*I acquired both of these arcs through Netgallery*
Safety in Numbers by Sophie Penhaligon
Trigger Warnings: Ableism, mentions of alcohol abuse, descriptions of traumatic incident
Safety in Numbers by Sophie Penhaligon is an adult romance novel that focuses on the romantic relationship of an employee and her CEO following her traumatic brain injury. It currently has an average rating of 3.28 stars on Goodreads and I have awarded it 1 star.
Seraphina Ellis, a women of STEM, is left reeling after a horrific accident that leaves her with a traumatic brain injury, and now she spends the rest of her unfulfilling days alone in a cubicle. A chance meeting with CEO, Milo Grant, changes this as he gives her the opportunity to work the job she’s always dreamed of, and a chance to escape the monotone existence of her cubicle. But Milo is a man with his own demons and is hard to work with, but increasingly finds himself drawn to this new employee and everything she has to offer.
Well, this was interesting. The premise sounded like a brilliant romance book with MC disability and trauma representation, and also included a woman in STEM – what more could I ask for? Turns out quite a lot. This had a lot of potential, unfortunately a few key aspects were lacking which meant this just fell flat.
Firstly, the main characters were not for me. To be honest, Seraphina, is exactly the kind of women I don’t like, she immediately stuck out as a pick-me, as she continually demeaned the women around her in her head for being ‘superficial’, or worse! For gossiping! The horror. However, other than this, despite a few minor exceptions, it was hard to decipher what her personality was, she appeared to be opposites at times when it suited her, and whilst I understand people are complex and different faucets of their personality can be emphasised, it was mostly confusing – beyond the superficial, I barely knew her. However, the one thing I did appreciate was the exploration of Seraphina’s relationship with her disability, particularly the shame and grief she felt because of it, which was interesting and appreciated by me, yet as the book went on the less well handled this felt.
Milo, I can’t even tell you who Milo is. I often found him to be an exact mirror of Seraphina with the same thoughts and beliefs, and at the times he was not it felt I was only seeing the surface of him, not the man who supposedly lay beneath. Furthermore, the few things we do find out about him show no growth throughout the book and remain stagnant, which was a shame because it’s hard to have a good romance without good characters.
The romance: I was bored. In my opinion, it was too quick, too sudden, too passionate; I like it when an author drags it out, make me wait a little bit longer for that conclusion – I did not wait with this book. What was truly strange though, was despite the romance being introduced early I understood little of it, I didn’t particularly like them as a couple and the moments were they working together in a STEM environment were far and few between. If you thought this book may contain cute scenes of a nerdy couple doing science together like I did, please look elsewhere, it doesn’t happen that often.
I haven’t much to say on the plot as I don’t feel like much happened, they were together, that’s how I would sum it up. That’s it really. Anything else that did happen that felt like it could have been a bigger plot point wasn’t, and the areas I wanted to be explored weren’t and that was it.
The writing of this also left something to be desired. Often times, I found myself re-reading the same information over and over again, wondering why that feature was so important for the author to drive home that hard (spoiler alert: it wasn’t important). As well as this, Milo and Seraphina sometimes repeated what each other were thinking in their own internal monologues, no this wasn’t shared through communication, it was just the same thought they both had independently and it was a bit unbelievable most of the time.
I’m not going to comment on the disabled representation in this book in any great detail other than to say it’s not good and I didn’t like it. I would recommend if you want to read this, or are curious, to check out the one star reviews on Goodreads as there are a few reviews form disabled people there to read.
Overall, a lacklustre romance that suffered from serious flaws even though it had so much potential. I’m sad I didn’t even like it.
The Moonstone Girls by Brooke Skipstone
Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, insensitive language/jokes, bullying, suicide, PTSD
The Moonstone Girls by Brooke Skipstone is a queer, historical fiction novel that focuses on the life of Tracy as she comes to terms with her identity as a queer woman in 1960s America. It currently has an average rating of 4.68 stars on Goodreads and I have awarded it 4 stars.
In the late 1960s, both Tracy and her brother Spencer joke a twisted, cosmic being has swapped their genders at birth as both are queer, growing up in an America that wants to see nothing other than the perfect, nuclear family. A war wages in their household after they’re caught with their gay partners, and Tracy and her father battle as Spencer is threatened to be taken away by the Vietnam War, and their mother watches from the sidelines caught between them all. To finally be herself, Tracy dresses as a boy and escapes her hometown, travelling to Alaska to follow a beautiful girl in a photograph.
I’m not going to lie, the cover of this drew me in immediately – look at all the pretty colours – but the beauty of this book isn’t just on the outside (although I have to appreciate how much it resembles the lesbian pride flag). Whilst this is not the happiest queer story I’ve ever read, it was a really interesting read, and the first time I’ve read a story that focused on being a queer person in 1960s America. I at first found it hard to get into, but by the middle I was hooked and devoured the rest of the book quickly.
The main focus of the story was on Tracy as she experiences two years of her late teens and becomes her own person. She is fun to read as she’s a bit of a hot head and is definitely controlled by her emotions, but her journey of self determination and bravery is balanced well with this, and by the end of the book you can definitely see how far she’s come as a person.
The other characters are also good reads, especially those within Tracy’s family as well as the people she meets along the way. Skipstone does a fantastic job in exploring the complexity of characters and their individual fears, and ensures all of them feel different from each other. There were characters that we didn’t see very often that I would have like to have seen more of, but alas there were so many I understand why we couldn’t.
I enjoyed the breadth of relationships explored in this book, and how they can be formed, broken and ultimately healed over time and circumstances. Whilst at times, a little too cheesy for my taste, it was also really sweet and felt like a good encompassing of all the different kinds of relationships and their endings that you can experience in life, made all the more bittersweet when you realise a lot of them didn’t have to end like that if it wasn’t for discrimination and prejudice. Furthermore, the theme of forgiveness that ran throughout all these relationships was a joy, and at times I did crave a little more focus on this concept and how it could flourish, it was still handled well and nothing felt ridiculous or contrived.
However, it should be said if you are looking for the great queer romance, I’m not sure this is for you. There’s definitely queer romance in here, some I found worked really well, and others just weren’t for me. Unfortunately, the main romance of this book was just fine in my opinion, I don’t really have any feelings for it one way or another, and I was honestly hoping for a little bit more, but the other relationships in this book made up for that.
The breadth of topics and issues addressed within this is staggering, but somehow Skipstone ensures that all are dealt with care and none of them feel false in anyway. The coming out stories in this are obviously the highlight, and whilst some aspects of this got a little too much and too cheesy for my tastes, I understood where it was coming from and appreciated the overall arc. As well as this, it’s nice to see coming out stories which differ, and show the complexities of accepting one’s identity.
I should note, if you are thinking of seeking this book out, it does contain some language and “jokes” that are inappropriate/insensitive. I don’t believe this has been done by the author with any malicious intent, as it reads true to what characters in the 1960s would have said and thought, neither is it ever framed a the good way, it may just be something you want to be aware of though.
This is a good book, I have no serious accusations to levy against it and despite a few small bumps along the way I enjoyed it and think others will too.