Posts tagged ‘review’

Hats ‘n’ heels, and a clumsy butch

Mardi Gras is almost upon us. A little later this year (19 Feb-5 March) and for the first time in like forever, the parade and the party will be held on separate weekends. More time for tourists to be forced to visit the state. Heaps of events that look too good to miss – Sarah Waters, Whitney Houston, (George Michael), films, parties, sports – and a real drag race at the racecourse. I think the Pink Stiletto event, a gay day at the races (big horses tiny men), will be fabulous fun. And it’s a fundraiser to boot.

Speaking of hats, you’ve got to give this book a try.

Fedora Walks by Merrilee Moss (Spinifex Press, IPG , Amazon, Book Depository, or any of these)

Firstly, when you see this book on some sites, i.e. Amazon, it has the peculiar sub-title of (Data and Knowledge in a Changing World). I don’t know where that came from but on the book, it actually says A Comic Crime Novel, and that’s exactly what it is. Oh wait, except that it’s more a novella. Less than a hundred pages, sure, but it’s funny.

FW is a lesbian crime story, complete with homicide, a bumbling butch detective and the girlfriend she tries not to lose while also perving after her client. Because the book is so short, I can’t give away much except to say there’s a healthy dose of supernaturalism in the story, enough for me to go ‘huh?’ at some points, but this is offset by the display of millinery and the rather hilarious musings of our PI, Julie Bernard, as she sets out to solve a mystery older than herself by whatever means possible, i.e. on a bicycle.

This story gently satirises the lesbian crime fiction genre by taking itself seriously. It’s not.

What I love about this book, other than that it made me laugh a lot, is the setting (Melbourne) and the editing. FW is a great example of  australian publishing style. I might even keep it nearby as a pocket reference.

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February 4, 2010 at 11:32 pm 2 comments

Book read: Goldenseal by Gill McKnight

I read Goldenseal – all of it – at regular speed, no skipping. It’s a good thing too because I had to slog through the first ¼ of the book but when the action started, I couldn’t put it down.

Art, sleuthing and botany are all elements used to good effect in this book. Gill McKnight can turn on facts, making the story a richer, intellectual pursuit that keeps the reader entertained and in the game.

In Goldenseal, Amy walks right into a spider’s lair when she returns to the valley of her childhood. The people she called family and the lover who left her, are all determined that she should continue the work her indisposed aunt has been doing that is essential to the Garoul community.

As Amy is alternately coddled and wooed by the Garouls, and by one in particular, she tries to shake off the feeling that everyone is hiding something for her, while being very aware that she is being stalked by a predatory entity. By dint of devotion to her aunt and her professionalism, she stubbornly picks apart each veiled action until the truth of the Garouls and her aunt’s whereabouts are revealed. But can she do it while resisting the brooding attraction of Leone and before she herself winds up dead, or worse?

Goldenseal has action, mystery and a prickly heroine who induces serious lust in her lover. All I can say is, Woof!

After the dust settled, I jotted down these criticisms:

1)    For a paranormal story, the beginning was entirely too normal. It was bland and there wasn’t anything that hinted darkly enough that something dramatic might be coming. The writing was sparse, not enough setting/background description – the valley being so beautiful I wanted more visuals. Nobody seemed interesting.

2)    Lots of information repeated, and the repetitions appeared close together. I dislike being nannied so I was glad when the story moved forward faster instead of eddying.

3)  The multiple threads in the storyline were handled exceptionally well.

4)  Amy is too calm for her own good. For someone who knows she’s in danger, she’s just not terrified enough.

5)  Leone is animalistic sexy (grunter v hottie), and unconsciously  funny too, but don’t tell her that.

6) Don’t fuck with Amy.

Goldenseal is the first book in the Garoul series, published by Bold Strokes Books.

October 12, 2009 at 12:39 am Leave a comment

Toothpick House by Lee Lynch – reviewed by Fran Walker

“Toothpick House” by Lee Lynch. Naiad House, 1983.

Yes, it’s a romance. And yes, Fran I-hate-romance-novels Walker loved it. And no, you won’t pry my autographed copy out of my hands. Not even out of my cold, dead hands.

Annie is a blue-collar, hard-drinking, bar-hopping, butch taxi driver who lives in a rented falling-down beach cottage. Victoria is student at Yale who has never even been to a bar, let alone guessed she might be lesbian. They fall in love, but as they’re both aware, that doesn’t guarantee their HEA. Love means hard work and sacrifice and risk.

Much of the book deals with the changes they have to make in their lives and their mindsets to accomodate their relationship. The progress of their relationship, their love, and their sexual interactions are beautifully done, with the characters, as individuals and as a couple, so well drawn and likeable that the HEA is as believable as it is welcome.

As Annie’s and Victoria’s lives change, so do the lives of their circle of friends. A lesbian becomes a feminist. A feminist becomes an activist. An activist becomes a lesbian. Annie’s house, the “toothpick house”, becomes an allegory throughout the story for Annie’s relationship with Victoria, and for women’s roles in the world: fragile yet timeless, vulnerable yet committed. It’s subtle, yet beautifully done, and brought full circle in the story’s last line.

Though the plot is largely internal and could be classified as literary, the prose is accessible and easy to read. It’s not quite as lean and polished as Lynch’s current works, but it’s easy to see that she’s been a skilled writer since before I was born, and the quality of the prose in Toothpick House is far, far above most of what is published today.

The story is a telling illustration of what gay life was like decades ago. I didn’t feel it was outdated, though. Not only are the characters’ experiences still valid to the lesbian experience today, but the story is such a good history lesson and reminder of where we came from and why it’s so important to hang on to the progress and rights we’ve gained. I’d love to see this book re-issued and made available to a new generation (or two) of readers.


* Fran Walker is primarily a writer of short fiction. Her non-fiction book, Lavender Ink: Writing and Selling Lesbian Fiction, was recently published by Bedazzled Ink Books. She can be contacted at franwalker@ihug.co.nz

May 5, 2009 at 12:41 pm Leave a comment

Book read: The Swashbuckler by Lee Lynch (pt 2)

Because too much can’t be said about Lee Lynch’s books, here is another review of The Swashbuckler, this time by Fran Walker*. She’s also kindly shared her review of Toothpick House in the next post.

“The Swashbuckler” by Lee Lynch. Naiad Press, 1985

New York City, circa 1960. Frenchy is a quiet, obedient, boring grocery cashier all week. On the weekends she tells her mother she’s going to play cards with the girls and, once out of the house, transforms herself into a swaggering, role-obsessed butch who hits the Greenwich Village bars and picks up a different femme every night. In Frenchy’s generation, “coming out” means realising you’re gay and having your first sexual experience with a girl. It has nothing to do with telling your family, because, well, that just ain’t ever gonna happen. Living a lie leaves Frenchy bitter and hard; she only comes alive when she’s in the gay community.Mercedes is a butch, too. Like Frenchy, she’s role-obsessed, she lives with her mom, and she’s young, dumb, and mixed-up. But she’s got it a lot harder than Frenchy. She’s Puerto Rican, and so faces a lifetime of white-against-brown discrimination. She suffers from depression. She’s got a lot more family issues than Frenchy.

They meet. They become friends. Best friends. They cruise femmes together. But Mercedes grows up, so to speak, and Frenchy doesn’t. And so their lives diverge, meet, diverge, and meet again. With, finally, a happy ending for everyone.

The book is exquisitely written with Frenchy’s story told in the third person, past tense, and Mercedes story told in the first person, present tense, each with a very different and vivid voice. It’s a tribute to Lee Lynch’s skill that it seems unthinkable the story could be told in any other way, though normally you’d think that combination was just a recipe for disaster.

For me, the book was a huge learning experience. I never really got the butch versus femme stuff, and vaguely assumed it just meant how you dress and whether you like to cook or use power tools. I had no clue what “stone butch” really meant. The Swashbuckler, then, opened up a whole world for me and showed me where we came from, what lesbian life was like fifty years ago, and where the butch/femme roles came from. It was fairly depressing for me, too, to realise how damaging those role stereotypes must’ve been. “Butch” proscribed how you walked, how you drank, how you smoked, how you kissed, how you loved. (Christ on a cracker, I hope we’ve got past all that?)

Both characters are utterly believable. They leap off the page and into your head. Mercedes I loved. Frenchy I could understand and feel sorry for, but I never quite liked or admired her, even when she got her head together. So, although this book is, in terms of craft and complexity, a step up from Toothpick House, I have to admit that I liked the first book a bit better.

* Fran Walker is primarily a writer of short fiction. Her non-fiction book, Lavender Ink: Writing and Selling Lesbian Fiction, was recently published by Bedazzled Ink Books. She can be contacted at franwalker@ihug.co.nz

May 5, 2009 at 12:35 pm Leave a comment

Book read: The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott

An adventure that takes you through time – from the middle ages, further back and to the present day. The Crystal Skull, the blue heart-stone cut from a single sapphire, links it’s keepers through lineage for one purpose, that is to place it in it’s earth home at an appointed time, to save the world. One of thirteen skulls waiting around the world, it completes the line to call forth the Ourobouros, a mythical creature that will save the world and lead it to salvation.

The skull’s keepers are blessed with full lives and cursed by violent deaths. This is a puzzle created by the previous keeper for the last keeper who must fulfil the prophecy. There are those who want the stone for power. It must be hidden from them until the end time. The Mayans have predicted that time as 21 December 2012.

Safe and calcite-crusted in the cathedral of the earth for over four hundred years, the skull has been found by Stella Cody and Kit O’Connor. They must discover why it was hidden and break the code that shows it’s final destination, but they have only a few weeks before the window passes and the stone’s song dies. There is villainy afoot even as they get help from fellow academics who all have an interest in the crystal skull.

This is a fast, entertaining read.  The story starts quickly then rips through with great writing and a rocketing adventure.

Manda Scott is the UK writer of the famed Boudica series.  The Crystal Skull is published by Random House (UK)(US).

For added fun, www.thecrystalskull.co.uk lets you continue the adventure.

April 20, 2009 at 12:22 am Leave a comment

Book read: Landing by Emma Donoghue

I have lovely friends, yes I do. They keep me entertained and they send me pressies, yes they do. One of which is a copy of this book by Emma Donoghue.

This not a review review because I suck at writing reviews. This is a note to myself, marking the period when I read the book.

Landing is a romance faced by two women, one a small-town Canadian and the other a high-flying (literally) bi-racial urbanian Irish woman – older and did I mention, urban?, who meet on a plane over the Atlantic and somehow, by chance and a shrug, they strike up real conversations via letters and emails and what ho, fall in love. To the tune of Síle’s sharp friends, breaking up her already stale 5-year relationship and living up to her dead mum’s idealised image, Jude stubbornly defends her town, her tiny museum, her relationship with her sorta ex-husband and the townsfolk while grieving her mother’s quick demise. It’s a craft of push and give as Síle and Jude create themselves into a bearable niche in each other’s lives.

As a city-bred lesbian, I totally empathised with Síle straight away. Love the Irish wit and deprecating honesty.

As someone who has had her share of LDRs, I understood how hard it was for Jude and Síle to work it out.

Emma D is generous with witty, adult dialogue, people observations, enough description to get the lay of each important setting without triteness, great checks on Canadian and Irish lingo, and carrying the soft aches of a transatlantic relationship and the hard issues of migration throughout. There’s a little twist at the end. I love me twists.

Landing is published by Harcourt Books.

Available in print from you-know-where and also as an audio book from BBCAudioBooksAmerica.

April 7, 2009 at 2:14 pm Leave a comment


Evecho’s newsy bits

News, updates and links from the lesbian and publishing ‘verse that interest me, my current projects, keeping up with authors and sharing musings on middle-class life, gourmet adventures and comparisons between East/West perspectives. My opinions will likely be linearly logical and gayly bent, as they tend to be.