Danika reviews Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

 

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this one. Initially, I was really excited to pick it up! A black, biromantic, asexual main character in a YA romance? That is definitely not an intersection often explored. I was looking forward to something fun and fairly light, and initially, I thought that was what I was getting. Alice is an adorable main character. She’s still mostly closeted as asexual, but she’s done a lot of thinking about it. She’s developed a Cutie Scale, which basically measures her aesthetic attraction–not just to people, but to all kind of cute things. (Alice is obsessed with cute.)

I loved Feenie–the grouch–immediately. She hates everyone but her boyfriend (Ryan) and Alice. The three of them live together, and form a tight-knit family. Feenie has always been fiercely protective of Alice, including punching a girl in the face in high school who made fun of Alice for being asexual. She’s rough around the edges, but I was invested in their little family. And–initially–I really liked Takumi as well. He almost seemed too perfect (which they flat-out say in text). It was a promising beginning! But… little irritations started to add up.

They didn’t seem major at first. For example, Alice works at the library, but doesn’t seem to care about it or enjoy it that much. She’s constantly off in a corner with Takumi, not working. Her boss also doesn’t like being a librarian. This is a very minor point, but it was puzzling to me: librarianship is a highly competitive field that doesn’t pay well. How would people who are indifferent to it get in and keep these jobs? And then there were some weird class moments, but that’s eventually addressed (Alice keeps saying that she’s poor and her parents are rich, but that’s not really what being poor is. Alice has a safety net, even if it comes with restrictions she doesn’t want. She equates the idea of being cut off from their money as being disowned.)

Her family is also… Well, they seem realistically complicated, but I can see how Alice was constantly stressing about it. She’s the youngest sibling by decades, and everyone seems to be determined to make her decisions for her. Her mother, especially, insists that she has to go to law school or she’s throwing away her future. Every time she does anything that her mother doesn’t approve of, all of her older siblings call and text constantly to criticize her. There is love there, but it had me stressed out just reading about it.

Soon, even the aspects I was enjoying started to fizzle out (or explode). Feenie went from gruff-but-lovable to downright shitty. Feenie and Ryan are engaged, and although the three of them are theoretically a unit, Alice is often the third wheel. Which is fine, until Alice starts going off with Takumi and Feenie goes into a rage over it. Both Feenie and Ryan seem to expect Alice to constantly be available to them, though that’s not equally true of them.

Spoilers follow for the rest of this review, because I have Thoughts.

When Feenie and Alice finally discuss what’s come between them, it turns into Alice calling herself an asshole and saying she’s been selfish, which is… not what I had been seeing. Although they form a shaky truth, it didn’t feel resolved for me. Feenie stopped being a favourite and instead felt like a toxic, possessive relationship.

And speaking of relationships! I was into Takumi at first because, as stated, he seemed pretty much perfect. Which meant the ending gave me whiplash. On reflection, I realized that I felt like there was no middle to the book. Alice and Takumi get closer and closer, without any real conflict between them until the end. They basically seem to already be dating. So it was a shock to me that when Alice finally (finally) actually asks him out, he spouts off the same ignorant things that we’ve already heard from her previous ex. Takumi–who knew Alice was asexual, who had seemed supportive–says that if she really loved him, she would let him have sex with her. Which is appalling to me. Why would you ever want to have sex with someone who didn’t want to be there? I can understand him saying “I don’t think I could give up sex.” But that was terrible to read. I actually found my eyes skimming over his whole speech, because I couldn’t understand why Alice was going through this again, when it had already happened in the beginning of the book. He did later sort of take it back, but to me, the damage was done. I no longer saw it as a happily ever after, because I didn’t like Takumi anymore.

I did read a review of an earlier draft of this book that clarified some things for me. Apparently in earlier drafts, Takumi was not a saint. In fact, he was downright skeezy at points. And that explains why I felt like there was no middle to the book: originally, it was a push and pull between Takumi and Alice, with Takumi pressuring Alice into things she wasn’t comfortable with. Understandably, that was criticized, and most of that was removed, but that puts the ending in context, as well as their lack of conflict in the middle of the book.

I’m disappointed, because I was really enjoying the read for the first 3/4 of the book, even with the minor issues I had with it, but the ending left my unsatisfied. Takumi went from eerily perfect to (in my eyes) irredeemable on a dime. Alice’s relationships with her family–both by birth and chosen–were still strained. It was far from the fluffy, uplifting ending I was expecting, though I know it was supposed to be a HEA.

I know other people really enjoyed this book, and I can see why. But it left me stressed and sad, which I don’t think was the intention.

Danika reviews The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

If you’ve been looking for the queer Hunger Games (or, at least, queer Mockingjay), this is the book for you.  Do you want to read about crushing oppression and the horrors of war, but with a bisexual protagonist? The Scorpion Rules is the book for you!

This was a bad choice for a readathon. I should have seen that coming, since this is clearly a dystopia, but the premise made it seem like a Fantasy novel:

Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

A queer Canadian princess dystopia! I was expecting a page-turner. I was expecting a YA 1984. At the beginning of the novel, I definitely was getting those Fantasy-esque sci fi vibes. Once Elián arrives on the scene though, things get darker. The group of hostages that Greta is a part of have grown up that way. They have been trained to be hostages. To follow the rules. Behave. They know the deal: just get through until they turn 18, and then they will go home, and become rulers–if they live to 18. If their parents don’t declare war. Elián has not been raised with this expectation. He is the hostage of a newly-established nation. He resists. He rebels. And he poses a threat to all of them.

This is a world that is ruled by an AI. The hostages are held captive by robot enforcers. There is a panopticon. The AI has aerial weapons. Machines don’t get tired. Which is all to say that escape is impossible. You can be shot down from the sky at any point. You will be electrocuted if you say the wrong thing, if you question the system. But Elián refuses to comply, and they are punished collectively–with increasing harshness.

This is not a light read. In fact, it becomes brutal. There is torture. The end has one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve read in a book. That was what reminded me of 1984: the ending.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned a romance to this point, and that’s because although Greta has love interests, it really isn’t a significant part of the book. I did like Greta’s relationship with Xie, because it develops from such a close friendship, but I wasn’t exactly getting warm and fuzzy feelings.

I had mixed feelings about the villain, Talis (the AI). He speaks very casually (even in his “scriptures”), which toes the line to silliness at some points–but on the other hand, it almost makes him a more sinister character because of that. He does seem human.

As you can probably tell from this review, I have mixed feelings and thoughts about this. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but that’s my own fault for not knowing what I was getting into. I am definitely interested to pick up the second book, and hopefully I will have more coherent thoughts at that point.

Danika reviews The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Pick this book up. (I know you might not read the whole review, so I’ll start with that conclusion.)

Evelyn Hugo was a movie star, someone with the kind of name recognition that Marilyn Monroe has now. But Evelyn Hugo is in her 80s now, well past retirement, and she’s finally ready to tell her whole story. She picks Monique Grant to write her biography, a little-known magazine reporter. No one is more surprised than Monique herself. The book alternates between Evelyn Hugo, reciting her story, and Monique’s perspective. Even as we are drawn into Evelyn’s narrative, a few questions loom: who was Evelyn Hugo’s great love of her life? Why did she pick Monique to write her story? And what has Evelyn done that is so bad that she expects Monique to find it unforgivable?

Monique is a likable character. She’s mixed race (her late father was black, her mother is white) and is struggling to make it in the reporting world. Though her father died when was a child, she still feels his absence deeply. She is disappointed in herself for having a “failed” marriage. She and her husband live apart, but there hasn’t been any closure there. They’re still married, and she is reluctant to leave their relationship in the past. Monique is drawn to Evelyn Hugo’s commanding presence, and she is inspired to take control of her own life, even while she feels conflicted about Evelyn as a person.

Evelyn Hugo, though, is the heart of the story. I know a lot of people describe her as morally gray and complicated, and as someone you don’t know how to feel about. But personally, I loved her. She starts off poor, in an abusive household, her mother has just died, and she’s desperate to get out. She will use any means necessary to achieve her dreams. And she does. She uses people, yes, but I really couldn’t blame her for it. She has very few options available to her, and she is constantly being manipulated herself. As a young actress in 1950s Hollywood, there wasn’t a lot of protection for her. So she fought back, always with an eye for how to protect herself and her loved ones.

And she does love, deeply. She makes her own family. Then, just as she begins to make it for herself as an unknown Latina woman in Hollywood (after she’d changed her name, dyed her hair, and stopped speaking Spanish), another roadblock pops up: she falls in love with a woman. Evelyn Hugo is bisexual–she’s very deliberate that Monique gets this label right–and the great love of her life is not one of her seven husbands. They have a tumultuous, heartbreaking love affair. Evelyn, especially, is worried about being outed. Both their careers would be over, and then what would she fall back on Evelyn is forced to make difficult decisions. I may not have always agreed with them, but I could always empathize with her. She did the best she could.

I highly recommend this, especially as an audiobook. I felt so much for Evelyn, and it made me really think about what it was like for queer women in the 1950s. Evelyn was privileged in many ways: rich, famous, white-passing–but she was also trapped. She couldn’t publicly acknowledge the love of her life without losing everything else she had built. The most authentic part of her was the one she felt she had to keep hidden. Obviously, this would appeal to anyone with an interest in old Hollywood, but in general, if you enjoy a good story and complex characters, give this a try.

Danika reviews Space Battle Lunchtime Volumes 1 & 2 by Natalie Riess

All ages queer lady-type comics are probably my favourite thing to read. Specific? Sure. But not only are they fun to read and usually have adorable art, they also make my heart full to think about how that exists in the world now. You can pick up (multiple!) comics as a kid and see queer representation in them! That would have blown my mind at 10 years old.

Another niche I love hanging out in: reality cooking shows. I love watching TV that is low stakes, and usually this is perfect. Just enough drama to keep you watching, but not enough to actually worry you. This comic is an all-ages queer women comic about a competitive cooking show… in space. What could be better?? Peony agrees to be in a competitive cooking show, only to be transported onto the spaceship it’s being filmed on. That’s when she realizes that this isn’t space-themed, it’s literally in outer space. But she takes the existence of aliens in stride, and concentrates on the competition. And, okay, maybe one of the cute alien contestants.

When I finished volume 1, I thought “Sure, it seems pretty obvious it’s queer, but is it technically subtext?” Which would be okay! I still would have liked it! But volume 2 instantly makes it very clear that it’s queer. This is so cute and fun, and I wish there was more, but also it’s perfect as it is. The romance is sweet, the plot is full of hijinks and over-the-top action (“Cannibal Coliseum, where chefs compete to cook… each other.”) I don’t feel like I can say much more about it. If that premise doesn’t grab you, what can I say to convince you?

Danika reviews All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages by Saundra Mitchell cover

One of the challenges of finding a queer community is not only connecting with your people, but also unearthing your history. Queer people have always existed, but our existence has been covered up and buried. It can feel like we have no history, which is alienating. All Out is a much-needed book, because it locates queer people (teens in particular) through time. It is also optimistic historical fiction. It imagines not only queer teens in the past, but how they might have found happiness there. It rejects the idea that queer people don’t have a history–or that if they do, it is fundamentally tragic.

Although all the stories are historical fiction, they do sometimes play with genre by including magical realism, fantastical elements, or fairy tale retellings. There are trans, gay, lesbian, asexual, and aromantic characters. (I can’t remember bi characters? But I may have missed that.) There are a lot of different time periods (~1200s-1999) and cultures involved, although I would have liked to see more stories set outside of North America and Europe.

The story that really stood out to me was Malinda Lo’s. It’s about a Chinese girl in San Francisco in the 50s, and the male impersonator she has a crush on. It incorporates race, sexism, space exploration, the Chinese immigrant experience, and lesbian pulp fiction–all in such a short space! I really loved that story, and maybe it’s unfair to want a short story to be a novel, but… I do. Luckily, I think we might be getting it! There’s definitely enough here to flesh out, so I’m eager to get my hands on the novel version.

That’s my favourite, but I really enjoyed most of the stories. Dahlia Adler’s contribution that features two girls coming out to each other at Kurt Cobain’s vigil was another memorable one, and you really can’t go wrong with a story about two girls sailing off into the sunset together. (Well, you could, but they didn’t.) There are fun, captivating stories that make the world feel a little more open and inviting, so I have to give this 5 stars.

Danika reviews Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

I found Into the Drowning Deep because I was looking for deep sea fiction. I’ve had an interest in the deep ocean since I was a kid, and I was craving a book to satisfy that itch. Throw in some killer mermaids, and how I could resist giving this one a go? It wasn’t until after I had decided to read it that I found out that has a bi woman main character and a F/F romance! That’s almost unheard of! I almost always find out about queer books online, on queer book blogs, and then seek them out, so it was fun to just stumble on one.

I absolutely loved this book at the beginning. The premise is that seven years ago, the ship Atargatis went to the Mariana Trench to make a mockumentary about mermaids. Unexpectedly, they seemed to find them! Unfortunately, the “mermaids” were deadly, and no one on the ship survived. Only a bit of footage shows what happened to them, and it’s believed to be faked. Now, another ship is being sent to follow up and find out what really happened.

The book begins by gathering up a large cast of characters, who will all be on the ship. Most of them are scientists, researching things that could be helpful in their search. It’s a fairly diverse cast: there are Deaf characters, characters with autism, bisexual characters–but I didn’t notice a lot of racial/ethnic diversity, though I could have missed it. It seemed odd that in a book with so much other diversity, all the main characters were white (the only character of color I noticed was Michi, who is a poacher and possible murderer).

Unfortunately, it did start to drag for me in the middle. Part of that was the many points of view that get cycled between, which I always find exhausting. But it also felt like what was coming was inevitable: they were following the Atargatis’s path. Their security measures weren’t functional. Why wouldn’t the exact same thing happen again?

There’s also a lot of science packed into this book: Grant clearly did a lot of research (though the one thing I googled from the book seemed to be incorrect–deep sea fish exploding when brought to the surface). Most of the characters are scientists, and a lot of the scenes revolve around their research. This was at times fascinating, but could also get a little slow.

Luckily, it picked up again near the end. There’s a lot of high-stakes tension, especially between the two characters I was most invested in (Tory and Olivia–the queer characters, obviously). This does get pretty grisly, so do go in expecting some horror element, but I didn’t find it scary (probably because it did feel so inevitable). Goodreads lists this as #1 in the series, but I’m not sure if that’s because there was a (now out-of-print) novella prequel, or because there are going to be more books in the series. It wraps up satisfactorily, but I’d be happy to pick up a sequel (or the prequel, if it goes back in print!) (Even though, to my disappointment, not much actually happens in the deep sea in this book. Most of it takes place on the ship, on the surface.)

Danika reviews Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

This is a fairy tale about misogyny. About the men who pit women against each other, and force them into limited roles. And the relationships that form between these women regardless. The love that they share even when told they should they should hate each other. The revolutionary power of love and forgiveness to break apart these narratives and allow for a new beginning. Ostensibly, this is a retelling of Snow White, but while it uses touchstones from that story, it isn’t restricted by it.

Mina is a girl who’s been raised her whole life to replace her dead mother. Her father fawns over her similarities to his late wife, but Mina is uncomfortable being shaped into the mirror image of someone she’s never known. She wants the chance to be her own person.

The story alternates between her story and Lynet’s backstory–Mina’s stepmother and the only mother figure she’s ever known. Mina adores Lynet, but Lynet has a more complicated relationship with her. The only value she can see in her own life is her position as queen, and Mina is a threat to that. We get to see how Lynet was groomed into this “Evil Queen” role by her father, who is manipulative and unkind and uses his daughter to gain power. She uses everything at her disposal to escape her father, but she’s told that the only value she has is her beauty. No one will ever love her for anything else. (Those are the words from her father that continually echo in her mind.)

I loved that Girls Made of Snow and Glass took this fairy tale trope of the “Evil Queen”/”Evil Stepmother” and did a deep dive into imagining what could lead someone to feel like that was their only option. Why would someone act so unfeeling? Why would she be so cutthroat in her pursuit of the crown? Lynet can be ruthless, but she’s sympathetic. She’s been told her whole life that she is unlovable, that the only value she has is in her appearance. The only way out of that she can see is to become queen and be loved by her subjects. And if she has to scheme her way there, well, that’s what’s necessary.

The complex relationship that Lynet and Mina share is the central tension of the story. They are constantly pitted against each other, but they’re reluctant to follow through. Lynet has been told by her husband not to get too close to Mina (no one can replace her real mother!) but Mina has grown up with her. She’s the one who finger-combs Mina’s hair every night to gently release the tangles. She’s the person that Mina feels loves her for who she is.

There is, of course, an F/F romance in here as well. Nadia is the court surgeon, and Mina is immediately drawn to her. To be honest, I don’t feel like I can comment on this storyline without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say that I think it complemented the other narrative threads well. All three women are trying to create the most promising futures they can with the circumstances available to them, but they’re hemmed in by the expectations and limitations placed on them by the men in their lives. When they seem to have found a loophole, they’re somehow pulled back and forced to make the choice to hurt the people they love or hurt themselves. It feels so inevitable and tense that you can only anticipate that final moment, where they seem to have no option but to fall into the roles provided for them. But despite what they’ve been raised to believe, despite the hurts that they inflict on each other because of this, despite the mistrust and skepticism and pessimism, they still find a way to reach out–however briefly–and find connections with each other. And the bonds they form, the love that develops even then, creates the shimmer of other possibilities for them.

Sponsored Review: Danika reviews Daughter of Makha by Nel Havas

I look across the years in astonishment, for in the distance I see a simple, trusting girl. She is a stranger to me, yet she is familiar; her land alien, but it is mine. In unbroken chain, hand-in-hand with ghosts of myself, over the days and the hours, over years measured in heartbeats, I am linked to her.

Daughter of Makha is a retelling of the biblical story of the epic of Absalom (2 Samuel 13:1-19). In the original story, Tamar, daughter of King David, is raped by her half-brother. When her father does nothing to punish him, Tamar’s mother and brother plot revenge (and attempt to seize power), which tears the family apart and leaves a large death toll. Tamar serves only as a catalyst n the narrative, disappearing quickly after that. Daughter of Makha expands on this character, exploring what this must have looked like for Tamar, who is trapped in a family tearing itself apart.

This is the third of Nel Havas’s books that I’ve reviewed at the Lesbrary, and although this book departs from the Ancient Egypt setting of the previous two, I can see the parallels in these stories. Like her Egyptian novels, Daughter of Makha has a matter-of-fact writing style and features thorough research–though sometimes that research veers into info dump territory, describing every road the characters take and its landmarks, or dropping in some historical story that doesn’t quite match up with the narrative.

All three books also feature court intrigue and elaborate plots to gain power. The women, especially, in these novels scheme to gain influence. They may not have a lot of legal power, but they use the resources available to manipulate their circumstances, whether it’s to shore up power, peace, or protection for their family. Makha and Bathsheba are the principal players here–both wives of King David, both trying to ensure that their son becomes the heir. But they are not the only women using whatever influence they have: Tamar spends the novel trying to turn the course of history, attempting to prevent bloodshed. I was especially impressed by the quiet shrewdness of Shoshana, who finds a way to protect her (and Absalom’s) sons no matter the outcome of the war.

Although it is the wrong against Tamar that launches this war, she is horrified by it. She doesn’t get a say in her mother and brother’s revenge plan, and it becomes obvious that they are acting for their own gain more than any attempt to defend her “honor.” I thought that Havas captured the terrible and engrossing power of war. Tamar is continually disgusted by her loved ones’ blood lust, but the battle is brutal and bloody and giddy—it inspires a morbid fascination.

As for the queer content, it comes in about half way through the book. Hana is a few years older than Tamar and has acted as a pseudo servant/caretaker/surrogate sister role at various times in Tamar’s life. They are reunited after a long separation, and they travel together to try to prevent the final battle. Hana crossdresses, disguising herself as a warrior to defend them from any conflicts on the road. Their relationship has subtly shifted; they both seem to have grown since they were last together, and they see each other with new eyes. I did like the slow build of their relationship—the tentative flirtation—but I wish there was a little bit more of it. [spoiler] Specifically, I wish there was more detail of their relationship from the end of the battle to their happily ever after. They seem to kiss for the first time, separate… and then a while passes and they’ve grown old together. I’d like to see more of their fumbling first steps in their relationship. [end spoiler]

And, of course, I have to mention their donkey, Pimi. Pimi is with them on their journey, and she’s an adorable animal sidekick.

I do have some criticisms, however. Like Nel Havas’s other books, I think the strength of the story is in the ideas and broad strokes. It could benefit from more intense editing. For instance, some paragraphs are a few lines, while others take up more than an entire page. Although overall I though the second half of the book was more interesting, some of the travel could be condensed, especially by not describing every single road they took. I was also surprised that [spoiler] Ahithophel’s suicide is casually mentioned and isn’t really a plot point.[/spoiler] Also, I know this is based on a Bible story, so arguably you can’t really “spoil” the ending, but on page 300, right before the final battle begins, the narration gives away who wins the battle, which takes away some of the tension in the moment.

And finally, a few warnings. This is based on a Bible story, but it is from an atheistic perspective. Characters (especially Makha) scoff at these beliefs, and there doesn’t seem to be any character who is religious and also a good person. I will also include a trigger warning for Tamar’s rape, which is described in some detail.

I am not a religious person, so I was not very familiar with this story, but reading the Bible story and Daughter of Makha back-to-back was a very interesting experience. I appreciated how Havas gave Tamar (and the other women of the story) agency, even when they were restricted by both misogyny and story constraints.

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.

Danika reviews My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris

Yes, this is a choose your own adventure romance novel! I don’t read a lot of romance, but I couldn’t resist this premise, at least once I heard that there was a path where you could turn your back on the suitors and run off with a lady instead! This was, above all, super fun. It’s Jane Austen-ish, so if you’re a fan of riffs on Austen, this is well worth picking up (though I’m not an Austen fan and I still loved it.)

I fully expected to find the F/F option and only read that storyline (see the ladies in the bottom right corner of the cover?), but I ended up enjoying it enough that I followed almost every path. Depending on which choices you make, you end up in very different situations and genres, including a Gothic Jane Eyre-esque plot line, or more of a Pride and Prejudice angle.

When I was first making my way through the book, I actually hesitated before pursuing the lady love interest. It just didn’t feel like the way this romance novel would go! It’s one thing to choose between (basically) Mr Darcy and Mr Rochester, but running off with your female friend seems unfathomable. But that’s the whole point! Imagine reading a M/F romance novel: you’re plodding along, all the love interests have been introduced, and your friend (whom you clearly have more chemistry with than the dudes) throws out that, hey, if you want, you can travel to Egypt with her instead. You reach that point in the book and sigh. Image if she had taken her up on that! Imagine if instead of heading to the drafty castle or trading quips with the asshole rich guy, you just skipped town and went on an Egyptian adventure instead! Only this time, you can!

I kind of was expecting the F/F storyline to be an easter egg that you would have to seek out, but it’s pretty obvious. In fact, the chemistry between you and your friend seems more palpable earlier in the narrative than with any of the men. It’s also interesting because while most of the paths you can take are versions of famous romances in literature, the Egyptian storyline is completely different. Search for an artifact stolen from an Egyptian museum, and encounter your lady love interest’s angry ex-girlfriend! Maybe end up in a lesbian, pirate gang! (Yes, you can do that. Definitely try to get to that point.)

One of the fun things is that because this is a romance novel, you can’t really lose. Romance conventions dictate that you have a happy ending, so it’s interesting to see how you can get away with a happy ending no matter what you do. I highly recommend backtracking and following a few different paths, just to see how different they are. I loved this bisexual, choose your own adventure, historical, satirical romance novel. It was a joy to read, even when it was M/F!


Danika reviews Roller Girl by Vanessa North

I’ll preface this review by saying that I feel uncomfortable talking about a Riptide Publishing book right now. (I read this book before I heard about the racism and harassment happening behind the scenes at Riptide.) That being said, it’s a shame to punish all of the authors involved in this press (also, the editor of this book was not the one mentioned in the post), and I did really enjoy this title–which is one of the few trans F/F romance novels out there.

Roller Girl follows Tina, a trans woman who has recently divorced as well as retiring as a professional athlete. She’s adrift. So when she gets invited to play on the local roller derby team, she jumps at the opportunity. And it doesn’t hurt that the coach is a swoonworthy butch woman. They are drawn to each other, but Joe doesn’t want to endanger the team by admitting to dating a teammate, and Tina doesn’t want to stay a secret forever.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but I was delighted with this. Tina and Joe immediately click, and–at least initially–there’s a lot of open, healthy communication happening. They do both jump into angry tirades sometimes, but generally they try to talk to each other about their problems. (I hate when the entire conflict of the novel could be resolved if the characters just talked to each other.) I also loved that it was set in the world of roller derby! I don’t think any queer lady needs to explain why that’s a fun bonus.

I’m cisgender, and I don’t believe this is own voices representation, so I don’t want to be the arbiter of whether this is good trans representation, but I did really like reading a fun romance with a trans woman lead. It does come up in the story, but it’s just as much about Joe and Tina’s romance, or Tina’s journey to self-confidence, or trying to save the gym that she works at as a personal trainer. It’s a part of the story, but it’s not the whole story.

I wasn’t expecting this to get quite as steamy as it does! As I’ve noted, I’m still pretty new to the romance genre, and I was surprised by the amount and intensity of the sex scenes. I’m not complaining! I thought Tina and Joe had great chemistry, and they were very believable. But I did feel awkward reading it on the bus and in the break room at work!

This was a quick, fun read that I would definitely recommend.