Healing Through Fake Dating: Cover Story by Rachel Lacey

Cover Story by Rachel Lacey cover

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

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.”

Ted Lasso But Make It Sapphic: Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner

the cover of Cleat Cute

Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

“Calling Phoebe loud and obnoxious and gay ignores all her layers and contradictions. That’s Grace’s issue with fame—people take you at face value. Nobody bothers to look for the person beneath the brand.”

⚠️ Spoilers ahead. Book contains graphic sex scenes. ⚠️

Phoebe Matthews is ready to take her first season as a professional soccer player by storm. She even gets to play alongside her idol, Grace Henderson: the veteran star of the US Women’s National Team. Since they met, there’s been a spark of chemistry between them, and Phoebe can’t help but flirt with and seduce the woman she’s had a poster of since childhood. Though they’re on the same page on the pitch, a little miscommunication outside of the game leaves them both mentally spiraling. Are they brave enough to make a move both on and off the field?

The few factors that drove me to finish reading this book were the focus on fame, personal identity, and neurodiversity—NOT the relationship between Grace and Phoebe. The story touches on Grace’s preference not to reveal too much about who she is outside of soccer, in an effort to protect her privacy, until soccer becomes her entire identity, both to the outside world and herself. From the beginning, it’s also obvious that both main characters are neurodivergent. Phoebe is diagnosed with ADHD by the epilogue, and though Grace isn’t diagnosed with autism, it’s mentioned as a possibility. Though their neurodiversity is obvious from the first two chapters, the topic isn’t discussed in any way that matters to the story. There’s so much going on under the surface of these characters that would have made the story beautifully important if they were the focus, rather than a subtle plot point that’s slipped into the end of the book.

I almost DNFed this book many, many times; it takes a one-star read for me to give up on a book, rather than give it the benefit of the doubt. Though I did finish it, I dragged my feet every step of the way. The most obvious issue with this novel is the point of view. A third-person objective point of view is cold and distant. It leaves readers disconnected from the characters and the story. For Phoebe—passionate, energetic, a thousand thoughts a second Phoebe—we’re cut off from what she’s really feeling. Beyond that, this POV is choppy, especially for a story that primarily involves women. Unfortunately, the objective POV means the entire story is tell; we’re not shown through actions or imagery or any form of creative writing. The tension between them doesn’t last long enough to keep readers enthralled, either; once the sex is introduced, that’s apparently all that matters.

Every other sentence starts with a name to avoid referring to too many “she’s” within a single thought. The writing also lacks descriptive language, even though the story is set in vibrant New Orleans. For all the scenes focused on food, we never smell, taste, or experience a moment with the characters. Even during gameplay, there’s no sweat, heat, or the sound of screaming fans in our ears. The readers are kept at arm’s length at all times. Perhaps worse: the sex scenes read like fanfiction—a first-time writer’s fanfiction. Instead of steamy, the word choice makes it awkward and off putting. “Baby girl?” Really?

Despite my issues with it, I do recommend it for fans of workplace romances, Ted Lasso, or A League of Their Own. You’re going to get serious “Ted Lasso but make it sapphic” vibes from this, I promise; Phoebe and Grace are very much Jamie and Roy. If you’re in your sporty romance era, give this a try!

✨ The Vibes ✨

⚽︎ F/F Romance
⚽︎ Neurodiversity / ADHD and Autism Rep
⚽︎ Sports Romance
⚽︎ Secret Dating
⚽︎ Workplace Romance
⚽︎ Miscommunication
⚽︎ Grumpy vs Sunshine

Kelleen reviews An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

the covers of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

I am in the middle of THE most epic reading slump this summer. I haven’t been reading a tenth of what I usually do, and the genres and storylines that usually capture my attention just aren’t doing it for me right now. But I’ve read these books 3.5 times so far in 2022 and I can’t imagine it won’t be more. There’s something about alien invasion and ultra-mega-creepy levels of instant fame that my soul finds very comforting right now.

This duology follows one 23-year-old woman, April May, as she accidentally makes first contact with an alien life force and then even more (or less, depending on who you believe) accidentally becomes wildly internet famous. With her band of friends and enemies and frenemies (including her ex-roommate/girlfriend), April must navigate these hitherto unreckoned dimensions, trying to save the world without losing herself.

The most remarkable thing about these books, in my opinion, is not the aliens or the internet but April herself (at least in the first book). Hank Green writes with such a strong, precise, compelling narrative voice with a narrow, central first person narrator who is so charming and funny as to make you forget how utterly unreliable she is. Especially when read in audio, the whole experience feels like April is telling you a story, directly into your ears, and the intimacy of that narration is electrifying. Hank writes complex, sympathetic, human characters whose humanity is the crux and core of every terrible decision and beautiful triumph. The story is fresh and exciting and dynamic, and then he breaks open all the doors in the sequel lending nuance and dimension with each distinctive POV.

I found myself so invested in the (beautifully executed) intricacies of plot, but even more invested in the humanness and complex hope of each of these characters. In this story, good conquers evil, but not easily. We see the full complexity of humanity, which makes each choice and each word less wholly good or wholly evil, but rather leads us to the only logical conclusion: that on the whole, human beings are good, and with intention and empathy, we can and must save the world.

April is a bi woman, and her identity feels present and honest without being didactic. And the journey we take with her relationship with Maya, the (very low) lows and the (very high) highs is so central to the complex and well-wound project of this story as a whole. It’s hopeful and messy and honest and absolutely essential.

Every time I think about these books, this story, I long to immerse myself inside it once more and then I remember that I am inside it. I live in a world eerily approaching an alien-invasion-meets-socio-political-internet nightmare. And I know there’s reason to be afraid, but I also know there’s more.

On second thought, perhaps it is the overwhelming hope that my soul finds very comforting right now.

DFTBA.

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

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

Danika reviews An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

About three years ago, I saw a post on tumblr from Hank Green, which read: “Remember when I said I was writing a story about a bisexual girl and a robot?” I was, of course, immediately intrigued. I’ve been following the Vlogbrothers for many years, and I’ve read almost all of John Green’s books (though they aren’t favourites of mine). I would already be interested in a book from Hank Green, but of course it having a bisexual girl main character really upped it. By the time An Absolutely Remarkable Thing came out, I had heard lots of excitement around the book, but nothing else about the queer content. Did it get written out? Did I only imagine that tumblr post?? I then began my usual research when I stumble on a book that maybe-possibly has queer women content. I’ll save you the Goodreads scrolling and assure you: yes, this book has a bisexual woman main character, and it’s not even a one-off line. Her relationship with another woman forms–I would argue–the emotional centre of the book, and frankly, it’s a little irritating that it took so much searching to confirm this.

On to the book itself! I listened to the audiobook, and I would highly recommend that process. The narrator was great. Before I say anything else, you should know that this is not a standalone book. I believe it will be a duology, but it’s definitely not the only book in this story (I wish I had known that before I reached the ending!)

If you’re a fan of Hank Green and Vlogbrothers, I would definitely say that this is worth picking up. Despite being a story about first contact and robots and a bisexual woman’s complicated relationship with her roommate/girlfriend, Hank’s voice really comes through. It’s a thoughtful book that has a lot to say about fame–internet fame in particular. April finds herself suddenly famous, and she leans into this. She makes herself a brand and has a media presence strategy. She becomes more and more invested in having her voice her, and trying to sway the general conversation. As that process continued, I became more and more uncomfortable, but never ever to say exactly where she might have crossed the line.

But if you are reading this review, you’re probably more interested about the representation. There is, understandably, some suspicion when a man is writing a queer woman character. Hank speaks to this in another tumblr post, which I recommend checking out if you have questions. I won’t deny that I went in with a more critical eye than I would from an #ownvoices author, but I don’t have any big objections to the representation.

[mild spoilers] There was a moment where I raised an eyebrow: April’s agent asks if there’s anything else they should know, anything that might come up… something that may be controversial, or secret… and April does not even think about bringing up her sexuality. When she is directly asked, she is open about it, but she doesn’t think of this as something that her agent might have to consider, which I personally felt would be pretty obvious for a queer woman.

After that, though, her agent asked: couldn’t you just be gay? You dated men, but you were gay all along? It would be easier. That seemed accurate to me. April says, “It was easier for her to sell a quirky lesbian than a quirky bi girl, so I was a quirky lesbian for her.” [end spoilers]

As for April herself, she is definitely a complicated character. She is deeply flawed, and although she acknowledges this, she’s not very apologetic about it. She can be ruthless in pursuing her goals, and callous when it comes from other people. She is insecure and pushes people away. She denies her own feelings. She is selfish and reckless. But she also has good intentions, and she feels so real and relatable. Her flaws feel personal, and her bad decisions are understandable, if not defensible. If you don’t like “unlikable” characters, you probably won’t like her. Personally, I kind of loved her.

[spoilers] The romantic relationship here is… painful. April is not a good girlfriend, though she is clearly in love. I really like her girlfriend, and I hope that April improves herself in the next book enough to be able to have a more stable and mutual relationship with her, because right now, she doesn’t seem capable of a healthy romantic relationship. [end spoilers]

I really enjoyed this! It gave me a lot to think about. Although I liked the audiobook narration, I feel like I want to reread this in a physical format just to have some time to process and think about the issues that it brings up. I’m looking forward to the next one!