Substitute for Love

by Karin Kallmaker

Like most women in dead-end relationships, Holly Markham was used to finding substitutes for love. Like chocolate. Fun times with good friends. Throwing herself into her work as a mathematician. But throwing herself into the arms of a leather-clad stranger was never on her list. But even when she does exactly that, she’s stunned when the other woman tells her there can be no repeats, no contact, never again.

Reyna Putnam has lived by the rules of her politically ambitious father for years. Increasingly anguished by the work she does at his behest, trysts with women like Holly are all that keep her sane. She tries to banish the memory of Holly as she has so many other women because nothing has changed. She’s trapped in a cage not of her own making.

Holly has no intention of living in the shadows, and sets out to uncover the secrets of her own past hoping they will lead her back to the mysterious Reyna and some kind of future.

The first of Karin Kallmaker’s many Lambda Literary award finalists, Substitute for Love is a powerfully sensuous exploration of love in its many forms.

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In stock

Genre Romance
Length 258 pages
Publication Date January 1, 2001
Publisher Bella Books
ISBN 9781931513623e
Editor Christine Cassidy
Cover Designer Judy Fellows


  • Who knew that Ramsey numbers, statistical theory and advanced mathematics could be so...sexy!
  • Inspired in part by a very real Vice President with a very real lesbian daughter.
  • Check out the follow-up story in Frosting on the Cake 2: Second Helpings.
  • The first of Karin Kallmaker's eleven (and counting) shortlisted Lambda Literary works.
  • Read the appetizer! Click to open a PDF in a new window.


Lambda Literary Awards
Substitute for Love - Finalist, Best Lesbian Romance

The Lesbian Review
Kallmaker is a genius. I loved the angst, the drama and the passion… The story construction is fantastic. You get a really personal point of view from both characters. This takes a gifted storyteller, but never fear—Kallmaker is here.

Bay Area Reporter
Deborah Pffeifer:What would you do for someone you loved? It's easy to say you'd climb mountains and swim oceans, but when faced with a desperate choice, what would you do? That's the dilemma facing Reyna in Karin Kallmaker's newest, and I think, darkest novel... Kallmaker does a fine job exploring the anguish of Reyna's life, and the second plot, concerning a mathematician, is equally well-developed. Her major and minor characters are credible and spirited, a pleasure to meet and, sometimes, to hate. Substitute for Love may just be the best Kallmaker I've read in a long time, and given her extraordinary talent, that's saying something.

Womyn's Words
Reviewed by Deborah DiRusso: I've never been big on reading romance novels, which is why I'm so surprised to come to the revelation that I'm hooked on Karin Kallmaker's books... Substitute for Love is no exception. It doesn't seem likely for Holly, who is in a long-term straight relationship, to get involved with Reyna, who writes press releases and articles for a conservative, anti-gay Christian group, but it happens. As the story unfolds, Holly finds out some secrets about her past, while we find out the reason why Reyna has the job she has. This may be one of Karin Kallmaker's best and most engrossing books yet.

Book Marks
Richard LaBonte - syndicated: Prolific Naiad novelist Karin Kallmaker is something of a prodigy. She's barely into her 40s, she's published 15 books, and she doesn't depend on the formula of continuing characters... to lighten her creative workload... Her plots are textured, her characters are engaging, her sex scenes are intense, and her prose style is better than workmanlike—she's the lesbian hybrid of Joyce Carol Oates (if Oates wrote briefer, less bleak books) and Danielle Steele (if Steele wrote well). Substitute for Love continues Kallmaker's string of darn good reads... That Kallmaker renders the tortuous travails of Holly and Reyna quite plausible is one of her novel's many charms.

Lambda Book Report
Reviewed by Therese Szymanski- November, 2002: In Karin Kallmaker's Substitute for Love, the undisputed Mistress of Romance skillfully weaves a tale of longing, need, and desire, creating a story complete with mystery, good guys, bad guys, tender moments, humor, and raw sexuality. Kallmaker continues her tradition of painstaking research in her latest work. Unlike some romance writers, she again creates new backgrounds and occupations for her heroines, while interweaving this information with their characters, interactions, and the storyline itself.

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