Ashley reviews Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters


Forgive me if I am entirely naïve, but before reading this book, I did not give much thought to the fact that Oregon was once cruel and unwelcoming to its lesbian and gay residents. In 1989, however, Triinu is living in a town set on passing Ballot Measure 9, and it seems like more residents are for the anti-gay law than against it.

Even before Triinu officially comes out as “the only goth dyke in the Grass Seed Capital,” her principal and classmates target her as a lesbian, taunting her and making high school virtually unbearable. Luckily, Triinu decides to own her status as an outcast, rebranding herself as a goth and hoping to be just weird enough to scare the bullies away.

Parts of this novel were definitely reminiscent of The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Triinu feels similarly isolated in her hometown, and it is the friends she makes on her road to acceptance that help her to come to terms with her identity. There are so many complicated aspects of Triinu’s background – she is Estonian, religious, goth and queer, and therefore on the fringes of nearly all rural Oregon’s social groups. In true high school form, however, Triinu befriends people from a multitude of backgrounds throughout the novel. These diverse outcasts who float in and out of Triinu’s life deeply affect her views of herself and the world, and help her to know herself better by the end.

I thought that the portrayal of Triinu’s first love (and, ultimately, first heartbreak) was especially well written; while the relationship was deeply flawed and often one-sided, I thought it captured the complexities of falling in love while still trying to come to terms with your own identity. In many ways, the eventual break-up is a catalyst for Triinu to realize she deserves real love, and the impetus for her to seek it with renewed energy.

Another relationship that I thought was unique and special was that of Triinu and her parents. It was refreshing for me to read about a teenager who genuinely enjoyed spending time with her deeply intellectual and quirky parents, and the love and trust between the family was clear. When Triinu gets herself in a variety of tough situations, her parents are always willing to believe in their daughter and to stand up for her, even if they do not fully understand her choices.

Perhaps my favorite parts of this novel are the times when Triinu reflects on her religious beliefs and the greater meaning of the world. As a queer Catholic who has been reluctant to give up her religious identity, it was very reassuring to me that Triinu is not doubtful of God’s love for her, and that her rationalization of her sexuality is always consistent with her idea of how the world works. Triinu’s philosophical musings were some of the most beautifully written and poetic parts of the book, and I really enjoyed following her on her journey.

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

When I was at the university studying literature, I took a lot of classes on the writing of minority groups. The question often came up: what makes this book representative of the group? In other words, if a Native American writes a Harlequin romance with an all white cast, is that truly a Native American novel? Should the term “African literature” include the children of African expatriates who have never lived on the continent? Etcetera. I had a similar question as I sat down to write my review of The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams.

I had been scheduled to speak at the Left Coast Lesbian Conference and thought it would be collegiate to read a book by each of the other featured authors at the conference. Williams is a New York Times bestseller and the headlining guest speaker, so I started with her. I assumed that her affiliation with the conference meant she fell somewhere on the LBGT spectrum, and she may.  I suppose, at the end of the day, it’s none of my business.

The book, The Stranger You Seek, is excellent. Williams did not get onto the New York Times bestseller list for nothing.  However, since I am reviewing for the Lesbrary, I must recommend it with the caveat that it does not contain central lesbian characters.

Anyway, on to the book…

The Stranger You Seek is the first in what promises to be a very successful series.  At the opening we meet Keye Street, one of the most interesting and unique detective protagonists you will find. She is Asian, adopted by white parents in the South. She is a recovering alcoholic who works as a private detective, bail recovery agent, and warrant server.  She is tormented by memories of her grandparents’ murder and her failed career in the FBI. She is rough, imperfect, loveable, and (best of all, in my opinion) deeply southern without being the least bit clichéd.

She is drawn into the story when her friend Rauser, an Atlanta homicide detective, asks her to consult on the case of a serial killer known as the Wishbone Killer.  The killer has been taunting the police and terrifying the city with murders that seem to have no unifying feature to aid in the killer’s discovery or to protect potential targets. As Keye and Rauser work together, the killer’s attention focuses on Keye. Nonetheless, she is passionate about the case and pursues the killer doggedly, often working in the gray area outside proper police procedure.  She is a brave, tough female protagonist whose flaws only make her more interesting and more believable.

Williams has an eye for location that is just magical. The Stranger You Seek is set in Atlanta. Whether it is a gritty side street or a bustling urban center, Williams describes the setting with an attention to detail that, I imagine, can only be born out of a genuine love for the city.

One of the other things that I enjoyed about The Stranger You Seek was that Williams manages to convey the true tragedy of murder while still telling a story that is, at times, laugh out loud funny.  It works because the protagonist’s first person narration is so well done. Keye is deeply troubled by the cases that come before, but she also has a great wit.

In short, if you are looking for a novel with a lesbian lead, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are happy with a strong female protagonist and really good writing, this is a great selection.


Review by Karelia Stetz-Waters

Editor note: Williams has also written a lesbian series, the Madison McGuire series.

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews Ice by Lyn Gardner


Remember high school English class? Your teacher said there were three kinds of conflicts in literature: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. Recently, though, I’ve noticed a dearth of man vs. nature.

Okay, there is the surprise hit Sharknado, but I’m talking about good literature, not pulp movies. With global warming, pollution, and overpopulation, nature has become that fat kid who gets beat up every time they step out onto the playground. It’s just no fun to pick on nature anymore.

Except that it is.

There is nothing like a good man vs. nature (or better yet lesbian vs. nature) plot to call up our primeval fight or flight response and keep us reading.

Ice by Lyn Gardner delivers that visceral excitement that can only come from noble heroines battling the elements and then having hot lesbian sex. Like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial used to say: it’s two great tastes that taste great together.

Ice tells the story of Alex Blake and Maggie Campbell, two talented detectives who supposedly hate each other after butting heads on a child abduction case three years earlier. At the start of the novel, they have once again been assigned to a case together. It is only supposed to take two days, but when a plane crash lands them in the middle of a blizzard they end up spending a lot more time together than they expected.  Completely isolated in the wilderness, they risk death from injury, exposure, and illness and in the process come to terms with the feelings they have always had for each other.

I was hooked. Gardner is at her best when she is building tension— either fear-of-imminent-death tension or sexual tension—and Ice is full of both, often at the same time.  But the story isn’t all lust and bravado. Gardner uses Blake and Campbell’s physical predicament to reveal their characters and to show how selfless the two women are in their growing affection for each other. When they finally get together, the sex is fun to read because the emotions are palpable.

The only part of the novel that I did not absolutely love was the epilogue. The epilogue shows Blake and Campbell in a version of domestic bliss that didn’t, to my taste, fit with the characters’ personalities. It’s a little too domestic for these tough, stubborn officers of the law.  But that’s a minor point though. I read romance novels for the build-up, not the exact details of the happily-ever-after. Plus there are plenty of women out there who would think Blake and Campbell’s happy ending was, indeed, perfect.

I would definitely recommend this to romance fans. If your summer reading list is already too long, save it for a cold winter day when you can sit by the fire and feel glad you’re not stranded in the blizzard of lesbian vs. nature.

By Karelia Stetz-Waters

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews From the Boots Up by Andi Marquette

Students often tell me that they want to major in English because they love to read. I am professionally obligated to be happy about this announcement. However, I have reservations. I enjoyed reading more in high school than I did after my two degrees in literature. Mind you I can spot a Shakespearean reference a mile away, but that’s not the same thing as curling up with a good book. Now when I curl up, I immediately start critiquing comma usage. It’s very trying.

That is why I was so pleased to find Andi Marquette’s From the Boots Up.  She has consistently good comma usage!

What? I haven’t sold you on the book yet? Let me try again.

Andi Marquette’s From the Boots Up tells the story of Meg, a hardworking ranch hand, and Gina the L.A. reporter who stays for a week to write a story about Meg’s ranch.  Meg and her father, who owns the ranch, hope the article will drive more traffic to the struggling dude ranch. All Meg has to do is entertain the annoying city slicker for one week. The only problem is that when Gina turns up, she isn’t an annoying city slicker at all.  Meg feels and instant connection to the beautiful and supremely capable Gina, an attraction that she must conceal in order to maintain her professional image at the ranch.

I was immediately hooked, and Marquette held my attention right through to the very end. The main characters are believable and likeable. Their attraction to each other is palpable. The supporting characters are interesting. The subplot (Meg coming out to her father) is as engaging as the main narrative.

What’s more, she makes the novella length work for her. I am not always a fan of the novella. To my taste, some novellas read like underdeveloped novels (or worse yet over-developed short stories). That’s not true here. From the Boots Up is exactly the right length for the story Marquette has to tell. It is qualitatively different from a novel, and it does not want to be a page longer or shorter.

All of this is made possible, of course, by the good writing (and I don’t just mean comma usage). Marquette’s pacing is right on the mark. Her descriptions are vivid. She also does a great job capturing flirtatious banter between the protagonists which is a difficult task. It’s easy for that kind of banter to sound artificial.  It doesn’t here.

Additionally, Marquette can turn a phrase in a way that is poetic without being showy.  Here are a few of my favorites:

She was dressed in jeans that fit her much too well for mixed company and a faded gray T-shirt that hung on her like a best friend.

Gina looked at Meg and a slow smile eased like a summer evening across her face.

Meg’s jaw dropped and the crowd quieted as Gina belted the lyrics in a low-down bluesy voice that could undress you from the next room.

I will definitely check out more of Marquette’s work, starting with Some Kind of River. The only question is whether or not I’ll be able to save it until I get to the beach.

On a side note, I wrote to Marquette with a question about the world of lesbian publishing. She wrote back a very kind and thorough response.  If you happen to pick your books based on the niceness of the author, I would give Marquette two thumbs up in that regard as well. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Marquette will be appearing at the Left Coast Lesbian Conference in Palm Springs, California, October 9 – 13th 2013.  The conference promises to give readers a chance to mix and mingle with their favorite authors. It looks like fun and you can learn more here:

More about the reviewer at

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews Bella Key by Scarlet Chastain

Somewhere in Manhattan there is a think tank wherein scientists have spent the last ten years perfecting an instrument that will allow them to measure a book’s suitability for beach reading. On the Beach Readability Index (BRI) the novella Bella Key, by Scarlet Chastain, scores a perfect ten.

The first point in Bella Key’s BRI favor is that the story is set on a beach. The beach-reader can immerse herself in sand and surf, both fictional and actual.

Bella Key takes its name from the tiny island off the coast of Florida where the book is set. Bella Key’s heroine, Maddie, travels there on a whim, feeling overwhelmed and beset upon by her job and her mother’s insistence that she marry the male attorney she has been dating. She feels like something is missing and she finds it in the form of Sunny, the beautiful bed and breakfast owner who lets her stay for free, provided Maddie cooks for the two of them.

From there Bella Key unfolds like the classic romance, complete with requisite sexual tension, colorful supporting characters, a fair dose of sex, and [surprise!] a happy ending.  The story is thoroughly enjoyable and the writing is very professional. Chastain does not make any rookie mistakes. The pacing is good. The scenes are vivid. Dialogue moves quickly.

I only have two criticisms, both of which are related to the genre. Criticizing a book’s genre-based aspects is something I basically disapprove of. You can’t read a sleepy memoir about growing up Methodist and say it would have been more fun if there had been strippers or maybe an alien abduction.  It’s just not helpful. But here I go…

My first criticism was that I found Bella Key to be a bit short. (It’s a novella, so, of course, it’s short.)

I had read that the e-publishing revolution had brought the novella back from obscurity. I wanted to explore this literary form, so I picked Bella Key.

Now here is a true confession I would never make at my day job (I am an English professor and writer by trade): I don’t really like short stories. The problem is that they are so short. If I’m satisfied when they end at page 12, then they can’t have been that good to begin with. (There are a few exceptions. I love Isak Dinesen, and I’m a sucker for anthologies with a theme like Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City.) But usually I’m just disappointed when a short story is over.

I felt somewhat that way about Bella Key. It’s a perfect 10 on the Beach Readability Index because you can start it right after you finish your clam strips and finish it before you hit the margarita shack. But it is a good read, so, at the end of the day, I wish it had lasted longer.

My second criticism was that I didn’t quite believe the sex.

Everyone knows that the sex in romance novels is not realistic.  I’m okay with that. In fact, I get a little embarrassed when romance novelists try to be realistic by having the dog jump on the couple while they are in bed or by having one of the lovers get up and pee. That’s not what I came for.

Nonetheless, when dutiful, overworked, previously-heterosexual Maddie has sex with Sunny for the second time and covers her body in honey and then licks it off, I don’t believe it. I just don’t know anyone who would go that high on the glycemic index on her first lesbian weekend.  Of course, that’s the whole point. Bella Key is an erotic romance novel. Chastain would be well within her right to tell me that if I wanted real sex, I could just get a copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves and read up.

Self-servingly, I’d like to point out that the scene would have worked if Bella Key had been a novel. If the honey came out on page 200 it would have all made sense.

At the end of the day, the really interesting thing about Bella Key is not the sex nor the fact that it is a novella, but the fact that Scarlet Chastain is a pen name for Sandra Bunino, a well-published author of M/F erotic romance.  (I read a few interviews with Chastain/Bunino. She sounds like a genuinely nice person.) Bella Key was not written for an exclusively – or even a primarily – lesbian readership.

I know some people who disapprove of this kind of crossing over, feeling that  lesbian erotica should be written for and by lesbians only.

Personally, I liked the idea that a successful M/F romance writer would introduce her primarily heterosexual readers to a lesbian love story. I can hear a few of my more politically correct friends saying “but that’s just another form of objectification!”


But I grew up on media that portrayed queer women as evil or noble-and-destined-to-be-tragically-killed.  Those were the options. I’ll take lesbians-as-sexy-romantic-heroines any day.


Marcia reviews Dysphoria by Karelia Stetz-Waters


Dysphoria by Karelia Stetz-Waters
Artema Press, 2013, 350 pp

Dysphoria. On its own, the word means simply the state of feeling unwell. It is a loaded term, however, especially in the queer community. Trans*-folk use the word to describe the feeling of incongruity between how the body exists and how the brain expects the body to exist. Since the mainstreaming of that definition, dysphoria has also come to indicate any incongruity between brain and body, including such movements as transethnics, some furry lifestylers (humans with the belief that they are or connect to a particular animal), and apotemnophilia — self-desired amputation. This last borrowed definition is one of the major themes in Karelia Stetz-Waters’s debut thriller of the same name.

The story follows protagonist Helen Ivers as she begins her new job as president of a small New England college in the town of Pittock. Ivers is cool-headed and utterly capable, but she is haunted by the memory of her sister and her gruesome suicide. That haunting begins to creep into Ivers life as the college is rocked by the discovery of legs, dismembered by nearby train tracks. Flanked on one side by Drummond, the well-kept elder provost at Pittock, whose desire seems to lie with keeping the controversy quiet, and on the other with wild card Adair Wilson, a strikingly handsome lesbian drama teacher who is instrumental in finding the body parts and unwilling to let the tragedy go unsolved.

I found Dysphoria to be well-written, especially in comparison to many books in both the lesbian detective and thriller genre. The characters, especially Ivers and Drummond, are fresh and full-bodied (pun intended). At times, Stetz-Waters lingers in more literary and even experimental places, playing with form and perspective in some truly unexpected ways. I also found the story to be something truly original. As a fan of true crime, procedural shows, and, obviously, lesbian lit, Dysphoria definitely borrows from aspects of each genre but pulls together into something quite fresh. I especially identified with Helen Ivers. Her behavior, namely engaging in unfulfilling and utterly unerotic heterosexual sex in an effort to escape her own mental space, was frustrating (and frequently unpleasant to read) but I saw echoes of her thought processes in my own life.

Aside from the straight sex, Dysphoria also offers truly disturbing POV segments from the killer. We learn about his history of abuse, about his obsession with creating amputees — and the sexual nature of his fetish. I understand, as a reader, why this POV is included. It certainly ramps up the tension and creates a few “ah ha!” moments later in the book. For those more sensitive to stuff of this ilk, however, this might be the ultimate turn off.

The other major issue I had with Dysphoria was with love interest and plot driver, Adair Wilson. Because the book stays in Helen Ivers’ perspective most of the time, and because Ivers herself does not know much about Wilson, the character is left largely undeveloped. Wilson seems to act mysteriously when the plot calls for tension, to explain herself when Ivers needs the relief. Even the descriptions of Ivers’ attraction to Wilson are spotty at best. Aside from Wilson’s shocking beauty, I had trouble understanding why Ivers was attracted to her. Some of the circumstances the two women are involved in are entirely unromantic and even disturbing — on a level completely different from that of a serial killer. I felt like I should be fascinated and enamored with Wilson, but was given no reason to. Sadly, much of the book’s success hinges on this.

I will also draw attention, once more, to the title. Dysphoria. As I don’t possess any expertise in psychology, I cannot speak to the legitimacy of any of those who claim the term as a method of expressing body/mind disintegration, but as an ally of the trans* community and best friend of a genderqueer individual, I found myself pausing on multiple occasions when the lives of “transexuals” were used to (perhaps) legitimize the dysphoria of amputee “wannabees” — and by more than one character! I doubt it is Stetz-Waters’s intention to marginalize people who may be a part of her audience, but given her reassurance to me as introduction that she was, in fact, a “gold star” lesbian, I don’t think Stetz-Waters is all too concerned with being inclusive.

My reservations aside, I found Dysphoria to be, for the most part, an engaging and even thrilling read. As an alternative to much of what is currently available in lesbian crime thrillers, Dysphoria is well written, edited, and plotted. Each reader may have to contend with the level of violence, disturbing content, and casual marginalization they are willing to endure for fiction. While mildly curious about the sequel reportedly in the works, I don’t believe I will be tuning in for more of Stetz-Waters’s thrillers.

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews Looking Through Windows by Caren Werlinger


Reading romance novels is bad for you. I read that in graduate school. Actually, I read a whole book to that effect. (Don’t worry. I love the genre. This isn’t a polemic.) To be fair, the study I read looked at heterosexual women. Nonetheless, one can draw some comparisons.

The classic romance novel pairs two flawlessly beautiful people in an exotic setting where, despite the fact that they are ostensibly wrong for each other, they have sex so fantastic it changes the PH of their blood. They get up in each other’s business starting on page twenty, then enjoy 300 pages of erotic courtship in which no one ever has to clean the sink trap, go to the doctor, or figure out what the cat has disemboweled on the back porch.   No wonder readers’ lives pale by comparison.

Until now.

Looking Through Windows by Caren Werlinger tells the story of Emily, a young teaching assistant grieving the death of her girlfriend, and Ann, a Peace Corp volunteer, finally back in the United States and wondering why heterosexual relationships leave her unfulfilled. The story charts their blossoming friendship and love and the challenges placed in the way of their relationship.

I knew Looking Through Windows was not going to be a standard romance when Ann and Emily admit their mutual attraction and then decide not to act on it because neither of them is emotionally ready.

What? No! I thought. They are supposed to melt into a pool of viscous lust, not make an emotionally intelligent choice that honors their friendship and supports the possibility of a deeper, healthier relationship in the future.

Therein lies the strength of Werlinger’s book.  This isn’t escapist fiction. This is a realistic portrayal of – surprise! – mature love. This is not to say the book is without drama. Actually, it has a lot more than I expected given the leisurely pace of the first half of the story.

[spoiler, highlight to read] When Emily loses Ann (temporarily) and then loses her leg to cancer, my heart wrenched. When Ann sees Emily in the hospital – emaciated from chemo, bald, amputated, and vomiting in a basin – there is no way to mistake this for a Harlequin Romance. That’s a good thing. [end spoiler]

Unlike the classic romance that – studies show – leaves the reader wondering why don’t I live in Barbados and have abs like sculpted granite? Looking Through Windows will make the reader appreciate the things that truly make for good relationships. I  finished the book and hugged my wife, thankful for our beautiful life that does not happen in Barbados and does involve cleaning the sink trap and identifying the bottom half of whatever it was the cat killed on the porch. Two thumbs up!

Now, I wouldn’t be true to my profession, if I did not offer a little constructive criticism. Perhaps because Werlinger’s book was a realistic portrait of life, not a fantasy, some parts move slowly. Unlike the average romance, the heroines in Looking Through Windows have jobs, exams, friends, families, landlords, chores, and conversations with people who are only tangentially related to the romantic storyline. On the flip side, when tragedy strikes, it strikes quickly and unexpectedly (rather like it does in real life), giving the second half of the book a much different feel than the first.

Incidentally, one of the really nice features of this book is the cast of sympathetic supporting characters. There are bad guys, but there are also a lot of kind people who try their best. It makes Looking Through Windows a very hopeful story, even as it deals with some difficult themes.

If you are looking for the quintessential romance novel, complete with butch-femme sports-bodice ripping, this is not it. If you are looking for a good drama that makes you hold your own loved ones a little closer, I recommend Looking Through Windows.  Buy it for that friend who is always messing up her love life. There is a lot to learn here.

I am also pleased to report that Caren Werlinger’s long anticipated novel In This Small Spot is soon to be released by Corgyn Publishing.  I look forward to following Werlinger’s career as she definitely has a lot to offer the lesbian community.

By Karelia Stetz-Waters

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson


I was somewhat disappointed to learn that my all-time favorite lesbian writer had released a new memoir.  That’s not my usual reaction to book releases. It’s just that Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal promised to cover approximately the same time period as her first memoir, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Why Be Happy also promised to set the record straight about what was and was not true in Oranges.

To be fair, Winterson explains in Why Be Happy that Oranges is not a memoir. It is a novel about a girl named Jeanette who has a childhood very, very similar to Winterson’s. In graduate school, I would have jumped on the postmodern implications of this statement. In the real world, I just call that a memoir with embellishments.

Either way, I loved Oranges. I read it when I was sixteen, the year I came out. It was the first lesbian book I read. It made me want to become a writer. I did not want Winterson to set the record straight and tell us, as she does, that her life sucked a little bit more than it did in Oranges.

Moreover, the second half of Why Be Happy is about how Winterson’s unhappy childhood continued to haunt and hurt her in adulthood. I wanted to think that Winterson, my hero, my role model, had come farther in her emotional life. Almost thirty years after Oranges, she was still writing about what a cold woman her mother was. I was mad. I wanted something different.

Still, the psychologists say that to be truly angry at someone, you have to truly love them.

I love Jeanette Winterson’s writing. I love her as much now as I did at sixteen. I love Why Be Happy as much as I love Oranges.

It’s her sentences. Lots of writers have good plots or clever premises. No one can craft a sentence like Winterson.  It’s not that they are particularly long, complex, or laden with adjectives. Just the opposite. Her sentences are so clear, so sharp, so cold, like diamond stars hung in the darkness of the postmodern cosmos, their brightness a conversation with the unspoken space that surrounds them.

She is that good.

Perhaps the price is her happiness. The authorial voice in Why Be Happy is hopeful. She is striving. She is quick to say that she always embraces life. However she is still tormented. Pain and loss cling to every page. It is that intensity that I loved at sixteen. It’s that intensity that I love in Why Be Happy.

It’s the reason why Winterson can do what no one should attempt: two memoirs about the same story. I was lucky to get to read these books as they should be read. One at fifteen when one needs heroes. One at nearly 40 when one knows what heroes really look like.

By Karelia Stetz-Waters

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews And Playing the Role of Herself by K. E. Lane


Romance is my favorite genre. It’s my comfort food. And, like bread pudding, romances are easy to find and rarely awful. The catch is it’s hard to find ones that are noticeably better than the rest. It’s harder still to find ones that are really great.

In the world of lesbian romance, I’d give And Playing the Role of Herself a “noticeably better.” It gets a “two thumbs up” if you already like the genre.

K. E. Lane gets all the basic elements right.

The protagonists are likeable, and their growing intimacy is well developed.

The sex scenes are frequent and detailed enough that I felt like I got my money’s worth. However, they are not gratuitous or embarrassingly anatomical. Nor does Lane fall prey to any unfortunate metaphor usage. The waves of pleasure did not crash over the shore of her womanhood, and that’s a good thing in my book.

Additionally, the obstacles to the protagonists’ love are plausible and do not rely on either character being stupid or cruel. I hate romance novels where the obstacles derive from one person having the emotional intelligence of an area rug while the other acts like an angry pit-bull.

In And Playing both women are closeted actresses. The pressure of their jobs and the media spotlight in which they find themselves present good reasons why they cannot simply skip off into the sunset on page 50.

All in all, it was a thoroughly satisfying read with a good happy ending.

I have only two complaints.

One is that Lane has not written anything else.

The other is a bit more technical. And Playing is written in the first person, and I never quite believed that the first person voice was indeed a successful Hollywood actress. To be fair, the protagonist, Caidence, just landed her first big role. She is new to fame. However, she is successful enough to own a house, to drive a sexy convertible, and share a trailer with one of Hollywood’s hottest stars. She’s not the girl next door – but that’s how the narrative voice reads.  Caidence sounds like she could be a middle school science teacher or a friendly postal carrier.

I know people who have worked in Hollywood. Even the ones who work on the periphery of the entertainment industry or worked in Hollywood years ago have a unique way of seeing the world. I did not get that from Caidence.

In particular, I was struck by the way the narrator describes her beautiful girl friend Robyn.  The descriptions are good, but they sound like the things I would say about a beautiful Hollywood actress. The only problem is that I am an English professor from rural Oregon.  In the world of Hollywood stars, where beauty is a commodity everyone buys and sells, there is a different vocabulary.

This would be a minor quibble except that Lane misses out on some opportunities to enhance the intensity of the novel. If we really felt what it was like to be in the media spotlight 24/7, if we really understood the ways Hollywood can make and break people overnight, the plot points would pack a greater punch.

With that said, I didn’t pick up And Playing the Role of Herself because I wanted a treatise on Hollywood culture. I wanted to read a story about nice women falling in love. Romance is my comfort food. Sometimes it is okay for a bread pudding to be just a sweet treat to enjoy at the end of a long day or a frazzled week. If that is what you are looking for, And Playing the Role of Herself will not disappoint.

Review by Karelia Stetz-Waters