Susan reviews Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Reiss

Space Battle Lunchtime is a two-volume graphic novel by Natalie Reiss, about Peony, a baker who accidentally ends up being an emergency replacement for a cooking show… In space?! Cue sabotage, drama, rival shows with distinctly more cannibalism, and trying to work space ovens.

This is super charming and funny. Peony is both competent and confident in her baking skills, and I loved getting to see her do well even though she was in completely unfamiliar territory. I was so invested in her doing well, which meant that the first couple of issues where she was floundering while surrounded people who just assumed she knew what was going on were very frustrating for me. I know, I know, it’s a trope, but it’s a trope that I hate. But “winning over the cast and crew so they help you” is also a trope and I was so happy to see it here, especially because of the way that the relationships build. Peony is so nice and so confident and just wants to beat everyone fair and square, yay! The way that her relationship with Neptunia comes together works perfectly with that – there’s awkwardness and rivalry and Peony putting her foot down to make sure they can work together, but also sweetness and daring rescues and both of them being supportive of each other and each other’s feelings!

The art is really, really cute and bright and colourful, and the designs of all of the aliens are distinctive and interesting. I especially love the way the Natalie Reiss contrasts appearances and personalities (such as the cute magical girl fox, who is sure a character), and the way that it introduces background details that further the plot and the world building, I thought that was really clever and well-handled. (… I’m sure it’s fine that Cannibal Coliseum, the rival cooking show where contestants literally cook and eat each other, keeps showing up in the background. That’s probably not relevant.)

But of course, what is a cooking comic if there isn’t rampant sabotage, and the ways that the sabotage is revealed is really cool. The reactions especially are great and fun, and the way that Peony and Neptunia deal with the end of the story is great. It was cool and believable and I enjoyed it. … Although I got to the epilogue stories and was suddenly REALLY CONCERNED for the side characters! My only real complaint is that the first volume ends on a massive cliffhanger, so it is worth getting both volumes together if you’re going to get them!

I really genuinely enjoyed this. It’s cute, it’s funny, and seeing Peony rising to her challenges is great. If you like cooking shows, bright and happy graphic novels, and/or ridiculous space drama, this is absolutely your thing.

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.

Rebecca reviews Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas

Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas is a cute space romance novella between two older women with a happy ending. While I did like the characters and the plot, I wish Jo’s character was more developed and the setting was better written and more established.

After twenty-five years of dedication and determination, Marianne Gordon has finally achieved her dream of becoming principal of the prestigious Vesper Station School for Zero-Gravity Artistic Display. However, her big moment is ruined when she is forced to co-principal with Josephine Knight, a famous zero-gravity performer who is recovering from a terrible accident and who doesn’t know anything about teaching. Both women must learn to work together and sparks soon begin to fly between them. They must also stand together when the future of Marianne’s beloved school is in jeopardy.

I like that the book shares perspective between Marianne and Jo. They both have very distinct voices and personalities. However, there’s always a drawback to featuring two viewpoints because one character always suffers. While I do like Jo, I really wish I knew more about her, especially her past.

The romance between Marianne and Jo is sweet and fairly well-developed given the book’s length. I really like that they learn to appreciate and understand each other before the romance takes off. I’m also very happy that both characters are older women who act their age and handle their conflicts maturely and organically.

I went into this book expecting to really love the space setting but I was disappointed by it. The setting is not as well established as it could be. I did not feel fully immersed in this futuristic space world at all. Furthermore, I also want a better explanation of the performing art that is such an integral part of the story. I struggled to figure out what exactly it was and what was happening and my confusion really took me out of the story.

Sparks Fly is a fluffy and good read. I like the characters and the romance is sweet. Although I wish Jo had been better developed and I wanted the setting to be much more fleshed out, I did like this novella. If you like happy endings and are looking for a super quick read, check out Sparks Fly!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

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?


Tierney reviews Can You Hear Me? by Geonn Cannon

Colonel Noa Laurie, sole survivor of the catastrophic failure of her space station, heads back into space once more on a mission to help eradicate space debris, on her own. She has volunteered to pilot the one-person Orbital Debris Independent Eradication (ODIE) engine, circling the Earth over the course of her two-year solo mission. She doesn’t expect to have contact with anyone but the scientists in charge of monitoring her progress, and the occasional classroom of schoolchildren interviewing her – so she gets a shock when her communication system is somehow connected with the old radio in Jamie Faris’s woodworking barn in rural Indiana.

As the ODIE orbits the Earth, the two are within each other’s range for an hour a day – and they soon come together every day to spend every minute of that hour talking (at least, when it doesn’t coincide with sleeping). Noa and Jamie’s unlikely friendship deepens, becomes a sort of flirtation, and then takes a turn for the romantic. The novel alternates sections showcasing them as they go about their daily lives, thousands of miles away from one another, and then as they come together to talk, share stories, flirt (and eventually, have radio-sex). But the impossible-to-surmount distance makes things difficult, and so does Jamie’s ex-husband Louis, who is hell-bent on getting back together with her: there are many obstacles for Noa and Jamie to overcome, if they want to make things work together.

Can You Hear Me? is a delightful slow-burn romance: the improbable premise is a lot of fun, without being too convoluted or hokey, and it allows Cannon to deftly develop Noa and Jamie’s relationship and deep emotional connection, making their emotions, hopes, and concerns feel real. Their communication veers effortlessly from sweet to sexy and back again: they are both truly delightful characters, who feel fully realized. The sections of the novel that delve into their separate lives help flesh them out, and make their very-long-distance relationship feel all the more poignant and true.

One misstep, that seemed all the more glaring given how sweet and moving the rest of the novel is, is a throwaway comment by Noa as she and Jamie are discussing the fact that Noa doesn’t know what Jamie looks like, having only ever heard her voice. She makes a crack about not caring as long as Jamie doesn’t have a penis, which is transphobic and entirely unnecessary (and not to mention a thoroughly tired remark). It’s regrettable that this comment was included at all, and that it isn’t addressed.

Can You Hear Me? does do a decent job of portraying Jamie’s bisexuality: it’s an important part of her identity, and it exists independently of the dissolution of her relationship with her ex-husband and her growing relationship with Noa. Her ex is an ass about her being in a relationship with a woman, but he’s pretty clearly a villain in the story. All the characters who matter to Jamie, including her sister, and Noa, don’t question or demean her sexuality.

And something Can You Hear Me? gets very right is the portrayal of Noa and Jamie as whole people. Their connection and their burgeoning relationship drive the plot, but they lead interesting, independent lives – lives separate from one another because of physical distance between them, but lives that they choose deliberately and tenderly to share with one another. The arc of their relationship is a pleasure to take in, but so is their development and growth as human beings.

Can You Hear Me? is a delightful and well-developed romance, with a fun premise and good pacing, that hits almost all the right notes. Noa and Jamie are both endearing characters, who make a relationship unfolding through radio conversations from thousands of miles away seem like the most natural thing in the world!