Susan reviews Bearly A Lady by Cassandra Khaw

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw is the romantic (mis)adventures of Zelda McCartney, a fat bisexual fashionista woman of colour who works for Vogue’s London office… Who also happens to be a werebear with a vampire flatmate, a date with the hot werewolf next door, a fae prince to babysit, and a crush on her coworker, Janine, that she is desperately trying to ignore.

She’s got a busy week, okay.

I was expecting something like The Devil Wears Prada with werebears, which isn’t quite right (there is a lot of fashion, but not as much about running a magazine as I dreamed, woe), but Bearly A Lady is absolutely funny and witty, with Zelda creating as many problems for herself as she finds foisted upon her.

I think that the only real problem I had with it was that I never understood what the problem was with Janine – all of the potential love interests I liked her best, but I never quite understood what had happened to make this relationship unviable in Zelda’s mind? The closest we get is “Oh, I didn’t realise you were seeing someone,” which is apparently resolved by the time Bearly a Lady starts. Plus the book spends much more time dwelling on the two male love interests than it does on Janine, I guess because Janine is established as lovely and having a friendship in her own right with Zelda from the outset and the other two love interests are… Well, they sure are people that I could believe I’ve met and loathed.

(A thing I did appreciate is that Zelda’s sexual feelings for Janine are presented in the same way as her feelings for Benedict and Jake; I have read a surprising about of fiction with bisexual women in that treats attraction for women as a pure, chaste thing even when the attraction for men is written as sexual.)

The secondary characters are really well-drawn and Zelda’s relationships with them are different and great. In particular, the friendship between Zelda and her roommate, Zora, felt believable and fun; they bicker and bring out the best and worst in each other as best friends do. And the world building squeezed into the space of this novella is interesting – especially things like the enmity between vampires and fae, and the restrictions for shapeshifters.

The story is quite short – it’s novella length – and moves along very quickly, so if you’re looking for something fun to pass the time and you’re in the mood for supernatural romantic drama, Bearly A Lady is for you!

Caution warning: magical coercion.

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.


Susan reviews Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman cover. It shows an illustration of two women kissing and a cat playing with yarn.

Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two is a story about a yarn dyer who meets a local artist while searching for inspiration, and they fall in love over fandom, cats, and crafting—and it’s extremely cute!

Clara (the yarn dyer) and Danielle (the artist) are both really well drawn characters that I was immensely fond of almost immediately from their intros, and they felt very realistic! I really appreciated seeing a relationship that found its footing through fandom, where they exchange links to fanfic in the middle of the night and Danielle draws fanart, because not only did it feel immensely true to my experience, but it was super charming. (Plus, it contained references to knitting drama that I remember, and Archive Of Our Own, which delighted me.) And Clara at least was part of a local queer community! Fitting characters into a world that has other queer characters is the surest way to my heart.

Another thing that I liked was that the problems were all small-scale, plausible problems for a contemporary setting–a business expanding too fast, crafting accidents involving cats… I appreciate the way that the conflict of the story (such as it is) is resolved, and that Clara considered Danielle’s feelings first, before she took any actions; I was honestly bracing for the worst so two characters using their words to resolve a problem was so nice and refreshing.

(Especially refreshing: Danielle is fat, and this isn’t treated like a problem, or a thing that needs to be discussed at length–she just gets to be stylish and an artist!)

My only complaints about Knit One, Girl Two is that the reveal of Danielle’s problem seemed a little sudden, and there are some places where the tone didn’t flow well. But those are very minor niggles for the amount of enjoyment I got out of it. Like Humanity For Beginners, it is a generally cheerful story that reads quickly and brightened my day.

If you want a cute, heart-warming story about two artists falling in love and talking about fandom, or if you want to read about crafters and artists struggling to work, I definitely recommend Knit One, Girl Two.

This review is based off a copy provided by The Lesbrary.

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.

Julie Thompson reviews Floats Her Boat: A Lesbian Romance by Nicolette Dane

Brooke Nilsson is a self-professed, Chicago-based, city girl tasked with selling her parent’s lakeside cabin after her mother’s death. As a child, she and her family would vacation along the idyllic shores of Lake Linnea, Minnesota. While her sister, Clarice, and her parents frolicked and lounged in the great outdoors, Brooke avoided sunlight and buried herself in books.That’s how she chooses to remember her childhood, at least. When she arrives at the cabin, she meets the next door neighbor, Hailey Reed, an Indie singer-songwriter. As they assess their romantic and professional priorities, they start to fall for each other.

The novel blends light summer romance with the weight of a parent’s death and the challenge of reassessing personal narrative. The story’s pacing reminds me of warm, unhurried summer days. Despite Brooke’s initial impulse to prep the house for sale in less than a month, she slips into a life of campfires, glasses of wine, and boat rides, with Hailey’s encouragement. Author Nicolette Dane doesn’t force Brooke to make a life choice by simplifying the virtues and shortcomings of country and city life. This is not a frenzied love affair with two people butting heads before falling madly in love. Rather, Floats Her Boat, combines unexpected romance and life with all of the activities you (might) associate with summers by a lake (or beach or the backyard of wherever).

Though the story is character-driven, it also reflects a strong sense of place. Dane’s depictions of Lake Linnea make me (almost) believe that the electronic pages on my smartphone include smell-o-listen technology. Turn here for rich, sun-warmed fallen pine needles; page here for crisp, early morning country air; and swipe here for extinguished campfires.

Some readers may tire of Brooke’s repetitious internal dialogue. Yet, while Brooke’s thoughts feed on each other throughout the narrative, it still sounds like a natural expression of her doubts. Who wouldn’t feel incredulous that not only is one of their favorite musicians living in the cabin next door, but wants something more than a neighborly cup of sugar? Play it cool, Brooke, you got this.

If you enjoy leisurely, contemporary romances with relatable leads, Floats Her Boat will fit perfectly into your beach bag.

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

Kelley O’Brien reviews Camp Rewind by Meghan O’Brien

I’ve been excited to read Meghan O’Brien’s Camp Rewind since I first read the synopsis last year. A book about two women of color dealing with very real and contemporary problems like social anxiety and online harassment and misogyny? Sign me right up!

Despite my excitement for the book, it somehow got pushed back due to my own real world problems. But when I found that I had a few Audible credits to use up, I grabbed the chance to listen to a good book.

It’s been a while since I’ve listen to a book because I’ve lost some of my hearing and can only listen in quiet rooms. However, I had a really great experience listening to Camp Rewind and might just give it another listen again soon.

Alice Wu and Rosa Salazar meet at the titular Camp Rewind, a camp for adults who want to unwind for the weekend. However, the heroines both have other reasons for being there. Alice has extreme social anxiety and wishes to expand her social circle, so she applies for camp at her therapist’s request. Rosa, however, just wants to forget who she is for a little while after publishing an article about a video game that some men took offence to and decided to ruin her life over. The two meet and connect right away, entering into a “what happens at camp stays at camp” sort of relationship. Soon, they must deal with feelings that weren’t supposed to happen.

I should probably warn that this book contains a lot of sex. It’s all very well-written and didn’t feel out of place to me, especially given the way O’Brien describes their connection and Alice’s desire to finally be with a woman and her finally coming out as a lesbian.

There is also a lot of pot smoking and mentions of rape threats and other threats of violence against women, though I don’t recall it going into too much detail.

Alice and Rosa fall for each other very quickly in the novel, which might be a genuine concern for some. However, it felt organic to me. They were exactly what the other needed. Not that they needed to be in a relationship to grow as people, but that they needed someone to support them and be there for them, something they each lacked in their lives.

As someone with anxiety, I can honestly say that O’Brien does a great job crafting a mentally ill character. Alice never overcomes her anxiety. It’s always still there, even when she’s pushing herself to be braver, to do things that scare her because she wants to help or to be with Rosa. The relationship doesn’t magically cure Alice of being mentally ill. She still has her bad days and is a work in progress.

The most interesting aspect of the novel is O’Brien’s feminist critique of online harassment, particularly towards women in gaming and the men who disagree with and subsequently harass them. She doesn’t get too preachy about her opinion of them. She doesn’t have to, letting it show through Rosa’s character and the growth she experiences as someone who lets herself believe she isn’t worthy of love and affection to someone that embraces it.

If you enjoy books about characters who are allowed the room to grow and develop, books about women of color who are given agency, books with delightful side characters, and books with feminist themes, I highly recommend giving Camp Rewind a shot.

Julie Thompson reviews Confucius Jane by Kate Lynch

confucius jane katie lynch cover
Warning: This novel may induce drooling! Produces a Pavlovian response to descriptions of Chinese cuisine. A platter of deliciousness is advised to have on hand while reading.

Confucius Jane is a wonderful treat. After the emotionally heavy drama-rama of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, it was nice to slip into a world that’s comfy and welcoming, but also dotted with imperfections.

We meet our protagonists, Jane and Sutton, at a crossroads in their lives. New York City’s Chinatown and Upper East Side provide colorful and staid backdrops to the tale. There is also plenty of awkward Will-I-Won’t-I romance dancing between the two women. It’s a great mix of drama, humor, and food for thought.

Jane is the kind of woman who never needs a coat, plucks poetry from the air, and seems to have hidden wells of confidence in reserve. Under the surface, however, lies a thick layer of uncertainty. It’s one thing to offer pat advice and ambiguous futures to strangers she’ll never meet, via the slips of paper inside each fortune cookie. It’s quite another for Jane to divine what step to take next following her early departure from college. She spends her afternoons in an office above her aunt’s and uncle’s fortune cookie company, penning pithy prognostications and furtively watching “The Goddess in Glasses” eat at the Noodle Treasure — a woman she will come to know as Sutton St. James.

Sutton is a swirling mix of scientific passions and career drive, with no time for love. She struggles to balance her parents’ expectations for surface perfection and strict adherence to their moral code. Her father, a former US Surgeon General, known as “America’s Doctor”, pressures his daughter to follow in his footsteps. Neither of her parents wants her to find love with a woman. Despite her sacrifices of time and emotional energy, she ends up giving more to her parents and their world, than she receives in return from them.

Kate Lynch peoples this world with charming and frustrating characters. The supporting cast provides just the right amount of seasoning to give Confucius Jane full flavor. Min, Jane’s precocious eleven-year-old cousin, pokes and prods the love lives of her family and friends. She even Googles pick-up lines for Jane to use on Sutton before she works up the nerve to approach her. It’s adorable and hilarious when she reads them aloud to Jane. Sue, an older woman who runs a Chinese apothecary and astrology shop in the neighborhood, offers encouragement and support for Jane, and later for Sutton, as well.

“Sue made [Jane] feel part of the fabric of the community instead of a frayed thread barely dangling from the edge. That sense of never quite belonging came with the territory of being hapa.”

Hapa relates to Jane’s biracial heritage and also to her globetrotting formative years. The author explores the idea of existing in halves across cultures. It’s an interesting idea to chew on, this need to categorize people and things as either one thing or the other. In the supplemental “Author Interview”, Kate Lynch discusses Hapa further, relating it to lesbians:

“LGBTQ-identified people are socially hapa by virtue of our sexuality; we stand at the intersection of multiple communities, endeavoring to make a space for ourselves in all of them.”

The bonus Author Interview and Discussion Questions are great supplements to the story.

April is National Poetry Month. Like Jane, you can find poetry wherever you go. If you’re interested in exploring her way of weaving words together, it’s pretty easy to do. Find a space to sit with a pen and paper and listen to the flow of words as the fragments float past. After your outing, read through the lines of conversation you caught and select the ones that speak to you. Arrange them into a poem. You can learn more about other ways in which “Found Poetry” transforms text (menus, advertisements, lists, etc.) at Poets.org and at foundpoetryreview.com

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/poetic-form-found-poem

http://www.foundpoetryreview.com/about-found-poetry/