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

Kelleen reviews She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

the cover of She Gets the Girl

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You know how sometimes you’re watching a hit 90s romcom set in high school or college and you’re reveling in the delicious shenanigans of the leads and the dramatic irony of them not knowing that they are the leads in a romantic comedy and they’re about to fall in love despite their absolute refusal to acknowledge that they are fallible human beings and love will come for them and their one true love is standing right in front of them? And they go rollerblading and play Never Have I Ever and try their darnedest to futilely manipulate fate? And then you turn off the TV (or Netflix or whatever) and sit back and sigh and think “Man, that was delightful but I wish it had been sapphic”?

Well boy, do I have a book for you.

She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick is an ADORABLE interracial Cyrano-ish college-aged sapphic romance about two polar opposite college freshman who team up to help each other get the girl of their dreams only to discover that the girl of their dreams has been in front of them this whole time. It is such a cute, fun read.

I love Alex and Molly. I love both of them so much. They are opposites attract in the best way possible, both trying their hardest to navigate a world that they do not feel valuable in and finding value in themselves and each other. Alex is a thick-skinned white lesbian and Molly is a nervous Korean-American lesbian. In short, Molly is a mom-jeans lesbian and Alex is a ripped black skinny jeans lesbian. They are flawed and messy and just trying their best and that is the best kind of young sapphic romance.

This is intricately plotted, and the different POVs are distinct and vibrant. The writing is funny and contemporary and wholehearted. The whole book feels so hopeful to me.

This is being sold as a YA, but I’m not entirely sure why. There’s no sex on page, but also there it doesn’t feel like there needs to be for the story. However, there is alcohol and drug use on page and it deals with some pretty heavy subjects such as alcoholism and internalized racism. The college setting and the liminal adulthood of it all feels necessary to the blend of maturity and immaturity of the story. It is definitely grittier and more mature than I was expecting from the ADORABLE cover and the YA tag.

I highly highly recommend for both romance and YA readers alike.

Also it was written by a wife/wife team, and what is cuter and gayer than that?

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon&Schuster for the ARC. She Gets the Girl releases on April 5th, 2022.

Content warnings: Anti-Korean racism, food scarcity, alcoholism, car accidents, on-page drinking

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

Kelleen reviews Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake

the cover of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care

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“Queer, feminist, angry, and beautiful.”

When I say I want sapphic romcoms, this is what I want. I want sapphic romcoms that pack an emotional punch. That present the diversity and the affinity of queer womanhood. That have queer women who call themselves queer with no explanation and bi women who have loved men. That have complex family dynamics that both are about queerness and absolutely are not. That feel like romance novels with romance tropes and everything that we love about romance and are at the same time fundamentally, intrinsically, profoundly, and lovingly queer. Romcoms that f*ck and also fall in love. Romcoms with real, wild emotions and feminism and humor on every page. Romcoms that were written for queer women about our own lives, to be enjoyed only secondarily by everyone else. When I say I want sapphic romcoms, I mean I want this book.

Delilah Green is a historical romance alpha hero wrapped up in tattoos and soft butch vibes and I am into it. Delilah is a photographer who’s hired to photograph her stepsister’s wedding, and reluctantly returns home to discover that her childhood crush and stepsister’s best friend is all grown up — and very queer. And Claire Sutherland is a single mom and bookstore manager who is just trying to live her best life and take care of her best friend in a retro polka dot dress and sexy librarian glasses.

The way that the love between Delilah and Claire develops is gentle and sexy and hilarious. In coming home to Bright Falls, Delilah must confront her strained relationship with her stepmother and stepsister and come to terms with the grief and feelings of rejection that she’s been running away from since she was a teenager. Falling in bed (and then in love) with her stepsister’s best friend doesn’t help matters, especially as Claire is actively trying to break up her best friend’s wedding to a terrible man. Fascinatingly, throughout this book Delilah and Claire are both allies and adversaries. They embody everything that the other is trying to avoid and yet must team up to save Astrid from herself and her fiancé. And the raging sexual tension between the two doesn’t help matters. The conflict in this book is just so good, the way they are pulled together and run apart.

This is a book about family, and how scary and slippery and beautiful family can be for queer folks. It’s about motherhood and sisterhood and womanhood and partnership. It’s about joy and it’s about grief and it’s about art and it’s about all of it all at once.

These heroines are strong and flawed and sexy and fantastic. They make bad choices and take big risks. They fall in love and try to resist falling in love. And they do it with humor and heart.

This book is the epitome of queer joy and we all deserve queer joy.

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for this ARC.

Content warnings: death of a parent, toxic partner

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

Kelleen reviews Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

the cover of Love and Other Disasters

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I don’t really like baking. On the whole, I am much more of a cooking girl myself. But recently in romance, there has been this massive proliferation of baking show romances (Rosaline Palmer Takes the CakeMangoes and Mistletoe, Battle Royal, etc), seemingly because of the rise of the overwhelmingly cozy and wholesome The Great British Bake Off. And I’ll confess that as a romance reader, I have been feeling a lot of fatigue with this trend, and with reality show romances in general.

But then Love & Other Disasters showed up and hit me over the head with how amazingly perfect it is. This book is excellent. It’s delicious. It’s like a perfectly sculpted queer monument shaped out of mashed potatoes.

Set on a reality cooking show, this book follows the romance between two contestants -Dahlia, a recently divorced comfort cook with messy hair and an even messier life–and London,  a talented cook and the first out nonbinary contestant on the show.

This is an #OwnVoices nonbinary romance, and the care and generosity with which Anita Kelly writes London’s emotional journey is almost breathtaking. Though a lot of London’s struggle throughout the story has to do with being misgendered, they are never actually misgendered on the page. The story portrayed what felt like the very authentic, real, and mundane life of a nonbinary person falling in love and living their life, not only “out and proud” but also “inside and confused” (a phrase I just made up that really feels like an important addition to queer vernacular). I felt so safe reading this book (as a cis, gender-nonconforming queer woman), even as it dealt with real, challenging issues of transphobia, self-worth, and familial rejection.

Anita Kelly writes such vibrant, awkward queers with so much loving respect. I’m not sure how to describe it except that it feels honest to me–deeply uncool and messy and self-conscious and abundant. And the romance! The romance between these two is so sweet and swoony.

A lot of reviews I’ve read of this book talk about how steamy it is and yes, it is very steamy! There is a lot of very sexy sex on page, which I think the cartoon cover belies! But the sex scenes in this book is also so so tender. They are profound explorations of body and self, they just also do include whipped cream and peaches.

While this is Anita Kelly’s first traditionally published novel, they self-published two queer novellas in 2021 that I absolutely recommend as well: Sing Anyway and Our Favorite Songs.

As far as queer voices in romance go, I think Anita Kelly is one to watch.

Thank you to NetGalley and Forever for the ARC.

Content warnings: Transphobia, misgendering (not on page), familial rejection, divorce

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

Kelleen reviews Adriana Herrera’s Sapphic Christmas Romance Novellas

‘Tis the season for Christmas romance novellas! I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, Christmas novellas are perfect — they are a straight shot of holiday cheer (even if I’m really not feeling cheery), they keep my attention during a busy busy time of year, and I know others love them because their length is great for marathoning to reach end of year goals. And no one does a holiday novella like Adriana Herrera. Adriana Herrera is a bisexual Dominican romance novelist who writes really beautiful and vibrant stories about queer Black and brown folks.

So, here are three mini reviews of her sapphic Christmas romance novellas.

Mangoes and Mistletoe

cover of Mangoes and Mistletoe

This novella, set against the backdrop of a Great British Baking Show-esque reality show, features two Dominican heroines — one who grew up in the US and one n the DR — who are “randomly” paired up for the competition. It’s a sexy sapphic baking with only one bed and a “just for the week” hookup arrangement.

I was really compelled by the way Adriana Herrera explored the nuances between the different relationships that the two heroines had with their Dominican culture, and how they each wanted to represent their culture in their professional culinary pursuits. She tackled tough questions of immigration, culture, and ambition in such a fun, smart setting.

However, so much of the conflict in this one ended up being external because of the demands of the narrative, which didn’t really allow for the internal, relational conflict to flourish.

3.5 stars

Her Night with Santa

Her Night with Santa cover

This is a low plot, high steam erotic novella that is just so much fun. In this world, the role of Santa is passed down in a single lineage and the current Santa is a sexy butch woman. She arrives at her vacation home in the Dominican Republic on Christmas morning only to find a stranger naked in her bed.

Farnez, the niece of one of the Magi, needs a break from her family and her work, and her uncle has arranged for her to have a short layover in his friend Kris Kringle’s vacation home. What she expects to be a weekend alone with herself and her bag of toys turns into an erotic weekend full of all her butch Santa fantasies.

I love the way Adriana Herrera expands the world of erotic Santa novellas (yes, it’s a thing) to include not only a sapphic lady Santa, but also the mythology and traditions of Latinx cultures with the inclusion of the Magi. This book is so body positive and sex positive (Farnaz is a sex toy inventor and entrepreneur, and they put those toys to work). It’s fun and frothy and the heat is dialed up to 11.

4.5 stars

Make the Yuletide Gay

the cover of Amor Actually

This year, seven Latinx romance novelists put out a Christmas anthology based on Love Actually called Amor Actually, in which Adriana Herrera has not one but two queer novellas. Her first one, “Make the Yuletide Gay,” is a sapphic romance between a 40-something Latin Pop Star and her manager, who has been in love with her for a decade.

Full disclosure, I really hate Love Actually, but I really loved this novella (and the anthology as a whole). After five failed engagements with men, Vivi G realizes that perhaps her hot manager just might be in love with her and that she just might not be as straight as she thought she was.

This novella is low angst in the best way, full of really beautiful communication as these two try to navigate their boss/employee relationship while unlearning compulsory heterosexuality and honoring the fluidity of identity. There’s some really fantastic conversations about consent and normalizing how bodies look and work differently.

And, of course, it is very sexy.

5 stars

Kelleen is a new contributor to the Lesbrary. You can read more reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.

For more sapphic Christmas reads, check out these Wintry Sapphic Reads to Cozy Up With, Sapphic Christmas Books, and the Christmas tag.

Kelleen reviews Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

In my opinion, the best historical romance novels are about today. Let me explain: though they’re set in a time in the past (usually Regency-Victorian England or Western North America in the late 1800s), the contents, themes, issues, and politics of the romance and the world are negotiating and commenting on the sociopolitical issues of today. This book takes that directive and blows it out of the water. Written in 2019 and set in 1867 England, this book is so intrinsically about the sociopolitical frustrations with patriarchal power and the both personal and systemic violences of that power. It is not nuanced, it is not subtle. It’s about two old women falling in love and going up against terrible men. It is the ultimate fantasy of taking down a truly bad man with your own sapphic joy, overdue spite, and arsonry spirit.

This novella starts the way all good romances do: Violetta has a problem. She has been sacked from her job managing the boarding house where she’s worked for 47 years exactly 11 months before she would be entitled to her pension. And so she devises a scheme to pose as the owner of the boarding house, con one of the tenant’s rent out of his wealthy old aunt, and pocket the 68 pounds.

The wealthy aunt, Mrs. Bertrice Martin, needs an adventure. And a romp through town with her new lady love to take down her truly Terrible Nephew is just what the doctor ordered.

I love this book. Both the prose and the dialogue are snappy and compelling in their oddness. Courtney Milan is a master of new, interesting story concepts, lovable, prickly characters, and real, swoony romance. And this straight-shot sapphic, anti-patriarchal romance without even a whiff of homophobia is, almost always, just what the doctor ordered for me as a reader.

I love a romance about people who don’t get romance novels written about them and this is one of those–old women with the wisdom, fear, joy, and pain of having lived a life subjugated by the capitalist, heterosexist patriarchy. Old women (Violetta is 69 and Bertrice is 73) with needs and desires and the hard outer shells that they have built up in order to live in a world that is not only not built for them, but one that actively resents them as “surplus,” unnecessary and unworthy. They must do the work to break each other open and to make themselves receptive and vulnerable to the intimate knowing that true romance requires. The physical intimacy is raw and breathtaking and so real, with real bodies and heart-rending tenderness.

Yes, Terrible Nephew is cartoonishly (and then very cathartically) bad, but all of the other men in this book are bad in different, more subtle, more real ways, and watching these women band together in their romantic love and partnership, as well as finding other women to support and fight alongside, is powerful.

On top of all that, there is casual cane usage and some intensely beautiful conversations about grief and depression in between bouts of rowdy farm animals and off-key carolers.

In this book, love (and crispy cheese) conquers all, even bad men and creaky bones.

Content warnings: sexual violence (off page), misogyny, ageism, depression, grief

Kelleen is a new contributor to the Lesbrary. You can read more reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.