Healing Through Fake Dating: Cover Story by Rachel Lacey

Cover Story by Rachel Lacey cover

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Natalie Keane is one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies. Unfortunately, with fame comes unwanted attention, sometimes in the form of crazed fans turned stalkers. With award season approaching as the man who held her hostage gets released from prison, Natalie agrees to extra security. To avoid another tabloid spectacle, her bodyguard, Taylor Vaughn, poses as her in-house girlfriend. Is it the perfect cover story, or will fantasy and reality blur as these two women grow closer?

After reading Rachel Lacey’s Stars Collide last year, I was all too eager for another sapphic celebrity/forced proximity story. This one even features a character from Stars Collide (plus a few fun cameos): Taylor, who was previously Eden Sands’ security detail. The story is layered, focused on healing from past trauma instead of the trauma as it happens. With most stories, we neglect that process, going from a dire situation to a rescue to a happily ever after epilogue. Lacey invites us to recognize how trauma can have a ripple effect on our lives, and how healing is an ongoing process. Natalie learns how to build a safe space for herself, even knowing that nothing in this world, including her own safety, is guaranteed.

To be completely honest, the chemistry felt rushed and forced for me. There’s a flare of initial attraction between the two women when they first meet, not when Taylor interviews to become Natalie’s bodyguard, but even before that, as a memory. We don’t feel and experience that moment live, which fails to give readers the chance to experience what the characters felt as it happened. Most of the conflicts don’t feel dire, which creates a lack of tension. Since the story is focused on healing after a trauma, it’s more reliant on internal conflicts for momentum. We get a lot more show than tell (internalizing than action) as a result. Also… there’s an adorable little kitten in the story, and while she becomes a way for the main characters to bond in a cute found family moment, she’s all too quickly forgotten once the main characters start sleeping together.  

Recommended for fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Anita Kelly’s sapphic romances.

The Vibes 

⭐ Sapphic Romance
⭐ Hollywood Romance
⭐ Actress/Bodyguard
⭐ Fake Dating
⭐ Forced Proximity
⭐ PTSD/Healing From Trauma

Quotes

“I’m less afraid when I’m with you.”

“Everything felt better, brighter, less overwhelming or terrifying, when Taylor held her.”

“Our cover story became a real-life headline.”

“She brought Natalie here to show her the stars, but instead, Natalie had made her see stars in a completely different way.”

A Blossoming, Neurodiverse Love: Late Bloomer by Mazey Eddings

Late Bloomer cover

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After winning the lottery, Opal Devlin puts all her money in a failing flower farm, only to find an angry (albeit gorgeous) Pepper Boden already living there. Though she’s unable to find her grandmother’s will, Pepper claims she’s the rightful owner of Thistle and Bloom Farms. While they agree to cohabitate, Opal and Pepper clash at every turn. Can something softer blossom between these polar opposites, allowing a new dream to take root and grow?

Oh. My. (Sappho.) Goddess. You may think you know Mazey Eddings’ writing style, but I assure you, you do not. Many of us read The Plus One and/or Tily in Technicolor last year, but Eddings has far exceeded herself with this one. As a neurodivergent author, Eddings’ stories often have some element of neurodiversity/mental health, shining a light on the different ways people’s brains work while embracing those differences through beautiful, realistic characters. Opal and Pepper are no different, both on the spectrum yet unique in their behaviors and view of the world. These women are not predictable, pre-programmed components of a story; they are ever-blooming, learning how to plant roots alongside one another, share sunlight, and rise despite being different species. Both plants, growing and adapting to different elements, yet very much the same. While Opal and Pepper have always struggled to fit in with the world around them, they manage to cultivate a safe, healthy garden for one another.

This is one of those overwhelming, layered, awe-inspiring sapphic stories that will tug at your heartstrings long after you read it. Eddings’ language leaps off the page, making it a little reminiscent of One Last Stop (be still, my little sapphic heart). I’ve beyond annotated Late Bloomer, when I’m usually selective about choosing quotes. You don’t just see love blossom between these two women; you feel it. It made me smile, laugh, get all messy and misty-eyed. As I said, neither woman is predictable. Opal feels directionless at the story’s start, allowing her (fake) best friend and (on/off) ex to step all over her. I expected her to be the wallflower, especially with the BITE we see from Pepper (pun unintended) in her first chapter, but the two balance each other out. When Pepper feels uncertain or anxious, Opal steps forward, bold and unwavering. When Opal begins to crumble, Pepper holds her up. They support each other, never allowing the other to wilt.

Unfortunately, this book relies heavily on miscommunication. Both women are eager to hide their real feelings at the risk of scaring the other. That lack of communication continues until almost the last chapter.

Recommended for fans of One Last Stop and Imogen, Obviously. Side note: please, please read the author’s note. Good goddess.

✨ The Vibes ✨

❀ Neurodivergency/Autism Spectrum
❀ Sapphic Romance
❀ Grief/Healing
❀ Forced Proximity
❀ Spicy/First Time
❀ Cottagecore Vibes
❀ One Bed
❀ Touch Her and You Die
❀ Dual POV
❀ Miscommunication
❀ Flower Competition
❀ Grumpy/Sunshine

 Quotes

❝Slowly, she leans toward me, and my heart pounds so violently in my chest that my head swims. Is she . . . It almost seems like she’s going to press that smile to my mouth. Teach me how it tastes.❞

❝Ah. There’s the you I missed.❞

❝I used to stress over finding a label that fit me. Lesbian. Bisexual. Pan. Demi . . . I’ve filtered through them all many times over, none ever feeling quite right. Just say queer and move on with your life, Diksha finally told me late one night after what was probably my sixth sexual identity crisis of my early twenties. But what does that mean? I’d wailed, draining more boxed wine into my plastic cup. My brain loves order and labels and concise frameworks to understand things, and not knowing where I fit feels unbearable. It means you’re you, and only you get to decide who you like and when you like them, Tal had said from their chair in the corner. The name of your feelings isn’t anyone’s business but yours.❞

❝But instead, she reaches out to me—opening her hand like a flower unfurling its petals to the sun. I stare at it. The ink stains and calluses and chipped nails and bitten cuticles. For a moment, that hand looks like a second chance.❞

❝Her poems spoke softly—as intimately as confessions between lovers—about the terrible, wonderful ache of being in love.❞

Take a Shot on How You Get the Girl by Anita Kelly

the cover of How You Get the Girl by Anita Kelly

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While coaching East Nashville High’s girl’s basketball teen, Coach Julie Parker expects passionate players and quick springs, not for the star of her fantasies, ex-WNBA baller Elle Cochrane, to show up with the niece she’s fostering. Despite being all heart-eyed and tongue-tied, Julie convinces Elle to become her assistant coach, allowing Elle to keep an eye on her niece. Neither expects sparks to fly along with basketballs shooting across the court, even as Elle helps Julie navigate the unfamiliar terrain of dating. Will they continue sitting on the sidelines of their own lives, or finally take a shot?

Dear Anita Kelly. Thank you. Thank you for a story about two beautifully, vulnerably queer women who are so real and authentic and layered. What easily could have been a trope-filled sapphic sports romance is instead a stunning exploration of identity, mental health, and personal growth. Bear with me, Lesbrary readers, as I try to find my words. This story started with Julie’s megawatt heart-eyed celebrity crush and a little forced proximity, but it became so much more. Between her queer twin and best friend, Julie always thought she was a little behind in defining her queerness, but there’s no timeline, no deadline. She always struggled to find her label, her place (only to realize they’re just… whatever!), and it’s not until Elle steps into her life and throws her out of her comfort zone that Julie gets the chance to grow into herself. I also adored that Jules couldn’t fully pick one label (“15 percent general queer, 10 percent lesbian stereotype. 20 percent ace, 55 percent dumbass.”) because identity is in fact a spectrum. She does mention the possibility of being demisexual at one point, which my girlfriend identifies as, and honestly… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character recognize that as an option before. To say it brought tears to my eyes is an understatement.

In a way, Elle has been stuck in a comfort zone, too, until she starts fostering her niece and coaching alongside Jules. Elle is so patient with Jules, so willing to step back and give Jules the chance to process her own thoughts, recognize her own needs. There’s a give and take to their relationship: when one falters, the other steps in to help them find their balance again. There are so many layers to this story: “There’s this idea embedded into our culture of getting over things,” “Maybe all love is a surprise, followed by practice,” “You can be happy and still feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing.” There’s so much to appreciate in the little lessons these women learned. Together. (If we’re keeping track, I cried three times while reading this book: when seeing “demi,” at the news clipping, and during Jule’s speech. I need more tissues now, thank you.)

There is one topic I wish received a little more attention, namely because it isn’t discussed often enough. Elle meets with the school’s weights guy, who assumes all the players on the team are girls: “the ingrained hierarchy and immovable binary of most sports.” Elle and Julie made a “space for any player who wanted to put in the work, regardless of their identity.” Kelly mentions fighting for equality in sports within her acknowledgments, but I do wish we’d seen a little of that fight as a source of conflict within the book.

The story is a bit slow at the beginning, but once it finds its momentum, it GOES. I will say I wasn’t aware this was a duology when I grabbed this ARC, but the references to the previous story weren’t so heavy that you can’t enjoy this one as a stand-alone.

Recommended to all readers, whether you’re looking for a sports romance, sapphic romance, or simply a good book with lots of mental health love. This one is going to stay with me for a long while.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Vibes

🌈 Sapphic Ship – Lesbian/Demi
💞 Fake/Practice Dating
🏀 Sports/Workplace/Forced Proximity Romance
🏆 Mental Health Rep
📚 Part of the Nashville Series
🏆 Contemporary Romance
🏀 Dual POV
💞 Smut
🌈 Queer Main & Side Cast

💬 Quotes

❝ Any relationship that’s worthwhile, whether it’s friendship or romantic or sexual, only really works when you try. ❞

❝ But that when it came to identity, when it came to queerness, the whole point was that there were no tryouts. If you were even thinking about it, you were already on the team. That labels weren’t meant to confine, only to bring comfort to those for whom they were useful. That Julie didn’t need to ascribe to any of them, if she didn’t want to. ❞

❝ “There’s nothing wrong with you, Julie,” Elle said in that same half-whisper that was slowly going to kill her. “You’re not behind on anything. There’s nothing for you to be behind on. There’s nothing, and no one, you have to track your own life by.” ❞

❝ Maybe all love was a surprise, followed by practice. A step out of comfort zones, followed by hard work. Lurking in all the places you didn’t expect, places that become a forever part of you. ❞

A Sapphic Spin on You’ve Got Mail: Read Between the Lines by Rachel Lacey

the cover of Read Between the Lines

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❝Her online crush, her real-life crush, and the woman who’d crushed her dreams were all the same person, and her mind was still struggling to snap all the pieces into place.❞

Books have always been a part of Rosie Taft’s life. That happens when your late mother once owned a Manhattan bookstore you’ve now inherited. The only thing missing from Rosie’s life: a romance to rival the ones she reads about. Though she has a flirty online friendship with lesbian romance author “Brie,” they’ve never met, never turned those flirtatious remarks into deep, romantic gazes in reality. Jane Breslin works for her father’s property development business by day, but by night, she lets her hair down and steamy side out as a romance writer. When the business terminates Rosie’s bookstore lease, their worlds collide and online identities are revealed. Can Jane pen her way back into Rosie’s heart for a happy ending?

By some coincidence, I watched You’ve Got Mail for the first time a few months ago. There’s something about the sweet simplicity of 90s rom-coms that can get a heart all warm and cozy. Obviously inspired by the same premise, Read Between the Lines is a modern-day, WLW spin. The enemies-to-lovers, opposites-attract elements fills you with hope as you wait for all the pieces to click into place. Once they do, the romance feels easy, natural… but realistic in the sense that so many problems are ignored in exchange for that bliss. For a moment, Rosie and Jane exist in a comforting, sweet bubble, but as in real life, you can’t ignore reality forever.

I adored Lacey’s Stars Collide (and I’m eagerly trying to get my hands on her upcoming release Cover Story), but it’s obvious this was one of Lacey’s first lesbian romances. So much of the chemistry between Rosie and Jane was built off-screen, through the texts they exchanged long before the story started. Unfortunately, that makes it seem like there’s not a great deal of chemistry between Rosie and Jane once their true identities are revealed.

The source of conflict feels a bit exhausting. Rosie remains hung up about the fact that Jane’s family’s company is the reason she’s losing her bookstore, but Jane herself isn’t the reason. Rosie struggles to disassociate losing her bookstore from Jane the entire time. Deciding to leave the family business, while a point of character development for Jane, shouldn’t have been a solution solely for Rosie’s benefit. None of the problems (internal and external) either woman faced built enough tension to give the story momentum.

The smut scenes are…not great. Some of the word choice is repetitive (“swirled and plunged” included, which is just… please don’t), and there’s more of a focus on logistics over emotion. Fade to black paired with a little post-coital pillow talk would have worked just as well (and perhaps felt less rushed, distance, and awkward). Again, it feels like this was Lacey’s first WLW romance, in which case, you can see the growth in later novels.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

 Recommended for fans of You’ve Got Mail, Cleat Cute, and Fly With Me.

✨ The Vibes ✨

❤️ Enemies to Lovers
❤️ Sapphic Romance
❤️ Books About Books
❤️ Lesbian MCs
❤️ Contemporary Queer Romance
❤️ Book 1 in a Series
❤️ Opposites Attract

A Slow-Burn Romance About Rival Cartoonists: Outdrawn by Deanna Grey

the cover of Outdrawn by Deanna Grey

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The dedication at the start of Outdrawn by Deanna Grey reads, “For oldest daughters who have become creatives obsessed with perfection.” This perfectly encapsulates this slow-burn rivals-to-lovers romance about the importance of valuing yourself and finding people who value you. 

Noah Blue is an up-and-coming cartoonist who just got her big break as a head artist for a relaunched classic, Queen Leisah. Unfortunately, she’s sharing that role with Sage Montgomery, her rival since college, who has been at the company for years and does not want to share her own big break with a newbie. Meanwhile, their personal webcomics are competing for readers on the same website, with Noah only recently beginning to threaten Sage’s ranking. While Noah strives to surpass the woman she sees as her primary obstacle, Sage works just as hard to defend her throne.

They bring this competitive dynamic into the workplace, trying to one-up each other for their higher-ups’ approval rather than collaborating. Of course, with this being a romance, as they inspire each other to greater heights and form an undeniable chemistry, it becomes clear that working together will get them further than tearing each other down.

While they’re equals in passion for their art, Noah’s pastel pink cardigans and people-pleasing habits contrast with Sage’s leather jackets, motorcycle, and aloof demeanor. Noah’s webcomic is a mermaid romance that Sage definitely hasn’t comfort binged, and as the story progresses, Sage starts an action-packed sci-fi comic about enemy spaceship captains with a suspicious amount of chemistry.

The development of this dynamic was a highlight of the book for me. Their fierce rivalry transitions gradually and believably into an alliance, and finally, a romance. Throughout, the characters learn to emphasize communication. One challenge with this sort of dynamic is allowing the pair to keep the banter that sells this type of setup, without having it feel mean-spirited within the actual romance. Additionally, even as their personal relationship changes, they’re still in the same competitive field and can’t share every opportunity. Because they talk through these challenges and set up proper boundaries, I fully bought into their happy ending, and the third act manages to have plenty of conflict without a dramatic breakup or misunderstanding.  

I mentioned that this book is ultimately about valuing yourself. Throughout, the characters struggle with giving up their time, health, and emotions to people and companies who don’t value those things. They have experienced creative burnout and physical injury, sometimes with little payoff. It shows the different facets to working in a creative industry, as they’re both passionate about their work, using art as their lifeline in so many ways. However, there becomes a point where they have to step back and take care of themselves. This is where it becomes important to team up rather than pushing themselves even further in the name of competition. Due to working in the same field, they understand each other’s passions as well as setbacks, allowing them to support each other.

In contrast, their families do not always offer that support. As the eldest daughter in her family, Sage stepped up at a young age to care for her younger brothers in the wake of their father’s alcoholism and their mother subsequently shutting down. Almost a decade into Sage’s career, she is still financially supporting her family, who assumes she does not need help in return, and she has become used to shouldering that pressure alone. Meanwhile, Noah’s family claims to be supportive, but they do not understand her work as an artist, often making belittling comments that lower her confidence. As a result, she experiences a lot of anxiety, and part of her drive comes from a need for validation. 

Better support comes from their coworkers, who create a charming office dynamic. Within their relationship, the duo channels their rivalry to inspire each other to greater heights while ultimately giving each other a safe place to land. I also enjoyed the debates the pair have within the office as they pitch their own visions for the Queen Leisah comic. They have opposing storytelling sensibilities and strengths as artists, but neither is presented as right or wrong, and there’s no conclusion drawn on the one ‘right’ type of story to tell or way to tell it. 

This book also touches on the importance of representation. Noah is an out lesbian while Sage is out as bi, and their impact on a younger generation of artists is demonstrated. Some of their struggles are brought up as well. Queen Leisah, a Black woman with goddess powers, is considered a cult classic character, and the company piles the pressure on their team to make her reboot an instant lead title. Their editor points out that they can’t afford to be mediocre the way that the company’s other teams can, as the higher-ups won’t give them that grace. Some of the debates Noah and Sage have center around how to flesh out Queen Leisah’s character. It provides a mirror to Sage and Noah’s own experiences, as they want her to be portrayed as a whole person rather than only being valued for her sacrifices. 

In addition to covering serious topics, this book oozes charm. The romance and friendships are precious, and there are even illustrations after some chapters showing character profiles or samples of the characters’ sketch pages. 

My critiques are on the technical side: I feel that the book could have benefitted from one more editing pass to catch errors, as well as tighter pacing near the end. While I appreciate the emphasis on communication within the relationship, as a reader, I got to a point where I felt the story’s message had already been communicated and would have been happy with some of the later scenes being more concise. These are minor notes, however, and overall I recommend this to anyone who could use some warm, fuzzy feelings.  

The author’s content notes: “This book includes brief discussions of biphobia and lesbophobia, parent struggling with alcoholism, parentification, a brief mention of suicidal ideation, and sexually explicit scenes.”

Fake Dating Meets Single Parenting: Make Her Wish Come True by A.L. Brooks

the cover of Make Her Wish Come True

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Make Her Wish Come True by A.L. Brooks was released on October 23, 2003 and is a contemporary romance about two women who are absolutely not in a place to date. Or so they keep telling themselves.

Abby Baxter had to grow up way too fast, stepping in to raise her 12-year-old half-sister after their mom passed away. She’s been working for an online magazine as an administrative assistant until she can break into her dream profession: a journalist. Her prospects seem to get a boost when her friend, a columnist who writes for the magazine, offers Abby a deal: fake date a woman for a story, and she’ll do what she can to get Abby her shot at writing.

Erica Goode has been solely focused on raising her daughter, Kayla, for the last eight years. She works two jobs to help support their family, and has no time for a social life. When she’s presented with the chance to date Abby, and get out of the house in the process, who is she to say no? What follows is a slow-burn romance for two women who have both made sacrifices that many others can’t easily understand—and neither knows quite what to do when presented with someone who understands what the other has been through but recognizes they might not be at the same point in life.

I adored this sweet and charming story about two women trying to find their way after both of their lives took unexpected turns when they were young. Abby is so sure she doesn’t want another child in her life after having to put hers on pause to raise her sister. When she meets Erica and her daughter Kayla, Abby is adamant she can’t be in a real relationship with someone who has a kid. And despite finding Abby incredibly attractive in more ways than one, Erica’s number one priority is her daughter. What I really appreciated about this story was that you couldn’t fault either woman for how they felt and what their limitations were. I understood why Abby was so hesitant. After dropping out of college to care for her sister, Abby knows better than anyone that raising a child is a huge responsibility and, with her sister now in college, it makes sense that she is incredibly reluctant to do it all over again. As much as you want Abby to give this relationship a real chance, I respected that A.L. had Abby take her time. Deciding whether you’re prepared to make all those sacrifices again can’t be something decided overnight. As a reader, I wouldn’t have been able to trust it otherwise—and certainly neither would Erica.

As a parent myself, I found Erica’s emotions around dating to be relatable and true. It’s so hard not to lose yourself in parenting, and you have to make the conscious decision to make time for you to be a “person” outside of that role. As a single parent, Erica feels the added pressure of trying to be everything to her daughter. It’s so easy to think that our kids should be our sole focus all the time. Sure, for a period of time after they’re born, that is how it needs to be, but as kids age, it’s necessary to have an identity outside of “parent” and to be a whole person. With that said, it is often incredibly hard to balance these roles and responsibilities, and to do so without feeling guilt is near impossible. A.L. presents that dilemma in a realistic way, though you can’t help but hope Erica allows herself the happiness she deserves. I also loved the multigenerational parenting that occurred in this story. Erica’s mom is such a huge part of helping raise Kayla, and we see that the concern for your kids never goes away—even when they are grown.

At its heart, this feels like a story about letting go of the past and being willing to be brave enough to see a brighter future. Things can always go wrong, hearts can always be broken, but sometimes those risks are worth taking. Both Erica and Abby have things to lose, but they both also have everything to gain.

Kayla, Erica’s daughter, is cute and precocious. She’s a good kid, and it’s clear in the story that Abby’s reluctance isn’t about Kayla, but about the undertaking of caring for another human being. The way Abby and Kayla’s relationship grows is sweet and organic. Kayla asked Santa for another mom, and the journey to that answer is complicated and real.

While this story has many sweet moments, and I appreciated that any angst along the way was dealt with in a timely manner, it should also be noted that this certainly has some steam that not just Erica and Abby appreciated! Although Erica has known she was bisexual since she was a teenager, she’s never physically been with a woman before, and A.L. builds that tension between her and Abby incredibly well. There is something delicious about the fake dating trope, especially when it’s clear both main characters are fighting that attraction. The series of dates, including skating and romantic dinners, offer plenty of situations for that tension to build and grow.  

This is a great book to kick off November!

A Queer M/F Romance of Healing and Reconciliation: A Shot in the Dark by Victoria Lee

the cover of A Shot in the Dark by Victoria Lee

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This novel is a masterful exploration of various themes, ranging from consent and communication during intimate moments to faith, substance abuse, and power dynamics. The author’s ability to delve into these topics with depth and sensitivity truly impressed me.

The novel shines in its approach to consent and communication during sexual encounters. Lee’s portrayal of characters navigating these conversations felt both authentic and refreshing. The way the characters navigate their desires and boundaries is a testament to the importance of open dialogue in relationships.

Furthermore, the exploration of faith and its impact on one’s identity within the context of the Orthodox community adds another layer of complexity to the story. Lee handles this topic with great care, highlighting the struggles and conflicts faced by Ely as she grapples with her past.

Substance abuse is tackled with a nuanced perspective, portraying the protagonists’ journey through recovery with empathy and realism. Lee’s portrayal serves as a reminder of the challenges individuals face on the path to sobriety, and how recovery is a continuous process.

The examination of power dynamics is another highlight of the novel. The teacher-student relationship between the characters introduces a layer of tension and complexity that is brilliantly executed. The internal struggles of the characters as they navigate their feelings while maintaining a professional boundary is both engaging and thought-provoking.

In conclusion, A Shot in the Dark is an exceptional read that skillfully weaves together a myriad of important themes. Victoria Lee’s ability to approach subjects such as consent, communication, faith, substance abuse, and power dynamics with sensitivity and depth is truly commendable. This novel is a must-read for anyone seeking a captivating story that sparks introspection and provides a platform for meaningful discussions.

Trigger warnings: substance abuse, alcohol, overdose, transphobia, abusive parent, antisemitism, drug use, religious trauma, relapse, death of a parent, domestic violence

Fake Dating at a Sapphic Island Getaway: The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre

the cover of The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre

The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre was released in June 2023, and it’s a sweet and spicy contemporary romance about two people facing unusual circumstances which leads them both to a situation of a lifetime. Basil Jones has the seemingly perfect life until she is left at the altar by her fiancé. Determined not to lose out on an important work deal, she goes on the honeymoon trip as planned. She flies to gorgeous Sapphire Isle, where sapphic women go to escape their real life and live in paradise, even for a short time. The only issue? It’s a strict “couples only” policy, and Basil is without a partner. Enter Caroline King. The two had one brief encounter prior to meeting each other for a second time on the island. That second meeting is a little less by chance than Basil thinks, but Caroline is both taken with Basil and needs a place to stay, so she agrees to be her “wife.”  What follows is a fake relationship trope for the ages, with each of them holding on to secrets from the outside world and one another.

If you are a fan of fake relationships, sapphic islands, and intense sexual chemistry, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a must read. I admit that I do find something delicious about two people having to fake their way through intimacy, only for that intimacy to grow into something real. The tension in this fake marriage is no different and is perhaps even turned up several levels due to how Basil’s and Caroline’s first encounter went down. (Ahem…so to speak.) There is no denying these two women are attracted to each other, but each has their own reasons for trying to resist the pull they feel. Caroline has learned mixing business with pleasure can lead to heartbreak, and Basil was just left at the altar–an event that would leave anyone to proceed with caution.

In addition to these two women having to play wives, the forced proximity of sharing a honeymoon suite (*there is, indeed, only one bed*), and being on a literal island adds to them not being able to escape the other. Fyre, who’s name is fitting for how she writes certain scenes, has created an environment that any sapphic will be clamoring to find. There is something incredibly lovely about the thought of escaping to a safe island filled with other sapphic women. Also, it is no secret in my personal life that I am quite competitive, so Fyre’s invention of the “Sapphic Olympics” left me longing to find a real life version. The events she’s created are clever and fitting for its participants. I don’t mean to brag, but I would absolutely nail the dresser building competition. Within the context of the story, the games are just another area to add fuel to that tension between Caroline and Basil. Having to work together as a team and pitting them against one of Basil’s childhood nemeses creates another scenario where they are forced to confront their ever growing attraction. Basil’s Type A behavior, paired with Caroline’s more practical approach, fueled by her time in the military, creates a perfect storm of additional conflict.

As the weather gets colder, it would be wise to hold on to this book if you’re looking to read something to keep you warm. Literally. I, for one, will never be looking at a photo booth the same way again. I have a feeling after reading this book, neither will you. Their story is filled with delicious tension and heated looks. Fyre is incredibly good at building tension so tight you think you might burst, so you can only imagine what the characters are feeling. Thankfully, you don’t have to imagine too much. There are those scenes that will have you looking around to make sure you’re  alone or, at the very least, that no one is peeping over your shoulder. Maybe don’t read on public transportation. Or do, who am I to judge? (If there is one thing the sapphic community can do, its school features so no one knows you are reading about two women doing the horizontal polka.)

As filled with sexual tension as this book is, there are other themes that flow throughout. Through Basil, it examines the pressure of family obligations and how long we can allow our parents’ dreams to propel us forward before a resentment starts to build. Fyre also forces the main character/reader to examine at what point hurtful actions and breaches of trust, despite the intentions behind them, are too much for us to forgive. What is that line and do those good intentions absolve the person who hurt us and broke our trust? I found myself asking what that line would be for me.

At its base level, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a story about overcoming your fear of failure—in life and relationships—and being brave enough to try again. I appreciate the twists that Fyre also throws in, keeping you guessing about a few mysteries until a reveal leaves you saying: “OH!?!”. Did I want to grab one character at one point and say: “please, out with it!” Yes! But without it, there would be no conflict to overcome.

With a cast of side characters that include a hedgehog and supportive best friends who will leave you smiling, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a great read.

A Sapphic Ice Queen Reality TV Romance: Reality in Check by Emily Banting

the cover of Reality In Check

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Emily Banting’s latest release, Reality in Check, came out August 12, 2023 and I couldn’t wait to get my hands (and eyes) on it. If you haven’t already, you should absolutely check out Broken Beyond Repair, Emily’s preceding novel in the South Downs Romance series.  It’s not necessary to have read that before diving into Reality in Check, though if you have, you will certainly appreciate the cameos in the epilogue of the book. 

Reality in Check follows two women, Arte and Charlotte, on their journeys to find happiness, both professionally and personally. We meet Arte as she is returning “home,” to the hotel her grandmother and grandfather used to run and own. Arte, and her sister Sophie, have been left the hotel after the death of their Gran. While Arte’s sister is not really interested in running the hotel, Arte is determined to honor their Gran by getting it back up and accepting guests as soon as she can. Arte, unlike Sophie, had spent a significant amount of time in the hotel. For all intents and purposes, it had been her home and it’s filled with memories. Arte is so committed to making things work and honoring the woman who had been there for her when she needed it most, she leaves her work and life in Rome. What meets Arte is a wall of memories, a pile of bills, and a hotel in desperate need of work—maybe more than Arte can do alone. Arte is also left with her Gran’s lab, Rodin. (You just know a book is going to be good when there’s a dog involved.)

It seems Arte’s Gran knew the hotel needed help and that things had gotten to a point where she could not do the updates that needed to be done on her own…if only Arte had known that. 

Before Arte’s Gran had passed, she contacted the reality show to help revamp parts of the hotel. Enter Charlotte Beaufort—host of Hotel SOS.  “A formidable woman with a trigger. Colour me intrigued.” Color me also intrigued. I have never read a description that had me ready to meet someone so badly.   

Charlotte has been the host of Hotel SOS for the last several years. She has a reputation for being honest and a tad bit brutal in her commentary about the state of the hotels she has been sent to help. Prior to that, she was managing one of her family’s Beaufort Hotels. We come to meet Charlotte at a time in her life when she’s unhappy in her marriage and all she wants is for her mother to trust her enough to take over the family business. But, Charlotte’s mother, Claudette, seems bound to stay at the helm. Before I go any further, it is no secret to anyone that knows me that I love an Ice Queen. Any shape or form, I am here for a woman with an icy exterior who is competent, a tiny bit (or a lot) bossy, and who has a lot going on under the surface no one knows about. With Charlotte Beaufort, it was as if I went to a Build-An-Ice Queen brick and mortar and picked her out myself. A fifty-one year old woman who has worked hard, is incredibly good at her job, hot, AND mommy issues?? Sign me up! That is the roundabout way of saying to you, dear reader, that I loved her.

When Arte and Charlotte first meet, it goes…poorly. Charlotte doesn’t know who Arte is and in an effort to make small talk, absolutely steps in it. What follows is a dynamic involving a woman who is still dealing with the loss of her grandmother, contrasted with a woman who has been wearing a persona for so long it’s hard for her to know whether that’s who she actually is, or whether it has just become like second nature because she’s gotten so good at being that way.

The thing about “Ice Queens” is that there is always more than meets the eye, and perhaps that’s why I love them so much. Charlotte is no different. We see examples of that told through her assistant. After all, an Ice Queen would never directly tell us they have a big ol’ heart filled with kindness under that icy exterior, now would they? 

Woven into the potential blooming romance, there is the very fresh grief Arte is experiencing. Emily writes so beautifully about grief, and how that process is never a linear line. There is a line in this book that I immediately loved and highlighted: “If it represents your grief, it’s unlikely to ever be finished.” That is absolutely the thing about grief. It’s never gone, and when we lose someone we love, that grief will always be present. This is a gorgeous story about the things people do to honor those they have lost, the ways humans try to ease the grief they are feeling, and the very real acknowledgement that it never really goes away. It also shows us that grieving does not always look the same for everyone, even within the same family. Through Arte, Emily wrote a character that was doing her best to honor her grandmother, while also honoring the dreams she has had for her life and being true to those, as well. After all, those who truly loved us would want that above all else. 

Where Arte has been given the freedom from a young age to pursue the things that made her happy, Charlotte had been set on a path for one thing only: take over the family company. That was her father’s intention for her before he died. And for many years, that was what Charlotte was working toward. She worked hard for it, and she was very good at everything that was set (intentionally) in her path. Charlotte is a prime example of someone that was born with expectations put on her, and when you’re born with those, sometimes it is easy to conflat those expectations with your own dreams. What I loved about Charlotte’s story was that while in many ways meeting Arte may have been the catalyst for her to re-evaluate things, it was her that took the steps needed to change what she didn’t like about herself and her life. But I think that is what good matches do: they allow us to see ourselves in a way we may have been afraid to and give us the push we need to be a little (or a lot) brave.

I absolutely adored this book. In many ways, it was reminiscent of all the things I love about a Hallmark movie, which I mean to be the highest of compliments. Only, this book was gayer, better written with more depth, and tackled serious parts of the human experience with beauty and realness a Hallmark movie could never. I consider it to be an aspirational Hallmark story where if I could make a sapphic one, it would look like this. There is growth for both of these characters, not just Ice Queen Charlotte. Charlotte helps Arte broaden her view of the world just as much as Arte helps Charlotte get in touch with what is most important to her. There is a balance each character offers the other. Did I mention I love Charlotte Beaufort? 

I highly recommend Reality in Check for you to discover for yourself the beautiful story of Arte and Charlotte.

A Sapphic Romance at Adult Summer Camp: That Summer Feeling by Bridget Morrissey

the cover of That Summer Feeling

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That Summer Feeling delivers exactly that. A beach read set at an adult summer camp, this read is low angst and very wholesome. The beginning of the book starts out with a bit of chaos: a flashback to the past, a bit of family history to set the stage, and a frantic rush through the airport to catch a flight—not to mention a vision (there’s a light helping of woo in the beginning, but the book doesn’t involve much magical realism). But the pace slows considerably after the prologue, as the rest of the book spans the course of only seven days. 

Our main character Garland requires a bit of patience—she’s 32 years old with zero sense of self identity, though the thing she’s got going for her is the awareness of that flaw. It’s one of the reasons she’s at this camp. Garland is licking her wounds from a recent divorce (to a man; this a toaster oven situation) but is also sort of letting the divorce define her in the same way that the relationship defined her. She was Married—now she’s Divorced. And she might just be done with romance, unless of course her fella decides to take her back. She’s hoping this summer camp will lead to a new start. 

On paper, Garland is the sort of character that should really annoy me. She might really annoy you. But I found her to be so obtuse about her own feelings that it was actually kind of hilarious. When she meets Stevie, her roommate at camp, she’s immediately fascinated by her, and the two form a “camp alliance.” Despite enjoying her new friend’s company more than is typical of a platonic relationship, Garland takes a while to come around to realizing her queerness. It’s not for a lack of having queer friends or exposure to the idea of sexuality being fluid, she’s just been so caught up in a heteronormative idea of things like marriage as a measure of success she’s never paused to consider her sexuality. 

Vague spoilers, highlight to read: Once she realizes her feelings for Stevie are romantic, it opens the floodgates for her Big Moment of Self Realization. For those who hate the instalove trope, you’ll likely not love Insta I Just Figured My Shit Out either, so you’ve been warned! It does make for a refreshing third act when our main character, in a situation where a main character usually does something monumentally stupid, instead shows her growth as a person. It’s tough to pull off that kind of low angst read yet still maintain tension through the end of the book, but That Summer Feeling gets it right.

There are also some solid themes of found family, not needing others to define your worth, and the difficulty developing adult friendships. With the addition of tropes that keep things light and help make this a pretty fluffy book overall, this is perfect for a relaxing day at camp.