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!

Elinor reviews A Fairytale of Possibilities by Kiki Archer

British wedding planner Lauren is in the business of making dreams come true for other people. But in her own life she’s been pining over her straight best friend Rachel since they were teenaged university students together. In their eleven years of friendship, Lauren has drifted from girlfriend to girlfriend every several months while nursing her secret crush. Rachel, meanwhile, married the boyfriend she met at university, had a son and became a stay at home mom, and was widowed. It’s been two years since her husband died and Rachel decides she’s ready to get back out there–possibly with women. After so many years of fantasizing, though, making Lauren’s dreams real isn’t as easy as the fairytale she’s had in mind.

Lauren and Rachel’s friendship is full of banter and flirtation from the first pages of the novel and has the shared language of long-time friends. The pair’s conversations hooked me and are just plain fun to read. It made sense to me that Lauren didn’t want to risk a friendship that fulfilled her in so many ways by making advances she thought would be rejected. It also made sense that Rachel had more complicated feelings for her friend than she’d previously explored.

The characters shine in this book. I really appreciated that Rachel’s son Parker behaved like an actual kid. Writing children can be tough and I’ve read a few romance novels featuring single moms in which the kids are placeholders. Not so here. Parker is his own character. Plus Lauren has her own loving relationship with Parker, another thing she doesn’t want to risk. Rachel is a devoted mom doing the right things: taking her son to a grief support group, keeping him connected to her in-laws, trying to determine what’s best for him as she considers what she wants. Other highlights include Lauren’s ridiculous, but ultimately helpful, assistant Trudy, and Lauren’s absurd clients, whose relationships offer some unexpected lessons in love. Though Rachel’s pestering brother-in-law is a cartoonish antagonist and could be much more nuanced, he keeps the story moving along.

The obstacles in the way of the relationship develop, and are resolved, organically. Lauren’s competitiveness and Rachel’s conflict avoidance pop up throughout, so when these cause problems, it makes sense.  I appreciated that Rachel doesn’t have an identity crisis about her interest in women and that it’s Lauren’s idealizing that throws many a wrench in things. I also liked that Rachel’s late husband isn’t an afterthought, and he and his accidental death have an impact throughout the novel. Near the end this involves a pretty intense conversation that neither main character handles well. I thought this made sense and that a romance involving a relatively recent widow is going to have some painful moments. Also, a friendship as intertwined as Lauren and Rachel’s will have clashing perspectives and hidden fears about shared grief. It might be heavier than some readers want, though, especially because the rest of the book is quite light and at times pretty silly. I liked the angst near the end but if you don’t want that, skim this conversation and skip ahead a bit.

Overall, Archer combines great dialogue, occasional low-brow humor, and hot sex for a fun read.  This is a great easy read for lesbian romance fans.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018 and is contributor to the anthology Unspeakably Erotic, edited by D.L. King, out this month. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com