Elinor Zimmerman reviews Set the Stage by Karis Walsh

When I picked up this book, I wasn’t sure if a romance set in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would really be my thing because I’m not a theater person. But Walsh’s vivid descriptions of Ashland, Oregon, of the festival, and of her lead’s clashing career paths were so charming that I was transported. If you want a nice little romance to escape into, this might be the novel for you.

Emilie is an actor with more than a few career regrets who sees her season with the festival as a chance to finally get back on track professionally. She suffers from stage fright and once abandoned her theater dreams and initial acclaim for her work in order to follow her girlfriend, a fellow actor, on tour. She’s determined not to let anything stand in the way of her ambition again.

Arden is a lifelong Ashland resident, daughter of an actor and a director who left her to be raised by her grandparents while they pursued theater careers all over the world. She works in the local park, just like her late grandfather did. She dates actress who come for the festival and regularly gets her heart broken in the process.

Arden and Emilie are drawn to each other from the moment they meet in the park but agree that they should just be friends. Emilie doesn’t want a distraction and Arden doesn’t need another relationship with an expiration date. Over many months of rehearsals and performances, the two grow closer and closer, cheering each other on in their careers even as those ambitions threaten their bond.

The romance in this burns slow but I appreciated that. A lot of the focus is on their connection as dear friends, Emilie’s struggles to perform when her confidence is low, and Arden reconsidering the life she planned for herself and what her professional aims actually are. It’s engaging and fun.

The only thing I didn’t really like was Emilie’s roommate, a graduate student in psychology, who wants to use Emilie for her studies. While I’d buy an undergrad new to the field blurring personal and professional boundaries, by grad school a psych student should know better than to pressure a new roommate into quasi-therapy sessions for her research. Maybe this sort of thing would happen but it sounded unethical. It also seemed to be a way to reveal some of Emilie’s backstory and have her come to realizations. Luckily this roommate basically disappears from the book once she’s served that purpose.

Overall, it’s a fun romance. It made me want to go this festival, which I’d never had any interest in before. Set the Stage is worth a read for fans of romance or theater.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018 and is a contributor to the anthology Unspeakably Erotic, edited by D.L. King, and out now. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com

Marthese reviews Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo


“There’s more to you than how you look, you’re more than a package”

Fat Angie is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while because it seemed like a complex and intersectional queer read. Spoiler: it is.

Fat Angie is about Angie, a rerunning freshman in Ohio who has a lot to deal with but never seems to give up. She takes on her sister’s advice and tries to ‘follow through’. Her sister, who, after a stint as a great basketball player, joins the army and is taken hostage. Angie still has hope that her sister is alive and fights everyone that tries to mud sling her sister.

Angie is bullied but she does stand up for herself sometimes. She wants to please her mother who sends both her and her brother Wang to therapy (and is dating their therapist) but her mother is never pleased. Be warned that her behavior could be triggering to some. Despite this, I find the characters in this book to be multidimensional. The bully may have reasons, the perfect popular star may not be perfect, the main character herself makes mistakes. Most characters are hurting and they cope differently.

Then there’s KC Romance, the new girl who falls for Angie and Angie falls for who sees Angie as Angie, without the fat. KC is a complex character, who is seen as ‘alternative’ but is popular yet she has a somewhat dark past but whose mother probably is the only mentioned parent that’s a parent role model.

Angie copes with her sister’s ‘MIA’ status with two, seemingly paradoxical things: binge eating and sport (first basketball in the steps of her sister and then another sport). At the beginning of the year, it is mentioned that Angie tried to commit suicide and this became a public event. Yet, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t fit in, she’s awkward but she takes steps to move on despite being stuck somewhat in the past, when her sister was still with them.

Angie’s and KC’s relationship is deep, connecting, sweet with a cup of drama and misunderstandings and awkwardness thrown in. It’s a mature, teenage relationship that is not perfect but supporting the individuals within it.

Be warned that this book contains some triggers: suicide attempt, self-harm, body issues, mentions of death and torture, bad parenting and bullying. Sometimes, especially with Angie’s mother and her therapist, the reader is left bubbling with anger. At the end, I think that although not justified, we see also different sides to the characters that we do not like. The character development in this book was subtle, but well executed.

I would recommend this book, which I rated as five stars, to people that want to read a queer book where the main focus isn’t the relationship (it’s still a big part though).

I listened to this book as an audiobook- my first one- thanks to the Sync Audiobooks Summer program which means that this audiobook is free to download until today (21st July 2016)! I will try to read the book in the future to compare my experience but I think that the narration was done quite well and helped to immerse me in my experience (I coloured while I listened).