Danika reviews 50 Queers Who Changed the World by Dan Jones, illustrated by Michele Rosenthal

50 Queers Who Changed the World by Dan Jones and Michelle Rosenthal cover

When I originally saw this small, colorful book, I briefly wondered if it was a children’s book. The format is about the same as Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: one beautiful illustration, plus a one page bio. I quickly realized my mistake when I read the biographies, which includes describing someone as jumping crotch-first into the queer scene. This is a “Gift” book, or a small coffee table book. Something to flip through, not necessarily to read cover-to-cover.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The portraits are gorgeous–and in fact, they predate the book. Michele Rosenthal’s Queer Portraits in History project inspired this book (in that they are the book, with bios to pad it out). Generally I did like the style of writing, which was playful.  There seemed to be a good mix of people included. I didn’t count them, but it wasn’t obviously mostly white men, though there are definitely more white people and more gay & lesbian people represented than people of color or bi and trans people, but I think that’s expected when talking about the history of the queer community. There were inclusions of people I hadn’t heard about before, but I appreciated learning about. Like Ron Woodroof, who was diagnosed with HIV in the 80s, and in response to the FDA dragging their feet about addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis, started a smuggling ring of HIV/AIDS drugs proven effective in other countries. He crossed the Mexico border hundreds of times in disguises to bring life-saving drugs into the US.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides. Despite being named “50 Queers Who Changed the World” (a controversial title, I know, but one I love), the intro says that you don’t have to be queer to be a queer hero. Sure, but you do have to be queer to be part of the group “50 Queers,” right? Luckily, there aren’t a lot of allies included (mostly just Madonna). There are, however, queer figures that are controversial in other ways. Like Dan Savage, who has been called out in the past for saying anti-bi, anti-trans, fat-shaming, and other hurtful things. Some of the people included are (or were) hateful towards other LGBTQ groups, or even their own. Some of the time this is mentioned, sometimes not. I can understand including those people if they have had a big impact, but I do think it’s worth disclosing. They also use the term “Aids” instead of “AIDS,” which was an odd choice.

Worse than those, though, is the constant misgendering of trans people. Any time that the book is talking about a person before they came out, it uses the wrong pronouns. Deadnames are used copiously, sometimes even seeming shoehorned in when completely irrelevant to the sentence.

I definitely recommend checking out the original Queer Portraits in History project and googling any person you’re not familiar with, but I don’t think I can recommend this book. With some slight changes, this would be a delightful little gift book to have in some queer waiting room, but not with the misgendering and other issues that are present.

Megan Casey reviews The Lavender House Murder by Nikki Baker

The Lavender House Murder by Nikki Baker cover

The second installment of the Virginia Kelly mystery series finds Ginny and her friend Naomi vacationing in Provincetown. Both are having girlfriend problems and simply need a break from their daily grind. But soon after they arrive, a famous lesbian journalist is killed in an alley. Seems that the woman was a gay rights advocate who believed that outing other LGBT folk—especially white-collar ones—was for their own good and the good of the cause. Now who would want to murder her? Well, the list is a long one.

The list should also be long for people who should read this book. Like In the Game, it has adventure, romance, and some of the best internal dialogue anywhere. Virginia Kelly, financial analyst by day and cruising lesbian by night, waxes poetic about her failing relationship with her lover Em. “There seems to be an irresistible force that causes all my relationships to self-destruct after a prescribed number of years. A kind of siren song that makes me want to hurl myself over the precipice into infidelities and deceit. And “What I wanted was a woman as flexible as builder’s putty to fill in the empty spaces in my life. I wanted a woman as large as a circus tent to wrap around me and keep me safe . . . to make a home for me in the ugly world. ” I can go on and on about Baker’s writing skills. Here’s a description of one of the suspects: “Her face had taken too much sun on its way to middle age, and her eye makeup was pastel blue. It was a school of beauty that had lost out in recent years to realism.” Ginny is sardonic, almost jaded—interesting but odd traits for a woman under 30. Through her introspection, The Lavender House Murders becomes not so much a question of finding a murderer, but of finding out about the world and solving questions in her own life.

While staying within Ginny’s point of view, the first half of the novel flashes back and forth between her and Naomi’s arrival in Provincetown, and Ginny’s discovery of the body a day or so later. It is tricky writing, but she pulls it off grandly. Baker’s cast of characters—all lesbians except for the obligatory gruff police officers—are varied and well-drawn, although a little clichéd at times. Ginny and Naomi are unique and thoroughly engaging, as is the lifestyle the author pictures with fine detail.

A similar book—one about a lesbian Bed & Breakfast in a coastal vacation spot—Death at Lavender Bay, was probably influenced by The Lavender House Murder. Even the titles are similar. This one is way better. In fact, this book was better than the excellent first novel in the series. Stay tuned for my review of the third next month at this time.

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

 


Julie Thompson reviews Ask, Tell by E.J. Noyes

Ask, Tell by E.J. Noyes cover

Just in case you’re unaware, author Jae is hosting Lesbian Book Bingo. There are twenty-five genre categories, including a free square in the center of the board. If you’re like me, some of the squares will challenge you to give books you might otherwise skip over a second chance. Celebrity romances and hospital dramas, for example, aren’t my cup of tea (though I did watch a shizzload of “Primetime in the Daytime” ER episodes between classes and devoured gossip magazines in college).

Aside from the joys of discovering great new books to read, if you participate you could win some sweet prizes! Starting this month and through the rest of the year, I’m going select review books based on bingo categories.

Last month I read Ask, Tell by E.J. Noyes, a romance set in the waning years of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) United States policy, fits snugly inside the camo pocket of the “women in uniform” category. Department of Defense directive 1304.26, E1.2.8 (1993-2011) forbid US soldiers from asking about the sexuality of service members or tell others about their own or others. Prior to this, many people not only received dishonorable discharges from being targeted as gay, lesbian, and queer, they also lost out on future job opportunities and much, much more. The private and public ramifications of being labeled unfit for duty because of their sexuality had far-reaching effects.

One of the reasons that I usually avoid military novels is that I don’t want to read a 150 page plus advertisement for the armed services and that I’ve already watched countless documentaries, mini series, and movies. Thankfully, Noyes has crafted a thoughtful romance about the heavy toll that government policies such as DADT exact from queer service members.

Captain Sabine Fleischer, an Army surgeon, carries on her family’s tradition of military service. Out of range of the brass or colleagues, she lives openly as a lesbian with her supportive family, and her longtime girlfriend, Victoria. On duty, she hides all traces of her personal affairs. The pressure of leading a dual life is palpable throughout the story.

Her current deployment to Afghanistan is spent scrubbing in for surgery, hanging out with her best friend and fellow surgeon, Mitch, or crushing on her superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Rebecca Keane. When an unexpected letter from home arrives, it triggers a surge of emotions with few healthy outlets. The novel’s romance, much like the surgeries performed on wounded soldiers, centers on patience and attention to detail as the women navigate attraction in a restrictive environment. Supporting cast of family, friends, and co-workers add depth to the story as it moves between Afghanistan and the US, between difficult decisions, and towards an uncertain future. If you’re like me, the almost snowglobe focus on routine medical procedures and DADT insulates you against the fact that they are in a war zone. Despite the battered and broken people coming through their operating rooms, the last quarter of the novel may take you off guard. Absorbing, moving, and unhurried, Ask, Tell gives readers a hard-won possibility.

Danika reviews Nico & Tucker by Rachel Gold

When Being Emily by Rachel Gold was published in 2012, it was one of the first YA novels to be from the point of view of a trans girl (although it was not own voices). Similarly, Nico & Tucker is representing a segment of the LGBTQIA+ community not often seen in media: nonbinary and intersex people. Nico is both, though yo is quick to point out that those don’t always, or even usually line up. Nico is a survivor of medical trauma due to being intersex, and Tucker is a survivor of rape, and both are discussed several times in the story, so I would definitely give trigger warnings for those.

This is a sequel to Just Girls, but I think it would work as a standalone. The writing is more functional than anything else, with exposition dropped in wherever it comes up, including in dialogue. This is definitely drawn forward more by the ideas than a poetic style or fast-paced plot. One thing I got hung up on was that the major point of conflict included entirely unnecessary failure to communicate, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. If they had just talked about it, it would have been resolved so much quicker! And considering how savvy Nico is with healthy coping strategies, it was particular egregious.

The strength of the story is in its ideas. Intersex and trans experiences are centred, including a breadth of representation: Nico is not the only intersex character, the only trans character, or the only nonbinary character. This definitely seems to be trying to be an educational text, just as Being Emily was. I can’t speak to the representation, because I am neither trans nor intersex.

Of course, Nico is not the only main character. The perspective swaps between yo and Tucker. Tucker is on her own journey with its own struggles. She was recently raped by her ex-girlfriend, someone she had loved and trusted. She is struggling to cope with that, and feels like she’s alone in this experience, coming from a same-sex partner. She prides herself in being strong, and is finding it very difficult to admit that she needs help to deal with this.

She is also dealing with more of an existential problem around her own identity. “Lesbian” is a label that she identifies with strongly, but she is also attracted to Nico. Is she only attracted to Nico because she views yo as being essentially a woman? Nico also isn’t sure how to handle this, feeling that yo is being misgendered–and that fear is not unjustified. It isn’t helped by the fact that in their queer circles is another lesbian who seems to have appointed herself the gender police, and is quick to dismiss Nico’s gender as well as Tucker’s identity.

Which leads to the depiction of a queer community in Nico & Tucker. They are in university, and have built a network of other LGBTQIA+ people, often around activism. This is a lifeline for both of them at different times: Nico has people to go to who will understand when yo is talking yos medical concerns or gender. Tucker has people who she knows will support her when she is triggered and reliving her rape. This is a great source of support and strength–though it can also be a source of gossip, drama, and pain.

This story shines when Nico and Tucker are together, communicating effectively. They can discuss consent and boundaries. They support each other, and understand first hand having trauma and needing to recognize how that affects their lives.

I would love to see a review of this book by an intersex person (as well as a nonbinary reviewer), because so much of this has to deal with educating about being intersex. I do think this is an important book in LGBTQIA+ literature, and I continue to be drawn to how Rachel Gold realistically depicts queer community, and the inclusion of geeky elements in her stories (Nico & Tucker talks about cosplay a lot, and how it connects with Nico embodying yos gender). I think what I said in 2016 about My Year Zero is still how I feel today: Rachel Gold seems to be doing now what Julie Anne Peters did ten years ago: pushing LGBT representation in YA [and New Adult] forward, one book at a time, making room for even more representative and authentic stories to come.

I have also reviewed all of Rachel Gold’s previous books, so here are the links, if you’re interested: Being EmilyMy Year Zeroand Just Girls.

Danika reviews Motor Crush Vol 1 by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr

There are plenty of good reasons to like Motor Crush. The world is intriguing: Domino races by day in motorcycle races that serve as the main source of entertainment in this society. She’s tracked by a floating camera asking for constant updates and interviews. By night, she races gangs, where there is no limits to the lengths you can go to in order to win the pot. (You can see Domino’s weapon of choice on the cover.) While others race for Crush because it boosts their engines (and apparently motorcycles can get addicted to it??), Domino needs it to live.

And Domino is a great main character. She’s a little rough around the edges and doesn’t always treat the people she loves the way they deserve, but she’s passionate, and beneath the prickly facade, you can see how vulnerable she is and how she wants to be better. She resents her adoptive father for keeping secrets about her parentage (and how she can consume a stimulant made for engines), but she hides her condition from the people who care about her.

The plot balances the high-paced motorcycle races (both gang races and official ones) where crush (the drug Domino is dependent on) is on the line and debts must be repaid with Domino’s more introspective journey, where she struggles to unearth the truth about who (and what?) she is while simultaneously reaching out and pulling away from the people who are trying to support her.

I haven’t even mentioned the art, which details a world subtly different from ours in beautiful layouts, and conveys the action and speed of the races without being cluttered and confusing. The characters are distinct and frankly gorgeous, if with very small waists.

Those are all good reasons to like this comic! But what really sold me on it was Lola.

This is unfair to queer girls, Motor Crush. #queerbooks #queercomics #lesbianbooks

A post shared by Danika Leigh Ellis (@danikasapphistry) on

Who can resist a beautiful, curvy, femme woman with hot pink hair who’s on a motorcycle? Did I mention that she’s a mechanic, too? Swoon.

             Shout out to Steven Universe for establishing this as my type

Lola is Domino’s ex-girlfriend, and it’s not hard to see why they split: Domino refuses to let Lola in, and without knowing about her dependence on crush, her lifestyle seem inexplicably reckless. Still, they clearly both deeply care about each other and do make a good team, so I hope that they are able to work through it.

Even if you don’t share my swooning for Lola’s design, there’s a lot to like about Motor Crush, and I’m really excited to see what volume 2 brings.


Shira Glassman reviews Moon-Bright Tides by RoAnna Sylver

First of all, do I really need to say anything other than “sweet romance novella between a witch and a mermaid” in the first place? But I have lots more to say about Moon-Bright Tides by RoAnna Sylver, which rocketed to the top of my f/f fantasy recs list as soon as I read it last month.

“If you ever fear the water again, remember that I’m in it.” That was the point where I teared up and started flailing on Twitter.

It’s easy to reel me in with a fairy-tale about healing from trauma, but this one was exceptionally well done with prose that’s both well-crafted and easy to swallow, like the stew our witchy heroine leaves brewing for herself every night via the magical equivalent of a crockpot (which is just “hey, pot of stew, be warm when I get back to the dock, mmkay?”)

Sylver creates what I can only describe as a “beautiful dystopian” — this is a world where what’s gone horribly wrong is that humans, in some undescribed catastrophe, managed to destroy the moon. In its place, a lonely witch named Riven paddles out in her boat every night to call the tides.

The setup may be fanciful, but her sorrow and loneliness as she grieves for the rest of her family, lost to the sea, is familiar and real and stripped raw of any of the distance one might suppose the fantasy elements might grant. She’s also longing for a different kind of life, one she hasn’t even really identified yet at the beginning but comes to understand, in which she’s still serving others but in a different capacity.

Enter a mer, unidentified in name or gender at first, but who turns out to be female. Sylver does a good job of making mer culture seem distinctly different from humans; when Riven tries to explain that the sounds of her name doesn’t mean anything, the mer reminds her “they mean you.”

The text heavily suggests that Riven is neurodivergent, with several references to other people reacting badly to her conversation, or to her frustration with hidden rules about what questions you’re allowed to ask. In contrast, the mer, who does wind up with a human translation of her mer name over the course of the story, accepts and likes Riven’s way of thinking and speaking. Also, Riven is fat, which you can see on the cover, and this is presented as completely neutral and that kind of thing is important.

Much of what makes this story so special is hard to explain without spoilers, but we are given progressively more and more beautiful reveals to unwrap until I wept at the quote with which I began this review.

At ten thousand words, it’s possible to read it in one sitting, yet it’s also a complete and satisfying happily-ever-after.

This a good read for people who are easily freaked out by too much worldbuilding. This is one of the easiest to parse fantasy setups I have ever seen. It manages to be fresh and creative and magical while not confusing me at all. I know this sounds weird for a fellow fantasy author to say, but then again, my series is basically “what if all the things I like lived in a palace in my childhood city.” Here’s a thread about what I’m talking about. But anyway, RoAnna Sylver gets it so right, maybe partially because in the course of explaining themselves to each other, the witch and the mermaid are also letting us-the-audience in slowly at a reasonable pace.

This is also a recommended read for those looking for f/f romance that isn’t sexually explicit. (In fact, heatwise it’s probably at the level of a Disney princess movie, although I’m not sure I can say the same about some of the implied offscreen violence in the book’s past.)

Here’s a Gumroad link if you’d prefer pdf to Kindle.


Megan G reviews Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Sophie Bishop was clean when her best friend Mina was murdered before her eyes. She’d been clean for nine months, two weeks, and six days. Not that the police or her parents believe her, especially considering the evidence to the contrary found in her jacket pocket. Everybody thinks that Mina’s death was a drug deal gone wrong, but Sophie knows different. She knows Mina was murdered; what she doesn’t know is why. But now that she’s out of a stint in rehab that she didn’t need, she’s determined to find out.

Published back in 2014, Far From You was not originally marketed as an LGBTQ+ novel. The blurb on the back gives no explicit indication that Mina and Sophie shared any form of romantic attachment, other than a cryptic mention of a “secret” they share. Despite all this, Far From You does not read like a typical “gay plot twist” novel, because that is not the point. Mina and Sophie’s relationship is hinted throughout the book, and explicitly revealed about 40% of the way through. The point of the novel is Sophie trying to solve the murder of the girl she loved. There is no double plot twist where we find out who murdered Mina and that she and Sophie were lovers at the same time. All things considered, it could have been dealt with a lot worse.

Because of the inherent plot of the novel, I’m sure you won’t be surprised by the warning that this book deals with a dead lesbian. It also deals with a character who is a drug addict, having become addicted to pain killers during her recovery from a traumatic car accident, which left her permanently disabled. This second aspect of the novel, while dealt with in depth, does not mention that not all people who take this type of narcotics will become addicted to them (and the author, Tess Sharpe, is aware of this and has discussed it on her twitter). So, if this is a trigger point for you, I would recommend avoiding this novel. Tess Sharpe has also talked about the problematic aspects of the dead lesbian trope on her twitter (though I am having trouble finding the link to that thread right now). Hearing her talk about these issues is actually what encouraged me to give this book a try. Knowing the author is aware of the problematic aspects of her stories makes me more interested in reading them, as I know that any future writing will most likely avoid those same tropes.

A couple more warnings about this novel include some ableist language (mostly spoken by a disabled person about herself), and a lack of diversity in the characters. It is set in a small town, so the fact that nobody’s skin colour is described heavily implies complete whiteness. As well, there are no fat characters, or any character’s that live outside the gender binary. Again, this can be explained by the small-town setting, but still bears mentioning. There is also some explicit violence, and [major spoiler warning] talks of a sexual relationship between an underage girl and an adult. [end spoiler]

I’m a lover of all murder mystery, and that aspect of this novel did not disappoint. I love when I cannot guess who the murderer is, especially since, after all the murder mysteries I’ve read, I tend to suspect everybody. This time, I was caught off guard. The second plot twist was a little less shocking to me, as I felt [minor spoiler warning] that the character wasn’t as developed, and therefore the reveal made less of an impact. Still, Sharpe does a fantastic job of slowly unraveling the mystery, and keeping you guessing until the very last moment.

The characters are fantastic. Fleshed out and flawed. Sophie makes for an incredibly dynamic lead. I was happy that her disability is continuously dealt with throughout the book, instead of shoved under the rug or forgotten. She also makes for a fantastic witness in a murder mystery, considering how unreliable she is based on her drug problems. Of course, if that weren’t the case the police would have solved the mystery a lot sooner, but what would be the fun in that? Also, I find it very important to point out that Sophie explicitly calls herself bisexual, which surprised me for a book that wasn’t originally marketed as queer.

Overall, this book is fantastically written, and provides a host of dynamic (though, admittedly, homogenous) characters. It is emotional and will probably have you reaching for the tissues more than once, as it’s portrayal over the grief of losing someone you love (especially someone nobody knew you loved) is incredibly real. Head the warnings, but if you enjoy YA fiction, and murder mysteries, as well as well-developed bisexual characters (who also happen to be disabled!), then definitely give this book a try. I promise it will make you smile, even as it breaks your heart.

 

Susan reviews Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet by M. Fenn

Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet is a hardboiled scifi mystery by M. Fenn; Piper Deez is sent to investigate thefts on a mining planet owned by the clan that she serves, where there are definitely no factions, no bubbling undercurrents of resentment, and only a few murders.

Hello, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, lesbian detective fiction is where I live. Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet was always going to be my jam.

The world building is quite cool, and has some interesting imagery – I felt a bit blinded with science at first, but once the story finds its stride it’s easier to enjoy the imagery of a tiny town huddling beneath a permanent ice storm and unpick the politics at play. I also find it a cool distinction in the world building that there is a specific difference between being married and being monogamous, as the default appears to be polyamory in this setting.

Plus, I did like that it tried to talk about class privilege in this universe – there are multiple clans, which have a definite hierarchy, and I enjoyed the discussions of smaller clans unionising to gain more bargaining power. Making Piper Deez a member of a more prestigious clan is an interesting choice however, as it gives her more privilege (and ability to get her job done, or protect people) than I expected from a hardboiled investigator. It does engage with it a little, but it mostly seems to be “Piper hates using the power of her clan but does when it would help her,” which is appropriate for the setting… And kinda nice to see for a queer woman of colour, actually. (And yes, people without clans are treated exactly as well as you expect from all this.)

I found this to be part of the interesting spins on the hardboiled detective tropes – Piper Deez is a newly-wed who is very upfront that she used to be into casual sex before she got married, but is now monogamous, and she actually (tries to) stick to that even in the face of the classic femme fatale, which is honestly more than I expected of a pulp detective. (Her wife doesn’t show up in the story, but is mentioned a lot and with genuine fondness.) And as I said, she’s not only gainfully employed, but she’s actually coming into this story from a position of (relative) privilege, which is fascinating.

The mystery itself is a lot of fun, and it was honestly nice to see a story where the protagonist did reach out to others for help and received it without immediate betrayal. There were aspects that didn’t feel quite built up enough, but they were close enough to genre conventions that I could roll with it – police corruption and harassment are a staple of the genre, so the scenes of look closer, not everything is as it seems weren’t exactly a surprise. On the other hand, the last third felt quite rushed in terms of reveals, consequences, and how the actual ending went down; I had my suspicions about who was behind everything but even with that I was left going “Wait, no, slow down, shouldn’t you talk to someone about this reveal —?”

But it worked! Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet was a short and pulpy mystery, and while the ending didn’t quite gel together for me, I really enjoyed it rolling familiar tropes into a sci fi setting.

This review was based on a copy provided by the author.

[Caution warnings: partner abuse, abuse of power, police harassment, oppression]

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-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Danika reviews How To Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Even before this book came out, I have been hearing 100% positive things about it. Lots of people whose opinions I respect have sung its praises, and with bi & lesbian YA readers, it’s widely accepted as a favourite. But despite these glowing reviews, I was reluctant to pick it up. Why? Honestly? Because I didn’t like the cover. It looked so bland! I know that’s a silly reason, but that’s why it took so long to reach the top of my TBR stack. And in fact, it’s probably only because I read it on my phone instead of picking up the physical copy that I even made the leap then. I’m happy to say that I was utterly mistaken in putting it off, and everyone else was completely in the right. I loved this book.

This book deftly deals with grief and unhealthy/abusive family dynamics. Grace’s father died when she was young, and since then, her mother hasn’t acted much like a mom. Maggie has been dragging Grace from one boyfriend’s house to another, and Grace is used to following her into bars and pulling her out of dangerous situations. She feels like it is her responsibility to watch after Maggie.

This is a horrible situation to be in as a teenager, and Grace is obviously suppressing a lot of anger and pain. She never knows what she’s coming home to. She’s constantly scared that Maggie has gone out drinking or ended up with a questionable guy. Trying to grow up quickly and hold it together for the both of them means something has to give. I appreciated was Grace as a character because she has deep friendships and cares about people, but she also lashes out in ways that are very believable. She wants to reach out, even as she feels that making connections is meaningless, that she is trapped in this situation. It makes her a complex but relatable character.

The relationships between characters are nuanced: Grace’s best friend and his mother are a solid source of support for her, but Luca’s mother and Maggie have a strained relationship that causes Grace to try to cover up for Maggie. In the meantime, Luca and his mom have taken in Eva (Grace’s love interest), who has recently lost her mother. Maggie takes Eva under her wing, causing Grace to agonize over whether she should tell Eva the whole truth about Maggie.

That’s a lot going on, and it’s only scratching the surface. Maggie and Grace are living with Maggie’s new boyfriend, who happens to be the father of Grace’s ex-boyfriend, meaning she’s stuck in the same house as the guy who publicly posted their suggestive text conversations after they broke up. Grace desperately wants to pursue a career as a pianist–her passion–but is afraid to leave Maggie alone, and the deadline for her life-altering audition is rapidly approaching.

The heart of the story, though, is between Maggie, Grace, and Eva. Grace cherishes the relationship she forms with Eva, where she feels like she can be herself, while resenting Eva for having a more positive relationship with Maggie than she does. The push-and-pull between Grace and all the people in her life leaves her in a situation that feels unwinnable. It’s heartbreaking to see how Maggie lets Grace down, over and over. Particularly because it’s so believable. Maggie is not a cartoonish villain, but she’s a terrible mother who puts her own child in danger and doesn’t even notice.

In case it isn’t obvious, I highly recommend this. I thought it was masterfully handled, and I was completely invested in Grace and Eva–individually and as a couple. My only complaint was that I thought Grace’s ex-boyfriend, Jay, got off the hook too easily for what he did. But overall, the treatment of abuse and grief layered with a bisexual (yes, using the word bisexual) love story and accompanied with a thoughtful examination of race and art (Eva is a black ballet dancer) all came together into a five star read for me, regardless of the cover.


Rebecca reviews Dreams Unspoken by R.J. Layer

R.J. Layer’s Dreams Unspoken is an okay read with a dull and dragging plot and the slowest burning romance ever.

The book features two very different protagonists. We have rugged lesbian cowgirl Jo Marchal who has moved back home to be near to her dying father. Her parents do not accept her sexuality and after years of strife, Jo is hoping to fix their relationship before it’s too late. Our second protagonist is real estate agent Maria West who helps Jo find a new place. Maria is stuck in a loveless marriage and she adores her autistic son, Matt. The two women form a deep friendship, looking out for one another through traumatic events and new changes.

Both Maria and Jo are inconsistent characters. I wish they had been better developed. However, I do like them. Jo’s strength and kindness make her memorable and Maria is sweet and giving. The plot just bogs them down. Maria desires Jo from early on but she spends most of the book declaring how straight she is. She also pushes Jo towards romance while being jealous about Jo’s interactions with other lesbians. Jo also pines for Maria but gets involved in an ill-advised relationship with abusive deputy sheriff Kate. She also pursues other women. However, she still longs for Maria while pushing away these women. The flip-flopping in characterization is frustrating and repetitive.

While a slow burn romance does make sense, the book proceeds at a snooze worthy pace. When the actual romance finally happens at the bitter end of the book, it is very anticlimactic. I really would have preferred if Maria and Jo didn’t end up together because while they do have a connection, I could never fully buy them together and I think they may have been better off as friends.

I also like the book’s diversity: Maria is Hispanic, and her son is autistic. I do like the characters’ separate storylines. However, the book has many instances which could have been better developed to solidify the plot but Layer often ends up dropping matters quickly. I really wanted to see more of Jo’s reconciliation with her parents or her relationship with Matt. I also would have liked to see Maria dealing with her dissolving marriage as well how she copes with a new baby in the midst of these changes. Additionally, I wish Layer would have meaningfully addressed Jo’s alcoholism and Kate’s abuse of her.

R.J. Layer’s Dreams Unspoken isn’t the worst book I’ve read, but it has too much wasted potential. Although I like the main characters, the characterization is inconsistent and the plot never really takes off. I definitely would not read this one again.

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