Tag Archives: Lesbian fiction

A Quiet Death – Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes Books)

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You may well ask what I’ve been reading since the blog’s been on hiatus, and I can tell you it’s been mostly non-fiction. I have read little LGBT fiction other than what I’ve edited. Thus, I’ve fallen behind on some of my favorite authors–including Cari Hunter, whose Desolation Point and Tumbledown I thoroughly enjoyed. So, when I saw her latest release, A Quiet Death, coincided with the reopening of the blog, I was (as they say) “chuffed” and immediately put it on my TBR pile. And it should be on yours as well.

Lifelong pals Detective Sanne Jensen and Dr. Meg Fielding, are now officially dating, but that’s the least of their worries. Meg is mystified by what appears to be a case of domestic abuse while Sanne is investigating the death of a Pakistani girl on the moors. As the two mysteries move inexorably toward each other, Sanne also deals with the hospitalization of her father and uncovers a slave trade ring in the Pakistani community.

Post-CSI and its various anacronym-ridden spinoffs, police procedurals can  be a bit of a slog–almost as routine as their real-life counterparts–but Hunter is savvy enough to use that as a springboard on which she can launch some wonderful characters. Sanne is spunky but vulnerable, and Meg is professional yet not. Together, their banter is witty and believable. Sanne’s relationship with her work partner, Nelson, is also interesting to watch play out.

But all this is beside the point. Hunter moves these people through the plot with a confident joy that really comes through on the page. She revels in the details, works in the peaks and valleys, and maintains the balance between explanation and action like a true pro. And those action scenes are incomparable. They move so well, so effortlessly that it’s past your bedtime before you know it, and you’ll still want another chapter. She also has a way with a twist, keeping you off balance until she reveals the true connection between Sanne and the case at hand.

But this cracking good mystery also has a thorough respect for the various ethnic subcultures it explores. I learned things, which is never bad for a reader. Moreover, it has a distinctly British flavour, not pandering to American tastes. Personally, I love British slang, and the more the better for me. Of course, I watch Scottish dramas without the subtitle function. Still, any reader worth his salt can comprehend the context clues.

Of the three of Hunter’s books I’ve read and reviewed for this blog, this has got to be my favorite. Interesting plot, great characters, muscular prose–I’m more than chuffed. I’m potty about it.

And that’s no bollocks.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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The Liberators of Willow Run – Marianne K. Martin (Bywater Books)

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One of the reasons I brought this blog back to life is the political climate in our country these days. Queer writing of any sort has always been a rebellious act. Make it romantic, make it raunchy, make it strident, make it sweet, make it so beautiful that even our most vile enemies can’t hold back their tears. But make it count. And the more voices we can muster, the louder our collective cry will be. Marianne K. Martin’s latest, The Liberators of Willow Run, shouts freedom from the rooftops for the disenfranchised of all stripes.

Audrey works at the Willow Run Bomber Plant near Detroit, making B-24 bomber planes essential for victory in WWII. Rose works at a nearby restaurant, having gotten the job after a stay at the Crittenton Home for unwed mothers. Nona is a young black woman also employed at the plant, but she has a plan for her education and a career in mind. Together, they conspire to prevent Amelia, also a Crittenton resident, from returning to a less-than-desireable home situation as Audrey and Rose fall in love.

Martin draws all these plot elements together with a sure, steady hand, creating characters that live and breathe on the page. Moreover, they fight. They fight for respect at work, they fight for love, they fight for the right to do as they please with their bodies and their lives. But most importantly, they fight for each other as they risk bucking the whole white patriarchial system. They are more than cute, scrappy fighters, too. Their struggles are real in ways we are about to become all too well-acquainted with again.

But there is little, if any, polemic here. Instead, Martin serves us people—strong and indomitable, yes, but as fragile as we all can be. Audrey, in an attempt to lay bare her life to Rose, takes her to meet her former lover, Velma, confined to a nursing home as the result of a so-called “cure” for her “condition.” If I take anything away from this book, it will be this scene between these three women. It brought tears to my eyes then and does now as I write about it.

Martin also shows a mastery of suspense as Audrey and Rose concoct and carry out an improbable scheme to rescue Amelia, putting a delicious spin on the title of the book. The event and subsequent investigation by the police is taut and well-spun. And when the plant closes, and the women are again relegated to secondary roles in society, Martin has plans for them. Just as it should be.

The Liberators of Willow Run isn’t just a good read. It’s essential. It’s a primer for struggle, a reminder of what was, and a cautionary tale of what may be around the corner. Highly recommended.

JW

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Tumbledown – Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes Books)

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You never know what you’re going to get with sequels. The best ones continue the story, deepen the characters, and allow you to come away with a sense of growth. The worst ones reek of imitation and make you forget why you liked the first one so much. And then there are a whole range of in-betweenies that start off great but lose steam quickly, as if the author forgot what the point was. Not so with Cari Hunter’s excellent Tumbledown, which takes the main characters from Desolation Point and puts them back in danger.

Alex Pascal and Sarah Kent have healed, physically at least, from their last encounter with the Church of Aryan Resistance, during which Sarah killed the organization’s founder. That leaves his son–as dangerous as he is angry–hungry for revenge. Alex and Sarah have relocated to a small town in Maine, living their lives as best they can with one eye over their shoulders. A newspaper article about a birth Sarah assisted with, however, draws the attention of their pursuers, and the game is on again. The game turns out deadly for one of Sarah’s co-workers, who is killed as a warning. Things go even worse when Sarah is arrested for the crime, putting the burden on Alex to find the killer before he finds them.

Even though this is a continuation of the Desolation Point plot, this is an entirely different sort of thriller with elements of a police procedural. The first was grittier and had more of an Us v. Them feel due to the fact that it was just two women being hunted in the forest. In this installment, ancillary characters are brought in, but Hunter is able to maintain the reference points of isolation, deprivation, and danger in ways that depart from the first one. Sarah’s incarceration is told with an incredible eye for detail matched only by Alex’s efforts to get her released so they can track down the culprit. And Hunter’s heroines are very well-drawn here, richer and deeper than the last time around because of the experiences we’ve shared with them.

But the characters and the elements wouldn’t mean a thing without the tension of Hunter’s action scenes, which are flawless. Other thriller authors (yes, I’m looking at you Patterson and Grisham) could take lessons from Hunter when it comes to writing these babies. Twists and turns and forgotten or unconventional weaponry along with pluck and spirit keep me breathless and reading way past my bedtime. I can almost imagine Hunter as sweating and out of breath as her heroines once she writes her way out of the set-ups she conjures.

But can she do it again? Will there be a third installment featuring these characters? My gut says she should stop now and not go to this particular well too often. Still, a third book would be welcome if it didn’t stretch the reader’s credulity. While not exactly left open-ended, there are directions she could go that make perfect sense. And Hunter’s not afraid to change it up. Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, enjoy this fine thrill ride. But don’t start it at bedtime.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Finding the Grain – Wynn Malone (Bywater Books)

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Have you ever not trusted the ending of a book? Not to say that it wasn’t credible or not in keeping with the characters as drawn, but rather the opposite. You feel you know the characters so well that as the happy ending washes over you, it’s all you can do not to scream at the half-page that ends the book, No! Don’t do it! She’ll fuck you over again!!!” That’s what I experienced with Wynn Malone’s richly detailed and absolutely sumptuous debut novel, Finding the Grain.

Orphaned by a tornado a month before her high school graduation, Augusta “Blue” Riley graduates from high school and plans for college with the help of her aunt. But while at university, Blue meets and falls in love with sorority girl Grace Lancaster. Parental pressures, however, puts the screws to their relationship and Grace bails, leaving Blue adrift. Twenty years on, after hopping from town to town, job to job, and bed to bed, Blue finally rediscovers herself and finds a career that makes her happy–building furniture. She settles down and opens up a shop, not quite over Grace but determined to put the past behind her. Until Grace shows up again. Will they fulfill their destinies? You have to wait to the last page to find out.

Well, this is a romance after all, and one of the unbreakable laws of the genre is the Happy Ever After ending. The joy is in the journey, and there’s much joy to be found here. Malone’s greatest strength is her characters. Both Blue and Grace are wonderfully drawn, absolutely believable, and frustratingly lifelike. I say frustrating because they do exactly what real people do instead of characters in books. And just when you think you have their relationship figured out, Malone throws you another curve. But such curves she throws–soft, low, and deadly.

But as true to life and Blue and Grace are, Malone shows her facility with character in other ways. Preacher, the man who mentors Blue in the art of wood carving, is a patient, wise, and talented older black man who could have easily tipped over into an offensive (or worse yet, bland) caricature. Morgan Freeman’s entire career rests on parts like this. We know just how he’ll react to her being a lesbian, how he encourages her talent, how he waits for her to prove herself, and how he comes to love Blue in his own gruff way. However, Malone injects so much detail and so much humanity into Preacher, he transcends the limitations of that stock character and lifts right off the page. Morgan Freeman should be so lucky.

But we are lucky indeed to have the fruits of Wynn Malone’s labors available. Finding the Grain is a terrific read that’s as warm, comforting, and sturdy as a well-carved piece of wood. And I’ll bet you scream at the last half-page too.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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