Best Lesbian Romance 2011 - book by Cleis Press Inc. - review by G.L. Morrison

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Best Lesbian Romance 2011

Book by Cleis Press Inc.

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The secret mating rituals of literary lesbians (or another "Best Lesbian" anthology)

To sum up. Although I'm not entirely convinced that the short story is a medium that can do "romance" justice, Best Lesbian Romance 2011 does a heroic job of attempting it. Skilled writers, engaging prose make Best Lesbian Romance 2011 passionate, plot-driven romantic erotica that will warm the hearts of lovers, couples and those who wish they were.
Published:
Pros:
Strong writers, diverse stories.
Cons:
Inconsistent genres. Not enough variation in voice. No ties to time, events, culture, politics etc.
Rating by reviewer:
4
extremely useful review

About author

If you've never read anything by Radclyffe, this is a good place to start. She's a phenom as a writer and has proven to be just as talented and prolific as an editor. My friend and former therapist introduced me to Radclyffe. Dr K and I were a two-woman, 20 yr book club. Pre-session, we often exchanged bags of books. She could never quite recruit me to her taste for fanfic. My fear of terrible internet writing is as intense as it is ironic (since it's how I make my living and thank goddesses that someone is reading this stuff!) and before she ever graced a paperback spine, Dr K had been trumpeting Radclyffe as the queen of internet fiction. (Truthfully I didn't need enough Xena or Star Trek in my romantic or erotic fantasies to dip my toe in those waters... yes, Xena. I said 20 years, right?) When Radclyffe's "Honor" series hit print, I was a fan. The series follows the love affair of the president's adult daughter and the lesbian secret service agent charged to protect her.

As a writer, I'm thrilled she's editing delicious short stories anthologies like these. (I write delicious short stories and am always eager to slip between the sheets with brilliant authors/editors.) As a reader, more novels please, Radclyffe, honey. Please? (Insert seductive pout.)
    • Lesbian
    • Multiple contributoring authors
    • Radclyffe

Content / Style / Audience

Best Lesbian Romance 2011 is the third of this annual series by Cleis Press that is edited by Radclyffe. While my title to this review is tongue-in-cheek mocking the LBT reading and publishing community for yet another "Best of..." series, I think that many of them have merit. Best Lesbian Romance 2011 definitely hits the top ten list.

Wait! Does that make Best Lesbian Romance 2011 one of the best of the "best of" series?

It boggles the mind. Mostly by spinning the brain in superlatives, until words like BEST (and maybe even OF) lose meaning.

Which is not to say that this book isn't a great addition to your library (or your nightstand for a little light literary stimulation before switching off the light and the vibrator)... it's a great book. I love short story anthologies for a number of reasons.

1) They fit into our busy lives. (There's always room for jello. Or a 3-10 page romance.)
2) If you misplace the book you don't have to start over like with a novel. (Cheezes! Has any read Ulysses?)
3) Great way to sample new writers.
4) Great way to sample publishers/writing markets. (Okay I did say this was why *I* love them.)

It probably says something about us as book buyers that we are attracted to buying something whose title is a generic but flattering descriptor. Like going into a wine shop and buying something labelled "Best Grapes". The publisher isn't to blame for our short attention span.

The publisher has nothing to be embarrassed about with Best Lesbian Romance 2011! The 17 stories included show a variety of backdrops (from art studio to goat farm), backgrounds, back-stories, body-types, subgenres and (in the case of the werewolf lovers in "When Hearts Run Free") even species. The heroines are butch, femme, submissive, alpha, cynical about love, awkward at expressing it, etc. This diversity is either the collection's strength or its weakness. Depending on whether what you want from your romance/erotica is consistency or diversity.

The best stories were the opening story "Hearts & Flowers" and the closing one "When Hearts Run Free".

This book will be enjoyed by anyone regardless of gender or orientation who finds the image of women in love making love hot and satisfying. The sex is technically vanilla (sorry, Rachel, an ass-slap and a nipple pinch is nice but doesn't ring my kinky bell) but it's still vibrant, believable, hot and present in every story.
    • Erotica
    • Fiction
    • Queer

Design

Best Lesbian Romance 2011 has the cover that is iconic to so many "best ofs". Or maybe it's just Cleis "best ofs"? Anyway... it's the sexy but g-rated photo on the cover. Attractive but inoffensive white woman or women. HWP. Like the titles of these books, the cover art tends to be pleasant, non-risky and therefore a bit too centrist and middle-class for my tastes.

The title Best Lesbian Romance 2011 is enough to out you if you read it at work or on the subway or to anyone who comes close enough to read the title. But the picture of the two fully dressed women laying on the same bed together, feet toward the camera, is sufficiently wholesome enough to be exactly what you would expect Heather's Two Mommies to be reading in lesbo suburbia.

Cleis Books seem to hold together well though. (Books take a beating at my house! Lovers too.) The coverstock will repel water or lube or coffee if you wipe it up quick enough. Also it takes more than falling asleep in the bathtub with it or the dog-eared pages getting dog-toothed by a golden retriever to render the books unreadable. Or loosen pages from the binding. Very hearty.
    • Discreet cover
    • Not very discreet cover
    • Well made

Personal comments

What's the difference between romance and erotica? Not much in the case of Best Lesbian Romance 2011. Except that there is usually a happy ending. I say usually. My favorite story in this collection Radclyffe's "When Hearts Run Free" doesn't end happily. However, I suspect (in fact, I dearly HOPE) that the selection is an excerpt from a longer novel.

Ahhh werewolf lesbian love. What could be better? Do not be confused with my obsession with this story that this is a paranormal themed collection. Nope. Just specifically not excluding genres... which opens the future of the collection to all sorts of speculative fictions. I expect we'll see one or two alt stories in each collection to keep the possibility open. Lipstick lesbians? Vampires? Both may go bump in the night and in the once and future Best Lesbian Romances.

So far, romances even sexy ones seem to be specifically monogamous. Grrr...

The other problem with the romance as it fits into the short story is that there isn't the time for traditional conflict and character development. Erotic vignettes are often story-lite. They spin around a punchline, a gimmick, theme or fetish.

It's interesting to see how the authors have dealt with the conflict to overcome issue. In Rachel Kramer Bussel's "Mother Knows Best", the conflict to be overcome is between the heroine and her meddling match-making mother. In Theda Hudson's "Hearts and Flowers", the conflict is between the heroine and herself (do I commit or do I lose her?)

Both these are effective literary devises and used masterfully by two talented writers... BUT... yes, you knew there was a but coming. Here it is: BUT it's not enough.

What the devises above do:
1) move the story along
2) show the reader who the narrator/heroine is

What they don't do:
1) reveal the love object as unique but also unattainable
2) give the reader the chance to long for that, to have then lose then be reconciled which is the meat of the "romantic" paradigm in fiction

To sum up. I'm not convinced that short story is a medium that can do "romance". But the attempts to do so, give erotica an infusion of plot and passionate love that erotica, as a genre, is often missing.

Experience

I liked Best Lesbian Romance 2011. Really.

Okay. I had some grumbles. Inconsistent genres. Not enough variation in voice. No ties to time, events, culture, politics etc. But truthfully I am simultaneously an undiscerning book-slut and a snobbish decontructionist editor/teacher who finds fault with everything and bemoans the mark missed, the potential unfulfilled.

To put it another way: my favorite directors are David Lynch and Peter Greenaway but I have an endless appetite for terrible television like Judge Judy. To put it another another way: I love baked brie and almonds but no one would be surprised to see me eating cheez whiz from the can.

To put a last way: I like what's in the book. I want what's not in the book. And keep your eyes on the 2012 edition because I want IN the book.
Follow-up commentary
One of the things I love about anthologies is the number of authors you get to snuggle up with. It's a great place to kiss and make up with the authors you've loved and missed, but also to be seduced by fresh new hotties. I like to backtrack an author and see what else she's written or cyberstalk/fangeek her and wait to see what she writes next.

I've been reading a lot of e-books lately and even though REAL books take up all the wall space and most of the boxes in two of my homes/lovenests, I love the heft of the book in my hand. Sorry, trees.
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Comments
  • Kayla
    Kayla  
    Cute book cover. I think I want to read this one next. Congrats on writing your second review.
  • G.L. Morrison
    G.L. Morrison  
    Thanks, M'Kay. I don't know how anyone with a job other than writing finds the time to write. I mostly shuffle between ignoring deadlines, self-imposed and otherwise. There are days I feel like I should get a paycheck and a Pulitzer for answering my e-mail.

    Congratulations on finally posting another review? I know you mean it sweetly but *Cheese's Rice* it's a difficult compliment to swallow. Like the time an editor, who shall not be named, cut my story before publication and said "Sorry. Feel good you got this far." Um, condescending much?

    I'm not sure I've met a writer who wouldn't rather have a kill fee than an apology.
  • Solar Ray
    Solar Ray  
    Great review. I hope you do more literary reviews in the future.
  • CuteDee
    CuteDee  
    Thanks for the review! I do love reading and enjoy naughty stuff!
  • strawberrystwstd
    strawberrystwstd  
    Great review!
  • darkkitty
    darkkitty  
    Thank you!
  • Missmarc
    Missmarc  
    Great review, thank you!
  • Archery
    Archery  
    Great review, thanks!
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