Marthese reviews We Awaken by Calista Lynne

 

“I went on a date in a dream with a mildly mythical figure who couldn’t possibly exist. And we were swing dancing”

We Awaken is a Fantasy Young Adult short novel about Victoria and Ashlinn. What drew me to this book was the fact that it was a fantasy young adult book about an asexual couple. There aren’t many of those around! Despite being a fantasy, it’s also mixed with contemporary.

Victoria Lindy Dinham is going through a touch time. Her father died in a car accident a year before, and her brother fell comatose in the same accident. Her mother became vacant and uncaring and Ellie, Victoria’s best friend, is too different from Victoria. Dancing is her only outlet; until she meets Ashlinn.

Ashlinn is a creator of dreams, nice dreams. She visits Victoria to tell her about her brother, who she visits a lot. During their first meeting, Ashlinn gives Victoria a carnation that her brother Reeves had passed along. The flower stays in her room once Victoria wakes up, which makes her have proof that the dream wasn’t all a fantasy.

Apart from this meeting in dreams concept and the difficult times that Victoria is going through, this book is about the exploration of sexuality in the broader sense of the term.

I have to say, it took me around 30 pages to get into the story. Even though it was fantasy, it was a type I was not used to. However, I continued as I know about the asexual element (and how few there are) and I have to say, I don’t regret pushing on.

Victoria is a teenager and Ashlinn looks like one, although she isn’t. Despite this, although at time there is immaturity in the way they approach each other, for the most part there is a certain maturity that isn’t most often found in ‘teenage’ relationships. One example is earlier on when Ashlinn tells Victoria not to romanticize self-destruction. The two protagonists support each other, even in their relationships with other people. Ashlinn also helps Victoria explore her sexuality and her boundaries.

I liked both Victoria and Ashlinn, because they grew a lot but I also liked Ellie. When we first meet her, we see how Victoria views her as her best friend which she grew apart from in light of the tragedies in her life. However, Ellie is a very supporting friend that accepts Victoria for who she is, despite not understanding clearly.

At times, the tone is quite serious and sombre. Other times, it’s funny in the way that movie tropes are; such as changing in cars. Purely classic but also something relatable that some people do at times. It’s not a happy-go-lucky story, there’s a lot of pain but somehow, the protagonists carry on like one does in life.

For the book being fantasy, it’s relatable, especially for ace readers. My hopes for books like these is that there are more; that sexuality is viewed in a more complex manner, with easiness that does not make people feel like the odd one out when it’s not present in the sexual attraction way.

Whitney D.R. reviews Fetch by B.L. Wilson

I wanted to read Fetch for two reasons: Black lesbians and my most beloved enemies-to-lovers romance trope. I don’t know what it is about two people who initially can’t stand each other realizing they’re in love (despite their better judgement), but it really turns my crank. Fetch also contains another of my favorite tropes and that’s opposites attract.

Amber is a no-nonsense femme with money and power and connections. Morgan is motorcycle-riding artist on the more stud side of the spectrum, working as a doorperson at Amber’s building. So there’s the ‘haves and have nots’ and ‘type A vs. type B’ personalities. On paper at least. I found that they were two sides of the same coin; two women who both liked to push and pull and wouldn’t back down from a real fight.  

I did find it odd that until the very end, the women addressed each other by their last names. They did have pet names for each other, but the last name thing was irritatingly consistent and I wish they had been more personal with that regard. And I recognize that these women had lived and loved before meeting each other (and some even during their interactions) but I didn’t particularly want to read Morgan have sex on-page with another woman (even if it was in the past/a flashback). Call me a romance traditionalist, I guess.

I really liked their sexual chemistry.  Despite her snotty attitude, I think Amber was more of a pussycat and Morgan saw right through it and pressed all the right buttons. Amber, as afraid of loving again as she was, really needed Morgan’s dominant side. I loved that Morgan brought out Amber’s docility. Also, this my very first time reading the word ‘punanny’ in a romance book and I was taken aback at first, then tickled pink. I’m so used to seeing other go-to raunchy euphemisms for vagina, that it was kind of refreshing.

One thing I had trouble with was the time and setting.  I wondered throughout reading why the author decided to use the events of 9-11 in a romance. Morgan and Amber have both experienced grave losses in the their lives, so I guess it could be argued the two women connected the theme of losing loved ones but on a grander scale. But it just didn’t fit or make sense to me because it felt more like a thing that just happened instead of a life-changing event that affected not just New Yorkers, but everyone in America. Though, obviously, New Yorkers felt it more keenly.

The pace of the novel was weird to me. I could never tell what time or day it was. For instance, when the women were in an office building together and the towers first got hit, it was roughly 9am, but the power went out and it was pitch black. At 9am? Did the office building not have windows? Then after, when Amber went to Morgan’s apartment it was still day and they were talking about breakfast and then all of a sudden it was night and Amber slept over.  When I reached the 40% mark in the book, only a day or two has truly gone by when it felt like a week or two in the book. And the flashbacks didn’t help.

Honestly, I felt like I was skimming more than I was actually reading. Not to say that this book wasn’t well-written, but maybe I wasn’t reading this at the right time. Characters had depth and dimension, but Fetch wasn’t for me as much as I wanted to love it. But I love the chemistry between Morgan and Amber and anyone that loves the same romance trope as I do may like this a lot.

2.5 stars

Tierney reviews Consequences by Sarah Libero


[Trigger warning for sexual assault.]

When Emily, a systems analyst, meets Kay, a detective, at their Maine police station, both feel an instant connection: Emily is all too happy to provide her expertise on Kay’s investigation of a drug gang, and she begins questioning her twenty-five-year marriage to her husband, Tom. Then when Tom is killed in a suspicious car accident, Kay takes the case–and her relationship with Emily deepens. As they untangle a complex web of crimes, the two become more and more entangled in each other’s lives. Consequences is a fast-paced romance, with plenty of external cop drama to keep things moving.

Emily and Kay are perfectly likable characters–but their characteristics and character development seems to take a backseat to the novel’s intricate plot twists, and Consequences suffers somewhat for that. For example, the novel opens with Emily getting attacked and sexually assaulted by a stranger, decades prior to the novel’s main events. Ostensibly this prelude serves to explain why she married Tom, instead of pursuing her nascent attraction to women (she states later in the novel that she married him because he helped her feel safe after the attack), but the event’s inclusion and explicitness feel weird and out of place, because it operates as a graphic plot point rather than a traumatic event that Emily works through and that contributes to her character development in some way.

*spoilers in this paragraph* I half expected Emily’s attacker to be somehow involved in the drug-smuggling ring, because everything else in the novel seems to tie back to this investigation, and every other issue in the novel is neatly tied up with a bow when this case is solved. It turns out that Tom was run off the road by one of the drug dealers in the ring, because he had found out about their illegal activities and had incriminating pictures on his phone. And even minor plot points end up leading back to the drug gang: it turns out that the worst player on the station’s poorly-ranked softball team is a crooked cop who was messing with evidence on behalf of the criminals–so with him gone, the team will be on the up and up! It all seemed a little too convenient for each and every obstacle faced by the characters to connect back to the drug investigation. *end spoilers*

Despite all the plot’s dramatic twists, turns, and reveals, I did find myself rooting for Emily and Kay. Their romance had great chemistry–and their first sex scene showcases some pretty great modeling of consent. Read Consequences if you like your romances with a heaping helping of mystery and suspense.

Marthese reviews The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance edited by Melanie Gillman and Kori Michele Handwerker

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“Anyway, I’m pretty sure malevolent spirits wouldn’t scrub your bathtub”

The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance is, as the name implies, a queer paranormal romance comic anthology, published in July 2016. I had donated to a crowd-funding campaign for this anthology and I’ve been meaning to read it since it arrived in my inbox.

The anthology starts with some words from Melanie Gillman on the importance of representation in literature. A little disclaimer from my end; this is not a lesbian anthology, it’s a queer anthology which represents various genders. The stories are all non-explicit and quiet romantic.

I cannot go into much detail since the stories are short by my favourite stories were “Ouija Call Center”, “Shadow’s Bae”, “Till Death” and “Yes No Maybe”. “Ouija Call Center” is about a client that uses an Ouija call center to contact someone diseased and the operator! “Shadow’s Bae” is about a monster that becomes friends with a human and they stand up for each other. “Till Death” is a cute story and critical comic about an elderly couple and ghosts that stand up for their community against gentrification. Finally, “Yes No Maybe” is a comic about a tenant who tries to contact the ghost that’s in the apartment and is really adorable.

The art in the anthology varies from piece to piece; they are all so different from each other but this helps to distinguish one story from the other. The length on the story, I believe, is just right–not too long or too short.

The anthology as a whole has a lot of diversity in its representation of gender, ethnicity, culture and age. This collection does not shy away from using different cultures and mythologies for its base and does not include just stories with young characters. Many characters were people of colour. The relationships in the different stories are usually between a human and a supernatural being. Overall, most of the stories are really fluffy and cute so be warned! Although some had a darker tint.

What I like about this anthology are two things: its general cuteness and its queerness. There is a lot of representation for people out of the gender binary spectrum. This book is like a safe space, to enjoy a story rather than who is in the story. I’d recommend this book to those interested in comic anthologies, quirky criticism, cute stories, paranormal and overall stories that go beyond gender.

Tierney reviews The Roundabout by Gerri Hill

roundabout

[Trigger warning for sexual assault and online harassment.]

The Roundabout is a gentle, lighthearted romance – with one serious flaw, which unfortunately is a deal-breaker.

In the small and very gay town of Eureka Springs, an unattached queer woman is apparently a hot commodity. Megan Phenix is being courted by a variety of women whom she has no interest in dating – and when newcomer Leah Rollins arrives in town she is pursued as well. Naturally, the two make a pact and pretend to date each other to stave off the unwanted overtures – but the lines between truth and make-believe start to blur, and Megan and Leah begin to fall for one another.

The romance is cute – the whole “let’s pretend to date – oh whoops, we’re falling in love” thing reads like goofy rom com. Sadly, something happens at the beginning of the novel that completely taints any enjoyment one might get out of it: Megan gets drunk at her birthday party and ends up falling asleep in the bed of Mary Beth, one of her would-be suitors – who proceeds to take naked pictures of her while she is sleeping. Mary Beth then posts the pictures online, with recognizable details removed, and tries to blackmail Megan throughout the rest of the book, telling her she will post the pictures in their entirety if Megan does not go on a date with her, despite the fact that Megan repeatedly asks her to take them down.

Taking naked pictures of someone while they are sleeping is sexual assault. Posting those pictures online is online harassment. But for some reason this sickening behavior is shrugged off throughout the entire novel – Megan expresses her intense discomfort with Mary Beth’s behavior and other characters repeatedly tell her to lighten up, and ultimately this disturbing plot line is never resolved in a way that makes it clear that this behavior is disgusting and predatory.

It’s too bad, because there was otherwise a lot to like about The Roundabout – it depicts a romance between women who are closer to middle age than the first blush of youth, and it showcases one of those wonderfully idyllic romance novel towns in which almost every single character the reader encounters is queer. But the issue of taking and posting nude photos without the consent of the person in them is a very serious one – and this novel’s lighthearted treatment of it is thoroughly repugnant.

Julie Thompson reviews The Liberators of Willow Run by Marianne K. Martin

the-liberators-of-willow-run

***A little bit of spoilers ahead***

Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.

During World War II, the United States “enlisted” women to help with the war effort on the homefront. At the Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Audrey Draper is securing her independence with each B-24 Liberator heavy bomber her crew assembles. The women tax their minds and limbs as they build plane after plane after plane. The demand is incessant, so for the most part no one cares about their co-workers’ personal lives unless it interferes with the work at hand.

In another world not many miles away in Jackson, Michigan, Ruth Evans is shipped off to The Crittenton Home, a place for families to hide pregnant, unwed relations. The deep friendships that Ruth develops with some of the women give her strength to overcome the limitations of her environment. These relationships will determine the course her life and the lives of those around her, takes.

Most of the women employed at the bomber plant are married or engaged or otherwise involved; Audrey and Nona are exceptions. For the world at large, Audrey has a boyfriend stationed overseas with the US Army. She isn’t comfortable with the lies her sexuality necessitates, but she does what she has to in order to protect her autonomy. Between 1943 and 1946, she has a steady job and folks don’t complain (much) about the slacks she wears or lack of rouge on her cheeks. It is what comes after the war that she worries about. Can she secure a meaningful career, one that doesn’t require too many personal compromises? While the novel wraps up all loose ends rather quickly at the end, the conclusion is not implausible. It resonates with the hopeful tone that permeates the story.

The tale initially alternates between Audrey and Ruth, converging a quarter way into the book when the two women meet and bond over scoops of ice cream. Their burgeoning friendship is impeded by guilt and insecurity. The Liberators of Willow Run follows a familiar push-and-pull romance, with the heroines discovering more about themselves and the women they will become as they help other people and each other. It’s a quick read; I devoured it on New Year’s Day.

The leads and supporting cast possess admirable qualities: they lift each other up, instead of trampling each other underfoot. Certain aspects of the story are a bit surprising. Nona’s ready acceptance of a secret Audrey shares at the start of their friendship, for example. Not to say that some folks aren’t unflappable; perhaps the two women’s status as “other” makes this acceptance possible. At times, the world of Willow Run feels like a sky with minimal clouds. This isn’t to say that the women don’t experience misogyny, sexual harassment, racism, and limited career options. They do, but those moments never feel insurmountable or harrowing. The novel could have easily gotten stuck telling too many stories at once or seeming to tack on certain narratives without infusing them with genuine feeling.

Secondary characters showcase a range of attitudes regarding women and African-Americans in the workplace. Up until the divergent narratives merge, I thought that Nona would play a larger role in the novel. She is a self-aware woman who is unwilling to sacrifice her educational and career goals. Unlike her white counterparts, she must contend with both sexism and racism. She is also generous in her friendships and confident when facing barriers. Jack and Lucy, a married couple who work at Willow Run and give Audrey rides to work, take a pragmatic view of life and seek a level playing field for folks who do the best they can. When riots near the church Nona is staying at prevent her from getting to work on time, Jack speaks up on her behalf because the foreman isn’t willing to listen to women. Myopic views on social roles are found in characters like the crew foreman, who constantly groans about women at the plant, and in June, a reluctant wage earner who believes a woman’s only place is in the home, raising children. She also ignores Nona, and speaks over Bennie, an easy going co-worker who stutters when he speaks.

The Liberators of Willow Run gives readers a world in which the family you choose enables endless possibilities.It brims with hope in the face of limited choices and half-truths. The women are keenly aware of their limitations, though their friends more readily see the good, the potential, that lie in their hearts. While I would have enjoyed more details placing me solidly in the United States during the 1940s, it was an overall enjoyable lazy day read.

Women on the Warpath (1943) – Inside the Willow Run B-24 Plant: https://youtu.be/HQKvBPjxMo4

Building The B-24 Bomber During WWII “Story Of Willow Run” 74182
https://archive.org/details/74182StoryOfWillowRun

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

Lauren reviews The Melody of You and Me by M. Hollis

book-cover-the-melody-of-you-and-me

Meet Chris Morrison, a young music lover who works at a bookstore and takes life in as it happens. When Josie— an attractive, high-spirited and easy-going ballerina— is hired at the bookstore, Chris falls head over heels, often losing her wits in the awkward butterfly moments. This leaves Chris caught in the middle of a budding friendship, but her recent departure from an unhealthy relationship keeps her cautious.

Overall, M. Hollis characterizes Chris well. I appreciated the interiority and parts of the story line (e.g., Chris’s talent and educational pursuit). And sprouting relationships are warm and cute. I wish I could provide more insight into this story. But, I can’t. And this is due to the story’s primary weakness: a lack of conflict.

Conflict helps to create interest, and when there’s interest the story stays far away from the pits of boredom. Granted, the internal conflict in this novella is present. For example, Chris’s relationship with her parents is torn due to her decision to leave school; for too long, she has felt uncertain about the path her life will take and haunted by the trail of damage she’s left behind, mainly due to her ex-girlfriend, Tabitha.

External conflict propels the protagonist into a string of interactions beyond her control, which allows the reader to become vested in the main character’s journey and outcomes. This is what the Melody of You and Me is missing.

The one instance in this story that mirrored external conflict (i.e., Chris’s encounter with Tabitha) passed quickly and was only quasi conflict because nothing before or after this instance affected Chris, her new relationship, or the trajectory of the story.

As a reader (and writer), I’m not a fan of unnecessary drama, but I appreciate the role of conflict and I expect the main character to experience some degree of external challenges somewhere in the plot. Otherwise, and in this case, the character is going through the motions; the reader is introduced to supporting characters that do not have significant (or any) effect upon the protagonist’s victory or downfall; and, the story is predictable—no excitement or surprises. I slid through the pages of this story never experiencing any type of highs or lows that propelled me to emotionally connect with Chris. In other words, Chris’s journey is too insular to fully place myself in her world. She had nothing to lose; nothing was at stake except fleeting embarrassments.

To end, The Melody of You and Me is a syrupy romance. There were many sweet moments between Chris and Josie, which would make f/f romance lovers fond of these characters. But, if you’re a reader who needs salt and sugar, you may reach the last page wanting more.

Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, “The Dawn of Nia.” Outside of reading and writing, she volunteers as a child advocate and enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter  (@LaurenCre8s),www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.

Tierney reviews The Second Wave by Jean Copeland

the-second-wave-jean-copeland

When Alice gets a call out of the blue that Leslie, her first love, has had a stroke and is in a coma, she immediately rushes to her hospital bedside – even though she hasn’t seen Leslie in years. They fell in love in the 1970s: their story is pieced together through flashbacks, from their initial friendship, to their tentative romance, to their tumultuous break-up when Leslie refused to leave her husband, for fear of losing custody of her children. As Alice waits for Leslie to wake up, she wonders about what could have been – and whether there is a future for the two of them, despite all the obstacles they faced in the past.

The Second Wave definitely has an interesting premise: the juxtaposition of Alice’s present-day affairs with flashbacks to her initial romance with Leslie keeps the reader eager to piece together the full story of the past and see where Alice and Leslie’s story is headed now. It’s also exciting to see a romance novel that focuses on love between two women in their seventies: it’s an age group that isn’t well represented in the genre, and Copeland isn’t heavy-handed in her depiction of their concerns and relationship.

The novel isn’t without its stumbling blocks, though. The dialogue often seems a little stilted, and the characters subsequently seem to have stilted relationships with one another, relating with each other in ways that don’t really make sense. For example, shortly after meeting Leslie’s daughter Rebecca (who told her about Leslie’s stroke and brought her to Leslie’s bedside in the first place) at the hospital, Alice is asking her if she is a lesbian, and how she knew, and if she has had sex with men – completely out of nowhere, with no natural progression or back and forth. It certainly doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you would focus on if you were pining away at the bedside of your comatose lost love… Even the flashbacks start to feel stilted after a while: they begin to feel like they are being awkwardly shoehorned in, with characters mentioning things in the present day only for the sake of conjuring up a blast from the past for Alice.

The novel’s biggest weakness is the ostensible lack of emotional progress between Alice and Leslie. Spoiler alert: even as they rekindle their romance, they rehash the same old fights they had when they first fell in love – and even though they end up together, it doesn’t actually feel like they’ve made enough progress working through their issues to actually be happy with one another. Their disagreements just seem to fizzle out, instead of being resolved.

Overall, the novel was an enjoyable read: its mirrored past and present plot structure is a driving force that keeps the reader engaged, even through its fumbles. Copeland shines a light on characters rarely depicted in romance, or in pop culture in general – The Second Wave is a sweet story that’s worthy of your time.

Shira Glassman reviews Roller Girl by Vanessa North

roller girl vanessa north

To me, Roller Girl by Vanessa North is a roller derby book that includes a lesbian romance, rather than being a roller derby romance; there was a lot more going on in the book besides the relationship between Tina and her girlfriend–a lot that in my opinion enhanced the book and broadened its appeal. I’m no derby girl, but the game shines through the book–its appeal to Tina in the beginning, her anticipation as she auditions, the friendships she forms during practice–and I think that this element would please anyone who wants to read a women’s sports book, romance fan or no. In fact, I learned a lot about the game from the book, and I can understand a little more of the conversation–and starry-eyed face–of my college roommate who joined her local team just around the time the book came out.

My favorite relationship in the book was actually between Tina and her straight, married “derby wife” Lauren, an affirming platonic friendship that I truly felt and radiated off the page, but the romance between Tina and Joe was at least believable and hot. The sex scenes between them were definitely sizzling.
There are a ton of other awesome platonic interactions between LGBT folks in the book. Tina has a bunch of close male friends (from her former career in wakeboarding, which she used to fund her transition) who are all paired off with each other — they’re apparently main characters in North’s previous books, but I haven’t read them and never felt like I had missed essential details. And of course there are other f/f couples and women-attracted women both in Tina’s derby team and in the teams they play. Also, what would a sports book be without one of those “the not-sports part of televised Olympics coverage” heartwarming moments? Tina winds up getting to be a trans role model for a trans kid in one scene, and that was beautiful. So if you are specifically looking for this, especially given how important a part of our real lives our intra-umbrella friendships are and how if we reflect that in our literature it gets accused of being unrealistic, this book is a perfect fit.
I’m not sure how plausible it is for there to be turmoil over the idea of a player dating the coach in a situation made of 100% adults and it’s not a matter of employment, but by the time the relationship was revealed, North sort of fixed my skepticism by making it more about friend drama than “I can’t date one of my players”, which is totally understandable and realistic and made a lot more sense to me. Never believe that friend drama ends at high school, folks. My mom is a boomer and recently navigated some drama over where to have the bluegrass jam.
I am pleased to report that I have no idea what Tina’s deadname is, and that the team tells her from the beginning that if anyone tries to be transmisogynist — it’s a women’s team, so she was concerned — they’ll shut it down.
Since it takes place in Central Florida, I would have appreciated something that felt like home–I’ve read books that reference Publix subs, for example–but I’m at least happy that North didn’t get anything wrong about the region.
 ~
Thank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.

Tierney reviews The Butch and the Beautiful by Kris Ripper

butch-and-the-beautiful

Jaq meets Hannah at her ex’s wedding and is instantly smitten – despite the fact that Jaq has been forewarned that Hannah is “batshit crazy” and in the middle of a messy divorce. The two fall into bed that same night, both vowing to keep things casual… but if they had been able to keep that promise, this wouldn’t be a romance novel. Jaq is looking for commitment, but has a history of bolting when things get uncomfortable – but despite the mess in Hannah’s personal life, Jaq keeps coming back for more.

The Butch and the Beautiful is the second novel in Ripper’s Queers of La Vista Series (and the only work in the series that I have read so far). Its plot theoretically stands alone, but the novels in the series are interconnected, and main characters from one novel pop up as secondary characters in others. One of the major pluses of the series is that almost every character is queer, which is awesome.

But a downside to this structure is that the plot spills outside of the confines of the novel in ways that make it hard for the reader to follow. There are too many characters, each with too much backstory and drama, and there is just too much going on. The arc of the story feels disjointed, and many plot lines aren’t concluded in a satisfactory fashion, ostensibly to leave room for further novels. But this emphasis on other characters’ crises makes it hard to focus on the protagonist’s romance: Jaq falling for Hannah seems relatively. inconsequential in comparison.

With all these side-plots, there is little room for character development (and little room for the reader to get attached to the main characters). The novel spends a lot of time telling us about the characters, instead of showing the reader who they are: Hannah, for example, is described as “batshit crazy” without ever actually doing anything to warrant the label.

The characters also make weird offensive comments throughout the novel, that are are recognized to be offensive but dismissed and never resolved. One of Jaq’s friends makes some transmisogynistic comments that are totally gratuitous, have nothing to do with the story, and are completely shrugged off by Jaq.

Hannah and Jaq have a sweet romance, and the novel reads fluidly, for the most part. But unfortunately these positives aren’t enough to save it from its flaws. It’s a quick read – but there isn’t enough substance there to make the reader feel invested in moving forward.