The Love Factor by Quinn IvinsThe Love Factor by Quinn Ivins is a smart and sexy debut novel that highlights one decade’s crossroads that were important to the fight for LGBTQ rights.

Welcome back to the 90’s, where everything’s shoulder pads, Doc Martens, The X-Files, and Ellen DeGeneres has just come out on her hit television sitcom. It should be a time of change and acceptance, but people won’t budge on gay rights. In the middle of all this is Molly Cook, a PhD student in the Political Department at the University of Maryland. She wanted to save the world, but with dismal career prospects, she has given up on being a political activist and decided to enter the field of academia. For two years, Molly has kept her head down and trudged through the curriculum with waning interest. When campus politics start coming into play, not to mention the distraction of her strict and sexy statistics professor, Molly starts to view an alternative future where she can be and have everything she wants.

Professor Carmen Vaughn is stuck in small-town Maryland with smarmy blowhards for colleagues and ungrateful students who can’t handle her high standards. She is also living in the closet and has no intention of coming out any time soon. When she’s accidentally caught kissing another woman by her student, Molly, she is horrified that she will be outed. She is surprised, however, when Molly doesn’t reveal her secret. It changes her view of Molly, from a troublemaking grad student to a reliable confident, and maybe something more.

When Molly discovers evidence implicating a homophobic colleague in a scandal, Carmen can’t ignore its implications. Now they must work together to build a case. All they want to do is bring the truth to light, but they might end up shining a light on their own feelings in the process.

In a department where secrets are killer and careers are made on proof and fact, can Molly and Carmen bring forth the truth without destroying any possible future between them?

The Characters

What I truly love about Carmen and Molly is they are the embodiment of the intersection of two different generations. They illustrate this through their handling of their personal lives, their professional lives and each other.

When we meet Carmen, she is a renowned and respected professor at the University of Maryland in the Political Science department. She also has a reputation for being cold and unfeeling. While she does expect the best from all of her students, she is far from unfeeling. Carmen actually feels very deeply, especially when she discovers research has been misinterpreted and misrepresented. Her cold attitude stems from the fact that she is a lesbian, and she has had to hide it all of her life. This is just one aspect of who Carmen is, but it effects all areas of her life. She’s single, cautious, and does her best not to draw any attention to herself for fear of being suspected of being something other than a brilliant professor. She has done her best to convince herself she is happy and willing to sacrifice romance for a prominent career without scandal. But as times start changing, so have the views of her students, and one student in particular is going to show her that she can live, love, and have it all without shame for being who she truly is.

Molly represents the optimism and the ideals of the generation that stands up and said “enough.” Unlike Carmen she is not afraid to show her true self. She is courageous, confident, compassionate and is willing to defend those who cannot defend themselves, no matter the cost to her own career. She’s the kind of woman Carmen wishes she could be, yet she’s also the one that will show Carmen that being happy doesn’t always require a big declaration. It can start with a spark and grow into something worth cherishing and nurturing to last for the rest of their lives.

The Writing Style

Ivins truly captured what the 90’s meant for LGBTQ people through these two women. It is already illustrated well by coinciding with the famous Puppy Episode on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Here Ivins shows us just how much of an impact that had on society and how the episode propelled people to take action, whether for or against. It is enlightening to someone like me who grew up in that time but wasn’t fully aware of what all of this meant. We truly were on the brink of change, something greater than ourselves, and I’m glad I get to witness it through Molly and Carmen.

The Pros

I really liked how Ivins was able to interweave the romantic aspect of Carmen and Molly’s relationship with their professional relationship. In an academic environment, especially one that was as stuffy as this one Ivins created. She definitely did not have to force the chemistry between these two women. It’s palpable right from the first introduction. As they start knowing each other, helping each other, and finding a mutual respect for each other’s work, they’re able to finally see what was right in front of them the entire time. It truly highlights one of my favorite phrases: smart is sexy.

The Cons

I will admit I did get a little confused with some of the academic speak about statistics and politics, especially at the beginning, but it didn’t bother me because it was authentic to Molly and Carmen and their expertise in that field of study. Ivins does do well to have the course content simplified as we delve further into the story, which is very helpful later on when they stumble upon the scandal.

The Conclusion

This was a fun and smart book to read. Ivins does a great job of giving us intelligent, sexy women in the crossroads of one of the most important decades in LGBTQ’s history. Carmen and Molly are great for taking us through the struggles, the fears, and the courage that they must endure to make sure justice is served and that future generations have a safe environment to learn, to live, and to speak out about who they are without ridicule or shame. I love revisiting this time through more mature eyes, and I hope readers find the same joy and intrigue I did when they pick it up.

Excerpt from The Love Factor by Quinn Ivins

“All right. Introductions. Tell me your name and your prospective dissertation topic.” She pointed to Molly. “Let’s start with you.”

Molly looked up in surprise. There were students on either side of her. Was Carmen singling her out because of her remark? Highly probable. But how was she supposed to come up with an intelligent-sounding dissertation topic on the spot? The program director had personally assured them that there was no rush to commit a topic. But now, with Carmen’s eyes boring into her, Molly felt as if she was about to flunk her first test.

“Hi, um…I’m Molly Cook. I study American politics. I’m still deciding on my exact dissertation topic, but it will probably have something to do with activism and policy outcomes – like, what really makes a difference against powerful corporations. You know, saving the world or something.” She attempted a smile.

Carmen narrowed her piercing brown eyes. “If you intend to save the world, you are absolutely in the wrong place. You are training to be an academic researcher and a professor of political science. I hope that was made clear to you when you applied.”

“Yes, of course,” Molly said in a rush. “I know I’m not here to be an activist. I meant, uh, the academic study of how other people are saving the world.”

Carmen pursed her lips but then, mercifully, made eye contact with Tina.

“Hi, I’m Tina Dias. I study international political economy from a feminist perspective…”

As Tina spoke, Molly replayed the interaction in her mind. Way to go. She had wanted so badly to make a good impression. Instead, she had established herself as a foul-mouthed, indecisive hippie.

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