Anna Marie reviews Women Lovers, Or the Third Woman by Natalie Clifford Barney 

Women Lovers or the Third Woman by Natalie Clifford Barney is an intense and poetic modernist novel about three women (N, L and M) deeply devoted and in love with each other, and chronicles the transformation of their relationship. The idea of the “Third Woman” is not only a reference to one of the women in the novel being left out by the others, but also to the idea that being a lesbian was being part of a “third sex” (something also explored at around the same time by Radclyffe/John Hall in The Well Of Loneliness and by various sexologists circling around at the time). The novel is also an exceedingly thinly veiled autobiography about Barney’s relationship with Mimi Franchetti and Liane de Pougy, both key figures in sapphic Parisian (generally immigrant) circles in the 1920s.

The language of the novel (in translation from French) is electric and so alive and sensual, just as the love story and relationships it depicts are. L is a decadent woman whilst M is frenzied and soft – “Her hands are more evolved than she herself is, and they get hurt on everything, just as souls do.” Barney’s description of herself, of the character N, is a potent snapshot of a person who constantly feels like the odd one out: “she communes with humans through joyful pleasure, even though she seems to miss out on it in every other way”. I think something in this novel that made it even more captivating than a queer love and loss story might have been is this positioning of some people as “thirds”, as constantly missing out because they don’t have a singular partner or relationship that consistently puts them first. It reminded me a little of this article that Caleb Luna wrote about being “denied intimacy and care… who reserve it for others” the ways that people undermine platonic relationships by focusing so intensely on romantic coupling. Obviously N in the novel has multiple other pairings, so its not an entirely accurate comparison, but I think it adds interesting current contexts for the novel.

The earthy but whimsical tone of Women Lovers as well as the descriptions charmed and inspired me so much. As someone studying the period, it’s also interesting to see who else weaves their way into and through the narrative, from their “Dearest Friend” (the artist and long term partner to Barney, Romaine Brooks) to “The Newly Miserable Woman” (Djuna Barnes author of Nightwood and The Ladies Almanack), as well as references to Radclyffe/John Hall and her partner Lady Troubridge.

Although this word is never used in the novel, it is clear that N and the women she is involved with are in some way polyamorous: they generally participate in and create non-monogamous relationships with each other, overlapping intimacies, so it’s a record of the way that historical queers connected separately and related to their communities and their partners/lovers/friends. The other really enjoyable part of reading this novel is the many ways in which the current sapphic and queer community I witness and participate in mimics these wild lesbian and bi+ women from almost 100 years ago! Just like when I read The Ladies Almanack, this novel/autobiography made me really feel like nothing has changed – we make the same jokes, we care about the same things, we use similar imagery and vocabularies, we have the same issues to work through, we are all dating each others exes and so on!


Sarah reviews Intersection by Nancy Ann Healy

 

Intersection is a romance/thriller featuring an FBI agent and a politician’s ex-wife. Although I wanted to fall in love with the book—the first in a series—it fell short for me in a number of different ways, and I don’t see myself picking up the sequels.

The novel kicks off with Agent Alex Toles and her partner receiving an undercover assignment to protect Congressman Christopher O’Brien and his ex-wife Cassidy, who have been receiving threatening messages. Alex poses as Cassidy’s new public relations assistant, and a relationship rapidly blossoms between them while Alex tries to get to the bottom of the threats.

There are a couple elements of Intersection I sincerely enjoyed. Cassidy has a six-year-old son, Dylan. Since she’s a single mom, it makes sense that any potential partner would need to be understanding and open to that priority in her life. Alex goes above and beyond. Her quick bonding with Dylan is well-explained by the fact she has a nephew and likes kids, Dylan’s father is too busy for him, and their shared interests (sports and superheroes). I found myself smiling at how cute they were together: particularly when Dylan is “explaining how his trucks could be superheroes…torturing [Alex] with Tonka trucks in the living room,” and when Alex teaches Dylan the license plate game. Their relationship was the highlight of the book for me.

Cassidy’s mother Rose also plays a significant role. She helps Cassidy balance her day-job as a teacher and caring for Dylan by picking him up from school and making dinner often. She wants her daughter to be happy and is totally supportive after Cassidy realizes she’s attracted to women. I was pleasantly surprised by how important extended family and friends were to the overall story. Alex’s partner and his family, her brother, and her former military colleagues all help out at various points. Many of the queer narratives I’ve encountered in literature are defined by isolation and unhappiness, so it was refreshing to read about protagonists with such extensive support networks. But the list of things I enjoyed about Intersection unfortunately ends here.

One of my key issues was the writing. At its best points, the prose is nondescript. At its worst, it’s distractingly poor. The novel would have benefited greatly from more editing. It could have been about a hundred pages shorter. There are a number of typos. Healy sometimes reaches for other dialogue tags (directed, griped, grumbled, groaned, questioned…) in places where said would suffice, and actions are used incorrectly as dialogue tags.

There are also strange point of view switches. Healy divides chapters into multiple parts, with each part in a different character’s perspective. But she also jumps between points of view within the same part. In Chapter One, for example, there’s a place where one paragraph describes Alex, the very next paragraph describes Cassidy who is in a different location, and then the next jumps back to Alex. I wouldn’t have minded the point of view changes if they were consistent and made sense for the narrative. But they were jarring, and a serious detriment to the pacing.

Healy also made unusual choices about which scenes to describe in-depth. When Alex and Cassie first meet, we see all of their back-and-forth dialogue and movements in great detail. I wasn’t sure what it was adding to the plot or the development of their relationship. But when Alex takes Cassidy on long drive, the first extended alone time they have, Healy summarizes the majority of the conversation.  It would have made all the difference to see more of them talking and reacting to each other and actually falling in love.

This brings me to my second issue with Intersection. Alex and Cassidy’s relationship never drew me in. Almost immediately, Alex and Cassidy feel the electricity, but I didn’t understand what they find so compelling about one another. The relationship develops absurdly fast. By the sixth of twenty-eight chapters, less than a week in book time, Cassidy already knows “she could never walk away from Alex Toles.” I was like, Cassy you have a son! What are you thinking? The speed with which they decide they’ll be forever together is frankly terrifying. Although both characters acknowledge the extreme pace at which they’re moving every so often, they make no attempt to slow down. The rapidity of the relationship feels incompatible with Alex and Cassidy’s other priorities and how sensible and intelligent the two women otherwise act.

Alex and Cassidy spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed with love for one another and professing their love, but the progression to that point didn’t work for me. And then there’s nowhere unexpected or interesting for the relationship to build to for the remainder of the book. The sex scenes are vague and a little dull, and I struggled not to skip them. There are places that Cassie and Alex speak to each other in French (with the English translation in awkward brackets behind the French text) because…why not, I guess. Although I wanted to be invested in their relationship, I simply wasn’t.

I was also taken aback by how other characters react to Cassidy and Alex. Almost everyone they encounter quickly figures out, or already knows, that Alex and Cassidy are together, even though they haven’t told people. And every character is wildly in support, because it’s clear that “what they have is special,” or that they “love each other very much.” No one (other than Cassidy’s ex-husband, who is portrayed as a pretty selfish and terrible person) questions the pace, or the extent to which they intertwine their lives. I would have even been satisfied with a brief, “Hey, Cassidy, don’t you think your relationship with this FBI agent who’s supposed to be protecting you is moving a little fast?” from her mother, but Rose is just as thrilled as everyone else. Minor spoiler: if I was planning on moving in with someone after less than a month of knowing them, I’d hope that someone in my life would object.

My third issue is that Healy struggles to integrate the romance and thriller plots. Although Cassidy’s life is in danger, the threat is frequently tabled for an entire chapter in favor of developing her romance with Alex. Additionally, the antagonists are introduced in short, vague scenes throughout the book before they finally clash with Alex and Cassidy. Although I’ve seen this work to terrifying effect in some thrillers, with Intersection I felt I was waiting for things I’d already anticipated to go down, since I had so much information about the situation than the characters.   

The thriller plot also splits into two distinct issues towards the end. One of them is resolved. The other is not at all, which I found highly dissatisfying. The book ends on an explosive scene that I think is supposed to make readers want to buy the sequel (and the e-book version does, in fact, include the first chapter of the second book), but I don’t feel inclined to.

I can’t in good faith recommend Intersection, but it certainly made me want to read other more satisfying lesbian thrillers.

Tierney reviews Heartsick by Tracey Richardson

Paramedic Angie Cullen and doctor Vic Turner work at the same hospital, but hardly know one another – until Angie’s lover and Vic’s wife are brought to the hospital together after a car crash, and it comes to light that they have been cheating with each other. After their respective relationships implode, Angie and Vic start to see each other everywhere, and against all odds begin to develop a friendship – which slowly turns into something more, though they initially fight their new feelings at every turn, afraid of being burned again.

It’s delightful experiencing Angie and Vic’s love story as it unfolds, as quirks of fate keep throwing them together, and they undergo an emotional rollercoaster ride processing their feelings about the dissolution of their previous relationships, their introspective look at their own emotional issues and hang-ups, and their dawning realization, then denial, and finally acceptance of their love for one another. I love a romance novel that hits the right emotional notes, and for the most part Heartsick does this wonderfully. There are definitely moments where things seem to be moving weirdly fast, especially with this more realistic emotional approach – but so much of that is par for the course with romance novels, and the story is still thoroughly enjoyable. Angie and Vic both go on separate, thoughtful emotional journeys (Angie even sees a therapist to work through her own issues and unhappiness with her previous relationship – love it!) that really resonated with me.

The story flows nicely, and the writing is quite good, though there are some passages that just sound a little off. There are occasional metaphors don’t quite seem to illustrate things to the desired effect (for example: “It was strange this spontaneity that seemed to grow like moss on a wet stump when she was around Vic”), and some odd phrases that are meant to sound sexy but for me kind of ground things to a halt (for example, the narration of a sweater that “hinted at the gentle swell of the goods below” and a description of an orgasm “making Vic its bitch”). For the most part, the writing is engaging, and my attachment to Angie and Vic’s soul-searching and romantic plot-line kept me going.

Heartsick showcases a sweet love story, and two well-fleshed-out protagonists whose introspective emotional journeys make their coming-together all the sweeter. After all they go through, both plot-wise and internally, Angie and Vic deserve their romance novel happy ending. If you’re looking for a feel-good romance with a thoughtful emotional progression, Heartsick is the book for you.


Rebecca reviews Heartsick by Tracey Richardson

Heartsick is a pretty good read with a decent slow-build romance between an ER physician and a paramedic. While I do like this book and I recommend it, I would have really loved this book if it had slightly better characterization and writing.

The book switches perspectives between our two protagonists, Angie Cullen, a former soldier now paramedic and Dr. Victoria Turner, an ER physician. I do like the idea of having two different perspectives in one book. However, I really would have liked to see their voices be much more distinct because sometimes, they blend into each other.

The main characters are brought together by a car crash which reveals their partners’ infidelity. Angie’s long-time girlfriend Brooke is cheating on her with Vic’s wife Karen. Soon after the crash, Brooke and Karen move in with each other. Angie and Vic are left to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to move on. The two women become friends as they rely on each other to figure out this difficult time in their lives. Their relationship blossoms into a romance that has some cute and steamy moments but also has setbacks like the huge dilemma of getting back into a serious relationship so quickly.

I really like how realistically Richardson handles the theme of infidelity. Both Angie’s and Vic’s reactions to their cheating partners are well-written and really makes you feel their pain. Moreover, their responses are extremely plausible. While there are a few instances which could have been cliché like Karen attempting to get back together with Vic as well as Angie’s repeated near-death experiences, Richardson maturely confronts these situations which actually do contribute to the plot.

However, I really did not enjoy the prolonged “will they or won’t they” relationship drama between Angie and Vic. I do like that both women are hesitant to get back into a serious relationship so soon after such devastating heartbreak and I believe that, at first, their indecision makes complete sense. But, the unnecessary drama draws out for far too long. Furthermore, the constant changes in their attitudes are confusing. One moment, Angie will be ready to take the plunge while Vic won’t…but, only a few pages later, Vic will be ready and Angie won’t.

I really love Angie who has a heart of gold and is sweet and loyal. However, I feel like I don’t know as much about Vic as I do about Angie. Therefore, I cannot connect with Vic in the same way that I do with Angie. I would have really liked to see some more character development for Vic because she is a great character, but I wish she was a little more fleshed out.

Tracey Richardson’s Heartsick is a good and quick read. Although I wish the writing and characterization could have been a little better, this is a solid book. If you like medical romances, some angst, and happy endings, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi at her brand new blog: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Rebecca reviews Bait and Switch by Blythe H. Warren

 Bait and Switch is a sweet, moving and well-written romance which you’ll definitely want to read twice.

Our protagonist is dedicated marine biologist Liv Cucinelli who specializes in one-night stands. After an educational event at her aquarium, she is unexpectedly reunited with Mira Butler. Mira, the same woman who had ruined Liv’s life and college career almost two decades earlier, just happens to be the mother of Liv’s new favourite student, Cassie. Although Liv is determined to hold onto her lifetime grudge and remain hating Mira, she soon learns the truth about what happened all those years ago and her perspective on Mira begins to change. As Liv becomes Cassie’s babysitter, she and Mira build a tentative friendship which soon blossoms into a sweet romance.

I like that the plot advances quickly and smoothly while Warren avoids unnecessary angst and drama. The reveal about the history between Mira and Liv is really well-executed. As the women navigate their newfound connection and their own past hurts and insecurities, they also encounter difficulties at their jobs, Mira’s homophobic and ableist mother as well as issues in revealing their romantic relationship to their friends and families. I love that the characters feel like real people and they mature emotionally as the novel progresses. Liv is a funny and relatable protagonist and her first-person narration works well, adding just the right amount of humour and sarcasm to the narrative. Although the novel is from Liv’s point-of-view, Warren does a great job with the other characters. Mira is nuanced and well-written as she deals with her overbearing and horrible mother as well as her trust issues stemming from a cheating husband. She is definitely not the same woman whose ignorance and homophobia accidentally contributed to the fake rumour that destroyed Liv’s life.

While the book has a sweet and well-developed romance, I like that Warren shows us who these characters are outside of their relationship with each other. Liv has a wonderfully hilarious friendship with fellow commitment-phobe Patsy who she goes to for advice and who she neglects as her relationship with Mira intensifies. I also enjoy the fairly big role that the aquarium has in the book as well as the fact that Liv is ambitious and loves her job. The bond between Cassie and Liv is really special and heart-warming.

Did I mention how well Warren executes the usual tropes? Kid bringing two vastly different people together? Check. But, there’s a welcome twist: Cassie is a smart and friendly teenager who is also deaf. It’s nice that her difference isn’t her defining feature and she isn’t side-lined in the narrative. She’s a wonderful character who acts age appropriately and, even if you hate kids making an appearance in your books, you will definitely like Cassie.

Warren really makes the trope of enemies to friends to lovers her own. Liv and Mira are both well-defined characters with flaws and they do not fall instantly into perfect love. Instead, there are believable tensions and conflicts which are resolved quickly but naturally and with ample communication. Their relationship develops at a comfortable pace but there is definitely enough tension and heat to keep you interested. And, I can’t forget the found family trope paired with the holiday season because it’s handled just as heart-warmingly as you can imagine (if you can’t: think cuddling on the couch while watching Christmas movies, meaningful Christmas gifts…adorable!). Bait and Switch is a really well-written book with a wonderful happy ending. If you like excellently developed characters, a great romance, and you’re looking for a feel-good book, don’t miss this one!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi at her brand new blog: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/


Danika reviews Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

What a book. What a journey. Her Body and Other Parties is a short story collection that blends feminism, queerness, and fabulism into a haunting read. I have to say, when I saw this book included on queer book lists, I kept my expectations low. I was already sold on reading it (feminism & fabulism & that cover? I couldn’t resist), so I would be happy with any queer story in the collection. So it felt like an abundance of riches to keep reading and finding that almost every story had a queer woman main character! I believe there was only one story that didn’t? I especially enjoyed when in one story, the main character (a writer) is accused of writing a stereotype: the mad woman in the attic–the mad lesbian in the attic, even worse! She replies in frustration that she is writing herself–her gay, anxious self.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and although I enjoyed the experience for the most part, I think this is one I would prefer reading in a physical format. They’re thoughtful, metaphorical stories–women literally fading away and being imbued in objects, lists of lovers that turn into a dystopian narrative, ghost stories brought to life–and they would benefit from time to linger over them, instead of being steadily rushed onward by the narrator. On the other hand, I would desperately have like to skim the SVU novella. This was a riff on Law and Order: SVU, and although I liked the concept and elements of the story, I felt as if it dragged, and it was frustrating not being able to skim or at least see when the next story started.

I can see myself coming back to these stories again and again. The first few were my favourites: “The Husband Stitch,” which retells the classic scary story about a girl with a green ribbon around her neck, while also weaving in more urban legends and spooky stories, exposing the misogyny lurking at the heart of them. “Inventory,” which is a list of the main character’s lovers throughout her life. We slowly learn what lead her to this point of meticulous documentation.

Beautifully unsettling, Her Body and Other Parties cracks open familiar stories to expose the rot beneath. If you’re a fan of magical realism or fabulism, I would highly recommend this one. It will leave you unsettled and thoughtful.

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.

Rebecca reviews Echo Point by Virginia Hale

Virginia Hale’s debut novel Echo Point is a quick and well-written read which packs substance and heat and has a sweet slow-build romance.

Our protagonist is Bron who, after many years away, has returned to Australia after her sister Libby’s death. Bron has spent the last three months trying to come to terms with her grief and her new role as the legal guardian to Libby’s young daughter, Annie. However, Libby’s best friend, Ally Shepherd, is soon released from jail and moves in with Bron and her family. At first, Bron does not trust Ally and does not understand the dedication that Ally inspires from Bron’s stepmother, Jackie and half-brother, Daniel. Ally and Bron seem like polar opposites but they soon grow to admire and depend upon each other as they take care of Annie and start forming a relationship with each other. This novel is quiet and isn’t heavily plot-driven at all but I think that really works here because the focus is on the well-developed characters and the familial and romantic relationships.

The romance between Bron and Ally is a comfortable slow-burn. They have known each other since they were young and Ally even has a longstanding crush on Bron. I really like that these women learn to appreciate each other as both people and lovers. I am also very appreciative of the fact that Bron and Ally act like adults and although there is ample tension and heat between them, the novel avoids unnecessary drama or angst. Most importantly, I like that their relationship encourages them both to grow as characters. I also admire the fact that Hale features a romance between older women (Bron is 40 and Ally is 33) because so many books tend to focus on younger characters.

This novel is much more than just a romance. Echo Point also sensitively and realistically explores family relationships, forgiveness and healing, and learning to cope with loss. Bron’s family is trying to live with Libby’s death while also supporting young Annie who deals with the loss of her mother and the changes in her life in a way that seem realistic for her age and situation. Meanwhile, Ally has many issues to deal with and she is attempting to readjust to life in society after her time in prison. I love the found family trope and I particularly like the positive and realistic way that Hale presents this concept through Bron’s family’s loving acceptance of Ally as well the actual dynamics of Bron’s family.

The characters in this book are memorable and well-developed. However, I think that perhaps Daniel and his girlfriend could have been trimmed for cohesiveness. I know that seemingly brash Ally who is actually very loyal and has a heart-of-gold will quickly become the favorite for many readers. But, I love quiet and conservative Bron because she is relatable as she attempts to manage the changes in her life as best as she can. Her struggles with balancing her ambitions and taking care of Annie are really well-done. Surprisingly, I also really like how Hale writes Bron’s six-year-old niece, Annie. I think that children are often written too maturely for their ages or overstay their welcome. But, I am pleasantly surprised at how sweet and realistic Annie is and her relationships with both Bron and Ally are heartwarming.

Echo Point is a great debut from Virginia Hale and I would definitely read it again. If you like well-written romances and realistic characters, add Echo Point to your to-read list!

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi to her on her brand new blog: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/  


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!

Elinor Zimmerman reviews A Little Bit of Spice by Georgia Beers

Kendall works at a microbrewery her brothers started and still lives on the property where she grew up in upstate New York. Part of her job marketing the family beer involves building relationships with clients and the line between her personal and professional lives is more than a little porous. She’s good at her job and she’s gearing up to get Old Red Barn Brewcrafters represented on the shelves of a regional supermarket chain, Hagan’s.

Andrea grew up in the same town and has worked hard since she was a teenager toward a single goal: managing her own Hagan’s store, ideally far away from New York winters. She’s posed to achieve her dream, but first she has to manage the beer division. The only problem is that she loathes beer and knows nothing about it.

Andrea and Kendall have run into each other socially and clashed on the volleyball court before she spots Kendall among the microbrewers vying for her attention. Even though the women have a history of nothing but mutual irritation, she gets Kendall to teach her about beer. When they start spending time together though, they find that underneath that annoyance is attraction. Yet each is a professional and neither wants to mess up her career with the conflict of interest a romance would entail. As they try to resist one another, their feelings only grow. Not long after Hagan’s has made its decision about beer and Andrea and Kendall are free to act on those feelings, Andrea’s offered her choice of stores to run–all of them out of state.

This was a pleasant romance and I really appreciated how, for the most part, Andrea and Kendall both acted like adults. They mostly made reasonable decisions and were responsible people. I loved that they both cared about their careers and work was an integral part of the story and significant for their characters. I liked both the main characters and their priorities made sense to me. Also, I learned some things about beer! I don’t like beer and see no future in which that changes, but if you like it or are interested in microbrewing that might be a highlight for you.

The biggest strength in this novel was the creation of meaningful, realistic obstacles to the character’s relationship. Andrea and Kendall respect each other’s values and ambitions, which pull them in different directions. Kendall’s work and all her meaningful relationships root her in place, while Andrea longs to move and her career benefits most if she does. This is a fantastic problem for a romance because it’s nuanced and doesn’t have an easy answer. Unfortunately, Beers didn’t explore this near the end as well as she set it up.

VAGUE SPOILERS! Despite the truly excellent groundwork for the final conflict in the story, it falls a bit flat near the end when one half of this couple isn’t honest about her feelings and self-sacrifices to do what she thinks is best for the other woman. Instead of a complex examination of how two people might balance their conflicting visions for their lives, we get a break up based on the all-too-common romance trope of lying in a misguided attempt to be noble. Then, of course, they are miserable apart and get back together and the real difficulties they face are resolved quite easily and without much emotional impact. I wish that both characters had said how they felt and the story had dived deeper into the clash between Andrea’s career and Kendall’s, between Andrea’s desire to move and Kendall’s deep ties to the area, and the difficulty of making big decisions about conflicts like this early in a relationship. END SPOILERS

Though the ending could have been richer, on the whole it was a solid romance and a fun read. If you like romance, this a good one for your reading list.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com