Tierney reviews What Matters Most by Georgia Beers


Kelsey makes a big move from North Carolina to Chicago to follow her dream and open her own scent shop. Though she is slow to make friends, and spends much of her time worrying how to keep her small business afloat, her life is in an upswing, and things get better when she meets Theresa and the two experience an instant, intense attraction. Everything seems to be going swimmingly–until she and Theresa find their professional interests unexpectedly pitted against one another.

What Matters Most is a thoroughly satisfying read, as romance novels go: it’s well-written, and showcases an absorbing storyline and engaging characters who grow as the story progresses. The characters all have distinct, multi-faceted personalities, and Kelsey and Theresa’s relationship progresses and changes throughout the book. This is romance with some substance to it.

I do have some small quibbles with the novel. There were some inconsistencies missed during the editing process that felt a little jarring (for example, two different numbers are given for the age difference between Theresa and her sister). And Kelsey’s obsession with Starbucks becomes somewhat grating after a while–it is where she meets Theresa, but one would think that as a small business owner she would be a little more thoughtful about where she gets her coffee.

My biggest frustration with What Matters Most was Kelsey’s refusal to actually interact with Theresa when they found themselves professionally at odds. She spends weeks not talking to Theresa and ignoring Theresa’s messages, instead of ever actually telling her how she feels or what she needs from her. For many readers this may not be an issue, but characters refusing to communicate when talking things out could actually solve most of their problems is just a pet peeve of mine.

Despite Kelsey’s obstinacy, What Matters Most is an entertaining read. She does eventually learn from her mistakes. In terms of the characters’ personalities and development, the novel feels more “real” than a lot of other romance novels out there (readers in search of some romance novel escapism may want to try something else, but this fit the bill for me). Kelsey and Theresa work out their differences–but the story doesn’t end with everything all tied up with a bow, which I appreciated. Characters get paired off, yes, but life also takes them in unexpected directions, which keeps the novel feeling fresh.

What Matters Most is an enjoyable romance novel–a great book to devote an afternoon or two to reading if you’re in the mood for a gentle, satisfying sapphic romance that boasts well-rounded characters and a solid plot.

Aoife reviews two Puppy Love romances by Georgia Beers

rescued heart georgia beers cover   Georgia Beers Run To You

Georgia Beers’ new Puppy Love series centres around Junebug Farm, a no-kill animal shelter in upstate New York, and the people that work there. While the series features a recurring cast of characters, each book focuses on a single couple – though Beers chose to diversify the POVs in the second book, which was I choice I found I didn’t mind, as it adds to the rather cinematic feel. It’s something I’d watch on TV or on Netflix if I wanted something fluffy and romantic. Rescued Heart, book one, follows the relationship of Lisa, the shelter intake and adoptions officer, and Ashley, a baker who volunteers at the farm; Run to You, book two, looks at Catherine, the shelter accountant, and Emily, a donor and volunteer. It’s also a little Christmassy.

Overall, I liked both, and I’d be happy to read another, but I wouldn’t be devastated if I didn’t. The setting was a big draw for me – puppies and romances? Yes. And Beers doesn’t disappoint on that front – there are lots of adorable dogs and cats, and I liked that there was a little dig into how a shelter like that might manage to run. It’s pretty obviously written by an animal lover, and I’m into that. Personally, out of all the animals, I fell in love the most with a dog that didn’t get much page time (Dave) because I’m a sucker for pit bulls. While they’re part of the same series, they’re written differently, each with its merits. I’d say best overall was probably Run to You, but I can see how others might choose otherwise.

Rescued Heart starts slow, with a professional relationship that turns sweet, each person bringing out new sides in the other. A big theme in these books is trust, and Lisa doesn’t have a lot of it. She’s holding tightly to some family issues, which have made her closed off and a bit controlling in both her professional and personal lives. Ashley, on the other hand, is bubbly, but passive, stuck in a semi-relationship with a sweet girl because she can’t bring herself to do anything about it. Lisa unknowingly brings her out of her shell a bit, and the interplay between Lisa’s need for control and Ashley’s increasing dominance is interesting. Beers doesn’t act like Lisa and Ashley are the only people in each’s respective life, which I liked. Friends and family pop in and out, and the tone of their interactions is deliciously gossipy.

Probably the most important thing about Rescued Heart is that it doesn’t follow the typical romance structure of building up to a crisis point so there can be satisfying resolution – and if it does, it does so half-heartedly. This could be because I was a little bored by the book, but I actually kind of liked it – I’m an anxious person, and high stakes make me tense. I do wonder if I might have liked it better had I known that going in. That’s not to say that there’s no drama, it just doesn’t build up to something huge.

It’s not super tightly written, Lisa and Ashley felt a little flat to me, and some people might not be into its structure, but it’s a nice book. As I mentioned, though, I did get a little bored with it, and I’m pretty sure that’s mostly down to the sex. It was fine and everything, it just wasn’t great. I didn’t tap into their chemistry the whole time, and like – you’re both in your thirties. Is this really oh my god the best sex you’ve ever had, you’ve never felt anything like this before, no one’s touch has done this to you, etc.? Really? It’s fine, it was just a little too clichéd for me. This is something I felt with both books, although probably a little more with the first. Again, this is probably mostly a personal preference thing, and I’m sure most people would have no objections.

Run to You is more tightly written, and much more of a slow burn. Emily is the representative of a family company that donates the bulk of the shelter income, and Catherine is the accountant. It’s inappropriate, definitely not professional, and very obviously something that they’re going to enter into – bonus point for a classic ‘we shouldn’t’ while kissing. This book was less on the normal-life friendship, but more on the workplace friendship (I’m saying now that I think the third book will focus of Jessica, the head of Junebug) (there are an improbable amount of wlw working at this shelter, but I like it). As I mentioned earlier, there’s more diversity in perspective here; RH had only two POVs, but RtY has maybe five? I’ll say five. This one is probably better paced, with a more dramatic arc (hello, crisis point), with well-strung tension. While Ashley is probably the most endearing character of the four – she smells like cupcakes – Emily’s my second favourite. Both Lisa and Catherine are more emotionally closed off, and while that makes for interesting romantic dynamics, it’s just not a hugely appealing quality. Also Emily is the one with the pit bull and leather jacket, so she’s ticking a lot of my boxes. One issue I did have is that RtY is not super well edited – ‘ascent’ used instead of ‘assent’, etc. Nothing major, but it did pull me out of the story at moments.

As I said, I enjoyed both, and while they’re maybe not the most gripping of reads, they’re light and fun and sweet, with a decent dose of adorable animals, and a guaranteed happy ending. If you like your fluffy reads, you’ll probably enjoy the series. It’s a little white, and there’s not much in the way of representation for anyone other than the L in LGBTQIA, but if that’s not going to bother you, I’d go ahead! They’re better than the covers make them look, I promise.

There aren’t any huge trigger warnings for these two, though there’s a bit of sexual harassment which had the potential to turn into assault in Rescued Heart. I wouldn’t read the series if you’re trying not to drink? There’s a lot of wine.

This and other reviews by Aoife can also be found at https://concessioncard.wordpress.com/.

Kalyanii reviews Starting from Scratch by Georgia Beers

 

starting from scratch

An author skilled at her craft has a way of holding a mirror to the psyche of her reader – which is often not the most comfortable of experiences, as enlightening as it may be – and, Georgia Beers is no exception. In fact, while writing in the seemingly innocuous genre of lesbian romance, Ms. Beers adeptly yet inconspicuously infiltrates our inner mechanisms, unearthing the rustiest bits and pushing buttons we forgot we even had.

Graphic designer by day and avid baker by night, Avery King doesn’t miss a single wayward glance, much less the passing of an appreciable hourglass figure. If truth be told, she even admits to a tendency to drool, which she deems not worth the effort controlling – especially in the presence of Elena Walker, the manager of her local bank branch, who it turns out may have the additional tie or two to her daily life. Yet, Avery hasn’t dated much since the demise of her relationship with Lauren, who continues to call every couple of weeks to catch up on the latest, generous enough, at one point, to share the news that she has decided to have a baby so many months after Avery put the kibosh on the idea back when they were still together.

It’s not that Avery doesn’t like children. Her best friend Maddie and even her own grandmother, who raised her from the age of four, contend she is quite good with them. She’s simply uncomfortable making conversation with the little crumb snatchers and has never envisioned motherhood in the grand scheme of things, given the residue from her own early childhood. It’s a moot point, really, when one spends her off-time alone, attempting to elicit the affection of her pampered shelter-adopted terrier, Stephen King, while baking muffins and other sweet treats to bring into the office the following morning, is it not?

With knee surgery and several weeks of rehab looming, Maddie discovers that she’s neglected to consider her obligation to coach within the upcoming season’s youth tee-ball league. Given that, back in the day, Avery professed owing Maddie and her wife, J.T., big time after they helped to extricate her from her toxic pre-Lauren ex, Maddie decides that it’s time to cash in on the favor. After ample protesting, Avery resignedly agrees to lead practices until Maddie is able to return, presumably in time for the team’s first game.

Days later, while Maddie is rehabbing and quickly tiring of the requisite rest and relaxation, she relieves her boredom by taking it upon herself to create an online dating profile for her friend, which miffs Avery to no end, in spite of the fact that Maddie’s initiative has generated a handful of viable prospects. Most notably, Pinot72, a single mom who works in finance, captures Avery’s attention; and, in the midst of one of several rounds of chat, she startles to a knock on her door.

Yes, Starting from Scratch is an endearing love story. There are titillation and intrigue, sexual tension and moments smack on the cusp of heartbreak; yet, it is the exploration of what it means to navigate a relationship with a woman devoted to her young son when childrearing was never part of the plan that gives the meat, the savoriness, to the otherwise toothsome sweetness of a burgeoning romance.

As for the mirror held, Avery’s over-the-top lustfulness would have easily resonated with me ten years ago, when I was in my early thirties, fresh out of a heaven-and-hell-bent relationship, or even last summer, when I (in not my finest moment) assumptively slid into bed, after several incredibly delicious glasses of cabernet, beside Julia, my best friend from way back when; but, in the present, Avery’s acute awareness of the female form struck me as undermining to her other assets – her intelligence, creativity and generosity of spirit. And, as the mother of a now twenty-something, highly-evolved, metrosexual male, I could identify all too well with the varied perspectives on the parenting issue. After all, I once had a small child to consider, have lost a fair number of loves, had at one point determined that both I and my son would have fared better had I sworn off dating altogether during his formative years and, now, if honest with myself, doubt I’d be up for taking on the challenges of motherhood once again.

But, then, I remember what it was to love such a precious being, to take in the scent at the nape of his neck….

Fortunately, the novel was nearing its conclusion as the baby cravings began.

I’ve got to hand it to Ms. Beers. Within Starting from Scratch, she’s created a remarkable narrative that extends far beyond the parameters of lesbian romance and straight into the glorious muck of compelling literary fiction. I’m quite certain I’m not the only one who has been given pause by her wordsmithing, for I can only imagine the number of relationships that have been touched by the gleaming shards of wisdom interwoven within this thoughtful tale as well as the multitude of women who have benefitted from the gentle prodding to contemplate that which was once beyond the realm of consideration, much less possibility.

Ms. Beers, “just” romance writer? I think not.

Danika reviews Rescued Heart by Georgia Beers

rescued heart georgia beers cover

I’ve been wanting to get into the romance genre lately, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I enjoyed Fresh Tracks several years ago, so I knew I liked Georgia Beers’s writing style, and that combined with the premise made for a book I couldn’t resist. A lesbian romance centred around a rescue shelter? Lesbians and puppies??

Rescued Heart is told in dual perspectives: Lisa’s and Ashley’s. Ashley is a cute-as-a-button cookie baker who volunteers at the shelter and has spent her life passively going with the flow of things. Lisa works at the shelter and comes across as uptight. She is determined to not have to take care of anyone (anymore), though she’s also reluctant to give up control.

Ashley and Lisa are obviously drawn towards each other, and both find themselves acting in surprising ways with the other’s influence. They have good chemistry, but it’s the setting and background characters that really make the novel for me. Junebug shelter seems like a real place, and it’s populated with a whole host of characters. Beers is obviously setting up for a series, but it also gives the whole story more depth. Characters weave in and out of their story without being essential to it.

The tension is also not just between the main characters. Ashley is contemplating her role at the bakery, and she’s let herself get stuck in a tepid romance. Lisa is struggling to avoid the mother that walked out on her as a teen and is now trying to establish a relationship with her decades later. And, of course, dogs and cats are prominent on the page, both at Junebug and in Lisa’s home.

I did have one cringing moment while reading this, however. [Spoilers] Ashley and Lisa agree at one point that they should go on a date without sleeping together, in order to deal with their issues. At the end of the date, Lisa pins her against a wall and they have sex anyway, even as Ashley feebly reminds her that they weren’t supposed to. They are both happy and satisfied during and after, and Ashley clearly doesn’t feel like Lisa went too far or that she was not consenting, but it still threw me out of the story. [End Spoilers]

Overall, Rescued Heart lived up to its premise, and I’m excited to read more in the Puppy Love series as they come out. Junebug is definitely a place I want to revisit.

Elinor reviews Olive Oil and White Bread by Georgia Beers

oliveoilandwhitebread

Olive Oil and White Bread is an unusual romance in that it doesn’t focus on the process of falling in love. Instead, it charts more than two decades between a couple, both their highs and lows. Jillian and Angie check each other out at a New York state softball game in the late 1980s and feel a spark. But they don’t meet for another year, until the catch sight of each other in a lesbian bar. They go out, fall in love, and have hot sex. They’re both in their early twenties and launching their careers. Angie’s newly out, and Jillian’s been out a little longer. They don’t have tons of romantic baggage, and it’s all excitement and aspirations.

Then the book flashes forward, showing meaningful points over their years together. They buy a house, get a dog, and settle into a life together. Though she had other dreams, Jillian makes peace with her career as an elementary school art teacher, while Angie grows increasingly frustrated working in sales at Logo Promo. Logo Promo is a company that makes promotional materials with client company’s logos on them. Angie works long, often unpleasant hours, which puts a gradual strain on their relationship.

Without giving too much away, after more than a decade and a half, the couple faces a crisis in their relationship. Years of minor problems collide in a way that threatens Jillian and Angie’s future together. I loved that the roots of the eventual conflict are introduced slowly over the course of the book. It isn’t some cliche “big misunderstanding” or a dramatic tragedy that provides the tension the couple faces. Instead, it’s a much more realistic constellation of unresolved issues, failure to communicate, and individual struggles that shake Jillian and Angie’s relationship. This book was honest and well written.

The only downside is that it was also sometimes depressing. Not angsty or overwrought, but genuinely sad. It’s hard to read about two decent people who love each other causing one another unintentional pain. Jillian and Angie act like normal, imperfect humans, and their actions are usually understandable. Their relationship feels real, and it was pretty emotionally demanding when things get tough between the couple.

This isn’t a reason to avoid the book, though. If you’re even remotely interested in fiction about lesbian couples, Olive Oil and White Bread is a good read. There aren’t a lot of romances about two women in long relationships. Plus, Angie is described as “not small” and sexy, beautiful, and mostly happy about her body. She never goes on a diet and no one does anything fat phobic. It is incredibly refreshing. It’s not always light or happy, but it’s a really good book. 4 out of 5 stars.

Danika reviews Fresh Tracks by Georgia Beers

freshtracks

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.

Anna M. reviews 96 Hours by Georgia Beers

New York author Georgia Beers uses a sobering milieu for lesbian romance in her latest release, 96 Hours, which focuses on the experience of a group of passengers diverted to a small town in Newfoundland in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Erica Ryan, an uptight workaholic, finds herself thrown together with the bohemian Abby Hayes, who seems to be her polar opposite. Along with two male passengers, they find themselves hosted by Gander, Newfoundland natives as they attempt to process the horror of the attacks.

96 Hours is a window into shock and horror on an individual level, but also emphasizes the empathy and kinship that arose from 9/11. Beers is particularly interested in conveying the kindness and generosity of the Newfoundland population as they are inundated by people on redirected flights, as well as the way that volatile events serve to draw unexpected people together. Erica and Abby discover that they both have personal growth they must do if they want to be happier people, part of which means learning to trust one another.

I’m still not sure how well 96 Hours worked for me. I appreciate that Beers pushed the boundaries of “romance” a bit by investing it with such weighty topics as faith and grief, good and evil, and national tragedy. However, sometimes the contemplation of these larger issues seemed to overshadow the budding relationship between the main characters. In addition, reading the book inevitably reminded me of where I was and what I was doing on 9/11. I don’t think I was ready to read a “feel-good romance” (as Beers calls it in her introduction) about that time, no matter how well executed. But I’m glad she made the effort.

The cover art on the book is a cut above most lesbian romances, and fits the feel of the book perfectly. Another romance that touches on 9/11 (one of the protagonists lost her partner in the attack) is Kenna White’s Beneath the Willow.