Maggie reviews Hoosier Daddy by Ann McMan and Salem West

Hoosier Daddy by Ann McMan and Salem West

I was perusing Hoopla’s queer romance section since I have been on a romance kick lately, and I came across Hoosier Daddy by Ann McMan and Salem West. A lesbian romance about union organizing? Set in Indiana? With a pun for a title? As a queer lady whose roots are in Indiana and whose friends have recently organized a union drive, I had to read it. It proved to be an interesting read, although the fate of the factory was, at times, more interesting to me than the fate of the main romance. Still, it was good to read a queer romance set more off the beaten path, as you will.

Hoosier Daddy features Jill “Friday” Fryman as she works in a factory in her small hometown. Conditions are rough in the factory, there’s rumors of a buyout, the annual Pork Festival is coming up and emotions are high, and in the midst of all of this a couple of “union agitators” roll into town to try to drum up interest in unionizing the factory. One of the union reps, El, catches Friday’s eye. Friday has to navigate her feelings for El, her professional life and opinions as a line supervisor at the factory who is getting dragged ever deeper into management politics, and how it all interconnects with her small town life. This book struggles a little in attempting to balance scenes of small town life, factory and union politics, and scenes of queer romance in a straight rural town, and it shows in how Friday struggles to make any sort of proactive sense of her own choices as events progress. There are some homophobic incidents, but all of Friday’s personal relationships are positive, albeit sometimes that special brand of rural supportive that is also sometimes backhandedly insulting.

I was eager to read a queer romance set in a rural setting, because, obviously, queer people do exist in rural areas but media often leaves them out. And I think Hoosier Daddy gets a lot right. Friday’s friends and family profess their brand of support for her sexuality (usually starting with some form of “it doesn’t bother me but”) while on the other hand Friday’s car is vandalized twice because of her relationship with El. It’s a rural dynamic that allows El and Friday to have a relationship where Friday can introduce El to her Grammy and friends but still means that there’s no doubt as to why the air gets let out of her tires at the bar. Other details also struck true to me, including all the descriptions of the Pork Festival, the community importance of the fish fry at the VFW, and how it’s impossible to escape meeting people who are related to someone else you know. Everyone in town being intimately aware of all the drama also feel accurate. Friday’s immersion in the community is vividly brought to life in a very vivid and familiar way, which I liked, because in that small a setting it is very hard to separate.

Which is why the plotline of whether the factory will unionize is as big of a deal as Friday and El’s romance, because the mood of the community directly effects Friday and El’s relationship. The book itself seemed strangely ambivalent on whether you should root for this unionization effort to succeed or not. The factory clearly needed to unionize. Safety regulations are routinely ignored. Friday’s boss verbally harasses her several times. What you get to eat at the cafeteria is dependent on whether the cafeteria manager likes you. Management engages in blatant union-busting rhetoric and bribery. Public opinion is constantly against the “union agitators” except for the few radicals they manage to attract right away. It all culminates in a death, which finally swings the momentum towards unionizing. But then the buyout goes through and the new management seems genuinely good while also pushing anti-union rhetoric. I was left very confused as a reader as to who the book was rooting for, since the union clearly needs to happen even while it paints new management so glowingly. I was also baffled as to why Friday couldn’t seem to maintain a consistent opinion on what was happening at her job or her relationship with regards to these changes, always reacting rather than acting.

Which leads to the purpose of this book: Friday and El’s relationship. From the get-go their chemistry is of an instant, physical sort. They end up having a lot of hot encounters (too many of them in public restrooms for my taste but still fun), but it takes them forever to have any sort of real conversation or connection. In my opinion, Friday and El make more sense as a summer fling. It would be right for them to avoid discussing their work if this was a short term affair, but if they really want to make this work long term they need to discuss professional and social boundaries and be upfront about it. It makes sense for them to continue to hook up in bathrooms if this wasn’t a relationship that was going anywhere, but if they both really felt a deeper connection – Friday has her own house or El has a hotel room right there, no bathroom stalls without doors included. I’m glad that El had the wherewithal to get herself into a place where the relationship made more sense by the end of the book, because for much of the book they felt like a floundering, although passionate, mess.

All in all, while it was refreshing to read a queer romance set in a rural area, the romance itself got lost in the setting and the plot line that consumed the whole town. Friday and El were always so caught with reacting or dealing with their surroundings that they had little time to develop their own relationship past a physical level. Plus, while there are lots of dogs appearing in this book, every single one of them has flatulence which is described in detail? Which is really an unnecessarily gross level of description that no one really needs, in my personal opinion. Overall, I had a lot more feelings about the state of the factory’s union than Friday and El’s union, but the setting puts this book at a 3/5 stars in my book. Small town girls deserve queer representation too!

Mary reviews Hidden Truths by Jae

Hidden Truths by Jae

I loved the story of Luke and Nora in Backwards to Oregon by Jae, in which a woman in disguise as a man marries another woman in what starts as a fake relationship to help each other on the long Oregon trial, turns into a romantic, slow burn favorite of mine. You can find my review for that here. Hidden Truths is the sequel set 17 years later and focuses more on Luke and Nora’s eldest daughter Amy and her romance with newcomer to the horse ranch, Rika. Amy has grown up under the love of her parents and given much more freedom than most women in her age. She also feels an attraction to women that she struggles with but is able to keep locked down – that is until she meets Rika. Rika comes to Oregon pretending to be her her dead friend to be a mail order bride to a man who works on the farm. Along with all of that, Luke still hasn’t revealed to her two daughters that she is a woman, despite them both being old enough to keep the secret.

Hidden identity is a theme I love and here it was explored so well. Luke is hiding her gender, Rika is hiding her name and history, and Amy is hiding her sexuality. All of these conflicts and storylines weave together and build off of each other. Each character moves the other forward in their arc and development. Everyone gets a moment to shine, which I’m glad for as I was worried when I saw how big the cast is.

The romance between Amy and Rika was very engaging. I could really believe who they slowly took time to get to know each other, then to trust one another, and then to slowly fall in love. At the same time both are struggling with secrets they have from each other.

However, the romance isn’t the only plot. Luke takes some of his horses to another state to sell them and Amy is left in charge of the ranch. She has to deal with men not wanting to follow her command in an era where women were nothing more than wives.

I also really appreciated the world building and the clear expansive amount of research the author had put in. I love historical fiction and nothing can ruin a story more for me than feeling plots points and character movements are out of place for the era. At the same time, it can be just as damning to have too much exposition on the world and the time period. Jae masterfully weaves in the information with the characters and their stories.

Overall, this was a great read I recommend to anyone who likes historical fiction and/or stories with hidden identity. This is a sequel, but I think it stands very well on its own if you want to start here instead of Backwards to Oregon (but I do highly recommend that one as well).

Maggie reviews A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian

A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian

Hello, my name is Maggie and I’m very excited to be reviewing here at the Lesbrary. I’m even more excited that Cat Sebastian, one of my favorite queer romance authors, published a new f/f novella in time for my first review! A Little Light Mischief is a charming romp about some very nice ladies falling in love and doing some crime. Technically, it is part of a previously published m/m series, but don’t let that scare you off if you haven’t previously read Cat’s work–this novella is only very loosely set in the same verse and can easily be read as a standalone (in fact, I have read and loved the rest of the series but couldn’t remember the connection until the end, so the connection is very loose). There are a few trigger warnings to be said: one of the main characters comes from a physically and emotionally abusive childhood and was turned out of her home as an adult when a man exposed his genitals to her. None of this happens in the current story line but is addressed in memories and conversations.

A Little Light Mischief features Molly, a ladies maid with a heart of gold, and Alice, a ladies companion who is accustomed to hard work and usefulness as they work in the same household. One of the characteristics that I love most about Cat’s work is that most of the conflict is external, so what you get is a lot of very soft scenes about characters falling in love with each other and helping each other solve the external conflict. A Little Light Mischief follows this formula deliciously. Both Molly and Alice have already admitted their feelings towards ladies to themselves, and the result is a period of them cautiously looking at each other before coming together in an uncertain situation, drawing comfort from their feelings to fuel their actions (“There’s only one bed!” I shrieked, clutching my phone to my bosom at one point). The conflict arrives when they accompany their employer to a house party. The man who exposed himself to Alice and got her kicked out of her family home is also a guest, and they have to work together to prevent him from ruining her current situation, and maybe even find a little restitution.

That’s the other thing I love about Cat Sebastian stories: they build to very natural and satisfying conclusions. Molly wants to keep her somewhat shady past in the past and build a stable life for herself. Alice wants to do something more satisfying than remaining an idle ladies companion, no matter how nice her employer is. It’s true, the magic bullet here for them to achieve that is crime. But it’s crime in the name of justice. And queerness. So that’s fine. Who among us does not love to read about very soft and competent lesbians with a side of abusers getting their comeuppance? And the situation they end up with is one that is very good and believable for both of them.

If you’re looking for a fun and soft read as a pick-me-up or a light summer romance, A Little Light Mischief is an excellent choice. I enjoyed every second of it, and I hope Cat Sebastian will gift us with more f/f stories in the future.

Bee reviews A Love Story for Bewildered Girls by Emma Morgan

A Love Story for Bewildered Girls by Emma Morgan

Sometimes you take a chance on a book, and it pays off in a weird, indefinable way. This is the only way I can describe my experience with A Love Story for Bewildered Girls by Emma Morgan. Actually, it turned me into the bewildered girl the book addresses in the title. I tacked it on to a book order after reading the tagline, an impulse purchase if there ever was one, and went in to reading knowing approximately nothing. That tempting tagline? “Grace loves a woman. Annie loves a man. Violet isn’t too sure. But you will love them all…”

Although I wasn’t exactly sold on the use of ellipses, it was enough to pique my interest. It turned out to be a 75% accurate summary of the book. Bewildered Girls is told through the perspective of three women, which are revealed to be intertwined in different ways: Grace, a lesbian psychologist who is unsatisfied with her love life; Annie, a high powered lawyer who has high expectations for the men she dates; and Violet, who has a string of unsuccessful sexual encounters with men behind her, and lives with crippling anxiety which she calls “the fear”. Each woman is fairly neurotic in her own way, but it is questionable to me whether this made her relatable, or even (as promised by that tagline) loveable.

This is the sort of book that doesn’t quite have a plotline–rather, it delves into the goings on of these three women and takes the reader along with them, offering slices of three lives which turn out to be more entangled than would be initially suggested. The book is written as a series of titled scenes rather than chapters, allowing the reader to dip in and out of perspectives quickly. It keeps the pace quick and engaging, which is good because to be honest, not much happens. I don’t mean that in a bad way, whatever it may seem–I personally enjoy books that are more character studies than anything else.

What plot there is focuses on the budding relationships with each of the women’s love interests. Grace meets a woman at a party and becomes, for lack of a better word, obsessed with her. Annie starts seeing a man who somehow manages to live up to the high standards of etiquette and personal grooming which she holds those in her life to. The biggest surprise is that Violet, on a reluctant night out, meets a woman and decides to sleep with her. This is the relationship which was the most interesting to me; it has ripple effects across the other two characters’ lives, and I would argue it is the central focus of the whole book. Given that Violet is so reluctant to label her mental illness in any tangible way, it is unsurprising that dating a woman doesn’t lead to any redefinition of her sexuality. It causes more of an upset for Annie, who is Violet’s overprotective roommate and can’t get her head around her friend dating a woman when she had previously dated men.

This was just one of the behaviours that made it really difficult for me to like any of the characters. Another block, for me, included Grace patently not listening to what the woman she is dating tells her about her wants and needs. When I say that I didn’t end up loving them all, as the tagline promised, this is what I mean: I enjoyed reading about them, and I was drawn in by their character voices and entertained by their lives, but for me they were fundamentally unlikable characters. I still think it’s a triumph of sorts for a book, to be full of characters the reader doesn’t like and still be something they are glad they read. Despite the attitudes and actions of the characters which I found to be irritating, the narrative voice was smooth and sometimes whimsical, with a strong sense of personality that was fundamentally charming. I did want things to turn out for the three women, even though I didn’t think any of them were particularly good people.

It could be said that Morgan allows her women to be messy, which is something I really appreciate about A Love Story for Bewildered Girls. The characters are definitely dimensional and complicated, as are the relationships between them. It is often funny, and also often annoying, but in a way that ultimately made me want to keep reading.

Mary reviews Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame

Courting the Countess by Jenny FrameI loved Downton Abbey. Was it a classist, heteronormative, and super white show? Yes, it was trash. But it was my trash. It was the kind of show that I loved not just for my engagement with the characters, but because of what could have been. One character in particular that kept me coming back was Thomas, the gay footman. He was kind of a jerk, and it was explained away that homophobia made him a jerk, and maybe that’s something to analyze at another time – but the point is there was one single gay character in the whole show. And I, a lesbian hopelessly drawn to the historical fiction genre, was left in want.

Now, years later after Downton Abbey has ended and it’s ending for Thomas left something to be desired, I’ve now found a book that feeds my hopeless desire for a gay historical drama around a small English town: Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame.

Harry Knight is an archeology professor at Cambridge who sleeps around and avidly avoids emotional attachments, scoffing at the idea of love. When her father dies and leaves her as the Countess to Axedale Hall, she must return home to see that her grandfather’s wish of bringing it back to its former glory is fulfilled.

Annie is a single mother with a difficult past who remains positive and hopeful no matter what. When she is hired on as housekeeper for Axedale Hall, the last thing she expected was a handsome butch for the Countess. However, no matter how much she wants a happily ever after, above all else she will strive to do what’s best for her daughter, Riley.

Harry and Annie immediately have this insane chemistry that leaps off the page. Their romance was passionate as well as cute. Harry resists because of her past, which lead to many challenges and dramatic twists. Annie is determined to, as the titles says, court Harry and push down her walls. There was never a dull moment with them.

Another part I loved was how alive the town was. All the side characters felt like they could have their stories and I actually enjoyed reading about them as well as the main cast. This is important to me, because in romance stories so often the side characters are just one dimensional soundboards only there to get the two heroines together. That was not the case in this book. It really did feel like Downton Abbey in this aspect and I kept waiting to see a switch of POV to someone else.

Annie having a child was something that worried me before I started reading. Kids can be tricky characters to pull off, but Riley was just as real and vibrant as Harry and Annie. I really identified with her, having also been the nerdy kid that didn’t get along with everyone immediately. Watching her bond with Harry about archeology was sweet and added an extra layer to the story.

Overall, this was a really fun romance that I highly recommend!

Marthese reviews Firework by Melissa Brayden

Firework by Melissa Brayden

“There were olives in her drink, she could fashion an olive branch”

It’s summer (here), which means beach reading! Granted, I live on an island and have not yet gone to swim but you get what I mean: giving romances another try. I settled on Firework by Melissa Brayden because it’s a novella and it sounded interesting.

Firework is about Lucy, a CEO of a Global Newswire and Kristin, a reporter. They meet when Kristen goes to interviews Lucy about a PR her company helped to issue, only it was more of an interrogation because that story ended up being false and the company does not fact check. Despite the bumpy start, they meet at Lucy’s favourite bar. Kristin is new in town and she starts going to the local queer bar of course.

Lucy is feminine, classy and attractive and successful. Kristen can be a bit intimidating and persistent and wants to succeed. They at first have very little in common but start to show each other their world.

Lucy and Kristen are both stubborn and both want to make each other understand, both are also lonely. Kristen just moved and Lucy’s best friend has a family (on which the novel in the series is actually based on but you can read this book without the other). They state they don’t hate each other (solid basis for a relationship!) and start to get to know each other. There is something bubbling between them and their relationship is very much based on give and take. In a way, it felt both stable and a whirlwind romance.

I liked that despite Lucy being a CEO, in her relationship she’s not controlling. In fact I would say that most of the time, it was Kristen that steered the relationship. The fact that they were different made the romance more interesting. My favourite moment was very realistic and involved a protest. Lucy cares! She’s not a cold-blooded CEO. It was cute and ‘squee’-worthy. Down with apathy!

Ignoring the work issue however, is not good. I liked that it was a very realistic work issue and that ethics were discussed. On this, I was on Kristen’s side. If you’ve read this novella, whose side where you on when the issue happened?

One thing which irritated me was at the start of the novella, when they see each other at the bar. It went from considering that Kristen is straight to ‘’so she’s a lesbian’’ with no consideration for other sexualities. Authors please take note that casual erasure is not cool.

The fact that their chemistry was ‘off the charts’ was repeated several times. I guess, since it’s a novella it’s harder to show but the repetition irked me.

If you like romance, this is a perfect summer read (especially if you’re interested in the US). For those that don’t like much romance, I found this book interesting because of the ethical issues and the activism mentioned (environmental). I could definitely relate to that part and the protest and after were definitely romantic in a caring-for-where-we-live way.

This novella is also available as an audiobook, perfect for transits and relaxing moments.

Marthese reviews Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

“We’re not allowed to touch any of them, no matter what they do to us”

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley was a difficult book to read, but an important one. While it is a fiction book, it is realistic; it could have happened. I found this book at the library. It hadn’t been on my radar but don’t you just love when you recognize books as being queer that’s to their covers?

Lies We Tell Ourselves is set in 1959 in Virginia during Integration and it tells the story of Sarah – one of the first few black students who are trying to integrate into a previously all white school – and Linda, the daughter of a newspaper editor who heavily influences people and is against forced integration. Sarah is one of three senior, who try to take care of their younger peers. Sarah’s sister Ruth also is one of the new students and so Sarah is constantly worrying about her.

The high school is a hostile place. Almost nowhere is safe and almost no one stands up for them. What follows from day 1 isn’t just bullying, it’s torture. Sarah thinks it won’t get better and she isn’t wrong: mostly because in public, things stay the same but in private, thanks to the classic group project, she starts to befriend (or be cordial with) Linda and her friend Judy who doesn’t mind that Sarah is black. Judy was in fact Sarah’s first connection. The development of Linda and Sarah’s relationship was realistic. It took time and they had a lot of disagreements.

Deep down, Linda knows she is wrong. Linda is trying to escape her father’s house by getting married to an older man. Despite being a public figure due to her father, even when she had not yet realized that she was wrong, Linda is compassionate. Yet, she cares very much what people say about her. Breaking down such ingrained feelings is evidently hard. The same goes for Sarah. She lets her parents dictate her life for her and to take her life back from them, it’s a long journey. The chapter titles and themes are all lies that Sarah and Linda tell themselves and the slow deconstruction of them.

Sarah and Linda both feel invisible despite being so public, no one knows who they really are. This bonds them in a way that nothing else would. They grow together and decide their own future. The romance part of the book I think was not as important as the rest of the plot but if romance were to overshadow something so harsh like integration and systematic racial hatred and discrimination, it would be a problem. Romance is not a solution, simply a by-product realisations and character development.

Every step is a struggle. The plot deals with some major triggers of violence. I found myself scared for the black students at every page that took place in school. There were some major incidences of violence, although I can safely assure that no one dies. There is also a lot of victim blaming, so beware.

It’s a difficult read but an important one. There is plenty of build-up for the relationship and issues aren’t magically resolved through attraction, which I appreciated. There is great character development, and I grew attached to the side characters as well: they were all so strong.

I’d recommend for anyone that has enough strength to read something like this. Something that didn’t necessarily happen as is, but with the possibility that the different instances did happen to people in the past and with the hard truth that some of these things still happen.

Susan reviews Proper English by KJ Charles

Proper English by KJ Charles

KJ Charles’ Proper English is a country-house murder mystery following Patricia Merton, expert markswoman, as she attends a shooting party that is going wrong in every way it possibly can. The hosts won’t rein in their bullying son-in-law, they’ve accidentally had to host twice as many people as expected, and Pat’s old friend is ignoring his beautiful fiancée, Fenella, who Pat can’t take her eyes off. And that’s all before the murder!

(This is also a prequel to KJ Charles’ Think of England, an m/m country house mystery where Pat and Fen were first introduced, involving spies, blackmail, and betrayal!)

I enjoyed this Proper English very much! The narration is hilarious, especially when it assesses things like men, fashions for women, talking about the weather, the tropes of country-house mysteries… Pat is very sensible and practical, and seeing her respect and fall in love with Fen and see through Fen’s performance of frivolity warmed my heart. They have very different skill sets and approaches, and seeing them work together is brilliant! It helps that Fen gets to be fat and unabashedly femme, and the narrative never treats this like it’s a problem or something that she needs to change!

The mystery itself is very satisfying; there are so many subplots and sources of drama waiting to go off, and every character seems to have a secret that could be exploited by a blackmailer! And the victim is an absolutely horrible person, so it’s understandable why people might want him dead! I find it quite strange that the murder doesn’t happen until about two-thirds of the way into the book, although I can understand wanting to get the romance settled and not have to weave it around finding a man dead. The resolution is definitely worth it though, as it’s very satisfying.

In conclusion, it’s really good. If you like country-house mysteries and, like me, have been desperately hunting for queer versions of the tropes, this is the place to start.

This review is based on an ARC from the author.
Caution warnings: verbal abuse, blackmail, homophobia from a villain

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Mary Springer reviews Desperate Times by Hildred Billing

Desperate Times by Hildred Billings

This review contains spoilers. I will state when I am about to go into them, so if you want to read the first few paragraphs to get a general gist of the book, you can do so safely.

Romances between two butch lesbians are hard to come by, so when I found this title I thought I had hit the jackpot.

For many lesbians, living in a small town can be a nightmare for dating opportunities. This is the exact predicament Tess and Sidney find themselves, which inevitably ends in them matching on a dating app and meeting up a local bar. However, each posted some misleading pictures of themselves and both are disappointed to find the other is not femme. For these butches that would usually be a deal breaker, but being the only option for each other they agree to a casual relationship. However, what was supposed to be friends with benefits quickly turns into something more romantic, which becomes a problem in a homophobic, conservative town.

I like a love story with some good, old-fashioned angst, and there was definitely plenty of that here. Tess grew up on a ranch raised by her emotionally distant father and constantly surrounded by men. That plus growing up in a small, conservative town leaves her with a lot of walls and issues to deal with.

Sidney herself is dealing with the frustration of moving from a town with a good-sized LGBT+ community, to this area with absolutely nothing. A place where there is literally just one other lesbian in town. She moved there to take care of a historical building and gives her a set amount of time to stick with it before she’ll allow herself to give up.

This was an interesting premise with a lot of potential and for the first two parts of the book, I felt it lived it up to that. However, in the third part things took a dramatic turn that just did not sit well with me.

Spoilers below.

There is a big celebration for the fourth of July. Sidney and Tess meet up and then go back to Sidney’s place where they start to make out and then begin to go further. In that moment, they see two of the old, gossipy neighbor ladies are staring at them through the window. At this point they are let into the house for some reason, proceed to rage and throw homophobic insults at them. Tess starts crying at this, and Sidney scoffs at her.

Now, that alone would be bad enough. To see the person that you’re involved with being outed and then crying about it only to scoff and diminish them – that’s bad enough. It portrays Sidney as having no idea the potential danger this puts Sidney and herself in, and also that she doesn’t care about her at all.

Then, Tess’s somewhat-friend Ray comes in and tries to help the situation. So, Tess just goes up and kisses him on the mouth to prove her heterosexuality to the two homophobes.

So, that happens. I can’t really find the words to appropriately explain my feelings about this. I’m going to assume you can imagine them.

After that, Sidney is removed from her position as caretaker of the historical house. Tess pretty much avoids her as rumors swarm over the town about the two of them.

Then, they just up and get back together. There’s a brief and unsatisfying makeup seen. Neither of the characters really grows or changes in the third part. I never really felt like how they were outed and how terribly it affected Tess what was fully dealt with. Tess never really grew out of her emotionally detached state. To be honest, she came off as a jerk most of the time.

It felt like Sidney was looking down on everyone for most of the book in a snobbish, upper-middle class kind of way. Which, considering the conservative homophobia makes sense. But as someone who grew up in and is unfortunately stuck in such a small town, there are beautiful parts to it that I wish could have been portrayed as well.

Like I said, I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this book. However, the final one made it impossible for me to give it a positive review. The author has published more books so I might check those out, because the writing is really well done and the initial premise shows promise for future stories.

Ren reviews Tell It to the Bees by Fiona Shaw

Tell It to the Bees by Fiona Shaw

During a classic late-night spiral down an internet hole, I happened upon the trailer for the not-yet-released movie based on this book. The trailer appeared to follow the same depressing arc we accept in film as As Good As It Gets For Us, but the book was available at my local library, and the carefully-skimmed-to-avoid-spoilers review I glimpsed on Goodreads promised me a happy ending. I was still wary, but the book was a short one, and let’s be honest: a whisper of queer representation and we all start running headfirst into walls. So I picked it up and went in with the lowest of expectations – mostly just hoping I could get through it without putting it down too many times.

I have pretty specific needs when it comes to period pieces; while I certainly have exceptions, generally speaking, I don’t go out of my way to read period sagas of war or famine or heartache. I want Jane Austen. I want some bumps and misunderstandings that end in the bad guys getting what they deserve, and the good guys coming out on top.

Suffice to say, queer period pieces are usually very much not my thing.

I’ll read them/watch them for the three seconds of pleasant content – because I’m gay and I can’t help myself – but I’m always mad from the get-go because we know how these things tend to play out.

Tell It to the Bees took me wholly by surprise. Shaw is not in a hurry to tell her story, and while I’m not always in the mood to have the plot move along so slowly, the book as a whole is such a quick read, I was okay with sitting back and letting her paint her picture in her own time. Much of this book was read in the company of my girlfriend – currently a nurse, but a Zoology Major in another life – and I constantly interrupted her down-time to fact check bits of information about bees and hive mentalities as I read. There were so many interesting threads to this book, and they were woven together delicately and deliberately. This was my first introduction to Fiona Shaw, and I am now very curious to see what else she has to offer.

Jean is the town doctor. Single. A pretty big deal, for 1950s Scotland. She’s rational and a little distant, and she spends most of what little free time she has between her best friend Jim, and her bees. A fight on the schoolyard brings Charlie Weekes into her clinic; Charlie is quiet and precocious, and drawn to a honeycomb Jean keeps in her office. The two of them bond over her bees in their reserved, introverted fashions.

Charlie’s father leaves him and his mother for another woman, and Charlie – bearing his mother’s sadness on top of his own – withdraws further into himself and the world of the bees. Jean eventually invites Lydia and Charlie to dinner; from there, Jean and Lydia form a tentative connection of their own through Jean’s library.

Already, we’ve touched on a good number of my favourite tropes. We have:

  1. Single Lady Doctor Who Does Not Have Time For Townfolk Judgement
  2. Young children with old souls who notice everything
  3. Books. So many books

In the usual fashion, Jean has a male best friend. Jean and Jim grew up together. Jim proposed to her when they were young and was subsequently turned down. Because reasons. Jim marries a pleasant enough woman named Sarah, and (again, in the usual fashion), there is an underlying note of competition between these two women over who best knows the man keeping the two of them together. There are so many pure moments in this book, but the note that struck me occurs just after Jean accidentally outs herself and Lydia during a dinner party. Jean panics and leaves the room. Sarah goes after her. I – the anxious reader – pull my blanket higher in anticipation of the impending dramatic moment when Sarah gets confrontational and threatens to out her to the entire town.

Only, it doesn’t happen.

Instead, in a display of human decency that should be so basic but isn’t (and thus, still took me out at the knees), Sarah accepts it all in a moment and moves straight to comforting this woman who is really only her friend because of her husband.

Men hear things differently from women, Jean. Even Jim, who’s better than most, and knows you as well as anyone. I don’t think he heard you. At least, not as I did… I don’t really understand. But I don’t think your love is wrong, and I’ll defend you against all comers.

It was more than a queer story. There was something so delightfully normal about it that I wanted to stay in the pages forever. I’m glad that we have so many deep, hard-hitting books to choose from, but every once in a while, I just want a queer version of that Jane Austen read. I want to know that there may be some bumps and misunderstandings, but at the end of the day, the bad guys are going to get what they deserve and the good guys are going to come out on top.

Despite what Goodreads tried to tell me, I was stressed to the max while reading this book. Some characters were lovely, and others were so horrid that I was certain either Jean or Lydia had to die/move away/marry a man and pretend the affair never happened. There were tense plot points. There were moments that struck close to home and really captured the rage that can occasionally take you by surprise when you are a queer person living in a hetero world, and can’t do things like hold your partner’s hand in public without it being A Thing. But the queers live happily ever after, and I will be buying my own copy of this book.