Saturday, May 27, 2006

Dark Dreamer

Jennifer Fulton
Yellow Rose Books
1932300465, $16.95

Rowe Devlin is a best selling horror novelist and attractive butch who has hit a rough patch in her life. She's recently moved from the Manhattan scene to make a break from a fruitless relationship in the hope that she will be able to meet her next deadline. The move is not going well. Or, as she claims, she is "a washed up writer living in a haunted house in Maine in the middle of winter. She now had exchanged a hopeless passion for someone's wife for a doomed crush on her neighbors. Plural. And instead of finishing the piece of crap novel her agent was hounding her for, she was on some wild ghost chase with two young males who thought the government was spying on them." (68). Needless to say, this is not a high point in her career.

The neighbors in question, Phoebe and Cara Temple are identical twins and unusual women in their own right. Orphaned at age seven and reared by their grandmother, the Temple twins have a highly symbiotic relationship. Cara is the grounded, no-nonsense woman who works in the music industry. Phoebe is a more ethereal of the sisters. A few years ago Phoebe was in a car accident that left her in a coma. After she woke, she began having compelling dreams of women who had met with violent deaths. These women talked to Phoebe, asked her to send their love to their parents or spouses, and told her where to find their bodies. Recently Phoebe has begun using these communications to assist the FBI in tracking down serial killers.

Meanwhile Rowe's dogs will not enter her kitchen and the knives have a nasty habit of refusing to stay in their drawers. The writer begins to research former inhabitants of the house and in the process finds a tragic story with a possible connection with the Temple sisters. This revelation prompts more interactions with her neighbors and an offer to help with the ghost from Phoebe.

When the attraction between Phoebe and Rowe heats up, Cara becomes jealous, angry and conflicted. She'd been interested in Rowe herself and dreads what she sees as Phoebe's inevitable disenchantment with Rowe. -- Phoebe has a history of falling in love and failing to end relationships when she was ready to leave. More than once, Phoebe has convinced Cara to impersonate Phoebe for the needed break up. -- Venting about the relationship with Rowe, Cara decides "she'd been Phoebe's minder and interface with the world for twenty years. Twenty years! Enough was enough. She wanted a life of her own. Let Phoebe find out the hard way that the world was not her oyster just because she was sweet and sensitive and beautiful. In fact, the world chewed up women like her and spat them out. And let Rowe find out that Phoebe didn't just have issues, she had a subscription." (133)

However, other elements of Homeland Security discover that Phoebe's gift is "the real deal" and the plot takes an ominous turn. Fast-paced with an engaging and suspenseful mix of spooky -- the supernatural and the political variety -- happenings, Dark Dreamer is peopled with intelligent, witty, complex characters. The romance between Rowe and Phoebe is sweet with some fine lusty moments. Dark Dreamer is a highly enjoyable story that lives up to its series title of "A Heartstoppers Thriller Romance." This reviewer hopefully foretells that there could be future stories featuring Rowe and the Temple sisters and would look forward to them.

-MJ Lowe

BN: Dark Dreamer was re-released by Bold Strokes Books in May 2007, ISBN 978-1933110745 , $15.95 as "A Dark Vista Paranormal Romance."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sweet Creek

Lee Lynch
Bold Strokes Books
1933110295, $15.95

Drop a line in the waters of Sweet Creek! From the pen of the venerable lesbian author Lee Lynch comes a novel set in the small rural community of Waterfall Falls, Oregon, at the turn of the millennium and populated by an amusingly high volume of lesbians. One character suggests an inverted energy draws women to the community.

"A dyke vortex. I like it." Chick made a mental note to suggest it to the sheriff, a native who was completely baffled, and not particularly pleased, at the disproportionate numbers of lesbians in Elk County

.... [Jeep responds] "Cool beans! I moved to the poor dyke's Palm Springs."

"Yeah," added Donny. "We don't golf, we fish." (60)

The heart of the area's queer community rests in Natural Woman Foods, a small organic general store and cafe run by ex-hippie, earth-mother dyke, Chick, and her tough but mellowing, working-class, former player, butch partner Donny. Together nearly a decade, the two are struggling with the changes of advancing crone-hood. Chick has a family history of mental illness and worries her current struggle with depression might be symptomatic of something worse. Meanwhile men from their pasts are stirring trouble for both women.

If Natural Woman Foods is the heart of the community, Chick is its reigning queen, er, "femme in charge." (34) She looks after several women in this role, and has many amused, often indulgently affectionate observations about butches, the butch/femme dance in general, and the changes she's seen in community politics (gay and straight).

Up and coming television reporter, Katie, with her flame of the moment, Jeep, arrives looking for something new for her life. She finds herself quickly enamored with the leader of the women's land, a fierce, enigmatic woman named Rattlesnake, or R for short. Katie consequently develops an interest in documenting the struggles the local separatist commune has with the traditional logging industry.

Soon, Jeep, (a melding of "G. P." for Gina Pauline) who appeared in Waterfall Falls sporting a city-styled buzz haircut and a restless attitude, finds herself nursing a broken heart, looking for a new place to live, scrambling to make a living, and trying to sort out what she wants to do with her life. Jeep's coming of age is one of the themes of Sweet Creek and several of the story threads depict transitional life periods.

As is frequently the case with small communities, everyone seems to know everyone else's business. Still, a few surprises arise over the course of the book. Lynch portrays this ensemble cast of charming and interesting characters with humor and insight. Sweet Creek originally appeared as a series of short-short stories in Girlfriends Magazine and the brief episodic structure has been retained in the chapters. This allows for bite-sized consumption of the various storylines that struck this reader as a dyke hybrid of Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories and Maupin's Tales of the City series. While this format makes for easy episodic reading, it sometimes results in meandering plotlines that might distract some readers and could have benefited from some tighter editing. Nevertheless, Sweet Creek is filled with engaging life stories and charming snapshots of the locale. Fans of Lynch are bound to enjoy Sweet Creek, and hopefully new readers will discover her work as well.

-MJ Lowe