Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review- House of Clouds by K.I. Thompson

House of Clouds
By K.I. Thomson
October 2007
Lesbian/ Historical Civil War/Romance
Pgs 384
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
A sweeping saga of an impassioned romance set amidst the upheaval of a nation under siege and a way of life threatened with destruction.
The American Civil War creates enemies of lifelong friends and allies of strangers, but no relationship is more unlikely than that of a passionate Northern Unionist and a loyal Virginia sympathizer. Actress and Northerner Jordan Colfax is hired by Allan Pinkerton to spy on behalf of the Union. When she meets Confederate sympathizer, Laura St. Clair, whose father is military aide to Jefferson Davis, the perfect opportunity presents itself. But when the truth about Jordan's real intentions are discovered, their growing love is put to the ultimate test - the result of which could mean the difference between life and death. Can a Southern belle and a Yankee spy overcome their differences or will divided loyalties keep them apart?

From Tidewater Virginia to Washington, D.C., passion and betrayal converge in Civil War Richmond.

I don’t exactly know where to start in expressing my feelings about this book. I enjoyed much of it and yet there were lots of moments in which I felt conflicted. I think the main problem for me is that this book didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. It wants to be a romance, however, the romance was so drawn out with too many separations, misunderstandings, and focus on external events that it lost its steam many times. It also tries to be a Civil War drama with the author spending a lot of book time on the specifics of the social/political issues of that time. This part suffers due to returning the focus on the romance towards the end, with things left unsaid or not finished.

The romance: the two main protagonists, Jordan and Laura, meet through both their brothers being best friends and classmates at West Point. Right away both Jordan and Laura notice each other, but are initially put off by each other’s opposing viewpoints on the current political situation. Jordan has no qualms about dissing the Southern way of life as far as owing slaves, which of course puts Laura’s back up. Laura feels defensive of her family’s heritage and Southern culture. So while they feel an attraction and want to be around each other, they are leery of getting too close.

Due to a series of events: Jordan working as an actress near Laura’s home, plus the fact that she’s been recruited to spy and gather information to help the Union—urged to get closer to Laura’s family who are in contact with Jefferson Davis-- and Laura getting very sick needing some help, she and Laura end up spending a few weeks together. Of course, while this is going on the attraction between them grows despite differences.

On this point I really liked how the author slowly built up their attraction. Internally, neither women know what to call what they feel; it’s alien to them because it goes beyond what friends should feel. This is done very realistically for the time period I felt.  Unfortunately, just as they reach a point where an acknowledgment that this is something more that each have been afraid to say out loud, they are kept apart for various reasons, only meeting briefly in what are acrimonious moments until the last part of the book when the focus starts in again on the romance.

One thing that stuck in my mind, and I don’t know how women would have really interacted then, is that I felt it strange that no one, not Jordan’s father, nor Laura’s family who hated Jordan, questioned why each of them would go to such lengths and act in questionable ways where the other was involved. They both explain it away all the time as “she’s my friend.” Maybe female friendships were such in those days that it was normal for friends to act in ways that today would cause someone to wonder what’s actually going on between them.

Laura: Out of all the characters in this story Laura has the most growth and she’s the most complex character even though on the surface she doesn’t stand out as strongly as Jordan does. And she, out of all, has the most malleable mindset, learning and changing her viewpoint from events that happen as life goes on. She starts out of course angry, as most of the South, that the North wants to impose its ideology on them. She defends her family’s ownership of slaves saying they treat their slaves well even if she has a niggling suspicion they are not. However, when she learns about and opens her eyes to the truth of many things she’s been conveniently ignoring to keep the status quo, she does change her mindset even if begrudgingly at times.  And she stays steadfastly loyal to Jordan even after being betrayed.

Jordan: Initially Jordan seems to be the stronger, more dynamic character. She’s not shy, expresses her beliefs to anyone and has guts to be an independent woman, not living the typical social norms that women were expected to live. She’s appalled by slavery and can’t understand how Laura can even think it’s OK to own people. Yet her attraction to Laura is such that she’s willing to look beyond that and try to form a close relationship. She risks her life to spy for the Union so she’s initially portrayed as an honorable and upright person.

The issue I had about Jordan is that ultimately she’s not that honorable. She feels bad on some level that she has all these strong feelings for Laura while she’s using Laura and her family’s hospitality to gather info on Confederate activity. But then disses Laura, mistakenly thinking that Laura betrayed her and not believing her when she states otherwise. Finding out that Laura didn’t betray her she then risks her own life, Laura’s life, friends’ lives, and so many people working for the Underground Railroad for what I felt were utterly selfish reasons.

And this is where I talk about the bigger picture. If the author hadn’t spent so much time on the social/political issues of the civil war, maybe what Jordan did wouldn’t have bothered me as much; it would have had a different context. But what was going on during this time period is expressed in intricate detail from many viewpoints through characters’ actions and words: slaves, free black people, leaders, Southern plantation owners, abolitionists, Lincoln, etc. giving a fairly realistic overall view, or so I felt. This increased my investment into what’s going on with the secondary characters as much as the main characters and how Laura and Jordan’s actions affected and are affected by them. They don’t live in a bubble.

Since the author didn't spare anything on how slaves were actually treated, it showed that even though Jordan is progressive in her thinking and therefore “good” vs the "evil" South, her privilege in doing what she did was glaringly clear comparatively, adding to my discomfort about her.

I’m not saying this was a completely problematic book. I enjoyed it overall. It’s a long book and the fact that I read it in a fairly short amount of time for me- slowest reader ever-- says a lot. It is engaging, the storytelling well done, and I liked that the author included many interesting characters as well as some action and history. However, as a romance it suffered. And the ending was very weird. What happened? We only get Laura’s perspective from the prologue, and it’s all about her and visiting her family home 10 years after she set up life in the north. There’s nothing about her and Jordan, or what happened to pretty much everyone else in the book that got a lot of book time.

Heat level: 2- one sex scene, not graphically written

Grade: Liked it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review- From the Boots Up by Andi Marquette

From the Boots Up

By Andi Marquette

March 8, 2013

Contemporary, Lesbian romance

35 K  words

110 pgs

Publisher: self /Kindle
 Meg Tallmadge has more than enough on her plate. She’s finishing up a college degree, getting ready to apply to vet school, and working another summer with her dad, Stan, on the family ranch in southern Wyoming. He’s managed to get the Los Angeles Times to send a reporter out to do a story on the Diamond Rock, which doubles as a dude ranch. Meg knows the ranch needs all the publicity it can get to bring in more customers, but she’s not looking forward to babysitting a reporter for a week. When the originally scheduled reporter can’t make it, Meg worries that they won’t get a story at all, which is worse than dealing with a city slicker for a few days. Fortunately for Stan and the ranch, the Times finds a replacement, and Meg prepares to be under scrutiny, under the gun, and the perfect hostess. She knows what this opportunity means to her father, and she’s hoping that if it goes well, it’ll ease some of the distance between them that resulted when she came out a few months earlier.What Meg’s not prepared for — and never expected — is the reporter herself and the effect she has on her. In spite of what she feels, Meg can’t risk the fallout that could result from overstepping a professional boundary. But as the week draws to a close, it becomes clear that not taking a chance could be the biggest risk of all.

I’ve only read one other of Andi Marquette’s books, Some Kind of River, and I really liked it. From the Boots Up also is a cute, warm and fuzzy feel good love story. While it’s not a deep book, the author still managed to convey quite a bit about both protagonists.

You know all those feelings and fears, butterflies in your stomach, racing thoughts about words and actions that could be taken in different ways, and all that awkwardness that happens when you have an attraction to someone but are not sure about what’s going on with them? Well that’s what Andi Marquette captured extremely well in this story.

Meg is a down to earth, funny, easy going kind of girl. She loves her life as a cowgirl in Wyoming working with her father and helping out with guests at their dude ranch. She’s young but has had a few heartbreaks so she’s kind of freaked at her instantaneous and intense attraction to a reporter who’s come to do a story on their ranch.

This story is mainly told from Meg’s POV, so all that internal angsting is about her attraction to Gina. There really isn’t much conflict going on except in Megs head and heart. But that was enough to keep me interested as the story progressed. Andi Marquette does have an amusing way with words and there were some pretty funny lines and character banter.

We don’t get to know too much about what Gina feels until the end. But I liked her light, flirty, but slightly mischievous way. She plays just enough with Meg to keep the communication lines open and be provocative without actually letting on how she feels. The main thing keeping them separated is that from both sides, professionally, they can’t fraternize in a more personal way.

There’s no big surprise here. From the get-go you know what’s going to happen. And it’s a short book. But I liked Meg and Gina’s little dance, the secondary characters, and the setting. So it was a gratifyingly light, fun read for me.

I’d say if you’re looking for a meaty love story, this is probably not going to satisfy. But for me, after coming off of a more weighty and lengthy book, this was a perfect quick little story. Two people meet, they find out fairly quickly they’re both attracted and go for it. Very satisfying!

Heat level: 3- two semi graphically written sex scenes.

Grade: Really Liked

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review- Mitchie by Catherine Blackfeather

By Catherine Blackfeather

May 22, 2013

Lesbian/ Historical 1860’s

218 pgs

Pub: Self

Fear sends a young girl fleeing her home in Canada's interior disguised as a boy. She comes to live among men, finding her way to a new town in the West, where she finds a place for herself. This new life is threatened, as her old life comes in pursuit. Her journey, both physical and emotional, brings her to a deep self-realization of who she really is, how she truly feels about life, love, and the importance of living honestly.

I was rather excited to read this book. The trope of a woman dressing and acting as a man is a favorite of mine. I also liked the idea the story taking place in a brothel. I felt it could be a really interesting story. Unfortunately, there were several issues that kept this book from popping for me.  

I loved the beginning. Mitchie was left with a man who took her and her mom in and has been sexually abusing her since her mom passed away. In a moment of luck, she takes advantage of some boy’s clothes falling off a donation cart in town and decides this is her chance to run away and start a new life. Pretending to be a boy is a perfect guise for her. Mitchie has guts and I felt she’s going to be an interesting character.

She makes her way by doing laborer jobs that stray boys are doing all over, and manages to keep to herself so she’s not found out. Slowly she makes her way across Canada and ends up outside a brothel in a new town. Seeing a girl having a hard time chopping wood Mitchie offers help and the owner of the brothel lets her stay on. Mitchie settles in and starts working with Maisie, the brothel housekeeper/cook/odd job girl. Slowly the boss and girls accept her and her life is going well. Not soon after Mitchie arrives, Maisie seduces her when she accidentally walks in on Mitchie bathing and see’s she’s a girl. Maisie is into girls and has asked the working girls who’ve denied her.

This is the point where things kind of went off track for me. The issue for me was the abrupt manner in which it happened and how easily Mitchie, who is still very young and naïve about a lot of things, goes along with it without having any hesitancies. Also, Maisie’s approach is rather nonchalant and not particularly about Mitchie but that Mitchie was another girl to try and hit on.  Don’t get me wrong, the sex was written fairly hotly and Maisie and her have a friendship due to working together. However, it felt slightly predatory on Maisie’s part and like it was just plopped in at that point without any kind of build-up to it. From that moment on they are inseparable and in love, which again felt off due a lack of a deep emotional connection.

The next issue I had with this story is that for a good part of it it’s mostly tell and not show. The author didn’t really get into the head of any of the characters in any depth, so I didn’t get too invested in them. Even now as I write this I have no idea who Mitchie is and she’s what this story is all about. I’m not saying this is a boring story, no, I kept reading and enjoyed it to some degree. But I think there was so much potential to really get where the characters were coming from in a more intimate way if the show part wasn’t in the sex only.

The story also took a few turns that also lead to a disconnect in its cohesiveness I felt. Instead  of really developing the characters and relationships, random events and injustices were used to keep up any reader engagement or connection. For instance,


Maisie isn’t Mitchie’s lover for the whole story. And the second person that steps into Mitchie’s life as a lover, again, sort of abruptly starts it and there’s no feeling about where’s she’s coming from. I mean she’s known Mitchie for a few months and there were really no interactions between them until Mitchie gets seduced by her.

End Spoiler

Maybe the reason this book didn’t work for me is because this is the second book I’ve read recently that used social injustice and or religious morality to drive the story and not the characters. I have read a lot of books recently in which social issues an attitudes pertaining to homosexuality are a huge part of the book. However, they were used as something that added depth to the characters, who they are, and not in place of, so I know it can be done.

I would say the best part of this book is Beryl, one of the prostitutes in the brothel. Beryl is a smart and interesting character for her time. I liked that she’s really OK with the fact that she prefers women and is able to keep the sex she has with men for money as a business transaction in her mind. She’s not that stereotype of the messed up whore, but that of a woman who has made choices that work for her and she’s OK with for the moment.

And the preacher’s wife was in some ways a very sympathetic character. Out of all the characters she’s the only one I felt had the potential for growth. She had a nice mix of having a heart that tried not to judge with her Christian morals-- she did---but she’s not malicious in her religious mind as the preacher is. She’s conflicted in many ways between her religious stance and reality. She’s the only character my mind latched onto with any curiosity to know more about and wonder if or how she will change.

How the book ended was also as abrupt as the sex being plopped in out of nowhere. There was no real feeling of retribution or closure on any level, which was bothersome as the whole story is mainly about injustice perpetrated on Mitchie. So that left me frustrated and feeling the story was incomplete.

I think, all in all, that if the author had gotten into the character’s heads more I would have loved this book. Maybe next time.

Heat Level: 4 several graphically written sex scenes. Fisting, FISTING?, which seemed really out of place for  this story and innocent little Mitchie as a character.

Grade: It was OK

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review- Ghost Trio by Lillian Q. Irwin

Ghost Trio 
By Lillian Q. Irwin  
April 16, 2013

Contemporary Gothic/ Lesbian/ Interracial/ mystery
264 pgs
Pub: Bold Strokes Books

Lee Howe, a professional pianist, comes to Southern California from New York on a mournful mission: She believes that if she can see the site where her beloved Devorah met her death, she will begin to accept that she must move on with her own life. Devorah Manikian had been rehearsing for a starring role in Carmen and was living in Eggerscliffe, a 1920s-style pseudo-castle belonging to wealthy and eccentric impresario, Annajean Eggers. Devorah was gone only a few weeks before Lee was notified that she was dead—killed in a tower fire at Eggerscliffe. But as Lee stands alone on a deserted patch of beach just below the castle, she hears Devorah singing. Is it the cocktail of tranquilizers, sleeping pills, anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety drugs Lee has been taking since the announcement of Devorah’s death that makes her hallucinate her beloved’s voice—or is Devorah being kept a prisoner somewhere in Eggerscliffe?

Wow, I really enjoyed this book. There are so many elements to it that intrigued me and satisfied my love of a good mystery. There’s also a romantic angle although it’s not a romance in the traditional sense.  

It’s definitely gothic in feel even though a contemporary. In fact, one of the pleasures about reading this book was not being too sure what time period this is set in. My mind kept latching on to contradictions : mentions of modern technology vs mentions of 1930’s Marlene Dietrich and clothing styles, places. Even the way the characters spoke, language used without modern colloquialisms, made me question the time period. Maybe it was also because this story is set in the timeless world of classical music and musicians, which has a cultured elegance of its own. It was like a mystery within a mystery.

Lee is the main character and it’s her passionate nature that drives this story. This book starts out with Lee going to San Diego where Devorah, her partner of 15 years has died, trying to get some closure.  Maybe being in the physical place will help her. At the bottom of the cliff below the castle where Devorah has died, she hears her lover singing a favorite piece that they considered personal to them as a couple and this starts her on the path of insisting that Devorah must be alive. She’s so internally passionate about it that she’s willing to risk her friends thinking she’s crazy, even thinking she’s crazy herself at times, never being sure if it’s true.

What I liked about Lee is that she’s so determined. Her love of Devorah after all those years together is still so intense that she will do anything, even risking some possible danger to herself from Annajean, whom she thinks has Devorah locked up somewhere in her home. Her intensity is such that because it’s unknown if Devaroh is actually alive or not I wondered if really she is the one losing it.

Annajean is clearly odd and a character that I wish the authors had given more depth to. She’s the catalyst for all that is going on and yet there’s not much about her background or what makes her tick. This is the only negative thing I can say about this book. I was craving to know more about her. The authors do give her a history, which sheds some light, but it’s vague at the very most and I think she is such a delicious character that I felt she warranted more depth. She’s also the main essence of this story being a classic gothic story.

Since Devorah is also a huge part of the story but is not present, I thought the authors did a great job with flashbacks to give the reader a good feel for who Devorah is as well. Soon after Lee hears Devorah, there’s a flashback to Lee and Devorah’s life together, who they are as people and how it came about that Devorah left Lee to pursue a last chance at fulfilling a dream. We get to see how vulnerable Devorah is to a predator assuring her of fame, which shows Devorah to be more passionate and maybe a bit selfish about her career than Lee is, who is satisfied with where she’s at. But it also shows how much Lee loves Devorah in that she’s willing to let her go to explore and have her dreams.  There are also flashbacks later on in the book in that goes more into depth, which I appreciated.

The pacing of this story is just right. There was just enough tension and slow reveals that kept me turning the pages. The authors also went into territory that would normally bother me, but which didn’t. 

While Lee is so sure that Devorah is still alive and desperate to save her, to the point of disregarding all common sense, she has an affair with an old classmate from Julliard who shows up at Annajean’s memorial concert for Devaroh. What Lee has felt for Devorah, that intense love that she’s her soul mate and her life, is what Lily confesses she’s felt for Lee all these years.

What I loved about this part of the story was how human it was written. For most people, even the hint of infidelity is a put off to read. However, in this instance, and between Lily and Lee, it was something that happened and was a beautiful experience for both of them. It wasn’t thrown in there for tension or angst or to add some sexual content. Nor was it excused by the characters as something that happened out of emotional pain Lee was feeling. It’s really about two people who connect just because they have a connection despite external circumstances. It’s an experience that has Lee questioning how things might pan out if they find Devaroh alive, and also if Lily will respond to Han, her former partner, trying to win her back. It also causes Lee to contemplate issues that both she and Devaroh have ignored over the years and sort of gives her a fresh new and realistic outlook on her relationship with her if it will continue.  

Some of the lighter moments and times when this felt more contemporary came through the secondary characters. Lily’s brother Tom is the type up for anything, and Lee’s friends who try to support Lee in her quest to save Devorah, are more down to earth, keeping Lee from going off the deep end. They added quite a lot to the story.

This is just a good book all around. I liked everything about it. Would definitely read more by these authors.

Heat Level: 2-  several sensually- not graphically- written sex scenes.

Grade: Loved it!  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review- His and Hers and Hers by Nona Raines

His and Hers and Hers
By Nona Raines
Nov 20, 2102
Contemporary/ Erotica/f-f-m/ romance/ménage/polyamore
38K words
Pub: Loose Id

Kyla Denster and Jordan Brougham are passionately in love. Kyla knows she's lucky to have a guy who uses all his tricks to keep her happy in and out of bed. Jordan knows he's lucky to have such a hot, adventurous girlfriend.
But neither of them knows that their best friend, Cassie DeSantis, wants them both. Cassie's painful past has taught her not to wear her heart on her sleeve. She keeps quiet, afraid that revealing her feelings would mean losing the two people she cares for most. Things change one night when an impulsive kiss leads to the three of them spending an incredibly hot night together.

When the couple wants more of Cassie, she leaps at the chance to be with them. But problems arise at her insistence that no one mention the L word and when Jordan and Kyla clash over how to deal with disapproving family. Their triad relationship will only survive if they all stand together to prove that three is the perfect number—when all three are in love.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read an f/f/m romance/erotica. They aren’t that common, although there are lots more than when I first started reading them. So when some twitter friends linked it I thought it would be fun to read it.

Generally, I would say this is a decent read. However, it didn’t really spark anything in me that made it stand out; I’ve read better and worse. The issue for me in this story is what I’d say are poorly written sex scenes and a sense that while the characters get a happy ending, I wasn’t feeling it as deeply as I think I should have for an HEA/HFN.

Actually, if I start breaking it down, there are many things. One is that I felt there was a lot of tell instead of show in what’s going on with both Cassie and Kyla as far as being attracted to women goes. In the beginning, we get glimpses into Cassie noticing things about Kyla from a sexual standpoint, but not from Kyla’s. They have been friends for a long time already and this hasn’t come up before? Kyla seems to be open to the idea of being with Cassie only as an afterthought from her and Jordan talking about some sexual fantasies, not because she already had an inherent sexual attraction to Cassie on her own. Or that wasn’t really expressed. Maybe if there was more about Cassie being attracted to Kyla all that time and vice versa, it would have come off as more believable to me.

Also, even though they’ve been good friends for a long time, Kyla, unlike Jordan, seems so out of touch with who Cassie is, setting her up on a date with a total loser and not even once picking up the signals that Cassie is bored out of her skull with this guy. Whereas Jordan is just jealous and gets right away what a douche that guy is.

Then there was Kyla’s easily getting it on with Cassie as if they were doing that all along, which came across more as “whatever, I’m game” and  not, “I totally want you.” At some point though, it almost seems like she and Cassie become more connected than Kyla is to Jordan due to Jordan being a dick. But at the same time we are constantly reminded of the fact that Jordan is the love of Kyla’s life and she would do nothing to jeopardize her relationship with him. That puts Cassie on the outside because right there in the interim of them coming together, one person is more important if push comes to shove.

I didn’t like Jordan. He’s cowers to his family who get on his case for being the only blue collar, unmarried kid. He doesn’t really stand up for Kyla even though clearly his parents don’t like her and never have. Forget about that he hides their threesome as well. And I felt he was a bit sleazy by the way the sex scenes were written.  

For instance, in some scenes he almost seems to ignore Kyla as he gets it on with Cassie. It felt like Kyla was excluded although not specifically written as such. I didn’t get that she wasn’t bothered on some level. It would be a normal reaction even if she was into the three of them being together.  Here they have a really tight relationship and she agrees to bring Cassie into it but Jordan seems to be more about “oh yeah who wouldn’t want two women” even though the author tries hard to make them all inclusive. I don’t know, he rubbed me the wrong way.

The relationship issues. I would think that a solid couple bringing in third person would create some issues no matter how close they all are. However, the issues these three face are all about Jordan’s family and their influence on him and ultimately Kyla and Cassie as well. Only Cassie has some issues because she is coming into a solid relationship and there is some fear of being a third wheel. Therefore, even though they all end up together, I didn’t feel them to be a gelled unit since there wasn’t much about them together other than having sex and having been friends all along.

The best part of this book was the transient character Walter whom Cassie helps often. I got more of a feel for him than the others and wanted to know where that went. There was also a lot more warmth and emotion injected into those interactions between Cassie and Walter than what I felt for Cassie, Jordan and Kyla’s interactions.

Still though, I would recommend this book only because it is the rare HFN f/f/m ménage and it did have lighter, fun moments to it that kept me reading. And some of the sex, even if kind of funky, was pretty hot.

Heat Level: 4-5- fairly graphically written f/f/m sex scenes.

Grade: It was OK