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.

Sunny and Cory Review Olive Oil & White Bread by Georgia Beers

Corey: Most lesfic novels are about keeping the couple apart, even though we, the readers, know they will (they must, this is lesfic!) get together in love and passion. In Georgia Beer’s novel Olive Oil and White Bread, we see something a little truer to life. Sometimes the meeting and getting-together lacks drama, and the relationship is the juicier tale.

Sunny: This was a very enjoyable departure from the standard ‘formula’ of the typical lesfic novel. As I’ve become accustomed to with Georgia Beers’ characters, I felt like these people were my friends and I was watching their relationship grow and change through the years. As with real relationships, some of those changes were good and some were not so good, but they all felt very true to life.

Corey: Some of that reality was a little rough to read, which I consider a compliment to the author’s writing skills. Usually when I read a romance novel, I fall in love with both women. I’ll be honest here and say that I built up a lot of hostility towards one character over the years and I lost some sympathy for her. When the couple hit the roughest time in their relationship, I could feel the grey areas of life playing out and I couldn’t take a black-or-white viewpoint. Well done, Georgia.

Sunny: I agree, some of it was tough to go through with them, and I’ll admit I shed a tear or two in certain parts. But, again, these characters seemed like real people, faults and all. I also found it interesting to see both sides of the relationship through the years. That made it both easier and harder to pick sides on certain issues, and, like you said, I found myself seeing many shades of gray.

Corey: Beers also uses both national events and gay cultural touchstones to mark the relationship’s passing years. I found some of this to be pure nostalgia for (ahem) experienced readers and perhaps a primer for the youngsters reading the story before playing that lesbian edition of Trivial Pursuit. Whoever the reader, I promise you’ll be invested in Angie and Jillian for the long haul.

Sunny & Corey [talking over each other]: Go read this book! Another well-crafted Beers novel!

Corey: Long haul. U-Haul. Hee. Okay, I’ll stop now.

You can download a sample or purchase Olive Oil and White Bread by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Finding the Grain by Wynn Malone

A month or so ago, a friend of mine mentioned that she had read Finding the Grain and that she was surprised by how much she liked it. She recommended I give it a shot the next time I was looking for something good to read. Now, this friend and I don’t always agree on what constitutes a good book so I didn’t rush out and buy it.

A few weeks ago, completely out of the blue, I got an email from the publisher with a copy of Finding the Grain attached for possible review. Usually when I get emails from authors or publishers, I send a message with the blurb for the book out to the C-Spot Reviews crew and forward the book to the first person to express interest. I didn’t do that with this one. I wasn’t ready to read it but I wanted to hold it for myself. I very rarely do that. I’m super busy so I’d rather give the team a chance if they’ve got the time and desire.

As it happens, I spent the past week or so moving from the beginning of one book to the next, just looking for something to grab my attention. Once I got to Wynn Malone’s book, I stayed right where I was. Before I go any further in sharing my thoughts, here’s the blurb from

Kentucky was only ever going to be a summer job. Come fall, Blue Riley would be back in North Carolina, in college. But one job led to another, one town led to another, and one woman led to another. Now, after twenty years Blue faces the hardest question of all—is it time to go home?

The story kicks off with Blue, Augusta Blue Riley, talking with her Aunt Julie about college. Blue has just lost her parents in a tornado and she and her aunt don’t see eye to eye on the direction Blue should take. They come to an agreement and with the beginning of the next chapter, we’re off on the adventure that will take us to a middle-aged Blue.

Yeah, I’m not actually going to give you much more than that. While this is a romance novel, it is really so much more than that. It’s not just the tale of Blue finding and losing the love of her life, it’s the story of Blue finding and losing herself. The author takes us along as Blue moves from place to place, job to job, and woman to woman and I was happy to have traveled those miles and years with her.

I found myself drawn into this book almost immediately. Not just with the well-developed protagonist but some of the secondary characters, as well. I felt like Blue was a friend of mine – a maddening friend who made some stupid choices but who I still wanted to care about and I hoped to see her succeed in finding herself. I don’t want to dissuade you from reading the book because of Blue’s bad decision making abilities. Those choices felt genuine and not just plot devices to move us from one place to another.

I think that my being born just a few years after Blue helped me to truly understand some of the obstacles she, and the love of her life Grace, had to deal with. I hope that readers in their 20s and 30s are able to get a glimpse into what being a lesbian in the 80s and 90s was like. It was very different from how it is now.

One of the things that stood out to me the most about Wynn Malone’s book was her writing style and her voice. I loved her descriptions – particularly of nature. I felt as though I was hiking in the mountains or fishing right alongside the characters. Ms. Malone’s voice alone would be enough to get me to read her next book, the fact that the story and characters kept me engaged to the point that I had to fight with myself to put the book down well after my bedtime last night is a bonus.

Was the book perfect? No. There were several errors that the editing team should have caught, extra words in sentences that weren’t removed, mostly. It was enough to pull me out of the story more than a few times. But as far as the story, itself, is concerned, I really enjoyed it. Very much. If you’re looking for a well written book that takes you on a character’s personal journey and not just a quick, girl gets girl, girl loses girl, girl gets girl and lives happily ever after book, I’d highly recommend this one.

You can download a sample or purchase Finding the Grain by clicking here.

96 Hours by Georgia Beers

Anyone who listens to the Cocktail Hour podcast that I co-host knows that I’ve got a little crush on Georgia Beers. It’s ok that I put that out publicly because my wonderful wife knows and is ok with it. That’s not to say that I’ve loved all of Ms. Beers’ books, because I haven’t. I’ve enjoyed all but one to varying degrees but I don’t let my fangirl crush blind my critical eye when it comes to reading her work.

Of all of Beers’ books, my favorite, like many other of her fans, is Starting From Scratch. I think I may have set myself up for heartache because I read that one first and then moved on through the rest of her stuff which, while mostly very good, didn’t quite measure up for me. I was desperate for something new by her when 96 Hours was published, so I bought it right away. And continued to pass it by every time I was ready to start a new book. How would the terrorist attack be handled? Would there be political overtones? Will she use the situation to play at my heartstrings in a blatantly manipulative way? I just wasn’t ready to read it and I didn’t want a short book to change my good feelings about the author so I put it off until yesterday.

In a nutshell, 96 Hours tells the story of what happened when 39 planes were grounded in a tiny Newfoundland community on September 11, 2001 when American air space was closed. In that short period of time, close relationships were created and lives changed forever. The generosity of the residents of Gander truly amazed the Plane People and, to be honest, amazed me, too. I love that the author based the story on actual events and the actual place. I got misty a few times due to the generosity of Corrine and Tim McDougal and the entire community of Gander. It made me want to be a better person.

I found that, while I did get choked up several times, I didn’t feel bad about it. I didn’t feel like I was having my heartstrings yanked on in a very obvious manner. I remembered my own experiences, as one would expect, and how the world has changed since that time. But, mostly, I felt a connection to Abby and Erica and a few other characters as they dealt with uncertainty, discomfort, and discovering the closeness that comes from living through such stressful, difficult times. I won’t give anything away here but I will say that I was pleased that the book didn’t always play out the way I expected. I love that.

I know that there are others out there who have put off reading this book for the same reasons I have. September 11th changed our world and many of those changes are still very obvious today – politically and personally – and many of us are just not quite ready to mix our romance novels with the harsh reality of that heartbreaking time in our history. 96 Hours, I think, handles the tragedy and the hopefulness it brought well and I enjoyed the journey that the characters went on. The book is well written and has romance and humor and difficult emotions. Oh, and two really hot women who have sex.

So, if you’re a Georgia Beers fan, stop putting it off and read 96 Hours. I’m going to be rereading Starting From Scratch soon. I need to make sure that it’s still my favorite after 96 Hours. I think it’ll be close.

Click to purchase 96 Hours by Georgia Beers

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.

Shaken and Stirred by Joan Opyr

I honestly had no idea what to expect from this book. It was picked by the members of the Mostly Lesfic group on Goodreads so, as one of the leaders of the group, I needed to read it. I’d never read any of Ms. Opyr’s work but we both belonged to a Yahoo! group for a long while where she was, and I assume still is, active and I mostly lurked so I was familiar with her. I had been curious about her books, mostly because I lived in Idaho for more than a decade and she lives there, but not enough to buy one. There are so many choices and so few dollars! You know what I’m saying. Right?

Shaken and Stirred isn’t your typical romance novel. This book, told from Poppy (short for Popeye) Koslowski’s point of view, is about dysfunctional families and lost chances. When Poppy is called home to Raleigh NC for her grandfather’s imminent death, she leaves Portland OR with her best friend, Abby. Once back to where she and Abby went to high school together, the reader is taken back and forth between the early 1980’s and what’s happening at present. We learn about Poppy’s parents, grandparents, and her small group of high school friends. The author’s voice and writing style is entertaining and engaging and I read the book in about a day. There aren’t many happy aspects to the tales that Poppy shares with us but there is a lot of humor. I laughed out loud several times but that humor didn’t take away from the seriousness of some of the scenes. Opyr has a way with telling a tale and I moved with her easily from one place to the next. I genuinely cared about the characters and often felt like I was right there with them, watching over Poppy’s shoulder.

I know at least one of my friends would cringe at the constant back and forth in time but, for the most part, this didn’t bother me. There was only one time, about two-thirds through that I felt a twinge of annoyance at going back in time again but I was quickly drawn back into the story.

Overall, I very much recommend this book.

Shaken and Stirred by Joan Opyr

Love in the Balance by Marianne K. Martin

I first came across dedicated lesbian fiction about 15 years ago at Silver Moon bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London. Silver Moon was a women’s interest bookshop with a large collection of lesbian novels on sale both in the shop and by mail order. I bought my first 3 novels there and had great fun with my first lucky choices. Since then my collection of lesbian novels has multiplied – a number of times!

When I feel the inclination to read a lesbian novel, and I’ve got nothing new on the shelves, I’ll go look in my night stand where I keep my favourite lesbian romance novels at hand. You never know when you will come down with a cold, which will keep you in bed for a day or two – so it’s nice to keep some light entertainment close by!

I’ve decided to review some of these long time favourites of mine, maybe you will like them too, even if some of them are more than 10 years old. It has got to say something for the quality of the novels that I can still read them from time to time or maybe it just reveals one of my quirks?

One of my all time favourite lesbian romances is “Love in the Balance” by Marianne K. Martin. The novel was originally published by Naiad Press, but today this novel and a number of other novels by this author are published by Bella Books. I can’t find it on the Bella Books homepage though, but it still seems to be a available on Amazon.

“Love in the Balance” is the story of Connie Bradford and Kasey Hollander – one an accountant, the other a carpenter with her own business renovating old houses. Connie is just starting to find a new path in life after ending an unsatisfying relationship with her boyfriend, and Kasey is nursing a broken heart after having been left by her female lover. Connie is hired by Kasey to handle her books and they quickly form a friendship, which seems perfectly safe for both of them.

In this novel Marianne K. Martin takes the classic romantic storyline of presumably straight girl meets lesbian and gives us a touching tale of what it takes to break down the barriers erected around a broken heart, and I must say that Ms. Martin gives Connie a ride for our money – she really has some “fighting” to do, if she is to win herself the lady of her heart.

Ms. Martin writes a solid story with believable and very likeable characters. She lets us in on the life of both Connie and Kasey and on how they interact with family and friends, and I do appreciate that we are spared the – in lesbian romance novels so common – imagined obstacles on the way towards love, the obstacles are there but they are the “true” happenings.This novel might not have the status of a “classic” lesbian romance novel like “Curious Wine”, which properly made a new set of standards at the time, but while “Curious Wine” seems a bit outdated today, I think that “Love in the Balance” can still ring true – at least if you are old enough to see just a trace of winkles around your eyes 😉