Tierney reviews What Matters Most by Georgia Beers


Kelsey makes a big move from North Carolina to Chicago to follow her dream and open her own scent shop. Though she is slow to make friends, and spends much of her time worrying how to keep her small business afloat, her life is in an upswing, and things get better when she meets Theresa and the two experience an instant, intense attraction. Everything seems to be going swimmingly–until she and Theresa find their professional interests unexpectedly pitted against one another.

What Matters Most is a thoroughly satisfying read, as romance novels go: it’s well-written, and showcases an absorbing storyline and engaging characters who grow as the story progresses. The characters all have distinct, multi-faceted personalities, and Kelsey and Theresa’s relationship progresses and changes throughout the book. This is romance with some substance to it.

I do have some small quibbles with the novel. There were some inconsistencies missed during the editing process that felt a little jarring (for example, two different numbers are given for the age difference between Theresa and her sister). And Kelsey’s obsession with Starbucks becomes somewhat grating after a while–it is where she meets Theresa, but one would think that as a small business owner she would be a little more thoughtful about where she gets her coffee.

My biggest frustration with What Matters Most was Kelsey’s refusal to actually interact with Theresa when they found themselves professionally at odds. She spends weeks not talking to Theresa and ignoring Theresa’s messages, instead of ever actually telling her how she feels or what she needs from her. For many readers this may not be an issue, but characters refusing to communicate when talking things out could actually solve most of their problems is just a pet peeve of mine.

Despite Kelsey’s obstinacy, What Matters Most is an entertaining read. She does eventually learn from her mistakes. In terms of the characters’ personalities and development, the novel feels more “real” than a lot of other romance novels out there (readers in search of some romance novel escapism may want to try something else, but this fit the bill for me). Kelsey and Theresa work out their differences–but the story doesn’t end with everything all tied up with a bow, which I appreciated. Characters get paired off, yes, but life also takes them in unexpected directions, which keeps the novel feeling fresh.

What Matters Most is an enjoyable romance novel–a great book to devote an afternoon or two to reading if you’re in the mood for a gentle, satisfying sapphic romance that boasts well-rounded characters and a solid plot.

Alice reviews A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing by Avery Aimeson

“You won’t find anyone in this town straighter than a pretzel.”

A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing is the first book in the Fool’s Crown, a supernatural/urban fantasy series. The book contains themes of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and homelessness. An enjoyable read, but without much resolution, making it a two star book.

I was drawn to this book because I was in the mood for a typical paranormal romance novel filled with cheesy tropes where I could fall into the story and forget the stress of starting a new job. This book was not quite what I was expecting, although it was wonderfully escapist. The story focus was not on romance, as the protagonist was escaping a relationship not falling into one. This really worked in the book and opened up the story, and I didn’t feel at all disappointed.

A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing is about a homeless woman caught in a Supernatural city sealed of from the world of ‘Humies’. Using her skills with makeup and her acting training, our human protagonist shifts through an Identity for every day of the week to escape her abusive Witch of an ex-girlfriend. Along the way she meets a plethora of beautiful women (with shapely bodies and skin hugging clothes), including a Werewolf policewoman, a Succubus who runs the shelter for abused women, and a Vampire who always smudges her lipstick since she can’t see her own reflection.

This brings me onto one of my favourite things about the book: its humour. It is aware it’s a trope filled supernatural/urban fantasy, and the first person narrative brings a little bit of meta humour whenever she encounters a genre cliche. Lesbian puns are laced throughout the book too, leading me to giggle out loud on the bus to work a couple of times. This humour supports some heavy themes, with the main character fleeing domestic abuse, and also escaping from a horrific past. The book talks about these themes and allows you to face them without losing it’s escapist charm.

There is one ‘adult’ scene, which features reluctant/ unwanted sexual interaction. This scene made me rather uncomfortable and I felt the book came close to glamourising such situations, which was disappointing in a book that was rather sex-positive overall.

The main character, a human, is rather prejudiced against the Supernatural creatures she’s been living beside, believing none of them can be trusted as they all must just want to turn her. This can be a little annoying in places, but it makes so much sense for the character. [MILD SPOILER] Throughout the book she is led to confront these prejudices and becomes more accepting as she learns to ignore horror films from the land of humans, and instead listen to the people around her. [SPOILER ENDS]

However for all it’s examination of ‘Humie vs Supe’ suspicion and inter-supe racism, the book doesn’t look at racism as we know and see in the real world. The book even erases it, with one of the character remarking how odd it would be if humans went around calling each other by their race not their name, ignoring the fact that humans do indeed do this. Aimeson may have been trying to draw attention to the fact that this behaviour is ridiculous, but it came across more as her washing over the problem, which I take issue with in a book where there seemed to be no diversity of skin or culture.

Overall though I enjoyed this book, and it hit the spot perfectly for the WLW romp I was craving. This is a debut book–and you can see this in the writing. Over all it is very easy to read and you can fall into it quickly, however at times the story can be a little confusing. It’s biggest weakness is the end. Overall the book has a slow, light-hearted, lazy pace. Then the story escalates rather quickly–only to stop on abrupt cliffhanger. There was none of the resolution I expect from a good book, and this damaged my experience of it considerably. It sets up for what looks to be an interesting Fantasy series, I just wish more of the actual story had made it into the first book. Nevertheless as I enjoyed the humour, I am curious to see how the story progresses and will probably check out the second book when it comes out.

This story is perfect for fans of Holly Black who are after something a bit more light hearted, Pulp Fiction Stories, and fans of Urban Fantasy in general as they will love the in jokes from a narrative character who has read the genre too.

Rating: ** Shows promise, but feels unfinished.

Megan G reviews 18 Months by Samantha Boyette

lfriend Lana disappeared. She was found dead several months later. Now, Alissa’s current girlfriend Hannah Desarno has gone missing as well. Not only that, but Alissa keeps receiving mysterious notes; notes that make her think that perhaps Lana and Hannah’s disappearances have something to do with her.

I want to start off by saying that this book is incredibly trigger heavy. First and foremost, there is a dead lesbian in this book, and her death is central to the story. Homophobia is a big theme, and while the homophobia coming from external sources is addressed, the internalized homophobia isn’t. Going off of that, there are mentions of anti-gay camps, and [vague spoiler] Lana’s mother denies Lana’s sexuality after her death [end spoilers]. It’s very clear that Alissa’s mother has some form of eating disorder, and she often fatshames herself and Alissa. There are explicit mentions of sexual assault of a lesbian by a straight man, and a lesbian has several kisses forced on her, most of them by a straight man. A few cases of ableist language. [major spoilers] Someone is drugged several times throughout the book. Also, the only character who is explicitly non-white (at least, as far as I could tell) is not a very good guy. It’s implied that Hannah is black, but he’s the only character who is explicitly stated to be a person of colour [end spoilers].

If you can handle everything mentioned above, then I urge you to give this book a read. My original draw to it was that it was a murder mystery featuring a lesbian protagonist, and both aspects of the story delivered better than I could have imagined. Alissa and Hannah have an incredibly sweet relationship, and it’s clear throughout that Alissa would do anything to get Hannah back. The flashbacks to their relationship are some of the highlights in the book for me. Also, I want to give Boyette kudos for writing the first queer YA novel I’ve read where the protagonist has been in a relationship before. Don’t get me wrong, I love stories about first loves, but I also appreciate the acknowledgment that sometimes your first experiences aren’t with the person you end up with forever, and that’s okay, too.

Now, I don’t want to give away too much about the murder mystery aspect, because I believe it’s something you should read for yourself. All I will say is that I spent the entire book thinking that I knew exactly what was going on, and then when everything came together my jaw dropped. I’m somebody who has read far too many murder mystery novels, so getting my jaw to drop at a reveal is a pretty big accomplishment.  Especially considering that one of the main reasons I read the book as quickly as I did was because I wanted to see if my instincts on the who-done-it were correct (that, and I adored Alissa and Hannah’s relationship and wanted to know as much as possible about them).

Of course, it’s not a perfect book. There are several casual mentions of things that I wish they had gone into further. Alissa has multiple times where she wishes she could just be “normal” ie straight, and while I know there are people who feel this way, it always exhausts me to read about it; especially when nobody ever takes the time to tell her that she is normal. If you’re triggered by any of the things mentioned earlier, I would suggest you give this book a pass; a lot of it is dealt with rather explicitly, while some of the more serious things are sort of brushed under the rug. Still, 18 Months has got one of the most organic f/f love stories I’ve ever read, and one of the best plot twists I’ve read in years.

Megan Casey reviews The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

This novel reminds me of everything, so forgive me if I drop more names in a short period of time that maybe I should.

The plot is a simple one: a world-famous pop star who calls herself Molly Metropolis vanishes in the middle of her tour. An obsessed journalist and fan, Caitlin Taer, is determined to find her. That’s it; that’s the plot.

But it’s also so much more. It seems that Molly has herself become obsessed with a French cultural group that were called The Situationists, led by a thinker named Guy DeBord. Their philosophy encompasses sociology, geography, architecture, and cultural theory. DeBord and his followers dreamed of building a new type of city which would ultimately foreshadow a new world. Caitlin and her girlfriend Gina Nix, who was once a top aide to Molly Metro, begin to study the writings of the Situationists in an attempt to locate the missing singer, who seems to have left cryptic clues as to her whereabouts almost everywhere. Among other ideas, the Situationists believed in the concept of detournement, which is basically the idea of “culture as common property.” In other words, one should be able to “take pieces of culture, like pop songs or photos of famous actors, and shove them next to or on top of other pieces of culture or cultural references, to create something new.” Kind of like “sampling,” but to the x power.

Bottom line: Disabato’s book is simply a concrete example of DeBord’s detournement. She is taking the ideas of her betters and shuffling them together to form something else. Let me explain in more detail.

I see so much here that is derivative. Disabato’s style is a lot like Thomas Pynchon’s . Molly’s disappearance reminds me somehow of Tyrone Slothrop in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The secret Situationist group reminds me of Pynchon’s Tristero in The Crying of Lot 49. Many previous reviewers have likened Molly Metropolis to Lady Gaga, although many other artists could have done just as well—Miley Cyrus, Prince, Grace Jones, Elton John. I am reminded most of the protagonist of Pinball, Jerzy Konsiski’s underrated novel, about a flashing rock star who was purportedly based on George Harrison, although I saw the protagonist as Elvis Costello. In The Hermit of 69th Street, Kosinski uses a great deal of footnotes, ostensibly to prove that the writing is authentic. However as intelligent and well-read as Disabato is, I doubt she has read Hermit of 69th Street. or Pinball. More likely, then, she was influenced by David Foster Wallace’s uncanny Infinite Jest, which abounds in footnotes and secrets and cultural savvy.

Oddly, the story is mostly told by an aging English professor named Cyrus Archer, who has become interested in Molly’s—then Caitlin’s—disappearance. As an academic, Cyrus writes in PMLA style, much like a series of encyclopedia articles complete with footnotes. And if that does not distance the reader from the material enough, he, too, disappears and leaves his unfinished book to our author, Catie, who attempts to finish it for him.

Disabado’s invention of the Situationists is a wonderful sleight of literary prose, reminiscent of the even more brilliant philosophical system in Neal Stephenson’s gargantuan futuristic novel Anathem She is hitting all the bases, to be sure. Caitlin’s search for Molly is also somewhat reminiscent of the wonderful Lesbian Mystery novel Looking for Ammu, although, again, this is a book that the author has almost certainly never heard of.

There are at least two flaws to the book, one major and one almost major. The lesser flaw is an inability of the author to show Molly Metropolis as a real musical artist. We are told about (although we never actually see) her designing costumes, working with dancers, and even writing lyrics, but it isn’t obvious that she has any real musical knowledge or ability. We never see her wrestling with words, practicing an instrument, or trying to create melodies. It is as if she becomes a pop icon simply by willing herself to be one.

The main problem I have though, is in Disabato’s choice of point of view. We all know that third person point of view is less immediate than first person, but Disabato decides to filter what she tells us even more by having the narrator be someone not directly involved in the action. He is simply a researcher reporting what he finds out. Not only that, she then filters it even more by bringing herself into the story as a sort of overseer, giving us her opinions of what Cyrus Archer has written. Disabato’s attempt to be incredibly literary is obvious. She made a very conscious decision to distance the reader from the text. So give her a point for considering alternate point of view narratives; take off 1.2 points for her making the wrong choice. I like the characters of Molly Metropolis, Caitliln Taer, Gina Nix, and Nick Berliner—but I would like them far better if Disabato had allowed me to know them more intimately. Her footnotes make the text seem academic, although most of them are simply not necessary. So too, an academic style precludes much experimenting with words and language, but I suppose that the Situationists would consider any artistic attempt at using words as pretentious. I don’t. Literature is art, no matter how you try to disguise it.

The chances The Ghost Network takes force me—as a former academic—to give this book a solid 4 stars. But before you rush out and buy it, I recommend you start with any of the novels I have mentioned above. They are the real thing. Disabato is young and talented enough to, in time, write something comparable.

For more than 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Julie Thompson reviews The Dark Wife audiobook by Sarah Diemer, narrated by Veronica Giguere

BEFORE. I am not my mother’s daughter. I have forfeited my inheritance, my birthright. I do not possess the privilege of truth. The stories told by fires, the myth of my kidnap and my rape, are all that remain of me. Forever I will be known as the girl who was stolen away to be the wife of Hades, lord of all the dead. And none of it is true, or is so fragmented that the truth is nothing more than a shadow, malformed. The stories are wrong. I am not who they say I am. I am Persephone, and my story must begin with the truth. Here it is, or as close as I can tell it.

*Trigger: rape, incest

Welcome to the world of “alternative facts”. The administration on Olympus controls the flow and shape of information. Fear undercuts the bacchanalian veneer of the ancient Greek pantheon. Elsewhere in the world, gated away in her mother Demeter’s earthly paradise, the Immortals Forest, Persephone frolics and dreams with her girlfriend, a nymph named Charis. The most fraught moment of her life is learning that she has to move to Olympus and leave everything she loves behind. In a desperate bid for freedom, the young goddess and nymph hatch a plan to runaway. And then it all falls apart.

In The Dark Wife, author Sarah Diemer recasts the Grecian myth of Persephone, goddess of Spring and Rebirth, and Hades, ruler of the underworld, from abduction and forced marriage to a kick ass romance. What starts as an escape from Zeus’ escalating machinations, transforms into a greater mission to dissemble his aggressive and destructive hold on humanity and the gods/goddesses.

While falling in love (they don’t seem to make an issue of being related; though Hades knows of this connection before she reveals it to her niece), Persephone and Hades also endure smear campaigns and risk shunning in order to take down the kingpin. They take a stand against bullying, misogyny, complicity, and rape culture. This is evident in the simple ways in which they live their lives (for example, helping bridge the gaps between the afterlife in the Elysian Fields and the village of the dead), as well as how they make a stand.

Diemer sets most of the novel in the underworld, showing us the underworld and Persephone’s evolving sense of self and purpose as she explores it with Palais, Hades’ best friend. The final face-off against Zeus feels anti-climactic, taking place within the last twenty minutes or so. Although, the other confrontations are more indirect; Zeus channels his passive aggression through manipulating the souls of the dead, in hopes that this will be enough to tear down his sister goddess.

There are a few key differences between Diemer’s version of the Greek myth and older incarnations:

  • Pomegranate: In older versions, Persephone eats the seeds and must stay with Hades for six months of every year, hence winter. In Diemer’s version, the pomegranate takes on romantic implications. The fruit is a precious reminder of Persephone’s idyllic earthly life. She uses it during her marriage ceremony with Hades to seal their commitment.

  • Older versions: Demeter becomes depressed by her daughter’s abduction; nature withers and the first winter occurs. In Diemer’s story, Zeus twists Demeter’s arm and forces her to freeze the world, threatening death to all creation.

First published in 2011, Diemer released the Audible version of The Dark Wife in February 2017. The audiobook, at its best, enhances Diemer’s storytelling and immerses listeners in the world she re-envisions. Veronica Giguere’s narration is pleasant overall. The tone she assumes for much of the story reflects Persephone’s emotional lens, though Giguere’s delivery does not always convey the heightened sense of drama during key scenes.

Persephone and Hades garner the most distinct characterization. Giguere invokes the vitality and innocence of Persephone’s youth and sheltered existence. Hades reminds me of a lower, breathier version of Linda Griffin, mother of Lawndale High’s fashion club president, Sandi (Daria). Zeus comes across as the petulant, whiny bully that he is. Plus, his creepy, inappropriately jolly laughter after he rapes and deceives makes your skin crawl. Secondary and tertiary characters garner less clear representations. The younger cohort of gods and goddesses, including Hebe (daughter of Hera) and Harmonia (daughter of Aphrodite), and to a lesser extent, Palais, are similarly voiced. Charon, ferryman of the river Styx, holds potential for super disturbing representation by Giguere. Given how Diemer describes the various personages embodied in Charon’s shifting frame, I expected the editing to layer different pitches and personalities that Persephone encounters on her ride across the Styx to her new life.

After finishing this quick, enjoyable eight hour audiobook, you may find you need a Daria and Xena: Warrior Princess fix.

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

Danika reviews Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

This has been a much-anticipated read for me! Back in 2016, I saw a tumblr post by Barbara Dee’s daughter talking about the upcoming release of her mom’s book, Star-Crossed: a middle-grade book with a bisexual girl as the main character. The first middle-grade novel with a girl who likes girls as the main character! And with an adorable cover! I was sold, but it was still months before it came out.

Unfortunately, the next time I heard about this title (other than the endless reblogs on tumblr) was when I read Barbara Dee’s post, Please Don’t Talk About Your Book. (Which got me so upset that I wrote Let’s Talk About STAR-CROSSED: Why We Need Bisexual Kids’ Books, Backlash or Not at Book Riot.)

Needless to say, I was pretty eager to read this story myself! I was pretty biased going into it, I’ll admit, but I felt that it lived up to the hype. This is a very sweet story that balances Shakespeare references with the dizzying experience of middle school crushes. The characters and middle school politics felt realistic and well-rounded. Even the “mean girl” isn’t dismissed as one-dimensional.

This story revolves around the 8th grade production of Romeo and Juliet, and there is lots of discussion about the play and Shakespeare. Each chapter starts with a related quotation from the play. I was impressed with the discussion that takes place with the material–the play is not only explained, but also critiqued and complimented by the kids performing it. I think it shows what you can gain from really diving into a story looking at in depth. It begins to be relateable and personally valuable.

As for the representation in the story, the word “bisexual” isn’t actually used, but it’s explicit that she acknowledges that she can get crushes on boys and girls. Mattie worries what people will think if they find out that she has a crush on a girl, but there’s very little homophobia on the page. (More detail and spoilers in following paragraph.)

[Spoilers] The only homophobia on the page is one kid saying “That’s gay” about something and the teacher and his classmate (the popular girl who’s been kind of a jerk otherwise) both immediately say that wasn’t okay and that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of. Mattie comes out to her sister, teacher, and friends without ant of them really batting an eyelash. She doesn’t come out to her parents by the end of the book, but doesn’t seem worried about it. She asks Gemma (her crush) out on a date, and she accepts! [End spoilers]

This was a light, fun read, and I’m so happy it’s out in the world now. This would be life-changing for kids questioning their sexuality/romantic identity! It is fluffy enough that I don’t expect I’ll reread it or that it will stick with me in a huge way as an adult reader, but it’s well-written, entertaining, and much-needed.

Shira Glassman reviews Mistress Moderately Fair by Katherine Sturtevant

The English Restoration, i.e. when Charles Stuart II returned to England to take his father’s throne back from the Puritans, fascinates me for being a renaissance of both art and hedonism. Theaters opened again after being banned, and all kinds of sexual openness flourished. I purposely sought out queer lit set in this time period–not that there’s much, given that historical LGBT romance skews heavily Regency–and was rewarded with Mistress Moderately Fair by Katherine Sturtevant. I think it’s out of print, but WorldCat has it at these libraries and Amazon has used copies.

Mistress is about a woman who comes to London to become an actress, and in the course of doing so falls for the lady playwright who’s been helping her hone her skills. It delivers most generously on lesbian romance, on plot twists and turns, and on evocative language. The author’s also done a remarkably good job at bringing a time period to life pretty vividly without falling prey to “look at meeee, I’m so well researched!” I felt the exciting earthiness of the time.

The actress, who is going by Amy but that isn’t her real name–she’s the Beauty with a Mysterious Secret Tragic Past trope–is scarred across her face, prompting the line: “I know I have a garden in my face–the roses and the thorns.” How it got that way, and what she’s hiding from, comprise the main conflicts of the book. She’s never heard of queerness before she came to London, not understanding why she’s so immensely, irrevocably drawn to her playwright friend Margaret, until one of her fellow actors gossips to her about their gay boss. Wait, that’s a thing people can do? Is that why I–

And straightaway, beautiful sensual sapphic prose starts gushing out all over the reader:

“I have deceived you,” [Margaret] said. “I have no poetry to share with you.”

“You are deceiving me now,” Amy said in a shaking voice, “For you are yourself a poem, and I have been hungering for you to share yourself with me.”

Their sex scenes glorify in sensuality, with that enthusiastic appreciation of breasts that validates my own impulses so soothingly. Amy is “my type”–a buxom, squishy, gorgeous brunette with luxurious hair and a tragic past. Margaret is one of those independent, outspoken, able to live slightly outside of society’s rules widow characters. They have chemistry from their very first encounter, and are totally believable as a couple.

“MARGARET AND I HAVE BECOME FRIENDS!” Amy gushes into her diary, too cautious to write what she really means. She goes on to add “I will say that we wrote poetry together, and whenever I read those words, I will know what they mean. And they are true indeed, for we have writ such poetry as I never dreamed of!” The metaphor doesn’t stop here, so the book is almost worth it for the “cunnilingus = poetry” jokes alone.

I love the way this book talks about writing inspiration and the way we create idealized and alternative versions of the people in our lives to interact with on the page. So very relatable.

The liveliness of the time period is evident in the snappy dialogue:

“I heard you had returned from the dead,” says the gay theater owner to someone recovering from violence. The man’s reply is “I did not like being dead, for the plays in heaven were quite dull and not the least bawdy.”

In one scene the two leading ladies recognize and mourn how it was easier for a man to be accepted for sleeping with men than a woman with other women, mainly because of misogyny. Incidentally this is a book that recognizes bisexuality as a phenomenon (without actually anachronizing by using the word), which was a nice touch.

My one quibble, and it’s a major one that’s the reason for the missing star, is the treatment of the book’s minor characters of color. Since it’s out of print, it would satisfy me deeply if this book were to return to print with those parts reexamined especially since they could be tweaked with zero impact on the actual story itself. I like the fact that the enslaved cook from next door insists right away that the main character call her by her real African name instead of the English name her own captor gave her–and that Margaret immediately does so–and I like the fact that the main character buys her and frees her at the end. But both she and her friend, another African captive, speak in broken English that felt awkwardly executed to me, and there are passages exoticizing her religious beliefs without actually adding anything to the story itself. I’m glad she was freed at the end but it would have been even more satisfying if she’d left England with the main character’s blessing after being freed instead of being asked to stay on as a servant and sneak out.

Trigger warnings: sexual assault in a flashback, and also for a brutal attack sustained by the gay supporting character from his lover’s brother’s henchmen. I found the lesbian positivity in the book so overwhelmingly affirming that it didn’t bother me as it ordinarily might have, but it’s there all the same.

Thank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, Jewish fantasy about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.


Maddison reviews Bingo Barge Murder by Jessie Chandler

I have a major soft-spot for cozy mysteries and am always on the lookout for one featuring a lesbian protagonist. So imagine my joy when I discovered The Shay O’Hanlon Capers by Jessie Chandler. Even better than a finding a single cozy mystery with a lesbian protagonist, I had managed to stumble across a whole series.
Bingo Barge Murder is the first in the series and introduces Shay O’Hanlon and her wacky gang. Shay runs and co-owns a coffee shop in Minneapolis with her best friend, and fellow lesbian, Kate. Shay’s quiet existence is thrown into chaos when her best friend Coop shows up at the coffee shop begging for Shay’s help after his boss is murdered and Coop is a suspect. Things only get more complicated when JT, Minneapolis detective and heartthrob, enters the shop on her way to work. Shay is forced to find the real murderer to save Coop all while balancing her growing romance with JT. Shay welcomes the help of Eddy, Shay’s mother figure, and her gang of gambling grannies. The stakes are high, and I ended up plowing through the book in one sitting.
I fell in love with Shay, Eddy, Coop, and JT throughout the story and rooted for Shay and JT’s romance the whole way through. Within the rules of the genre, there is no explicit or gory violence and, in later books, no explicit sex. This is part of why I love cozies: you get the tension and thrill of mysteries without the gore of crime fiction.
However, Bingo Barge Murder was clearly a debut novel, and the inexperience showed in the writing. Pacing was rushed during the novel, and it came in rather short at under 200 pages. There is also a character to whom I have mixed feelings. Rocky has an unnamed intellectual disability at at times through the books is used as a sort of comic relief character–the characters of the book think on him fondly, and his character arc does go through some development, but his character is somewhat of a caricature. I feel like Chandler is trying to be inclusive when writing Rocky, but it can sometimes come across as disrespectful and ableist.
Following Bingo Barge Murder, the issues with pacing and novel length improve. While Chandler might not be the most impressive writer I have ever come across, her novels are well within the standard quality of cozy mysteries.
All in all, I would recommend The Shay O’Hanlon Capers if you are looking for a light mystery with lovable characters and, of course, lesbians.

Susan reviews In The Name of The Father by Gerri Hill

In The Name of The Father by Gerri Hill is the sequel to her 2007 novel Hunter’s Way (which I reviewed here at the Lesbrary!), with Hunter’s newest case being investing the murder of a Catholic priest, complicated by publicity issues, homophobia, outside interference, and the attempts to bury any suggestion that the victim may have been in a consensual gay relationship.

In The Name of The Father is… Definitely not as enjoyable as Hunter’s Way, but it does have plus sides. For example, there is less onscreen rape and transphobia here, which I will take as a win. It does also resolve the potential issues that come from Hunter’s and her girlfriend Sam being work and romantic partners. (This solution does manage to effectively sideline both her and one of the two named PoC on the main cast, which isn’t a great look.) The fact that Tori and John (one of the other detectives) have mellowed in the year since Hunter got together with Sam is also a nice touch, although it might disappoint people who were enjoying an angry, aggressive heroine. Plus, In The Name of the Father introduces a new detective, Casey O’Conner, who is smart and energetic, and who I find quite charming! The way that this book expands the cast and its focus works quite well for me, especially because seeing how all of the different characters react to the PR manager for the church is really interesting.

I think that the relationship are quite well-handled too, and quite different – Hunter and Sam are an established couple, very much in love, having to deal with being separated for the first time since they got together and the insecurity that comes from that, while’s Casey’s romance is much more focused on the physical side of things. Plus, the friendship between Hunter and Casey is pretty great.

However, I have so many problems with the constant attempts to cover up and dismiss the murdered priest’s life, both on the part of the church and on… Pretty much anyone who is not a police officer? If you have hit your limit on how much pearl-clutching you can deal with, I would give this one a miss, seriously, especially as there’s some really repugnant views expressed (Like bringing in Casey from the Special Victims Unit, to give the impression that the victim wasn’t in a relationship). I’ve also mentioned that the way this book handles its PoC bothers me; one character is sidelined with Sam, one barely gets any lines, and and rest I feel are handled quite stereotypically.

As a note: I found that the ending just didn’t hold together. Without spoilers: I like denouements where the villain’s master plan is revealed, but the way that In The Name of The Father handles it is infuriating. The way that the mystery shakes out makes everything that led to it feel entirely wasted! The way that the book itself ends feels like the narrative was trying to have the moral of “You can’t beat the system” to go with Hunter’s storyline, while also having emotional catharsis, which means that doesn’t deliver either. Your mileage may vary!

On the whole, I’d say that it’s worth picking up if you enjoyed the previous book, but it has some significant flaws to be aware of!

Caution warnings: constant consideration of sexual abuse and rape, mentions of child abuse, homophobia (in the church and out of it).

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Kelley O’Brien reviews Camp Rewind by Meghan O’Brien

I’ve been excited to read Meghan O’Brien’s Camp Rewind since I first read the synopsis last year. A book about two women of color dealing with very real and contemporary problems like social anxiety and online harassment and misogyny? Sign me right up!

Despite my excitement for the book, it somehow got pushed back due to my own real world problems. But when I found that I had a few Audible credits to use up, I grabbed the chance to listen to a good book.

It’s been a while since I’ve listen to a book because I’ve lost some of my hearing and can only listen in quiet rooms. However, I had a really great experience listening to Camp Rewind and might just give it another listen again soon.

Alice Wu and Rosa Salazar meet at the titular Camp Rewind, a camp for adults who want to unwind for the weekend. However, the heroines both have other reasons for being there. Alice has extreme social anxiety and wishes to expand her social circle, so she applies for camp at her therapist’s request. Rosa, however, just wants to forget who she is for a little while after publishing an article about a video game that some men took offence to and decided to ruin her life over. The two meet and connect right away, entering into a “what happens at camp stays at camp” sort of relationship. Soon, they must deal with feelings that weren’t supposed to happen.

I should probably warn that this book contains a lot of sex. It’s all very well-written and didn’t feel out of place to me, especially given the way O’Brien describes their connection and Alice’s desire to finally be with a woman and her finally coming out as a lesbian.

There is also a lot of pot smoking and mentions of rape threats and other threats of violence against women, though I don’t recall it going into too much detail.

Alice and Rosa fall for each other very quickly in the novel, which might be a genuine concern for some. However, it felt organic to me. They were exactly what the other needed. Not that they needed to be in a relationship to grow as people, but that they needed someone to support them and be there for them, something they each lacked in their lives.

As someone with anxiety, I can honestly say that O’Brien does a great job crafting a mentally ill character. Alice never overcomes her anxiety. It’s always still there, even when she’s pushing herself to be braver, to do things that scare her because she wants to help or to be with Rosa. The relationship doesn’t magically cure Alice of being mentally ill. She still has her bad days and is a work in progress.

The most interesting aspect of the novel is O’Brien’s feminist critique of online harassment, particularly towards women in gaming and the men who disagree with and subsequently harass them. She doesn’t get too preachy about her opinion of them. She doesn’t have to, letting it show through Rosa’s character and the growth she experiences as someone who lets herself believe she isn’t worthy of love and affection to someone that embraces it.

If you enjoy books about characters who are allowed the room to grow and develop, books about women of color who are given agency, books with delightful side characters, and books with feminist themes, I highly recommend giving Camp Rewind a shot.