Julie Thompson reviews Heart of the Game by Rachel Spangler

Sports journalist Sarah Duke lives for the crack of a bat and a deep hit caught at the wall. After years busting her chops reporting college baseball games on up, dealing with sexist locker rooms, fans, and colleagues, Duke finally scores her dream job: covering the St. Louis Cardinals. At the season opener, she meets a young fan with as much passion for the game as she. Duke also becomes smitten with the boy’s mother, Molly Grettano. The single mother juggles career, family, and the expectations that she deals with from others and herself. While she dances with the idea of dating as a newly out lesbian, Molly’s long hours balancing managerial aspirations at her restaurant job with her two young sons come first.

Throughout the story, the fierce loves that Duke and Molly live and breathe conflict with how they want their romantic dreams to play out. Both women have worked their asses off to get where they are and compromise doesn’t come easy. Duke exudes easy charm and her enthusiasm for baseball is infectious. She breaks down all of life’s ups and downs into baseball terms, which might wear thin for some readers, but comes across as natural for Duke. Molly worries her kids, especially precocious baseball super fan Joe, might get too attached to Duke. The kids are an integral part of the story, not a tacked on afterthought. One of my sister’s recently started dating again and she can attest that it isn’t easy, especially with kids.

Towards the end of the story I wondered if an Happy Ever After was really in the cards. And then, because of Spangler’s skillful storytelling and respect for her characters, I realized that any way it ended would satisfy. As Duke would say, this story reveals more than its box score indicates. Friendship, family bonds, and love resonate in this contemporary romance.

I haven’t followed baseball since the Seattle Mariners’ golden era (1995-2001). Rachel Spangler’s sports romance, Heart of the Game, however, gets me excited for the start of Major League Baseball at the end of March and for local minor league games where every seat is a good one. Fresh cut grass, peanut shells underfoot, and the swell of the crowd, and everyone dancing the latest craze in tandem (the only time I’ve ever seen a thousand people of all ages do the Macarena). What could be better?

For anyone participating in Lesbian Book Bingo, this novel satisfies the Sports Romance square.

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.