Mary Springer reviews Backwards to Oregon by Jae

Backwards to Oregon by Jae

This book was every trope and every plot device I ever wanted all rolled into one. This is one of those books that you put down and it stays with you for days afterward. I immediately purchased the sequel and the short story collection that is in this same series.

Nora works in a brothel to survive and provide for her child, Amy. One day her friend that brothel’s madam, Tess, has her take a special customer, Luke. He won’t touch her though, won’t do anything with her, and there’s something strange about him. A few days later she meets him again when he saves Amy from the anger of the man running the stables. He offers her marriage and a journey on the Oregon trail–a chance at a better life not only for herself but also for Amy.

Luke has disguised herself as a man since she was 12 not only in order to survive but in order to have the life she would not otherwise be able to have. When she meets Nora and Amy, she can’t help but offer them a chance at a better life–an arrangement that will also help her better conceal her identity in the close proximity to other people in their wagon train.

Luke and Nora agree that this will marriage will be a business agreement and there doesn’t need to be anything else to it. However, when dangerous challenges befall them on the Oregon trail, they can’t help but grow close and sparks fly.

The characters really made this story come alive. In some romances it can be hard to imagine the characters outside their relationship, but here I could easily see Luke and Nora with their own stories. There was also a good amount of side characters that felt equally real and interesting to the main characters, which I always appreciate. Tess was really interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading one of her stories in the short story collection. Other families on the Oregon trail were also really engaging. There was Nora’s friend Bernice who helped her learn how to be a pioneer woman and her husband who becomes a good friend of Luke’s. There was Emmeline, who’s husband is abusive.

This is also a serious slow-burn romance, and it’s done so achingly well. Both Luke and Nora have baggage and issues that need to be worked before they can begin to open up to each other. They take their sweet time with it, but it’s so satisfying in the end. This also made it much more believable and engaging as their relationship progressed.

Another thing I really appreciated was how clearly well researched this was. The setting and historical time period really felt like it came alive.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes stories about hidden identities, westerns, or just a good old slow-burn romance.

Ren reviews Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

This novel was a delight. I’m a big fan of Welcome to Night Vale, and so I was over the moon to discover that creator Joseph Fink had written a book about a trucker in search of her missing-presumed-dead wife. I expected dark wit. I expected oddities galore. I expected to laugh. And while I did experience all of those things while reading this book, it quickly revealed itself to be much more than a lighthearted stroll through the Sci-Fi Woods.

Keisha Taylor is looking for her wife, Alice. Alice – as the title suggests – is not dead. She works for an organization that kills mostly-boneless creatures called Thistle Men, who hunt gleefully in the name of Terrible Freedom. Believing that the Thistle Men may use Keisha as a weapon against her, Alice leads Keisha to believe that she’s dead (for her own good, of course). Keisha is pretty mad when she figures this all out.

It’s a cliché to be sure, but the rest of the book is so good, I was able to let it slide.

Keisha meets her first Thistle Man in a diner. He attacks a man in broad daylight, takes a bite out of him, and no one – Keisha aside – seems to find this strange. When she picks up a teenage hitchhiker named Sylvia (who has own tragic backstory involving the Thistle Men), the two of them band together to unravel the mystery of the creatures and put an end to them. There is a war going on in plain sight, and only a select few can see it. Androgynous oracles watch from the corners. A shadowy woman whispers in ears and urges acts of violence. The book burns slowly and paints a nightmare of Things That Go Bump in the Night; along the way, it threads in painful themes of entitlement and unfounded hatred that send the reader’s mind sharply back into the worst parts of our present world.

This was a system of violence and laws that protected Thistle from the likes of her, five foot three, a gash down her chest, and a constant fear she wouldn’t recognize a heart attack if it came because it would feel like her panic attacks.

Keisha’s anxiety is another point of note. The story is told mostly through her perspective, and she is honest and frank about the many ways in which her anxiety affects her. She holds conversations with strangers – both dangerous and otherwise – in a manner which appears outwardly calm despite the fact that internally, she’s fighting (fighting to breathe and fighting to stay still and fighting to maintain her grip on the façade of normal). Even the bad guys can’t understand how they can look her in the eye and not see fear. And Keisha’s answer simple.

You’ve got me really wrong, Officer Whatever. I’m always afraid. Life makes me afraid. And if I’m already afraid of life, then what are you?

There are several books – many of them reviewed on this site – to which I owe a debt, because they aided in my unlearning in regards to being queer. They gave me strong, funny women in stable relationships with strong, funny women. They introduced me to the concept of chosen families. And as a child who always found it easiest to relate to fictional characters, I saw people living happy lives and realised queerness was not synonymous with limitation. An ache in my chest eased – an ache I had been carrying for so long, I had no memory of its appearance. It was liberating, and the way Keisha’s anxiety is written in this book is the closest I have come to feeling anything akin to that since.

She considered that anxiety was irrational, and listening to it was like listening to a child. It’s not that they are never right. It’s that the correct info is mixed in with a lot of imaginary things, and, like a child, anxiety can’t tell the difference between the two.

She was always afraid but she did what she needed to do.

Make me more afraid. I’m not afraid of feeling afraid. Make me more afraid.

Oftentimes the anxiety hinders her, but in this story of cannibal Thistle Men and government conspiracies and First Evils, there are times when it makes her powerful. Keisha’s anxiety is as much a part of her as her physical body, and she learns it can occasionally be used as a weapon. The ending comes and goes without Keisha’s anxiety being ‘cured,’ for which I am appreciative.

This book is full of twists and turns, and it offers monsters, action, a sprinkling of romance and a great deal of heart.

Mallory Lass reviews Blurred Lines by KD Williamson

Blurred Lines by KD Williamson cover

Blurred Lines is a slow burn, cops and docs contemporary romance that simmers just below the surface until you can’t stand it anymore. I found it very much worth the wait. The dialogue is funny, the plot is engaging and well thought out, and the cast of supporting male characters are highly likable.

Detective Kelli McCabe is a strong, reliable, resilient detective that was recently injured on the job. She is the glue that keeps her family together after her father died and the found family for her partner on the force when his own family wasn’t there for him. She makes you want to hold some of the water for her. At times she can be vulgar and headstrong and also stubborn, much like her love interest.

Dr. Nora Whitmore is a self assured, self protecting, thawing bisexual ice queen and I just wanted to give her a good shake and then a big hug through the entire book. She comes from a wealthy family and enjoys organic food and fine wine, but isn’t pretentious. She cares about her craft and judges people on their intellect and competency on the job and in life. She has her quirks, like keeping a Kunekune (domesticated pig) for a pet, and eating the same breakfast everyday—but in my opinion it just makes her more likable as the story unfolds.

Kelli and Nora meet at the hospital where Kelli is being treated and Nora works as the Chief of Surgery. Sparks fly, and not of the love at first site variety. Their initial barbs turn into a mutual respect and understanding. While both women’s pasts have made them emotionally stunted and commitment phobic, they can recognize their own positive qualities in one another: dedication to a job well done, intelligence, and strength under pressure. They realize they can lean on each other, and that opens up a complicated world of opportunities and fears for both of them.

The main plot revolves around a sexual harassment allegation levied against Nora, and some complicated family situations Kelli is trying to get her arms around. It was pleasantly surprising to me that the mostly male supporting cast is lovable, complex, and helps move the story along in meaningful ways. Kelli’s cadre of cops: her partner on the force Travis, her ex partner Williams, and her brother Sean, are all fleshed out in meaningful ways and I ended up rooting for all of them.

Blurred Lines features some of the most emotionally charged and revealing interactions between two characters that I can recall reading in a long time. As Kelli and Nora try to untangle their own lives and their own shit, they peel themselves back like onions and expose their most intimate thoughts. They ultimately have to decide if they want to do the work to move past their shortcomings, away from their past and toward a future together.

Mary Springer reviews Calendar Girl by Georgia Beers

Calendar Girl by Georgia Beers

Addison is a complete workaholic, and in trying in earnest to prove to her mother she can take over the company, she ends up pushing herself into a stomach ulcer and being rushed to the hospital. Her mother forces her to hire a personal assistant to try to make work easier. Katie Cooper is rapidly loosing her father to dementia and is in need of money to help her mother with the bills. But Addison resents having to let Katie into her space and do her work. Meanwhile, Katie is determined to do her job and get past Addison’s cold, detached demeanor.

As someone who is a type A personality herself, as well as who is a little too familiar with Katie’s struggles with her ailing father, this book had a lot to relate to. The author clearly had done her research, and I greatly appreciated that. These parts of the book jumped off the page and really helped engage me.

I enjoyed how Addison was honestly portrayed in a way that made sense for how her employees didn’t like her, but at the same time we could understand where she was coming from. In the first chapter she has to fire two employees for acting inappropriately in the office. I could understand why they would be upset, but also understand why Addison had to do it. Sometimes when authors try to create “ice queen” characters, they either go too far to try to make them mean, or do too much to make them understandable. The author here does a great job of finding a balance.

Katie Cooper was relatable in terms of her struggles with her father, and trying to find a job that was in her major. She was very sweet and kind, but was also willing to confront Addison and call her out on her mistakes. I liked that she was able to take control of her narrative.

The kiss and sex scenes were very steamy and fun. However, the romance between the two could have been a bit more organic. There were some scenes where I was definitely rooting for them, but then some where I couldn’t find the same energy for the narrative.

However, my main problem was in how the conflict was resolved. Throughout the novel it felt like Addison’s mother was the antagonist to her goals. I didn’t feel like that conflict was satisfyingly dealt with. At the end I was left crying out, “But what about that? Aren’t we going to confront that person?” This also meant that Addison’s whole narrative felt unsatisfying. I like to feel triumphant at the end of a story through the character’s arcs. Addison does have character development, but she doesn’t seem to receive much reward for it.

Overall, this was a fun romance I would recommend to someone looking for a light and quick read.

Babusha reviews Falling Into Place by Sheryn Munir

Falling into Place by Sheryn Munir cover

HALLELUJAH !HALLELUJAH! THERE IS AN INDIAN LESBIAN ROMANCE NOVEL!!!

First of all, this review will contain rapturous joy on just the existence of such a book. It may even be half of this review and to everyone who points this out to me, deal with it idc.

In the last year or so, India has made such amazing strides when it comes to LGBTQ issues. First of all the Supreme Court stated homosexuality is a fundamental right and then within months legalized it by striking down the old colonial rule that originally deemed it illegal, Section 377. So for me, reading this novel written by a native Indian author with such genuinely compelling writing and relatable characters was the best chocolate chip cookie on the side of a piping hot brownie with vanilla ice cream cheesecake that was the last year.

Okay rapture over, to the review.

After a super unconventional meet-cute involving an actual car hijack in the streets of Delhi, Sameen Siddiqui and Tara Dixit become carpool and foodie buddies. Tara, who is my kind of introverted and cynical lesbian is initially is a little standoffish, mostly because Sameen is too cute and sweet to not have a crush on and unfortunately also too seemingly straight for it not to go wrong.

Sheryn Munir does such a vivid job of describing and showing Delhi around- both from a native Tara’s eyes and also from the Bangalorean Sameen’s using both locations and food. Honestly, Falling into Place uses food in such an intersecting way–like a connecting string and aesthetic between the two characters; it’s almost like a third protagonist of the story. Also, like most desis, I have a special place in our heart for North-South Indian romances and this book is definitely no exception.

As an Indian, in most LGBTQ romance novels I’ve ever read that are centered on Indian or Middle Eastern communities, the elephant in the room is the shadow of physical danger due to a backwards law. The level of fear and cynicism that comes with living under such a law is both realistic and a trope present in this book as well.  Tara’s cynicism has marred her romantic past and also creates obstacles in her initial friendship. But the story does a great job of also deconstructing Tara’s fear when she realizes she has fallen in love with Sameen. She is afraid–of heartbreak, of life-changing love-as are we all.

I swear this book is like every single one of my fave Hayley Kiyoko songs.

Relatable and empathetic characters in a familiar setting with cute and light humour, Sheryn Munir tells a story using all my catnip–grounded, flawed character with a ‘disaster run away’ setting at pretty girls near them lol, a joyfully familiar setting and a story that is grounded in its characters and their personal journey rather than of the struggles and oppressions of the outside world bring with it. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of that!

Four stars all around!

Please note: This does involve “toaster-oven- converting the straight girl” plot-line.

Megan Casey reviews Tank Baby by Iza Moreau

Tank Baby by Iza Moreau cover

The short review is this: “Tank Baby is the first book in a marvelous new series that has the potential to, much like Nancy Drew did for past generations, capture the hearts and minds of young readers searching for a role model.” But because nothing is as simple as it sounds, here is the longer review:

Elodie Fontaine was born in Shanghai and for the first 7 years of her life, was part of her scientist mother’s secret project to see if children could learn computer code as a first language. But Elodie’s mother died before the project came to fruition and Elodie was adopted by the interracial lesbian couple Sandra Croft and Carmah Williams (who are, in fact, the main characters in Moreau’s earlier novel, The 5).

Ten years later, Elodie is a normal high school senior—a member of the tennis team and Math Club. All thoughts of her early childhood have almost disappeared when she begins to get strange messages referring to her mother’s project. Somebody wants the notes for that project and, it seems, will go to any length to get them.

Elodie is intrigued, but somewhat annoyed. The last thing she wants to do is get involved in a mystery that will take time away from her studies, her tennis, and especially her just-blossoming romance with her doubles partner, Kelli Ennis. But when she, Kelli, and their friend Margo are threatened, she has no choice, even though it means dredging up unwanted memories and shuffling through thousands of pages of code to figure out what worth the project might have to anyone.

And so he girls are off on an exciting adventure complete with an attempted kidnapping, threatening email messages and phone calls, and a mysterious death. And, of course, the budding romance. The mystery and its solution are both intricate and compelling; the romance both flirty and touching.

The allusion of Moreau’s series to Nancy Drew is subtle, barely more than a hint, but there is just enough there to imagine that the ghost of Nancy is looking down from a nearby staircase and smiling. Like Nancy, Elodie hangs out with two friends—Kelli and Margo, she drives a snazzy new sports car, solves mysteries, and is seemingly unable to swear. But that’s pretty much where the similarity ends except for the dynamic, narrative-driven cover that even has a cameo of Elodie on the spine.

While Nancy, George, and Bess are straight (although I have my suspicions about George), Elodie and her friends are all members of the Gay/Straight Alliance at their high school. Yes, there is some homophobia and yes, there is a coming-out scene, but these are side issues to this novel. Tank Baby is all about the mystery and the relationships between the friends. In other words, it is both character driven and plot driven. A nice combo.

As far as I know—and I am a long-time close observer of the subject—the projected Elodie Fontaine Mystery Series is the first-ever Young Adult mystery series featuring a lesbian sleuth. That in itself is worthy of attention. That Tank Baby is an enjoyable first foray into Elodie’s world is a promise of good things to come. Am we won’t have long to wait for the sequel. In the tradition of the original Stratemeyer syndicate that produced the bulk of juvenile series novels in the early to mid twentieth century, the first three Elodie novels will be released almost simultaneously. According to the author’s blog, the next novel is coming in March and the third in May. I like Elodie and Tank Baby a great deal; but more than that I like the idea of a YA mystery series that LGBTQ youth can call their own.

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Lesbrary.

Another note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Mallory Lass reviews Liquid Courage by Hildred Billings

Liquid Courage by Hildred Billings

Liquid Courage is about two people coming together through a comedic course of events. It has been a long time since these leading ladies have had a steady relationship…but, have they found the one in each other?

Vivian “Vivi” is a legal secretary who is recovering from a serious illness that has left her weak and emaciated. Vivi has been in recovery for six months, having spent the last week texting with Shari, a woman she met on a dating app – she decides she is ready to dip her toe in the dating scene again. But, she still lacks confidence about her appearance and self-worth which even a few racy messages can’t shake.

Kat is the head bartender at a local women’s bar, she also works part time down at the docks sorting fish. She hasn’t been serious about anyone in years, not since Sheri broke up with her for looking “too masculine” and shattered her self esteem.

Shari, local lady killer and serial dater likes to frequent Kat’s bar. Kat’s long ago ex, and Vivian’s first attempt in the dating pool knows how to leave a mark, and not in a good way.

This story takes place primarily in a the bar Kat works at, and unfortunately doesn’t really go anywhere from there.

I enjoyed the characters, and it is nice to get a butch/masculine of center female main character in Kat. The sex between Vivi and Kat is hot, and there was even mention of safe-sex, a plus in my book.

Unfortunately none of the characters really experience much growth. I found the plot a bit boring and it suffers from weak conflict points and an unredeemable antagonist. Overall I found it really hard to get into Billings style, the narrative is filled with too many rhetorical questions, exclamation points, and colloquial language for the characters to believably be in their late twenties/early thirties.

Mary Springer reviews The Wolf Diaries by Bridget Essex

The Wolf Diaries by Bridget Essex cover

I love this book. Preferably, I would have a better way to segue into this review, but there’s no way to better introduce it than to say, I love this book.

Jadin is a werewolf with a big heart, and when the lonely and lovely Tess (also a werewolf) asks her to be her pretend girlfriend, she can’t help by say yes. Jadin immediately falls for Tess, but Tess is unfortunately still hung up on her ex-fiance Laurie. Laurie, who doesn’t deserve such devotion from Tess, and whose wedding is the exact reason Jadin has a reason to spend time with Tess while pretending to be her girlfriend.

The first thing that really hooked me into this book was Jadin’s wonderful voice that jumped off the page and along with that her sense of humor. There were many parts where I laughed out loud at Jadin’s jokes, sometimes at her own expense and sometimes at the situations she finds herself in.

Jadin’s character really came through vividly and the same can be said for the rest of the characters. It was easy to stay engaged when I felt like I knew these people and easily care about what happened to them. Jadin clearly genuinely cared about Tess from beginning. I was surprised to find myself falling for Tess as Jadin did. This isn’t told from both their POVs, just Jadin’s. Usually I don’t like this in romance because then it’s harder to relate and engage with whomever doesn’t have a viewpoint portion in the book. However, Jadin’s narration made me feel like I knew Tess the way she did.

There were also several side characters that were just as easy to engage with. Laurie was a fantastic, believable antagonist and I had fun hating her. Mona was Tess’s best friend and had a great sense of humor as well as was a wonderful friend that helped move the plot along while also being a great addition to the cast. Finally, there’s Jadin’s mom, who was a fun and interesting hippy kind of character, as well as believable and engaging.

The romance was believable, and I found myself cheering Jadin and Tess on through the whole story. There was a good balance of physical attraction as well as genuine emotional connection.

My only complaint, and it is a small, nitpicky one, is that the werewolf element felt a bit too low key. There were parts where elements of being a werewolf were incorporated to the story. For example, smell was something Jadin picked up on and often described, which added to the character and world building. There was also a few other world building elements that were fun. However, it felt very little to what I expect when I find a book with werewolves. Again, though, it is a small complaint.

Overall, this was a great book that I highly recommend for anyone looking for a fun romance with the elements of the fake relationship and werewolves.

Danika reviews Mistletoe Mishap by Siri Caldwell

I went into this fully expecting it to be lesbian Christmas erotica–which would have been fine, as a fun, quick read! Instead, Mistletoe Mishap has a lot more nuance that I expected. Viv and Kendra are married, and their sex life has fizzled out a bit. Kendra is trying to reintroduce sex to the relationship, and they begin to negotiate their physical relationship. I appreciated that this acknowledges that it’s easy to fall into a rut in a relationship, and that it can even be a bit awkward to try to regain it. Although they have been together a long time, Kendra is still insecure about whether Viv has anywhere near the same sexual drive towards her as she has towards Viv.

It’s also nice to have a romance between two women who are not teens or twenty-somethings. They’re middle-aged women, and they’re both mature, as well as being settled into their professions. They’re both scientists! And professors. It’s not discussed a lot, but there’s an undercurrent to the plot about being semi-closeted and how that affects their relationship. Through this little bet for who can make each other have the most orgasms, there are also subtle shifts in their relationship outside their sex life, including how much they hide their relationship while out in public (especially at the university they teach at).

In fact, despite the premise, I would call this more of a romance. There are sex scenes, but they aren’t as much the focus as their relationship in general is. If you’re in the mood for a short, holiday-themed read that has sex scenes, but also some nuance around negotiating an established relationship, I think this is well worth the read!


Mallory Lass reviews Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes

Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes cover

Content warning: violence against women, murder of women, homophobic father, abandoned by father, alcohol abuse

Unsolved serial murders committed by one, or maybe two people, will keep you guessing in this thriller that takes place in the dead of winter. Nothing like solving a murder over Christmas. It is low on holiday feels, and high on intrigue.

Joanna, an ex-cop who served time for killing a serial offender in cold blood, just can’t seem to let her old life go. Or maybe, her past has a way of catching up with her. Her life after prison is simple, if not boring. She works in a warehouse and spends time with her two straight female friends: a former fellow inmate, Kira, and the IAB cop that sent her to jail, Vanessa. Her and Vanessa spend most of their time together getting drunk, arguing, and picking up respective one-night stands. An attempted murder in her hometown, with a profile like one of her old cases, forces her to navigate her relationship with her former partner on the force, Theo.

I went through a Patricia Cornwell phase where I read about twenty Scarpetta novels in a year, and I’ve watched my fair share of crime shows, but crime thrillers are not my go to genre, and I haven’t read many lesbian ones. This was a good entrée into the genre.

Killer Instinct is an entertaining read. I didn’t personally like the snippets into other character points of view—it happens infrequently and with different characters points of view being told throughout the book that it seemed more distracting than beneficial. I would have preferred finding out plot points and relevant case information at the same time the protagonist Joanna does. But, as a reader, knowing outside information did increase the suspense factor. My other critique is that the supporting cast was not developed enough to be really invested in them. I wanted to know more about their back story and certainly more about Joanna and Venessa’s road to becoming friends.

Overall, there were enough twists and turns for me to consider this book a “page turner”, and at 165 pages it is definitely a quick read. This is a thriller, but there is also a romantic undercurrent, and despite Joanna’s penchant for one-night stands (the sex throughout is of the fade to black variety), she might have finally met a woman worth having a relationship with. Will her past will keep coming back to bite her, ruining her chances at a longer term relationship? Will she help her old partner solve the case and finally exercise her demons? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.