Meagan Kimberly reviews A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria

A Lot Like Adiós cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic reviews Valiant Ladies by Melissa Grey

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Melissa Grey’s Valiant Ladies, inspired by two real seventeenth-century vigilantes, centers around two teenage girls’ quest for justice and love for each other. While Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza spend their days in the fine home of Kiki’s wealthy father, they spend their nights on the streets of Potosí, engaging in gambling and fighting and other “unladylike” activities. After the murder of her brother on the night Kiki’s engagement to the viceroy’s son is announced, Kiki and Ana set off to discover what really happened while also confronting their feelings for each other.

Perhaps because it is based on real people, this book delights in being separate from actual history, which served the book very well. The characters speak and think in more modern language (though not distractingly so), and the girls are free to be brazenly in love with each other with little more than a scandalized gasp or a “hey, that’s wild” from the people around them, which allowed me, as a queer reader, to also indulge myself in the fantasy of kicking ass, taking down the patriarchy, and getting the girl in the end. (It also means I don’t feel like I’m snooping on real people, because obviously it didn’t happen like this, but it’s still really cool either way.)

That being said, it is not a rosy, completely-divorced-from-history fairy tale either. The world felt well-drawn from the rigid and wasteful aristocracy to the bars and brothels where Ana grew up, and while I always trusted this book would have a happy ending, it also did not pretend life is great for teenage girls at this time. Ana’s background in particular gave the novel plenty of room for acknowledging and criticizing the ways the nobility and specifically Spanish colonizers suck, which, for the most part, it took.

As for the characters, both Ana and Kiki were delights. Their voices were distinct (and so funny), and while they were certainly badass, they were badasses who felt like people, with feelings and vulnerabilities as well as snark. Their romance was likewise really sweet. This is friends-to-lovers at its best. They had the established camaraderie of lifelong friends, as well as some of my favorite pining that I’ve seen in a while, and while romance and crime-solving can be difficult to balance, the one never distracted from the other.

I would not have known about this book if it hadn’t been recommended to me, but I’m so glad it was because it was so good. I didn’t realize before I started reading, but this is the book I have been wanting to read for I don’t know how long. It was fun, it was funny, it was sweet, it was badass. I just had an all-around great time while reading it. I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves badass historical sword lesbians with a little bit of mystery (and really, how could anyone not love that?)

Kelleen reviews The Inconvenient Heiress by Jane Walsh

the cover of The Inconvenient Heiress

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I have elected myself president of the Jane Walsh fan club that does not exist. I am painting us Lavender Menace-style t-shirts with stencils and foam brushes and I’ll order broaches on Etsy. I’ll wear a backwards baseball cap as my crown and shout my allegiance from the roofs of all of the buildings because I LOVE JANE WALSH.

I, like so many of us, have been feeling increasingly as though my world is crumbling around me, so imagine my utter elation when I received an email from Bold Strokes that contained the gift of Jane Walsh’s new historical romance novel, The Inconvenient Heiress. There is nothing in the wide world that brightens my day faster than a Jane Walsh novel and this book brightened my world.

This book—the start of a new series for her—has impeccable vibes. Let me paint you a picture (this is a clever joke because one of the heroines is a painter): Two poor women on the regency coast, friends to lovers, all the pining, an unexpected (and rather inconvenient) arrival of an unknown family fortune, the much more expected threat of losing the fortune, determined suitressing, a curvy heroine, a rockstar community of proud lesbian spinsters, two loving families, finding literally any excuse to kiss your best friend even though you’re just gals being pals, and the most stunning cover I have ever seen.

This book is so tender. It’s soft and aching and delicate while at the same time being all the things I ever want in a historical romance novel—dramatic and lush and dynamic. Each word is so steeped in culture and convention and then with some magic flick of her wrist she’s flipped it all upside down onto its head. Jane Walsh writes with such a reverence for women and womanhood while embracing a vast and wondrous queerness.

Reading a Jane Walsh novel is a dream with every page. It’s a reminder that we have always been here, that we have always been finding community and finding love, that we have always risked it all and been rewarded for our bravery, that queer love is about the quiet moments as well as the loud ones, that we deserve to wear flowy gowns and make our art and find our future, that we deserve to have our love and care returned to us in spades, that we deserve and deserve and deserve.

Pick up a Jane Walsh romance novel. You won’t regret it. And there’s always room in our fan club.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bold Strokes Books for this ARC. Out August 16th, 2022.

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

Danika reviews Melt With You by Jennifer Dugan

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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

Shana reviews Didn’t Stay in Vegas by Chelsea M. Cameron

the cover of Didn't Stay In Vegas

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Didn’t Stay in Vegas is a lighthearted romantic comedy about two best friends who wake up after a wild night in Las Vegas, and discover that they’re married. To each other. 

Callyn’s life is a bit of a mess, but her best friend Emma is always there to bake her cookies and marathon TV shows.  So when Callyn has a terrible hangover and underwear full of glitter the morning after their mutual friend’s bachelorette party, she immediately looks for steady, reliable Emma—only to discover her in a similar state, holding a marriage certificate. Emma claims she doesn’t remember the wedding, but she also suggests they stay married for financial reasons that feel like a stretch. After a string of life setbacks, Calyyn ends up moving in with Emma, getting a puppy, and being extremely adorable while spending most of their time nesting together. Even clueless Callyn starts to wonder if Emma’s been in love with her all along. 

Didn’t Stay in Vegas is a low-conflict romance, perfect for when you want the book equivalent of a cup of sweet hot chocolate. As a reader, it was fairly obvious early on  that Emma is into Callyn, so most of the book is just watching Callyn slowly figure out her own feelings, while getting her life together along the way. I liked that Callyn and Emma are both comfortably queer before their marriage. This is a friends to lovers romance, not a coming out story. And accidentally falling in the love with your friend is certainly something queer women are good at! 

Of the two main characters, I found Emma’s kindness and competence more enjoyable than Callyn’s frenetic energy. But this story is told from Callyn’s point of view, so we can only guess at what Emma is feeling. This leads to many hilarious moments, because Callyn is incredibly slow about noticing that her BFF is definitely in love with her. Callyn’s denial persists even after they have sex! 

Still, I was left feeling like Emma’s character was a little flat, and we don’t really learn much about her outside of the relationship. Since Callyn feels younger and less comfortable in her skin, reading the story from her point of view sometimes made the relationship feel immature.

I did enjoy the theme of chosen family. Callyn and Emma’s big queer friend group felt like extras on L Word Generation Q—attractive, vaguely interesting people that I found myself more interested in than the main characters. 

Didn’t Stay in Vegas lacks the emotional substance of Cameron’s other romances, but it’s a frequently funny, comforting, easy read.

Kayla Bell reviews Strength Check by Katherine McIntyre

Strength Check combines three of my favorite things: board game cafés, roller derby, and WLW romance. Plus, it takes place in San Francisco and uses that setting to the fullest extent it can. Read this one if you want a fun, sweet romance between two very relatable women. The plot is straightforward: Roxie is working at a board game café in San Francisco when cute derby girl Mel answers her request for a new roommate. Mel just moved from Philadelphia and is escaping some pretty complicated dynamics with her family and ex.

The simplistic writing style in this book doesn’t take away from the complex dynamics of relationships between the characters. Mel and Roxie’s friendship is the heart of the story, which makes their romance all the more fun to read about. The cast of characters surrounding them were a little bit tough to keep track of, but also added more depth to the story. I just really enjoy reading about great friendships, and that is really what this book is built on.

Another reason I enjoyed Strength Check so much is because of how authentic the characters felt. I really related to Mel, especially as she navigated moving across the country, dealing with biphobia, and feeling awkward joining a new friend group.

The biggest shortcoming of the book, for me, was that the writing was full of clichés. Now, it actually makes me happy to see romance tropes applied to same sex relationships, but you should know before you read this that you’re in for a lot of “throbbing cores” and “eyes darkening” that might seem overdone to you. Also, the characters were a bit melodramatic and I didn’t feel like the third act conflict had enough buildup. But, again, that comes with the territory and didn’t take me out of the story too much. Overall, I really enjoyed this book.

I couldn’t help but find the romance between the two leads very heartwarming and sweet. This is a book I wish I had read when I was younger, first realizing I wasn’t straight, and scared of what my future would look like. I found this novel to be very comforting. It’s the perfect sapphic romance for the holidays, as many moments of the story take place during Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series.

Strength Check comes out on September 21st and is the first book in the Dungeons and Dating series. Thank you to the author for providing this ARC to review.

Readers should know that this book contains instances of homophobia, biphobia, and alcoholism, as well as a graphic sex scene.

Shira Glassman reviews Who We Could Be by Chelsea Cameron

Who We Could Be cover

I think this book is going to be chocolate cream pie for readers who are suckers for friends-to-lovers f/f.

Who We Could Be by Chelsea Cameron is pitched as (grown) Anne/Diana from the beloved Anne of Green Gables series. Cameron has definitely captured the magic of the conventional girl (Diana, or “Monty” in this book — Montgomery, possibly as a nod to the inspiration’s author) dragged eagerly into the creative, spontaneous, and unconventional schemes and adventures of her red-haired best friend (Anne, or “Tess” in this book.)

We’ve moved about 300 miles west from Prince Edward Island to Maine, and 150 years forward into the present day, but Cameron preserved the general part of the world, the small-town feel, and most importantly, the dynamic of the original relationship. As mentioned above, Tess has the imagination, quirks, and impulsiveness of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or the original Anne Shirley. In addition, the initial best friend relationship between the two leads has that intense obsessive feel that causes some readers to long for Anne/Diana in the first place.

Let’s put it this way: there are characters in this book who are basically waiting for Tess and Monty to realize they’re in love with each other, because they kind of act like they already are, way before it happens. For one thing, when Monty’s engagement goes up in smoke, Tess goes on the honeymoon with her instead. Which is in Savannah, Georgia, by the way, if you want to vicariously enjoy it with them. Actually, to be frank about that, there are degrees of this intensity that felt a little smothery to me, but I’m going to be aboveboard and admit that I’ve got specific, personal experiences that color my thoughts here. And not every fictional relationship is going to be 100% perfect for every reader.

Another pleasant and unexpected deviation from the original canon: first of all, Tess, unlike Anne, is not an orphan. She’s part of a large, noisy family (that includes a trans lesbian aunt and her wife, who is also trans!) This is a fun wish fulfillment that I feel the original Anne would be touched to know about. By the end of the book, it has really leaned into the well-noted phenomenon of friend groups who all eventually come out because of the way we find each other before we’re even out to ourselves.

The sex scene toward the end of the book is hot and satisfying. And it’s a really slow burn because both girls start the book thinking they’re straight so it’s good to have a well-written payoff after all that.

I want to leave a warning on this book, by the way, that will only be relevant to a few readers but for those readers it will matter. Many of the supporting female characters in this book (although not the two leads) are either pregnant or in the process of arranging motherhood some other way. If you would rather avoid that, perhaps wait on picking up this title.

Shira Glassman is the author of fluffy, feel-good f/f fiction such as Knit One Girl Two about an indie dyer and the wildlife painter who inspires her next round of sock club, or Fearless, about a band mom who’s swept off her feet by the music teacher.

Danika reviews Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen

Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen

Codi is in a rut. She has two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, and they’ve been doing the same things since they became friends in the 6th grade. Now she’s 17, and she’s sick of sitting in the basement and watching movies. All three of them are determined to make a change this summer, and maybe get their first kisses (Codi is a lesbian, Martiza is bi, and JaKory is gay). The only problem is that Maritza and JaKory seem to still see the shy, homebody Codi that she was as a kid, and don’t seem to believe that she can be anyone different. When Maritza calls Codi, drunk, and begs her to pick her up from a party, Codi reluctantly agrees. She doesn’t expect to run into one of the “cool kids” kissing another guy in the shadows outside. Ricky asks Codi to not tell anyone about the kiss, and she is drawn into his friend group–including Lydia, who she immediately crushes on. Now Codi is having a whole different summer, with partying, drinking, and skinny-dipping–and not telling her best friends anything about it.

I had a bit of a conflicted relationship with this book. I love that it’s a queer YA book about friendship, including having a bunch of different queer friends. I don’t think we see enough stories where queer people are friends and not just love interests. Codi’s attitude is completely understandable: she feels trapped by her best friends’ expectations of her, so she breaks out of them and doesn’t let them in. At the same time, though, Maritza and JaKory both encourage her to break out of her rut and she refuses, but then she gets angry at them for thinking that she’s in a rut.

She also judges herself for not partying, being a “real” teenager. Maybe me being a 30 year old teacher hurt my enjoyment of this book, but I was frustrated by the idea that the only right way to be a teenager is to act out a teen movie. Maybe I’m defensive because I’ve never been a drinking or partying type. This isn’t a flaw in the writing: it is acknowledged later in the book that there is no one right way to be a teenager, and that you shouldn’t feel like you have to act out some image of being a teenager.

Mostly, I just found it painful to watch Codi make these long, drawn-out mistakes. Her motivation is understandable, and it’s believable, but watching her sabotage some of her most important and long-lasting relationships wasn’t fun, especially when they could be solved with a few conversations. Codi and her friends are all complex and flawed characters, which means that they do hurt each other and make mistakes. I just didn’t find it personally enjoyable to go through chapter after chapter of Codi lying (or lying by omission) to her best friends.

My favourite part was the romance. Codi and Lydia become closer as friends, and then we see that dance around each other of not knowing if the other is interested or even if they’re straight. It felt real to me, seeing the slow, nervous progression of their relationship, including misunderstandings. Codi’s flustered reactions are all-too-relatable. They also have sweet, meaningful conversations–just the kind of exchanges I’d expect from the beginnings of a flirtation between two teenage girls. Their romance was definitely what I enjoyed the most.

The ending felt a little neat to me, especially considering how messy and drawn-out the tensions were between so many characters. There’s a bit of a time jump to explain this, but even still, I would have liked to see this honest conversation earlier so that we had more time to deal with the fallout. I understand why lots of people enjoy this one: it’s a great friendship book, it has a sweet romance, and it looks at the expectations and social pressures of being a teenager. Unfortunately, that plot element of Codi continually choosing to mislead her best friends soured the reading experience for me.

Mary Springer reviews Out of the Woods by TJ Land

Out of the Woods by TJ Land cover

Ruth and Hermana have been best friends since Ruth fished Hermana out of the river as when they were both children. Ruth lives with her older brother on the outskirts of town, outcasts on account of their long-gone parents’ choices. Hermana’s parents are also gone, and she lives with her grandmother, the local midwife. They’re best friends and experts at the wilds they live in, known to the town as savages. Their life is as predictable and as enjoyable as they make it, until they find a dead body – and it may not even be human.

I loved how authentically adolescent Ruth and Hermana were. They were teenage girls in the purest, most feral form, and I loved every bit of it. They definitely should have gone for help about the dead body way sooner, but the fact that they didn’t, that they thought they in their wholly unexperienced youth could handle such a thing, only made me like them more. They are terribly mean to several people, some who deserve it and some who don’t. But it’s realistic with how they grew up, treated as outsiders and even savages by the townsfolk. Or in one rich guy’s case for Ruth, as some beautiful savage who can be tamed and made civil for his high-class friends.

Ruth and Hermana’s also have a friends-to-lovers romance. It might be slow and not really in the spotlight of the story, but for what is there, it really shines. I definitely spent a good portion reading this cheering them on to get together already.

The side characters also had their time to shine. There’s a subplot involving this girl who is the maid at the local rich woman’s house, and her romance with the local sheriff, who’s a handsome butch. Then there’s Hermana’s grandmother, Ruth’s brother, and a whole host of other characters who have small parts but make big roles out of them for the short time we read about them.

The world building was also a lot of fun. It’s a short book, so the author doesn’t try to throw too much at it, keeping it relatively easy to understand and in tradition of most fantasy settings. But at the same time, the world has its own uniqueness in the places where it counts that makes the story come alive and be all the more engaging. I found it easy to sink in and imagine myself there.

It’s also very much a story about women their places in a patriarchal town in a patriarchal society. It was sometimes frustrating but overall interesting to see how the characters find ways to overcome the struggles they face because the men they must deal with. It was enjoyable to see the characters combat these challenges in their own ways.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a fun fantasy story.