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

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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

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“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.

Elinor reviews It’s Complicated by A.J. Adaire

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When It’s Complicated opens, Tori is a lonely lesbian in her mid-thirties, living on the Jersey Shore and spending all her time at the medical facility where she works as a night pharmacist and where her partner, Liz, receives care. Liz has been in a coma for three years following an accident. Doctors know that Liz will almost certainly never regain consciousness, and that even if she does she may need extensive care for the rest of her days. The life Tori and Liz shared for almost a decade is a thing of the past, and it’s made worse because Liz and Tori never legally formalized their relationship, so Liz’s homophobic parents make all her medical decisions. It was Liz’s parents who decided to keep Liz on life support even after it became obvious that she’d never wake up, something Liz would not have wanted. Liz’s parents also moved her from Philadelphia—where Liz and Tori lived, worked, and had friends—to a medical care facility in New Jersey. Tori left her job, her support network, and even her dog to be closer to Liz. Since the move, Tori spends six to eight hours every day talking and reading to Liz and visits during her work breaks too. Tori’s only friend is M.J., Liz’s nurse.

The bright spot in Tori’s dreary is situation is an attractive female runner who jogs near the boardwalk. Tori makes a point of visiting the boardwalk during the woman’s daily run, but feels terribly guilty for her attraction, which she thinks is disloyal to Liz. When Tori and the runner, Bev, meet-cute in the grocery store and discover that they’re neighbors, the friendship takes root instantly. Even more conveniently, Bev is single, gay, just about Tori’s age, also works nights, and is new in town and eager to make a friend. Bev has a tragic back-story of her own, and has been too insecure to go on a date in years. Her interest in Tori makes her want to change that, except, as Tori explains early on, it’s complicated. Tori considers herself to be in a monogamous relationship with Liz until one of them dies, and Liz is still technically alive.

All of that happens within the first few chapters. What follows is an intense friendship between Tori and Bev, and a lot of lesbian processing with friends, family, a therapist, and each other. Bev and Tori have fun and there’s a subplot about match making for their straight friends, but the meat of the book is two people trying to figure out the boundaries of their relationship. If more than a hundred pages of dissecting feelings about feelings makes your skin crawl, avoid this one.

But if you are in the mood for a novella rich in lesbian processing, It’s Complicated is a decent read. It’s inelegantly written at times and Adaire has a tendency to tell rather than show, but it’s a sweet enough story. I had fun reading this book, though I couldn’t quite believe the premise. I found Tori’s guilt about having a crush and the number of hours she devotes to Liz over the top given the number of years since the accident, Liz’s prognosis, and the excellent professional care Liz receives. Tori even worries she is being emotionally unfaithful to Liz by becoming good friends with attractive Bev, a fear that people in the book treat very seriously but I found hard to swallow.

There were a few other things in this book I found baffling. Liz’s parents’ unrelenting anti-gay sentiments came with no explanation. They were cartoonish homophobes with nothing much else to them. I don’t like flat villains, and I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t fleshed out as characters. Another head scratcher is that Tori never talks or even thinks about the life she and Liz had dreamed of having together. Tori and Liz were only in their thirties at the time of the accident and considered themselves committed for life, so you’d think they shared some vision of what that might look like. Tori misses Liz, but she never mourns any plans or hopes they had for the future. Liz was quite closeted for reasons I didn’t find believable in a modern, East Coast city. Taken together, these things reminded me of “tragic lesbian” stories from earlier decades, not from the book’s 2012 setting.

That being said and despite the sad subject matter, I found it a relaxing read when I suspended my disbelief. The biggest problem I had was that the ending felt rushed. Without giving anything away, a huge surprise appears after what seems like the climax of the book, and isn’t given the time to be realistic resolved. Most of the book unfolds at a slow and steady pace, but the last thirty pages are stuffed with information. It’s a jarring shift, and made the extremely tidy ending feel unearned. It’s unfortunate, because I would have liked the ending fine if it hadn’t happened so quickly. If you like angst and heaps of processing, I recommend it for lesbian romance fans, with a warning that the ending falls short.

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews Bella Key by Scarlet Chastain

Somewhere in Manhattan there is a think tank wherein scientists have spent the last ten years perfecting an instrument that will allow them to measure a book’s suitability for beach reading. On the Beach Readability Index (BRI) the novella Bella Key, by Scarlet Chastain, scores a perfect ten.

The first point in Bella Key’s BRI favor is that the story is set on a beach. The beach-reader can immerse herself in sand and surf, both fictional and actual.

Bella Key takes its name from the tiny island off the coast of Florida where the book is set. Bella Key’s heroine, Maddie, travels there on a whim, feeling overwhelmed and beset upon by her job and her mother’s insistence that she marry the male attorney she has been dating. She feels like something is missing and she finds it in the form of Sunny, the beautiful bed and breakfast owner who lets her stay for free, provided Maddie cooks for the two of them.

From there Bella Key unfolds like the classic romance, complete with requisite sexual tension, colorful supporting characters, a fair dose of sex, and [surprise!] a happy ending.  The story is thoroughly enjoyable and the writing is very professional. Chastain does not make any rookie mistakes. The pacing is good. The scenes are vivid. Dialogue moves quickly.

I only have two criticisms, both of which are related to the genre. Criticizing a book’s genre-based aspects is something I basically disapprove of. You can’t read a sleepy memoir about growing up Methodist and say it would have been more fun if there had been strippers or maybe an alien abduction.  It’s just not helpful. But here I go…

My first criticism was that I found Bella Key to be a bit short. (It’s a novella, so, of course, it’s short.)

I had read that the e-publishing revolution had brought the novella back from obscurity. I wanted to explore this literary form, so I picked Bella Key.

Now here is a true confession I would never make at my day job (I am an English professor and writer by trade): I don’t really like short stories. The problem is that they are so short. If I’m satisfied when they end at page 12, then they can’t have been that good to begin with. (There are a few exceptions. I love Isak Dinesen, and I’m a sucker for anthologies with a theme like Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City.) But usually I’m just disappointed when a short story is over.

I felt somewhat that way about Bella Key. It’s a perfect 10 on the Beach Readability Index because you can start it right after you finish your clam strips and finish it before you hit the margarita shack. But it is a good read, so, at the end of the day, I wish it had lasted longer.

My second criticism was that I didn’t quite believe the sex.

Everyone knows that the sex in romance novels is not realistic.  I’m okay with that. In fact, I get a little embarrassed when romance novelists try to be realistic by having the dog jump on the couple while they are in bed or by having one of the lovers get up and pee. That’s not what I came for.

Nonetheless, when dutiful, overworked, previously-heterosexual Maddie has sex with Sunny for the second time and covers her body in honey and then licks it off, I don’t believe it. I just don’t know anyone who would go that high on the glycemic index on her first lesbian weekend.  Of course, that’s the whole point. Bella Key is an erotic romance novel. Chastain would be well within her right to tell me that if I wanted real sex, I could just get a copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves and read up.

Self-servingly, I’d like to point out that the scene would have worked if Bella Key had been a novel. If the honey came out on page 200 it would have all made sense.

At the end of the day, the really interesting thing about Bella Key is not the sex nor the fact that it is a novella, but the fact that Scarlet Chastain is a pen name for Sandra Bunino, a well-published author of M/F erotic romance.  (I read a few interviews with Chastain/Bunino. She sounds like a genuinely nice person.) Bella Key was not written for an exclusively – or even a primarily – lesbian readership.

I know some people who disapprove of this kind of crossing over, feeling that  lesbian erotica should be written for and by lesbians only.

Personally, I liked the idea that a successful M/F romance writer would introduce her primarily heterosexual readers to a lesbian love story. I can hear a few of my more politically correct friends saying “but that’s just another form of objectification!”

Maybe.

But I grew up on media that portrayed queer women as evil or noble-and-destined-to-be-tragically-killed.  Those were the options. I’ll take lesbians-as-sexy-romantic-heroines any day.

 

Sponsored Review: Danika reviews Hot Line by Alison Grey

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Before reading Hot Line, I hadn’t looked into the premise of the book. I just knew it was an erotic novella. From the first page, I could guess that the premise would be different from most romance novels/erotica stories I’ve read. (Which is great, because the thing I like least about romance/erotica novels is the repetition.) It begins with Christina (alias Chantal) answering calls at her job at a sex hot line. She gets a call from a woman, Lydia, who just wants to talk. Then, excuse the cliche, Lydia makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

For an erotica story, Hot Line is very much in the characters’ heads. We get a lot of insight into what both of them are thinking, including the awkwardness, hesitation, and double-guessing. Sometimes this could seem like over-explaining, and occasionally they seemed put off by pretty normal things, considering the circumstances. But for the most part, it gave much more characterization and honesty to what I’m used to from an erotic story. There were occasional awkward phrasings, but that could be the translation. (That’s another thing: it’s nice to read a lesfic story not set in the US. Hot Line is based in Germany.) Though, there is a bit of the old romance novel trope of needless angst. Both Christina and Lydia try to convince themselves that they don’t like each other, or that the other person doesn’t feel the same way, when there’s pretty ample evidence for what they feel.

What I was most impressed by in Hot Line is the progression of the relationship. Considering the premise and the length of the story, not to mention the genre, I found their relationship to be much better developed than I was expecting. [Mild/vague spoilers, highlight to read] Weeks pass. They get to know each other. [end spoilers] This is partly because of the novella’s tendency to dwell in their thoughts. It made their relationship more believable and oddly organic (again, considering the premise). The ending is a bit abrupt, but it really gives you all you need. I would recommend Hot Line if you’re intrigued by the premise or are looking for a lesfic novella.

This has been a sponsored review. You can see more about sponsored reviews at our Review Policy.