Book Review: Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

Book Review: Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

yerba buena, book review, lgbtq fiction

Sara Foster grew up too fast. After her first love is found dead in the Russian River, sixteen-year-old Sara becomes a runaway, leaving her life of parental neglect to head to LA, doing things she would have once thought unthinkable to just to make it there. Once in Los Angeles, she takes an entry level job in a restaurant and, over the years, works her way up until she is the most sought after bartender in the city, known for her intuitive and artistic cocktails.

Emilie Dubois doesn’t know how to grow up. A seventh year college senior, she has had five different majors and has spent five years working at her best friend’s family business as a receptionist. When she’s surprised with a five-year work anniversary cake, she is startled to find she’s spent so much time standing still. Impulsively, she quits her job and becomes a florist. There she begins making floral arrangements for the hottest restaurants in town, including her family’s favorite restaurant, Yerba Buena.

Sara is working as a consultant, helping Yerba Buena develop a line of signature cocktails, when she first meets Emilie. There is an instant attraction between the two women, but Emilie is having an affair with the married owner of Yerba Buena, and it is not meant to be. Over the years, Emilie and Sara have a few chance encounters until they reach a place where they can begin a relationship. However, when a family emergency draws Sara back to her hometown, her new relationship with Emilie seems threatened.

This wasn’t the book I thought it would be. I expected Yerba Buena, the first adult novel of a YA author, to be a lesbian romance, not without depth but fairly uncomplicated. I was wrong. In the best possible way. Yerba Buena is a coming of age story. It’s about overcoming family trauma to become yourself again. It’s about socioeconomic class, opportunity, adverse childhood experiences, and hope. And if, like me, you are a romantic, there is still a love story in the background.

Yerba buena is an herb, a member of the mint family, most closely related to spearmint. The herb features in the stories of both women, and is alleged to have healing properties. And, at its heart, this is a novel about healing. Ultimately, both women need to make peace with their pasts and make decisions about their futures before they are able to plan a life together.

I would recommend Yerba Buena to readers who love literary fiction, LGBT stories, coming of age stories, and family stories. Most of all, I would recommend this to people who haven’t read many novels from a lesbian point of view but are interested in doing so.

Suggestions for beverages while reading:

For a tea option, you can make a tea with fresh leaves of yerba buena (or any mint). The characters drink tea from fresh yerba buena in a few spots of the novel. To make your own, steep 2 springs of mint in 1.5 cups of boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. Add honey if desired.

For either a cocktail or mocktail to pair with the novel, see these recipes developed by the author’s wife, both of which are featured in the novel.

Pride Month Reading List

Pride Month Reading List

It wasn’t long ago that fiction authored by LGBTQI+ authors was considered niche. It’s only over the last two decades that books celebrating gay and lesbian lives have become mainstream, and these are still the first books to be banned from schools. This recommended reading list includes literary, mainstream, historical, and YA fiction.

Happy Pride Month to all members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Not quite famous novelist Arthur Less desperately wants to get out of the country. He hasn’t committed a crime and he isn’t on the run, but he wants an iron clad reason not to attend his long term lover’s wedding. So he goes through his junk mail, accepting teaching appointments at random German universities, attending previously unheard of literary awards in Italy, taking on a food writing assignment in Japan, and agreeing to attend a friend of a friend’s birthday celebration in Morocco. During the course of his travels, Less accumulates a series of embarrassing moments, surprise victories, and flings. He prepares to turn fifty, thinking, “He has never seen another gay man age past fifty, none except Robert. He met them all at forty or so but never saw them make it much beyond; they died of AIDS, that generation. Less’s generation often feels like the first to explore the land beyond fifty.” Although Less has its serious moments and won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it is overall entertaining and perfect for your next beach vacation.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

At age forty-three, Patrick is a retired sitcom actor who lives alone in Palm Springs. He has a Golden Globe and an Oscar Wilde quote for every occasion. What Patrick does not have is experience with children, and he is a stranger to his niece and nephew who simply know him as GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick). When Patrick’s sister-in-law and best friend, Sara, passes away, and his brother goes into rehab for a pill addiction that went unnoticed during Sara’s battle with cancer, Patrick finds himself temporary primary caregiver for nine-year-old Maisie and six-year-old Grant. Given that the kids don’t drink martinis, he’s not quite sure how to bond with them, and he definitely doesn’t know how to help them with their grief given that he has never recovered from losing his own partner years before. There are missteps and careless words aplenty, but Patrick finds he was made to be a guncle.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

It is 1985, and the Boystown district of Chicago is in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. The Great Believers opens with Yale Tishman grieving the loss of his friend, Nico. Like many of the early AIDS casualties, Nico had his final medical decisions made by estranged family members, rather than those closest to him, and was given a funeral that reflected the values of his relatives rather than Nico’s own. With his partner Charlie, Yale attends a life celebration for Nico, and at this event, misunderstandings and jealousy destroy Yale and Charlie’s relationship. Yale comes to learn that his relationship was not safe and monogamous as he had always thought. The second storyline of The Great Believers follows Fiona, Nico’s sister, in the present day as she seeks out her estranged daughter in Paris. As Fiona searches for Claire, she stays with her friend, Richard, an artist preparing for a show that will honor his fallen friends from Chicago. The Great Believers is a powerful story, and Makkai’s writing is beautiful. As I was very young when the AIDS epidemic began, it took decades for me to understand how it affected an entire generation of gay men and how politics and the witholding of funds turned a public health issue into genocide.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

When Monique Grant, a struggling journalist at a crossroads in life, is given an opportunity to write a biography of classic movie star, Evelyn Hugo, she accepts. Hugo is a Hollywood legend, known for her sexy roles and her seven marriages, and Monique knows writing this book could change her life. Born Evelyn Herrera in Hell’s Kitchen, Evelyn leaves New York for Hollywood as a teenager. After changing her surname, losing her accent, and dying her hair blond, she finds success in the movie industry. Evelyn has both beauty and talent, but she learns that high profile marriages are as important to her career as appearing in high profile films. And if those high profile marriages turn abusive, a film icon never lets the adoring public know. What Monique comes to learn is that Evelyn has had seven husbands, but only one true love, who was definitely not one of her husbands. But Evelyn’s sexual orientation isn’t her only secret and her last revelation to Monique completely rewrites Monique’s understanding of her own past.

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue (historical fiction)

Eliza Farren, a well-known comedic actress of 18th century London, prizes her reputation above all else. Through sheer talent, she has been able to move from being an impoverished child thespian in the country to being one of the most well known faces in Drury Lane. While most actresses of the time relied upon aristocratic donors for economic security, Eliza is unwilling to become a man’s mistress. This is unfortunate for Eliza’s greatest admirer, Edward Smith-Stanley, the Earl of Derby. When Derby’s bored aristocratic friends put on an amateur play, he gets Eliza involved as advisor, which brings her into London’s aristocratic social sphere. As rehearsals go on, a friendship develops between Eliza, Derby, and the widowed sculptor Mrs. Anne Damer. The three maintain a close friendship until rumors spread that Eliza and Anne’s relationship is more than platonic. While Derby initially thinks the rumor is absurd, he grows jealous and demands that Eliza choose between him and Anne. Life Mask is intricately researched historical fiction, and Eliza, Derby, and Anne were real historical figures. It might not be for readers who get bored with too much historical detail, but I was totally immersed in the late 18th and early 19th century world.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (historical fiction)

Sue Trinder, the seventeen-year-old orphaned daughter of a convicted murderer, has been raised in Victorian London by Mrs. Sucksby, baby farmer and petty criminal. While Sue has grown up committing petty thefts and learning to transform stolen goods into new and unidentifiable goods, she has never known neglect or lack of love as Mrs. Sucksby’s favorite orphan. One day, a conman, simply known as “Gentleman,” shows up at Mrs. Suckby’s house with a proposal for Sue. Gentleman wants Sue to take a job as a lady’s maid to heiress, Maud Lilly, and convince Maud to elope with Gentleman. Once Maud and Gentleman are married and he has control over Maud’s fortune, he will then share a portion of the fortune with Sue. With Mrs. Sucksby’s permission, Sue agrees to the scheme. But once Sue is at Briar, she learns that Maud, like her, is seventeen and motherless. The two girls even look similar. Despite their differences in class and upbringing, Sue and Maud become close and Sue begins to realize her feelings for Maud are far from sisterly. She wants to extricate herself from Gentleman’s scheme, but she needs the money to repay Mrs. Sucksby for all that she has done for her, and she doesn’t realize Gentleman’s scheme is wider than she ever imagined. Fingersmith is a very fun and intricately plotted historical novel.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (YA)

Noah and Jude are twins with extremely different personalities. At thirteen, introverted Noah looks to his art to save him, while adventurous Jude’s priority is on her social life. At sixteen, the relationship between the twins has been destroyed, and Jude is now the anti-social twin who looks to art as her salvation. Noah is outwardly the more successful twin, but beyond the surface, he isn’t doing any better than Jude and is more firmly wedged in his closet than he was at thirteen. The novel alternates chapters narrated by Noah at thirteen with chapters narrated by Jude at sixteen. This is a beautiful novel about loss, family, love, identity, and what happens after you’ve done things that seem unforgivable.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (YA)

Otters Holt, Kentucky values traditional femininity. The town is the home of Molly the Corn Dolly, a forty-foot-tall statue that is its sole tourist attraction, and a corn dolly is awarded every year to an outstanding woman. Corn Dolly winners are pie bakers, gardeners, caregivers, and pillars of the community. Daughter of the local youth pastor, Billie McCaffrey is outside the Otters Holt ideal and is infamous for setting the church youth room on fire at a lock-in when she and her friends microwaved a smelly sock and her dad’s World’s Best Minister mug. However, when the Harvest Festival and corn dolly award are canceled, it is Billie and her group of misfits who develop a fundraising scheme to save the festival. Throughout the book, Billie is seeking to understand gender and sexuality. She resents that the church community demands that she can only love boys, but she also resents that her friends assume she is gay simply because she’s a tomboy. Her friends attempt to nudge her out of the closet when she just wants to figure out her sexual orientation for herself. While this book could have gone badly (either too sweet or too cynical), it never does because Billie is such a fresh, likable character.

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune: book review and book club menu

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune: book review and book club menu

Wallace Price’s death came at the least convenient of times. As a busy lawyer, he had work to do and cases to win and then he found himself at his own funeral as a ghost, watching his colleagues and his ex-wife all talk about what an asshole he was. While viewing his funeral, Wallace is collected by Mei, a bubbly young woman, who informs him that she is a Reaper, there to take him to the ferryman who will help him cross over. Wallace informs her that he does not have the time to be dead, but she takes him to a tea shop in the middle of woods, where he is to wait until he is ready to cross over.

Charon’s Crossing Tea and Treats is an unusual waiting place for the dead, given that it is full of life. Everyday the living arrive to line up for the famous tea and scones. It is in the tea shop that Wallace meets his ferryman, Hugo, a handsome and empathetic young man, who is as calm as Mei is excitable. It is also in the teashop that Wallace first meets fellow ghosts: Nelson, who was Hugo’s grandfather, and Apollo, who was Hugo’s dog.

Wallace initially spends all of his effort attempting to flee the teashop, although he quickly learns that to leave is to destroy his sense of self. So he resigns himself to watching the everyday events of the teashop, annoyed that he died in sweatpants, dooming him to an afterlife in sweats. But as Wallace broods, he becomes curious about the people and ghosts around him, especially Hugo.

Wallace’s character development is slow and excellent. He learns to care for other people and share in their grief gradually. He begins to help people who cannot even see him. A message displayed in the teashop serves as a reflection of his journey:

“The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share tea, you become family.”

The ending is not surprising, but it is lovely and perfect.

I was expecting this to be quirky and humorous. (It was.) I was not expecting it to be the sweetest and slowest love story. (It really was.) It reminded me of both A Christmas Carol and The Midnight Library, but it was more joyful and bittersweet than both of those. The world Klune created is original, but it’s the characters that make this story worth the journey. While all of the characters are enjoyable, it is Hugo who became my favorite. Recommended for readers who enjoy humorous writing, creative worlds, and LGBT love stories.

Book Club Menu

A tea time menu is the only appropriate choice for this book.

  • Assorted tea sandwiches. A recipe for a smoked salmon tea sandwich is below. Additional options would include ham and cheese; egg salad; chicken salad; and cucumber sandwiches
  • Strawberry scones (recipe below)
  • A selection of black and herbal teas (my preferred brands are Tazo and Rishi), plus sugar, cream, and lemon.
  • If serving alcohol, consider a sparkling rosé

Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwich

Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwich

  • Servings: 2 lunch portions or 4 teatime portions
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 4 slices of your preferred sandwich bread
  • 4 oz smoked salmon
  • 1/4 of an English cucumber, sliced thinly
  • 1 radish, sliced thinly
  • Whipped cream cheese
  • Dill (optional)


  1. Spread cream cheese on all 4 slices of bread.
  2. On 2 of the bread slices, layer smoked salmon, cucumber slices, radish slices, and dill (if using). Top with remaining slices of bread.
  3. Cut off crusts. Cut into desired shapes.

Strawberry Scones with White and Dark Chocolate

Strawberry Scones with White and Dark Chocolate

Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter into 1/4-inch cubes
  • ½ cup heavy cream plus 1 tablespoon
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chunks or chips
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the cold butter cubes to the flour mixture until it has the consistency of sand.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the liquid ingredients, minus 1 tablespoon of heavy cream.
  4. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir. Don’t over mix.
  5. Gently fold in the strawberries and white chocolate chips.
  6. Transfer dough to a floured countertop and gently push the dough together with your hands, just until it forms a ball. Flatten the dough into a 1-inch circle, taking care not to overwork the dough. Use a knife to cut the scones into 8 triangles.
  7. Place scones on your prepared baking sheet and place it in the freezer for 25 minutes.
  8. Remove the scones from the freezer. Use a pastry brush to brush the tops of the scones with the additional heavy cream. Sprinkle the scones with turbinado sugar. Bake for 18 to 23 minutes, or until scones are golden brown on the bottom and around the edges. Let the scones cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
  9. As the scones are cooling, melt the dark chocolate and coconut oil in a double boiler.
  10. Transfer the melted chocolate into a ziplock bag and cut off one corner of the bag.
  11. Immediately drizzle chocolate over the scones.
Summer Reading List, 2021

Summer Reading List, 2021

The Puma Years by Laura Coleman (memoir)

After quitting a series of jobs, twenty-something Laura Coleman decides to backpack in Bolivia. Growing lonely in her travels, she volunteers at a wildlife sanctuary in the Amazon that rehabilitates animals who were rescued from zoos and illegal pet trades. Initially her goal is to not quit before her three months are up, but the questionable living conditions and Hagrid the outhouse-dwelling giant spider test her resolution and her fellow volunteers predict the shy and bookish Laura won’t last. Then Laura is assigned to work with Wayra, a tempestuous puma who longs to be wild even as she has no idea how to be wild. In attempting to rescue Wayra, Laura rescues herself and finds a passion for animal rights and environmental justice.

Coleman is an excellent writer. She portrays both the beautiful and the grotesque so vividly that you feel that you are there in Bolivia with her. I picked this book almost whimsically (“Pretty cover! I want to read a book set in South America!”), but it was a joy to watch Laura move from being a shy recent university graduate disillusioned with adulthood to a strong woman passionate about environmental justice who trusts herself to make a difference. I definitely had “What am I even doing with my life?” thoughts while reading this. I strongly recommend this memoir. Some scenes are a bit gritty, as Coleman does not romanticise the Amazon, but much of it is beautiful. And you will definitely love Wayra as much as Coleman does.

Disclosure: I received a free Kindle copy through Amazon First Reads.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (novel)

1983: Kendra Rae Phillips should have been on top of the world. A rising star at Wagner Books, Kendra is the editor of the book of the year, Burning Heart. Written by a Black woman and edited by another Black woman, Burning Heart is all that the literary world can speak about. But Kendra becomes involved in a scandal and flees her life in New York City, disappearing from public life altogether.

2018: Editorial assistant Nella Rogers pursued and acquired a job at Wagner Books to follow in the footsteps of Kendra Rae Phillips, her role model. Once there, she is disappointed by the lack of diversity. She is the only Black employee and people seem to get nervous when Kendra Rae’s name comes up. Nella gets involved with diversity initiatives, only to learn that no one wants to participate. When Hazel is hired to be newest editorial assistant, Nella is grateful to no longer be the only Black employee. While Hazel seems friendly, Nella begins to suspect her work is being sabotaged as Hazel quickly becomes the most sought after employee at Wagner.

This debut novel is fabulous. I kept anxiously trying to work out the twist to this novel because I knew there had to be a big one. Well, there was a big twist, and the hints to the twist are present very early on, but I went down the wrong path entirely because I read too many Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley books, and this is definitely not one of those books. Initially, it’s a bit Mean Girls in an office setting and addresses everything from the politics of natural hair to code switching to half-hearted workplace diversity initiatives. And the ending cannot be called anything but horror. Its clever and page-turning and it’s unlike anything else I have read.

Disclosure: Purchased my own copy.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (novel)

Every August, the four Riva siblings, estranged children of musician Mick Riva, hold a large party. In 1983, the Riva siblings await the party with a combination of dread and hope. Nina, a surfer/supermodel and the eldest of the Riva family, has been in all of the tabloids after being left by her tennis pro husband and is in no mood to have half of Malibu in her home. Jay is putting all of his attention into making sure his love interest attends, if only to distract himself from news he’d rather not think about. Hud is dreading telling Jay a secret that could destroy their close relationship. And Kit is determined to solve the problem of her non-existent love life for good. If sibling drama is not enough, an abundance of drugs ensures the 1983 guests are the rowdiest bunch yet, and by morning, the entire mansion is in flames.

Taylor Jenkins Reid books are pretty much the definition of a beach read. Glamorous characters, glamorous situations, yet well written enough to deserve your time. And I believe Malibu Rising may be her best yet. It’s about how fame and money changed both a family and Malibu. The story spans from the fifties when Mick Riva met June, the mother of the siblings, in Malibu when it was just a simple fishing village that considered itself far from the glamour and money of Hollywood to the eighties when the Hollywood elite had long since descended upon Malibu.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Riva siblings less obnoxiously privileged than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, they are privileged and I initially took a strong dislike to everyone but the feisty Kit. But while the Rivas are quite rich and accomplished in 1983, they were abandoned by their famous father and had to make their own way. They did inherit a struggling restaurant after the death of their mother, which ensured their survival, even though they were too young to effectively run it. In reading about their upbringing, I loved all of the siblings, especially Nina who was the default mother of the family.

Disclosure: Purchased my own copy.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley (novel)

At age forty-three, Patrick is a retired sitcom actor who lives alone in Palm Springs. He has a Golden Globe and an Oscar Wilde quote for every occasion. What Patrick does not have is experience with children, and he is a stranger to his niece and nephew who simply know him as GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick). When Patrick’s sister-in-law and best friend, Sara, passes away, and his brother goes into rehab for a pill addiction that went unnoticed during Sara’s battle with cancer, Patrick finds himself temporary primary caregiver for nine-year-old Maisie and six-year-old Grant. Given that the kids don’t drink martinis, he’s not quite sure how to bond with them, and he definitely doesn’t know how to help them with their grief given that he has never recovered from losing his own partner years before. There are missteps and careless words aplenty, but Patrick finds he was made to be a guncle.

The Guncle is one of those books that seems like a fluffy beach read on first glance. And it is very much a beach read, but it isn’t overly fluffy. At risk of sounding odd, what this reminded me of was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Plot wise, they are very different books, but in tone, they are more similar than dissimilar. Both books are laugh out loud funny, and both contain isolated main characters who have very little filter in what they say. However, both books deal seriously with loss and trauma and are set apart by their excellent characterization and writing.

Disclosure: I purchased my own copy.