Chemistry Lessons

By Jae

The blurb from the publisher…

Kylie and Regan have been best friends since kindergarten, supporting each other through thick and thin.

While everyone thinks they would be perfect for each other, they insist there’s no chemistry between them—and Regan should know since she’s a chemistry teacher.

To prove it, they agree to a little chemistry experiment: they’ll go on three dates with each other.

So what if their gazes start to linger and accidental touches no longer feel platonic? They chalk it up to the romantic atmosphere—until a friendly good night kiss turns passionate.

Can their friendship go back to the way it was before? Do they even want it to? Or will they risk losing what they have for a chance at love?

A beautiful friends-to-lovers lesbian romance about taking risks and figuring out that sometimes the perfect person has been right in front of you all along.

The details…

  • Author: Jae
  • Publisher: Ylva Publishing
  • ISBN: 3963245476
  • Publication date: August 2, 2021
  • File size: 2909 KB
  • Print length: 224 pages
  • Available formats: paperback, ebook

My thoughts…

Jae takes an old tried and true friends to lovers trope and does something really clever with it. She develops a romance between two best friends via a dating experiment. She plops them in a Petri dish and lets nature take its course, so to speak. With Kylie and Regan’s close friendship and long history, love is bound to happen; she just gives it the time and attention it needs. Cultivating romance and sexual attraction meticulously under the scope of an experiment, Jae enables readers to buy into it effortlessly. Readers are able to see Kylie and Regan together just as easily as their friends do. And, when the two do come together, everybody gets an HEA that they can cheer for.

There is a long list of things to find delectably scrumptious about Chemistry Lessons, namely Kylie and Regan. These two leading ladies are extremely likable and carry the romance effortlessly. Readers are quickly swept up in their little “dating” experiment. Though their friendship is deep and abiding, they’ve always persisted in ignoring anything that signaled more. After being enlightened while fake-dating, they are forced to examine their true feelings. When they realize that they do indeed have chemistry, both women are finally able to see that it was there all along.

Jae always has interesting secondary characters, and Chemistry Lessons is no different. She does a fantastic job of developing them and they simply shine on the pages of this book. Working together like a well-choreographed ensemble, they help to give shape and dimension to the storytelling. Their presence manages to push the story arc in the most heartwarming ways. Additionally, they aid in giving credibility and accountability to the storyline. Their well-crafted use is just one more example of why Jae is an award-winning writer.

Because Jae is a master storyteller, she understands the importance of building sound relationships amongst the characters. These relationships prove to be essential in establishing relatability; she knows it’s vital in romance writing and she demonstrates it perfectly in this book. The bonds that this cast of characters share with one another are beautiful. They add generous and glorious color to the landscape of this story, and it’s precisely what makes this story so endearing. I found myself smiling right along with Kylie and Regan’s friends, family and coworkers as they tease and prod the two. Their dynamics really elevates the mood of this romance. It all works together to culminate into a fun and entertaining read.

Final remarks…

Don’t hesitate to add Chemistry Lessons to your reading pile. It is absolutely adorable! Jae has taken one of lesfic’s favorite tropes and given it the perfect twist, making this friends to lovers romance a true stand out. Filled with tender moments and big time chemistry, it’s a guaranteed good time. I wholeheartedly give it two thumbs up!

Strengths…

  • Light-hearted, easy reading
  • Well-written
  • Likable characters
  • Fun storyline
  • Fantastic character dynamics

An excerpt…

Every time the waitress stopped by their table to ask if they—or rather Ky—needed anything else, Regan mentally deducted two dollars from her tip. Three if she “accidentally” brushed Ky’s shoulder or touched her arm while refilling her water.

By the time they asked for the check, Blondie owed her fifteen dollars.

Eighteen, she corrected as the waitress put the leather-bound folder with the check on the table, again managing to brush Ky’s arm. She nearly toppled over the half-full glass since she was busy staring into Ky’s eyes.

Granted, Ky’s eyes were beautiful. According to her ID, they were blue, but Regan had always thought they were gray with hints of green. But no matter how interesting they were, that was no reason to dreamily stare into them.

It wasn’t that Regan was jealous. Of course she wasn’t. But what if they really were on a date—one where they both had romantic intentions? Blondie couldn’t know they were only humoring their friends.

Flirting with Ky right under her nose was beyond rude, and Regan would not stand for that kind of disrespect. She snatched the leather-bound folder with the check off the table. “I’m paying,” she told the waitress with her sweetest smile. “After all, I asked her out.”

Blondie paled. “Oh. I didn’t… Um, let me double-check that. I think I made a mistake with the drinks.” She tried to take back the folder.

Regan held it out of reach and peeked inside.

That was bold. Blondie had written her phone number across the top of the check.

Regan ungritted her teeth to confirm that she had indeed made a mistake—not with the drinks, but by flirting with Ky. But then she stopped herself. What are you doing? You and Ky have no chemistry, remember? Apparently, Blondie was convinced there was plenty of potential for a chemical reaction between her and Ky, though. If Ky thought the same, Regan couldn’t stand in the way.

She closed the folder with a loud slapping sound and held it out to Ky. “You know what? The check is yours tonight.

They always argued over who got to pay, so Ky stared at her for a moment before taking it. “Oh, sure.”

Good thing they were going to the movies next. They would sit in the dark, without having to talk or look at each other, and by the time the flick ended, they would be past this weird awkwardness and back in friend territory.

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You’ll Be Fine

By Jen Michalski

The blurb from the publisher…

After her mother dies of an accidental overdose, Alex takes leave from her job as a writer for a Washington, DC, lifestyle magazine to return home to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There, she joins her brother Owen, a study in failure-to-launch, in sorting out their mother’s whimsical and often self-destructive life.

Alex has proposed to her editor that while she is home she profile Juliette Sprigg, her former high school fling, owner of a wildly popular local restaurant, and celebrity chef in the making.

While working on the story and trying for a second chance with Juliette, Alex meets Carolyn Massey, editor of the town newspaper, and wonders if there’s more to life than reheating leftovers.

Enter Alex and Owen’s Aunt Johanna, who arrives from Seattle to help with arrangements. When Johanna reveals a family secret, Alex may have to accept her family for who they are rather than who she hoped they would be. And just maybe apply the same philosophy to her heart and herself.

The details…

  • Author: Jen Michalski
  • Publisher: NineStar Press
  • ISBN: 978-1-64890-309-0
  • Publication date: August 2, 2021
  • Print length: 218 pages
  • Available formats: paperback, ebook

My thoughts…

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing is clean and razor sharp. Be forewarned, though: it’s not necessarily a feel-good, light-hearted read. Though it does have quite a few humorous moments threaded through it, it touches upon some heavy topics, namely grief, child abuse, sexual assault, alcoholism and drug abuse. It’s emotionally intense at times and gives one pause. However, Michalski continually softens the storytelling with her quick wit and sharp sense of humor, making You’ll Be Fine an absolutely captivating read.

There is a lot to appreciate about this book, but what readers will find most captivating is the main character. Alex is so perfectly drawn, readers become simply enthralled with her. She’s a beautifully flawed, self-sabotaging character with a critical eye for all things Alex related. She’s a strange mix of cynicism and optimism, making her a character readers can not help but like; they’re drawn to her and develop a sincere level of empathy for her. Most significantly though, they come to understand her, perhaps even better than she understands herself. Readers accept all her dings and dents because they’ve seen the dent maker. And, quite frankly, the dings and dents aren’t big enough or ugly enough anyway. They don’t turn anyone away, especially those that love her.

Even though this story centers around Alex’s mother’s death, it is not a downer. It’s more about Alex confronting past hurts and disappointments and forming a new reality. Readers watch as Alex reconciles her past with her present and moves ahead with a new perspective. Ultimately, it’s a study in reflection and growth and Michalski’s character development of Alex pulls readers in and holds them there till the very end.

Final remarks…

Michalski is a new author for me, but she’s made my watch list with You’ll Be Fine. She knows how to craft a fantastically well-formed story using layered, complex and intriguing characters. Her character development is captivating and pushes the storytelling in beautiful, rich ways. But You’ll Be Fine is more than a story really—it’s a journey. There are lessons to be learned through each of her characters and there’s a story to be enjoyed by all.

Strengths…

  • Well-written
  • Fantastic character development
  • Intriguing story
  • Captivating and compelling

Excerpt…

Even though Owen never calls her, especially at 7:30 on a weekday evening, when Alex sees her brother’s name in the caller ID, she drops her phone back into her purse and waits for her metro stop. She figures he’ll just leave her a message about his cat. It’s been almost the entirety of their relationship the past five years. The week before, he’d texted her a picture of Tortoise, his Himalayan. She was wearing a suit of herbs with terra cotta-colored felt legs. She looked like a chia pet.

I am my own catnip receptacle, Owen had texted underneath Tortoise’s picture.

The chia pet text had come after midnight, a time when Alex (like most people) was asleep and susceptible to tragedy, like a call from the hospital, from the roadside after a car accident, or, for Alex specifically, a call from her mother when her mother was completely wasted, one glass of wine away from falling down the steps or worse, keeping Alex on the phone for hours about years-old, completely fabricated grievances.

She hadn’t responded to Owen that night, either, mad he’d woken her up about his stupid cat. That he didn’t understand she got up at five in the morning for her job as a features writer at the Capitol Metropolitan or that her apartment in Adams Morgan was expensive as hell or that the amount of her grad school loans equaled a house mortgage. That she had a life, didn’t still live at home with their mother, and didn’t have a cat for a best friend.

As she gets up to make her way to the doors of the metro, her phone vibrates again.

“Owen, I just got off work—can I call you back?” She presses the phone to her cheek as she follows the other commuters up the stairs of the station.

“No, Alex—listen.”

“You know—I was just thinking about Tortoise—I was worried maybe it meant she had died or something,” Alex jokes, cutting him off, even as her hands begin to sweat. She wonders what their mother has done this time to warrant a call from Owen.

“Alex.” Owen is silent for a minute. “It’s Mom. Mom’s dead.”

“Dammit, Owen, you shouldn’t joke.” But she knows he isn’t joking. She stops in the middle of the sidewalk. People brush against her, clipping her leg with their totes, her shoulder with their purses and messenger bags, as she tries to remember what day it is again, when she talked to her mother last. What she wishes she could take back.

“You should come home.” Owen’s words have awkward pauses between them, as if he’s too choked up to speak. “Can you come home tonight?”

“I can’t.” What the hell is she saying? Still, she hears herself go on. “I really can’t. I mean—”

“What do you mean, you can’t?” She imagines Owen’s face on the other end of the line, scrunched like a balled-up tissue. “Mom’s dead. What’s wrong with you?”

“You’re right—all right, okay,” she hears herself agree, her voice far away and warbled, like she’s in a dream.

As she wanders from the Woodley Park metro station toward the general direction of her apartment, she feels suddenly like an alien life form. I am experiencing a tragic event, she wants to tell the dog walker with five French bulldogs who passes her or the woman jogger who pauses at the intersection, drinking from a clear pink plastic water bottle. She wants to grab on to someone, anyone, like a body snatcher, and switch places, away from the kettle ball in her chest, away her knotted intestines and her numb appendages.

Alex has never really done death before. She’s thirty-six and never met her grandparents; their father left when she was four. And although their mother had turned sixty a few years back, it was more like Madonna sixty than Medicare sixty. Were Alex and Owen supposed to call Aunt Johanna, other forgotten, faraway relatives in Wisconsin and Arizona, their father, wherever he was? Was some kind of funeral needed for a mother who had flitted between atheism, Wiccan, new age-y crap, and pharmaceuticals like she was at a metaphysics salad bar?

And beyond the details, which Alex is good at, what about the other, more feely things? Like the way her mother had made her feel? (Incidentally, like a neon sign, a composition of gasses and other toxic compounds compressed into a fragile glass tube that she has managed to bend into the words Alex Maas, Successful Person Who Does Not Give a Fuck.)

Except now she has to give one.

“Crap,” she says under breath as she waits for the elevator in the lobby of her building. She brings up her ex Kate’s number in her phone doesn’t press call, not only because she can’t talk to Kate anymore, but because she realizes she can’t talk to anybody. If she opens her mouth and voices the words my mom is dead, she knows any adrenaline humming through her from the shock will dissolve, adrenaline she needs to get into her apartment, throw a few days’ worth of clothes together, call Rowan at the magazine, and get to the Greyhound terminal at Union Station to catch a bus home early the next morning.

Did Owen even mention how she died? In her apartment vestibule, Alex digs her phone out again. She can’t remember how they ended the conversation, anything he had said after the words dead and come home.


“I’m sure you’re questioning a lot of things since your mother passed,” Carolyn, more solemn, rests one hand on the top of the couch. “I know I did.”

“What did it feel like?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Carolyn picks at a thread that Tortoise has clawed off the top of the couch. “I guess I stopped caring about things. At first in a bad way—like whether I wore makeup to work or a wrinkled suit. I slept a lot or not at all. I felt like the membrane between this life and whatever happens after was torn, and I was in danger of falling in at any second. But then I stopped caring in a good way—what people thought of me, whether I was successful enough. I stopped being afraid of a lot of things. I figured the death of my mother was the worst thing that happened to me, and if I got through it, nothing else would be as bad. And I think now I’m even more capable of allowing myself to love someone wholly, because I’ve learned to love myself.”

Alex flinches as Tortoise suddenly jumps into her lap and settles. She pets her absently, wondering exactly what it is she feels. If she’s capable of feeling anything. Except, as Owen puts it, indignation.

“Are you still here?” Carolyn’s voice wavers with concern as she leans closer. Alex knows one thing: being with Carolyn makes her feel better, makes her want to be a better person in return.

“Yes.” Alex nods, looking up. She puts her hand on the side of Carolyn’s neck. “That was so beautiful, what you said. You’re one of the wisest people I’ve ever met.”

“That’s not true.” Carolyn waves her hand dismissively, although Alex can see she’s pleased.

“It is,” Alex reiterates. Carolyn, she realizes, is a keeper. “You’ve laid a good roadmap to try to follow.”

“Just remember every journey is different. Even what love means to different people, is different…You have to accept everyone will disappoint you sometime, trust or not, love or not, blood or not. No one is perfect. Life is imperfect. You have to learn to love despite disappointment and imperfection…”

“My mother didn’t believe me when I needed her to,” Alex says, picking at the piping on the couch. “Am I just supposed to let that go?”

“Well.” Carolyn studies her, almost with pity. “Your mother is dead.”

“Exactly.” Alex rolls her eyes. “What am I supposed to do now?”

“Isn’t that for you to decide?”

Alex looks away. For years, possibly even her whole life, she’s known two things: ambition and grievance, and at times just one thing, ambitious grievance. It’s part of her identity: being an underdog, being scorned, succeeding despite those who’ve wronged her. How can she live without something to push against? To push away?

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The Last to Leave

By Erica Lee

The blurb from the publisher…

Courtney Fields and Nicole Dawson were high school rivals who thought they would never have to deal with each other again. Eight years after graduating, the two are thrown back together on a trip to Cabo with their two best friends. 

Throughout the trip, they quickly learn they get under each other’s skin in more ways than one. When their sexual chemistry becomes too much to ignore, they decide to fan the flames. Sleeping with your enemy isn’t such a bad idea when you’re never going to see them again, right? 

An enemies to friends-with-benefits to lovers romance that will have you swooning and fanning yourself all at once.

The details…

  • Author: Erica Lee
  • Self-published Indie Author
  • Publication date: June 17, 2021
  • Available formats: Ebook, Audiobook
  • Ebook file size: 617 KB
  • Audiobook length: 5 hours and 44 minutes
  • Narrator: Sara Lobdell

My thoughts…

This is one sweet romance and probably my favorite Lee novel to date. Technically, it’s more rom-com than traditional romance, but that’s why it’s so delightful. Lee takes two overly competitive women with a heated and spirited past, throws them together in a vacation wonderland via their respective best friends’ engagement party and then lets their competitive nature work some major magic. Readers watch as these two unlikely lovers learn to make the most of their circumstances by making everything a contest, even sex! Lusty looks and heated passion pave the way to something more, and what starts out as a game, quickly turns into something deeper.

The Last to Leave is engaging right from the start as Lee sets this story up splendidly. Her lead characters are absolutely delightful and have more chemistry than Mentos in Mountain Dew. She inspires a fun-loving compatibility between them with her use of good-humored, rib-poking competition. The whole story arc is completely entertaining and filled with silly moments and smiles. Courtney and Nicole quickly earn readers’ affection with their nonsensical games, making this romance very easy to enjoy.

I appreciated nearly everything about this amusing romance. The character chemistry is perfect, the sex scenes are hot (fanning myself as I say this), and the romance is sweet. The only aspect of this story I didn’t care for was Griffin, but I understand Lee’s purpose in incorporating him into the story arc. He’s a necessary nuisance and the linchpin to the “will-they-won’t-they” moment in this romance.

Final remarks…

The Last to Leave is the perfect romance to unwind and relax with on a lazy day. It is nicely told and wonderfully written, making it a real joy to read. Don’t hesitate to pick up this adorable rom-com; it’s packed with so much charm, you can’t help but smile.

Strengths…

  • Well-written
  • Fun storyline
  • Charming characters
  • Adorable romance
  • Hot chemistry

An excerpt…

“Could I see your cocktail menu?” a sweet, smooth voice said as someone sat down two seats away, leaving an empty one between the two of them.

Nicole lifted her eyes from her phone to sneak a peek at the girl to see if she was as cute as her voice. The first thing to catch her eye were long, muscular legs, perfectly tan and covered only by a very short pair of jean shorts. The girl’s arms were just as muscular, leading Nicole to believe that she must be an athlete, or at the very least, work out on a regular basis. Perfect wavy blonde hair rested just below her shoulders, and when she turned toward her, the most stunning green eyes met hers. She hadn’t seen green eyes like that since…shit.

She choked on her beer when she realized she was looking right into the eyes of none other than Courtney Fields. Courtney lifted an eyebrow and smirked as if fully aware of the fact that Nicole had just checked her out. “Nicole Dawson. It’s been a long time. You like what you see?”

Oh yeah. She had totally been caught. She held her beer up toward Courtney. “Ask me sometime when I haven’t been drinking.” She took another sip of her beer, then stared at it as she set it down, not willing to make eye contact again. “Pulling it kind of close, aren’t you? I’ve been here for over an hour already.”

“I’ve been here for over two hours. I had lunch at that restaurant over there.”

Nicole scoffed and shook her head. There was no way she was going to let Courtney somehow believe she was better because she got to the airport sooner. “That seems like overkill. The rule of thumb is to arrive two hours before your flight.”

“Technically, it’s three for international flights.”

“Whatever. At least I didn’t have to find ways to entertain myself for an extra hour.”

“I think you would have been just fine. You seem to be enjoying the view.”

Two could play this game. “You don’t seem to mind the view much either.”

Courtney scrunched up her nose, but continued to smile. “The view is fine. It’s the noise that’s too much for me.”

Those green eyes continued to stare into hers while Courtney finished the rest of her drink, then she turned around without another word. Nicole watched her walk away, the smile on her face growing even wider. Just like high school that girl could still get under her skin, but that little banter between them had almost been fun. Not fun enough to make her look forward to spending the next two weeks together, but enough to keep her from dreading it quite as much as she was before.

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Murder and Gold (Cantor Gold Crime Series Book 5)

By Ann Aptaker

The blurb from the publisher…

New York City, 1954.

Two women are found murdered. One is Lorraine Quinn, Cantor Gold’s most recent one-night-stand. The other is political power broker and aspiring New York socialite Eve Garraway, a regular client of Cantor’s stolen art trade.

Police nemesis, Lieutenant Norm Huber, wants to pin the murders on Cantor, send her to prison, and put her in the electric chair. He’ll get evidence on her any way he can. Into this cauldron of danger and death come two other women, each with ties to Cantor’s past. One hates her until passion intervenes; the other harbors darkly hidden feelings.

Set during the earliest stirrings of the Homosexual Rights Movement, Cantor begins to question her own tenuous identity, and the trade-offs she must make to get what she wants.

Cantor Gold, dapper butch art thief and smuggler for whom survival is everything, must now grapple with two fronts: surviving the shifting sands of the criminal underworld, and navigating the changing tides of society.

The details…

  • Author: Ann Aptaker
  • Publisher: Bywater Books
  • ISBN: 9781612942063
  • Publication date: July 6, 2021
  • Print length: 250 pages
  • Available formats: paperback, ebook

My thoughts…

My running thought as I read Ann Aptaker’s latest Cantor Gold drama was this would be an excellent Netflix series. Its gritty storytelling splendidly captures a way of life and time that has long passed, but still provides the most intriguing crime stories. Moreover, readers can not resist the charm of Cantor Gold; her magnetism and bravado swaggers itself across the page like no other butch in lesfic noir today. She’s as suave and debonair as she is miscreant and daring, and that makes for one compelling character.

Murder and Gold is the fifth book in the series, but it can be read as a stand alone. Aptaker’s writing is rich and vibrant, perfectly capturing the time and place it illustrates. The words flow smoothly across the page and draw the reader into a fascinating story world. The pacing is absolutely flawless, as readers are engaged throughout every twist and turn of this well-scripted plot. The dialogue is sharp, unflinching and perfect for the characters behind the words. Aptaker takes care to make it reflect the steely, unyielding underbelly of 1954 New York, as its tone and tenor are essential to the storytelling. The byproduct of Aptaker’s meticulous work is one gripping and edgy drama from cover to cover.

Of course Aptaker is no literary novice; she’s an established NYC writer with ties to both the mystery-writing and the queer-writing communities. This series alone shows she’s more than capable of writing about cynically questionable characters involved in morally ambiguous activities, as it has landed her Lambda Literary and Goldie Awards. She’s more than proven she knows how to pull all the finer literary elements together. However, where she really shines is her use of secondary characters. They are often colorful and provocative, but always genius in use. They advance the storytelling beautifully and give it the compelling edge that’s needed for a hard-boiled crime drama. The final result is a well-executed story, making Murder and Gold one outstanding read.

Final remarks…

Beware: Cantor Gold can become addicting. Aptaker’s talented pen pulls readers into Cantor’s world and doesn’t easily let go. Her depiction of thievery and lawbreaking is made to seem not only gritty and dramatic, but sexy and seductive as well. I recommend you pick this one up. It is absolutely fantastic and leaves readers eager for the next Cantor Gold installment.

Strengths…

  • Well-written
  • Well-plotted
  • Well-told
  • Fantastic characters
  • Fantastic setting
  • Fantastic dialogue

Excerpt…

“Cantor, how do you survive?”

“I survive because I have to. I survive because I don’t like getting pushed around just for living my life.”

“And for who you take to your bed.” She says it softly, almost sadly. I hope it’s not regret for our one shared night.

I repeat, just as softly, “And for who I take to my bed,” but there’s no sadness when I say it at all.

“You’re your own army,” she says. “An army of one?”

“If I have to be,” I say, shrugging it off. “Could be that army might get bigger. There’s talk about organizing to get the Law off our necks, or so I’ve been told.”

That prospect seems to please Vivienne. At least it kicked her sadness aside. She’s the comfortably regal, elegantly alluring Vivienne Parkhurst Trent again. “I think that’s a marvelous idea,” she says. “Maybe you wouldn’t have to hide anymore.”

“I don’t hide now,” I say.

“Which is one of the reasons you have those scars on your face. For heaven’s sake, Cantor, wouldn’t you want a life less chancy, less threatening? Maybe even a life where you could fit in with the world?”

“Fitting in might turn out to be a straitjacket.”

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The Beach House

By Vicky Jones & Claire Hackney

The blurb from the publisher…

How far would you go to protect your family?

New town. New life. Old enemies.

California, 1958. Shona and Chloe arrive at their beautiful new beach house with every intention of living a peaceful existence after a harrowing and heart-breaking few months in Alabama.

Now, with a garage to call her own and her dream home beside the Pacific Ocean, Shona is finally secure in her environment and feeling content for the first time in her turbulent life.

But when Chloe returns from the doctor’s office with news that will forever change the course of their carefully-made plans, Shona is left reeling. Contemplating this new, unexpected turn of events, both Shona and Chloe are left to question how they will cope.

Especially when ghosts from their pasts arrive in town.

With the past and present colliding and threatening their future together, can Shona protect her new life and the lives of those closest to her?

The Beach House is the epic, beautifully written final part of an all-consuming historical fiction trilogy. If you like gripping finales, truly unforgettable characters and tales of love overcoming all the odds, then you’ll be captivated by Vicky Jones and Claire Hackney’s compelling and life-affirming story of unbreakable bonds in the face of adversity.

For fans of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, The Color Purple and The Help—read The Beach House now and complete your journey.

The Complete Trilogy:

  • Book 1: Shona
  • Book 2: Meet Me At 10
  • Book 3: The Beach House

The details…

  • Author: Hackney and Jones
  • Publisher: Hackney and Jones
  • Publication date: November 15, 2019
  • Available formats: paperback, ebook, audiobook
  • Print length: 358 pages
  • Ebook file size: 3725 KB
  • Audiobook length: 9 hours
  • Audiobook narrator: Barbara Henslee
  • Language: English

My thoughts…

The Beach House is the stunning and poignant conclusion to a three part series co-written by Vicky Jones and Claire Hackney, and it should not be missed. Prepare for a rollercoaster ride of emotion though, as it will yank your heart and head all over the place. So beautifully and heartbreakingly written, it perfectly reflects a time and space where two women did not have the freedom to share their love for one another openly. Their love story will leave you a little breathless at times, as it is nothing short of enthralling.

Jones and Hackney do a fabulous job of developing the main characters. Shona and Chloe are captivating individuals and readers become enraptured in their story from the get-go. Their journey is filled with heartache and joy, and it tugs on your heartstrings at every twist and turn. Their love for each other is timeless, and not one that readers will soon forget.

This is a great series. I would recommend it to anyone that loves romances, especially those that are period pieces. It’s setting plays well to the story and leaves its mark on you. The three stories dovetail nicely and provide well-rounded, engrossing entertainment.

Since I enjoyed the ebook of The Beach House so much, I decided to listen to the audio version. However, this experience proved to be a bit disappointing. Though I would absolutely encourage readers to enjoy all print and ebook editions of The Beach House, I can not say the same for the audio version. The narrator is distracting and her southern accent is forced and inauthentic. Her overall performance detracted from the beauty of this book, and I found that to be a shame. The Beach House is a fantastic story and it deserved a better narrator.

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Spotlight: I, Volcano by Eule Grey

The blurb from the publisher…

Can one shy girl conquer war with nothing but love and a dead volcano? Some fires will never die.

According to ancient rhymes, the islanders of Ansar and Skarle are children of the volcano, born of fire and destined to be lovers. After the eruption, the prophecies are forgotten as all are forced to flee. Nobody cares about silly nursery rhymes now, certainly not Jalob.

When shy medic Jalob Baleine heads to war, it isn’t for romance. She only wants to help refugees who have no home or allies. Because they are kin. Jalob was born under the same glowering volcano, on an idyllic island surrounded by dolphins. Like the refugees, she fled the lava and secretly cherishes the old ways.

She falls asleep, ignoring the pull of tides, and dreams of a loving touch. Who doesn’t? And sure, maybe Jalob hasn’t felt whole for years, but war isn’t the time for fantasies. She keeps to herself and hopes someone else will sort the war out. One woman can’t heal the world. After all, she has enough to do, what with tending the sick and her supervisor, Susan, always on her back.

Then Jalob meets stroppy violinist, Corail Esplash. After an explosive introduction, they’re forced to spend time together. Stress makes them long for a reprise, and a fragile line dances between love and hate. Inevitably, the young women exchange island stories. Corail is head-strong and rude, a typical Ansar who loves to tease and be chased. And Jalob—strong, loyal, from Skarle—has such fast legs… Could the old rhymes about destiny be right? Ah, fate.

Death and war are relentless enemies, and difficult choices lie ahead. Can a shy girl rekindle the power of a dead volcano and harness the ocean? One woman can’t heal the world, but maybe Jalob is the only one who can save Corail.

Warning: death of a family member, depiction of war and war-time atrocities, genocide, othering, grief, hate, survivor’s guilt

The details…

  • Author: Eule Grey
  • Publisher: NineStar Press
  • Publication date: August 23, 2021
  • Print length: 180 pages
  • Available formats: Paperback, ePub, Mobi
  • Series: Volcano Chronicles, Book One
  • Category: Romance
  • Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Excerpt…

The news on TV isn’t good. Refugees march across Mainland with no place to go.

Dad sighs. “Why? What can anyone achieve by systematic annihilation? Why do some people want to own the world?”

“Supremacy?” I guess. The ways of angry people have always been a mystery to me. “I don’t understand either. Why is there so much hate?” I did world history in school and know the basics, but it doesn’t really help. There’s never been peace, despite Mainland being filled with people from all creeds. “There must be wrongs on both sides.”

Dad stirs his tea vigorously. Brown liquid sloshes over the rim. One of these days he’s going to break that mug. “I’m not so sure. It’s territorial, like always,” he says ruefully. “We should be safe.”

Mainland is more than thirty miles from where we live on the island of Farland. Our small-island laws and rules are thankfully removed from Mainland dictation and, by and large, they leave us alone. My people have a long history of looking the other way. Not very admirable, but it has its plus points.

“Yes, but what about them?” The news is full of footage of little kids and old people being carried in supermarket carts. “Will anyone help?” I lean into Dad’s solid frame, glad to be safe in our cottage. We don’t have much, but we sleep at night and have enough to eat.

I remember what it’s like to leave at midnight, knowing you’ll never see home again.

He pats my knee. “I don’t know. Macke says they’ve already started arriving in boats. Families mostly.”

“From where?” I try to think back to geography lessons and books. Although I’ve done well in medical studies, I was no good at other lessons. “From Esk? Isn’t that the nearest coast?” I love Esk. We used to row there often to spend weekends and holidays. “I hope it doesn’t get ruined by war.”

Dad tuts. “Jalob! People are much more important than buildings.”

“I know that. I just don’t get why countries can’t solve things by talking.” The truth is, seeing the refugees is more than disturbing. It’s easier to pretend all the trouble can be solved with a chat than to acknowledge it probably can’t.

“A country behaves the same as an individual,” he says. Any minute now, he’s going to bring up me being bullied at school. “When one person is stronger than the other, or maybe, angrier, more damaged, more hurt, sometimes being friends isn’t an option. You can’t have a conversation if the other person isn’t listening.”

“Mm.”

“Friendship is a privilege, not a given right. Remember when you were at school, and—?”

“I get it, I get it. I’m being selfish. It’s just hard to imagine when you’re seeing it on TV. What even started this war? I don’t mean all the petty arguments. I mean, what was the actual cause?”

“Do you know nothing of the world? It’s your history too.”

I shrug. “I know potatoes make excellent chips and fried eggs are good to dip. What goes on in Mainland isn’t my business.” I’m uncomfortable he’s trying to make this war relevant to me. I don’t mind hearing about Skarle, but I don’t want to start thinking about boats and refugees. It’ll only lead to images of volcanoes and what happens when people can’t get away.

He shakes his head and laughs. “Always thinking with your stomach! What do you mean it’s not your business? Mainland Ansars originate from the islands.” He looks at me meaningfully. “You know—our islands. They’re different from our island Ansars, sure, and they left hundreds of years ago, but still. They’re our people, Jalob.”

Ours? From what I remember, island Ansars certainly didn’t belong to anyone.

“Mm. I know that much.”

Ansars fascinate me. Since I can remember, I’ve had a crush on an Ansar—Berl. Fish and frogs, is she gorgeous! Tall, slim, messy long hair, and full of cutting sarcasm. Everyone fancies her. I’ve always kept out of her way. People like that don’t want to associate with the likes of me.

On the last night of our final school term, students had been allowed to gather. She’d got out a guitar and sung all night. It was spellbinding. I waited until everyone had left, just to watch her pack away. Just to make the evening last a little longer. Maybe I hoped she might talk to me? Skarles and Ansars have a long history. And, like Dad says, we come from the same place.

Berl noticed me, standing by the big oak tree. She sauntered over and looked me up and down. “You’re massive. Are you Skarle?” she asked.

“Um. Yes. I mean. I was. Until the volcano. Yes. Um.”

“Um? What are you, a bee?”

“Sorry.”

I thought she was going to be rude, like she normally is. When she kissed and started touching me, I actually thought I was drunk and hallucinating. It was the best night of my life.

When she unbuttoned my top, I was so excited I didn’t know what to do, so I just watched her do it.

Being tall, big, and clumsy, I’m all the opposites to her. I could probably have lifted her up with one hand if I had wanted to. That night, though, I hadn’t felt very strong at all. She took my top off, unzipped me, and then squeezed and prodded at me. I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. Even now, I’m not sure I liked it that much.

Then she walked off, like nothing had happened.

Didn’t answer any of my messages afterwards. I suppose one day, I’ll stop thinking about her and wishing for what can’t be.

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A bit about the author…

Eule Grey has settled, for now, in the north UK. She’s worked in education, justice, youth work, and even tried her hand at butter-spreading in a sandwich factory. Sadly, she wasn’t much good at any of them!

She writes novels, novellas, poetry, and a messy combination of all three. Nothing about Eule is tidy but she rocks a boogie on a Saturday night!

For now, Eule is she/her or they/them. Eule has not yet arrived at a pronoun that feels right.

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Spotlight: The Mountain Town Series by Leandra Summers

The blurb from the publisher…

The Mountain Town Series Books 1-3 contains the lesbian spanking books, Emma and Melissa, Ava and Gemma, and Marty and Maria, in one easy to read volume.

Book 1
Emma and Melissa meet in Switzerland when Emma’s over protective father hires Melissa as a guide to watch over her. Sparks and tempers fly before the two women confess their attraction to each other. They continue their life as a couple in a scenic mountain town, where their mutual love for domestic discipline flourishes.

Book 2
Ava and Gemma move to the same trendy mountain town a year later looking for fulfillment in their lives. They recognize a mutual attraction when they meet, and they spend a passionate night together before Ava confesses that she wants their relationship to be a domestic discipline one. Can Gemma surrender her heart and bottom to the desirable Ava?

Book 3
Marty and Maria have been together for five wonderful and loving years. When Maria starts to develop career dreams of her own, distinct from those of her dominant wife Marty, sparks fly. Will Maria be able to state her needs honestly, whilst retaining the passionate yet stern spanking romantic life they have built together?

This book contains consensual disciplinary spanking and sex scenes between women with an underlying tone of domestic discipline. Please do not buy the book if such material offends you.

The details…

  • Author: Leandra Summers
  • Self-published Indie Author
  • Publication date: January 19, 2020
  • Print length: 271 pages
  • Available formats: paperback, ebook

This book is available from…

A bit about the author…

Leandra Summers primarily write lesbian vanilla spanking romance (sweet ‘n mildly kinky) for lesbians who enjoy their romance with a handful of spankings. She also writes lesbian romance using her home country of South Africa as the background setting.

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Guin the Emerald (The Shift Series Book 2)

By Louisa Kelley

The blurb from the publisher…

Guin is on a mission in the Oregon mountains when all connections with Dracan, the world of dragon-shifters, is cut, leaving her with one ally and Miriam, the human who betrayed the Draca, who is under house arrest while working off her debt to the dragons.

To Guin’s dismay, she’s forced to partner with Miriam as they hunt for answers to the turmoil engulfing Dracan with only an ancient prophecy as a guide – definitely not the easiest thing, as Guin’s dragon is still furious with Miriam, though Guin…not so much and her reluctant attraction to Miriam is causing an unprecedented break with her sister-self.

Miriam only wants to the dragons to forgive her and will do everything in her power to show she is worthy. Falling in love with Guin is an insane complication, but together, the two of them and the rest of Guin’s unlikely crew embark on a mission to find a missing young dragon and a thousand-year-old dragon egg with the power to end the danger to Dracan.

Everything is at stake as dragonly chaos descends all around them and Guin roars to the challenge in order to save her world, and in the process, lose her heart to a most unlikely person.

The details…

  • Author: Louisa Kelley
  • Publisher: Dirt Road Books; 1st edition
  • Publication date: July 26, 2021
  • Print length: 296 pages
  • Available formats: paperback, ebook

My thoughts

When I was first sent an ARC of this book, I must admit that I was a little intimidated. I don’t normally read fantasy, especially stories about shapeshifting dragons, but Guin the Emerald is a Dirt Road Books publication. Dirt Road Books is one of my favorite lesfic publishers. They aren’t big box, and I like that about them. They are committed to publishing quality, not quantity. Because of that, I imagine that they are often lost in the shuffle of competition amongst those that sell books, and if that is the case, it’s an absolute shame. Dirt Road Books takes storytelling seriously; they’ve produced some solid and award-winning books, books by KD Williamson, Jove Belle, Andi Marquette and Gill McKnight, just to name a few. In fact, KD Williamson’s Big Girl Pill earned a much deserved nomination from the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society and Gill McKnight’s books are always highly recommend by reviewers in the lesfic community, including me.

As I said earlier, fantasy isn’t something I usually read, and despite this book being a bit out of my comfort zone, I quickly found myself absorbed in Guin the Emerald. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. I immediately found Kelley’s writing to be fun and refreshing. It’s filled with the perfect amounts of humor and action, making it a real joy to read. And, as I read further into the book, I realized this is an ideal book for someone who doesn’t normally read fantasy. Kelley sets it all up so nicely; readers have no choice but to fall into her fantastical world of shapeshifting dragons.

Shapeshifting dragons aside, Kelley really sells this book with the most lovely romance between two of her most intriguing characters, Guin and Miriam. She curates a love that is not only gentle, but passionate at the same time. It’s filled with a complex and intense history and it pushes the storytelling in the most captivating ways. Furthermore, the overall conflict and tension between these two is just divine. It ends up giving the whole enemies to lovers trope the most scrumptious vibe and making it play out really well on the page.

In addition to a nicely crafted romance, Kelley gives her readers fantastic supporting characters, ones that enrich the plot and move it along superbly. This supporting cast of characters is wonderfully developed and beautifully drawn, ultimately providing the story with the essential shape and dimension needed for a well-constructed piece of fiction. Kelley just knows how to make her characters work and the readers reap the rewards. They get a fresh and exciting tale.

Final remarks…

It’s easy to see Kelley is a creative and enchanting storyteller; Guin the Emerald is proof of that. Built around fantastic characters and wonderful writing, this book is just a gem. If fantasy is normally your jam, then I’m sure you’ll love it. If not, give it a try like I did. You won’t regret it; there’s just too much to enjoy inside these pages!

Strengths…

  • Well-written
  • Fantastic characters
  • Great story
  • Imaginative and fresh

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Connect with the author…

Hearts in Motion

By Miranda MacLeod

The blurb from the publisher…

After tragedy strikes, can love blossom out of grief?

As an emergency room doctor, 41-year-old Hadley Moore has spent a decade perfecting the art of shutting down her emotions to focus on saving lives. But when her younger sister and brother-in-law die tragically, the pain of loss is too great to ignore. Reeling from guilt over letting her family take a back seat to her career, Hadley seizes the opportunity to make things right by returning to her hometown to raise the infant son her sister left behind.

At 29, Tyne Briggs knows firsthand how hard it is to grow up without a loving family. After being saved from a hostile foster home as a queer pre-teen, the young artist dotes on her large and boisterous adoptive family. When she loses her brother and sister-in-law in a car accident, her top priority is to make sure her baby nephew has the happy childhood she was denied.

Shared grief and mutual attraction bring the two women together, where they find solace and passion in equal measure. But they are soon at odds when each decides she is the best choice to give baby Owen a permanent home. Without a will to guide them, and with the two aunts unable to reach a compromise, a lengthy custody battle looms.

Cooperation and a common purpose could lead to true love and the creation of a new family together, but not if impulsive decisions and unsavory lawyers tear them apart first.

Best-selling lesbian fiction author Miranda MacLeod has written a heartwarming and emotionally gripping medical age-gap romance that will convince you love conquers all.

The details…

  • Author: Miranda MacLeod
  • Self-published Indie Author
  • Publication date: May 20, 2021
  • ISBN: B095GSG4HS
  • Print length: 416 pages
  • Available formats: paperback, ebook, audiobook

My thoughts…

Miranda MacLeod is known for creating light-hearted, sweet romances with likable characters. Though this book deals with some heavy subject matter, it still remains very charming. Her quick-witted humor provides a conduit for skirting the overly heavy moments, keeping things light and entertaining.

MacLeod unites two women who share a desire to do what is right for their families in their time of need. Through this desire, they discover other desires—mainly a desire for each other. Together they cultivate love from their loss and reshape family for not only their nephew, but themselves.

Even though this story’s foundation is built around a life altering family tragedy, it remains upbeat and full of romance. It is threaded with themes of family bonds, commitment and loss, but its primary focus is love. It is written with a tender and careful pen, yielding a very lovely romance. Ultimately, Hearts in Motion proves that love can conquer all, even overwhelming grief.

Final thoughts…

Hearts in Motion will not disappoint MacLeod fans; it is truly a fun read and perfect to toss into your beach bag as you head out to relax. If you are looking for a heartwarming story to lose yourself in, then this is the book for you.

Strengths…

  • Witty dialogue
  • Cute characters
  • Entertaining story
  • Perfect beach read

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Spotlight: A New Release for Angela C. Kelly

The blurb from the publisher…

Angela is twenty-nine and living what looks like a comfortable life in a Midwestern college town: she has a home with her adoring long-time partner, a circle of good friends, a recently acquired degree, and a job that uses it. But everything isn’t as lovely as it looks.

Slowly a soul-level unravelling is occurring within Angela, without her knowledge or consent. Each destructive self-sabotaging choice brings her closer to the kind of destruction that ultimately makes room for new growth in a person’s heart.

Enter Elizabeth. Though Angela claims to have paid little attention when they are first introduced, Elizabeth — Liz — eventually consumes her every thought, much like the drugs she and her wife have begun to use to mask the growing rift in their relationship. When Angela decides to call her partner’s bluff and invite this new “hot young plaything” to help them patch things up, a decades-long story of pursuit, addiction, love, and growth begins.

Angela’s story winds through her past, each tale about her relationship with Liz opening up a window to times even farther past that have shaped how she connects with other people, especially those she loves. Woven through it all are threads of addiction, abandonment, shame, perseverance, joy, and love. Has she come to terms with her past? With Elizabeth herself?

What began as a taboo sexual encounter blossoms into a love affair that goes on to span a decade. The trials and tribulations of the narrative are shot through with flashbacks from the protagonist’s life. Through them, and observing how Angela operates within her relationship with Liz and others, the story of how a person becomes what and who they are begins to emerge.

As with Angela Kelly’s previous books, the themes of addiction and recovery are present. However, in this new work she has expanded her reach of literary tropes, both classic and experimental. There are deeply rich layers of psychological introspection, exploring the mental landscapes of love, trauma, and spiritual growth.

A love story to be sure, but not one for the faint of heart or idyllically romantic. Waiting for Liz shows the brutal and often grueling process of investing in relationship regardless of outcome, alongside the arduousness of emotional development.

The details…

  • Author: Angela C. Kelly
  • Publisher: JMS Books, LLC
  • Publication date: August 21, 2021
  • Print length: 107 pages
  • Available formats: ebook

This book is available from…

Author Bio…

Angela C. Kelly has been writing since she was tall enough to hit the keys on a manual typewriter. Two of her poems, Religion and Redemption, have been previously published. Religion won the Illiad Press Grand Prize Literary Award in the winter of 2003. Other works have appeared in a variety of independent magazines, newsletters, and websites. “Unavailable,” her novel-length memoir, and her second, fiction book, “Second Best Fantasy,” were published by JMS Books, LLC in 2011. Her novella, “Waiting for Liz,” was published in 2021.

Angela lives, breathes, and consumes books. She was employed in the publishing production industry for over a decade, and has a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois. Later, she returned to the University and received a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. She spends much of her time haunting libraries and local bookstores, always in search of the next piece of inspiring and overwhelming literature to add to her reading repertoire.

In her early years of pre-teen angst, Angela spent much of her time writing what she now jokingly refers to as her “Die, Love, Die!” poetry. Influenced by the iconic bodies of work of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, the melancholy bled through all of her early writing, as she struggled to find a sense of self in an earlier, anti-LGBTQ era. Eventually her poetic works evolved into a richer, more diverse style.

Today, Angela devours the works of many writers across genres. Her wife was a close friend of the late great David Foster Wallace, and several signed paperbacks of his work grace their bookshelves. She is also a devotee of perhaps the most prolific contemporary author alive: Joyce Carol Oates.

Angela currently lives and works 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her wife Cindy and their furry four-legged children. She has, on more than one occasion, vowed to one day write her complete memoirs with only a sharp shell in the sand, to be carried away on the memory of the ocean’s waves.

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