Review: Cari Hunter’s No Good Reason. A great writer just got better.

caribookcoverI’ve been a fan of Cari Hunter’s writing ever since reading Snowbound. In this excellent thriller-romance debut, her vivid and economic style was already evident – very effective and affecting – as was her ability to bring alive brutal scenes in a way so realistic as to make many other books seem cartoonish. The injuries and scenes of violence are so intimately realised that if you didn’t know she was a paramedic by career you’d have serious misgivings about the author’s mental well-being and pastimes. But with Tumbledown, and even more so with No Good Reason, Cari is now delivering complex plots and sets of characters that go well beyond a simple adventure or thriller romance. Continue reading


A Kiss Before Dawn by Laurie Salzler

AKissBeforeDawnThis novel has the most undramatic, unsensational opening of a novel that I’ve read in a long time: a woman wanders out of a house and to a barn to check her horses. How unremarkable that sounds. But I could feel the humidity and the sweat, I wanted to reach down and pat the dogs and I wanted to take that walk around with them.

Here’s the blurb:

Country girl Chris Martel has struggled all her life to form strong, lasting relationships. For Chris, love, compassion, and trust are critical. In their absence, Chris has turned to her dog and her horse for the emotional fulfillment she craves. Then along comes Mary Jo Cavanaugh.

Fresh out of veterinary school, Mary Jo inadvertently antagonizes Chris with her overconfident assumptions about how to care for animals. She comes to learn that Chris’s practical experience provides both a wealth of knowledge and a friendship unlike any she’s ever known.

The carefully built walls around Chris’s heart begin to crumble as she acknowledges the unfamiliar feelings evoked by being with Mary Jo. Just as she believes she’s found the happiness that had always eluded her, someone from Chris’s past comes back into her life, intent on winning Chris’s affections, no matter what the cost.

Can the love between Chris and Mary Jo survive so that they can share A Kiss Before Dawn?

I loved the setting of this novel – a horse farm in the hills near Bristol (USA). The pace of the novel, like the life in the countryside, is laid back and relaxing. People take their time, drink coffee, talk to each other. They notice flowers, the weather, the smell of a new truck, the smell of the forest, the birds. The scenery and animals are wonderfully vivid and real and the leisurely pace encourages you to sit back and enjoy living in the novel for a while.

Laurie has a great knowledge of horses and countryside and the lead character, Chris Martel, is completely convincing – living and breathing horses. There is a beautiful part near the end of the book where Chris is banned from doing chores. Mary Jo wakes to find a new foal has been born and then notices that the mare has been fed and afterbirth cleared away (by Chris). It’s a lovely piece that is true to both carefully drawn characters.

A slight negative, for me, was the over explanation of characters’ feelings and thoughts. I think a lot of this was unnecessary since Laurie had already created scenes which showed extremely well what they thought and felt.

I gave A Kiss Before Dawn four stars for creating an utterly memorable and convincing character of Chris Martel and a wonderful book to live in for several days.

Your influences are showing….

Many thanks to Gabriella West for writing a lovely review of Pennance.

I found it very interesting reading because Gabriella mentioned a couple of authors that she thought may have influenced me. Firstly there was Sarah Waters, who I think must be a huge favourite among lesbian authors, but spotting Zoe Heller was worryingly accurate. Along with many of Sarah Waters’ novels, Notes on a Scandal is one of my favourite books. I loved the characters in that novel – so damaged and wonderfully unlikeable.

Gabriella then noted another influence of the film Truly Madly Deeply – one of my favourite films. It was starting to get scarey at this point. She ends the review by saying that the ending of Pennance reminded her of the reconciliation of Pip and Estella in Great Expecations – a text deeply seared into my psyche from studying it at A level.

Makes me wonder what else people can tell from my writing.

Gay Pride and Prejudice

Gay Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books, one of the few that I re-read. Loving it so much, I’ve been tempted into reading a couple of variants/sequels which inevitably were disappointing – well, they were just not Austen. So, Kate Christie’s approach, of leaving as much of the original text as possible and embellishing it, I think a brilliant one.

Here’s the famous first paragraph, with Kate’s twist:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife – even if he does not particularly desire female companionship.

Pride and Prejudice has been rewritten with a skilled and very light touch. Some of the text needs only the slightest change to support the new version of events. It is Caroline Bingley who finds Elizabeth only “tolerable”, and again Caroline who later dwells on Elizabeth’s fine eyes. Some needs no change at all: Charlotte Lucas for example, never thinks “highly either of men or matrimony”.

But then the more substantial passages that have been added are also well written and I found the imitation of Austen’s style convincing.

The extent of the queering of the story was just right for me. I thought the right characters were outed and the right couples left as straight. It made fascinating and entertaining reading, waiting for the next queer turn, spotting subtext in the original writing and reading Kate’s additions.

It has a clever and satisfying conclusion and I found this a thoroughly enjoyable twist on a favourite book of mine.

I gave Gay Pride and Prejudice 5 stars.

An emotionally gripping novel with some nice humour and two fantastic love stories

I remember reading the description of Survived by her Longtime Companion by Chris Paynter when it came out and thinking it sounded too sombre for the kind of story I was in the mood for, but ever since I’ve kept hearing how much people have loved this novel. So when it came up as the book of the month on the Facebook lesficReader group, I thought I would take a look at it, and I’m extremely glad that I did.

The rekindling of the relationship between the younger protagonists, although harrowing at times, is told with warmth, great observation and some lovely humour. But it is Eleanor, the older British character, and her great life-long romance with Daphne that completely stole the show for me.

Here’s the blurb:

Hired to work on a biography of the late film star, Daphne DeMonet, Bailey Hampton arrives to conduct an interview with Eleanor Burnett, Daphne’s “longtime companion.” To Bailey’s dismay, she learns Eleanor has set up a co-interview with Bailey’s ex-partner, Chelsea Parker.

Estranged for eleven months, the two women hide their painful memories and strain to be civil to one another. Eleanor startles them by insisting that they take turns reading aloud from Eleanor’s diaries of her life with Daphne DeMonet. Only after the diaries are read in her presence will Eleanor proceed with a full interview.

Once Eleanor discovers that Bailey and Chelsea are ex-partners, the diary readings take on a new meaning for her. Can they learn from the mistakes she and Daphne made as young lovers? Will that knowledge bring Bailey and Chelsea together again? Or is it too late to mend their broken relationship?

I found this an emotionally gripping novel and the story between Bailey and Chelsea starting as they split up made an interesting and tender romance. There are also many nice touches that flesh out Bailey and Chelsea’s relationship including habits of a long-term relationship that made me cringe because I recognised them: “fine” being an answer that means nothing of the sort – the other four-letter f word as Eleanor says.

Eleanor is the star of this book for me (why do I always fall for the older woman). She’s attractive, witty, classy, flirtatious with an amusing lack of patience and a friendly but sharp edge to her. This wasn’t something I’d pictured from the blurb, but it was a real draw for me. I also found Eleanor’s first-person narrative through her diaries convincingly British, different from the very American telling of Chelsea and Bailey’s story. Eleanor uses the occasional American term (as she would living in the States for so long) but the feel of her story was very British for me.

Her story – an almost lifelong romance with film star Daphne – is completely absorbing. It spans glamorous 50s Hollywood to poignant heart-breaking moments of an ailing film star and old woman. I felt the same way as Bailey and Chelsea at the end – knowing Daphne was dead but wishing the story would re-write itself to make it not so – this was very effective writing

Survived by Her Longtime Companion is a great love story I’m glad that I didn’t miss. I gave it 5 stars.

Snowbound – a lesbian romance with a gritty difference

It’s always nice for me to find a UK lesfic novel, and especially one with a bit of a difference to standard romances. Snowbound, by Cari Hunter (published by Bold Strokes) certainly satisfies on those two counts.

Here’s the blurb:

“The policewoman got shot and she’s bleeding everywhere. Get someone here in one hour or I’m going to put her out of her misery.”

An ultimatum that forever changes the lives of police officer Sam Lucas and Dr. Kate Myles.

When heavy snowfall isolates the small English village of Birchenlow, a violent robbery shatters the community. Taken as a hostage and stranded with the increasingly desperate criminals, Sam is seriously injured during an ill-fated escape attempt. Already struggling to save the lives of the villagers caught up in the raid, Kate volunteers to walk straight into the lion’s den. Cut off from help, with only each other to rely on, Sam and Kate must find a way to fight the odds and stay alive if the growing attraction between them is to survive.

This novel has a great dramatic and vivid opening, and the novel’s first-half hostage scene, with its grim detail of the hostages’ injuries and treatment, was what made this book stand out for me. It has very convincing scenes where the heroines are suffering and their lives are in danger – gripping, sickening and fantastic stuff. (Since reading the novel I’ve found out that Cari Hunter is a paramedic and her knowledge really shows in this book.)

The second half of the novel is a more standard romance, but by this time I had been fully drawn into the relationship between the characters and I think I would have been a very unhappy reader if it had been anything different.

I loved the setting of the Peak District – I used to live on the other side of the Peak District so I have soft spot for the place and for being out in the hills in general.

A tiny, momentarily distracting negative for me, as a Brit, was the spelling out of some of the Britishisms, for example, the National Health Service instead of the more familiar NHS.

However, I found Snowbound a cracking read, and I loved it. I gave it 5 stars.

The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe – a fine gothic romance

The Secret Of Lighthouse PointeI had a cold, the rain was turning into sleet outside and I could no longer resist the temptation to pour myself a glass of Laphroaig and curl up under a blanket with Patty G. Henderson’s The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe.

I’ve always loved gothic elements in novels, but I haven’t been tempted by a full-blown gothic romance complete with fainting heroine. So sprinkle in some lesbians and the promise of a heroine with a bit of backbone, I was looking forward to indulging in one.

Here’s the blurb for the book:

From the moment she stepped foot in the ominous and towering Gerard House, Constance Beechum sensed an evil chill that was far more deadly than the frigid blasts that had buffeted her on her way to Castine, Maine. She couldn’t turn back. She had left nothing behind, not even a life-line. Her uncle had found her a job caring for the old and dying Lady Elizabeth Gerard.

Although she hadn’t an ounce of experience in nursing or caring for the ill, Constance had no choice but to accept the offer. She was penniless. Once she meets Lady Gerard’s two sons, Edward and Roger, and Edward’s wife, Catherine, she becomes more certain that there was danger in Gerard House.

The Gerard’s had left no doubt that she was unwelcome. Constance could not know then that she had become a stumbling block to their evil intentions. They had no desire to wait for Lady Gerard to die.

And now Constance, and her discovery of a long hidden secret, presented a new threat. But she had found the woman of her dreams, a true love in the face of evil, and she was determined to fight any obstacle to keep that love.

I loved the setting – a good gothic decaying mansion by the sea with snow constantly swirling around. I found the heroine captivating, only fainting once and that only as a ruse, and the love interest was also most pleasantly revealed. The other characters are suitably threatening and the story unfolds at a great pace.

It is written with a sure hand, so that you can relax and enjoy the deliberate style and melodrama, and become immersed in the atmosphere of the novel. There are some great lines (“It is imperative that no semblance of feminine mounds appear at my chest”) and some heaving bosoms in there too.

Some of the story is apparent early on, but I don’t think it mattered. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment. The heroine may need to be naive in a gothic romance but I don’t think the reader need be.

Whether or not nursing a cold, and whatever the weather, I can thoroughly recommend curling up with Patty G. Henderson. A wonderful indulgence.

I gave The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe 5 stars. You can find out more about Patty here