Julie Thompson reviews Ask, Tell by E.J. Noyes

Ask, Tell by E.J. Noyes cover

Just in case you’re unaware, author Jae is hosting Lesbian Book Bingo. There are twenty-five genre categories, including a free square in the center of the board. If you’re like me, some of the squares will challenge you to give books you might otherwise skip over a second chance. Celebrity romances and hospital dramas, for example, aren’t my cup of tea (though I did watch a shizzload of “Primetime in the Daytime” ER episodes between classes and devoured gossip magazines in college).

Aside from the joys of discovering great new books to read, if you participate you could win some sweet prizes! Starting this month and through the rest of the year, I’m going select review books based on bingo categories.

Last month I read Ask, Tell by E.J. Noyes, a romance set in the waning years of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) United States policy, fits snugly inside the camo pocket of the “women in uniform” category. Department of Defense directive 1304.26, E1.2.8 (1993-2011) forbid US soldiers from asking about the sexuality of service members or tell others about their own or others. Prior to this, many people not only received dishonorable discharges from being targeted as gay, lesbian, and queer, they also lost out on future job opportunities and much, much more. The private and public ramifications of being labeled unfit for duty because of their sexuality had far-reaching effects.

One of the reasons that I usually avoid military novels is that I don’t want to read a 150 page plus advertisement for the armed services and that I’ve already watched countless documentaries, mini series, and movies. Thankfully, Noyes has crafted a thoughtful romance about the heavy toll that government policies such as DADT exact from queer service members.

Captain Sabine Fleischer, an Army surgeon, carries on her family’s tradition of military service. Out of range of the brass or colleagues, she lives openly as a lesbian with her supportive family, and her longtime girlfriend, Victoria. On duty, she hides all traces of her personal affairs. The pressure of leading a dual life is palpable throughout the story.

Her current deployment to Afghanistan is spent scrubbing in for surgery, hanging out with her best friend and fellow surgeon, Mitch, or crushing on her superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Rebecca Keane. When an unexpected letter from home arrives, it triggers a surge of emotions with few healthy outlets. The novel’s romance, much like the surgeries performed on wounded soldiers, centers on patience and attention to detail as the women navigate attraction in a restrictive environment. Supporting cast of family, friends, and co-workers add depth to the story as it moves between Afghanistan and the US, between difficult decisions, and towards an uncertain future. If you’re like me, the almost snowglobe focus on routine medical procedures and DADT insulates you against the fact that they are in a war zone. Despite the battered and broken people coming through their operating rooms, the last quarter of the novel may take you off guard. Absorbing, moving, and unhurried, Ask, Tell gives readers a hard-won possibility.

Tierney reviews Turbulence by E. J. Noyes

Isabelle has smoking hot sex with a one-night stand she thinks she’ll never see again – and then promptly sees her again the next day, flying her private jet: it turns out Audrey is her new company pilot. The two continue their sexual relationship, claiming they want to keep things casual – but amidst all the ups and downs of her busy life, Isabelle starts to see Audrey as a steady constant, and begins to realize her feelings about Audrey are anything but casual…

I wanted to like Turbulence: though the plot felt somewhat predictable (once you get past the mega-rich stockbroker/private pilot pairing, it’s a pretty standard trajectory of casual lovers falling for one another), the writing is decent (for the most part), and the sex scenes are well-written (for the most part). But I just could not get past how annoyingly spoiled and self-absorbed Isabelle is.

She makes lots of snotty comments that center on how rich she is, like droning on about how much her therapist costs, or saying Audrey would make her crack “like a shitty set of gel nails from a two-dollar manicure place.” She also acts entitled to others’ time: she decides on a whim, without consulting with Audrey, to take a trip in her private jet to her hometown, and thus making Audrey come too, to pilot the plane – all because she wants to the two of them to spend time together. In the arc of the novel it becomes a chance for Audrey to bond with Isabelle’s mom, and to cement how right their eventual love will be – but from my perspective it just felt like a totally odd thing to do.

I thought at first that there would be some kind of redemption arc around it: Isabelle would be brought down to earth as she got to know Audrey, and would become less of a brat, and they would live in love happily ever after – the end. But that wasn’t the case – I still can’t tell if she was supposed to be this egotistical and the story arc just wasn’t resolved, or if her brattiness was somehow accidental on the author’s part. Isabelle’s actions seem all the more strange in conjunction with how the author plays up her humble, down-homey upbringing and her many large donations to charity – her character feels very disjointed.

Unfortunately, Isabelle’s personality made Turbulence unpalatable for me – I prefer my romances with more emotional depth, and a more realistic emotional journey.