Shira Glassman reviews Ripped Pages by M. Hollis

Ripped Pages is a cute addition to the thank goodness growing collection of YA where a fairy-tale princess’s happy ending is with another girl. I’ve said before that since for so many of us, fairy-tales are our first exposure to romance, whether it’s bedtime stories or Disney movies, and that means for those of us who are attracted to the same gender, these same fairy tales were the first place we learned we didn’t exist. That’s what’s so soothing about being included in fairy-tales, even when we’ve moved beyond the age where they comprise the bulk of our romantic daydreams.
The story is a Rapunzel retelling that changes several details to carve its own place in the world–instead of adhering to the original legend where a baby is stolen from loving parents, this time it’s the cruel father himself who locks his daughter away from the world (not because she’s a lesbian, but because she stood up to her father when he said awful things about her or her dead mother.) It’s got to be baffling and invalidating for children of abusive parents to see story after story where the only reason a parent was abusive was that they were the step-parent or kidnapper, when they know they’re enduring such hardship from a blood connection. Hopefully some of the folks out there like that will take comfort in Valentina’s escape.
That escape, actually, is the main focus of the story, as well as Valentina’s new life with the family of the pan-or-bi girl who rescues her. Ripped Pages‘s short length and fairy-tale narrative structure (it literally starts with “once upon a time, in a land far, far away”) mean that Agnes, the love interest, isn’t the most fleshed-out of characters, but if you go into this expecting a fairy-tale instead of a fully fleshed-out fantasy novel it’s a satisfying and complete little read.
The worldbuilding was one of my favorite things about this book. The location is never identified, but I know the author is Brazilian and the names and place-names at least to my outsider eyes seem Brazilian or at least Brazilian-adjacent. (The geography seems to be made up of multiple small countries.) On a more intimate scale, Agnes’s family life, which includes a brother with a husband, several younger siblings, and two affectionate parents, was a neat enough place to “visit” that I’d gladly go back there for a sequel.
Speaking of the treatment of queerness in Hollis’s worldbuilding, the books Valentina finds in her tower include references to women loving each other, attraction to multiple genders, nonbinary people, and asexuality, both of which appear so seamlessly and naturally that it really shows how easy it is to do that when you’re writing in a fantasy world where you literally control everything.
See here:
There were girls kissing other girls! They could kiss whoever they wanted! And some people in the book didn’t want to kiss anyone. There were even those who didn’t call themselves men or women, but something else, something entirely their own.
and then, when another character is speaking:
“I love men, women, and people who are neither or both at the same time. Why do you ask?”
See? This stuff is pretty easy, once you remember that since you control everything about your fantasy world, you don’t have to adhere to any specific period in Earth’s real history. (That being said, there are still valid reasons to include discrimination and/or erasure–for example, getting to watch characters like you vanquish your IRL foes. I’m not saying either way is right, just that Maria Hollis’s way needs to get way more airtime!)
It’s hard to do complicated in a story that’s only fifty or sixty pages, but I liked the nod to the complex emotions that go along with escaping a bad situation and then having to think about it again when towards the end of the story Valentina has to decide how to move forward with her healing. I liked the decision Hollis made about how to tie up that particular loose end.
And of course I was charmed by a reference to pitanga, also known as Suriname cherry–the casual appearance of tropical fruit in fantasy lit being a particular interest of mine.
Really, the only thing that would have improved it for me is if I had a better grip on Agnes, other than as “the spunky love interest”, but the story still works without that particular kind of depth.
There are several trigger warnings, but the author has provided all of them in the intro page: Ripped Pages contains scenes of emotional abuse, forced imprisonment, child abandonment, minor violence, and trauma recovery. Shira’s additional note: when Valentina’s mother dies in the beginning of the book, it felt realistic and familiar to me as someone who has lost a lot of family, so if that’s something that’s likely to set you off, tread lightly until Valentina is already in the tower.
Shira Glassman is the author of the fluffy queer Jewish fantasy series the Mangoverse and also light contemporary f/f romances like Knit One Girl Two. Her next release, coming this winter, is the superheroine/damsel in distress adventure Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor, which you can TBR on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36321936-cinnamon-blade-knife-in-shining-armor


Danika reviews Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

I will admit, I was sold immediately when I heard “Bisexual werebear novella.” The book opens with Zelda (yes, Zelda) irritated that her transformation into a bear is continually destroying her wardrobe. She works for a fashion magazine, so she doesn’t take this lightly.

This is such a fun, light read. It’s quippy and snarky and smart, including a character calling Zelda out for deriding something as lame, and her replying by saying “You know I don’t–I’m sorry. Cultural indoctrination is a monster.” Later, when a guy on the bus makes a lewd comment, she thinks,  “Could be an uncouth backpacker, fresh from a holiday in the Pacific, and still drunk on the idea of white supremacy.” And yes, not only is this a bisexual werebear story, our werebear protagonist is also a plus-sized woman of color.

Because this barely (ha) breaks 100 pages, it keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, even if it is mostly romantic entanglements. Speaking of romance, I would be remiss to neglect mentioning in this review that the romance is mostly M/F. Zelda has several male love interests and one female love interest, but like Kushiel’s Dart, I would say that although the F/F pairing gets less “page time,” it has the most significance. If you don’t want to read about M/F romance or sex, though, you probably should skip this one. I will also note that there’s some use of fae glamor which is nonconsensual, so I would give a trigger warning for the implications of that. (It is called out in text, though.)

This was quick, fun read that definitely lived up to its premise. Between this and my previous read, River of Teeth (which is excellent and queer, but the lesbian character is a side character, and there is no F/F content), I’m really starting to fall in love with novellas!


Susan reviews Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman cover. It shows an illustration of two women kissing and a cat playing with yarn.

Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two is a story about a yarn dyer who meets a local artist while searching for inspiration, and they fall in love over fandom, cats, and crafting—and it’s extremely cute!

Clara (the yarn dyer) and Danielle (the artist) are both really well drawn characters that I was immensely fond of almost immediately from their intros, and they felt very realistic! I really appreciated seeing a relationship that found its footing through fandom, where they exchange links to fanfic in the middle of the night and Danielle draws fanart, because not only did it feel immensely true to my experience, but it was super charming. (Plus, it contained references to knitting drama that I remember, and Archive Of Our Own, which delighted me.) And Clara at least was part of a local queer community! Fitting characters into a world that has other queer characters is the surest way to my heart.

Another thing that I liked was that the problems were all small-scale, plausible problems for a contemporary setting–a business expanding too fast, crafting accidents involving cats… I appreciate the way that the conflict of the story (such as it is) is resolved, and that Clara considered Danielle’s feelings first, before she took any actions; I was honestly bracing for the worst so two characters using their words to resolve a problem was so nice and refreshing.

(Especially refreshing: Danielle is fat, and this isn’t treated like a problem, or a thing that needs to be discussed at length–she just gets to be stylish and an artist!)

My only complaints about Knit One, Girl Two is that the reveal of Danielle’s problem seemed a little sudden, and there are some places where the tone didn’t flow well. But those are very minor niggles for the amount of enjoyment I got out of it. Like Humanity For Beginners, it is a generally cheerful story that reads quickly and brightened my day.

If you want a cute, heart-warming story about two artists falling in love and talking about fandom, or if you want to read about crafters and artists struggling to work, I definitely recommend Knit One, Girl Two.

This review is based off a copy provided by The Lesbrary.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Tierney reviews Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

Werebear Zelda is lusting after hunky werewolf Jake–while simultaneously nursing a longstanding crush on her gorgeous coworker Janine. (Yes, werebear–as in, Zelda turns into a bear once a month.) And on top of everything, she’s been tasked by her boss with guarding Benedict, an insufferable member of the Fae. All of which combined leads to quite the whirlwind few days for Zelda.

Bearly a Lady is a cute, breezy novella, with chatty first-person narration and a refreshing way of portraying the supernatural–the author describes it as a “paranormal rom-com,” which certainly rings true. Zelda is an enjoyable character–her running commentary is endearing. And the supernatural chick lit angle is a lot of fun: the novella isn’t overly dramatic or self-important about the Fae in a way that feels welcome, and lets the cheerful romance go hand in hand with this casual conception of the paranormal. Plus I just love the idea of there being all kinds of were-animals running around.

As a novella, it’s quick read – I definitely felt like I would enjoy reading more of this story, and in fact there were moments where things felt a little convoluted and lacking in detail or connections, likely because of the novella format. I would have loved to see things a little more fleshed out – more details about the Fae and descriptions of the characters (especially Benedict, who is a bit of a flat antagonist), some more of Zelda’s backstory with both Jake and Janine than the little that is alluded to…

Bearly a Lady is a fun, lively supernatural romance–the little snags in the story are outweighed by the enjoyable world that Khaw has built, and the feel-good romantic ending (spoiler alert: she gets the girl!). Give it a try–supernatural chick lit is the genre you didn’t even know you needed.

Julie Thompson reviews Freiya’s Stand by Anastasia Vitsky

Freiya’s Stand gives room for queer women to embrace their religious faith, kinky desires, and career aspirations, as well as room for dreaming. Freiya and Sabrina live strictly compartmentalized lives as teachers at St. Agatha of Sicily, a private Catholic school for primary and secondary students, lest anyone find out that they’re dating. Both women grew up in Catholic families and value their faith, even though this sets them at odds with school policy and family. The couple alternates commute routes, maintains a professional facade, and keeps spanking behind closed doors. They also face staff lay-offs, dwindling funds, large classroom sizes, and reduced support for teachers. When the principal mandates all teachers sign a “Covenant of Faith” condemning “perverted sexuality” and other “immoral or unethical behavior”, Sabrina and Freiya butt heads. Sabrina wants to sign the form, but Freiya resists. Most of the faculty eventually go along with it in order to keep their jobs. When Freiya fails to play ball with the new requirements, her life falls under the principal’s close scrutiny.

The novella alternates between past and present, illuminating pivotal moments in the women’s lives that color their relationship, family interactions, and careers. Quick pacing allows Vitsky to move between key events and establish character personalities. Sabrina is an exemplary high school English teacher with exacting standards, both for her students and for her choice of ketchup. Freiya, a new kindergarten teacher, has a soft heart for her students and a penchant for culinary confections. Sabrina’s Gran is the most vibrant and essential secondary character. A full-length novel treatment would give room for fleshing out events mentioned only in passing and for less nuanced characters that seem to exist primarily as plot drivers. Certain elements of the conclusion (the final two to three pages, in particular) feel rushed. It works well, for the most part, as a novella. Overall, Freiya’s Stand is a thoughtful and engaging tale.

Freiya and Sabrina have a consensual kink arrangement. This drives their dynamic at home, as well as how they behave in the wider world. One of my favorite moments involves Shakespeare and spanking. I’ll let that sit with you until you read it for yourself! While Sabrina assumes the dominant role, Freiya is vocal in what is and is not okay. Readers first encounter this aspect of their relationship after they disagree over the “morality” contract at school. Some of the interplay between emotional and physical exchanges becomes muddled as their stress increases. It does not cross over into domestic abuse. However, some readers may find certain passages distressing.

Catholicism also plays an integral part in how the characters view themselves, deal with challenges, and guide their lives. Both women value their faith, but don’t agree on how it intersects with their sexuality and public life. This provides much of the friction between them throughout the story. This is the second story that I’ve read in which the reconciliation of faith and queerness are central themes. The other story (which I definitely recommend) is Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown.

LGBT+ folks can still lose their jobs in many states or have limited protections based on sexuality and gender identity. Visit the Human Rights Commission at HRC.org for more information. It is heartening to see local religious congregations marching in support at Pride and to see rainbow flags near the front doors of churches, welcoming everyone.

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

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.

Lauren reviews The Melody of You and Me by M. Hollis

book-cover-the-melody-of-you-and-me

Meet Chris Morrison, a young music lover who works at a bookstore and takes life in as it happens. When Josie— an attractive, high-spirited and easy-going ballerina— is hired at the bookstore, Chris falls head over heels, often losing her wits in the awkward butterfly moments. This leaves Chris caught in the middle of a budding friendship, but her recent departure from an unhealthy relationship keeps her cautious.

Overall, M. Hollis characterizes Chris well. I appreciated the interiority and parts of the story line (e.g., Chris’s talent and educational pursuit). And sprouting relationships are warm and cute. I wish I could provide more insight into this story. But, I can’t. And this is due to the story’s primary weakness: a lack of conflict.

Conflict helps to create interest, and when there’s interest the story stays far away from the pits of boredom. Granted, the internal conflict in this novella is present. For example, Chris’s relationship with her parents is torn due to her decision to leave school; for too long, she has felt uncertain about the path her life will take and haunted by the trail of damage she’s left behind, mainly due to her ex-girlfriend, Tabitha.

External conflict propels the protagonist into a string of interactions beyond her control, which allows the reader to become vested in the main character’s journey and outcomes. This is what the Melody of You and Me is missing.

The one instance in this story that mirrored external conflict (i.e., Chris’s encounter with Tabitha) passed quickly and was only quasi conflict because nothing before or after this instance affected Chris, her new relationship, or the trajectory of the story.

As a reader (and writer), I’m not a fan of unnecessary drama, but I appreciate the role of conflict and I expect the main character to experience some degree of external challenges somewhere in the plot. Otherwise, and in this case, the character is going through the motions; the reader is introduced to supporting characters that do not have significant (or any) effect upon the protagonist’s victory or downfall; and, the story is predictable—no excitement or surprises. I slid through the pages of this story never experiencing any type of highs or lows that propelled me to emotionally connect with Chris. In other words, Chris’s journey is too insular to fully place myself in her world. She had nothing to lose; nothing was at stake except fleeting embarrassments.

To end, The Melody of You and Me is a syrupy romance. There were many sweet moments between Chris and Josie, which would make f/f romance lovers fond of these characters. But, if you’re a reader who needs salt and sugar, you may reach the last page wanting more.

Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, “The Dawn of Nia.” Outside of reading and writing, she volunteers as a child advocate and enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter  (@LaurenCre8s),www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.

Marthese reviews The Tchaikovsky Affair by Marie Swift

the tchaikovsy affair

“She’d been utterly transfixed by the brunette practically making love to her cello”

The Tchaikovsky Affair by Marie Swift is a romantic novella about two musicians in the New York Philharmonic orchestra. It starts more like a romantic comedy then evolves more towards drama but in between there is a lot of fluff and probably some of the sexiest sex scenes ever!

The story is about Shannon McClintock who’s the concert master and first violin of the orchestra and Jacinta (Jackie) Ortiz, the new first cello. Sparks fly from the start but it takes the conductor’s intervention to get their relationship started. In many ways their relationship is tied to music and to the orchestra and they have to find a way to make their relationship stand on its own two feet.

The two musicians are paired together in a duet, of course they are playing Tchaikovsky and for a while, their relationship mirror’s his and Kotek’s relationship- don’t you just love historically queer relationships in other books?

I learned a bit about music. For sure I knew that music is sexy and sensual but after reading the first intimate sex scene…I see music in a new light. I’m not one that reads books just for the sex, I find that usually it’s the same descriptions over and over again. Not so much with this book!

Shannon has been hurt before and had promised to put her career first while Jackie has had many relationships mostly due to her music but because of her music, they tended to fizzle out. There is of course some drama in the book, from the middle of the story onwards but don’t worry, it’s worth the wait!

As this book is so short, it is mostly about the two with side characters acting as support (or hindrance) for their relationship. The two balance each other, even in their music. They must harmonize technique with passion, in their personal and professional lives.

I had been meaning to read this book for a while, and I’m glad I finally read it. At first, I thought it was going to be a light average read but after two chapters it got so much better! There was sexiness, fluff, drama, comedy and music- all done well if sometimes a bit trope-y.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone with a passion for music, or to those that want to read a romance that is a bit different.

Marthese reviews The Housing Crisis by Kate McLay

the housing crisis kate mclay cover

“She transformed from sullen hipster to beautiful girl”

I don’t tend to read many contemporaries but the plot in this novella sounded interesting. The Housing Crisis is set in Chicago and follows Alyssa, who’s suddenly one roommate short and Hannah, who needs to find alternative lodging soon after a break-up. Hannah is sure of her sexuality and queerness, Alyssa never questioned her sexuality.

From the very first time they meet, they click and soon move in together and thus the housing crisis for both is resolved. What isn’t resolved is the growing tension between the two. Hannah has a crush on Alyssa and this is made clear from the beginning, however, Alyssa’s feelings aren’t to be discarded.

Alyssa comes from a very conservative background. Despite this, even before meeting Hannah, Alyssa made her own choices and formed her own believes which were not always in line with her family’s. I think that this independent thinking that does not arise from co-dependency is great. I was pleasantly surprised with Alyssa’s character and behavior. She isn’t the catholic-girl-from-a-small-town that you would expect her to be. She has guts, is spunky and although she is afraid, she fights for what she wants.

Hannah has had a bad experience with being in a relationship with a ‘straight’ girl but although she thinks she should knows better, her feelings for Alyssa cannot be ignored. She is honest about her past relationship from the beginning, in fact in this novella there wasn’t drama based on misunderstandings that is often used to create tension.

In the story, there is also a trans character. This character was not there simply for tokenism but plays a key part in a plot twist that is a bit far-fetched but not unrealistic.

The only thing that I did not like in the story was the implications on sexuality. Granted, this is something that most people think but as someone that identifies on the ace spectrum, it irked me that when it was clear that Alyssa had a lack of experience in sexual history, there was the implication that she is missing out on a lot and that everyone wants sex.

Alyssa’s and Hannah’s interactions are honest, emotional and mature but still gleeful. They do not beat around the bush and although there is some tension, there is no drama.

The story was not just about their relationship but also on their work careers, they are both having break through and want success while supporting each other.

All these elements make this short story very refreshing. It’s a quick read and their relationship progress was cute and not boring.

I would recommend this to people that enjoy contemporary and romance books or wish to read a drama free (or less dramatic) story about two people in love.

Danika reviews Natural Selection (Adaptation 1.5) by Malinda Lo

Natural Selection

 

Natural Selection is a novella connected to the Adaptation duology, and it provides a little bit of backstory for Amber Grey. Each chapter switches between two different social occasions in her life: one a school camping trip on Earth, the other a coming-of-age ceremony on Kurra. Together they explain how Amber chose her identity, and how she became the person we meet in Adaptation.

As you probably know by now, I loved Adaptation and Inheritance, so I was looking forward to getting a little bit more out of this world. I am glad I waited a while before picking this one up, though. This is a novella, so it’s only 50 pages. It’s a solid story, but it’s not a book three. Going in with that expectation of a little bonus material, I was definitely satisfied. We get a little more detail on Kurra as well as Imrian culture, and I liked seeing more of what it felt for Amber to be split between two planets, not sure where she belongs. The Amber that we see in the series is so confident and put-together, it’s nice to see that she wasn’t always that way. And what queer woman can’t relate to the difficulty of crushing on your straight best friend?

At first I wasn’t sure that I liked the constant switch back and forth between planets and time periods between chapters, but by the end it really pulled together and felt like the only way to tell this story. On reflection, it also makes sense as a representation of Amber’s reality of not being able to settle into one life on one planet. I read this after finishing the series, but seeing as its numbered Adaptation 1.5, it would probably work even better read between books. It’s only $0.84 on Amazon as an ebook, so it’s definitely worth the price tag! It would probably also work as a bit of a sample of the Adaptation universe if you’re not sure if you want to pick up the series. I definitely enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to more from Malinda Lo.