Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review- Every Waking Hour by Paisley Smith

Every Waking Hour
by Paisley Smith
January 1, 2013
Lesiban/Historical 50's/Erotic Romance
Pub: Loose Id LLC 
Words:  64.5 K

English professor Della Boyd has worked hard to carve out a career for herself in the male-dominated 1950s South. Having escaped an unpleasant childhood, she resolves to keep her nose to the grindstone and work her way up the university ladder. All that changes, however, when she meets her favorite author, Grayson Garland, whose androgynous beauty and taboo kisses cause Della to question everything she’s always believed.

When Grayson Garland returns to bury her father, the world renowned, eccentric Southern author sets the small town of Rome, Alabama on its ear. But the old antebellum mansion she once called home is haunted with dark secrets Gray is reluctant to face. Sultry nights in the arms of a pretty, oh-so-feminine professor provide ample distraction, but unless Gray can summon the courage to confront her demons, even Della’s love won’t be able to save her
from herself.

 (ps: what's with the woman on the cover looking 40-ish? When I saw the cover I thought it's a story about an older spinster, which would have been cool too!)

I think this is Paisley Smith’s best book yet. It’s longer than her usual story with perfect pacing between the love story build-up, tension and sex, and it the first book I’ve read in a while that I couldn’t put down.

Anyone who has followed my reviews knows that I’m particularly fond of Paisley Smith’s books, her writing style and content. So you might this review worth a grain of salt. However, this book felt the most polished and intense of all her books so far so I will have to rave about it.

I loved that this book is set in a small town in the 50’s. That in itself is unusual. And to have a lesbian story set in the 50’s is even more intriguing. Both characters are so nicely and complexly written as well. Ms. Smith really offers an in depth background on how they come to be who they are and why each reacts to the other the way they do.

While this story is full of the usual amount of sex for a Paisley Smith book, meaning frequent, intense and fairly graphic, this story also deals with, in a rather somber way, a serious issue that can cause many problems in a relationship and which doesn’t come up as a common foil. This-- outside of the fact that they are two women falling in love at a time when it was not acceptable on any level.

Della is quiet professor of English and is using a local famous Pulitzer Prize winning author’s books to teach English. Something about Grayson Garland’s books speaks to her in ways she likes but doesn’t get. She leads a quiet life, lives with her brother and dates the English department head occasionally. She doesn’t feel that excited about her love life, nor was she impressed with the one time they they had sex.

Grayson, being a famous author and having the confidence that comes with that, is not shy or ashamed of the fact that she likes to dress like a man and is a lesbian. She walks into a coffee shop where Della is grading papers on Grayson’s book and is immediately attracted to Della’s softness and femininity. Sitting at her table uninvited and shocking Della, Grayson then proceeds to correct Della’s student’s papers making Della angry at how her most loved author is being criticized by this freak who clearly knows nothing of great writing or of the writer’s intentions in what she wrote. Plus, everyone is looking at them.

I loved this set up. It creates a delicious spark of tension right off the bat.

The sexual tension between these two is hot right from the start, but simmers unfulfilled until just the right moment when both have gotten more emotionally attached and want more than just the sex. Della, never having been attracted to a woman before, finds herself mesmerized by the strong sexual desire she’s developing for Grayson. Della just can’t resist how feral and intense Grayson is in going after her. Nor does she want to. Even though she’s well aware of what that might mean and how it can affect her life, so compelling is Grayson she can’t stop herself.

Grayson for her part doesn’t waver once on her desire and need to have Della in her life. However, her troubled past and how she’s dealt with and is still dealing with it is not sitting well with Della for reasons that have to deal with her own past. Grayson is portrayed as having a volatile mix of being cocky and aggressive with being deeply vulnerable making her a bit unstable and tortured. This makes it very hard for a very composed Della to deal with and causes a lot of conflict in her.

Fortunately, Paisley Smith walked a nice line here. I have a hard time with a tortured character who keeps pushing the love interest away because they feel sorry for themselves or feel unworthy. In this case Grayson keeps reaching out, not pushing Della away, which gave her an endearing quality and made it believable that Della would fight for them even against her own insecurities and fears.

I also felt that Grayson’s issue was dealt with in an honest and poignant way giving this love story just a bit more depth than your usual fall in love romance.

I definitely recommend this book. Yeah, there are a few issues but they were so minor compared to the whole effect. Wish I had another like it to read. 

Heat Level: 5- frequent, graphic sexual situations

Grade: Loved it!

Review- Daisuki Hildred Billings

by Hildred Billings
Sep. 24, 2012 
Words: 45.8 K

Two Japanese women attempt to balance their relationship with their society's rigid gender roles, polyamorous relations, and the inability to say "I love you."

I got this book for several reasons. I've lived in Japan, use to speak Japanese fluently and I still have a deep love for the country and culture. I've also really craved reading a Japanese lesbian love story, which is very rare. So it was a no-brainer to read this.

Generally I liked the book. However, I had some issues with it that to be honest are more about personal taste than actual technical issues with the book/story itself.

Aiko is a character that I liked a lot and sympathized with. She's simply in love with Reina and in some way subjugates her own desires regularly to be with Reina due to the fact that Reina is the only one she wants.

Reina came across as too callous for me. I didn't like her from the get-go because she acts so indifferent to Aiko and Aiko’s feelings in many ways. And although she goes through something towards the end of the book that causes her to reflect on who she is and what's she's doing, I never did warm up to her and I almost DNF’d the book due to her.

The interesting thing about this relationship is that the story starts after they've been together for 20 years already. Intriguing, but also something that made me logically think about the issues they are going through as a couple. Clearly they are not a new couple. Nor are they young. However, this story read as something a younger, in age and length of time together, couple would go through or how they would act. After 20 years I'd probably expect more maturity and self-knowledge about who they are as a couple and themselves as individuals. But further on that in a bit.

They have a long history of having multiple partners. Sometimes within the relationship and sometimes outside on their own without each other. Reina does this as she pleases, but it seems Aiko goes along with it more to please Reina or as a reaction to Reina doing it. It is clear that they do love each other though. Kind of like that couple that sticks together and people don't get why.

Although it's clear in the extended description of the story that both Aiko and Reina are having conflicts about lack of commitment and I was forewarned, I’m not too fond of the sleeping around within a committed couple story when both parties are not part of the equation. I don’t get being with someone for 20 years while sleeping with all kinds of people outside of the relationship. What’s the point of that relationship then? Who would want to spend 20 years with someone who could take you or leave you for the night?

I’m fine with polyamory relationships and I don’t have issue with them if all parties are committed all to each other. But these two came across more as roommates with benefits and less as a committed couple who actually care about how their individual actions affect the other. The only thing that mitigated that for me, barely, is that they are both in agreement of it.

One of the things that I found curious in a sort of "what the hell?" way, was that Reina starts wondering about her gender identity. It seemed to only come from the fact that people viewed her as masculine looking and that she and Aiko have traditional male/female roles within the relationship as lesbians in a herteronormative world and in a strong patriarchal Japanese culture  instead of it coming from something more internal an inherent to her being.

It bothered me because they’ve lived like that for so long and suddenly gender identity is an issue. And it really only comes to the forefront because of an incident with a man’s judgment of Reina as a woman who looks mannish.

That said, I think it’s an interesting subject to explore. Many of the lesbian “romance” I’ve read has portrayed a butch/femme relationship and none of them have broached the idea of questioning gender identity and exploring that within a relationship.

I see that the author has written several more books with the continuation or more parts to Aiko and Reina’s story. However, it felt like I entered the middle of something that didn’t have enough of a beginning to explain who they are and or an ending that completes it other than they might become a more committed couple. Maybe the next few will go into Reina having a sex change, which might be interesting. But the relationship dynamics represented in this story doesn’t make it appealing for me to read more.

Aside from musings above, I really, really loved the sprinkling of Japanese throughout the book. I suspect many readers who don’t know any Japanese might find it tedious or gloss over it. But it did add to any enjoyment I had reading the book.

I think this book could appeal to a lot of readers due to subject matter. Unfortunately it just didn’t spark enough in me to read more. I would, however try another of this author’s books if it’s not about Reina and Aiko or about lesbians who just fuck around with every other lesbian, which I’m so tired of reading and which seems to be common in lesbian books.

Heat Level: 3 it's touted as an erotic story but I didn't find it too graphic.
Rating: It was OK

Review: Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok by Eleanor Roosevelt, Rodger Streitmatter

Empty Without You:  
The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok

By  Eleanor Roosevelt, Rodger Streitmatter

Oct 4, 2000
Da Capo Press
344 pgs.

 In 1978, more than 3,500 letters written over a thirty-year friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok were discovered by archivists. Although the most explicit letters had been burned (Lorena told Eleanor's daughter, "Your mother wasn't always so very discreet in her letters to me"), the find was still electrifying enough to create controversy about the nature of the women's relationship. Historian Rodger Streitmatter has transcribed and annotated more than 300 of those letters—published here for the first time—and put them within the context of the lives of these two extraordinary women, allowing us to understand the role of this remarkable friendship in Roosevelt's transformation into a crusading First Lady.

I love, loved this book. I’ve always had an admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt just in how she was a strong woman who I’d read did most of FDR’s leg work around the country and that she was somewhat running the country for a while. Reading this book though gave me a much more intimate look at who she was as a woman in both her private and public life.

This book is about Eleanor’s relationship with reporter and writer Lorena Hickok. Until I read this I had no idea that there was any hint that Eleanor might have been bisexual or even how progressive she was about sexuality, gender roles and the rights of just about anyone outside of the default white privileged male.

But for the purposes of this review I will stick with her love story with Lorena, which this book focused on. What I liked about this book is that it’s basically a collection of letters that were written between Eleanor and Lorena that span a 30 year time. So it’s an actual firsthand account by both parties involved, which is far more interesting than a biographer who might spin things with his or her own slant based on second hand accounts.

First I’d like to say that I thought the author did a great job of not interpreting or reading too much into the meaning behind certain “erotic” statements in many of the letters. He writes some background on both women, but the book is mostly the letters. He also gave some background information preceding many of the letters to give the reader a better idea of events that preceded things mentioned in the letters.  

I found the letters fascinating. If you Google Eleanor and Lorena’s love story there are many sites that have all the “juicer” quotes from the letters. I found them to be not as racy as many would suggest, but still very intimate and highly suggestive of a romantic/ physical relationship. Most of the more interesting letters were from the first few years of their relationship. They wrote very often after those years, but those letters from the earlier years contained a lot of expression of passion for each other.

Most of them are from Eleanor to Lorena although later years the letters are more from Lorena.  After FDR died, Eleanor hired Lorena to archive a lot of the correspondence and Lorena finding those letters between her and Eleanor decided to burn many of them. So we’ll never know the extent of their love story, if it was more or not.

While many suggest they had a full on romantic/sexual relationship based on those letters, others have said that the way Eleanor expressed herself was a reflection of the time she was brought up in and not suggestive of a romantic relationship at all.

I would say that other things that happened or were expressed showed more about how their relationship was more than just a friendship. Lorena expressed a lot of jealousy about the lack of time that Eleanor could share with her, especially when she and Eleanor arranged going off together by themselves away from everyone for holidays but then would have that interrupted by people recognizing Eleanor and wanting attention, or Eleanor herself including others unintentionally. 

They spoke, or Eleanor did, of sharing a house together one day and Eleanor even fantasized about what type of furniture they’d have and how they would read together in bed at night.

Eleanor constantly told Lorena she loved her in a more intimate way then one would say I love you to a friend, and expressed despondence if she had not received a letter from or heard from Lorena by phone for more than a couple of hours or a day, which tells me maybe something more than a normal friendship.

Also they discussed several times, particularly Lorena, being worried about the talk about their relationship. Eleanor seemed less concerned. But she did refrain from telling Lorena she loved her when talking on the phone because some family were present, suggesting that to do so would have shown the extent of her love of Lorena and that it was of a nature that others would find unacceptable.

Some of the letters do show that they were physical on some level. Whether it was more than some kissing or cuddling that was actually mentioned, it’s hard to say. Lorena was a lesbian. So it’s not a stretch that due to the women being so close that they wrote pages and pages of letters to each other daily expressing constant love for each other and desire to be together that Lorena might have seduced Eleanor and that Eleanor might have reciprocated.

Another thing that suggested they were more than just friends is how deeply both felt pain at not being able to be what the other needed or wanted. Particularly Eleanor often expressed sadness that she caused Lorena pain.

What I learned from these letters is that Eleanor was an extremely progressive and liberal minded woman, especially for her time. She was very close friends with two lesbian couples and spent a lot of time with them. So she wasn’t closed off to the idea of lesbian relationships.

Later on in their lives, as Eleanor’s duties as first lady took up most of her time and she became more public property as it were, their letters became less passionate and more about just love and support for each other. It’s clear that Eleanor felt responsible for Lorena and helped her to get jobs and even sent her money often to help her out. Lorena was not in the best of health and it was hard for her to make enough money to live on. And even though years after they met Lorena had an affair with a female judge, she always wrote to Eleanor that Eleanor was the one she loved the most.

Until the end they expressed their love for each other even if not as passionate as those first couple of years.

All around this was an amazing book. It’s just fascinating to think that a First Lady would have had as colorful a personal life while being First Lady and under the public eye and during a time period that were such relationships were more taboo. 

It was also a really sad book for me to read. It’s a kind of bittersweet love story because you know how it went and ended and I wonder if they would have had their love story if both were not in the public eye or lived under different conditions.

Rating: LOVED!