Susan reviews Devil’s Rock by Gerri Hill

Devil's Rock by Gerri Hill cover

Gerri Hill’s Devil’s Rock is both the beginning of a new series and the resolution of a storyline from her Hunter series (which I reviewed here at the Lesbrary: Hunter’s Way, In The Name of the Father, and Partners). Unfortunately, I don’t think I can do this review without spoiling some of the events of Partners, so please bear that in mind!

Andrea Sullivan is a small-town police officer, confident that nothing as terrible as what happened to her in LA can happen in Sedona… And then the murders begin, because a serial killer who escaped the police in Dallas is using Sedona as his dumping ground. FBI Agent Cameron Ross shows up with her own set of issues, a kitten, and a motorhome full of FBI supercomputers to help figure out where he’s going to strike next.

The story itself was interesting, and it was nice to get some closure on the case from Partners, but some of the developments specifically about the murderer I just found myself just going “No. She can be serious. WHAT.” at, because they read as soap-opera style out-of-blue tricks of convenience, rather than actually feeling organic to the plot of either book. There are parts that are tense and dramatic, but an equal number that appear to have been set up for things in the sequel (such as mentioning that the motorhome is an electrified mobile fortress, which you’d expect to be tested at some point! But alas, no.) Although, I admit, I did periodically have to check when this book was published, because the idea of having to drive a computer around – not a crime lab, or anything else that would require you to be on the scene, an actual computer – seemed like something out of the eighties.

The thing that probably bothers me MOST about this is the way that Cameron Ross treats Andrea Sullivan. It’s not just aggressive flirting or posturing, although it contains that; at one point, Sullivan says that she doesn’t want to talk about her past with Ross, so Ross not only orders an FBI background check, but taunts Sullivan with it and blames her for it in a shocking display of “well if you’d just done what I wanted, I wouldn’t have invaded your privacy.” She’s like that about their relationship too; Sullivan says she’s not interested in kissing her, but Ross refuses to accept that because obviously she knows better. And worst of all, even though Sullivan repeatedly calls her out as a bully, it’s all for naught, because the narrative consistently rewards Ross with whatever she was bullying Sullivan for! Yeah, sure, Ross apologises, but ugggh. It doesn’t help that after Ross gets the files on Sullivan, Sullivan obviously stumbles across them and reads them (because of course) and the conversation ends with her apologising for invading Ross’s privacy. I get that it could be the narrative trying to model behaviour for Ross, but it was aggravating, and made it hard to accept the romance as a happy thing.

Devil’s Rock is a fine set-up for a new series, but I didn’t enjoy most of the romance tropes it used. That outweighed the mystery aspects, so I don’t recommend it.

[Caution warning: murder, kidnapping, abuse, bullying, mentions of infidelity, mentions of sexual assault, ableist language]

Alexa reviews Soft on Soft by Em Ali

Last month, I reviewed a fluffy, romantic, low-conflict sapphic story with at least one protagonist who was fat, non-white, pan and/or ace-spec (Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss). This month, I’m reviewing a fluffy, romantic, low-conflict sapphic story with at least one protagonist who is fat, non-white, pan and/or ace-spec (Soft on Soft, a.k.a #FatGirlsInLove by Em Ali). Honestly, I love this trend, and I hope we’ll all have the chance to read many more diverse and positive sapphic stories like these.

Despite my comparison at the beginning, Soft on Soft by Em Ali (which I received as an ARC with a different title, #FatGirlsInLove, that appears to be a working title) is an entirely unique story. It’s a romance between two fat sapphic women: Selena, a Black demisexual model, and June, the Arab-Persian, anxious make-up artist. Thanks to the profession of the two protagonists, Soft on Soft is full of diverse bodies being celebrated, colourful descriptions, flowers, and altogether vivid mental images.

The book’s plot can mostly be summarised as Selena and June flirting, hanging out with friends, going on dates, making geeky references or working together. It is a character driven novel that is perfect for people who just want to read a cute romance and don’t mind the minimal plot – and really, the characters are worth staying for. The supporting cast has multiple nonbinary characters (with different pronouns), one of whom has depression and some really relatable remarks about mental health and therapy. Also, one parent of the main couple is bisexual, which is awesome – I very rarely see older queer characters, especially parents with adult children.

One strange thing was that the characters in this book talked in real life the way I’m used to people talking on Tumblr, and it was just a strange dissonance to see that kind of language being used in offline conversation. For this reason, some sentences seemed like they weren’t really lifelike, but I’m sure people actually talk like this and I’m just not used to it. (Also, “I’m green with enby” is a great pun I must use.)

In short, this was an adorable novel with diverse characters and colourful settings (and also, cats!). I admit I generally prefer books with a more exciting plot, but people who just want a cozy sapphic romance with fat characters will love Soft on Soft.

tw: panic attack described by POV character (chapter 8)

Alexa is a bi ace reviewer who loves books with queer protagonists, especially young adult and fantasy books. E also has a fascination with solarpunk, found families and hopeful futures, and plans to incorporate these in eir own writing. You can find more of eir reviews and bookish talk on WordPress and Twitter @greywardenblue.

Rebecca reviews Back to the Start by Monica McCallan

Back to the Start by Monica McCallan cover

Monica McCallan’s Back to the Start is an okay read featuring the trope of rekindling first love. Although the book has a wonderful love interest and interesting plot twists, it’s bogged down with tedious writing and an unlikable protagonist.

Our protagonist is Remy who must leave San Francisco and return to Farmingdale after her grandmother dies. Although Remy only lived there briefly and hasn’t been back in twelve years, the small town left an indelible mark on her. She’s vowed to forget everything that happened there, especially Fallon, the beautiful and popular girl who broke her heart. However, their paths inevitably cross. As misunderstandings are cleared up and Remy and Fallon form a tentative friendship that blossoms into something more, Remy must decide exactly what she wants from life.

I struggled with this book. Although the plot is decent, I dislike McCallan’s writing style. Every other page is filled with phrases like “the blonde said” or “the brunette did” and it’s frustrating and boring to read. The writing is very flat and lacks emotion. I really would have liked some relevant descriptions because I struggled to picture people and places.

Remy is an unlikable, selfish, and narrow-minded protagonist. I couldn’t connect with her at all. But, she does experience some much-needed growth by the end of the book. However, I really would have liked the narrative to feature more of Remy’s change in attitude toward the town and other people. On the other hand, Fallon is the perfect love interest who is honestly too good for Remy. She’s a great and relatable character who is generous, caring, and sweet.

While the plot isn’t ground-breaking, it’s well-paced and kept my attention. There is a decent amount of tension and sweetness in the romance. I like that there isn’t an instant love reconnection between Remy and Fallon. Instead, they take time to rebuild their relationship, move past their issues and learn about each other. I particularly like the last few twists which finally allow Remy to show some growth.

Back to the Start is an okay take on the rekindling first love trope. While I love Fallon and the plot held my attention, I couldn’t fully get into this book because of McCallan’s writing and Remy’s off-putting personality. I wouldn’t read this one again. But, if you like the rekindling first love trope and well-written love interests, maybe you can give this book a go.

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Alexa reviews Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss

Learning Curves is a 70-page novella with little conflict and a fluffy love story between two women at college. One of them is a Puerto Rican lesbian studying family law, and the other one is a white panromantic asexual woman with ADHD. You shouldn’t expect a huge epic plot: Learning Curves is more about everyday life, college, celebrating Christmas, a huge, loving Puerto Rican family, and two women falling in love.

I admit that I easily get bored if I’m reading a longer book with so little plot, but 70 pages was just the perfect amount to still hold my attention and let me enjoy all the little moments. I loved how overly supportive Elena’s mother was, and I loved the two women cooking and baking together, especially Puerto Rican dishes.

There were so many of these little things that I loved. Cora is bookish and loves reading about “magic, dragons and queer people”. Both women are very casual about mentioning their queer identity, and while she doesn’t elaborate, Cora also mentions how even the community itself can be hostile towards certain identities. There was also a throwaway mention of cocky-gate (controversy over one author literally trying to trademark the word “cocky” in romance novel titles), which made me laugh, although it might have been strange to people who didn’t know what it was referring to.

I did have a couple of issues, or rather some things that I found strange but weren’t necessarily bad. This novella felt like it was written from an outsider’s perspective, which isn’t automatically a problem, but I really would have appreciated more insight into the thoughts and feelings of Elena and Cora, or at least one of them. I also felt like the blurb was very misleading: while the two women go to college and meet at one of the classes they have in common, there is really not much focus on their careers, and basically no mention of either of them not having time for love like the blurb says. Moreover, I sometimes found the dialogue strange or clunky. And finally, this is a minor pet peeve, but there were a few acronyms that were never really explained and as a non-US person whose first language isn’t English, I still have genuinely no clue what they are. I could sort of guess from context, but I generally don’t want to be Googling acronyms while reading a book.

I was originally going to rate this 4 stars, but the ace rep and the way it was handled in the relationship pushed it up. I loved that Elena immediately accepted both that Cora is asexual and that she doesn’t want sex, and it wasn’t an issue for a single moment. It might not be the most “realistic”, but it was really nice to finally read a relationship between an asexual and an allosexual person where the allosexual person is the one who agrees not to have sex instead of the asexual person indulging their partner. Another thing I see a lot is that while the non-ace person agrees not to have sex, they still talk about how this is a huge sacrifice for them, which I find really guilt-trippy, but this absolutely wasn’t the case here.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this author’s works in the future.

Alexa is a bi ace reviewer who loves books with queer protagonists, especially young adult and fantasy books. E also has a fascination with solarpunk, found families and hopeful futures, and plans to incorporate these in eir own writing. You can find more of eir reviews and bookish talk on WordPress and Twitter @greywardenblue.

Marthese reviews My Summer of Love by Helen Cross

My Summer of Love by Helen Cross movie cover

‘’Something within me sighed in relief and slotted into place like a bridge completes’’

My Summer of Love by Helen Cross was nothing like I expected. This was a library find and knowing that there was a lesbian movie with the same title, I borrowed it. Only, I had no idea what the movie was about and the book blurb didn’t offer many hints as to what was to come.

The plot follows Mona and Tamsin. Mona’s family own a pub, where she works but she also volunteers at the Fakenham’s estate to look after a horse; which is where she meets Tamsin again. Tamsin is back from boarding school and up to no good. This is perfect for Mona, who is interested in crime and gambling her money. Throughout the book, there are many hints that something will happen that summer and indeed, what happens was shocking.

‘’from the first real moment of our meeting I was already a criminal and she was distinctly witchy’’

Tamsin and Mona do get together. They love booze, dressing up and drama – lots of drama. What struck me was that what they loved about each other the most was probably the drama. They are inherently toxic for each other, and they know it. Tamsin has a superiority complex. She’s critical and cynical. Mona just wants to leave her family and is very jealous and spiteful. Both are alcoholics. Family relationships are an important aspect of the plot. The plot gets thicker when they live in Tamsin’s house alone for the summer.

While the plot was not what I expected, the writing was great. Some things were executed really well such as the chapters which were all named after a drink or food which was then mentioned in the chapter. If we had to keep in mind the time and place that this book fictionally took place in, the ideas about society and women and the nuclear war (cold war), the ideas presented feel very real. This does not mean that I want to read on how the protagonist thinks that ‘’with a tan and a pair of heavy breasts you need not worry about independence.’’ I am using more quotes than my usual reviews so that you, as potential readers, know what you are signing up for.

The ending was very disturbing, which is why I think this book belongs to the ‘horror’ section. The kind of horrors that are more disturbing because they could happen. This is not a Bury-your-gays book, but the ‘villains’ are queer. I kept hoping for the best and for a while, I thought it would happen but no, it didn’t. Mona and Tamsin liked to power-trip each other and scare each other on the regular.

My thoughts on this book are mixed. On the one hand it was executed half-well. There are still some sub-plots which I feel were left open and not like the main open-end but just left hanging. There was constant mention of one girl that went missing. It’s not explicit what happened to her and I felt like it was a wasted opportunity. Had I known what the book was about, I would have been ready for it, but as it was – I wasn’t. Some words left me perplexed. It took me many chapters to realize that ‘mesen’ meant ‘myself’.

The book offers a lot of introspection and is very depressing. This book has a whole list of trigger warnings. There is a lot of family issues, a lot of body image issues – this book could be very triggering. There’s a lot of body shaming as well and some animal neglect and child neglect. There’s also murder and suicide. There’s a lot of harmful bodily stuff, things that would make medical professionals cringe. There’s a lot of sexism, coming from everywhere, including the protagonists. It does offer a lot of thoughts on women. I particularly liked the message on the bodily fluids. I don’t think it’s something that a lot of writers touch upon and it’s something many people live every day.

In conclusion, while this book is Sapphic, unless you are in the mood for a dark read – don’t read it. Just when I thought there was hope for Mona…there wasn’t. This is the ultimate example of what peer pressure and being caged and  wanting attention and having darkness that is not addressed in a healthy was could lead to. It’s pretty disturbing and I was also not sure if the two protagonists actually loved each other or whether it was a matter of two dark souls meeting and corrupting each other further.

Mallory Lass Interviews Elle Spencer

Elle Spencer is finally living her dream job as a romance novelist. She is the author of the best-selling, Goldie-nominated Casting Lacey. Her next release is Unforgettable (Nov 2018) – a collection of two novellas that each start with one-night standsElle and her wife love to travel and split their time between Utah and California. When I caught up with Elle she was enjoying some quality time with her in-laws.

Q: What is something people would never guess about you?

I don’t swear nearly as much as my characters do. According to my sister, I’m not as funny as my characters are either. But she talks with her mouth full, and we all know you can’t trust someone who talks with her mouth full.

Q: You often post hilarious outtakes from your life on twitter. What is the funniest thing to happen to you recently?

When my wife puts her clothes on inside out. It happens more often than you would think, and it absolutely makes my day. One day, I’ll get a picture of it and post it on twitter.

Q: What was the last thing you watched on TV/What TV shows are you into?

We’re finally caught up on The 100 and Handmaid’s Tale, and we just started watching The Americans.

Casting Lacey by Elle Spencer coverQ: Who and/or what has influenced your writing?

My writing is influenced by every book I read and every movie I watch. Did it stir my emotions? Did it keep me spellbound? Great storytelling is what influences me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a movie, song, book or someone’s grandma. If it’s 1 a.m. and I fall asleep mid-story, is it the first thing I think of when I wake up? I love stories that stay with me, and I want to give other people that experience too. 

Q: Your characters always have really cool jobs: high end art dealer, cancer researcher, actresses (who play nurses and lawyers). What kind of research goes into making these characters feel so authentic?

Sometimes I know people who have some knowledge of the world I’m writing about. I had some help on the details around Casting Lacey’s TV shoots and the way actresses think about things. Mostly, though, Google is a wonderful thing. I choose something that interests me and then research it as much as I can and hope I get it right.

Q: Casting Lacey is about to be republished by Bold Stokes Books (August 2018) after you self-published it earlier this year to rave reviews. How has the experience been moving from self-publishing to one of the biggest publishing houses in lesfic?

It’s been an amazing experience. I went to the 2018 GCLS conference as a BSB author and the welcome I received from other BSB authors was incredible. It’s a very supportive group of people, all rooting for each other’s success.

Q: What is your biggest challenge in writing your next book?

Finishing it!

Q: What is your favorite romance trope?

Well, I do love the fake girlfriend trope, which is why I wrote Casting Lacey. I’m also a sucker for second chance romances, which is what my next book is about. I can’t think of a trope I don’t enjoy. As long as there’s a compelling story, interesting characters and a bit of happily ever after, I’m happy.

Unforgettable by Elle Spencer cover

Q: Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?

It’s so important that we LGBTQ people tell our stories, because for so long, no one did. If you have a story inside of you, write it, because odds are someone out there will want to read it. Maybe it will give them a few hours of entertainment or maybe, it will change their lives forever. Don’t assume your words don’t have power. The only time they’re powerless is when you don’t use them.

Q: What is something you enjoy doing other than writing?

One thing? Ha!

I love travelling. Eating great food. Listening to music. Building things. Also, I’m learning about baseball because my wife loves it so much. In fact, I often write about beautiful women while watching baseball players do gross stuff like spit and adjust themselves. It just reinforces my gayness.

Q: What is something sweet or funny or both you have heard from your readers/fans?

I have the best fans in the world. It’s such a huge compliment when a reader takes the time to write a review or send an email or a tweet expressing their appreciation. I recently got a review for Casting Lacey where the woman said she felt like “a wrung out dish rag.” I loved that because to me it meant she was highly invested, and that’s everything.

Q: If you could replicate one meal or dining experience from your past, what would it be?

We went to New York for my birthday a few years ago, and my wife (she wasn’t my wife at the time) took me to this very fancy restaurant called Le Bernardin. The whole experience was special from start to finish. The food was incredible. The service was outstanding. And the company… well, I ended up marrying the company 16 months later, so it must have been pretty good!

Mary Springer reviews And Playing the Role of Herself by K.E. Lane

And Playing the Role of Herself by K. E. Lane cover

Caid has landed a lead role on the hit TV show, 9th Precinct, which is a spinoff of another show that stars Robyn Ward. Caid sometimes costars with Robyn and shares her trailer, but is often tongue-tied around the gorgeous woman. However, when changes to the script mean they have to spend more time together, sparks fly and Caid realizes Robyn isn’t as uninterested in her as she seems. But, past demons linger around every corner.

I have had a hard time coming to an opinion about this book. My biggest problem is that I could not understand why Caid wanted to be in a relationship with Robyn. As I was reading, I was often reminded of how incredibly attractive Robyn is. Wanting to be in a relationship with someone who is so sexy and beautiful is completely understandable, but only if it’s understood as a superficial infatuation. I’m not sure what more there was to Robyn’s character that attracted Caid besides that she was dedicated to her career, enjoyed running, and liked to cook for her.

What might be really holding me back from a positive takeaway is Robyn’s emotional immaturity. Again and again, Robyn reacts to situations by running away, projecting onto Caid, and then lashing out Caid. This cycle grew tiresome and I failed to understand why Caid was so forgiving. I think this could have been solved if we could have seen some chapters from Robyn’s point of view. We are only really told about her problems from dialogue and it would have helped to understand her and given her the benefit of the doubt if we could see some of her thoughts or internal experiences.

Another problem I had was that the problems Caid and Robyn had in their relationship were often solved by random plot events. Caid and Robyn would have a problem, they refuse to solve it, so something bad is randomly thrown in with no foreshadowing or build up. This forces Caid and Robyn to get together, Robyn apologizes, and Caid forgives her again.

This is why I have a hard time believing Caid wanted to be in a relationship with Robyn. The woman would not have made the choice to be a mature adult and communicate if random plot events had been thrown at them. Communication is big issue the two have and only kind of gets resolved at the very end. Caid admits they aren’t good at communicating, but neither of them makes a move to try and work through it. Caid is literally afraid to talk to Robyn about important relationship issues because she is so afraid that Robyn will react as she has done in the past. When Robyn finally hears this she is shocked, when she really should not be. At all.

At the end I just felt confused and doubtful about their relationship. It seemed like it would only take a couple months before Robyn decided something scared her and she ran away again. Maybe Caid would give her a bouquet of flowers and Robyn would say, “I’m not used to someone treating me this way! You’re pressuring me into something aren’t you? I’m leaving!”

My point is that Robyn never really seems to grow up, which she desperately needs to do. That’s not say Caid is a perfect angel. She admits to being possessive and jealous of Robyn and her relationship with her best friend Josh.

The story kept me engaged and invested throughout, and the writing itself was excellent. Lane does a great job of sucking the reader into the story.

The most important part of a romance novel is the romance, and at first I loved it. However, by the end I was just reading to see what happened out of a sense of obligation to these characters. Also, the sex scenes. Those were great.

Danika reviews When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri cover

There has been a ton of buzz around When Katie Met Cassidy. Whenever I see this much attention being given to a sapphic book, of course my ears prick up. Let’s face it, queer women books don’t usually get much press outside of a handful of specialized sites (like this one!) When I read an article by this author (“Telling Queer Love Stories with Happy Endings Is a Form of Resistance“), however, I started to get doubtful, even as I added this title to my TBR. Obviously I agree that we need happy queer stories, but reading an entire article about F/F relationships depicted in media without one mention of the genre of lesbian romance was… confusing. F/F relationships with a HEA (“happily ever after”) is the hallmark of the lesbian romance genre, which has been going strong for decades. There are several publishing companies putting out nothing but these titles. So it seemed odd to me to have this author–of the book that has been praised as a lesbian romance you need to read–seem unaware of the existence of this entire genre (or at least to not think it’s worth mentioning).

So I will admit that I was cautious approaching When Katie Met Cassidy. As I listened to the audiobook, my doubts were quickly justified. Despite the praise it’s gotten, this story did not agree with me. In case you aren’t aware, the premise is that Katie is a straight woman (whose fiance recently dumped her) who finds herself falling for Cassidy, a butch, womanizing lesbian. Now, I am all about books that explore sexual fluidity, or coming out later in life, or discovering new labels for yourself. But Katie starts off the story gratingly anti-queer. She cannot stop (mentally) commenting on Cassidy’s masculinity. She critiques her clothes and mannerisms. She immediately assumes that because Cassidy is masculine she must be a lesbian–and laments that being a lesbian would be so much easier. (Despite being shocked that Cassidy has made it so far in their profession while wearing pants instead of a skirt…)

Of course, this is a romance (though not a Romance? This definitely seems to be marketed as Fiction while also being all about the romance), so Katie is intrigued by Cassidy. When she bumps into her outside of the office, she is convinced to go to a lesbian bar with her. Katie assumes that the women there will be “angry” and hypermasculine. All the praise for this book says that it is a light and fluffy read, but I found Katie’s attitudes painful to read about in a queer romance novel. Later, when Katie visits Cassidy’s home and is snooping through her clothes (yep), she continues to be surprised by her owning “men’s clothing,” and is absolutely scandalized when she finds out Cassidy wears briefs. As in, she is so shocked that she thinks I can’t be here. I have to go home. This is too much.

Cassidy feels like a flat stereotype of a butch woman. I was reminded of this tumblr post:

Whenever I hear talk about “stereotypical butch lesbians” I have to remember that I’m operating from a totally different window here because like:

Butch lesbian stereotype written by a straight person: Cold, unaffected, detached, beer-swilling grump who looks out for herself and needs to learn tenderness.

Butch lesbian stereotype as written by a gay woman: Noble and chivalrous goofy nerd who eats chicken nuggets and candy bars, probably cries at Disney movies.

When Katie Met Cassidy is an own voices representation of a lesbian, but Cassidy is exactly that detached butch who needs to learn how to let people in. There is some odd backstory that seems to say that she was in love with her straight best friend as a teenager, and that’s why she’s never let any woman in since then? Of course, Katie–with her charmingly backwards attitudes, who keeps drunkenly asking why Cassidy is gay–is the exception.

I kept getting the impression that this was a lesbian romance from the 80s (other than the cell phones). It’s not that it was bad, it just felt like a lesbian romance that is completely disconnected from the history of lesbian romances and from modern times. The concept of bisexuality is never mentioned.Katie has been dating men her whole life, has never questioned her orientation, was just recently engaged to a man, and now is only debating whether she is gay or not (now that she’s fallen for Cassidy). She basically just looks back and thinks “Oh, I guess I was actually in love with my best friends this whole time and I didn’t know.” Which is fine! It’s fine to have a character date men and later realize she’s a lesbian. That happens! But it’s so weird to me that no one–not the whole bar of lesbians, not Experienced Lesbian Cassidy–mentions that there is an option other than gay or straight.

Ultimately, this is a book about two people falling in love, and between Katie’s prejudice and Cassidy’s flatness as a character, I just wasn’t invested in either of them. There isn’t much of a plot outside of the romance, and that relationship was soured for me–especially in an egregious bit of callousness by Katie late in the novel. It was a quick read (well, a quick listen), but I wouldn’t recommend it. Of course, plenty of people disagree! I know this has been a favourite for lots of people, so maybe check out some of those other reviews, too, if you’re on the fence. If you are one of the people who really enjoyed it, feel free to let me know why in the comments! Everyone has different reading experiences with the same book, so I’d love to see where we differed.

Marthese reviews A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame

‘’Duty and service come first’’

I have a soft-spot for queer royalty romance books. I have said it before and I stand by it. When I discovered A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame, it was an immediate add to my TBR. When I saw there was an audiobook, I took the opportunity to honour one of my New Year’s resolutions. The audiobook is narrated by Lesley Parkin, and let me just say that the voice was fantastic.

Set in the future, Frame’s A Royal Romance follows Princess Georgina (soon Queen) and Beatrice Elliot, a Republican charity worker. Georgina is the first openly gay monarch and the first woman to be first in line before her brother. The royal family were (almost) all a delight; they were so supportive of Georgina – although as head of the family, they rely a lot on her. Who will she rely on?

Beatrice and George meet after Georgina becomes Queen. On her road for coronation, George wants to support one main charity – to give them patronage and exposure. She chooses Beatrice’s charity for their great work and Bea, as the regional manager, is the only person who can take her around the country on site visits. This sets some sparks flying. They clear things enough to be able to work together, but the class and cultural divide is ever-present, and it doesn’t take much for hostility and misunderstandings and feelings of inferiority and inadequacy to take over. A lot of misconceptions have to be cleared up first.

Bea is refreshing to George. They both challenge each other to think in a different way. It’s a monarchy match, especially because George has to marry and she prefers to marry for love…she just has to convince Beatrice.

Sarah and Reg Elliot, Beatrice’s parents were also a delight. It’s the kind of family most people dream of.

The ending of the story was action packed. Some tragedy and lots of celebrations.

The world building in the book was deeply researched and it shows. I learned a lot of new things about monarchy and places. There were a lot of staff positions, creating this intricate web of people surrounding the royal family, although at times I felt there were too many people involved. There were also a lot of traditions (George is old-fashioned) and protocols (much to Beatrice’s annoyance). All this added up for the story to feel realistic.

While I enjoyed the story I felt there were some things that could have been better. There was the generic discourse of ‘gay or straight’. Moreover, despite the story being set in the 2050s, it’s still ‘man or woman’. I would like authors that acknowledge other sexual and/or romantic orientations and a diversity of genders! I also had minor problems with lack of explicit consent or delayed consent.

I also felt that their relationship moved too fast. Granted, there was a timeline and it’s not like they could afford to have privacy, but Bea’s character would have at least said something.

The narrator was great. Parkin gave different voices to each character and distinguished them from the narration voice. At times, I forgot it was just one person. My only issue was with the Belgian accent but accents are very hard to replicate. George’s voice is very poised, whereas Bea’s voice is saccharine sweet.

Despite loving royalty in books (they spice things up), I’m much more of a presidential republican but the reasons given in the book for Monarchy actually made sense and I went on the journey with Beatrice.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It entertained me during many hours on the bus. The struggle for Georgie’s and Bea’s relationship was real. I would recommend to romance lovers, monarchists or British lovers. This is a perfect beach (or cozy) read.

Mary Springer reviews In Development by Rachel Spangler

In Development by Rachel Spangler cover

Cobie has been in nice, safe romance films for too long. She wants to challenge herself with by acting in the lead role of Vale, but studios won’t take her because she lacks an edgy public persona that will sell the character to audiences. Lila is a pop star who is taking the world by storm and building an empire, but she has run out of new things to excite and shock the public. They join together in a fauxmance to help both their careers. However, things get complicated when they grow close and old demons of the past rise up.

This was a fantastic read! It has two of my favorite tropes in romance, which is the fake relationship and the Hollywood setting. Both are done well and the author clearly had fun using them to their full extent.

The story is told from both Cobie’s and Lila’s point of views, which really helped add to the romance and also helped me understand where both of them were coming from in disagreements. One of my pet peeves in romance is when there’s a big misunderstanding that seems to come out of nowhere with no established character flaw to motivate it. Both Cobie and Lila are flawed and have wounds from the past that are established early on and contribute to problems in their relationship. Every time they had a fight, I felt I understood where each of them was coming from, which helped keep me engaged.

The other characters were just as fun and interesting. Lila has two close friends that also work for her, Felipe and Malik, who are in a relationship. Cobie has her sister Emma and best friend Talia. There are also Lila’s and Cobie’s managers, Mimi and Stan, who get them together for the fauxmance in the first place. All of them really helped flesh out the book beyond Cobie and Lila, but didn’t distract from the romance.

Speaking of which, the romance was done really well. Cobie and Lila feel the heat between them but deny it because they need this fauxmance to work for their careers, and also because of past experiences that they haven’t dealt with yet. I could fully believe these two were attracted to each other and falling for one another. The sex scenes were also pretty great. Throughout the whole story, I was always engaged and excited to see what was coming next.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the believability of their careers and how those careers were interwoven with the plot. The story really shows you how important acting and singing are to Cobie and Lila respectively and how those parts of their lives affect them and this romance.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone who wants to read a great romance between two women.