Cheri Reviews Backcast by Ann McMan

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Ann McMan for a long time – both as an author and as a human being. I’ve read nearly all of her books and have enjoyed them to varying degrees but this one, Backcast, is, in my opinion, her best work yet.

The book covers what happens when thirteen women, most of them authors of lesfic, come together to participate in an artistic endeavor. Throughout the book, we’re treated to plenty of funny and thought-provoking scenes and revelations while following the various characters over their two-week adventure in writing, relationship-building, and, for a few, fishing.

For me, the best and most important parts of this book are the essays each participant writes giving glimpses into their pasts. I’ve said it before and I stand by this statement: Ann McMan writes serious and touching fiction. Yes, the woman is hilarious with great timing and wordsmithing but her ability to get to the souls of the characters and strip them bare is incredible. The thirteen essays included as part of Backcast touched me and, several hours after finishing the book, continue to weigh on my mind. We’re not told who wrote which essay and, while I was able to figure a few out, I plan to go back and read them again. Partially to figure out who each belongs to but mostly because I want to take my time with them and truly absorb them. They are that good, that real.

I had received an ebook copy from Bywater Books for review and then received a signed copy as part of a donation to Lambda Literary in honor of our friend, Sandra Moran, and, later, after a recommendation regarding the audiobook, purchased a copy from Audible. The audiobook is how I finally decided to finish the book and I’m happy I did. The narrator does a pretty good job. Although, I’m sure the author would have created a fantastic narration herself. Maybe for the next book. Which I hope will hold even more serious investigation of the human condition because I truly believe that is where this author shines.

So, if you haven’t already, give Backcast a shot. Even if you don’t dig the essays as much as I did, Phoebe and the CLIT Con Thirteen will make it worth the price all on their own.

You can download a sample or purchase Backcast by clicking here.

Aftermath by Ann McMan

I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book from the author, who I love talking with and have had the opportunity to do so twice on the Cocktail Hour podcast. I tell you this because I want to be upfront with the fact that I got a free copy of Aftermath to read for the review AND that I genuinely like the author. I also want you to know that I have no issues with calling bullshit if it’s there to be called and have done so while talking with Ms. McMan on the show. More than once. Just wanted to get any thoughts of sugar-coating out of the way before you read any further. Ok. Ready? Here we go!

Aftermath picks up over a year after Jericho ends. That’s right, just in case you missed it, Aftermath is a sequel to Jericho, Ann’s first published book. All of our favorite characters are back, Maddie and Syd, David and Michael, Roma Jean, Celine, and, of course, little Henry. There are a few new characters introduced, too. My favorite is Charlie Davis. Ok, moving on with the review…

Jericho is hit with a massive tornado which destroys much of the town and while everyone is trying to put their lives back together, Maddie and Syd are hit with a few extra issues. Syd’s soon to be ex-husband has decided at the last minute that he wants to contest the grounds for divorce – his infidelities – and Henry’s father is coming home from Afghanistan. But Maddie and Syd aren’t the only ones in town dealing with changes and revelations. Roma Jean is realizing some things about herself, David and Michael each have some new interests and business ventures, and Henry is dreaming of what life will be like when his daddy comes to live with him at Maddie and Syd’s.

As with all of Ms. McMan’s work, there’s more humor and witty banter than you can shake one of Nadine’s chicken legs at. There are a few things that really stand out to me, the first being the foreword written by David Jenkins. Yes, David from the book provides us with a summary of what’s already happened so we’re not lost if we haven’t read Jericho in a while. And I hadn’t so it was helpful. It was also funny and I loved the way that Ann, through David, pokes fun at the weaker plot points from the first book. Another stand out moment, humor-wise, is David explaining fan fiction to Maddie and comparing her and Syd to Cagney and Lacey. Maddie, objecting to that pairing, suggests Xena and Gabrielle and then, a few minutes later, a more current version with Rizzoli and Isles. I know several of my friends who will be happy to know that the term “Rizzles” wasn’t used anywhere in the book.

There was a much more serious side to Aftermath, too. I’m not ashamed to admit that there’s a scene near the end of the book that forced a few tears to run down my cheeks. Most of the heavy emotions revolve around the imminent departure of Henry from their home but Syd and Maddie are dealing with a lot of stress and turmoil. They’re not the only ones, of course, but for me they’re the focal point of the book, and I think they will be for many readers.

Here’s the bottom line, I truly enjoyed Aftermath. I believe I enjoyed it more than Jericho and I very much enjoyed that book. There are some wonderfully funny images and exchanges but there are also some very serious moments that made me sit back and stop reading for a few minutes; just sit back and think about what was going on and about how I would respond in a similar situation. The scenes describing the tornado ripping through the county – particularly the one involving Maddie and Henry – were intense and very well done.

I don’t really have any bullshit to call but I will say this: I love Ann’s more serious themes and conversations. Yes, I love fun, quick-witted humor and Ann does that in a way few others can. But I also love it when characters struggle and hurt and deal with life and I think Ann does that very well, too. We see it here in Aftermath but sometimes the humor seems to diminish the importance or duration, maybe, of the emotion the characters are experiencing or the seriousness of the situation. It lets us, and the characters, off the hook too soon, I think. I’m not sure I’m explaining this well enough but I hope you get the gist of what I’m trying to get across. It could be that I’m an angst junkie and just am not happy until someone cries. Regardless, Aftermath is a great read and I recommend it.

Now, go pick up a copy of Aftermath. If you enjoyed any of Ann McMan’s previous work, you’ll love this one. And if you don’t, I’m sure Ann can arrange for you to receive one of Peggy’s lemon chess pies to make up for it.

If you haven’t read all of Ann’s books, which I highly recommend you do, you can click here to see Ann’s Amazon author page.

Lesfic Roundup – Humour

There are entirely too many lesfic books that have been published, are being published, and are soon to be published to always write a full blown review for each one. I thought I’d try something a little different and provide a bunch of quick recommendations and reviews grouped by sub-genre. There are some older books as well as more recent ones – so hopefully there will be something new for everyone as well as reminders of old favourites that should be re-read.

Most LesFic books have some degree of humour in them – just as they all seem to have some degree of romance. This roundup is going to focus on books where I felt that the authors have written some particularly funny stories – whether the characters, the plots, or the prose. There are so many kinds of humour – from satire that is clever and cutting, slapstick that is ridiculous and overblown, farce which is fast paced and borders on the absurd, to dry or wry intelligent dialogue. Some authors have mastered it while others try, but the humour seems forced, heavy-handed, and over the top. My general rule is that if the author has to explain why something is funny by explaining the context or the popular references it’s relying on, it isn’t satire – and it isn’t funny.

Humour is subjective, so what I find amusing isn’t likely to be what others will find funny. My particular taste in humour seems to be based on smart, witty characters but with a good dose of slapstick and over the top farce, without being mean-spirited. Not too much to ask for, is it?

Greetings from Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer by Mari SanGiovanni

Now this is a madcap romp that runs into the realm of farce without falling into absurdity. SanGiovanni keeps the humour and plot flowing at a great pace and it did make me laugh aloud. The narrator, Marie Santora, inherits her grandmother’s fortune and it changes her life – whether for the better is to be determined. She and her siblings decide to placate their dysfunctional family to Jamaica for a family vacation to soften them up before they tell them how the money will be divided. In the meantime, Marie finally breaks up with her cheating girlfriend and sets off to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming a screenwriter and convince her favourite actress to read the script. Marie is stalkerish (in an amusing way) in her pursuit of the actress, causing her to retreat to join her family on vacation. Of course the actress arrives at the same resort and the litany of misunderstandings, slapstick and farce goes all out. I ended up with a big grin on my face when I finished it.

They Say She Tastes Like Honey by Michelle Sawyer

This book runs on adrenaline. I mean that in a good way. It’s fast moving, funny, irreverent and unrepentant. Macy is a 40-something lesbian living in New York City where she drinks too much, sleeps around, refuses to take care of health as she bounces from crisis to crisis and makes no apologies for any of it. Despite all that, she’s endearing and funny and you just hope that she manages to pull her shit together. There is a bit of romance, where she meets a young woman who gives her the impetus to change, but the story is really more about Macy. One of the best parts of the book is the way that Sawyer has interspersed the story of her childhood as a nice counterpoint (and breathing space) as Marcy wreaks havoc in her present life.

Family Affair by Saxon Bennett

I recently read Back Talk by the same author and, although it was pretty damn funny, I think she hits her stride with Family Affair. Bennett has a deft hand with humour – her main character, Chase, is charmingly neurotic and is surrounded by a large cast of friends and family who would probably all do well to have a few sessions of therapy. This is a smart and funny story that follows Chase as she deals with impending (and unexpected) parenthood. I’m not too sure if I laughed out loud when reading this one (mostly because I read it on the bus to and from work), but it kept a smile on my face the whole time and more than once I found myself identifying with Chase.

Tats by Layce Gardner

A fun and raunchy ride. Not to be read if you’re too politically correct or have a limited sense of humour. Lee, who is entirely too easily swayed by a nice set of tits, seems to drift in and out of situations without much thought to consequence. She meets up with Viv, an ex call girl who’s on the run, and the two of tear through Tulsa, causing havoc and mayhem. I can’t summarize it because entirely too much happens and you wouldn’t believe half the stuff they get into but I dare you not to crack at least one smile (if not fall into a fit of giggles). There’s a few serious parts but overall, the book is pretty much slapstick and farce which works extremely well as Gardner managed to keep both the characters likable and endearing despite some of the antics they get up to. Great dialogue and a rapid pace makes this one a hard one to put down.

Icehole by Kiera Dellacroix

This one isn’t available in print anymore which is a damned shame. This blends science fiction, action/adventure, romance and comedy quite well. It’s also a great parody of The Thing and lesfic in general. Over the top and funny as all hell – this is a fast paced read. Isolated in a super secret military/science installation in the Antarctic, the crew discovers something rather chilling buried in the eons old ice; but, where this book shines is the irreverent (and smart-assed) characters of Quinn and Corky. This book appeals to the ten year old boy in me – Quinn is crude, rather obnoxious and single minded when it comes to pursuing Corky, but she still makes me laugh my butt off.

The Seduction of Moxie Parties in Congress Both by Colette Moody

I couldn’t pick one of these over the other. Both are smart and funny books with completely different premise and feels and both deliver some great laughs. The Seduction of Moxie is definitely a fast-paced and laugh-out-loud read. Moody nails the 30’s style screwball comedies (which I love) in both dialogue as well as farcical situations – adding a fair bit of debauchery and crudity for good measure. If you are looking for a break from the standard lesfic angst-ridden romances, I would recommend this one. Parties in Congress is another winner – this one is set in modern DC during a political campaign. Moody has a great way with dialogue and she sets up some absolutely ridiculous situations and characters that edge into the realm of farce – but I can see every situation actually happening. Her characters are smart, savvy and have a wicked sense of humour.

Jericho Dust Both by Ann McMan

Both were originally online fiction but have since been published. McMan’s books are recommended reads – Jericho being a long but well-paced romance and Dust being much more action packed with some political intrigue. Although the situations and plots are quite different, McMan has a very intelligent, humourous voice and her dialogue between the characters is smart, sassy and hilarious. I wouldn’t put these into the madcap or farce categories – the humour is character and dialogue driven.

Dust by Ann McMan

I finished Dust about an hour ago and I’m still not sure who all dunnit. It’s not easy to get me all twisted around in a mystery but Ann McMan did.

Dust is a published Xena uber centered around Evan Reed and Julia Donne. Sort of. Evan was hired by the father of her child who works for a sort of sleazy guy who is very successful at getting people elected to public office. Evan is a “Dust Buster”; she digs up dirt on potential candidates so the sleazy guy can manage the leaking of the dirt and control the fallout. Evan’s been hired to investigate Julia’s husband, Senator Andrew Townsend. Initially he appears to be squeaky clean but Evan quickly figures out that there’s much more going on.

I was already a fan of McMan’s work after reading Jericho and getting a chance to chat with her on Cocktail Hour. Dust is different from Jericho in a few ways. For one, it’s shorter; I started it yesterday evening and finished it this afternoon. There also wasn’t any explicit sex. There was lots of sex going on between the characters, we just didn’t get to play Peeping Tom for any of it. The other major difference was the incredible speed at which Evan and Julia proclaimed their love. It was a little quick for me but I do understand the whole “love at first sight” thing. But the biggest difference is that the story isn’t driven by the romance. This book is about figuring out how the characters fit into the mystery. I’m not going to go into any more detail than that.

What shined about Dust, for me, was that I didn’t know what the hell was going on until the end. And even then I wasn’t sure about everything. McMan’s humor, and love of booze, came through clear and I love all of the pop culture references that, I’m quite sure, most people under 35 or so won’t get. I’ll definitely be buying the sequel once it comes out. Until then, I still have some of her online work that I haven’t read yet. Oh, and if you’re wondering where you can find the online version of Dust, you can get it right on the author’s website:

Thanks, Ann, for another great read! I raise my Cosmo to you.

Dust by Ann McMan

Falling from Grace by Ann McMan

If you don’t believe in coincidence, or cannot at least make believe, this story may well not be for you.Grace Wagner is far from over from being dumped (for a younger woman!) by her partner, Denise. And she is so not looking forward to attending her best friend Rizzo’s birthday party on Halloween — in full costume. Besides, the flight to San Francisco costs a fortune.

Said flight turns out to be somewhat rewarding, when Grace meets Abby Williams. The two women “click”, and (surprise, surprise!) meet again at Rizzo’s party. They spend the night after together (but if you’re looking for steam, look elsewhere).

Well then, are we being treated with a happy ending? No, we aren’t. But… After having lost contact with one another, they meet again. And it’s at this point that Ann asks her readers if they want to read more about this (not yet) couple. She wanted to only write a short story, but the plot somehow got out of hand. Of course, I voted YES!!!

Ann is currently busy with a sequel to “Jericho”, so it might be a while.

Well worth reading, driven by fast, intelligent dialogue (which I’m beginning to think of as the authoress’s special talent).