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.