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/

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/

Sarah reviews Intersection by Nancy Ann Healy

 

Intersection is a romance/thriller featuring an FBI agent and a politician’s ex-wife. Although I wanted to fall in love with the book—the first in a series—it fell short for me in a number of different ways, and I don’t see myself picking up the sequels.

The novel kicks off with Agent Alex Toles and her partner receiving an undercover assignment to protect Congressman Christopher O’Brien and his ex-wife Cassidy, who have been receiving threatening messages. Alex poses as Cassidy’s new public relations assistant, and a relationship rapidly blossoms between them while Alex tries to get to the bottom of the threats.

There are a couple elements of Intersection I sincerely enjoyed. Cassidy has a six-year-old son, Dylan. Since she’s a single mom, it makes sense that any potential partner would need to be understanding and open to that priority in her life. Alex goes above and beyond. Her quick bonding with Dylan is well-explained by the fact she has a nephew and likes kids, Dylan’s father is too busy for him, and their shared interests (sports and superheroes). I found myself smiling at how cute they were together: particularly when Dylan is “explaining how his trucks could be superheroes…torturing [Alex] with Tonka trucks in the living room,” and when Alex teaches Dylan the license plate game. Their relationship was the highlight of the book for me.

Cassidy’s mother Rose also plays a significant role. She helps Cassidy balance her day-job as a teacher and caring for Dylan by picking him up from school and making dinner often. She wants her daughter to be happy and is totally supportive after Cassidy realizes she’s attracted to women. I was pleasantly surprised by how important extended family and friends were to the overall story. Alex’s partner and his family, her brother, and her former military colleagues all help out at various points. Many of the queer narratives I’ve encountered in literature are defined by isolation and unhappiness, so it was refreshing to read about protagonists with such extensive support networks. But the list of things I enjoyed about Intersection unfortunately ends here.

One of my key issues was the writing. At its best points, the prose is nondescript. At its worst, it’s distractingly poor. The novel would have benefited greatly from more editing. It could have been about a hundred pages shorter. There are a number of typos. Healy sometimes reaches for other dialogue tags (directed, griped, grumbled, groaned, questioned…) in places where said would suffice, and actions are used incorrectly as dialogue tags.

There are also strange point of view switches. Healy divides chapters into multiple parts, with each part in a different character’s perspective. But she also jumps between points of view within the same part. In Chapter One, for example, there’s a place where one paragraph describes Alex, the very next paragraph describes Cassidy who is in a different location, and then the next jumps back to Alex. I wouldn’t have minded the point of view changes if they were consistent and made sense for the narrative. But they were jarring, and a serious detriment to the pacing.

Healy also made unusual choices about which scenes to describe in-depth. When Alex and Cassie first meet, we see all of their back-and-forth dialogue and movements in great detail. I wasn’t sure what it was adding to the plot or the development of their relationship. But when Alex takes Cassidy on long drive, the first extended alone time they have, Healy summarizes the majority of the conversation.  It would have made all the difference to see more of them talking and reacting to each other and actually falling in love.

This brings me to my second issue with Intersection. Alex and Cassidy’s relationship never drew me in. Almost immediately, Alex and Cassidy feel the electricity, but I didn’t understand what they find so compelling about one another. The relationship develops absurdly fast. By the sixth of twenty-eight chapters, less than a week in book time, Cassidy already knows “she could never walk away from Alex Toles.” I was like, Cassy you have a son! What are you thinking? The speed with which they decide they’ll be forever together is frankly terrifying. Although both characters acknowledge the extreme pace at which they’re moving every so often, they make no attempt to slow down. The rapidity of the relationship feels incompatible with Alex and Cassidy’s other priorities and how sensible and intelligent the two women otherwise act.

Alex and Cassidy spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed with love for one another and professing their love, but the progression to that point didn’t work for me. And then there’s nowhere unexpected or interesting for the relationship to build to for the remainder of the book. The sex scenes are vague and a little dull, and I struggled not to skip them. There are places that Cassie and Alex speak to each other in French (with the English translation in awkward brackets behind the French text) because…why not, I guess. Although I wanted to be invested in their relationship, I simply wasn’t.

I was also taken aback by how other characters react to Cassidy and Alex. Almost everyone they encounter quickly figures out, or already knows, that Alex and Cassidy are together, even though they haven’t told people. And every character is wildly in support, because it’s clear that “what they have is special,” or that they “love each other very much.” No one (other than Cassidy’s ex-husband, who is portrayed as a pretty selfish and terrible person) questions the pace, or the extent to which they intertwine their lives. I would have even been satisfied with a brief, “Hey, Cassidy, don’t you think your relationship with this FBI agent who’s supposed to be protecting you is moving a little fast?” from her mother, but Rose is just as thrilled as everyone else. Minor spoiler: if I was planning on moving in with someone after less than a month of knowing them, I’d hope that someone in my life would object.

My third issue is that Healy struggles to integrate the romance and thriller plots. Although Cassidy’s life is in danger, the threat is frequently tabled for an entire chapter in favor of developing her romance with Alex. Additionally, the antagonists are introduced in short, vague scenes throughout the book before they finally clash with Alex and Cassidy. Although I’ve seen this work to terrifying effect in some thrillers, with Intersection I felt I was waiting for things I’d already anticipated to go down, since I had so much information about the situation than the characters.   

The thriller plot also splits into two distinct issues towards the end. One of them is resolved. The other is not at all, which I found highly dissatisfying. The book ends on an explosive scene that I think is supposed to make readers want to buy the sequel (and the e-book version does, in fact, include the first chapter of the second book), but I don’t feel inclined to.

I can’t in good faith recommend Intersection, but it certainly made me want to read other more satisfying lesbian thrillers.

Rebecca reviews Heartsick by Tracey Richardson

Heartsick is a pretty good read with a decent slow-build romance between an ER physician and a paramedic. While I do like this book and I recommend it, I would have really loved this book if it had slightly better characterization and writing.

The book switches perspectives between our two protagonists, Angie Cullen, a former soldier now paramedic and Dr. Victoria Turner, an ER physician. I do like the idea of having two different perspectives in one book. However, I really would have liked to see their voices be much more distinct because sometimes, they blend into each other.

The main characters are brought together by a car crash which reveals their partners’ infidelity. Angie’s long-time girlfriend Brooke is cheating on her with Vic’s wife Karen. Soon after the crash, Brooke and Karen move in with each other. Angie and Vic are left to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to move on. The two women become friends as they rely on each other to figure out this difficult time in their lives. Their relationship blossoms into a romance that has some cute and steamy moments but also has setbacks like the huge dilemma of getting back into a serious relationship so quickly.

I really like how realistically Richardson handles the theme of infidelity. Both Angie’s and Vic’s reactions to their cheating partners are well-written and really makes you feel their pain. Moreover, their responses are extremely plausible. While there are a few instances which could have been cliché like Karen attempting to get back together with Vic as well as Angie’s repeated near-death experiences, Richardson maturely confronts these situations which actually do contribute to the plot.

However, I really did not enjoy the prolonged “will they or won’t they” relationship drama between Angie and Vic. I do like that both women are hesitant to get back into a serious relationship so soon after such devastating heartbreak and I believe that, at first, their indecision makes complete sense. But, the unnecessary drama draws out for far too long. Furthermore, the constant changes in their attitudes are confusing. One moment, Angie will be ready to take the plunge while Vic won’t…but, only a few pages later, Vic will be ready and Angie won’t.

I really love Angie who has a heart of gold and is sweet and loyal. However, I feel like I don’t know as much about Vic as I do about Angie. Therefore, I cannot connect with Vic in the same way that I do with Angie. I would have really liked to see some more character development for Vic because she is a great character, but I wish she was a little more fleshed out.

Tracey Richardson’s Heartsick is a good and quick read. Although I wish the writing and characterization could have been a little better, this is a solid book. If you like medical romances, some angst, and happy endings, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi at her brand new blog: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Rebecca reviews Bait and Switch by Blythe H. Warren

 Bait and Switch is a sweet, moving and well-written romance which you’ll definitely want to read twice.

Our protagonist is dedicated marine biologist Liv Cucinelli who specializes in one-night stands. After an educational event at her aquarium, she is unexpectedly reunited with Mira Butler. Mira, the same woman who had ruined Liv’s life and college career almost two decades earlier, just happens to be the mother of Liv’s new favourite student, Cassie. Although Liv is determined to hold onto her lifetime grudge and remain hating Mira, she soon learns the truth about what happened all those years ago and her perspective on Mira begins to change. As Liv becomes Cassie’s babysitter, she and Mira build a tentative friendship which soon blossoms into a sweet romance.

I like that the plot advances quickly and smoothly while Warren avoids unnecessary angst and drama. The reveal about the history between Mira and Liv is really well-executed. As the women navigate their newfound connection and their own past hurts and insecurities, they also encounter difficulties at their jobs, Mira’s homophobic and ableist mother as well as issues in revealing their romantic relationship to their friends and families. I love that the characters feel like real people and they mature emotionally as the novel progresses. Liv is a funny and relatable protagonist and her first-person narration works well, adding just the right amount of humour and sarcasm to the narrative. Although the novel is from Liv’s point-of-view, Warren does a great job with the other characters. Mira is nuanced and well-written as she deals with her overbearing and horrible mother as well as her trust issues stemming from a cheating husband. She is definitely not the same woman whose ignorance and homophobia accidentally contributed to the fake rumour that destroyed Liv’s life.

While the book has a sweet and well-developed romance, I like that Warren shows us who these characters are outside of their relationship with each other. Liv has a wonderfully hilarious friendship with fellow commitment-phobe Patsy who she goes to for advice and who she neglects as her relationship with Mira intensifies. I also enjoy the fairly big role that the aquarium has in the book as well as the fact that Liv is ambitious and loves her job. The bond between Cassie and Liv is really special and heart-warming.

Did I mention how well Warren executes the usual tropes? Kid bringing two vastly different people together? Check. But, there’s a welcome twist: Cassie is a smart and friendly teenager who is also deaf. It’s nice that her difference isn’t her defining feature and she isn’t side-lined in the narrative. She’s a wonderful character who acts age appropriately and, even if you hate kids making an appearance in your books, you will definitely like Cassie.

Warren really makes the trope of enemies to friends to lovers her own. Liv and Mira are both well-defined characters with flaws and they do not fall instantly into perfect love. Instead, there are believable tensions and conflicts which are resolved quickly but naturally and with ample communication. Their relationship develops at a comfortable pace but there is definitely enough tension and heat to keep you interested. And, I can’t forget the found family trope paired with the holiday season because it’s handled just as heart-warmingly as you can imagine (if you can’t: think cuddling on the couch while watching Christmas movies, meaningful Christmas gifts…adorable!). Bait and Switch is a really well-written book with a wonderful happy ending. If you like excellently developed characters, a great romance, and you’re looking for a feel-good book, don’t miss this one!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi at her brand new blog: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/


Rebecca reviews Echo Point by Virginia Hale

Virginia Hale’s debut novel Echo Point is a quick and well-written read which packs substance and heat and has a sweet slow-build romance.

Our protagonist is Bron who, after many years away, has returned to Australia after her sister Libby’s death. Bron has spent the last three months trying to come to terms with her grief and her new role as the legal guardian to Libby’s young daughter, Annie. However, Libby’s best friend, Ally Shepherd, is soon released from jail and moves in with Bron and her family. At first, Bron does not trust Ally and does not understand the dedication that Ally inspires from Bron’s stepmother, Jackie and half-brother, Daniel. Ally and Bron seem like polar opposites but they soon grow to admire and depend upon each other as they take care of Annie and start forming a relationship with each other. This novel is quiet and isn’t heavily plot-driven at all but I think that really works here because the focus is on the well-developed characters and the familial and romantic relationships.

The romance between Bron and Ally is a comfortable slow-burn. They have known each other since they were young and Ally even has a longstanding crush on Bron. I really like that these women learn to appreciate each other as both people and lovers. I am also very appreciative of the fact that Bron and Ally act like adults and although there is ample tension and heat between them, the novel avoids unnecessary drama or angst. Most importantly, I like that their relationship encourages them both to grow as characters. I also admire the fact that Hale features a romance between older women (Bron is 40 and Ally is 33) because so many books tend to focus on younger characters.

This novel is much more than just a romance. Echo Point also sensitively and realistically explores family relationships, forgiveness and healing, and learning to cope with loss. Bron’s family is trying to live with Libby’s death while also supporting young Annie who deals with the loss of her mother and the changes in her life in a way that seem realistic for her age and situation. Meanwhile, Ally has many issues to deal with and she is attempting to readjust to life in society after her time in prison. I love the found family trope and I particularly like the positive and realistic way that Hale presents this concept through Bron’s family’s loving acceptance of Ally as well the actual dynamics of Bron’s family.

The characters in this book are memorable and well-developed. However, I think that perhaps Daniel and his girlfriend could have been trimmed for cohesiveness. I know that seemingly brash Ally who is actually very loyal and has a heart-of-gold will quickly become the favorite for many readers. But, I love quiet and conservative Bron because she is relatable as she attempts to manage the changes in her life as best as she can. Her struggles with balancing her ambitions and taking care of Annie are really well-done. Surprisingly, I also really like how Hale writes Bron’s six-year-old niece, Annie. I think that children are often written too maturely for their ages or overstay their welcome. But, I am pleasantly surprised at how sweet and realistic Annie is and her relationships with both Bron and Ally are heartwarming.

Echo Point is a great debut from Virginia Hale and I would definitely read it again. If you like well-written romances and realistic characters, add Echo Point to your to-read list!

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi to her on her brand new blog: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/  


Danika reviews Riptide Summer by Lisa Freeman

When I finished Honey Girl, I was eager to dive into the sequel–mostly because I was absorbed by the setting (1972 Californian beach culture), but also because Riptide Summer promised to break the rule that “Girls don’t surf.”  I’m glad that I got see more of Nani and her life, but overall I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book. I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about this book that is different from the first book, just a few thoughts:

[Spoilers]

  • It’s not surprising that Nani’s relationship with Rox fell apart. I was rooting for them, but it was despite the obvious instability in their arrangement. It was disappointing, but not unrealistic, for them to so quickly turn on each other.
  • I felt like the characterization wasn’t as strong in this volume–Claire, for instance, is barely present, and I completely forgot her personality.
  • I did like that Nani started surfing, but it wasn’t until halfway through the book, and in secret. I would want to see more of her after the secret came out, and how she dealt with this new side of beach culture.
  • My favourite part of the whole book was Windy, the new love interest, and we barely get to see her at all! If there is another sequel that focuses on them and Nani’s new surf life, I would pick that up.
  • I wasn’t sure from the last book whether Nani was bi or gay, but despite wanting to kiss and date guys, she seems to decide that she’s a lesbian by the end, because she enjoys sex with women more. Unfortunately, this is also wrapped in a lot of biphobia: she tells Rox that she’s a lesbian, no matter what she says, and says she doesn’t want to be one of those funny kine girls who also date guys. The idea that someone can be attracted to more than one gender and that’s fine doesn’t really come up at all.

[End spoilers]

This series felt a little fractured, actually, like they were originally supposed to be one story and then were separated into two volumes. Riptide Summer didn’t seem to have its own arc; it just followed along where Honey Girl left off. I wish this had been condensed in some way, whether that was making Honey Girl and Riptide Summer one book, or skipping over a lot of Riptide Summer and getting more into the surfing plot line and the romance with Windy.