Danika reviews She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen

the cover of She Drives Me Crazy

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If you want a teen romcom in an F/F YA book, this is the read for you!

I’m getting caught up on 2021 reviews, and I listened to this several months ago and don’t remember a lot of details, but what more do I really need to say than that and also showing you that cover?

Scottie is struggling to get over her ex-girlfriend, Tally. They used to be on the basketball team together, but Tally transferred to a wealthier school to get on the better team. Now, she acts like she’s superior to Scottie and barely acknowledges her, even when they’re playing against each other. While Scottie is still mulling over that disastrous game, she backs up into Irene’s car. Irene is a cheerleader who has been Scottie’s nemesis (whether she knows it or not) when Irene called to have Scottie’s car towed at a party, apparently just to be a jerk.

Their moms decide that Scottie will drive Irene to school until her car is back from the shop: a solution neither of them is very happy about. Then Scottie decides that the best way to show up her ex is for Irene to pretend to date her–in return, she’ll empty her savings to pay for the damage on the car.

Yep, it’s enemies to lovers and fake dating! It is very much like a teen romcom movie: the two of them get to know each other over their music choices on the drive. They have miscommunication. They both open up about their insecurities. Scottie realizes that, despite being hung up on her toxic ex, maybe the girl she’s been looking for has been right in front of her this whole time. There’s also the “only one bed” trope. They even discuss teen romcom movies!

I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was a quick, fun listening experience! It’s cute, and the ending is cathartic and sweet.

Larkie reviews How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole

the cover of How to Find a Princess

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Alyssa Cole is a master of over the top, slightly ridiculous romcom writing, which always makes for delightfully fun books that hit all the emotional highs and lows of a perfect romance. How to Find a Princess is the second in her Runaway Royals series, although like most good romance series, the books can stand alone as well. The story follows Makeda Hicks, a New Jersey girl who loves to fix things for other people, whether they want her to or not. She has just lost her job and her girlfriend, despite the fact that she’s bent over backwards for both of them, and moves back in to her grandmother’s B&B where she decides she’s going to start being selfish and stop giving herself away. This is when Beznaria Chetchevaliere, royal knight and junior investigator for the World Federation of Monarchists, comes crashing in, determined to prove that Makeda is actually a princess: the long lost heir to the throne of Iberania. But Makeda doesn’t want to be a princess, and is tired of hearing people insist that she is one—so Bez has to convince her to come home.

One of the things that I enjoy about Cole’s writing is her endless optimism and creativity for what a small monarchy could look like. The countries she writes about are fictional, but they feel grounded in reality, and her books are filled with little details to reflect that. Iberania is a small island in the Mediterranean, with Italian and North African influences—which you can see in the names (and swears) of all the Iberanian characters. But despite being a royal romance, Cole clearly doesn’t glorify all monarchies. In this example, Iberania is functionally a democracy, and the hunt for their lost princess is more of a tourism act than anything else. Additionally, the WFM (and its leader) are portrayed as ridiculous for trying to maintain that they’re better than other people because of some accident of birth and generational wealth. Her books modernize the royal romance in new ways every time, which is what makes me willing to keep reading them.

However, despite the fun writing style and the great world building, this book really fell flat for me. The first several chapters were extremely interesting and fun, but then the plot stagnated. Bez kept insisting that she was going to convince Makeda to return to Iberania, and then did a bunch of side stuff that was more about flirting with her than actually advancing the plot. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind excessive flirting, but it didn’t really go anywhere. They spent forever dancing circles around each other, and had one failed kiss to show for the majority of the book. Even when Bez finally does convince Makeda to go to Iberania and at least participate in the contest, the next third of the book is focused on their voyage over—and even though there’s only one bed, they still don’t kiss! They also meet AK, who provides some moral support for Makeda and they have…a lot more chemistry than I feel between Makeda and Bez. He is clearly going to be the main character in the next book, but it kind of made me wonder why I had spent 250 pages trying to connect to a relationship that is less interesting than this friendship that formed in just 2 or 3. They finally get to the island and there are two short chapters that are packed with action, as all of the various plot threads get tied up, but they really felt rushed and I had a lot of questions. I feel like the pacing was the downfall of this book, and I would have rather spent less time in New Jersey, the same time on the ship, and then more time actually watching the ending play out. There were some good twists in there, and I didn’t dislike the way it ended, but it felt very abrupt after all the time we spent trying to get there.

Overall it wasn’t a terrible book, but I would rather recommend some of Cole’s other work. The good parts about this book shine through in other ones she’s written, and make for more entertaining stories. I liked the premise of this one a lot, but it really didn’t deliver like I was hoping it would.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING (highlight to read):

I enjoyed (and didn’t predict) the twist that Bez was the real princess after all, although it did open up a lot of new questions. My first one was, so what really happened to Queen Aaza? She lived in Australia, but did she have a son? Where did Makeda get that ring (or I guess, where did the sweet talking man that Grandmore slept with get it)? I guess these didn’t need to be specifically answered, but having the ending be so abrupt made them feel a lot more pressing to me. I also feel like this opened up an issue, specifically what Bez says here: “So you mean, I’m a Chetchevaliere and an al-Hurradassi? I am the product of the two most prestigious families on the island? My belief that I am an above-average human, all of us are, is now backed by evidence?” Like I said earlier, one of the things I like about Cole’s royal books is that she dismantles a lot of royalty tropes. They aren’t any better because they’re royalty, they just have more responsibility. Bez herself hates her employers for thinking that they’re better than her because they have money and think they’re royalty! I know that this was meant as a commentary on how Bez clearly has ADHD and is considered lesser because of it. I related to her concerns of being Too Much a lot, as someone with ADHD myself. But it struck a wrong chord that it was her being royalty that is her ‘evidence’ that she’s above average, not that she was more capable or that she managed to get Makeda to Iberania despite all of the obstacles that the WFM put in her way. She’s saying she isn’t better because she outsmarted the antagonist, she’s better because of her lineage. Again, maybe that wouldn’t have struck me as so weird if we’d had more time to process the events of the last two chapters, rather than getting hit by this revelation and the book ending just a page later. But after a lot of the book spent criticizing and ridiculing people who think so highly of themselves because they’re royalty, this line really got to me.

Shana reviews Humbug by Amanda Radley

the cover of Humbug

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Humbug is a quiet Christmas novel with an age gap romance. I found it a relaxing and wholesome read, but it’s an unbalanced workplace romance. The book struggled to decide if it wanted to focus on the characters’ careers, or their love story.

Ellie is a brilliant statistician who is stuck in a dead end job at an HR recruitment firm. Everyone in her office knows that she loves Christmas because her desk looks like a Hallmark holiday movie year-round. So when her firm’s CEO, Rosalind, needs someone to organize an epic office Christmas party at the last minute, she taps Ellie to be her new executive assistant in a cushy penthouse office. There are just two problems. One, Ellie is terrified of heights and can barely stand to be in her new office without hyperventilating.  Two, Rosalind hates Christmas, and her last assistant canceled all the party plans. As they work together, mutual crushes abound! But since neither can imagine the other wanting them, we get a slow sweet burn with plenty of personal growth along the way. 

Rosalind is an intimidating, and exacting boss, and Ellie is initially a nervous wreck around her. But Rosalind is also a compassionate coworker, and a protective single mother, who appreciates Ellie’s talent. And Ellie is clearly talented. The woman engineers a winter wonderland from scratch, outside, during a London winter!

I loved watching Ellie rediscover her confidence through working with Rosalind. At the beginning of the book, Ellie has forgotten her worth and is grateful for any job after a period of unemployment. Slowly, Ellie learns that she’s been coasting along with an unfulfilling role, with roommates who take her for granted. I liked seeing Ellie find her happiness and I think this would be a great read for someone feeling stuck in their life or career. But I was left wishing that the end of the book had focused more on resolving Ellie’s career, and less on ramping on the romance. Still, if you love watching characters slowly figure out they like one another, and prefer your romances with no sex scenes, this may work for you. 

I appreciated that Rosalind was portrayed as both a nurturing person who adores her articulate queer daughter, and as a shrewd businesswoman. She’s powerful and sexy, without feeling unattainable. I don’t usually like ice queen romances OR boss/employee romances, but I loved both of those tropes in Humbug. I thought the power dynamics were smoothly addressed. While there’s several work scenes where Rosalind enjoys flustering a blushing Ellie, Rosalind is too ethical to act on her growing attraction to Ellie. And though there is an age gap, and the two women are clearly at different points in their lives, they both clearly respected one another. 

My favorite part of the story was Ellie’s unapologetic love of all things Christmas. It was intense, and adorable, and I loved that Ellie happily accepted other characters’ more  muted—or hostile—feelings about the holiday. This is a classic Christmas rom-com, with holiday cheer and a predictable storyline. I would vote for Humbug as my favorite Christmas novel of 2021.

Kelleen reviews Adriana Herrera’s Sapphic Christmas Romance Novellas

‘Tis the season for Christmas romance novellas! I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, Christmas novellas are perfect — they are a straight shot of holiday cheer (even if I’m really not feeling cheery), they keep my attention during a busy busy time of year, and I know others love them because their length is great for marathoning to reach end of year goals. And no one does a holiday novella like Adriana Herrera. Adriana Herrera is a bisexual Dominican romance novelist who writes really beautiful and vibrant stories about queer Black and brown folks.

So, here are three mini reviews of her sapphic Christmas romance novellas.

Mangoes and Mistletoe

cover of Mangoes and Mistletoe

This novella, set against the backdrop of a Great British Baking Show-esque reality show, features two Dominican heroines — one who grew up in the US and one n the DR — who are “randomly” paired up for the competition. It’s a sexy sapphic baking with only one bed and a “just for the week” hookup arrangement.

I was really compelled by the way Adriana Herrera explored the nuances between the different relationships that the two heroines had with their Dominican culture, and how they each wanted to represent their culture in their professional culinary pursuits. She tackled tough questions of immigration, culture, and ambition in such a fun, smart setting.

However, so much of the conflict in this one ended up being external because of the demands of the narrative, which didn’t really allow for the internal, relational conflict to flourish.

3.5 stars

Her Night with Santa

Her Night with Santa cover

This is a low plot, high steam erotic novella that is just so much fun. In this world, the role of Santa is passed down in a single lineage and the current Santa is a sexy butch woman. She arrives at her vacation home in the Dominican Republic on Christmas morning only to find a stranger naked in her bed.

Farnez, the niece of one of the Magi, needs a break from her family and her work, and her uncle has arranged for her to have a short layover in his friend Kris Kringle’s vacation home. What she expects to be a weekend alone with herself and her bag of toys turns into an erotic weekend full of all her butch Santa fantasies.

I love the way Adriana Herrera expands the world of erotic Santa novellas (yes, it’s a thing) to include not only a sapphic lady Santa, but also the mythology and traditions of Latinx cultures with the inclusion of the Magi. This book is so body positive and sex positive (Farnaz is a sex toy inventor and entrepreneur, and they put those toys to work). It’s fun and frothy and the heat is dialed up to 11.

4.5 stars

Make the Yuletide Gay

the cover of Amor Actually

This year, seven Latinx romance novelists put out a Christmas anthology based on Love Actually called Amor Actually, in which Adriana Herrera has not one but two queer novellas. Her first one, “Make the Yuletide Gay,” is a sapphic romance between a 40-something Latin Pop Star and her manager, who has been in love with her for a decade.

Full disclosure, I really hate Love Actually, but I really loved this novella (and the anthology as a whole). After five failed engagements with men, Vivi G realizes that perhaps her hot manager just might be in love with her and that she just might not be as straight as she thought she was.

This novella is low angst in the best way, full of really beautiful communication as these two try to navigate their boss/employee relationship while unlearning compulsory heterosexuality and honoring the fluidity of identity. There’s some really fantastic conversations about consent and normalizing how bodies look and work differently.

And, of course, it is very sexy.

5 stars

Kelleen is a new contributor to the Lesbrary. You can read more reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.

For more sapphic Christmas reads, check out these Wintry Sapphic Reads to Cozy Up With, Sapphic Christmas Books, and the Christmas tag.

Danika reviews The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta

The Heartbreak Bakery cover

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This is where I use the wishy-washy definition of which books the Lesbrary covers (books about a main character who “doesn’t identify as a man and is at least some of the time attracted romantically and/or sexually to others who do not identify as a man”) so that I can talk about a book I love and think you will too, even though it’s not sapphic. This is a YA magical baking romance between an agender main character and a genderfluid love interest, which is just as good as it sounds.

This follows Syd, who works full time baking at the local queer bakery, The Proud Muffin. When Syd’s girlfriend breaks up with Syd seemingly out of nowhere, it’s crushing. Syd funnels that pain into baking, the same way Syd deals with everything. Except that it soon become apparent that everyone who eats Syd’s breakup brownies breaks up, including the owners of The Proud Muffin. Now Syd and Harley, the bakery delivery person, are on a mission to track down everyone who’s been a victim of broken-hearted brownies and find a way to fix it.

If that premise doesn’t grab you, we do not share the same taste in books! This delivered on exactly what I wanted from it–except that for some reason I thought this was an adult romance, and I’m still not quite sure why it is YA? Syd has special permission to have a full time job and complete high school classes, but I’m not sure why Syd wasn’t just out of high school for this story… but that’s a very minor complaint!

I really appreciated the reexamining of Syd and W’s relationship. At first, Syd is stunned by the “sudden” break up, but after some time to process it, realizes there were cracks in their years-long relationship for a while. W is the villain. I really enjoy Capetta’s writing, and part of that is the emotional complexity in their work. No one feels one-dimensional.

This book is so celebratory of queerness and queer community. People check Harley’s pin for their or his pronouns every day. Everyone is so accepting and kind, even in difficult moments. (And even if they express that a bit differently!) The bakery is almost entirely queer people, including an aro/ace character. There’s a polyamorous brunch! This is a bit of a spoiler, because it happens at the end, but I have to mention it any way: there’s a big gay Texas bake off! “Sure, but what makes this a bisexual babka?” It feels like a big queer hug. In fact, I was overcome with cute aggression after finishing it and had to suppress yelling and shoving it random passersby’s hands. “READ THIS! IT’S SO GOOD.”

The magic is a fabulist undercurrent, a metaphor made literal. Syd puts emotion in baking, whether intentional or not, and that’s received by the people eating it. It’s a nice way to think about sharing food. Another fun aspect was that there are recipes between chapters, both literal (like for the brownies) and more metaphorical. The fantasy aspect also means this book is part magical quest, part queer bakery romance.

I took this out from the library, but I gave it 5 stars and can’t wait to get my hands on my own copy for my collection. If you’re looking for a last-minute queer-affirming gift, this is a fantastic choice!

Danika reviews Snow Falls by Gerri Hill

cover of Snow Falls

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Every year, I plan on spending December reading seasonal books: Christmas romances, wintry fantasy novels, snowed in stories, and so on. And every December, I find myself with an “urgent” TBR that pushes those books off my reading list. There are always ARCs to review, books to read for the next All the Books podcast recording, or library books with encroaching due dates. Although about 98% of my reading comes from ARCs or library books, in 2016 I was so excited by the premise of this novel (a snowed in sapphic romance) that I ordered it on the spot. And there it’s sat on my shelves for the last 5 years.

This year, though, I finally said enough was enough, and although I still have books I should be reading, I carved out some space for seasonal reads. After all this time of anticipation, I pulled down Snow Falls from by TBR shelves and picked it up. Immediately, it was exactly what I wanted from it: an F/F romance about two strangers who get snowed in together for weeks. One is a grumpy and secretive recluse, the other sheltered, clueless, and chatty. There’s only one bed! There’s two huskies!

Unfortunately, there were also aspects of this book that just didn’t work for me. The romance itself was nice, slowly building a relationship between them, but other plot points fell flat for me. There’s a lot of references to a scandal Ryan went through that leads to her living in anonymity in the middle of nowhere, but when that scandal is revealed, it felt anticlimactic for how much weight was being put on it. The sex scenes also didn’t work for me, and sometimes the dialogue felt stilted. I know Jen is sheltered (she grew up in a controlling, religious family and was homeschooled), but “I was apparently conceived at a drug party where she had sex with as many as seven different guys” is a sentence that does not sound natural.

On top of that, there were a few things I took issue with. Let’s go in escalating order of alarming: first, Ryan makes a joke about how she might have “mental disorder” and that Jen should be worried (this is after also joking about being an axe murderer), which is an ableist joke that I wish had been left out. Then there’s an issue I find with many lesfic titles: no acknowledgement of bisexuality. Jen is questioning her sexuality—she’s currently in a relationship with a guy—but the word bisexual isn’t mentioned. She just wonders if she’s straight or gay. That I could let slide, since she is very obviously gay (she’s never had any sexual attraction to her boyfriend), but it’s reinforced later with another character.

In fact, let’s give Presley her own character, since she’s involved in the most alarming/weirdest part of the book. Presley is Ryan’s brother’s date, and she’s openly hitting on Ryan. Ryan asks her why she’s doing this, since “you’re straight.” (They’ve never interacted before this, so Ryan seems to be assuming any woman who dates men is straight.) Worse, Presley then agrees that yes, she is straight, and that she’s had men and women lovers. She proceeds to keep hitting on Ryan. Now, I’m not denying that there are women who call themselves straight and also frequently sleep with women, but again, the word bisexual doesn’t come up at all. This isn’t the alarming part, though.

Charles, Ryan’s brother, takes her aside at the party to say that his date is flirting with her:

[Charles:] “You interested?”

[Ryan:] “In her?”

He raised his eyebrows. “I could watch.”

“You’re insane.”

“We did it before. Remember that chick I brought home from college? What were you? Eighteen?”

“The difference is, I didn’t know you were watching,” she reminded him. She’d never been more embarrassed in her young life when she found out he’s been hiding in the closet. . . . She was, however, careful to check her closet from then on.

To be clear, Charles is presented as a laidback, playboy type. They get along. They both laugh this off. This is… not normal. I get the whole “straight men are into watching lesbians” thing, but your sister??

Needless to say, I can’t give this a glowing review. There were some parts I really enjoyed, including [spoiler, highlight to read] that the breakup with Brad was so civil and that he was a really great friend–it’s so easy to make this character villainous for no reason at all. [end spoiler] But they don’t outweigh the problems I had with it.

Despite this not being to my taste, I loved the reading experience, because it was exactly that snowy, seasonal sapphic romance that I was looking for. It really reinforced that I want to make this time for myself, because I enjoy it just as much as I imagined I would. If I can get that from a book I had so many problems with, I can’t wait for when it’s a book I click with.

Content warning: Homophobia, including from family as well as internalized homophobia.

If you’re looking for seasonal sapphic books to add to your winter TBR, check out: Wintry Sapphic Reads to Cozy Up With!

Danika reviews Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales edited by Rebecca Podos and Ashley Herring Blake

Fools In Love cover

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What I love about this collection is that nowhere on it does it say it’s a specifically LGBTQ anthology, but if you read sapphic YA, you’ll recognize those two editors and know you’re in for a treat. This is a collection of stories from fantastic YA authors (Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters), each inspired by a romance trope, like Enemies to Lovers or Snowed In Together (a personal favourite).

While these are all love stories of some kind, they cover a range of genres, including fantasy and superhero stories. The first one, “Silver and Gold” by Natasha Ngan, may be my favourite. It’s a second chance F/F romance set during a fantasy dog-sledding competition. Well, wolf-sledding. Across treacherous terrain, and interrupted by a sea monster. And then she gets snowed in together with the competition. Who can resist that?

The first few stories were F/F, which I, obviously, loved. It turns out that there are very few M/F romances in this collection. Most of them are F/F, a couple are M/M, and a couple are M/F. It delights me that this isn’t being marketed as just LGBTQ, because we all know romance anthologies that include no queer people at all, or only one story, so this is a nice reversal. There also wasn’t, if I remember correctly, any homophobia faced in these stories.

As with all anthologies, the range of stories means there are some you’ll enjoy more than others, but overall I really liked this collection. Romance short stories can be tricky for me, because there’s so little space to get to know the characters, but most of these pulled that off and offered satisfying glimpses into these relationships.

Most of the stories play with a few different tropes, despite being assigned to one. There’s a M/M superhero/villain fake dating forbidden romance that’s also childhood friends to lovers, for instance.

Some of the other premises of the stories:

  • a F/F romance where the main character is too awkward to explain to her crush that she is not, in fact, her rideshare driver, so she just drives her to her location. Relatable.
  • a polyamorous M/M/F triad relationship that melted my heart
  • a summer camp where the fat femme main character cosplays as a fairy and falls for another fairy–and also she’s cursed to only tell the truth
  • a cute M/F fake dating at Passover story
  • a girl goes back in time to kill the man who murdered her mother. Instead, she meets the murderer’s daughter and falls in love, before being yanked back to her time
  • a trans M/M boy band romance
  • a F/F scifi princess in disguise romance
  • It’s (probably) the end of the world, with a comet on its way to Earth. What else do you do but break into the zoo with your ex girlfriend to pet the giraffes?

This has all the fuzzy feelings I expect from romance stories, but with a sprinkling of drama and even some action. The variety in genres kept it feeling exciting, and I really liked the tropes format–in fact, I would definitely read anthologies based on just one of many of these tropes (did I mention I am obsessed with the Snowed In Together trope?) If you want a cozy romantic read this December, this is a perfect choice.

Kait reviews A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale by A.E. Radley

A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale cover

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The greatest gift of fiction can bring us is the ability to step outside one’s self; To provide a snapshot of a place you’ve never been, a home video of a life you cannot lead. While this may sound a bit high-minded for a sapphic holiday romance, it is undoubtedly the strongest part of A.E. Radley’s A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale.

Amber is a London publishing executive in charge of acquisitions for children’s books; when the English rights to a Swedish book of fairy tales comes available, her boss sends her (literally) to Sweden to get the contract signed. Due to the reclusive and insular nature of the rights-holder (the author’s granddaughter, Emilia), all business must be conducted in-person, face-to-face. Thus begins the whirlwind encounters between the two seeming opposites (the hermit and the “party every night” city girl).

All the better that it’s set at Christmas, which gives us ample details of not only everyday Scandinavian living but also some of the unique holiday traditions that are always a joy to read about.

It seems a universal truth that no one person can ever truly understand the thoughts and feelings of another perfectly. We all assign different connotations to the same words, interpret inflections and facial expressions differently, and bring our personal understanding of the world to bear in every situation. Fiction, to me, can be among the most helpful avenues to bridging the gap between people, because the entire inner monologue is laid bare. Each reader or listener will still bring their own baggage and understanding and emotional landscape to bear, of course, but at least those things must be applied through the viewpoint of another.

This is where Fairy Tale shines; though the characters are a bit archetypal, their somewhat stereotypical trappings are draped across a rich groundwork of humanity and character.

Where Emilia’s limited view and understanding of the world would bother the average reader (who could live without a cell phone?), her reaction is believable because she lacks the context to even understand what we think she’s missing out on. Amber’s laser-like focus on her career at a firm that is mostly likely actively holding her back (and terrible for her mental well-being) doesn’t feel inauthentic because I’ve felt and know many others who’ve felt that the need to have a paycheck is more important than finding the ideal workplace.

Independently, aspects like those can feel like the author forcing on a tight sweater that doesn’t quite fit, but the characters’ personalities are so well developed that everything seems to slide right on. Even the rising action that brings the two back together (no spoilers)—altogether too contrived and weirdly atonal for my taste—gave me no problems when it came to understanding and completely believing the characters’ reactions and responses.

If you’re looking for lots of hot, steamy sex, this is not the book for you. If, however, you look to romance to see two people with unique outlooks on life learning how to come together and be with one another, Fairy Tale provides a lovely little Christmas story.

Kayla Bell reviews Mangoes and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera

cover of Mangoes and Mistletoe

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Another holiday season, another sapphic Christmas romance. Cozy up with your favorite holiday baked goods and a cup of hot chocolate, because Mangoes and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera is an awesome addition to the genre.

Our story begins in Scotland, where our protagonist, Kiskeya Burgos, is getting ready to compete in the Holiday Baking Championship. She wants to prove to the world that she is a amazing baker that deserves professional acclaim, and is laser-focused on winning the contest. To Kiskeya’s chagrin, she gets paired with Sully Morales, another Dominican baker who is the bubbly, optimistic extrovert to Kiskeya’s serious, driven introvert. As the contest begins, the two bakers have to learn how to work together if either of them want the chance to win. And, as you can imagine, romantic misadventures ensue.

While this novella definitely served up the holiday fun and whimsy, it also touched on some genuinely powerful themes. Kiskeya and Sully are both Dominican, but they both have very different experiences of the culture and desires for how to showcase that in public. The discussion of how queer people can love their culture but also feel pain at homophobia within it really hit home for me. And the plotline with the Holiday Baking Championship TV show also managed to explore ideas of tokenization and how culture can become commodified. For a novella that was jam-packed with plot as it was, I found it impressive that the book managed to touch on such an important topic in a nuanced way.

At the same time, Mangoes and Mistletoe was also an adorable romance novella. Personally, grumpy sunshine (where one partner is bubbly and happy while the other one is, well, grumpy) might be my favorite romance relationship dynamic, and this story executed it so well. Instead of having flat characters, this book really went into the backgrounds of why Kiskeya and Sully became the way that they are. I really enjoyed seeing them go from being at each other’s throats to truly understanding and relating to one another. Plus, the book is chock full of your favorite romance tropes. There was only one bed! If you aren’t into these tropes, your mileage may vary, but I love seeing couples who historically have not had the chance to star in romances get their turn.

Because I enjoyed the book so much, my only gripe was that I wished it could be longer. Don’t get me wrong, the pacing was great and I love reading a lot of shorter books during the holiday season, but I just wish I had more time with the characters. The author did such a great job of exploring backstory at this length that I wish she had more room to do so further. Hopefully, if books like this are successful, publishers and authors will realize that there is a market for longer f/f romance novels, especially holiday ones.

Based on Mangoes and Mistletoe, I can’t wait to dive into Adriana Herrera’s other books and see what she does next. Happy holidays, readers!

Cath reviews Perfect Rhythm by Jae

the cover of perfect rhythm

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Leontyne “Leo” Blake, stage name Jenna, has it all. She’s a world-famous pop star just wrapping up a world tour. Everybody knows her songs, her name (well, sort of). She’s even out as a lesbian and still enjoying her popularity.

Then, just as she walks off stage at a concert, her mom calls and asks her to come home. Her dad has had a stroke. Leo immediately finds herself flying back to the small Missouri town of Fair Oaks that she tried so desperately to leave behind.

Holly Drummond has lived in Fair Oaks for basically her entire life, barring when she was in college. She loves the small-town feel, and she’s glad she was able to return to Fair Oaks as a nurse to support the people she’d grown up around. In fact, she’s now a home health nurse for Gil Blake–Leo’s father. She’s also out as a lesbian in some circles around town, but that isn’t the whole story. Holly is asexual, and while she is definitely romantically attracted to women, there’s no sexual component for her.

When Leo comes home, she and Holly get off on the wrong foot–Leo’s been gone for a long time and never wanted to return, and Holly finds her irritating and self-centered. But they end up spending a lot of time in each other’s back pockets, because Fair Oaks is small to begin with and now Holly is staying at Leo’s family’s house a few nights a week to help Gil and Sharon (Leo’s mom). Leo finds Holly physically attractive, despite their friction, but assumes Holly must be straight when Holly doesn’t seem to return the interest.

The story unfolds at a decent pace at first, not feeling too rushed but also not lagging. Leo and Holly spend a lot of time irritated at one another until they start to realize that they’ve based their views about each other on assumptions that aren’t true. Once they’re able to clear the air a little, they realize they enjoy spending time together, and eventually start to realize they’re developing romantic feelings for one another. But it’s complicated, because Leo is supposed to return to New York, and Holly doesn’t know how to tell her that she’s asexual.

As an ace person myself, I was really excited to read a romance novel with an ace protagonist. I liked Holly’s character a lot, and Leo started to grow on me pretty quickly as she struggled with how to integrate herself back into her hometown and try to repair her relationship with her parents. The romance was very cute and sweet, and I really appreciated that there was a depiction of strained familial relationships that showed you can love somebody dearly and still do things that hurt them, and that it’s possible to try and mend those relationships but it can be difficult.

However, the pacing really started to feel off to me about halfway through the novel. The romance seems to progress both rather quickly and rather slowly, and there are time jumps that had me confused about how much time had passed. Overall, it seems like most of the book takes place over a span of less than two months, which is really very fast for how slow-burn the romance felt at first. I think this is what brought me down to a three-star rating for this book, because when I would start new chapters I would frequently feel like I had missed a portion of the story and go back and check that something hadn’t gone wrong with my kindle.

Still, I really loved the scenes with Holly’s online friends, and the inclusion of a queerplatonic relationship that was every bit as important as romantic relationships around it. The fact that both Leo and Holly were comfortable in their identities was also really refreshing, and it was highlighted by their interactions with a mutual friend of theirs who is not comfortable with her queerness.

A part of the book I’m really uncertain about is that it does include a sex scene. This is entirely consensual, and both Leo and Holly are very communicative about what they want and are in control of what happens to their bodies. The entire scene is presented as a sensual rather than sexual experience for Holly, and I am definitely glad to see the distinction presented, and that some of what Holly experiences as sensual reads as sexual to others and she is adamant that it isn’t for her. But as an ace person, sex scenes with ace characters can be really fraught. This scene might be really validating to some ace people, but it felt somewhat alienating to me.

Overall, I did like the story, and would recommend it for people wanting to read a romance with an asexual wlw character. But the pacing especially, plus the alienation I felt from the sex scene, leave me with a 3-star rating.

Content warnings: stroke, death