Susan reviews Above All Things by Roslyn Sinclair

the cover of Above All Things

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Above All Things is the second part of Roslyn Sinclair’s Carlyle series. Vivian and Jules have committed to each other, and now they have to find a way to stay committed to each other during upheavals at work, family drama, and the small matter of Vivian’s pregnancy.

To start off: this really feels like the second half of Truth and Measure, and it benefits from reading it as soon after as you can. Again, this is a 200k fic that’s been rewritten and split into two books, so this isn’t a surprise! But it’s still something to be aware of going in.

Above All Things does something that feels rare to me, in that the characters are out of the getting together phase. A lot of romances focus on how the characters get into a relationship and not how they stay in it, so seeing Jules and Vivian have to negotiate and renegotiate their relationship is really satisfying. There are so many obstacles – Vivian’s fame, Jules’ family, their own ability to communicate—but they choose each other, and they keep choosing each other in the face of all of them! It helps that the characters are still very much themselves as well. Being in love doesn’t soften Vivian at all; she is still ruthless and terrifying, and not always in a way that Jules enjoys. Jules desperately wants to prove herself, and that she doesn’t need Vivian’s help, despite how much Vivian would help her. They have to negotiate the power dynamics, the perception of their relationship, and their contradictory wants, and seeing the way it balances is glorious.

The scenes with Jules’ family are quite hard—well-written, but hard. Being understandably worried about your daughter in a relationship with heavily skewed power dynamics is fine, but the undercurrent of homophobia that her parents have carried from the previous book is there in force. There are some supportive and affirming reactions from other characters, but I thought it best to highlight that Jules’ parents are a whole thing.

For those who want to know how it compares to the fic version of Truth and Measure:

  • Above All Things doesn’t have as much of Jules being aggressively competent as T&M did Andy, but what we get is very good.
  • There’s an actual discussion of heteronormativity and the optics of Vivian and Jules’ relationship in light of the #MeToo movement. I’ve really appreciated how much more casually queer the New York of the Carlyle series is than that of The Devil Wears Prada, so I enjoyed that the characters could be out—even if only to have a media strategy in place to prevent abuse allegations. (Feel free to join me in feeling old because T&M came out in 2013.)
  • “Does [x] big confrontation still take place?” Yes and it’s GREAT. That is the least spoilery way I can put that.
  • If you were like me and appreciated that Miranda didn’t give birth on-page: I’m so sorry.

The long and short of it is that I enjoyed the level of drama and relationship dynamics in Above All Things. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as Truth and Measure, but I enjoyed the novelty of what it was doing and the finely tuned drama of it all. If you want fashionable queer women earning their peaceful ending, you should definitely pick up this series.

Caution warnings: Homophobia, pregnancy, birth, age gap romance, coming out

Susan is a queer crafter moonlighting as a library assistent. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for Smart Bitches Trashy Books, or just bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Meagan Kimberly reviews A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria

A Lot Like Adiós cover

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Gabe and Michelle had been best friends since childhood. As they grew into teenagers, their feelings took a turn toward romantic, but before they did anything about it, Gabe left.

Over 10 years later, Michelle works as a freelance marketing specialist in the Bronx and Gabe owns a gym in LA, and they haven’t had contact since he left, until now. Gabe makes a return to New York to work with Michelle on a marketing campaign to open a new branch of the gym. Emotions run high, lies become tangled and it’s time for both of them to face the past if they’re going to reach their happy ending.

This is a Latine story on every level. Sprinkled with Spanglish and Spanish throughout narration and dialogue, mentions of Puerto Rican and Mexican foods and their families being way too involved in their relationship all create a familiar environment for Latine readers. Gabe’s strained relationship with his parents is also a familiar situation that many children of immigrants can relate to and plays a central role in his character development. Throughout the novel, Gabe begins to untangle his old feelings and realize a great deal of miscommunication occurred between them.

Meanwhile, Michelle works toward untangling her relationship with work and burnout, especially as how those parts of her life act as a crutch to keep her from making meaningful relationships. As she reconnects with Gabe, she begins to let go of control and stop doubting herself and her abilities.

As the story unfolds, there are inserts of a fanfic Gabe and Michelle wrote together as teenagers called Celestial Destiny. They shared a love for a sci-fi TV show that finally gave them Latinos in space and then was canceled after only one season, a stituation too many of us are all too familiar with. But these inserts serve as a fantastical way to convey a lot of character development that Michelle and Gabe keep from one another and even themselves.

Bisexuality is dealt with subtly in this book. There’s a conversation early on between them where Michelle states, “Gabe, are you telling me we’re both bisexual?” They have a brief conversation about their past relationships regarding being bi and that’s the last you hear of it. It’s a different way for bisexuality to play a role in an f/m romance story than I’ve seen before. There’s never a big deal made about it. It’s addressed but it doesn’t make up the bulk of the plot or character development. But that doesn’t make these characters any less queer.

Within the little bit about the characters’ sexualities, however, there is more nuance given to Michelle. She speaks about dating people of different genders but never having sex with women. She doesn’t hide her sexual orientation from her family, but she doesn’t discuss her dating life with them either. It seems like she’s still getting comfortable with her bi identity.

For those who like their romance novels extra steamy, you’re in luck! A Lot Like Adiós includes lots of hot sex, dirty talk and wonderful examples of consent. Alexis Daria did a fantastic job of portraying a passionate relationship without shying away from sex, desire and pleasure, making it all guilt-free and without shame. It’s totally sex-positive,

Nat reviews Guava Flavored Lies by J.J. Arias

the cover of Guava Flavored Lies by J.J. Arias

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Ever since I read J.J. Arias’s Guava Flavored Lies, I’ve wanted to go to Miami so bad, just to hit up a Cuban bakery or three for a pastelito de guayaba and a cafecito. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Arias, and, as with a lot of prolific authors lately, this recent work is a departure from her normal MO (in this case, exemplified by Vampires and the Goode series).

From two households alike in dignity, Sylvie Campos and Lauren Machado are business rivals and lifelong enemies thanks to a decades long feud between their families. But the conflict for our main characters may be more complex than it seems on the surface – details about Sylvie and Lauren’s past will be revealed along the way that give us a bit more insight into why the anger between the two seems so very… extra.

The story is largely centered around the feuding between the Campos and Machado families, who both own popular Cuban bakeries in Miami, and who each accuse the other of having allegedly stolen family recipes when the founding families parted ways. Opening with a flashback to Lauren and Sylvia’s schooldays, we get a glimpse of how the families’ long time squabbles have affected their kids, who are literally at each other’s throats, though it’s tempered with a hefty dose of humor.

Lauren and Sylvie end up thrown together in the foodie version of the only one bed trope; that is, one food festival and only one functional espresso machine. Aside from their day to day struggles while being stuck side by side at a high profile event, and all the verbal sparring that comes along with it – Sylvie is still determined to try to solve the mystery of the family feud and to prove once that Lauren’s family are recipe thieves.

By the end of the book you’ll have some intense cravings for croquetas and a strong cafe con leche. But the food is also a vehicle for themes of old vs new, as the younger generations of both rival bakeries are being groomed to take over. Lauren wants to modernize some aspects of her family’s business, trying out vegan recipes and experimenting with (much to Sylvie’s dismay) oat milk in her Cuban lattes. Sylvie just wants to perfect the classics and build on her family legacy. Food is the love language of both our MCs, and rather than being at odds, their styles are complimentary, though it takes some translation to realize it.

A satisfying enemies-to-lovers romance, Arias gives us an example of the amazing quality of writing coming from self published authors and small presses these days. Solid, witty prose and dialogue, and pacing and intrigue to move the story along. I hope this is a book that finds its way into a lot of e-readers! And as a long time independent publisher of Sapphic romance, Arias has a backlog of works in the event you fall for her recent bakery wars romantic comedy.

Nat reviews Sour Grapes by Eliza Lentzski

the cover of Sour Grapes

If you’re mostly familiar with Eliza Lentzski from her Don’t Call Me Hero series (which I really loved) you’ll notice this is quite a departure from that grittier, mysterious style and more in keeping with the contemporary vibe of her more recent novels, including The Woman in 3B. Sour Grapes was an especially fun read for me, because my day job is in the wine and spirits industry, and I love it when my interests collide. Sapphic romance in a winery? Always a yes, and thank you. One of the things I really enjoyed about Sour Grapes was the attention to detail around the winemaking and even the agricultural aspect involved. A lot of the book is dedicated to discussing the craft with accuracy, so if you’re studying up on your level one Sommelier test, this might be a fun way to ingest some wine knowledge.

Speaking of studying up, June St Clare, who’s recently purchased a winery with no winemaking knowledge or even a desire to own said winery, knows absolutely nothing. But owning a winery had been her partner’s retirement plan for them — at least until her untimely, and fairly recent, death. The timing of events was something I struggled a bit with, how quickly June processed her partner’s unexpected death, or more accurately didn’t seem to process. Her partner Alex has only been gone a few months, but there’s a distinct lack of fresh grief from someone whose lover of 20 years has just suddenly died, which I think might have seemed less strange if the author had included a bit more internal dialogue. There are some indications throughout the book that their relationship was less than perfect, but June’s behavior felt more in line with someone whose spouse passed away at least a year or two before, and that detail nagged me quite a bit.

This brings us to our grumpy love interest. I love an Eeyore, and Lucia Santiago doesn’t disappoint. She was definitely my favorite character of the book, and I would have really enjoyed reading from her viewpoint as well, but then maybe that would have made her much less mysterious and brooding. Lucia is the assistant winemaker of June’s new venture, who is brilliant when it comes to viticulture and hatching amazing ideas, but severely lacking when it comes to people skills. Of course Lucia is less than thrilled to meet the clueless, new owner of the winery where her family has been working for decades behind the scenes. Her issues with the doors money can open leads to an interesting sidequest, where Lentzski uses Lucia’s character, who’s Mexican-American, to effortlessly bring attention to immigration issues, farm labor, and unions. If Jorts the cat could read, he’d be so proud!

Overall, this was a solid showing with a few scrapes here and there. The ending felt a bit rushed, almost frantic. I know a common complaint with some romance novels is that that the characters get back together too quickly after one of them does something incredibly stupid in the third act. When the “Bad Decisions” part of this book came along, the last couple of chapters kind of sped out of control. Lucia’s acceptance of June’s return felt very out of character with her brooding, better-off-alone persona, and I wish it had been fleshed out a bit more. I also didn’t love June’s constant pity parties, and by the end I almost felt that Lucia could have done better, but the heart wants what it wants! Despite the flaws in Sour Grapes, all in all it remains a fun summer read that would pair well with a Napa cab sauv.

Susan reviews Truth and Measure by Roslyn Sinclair

the cover of Truth and Measure by Roslyn Sinclair

If you’ve been in the Devil Wears Prada fandom at any point since 2013, you might be familiar with Truth and Measure as Telanu’s 200k epic post-canon Andy/Miranda fic – featuring Miranda’s nasty divorce, her surprise pregnancy, and Andy weaving herself into the heart of Miranda’s life. Or, you might know Truth and Measure as the first part of Roslyn Sinclair’s latest office romance, featuring an all-capable assistant who’s devoted to her terrifying magazine editor boss, and only finds herself growing more so as she supports her through her nasty divorce and a surprise pregnancy.

What I’m saying is that I’ve been desperate for this to come out ever since I found out Roslyn Sinclair has been rewriting her fic as original stories, and the wait paid off!

I went into this with high expectations, and they have been exceeded. For those who aren’t coming to this from a fandom background: Truth and Measure is an incredibly satisfying romance with brilliantly drawn characters. Vivian particularly is great; Sinclair does a beautiful job of showing all of her different facets, from the terrifying and spiteful goddess, to the competent and ruthless editor, to the magnetic mentor, to the very vulnerable woman who only has one (1) person she trusts. Jules, Vivian’s assistant, is relentlessly charming – she’s believable in her reactions and attitudes, and she is absolutely earnest and competent, which I adore. And the chemistry between them is excellent. Even before the romance really kicks in, the slow reveal of respect and empathy they have for each other delights me. The grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one – if you look closely enough.

It helps that Truth and Measure does explore how healthy it is to a) date your boss, and b) be so mutually obsessed with each other that spending a day apart is anxiety inducing. Jules’ life revolves around Vivian in so many ways, so her impatience with people questioning whether it’s a good idea versus her own assessment of how deeply she’s involved feels like a delicate balancing act. This isn’t completely resolved in Truth and Measure, only partially, but there’s enough set-up that I’m assuming the balance of their relationship is going to be the linchpin of the sequel. (For bonus points: Jules’ mother is somewhat homophobic, which is a Chekhov’s gun that hasn’t gone off by the end of this book, so brace yourselves for that going off in Above All Things.)

Possibly my favourite part though is how much the characters value their work. The scenes where Jules explores queerness and fashion and how she wants to write about that warmed my heart, because that is what I want. People who care deeply about what they’re doing getting to the root of what it is they care about! And Vivian is consistently terrifying and demanding, but also really good at her job. Characters who fall in love while doing things that are important to them, and understanding how important that is to their partner? Yes.

For those who read the fanfic original: the storyline cuts are seamless. The twins have been excised completely, which has trimmed down the book immensely from the behemoth we know and love, but Ellie is still there! The duology is split after Jules’ birthday, so brace yourselves for that emotional whirlwind and maybe make sure that you have Above All Things ready to go immediately. Most of the changes are updating the story to reflect 2022 instead of 2013 – Jules is openly bisexual, the tech level has been updated, the real life publications and websites have been modernised. Honestly, I’d say that Truth and Measure is anchored by the most important scenes you’d recognise from the fic, but the journey to and from those scenes is different enough that it feels new.

My biggest reservation about Truth and Measure is that I don’t know how it would read for someone completely new to the story. I’ve read the fic version too many times to be unbiased on that front! But having read it that many times means that I can say Roslyn Sinclair has done the impossible, which is packaged up one of my favourite stories and given me a way to read it again for the first time. I can’t recommend it enough.

This review is based on an ARC from the publisher.

Caution warnings: mentions of homophobia, infidelity, boss/subordinate relationship, age gap romance, pregnancy

Susan is a queer crafter moonlighting as a library assistent. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for Smart Bitches Trashy Books, or just bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Meagan Kimberly reviews Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

the audiobook cover of Something to Talk About

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Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner follows Jo, a famous actress, writer and showrunner in Hollywood, and her assistant Emma. When they appear at an award show together and seem incredibly intimate, rumors of their romance begin to swirl. This ignites questions of the dynamic of their relationship and pushing from their family and loved ones. Miscommunication and shenanigans ensue.

I listened to this on audiobook, narrated by Jorjeana Marie and Xe Sands. If it hadn’t been for listening to the audio, I probably would have DNFed this book, to be honest. I didn’t hate it, but I know if I’d been reading it in e-book or physical copy, I wouldn’t have plowed through it. But that’s just my personal taste.

From the way the book starts, I had high hopes for what it could accomplish, but it fell short in my opinion. It’s established early on that Emma is bisexual, out to her family and comfortable in her identity but not shouting from the rooftops, and that Jo is a lesbian only out to her best friend and parents (not even Emma knows until about halfway through the book).

In the beginning, Jo’s issues with Hollywood’s racism are addressed as she deals with comments from entertainment reporters who believe she’ll have “too soft a touch” to properly write a screenplay for the action franchise, Agent Silver, the James Bond of this world. Emma pegs it right away as racist, coded language because Jo is Asian, and Asian women are often stereotyped as soft and submissive.

Emma’s dedication to Jo and Jo knowing Emma so well is established right away. It’s clear they have a close relationship that goes beyond employer and employee; it’s a solid friendship. Truthfully, that’s what their relationship feels like throughout the entire book. The romance that eventually blooms doesn’t feel organic. It feels like it’s stemming from the pressure of the rumors and the insistence of their friends and family that they are, in fact, in love.

The relationship dynamic between Jo and Emma always feels like an intimate friendship. Even the most romantic moments feel platonic. Their friends’ and family’s teasing about their rumored dating relationship is cringe-worthy. It’s never mean-spirited, but good intentions don’t necessarily mean the behavior is appropriate.

Part of what makes the dating relationship feel forced and inorganic is the power dynamic difference. Wilsner actually addressed this pretty well throughout, showing the characters’ recognition of how Jo had influence over Emma’s career, as well as the age difference.

However, when the rumors first started spreading, Jo insisted on not making a comment because she’d never commented about her love life, and she wasn’t going to start now that the rumor was her dating a woman; it would seem homophobic. Jo’s points in not commenting about her dating life are valid and solid reasons. But the way she believes she’s right comes off as dismissive and invalidates Emma’s feelings about the situation.

It was hard to become invested in the characters’ inner lives because these characters are people who don’t let anyone see too deep into them, including the reader. Their development both as individuals and together as an eventual couple feels surface level. Even the supporting characters are often described as knowing them so well, but it’s always a statement made through exposition and rarely shown within behavior and relationship dynamics.

Overall, the story itself was entertaining, but the characters and their interactions felt like they needed something more.

Content warnings: Homophobia, biphobia, racism

Kelleen reviews She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

the cover of She Gets the Girl

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You know how sometimes you’re watching a hit 90s romcom set in high school or college and you’re reveling in the delicious shenanigans of the leads and the dramatic irony of them not knowing that they are the leads in a romantic comedy and they’re about to fall in love despite their absolute refusal to acknowledge that they are fallible human beings and love will come for them and their one true love is standing right in front of them? And they go rollerblading and play Never Have I Ever and try their darnedest to futilely manipulate fate? And then you turn off the TV (or Netflix or whatever) and sit back and sigh and think “Man, that was delightful but I wish it had been sapphic”?

Well boy, do I have a book for you.

She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick is an ADORABLE interracial Cyrano-ish college-aged sapphic romance about two polar opposite college freshman who team up to help each other get the girl of their dreams only to discover that the girl of their dreams has been in front of them this whole time. It is such a cute, fun read.

I love Alex and Molly. I love both of them so much. They are opposites attract in the best way possible, both trying their hardest to navigate a world that they do not feel valuable in and finding value in themselves and each other. Alex is a thick-skinned white lesbian and Molly is a nervous Korean-American lesbian. In short, Molly is a mom-jeans lesbian and Alex is a ripped black skinny jeans lesbian. They are flawed and messy and just trying their best and that is the best kind of young sapphic romance.

This is intricately plotted, and the different POVs are distinct and vibrant. The writing is funny and contemporary and wholehearted. The whole book feels so hopeful to me.

This is being sold as a YA, but I’m not entirely sure why. There’s no sex on page, but also there it doesn’t feel like there needs to be for the story. However, there is alcohol and drug use on page and it deals with some pretty heavy subjects such as alcoholism and internalized racism. The college setting and the liminal adulthood of it all feels necessary to the blend of maturity and immaturity of the story. It is definitely grittier and more mature than I was expecting from the ADORABLE cover and the YA tag.

I highly highly recommend for both romance and YA readers alike.

Also it was written by a wife/wife team, and what is cuter and gayer than that?

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon&Schuster for the ARC. She Gets the Girl releases on April 5th, 2022.

Content warnings: Anti-Korean racism, food scarcity, alcoholism, car accidents, on-page drinking

You can read more of Kelleen’s reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.

Nat reviews D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins

the cover of D'Vaughn and Kriss Plan a Wedding

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One of my favorite romance tropes is the fake relationship – I just can’t resist it. So there was little doubt that watching D’Vaughn and Kris plan a fake wedding would be absolutely delightful. 

The story is centered around a reality show called Instant I Do and told through the first person perspectives and solo camera interviews of D’Vaughn and Kris. The premise of the show is to convince your closest friends and family that you’re getting married to the person you’re paired with — in six weeks. Framing the book in the context of the show means we also experience our main characters in a sort of vacuum, removed from their everyday lives and jobs while they focus on their goal. 

Curvy, femme and very closeted D’Vaughn is hoping to diversify the cast of this season of the show with her presence as a queer, Black, full figured contestant. Her main motivation for going on the show is to come out to her family, which she’s never been able to bring herself to do. She just needs to convince her conservative, judemental mom that she’s about to get gay married! Bold move, D’Vaughn.

Kris is a social media influencer, a stud who’s got a rep for being a bit of a player. She’s looking to find true love and a real connection, and thinks going on this show will help her do just that. She’s been out to her big, boisterous Afro-Latinx family for ages, but the trick will be convincing them she’s serious about settling down, and with someone they’ve never met or even heard of. 

As a couple, D’Vaughn and Kris are adorable, and I love the support Kris gives to D’Vaughn as she comes out to her family even though they’ve just met. I really enjoyed the narrative expressed in the Jitter Cam sections, giving us a bit of an extra perspective on what the characters were thinking and feeling. The story has great pacing, and you experience things in the moment, a bit like it would be if you were watching the show. 

The only real problems for me came from consistency issues surrounding the technical reality show aspects that I think should have been caught by an editor. Obviously in Romancelandia we are opening our minds and hearts to things that prooobably would not happen in real life. That’s why those little world building details are so crucial. Mentions of the mics and cameras that clarify some issues are provided later in the story, but would have better been served at the beginning of the book. At some points it kind of felt like the author was figuring things out as she went along, but didn’t go back to shore up any leaks that may have been caused in the story. I even had to go back a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed something. These were the sort of details that kept pulling me out of the book. 

So while I can get behind our characters falling in love in six weeks, I’m totally chafing about not being able to tell when they were on film or being recorded vs when they were alone having private moments. I personally don’t have much experience watching reality shows, so I don’t know if that helped or hurt my perspective on how that was shown to us on the page. My writer’s brain understands how these problems developed, but a fresh set of editing eyes could have caught these little inconsistencies. 

Despite those few hiccups, this is a fun romance with lovable characters and definitely worth a read! 

Nat reviews Plain English by Rachel Spangler

the cover of Plain English by Rachel Spangler

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Rachel Spangler is probably one of my most read authors of sapphic romance because they are so darn reliable. I’ve never been disappointed. In my mind, I often refer to Spangler as “the author who writes sports romance,” and yeah, I’m a big sucker for a feel-good sports story. But Spangler’s writing is much more diverse than that label gives them credit for, and their newest book Plain English showcases that range.

I’d already read Full English last year, the first book in the English series, which is set in the small English town of Amberwick. Plain English, the third book, features many of the same characters. (I somehow missed the release of Modern English, the second book – more on that later.) It doesn’t matter much if you read the three English books out of order, but it’s always fun to have that experience of already knowing some of the established cast. That said, from the synopsis I was generally expecting a pretty straightforward continuation but with more royalty, angst and motorcycles. 

We’re introduced to a very flawed, sometimes infuriating protagonist Lady Phillipa Anne Marion Farne-Sacksley of Mulgrave. (Titles, titles, titles, announced in my best Robert Baratheon voice.) Lady Mulgrave, whose preferred name is Pip, or also literally any name that isn’t “Lady” Mulgrave, is a bit of a playboy with a Peter Pan complex. Here for a good time, not for a long time. We meet Pip in a way that immediately showcases their gay disaster profile: while sneaking out of a one night stand’s bedroom and wrecking a vintage motorcycle in a field within the span of a couple of hours. 

Enter Claire Bailey, a financially struggling artist looking to find her way after trying to keep her head above water in London for the last decade. Claire might be a bit of a mess herself, but she’s well on her way to getting that mess sorted. Learning (mostly) from past romantic mistakes, and moving forward with a new chapter of her life. Claire unexpectedly meets Pip by way of the aforementioned embarrassing motorcycle fiasco, and she immediately catches the aristocrat’s eye. Of course Pip is exactly Claire’s type, a type that embodies some big red flag energy wrapped up in a handsome, irresistible package. Claire knows any kind of relationship will end in disaster, and that Pip has a life and a path already mapped out due to the nature of English custom and aristocracy. And thus the perfectly reasonable idea of embarking on a short term relationship with plenty of boundaries (ha!) and absolutely no complications whatsoever (haha!). 

Don’t let the cheeky, playful banter between these two fool you. Claire and Pip are some of the most raw, vulnerable characters I’ve seen on the page in romance recently. The first love scene and the communication between them as they both navigate uncharted waters was perfectly executed. I also appreciated how Claire and Pip’s close friends set aside their personal feelings and frustrations to support someone they care about in their time of need, while acknowledging that Pip still has their own issues to work out. There’s a lot of hurt/comfort happening throughout, so buckle in. 

(Spoilers, highlight to read) Please excuse me while I jump forward to gush a bit about Pip’s character. We see a lot of adult characters in romance processing past trauma, healing, grieving – but we don’t always get to see them in the midst of a full-fledged identity crisis. Especially one involving gender identity. This was an unexpected aspect of the book, and I cannot stress how much I loved it. There were some moments in the book, especially as Pip deals with their conservative, controlling family, that really punched me right in the feels. I want to tell you so much more about it, but it’s best to just experience it for yourself. (End spoilers.)

Back to this book existing as part of a series – one reason I might recommend checking out Full English first is to experience the growth of a particular side character who returns in Plain English. We first meet Reggie in Full English when she’s just a pup, experiencing her adorably awkward and earnest interactions with the adults who recognize something familiar in her, which is explored further in Plain English. It is precious. You will love her. 

That said, I also realized while reading the book that I’d missed the second installment in the series, Modern English, and caught up after I started writing this review to make sure I hadn’t missed anything big. If you want more of an introduction to how aristocracy works and all those stodgy English rules, then maybe you’d prefer to read all three in order. Of the three books, Plain English was hands down my favorite, but as a series, they complement each other so well that it would be a shame not to read them all.  

Meagan Kimberly reviews Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

the cover of Perfect on Paper

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Darcy Phillips secretly runs the relationship advice service that comes from the mysterious locker 89 at her school. When Alexander Brougham discovers her secret, he enlists her help in getting his girlfriend Winona back. Everything becomes complicated when her secret gets out, including how she used the locker for selfish reasons. While Darcy prides herself on her 95% success rate, she still has a lot to learn about people, relationships, and herself.

There’s so much teen drama that could easily delve into cringe territory. But Gonzales uses great finesse to illustrate how complicated and messy emotions can get. The characters all make frustrating mistakes, but her deft writing leaves room for compassion. At every turn, she gives her characters the chance to learn and grow.

The back and forth enemies to lovers between Darcy and Brougham is absolutely delicious. Perhaps calling it enemies to lovers is a bit strong. It’s more like moderately annoyed with each other to smitten. Still, seeing each character unravel to one another with every moment they spend together does a great job portraying how hard it is for some people to let others in. These are both characters that don’t let many people see their true selves often, so to do that for each other creates a beautiful romance you can’t help but get wrapped up in.

A cast of queer side characters makes it all feel like a family within this school community. There’s Ainsley, Darcy’s sister who’s transgender; Ray, the other out bisexual in their school; Finn, Brougham’s gay best friend; and a bunch of other students and their teacher Mr. Elliott part of the Queer and Questioning (Q and Q) Club.

While Darcy spends the majority of the book doling out relationship advice, both romantic and platonic, she has a hard time seeing herself and her relationships. She puts her best friend Brooke on a pedestal and calls it love. She fails to see her own shortcomings. She jumps to conclusions about Brougham and sees what she wants to see. But throughout the whole story, you keep wanting her to get better. And she does.

Gonzales creates moments that touch on tough subjects like divorce and fighting parents, and how those relationships at home affect the people these characters become. She also weaves in confronting biphobia, both from fellow queer characters and internalized by Darcy. She begins to question her bisexuality and if she belongs to the queer community if she has feelings for a cishet boy.

There’s a lot of angst and anxiety, but always a glimpse of hope for these characters.

Trigger warning: Biphobia