The Bookgeek Reviews How Still My Love by Diane Marina

The bookcover of Diane Marina’s novel boldly announces a “A contemporary romance” and when Beth Anders is set up by her best friend Laurel for a blind date, we think we know what will happen and it happens: a beautiful love story between Beth and Toni. So I wondered after blissfully reading along how the author would fill in the other half of the book… Well, I don’t want to put in any spoilers, but let me tell you that Diane Marina makes good use of ink and paper and leads us onto an emotional roller-coaster which leaves us in the lurch (and tearfully so) and wondering for the longest time if love indeed conquers all.

“Beth Anders is just fine with her single life. Why mess with the heart when it isn’t broken?” says the Amazon blurb. Beth has her own relationship baggage due to a former hurtful relationship with her abusive ex-girlfriend and parents who disowned her for being gay. And then her best friend sets her up for a blind date with sexy, intelligent Toni Vincent. A wonderful romance starts. But then both have to make serious decisions about their future: Are there to be kids?

This is a heart-warming romance with great main and secondary characters. And it is a different approach to the romance theme because it includes what happens after the grand romance. The story has some lesbian drama, but the characters and the story are well-developed and believable. The author‘s writing is easy to read and brings all those emotions alive. There are some editing issues and one would hope that this promising indie author will iron this out in the future. All in all How Still My Love is a romantic and at times heart-wrenching read about modern lesbians which is well-written and hooks the reader.

You can download a sample or purchase How Still My Love by clicking here.

The Bookgeek Reviews Radclyffe’s Taking Fire

A glimpse under the glorious veneer of war into the souls and hearts of those who are under fire.

With so many US troops deployed in war-torn countries and so many help organizations right out there in the wilderness, novels which take a hard look at what those out there, and specifically what women have to endure, are not easy but welcome reads. Bold Strokes Books has set landmarks with one of the first accounts of veterans with PTSD in Battle Scars by Meghan O’Brien or Sophia Kell Hagin’s acclaimed debut Whatever Gods May Be which takes us right into the hell of war. Now Radclyffe gives us a superb novel, a novel that catches in a nutshell the good and the evil of war, the mind-numbing dread, the dirt, the pain, and the paid-by-blood moments of triumph.

Rachel is on a humanitarian mission in Somalia, a land in the claws of rebels and warlords where Doctors Without Borders and other organizations do their best to fight for stragglers and survivors in the middle of the jungle. When circumstances deteriorate, a US Navy team is deployed to extract them – among them Max, a surgeon whose tour is nearing its end, but no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy. And everything escalates quickly. Max and Rachel have to work together to escape that hell-hole.

Radclyffe gives us a gripping and gritty account of fighting and survival, she gives us a glimpse into the hearts and minds of those struggling to survive not only physically but mentally and emotionally. There are passages of great beauty and deep insights alternating with realistic, mind-boggling scenes full of blood and tension. This is not about the glorified side of war featured in press articles, but the story touches at the “heart” of what war does to the human soul – the stark moment when nothing else counts other than what you are right here, right now, the nightmares, the guilt, and the lure. She perfectly catches the times of insane action, the boredom in between missions, and the politics and paper-pushing.

“Her heart raced wildly and panic bubbled in her throat. She couldn’t relax enough to capture a full breath, afraid the instant her hyper vigilance ebbed, she’d be attacked. She doubted she’d ever relax again.”

The writing is dense, compact, crisp and is a joy to read at all times. The story-arc is excellent and holds the focus until the very end. Yes, there is romance there. And Radclyffe does not take the easy way out. Her character development takes us on the roller-coaster journey of the two main characters to find, acknowledge, and cherish love under circumstances which never again can be ideal for those whose hearts have been tried and tested in the crucibles of war.

This is a gripping and well-worth reading book, one of Radclyffe’s best to date.

You can download a sample or purchase Taking Fire: A First Responders Novel by clicking here.

The Bookgeek Reviews Forevermore by Lynn Galli

Here is the deal: I love Lynn Galli’s romances revolving around the “Virginia Clan” and there is one book which is by now dog-eared and well-read as a comfort read for “those days”, Blessed Twice, where M Desiderius and Briony meet and fall in love. Forevermore is a sequel to Blessed Twice, and concentrates on the couple‘s parenting and marriage. And yes: There was a happy squeal when I realized that Forevermore is a sequel to Blessed Twice and yes, I read it in one sitting.

M, who had been a foster child herself, wants to pay forward the love she found right after she was orphaned. So M, Briony, and Caleb, Briony’s teenaged son, take in Olivia, an 11 year old foster child and then life happens.

Lynn Galli does a brilliant job of telling this story from the perspectives of M, the former foster child, and Olivia, the orphan who holds her breath and doesn’t dare to hope because disappointment is a way of life since she entered the foster care system. I was totally taken with how Lynn Galli takes us readers on an emotional roller-coaster with the insights into the workings of Olivia’s mind. My heart went out to this child and I wanted to cheer her on. But don’t you worry: Olivia has great allies, M, Briony, their son Caleb, who is wearing the badge of big brother exceedingly well, and the clan of friends. They all stand up to help the newest addition to the extended family of friends.

One of the benefits of a sequel is getting to meet again all those main characters of former books who I have come to love, especially Lauren, Jessie, the Cap, Willa, Quinn and, of course, the glowing love between Briony and M.

So if you are looking for a book which focuses on life well into love with tender moments and a sweet, at times emotional read chock-full of love, I highly recommend as first course “Blessed Twice” and as a great dessert “Forevermore”.

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

The Bookgeek reviews Kiss The Girl by Melissa Brayden

Sweet romance with lots of hot kissing

There are romances and there are romances – some come with heavy angst and a lot of deep and troubling issues, some are mysteries cum romance or paranormal cum romance and some are just that a romance. And as I have said before, the last kind of pure romance is the most rare and the most difficult to find. Melissa Brayden can be relied on to write consistently very sweet, pure romances and delivers again with her newest book Kiss the Girl.

Jessica is a tough, driven business woman who is all work, no fun. But then she meets Brooklyn and discovers life, love, and sweet kissing. Brooklyn is creative, fun, and a crazy driver in NYC. She has spend her youth in the foster care system and has learned early in her life not to open up her heart lest she will be left again. Now she runs a successful advertising agency with her three friends who won her heart during their college years. Enter Jessica and enter a message from her birth mother. It’s showtime for Jessica in her personal life and also at work because it turns out that she and her agency are fighting for the same, big account.

I loved how Melissa Brayden puts a true romance together from scratch which tugs at the reader’s heart strings, is filled with humor, and introduces us to wonderfully likable secondary characters. There are scenes suffused with the sweetest love, some with great sadness or even anger – a whole gamut of emotions takes readers on a gentle roller coaster with a consistent upbeat tone. And at the heart of this book is a hymn to true friendship and to human decency. A special mention must be made of Ashton – a great teenager – who helps Jessica on her quest for humanity. The setting, advertising in NYC, is well done and convincing.

The editing, though, disappointed a few times e.g. I had to reread some scenes or dialogues to get the timeline or who was speaking.

Since on the cover we learn that this is “A Soho Loft Romance” I hold high hopes that we will hear more about Brooklyn and her friends, Sam, Mallory, Hunter who are not only great friends, but single too – hint. This review definitely needs to end with mentioning that there is kissing – sweet, hot, great kissing.

You can purchase Kiss the Girl by clicking here or at Bold Strokes Books.

The Bookgeek Reviews All In by Nell Stark

I am a sucker for a good romance and I admire lesbian romances which are “straight” romances, where the story thrives on the penwomanship of the author, the character development, and the chemistry of the setting and main characters. It is the most difficult romance to write because there is nothing to distract the reader. Nell Stark is one of those authors who have grown into master romance tellers and I am always eagerly awaiting her newest.

All In is set in Las Vegas. But Stark’s take of Las Vegas is the perfect counterpoint to the reader’s expectation: yes, there is glamour, yes, there is glitter, yes, there are high stake, but her two main characters actually work in the world of gambling. This perspective gives us a view, sometimes a rather cynical one, behind the scenes. It sets the perfect stage for the two main characters: Vesper Blake is busy advancing her career as host for high rollers and Annie Jump Navarro is trying to build a name as professional power player by becoming a poker champion. Both are focused, but when they nilly-willy meet a slow, but inexorable dance of mutual attraction and compelling chemistry begins the biggest gamble of both their lives, the gamble to trust in true romance.

It is difficult to tell what I loved most about this book. The writing is very smooth and I love well-written prose. The story was character-driven and the character development was excellent. Both main characters are multi-layered, three dimensional, likable. And although I am no poker player and not into gambling this part is well-told and adds – almost like a character on its own – a lot of substance and credibility to the story and gives ample opportunity to drive the story. And though sex is an expected part of a romance, Nell Stark has added exceptional love scenes which exceed expectation: they are at the same time tender and hot and very expressive.

All In is Nell Stark’s best romance yet and an exceptional read. Well done!

You can download a sample or purchase All In by clicking here.

The Bookgeek reviews Nightingale by Andrea Bramhall

While the West is continuously moving along to emancipate women and give them full equality, this is not true for a now sizable niche of immigrants from countries where the grip of patriarchy is often shrouded in religious, fundamentalist cloth is still the norm. We usually choose to ignore female genital mutilation performed right at our doorsteps, “honor” killings of women, forced arranged marriages, or sharia courts in the middle of our oh-so-enlightened society which take for granted and enforce the inequality of women. And the status of gay rights in those alternative communities is even worse.

Andrea Bramhall, the recent recipient for a Lambda Literary Award for her romance Clean Slate focuses her newest novel Nightingale on this “niche”. There are two strands of her story – “now” in Pakistan and “then” in England. The two story lines adroitly tell the love story of Hazaar and Charlie. Hazaar whose name means Nightingale in Urdu, is of Pakistani origin and, with the help of her doting father, escapes the family obligations, i.e. marrying and being an obedient wife. She was raised in Great Britain and studies music at a British university. This is where she meets Charlie. It is lust and love at first sight for both of them. But whereas Charlie lives openly as a lesbian and has an accepting family who embraces her new girlfriend, Hazaar lives a secret double-life. She plans to break with her family and especially her father, whom she loves dearly, eventually to live with Charlie, but life intervenes.

Years later Charlie is a skilled and slightly maverick negotiator with the British embassy in Pakistan. Her task is to help along with kids from Pakistani-British marriages or females who have been abducted to live in Pakistan under a very different set of values and laws. And with a single phone-call her sweet love story from her university years comes to life again. A new story, at times brutal and unsparingly told, unfolds of the life of a once British-educated woman now living under the age-old patriarchal rules which make her life vanish behind the walls of her husband’s house.

Hazaar’s and Charlie’s lives collide again and although this is a romance, this part of the book will have readers sit at the edge of their chair, nail-biting and repeating the mantra “thank Goddess for having been born as a Westerner into the 21st century”.

The story is well-told and with a doting Pakistani father doesn’t buy into the cliche of the evil Muslim father selling of his brow-beaten daughters into forced marriages. But it doesn’t put a varnish either on the contempt for women’s rights and the role of women in fundamentalist, patriarchal societies. Bramhall describes very well how torn Hazaar is as a young woman between the two worlds, modern and ancient. Without judgement she makes us understand Hazaar’s view of the world. However, she paints a bleak picture of traditional Pashtun society and its connection to the Taliban and seeing what happened to Malala Yousafzai (whose father is also very proud of her achievements) she is – as far as a Western reader can fathom this alien world – spot-on.

Andrea Bramhall put out a book which, although it contains a love-story, is difficult to be labelled as a romance. It is in the form a romance-cum-thriller a thought-provoking exploration beyond the curtains the genre of lesbian fiction usually accepts for itself. It is a story about a world divided, one where women have rights and another where they are suffocated and dominated by males, power-abuse and what not. The story stayed with me for days thinking about the fate so many women in our midst have to accept because we choose to look elsewhere, because we maybe don’t want to look too closely at what happens in the middle of our free societies.

There is a great cast of secondary characters to support the brilliant protagonists, the writing is superb and the editing well-done. If there is a small quibble, it is for me the hot sex in this book. Well written and enjoyable, it might still be something which could make it difficult to place this book e.g. into the hands of immigrants for whom even a chaste kiss on television is scandalous, let alone a full-blown sex scene (thanks to Ahmed, the Pashtun, who educated me about this many years ago in Delhi).

So let me recommend Nightingale to anyone, lesbian or feminist, who would like to read a thought-provoking, well-written novel about the clash of cultures happening on a daily bases right where we live.

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

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.