Sam reviews Dreadnought & Sovereign by April Daniels

the covers of Dreadnought & Sovereign

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

I’m not all that into superheroes—I don’t really read comic books, I don’t follow superhero media—but I really enjoyed both Dreadnought and its sequel Sovereign by April Daniels. The books are set in a comic-book-esque modern day, where supervillains appear in history textbooks and it’s not unusual to see flying strongmen punch antimatter androids above the downtown skyline. It’s during just such a superfight that the mantle and powers of one of the world’s strongest heroes, Dreadnought, are unexpectedly passed (another comic book trope, I’m pretty sure) to trans teenager Danielle Tozer. The sudden superpowers speed up her transition, but bring with them a host of pressures, judgements, and expectations from both the heroes and villains of the city alike. With her life upended and her family providing its own challenges, Danielle has to figure out who she wants to be with the whole world watching.

I could pretty easily guess that Dreadnought and Sovereign are the author’s first novels; a few expository and dialogue choices stand out a bit awkwardly, and I simply can’t believe the characters are as young as the text claims them to be. All that is overshadowed, however, by how the books manage to balance the union of both trans and superhero narrative. Bluntly put, Dreadnought and Sovereign are popcorn books—and I mean that in the best way possible. They’re fun, easy to read and hard to put down, and best of all, they have a lot of heart. A lot of trans literature from the past 15 years feels laser-focused on struggle and suffering, so a story about being trans that’s also cheesy genre fiction was (to me, at least) a welcome breath of fresh air. 

Coming at it from the other side, YA adventure novels that try to include a trans character without turning into a book about being trans can sometimes feel a little flat, a little shallow. In Dreadnought and Sovereign, Danielle’s life is equally defined by her gender and sexuality as it is by her superpowers; the worst the novels get is a little over-explanatory of certain terms and concepts related to trans identity and issues (but also superhero identity and issues, to be fair). As I read, I could actually feel myself relax as I realized that April Daniels was taking the struggles of a newly out trans woman seriously, but not losing sight of joy along the way.

The world needs more books like these. As coincidence would have it, April Daniels and I actually graduated from the same literature program (though separated by I’m not sure how many years). It’s not hard for me to imagine the pressure she must have received to write serious works full of sad, serious people, and I’m so glad that these are the novels she decided to create. Trans authors deserve just as much range of expression as their cis counterparts, and stories like Danielle Tozer’s deserve to be told.
Supposedly Daniels is working on a third book in the series, but with where Sovereign ended, I don’t think you should wait for it to be finished before picking up the first two—even if, like me, you’re not that into superheroes.

Content Warnings: transphobia, homophobia, child abuse, torture, violence

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends her spare time playing and designing tabletop roleplaying games. You can follow her @LavenderSam on tumblr.

Nat reviews Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

the cover of Legends and Lattes

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

I must confess that I’d seen the cover of Legends and Lattes pop up a number of times and thought to myself, eh, too much of a high fantasy book for my tastes. Well, I should know better by now than write off a book based on genre, and I finally gave it a shot after my wife enthusiastically recommended it. If I could leave only a single comment it would be that this book is PRECIOUS. Is there anything more wholesome than a bone crushing, mercenary orc with a heart of gold just looking to get on the straight and narrow and live a quiet, simple life? How about that misunderstood orc finding a new group of loyal, steadfast friends and maybe even love along the way? Did you love Brian Jacques’s Mattimeo when you were a kid? How do you feel about cinnamon rolls? This is the book equivalent of a fresh-from-the oven baked good. 

After years of life on the road, Viv decides to cash out on her wandering, mercenary ways and settle down. Her dream is to open a coffee shop, a risky endeavor considering no one outside of her chosen city of Thune has even heard of coffee. We follow Viv as she embarks on a new adventure, literally hanging up her sword as she takes a different sort of risk. While this is generally considered a low stakes book, I would argue these are at least medium stakes, as the coffee shop is Viv’s dream. While that may not be life or death, it means the world to her. 

In some ways reading this novel feels a bit like playing a RPG in a magical realm with an epic storyline. Watching Viv gradually build her dream cafe, acquiring a motley cast of friends along the way, all while encountering enemies and perhaps stumbling on a surprising ally –  there is a video game-like quality to the way the story unfolds and it’s not surprising that Baldree has a background in game development. 

We are on a journey that feels almost as rewarding to the reader as it does to our book’s hero. 

Of course, Viv can’t live out her dream on big ideas alone – she needs a carpenter, a barista, and perhaps a baker. And most importantly, she needs customers. Viv’s first hire is Tandri, a succubus who’s saddled with an unjust reputation for “manipulating” people, especially men. I love the dynamic between Viv and Tandri as they remind each other not to give into prejudice and assumption. As their business relationship strengthens, so does their personal bond. While there’s a very strong romantic element to this book, most of the conflict is centered around Viv working to attain her goals and becoming a new version of herself. The momentum comes from her personal development and internal struggles, rather than solely on her budding relationship with Tandri. 

A fun fact about this book is that Travis Baldree started writing it for NANOWRIMO in 2021 and self published it in 2022. This is his debut novel, and it met with enough success that it was picked up by trad publisher Tor only a few months later! The backstory of the book is even warm and fuzzy! 2020 2021 2022 2023 is off to a rough start, so why not read more warm and squishy books to pad those rough edges?

Til reviews Into the Bloodred Woods by Martha Brockenbrough

the cover of Into the Bloodred Woods by Martha Brockenbrough

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Trigger warnings: gore, torture, death, mutilation, sexual assault, child abuse, violence, harassment… and likely others I’m forgetting. This is a relentless work.

Imagine a story that understood the true horror of the old fairy tales, the depths of yearning and human pain that crafted them, and the wonder that lets us believe, and rolled them up into a young adult novel. Stuffed it with a cream of gorgeous prose. Sprinkled in some sapphic love here, a mature conflict about class distinctions there, a smattering of werefolk. Dusted liberally with feminism that permits physical strength to exist in equal validity.

Am I trying to describe a book or win Bake Off here? Who can tell!

Into the Bloodred Woods takes characters familiar to Western audiences and introduces them in a new telling that uses the strengths of that familiarity. For example, many books with this many perspectives have a confusing start—it’s hard to keep track of all the worldbuilding and four points of view. It’s easier here because I already knew their contexts. Hans and Greta, the woodcutter’s children, are familiar enough. Except this time, they’re left alone in the woods when illness claims their loving father and stepmother.

It uses those familiar characters to tell an original story. A summary of key events would only touch on a tiny fraction of the book itself. This is, as the back-cover blurb promises, a story about a king’s son and daughter, each of whom inherits half a kingdom, and the ensuing battles, politics, conniving, and cruelty. But all of that is shaped by characters: a prince who worships automation and pain, a well-intentioned but spoiled princess who thinks she’s clever enough, a child of the forest when the town is drawing near, and a woodcutter’s daughter who wants little more than family and safety. It’s the intermingling of those characters with the machinations of the wicked prince and his hoard of gold that can be melted by blood. There’s a lot going on, which leads to a fast-paced and multi-faceted story.

One criticism I’ve seen of this book centers on Ursula, daughter of the queen from Rumpelstiltskin’s story, who wants to be queen and has high ideals, but isn’t realistic or mature about them. I would argue that’s the point. She was raised on misogyny and fairytales. Of course she’s unprepared for the real world. It’s a flaw I liked, especially in the way it caused her to interact with Sabine, her love interest. Their love never felt easy. Sabine is of the oppressed werefolk, forced to live in a slum, sleep in a cage, and fight in a ring to earn her way. Though Ursula is also a were, she sleeps in a golden cage in a palace, and has limited understanding of the world and how power feels to the truly powerless. Love never handwaves their differences: they earn their closeness. Ursula has to grow and change, to do a lot of learning—some of it bitter and much of it alone. I liked the realism of that. Sabine didn’t excuse her mistakes. Distances between them feel honest, even as they both long for closeness.

This is an intense read. I wouldn’t recommend it without warning about that. It’s brutal, it’s relentless, and no one is ever truly safe. The primary villain, Albrecht, believes he understands the world better than anyone, that his rule is justified and his attention is a gift, and this justifies any act of violation. The woods themselves respond to the narrative by becoming dangerous and reactive. It’s a powerful story; it’s a story about power. It’s a story about survival, but it’s well worth the ache, as much for the catharsis as because Brockenbough doesn’t lose sight of what’s worth surviving for.

5 out of 5 stars, would be damaged by again!

Maggie reviews The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

the cover of The Luminous Dead

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

I have been really into horror lately, and finding a lesbian sci-fi horror was a real boon for me, and The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling was a real page-turner. With a spine-tingling atmosphere, a killer setting, and a cast of two, The Luminous Dead draws you into the story as steadily as the characters descend into the cave, and the final rush of action had me up until 3am to finish it.

On a distant planet, Gyre knows the only way to get the money she needs to get off planet and find her mother is underground, where the only valuable resources around are. Caving is lucrative, if you cash out before what lurks underground catches up with you. For Gyre, the risks are worth the reward, and she’s sure her skills are up to the task, even if her resume has been faked, until the particularly plum assignment she’s snagged starts seeming like a setup. For one thing, there’s not a whole team on the other end of the communication array of her hermetically-sealed suit, there’s just one woman, Em, who is both the coordinator and the financier of the operation. For another, this expedition seems off. The deeper Gyre descends into the cave, the more it becomes apparent that this isn’t a normal cave expedition, but a mission personal to Em, and that Em has not been upfront to Gyre as to her real purpose. Beset by physical dangers and the slow unraveling of her own perceptions, Gyre has to balance the risks of fulfilling Em’s personal obsession with the rewards Em has promised that will fulfill Gyre’s, and the cave may not let either of them succeed.

What I loved most about The Luminous Dead was the masterful use of atmosphere. A cave is already an oppressive and dangerous environment, but on this planet, anyone not in a sealed suit is almost guaranteed to never resurface, and what takes them is the subject of rumors and horror stories but few facts. Any action or any bodily exposure outside the suit could attract danger, on top of normal equipment failure and cave dangers. It’s incredibly claustrophobic and it sets the mood instantly. Gyre is entirely dependent on Em and the suit for air, water, food, even vision, and operating in an environment where the smallest misstep could mean death. Even if this book wasn’t queer, it would have been enthralling for the environmental storytelling alone. Starling did a great job of ratcheting up the tension, both physical and mental, as Gyre starts to react to her worsening environment, and a map at the start of the book had me tracing every step of her journey anxiously.

But then add into this the relationship between Gyre and Em and this book turns explosively engaging. It starts out as strictly employer/employee and with Em as a strict taskmaster with her eyes on the prize, but with only Em on the other end of the line instead of a whole team, things start getting personal quickly. Both of them are keeping secrets from the other but start out in a mutually beneficial arrangement, because they both want and need this expedition to go smoothly. But as personal motivations and secrets start to come to light and unanticipated physical dangers start to appear, the tension between them starts to grow. At the same time, Em starts to care about Gyre outside of the objective of succeeding in her mission, and Gyre starts understanding the nature of what is driving Em. As Gyre struggles with the dangers of the cave and the pressures of her own mind under intense danger and isolation, Em struggles remotely to keep her caver alive and accept the realities and limitations of what is possible in this expedition. It’s a whole pressure-cooker of a relationship, conducted over comm lines while one of the parties is in mortal danger and entirely dependent on help from the other, and it’s riveting.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a thriller to spice up your dark winter nights, look no further than The Luminous Dead. It’s one of the most exciting books I’ve read in a while, and I couldn’t put it down, almost literally.  

The Queer Heart of the Circle of Magic Series by Tamora Pierce

Something I’ve discovered recently is that you can tell a lot about a person based on which Tamora Pierce series they loved as a child. Song of the Lioness fan? Congratulations on your transition. Anyone who was really into the Immortals probably has a disaster prep bag (or three) and is working on their off the grid cabin in the woods dream. But I was always a Circle of Magic fan, which is why I’m a lesbian.

For those who are unfamiliar: Tamora Pierce is a prolific young adult writer, who, similar to authors like Terry Pratchett, has a shared setting that she writes multiple series in. The Circle of Magic books are also called her Emelan books, after the name of the primary setting. The plot follows four characters: Sandry, Daja, Tris, and Briar, four ambient mages who were discovered later than most mages usually are, and how they learn to harness their powers and find their places in the world. None of them fit in with other students, both because of their unusual magic and their unusual backgrounds. They come together to live in Discipline Cottage, with two of their teachers, to receive a more personalized education. The second quartet, The Circle Opens, follows them after they become certified as adult mages and go out into the world, and they come back together as adults in The Will of the Empress.

I hadn’t read these books in around 15 years, maybe more, which left me in an interesting position: I remembered a lot of emotional beats and character development, but was hazy on specific plot details. This allowed me to read the books almost like they were new, but not quite. My final verdict? Tamora Pierce is an incredible writer and these books still hold up very well. Reading these books was like peeling back layers of my personality and taste and exposing the core of my soul. How many characters have I loved (and written) that are just a slightly different version of Briar Moss? How many times have I read a story claiming to be found family and thinking that their friendship was nice, but it was just lacking something? Circle of Magic feels like the platonic ideal of many of my favorite tropes and character archetypes.

While the characters have stuck with me, one of my favorite parts of this series as an adult was the world building. Pierce uses a lot of clear inspiration from real world countries, both as cultural and racial influences, but she also works hard on magic systems and how they influence culture. The Traders are particularly fascinating, as they’re less of an ethnic group and more of a collective culture shared by a variety of people. While at first glance it’s easy to tell that they’re just visiting Fantasy Russia, there’s so much more depth that she builds up. The result is a diverse, interesting world with characters to match. I have done a lot of nostalgic childhood rereading this year, and it’s incredible to me how much more diverse these books were compared to others that were out at the time, and even those that are coming out now.

While it’s easy for me to wish that there was more obvious queerness in the early books, the thing is that the kids are 10 years old and probably don’t care very much about whether or not Lark and Rosethorn are kissing. Also, considering that Sandry’s Book was published in 1997 and The Will of the Empress was published in 2005, I’m more surprised that there were any canon gays at all. (In this reread I also hit up Melting Stones and Battle Magic, which is as recent as 2013, but I’m not focusing on them quite as much since they are less about the relationship and growth of the main foursome). Besides, the books feel like such a metaphor for queerness: all of the kids don’t fit in with other people and feel closer to each other than their own families, there’s an acknowledgement of their differences but they have more in common with each other. And even though only Daja is the only one who gets a girlfriend, we all know how friend groups tend to become more queer as time goes on. These books are just as fun to discuss as they are to read, and that makes them a fun series to read with friends.

Overall, I love these books. I’m not going to wait another 15 years to revisit them, they are staying near and dear to my heart, and they are required reading for anyone who wants to really understand who I am and what kinds of characters I like. I need to reread more Tamora Pierce now, since I’ve confirmed that she really is as good as I remember. They even appealed to my incredibly picky girlfriend, who doesn’t like reading middle grade/young adult books as much as I do! I think that’s the biggest endorsement I could give.

Larkie is a west coast lesbian living with her girlfriend and cat. When she’s not reading every queer genre book she can get her hands on, she’s probably playing video games or taking pictures of mushrooms. Larkie’s Lesbrary reviews can be found here. More reviews are on Storygraph.

Nat reviews How To Excavate a Heart by Jake Maia Arlow

the cover of How to Excavate a Heart

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Sweet yet angsty. Coming of age and coming out stories. A meet cute that’s…not so cute. Jewish holiday rom com. All the big, tender feels of young love. Non-stop cackling, except when you take a break to have a good cry. A prominently featured corgi. These are a few of my favorite things about Jake Arlow’s How to Excavate a Heart.

College student Shani Levine is determined to spend the holidays alone doing a winter internship at the Smithsonian—that means she’ll be away from her family, her mom specifically, which she feels guilty about while also desperately feeling the need to get away. There are a lot of complicated feelings around this stage of life, and Arlow’s character portrayals feel very authentic—the main characters are both first year college students figuring out what it means to be independent, to manage this in-between phase of life, caught between home and their new freedoms. This is also where Arlow nails the post-teenage angst humor. 

We meet May in a rather abrupt manner—and this is not really a spoiler as it’s in the book’s synopsis and in the first chapter—with the front of Shani’s mom’s Subaru. May is also spending the holidays in DC with her dad, but not because she wants to be there. She’s having her own family issues, and being rudely greeted by the bumper of a car doesn’t exactly put her in the holiday spirit. May initially comes off a bit frosty, but of course we’ll eventually see those walls melted away. 

The book is told in first person from Shani’s perspective, so you really get into her mindset. As she works out her feelings and makes self discoveries, you’re along for the ride. While this book is a holiday romcom, it’s also just as much a coming of age story, and we see a lot of Shani trying to figure out how and when to talk about her “new” life with her mom, when she doesn’t quite know how to come to terms with it herself. This includes keeping her first real relationship a secret, along with her sexuality. 

(Spoilers and Trigger Warnings:) We kind of see this coming, like the Titanic about to hit the iceberg, as we see more snapshots of Shani’s first relationship. Each memory reveals more specific—or perhaps more accurate—details, as her relationship with May progresses. Our narrator is holding back so much in part because she’s just not had certain realizations herself about the abusive nature of her first relationship. Acknowledging these truths is a big turning point in the book, and it’s clear Shani can’t move forward with May until she’s come to terms with her own past. (End of Spoiler)

The supporting character cast gets major points, especially Beatrice (Aunt Bea) who is her own one woman comedy show, and Shani’s mentor at work who’s a few years older—the wise lesbian we all wish had been in our lives to dispense advice. And yes, the corgi (dogs absolutely count as characters). Overall, Arlow’s given us a sapphic holiday romcom that will excavate your own frozen little heart.

Trigger warnings: abuse, sexual assault

Meagan Kimberly reviews Make You Mine This Christmas by Lizzie Huxley-Jones

the cover of Make You Mine This Christmas

Christopher and Haf meet at a university Christmas party one night and after drunkenly kissing under the mistletoe, they’re mistaken for a couple. Rather than own up to the truth that they were simply strangers making out at a party, they go along with the idea. Haf agrees to fake date Christopher during the break with his family so as not to admit to her own family that she will be alone this holiday. Along the way, Haf meets an incredible woman at a bookstore, and oops, it turns out, it’s Christopher’s sister. Shenanigans ensue.

Haf and Christopher are absolutely delightful characters, despite what trainwrecks they both are. It’s pure bisexual chaotic energy as they go about trying to convince Christopher’s family that they’re a couple. Meanwhile, Haf is trying her damndest not to keep falling for his sister, the beautiful and intimidating Kit.

Huxley-Jones does a phenomenal job of developing Kit’s character. She is disabled and living with a chronic condition that leaves her physically exhausted and having to walk with a cane. But this never defines her entire character. She’s saucy, confident and a bit formidable, but in the best way. It’s no wonder Haf falls head over heels in love with her.

It’s easy for readers to fall in love with Haf as well. She’s a plus-size heroine who totally owns her body. It’s so refreshing to read a fat character’s story that doesn’t center on fretting over her weight. Moreover, no one around her ever makes her feel bad about her body.

Perhaps the most delightful thing about the plot is how it takes the fake dating trope and turns it into a rather sweet friendship between Haf and Christopher. It never turns into an awkward love triangle situation between her and the two siblings (which frankly I’m thankful for because that would have been too weird).

There are plenty of rom-com shenanigans to keep you laughing throughout the whole book, mixed in with heartwarming moments of friendship. There’s a particularly excellent chapter involving a baby reindeer and that’s all I’ll say about that. It’s the perfect cozy romance for the winter season and holidays.

The Lesbrary’s Favorite Sapphic Books We Read In 2022

a collage of the covers listed with the text The Lesbrary's Favorite Sapphic Books of 2022

I always enjoy looking back at my favourite reads of the year at about this time, and I read so many great queer books this year. The books on this list are not only books out in 2022, though most of them are; they’re just (some of) the sapphic books I read and loved this year. I’ve noted the book that came out before 2022. I kept this list to ten, though I could have added a lot more that I enjoyed. I roughly ranked them, but the spots are pretty arbitrary, because I recommend them all.

I’ve included excerpts from my reviews for each of these, but you can click through to see my full thoughts at the review page for each.

Also, scroll to the bottom for some of the other Lesbrary reviewers’ favourite sapphic books they read this year!

#10: Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake

the cover of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care

I love the YA books I’ve read by Ashley Herring Blake, so it was nice to see that her first adult romance is one I enjoyed just as much!

Both the main characters are well-rounded, and their romance was compelling, but the heart of the story to me was the sibling relationship between Astrid and her stepsister, Delilah. I love that all the characters in this book, even the side characters, feel like real people whose lives continue when they walk off the page. While this is a romance novel, it’s not the only thing going on in their lives: they’re also concerned about their families, friends, kid, career, etc.

The entire book had that absorbing “just one more chapter!” feel that kept me turning the pages into the night—and to be honest, that’s a very rare occurrence for me while reading! I was absorbed in the story and like I had lost time/forgot I was reading when I resurfaced, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#9: Eat the Rich by Sarah Gailey, Pius Bak, and Roman Titov

the cover of Eat the Rich

This was such a fun read. It’s an over-the-top, gruesome, funny, anti-capitalism, queer graphic novel that I enjoyed from beginning to end.

In just a few pages, I completely fell for Petal, who wears a “Loud and Queer” t-shirt and assures Joey that yes, she knows how awesome she is.

I picked this up during the October readathon, and it was the perfect choice as a quick, entertaining horror read that gripped me from the first page to the last.

I think I can safely say that if you like the title and cover, you’ll love this book.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#8: A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

the cover of A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

The motifs of astronomy, time, and art weave effortlessly through this pensive coming of age story. Despite everything going on, this is a quiet story about Aria coming to terms with herself–not just a label, but with her own emotions. A Scatter of Light captures the tumultuous, heady feeling of teenage first love: how it’s all-consuming, illogical, and often ephemeral while feeling like the most important thing in the world.

Despite this being a quietly unfolding story of self-discovery, I was rapt and couldn’t stop flipping the pages. If you appreciate introspective, character-driven YA, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#7: The Very Nice Box by Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman (2021)

The Very Nice Box cover

This was a surprise. When I think about this book, I remember listening to the audiobook as I fell asleep, about halfway through it. It’s a literary fiction title that had been fairly slow-paced up until that point. Suddenly, I sat bold upright in bed when the story suddenly changed–so much for falling asleep.

I will say I think this book works best if you go in without a ton of information, so if you’re up for a kind of weird slowly unfolding character-based queer story, I highly recommend checking this out sight unseen. It’s about Ava, a designer who works for STÄDA (which is pretty much Ikea), designing boxes, and who lives a highly regimented and isolated life in the aftereffects of trauma, until a new STÄDA employee pushes her out of her comfort zone.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#6: Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

the cover of Our Wives Under the Sea

I cannot resist an underwater story, especially one with sapphic characters, so this gothic horror novel was one I had to pick up. In one point of view, we see from the perspective of a woman, Leah, trapped in a submarine for months on end. In the other, we see from her wife’s perspective, after Leah returns… changed.

While there are certainly unsettling scenes, this is also a story about love and grief. Miri’s experience with Leah is tangled up with her grieving her mother. The story unfolds in a distant, dreamlike way, and that grief suffuses everything. 

If you need your plots to have clearly explained answers, this may not be the story for you. But if you appreciate an atmospheric, gothic queer novel, I definitely recommend picking this up. It was exactly the moody, engrossing, unsettling story I was hoping for.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#5: Spear by Nicola Griffith

the cover of Spear by Nicola Griffith

This sapphic Arthurian retelling is one of the few books I’ve ever read that made me gasp out loud as I read it. I’m not usually an expressive reader, so that was a surprise. This novella is precisely plotted, both building up an expansive world and mythology while moving through a lean story that deserves its own spot among the most renowned Arthur legends. It feels timeless, but also has a depth that makes these people feel real and relatable.

This is a small book that packs a big punch, and I was surprised how moved I was by the love story, considering that romance didn’t play much of a role for the first section of the book. I am definitely now on board for anything Griffith writes, and I can’t wait to explore her backlist.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#4: Buffalo Is the New Buffalo by Chelsea Vowel

the cover of Buffalo is the New Buffalo

This is a collection of Métis futurism stories that rejects the concept that “education is the new buffalo” and instead imagines how Métis worldviews have survived colonialism in the past and present, and how they can influence the future.

One of my favourite things about this collection, and something that furthers that goal, is that the stories include footnotes and are each followed by an essay explaining Vowell’s thought process behind them. While the stories are fiction, there is a lot of research that went into many of them, and the footnotes explain which parts are based in fact and which were changed.

Chelsea Vowel is queer, and at least four of the stories are sapphic, though I recognize that this is applying terms from a completely different cultural context. In several stories, it’s just mentioned in passing that the main character is attracted to women, but in others, the character’s queerness is more central to the story.

This was such a thought-provoking and memorable read, and I’m eagerly anticipating whatever Chelsea Vowel writes next.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#3: The Future Is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

the cover of The Future is Disabled

This is a book by a queer, nonbinary author that doesn’t fit neatly under “sapphic”, but it was one of my favourites and is relevant to Lesbrary readers.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is the author of two of my favourite books: Bodymap, a collection of poetry; and Care Work, a collection of essays about disability justice. So it’s no surprise that I loved their new essay collection about disability justice during the pandemic and in the future.

These essays, written from 2020 to 2022, discuss what the pandemic has been like for disabled people. They talk about how many friends and role models in disability justice have died in such a short time span, and the grief they are holding. These essays also argue that disabled ways of thinking and working are crucial in addressing the enormous problems we have right now.

This book both faces the deadly ableism of the world we live in head on while also imagining a hopeful future, one partly made up of already existing spaces, like disability justice art performances.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Every book I’ve read about disability justice has expanded my mind and made me see new possibilities for the world and the way I live in it, and I know I’ve only scraped the surface of the wisdom and collective knowledge of this movement.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#2: Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (2021)

the cover of Light from Uncommon Stars

This is the first book I read in 2022, and it was the best way to start out a reading year.

I loved this book, but it’s such a tricky, contradictory one to recommend. It’s about aliens and demons and curses, but it’s also a grounded, realistic character study. It’s hopeful and comforting, but it also contains abuse, bigotry, and a lot of brutal descriptions of transmisogyny. This disparate parts combine into a heartachingly affective story, but do be prepared to be reading about both the kindness and the cruelty of humanity.

This is gorgeous, multifaceted story that I bounced between wanting to read cover to cover in one sitting and setting aside for weeks because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to dive back into it. This is exactly the kind of challenging, hopeful, and unexpected story I want to read a lot more of.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

#1: How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler

the cover of How Far the Light Reaches

This is another book by a queer, nonbinary author that I think Lesbrary readers will love.

This book is exactly why I don’t do my favourites list until this late in December: this was a December release, and it took my top spot!

I would be interested in either of these versions of How Far the Light Reaches, if the two had been separated: the memoir or the science. Imbler’s writing on marine biology is accessible and fascinating, so while it’s not my usual genre, I was completely pulled in. By braiding these two threads together, though, it’s more than the sum of its parts.

I savored reading this book, looking forward to ending each day with an essay. It’s philosophical, curious, thought-provoking, and kind. It explores queer people as shapeshifters, as swarms, as immortal. I never wanted it to end. Even if you aren’t usually a reader of science writing—I usually am not—I highly recommend picking this one up, and I can’t wait to see what Imbler writes next.

I also really appreciate the parallels between my #1 and #2 picks: one read in January, one read in December. Both dark covers with a fish. Both titles about light. Clearly, I have a type.

Check out my full Lesbrary review for more!

And now, for some of the other Lesbrary reviewers’ favourites of the year!

Meagan Kimberly‘s favourite sapphic book of 2022:

The Space Between Worlds cover

My favorite sapphic book of 2022 was definitely The Space Between Worlds (2020) by Micaiah Johnson. The story creates a rich multiverse narrative that shows how the tiniest details can alter the course of an individual’s life. It layers together questions of class divide, capitalism, power, ethics, family and so much more to create a complex and nuanced story. The pace slows down when necessary to let you catch your breath, but Johnson knows when to up the ante to get your heart racing. I never saw the plot twists coming, and yet they never felt out of left field, but more like an “aha” moment where I thought to myself, “Oh, I should have guessed!” Overall, it’s an incredible sci-fi novel and I will absolutely pick up the next book in the series.

Maggie’s favourite sapphic book of 2022:

the cover of Nona the Ninth

This was a banner year for sapphic books, but Nona the Ninth was among my most anticipated. The tagline on the cover reads “You will love Nona and Nona loves you,” and I was delighted to discover that I did indeed love Nona. Nona’s oddities and zest for life sustained the novel as it slowly fed you developments that had happened since Harrow the Ninth and backstory on the whole beginning of the necromancer universe, and I adored that voyage of discovery. I did a re-read of Gideon and Harrow right before my hold came in on Nona, and so every reference was both fulfilling and also led to more questions. This is a series that has changed the tone with every book and yet somehow succeeds in building an engrossing whole, and it’s also a series that rewards re-reads every time you get more material. Nona continues to build on this foundation, and it’s fascinating. The ending left me screaming. There are two kisses of a spoilery nature that had me absolutely on the floor. I simply cannot wait for the conclusion and also to do yet another re-read when I have all the information.

Casey Stepaniuk‘s favourite sapphic book of 2022:

the cover of All This Could Be Different

My pick is All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Matthews. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read! It felt so viscerally real but at the same time so brilliantly crafted as a work of fiction. The sentences frequently stunned me with their sharp insight and beauty. The novel is an intimate, generous, and honest portrait of Sneha, a woman in her early 20s. Sneha is an aloof, emotionally cautious woman making her way in that daunting post-college period in an American recession as an immigrant from India. It puts as much emphasis on work, friendship, food, and other subjects often neglected in contemporary fiction as on Sneha’s major romantic relationship. I’ve never read such a millennial book, one that felt written by and for our generation, one that felt so recognizably like my own and my friends’ lives. What a gift.

If you like what we do here, support the Lesbrary on Patreon at $2 or more a month and be entered to win a queer women book every month. $10 and up patrons get guaranteed books throughout the year!

Danika reviews A Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone

the cover of A Merry Little Meet Cute

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Note: This a HarperCollins title. The HarperCollins union has been on strike since November 10th, asking for better pay, more diversity initiatives, and union protections. Learn more at their site.

I have never read (or watched) such a horny holiday romance.

This is an M/F bisexual/bisexual romance that follows Bee, a plus-size porn star, and Nolan, a former bad boy boy band member, as they film a Hallmark-esque Christmas movie together while trying to keep their scandals under wraps.

I really enjoyed both Bee and Nolan’s perspectives—it turns out that an easy way to have me like the male love interest in an M/F romance is to make him bisexual. Bee is trying simultaneously to act for the first time, hide her porn career from the squeaky-clean Hope Channel, and fight against sleeping with and/or falling for her costar. If people find out that they’re having sex, that will threaten the image rehabilitation they’re both trying to get from this movie.

Meanwhile, Nolan is also struggling not to fall into bed with his costar. But what he’s hiding from the Hope channel is his family situation. His mom has bipolar disorder, and he’s usually home with her and his teenage sister, helping out. His mom is amazing and capable, but requires some support, especially with her switching medications right now, and he feels incredibly guilty being away from home–but the only way to support the family is with this job.

I thought this aspect of the book is really well done. We see his mom as a three dimensional person who has been an amazing parent to Nolan, and he fights against the ableist ways people can paint her as a victim or helpless. He cares about his family so much, and he has trouble letting go and trusting that they can handle problems on their own–he especially feels guilty that his teenage sister has to be so capable. This subplot adds a lot of depth to an otherwise romp of a romance novel.

In addition to discussions about ableism, we also touch on fatphobia, biphobia, and misogyny. While Nolan has a scandal in his past involving speed skaters and an up-and-coming figure skater at the Olympics, it was the female figure skater whose career was threatened by the media coverage. And if Bee and Nolan’s secret comes out (that they’re sleeping together), Bee will be the one to take the brunt of the fallout. Also, Bee has experienced so much fatphobia on sets that she initially assumes Nolan’s discomfort meeting her is because he’s fatphobic, when really he is just losing his mind because he’s wildly attracted to her.

Nolan already followed Bee’s ClosedDoors account, which I thought might be a weird dynamic, but it is matched by Bee having been a big fan of Nolan’s boy band, with posters in her childhood bedroom and some fanfics written about him then, too. So they both have the same degree of parasocial relationship with each other going into it, and it doesn’t feel unbalanced. They both tease each other some about it when it comes out, and neither seems uncomfortable.

The sex scenes—of which there are many!–were a mixed bag. Some of them were truly steamy, while others had language that made me cringe. But overall, I though it was fun to read a Christmas romance that had so much sex and sexual tension, given that they’re usually so PG-13.

So, if you want a last-minute queer holiday romance read, I highly recommend this one.

Til reviews Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

the cover of Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Séance Tea Party begins with Lora, a lost young person somewhere between girlhood and womanhood. Growing up looms large throughout the graphic novel… as much as anything looms in this gentle, joyful, sometimes heartbreaking story. Lora feels alone with her friends moving on to things like slick magazines and text chains, while she continues to prefer imaginative play. When ghost girl Alexa joins Lora at the titular séance tea party, the two form a friendship—and maybe something more—that will ultimately bring healing to both girls and those important to them.

It’s a quick read and a sweet one. Lora is relatable as someone who doesn’t want to stop having fun but feels like her fun is no longer accepted. I saw a lot of myself in her and remembered going through the same feeling that “growing up” means growing miserable. Lora and Alexa’s friendship is adorably played. This literal ghost of the past gives Lora the confidence to do new things and reach out to others, while holding on to the things she values about her younger self.

This is a story about what we let go of and what we hold onto. The narrative never feels critical of Lora’s desire to keep her childhood joys. It’s not a cruel story. If anything, it’s about an intentional and healthful fusion of the two.

Take my commentary with a grain of salt: my visual literacy is far from the sharpest, and I likely missed a fair helping of nuance. The core story, though, is a delight.