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.

Shana reviews Humbug by Amanda Radley

the cover of Humbug

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Humbug is a quiet Christmas novel with an age gap romance. I found it a relaxing and wholesome read, but it’s an unbalanced workplace romance. The book struggled to decide if it wanted to focus on the characters’ careers, or their love story.

Ellie is a brilliant statistician who is stuck in a dead end job at an HR recruitment firm. Everyone in her office knows that she loves Christmas because her desk looks like a Hallmark holiday movie year-round. So when her firm’s CEO, Rosalind, needs someone to organize an epic office Christmas party at the last minute, she taps Ellie to be her new executive assistant in a cushy penthouse office. There are just two problems. One, Ellie is terrified of heights and can barely stand to be in her new office without hyperventilating.  Two, Rosalind hates Christmas, and her last assistant canceled all the party plans. As they work together, mutual crushes abound! But since neither can imagine the other wanting them, we get a slow sweet burn with plenty of personal growth along the way. 

Rosalind is an intimidating, and exacting boss, and Ellie is initially a nervous wreck around her. But Rosalind is also a compassionate coworker, and a protective single mother, who appreciates Ellie’s talent. And Ellie is clearly talented. The woman engineers a winter wonderland from scratch, outside, during a London winter!

I loved watching Ellie rediscover her confidence through working with Rosalind. At the beginning of the book, Ellie has forgotten her worth and is grateful for any job after a period of unemployment. Slowly, Ellie learns that she’s been coasting along with an unfulfilling role, with roommates who take her for granted. I liked seeing Ellie find her happiness and I think this would be a great read for someone feeling stuck in their life or career. But I was left wishing that the end of the book had focused more on resolving Ellie’s career, and less on ramping on the romance. Still, if you love watching characters slowly figure out they like one another, and prefer your romances with no sex scenes, this may work for you. 

I appreciated that Rosalind was portrayed as both a nurturing person who adores her articulate queer daughter, and as a shrewd businesswoman. She’s powerful and sexy, without feeling unattainable. I don’t usually like ice queen romances OR boss/employee romances, but I loved both of those tropes in Humbug. I thought the power dynamics were smoothly addressed. While there’s several work scenes where Rosalind enjoys flustering a blushing Ellie, Rosalind is too ethical to act on her growing attraction to Ellie. And though there is an age gap, and the two women are clearly at different points in their lives, they both clearly respected one another. 

My favorite part of the story was Ellie’s unapologetic love of all things Christmas. It was intense, and adorable, and I loved that Ellie happily accepted other characters’ more  muted—or hostile—feelings about the holiday. This is a classic Christmas rom-com, with holiday cheer and a predictable storyline. I would vote for Humbug as my favorite Christmas novel of 2021.

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.

.

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!

Marieke reviews The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett cover

This was a mildly frustrating read, and depending on what you’re looking for in your fantasy romance this may or may not be for you. In premise it’s relatively similar to Queen Of Ieflaria or Of Fire and Stars: a woman of royal heritage is expecting to marry a male royal of another country, but the person they’re expecting to marry is unexpectedly killed and in order to maintain international relations, the person next in line (female in all these instances) takes the dead relative’s place. I am an absolute sucker for this premise because there’s lots of court intrigue, a murder mystery and/or conspiracy, the sexual tension of an arranged marriage, the romance where the two characters have to start by distrusting each other for that sweet sweet enemies to lovers dynamic – it’s the whole package. Add a dash of magic (in this case that’s pearls giving magical powers harvested in the underwater city Below the ice, for trade with the country Above) and you have to work quite hard for me not to pick up what you’re putting down.

And yet that still sort of happened this time. The Winter Duke is slightly different from the two cited examples in that it is written completely from the newly crowned sister’s (Ekaterina or Ekata) perspective and it doesn’t include any chapters written from the point of view of the foreign royal (Inkar) who is suddenly forced to switch horses in the middle of the race (this is a pun because Inkar is a self-confessed Horse Girl). This leaves out valuable insight on court mechanics that the main character might not be partial to, especially as Inkar seems to be much more politically savvy than Ekata – who spent most of her life so far ignoring her murderous siblings and instead diving into scientific studies.

This tendency for ignoring obvious issues and escapism doesn’t serve Ekata well, as she still has to complete four trials in order to be officially recognised as the ruler of the country. Her modus operandi seems to be to pretty much tune out all the advice from her prime minister, completely ignore or actively antagonise her other ministers, and when it all gets to be too much, simply nope out completely by visiting the country Below and trying to figure out how the magic works. While ostentatiously this behaviour could all be the result of a healthy distrust due to her whole family being put under a sleeping curse, her motivations generally read more as panicked teenager. Which is fair! She is a teenager with good reason to be panicked! But it’s not the most intriguing character journey, in my opinion. She keeps pivoting between deciding to actually try to win the trials and set up the country with a solid rule, and then switching back to not doing anything and/or doing the wrong thing – and then never learning from any of the many mistakes she makes in the process.

The constant back and forth between those positions becomes repetitive and boring quite quickly, so the court intrigue and ‘murder’ mystery elements of the plot are not as successful for me (especially because I identified a major player in the conspiracy halfway through the book). That means it has to lean more on the fantasy and romance elements.  The worldbuilding here is super cool, with the underwater court and court Above divided by a thick layer of ice, but the magic system seems overly convoluted and confusing: we are told what it can do, but the how and why remain secret for a long time.

The romance is where the book finds most solid ground. Inkar is a very different personality from Ekata, very no-nonsense and a go-getter, while still capable of playing all the political games. Ekata is in a slightly impossible position, where marrying Inkar is not necessarily her best political play (according to most of her advisers), but to her it’s preferable to the alternative of marrying the one other character (male, and thus not ‘the right gender’ for Ekata) vying for the position of royal consort. This puts her in the position of having to walk a fine line between annoying Inkar out of the engagement while not putting herself in the position of becoming available to the Guy. This makes for a very unstable bedrock to her relationship with Inkar, which in turns makes for a fun relationship dynamic between the two where they both use each other and the connection between them to their own benefit. There’s fantastic friction, and the growing emotions between the two feel naturally paced.

The romance is by far the strongest element of this story, but it remains only one element among many, and under-utilised at that. The court Below, the court Above, the mystery surrounding the sleeping curse, the coronation trials, the rival Guy vying for the throne: there are just a few too many spinning plates to be kept in the air, so in the end there isn’t enough plot available to flesh all of them out enough to be satisfying as a whole.

Content warnings: death, confinement, violence, murder, sexism, sexual harassment, near-death experience

Sinclair reviews The Solstice Gift by Avery Cassell 

The Solstice Gift by Avery Cassell

The Solstice Gift by Avery Cassell is a queer love story in the best sense of the words. It doesn’t follow the traditional, heterosexual tropes of how the two characters meet and following them through their courtship, but comes in with the love story well under way, and continues with new and radical sexcapades that bring the couple closer together, exploring identity, gender, sex, kink, and love in the process.

The couple, Behruz and Lucky (who you might already know from Cassell’s full-length novel Behruz Gets Lucky, reviewed on the Lesbrary by Anna), are older, both butch, very much in to all kinds of kinky fuckery, and come up with a new way to celebrate winter solstice: with a threesome. What starts as a one-off lark becomes an annual tradition, and becomes elaborate in its ritual and execution.

As a queer, kinky person myself, I loved Cassell’s descriptions of the negotiations, both from a non monogamous and a kink perspective. Cassell clearly knows about the genders, sexualities, open relationship philosophies, and kinks in this book. I love the elaborate references to queer and literary culture — many of which I didn’t understand, but I still like how that adds richness to the prose and feels like a conversational with queer and literary history. 

I love reading a queer book with characters who are older, and with a couple who are both butches. Despite more and more representation, graphic sexuality for folks who are over 40 is still rare, and butch/butch desire is not nearly as common as many other gender combinations. I also appreciate how easefully they navigate the openness of their relationship. The book doesn’t go into the envy, jealousy, or insecurities that can come up for open relationships, but I didn’t really miss that content. It just felt like it was more of a queer kinky fairy tale than a real-life depiction of what navigating threesomes is like (I don’t know about you, but in my experience, they are often sexually frustrating, feel incomplete, and end up with someone feeling left out). And sometimes, frankly, I just want the fairy tale version — I want everyone excited to be there, getting off, communicating with exquisite precision, and generally having a gay ol’ time. 

It’s a quick read, just over 100 pages, which makes it light enough to zoom through but still full of content and characters that have stayed with me. When I picked up the book again to make notes for this review, I caught myself just turning the pages, jumping in to yet another year’s solstice gift story, since it was so easy to pick it up again from any point and be hooked into the story. 

The Solstice Gift was the winner of the 2020 Pauline Reage Novel Award from the National Leather Association International.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 8, Leroy King and the Triple Daddies  (2017): 

Picking the Solstice Gift for 2017 turned out to be easy-peasy. That was the year that our ancient Subaru Forester, Ruby Tuesday, finally shuddered to a halt and nearly went into the Subaru graveyard in the sky, but we decided to put in a last-ditch effort to get it repaired. The owners of the shop we’d been going to, Gay’s Gearhead NoHo Car Repair, had retired, so we asked around for a new mechanic. The consensus was that King’s Automobile Services was the cat’s meow. King’s Automobile Services’ slogan was “King’s: Where queens are kings, kings are queens, and service reigns!”, and they were known for a series of peppy commercials that featured the owner, a dapper stud named Leroy King. Leroy looked to be in her mid-50s, had greying dreadlocks, a fondness for wearing a forest green bandanna as a neckerchief, ironed grey mechanic’s overalls with “King’s” embroidered in curly red script across her chest, deep-set dark eyes behind retro black eyeglasses, and a sparkling gold labrys inlaid in one of her front teeth.

Of course, we had other contenders, but Lucky and I were totally crushed out on Leroy and the others faded into the background like distant stars to Leroy, a luminous full moon. Yeah, we had it bad and this is how it went down.

Read the rest of the excerpt over on Avery Cassell’s site here.

Maybe it’s a little early to start thinking about your own solstice gifts, but if you know some queers who like books, kinky sex, ethical non-monogamy, and queer literary references, this will be a great treat. 

Buy it directly from Avery Cassell at their Etsy store (and pick up an embroidered bandana while you’re there, too).

Mallory Lass reviews One Walk in Winter by Georgia Beers, narrated by Lori Prince

One Walk in Winter by Georgia Beers

One Walk in Winter is a workplace romance set in the fictional mountain town of Evergreen spanning three US winter holidays: Thanksgiving through New Years. There is something about a book set in a place where it snows that really gets me into that cozy winter mindset. Light on the angst and high on the heat, Beers’ latest spin on a timeless trope left me smiling for days.

Hayley Boyd Markham is a New York City girl who has been working out her grief over her mother’s passing by setting the city on fire. After a particularly expensive night out, her father informs her he’s cutting off her credit cards. In order for Hayley to earn her allowance back, she’ll need to go manage one of the Markham family resorts, the slowly declining Evergreen Resort and Spa, through the winter. The problem is, Hayley is an artist like her mother and not very interested in the family business like her father and step brothers.

Olivia Santini has worked as the Assistant Manager of the Evergreen Resort and Spa for seven years; she thinks she’s a shoo-in for the open Manager position, only to be crushed when she doesn’t get the job. More ego bruising, the new Manager doesn’t seem to have any resort management experience, and Olivia isn’t sure where she went wrong. It doesn’t help that she’s finding it really hard to maintain her grudge against Hayley, who, aside from her penchant to be late, is extremely attractive and likeable.

Olivia and Hayley have a picturesque meet cute about 3 hours before finding out Hayley is Olivia’s new boss. After the rocky second meeting, despite their obvious attraction, Hayley and Olivia take it slow, working hard to earn each others favor. Sometimes, two people just need a good push in the right direction, and that is where Angela Santini, Olivia’s mom comes into the picture. Angela is a supportive mom, and she pushes Olivia to give Hayley the benefit of the doubt. It’s just the encouragement she needs to get out of her own way.

The supporting cast and the hidden gems of the town of Evergreen are slowly revealed throughout the story. Beers’ created a town I would love to be able to go visit and friends I wish I could call my own.

Hayley has been ordered by her father to conceal her Markham identity and prove she can help turn the Evergreen around. As Hayley and Olivia become closer, Hayley’s concealed identity is no doubt going to become an issue. I was pleasantly surprised with how Beers resolved their conflict, but will it be too late for Olivia to forgive Hayley? You’ll have to give this one a read (or a listen) to find out.

Speaking of, I listened to this book on audio, and Lori Prince does a wonderful job bringing Hayley and Olivia to life. I can’t wait to listen to other books she’s narrated.

Mallory Lass reviews Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes

Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes cover

Content warning: violence against women, murder of women, homophobic father, abandoned by father, alcohol abuse

Unsolved serial murders committed by one, or maybe two people, will keep you guessing in this thriller that takes place in the dead of winter. Nothing like solving a murder over Christmas. It is low on holiday feels, and high on intrigue.

Joanna, an ex-cop who served time for killing a serial offender in cold blood, just can’t seem to let her old life go. Or maybe, her past has a way of catching up with her. Her life after prison is simple, if not boring. She works in a warehouse and spends time with her two straight female friends: a former fellow inmate, Kira, and the IAB cop that sent her to jail, Vanessa. Her and Vanessa spend most of their time together getting drunk, arguing, and picking up respective one-night stands. An attempted murder in her hometown, with a profile like one of her old cases, forces her to navigate her relationship with her former partner on the force, Theo.

I went through a Patricia Cornwell phase where I read about twenty Scarpetta novels in a year, and I’ve watched my fair share of crime shows, but crime thrillers are not my go to genre, and I haven’t read many lesbian ones. This was a good entrée into the genre.

Killer Instinct is an entertaining read. I didn’t personally like the snippets into other character points of view—it happens infrequently and with different characters points of view being told throughout the book that it seemed more distracting than beneficial. I would have preferred finding out plot points and relevant case information at the same time the protagonist Joanna does. But, as a reader, knowing outside information did increase the suspense factor. My other critique is that the supporting cast was not developed enough to be really invested in them. I wanted to know more about their back story and certainly more about Joanna and Venessa’s road to becoming friends.

Overall, there were enough twists and turns for me to consider this book a “page turner”, and at 165 pages it is definitely a quick read. This is a thriller, but there is also a romantic undercurrent, and despite Joanna’s penchant for one-night stands (the sex throughout is of the fade to black variety), she might have finally met a woman worth having a relationship with. Will her past will keep coming back to bite her, ruining her chances at a longer term relationship? Will she help her old partner solve the case and finally exercise her demons? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

Danika reviews 1222 by Anne Holt

1222

When I first saw this book mentioned on Queer Books Please’s list Lesbians In Cold Places: A New Genre, I was already super enthusiastic about the list itself. I like seasonal reads (hence my October binge on horror), and combine that with lesbian main characters? Sold! Then I read the description of 1222 and found that it fulfills one of my favourite tropes: the Closed Circle. And it was compared to And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, which I read last month and enjoyed. So an And Then There Were None-esque story about people snowed into a creepy hotel, with a lesbian main character who is in a wheelchair? You could not have hooked me any more than you already have. And maybe that build-up was the problem, because I did not enjoy this one nearly as much as I was expecting.

For one thing, this is a mystery, but it is not similar to And Then There Were None. There are more than a hundred people in the hotel, and to avoid spoilers, let’s just say it’s not as if a large percentage of those people end up dead. Also, they are only stranded for a few days, so the stakes weren’t as high as I was expecting. And then there’s the main character, Hanne, who is utterly unlikeable. I enjoy flawed characters, so I don’t need main characters to be likeable in order to appreciate the read–I found the main character in the Red Tree delightfully causter–but Hanne is a complete misanthrope. She looks down on other people. The line that made me recoil is when she is describing her housekeeper: “But I’m not fond of Mary. She is simply there, like a human piece of furniture, and I have learned to live under the same roof as her. That’s enough for me: Nefis, Ida, and a tired, dried-up whore who cooks our meals.” Later she calls a little person a “dwarf” and continually describes him as looking absurd and clownish, even when she begins to like him. She calls all religion a “scourge”. And on a slightly different note, there is pitbull hate in this book, which I don’t appreciate. And, [spoilers, highlight to read] there are only three people of colour in this book, all minor characters, who all end up being revealed to be carrying concealed weapons. [end spoilers]

I also realized that this is actually book eight of the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, but 1222 did a good job of filling me in on the basics of her backstory so that I didn’t actually feel like I was missing anything. The action starts off strong: the book begins with the train Hanne is on crashing. Unfortunately, I did feel like the rest of the book was a little bit slow. I found the characters difficult to keep track of, because most of them I just didn’t care about. To be fair, I didn’t see the resolution of the mystery coming, and it did all make sense, but I wasn’t invested. (Also, the very end was… a little outdated now.) Overall, I can recognize the writing quality itself was good, but without being interested in the plot or the characters, I didn’t find it to be very compelling. I’ll admit that I haven’t read a ton of mysteries, so that may affect my outlook, and other book blogs seem to give 1222 a high rating. Maybe a mystery buff who likes anti-heroes would enjoy this one, but I would recommending passing on this Lesbians In Cold Places read.

Danika reviews Fresh Tracks by Georgia Beers

freshtracks

At the end of November, when I was planning the books I’d like to pick up in December, I took a look at my shelves to see if there were any holiday or wintery books I hadn’t read yet, and Fresh Tracks immediately jumped out at me, so I knew it was a must-read for the month. I’m glad that I took that look, because this was a great December read. It takes place just after Christmas and into the new year, so it’s… holiday-adjacent, without being a blatant Christmas book. Fresh Tracks is about seven lesbians who get together in a cabin in the woods for a vacation, and lesbian drama, of course, ensues.

I ended up liking this book a lot more than I was expecting. I thought it would be a quick, fluffy romance book, but I ended up really enjoying the characters. Even though there are seven main characters, they are distinct and easy to keep track of. There are Jo and Amy, the lesbian couple who have been married for fifteen years and are still adorably madly in love, who act almost in a nurturing, parental role over their friends; Molly and Kristin, who have also been together for a while, but their relationship is falling apart due to Molly’s passive-agressiveness and Kristin’s workaholic tendencies; Sophie, who is recovering from a devastating break-up; Laura, who realized she was gay after she married a man, then got together with a woman and left him, only to have the other woman leave her; and Darby, Jo and Amy’s smartass niece who is terrified of commitment but happy to seduce any woman standing next to her.

Phew! Just describing them makes it seem like there are a lot of characters, but they really are easy to keep track of, and even though the narrative rotates between them, I never got annoyed by that. I’m often losing track of names of characters, so that’s a pretty good sign. Plus, they are all different ages (Amy and Jo are the oldest, Darby is the youngest, and everyone else is somewhere in between) and have different personalities and voices (which should be a given, but sadly isn’t always). There even is, shocker, a lesbian of colour (Sophie). They also sort of end up in pairs or groups: Amy and Jo act as a unit, Molly and Kristin push and pull against each other, Sophie and Laura bicker (because Sophie sees Laura as a cheater, and Sophie’s ex-girlfriend left her for another woman), and Darby bounces between Molly and Jo in character interactions.

Understandably, with seven lesbians in one small space, there is lesbian drama, but the drama is entirely realistic, and entertaining. (Though I did think Sophie was a little over-the-top in her resentment of Laura, but that’s still believable.) I started narrating what was happening to my roommate: “Darby, what are you doing?” There is definitely enough tension to keep in interesting, but not enough to make it uncomfortable. And each character has their own arc in the story, perhaps excepting Jo and Amy, because their lives were pretty great when they started. The plot manages to balance all of those storylines really well, while playing characters off each other. I was really enjoying it, with my only real complaint being the “Your generation” comments that some of the characters made (“Your generation, with your cell phones, and your internet, and your lack of social skills”), with Darby kind of reinforcing those ideas…? And then there was one detail near the end that unfortunately really affected my enjoyment of the story as a whole. To express it in a non-spoiler way, there was an event that I don’t think was properly dealt with and addressed. Specifically: [spoilers, highlight to read] Molly makes out with Darby, and never tells Kristin, even though Molly and Kristin are back together at the end and working on their relationship. It’s not addressed at all that they kissed. [end spoilers] That felt like a really huge loose end, and I was surprised that it wasn’t dealt with at all. It made the ending not feel like a complete resolution, even though everything else was addressed. I still liked it a lot, but sadly that one detail makes it not feel like one I’ll want to re-read. It’s still one I would recommend, though, especially as a lesbian winter read. Also, there’s a lesbian Christmas tree. I enjoyed that.