Danika reviews Melt With You by Jennifer Dugan

the cover of Melt With You

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This is a sapphic YA romance with an ice cream truck road trip, and if that doesn’t intrigue you, we have very different tastes in books. To be more specific, it’s a friends-to-lovers-to-enemies?-to-lovers? ice cream truck road trip sapphic YA romance.

Fallon and Chloe were best friends practically their whole lives. Their moms are best friends who own a gourmet ice cream truck together. (It’s called Love at First Bite, and all the flavours are romance movie puns.) Their moms imagined they’d be as close as sisters, but that’s not exactly how it turned out. Instead, they ended up sleeping together. But Chloe cancelled on Fallon the next day and disappeared to university, and they haven’t really spoken since.

For Fallon, it just reinforced that the night meant nothing for Chloe, and she was foolish to think otherwise. After all, Chloe’s motto is, “It’s not that deep.” When Chloe shows up in town acting like nothing happened, Fallon is pissed and wants nothing to do with her.

That’s when their moms drop the bomb that they have an important business meeting at the same time as their biggest moneymaker event of the year. They need Chloe and Fallon to work at the event, or Love at First Bites will likely go under. But that means driving the truck out there and working shoulder to shoulder for the event. It’s a nightmare for Fallon, but she can’t exactly say no. Meanwhile, Chloe seems to be using the opportunity to win Fallon back over, but she doesn’t understand why Fallon is so angry in the first place.

It’s hard to imagine a better premise for a sapphic summer read! I didn’t love this quite as much as I hoped, but I think that I might have to face that YA romances just aren’t clicking with me lately, so I think that’s a me problem. We’re firmly inside Fallon’s head for the narration, and I found her directly addressing the audience (“I know what you’re thinking, but…”) a little akward.

Also, this book is dominated by miscommunication. Fallon even addresses that she knows everyone will think they just need to talk, but she’s sure she knows what Chloe is thinking and that it’s not worth talking about. This made the middle chunk of the book drag for me, because despite road trip hijinks, the dynamic between Chloe and Fallon is stuck in this dynamic, which made it feel like there wasn’t any progression in the core story.

Still, it delivers on the promise of the description, and it was a quick, light read. If the premise appeals to you and you don’t mind a miscommunication-based plot, toss this one in your tote bag for your beach reading this summer!

Kelleen reviews The Roommate Risk by Talia Hibbert

the cover of The Roommate Risk

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Recently, a friend of mine asked me for friends-to-lovers romance recommendations. Now, if you know anything about me as a romance reader (besides the fact that I’m gay and disabled and read gay and disabled romance), it’s that I HATE the trope friends-to-lovers.

I love friendship. I think friendship is the greatest gift and greatest tool we have, and I often think that our society actively denigrates friendship in favor of a hierarchy that places romantic and sexual love at the pinnacle of human connection (I saw as a nearly exclusively romance reader). And every time I read a friends-to-lovers romance, I think “but why can’t they just be friends? They gave each other everything they needed as friends,” and “Wait, but what was keeping them apart in the first place?” I know that this is how many many real life relationships start — as friends — but in a romance novel with a plot, I always find it frustrating and unsatisfying. Except for when Talia Hibbert writes it. (Yes, okay, and like a few other times, but mostly when Talia Hibbert writes it.)

If you loved Take a Hint, Dani Brown, I beg you, I implore you, I beseech you, PLEASE read The Roommate Risk. It is friends-to-lovers with a bisexual Black heroine, a South Asian hero, anxiety rep, pining for DAYS, and more super hot, steamy sex than should reasonably fit in 75,000 words.

The story is told in flashbacks interspersed between scenes of “now,” when a flood in her flat requires Jasmine to move in with her best friend Rahul. Rahul has been in love with Jasmine since they met and slept together once in college and, when Jasmine asserted that she does not sleep with her friends, elected for friendship over hooking up. However, the fates of adulthood and forced proximity now require them to confront their desire, and ultimately their love, for one another.

I think one of the reasons this book works so well for me is that their friendship is so clearly the center of their sexual and then romantic relationship. No matter how loudly Jasmine asserts that she does not do relationships and does not sleep with her friends, the fact that they have nearly a decade of friendship between them is what allows them to trust one another fully with their bodies and their hearts.

This book is so brazen and full of heart. It is sex positive and body positive. Jasmine is casually and essentially bisexual. Her queerness is fully integrated into her identity and is not at all a factor in their conflict. It is unapologetic and unexplained. And reading a queer Black heroine in an M/F written by a queer Black author feels like a gift.

I love seeing an author work through the same questions over multiple projects and diving back into Talia Hibbert’s backlist and seeing her tackle these similar themes and tropes is such a delight. This is a friends-to-lovers romance that puts the friendship first and tells a true, authentic, complex story about queerness and anxiety and interracial love.

Content warnings: parental neglect, panic attacks, anxiety, death of a parent, accidental cuts (blood), alcohol misuse

Danika reviews Snow Falls by Gerri Hill

cover of Snow Falls

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Every year, I plan on spending December reading seasonal books: Christmas romances, wintry fantasy novels, snowed in stories, and so on. And every December, I find myself with an “urgent” TBR that pushes those books off my reading list. There are always ARCs to review, books to read for the next All the Books podcast recording, or library books with encroaching due dates. Although about 98% of my reading comes from ARCs or library books, in 2016 I was so excited by the premise of this novel (a snowed in sapphic romance) that I ordered it on the spot. And there it’s sat on my shelves for the last 5 years.

This year, though, I finally said enough was enough, and although I still have books I should be reading, I carved out some space for seasonal reads. After all this time of anticipation, I pulled down Snow Falls from by TBR shelves and picked it up. Immediately, it was exactly what I wanted from it: an F/F romance about two strangers who get snowed in together for weeks. One is a grumpy and secretive recluse, the other sheltered, clueless, and chatty. There’s only one bed! There’s two huskies!

Unfortunately, there were also aspects of this book that just didn’t work for me. The romance itself was nice, slowly building a relationship between them, but other plot points fell flat for me. There’s a lot of references to a scandal Ryan went through that leads to her living in anonymity in the middle of nowhere, but when that scandal is revealed, it felt anticlimactic for how much weight was being put on it. The sex scenes also didn’t work for me, and sometimes the dialogue felt stilted. I know Jen is sheltered (she grew up in a controlling, religious family and was homeschooled), but “I was apparently conceived at a drug party where she had sex with as many as seven different guys” is a sentence that does not sound natural.

On top of that, there were a few things I took issue with. Let’s go in escalating order of alarming: first, Ryan makes a joke about how she might have “mental disorder” and that Jen should be worried (this is after also joking about being an axe murderer), which is an ableist joke that I wish had been left out. Then there’s an issue I find with many lesfic titles: no acknowledgement of bisexuality. Jen is questioning her sexuality—she’s currently in a relationship with a guy—but the word bisexual isn’t mentioned. She just wonders if she’s straight or gay. That I could let slide, since she is very obviously gay (she’s never had any sexual attraction to her boyfriend), but it’s reinforced later with another character.

In fact, let’s give Presley her own character, since she’s involved in the most alarming/weirdest part of the book. Presley is Ryan’s brother’s date, and she’s openly hitting on Ryan. Ryan asks her why she’s doing this, since “you’re straight.” (They’ve never interacted before this, so Ryan seems to be assuming any woman who dates men is straight.) Worse, Presley then agrees that yes, she is straight, and that she’s had men and women lovers. She proceeds to keep hitting on Ryan. Now, I’m not denying that there are women who call themselves straight and also frequently sleep with women, but again, the word bisexual doesn’t come up at all. This isn’t the alarming part, though.

Charles, Ryan’s brother, takes her aside at the party to say that his date is flirting with her:

[Charles:] “You interested?”

[Ryan:] “In her?”

He raised his eyebrows. “I could watch.”

“You’re insane.”

“We did it before. Remember that chick I brought home from college? What were you? Eighteen?”

“The difference is, I didn’t know you were watching,” she reminded him. She’d never been more embarrassed in her young life when she found out he’s been hiding in the closet. . . . She was, however, careful to check her closet from then on.

To be clear, Charles is presented as a laidback, playboy type. They get along. They both laugh this off. This is… not normal. I get the whole “straight men are into watching lesbians” thing, but your sister??

Needless to say, I can’t give this a glowing review. There were some parts I really enjoyed, including [spoiler, highlight to read] that the breakup with Brad was so civil and that he was a really great friend–it’s so easy to make this character villainous for no reason at all. [end spoiler] But they don’t outweigh the problems I had with it.

Despite this not being to my taste, I loved the reading experience, because it was exactly that snowy, seasonal sapphic romance that I was looking for. It really reinforced that I want to make this time for myself, because I enjoy it just as much as I imagined I would. If I can get that from a book I had so many problems with, I can’t wait for when it’s a book I click with.

Content warning: Homophobia, including from family as well as internalized homophobia.

If you’re looking for seasonal sapphic books to add to your winter TBR, check out: Wintry Sapphic Reads to Cozy Up With!