Kristi reviews Hold Me Forever by D. Jackson Leigh

hold me forever

When Southern debutante Mae St. John learns from her grandmother’s will that not only is the family fortune gone (with all the remaining income designated for the care of Big Mae’s poodle), she thought things could not get more surprising. Then a note left by Big Mae reveals that Mae’s long presumed dead father is in fact alive and living in Louisiana. With no ties left to bind her, Mae heads out to meet the father she never knew.

Meanwhile, Whit Casey has come home to Louisiana to take care of her father’s racing farm in his declining health. Not that the move was not helpful in breaking off her dying relationship with Avery, a closeted lawyer, but Whit did not need another person to be responsible for. Maneuvered into hiring Mae to write for her online racing magazine, Whit believes Mae to be a trust fund baby with no credentials, but is quickly proven wrong by Mae’s enthusiasm and her growing relationship with Whit’s father. A relationship soon grows between Whit and Mae as well, yet both are keeping secrets from the other. When Mae’s investigation into possible horse cloning causes trouble for Whit, the women soon discover that Whit’s farm, and their relationship, are both in jeopardy.

I always approach “straight woman discovers her lesbian identity” stories with a jaded view. I believe this trope is overdone, yet I would like to give credit to Leigh for her depiction of this May-December romance. Sometimes Mae seems a lot younger than 28, with her tendency to talk on forever and constant mentions of her sorority sisters, which made me wonder if these traits were to further enhance a “Southern debutante” profile. Yet it is Mae’s engaging manner with her surroundings – both setting and people – that brings a modern twist to the romance. Mae’s discovery of her attraction to Whit is very circumspect, and she does not waffle in her feelings. Mae believes in the attraction, yet has the foresight to go on a date with another woman to see if she feels that same pull. I found it refreshing to see the “newer” lesbian unafraid of dealing with her feelings.

There were still some obvious plot lines of jealousy, secrets causing betrayal, and hidden enemies that brought the book into some overly familiar plot territories. However, the character interactions between both women, their fathers, and Whit’s ex Avery gave some unique tweaks to the story.

Kristi reviews Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi

ascension

Alana Quick has always dreamed of going to the stars, not being stuck on her planet fixing starships for (barely) a living. So when a crew from the Tangled Axon comes looking for her sister, Nova, and Nova’s talents as a spirit guide, Alana decides to stow away on the ship, hoping for a chance to stay. She soon discovers that the crew is rather unusual: the engineer has some rather wolf-like qualities, the pilot is disappearing into thin air (literally), and the captain, with her wild blond hair and piercing eyes, makes Alana want more than just a place on the ship. With lives on the line, can Alana find a way to make all her dreams come true?

While romance is not the core of this all-out science fiction tale, Alana, her sister Nova, Captain Tev Helix, the Tangled Axon, and her crew are intertwined in many different levels of love and commitment. The heat between Tev and Alana was believable, even while they were at odds over using Nova. I did enjoy that the author drew on her own experiences, giving Ascension characters that were dark-skinned, disabled, and/or fluid in their sexuality, as many space epics can have a homogeneous nature.

While the tale is incredibly sensitive in its world-building inside the ship and between the Axon’s characters, key moments outside happen either incredibly fast–leaving a sense of missing a paragraph somewhere–or as drawn out chapters where the story plods to the point where you lose focus on the action.There is almost too much in this book to make it a coherent story. However, this book is definitely for readers who enjoy good science fiction and varied characters, and is an entertaining read.

Kristi reviews Mountain Rescue: The Ascent by Sky Croft

MountainRescueTheAscent

Kelly Saber is an expert climber and part of the Mountain Rescue team for her Scottish Highlands home, and the village she lives in is a place where everyone knows everyone, along with their business. When she meets doctor Sydney Greenwood after a rescue, they both quickly realize that the mountains are not the most exciting or precarious climb they will face. Sydney, an expert climber herself, quickly becomes friends with Saber and the rest of her team, a group as tight as many families. As attraction heightens between the two, they eventually move in and let their relationship grow. Yet Saber has a tough past, and even once she reveals the pain behind her, will she be able to let go of her own conclusions about life to believe that she and Sydney can weather any storm?

I found myself going back and forth with this book. I think that the main characters of Saber and Sydney were easy to invest in. I wanted to see them succeed, I felt the pain as Saber discussed her past with her parents, and the mountain climbing scenes were exhilarating and detailed. I did have minor issues with setting, but I chalk that up to my own ignorance about the Scottish highlands of present day (I read too many romance novels!), as it seemed more of an Americanized setting than one in Britain. Neither the dialogue or the village settings transported me overseas.

The other, larger, issue I had was with the pacing. I was glad to see a growing relationship between the two women, and while after several months they moved in together, that still didn’t throw me out of the story. It did move slow, however, with various scenes of dialogue that did not really center around Saber and Sydney, but circled around the men in their group: Doug, Jeff, Rich, Stuart and Coop. I found that some of the scenes, especially dealing with Rich and his obvious immaturity, not only dealing with the women but with life in general. He wavered between being earnest and obnoxious through much of the book. I enjoy supporting characters, but it drew out the pacing of the storyline enough that I wanted to skip pages to where “it got good”.

All in all, I think this book has many positive notes and excellent action scenes for the climbing rescues. If readers want a love story that builds slowly, that has some obvious tropes, but gives an uplifting story about rebounding from heartbreaks of many kinds, then Mountain Rescue: The Ascent, is a good choice.

 

Kristi review Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart

hallowed murder

Jane Lawless thought that walking around the Lake of the Isles would be good for her dogs and her friend, Cordelia Thorn, but things turn serious fast when she discovers the body of a young woman in the water. Worse, she recognizes the body as Allison Lord, one of the young sorority sisters of Kappa Alpha Sigma, for whom Jane is an alumni advisor. While Allison’s death is quickly ruled a suicide, her housemates insist to Jane that she has been murdered. As Jane and Cordelia begin to look into Allison’s life, they find layers of secrets that hide some sinister truths. Between hidden trysts, disinheritance threats, and religious zealots on campus, Jane must discover who actually killed Allison before she becomes the next victim.

Hallowed Murder is the first Jane Lawless book, introducing readers to the lesbian restaurateur and amateur sleuth. Characters that have lasted through the next twenty books are all introduced here: Jane’s brother Peter, a very young Sigrid, and of course the theatrical Cordelia Thorn. One of the most memorable things about Hart’s work is her ability to give the reader multiple viewpoints, from Jane to Allison’s parents to Sigrid. This panoramic view of the story builds suspense, unfolding a story from scene to scene just like a play (which Cordelia would be directing, in her own inimitable way). Hart’s device of introducing her Cast of Characters at the beginning of each book contributes to this theme. However, there is nothing truly theatrical about Jane Lawless, as she treats each case with a sincerity that emphasizes her own internal compass.

While slightly dated, as any book published in 1989 would probably be, Jane Lawless is an iconic figure in lesbian mysteries, and her stories are ongoing.

Kristi reviews Riot Girl by Louise Davis

RiotGirl

Alecia passes the time by waitressing during the day, but at night she works hard trying to get her band to the right place. When Sam, the owner of the hot 55 Bar, walks into her restaurant, Alecia takes a chance that Sam might be interested. Which she is–and not just in the music. As Sam and Alecia begin a complicated song and dance around each other, Alecia’s relationship with the sweet Toni begins to move in the right direction. With two hot women and an open door to her music dream, can Alecia keep everything from falling down around her?

Riot Girl is a short book, coming in at around 150 pages. However it is packed with sensual sex scenes and angst-ridden relationship-building between Alecia and her two lovers. Alecia seems to have it all balanced somehow, but this triangle has more angles than you would expect. Unfortunately, the largest twist was discoverable by the middle of the story, which led to me rushing through some of the last chapters to see if I was right. Which I was.

The biggest issue I had with this book was with some of the type changes and links within the ebook. While one benefit of digital books can be external links that lead you to information that the reader may not know–such as actual musicians–there were sections of text that seemed to be links but were not, which popped me out of the story. (Note that this may be an advanced copy, but I am unsure.)

All in all, Riot Girl is a fun escape into the world of the struggling musician, one who discovers love along the way with not one, but two women. Whether that can lead to a happy ending, you will just have to read it yourself to discover.

Kristi reviews Rest for the Wicked by Ellen Hart

Ellen Hart’s latest Jane Lawless mystery (20th in the series) finds Jane on her first “official” investigation. After finally scoring her PI license and teaming up with A. J. Nolan, Jane gets to do things by the book this time. Unfortunately, her first client ends up dead before she meets him — Nolan’s nephew, DeAndre Moore, leaves a message on her voicemail, then is killed behind a gentleman’s club. Nolan doesn’t even know why DeAndre was in Minneapolis in the first place, but when he ends up in the hospital due to complications from his gunshot wound (acquired while protecting Jane), Jane has no choice but to try to discover DeAndre’s last movements and find out why someone would kill him. Soon DeAndre’s isn’t the only murder involved, and Jane will have to use all of her skills, old and new, to find out what is going on before the next body comes to light.

Jane has always been a favorite of mine since I was in college, and she has certainly grown through the years. While always embroiled in some sort of investigation, she was never a character that seemed too divorced from reality. Now, by giving her an official “license to snoop,” Hart can bring more investigative depth to an already well-rounded character. Jane’s love life is always dropped into each book in one way or another, and when she is (once again) between relationships, the gentleman’s club becomes a central point for a lot of interest in this story.

As important as Jane and her mysteries are to the books, the secondary plots around her business, family, or her friend Cordelia are always entertaining and well-written, if often a bit crazy (especially those featuring Cordelia). As long as Hart keeps creating these layered stories, I will be waiting for the next Jane Lawless book.

Kristi reviews Chasing by Sonje Jones

In Chasing by Sonje Jones, Cornelia Osgood (Oz to her friends) is a PI working her way through cases — and her clients. She is dealing with a singer who is receiving increasingly uncomfortable letters from a mystery fan; a nosy wife who wants tabs kept on her philandering husband; and a few other drop-in clients. If only work could keep her busy enough to stay out of the path of her mother and sister, both whom are getting married in just a few weeks. Of course, with her mom living across the street and at work every day as her secretary, Oz cannot escape the plans or the guilt. As the family shenanigans ramp up, so does her client’s stalker, leading Oz to tackle a case that goes from business to personal in more ways than one.

I was expecting to have the “carousing investigator” stereotype turn me off, but Jones makes Oz both strong and vulnerable. Using her womanizing ways to hide from loneliness and avoid two weddings she doesn’t want to be involved with, Oz is only slightly larger than life. Multiple supporting characters bring light to the different facets of a woman that I wanted to learn more about. A lot of plot is contained within this short book (only 139 pages), but since it’s the first of a series, I expect to be seeing a lot more Oz in my future.

Kristi reviews A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories is a collection of short works from Catherine Lundoff

A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories is a collection of short works from Catherine Lundoff. These ten stories run the range of speculative fiction, from an intriguing “highwayman” in “Regency Masquerade” to the Fae choice of love in “A Scent of Roses” to fighting for an Egyptian artifact — and love — in “The Egyptian Cat.”

While each story has a unique plot, there are some themes that appear throughout the collection. Of course we have the requisite female protagonists, in most cases shaping a role that would not normally have been theirs in a heterosexual narrative. There are pirates, swashbucklers, detectives, and fighters, each holding their own in the world. It is not always love for another woman that drives the main character. In “Great Reckonings, Little Rooms,” William Shakespeare’s sister, Judith, searches for her brother and her muse in the dark streets. In the title story “A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace”, a magical body switch has swordswoman Maeve looking at her cousin Raven in a whole different way, quite literally.

On the whole, the book was quite enjoyable. Some stories were more entertaining than others, but I chalk that up to my own leanings toward the Regency romance and fantasy genres. Lundoff’s pacing and tone was even throughout; while each tale had a unique voice and perspective, you could tell they were all authored by the same person. Aside from the title story, each tale has been published previously, but for those who either have not experienced Lundroff’s writings, or who may want a volume of her work, this would be a great addition to a reader’s bookshelf.

Kristi reviews Lemon Reef by Robin Silverman

Jenna is shocked to receive the phone call that told her that her high school love has died from a heart attack while diving at Lemon Reef. Even though they had not been in contact, the shock of Del’s death is overshadowed by old memories and by a request from her ex’s family to fight Del’s husband Talon for custody of Del’s daughter, Khila. As a court Commissioner, Jenna has dealt with many custody battles, and she knows that Talon with his penchant for drugs will be worse for the child than Del’s family. As Jenna deals with coming back home and memories from her past with Del, she soon learns that Del’s death may not be the accident it seems.

Silverman tells the tale through Jenna’s experiences, alternating the story between present day events and the past moments that brought Jenna and Del together — and drove them apart. An intricately layered story of first love and its failure to be a “happily ever after,” Lemon Reef is actually not (as one might suspect) a story of being unable to move on from a lost love. Instead, it is one of laying the past to rest: Jenna deals with Del’s family for the sake of Khila, which allows her to come full circle in her relationship with Del. While the mystery within the book is not so mysterious, the lengths that Jenna and Del’s sisters go to discover the truth about Del’s death give an intensity of discovery to the storyline that most mystery readers will enjoy.

I did struggle a bit with the flashbacks — the intensity of those parts seem to overshadow what was happening in the present. While knowing who these characters were in the past was important to understand many of their motivations, it did make the transition from Jenna’s perspective to her perception of Del trickier to go between without feeling a bit lost. What solidified Jenna’s experience through the book was the final conversation with Del’s daughter, Khila. Without giving too much away, this moment is where it all comes full circle for Jenna. Lemon Reef will be enjoyed for its bittersweet taste of remembering the past and continuing to live in the present.

Note: This book will publish on July 17, 2012. This review copy was provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Kristi reviewed Ill Will by J.M. Redmann

Ill Will by J.M. Redmann

In a city still rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans PI Micky Knight finds that her services are more in need than ever, as are her partner Cordelia’s skills as a physician. Micky has her hands full trying to fob off one client’s demands to discover the root of the fake medicine his nephew is taking and dealing with the aftermath of the torching of a slimy contractor’s property. When she gets pulled into tracking down missing clients from Cordelia’s practice, Micky finds that all her cases intertwine in a way that results in multiple deaths.

On the personal side, Micky and Cordelia are dealing with long hours and long separations, along with the post-traumatic stresses of the hurricane. Their closest friends are dealing with similar issues, along with the loss of jobs, insurance, and homes. When a medical emergency strikes close to home, Micky and Cordelia find their relationship tested once more, with no guarantees for a happy ending.

Readers familiar with the series will understand more of the backstory, but Redmann divulges enough details for a new reader to be comfortable with the book. Secondary characters have a strong role in Ill Will, allowing Redmann to introduce a lot of interesting material about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the cleanup and reconstructions of New Orleans, and the struggles of people trying to rebuild their lives and homes. Fraught with issues of insurance loss, both for belongings and persons, the lines between those who have and those who have-not become sharper. Redman uses her characters draw attention to the personal details that many outside the area may not have known about in a way that does not overshadow the tale.

Ill Will is the seventh outing for Micky Knight, but the first I have picked up. Needless to say, I will be starting from the beginning to see the full story of this down-to-earth protagonist.