Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review- Follow the Sun by Sophia Rhodes

Follow the Sun\
By Sophia Rhodes
Dec 27, 2011
Lesbian/Era Historical 1950’s/Erotic romance
241 pgs
Pub: Incognito Press

Los Angeles, 1957.

Dragged by her mother to California, seventeen-year old Diana Morris is miserable and would give anything to be back on the East Coast. She hates Elvis, thinks poodle skirts are overrated, and couldn’t jitterbug her way out of a paper bag.

All this changes when she lays eyes on Rosario Vargas, a young Chicano farm laborer who dresses like a man and sings rock’n’roll in a lesbian nightclub. The proud owner of a cherry-red Studebaker truck, Rosario is tough, stubborn, and isn’t going to let anybody get in the way of her dreams.

Can Diana overcome her fears and let Rosario know her secret before it’s too late? Can she leave behind everything she’s ever known and fight for the love of a woman who shows no interest in reciprocating her feelings?

Find out the answer in this scorching tale of love, courage and transformation that sweeps from the foothills of Southern California’s San Fernando Valley to the sultry cabarets of New York City’s sizzling underground scene.

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language and female/female sexual practices.

This is going to be a hard review to write. I have so many mixed feelings about this book from many angles. Also, there’s going to probably be lots of spoilers, so fair warning. 

My overall impression after reading this book is that what failed for me was inconsistent characterization of Diana, the constant use of extreme bigotry as conflict and detraction from the love story, and that it lacked a specific direction for me. Ultimately it’s a romance, but most of the focus is on Diana, who she is and her growth; it’s told in first person from Diana’s POV. But it’s also about the social issues pertaining to homosexuals and Mexican Americans at the time and goes off on what seemed like unnecessary tangents at times. Unfortunately, due to this I wasn’t feeling any emotional heat between Diana and Rosario for most of the story.

The beginning of this story is good. It grabbed me and I got interested in both Diana and Rosario as characters and felt intrigued by where the story would go, but it slowly went downhill from there. 

Rosario is both a Chicano and a butch lesbian so she’s fairly guarded due to the fact that on both counts she can attract lots of unwanted negative energy just for existing. She’s strong, mature, realistic about life, and is proud of her heritage and the nomadic, hardworking way of life that her people live.
Diana is young, idealistic, naïve, and her immaturity is what causes her the most problems. I could forgive some really TSTL things she does because she’s only 17, however, after hanging out with Rosario for a while and hearing of Rosario’s struggles as both a Chicano and lesbian, and having an inner dialogue in which she gets her privilege compared to Rosario’s, what she does is too stupid for me to get past. 

*********************  SPOILER  *********************

Diana moves in with Rosario and her grandmother after running away due to a severe beating. After a while, Diana decides to call her “mommy dearest” (her mother makes Joan Crawford look like a saint) and basically tells her everything, including where she is and who she’s with, not thinking how dangerous that is. She knew how extremely bigoted and racist her mother and step-father are and how they had seen Rosario and dissed on her ethnicity and looks forbidding her to see her again in the past. Also, she had been treated so badly by her mother and step-father for disobeying them. What happens after she calls them is horrific on many levels. I just didn’t get why she’d do that after knowing and experiencing all she had until at point.
*******************  END SPOILER ********************

The romance: How it came across to me, and YMMV, is that there wasn’t enough build-up or time with the two women getting to know each other. They meet and move in together within days mainly due to the fact that Diana has run away and has nowhere to go. It felt more like friends with benefits. While the sex scenes between them are fairly intense, I didn’t feel the emotional passion or heat that was portrayed at the end of book between them before their big separation. And I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe because this was more about Diana, her life and relationship with her mother and father, and less about her life with Rosario in the first half of the book.
WTF issues. Several times during the reading of this book I had “what?!” moments. I have to do these under spoilers. Don’t read if you don’t want to know. 
******************  SPOILERS  *********************

1. Diana is so pouty and not forthcoming with Rosario about things, which I felt was done mainly to ratchet up some conflict. It was more frustrating due to causing unnecessary conflict. Especially the end when Diana, after going through a horrific event that kept her separated from Rosario for months, sees her for the first time and refuses to talk about it. Instead, she accuses Rosario of having fucked other women while separated. What?!

2. Extreme homophobia. OK, yes, this kind of thing actually happened back in the 1950’s when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder subject to horrific therapies at that time. But Diana’s mother and step father being cast as one dimensional villains who do incredibly nasty things to her over and over went way over the top I felt. And ultimately, Diana doesn’t learn much from it. She still stays idealistic and naïve about being an out lesbian and the real dangers of it, swearing to fight for future generations of lesbians’ rights even if it might bring on violence to her and Rosario. 

3. A magical Native American shows up to teach her something important about life out of nowhere. Diana is taking a bus cross country to see Rosario and is musing to herself how she hopes she’s not sitting next to a talker or weirdo, creepy dude. Who shows up is weirdo creepy dude who talks too much. But wait, on closer inspection, he’s really a wise, old Native American dressed in stereotypical Native American regalia who is passing on a message about life that she needs to hear. He’s there just for her.

I will interject here that part of my issue with Diana’s characterization is inconsistency. Sometimes she really acts TSTL not learning from experience, and other times she’s off on lofty philosophical and poetic inner musings about life that make her seem wiser than her years and how she acts. 

So here she meets, by cosmic design apparently, the man she is supposed to meet at that time in her life to teach her a lesson.Here’s what got me, this lesson is about her relationship with her father. There was not much about her father until that point other than he came across as weak-willed and absent really,  willing to let her go with her mother and trying to convince her it’s better she’s with her mom. She really didn’t have a bad relationship with her dad, just he didn’t push to keep her and she couldn’t understand why. So this life lesson about making amends with her father before it’s too late felt from left field all the sudden.

5.  Her father and what happens when she goes to meet him. Wow really? Maybe the author gave her a hellish life to balance the privilege, whereas non-privileged Rosario has family acceptance, love, and they totally support her.

*******************  END SPOILER ****************

This book wasn’t completely a negative experience or I wouldn’t have kept reading. The author gets the time period correct. Cultural references and attitudes from the 1950’s felt authentic. And I liked Rosario as a character and that she is accepted in her community for who she is. Like it’s a common thing to be a lesbian.

The ending is what eventually saved this book for me in my mind. After all the ups and downs and crazy stuff that happens to Diana, and her almost effing it up with Rosario, things are set right and it’s left on a positive note. I just wish that there was more about Rosario and Diana and their connection throughout the whole book.

Heat level: 4- a few, graphically written scenes, strap-on use.

Grade: It was OK

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review- After the Night by Rachel Dax

After The Night
By Rachel Dax
Sept. 11, 2010
Lesbian/Period Historical 1960’s/Romance
Pgs 251
Publisher- Self?

After The Night' is a lesbian love story set in a British Prison in 1960. When young nurse, Leah Webster, starts work in a prison hospital, little does she know that her entire world will be turned upside down by falling in love with a female officer Jean MacFarlane. But the course of lesbian love does not always run smoothly and together they have to fight homophobia both within and without the prison walls

What an excellent read this was! I couldn’t put this book down. This book was another pleasant surprise for me. Reading the blurb I wasn’t too sure about a story set in a prison because I couldn’t imagine it as a romantic setting. But I started reading it and got immediately immersed into these characters’ lives, including the secondary characters. The author managed to use the context of prison life for both prisoners and employees in a far more interesting way than I could have imagined.

Firstly, I have a penchant for the cool on the outside, passionate on the inside character. Right away Jean, a guard at the prison, is rather cool and distant to Leah, a new nurse in the prison whom she’s taking around to meet everyone on Leah’s first day at work. That immediately got me going because it already made me curious about her as a character. Leah also notices this and is put off, setting up the initial emotional tension between the women since they have to work together.

Quickly though, Leah sees that both employees and prisoners have a lot of love and respect for Jean. Curious about the contradictions in her personality at times, Leah starts looking at Jean in a different light.

During the course of interacting and Leah watching how Jean acts with the prisoners, Leah finds herself uncomfortably and shockingly falling in love with her. Shocking because she’s engaged to be married and well, lesbians are perverted and disgusting, and it can’t be possible!

What I loved most about this story is how the author captured the realness of what the characters are feeling. How the characters react to what they’re feeling is vividly nuanced and expressed. Leah becomes shy and unable to look directly at Jean once she’s realized that her feelings for Jean are more than just as a coworker and friend and I acutely felt  her discomfort mixed with inner excitement at falling in love.

While not getting right away what Leah feels mainly due to being wrapped up in work issues and still carrying pain and regret of a past event that keeps her emotionally locked up, Jean does notice that Leah yields and melts into her when they hug, making her feel rather shy and uncomfortable as well. She’s already  somewhat at ease with the fact that she might be a lesbian, but she’s still rather reserved due to several reasons, partly her own personal emotional state, and partly the anti-lesbian atmosphere going on in the prison. The constant subtle little signals between both women ratcheted up the tension because both are not sure about the other and they cannot openly flirt.  

The build up to both expressing what they feel and the pacing of it was perfectly executed, I felt. I was aching for them to finally get together. And by the way, for those who are wondering, there are a few sex scenes. Not written graphically, but which felt highly erotic due to the emotional and sexual heat reaching breaking point before they can finally express their love for each other in a physical way.

While this story is largely a romance, there’s an overall arc of all the characters, including the well-defined secondary characters, dealing with homophobia for that time period. Jean has no family, but Leah does and she has to deal with painful consequences of being in love with a woman. Homophobia also affected all the women in the prison, those who were accused of being perverted as well as the accusers and the actions they take against those women.  

Kudos to the author though because it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Leah and Jean, as well as the prisoners accused of having homosexual affairs, true or not, have many non-bigoted allies on their side who keep working to help them out and fight any retribution or negative actions against them. Jean and Leah also get support so they can just be together as a couple.

The one thing that I would say negatively about this book is that in a lot of places the characters get melodramatic and emotionally sticky. At first I was a bit eye rolly at it, but then I realized that in a lot of ways that’s how people from that time period talked or have been portrayed in books and movies from that time. Also, this is just an extremely passionate story: the romance, the characters, the social issues, all of it. So a little melodrama was not a distracter really.  

If you’re looking for a well written, impassioned and warm love story this is it. Also, the ending includes something I rarely read in a lesbian love stories. I won’t say yay or nay to it because it’s a matter of personal preference. But in this case, with these two women, it worked for me.

Heat level: 2-3 Few sex scenes not graphically written

Grade: Loved it!!!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review- Portrait of a Crossroads by Kelly Rand

Portrait of a Crossroads
By Kelly Rand
May 20, 2013
Contemporary/Lesbian/ sort of but not really erotica
40 pgs
Riptide Publishing

Since finding her father’s body at the bottom of the basement stairs, Annette’s been drifting through her days, watching cars pass down the rural Ontario crossroads beside her house. Her brothers have no great ambitions, but Annette remembers a time when she did. She just can’t remember what they are.

Then she meets her neighbour, Sadie, a tattooed, world-weary, newly single portrait artist. Something about Sadie awakens something in Annette—the essence she captures in her subjects, perhaps, or the way the old familiar crossroads seem so fresh and promising from the view out Sadie’s window.

Annette begins to help Sadie, cleaning brushes and filing invoices between long lazy afternoons of conversations and shared silences. Soon, though, Annette wants more from her enigmatic neighbor, and their slowly heating friendship melts into passionate nights. Somewhere along the way, Annette discovers that her lover has illuminated for her, as with the people Sadie paints, not just her essence but her own endless worlds of possibilities

I was all over this book when it came out because I loved the writing in Pearl. Like Pearl, the same style and ambience is present in this book. The author manages to get in a lot of details that set the stage for what’s going on with the main characters, but in a Zen-like, sparse way. Even though a contemporary, this story had the feel of being in an earlier time period. Maybe this due to the fact that it takes place outside a small town with not much going on. Or maybe there are a lot of similarities to the setting in Pearl, which was set in the 40’s.

Annette is an 18 year old who has just graduated high school and doesn’t feel much about the fact that it’s over.  She’s was neither popular or exceptional in any way, nor was she an outcast in school. She’s just an average girl with not much going on trying to figure out what to do with her life.  

Next door lives a woman whom Annette has never had contact in all years she’s lived there. Out of curiosity, and or maybe the boredom of just hanging out in her house with not much to do, for no particular reason really, she decides to go over and introduce herself after this woman’s housemate moved out.

Sadie and Annette strike up a friendship and Sadie let’s Annette come over to her house daily to help her clean up her paint brushes and such. Sadie really doesn’t talk too much about herself or her life. She neither hides nor says outright that she’s a lesbian although it’s assumed by Annette that she is. In fact, while they spend whole days together, it seems they don’t really say much to each other, yet they manage to develop a friendship. And that friendship goes to the next step when Annette offers to stay one night.

This story is all about Annette really. She doesn’t seem to be impressed or judgmental of Sadie being a lesbian; it’s just a fact. But their relationship helps her realize that she has been more interested in women even though she’s never consciously defined it internally. She had a boyfriend with whom she had sex, but in her private musings that wasn’t as exciting as the girls she thought more about. So in some ways it’s easy for Annette to just put it out there for Sadie to respond to or not.

What I liked actually was that there wasn’t much fanfare around these two women getting sexual. Even though fairly erotically written, sexually they are almost perfunctory. Sort of like “you want to do it” “OK.” I liked the simplicity of their connection because it seems to be more a step in Annette’s life versus a main event.

For the most part I loved this story, however, I was disappointed with the ending; it was kind of a WTF for me. I’ve read the reviews for this book and no one has had issue with it so maybe it went over my head? Or I wasn’t really into the whole metaphor of the story of Annette living on a crossroads street and being at a crossroads in her life but more into the developing relationship between Annette and Sadie, which was far more interesting.

Still though, I highly recommend this book. I do love the author’s style and voice. She does have a knack for writing short snap shots of characters’ lives with enough detail to suck you in and be turned on by them.

Heat level- 3-4   2 graphically written sex scenes just right for the story length.

Grade: Really liked