The Joy of Neurodivergent Romance: Late Bloomer by Mazey Eddings

Late Bloomer cover

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If reading Here We Go Again by Alison Cochrun and Late Bloomer this year has taught me anything, it’s that I have a type in romance novels: two neurodivergent sapphics in love.

When Opal wins the lottery, she’s overwhelmed by everyone in her life who wants a cut. She impulsively buys a flower farm to get away, and as a place where she can pursue her art. When she arrives, though, she finds out that Pepper is already living there: her con artist mother sold Opal the place, and the property is now under questionable ownership. They decide to live together until they can sort the situation out, even if it means Pepper slowly buying Opal out.

What I loved about this story is that at one angle, Pepper and Opal are perfectly complementary—and at the other angle, they are contradictory opposites. Opal is a people pleaser, always eager to help others and get on their good side. Pepper is suspicious of others after being burned many times, including being manipulated by her mother. To her, Opal’s generosity looks like a trap. While they’re both neurodivergent (Pepper is autistic, Opal doesn’t have a definitive label), they have very different communication styles: Opal is bubbly and chatty, Pepper is more guarded and suspicious.

As you can imagine, they have difficulty living with each other, even as they can’t deny their chemistry. Their relationship often takes one step forward and two steps back. But what I liked about this dynamic was that their conflict all made total sense. They have a lot of miscommunication, but that’s because they have clashing communication styles. They are also both dealing with trauma that sometimes bumps up against each other’s in uncomfortable ways. And besides, they are trying to communicate. This isn’t a book where I was mentally yelling, “Just talk to them!”

While they have obstacles to overcome, I was rooting for this couple the whole time. They have good chemistry and obviously care about each other, so it’s worth getting over those hurdles. Also, this may be my favourite romance cover of all time. It’s gorgeous. It’s well worth the price just for that cover alone.

A Dream Introduction to Nia Nal: Bad Dream by Nicole Maines and Rye Hickman

Bad Dream cover

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On October 14, 2018, transgender actor and activist Nicole Maines made history by appearing as Nia Nal/Dreamer, the first transgender superhero on TV, in Supergirl. She has since gone on to pen Dreamer’s comic debut in the DC Pride #1 in 2021 and Dreamer’s mainline DC continuity debut in Superman: Son of Kal-El #13 in 2022. This year, Nicole and artist Rye Hickman teamed up to create the YA graphic novel Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story. This graphic novel provides a beautiful and moving origin story for Nia Nal that will resonate with queer readers of any age. 

Teen Nia Nal spends most of her free time alone reading and drawing superhero costumes. She’s always idolized her mom, a former powerful seer from the planet of Naltor who relocated to Earth to raise a family, and supported her sister, who has been training to inherit her mother’s powers. When a freak dodgeball accident awakens Nia’s precognition powers, Nia is shocked. Her sister, as the sole AFAB child, should be inheriting the powers. Worried about what her mother and sister will think, she runs away to Metropolis. It’s there that she meets Taylor Barzelay, another transgender superhero (main character of Galaxy: The Prettiest Star), her girlfriend, and an entire community of queer people and aliens. She begins to feel like she can find a home in this supportive community of people like her. However, events will soon force her home and into a confrontation that will force her to reckon with her new powers and the responsibilities they entail.

Nicole Maines and Rye Hickman do such a great job creating a story that reflects the very real painful and hopeful experiences that so many queer people go through. Through fantastic writing and evocative artwork, readers are made to feel Nia’s pain at being ostracized by the people in her hometown because she is transgender. We can feel the guilt she carries for, as she sees it, causing problems for her mother and her sister. These are things that so many queer people have gone through in their own lives. Queer readers will relate to all of these feelings so much and empathize with Nia, while cis and heterosexual readers will, hopefully, come away with a greater understanding of our experiences.  

At the same time, Nicole and Rye infuse so much hope into this book. Through putting Nia into contact with characters like Taylor, her girlfriend Katherine, and their friend Yvette, they show readers that there is always a community to find. They show that no matter how dark it may feel, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s also a beautiful message about the power of community. It tells readers that haven’t found their community yet to keep looking and those of us who have to keep fighting for it. 

Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story is an origin story worthy of this groundbreaking character. Nicole Maines’s writing, coupled with Rye Hickman’s gorgeous art, make this book another fantastic inclusion in DC’s line of graphic novels as well as the wider canon of queer young adult literature.

More Than a Statistic: Every Variable of Us by Charles A. Bush

the cover of Every Variable of Us

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Alexis Duncan is a Black teenage girl from Philadelphia whose incredible basketball skills are her one ticket to receiving a scholarship and getting out of her poverty-stricken neighbourhood. However, after getting injured during a shooting at a high school party and being told she will never play again, her dreams vanish. Aamani Chakrabarti, the new student in school, believes that Alexis has the potential to thrive even outside of an exclusively athletic environment, and pushes her to join her on the high school’s STEM team. Alexis agrees (reluctantly) and eventually starts to learn that she has a passion outside of basketball—astronomy. But with the chaos in her personal life constantly making her second-guess if she can actually strive for a better future for herself, and her feelings for Aamani becoming ever more confusing, Alexis must fight to not let her doubts get in her own way.

I read this book back in December of 2021 and still, two and a half years later, I remember so many details of the emotional trainwreck it put me through. I made the unwise decision of reading it on a plane, and not only did I finish it within one sitting, but I also had to find a way to sob silently next to sleeping strangers for the entire second half of the story. There is something about the way that Bush wrote these characters that made me so deeply attached to them right from the beginning. I was incredibly invested in the storyline, the characters’ relationship, and especially Alexis’s character development. I really appreciate Bush writing a main character that you can root for, while still making her realistic and flawed. Alexis is a product of her environment and has opinions about other people and the world that can be ignorant, bigoted, and uninformed—opinions that happen to also impact her own identity and self-worth. Those opinions are challenged by the text, specifically through Aamani’s character, in a way that is both subtle and poignant. I think authors sometimes struggle to write effective redemption arcs for their characters, which made it that much more satisfying to watch Alexis’ redemption unfold in a carefully crafted way.

The other great thing about this book is that it absolutely is made for its target audience. Bush wrote it for a young adult reader, and you can tell that he made sure that the characters, their struggles, their anxieties, their fears, and their friendships would feel relatable to that audience, without underestimating what they could handle in a story or what they would want to read about. I think it shows just how much respect Bush has for his young readers to know that they would be able to not just handle heavy themes such as internalized misogyny and homophobia, racism, poverty, violence, and drug abuse, but concretely understand, relate to, and analyse these themes. I love when authors give their young audience the benefit of the doubt and don’t try to over simplify or sugarcoat serious storylines. It allows teenage readers to access literature that is more than just informative, but also liberating and self-reflecting.

I’ve recommended this book a lot over the years, in many different circumstances. To readers looking for: underrated novels; heart-breaking storylines; books that accurately center characters of colour; sapphic books that aren’t romance novels but are nonetheless romantic; books that heal the part of you that struggled to accept your queerness when you were younger; stories that discuss the intersection of race and queerness; novels that make you cry sad tears; novels that make you cry happy tears; books that will put you in a reading slump; books that will get you out of a reading slump. There are dozens of reasons to pick up this book and exactly zero reasons not to. It remains, to this day, one of my most memorable reading experiences and one of my favourite go-to recommendations.

Representation: Black bisexual disabled main character, Indian-American lesbian love interest

Content warnings: gun violence, gore, drug abuse, homophobia, islamophobia, biphobia, death, abuse, racism, transphobia

A Lush Bisexual Vampire Gothic: Thirst by Marina Yuszczuk

the cover of 
Thirst by Marina Yuszczuk

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Thirst by Marina Yuszczuk, originally published in 2020 and translated this year by Heather Cleary, is a dramatic and lushly gothic novel about two women who a string of circumstances going back over a century bring together in modern day Buenos Aires. Yuszczuk revels in sensual, physical details as she describes how a vampire from Europe emigrates to Buenos Aires when she realizes she can no longer remain undetected in Europe. Decades later, a modern woman struggling with the realities of her mother’s terminal illness and the ongoing effects of grief inherits a key and sets off a collision of destinies. Thirst is a fairly short read (or compact audiobook in my case), and I had a great time because Thirst is a vampire book that revels in being a vampire book. There’s blood and violence and obsession, and at one point a priest is defiled purely out of spite. It’s a sensuous romp, and perfect for heating up an already hot summer.

Thirst, as the title states, is concerned with thirst, both the physical and sexual.  The vampire narrator is constantly concerned with her physical thirst for blood and with avoiding vampire hunters that are trying to stop her from satisfying that thirst. It’s interesting to me that she both acknowledges that it’s natural for humans to want to stop her from feeding on them and also asserts that she did not ask to be made into a vampire and that it’s natural for her to want to sustain herself, acknowledging the eternal competition between the two. There’s also tension as she is first forced to flee vampire hunters in Europe and then contend with the developing world of forensic science linking her to her victims. Thirst asks, how do you satisfy your thirst in a world increasingly capable of stopping you? 

At the same time, the vampire narrator is also concerned with her more metaphorical thirst.  Living outside of society, and thus societal strictures, she revels in her sexuality, taking what she wants whenever she has the whim. While several of her early encounters are with men—who see her as a helpless lone woman they are taking advantage of even as she uses them—she does not shy away from her physical attraction towards women. Even before she meets the modern narrator, she enjoys an interlude with a washer woman who shows her where she can wash her clothes in private. As they undressed together, I enjoyed that the vampire’s physical appreciation of Justine was untainted with any internal hesitation or regrets—as someone who fed intimately on people’s final moments, the vampire felt free to enjoy any physical pleasure she wanted without bias.

The modern narrator she eventually meets up with, on the other hand, is wracked with grief, indecision, and the expectations of others. Her mother is in the final stages of a horrible, untreatable terminal illness that slowly leaves her more and more paralyzed. As her mother disappears bit by bit under medical paraphernalia and pain, she has to grapple with her day to day life and her young son on top of grief and emotionally-draining caregiving. And as she watches her mother’s choices disappear to be made for her by others, the intensity with which the vampire exists attracts her, even as she is startled and alarmed by the violence. Their immediate attraction to each other is electric and visceral—almost feral. Although most of the book was concerned with their individual journeys, I found the chemistry of their meeting compelling, and the ending satisfying. 

In conclusion, Thirst is a lush gothic vampire novel that takes lingers on the physical realities of being a vampire, the clash between the vitality of life as an individual and the grind of the realities of existence, and the sensuality that is there for the taking if one dares. Yuszczuk keys into a rich gothic and vampiric tradition without overly lingering on logistics or greater vampire lore. This is a book about the journey and the moment. If you love vampires, Latin American gothic, or just some hot summer defiling of norms, Thirst would be a perfect add to your to-read list. It’s a quick but hot read and a great time. 

A Celebration of Sapphic Love & Loss: Something, Not Nothing by Sarah Leavitt

Something, Not Nothing by Sarah Leavitt cover

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Something, Not Nothing (September 24, 2024) is a stunning graphic memoir by cartoonist and educator Sarah Leavitt (she/her). In April 2020, Leavitt’s partner of twenty-two years, Donimo, died with medical assistance after years battling chronic pain. After Donimo’s death, Leavitt turned her immense grief and loss into incredible art.

Through impressionistic imagery and poetic prose, Leavitt takes readers through her deeply personal and painful experience of Donimo’s suffering and death. In bleak black and white panels, she explains how Donimo came to make the “terrible and courageous decision” to end her life. As I read, I could feel Leavitt wrangling with the reality of Donimo’s “grievous and irremediable medical condition”—Canada’s criteria for someone to be eligible for medical assistance in dying. I could see her struggling to witness the love of her life in pain, but also terrified to let her go. My heart ached as I imagined her standing alongside the rushing river where Donimo took her last breaths and wondering how she could possibly go on.

But Leavitt’s story did not end there. 

Something, Not Nothing traverses the unpredictable terrain of Leavitt’s profound grief after Donimo’s death, but also her tremendous resilience. Leavitt’s transformative journey is palpable, brought to life by her brilliant use of color and vignettes, which give readers a glimpse into her and Donimo’s beautiful relationship. Her memoir demonstrates that grief is non-linear. In one frame, she is reminiscing about the night she and Donimo first met. In the next, she is angry at Donimo for letting her fall in love with her and then leaving her.  It is raw and devastating, heart-wrenching and hopeful, all at the same time.

This memoir is a treasure worth your time and your tears.  I am no art aficionada, but Leavitt’s work made me feel something. I was blown away by her generosity of spirit in sharing the tenderest parts of her life and her love with the world. Something, Not Nothing is truly a gift.

Leavitt lives in Vancouver, BC. She is an assistant professor in the School of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she has developed and taught undergraduate and graduate comics classes since 2012. While you wait for Something, Not Nothing to come out this fall, check out her other graphic memoir Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me. You can also find Leavitt on Instagram at @sarah_leav.

Trigger warnings for chronic pain, medically assisted death, loss of a loved one, and grief.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey.  She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

A Witchy Parent Trap: Emma and the Love Spell by Meredith Ireland

Emma and the Love Spell cover

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Emma has plans for the perfect summer, and they all involve her best friend (and crush!) Avangeline by her side. However, Avangeline reveals that her parents are getting a divorce, and her mom plans to take her with her to New Orleans! Emma decides that she will do whatever it takes to keep Avangeline here with her in Samsonville—even if it means using her secret witchy powers that she doesn’t have control over. As Emma works on honing her craft and tries to get Avangeline’s parents together through both magical and non-magical means, she learns that being different may be the most powerful thing of all.

I adored reading Emma and the Love Spell. For a deceptively simple premise, it packs a powerful punch. Emma is not only dealing with typical middle-school trials, like her best friend having to move away, but also layers that with feelings of isolation due to being the only non-white person in Samsonville and also a witch. She struggles with having to hide so many parts of herself and it is heartbreaking to read her sadness and anger at having to do so. The ending (spoiler alert) makes it all the sweeter when Emma is able to not only gain control over her powers, but also can share them with Avangeline. 

Even with these serious subthemes, Emma and the Love Spell is kept light and easy most of the time. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing as I read about Emma’s attempts to “parent trap” Avangeline’s parents, or her many opinions on Shrek Forever After. (Siri, remind me to rewatch it later.) Emma’s friendship with Avangeline is sweet and true, making the reader reminiscent of when they were a young person, excited to spend summer with their best friend. Add to that the sarcastic Persimmon the telepathic cat and the wise Oliver the talking parrot, and you have a hilarious crew ready for any supernatural hijinks!

Readlikes for Emma and the Love Spell include Summer at Squee by Andrea Wang, When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, and Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega.

If you enjoy retellings of The Parent Trap, Eva Ibbotson, and emotional climaxes, you can order your copy of Emma and the Love Spell through Bookshop, your local indie bookstore, or your library.

Healing Through Fake Dating: Cover Story by Rachel Lacey

Cover Story by Rachel Lacey cover

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Natalie Keane is one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies. Unfortunately, with fame comes unwanted attention, sometimes in the form of crazed fans turned stalkers. With award season approaching as the man who held her hostage gets released from prison, Natalie agrees to extra security. To avoid another tabloid spectacle, her bodyguard, Taylor Vaughn, poses as her in-house girlfriend. Is it the perfect cover story, or will fantasy and reality blur as these two women grow closer?

After reading Rachel Lacey’s Stars Collide last year, I was all too eager for another sapphic celebrity/forced proximity story. This one even features a character from Stars Collide (plus a few fun cameos): Taylor, who was previously Eden Sands’ security detail. The story is layered, focused on healing from past trauma instead of the trauma as it happens. With most stories, we neglect that process, going from a dire situation to a rescue to a happily ever after epilogue. Lacey invites us to recognize how trauma can have a ripple effect on our lives, and how healing is an ongoing process. Natalie learns how to build a safe space for herself, even knowing that nothing in this world, including her own safety, is guaranteed.

To be completely honest, the chemistry felt rushed and forced for me. There’s a flare of initial attraction between the two women when they first meet, not when Taylor interviews to become Natalie’s bodyguard, but even before that, as a memory. We don’t feel and experience that moment live, which fails to give readers the chance to experience what the characters felt as it happened. Most of the conflicts don’t feel dire, which creates a lack of tension. Since the story is focused on healing after a trauma, it’s more reliant on internal conflicts for momentum. We get a lot more show than tell (internalizing than action) as a result. Also… there’s an adorable little kitten in the story, and while she becomes a way for the main characters to bond in a cute found family moment, she’s all too quickly forgotten once the main characters start sleeping together.  

Recommended for fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Anita Kelly’s sapphic romances.

The Vibes 

⭐ Sapphic Romance
⭐ Hollywood Romance
⭐ Actress/Bodyguard
⭐ Fake Dating
⭐ Forced Proximity
⭐ PTSD/Healing From Trauma

Quotes

“I’m less afraid when I’m with you.”

“Everything felt better, brighter, less overwhelming or terrifying, when Taylor held her.”

“Our cover story became a real-life headline.”

“She brought Natalie here to show her the stars, but instead, Natalie had made her see stars in a completely different way.”

Falling in Love at the Food Packing Convention: Lavash at First Sight by Taleen Voskuni

Lavash at First Sight cover

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I enjoyed Sorry, Bro, Taleen Voskuni’s first novel: the main character breaks up with a non-Armenian tech bro, falls in love with an Armenian woman, and struggles with her identity as a bisexual woman. What’s not to like? I also appreciated the opportunity to learn about Armenian culture and the Bay Area Armenian diaspora.

Unfortunately, Lavash at First Sight is not as good as Sorry, Bro for one simple reason: it is too short. I am actually not bothered by the fact that the plot follows the same sequence described in the previous paragraph. What I don’t think works is that the novel reads like an extended Before Sunrise/Roman Holiday situation in which the girl has to leave home to find love on vacation. 

Of course, it isn’t really a vacation–Nazeli works for a Bay Area tech company, after all. (Yes, using PTO, but still having to do work is gross, and no one should do it.) The bulk of the novel takes place at PakCon, a food packaging convention for vendors and distributors. If that doesn’t sound very Jesse and Celine, that’s because it isn’t. In between scenes at PakCon, which features an old family rivalry (yes, there’s also some Montague and Capulet action in Lavash), Nazeli and Vanya tour some of Chicago’s sights while they get to know each other. To review, there are the plot beats of Sorry, Bro, PakCon and the reality-esque competition that occurs there, family rivalry, and a Roman Chicago holiday. As I said, Lavash at First Sight needs to be longer in order to support everything Voskuni wants to include.

Two quick asides:

1) If you like your novels on the shorter side, I understand; however, you’re not often going to see me suggest than an author cut/edit. Just write more stuff for me to read!

2) It is actually kind of a Roman holiday because there is a scene set in a Roman bath. No, really, there is.

Perhaps the bigger problem is that Before Sunrise and Roman Holiday don’t have HEAs. (They don’t, and I will not be taking questions.) The plot structure of those films won’t work in a romance novel if the expectation is an HEA. It seems like Voskuni knows this and inserts the family rivalry and the competition at the food convention to give the story a place to go, but those elements belie the breeziness of Nazeli and Vanya’s budding relationship. And while we’re on the subject of too much going in too little of a page count, here seems like a good point to bring up the fact that Lavash at First Sight is a fade to black romance. 

To me, none of these elements go together. Again, I think more time was needed to knit everything together in the most successful way. I liked the story, and I would have liked it better if it had time to breathe.

One thing that I really appreciated about Lavash, however, is the way that Voskuni deals with cell phones. There are text message conversations in almost every book that I’ve read this year, so my reaction to what Voskuni does definitely merits notice. Okay, now I know how this is going to sound, but hear me out: I miss long phone calls. I’m talking about the phone calls that go on for so long that you actually run out of things to say and someone falls asleep. It’s not like cell phones and texting replaced those—if anything, emails and instant messaging did. Plus, you can still call someone on a cell phone, and you don’t even have to worry about phone cords anymore.

What I’m trying to say is that I learned what “dry texting” was a couple of months ago. I mean, I already knew what it was; I just didn’t know that there was a name for it. This will come as a surprise to no one, but I don’t usually write short texts. If I send a short text, I can guarantee that something has been edited out (probably either an aside that begins with the word “also” or has parentheses around it). And, sure, in terms of texting, some people can do a lot with a little. Within the first few chapters of Lavash, we’ve seen multiple exchanges between Nazeli and the tech bro. Not a spoiler alert: he’s not one of those people. Nazeli’s first text to Vanya, on the other hand: quality flirt. 

The cell phone thing is a relatively small detail, but that small detail drew me in. In a genre that is well-known for its conventions and tropes, the small details are often what make us remember a novel or an author. If it isn’t completely clear by now, I wanted more from Lavash at First Sight. That said, I still recommend it, and I will happily read whatever Voskuni writes next.

Liv (she/her) is a trans woman, a professor of English, and a reluctant Southerner. Described (charitably) as passionate and strong-willed, she loves to talk (and talk) about popular culture, queer theory, utopias, time travel, and any other topic that she has magpied over the years. You can find her on storygraph and letterboxd @livvalentine.

A Sweet and Steamy Polyamorous Romance: Triple Sec by T.J. Alexander

Triple Sec cover

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Before this book had even come out (happy release day, Triple Sec!), I’d already been recommending it nonstop on Our Queerest Shelves. Ever since I finished it, I haven’t been able to stop talking about. It’s definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far, and in my top five favourite romance novels I’ve ever read.

This is about Mel, who is a bartender who’s jaded about love ever since her divorce. But then Bebe walks into the bar, and they have undeniable chemistry. Bebe is interested in dating Mel — she’s also married and polyamorous. Mel has never tried an open relationship, but it seems like a good way to tiptoe back into dating. This will be totally light and casual, right? They mutually agree: no falling in love. And Bebe’s nonbinary wife Kade is so intimidating that Mel can’t imagine actually being a part of their lives. But obviously, feelings don’t obey even the most clearly written out agreements.

I’ve long thought that reality TV shows are missing out by not casting all bisexuals. (Other than that season of Are You the One?) Think of the drama potential! The opportunity for different pairings increases exponentially. Since reading Triple Sec, I feel the same way about romance novels and polyamorous main characters. You can have two falling-in-love scenes in the same romance! Twice the first kisses! Two — or more — completely different relationship (and sexual) dynamics! I feel like I’ve been spoiled and will have trouble going back to two-person romances.

I know romance novels are so specific to each reader, but I loved the relationship dynamics and especially the dialogue. When Mel shows Bebe her tattoo of Pompeii and Bebe replies, “I love a good disaster myself” — look, I also would have fallen in love right then and there. I also liked the friendship between Mel and her roommate, who both agree to follow the good word of Saint Channing Tatum.

It’s also very steamy. I’m not going to get into it, but wow.

I enjoyed the ongoing rewriting of Bebe and Mel’s relationship agreement as they renegotiate things like pet names, catching feelings, and the dynamics between Kade, Mel, and Bebe.

While the central plot is the relationships between Mel, Bebe, and Kade, there’s also a subplot about a cocktail competition. I don’t drink, but I still found it fascinating to read about Mel’s different creations and how she keeps reworking her creations leading up the competition. Winning would mean she could buy her own bar, a dream of hers.

I also liked reading about Mel’s job: Terror & Virtue is a high-end cocktail lounge, and Mel is very skilled and passionate about her work — but it’s also customer service. It means dealing with drunk, rude customers and worrying about your next paycheck. In fact, the only criticism I had with Triple Sec is that I feel like the class difference between Mel and Bebe/Kade wasn’t really explored, other than Mel admiring their apartment and feeling a little out of place. Bebe and Kade are wealthy — Kade is a successful artist and Bebe is a lawyer defending workers’ rights.

That’s a very small complaint, though, especially since the ending didn’t go where I thought it would. If you want a fun, queer, polyamorous romance with lots of kind people learning how to best support each other, I highly recommend Triple Sec.

A Twisty Sapphic Spiritualist Con: Spitting Gold by Carmella Lowkins

Spitting Gold cover

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Carmella Lowkins’s new historical novel, Spitting Gold (Atria Books 2024), is a fabulously atmospheric story with a twisting plot that keeps you guessing until the very end!

Spitting Gold is set in nineteenth-century Paris. Baroness Sylvie Devereux has worked tirelessly for years to distance herself from her old life, embarking on a career of respectability with her devoted husband. However, when her estranged sister, Charlotte Mothe, appears on her doorstep with a compelling proposal, Sylvie is drawn back into a world she thought she’d left behind. The two women enjoyed a career as popular spirit mediums—all their visitations an elaborate ruse to trick wealthy patrons—before Sylvie disowned her family. But with their father sick and Charlotte’s debts climbing, Sylvie agrees to help her sister perform one final con on the de Jacquinot family, aristocrats who are convinced their great aunt who was murdered during the French Revolution is haunting the family and the house. 

As the sisters begin to orchestrate their old tricks to encourage the family to part with their fortune, strange and inexplicable events begin to occur, drawing the sisters into a haunting they begin to fear could be very real. As secrets between the sisters and the de Jacquinot’s come to light, Sylvie learns that she may not be able to outrun her past. 

As a neo-Victorian mystery novel with a sapphic subplot, Spitting Gold is a smashing good time. Lowkins draws on the history of nineteenth-century table turning and the obsession with the female spirit medium—who indeed became a kind of celebrity in this period—to stage her suspenseful plot. Add to this a dash of lesbian romance and this novel is perfect for readers of Sarah Waters and Emma Donoghue. 

I was really impressed with Spitting Gold. It has a thoroughly engaging plot and the writing really draws you into the story. It’s structured so that the reader has little idea what to believe as Sylvie and her sister try to con—and then cope with—the de Jacquinot family and the strange happenings at their home. Lowkins starts us off with one kind of novel with Sylvie at the center, and then abruptly turns everything on its head with so many delightful twists. I had no idea where this novel was heading and I was thoroughly surprised by the ending!

I had such a great time reading Spitting Gold. It is the perfect summer read and great for fans of queer historical fiction and lovers of atmospheric literary novels. 

Please add Spitting Gold to your TBR on Goodreads and follow Carmella Lowkins on Instagram.

Rachel Friars is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. Her current research centers on neo-Victorianism and lesbian literature and history. Her work has been published with journals such as Studies in the Novel, The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, Queer Studies in Media and Popular Culture, and The Palgrave Handbook of neo-Victorianism.

You can find Rachel on X @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.