Kait reviews A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale by A.E. Radley

A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale cover

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

The greatest gift of fiction can bring us is the ability to step outside one’s self; To provide a snapshot of a place you’ve never been, a home video of a life you cannot lead. While this may sound a bit high-minded for a sapphic holiday romance, it is undoubtedly the strongest part of A.E. Radley’s A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale.

Amber is a London publishing executive in charge of acquisitions for children’s books; when the English rights to a Swedish book of fairy tales comes available, her boss sends her (literally) to Sweden to get the contract signed. Due to the reclusive and insular nature of the rights-holder (the author’s granddaughter, Emilia), all business must be conducted in-person, face-to-face. Thus begins the whirlwind encounters between the two seeming opposites (the hermit and the “party every night” city girl).

All the better that it’s set at Christmas, which gives us ample details of not only everyday Scandinavian living but also some of the unique holiday traditions that are always a joy to read about.

It seems a universal truth that no one person can ever truly understand the thoughts and feelings of another perfectly. We all assign different connotations to the same words, interpret inflections and facial expressions differently, and bring our personal understanding of the world to bear in every situation. Fiction, to me, can be among the most helpful avenues to bridging the gap between people, because the entire inner monologue is laid bare. Each reader or listener will still bring their own baggage and understanding and emotional landscape to bear, of course, but at least those things must be applied through the viewpoint of another.

This is where Fairy Tale shines; though the characters are a bit archetypal, their somewhat stereotypical trappings are draped across a rich groundwork of humanity and character.

Where Emilia’s limited view and understanding of the world would bother the average reader (who could live without a cell phone?), her reaction is believable because she lacks the context to even understand what we think she’s missing out on. Amber’s laser-like focus on her career at a firm that is mostly likely actively holding her back (and terrible for her mental well-being) doesn’t feel inauthentic because I’ve felt and know many others who’ve felt that the need to have a paycheck is more important than finding the ideal workplace.

Independently, aspects like those can feel like the author forcing on a tight sweater that doesn’t quite fit, but the characters’ personalities are so well developed that everything seems to slide right on. Even the rising action that brings the two back together (no spoilers)—altogether too contrived and weirdly atonal for my taste—gave me no problems when it came to understanding and completely believing the characters’ reactions and responses.

If you’re looking for lots of hot, steamy sex, this is not the book for you. If, however, you look to romance to see two people with unique outlooks on life learning how to come together and be with one another, Fairy Tale provides a lovely little Christmas story.

Kait reviews When You Least Expect It by Haley Cass

the cover of When You Least Expect It

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

This is my first review for the Lesbrary, and I know that a review is only as useful inasmuch as you, the reader, agree with (or at least know the tastes of) the reviewer. If I, a total rando with no other qualifications than my sexual preference and gender identity, recommend this book, why should you care? (Answer: Because I have excellent taste. But we’ll get there.) So I chose one of my favorite books of all time to review, to provide you with a little info on what I like, that you might tune your literary senses accordingly.

Also, it’s just a damn good book.

When You Least Expect It is the story of Caroline, a humbug lesbian divorce lawyer cursed by Cupid who in turn curses the Christmas season and all its trappings. After a chance run-in with Hannah, the wife of a detestable former co-worker, she jumps at the chance to help the woman (and her daughter, Abby) navigate the tricky legalities of separation. A friendship and quasi-rainbow family starts to coalesce, with just the one slightly thorny issue of Hannah being entirely straight. Caroline, unable to help herself, falls in love anyway and resolves to just be the best friend she can be… until something starts to shift.

Now, in any romance novel, no matter how good, clichés will creep in as the story finds its way — the best writers know this, and will use (and, at times, subvert) them consciously, rather than relying on them to support a broken plot. Even a good chunk of the plot description above fairly titters with tropes, from the “pining after a straight girl” to “adorable precocious child befriends woman who only wants to have a family.”

This book does not suffer from those ailments. One person’s archetype is another’s starting point, and none of these characters seemly thinly drawn. They are not two-dimensional playing cards, showing their faces when need be and completely featureless when looked at askew. They are living and breathing in three dimensions, with hopes and fears and worries that complement and play off one another.

They’re just so gosh-darn relatable! Though I’ve never had an unrequited crush on my straight BFF (and yet to find myself in the position to a divorce a philandering millionaire), I still felt deeply connected to these characters, to the point I wanted stop reading about three-quarters of the way through because I knew I’d have to leave them behind at the end. (Spoiler alert: I’ve read it five times since April, so not entirely true!)

I also need to specifically commend Cass for managing to weave tension into the story without resorting to hacky contrivances (looking at you, every story relying on two people not taking two minutes to clear up a clear misunderstanding). Though there’s certainly a fair number of, shall we say, “twists,” they all feel earned and justified by what came before them.

While the book may not have too many explicit sexual scenes (an important thing to note for many readers!), it does contain a lot of downright pleasurable sensual writing. As a very touch-focused person, like Hannah, I very much appreciated the descriptions of touching, stroking and overall tactile interactions.

Here’s the thing:  I am an unabashed fan of romances, specifically lesbian romances. But I definitely did not expect to fall in love with this book as much as I did when I read it.

Which really, just goes to show you how right the title is.