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.”

Grumpy/Sunshine Behind the Bar: In Walked Trouble by Dana Hawkins

In Walked Trouble by Dana Hawkins cover

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In Walked Trouble, Dana Hawkins’s newest novel, takes us away from the coffee shop of Not in the Plan and into Nueve’s, a Puerto Rican bar and restaurant that should totally exist. (Has anyone else noticed just how many great concepts for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bookstores, films, TV series, etc. that exist in romance novels?) Remi James is briefly introduced in Not in the Plan, but all anyone really needs to know about this character becomes clear in the first chapter of In Walked Trouble—Remi is definitely on the surly side of the personality spectrum. 

A grump, if you will.

Despite her grumpy nature, everything seems to be coming up Remi: her boss has called her in to discuss what must be the promotion that she so rightly deserves. Having grown up in the foster system, Remi is obsessed with the idea that a house will make a home for her, but she needs more money for a downpayment. Money she will earn when she finally gets that promotion to head bartender. Which is why she’s so angry when she discovers that her boss has brought in Maya to co-bartend with Remi. No promotion, no raise. Remi’s attraction to Maya is immediately replaced with anger. (“Replaced” is a strong word—let’s say “supplemented by” instead.) To make matters worse, the money that would have gone into that raise is now being offered as a bonus. May the best bartender win.

Remi thinks that this will be no problem because of how fast and efficient she is. What she doesn’t know is that Maya tosses bottles, which tends to make a bartender very popular very quickly. Maya, according to Remi, is “ready for a runway.” And she smiles too much.

Is there a better trope than grumpy/sunshine? Don’t bother answering that question—there isn’t.

Maya also needs that bonus to afford her master’s in nursing, a degree she’s pursuing in part because of her sister, who has type 1 diabetes. She is also grieving her father’s sudden death nine years earlier. As I’ve written many times before, I appreciate when a romance novel focuses on the trauma of the main character (or, in this case, both main characters). While two characters can’t fix the trauma that the other faces, they can listen, be supportive, and offer help when appropriate. Sure, the other stuff is pretty good as well, but I really enjoy this element of Remi and Maya’s relationship.  

What other stuff? Well, if asked, I would point to a scene that involves mop water, ice cubes, a lemon slice, and dueling soda guns.

I could probably end this review here, right?

Back to trauma for a moment. If you’re the kind of romance reader who prefers the “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” approach, In Walked Trouble is probably not for you. Yes, there is instant chemistry between Remi and Maya, but the movement on that attraction only occurs after they actually get to know each other. Fine… there is also a lot of alcohol. But even that isn’t what you think it is. Hawkins puts together a narrative where it is not entirely clear whether the physical intimacy came before the emotional intimacy or vice versa. That sentence felt cringey as I wrote, but I’m sticking with it because of how strongly I value the whole “talking about feelings” thing. We know that it isn’t exactly easy to open up to other people in a genuine way, and I can’t help but think stories like this one model a better approach.

Hawkins does reinforce a few other concepts in In Walked Trouble, including one of my favorites: coming up with really bad excuses to be somewhere or to do something for someone. Because sometimes you’re not ready to talk about your feelings with someone, but you still want that someone to know that eventually you might want to. The really bad excuse approach to getting to know someone never gets old.

Neither does grumpy/sunshine.

(One more thing: I had no intention of comparing In Walked Trouble to a film like I did last month in my review of Cover Story… but then I read someone comparing In Walked Trouble to the 1988 Tom Cruise movie Cocktail. You know, the movie they show clips of during the “Kokomo” music video? And, okay, yes, Maya does toss bottles like Tom Cruise’s character. That is, and I cannot stress this enough, the only connection between this book and that movie. Seriously, don’t watch Cocktail thinking it’s a romcom. Watch it because a) it won the Golden Raspberry for Worst Movie and b) it goes way darker than any movie whose soundtrack features “Kokomo” has a right to do.)

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

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.❞

Manga-Curious: 5 Yuri Manga for First-Time Readers

For the longest time, I found manga intimidating, especially with the stereotype of manga being either sex fantasies for men or action-packed sagas. However, once I got past that initial fear (thanks to a coworker who helped me find some calmer titles to start off with), I found that manga, just like most formats, is more than just one genre. There are subgenres that where the plots are geared towards specific ages, with examples like:

  • kodomomuke (cutesy manga meant for young children), 
  • shonen (adventure stories marketed to teen boys), 
  • shojo (stories centered around exploration of relationships geared towards teen girls), 
  • seinen (adult fiction geared towards adult men), and 
  • josei (adult fiction centered around relationships marketed to adult women). 

Nowadays, I love narratives that center around personal relationships (platonic or romantic), which can be found more typically in shojo and josei works. If you want to get even more specific with it, there are sub-subgenres for romantic/sexual identities, such as BL (boy love) and yuri (sapphic). I think that is so cool, especially since I had started reading manga thinking that it was entirely centered on what men wanted to read and wouldn’t feature much, if any, queerness. If you want to get into manga, but don’t want to start with One Piece, never fear! Here are five of my favorite yuri manga that are great for people who haven’t read much manga before! 

Monthly In The Garden with My Landlord series by Yodokawa

Monthly in the Garden with My Landlord, Vol. 1 cover

After getting out of an unhealthy relationship with her ex-girlfriend, Asako Suga wants a completely fresh start and decides to move to into a cute house. The only thing she didn’t count on was that the house came with a cute live-in landlord, who seems to be hiding a secret about her past. As the two live together and learn more about each other, Asako and Miyako become closer in this cozy story. Monthly In The Garden with My Landlord is a fantastic beginner manga for people who love forced-proximity stories and new adult protagonists. The second volume just came out on March 19th, so be sure to get your copy here!

Just Friends by Ana Oncina

Just Friends cover

As a teenager, Erika was forced to go to an overnight camp by her mother, in an effort for Erika to make more friends. While there, she met a girl named Emi, who changed her life forever with their relationship. In this dual timeline manga, Erika and Emi are now adults, who remember that summer together as they engage in an affair marked by nostalgia and secrecy. Just Friends will make you long for the simplicity of your youth, even as you see how it can be weaponized into something unhealthy. I particularly enjoyed Just Friends because it didn’t feature a “good” relationship—it showed the spectrum on which relationships can reside, making this perhaps the most realistic of these titles.

The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This, Vol. 1 by Takashi Ikeda

The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This Vol. 1 cover

If you are a fan of the “they were roommates” trope, then you will want to read The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This. Scriptwriter Ellie and voice actress Wako are roommates, mentor and mentee… and lovers! This cozy manga covers their day-to-day lives as Ellie deals with writer’s block, Wako struggles with auditions, and the two hang out with friends. 

The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This is a four-volume series and is a delightfully quiet and charming example of slice of life manga. 

Our Teachers Are Dating series by Pikachi Ohi

Our Teachers Are Dating! Vol. 1 cover

If you like workplace romances, then you will like Our Teachers are Dating. Gym teacher Hayama and biology teacher Terano work together at an all-girls school and are crushing on each other hard. Their students and fellow teachers ship the two of them and work together to get the two teachers to confess. The rest of the volume covers the beginning of Hayama and Terano’s relationship, from stolen kisses at work to their first overnight trip. Our Teachers Are Dating is the first of four volumes in which we get to see this coworkers-to-lovers story, and the two protagonists are SUPER adorable. You’ll want to read this manga if you enjoy fluff stories, tender moments, and awkward (yet perfect) comedy. 

I Don’t Know Which is Love, Vol. 1 by Tamamushi Oku

I Don't Know Which Is Love, Vol. 1 cover

When Mei graduated high school, she was determined to leave behind an unfulfilled crush and to get a girlfriend in college. If only it was that simple… Mei is confronted with a variety of women at college and cannot decide who to pursue. With love interests like the older professor, the physically affectionate roommate, the voice-obsessed theatre techie, the sweet model, and the gregarious theatre ingenue, how will Mei ever choose? I will say, I Don’t Know Which is Love is verging on yuri harem territory, so be aware if you are not comfortable reading that kind of content. That being said, I loved reading this manga as it was super cute and played with the concept of having casual sapphic relationships. Definitely read it if you enjoy why-choose stories, romance, and college settings!

As always, you can get any of these books through your local library, indie bookstore, or through the Bookshop links above! Happy reading!

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, he acts in local community theaters and plays role-playing games. You can find them on GoodreadsTwitter, or Instagram.

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 Lesbian Road Trip Romcom About Death: Here We Go Again by Alison Cochrun

Here We Go Again cover

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I read Alison Cochrun’s previous book, Kiss Her Once for Me, and liked it, but I was not expecting to love this one quite as much as I did. Some of that is for reasons that will translate to many other readers, and some of my enjoyment comes from it combining my own random interests. Either way, I highly recommend this one, even if you have no experience teaching high school English and aren’t also contemplating getting assessed for ADHD.

Just as high school is such a pivotal time of life despite being only four years, my three years teaching and learning to teach had a permanent impact on me. I may not have been a high school English teacher for long, but I think some part of me always will be—and it’s still my back-up career. During those years, it completely consumed me. I would lay awake at night trying to figure out how to be a better teacher. My practicums were the most stressful times of my life. So it won’t come as a shock that I deeply related to this story about three high school English teachers. Unsurprisingly, Cochrun used to be a high school English teacher herself. (It’s also dedicated to teachers: “For all the queer educators out there. You save lives simply by showing up. Thank you. And for every queer teenager who became a little too attached to their English teacher. I see you. I love you.”)

Logan and Rosemary are rival English teachers at the same high school, but once, they were best friends. Then one kiss ruined their relationship, and now they can’t stand each other. It doesn’t help that they are classic Type A (Rosemary) and Type B (Logan) teachers, each judging the other for their opposing styles. How did they end up in the same profession? When they were teens, the only person who saw and accepted these two struggling queer and neurodivergent teachers was Joe, their Mexican American, openly gay English teacher. In their conservative small town, Joe was a life-saving presence for them, and they both followed in his footsteps.

Joe isn’t teaching anymore, though. He’s only 64, but years battling pancreatic cancer has ended with him being recommended hospice care. Both Rosemary and Logan have been helping take care of him, but he has a deathbed request that will be a lot more challenging to fulfill. He wants to die in his cabin in Maine, and he wants Logan and Rosemary to drive him there. Together.

Because the two of them can hardly be in the same room together, the idea of being in the same car for almost a week seems impossible, but they can’t ignore Joe’s pleas for them to make up and help go out the way he wants to. Besides, Rosemary has—unbelievably—just been laid off and doesn’t have a guaranteed job to go back to after the summer, so she needs something to keep her anxious brain occupied. So, she makes a giant binder of travel plans and convinces Logan to get on board, and off they set: a dying man, two mortal enemies, and a dog, all crammed in a van together.

I love a road trip story, and just as you’d expect, being in a confined space together forces Logan and Rosemary to communicate. There has been a lot of miscommunication between the two of them over the years, including Logan believing that Rosemary is a tight-laced, high-achieving, heterosexual neurotypical person with everything under control. In reality, they’re both neurodivergent lesbians, and Rosemary manages her anxiety with a desperate need to try to be in control, with a plan for everything.

The two of them haven’t been friend since they were 14, but neither of them moved on in the nearly two decades since. Rosemary keeps so busy with teaching that it allows no time in her life for dating, while Logan keeps her relationships to casual hookups only.

Logan planned to graduate and travel the world, having big adventures. But when her mother left her dad, she was determined not to do the same thing, so she’s been living with him ever since. This road trip is the first time she’s really left their small town.

As they travel, the two of them continue to butt heads, but they also reluctantly reconnect as adults—and finally address what actually happened the day they kissed. Logan’s instincts to run away from conflict mean that it’s not so easy to repair their relationship, though, especially when Logan refuses to grapple with Joe’s imminent death.

In the acknowledgements, Cochrun calls this a romcom about death, and that is accurate. I appreciated that it doesn’t have a particularly romantic view of death. Rosemary and Logan have to change Joe’s diapers as he howls at the indignity. Death is not a quiet, noble affair. It’s prolonged and painful—both for the person dying and their loved ones. There is a little bit of “Tuesdays with Morrie shit,” as Joe refers to it, but it’s not cloying.

(Spoilers, highlight to read) I also thought the first sex scene—Rosemary’s first time having sex—was especially well done. They both go very slowly, with clear consent at all times. It’s sweet, and since I’ve had some sex scenes completely turn me off of the book recently, I was glad to see it treated with such care.(End of spoilers)

A lesbian road trip romance + ruminating on death + both characters having ADHD + all the main characters being high school English teachers made this a home run for me, but you don’t have to have my exact configuration of interests to enjoy this friends to almost lovers to enemies to lovers romance. And yes, I cried.

Official content warnings: This book contains references to an off-page death of a parent due to overdose, and it includes the on-page death of a parental figure.

An Enemies-to-Lovers Space Opera for the Ages: No Shelter But The Stars by Virginia Black

the cover of No Shelter But The Stars

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No Shelter But The Stars by Virginia Black was published on January 23, 2024 and follows Kyran Loyal, the last in her line of family royals for a planet that has been lost to her people for years, and Davia Sifane, a woman from an empire Kyran was raised to rebel against. When a battle takes place and everyone around them perishes, they are left to fend for themselves on a desolate moon. With no one to rely on but each other, they have to decide if they can put aside their feelings about their pasts and work together to survive for an indefinite period of time in an unforgiving environment. 

Virginia wrote a gorgeous novel that captures the things that make us all human. At its core, it is a story that explores all the things that connect us, no matter our backgrounds. Through Kyran and Davia she presents raw emotions–pain, grief, frustration, anger, fear, and gay panic over a pretty woman, despite the fact she’s your mortal enemy. At their base, these are the things that transcend all others. She has created an environment where these two characters have no other choice but to feel all of those things. There are no distractions. Her exploration of what happens when there is nothing else left but two human beings, and what that looks like when everything else is stripped away, is truly breathtaking. 

There are too many things I loved about this book to put in this review, but one of my favorites is her use of language and language being more than a means of communication. These two women literally speak different languages, and yet they have to find some way to communicate. And they do. What I loved about Virginia’s decision here is that it is clear Kyran is guarded and protective of her language. In many ways, it is all she has left of her people and of her loved ones. So even as she starts to open up, she still refuses to share that part of herself with Davia. Davia, on the other hand, is not as protective of her language (which made sense to me in the context of how she grew up), and Kyran actively tries to learn it. I loved this aspect of Kyran and Davia’s relationship development because it created such an intimate way to bond. And I happen to think there is something inherently romantic and beautiful about learning another language for someone. I love how language and teaching one another is a thread throughout the story, with one of my favorite moments coming in towards the end.  

Kyran and Davia come from very different backgrounds. Kyran has never really had stability, and has been searching for a home for most of her life. That instability is owed to Davia’s home–one of privilege and wealth. It is hard to imagine that these two would have anything in common, but again, Virginia is so good at finding that commonality between two very different characters, and showing you that these two share much more than a desolate moon on the outskirts of a galaxy. Despite coming from vastly different worlds these are two women that were tasked with carrying on a legacy and duties neither really wanted. Because of that, there is a complicated and beautiful exploration of competing emotions about becoming stranded. Of course there is sadness and anger about their losses, but additionally there is relief and a sense of freedom that comes from being somewhere where nothing is expected of them. Those loss of expectations, and feeling relief about that, also comes with guilt. Virginia presents these dueling emotions so well, and were among my favorite parts. 

This story was both gorgeous and haunting. I rarely get literal goosebumps from books, but I did several times while reading Kyran and Davia’s story. Their evolution from enemies, to tentative allies, to maybe friends, to eventual lovers was so immaculately crafted that I was often left breathless. These two are enemies by birth, and not by choice. Each grew up with an idea of the other, and yet I found their evolution to be believable. The characters are so rich, you can tell there was an immense amount of planning and thought that went into every detail of their arc, both individually and together. And it is why it works so well. 

The thing is, when you read such a well crafted story, it also has the power to leave you feeling so many emotions. Virginia had me crying with just two words. Two words that said and held so much, and that is a testament to everything she had written prior to that point. The ending to this story felt so perfect to me. I read it and felt in awe with how someone could write a conclusion that seemed so fitting and perfect, but that I still never saw coming. That, to me, is the sign of an incredible author. Virginia Black’s words moved me in a way that makes me so thankful there are sapphic authors out there writing incredible stories like No Shelter But The Stars. I am in awe of how Virginia created a story that had such moments of softness–in direct contrast to the harsh reality these two women were living. She is an amazing storyteller and I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

While I could go on, I’ll just say I cannot recommend this book enough. You will not regret it.

A Literal Love Song: Stars Collide by Rachel Lacey

the cover of Stars Collide

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

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

Mild Spoilers Ahead. Book Contains Sexual Scenes.

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

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

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

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

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

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 Workplace Romance at a Lesbian Magazine: Just As You Are by Camille Kellogg

the cover of Just as You Are

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In Camille Kellogg’s debut romance, Just As You Are, a workplace clash turns into a workplace crush.

Nether Fields, a long-running queer women’s online magazine, is on the verge of shutting down as Liz and her Nether Fields coworkers gather to mourn its passing. But when two wealthy lesbians swoop in to save the publication, these staff writers and close friends are given a second chance to uphold the magazine’s values. What Liz hasn’t told anyone is that she’s getting tired of being Nether Fields’ resident sex and relationship columnist, spending every day writing butt plug reviews and clickbait personality quizzes. She has bigger aspirations: to launch an independent writing career and publish her first novel.

But that dream gets squashed as Liz gets pulled back into the orbit of the Nether Fields culture, and into the thrall of one of its hot new owners, Daria. Daria militantly audits the magazine’s business practices, slashing budgets in an attempt to pull Nether Fields out of the red while alienating staff with her no-nonsense approach. Liz is equally repelled by and attracted to Daria’s intensity, unable to deny the allure of her confidence and androgynous fashion sense.

What starts as an antagonistic relationship (Daria basically calls Liz’s articles puerile fluff) slowly develops into something more nuanced. When the two share a car from New York to Boston for a work assignment, Liz starts to see beneath Daria’s business-like exterior. Daria provides a window into her strained relationship with her conservative, hard-to-please family. Liz confides in Daria about her writing dreams and her ongoing struggle to feel confident in her skin. It almost feels like they each accept the other person just as they are, as the book’s title suggests. But every time Daria seems to open up, she subsequently pulls away from Liz. Will their clashing personalities and workplace politics get in the way of a deeper connection?

What made this Pride and Prejudice inspired enemies-to-lovers story stand out to me was its exploration of Liz’s feelings about her gender and her struggle to express it authentically. Despite being immersed in accepting, queer work and home environments, Liz hasn’t quite hit her stride when it comes to presenting herself to the world, often choosing her wardrobe to conform to her environment on any given day. Typically our romantic heroines have already found their “look,” or fall into a certain bucket of queer identity, so it was refreshing to watch Liz navigate the moving target of her gender expression.

Like Austen, Kellogg explores class dynamics, in this case of a workplace being overhauled by wealthy benefactors. That said, Kellogg could have done more to explore the dynamics of the diverse cast of friends/coworkers that serve as the book’s vibrant backdrop. While Liz, who is white and cisgender, gets embroiled in a situationship with Daria, she simultaneously casts judgment on her coworker and roommate Jane, a Black trans woman, when Jane gets involved with the magazine’s other rich buyer, Bailey. Liz also teases Katie, another roommate and woman of color, for being hung up on an unrequited crush. There is an unacknowledged imbalance in the way Liz moves through the world that I would have preferred not go unchecked.

Read if:

  • You like to lovingly poke fun at queer culture sometimes.
  • You enjoyed The L Word: Generation Q in all its entangled millennial glory.
  • You want to reflect on your gender identity and presentation.