Danika reviews Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall

Murder Most Actual cover

Clue is my all-time favourite movie, and I’m a sucker for any kind of snowed in story, so when I heard the premise for Murder Most Actual, I was immediately hooked. It follows Liza and Hanna, who have booked a getaway in a fancy hotel in the Scottish Highlands to try to patch up their marriage. Liza’s true crime podcast has recently taken off, which has left them less time to spend together. Now, they seem to constantly be bickering, especially since Liza feels like Hanna can be overbearing as well as judgmental of her passion for true crime. Hanna booking this trip without asking her didn’t help. But what is supposed to be a romantic getaway quickly turns dark as a guest turns up dead—and that’s just the beginning. Liza dives into trying to solve the mystery, but Hanna would rather lock the two of them in their room until the snow clears and they can escape.

I completely understand the Clue comparison: this is a murder mystery that is more wacky hijinks than serious drama. Many of the characters are over-the-top, including a femme fatale seducing everyone in sight and a private detective who speaks in a thick (fake?) French accent and refers to himself in the third person. There’s also more direct references to the game, including chapter titles that follow the format “[Character] in the [location] with the [object]” and characters being associated with colours (the colonel with mustard yellow, for one).

The writing also reminds me of the wit and weirdness of Clue dialogue. Hanna remarks, “It’s like she’s come to a costume party as the abstract concept of heteronormative sex.” An awkward moment is described as: “the words still hung in the air like really unwelcome snowflakes.” All together, these elements make it feel like a murder mystery party performance.

There’s an interesting contrast between this theatrical setting and characters with the sometimes painfully realistic depiction of a marriage on the rocks. The know each other deeply and care about each other a lot, but every disagreement is connected to every other argument they’ve ever had. There are layers of subtext to conversations. They walk on eggshells and take offence easily with each other–while also being protective of the other to anyone else. I think it worked well to ground the story and it gave it stakes, even when the murders don’t have that same gravity.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries, partly because I don’t pick up on the little details that would allow me to piece the mystery together. When I do, I tend to not try to solve it and just allow myself to be immersed. So I can’t really evaluate how well the mystery element worked, but I will say that I didn’t see the ending coming. It isn’t a neat and tidy wrap up at the end: it’s messy and human.

There were lots of elements I loved about Murder Most Actual, but I did feel like the middle dragged a bit. I was expecting to rave about this, but I didn’t connect quite as much as I expected to. That’s an intangible, vague complaint though, and I still liked it overall. It was a fun read during December (even though this is actually set around Easter!), just as the snow started coming down!

Note: this is a Kobo exclusive title, so you won’t find it on other platforms.

Danika reviews Snow Falls by Gerri Hill

cover of Snow Falls

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Every year, I plan on spending December reading seasonal books: Christmas romances, wintry fantasy novels, snowed in stories, and so on. And every December, I find myself with an “urgent” TBR that pushes those books off my reading list. There are always ARCs to review, books to read for the next All the Books podcast recording, or library books with encroaching due dates. Although about 98% of my reading comes from ARCs or library books, in 2016 I was so excited by the premise of this novel (a snowed in sapphic romance) that I ordered it on the spot. And there it’s sat on my shelves for the last 5 years.

This year, though, I finally said enough was enough, and although I still have books I should be reading, I carved out some space for seasonal reads. After all this time of anticipation, I pulled down Snow Falls from by TBR shelves and picked it up. Immediately, it was exactly what I wanted from it: an F/F romance about two strangers who get snowed in together for weeks. One is a grumpy and secretive recluse, the other sheltered, clueless, and chatty. There’s only one bed! There’s two huskies!

Unfortunately, there were also aspects of this book that just didn’t work for me. The romance itself was nice, slowly building a relationship between them, but other plot points fell flat for me. There’s a lot of references to a scandal Ryan went through that leads to her living in anonymity in the middle of nowhere, but when that scandal is revealed, it felt anticlimactic for how much weight was being put on it. The sex scenes also didn’t work for me, and sometimes the dialogue felt stilted. I know Jen is sheltered (she grew up in a controlling, religious family and was homeschooled), but “I was apparently conceived at a drug party where she had sex with as many as seven different guys” is a sentence that does not sound natural.

On top of that, there were a few things I took issue with. Let’s go in escalating order of alarming: first, Ryan makes a joke about how she might have “mental disorder” and that Jen should be worried (this is after also joking about being an axe murderer), which is an ableist joke that I wish had been left out. Then there’s an issue I find with many lesfic titles: no acknowledgement of bisexuality. Jen is questioning her sexuality—she’s currently in a relationship with a guy—but the word bisexual isn’t mentioned. She just wonders if she’s straight or gay. That I could let slide, since she is very obviously gay (she’s never had any sexual attraction to her boyfriend), but it’s reinforced later with another character.

In fact, let’s give Presley her own character, since she’s involved in the most alarming/weirdest part of the book. Presley is Ryan’s brother’s date, and she’s openly hitting on Ryan. Ryan asks her why she’s doing this, since “you’re straight.” (They’ve never interacted before this, so Ryan seems to be assuming any woman who dates men is straight.) Worse, Presley then agrees that yes, she is straight, and that she’s had men and women lovers. She proceeds to keep hitting on Ryan. Now, I’m not denying that there are women who call themselves straight and also frequently sleep with women, but again, the word bisexual doesn’t come up at all. This isn’t the alarming part, though.

Charles, Ryan’s brother, takes her aside at the party to say that his date is flirting with her:

[Charles:] “You interested?”

[Ryan:] “In her?”

He raised his eyebrows. “I could watch.”

“You’re insane.”

“We did it before. Remember that chick I brought home from college? What were you? Eighteen?”

“The difference is, I didn’t know you were watching,” she reminded him. She’d never been more embarrassed in her young life when she found out he’s been hiding in the closet. . . . She was, however, careful to check her closet from then on.

To be clear, Charles is presented as a laidback, playboy type. They get along. They both laugh this off. This is… not normal. I get the whole “straight men are into watching lesbians” thing, but your sister??

Needless to say, I can’t give this a glowing review. There were some parts I really enjoyed, including [spoiler, highlight to read] that the breakup with Brad was so civil and that he was a really great friend–it’s so easy to make this character villainous for no reason at all. [end spoiler] But they don’t outweigh the problems I had with it.

Despite this not being to my taste, I loved the reading experience, because it was exactly that snowy, seasonal sapphic romance that I was looking for. It really reinforced that I want to make this time for myself, because I enjoy it just as much as I imagined I would. If I can get that from a book I had so many problems with, I can’t wait for when it’s a book I click with.

Content warning: Homophobia, including from family as well as internalized homophobia.

If you’re looking for seasonal sapphic books to add to your winter TBR, check out: Wintry Sapphic Reads to Cozy Up With!

Wintry Sapphic Reads to Cozy Up With

It’s December, which means the time that I set aside my Autumnal horror and thriller books of months past in favour of some cozy, comforting seasonal reads! If you also like to theme your reading by season, I’ve picked out some great wintry seasonal sapphic reads. Some of these are Christmas-themed, I’ve got a couple of Hanukkah ones, but I wasn’t able to find any other wintry holiday sapphic books. If you know of any, including queer Kwanzaa or Diwali reads, let me know in the comments! I also have ones that are just general snowy reads that would be perfect to curl up with under a blanket.

This video is sponsored by a Kobo exclusive mystery, Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall, which is a sapphic snowed-in murder mystery! More on that at the end of the post.

Fantasy Books with a Winter Setting

The Winter Duke cover

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

This book is set in a world with two kingdoms: an underwater kingdom with mermaids, and a winter kingdom on top of the frozen lake.

It’s a political fantasy about one of the duke’s daughters, who is the only one who has survived a curse. She takes on the title of duke, trying to prevent war and keep the kingdom together.

This is supposed to be part “Sleeping Beauty,” part “Anastasia,” but it’s that permanent winter setting—and that title—that earns it a spot on this list. It also has an F/F romance.

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Robber Girl cover

Robber Girl by S.T. Gibson

This is a Swedish fairy tale retelling with a “Snow Queen” element to it, and you can tell just from the cover that this is a wintry fantasy book.

The main character is a thief who accidentally robs a witch and ends up teaming up with her to try to go kill the snow queen and save the witch’s brother.

This is one of a few fairy tale retellings on this list, so if you want a YA fantasy retelling of “The Snow Queen” with an F/F romance, this will be one for you.

The Raven and the Reindeer cover

The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

And for another sapphic “Snow Queen” retelling, there’s The Raven and the Reindeer!

This is about Greta, who is trying to rescue her childhood friend from the snow queen, but along the way, she meets a bandit princess and teams up with her.

There’s also a talking raven and flying otters, so obviously you have to pick this one up.

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Thorn cover

Thorn by Anna Burke

This is another fairy tale retelling, but this time it’s “Beauty and the Beast”! This is also the same author of the Compass Rose series, so if you like sapphic pirates as well—and why wouldn’t you you?—you can check out that series, too.

This is set in a world of constant winter, and the Beast is the Huntress, who is a literal ice queen and also has a pack of hounds—which I can’t resist.

It includes an iconic Beauty and the Beast library scene, and I am also promised that there is an ice bear in this. What could be better than sapphic books that also have flying otters and ice bears?

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Wintry and Holiday Romances

Snow Falls cover

Snow Falls by Gerri Hill

I am so excited to read this one this month! I cannot resist the forced proximity trope, but especially snowed in romances. I love a snowed in story, and that’s what this is.

Catherine is excited to spend her whole winter alone in her mountain cabin, but then someone gets lost and seeks refuge with her, and they get snowed in together.

Obviously, Jennifer and Catherine end up getting really close, but after the two months they spent together, Jennifer goes back to her normal life and the man who wants to marry her… and she doesn’t actually know Catherine’s real name.

It seems like a lot of this story will be more about how they get back to each other, but I’m so excited for the snowed in setting.

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Fearless by Shira Glassman cover

Fearless by Shira Glassman

Another snowed in love story! There are actually two books by Shira Glassman on this list, because she is giving the sapphic what they want.

This is a novella that takes place at an all-state school band competition. A mom of one of the students, who is newly out, falls for the butch orchestra teacher.

It’s also about finding your way back to music after a long time away. This is a short, super cute read.

Check out the Lesbrary reviews for more information!

Do You Feel What I Feel cover

Do You Feel What I Feel: A Holiday Anthology edited by Jae and Fletcher Delancey

This is just what it says on the tin: it’s 12 lesbian fiction authors who are writing holiday-themed short stories.

Most of these are Christmas romances, but there is at least one Hanukkah story. They’re not all Christmas, and they’re not all romances, but that’s the general theme.

This is also a good way to get a sampling of a bunch of lesfic authors’ writing, and most of them have other books that you can check out if you like these stories.

Collie Jolly cover

Collie Jolly by Leigh Landry

If you know me, you know that I love dogs. I have two dogs that I adore, and I’d have a pack if I could. So obviously, I couldn’t resist this F/F romance that is both Christmas-themed and dog-themed!

I feel like the title and cover alone are enough to sell you on this book, but just in case: this is about Madison, whose girlfriend died a year earlier and she was left with her girlfriend’s puppy. Because of her grief, she wasn’t really able to train this puppy the way that she wanted to, and now the dog is kind of a mess. So she reaches out to a dog trainer, Ashley.

Unbeknownst to her, Ashley actually has zero experience training dogs. She’s never even had a dog. But she managed to interview very well, apparently, because that’s her job now.

This is a cute F/F romance set in New Orleans that takes place over the holidays—and “Collie Jolly”! Come on. You can’t resist that.

cover of Mangoes and Mistletoe

Mangoes and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera

This is a holiday baking competition F/F romance, which checks so many boxes for me.

It takes place in Scotland, and one of them calls herself a “baking brujita”! There’s a bit of a grumpy one/sunshine one dynamic between these two, because they are thrown together into competing as a pair.

This is a cute novella for fans of The Great British Bake Off and other baking competition shows.

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Being Merry cover

Being Merry by Meka James

The last Christmas romance on this list is Being Merry by Meka James. Lennox has been guilt-tripped by her sister into helping out someone who is moving to the city and doesn’t have a place to stay yet, so she is staying in her spare room for the moment.

What Lennox doesn’t know when she agrees to it is that Noelle–yes, Noelle!–is absolutely obsessed with Christmas. She shows up in a reindeer headband, and is trying to win Lennox over to being one of the extremely festive people like she is.

So this has a bit of that forced proximity, but also the dynamic between the Grinch and the very enthusiastically Christmas person. This sounds like a super fun romance read.

If you want even more Christmas sapphic books, check out this Goodreads list of over 100 titles!

Hanukkah Erotica

Eight Kinky Nights cover

Eight Kinky Nights by Xan West

There are two sapphic Hanukkah erotica novels that I know of.

The first is Eight Kinky Nights, which is about two 50 year olds, one a stone butch and one a queer femme, and a series of kink lessons that take place over the eight nights of Hanukkah.

There’s also asexual and pansexual representation, as well as fat autistic and disabled rep.

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Eitan's Chord cover

Eitan’s Chord by Shira Glassman

The second Hanukkah erotica story I found, and also the second title by Shira Glassman on this list, is Eitan’s Chord.

This is about three fairies and their magical threesome to grant Hanukkah wishes, which is just an amazing sentence to be able to type.

They’re doing this to help out Eitan, who is a trans man, and his cis wife Abigail. They basically need a miracle to make ends meet, and these fairies are here to help.

This is, I believe, not quite a novella—it’s a short story. If you know of any other sapphic Hanukkah stories, please let me know in the comments!

Wintry Mysteries

Watching Over Her cover

Watching Over Her by Ronica Black

While I love a snowed in romance, it’s also the perfect setting for a mystery.

This is another story about two women who are strangers and get snowed in together in a cabin. This time, it’s Riley who’s gone to the cabin to try to be by herself and spend the winter there.

Zoe, on the other hand, is dealing with a stalker, and she intends to also hide herself away for a while. But when she arrives at her grandfather’s cabin, it turns out that no one has been there for many years, and it’s fallen into dangerous disrepair.

Zoe knows that there’s a snowstorm coming and that she needs to be somewhere safe, so Riley and Zoe end up staying together in Riley’s cabin.

It’s not just a romance between the two of them, though, because there is also the ongoing threat of Zoe’s stalker, and as the snow closes in, there’s nowhere for them to run.

Magic, Murder, and Mistletoe cover

Magic, Murder, and Mistletoe by Ellen Jane

If you want your mysteries with a touch of the fantasy genre, this one is perfect for you.

When the Earl of Denbigh is killed by magical means, suspicions fall on the only two magic users in the area: Heather and Sinéad. These strangers are thrown together to try to prove their innocence–and catch the real killer.

There’s a slight hiccup in their newfound partnership, though: Heather is witch, and Sinéad is a sorcerer–these two kinds of magic are like oil and water.

Making it even more difficult, someone is sabotaging their investigation, and time is running out to clear their names.

This is a cozy F/F paranormal mystery romance set at Christmas!

I love winter mysteries—especially snowed in mysteries, obviously—but unfortunately, I don’t see many sapphic ones. I did read one other one, 1222 by Anne Holt, but I didn’t love that one, especially because of the racial representation, which I thought it was questionable. I’m always on the lookout for more sapphic mystery books that have that wintry element, which is why I’m so excited that this video was brought to you by the Kobo exclusive title Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall! (Description from the publisher.)

Murder Most Actual cover

Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall

From the author of Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake comes a cozy mystery that revisits the Golden Age of detective fiction, starring a heroine who’s more podcaster than private eye and topped with a lethal dose of parody — perfect for fans of ClueKnives Out, and Only Murders in the Building!

When up-and-coming true crime podcaster Liza and her corporate financier wife Hanna head to a luxurious hotel in the Scottish Highlands, they’re hoping for a chance to rekindle their marriage – not to find themselves trapped in the middle of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery with no way home. But who better to take on the case than someone whose entire profession relies on an obsession with all things mysterious and macabre? Though some of her fellow guests may consider her an interfering new media hack, Liza knows a thing or two about crime and – despite Hanna’s preference for waiting out the chaos behind a locked door – might be the only one capable of discovering the killer. As the bodies rack up and the stakes rise, can they save their marriage — and their lives?

What are your favourite sapphic wintry reads? Let us know in the comments!