Audrey reviews Adieu, Warm Sunshine by C.E. Case

adieu warm sunshine

Sunny’s a spy who works undercover as a cop. It’s complicated. Pamela’s a dancer on Broadway. She’s not the star, and despite having a certain something, she’ll never be the biggest draw, because she can’t sing. But she’s arresting. Sunny can’t say why she shows up behind a theater on Broadway after a (lousy) show that night, but she leaves with Pamela in her car.

Instead of a one-night stand, Pamela and Sunny find they want more, that being together is both exhilarating and a balm to the soul. But they have secrets. Pamela doesn’t understand the implications of her secrets, and that spells trouble. Sunny knows the ramifications of her own shadowy past and shady present. These don’t make for a bright future, interpersonally, despite having a supportive work partner, Vash. But the thought surfaces, for both women, briefly–maybe this could work?

Then Pamela disappears. Sunny must use all her skills and all her connections, legitimate and under-the-radar, to find her lover. In the process, Sunny and Vash stumble onto a tangled conspiracy that could spell doom for Sunny and Pamela both.

The plot is fairly straightforward, though the mechanics of the organizations are a bit nebulous. It would be a good deal of fun to read a book just on Sunny’s training. But Adieu, Warm Sunshine is an entertaining read. It’s a little choppy and starts some threads that get dropped, narratively, although they’re tied up later. Writer design choices that don’t work as well as they could. But overall it’s a fun read. Case’s metier is in her sex scenes, where she exhibits a flair for choosing just the right detail to characterize the budding relationship between her protagonists. She works well on a smaller stage here. Though the overall plot can be explained in a linear paragraph, the book’s most successful parts are the interactions between Sunny and Vash, Sunny and Pamela, and Pamela and her roommate.

Audrey reviews Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash


Mild spoiler warnings–nothing you wouldn’t get from reading the jacket copy, though. Reading Honor Girl is painful in the way that reading your old diaries is painful. Not the “Wow, I was stupid-shallow” parts, but the moments of earnest hope where you can see the younger you before your first real, crushing heartbreak, before you knew what it was like to feel hollow inside because of another person.

Maggie’s 15, spending her summer in Kentucky as she always does, at the same camp her mother attended, participating in the same rituals and traditions. During the school year, she lives with her upper-crust family in Atlanta. She floats between these worlds, and her most solid anchor is her love for one of the Backstreet Boys.

This summer is different, though. This summer she’s finding her place, finally, on the shooting range. And this summer, there’s Erin. The shooting might be okay, but at this very Christian, very Southern camp at the beginning of the new millennium, the slow realization that she’s attracted to Erin–and that Erin returns the feeling–is very not okay.

Maggie’s not terribly uncomfortable with her feelings, but she’s deeply uncomfortable with other people’s reactions, especially when they seem to get Erin in trouble. Maggie’s choices during that summer make this book feel in part like an expiation, and the ending is quietly devastating. This is being touted as a book about a girl going to summer camp and discovering she’s a lesbian, but what she discovers about her character, and how that knowledge informs her life afterward, is crucial.

Having been one of those kids who got along better with adults (i.e., I found camp traumatizing in and of itself), I did a little looking around. Maggie Thrash considers that summer to have been an “idyllic bubble” and a quick Google search for Honor Girl turns up adjectives like “hilarious” and “heartwarming.” In the same interview linked above, Thrash notes that the memoir isn’t about being held down by her peers, but crushed by older people.

Because this is a graphic memoir, it’s pretty much a one-afternoon kind of deal. There are more memoirs coming out in this format now. This story is particularly suited to it. Thrash clearly remembers what it’s like to be 15. It’s exciting, terrifying, funny, boring, fleeting, excruciating, and brilliant. Sometimes within the space of a few minutes.

Two people read this in my house. My fiancee borrowed it from the library and read it, then told me I should. How was it? “It was okay. It was good. Quick. You’ll finish it in like an hour and a half,” she said. I finished it and was, as I phrased it earlier, quietly devastated. This is definitely one of those books that, once set free in the world, is going to mean different things to different people, regardless of what its creator/subject intended. Good on its own; excellent conversation starter. Great for book clubs (teens and adults). Book is currently cataloged as adult bio. I’m moving it to where the YA crowd will swarm.

Audrey reviews Ask a Queer Chick by Lindsay King-Miller

ask a queer chick

Obviously, it’s an advice book. Yes! It’s based on an advice column from the website the Hairpin. Ask a Queer Chick is in chapter format, not Q-and-A, so it’s nicely conversational, but it’s derived from a whole mess of questions from a whole phalanx of queer chicks (and not queer chicks) of varying degrees of queerness. One of the book’s challenges is finding its audience, as it’s not easily targeting the asker of one question, but a sea of readers, whose makeup, never mind experience, is unknown.

King-Miller confronts this challenge by making this more of an “I think I might be…so what do I do now?” type of book, and she includes lots of food for thought. It’s tough. She’s not selling this as the newbie manual that I should have gotten when my girl got yet another toaster, which is at the level of ally-moving-into-needing-to-know-practicalities, and she’s also not marketing this as relationship advice from a guru among the flock. This title will probably best fit those exploring a newly discovered or claimed identity. There’s a lot of self-empowerment, a lot of self-protection, and a lot of context.

There are some big strengths here. I love reading advice books, especially when the advice is heartfelt and real, and when the advice giver clearly cares for the welfare of her readers. That’s the case here. There are sections on coming out, queer subculture, queer sex, breaking up, discrimination, marriage, and looking at your life with an eye to making it amazing. One of the biggest strengths of the book is in chapter 6, “Bi Any Means Necessary: Notes on Non-Monosexuality.” Please, someone, correct me loudly on this if I’m wrong, but I found the book in general to be nonbinary-positive and affirming.
Ask a Queer Chick should be a good resource for a few different groups of readers. Those who are questioning, those who are allies, and those who simply want some support can all draw excellent stuff from this volume. Additionally, King-Miller notes right off that she’s a cisgender queer chick, so she’s not claiming to be an authority on trans issues; however, she still thinks for trans chicks whose “sexual and romantic compass (doesn’t point) dudeward,” there’s plenty of useful material herein.

Audrey reviews Gay & Lesbian History for Kids by Jerome Pohlen

The full title is, Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, With 21 Activities. We’ll get to the activities part. First, as this is a history and reference book for children, I want to break down my impressions.

Layout: Are kids going to want to read this? Is it attractive? It’s a manageably sized paperback in landscape format with a 4-color cover; good start. The interior isn’t 4-color, but it’s 2-color (magenta and black). There’s plenty of visual interest, and the text is broken up appropriately and attractively. Useful and relevant sidebars also add appeal.

Organization: Chronological. The first three chapters cover up until 1960 (chapter one is “a brief history to 1900”), and each decade thereafter gets its own chapter. The content is paced well. There are other important features to consider in children’s nonfiction, though. The table of contents is easy to read, and a two-page timeline follows, summarizing much of the content covered in the book. There’s a short, but well-chosen, resources section, and lots of notes, and wonder of wonders, a useful index, which I used at least twice. There’s also a short introduction featuring a scenario that’s wrapped up in the afterword. It pulls kids in, and later gives them a happy ending.

Content: The table of contents doesn’t give chapter subheadings to clue readers in to what’s going on within chapters; it lists only one title and what decades are covered and then gives page numbers for corresponding activities. So the timeline on the next page is very useful in getting an idea of what the book covers. The first event marked is the death of Sappho, and only a few dates later, we’re solidly in the 1900, ending a page and a half later in 2015 with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Pohlen explains that of necessity, well-documented LGBT history coverage started only within the 1900s, and although there’s much historical speculation, that’s all it is–speculation. The book is useful in providing some avenues and figures that may pique interest (Emily Dickinson, Katharine Lee Bates, Leonardo da Vinci), but doesn’t go into much detail. A small section about two-spirit people in the first chapter is particularly interesting.

The first chapter contains more of a world perspective, but once Pohlen gets down to it, it’s clear this is really the story of a century-long battle on the American front. And the story covers all the major bases one would expect and hope to find, and in clear and engaging prose. The content and writing are supposedly appropriate for ages 9 up, but I’m not sure many 9-year-olds would stick with it. Middle graders seem like a better audience, even given Pohlen’s penchant for inserting an exclamation point every now and then. Middle graders would also appreciate the non-busy layout for research purposes. If it’s weapons or flags or Legos, the busier the better (Dorling Kindersley!), but for research, straightforward and easy-to-follow books are greeted with relief. The activities are the only point of contention. More later. The book does contain content on Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts, but doesn’t go beyond four consonants, and most of the book is Gs and Ls.

Authoritativeness: Pohlen has already had a title on the VOYA Nonfiction Honor List, and the afterword makes clear this one is close to his heart. He’s the right guy to have written a book that’s factually correct and primarily neutral in tone–it’s curriculum-adoptable in terms of the basic text.

Entertainment factor: I struggle with this one. Kids don’t generally sit down with nonfiction for the fun of it. (I don’t, either, with some exceptions.) But this was really engaging material, and the age group that would probably be using this book tends to get fired up about injustice–they might take to it more strongly than predicted.

Activities: This is where the book did not work for me. I understand the concept of making history participatory, and “enlivening” it. But the material is already in capable hands. The tie-ins for some of the activities make sense (“Remember a loved one with a quilt panel”). Some are kind of cool (“The high five”). Kids can learn about designing a flag, or boycotting something, or reading banned books. But conducting an inkblot test or finding a constellation seem like they may be reaching. Many of the activities didn’t seem integrated. However, many were designed to help kids learn about methods of protest or of effecting positive social change, which seems to fit. Some are better than others. The boycott activity was phrased particularly effectively and seemed like it would go a long way toward starting excellent conversations.

Photos on title page, table of contents pages, and timeline lack captions and credits./Photos all appear later in the book with captions and credits.
“Other rallies were held in cities like Cincinnati, Ohio, and Dallas.” Only two of these things jumped out at me in the whole book (the other was an affect/effect thing), but that’s still two too many for something I would use in a classroom.

Final thoughts: Well, isn’t this something! Great timing for a book of this nature, and something my library certainly has…none of. What about yours? I like this book and wish something like it had been around while I was growing up. This version, though it notes next steps that need to be taken and more progress to be made, ends on such a high note. Get it for the kids in your family and recommend it to your local library, as there is a paucity of books on this subject for this audience, and this is actually a very nice title.

Audrey reviews Warm and Willing by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson


Lawrence Block isn’t known for his lesbian romances, but the novelty factor of the mystery author’s name showing up on an LGBT-tagged book in my Oyster suggestions was enough to make me give this a try. Block wrote a few lesbian romances under the name Jill Emerson, but these were written way back in the day, and he’s not pursued this line of writing into the present day.

The writing is fine. Where modern readers will disconnect, particularly younger ones, is the basic scene. Warm and Willing’s e-cover is updated, and its publication date refers to e-publication date, but it takes only a few pages for the reader to realize that the story is not taking place in this century. The print book was published in 1964, and the story is set in New York City in the Village. Casual racism and xenophobia haven’t been excised from the text. Although not excessive, these things are certainly present, distancing the reader from a distinct point in time.

Rhoda has just had her two-year marriage annulled and is living on her own. She married too early, and it didn’t work out at all. She’s not sure why things didn’t work, but she’s much happier on her own, with her little apartment and her job selling curios. And then one day Megan comes in looking for a present for a friend. And Rhoda’s catapulted into a world she never anticipated. And her life truly begins.

Block’s stereotyping of the LGBT community seems at times more like a sociology primer; he walks Rhoda through learning about basic social conventions and lesbian rituals, and her response is generally, “Goodness, I have a lot to learn.” I found this an interesting curiosity of a period piece, but it’s not hugely satisfying as a romance. Rhoda searches for self, stumbles, comes to realizations, has renewed sense of purpose. That’s pretty much it. The book is very light on explicit sexuality, but please note trigger warnings for self-harm (not Rhoda, but an acquaintance). I finished the book exceedingly grateful to be in 2015.

Audrey reviews Snow Angel by Ronica Black

Maggie’s been hurt before. She’s happy with her life out in the woods, with a few close friends and her dog for company. She knows how to survive.
Ellie doesn’t. She’s an actress on an incredibly popular television show, and she needs a break. She and Maggie have a close friend in common. Ellie runs away from her own life to the mountains to seek refuge with that friend, and she runs smack into a brutal winter storm. Her SUV doesn’t cut it. If Maggie hadn’t found her, taken her back to the cabin by snowmobile…
Ellie’s a mess. She’s vulnerable, skittish, in pain, and in desperate need of someone who’ll leave her alone and let her adjust a little. She knows once her agent finds where she’s gone, he’ll send people for her, and she’ll be dragged back to a life that’s draining her sanity.
Maggie, once she’s brought Ellie back to the cabin and back from the brink of death by hypothermia, leaves Ellie alone to acclimate. There’s chemistry, but the only company that’s pushed on Ellie is Lincoln’s–and Ellie’s immediately fond of Maggie’s dog.
Ellie’s also been hurt before, and while she’s warming–literally and figuratively–towards Maggie, she has a reputation to think of. Her agent won’t be pleased if she gets involved with a woman. Will Ellie and Maggie be able to put aside their hesitancies before Ellie’s spirited away? And how will Ellie deal with Maggie’s secrets?
Snow Angel is a novella, and it flies by. It draws characters and scenes in large strokes, and it’s good fun if you’d like a quick read that’s particularly escapist. If you’re looking for a book that takes its time and is concerned more with prose than sketching in background to get some action going, it’s not going to fit those criteria. But it’s not trying to.

Audrey reviews Warm November by Kathleen Knowles


After a really fun experience with In Every Cloud by Tina Michele, also published by Bold Strokes Books, I downloaded Warm November. Hayley and Merle are both older lesbians, but Hayley’s newly out of the closet, while Merle’s just out of a long-term relationship. The last sentence of the synopsis is, “Can they overcome their misgivings and find true love?”

If they could not overcome their misgivings and find true love, then what kind of a romance would this be? Not the kind of romance wanted by the readers Bold Strokes is marketing to.

The setup is this: Hayley’s just divorced and looking for an apartment. Merle is newly single and looking for a roommate to share her awesome house in a very cool lesbian-oriented neighborhood. They’re a good roommate-match, and Hayley’s pretty sure Merle will be a good resource for Hayley’s foray into the dating world.

Merle’s been badly hurt. A little jaded, a little cautious, she’s been going to AA meetings for years, and that’s where she found her own primary support system, Sigrid and Clea. They’ve been a couple forever, and they’re adorable.

Hayley’s painfully clueless. Her naivete honestly tested my patience, it was so beyond belief. Hayley as a person: fine! Hayley as someone why used “The L Word” as a proto-manual for lesbianism, and who asks Merle the sorts of questions usually reserved for a befuddled anthropologist encountering a hitherto-unknown-to-Western-civilization tribe? No.

One of the difficulties I never considered in writing lesbian romances, particularly in sex scenes, is the handling of pronouns. Some books handle it deftly. This one was a bit clumsy. I was pushed outside of the scene a few times. Wait; who did what to whom? If this is something you can bypass (i.e., if grammar and sex don’t necessarily have to go together), it may not bother you.

On the whole, this was not my favorite book. If you love romances and the premise appeals to you, then try it. Tastes are deeply personal, after all. I’ll certainly go for a third Bold Strokes book.

Audrey reviews In Every Cloud by Tina Michele


Having read this book at the end of July, I was happy to remember that I had written a couple sentences about it to my fiancee, because I was having fun. In looking back, it was more than a few. Here’s the initial raw impression:

“I was completely delighted to go to NetGalley (on the Lesbrary login, because I don’t know my own) and to see, on the ‘you are preapproved for anything by this publisher [Bold Strokes Books]’ page, a plain old romance. A 250-page bag of Doritos for the mind, actually edited and written in English, all mainstream and s!@t, but with lesbians. It asked me to download it and read about a third, right there. So I did. I am submissive to books. It’s a fault. This lovely wellspring of Yay bubbled up…I can read trashy romances again! Well, it’s not that trashy. Really pretty vanilla. Which is fine. Because while it is okay to realize that Some Things You Can’t Unknow, it is astonishingly annoying to realize that Some Things You Can’t Unknow, and That’s Going to Ruin an Entire Summer Genre of Books for You, Have a Nice Life, No Really, You Can Try to Read Them, But Trust Me, the Romance Genre is Dead to You Now, Even Jenny Crusie, Oh God.

So I can’t remember what this book is called. Or who wrote it. I could come up with the characters’ names if I thought about it…maybe. Carson! And…Emma. No. Bree. Bree. Right. Bree and Carson. Guess which one has the motorcycle. Book is hitting stereotypes and placeholders correctly; meet cute was okay; all is as one would expect. Cruisin’ through on autopilot. Maybe will read some more tonight. Hopefully will pick up where left off. Probably won’t be able to tell. This means success! Da-da, back to the genre. Although I seriously wonder about naming characters after cheese. It could be kind of meta, but probably not.”

Maybe there’s a whole bunch of stuff I’m overlooking, but plain old romances, the stuff you buy in bags at yard sales, the stuff consumed in bunches rather than in ones and twos; the genre Scribd is limiting, because of its readers’ consumption habits–where are those, for gay girls? I am not being snarky, I would really love some direction, if this stuff is out there, because this is the first one I’ve found that hit all the regular genre notes but didn’t have boys in it. And I miss romances. But I have tried. I have tried and failed. And even, seriously, even Jennifer Crusie books, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips (these are not plain old romance authors!) aren’t nearly as fun as they used to be. This is a small price to pay for getting one’s life in order, but still.

If you are also lamenting a lack of this stuff, In Every Cloud is definitely for you! Is it brilliant? No. Are the characters full of depth? Absolutely not. Are they supposed to be? No! This is lovely wish fulfillment with a good best friend figure, supportive relatives, a dastardly ex, a nice subplot with a kindly father figure, and a gorgeous setting. It is absolutely wonderfully enjoyable. It’s not Tina Michele’s only book, and it’s not Bold Strokes’ only book that looks like it will send me into happy beach reading land, although it was the first I’ve tried from this publisher. I’m going to try another one now.

Audrey reviews Bound with Love by Megan Mulry


If you used to like Georgette Heyer and still love Jane Austen but are a little gayer than you used to be, perhaps it is time to check out Megan Mulry’s Regency Reimagined series. Bound with Love is a confection involving lurid pasts, long-kept secrets, and at its center, a smolderingly sensual relationship between Vanessa, an English aristocrat, and Nora, a Spanish-born portrait painter.

Although tragic events brought the women together, they’ve loved each other and raised a family together. Their world is perfect–at least, it’s perfect until the day a letter arrives that throws their knowledge of the past into uncertainty, and jeopardizes their future happiness.

Vanessa and Nora are a passionate, sophisticated couple; they’re secure enough in their love for each other that they’re much more exploratory than one might expect from a standard Regency romance. Actually, everyone is much more exploratory than one might expect. There are all kinds of romantic combinations contained herein, and pretty much something for everyone.

The emphasis in this volume is on Vanessa and Nora, but it should be noted that this is the second book in a series. While it can easily be read as a stand-alone, this title is a novella, and the first and third titles (about Nora’s daughter’s relationships and Nora and Vanessa’s neighbors’ alliance with Vanessa’s daughter, respectively) are both novels. I’m not sure why this one didn’t get the full novel treatment, especially as it pulls together the whole group of characters.

One might speculate that this was not Mulry’s favorite grouping. I didn’t get that from the Nora/Vanessa scenes. They were fun. However, the ostensible plotline wrapped up rather suddenly, and the book simply–stopped. It does appear that the book is available only in Kindle form, and at a much lesser price than the other two volumes in Kindle form. And the other two books are also available in print. So…maybe this is an interstitial title? Written to appease those of us who might be more interested in the more “mature” lesbian couple, than in the carousing of the 20-somethings?

Not a clue. But for $2.99, it would be a worthwhile, fun erotic historical frivolity, if that’s your thing.

Audrey reviews Femme by Mette Bach


Femme is a nice little YA coming-out novel. It’s told by Sofie, who eventually identifies as a femme (I’m not giving anything away by saying this, seriously), and involves Clea, who fits, as Sofie’s boyfriend Paul says, “the classic jock lesbo stereotype.”

Femme is safe to add to school collections (the publisher recommends it for ages 13-18) and is definitely a good public library addition. It is not a book you’ll remember on your deathbed, but it has some excellent qualities. Let’s point them up right now: This is a high-interest, low-level novel (it’s written on a third-grade level). It’s short. You can give it to a reluctant reader and know that reader has a good chance of finishing it. It has a passable cover immediately identifiable as part of Lorimer’s “edgy” issues-laden SideStreets series (U.S. readers, think Orca’s high interest-low level books).

Femme also features a strong, positive, mixed-race love interest (Clea’s mom is white, and her dad is black–they’re still together, by the way, and successful, and very supportive of their daughter), and, eventually, a happy, healthy, interracial same-sex relationship. This is worth emphasizing in a YA lit world where “interracial relationship” is often a signifier for “tragic/bittersweet ending.”

Sofie is a senior, dating the BMOC. She’s not in honors classes, and she’s not headed for a prestigious (Canadian–Femme takes place in Canada) university. No one has ever believed in her before. Sofie assists her (single) mom with the family business, Sunny Side Cleaning. Sofie loves to cook, and she’s been part of her school’s interfaith group and knitting club. Until Paul, anyway. Now Paul takes up most of her time.

And now her English teacher has paired her for the year with Clea. Clea’s brilliant, and athletically talented and also, she’s the school’s only out lesbian.

Paul is a stereotypically oafish senior pretty boy. It’s not that he’s mean; he just doesn’t think. The others in his crowd are broadly drawn too. His mean ex is complemented by other mean girls; he wants more than Sofie is comfortable giving; he derides her interests. And Sofie’s a little confused. Why does he think their making out sessions are so intense? She’s not all that engaged.

SPOILERS: (Really, are these spoilers? Do we seriously not know what’s going to happen?) The storyline is predictable, which is not at all a criticism. It includes a growing awareness, a breakup with the boyfriend, a shy beginning with the girlfriend, the inevitable backlash at school, dealing with Mom, and finally–a sweet resolution with the tang of new hope. END SPOILERS!

This is a fine title to hand to a young person who doesn’t think they like reading, but who might be looking for a book like this to identify with. Or who just wants a nice short romance. My one caveat is that Sofie is very naive and might not appeal as a narrator to more worldly kids. On the whole, this is a sweet little story (with some requisite homophobic ugliness that gets resolved).