Book review · contemporary

Reviews: Two F/F Romances

Because apparently, lately I review books two at a time.


41734205Looking back, there are many things I didn’t love about Her Royal Highness, but the book was entertaining enough to make me forget about that for most of its length, so does it really matter? Sometimes all you need is a quick read that won’t require that much of your attention and I’m glad that there are traditionally published queer YA books that fit this requirement.

Her Royal Highness is an f/f royal romance set in Scotland with an American main character. One of the first things that stood out in a bad way, to me, is how much this is specifically an American’s wish fulfillment story. I am not Scottish, so I might be wrong about this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were significantly annoying to read if one were; I have read books in which my own country was on the end of an American main character’s weird obsession-borderline-fetish and it’s the worst kind of unintentionally unsettling. I have a lot of feelings about Americans and their portrayals/interpretations of other cultures (which gets listened to and exported over everyone else’s, even said culture’s) and they’re definitely not wholly this book’s fault, so I’m not going to get into this, but it’s still relevant because it’s the only thing that the book never managed to make me forget (it’s far more difficult to ignore in a contemporary book than in the fake fantasy versions).

Maybe this wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if everything about this book hadn’t been reliant on it being wish-fulfillment, one that was clearly not written for a non-American audience. The main character Millie is as devoid of a personality as any decent audience surrogate would be, which is not inherently negative – sapphics get to have cheesy self-insert romance like everyone else, too – but if you’re not the target audience (so you’re gay but not American), it stands out. This girl’s supposedly favorite hobby is geology. I think about rocks more than she does and I don’t even like them, and the book also manages to gets its geology facts wrong! Wonderful.

To get through the other main thing that didn’t work: the ending. I love every romance book whose ending isn’t the step-by-step typical romance ending featuring a breakup, but the thing is, I can love one that does that as well; reading romance means signing up for a certain degree of clichés and that’s perfectly fine. However, I don’t think this book managed to pull it off in a believable way and the ending felt both rushed and kind of forced.

Now, onto the things I liked. This was an adorable, fun read that got the instant-dislike to love dynamic just right, and it was just as dramatic (it’s alternate reality with royals. It can’t not be dramatic.) as it needed to be to be fun while not becoming cartoonish. I also think it captured the feeling of being a teenager and relationships being confusing really well (are we a thing? are we not?) and I really appreciated what was done with the Jude subplot. Teenagers are messy and I’m glad we let queer girls be messy as well without anyone turning into the caricature of a villainous ex.
And about the side characters as a whole and the love interest… are all the characters other than Millie well-developed? No. Did they need to be? Also no, so I guess we’re fine.

Overall, if alternate reality contemporary royal romance is your thing, this is really good and you should probably ignore me, as it’s exactly the easy, fun read it promises to be. If not, you might enjoy it anyway! In the end, I did.

My rating: ★★★¼


23294595Treasure is a sweet f/f romance following two young Black women who meet at a strip club.
Alexis is an 18-year-old college student trying to make sense of her life after a really rough year; she has ADHD and is a lesbian, which her family – especially her father – doesn’t really approve of.
Trisha, aka Treasure, is 20 years old, a college student and a stripper, and finds herself in the same classes Alexis attends. Unlike Alexis, she is not from a rich family.

I loved Treasure. It’s a cute, quick read in which the characters have chemistry, and there are not that many books around with positive portrayals of sex workers – it was great that in the end the main conflict didn’t completely revolve around Trisha’s job, too, and Alexis wasn’t close-minded about it.
While for the most part I didn’t love the writing, I thought the sex scenes were really well-written, and I liked how the relationship developed; that’s what matters.
Also, as usual: novellas really are the best format for romance.

I really liked Alexis’ character arc. She is a suicide attempt survivor, and in this story, we see her go from someone who doesn’t really know what she wants and just goes along with what would please her overachieving, perfectionist parents, to a young woman who can stand up for herself.

This isn’t a full five stars for me because of a few minor things, the main one being the fact that, while I loved Trisha, it stands out when in a dual PoV story one character has a fully developed arc and the other doesn’t, not as much. Also, there were multiple occurrences of unintentionally aro/acephobic lines and I could have done without those.

My rating: ★★★★½


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Reviews: Two F/F Summer Romances

Today, I’m reviewing two f/f books with the word “summer” in the title. One of them I really liked, the other I liked less, but both delivered cute f/f couples and summer-y atmosphere.


31246717If you like Becky Albertalli’s books, you need to read The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding. It’s the same kind of happy queer book, with a similar sense of humor and characters who are just as charmingly messy and trying to figure things out, but in my opinion it’s even better, as it’s ownvoices and isn’t obsessed with pop culture references.

My pre-review of this book was “help I can’t stop smiling my face is stuck”, and it is true – every time I think of this book, especially of certain scenes, I smile. This is the kind of happy, summer-y f/f romance I would never have thought I could get a few years ago, and I can’t believe I almost didn’t read it because of the mixed reviews. The romance starts out with mutual pining and continues with really cute dates, some misunderstandings, and character growth. I loved Abby and Jordi as a couple so much – to give you an idea, I read it in less than an afternoon.

I’ve already mentioned that this book is f/f – both girls are lesbians – but it’s really diverse in other ways, since the love interest is Mexican-American and Abby is a fat fashion blogger who specifically talks about plus-size clothes. Fashion is a relevant part of this book, as the main characters meet during an internship at a local boutique, and the book makes you feel both Abby’s love for it and Jordi’s love for photography.

One of the things I liked the most about this novel was the message: at its heart, The Summer of Jordi Perez is a story about how you don’t need to be anyone else’s, and not even your, definition of perfect to find happiness, and about how the person you love doesn’t have to be perfect either for you to love them. Despite talking a lot about body positivity and fat acceptance in the fatphobic world of fashion, Abby is insecure about her body, she’s not quite comfortable with it yet – and that’s fine, she’s 17 and the world can truly be awful to fat girls. Even her mother wants her to change. In this story, Abby becomes more comfortable with herself, and learns that mistakes and imperfections – hers, or other people’s – don’t have to be the end of things. This is a really important message.

In this book, the main characters actually feel like teenagers. Which means that they make a big deal out of crushes and dating and not having kissed anyone yet. Immature? I prefer to say realistic. However, some parts of this were kind of alienating to read as an aromantic person (and some parts could be for asexual people, too). I mention this because, while this doesn’t hurt me now, know this would have been the kind of book that would have hurt me at 17, when I was still trying to understand my romantic orientation – reading about characters who thought that not having kissed anyone at 17 is clearly abnormal, that it must mean there’s something wrong with you, made me feel terrible. I felt pressured to date – specifically, I was told that at this age I had to have, or at least want to have, a boyfriend – even though I was not interested in boys and probably also not interested in dating.

What made me give this book a four stars instead of a five, apart from some not always developed side characters and what I mentioned in the earlier paragraphs, were the last fifty pages. Romcoms always have that part in which the main characters split up and get back together again, and in this book, Jordi and Abby get back together only right before the end. I would have liked to see them together again for a little longer.

But let’s get back to the things I liked: this book is set in LA, and it makes you feel the atmosphere, and since food is a relevant part of this book – Abby and her friend Jax (relevant platonic m/f friendship!) are trying to find the best burgers in the city, and there are some wonderful scenes in which Abby is cooking with Jordi’s family – I can also say that the food descriptions were great, and I always love those.
Anyway, I’m glad this book exists and I wish it were more well-known; it may not be flawless but there are never enough atmospheric lesbian romcoms.

My rating: ★★★★


35230420Summer of Salt is a slow-paced, atmospheric contemporary fantasy story with a dash of mystery. It follows Georgina, a Fernweh girl who, unlike the rest of the women in her family, hasn’t developed her powers yet. While I thought it was far from a perfect book, I can say that I liked the half that I read while on the beach immensely more than the other, so I do still kind of see it as a perfect summer book. It’s a quick, nostalgic novel to read while you have salt on your skin and waves in front of you.

What stood out the most to me about this book was the atmosphere. It kind of reminded me of The Price Guide to the Occult – a less creepy, summer-y version of it – and the flowery writing helped with that. Maybe it was a little overwritten at times, going from pretty to awkward really quickly, but for the most part, I liked it. Also, can I say how much I love that I can now easily pick up f/f atmospheric summer romances? And so many other kinds of f/f books that have nothing to do with homophobia? 2016 me would never have thought, but even if Georgina and Prue weren’t the most developed characters ever and even if the romance wasn’t the most well-developed or even the most interesting, their interactions made me so happy.

Which is why it hurt even more when I started realizing that the aromantic representation in this book was pretty terrible. At first, I was liking it, as the side character Vira didn’t just say that she was “asexual and didn’t care about dating”, she specifically said she was aroace. Yes, she wasn’t the most interesting character ever, as she had exactly the same personality as all the aromantic best friends (is this a new trend?) I have seen in YA so far – cold-but-soft-on-the-inside, tries hard to be edgy and dresses unconventionally. That was fine, if boring.
But then, it came up that her hobby was taxidermy. That was when I started worrying, because aroace characters being associated with death is actually a common stereotype in fiction, and not one with positive implications. Summer of Salt didn’t go into that direction, not really; in my opinion, it did worse.
There’s a scene in which Vira shows her new kitten to Georgina and then says, unprompted, that when it will die, she’ll make a lamp out of it.

Now.
I don’t know how many people know what the most common aromantic stereotype is, but it’s exactly that we are “sociopaths”. It comes from the ugly idea that romantic love is the only thing that makes humans… well, human, and so aromanticism is inherently evil and creepy. And more people probably know how cruelty against animals/obsession with animal death has been traditionally associated with “sociopathy”.
I like to think that these things aren’t well-known, and that’s why no one thought to mention that in this book the aromantic character collects roadkill and makes flippant remarks about her pet dying and what she will do with its body. The idea that aromantic people don’t feel romantic love and then that must mean that they don’t get attached to anything is more widespread that one would think, and it’s horrible, damaging and false.

And like… Vira isn’t evil. She’s mostly portrayed as a loyal friend, but really, this isn’t the ~quirky hobby~ you should give your aromantic character (by the way: flippant remarks about pet death are generally unwelcome no matter the romantic orientation of the character) and in any case, I shouldn’t have to settle for bad representation just because it doesn’t try to outright tell me that aromantic people are evil, just weird and obsessed with death and corpses.
(To give you some context: she is the only aromantic character I’ve met in a book so far this year, and I almost only read queer books.)

But let’s get back to the book as a whole. Another problem I had with Summer of Salt is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. For the first half, it looks like a summer-y romance, then it becomes a mystery about a missing, magical bird, then in the last third it’s a story about rape, but not from the point of view of the person who is directly affected by it. While having “lighter” stories that deal specifically with that topic but in which the characters are supportive and no one ever victim-blames is important – books that deal with heavy topics but that go out of their way to not be triggering are necessary – I felt like this was completely aimless for at least half the story.

My rating: ★★★¼

Adult · contemporary · Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #6

My sixth post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

The last post was about movie adaptations of YA contemporaries; this one is about full-length adult contemporary romances.


My History With Romance

I’ve said in the past that I don’t really read romance, and that’s not true. When you say “romance”, people immediately think about contemporary/historical adult novels. But romance is so much more, and I’ve actually read plenty of it – YA contemporary romances like Under the Lights, YA fantasy romances like The Star-Touched Queen, adult fantasy romances like Witchmark, and novellas like Once Ghosted Twice Shy are still romances.

It’s just that none of them are full-length adult contemporary romances.

37648566Of these, I think I’ve ever only read and finished one, Syncopation by Anna Zabo, a non-romance story with an aromantic character in the romance genre – and even then, I read it just for the aro representation (which I really liked, even though me and that aro character had nothing in common but that).

It’s not the only adult contemporary romance I’ve tried. I’ve tried several by Rebekah Wheaterspoon because of twitter hype, and DNFed them (I think I just don’t like her writing style); I tried excerpts of Helen Hoang’s and other well-known authors and always got bored before the end of the sampler. They always fail to hold my attention, and I’m not really sure why. Because I’m aromantic? Because I’m reading the wrong ones? Because sometimes you just don’t like a genre?


What I Read

This time, I decided to read two novels, one from Alyssa Cole, who wrote one of my favorite romance novellas, and one from an author I had never read anything from before, Avon Gale.

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A Princess in Theory: so, this didn’t start out badly, but it ended pretty much as I expected, which is to say, I was really bored for half of this book and just wanted it to end. It wasn’t that it was bad, because it’s really not, and it wasn’t that I was annoyed with certain tropes I often find in m/f romances, because this time those weren’t there. It was that after 50%, there was basically no tension, and the political subplot was so lackluster that I couldn’t wait for the book to be over. Also, I found the writing significantly less… detailed than it was in Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, and I missed the atmosphere I could feel in that one. I loved the beginning, however, and thought it was really cute – it’s just that me and adult contemporary romances almost always lose each other before halfway through.

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The Love Song of Sawyer Bell: this was an interesting experience, as it started out boring and became interesting a quarter of the way through instead of the opposite. I like this combination a lot better, and I also like how this author writes sex scenes (no awkward euphemisms! the character talk and joke and you can tell they’re having fun! doesn’t read like a grocery list!). Also, I will always be a bit biased when it comes to f/f romances. However, this was very short (under 300 pages) and I know that if it had been any longer I would have been so bored, because the characters weren’t that interesting to begin with and the author decided that atmosphere and setting were for the weak.


Will I Read Other Adult Contemporary Romances?

Maybe, but only if the premise sounds really interesting to me (and, probably, only if they’re queer). I still want to at least try the really popular ones (for example, I will try Red, White and Royal Blue at some point) but if the samplers don’t work for me, I won’t continue, because adult romance always ends up being some kind of boring and I can’t rely on the idea that they will get better.

I think part of the reason they don’t work for me is that a romance isn’t enough to carry a book. You either need internal conflict (often fueled by miscommunication, and that’s… usually annoying to read and not something that will make me think the relationship will last much) or external conflict, which will be something I probably won’t care about – in YA, the characters deal with external conflicts I have experienced or have seen other teens experience; with contemporary adult characters, I… haven’t been there, so what happens to them doesn’t hold as much emotional weight (one of the reasons I don’t really reach for adult contemporary fiction in general). This might or might not change as I Grow Up™.
Also, I’m aromantic. All of this is by definition unrelatable, which doesn’t affect me too much but that I can’t completely ignore; another reason for why I’m not dying to read more romance.

Another thing that doesn’t help is that the authors often don’t bother to describe anything about the setting. If YA contemporary seems to try once in a while, I still haven’t found an adult one that did, but that could be because I haven’t read many of them. And if I avoided historical romances up until… last month, basically, I have discovered that queer historical romances aren’t always full of homophobia and that they usually have something resembling an atmosphere (The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was especially good at this, but it’s not like A Little Light Mischief was bad). Maybe I do like historical more than contemporary in this genre, which is not something I would have ever seen coming, but again, I’m only interested in the f/f ones.


What do you think of adult contemporary romance? Do you read it? And if so, what are your favorites?