Awards Season, a Fake Relationship, and Healing from Trauma in Cover Story by Rachel Lacey

Cover Story by Rachel Lacey cover

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What does Rachel Lacey’s new novel Cover Story have in common with the second-highest grossing film of 1992, The Bodyguard? A lot. Or nothing at all. If you’ve seen The BodyguardCover Story will definitely feel familiar. There really are only so many ways that a celebrity/bodyguard romance can go, after all.

Unlike Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, who were both nominated for Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Acting, Natalie Keane is going into awards season with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for her performance in A Case for Love. She should be happy, but all she can think about is that the man who kidnapped her years earlier is about to be released from prison. Wanting to increase her security but not give the press a story in the process, Natalie and her team hatch the Romance Novel Plan of Plans: a fake relationship in which the fake girlfriend is a real bodyguard. 

Bodyguard Taylor Vaughn, newly cleared for duty after aggressively rehabbing Chekhov’s back injury, is more than happy to take on this unconventional job. Actually, hold on for just a second. In our world, the whole “celebrity falls in love with her bodyguard” would be seen as “unconventional.” In Lacey’s world(s), or in any world where romance novel plots are real, though, a love story where sparks fly that we know the ending of all too well wouldn’t be unconventional at all, would it?

Really, think about it. One of my favorite reads of 2023 was Stars Collide, which features Taylor in the role of bodyguard to Eden Sands (who also shows up in Cover Story). As romance readers, we’ve grown accustomed to this kind of serendipity. Or kismet. Call it what you want, but think about how many things in our world would have to go just right in order for our wildest dreams to come true. As I continue to become more familiar with the genre, I’m still trying to figure out if the escapism of the romance novel is helpful or not. What I’m noticing, I think, is that the escapism of the genre pairs very well with explorations of trauma. Fortunately, that is exactly what Lacey has to offer in Cover Story

I love author’s notes/acknowledgments that add to the novel in some meaningful way. In the Acknowledgements section for Cover Story, Lacey talks about the process of shifting the original direction of the novel to one that focuses more on safety and healing from trauma. If you’re not familiar, the 80s and most of the 90s were an interesting time for romance in films. Yes, there were plenty of romcoms, but there were also lots of romantic dramas/thrillers. The Bodyguard is, of course, one of those romantic drama/thrillers. (I had occasion to rewatch The Bodyguard not too long ago; considering that it was written in 1975 and filmed in the early 90s, the fact that it holds up at all is impressive.) It’s true that suspense can heighten a romance plot, but as a Sandra Bullock character once said, “Relationships that start under intense circumstances, they never last.”

That is certainly not the case, however, in a romance world of kismet and HEAs. Who needs reality when you have serendipity? I love The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and I have warm feelings toward both of its remakes, In the Good Old Summertime (1949) and You’ve Got Mail (1998). Maybe I’ve always had a thing for the enemies-to-lovers trope. Who doesn’t love not being able to tell the difference between bickering and banter? (If done correctly, they’re the same thing.) What makes Read Between the Lines (2021), Lacey’s updated version of this story, so rewarding, though, is how—eventually—Rosie and Jane are able to help each other overcome deeply personal obstacles. You can also see Lacey trending in this direction in her earlier Midnight in Manhattan series.

Picking up Cover Story, I knew that I was going to find a story about two people who learned to treat each other with care. That’s what Lacey does so well, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with her newest story. (I do find myself questioning why I’m especially drawn to plots that involve celebrities like Natalie Keane and Eden Sands, but that particular exploration is best kept for another day.) One thing I do find disappointing—Lacey’s fictional movies are just that: fictional.

I’m guessing that most people know The Bodyguard for the song that Dolly Parton gave to Whitney Houston. You know…the song. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to listen to the A-side of the The Bodyguard soundtrack while reading Cover Story, but I certainly recommend it. You can also listen to Lacey’s own playlist for the novel. Either way, if this is your first Rachel Lacey novel, be prepared for the adorable pets.

Liv (she/her) is a trans woman, a professor of English, and a reluctant Southerner. Described (charitably) as passionate and strong-willed, she loves to talk (and talk) about popular culture, queer theory, utopias, time travel, and any other topic that she has magpied over the years. You can find her on storygraph and letterboxd @livvalentine.

Supremely Steamy Slow Burn: Losing Control by J. J. Arias

the cover of Losing Control

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For my first romance of 2024, I decided to read Losing Control by J. J. Arias. I had heard so many great things about this author (shout out to the Strictly Sapphic podcast) and knew that I really wanted to check her work out sometime. So when my friends gifted me a copy for Christmas, I knew what I had to do. I am so happy with my choice. This book is a nearly perfect steamy slow build romance with tons of emotional depth.

Losing Control is the first in her new series of books set at the Miami-based Dominion Talent Agency. Andrea Ortiz is one of the top talent agents at the agency. The definition of straight-laced, she has gotten where she is by always following the rules, whether they be from her parents, teachers, or her boss. It’s led her to a fairly simple and straightforward life, but that’s the way she likes it. This life is upended, however, when she’s tasked with managing Roxy, better known as the wild and sexy pop star Roxxxy. Roxy’s latest antics have resulted in her tour manager quitting right before her nationwide tour is about to begin. Unable to find a replacement on such short notice, Andrea has no choice but to go on tour with Roxy in the hopes of keeping her out of further trouble. As Andrea and Roxy spend night after night together on Roxy’s tour bus, a connection forms between them that threatens to make Andrea break all her rules. For Roxy, this connection may finally be the thing that allows her to let someone in and see the real person behind the stage persona.

One of the key elements that can make or break a romance, especially a slow burn romance, is the tension between the characters. As a reader, it’s not enough to be told that characters are into each other; you need to feel it. J. J. Arias does a masterful job of making you feel the sexual and emotional tension between Andrea and Roxy as it gradually builds throughout the book. From their first meeting, you can sense the energy between them in the prose. Every sentence and paragraph is expertly used to build a palpable sense of inevitability between Andrea and Roxy, even if the characters themselves think it impossible. You know these two want each other; you feel it as it continues to escalate and drive them to do things they never thought they would. What makes this tension even better is how Arias mixes the sexual and emotional sides of this tension. Andrea and Roxy don’t just want to have sex with each other. There’s more to it than that, even if they don’t know it quite yet. All of this works together to make the slow burn a roaring fire that slowly builds into a blazing inferno.

Of course, tension is only good if there is a payoff. Arias knows this and delivers a highly satisfying payoff. (Slight spoilers for the last quarter of the book, highlight to read) She forgoes the trope of a third act breakup and instead gives us what could be described as an extended epilogue filled with incredibly steamy sex scenes and fantastic emotional character moments. At this point, the tour is over, and Andrea and Roxy are back in the real world. They’ve decided to be together, but that means figuring out what that means for both of them, their careers, and their personal lives. I personally loved this because it allows us to see how Andrea and Roxy continue to develop as a romantic partnership. Additionally, the sex scenes are so good because not only do they give us tasty 5-alarm spice, but also show how much these characters care for each other, how far they’ve come, and how deep their love is now. (End of spoilers)

Losing Control is a wonderfully steamy book filled with fantastic characters that you want to be together. The tension between characters is palpable and the payoff is very satisfying. If you’re a fan of spicy sapphic slow burns, I highly recommend this book. Personally, I can’t wait to see what J. J. Arias has cooked up in the rest of the series.

A Literal Love Song: Stars Collide by Rachel Lacey

the cover of Stars Collide

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“You’re more than your sexuality. So much more.”

After her divorce, pop star sensation Eden Sands’ latest album lacked the spark fans and the industry have expected of her after 20 years. Meanwhile, Anna Moss, her fellow Grammy nominee, is beginning to rise, though people in the industry don’t take her as seriously as she hoped. To rekindle that spark, Eden invites Anna to join her on stage during her Grammy performance, only for fans to focus on the spark between them. Following the unexpected popularity of #Edanna, Eden invites Anna to open her upcoming tour. The more time they spend together, the more they realize that chemistry exists off-stage, too. Is there something more to what they’re feeling?

Mild Spoilers Ahead. Book Contains Sexual Scenes.

Rachel Lacey does a wonderful job at exploring topics of self-discovery and identity. Eden and Anna’s love story gives a respectable nod to many realities of life as a celebrity. As a young star, Eden is forced to mature quickly. Allowing the adults in her life to make major decisions on her behalf stole Eden’s control, leading her to claim that control in extreme ways as an adult. Fans have mobbed Eden, tugging at her hair, getting in her personal space, and claiming some unspoken right to flash cameras in her face, leading Eden to further seclude herself under the guise of safety. So much of her young life was controlled that she lost the chance to explore her identity beyond the pop star on stage. Meanwhile, Anna is forever seen as a teen character she played (while in her 20s), prompting no one to take her seriously. One of the things I loved most about this book was the mentorship between the two women. While Eden helped Anna recognize the control she could have over her career, Anna helped Eden recognize who she was and the life she could have outside of the spotlight. A lot of the conflicts in this story were internal; Eden’s self-discovery and sexual awakening, the words of a controlling and toxic ex haunting Anna. Eden and Anna helped one another through their self-growth.

In my favorite scenes, Anna coaxes Eden to talk through her thoughts (finally, a sapphic book that avoids using miscommunication to simmer the story in tension). Anna reminds Eden, “You don’t have to label yourself before you’re ready… or ever, if you don’t want to. How you identify is so personal, and you’re under no obligation to share it with anyone.” For many people, recognizing who they are—labels or not—is a lonely process. Anna never pushes or rushes Eden, but she does help Eden work through her concerns. You’re never too late to decide who you are. I didn’t navigate my own sexuality until after college, but I wish I’d had a friend to help me understand it, the way Eden had Anna. Even when their relationship blossoms into more, their friendship never wavers. Rachel Lacey does an incredible job at describing how out of tune you can feel for so much of your life, only for the static to clear because of an event, a realization, or a person. I’ve met that person and I can say with certainty that it can change everything.

Though I loved the internal conflicts both main characters had to navigate to mature and develop, the lack of strong external factors seems unrealistic. The major external factors are the mobbing fans and Anna’s ex; the latter of which creates the only major blow-out scene in the entire novel. While we see Anna mature throughout the story (both in how she treats Eden and in her career growth), her maturity unravels in that scene. Eden, who is usually steadfast in her composure, steps beyond the professional veneer she wears in a moment of immature jealousy. That scene, presented in the last few chapters, felt like a rushed, inserted source of conflict before a HEA ending. Even Anna’s ex felt out of character in these scenes, jumping from one extreme to the next, brought in as a last-minute trigger for Anna’s insecurities about her relationship with Eden. There were other external conflicts to explore that would have strengthened the story. For example, the media is never posed in a negative light (as if the media wouldn’t distort the truth or paparazzi wouldn’t mob both popstars). What if Eden was only enamored by the situation (a concern that could have crept alongside Anna’s other doubts)? During the second half of the novel, Eden and Anna were surrounded by so much BLISS that I kept waiting for a real problem to challenge their relationship. The strongest relationships navigate problems and survive, all the stronger for it.

Recommended to anyone in need of a warm and fuzzy romance read. Ideal for fans of sexy slow burns, workplace romances, and celebrity romances.

✨ The Vibes ✨ 
👩‍❤️‍👩 Lesbian and Pansexual Main Characters
💞 Sapphic Romance
🎤 Workplace Romance / Forced Proximity
🎙️ Dual POV
🎵 Slow Burn
⌛ Age Gap
💗Friends to Lovers
🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Rep
❤️‍🔥 Sexual Awakening
🌶️ Spice

A Sapphic K-Pop Horrormance: Gorgeous Gruesome Faces by Linda Cheng

the cover of Gorgeous Gruesome Faces by Linda Cheng

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Content warnings for self-harm, homophobia, racism, sexism, suicide, violence, and gore.

Sunny, Candie, and Mina were a young K-pop group on the rise, starring in a popular TV show that launched their career. That was before everything fell apart. Before Sunny and Candie turned against each other. Before the ritual that went wrong. Before Mina jumped to her death.

Now, Sunny is 18 and feels like the best years of her life are behind her. She squandered her shot at fame, and Candie won’t speak to her. They used to be be inseparable, but now she won’t take Sunny’s calls. While following Candie on social media, Sunny discovers that she’s entered herself into a K-pop competition. To her manager mother’s delight, Sunny joins the same competition, but it’s not really to try to relaunch her career. She wants to reconnect with Candie and finally talk about what happened to Mina, as well as the secrets they’ve been keeping. Meanwhile, something is wrong with the workshop: girls keep getting injured, the hallways seem to rearrange themselves, and Sunny could swear she can see Mina out of the corner of her eye sometimes.

The story rotates timelines between the K-pop competition and the lead-up to Mina’s death. This is described by the publisher as a “speculative thriller,” and I think that fits better than “horror.” There are horror elements, including some unexpectedly upsetting gore, but the majority of the book has an off-putting and surreal feel.

At the workshop, Sunny is placed with Candie as her roommate—but Candie continues to be standoffish even in close proximity. Because I don’t think this is a spoiler, I’ll say that Sunny and Candie’s relationship isn’t strictly platonic, but Candie pushed her away to maintain her image. That history simmers below the surface, and in some ways, this is a bit of a horrormance: their fraught relationship is at the centre of this story.

I don’t want to give away the supernatural element, because the answers to what happened to Mina and what’s happening at the workshop are unspooled throughout the story, but I will say it’s a different focus than I’ve seen in a horror novel before. On the other hand, there is a scene with teeth and scissors that I will truly never be able to get out of my head (bad choice of words…) Because the book is mostly dreamlike and unsettling, that scene really shocked me.

There is more going on here than just shifting hallways and girls with the wrong faces, though. It also touches on the pressures of the K-pop industry and the difficulty of fame, including racism and stalking.

If you’re a fan of K-pop, horror, dark fantasy, sapphic romance subplots, and surreal settings—or any mix-and-match of those—pick up Gorgeous Gruesome Faces. This is Linda Cheng’s debut, and though I thought there were a few clunky lines (especially the dialogue tags, which shows just how picky I’m being), the premise and atmosphere was strong enough to override any drawbacks, and I look forward to seeing how her writing develops in her next books.

Danika reviews Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi

Follow Your Arrow by Jessica VerdiAmazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

CeCe and her girlfriend, Silvie, are social media stars. They have about a million followers each, and they are #RelationshipGoals. Their ship name is Cevie, and their lives online and off are intertwined. CeCe’s picture-perfect crafted persona begins to fall apart, though, when bickering with her girlfriend turns into fighting–none of which is reflected on the app, of course–which turns into a break up. CeCe isn’t sure what her brand is now that she’s single. To complicate things further, CeCe is bisexual–she’s been out for years–and she’s starting to get a crush on a very offline guy. How will he react to her online life, and how will her Cevie fans react to him?

This is the second of two bi YA books I read that come out today! (Also check out my review of I Think I Love You by Auriane Desombre.) I have to take this space to do a little celebration of that fact! I remember when hardly any queer YA got published in a year, never mind two traditionally published bisexual YA books in the same day. Because this is the Lesbrary, I want to make clear that this features a M/F romance with a bi woman main character.

Follow Your Arrow is a coming-of-age-on-the-internet story. CeCe is immersed with “the App,” and her sense of self is wrapped up in it. She was once an outspoken activist–her walls are covered in protest signs she carried in marches–but she has sanitized this aspect of herself online. She used to get into screaming arguments with her Conservative father, until he left them. Now, she tries to make sure that nothing she does online could result in a pile-on. When her online fanbase begins to turn on her anyways, she has to re-evaluate. I appreciate that there’s some nuance here: it’s not a scare tactic about social media or “cancel culture:” the story acknowledges positives and negatives of both.

Like I Think I Love You, I really liked how this examined bisexuality as a distinct identity: not just gay light or… spicy straight. CeCe feels like she’s not considered queer enough to have pride or have it be an important part of her identity: she has talked herself out of getting a rainbow tattoo, because she doesn’t feel that she can “claim” this, or that people would object because she’s not “queer enough.” I also appreciated that she’s primarily attracted to women. Bisexuality with a preference isn’t something I’ve seen represented in YA before, but it’s very common in real life.

This turned out to be a bit of a personal read, but to explain that, I have to wander into potential spoiler territory–but not more than what’s on the back of the book. CeCe is worried that, despite being out as bi, she will receive backlash online if she dates a guy. To be clear: I have in no way at any time been famous on the internet. But I have been famous on one tiny part of the internet, which is the lesbian books part of it–at least 5 years ago. And when I started dating a guy after IDing as a lesbian for years online, I went through a miniature version of this on tumblr. Seeing people talk about your dating life and identity online, especially in a vindictive way, is very weird and definitely gets in your head (especially if you’re already going through an identity crisis). I cannot imagine being a truly public figure, because I sure couldn’t help myself from looking at that train wreck constantly until people lost interest.

I also appreciated that the story validates CeCe’s decision to set boundaries around her relationship with her father. I was worried that the trajectory was towards CeCe making amends even though her father was hateful, both politically and personally. (Mild spoiler:) Luckily, I was wrong about that. The narrative showed that she was right to separate herself, and that it is the healthiest thing for her.

I do want to give a content warning for biphobia: Follow Your Arrow includes hateful biphobic comments that I found difficult to read, but the narrative obviously contradicts them. If you’re looking for a coming of age story that considers bisexuality as an identity and the pitfalls of growing up online, I highly recommend this one!

Danika reviews Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

I finished this book back in November, but I have frankly been intimidated to review it. This is a big, twisty, ambitious novel that I’m still processing now, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

I have been eagerly awaiting this book ever since I finished the last page of The Miseducation of Cameron Post. This is my favourite YA book of all time, and ever since it came out, I’ve been following Danforth online to see what would come next. At some point, she talked about two different books she was working on: one tentatively titled CELESBIANS! and one that followed a copy of The Well of Loneliness throughout time called Well, Well, Well. As the years went on, I thought those had been abandoned, but after reading this book, I can see how they got incorporated into this story.

Plain Bad Heroines is a horror story that begins in a girls’ boarding school in 1902. There, a writer named Mary MacLane is getting a cult following. MacLane was a real-life figure who published her scandalous memoirs, now titled I Await the Devil’s Coming. They are feminist, bisexual, and blasphemous. (The ARC came with a page from Danforth explaining her coming across this author, and how frustrating it is that she only heard of her recently from a footnote.) There are two girls at this school who are particular fans of MacLane, and they sneak off into the woods to read it together (and to make out, let’s be honest). One day, a relative tries to split the two of them up, and they run further into the woods to try to escape. Instead, they stumble on a sprawling wasp nest and die gruesomely. They are found with MacLane’s book beside them, and more deaths begin to be associated with this copy of the book.

More than a century later, a book has been written about this history, and it is being made into a movie, and the women involved in the production begin to feel haunted by the past. There is Merritt, the young (cranky) genius who wrote the original book; Harper Harper, the “celesbian” star of the film; and Flo, a relatively unknown actor playing Harper’s love interest. They’re all queer, and they have a complicated relationship between the three of them. Merritt is critical, Flo feels out of her depth and vulnerable, and Harper tries to keep the peace between them (and hit on them). As they’re filming, though, they encounter mysterious events on set–it’s unclear whether this haunting has continue with them, or whether it’s all part of an immersive Hollywood experience.

That is the very bare-bones description of the plot, but that’s only scratching the surface. We also get the fascinating story of the headmistress’s founding of the school and the feud between the brothers on that land that is said to have started the haunting. There are so many different stories spiraling together, and almost all of them have sapphic characters (including the headmistress and her partner). The characters are flawed and complicated; they clash with each other.

This is billed as a horror-comedy, and there definitely is wry humor included. It’s self-referential and plays with horror tropes. At the same time, it is creepy and disturbing: you’ll never look at a wasp the same way again. This book is intricate and incredibly well-crafted: I was about two chapters into it when I thought, “Oh, this is how books are supposed to be written.” Even though it bounces around in time and between characters, it all locks together and never feels out of place.

I appreciated the skill involved here, and I love that this is such a queer book absolutely brimming with sapphic characters, but I’m not sure I’d say I enjoyed reading it. It was unsettling. I also felt like I couldn’t quite penetrate through to the core of the story. What started this haunting? What does it mean? I love that there are so many queer characters, but it also means that they are the ones being targeted: why? Is it a metaphor for homophobia? That feels too pat for this story, and it doesn’t quite fit. Is even asking that question too simplifying? I’m not sure I have the skills to unpack everything this story is trying to accomplish.

This is a complicated, ambitious novel that will leave you thinking about it long after you’ve put the book down.

Maggie reviews Things Hoped For by Chencia C. Higgins

Things Hoped For by Chencia C. Higgins

I picked up Things Hoped For at the beginning of the year, out of a list of f/f romance coming out this year, I believe. Or maybe Black romance authors? Perhaps Black LGBT authors. There were a lot of lists floating around Twitter in March/April, and I bought a lot of books, both to support authors and because I suddenly had a lot more reading time on my hands. I was excited to see a butch woman on the cover, and as a novella, so the trope of the day is instant connection, which means instant gratification on cuteness, which was exactly what I want a lot of right now. I haven’t read the rest of the series, since they are M/F and I wanted to skip right to the F/F, but it was easy to get into, and Xeno and Trisha, the main characters, are adorable together. If you’re looking for a romance novella, I highly recommend picking it up.

First of all, this is a relocation romance. Trisha wants to move away from her rural hometown in order to be around a bigger circle of queer community than her area offers. As a massage therapist, her skills are easy to transfer to Houston, and she knows people in the area, presumably the people from the afore-mentioned M/F books. She’s excited to be in a bigger city and be able to meet new people and find a wider LGBT community. I really love the possibilities here, and the journey for more community is a familiar for a lot of us. When her friends in town invite her to see a concert by queer, butch rapper Xeno, she leaps at the chance to go. Xeno is a rapper who has firmly established herself on the Houston circuit and is ready to expand her audience. A savvy businesswoman with a firm grasp on all aspects of her music career, Xeno is nonetheless somewhat shy around people she doesn’t know. A chance encounter with Trisha backstage is instantly enchanting for both women.

This is also a romance about someone dealing with rising fame. A major rapper samples Xeno’s work in an interview and suddenly her popularity skyrockets outside of her Houston circuit, and she’s booking gigs out of state. She finds the increasing fervor of her fans outside of concerts disconcerting, even as she revels in the energy onstage. But Trisha is outside of that, and their growing relationship is lowkey, hot, and super cute. They go on super adorable dates and are very soft with each other. And Trisha’s career means she can schedule patients and be able to travel to Xeno’s concerts. They’re very cute and when they get together the sex is very hot. There’s not a whole lot of conflict here, but that’s pretty standard in romance novellas, when entertainment is the name of the game.

In conclusion if you’re looking for a quick, hot f/f read, you could do worse than to pick up Things Hoped For. It’s steamy, it’s familiar and comforting to everyone that’s had to relocate to find queer community, and it’s entertaining. I had a thoroughly good time reading it, and I recommend that you do too.

Carolina reviews The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Sloan

The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Sloan

I’m ashamed to admit I have always preferred boy bands to girl groups. I was a massive One Direction fan back in the day, and still have so much love for each of the boys (especially Harry <3). However, despite my unfamiliarity with the girl group/pop genre as a whole, when I saw The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes as an option for my August Book of the Month, I knew I had to give it a try. The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes is an exploration of the destruction of the most famous 2000’s girl group, Gloss, as they come to terms with the death of one of their bandmates, Cassidy Holmes. We flashback between Cassidy’s perspective during the top of the group’s career in 2001, to the future as each member of Gloss–Merry, Yumi and Rose–comes to terms with their relationship to Cassidy, and to fame as a whole. Darker than the initial saccharine bubblegum evoked by the era, The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes sinks its teeth into the black heart of the music industry by exposing the unhealthy image consciousness, rampant closeting and bearding, and abuse of power by men in the media that still persists today.

I may be too young to fully appreciate the novel’s noughties nostalgia, as I recently turned 20, but I did find remnants of my childhood in Cassidy’s treasured flip phone and the celebrity gossip buzz surrounding the fictional red carpets, reminiscent of the infamous Taylor/Kanye feud and other iconic awards show moments. Albeit, I have more nostalgia for the “Britney/Brittany” episode of Glee rather than Britney Spears’s actual career, but I definitely suggest this book if you have a strong attachment to the era, as each of the fictional celebrities leap off the page and seem as they could be really stars on MTV and tabloid columns. I also recommend listening to the author’s curated 1990’s/2000’s pop playlist in the back of the book as you read for deep immersion into the years of sequined Juicy tracksuits and frosted tips.

The comfort of the time period led to an easy read (I read this 400+ page book in a day), but I had some issues with pacing and timing. The author would foreshadow something, and then immediately reveal it in the next chapter, instantly killing any sense of anticipation that could have been built up.

I loved hearing each of the girl’s perspective on fame and how the industry changed their lives, for better or for worse. Yumiko’s storyline was the most fleshed out and poignant; Yumi discusses the challenges of being a Japanese woman in the media, and her experience with racism, fetishization and cultural appropriation. Merry’s story regarding her abusive past also rang true, evoking echoes of the #MeToo movement, as the group’s abusers received their comeuppance in the modern day. However, I wish there was more of a discussion of Cassidy’s mental health from her perspective rather than those around her. I can understand that this book does focus the feelings of questioning and misunderstanding of those attempting to come to terms with a close one’s suicide, but I would’ve liked to see more of Cassidy’s mental health struggles in her own words, rather than from her friend’s speculation.

My least favorite member of Gloss was Rose, Cassidy’s love interest. I enjoyed having a morally grey sapphic female protagonist, but I felt that she was very manipulative and dismissive of each of the girl’s needs. If the author wanted me to root for Rose and Cassidy’s burgeoning romance, then it needed to be fleshed out more with more attention to Rose’s tender side, which we only receive brief glimpses of. I would have preferred the love story if Cassidy fell for Emily, her sweet and steadfast dog sitter.

I also found the discussion of Rose’s coming out as a publicity stunt and the implication that she would be celebrated and gain popularity for her coming out as problematic. So many individuals have lost their careers, their audiences, or even their lives for being brave enough to come out. I felt that it was frankly dismissive of out and proud musicians and the struggles they’ve faced; Harry Styles has taken considerable flack for his androgynous clothing choices and rejection of sexuality labels, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! lost members of her punk community audience after coming out as a transgender lesbian. Equating the real life struggles of LGBT individuals to a simple plug for diversity and public clout is fraught and simply not true.

The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes is a reflection on what it means to be a woman in the music industry. We are right by Cassidy’s side as she faces homophobia from the media, gaslighting by the men in charge of her music and image, and an ever creeping sense of dread as her mental health struggles loom larger and larger. The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes exposes the ugly sides of our current celebrity culture and illustrates the true tradeoff between happiness and fame.

Trigger warnings: racism, stalking, suicide, self harm, discussion of mental health, disordered eating, paranoia, bulimia, sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse, gaslighting, substance abuse, sexual assault, rape

JB reviews Something To Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Hello everybody! My name is JB and I’m so excited to be here.

Who doesn’t love a good slow burn romance? The slow burn romance trope is literally my favorite trope in existence. All my favorite ships go through some sort of slow burn/mutual pining stage. Something to Talk About has a slow burn romance AND a fake dating. It feels like it was made for me, and I can tell Meryl Wilsner knows what the lesbians want. And yet this novel did not fully satisfy my itch for slow burn romance.

Something to Talk About features Jo, a mega-successful showrunner, and her assistant, Emma, and their journey from coworkers to friends to lovers. Jo is photographed making Emma laugh on a red carpet and rumors start a-going. Though the gossip threatens to interfere with both their personal and professional lives, Jo decides to not comment; she’s never before, so why start now? The novel is told from both of their perspectives, which I enjoyed because we got to see that sweet, sweet mutual pining. I enjoyed seeing both of them get flustered about each other or giving meaning to small interactions. I love how much unspoken care was already in their relationship, even before they realized they could be more than coworkers and friends. Emma and Jo know each other’s favorite foods, how they way sleep on the plane during business trips, and more.

While I enjoyed reading from their perspectives, there was not a lot of difference in their voices. I had to turn back to the beginning of a chapter more than once to remember who I was supposed to be. A major conflict happens in the middle of the novel that didn’t really make a lot of sense to me, and I almost put the book down because of it. I also thought that there were one too many real world issues trying to be addressed between the romance. Racism and sexism against Jo, sexual harassment in Hollywood, and nepotism (somehow) were either mentioned or part of the plot. It’s completely possible to experience all of these at once, but, to me, it felt out of place in a novel that markets itself as a fluffy romance.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. I realized I enjoyed and related to these characters more than those in YA WLW romances. I recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a WLW romance featuring adult women, mutual pining, and yeah, of course, slow burn romance.

Trigger warnings: racism, sexual harassment

JB (she/her) teaches junior high history by day and reads lesbian fiction by night. Her favorite genres are fantasy, speculative fiction, historical non-fiction, and memoirs. She loves all things history, RPG podcasts, and watching longform video essays with her gf. You can find her on Instagram at @readingrhythms.