Reviews

Review: Certain Requirements

certain requirementsCertain Requirements by Elinor Zimmerman

Genre: Adult Fiction, Lesbian Erotica, BDSM
Published: May 15th 2018 by Bold Strokes Books
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Page number: 266 pages (Kindle edition)
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian MC and LI (butch/femme pairing), nonbinary side character, multiple queer side characters (e.g. a bisexual woman, two men in a relationship)

Phoenix Gomez wants nothing more than to be a full-time aerial dancer, and after years of hard work, her dream is coming true. That’s until her Oakland rent spikes and her roommate moves across the country with his boyfriend. Desperate for a way to make a living, she accepts a position with a woman looking for a live-in submissive. Phoenix has always kept her love of kinky submission strictly behind the bedroom door and inside the bounds of romantic relationships, until she meets Kris Andersen.

Why would Kris–a dapper butch, seasoned dominant, and tech hotshot–be interested in such an arrangement? Because in her rigidly ordered life, she has no time to fall in love. When Phoenix challenges the rules Kris thought she wanted, their connection grows only to be put to the test when Phoenix’s career threatens to take her away from the Bay.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I knew from the beginning that this book would be out of my comfort zone: it’s very rare that I read erotica, and even rarer that I read about kinks other than like, light bondage. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been interested in this book if it hadn’t been for Jae’s Lesbian Book Bingo, which has an Erotica square I was struggling to fill. That being said, this book was a very pleasant surprise.

Before reading this book, the last 3-4 adult lesbian romances I read felt like I was reading the same story with the names and a couple of words switched out. Certain Requirements felt like something new and different, and not only because of the kinky/erotica aspect. It was great to read about Phoenix’s life, her friends (including a queer male best friend), her past relationship, the way she feels like an outsider in her family of intellectuals, and of course, her love for aerial performances. I especially loved that her life outside her romance with Kris didn’t magically disappear when their relationship started getting more serious. Phoenix still had aspirations, friends and conflicts outside the main relationship.

At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the relationship – it starts out as a sex worker/employer relationship, and I felt like Phoenix started having different expectations way too early in the relationship. This could be explained by the fact that she wasn’t actually a sex worker before meeting Kris, and perhaps wasn’t used to being in a professional relationship with someone while also having sex and living with the person. Later, I felt like this was more balanced and the growth of the romance was more believable.

I really wish we had learnt more about Kris, her hobbies and her life outside Phoenix, but in a way we did – she didn’t really have any of those outside of work, which is why she needed a live-in sub in the first place.

It was really interesting to learn BDSM and different kinks, play parties, relationship dynamics, etc. I know that one book cannot be a representation of every kinky person, but I still felt like it was a good introduction. I liked that Phoenix and Kris started out by comparing their yes/no/maybe sheets that I’ve seen around on the internet before, and I liked that asking for consent (with the colour system) was a constant, even towards the end of the book when they’ve been in their arrangement for quite long. Even when the fantasies included Kris hitting or controlling Phoenix, and especially in the threesome scene, it was clear that it was all consensual – although in this case, I think it helped a lot that we saw things from the submissive’s perspective.

There was also a nonbinary side character, Ray, and I would like to talk about that representation a little. Overall, I felt like it was good rep: Ray’s gender and pronouns were respected, and it was especially great that Phoenix made sure to ask what words they are comfortable with for their body in a sexual situation. However, I did have two issues with the way Ray was handled. 1) Ray is first mentioned/introduced at a party, and even before they physically appear, some others at the party make ignorant comments about their gender and pronouns. These comments are called out immediately and they never come up again, so I could accept this as a realistic portrayal of cis people being ignorant even if they mean no harm – but I felt really weird about the fact that we got all these comments before actually seeing Ray at all. In a way, the nonbinary character was introduced by transphobic comments before actually speaking a word. 2) Ray just… disappears halfway through the novel. They are busy, so Phoenix and them keep postponing their plans, and then… Ray just never appears again. There is actually another party towards the end where Kris mentions inviting Ray but Phoenix decides against it, and just… Why? There is no real reason given, and both of Ray’s doms come to the party, so I don’t understand why they weren’t invited. This way, I liked Ray but at the same time there’s not much to like because they only really appear in a few scenes.

My rating: 🌇🌇🌇🌇/5.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Review: The Girl and the Grove

39934046The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: May 8th 2018 by North Star Editions
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None
Other representation: adopted MC of colour (#ownvoices) with seasonal affective disorder

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend, Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. Is she ready to answer?

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Girl and the Grove was one of my most anticipated 2018 releases. I requested the ARC months ago and I was overjoyed when I got it, but somehow I only got around to reading it in May.

It was awesome to read a book with a teen protagonist whose hobby is protecting the environment, with a fondness for trees in particular. I also think this is one of the only #ownvoices books with an adopted protagonist that I’ve read, especially a protagonist who was adopted as a teen and not as a small child. (In fact, the only one I can suddenly think of is one of Vavyan Fable’s books, but as far as I know, that wasn’t #ownvoices.) It was really interesting to read about Leila’s experiences, and how she struggled with accepting that she finally had a home and a family.

I also loved the text messages, Google searches and messages from a forum/board that appeared between chapters. I always love books that have some kind of quote or social media messages in each chapter that gives more information about the characters and their lives, even outside of what we see in the books.

The plot itself was exciting as well, and even terrifying at some points as Leila and her friends were running out of time to save the grove and their city. I loved Leila’s best friend, her parents, and also her love interest. (Jon’s dad jokes were the best, and also the way he and Liz cared for Leila.)

I’m giving it four stars because the characterisation and the writing style didn’t always work for me, but ultimately this was a pretty great book. It’s an urban contemporary story with just a little fantasy/magic written into it.

My rating: 🌳🌳🌳🌳/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: The Boss of Her

39027065The Boss of Her by Julie Cannon, M. Ullrich and Aurora Rey

Genre: LGBTQAI+, Contemporary, Romance, Boss/employee
Published: April 17th 2018 by Bold Strokes Books
Lesbian Book Bingo squares: Workplace romance, Butch/Femme
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Sex on page: Yes

Going to work never felt so good. Three office romance novellas from talented writers Julie Cannon, Aurora Rey, and M. Ullrich.

In For Your Eyes Only by Julie Cannon: Dress for success takes on a very different meaning. CFO Riley Stephenson finds herself in a particularly difficult position when the stripper she’s fallen for shows up at her office―as her new employee.

In Lead Counsel by Aurora Rey: Attorney Elisa Gonzalez is happy working behind the scenes while still having time for a life. All that changes when her firm takes on a major case and Parker Jones, powerhouse litigator and her law school crush, is named lead counsel.

In Opportunity of a Lifetime by M. Ullrich: Luca Garner is eager and hardworking, but her new boss is a total nightmare―snarky and uncooperative, not to mention an ice queen. VP Stephanie Austin doesn’t mean to be unkind, but the last thing she wants is an assistant getting under her skin, especially one who is as attractive as she is kind.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’m going to start with some nitpicking to get this out of the way: the order of the stories in the book is not the same as in the blurb. Yes, it’s a small thing, but it was weird. Still with me? Okay. Let’s talk about the stories.

Lead Counsel by Aurora Rey: Maybe it was the lawyer thing, but personally, I didn’t find this story as engaging as the other two. I did like that they decided not to do the boss/employee romance long-term, though. (Although how they solve it is spoilers, obviously.) 3/5 stars

For Your Eyes Only by Julie Cannon: It might be a random thing, but I really loved all the safety measures Jess was shown taking while she worked, and how she was not shamed for being a stripper. I also loved how the story was divided into three sections: the first two described the same events from the perspective of the two love interests, and the third section described the rest of the story in third person. One minor thing is that I was really uncomfortable with how Ann pushed the “you need to get laid” thing. 4.5/5 stars

Opportunity of a Lifetime by M. Ullrich: Mitchell was the best thing about this story. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but also not really – I enjoyed this story, but I especially enjoyed how Stephanie’s child nephew helped Luca and Stephanie bond, and I loved Kathy referring to Luca as Mitchell’s best friend. I took a star off because I really wasn’t impressed by the dramatic twist towards the ending. I mean, come on, you’re going to make drama about something that has clearly changed during the course of several months? 4/5 stars

Overall, I enjoyed this collection more than I expected given some of my previous experience with contemporary adult romances.

My rating: 📁📁📁📁/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Long Steady Distance

38103530I received a free ARC from the author, Helena Hill in a giveaway. This did not affect my review in any way.

Can you believe I actually read this book in one day? I can’t.

Long Steady Distance was pretty out of my comfort zone with the sports and religious themes, but I ended up liking it much more than I expected. Both the main character, Emily, and the love interest, Sophie (who is biracial with a black father and white mother) felt like real people with real personalities and interests. I admit that a lot of the track terminology was frustrating at first, but I got used to it after a while and it was interesting to follow these girls to their competitions.

I especially liked Emily’s personality and her motivations and interests when it came to running-but-not-competing, and some other things. I also loved the side characters (bless Rhys, honestly. also Sophia’s brother) and I loved that there was a supportive teacher figure who was always on the side of his students.

I must say that the plot felt a little predictable at times – when the two girls started dating somewhere halfway through the book, I was constantly waiting for something to wrong, and eventually it did, in a very similar way to what I expected. Still, there were some positive surprises towards the end, and this is where I’m going to include a spoiler-y paragraph.

This book also nicely illustrated the fact that overprotective parents who leave their kids little freedom are unfortunately very likely to end up with their kids lying to them. Watching Emily’s lies pile up was sort of like a trainwreck, but she and her mother were both at fault for how the situation turned out.

I was really hoping for a twist where either Emily comes clean to her mom before Beth can do her damage, or maybe when Beth outs her, her mom stands up for her/tells Beth off for very clearly blackmailing Emily? I mean, she pulled Emily’s personal stuff out of her bag, so I feel like the adults could have been more concerned with that. Still, Emily’s mother ended up positively surprising me when she stood up to the pastor, and it turned out that she was actually mad about the lying, not really about her daughter being gay.

I felt like the book wrapped up nicely – in the last few pages, the resolution of several conflicts was neatly shown at once without it being forced (e.g. the mobile phone and the driving). I was a little sad about Emily still having to change schools, but it felt more realistic that she had to compromise and didn’t win every battle. (Or at least not at once – I really hope she further gets to explore her faith without parental pressure in the future.)

Also, little sisters are great. Sometimes.

tw: religious homophobia in a few (not many) scenes, main character gets outed against her will, couple of uses of the word homosexual

My rating: ★★★★☆

~ Alexa