Megan Casey reviews The Ultimate Exit Strategy by Nikki Baker

Hmm. This book was published by Bella Books in 2001, which would have made it one of their first publications. This means that for some reason Baker bailed on Naiad, who had published the first three books in this series. Naiad was subsumed by Bella two years later. The copy I read for this review was probably the only printing.

The fourth and last Virginia Kelly mystery takes place in the world of finance. The company Virginia has been working for since college, Whlytebread, Greese, Winslow, and Stoat, is about to be subsumed by a larger firm, Gold Rush Investments. This will make most of the Whytebread employees, including junior partner Virginia, fairly rich when they trade in their old company shares. There’s just one problem: Whytebread’s CEO, Wes Winslow, is murdered just a few days before the merger is scheduled to take place. If the murderer is not found, the deal will not go through. So Virginia sees it as her duty to solve the crime.

Like Baker’s other books, this one is too good to miss. Her flashbacks—often within other flashbacks—are not your basic narrative, but she manages to do it flawlessly—the reader always knows exactly where the story is going. Virginia is her old ironic self and her BFF Naomi Wolf is back to keep Virginia on her toes. To complicate the investigation, Virginia gets taken up with Detective Cassandra Hope, an old flame she would heartily like to rekindle. Then there is her faltering, long-distance relationship with Spike, who we met in Long Goodbyes. Virginia suspects that Spike is using her for her expectations and that Cassandra is using her to solve the case.

The British novelist C. P. Snow was a master at conducting dialogue without using actual quotations. Passages like: James was astonished when I told him that I knew his sister from my days at Cambridge. He told me that he had no idea that I had attended school there. Other novelists have done this as well, especially those that were not very good at rendering dialogue. But Baker goes Snow one better, blending active and passive conversation. Here’s an example in a conversation between Virginia and Naomi:

“I called Spike tonight and I broke up.”  I’d thought it was the best timing, considering Cassandra and all.

“Ok right.” Naomi picked up the mention of Cassandra as if it were a detail she’d forgotten. 

An article should be written on the best buds of lesbian sleuths. Certainly Naomi is at the top of the list, followed by Nyla Wade’s Audrey Louise and Jane Lawless’ Cordelia. Oddly, many of our protagonists’ BFFs are actually gay men (see Barbara Johnson, David Galloway, et al). Whenever Naomi is present, there is a spark—not only in Virginia, but in the story. Yet the reader senses that a romance between the two would be a mistake. In this novel, Naomi is trying to give up smoking, which makes her even bitchier than usual. And, as always, she figures out things just a little before Virginia does.

I have seen a review of this book that complains that Virginia is not black enough for the reviewer’s comfort. It reminds me of another review I read about a lesbian sleuth that was not lesbian enough. Virginia is a product of her time and her culture. She did not grow up in a ghetto, her parents were not divorced, and she completed a good college education. In fact, this is a brilliant portrait of a black woman who is trying to make it in the predominantly white profession of personal finance. The book does not dwell on Whitey vs. Blackie. It dwells on a sensitive and very intelligent young woman trying to survive in a world she has chosen. Bravo.

The Ultimate Exit Strategy is as good as the first three novels in the series, or at least it would have been if not for the sloppy job Bella Books did on both the editing and the proofreading. But the author has to shoulder some of her blame herself for not going over the final galleys more carefully (presuming that Bella provided any). The specter of HIV is thrust into the plot at the last minute and not only was it not foreshadowed, but it seems to come to nothing. Somebody missed something, or a couple of somethings. Like the half-dozen discretionary hyphens that pop up in the text. And the more-than-usual typos. In short, Baker made a mistake changing publishers. Maybe she thought that Naiad’s current editor would not be as good as Bella’s. She was probably wrong. Maybe the relative failure of this title made Baker rethink her aspirations as a writer. After all, she has published nothing else in over 15 years. Yet The Ultimate Exit Strategy does not end like the last book in a series. Like the author, Virginia ends up leaving her Chicago firm. Many adventures seem to lurk in the future.

Will there ever be another Virginia Kelly mystery? Who knows. But regardless, Nikki Baker is wildly underrated and underappreciated. Her books need to come out in new editions, including e-book editions. Give this book—and this series—a near-perfect rating, despite the editorial glitches.

For over 250 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

Whitney D.R. reviews Royally Yours by Everly James

I haven’t read much, if any, “secret royalty” romance.  I happened upon Royally Yours via social media and fell in love with the cover.  And I was even more pleasantly surprised that the black woman on the cover was the princess.  I was eager to dive into this story.

Royally Yours is a good, cheesy romance filled with cute fluff between Ellie and Melody.  Though I did feel there wasn’t as much relationship development as I would’ve liked. The two young women have a meet-cute at a farmer’s market and it’s attraction at first site.  There’s flirting and longing glances, but the budding romance feels more slow than slow burn. But when the two women finally get together? Utterly adorable.

What annoyed me most about the books was Ellie’s mishandling of finding out Melody’s secret.  Yes, Melody did technically lie about who she was, but that was more for Melody’s protection and wanting a bit of anonymity than hurting Ellie.  It’s not like Melody was dating someone else or, god forbid, some kind of international assassin. She was a young girl who wanted a bit of freedom from her overbearing life, and I didn’t understand how Ellie couldn’t understand that.

Another thing that bothered me was how Melody’s issues with her parents, her mother in particular, weren’t really resolved.  At least, not to my satisfaction. In real life, you don’t always get to have closure with people who’ve hurt you, but Melody’s mother refusing to acknowledge who Melody was and chose to love kind of soured the happily ever after ending for me.

Read this if you liked movies like The Prince & Me or the Hallmark Channel movie, A Royal Christmas.  Cheesy romance with a dash of melodrama, but with queer women.

3 Stars

Marthese reviews Time Will Tell by M. Ullrich

‘’One hundred and fifty steps was all it took for her life to get worse’’

Through Netgalley sometimes we find really good reads! I did not know what to expect. I half chose this book because of its cover, but it was fantastic!

If you could undo the past and start anew, would you?

Time Will Tell follows Eva and Casey. As time plays a crucial role in the plot, we get to see different times; the plot isn’t linear but still easy to follow. Whilst time traveling plays an important role, the discovery and dilemma only arise towards the end.

Eva is an aspiring writer living with her abusive uncle. Casey is her best friend, the star student and whose family is Eva’s refuge. Casey is a popular kid but she prioritizes Eva…until Eva runs away, leaving Casey with a multitude of issues.

Luke is a prime asshole which you cannot help but hate, and you don’t even feel guilty about it. From the synopsis the reader knows that he’ll die – that’s what you’ll look forward to. His behaviour towards Eva is truly disturbing and tragic because this sort of abuse happens one too often in real life.

Eva and Casey are really sweet together. We get to see both their point of views and they are both crushing on the other big time. There is also so much banter. For their first kiss, there was no build up, which I think subverted a common trope.

The McCellans, Casey’s parents, are great people. They also are rooting for the two to get together. It was really sweet. Parents that stand up to bullying are great! They were also a balance for Luke.

Their sexualities, while discussed casually, are not the major point! The major conflict happens after a time jump. At 23 and 24, Eva and Casey have major issues. Casey has spent years worried. Eva has formed another social group and changed a lot. The characters seem to switch personalities, which I think considering the context and their background, was quite realistic. They are not sure whether they fit with each other, after all this time and all these changes.

The lead up to sex was seamless and it was hot (this coming from a person that skims over if it’s not written well and believable). In my opinion, there were a bit too many sex scenes/intimate scenes, but I guess this could be explain by the characters having a lot of making up to do and not wanting to be away from each other.

The conflicts and issues are real, despite the time machine and sci-fi elements. The time machine was not even a major plot point until the end, although it did affect their lives from before. I was expecting the time machine to be discovered earlier, but instead, we get to see Eva and Casey growing up and getting to know them. I liked this.

I recommend this to people that like sci-fi in moderation and people that want to see character development and conflict.

Susan reviews Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear

Stone Mad is the sequel to Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory (which I reviewed here last month!), so there might be some unavoidable spoilers for Karen Memory from here on out!

In Stone Mad, Karen and Priya are settling into their life together and celebrating their new ranch with a night out for dinner and a magic show – except that their dinner companions happen to be a widowed sceptic and illusionist, a pair of Spiritualists who might be sisters and are almost certainly con women, and whatever is haunting the hotel’s dining room. It as dramatic as you would expect.

Stone Mad is really different in scale to Karen Memory. The first book covered schemes and murders that stretched across North America at least, even though the majority of the action took place in Rapid City. In this, the action is very local and personal, and the drama is mainly interpersonal instead of conspiracy, which makes for a somewhat different tone to the action and consequences. The steampunk elements are quite toned down, presumably because of the space, but the bits that we do get are well set up and dramatic, and I enjoyed them a lot! Instead, we get a little more folklore, which is great when the characters can acknowledge that tommy-knockers and jackalopes are probably real, but ghosts and Spiritualism might be a step too far.

I really like Karen’s narrative voice. She is very frank and matter-of-fact in her narration, especially about her past as a sex worker; I really liked that she could recognise the tricks that the Arcade sisters were using on her from that, and had professional respect for it, as well as the way she talked about things she’d learned from clients. The narration has a really conversational tone, which works well for when Karen digresses onto a different topic – the digressions seem to go a little further afield before they loop back to the actual narrative than they did in Karen Memory</em, but that could be a trick of my memory. Her voice also has great descriptions, especially for the tommy-knocker – Karen has a great eye for people and details, as a character, and those really come through in the narrative.

But I did read great swathes of this book from behind my hands because one of the central dramas in Stone Mad is that relationships are not easy, as evidenced by Karen and Priya’s first real fight in their relationship. And it’s one of those fights where the actual problem and the thing that the fight’s about are two separate things, so solving it is not a simple matter. For those who spend books going “Why can’t you solve this relationship drama by talking to each other like adults?!” this might be worth checking out – I found the way they reckoned with each other and the way they helped each other with problems to be quite realistic, especially the way they talk about family.

Aside from that: I found the scenes with the tommy-knocker to be effective and unnerving, the magic show was really vivid, and I really appreciated that Elizabeth Bear actually kept and used the repercussions she set up in Karen Memory; not just the social aspect of them being heroes of the town, but also Karen’s tinnitus and chronic hip pain, and Priya’s PTSD (which in particular I thought was really well-done – the details of her being embarrassed by her own reactions rang really true for me).

Plus, I always love historical stories where every female character is explicitly Done with men, and Stone Mad goes in on the perception that the greatest woman will never be taken as seriously as the most mediocre man, How to Suppress Women’s Writing style.

Basically, this is a fun sequel to Karen Memory, and it was great to go back to that world and see how the characters were doing, even if the answer made my clutch my face in my hands! I really enjoyed it, and if you liked Karen Memory it’s worth checking this out too.

[Caution warnings: mentions of historical racism, sex trafficking, and abuse]

[This review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher.]

Sponsored Review: Danika reviews Daughter of Makha by Nel Havas

I look across the years in astonishment, for in the distance I see a simple, trusting girl. She is a stranger to me, yet she is familiar; her land alien, but it is mine. In unbroken chain, hand-in-hand with ghosts of myself, over the days and the hours, over years measured in heartbeats, I am linked to her.

Daughter of Makha is a retelling of the biblical story of the epic of Absalom (2 Samuel 13:1-19). In the original story, Tamar, daughter of King David, is raped by her half-brother. When her father does nothing to punish him, Tamar’s mother and brother plot revenge (and attempt to seize power), which tears the family apart and leaves a large death toll. Tamar serves only as a catalyst n the narrative, disappearing quickly after that. Daughter of Makha expands on this character, exploring what this must have looked like for Tamar, who is trapped in a family tearing itself apart.

This is the third of Nel Havas’s books that I’ve reviewed at the Lesbrary, and although this book departs from the Ancient Egypt setting of the previous two, I can see the parallels in these stories. Like her Egyptian novels, Daughter of Makha has a matter-of-fact writing style and features thorough research–though sometimes that research veers into info dump territory, describing every road the characters take and its landmarks, or dropping in some historical story that doesn’t quite match up with the narrative.

All three books also feature court intrigue and elaborate plots to gain power. The women, especially, in these novels scheme to gain influence. They may not have a lot of legal power, but they use the resources available to manipulate their circumstances, whether it’s to shore up power, peace, or protection for their family. Makha and Bathsheba are the principal players here–both wives of King David, both trying to ensure that their son becomes the heir. But they are not the only women using whatever influence they have: Tamar spends the novel trying to turn the course of history, attempting to prevent bloodshed. I was especially impressed by the quiet shrewdness of Shoshana, who finds a way to protect her (and Absalom’s) sons no matter the outcome of the war.

Although it is the wrong against Tamar that launches this war, she is horrified by it. She doesn’t get a say in her mother and brother’s revenge plan, and it becomes obvious that they are acting for their own gain more than any attempt to defend her “honor.” I thought that Havas captured the terrible and engrossing power of war. Tamar is continually disgusted by her loved ones’ blood lust, but the battle is brutal and bloody and giddy—it inspires a morbid fascination.

As for the queer content, it comes in about half way through the book. Hana is a few years older than Tamar and has acted as a pseudo servant/caretaker/surrogate sister role at various times in Tamar’s life. They are reunited after a long separation, and they travel together to try to prevent the final battle. Hana crossdresses, disguising herself as a warrior to defend them from any conflicts on the road. Their relationship has subtly shifted; they both seem to have grown since they were last together, and they see each other with new eyes. I did like the slow build of their relationship—the tentative flirtation—but I wish there was a little bit more of it. [spoiler] Specifically, I wish there was more detail of their relationship from the end of the battle to their happily ever after. They seem to kiss for the first time, separate… and then a while passes and they’ve grown old together. I’d like to see more of their fumbling first steps in their relationship. [end spoiler]

And, of course, I have to mention their donkey, Pimi. Pimi is with them on their journey, and she’s an adorable animal sidekick.

I do have some criticisms, however. Like Nel Havas’s other books, I think the strength of the story is in the ideas and broad strokes. It could benefit from more intense editing. For instance, some paragraphs are a few lines, while others take up more than an entire page. Although overall I though the second half of the book was more interesting, some of the travel could be condensed, especially by not describing every single road they took. I was also surprised that [spoiler] Ahithophel’s suicide is casually mentioned and isn’t really a plot point.[/spoiler] Also, I know this is based on a Bible story, so arguably you can’t really “spoil” the ending, but on page 300, right before the final battle begins, the narration gives away who wins the battle, which takes away some of the tension in the moment.

And finally, a few warnings. This is based on a Bible story, but it is from an atheistic perspective. Characters (especially Makha) scoff at these beliefs, and there doesn’t seem to be any character who is religious and also a good person. I will also include a trigger warning for Tamar’s rape, which is described in some detail.

I am not a religious person, so I was not very familiar with this story, but reading the Bible story and Daughter of Makha back-to-back was a very interesting experience. I appreciated how Havas gave Tamar (and the other women of the story) agency, even when they were restricted by both misogyny and story constraints.

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.

Danika reviews My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris

Yes, this is a choose your own adventure romance novel! I don’t read a lot of romance, but I couldn’t resist this premise, at least once I heard that there was a path where you could turn your back on the suitors and run off with a lady instead! This was, above all, super fun. It’s Jane Austen-ish, so if you’re a fan of riffs on Austen, this is well worth picking up (though I’m not an Austen fan and I still loved it.)

I fully expected to find the F/F option and only read that storyline (see the ladies in the bottom right corner of the cover?), but I ended up enjoying it enough that I followed almost every path. Depending on which choices you make, you end up in very different situations and genres, including a Gothic Jane Eyre-esque plot line, or more of a Pride and Prejudice angle.

When I was first making my way through the book, I actually hesitated before pursuing the lady love interest. It just didn’t feel like the way this romance novel would go! It’s one thing to choose between (basically) Mr Darcy and Mr Rochester, but running off with your female friend seems unfathomable. But that’s the whole point! Imagine reading a M/F romance novel: you’re plodding along, all the love interests have been introduced, and your friend (whom you clearly have more chemistry with than the dudes) throws out that, hey, if you want, you can travel to Egypt with her instead. You reach that point in the book and sigh. Image if she had taken her up on that! Imagine if instead of heading to the drafty castle or trading quips with the asshole rich guy, you just skipped town and went on an Egyptian adventure instead! Only this time, you can!

I kind of was expecting the F/F storyline to be an easter egg that you would have to seek out, but it’s pretty obvious. In fact, the chemistry between you and your friend seems more palpable earlier in the narrative than with any of the men. It’s also interesting because while most of the paths you can take are versions of famous romances in literature, the Egyptian storyline is completely different. Search for an artifact stolen from an Egyptian museum, and encounter your lady love interest’s angry ex-girlfriend! Maybe end up in a lesbian, pirate gang! (Yes, you can do that. Definitely try to get to that point.)

One of the fun things is that because this is a romance novel, you can’t really lose. Romance conventions dictate that you have a happy ending, so it’s interesting to see how you can get away with a happy ending no matter what you do. I highly recommend backtracking and following a few different paths, just to see how different they are. I loved this bisexual, choose your own adventure, historical, satirical romance novel. It was a joy to read, even when it was M/F!


Rebecca reviews Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas

Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas is a cute space romance novella between two older women with a happy ending. While I did like the characters and the plot, I wish Jo’s character was more developed and the setting was better written and more established.

After twenty-five years of dedication and determination, Marianne Gordon has finally achieved her dream of becoming principal of the prestigious Vesper Station School for Zero-Gravity Artistic Display. However, her big moment is ruined when she is forced to co-principal with Josephine Knight, a famous zero-gravity performer who is recovering from a terrible accident and who doesn’t know anything about teaching. Both women must learn to work together and sparks soon begin to fly between them. They must also stand together when the future of Marianne’s beloved school is in jeopardy.

I like that the book shares perspective between Marianne and Jo. They both have very distinct voices and personalities. However, there’s always a drawback to featuring two viewpoints because one character always suffers. While I do like Jo, I really wish I knew more about her, especially her past.

The romance between Marianne and Jo is sweet and fairly well-developed given the book’s length. I really like that they learn to appreciate and understand each other before the romance takes off. I’m also very happy that both characters are older women who act their age and handle their conflicts maturely and organically.

I went into this book expecting to really love the space setting but I was disappointed by it. The setting is not as well established as it could be. I did not feel fully immersed in this futuristic space world at all. Furthermore, I also want a better explanation of the performing art that is such an integral part of the story. I struggled to figure out what exactly it was and what was happening and my confusion really took me out of the story.

Sparks Fly is a fluffy and good read. I like the characters and the romance is sweet. Although I wish Jo had been better developed and I wanted the setting to be much more fleshed out, I did like this novella. If you like happy endings and are looking for a super quick read, check out Sparks Fly!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Megan Casey reviews Long Goodbyes by Nikki Baker

This is the third novel in Nikki Baker’s Virginia Kelly series. It is an odd novel. For one thing, unlike her other novels, it isn’t a mystery. Nor is it a thriller or a romance or any of the other typical genres. Although Virginia Kelly is the protagonist and the story is told in her inimitable voice, the location and the cast of characters has changed. Yet, except for a slightly sloppy ending, Long Goodbyes could be ranked high on a list of literary novels

Virginia Kelly, has traveled from Chicago to her home town of Blue River to attend her 10-year high school reunion. Because her relationship with her girlfriend Emily in Chicago seems to be over, Ginny becomes fixated on Rosie Paschen, her first love and her first lesbian dalliance, who has contacted her after a decade of silence to beg her to attend the reunion. But Blue River is not the same as it was when Ginny was a girl, nor are her friends. “I imagined many pasts in my home town, as many as there are individuals, as many as there are points of view. If they took up space, in the air overBlue River there would have been a huge traffic jam of individual perspectives returning, making it hard to avoid unfortunate accidents of colliding perception.

Ginny is looking forward to her meeting with Rosie  in order to complete an unfinished transaction, to show courage where she once felt fear. But when the two finally connect, Rosie is distant and standoffish. Ginny’s r near-obsession causes her to initiate sex with a reluctant Rosie anyway. And then Rosie completely disappears. The book is Ginny’s attempt to find her and make the kind of connection that she has been fantasizing about for years. Something that she hopes will validate her life and everything she has done up until this time.

Although Baker introduces Ginny’s parents and high school BFF Sandra, I missed the laconic Naomi Wolf, Ginny’s bud from Chicago. Without her, this novel is darker and more brooding, more desperate and haunting than the first two novels in the series. And I think this is the point. Ginny’s search is our search; the same search animals might make when looking over the fence or across the road or wondering what is on the other side of the mountain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Baker conceived this novel as a stand-alone, with someone other than Virginia Kelly as the protagonist. But it works as it is and I was glad to connect with Virginia in a different setting. It must have been a difficult book to write—and to edit: Katherine V. Forrest missed a couple of convoluted paragraphs and seemed to be unable to get Baker to cut out unneeded scenes or characters—such as her gay friend Emery from high school. He was an interesting character and I would have liked to see him in another novel, but in this one he was extraneous. At 235 pages, Long Goodbyes is more than 60 pages longer than In the Game, which is a gem.

Despite its shortcomings, Long Goodbyes is a good addition to the Virginia Kelly series, and to lesbian fiction in general. It shows us another side of Ginny—one that most authors would hesitate to write. Anyone who is turned off by anything in the first two novels will certainly be turned off by this one. But for those of us who like Baker and Ginny, Long Goodbyes is simply another pleasure.

For over 250 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

Shira Glassman reviews Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas

I don’t know what quirk of God’s imagination caused “arts college in space” to suddenly become a trope in the lesbian book world, but I’m eagerly on board. First Jennifer Linsky gave us Flowers of Luna, in which the heroine finds love while attending fashion design school on the moon. And then just now I recently read and enjoyed Sparks Fly by Welsh author Llinos Cathryn Thomas, set at a dance academy on a space station. (I said this in an interview elsewhere earlier this week, but if the next step is music teachers on Mars, sign me the heck up!)

I love everything about these setups. It takes a real life setting I’ve occupied in one capacity or another for literally half my life and transposes it into the glittery, sparkling world of the science fiction fantastic. Gone are 83rd St or Newell Drive; now there are stars and comets and space-dust just beyond the story’s stage. I also adore that arts-college premises are inherently intimate; my personal preference is for fantasy and science fiction on a small, character and relationship driven scale rather than epic sagas deciding the fates of nations and planets.

In other words, if you are like me this way, Sparks Fly is your next cute lesbian sci-fi read.

The first of the two protagonists we meet is next in line to become headmistress at the dance school, after working there for years upon years and devoting her life. Imagine her shock when she finds out she’ll be sharing the post with a celebrity dancer while she recuperates from an injury sustained during a performance accident. I wouldn’t call it enemies-to-lovers; more like awkward-to-lovers, with some friendship and chemistry in the middle.

Things don’t start out great for these two, but they’re both appealing, sympathetic characters and eventually they have to team up not only to achieve their artistic goals but to battle external conflicts.

A little about the worldbuilding – the “dance” in the story actually involves people zooming around a three-dimensional stage area in anti-gravity pods, so it’s definitely got one foot firmly planted in science fiction, not just set on a space station. Other details are very easy to picture, so this is probably not a story whose imagining will strain your brain as you read to relax.

As someone whose writing muse often tosses her keys at me early and says “okay, drive me home now, I’m done,” I hesitate to mirror my own critics with a wistful comment about wishing it were longer. However I do think maybe the story would have been stronger if we spent more time at the end after the plot resolution, getting to see/enjoy the happy ending in the direction the ladies took their professional lives. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m right! I’m just glad for the existence of stories like this one. (And honestly about the length – novellas are a good thing; it’s a lot easier to fit one of those into a busy life than a full book.)

Catch Shira Glassman’s latest f/f adventure for $1.99 preorder for a May 7 release: Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor, which is a superhero/damsel in distress romance. She’s rescued her so many times — now can they finally go on a normal date or are there too many Monsters of the Week?


Danika reviews Roller Girl by Vanessa North

I’ll preface this review by saying that I feel uncomfortable talking about a Riptide Publishing book right now. (I read this book before I heard about the racism and harassment happening behind the scenes at Riptide.) That being said, it’s a shame to punish all of the authors involved in this press (also, the editor of this book was not the one mentioned in the post), and I did really enjoy this title–which is one of the few trans F/F romance novels out there.

Roller Girl follows Tina, a trans woman who has recently divorced as well as retiring as a professional athlete. She’s adrift. So when she gets invited to play on the local roller derby team, she jumps at the opportunity. And it doesn’t hurt that the coach is a swoonworthy butch woman. They are drawn to each other, but Joe doesn’t want to endanger the team by admitting to dating a teammate, and Tina doesn’t want to stay a secret forever.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but I was delighted with this. Tina and Joe immediately click, and–at least initially–there’s a lot of open, healthy communication happening. They do both jump into angry tirades sometimes, but generally they try to talk to each other about their problems. (I hate when the entire conflict of the novel could be resolved if the characters just talked to each other.) I also loved that it was set in the world of roller derby! I don’t think any queer lady needs to explain why that’s a fun bonus.

I’m cisgender, and I don’t believe this is own voices representation, so I don’t want to be the arbiter of whether this is good trans representation, but I did really like reading a fun romance with a trans woman lead. It does come up in the story, but it’s just as much about Joe and Tina’s romance, or Tina’s journey to self-confidence, or trying to save the gym that she works at as a personal trainer. It’s a part of the story, but it’s not the whole story.

I wasn’t expecting this to get quite as steamy as it does! As I’ve noted, I’m still pretty new to the romance genre, and I was surprised by the amount and intensity of the sex scenes. I’m not complaining! I thought Tina and Joe had great chemistry, and they were very believable. But I did feel awkward reading it on the bus and in the break room at work!

This was a quick, fun read that I would definitely recommend.