Tierney reviews Perfect Rhythm by Jae

[Trigger warning for the death of a parent.]

When pop star Jenna Blake gets a call from her mom saying her dad has had a stroke, she returns home to her small hometown of Fair Oaks, Missouri for the first time in five years, and goes back to being Leontyne Blake once more. As she works on rebuilding her relationship with her parents, she begins to evaluate what exactly she wants from life–all while getting closer and closer to Holly, her former high school classmate and her dad’s stay-at-home nurse (small-town life, y’all). On her end, Holly goes from thinking Leo is a self-absorbed jerk, to counting her as a friend, then maybe more–but first she wants to make sure Leo knows that while she is romantically attracted to women, she is asexual.

It took me a while to get into Perfect Rhythm, but once I did, I was hooked. In part, it takes the novel a while to find its own perfect rhythm: some aspects of the plot and description seem clumsy, especially towards the beginning. Leo’s attraction towards Holly (and her body) seems over-the-top and heavy-handed: there are many descriptions of Leo noticing Holly’s “feminine curves” or doing things like accidentally resting a hand on Holly’s “nicely curved hips,” coupled with Leo spending an inordinate amount of time noticing the fact that Holly is not noticing her (or her body). I’m assuming this is supposed to be tied in with Holly’s asexuality, to contrast how they feel about each other, but it often doesn’t feel authentic (and, at times, Leo’s attitude towards Holly’s body even feels a little gross). The plot in general can also feel a little trite, with regards to how it follows the age-old rom-com story of a big star falling for a small-town girl’s down-to-earth attitude towards fame.

But ultimately I totally fell for the characters, and ended up falling for the plot too, after a bit of a rocky start: that rom-com trope is rejuvenated with a homoromantic asexual woman as half of the (queer!) pairing. The novel does an excellent job showcasing what intimacy and sensuality can look like without being attached to sex, while also depicting what sex can look like for an asexual person and an allosexual person (this particular chapter has a warning for readers who might want to skip a graphic sex scene). And the characters are excellent at modeling how partners with different expectations and needs can make a relationship work–regularly talking things out, stating what they need, being explicit about their boundaries (and accepting of their partner’s boundaries).

One of my romance novel pet peeves is characters who just can’t seem to talk to each other, but still somehow fall for one another and ride off into the sunset: once Holly and Leo stop operating off of their assumptions and spend time talking and listening to one another, they have a beautiful relationship that feels so very real to me. The story centers itself for the most part on Leo’s perspective, so Holly’s character is not quite as fleshed out, but Leo’s journey is absolutely moving and satisfying.

The plot of Perfect Rhythm is also pleasantly multifaceted: the main focus is on Leo’s growing relationship with Holly, and the associated obstacles along the way, but Jae depicts other facets of Leo’s life: her relationship with her family and small-town Fair Oaks, her unhappiness with her life of stardom, her father’s infirmity (and eventual death). It’s also a story of a queer woman coming back to her small hometown and finding more acceptance and happiness there that she could have thought possible, rewriting a common narrative that so often depicts the opposite, much like Rachel Spangler’s The Long Way Home (another excellent romance novel).

Perfect Rhythm is a sweet romance novel that, despite a perhaps shaky beginning, ultimately captivates the reader and showcases the blooming of a delightful relationship. It’s definitely worth a read, especially if you’re into romances that showcase not only a beautiful romance and lead-up to a relationship, but also the thoughtful communication that keeps relationships going. Swoon!

Aoife reviews Thaw by Elyse Springer

**/*

Closer to a 2 than a 3, but it gets bonus points for asexuality and librarians.

I was really excited about this book–I downloaded it literally as soon as I saw the email. I’m grey ace myself, so asexual representation is something I’m personally invested in. That said, I was expecting a light read, and that’s what I got.

I did the reading glo up backwards. I started out with Austen, Bronte, and Shakespeare in primary school, and when I got to high school, I discovered the trashy romance subset of YA. I like both romance and YA, and neither genre is inherently trashy or lesser than any other. The books I got into in year 7 were mainly just shit books–badly written, two dimensional, and very shallow. I enjoyed them, but nowadays if I’m looking for a hetero romance/YA, my standards are higher. However! I didn’t realise I was bisexual until quite a while later, and unfortunately there is quite a lot less sapphic anything than hetero anything; this is to say, I read sapphic books that I would DNF if they were hetero. 

So, this is one of those books. This is not to say that it isn’t enjoyable, or fun–just that it is perhaps not incredibly well written and that I didn’t find it particularly believable. It’s light and fluffy, if formulaic, and while the characters are a bit two-dimensional, they’re endearing. The story follows Abby, a librarian, and Gabrielle, a famous model and ex-actress, who meet by chance and make a connection. Abby struggles with her asexuality in the context of a relationship, and Gabrielle has ~secrets~. These secrets lead to unnecessary conflict, drawing the two apart, which leads to a grand gesture and our heroines reuniting; essentially, plot you can see a mile off. It’s very obviously second in a continuing series, which I wasn’t super into – there was a lot of time spent rehashing the plot of book 1 and placing hooks for the following two. But hey–escapism is escapism.

My main quibble, if we’re bypassing what’s been covered, is the ‘asexuality 101’ aspect of the book. This is, again, a personal thing–I know what asexuality is and I’m looking to see it reflected in a fluffy romance, not a lesson. I’m sure (I read some Goodreads reviews when I was shelving it) there are people who appreciated this aspect of it–Kristy found it a “good learning experience”–but I found it unnecessary, like one of those books which agonises over explaining to the reader the phenomenon of non-men being attracted to non-men. I also felt that the book lacked chemistry, both romantic and platonic.

That said, it was fine! It was light and distracted me for about an hour, and it definitely got bonus points for including librarians and asexuality. I read it as a book which was maybe aimed at helping people realise they were asexual, or helping people understand asexuality, which is great–just not really where I’m at.

Content warning for some kind of dub con stuff and a few instances of abusive behaviour and language (neither between the main characters).

Marthese reviews Aces by Kathryn Burns

aces

‘I did not adult well’

Aces is a short book on the relationship between Astrid and Hollis, two very creative women living in Seattle. They both work in retail but have a shared passion for writing. The story is told from Astrid’s perspective.

This story feels real, is not that cliché and is very diverse with its characters. Most times, the diversity is built up and not introduced at once and it does not feel like the characters are diverse simply to be so, they just are.

Astrid works at a shoe shop, has had a variety of hobbies and has a lack of self-confidence. She does not, at first, get on with her girlfriend’s flatmate Lloyd. This is however, explained in what I thought was a good reason. Astrid loves Hollis a lot, though she feels that Hollis is always right and keeps her emotions in check too much.

Hollis works in cosmetics but her other passion is blogging and writing. She writes fanfiction as well and has some geeking moments in the book. She also loves her flatmate’s cat Schrodinger. As she likes writing and expresses herself in that method, she writes letters about Astrid which Astrid finds in unexpected places. One of these letters brings about the confession that Hollis is asexual. After that, their relationship has better communication but does not change much.

This book has a lot of cool stuff in it and whether they are mentioned in detail or only in passing, I think that it is a good depiction of queer reality. Currently pop culture and recent history are mentioned but there is a 90s vibe at times. As the characters attend Poetry Slam Mondays, we are introduced to some poetry slam! Video making and blogging are mentioned and are done by at least four characters. Minimalism is also brought about by necessity. Stuff like transitioning, non-binary, dysphoria, period pains, drag, on coming out as a continuous process and bi-erasure are topics of discussion or thought in the story.

There are many characters, whether they appear often or simply once, with various gender identities. The families mentioned are also of different forms. Their group of friends is very varied but like Clementine said, Astrid brings them together.

What I also liked in the story, was that there was the depiction on genuine love, not too perfect and that information processing was done in a healthy way. Although at first Astrid bothered me a bit, she grew on me while I liked Hollis from the beginning because I could relate to her.  I think the best thing was however, when there was a discussion on shipping in fanfiction and how that is still part of asexuality.

I do not have a particular thing that I particularly did not like although Astrid was slightly bothersome in the beginning as I had the perception that she was too self-centred. This was not so much the case and it just takes a while to get used to the character. There was also an instance that the term ‘transgendered’ was used instead of ‘transgender’ however, I think that was due to language use.

I think that there are so few books that speak about asexuality in their plot, much less when they are combined with various other diverse characters and speaking so planning on reality, with deep thoughts as everyday occurrences. Perfect for over-thinkers like me! It truly is a love story that gives you hope. Where the characters do not follow a formula but make the love their own.

I recommend this book for people that want to read a book with an asexual character, for people that want to read more books with trans inclusiveness (including non-binary), for geeky people that like to see fanfiction, slam poetry and internet culture incorporated into the life of the characters and for people that want to read a short but realistic love story.