Mary reviews Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame

Courting the Countess by Jenny FrameI loved Downton Abbey. Was it a classist, heteronormative, and super white show? Yes, it was trash. But it was my trash. It was the kind of show that I loved not just for my engagement with the characters, but because of what could have been. One character in particular that kept me coming back was Thomas, the gay footman. He was kind of a jerk, and it was explained away that homophobia made him a jerk, and maybe that’s something to analyze at another time – but the point is there was one single gay character in the whole show. And I, a lesbian hopelessly drawn to the historical fiction genre, was left in want.

Now, years later after Downton Abbey has ended and it’s ending for Thomas left something to be desired, I’ve now found a book that feeds my hopeless desire for a gay historical drama around a small English town: Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame.

Harry Knight is an archeology professor at Cambridge who sleeps around and avidly avoids emotional attachments, scoffing at the idea of love. When her father dies and leaves her as the Countess to Axedale Hall, she must return home to see that her grandfather’s wish of bringing it back to its former glory is fulfilled.

Annie is a single mother with a difficult past who remains positive and hopeful no matter what. When she is hired on as housekeeper for Axedale Hall, the last thing she expected was a handsome butch for the Countess. However, no matter how much she wants a happily ever after, above all else she will strive to do what’s best for her daughter, Riley.

Harry and Annie immediately have this insane chemistry that leaps off the page. Their romance was passionate as well as cute. Harry resists because of her past, which lead to many challenges and dramatic twists. Annie is determined to, as the titles says, court Harry and push down her walls. There was never a dull moment with them.

Another part I loved was how alive the town was. All the side characters felt like they could have their stories and I actually enjoyed reading about them as well as the main cast. This is important to me, because in romance stories so often the side characters are just one dimensional soundboards only there to get the two heroines together. That was not the case in this book. It really did feel like Downton Abbey in this aspect and I kept waiting to see a switch of POV to someone else.

Annie having a child was something that worried me before I started reading. Kids can be tricky characters to pull off, but Riley was just as real and vibrant as Harry and Annie. I really identified with her, having also been the nerdy kid that didn’t get along with everyone immediately. Watching her bond with Harry about archeology was sweet and added an extra layer to the story.

Overall, this was a really fun romance that I highly recommend!

Danika reviews Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

I’m going to be honest, I have no idea how to review this book. I loved Bechdel’s first comic memoir, Fun Home, so I was very excited to pick up Are You My Mother? And it definitely does have some of the best elements from Fun Home: the writing is amazing, the art is beautiful, and the entire book is intricate and complex. I feel like I’d have to read this at least four times before I can really feel like I “get it” at all.

Where Fun Home used the family house as a framing device for the story, Are You My Mother? relies on psychoanalysis, dream analysis specifically. Fun Home also had literature references throughout, and Are You My Mother? does reference Virginia Woolf several times, but most of the books mentioned are psychoanalysis books. It also revolves around Bechdel’s visits with her psychiatrist(s). (This is, of course, not to mention the central theme of her relationship with her mother.)

Bechdel’s relationship with her mother is more complex than her relationship with her father, partly because they can’t just be compared based on sexuality or gender roles, and partly because Bechdel’s mother is still alive, and resists being rewritten into one narrative.

I didn’t enjoy Are You My Mother? quite as much as Fun Home because a lot of the psychoanalysis went over my head, and I enjoyed the literature references in Fun Home more than the dream analysis in Are You My Mother? That isn’t to say the Are You My Mother? isn’t fantastic, however, and I expect that I will enjoy it more after a few re-reads.

Kristi reviews Turning Point by Lara Zielinsky

Hollywood has its stars: as one begins to fall, another is there to shine. Cassidy Hyland has gotten the cold shoulder from her co-star on the hit sci-fi show Time Trails, Brenna Lanigan, for long enough. Hoping that her son’s birthday party will find a way to spark a connection between them, Cassidy has no idea that she will find herself longing for much more than a friendship with Brenna. From the warmth of an surprise hug to the heat on a sunlit mountain top, learning about each other brings Brenna and Cassidy closer to a truth – and a love – they never expected to find.

In Turning Point, Lara Zielinsky highlights two women who find themselves on opposite sides of the acting divide: Brenna is approaching the “over-the-hill” status that actresses over 40 find themselves facing; Cassidy is the younger, gorgeous woman brought in to bring a fresh face and look to the series. After a period of time of aloofness, Cassidy uses her son’s birthday party to show Brenna that she is a good person, sparking more than a truce in their dealings with each other.

The friendship that grows between the two women is born of work and motherhood, but the attraction is there from the beginning, more so for Cassidy. As she tries to figure out what draws her to Brenna, she works on disentangling herself from both her issues with her abusive ex-husband and her relationship with show writer Cameron, which puts her in more and more uncomfortable positions on set. Brenna’s second marriage to upcoming politician Kevin Shea was a fast decision and one that does not provide Brenna the stability she expected it to bring. The emotional connection between the two is tenuous at best, living and working long-distance. Brenna’s sons still refer to him as “Mr. Shea” even after a year.

At first I was concerned about how slow the story seemed to be progressing. Hollywood is full of “in bed in fifteen minutes” storylines, as are lesbian romances. After finishing the book, I realized that I knew so much about these two women and how they deal with their changing feelings. While the story take a long time to build, readers get to see not only the development of Brenna and Cassidy’s relationship, but glimpses into their lives as actresses and mothers. The plot uses some devices that seem a little far-fetched: both women travel to the same store in all of Los Angeles to shop for their fateful camping trip, Cameron catches the two in a kiss and immediately wonders if “Cassidy will let him watch”. Even with those trite moments, the growing love between the two, and the self-reflection that it causes them both, is sure to touch a memory in many readers’ minds. It certainly did mine.

Turning Point is a slow but steady heart-felt story of two women discovering their feelings for each other. Decorated in the glitter of stardom, it is the people behind the television characters that have to strip away the artifice to find the love they really want.