chambermusic

Whether it be within the epochs of our lives or the novels that engage us, we tend to so desperately seek resolution. Uncomfortable sitting with our emotions as they are, we placate ourselves with baseless assurances that at some point an outcome will be reached, allowing the experience to be neatly tucked away within the deepest recesses of our memory. At the same time, we profess that there is a reason for everything and that our circumstances are meant to convey a meaningful lesson or help us grow. Having told myself some version of the above countless times, I’ve come to respect the life — or the fictional account — that simply is what it is and doesn’t presume to be anything loftier than that.

Written under the guise of a historical document to be included within a grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music by Doris Grumbach is a truly original work of fiction for the narrator, Caroline (Newby) Maclaren, also presents as the writer herself. Nearing the age of ninety, she has been given the task of documenting the life of her deceased husband and renowned composer, Robert Glencoe Maclaren, so as to obtain funding to restore the Maclaren Community, which at one time served as a retreat for musicians so that they might immerse themselves within their work; yet, the details of Mr. Maclaren’s life and career come to take a backseat to Caroline’s experience of their cold and lifeless marriage, the progression of his debilitating and gruesome illness and the way in which she finally came alive upon falling in love with Anna Baehr, the young woman who nursed Mr. Maclaren at the end of his life.

The tone in which Chamber Music is written is so very true-to-life that I continue to find myself relating to it as a memoir rather than a work of fiction. With most of the events taking place around the turn of the twentieth century, I can’t help but to wonder if Grumbach, who was born in 1918, acquired an inherent sense of the time period from friends, family members or other associates just slightly older than herself, making formal research largely unnecessary. The discretion, speech and sensibility of the time appear consistent, genuine and respectfully regarded as far as I can tell. Although I’ve never been one for historical fiction, I must admit that I found myself utterly enraptured with each and every turn of the page.

That being said, I would have appreciated a more visceral sense of the relationship between Caroline and Anna. Although we are told that they were deeply in love, I didn’t feel as though I had a palpable understanding of the dynamics between them. Their shared experiences and moments of intimacy, for me, lacked depth such that I came to wonder if something in their relationship was amiss. On several occasions, Caroline questions whether Anna experienced closeness and connection in the same way that she had, and Anna’s desire to comfort one of the melancholic musicians (who was also in love with her) illustrated, if nothing more, at least an inability to establish proper boundaries.

In spite of a niggling feeling that Caroline and Anna’s romance was not as idyllic as it was made to seem, I found the novel as a whole to be compelling from start to finish. Indeed, the strength and honesty of the climax solidified my immense appreciation for Chamber Music as well as a desire to explore the author’s other works. Whereas one seeking resolution or pithy life lessons is likely to be disappointed, I found Grumbach’s handling of the conclusion to be perfectly suited as a lasting testament to the life of a woman who knew what it was to live for only the brief span in which she knew what it was to love.

bigbigsky   lumberjanes   firsttwenty

Autostraddle posted Drawn to Comics: Lumberjanes Keeps Getting Cuter and Dang Cuter and Catwoman is Bisexual, Confirms All of Our Lifelong Crushes.

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posted Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian #2: Lesbian/Bi Dystopian YA Novels.

Emma Donoghue was intereviewed at Jenna Leigh Evans.

fortheloveofcake    whisperedwords   songsunfinished

For the Love of Cake by Erin Dutton was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Whispered Words (Volume 2) by Takashi Ikeda was reviewed at Okazu.

Songs Unfinished by Holly Stratimore was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Woeful Pines by S.Y. Thompson was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

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.

sandcastlescoverart-rgb

I was first drawn to Sandcastles by the element of psychics. As someone who grew up with a grandmother who called herself psychic and was told she also has a similar gift, I have researched and wondered about the world of psychics and energy and spirits for years. I often find myself stuck between the staunch skepticism of my mind and the gut feelings and intuition I feel so in tune with. I started reading this novel with the hope that it would explore a similar conflict, and it did not disappoint.

On the skeptical side we have Lia, a neurotic workaholic who uses her business as an escape from her struggles with love, family and friends. Then we have the psychic, Willow, a divorced mother of two who happened to go to camp with Lia and still harbors residual feelings for her from their childhood. The other main character is Dean, Lia’s assistant and best friend, who is somewhere in the middle—more open-minded than Lia but still caught up in work and the bustle of office life. When Lia and Dean run into Willow at a flea market, all three characters find themselves discovering new, unexpected paths in their lives.

One of my favorite things about Sandcastles is that it switches between Lia and Willow’s points of view, allowing readers to see how they see each other and their own insecurities going into the relationship. Willow expresses how deeply she was wounded by people who did not accept her psychic abilities and made a mockery of her, including Lia during their time at camp together. However, Lia gets to tell her side of the story, how she was scared of the things she did not understand (something she was taught by her upbringing) and was constantly vying for acceptance from her adopted sister—who also went to camp with them and was terrified of Willow—and her parents who put her sister on a pedestal that Lia could never reach.

Carr has one main message in this novel: life is meant to be lived. By trying to get this message through, Carr sacrifices some of the story’s depth. Halfway through the story, the novel becomes mostly about Lia and her need to slow down and become more open-minded. We get to see all of Lia’s dynamics, both good and bad. We learn about her family (and we get to meet every member of her family eventually) and how it operates, about her last serious relationship, how she met her best friend, how she started her own business. We see Lia being closed-minded at times, and we see her being selfish, but it’s all understandable and relatable because we’ve learned why her mind and her life operate the way they do.

Willow, on the other hand, gets a generic backstory of an ex-husband she never really loved who cheated on her, is not a good father, and is now remarried. Like Lia, she had parents who did not accept her and preferred her sister, and they were important to her discovery of her gift, but then they sort of fade away; her mother dies during her childhood from a vague, unexplained illness, and then Willow lives with her aunt who is also psychic and a lesbian. We don’t get to see much of her personality besides some playfulness that comes out in Lia’s presence, and we never get to see her being unfair or unreasonable, or if she is, she is not called on it like Lia is and she never gets to discover new parts of herself like Dean and Lia do.

The other characters mostly serve to pad the novel and reinforce the message of living life to the fullest, including a dying man who is somewhat of a cliché; he has more life in him than any of the other characters, he is always happy and joking, everyone loves him, and confronting death has made him the wise, all-knowing guru of the story. Some of his suffering comes through in the end, but it still does not feel realistic, which is a shame because he could have added some more emotional elements, especially at the end of the novel, but those moments mostly fell flat or took some of the power away from the spots where the writing itself made an emotional impact, such as Lia and Dean’s heart-to-heart near the end of the novel.

Despite some of the weaker aspects of the novel, it was fun to read. Best of all, there was always some kind of tension in the book to keep it interesting, and each of those plot points felt natural and realistic. Plus, this novel is dominated by women, and almost all of the most important characters are queer, and it is always refreshing to read a book like that in this male-dominated, heteronormative society.

strawberrypanic

I have to preface this review by saying that I haven’t read much manga in general, nevermind yuri in particular, so I don’t have a lot of knowledge to draw from in evaluating this against other examples in the genre. For the most part, though, this is what I was looking for from it: a cute, fluffy story about schoolgirls in love.

When I first started reading I was intimidated by the huge cast of characters. Although there is one girl, Aoi Nagisa, who I suppose is technically the main character, all of the girls on the front cover play big roles in the book, and the story is from many different perspectives. The plot revolves around a competition between three schools, a kind of couples contest (all three schools are girls-only). Two of the characters are new transfers into these schools, who are picked by upperclassman to be partners in this competition. The older girls are admired by the whole school and vaguely “experienced”, while the younger girls are naive and “innocent”. It’s a trope that made me roll my eyes a few times, but it’s also one that can be fun to watch play out (there’s a reason why Xena-inspired stories are so prolific).

I did find myself getting used to the large cast of characters, but I did have some other issues with the story. For one thing, the main romance between Nagisa and Shizuma (the back cover describes her as a “serial heartbreaker”) has some troubling power dynamics, as well as some of the similar relationships in the book. While Amane has a similar power position in relation to Hikari, she tends to approach the younger girl a lot more gently. Shizuma, on the other hand, is forceful to the point of nonconsent.

What surprised me in the story was that although there are established couples, there is also room for other relationships to develop. I was rooting for Nagisa to pair up with her roommate instead (partly because of Shizuma’s overbearing personality). The competition aspect was also a lot of fun, and I found myself–despite the tropes at work–not sure how things were going to play out by the end. Unfortunately, and this is my biggest complaint about this collection, I was under the impression that “The Complete Manga Collection” was going to tell the complete story. Instead, the narrative abruptly ends mid-competition, with nothing wrapped up. Apparently Strawberry Panic is a franchise that was originally short stories, and also includes an anime and light novels. The manga seems to have been an add-on, and was never completed. It’s a shame, because I was really enjoying the story, especially all of the girls’ personalities and how they played off each other. I’d like to see the anime or pick up the novels, though apparently they differ substantially from the manga. This is a story I would recommend, but the manga probably isn’t the best place to start with it. Hopefully I can get my hands on the light novels and let you know if they’re a better place to start.

apprenticequeen

Mitti is only ten when she’s taken from her family to be trained as an apprentice to the queen of Egypt. Her parents, having grown up in this political world and escaped it, are horrified despite the huge gain in stature for their daughter. As Mitti grows up and becomes more and more embroiled in vicious court politics, she struggles to find the balance to survive in this environment without losing herself completely.

Apprentice Queen was an interesting read for me. I was immediately intrigued by the premise, which places the main character in an excruciating position. She is basically held prisoner by Sekma, the queen, who controls the political climate of Egypt from the behind the scenes and would have Mitti killed instantly if she were to disobey or try to escape this life. Mitti has to learn these lessons on politics by heart if she is to survive, but despite being exactly the protege Sekma is looking for, she loathes the queen and the position she has put Mitti in. In order to keep herself and her loved ones safe, though, she needs to use these same tactics that she has been taught.

Sekma is a dictator and is ruthless towards anyone who stands in her way, but as Mitti is taught how to navigate the political arena and the repercussions of every possible action, I found myself accidentally getting swept up in her logic, mentally nodding along to the sentiment that of course it makes sense to assassinate one person rather than allow a civil war that would slaughter thousands of innocent people. I had to abruptly pull myself out of the story when I realized the I was getting sucked into this tangled logic trap. It really show you how people become indoctrinated into this life.

This is a setting that I know very little about–the Ancient Egyptian royal court–but I felt completely immersed in it. I’m not usually someone reads political thrillers or books that deal with court intrigue, but I was interested in the directions that the book went in terms of political maneuvering. And it was nice to see the relationships between Mitti and other women seamlessly integrated into the story, neither the entire focus of the book nor swept under the rug. Mitti’s attraction to women is a driving force in her life, but it’s not the only one. It’s nice to read a story that balances those so well, not reducing her sexuality to a single line or paragraph, but also giving us something other than a romance or coming out story.

I did also have some issues with the book, however. The writing was overall functional, but there were some awkward sentences, and it has a habit of jumping back forth in time–first describing an event, then describing the lead-up to the event, then continuing from the middle again–and although it worked sometimes, I think it was overused. At other points, large periods of time are skipped, and there were some relationships that I would have liked developed more. My biggest problem was with the conclusion. I was enjoying Apprentice Queen‘s slow build, which establishes Mitti as a character and how she changes over time, and establishes all the nuances of the final conflict. As the pages began dwindling, though, I started to worry that it was not going to wrap up satisfactorily.

[spoilers, highlight to read] And sadly, I didn’t think it did. I had understood that she was likely going to kill Nyserra, but I was left still confused by why she did it, which was the mystery I had been waiting the entire book to find out–what could drive someone to do something so monstrous? Was the answer really just “To serve as a distraction”? I didn’t get enough explanation to see why that was necessary. I also felt like the disconnect between Nyserra and Kham happened abruptly. I would have liked to see their growing tension, instead of straight from blissfully in love to saying “I hate you”.

There were other details that I appreciated, including Mitti’s surprisingly positive relationship with her husband (though I didn’t like that she later thought his life was worth less than an animal’s and like it was cruel for him to be alive, considering he always seemed happy when she saw him)  and some of the interesting side characters that populate the book. On the other hand, I hated that the first time Kham and Nyserra have sex, Nyserra repeatedly tells Kham to stop and pushes her away. That’s not romantic, that’s rape. I know it’s not meant to be, but that’s how it’s written, and I hate when sex is described in that way. [end spoilers]

Overall, Apprentice Queen is a fascinating read for its exploration of how people adapt to a political life, but it also has some flaws that detracted from the reading experience for me. If you’re intrigued, I still think it’s worth picking up and giving it a try, but I wish the ending especially was a little more of a payoff.

houseyoupassontheway

You may have heard of Jacqueline Woodson from her recent win of the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, but you might not know about some of her older books, or that she’s written lesbian books. The House You Pass On the Way has been on my radar (and my shelves) for a long time, but the recognition that Woodson has gotten recently finally convinced me to pick it up. This is a tiny book, only 99 pages in my edition. It’s the story of the summer when Staggerlee was fourteen, and when she felt confused and alone. It’s also the summer when she met her (estranged, adopted) cousin Trout.

This is a book that tackles some quintessential young adult topics: confusion around identity, isolation, and, of course, falling in love over a summer. But these are topics that are handled so well. Some stories I feel like I can just sink into and be absorbed by, and within a few pages, I knew this was one of them. It’s an atmospheric novel, as well as an emotional one. Woodson somehow managed to evoke a lot of feeling within a very small space. It’s subtly done, and there are layers at work here. Not just sexual identity issues, but also being mixed race, as well as dealing with being a minor celebrity due to her grandparents’ cause of death.

I wouldn’t go into this book expecting a love story, but it is an interesting and moving story about accepting yourself and finding a place in the world. I would highly recommend this one.

[trigger warning for cover: cutting, blood]

Lesbian author Cheryl Rainfield presents a gripping and compassionate novel about a teenage girl trying to move on from horrible traumas, and at the same time, find true love. That novel is Scars.

Fifteen year old Kendra Marshall, a bright, talented artist, had a childhood full of sexual abuse. She is being stalked by her rapist, but she can’t get him in jail because she cannot remember his identity. Every man she knows could be him. To get rid of her unbearable pain, Kendra self-harms by cutting. She works hard to keep it a secret from everybody, as she feels it’s her only way to cope.

Things change when Kendra gets to know Meghan, the school rebel with a deep, caring heart. The two become friends, and Kendra feels something more than friendship. But starting a relationship proves difficult, because of Kendra’s stalker and her family’s sudden financial problems. Threatened with losing all her support systems, Kendra must find out who her abuser is.

Scars is an honest portrayal of sexual abuse, the repercussions and effects. It can be disturbing, with Kendra’s memories and flashbacks, and the descriptions of her cutting. The story itself is heavy, but it focuses on real issues that a lot of people need to be better aware of. Rainfield put so much into Scars, especially with her characters. Carolyn, Kendra’s therapist and mother-figure, provides love and understanding to Kendra. Meghan is a strong girl, and is willing to jump in and help those who need a hand. I could vividly picture each character in the novel, and I grew to love or detest them.

Another aspect of the story I loved was Kendra’s art. She painted or drew what she felt, pulling no punches. One of the most touching scenes in the book was when Kendra painted a picture of Meghan and gave it to her.

Kendra being a lesbian isn’t the primary focus of Scars, but it’s there. She too deals with coming out to her parents, and deciding to get into a relationship with Meghan. I loved both Kendra and Meghan, and felt they went so well together. Both respected the other’s feelings, and talked deeply and honestly of their lives. They were not, by any stretch of the imagination, perfect; they were human. But their love for each other was undeniable.

Scars is a suspenseful read as Kendra gets closer to finding her abuser out. The climax is really edge-of-your seat, but ultimately satisfying, as is the ending. Though the story might be too heavy for some people, others might find it a good read, and a resource for healing. It’s definitely a strong voice in literature that deserves to be read.

borderlands   YouSetMeOnFire   colorpurple

Autostraddle posted

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posted

aboutagirl   jamonthevine   nototherwisespecified

GLBT Reviews posted Column: Less & More: Spring/Summer 2015 Trends in YA LGBTQIA fiction.

Lambda Literary posted

Kissing the Witch   Lo_Adaptation_HC_600x900   libyrinth

Outer Alliance posted Outer Alliance Podcast #48.

Women and Words posted Coming Attractions, March 2015 and Hot off the Press, February 2015.

Malinda Lo posted Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews.

“From Fear to Fearless: Blind, Lesbian Author Susan Krieger” was posted at Belo Miguel Cipriani.

“YA fantasy and sf novels with major or main LGBTQ Characters” was posted at Dangerous Jam.

annieonmymind   tangledroots   TheEveningChorus

Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden was reviewed at Rainbow Reading.

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Tangled Roots by Marianne K. Martin was reviewed at Piercing Fiction.

Out On Main Street by Shani Mootoo was reviewed at Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

queerinthechoirroom   wishbone   payingguests

Queer in the Choir Room: Essays on Gender and Sexuality in Glee edited by Michelle Parke was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Love Is Enough by Cindy Rizzo was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures by Julie Marie Wade was reviewed at Out In Print.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters was reviewed at Feminspire.

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.

lovesperfectvintage

Would you let your mother find your next girlfriend? Beautiful thirty-two year old African-American Aisha Watson works hard all week as a budget analyst and plays hard all weekend as a competitive longsword fighter. But her heart was recently broken, and she’s not even so sure she wants to be in love again after a series of dating disasters. Aisha’s mother decides to find her a nice girl and introduces her to Kris Donnelly.

Kris, with long chestnut brown hair and vibrant green eyes, is Aisha’s former high school classmate who is all grown up and become one of Chicago’s leading sommeliers. In between choosing fine wines, she’s just getting back into dating as Aisha is leaving the scene, but Aisha is about to learn that her mother may be right about something. Could Kris be the woman for whom she’s been searching?

To be released on February 19th, Love’s Perfect Vintage is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of ‘Lesbian Light Reads.’ Despite being light on page count (42 pages, according to my Kindle) as well as tone, Love’s Perfect Vintagemanages to give us a believable Meet Cute and happy ending for a well-adjusted lesbian couple.

Right off the bat, both Aisha and Kris feel like fully-fledged adults. Aisha has a career and hobbies and a life before she meets Kris and she continues to enjoy them once she and Kris start dating. Neither heroine is a flat archetype, and I really enjoyed Aisha’s relationship with her parents. Andre also sells the chemistry between Aisha and Kris when they meet at a barbeque thrown by Aisha’s family. A short line establishes that they were acquainted in high school, making the instant “Wow, you’ve grown up” feel believable.

The narrative feel of the story puts me in mind of the story a new friend might tell you about how they met their partner. There’s no real conflict, just a couple of months of them getting to know each other, working dates into their schedules and realizing the relationship is a serious one. I appreciated that both Aisha and Kris continued to go out on exploratory dates with a few people (though we don’t see the dates) before realizing how well they fit together. The whole situation feels like the organic growth of a healthy relationship, and it really does feel realistic.

If you need a reminder that happy lesbians in healthy relationships exist this Valentine’s, this is definitely the story for you. I’m so impressed with what Andre managed to do in 42 pages and I’ll definitely look at her other work.

(And the blurb mentions it, but a black lesbian heroine! We absolutely need more of that).

princessaffair

“You deserve a princess, Kerry, but a princess who will hold your hand in public” – Harris

I admit that I am not much of a romance book reader, but this summer I was travelling and wanted to read something light that didn’t get me hooked, so I could drop it if I needed to. The Princess Affair, for being a romance story was quite good. I was in the awkward position of liking a few clichés but disliking others and I think that this book, did well with that.

This is a romance story between sporty, nerdy and American Rhodes scholar Kerry and Princess Sasha (Alexandra) from the house of Carlisle. The chapters varied in POVs between them. The Royalty factor is the cliché bit, but I have to admit that I could be a bit of a romantic and the idea of a royal romance story leaves me with a warm feeling. I wanted the story to be realistic; to be romantic because it was do-able and I think this book succeeded in that.

Princess Sasha comes off as pretentious and wild (“the princess seemed wild around the edges”) but there is more to her and she had depth, she’s not perfect but she’s human. Kerry is quite likable and I could relate to her a lot. Sasha and Kerry learned to see through each others’ masks and see the baggage the other one had. I liked the chemistry that the two women had together it seemed genuine. They also talk about their relationship and though at times there are misunderstandings they work for the relationship to work but they have trust issues. Sasha doesn’t think she can have a real relationship while Kerry doesn’t think Sasha will stay with a women for the long run.

A thing that I liked was that they did not have sex from the start; at first not for lack of trying but then they decide to take it slow so it was towards nearly the middle of the book when it happened. It was not insta-love although there was insta-attraction.

As usual, I have a tendency to like side characters. I liked Ian and Harris as characters and what they gave to the plot. I liked that they were gay and their friendship and working relationship with queer women. I also like how Ian warms up to Kerry while still being protective of his charge and how Harris helps Sasha and still being on Kerry’s turf. However, I didn’t particularly like Miranda. In her scene with Kerry in the club towards the end, she was less annoying but I still do not think she was redeemed from haven proven that she was not a good friend to Sasha.

The cherry on top was their trip to (North) Ireland. I was reading that bit when flying to (South) Ireland so that gave it more perspective for me.

In the end I love how Sasha stood up for herself and all she represented. How she stood up for gay rights (though I think she meant this as an umbrella term for queer people considering her previous comments) and learning (dis)abilities. I liked the tidbits of politics and architecture thrown in and media assumptions and affects. It has a good ending I think and worth a read if you want to read a queer women romance.

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