Never one to give up bonus points, I went for the Unicorn level in Jae’s Sapphic Reading Challenge for 2021. I’m not sure if I’m a particularly eclectic reader, but I didn’t have that hard of a time finding books to fit the categories and I actually enjoyed all of them quite a bit. So let’s hear it for unicorns!
My ten Unicorn books are:
1. Butch/butch pairing – Complex Dimensions, Brenda Murphy RECOMMEND
This is the fourth book in the Rowan House series but it is able to read as a standalone. Rowan House is an exclusive retreat where all one’s BDSM fantasies can be played out in a beautiful English countryside setting. Recently out of prison (for a crime she didn’t commit), Veronica is at a crossroads and makes the decision to take the position as a stable master (no … she manages the stable, the other Masters are in the house) as chance to get a fresh start. There’s some BDSM – but it isn’t quite as heavy as the other book in the series I read. This provides an interesting set of characters in Veronica and Millie and their relationship. Well written and definitely not run of the mill.
2. Time Travel: One Last Stop , Casey McQuiston DEFINITELY RECOMMEND
Wow. This may have been my favourite books of the year and I can not recommend this one enough. I was looking for a lesfic time travel book (oddly enough, there aren’t a lot of them) and this had quite a few good reviews. At first I wasn’t sure how engaged I was going to be with a troupe of 20 somethings living in Brooklyn, but I was quickly and completely enthralled with this book. There’s an almost magical feel to the book – it’s sweet, charming, whimsical and hits all the right notes. I loved the characters, looking at you Jane. It’s such a quirky and original plot that I was delighted and surprised and ended the book with a massive sigh – sad that it ended, but so damned happy that I had read the novel. This isn’t a sci-fi, it’s a wonderful mix of friends, family, romance, community and mystery. Do yourself a favour and read this one.
3. Character over 40 – Ignis, KJ DEFINITELY RECOMMEND
Overall, was really impressed with this one. I didn’t know that KJ could write such a dark story and was pleasantly surprised at how well the darker undertones of the suspense plot meshed with the romance. There’s a wonderfully creepy suspense that involves flashbacks of a young girl who is growing up in a rural religious cult. The flashbacks alternate with the story of a series of disappearances of young women from two Melbourne Boarding Schools. The juxtaposition of the two storylines creates tension and suspense as you become invested in both and how they are related. There’s pretty much of an instant spark between the two mains. Both are phenomenally intelligent, strong-willed and confident in who and what they are – and won’t apologize or make excuses for their choices or actions. The dialogue is smart and sharp with the chemistry between them pretty much setting the pages on fire. The word smolder comes to mind as the attraction sizzles and builds.
4. High fantasy – Aurora’s Angel, Emily Noon – RECOMMEND
A very impressive novel for first time published author Emily Noon. This is firmly in the fantasy genre – the author calls it dark fantasy, but I think its closer to high fantasy with some dark elements. The world building was done remarkably well and had a satisfying level of logic and wonder. At its heart, this is a romance – a long slow burn romance. There are some great action scenes – the escape from the mine and some of the battles, but the bulk of the story is the travel and getting to know you plotline with more than a bit of angst thrown in. As much as I liked the characters, a bit more action and adventure in the middle would have helped keep the pace up. At times it made me think of online fiction I’ve read – sometimes a bit rambly and Aurora’s character and backstory sometimes got a bit too much; but, on the whole it’s an engaging story and characters. Be prepared to set aside a week or so to read the novel – it’s a long one – but once you start you’ll be hooked.
5. Polyamorous relationship: Double Six, Brenda Murphy RECOMMEND
I don’t normally read books with polyamory or BDSM, but I’ll do anything for a badge. This is one of a series (Complex Dimensions is an earlier book in the series) about a special … uhm … retreat for those who are looking for a rather civilized BDSM experience. The book picks up in the midst of some plots from the earlier books but I was able to follow along. The gist of it is, Rowan House is down a Dom, and there’s a tryout to bring in some new blood. Add a bit of intrigue and action, and it’s a good read. This is, obviously, a book with polyamory and it is decidedly BDSM. If that’s your thing, this is definitely recommended. If it’s not, it’s still a smoking hot book that might make you wonder why it’s not your thing. The word “sexapalooza” comes to mind with this one.
6. Thriller: Illusion Lake, Sheryl Wright
Illusion Lake is well written and the mystery/suspense plot was original, intricate and topical. It blends extremely well with the building romance between the mains. I appreciated the time the author took to unfold the layers of the conspiracy and details included to make it all too plausible. There’s a lot going on, and at times I felt like I needed a corkboard with pins and thread to connect everything, but all the elements linked back to each other. At times, though, the overall suspense got a bit too convoluted with almost too many things going on such that it strained incredulity that so much could happen in such a short time and that law enforcement or other professionals could be that gullible. I found some of the situations inconsistent and two of the secondary characters gave me whiplash as they vacillated between good and bad (and tending to be over the top when they were doing good or bad things) and I couldn’t figure out why Kiva or Elliot would give either of them the time of day let alone a second/third chance.
7. Sapphic nonbinary character: Love Kills Twice, Rien Gray – DEFINITELY RECOMMEND
Gray’s book is an homage to the noir and hardboiled genres. There’s moral ambiguity to the characters and their actions that Gray pulls off without making the characters irredeemably flawed or the story nihilistic. The result is a simmering story of vengeance and passion with a contract killer and the woman who hires them to kill her husband that sucks you right in. Murder for hire may seem tawdry, but the characters are sharp and complex, with the narrative and dialogue full of innuendo and charisma that tantalizes. There’s a sizzling energy between the characters from the outset and that chemistry boils over pretty quickly. I found myself completely invested in the two characters and eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
8. Steampunk or gaslamp fantasy: Romancing the Inventor, Gail Carriger RECOMMEND
This is probably my third time reading this book – it’s a fun novella that is based on Ms Carringer’s Parasol Universe. It can be read as a standalone; but I would recommend the overall series of books as they are quirky and amusing. The book itself isn’t terribly steampunk – although one of the main characters is an inventor of all sorts of steampunk gadgets (including an octomaton that ravaged half of London… from an earlier book). There’s a very tongue in cheek feel to the narrative with the prim and proper Victorian society and a nobility that includes werewolves and vampires.
10. Horror: Dead Lez Walking, G Benson RECOMMEND
The title sells the book …. zombies, lesbians … what more could you ask for? Overall, this was a fast-paced and action-packed read. Although very different than her previous romance novels (zombies … definitely a different obstacle for two main characters to overcome), G Benson still weaves in a romance between Joy and Taren, but it is definitely overshadowed by the developing zombie apocalypse that is sweeping through the hospital. There’s some pretty brutal and grim scenes in this book that took me a bit by surprise – I had thought this would be more of a light-hearted story but it’s focus is on the action, horror of the situation and what humour there is is more gallows-style. The book has an ending that begs for a sequel- but it could stand on its own. If you’re looking for a fluffy silly zombie story – this is probably not what you want. But if you want some dire circumstances and suspense, this might be up your alley.
13. Dystopian, apocalyptic, or post-apocalyptic fiction: Lucky 7, Rae D Magdon DEFINITELY RECOMMEND
Madgon has recently released a sequel – Lucky 8- that I’m chomping at the bit to read and that’s reason I decided I had to re-read this one and included in the Unicorn category. Lucky 7 is a cyber-punk action-palooza that features a diverse and engaging crew of misfits. I appreciate that the world building isn’t done through exposition – Magdon just dumps you in the middle of seedy bar and you figure things out as you follow Elena -it’s not hard to catch on and it also forces you to focus on Elena and the wild-assed action rather than taking a breath and reading paragraphs of internal monologue. The first half of the book is first person from Elena’s POV and she’s full of snark and sass , and the action literally never really stops as she and Sasha gather the rest of the crew. There’s a great twist halfway through and the first person narration switches to Sasha, the handler (leader/brains) of the Lucky 7. Things slow down a bit and get a bit more introspective, but then the team is off another gonzo ops which leads to more action packed scenes.