Conscious that my NetGalley percentage was drifting perilously close to 80% (the lower limit to the percentage of books reviewed they like you to have, and you get a badge to prove it!) and having picked up quite a slow-going print book to read, I have whizzed through a few light novels this month so far. And none of them the Christmas ones yet! The problem with light novels is that they can be disappointing, and while both of these were entertaining enough, they were also a little less than perfect. Anyway, two LGBTQIA+ themed books from my foray around this and the Own Voices sections of the NetGalley website last month.

Janet Pywell – “Someone Else’s Dream”

(25 November 2021, NetGalley)

Hotshot lawyer Amber has thrown everything into her relationship with actor Cassie, including buying her a cafe in a cute street in a Kentish seaside town. But Cassie loses interest and, once the lockdown appears to be over (one thing that is well done is the moments of lockdown detail that don’t impinge too much on the story but do ground it) she is keen to get back to her London theatre life, leaving Amber with the manager Cassie hastily appointed, some slowly growing friendships that only seem to lead to gossip and a split community to deal with. Will JJ the bitchy pub landlady get to take over the whole town? Will miserable Ben from the gallery lighten up?

When nasty gossip surrounds Amber and her new friend the florist, it all gets a bit upsetting – and Amber’s missing the cat that Cassie took away with her (no real peril to the cat, she’s just moved away). I did like the seaside town and community setting, the plot was well thought-out and I liked the diverse characters, with a gay male couple running one shop and Turkish, British Asian and Black characters, a female vicar and even depression and anxiety making an appearance, but it seemed a little disappointing that the plot reverted very quickly to outsider in community falls for misunderstood, taciturn perhaps-bad-boy. Could Ben not have been female? Then again, obviously she can then help the pan/bi community feel seen (this came up in reviews on NetGalley after I’d thought that) so maybe I’m judging too harshly. This is apparently a new venture for the author, who previously wrote crime novels, and I would read another book about this fictional community.

Thank you to BooksGoSocial for approving me to read this in return for an honest review.

Celia Laskey – “Under the Rainbow”

(26 November 2021, NetGalley)

Big Burr, Kansas, has been named the homophobic capital of America by a non-profit, and they send a task force of 15 people into the town to change minds and educate the locals. Narrated by several voices from the task force and the community, this novel looks at what happens when the two groups clash, and the secrets that are brought up for everyone. I did like the style, the first chapter is almost YA as we meet Avery, furious at moving away from LA with one of her mums, convinced her mum isn’t happy she’s not come out as a lesbian after all.

Things do get dark quickly as we encounter the overt homophobia, fear and hatred – some characters do understand, including Linda, who finds new purpose and friendships after the death of her son labels her in the town, but many do not, and there’s an unpleasant (but I can see it’s not entirely gratuitous) subplot involving a resident taking an activist’s pet cat (the cat doesn’t survive, this is signposted, but there’s nothing described in detail). There is some quite strong detail about an accident and a teen party, and one elderly man’s obsessive thoughts about his wife’s new lover are a bit much. But the most disappointing thing is that, while it’s probably realistic, there’s no real plot resolution, things are pretty unpleasant, not much is achieved, we get told things get worse once they all leave, with most relationships that have formed (apart from two) torn apart, and then a resolution on two strands, one of which seems a bit cliched.

So I wasn’t sure what to make of it in the end: everything’s awful, we shouldn’t try to force change, no one will change anyway, escape to the big city where you can, and bond with people over food? So a good idea that I’m not sure came off in the end, though I liked a lot of the writing and the characters were well-differentiated. I wonder if it suffered a bit from my dislike of writing-course writing, as there was sort of one of each kind of character practised in each chapter.

Thank you to HQ for approving me to read the book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

I would give both these books 4/5, they were just missing a bit for me.