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

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

ARC Review: The Deep End

39887360The Deep End by Ellie Hart

Genre: LGBTQAI+, Mystery/Thriller, 40s protagonist
Published: April 16th 2018 by Bold Strokes Books
Lesbian Book Bingo squares: Romantic Mystery, Doctors/Veterinarians
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Sex on page: No

Local veterinarian Dr. Giselle Cutler’s world revolves around her profession, and Marta, the woman she loves. She’s confident both will always be there to support her until her cell phone rings in the middle of the night, and her once-stable world begins to spin out of control. Her sister Tiffani is missing, and all fingers point to fifteen year old Leif, Giselle’s nephew. Life as she knows it is fading fast, and with it, the security that family provides. As the true nature of each relationship is revealed, Giselle begins to doubt her ability to keep – and deserve – a lasting partnership. But Marta’s not giving up, and her support is the lifeline that keeps Giselle from toppling over the edge as they confront the dangers and dark secrets behind Tiffani’s disappearance.

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

This book is like, 3.25 stars for me? It’s a strong 3 stars.

First of all, I love the cover, it’s beautiful, but I feel like it has a very different atmosphere from the book itself. I could imagine the cover on a romance, but it doesn’t really scream “mystery with disappearance, murder, maffia, alcohol poisoning and suicide attempt” for me.

As you can see from the blurb, the main character, Giselle is a lesbian in a long-term relationship with Marta – it is an established relationship, and they have romantic scenes and a supportive relationship, but the romance is far from the main focus. Personally, I love reading the beginnings of romances, the getting-together part, but it was amazing to see a book with an established lesbian couple where they can be in love without the relationship or their orientations being the focus.

Other than that, if I had only two words to summarise the plot, I’d say “too much”. I understand this is a mystery, but it felt like there were too many sideplots, too many secrets, too many twists, too many connections. They would have actually been interesting in themselves, but this way it felt a little like the writer constantly wanted to one-up herself. I finished reading the book, and honestly, I still have SO MANY QUESTIONS about several of the minor plotlines. (Oh, and the major plotline, Tiffany’s disappearance? We never find out exactly what happened to her. When I saw the word “epilogue”, I had to skim over the last few chapters to see if I missed where it is revealed, but nah. The epilogue hints at which of the 5-6 suspects was actually behind this particular plot, but that’s all.)

Still, despite the many sideplots and some minor annoyances, I enjoyed reading this book. I especially liked Leif’s character, though I wished we had learned more about Sara.

My rating: 📱📱📱/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Cheerleaders from Planet X

35671549Cheerleaders from Planet X by Lyssa Chiavari

Genre: Science Fiction, Aliens, LGBTQAI+, YA
Series: Standalone
Published: September 5th 2017 by The Kraken Collective
Length: 318 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian main character and love interest
Sex on page: No
Note: Half-Filipina main character

Aliens are among us. And humanity’s only hope just happens to carry pom-poms.

Laura Clark thought she was just your average college freshman—until the day she saw a cheerleader on a skateboard get into a superhuman brawl with a lightning-wielding stranger in a trenchcoat. And the weirdest thing of all? Nobody else saw it happen. Nobody, that is, except the beautiful but standoffish Shailene, one of the mysterious (and possibly super-powered) cheerleaders from Laura’s rival school, Bayview University.

When girls start disappearing all over the City, Laura suddenly realizes that she may have seen more than she should. And if she wants to keep from disappearing herself, she needs to find some answers. But though Laura can’t shake the feeling that they’re somehow connected, Shailene is more than a little reluctant to share her secrets. With strange, bug-like creatures and a sinister man in a dark coat stalking her every step, Laura will have to uncover the truth fast if she wants to survive.

The fate of the planet just might hang in the balance.

It’s somehow unusually difficult to articulate my thoughts about this book, so this review might be a little all over the place.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while – I was first intrigued by the cover and the title, then the blurb. Cheerleaders who fight aliens like some kind of superheroes? Sign me up!

I read this book fairly quickly and I enjoyed it as well, but when I got to the end I had to realise that it was more forgettable than I hoped. I enjoyed the action and the plot twists (really – I guessed part of it, but there was much that I couldn’t/didn’t guess so I was at the edge of my seat waiting to find out what was going to happen), but when everything was finally revealed, it felt like a little too much at once. Suddenly all kinds of government conspiracies and they-aren’t-who-you-think and Greek mythology was involved, and most of this was revealed at the same time. I felt like a more gradual reveal of the situation might have been better.

Most importantly, I just couldn’t really connect with any of the characters. I enjoyed the dialogue, especially the several references/jokes about the upcoming election and such, but in the end none of the characters truly grabbed me. I was interested in what was going to happen them, but not THEM, if that makes sense.

In short, this was an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable read for me.

My rating: 🛸🛸🛸🛸/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: It’s Not a Date

38642833It’s Not a Date by Heather Blackmore

Genre: Romance, LGBTQAI+, Lesbian
Release date: March 13th 2018 by Bold Strokes Books
Length: 273 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian main character and love interest
Sex on page: Yes

Falling in love is the hardest business of all. 

Entrepreneur and innovator Kadrienne Davenport gets results. A demanding executive and stickler for punctuality, Kade throws herself into work to avoid hurting anyone, convinced she only causes pain to those she loves. 

When Jennifer Spencer meets an incognito Kade at a conference, sparks fly. But when Kade unexpectedly becomes her boss, Jen’s problems multiply. The company she founded is going broke, her grandmother’s dementia is worsening, and her attraction to Kade—her difficult, brilliant, charismatic mentor—is growing. 

Kade’s desire to keep things professional between them is in Jen’s best interest. Yet what’s in Kade’s best interest…is Jen.

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

I picked up this book because I needed a f/f workplace romance for a bingo. While the blurb (and sometimes the book) describes Kade as Jen’s boss, in the book they seemed to me more or less as equals, since they are both board members in Jen’s company.

I found most of the romantic scenes okay, but nothing too engaging. Strangely, I preferred the side plots (though these were still often connected to the two main characters and their relationship). Kade and Jen both have family members who are either sick or elderly, and there is a huge focus on how these people can be cared for and kept engaged instead of ignored. There is also discussion of the unfair expectations placed on women enterpreneurs in business, especially relating to their work/family balance.

I also loved Kade’s character development – throughout the book, she learns how to deal with her own guilt over losing her best friend, as well as her complicated relationship with her father. Partly due to Jen, she learns how to love herself and accept herself as somebody who deserves to be loved. This was one of my favourite themes in the book.

That being said, I often found the professional/work side… strange and. Obviously, some level of unprofessionalism in any workplace romance novel, but in this book the lack of professionalism went beyond Kade and Jen’s relationship. In this book, each main character conveniently works with her own best friend, and Jen talks casually to Kade’s assistant even at the beginning, and this assistant plays matchmaker for them by rearranging Kade’s schedule and cancelling/moving events constantly. While I understand how this was necessary and I enjoyed some of the banter between Kade-Holly and Jen-Jeremy, I still found it jarring.

Overall I’d give this book 3.5 stars, which is rounded up to 4.

Do you like reading workplace or boss/employee romances? Why or why not?

My rating: 📝📝📝📝/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC review: Hearts Like Hers

34992208I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Release date: 13th February, 2018 by Bold Strokes Books

I was drawn to this book by the pretty cover and the fact that it was a lesbian romance, and it was just as heartfelt and warm as I expected.

I was first surprised by the age of the characters (I’m used to reading about teens or twenty-somethings, while the protagonists in this book are in their thirties) but I found it refereshing to read about people who are older than what I’m used to, but still far from old. Honestly, it made me feel better about aging because it’s so easy to think that women in their late thirties/early forties are old, when that’s really not the case.

I didn’t read the first book in this series, but from what I understand, each book concentrates on a different member of the same friendship group, which I really loved. (It is also done in Maria Hollis’s series starting with The Melody of You and Me.) I loved these women being friends and really being there for each other, and I loved Autumn and Kate’s romance.

One thing that really caught me off guard (and I think should have been in the blurb) is that having children is a major plot point for both love interests in different ways, and this is not a topic that I like to read about. I eventually got over it and ended up enjoying the positive and validating way this book deals with having children as a single woman, having children in your thirties, and adopting children. Still, a warning or a clue in the blurb may have been nice, although I might not have picked up the book if I’d known this was part of the main plot.

While I liked both Autumn and Kate, I was slightly more interested in Kate’s story and I loved how it was gradually revealed through flashbacks instead of the story being told at once. I also loved that Autumn’s and Kate’s plans didn’t always go the way the reader expected – there were failures, and yet it was clear that these failures were not the end of the world.

I admit that I found parts of this book slow and really difficult to get through, but overall I think it is a good read for people who like contemporary romances. (Do be aware that there several explicit sex scenes.)

My rating: ★★★★☆

Do you like reading contemporary novels? Why/why not?

~ Alexa