Shira Glassman reviews Flowers of Luna by Jennifer Linsky

My recs pitch for this book is: fashion college on the moon, with femme on femme Asian diaspora lesbian romance. Yes, I said on the moon.

Flowers of Luna, by biracial Japanese-American author Jennifer Linsky, has a very familiar structure and feel if you’ve been reading a lot of young adult and new adult contemporary f/f. Ran has just started college in fashion design, and the story is mainly about how she falls for a sexy, adventurous engineering student. Hana shows her a great time on the weekends but holds back a little too much of herself otherwise, which eventually causes problems. There are plenty of B-plots about group projects with Ran’s classmates, creating new clothing designs, and in staying in touch with her sister at another school far away.

Except, this one takes place on the freaking moon. So there’s an extra layer of fun and sparkle on top of the familiarity. The main character is biracial, and fairly in touch with her Japanese roots thanks to the moon’s culture having a lot of Japanese influence as a result of some postapocalyptic stuff that happened in Japan, driving everyone to seek homes elsewhere. She’s also a second-generation lesbian (or “mirror-biased”, in the slang of this imagined future; bisexual is “parallel-biased”) raised by two moms on a mining ship. Her parents were big heroes in some kind of major event that happened when she was too little to be involved, so she’s a little bit celebrity-adjacent and every once in a while it influences her interactions with the world and with strangers/new people.

But she’s on the moon to study fashion design, and on the moon you can socially get away with wearing clothing from different time periods or cultures to suit your whim, PLUS machines replicate whatever you design, so there’s basically no limit to what she can invent. (She does like doing some hand work, if she has the time for it.)

Hana, who Ran meets as a result of some weird posturing and playacting involving an insult in cosplay and the subsequent duel, is a Japanese diaspora engineering student who has to play it drab during the week so her being a cute lesbian doesn’t make her male classmates not take her seriously. But on the weekend, with Ran, she’s pretty sexually adventurous–for example, there’s a running gag about her not wearing underwear, even in public.

It’s hard to maintain true intimacy when one of you is holding back, so that’s the main conflict of the book, and there was a point in my reading where I kind of expected them to stay broken up and the MC to wind up with the nonbinary character she’d flirted with near the beginning. But the book’s main couple do work things out. I think I just wanted to be more convinced. Ran does acknowledge in the postlude that she has no idea what the future holds, but they’re enjoying themselves right now.

The moon environment itself is a very appealing place to spend your imaginary time, as a reader. There are cities, mostly Japanese and Russian influenced, with fake day and night, where you can visit cozy restaurants carpeted in tatami mats and floor cushions. “Shoes,” Hana reminds Ran. “The Moon is not a foreign country.” After the Japanese dinner they pop into Mr. Chung’s ice cream shop, where he does his best to balance heat and coolness with flavors like curry ice cream. “You must be careful to avoid an excess of yin; we live on the moon!”

They take a weekend date trip to Heinleinburg–many places in the moon civilization honor real historical figures in science and science fiction. Linsky writes, “Heinleinburg was settled by corporate pioneers who came to get wealthy from the moon. Set in Shoemaker Crater to be near the south polar ice fields, it had attracted everyone who dreamed of the moon; everyone who dreamed of riches; everyone who dreamed.” Love that kind of prose.

I want to specifically note that I initially overlooked this book because I thought, from the sample, that it was a different type of book, much weightier (the sample is from the insult scene in the beginning and I didn’t realize that was only cosplay playacting.) Had I known it was “lesbian college fluff on the moon”, I would have picked it up a lot sooner. Also, for a book that truly and thoroughly celebrates visual beauty, both of clothing and of women’s glorious, exquisite bodies, I think it would be better served by a different cover — just one woman’s opinion, of course!

In summary, Flowers of Luna is remarkably contemporary-feeling for sci-fi, a good gateway for SFF-intimidated f/f fans especially because the conflicts aren’t SFF-specific, while also including enough cool details to keep sci-fi fans happy.

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.

Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker, illustrated by Julia Scheele

When I picked up Queer: A Graphic History, I was expecting a pretty short, easy read. Queer history! In a graphic format! I was surprised, then, to realize that this is not just queer history as in LGBTQ history, but queer as in queer theory, which is a whole different ball game.

I took queer theory in university years ago, and I had a complicated relationship with it (appropriately). Most of the time I felt like I was totally over my head, but I actually did okay in the course. I also found a lot of the ideas intellectually stimulating, but I felt like they had little use in the real world. I was especially annoyed at how little queer theory seemed to have to do with queer people. Especially when my teacher scoffed at people identifying as queer, because queer as defined in queer theory is not something you could ever achieve, at least not all of the time.

So this ended up being much better and more interesting than the book I thought I was picking up would have been. It served as a refresher for some of the concepts I’d been introduced to years ago, but it also brought up a lot of ideas I hadn’t heard about. Although sometimes it got a little intimidating, I think overall it did a great job in introducing a very dense, complex, sometimes incomprehensible subject.

I also found that a lot of the discussions at the heart of queer theory resonate with me a lot more than they did years ago. This book talked about the dangers of identity politics, and how many possibilities open up when we discuss queer/LGBTQ issues as things people do, instead of what people fundamentally are. This emphasis on actions, and on not limiting people in categories seemed a whole lot more literal and relevant as someone who recently had to change how I identify after experiencing sexual fluidity.

This is just an introduction to queer theory and queer studies, so a lot of things are just touched on (like asexuality and crip studies), but I think it managed to be pretty thorough for the restrictions. It also addresses some of the criticisms of queer theory, especially its failure to incorporate race and other intersectionality.

I wish this had been around when I was first learning about queer theory and felt completely lost! This is a great introduction. If you’re at all interested in queer theory, especially if other texts have seemed intimidating, this is a great one to pick up! I think other queer theory texts will seem much more comprehensible once you’ve gotten the basics from Queer: A Graphic History.

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Danika reviews Everfair by Nisi Shawl

everfairIt’s rare for me to pick up a book and be surprised to see it has queer representation. That’s part of being so immersed in the LGBTQ book internet: I’ve usually heard about the representation before picking it up. I picked Everfair because I was intrigued by the premise: a steampunk alternate history of the Belgian Congo. I like steampunk, but I’m even more interested in steampunk that isn’t in a European context. I was happily surprised to see that in addition to that premise, this book also has several queer women main characters!

This is an incredible and complex story. I wouldn’t pick this up as a light or quick read: it definitely took me a while to get through. Each chapter switches perspectives, and there are tons of point of view characters (I actually lost count). This means that you get to see the story from so many angles: the well-meaning white supporters of Everfair, the existing king and queen of the region trying to regain control, the Chinese workers brought in by the Belgium king, mixed-race European Everfair inhabitants, etc.

The story spans decades, tackling politics, war, espionage, grief, love and betrayal. The alternate history of the Congo was fascinating, and although the steampunk element was more subtle than I was expecting, there was so much going on that I didn’t notice. There are a lot of nuanced political machinations taking place, including negotiations between the people who helped to found Everfair and the rulers of the area who preceded the existence of Everfair.

At least three of the points of view characters are queer women, along with more minor characters. I would argue that the relationship between two of them is at the core of the book. They definitely don’t have a simple, sweet romance. It’s complex and deeply flawed, but it’s also passionate, genuine, and loyal. I didn’t always like the characters (okay, one of the characters, but I won’t spoil it for you), but I always appreciated the layered, believable relationship they built between them, which spanned continents and many years.

This is an ambitious novel, tackling difficult and multi-faceted topics (including war, colonialism, and racism). It is thoughtful and unafraid to deal with uncomfortable conversations. I highly recommend this if you’re looking to dive into a book that is far-reaching and thought-provoking.

Megan Casey reviews Dirty Work by Vivien Kelly

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Jo Summers is kind of a social worker. She is the office manager of a London hostel for the disadvantaged. I’m not sure we have the equivalent in the U.S—halfway house, maybe—but the residents of her house are ex-drug addicts, ex-prostitutes, or abused men and women who have been approved to live in inexpensive housing until they can get back on their feet. When one of Jo’s favorite residents is found dead of an overdose, Jo suspects foul play of some kind. The police, of course—including an old flame—don’t agree, so Jo is forced to investigate the death on her own. Other deaths follow in short order.

In the course of her investigation, she is thrown into contact with a number of savory and unsavory characters—some of which she spends the night with. As in all good mysteries, one interview leads to another to another and to another until at last she seems to understand what the hell is going on. It is kind of a unique novel in that there is not a similar novel that comes immediately to mind. Maybe Looking for Ammu, although the resemblance is slight.

The best thing about this book is its consistent quality in every aspect of the writing. Jo’s first-person point of view narrative is a thing of beauty, such as when she describes the relationship between one of her friends and his lover: “to say that the two of us didn’t get on is like saying that Tom and Jerry had their little differences of opinion.” The descriptions of the hostel and of its work for the community are interesting and progressive. The characters are well drawn and the mystery is logical and puzzling. Few books are so well done A-Z.

Having heaped up those particular praises, I need to add that, although good, it is not a great book. The characters are not quite interesting enough, the crime doesn’t have that extra twist that brings it up to Poe level. Kudos to Onlywomen Press, who are “Radical lesbian feminist publishers,” for printing a book whose life may not yet be over.

The real crime here is that such a good book has not yet had a single review either on Amazon or on Goodreads (except mine). I’m going to go ahead and give this one a 4 plus. It may not be on the level of a Nikki Baker or a Kate Allen, but it is close. It’s not going to appear on many Top-10 lists, but it is a book I would recommend to you or anyone. And I can’t say that for many books I read. Get in touch, Vivien. Let’s get Dirty Work formatted as an e-book. And maybe we can share a bottle of Glenmorangie.

For 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

Marthese reviews The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance edited by Melanie Gillman and Kori Michele Handwerker

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“Anyway, I’m pretty sure malevolent spirits wouldn’t scrub your bathtub”

The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance is, as the name implies, a queer paranormal romance comic anthology, published in July 2016. I had donated to a crowd-funding campaign for this anthology and I’ve been meaning to read it since it arrived in my inbox.

The anthology starts with some words from Melanie Gillman on the importance of representation in literature. A little disclaimer from my end; this is not a lesbian anthology, it’s a queer anthology which represents various genders. The stories are all non-explicit and quiet romantic.

I cannot go into much detail since the stories are short by my favourite stories were “Ouija Call Center”, “Shadow’s Bae”, “Till Death” and “Yes No Maybe”. “Ouija Call Center” is about a client that uses an Ouija call center to contact someone diseased and the operator! “Shadow’s Bae” is about a monster that becomes friends with a human and they stand up for each other. “Till Death” is a cute story and critical comic about an elderly couple and ghosts that stand up for their community against gentrification. Finally, “Yes No Maybe” is a comic about a tenant who tries to contact the ghost that’s in the apartment and is really adorable.

The art in the anthology varies from piece to piece; they are all so different from each other but this helps to distinguish one story from the other. The length on the story, I believe, is just right–not too long or too short.

The anthology as a whole has a lot of diversity in its representation of gender, ethnicity, culture and age. This collection does not shy away from using different cultures and mythologies for its base and does not include just stories with young characters. Many characters were people of colour. The relationships in the different stories are usually between a human and a supernatural being. Overall, most of the stories are really fluffy and cute so be warned! Although some had a darker tint.

What I like about this anthology are two things: its general cuteness and its queerness. There is a lot of representation for people out of the gender binary spectrum. This book is like a safe space, to enjoy a story rather than who is in the story. I’d recommend this book to those interested in comic anthologies, quirky criticism, cute stories, paranormal and overall stories that go beyond gender.

Danika reviews Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner

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Why did no one tell me about this book earlier?? Honestly, this should be much more well known. Ice Massacre is about Meela, and 18-year-old girl who has been trained to fight killer mermaids. She’s needed to defend her island, but she has qualms about being sent out to massacre the “sea demons”: she befriended one as a kid.

I was completely sucked in by this book. I can’t help but make Hunger Games comparisons: this is a story about teenagers at war, and it has some brutal violence. Each girl reacts to being in a war situation differently, some numbing themselves with drugs and others becoming vicious and unfeeling. Meela struggles to steel herself to the killing of mermaids–creatures who look eerily human–and it’s made worse by the fear that the next one she kills will be her childhood best friend.

In addition to the war with the mermaids, the girls turn on each other on the ship, splintering their ranks. The tension is high, and I ended up reading this book in a day, which is not a common occurrence for me.

The queer content of this book is understated, and it could easily be missed by someone who wasn’t looking for it, but it’s impossible to misinterpret by the end. If you’re someone who wants to get queer books in the hands of people who might not seek them out–or who aren’t able to openly read queer lit–this would make a great choice.

Ice Massacre also has a mostly indigenous cast of characters, but they are a fictional indigenous group. In the book, Eriana Kwai island seems to be an independent indigenous nation between BC and Alaska. The language is loosely based on Haida. I can’t speak to this representation, especially because the author did invent an indigenous group. I would be very interested to read a review from an indigenous reader, especially someone from the Pacific Northwest Coast.

With that caveat, I highly recommend Ice Massacre, as long as you can stomach some violence. Killer mermaids! It’s like Fox and the Hound, but with mermaids and lesbians! This deserves a much more prominent spot in queer YA and queer SFF.

Marthese reviews Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea

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Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is yet another book I have been meaning to get into and the hype did not disappoint. This young adult fantasy book is set in Chelsea, Massachusetts and follows Sophia a teenage girl with Polish ancestry.

Sophia and her best friend Ella like to play the pass-out game because it’s the only thing to do in Chelsea. One day, when they are playing the game near the filthy creek, Sophia has a vision of a mermaid. Sophia’s mother Andrea is neglectful yet worried when Sophia admits to playing the game because she was freaking out. Something in her was coming forth. Sophia eats a lot of salt- this is a big element in the book.

At face value, this book is about Sophia coming into her powers and the people around her changing and being seen in new lights. Ella changes, people she saw often take on a new light and pigeons start to mean something nice, wonderful. On a deeper lever, this book tackles evil and sadness and the wrongness that’s in humanity- it treats elements like pollution and pain and sadness of both the oppressed and the oppressors. Humanity is caged, with seemingly no way out. This book plays on the readers understanding of these topics and offers lightness and hope. Sophia is supposed to help heal humanity from its corruption; her power allows her to see inside a person’s emotions and heal them. To heal humanity, that’s her mission.

Sophia discovers that she is a legend. She always knew she liked salt but now she understands why. Salt is an ancient preservative and measure- it makes sense to incorporate it into the story. Speaking about legends, this book beautifully incorporates different cultures and their ideas on witches. Chelsea is very multicultural.

This book also explores family dynamics: how generations can help each other or destroy one another. In Sophia’s case, it’s the latter; her mother is neglectful, her grandmother is worse. There are other positive family representations though. There’s Angel- who Sophia’s grandmother introduces as a guy but is in fact a girl- and her mother. There’s also Sophia’s lost relations which were in front of her the whole time.

This book features elements that at first you think are weird. Whoever thought that pigeons could be helpful main characters? Or mermaids making use of sea waste? All elements mash up well together. The sentences are constructed exquisitely, things like ‘She would submit to the grime, become like a feral cat wandering the heaps of trash’ offer a sense of aesthetic pleasure which Sophia, with all the awareness of her surroundings also shares with the reader. The illustrations, done in a simple style add more to the book experience.

The queer elements in this book do not focus on blatant relationships – although Angel for sure has a thing for Syrena the mermaid. Sophie is 13 but unlike Ella, she is not boy struck. She just values her friend.

I cannot wait to read the second book and see where the story goes. I definitely recommend this book to people that like fantasy, mermaids, pigeons, magic, character development and family dynamics and philosophical themes with some constructive criticism to the world that we live in.

Megan Casey reviews The Other Side of Silence by Joan Drury

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Tyler Jones is not the most social person in the world, so when she wins the Pulitzer Prize for journalism for a feature story about spousal abuse committed by members of the police force, she goes into semi-retirement, writing her newspaper columns from home. Because of her urgent concern about violence against women, she also spends time at a crisis center. But although her research and counseling brings her into contact with many forms of violence, her own life is rather uninteresting and predictable. That is until she finds a dead body in the park while out walking her dog.

The characterization of Tyler is very subtle, and we often have to rely on small clues to get a true picture of her. We know that she broke up with her last lover ten years before and that she is more comfortable working at home than at an office. This may be explained by the fact that she describes herself as “hefty,” “robust,” and “fat.” Not in the way a fashion model might think she has to lose a pound or two, but because Tyler is truly overweight. Yet she mentions this only in passing—never dwells on her weight issues. We also know that she is a recovering alcoholic who is often badly in need of a drink. The fact that Drury gives us no backstory on any of this is an omission that might be rectified in the two subsequent books about Tyler Jones.

Here’s another thing we know about Tyler but have no real backstory on: she has little use for men (except for her contact at the newspaper) and blames them for much of the violence that goes on in the world—especially against women. As she says, “I am, with reason, suspicious about men—especially when it comes to violence.” In fact, Tyler makes her living writing about the subject. She produces a weekly column for her newspaper and is writing a book-length oral history. And hey, Tyler is a writer who actually writes. We are not just told about a column, we get to read it, too. Likewise chapters of her book, which are convincing and heartfelt.

So does this mean that men won’t like this book? Umm. Many won’t, but that’s their loss. The history of feminism and the ongoing violence against women is a subject that everyone should take a serious interest in. The fact is, The Other Side of Silence is one of the most well-crafted mysteries I have ever read. It just continues to develop until the very unusual (but maybe not totally unexpected) ending. The fact that Tyler (and Drury, who was the editor and publisher of Spinster’s Ink for 10 years) have an important agenda is all the better.

The plot has to do with Tyler finding the body of a man in the park next to her house. The man happens to be a spouse abuser who once attacked Tyler physically when he found out that she was using her apartment as a safe house for his wife. Who would kill such a man? Everyone? Maybe it was Tyler herself—the police certainly think so. And of course to prove her innocence, Tyler has to uncover the perpetrator on her own. Unlike many books with this motif, however, Tyler’s experience and skill as a reporter gives her the tools she needs to actually investigate in a believable manner.

Oh, there’s a glitch or two, but they are so subtle it would be hard to prove they even exist. I’m willing to let them go and to give this novel a solid 4 stars. It certainly gave me reason to buy and read the other two novels in this series. It is one that should be on most people’s to-read list.

For more than 200 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

Marthese reviews Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

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“Isabella was joy and excitement and adventure and everything else seemed dull in comparison”
Silhouette of a Sparrow is set in 1920s America and follows the story of Garnet. I had been meaning to read it since it came out; the chapters of the book all feature a different bird which is a quirky concept that ties in well with the story.
Garnet is 15, finishing high school and loves birds. She had to conform to her mother’s expectations, so instead of bird watching, she does bird silhouettes on the spot. She is sent to live with the Harringtons over the summer for many reasons, but primarily because her father suffers from PTSD after the war and her mother needed some time alone with him.
The Harringtons are not very interesting company, so Garnet finds a job at a hat shop–interesting choice for a bird lover. But Garnet is not just a bird lover: she is an activist as well. At the shop, Garnet meets and makes friends with Isabella, a flapper who is close to her age. Isabella wakes up Garnet’s more rebellious side and soon she has to make a choice between freedom and conformity.
This book is more than this plot. To me, it is also about complex parental relationships. Parents who have their own story, who only want the best for their  children but do not always know what that is. It is also about love for ones family, and the choices one has to make to incorporate them in their future. It’s about taking a stand for your future and growing into someone’s true potential.
The ending is open with potential. Things are just starting. It is not a fairy tale ending but it is far from sad or tragic. It is realistic.
It was interesting to read this book–to learn more about birds, but also to reflect on the importance of families while enjoying a cute love story that was bound to happen. I feel that most people would enjoy this book.

Cara reviews Dynama by Ruth Diaz

 

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Dynama deftly juxtaposes superpowers around the main romance and both good and bad family relationships. The characterization and dialog make the story, and while not without weaknesses, it offers a satisfying arc despite its novella length.

The first scene introduces TJ Gutierrez using her telekinetic powers to help take down a cyborg shark as she learns that her daughter is coming down with the flu at school and that her ex-husband Jon has just broken out of supervillain prison. She immediately suspects he’s going to try to kidnap their twins, Marisol and Esteban. The second scene introduces Annmarie, the daughter of two superheroes who has no powers herself. Unable to find a job as a teacher, she takes a job with the superheroes’ literal union as a nanny, and TJ hires her to help take care of the kids while TJ hunts for Jon. Diaz sets up the main conflict and introduces the two protagonists all in the first chapter, putting to shame novels that accomplish half as much in twice the length. Of course, the two women are attracted to each other immediately and start to develop a relationship even as Jon closes in and things get dangerous.

Diaz’s writing shines in the little details and the conversations that establish understanding or lack of understanding. There are so many of these I can’t include them all in a review, but I’ll give some of my favorites.

Annmarie… found TJ rocking a little girl against her chest and crooning quietly while an unpleasant mass of vomit hovered nearby in midair. As Annmarie watched, a large plastic bowl levitated itself under the vomit, which then fell into it.

That might just be the most amazing superpower she’d ever seen.

When TJ is thinking about her ex:

God, she still remembered her last argument with Jon, that gentlemen were the ones who sat back with their brandies and their cigars and ordered other people to do their murders for them. He hadn’t even tried to tell her it wasn’t like that—he was too far gone. He’d pointed out that, from a historical point of view, a few well-placed assassinations could have saved the world a whole lot of bloodshed.

I particularly liked Diaz’s handling of the two kids, who sounded and acted like real seven-year-olds, without making them little adults or treating them like nonentities. When Annamarie first shows up, Esteban asks if she’s the babysitter and observes, Oh good … When Mama starts floating things, she needs help. Later, when one of TJ’s friends tries to evade one of Esteban’s questions:

The Invincible Woman looked caught out, no matter how she tried to hide it. Friends of your mama.

God, Annmarie remembered explanations like that from when she was growing up—the kind that didn’t lie, but talked down to her in trying not to tell all of the truth. She remembered Esteban’s expression too. From the inside. Before he could answer, Annmarie said, You know how careful superheroes have to be about who knows they’re really superheroes, right?

That caught Marisol’s attention too. As Esteban nodded, she asked, They were other superheroes? How come she didn’t tell us?

Moments like these capture TJ’s incomprehension of how Jon changed so much, Annmarie’s resentment of her distant parents and by extension the superhero community, their shared values like their joint devotion to the twins, and their differences, best captured when TJ asks Annmarie what she wants: I don’t want to save the world. Her voice broke a little, and she focused on TJ again. I just want to save you. They give the characters real emotional depth, particularly because Diaz doesn’t shy away from experiences like TJ’s terror when Jon puts their children in serious danger while trying to kidnap them from her. I also appreciate how matter-of-factly Annmarie takes TJ’s bisexuality and likewise everyone else treats their relationship at the end.

I have only two major complaints, about the setting and the pacing. While Diaz deemphasizes the worst of the superhero genre conventions and averts others by making clear the superheroes have government sanction and are not just superpowered vigilantes, she places the events in a nonexistent city without giving us a clear sense of its geography or climate. The pallor of the setting stands in stark contrast to the well-drawn characters. The pacing suffers from cramming two main plots into one novella, and inevitably some elements get short shrift. TJ’s and Annmarie’s relationship moves fast, though I’ve seen romance novels build less connection in more words and there are no promises of everlasting love, just a mutual agreement they want to keep seeing each other and explore their feelings. That said, I would have liked to see more of the potential conflicts developed, like Annmarie’s reluctance to become involved with a superhero because of her parents and past experiences with being treated like she doesn’t matter because she doesn’t have powers, and (spoilers) [Annmarie’s relationship with her parents now that she has powers and how TJ feels about Annmarie not wanting to be a superhero even though TJ thinks the world needs more.]

Even with its flaws, though, Dynama succeeds as both a romance and superhero story. If you enjoy both, I recommend it.