Reviews

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell: Awesome Bi Rep and Musicians

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell (Tour Dates Book 1)Title: The Love Song of Sawyer Bell
Author(s): Avon Gale
Series: Tour Dates #1
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 256
Published:
(originally) September 23rd 2017 (re-published) July 8th 2019 by Carina Press
LGBTQAI+: main F/F relationship between bi and lesbian main characters, bi side character, ace side character

Indie rocker Victoria “Vix” Vincent knows a good thing when she hears it. The moment Sawyer Bell picks up her fiddle, magic happens. Beautiful and wildly talented, Sawyer is the perfect match for Vix’s band—and, just maybe, for Vix. The dynamic in any group is a delicate thing, but with Sawyer and Vix thrown together on tour, it’s not long before the line between bandmates and lovers gets a bit blurry.

The indie rock life is not what Sawyer ever saw for herself. She worked hard to get where she is—in her second year of Julliard, with a bright future in classical music. But instead of spending her summer working and rehearsing, she’s on tour with her secret high school crush. And even though it was only supposed to be temporary, Sawyer feels like she’s finally found a place she belongs.

This summer with Vix has been like a dream. But every tour must come to an end, and when Julliard comes calling, Sawyer will need to make a choice: continue on the path she’s chosen, or take a leap of faith and follow her heart.

4.5 stars

Yes, I know I’m super late to this party, but the book is getting re-released so it counts, okay?

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell is a wonderful F/F New Adult romance between two girls who just really love music. Although Vix has hookups and I know some people might find this bad rep, but it is made clear on several occasions that this is not because of her bisexuality. Personally, I loved the bi rep, and I especially loved that while there were some ignorant comments, they were all addressed and dealt with.

Meanwhile, Sawyer is just realising that she is a lesbian, while also figuring out that her prestigious, super competitive school is not making her happy. This was so important and nice to see, because often what you dream of and really want to achieve can turn out to be bad for you as well. Just like Sawyer, you need to recognise it and walk away.

Vix and Sawyer go from hooking up to falling in love. The book has a lot of sex scenes, but even as a sex-repulsed person I wasn’t as bothered as I usually am, because the sex scenes were full of consent, dialogue, jokes, and just generally felt like two real people who really like each other wanting to please the other.

There was also a side friendship between a bi girl and a bi guy, which is one of my favourite dynamics and I really need more of it. If you have any books like this, recommend them in the comments, please!

My only complaints are that 1) there was a brief comment where Sawyer is worried that if Vix can’t get her off then she is “defective”, which sounded pretty anti-ace to me, 2) while Sawyer’s jealousy is addressed, I felt like it wasn’t REALLY addressed that biphobia contributed to it. Like, it was kind of brought up but I still found it lacking?

Still, there was a lot of addressing of stereotypes, communication and consent, and despite some arguments this is still mainly a lighthearted and music-filled romance.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Out of Salem: Nonbinary Zombies and Lesbian Werewolves

Out of SalemTitle: Out of Salem
Author(s): Hal Schrieve
Series: 
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBTQAI+
Pages: 432
Published: 
March 5th 2019 by Triangle Square
LGBTQAI+: Nonbinary and lesbian mains, multiple transgender and lesbian side characters
Other representation: Nonbinary author, Muslim main, non-white and Jewish side characters
I received an ARC through The Lesbrary in exchange for an honest review.
This review was originally published on The Lesbrary on February 10th.

When genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth wakes from death after a car crash that killed their parents and sisters, they have to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie. Always a talented witch, Z can now barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with Mrs. Dunnigan, an elderly witch, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered in an apparent werewolf attack, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to monsters, and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.

4.5 stars

When I saw that cover and read the blurb, I was ready for an epic queer urban fantasy adventure. I mean, doesn’t that just sound badass? Two fourteen-year-olds: a nonbinary witch zombie, and a Muslim lesbian werewolf. I have read many urban fantasy books where the supernatural creatures live in secret, so I was excited to see this book went in another direction, one I’m always eager to read more of: a world where supernatural creatures live among humans and are regulated by rules and laws. It’s always interesting to see how intertwining the two worlds changes them both.

Out of Salem is unique in that regard because instead of human, the default seems to be witches, with only a small percentage of the population being nonmagicals. Werewolves, zombies, selkies, shapeshifters and other creatures are minorities that have limited rights which vary in countries or time periods, just as with real life minorities. I loved all the little details, like the ways to become a zombie, the casual mention of prophecies, or shapeshifters being able to marry any gender in certain countries.

So, for the first part of the book, I was getting what I signed up for: a really well-built and interesting urban fantasy world in the ’90s that incorporates supernatural creatures into real-world history and culture. And I loved it. Then, it gradually got a little too real for comfort. It’s as if the book was asking the question, “hey, you know what’s scarier than zombies and werewolves? Reality!”. (A little like that Doctor Who episode with the spiders and the gun-loving white guy.) As I kept reading about horrible bullies, racist rallies, police brutality and windows being broken for the owner supporting minority groups, it was difficult not to think about how many people go through all this stuff daily. Z and Aysel having to sit in class while the teacher talked about how dangerous their kind is, and Z reading a book by a guy who thinks all zombies should be killed in horrifying ways reminded me of too many similar situations I went through for being a queer person.

There are many fantasy books that use supernatural creatures as metaphors for real-life oppressed groups, while using all white and allocishet casts. What made the metaphor in Out of Salem really work for me is that while Z, Aysel and the others are persecuted for their supernatural traits, they are also minorities in real life. Z is nonbinary, Aysel is a lesbian, and major side characters include an elderly lesbian, a Black Jewish teacher, and several transgender werewolves. While the main focus isn’t on these real-life traits, they are still mentioned: the older lesbian expresses joy that Aysel is able to come out so young, Aysel draws a parallel between being a “good werewolf” and her mother being a “good Muslim”, and it is made clear that Mr. Weber is risking a lot more as a Black Jewish person than one of his more privileged colleagues might.

All in all, I consider Out of Salem a wonderfully well-written book with great world-building and characters. I loved the little group that formed by the end, and how they gradually became closer to each other. I loved that Aysel and Z gravitated towards each other not only for both being monsters, but also both being queer. I loved Z explaining their identity, how both they and their friends were kind of awkward and unsure about terms, but not malicious by any means – the way you’d expect 14-year-olds in the ’90s to be when they have few queer adults to look up to or to learn from.

My only real complaint is that I found the ending too open, and since I saw no indication of this being a first book in a series, I was a little disappointed. I wasn’t sure how I expected all the plotlines to be wrapped up neatly, but this was still a let-down.

Concent warnings: misgendering and deadnaming (mostly due to Z being closeted, not intentional transphobia), death of family members, body horror (because zombies), police brutality, some gun violence, racist rallies, bullying, suicidal thoughts

~ Alexa

Reviews

More Likotsi!! – Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals, #2.5)Title: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy
Author(s): Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #2.5
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, LGBT
Pages: 106
Published: 
January 8th 2019 by Avon Impulse
LGBTQAI+: F/F ship, lesbian and bisexual mains
On-page sex: yes

While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.

When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

Rating: 4 stars

The Reluctant Royals series reviews:

Likotsi was my favourite side character in A Princess in Theory, and who can forget her iconic “High– Hi… man”? That, and the second book in the series, A Duke by Default was one of my favourite romance novels ever, so I was eager to pick up another novella by Alyssa Cole. This time with lesbians! (Well, one lesbian. Fab is bi/pan, I believe.)

This was a typical Reluctant Royals novella, in a good way: it had all the things I love about the series. Complex characters with interesting hobbies, funny lines and flirts, things I would never think of like mini museums in an elevator, puns like Fab’s username, and more. It also had Likotsi’s POV, and with that, more about Thesolo’s religion and their belief system, which I found really interesting and comforting at the same time. Their concept of the “second death” (that you need to grieve again after briefly meeting a ghost) was heartbreaking, especially the way it was woven into the story. Oh, and the shoes. I loved the beliefs about the shoes. (I swear that one makes sense in context.) I confess to my ignorance and say that I have no idea if Thesolo’s religion is based on any real-world beliefs, so I’m not sure how much credit Cole gets here, but regardless, I liked it.

There is another “typical Reluctant Royals thing” that this book has, something that I usually like, but in a novella this short it was gut-punching and left me with mixed feelings. I’m just going to come out and say this: wow, Alyssa Cole doesn’t do escapism. All her books are incredibly current, full of recent, recognisable events or issues – sometimes that’s the use of social media, a recent meme or musing about the importance of representation, and sometimes it’s the very real threat of deportation, hints to a new government, and things getting worse. Still, perhaps I’m harsh on the “no escapism” thing, because a foreign prince and his assistant do swoop in to save the day and give us a happy ending.

Overall, this novella might have been short but it fit perfectly into the Reluctant Royals series that I love. I hope we’ll get to see more of Likotsi and Fab, even if only as cameos in the later books.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Navigator’s Touch: From Ariel to Captain Hook

The Navigator's Touch (The Seafarer's Kiss, #2)Title: The Navigator’s Touch
Author(s): Julia Ember
Series: The Seafarer’s Kiss #2
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, Mythology
Published: September 13th 2018 by Duet Books
LGBTQAI+: lesbian main character, bisexual love interest, nonbinary side characters
Other representation: disabled main character, fat love interest

After invaders destroyed her village, murdered her family, and took her prisoner, shield-maiden Ragna is hungry for revenge. A trained warrior, she is ready to fight for her home, but with only a mermaid and a crew of disloyal mercenaries to aid her, Ragna knows she needs new allies. Guided by the magical maps on her skin, battling storms and mutiny, Ragna sets sail across the Northern Sea.

She petitions the Jarl in Skjordal for aid, but despite Ragna’s rank and fighting ability, the Jarl sees only a young girl, too inexperienced to lead, unworthy of help. To prove herself to the Jarl and win her crew’s respect, Ragna undertakes a dangerous expedition. But when forced to decide between her own freedom and the fate of her crew, what will she sacrifice to save what’s left of her home?

Inspired by Norse mythology and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, this companion novel to The Seafarer’s Kiss is a tale of vengeance, valor, honor, and redemption.

To lead this crew, I had to promise them the world and dangle their nightmares from the top of my silver hook.

Before I learned that The Navigator’s Touch was a retelling of Peter Pan, specifically Captain Hook, I wasn’t sure if it would be a sequel, or more like a companion novel that tells the story of what Ragna was doing while Ersel was fighting for her own freedom. In the end, it was both. It’s mostly a sequel, but a few flashback chapters tell us how Ragna lost her hand and got her own crew… that she doesn’t trust.

A lot of this book is about Ragna’s relationship to her crew, which I really enjoyed. Their development in the second half of the book makes you wonder about how reliable Ragna is as a narrator, and whether she was really judging her crew correctly up until that point.

Ragna is a flawed person in many ways – she is motivated by revenge, trauma holds her back from trusting people, and she has the tendency to treat those around her quite badly, including her crew and Ersel. This changes somewhat towards the end, and her progression was interesting to see.

I didn’t kid myself. She was no more mine than the ocean.

It would be difficult to call this book (or even the first one) a romance. Ersel is very clearly bisexual, and Ragna is very clearly a lesbian, and they are clearly attracted to each other and share some romantic moments, but saying they’re in a relationship would be a stretch at this point. They both have different priorities, they treat each other carelessly sometimes, and romance is secondary or even tertiary to the story.

I’m not listing these as bad things – I actually really enjoyed their dynamic and how they both keep their freedom – but I think these are important to know, so that nobody expects a fluffy mermaid romance. I would love to see how their relationship progresses, although even if there is another sequel, I’m not sure how they’ll spend more time together.

You’re asking me if I can let her die. Can you?

Our favourite antagonist, Loki returns in this book, and frankly, I loved all their appearances. I loved the forms they chose, how they played with appearance and voice, how they didn’t technically break their promises. Still, I feel like their involvement here was less than in the first book. I’d rate the first book 9/10 for quality of Loki content, and maybe 6/10 for this one? I also loved the hints and questions about the nature and culture of the gods, e.g. making deals with each other, not having a choice over who they love, etc.

The first book was heavily criticised because the only nonbinary character in it was Loki, the god of lies and trickery, so I’m happy to say that this book has a major nonbinary side character, and casual comments that suggest nonbinay identities are accepted among humans as well. I consider that an improvement.

Overall, I enjoyed both The Seafarer’s Kiss and The Navigator’s Touch, and I actually ended up rating this one a star higher than the first book. I am eager to see where the story goes, because it didn’t sound like the end is anywhere near.

(Also: I would love to see good fanart of Ragna’s marks, because damn.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

Learning Curves: A Fluffy, No-Drama F/F Novella with Ace, Pan, Lesbian and ADHD Rep

Learning CurvesTitle: Learning Curves
Author(s): Ceillie Simkiss
Series: 
Genre: LGBTQAI+ Romance, Contemporary
Published: August 16th 2018
Representation: Puerto Rican lesbian MC / white panromantic asexual MC with ADHD
This review first appeared on The Lesbrary on 2018.08.12.

Elena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.

And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.

A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.

From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Learning Curves is a 70-page novella with little conflict and a fluffy love story between two women at college. One of them is a Puerto Rican lesbian studying family law, and the other one is a white panromantic asexual woman with ADHD. You shouldn’t expect a huge epic plot: Learning Curves is more about everyday life, college, celebrating Christmas, a huge, loving Puerto Rican family, and two women falling in love.

I admit that I easily get bored if I’m reading a longer book with so little plot, but 70 pages was just the perfect amount to still hold my attention and let me enjoy all the little moments. I loved how overly supportive Elena’s mother was, and I loved the two women cooking and baking together, especially Puerto Rican dishes.

There were so many of these little things that I loved. Cora is bookish and loves reading about “magic, dragons and queer people”. Both women are very casual about mentioning their queer identity, and while she doesn’t elaborate, Cora also mentions how even the community itself can be hostile towards certain identities. There was also a throwaway mention of cocky-gate (controversy over one author literally trying to trademark the word “cocky” in romance novel titles), which made me laugh, although it might have been strange to people who didn’t know what it was referring to.

I did have a couple of issues, or rather some things that I found strange but weren’t necessarily bad. This novella felt like it was written from an outsider’s perspective, which isn’t automatically a problem, but I really would have appreciated more insight into the thoughts and feelings of Elena and Cora, or at least one of them. I also felt like the blurb was very misleading: while the two women go to college and meet at one of the classes they have in common, there is really not much focus on their careers, and basically no mention of either of them not having time for love like the blurb says. Moreover, I sometimes found the dialogue strange or clunky. And finally, this is a minor pet peeve, but there were a few acronyms that were never really explained and as a non-US person whose first language isn’t English, I still have genuinely no clue what they are. I could sort of guess from context, but I generally don’t want to be Googling acronyms while reading a book.

I was originally going to rate this 4 stars, but the ace rep and the way it was handled in the relationship pushed it up. I loved that Elena immediately accepted both that Cora is asexual and that she doesn’t want sex, and it wasn’t an issue for a single moment. It might not be the most “realistic”, but it was really nice to finally read a relationship between an asexual and an allosexual person where the allosexual person is the one who agrees not to have sex instead of the asexual person indulging their partner. Another thing I see a lot is that while the non-ace person agrees not to have sex, they still talk about how this is a huge sacrifice for them, which I find really guilt-trippy, but this absolutely wasn’t the case here.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this author’s works in the future.

~ Alexa

Reviews

In Which I Read Julia Ember and Spread Love For F/F Fantasy (Unicorn Tracks & The Seafarer’s Kiss)

Julia Ember is a writer of fantasy books with (mostly) sapphic main characters. Unicorn Tracks is her debut novel, but The Seafarer’s Kiss seems to be the most popular. I recently read both of her books in the same month (although in reverse order – I read the Seafarer’s Kiss first) and decided to do a double review.

Unicorn TracksUNICORN TRACKS

Mnemba is a tour guide at her cousin’s business where she leads tourists in the wilderness to track rare animals such as… chimeras, manticores, freshwater mermaids and occasionally unicorns?! This story takes place in a fictional fantasy country based on Africa (specifically South Africa if I’m correct), and I loved how most of the story/world was actually realistic, except for, you know, the magical creatures casually living alongside lions and such. The main characters are both sixteen years old girls (so it was a little strange that the blurb refers to them as women) who navigate their own attraction to each other as they try to uncover a plot to use unicorns for illegal deeds. The book is quite short, so there isn’t too much time for details, but we still learn some things about both Mnemba’s and Kara’s cultures. I especially liked the way Mnemba’s culture treated “blood crimes” (mostly rape and murder), which is a big plot point in the book.

tw: mentions of past rape, people expecting the survivor to forgive the rapist, and also an in-book attempted rape

The Seafarer's Kiss (The Seafarer's Kiss #1)THE SEAFARER’S KISS

The Seafarer’s Kiss is a Norse mythology retelling of The Little Mermaid where instead of a sea witch, the main character makes a deal with Loki, god of lies, whose month she was born in.

It actually had much less focus on the love interest than I expected, and more focus on the bisexual main character wanting to get away from an oppressive regime and outplaying the god of trickery. I loved how it was stated explicitly several times that while Ragna is neat, Ersel made her choices for herself (and in some cases her mother/community) only.

I know some people have issues with the fact that the only nonbinary character in the book is the literal god of lies and deceit, and those are entirely valid feelings. I definitely would have appreciated more nonbinary characters (and hope that maybe the sequel will be better in this respect?) but I also have a weak spot for Loki. I loved their representation and how they were both angry and impressed when Ersel outsmarted them.

I can’t wait to see Ragna’s half of the story.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume Three: A Collection of LGBTQAI+ Fairytales

Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume ThreeTitle: Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume Three
Author(s): W.M. Fawkes, Valentine Wheeler, Mark Lesney,  Sam Burns, A.E. Ross, Elna Holst, N.J. Romaine
Series: Once Upon a Rainbow #3
Genre: LGBTQAI+, Fantasy, Retelling
Published: July 2nd 2018 by NineStar Press
LGBTQAI+: mostly gay and lesbian main characters, including a couple that are asexual, bi or transgender
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Your favorite stories from childhood have a new twist. Seven fairy tales of old with characters across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

Green Things Grow from Cinders by A.E. Ross – Glass slippers aren’t for everyone.

Gretel on Her Own by Elna Holst – This time around, Gretel Kindermann is on her own. Or is she?

Bremen Town Musicians by Mark Lesney – Loss and love on the road to Bremen Town.

The Scent of Magic by N.J. Romaine – Who can win a hunt against the Big Bad Wolf?

The Rescue by Sam Burns – Saving princesses is hard work. Getting out of marrying them is harder.

Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe by Valentine Wheeler – The shoe fits, the prince is won: now what?

Baile de la Marioneta by W.M. Fawkes – No one else can pull his strings.

Average rating: 4 stars

Overall thoughts: This was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some stories I really loved, and others I really didn’t. I did appreciate that it wasn’t only cis LG retellings, and there were ace and trans characters in some of the stories as well. (Well, one of each, really.)

baile de marioneta by w.m. fawkes: cis M/M. A guy carves a naked guy from wood for his class and the wood guy comes to life. The moment where I realised this was a Pinocchio retelling (for an older age group, certainly) was during the sex scene where the wooden guy started lying and well, it wasn’t his nose that grew. I was going to give it 3 stars on its own, but compared to some of the others it’s 2.5 at best for me.

loose in the hell, tight in the toe by valentine wheeler: This story doesn’t center romance – it’s about a lesbian Cinderella and an asexual prince getting married for their mutual benefit, and also about Cinderella helping her stepsisters and other young girls who are being forced into marriages get away from their abusive family. I also loved that the Fairy Godmother couldn’t magically solve everything, so Cinderella stepped up and did it herself. 5 stars.

green things grow from cinders by a.e.ross: trans M/cis M. Another Cinderella retelling, this time in a modern setting and with a trans guy Cinderella and a cis guy “prince”, which is certainly a first for me. I absolutely loved this story, and I loved how Roman never really commented on Ash being trans, and also how Roman was explicitly bi. Also, I love the title. tw: unintentional misgendering (Ash isn’t out to his friends at first). 5 stars.

the scent of magic by n.j. romaine: cis F/F. This story had everything. It’s a Little Red Riding Hood retelling where the Red/Wolf/Hunter trio isn’t what you’d expect, but it also has a Sleeping Beauty sideplot with a nonbinary Sleeping Beauty (kudos for introducing me to the word “princet”), and also lots of faeries and fae court politics. My only complaint is that it wasn’t a full-length novel: I would have loved to see the rescue of the prince itself. 5 stars.

the rescue by sam burns: cis M/M. “Saving princesses is hard work. Getting out of marrying them is harder.” This was a little funny because I was /so sure/ that I knew the twist but then the twist ended up being something completely different. It’s a M/M romance between a knight and… the friend of a princess. I’m giving 4.5 stars in comparison to the others, because it didn’t quite measure up to the ones I rated 5 stars, but it was still great.

the bremen town musicians by mark lesney: cis M/M. Ehhhhhhh. So like, this is a retelling of a tale with animals, where the characters are actually humans this time but they’re still kind of treated as animals. Also, you know that thing in fairytales when there’s some really fucked up abuse or violence going on but you never really question it as a kid, especially with animal characters? Well, this story has that too, but either because of my age or the human characters it’s more difficult to overlook. tldr; I didn’t enjoy reading this. There is a m/m romance sideplot but it’s not really central. tw: abuse, casual discussion of rape, gy*psy slur used several times. 2.5 stars

gretel on her own by elna holst: This is a cis F/F story where I couldn’t decide whether it’s supposed to be a mystery/horror or a romance, and for most of the story I wondered if there was going to be a positive ending at all. Constant suspicion of the love interest isn’t really what I want in a romance, but I suppose the constant suspicion/questioning was the point. 3.5 stars.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Into the Mystic, Volume 3

Into the Mystic, Volume ThreeTitle: Into the Mystic, Volume Three
Author(s): Ava Kelly, Bru Baker, Lis Valentine, Michelle Frost, L. J. Hamlin, K. Parr, M. Hollis, Artemis Savory, Ziggy Schutz
Series: Into the Mystic #3
Published: May 7th 2018 by NineStar Press
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian and bisexual women as main characters in every story
Sex on page: Yes, in certain stories (discussed in review)
This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on 2018. 06. 10.
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Her ghost had once told Clotho that no proper ghost story has a happy ending, because ghosts don’t end. 

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for fantasy, paranormal and fairytales, so of course I had to pick up an anthology that has nine F/F stories with paranormal elements. While the stories had the paranormal and the sapphic main characters in common, there was a great variety in paranormal creatures, writing style, and my feelings towards them as well.

Some of the stories were truly creative gems with unexpected and rarely seen ideas: the opening story, It Started Before Noon by Ava Kelly is in itself about ideas that are made into stories. The main character is a muse who grows story inspiration in a garden like flowers, but she just can’t get the romance buds right. I loved the little details, like how the different types of stories (comedy, angst, etc.) had different flowers and needed different kinds of care. Swoon by Artemis Savory had siren-like creatures acting like pirates whom I would have loved to learn more about. I loved the myth surrounding these sisters, but I still had so many questions – I would love to read a full length novel with them.

Other stories took more often used concepts or species, but still had the kind of magic that makes them an easy 5-star read. Home by K. Parr centers a wolf pack made up entirely of women, and a college student who is accepted into the pack (and the family) after getting close to the pack’s Alpha. I loved that this story had an older love interest, and I loved the description of the pack dynamics as well. The Hunt by M. Hollis is about a young vampire forever stuck as a teenager who has been adopted by a lesbian vampire couple. On her first hunt, she meets a human girl, and she finds herself wanting to meet her again. I felt like this story ended a little too soon, I would have loved to read more. And By Candlelight by Ziggy Schutz was one of my favourite stories in the anthology: I admit that I still don’t really understand the logic of it, and yet the two main characters and their relationship was so endearing that it absolutely stole my heart.

Vampires and werewolves seemed to be a popular choice for this anthology, and yet each story had some kind of unique spin on it. My Cup of O Pos by L. J. Hamlin has a disabled vampire with Ehlers-Danlos syndmore (ownvoices!) who goes out on a date with the cute human nurse from the ER who treats her with respect and compassion. This story also takes place in a world where vampires are common knowledge and there are laws about what they can and cannot do, and it uses this fictional/fantasy marginalisation to address real-life marginalisations and their intersections as well. Dance With Me by Michelle Frost is a romance between a werewolf and a vampire that left me with many burning questions about the backgrounds of the characters, wishing that there was a longer story to read.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of stories that caught me off guard and I didn’t end up enjoying them much. I am used to most non-YA lesfic I read having at least some kind of sexual content (My Cup Of O Pos has sex scenes as well, and yet I felt like I got to know the characters), but Heart’s Thaw by Bru Baker and Fire and Brine by Lis Valentine were both mostly erotica with very little plot or characterisation. While I liked the original idea in Heart’s Thaw and the twist in Fire and Brine, I felt like I barely got to know anything about the characters, other than the sex scene that takes up half of such a short story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this anthology and I found some true gems in it, but I do wish that the blurb or tags made the sexual content of books clearer. It was especially off-putting because most of the stories didn’t have any sex at all, so having two stories that were purely erotica just didn’t seem to fit in well with the others.

Rating: 4 stars

~ Alexa

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

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