Mary Springer reviews Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterspoon

Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Trigger warnings for mentions of homophobia and abuse

The relationship between sapphic women and Christianity is a complicated and sometimes tragic and violent one. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a semi-autobiographical story based around the author’s life raised by an evangelists in an English Pentecostal community while discovering her attraction to women.

Jeanette is devoted to her religion and the Christian path her mother has determined for her. She’s admired for being a good Christian girl and absolutely faithful to her community. That is, until she falls in love with another girl, Melanie.

Their relationship makes Jeanette so happy she tell hers mother about it, but only finds her mother angry and upset. Up until this moment, Jeanette has been everything her mother wanted her to be, and her mother in turn as loved and supported everything she did (because everything she did was what her mother told her to do). This change is traumatizing enough for Jeanette without what happens next.

Jeanette and Melanie are forced to undergo exorcisms at the church. Melanie, who has always been the more subservient and less confident of the two, repents. Jeanette refuses and is locked in her parlor by her mother. This whole process takes several days and the author does not shy away from it, probably because she experienced something close to, if not that exactly as it was.

Jeanette eventually pretends to repent simply out of a desperate need for food. However, she remains steadfast in her belief that nothing is wrong with her love for Melanie and that she can maintain that love alongside her faith.

Jeanette remains faithful to her religion because of its ties to love. She loves her mother and believes her mother loves her back. She loves the people in her church and up until this moment they have always loved her back. She loved Melanie, and didn’t see how that love was any different than those others felt. Alongside all of this is her, her love in the God of her church and her belief that he loves her back.

Her church takes an opposite perspective, turning to hate her in a snap judgement of her different sexuality. Jeanette finds herself alone, without the love her community that she was so devoted to.

The bravest part of Jeanette is that despite all of this not only does she not stop loving herself, but she never stops being compassionate and kind. She doesn’t let the hatred of her church sink her from her beliefs in her religion or herself.

The book does a great job of showing how the hatred of the Church members is so contrasted by Jeanette, the lesbian’s, purposeful love, kindness and faith. This book was published in 1985, a time when such depicts would have been shocking. The author takes her time to show the community and it’s members, so you grow attached to them alongside Jeanette, and then feel the same pain she does when she is rejected.

The story is empowering in Jeanette and her ability to take everything in stride and continue to love herself and those around her.

Mary Springer reviews Desperate Times by Hildred Billing

Desperate Times by Hildred Billings

This review contains spoilers. I will state when I am about to go into them, so if you want to read the first few paragraphs to get a general gist of the book, you can do so safely.

Romances between two butch lesbians are hard to come by, so when I found this title I thought I had hit the jackpot.

For many lesbians, living in a small town can be a nightmare for dating opportunities. This is the exact predicament Tess and Sidney find themselves, which inevitably ends in them matching on a dating app and meeting up a local bar. However, each posted some misleading pictures of themselves and both are disappointed to find the other is not femme. For these butches that would usually be a deal breaker, but being the only option for each other they agree to a casual relationship. However, what was supposed to be friends with benefits quickly turns into something more romantic, which becomes a problem in a homophobic, conservative town.

I like a love story with some good, old-fashioned angst, and there was definitely plenty of that here. Tess grew up on a ranch raised by her emotionally distant father and constantly surrounded by men. That plus growing up in a small, conservative town leaves her with a lot of walls and issues to deal with.

Sidney herself is dealing with the frustration of moving from a town with a good-sized LGBT+ community, to this area with absolutely nothing. A place where there is literally just one other lesbian in town. She moved there to take care of a historical building and gives her a set amount of time to stick with it before she’ll allow herself to give up.

This was an interesting premise with a lot of potential and for the first two parts of the book, I felt it lived it up to that. However, in the third part things took a dramatic turn that just did not sit well with me.

Spoilers below.

There is a big celebration for the fourth of July. Sidney and Tess meet up and then go back to Sidney’s place where they start to make out and then begin to go further. In that moment, they see two of the old, gossipy neighbor ladies are staring at them through the window. At this point they are let into the house for some reason, proceed to rage and throw homophobic insults at them. Tess starts crying at this, and Sidney scoffs at her.

Now, that alone would be bad enough. To see the person that you’re involved with being outed and then crying about it only to scoff and diminish them – that’s bad enough. It portrays Sidney as having no idea the potential danger this puts Sidney and herself in, and also that she doesn’t care about her at all.

Then, Tess’s somewhat-friend Ray comes in and tries to help the situation. So, Tess just goes up and kisses him on the mouth to prove her heterosexuality to the two homophobes.

So, that happens. I can’t really find the words to appropriately explain my feelings about this. I’m going to assume you can imagine them.

After that, Sidney is removed from her position as caretaker of the historical house. Tess pretty much avoids her as rumors swarm over the town about the two of them.

Then, they just up and get back together. There’s a brief and unsatisfying makeup seen. Neither of the characters really grows or changes in the third part. I never really felt like how they were outed and how terribly it affected Tess what was fully dealt with. Tess never really grew out of her emotionally detached state. To be honest, she came off as a jerk most of the time.

It felt like Sidney was looking down on everyone for most of the book in a snobbish, upper-middle class kind of way. Which, considering the conservative homophobia makes sense. But as someone who grew up in and is unfortunately stuck in such a small town, there are beautiful parts to it that I wish could have been portrayed as well.

Like I said, I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this book. However, the final one made it impossible for me to give it a positive review. The author has published more books so I might check those out, because the writing is really well done and the initial premise shows promise for future stories.

Mary Springer reviews Five Moons Rising by Lise MacTague

Five Moons Rising by Lise MacTague

Malice, known as Mary Alice to her family, is a trained hunter for paranormal creatures. Ruri is the beta werewolf of her pack, has been around for a couple of centuries, and is not a werewolf to be trifled with. Both their lives are shaken when Ruri’s pack is taken over by a violent, loner Alpha and Malice’s sister Cassidy is caught in the crossfire. She and Ruri are thrown together by forces of fate, and while they should hate each other, they can’t help be drawn to one another.

This was a great book! I love werewolves, so I was already on board, but this went beyond my expectations. I really appreciate some good, old fashioned angst, and this not only served the angst but also offered up seconds.

I love the characters! Malice was wonderfully stoic, putting on the airs of a cold and brutal hunter, while having this secret need for intimacy she won’t even admit to herself. Ruri was also great, a tough and formidable werewolf (or wolven as the characters in the book choose to be called) with a soft inside. There were also the other werewolves, hunters, and some intense vampires, as well as Cassidy. She takes a big role in the book and it was also interesting to see her character develop and change alongside Malice and Ruri.

The romance was perfect. Malice and Ruri have such great chemistry, but beyond that I was able to get a sense that these are two people who need each other and work well with one another. They’re both just as similar as they are different. I enjoyed watching their relationship slowly grow through the novel.

My one gripe about this was how the romance was resolved. It felt a bit rushed in the end and I was hoping for just a little more angst, conversation, and action. But I was still satisfied with where things ended up.

The overall plot about the violent Alpha and the world building as a whole really came alive for me. With some paranormal romances, I can get a bit bored with the villain and exposition, but MacTague did a great job creating a plot and world that drew me in. I would love to see more books set in this world even if they didn’t include these specific characters (but I’d really, really love to see more of these characters).

In the end, I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a great paranormal romance. This also works really well in the enemies-to-lovers subgenre, which I’m always a fan of.

Mary Springer reviews Backwards to Oregon by Jae

Backwards to Oregon by Jae

This book was every trope and every plot device I ever wanted all rolled into one. This is one of those books that you put down and it stays with you for days afterward. I immediately purchased the sequel and the short story collection that is in this same series.

Nora works in a brothel to survive and provide for her child, Amy. One day her friend that brothel’s madam, Tess, has her take a special customer, Luke. He won’t touch her though, won’t do anything with her, and there’s something strange about him. A few days later she meets him again when he saves Amy from the anger of the man running the stables. He offers her marriage and a journey on the Oregon trail–a chance at a better life not only for herself but also for Amy.

Luke has disguised herself as a man since she was 12 not only in order to survive but in order to have the life she would not otherwise be able to have. When she meets Nora and Amy, she can’t help but offer them a chance at a better life–an arrangement that will also help her better conceal her identity in the close proximity to other people in their wagon train.

Luke and Nora agree that this will marriage will be a business agreement and there doesn’t need to be anything else to it. However, when dangerous challenges befall them on the Oregon trail, they can’t help but grow close and sparks fly.

The characters really made this story come alive. In some romances it can be hard to imagine the characters outside their relationship, but here I could easily see Luke and Nora with their own stories. There was also a good amount of side characters that felt equally real and interesting to the main characters, which I always appreciate. Tess was really interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading one of her stories in the short story collection. Other families on the Oregon trail were also really engaging. There was Nora’s friend Bernice who helped her learn how to be a pioneer woman and her husband who becomes a good friend of Luke’s. There was Emmeline, who’s husband is abusive.

This is also a serious slow-burn romance, and it’s done so achingly well. Both Luke and Nora have baggage and issues that need to be worked before they can begin to open up to each other. They take their sweet time with it, but it’s so satisfying in the end. This also made it much more believable and engaging as their relationship progressed.

Another thing I really appreciated was how clearly well researched this was. The setting and historical time period really felt like it came alive.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes stories about hidden identities, westerns, or just a good old slow-burn romance.

Mary Springer reviews Calendar Girl by Georgia Beers

Calendar Girl by Georgia Beers

Addison is a complete workaholic, and in trying in earnest to prove to her mother she can take over the company, she ends up pushing herself into a stomach ulcer and being rushed to the hospital. Her mother forces her to hire a personal assistant to try to make work easier. Katie Cooper is rapidly loosing her father to dementia and is in need of money to help her mother with the bills. But Addison resents having to let Katie into her space and do her work. Meanwhile, Katie is determined to do her job and get past Addison’s cold, detached demeanor.

As someone who is a type A personality herself, as well as who is a little too familiar with Katie’s struggles with her ailing father, this book had a lot to relate to. The author clearly had done her research, and I greatly appreciated that. These parts of the book jumped off the page and really helped engage me.

I enjoyed how Addison was honestly portrayed in a way that made sense for how her employees didn’t like her, but at the same time we could understand where she was coming from. In the first chapter she has to fire two employees for acting inappropriately in the office. I could understand why they would be upset, but also understand why Addison had to do it. Sometimes when authors try to create “ice queen” characters, they either go too far to try to make them mean, or do too much to make them understandable. The author here does a great job of finding a balance.

Katie Cooper was relatable in terms of her struggles with her father, and trying to find a job that was in her major. She was very sweet and kind, but was also willing to confront Addison and call her out on her mistakes. I liked that she was able to take control of her narrative.

The kiss and sex scenes were very steamy and fun. However, the romance between the two could have been a bit more organic. There were some scenes where I was definitely rooting for them, but then some where I couldn’t find the same energy for the narrative.

However, my main problem was in how the conflict was resolved. Throughout the novel it felt like Addison’s mother was the antagonist to her goals. I didn’t feel like that conflict was satisfyingly dealt with. At the end I was left crying out, “But what about that? Aren’t we going to confront that person?” This also meant that Addison’s whole narrative felt unsatisfying. I like to feel triumphant at the end of a story through the character’s arcs. Addison does have character development, but she doesn’t seem to receive much reward for it.

Overall, this was a fun romance I would recommend to someone looking for a light and quick read.

Mary Springer reviews Love Out Of Order by Ellie Spark

Love Out Of Order by Ellie Spark cover

Do you ever find a book that just fits everything you’ve been looking for? It has all your favorite tropes wrapped up in a neat package, just waiting for you to pick it up. That was this book, Love Out of Order by Ellie Spark, for me.

This is the story of two women who experience life changing circumstances that put them right up against each other. Megan has spent her whole life devoted to the Catholic Church and God and now enjoys her life as a Sister who works at a hospital. Emily has just broken up with her girlfriend of three years and gotten into a car accident. When Megan is assigned to Emily’s case she finds Emily is the mysterious woman that has been haunted her dreams, and making her question her holy life plan. Meanwhile, Emily’s accident has put her back in contact with her parents who kicked her out for being gay as well as with her ex-girlfriend whose car it was she crashed.

This story was entertaining and fun to read! I had a lot of fun with this book and could easily engage with the characters. Megan and Emily’s personalities felt so different and it was great to watch them fall in love and grow. Their romance was believable and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for them to get together.

However, it felt like this book needed a few more drafts before it was ready. There seemed to be a lot of character development building up and confrontations that were going to happen, but all of it was swept away in rushed plot. For example, Megan’s journey and internal struggle with her devotion to her church and her feelings for Emily seemed to be resolved too quickly. Emily’s journey with her parents equally seemed to wrap itself in very few pages. I was hoping for the characters to have to overcome more challenges.

There was also the use of the big misunderstanding trope, which isn’t really a favorite of mine. I think it can be done well, but here it just felt like an excuse to have Megan and Kelly stay apart when they had no other reason to.

Having said all that, I did enjoy reading this and if you’re looking for a fun romance to while away the time with, this is the book for you.

Mary Springer reviews Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

This review contains spoilers.

Given that this was written in 1872 by a presumably heterosexual cisgender man, I was not expecting a happy ending. This is the story of a lesbian vampire preying on an innocent young woman and being killed by said young woman’s father and her father’s friends (yes, all men). This isn’t a particularly feel-good type of lesbian literature, and it’s not even particularly well written.

So, why did I read it? Well, I enjoyed the YouTube web series modern adaption of Carmilla, which does have a happy ending for the lovers and doesn’t bury the gay. So, I wanted to see where it came from and it was interesting to see how they adapted the characters. Instead of an old castle, she lives in a dorm room. The main character, Laura, had a nurse and tutor who in the YouTube series were adapted into the RA’s for her dorm.

I also wanted to be more aware and knowledgeable of literature that includes women who are attracted to other women, in relationships with women. Not only did this count towards that, but it is a somewhat well-known part of lesbian novel history (no matter how terrible it is for representation).

Those were the reasons I went into it and I wasn’t planning on getting too involved, as I was also expecting to be bored by the old writing style. However, I quickly found myself engaged and interested in the plot and the characters. I actually did enjoy the story and was hoping (despite already knowing the ending) it would turn out at least semi-okay for the characters in the end.

Overall, I’m glad I read it and would recommend it if you want to see where the Carmilla webseries comes from, or just to read an early lesbian vampire novel. However, you’re looking for a happy ending, you won’t find it here.

Mary Springer reviews Stunted by Breanna Hughes

Stunted by Breanna Hughes cover

Jessie takes her job as a stuntwoman very seriously and will allow for nothing to distract, not even the stunningly magnetic Elliot Chase. But as the two are forced to work closely together on a new film, Jessie finds it’s impossible to resist. Elliot has always avoided relationships, but Jessie makes her reconsider everything she once believed. But not everything can go as planned. They are secretly recorded, and a tape of them have sex is publicly broadcasted, pushing them and their new relationship to the limit.

This was a really fun read! Jessie and Elliot were easy to become invested in and their romance was very believable. There were many places were I couldn’t put this one down. Their relationship also felt more realistic and believable, especially with how they dealt with problems. My favorite part was that they were always communicating with each other, so there wasn’t the usual detour down Big Misunderstanding Lane. This left space for problems I could easily understand and more easily become invested in.

I also fell in love with the side characters and their own minor story arcs.

The one main problem I had with this book was telling instead of showing. Especially in the beginning, a lot of relationships and characters’ personalities were told to the reader instead of showing them and letting the reader figure it out for themselves. However, once the story got moving, that died away. It did come back a little bit at the end, but at that point I didn’t mind it so much, because I was enjoying the story.

The social media seemed a bit outdated. Elliot has a personal Facebook page that the public finds, and she becomes frustrated with people trying to friend her on it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of celebrities being known for having Facebook. If they do have a Facebook page,I would have assumed they just used a fake name or used all the privacy settings, so no one could find them. Elliot also had a private Instagram she didn’t want people trying to connect with her on, which I found weird, considering she’s supposed to be a big-time actress.

I also found it weird that there wasn’t a mention of outcry from feminists or the LGBT community when the sex tape is released. At that time Jessie and Elliot are avoiding the internet, so it’s possible it happened and they didn’t see it, but since the publicity of it all was brought it up, it just seemed natural that the other side of that would be mentioned too.

Those are all really minor nitpicks and don’t affect the overall story, which was great. I would definitely recommend this to anybody who enjoys Hollywood romances.

Mary Springer reviews And Playing the Role of Herself by K.E. Lane

And Playing the Role of Herself by K. E. Lane cover

Caid has landed a lead role on the hit TV show, 9th Precinct, which is a spinoff of another show that stars Robyn Ward. Caid sometimes costars with Robyn and shares her trailer, but is often tongue-tied around the gorgeous woman. However, when changes to the script mean they have to spend more time together, sparks fly and Caid realizes Robyn isn’t as uninterested in her as she seems. But, past demons linger around every corner.

I have had a hard time coming to an opinion about this book. My biggest problem is that I could not understand why Caid wanted to be in a relationship with Robyn. As I was reading, I was often reminded of how incredibly attractive Robyn is. Wanting to be in a relationship with someone who is so sexy and beautiful is completely understandable, but only if it’s understood as a superficial infatuation. I’m not sure what more there was to Robyn’s character that attracted Caid besides that she was dedicated to her career, enjoyed running, and liked to cook for her.

What might be really holding me back from a positive takeaway is Robyn’s emotional immaturity. Again and again, Robyn reacts to situations by running away, projecting onto Caid, and then lashing out Caid. This cycle grew tiresome and I failed to understand why Caid was so forgiving. I think this could have been solved if we could have seen some chapters from Robyn’s point of view. We are only really told about her problems from dialogue and it would have helped to understand her and given her the benefit of the doubt if we could see some of her thoughts or internal experiences.

Another problem I had was that the problems Caid and Robyn had in their relationship were often solved by random plot events. Caid and Robyn would have a problem, they refuse to solve it, so something bad is randomly thrown in with no foreshadowing or build up. This forces Caid and Robyn to get together, Robyn apologizes, and Caid forgives her again.

This is why I have a hard time believing Caid wanted to be in a relationship with Robyn. The woman would not have made the choice to be a mature adult and communicate if random plot events had been thrown at them. Communication is big issue the two have and only kind of gets resolved at the very end. Caid admits they aren’t good at communicating, but neither of them makes a move to try and work through it. Caid is literally afraid to talk to Robyn about important relationship issues because she is so afraid that Robyn will react as she has done in the past. When Robyn finally hears this she is shocked, when she really should not be. At all.

At the end I just felt confused and doubtful about their relationship. It seemed like it would only take a couple months before Robyn decided something scared her and she ran away again. Maybe Caid would give her a bouquet of flowers and Robyn would say, “I’m not used to someone treating me this way! You’re pressuring me into something aren’t you? I’m leaving!”

My point is that Robyn never really seems to grow up, which she desperately needs to do. That’s not say Caid is a perfect angel. She admits to being possessive and jealous of Robyn and her relationship with her best friend Josh.

The story kept me engaged and invested throughout, and the writing itself was excellent. Lane does a great job of sucking the reader into the story.

The most important part of a romance novel is the romance, and at first I loved it. However, by the end I was just reading to see what happened out of a sense of obligation to these characters. Also, the sex scenes. Those were great.

Mary Springer reviews In Development by Rachel Spangler

In Development by Rachel Spangler cover

Cobie has been in nice, safe romance films for too long. She wants to challenge herself with by acting in the lead role of Vale, but studios won’t take her because she lacks an edgy public persona that will sell the character to audiences. Lila is a pop star who is taking the world by storm and building an empire, but she has run out of new things to excite and shock the public. They join together in a fauxmance to help both their careers. However, things get complicated when they grow close and old demons of the past rise up.

This was a fantastic read! It has two of my favorite tropes in romance, which is the fake relationship and the Hollywood setting. Both are done well and the author clearly had fun using them to their full extent.

The story is told from both Cobie’s and Lila’s point of views, which really helped add to the romance and also helped me understand where both of them were coming from in disagreements. One of my pet peeves in romance is when there’s a big misunderstanding that seems to come out of nowhere with no established character flaw to motivate it. Both Cobie and Lila are flawed and have wounds from the past that are established early on and contribute to problems in their relationship. Every time they had a fight, I felt I understood where each of them was coming from, which helped keep me engaged.

The other characters were just as fun and interesting. Lila has two close friends that also work for her, Felipe and Malik, who are in a relationship. Cobie has her sister Emma and best friend Talia. There are also Lila’s and Cobie’s managers, Mimi and Stan, who get them together for the fauxmance in the first place. All of them really helped flesh out the book beyond Cobie and Lila, but didn’t distract from the romance.

Speaking of which, the romance was done really well. Cobie and Lila feel the heat between them but deny it because they need this fauxmance to work for their careers, and also because of past experiences that they haven’t dealt with yet. I could fully believe these two were attracted to each other and falling for one another. The sex scenes were also pretty great. Throughout the whole story, I was always engaged and excited to see what was coming next.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the believability of their careers and how those careers were interwoven with the plot. The story really shows you how important acting and singing are to Cobie and Lila respectively and how those parts of their lives affect them and this romance.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone who wants to read a great romance between two women.