Kelleen reviews Patience & Esther by SW Searle

the cover of Patience & Esther by SW Searle

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I don’t know why more people haven’t read this book. I don’t know why I never see this book discussed whenever folks are talking about historical romance, or graphic novels, or the greatest sapphic graphic novel historical romance (is that a genre?) novels ever crafted. 

To be honest, I’m not big on graphic novels (I have a learning disability and read mostly with my ears, so graphic novels don’t always work for my brain), so it never occurred to me that I need a romance novel with pictures. I have a great imagination! And I love narration! And isn’t it maybe weird to write sexy scenes in graphic novel form? But alas, this book is exactly what I needed and so much more. 

This interracial erotic historical Edwardian romance graphic novel (whew, lots of adjectives) tells the story of two women working in service in England—one an Indian lady’s maid and one a new Scottish maid of all work—as they fall in love and navigate a changing world of industry and identity at the turn of the century. It is domestic and comforting and beautiful and I simply could not get enough.

It is so deeply romantic, and so steamy (there are historical sex toys)! The illustrations are exquisite and beautifully detailed, and show real, beautiful bodies. One of the heroines is fat and is drawn with rolls and stretch marks, and it was such a profound experience for me to see a body like that (a body like mine) being loved and desired and sexy in illustrations along with text. 

Because of the identities of the heroines as Indian, Scottish, working class, and sapphic, there was so much interesting conversation about how these women fit into the social political movements of the time. We see the racism, classism, and exclusivity of the Suffragists Movement and the way that the horrors of colonialism strip people of their names, families,  cultures, and identities. The exploration of the changing social and political atmosphere at such an integral, fast-paced time in history was so engaging and was intertwined so well with captivating the emotional span of the romance. 

One thing that I really loved about the romance is that these two are always on each other’s side. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t hard and emotional and conflict-ridden and romantic, but these two are such a good team, fighting for each other and for their relationship every step of the way. 

This book is literally everything I love. It’s like a steamy, sapphic Downton Abbey, and my heart was going pitter-pat the whole time I was reading. I cannot recommend this genre-bending book enough. If you are a sapphic reader (or a reader of sapphics, whichever), pick up this book. You will be charmed, you will be delighted, you will be swooned and amazed and intrigued and you will not be sorry. 

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

Meagan Kimberly reviews A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria

A Lot Like Adiós cover

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Gabe and Michelle had been best friends since childhood. As they grew into teenagers, their feelings took a turn toward romantic, but before they did anything about it, Gabe left.

Over 10 years later, Michelle works as a freelance marketing specialist in the Bronx and Gabe owns a gym in LA, and they haven’t had contact since he left, until now. Gabe makes a return to New York to work with Michelle on a marketing campaign to open a new branch of the gym. Emotions run high, lies become tangled and it’s time for both of them to face the past if they’re going to reach their happy ending.

This is a Latine story on every level. Sprinkled with Spanglish and Spanish throughout narration and dialogue, mentions of Puerto Rican and Mexican foods and their families being way too involved in their relationship all create a familiar environment for Latine readers. Gabe’s strained relationship with his parents is also a familiar situation that many children of immigrants can relate to and plays a central role in his character development. Throughout the novel, Gabe begins to untangle his old feelings and realize a great deal of miscommunication occurred between them.

Meanwhile, Michelle works toward untangling her relationship with work and burnout, especially as how those parts of her life act as a crutch to keep her from making meaningful relationships. As she reconnects with Gabe, she begins to let go of control and stop doubting herself and her abilities.

As the story unfolds, there are inserts of a fanfic Gabe and Michelle wrote together as teenagers called Celestial Destiny. They shared a love for a sci-fi TV show that finally gave them Latinos in space and then was canceled after only one season, a stituation too many of us are all too familiar with. But these inserts serve as a fantastical way to convey a lot of character development that Michelle and Gabe keep from one another and even themselves.

Bisexuality is dealt with subtly in this book. There’s a conversation early on between them where Michelle states, “Gabe, are you telling me we’re both bisexual?” They have a brief conversation about their past relationships regarding being bi and that’s the last you hear of it. It’s a different way for bisexuality to play a role in an f/m romance story than I’ve seen before. There’s never a big deal made about it. It’s addressed but it doesn’t make up the bulk of the plot or character development. But that doesn’t make these characters any less queer.

Within the little bit about the characters’ sexualities, however, there is more nuance given to Michelle. She speaks about dating people of different genders but never having sex with women. She doesn’t hide her sexual orientation from her family, but she doesn’t discuss her dating life with them either. It seems like she’s still getting comfortable with her bi identity.

For those who like their romance novels extra steamy, you’re in luck! A Lot Like Adiós includes lots of hot sex, dirty talk and wonderful examples of consent. Alexis Daria did a fantastic job of portraying a passionate relationship without shying away from sex, desire and pleasure, making it all guilt-free and without shame. It’s totally sex-positive,

Kelleen reviews The Inconvenient Heiress by Jane Walsh

the cover of The Inconvenient Heiress

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I have elected myself president of the Jane Walsh fan club that does not exist. I am painting us Lavender Menace-style t-shirts with stencils and foam brushes and I’ll order broaches on Etsy. I’ll wear a backwards baseball cap as my crown and shout my allegiance from the roofs of all of the buildings because I LOVE JANE WALSH.

I, like so many of us, have been feeling increasingly as though my world is crumbling around me, so imagine my utter elation when I received an email from Bold Strokes that contained the gift of Jane Walsh’s new historical romance novel, The Inconvenient Heiress. There is nothing in the wide world that brightens my day faster than a Jane Walsh novel and this book brightened my world.

This book—the start of a new series for her—has impeccable vibes. Let me paint you a picture (this is a clever joke because one of the heroines is a painter): Two poor women on the regency coast, friends to lovers, all the pining, an unexpected (and rather inconvenient) arrival of an unknown family fortune, the much more expected threat of losing the fortune, determined suitressing, a curvy heroine, a rockstar community of proud lesbian spinsters, two loving families, finding literally any excuse to kiss your best friend even though you’re just gals being pals, and the most stunning cover I have ever seen.

This book is so tender. It’s soft and aching and delicate while at the same time being all the things I ever want in a historical romance novel—dramatic and lush and dynamic. Each word is so steeped in culture and convention and then with some magic flick of her wrist she’s flipped it all upside down onto its head. Jane Walsh writes with such a reverence for women and womanhood while embracing a vast and wondrous queerness.

Reading a Jane Walsh novel is a dream with every page. It’s a reminder that we have always been here, that we have always been finding community and finding love, that we have always risked it all and been rewarded for our bravery, that queer love is about the quiet moments as well as the loud ones, that we deserve to wear flowy gowns and make our art and find our future, that we deserve to have our love and care returned to us in spades, that we deserve and deserve and deserve.

Pick up a Jane Walsh romance novel. You won’t regret it. And there’s always room in our fan club.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bold Strokes Books for this ARC. Out August 16th, 2022.

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.