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REVIEW:  His Fair Lady by Kimberly Gardner

REVIEW: His Fair Lady by Kimberly Gardner

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“Mark Talleo is something of a dog with the ladies. Any girl, anytime, anywhere is his motto until he meets Josie Frazier. The long lean redhead not only shares his love of musical theatre, but her smoky sexy voice and infectious laugh drive Mark wild and haunt his every step. Equally fascinating is his sense that she has a secret, one he is determined to uncover on his way to becoming her leading man.

Josie does have a secret, one she guards with her whole self. Although she has always known she was female, her name used to be Joey and she’s still biologically male. As much as she yearns for love and acceptance, her fear of rejection is just as strong.

Mark’s need to know the truth is matched only by Josie’s need to hide it. But when malicious gossip reveals her deepest secret the price of honesty may turn out to be too high to pay. But if each can accept that the woman he wants is the woman she is then at last he may find His Fair Lady.”

Dear Ms. Gardner,

I’ll be honest and admit that the main reason I picked this book to try is because it has a transgender character. It’s not that I have any fetishes, I’m just trying to make sure our LGBTTQ reviews at DA actually have some characters who are BTTQ. To find any stories that delve into issues faced by this community is hard since I haven’t found that many being published. To find a nicely written one is a treat.

I liked Josie from the start. She’s smart, not easily bowled over when a hot guy asks her out and makes Mark work to get her attention and a date. So sure, a bit of this is because she’s got a secret and hasn’t dated much but a lot is due to some inner quality I sense in her that won’t accept second best or anyone only trying to see if he can get in her pants. My thoughts were validated later in the story when she verbally lets Mark have it after All Is Revealed and he panics. She does cry but only after a few choice shouted lines calling Mark on his cowardice.

Mark’s not too bad either but did notice that he’s really not the “dog” mentioned in the blurb. Perhaps I wouldn’t have taken to his character quite as much if he had been but the fact is that his only offense in this department seems to be not being firm enough in ending an almost over relationship. Once his attention is caught by Josie though, he’s a goner. He presses, retreats slightly so as not to be thought a stalker, makes sure Josie gets home, sees her to her door, calls her mother “ma’am,” and behaves as if someone raised him right. But he’s not unbelievable either given that his dorm room is a pit, he cheerfully calls his friend and roommate an asswipe, and would gladly get Josie into bed if she’s willing.

Josie’s anxieties and fears about revealing her gender are worked into the narrative without it seeming to flip on a neon “sign” stating ISSUES HERE! She takes care with her necklines and pulling her hair back from her throat, is silently grateful that her hormones will help her hide any erection she might get when things get hot and heavy with Mark, worries if a transgendered professor has realized her secret and has to face the fallout when her gender becomes known. And while this isn’t a “everything is genderly wonderful world,” it’s one that is perhaps more open since it takes place on a college campus, among theater arts majors, and with a hero who has a gay brother. I was watching to see how Josie’s and Mark’s parents were portrayed and was happy that this novella doesn’t have the disapproving families trope.

Perhaps all of the above mitigating factors smooth over the real dangers trans people face daily. Maybe Mark ends up being Super Boyfriend who is still sexually turned on by Josie despite the fact that she’s not planning on having gender reassignment surgery. But I enjoyed that the story focuses mainly on Josie and Mark and reaching their HFN – maybe HEA. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Her Best Laid Plans by Cara McKenna

REVIEW: Her Best Laid Plans by Cara McKenna

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Dear Ms. McKenna:

During a vacation around ten years ago, I observed a couple of teenagers beginning a flirtation in the hotel pool. It made me wistful for those unexpected, thrilling crushes of adolescence, those miniature relationships that sometimes happened when two strangers around the same age wound up in the same place for awhile. Although the main characters are adults — thank goodness! — Her Best Laid Plans captures the pleasure of that experience, and let me enjoy it vicariously again.

Jamie is disappointed in her first night in Ireland. After putting her life plans on hold for years for her boyfriend — and then getting dumped — she’s now yearning for adventure and cute Irish guys, but the only pub she can find is full of men her dad’s age. Then as if on cue, a gorgeous young bartender named Connor takes over the bar, ready to listen to her tale of woe:

‘I hope you’ll find the young men of Ireland sympathetic to your plight.’
She laughed. ‘I hope I’ll be able to find any young men on this trip, period.’
Connor looked demonstrably to either side and then down at his own chest, and held his arms out in mock surprise to say, Behold, a young man, at your service!

As Jamie psychs herself up to take advantage of this “made-to-order vacation fling,” the language of the story continued to evoke the thrill of the unexpected youthful romance:

“The excitement and the possibility, the newness… it charged her, thrumming as surely as the bike between her legs.”

“It all felt so tenuous, like a middle school crush. She had to remind herself, I could probably have him if I wanted to.

“…why did she feel fifteen again, dizzy from a guy’s touch?” And Connor, we learn, has similar feelings: “I’m some skinny kid again, trying not to make an arse of myself with a girl.”

Jamie and Connor aren’t extremely young — she’s 23, he’s 28 — but they’re both still embarking on adult life, not yet settled down. Jaime can see they’re well matched by observing Connor’s living space:

His apartment looked just right. Not sophisticated, but not immature. Suspended between the two, just as she was herself.

Mind you, this is most definitely an adult story. Things heat up fairly quickly and then stay heated (within mainstream romance limits.) But I was less captivated by the most passionate sex Jamie and Connor engaged in than by their first provocative teasing of each other, over a game of snooker:

‘Would you fancy making this a bit more interesting?’
‘How so?’
‘Friendly wager?’ Flirtatious wager, to judge by his tone.
‘How much?’
‘Name your prize.’
She thought a moment. ‘If I win, a glass of your finest whiskey. On the rocks.’
‘Fair play.’
And if you win?’ She leaned in, cocking the cue along her thumb and knuckle.
‘If I win… if I win…’
His fingers drummed the table’s ledge until Jamie raised her eyes.
‘Your finest kiss,’ he said with a devil’s smile. ‘On the mouth.’

[Jamie has won]

‘You deserve a taste of this yourself, for saying so.’
He eyed the bar, finding his customers placated. ‘You’re a bad influence.’
She shrugged and took another sip. The whiskey was making her feel bold in the most natural, essential way.
Connor nodded his surrender. ‘Fine. That’s top-shelf — I won’t say no.’
With a smile, she took one more generous taste, than rose on her tiptoes. He caught on just in time, leaning in to bridge the gap. Their noses brushed first, then their lips. She held the glass between them, one of his shirt buttons teasing her knuckles — a strange and perfect little intimacy. A different sort arrived as their lips met, the contact rocking through her with a sharp, hot bolt.
All at once woozy, she kept it brief — just enough of a kiss to let him taste her winnings, then she dropped back on her heels.

The downside is that nothing that followed was as delicious as that initial kiss. Their physical relationship continues to be almost dully perfect: Jamie rhapsodizes that it’s like they already know each other. From her point of view that’s great, but we’re not learning much about them as people, or as a couple, though the sex — and since it’s a short, steamy novella, there isn’t much place else to put characterization or depth of emotion. The only conflict is the limited amount of time they have before Jamie’s return to Boston — although you could argue that Jamie’s reluctance to once again get sidetracked by a man is also a conflict. In any event, I never felt very invested in their sexual relationship; I liked both characters and appreciated how their story eventually worked out, but there was no compelling reason to care all that much that they were getting it on.

At its heart this is a story about new beginnings — even the ending is a beginning. It didn’t have a whole lot of punch to it otherwise, but that aspect was just right.  C+

Sincerely,

Willaful

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