Megan Casey Reviews All the Muscle You Need by Diana McRae

allthemuscleyouneed

This, the only novel featuring Eliza Pirex, is surprisingly good. And for a surprising number of reasons. The writing is good, the mystery engaging, and the characters interesting. But that’s just for starters. The best part may be that it is the most realistic description of being a private investigator that I can remember. Eliza, who speaks to us in the first person present, tells us about the criteria for becoming a PI in California, explains how her office is run, and lets us in on not only the primary case, but all her other cases as well. It is, in fact, a book about being a private eye. And at around 130,000 words, it has the length to tell several stories at once and to do it well. Published in 1988, it is a part of the first wave of lesbian mysteries.

On the surface, the book is about one woman’s search for her college chum, who mysteriously disappeared six years before the book begins. But someone, it seems, doesn’t want Eliza to find her. Eliza’s other cases are just as interesting: moonlighting with a cleaning service at a local college to find the person who has been molesting women students, and investigating the acquaintances of another client, all of whom seem to take advantage of the gullible woman.

Eliza’s love life, too, is interesting and fairly unique. She lives with a woman named Honor Sutton, who is a commercial designer, and Honor’s two children, ages 7 and 12 from her previous marriage. Honor is cut from nifty cloth, not from the cardboard that seems to be the makeup of many of the love interests we read about. Her relationship with her odd family and her general daffiness give life to the book and even give reason not to dislike the odd book title, which is a phrase from Honor’s promo campaign for Eliza’s business.

Eliza is one of the only lesbian detectives I have read about to live with kids (Cherry Hartman’s Morgan McRain and Tonya Muir’s Lacey Montgomery are two others). Claire McNab’s Carol Ashton has a young son who visits her, but who lives with his dad. Eliza seems like a real mother to her adopted ones. Her feelings for them are sensitive and believable (while Ashton’s are often unrealistically gushy or mechanical rather than spontaneous) and her kids make up an important part of the interest of the book (while, again, Ashton’s son just seems to be there taking up space.)
Eliza, however, can’t seem to keep her hands off an old girlfriend, and when Honor finds out, there is hell to pay. As Eliza tells us,

“Women tend to be more monogamous than men. So in a relationship between two women, the odds that it is monogamous are good. I don’t know why I stray against the odds every so once in a while. Probably because I’m a detective and we detectives have a yen for romance and adventure . . . ”

Like most books, All the Muscle You Need has a few problems; one or two of the plot devices seem a little too hard to believe and Eliza Pirex is probably the worst-named character in lesbian fiction. On the whole, though, it works. A goodly number of stars for a early lesbian mystery that few people—even aficionados—have ever heard of.

For other reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at https://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

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Link Round Up: May 11 – 17

deliverusfromevie   thegentrificationofthemind   holding-still   lovecake   wantinginarabic

Autostraddle posted

Gay YA posted How To Make Your Library a Safe Place for Queer Teens and M.E. Kerr and Deliver Us from Evie.

GLBT Reviews posted Lesbian Paranormal Romance recommendations.

PetticoatsPromises   ifthisbesin   the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final   tokyolove   sacredfire

Okazu posted Event Report : Queers and Comics Conference.

Women and Words posted Publisher’s Corner with Bella Books!

“Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit: GLBTQ YA and Issues of Faith” was posted at Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Petticoats and Promises by Penelope Friday was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Citrus, Volume 2 by Saburouta was reviewed at Okazu.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even  more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitterWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

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Danika reviews Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey

LostBoiI don’t even know where to start in describing how much I loved this. I am tempted to just tell you “This is a queer punk retelling of Peter Pan.” If that intrigues you (as it did me), don’t hesitate. It will be all you dreamed of and more. And if that doesn’t interest you–if a D/s leather queer homeless youth interpretation of Peter Pan complete with sex worker mermaids, pigeon fairies, and Leather pirates doesn’t sell you on it–then it probably won’t be your cup of tea. But because I have a lot of feelings about this book, I’ll elaborate anyways.

Just from first impression, Lost Boi is a beautiful book. With the black cover, gold framing, and deckle edges, it looks reminiscent of a bible. I also was immediately struck by the perspective of the novel: it’s told by one of the lost bois, Tootles. The whole time I was reading, I was considering whose story this is. Is it Wendi’s? Pan’s? Tootles? I think you could argue for any of those convincingly, but having it from a lost boi’s perspective gives a lot more weight and consideration to their circumstances, to their real experience of living out Pan’s vision of Neverland.

Sadly, I haven’t read the original Peter Pan (but now I want to just to re-read Lost Boi and get even more out of it). But even without an intimate understanding of the original text, it’s obvious how much has been incorporated into this interpretation. Every adaption feels completely natural, even one-off lines like “second streetlight on the right and straight on till Morning street!” work equally well as references and as in their own context.

What made fall in love with Lost Boi was how much it caught me off balance. I loved the variety of pronouns and identities, and how Lowrey doesn’t explain everyone’s gender identity to the reader. It’s incredibly queer, and though I would like to think that I don’t assume people’s gender identities or expressions, I would find myself surprised when descriptions of bodies or clothes didn’t match up with what I imagined. “Huh, so that character wears a sports bra!” “Oh, so one of the bois uses she/her pronouns.”

Beyond the gender and sexuality aspect, there’s also the whole question of the D/s dynamic between Pan and the bois. Pan is significantly older than the other bois, maybe close to twice some of their ages, and consent and safety are not top of his priority list. At times I was uncomfortable with Pan and wondering whether he was a positive character–and then I realized that this is an interpretation of Peter Pan! He’s not supposed to be a perfect person, or even someone you always like. That’s part of the refusal to grow up: his refusal to consider the consequences, or to necessarily take responsibility. Pan/Peter Pan have magic to them, and wonder, and definitely an attraction, but they’re also dangerous and reckless. He’s supposed to be a character that the reader has a complicated relationship, I think, and that makes perfect sense considering the complicated relationships he has with everyone else.

It also made me think about the association of queer identity with youth–how little representation there is for being a queer grown up. And the further you are along the scale of GLBT+, the fewer representations you’ll have of being an adult, or god forbid being elderly. That makes it difficult to know how to be queer and an adult at the same, suggesting that you have to choose one. And of the course the term “boi” itself, a gender identity, is dependent on that association with youth. I loved Sassafras Lowrey’s look at the difficulties of this, and hir acknowledgement that there are things you lose growing up, magic you lose. But ze still offers a glimpse of alternative kinds of adulthood, that you don’t have to lose your identity to become an adult.

The first book I read by Sassafras Lowrey was the collection ze edited about and by queer homeless youth, Kicked Out. That is also an excellent book, but it’s interesting to read Lost Boi with that in mind, because although the Pan and the lost bois’ story is told through the interpretation of Peter Pan, it doesn’t use their homelessness as just a prop in the story, an interesting setting for Neverland. Lowrey cared about the kids who have to live this, and that really shines through when we get glimpses of the lost bois’ lives before Neverland and why exactly they “fell out of the pram”.

This was one of my favourite books I read this year, only the second 5 star rating I’ve given since January (The Color Purple was the first). I highly, highly recommend this one, though do be warned that this has a lot of D/s and the “battles”/scenes can be pretty brutal. In conclusion: “Queer punk Peter Pan reimagining.” Go read it.

 

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Danika reviews Where the Words End and My Body Begins by Amber Dawn

WhereWordsEnd

 

Where the Words End and My Body Begins is a collection of glosa poems, which means, in part, that each poem incorporates four sequential lines from another poem. What makes this collection especially interesting is Amber Dawn’s selections: each poet glossed “find[s] themselves somewhere along the queer, gender-creative, feminism and/or survivor spectrum.” Although each poet has a different style, which helps shape the glosa created from it, there are some themes that weave the pieces together, including mental illness, sex work, and above all, survivorship.

It’s fascinating to see the different ways that Amber Dawn works with the original poems and creates something new out of them. Some seem to be organic expansions on the original, like she found more words hidden between the lines. Others reinterpret each line and put them in a completely different context. Probably because these are glosas, her writing style varies dramatically throughout the collection. Some worked a lot better for me as a reader–I tend to prefer more grounded, prose-y poetry.

This was an interesting collection that really explores different styles and voices. I think most people will find some poems that speak to them in here, though they may not all hit their mark, depending on the reader. I had to read out the lines “[Sadness] is always here / like a lake forever fed by a cold creek. / Damn right a nature metaphor! / Want more?” to my roommate, because I was cracking up at that interjection.

I never quite know how to review poetry without just quoting it and letting you see for yourself if it’s your style, so here’s part of one of the poems that stuck with me:

I’d sooner howl at a wounded moon, yes, I might
swoon at a questionable light
but at least I still swoon–my scabby kneecaps
may always weep pink, I’m so often floored.
I’ll never be a two-feet-on-the-ground girl.

. . .

Never confuse hold fast with hold still.
There’s so much yet to do. Swoon. I say swoon forever! Apathy
is the world’s worst lover

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Rachel reviews The Year They Burned the Books by Nancy Garden

theyeartheyburnedthebooks

Nancy Garden, author of the classic Annie on my Mind, wrote another poignant novel about lesbians. This time, she touched on controversy about homosexuality, censorship, and free speech. The Year They Burned The Books is that novel.

Published in 1999, this story still rings true today about how far censorship and prejudice can go. The story revolves around Jamie Crawford, a senior at Wilson High School, who is editor of the school paper, the Telegraph. She is coming out to herself as a lesbian. In her school, a new policy comes out, allowing condoms to be distributed in the nurse’s office. When Jamie writes an editorial supporting it, she is met with opposition, especially from Lisa Buel, a woman running for a position on the school board. Lisa wants to rewrite the entire school curriculum, including removing books on homosexuality, discussing abstinence, and omitting facts about cohabiting couples. When Jamie stays true to her views, other students begin to lash out at her, and the school paper. Soon, Jamie’s town comes under a huge censorship scandal, and she and her gay friends face discrimination.

The Year They Burned The Books nails it when it comes to discrimination and free speech rights. Nancy Garden based this book off a real-life event, when copies of her novel Annie were burned on courthouse steps in a town in Kansas, and the books were nearly banned from schools in the district. The Year They Burned The Books shows accurately how far discrimination can be taken.

The main conflict in the story starts out with the health curriculum, but as the novel progresses, the characters begin to spar over things like religion and homosexuality. Jamie is firm in her opinions, but there are a couple characters who are conflicted. Nomi, Jamie’s longtime friend, wants to stay Jamie’s friend, but the church she goes to says homosexuality is immoral. She must wrestle with her beliefs and come to her own conclusions. Then there is Ernie, the boyfriend of Terry, Jamie’s best friend. Ernie loves Terry, but his parents are completely against homosexuality. He feels he has to be straight, and feels loathing and disgust towards himself. He too must try and reconcile his beliefs with his sexuality.

Other characters were highly unlikeable, especially Lisa Buel. She promotes discrimination in the name of her religion, and her insults towards homosexuals are infuriating. As she campaigns for school board membership, she purposely deceives voters by not sharing her true intentions. She also resorts to extreme measures, one being checking out library books about gays and lesbians, burning them, and then lying about burning library books. These things showed her bad side.

This story can be heavy at times, with Jamie and her friends getting scary notes in school, the town’s narrow-minded side, and the school paper coming under fire because of Jamie’s editorial. Many students at Wilson High go to church one day, and the next day they launch hatred against the gay students. Nancy Garden wasn’t afraid to show this side of people, which I applaud.

I also loved how Jamie and her friends stuck with their beliefs and stood up to those who hated them. One of my favorites was Tessa, the new girl at school. She was dead firm in her human rights opinions and was not afraid to say so. She and Jamie made perfect friends, and balanced each other out. Terry was also not afraid to jump in to defend those he cared about, especially Ernie.

The Year They Burned The Books had its tense moments, and times when I got really angry. But there was still goodness and hope in the story. It was a satisfying read, and gays and lesbians should read this. Straight people should read it too, as it touches on all true subjects and challenges censoring people’s opinions. Some may disagree with the views expressed in this book, but that’s okay, as long as everyone can believe what they want without being hurt. That’s what this novel teaches; being entitled to your beliefs without being persecuted. I thought this story was amazingly told, and with a sympathetic, likeable heroine, The Year They Burned The Books should be a major classic as well.

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Elinor reviews How Sweet It Is by Melissa Brayden

howsweetitis

Molly O’Brien runs a bakeshop, Flour Child, in her impossibly charming hometown of Applewood. She’s never left Applewood, and why would she? Applewood is the sort of small town that exists in fiction, a real community where people all know and care about each other, where nothing terrible really ever happens. Plus, it’s only several hours’ drive from Chicago, conveniently close other adorable towns with delightful little restaurants, and you can get to a twenty-four Walmart in less than twenty minutes. Molly has spent her adult life with her high school sweetheart, Cassie Tuscana, whose parents are both local doctors. As young women, Molly took over her father’s bakeshop, Cassie went to work in administration in her parents’ medical practice, and the couple bought a darling old house and planned to live happily ever after. Then Cassie was killed in a plane crash.

The book opens four years after Cassie’s death, with Molly still running the bakeshop, still living in the darling house (that needs repair), and definitely not moving on romantically. Her in-laws, the Tuscanas, remain an important part of her life. When Cassie’s younger sister Jordan, a hotshot L.A. film producer, returns to Applewood for the first time since Cassie’s death, it makes sense that Jordan and Molly would reconnect. After all, they’ve known each other since Molly was a teenager and Jordan was a tween. But Molly’s surprised when spending time with Jordan awakens feelings she thought died with her late partner. Molly dips her toes into the world of dating again by being set up by friends, yet can’t stop feeling a spark with Jordan. Jordan feels it too, but neither woman is sure how to navigate this very unexpected mutual attraction.

How Sweet It Is is a pretty fluffy romance, despite the grief that everyone feels for Cassie. Each character has their own relationship with Cassie, and I liked that their feelings about her were not easily pushed aside. She was Molly’s only romantic relationship. It’s understandable why Molly is hesitant to start dating for the first time as an adult, particularly as she worries that doing so might upset her close relationship with her in-laws. Jordan loved and admired her sister, even though she spent most of her life in Cassie’s shadow–even Jordan coming out was brushed off by people as “Jordan trying to be like Cassie.”  While the grief about Cassie was still present for the characters, it in no way overwhelmed the sweetness of the romance or the cuteness of the town. At first I wasn’t sure about the whole falling-for-your-late-partner’s-sister thing, but it was done very respectfully and organically. Setting the story a few years after Cassie’s death helped with this, I think.

The other thing that helped was Brayden’s writing. The characters talked and bantered in a way that was genuinely fun to read. Even some of the things in this book that I initially side-eyed ended up working pretty nicely. For example, I found Molly’s business model unworkable. Her bakeshop has three employees besides Molly–one just doing deliveries–but no money to buy an espresso machine and therefore retain customers who wanted a latte with their cinnamon roll. Pretty early in the book, it’s revealed that Flour Child is actually in a terrible position financially and is on the verge of closing. Molly doesn’t tell her employees (or, it’s implied, consider laying any of them off) because Molly’s nice and wants to make people happy. She also runs away from conflict, which is shown as a part of Molly’s character consistently in many aspects of her life. It was well-done and the secondary plot of Molly trying to figure out how to save her bakeshop ended up being emotionally engaging and one of the best parts of the book.

Unfortunately, Jordan wasn’t a well-developed a character as Molly. She was still a complete character, but she wasn’t as rounded out. We’re told she’s stunning and her looks and clothes are described pretty frequently, but I wanted to know more about Jordan’s inner world than her outer appearance. Her career as a producer didn’t get as much attention as Molly’s profession, even though it could be incredibly interesting. I once dated somebody whose parents were television producers and it’s a weird job! I got an iPod from Drew Carey because of it, and heard occasional celebrity gossip, and that was just television production. Film production could add so much flavor. The demands of Molly’s career as a baker and owner of a small business are so different from the demands of Jordan’s career. What would Jordan’s late and irregular hours mean for Molly, who has to get up early? Jordan’s job either forces her to be away on location regularly or to be where there’s a market for film producers, which is probably not small town Illinois where Molly’s tied to a business. This could have been a rich source of tension, but Jordan’s non-Applewood past and her career seemed like an afterthought. Jordan returned to Applewood in part because she’d just lost her job because she was being sexually harassed, something that’s mentioned early and then never brought up again or resolved. Jordan also comes home to start a production company with a L.A. friend willing to relocate, with a business model I found even more unlikely than Molly’s, but doesn’t seem to encounter any difficulty at all. Early on, it’s implied that Jordan has never wanted to settle down and maybe had a lot of flings with women in the past, but this isn’t explored much either.

However, Jordan is much more a real person than many lesbian romance leads. She has quirks and charm, and so does Molly. Applewood is pleasantly free of homophobia, both the main characters are out, and the impediments to the romance make sense without being out of insurmountable. Those things alone make it worth the read for lesbian romance fans. I’m going to check out some of Brayden’s other books. Her writing is fun, which is something I always want more of when I’m reading romance.

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Link Round Up: May 4 – 10


kynship
There’s so much to like about this book. It’s just phenomenal fantasy from a queer and Indigenous (Cherokee) perspective. If you like fantasy, you really cannot go wrong with Kynship. Although it’s published by a small Native press in Ontario, I found the whole series at the public library in Vancouver, so it’s not even hard to get a hold of! It’s the imaginative world-building, action, and suspense you can usually expect from fantasy, except with queer people, women, and (implicitly) Native folks at the forefront. There are also two-spirit / non-binary trans characters that straddle the gender worlds. What is not to love, I ask you?

– Review of Daniel Heath Justice’s Kynship: The Queer, Indigenous, Feminist Fantasy Novel You Never Knew You Wanted So Bad by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

Casey has been reading all queer authors of colour this year, and I’ve been discovering such great books through her recommendations! This fantasy novel with a bisexual Native woman protagonist definitely shot to the top of my TBR after this review.

Booktube needs more queer voices. This is a subset of the bookish internet that is just starting to get noticed, and it’s growing. It needs a greater variety of voices, and one aspect of that is definitely queer readers. . . . So join the booktube party, and give queer books a louder voice!

– Booktube Needs You! at Gay YA

Gay YA has been doing a month of guest posts from bloggers, authors, and other interesting people on the topic of YA. There’s a lot of great stuff there with more on the way, and I was able to contribute! I talked about why I fell in love with Booktube (bookish Youtube) and why it needs more queer voices.

bodymap   lieswetellourselves   funhomemusical   thenormalstateofmind

Autostraddle posted Read A F*cking Book Review: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is Living Her Truths in “Bodymap” and “Fun Home” the Musical is Messy, Hilarious, Nostalgic, and Totally Worth It.

Gay YA posted Have You Ever Considered Writing About Straight People? by Robin Talley.

Lambda Literary posted New in May: Christopher Bollen, Neil Smith, Hilary McCollum, Maggie Nelson, and Clive Barker.

Women and Words posted

sapphireandthetooth   underthelights   caphenon   PathsOfMarriage

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler was reviewed at LGBT YA Reviews.

The Sapphire and the Tooth by Ellis Avery was reviewed at C-Spot Reviews.

The Devastation by Melissa Buzzeo was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

The Caphenon (Chronicles of Alsea) by Fletcher DeLancey was reviewed at The Rainbow Hub.

Shadows & Dreams by Alexis Hall was reviewed at Diverse Media.

The Paths of Marriage by Mala Kumar was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Deceptions by Lauren Maddison was reviewed at Curve Mag.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even  more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitterWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

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