Bliss by Fiona Zedde is a finding-your-place story as much as it is a love story; or you could say it’s a love story between a woman and the self she’s supposed to be or the type of life she’s supposed to be living. It’s also highly erotic, reveling in the sensuality of its characters’ bodies, but in a respectful and almost reverential way that elevates ordinary body parts to a sort of glowing, visceral divinity.
Emerging from the woods was a form so white it hurt Cal to look at it… The unicorn could never have been mistaken for a normal horse… Hardly noticing the tears that spilled down her cheeks a the purity of the creature, Cal was shocked when the unicorn slowed to a walk and approached her.
This book is a 3* Fantasy Romantic Adventure.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I love unicorns. It was an affair that started when I was about four, and has manifested itself in me being an adult who will grab any book with ‘unicorn’ in the title or on the front cover. Needless to say when I saw a book called unicorn hunting, I heard that little voice in my head purr, and read it.
I’m so glad I did. The story is about a young woman, Cal, who lives in a world where unmarried women have two choices, become a Unicorn hunter, or join the nunnery. But Cal wants to know why, and in world of secrets that’s not an answer she finds easily. Living in a world where killing these beautiful creatures is the only way for a girl to make money, Cal and her friends have to figure out where they draw the line, and who’s side are they really on?
I enjoyed this story, it was a simple fantasy adventure with a couple of interesting ideas, a likeable cast, and a reasonable pace. The only gripe I had was the author seemed a little afraid of tension, giving the payoff as soon as she’d set an idea up, which whilst it does move the story along, can make things feel a little anti climatic. The story has one example of a hate crime against immigrants, and yet the book showed no real cultural or racial diversity, with everyone fitting into a similar mold, despite the country being split into four distinct zones with four distinct languages.
I loved the main character though, I suspect she thinks a lot like me, and there was more to her than who she was in love with, which is a nice thing to happen in a ‘romance’ book. The unicorns, by the way, were great, and the author had some brilliant little ideas for them, and a flair for rich description. I enjoyed the love story, and the secrecy of the world Cal moved through.
Overall it’s an enjoyable book, that supplies what you’d expect from a Lesbian Unicorn story, however it is let down in places by underdeveloped characters with two dimensional motives, or a brilliant idea that is rushed into and away from far too quickly. It’s quick to read, and well worth the time, and certainly left me with a smile on my face.
Freiya’s Stand gives room for queer women to embrace their religious faith, kinky desires, and career aspirations, as well as room for dreaming. Freiya and Sabrina live strictly compartmentalized lives as teachers at St. Agatha of Sicily, a private Catholic school for primary and secondary students, lest anyone find out that they’re dating. Both women grew up in Catholic families and value their faith, even though this sets them at odds with school policy and family. The couple alternates commute routes, maintains a professional facade, and keeps spanking behind closed doors. They also face staff lay-offs, dwindling funds, large classroom sizes, and reduced support for teachers. When the principal mandates all teachers sign a “Covenant of Faith” condemning “perverted sexuality” and other “immoral or unethical behavior”, Sabrina and Freiya butt heads. Sabrina wants to sign the form, but Freiya resists. Most of the faculty eventually go along with it in order to keep their jobs. When Freiya fails to play ball with the new requirements, her life falls under the principal’s close scrutiny.
The novella alternates between past and present, illuminating pivotal moments in the women’s lives that color their relationship, family interactions, and careers. Quick pacing allows Vitsky to move between key events and establish character personalities. Sabrina is an exemplary high school English teacher with exacting standards, both for her students and for her choice of ketchup. Freiya, a new kindergarten teacher, has a soft heart for her students and a penchant for culinary confections. Sabrina’s Gran is the most vibrant and essential secondary character. A full-length novel treatment would give room for fleshing out events mentioned only in passing and for less nuanced characters that seem to exist primarily as plot drivers. Certain elements of the conclusion (the final two to three pages, in particular) feel rushed. It works well, for the most part, as a novella. Overall, Freiya’s Stand is a thoughtful and engaging tale.
Freiya and Sabrina have a consensual kink arrangement. This drives their dynamic at home, as well as how they behave in the wider world. One of my favorite moments involves Shakespeare and spanking. I’ll let that sit with you until you read it for yourself! While Sabrina assumes the dominant role, Freiya is vocal in what is and is not okay. Readers first encounter this aspect of their relationship after they disagree over the “morality” contract at school. Some of the interplay between emotional and physical exchanges becomes muddled as their stress increases. It does not cross over into domestic abuse. However, some readers may find certain passages distressing.
Catholicism also plays an integral part in how the characters view themselves, deal with challenges, and guide their lives. Both women value their faith, but don’t agree on how it intersects with their sexuality and public life. This provides much of the friction between them throughout the story. This is the second story that I’ve read in which the reconciliation of faith and queerness are central themes. The other story (which I definitely recommend) is Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown.
LGBT+ folks can still lose their jobs in many states or have limited protections based on sexuality and gender identity. Visit the Human Rights Commission at HRC.org for more information. It is heartening to see local religious congregations marching in support at Pride and to see rainbow flags near the front doors of churches, welcoming everyone.
You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)
Bound By Love is a Regency era novella about Vanessa and Nora, women who have been together for twenty years. They’ve raised Vanessa’s children from a previous marriage and built a happy life together in the English countryside. Then Nora learns that her daughter, who she believed was stillborn just before she met Vanessa, may in fact be living nearby–and that Vanessa may have known there was a possibility Nora’s daughter was alive all along.
This is such an interesting set up for a story! It starts off strong, with alternating chapters in 1810 and in 1790, when Vanessa helped rescue Nora from her abusive husband and the two women fell in love. I’m not a huge Regency person but I thought the tone was fairly on point. I liked having a long term couple at the center of the story. Megan Mulry’s imagined pansexual, kink- and poly-friendly Regency England is charming.
Unfortunately, the tension wasn’t allowed to build enough, so the emotional pay off was limited. Even very serious issues are resolved quickly and without much lingering impact. I wanted the story to dive deeper, especially when Nora meets her possible daughter. Some problems seemed tacked on, which was unnecessary considering the potential for conflict and emotion provided by the premise. I had fun reading this, but in the end it seemed more like a draft than a finished novella.
This book is the second in a series of queer Regency romances by Mulry, which include kink, poly relationships, and which all connect. The final section of this book is the lead in for the next in the series and didn’t tie into the central plot all that well. If you have been longing for queer Regency, you might like to explore the series, especially if you just want a light romp. As a stand alone book, though, this didn’t impress me too much. Hardcore f/f Regency fans might want to check it out, but you’re not missing much if you skip it. Two out of five stars.
Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com
Sparks fly when Hayley and Kate first meet at a hostel in Spain–though the two have only just met, they end up falling into bed together that same night. They are drawn to one another despite their differences–Hayley is a Brit in her mid-thirties who runs a bar on a small Spanish island, and Kate is an Aussie in her mid-twenties, just passing through while backpacking. Hayley makes allusions to her unhappy past, and tries to distance herself from Kate, but to no avail: the two are drawn to one another, and begin to fall for each other. But just as they take their relationship to the next step, Hayley’s past unexpectedly catches up to her, leaving Kate feeling betrayed and their relationship hanging in the balance.
Let’s cover the good stuff first: this is a satisfying romance, with smooth writing that keeps the story flowing from one chapter to the next as the novel shifts between the character’s perspectives. It’s well-written–the steamy scenes between Hayley and Kate are sweet, with none of the cringe-inducing turns of phrase that sometimes seem to plague the more passionate moments of romance novels. Tapas and Tangelos is definitely an enjoyable read.
On the other end of the spectrum, some of the plot points and pacing leave a little to be desired. The specifics of Hayley’s tragic past really threw me for a loop when they were revealed: the revelation was completely unexpected, had very little build-up, and didn’t seem to fit with the previous mood of the novel. *spoilers* It is revealed that Hayley’s father was a serial killer who was caught when she was fifteen, and she was suspected of being an accomplice, despite her young age and the fact that she had no idea–so she moved to Spain and began living under an alias. It’s a very dramatic revelation that just doesn’t match the lighter mood of the rest of the novel: it feels heavy-handed in its treatment. *end spoilers*
There’s another odd (and tired) plot point that wasn’t my favorite: Hayley sees Kate talking and laughing with a guy from the hostel, and realizes she has fallen for Kate because of how jealous she feels, and proceeds to bemoan her broken heart because clearly Kate is in love with this man with whom she is having a single positive interaction. There are also some minor pacing issues: the novel’s denouement happens very quickly, and though there is an epilogue tying things together, the final moments feel a little rushed.
All in all, I would recommend Tapas and Tangelos: the solid writing certainly makes up for most of the novel’s oddities. Hayley and Kate are well-rounded characters whose budding romance is sweetly engaging. Give this book a read if you’re a fan of enjoyable and (mostly) realistic queer lady romance.
Clara Ziegler is a part-time theater clerk, and a full-time knitter. Clara dyes yarn, and sells it as part of her sock club – a subscription service for yarn, where every other month you receive a surprise colour of yarn. The only problem? She used all her best ideas on the first round, and is now worried she has no best ideas left for round two. While searching for yarn colours and patterns, Clara finds Danielle Solomon, an artist whose paintings spark inspiration within Clara. Of course, inspiration is not all she finds in Danielle.
Knit One, Girl Two is probably the sweetest, most wonderful story I have read this year. Clara and Danielle are wonderful, both independently and together, and the easy development of their relationship feels incredibly natural. Glassman somehow managed to create a romance within a short story that feels more organic than most romances I’ve read in full-length novels. Clara and Danielle fit together in a way that makes me want to believe that love at first sight exists, if only so that I can claim it happened for them.
One of the most refreshing aspects of this story occurs early on, during one of the first conversations Clara and Danielle have. While out for lunch at a restaurant, they begin to discuss what types of traditional Jewish food they both like and dislike. I don’t think I have ever read a conversation between two women–one of whom is specifically described as being chubby–that revolves around food, and that isn’t about calorie counting or dieting. There is no shame present in their conversation, or in their internal thoughts. They’re simply two girls talking about food. The only instance when discussion of weight comes up is when Danielle explains that she dislikes scales because of how they make us feel about ourselves. Clara instantly agrees. I had the biggest grin across my face as I read these scenes; I must have been reading all the wrong books for too long, because I have never read a story that involves a chubby character, talk about food, and discussion of weight, that doesn’t delve into fatphobia and implications that the fat character wants to change her appearance to be happy. Danielle is happy. Not despite being fat, but just because she’s happy. End of.
This story also includes some wonderful discussions on feminism, anti-Semitism, and queerness that have an air of authenticity unlike any I’ve read before. The conversations that Clara has with Danielle and some of her friend’s sound like conversations I’ve had with my own friends. Not only that, but discussion of fandom is clearly coming from the perspective of somebody who knows and understands fandom, not somebody who is trying to be hip by including references to fanfiction without ever having read one (there is even an amazing reference to Archive of Our Own being down and Clara going to their twitter page to see what’s up!). You can tell when a story is written in Own Voice, and it makes for a far more enjoyable read.
Overall, Knit One, Girl Two is sweet, pleasant, and refreshing. It’s a quick read that will make you grin the whole way through, and put you in the mood to fall in love.
It’s hard to summarize the plot of Turning for Home, chiefly because it’s kind of a hodgepodge of happenings without much tying them together beyond the fact that they are centered around a single main character – but I will try. *spoilers ahead, throughout this whole review*
Jules returns to the small Ohio town in which she grew up with her grandparents for her grandfather’s funeral. While there, a local lesbian teen writes her a note asking for her help as she comes to terms with her sexuality in this unsympathetic environment. After the funeral, Jules comes home to her partner Kelli, who feels like Jules is pulling away from her, as she did in her past relationships. Meanwhile, Jules engages in an odd flirtation with a fellow educator, while also counseling Ronnie, the teen from her hometown–and simultaneously hiding all of this from Kelli. Also, Kelli’s mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, as if all the rest weren’t enough drama. Throughout it all there are flashbacks to Jules’ childhood–her experiences with her strict grandmother and loving grandfather, who raised her after her mother left her with them, and her friendship with a neighbor boy that ended his tragic death, for which she blames herself, and whose ensuing emotions she has totally repressed well into adulthood. Needless to say, there is a lot going on. All of which is resolved by the end of the novel, in ways that don’t necessarily satisfy–or even make sense (for example, Ronnie is kicked out by her family because of her sexuality and ends up moving in with the mother of Jules’s dead childhood friend… which just seems weird to me).
Unfortunately, I was just not a fan of Turning for Home: the plot was way too busy, and, conversely, most of the characters didn’t really have well-developed personalities, beyond the fact that all manner of things kept happening to them, making it difficult to connect and sympathize with them. There are so many miscellaneous plot points thrown at the reader: drama with Jules’s past and with her present, drama with Kelli’s family, drama with Ronnie, drama with their friend Donna (who is also Jules’s ex) and her relationship–but ultimately I couldn’t bring myself to care about very much of it. The characters felt flat: Kelli doesn’t have much of a personality beyond loving Jules (even though Jules doesn’t seem to do much to deserve it), and Jules doesn’t have much of a personality beyond having a tragic past and being a jerk to Kelli because she is incapable of working through her own emotional issues (despite the fact that she is a school psychologist!). Right up until the end of the book, Jules is making decisions that just plain don’t make sense, and Kelly is hand-holding her through the process of being a mature adult who owns up to their emotions and decisions. It’s convoluted and not particularly engaging for the reader.
Turning for Home just wasn’t for me–but if the plotlines I’ve described sound appealing to you, go ahead and give it a try. I’m going to stick with other works by Caren J. Werlinger, like Cast Me Gently, which I very much enjoyed–it read like Annie on My Mind for grown-ups, thanks to its 1980s aesthetic and gently lovable characters.
Kelsey makes a big move from North Carolina to Chicago to follow her dream and open her own scent shop. Though she is slow to make friends, and spends much of her time worrying how to keep her small business afloat, her life is in an upswing, and things get better when she meets Theresa and the two experience an instant, intense attraction. Everything seems to be going swimmingly–until she and Theresa find their professional interests unexpectedly pitted against one another.
What Matters Most is a thoroughly satisfying read, as romance novels go: it’s well-written, and showcases an absorbing storyline and engaging characters who grow as the story progresses. The characters all have distinct, multi-faceted personalities, and Kelsey and Theresa’s relationship progresses and changes throughout the book. This is romance with some substance to it.
I do have some small quibbles with the novel. There were some inconsistencies missed during the editing process that felt a little jarring (for example, two different numbers are given for the age difference between Theresa and her sister). And Kelsey’s obsession with Starbucks becomes somewhat grating after a while–it is where she meets Theresa, but one would think that as a small business owner she would be a little more thoughtful about where she gets her coffee.
My biggest frustration with What Matters Most was Kelsey’s refusal to actually interact with Theresa when they found themselves professionally at odds. She spends weeks not talking to Theresa and ignoring Theresa’s messages, instead of ever actually telling her how she feels or what she needs from her. For many readers this may not be an issue, but characters refusing to communicate when talking things out could actually solve most of their problems is just a pet peeve of mine.
Despite Kelsey’s obstinacy, What Matters Most is an entertaining read. She does eventually learn from her mistakes. In terms of the characters’ personalities and development, the novel feels more “real” than a lot of other romance novels out there (readers in search of some romance novel escapism may want to try something else, but this fit the bill for me). Kelsey and Theresa work out their differences–but the story doesn’t end with everything all tied up with a bow, which I appreciated. Characters get paired off, yes, but life also takes them in unexpected directions, which keeps the novel feeling fresh.
What Matters Most is an enjoyable romance novel–a great book to devote an afternoon or two to reading if you’re in the mood for a gentle, satisfying sapphic romance that boasts well-rounded characters and a solid plot.
The English Restoration, i.e. when Charles Stuart II returned to England to take his father’s throne back from the Puritans, fascinates me for being a renaissance of both art and hedonism. Theaters opened again after being banned, and all kinds of sexual openness flourished. I purposely sought out queer lit set in this time period–not that there’s much, given that historical LGBT romance skews heavily Regency–and was rewarded with Mistress Moderately Fair by Katherine Sturtevant. I think it’s out of print, but WorldCat has it at these libraries and Amazon has used copies.
Mistress is about a woman who comes to London to become an actress, and in the course of doing so falls for the lady playwright who’s been helping her hone her skills. It delivers most generously on lesbian romance, on plot twists and turns, and on evocative language. The author’s also done a remarkably good job at bringing a time period to life pretty vividly without falling prey to “look at meeee, I’m so well researched!” I felt the exciting earthiness of the time.
The actress, who is going by Amy but that isn’t her real name–she’s the Beauty with a Mysterious Secret Tragic Past trope–is scarred across her face, prompting the line: “I know I have a garden in my face–the roses and the thorns.” How it got that way, and what she’s hiding from, comprise the main conflicts of the book. She’s never heard of queerness before she came to London, not understanding why she’s so immensely, irrevocably drawn to her playwright friend Margaret, until one of her fellow actors gossips to her about their gay boss. Wait, that’s a thing people can do? Is that why I–
And straightaway, beautiful sensual sapphic prose starts gushing out all over the reader:
“I have deceived you,” [Margaret] said. “I have no poetry to share with you.”
“You are deceiving me now,” Amy said in a shaking voice, “For you are yourself a poem, and I have been hungering for you to share yourself with me.”
Their sex scenes glorify in sensuality, with that enthusiastic appreciation of breasts that validates my own impulses so soothingly. Amy is “my type”–a buxom, squishy, gorgeous brunette with luxurious hair and a tragic past. Margaret is one of those independent, outspoken, able to live slightly outside of society’s rules widow characters. They have chemistry from their very first encounter, and are totally believable as a couple.
“MARGARET AND I HAVE BECOME FRIENDS!” Amy gushes into her diary, too cautious to write what she really means. She goes on to add “I will say that we wrote poetry together, and whenever I read those words, I will know what they mean. And they are true indeed, for we have writ such poetry as I never dreamed of!” The metaphor doesn’t stop here, so the book is almost worth it for the “cunnilingus = poetry” jokes alone.
I love the way this book talks about writing inspiration and the way we create idealized and alternative versions of the people in our lives to interact with on the page. So very relatable.
The liveliness of the time period is evident in the snappy dialogue:
“I heard you had returned from the dead,” says the gay theater owner to someone recovering from violence. The man’s reply is “I did not like being dead, for the plays in heaven were quite dull and not the least bawdy.”
In one scene the two leading ladies recognize and mourn how it was easier for a man to be accepted for sleeping with men than a woman with other women, mainly because of misogyny. Incidentally this is a book that recognizes bisexuality as a phenomenon (without actually anachronizing by using the word), which was a nice touch.
My one quibble, and it’s a major one that’s the reason for the missing star, is the treatment of the book’s minor characters of color. Since it’s out of print, it would satisfy me deeply if this book were to return to print with those parts reexamined especially since they could be tweaked with zero impact on the actual story itself. I like the fact that the enslaved cook from next door insists right away that the main character call her by her real African name instead of the English name her own captor gave her–and that Margaret immediately does so–and I like the fact that the main character buys her and frees her at the end. But both she and her friend, another African captive, speak in broken English that felt awkwardly executed to me, and there are passages exoticizing her religious beliefs without actually adding anything to the story itself. I’m glad she was freed at the end but it would have been even more satisfying if she’d left England with the main character’s blessing after being freed instead of being asked to stay on as a servant and sneak out.
Trigger warnings: sexual assault in a flashback, and also for a brutal attack sustained by the gay supporting character from his lover’s brother’s henchmen. I found the lesbian positivity in the book so overwhelmingly affirming that it didn’t bother me as it ordinarily might have, but it’s there all the same.
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, Jewish fantasy 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.
I’ve been excited to read Meghan O’Brien’s Camp Rewind since I first read the synopsis last year. A book about two women of color dealing with very real and contemporary problems like social anxiety and online harassment and misogyny? Sign me right up!
Despite my excitement for the book, it somehow got pushed back due to my own real world problems. But when I found that I had a few Audible credits to use up, I grabbed the chance to listen to a good book.
It’s been a while since I’ve listen to a book because I’ve lost some of my hearing and can only listen in quiet rooms. However, I had a really great experience listening to Camp Rewind and might just give it another listen again soon.
Alice Wu and Rosa Salazar meet at the titular Camp Rewind, a camp for adults who want to unwind for the weekend. However, the heroines both have other reasons for being there. Alice has extreme social anxiety and wishes to expand her social circle, so she applies for camp at her therapist’s request. Rosa, however, just wants to forget who she is for a little while after publishing an article about a video game that some men took offence to and decided to ruin her life over. The two meet and connect right away, entering into a “what happens at camp stays at camp” sort of relationship. Soon, they must deal with feelings that weren’t supposed to happen.
I should probably warn that this book contains a lot of sex. It’s all very well-written and didn’t feel out of place to me, especially given the way O’Brien describes their connection and Alice’s desire to finally be with a woman and her finally coming out as a lesbian.
There is also a lot of pot smoking and mentions of rape threats and other threats of violence against women, though I don’t recall it going into too much detail.
Alice and Rosa fall for each other very quickly in the novel, which might be a genuine concern for some. However, it felt organic to me. They were exactly what the other needed. Not that they needed to be in a relationship to grow as people, but that they needed someone to support them and be there for them, something they each lacked in their lives.
As someone with anxiety, I can honestly say that O’Brien does a great job crafting a mentally ill character. Alice never overcomes her anxiety. It’s always still there, even when she’s pushing herself to be braver, to do things that scare her because she wants to help or to be with Rosa. The relationship doesn’t magically cure Alice of being mentally ill. She still has her bad days and is a work in progress.
The most interesting aspect of the novel is O’Brien’s feminist critique of online harassment, particularly towards women in gaming and the men who disagree with and subsequently harass them. She doesn’t get too preachy about her opinion of them. She doesn’t have to, letting it show through Rosa’s character and the growth she experiences as someone who lets herself believe she isn’t worthy of love and affection to someone that embraces it.
If you enjoy books about characters who are allowed the room to grow and develop, books about women of color who are given agency, books with delightful side characters, and books with feminist themes, I highly recommend giving Camp Rewind a shot.