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!

Fake Dating at a Sapphic Island Getaway: The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre

the cover of The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre

The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre was released in June 2023, and it’s a sweet and spicy contemporary romance about two people facing unusual circumstances which leads them both to a situation of a lifetime. Basil Jones has the seemingly perfect life until she is left at the altar by her fiancé. Determined not to lose out on an important work deal, she goes on the honeymoon trip as planned. She flies to gorgeous Sapphire Isle, where sapphic women go to escape their real life and live in paradise, even for a short time. The only issue? It’s a strict “couples only” policy, and Basil is without a partner. Enter Caroline King. The two had one brief encounter prior to meeting each other for a second time on the island. That second meeting is a little less by chance than Basil thinks, but Caroline is both taken with Basil and needs a place to stay, so she agrees to be her “wife.”  What follows is a fake relationship trope for the ages, with each of them holding on to secrets from the outside world and one another.

If you are a fan of fake relationships, sapphic islands, and intense sexual chemistry, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a must read. I admit that I do find something delicious about two people having to fake their way through intimacy, only for that intimacy to grow into something real. The tension in this fake marriage is no different and is perhaps even turned up several levels due to how Basil’s and Caroline’s first encounter went down. (Ahem…so to speak.) There is no denying these two women are attracted to each other, but each has their own reasons for trying to resist the pull they feel. Caroline has learned mixing business with pleasure can lead to heartbreak, and Basil was just left at the altar–an event that would leave anyone to proceed with caution.

In addition to these two women having to play wives, the forced proximity of sharing a honeymoon suite (*there is, indeed, only one bed*), and being on a literal island adds to them not being able to escape the other. Fyre, who’s name is fitting for how she writes certain scenes, has created an environment that any sapphic will be clamoring to find. There is something incredibly lovely about the thought of escaping to a safe island filled with other sapphic women. Also, it is no secret in my personal life that I am quite competitive, so Fyre’s invention of the “Sapphic Olympics” left me longing to find a real life version. The events she’s created are clever and fitting for its participants. I don’t mean to brag, but I would absolutely nail the dresser building competition. Within the context of the story, the games are just another area to add fuel to that tension between Caroline and Basil. Having to work together as a team and pitting them against one of Basil’s childhood nemeses creates another scenario where they are forced to confront their ever growing attraction. Basil’s Type A behavior, paired with Caroline’s more practical approach, fueled by her time in the military, creates a perfect storm of additional conflict.

As the weather gets colder, it would be wise to hold on to this book if you’re looking to read something to keep you warm. Literally. I, for one, will never be looking at a photo booth the same way again. I have a feeling after reading this book, neither will you. Their story is filled with delicious tension and heated looks. Fyre is incredibly good at building tension so tight you think you might burst, so you can only imagine what the characters are feeling. Thankfully, you don’t have to imagine too much. There are those scenes that will have you looking around to make sure you’re  alone or, at the very least, that no one is peeping over your shoulder. Maybe don’t read on public transportation. Or do, who am I to judge? (If there is one thing the sapphic community can do, its school features so no one knows you are reading about two women doing the horizontal polka.)

As filled with sexual tension as this book is, there are other themes that flow throughout. Through Basil, it examines the pressure of family obligations and how long we can allow our parents’ dreams to propel us forward before a resentment starts to build. Fyre also forces the main character/reader to examine at what point hurtful actions and breaches of trust, despite the intentions behind them, are too much for us to forgive. What is that line and do those good intentions absolve the person who hurt us and broke our trust? I found myself asking what that line would be for me.

At its base level, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a story about overcoming your fear of failure—in life and relationships—and being brave enough to try again. I appreciate the twists that Fyre also throws in, keeping you guessing about a few mysteries until a reveal leaves you saying: “OH!?!”. Did I want to grab one character at one point and say: “please, out with it!” Yes! But without it, there would be no conflict to overcome.

With a cast of side characters that include a hedgehog and supportive best friends who will leave you smiling, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a great read.

A Hilarious and Sweet High School Love Triangle: Belle of the Ball by Mari Costa

the cover of Belle of the Ball

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In the graphic novel Belle of the Ball, Brazilian author and illustrator Mari Costa treats us to a charming, sweet, and funny story of a high school love triangle between a nerdy wallflower, a charming jock, and an overly driven cheerleader.

When Belle Hawkins (who goes by her last name), school mascot and super shy wallflower, finally works up the courage to ask her crush, the super beautiful, super smart, and super popular cheerleader Regina Moreno, to the school dance, things don’t go particularly well. For starters, she forgets to take off the big cat head she’s wearing as part of her costume. Even worse, Regina has a girlfriend, the star athlete Chloe Kitigawa, who just so happens to show up right at that moment and threaten Hawkins to never talk to her girlfriend again. While both Hawkins and Chloe hope that that is the last time they see each other, fate has other plans. Later that day, Regina finds out that Chloe is failing English, which does not fit in with her 10 year plan for their lives. Regina decides to get Chloe a tutor. She sees Hawkins’s profile on a tutoring service website and comes up with a devious plan: play nice and ask Hawkins to tutor Chloe for free. 

Initially, Regina’s plans work well. Hawkins jumps at the chance to tutor Chloe to impress Regina. Chloe, despite being stubborn and a bit of a jerk to Hawkins, decides to play along. That all changes, though, when Chloe remembers who Hawkins is. Long before Hawkins decided to start hiding who she was (and going by Hawkins instead of her first name), she and Chloe were close friends, with Hawkins perpetually dressed as a princess and leading Chloe on adventures. As their tutoring sessions continue and they spend more and more time together, old feelings between the two resurface and a romance begins to bloom. However, with Regina still in the picture, things are complicated and they can’t admit their true feelings.

I really liked Mari Costa’s writing. For starters, I love the main characters and the journeys Mari takes them on in the book. While they all start as stereotypical high school archetypes, there is so much more depth to them over time. Hawkins starts as your typical shy nerdy wallflower. She sits the other nerdy kids in school, but never has the courage to join in. She’d rather wear her mascot head than be seen. However, as the story progresses, she begins to have the courage to open up and let people see who she truly is, thanks in no small part to Chloe. Chloe appears at first to be your stereotypical jock, but by the end you see that she has her own nerdy side and is actually very sweet and charming. I loved the interactions between Hawkins and Chloe as their relationship develops. The antagonism between them (mostly coming from Chloe) goes from mean-spirited to playful and sweet. They go from being two people stuck with one another because someone else made them do it to two people who genuinely care for one another and want to be around each other as much as possible.

And then there’s Regina. Initially, I didn’t care for Regina. She comes off as very selfish and full of herself at the beginning of the book. Her conversations are often all about her and how smart, beautiful, and talented she is. When talking about their relationship with Chloe, Regina routinely frames it around her own goals and her own needs, putting Chloe’s second. With Hawkins, most of their dynamic revolves around receiving praise from Hawkins or asking Hawkins to do things for her. However, as the story progresses, she slowly begins to realize her flaws and make small changes for the better. While I still didn’t become her biggest fan by the end of the book and I still see room for her to grow, I did come around on her at least a little. 

Mari’s art in this book is also outstanding. I really appreciated the unique color palette of the book, with Mari choosing to keep everything in black, white, and shades of red and pink. The pacing of her panels is also fluid. Not once did I get confused as my eyes moved from panel to panel. Mari uses her art to full comedic effect, with multiple awkward momsents illustrated hilariously. A special mention needs to be said for how she used Hawkins’ mascot head, this giant cat head, in several scenes. For me, though, the best thing about the art in this book was how Mari illustrated facial expressions, from over the top manga-style illustrations to emphasize character emotions to more subtle illustrations to show the character’s inner thoughts. It all really worked for me and made the character’s emotions and thoughts crystal clear. I really think that this helped the most with Chloe, the quietest of the three protagonists. There are pages in which she says maybe two lines of dialogue, but her eye movements and facial expressions say so much more. 

I only have two minor complaints about this book. First, I would have liked to see more of Regina’s arc. I feel like a lot of it gets left to the last chapter and is fairly short. That’s not to say that it doesn’t work or that it’s sudden: you do see how she goes from selfish and stuck-up to a better friend to Chloe and Hawkins, and it does make sense. I just wish I saw more of it. Second, I wish there had been more about what happened to Hawkins that made her hide herself away so much. It’s hinted that something happened that made her go from Belle, dressed like a princess as much as possible, to Hawkins, hidden away in more androgynous clothes. Still, we get nothing more than “high school happened”, which, granted, is believable. 

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this graphic novel. If you’re looking for a sweet, funny, and light-hearted high school romance, I highly recommend it.       

Jamie Rose is a trans woman living in Florida (so you can imagine how that’s going right now). She has a PhD in Applied Linguistics and teaches courses in language learning and teaching. A lover of stories, she enjoys reading both comic books/graphic novels and the ones without pictures. Her favorite genres are contemporary romance, science fiction and fantasy, superheroes, and comedy. When she’s not reading or working, she’s usually playing table-top games or video games, binging YouTube videos, or spending time with her wife and daughter. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, Bluesky, and Threads at @jamiegeeksout. 

Til reviews Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

the cover of Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

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Séance Tea Party begins with Lora, a lost young person somewhere between girlhood and womanhood. Growing up looms large throughout the graphic novel… as much as anything looms in this gentle, joyful, sometimes heartbreaking story. Lora feels alone with her friends moving on to things like slick magazines and text chains, while she continues to prefer imaginative play. When ghost girl Alexa joins Lora at the titular séance tea party, the two form a friendship—and maybe something more—that will ultimately bring healing to both girls and those important to them.

It’s a quick read and a sweet one. Lora is relatable as someone who doesn’t want to stop having fun but feels like her fun is no longer accepted. I saw a lot of myself in her and remembered going through the same feeling that “growing up” means growing miserable. Lora and Alexa’s friendship is adorably played. This literal ghost of the past gives Lora the confidence to do new things and reach out to others, while holding on to the things she values about her younger self.

This is a story about what we let go of and what we hold onto. The narrative never feels critical of Lora’s desire to keep her childhood joys. It’s not a cruel story. If anything, it’s about an intentional and healthful fusion of the two.

Take my commentary with a grain of salt: my visual literacy is far from the sharpest, and I likely missed a fair helping of nuance. The core story, though, is a delight.

Danika reviews I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama

I know, I know. This seems pretty silly. I’ll admit that I sometimes pick up yuri manga as a guilty pleasure: most of the yuri I’ve read has been absorbing, but comes tainted without enough homophobia and male gaze to sour the reading experience. I’m happy to say that this book really surprised me.

This short, standalone manga is about a fake marriage: Morimoto is sick of being constantly set up by her parents. Her friend Hana suggests that they get married (or, at least, get an equivalent partnership certificate offered in some regions). Morimoto finds herself agreeing to this plan, despite her parents’ outrage and despite her knowledge that Hana is an out lesbian and had feelings for her in high school.

Another thing that I often find myself recoiling from in the manga I’ve read is an unhealthy attitude towards consent. In this story, Hana “playfully” pins Morimoto down, asking if she’s afraid of sleeping in the same room as a lesbian. Morimoto immediately goes limp and glassy-eyed, and Hana backs off, explaining that she was joking, and seemingly thrown by her reaction. This scene also explains how Morimoto got in this situation: we find out that her parents are controlling and emotionally abusive, not allowing her to make any real decisions in her life. She has been trained to follow along meekly in what is expected of her, which explains how Hana was so quick to convince Morimoto that she should be able to live in her apartment in exchange for housework.

Unsurprisingly, Hana and Morimoto’s relationship changes as they live together. Morimoto also finds new confidence in herself: she is inspired by Hana, by her dedication to her passion (art) and her defiance in being unapologetically out. It was gratifying to see an out character, one who even uses the word “lesbian,” in the pages of a yuri manga. [spoilers:] It was inspiring to see Morimoto stand up to her abusive and homophobic mother. [end spoilers]

This isn’t perfect, of course. Morimoto is drawn with fan service-y unrealistic breasts, and sometimes Hana pushes Morimoto (but always backs off). But it’s so refreshing to pick up a manga that really seems queer. It feels genuine. This has all of the appeal that yuri manga usually has for me: it’s a quick, absorbing, and adorable read. But it adds more depth and realism than I expect from this genre. It had me absolutely grinning as I read it. Be warned that the end of this volume is an unrelated short story, so it is pretty short. I loved this, despite the laughable title. I highly recommend it, whether you’re already a fan of yuri manga, or if you’re looking for a place to get started.

Danika reviews Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings by Sarah Graley

Part-time Grim Reaper. Full-time cutie.

WELL. If this isn’t one of the cutest things I’ve ever read. Becka is an art school student who is crushing hard on Kim, a gothic girl in her class. Little does she know, Kim is a part-time Grim Reaper, and instead of heading off to the pub after class with a cute girl, Becka ends up being pulled into some dangerous undead shenanigans.

This is so much fun to read. The plot is silly (they fight a bodybuilder and his army of cats!) and the art is super cute. I also found the interaction between Becka and Kim really interesting. At first, Becka is pursuing Kim, fully convinced that she, too, is Goth As Hell and that they would be perfect together. Kim at first pushes her away, but they are stuck together on this adventure, and she soon warms up. In the meantime, as Becka gets to know Kim, she is frustrated by her recklessness–the only reason she even ended up here is because Kim opened a portal in the middle of the hallway!

Kim has to grapple with the fact that her attempts to impress Becka have just put them both in danger, and that not everyone finds running from death (figuratively and literally) a fun way to spend the afternoon. Becka walks away when she feels that their relationship isn’t a healthy one for her, and Kim has to figure out whether she wants to keep going on this path. That’s mostly in the background, though, and it never gets too dramatic. It just adds a layer to this mostly fluffy and fun read!

Also, I have to mention: Becka is the most adorable main character I’ve ever seen. The hair buns! Her cute little tummy!! Honestly, I couldn’t believe how much I appreciated that there is an outline of Becka’s tummy. And I actually learned that “visible belly outline” (or VBO) is a thing! That there’s a term for! So this book made me happy not only because a) the illustrations are adorable, b) the plot is silly and fun, c) Becka and Kim are cuties together, but also d) seeing Becka–a character whose silhouette does not look entirely dissimilar to my own–depicted as cute, confident, and desirable makes me feel happier in my own clothes.

If you need a boost of cuteness in your reading life, I can’t really recommend Kim Reaper highly enough. This was one of my few 5 star ratings this year!


Marthese reviews Band vs Band by Kathleen Jacques

band vs band 76

Ever wanted a regularly updated webcomic to cater for your fluffy and drama needs in the long term because short things are not the best when you get attached to the characters? You’re in luck!

Band vs Band is a cute and bright webcomic by Kathleen Jacques. For those that prefer physical copies, there is a volume of 150 pages out as well.

Band vs Band follows…you guessed it, two bands that are ‘rivals’. The first band is the Candy Hearts, fronted by Honey Hart. In Candy Hearts there are also Honey’s best friend Cherry Cola (her real surname is Kirsch! For those that know German this is a fun fact(, Coco who always hides her face and Zero who doesn’t appear so often and reminds me of Fred from Scoobie Doo with that scarf.

The second band is the Sourballs fronted by Turpentine who like Honey also plays the guitar and sings. In the band there are also Foxy, who reminds me of Luna Lovegood with her character, Atomic Domme who is the level headed, intellectual feminist in the group and Arsenic, Turpentine’s best friend since childhood who’s always hooking up with people. The Sourballs’ motto is ‘’Hedonism, Nihilism, Petty vandalism’’!

The names are fitting to their bands. The Candy Hearts are all very bubbly, idealistic and sweet and always try to teach lessons to children, take part in charity and so on. The Sourballs are trouble makers who mess with the Candy Hearts. This is especially true for Turpentine to Honey; Honey sometimes retaliates especially when it comes to drawings and letters.

Turpentine and Honey have different personalities. Honey is very sweet, bubbly and caring while Turpentine seems not to have a care in the world (though she’s secretly also caring especially towards Nick aka Arsenic and Honey). They are also rivals but there is romantic and sexual tension between the two. I mean, they share a dessert right after the first confrontation. It doesn’t take a long time for them to start looking out for each other apart from being rivals. This includes late night phone calls, trips to hell and facing impostors. The plot basically revolves around this rivalry, sweetness and simple life moments where they drive each other crazy but stick out for each other.

The two bands and the two singers often have band offs and duets. Indeed, there is a whole lot of songs in this webcomic. It’s like a musical, someone is doing something irrelevant, then someone calls for a song and bam, you have a song that’s quite catchy.

The colours in this comic are all reds, blues, whites and blacks and the typographs is very varied. Apart from short episodes, there are also side-stories of side characters, magazine pages, activity sheets that includes colouring pages, album art covers and so many other creative additions. I really liked the pages that are basically song lyrics and interpretations especially when Honey and Turpentine sing together or against each other. The ‘up next’ after each episodes are funny, so take notice of them.

Sometimes, the plot seems a bit detached as it’s not one continuous timeline but episodes after each other and sometimes there is too much extra content that you forget the main plot. If you binge read though, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Although the main plot is about Turpentine and Honey, the other characters also have their things on the side. I found all characters engaging and liked the side characters side-comics since I tend to want to know more about each character shown.

The webcomic, although not finished is updated every Monday at this URL: http://bvbcomix.com/ and I suggest if you like the premise to read it and not the afraid of the fact that it’s not finished because it’s regularly updated and there is content from years ago that you need to catch up with! I suggest starting from the about section first.

first_bvb_redo

 

Marthese reviews Pegasi and Prefects (Scholars and Sorcery #1) by Eleanor Beresford

pegasi

“I take my questions and shining little badges with me”

Keeping in line with my recent reviews, I read another short fantasy book. This time, I read Pegasi and Prefects which is the first in the Scholars and Sorcery series. I found it to be a somewhat good introduction but it focuses more on the main character, Charley rather than world building. At times it seemed slow but I quite enjoyed that. The book is only 138 pages so a quick read overall.

The story is about Charley, who attends Fernleigh Manor, a school for gifted people which are people that possess talents that are somewhat different from each other as no gift is the same. Charley has an affinity to communicate with fabled animals. Her family has a business in raising fabled beasts and in fact, Charley has a pegasus named Ember. She is friends with Esther and Cecily who are quite popular and so by default but not only, is Charley. They are in their last year of studies and Charley wants a quite year but her year is anything but that as she is made a senior prefect and a games captain- a sort of peer trainer for all the years and hockey teams.

Charley’s year is also rocked when two new girls transfer in their last year at the Manor. She has to share a study room with Diana, who many people are charmed by but not Charley. Moreover, She has to be friendly to Rosalind, a very shy girl but in the end this would not be a problem as Charley develops feelings for Rosalind after the two girls take care of an animal together since it turns out that they both share an affinity to fabled beasts.

Charley is what could be called a tomboy and we see some gender relations and how different people treat her because of this- namely Esther, Diana and her brothers. Charley learns not to fall into prejudice and also learns to be less selfish. This seems also a theme about her love life, where she assumes things about Rosalind and is jealous but at the same time wants to be selfless.

World building is slow and sometimes confusing but things eventually got clearer. We get to know more about different animals and about the history of the reality that the characters live in. When reading fantasy I tend to assume that it’s a different world and so I was surprised when things like cars or hockey got mentioned but when they were, it helped me understand and relate better.

Despite it’s slowness, I found it to be a calming book and it also kept me interested and as such, I read it very quickly. I recommend it to people that like fantasy books but that are looking for something different from the usual epic battle or action theme. It is also suitable for young audiences and more focused on Charley’s self-reflection.