliza's romance, I found it believable, but also sort of sad. Throughout the entire story, we witness Louisa's steadfast refusal to conform to society's limitations standing in the way of her dreams to study medicine, but she conforms to social expectation and conceals her love affair under a mistress/servant relationship. Again, it just sort of "pulled me out of the book." Louisa did exactly what many Victorian men (and, I suppose women) did when attracted to people "beneath them" socially.

I liked this book in terms of its overall style and its subject matter. The conclusion’s not perfect, but I enjoyed the journey and will read it again.

Heat Level:  0 – 1 (1 very brief, non-explicit love scene)

Grade: B+ (excellent writing quality, historically accurate, execution suffers a tad toward the end)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking A Break

I've been thinking about writing this post for about two weeks, but always think once I do it, things will change and I'll look like an idiot. But I don't want that people come here thinking there's going to be a post any time soon.

I'm taking a break.

I've lost my reading mojo and have been working through one book for weeks now, only reading a few pages a day. I have no juice to read at the moment. And truthfully, I have little juice for this blog as well, for now.

For a couple of years now, to keep this blog going, I've read mainly f/f or lesbian to have something to post. I'm a bit burned out on reading mostly f/f and even romance. Done for a while. 

I think to get my mojo back I need to not feel pressure to keep the blog going. Moreover, I need to read more mystery/suspense, which is my first love, or other genres that interest me.

I will probably do a last review when I finish the book I'm reading, but won't promise when that will be. It really is a good book and I love the story and writing, so my taking forever to finish it is not a reflection on the book itself.

Of course, now that I've announced this, I might read 5 books in two weeks. LOL But I doubt it. 

And as always, anyone who wishes to post a review or any connected to f/f or lesbian content, you're more than welcome. 
Hopefully, I'll be back before long.

Thank you to those of you who stop by and do read this blog.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review- When Night is Falling (DVD)

When Night Is Falling (DVD)
95 mins.

Successful in her teaching job at a conservative religious college, Camille (Pascale Bussières) looked forward to marrying her adoring, minister boyfriend (Henry Czerny) and settling down to the conventions of family and career. But a chance encounter with a beautiful, irresistibly sensuous young female circus performer named Petra (Rachael Crawford) is about to transform Camille s predictable life into an electrifyingly erotic adventure.

Captivated by Petra s impulsive sexuality and passionately free spirit, Camille is drawn into a world whose existence she never dared imagined: A world of hypnotic sensuality, rapturous self-discovery and exquisite erotic pleasure.

Now, walking an emotional high-wire between the familiar past and the forbidden future, Camille must choose between the love she can t forget... and the desire she can t resist.

This is a gorgeous, gorgeous film. It’s got a unique, off beat, erotic ambiance to it that you don’t see too often in film. And it’s one of the most beautifully portrayed love stories between two women that I’ve seen so far.

The blurb to this film is right on target so I’ll go from there.

The first thing that grabbed me about this film was the almost quiet way in which the women in this story get together. You can feel an underlying controlled passion between them, but it develops in a slow, gentle and seductive way. This gives time to see what these two women are about as individuals, but also how they come to terms with what they are feeling. It felt natural and real.

Camille is almost stoic. She’s following what she’s been taught to follow, that is a fundamentalist Christian POV of life. But it’s clear from the fact that she’s not been too overjoyed about marrying her long time lover and has been putting him off that she’s not feeling too passionate about her life. Something is missing, not right, but she doesn’t know what that is.

After she meets Petra, something in her is awakened. I loved that she’s very hesitant, even denying it to some degree, while allowing herself to open up to Petra at the same time. She doesn’t run from what she’s starting to feel, which is so against her upbringing and life philosophy, but she doesn’t jump right in there with Petra either.  

Petra, on the other hand, really wants Camille and puts it out there many times. Often it’s a bit too much for Camille and Petra backs off realizing that Camille is struggling with this whole new aspect of her life. But Petra sticks with it until Camille come around. I loved how she shows just enough to let Camille know that she’s desired, pushing it just a little, but at the same time subtly seducing her by just hanging in there and not walking away.

The scenes between the women are just exquisite. The love making is sensuous and tender and highly erotic. The backdrop of the Petra’s life in the circus, along with the music, colors, ambiance, added so much to the sensory aspect to this film. The sexual aspect between Camille and Petra came across as something deep and primal. The kind of sex you have when you’re deeply in love and only that person can complete something in you. It’s just stunning.

There are some other issues in this film. It is painful to see Martin, Camille’s long time lover, who really loves Camille, go to pieces. This isn’t one of those nasty husband/boyfriend stories so the women gets what she needs with a woman. He’s a good guy. A guy who is willing to let this affair go to be with her. It’s just that Camille doesn’t feel strongly towards him and it’s kind of sad.

But I did like that Camille is honest with herself and the minister/ dean of the Christian college she teaches at. I liked that the religious part wasn’t heavy handed; rebelling against it is not used as an excuse for Camille to be attracted to Petra. Both Martin and the minister kind of change their tunes a bit and are willing to let it go and forgive her as opposed to kicking her out of the school and church and or leaving her because of this affair. This made Camille’s love for Petra and her decision to be with Petra a choice. This is how I wish to see love between women portrayed.

All in all I highly recommend this film. I might even buy it, it was that amazing for me. If you really want to see a real love story between women, done in an exotic, sensual and unusual setting, one that quietly seduces you without flash or trying for shock value, this is the film to see.

Heat level: 4- a few naked sex scenes both m/f and f/f. Fairly graphic, but very sensually and tastefully done.

Grade: A++


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

This and That

School is back in swing again. Ugh. My vacay went too quickly. But I had a lot of fun. The Mr. is still off, so we’ve been watching a lot of movies, going places and cleaning up last year’s paperwork, bills, filing and getting tax stuff ready. 

I didn’t manage to finish one book that whole time. Mostly it’s because I was busy doing other stuffs and only reading at night. I have a hard time reading books when the Mr. is home; I get too distracted. So no book reviews. 

And I still haven’t bought any new books even though my options grew. I did download a library book, which if I don’t get to is no biggy since I didn’t pay. I’m just curious how it works and how or if it will just disappear from my iTouch. 

 I was going to do a New Year's post, but I felt rebellious. I’m just contrary that way. Everyone did a New Year resolutions post, top 10  books, etc. so it's my natural inclination to go the other direction. Anyway, I don’t do NY resolutions. It just jinxes it if I state I WILL do something. And top 10 books? I probably only reviewed 10 books for the whole year. snort

What I did do a lot of is search for books I might like to read in Kindle and other formats.

I came across some interesting things in my searches for f/f movies and books though on Amazon's Kindle section. It’s a really sad thing that the search term “lesbian” brings up first erotica and porn. This just shows how invasive the concept of two women loving each other is tied to sex and (male) fantasy. I had to dig deep to find actual lesbian or f/f romances or stories. 

Here’s some facts of what I found:

 I saw a link to this:

Amazon’s 100 Best Sellers in Gay/Lesbian Fiction for Kindle, on Twitter the other day. So I went and checked it out. It’s sad really for the readers of f/f or lesbian books. What I found when I looked the books over:

Out of 100 there are only:
11-- are f/f or lesbian
I think there is one transgender out of all the books. 

Out of those 11:
3--are erotica.
5 – are straight to lesbian stories, some of the  girlfriends taking it to next level kind or in crappy marriage and fall for a woman kind. 

(3 of them are by the same author, R. E. Bradshaw)

2-- have a strong female character that might be a lesbian or goes with women, it’s not clear from the blurbs. 

1—is a true lesbian story by an author I’ve read and liked, Georgia Beers. 

It’s sad that there’s only 11 f/f or lesbian out of 100 in best selling gay/lesbian. 

If you then type in just “lesbian,” what comes up again for the best selling is mostly all erotica. Hmmm… I went through pages before I started getting to mostly romance or non anthology/erotica stories. Which means, the best sellers are mostly of the “Hot lesbian sex” variety. :/

Wow… that’s kind of disheartening. Where are all the Bold Strokes lesbian romances? They are all in Kindle format. I don’t get it. Why is it all erotica for pages and pages?

If you search “lesbian romance,” you get more actual romance options, but it's still a lot of erotica.

You do have better luck if you don’t stick within the Kindle Store.  If you search “lesbian” or “lesbian romance” in books, then you get more of the bold strokes books type of books. But many are not kindle. Bella Books are not offered in Kindle. 

Then I found a few links to lesbian themed movies after typing in “lesbian themed movies.”  This is one person's listmania and gives a lot of good movies. A better search term than "lesbian movies," which brings up all porn. 

Me loving Asian films, I was searching for a Japanese lesbian film. Alas, I didn't find what looked like a decent one. But here's a list of Asian lesbian themed movies. I've seen a few of them in the last few weeks and hope to watch some more at some point. 

This got me to thinking about how I'd really love to read a Japanese, written by Japanese, lesbian story in books. I'll have to search deep to see if there wasn't one written already. 

Anyway... I don't know how much reading I'll be getting done. I know, how pathetic of me. So many books I want to read, and yet, I have a hard time just sitting down and reading them. It's been more fun watching movies. 

So I hope you all have a good start to the new year and that good things happen for everyone this year.

Review- French Twist (DVD)

French Twist (DVD)
French (in French Language)/Comedy/m-f, f-f/ Lesbian
104 mins.

Sassy, sexy, and utterly outrageous, this comedy treat received outstanding critical acclaim and a Golden Globe Award nomination! Saucy suburban housewife Loli is furious when she discovers her playboy husband is a wild womanizer who has been cheating on her left and right for years! But things take an unusually funny turn when the van of a tough-talking, tender-hearted woman named Marijo breaks down in front of Loli's house! From then on, expect the hilariously unexpected as Marijo and Loli's relationship develops into much more than just a friendship ... and between the two of them, they devise the perfect revenge!

Hilarious, but totally improbable story that uses tons of stereotypes for comedic affect that would never go over if American made. This is what I love about French movies, they go places you’d never see in American films that I find refreshing. French Twist has some really funny, laugh out loud, moments and I enjoyed it even if it was pretty out there.

Loli and Laurent have a nice life in French suburbia. Or so Loli thinks. Laurent is boinking every female that moves, except for her, but she’s oblivious to that. She caught him cheating on her once in the past and forgave him after he said he wouldn’t do it again.

One day, the car of a woman, Marijo, breaks down in front of their house. Marijo asks if she can call to get help and in the meantime fixes a blocked drain for Loli. Marijo is the classic stereotype of a butch lesbian. Even Loli’s son asks about the “man” in the house. Marijo and Loli spend the day chatting and talking about their lives and having a few drinks and things get a little more intimate than either expected.

I will say on this point that Loli seems to be the free and open type and I totally bought that she would be open to advances by Marijo, even though Marijo is older and not a particularly hot physically. Marijo has a certain warmth and easy vibe around her and she rather gently comes on to Loli, which Loli responds to very easily.

Where the fun starts is that Laurent comes home to this “diesel dyke” and wants her out of the house right now because she’s well, a “dyke” and he’s a homophobe and doesn’t like butch dykes. (dyke the word he uses constantly) Loli convinces him to let her stay for a while because she likes Marijo.

To pay back for the help, Marijo insists on taking Loli and Laurent out to dinner and he invites his best friend who wants to meet Marijo thinking it will be fun to mess with her. I know this sounds awful and it is to some degree, but there's pay back. They make continuous offensive homophobic jokes and say things like “well, talking man to man” to Marijo, which she laughs off because she knows something about Loli, they don’t. Heh.

Each of the characters were overtly stereotypical stereotypes for a reason I thought though. Exaggerating the characters’ negative traits do make it easy to root for the wronged character at any point because it’s a fast lane to stir up emotions within the viewer.

Anyway… at the restaurant, Laurent catches Loli and Marijo playing footsy under the table and the shit hits the fan. Suddenly he realizes that his wife can find love with someone else and that he could seriously loose her. TO A “DISGUSTING BUTCH WOMAN!” He can’t believe it; he’s incredulous. How could this happen to him?!, HIM?!!! The tables are turned and this pisses him off. 

He drags Loli off then kicks her out of the house. Then he laments, freaking out to his bud, “for men cheating is nothing, nothing, just fucking. But for women, that’s another story.” Maybe you can see why at this point it does satisfy something for those people in the audience who’ve been cheated on or wronged by an asshole.

The rest of the movie is about how these three people try to get along in this new situation. Loli is not about to lose Marijo who gives her love and attention and whom she’s fallen in love with, Laurent keeps trying to find ways to get rid of Marijo, but puts up with her while trying to win back Loli. And Marijo keeps sticking around because she wants Loli. 

There are lots of twists and turns to the plot, some of which are ridiculous—or it would be the rare people who could manage it. But it is funny and entertaining with the tables being turned on each of the characters at different points. The power shifts often and while in the beginning it’s more about revenge, real feelings develop and mess with these characters.

Eventually we see that the characters don’t totally fit those stereotypes. Laurent and his friend are typical macho, homophobes, but Laurent actually does love Loli and cares about his family. And Loli is not the typical ignored wife without power either, she’s pretty feisty and is willing to exert that power to her advantage. Marijo looks like the gruff, male-ish, aggressive butch lesbian on the surface, and yet she has a huge heart and is really soft and feminine inside, crying over the hurt she’s causing, even over pain Laurent is feeling.

The ending will be a bit surprising to everyone. It’s an ending that would never be accepted by an American audience. And this is another reason why I love European movies. They don’t take the typically moral or traditional viewpoint often and usually end with characters living outside the box. It’s a nice fantasy at any rate.

Who made this film for me was Marijo. The actress who played her was the writer and director of this film. I thought she brought some levity and complexity and humor to what is the typical cheating husband, neglected wife story. The actress who played Loli was pretty amazing as well.

About the lesbian part of this film, I read a few reviews of this movie on Amazon and many just didn’t believe that Loli, who’s a beautiful woman, would go with Marijo who’s not that beautiful and kind of sexually unappealing. But I believed it. One because Marijo is very loving and tender with Loli. It’s something that women want and respond to from any sex. And second, Loli is very passionate, easily following her heart without judgments. And third, I personally found Marijo appealing as a character and as a women. There are a few very nice scenes between the women, naked, in the bathtub or in bed. Or just lying together holding each other and it’s clear they really feel something deeply for each other. It's not erotic though.

I liked that it wasn’t totally the lonely wife gets with a woman story to get back at her man. Loli really loves Marijo and it’s clear that it’s painful for her to lose her. So she chooses to be with Marijo even after Laurent starts acting right and making it up to her. The only time she falters and gets pissed is when Marijo’s old lover shows up. That was an interesting twist as well. And thankfully this didn’t go the way of the “lesbians don’t fall for straight girls, they will break your heart by using you for a brief fling.” Nor did it take the route of preferring the m/f relationship over the lesbian one. There is an happy ending for all.

For those readers of this blog who like the f/f/m polyamorous story, this might make you happy, even if Marijo will never really be a lover to Laurent. It’s a very rare story on that level anyway. I highly recommend this film for the humor and for the fact that it does break all kinds of stereotypes by the end.

Heat level: 2- Actress who played Loli is naked through a lot of the film and there are some m/f and f/f naked in bed scenes. And one very sweet naked bathtub scene with Loli and Marijo.

Grade: A