Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blog Name Change

As you can see, if you've been following my blog for a while, I've changed the name. 

I been wanting to change the name for some time now as what I read and review has changed over the years and I wanted a name that more accurately reflects that. 

When we first started this blog, we more wanted to give a voice to bi and curious women, which is where we were at that time. So what we reviewed or talked about was geared more towards what we wanted to read and that type of reader. 

Author Kirsten Saell with whom I started the blog, has moved on to other pastures and it's been mainly me reviewing and keeping the blog going, even if only posting here and there. 

Over the years, my tastes, opinions, feelings, and how I identify have changed and I'm now, and have been for a long time, reading more lesbian romance with a smattering of f/f/m or bi oriented stories.

I still wanted to keep the title inclusive of bi readers as I still enjoy reading a f/f/m, but felt Loving Venus Loving Mars was more indicative of strictly bi oriented content, which this blog is not right now.

I haven't changed the web address, even though I hate bicurious...blogspot.. at this point, because I know there are many links to this blog and some reviews as well as all the links I did to my sister review index blog, which is an index of all the books so people could get to reviews quicker. (sorry it's currently not up to date, but I'll get to it.) So that will stay the same. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gay Romance Meet Up in Seattle 2014- Recap

So, last weekend I attended the Gay Romance NW meet up in Seattle. I know they had this event last year for the first time, but to be honest, “Gay” romance suggested to me that it was more for authors and readers of m/m, which I no longer read. So I basically ignored it even though I’ve really enjoyed the books of some of the authors of m/m that live in the area and attended last year. Since I pretty much only read f/f/m and lesbian, I didn’t see the point to go last year.

This year I saw that Len Barot/ Radclyffe/ L.L. Raand, president of Bold Strokes Books and an author herself, was attending and I felt that that might be a good sign that there would be more authors and readers of lesbian attending, making it more interesting to me.

I really didn’t know what to expect, but I had a good time and felt that all the authors, publishers and coordinators of this event did an amazing job and offered a lot of interesting panels and discussion. I resonated with a lot of the issues brought up.

Anything I say below is paraphrasing what I heard people say, not necessarily what they actually said or meant. Also not including everything they talked about but more or less what I found interesting, or more to the point, remembered.

Also, just for edification, I was tweeting during the event and my phone went dead a few times so I charged in my car between panels and missed some parts of them. So if I don’t mention something, I probably wasn’t there for that part.

1st up was Tracy Timmons-Gray –the event coordinator.

She talked about the event and how it came about and what they are doing in the community. She also spoke about the hardship of finding LGBT romance books on Amazon and her experience with Amazon’s algorithm of suggesting material based on 1 purchase. For instance, she had bought many LGBT books but the one time she bought a m/f, Amazon suggested tons of m/f without remembering all the LGBT books.

She actually wrote to Jeff Bezos and her asking about it did change things. Still a work in progress, she said that readers and writers can make a difference by asking for what they want. Asking in libraries and non-profits as well can keep exposure and ease of getting LGBT books in mainstream markets. I found her talk passionate, informative and she was very amusing.

Next was Key Note: Write with Pride-

This was interesting because the authors on this panel wrote a letter from past to current or future self and many were very touching and beautiful. Many included their struggles to come to this point of being who they are now. I thought it an interesting thing to do.

Next up was Writing the Rainbow-Exploring Queer Romance Writing

I appreciate that there were 2 authors of lesbian on that panel and not all m/m.

Several topics came up that were very interesting. They talked about addressing, or not, homophobia in their books. Author Jove Belle mentioned something interesting that she doesn’t often include it because it’s not her personal experience. Others stated they do include it but don’t like to make it the main conflict or focus too much on it.

They were asked the hardest part of writing romance and sex. Many agreed or stated that trying to remember all those amazing, tingling feelings one has when falling in love are hard to bring up when most of them have been in long term relationships and love at that point is all about the day to day stuff.

After a discussion about what was hardest for each to write, talk segued into reviews.  Each gave an interesting and sometimes wrenching story of writing a book just after or during a trying time like death or long illness of a loved one and how reading a review that doesn’t fit their experience of writing the book can be hard.

On the whole, the authors on the panel were very amusing and joked a lot and spoke honestly and from the heart and it was a good panel for me to attend.

Next: Printed Love: A Discussion with  LGBTQ Publishers: 

Represented was: Len Barot (Bold Strokes Books), Laura Baumbach (MLR Press), Megan Derr (Less than Three Press), Tina Haveman (eXtasy Books) and Anne Regan (Dreamspinner Press/Harmony Ink Press)

Most of them talked about marketing, submitting, what they publish, etc. Everyone resounded, “if you want to read it, write it, and then buy it.” While they do want to publish a variety of genres and such, they are a business and have to accept submissions of stories that will sell.

Outside of Len Barot, all said they were not getting very many submissions in other genres than m/m.

I’m going to side eye that, but keep that long and tiring discussion for another time.

I admire that Len Barot just came out and said that she didn’t think straight women liked to read lesbian, but that straight women were the main audience for m/m, which has been a contentious discussion over the years.

Then they talked about how authors should or could better market themselves. I thought it interesting that one or two said skip the blogs and go straight to social media. Blogs are quickly becoming the past, whereas Twitter and FB are it right now. But also don’t be an ass, you will alienate readers, so beware when using social media.


There was also mention that each publisher should have a website where people can buy books direct from them, giving more money to authors.

I would say to that, that I recently went through my blog and culled links to a crap ton of small publishers that are now gone, some of which I bought books directly from. Also, having to set up accounts and give personal info to smaller publishers that have had bad reputations in the past of screwing authors and or being unethical, don’t make buyers like me feel comfortable doing so. Maybe if they all offered a Paypal option?

Next up: The Evolving LGBTQ Romance Genre.

I liked that this panel, much about diversity in romance, was diverse in authors on it. I probably would have sat through the whole panel, phone be damned, if I knew this would be the topic.

At any rate, what I did get out of it was that authors on the panel wanted there to be more diversity. The topic if white authors writing characters of color came up and that it’s understood that many white authors fear doing it wrong, but they stated that doing some good research and asking many persons of color their experience is fine and so it shouldn’t be a deterrent.

Alex Powell stated that her publisher had a diversity team whom authors could run things by to make sure they are getting it right, which I thought was interesting.

I loved that author Pearl Love stated that the word diversity was a problem in itself in that it makes it not the norm.

They all agreed and stated that it would be nice to make their stories more inclusive of all kinds of people.

Loud applause broke out when one audience member stated she wanted to kill forever the disabled as not norm trope as well as the miraculous healing trope.

The authors also talked about labels, some saying they are good and some saying that it could be a deterrent to people discovering new things they might like. Pearl Love stated that she hates that AA is put in its own section. Again, I think she’s right. Lori L. Lake told a story that an author friend got slammed on Amazon in reviews because there was a lesbian in the story, not the main character, and people were pissed off to read that. 

Then Dave Matthew-Barns told that one of his stories had lesbians in it but because he’s a male, his book was marketed is m/m. So he felt he might have missed out on some readership due to this. (Yes, Dave you are correct. I have read a m/m that had a lesbian couple prominently placed in the story and I loved it. Had it not been mentioned in a review, I would have missed.)

After this was the meet and greet book signing at the Hotel Monoco across from Seattle library. 


Now, I skipped the Friday night reading at the University Book store because I really do get hives in social settings. Especially if they are more intimate, unlike the huge auditorium at the library where I could hide in the back. And I almost went home at that point when I saw how small and intimate the signing room was at the hotel.

But I pushed myself. To be honest, I went to support the 7 authors of lesbian that attended. Yes, I actually printed out the list of attending authors and Googled each one. I even bought one book of each author of lesbian before the event, hoping to read one or two. So I marked who the authors of lesbian were and went to talk to them during the signing/meet greet.

I’m so not the fan girl type. And the fact that I almost went home not caring about meeting the authors says something, but the highlight of the day for me was having a brief chat with Radclyffe. I’ve read a few of her books and really enjoyed them. But I know of her more for her work in promoting and giving a voice to lesbian fiction through Bold Strokes Books. I found her to be a very down to earth, open and intelligent woman on the panels so while I did stress a bit, I managed to get the guts to talk to her.

I mentioned her comment about straight women not being the audience for lesbian books. I told her that there was a contingent of us (well, I wouldn’t call myself straight at this point, but still) that loved to read lesbian. That we’ve been trying to promote it within the straight romance reading community and that while many of my straight romance reading friends don’t glom onto lesbian, they do read it and support it here and there. She mentioned that they were always trying to find ways to market to straight women. She was very gracious even though I probably babbled a lot. Heh, I’m sure authors that attend signings are used to crazy ass babbling readers.

Next, I spoke with author Kate McLachian. It was very easy speaking with her as I kept sitting way up in the back and she and her wife were in the back also, just in front of me. We had chatted briefly and I thought them very open and friendly. I didn’t know she was an author and was surprised to see her sitting there with her books.

Then I spoke briefly with Lori L. Lake. I’m currently reading one of her books and like it very much. She also was very open.

I couldn’t find the others or they didn’t show up, but I felt very satisfied. And I bought a few lesbian books to donate to the LGBT library. 

Finally, yes this has been a long post and if you’ve made it this far, you need a drink I’m sure, I just wanted to say that I’m happy I went to this event. I was worried. Being in the romance community for a long time now, and reading lesbian, I have been a bit pissed off and  jaded that since the explosion of m/m, the term LGBT romance has equaled m/m, with f/f, lesbian, trans*, bi, queer not being promoted or having as much exposure or representation.

But I felt that this event was inclusive and will be more and more inclusive of the whole LGBTQ spectrum in the future.

Will be back in 2015!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review--The Rules by S. Renee Bess

The Rules
By S. Renee Bess
April 7, 2014
Lesbian fiction/ Mature/ African American/ Contemporary
172 pgs
Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC
Kindle Edition

Blackmail, murder, missing persons, and concealed identities link lives that otherwise, would have remained unconnected.

London Phillips searches for affirmation and for Milagros Farrow, a revered lesbian author who seems to have vanished.

Lenah Miller arms herself against memories of her past as well as those who dismiss her because their backgrounds differ.

Rand Carson seeks to replace one lost interracial relationship with a second one.

Candace Dickerson executes a plot to enrich herself with other peoples' earnings.
The threads entwined around London's desire for connection with a kindred spirit, Lenah's wary skepticism, Rand's misguided ardor, and Candace's greed come undone when three fall victim to blackmail, one reappears from the ethers of the past, and another succumbs to murder.

I loved, loved this book. I wrote part of this review and posted it on Goodreads not really ready to fully express what I felt about this book. It's so deep and nuanced and maybe too hard for me to articulate everything I felt about it. It left me feeling like I had made a new friend who intimately shared an interesting life with me.

The Rules touches on so many different issues. Most particularly issues around being an African American and a lesbian and dealing with the expectations of both the white and black community both culturally and on a personal level. The way the characters experience their lives is expressed with a lot of insight into those issues. It's also about the importance of shared experiences in making relationships work and also the comfort involved in that even if a relationship doesn't flourish.

That this story is about mature women was another huge plus. It's fairly rare to read about women who are at a stage in their lives when experience has taught them that they don't have to rush into anything and can make decisions on who they are vs what’s expected in furthering their careers and in relating.

Author S. Renee Bess excels at in-depth characterizations and weaving a good story. Each of the characters in this story have distinct personalities and we get to see how each change slightly depending on who they are relating to. They are all connected even if they are unaware of how. And I particularly respect that all of the characters have flaws. Just when I'd think, oh I like this character and hope it works out for them, they do something kind of crappy and then I’d think, oh this is an interesting twist. However, their vulnerabilities were shown as well so it was easy to see their point of view even with negative traits at times.

London is sort of the main character and whenever she’s on screen, the story is written in first person. The other characters get a lot of page time as well so each reader might relate to any of them. Due to starting the book at the point of London’s childhood and upbringing, we get to see some of the experiences that helped shape who she is now in time. She’s an older woman who is at a point in her life when she wants to advance her career and maybe find love, but is in many ways accepting of where she’s at as well. There’s a certain assuredness and quietness about her, which seems to come from age and experience. She’s a very likable character and it’s through her we see the issues she and others face as an African Americans, women, and lesbians. We get to see her come to terms with her decisions about her life that are at times in conflict with the expectations of her community and how she’s been brought up.

Lenah, one of the other main characters, is portrayed as having both positive and negative qualities, as are most of the characters What I found intriguing about her is that the demise of her last relationship is about her not being ambitious enough for her partner, but when she meets London, she gets on her case about her career choices. Her role in this story is more about the shared experiences I mentioned up stream. She and London have a rocky start in their relationship, but in the end, it’s their shared commonality of being African American and lesbians and having similar cultural experiences even though they come from different social statuses. What I liked about her is that once a huge weight is lifted from her shoulders she becomes more open and honest with London, when she had been more critical of her initially. She changes and grows and I liked that.

It’s through both of these women that we also get to experience the everyday racism they experience in the form of “good intentions” from white people who think they are allies. This leads me to another thing I loved about this book; this is the first story really in which I’ve read a racist, appropriator white character who isn’t the overt, easy to hate racists.

Rand is an interesting character in that she thinks she’s standing up for, fighting for and supporting African Americans, but is really a fetishizer of black women and an appropriator of black culture. She is the typical white person who thinks they are progressive and open minded, but who are so totally clueless in how racist they really are. Renee Bess did an amazing job of showing vs telling, making the impact of that dichotomy more potent.

Candace is an easily dislikable character and maybe the only one who the author really didn’t go into what makes her tick. However, she’s kind of the catalyst for events that affect all the characters in both good and bad ways so maybe her being less explained was good.

I’d also like to point out that Renee Bess offers incredible insight into how we make judgments based on race and how our social upbringing affects our choices. Normally I’m not really for reading stories that are not clearly romance or suspense like this story is, however, Renee Bess totally sucked me in with her writing and her ability to articulate these issues and made me think about a lot about my own attitudes and what are the everyday experiences of African Americans and lesbians.

I think this author's writing is getting better and better. Will definitely pick up another of her books.

Heat level: 0

Grade: 5 Stars

Friday, July 4, 2014

Review- Backwards to Oregon by Jae

Backwards to Oregon
By Jae
April 6, 2013
Era Historical 1850’s/ Lesbian /Bisexual
542 pgs
Publisher: Ylva Verlag; 2 edition

"Luke" Hamilton has always been sure that she'd never marry. She accepted that she would spend her life alone when she chose to live her life disguised as a man.

After working in a brothel for three years, Nora Macauley has lost all illusions about love. She no longer hopes for a man who will sweep her off her feet and take her away to begin a new, respectable life.

But now they find themselves married and on the way to Oregon in a covered wagon, with two thousand miles ahead of them.

Backwards to Oregon is one of those stories that shined in both the detail of the time period it’s set in and the slow burn of a romance build up. Clearly it’s a long book, but author Jae managed to write about every day minutia and issues the characters dealt with as they made their way from Missouri to Oregon in the mid 1800’s in a way that kept my interest. I actually read this book fairly quickly due to it.

Backwards to Oregon also featured two tropes that are a favorite of mine: a female passing as a male, and marriage of convenience.

So let’s talk about Luke. Since the author uses the pronoun she when talking about Luke, I will stick with that as well. Luke is, to everyone she has contact with, a stand up, conscientious, and courageous man. She been in the army and fought bravely as a leader in the Mexican-American War and has returned to Missouri to head west to start a farm raising horses in Oregon. She’s worked hard to keep her identity as a woman a secret all this time and for the most part manages it.

Really, there is nary a hint of anyone questioning her gender throughout the whole book, which did make me wonder. But I’ve known and read about women passing as men and living as men during and long after a war, so suspension of disbelief was possible here.

Luke decides that to keep her identity and keep people from wondering about her while on her way to Oregon that she should find a wife. She chooses Nora, a prostitute in the local brothel. Nora, already having a child and no prospects other than being a prostitute, readily agrees, hoping to start a new life.

As they move their way across the land, Nora questions why Luke doesn’t want her sexually as this is what she expects he’d want as part of the arrangement. She thinks it’s really weird that he keeps his distance and often feels he doesn’t like her. For at least ¾ of the book Nora goes in and out of respecting how Luke is taking care of her and her daughter and how honorable he is, and wondering what’s wrong with him or her that he doesn’t desire her sexually. It does cause a lot of tension at times, both for her and Luke.

Throughout most of the trip, Luke feels inwardly, and even expresses outwardly, that Nora should find another husband when they get to Oregon. She knows that if Nora finds out she’s a woman, she will want to leave. This perplexes and freaks Nora out. Nora inwardly worries that Luke, not wanting her, will dump her as soon as they get there and then she might get stuck with a man like one on the trail who beats his wife constantly. Or even worse, that she will find no one and not be able to take care of herself and daughter.

What’s kind of interesting about this relationship is that due to the fact that Luke is hiding her identity, it really is a marriage of convenience. Luke steps up and takes full care of Nora and Nora learns to be a good wife, working hard to play her part and help Luke. This is where having to work together as a team to get to Oregon works in their favor. They both have to ignore their personal fears about their possible future without each other and in doing so learn to appreciate and respect, and…slowly come to love each other.

While neither Nora nor Luke talk about each other’s past, I liked that the author did eventually give some insight into how each character ended up where they were. They both come from vastly different worlds.

Outside of that slow dance that they do, the author went into incredible detail of life on the trail. I kind of actually felt like I was on that journey, with clear and intricate descriptions of the landscape, clothing, accoutrements used, and issues faced by pioneers sucking me in. It did feel like the author did extensive research. And since the book is long, the long journey between Missouri and Oregon, the ups and downs made me feel by the end that I was as tired as the characters were and couldn’t wait for them to get there. The main reason that I kept reading though was to find out what would happen once Nora would find out that Luke was a woman.


For me, to some degree, the story became a bit more interesting once she did find out. This is because until that point, Luke is like this perfect, can do no wrong, highly respected person in EVERYONE’S eyes. Once Nora and one other finds out, suddenly Luke doesn’t seem so honorable and her imperfections start coming through. I felt she became a more vulnerable and human person at that point. She also has to confront the “female” part of her that she’s denied due to acting and living like a man.

Nora is confronted by mixed feelings as well. One is that she’s lived an immoral life in the eyes of society and yet she has her own moral judgments about Luke and that Luke is living a sin by going against nature. This made her character a bit more interesting as well because she’s also fallen in love with Luke and tries to come to terms with those conflicting feelings. 

End spoiler**************************************************************

There are a bunch of other clearly defined characters involved as well that also add a lot of drama.  Bernice, a “respectable” woman, befriends Nora and helps her out, teaching her what is expected of her as a good wife and woman in society. I liked that she didn’t judge Nora when she finds out about her past, but she’s also a mixed bag of morality, having her own lines because she finds out about Luke. And then there were a few bad guys who added some tension to what was mainly a drama free drama.

As an historical set in the west, Backwards to Oregon is an excellent read. While not a gripping story as in full of tension, I still recommend as an entertaining one. Also, there is an extension to the story after the end, which I felt added a lot as well; an extension on their life after settling in Oregon.

Heat level: 1-2- some sex, but nothing graphically written or extensive.

Grade: 4 ½ Stars

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review- Bailey's Run by Ali Spooner

Bailey’s Run
By Ali Spooner
Jan 2, 2014
Contemporary/ Lesbian/ Mystery/ Paranormal
358 pgs
Publisher: Affinity Ebook Press NZ LTD
Kindle Edition

Bailey Chambers mourns the loss of her lover, Nessa, in an unsolved carjacking. When Tommy, Bailey’s brother becomes a victim of a gay bashing, Bailey assumes his case will be handled the same way as her lover’s—lackadaisically.

Desi Dexter assigned to Tommy’s case, feels Bailey’s disdain toward her and her partner. Through tenacious police work, Desi, is able to uncover the reason for Bailey’s attitude, and convinces her that she is sincere in solving the case.

Mutual attraction sparks, and before they can move forward with their fledging romance, Desi, and her partner Braxton, uncover the presence of a serial killer.
What will happen to Bailey, when, Desi, becomes engrossed in another case, can their relationship survive?

This is one of those stories that was quick to read and was entertaining with a lot of fun characters, but which didn’t really excel in one area. It’s both a romance and a mystery of sorts, however, the romance developed fairly quickly without too much ado and the mystery didn’t have enough tension or mystery actually. Bailey’s Run is carried mainly by a gaggle of characters interacting and several random events happening, which was fine as is.

The two main characters, Bailey and Desi, are very likable characters. Bailey is a truck driver during the week, but works in her Aunt’s bar on the weekends. Many women have been trying to catch Bailey’s eye, but since the murder of her partner, she’s not been interested in dating. For her, her partner was perfect and she has no desire to find a replacement. She’s also still grieving as there was no closure in that her partner’s killer was never found.

Desi is a detective who’s just trying to do the right thing in life. She’s a tough but warm woman and has a good working relationship with her partner who is supportive and doesn’t have judgments that she’s a lesbian. She meets Bailey when she’s called on the case of Bailey’s brother Tommy being severely beaten outside her aunt’s bar. Although Bailey is very cold and snippy with her, she feels a spark between them. Something about Bailey attracts her.

For Bailey it’s the same, but her anger over the police not doing anything about her partner’s death has left a bad taste in her mouth and she blows Desi off. On her own, Desi checks out what happened to Bailey’s partner and totally gets Bailey’s anger since the investigation was shoddy to non-existent. Between working on Bailey’s brother’s case and deciding to work behind the scenes to reopen her partner’s murder case, she manages to become closer to Bailey. Bailey slowly opens up to Desi, feeling attracted to someone for the first time since her partner’s death, and feeling also that Desi is on the up and up with her.

They are very cute and sweet together and the romance develops easily, quickly and nicely without too much conflict once Bailey is on board. While there’s a pretense of staying apart for ethical reasons, they don’t pay too much attention to that on a personal level.

Outside of the romance, there are several plot lines. Desi and her partner Dexter, besides going after the men who jumped and beat up Tommy, get reassigned to cold case after they solve who killed Bailey’s partner. Desi discovers a pattern of killings and they realize that they might have a serial killer on the loose. They also figure that the killings happen around the same date every year and that date is coming up soon.

The author goes back and forth between them and the serial killer, giving us insight into who the killer is and their investigative process. I felt this part was not really that well developed as there was no tension built up in finally finding the killer really. I kept expecting more tension or maybe more danger for certain characters, but that never happened. This part of the story felt more like a reason to bring in more characters and keep the story going.  


Also, and this is something that bugged me, an FBI profiler is brought in. Her father was FBI and she’s allegedly some kind of serial killer expert. She works with a partner, also her life partner outside of the job, who is a psychic. Unfortunately, this part of the story was off to me. Basically, all the FBI profiler does is have her partner do her thing while she does zero investigating. They felt rather like unnecessary and extraneous characters thrown in there to add more character interaction even though as characters go they are likable. And about the psychic thing, well, I think I would have been on board with that if the psychic didn’t come up with all the answers right away versus having an actual investigation, which included some psychic help. Due to that it went into hokeyville for me at times. 

End Spoiler*************************************************

What does work in this story is the connection between all the characters. The characters get together a lot for fun, food, home cooking and entertainment while they deal with what seems like non-stop issues. They have a great camaraderie and all support each other. I loved that Fubar, Bailey’s aunt’s bar, is one of the central places they meet up and that it features drag queen shows. Most of the characters are either gay or supportive of the gay community and that was rather nice to read as well.

And, well, this is stupid and most people won’t care, but there was a rescued kitten. Desi finds it in an alley and brings it home. The kitten actually gets a fair amount of detail and attention and I found myself worrying about it when both Desi and Bailey can’t get home and loving that it was part of the story.

So, while there were some issues for me in this book, overall it’s a good read.

Heat Level: 2 – sex mostly implied not graphically written

Grade: 4 Stars

Monday, May 26, 2014

Review- Cream by Christiana Harrell

By Christiana Harrell
Aug 31, 2013
Contemporary/Lesbian/Stud/Romance/Erotica/African American
230 Pgs
Kindle Edition

Cream, an androgynous beauty, knows what it’s like to be abandoned, broke, and used. Left to the state by her parents and taken under the wing of her selfish foster mother, Cream sets her focus on one thing: money. She dives head first into the exotic lifestyle of stripping. Starting out in gentlemen clubs, drama seems to follow her wherever she goes. Instead of facing the turmoil, she moves on to the next city, causing more chaos than what she left behind.

She thinks she has life all figured out until she crosses paths with Payton, a daddy’s girl with lots of cash and a lust for women. Payton makes her learn things about herself that she never saw possible and with her new discovery comes a big change in her look and personality.

Cream is at the top of her game, surrounded by money and beautiful women. Then, one wild night forces her to discover yet another truth about herself and face the reality of her lifestyle. Will she continue to dwell in her unstable comfort zone? Or, will she finally open her eyes?

If I could ever call a book a reader whisperer, this would be it for me. Cream spoke to me in so many awesome and amazing ways. It’s such a raw and powerfully positive story of growth and acceptance. Cream as a character is also one of the most intense, real and dynamic female leads I’ve read in a long time.

What I loved so much about Cream is that she’s written as someone having a nice combination of savvy, rough street smarts and innocence. It’s that underlying innocent part of her, the part she’s managed to keep even with all the negative obstacles she’s had to deal with that helps her change and grow once she allows that part of her to emerge. That’s not to say she doesn’t have a lot of flaws and isn’t a nasty shit at times. But this is what makes her an interesting, complex character.

I also got off on how the author wrote this book. The way this story is written: language (colloquial), pacing, character development, were all spot on for me. The growth of Cream is slowly done and we get to see her change as she learns from her relationships and experiences. It’s a natural progression and I liked that it wasn’t rushed or that she suddenly had an epiphany that wasn’t natural to her character.

That the author wrote a character who works in the sex industry but isn’t being controlled, or doing it for “good” reasons, was a huge plus for me. Cream chooses it after that first night. She did have a crappy childhood. And she ends up stripping because she was pimped out by someone who should have protected her. But she embraces it, becomes the best stripper, and uses it to her advantage. She also enjoys it and makes no excuses, nor does she blame the world for it. And shockingly, she stays unaffected by the sexual nature of it, never having any attractions or sexual encounters.

One of Cream’s worst characteristics is being unable to get close to people and running all the time. She seemed to be missing the empathy chip for a good part of this book and I wondered if she’s actually just out of touch with her feelings, or if she really feels as emotionally cold towards others as she acts. But it’s clear after a while it’s a survival technique. It’s also what throws her into meeting new people and having experiences that push her out of that. 

Of course, both good and unsavory characters enter her life. And I will say that what was appealing to me was that there were no stereotypical characters. People who you’d think would try and take advantage of Cream don’t and those who you’d think would normally be nice, aren’t. I loved that.

This story is about Cream, but several other characters are very compelling as well. Payton is an interesting character in that she starts Cream on the road to growth, albeit, unknowingly. She’s the impetus for Cream to see that she has a lot of talent and helps her career flourish.  She’s also the one who turns Cream on to women, suggesting she’s not just a lesbian, but a stud. At first it felt like Payton would be a very positive influence on Cream in all aspects, not just her career, but things didn’t go as I thought.

Then there is Tasia. Tasia is the antithesis of pretty much everyone Cream has met. Tasia, like Cream, has been abused on several levels, but has kept her heart, hope and humanity. Even when she’s so clearly treated like shit from her fiancé and by her best friend, she still manages to keep hope that one day she will find love. This is not to say she’s a doormat. Like Cream though, she’s managed to keep some innocence locked away but it’s more on the surface for her.

Tasia and Cream meet mainly due to a betrayal, but more so because Tasia looks very much like the only “friend” Cream had ever had and probably the only person she had any feelings of love towards. Although Cream tries her usual shtick with Tasia, keeping things at a distance, something about Tasia’s vulnerability and positivity worms its way into Cream’s psyche and slowly breaks down her hard core emotional wall. Tasia also has an easy going, loving, but non-threatening or needy way about her that sparks something in Cream wherein for the first time in her life she finds herself opening up to another person and caring about their well-being.

I know there are some negative aspects to this book. There were some editing issues and well, I know intellectually it’s not subject matter for everyone; it represents a fairly specific world. Also, some (lesbians) might not like that Tasia’s sexual orientation is not really clear and it’s written more as she loves Cream vs being attracted to women. And also for my taste, even Cream, while clearly into women and not ever having an attraction to men, won’t commit to stating she’s a lesbian. However, I got so sucked into the story and the characters, I didn’t notice those things or they didn’t bother me. 

I would love to read another book by this author.

Heat level: 4-5- some graphic sexual situations, but more tell than show. But graphic language used.

Grade: 5 Stars

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review- The View from 16 Podwale Street by Paul Alan Fahey

The View from 16 Podwale Street
By Paul Alan Fahey
July 8th 2012
Era Historical 1930’s/ Lesbian
48 pages
Publisher: JMS Books LLC
Kindle Edition

April 1939. Warsaw, Poland. To the casual observer, the houses on Podwale Street look very much alike. Yet at 16 Podwale, nothing is as it seems. Within, the walls hold many secrets that could destroy the lives of its inhabitants as they witness the city’s ever-mounting tide of Nazism.

Wealthy recluse Elwira Malinowska is more an observer than participant in life. In her seclusion at 16 Podwale, she watches the world pass her by. Then Raz Zielinsky comes to work as a housemaid for her father, and Elwira’s life is suddenly divisible by two -- the time before Raz and the time after.

Years pass, and the women become lovers. They depend on each other. Elwira is Raz’s protector, and Raz is Elwira’s conduit to the outside world, where people speak of nothing but the continual threat of war with Germany.

Elwira, a steadfast Catholic, believes Pope Pius XII will intervene to save Poland from the rumblings of a maniac and an imminent invasion. But when the Pope fails to mediate peace and the political situation worsens, Elwira and Raz plan their escape to freedom.

Will their plan succeed? Or is it already too late?

This was a very unique and different story for me. I loved the writing, the flow of it, the descriptions of WWII Poland---pre-German invasion, and the characters. It’s not the usual fare. And although not overtly expressed, I enjoyed the subtle way both characters were shown to have a lesbian relationship. It actually fit the characters, who they are, and the time period.

The blurb pretty much expresses what the story is about so I’ll go from there. I thought Elwira and Raz have an interesting relationship. On the surface, and to some degree in their day to day life, they don’t have equal standing in the relationship. Raz often reminds Elwira that her status is that of house servant even though in private they are lovers. Although Elwira disputes it all the time, she’s still a very proper woman of her station and still treats Raz as a servant, at least on the surface. Part of it is appearances for when she has callers, but mainly it’s because she’s totally dependent on Raz for various reasons, including having a disability that keeps her from going outside during the day.

This is an interesting dynamic to me because emotionally, physically, and probably even financially, Raz could survive without being dependent on Elwira for a roof over her head and a job. However, she feels loyalty towards her and will not leave even though Elwira’s not wanting to face reality might ultimately cause her great harm. They’ve just established a working relationship in which they have a loving, supportive relationship but within those parameters.

While I felt the relationship was a good part of the story, much of it is also about the time period and how Elwira and Raz try to keep functioning in a politically turbulent and quite dangerous time. One of the strong themes is Elwira’s total belief in the Pope and that he will save Poland from an invasion by Hitler and the Germans. She’s very innocent and somewhat naïve as she disputes warnings from outside callers and Raz that the Pope really has no ability to affect the political scene. Her Catholic faith is strong and very important to her and she feels her belief will save them.

Raz is not as believing as she goes out daily for shopping and other errands and hears the constant gossip and chatter of impending war. She’s also well aware that she and Elwira, but particularly Elwira due to her “disability,” will be subject to a particularly bad fate if Poland falls to the Germans and Hitler. People like them, who love the way they do will not be spared. Much of the story is Raz trying to convince Elwira that maybe they should think about leaving before any invasion, while Elwira stalls, holding on to her tradition, family home, and religious belief. It did create a great tension and impetus to keep reading to see the outcome.

Then there are the two regular gentleman callers who don’t exactly try to woo Elwira, but visit with her and talk in a “gentile” way about the current events. One of them has told Elwira that he is very concerned and has a contact who he can pay to get him and his pregnant wife out. They gain her confidence and she starts believing in their concerns for her welfare. What happens ultimately is not what one would expect.

The only thing about this story that I felt was not explained was how the two gentlemen even knew Elwira and why she would allow them to visit when she clearly was in love with Raz and felt she could not live a normal life. Other than that…

This is well worth the read. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for an ambient period historical from an interesting time and place.

Heat level: 0

Grade: 4 ½ Stars

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review- Business with Pleasure by Keziah Hill

Business with Pleasure: Hot Down Under
By Keziah Hill
Jan 1, 2013
Contemporary/ Erotica/ f-f-m
48 pgs
Publisher: Momentum

For sculptor Lottie Williams, entering her sculpture, Triumvirate, in the Carve the Wind exhibition is the culmination of her career.

What she doesn’t count on is the incendiary lust between her and the curators, James and Magda. While she’s at first happy to play, she rapidly gets out of her depth when she confuses business with pleasure. Against the wild backdrop of the Pacific Ocean her work is displayed to great acclaim.

But all she wants, all she can think about is being back in the bed of the two people who have laid claim to her heart and soul.

I’m going to come right out with it, this is a short, hawt and juicy piece of stroke fiction. It’s really basically one long sex scene, but wow, what a sex (string of scene/s)!

I thought the set-up was good. While on the beach working on an art piece that she wants to enter into an exhibition, Lottie keeps seeing a man who intrigues her. She doesn’t know he’s the owner of the gallery that is sponsoring this event, she only notices how buff and nice looking he is.

When she goes to the gallery to present her piece to the owners, a husband and wife team --James and Magda, she’s shocked to see it’s the guy she’s been eying on the beach. After a discussion reveals that both Magda and James have been admiring Lottie’s work for a long time and were hoping she would enter a piece,  the conversation starts turning sexual as Lottie’s piece is quite erotic. Magda and James overtly try to seduce Lottie and she easily goes along with it. There is a brief blip in this love fest though when Lottie suddenly feels unsure of their intentions as she’s heard rumors about them, but the author managed to infuse a fair amount of real warmth and genuine feelings of attraction between all three.

What is most enjoyable about this story is that all three click sexually without any hang-ups or hesitations. You know that feeling when you can just be yourself and feel free to get your freak on without judgments or fears of being rejected? That’s the kind of feeling this story evoked in me.

Moreover, there was no feeling of one of the parties being left out or any two having a better connection. This is something that I’ve read in threesomes and not liked. No, Magda and James are both equally attracted to Lottie and she to both of them and they all mix it up without any angst. And it’s all left off with them deciding to keep it going.

The only negative thing I’ll say about this is that the author used the word “savage” to describe James way too many times. It felt like it was on every page, although realistically I’m sure it wasn’t.

If you’re in the mood to read a short, erotic f/f/m, I definitely recommend Business with Pleasure.

Heat Level: 5- pretty much the whole story is sex and it’s written graphically with strong, blunt sexual language.

Grade: 4 Stars

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review- Love and Devotion by Jove Belle

Love and Devotion
By Jove Belle
Dec 17, 2013
Lesbian/Contemporary/Romance/Friends to lovers/Small town
240 pgs
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Kindle Edition

KC Hall loves her family, her small East Texas town, and her best friend, Emma Reynolds. All of that takes a backseat when her lover beckons. Lonnie is blond, beautiful, and willing. She’s also married and a lifelong friend of KC’s mama.

KC knows the affair is a bad idea, but she just can’t help herself. When presented with the lush landscape of Lonnie’s body, KC subscribes to the philosophy of “orgasm first, think later.” Unfortunately, a secret that big is impossible to keep in a close-knit community where everybody knows everybody else’s business. The scandal would hurt her entire family.

Emma is KC’s exception, the one woman she loves enough to not have sex with. When Emma confesses that she’s loved KC since high school, KC is terrified. One wrong move and she could lose Emma completely.

Is she willing to let her family pay the price for her good time? Or will she turn to Emma to discover the true meaning of love and devotion?

I have read several of Jove Belle’s books and I’ve enjoyed them. This one looked appealing to me so I went for it. It’s a good story. Definitely a good friends to lovers story. However, even though I enjoyed it for the most part, it seemed to drag and felt like it went on and on forever. I feel that it was mostly due to how drawn out this story was from the time Emma lets it be known she has more than “just friends” feelings for KC and KC realizing that she’s always loved Emma.

For some, how this book starts out might be off-putting. KC is having an affair with her mother’s married best friend Lonnie. That’s a no-no for several obvious reasons. But the way it’s written, I was intrigued and not really bothered because as the story progresses there is character growth and understanding of the negative consequences to everyone involved. And also, this is a more complex story involving several characters; it’s not just about those two and the sneaking around.

I’ll start with KC. In her career life she’s totally together and on top of things. She got her master’s degree and has a great job that offers her a good living with a flexible schedule. She lives with Emma, her best friend from high school, and as far as their relationship goes, they are very close friends only. From KC’s side, Emma is the one person who grounds her and she feels comfort with when they are together. They actually sleep in the same bed together and cuddle, which I thought kind of weird if they are trying to keep things platonic, but manage to keep things from going further.

KC is also very close to her family and takes care when issues happen with her younger sister. She’s community oriented in that she goes to church with her family every Sunday and follows all the rules and expectations of being in a small community where everyone knows each other…on the surface.  Her main flaw though, and it’s one that is cause for a lot of grief between her, Emma, her sisters, and Lonnie, is that she’s flighty and irresponsible when it comes to her love life and sexual desires. This is where she has no scruples, nor any common sense. And the fact that she’s having an affair with her mother’s friend and a married woman is not sitting well with anyone. However, Lonnie has her hooked and KC finds it hard to break away from her even though she knows it’s wrong.

As this story is mostly about KC, meaning she’s the center of it, Emma is not really as developed or shown to the reader. All we get to know about Emma is that she’s always loved KC as more than just a friend and that she is will not agree to be with KC until KC gets really clear she wants to be with Emma. This, even though she wants KC more than anything. I have to respect her on that. She knows what’s been going on between KC and Lonnie and she knows that even though KC is professing her love and desire to be with her, KC will still not commit totally.

And this is the crux of why this story dragged. KC admits to herself that she wants Emma and she gets possessive and jealous when Emma meets up with a former lover, but she’s unwilling to completely break it with Lonnie even though she knows for Lonnie she is only desired for booty call. Even at that, it’s never a sharing or exchange of giving. Lonnie never satisfies KC, it’s only about her, which kind of pisses KC off. She’s also not clear that she can commit given her history. What I felt could have been cleared up fairly quickly got drawn out due to KC’s being wishy-washy.

On the plus side of that, it’s good to show the natural progression of character growth and love in a relationship, which the author did superbly here. We get to see KC’s process and how she goes from existing for lust to discovering that love is more worthy of her energy.

Other than that, there are a lot of interesting characters and I did enjoy the small town feel even if I don’t believe a small Texas town or church in a small town would be so accepting of the gay population like they are in the one portrayed here. But I did like that KC’s and Emma’s families accepted them as lesbians and as a couple.

I definitely recommend Love and Devotion if you’re really into the small town, church going, family oriented type of story in which everyone has a happy ending. And also if you like the friends to lovers story. It excelled on that point.

Heat level: 3 – some graphic sex, but scattered throughout the story.

Grade: 3 ½ Stars

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review-Little Black Dress by Scarlet Chastain

Little Black Dress
By Scarlet Chastain
August 12, 2013
70 pages
Published by Evernight Publishing

Kindle Edition

Paris: The romance and fashion capital of the world. So what the hell makes Jamie Scotts, an IT geek from New York, think the city of lights holds the answers? Driven by need for change, she lies to her boss about her fluency in French and becomes the company’s first international sales person. Fluent? She can barely ask for directions to the ladies’ room.

Jamie’s a duck out of water with her low maintenance style and New York accent. Her unsuccessful sales pitch almost sends her home, until she meets the epitome of elegance, Giselle Bianchi. An unlikely relationship blossoms as the dress designer takes Jamie under her wing. Giselle’s guidance not only reveals Jamie’s missing je ne sais quoi, but also unlocks repressed passion with the help of a little black dress.

I read Scarlet Chastain’s Bella Key and really liked it, so when I was in the mood for something short, sexy and emotionally satisfying, I picked up this story. It totally hit the spot and was exactly what I wanted.

Jamie is a smart woman on the fast track in her company. She’s been the top sales person and convinces her boss that she can get the company’s product into the European market. The chutzpah and sales skills that got her where she is in the US doesn’t exactly translate in France, where she’s lacking language skills, sophistication and cultural nuance to open the doors. In a moment of serendipity, Giselle enters her life and things change drastically.

Giselle is an elegant but down to earth woman who has built her own business in the fashion world. She sees Jamie having a hard time at a café and decides to step in to help. They start up a friendship as Giselle helps Jamie navigate the world of doing business in France.

This is a short, but sweet and complete, nothing left hanging or short-changed, story of two women who hit it off and open up to each other without too much ado. Both characters are nicely written and they just click with each other. The setting felt real and added a lot to the feeling that these two are on a romantic adventure and falling in love.

I like these stories by Scarlet Chastain.  They are great for a quicky feel good romance with some juicy sex.

Heat level: 3

Grade: 4 stars

Monday, April 28, 2014

Review- Safe Passage by Kate Owen

Safe Passage
By Kate Owen
Feb 5, 2014
116 pages
Pub: Less Than Three Press
Kindle Edition

While doing renovation on the old New Orleans home inherited from her great aunt, Jules discovers an old safe filled with letters written in French—and code. Enlisting the aid of a local French teacher, the beautiful Gen, Jules slowly begins to learn the truth of her great grandfather's death …

Safe Passage is a cute, fun story with very likable characters who gel nicely. It’s also a mystery of sorts.

Both Jules and Gen are instructors at a school for girls. Both have been eying each other but have kept quiet about it. Jules is an out lesbian at the school, but Gen is more mysterious and doesn’t give away that she’s into women.

They both come together when Jules needs Gen to translate some old documents she’s found that are written in French. Of course, it comes out fairly quickly that Gen is into women and they get together without too much ado.

Both characters are fun and interesting. The author infused a lot of humor and light banter between them, adding to my enjoyment of the book.

To be honest, it’s an easy going love story with no real drama, which is kind of refreshing. I wouldn’t want to read books like this all the time because a little tension and drama is good. However, it’s a welcome change once in a while to have two people click and go for it without constant issues coming in that drag a story just to create faux obstacles for the couple to face and get over. 

As far as the mystery part goes, I think I was expecting a bit more on it. It’s really not that developed and the reveal wasn’t a big wow. What was more important I guess is that the women have something to work on together or have an excuse to interact with an outside objective so they can get to know each other.

But I did like that part of the mystery involved her aunt who was an interesting character, and also, that she was involved in a mix race love story, something scandalous for her time.

What I ultimately felt about this story was that it could be the precursor to these two characters being in a detective series. They work well together, they are great at digging up clues and have good chemistry.

Bottom line, Safe Passage is the perfect, light feel good book to read between two weightier and more serious books.

Heat level: 2- some sex, nothing too graphically written

Grade: 4 stars for emotional, entertainment value
            3 ½ Stars for lack of development in either romance or mystery

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review- Love Relived by Monique Thomas

Love Relived
By Monique Thomas
Feb 4, 2013
198 pgs
Kindle version

Photographer Mahogany Williams has beauty, brains and success in San Francisco. California. Knowing the right people had launched her career into the limelight and she was enjoying the benefits of it all. When her Nana beomes confined to a wheel chair, Mahogany goes back home (New York) to care for her . While doing so she also tries to undo the pain that caused her to leave so many years ago. Cheryl James is a quiet sensible and known to be "too serious" woman. She enjoys her job working as a head educator at the famed Museum of Natural history. It is the theme of history, however that caused old feelings to resurface when she finds out that Mahogany is coming back into town. Will she be able to handle it after the bitter way things were left between them? Can forgiveness be enough? Can love be revisited?

I wanted to love this book. I had a good feeling going in to it that I would love it. I like the idea that two people who’ve shared a lot between them, but who for various reasons could not be together, get a second chance to explore what’s between them. So I was hoping this would be a warm, loving story about two people that meet up after years apart and fall in love all over again. Unfortunately there were several issues with this story that made it a less than positive reading experience for me.

I’ll start with the most glaring thing about this book that agitated me. This is just a badly edited book. I think I’m more forgiving of bad editing with self-published books than many readers. But by midway into this book I found myself focusing more on the mistakes than the story, which tells me this was worse than the usual. Or maybe I’ve just read too many crappily edited self-pubbed books these days and this was the needle that broke the camel’s back. Whatever the reason, it had a HUGELY negative impact on how I felt about this book because my bad mood about it amplified other issues that might not have bothered me as much if I wasn’t irritated by technical issues.

Just a few Examples. (I bolded or added missing words or punctuation in brackets to show mistakes:

Periods in speech quotes:

“She is fine baby, just fine.” Mamma Hanna interjected.

“I wasn’t being sarcastic. I have been hun gry for a long time and I am starving.” Cheryl replied nonchalantly.

I wanted to tell you one more time so you could understand.” Mahogany admitted.

“Just tell her that you don’t like it that way Mama Hanna. She is there to help you.” Cheryl pleaded

Comma issues:

Mahogany turned around, to see that her Nanna had come into the dining room. “ Nana did you need something?”

When they did [,]she realized that there hadn’t been wearing much underneath her clothes.

Missing words, wrong words, other missing punctuation:

“The last time we were in this parking lot I told you that I love [you] and left it up to you what we should do.

“What do we do know?

“I want you to.”

Thinking about her was the reason that she could not concentrated on her job.

Mahogany tried to shut her brain of but she found it difficult.

Cheryl opened it [. , or and] she stepped to the side so that Mahogany could enter first. A light came on in automatically in the small hallway.

“Where are you going?” Cheryl asked. “I was just trying to give you some room.” Mahogany managed to stammer out. “Don’t you think that you have put enough space between us?” “I’m sorry Cheryl. I never meant to…” “Shhh,[”] Cheryl silenced her, “We will talk but right now that is not what I want to do.”

“Is the water to hot?” Cheryl asked.

Funky sentences, writing or wording:

She let her hands explore Mahogany’s back and they found their way to the ass that was being sculpted by the fabric of the skirt.

She brushed her teeth and entered the shower in the homemade sauna, she let the water run over her head.

Next up, and this is rather unfortunate and a matter of personal taste that maybe won’t affect many readers, this story features a push-pull relationship. Push-pull relationships drive me insane and I don’t find them entertaining IRL or in reading. I also don’t believe in the long term viability of them unless both parties make a drastic change because I feel they are more about obsession than true love. I guess it can happen, but I find the interim so annoying. This is pretty much most of the book.

Cheryl has wanted Mahogany since they were teens. They got together when they were very young before they each had a chance to know who they were as individuals and how they each felt about their own sexuality. It’s understandable that both had a lot to learn. The main issue is that Cheryl has understood that she’s a lesbian, whereas Mahogany is not that clear and is unwilling to really look it for various reasons.

Most of the rest of the story, including flashbacks, is about Cheryl being hurt and angry that Mahogany can’t or won’t be what she needs and getting on her case about it every time they have some communication, and Mahogany making excuses or ignoring or telling Cheryl to leave it be.

That they finally work it out is great. After all that they went through, to finally reach that point where they’re both on the same page should be very satisfying. However, for me, the author didn’t quite make me believe these two will manage long term. And this is mainly because there was no real explanation as to why Mahogany finally came around to really getting that she loves Cheryl as more than just a friend.

Having sex when you’ve been close friends doesn’t exactly turn a relationship into a love story. Mahogany has a great career and is content in that, but no one has really sparked her interest romantically. And she’s going home out of familial duty. None of those are reasons to come to understand finally, after years, that you’re in love someone vs just loving them from having a shared history. She didn’t even go back to specifically work it out with Cheryl, when, if really she loved her, that should have been one of the main reasons. Even after figuring out she loves Cheryl, she’s rather reticent, giving up easily when Cheryl rebukes her. So I wasn’t feeling her in a strong way where Cheryl was concerned. Away from Cheryl though, she’s a likable, dynamic character.

And I was bothered a bit by Cheryl seemingly coming from a place of “you owe me for all that pain and I deserve to control how this relationship is going to work now” feeling. I get that, I really do. After years of being put off she doesn’t like that she’s expected to just let Mahogany walk back into her life without some kind of proof that Mahogany is not just coming around because it’s convenient. But it doesn’t exactly inspire the warm, fuzzy feelings of falling in love all over again.

Mama Hanna is really the best part of this book. She’s that wise family matriarch that that understands that life isn’t always perfect but that love is worth fighting for. Really, if it wasn’t for her, Cheryl and Mahogany would probably still be going back and forth or avoiding.

So bottom line, I think I could have looked at this story in a more positive light had there not been so many grammatical and writing errors, which set me off right away. Also, if the author somehow would have focused more on what was positive between the characters vs the constant negative drama I think I might have had a better feeling overall.

Heat level: 3 some graphically written sexual scenarios

Grade: 2 ½  Stars

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review- The Artist's Muse by Alyssa Linn Palmer

The Artist’s Muse
By Alyssa Linn Palmer
Oct 13, 2013
Lesbian/ Romance
57 pgs
Pub: Bold Stroke Books
Kindle version

Broke and desperate after her girlfriend leaves her for a man, Colette finds a job as an artist’s model. When she arrives for an interview, she’s surprised to meet a striking young woman, Lise Beauclerc. Her relief at not having to pose for a man turns to infatuation as she observes Lise during their sessions, creating fantasies in her mind during the hours she poses.

Colette has no idea if Lise would return her affections, and when she finally gets up the courage to ask her out, their connection is more than she’d ever hoped for. However, a few days later, Lise introduces her to Marcel, her former fiancé. They seem intimately involved, and Colette is devastated. Will her dreams of Lise be unrequited?

I’ll be honest, it took me a while to decide to buy this book. The blurb attracted me but the only other book I read from this author also had a triangle that was hard for me to understand and frankly didn’t work out that great. Then there’s the price, it’s almost $5 for 57 pages. That in itself was a huge deterrent. I think that price point for that amount of words is insanely ridiculous.  But I justified it in my mind with it being published by Bold Strokes Books, which has a good reputation and who charge more because they’re a niche publisher. I accept that. That’s still a lot of money for such a short book, but… I bought it.

I say all that because in the end I’m glad I didn’t go with my hesitations. This turned out to be a really good story even with some issues. I was left feeling good and that I had read yummy, erotic beginning to a love story.

The blurb pretty much expresses what the story is actually about so I’ll go from there.

Who made this story for me was Lise. Since we don’t get her POV, we have to see her through Colette’s lens and any response through action and dialogue from her. Lise seems to be in her own little world while drawing as Colette poses. She doesn’t act like Colette is any more interesting to her than as a prop and inspiration for her art work. I liked that because it was a nice contrast to Colette’s constant inner sexual fantasy musings about Lise, which seemed to go on and on and got a little boring. The mystery of Lise and her indifferent demeanor was what grabbed my attention.

At first I thought the first person present POV from Collette was not going to be interesting because I didn’t find her to be a character that appealing. As the story progresses though, we do get to see more about what Lise is like from her interactions. Unlike Colette, she has a quiet outer reservedness that belies her passionate and maybe slightly kinky personality. She seems much more mature than Collette in how she acts, but is maybe younger? 

This is one thing I kept trying to figure out. Both have graduated college already but Lise mentions that she chose Colette to model because she’s older. However, the vibe around Lise is that she’s the older one. She’s very grounded and self-assured about her work. She also has the money to pay for a model, something I wouldn’t expect of a young, struggling artist. I pictured her at first to be in her 40’s, which as I read on, was not the case.

She also quietly takes the lead in an interesting and fairly erotic way after she accepts an invitation from Colette. It’s something that says a lot about who Lise is, maybe the most telling thing about her and it was nothing she said.

Then there’s Colette. Compared to Lise, she seems to be somewhat immature even though maybe older. She’s instantly smitten by Lise and falls in love with her in like a day. This is something that bothered me about this story. Colette has only posed for Lise maybe 3 times. They spend one night together and Colette talks and acts like they’ve known each other for months and has an expectation of Lise and of a romantic relationship that seemed out of step with the actual amount of time they’ve known each other. It fits her personality as this is how she’s described, that she falls quickly and easily, but for me her attraction was mostly from her own inner fantasies vs any real connection at that point in time.

However, what I did like about her is that she does act on her attraction and gets the guts up to ask Lise out even though Lise has not shown any particular interest and Colette has no idea if she’s into girls. I also liked that she was willing to risk stepping out again after a major heartbreak.

It’s a short novella so there’s not too much depth to this story, however, it was left on a positive note for me. And it was a fairly sensuous story.

The other thing that I enjoyed and which also added to my final positive feeling for the book was the setting. I felt the author really captured the feel of the women living in Paris. At times I wasn’t even sure what time period this is set in. It could be any time since there was no mention of modern technology like cell phones or such. But the women wearing chignons and going to old movies did give it somewhat retro, European feel. Also the world in which they live of artists and theater people also added to the non- contemporary ambiance of this book.

I do kind of wish the That Artist’s Muse was more drawn out and or we could have gotten Lise’s POV as I think it would have added a lot more depth to this story. However, in and of itself it is a good read. I’d recommend it.

Heat level: 2-3- not too racy but not too bland either

Grade: Really liked

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review- The Messenger by KC Blake, Lavinia Marksman

The Messenger (A Lesbian Romance)
KC Blake, Lavinia Marksman
Jan 5, 2014
F-f/ erotica/Contemporary/Romance/Interracial/ May-Dec
54 Pgs
Kindle Edition

A refreshingly new take on modern lesbian romance!
Lucy Murphy is a corporate shark. She’s a master of the deal and a force not to be reckoned with. For all her power and expertise, however, she lives in a self-imposed bubble. When her work life isn’t as satisfying as it once was, she begins to doubt her powers and wonders if there could be something more.

One day, a tough young messenger comes into the office, who entrances Lucy with her shockingly white hair and her “don’t mess with me” attitude. One gaze from this young woman divides Lucy’s life into before and after. Could this be the beginning of something wonderful, or just another sign that Lucy’s losing it?

Romantic and deeply moving, "The Messenger" is an unconventional love story that will stay with you long after the final page.

This was an amazing, lucky find for me. I was buying another book and Amazon had this on that page as a--you may like this one too. I liked the cover and the blurb grabbed me so I took the chance. And it was well worth it.

As the blurb says, Lucy is a corporate shark. Characters like this can rub me the wrong way depending on how they’re written. You know they can be too hard-nosed with no conscience, cruel and hard to sympathize with. Lucy walked that fine line but was very appealing because while she does have those characteristics, she’s extremely self-aware. And that was the main appeal of this story for me because it’s told from her POV.

Self-aware characters are my favorite. I love a character who is flawed, is maybe not very nice at times, but who becomes aware of it and is very perceptive about how people around them experience that. Maybe they don’t make excuses for their behavior or they even use it to their advantage, like Lucy does for her job. But they have the ability to learn, grow and change from having that innate understanding of themselves and others and that spurs character growth.

Lucy is also willing to let go of what’s she’s been and has felt who she is to break out of a mold she’s starting to feel trapped in. And damn, but I love the idea of saying screw it to all one’s responsibilities and doing something so crazy and off the wall, damn the consequences. It’s a nice fantasy and fun to read since it’s often a dream of many of us.

So, “Rabbit” as she calls herself, is the cause for Lucy’s sudden self-reflection.  Rabbit demands that Lucy come out and sign for a package she’s delivering. Lucy doesn’t have to sign herself, but Rabbit forces her by acting as if she gives a crap about the consequences to her job if she walks away with the package without delivering it. The gall of that piques Lucy; she doesn’t do the bidding of others, they do it for her. But being the first and really only person to ever stand up to Lucy grabs Lucy’s attention.

Lucy finds herself obsessed with finding Rabbit. She can’t stop thinking about her and goes looking for her. She finds her but she’s got a lot of judgments that she unconsciously expresses that she needs look at in order to get Rabbit’s respect. 

Rabbit is just as turned on by Lucy and while being just as proud and resolute, she doesn’t resist when Lucy finds her and they hook up. Like Lucy, Rabbit is written is such a way that she has a lot of pride, and although she wants to have something with Lucy she will not let Lucy get away with disparaging remarks about her and puts Lucy in her place.

The sex is no holds barred hot. While it’s Lucy’s first time with a woman, and she muses that she’s never been attracted to a woman before, she also muses that men and sex in general haven’t been an issue at all, not until she met Rabbit.

Just an FYI, Rabbit is probably almost half Lucy’s age. So there is a bit of the May/Dec thing going on. However, that didn’t seem to be an issue with either and it didn’t come across as squicky in any way. To me at least.

Although a short novella and technically not really a “lesbian romance” as part of the title suggests, it is a provocative and juicy story that hints at a future for these two characters. I would scoop up any other lesbian story this author writes in a heartbeat. I loved the straightforwardness of the characters and the writing.

Heat level: 3-4- one semi graphically written sex scene

Grade: Loved it

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review- Imperial Hotel by Diane Marina

Imperial Hotel
By Diane Marina
Jan 1, 2014
Lesbian/Era Historical 1940’s/Romance
32 pgs
Kindle Edition

In a posh hotel in New York City in 1948, two young socialites are introduced by their mothers. As their friendship grows, so does love. Will Lily and Joan's love prevail? Are they brave enough to stand up against the social standards of the time, or will their love simply become part of the history of the Imperial Hotel?

I saw that the author posted this book on Goodreads and I bought it mainly due to the mention of the time period and that it’s set in NYC. Ultimately, I liked this story. It’s short but expresses enough to get hooked into the characters. And while not erotically written in language, what the two young women experience together is erotic and deeply passionate.

At first I thought there was too much tell and was fearful that the whole story would be told in such a way. It’s told from Joan’s POV and she gives the background on how she first met Lily and what she felt. They’ve met through their mothers’ introduction. Lily is engaged to be married, but this doesn’t sit well with Joan as both women start to get close. And while Joan doesn’t really get why she feels this way, she doesn’t question it too much either.

At the point that both women understand that they have special feelings for each other, there is a nice shift in the story in that there’s enough dialogue to start getting a good feel for where both women are coming from. Their first sexual interaction is sweet and shows the intensity of their feelings. This is probably what turned me on most about this book.

What was missing for me is that this book didn’t have a strong feeling of being in the 1940’s. Maybe it was because both women are from upper class families and the way they speak didn’t include much slang or colloquial speech of that era. Outside of having to hide what they feel due to an unaccepting society, there really was nothing that made this story stand out as a retro story. Would have been nice if there were some cultural references to the era in the form of clothing style or music, etc.

The ending was also wrapped up a little too perfectly for me. But overall this is a sweet,  feel good love story and I would highly recommend it. I’m pretty sure I will read another of Diane Marina’s books. She does have a pleasing writing style.

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

- Really liked it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Review- Castle of Dark Shadows by Patty G. Henderson

Castle of Dark Shadows

By Patty G. Henderson

July 1, 2012


164 pgs

Publisher: Blanca Rosa Publishing

Kindle edition

Olivia Hampton's lifelong love of dark literature led her to accept a job as a cataloger for Julian Dunraven's extensive but extremely disorderly library. The only problem is that the position requires her to work at Dunraven Castle, the remote and mysterious home of the Dunraven family. In Victorian America, a young lady had to either earn her keep or be married off to the best man for her hand. Olivia accepted the position at Dunraven Castle.
Olivia could not have guessed the dangers that awaited her in the exotic but darkly menacing castle. When there is an accident on the road to Dunraven, she wonders: Are the broken carriage wheels mere random misfortune or a sign foretelling doom? Olivia's fears soon turn to mortal terror after a subsequent encounter with a terrifying faceless phantom disabuses her of the 'random misfortune' theory. Frightened but undaunted, she decides to put the nightmare behind her and throw herself into cataloging the enormous Dunraven library.

What Olivia could not have foreseen was the devastatingly beautiful Marion Dunraven's effect on her heart. But the madness that seemed to curse the rest of the Dunraven family makes Olivia realize she must find a way to escape Dunraven Castle with her life and the woman she loves before they both become victims

I read Passion For Vengeance by this author and totally loved it. I like gothics so it was a no brainer to buy some more of this author’s books. What I enjoyed about this book is how quirky it is even as a mystery and an historical.

Right from the beginning, on her way to her new position as a library cataloger for a private residence, Olivia experiences what she feels is an evil being in her coach driver. It’s nighttime and they are pushing through to get to Dunraven Castle. It scares her but she chalks it up to her overactive imagination.

Marion Dunraven has hired Olivia to catalog her father’s extensive, but disorganized, library. Marion is warm and friendly to Olivia but keeps things formal between them, not really trying to interact outside of what they need to discuss. Olivia is immediately attracted to Marion and can’t stop thinking about her. Unfortunately her job in the house as well as her status more as part of the staff offers her little contact with Marion.

As the days go by, in brief meetings, Marion expresses her romantic interest in Olivia. However, it never leaves Olivia feeling confident about what Marion actually feels. This plus the odd things going on all have Olivia feeling somewhat out of place even if she’s in awe that she’s temporarily living in such a beautiful place.

While this story does have a romantic element, this is more about the mystery of what’s going on in the house. Strange things keep happening to Olivia specifically and she and she’s reluctant to discuss them with others.  She has been introduced to Cora, Marion’s sister, who is off. Meaning, everyone quietly suggests she’s mentally unstable even if they don’t contradict her and actually let her do her thing. Cora seems to vacillate between being very friendly and nice and at other times cross and caustic to Olivia. Olivia can’t figure her out but is leery of her.

Then there is Marion’s father, Julian. She meets him totally by accident and he chastises her for interrupting him. His manner is in direct opposition to what he’s really like. He seems to be in control of the house and yet he’s very elusive and almost a recluse.  In fact, most of the characters are not what they seem at first except for Olivia. But the story is told through her voice. Then there is this book in the library that everyone is focused on, a book written by Julian’s long ago ancestor that might be worth a lot of money for the information it contains.

So here’s the thing, while this is a quick and easy read that does capture the essence of a gothic mystery, it didn’t really stand out as a huge wow for me. It’s a decent mystery, although the author did give away too much in the beginning, taking away from what I though was supposed to be a big reveal in the end? Not sure. But the ending is not that surprising.

Then there’s the romantic angle, which was also written in a reserved way. Olivia pines over Marion. Marion does come to Olivia and they get together. But there wasn’t much focus on it; it was more a side bar, which is not a bad thing. But combined with the mystery that didn’t really have depth to it, I felt nothing stood out particularly. Also, the epilogue wrapped things up in a way that didn’t fit with the on page development of the relationship between the two ladies. Meaning, the epilogue focused more on their relationship than the rest of the story did. Or so it seemed to me.

What did totally float my boat in this, and what saved this story for me, is how totally quirky it is. Reading this was rather like hanging out in a carnival combination fun/horror/mirror house in which you feel a bit disoriented, but in a good way. The women speak of love to each other in over the top flowery and dramatic ways that don’t match how they act, which I kind of liked because it seems so unexpected. The characters are all a bit askew in how they act on the surface but not on a one on one basis. And it does have the traditional gothic setting; a quirkily built castle (a la Winchester Mansion), but one that stands out of place to the rest of its environment.

So while individual aspects of this book were lacking, overall, it’s a good, entertaining read. I’d recommend it if you like gothics and or if you’re in the mood for something offbeat.

Heat level: 1-2

Grade: Liked it