A review of Justice in the Shadows (Justice #3) by Radclyffe

READ NOVEMBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: in a shadow world of secrets, lies, and hidden agendas, Detective Sergeant Rebecca Frye and her lover, Dr. Catherine Rawlings, join forces once again in the elusive search for justice. Rebecca is aided in her struggle to uncover a pornography ring and expose its connections to a traitor within the police department by a rag-tag team of dedicated cops and civilians: JT Sloan, a cybersleuth committed to avenging her lover’s devastating injury who walks the fine line between justice and revenge; Dellon Mitchell, a young police officer who discovers an unforeseen talent for undercover work; and Sandy, a prostitute who develops an unexpected passion for cops. Ultimately, this secret investigation may risk not just their careers, but may cost one their life.

MY REVIEW: This series just keeps getting better! I was pretty “meh” when I read Shield of Justice, book one of Rsdclyffe’s Justice series; some time earlier, I had read book one in her Honor series, and was basically underwhelmed by that one, too. Well, there’s that old saying, “Third time’s the charm,” so I tried Matter of Trust, which is sort of a prequel to Justice, but only in the fact that it introduces two new characters who will appear in the rest of the series. I was very well aware that “third time’s the charm” could equally well turn out to be “Strike three!” but, happily, that wasn’t the case. I really enjoyed Matter of Trust, though it’s more a romance than mystery or police thriller, enjoyed it enough to spur me to read Pursuit of Justice, which I liked even more, and, finally, to Justice in the Shadows, about which: Wow!

Where to begin? First, of course, Radclyffe’s prose is, as always, exemplary from a technical or mechanical standpoint. The plot is intriguing, especially as a continuation of the previous novel. The suspense is plentiful, and there’s enough humor sprinkled in to be a little relief from the cop stuff. The characters are what really stand out, here, though.

After Shield… and Pursuit… I’ve definitely warmed up more to the original characters, Rebecca, a Special Crimes Detective and Catherine, a psychiatrist, or, I think maybe it’s they who have done the warming. Sloan, computer security wiz and Michael, the principals in …Trust, are still a likable, as are the secondary characters from that book, Jason and Sarah. In a review of Pursuit…I wrote of the characters Dell, a street cop and Sandy, a prostitute, that their developing relationship was intriguing, and that I’d like to see a lot more of them in the series. Well, I got my wish, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It doesn’t diminish the likable and admirable nature of the other characters to say that Dell and Sandy are the highlight of …Shadows. They’re brave, resourceful, loving, a bit qurky and, somewhat more than Sloan and Michael, and a lot more than Rebecca and Catherine, they’re just plain fun. I can see where Rebecca and Catherine could be an iconic couple for some people, a Bette and Tina, so to speak, or, to stay in the same general genre, a Micky and Cordelia. For me, though, Dell and Sandy are what makes this entry in the series truly memorable. As with all Radclyffe’s characters, whether in series or stand-alones, everyone here is well fleshed-out, even the less prominent characters; clearly, this is an author who understands that cardboard figures and “filler” characters can be fatal to a work of fiction.

The police drama, as in Shield… and Pursuit, is compelling and suspenseful. Like her characters, Radclyffe’s story-lines are always credible and logically executed; Justice in the Shadows is no exception. The balance between that element and the personal relationships of the characters seems just right, as it has been in the rest of the series, and both are well-written and thoroughly believable.

There is, for those interested in such things, a lot of sex here, much more than in the other books, but, then, there are now three pairs of lovers, so it doesn’t seem like an undue amount. I’m again reminded, especially in the case of Dell and Sandy, of Katherine V Forrest’s comment about how such scenes can be used as means of characterization. Certainly, it’s true in the case of Dell and Sandy, whose relationship is just blossoming, and, I’m pretty sure in the future that it will help them work through issues that derive from their disparate lifestyles and professions. In the case of Rebecca and Catherine, it serves a similar purpose, for they also have issues, and sex can at times aid in opening lines of communication, bringing them close when otherwise Rebecca’s issues could cause them to drift apart. Despite a considerable number of sex scenes, however, they never feel gratuitous, and, while some of them are definitely quite erotic, they never feel prurient, nor are they titillating just to be titillating.

It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a book this much. To sum up, the characters are thoroughly depicted, complete with their respective fears and foibles, and all are engaging, especially Dell and Sandy.  The police drama is believable, well-paced and, intriguing, with a decent amount of action. To repeat, as regards the mechanical aspects of the book, the nuts and bolts of writing, Radclyffe’s serves as a model for other writers in any genre. While this might be expected from her editorial skills, it’s a quality I’ve come to never take for granted.

All the features above combine to make Justice in the Shadows an eminently readable and thoroughly enjoyable novel which can be read by police fiction aficianados and romance fans with equal pleasure. Very much worth your time.

A review of Shadows Fall (Michaela & Trisha #2) , by Kate Genet

READ MARCH 2012

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “Separated by circumstances, Michaela and Trisha are both too stubborn to admit they miss each other. Even Trisha’s impulsive phone call for help degenerates into an argument. But why does Trisha need help? Swallowing her pride, Michaela decides she needs to fly back to the States to see what trouble Trisha has gotten herself into this time.

She’s glad she did. This time it’s not a stranger in trouble, it’s Trisha’s sister, and the trouble is a lot darker that any of them can imagine. This time, the night is filled with shadows, and some of them move on their own…”

MY PLOT SUMMARY: Lovers Michaela and Trisha have parted ways after the first novel, out of necessity, though they miss each other more than either wants to admit. Trisha summons Michaela to the US to help solve a mystery involving her (Trisha’s) sister, Caro. Seems some very malevolent shadow creatures are “haunting” Caro, and Trisha believes Michaela is the only one who can help. Along the way of unraveling the mystery, and vanquishing the shamanistic spirits, our two principals finally admit their love for each other, and come up with a plan to allow them (and Caro) to remain together.

MY REVIEW: I have no idea why, when I added this book on another forum, I only gave it 3 stars; I’d given it 4 on amazon when I first read it. The only negative, as I just reread that review, I called a “gigantic flaw,” but, having had time to reconsider, I realize it was really more of an annoyance. It was just more noticeable because, otherwise, the book was so damned good. Were I using a star system, here, 4 1/2 stars is probably more accurate.

Possible slight SPOILERS!!! follow (Some of the comments below could be applied equally well to the first book in the series Silent Light.)

The story is very well-written from a technical standpoint; grammar, syntax, etc. are much better than in the average offering in this indie Kindle medium, and especially at this price point, for which, many thanks. Okay, at one point, Trisha becomes “Tricia”, then returns to being Trisha again in the same paragraph, and, yeah, that’s pretty sloppy, but, again, it stands out because of the marked lack of other such errors. The paranormal aspect of the story is deftly handled, and logically concluded. The pacing of the romance is just right. The love-making is realistic without being xxx-rated. Genet skillfully creates an eerie, almost claustrophobic mood which becomes more and more oppressive as the story progresses. I absolutely love these characters, just as I did in the first novel, and Caro is a very nice addition. Michaela and Trisha’s characters complement each other nicely, and they act in ways that are consistent with their established dispositions.

So, what’s that “gigantic flaw” I mentioned earlier? I can’t imagine a reader from the US who would  believe that Trisha and Caro are from the States. If Genet is aiming only at an audience in NZ or OZ, then that’s no big deal: if she has wider aspirations, then it becomes more of an issue. We don’t ring people up.. We don’t go off and get ourselves sorted out. We don’t usually “pinch” things, we swipe them. And, while we do on occasion, use the expletive “bloody,” it’s vastly overused here. Finally, assuming Caro is a nickname, it, too, has a real “Down Under” feel to it.

That said, this is a still great story, very well-executed for the most part, and,  to repeat, it features characters with whom I immediately fell in love in book one and who are equally engaging here. Caro makes a really nice addition, too.

Let me end by streesing that my original comments about Tricia and Caro’s dialog were something of an overreaction on my part, and you should take them with a grain of salt. yeah, they’re aggravating, but, they don’t detract all that much from the reading enjoyment. This issue is very much improved in the succeeding volumes, Sweet Charlotte and Disbelief.

s every

A review of Murder by Mascot (Mara Gilgannon #2) BY Mary Vermillion

READ JUNE 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “Dave DeVoster, star player of the University of Iowa men’s basketball team and under investigation for the rape of a member of Iowa’s women’s basketball team, is found dead at the feet of the Hawkeye mascot statue in the Herky Parade, his blood dripping from the curved beak of the famous icon. Mary Vermillion’s amateur sleuth from “Death by Discount “is back in fine form in this new adventure set in the exciting world of university athletics.”

MY REVIEW: It had been a while since I read Death by Discount the first of Mary Vermillion’s Mara Gilgannon mystery series. Recently, a comment by the author in re my review of Ellen Hart’s Hallowed Murder made me realize reading book two, Murder by Mascot was long overdue. However cliché the phrase “So many books, so little time” may be, every year its impact seems greater to me. But, as usual, I digress.

I had very much enjoyed reading the first Mara Gilgannon novel, and didn’t doubt that reading Murder by Mascot would be an equally pleasurable experience. I wasn’t disappointed at all. The plusses: Appealing, true-to-life characters; well-constructed plot — yeah, the clue to the killer’s identity is right there, but it’s really easy to miss, which I appreciate in a mystery — and when its was revealed, I had a slap-your-forehead moment; a feminist perspective, not a requirement for my reading enjoyment, but always a welcome element, if not too shrill; and, finally, a technically proficient and fluid narrative. As I final bit of chocolaty goodness, I dearly love to see deep-pocket, bigoted, homophobic pr– , sorry, insert your pejorative term of choice — get their comeuppance.

Mara, is a radio DJ in Iowa City. In book one of the series, she solves a double-murder, a tale well-known among her friends, so, when a star male Iowa hoopster is murdered, and members of the women’s b-ball team are possible suspects, their assistant coach asks the reluctant sleuth to investigate. Mara is clever, feisty, witty, loyal, and compassionate, and a dogged pursuer of a solution to the mystery. She’s maybe a teeny bit weepy at times, and still clinging to her ex after a year, however, these qualities, rather than being objectionable, help round out her character. Anyway, what’s a neurosis or two among friends?

The surrounding cast is another strong point. Mara’s gay male roommate and BFF is a hoot and a half. Maybe not as flamboyantly over-the-top as Hart’s Cordelia Thorn in the Jane Lawless series, or as delightfully exuberant as Micky Knight’s cousin Torbin in Jean Redmann’s series, but he’s damned close. The other characters, even minor ones, are adequately fleshed-out and add to the complexity of the story.

As I said, the mystery is well-plotted and plausible. There are a plethora of suspects, and Mara investigates in logical manner, eliminating them one at a time. Other plotlines: Mara’s relationship with her current girl-friend, as well as with her ex, Anne and Anne’s new partner, who just happens to be Mara’s boss; a potential new love interest for Mara, and same-sex complexities within the women’s basketball team are neatly blended so as not to detract, or distract, from the mystery. All this creates, to reuse a phrase from another of my reviews, enough dyke drama to make Ilene Chaiken jealous.

The writing itself is one of Vermillion’s biggest assets. The narrative flows smoothly and the story-telling is reminiscent of Randye Lordon or Kate Calloway, its matter-of-fact, easy-going style like a good friend or next-door neighbor telling you about an adventure she’s just experienced. Technically, there are no problems — okay, “hoards” that shoulda been “hordes”, which a copy reader should’ve fixed, but, personally, I don’t see homophonic typos as real errors. probably because I’m often guilty of them,

This has probably gone on too long, but, when I really enjoy a book, I want other people to read it, too, not just for their own pleasure, but also to support the author. A couple final comments: I found the depiction of the top-level college athletic environment extremely realistic. Recent events in Steubenville make the rape cover-up very topical.

Very highly recommend, with kudos to Ms (Dr.?, Professor?) Vermillion. And, hey, wouldn’t that name have been great in the title of one of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries. The Victim Wore Vermillion or maybe Violence In Vermillion?

One big complaint, though: There’s only one more book in the series for me to read, dammit!

A review of The Year They Burned the Books, by Nancy Garden

READ JUNE 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “When Wilson High Telegraph editor Jamie Crawford writes an opinion piece in support of the new sex-ed curriculum, which includes making condoms available to high school students, she has no idea that a huge controversy is brewing. Lisa Buel, a school board member, is trying to get rid of the health program, which she considers morally flawed, from its textbooks to its recommendations for outside reading. The newspaper staff find themselves in the center of the storm, and things are complicated by the fact that Jamie is in the process of coming to terms with being gay, and her best friend, Terry, also gay, has fallen in love with a boy whose parents are anti-homosexual. As Jamie’s and Terry’s sexual orientation becomes more obvious to other studetns, it looks as if the paper they’re fighting to keep alive and honest is going to be taken away from them. Nancy Garden has depicted a contemporary battleground in a novel that probes deep into issues of censorship, prejudice, and ethics.”

MY REVIEW: There’s a scene in the superb baseball film Bull Durham where the players are meeting on the pitcher’s mound. The discussion shows no signs of ending, so the team’s manager sends a coach out to break it up. When he asks what’s going on, Kevin Costner replies “We’re dealing with a lot of shit.” He could’ve been talking about Nancy Garden’s fine YA novel, The Year They Burned the Books. Censorship, coming-of-age, am I or aren’t I (and is she or isn’t she), coming out, bullying, friendship, free speech, sex ed, homophobia, stealth politics, and a few more things are dealt with. Garden, though, skillfully blends them all into a comfortable mélange whose ultimate message is a hopeful one, where the disparate elements combine to support her conclusions.

Concerning topics with the potential to become preachy, Garden’s natural, easy-going style avoids the pitfalls of pedantry. Her point of view is clear, but it never feels forced upon us, as is so often the case with works from the opposing point of view. Our protagonist’s views are strongly held, but they are reasoned, as well. There’s conviction, but without shrillness.

The Year They Burned the Books is not nearly so well known as the author’s other, more relationship-oriented novels, and that’s really too bad. Its themes are not only important ones, but timely, as well. Not only are the dangers of which Garden’s cautionary tale warns us still in existence, they are, in an era of Tea Party demagoguery, thriving. That makes stories like this one all the more important. There are lessons here to be learned not just by young adults, but by adults, too. This is the sort of book which <i>needs</i> to be widely read.

This is an action- or perhaps, issue-driven novel. However, the action also serves as a means of character development. The major characters are considerably changed by the end of the story, thanks to their encounters with the events which impel the drama. Jamie is not stronger in the end so much as she is more able to recognize her strength.

One of the book’s greatest strengths is the auctorial decision not to have Jamie and Tessa become a couple, which would have shifted focus from the points Garden is trying to make: Only when we have access to all the available information can we wisely make decisions which will affect the rest of our lives; it is possible to agree to disagree, and, though very difficult, it’s also possible for friends to remain friends despite holding diametrically opposing viewpoints; what begins as seemingly innocuous verbal taunting can easily escalate into violence, especially in a atmosphere of divisiveness fostered by ignorance; true family values are not moral judgments, but, rather, intelligent guidance, love, support, and the freedom to be who we are. The family values exemplified by Lisa Buel in this novel are stifling rather than nurturing.

The points Garden makes here are important ones, and The Year They Burned the Books deserves and demands a wider readership than I fear it is likely to get. It’s nearly fifteen years old, now, but the perils of which Garden warns are as real as today’s headlines. One need only turn on Fox News or open the paper to an Ann Coulter diatribe to realize how prevalent are the reactionary views which threaten to control our thoughts. That the author packages her message(s) in an extremely enjoyable and interesting narrative with a very likable and admirable lead character is an added bonus.

A review of Old Black Magic (Robin Miller Mystery #6) by Jaye Maiman

READ JULY 2013

ONLINE SUMMARY: “From the murky bayous of New Orleans to the rat-infested subways of New York City, P.I. Robin Miller is trapped in a heartpounding race against time… and evil. A brilliant and brutal serial killer is on the loose and, with a new love unfolding, Robin has her own urgent reason to find the murderer – before he finds her.”

MY REVIEW: I read a lot of mysteries with lesbian protagonists. (See “About me ‘n’ the blog”), and Jaye Maimann is probably my second favorite writer in that sub-genre. (JM Redmann, case yer wond’rin’.) Her Robin Miller mysteries are well plotted. Robin is enjoyable to get to know, and an extremely traumatic incident in her childhood adds considerable depth to her character as the series progresses. Maimann’s writing is crisp, fast-moving, and grammatically sound.

<i>Old Black Magic</i>? Another favorite! A credible and intriguing, if grisly, mystery. Robin, as I said, is one of my favorite characters in this sub-genre. I like to separate mysteries featuring PIs (Micky Knight, Sidney Sloane, etc.) and those whose main characters are cops (Delafield, Ashton) and while that still puts her second to Redmann’s Knight, she’s still pretty high on my list.

The writing of the first few pages doesn’t quite seem like the Jaye Maiman I remembered, but, pretty soon, everything clicks and  we’re off to the races. Old Black Magic is a serial murder mystery with a bit of a Haitian vodoun thrown in for good measure.

As always with Maiman, the writing is engaging, fast-paced, and mechanically accomplished. (This was a Lambda nominee, losing out to Randye Lordon’s Father, Forgive Me, which is certainly nothing to be embarrassed about.) The mystery is logical and well-plotted. The romance, as we’ve come to expect with Robin and KT, has a few obstacles to overcome. Maiman says that readers requested she bring KT back. I definitely wasn’t one of those, but, in this installment, I liked her a lot more than in the earlier books, and the ending definitely works, relationship-wise.

The killer is truly evil, on a level matching Cornwell’s Gault or Gerritsen’s Hoyt. The emotional content, which is what attracted me to lesbian fiction in the first place, is definitely “kicked up a notch.,” and there’s more than enough suspense to keep thriller fans on the edge of their seats.

The ending satisfies on all levels, as a mystery, a romance, and just a basically good reading experience. Very highly recommended. (Only one more book in the series left to read, now. Damn!)

A review of Waking the Witch (Women of the Otherworld, #11) by Kelley Armstrong)

READ SEPTEMBER 2013

ONLINE SUMMARY: “At twenty-one, Savannah Levine-orphaned daughter of a notorious dark witch and an equally notorious cutthroat sorcerer-considers herself a full-fledged member of the otherworld. The once rebellious teen has grown into a six-foot-tall, motorcycle-riding jaw-dropper, with an impressive knowledge of and ability to perform spells. The only problem is, she’s having a hard time convincing her adoptive parents, Paige and Lucas, to take her seriously as an adult. She’s working as the research assistant at the detective agency they founded, and when they take off on a romantic vacation alone, leaving her in charge, Savannah finds herself itching for a case to call her own. (She’s also itching for Adam, her longtime friend and colleague, to see her as more than just a little girl, but that’s another matter.)

Suddenly, Savannah gets the chance she’s been waiting for: Recruited by another supernatural detective, she travels to Columbus, Washington, a small, dying town. Two troubled young women have been found in an abandoned warehouse, murdered. Now a third woman’s dead, and on closer inspection small details point to darker forces at play. Savannah feels certain she can handle the case, but with signs of supernatural activity appearing at every turn, things quickly become more serious- and far more dangerous-than she realizes.”

MY REVIEW: I’m a little confused by some of the negative reviews Waking the Witch has received, in particular ones suggesting Savannah is weak, has no spunk and is not the kick-ass character they anticipated, boring and timid even. My not so glib response: Hunh??? I can’t help wondering what book they were reading.

Okay, this charge was leveled mainly because she doesn’t pursue girlhood crush Adam with everything she has at her disposal, with all her not-inconsiderable powers, so it‘s a side issue to the main plot. It think, though, it applies to her situation as a whole. When she says “I was his co-worker and pal and that was all I was ever going to be. Take it or leave it. I decided to take it.” I don’t call that weak or timid. I call it maturing. Doesn’t mean at some point Savannah won’t set her sights on Adam, For now, it just means she accepts that the status quo is maybe how things are supposed to be. For me, that makes her a much more attractive character than the petulant, spoiled, selfish brat she was in the first book. Her character has grown considerably: the Savannah from earlier volumes would never, ever have been willing to sacrifice herself for “the greater good” ander regard for the young girl, Kayla, exposes yet another new side of her character — compassion.

Others have also complained about the cliff-hanger ending. Again, what that involves, without any spoilers, is again a side issue to the story. The main plot, the mystery Savannah came to solve, was certainly resolved adequately enough.

One of Armstrong’s gifts is to give each of her protagonist/narrators a distinctive voice. There’s no way one could confuse the 21 year old Savannah with Paige, Elena, or any other character in the WotO universe. Or, with Savannah the child or teen. She’s smart, sassy, and a helluva lot of fun. She’s also determined to prove her capabilities, and to move out from beneath Paige’s — and maybe her mom’s — shadow. She succeeds admirably and, I think, grows as a person, too. I like almost all Armstrong’s main characters — well, the women, anyway — and Savannah is no exception. DO I like her more than Paige? Mmmm…well, yeah. She’s managed to acquire some of Paige’s good traits without being such a tight-ass. Same reason that I like Diana in Tanya Huff’s Keeper’s Chronicles more’n I do Claire.

There are plenty of other interesting characters <i>Waking the Witch</i> , too:  and, though secondary, they’re well-drawn. There are, of course, a few stereotypes, too, but even those contribute to the depth of the story.

Admittedly, this is more of a mystery than it is a supernatural novel, at least until the very end. That said, it’s a pretty satisfying mystery, and Savannah tackles it as any PI would. Her investigation seems thorough and logical, even though it’s her first solo case.
I do have one issue with Waking the Witch, however: The actual killer doesn’t even put in an appearance until the final twenty or so pages, and that feels like something of a cheat.

This, I thought, was an excellent addition to a very fine series. It was an intriguing mystery with plenty of suspense, a bit — the perfect amount, for me, anyway — of romance (not with Adam). Moreover, it was a lot of fun. Really, really a lot of fun. And, of course, it featured Armstrong’s usually proficient craftsmanship.

Highly recommended.

A review of Silent Light (Michaela & Trisha #1) by Kate Genet

Read March, 2012

Online plot summary: “Michaela knew it was a stupid idea to stay at her lover’s lake house just days after being dumped by the woman, but she found herself there anyway. The trouble is that she isn’t the only visitor – Trisha, another of Michaela’s lover’s conquests has invited herself around, just when Michaela wants to be alone. Worse, this feisty newcomer seems to delight in pushing Michaela’s buttons and soon she doesn’t know whether she wants to strangle Trisha – or kiss her.
Then there’s the distraction of the weird lights over the lake at night, and the haunting sound of a child’s laughter, when as far as they know, there isn’t a child for miles. Michaela’s convinced something is going on and Trisha is looking at her like they should find out what. But what happens when two headstrong women start digging up long-forgotten secrets and can they pull together long enough to survive finding out?”

My review: I like to review books I really like, y’know, so that, hopefully, others will read them, too, allowing the writer to keep on writing. It’s kind of important, especially with new or self-published writers. A caveat: these tend to run a little long. If you’re just gonna write “I enjoyed this book,” don’t bother. Just give it a good rating and move on. Otherwise, tell me why you liked it. Or didn’t.

First, Michaela and Trisha are two of the most engaging, fun characters I’ve come across in a long time, a very long time. While I love a good story, and this is one, it’s really the characters I read for. Probably why I read so many stories with lesbian protags; by and large, I just find them more interesting. There’s something about those characters, in whatever genre, that touches me emotionally. (BTW, I hate the term “lesfic” damned near as much as “sci-fi.“ Use them in my presence, and it’s a good idea to be moving away from me at the time.)

But, you guessed it, I digress. So, the characters: They’re funny, especially in their interactions. They’re feisty, but in a very non-abrasive way. They’re smart as hell, though Trisha’s somewhat insecure in her intellect, providing a nice contrast, since “insecure“ is a word that was obviously excised from Michaela‘s dictionary early on. They‘re brave, though here, too, Trisha is the more cautious of the two. Once they bond, they‘re loyal; you know, in a pinch, they‘ve got each other’s back. They‘re resourceful and they‘re caring. “Delightful” is a word I don’t use very often — or, at all — but it seems the right one, here. They’re simply a joy to read about. And, one helluva lot of fun, too.

One person remarked on the transparency of the plot, but they miss the point: this isn’t that kind of mystery. Yes, we, and they, know early on what’s happening, but what’s important is that, once they do know, our twosome come to the aid of a complete stranger, no matter the possible consequences to themselves. So, mystery as character development, sort of. But, though I felt I knew what was going on, plotwise, I still kept happily turning the pages to find out how it all came out. Genet’s writing is that good. If this were a conventional mystery, and you figured out who-done-it in the first ten pages, you’d still want to keep reading.

That same person also pointed out the short sentences. Geez, they don’t miss much, hunh? Yes, the sentences are short, and, for the most part, the syntax is pretty unvarying. What’s odd is that, while those two things would usually bug the absolute crap out of me, here, I wasn’t fazed by them. I attribute that to the charm of the characters and Kate Genet’s story-telling skills. The style seems to fit the story, and I think that’s important.

Since some people care about this, yes, boys and girls, there’s sex. The scenes are nicely written, in no way offensive, and well-timed as to when they occur in the narrative. Also, they’re not at all gratuitous, and they’re fun, which, of course, is what they’re supposed to be.

In conclusion, then, a most enjoyable, fun read. Highly recommended.

A final comment: When I read books that are part of a series, I almost always like to put a good bit of space between the successive volumes, anywhere from three to six months. In this case, the second I finished Silent Light, I downloaded Shadows Fall. That should tell you something.

A review of Huntress, by Malinda Lo

Read September 2012

Online plot summary: “Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.
To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.
The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.”

My review: If I were using a starred rating system here, Huntress would defintely be a 5-star read. I know that, by goodreads standards, 5 stars means “amazing.” I’m not easily amazed, so, for me, it’s a book I really, really liked, and about which I can’t find any thing significant enough to warrant subtracting a star.

I have written – maybe not on this forum — that it’s a shame that books get labelled as “genre fiction.” Oh, sure, it makes it a lot easier to find what you like at your favorite booksellers, or your neighborhood libe, but it almost inevitably limits a book’s audience. Admittedly, Huntress has the advantage of appealing to 3 genres, epic fantasy, LGBT, and YA, but I believe it would definitely be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates a compelling, well-written story, even if their usual reading tastes are more mainstream.

The world-building is both credible and creditable. Descriptive passages are detailed, often lushly so, without being flowery. Plotting is logical and followed consistently (within the context of a fantasy world.) The two main characters are quite engaging and easy to relate to, and they both experience decided growth as the story progresses. Secondary characters are adequately described and contribute depth to the story. The romance is not forced, but is nicely interwoven with the overall plot.

I really admire Lo’s handling of the romance between Kaede and Taisin. The pacing is perfect, and, as in all the best romances, it serves as an element of character development. Lo treats the growing relationship tastefully, almost circumspectly, but still is able to give it a certain sensual quality. It’s simply about two young people falling in love, and the fact that they are both women seems almost incidental.

It would be really easy for this novel to become cliche. A journey by a group of companions obviously suggests Tolkien. In fact, the journey aspect goes all the way back to Homer’s Odyssey. The fact that there’s a quest recalls Arthurian legend. Somehow, though, Lo manages to keep her story fresh, and her own,, largely by the uniqueness of the world she creates, and the strong relationship she builds between Kaede and Taisin.

I don’t read a lot of YA, and almost no epic fantasy, but Huntress has become one of my favorites, irrespective of genre. In short, a tremendously satisfying reading experience.

A review of Infinite Loop, by Meghan O’Brien

Online plot summary: “Regan O’Riley has just about given up hope that she will ever find a woman into shy, geeky programmers. She yearns for a connection, but can’t seem to make the first move. Mel Raines knows all about making moves. After a childhood under the thumb of her alcoholic father, she avoids intimacy by drowning herself in fiery, fleeting encounters with strangers.”

My review: As I was reading Infinite Loop, Meghan O’Brien’s immensely enjoyable and very, very sexy first novel, I couldn’t imagine not giving it five stars. That it ultimately failed, in my estimation, anyway, to deserve that accolade in no way detracts from how thoroughly entertaining it was.

There are many pluses here: Great characters, not just the two principles; realistic growth of both main characters, which adds the depth needed in a novel; some gorgeous descriptive passages; a really sweet romance; some off-the-charts sex; plenty of humor and wit; drama — not exactly cataclysmic, but enough to liven things up from time to time; intense emotion; believable dialogue, including some totally cute geek-speak; some cool pop culture references; an improbable premise made credible. Oh, and did I mention the totally hot sex…

Characters, and character growth: Mel, street cop, something of a “player,” realizes she’s dissatisfied with her job and her lifestyle; Regan, adorable computer geek beginning to wonder if she’ll ever find “The One.” Regan’s not only a computer geek, but of Irish descent. (Somewhat geeky, unrepentant Hibernophile reviewer sighs wistfully.) After what Roger Ebert would have called a “meet cute” opening, they decide, after only a few week’s acquaintance, but an undeniably strong mutual attraction, to take a mega road trip. Improbable? Sure, but, they’re obviously falling for each other, and, as Buffy told us — god, was it really sixteen years ago? — “love makes you do the wacky.” Both characters, despite obvious strengths, exhibit considerable vulnerability. In a sense, though both are adults, you could almost call this a coming-of-age story, as Mel and Regan are ruled by childhood trauma. Mel is still working at the impossible task of trying to live up to her father’s unrealistic expectations, and Regan’s insecurities are the result of high school bullying. How they help each other overcome their individual bêtes-noires is the story’s driving force. What’s impressive here is that, despite the intensely emotional personal issues involved, Mel and Regan are both completely engaging, likable, and entertaining, the most fun characters I’ve read since Kate Allen’s Alison Kaine and Stacy, in fact.

The road trip, and the instant romance: As I said, improbable, but somehow, O’Brien makes it all work. The frequent and effusive professions of undying love, potentially cloying and hokey, even in a romance, don’t seem at all out of place, here, largely because the intensity of feeling results from the character growth that both women are experiencing, and it seems perfectly natural.

Some have referred to this as an erotic romance, but, I prefer the word sexy. Did I point out, very sexy? To me, erotica’s primary raison d’être is to titillate, to arouse. In Infinite Loop, the focus is on the characters, the romance and how the characters grow; the sex is just (very enjoyable ) lagniappe. I’m reminded of Katherine V. Forrest’s comments about sex scenes as a unique means of developing character, displaying facets of the characters you wouldn’t see in more mundane scenes. That’s exemplified in O’Brien’s tale. Of course, these scenes are one helluva lotta fun, too; if that’s what you’re looking for, look no further.

So, why only four stars? What’s unsatisfying to me, despite how much I enjoyed the book, is that it really isn’t a novel, but a string of, admittedly quite pleasant, individual vignettes. Though there are several dramatic incidents throughout, there’s not enough sustained conflict to lead us to a satisfying climax and denouement, though there are plenty of other climaxes. (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.) Since this one structural defect is the only issue I have with Ms. O’Brien’s book, I still highly recommend it. It’s fault is in the area of serious lit-crit, but as sheer entertainment, it’s an unqualified success.