Monday, December 17, 2001

The Story of Me

Advocate (Blayne Cooper)
Writers Club Press

Tall, beautiful, straight (not to mention rather antisocial) Randi, a driver's education instructor, can't quite believe all that's happened to her in the last four weeks. First, she was stalked by an unknown stranger. The "stalker" turned out to be Mac, an attractive, petite woman from one of her classes. Mac needs Randi's help. Mac was dumped by her girlfriend, Sandra. The gold-digging Sandra used Mac has a stepping stone on the way to her brother, the doctor. Mac knows that Randi also has reason to hate Sandra and Mac has devised the perfect revenge for both of them. Mac wants to attend the next family gathering in Nevada and present Randi as her girlfriend.

Despite thinking Mac might be crazy and not too bright (she failed Randi's class, although it turns out to have been the same week Sandra left her). Randi has agreed to help extract revenge from Sandra. When the date for the reunion is changed the two must begin a cross country trek by car that turns into a strange, wild romp. These two women are like oil and vinegar as they engage in a range of miscommunications as well as intentionally irritating behaviors. Indeed Randi even subtitles a portion of the trip "Thema & Louise had it easy." In the midst of ridiculous events, Randi and Mac draw closer to their destination and to one another. After all, add a few spices to oil & vinegar and shake and you have a lovely salad dressing.

Nothing is safe from Advocate (AKA Blayne Cooper)'s observations and most of them will bring a smile, if not an out right laugh. As she states in her disclaimer "No squirrels were harmed during the production of this story. Although priests, morticians, sluts, proctologists, Big Gulps, Debby Boone, Scottish names, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Volkswagens, `that ugly chic,' gym teachers, eating disorders, Dr. Pepper, and stalkers are all seriously maligned." (122) Indeed all these running jokes and more flicker (or stomp) through the story.

The same vein that pokes fun at these issues, turns others on their ear. For example, Mac's parents and extended family are totally accepting of Mac's sexuality and even more supportive of Randi as her new girlfriend. Neither parent thought the bulimic gym teacher, Sandra was good enough for their daughter. On the other hand, any living (as opposed to inflatable) girlfriend is the best they expect for their son, the proctologist. By the end of the journey Randi and Mac have developed a great deal of affection, companionship and (gasp) attraction. This situation embarrasses Mac and frightens Randi. The growing love between Mac and Randi as well as Mac's family's love balance some of the hard edged sarcasm and cynicism. The overall effect is a delightful if strange, little novel that brought many smiles and several laughs out loud. Occasionally the shifting narrative perspective between Randi, Mac and the squirrels is confusing. --Yes, squirrels. It's too hard to explain, just read the story yourself.-- However, there is fuel for lots of good endorphins here.

-MJ Lowe

Friday, December 14, 2001

Meridio's Daughter

L. J. Maas
Yellow Rose Books

Everyone has secrets in Meridio's Daughter, this fast paced thriller by L.J. Maas. Andreas Meridio is a powerful and prominent businessman and olive grower on the Greek island of Mykonos. What his daughter, Cassandra doesn't know is that he is also the "Mangas" or godfather of the Greek black market in certain illegal goods. The 25 year old Casey is returning to Greece for the first time in six years, having completed graduate work in Classical studies and anthropology. She has been chosen to assist with an archaeological dig near Athens. The petite blond has spent most of her life since the age of five in America, although each summer until she started college was spent with her father. Casey also has a secret. Her traditional, "Old World" Greek father doesn't know that his accomplished archaeologist daughter is a lesbian. Then there is Tessa Nikolaidis, the beautiful and deadly Right Hand or "Kare" of Meridio. Openly lesbian Nikki, as she is known to friends, holds the most potent secrets of all. She has reasons and plans for revenge against Meridio.

Life gets complicated when Nikki, entrusted with the safety of Meridio's daughter finds herself falling in love for the first time in her life, with Casey. It is a relationship of which Meridio would never approve. The open and honest Casey sees no reason to deny her feelings for Nikki. The two women finally compromise and begin a clandestine affair. Meanwhile Casey is once again haunted by dreams she can't remember reflecting events from 20 years ago. The same events that prompted her mother's decision to leave Greece.

Meridio's Daughter is a suspenseful and engrossing story with a few plot twists. Maas provides wonderful depictions of the Greek islands, its culture (and lesbian subculture!) as well as interesting characters. Casey's post traumatic stress is handled reasonably and moves the plot. There is plenty of erotic play for Nikki and Casey that serves to further develop the characters and their relationship.

Technically this novel could be considered Xena uber for those who might enjoy seeing it. However, happily the story requires no understanding of the show to be appreciated. L.J. Maas also created the lovely cover of this book (and several other books by this press) that matches the mood of the culture and climate. After reading Meridio's Daughter, this reader will be looking for other Maas novels.

Friday, November 23, 2001

Turning the Page

Georgia Beers
Renaissance Alliance Publishing

Melanie Larson, a 33 year old Marketing executive has decided it's time to make changes in her life. Little does she know what the next four weeks will bring! After several very successful years with "corporate America," Melanie's company has been purchased by a larger company and the executive offices are moving from Chicago to Seattle. Rather than move West, Melanie has decided to accept a severance package and to take some time off. Melanie Larson needs to decide who she is and what she wants from life. At the behest of her uncle, she finds herself checking in on her rather footloose cousin, Samantha.

Recently divorced, Sammi has all but abandoned the small bookstore that her father purchased a couple of years prior to help "stabilize" her marriage. Melanie finds Sammi residing in a charming little carriage house behind an old farm house, outside of Rochester, New York.

Minutes after arriving in Rochester, Mel meets Taylor Rhodes, an attractive lesbian (outed in introduction by Sam) in her late 20s who lives in the main house next to Sam's cottage. Taylor moved back into her parents' home several months ago, after the sudden death of her mother, in order to look after her father, Benjamin Rhodes. In the last few months, Ben has begun to live his life again and he finds Melanie to be a very attractive woman. The trouble is, so does Taylor.

Beers captures pictures of a lesbian community in a city of approximately 200,000 people in the urban northeastern US circa the turn of the 21st century in realistic, humorous and insightful ways. She details the problem such cities have with maintaining a women's bar, the "gay gentrification" that is common in many historic neighborhoods, and the role of softball in the lives of many a lesbian. Further she pays tribute to the TV show, Xena Warrior Princess and the lesbian community's role in the show's fandom and success. Beers does this via "Xenite" Taylor and eventual convert (puns intended) Melanie who names her bookstore, "The Quill is Mightier" after an episode in the show. To have a story that records a bit of the whole Xena phenomena without actually being a fanfiction or "uber" story is really quite interesting. As part of Melanie's "Lesbianism 101" process, Beers also provides a little tribute to Katherine Forrest's Curious Wine perhaps THE classic lesbian romance novel (certainly in my top five).

Turning the Page is a charming contemporary romance written with wit, compassion, and eros. The characters are interesting. Melanie's coming out is well handled. The politics are relatively mild and the angst is limited to a required level. -- Reading Turning the Page is a delightful way to spend a quiet weekend. Hopefully Ms. Beers will gift us with other such pleasures.

-MJ Lowe

Friday, November 9, 2001

Visual Sonnet

Judy Francesconi
Shake It Up Productions

Francesconi captures dreamy, lush, stylized images of women loving women in Visual Sonnets. The over 70 duo tone photographs of mostly couples, many nude, in this collection are quite lovely, and the narrative is equally romantic. If you are familiar with the photographer, Judy Francesconi's work, then Visual Sonnets will not be a total surprise.

Although most images don't seem to have been published, there are some that have appeared in her calendars, as cards, etc. Francesconi's subjects are beautiful and her photographs really do have the feel of sonnets; carefully composed images within a particular style designed to communicate to the viewer. These celebratory images communicate a sensuous, even intimate delight to the eye.

It is the nature of "coffee table" books to be expensive. Visual Sonnets is within the typical range for such art books; however, it is disappointing that it's not a hardcover book for the price. Still if you are someone who revels in Francesconi's work, you'll enjoy this volume.

-MJ Lowe

Thursday, November 1, 2001

Death by the Riverside

J. M. Redmann
Bella Books

Newly reprinted, Death by the Riverside is the first of the Micky Knight mysteries (the third, Intersection of Law and Desire won a Lambda Lit Award). Here is an opportunity to meet Micky and her wonderful assortment of friends. The ensemble cast that Redmann creates is an amusing crew of friends and family (Puns intended). Each individual is clearly defined and easily recognizable with detailed backgrounds that evolve over the series.

Written in the first person, all the Micky Knight stories have a contemporary version of the gritty, gumshoe feel of classic noir mysteries. The action in Riverside (and Micky's irreverent humor) begins immediately as she finds herself helping a "tasteful" young blond socialite track down the fiance that spurned her. When said socialite turns out to be quite familiar with lesbian sex while laying a trap to cut her brother out of his share of the family inheritance for being gay, Micky decides to even the score. Thus she finds herself meeting the socialite's grandfather, the Holloway family patriarch and his other granddaughter, Cordelia. This meeting opens the door to ghosts from Micky's childhood which she tries very hard to smother with alcohol and women and foreshadows many storylines in the series.

At the request of a sort of friend, fellow karate student, and NOPD detective Joanne, Micky soon finds herself drawn into efforts to break a regional drug ring that turns out to be using part of the Holloway plantation as a shipping and storage location. There's a great deal of page turning action as Micky tries to help the police, her new friend Barbara, not to mention the good doctor Cordelia AND keep herself alive while catching the bad guys.

Meanwhile, the reader learns bits of the past that Micky tries desperately to hide from herself and others. Redmann's depictions of the scars left by childhood abuse are powerfully accurate in all four of the Micky Knight stories. Indeed many of the questions raised or hinted at in Death by the Riverside are not answered until the fourth novel, Lost Daughters. Redmann's well developed characterization has the reader wishing she could have a beer, or maybe a po'boy sandwich with some of these women. Certainly you will find yourself looking for the upcoming reissue of the Deaths of Jocasta to follow their continuing adventures. And to cheer Micky on as she struggles to reclaim her past and heal herself.

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Substitute for Love

Karin Kallmaker
Naiad Press

What would you be willing to do in order to secure the health of your mother, your child, your love? Reyna Putnam has sold her soul to the proverbial devil to guarantee that her terminally ill mother has the best care that her father's money can buy. Grip Putnam, the result of generations of politically powerful men, is determined to be President of the United States. Thus he carefully controls his media image as a conservative radio pundit as well as the image of his family. His only surviving child, Reyna is part of that image; a lesbian daughter is not. Reyna walks a careful tight rope, trying to maintain her sanity, and some self identity while she continues personally abhorrent work that keeps her father paying those health bills.

Holly Markham has spent most of the 16 years since her mother's death in an accident, hiding. She hides her body in multiple layers of clothing that reflect her need for self-protection from people who should be her allies in life as well as her self-denial.

But Holly has just done something extraordinary. She quit her job in protest because a coworker has been fired for being an out lesbian. Holly quit her job because it was the right thing to do. This righteous act snowballs as Holly finds herself questioning her eight year relationship with Clay, an older, male, college instructor who is controlling and critical, and her feelings about a host of other issues. In a matter of weeks Holly's life will change completely as she discovers several surprises about her mother, her early childhood and herself.

Kallmaker's characterization, humor and story telling skills continue to develop with each novel she writes. Substitute for Love may be her best book to date. --Although part of me continues to prefer her scifi/fantasy titles written as Laura Adams, this is like the difference between Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. Both are good. It depends on your mood and taste. -- Kallmaker gives us a glimpse at the mind of a mathematician through Holly's thought process. She points out the frustrating futility that our nation's health care system creates for people who are not independently wealthy. Yet she pokes fun at the liberal Clay's touting of "a simple life" without understanding the trade off in human labor, supplied by Holly for eight years, required to achieve it.

The Putnam Institute, located in Orange County, California, is symbolic of several extreme right-wing political groups in the area. Kallmaker uses its work to address a number of methods similar groups employ in their campaign against homosexuality, i.e., fund-raising, "ex-gay" therapy, and the hypocrisy of people who pass. Kallmaker manages to address all these issues without interrupting the romance or seeming "too busy." Kallmaker even manages to give readers hope that the socio-political wave the right has been riding may have already crested.

Kallmaker is dependable for highly erotic scenes that will leave the reader warm and dreamy. The action between Holly and Reyna is no exception to this skill. Substitute for Love is a keeper. One that I expect to read more than once.

-MJ Lowe

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Finding H. F.: a Novel

Julia Watts
Alyson Books

Life in towns like Morgan, Kentucky has never been easy for queer teens. The Appalachias of southeastern Kentucky continues to hold claim to the title "buckle of the bible belt." And children are still being named things like Pierre Beauregard --after his father's favorite CSA general-- and Heavenly Faith --her memaw was hoping her daughter's illegitimate child will grow into the name rather than following her mother's footsteps. Bo and H.F. for short, please, are struggling through their high school years in Morgan in Finding H. F.: a Novel by Julia Watts. The increased awareness of gay and lesbian issues in the new millennium increases queer teens' visibility and their vulnerability to peer punishment.

As H.F. who narrates this story of coming out and coming of age in 21st Century Appalachia, says "I guess I'm lucky, though, because I'm not the only one in school who's different. I don't have to be a lonely gazelle limping along while the lions stalk me. I've got Bo for a friend, and bless his heart, he's got it a lot rougher that I do. The sissy boys always have it harder than the tomboys." (8)

At the end of their sophomore year, H.F. decides she needs to look up the mother who abandoned her 16 years before. She convinces Bo to take a road trip to Florida. The teens, who have never been out of the state, pool their resources, pile into Bo's old Ford Escort and head south. Along the way these two young explorers find a loving gay community, role models, friends and the potential for a positive life.

Watts' novels are always a treat. (Reading Wedding Bell Blues made this reader laugh out loud. So go read her other novels too!) Her humor and characterization together with her understanding and insightful depiction of life in the Southland allow us to laugh at life's ironies. Don't let the cover of Finding H.F put you off. It's illustrative of an epiphany for H.F early in the novel and sets the tone for her coming out.


Tuesday, October 2, 2001


Marianne K. Martin
Bella Books

Opening three years after the close of Dawn of the Dance, and set in a small city in Michigan, Mirrors focuses on secondary characters introduced in Dawn: high school teacher, Jean Carson and feminist attorney, Shayna Bradley. Mirrors is well written with realistic characters and depicts important, painful issues for gays and lesbians living in the more conservative regions of the country. Especially those with careers in public education. The novel opens with the new history teacher, Dan Sanders,being fired because the high school principal decided Sanders was gay. Sanders, we're told was not "obvious" nor had he behaved inappropriately to any of the students. Indeed he actually had students liking history. But teaching performance is not the issue. The principal doesn't want queers working for him. As in most of America there is no protection for gay teachers regarding discrimination in employment.

Jean is a thirty-something, physical education teacher. She has spent the last 12 years married to Ken and devoting her time and energy to her students. The latter has helped her avoid some realities about the former. Namely Ken's desire for children and Jean's reluctance for them. It turns out that Jean's avoidance of additional commitment to Ken is rooted in her ambivalence regarding her attractions toward women. This is especially true of her feelings for her best friend, Shayna. A relatively open lesbian attorney who specializes in assisting women in legal struggles, Shayna uses her work to avoid really committing to her girlfriend. Despite their years of perfecting defense mechanisms, neither woman is quite prepared for her feelings for the other. Feelings that grow as both disentangle themselves from dying romantic relationships.

Coming out is a process, not an event, and it's rarely easy. That's one of the themes of Mirrors. Indeed the book provides three reflections on coming out via Jean, Shayna and Lindy, a student at the high school where Jean teaches. Lindy has been struggling with her own sexuality and suffers the routinely harassing attention of several of the male jocks at the school. She will ultimately be attacked because her baby butch appearance threatens some of her classmates. It is Lindy's story that will force Jean to face her own closet, accept the gift of Shayna's love, and risk her job, in the hope of saving other young students.

Martin also provides a mirror for society to consider its role in protecting our young people from bigotry and hate (not to mention rearing them to express said hatred). Mirrors is not my favorite Martin novel; --I prefer her Clan of the Doe stories with Sage Bistro, et al.-- however it is a very good story that can not be told too often. Look into Mirrors, you will no doubt find yourself reflected there as well.

-MJ Lowe

Friday, September 14, 2001

The Sunne in Gold

Nene Adams
Shady Ladies Press

Set in Erin during the time of the crusades. Lady Cathelin O'Cameron, known as the Blacksunne, armored herself as knight and followed Richard the Lionhearted (reigned 1189-1199) to the Holy Land. There Blacksunne gained a reputation as a fierce and blood thirsty warrior and suffered the loss of a lover in a cross cultural bit of sexism and homophobia. Like Richard, Blacksunne has returned home to find a relative -- in this case her cousin -- usurper has taken control of her home. She and her battle hardened allies turn out the villain with little difficulty. Although she makes the mistake of not killing him when she could . . ..

Among many appalling changes to her keep, Lady Cathelin discovers her cousin has installed a Moorish bed slave, literally chained to his bed. Blacksunne frees Madrigal, who reminds Blacksunne of her lost love in the Holy Land. It turns out Madrigal has suffered so much trauma and abuse in her short life, she doesn't begin to know how to trust or love.

This is Adams' first novel and there are some uneven elements. The primary plot device, that of a cross-dressing, battle leading, noble woman requires the readers' willingness to suspend disbelief. This reader is willing to accept a broad range of premises, if the story is told well. Sunne in Gold does not entirely succeed. Certainly there have always been women who cross-dressed to increase their opportunities in this world. Indeed until the required medical exams of the 20th Century, every war has known some hidden women soldiers as well as less hidden ones. If the likes of a Blacksunne did exist, she seems more likely to be of Irish or at least Celtic origins. However, pinning her to the late 12th Century makes Blacksunne less likely in that the sexism of the time had already limited most women's options.

Some issues of characterization are too complex for this story and even distract from it. Adams might have been better off simplifying some of Madrigal's post traumatic stress -- since it is applying a current psychological standard to a very different set of values, time and culture -- and finally, most annoying, there are several historical inaccuracies that become distracting because Adams emphasizes them.

For example Cathelin gives Madrigal a dress. This is an important, touching moment for Madrigal. The former slave is impressed with the quality of cloth and the buttons, describing them in detail. (Well, she should be impressed, since buttons didn't exist until the 1600s!)

Then there is the issue of language. We're told Madrigal learned English from a cruel English knight who brought her back from the Middle East. It's unclear why the knight spoke English (even Middle English) instead of Norman French -- which is much more likely, certainly that's what Richard and most of the royal court spoke after 1066 -- but he did and thus taught Madrigal the language. Supposedly that's why she could understand Lady Cathelin O'Cameron. It's possible that the Blacksunne would have spoken Norman French or Latin because of her status and yes, perhaps even Middle English. However, it seems her first language, and certainly the language of most subjects of her fealty would have been old Gaelic. Indeed some of the characters speak with a strong dialect which may be intended to present Gaelic, but succeeds mostly in being distracting. As with the buttons, because Adams makes a point of bringing these language issues to the readers'attention, the error is annoying.

Adams' action is very good, if occasionally predictable, and draws the reader into the story. If you are in the mood for old-fashioned tale of betrayal, villainy, and the triumph of good with a touch of lavender romance, Sunne in Gold is worth your while. Certainly as Adams' first novel, it shows promise. Her plotting is good. Her depiction of the deterioration of the evil villain is wonderfully weird. Hopefully her future work will be more careful with historical detail -- simply setting it in a fantasy alternative realm would have solved these problems nicely -- and some pieces of characterization.

-MJ Lowe

Tuesday, July 24, 2001


Alex Marcoux
Haworth Press

Sidney Marcum, founder and president of Marcum Promotions, Inc., is a personal manager for musical groups and singers. For more than a decade she has specialized in taking unknown talent and making it a success. Anastasia, the beautiful, sensual, talented singer-songwriter, is struggling with her flagging professional career while attempting to balance her personal relationship with Stephanie and a life with the closet door open.

After a series of unfortunate publicity incidents, the singer approaches Sidney for management help to reclaim her superstar status. Sidney advises Anastasia to reenter the closet and create a straight public persona or "facade" to reconnect with her straight audience. The relationship these two women develop over the next two years is an interesting and cautious one. The publicity campaign that Sidney orchestrates for Anastasia's comeback is a fascinating story alone. Marcoux uses the "facade" analogy to represent both that constructed public entertainment persona as well as the face of a closeted lesbian. However, set primarily around 1993, with flashbacks to the early 1980s, Facades is more complicated than the thematic analogy implies.

Marcoux also deals with spousal abuse (heterosexual and lesbian), sexual assault, child custody issues for previously married lesbians like Sidney, blackmail and reincarnation. In addition to the above issues, Anastasia performs in Denver during the Boycott after Amendment 2. [An Amendment to the Colorado constitution that would disallow any municipal government to grant civil rights protection based on sexual orientation, which the US Supreme Court struck down.] She uses her concert as an opportunity to question the Religious Right and A2 supporters.

If it's starting to sound as though Marcoux is juggling a lot of themes in this book, you're right. While most of the story lines are tied up at the end, the reincarnation theme is never fully developed. It is hinted at throughout the novel and yet doesn't seem to fit. In fairness, many of the themes are interconnected. Overall this is a pleasantly readable novel with characters who draw the reader into the story. As a lesbian love story, Facades is rather chaste.

The characters and the writing make Facades a novel worth reading. Marcoux does not shy away from controversial issues, in the lesbian & gay community or the majority society. Actually it is that willingness to address sensitive socio/political issues around sexism, homophobia and violence that makes this a good a novel to loan to a straight friend. Facades is the first novel from Marcoux, a Colorado resident. Hopefully there will be future novels that allow Marcoux to pay more attention to tightening her plot lines.

Monday, July 16, 2001

Bleeding Out

Baxter Clare
Firebrand Books

Clare's first novel,
Bleeding Out, is a taut, gritty, psychological thriller set in contemporary South Los Angeles. Police Lt. L.A. Franco is a tough, tall, handsome, intelligent, dyke investigator. Years ago, the traumatic loss of her lover prompted Franco to shut down much of her personal life and focus on work. Years in one of the city's toughest districts have built an armor around Franco.

Franco cares about the people in her district and is alarmed when the first victim of a serial murderer appears. Franco sees the pattern in these murders as an extension of earlier, increasingly brutal, rapes and walks a razor's edge as she allows herself to sink deeper into the killer's mind in order to track him down.

Clare provides remarkable insight into the "rearing" of a serial killer in a series of short, often horrific vignettes at the beginning of each chapter. These hauntingly powerful depictions stay with the reader.

Allison Kennedy, a young, smart mouthed, narcotics officer is brought in to act as bait for the killer. Displeased with the stake out plan, Franco is annoyed, worried and just a little attracted to Kennedy. --Feelings that Franco does not welcome, yet may be important for her salvation. Not because their relationship is necessarily destined to be a success, this is not a "happily ever after" love story. -- Because for the first time in years Franco feels more than simple lust for another woman and is willing to risk the relationship.

Some of Clare's secondary characters are difficult to differentiate, particularly in the macho police world. Yet other characters are complex, compassionately drawn and touchingly real. Not a thoughtless, pleasant armchair mystery; Bleeding Out is a well written, engrossing thriller of police investigation and politics.

-MJ Lowe

BN: There are now five L.A. Franco mystery released by Bella Books including a new edition of Bleeding Out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Annabell and I

Chris Anne Wolfe
Windstorm Creative Ltd.

The author, Wolfe says of Annabel & I in her introduction that she wrote the story as "a romance to celebrate magic and joy." She was quite successful. Annabel & I is an enchanting tale of the power of love in overcoming the restrictions of time itself.

The novel is the story of Jennifer Cassel. A shy tomboy, Jenny is struggling to deal with the loss of her mother and her emotionally distant father. She finds home and family every summer that she spends at Chatauqua, New York, where her uncle runs a lakeside lodge. It is also the story of Annabel, a girl that Jenny meets the first summer after her mother's death. Their friendship develops over the years as the two spend every summer of their adolescence together.

As the girls grow older they become more aware their differences. For Jenny, born in 1960, is growing up through the 1970s and 80s; while Annabel, born in 1879, is living in the 1880s and 1890s. Annabel's grandmama, the family matriach makes it clear that the girls should enjoy their friendship and not question the impossibility of it.

As a young adult Jenny finds herself attracted to women and eventually realizes that she is in love with Annabel. There are a few required misunderstandings before the two young women recognize that their love and attraction is mutual. Just as the young women discover the depth of their love for one another, their happiness is threatened by Annabel's brother, Richard. Having recently gained control of the family business, Richard is determined to force his "head strong" sister into a marriage that would increase the family assets. In a desperate effort to outwit Richard's machinations, Jenny and Annabel come to understand the magic of their time together and the plans, past and future, that Grandmama has been working on for years.

Annabel & I is a delightful little romantic fantasy that only asks the reader to suspend her disbelief and enjoy. Several pen and ink illustrations by Chris Storm are included and add an old fashioned charm to the story as well. It is a perfect love story for a lazy afternoon.

-MJ Lowe

Saturday, June 9, 2001

Coming Attractions

Bobbi Marolt
Rising Tide Press

Reading Coming Attractions, Bobbi Marolt's first novel, is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Well known NYC newspaper columnist Helen Townsend has decided it's time to come out. Out of the emotional hiding she's been living in while recovering from the loss of her lover to cancer, and out of the "passing for straight" closet her feminine looks have allowed her. Come out in a big way.

Just as she begins to plan a major coming out show for herself and a number of broadway and motion picture stars, Helen meets Cory Chamberlain. Cory is beautiful, intelligent, enigmatic and a world renown pianist. Intensely attracted to one another, Cory and Helen become lovers. There are several obstacles on the way to the "Stars Come Out" show. Not the least of which is Cory's cold feet at participating in the show, after she is been offered the position as conductor of a Boston orchestra.

For its length, the plot seems unnecessarily complicated; consequently it sometimes lacks development or follow through of some story threads. And some of the secondary characters are difficult to keep straight (as it were). Marolt is willing to introduce a very powerful issue in the importance for gays and lesbians, particularly prominent professionals in show business, to come out. Yet she doesn't address the complexities of coming out to this reader's satisfaction. Having said that, Coming Attractions is a promising and entertaining first novel. It is interesting to have this "romance" deal with this issue in such a manner. And the ending at show night is fun and touching. Hopefully, Marolt will continue to develop her writing.

-MJ Lowe

Saturday, June 2, 2001

Winged Isis

Jean Stewart
Bella Books

Winged Isis is a fast-paced, action story with a cliffhanger ending. Beginning six months after the close of Warriors of Isis, it follows Tomyris Whitaker -- Whit to her friends -- and her partner Kali Tyler as they struggle to protect their country from invasion.

The satellite generated electro-magnetic shield between Freeland and Elysium has begun to fail. Thus the women of Freeland set about replacing the satellites. It is a race for time, as they also prepare to defend their young, prospering country from the Elysians. This is the story of Winged Isis.

The post-pandemic world that Stewart has created is a lesbian feminist cross between King's The Stand and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Freeland, perhaps the most interesting presentation of a feminist democratic culture in contemporary literature, is not a utopia. Views of how to implement their country's political goals vary greatly among the citizens. Power struggles are frustrating to Whit (and perhaps to the reader) as she is drawn into the complexities of governing. However, they have a ring of reality that echoes the struggles of many feminist, democratic organizations.

Stewart is also unabashed in depicting Freeland's need for a military defense. Her exploration of how this woman centric society might go about creating and implementing this amazon military is thought provoking and insightful.

Stewart's characters are complex and realistic. In their struggles to rebuild the colony of Isis and survive the threats of the Elysians, many of these woman find love and hope for a happy future. These characters grow and change over the course of the series. Winged Isis appears to be a pivotal, transition story within the series. For example: the shy, brillant Danu finds confidence and skill as a Warrior; Kali and Tor both explore their mystical strengths; while Kali and Whit anticipate the changes that their first daughter will bring to their lives.

One might wish to read the first three titles in the series (Return to Isis, Isis Rising, and Warriors of Isis, in that order) before Winged Isis. The series as a whole is unique and enjoyable reading. However, it is not absolutely necessary to read them in order. Stewart provides enough context within Winged Isis to enjoy it alone. And there is a helpful glossary and character summary at the end of the book. Winged Isis is an exciting summer read. The series overall is thought provoking and lingers in this reader's mind.

It's been five years since the third Isis story was released. Given the ending of Winged Isis, one hopes it will not be so long before the fifth novel comes our way.
-MJ Lowe

BN: Wizard of Isis is the 5th book. The second and third are still available via

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

One Summer Night

Gerri Hill
Rising Tide Press

One Summer Night is a first novel for Gerri Hill and is a promising beginning. Her romantic encounters are powerfully erotic and may prompt many readers to return to this story. However, her characterization is rather flat and the plot is thin. Some women are portrayed rather one dimensionally and Hill, however unintentionally, sometimes falls victim to using some negative stereotyping.

An educated, thirty something college instructor, Johanna Marshall suffers from the loss of her parents as a child -- despite having been raised by loving grandparents who have accepted her lesbianism without strife -- and the betrayal of (in hindsight) a clearly inappropriately matched lover. For the last several years, Jo has climbed into her ivory tower and shut the door.

Dragging herself out to watch friends play in a softball tourney, Jo is drawn to a ringer brought in to boost the team she supports. The former college ball player is the attractive, intelligent Kelly Sambino. The two women are drawn together by an almost overwhelming attraction and end up spending a tremendously charged night together. The next morning Jo awakes to find Kelly, who had a game to play in the morning, gone. Despite their backgrounds in writing and communication the two women prove to be very poor communicators. Almost annoyingly so. Jo, confused and embarrassed by the night's impulsively, does not go to the ball field. Thus adding to the miscommunication particularly since Kelly lives in another town.

After the tournament, some of Jo's friends suggest that Kelly has a reputation as a "Don Juan." Thus Jo returns to hide in her academic tower, though the memory of their passion remains. Fall semester brings a new faculty member to Jo's department and it's Kelly. Still interested in Jo, Kelly tries to court Jo as well as clarify their earlier miscommunication. Jo spends lots of energy trying to keep Kelly at arm's length but calls on her for solace when her grandfather dies suddenly. Kelly is the more likeable of this hit-and-miss couple, although her willingness to put up with Jo's passive-aggressive behavior is rather masochistic.

Perhaps more annoying is the treatment of secondary characters. One of the few short and over weight dykes (most are lean, athletic, and beautiful) is depicted as insensitive, desperate, and mean spirited with her attempts to trash Kelly to Jo in an effort to woo Jo for herself. As some of Hill's writing is quite moving, one hopes that her future novels will explore characterization and plot in a more complex manner.

-MJ Lowe

Monday, May 21, 2001

Set in Stone

Angela Brown, editor
Alyson Books

"I'm beyond queer, queerer than queer: an authentic, genuine, pasteurized, homogenized 100% perv." says an unnamed butch, in Leslea Newman's story, "A Stone's Throw" one of 19 stories in Set in Stone, the newest anthology of lesbian erotica from Alyson press. Certainly that's what a lot of folks might think of the theme of this anthology. They would be partly correct. Angela Brown, the editor has pulled together a wonderful spectrum of tough, funny, sexy, beautiful butches as well as observations about butches, stone and otherwise, and their attractions to one another.

Join the notorious (and historically real) Anne Bonney and Mary Read on a 17th century pirate ship in "On the Spanish Main." Get caught in the different kind of raid in the restroom at the Under Club in M. Christian's "The Bang Gang." Some of the stories like Newman's and Jennifer M. Collins have butches that are very aware of their added "queerness" and expose very touching encounters of respect, affection, and desire. For you aging punkers, "Tough Broad" will create a fond memory and "The Rock" will have you looking twice at heavy construction front loaders. While other stories like "The Crashing Planes" rather painfully explore the competitive nature between some butches, particularly in regards to keeping a femme. The writers are as diverse as their stories and many are well known for their erotica like Newman and Califia.

Not all of the butches in these pages are likable; they are, however, memorable, thought provoking, and hot. Regardless of your personal view of the butch/femme dance, you'll find Set in Stone and arousing collection.

-MJ Lowe

Monday, May 14, 2001

Frosting on the Cake

Karin Kallmaker
Naiad Press

If like myself, you are a long time Kallmaker fan, you will enjoy Frosting on the Cake, an anthology of short stories based on her novels.

Kallmaker's characters are the main reason her stories are so enjoyable. She explores a diverse range of women and portrays them as human. These women get colds, have periods, disagree with their parents and spouses, have jobs, have children, renovate homes, and so on. Not just super human beauties, they reflect the lesbians we know, are, and with whom we interact. Not surprisingly, Kallmaker uses this opportunity to examine new aspects of these familiar characters.

After ten novels, Kallmaker has lots of characters to revisit and there's a wide range of topics to consider as well. For example Cat and Jessie, of In Every Port, have been together 23 years now and as many long time couples do, they have developed a communication all their own in "Conversations."

Life has been difficult for the cross dressing conductor Nicola Frost since the ending of Paperback Romance nine years ago. Two years prior to "Key of Sea," Oscar, her much loved and charming mentor, died; and ever since Nick has been building walls to protect herself from the world. Walls that also keep her from the things she loves. Alone on an all woman cruise for an over due vacation, Nick rediscovers her love of music and, perhaps, Patricia.

We get an extra peek at favorite women like Jackie and Leah of Painted Moon, (probably my second favorite of Kallmaker's titles). In "Smudges" the artist, Leah Beck immortalizes "what it's like between women" with a very special canvas. Rayann of Touchwood (my favorite Kallmaker novel) furthers her understanding of the butch/femme dance she shares with Lou in "Satisfaction."

"Wild Things are Free" is a novella that examines the complications of miscommunication and insecurity that can still arise some five years after Sydney and Faith began their relationship in Wild Things. While "Come Here" features Judy and Dedric, Rayann's friends from Touchwood, in a classic Kallmaker romantic encounter. This is a particularly interesting story because it provides the reader with an intimate view of characters who were not primary to the novel.

Perhaps the most interesting example of Kallmaker's exploration of secondary characters appears in "Unforgettable, That's What You Are." Natalie's role in Unforgettable was rather limited. However, Kallmaker appears to know a great deal about even relatively minor characters in her books. Her understanding of the people that populate her novels adds to the richness of all her characters. Thus in this story, we learn more of Natalie, a retired Army encryption specialist who still bears the psychological scars of battle earned during her service overseas. - Kallmaker's depiction of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very powerful. -- Natalie has returned home to court and build a future with a woman she loves.

An additional, interesting treat is included at the end of the anthology. Kallmaker takes a few pages to discuss her novels and their related stories as well as answering a few of the "frequently asked questions" about her writing.

If you've never read any of Kallmaker's novels -- which probably means you either just came out, on principle you refuse to read any "romance" novel, or have been living under a rock for much of the last decade -- pick up this anthology. It will give you a very good idea of what her stories are like. Perhaps it will help you decide which of her books you'd like to read next. And you will want to read them.

As for you non-romance readers, I urge you to reconsider. Remember that these are not the straight, traditional romance stories you're bombarded with everyday. Kallmaker's stories are well written and non-formula. They depict realistic, contemporary lesbians dealing with everyday issues, including how to love and maintain that love in a homophobic society. Kallmaker's characters are in many ways ordinary women. Ordinary women made extraordinary through their love of each other. That is the magic of Kallmaker's writing.

-MJ Lowe

Wednesday, May 2, 2001

It Takes One to Know One

Kate Allen
New Victoria Publishers


The third installment in Kate Allen's Allison Kaine mystery series, It Takes One to Know One, continues to be my favorite. Allison, a Denver police officer and her best friend, Michelle, travel south to spend a peaceful, long, working retreat weekend on womyn's land near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The weekend takes several unexpected turns as Stacy, Allison's girlfriend and a professional dominatrix, shows up to make peace after a recent argument. Uninformed of the commune's strict rules, Stacy and her best friend, Liz set up "Fun Camp" outside the Land. Well provisioned with caffeine and alcohol, they become the local entertainment and outlet for the less pure retreat members. Predictably, arguments concerning feminism and the leather community flare up in the desert heat.

Despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, Stacy and Allison still manage to find time for a heated power exchange. Allison and company do a wonderful job of humanizing that feminist taboo- s/m. In depicting intelligent, caring women with ordinary jobs (except for Stacy . . .), bills, and pets, Allen creates cognitive dissidence for people who demonize the leather community.

Allison and Stacy aren't the only ones indulging their erotic affections. Away from the strain of domestic life with her girlfriend and their colicky baby, Michelle is expressing more than a professional interest in Persimmon, a fellow glass artist, and one of the commune sponsors.

Soon, Sarah Embraces-All-Things, the commune spiritual leader, a bully, and possibly a fraud, is discovered dead in the sweat lodge. Allison, suffering from a recently diagnosed chronic illness, struggles to sort out her professional responsibility as a police officer and her role as a supportive lesbian. Several members of the retreat appear happy to call Sarah's death an accident. Are they protecting a murderer?

Allen succeeds in poking fun at all the complexities and contradictions of the lesbian, gay, and feminist community without being malicious -- a great temptation, particularly over some of the issues -- and conveys intelligent ambivalence over controversial issues. As the characters struggle with their interactions, political views, and the question of Sarah's death, Allen points out how very funny lesbians can be while she consistently displays compassion for the women that make up our community. All of Allen's novels are intelligent, humorous, and worth buying but Takes One to Know One is still my favorite to date.


BN: All of Kate Allen's titles are still available via

Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Murder for Beltene: A Beltene Family Mystery

Sandra L. Brewer
Write Way Publishing

On her way to the store for her nightly soft ice cream cone fix, Rhiannon Beltene finds a dead body on the path that cuts through her family's woods. Thus opens Murder for Beltene: A Beltene Family Mystery, a new novel by Sandra L. Brewer. The victim's anonymity alone is strange in the quiet town of Sevyrn, located in Brennan County in Michigan's Upper peninsula. However, the circumstances of his death -- Drained of blood with puncture wounds in the neck, the body appears to have been killed by a vampire. -- make it clear that Rhi, a successful writer of vampire fiction, has acquired a rather dangerous admirer.

As the start to bodies appear regularly Rhi finds herself forced to deal with Brennan County's new Sheriff who has serious reservations about one of Rhi's cousins. Trysan sleeps in a coffin and enjoys vampire fantasies. Despite a pressing deadline for her next novel, Rhi is forced to set her writing aside to assist the investigation and comes to accept her responsibilities as "The Beltene" or head of Clan Beltene, a family of Welsh descent that has been in Brennan County since the 1780s.

The mystery itself takes a back seat to the mystery of the Beltene family and as the reader meets an interesting assortment of clan members -- from mercenaries to lawyers to Catholic priests to long practicing (definately not "neo") Druids -- it quickly becomes clear that nothing is quite as it appears. Brewer's characters are funny, intelligent, and more than a little odd . . .. Murder for Beltene is Brewer's first novel featuring the Beltene clan, and with any luck, it won't be the last such book that we get from Brewer.

-MJ Lowe

Monday, April 30, 2001

Roses & Thorns : Beauty and the Beast Retold

Chris Anne Wolfe
Windstorm Creative

Roses & Thorns is a touching retelling of the "Beauty & the Beast" fable with a lavender twist. We all know the old story. A young, handsome noble whose cruelty and selfishness had caused pain to many was cursed. He was condemned to appear to be the beast he had behaved until he could learn responsibility, compassion, how to love and finally be freely loved by a young woman.

The author, Chris Anne Wolfe, did not merely place a lover of women in the role of the callous beast. Instead she took an opportunity to explore how a hateful and homophobic society condemns those seen as different. Thus forcing the condemned to shamefully hide who they are in an effort to win acceptance, approval and possibly even love.

Years ago, Drew, a young noble woman was condemned as "the most perverted, grotesque of creatures known to our earth" because she loved another woman. Sadly the object of Drew's affections had more interest in gaining access to her father's wealth and having Drew cursed was part of the plan. ...Drew was cursed to live in a parallel, magical time and place until she could find another woman who would love her in return.

Drew internalizes this hate to the point of not expecting or believing that she could or should be loved freely by another woman. Drew's shame prompts her to cloak her female identity from any accidental visitors to her realm. Over centuries no young woman was willing to look beyond Drew's mask to know her as a person, let alone love her freely. It seemed to Drew that her damnation was deserved.

Bound by the curse, Drew once again barters for the hand of a traveling merchant's daughter. But Angelique, this latest young woman to arrive in Drew's domain, is different. She's not afraid of Drew. This charming, romantic fantasy is a delightful way to pass an afternoon. Quite enjoyable, it is unnecessary to read the fable as more than a love story. However, elements of the story returned to me after reading it. This is not just a "simple" retelling of the beauty and the beast story.

The late Ms. Wolfe succeeded in creating a new fable for the lesbian (and gay) community from this old tale. She reminds us that there are many "beasts" in this world who would like to condemn us for being different. People who use fear of that difference to achieve some personal gains. She points to our love as our ironic redemption in the face of such hate and fear. This multifaceted story is what fables are supposed to be. Read it and be charmed.

-MJ Lowe

BN: This title was originally published under the title, Bitter Thorns by Pride Productions, in 1994. The cover was based on Wolfe's illustrations and not as evocative as the new cover, however, if you can locate this edition, do so. There were editorial errors in the new edition.

Saturday, April 28, 2001

Day Stripper

Jenny Scholten
New Victoria Publisher

Day Stripper is a readable, entertaining first novel for Scholten. The mystery follows Aubrey Lyle, a San Francisco stripper who finds herself tracking down a murderer after another of Naughtyland's dancers is found strangled in a leather bra borrowed from Aubrey.

Aubrey is helped along by an assortment of strange yet endearing roommates and friends who add texture and redeeming humor to the story. Though at times defensive of her work Aubrey is painfully realistic and practical about it. In fact Aubrey's roommates have begun to worry that her job as a "testosterone mop" has robbed her of her sex drive.

Scholten (who worked her way through graduate school as a stripper) depicts the illusionary world of "Live Nude Girls" as often grim and sometimes bizarrely amusing but never erotic particularly for the women working in it. Although at times uneven Day Stripper is a promising first novel for Scholten. It will be interesting to see what future stories she pens.

-MJ Lowe

Uniform Sex: Erotic Stories from Women in Service

Linnea A. Due
Alyson Books

The most recent anthology of lesbian erotic stories from Alyson,
Uniform Sex: Erotic Stories from Women in Service is one of the best of the publisher's several titles in this genre. The uniforms featured in the 19 stories run from the expected police officers and soldiers to a rather amusing fixation on the polyester worn by workers at that artery hardening fast food purveyor known as the Golden Arches.

The stories also cover a broad range of the roles uniforms play in our lives and fantasies. There are humorous entries like "Butch Talk" by Nicole Foster (who has edited similar volumes for Alyson). It contains several tongue-in-cheek observations of "lesbian culture." The touching and insightful "Naked" by J. M. Redmann (author of the Lambda winning Mickey Knight mysteries) offers observations on the identity involved in putting on -- and taking off -- a uniform. Kate Allen (Denver lesbian writer and author of the wonderful Alison Kaine stories -- which you should read if you haven't already) takes the reader into a captivating power exchange at "Uniform Night at the Butches' Club."

Uniform Sex is sure to provide a perfect fit for readers.

-MJ Lowe

Thursday, March 15, 2001

Sleight of Hand

Laura Adams (Karin Kallmaker)
Bella Books

Laura Adam's fourth novel, Sleight of Hand is her best work to date and one of the best fantasy stories I've read in awhile. Inspired by the liturgy composed by the medieval Abbess Hildegard von Bingen for the legend of St Ursula and the 11,000 virgins, Sleight of Hand weaves together three incarnations of Ursula's story as they blend across some 16 centuries.

Autumn Bradley and Ursula Colombine, two women who've never met and live half a world apart in the contemporary time, find themselves dreaming of a life in the region "under the constellation of Ursula" after the fall of Rome. During that unsettled time of barbarian raiders while Christianity struggled to reinstate order via its concepts of sin and patriarchy was conquering, co-opting, and converting the peoples of the region, Autumn and Ursula met and fell in love. It was a star-crossed meeting as Ursula, adopted daughter to the lord of Lower Northumberland, was on her way to wed an unknown Jut Lord to seal an alliance between the men.

The story of both pairs of Autumn and Ursula unfolds as the contemporary women struggle to understand what happened in their dream memories and how it impacts their lives. Adam's story of reincarnations includes several other characters from that early medieval cycle coming together in the present as well. Sleight of Hand is the first book of Adams' "Tunnel of Light" Trilogy and ends with an incredible sense of irony as the current Autumn and Ursula finally meet prompting more questions than answers. Your only regret in reading this book will be realizing that, like the rest of us, you'll be waiting for the next installments. (I particularly look forward to finally meeting the contemporary Hilea/Hildegard character.)

Adams is a pen name for Karin Kallmaker who is well known for her consistently charming, contemporarily interesting, and non-formula romance novels. Her works under Adams tend to explore mythic archetypes with lavender tinged reinterpretations of legends and folklore. Read more about Adams and Kallmaker at her home page

-MJ Lowe