Healing Through Fake Dating: Cover Story by Rachel Lacey

Cover Story by Rachel Lacey cover

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Natalie Keane is one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies. Unfortunately, with fame comes unwanted attention, sometimes in the form of crazed fans turned stalkers. With award season approaching as the man who held her hostage gets released from prison, Natalie agrees to extra security. To avoid another tabloid spectacle, her bodyguard, Taylor Vaughn, poses as her in-house girlfriend. Is it the perfect cover story, or will fantasy and reality blur as these two women grow closer?

After reading Rachel Lacey’s Stars Collide last year, I was all too eager for another sapphic celebrity/forced proximity story. This one even features a character from Stars Collide (plus a few fun cameos): Taylor, who was previously Eden Sands’ security detail. The story is layered, focused on healing from past trauma instead of the trauma as it happens. With most stories, we neglect that process, going from a dire situation to a rescue to a happily ever after epilogue. Lacey invites us to recognize how trauma can have a ripple effect on our lives, and how healing is an ongoing process. Natalie learns how to build a safe space for herself, even knowing that nothing in this world, including her own safety, is guaranteed.

To be completely honest, the chemistry felt rushed and forced for me. There’s a flare of initial attraction between the two women when they first meet, not when Taylor interviews to become Natalie’s bodyguard, but even before that, as a memory. We don’t feel and experience that moment live, which fails to give readers the chance to experience what the characters felt as it happened. Most of the conflicts don’t feel dire, which creates a lack of tension. Since the story is focused on healing after a trauma, it’s more reliant on internal conflicts for momentum. We get a lot more show than tell (internalizing than action) as a result. Also… there’s an adorable little kitten in the story, and while she becomes a way for the main characters to bond in a cute found family moment, she’s all too quickly forgotten once the main characters start sleeping together.  

Recommended for fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Anita Kelly’s sapphic romances.

The Vibes 

⭐ Sapphic Romance
⭐ Hollywood Romance
⭐ Actress/Bodyguard
⭐ Fake Dating
⭐ Forced Proximity
⭐ PTSD/Healing From Trauma

Quotes

“I’m less afraid when I’m with you.”

“Everything felt better, brighter, less overwhelming or terrifying, when Taylor held her.”

“Our cover story became a real-life headline.”

“She brought Natalie here to show her the stars, but instead, Natalie had made her see stars in a completely different way.”

A Blossoming, Neurodiverse Love: Late Bloomer by Mazey Eddings

Late Bloomer cover

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After winning the lottery, Opal Devlin puts all her money in a failing flower farm, only to find an angry (albeit gorgeous) Pepper Boden already living there. Though she’s unable to find her grandmother’s will, Pepper claims she’s the rightful owner of Thistle and Bloom Farms. While they agree to cohabitate, Opal and Pepper clash at every turn. Can something softer blossom between these polar opposites, allowing a new dream to take root and grow?

Oh. My. (Sappho.) Goddess. You may think you know Mazey Eddings’ writing style, but I assure you, you do not. Many of us read The Plus One and/or Tily in Technicolor last year, but Eddings has far exceeded herself with this one. As a neurodivergent author, Eddings’ stories often have some element of neurodiversity/mental health, shining a light on the different ways people’s brains work while embracing those differences through beautiful, realistic characters. Opal and Pepper are no different, both on the spectrum yet unique in their behaviors and view of the world. These women are not predictable, pre-programmed components of a story; they are ever-blooming, learning how to plant roots alongside one another, share sunlight, and rise despite being different species. Both plants, growing and adapting to different elements, yet very much the same. While Opal and Pepper have always struggled to fit in with the world around them, they manage to cultivate a safe, healthy garden for one another.

This is one of those overwhelming, layered, awe-inspiring sapphic stories that will tug at your heartstrings long after you read it. Eddings’ language leaps off the page, making it a little reminiscent of One Last Stop (be still, my little sapphic heart). I’ve beyond annotated Late Bloomer, when I’m usually selective about choosing quotes. You don’t just see love blossom between these two women; you feel it. It made me smile, laugh, get all messy and misty-eyed. As I said, neither woman is predictable. Opal feels directionless at the story’s start, allowing her (fake) best friend and (on/off) ex to step all over her. I expected her to be the wallflower, especially with the BITE we see from Pepper (pun unintended) in her first chapter, but the two balance each other out. When Pepper feels uncertain or anxious, Opal steps forward, bold and unwavering. When Opal begins to crumble, Pepper holds her up. They support each other, never allowing the other to wilt.

Unfortunately, this book relies heavily on miscommunication. Both women are eager to hide their real feelings at the risk of scaring the other. That lack of communication continues until almost the last chapter.

Recommended for fans of One Last Stop and Imogen, Obviously. Side note: please, please read the author’s note. Good goddess.

✨ The Vibes ✨

❀ Neurodivergency/Autism Spectrum
❀ Sapphic Romance
❀ Grief/Healing
❀ Forced Proximity
❀ Spicy/First Time
❀ Cottagecore Vibes
❀ One Bed
❀ Touch Her and You Die
❀ Dual POV
❀ Miscommunication
❀ Flower Competition
❀ Grumpy/Sunshine

 Quotes

❝Slowly, she leans toward me, and my heart pounds so violently in my chest that my head swims. Is she . . . It almost seems like she’s going to press that smile to my mouth. Teach me how it tastes.❞

❝Ah. There’s the you I missed.❞

❝I used to stress over finding a label that fit me. Lesbian. Bisexual. Pan. Demi . . . I’ve filtered through them all many times over, none ever feeling quite right. Just say queer and move on with your life, Diksha finally told me late one night after what was probably my sixth sexual identity crisis of my early twenties. But what does that mean? I’d wailed, draining more boxed wine into my plastic cup. My brain loves order and labels and concise frameworks to understand things, and not knowing where I fit feels unbearable. It means you’re you, and only you get to decide who you like and when you like them, Tal had said from their chair in the corner. The name of your feelings isn’t anyone’s business but yours.❞

❝But instead, she reaches out to me—opening her hand like a flower unfurling its petals to the sun. I stare at it. The ink stains and calluses and chipped nails and bitten cuticles. For a moment, that hand looks like a second chance.❞

❝Her poems spoke softly—as intimately as confessions between lovers—about the terrible, wonderful ache of being in love.❞

A Sapphic, Victorian Parent Trap: Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend by Emma R. Alban

Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend cover

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Pretty much as soon as I discovered Emma R. Alban’s Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend, I was excited to read it. From the frothy cover to the Taylor Swift lyric title (admittedly I don’t actually know Taylor Swift’s music well enough to recognize that on my own, but I generally love the vibe of song lyric titles) to the actual book description, it seemed incredibly up my alley. A hijinks-filled sapphic historic romance? Sign me up! To my absolute delight, the actual contents of the book completely delivered on the promises its outside made.

Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend takes the familiar premise of a reluctant young debutante, Beth, who must find a wealthy husband for the sake of her family and adds a dazzling lesbian, Gwen, with an idea—their parents have clear chemistry and a history, and it would really solve all of their problems if Beth and Gwen set their parents up instead. Over the course of the season, the two come up with a variety of schemes, and as their parents grow closer, so do Beth and Gwen.

I had so much fun reading this book! It was exactly the kind of sweet, banter-and-shenanigans-filled romance I hoped it would be. I read most of the book at work, and it still had me smiling and giggling throughout. I loved both Beth and Gwen, and I believed their romance from the beginning, as well as their friendship. I understood immediately why they liked each other, which I think is particularly important in a friends-to-lovers romance like this. They constantly made each other laugh, as well as myself, but there were also plenty of those delightfully agonizing finger brushes one expects to find in a historical romance.

Beth and Gwen’s relationship was not the only important one in this book, of course. Considering the setup of this book hinges on a parent-trap plot, it’s particularly important to manage the balance between making me care about and believe the parents’ romance as well without them taking the spotlight away from the romance I actually came here for. Admittedly, I was a little worried this book wouldn’t manage it, but I actually thought it did a fantastic job of that. It even made me care about an entirely separate background romance, and the epilogue provided a wonderful preview of the next book’s romance, which I am very much looking forward to. I really loved the characters here.

I will note readers looking for historical accuracy may find themselves frustrated. The language in particular tends a bit more casual than I would have expected. However, I personally did not find myself bothered by it at all. As casual as the language was, the many detailed clothing descriptions and the subplot centered around the social politics of the Matrimonial Causes Act made it clear that this was a deliberate choice. And besides, a strong sense of verisimilitude was not my main concern when I picked up a parent-trap-inspired sapphic romcom with a Taylor Swift lyric in the title. I came here simply to be delighted, and I got more than my money’s worth of that.  If that is what you too are looking for, I heartily recommend Emma R. Alban’s Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend.

Take a Shot on How You Get the Girl by Anita Kelly

the cover of How You Get the Girl by Anita Kelly

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While coaching East Nashville High’s girl’s basketball teen, Coach Julie Parker expects passionate players and quick springs, not for the star of her fantasies, ex-WNBA baller Elle Cochrane, to show up with the niece she’s fostering. Despite being all heart-eyed and tongue-tied, Julie convinces Elle to become her assistant coach, allowing Elle to keep an eye on her niece. Neither expects sparks to fly along with basketballs shooting across the court, even as Elle helps Julie navigate the unfamiliar terrain of dating. Will they continue sitting on the sidelines of their own lives, or finally take a shot?

Dear Anita Kelly. Thank you. Thank you for a story about two beautifully, vulnerably queer women who are so real and authentic and layered. What easily could have been a trope-filled sapphic sports romance is instead a stunning exploration of identity, mental health, and personal growth. Bear with me, Lesbrary readers, as I try to find my words. This story started with Julie’s megawatt heart-eyed celebrity crush and a little forced proximity, but it became so much more. Between her queer twin and best friend, Julie always thought she was a little behind in defining her queerness, but there’s no timeline, no deadline. She always struggled to find her label, her place (only to realize they’re just… whatever!), and it’s not until Elle steps into her life and throws her out of her comfort zone that Julie gets the chance to grow into herself. I also adored that Jules couldn’t fully pick one label (“15 percent general queer, 10 percent lesbian stereotype. 20 percent ace, 55 percent dumbass.”) because identity is in fact a spectrum. She does mention the possibility of being demisexual at one point, which my girlfriend identifies as, and honestly… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character recognize that as an option before. To say it brought tears to my eyes is an understatement.

In a way, Elle has been stuck in a comfort zone, too, until she starts fostering her niece and coaching alongside Jules. Elle is so patient with Jules, so willing to step back and give Jules the chance to process her own thoughts, recognize her own needs. There’s a give and take to their relationship: when one falters, the other steps in to help them find their balance again. There are so many layers to this story: “There’s this idea embedded into our culture of getting over things,” “Maybe all love is a surprise, followed by practice,” “You can be happy and still feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing.” There’s so much to appreciate in the little lessons these women learned. Together. (If we’re keeping track, I cried three times while reading this book: when seeing “demi,” at the news clipping, and during Jule’s speech. I need more tissues now, thank you.)

There is one topic I wish received a little more attention, namely because it isn’t discussed often enough. Elle meets with the school’s weights guy, who assumes all the players on the team are girls: “the ingrained hierarchy and immovable binary of most sports.” Elle and Julie made a “space for any player who wanted to put in the work, regardless of their identity.” Kelly mentions fighting for equality in sports within her acknowledgments, but I do wish we’d seen a little of that fight as a source of conflict within the book.

The story is a bit slow at the beginning, but once it finds its momentum, it GOES. I will say I wasn’t aware this was a duology when I grabbed this ARC, but the references to the previous story weren’t so heavy that you can’t enjoy this one as a stand-alone.

Recommended to all readers, whether you’re looking for a sports romance, sapphic romance, or simply a good book with lots of mental health love. This one is going to stay with me for a long while.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Vibes

🌈 Sapphic Ship – Lesbian/Demi
💞 Fake/Practice Dating
🏀 Sports/Workplace/Forced Proximity Romance
🏆 Mental Health Rep
📚 Part of the Nashville Series
🏆 Contemporary Romance
🏀 Dual POV
💞 Smut
🌈 Queer Main & Side Cast

💬 Quotes

❝ Any relationship that’s worthwhile, whether it’s friendship or romantic or sexual, only really works when you try. ❞

❝ But that when it came to identity, when it came to queerness, the whole point was that there were no tryouts. If you were even thinking about it, you were already on the team. That labels weren’t meant to confine, only to bring comfort to those for whom they were useful. That Julie didn’t need to ascribe to any of them, if she didn’t want to. ❞

❝ “There’s nothing wrong with you, Julie,” Elle said in that same half-whisper that was slowly going to kill her. “You’re not behind on anything. There’s nothing for you to be behind on. There’s nothing, and no one, you have to track your own life by.” ❞

❝ Maybe all love was a surprise, followed by practice. A step out of comfort zones, followed by hard work. Lurking in all the places you didn’t expect, places that become a forever part of you. ❞

A Sapphic Spin on You’ve Got Mail: Read Between the Lines by Rachel Lacey

the cover of Read Between the Lines

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❝Her online crush, her real-life crush, and the woman who’d crushed her dreams were all the same person, and her mind was still struggling to snap all the pieces into place.❞

Books have always been a part of Rosie Taft’s life. That happens when your late mother once owned a Manhattan bookstore you’ve now inherited. The only thing missing from Rosie’s life: a romance to rival the ones she reads about. Though she has a flirty online friendship with lesbian romance author “Brie,” they’ve never met, never turned those flirtatious remarks into deep, romantic gazes in reality. Jane Breslin works for her father’s property development business by day, but by night, she lets her hair down and steamy side out as a romance writer. When the business terminates Rosie’s bookstore lease, their worlds collide and online identities are revealed. Can Jane pen her way back into Rosie’s heart for a happy ending?

By some coincidence, I watched You’ve Got Mail for the first time a few months ago. There’s something about the sweet simplicity of 90s rom-coms that can get a heart all warm and cozy. Obviously inspired by the same premise, Read Between the Lines is a modern-day, WLW spin. The enemies-to-lovers, opposites-attract elements fills you with hope as you wait for all the pieces to click into place. Once they do, the romance feels easy, natural… but realistic in the sense that so many problems are ignored in exchange for that bliss. For a moment, Rosie and Jane exist in a comforting, sweet bubble, but as in real life, you can’t ignore reality forever.

I adored Lacey’s Stars Collide (and I’m eagerly trying to get my hands on her upcoming release Cover Story), but it’s obvious this was one of Lacey’s first lesbian romances. So much of the chemistry between Rosie and Jane was built off-screen, through the texts they exchanged long before the story started. Unfortunately, that makes it seem like there’s not a great deal of chemistry between Rosie and Jane once their true identities are revealed.

The source of conflict feels a bit exhausting. Rosie remains hung up about the fact that Jane’s family’s company is the reason she’s losing her bookstore, but Jane herself isn’t the reason. Rosie struggles to disassociate losing her bookstore from Jane the entire time. Deciding to leave the family business, while a point of character development for Jane, shouldn’t have been a solution solely for Rosie’s benefit. None of the problems (internal and external) either woman faced built enough tension to give the story momentum.

The smut scenes are…not great. Some of the word choice is repetitive (“swirled and plunged” included, which is just… please don’t), and there’s more of a focus on logistics over emotion. Fade to black paired with a little post-coital pillow talk would have worked just as well (and perhaps felt less rushed, distance, and awkward). Again, it feels like this was Lacey’s first WLW romance, in which case, you can see the growth in later novels.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

 Recommended for fans of You’ve Got Mail, Cleat Cute, and Fly With Me.

✨ The Vibes ✨

❤️ Enemies to Lovers
❤️ Sapphic Romance
❤️ Books About Books
❤️ Lesbian MCs
❤️ Contemporary Queer Romance
❤️ Book 1 in a Series
❤️ Opposites Attract

A Literal Love Song: Stars Collide by Rachel Lacey

the cover of Stars Collide

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“You’re more than your sexuality. So much more.”

After her divorce, pop star sensation Eden Sands’ latest album lacked the spark fans and the industry have expected of her after 20 years. Meanwhile, Anna Moss, her fellow Grammy nominee, is beginning to rise, though people in the industry don’t take her as seriously as she hoped. To rekindle that spark, Eden invites Anna to join her on stage during her Grammy performance, only for fans to focus on the spark between them. Following the unexpected popularity of #Edanna, Eden invites Anna to open her upcoming tour. The more time they spend together, the more they realize that chemistry exists off-stage, too. Is there something more to what they’re feeling?

Mild Spoilers Ahead. Book Contains Sexual Scenes.

Rachel Lacey does a wonderful job at exploring topics of self-discovery and identity. Eden and Anna’s love story gives a respectable nod to many realities of life as a celebrity. As a young star, Eden is forced to mature quickly. Allowing the adults in her life to make major decisions on her behalf stole Eden’s control, leading her to claim that control in extreme ways as an adult. Fans have mobbed Eden, tugging at her hair, getting in her personal space, and claiming some unspoken right to flash cameras in her face, leading Eden to further seclude herself under the guise of safety. So much of her young life was controlled that she lost the chance to explore her identity beyond the pop star on stage. Meanwhile, Anna is forever seen as a teen character she played (while in her 20s), prompting no one to take her seriously. One of the things I loved most about this book was the mentorship between the two women. While Eden helped Anna recognize the control she could have over her career, Anna helped Eden recognize who she was and the life she could have outside of the spotlight. A lot of the conflicts in this story were internal; Eden’s self-discovery and sexual awakening, the words of a controlling and toxic ex haunting Anna. Eden and Anna helped one another through their self-growth.

In my favorite scenes, Anna coaxes Eden to talk through her thoughts (finally, a sapphic book that avoids using miscommunication to simmer the story in tension). Anna reminds Eden, “You don’t have to label yourself before you’re ready… or ever, if you don’t want to. How you identify is so personal, and you’re under no obligation to share it with anyone.” For many people, recognizing who they are—labels or not—is a lonely process. Anna never pushes or rushes Eden, but she does help Eden work through her concerns. You’re never too late to decide who you are. I didn’t navigate my own sexuality until after college, but I wish I’d had a friend to help me understand it, the way Eden had Anna. Even when their relationship blossoms into more, their friendship never wavers. Rachel Lacey does an incredible job at describing how out of tune you can feel for so much of your life, only for the static to clear because of an event, a realization, or a person. I’ve met that person and I can say with certainty that it can change everything.

Though I loved the internal conflicts both main characters had to navigate to mature and develop, the lack of strong external factors seems unrealistic. The major external factors are the mobbing fans and Anna’s ex; the latter of which creates the only major blow-out scene in the entire novel. While we see Anna mature throughout the story (both in how she treats Eden and in her career growth), her maturity unravels in that scene. Eden, who is usually steadfast in her composure, steps beyond the professional veneer she wears in a moment of immature jealousy. That scene, presented in the last few chapters, felt like a rushed, inserted source of conflict before a HEA ending. Even Anna’s ex felt out of character in these scenes, jumping from one extreme to the next, brought in as a last-minute trigger for Anna’s insecurities about her relationship with Eden. There were other external conflicts to explore that would have strengthened the story. For example, the media is never posed in a negative light (as if the media wouldn’t distort the truth or paparazzi wouldn’t mob both popstars). What if Eden was only enamored by the situation (a concern that could have crept alongside Anna’s other doubts)? During the second half of the novel, Eden and Anna were surrounded by so much BLISS that I kept waiting for a real problem to challenge their relationship. The strongest relationships navigate problems and survive, all the stronger for it.

Recommended to anyone in need of a warm and fuzzy romance read. Ideal for fans of sexy slow burns, workplace romances, and celebrity romances.

✨ The Vibes ✨ 
👩‍❤️‍👩 Lesbian and Pansexual Main Characters
💞 Sapphic Romance
🎤 Workplace Romance / Forced Proximity
🎙️ Dual POV
🎵 Slow Burn
⌛ Age Gap
💗Friends to Lovers
🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Rep
❤️‍🔥 Sexual Awakening
🌶️ Spice

The Perfect Sapphic Halloween Romcom Comic: That Full Moon Feeling by Ashley Robin Franklin

the cover of That Full Moon Feeling

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This is a tiny graphic novel—only 64 pages—so I’ll keep this review short. This is a queer romcom about a werewolf and witch going on their first three dates and getting into supernatural shenanigans along the way. There always seems to be something to ruin the romantic mood, like your ex at the farmer’s market sending an army of skeletons after you and your date. We’ve all been there.

That Full Moon Feeling is absolutely adorable, from the art to the adventures to the cute romance between Suzy and Jada. There isn’t a ton of room for character development or subplots, obviously, but their conversations are relatable, even if their specific magical circumstances are not.

I know there are a lot of people looking for seasonal reads that aren’t horror, and this is a perfect match. It’s a cute fantasy comic you can easily get through in one sitting, and it’s a delight to read. I would definitely read many more of these if they were available, but this also stands well on its own.

(Psssttt, this is exactly what I was hoping Moonstruck would be, but without the uncomfortable relationship dynamics.)

It looks like this isn’t in stock everywhere, but tou can order it directly from the publisher, Silver Sprocket.

If you know any more cute fantasy romcom comics like this, please send recs my way, because it’s one of my favourite things to read, especially around Halloween!

Ted Lasso But Make It Sapphic: Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner

the cover of Cleat Cute

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“Calling Phoebe loud and obnoxious and gay ignores all her layers and contradictions. That’s Grace’s issue with fame—people take you at face value. Nobody bothers to look for the person beneath the brand.”

⚠️ Spoilers ahead. Book contains graphic sex scenes. ⚠️

Phoebe Matthews is ready to take her first season as a professional soccer player by storm. She even gets to play alongside her idol, Grace Henderson: the veteran star of the US Women’s National Team. Since they met, there’s been a spark of chemistry between them, and Phoebe can’t help but flirt with and seduce the woman she’s had a poster of since childhood. Though they’re on the same page on the pitch, a little miscommunication outside of the game leaves them both mentally spiraling. Are they brave enough to make a move both on and off the field?

The few factors that drove me to finish reading this book were the focus on fame, personal identity, and neurodiversity—NOT the relationship between Grace and Phoebe. The story touches on Grace’s preference not to reveal too much about who she is outside of soccer, in an effort to protect her privacy, until soccer becomes her entire identity, both to the outside world and herself. From the beginning, it’s also obvious that both main characters are neurodivergent. Phoebe is diagnosed with ADHD by the epilogue, and though Grace isn’t diagnosed with autism, it’s mentioned as a possibility. Though their neurodiversity is obvious from the first two chapters, the topic isn’t discussed in any way that matters to the story. There’s so much going on under the surface of these characters that would have made the story beautifully important if they were the focus, rather than a subtle plot point that’s slipped into the end of the book.

I almost DNFed this book many, many times; it takes a one-star read for me to give up on a book, rather than give it the benefit of the doubt. Though I did finish it, I dragged my feet every step of the way. The most obvious issue with this novel is the point of view. A third-person objective point of view is cold and distant. It leaves readers disconnected from the characters and the story. For Phoebe—passionate, energetic, a thousand thoughts a second Phoebe—we’re cut off from what she’s really feeling. Beyond that, this POV is choppy, especially for a story that primarily involves women. Unfortunately, the objective POV means the entire story is tell; we’re not shown through actions or imagery or any form of creative writing. The tension between them doesn’t last long enough to keep readers enthralled, either; once the sex is introduced, that’s apparently all that matters.

Every other sentence starts with a name to avoid referring to too many “she’s” within a single thought. The writing also lacks descriptive language, even though the story is set in vibrant New Orleans. For all the scenes focused on food, we never smell, taste, or experience a moment with the characters. Even during gameplay, there’s no sweat, heat, or the sound of screaming fans in our ears. The readers are kept at arm’s length at all times. Perhaps worse: the sex scenes read like fanfiction—a first-time writer’s fanfiction. Instead of steamy, the word choice makes it awkward and off putting. “Baby girl?” Really?

Despite my issues with it, I do recommend it for fans of workplace romances, Ted Lasso, or A League of Their Own. You’re going to get serious “Ted Lasso but make it sapphic” vibes from this, I promise; Phoebe and Grace are very much Jamie and Roy. If you’re in your sporty romance era, give this a try!

✨ The Vibes ✨

⚽︎ F/F Romance
⚽︎ Neurodiversity / ADHD and Autism Rep
⚽︎ Sports Romance
⚽︎ Secret Dating
⚽︎ Workplace Romance
⚽︎ Miscommunication
⚽︎ Grumpy vs Sunshine

A Sapphic Regency Romp: Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh by Rachael Lippincott

the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh

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As a current Pittsburgh resident, as soon as I saw that the Lesbrary had received a review copy of Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh by Rachael Lippincott, I knew that I needed to read it. A fun sapphic romance mixing regency and the steel city with added time travel? Sign me up. And it did not disappoint.

Pittsburgh native Audrey feels stuck. Her first choice of art school has waitlisted her. Her high school boyfriend has dumped her after trying to persuade her to abandon art as a career after he didn’t get accepted. And she feels stuck and unable to create anything new for the portfolio she needs to submit. When a regular at her family’s corner store offers her some cryptic encouragement, Audrey finds herself transported not only to the past but to England. In 1812, Lucy feels trapped. Her mother had wanted for Lucy to marry for the love she did not find herself, but with her gone, Lucy is at the mercy of her controlling father. He is forcing her into marriage with the rich but odious Mr. Caldwell. Isolated and increasingly depressed, Lucy greets the appearance of a girl wearing the strangest and most improper of clothing with interest and relief. Together, they resolve to figure out a way to return Audrey to her time.

The conflicts here are numerous and yet for the most part they’re romcom level problems. As Lucy spends time with Audrey, she wonders more and more how she can resign herself to a loveless marriage even more constricting than life under her father, but she doesn’t know what else she can do. Stranded in a society very different from her own, Audrey regains her inspiration in her art and confidence in herself as several eligible local bachelors show an interest in her. But Lucy is the person that fills her days and her sketchbook. How can she find love or inspiration in the rest of her life if she’s fated to leave Lucy behind? I bet we can all guess the answer, and like a good romance Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh’s charm is in the journey, not the solution.

What I liked best about this book is that it did not take its own plot device too seriously. In some stories, you want a detailed exploration of how the time traveler’s clothes or possessions make trouble, or it makes sense for the other characters to think they’re lying about time travel. And sometimes you want some mild shock about modesty and some honest delight about the magical box that plays music. Sometimes a girl can meet some bachelors that find her lack of local polish charming, as a treat. Sometimes time travel can be fun. And it contrasts so eloquently and emotionally with the bleakness of Lucy’s situation. At it’s heart this is about two girls finding connection despite all the outside events going on in their lives. Reading this felt like a return to watching the nonsense rom coms of my youth, but queer, and it was a lot of fun.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a light-hearted romp to ease your transition from summer to fall, Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh is an excellent choice. It’s got time travel, county balls, corner stores, and delightful queer awakening, all tied up with a happily ever after. Treat yourself to a little delight this fall and fall in love with time travel. And Pittsburgh.

The Loosely Medieval YA Romcom of My Dreams: Gwen and Art are Not in Love by Lex Croucher

the cover of Gwen and Art Are Not In Love

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Gwen and Art are Not in Love by Lex Croucher is not an Arthurian retelling, nor is it particularly converned with historical accuracy. What it is instead is a queer YA romcom set in a Camelot that is slightly obsessed with King Arthur several hundred years after his death, starring a princess (Gwen) and a noble (Art) who have been engaged since they were children, and who also can’t stand each other. Rather than fall for each other, as the romcom structure would typically dictate, they instead grow closer in the aftermath of Gwen catching Art kissing a stable boy and then Art finding Gwen’s diary, wherein she fantasizes about the kingdom’s only female knight. From there, they decide to more or less act as each other’s wing(wo)men for the summer, resulting in what may be the sweetest, funniest, and all-around most entertaining book I have read this year.

Reading this book felt like reading fanfiction, and I mean that as the highest compliment. When I stopped reading published books in my free time and switched over to fanfiction for years because it was the only place I could find what I was looking for, this book right here is exactly what I wish I had. These characters felt like old friends right from the beginning, and I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at a book. Like, the dialogue in this book was impeccable.

I can’t gush enough about how much fun I had reading this book or all of the things I loved about it because it really was pretty much everything, so instead I’m just going to note the two things that kept sticking out at me that made me appreciate this book even more:

For one, I loved the way this book challenged the idea of being “not like other girls,” because yeah, as a queer nerdy teenager, I definitely could have related to Gwen’s assumption that all of the other girls were shallow stereotypes gossiping about her when she’s not listening, and I also could have used a reminder that other teenager girls aren’t the enemy just because they’re more comfortable making friends than you are. I thought this book incorporated that really nicely, without it feeling heavy-handed.

Most importantly, I loved how much love was in this book. Between Gwen and Art’s blossoming friendship, their respective blossoming romances, and Gwen’s close friendship with her brother, there really is no shortage of love of all kinds, something that I think is especially important in queer YA. It was a joy to watch these kids fall in love, and then also be able to talk about it with their outside support systems, or help each other work through their feelings, or go let loose together at a party on their birthday.

My only note, if you will, is I did feel like the sapphic relationship got the least pagetime, predominantly because Art’s love interest is also Gwen’s brother, which means that while Gabe is a major character in both Art and Gwen’s chapters, Bridget is mostly only in Gwen’s. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a failing on this book’s part, because I truly do mean it when I say I loved every page of this book, but I did wish I got as much of Bridget as I did of Gwen, Art, and Gabe.

From the very first page, I thought this was legitimately one of the funniest books I have ever read, but it did not take long for this book to prove itself full of just as much heart, as well as characters I would protect with my life. If I could give my teenage self just one book, it would almost certainly be this one.