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Pillows & Blankets

I'm a social geography student from Paris, and a contributor for a new blog dedicated to pop culture & intersectional feminism called Critical Writ. I'm particularly interested in lesbian fiction of every genre.


I have a preference for romance & Fantasy/sci-fi, and will pay a lot of attention to gender roles, healthy/unhealthy relationships and consent in stories I read.


Goodreads Account



The Big Reveal

The Big Reveal - Eve Francis

Full review on Criticalwrit.com


The Open Window, another book by Eve Francis, was such a good read that I jumped on the occasion and requested an ARC for The Big Reveal when it was put up on Netgalley. And am I not regretting this a single second. Its subject took me entirely by surprise— The description of the book being somewhat obscure so as to better keep its cards hidden. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you why this book moved me so much without spoiling it a bit (a very small bit, don’t worry : it’s revealed in the first eight pages I believe) : Samus, one of the two main characters, is a trans woman. I’ve been on the lookout for lesbian trans fiction but since Netgalley only classifies it as LGBTQIA, I didn’t expect that I’d find what I was looking for in this book. One of the best points of The Open Window for me was that it featured a fat lead character, and it seems Eve Francis is still in the process of making their work more and more inclusive, with Jackie being a person of color. 

Big changes are coming in Samus Mallory’s (if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, you’re right) life. She is now the sole teacher in her Fantasy Literature class, and as a firm believer in the idea that fantasy can change one’s life, she works towards helping her students dream big and create change. When she meets Jackie Vasquez, they quickly bond despite Samus’ fears that her being a trans woman will ruin everything. Jackie is a cosplayer who always cross-plays her characters, and while she’s not Samus’ student, their friendship and eventually their love will shed a new light on her life and open her eyes on her past as well as her future.

Both our characters are absolutely nerdy dears; Samus is the teacher anyone would probably enjoy having, while Jackie is a pretty cool math student slash cosplay seamstress. Their chemistry around board games and in general is great, and while I know very little about either board games or cosplay, I truly enjoyed getting glimpses of those worlds.


Full review on Criticalwrit.com

The Beast That Never Was

The Beast That Never Was - Caren J. Werlinger Review written & published on www.criticalwrit.com

A fantasy F/F romance that is heavily inspired by The Beauty and the Beast, without the creepy stuff from other versions like Disney’s, and with women? Count me riiiiight in. And now I want more F/F retellings of fairy tales. Why do we cater to men who think that it’s ok to stalk someone by stealing their shoes or kissing people in their sleep (don’t read the original version of that one, I warn you)? And who cares about royalty anyway? Let’s reclaim the means of production and be farmer princesses, or, I don’t know, itinerant warrior princesses.

Strange things are happening in the village’s forest— howling, sounds of a woman weeping, mysterious sightings of monsters from fairy tales. For Lise, a level-headed, hardworking girl who does most of the work in her impoverished family’s farm since her father’s death, this is nonsense. And when she heads into the forest to seek answers, she finds no monster but instead a strange woman with bottomless sadness in her eyes. She soon learns that the woman is cursed, doomed to never form any bond, forced into an endless flight for survival as the ignorance of men leads her to be hunted. Lise had always been afraid of her attraction to women, but she finds acceptance in Senna… And soon, reciprocation. As the villagers gear themselves toward a hunt for the creature that lives in the woods, and as Senna prepares herself to leave this place forever, Lise will learn she will have to fight for her love.

Senna suffers from a terrible curse. Once the object of many people’s envy, she was cursed to become what they loathe and fear the most. Living in a house that provides to all her needs and keeps her alive, she is drawn to face those who enter the woods and reveal them the extent of their fear, their guilt, their shame. The spell, like all curses, is bound to conditions and can only be broken two ways— one is the easier way, to cut the white rose the curse is bound to and disappear forever. The other, well, she's lost hope of that happening years ago...

It’s a surprisingly cruel spell to have innocent people be subjected to (although it soon becomes clear that not everyone is innocent), considering why it was cast in the first place, but it’s suitably terrifying alright. It reveals the pain of others, make it impossible to ever be accepted or loved. It's especially hard on Senna, who feels and sees everything they feel. She knows and understands people's fear, and the disgust they feel when they gaze upon her.

But the spell doesn’t work on Lise. Her family has fallen on hard times. They used to be the family of the King’s Hunstman, and as such, they were never in need of anything. But when their father was killed by wolves, they had to sell what they have and become cheesemakers. Lise works hard, and while her mother would have her wed to the current Huntsman’s son so as to secure their future, she prefers the work of the farm and her freedom to staying at home and raising children. She obstinately refuses the boy’s advances but cannot help falling head over heels for Senna.

True to the material its inspired from, The Beast That Never Was deals with complex ideas such as self-empowerment, economic and social independence from men, what we think is best for us versus what people think is best for us… I also believe it acts as a metaphor for bigotry and more specifically, lesbophobia. Everyone who sees Senna will see what they fear and hate the most, but Lise sees the real woman underneath. Their relationship starts free of bigotry and prejudice, and the bond they form is true despite each of the protagonist’s fear that their difference (being interested in women for Lise, and being a “monster” for Senna) will repulse the other. On the other hand, other villagers will be unable to see beyond the curse and their fear and violence will escalate.

Caren J. Werlinger writes beautifully and this book was an extremely enjoyable read that makes me want to see more works inspired of old fairy tales; works that remove the twisted and outdated morals these fairy tales still carry to this day. Perhaps the only problem I had with this book however, was that it uses the “Gypsy” slur at one point, something I feel should definitely be changed in a future edition.

The Scorpion's Empress

The Scorpion's Empress - Yoshiyuki Ly I understand this is the author's debut novel, and it shows. I feel it would be dishonest to rate this book any lower, simply because it doesn't really feel finished, at least in the ARC I read and that I got through Netgalley. It simply needs a lot, lot more editing. The writing is messy, I couldn't understand the beginning, the setting is frankly awful, we have a brown/indianish lead that wears revealing saris and for some reason speaks african-american vernacular (I think the author wanted to go for "child from the street accent", but it's a terrible idea : accents are often simply too racially loaded to translate well into text— they invariably become offensive parodies of themselves), in some kind of medieval european setting with vintage radios (???) and knights that wield japanese swords????.

The names are frankly bad. I feel that it's the least you can do to have decent place or character names but this book treads awfully close to Ebony Dark'Ness Dementia Raven Way territory sometimes. Raj comes from Limerick? Her best friend is called Lady Nightingale, her ex is "Nyte" (I seriously wondered if this was parody at that point— but the terrifying fact is, it isn't), the ex's wife is called Miss Fury, and the girl Raj saved is called Luna. Other words thrown in because whatever : Slutgarden (a district. This town has like 10 district names), Maleficio (another discrict), Excalibur (I don't even remember what that is)... And I thought me naming all my RPG characters after myself was lazy and uninspired.

And frankly, the high point that made me request an ARC for this book in the first place was the sex. Dominant/submissive sex usually never fails with me, but this one does. It's clogged by some very tedious writing that blends silly euphemisms, downright wtf-inducing metaphores— it just sounds too amateurish to be sexy. My advice here would be to stop trying to equal sex with drowning while ascending the Mount Everest while a black hole pulls at you and just write sex. The rest is drowned in awkward dialogue that never quite feels normal.

This book could be so much more— the writing shows that it can be good at times, and it actually gets relatively better as the book goes. And I suppose one can excuse so many flaws by the fact that this is a debut work, but this simply needs better editing before it can be palatable.

Oh, and main characters raping another, even if he is himself a rapist, that's not okay. Rape isn't a weapon we can use on people we deem to be evil, and seeing it so casually dealt on someone without being called out for what it is lands this book straight in my rape culture list.

An Accident of Stars

An Accident of Stars - Foz Meadows Try as I might, I just couldn't connect with this book— Something that is likely due to the fact that I'm pretty far removed from the target audience, but still. The setting didn't really catch me, although I did appreciate that there were many women in it (despots, still, but then again I've lost hope of seeing anarchosyndicalist communes in fantasy). Other problem that's a common trend with fantasy: I felt there were far too many fantasy names with little original content behind. Nothing was particularly new, yet we were served with a plethora of strange names that really dragged down reading comprehension. All the talk about polyamory (which I'm biased against, I'll admit) felt really forced (but I suppose it's good to have it, at least to introduce us to their future relationship). There were too many characters to my taste, some felt unnecessary and by the first half of the book, the story hadn't progressed much— the plot progression is slow, far too slow to my taste, and it moves with a lot of deus ex machina and frankly implausible coincidences. Still, the writing is fluid and pretty good, I just feel the whole plot could be a little tighter.

I'll try to read it again some other time though, maybe when I'm more on the lookout for what this series has to offer.

The Open Window

The Open Window - Eve Francis Review written & published on Criticalwrit.com

It’s no use fighting against it, I knew I was going to read this book the moment I saw the cat on the cover. Women who love women and cats, what else does my heart need? (More cats?) Well, let me tell you, this cat only appears towards the last chapters of the book, and that’s a SHAME. But if punk-rock music (and, I guess, Dolly Parton) holds a cherished place in your heart, well, I guess it’ll compensate the near-lack of cat.

Morgan O’Brian is a comic artist who’s trying to get her first big proposal published. A comfortable inheritance from her mother’s passing allows her time to concentrate on her art and on reading books, but when she meets Val (that’s short for Valentina) Lyall, a bassist for an electro-punk band called The Asexual Kinks, the coup de foudre is instantaneous, mutual, and liable to mess with her concentration a bit. When Val goes on a five weeks tour with her band just at the beginning of their relationship, they’ll have to ask themselves how a relationship spent with someone who's often on the road might work.

Eve Francis writes colorful characters that feel like people we know (or would know, for those like me who don’t go out much). Val has just left behind a relationship that would never have worked and she wants to take back the lost time with her band and finally be who she wants to be: a pretty cool punk-rock star. Morgan is a comic artist who draws occult and pagan stuff as well as F/F erotica— while listening to Dolly Parton. Speaking of Dolly Parton, this book has a great soundtrack, with absolutely zero songs I recognized because I have no musical culture beyond what little I know about early 90s hip hop (though I did search the songs, and I like them). Next time I’m reading this book, I’ll try to play the songs as they’re quoted.

I really enjoyed two things about our characters that isn’t that common in F/F fiction : Val identifies clearly as bisexual, and Morgan is fat— there’s a lot of fat positivity in this book, and it’s the first I’ve read in a very long time that has an unapologetically fat character. When you're reading an endless litany of thin and buff characters, it’s so refreshing to see one that isn’t like that at all. It adds realism and body (I’m sorry) to the narrative.

Be warned however that the book features quite a few detailed sex scenes, so if erotica isn’t your taste, this is probably not the book for you. Sex doesn’t usually catch my eyes but I have to say this book has some pretty hot sex. It’s dirty, full of f-words, sometimes on the phone, with talks of bottoming, and, you know, stuff.

All in all, there’s one problem I had with the book—and perhaps the only one I had with it—and it’s that I felt it sometimes lacked focus on where it was trying to go. Their romance is settled very early: by the first quarter of the book, it’s already kind of agreed that they’re attracted to each other and almost had sex. But we have to wait until the last third of the book for problems to actually arise, in a surprising way that felt a bit out-of-character to me. I think one particular scene (the one with a psychic—cookies to the author for not using the G slur!) could have been placed earlier in the book, perhaps only with Morgan as a protagonist.

Still, Eve Francis’s tight prose makes for a very pleasant read and her colorful characters have a fun and sweet romance that I definitely enjoyed despite my nitpicking about the plot.


Dreamsnare - Althea Claire Duffy Review written & published on www.criticalwrit.com

I don't often read stories shorter than a full-length novel. If you follow my reviews, you’ll notice that I read a lot, and nothing feels long enough for me (it’s a curse, I tell you). I tend to prefer more drawn out stories, which I find can offer more complexity and at the same time more room to process what you read.

But I do make exceptions, and the 15,000 words novelette Dreamsnare by Althea Claire Duffy is one that I don’t regret. I believe it’s only the second novelette she’s written, so not quite a debut work, but definitely a work of fiction from a new author.

Kereda is a broken woman. She’s lost everything: the right to ply her trade as a shoemaker, her unborn child, her husband, her home, and to top it all, her family won’t talk to her anymore.

So when her roommate tells her that the very best pair of shoes she’s ever made might be cursed and the cause of all her pain, she knows that she doesn’t have anything left to lose anymore. She sets out to find Serin, the dreamworker, and ask her to remove the curse and free her from this seemingly unending string of failures. But the curse is not what it seems, and both women get more than they had bargained for when it traps them in the dreamworld.

Dreamsnare introduces us to a complex but enticing form of magic that’s somewhere between spiritual healing, with an strong emphasis on emotions, and more classic enchantment, all woven into one craft. It did take me two readings to understand it better, and perhaps the limitations of a novelette made the medium not well suited to the task. I felt there was too much telling and not enough showing, and some elements were still left a bit unexplained. Serin still does a good job of explaining to us how her craft works, but you’ll need to concentrate to make sure you don’t miss anything— this is not a story for us to relax into.

Still, I really liked the dreamwork, and I enjoyed the way it dealt with emotions, such as Kereda’s strong self-loathing and depressed thoughts coating the fabric of her shoes. It was an unusual, more abstract way to depict depression, and it spoke to me.

Strong emotions are the key element of the story— guilt, self loathing, depression and failure all weigh heavily on the hearts of our characters. But it is also a story about healing, about opening old wounds that never quite healed properly. It is about taking a glance back in order to set out forward again. Definitely a good short read from a promising new author.

Iron Goddess: A Shea Stevens Thriller

Iron Goddess: A Shea Stevens Thriller - Dharma Kelleher Wow, what a ride from start to finish. Now, I’ll be honest : this is simply not the kind of book I like, or even stand reading. But I soldiered on. Shea Stevens is an ex-con mechanic who makes women's bikes for a living. She’s good at it, so that’s why the Pink Trinkets band contracted her to make three custom bikes for her. But someone stole the bikes and shot her employee half-dead, and Shea is determined to get the goods back herself. She embarks on a violent trip that’ll put her right in the middle of an all-out war between a Mexican gang and her father’s white supremacist motorcycle gang, something she could really have done without because she cut ties with her family seventeen years ago when her father murdered her mother.

There's not much I can say about this book— it’s certainly a well written debut novel, the action is easy to read, which I was very thankful for because it constitutes more than half of the book. We have a well-rounded cast of characters, but this isn’t a character-driven novel : action and violence lead the show. Which I guess explains why some of the more innocent characters go through near literal hell and still remain cheerful and PTSD-free. To me, this book felt like watching all the Robert Rodriguez’ Machete movies back to back, three times in a row, with all the humor and chill scenes edited out. It’s like fruits dipped in chocolate fondue : a few bites and you’re in heaven, but keep eating and you’ll be begging for mercy in no time. Dharma Kelleher shows that she’s really good with action writing, but I guess non-stop violence and nothing else isn’t for me.

Oh, and who the hell pulls out the transmisogynistic t-slur (in the sense of car transmission, which I’m fairly certain nobody knows except car mechanics) and then does decent trans man representation? Is this a very misguided attempt at reclaiming it or a deliberate insult?

Love's Redemption

Love's Redemption - Donna K. Ford Review written & published on www.criticalwrit.com

Trigger warnings for off-page child abuse & pedophilia, lesbophobia, victim blaming and abuse enabling.

There are some books you just know are going to grip your heart the whole time you read them. There’s not many subjects that produce such strong emotions in me as much as victim blaming and abuse do, and this book immediately brought to mind the Jacqueline Sauvage case and the big headlines it had made here in France. Jacqueline was tried and sentenced earlier this year to ten years of prison for the murder of her husband after 47 years of abuse and the rape of her children. The story had brought the vilest and most disgusting victim blaming to the surface and it still stands as one of the most terrifying example of the utter failure of our justice & social systems.

Rhea Daniels has a similar story : she murdered her father after years and years of abuse, and she paid for it with fifteen long years of jail when everyone turned against her. She arrives back to her family’s farm— not quite home anymore— after her term, and she knows she has no place here. Her mother hates her, nobody in town believes her, and everyone thinks she’s a disgusting murderer. When her probation worker gets her a job in another town, she takes her chance at a new beginning away from her past. Morgan Scott, her new boss, doesn’t really like her at first. She’s a very private woman, and she thinks she knows Rhea's type— a murderer. A troublemaker. It takes work, but they soon learn to trust each other, and when both of them are targeted by an unknown assailant with a grudge, they’ll have to work together even if it takes facing their worst fears, because who would believe an ex-con?

It's impossible not to feel for Rhea— she has an utterly gut wrenching story. She was abused most of her childhood, and she’d learn to pretend that every thing was alright— all while silently counting the days until her freedom. But one day, when she was 18, she was faced with an impossible choice, one that would bring pain and disaster either way, and one that had no good option. Her choice cost her dearly : fifteen long years of jail, when everyone she knew turned against her and called her a liar. I cannot imagine what it must do to somebody to be wrenched away from childhood like this, and then sequestered in jail during the most important part of one’s life. Donna K. Ford uses her experience of abuse both as a counselor and a victim; she knows what abuse does to the mind. Rhea’s story brings every emotion to mind: anger, bitterness, fear, pity, desire to act against abuse. She’s a survivor— mistrustful, unsure, ignorant of a world that moved without her for half of her life, and her prison years taught her not to back down and to fight for her place... But at the same time she's still a child, vulnerable and with wonder in her eyes.

Morgan isn't without her own baggage either. She’s an ex-priest, expelled from the church when she had a relationship with another woman. That relationship ended the worst way it could have, and she’s still filled with guilt about it. She has a certain religious naiveté to her. In her world, there’s a clear line between right and wrong, and ex-cons like Rhea are often more in the wrong than in the right. Her relationship with Rhea, and the experiences they face together, will change them— will make them grow.

One particular and almost omnipresent element of the book is how claustrophobic and oppressive the setting feels. We know from the beginning that most people would rather hang than forget Rhea for what she’s done, because nobody believes that a "good man" like her father would be a pedophile rapist. And we know that homophobia runs rampant too, if Morgan’s fall from grace and the behavior of some of the town residents is any indication. Friendly secondary characters are very rare, and the police officers don’t hide their prejudice and hostility against Rhea. The threat they face is introduced later in the book, and its slow escalation in violence gears the book towards a gripping settling of scores.

This is not, however, a mystery novel. There aren’t a lot of possible suspects for our villain, and our main characters can do little more than stand their ground against the onslaught. Taking a step back, I felt that particular element of the novel could have used a little more work. The plot is somewhat predictable, and while the ending is suitably climactic in intensity, I felt our villain was… not very smart, to say the least. But it’s a minor issue, and while the setting of the ending is a classic of such fiction, the way both our characters handle it is powerful and perhaps a bit unusual. Holy Batwoman Morgan, you’re an complete badass when you put your heart to it.

This is Donna K. Ford’s third novel, and the first one I've read from her. While reviews for her previous works were a mixed bag, this particular book is to me a solid romance with thriller elements, and I’m certainly looking forward for what she’ll write in the future.

Shaken to the Core

Shaken to the Core - Jae Written & Published on www.criticalwrit.com

Wow, have I been waiting for that one! Shaken to the Core actually started as a small tease in Damage Control, the second book in Jae’s Hollywood series. Back then it was a script one of its main characters, Lauren, had made in her free time. Then the third book of that series, Just Physical, starred two characters that were actually filming the movie adaptation of the script. Of course, Shaken to the Core stands entirely on its own, but I did cheer like the total fangirl I am when I recognized a scene from Shaken to the Core that we’d seen the characters from Just Physical shoot.

Shaken to the Core tells the story of two women who were caught in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the subsequent fires that ravaged eighty percent of the city. One of them is Giuliana Russo, a Sicilian immigrant looking for a job after the death of her brother, her only family in the city. The other is Kate Winthrop, the only child of a rich family. When Giuliana is hired as the Winthrop’s maid, both women quickly become friends despite the rigid ruling of the class and gender norms of the time. Kate’s parents would see her a «proper» woman, married and with a child in each arm, but not only Kate doesn’t care about men, she’s also more interested in becoming a news photographer than in being a stay-at-home wife. So when unprecedented disaster strikes the city, she sees her chance to take her independence.

I don’t usually read historical fiction. I don’t like rampant misogyny and infuriating bourgeois norms, and since I tend to be interested in lesbian fiction… Well, let’s say historical fiction isn’t really the best place for me. So I was kind of gritting my teeth during the first quarter of the book. I cannot judge for historical accuracy, since I know very little about US history, but Jae's rendition of 1906 San Francisco feels vivid and rings true. Jae uses many topographic elements that ground us into the city, and it’s clear she takes accuracy at heart. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been to see your entire city go into flames before your eyes, but Kate and Giuliana’s breathtaking adventure puts us right in the middle of the inferno.

It’s hard not to love both of our main characters and together they make a fantastic pair, though Dr. Lucy Sharpe sometimes steals the show with her top-notch badassery. Both Katie and Giuliana are visibly changed by their experiences and their growth of character between the beginning and the end cannot be doubted— I can only hope that we’ll get to see more of them in the future. Theirs is a slow romance, and since neither of them has any experience with attraction, we get to see them struggle for a good while about their feelings. However, I must admit that it personally feels a little sad to see Jae go back to the more classic form of denial of one’s romantic feelings, especially after the poignant Just Physical. While it’s true that we’re less likely to see women secure in their affection for other women in 1906 San Francisco, their romance feels a little too «safe» in its way to stay on the beaten path, especially for such a well-established writer as Jae.

Another thing I regret is that Jae didn't take the time to tackle other subjects like racial inequality. 1906 San Francisco had a thriving Chinese community of about 20 000 souls and a lot of heated debates took place on the subject of rebuilding the Chinese district after the disaster. At some point, Kate muses on the fact that the fire made rich and poor people equal in pain, and I felt that was a very naive and privileged idea. While dirt and soot may have temporarily blurred class differences a bit (and even then, some of the rich people mentioned in the book bounced back immediately after the disaster), one cannot say the same about race and I would have liked to see what happened to the many people of color of San Francisco. The subject wouldn't have stood out of place either, as Giuliana's identity as a Sicilian woman would have made her a target for her contemporaries' bigotry towards poor european immigrants... A bigotry often rooted in racism.

Still, Shaken to the Core definitely holds more adrenaline than her previous books, and her efficient and tight way of writing definitely proves up to the challenge it poses. It was a pleasant read that kept me up far too late than I should have let it— a great page turner indeed.

Something in the Wine

Something in the Wine - Jae While Jae always writes enjoyable romances, I felt this one was a bit wasted on a somewhat silly and contrived plot— and frankly both Drew and Annie are incredible pushovers for staying friends with an absolute trashbag manchild like Jake. The way he treats Drew like she's a predator or Annie like she's a child... Ugh.

Also, the more I read F/F romances, the more I feel like making a study on what beverages lesbian/bi women drink. Back when I first dabbled in the community everyone would tell me that beer is the lesbian thing (mind you, I'm french so wine is kind of a everyone else thing already). But I've read so many lesbian romances with bi/lesbian wine drinkers, I'm starting to wonder if there's a cultural pattern under it.

Maybe it's a butch/femme thing.
(tag yourself, I'm a tea femme)

Glove of Satin, Glove of Bone

Glove of Satin, Glove of Bone - Rachel White Review written & published for Criticalwrit.com

I have to admit it, I really like witches. There’s something that I really enjoy about witchcraft and it’s how authors portray it beyond the horrifying wicked depictions fraught with political and moral implications that we usually see in mainstream medias. Witches are a complicated subject at the intersection of cultural and religious imperialism, aggressive and misogynistic gender politics, and antisemitism. While there aren’t many books that expand on this particular subject, I’m always curious to see how authors go beyond these traditional images. So needless to say, I was thrilled when Less Than Three Press approved my request for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review on Netgalley.

Muriel vas Veldina and Enne Datchery have a somewhat complicated relationship. They’ve lived together for eight years now, two witches well known for their skills at restoring old books and grimoires. They used to love each other deeply, and they both care for their shared live-in apprentice as they would their daughter, but something snapped some time ago, and it’s safe to say there’s nothing but hostility between them now. They’ve drifted apart, and distance turned into hatred, but neither of them has had the will to end it definitely yet. One day, an insufferable employee of the High Circle lands on their doorstep and tasks them with a job they would be unwise to refuse : to restore and repair an old grimoire that doesn’t have a name. And when said grimoire is stolen before they can even begin to work on it, they’re going to have to work together to take it back.

Glove of Satin, Glove of Bone by Rachel White takes romance from the opposite angle— Both characters already know each other, and their romance is a thing of the past. Now Muriel and Enne have only bickering and mean words for each other. Theirs is a sad relationship, where pride, lack of communication and prejudice have become so great that they formed a seemingly uncrossable rift between them. Their couple seemed doomed to break apart, and the link between the witches is all but ready to snap as we meet them. I felt really sad for those two. As we progress through the story, it’s obvious they still care for each other, and if only they were to admit it to each other and to themselves, they would realize that their flame isn’t dead just yet. But they lost their path somewhere along the way, and the events unfolding in the book will prove decisive for their shared (or separate) future.

While I initially needed some time to adapt to Muriel and Enne’s uncommon relationship (at least when it comes to romance), I quickly grew to love the pair. They’re both wonderful, caring persons, but they’re both imperfect and flawed, just like real people are. Enne is stern, studious and brutally honest, to the point of rudeness. She’s also not always in tune with the emotions of others, which can sometimes lead her to hurt those around her inadvertently. Muriel is more outgoing and naive but she’s judgmental, quick to react harshly, and her past as a wicked witch still weighs on her. And of course, neither of them is short on misplaced pride. Despite those flaws, both are caring persons and their love for their apprentice Kylia is obvious— it’s quite clear that she’s the link that makes the whole family stand.

White is good at the 'show, don’t tell' rule and she doesn’t say much on the universe before us, to the point that I was originally a bit miffed at Muriel and Enne’s insistence that thirty years old is “ancient” and “near-death already”, before I realized that it’s probably because people don’t live quite as long as we do nowadays. The time period is never really explained, and White doesn’t spend much time describing our surroundings, but she does leave clues here and there that allow us to infer on how this fantasy world works. And needless to say, I want more. I don’t know if White wants to expand the universe she’s created here, but I do hope she will write more— I would especially enjoy a prequel where our protagonists meet and fall in love and where Muriel reflects on her vulnerabilities and on wickedness.

Still, the book is short— too short, and while I enjoyed its total 53, 000 words length, I felt the story could have been stronger with more work on the plot and on the setting. Indeed, the weak point of the book definitely seems to be its plot, particularly towards the end where important confrontations are brought by simplistic twists. The behavior of our main villain is careless and puzzling towards the end, and to be honest she doesn’t seem to have much motivation beyond having power in order to have power. Sure, it’s often the underlying goal of many villains, but I’d have wanted something more, if at least to make her more believable.

Thus Glove of Satin, Glove of Bone by Rachel White is a good read, but it feels like a tentative step in a new direction, something I suspect it is since this is, to my knowledge, her first published full-length F/F work of fiction. Beyond a sweet romance between two relatable protagonists, it looks like a sketch of an interesting world that has yet to be fleshed out, and it really left me still hungry for more. As it stands, it is a good book, but I still feel it misses the opportunity to be a great book. Still, I’ll keep an eye on Rachel White’s next forays into F/F fiction, and hopefully, for a sequel.

At the Water's Edge

At the Water's Edge - Harper Bliss Trigger warning for depression and suicide

Review written & published for Criticalwrit.com

While At The Water’s Edge is one of the most well known works of lesbian romance & erotica writer Harper Bliss, it’s perhaps one of those that stand out the most in her bibliography (at least in my opinion). For starters it is, by the author’s own admission, one of her tamer books, though be warned that there’s no fade to black when sex starts and Harper Bliss is very good at making you blush furiously and give furtive glance behind your shoulder to make sure nobody’s reading over it. It’s also a very personal work of fiction, for her and for those who’ve shared her experience with depression.

Ella Goodman returns to her birth town of Oregon a deeply wounded woman— years after fleeing it, and not long after a break-up that saw her land in the hospital in the wake of a failed attempt at ending her own life. Now she’s back in the town that saw her grow up, and she has two things on her mind : healing the wounds of her soul and coming to terms with her dysfunctional, broken and scattered family. Staying alone at her family’s cabin in the nearby resort, she meets and finds friendship in Kay Brody, the owner. Kay is a confident, steady and quite perceptive woman who soon proves adept at tearing the armor around Ella’s heart, forcing her to see herself and her wounds.

At The Water’s Edge was quite possibly one of the more difficult read I’ve come across lately. Not because of how it was written, but because of the difficult subjects it touched. There is no doubt in my mind that Harper Bliss drew from her own experience with depression, and Ella’s struggles resonated deeply with my own. I found myself often brought to tears as the book bared my soul as well as Ella’s while on the difficult path of her healing. Perhaps that is why this book stands out to me: it speaks to me in a manner not a lot of stories do.

Harper Bliss writes compelling characters that feel all too real, like people we’ve probably known at some point of our life. Her judgmental mother, bitter and mean after spending an unhappy marriage with her husband who lost himself in shame and guilt after getting caught red handed with a mistress. Her sister, Nina, who fled to the other side of the world without a word, full of anger and resentment. Ella, who went on to Boston to become a biologist, losing herself in work and the ruins of failed relationships, depression slowly chipping away at her energy until she could not bear living another day. It is a story about Ella and the Goodman family, and it’s true Kay may seem lacking a little depth beside them— but we quickly grow fond of the pair as they get closer and sometimes stumble on the rough edges of Ella’s heart.

Harper Bliss has a very tight way of writing and she doesn’t lose time on secondary plots or characters, which does account for the relative shortness of the story (221 pages). I tried to slow my reading towards the end, wishing for more despite the bruises it awakened, and I do feel the book could have used a few more dozen pages without diluting its strength, particularly with Kay, who I did find to be too perfect to be true. Bliss does a very good job at writing in the first person, present tense; so good in fact that I actually did not notice it before it was brought up to me. The few sex scenes we’re treated with are furiously blush-inducing, and they tread the edge of soft domination.

Despite those few small flaws, At The Water’s Edge remains a solid and thoroughly enjoyable book that I’ll probably enjoy reading again soon, at least to remember that sometimes, it gets better.

The Devil You Know

The Devil You Know - Marie Castle Wow, what a disappointing sequel. All my fears from the first book came true : none of the plot holes from the first book are answered (yet), none of those useless secondary characters that clog the narrative so much are gone, we're treated to even more unnecessary characters and skippable side-plots while our quarter-witch, quarter-demon, quarter-solenoidwhatever, quarter guardian hero stumbles around without aim.

I'm disappointed that Jacqueline and Catherine's romance still hasn't developed further— the weight of the secrets they keep makes them shuffle awkwardly in an IMPRESSIVE rendition of a terrible couple with so little communication it's bound to die. What little chemistry they had in the first book seems extinguished as the extent of their scenes together is them holding hands and wondering what the hell the other is hiding. This could have been resolved a book ago but we're still sitting on it and it's getting OLD.

The plot of this book... Well, I couldn't care less about it. It all relies on stealing some dude's body and there is absolutely no stake in this— and by the half of the book, Cate still hasn't done anything about it (but then again for a private eye she doesn't do anything of the sort). More problems come this way : some random enemy will appear 30 second but will be dealt with next book, the actual villain dies at the end of the first half, and demon-dad sends his mom make the acquaintance. We're also treated to some uninteresting side-plot set in 1722, which could happily have been a free #1,5 short story considering how skippable it was.

What little plot there is is so messy I still don't understand what the hell happens, it's so weak the emotional high point will be some weird disgusting magic-rape (which we totally could have done without, really, but it's not like this book had stellar gender politics) and then, nothing being able to measure to that scene, will deflate into nothingness. You'll spend the remainder of the book waiting for something to happen and SURPRISE nothing will (just a small 15-page adrenaline spike at some point).

Nothing makes sense. The first third of the book features Cate stumbling here and there without us understanding why. Why do people speak only in cryptic nonsensical stuff? Why do all the characters have the same personality, or none? Every time we feel like we're going to get answers, something happens and the plot will skip to something else. After half a book of the treatment, you're sitting there shaking in despair, wondering WHEN WILL SOMETHING HAPPEN? When will the narrative make sense? Why are random deus ex machinas the only driving (and I should really say crawling) force of the plot?

I really wish the author had made her characters a little more complex— the big problem with the first book being that there are so many side characters that they all look the same iteration of funny badass person cardboard cutouts. Nothing is expanded on, and every thing seems so shallow— yet the story has such potential you know? I can see how it would be good and complex and pretty cool. If you could take the first and second book, remove all the filling, make sense of whatever is left, and make a whole separate book with it. As it stands, I'd be surprised this book was edited.

Also I'm still trying to understand whether Cate has no self awareness and thus doesn't understand that the woman in the mirror is her of if said woman is actually a separate entity.

Molly: House on Fire

Molly: House on Fire - R.E. Bradshaw Review written & published on Criticalwrit.com

There's something to be said about the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and the self-published Molly: House on Fire, by R.E. Bradshaw, is one of those books that require us to go beyond the cover to get a measure of how good they are. And frankly, with the somewhat uninspired title and a cover that pains the eyes, I didn’t go into the book with good expectations. It turned out, however, to be a solid mystery novel.

Molly Kincaid is a hot-shot defense attorney. In fact, she’s one of the best there is, but when a call from her past disrupts her steady lifestyle, her childhood comes crashing back down on her. At home, there aren’t many people who really know about her— That she was born Molly Harris, a poor child in the South, she was “white trash” as they call it, and that she killed her father at a young age to stop his abuse on her mother. Given up for adoption at the age of ten by a mother who could no longer take care of her, she vowed to make a new life and hadn’t looked back once. But Joe, the police officer who had helped Molly and her mother back then, is dying, and he needs her help in a case fraught with danger. There’s a murderer on the loose, and he seems keenly interested in an old legend about lost Confederate gold… Soon, questions arise and the very things Molly had believed to be true for thirty years crumble under her.

Going back to her birth town is difficult for Molly, and she soon realizes nobody really forgot the kid she was, and it’ll prove to be to her advantage as she crashes into town to bring justice. The story reminds me of a spaghetti western movie, down to a colorful and solid secondary cast who rises to her side. And help she will need as she works to prove that Joey, Joe’s autistic grandson, didn’t kill his mother, especially if it means finding who the real killer might be. Bradshaw’s portrayal of Joey and of autism is excellent and I deeply enjoyed seeing an autistic individual that for once didn’t fall into the well-worn category of Sherlock-type quirky geniuses. Working with Joey brings Molly to meet Leslie, a psychologist and Joey’s teacher, and she soon finds that she cannot keep her mind (and her eyes) off the woman. She’ll have to do just that however, because her father’s family is still around, and they’re every bit as vile and dangerous as he was.

The mystery elements occupy most of the story and while the book takes time to introduce us to side characters from Bradshaw’s previous novels, it doesn't stray too far. The mystery starts slowly and Bradshaw is good at pacing the rise of tension throughout the book. By the time the pieces started all falling into place, I was anxious to see the story reach its climax. One of the things I especially liked about this book, was that the main character isn’t alone against those who would do her harm. A lot of books pit their hero against impossible odds but Bradshaw is good at introducing helpful side characters without clogging the narrative.

I also thought that the romance elements were a tad too awkward. I didn’t feel much chemistry between Leslie and Molly despite their occasional friendly banter. Leslie probably would have benefited from being more closely tied to the plot, but as it stands, she hovers on the edge of the narrative without real use beyond being here for Molly’s character development. Perhaps it is because I’m more accustomed to romance taking a bigger place than it does in this book, but I also found her to be somewhat shallowly written, and we never learn much about her. We know she shares Molly’s love of ridiculously high-priced fast cars, and is a caring person toward her protégé, but… that’s about it. I’m not usually picky when it comes to lesbian romance, but I felt very unsatisfied with this one.

Molly: House on Fire may not be a groundbreaking read, but it is a solid mystery novel that doesn’t lack suspense and that has the merit of tackling difficult subjects like domestic violence and what happens when people close their eyes on the suffering of victims: a downward spiral of more violence and pain.

Zero Visibility

Zero Visibility - Georgia Beers A good romance, not much to say about it, it's good all around.
A note though : keeping something important a secret while knowing that someone (especially someone you love) is falling appart waiting for that something isn't exactly cool. Sometimes good news need to be said right away instead of keeping them a surprise. I'm looking at the last few chapters, and if I were Cassie, I'd have been very angry at Emerson. And probably pinched her nipples in revenge.


Blindsided - Karis  Walsh A good, touching romance, but a hard one to get into as I felt the book tells too much and doesn't show enough. The beginning in particular suffers from it as we're treated to frustrating characterization infodumps that I feel could have been much better integrated in the narrative, instead of having a long introspective inner monologue every other page— I think that may be the result of having next to no actual side characters beyond our two protagonists and their dog : they don't really interact with anybody else but themselves.

Still, it's a good read.