Archive

Posts Tagged ‘book’

Book Review: Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen

November 21, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A large hairy ape hand with a manicure holds a blonde white woman who is holding her phone and taking a selfie.

A reality tv dating show is filming its final four – including a closeted bisexual – on an island in the Pacific Northwest, but things take a fantastical horrifying turn the night before the penultimate decision day.

Summary:
This season’s Catch is a slightly sleazy bachelor who helped fund Glamstapix, which explains why so many of the final four women are Glamstapix stars. There’s Vanessa a car model, Amanda the daughter of two lesbian moms with a fashion Glamsta, Lilah-Mae a Dallas-based Christian influencer, and Renee a Black woman nominated by her coworkers who’s pretty over being the token woman of color on the show. No one is thrilled with the rural Otters Island location in the Pacific Northwest but everyone is motivated to make it to the final two in Palm Springs. Things get heated while they film the final interactions before the Catch chooses who will come with him to Palm Springs but things take a horrifying and fantastical turn when the cameras turn off for the night.

Review:
I did not receive the blurb I gave you above. The blurb I got combined with the title led me to believe that this was going to be a reality tv dating show where one of the women contestants was into another one of the women contestants who then gets abducted by a King-Kong like female creature she has to rescue her from. I still love this idea. But this isn’t what actually happens in the book. At all. It’s not a romance. It’s a funny reality tv show book that takes a horrifying turn in the last third.

I repeat. There is no romance in this book. Unless you count old love letters between an elderly B&B owner and her now dead wife. (Not a spoiler, she’s dead from the beginning). Renee is a closeted bisexual who does have feelings for Amanda (or at least the hots for her) but those feelings are not the focus of the book. The title of the book is misleading because Patricia, the giant ape-like monster, absolutely is not out to cuddle anyone. It’s not some weird cross-species ill-fated romance like King-Kong. Patricia is out to murder. And she murders a lot of people gruesomely. If you don’t like descriptions of a monster tearing people apart, then you won’t like the direction this book goes in. Sorry if you consider that a spoiler but I think it’s essential given how the book is being marketed and how the first two-thirds of the book reads to warn you about the dark, horrific ending before you get there.

Speaking of the first two-thirds of the book, that’s what made me give it three stars. I loved the insider look at the overlap of reality tv and influencer culture. I enjoyed Renee’s scathing observations about it all. I appreciated that there was some understanding and empathy for the influencers, especially that it actually is hard work to get the glamor shots and constantly promote every aspect of your day. It’s a fun, light-hearted read. I was wondering why it was taking so long to introduce Patricia. But then when Patricia came in I understood. The last third was basically a rapid slasher, not a search and romantic rescue. So it didn’t need much room.

The following paragraph is a spoiler filled analysis of the ending. Highlight to read.

Renee is the only one that Patricia doesn’t attack. The book seems to make the point that Patricia doesn’t attack her because Renee doesn’t treat her like a monster, and Renee doesn’t do that because she herself is queer. There’s this queer woman death cult that surrounds Patricia and protects her as well, even killing people to keep her existence a secret. To me this read as that monstrous groups only act monstrously (or seem monstrous) because of how you react to them. This might have worked but Patricia literally immediately tears people limb from limb. It’s not a kind act that’s misinterpreted. She hasn’t gently carried someone away in a kidnapping because she’s lonely. She concusses Amanda when she kidnaps her and then later tears her head off when she dares to try to run out of the cave. She scales the tower Lilah-Mae and Vanessa are on and immediately tackles Vanessa unprovoked. If this is an allegory, it’s a bad one, because Patricia is, in fact, acting like a monster. I think the allegory could have worked if there were real misunderstandings involved instead of the actual gore that occurred.

Overall, this felt like two different works mashed together. The first was a funny and empathic analysis of influencer and reality tv culture. The second was a gore-filled horror slash-fest that would work as a short story. The former is more my taste, but I respect the quality of the latter. The way the two are put together, though, might struggle to find its audience. So if you like a slow burn horror led by reality tv satire, give this one a try.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 256 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen

November 14, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A woman's silhouette reveals 1950s style purple wallpaper. Rabbits run across it. Some of them are bleeding.

A 1952 noir-esque mystery — but everyone from the detective to the murder victim to most of the suspects themselves are part of the queer community.

Summary:
Andy was just fired from the San Francisco police department after he was found in a compromising situation in a gay bar’s bathroom. He’s having one last night of drinks before throwing himself into the bay when a woman shows up asking him to investigate the murder of Irene Lamontaine – the matriarch of the Lamontaine soap company. She wants Andy to do the job because it turns out Irene was a lesbian, and almost everyone in her home is queer. A secret they have to keep if they want to remain an empire.

Review:
All I noticed in the blurb I saw was that this was a queer Knives Out. I somehow missed the historical part. I loved Knives Out but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of period appropriate homophobic content in this one.

This book is authentic to its time period. It doesn’t gloss over homophobia whatsoever. We witness one brutal gay bashing (literal gay bashing) and two other characters reference their own beatings. This is a world of bribes and secrecy from society such that even the happy characters can never be fully happy. Be prepared for the realistic depiction as you go into it.

The family Lamontaine consists of Irene and her partner Pearl. They have a son Henry. I can’t remember whose biological son he is. He has a partner named Cliff. He’s legally married to a woman named Margo who has her own partner Elsie, who is bisexual and runs a queer bar. Margo’s straight mother Alice begrudgingly lives with them. They have a butleresque character who is also gay, as well as another sapphic couple who run the kitchen and garden. They all get to be themselves inside the Lamontaine house but never outside of it. Irene was found dead in the perfume library. The family and coroner rule it a fall, all with the exception of Pearl who suspects foul play. She found out about the recently outed cop and figured he could be their private investigator without risk of outing them all. The characters feel like a lot but are actually easy to keep track of.

I appreciate that there was a bisexual character. I wished that there was more diversity. There was one Filipino bar tender and a rival soap company run by a Jewish family. With all the rampant homophobia being depicted, I was honestly shocked that racism didn’t come up. It would certainly have been period appropriate to, for example, even allude to issues like redlining or racist responses to the Korean War. If one was completely unaware of history coming into this book, one could have left it thinking the only issue of tolerance and acceptance in the 1950s was sexuality. (For a queer book that does explore racism in San Francisco in the 1950s, check out Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club).

Please also note that there is a scene where some rabbits are killed. I don’t think this is a spoiler as it’s alluded to on the cover. I wouldn’t have asked for the book at all on NetGalley if I’d been able to see the full cover as it’s rendered now, because I have a personal love for rabbits so that was distressing to me. One of the characters is depicted as having a drinking problem that they are told to snap out of. This is never followed up on in a way that implies the drinking problem is fine now. This isn’t how a drinking problem works. I found this to be a flawed and misleading depiction of alcoholism that was used as a plot device.

The mystery itself was kind of ho-hum. I suspected who did it from the get-go and was proven correct. The solution seemed….more than a bit obvious to me, honestly. If you’re curious, take a guess in the comments, and I’ll respond with if you’re right. Ultimately though for me I wanted this book to swing more fully into one direction or the other. Either to go full period piece and get into all the nitty gritty or move it into the present and just make it fun.

Overall, if a simply mystery set in the 1950s with a mostly queer cast facing an intolerant society appeals to you, then you should give this one a go.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 274 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell

November 3, 2022 Leave a comment

A YA romp told from the perspective of Mr. Rochester’s ward gives a new view of both Jane Eyre and London’s queer underground.

Image of a digital book cover. A young woman in 1800s period costume stands facing the reader. There's a reddish hate tilted down over her face.

Summary:
Adéle grew up watching her mother dance in Le Moulin in Paris but soon found herself sent away to England with the man her mother said was her father. Mr. Rochester. Soon she meets her governess Jane Eyre and begins her own series of adventures.

Review:
If you have a love/hate relationship with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, then this book is for you. If you love your YA with sapphic romance in period costumes, then get this book immediately.

The thing about Jane Eyre is…Mr. Rochester is terrible. Yet she’s still attracted to him. (This was beautifully summed up in the web comic Hark! A Vagrant). Shifting to Adéle’s perspective gives a whole new angle on just how deliciously insidious Mr. Rochester is. Adéle does not pull any punches when it comes to him. It’s downright cathartic for everyone who tears their hair out about Jane’s love for him.

There’s much more in this story than a shift of perspective on Jane Eyre though. Adéle is well-rounded, and we have entire chapters where Mr. Rochester and Jane aren’t mentioned at all or only in passing. My favorite part is when Adéle goes to a finishing school in London, because this is when the sapphic subtext becomes blatant. Adéle has the hots for more than one other teenage girl. (Both of whom are excellent choices, by the way). There’s cross-dressing! There’s scuttling around on the streets of London late at night in widow’s clothes! But also Adéle has feelings for Mr. Rochester’s nephew she’s been exchanging letters with since she first came to England. What to do. what to do. I loved seeing representation of a bisexual woman who leans more in a certain direction usually. I really like that even though she is capable of attraction to men that the sexist society fizzles it for her, making her a bisexual that leans toward women. What a fun twist on what we usually see in period pieces with fluid sexuality.

The book does start slow. The first chapter in Le Moulin was rough with overly flowery language and stirred up drama. But this drops out as Adéle ages and comes into her own. Perhaps some of this was meant to show how she is a little too idealistic in how she remembers her early years. I suspect the first chapter may have served better as flashbacks from her early time in England, rather than linear.

Please do take a moment to check out the content notes on StoryGraph. The ones listed as of the day I was writing this post are accurate.

Overall, this is a fun twist on Jane Eyre that gives agency to Mr. Rochester’s ward Adéle. Come for the twist, stay for the YA sapphic heart-throbbing.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 288 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

October 18, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A woman in 1800s clothing stands in the middle of a picture frame. She holds a skull in one hand and skeletons dance under her. Her face is obscured.

Summary:
You saved my life when I was on the brink of death, and I became your vampire bride. But we’ve lived many centuries past those days in Romania. I think your way of loving might be more than I can bear.

Review:
I picked this up because I heard that in spite of the husband/wife part of the summary that there’s a significant sapphic subplot. I’m not sure I’d call it significant so much as being one of the three parts of the book.

It’s written as a letter from the vampire bride Constanta to her vampire husband. In the first part, we learn how Constanta became a vampire and her early years with him. In the second, he adds a second wife, Magdalena. But this is true polyamory in that everyone sleeps with everyone. In the third part, he adds a husband, Alexi. Again, everyone has sex with everyone, although this is not the amicable threesome (and sometimes twosomes in both combinations) it once was. It’s clear that while the sire is fine with Magdalena and Alexi sleeping together, he’s less ok with Constanta and Alexi.

But what is the plot of the book? It’s basically Constanta realizing over time just how cruel her husband is and trying to decide if she should try to escape. The most unique part of this was the second part where Magdalena and Constanta both feel an immediate attraction to each other and then proceed to form a romantic bond as their husband perpetually abandons them for his research. I don’t say this just because it’s sapphic but rather because I think polyamory as opposed to polygamy has less representation in literature. Not that either have a lot.

I want to be clear this is not erotica. If it wasn’t for all the vampire feeding blood, I’d say it could probably pull off a PG13 rating for the sexual content. A lot occurs off-screen or is only vaguely described. There’s really only one scene that I think might warrant an R rating for the sex. This in fact is not a story about sex but one about many centuries of abuse and how the persons being victimized finally break free. The thing is…I was here for romance. And I wouldn’t say that’s what this is.

The language is overwrought in a self-aware way. Constanta is old world. These are her words. She sounds like an 1800s teenager who takes everything far too seriously and has some hilarious turns of phrase. I’m sure some readers would read this as gorgeous as opposed to silly. When I say overwrought 1800s language, I’m sure you can tell how well that will work for you.

While the book engaged me enough to finish it, here wasn’t enough unique about it to make me rate it above average. I wanted more of what makes this vampire bride different and less of the usual tropes. But if you’re a person who loves Old Europe style vampires and wants a dash of f/f love and polyamory in there, then this will likely work quite well for you.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 248 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Counts For:

A light green background. There is a border made up of books and jack-o-lanterns carved into smiles. The heading "A Very Sapphic Halloween Reading Challenge" is centered with a photograph of a Black and a white woman kissing. Under the photo it says "Hosted by opinionsofawolf.com @opinionsofawolf"
A Very Sapphic Halloween Reading Challenge

Book Review: Paper Is White by Hilary Zaid

September 29, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. The words "Paper Is White" are imposed over a picture of a pile of papers.

Summary:
Oral historian Ellen and her girlfriend decide to get married in 1990s San Francisco. As they beat an early path to marriage equality, a Holocaust survivor draws Ellen into a secret. How much do you need to share to be true to the one you love? 

Review:
This is a rich exploration of two things simultaneously. What it meant to be in a same-sex relationship in the 1990s before marriage equality. And what it means to be Jewish in the shadow of the Holocaust.

There is a sad beauty in how Ellen and Francine find a way to experience the joy of being brides even in the face of rejection and homophobia from many sides. The fact that their wedding can’t be legally recognized. How that is most people’s first reaction. Their parents struggle with accepting and loving them as they are. There’s a real ache to how their parents come down on, essentially, well a lesbian daughter is better than no daughter at all. As a child of the 90s, I recall how that was often viewed as the pinnacle of acceptance from a parent. How sad that was. How well-represented here. But there are still scenes of delightfully bride moments, like Ellen struggling to get the shoes she wants. Or the rabbi who agrees to marry them getting serious about how marriage is about sticking through the hard things too.

I am not Jewish myself, but I did attend a historically Jewish university, and one of my closest friends is Jewish. (She had an interfaith same-sex wedding). So I do have some familiarity with Judaism, while still acknowledging my position as an outsider. From my perspective, this book does a great job depicting the struggle to be Jewish in a way that works for you while under the shadow of the Holocaust. The weight of responsibility many Jewish people feel to carry Judaism forward while also being true to themself.

Something that shows how this can be a struggle is how Ellen and Francine attend a meeting with well-meaning Reform rabbis. They say they want to help same-sex couples have marriages. But Ellen and Francine notice how they keep talking about commitment and not marriages or weddings. They then meet with a different rabbi at the suggestion of a friend. They’re surprised to discover he is part Chinese. And he is more than happy to give them a Jewish wedding. He is non-traditionally Jewish but still Jewish. This is an aha moment for Ellen. Over the course of the book, she comes to talk more about how the Judaism she’s living isn’t what her ancestors would have imagined, but it is still Judaism.

Ellen’s grandmother was someone she had a special relationship with. At the start of the book, her grandmother has been dead for years. Her grandmother was not a Holocaust survivor, as she was an American Jewish person. But Ellen in some way seeks to bond with her grandmother through her work interviewing Holocaust survivors. I won’t spoil the surprise in the book. But I will say that how Ellen comes to terms with her relationship with her grandmother is eloquently handled.

Overall, this is a book that manages a delicate balance. It’s realistic about what it was to be a Jewish lesbian in the 1990s while also depicting both queer and Jewish joy. I highly recommend it.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 318 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.

Book Review: Buffalo Is the New Buffalo by Chelsea Vowel

September 13, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. Two people stand on either side of a mystical ravine. the shadow of a buffalo is in the ravine between them.

Summary:
Inspired by classic and contemporary speculative fiction, this collection of eight short stories explores science fiction tropes through a Metis lens: Nanites babble to babies in Cree, virtual reality teaches transformation, foxes take human form and wreak havoc on hearts, buffalo roam free, and beings grapple with the thorny problem of healing from colonialism.

Review:
This collection contains nine short stories by Indigenous (Métis) author Chelsea Vowel. The Métis are a recognized Indigenous people with a unique culture descended from the pairings of Indigenous with European fur traders (usually, but not always, First Nations women with French men). Most of the stories are set in the same region of Canada, and all of the stories are speculative, containing some fantastical element, whether they are set in the past, present, or future.

The author is queer, and queerness is clearly present in five of the nine stories. These include: a historical woman figure who identifies as a woman, is interested in women, and dresses in male clothing; a woman character who becomes interested in a fox presenting as a woman; a woman character who is in lockdown without her girlfriend who ended up trapped in another town after she went to visit her family; a queer poly family raising a child together in a collective; and a nonbinary femme-presenting character who uses Métis gender-neutral pronouns.

My favorite story of the collection is “Maggie-Sue.” This is the story where an Indigenous woman becomes interested in a beautiful Cree woman she sees but realizes is actually a fox disguised as a woman (this is revealed very early on, so not a spoiler). I loved everything about the fox woman, the mystical adventure the main character goes on, and the ending was a delight to imagine. I also really appreciated the play on words in the title (which I won’t reveal, because it’s more fun for you to realize it when you’re reading it yourself). I thought this story also offered solid critique on the difficulties of being a survivor of ongoing colonization on your ancestral lands, without that criticism ever feeling like telling instead of showing or like academic language sneaking in where a character wouldn’t use it.

The latter is my main complaint for the story I liked least – “Unsettled.” There is a scene where five characters, none of whom are established as academics, sit around having a highly academic conversation for many pages. The story felt more like an academic thought experiment than a story with unique characters and perspectives. I also struggled a little bit with the first story in the book, “Buffalo Bird.” its pacing was slow, which is a challenge for me. I think I would have liked it more further into the collection. I personally need to kind of “know” a writer to trust that a story will ultimately go into an interesting place if it has a slow start.

Something else interesting about this collection is that it has footnotes throughout, where the author explains things or gives historical context. I enjoyed these and felt they added to the stories. They’re not used all the time, sometimes you as the reader do need to figure things out from context for yourself if you’re not Métis (which I, to be clear, am not). But I thought the footnotes struck a nice balance.

The other thing is after each story there’s a short reflection from the author about the story. On the one hand, I liked these because I learned more from them. As an author myself, also, it was interesting to hear from the author on what her goals were and compare them to my actual experience as the reader. On the other hand, I could see some readers not enjoying this aspect of the book, wanting to be left with their own experience with the story and leave it at that. But you can always skip over these essays if you prefer not to have the inside story.

Related to the essays, I do also want to note one additional thing. I do think that an author’s beliefs and politics tend to make it into their writing, whether they intend that or not. I’m not saying every character reflects the author’s worldview, absolutely not, but the more you read an individual author’s work, the more you come to see how they likely see the world. This is even more clear in this collection where each story is paired with a nonfiction reflective essay by the author. The author is an academic Indigenous queer woman, and definitely leans very left. I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing. But I do think it shows through more clearly in some stories than others, and is very present in the essays. Only you, the potential reader, can know if this would be a plus, negative, or neutral for you.

Overall, this is an interesting collection of speculative short stories from a queer Indigenous woman author. I’m glad I took the time to read them and see a different way of storytelling and views on the world within the speculative framework I personally enjoy.

Please note, I calculate a rating for a short story collection by individually rating each story then reporting out the average. This came out to 3.7, so I rounded up to 4.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 272 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet – Horror Stories by Richard Matheson

September 6, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a book cover. A figure stands on the wing of a plane in shades of blue, gray, and black.

Summary:
Remember that monster on the wing of the airplane? William Shatner saw it on The Twilight Zone and Bart Simpson saw it too. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is just one of many classic horror stories by Richard Matheson that have insinuated themselves into our collective imagination.

Here are more than twenty of Matheson’s most memorable tales of fear and paranoia. Personally selected by Richard Matheson, the bestselling author of I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come, these and many other stories, more than demonstrate why he is rightfully regarded as one of the finest and most influential horror writers of our generation.

Review:
I picked this up because I remembered enjoying I Am Legend (although my review is only 3 stars, when I looked it up just now…) I also had familiarity with The Twilight Zone episode based on the first story in the collection. I individually rated each of the twenty stories then calculated the average to give the collection a rating.

I rated two stories 5 stars. “Mad House” (made me make shocked and thrilled faces) and “First Anniversary” (I called it timeless in my notes). The former is a very meta commentary on being a writer. The latter reminded me of Buffy in that who you’ve fallen in love with changes, only in this case it was the woman changing instead of the man.

There were quite a few stories that I found moderately engaging and enjoyed their historic vibe. Like “Disappearing Act,” whose whole idea is it’s someone’s personal notebook left in a cafe. Or “Crickets” whose idea is what if crickets’ chirps are really a form of Morse code?

But there are also two stories where, just, the entire structure idea is racist. One “The Children of Noah” involves the idea that a town’s inhabitants are all the descendants of a sea captain and his Pacific Islander bride. The racist part is that they’re dangerous BECAUSE of being part Pacific Islander. The story “Prey” is about a “Zuni” doll that’s inhabited by the spirit of a great warrior. The whole idea made me cringe. One story, “The Distributor” confused me so much that I’m still not sure what the overall point was. A character who I think is a bad guy uses the the n word and another racial slur, but it’s a little unclear to me if he was meant to be a bad guy.

There are also definitely outdated gender ideas here. The least offensive is that it’s oh so scary for teenage girls to wage war as witches in “Witch War.” The worst is “The Likeness of Julie.” Most of the story is from the perspective of a college undergrad male rapist. That’s bad enough. If you want to know how it manages to get worse, check out the spoiler paragraph below in brackets. 

[The twist ending is that the college woman he rapes, Julie, in fact got inside his mind supernaturally and made him rape her. It’s the worst victim blaming I’ve seen in forever, and I honestly wanted to scrub my own brain out with soap. I’m suspicious that Matheson knew on some level how awful this story was, because the collection notes that he published it under the pseudonym of Logan Swanson in Alone by Night, which appears to have been some sort of anthology.]

So, there we have it. Some stories manage to be timeless. But definitely not all. Come into this collection prepared for a mixed bag.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Purchased

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: In the Event of Love by Courtney Kae

Image of a digital book cover. This is a cartoon style drawing Pine trees make up the background. On the left is a blond white woman in a pink coat, torn jeans, and knee high boots with a cowboy hat. On the right is a brunette woman in a red flannel shirt, khakis, and work boots, holding an axe on a stump. There's a Christmas wreath behind her.

Summary:
With her career as a Los Angeles event planner imploding after a tabloid blowup, Morgan Ross isn’t headed home for the holidays so much as in strategic retreat. Breathtaking mountain vistas, quirky townsfolk, and charming small businesses aside, her hometown of Fern Falls is built of one heartbreak on top of another . . .

Take her one-time best friend turned crush, Rachel Reed. The memory of their perfect, doomed first kiss is still fresh as new-fallen snow. Way fresher than the freezing mud Morgan ends up sprawled in on her very first day back, only to be hauled out via Rachel’s sexy new lumberjane muscles acquired from running her family tree farm.

When Morgan discovers that the Reeds’ struggling tree farm is the only thing standing between Fern Falls and corporate greed destroying the whole town’s livelihood, she decides she can put heartbreak aside to save the farm by planning her best fundraiser yet. She has all the inspiration for a spectacular event: delicious vanilla lattes, acoustic guitars under majestic pines, a cozy barn surrounded by brilliant stars. But she and Rachel will ABSOLUTELY NOT have a heartwarming holiday happy ending. That would be as unprofessional as it is unlikely. Right?

Review:
This is a thoroughly queer holiday romance for your holiday needs. It has the returning to my small town from the big city to try to save a small business trope. It also has the second chance love trope.

The two main characters in this sapphic romance are BOTH (!) bisexual (and say the word), which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a romance. There’s a secondary male character who I think is bisexual, although it’s possible he’s gay and has dated women in the past (no one ever says which). There’s another secondary gay character, and a trans woman of color. The owner of the business Morgan works for is a woman of color. A tertiary character is a woman of color married to a Jewish man. Chrismukkah happens briefly. There’s also a pine tree decorated for a mix of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

The sex scenes are steamy and on-screen (all f/f), and there were at least three? Maybe more? I lost count. There’s also one ahem, self-love scene, which I honestly skimmed over because that’s not something I’m personally into reading. I appreciate that it did move the plot forward and wasn’t pointless though. (The character essentially clears her head in this way and then is able to solve a problem she’s been puzzling over).

The one thing I didn’t like was how alcohol is handled in this book. Rachel (the love interest)’s dad has alcoholism. That’s absolutely fine to include. In fact, it’s generally something I’m happy to see. But the representation of this struck false. The main thing that really bothered me is how Rachel interacts with alcohol herself. The book establishes that she’s traumatized by her dad’s alcoholism. It tore the family apart in high school. He’s been in and out of rehab that her and her brother pay for. Her mom left the family after Rachel (the youngest) graduated high school. Rachel routinely drops by her dad’s apartment (that she and her brother pay for) to check for signs of alcohol. YET she STILL drinks regularly. Not occasionally. Regularly. Most people I know who’ve seen this much of the negative impacts of alcohol won’t even allow it in their homes, let alone go out drinking themselves regularly.

Plus, there’s the whole instigation event to Morgan coming back to Fern Falls. (I don’t consider this a spoiler because it happens in chapter one). She gets wasted out at a bar and accidentally kisses the fiancé of someone whose wedding she’s organizing. He’s “in disguise” because he has a hoody on, but we all know she’d have recognized him if she wasn’t drunk. Anyway, everyone knows about this because the news wrote it up. We know Rachel knows about it. She still goes for Morgan. No way. No adult child of an alcoholic would set themselves up like that. I overlooked it because it’s a cheesy romance, but this is not a realistic depiction of an adult child of an alcoholic who’s actively engaged in their recovery. Adult children of alcoholics tend to fall either into the camps of also alcoholics themselves or sober. Rachel falls into neither. I feel weird complaining about realism in a holiday romance novel, but this is real life for a lot of us, and I disliked it being used as a plot device poorly. Alcoholism is serious, and Rachel wouldn’t be casually getting drunk with some love interest who’s only home because she became a hashtag while doing something drunk. In fact, I think this was a missed opportunity for some real bonding. They could have been at a town event and both noticed they were drinking hot chocolate. Rachel reveals the stuff about her dad. Morgan reveals she’s decided to dial it way back with the alcohol after possibly losing her career on that night out. Instant believable bond. But no….they just share spiked drinks.

All of that said, I still gave it four stars because this is a fun holiday romance. It’s not supposed to be that serious! And the bisexual rep is so uncommon and needed. I just wish the alcoholism/adult children of alcoholics rep was just as well done.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.

Book Review: Lucy Checks In by Dee Ernst

Image of a digital book cover. This is drawn in a cartoon style. The back of a woman with long brown hair. We can tell she's gazing ahead of her at two European style buildings, one is covered in vines.

Summary:
Lucia Giannetti needs a fresh start. Once the hotel manager of a glamorous NYC hotel and intimately involved with the hotel’s owner, Lucy had her entire future planned out. But when the owner disappears, taking millions of dollars with him, Lucy’s life as she knows it falls apart.

Two years later, forty-nine years old and unemployed, Lucy takes a job in Rennes, France to manage the Hotel Paradis. She pictures fur quilts and extravagant chandeliers, but what she finds is wildly different. Lucy is now in charge of turning the run-down, but charming hotel into a bustling tourist attraction. Between painting rooms, building a website, and getting to know Bing, the irritatingly attractive artist, Lucy finds an unexpected home. But can she succeed in bringing the Hotel Paradis to its former glory?

Review:
I have a real soft spot for romances whose main character is in a “needs a fresh start” spot in life. I was further intrigued by the age of a protagonist. I can’t remember the last time I saw a main character in a romance in her forties, let alone in her forties without kids.

Lucy has a delightful character arc. She starts off seeming a little high maintenance and self-critical, but then we get some reveals that show valid reasons for her being the way she is currently. Then we see her willingness to adapt and change. And honestly it’s easy to empathize with Lucy. She’s having to almost start over from scratch at 49 for reasons way beyond her control. I suppose one could judge her for dating the owner of the hotel but it’s realistic that a lot of people do date those they work with.

Then there’s the setting. I was at first surprised this wasn’t set in Paris (seems like all of these sorts of books are) but I enjoyed the setting of Rennes. I liked the old hotel, the apartments that were once stables. It was definitely a what a cool place to live vibe. I also think the author handled reminding us of the various languages the characters were speaking like it was a movie while still pretty much always writing in English. It was smoothly done yet necessary, and I appreciated that a big mark in Lucy’s favor for this job to begin with was her fluency in French. Because…not everyone speaks English, people.

Now, I didn’t really get hot and bothered for the romance. I didn’t dislike it either. It just was. It’s reasonably done and charming enough, I suppose, but to me the big sell of the book was the setting much more than the romance. I think I also worry a bit about Lucy’s work life and personal life becoming so entwined yet again. And not just in the romance. She’s got a close relationship with the older woman owner of the hotel too. Did the woman learn nothing from embezzlementgate?

Lucy has a brother with alcoholism. The book handles the relative with kindness, but also there’s constant wine drinking because it’s France. Lucy drinks with lunch and dinner on a seemingly daily basis. It seems like questionable behavior, but she never stops to consider it. Something that I would have hoped she’d have done at some point over the course of the book given her brother. Like even just a hm, maybe I should cut back to one glass of wine with dinner thought toward the end of the book would have been nice.

Overall, imagine this as Emily in Paris but with a 40-something main character who can actually speak French, set in Rennes, and with a focus on hotels/architecture instead of fashion. If that appeals to you, then I encourage you to pick it up.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 288 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (series, #1)

Image of a digital book cover. A Black woman with short hair and muscular arms stands in a keyhole doorway with her arms extended holding each side of it. Sand swirls around her, and she has a weapon on her hip.

Summary:
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

Review:
I don’t read high fantasy very often, but when I do, I need it to be different and unique. When I heard about a military high fantasy with a Black woman lead, a sapphic subplot, and based roughly on North Africa, I knew I needed to read it.

This book took a little while to get up to speed. There’s a lot to introduce, and. it is a chunkster to be fair. By about the 25% mark, I felt like the plot was really moving, and I was glad I hung in there. The basic plot is that Balladaire colonized Qazāl. Balladaire forbids religion. Qazāl is religious. Balladaire abducted children from Qazāl and trained them to be soldiers. They fought on behalf of Balladaire in other regions they were colonizing, and now they’ve been sent back to Qazāl to put down the rebellion. These soldiers are called the Sands. Touraine is a Sand. Luca is in her 20s and is supposed to be the queen, but her uncle is holding onto the throne until he deems her ready to take it on. Luca has a permanent injury to her leg that necessitates her walking with a cane (that has a secret sword in it). Luca is determined to prove her ability to rule via her overseeing of Qazāl.

I think for a lot of readers Touraine will be the big appeal of the book. She’s a muscular, badass soldier who is unapologetically lesbian. And she’s not the only wlw in the book. There’s a rebel couple who are married women. There’s also a minor Balladairan teenager who has a romance with a Qazāli girl. Then there’s Luca, who’s bisexual. There’s also a character partway through who is very cool and is nonbinary. My only question about this character was how, exactly, when Touraine met them, she knew their pronouns without being told. Just because I thought that would be interesting world building.

The Qazāli are varying shades of Brown and Black. The Balladairans are mostly pasty white except for a few who grew up in Qazāl and manage to have tans. The Balladairans speak a language that’s basically French, and the Qazāl’s language, names, and food all seem to be drawn from Arabic culture. The author has stated North Africa as inspiration for this tale of colonization and rebellion. I think it does a good job of exploring colonization and race without ever verging into preachy or beating you over the head with it.

So the big romance (if you can call it that?) of the book is Luca and Touraine. The author describes it as enemies-to-still-enemeis-but-horny-about-it. That said, don’t go into this book expecting on-screen sexy times. For any characters. There’s a lot of longing but nothing on-screen.

This is a violent book. It has to be as it’s military high fantasy. Please keep that in mind. There are scenes including torture, battle, and various types of warfare.

Speaking of battles, this brings me to the other interesting aspect of the book. A key part of the Qazāli religion is the use of magic. And the magic is real. Everyone acknowledges this, even the Balladairans. Luca wants to use magic without being religious. She thinks it will help her take her throne. I myself was quite fascinated by this aspect of the plot, especially when a third and a fourth culture are brought into the mix later in the book. If you like some magic in your fantasy, you’ll get it here.

The one last thing I’ll say is I think this author is quite talented at metaphor and simile descriptors. I highlighted quite a few throughout the book. I was inspired by them. Like this one:

her eyes glittered with life, sharp as a dagger beneath the ribs.

page 206

Swoon!

Overall, if you’re looking for a fresh take on high fantasy with some military mixed in and almost entirely woman leads, this read won’t disappoint.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 528 pages – chunkster

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.