Karin Kallmaker has often been called “The Queen of Lesbian Romance.” Of her twenty-eight published novels, I’ve read twenty of them. So, I have a pretty solid basis for saying the title is well deserved. (Three of those books are on my “comfort” pile – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read them.)
Now, this is not to say that each of those twenty books has been an all-out winner in my eyes. Granted, none of them are bad novels, but they do not all rank on my favorites list. And that’s okay. Not every book an author writes is a universal “winner”. Some books happen to hit different people in different ways. My favorite Kallmaker book will not be your favorite Kallmaker book. My least favorite is, I believe, one of Kallmaker’s best selling. Heck, it won a Lammy! So, see? It happens. And it’s okay that not every book is on my favorites list. Kallmaker is still the Queen of Lesbian Romance.
My Lady Lipstick (published by Bella Books) is Kallmaker’s latest offering. Once again, we’re presented with a solid, engaging romance, but she combines it with a story of intrigue and deception. While it does not fall on my list of favorites that I will read over and over again, it is one that I will revisit. It’s intriguing, there are great characters, and Kallmaker uses her intelligence and wit to great effect.
I enjoyed the nod to mystery and intrigue that Kallmaker wove through this novel. It’s full of twists and turns, multiple identities, and really rather believable situations. What I really like is that the resolution is not telegraphed. We know the mystery must be solved. We know the deceptions must be brought into the light. But we don’t know how those things will happen until they happen. I like that. I find it so annoying when I can figure out all of that stuff at the half-way point. Not so here. It’s all woven together quite nicely. I won’t say more. I don’t want to give anything away.
Paris Ellison and Diana Beckinsale are two really fascinating character. They each live in worlds of multiple identities and secrets, but they each have different reasons for doing so. They also use their varied identities in ways that suit their purposes in life. Kallmaker has Paris and Diana navigating the fine line of what is ethical and what is not, both individually and together. What’s refreshing is that neither walks that line carelessly. They do so with much consideration – of the situation and each other.
There is an entire cast of supporting characters in My Lady Lipstick that deserve mention. From the small bar in Massachusetts to the sprawling estate in England to the hectic streets of New York City, the supporting players all have a purpose in the story. They affect outcomes and perspectives for the two main characters. Kallmaker gives them each a distinct voice and their personalities are, for the most part, charming. And when they are not charming, it’s intentional. But they are all delicious!
One thing I’ve always noticed – and enjoyed – about Kallmaker’s writing is how she finds a “hook” to integrate throughout the story. That one thing that grounds the reader in this story. In My Lady Lipstick it’s the delightful use of Shakespeare and his wonderful words that keep us in the world that Kallmaker has created for us. She does such a lovely job of working the Shakespearean references and quotes into the story, via dialogue and internal monologue, so that the reader doesn’t miss out on the purpose of the reference or quote. Kallmaker shows readers that she has respect for our intelligence, while also recognizing that not everyone knows each and every obscure line from As You Like It. But it’s not heavy handed. She hasn’t added Shakespeare into her novel for the shake of being able to quote Shakespeare. There is always a reason, and it always makes sense in the situation.
This is the short and the long of it*, I found this to be a very enjoyable novel. No, it’s not on my “comfort reading” list, but I will come back to it. In fact, I’ve already gone back to read some of my favorite sections of the book…just because. For me, it took a little doing to “get into” the book. The first few chapters, while important in providing character background and building the setting of the story, were a bit slow moving, in my opinion. But that could very well be a result of the books I’ve been reading recently – epic adventures, final books in a series, sports novels. These are all books that jump right into the “action” of the story within the first couple of chapters. My brain is temporarily wired for a quicker jump into the meat of the story. So, I really don’t even consider it a criticism. Just an explanation of where my “reading brain” is right now.
That said, I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it. ** My Lady Lipstick is fun and witty, it’s intriguing and complex, it’s romantic and enjoyable. I recommend you give it a try!
**The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act II Scene II
**As You Like It, Act II Scene IV