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.

Cheri Reviews Officer Down by Erin Dutton

I nabbed an advanced copy of Erin Dutton’s upcoming novel, Officer Down. If you don’t have time to watch the video, here’s the verdict: I enjoyed the book and I was skeptical because I’d been disappointed by the last few of her books (I haven’t read For the Love of Cake so I can’t speak to that one). This one felt much more like the Dutton of old, whose work I loved.

Cheri Reviews Bodies of Water by T. Greenwood

I don’t often take recommendations from people when it comes to reading material. There are, however, a small group of friends who know what I like well enough to make me take notice when they offer up a title. I just finished up one such recommendation a few minutes ago. For the life of me, I cannot remember who it was who told me to put it on my list. If I could recall who it was, I’d thank them for telling me to give it a shot. So if you’re reading this and recommended T. Greenwood’s Bodies of Water to me, thanks!

Bodies of Water shuttles the reader between the very early 1960s and the current time. Our narrator is Billie Valentine, housewife and mother who falls for another woman. This isn’t one of those tawdry lesbian romance novels about afternoon trysts between bored housewives. This is, instead, the somewhat tragic story of love found and lost and going on with life, even when it’s painful and seems impossible.

I was fully engaged in the story – both time periods of Billie’s life – and I genuinely cared about the characters. Well, most of them. The women were a bit more fleshed out than some of the male characters, one of whom did feel like a caricature of an abusive husband. It certainly made it easier to hate him but I would have liked a bit more about why he was such a controlling, violent dickhead.

I’d recommend this one to anyone, lesbian, bisexual, or straight, who isn’t bothered by bouncing back and forth between time periods. There are sex scenes but they’re not overly graphic and feel appropriate for the story being told. There’s a bit of a mystery or twist or something that’s supposed to sort of shock us at the end but I found it very easy to figure out. I was disappointed with just how easy it was to see what was coming but the rest of the story was still good enough for me to come away with a good feeling about the book.

I can also recommend the Audible version. The narrator does a fantastic job.

This book, and the Audible companion, are available through the Kindle Unlimited program. You can also purchase, download a sample of the ebook, or listen to a few minutes of the audio book by clicking here.

Thanks, again, to whomever told me to read Bodies of Water. I appreciate the recommendation!

The Bookgeek Reviews Inside Out by Susan X. Meagher

The newest book by Susan X. Meagher is not only a sweet romance but a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of sexuality.

Kit is turning forty and straight, thoroughly straight. She is a liberal with gay friends, supports a lot of gay causes, but she is – no doubt in her mind about it – straight. Then she meets Bailey – cuteness incarnate, who is a lesbian, a boi, and out and proud. A perfect dance of attraction begins. Susan again is the master/mistress of a slow simmering romance until the flames flare and consume Kit and Bailey.

But Kit struggles with her self-identification and Bailey with her insecurity about this identification because falling for a self-professed straight woman is for a lesbian according to the lesbian rule book a recipe for disaster and heartbreak. This is where the story becomes thought-provoking. Ever since the Kinsey-Report, we have known that sexuality is more fluid than a simple straight/lesbian binary. And recently among the younger crowd who is growing up in a more accepting society the “labels” and personal expressions of sexuality have become more fluid, too. Being queer now describes a whole gamut of sexual orientation without pigeon-holing or requiring a binary decision.

“I think sexuality is complex. Really complex. And I am absolutely certain sexual orientation isn’t binary.”

Frankly: this is new and overdue and something to be expected in a society open to more possibilities. And at the same time it is challenging for all of us who grew up in a different time where you had to struggle to come out and identify yourself against a hostile society: Where falling in love with a straight woman might have spelled disaster and where the word “bi-curious” was not in the least positive. Inside Out is a perfect reading companion to this new, wonderful challenge to our LGBTQ-rainbow-universe. While reading and enjoying the tender romance revolving around Kit and Bailey, Susan X. Meagher makes us subtly understand our own internalized queer-phobia and challenges our perception of the old binary straight vs. gay. Well done.

Another layer which enriches this book is the baggage both main characters come with. They are both outliers. Kit is the one liberal in her very conservative and traditional Bostonian family. Her job, her friends (OMG a black person and OMG gay people) and being single instead being a trophy wife to a successful male are alien to them and make her an outcast and very private person, private as in not willing to be out in any form.

“Since the day she was born she’d just felt a little off – a little different. Outside of her family, classmates, even many of her co-workers. But it wasn’t like that with Bailey. With her she was an insider.”

Bailey was and is as a lesbian boi who wears the cutest suits and ties, an outlier to “normalcy” too. But her family, going against their traditional background which does not encourage homosexuell behavior at all, is accepting of her, even though it is difficult though for them. But past experience made her wary of anyone not being out, let alone claiming to be straight. Another curve-ball is thrown into their budding romance by their perception of what feels comfortable in the “in” and “out” game.

At last. The story is set in Washington DC where Kit is part of the frantic political circus – first by being a political blogger and running a gossip site and second because she had been the long-term girlfriend of a prominent senator. Bailey is a computer nerd and totally innocent politically. The setting is well-developed and believable and is a great stage to develop the themes around the romance.

The book is very obviously a romance and can be enjoyed as such. But the sub-themes and layers added to it give it a lot of depth which one would not ordinarily expect from such a “light” read. The author plays with our comfort-zones, challenges our perception of what is “right” and “wrong” and still writes a sweet queer romance. Only a master-writer can pull that of and Susan X. Meagher is nothing less than a true master. The writing is totally “Meagher” – at a leisurely pace, with a lot of attention to detail and an insightful development of character and setting. The main characters are very likeable and the sex is hot. The recipe for this book is: Savor slowly and expect some unexpected education of your taste-buds.

You can download a sample or purchase Inside Out by clicking here.

December Book Binge Weeks 2 and 3 – What I Did Instead of Going to the Mall

With the ridiculously fast approaching holidays, I’m finding myself increasingly less interested in venturing out of the house – especially when even getting a litre (quart for you Yanks) of milk involves an obscene amount of time spent circling in parking lots, eyes peeled for an open or soon to be vacated spot. I did do my time in retail hell – a few hours at the mall that was planned out like a Navy Seal mission (get in, achieve the objective and get out with as little bloodshed as possible). The last couple of weeks, I’ve had to the chance to spend some time on the couch with a big mug of cocoa and I’ve been digging out more books for my e-reader and *gasp* a few honest-to-god paperbacks that grabbed my attention.

Beyond Innocence by Carsen Taite

The newest from Taite, Beyond Innocence is a legal procedural. I’ve read most of Taite’s stuff and I have to say that she shines in this milieu and I do hope she sticks to this type of novel – not that Do Not Disturb was horrible, it didn’t hold my attention as much as her legal novels. When Serena Washington’s estranged brother writes to her from death row, she is compelled to do whatever she can to help save his life and contacts the Justice Clinic as a last ditch effort to help. There she meets Cory, a Dallas ADA who has been suspended for prosecutorial misconduct and is serving out her community service working for the “other side”. As you would expect, sparks and legal writs fly. What I liked about this book were the shades of grey (no, not the smutty Shades of Grey) – both in the relationship as well as the cases. As Cory keeps saying, whether about her own scandal or the cases she’s involved with, it’s complicated and sometimes the wrong thing is done for the right reasons – or what seems to be right at the time. The romance builds slowly – well, slowly for a lesfic – with lots of smoldering looks and with just enough angst to keep the two women from jumping right into bed. If you like legal dramas – pick this one up. If you don’t – read it anyways. I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Talk of the Town by Saxon Bennett

Nobody does quirky like Saxon Bennett. Somehow she has terribly implausible characters doing ridiculous things and I still find myself drawn into their lives and cheering them on. We’re introduced to Mallory Simpson in her therapist office, where she spends the session in an upside down lotus position, wearing pajamas and a tie. Like I said, quirky. The book follows Mallory, her best friend and unrequited love Gigi, and the various other friends as the navigate falling in and out of love. Bennett writes great characters who are funny and engaging and you can’t help but like them. She balances humourous dialogue and situations with and some interesting insights about relationships quite well. This is one of Bennett’s earlier books that I picked up through a sale at Bella and I’m glad that I did. When reading this one, I could see some similarities with the more polished Family Affair (freaking hilarious – get it) – but that didn’t detract from the book. If you’re looking for a funny, fast paced story that is engaging and sweet – pick this one up. Recommended.

Month of Sundays by Yolanda Wallace

Based on the promo blurb, I’d been looking forward to this book for the past few months. The premise just screams romance. Throw in a chef as one of the main characters and I was completely smitten with the storyline. Rachel Bauer, a reserved accountant who is recovering from a nasty break up, is set up on a blind date with Griffin Sutton, a gorgeous celebrity chef who is more than a bit of a player. After Rachel rejects her initial overtures, Griffin convinces her to allow her to try and woo her with a series of culinary trips around the world over a month of Sundays. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed with the book overall. I still like the premise, but the execution just didn’t work for me. I had a hard time getting my head around what attracted the characters to one another in the first place and I just didn’t “feel” the romance even though it develops over a long (in lesbian terms) period. Also, the author has a habit of using pop culture references then explaining them in detail – which is a pet peeve of mine. Not necessarily a bad book – but not one that I enjoyed.

The Dragon Tree Legacy by Ali Vali

Although Major Wiley Grimallion is retired, she still keeps her black ops/sniper skills sharp taking on select “jobs” that require a more direct brand of justice. Settling into New Orleans, she receives a message from a long lost love, Aubrey Tarver, and is drawn into a violent confrontation with some rather nasty drug dealers. While Wiley and Aubrey deal with their unexpected reunion and the repercussions of Wiley leaving many years ago, there are a number of dark plots weaving themselves into a tight net around them. Nunzio, from the Devil series, is back, trying to ingratiate himself back into the drug trade in New Orleans, specifically with a mysterious and violent drug lord who has some rather dastardly dealings with Aubrey’s current lover. A rogue CIA agent is trying to strong arm Wiley into exterminating another drug lord/CIA asset in Mexico, leveraging the local FBI (who were never very bright in the Devil books). About halfway through I thought that this is going to be a series, but she managed to wrap everything up by the end.

There’s a good bit of action and double-crosses in this one – with a darker tone as it deals with the drug underworld and throws in some black ops just to raise the danger stakes. At times I thought there was a bit too much going on with all the subplots and some timeline inconsistencies which distracted from the cohesiveness of the overall story. There’s also a whole lot of angst– Wiley and Aubrey never stopped loving one another but, the amount of shit that happened and is happening is going to be hard to overcome. Wiley is a bit less of a rascal than Cain Casey, and at times just a bit too noble for her own good, and Aubrey makes me want to give her a shake and ask “Really? You thought that was a good idea? Really?”

In summary, Dragon Tree Legacy is a good dark intrigue book, full of action and suspense. If you like the Devil series, this will probably be one that you enjoy, but I don’t think it quite hit the same mark as the first few in the Casey series.

And Playing the Role of Herself by K E Lane

This was originally a fanfic story and I loved it so much I bought the published version a couple of years ago at the GCLS. As an actress on an ensemble police drama, Caidence Harris is nursing a bit of a crush on Robyn Ward, the famous and successful lead on a “sister show”. Piqued by online fanfic about the shows, the producers decide to write in a lesbian kiss between Caid and Robyn’s characters and the smoldering unspoken attraction ratchets up. There’s a wonderful chemistry between Caid and Robyn and as their relationship develops you can’t help but develop a bit of girl crush on both of them. My one qualm is that Caid seems to get herself into an inordinate amount of trouble – especially whenever things heat up with Robyn. But what romance doesn’t have a few bumps in the road. Well-paced, well-written, humour, action, romance and a bit of angst – this book has it all. Definitely recommended.

Heart Block by Melissa Brayden

Heart Block is a sweet romance that features a highly successful woman, born with a silver spoon to largely uncommunicative parents. Upon the death of her mother, Emory requires the organizational skills of Sarah’s family business. Emory is immediately attracted to Sarah, and surprisingly charmed by her precocious and witty daughter.

Sarah and Emory quickly become friends (and more) but must deal with a multitude of obstacles. Emory’s stressful job takes up all her spare time, and Sarah suffers bouts of insecurity, being surrounded by people that are “above her station.” Emory’s problems stem from her emotionally-stunted family dynamics, so you can imagine there are some hurdles to be jumped. Have I mentioned that Sarah has never been attracted to a woman before?

I’ve heard people on Goodreads complain that there are too many “coming out” romances around. I wonder if that’s a common sentiment among lesfic readers, but I’ve gotta say, it’s not how I feel at all. Maybe it’s because I didn’t spring forth from the womb knowing I was attracted to other girls. I didn’t realize I might have been looking in the wrong place until I was 25, and I wasn’t even 100% sure until a year or two later. I honestly believe that there is quite a wide range on the Kinsey scale, and it is a rare person that is a strict 0 or 6. Maybe it’s because of this that I felt such a strong connection to Sarah in the story. She would be attracted to men, but never felt those emotions that one should feel when falling in love. The way Brayden tackles the subject through Sarah (you date men, because that’s what you do) was exactly the same recognition I came to years ago. I never consciously realized that I wasn’t feeling what others were until I did.

The author handles two things particularly well: Sarah’s hesitancy to tell her family and her daughter’s limitless acceptance.  It really emphasizes the contrast between the older and younger generations in regard to how homosexuality is becoming ‘no big deal’ which is so very lovely. Did I mention the humor? Although this book doesn’t beat you over the head with wit, the interactions are almost always humorous, making both characters really quite loveable. Overall a very enjoyable read, and one that I just flew through. I’m thinking it will be one I revisit on a regular basis, when I’m looking for a sweet pick-me-up.

If you’re interested in hearing more about this book, you should hop over to Cocktail Hour, where the author stopped by for a delightful podcast with Andy and the Rev.

You can get Melissa’s books at BSB or Amazon

A Perfect Match by Erin Dutton

I’ve been a fan of Erin Dutton for a long time and A Perfect Match was the only book of hers that I hadn’t read. I’ve enjoyed all of Dutton’s books, some more than others, but I’ve not really been disappointed by any of them. So why wait more than two years to buy A Perfect Match? Because I hate spending $10 ($11 at BSB) for a short book. I know, I know, that may be a lame reason but it’s the truth. I think this was classified by Bold Strokes Books as a Matinee book because you could read it in an afternoon. I just don’t think it’s fair to charge the same price for a 300 page novel as a novella under 200. So anyway, I got a gift card for my birthday and felt ok about buying it since someone gave me the money.

A Perfect Match starts off with closeted pro golfer Tiernan O’Shea being outed and dumped, very publicly, as she’s heading out to start a tournament. That tournament is being covered by reporter Elena Pilar, also a closeted lesbian. A couple weeks later, they’re paired up in a pro-am charity tournament and discover their mutual attraction.

So, did I like the short book? Yeah, I did. I liked the characters and the story but, to be very honest, it was just too short. I like short stories but this felt like it should have been a full length novel but wasn’t developed enough. There was so much that, honestly, should have been developed because leaving the story as it is just feels like it was rushed. As I watched the pages tick away, I kept thinking, “the wrap up is going to be too easy and quick,” and it was.

These characters had some very complex issues and I would have loved to see some actual resolution but instead most arcs were just left hanging. As I was reading the book, I was engaged and connected to the characters, just like I usually am with the author’s work, and I looked forward to seeing how it would end, how she would either bring Tiernan and Elena together or, maybe, not have them be able to overcome the barriers and walk away from each other, even though I knew that would be a longshot.

With several hours gone since I finished the book last night, I guess I am a little more disappointed than I initially thought I was. Am I happy I read it? Yeah. Did I enjoy it? Yeah, I did. Do I think it would have been better with fully fleshed out characters and story arcs? Absolutely.

So I guess the bottom line is that if you’re a die-hard Dutton fan, suck it up and buy it or ask someone to loan it to you or pick it up when you get a gift card or it goes on sale. If you’re new to the author’s work, don’t start with this one. Start with Fully Involved or A Place to Rest and go from there.

Click to buy A Perfect Match by Erin Dutton