Megan G reviews One Exquisite Night by Annie Anthony

Allie Jordan is a 38-year-old single mother who just recently came out of the closet. Terra Rossi is a 40-year-old who just ended a decade-long relationship with her married best friend. They are brought together by an unusual dating service called 1Night Stand. Neither expects more than a single night of passion and fantasy, but that is, of course, until they meet each other.

I had mixed feelings while reading this story. On one hand, it was so refreshing to read a story about older women becoming infatuated with one another (I really don’t want to use the words “falling in love”, since the story takes place over the course of 24 hours, but it really does feel like the author was going for “falling in love”). It was especially refreshing considering this is an erotica, and women over the age of thirty are often portrayed by the media as less sexually appealing (which just isn’t true). Allie and Terra were turned on by each other, and their sexual encounter did not feel any less sexy because of their age. If anything, their interesting combination of experience and lack thereof made for a more unique, satisfying read.

On the other hand, I felt as though the emotional side of the story was pushed a little too hard. It’s clear from the first moment they meet that Terra and Allie have a connection that will transcend the single night they paid for, but by the end of their time together they are talking about plans at least a year in the future. Having a connection is one thing; talking about still being a couple a year in the future after spending a day together seems a little intense. There is also a rather extended section of the story in which Terra and Allie give detailed speeches about their past partners, which felt a little strange considering the length of the novella, as well as how little time the women have known each other. I would have much rather more time be spent on the sexual connection between the women than have an overload of emotional connection after only a day. It’s clear these women will be seeing each other again after their one night is over. There’s no need to beat your reader over the head with it.

As this is an erotica, I think I would be remiss not to mention how scorching hot the sex scenes are. These women are incredibly attracted to one another, and it shows. My only complaint is that a few of the scenes felt cut unnecessarily short. As already mentioned, I would have rather read longer, more drawn out sexual scenes between the women, than get bogged down with a continuous repetition of “these women are soulmates”.

My only other complaint is that there was a moment in which the author could have included mention of trans lesbians, but instead chose to keep things rather cis-gender specific.

I know it sounds like I’m being a little harsh, but the truth is that I did enjoy this story. It was hot, it was original, and it left me wishing it had been a full-length novel, which is always a good sign of a novella. I would recommend it for anybody looking for something quick and sexy to read

Megan G reviews Quiet Shy by Brandon L. Summers

All Alexandria Fix wants to do is stay at home with her beautiful wife Quiet Shy, a woman from the future of an alternate reality. Unfortunately for Alex, her job continuously gets in the way of her time with her wife. Things only get worse when Alex becomes entangled in the doomsday plans of a dangerous cult.

Considering Quiet Shy is a relatively short novel, there’s a lot going on. Almost too much going on. There’s a large plot revolving around a cult wanting to bring about the end of the world, but it often seemed to get lost in the background of Alex and Quiet Shy’s relationship, as well as Alex’s frustrations with her work. There is also a subplot with Alex’s boss that ends in what I can only assume was meant to be a plot twist, but because there is so much else happening in the book it barely affected me at all. It took me a second to realize that a major piece of information had been revealed, because it came so seemingly out of the blue.

What frustrates me about all this is that because there is so much happening in this story, I couldn’t fully enjoy the sweet moments we get between Quiet Shy and Alex. There is an incredibly sweet section of the book where Alex and Quiet Shy go away on vacation together, yet all I could think of for the entire time they are away was “Do they really have time for this?” If the other aspects of the plot had been lengthened slightly, then having two or three chapters of just the girls alone on a vacation may not have felt so unnecessary and out of place. As it was, instead of basking in the domestic sweetness of Alex and Quiet Shy, I just scratched my head and wondered when they would get back to the action.

As well, most major plot points are resolved quickly and innocuously. As I already mentioned, a rather large plot twist evoked no emotion from me because there had been very little build-up and it was so sudden and, after a little bit of dialogue, never spoken of again. The cult plot is equally dealt with, and so is a strange, completely unnecessary, self-harm subplot.

Another frustration I had that could largely be attributed to the length of the story was the way that Alex spoke of Quiet Shy. All she ever seemed to have to say about her wife was that she was beautiful, sexy, gorgeous. Almost every compliment about Quiet Shy is based on physicality, and while I think it’s healthy for couples to be vocal about their attraction to each other (in fact, I think it’s necessary within a relationship), it did concern me that that was all that Alex had to say about Quiet Shy. Even when she is telling the antagonist how powerful Quiet Shy is, she prefaces it with “Not only is she incredibly sexy,” as if that’s somehow important to her statement. Perhaps if the story had been longer, Summers could have delved further into the intricacies of their relationship instead of keeping it as surface as it was.

All of that aside, I found the story unique and interesting. We weren’t bogged down by world-building, or too-long descriptions of characters and locations. The plot was original, and blended science-fiction and fantasy in a very interesting way. This was not a book that I had to force myself to finish, as I was genuinely interested in the outcome of the plots, albeit a little frustrated in how quickly everything came about.

I will give one warning about this book, however: it deals very explicitly with self-harm, both physical and mental, and overall this adds very little to the story, if anything at all. If this in any way triggers you, it would be best to give this book a pass.

Megan G reviews Forget Yourself by Redfern Jon Barrett

Blondee’s world is comprised of fifty huts divided between four groups of people: least, minor, moderate, and severe. Each person is grouped based on what crime they committed in their previous life, though nobody can really know for sure what their exact crime was, as everybody comes into this world with no memories of who they previously were. The few memories people have are recorded in a book and used as rules to govern this world. The memories Blondee begins to have, however, will change the course of her world.

This is a tough book to review. It’s speculative science-fiction unlike any I’ve read before. Blondee’s world is new, both to the reader and to the characters, creating a deep sense of uncertainty throughout the novel that never fully dissipates. Every character is an amnesiac, making the world outside their prison compound a complete mystery and creating a strong sense of claustrophobia. We don’t know where we are, and we don’t know where we came from. I will admit, the eventual reveal left me scratching my head, but it also left me thinking in a way that very few dystopian novels ever have.

The issue of sexuality is just as complex as the rest of the narrative. Although Blondee’s world seems far more open-minded than our own, monogamy is still the law of the land, and when Blondee begins to shift into the world of polyamory she is quickly shunned by the rest of the compound. This is a world where everybody must act in the same way and follow the same rules, and having two lovers simply doesn’t fit with those rules. Despite the reaction of the rest of the compound, Blondee continues to date Burberry and Fredrick simultaneously, and, for a short time, this works for all three. Then, Blondee begins having memories.

The way that memory is dealt with in this book was something I found particularly intriguing. Everybody arrives into the world fully formed, but with no idea of who they are. When they do have memories, they’re vague. “If one person cheats, the other breaks up with them.” Nothing is personal or specific, and so it is believed that all memories are simply reminders of how the world works. When you’re with someone, they live with you. When you break up, you have sex once, and then one of you moves out. Things that in our world are decided based on personal preference are rules in Blondee’s world. This eventually leads to terrible consequences when Blondee remembers marriage, finds a bridal magazine, and re-introduces heteronormativy and traditional gender roles into a world that operated rather smoothly without them. This shift is one of the many social commentaries embedded within the narrative, and it may potentially be the only one that I fully grasped.

There are a few warnings you should be aware of before picking this book up. There is a decent amount of fatphobia within this book, all dealt with in a very casual way. Suicide is also a theme, and while it is not omni-present, it is rather explicit when it comes up. [major spoilers]This book also includes the death of a queer woman and of several queer men [end spoilers]. There is also explicit sexual content throughout the book, if that is something you prefer to avoid.

Overall, Forget Yourself is a tightly woven, complex story that deeply examines our society, sexuality, and the personal in contrast to the general. While I did greatly enjoy this story, I must admit that a lot of what happened in the final section went over my head, leaving me confused and a little unsatisfied. A second read might be in order, now that I (sort of) know where everything ends up.

One final note about Forget Yourself: don’t be fooled by the quick pace. This book initially seems like a light, easy, mindless read. It isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

Megan G reviews Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman

Clara Ziegler is a part-time theater clerk, and a full-time knitter. Clara dyes yarn, and sells it as part of her sock club – a subscription service for yarn, where every other month you receive a surprise colour of yarn. The only problem? She used all her best ideas on the first round, and is now worried she has no best ideas left for round two. While searching for yarn colours and patterns, Clara finds Danielle Solomon, an artist whose paintings spark inspiration within Clara. Of course, inspiration is not all she finds in Danielle.

Knit One, Girl Two is probably the sweetest, most wonderful story I have read this year. Clara and Danielle are wonderful, both independently and together, and the easy development of their relationship feels incredibly natural. Glassman somehow managed to create a romance within a short story that feels more organic than most romances I’ve read in full-length novels. Clara and Danielle fit together in a way that makes me want to believe that love at first sight exists, if only so that I can claim it happened for them.

One of the most refreshing aspects of this story occurs early on, during one of the first conversations Clara and Danielle have. While out for lunch at a restaurant, they begin to discuss what types of traditional Jewish food they both like and dislike. I don’t think I have ever read a conversation between two women–one of whom is specifically described as being chubby–that revolves around food, and that isn’t about calorie counting or dieting. There is no shame present in their conversation, or in their internal thoughts. They’re simply two girls talking about food. The only instance when discussion of weight comes up is when Danielle explains that she dislikes scales because of how they make us feel about ourselves. Clara instantly agrees. I had the biggest grin across my face as I read these scenes; I must have been reading all the wrong books for too long, because I have never read a story that involves a chubby character, talk about food, and discussion of weight, that doesn’t delve into fatphobia and implications that the fat character wants to change her appearance to be happy. Danielle is happy. Not despite being fat, but just because she’s happy. End of.

This story also includes some wonderful discussions on feminism, anti-Semitism, and queerness that have an air of authenticity unlike any I’ve read before. The conversations that Clara has with Danielle and some of her friend’s sound like conversations I’ve had with my own friends. Not only that, but discussion of fandom is clearly coming from the perspective of somebody who knows and understands fandom, not somebody who is trying to be hip by including references to fanfiction without ever having read one (there is even an amazing reference to Archive of Our Own being down and Clara going to their twitter page to see what’s up!). You can tell when a story is written in Own Voice, and it makes for a far more enjoyable read.

Overall, Knit One, Girl Two is sweet, pleasant, and refreshing. It’s a quick read that will make you grin the whole way through, and put you in the mood to fall in love.

Megan G reviews Kiss Me Again, Paris by Renate Stendhal

Never has a memoir enraptured me as completely as Kiss Me Again, Paris. Renate Stendhal reached through the pages and took me by the hand, pulling me back into Paris in the 1970’s and into her skin. To read Stendhal’s account of her life in Paris is to live it. Never has reading a book felt so much like watching a movie. Every intricate detail she dives into came alive before my eyes, not just through her masterful prose, but through the gorgeous pictures scattered throughout the memoir.

Although there are two explicit love stories present in Kiss Me Again, Paris, the implicit love stories between Stendhal and her friends, and Stendhal and her city are the most visceral. Paris is Stendhal’s mistress, more so than any of the lovers she describes, and her love for the city and the life she lived there is breathtaking. I myself have only been to Paris once, but after reading Stendhal’s memoir I feel as though that is not the case. I have never yearned for a city as I yearned for Paris while immersed in this book.

During many scenes depicting Stendhal and her friends, I knew I should feel like an outsider, privy to a conversation far too intimate for my perusal, but that was never the case. I will admit, I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of all the women in Stendhal’s life–which backstory corresponded to which name, and with whom had she slept? Still, the closeness of her tight-knit group of “Sinners”, as they called themselves, made it easy to forget my confusion. Regardless of backstory or personal history, the love Stendhal felt for these women shone through. These are friends who can call each other whenever one is in need, and within minutes they are at each other’s doors. They dance together, they drink together, and they love together. The atmosphere of Paris just adds another layer of decadence to their lives.

Stendhal’s feelings toward the two women her heart aches for in her memoir–a fickle actress named Claude and a mysterious red-headed woman who keeps re-appearing in her life–are the strongest throughout the memoir. She lays it all bare for her audience. Every lustful thought, every prickle of jealousy, every irrational moment of hope or despair. I craved more knowledge on the so-called “Woman in Red”, desperate as Stendhal was to know more, to be near her. As the story unfolds, I often found myself looking up Stendhal and her life-partner Kim Chernin on Wikipedia, hoping to gain even the smallest hint that Kim Chernin was the “Woman in Red”. Unfortunately, I found none, and it makes me wonder how such a deep, wonderful, all-consuming love story could have eventually found its end. I was hooked on Stendhal’s every word, and my heart pounded with every emotion she felt. Her frustration with Claude, yet desire to continue seeing her. Her questions about the “Woman in Red”, her obsession with learning more about her. It was as though Stendhal had a hold of my heart, making me feel all the anguish, hope, and love that she herself felt.

The book is not perfect, of course. It is riddled with casual transphobia that would have been common-place in the 1970’s, but feels rather shocking to read in a book published in 2017. There is, as well, at least one racial slur for Romani people within the text, and a prolonged and explicit scene depicting a girl between the ages of twelve and fifteen being photographed entirely nude.  Still, despite these short-comings, Kiss Me Again, Paris brings the author’s experience to life better than any other memoir I’ve read. The specificity in the detail is astounding, and the decadence in the language will leave you begging to read more.

Kiss Me Again, Paris by Renate Stendhal will be available for purchase on June 6, 2017.

Megan G reviews 18 Months by Samantha Boyette

lfriend Lana disappeared. She was found dead several months later. Now, Alissa’s current girlfriend Hannah Desarno has gone missing as well. Not only that, but Alissa keeps receiving mysterious notes; notes that make her think that perhaps Lana and Hannah’s disappearances have something to do with her.

I want to start off by saying that this book is incredibly trigger heavy. First and foremost, there is a dead lesbian in this book, and her death is central to the story. Homophobia is a big theme, and while the homophobia coming from external sources is addressed, the internalized homophobia isn’t. Going off of that, there are mentions of anti-gay camps, and [vague spoiler] Lana’s mother denies Lana’s sexuality after her death [end spoilers]. It’s very clear that Alissa’s mother has some form of eating disorder, and she often fatshames herself and Alissa. There are explicit mentions of sexual assault of a lesbian by a straight man, and a lesbian has several kisses forced on her, most of them by a straight man. A few cases of ableist language. [major spoilers] Someone is drugged several times throughout the book. Also, the only character who is explicitly non-white (at least, as far as I could tell) is not a very good guy. It’s implied that Hannah is black, but he’s the only character who is explicitly stated to be a person of colour [end spoilers].

If you can handle everything mentioned above, then I urge you to give this book a read. My original draw to it was that it was a murder mystery featuring a lesbian protagonist, and both aspects of the story delivered better than I could have imagined. Alissa and Hannah have an incredibly sweet relationship, and it’s clear throughout that Alissa would do anything to get Hannah back. The flashbacks to their relationship are some of the highlights in the book for me. Also, I want to give Boyette kudos for writing the first queer YA novel I’ve read where the protagonist has been in a relationship before. Don’t get me wrong, I love stories about first loves, but I also appreciate the acknowledgment that sometimes your first experiences aren’t with the person you end up with forever, and that’s okay, too.

Now, I don’t want to give away too much about the murder mystery aspect, because I believe it’s something you should read for yourself. All I will say is that I spent the entire book thinking that I knew exactly what was going on, and then when everything came together my jaw dropped. I’m somebody who has read far too many murder mystery novels, so getting my jaw to drop at a reveal is a pretty big accomplishment.  Especially considering that one of the main reasons I read the book as quickly as I did was because I wanted to see if my instincts on the who-done-it were correct (that, and I adored Alissa and Hannah’s relationship and wanted to know as much as possible about them).

Of course, it’s not a perfect book. There are several casual mentions of things that I wish they had gone into further. Alissa has multiple times where she wishes she could just be “normal” ie straight, and while I know there are people who feel this way, it always exhausts me to read about it; especially when nobody ever takes the time to tell her that she is normal. If you’re triggered by any of the things mentioned earlier, I would suggest you give this book a pass; a lot of it is dealt with rather explicitly, while some of the more serious things are sort of brushed under the rug. Still, 18 Months has got one of the most organic f/f love stories I’ve ever read, and one of the best plot twists I’ve read in years.