Alexa reviews Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss

Learning Curves is a 70-page novella with little conflict and a fluffy love story between two women at college. One of them is a Puerto Rican lesbian studying family law, and the other one is a white panromantic asexual woman with ADHD. You shouldn’t expect a huge epic plot: Learning Curves is more about everyday life, college, celebrating Christmas, a huge, loving Puerto Rican family, and two women falling in love.

I admit that I easily get bored if I’m reading a longer book with so little plot, but 70 pages was just the perfect amount to still hold my attention and let me enjoy all the little moments. I loved how overly supportive Elena’s mother was, and I loved the two women cooking and baking together, especially Puerto Rican dishes.

There were so many of these little things that I loved. Cora is bookish and loves reading about “magic, dragons and queer people”. Both women are very casual about mentioning their queer identity, and while she doesn’t elaborate, Cora also mentions how even the community itself can be hostile towards certain identities. There was also a throwaway mention of cocky-gate (controversy over one author literally trying to trademark the word “cocky” in romance novel titles), which made me laugh, although it might have been strange to people who didn’t know what it was referring to.

I did have a couple of issues, or rather some things that I found strange but weren’t necessarily bad. This novella felt like it was written from an outsider’s perspective, which isn’t automatically a problem, but I really would have appreciated more insight into the thoughts and feelings of Elena and Cora, or at least one of them. I also felt like the blurb was very misleading: while the two women go to college and meet at one of the classes they have in common, there is really not much focus on their careers, and basically no mention of either of them not having time for love like the blurb says. Moreover, I sometimes found the dialogue strange or clunky. And finally, this is a minor pet peeve, but there were a few acronyms that were never really explained and as a non-US person whose first language isn’t English, I still have genuinely no clue what they are. I could sort of guess from context, but I generally don’t want to be Googling acronyms while reading a book.

I was originally going to rate this 4 stars, but the ace rep and the way it was handled in the relationship pushed it up. I loved that Elena immediately accepted both that Cora is asexual and that she doesn’t want sex, and it wasn’t an issue for a single moment. It might not be the most “realistic”, but it was really nice to finally read a relationship between an asexual and an allosexual person where the allosexual person is the one who agrees not to have sex instead of the asexual person indulging their partner. Another thing I see a lot is that while the non-ace person agrees not to have sex, they still talk about how this is a huge sacrifice for them, which I find really guilt-trippy, but this absolutely wasn’t the case here.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this author’s works in the future.

Alexa is a bi ace reviewer who loves books with queer protagonists, especially young adult and fantasy books. E also has a fascination with solarpunk, found families and hopeful futures, and plans to incorporate these in eir own writing. You can find more of eir reviews and bookish talk on WordPress and Twitter @greywardenblue.

Julie Thompson reviews Mistletoe Mishap by Siri Caldwell

For science professors Kendra and Viv, winter vacation means catching up on paperwork and maybe squeezing in research, too. They’re a long-term couple with a wonderful rhythm, but romance gets buried beneath the layers of routine. Long hours dedicated to the geology and immunology departments at the university plus professional obligations equals short evenings at home. En route to the university one morning, a radio personality fields comments from callers offering advice to a woman interested in pausing her sex life in the months leading up to her wedding. Inspired, Kendra proposes a twelve days of Christmas-style contest as a way of turning around their stagnant sex life. Whoever can make the other orgasm the most by the end of the contest is the winner. Siri Caldwell weaves a satisfying mixture of sugar and spice, wonderful character chemistry, and relatable intimacy fluctuations. I appreciate that neither woman is portrayed as being the “ideal”, as far as sexual expression. It’s an oft written formula that one partner needs to be “fixed” or “brought up to speed” in order for Happy Ever After. Viv isn’t publicly demonstrative with affection, while Kendra, though not Ms. Octopus hands, is a bit more so. When they’re at home, well, it’s not for lack of passion that they’ve been in a dry spell.

Each chapter starts with the current score (i.e. Kendra 0, Viv 0). Chapter beginnings feel like opening Advent squares, the anticipation of what treat awaits adds to the festive atmosphere, though neither woman is particularly religious. Mathematical calculations, strategizing, and other shenanigans add humor as Kendra and Viv establish parameters, and scope out tryst locations. Sex is a large part of the story’s focus, but it’s not the only component of their partnership that the two women explore. For anyone who is or has been in a long-term relationship, physical and emotional aspects ebb and flow over time. The story stays outside of first person point-of-view territory, opting instead for third-person limited on Kendra’s side. As a result, the reader is privy to some of what Kendra is feeling, but much of the couple’s thoughts and feelings become clearer as they get to know each other again.

If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming, sexy holiday story, heat up some peppermint hot chocolate and curl up with Mistletoe Mishap.

Danika reviews Fresh Tracks by Georgia Beers

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At the end of November, when I was planning the books I’d like to pick up in December, I took a look at my shelves to see if there were any holiday or wintery books I hadn’t read yet, and Fresh Tracks immediately jumped out at me, so I knew it was a must-read for the month. I’m glad that I took that look, because this was a great December read. It takes place just after Christmas and into the new year, so it’s… holiday-adjacent, without being a blatant Christmas book. Fresh Tracks is about seven lesbians who get together in a cabin in the woods for a vacation, and lesbian drama, of course, ensues.

I ended up liking this book a lot more than I was expecting. I thought it would be a quick, fluffy romance book, but I ended up really enjoying the characters. Even though there are seven main characters, they are distinct and easy to keep track of. There are Jo and Amy, the lesbian couple who have been married for fifteen years and are still adorably madly in love, who act almost in a nurturing, parental role over their friends; Molly and Kristin, who have also been together for a while, but their relationship is falling apart due to Molly’s passive-agressiveness and Kristin’s workaholic tendencies; Sophie, who is recovering from a devastating break-up; Laura, who realized she was gay after she married a man, then got together with a woman and left him, only to have the other woman leave her; and Darby, Jo and Amy’s smartass niece who is terrified of commitment but happy to seduce any woman standing next to her.

Phew! Just describing them makes it seem like there are a lot of characters, but they really are easy to keep track of, and even though the narrative rotates between them, I never got annoyed by that. I’m often losing track of names of characters, so that’s a pretty good sign. Plus, they are all different ages (Amy and Jo are the oldest, Darby is the youngest, and everyone else is somewhere in between) and have different personalities and voices (which should be a given, but sadly isn’t always). There even is, shocker, a lesbian of colour (Sophie). They also sort of end up in pairs or groups: Amy and Jo act as a unit, Molly and Kristin push and pull against each other, Sophie and Laura bicker (because Sophie sees Laura as a cheater, and Sophie’s ex-girlfriend left her for another woman), and Darby bounces between Molly and Jo in character interactions.

Understandably, with seven lesbians in one small space, there is lesbian drama, but the drama is entirely realistic, and entertaining. (Though I did think Sophie was a little over-the-top in her resentment of Laura, but that’s still believable.) I started narrating what was happening to my roommate: “Darby, what are you doing?” There is definitely enough tension to keep in interesting, but not enough to make it uncomfortable. And each character has their own arc in the story, perhaps excepting Jo and Amy, because their lives were pretty great when they started. The plot manages to balance all of those storylines really well, while playing characters off each other. I was really enjoying it, with my only real complaint being the “Your generation” comments that some of the characters made (“Your generation, with your cell phones, and your internet, and your lack of social skills”), with Darby kind of reinforcing those ideas…? And then there was one detail near the end that unfortunately really affected my enjoyment of the story as a whole. To express it in a non-spoiler way, there was an event that I don’t think was properly dealt with and addressed. Specifically: [spoilers, highlight to read] Molly makes out with Darby, and never tells Kristin, even though Molly and Kristin are back together at the end and working on their relationship. It’s not addressed at all that they kissed. [end spoilers] That felt like a really huge loose end, and I was surprised that it wasn’t dealt with at all. It made the ending not feel like a complete resolution, even though everything else was addressed. I still liked it a lot, but sadly that one detail makes it not feel like one I’ll want to re-read. It’s still one I would recommend, though, especially as a lesbian winter read. Also, there’s a lesbian Christmas tree. I enjoyed that.

Danika reviews Christmas Carol by Ruth Gogoll

A Christmas lesbian book! How exciting. And it’s a retelling of A Christmas Carol. I love retellings! Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s a story that can be easily told as a lesbian romance.

The original A Christmas Carol is a novella, but Ruth Gogoll’s retelling expands it into a novel. The first half of Christmas Carol is a pretty straightforward retelling of the original, changing most of the characters to women and bringing it into the 21st century. It seemed a little bit padded to me, though. I think she could have done this more concisely. The second half of the novel is where most of lesbian plot comes in, and it’s a romance. I guess I should have expected a lesbian retelling of A Christmas Carol to include a romance, but I hadn’t really considered it.

The first half of the novel stays close to the original, and it’s a storyline most of us know pretty well, so it’s flexible. I would’ve preferred that the romance was mostly handled in this half, because the traditional plot is so familiar that it can take additional subplots being added, or having the slow revelation be more implied. Instead, the romance comes after, and it ends up feeling like two separate stories stuck together: A Christmas Carol, and the post-Christmas Carol love story.

Also, I felt a little unsatisfied by the retelling half. This half of the novel is dominated by the retelling, but traditionally the big action and happy conclusion happens on Christmas. In Christmas Carol, not much happens on Christmas itself, stretching that conclusion over a much longer time. It felt a little anticlimactic.

To be fair, I did mostly enjoy the love story. Mike and Ramona are both sweet characters, and they interact well. I didn’t enjoy that one always seemed to be pushing and the other retreating in their relationship, though.

It’s a little silly, but one thing I really liked about the book is the cute little border around each page. It’s Christmas-y, and not distracting.

Do you have any favourite lesbian winter/holiday stories?