Julie Thompson reviews Heart of the Game by Rachel Spangler

Sports journalist Sarah Duke lives for the crack of a bat and a deep hit caught at the wall. After years busting her chops reporting college baseball games on up, dealing with sexist locker rooms, fans, and colleagues, Duke finally scores her dream job: covering the St. Louis Cardinals. At the season opener, she meets a young fan with as much passion for the game as she. Duke also becomes smitten with the boy’s mother, Molly Grettano. The single mother juggles career, family, and the expectations that she deals with from others and herself. While she dances with the idea of dating as a newly out lesbian, Molly’s long hours balancing managerial aspirations at her restaurant job with her two young sons come first.

Throughout the story, the fierce loves that Duke and Molly live and breathe conflict with how they want their romantic dreams to play out. Both women have worked their asses off to get where they are and compromise doesn’t come easy. Duke exudes easy charm and her enthusiasm for baseball is infectious. She breaks down all of life’s ups and downs into baseball terms, which might wear thin for some readers, but comes across as natural for Duke. Molly worries her kids, especially precocious baseball super fan Joe, might get too attached to Duke. The kids are an integral part of the story, not a tacked on afterthought. One of my sister’s recently started dating again and she can attest that it isn’t easy, especially with kids.

Towards the end of the story I wondered if an Happy Ever After was really in the cards. And then, because of Spangler’s skillful storytelling and respect for her characters, I realized that any way it ended would satisfy. As Duke would say, this story reveals more than its box score indicates. Friendship, family bonds, and love resonate in this contemporary romance.

I haven’t followed baseball since the Seattle Mariners’ golden era (1995-2001). Rachel Spangler’s sports romance, Heart of the Game, however, gets me excited for the start of Major League Baseball at the end of March and for local minor league games where every seat is a good one. Fresh cut grass, peanut shells underfoot, and the swell of the crowd, and everyone dancing the latest craze in tandem (the only time I’ve ever seen a thousand people of all ages do the Macarena). What could be better?

For anyone participating in Lesbian Book Bingo, this novel satisfies the Sports Romance square.

Anna M reviews But She Is My Student by Kiki Archer and LoveLife by Rachel Spangler

Putting potential lovers in unequal positions of power and seeing what happens is a commonly used technique in romance novels. Current heterosexual romance novels are littered with boss/secretary and boss/nanny relationships, which . . . ick. So I found it heartening to read two lesbian romances recently, But She Is My Student and LoveLife, which explore similar power dynamics without the “ick” factor. Both of them feature couples who [spoiler] do not give in to temptation when it could be construed as an abuse of power.

But She Is My Student, by Kiki Archer, is a British romance that centers on newly minted teacher Katherine Spicer. The weekend before her first teaching job, Kat makes an instant and deep connection with another woman that she meets at a gay club. She doesn’t know anything about her mystery woman, who disappears suddenly, but her face is all too familiar when it pops up among the students in her senior-level class. Freya Elton was tagging along with her lesbian cousin when she met–and kissed–the woman of her dreams. But when she finds out that her Kat is “Miss Spicer,” she’s at a loss. Despite the fact that she’s only a few years older than Freya, dating a student is a line that Kat absolutely will not cross.

Another girl in the class, Bea, has her sights set on Freya, further complicating the plot as Archer explores the question of what happens when you fall in love at first sight with someone who is off-limits. Archer rounds off the love story with an uneven cast of characters–students, administration, teachers, and Kat’s roommates–whose storylines are intertwined. Although the work could have used a few more passes under the eyes of a careful editor, the central conceit was engaging and it was satisfying that neither Kat nor Freya gave in to temptation while their student-teacher relationship continued. Some of the obstacles between the pair were a bit of an imaginative stretch, but overall But She Is My Student is a sweet story with the title of a Lifetime Movie.

In LoveLife, by Rachel Spangler, working-class Joey has an overwhelming crush on the professional-looking woman who regularly visits the coffee shop where she works. Through her best friend’s machinations, Joey discovers that the woman is a life coach named Elaine, which only deepens her feelings of inadequacy. As a college dropout who has spent the last several years supporting her bereaved father, Joey has trouble believing that she deserves love from anyone, let alone someone like Elaine. For her part, Elaine has just moved back to Buffalo to reconnect with her family, but finds herself falling into old patterns instead. When Joey’s meddling best friend Lisa sets her up for a consultation with Elaine, she finds herself opening up to the life coach about her lack of confidence . . . and her desire for a seemingly perfect woman. As Joey realizes that she could actually benefit from coaching to get her life back on track, she also understand that she’s put Elaine in the awkward position–once she reveals that her dream woman and the life coach are one and the same–of continuing a professional relationship begun under false pretenses.

Joey and Elaine are both very relatable, and Spangler does a good job of carefully nurturing the spark of their attraction as they struggle to keep their client-advisor relationship professional. She throws in Buffalo-specific details for spice, but characters beyond the two women (and Joey’s lifelong friend Lisa) are a bit more roughly sketched. It’s clear from the book that she did her homework when researching life coaching, and the novel fairly glows with its characters’ earnest approach to self-improvement. After an almost agonizingly extended will they/won’t they, Spangler ties up the threads in a satisfactory way.

Lesbrary Review: The Long Way Home by Rachel Spangler

I haven’t read a lot of lesbian romance, and I wasn’t sure how much I would like the genre; I’ve never had any interest in the straight romance genre. Well, Rachel Spangler has made me a convert.

My favourite part of The Long Way Home is the premise. I read it while there were a lot of criticisms coming up about Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project. One of the more intriguing ones was discussing how Savage’s original video especially concentrates on this reaction to “small town mentality” and finding acceptance in a big city, and how this anti-rural sentiment not only gives small towns too little credit in their ability to be accepting and progressive, but also encourages queer people to keep draining out of small towns and heading to big cities, which only makes the situation worse. (Cities are more accepting because there are more queer people, but there are more queer people because queer people move to cities, because cities are more accepting…)

The Long Way Home tackles that anti-rural sentiment by telling the story of a woman who “escaped”, who left her small town and made a living talking about her escape story at various colleges around the country (the US), becoming a quasi-famous lesbian because of it.

But once she gets a little older, the calls stop coming for speaking arrangements: people don’t want to hear the same story anymore. Raine, as she’s known now, or Rory, as she was known in her home town, is forced to return to the place she escaped from if she wants to have a paying job. Raine/Rory comes face-to-face with the people she knew, the family she left behind, and the town she grew up in. While there she discovers the escape story she’s been telling for years may not be the only interpretation that should be drawn.

This is a romance, obviously, so Rory/Raine discovers a lot of this through an old school mate, including being introduced to a small-town queer community, something she couldn’t fathom of before. The romance is sweet and interesting, and I liked both of their characters, but it was the underlying message that really drew me in.

The only minor quibble I had with The Long Way Home was the occasional over-explaining, like this:

“Are you out of your fucking mind? I’ve spent my entire life getting away from that place. I’m Raine St. James, the one who survived.” Raine needed to remind herself that she’d made it out alive.

I’d rather the speech stood on its own, but that’s hardly noticeable. Overall, I definitely recommend it.

Have you read The Long Way Home or another of Rachel Spangler’s books? If so, what did you think of it?