Category: LGBT


Given Away

Full disclosure, by the time I had this review written the book that it goes with had been removed from the Kindle store. I almost feel like I’m cheating a little by posting it, but I read the book and I have opinions about it. Not necessarily constructive opinions, but it was something I wanted to talk about. So, without further ado, here is Briar Lane’s Given Away.

Given Away cover

Anya and Catie have been friends since they were kids and have hit every major milestone of their lives together, from rooming together in college to moving to the same city after graduation. Now they plan on sharing one of the biggest milestones of their lives, their bridal shower in Las Vegas. But as they get closer to marrying their respective fiancés worries begin to surface for both. Anya wonders if she should be relying so heavily on Catie for emotional support, isn’t that what her loving fiancé is for? Catie feels years of friendship slipping into a terrifying distance between then, worried that they won’t see each other as much anymore after their vows are said and done. Can their friendship survive the bridal shower weekend? Can love bloom where friendship has grown for so long?

Briar Lane’s Given Away is a book that I found disappointing pretty well from the word go, and my problems with it just sort of piled up like a forty car wreck of poor writing choices and bad editing. Spoilers ahead for a handful of things, I feel like I need to talk about them to get across some of the issues I had with the book.

                Given Away alternates its narrator, so some chapters are from Anya’s perspective and some are from Catie’s perspective. Unfortunately, if it was not for Anya talking nigh constantly about what great friends she and Catie are but she should totally be spending more time with her fiancé, since after they get married he will be her rock and all, and Catie worrying that she’ll never get to see Anya again after they get married and wondering if she really even wants to marry her fiancé, I would have had a serious issue telling the two apart. I actually did have issues telling the two apart for some chapters, something that was not helped by the author seeming to forget the names of her protagonists’ fiancés a few times. The lack of character voice extended to both of the fiancés and the Greek chorus of bridesmaids, who at least had the excuse of being largely kept out of dialogue despite one of the big scenes being a big catching up dinner for them all.

Alongside the issues with character voice are Lane’s habit of telling the reader about characters and situations rather than showing them. Both of the protagonists’ fiancés are treated like stand up guys for the first half or so of the book, the reader is told repeatedly about how great they both are. This lasts right up until the story needs them not to be as good as they were set up to be so that Catie can walk in on hers about to cheat on her and there can be a dramatic breakup leading to her tearful confession of love to Anya. Even Anya, one of the protagonists, is hit by this when she feels that her fiancé isn’t listening to her or respecting her feelings about Derek cheating on Catie, so suddenly her fiancé is also terrible and she’s off to find her best friend the love of her life. None of these characterization changes feel earned by the narrative, which leaves both protagonists feeling at best so in their own heads that they shut out everything else or simply so oblivious to their partners’ feelings and behaviors that they really shouldn’t be in a relationship. It is frustrating to say the least.

All that lead to my not enjoying the book. I did not like the cheating plot on either side, or the telling characterization, or the weirdly sudden sex scene after Anya leaves her fiancé and goes to find Catie. The sex scene seriously felt much more detailed than the rest of the book and went from zero to sixty-nine in seemingly no time and was just jarring and out of place. All of that would have left the book with a two out of five and a note that I would likely not read more of Briar Lane’s writing in the future. That would have just left me feeling like I had been waiting for the book to get better.

But there were two things that bothered me enough to drop the book to a one out of five, two things that were absolutely avoidable and that have little to do with the story itself. The first issue was the sample of Lane’s next work at the end of this one. This is not something that generally bothers me, it can be a great way to find other books that you might like. But in this case the out of place sex scene hit and then a flash forward to a year later at what was, according to my app, around the seventy percent mark for the book’s page count. The author dedicated nearly a third of her page space to advertising her next book in one that desperately needed an editor or a beta reader and at least one more going over. But then she also promised one last chapter of Given Away, an exclusive chapter that the reader could download if they just followed the included link. The link lead to a website that wanted me to sign up to it to get the opportunity to download the chapter that the author just couldn’t include in the book proper, so I guess I will not be reading that chapter.

Those two issues left me feeling more than a little cheated. Which of course leads to this, it is not hard to give Given Away a one out of five. It is worryingly easy to keep finding things that I did not like in Given Away. I can only hope that it is some other reader’s cup of tea and that Briar Lane keeps working on her writing and has the opportunity to improve. After her hiding a chapter of her book away on a website that requires sign up to access, I will not be there for the rest of her career.

 

Never Just Friends

So, this got delayed a little. Got some stuff going on that made it a little harder to write than I’d like to admit. But this was a book I had a really good time reading. So here is Lily Craig’s Never Just Friends. Enjoy!

Never Just Friends cover

Having feelings for your best friend, as Georgie knows well, is terrible. Having feelings for a best friend who has not only just come out to you, but also assured you that she would never date you, is worse. So Georgie does the only thing she can to deal. She leaves town, finds a new job and tries to start a new life. Through a year of distance and worry Madelyn has come to realize that the love she holds for her best friend is romantic. She hopes that she can take time during their yearly cabin trip to mend the rift that has opened up between her and Georgie. Mend the rift and make her feelings known. But Canadian winters can be brutal and a sudden snow storm traps the two together in their cabin. Trapped by the weather the two will have to deal with their feelings and the distance created by miscommunications.

I feel like, before digging into the review here, I have to admit that friends to lovers is one of my favorite fictional romance tropes. I like the history that it can give characters and the familiarity that it tends to bring which, at its best written, can make the evolution to romance feel more natural or can bring really good drama. In most ways Lilly Craig’s Never Just Friends delivers on that.

Something that really worked for me in Never Just Friends was the way the chapters alternated between the present, with the events in the cabin as Georgie and Madelyn try to work around their feelings, and the past, showing bits of their friendship from when they first met right up to the year before. It does a good job of keeping the characters’ history and the reasons why two people who are as totally different as Georgie and Madelyn would still be sticking together after years and years. It also gives a really nifty look into who the characters were and who they became as they grew up. These looks into the past are really something that it feels like the book needs to work, the characters’ attraction could feel a little one sided and shallow without it. Georgie is shown to be more than a little emotionally shut off, not really willing to put herself out there, especially after having her heart broken by Madelyn at the start of the novel. The sections of their shared history help keep Madelyn going after Georgie so doggedly from feeling forced.

There’s actually a lot baked into Never Just Friends that really works for me, though a lot of it also verges on spoilers to talk about so I won’t go into it here. Similarly, there is not a lot that I find myself wanting to complain about. There are some places where either protagonist could have been toned down a little. Georgie’s temper flares up more than feels entirely reasonable a couple times and Madelyn can feel almost a little manic pixie dream girl desperate in her attempts to get Georgie to hear her out. Neither issue is a major one and both fit pretty reasonably with their respective characters, but there were spots where it felt more like an awkward necessity to move the plot along or maintain drama than something that was natural to the moment.

So, where does that leave me? I really liked this book. The characters were a little more complicated than I’m entirely used to in romance novels and the chapters that covered their history together was a really nice touch. While there were bits that felt like they were pushed a little further than necessary for the sake of the plot, they didn’t distract terribly from the narrative flow. For me, Never Just Friends earns a four out of five. I also admit that I did not realize that I was reading another Lily Craig novel until I was most of the way through and needed to redownload the book after clearing space on my phone, so points to her for range. I’m likely to seek out more of her work at this point.

Yule Love Her

I’m both more that a bit late getting this one reviewed and a bit early for the actual start of Yule this year. But this seemed like a good spot for something short and sweet. This one’s courtesy of NetGalley, here’s Jodi Hutchins’ Yule Love Her. Enjoy!

Yule Love Her cover

Artist and semi-recent transplant to Seattle, Joy hasn’t been in a relationship in the year since she found her previous significant other cheating. With a string of one night stands, she hasn’t really considered it. At least not until a chance meeting on the bus introduces her to harried personal assistant Bec. They quickly form a rapport and Bec soon works up the courage to ask her to lunch. When casual dates nearly turn into something more, Joy suggests taking things slow and seeing where things go.  As Christmas nears, neither can expect that an unexpected meeting and a misunderstanding might ruin their chances at happiness together. Can they make this work, or will Joy and Bec be spending the holidays alone?

In a lot of ways Jodi Hutchins’ Yule Love Her just feels like it doesn’t have enough space to develop the characters or to build any sort of conflict. It’s just one of those stories that really isn’t served by being as short as a novella is, especially with how much of the story’s content is covered by the blurb. It quickly becomes pretty obvious where most of the story beats are going to hit, if not exactly how, while leaving the characters oddly naked of development.

Put bluntly, there’s more built up to the sex scene than there is to the story’s climax. And that bothers me more than a bit since this is billed as romance rather than erotica. There are a lot of places where it feels like there should have been more. More build between Bec and Joy. More build up for the antagonist as the antagonist. That one especially seems like it had a skeleton in place that just never really got fleshed out. The lack of extra space to buff that out made the climax feel badly placed, like the antagonist wasn’t built up to that level of reaction.

More of the legitimately cute moments between the protagonists would have been fantastic. Or more character moments, show the two of them opening up to each other more. Joy could have talked to Bec about her art more or the kinds of people who order commission work from her. Bec could have talked more about the job she’s hoping to get or more about her boss beyond the aggressive need for control and being mad at her for being late. Because I wound up kind of feeling like these two got together because the story needed them to. Which is a shame, because with a little more time on page out and about doing things together Joy and Bec could have been a really fantastic couple. But it felt like it kept getting sidelined by physical attraction, which fair, but I still found myself wanting more meat to the relationship itself with the physical bits as a sort of dessert to that.

The pacing is what makes most of the problems I have with Yule Love Her. Like a lot of novella’s I’ve read, it feels like there was meant to be more but it needed to fit a word limit. So important things might have gotten cut. Which is a shame because I think this could have been a really nifty romance if it had been given twice as much page space so things could be built up better. And it isn’t bad, I would read a different book by Jodi Hutchins, just preferably a novel length one. I want to see what happens when she has space to dig in and do more with the surrounding plot rather than needing to dance around a reveal.

So yeah, there were definitely parts to Yule Love Her that I enjoyed. There were parts I would have liked to see more of, mostly character stuff. Joy and Bec dating and Bec and her job or her boss kinds of stuff mostly. There was some stuff that made the end feel not entirely genuine that could have been worked around a bit more. But, overall, it has a lot of promise and I want to see more of Hutchins’ writing to see her live up to the promise that Yule Love Her shows. So it gets a three out of five from me. Worth checking out if you want a quick read between celebrations.

Way late on this. I took a nap earlier and slept through my alarm, so best laid plans there. This was the kind of read that I didn’t know I needed until I was midway through it and kept pausing to bother my poor mother about bits that I was really enjoying. So, with no further ado, this is Lily Craig’s Pretend Girlfriend. Enjoy!Pretend Girlfriend cover

The best revenge, they say, is living well. When Celeste Lamontagne receives an invitation to her cheating ex-girlfriend’s wedding she knows that isn’t true. The best revenge is being seen living well, and to do that Celeste will need a happy relationship to show off during the wedding cruise through the Mediterranean. A happy relationship with a girl outside the social strata she and her ex share so no one can discover the truth, that she hasn’t let anyone close since they broke up. That’s where free spirited stylist Lane comes in, all she has to do is play the part of Celeste’s loving girlfriend for the duration of the cruise and she’ll be set up with a second chance in New York’s fashion scene. They just have to convince a yacht full of people that they’re a couple for two weeks without getting caught. Two weeks without stumbling over each other, spilling the secret, or butting heads too hard might be manageable if they can handle the sparks stirring up between them.

A solid three quarters of the appeal Lily Craig’s Pretend Girlfriend held for me starting out was that it is built on the fake dating trope. That sort of deal where two characters fake a relationship for one reason or another but it’s obvious from the start that one or both of them are totally into the other, and of course they wind up together because it’s a romance trope. It’s meant to have a happy ending. I have no idea why I’m as about this trope as I am, but here we are.

Pretend Girlfriend has more than a fair amount of repetition and not a ton of plot. There’s some places where it feels kind of soap opera-esque, with really big reactions to things the reader hadn’t been in on either. Despite all that, it is a lot of fun. Celeste and Lane are two very different characters from two very different sets of circumstances. They play off each other well for a lot of the book and the places where they don’t do a good job of setting up a situation where their personalities would absolutely clash.

There is a lot of mutual pining and deciding that the other is just in it for the job. That, I admit, got a little old especially since it was intercut with the characters making huge strides in caring for and getting to know each other. It was never so bad that it became unreadable, but it did get to a point where it felt like it was being used to keep Celeste and Lane in a holding pattern longer than necessary. It also made the cruise feel like it had gone on for far more than two weeks by the time the climax hit.

Contrasting that though, I really enjoyed the bits with the two out and about at the cruise’s various stops. Celeste trying to show she cared and finding that she was enjoying herself while with Lane was pretty great. The banter between them was fun. And it actually felt like Celeste was loosening up and having more fun as the book continued.

So, yeah, Pretend Girlfriend was a lot of fun. It doesn’t need much of a plot because the focus is squarely on the protagonists getting closer and falling for each other. It’s fun and light and a little ridiculous, so Pretend Girlfriend gets a four out of five from me. It has a base trope that I really like and fun characters that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

I’ve rewritten this at least three times. It was a lot of fun to think about and I kind of want to do a book vs series vs novella now, but I also didn’t want to just sit here comparing it to the web series. This one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Kids Can Press, via netGalley. Here’s Kim Turrisi’s adaptation of Carmilla. Enjoy!

Carmilla cover

When college freshman Laura Hollis’ roommate goes missing after a party she calls everyone she thinks might be able to help find her. Instead of help, she gets stuck with Carmilla, the roommate from hell, an aloof philosophy student who responds to seemingly everything with sarcasm. But the more Laura digs, the stranger things get. And the stranger things get, the more it seems like Carmilla knows much more than she lets on. The more it seems like Carmilla might be interested in her for less than nefarious purposes. What’s a girl to do with a mystery to solve, a very possibly vampiric roommate, and homework piling up by the day?

So, Kim Turrisi’s Carmilla is an adaptation of an adaptation, the Kinda TV web series of the same title started out in 2014 and has grown since. Being an adaptation can make things a little clunky at times, things that work well in video don’t always translate well to writing. But, it’s also not tied to a web cam anymore or just the initial script. The novel seems to tie in some things from parts of the web series’ setting that were introduced later as well as a few new scenes away from Laura’s updates regarding the missing girls mystery.

Not being tied to one web cam in one room is both a positive and a negative. The new scenes can be a lot of fun and add to the feeling of the setting and to Laura’s relationships with other characters. But, it can also feel like there’s just not quite enough to them or of them. The library scene stands out for me on this. We get Laura and La Fontaine and Carmilla breaking into the library and Carmilla knowing things that make getting where they need to be easier. That’s great, it adds to her as a character, it’s something new. Then they get into the library and things play out and are described nearly the same as they were in the web series. It didn’t feel as exciting as the characters being attacked by a flaming card catalogue should have been. It felt like I was being told what happened rather than seeing them experience it. There was a lot of room to expand or to fill things in a bit, and it feels like the author didn’t take it.

The exception to this feels like Laura’s crushes on both Danny, the TA for one of her classes, and of course Carmilla. Being in Laura’s head instead of just seeing her actress react, the reader gets a lot more details on how she feels about these two. Being into Danny because she’s sweet and straight forward in standing up for the missing girls and Laura herself. The attraction to Carmilla while still thinking she’s a terrible person and how that mellows into being into Carmilla the person. There’s a lot of internal stuff added here that makes it flow well.

There was kind of a weirdness about how some of the speech tags were done, especially when it comes to Carmilla. Maniacal laughter doesn’t really mesh with the whole disaffected philosophy student thing, or the whole aloof vampire thing, either way. Some things with Kirsch coming across as whiny, almost wimpy, in a way that feels odd given his whole friendly frat bro character. If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say that the tags that take me out of the narration feel too big for their moments or even their characters. It isn’t a huge issue, but it is a notable one.

It’s an interesting thing. I know that a lot of my enjoyment of the novel comes from my enjoyment of the web series. I know there were moments where I was left waiting for a particular bit or where something filled in a little bit more and it feeling better tied in for that. Turrisi’s adaptation does feel unfinished in places, possibly as a result of working from the script rather than the finished series, or maybe just as a result of things not translating well between one format and another. There are places where I felt thrown off by knowing there was more, and that does knock the book down a little for me. But I also want to see novels for the next two seasons and the movie as well. I’m left hoping that this is part of the lead up to something new coming, something more. I enjoyed Turrisi’s adaptation of Carmilla.

And that leaves the final score in a strange place. As a fan of the web series and knowing what they already managed, I would be inclined to give the novel a three out of five. But I also know that if I was just reading the novel on its own, knowing that the romancy aspect is a fair sized part of it, I would be more likely to bump it up to a four. So a four is where I’m going to leave it with the hope that, if there is a next book, it does all the things this one could have made this one fantastic.

Sort of a one more thing that I hope was a result of reading an ARC rather than the finished book. In the original season one of the web series La Fontaine isn’t specifically said to use they/them pronouns, it’s possible they aren’t entire out at that point, though they do go strictly by La Fontaine or Laf. As a result of this, she/her pronouns are used for them in the first season of the web series. The novel introduces them as gender queer, but still uses she/her pronouns for them in some places where the character speaking would know to not do that. It seems like the kind of thing that happened as a result of just transferring things over, but is also a sign that this could have been looked over again. That’s a big mistake to glance over.