Tag Archives: anxiety

Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun

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Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun

Cochrun, Alison. Kiss Her Once for Me. 368 pp. Atria Books, 2022. ISBN 978-1982191139 $17.99

*****

I feel the same about LGBTQIA+ romance as I do about science fiction novels: as long as the plot is engaging, the setting is strong, the characters compelling (and their names pronounceable), I’m in, even though I don’t self-identify as a science fiction fanatic or queer. I selected this from NetGalley’s offerings months ago, tugged in by the twisty premise of demisexual girl gets fake engaged for money to her ex’s brother. I felt like I just wasn’t in the mood for a queer romance, or a holiday story, and avoiding cracking open my ARC until there were only about three days left on the ticking clock of the review window. I could not put this one down and finished it just in time.

Told in flashbacks that describe a webcomic series based on a perfect romantic snow day with a mysterious Jack one a year ago, and Ellie’s present day dilemma (should she confess the terms of the engagement to Jack? Disclose to Andrew Jack is the manic pixie dream butch from last Christmas?), the only thing that could make this more perfect is if the described comic sections were actual panels…or if the entire book was a graphic novel, hint, hint, @SimonAndSchuster, get on it already!

Ellie is an empathetic character. An animation school grad who got her dream job and then got let go for not being able to cut it, she landed at a coffee-shop with a terrible boss where Instagramming foam creations on lattes is her artistic outlet. Denied a promotion and facing eviction because her terrible! mother is exhorting her as payback for RAISING her, a wealthy investment banker/hedge fund type overhears her plight, takes her on a date, and suggests they catch two birds with one stone and get engaged to solve her financial troubles and allow him access to his inheritance that will only be unlocked if he marries. Ellie drunkenly agrees, and Andrew whisks her off to spend the holidays at his family’s cabin (read: mansion) to introduce her to his relatives and solidify the relationship. His sister Jacqueline/Jack turns out to be the beautiful butch baker from last year’s Powell’s excursion. In a side plot, her best friend–trans tattooed kindergarten teacher Dylan–was Andrew’s super-sekrit hookup last year when Jack was skipping the family festivities and hooking up with Ellie.

The characters are three-dimensional and pop off the page, and they are also delightfully messy and unexpected. Andrew and Jack’s Korean-Americanism is a subtle undercurrent. The rich widowed grandmothers are best buds with an it’s five o’clock somewhere attitude, and in spite of their imbibing, are more astute than they initially let on. Only Andrew and Jack’s father is stereotypical, with a piece on the side and outdated, unsupportive, critical attitudes. Pop culture is a strong secondary character in the novel, with Alexa playlists popping up to provide the perfect pop music soundtrack. Cochrun pays homage to Taylor Swift, Celine Dion, Fun Home, and While You Were Sleeping. Portland has a life of its, with its lack of snow planning, coffee culture, and queer pride.

It’s difficult not to contrast Kiss Her Once for Me with Not The Plan, which I read in the same week. Both couples have a keyword that means time to tell the truth; “honesty game?” works for Jack and Ellie in a way “blunt, honest?” does not for Isa and Karim. The slow burn and careful respect is hot with Jack and Ellie, and plodding and wooden with Isa and Karim. The detailed sex scenes in Kiss Her Once For Me incorporate sensory detail and delicacy, emotion and acceptance, and make unsexy parts sexy, instead of focusing just on erogenous zones. Bodies in Not The Plan are described in gym-honed terms, firm and perfect, while in Kiss Her Once for Me the imperfections are adualated: stretch marks and soft bellies and hairy legs are celebrated as “so fucking perfect.”

Ironically, what makes Kiss Her Once for Me a 5 star (perfect!) book is how it celebrates messy, looking at failures as falls you can pick yourself back up after. “It’s not a failure to let people see you imperfections, it’s vulnerability,” says the best friend who seems to have her shit together but failed her bar exam. Words to take to heart.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #KissHerOnceForMe from #NetGalley

The Do Over by Suzanne Parker

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The Do Over by Suzanne Parker

Parker, Suzanne. The Do Over. Avon, 2023. 384 pp. ISBN ‎ 978-0063216051 $16.99

***

On the verge of landing an executive position, Lily Lee, start-up consultant and empowering author, discovers she has failed her background check due to being a few credits shy of her diploma. She will need to return to Carlthorpe College, not just to make up a class, but to meet graduation requirements that have changed in the last ten years. This oversight also threatens her personal integrity and second book deal. Insult to injury is bumping into her college boyfriend Jacob Cho (the one that broke her heart, natch!) who is now a T.A. for one of her required computer science courses–unless she can get off the waitlist for statistics.

In the midst of the drama, Lily gets the opportunity to try things she missed out on and re-experience a frat party (attending doesn’t improve with age) and stocking up on road trip and dorm snacks, but adding to her stress is her first book simultaneously getting criticized, mansplained AND borderline plagiarized by a white dude intent on creating a series of feminist business books with his sister to both bury Lily’s work and use her for an “urban” edge.

Lily’s Korean ancestry helps to round out her characterization in terms of her relationship with (and expectations of) her family. Dialogue is sprinkled with Korean terms and she references favorite Korean dishes. I recognize it is not the job of the author to educate this white girl on banchan and translations, but I appreciated the effort and level of detail that Park went to.

Also appreciated are the details of Lily’s anxiety, which manifested in college, and which she still goes to somes lengths to downplay or hide until pressed. Luckily, relief comes in the form of a ride-or-die bestie, Mia, who keeps showing up on campus for support; her new roomie; Beth, a baker with a case of extreme positivity; and a puppy-ish group of young Asian students who form a study group. Lily is able to be real and honest and is accepted when she discloses her stressors and coping mechanisms, and coming clean about her mental health helps to direct her next work in progress.

The romance feels less central to the plot than Lily’s coming of age: standing up to the dean that could have prevented the credits mishap, disclosing her anxiety, confronting a privileged male, rethinking her career goals, and reframing her work. Amends with Jake happen too, but way late in the book, and not until after the two violate Title IX by falling into bed together (she was going to drop his class, then doesn’t) and then deciding to keep it professional. To my disappointment, sexy scenes are kept behind firmly closed (and locked) doors.

What stopped this from being a four-star book for me was that it was billed as a second-romance and there is a HEA, but I wanted more Jake and more steam. The author (or editor’s) choice to flashback to his devotion even as they are breaking up, in the form a promise no matter what Jake will always pick up when Lily calls, is placed way too close to her actually needing him to follow through on that promise. In another flashback, her reaction to his needing to follow through on the events that lead to her separation are immature. His apology for it ten years later seems unnecessary. He (immaturely) asks her to no be mad, to be happy — you cannot tell other people how to feel. At thirty-two, these characters should be a little more evolved.

One last bone to pick: the reference to women as females as though they are biological specimens is a personal pet peeve. It’s great Lily is the first lady to be a intern with the prestigious company Solv, but multiple times throughout the book there are references to humans as female (and not just by the statistician protagonist) that made me squirm and made the book feel dated in a time when we are evolving from gender as biology and sex as binary to a spectrum. Since I read this in ARC, it’s not too late to fix it.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheDoOver from #NetGalley.