Fake Dating Meets Single Parenting: Make Her Wish Come True by A.L. Brooks

the cover of Make Her Wish Come True

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Make Her Wish Come True by A.L. Brooks was released on October 23, 2003 and is a contemporary romance about two women who are absolutely not in a place to date. Or so they keep telling themselves.

Abby Baxter had to grow up way too fast, stepping in to raise her 12-year-old half-sister after their mom passed away. She’s been working for an online magazine as an administrative assistant until she can break into her dream profession: a journalist. Her prospects seem to get a boost when her friend, a columnist who writes for the magazine, offers Abby a deal: fake date a woman for a story, and she’ll do what she can to get Abby her shot at writing.

Erica Goode has been solely focused on raising her daughter, Kayla, for the last eight years. She works two jobs to help support their family, and has no time for a social life. When she’s presented with the chance to date Abby, and get out of the house in the process, who is she to say no? What follows is a slow-burn romance for two women who have both made sacrifices that many others can’t easily understand—and neither knows quite what to do when presented with someone who understands what the other has been through but recognizes they might not be at the same point in life.

I adored this sweet and charming story about two women trying to find their way after both of their lives took unexpected turns when they were young. Abby is so sure she doesn’t want another child in her life after having to put hers on pause to raise her sister. When she meets Erica and her daughter Kayla, Abby is adamant she can’t be in a real relationship with someone who has a kid. And despite finding Abby incredibly attractive in more ways than one, Erica’s number one priority is her daughter. What I really appreciated about this story was that you couldn’t fault either woman for how they felt and what their limitations were. I understood why Abby was so hesitant. After dropping out of college to care for her sister, Abby knows better than anyone that raising a child is a huge responsibility and, with her sister now in college, it makes sense that she is incredibly reluctant to do it all over again. As much as you want Abby to give this relationship a real chance, I respected that A.L. had Abby take her time. Deciding whether you’re prepared to make all those sacrifices again can’t be something decided overnight. As a reader, I wouldn’t have been able to trust it otherwise—and certainly neither would Erica.

As a parent myself, I found Erica’s emotions around dating to be relatable and true. It’s so hard not to lose yourself in parenting, and you have to make the conscious decision to make time for you to be a “person” outside of that role. As a single parent, Erica feels the added pressure of trying to be everything to her daughter. It’s so easy to think that our kids should be our sole focus all the time. Sure, for a period of time after they’re born, that is how it needs to be, but as kids age, it’s necessary to have an identity outside of “parent” and to be a whole person. With that said, it is often incredibly hard to balance these roles and responsibilities, and to do so without feeling guilt is near impossible. A.L. presents that dilemma in a realistic way, though you can’t help but hope Erica allows herself the happiness she deserves. I also loved the multigenerational parenting that occurred in this story. Erica’s mom is such a huge part of helping raise Kayla, and we see that the concern for your kids never goes away—even when they are grown.

At its heart, this feels like a story about letting go of the past and being willing to be brave enough to see a brighter future. Things can always go wrong, hearts can always be broken, but sometimes those risks are worth taking. Both Erica and Abby have things to lose, but they both also have everything to gain.

Kayla, Erica’s daughter, is cute and precocious. She’s a good kid, and it’s clear in the story that Abby’s reluctance isn’t about Kayla, but about the undertaking of caring for another human being. The way Abby and Kayla’s relationship grows is sweet and organic. Kayla asked Santa for another mom, and the journey to that answer is complicated and real.

While this story has many sweet moments, and I appreciated that any angst along the way was dealt with in a timely manner, it should also be noted that this certainly has some steam that not just Erica and Abby appreciated! Although Erica has known she was bisexual since she was a teenager, she’s never physically been with a woman before, and A.L. builds that tension between her and Abby incredibly well. There is something delicious about the fake dating trope, especially when it’s clear both main characters are fighting that attraction. The series of dates, including skating and romantic dinners, offer plenty of situations for that tension to build and grow.  

This is a great book to kick off November!

Danika reviews The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

the cover of The Book Eaters

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This dark fairy tale dances on the line between fantasy and horror. It follows Devon, a book eater, who is part of one of the aristocratic houses of book eaters (think vampires, but they eat books instead of drinking blood). She is one of very few women book eaters, which means she is primarily valued for her ability to get pregnant. (We only are introduced to cis book eaters.) She’s raised on a strict diet of fairy tales and is expected to be married to two successive houses, producing an heir for each and then leaving the child with them.

When we meet her, though, she’s on the run with a mind eater child. Instead of being born with a craving for ink, Cai craves human minds. She should have left him to be controlled by the house, weaponized and dehumanized, but she refuses. She’ll stop at nothing to keep Cai safe–including finding people for him to feed on, leaving them either dead or robbed of their memories and senses. Her only hope is to find the secretive house creating a drug that stops mind eaters from having to feed on minds to stay alive.

This book rotates between current day and how Devon ended up here, starting from her childhood. Despite having a rough idea of Devon’s past before getting those chapters, I was just as absorbed in her backstory as in the present day perspective.

From the premise, I thought of this as a horror novel, but despite the bloodiness and, well, the idea of a mother hunting and sacrificing people to her mind eating son, it reads more as a fantasy to me — a fantasy novel with teeth.

This is a fascinating look into the horrors we can do for love, especially maternal love. At several points, Devon reiterates that love isn’t necessarily a good thing. Her love for her son has left a trail of bodies in its wake. And to be clear, Cai isn’t just a monster. He is a sweet, intelligent boy who doesn’t want to feed on people. Despite her love for him, though, Devon knows her life would be better without him. Maybe the world would be, too. She’s daydreamed about his death even while stopping at nothing to keep him alive. Maybe that’s the horror, more than the deaths.

This narrative is also concerned with the gendered ways people are raised, and the limited set of expectations and imagination we have because of them. Book eaters are said to be without imagination; they can’t actually write any stories themselves. They can only conceive of what’s been fed to them, and with Devon and the other book eater women, those stories are carefully selected to encourage them to be passive and obedient.

Because this is the Lesbrary, of course Devon is sapphic, and she also has a minor romantic subplot with another woman. This is a small part of the book, but it was interesting.

I will say that this felt a little distanced, like watching the story unfold from above instead of being right in the thick of it. I’m not sure how to describe that or why it gave me that impression, but I know lots of readers balk at that sort of story. For me, it matched the generally thoughtful and even philosophical tone of the story, but your miles may vary.

This was a thought-provoking and unsettling read that is perfect for fall.

Content warnings: body horror, gore, violence, domestic abuse, and violence against children

Shana reviews Humbug by Amanda Radley

the cover of Humbug

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Humbug is a quiet Christmas novel with an age gap romance. I found it a relaxing and wholesome read, but it’s an unbalanced workplace romance. The book struggled to decide if it wanted to focus on the characters’ careers, or their love story.

Ellie is a brilliant statistician who is stuck in a dead end job at an HR recruitment firm. Everyone in her office knows that she loves Christmas because her desk looks like a Hallmark holiday movie year-round. So when her firm’s CEO, Rosalind, needs someone to organize an epic office Christmas party at the last minute, she taps Ellie to be her new executive assistant in a cushy penthouse office. There are just two problems. One, Ellie is terrified of heights and can barely stand to be in her new office without hyperventilating.  Two, Rosalind hates Christmas, and her last assistant canceled all the party plans. As they work together, mutual crushes abound! But since neither can imagine the other wanting them, we get a slow sweet burn with plenty of personal growth along the way. 

Rosalind is an intimidating, and exacting boss, and Ellie is initially a nervous wreck around her. But Rosalind is also a compassionate coworker, and a protective single mother, who appreciates Ellie’s talent. And Ellie is clearly talented. The woman engineers a winter wonderland from scratch, outside, during a London winter!

I loved watching Ellie rediscover her confidence through working with Rosalind. At the beginning of the book, Ellie has forgotten her worth and is grateful for any job after a period of unemployment. Slowly, Ellie learns that she’s been coasting along with an unfulfilling role, with roommates who take her for granted. I liked seeing Ellie find her happiness and I think this would be a great read for someone feeling stuck in their life or career. But I was left wishing that the end of the book had focused more on resolving Ellie’s career, and less on ramping on the romance. Still, if you love watching characters slowly figure out they like one another, and prefer your romances with no sex scenes, this may work for you. 

I appreciated that Rosalind was portrayed as both a nurturing person who adores her articulate queer daughter, and as a shrewd businesswoman. She’s powerful and sexy, without feeling unattainable. I don’t usually like ice queen romances OR boss/employee romances, but I loved both of those tropes in Humbug. I thought the power dynamics were smoothly addressed. While there’s several work scenes where Rosalind enjoys flustering a blushing Ellie, Rosalind is too ethical to act on her growing attraction to Ellie. And though there is an age gap, and the two women are clearly at different points in their lives, they both clearly respected one another. 

My favorite part of the story was Ellie’s unapologetic love of all things Christmas. It was intense, and adorable, and I loved that Ellie happily accepted other characters’ more  muted—or hostile—feelings about the holiday. This is a classic Christmas rom-com, with holiday cheer and a predictable storyline. I would vote for Humbug as my favorite Christmas novel of 2021.

Danika reviews Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

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This is a romcom starring a bisexual woman in a love triangle between two guy love interests, so if you’re not looking for an M/F romance, I recommend checking out another Lesbrary romance review!

This is a queer romcom that is essentially set at The Great British Bake Off, so I was immediately sold. Rosaline is a bisexual single mom whose life plan went off the rails when she dropped out of university when she unexpectedly got pregnant at 19. Now, she works at a stationary store–which is far from the doctor’s career she and her parents had expected. She adores her precocious 8-year-old (who’s obsessed with weird underwater animals), but she hates being reliant on her judgmental parents as well as constant favors from her best friend/ex-girlfriend. That’s how she ends up applying for a baking showing with a cash prize.

While this is an M/F romance with two male love interests, Rosaline’s queer identity is central to the story. The first chapter has her confronting Amelie’s teacher about biphobia, and she’s very close with her ex-girlfriend (who is now married to anther woman). Lauren stole the show a little bit for me, with sarcasm, inappropriate language, and unwavering loyalty. How can I resist a woman described like this?: “Lauren reserved the bulk of her enthusiasm and insight for her twin loves of satire and sapphism.”

Rosaline is a charming character for the most part, but she has one major flaw: she’s classist. She was raised in a wealthy family that cares deeply about status, and she’s internalized that–while resenting her parents’ judgements of her life choices. It was a little painful to read, but I knew that was her arc. At the competition, along with a cast of other characters, she meets the two competitors who form the other points of the love triangle: Alain, the suave, parent-approved guy who forages his own mint, and Harry, an electrician whose first interaction with her is being called out for calling her “love.”

Here’s the thing, and I don’t think you can call it a spoiler: we know she’s not going to end up with Alain. Any love interest whose selling point is “parent-approved” is not going to get the girl. But she is with him for the majority of the book. I understand that’s part of her emotional process–she learns about herself over the course of the novel and what she really values–but it did begin to drag a bit. I loved the (faux) Bake Off with its on-camera charm and off-camera stress, I thought the characters were engaging, and I even enjoyed most of the beats of the plot–it just lost me a bit in the middle.

I want to include a content warning for attempted sexual assault, but I think it’s worth a little more context, so spoilers in this paragraph: Alain tries to set up Rosaline and his ex-girlfriend/friend in a threesome. The ex is drunk and tries to force herself on Rosaline, who then locks herself in the bathroom until she can get a ride. I don’t think this was necessarily “problematic,” but I think I would have rather it wasn’t included. For context, within the first conversation Alain and Rosaline had, I thought, “I hope I am not supposed to like this guy.” I flipped to the back and saw he was the “parent-approved” choice and was reassured that I wasn’t. He is a judgmental dick the entire time, and I personally didn’t like that they broke up because of this extreme situation. I don’t like love triangles where one love interest ends up just being Bad–then there’s no real choice or tension. Harry was already the better choice; I don’t think Alain needed to be involved in an attempted sexual assault for Rosaline to chose Harry over him. (End of spoilers.)

As a small aside, I appreciated the healthy communication modelled during sex. Now that I think about it, Rosaline and Harry demonstrate good communication anyway, but the sex scene stood out to me. I’m not used to reading sex scenes where characters actually tell each other what feels good (and what doesn’t), or navigating the awkwardness of the first time sleeping with someone. I thought it was really well done!

If you like shows like The Great British Bake Off and the content warning isn’t a dealbreaker, I think you’ll enjoy this one. Despite having some issues with it, I definitely am looking forward to picking up the next books in this queer romcom baking competition series!

Mary reviews Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame

Courting the Countess by Jenny FrameI loved Downton Abbey. Was it a classist, heteronormative, and super white show? Yes, it was trash. But it was my trash. It was the kind of show that I loved not just for my engagement with the characters, but because of what could have been. One character in particular that kept me coming back was Thomas, the gay footman. He was kind of a jerk, and it was explained away that homophobia made him a jerk, and maybe that’s something to analyze at another time – but the point is there was one single gay character in the whole show. And I, a lesbian hopelessly drawn to the historical fiction genre, was left in want.

Now, years later after Downton Abbey has ended and it’s ending for Thomas left something to be desired, I’ve now found a book that feeds my hopeless desire for a gay historical drama around a small English town: Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame.

Harry Knight is an archeology professor at Cambridge who sleeps around and avidly avoids emotional attachments, scoffing at the idea of love. When her father dies and leaves her as the Countess to Axedale Hall, she must return home to see that her grandfather’s wish of bringing it back to its former glory is fulfilled.

Annie is a single mother with a difficult past who remains positive and hopeful no matter what. When she is hired on as housekeeper for Axedale Hall, the last thing she expected was a handsome butch for the Countess. However, no matter how much she wants a happily ever after, above all else she will strive to do what’s best for her daughter, Riley.

Harry and Annie immediately have this insane chemistry that leaps off the page. Their romance was passionate as well as cute. Harry resists because of her past, which lead to many challenges and dramatic twists. Annie is determined to, as the titles says, court Harry and push down her walls. There was never a dull moment with them.

Another part I loved was how alive the town was. All the side characters felt like they could have their stories and I actually enjoyed reading about them as well as the main cast. This is important to me, because in romance stories so often the side characters are just one dimensional soundboards only there to get the two heroines together. That was not the case in this book. It really did feel like Downton Abbey in this aspect and I kept waiting to see a switch of POV to someone else.

Annie having a child was something that worried me before I started reading. Kids can be tricky characters to pull off, but Riley was just as real and vibrant as Harry and Annie. I really identified with her, having also been the nerdy kid that didn’t get along with everyone immediately. Watching her bond with Harry about archeology was sweet and added an extra layer to the story.

Overall, this was a really fun romance that I highly recommend!

Kristi reviews Turning Point by Lara Zielinsky

Hollywood has its stars: as one begins to fall, another is there to shine. Cassidy Hyland has gotten the cold shoulder from her co-star on the hit sci-fi show Time Trails, Brenna Lanigan, for long enough. Hoping that her son’s birthday party will find a way to spark a connection between them, Cassidy has no idea that she will find herself longing for much more than a friendship with Brenna. From the warmth of an surprise hug to the heat on a sunlit mountain top, learning about each other brings Brenna and Cassidy closer to a truth – and a love – they never expected to find.

In Turning Point, Lara Zielinsky highlights two women who find themselves on opposite sides of the acting divide: Brenna is approaching the “over-the-hill” status that actresses over 40 find themselves facing; Cassidy is the younger, gorgeous woman brought in to bring a fresh face and look to the series. After a period of time of aloofness, Cassidy uses her son’s birthday party to show Brenna that she is a good person, sparking more than a truce in their dealings with each other.

The friendship that grows between the two women is born of work and motherhood, but the attraction is there from the beginning, more so for Cassidy. As she tries to figure out what draws her to Brenna, she works on disentangling herself from both her issues with her abusive ex-husband and her relationship with show writer Cameron, which puts her in more and more uncomfortable positions on set. Brenna’s second marriage to upcoming politician Kevin Shea was a fast decision and one that does not provide Brenna the stability she expected it to bring. The emotional connection between the two is tenuous at best, living and working long-distance. Brenna’s sons still refer to him as “Mr. Shea” even after a year.

At first I was concerned about how slow the story seemed to be progressing. Hollywood is full of “in bed in fifteen minutes” storylines, as are lesbian romances. After finishing the book, I realized that I knew so much about these two women and how they deal with their changing feelings. While the story take a long time to build, readers get to see not only the development of Brenna and Cassidy’s relationship, but glimpses into their lives as actresses and mothers. The plot uses some devices that seem a little far-fetched: both women travel to the same store in all of Los Angeles to shop for their fateful camping trip, Cameron catches the two in a kiss and immediately wonders if “Cassidy will let him watch”. Even with those trite moments, the growing love between the two, and the self-reflection that it causes them both, is sure to touch a memory in many readers’ minds. It certainly did mine.

Turning Point is a slow but steady heart-felt story of two women discovering their feelings for each other. Decorated in the glitter of stardom, it is the people behind the television characters that have to strip away the artifice to find the love they really want.