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This is my first review for the Lesbrary, and I know that a review is only as useful inasmuch as you, the reader, agree with (or at least know the tastes of) the reviewer. If I, a total rando with no other qualifications than my sexual preference and gender identity, recommend this book, why should you care? (Answer: Because I have excellent taste. But we’ll get there.) So I chose one of my favorite books of all time to review, to provide you with a little info on what I like, that you might tune your literary senses accordingly.
Also, it’s just a damn good book.
When You Least Expect It is the story of Caroline, a humbug lesbian divorce lawyer cursed by Cupid who in turn curses the Christmas season and all its trappings. After a chance run-in with Hannah, the wife of a detestable former co-worker, she jumps at the chance to help the woman (and her daughter, Abby) navigate the tricky legalities of separation. A friendship and quasi-rainbow family starts to coalesce, with just the one slightly thorny issue of Hannah being entirely straight. Caroline, unable to help herself, falls in love anyway and resolves to just be the best friend she can be… until something starts to shift.
Now, in any romance novel, no matter how good, clichés will creep in as the story finds its way — the best writers know this, and will use (and, at times, subvert) them consciously, rather than relying on them to support a broken plot. Even a good chunk of the plot description above fairly titters with tropes, from the “pining after a straight girl” to “adorable precocious child befriends woman who only wants to have a family.”
This book does not suffer from those ailments. One person’s archetype is another’s starting point, and none of these characters seemly thinly drawn. They are not two-dimensional playing cards, showing their faces when need be and completely featureless when looked at askew. They are living and breathing in three dimensions, with hopes and fears and worries that complement and play off one another.
They’re just so gosh-darn relatable! Though I’ve never had an unrequited crush on my straight BFF (and yet to find myself in the position to a divorce a philandering millionaire), I still felt deeply connected to these characters, to the point I wanted stop reading about three-quarters of the way through because I knew I’d have to leave them behind at the end. (Spoiler alert: I’ve read it five times since April, so not entirely true!)
I also need to specifically commend Cass for managing to weave tension into the story without resorting to hacky contrivances (looking at you, every story relying on two people not taking two minutes to clear up a clear misunderstanding). Though there’s certainly a fair number of, shall we say, “twists,” they all feel earned and justified by what came before them.
While the book may not have too many explicit sexual scenes (an important thing to note for many readers!), it does contain a lot of downright pleasurable sensual writing. As a very touch-focused person, like Hannah, I very much appreciated the descriptions of touching, stroking and overall tactile interactions.
Here’s the thing: I am an unabashed fan of romances, specifically lesbian romances. But I definitely did not expect to fall in love with this book as much as I did when I read it.
Which really, just goes to show you how right the title is.