The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale (Tour Dates #1)

34824809Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

Review:

If you like romance be sure to check out Cats and Paperbacks, where Natasha writes reviews highlighting lgbtqia+ books.  She posted a list of her favorite books with lesbian main characters and I jumped on this one – rock band! Touring! Queer romance meets stardom!

In my ‘must read NAO’ haste, however, I missed that while the book covers a diverse rock band, they are not rock stars.  The group crams into a van, drives all night between gigs, and at times plays to half-empty houses.  There is nothing wrong with this – in fact, it makes for lovely romance – but it pushes the book out of Kazen catnip territory.

Moving on, the book!  Sawyer is a Julliard violinist but she loathes going back to school.  Instead of touring with a prestigious chamber orchestra she tries out with a rock band and gets the part.  Over the course of touring she sparks fly between her and the lead singer Victoria, they fall in love, and things happen.

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell is one of those books that’s very good at what it does while simultaneously not being quite my thing.  If you’re looking for a realistic contemporary f/f romance you won’t go wrong.

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When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

31684565Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm, and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.

But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.

Review:

While reading I kept thinking, “this is the perfect category romance, filled with LGBTQIA+ folks that make it even more awesome.”  So much to love.

Cassidy is in the mold of a Harlequin Presents hero, a high-powered New York lawyer that works hard and plays harder.  She wears exquisitely tailored suits by day and plows through a large swath through the NY lesbian scene by night. Katie, on the other hand, has become unmoored from her social network after her engagement is broken off by her cheating fiancee Paul.  She pulls herself together to do the lawyer thing and ends up in a boardroom negotiating with Cassidy, another firm’s counsel.  Their immediate connection makes Katie wonder if she’s ever truly known herself, while Cassidy wonders why she can’t toss Katie aside like her other lovers.

So we have an alpha heroine, another heroine that wants more from life, glamorous work in a stunning city, topped off with a meet-cute.  Straight-talking best friend? Check. Romantic weekend getaway? Check. Two people falling in love, both because and in spite of their best efforts? Check and check.

It reads fast, is perfectly plotted, and kept me invested in the love story throughout.  The characters are well-rounded and have fully-realized motivations, and there’s no Big Misunderstanding that makes me want to smack a heroine on the upside of the head.  Katie and Cassidy’s love is earned, and it is delicious.

The writing is good, too:

Katie had never been a fantasizer of any kind.  She was more of a planner, a doer. She was a pleaser of others – not one for exploring self-pleasure or whatever….

But Cassidy was hot. And the only other women Katie ever thought of as hot were the ones she wanted to be. Not do. Be.

She could almost see the other photos in a family album somewhere, of the two of them bullet-belted, toting rifles, flashing huge grins over some enormous dead animal. They were the kind of guys Cassidy would cross the street to avoid because her intolerance of them was palpable, yes, but also in fear they’d attack her for sport, too, if she came too close.

I love When Katie Met Cassidy and hope Perri keeps writing books in this vein – brava.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

To Have and to Hold by Tamryn Eradani (Enchanting Encounters #2)

 

40236108Following the success of Project: Notice Me, Kyle and Aidan are now in a three-month extension of their play. If three months wasn’t so short, then it would be everything Kyle wants.

They’ve been together long enough to meet each other’s friends and to try new things. Kyle only hopes that at the end of the three months, he isn’t the only one who wants more.

Review:

I love the first book of this series, To Seek and to Find, because it’s BDSM erotica that is grounded in reality.  Members of the club Enchanting Encounters form a loving community of kinksters and I was so happy to rejoin them.

Just as in book one we follow Kyle and Aidan, who have decided that their two week-old relationship deserves a three month extension.  They’re still figuring out what they like, visiting each other’s apartments for the first time, and passing muster with best friends and neighbors.

I really like the BDSM itself.  The meaning Kyle’s cuffs take on, conversations in the club, a rope bondage scene with Kyle’s neighbor – I’m here for all of it.  Some are carryovers from and callbacks to the first book and I like how the narrative thread isn’t being dropped.  People at the club, in particular, are being fleshed out and I hope they’ll get their own stories going forward.

The sex is sweet and scenes varied, but there’s precious little plot holding them together.  I’m glad there’s no Big Misunderstanding, but I wanted a bit more there there.  New chapters often start with a jump in time and change of place that left me at sea. And some things just didn’t make sense – Aidan lives in a duplex supplied by his employer but the neighbors have free run of his kitchen for reasons I can’t discern.

If you don’t like the third person present you may be put off but it doesn’t bother me.  Despite the more objective standpoint, though, we never get deep into Aidan’s head.  I didn’t mind it for the first book – a touch of mystery! room to grow! – but I’m having a hard time connecting to our Dom hero without it.

All in all a decent if slightly slumpy second book in the series.  That being said there’s a teaser for book three and I like the direction Eradani is headed.

Thanks to NineStar Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

The Chateau by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #9)

35497678Reisz is one of my favorite authors, so much so that I ration out her books, saving them for 14-hour flights and other such “emergencies”.  After a particularly difficult day at work I started The Chateau and it was just what I needed.

If you like erotic romance get thee to The Siren, the first book in the Original Sinners series, of which The Chateau is book nine.  The story is a flashback so you don’t need to read the previous eight books but the more you know about the characters the more you’ll enjoy it.  For reference I’ve only read through book five (I know!  Rationing!) and only a line or two at the end left me with a ‘huh’.

Anywho, The Chateau!  Here we follow Kingsley in 1989 when he’s doing secret missions for France’s special forces.  He’s asked to extract someone from a sex cult and… things happen.  From an author Q&A included with the advance copy:

Q: Inside the cult’s chateau, women reign and men are their willing slaves.  How did the idea for such a community come about?

A: Wishful thinking?

It’s a gender-flipped and toned down take on The Story of O.  Everything I love about Reisz’s writing is here – amazing characterization, hot and kinky sex, and beautiful writing that packs a gut punch.  Her favorite devices also take a turn including stories within stories and an exquisite mind fuck.  As with all the books in this series there’s own voices bisexual rep.

An idea that runs through all of Reisz’s work is that sex should be fun and enjoyable for everyone involved.  You should be able to crack jokes in bed and delight in your partner’s pleasure as well as your own.  It shouldn’t feel revolutionary but, sadly, it kinda is.  Here we see many people having sex, both as part of the main plot and side stories, and everyone is having the time of their life.  The only shame is for causing someone (unwanted) pain and anguish, and let’s just say that guy is dealt with justly.

Props all around for another kinky, sex-positive novel-length addition to an amazing series.  Reisz has two more books coming down the pipe – western contemporary and fantasy-esque erotic romances – and I cannot wait.

Thanks to 8th Circle Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

36142487Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

Review:

An amazing gut punch of a book.  Heads up – Oshiro faces police brutality (including murder by cop) straight on.

The good:

  • The author is queer, Latinx, and lives in Oakland where the story takes place, so all kinds of own voices representation.
  • Overall the range of rep is as wide as can be – black, brown, Latinx, queer (including bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans, ace, and nonbinary), undocumented immigrant, and adoption (specifically interracial adoption).  One character uses a wheelchair, another has a chronic invisible illness, another wears a hijab. There’s rep for anxiety and mental illness as well.
  • Specifically in regard to a nonbinary character, I love that Oshiro describes them in such a way that there is no clue what their assigned gender at birth was, or what gender people perceive them to be.  It’s pure – they are them, and that’s just how they want to be.
  • I had my heart ripped out and stomped on in the best way.  It almost seems dystopian in a “this can’t be real” sense, but then you think about news you’ve seen recently and you realize it’s happening right now.
  • The writing is solid.  I believe all of these characters as people, and even though there are a ton of secondary characters I was able to keep them straight.  Many got a turn in the sun and a chance to show their awesomeness.
  • And the themes – the power of family, the power of friends, the power of gathering, the power of women in making change, the power of teenagers, the power of love.  The power of saying their names.

My brain is still wrapping itself around this one so I’m having trouble finding more to say – just know that Anger is a Gift is amazing.

Thanks to Tor Teen and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Lang (Tensorate #1)

33099588Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

Review:

I’ve been wanting to read more nonbinary authors and this book looked fascinating, taking place in a fantasy world where children are born without gender.  By puberty most pick the gender that suits them and switch from they/them to he/him or she/her pronouns.  I love the idea and how it’s executed.

The world building is good and sucked me in from the beginning.  Set in Asia with elements from several cultures there’s a magic system and fantastic creatures that are explained without being overwrought.  Yang strikes this balance by throwing in just enough of the familiar (elemental forces, phoenixes, etc.) and it works with the lower page count.

The plot, however, left me less satisfied as time went on.  In order to cover 35 years there are large jumps in time and while some work, especially while the twins are younger, the later skips left me wanting.  It seems like a lot should have happened to Akeha in six or twelve years, but not all that much changes, considering.  I especially would have liked to see how his relationship with Yongcheow evolved instead of just the beginning and end points.

While there’s a Big Happening at the end it’s not a resolution while also not being a cliff hanger.  Gah.  In sum I like the world, I like what Yang is doing and how they’re doing it, but the story doesn’t quite work for me at novella length.

To Seek and to Find by Tamryn Eradani

38119634“Project: Notice Me” is a win-win for Kyle. He’ll do a series of demonstrations at the club and have a good time with people he knows and the fledging Doms who are new to the scene and looking for encouragement from an experienced Sub. And maybe along the way, he’ll attract the attention of the new Dom at the club, the one with terrible taste in fashion, but who has the most intense focus Kyle has ever seen. He wants the entirety of the man’s attention on him. The clothes are optional.

Review:

A hefty chunk of BDSM erotica is wish fulfillment to the exclusion of reality.  A hot millionaire has a complete dungeon club in his basement? Sure, why not. A Dom can tell who’s a sub just by looking?  All over the place.  There’s a range from harmless to egregious but in each case reality is shoved off to the side.

To Seek and to Find, on the other hand, strikes me as utterly real.  The first BDSM scene is the lowest key public bondage I’ve read – Kyle lies down while a rope corset and halter is put on him.  No suspension, no gag, just rope on his torso.  Even this, super simple and basic compared to other erotica, makes Kyle dip deep into subspace with repercussions that last into the next day.

There are bunches of little things that make me wonder why I haven’t read them before.  For example, Kyle subs in a guided scene for a new Dom.  In many books that’d be it, but here we see the pre-scene discussion over coffee, guidance during the scene itself, and a post-mortem the next day to go over what worked and what didn’t.  These all strike me as Very Good Ideas, and give the impression that Eradani knows what she’s talking about.

Let’s not forget the romance – haltingly sweet (in a good way), with good communication, hot sex, and room to grow.  To Seek and to Find has a happily-ever-after-for-now ending and I can’t wait to see how Kyle and Aiden grow as a couple.  A great read even if it’s a little out of your sweet spot.

Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine by Michele Lent Hirsch

33931697Though young women with serious illness tend to be seen as outliers, young female patients are in fact the primary demographic for many illnesses. They are also one of the most ignored groups in our medical system–a system where young women, especially women of color and trans women, are invisible.

And because of expectations about gender and age, young women with health issues must often deal with bias in their careers and personal lives. Not only do they feel pressured to seem perfect and youthful, they also find themselves amid labyrinthine obstacles in a culture that has one narrow idea of womanhood.

Lent Hirsch weaves her own harrowing experiences together with stories from other women, perspectives from sociologists on structural inequality, and insights from neuroscientists on misogyny in health research. She shows how health issues and disabilities amplify what women in general already confront: warped beauty standards, workplace sexism, worries about romantic partners, and mistrust of their own bodies. By shining a light on this hidden demographic, Lent Hirsch explores the challenges that all women face.

Review:

Part memoir, part anecdote, and part research, Invisible does an amazing job looking at women society deems “too young” or “too pretty” to be sick.

The good:

  • The book is own voices for both health issues and being queer, which is awesome in its own right, and her conscientious efforts mean…
  • …it may be the most intersectional book I’ve ever read. Lent Hirsch mentions how each woman interviewed identifies and the range across race, sexuality, religion, and gender is amazing.  She goes into how each of these identities affect how a woman interacts with health care as well as friends, family, coworkers, and romantic partners.
  • This care is reflected in own voices reviews for Invisible.  My favorite is by Corvus who identifies as Queer, trans, and disabled.  They write, “This is the first book of this kind that I have read – that was not specifically about LGBTQ populations – that didn’t let me down.”  Their whole review is wonderful, go check it out here.
  • There’s a thoughtful discussion with several people about using the word “disability” in relation to themselves, and why they do or don’t embrace it.  There are many answers to this question and I like how so many different angles are covered.
  • Large sections of the text are straight from discussions the author had with women of all sorts.  While reading I thought – if a straight cis white man wrote this book he would only grab the juiciest quotes and summarize the rest through the lens of his own experience.  Lent Hirsch, however, has each amazing woman speak for herself and the book is stronger for it.
  • Even though my own experience as a patient is thankfully limited there are still parts that hit close to home.

    The new pharmacist was great.  He never commented on my looks or how my body made him feel.  What a low bar I was holding him to: he was ‘great’ because he didn’t harass me.

The not-so-great:

  • Only one thing here – I would have liked the 30,000 foot level writing to be stronger.  There are themes that could have been developed to make the book gel as a cohesive whole and their lack feels like a lost opportunity.

Invisible is an insightful look at what women of all sorts go through while dealing with chronic illness.  It’s a must read if you have any tiny bit of interest in the subject – I loved it.

Thanks to Beacon Press and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

33358438Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.

But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.

Review:

This is the second book by Chant I’ve read and I think I love it even more than the first.

The good:

  • This is a trans story written by a trans writer – huzzah own voices!
  • I love how Neverland lets Peter be most himself and how it relates to the romance in the story.
  • I know next to nothing about Peter Pan but it didn’t matter.  I’m guessing that if you’ve read the original there are parallels and references but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
  • One of fiction’s most powerful side effects, I think, is experiencing life as someone utterly unlike yourself.  I’ve read about body dysphoria in a non-fiction sense but feeling what Peter goes through makes it more clear than any informative article could.
  • The writing is just what it needs to be – exciting during the adventure parts, romantic during the “oh wait maybe this is love” parts, and held together with a solid plot.  It’s utterly different from Coffee Boy but Chant switches gears seamlessly.

The not-so-good:

  • While the book fits its pages I wanted so much more than a novella.  I don’t know if Chant writes as this length because it’s comfortable but I think he could blow us away with double the space to run around in.

A fun read that took me away from the crazy of real life just when I needed it.  A must for anyone who’s into LGBTQIA+ reads or retellings.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

33295690As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Review:

I like a lot about this book, so much so that it gets over my usual “enh, YA”-ness. This is no small feat, guys!

The good:

  • Everything comes together well – the plot moves at a nice clip, characters and their relationships change and grow, and you end up caring about everyone, even people you don’t necessarily like.
  • There’s loads of questioning rep.  Billie is attracted to both a guy and a girl and she wrestles with her feelings and gender identity.
  • The group of six friends is close, and guys and gals are allowed to have platonic friendships.  Billie’s best friend is a guy – so rare, so appreciated.
  • At the same time love is a big theme.  What’s the difference between friendship love and romantic love?  How about love born from a long shared history versus the fireworks of a new acquaintance?
  • Perspective shifts serve the story well and don’t turn gimmick-y.

The not-so-good:

  • Billie’s dad is a pastor and her circle of friends form the church’s youth group so religion comes into the story a bit.  I’m agnostic and shy away from scripture in my fiction but if you’re nominally Christian I doubt you’ll bat an eye.  The religious teachings aren’t pervasive, but they’re there.
  • While the plot moves well once things get going they follow the track you’d expect.  The contest later in the book is particularly anti-climatic, more of a checkbox so later events can come together as ordained.
  • As a result the end is telegraphed and, despite some action, not as satisfying as I had hoped.

If you are a fan of contemporary YA, books that follow a group of friends, and questioning/queer representation Dress Codes for Small Towns is the book for you.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen it around more – it deserves more hype.