Shira Glassman reviews The Gift of Your Love by Kayla Bashe

The Gift of Your Love by Kayla Bashe is a good fit for anyone looking for woman-centered SFF, f/f without graphic sex scenes, or shorter queer fiction.

Neely is a foreigner who only ended up in this city by accident — she traveled here with her merchant father as a child, but he ended up dead and she grew up in an orphanage far from home. Now she’s living on the street, not just because of her lack of local family, but because of a recent heartache — an abusive boss who tossed her out into the cold world. She needs people and safety and healing — but right now, she needs apples. Tasty, tasty apples. Too bad that just after stealing them, she gets attacked by a gigantic tentacle monster.

BUT HEY, that’s not so bad if it means you get rescued by a cute butch woman whose family then takes you in under their wing? All of whom have magical powers? (As does Neely, by the way.)

Here, let me let Forester sweep you off your feet, too—

“Not a diet. I just like eating foods that will give me big muscles.” She glanced down at her already-intimidating body, which Neely thought was the perfect combination of soft and strong. “Well, bigger. My dream is to be strong enough to carry a hunting dog under each arm. That way, I’ll bring joy to anyone who sees me, because they’ll be able to get kisses from two dogs at once.”

I love the writing craft in this description of her, when we first meet her, bolding mine: “And those eyes… a wolf’s eyes, a warrior’s eyes, the deep blue at the heart of a fire.”

Also, she uses potatoes as a weapon because once they’re underground they can grow, and that’s a superpower that sings to my very heart. As well as amusing me because using a potato as a weapon.

This is Kay Bashe’s latest “adorable queer people doing their best in a speculative world while recovering from trauma” romance — yes, it’s a brand image at this point. If you’re not familiar with Bashe’s work, they often contain teams of magical girls (and sometimes nonbinary people, too, although we don’t get any in the immediate family here) that read as somewhere between superhero found-families like X-Men or Avengers plus the magical girl squads of Sailor Moon and Read or Die–except, heavily slanted towards queerness and disability representation (often reflecting Bashe’s own) and sometimes more ethnically diverse. There’s usually a heavy focus on interpersonal relationships and character development alongside the adventure itself, which is sometimes just a framework on which to hang the former meaty emotional stuff. This one slots neatly into that subgenre.

It’s short and sweet, and most of the romance consists of mutual pining for each other before a closing scene get-together — and yes, it’s that characteristic Bashe type of pining where both ladies think the other one is Far Too Amazing to Like Someone as Trash As Me (while, being anything but trash, and saving each other, and doing all kinds of brave and magical things.)

Gift of Your Love also gives us an older woman mentor figure as part of the family. For those of us who couldn’t get enough of General Organa (or having her and Admiral Holdo in the same movie!) and feel a deep emptiness that we won’t get more, this is neat.

Bashe’s characters face microaggressions and stresses that are clearly plucked from real life. One of the other ladies in the little magical family has a peanut allergy, and only the other characters’ vigilance saves her from the casual dismissiveness of a disbelieving restaurant employee–which could have led to her serious disaster. The love interest, Forester, worries that she’s not a good enough feminist because of the way her OCD causes her to hyperfocus on the picayune details — this could easily be any one of us after reading the wrong thinkpiece.

In fact, Forester’s struggles with her violent intrusive thoughts, and the way she copes with the accompanying guilt, are especially poignant having been written by an author with same. (I’ve written #ownvoices intrusive thoughts myself, with Prince Kaveh, but they’re of a different type and it was interesting for me as someone with a similar-but-different issue to see what else is out there in brainweird land.) I hope anyone else out there whose brain betrays them like this finds community in the representation and validation in her heroism.

Incidentally, the main characters are coded Jewish inasmuch as they’re outsiders from somewhere else who don’t eat pork and are written by a Jewish author.

Oh and did I mention, there’s a “oh no we’ll have to share the only bed” trope at one point? This story is adorable. Even through all the heavy themes of women struggling to find value in themselves and being far from home with nobody there for you.

Shira Glassman is a hair factory and storyteller living in a bi townhouse on the moon. She just released a new high-heat f/f romance in which a super hero lady finally asks out the damsel-in-distress she’s been rescuing (and flirting with) for months. But will they ever get to have a normal date or are there too many Monsters of the Week? Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor is $1.99 on Kindle!

Shira Glassman reviews Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas

I don’t know what quirk of God’s imagination caused “arts college in space” to suddenly become a trope in the lesbian book world, but I’m eagerly on board. First Jennifer Linsky gave us Flowers of Luna, in which the heroine finds love while attending fashion design school on the moon. And then just now I recently read and enjoyed Sparks Fly by Welsh author Llinos Cathryn Thomas, set at a dance academy on a space station. (I said this in an interview elsewhere earlier this week, but if the next step is music teachers on Mars, sign me the heck up!)

I love everything about these setups. It takes a real life setting I’ve occupied in one capacity or another for literally half my life and transposes it into the glittery, sparkling world of the science fiction fantastic. Gone are 83rd St or Newell Drive; now there are stars and comets and space-dust just beyond the story’s stage. I also adore that arts-college premises are inherently intimate; my personal preference is for fantasy and science fiction on a small, character and relationship driven scale rather than epic sagas deciding the fates of nations and planets.

In other words, if you are like me this way, Sparks Fly is your next cute lesbian sci-fi read.

The first of the two protagonists we meet is next in line to become headmistress at the dance school, after working there for years upon years and devoting her life. Imagine her shock when she finds out she’ll be sharing the post with a celebrity dancer while she recuperates from an injury sustained during a performance accident. I wouldn’t call it enemies-to-lovers; more like awkward-to-lovers, with some friendship and chemistry in the middle.

Things don’t start out great for these two, but they’re both appealing, sympathetic characters and eventually they have to team up not only to achieve their artistic goals but to battle external conflicts.

A little about the worldbuilding – the “dance” in the story actually involves people zooming around a three-dimensional stage area in anti-gravity pods, so it’s definitely got one foot firmly planted in science fiction, not just set on a space station. Other details are very easy to picture, so this is probably not a story whose imagining will strain your brain as you read to relax.

As someone whose writing muse often tosses her keys at me early and says “okay, drive me home now, I’m done,” I hesitate to mirror my own critics with a wistful comment about wishing it were longer. However I do think maybe the story would have been stronger if we spent more time at the end after the plot resolution, getting to see/enjoy the happy ending in the direction the ladies took their professional lives. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m right! I’m just glad for the existence of stories like this one. (And honestly about the length – novellas are a good thing; it’s a lot easier to fit one of those into a busy life than a full book.)

Catch Shira Glassman’s latest f/f adventure for $1.99 preorder for a May 7 release: Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor, which is a superhero/damsel in distress romance. She’s rescued her so many times — now can they finally go on a normal date or are there too many Monsters of the Week?


Shira Glassman reviews Moon-Bright Tides by RoAnna Sylver

First of all, do I really need to say anything other than “sweet romance novella between a witch and a mermaid” in the first place? But I have lots more to say about Moon-Bright Tides by RoAnna Sylver, which rocketed to the top of my f/f fantasy recs list as soon as I read it last month.

“If you ever fear the water again, remember that I’m in it.” That was the point where I teared up and started flailing on Twitter.

It’s easy to reel me in with a fairy-tale about healing from trauma, but this one was exceptionally well done with prose that’s both well-crafted and easy to swallow, like the stew our witchy heroine leaves brewing for herself every night via the magical equivalent of a crockpot (which is just “hey, pot of stew, be warm when I get back to the dock, mmkay?”)

Sylver creates what I can only describe as a “beautiful dystopian” — this is a world where what’s gone horribly wrong is that humans, in some undescribed catastrophe, managed to destroy the moon. In its place, a lonely witch named Riven paddles out in her boat every night to call the tides.

The setup may be fanciful, but her sorrow and loneliness as she grieves for the rest of her family, lost to the sea, is familiar and real and stripped raw of any of the distance one might suppose the fantasy elements might grant. She’s also longing for a different kind of life, one she hasn’t even really identified yet at the beginning but comes to understand, in which she’s still serving others but in a different capacity.

Enter a mer, unidentified in name or gender at first, but who turns out to be female. Sylver does a good job of making mer culture seem distinctly different from humans; when Riven tries to explain that the sounds of her name doesn’t mean anything, the mer reminds her “they mean you.”

The text heavily suggests that Riven is neurodivergent, with several references to other people reacting badly to her conversation, or to her frustration with hidden rules about what questions you’re allowed to ask. In contrast, the mer, who does wind up with a human translation of her mer name over the course of the story, accepts and likes Riven’s way of thinking and speaking. Also, Riven is fat, which you can see on the cover, and this is presented as completely neutral and that kind of thing is important.

Much of what makes this story so special is hard to explain without spoilers, but we are given progressively more and more beautiful reveals to unwrap until I wept at the quote with which I began this review.

At ten thousand words, it’s possible to read it in one sitting, yet it’s also a complete and satisfying happily-ever-after.

This a good read for people who are easily freaked out by too much worldbuilding. This is one of the easiest to parse fantasy setups I have ever seen. It manages to be fresh and creative and magical while not confusing me at all. I know this sounds weird for a fellow fantasy author to say, but then again, my series is basically “what if all the things I like lived in a palace in my childhood city.” Here’s a thread about what I’m talking about. But anyway, RoAnna Sylver gets it so right, maybe partially because in the course of explaining themselves to each other, the witch and the mermaid are also letting us-the-audience in slowly at a reasonable pace.

This is also a recommended read for those looking for f/f romance that isn’t sexually explicit. (In fact, heatwise it’s probably at the level of a Disney princess movie, although I’m not sure I can say the same about some of the implied offscreen violence in the book’s past.)

Here’s a Gumroad link if you’d prefer pdf to Kindle.


Shira Glassman reviews That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole

                         Alyssa Cole’s drawing of her characters

That Could Be Enough, the lesbian offering in the early American romance collection Hamilton’s Battalion, is everything a gentle historical f/f romance should be. Both characters, Mercy the servant/secretary and Andromeda the dressmaker, are fully fleshed out even within the novella’s small scope — it feels fully complete and I truly felt like I watched their courtship unfold even though it’s less than a hundred pages (in my Kindle app, anyway.)

The skeleton is your basic “woman has been hurt Really Badly and finally opens up to love again despite all her fears” trope, but the prose is so approachable and the characters so vividly painted that it felt completely fresh to me. When Mercy first sees Andromeda in the doorway of the house where she works, she’s affected in a soul-claiming way that I don’t often see represented in the romances I read but have definitely experienced in the presence of a gorgeous and captivating lady.

Mercy’s a poet, but she shut all of that down because of the way a previous girlfriend treated her poetry as part of a cruel, fatalistic breakup. “There’d been a time,” Cole writes, “when she’d felt beautiful things acutely.” This is someone who’s natural personality wants to appreciate and worship all the glories the world has to offer, but can we blame her for being terrified and walled-in after such treatment, and with nobody else in her life – before Andromeda – contradicting her ex’s pronunciations about the fate of queer lives? However, when she starts emerging from her shell again, the poem Cole gave her to write is truly beautiful. I’d put it in the review, but I want you to discover it for itself 😉

In this respect Cole herself is a bit like Mercy, inasmuch as she did some truly stunning things with language. For example, close to the story’s opening, Mercy accidentally wrote “Yearned” in her diary when she was too tired to stop herself. The next morning, she scratches it out, in progressive horizontal lines compared to a wall, and replaces it with “Slept.” That’s some powerful imagery right there. We feel her sense of perpetual retreat.

I also really liked the scene where Andromeda whisks Mercy away to something truly cool that the local Black community is working on, something that feels so in tune with Mercy’s own interests that there’s narration about how “seen” she feels, by Andromeda’s choice. I can relate to that a lot; being truly seen is high on my list of things that I’m hoping will get me out of my current, Mercylike frame of mind, romantically.

It does contain That Old Standard Trope where someone believes the worst and doesn’t ask for clarification, but from misunderstanding to pain to happy resolution there really aren’t that many pages and honestly I can’t say I’d have behaved any better in her place because when you’re scared of rejection, asking frankly is… difficult.

Andromeda is clever and enterprising and devoted to her community, especially to her fellow Black women, and Mercy is sweet and deserves lots of pampering and reassurance and validation after the kind of self-denial in which she’s been wallowing.

Author Alyssa Cole did her research and shows us a dainty, yet earnest portrait of what life might have been like for two relatively fortunate queer Black women in the early days of America. We queer women deserve a part in the costume drama world that dazzles many of our imaginations. So do Black women, not that I can speak for them, obviously. Cole’s plot solution/resolution is completely realistic, which makes it far more enjoyable for me because it’s easier for me, personally, to enthusiastically embrace a happy ending if it’s set up to be a plausible one.

That Could Be Enough fulfills its mission. The setup and resolution affirm that yes, while the road has never been a guaranteed red carpet, it has always been possible for WoC and those of us who are queer to have a far more decent life than the hungry eyes of non-queer white literature with its appetite for exploitative tragedy would have us believe.

Incidentally, the story does contain some bits here and there that will probably make more sense to people more familiar with the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, but I was mostly able to piece together from context what Mercy’s inner voice was thinking about and don’t worry if they lose you anyway; they’re not key to enjoying the story itself. (He’s not even alive anymore when the story takes place.)

I don’t remember this having any of the most common triggers I usually warn for. It does have a sex scene, so if that’s your preference, enjoy!

Shira Glassman writes affirming fantasy and contemporary fiction centering mostly on queer Jewish women. Come join Queen Shulamit as she saves her country’s farms with the assistance of a dragon and a witch in The Olive Conspiracy, or hang out with Clara Ziegler as she dyes yarn to match a cute girl’s wildlife paintings in Knit One Girl Twowhoops, she just accidentally dyed the cat pink, too!


Shira Glassman reviews The Brutal Truth by Lee Winter

An easy elevator pitch for The Brutal Truth by Lee Winter is “It’s The Devil Wears Prada, the movie version, but as a lesbian romance!” But it goes beyond that, and it might be more appropriate to say “This was possibly inspired by someone who wanted to see what the Meryl Streep/Anne Hathaway characters would look like if they were attracted to each other and eventually fell in love, but then took that premise and added new dimensions, depth, and plot twists.” In other words, this isn’t a lesbian retelling of an existing movie; it’s an original story that used the idea of Miranda/Andie (called Elena and Maddie) for the relationship dynamic but then brought in elements of both very timely serious issues and wish-fulfillment career successes that weren’t in the original.
Elena her movie parallel Miranda (I haven’t read the other book) might both be hardened fashion billionaires, but Elena’s buried, overprotected softness is more reachable than Miranda’s, and is ultimately redeeming instead of tragically impotent. I could see this book being absolute catnip, the 24-pack of gourmet chocolates, for a reader attracted to villains who just need a bit of calming down and who are ultimately good inside. (After all, many of us who like villains don’t actually like their bad behavior — we’re drawn to the aesthetic: the power, the confidence, the style. Give me a smirk that’s safe to love, I always say.)
Personally, I was never drawn to Miranda/Andie as a fandom so I’m proof that this book can stand on its own and appeal to a broad range of readers: I think that anyone who is a fan of the pairing will find that it hits all those notes perfectly, but those who aren’t, can, as I did, enjoy it for its chemistry and all the new plot elements that had nothing to do with Devil.
Two more groups of readers who might want to check this book out are twentysomethings looking to see themselves reflected in that New Adult place in life, the “I’m out of college but not really sure if the job it got me is the job I actually want” uncertainty, and also anyone looking for age-gap lesbian romance of the mid-twenties-with-fortyish variety. It’s also different from the other billionaire romance I’ve read inasmuch as Maddie’s biggest wish-fulfillment successes are her own doing. Oh, and another reason to read: if you like redheaded protagonists!
Speaking of the protagonist, Madeleine (who goes by Maddie), worms her way into Elena’s consciousness by being more genuine than everyone else in her orbit. She isn’t interested in cutting edge fashion at all, or in sycophanting to Elena (which Elena finds intriguing and refreshing), and even her melancholy is part of her charm because she’s not fronting to cover it up. It’s reassuring to exist as a reader in a world where that’s seen as honesty and a positive.
Brutal Truth does a really good job of building personal chemistry between the two leads in addition to physical chemistry. I’m well familiar with the feeling of a slowly growing awareness of another person, of starting to care for someone in that invisible way where you don’t even notice how much you’re thinking about them until you miss them, of friendship growing organically without any deliberate plans. Maybe that’s why it works so well — the growth of their friendship, even over Elena’s huge walls and Maddie’s independence, is so well documented that it lends a depth and value to the romance once it comes out from behind the clouds. In other words, there’s a foundation there that then wears the sexual attraction as well as one of Elena’s designer gowns, rather than being sexual attraction that a writer has attempted to shove emotional connection into without regard for fit.
One thing I really appreciated about this book is that every time it might have gone down the path of the dreaded If Only People Would Stop Immediately Believing The Worst About Their Friends And Loved Ones misunderstandings that are such a backbone of romance lit but not at all to my personal taste — it didn’t. The situation calmed down fairly quickly each time, people communicated, or there was never a problem at all. In a plot already heavy-laden with sexual harassment (from men, not from Elena), professional jealousy, career path confusion and ambivalence, and the hot/cold nature of Elena and Maddie’s relationship, there’s no need to manufacture additional conflict that wouldn’t ring as true as all of those other things anyway.
I also found writerly skill in the way Elena’s newfound attraction to women added a dimension to her lifelong love of beauty instead of just “explaining” it.
I want to give some details about the sexual harassment subplot so that sensitive readers can make their best call. Personally, I think it was handled really well, if almost wish-fulfilment in the depth of how thoroughly the problem was rooted out, but we read billionaire romance in which regular twentysomethings end up dating their wealthy, well-connected bosses for the wish-fulfillment, right? So just enjoy the ride, if it’s not a topic you’d find triggering. On that note I do want to say that while everyone’s triggers are different, I personally think the details of the men’s behavior was kept so off-screen that really all you read about is the women’s reactions and the men’s eventual punishment. This is not a book that’s going to put you in the shoes of the survivors during their moments of distress, and I think that was a wise decision.
I really like the way this book respects and treats with dignity, people —women — who are not chirping and cheerful social butterflies all of the time. Characters who are going through times of questioning their life choices, characters with extreme aversion to socializing, characters who aren’t an open book and don’t want to be — these are all depicted positively, and as valid instead of villainized, and not in need of changing or “fixing” by the plot.
It’s mentioned in passing that Elena, like Miranda in the book version of Devil, is Jewish, but there’s nothing to indicate that we mean anything to her in present day (in fact, one of her surprise secret donations so that the audience, through Maddie, finds out that she’s got a heart of gold after all, is to a Polish community center, not a Jewish one.) However, there are a million valid and diverse Jewish experiences and if you see yourself reflected in this one, have at. We definitely matter whether we are 100% secular and not interested in the traditions or as frum as humanly possible, and everything in between (hi.)
Content warnings for two or three times where Elena’s having had two husbands is held up as a reason to assume she’s not interested in women–yes, most women with ex-husbands are straight, but bisexuality as a possibility is never even brought up at all and since all of this applies to me personally I just noticed it each time. The discussion of a white journalist in modern-day Vietnam near the end of the book had a bit of a white savior scent to me, including a lauded photograph of a grieving orphan, but as always, I will defer to Vietnamese/Vietnamese-diaspora people here. (It’s not a key plot element.) I also noticed one line of dialogue in the mouth of an often-outrageous secondary character that seems to exclude aromantic people, although again this is not my lane.
One more note: I recently read a book that many reviews warned me had partner sexual assault, but none of the reviews made it clear that the assault was perpetrated by a villain, not by the hero. Sexual assault by the hero is a dealbreaker for me personally, but for a villain, it’s not. So I want to make it abundantly clear that the harassment was perpetrated by male characters off screen, not by Elena.

Shira Glassman reviews Marian by Ella Lyons

marian ella lyons

One way to describe Marian by Ella Lyons is that it’s a kiddie version of Heather Rose Jones’s Daughter of Mystery — both are costume dramas featuring a traditionally feminine lesbian with a nurturing personality and a lesbian swordfighter living in a world where it’s not customary for women to participate in combat, both feature father figures who a main character is both attached to and in opposition to, and both feature court intrigue — just to name a few similarities. So if you like the Alpennia books, rejoice because now there’s a young adult novel with a similar flavor.

The pitch for Marian is that it’s a f/f Robin Hood retelling, but I feel that does the book a disservice. The actual story is entirely new and original, only using the Robin Hood names as a springboard and small elements of the legend as landmarks that pop up in unexpected places. What we get is Marian, a teenaged girl who moves to the “big city” (for medieval, rural definitions of big) when her knighted father starts to rise in political power. She’s a bit of a fish out of water and bewildered about how to deal with snobby noblewomen and the king noticing her beauty, and the only person she feels truly comfortable around is the farm girl Robin. They eventually get separated by fate but come together again once Marian is eighteen and the stakes are higher.

I really enjoy when I can feel the chemistry between characters who are an endgame romance, and Marian delivers there, mostly because of dialogue between Marian and Robin that felt lifelike and natural to me (other than the repeated use of ‘cracking’ as a slang term by too many characters in too short of a span of pages, although that might just be my American-ness showing–forgive me.) I liked how subtle the girls’ connection is–it almost made me feel like I was just a femslash fan rather than someone purposely reading a f/f novel, which made the inevitable “it’s canon” scene even more satisfying. In other words if you are one of those people who wanted Anne Shirley and Diana Blythe or Jane Eyre and Helen Burns to be in love, this book will put you back in that place and then give you what you want.

I thought it was really good writing that the author establishes Marian — and her father and their changing life situations — as a fully rounded character before ever introducing Robin as a love interest. By the time Robin shows up I was totally invested in Marian and her hopes and her traumas. Incidentally, I was puzzled as to why there was a pound and a half of foreshadowing about everyone in town coming down with fever but then Marian’s father’s died a different way.

I never noticed Little John and King John having the same name before because the original legend doesn’t really make it relevant. But in this story, they interact and are in the same scene enough times that I noticed and I wanted to say that it was neat to see that in historical fiction of any kind–two people with the same common name. One doesn’t often run into that in fiction for the obvious reason that it might confuse the reader, but I think it’s neat because it’s super realistic.

A quote I liked, discussing the villain of the piece — King John, of course:

“His Majesty is always paying attention to you.”

“His Majesty is always paying attention to himself.”

To be honest the reason I’m giving this four stars instead of five is that I feel like the romantic resolution was a bit abrupt. I feel like the book’s climax was the climax of Marian’s story rather than the climax of the Marian/Robin romance. Also, there’s a moment when Marian assumes some bottles which could have been a lot of very scary things are the medicine she needs for someone, and she’s right, and that part made me smirk a little.

But other than that, it’s a totally captivating read with a well-rounded cast and evocative scenes, and definitely worth checking out.

Trigger warning for attempted but foiled sexual assault — another similarity with Daughter of Mystery, actually.

[Editor’s note: Also check out Danika’s review of Marian!]