Maggie reviews She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun cover

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

In She Who Became the Sun, Zhu, a peasant girl in ancient China, watches as a fortune teller predicts greatness for her brother and nothingness for herself. Days later, she is the only one alive in her family, and she makes the decision to assume her brother’s identity, and thus his destiny. Zhu joins a monastery out of necessity and learns to suppress herself into her brother’s identity so that Heaven doesn’t snatch her brother’s destiny away from her. As Zhu becomes more confident, she realizes that greatness is a destiny that has to be seized and worked for. Afraid that Heaven will throw her back to nothingness if she doesn’t want hard enough, Zhu must adapt to every change in fortune and hold onto her destiny harder than anyone else around her, through politics, war, rebellion, and pain. Shelley Parker-Chan’s debut novel is a gripping adventure with a lot to say about destiny, fortunes, and gender identity that I found to be a great read.

“Female character must assume a male identity to have an adventure/do what they want” is not an unusual fantasy trope (the book description mentions Mulan, but honestly Tamora Pierce’s Alanna quartet also sprang to mind several times), but Parker-Chan takes this concept somewhat farther. Zhu is not just worried about those around her finding out that she’s not a man, she is terrified that Heaven will realize she’s not Zhu Chongba and cast her back into nothingness, and so she must totally become Zhu Chongba, and do nothing that Zhu Chongba wouldn’t do. Later, Zhu realizes that the destined greatness she senses is uniquely hers and not her brother’s, but by that point she no longer feels like a girl as she was, but nor does she feel like a man. Terms such as gender-fluid, genderqueer or nonbinary aren’t really in Zhu’s vocabulary, or the vocabulary of anyone else around her for that matter, which really leaves a lot of scope for a queer reader to project their own experiences on the character, and makes Zhu unique and interesting in the annals of disguised fantasy heroes. It also speaks to identity as a journey that can change over time. I really enjoyed Zhu’s evolving identity, and how Zhu interacted with those around her, and I felt like this book had a lot of really interesting viewpoints and nuance.

Zhu also experiences many instances where she feels an intense connection with other people. At first this makes her intensely uncomfortable – such as when she feels a connection to the Governor of Lu’s widow. Zhu promises her power if she will help Zhu in return, and the Lady accepts. Zhu feels a connection to a woman who knows they are competent and wants power, but she’s still in a place that to feel connection feels too risky, like it will call Heaven’s attention to the fact that she’s not Zhu Chongba. Her other instances of connection are rather more queer. She feels an instant connection with General Ouyang, a eunuch serving the Emperor, the instant she lays eyes on him when he’s at the Monastery, and that connection continues on as they become rival commanders. This connection makes Zhu uncomfortable both because they are on opposing sides and because Ouyang’s otherness is blatant and acknowledged. She feels if she becomes too associated with him, or if he is around her too much, her own otherness will become too apparent. There is also Ma Xiuying, a noble girl nominally engaged to one of the rebellion’s leaders. Zhu cannot understand why Ma Xiuying won’t take what she wants for herself, and why she lets others bully her. Unlike her connection of otherness with others, Zhu is drawn even closer to Ma Xiuying, and their relationship blooms into something both delightful and queer. Zhu’s connections with others serve only to highlight her otherness and queerness, and how she reacts to them changes over time as her comfort in herself changes over time. I really enjoyed these scenes of Zhu realizing a connection, they felt real and like a great foil for Zhu’s own character development.

She Who Became the Sun is a stunning queer fantasy debut full of wide, sweeping action, and intimate character development. Zhu is a nuanced, layered character, whose evolving gender presentation and identity are great to see in a mainstream release. I had a great time reading this book, and I heartily recommend it for the epic fantasy crowd. I’m looking forward to the sequel!

Danika reviews The Girls Are Never Gone by Sarah Glenn Marsh

The Girls Are Never Gone cover

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

I’m very picky when it comes to horror books, mostly because I’m a wimp and get freaked out very easily. When the weather starts to get a little chillier, though, I start to crave creepy, witchy, autumn-y books, and that’s when I start eyeing the horror section. The Girls Are Never Gone was a great choice because a) it’s sapphic b) it’s more atmospheric and creepy than all-out terrifying and c) there’s a water element to the haunting. I love haunted house books, especially The Haunting of Hill House (here’s my review of how it’s absolutely sapphic), and I’ve also been intrigued by underwater horror ever since I took an creepy deep sea museum exhibit ride as a kid. I mean, it was an elevator, but it was unsettling.

But you probably came here to read about the book. The Girls Are Never Gone is an old-fashioned haunted house story, but one with a queer disabled main character.

Dare was cohost of a popular YouTube ghost-hunting show with her boyfriend -but then he broke up with her, and now she has to start over. Her new project is a solo podcast where she investigates one story in longform. She’ll be investigating Arrington Estate, where years ago, a girl drowned in the lake on the property, and it’s been rumoured to be haunted ever since. Dare got an internship to help restore the house into a museum, and she intends to use this access to dig up the history of this place.

Dare is an interesting take on a ghost-hunter, because she’s both skeptical and hopeful about the existence of ghosts. She had to face her own mortality very young, when she realized she was dependent on medical intervention for her Type 1 diabetes (the author also has type 1 diabetes). Now, in addition to the medical equipment she keeps on hand, she also has Waffles: a not quite as useful service dog whose alerts are unreliable. She has had an interest in the afterlife for many years, and she would love to see a real ghost–but despite all of the investigations she’s done for the channel, she’s never found one. Dare looks for scientific explanations first. Still, she brings a whole collection of ghost-hunting equipment with her to the house, and she’s serious about the investigation.

There, she meets a fellow volunteer, Quinn, who also happens to the commenter who alerted her to the possible haunting–oh, and she’s a cute girl. Then there’s the third member of the volunteer team, Holly. All three of them develop an instant, easy rapport that serves as a nice contrast to the creepiness of the house.

Arrington Estate is a decrepit, falling apart house that always seems to be leaking water from the ceilings, regardless of weather. It’s beside a lake that seem more like an ocean: it has mysterious currents that make it unsafe to swim in, and it seems to be getting ominously closer to the house.

It’s a slow build, both in terms of the haunting and the slowburn romance. We first really get to know the characters, with a few weird things happening in the background with the house, like a glowing light in the middle of the lake or a glimpse of something in the mirror. It’s atmospheric, and even before anything particularly scary happens, there’s a real sense of Arrington Estate as a character with its own personality and motives.

I really enjoyed the podcast element — it reminded me of Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy (review), which is another queer YA with a bisexual main character who had a project with her ex-boyfriend and had to start over when they broke up! In both of these books, they nail the podcast excerpts: they really “sound” like podcasts–and ones I would listen to! The creepy atmosphere, on the other hand, reminded me of The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould (review), which I also really enjoyed.

I am very happy that sapphic YA horror is beginning to have enough titles to choose from! This is a perfect read for a breezy fall afternoon.

Certain things that will always mark a house’s age, things human hands can’t change or erase: echoes of laughter, late-night secrets shared, wishes made, arguments had, all absorbed into the walls. A house remembers everything it witnessed, down to its very foundation. And Arrington seems to have a particularly long memory— of what, I’m not sure yet.

Rachel reviews Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow cover

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Described as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow (Penguin Random House, September 21st 2021) is a must-read blend of Chinese history and science fiction that also combines compelling writing with an original plot.

Although the plot of this YA novel is complex and has many twists and turns, this is a book worth sticking with! In Huxia, boys pair with girls (known as concubines) to pilot the giant shape-shifting robots (known as Chrysalises) that Huxia uses to defend their land and the Great Wall from the aliens who regularly attack and attempt to gain grown. Mentally connected to the robots, the boys use their spirit energy and the spirit energy of the girls to power them. However, the girls regularly die from the experience, and are often expected to.

The novel follows 18-year-old Zetian, who volunteers to be a concubine pilot in an effort to assassinate one of the top male pilots who was responsible for her sister’s death. When Zetian kills the man through unexpected means—by overpowering him in the Chrysalis and destroying him through their psychic link, she is labelled an Iron Widow, a dangerously powerful female pilot who flips the gender binary of the Chrysalises. She is able to sacrifice boys in order to pilot the robot, not girls. When Huxia’s military pairs her with Li Shimin as a way to discipline her incredible and unnerving power, Zetian struggles to maintain the power she refuses to relinquish now that she has encountered it. A story of survival, strength, and queer power, Zetian works to counter the misogyny of the pilot system to keep more girls from being unnecessarily sacrificed.

While this novel is complicated in its premise, it is also fun, immersive, and represents a fascinating blend of historical fact and science fiction. Xiran Jay Zhao’s world building is excellent and happens almost without the reader noticing. The setting arrives in the text as an immediate and stunning picture of a world where women are second-class, and where one person refutes that designation through her power and iron will. The world is also presented as a place where extraordinary things are possible, and there is an undercurrent of hope in the text primarily visible in Zetian’s character.

As a non-binary author, Zhao’s representation of queer characters is crucial to the novel’s structure. At its core, beyond its important representation of Chinese characters and people of colour, the novel is an exploration of the complex systems that uphold and perpetuate gender binaries, and a celebration of the bold people who oppose them through living authentically. The novel features bisexual main characters and a polyamorous relationship. Not only is this representation important in literature, but it is especially significant in a YA novel like this one. I personally found the characters’ identities and relationships to be enjoyable, authentic, and eye-opening.

Overall, Iron Widow is one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and I think it is an innovative, exhilarating, and totally original novel with authentic queer characters and an important message. I highly recommend!

Please visit Xiran Jay Zhao on Twitter and put Iron Widow on your TBR on Goodreads.

Content Warnings: Trauma, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical violence, substance abuse.

Rachel Friars is a writer and academic living in Canada, dividing her time between Ontario and New Brunswick. When she’s not writing short fiction, she’s reading every lesbian novel she can find. Rachel holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a PhD in nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history.

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

Shannon reviews Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Contemporary romance isn’t always my genre of choice. I often struggle to identify with the characters and the situations in which they manage to embroil themselves, and to be quite honest, I was a little worried about this when I first picked up Morgan Rogers’s Honey Girl. It revolves around the idea of two women who marry each other on a drunken whim in Vegas, even though they literally know nothing about one another. I wasn’t sure I would be able to suspend my disbelief enough to fall into the story, but Rogers’s writing managed to draw me in right away. Soon, the fact that the novel’s beginning felt pretty implausible didn’t matter to me at all.

The story is told from the perspective of Grace, a Black woman in her late twenties. She has just earned her PhD and is trying to figure out what’s next for her. All her life, she’s clung to her dream of being a well-known astronomer, but now that she’s ready to enter the working world, she’s beginning to wonder if astronomy is actually the thing that will make her happy long-term. To celebrate her degree, Grace heads off to Vegas with her two best friends, and it’s there she meets and marries Yuki, a Japanese waitress whose beauty seems to bowl Grace completely over from the moment they meet.

When she wakes up the next morning, she has only hazy memories of the previous night’s events. She’s wearing a wedding ring, and Yuki has left behind a business card, a photograph, and a note–which it’s clear she hopes Grace will use to learn more about her. At first, Grace is determined to put her ill-planned marriage out of her mind and get serious about finding the perfect job. However, the stresses of being a queer Black woman in a field that doesn’t seem the least bit receptive soon have Grace realizing she might need to make different choices. So, she does some research and learns the identity of the woman she married and eventually decides to spend the summer in New York City with Yuki.

The characters are the crowning glory of this book. The story itself is charming and poignant, but I doubt I would have enjoyed it even half as much if the characters hadn’t resonated with me so deeply. Grace is driven to be the absolute best at everything she does, even when that drive causes her to cheat herself out of the things that truly make her happy. She’s desperate to please her extremely strict father, and for a good portion of the book, she is unwilling to take a closer look at the way he treats her.

Yuki is Grace’s opposite in almost every way. She’s passionate and free-spirited, kind of new-agey and quirky in a way that made me fall completely in love with her before the novel was half over. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see things from Yuki’s perspective, so we only truly know her through Grace’s lens. Still, there was something so open and loving about the way she views the world, and I found myself really wanting Grace to let go of some of her emotional baggage and give her feelings for Yuki a chance.

Honey Girl is anything but a light and fluffy romance. Rogers touches on a number of serious issues facing women today, and I was drawn to the story’s depth. I loved peeling back the numerous layers of every character the author created. It was almost like making new friends.

If you love novels with a found family element, Honey Girl will be right up your alley. Both Grace and Yuki have amazing support systems. Their friends are exactly the kind of people I want in my life, and I absolutely loved seeing how they loved and supported each other through both the good times and the bad. People do call each other out for bad behavior at times, but it’s never done in a way that promotes shame or self-loathing. Instead, it’s clear that everything these people do for one another is done out of a deep and abiding love.

This is part romance and part coming-of-age story. It takes my favorite elements of both types of books and blends them together to create something that is utterly fresh and original. I haven’t come across many books as powerful as this one, and I can’t wait to see what Morgan Rogers has in store for readers in the years to come.

52 Bi and Lesbian Books Out This Month!

A collage of the covers of the books listed below with the text Bi and Lesbian Books Out in September!

Would you believe that more than 50 sapphic books come out this month? It’s true! Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find out which books have queer representation, or what kind of representation they have. So here’s a big list of bi and lesbian books out this month, sorted by genre. I’ve highlighted a few of the books I’m most interested in, but click through to see the other titles’ blurbs!

As always, if you can get these through an indie bookstore, that is ideal, but if you can’t, the titles and covers are linked to my Amazon affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, I’ll get a small percentage. On to the books!

Adult

Fiction

Cover of The Spectacular

The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall (Bisexual Fiction)

It’s 1997 and Missy is a cellist in an indie rock band on tour across America. At twentytwo years old, she gets on stage every night and plays the song about her absent mother that made the band famous. As the only girl in the band, she’s determined to party just as hard as everyone else, loving and leaving a guy in every town. But then she meets a tomboy drummer who is hard to forget, and a forgotten flap of cocaine strands her at the border.

Fortysomething Carola is just surfacing from a sex scandal at the yoga center where she has been living when she sees her daughter, Missy, for the first time in ten years—on the cover of a music magazine.

Ruth is eighty-three and planning her return to the Turkish seaside village where she spent her childhood. But when her granddaughter, Missy, winds up crashing at her house, she decides it’s time  that the strong and stubborn women in her family find a way to understand one another again.

In this sharply observed novel, Zoe Whittall captures three very different women who each struggle to build an authentic life. Definitions of family, romance, gender, and love will radically change as they seek out lives that are nothing less than spectacular.

How to Wrestle a Girl
Suture cover
Better to Trust cover

Romance

Suspecting Her cover
A Lot Like Adiós cover
Jordan’s Kiss cover
Dangerous Without You cover
Mechanics of Love cover
Love in the Limelight cover
Beginner's Bet cover
Calculated Risk cover
Love and Lotus Blossoms cover
Two Winters cover
Chain Reaction cover
Witch, Please! cover

Mystery/Thrillers

The Final Child cover

The Final Child by Fran Dorricott (Thriller)

He won’t forget her…
 
Erin and her brother Alex were the last children abducted by ‘the Father’, a serial killer who only ever took pairs of siblings. She escaped, but her brother was never seen again. Traumatised, Erin couldn’t remember anything about her ordeal, and the Father was never caught.
 
Eighteen years later, Erin has done her best to put the past behind her. But then she meets Harriet. Harriet’s young cousins were the Father’s first victims and, haunted by their deaths, she is writing a book about the disappearances and is desperate for an interview with the only survivor. At first, Erin wants nothing to do with her. But then she starts receiving sinister gifts, her house is broken into, and she can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched. After all these years, Erin believed that the Father was gone, but now she begins to wonder if he was only waiting…
 
A tense and emotive thriller, The Final Child is a powerful tale of a survivor being forced to confront her painful past.

What's the Matter with Mary Jane? cover
The Body On the Bed cover

Fantasy

No Gods, No Monsters cover

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (Sapphic and Queer Fantasy)

One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?

The world will soon find out.

Traitors of the Black Crown cover

Traitors of the Black Crown (Black Crown #1) by Cate Pearce (F/F Fantasy)

Three women will betray the black crown. A Knight. A Duchess. A Queen.

Raena Schinen narrowly escaped when the Queen’s guard murdered her entire family. If Raena’s survival is exposed, she’ll be next. For fifteen years Raena has hidden as a male Knight, “Sir Rowan”, consumed by her vengeful desire to assassinate the Queen.

The moment Raena is close enough to exact her revenge, she is unexpectedly exiled to a foreign land. There she serves the common-born Duchess Aven Colby, whose suspicious kinship with the Queen further threatens Raena’s delicate secrets.

Just as they become united in a common goal to curb a looming invasion, unexpected heat and romance blossoms between “Sir Rowan” and Aven. The peril demands they set out on a journey to form clandestine political alliances, risking the Queen’s wrath, and drawing Raena and Aven closer together.

But no one in the kingdom could have imagined the sinister foe rising from below the surface. In order to save themselves and those they love, Raena, Aven, and the Queen must recognize who are the oppressors and who will unite against the Black Crown.

Among Thieves

Science Fiction

Light from Uncommon Stars cover

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (Trans Sapphic Science Fiction)

Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars, a defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

The All-Consuming World cover

The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw (Science Fiction)

Maya has died and been resurrected into countless cyborg bodies through the years of a long, dangerous career with the infamous Dirty Dozen, the most storied crew of criminals in the galaxy, at least before their untimely and gruesome demise. Decades later, she and her diverse team of broken, diminished outlaws must get back together to solve the mystery of their last, disastrous mission and to rescue a missing and much-changed comrade . . . but they’re not the only ones in pursuit of the secret at the heart of the planet Dimmuborgir. 

The highly evolved AI of the galaxy have their own agenda and will do whatever it takes to keep humanity from ever regaining control. As Maya and her comrades spiral closer to uncovering the AIs’ vast conspiracy, this band of violent women—half-clone and half-machine—must battle their own traumas and a universe of sapient ageships who want them dead, in order to settle their affairs once and for all. 

Welcome to The All-Consuming World, the debut novel of acclaimed writer Cassandra Khaw. With this explosive and introspective exploration of humans and machines, life and death, Khaw takes their rightful place next to such science fiction luminaries as Ann Leckie, Ursula Le Guin, and Kameron Hurley.

First Light cover
The Actual Star cover
In the Deep cover

Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga

Monstress, Vol. 6 The Vow cover

Young Adult

YA Contemporary & Historical Fiction

A Clash of Steel cover

A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee (YA Pirates/Historical Fiction)

Two intrepid girls hunt for a legendary treasure on the deadly high seas in this YA remix of the classic adventure novel Treasure Island.

1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd businesswoman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her single memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.

But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure―the plunder of a thousand ports―that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.

Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea―and especially those who sail it―are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.

Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body cover
The Night When No One Had Sex cover
Before We Were Blue cover

YA Mystery/Thrillers

To Break a Covenant cover

To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames (Lesbian YA Thriller)

Debut voice Alison Ames delivers with a chilling, feminist thriller, perfect for fans of Wilder Girls and Sawkill Girls.

Moon Basin has been haunted for as long as anyone can remember. It started when an explosion in the mine killed sixteen people. The disaster made it impossible to live in town, with underground fires spewing ash into the sky. But life in New Basin is just as fraught. The ex-mining town relies on its haunted reputation to bring in tourists, but there’s more truth to the rumors than most are willing to admit, and the mine still has a hold on everyone who lives there.

Clem and Nina form a perfect loop―best friends forever, and perhaps something more. Their circle opens up for a strange girl named Lisey with a knack for training crows, and Piper, whose father is fascinated with the mine in a way that’s anything but ordinary. The people of New Basin start experiencing strange phenomena―sleepwalking, night terrors, voices that only they can hear. And no matter how many vans of ghost hunters roll through, nobody can get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Which is why the girls decide to enter the mine themselves.

The Convincing Hour cover

YA Horror

The Girls Are Never Gone cover

The Girls Are Never Gone by Sarah Glenn Marsh (Bisexual)

The Conjuring meets Sadie in this queer ghost story, when seventeen-year-old podcaster Dare finds herself in a life-or-death struggle against an evil spirit.

Dare Chase doesn’t believe in ghosts. But as the host of Attachments, her brand-new paranormal investigation podcast, she knows to keep her doubts to herself if she wants to win over listeners.

Her first season’s subject is the Arrington Estate—a sprawling manor rumored to be haunted by the spirit of Atheleen Bell, who drowned in its lake almost thirty years ago. Dare’s more interested in investigating the suspicious circumstances of Atheleen’s death, which she thinks point to a decades-old murder, not something supernatural.

But Arrington is full of surprises. As Dare is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the estate, she’ll have to rethink the boundaries of what is possible. Because if something is lurking in the lake…it might not be willing to let her go.

YA Fantasy

A Dark and Starless Forest cover

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell (Bisexual)

When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself—in this debut YA contemporary fantasy for fans of Wilder Girls.

Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after their families abandoned them, says it’s for their own good. After all, the world isn’t safe for people with magic. And Derry feels safe—most of the time.

Until the night her eldest sister disappears. Jane and Derry swore to each other that they’d never go into the forest, not after their last trip ended in blood, but Derry is sure she saw Jane walk into the trees. When another sibling goes missing and Frank’s true colors start to show, feeling safe is no longer an option. Derry will risk anything to protect the family she has left. Even if that means returning to the forest that has started calling to Derry in her missing siblings’ voices.

As Derry spends more time amidst the trees, her magic grows more powerful . . . and so does the darkness inside her, the viciousness she wants to pretend doesn’t exist. But saving her siblings from the forest and from Frank might mean embracing the darkness. And that just might be the most dangerous thing of all.

Some Faraway Place cover

Some Faraway Place (A Bright Sessions Novel) by Lauren Shippen (F/F)

Rose Atkinson’s mother can see the future. Her father can move things he doesn’t touch. Her brother Aaron can read minds. And Rose, well, she makes a mean spaghetti bolognese.

Everyone else in her family is Atypical, which means they manifested an ability that defies the limits of the human experience. At nineteen, well past the average age of manifestation, Rose is stuck defending her decision not to go to college and instead working in the kitchen of a local restaurant, hoping to gain the experience she needs to become a chef.

When a rollerblading accident sends her to the hospital, she meets a girl she can’t forget and she starts to feel like maybe her life isn’t quite so small. But when she starts falling asleep mid-conversation, she thinks, then again maybe I’m doomed to never have good things.

Rose should be happy to learn that she’s Atypical after all―that diving into dreams makes her a part of her family in the way she always wanted. But the more time she spends in the dreamworld, the more complicated her ability becomes. Trying to balance her work, her power, and a girlfriend who doesn’t know about Atypicals, Rose seeks help. But she soon discovers that being Atypical comes with dangers she never could have imagined. Even her carefully constructed dreamworld isn’t safe.

This is the story of Atypical Rose, who discovers that your dreams coming true isn’t always a good thing.

The Lost Girls cover

The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl (Sapphic YA Paranormal)

Getting over Your Vampire Ex is as Easy as Killing Him and Stealing His Girlfriend

Holly Liddell has been stuck with crimped hair since 1987 when she agreed to let her boyfriend, Elton, turn her into a vampire. But when he ditches her at a gas station a few decades into their eternity together, she realizes that being young forever actually means working graveyard shifts at Taco Bell, sleeping in seedy motels, and being supernaturally compelled to follow your ex from town to town–at least until Holly meets Elton’s other exes.

It seems that Holly isn’t the only girl Elton seduced into this wretched existence. He turned Ida in 1921, then Rose in 1954, and he abandoned them both before Holly was even born. Now Rose and Ida want to kill him before he can trick another girl into eternal adolescence, and they’ll need Holly’s help to do it. And once Holly starts falling for Elton’s vulnerable new conquest, Parker, she’ll do anything to save her.

To kill Elton for good, Holly and her friends will have to dig up their pasts, rob a bank, and reconcile with the people they’ve hurt in their search for eternal love. And to win the girl, Holly will have to convince Parker that she’s more than just Elton’s crazy ex–even though she is trying to kill him.

The Scratch Daughters cover
Sisters of Shadow
Witch Rising cover
The Hollow Heart cover
The Other Merlin cover

YA Sci Fi

Iron Widow cover

Iron Widow ​by Xiran Jay Zhao (Bisexual)

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

YA Graphic Novels

Stars in Their Eyes cover

Stars in Their Eyes by Jessica Walton & Aśka

Maisie has always dreamed of meeting her hero, Kara Bufano, an amputee actor who plays a kick-arse amputee character in her favourite show.

Fancon is big and exciting and exhausting.

Then she meets Ollie, a cute volunteer who she has a lot in common with.

Could this be the start of something, or will her mum, who doesn’t seem to know what boundaries are, embarrass her before she and Ollie have a chance?

Children

Middle Grade

A Touch of Ruckus cover

A Touch of Ruckus by Ash Van Otterloo (Sapphic Main Character, Non-Binary Love Interest Middle Grade Fantasy)

A laugh-out-loud, ghostly Southern mystery that’s perfect for fans of Cassie Beasley and Natalie Lloyd.

Tennessee Lancaster has a hidden gift. She can pry into folks’ memories with just a touch of their belongings. It’s something she’s always kept hidden — especially from her big, chaotic family. Their lives are already chock-full of worries about Daddy’s job and Mama’s blues without Tennie rocking the boat.

But when the Lancasters move to the mountains for a fresh start, Tennie’s gift does something new. Instead of just memories, her touch releases a ghost with a terrifying message: Trouble is coming. Tennie wants to ignore it. Except her new friend Fox — scratch that, her only friend, Fox — is desperate to go ghost hunting deep in the forest. And when Tennie frees even more of the spirits, trouble is exactly what she gets… and it hits close to home. The ghosts will be heard, and now Tennie must choose between keeping secrets or naming an ugly truth that could tear her family apart.

Magic and mayhem abound in this spooky story about family legacies, first friendships, and how facing the ghosts inside can sometimes mean stirring up a little bit of ruckus.

One Life Young Readers Edition cover

Nonfiction

Poetry

Passion cover
Gumbo Ya Ya cover

General Nonfiction

The Audacity of a Kiss cover
On Freedom cover

Check out more LGBTQ new releases by signing up for Our Queerest Shelves, my LGBTQ book newsletter at Book Riot!

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon to get queer books in the mail throughout the year!

anna marie’s 3 best sapphic books of 2021 so far, with honourable mentions

Here are some of the best sapphic books i’ve read so far this year, which i think everyone should read immediately considering how incredible, prescient, inspiring and sexy they are. 

  1. The gilda stories by jewelle gomez
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

this is my favourite vampire story i’ve ever read and i’m sad it took me so long to get to it because it’s a delight. Jewelle Gomez writes so tenderly about Gilda, the main character, who becomes a vampire after escaping slavery in the south in the 1850s. We then track through time, in and out of different people’s lives and into the future, but always following Gilda’s path. The way this novel animates history, demonstrating it’s ongoing effect on the present/future as well as community, especially black queer community, through the figure of the vampire is wonderful and inspiring. The changes that are made to traditional vampire lore/representation (which is so heterosexual usually) allow the novel to explore a whole wealth of meanings and experiences normally forgotten or seen as unimportant. The way the vampires in this novel drink blood is one of my favourite things about it because it’s so reciprocal and caring, basically a form of mutual aid between vampires & non vampires and not just a transactional or sometimes violent relationship. the afterword in my edition is by alexis pauline gumbs which was also so beautiful and definitely worthwhile reading too if you have access to it! – about black feminist legacies and the implications of writing a queer black woman vampyre both in the 1990s & in 2016 or so when a new edition was published.

Life was indeed interminable. The inattention of her contemporaries to some mortal questions, like race, didn’t suit her. She didn’t believe a past could, or should, be so easily discarded. Her connection to the daylight world came from her blackness. The memories of her master’s lash as well as her mother’s face, legends of the Middle Passage, lynchings she had not been able to prevent, images of black women bent over scouring brushes – all fueled her ambition. She had been attacked more than once by men determined that she die, but of course she had not. She felt their hatred as personally as any mortal. The energy of the struggles of those times sustained her, somehow.

  1. Lucy by jamaica kincaid  
Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

I think some might find the inclusion of this book on a sapphic book list a surprise but i wanted to include it because the eponymous character, in my opinion, has a sexuality that is queer (or at least not heterosexual), because it includes making out with her best friend, peggy. Much like the novel this short novel is based on (Villette by charlotte bronte), Lucy is a judgemental and, to some, unlikeable character but i love her! I found being ensconced in her life and hearing directly from her was so fascinating; sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes curious.

Kincaid’s novel is mostly a coming of age story about what happens to lucy when she moves from the west indies to north america to work as a nanny for Mariah and Lewis’ children. She develops a complicated and interesting relationship with Mariah along the way and thinks about her own mother back at home. All the relationships in this novel are extremely vivid and extremely fraught with differing emotions and differing levels of power which makes for a really variegated glimpse into lucy’s mind and life. I don’t think i’ll forget lucy as a character or her experiences for a really long time!!

  1. Plain bad heroines by emily m danforth
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

I’m pretty sure this 600+ page novel was made for me to enjoy – as someone who identifies in a lot of ways as a plain bad heroine (sometimes known as a dyke), i felt like i had to read this this year and i’m so glad i did. It’s a campy horror film pastiche with sapphism at it’s centre. Part fin-de-siecle horror book, part love letter to horror films and literary gossip novels, it combines the best of all these into an ambitious and at points genuinely terrifying (at least for me) novel that includes two main storylines, one at a rhode island boarding school in 1902 and a contemporary one which follows three plain bad heroines as they attempt to make a horror film about what happened.

It’s at times uncomfortable, at times sexy, at times gruesome and sweet, and whilst i did have a preferred storyline (the 1902 one which starts off with the tragic deaths of flo and clara by yellowjackets as they run away from family obligation and heterosexuality), i thought they ultimately melded together so well. A delicious, lesboerotic romp with a fun and distinctive writing style which included footnotes!! My favourite!!! Absolutely would recommend this to anyone who can read. 

Honourable mentions go to children’s murder mystery novel jolly foul play by robin stevens, which is set in a 1930s boarding school, and the mercies by kiran millwood hargrave, an ambient and beautifully written historical fiction novel set in the late 1610s in norway.

Kayla Bell reviews Strength Check by Katherine McIntyre

Strength Check combines three of my favorite things: board game cafés, roller derby, and WLW romance. Plus, it takes place in San Francisco and uses that setting to the fullest extent it can. Read this one if you want a fun, sweet romance between two very relatable women. The plot is straightforward: Roxie is working at a board game café in San Francisco when cute derby girl Mel answers her request for a new roommate. Mel just moved from Philadelphia and is escaping some pretty complicated dynamics with her family and ex.

The simplistic writing style in this book doesn’t take away from the complex dynamics of relationships between the characters. Mel and Roxie’s friendship is the heart of the story, which makes their romance all the more fun to read about. The cast of characters surrounding them were a little bit tough to keep track of, but also added more depth to the story. I just really enjoy reading about great friendships, and that is really what this book is built on.

Another reason I enjoyed Strength Check so much is because of how authentic the characters felt. I really related to Mel, especially as she navigated moving across the country, dealing with biphobia, and feeling awkward joining a new friend group.

The biggest shortcoming of the book, for me, was that the writing was full of clichés. Now, it actually makes me happy to see romance tropes applied to same sex relationships, but you should know before you read this that you’re in for a lot of “throbbing cores” and “eyes darkening” that might seem overdone to you. Also, the characters were a bit melodramatic and I didn’t feel like the third act conflict had enough buildup. But, again, that comes with the territory and didn’t take me out of the story too much. Overall, I really enjoyed this book.

I couldn’t help but find the romance between the two leads very heartwarming and sweet. This is a book I wish I had read when I was younger, first realizing I wasn’t straight, and scared of what my future would look like. I found this novel to be very comforting. It’s the perfect sapphic romance for the holidays, as many moments of the story take place during Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series.

Strength Check comes out on September 21st and is the first book in the Dungeons and Dating series. Thank you to the author for providing this ARC to review.

Readers should know that this book contains instances of homophobia, biphobia, and alcoholism, as well as a graphic sex scene.

The Lesbrary Was Featured in Breathe Magazine as “Destination Book Blog”!

In the latest issue of Breathe Magazine, a UK publication, they featured the Lesbrary as a “destination book blog”! How cool!

A page from Breathe Magazine listing 5 destination book blogs

This is the second magazine (that I know of) that’s featured the Lesbrary! Diva Magazine, a queer women and non-binary UK publication, featured us a few years back. It’s validating to see this ephemeral internet space make it into print!

Marieke reviews Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

This book has been on the edges of my radar for a long time, and I’m not sure why I never got to it before now. Luckily I picked it when I was browsing through my ereader for something that might help to break my reading slump, with no idea what the book was about beyond it being a YA story. If I had known before starting that it was about schools integrating in the South during the 1960s, I probably would have skipped it, assuming something with such serious and intense subject material would be too much for me to keep going. I was very wrong about that, and hopefully I’ll be able to bear that in mind when picking future reads set during turbulent times.

This story follows Sarah and Linda, two girls starting their senior year of high school. Starting their senior 5 months late, because the governor of Virginia closed all schools in a bid to prevent them from integrating as was ordered by the Supreme Court five whole years before. When the schools are eventually forced to open and allow Black students, Sarah is one of the first Black pupils to attend. It does not go smoothly. I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen footage of the abuse Black children suffered as they walked up the path to enter their now desegregated schools, and this book does not shy away from the reality of the situation.

I found it extremely interesting to see that all of the students and their families were cherrypicked, and they were coached on how to handle this and any other situations they might find themselves in over the course of the school day and the year ahead. One of the main messages in this book is that despite all their goodwill and good intentions, the people on the outside can never understand what goes on inside the school grounds. It isn’t pleasant or pretty, and Sarah learns that in order for the whole movement to grow and move forwards, individuals will have to make personal sacrifices that are likely to go unnoticed by history.

Sarah is very good at self denial, but never loses sight of her own identity – even when she’s not sure how to define that identity. She knows she’s always had certain feelings for other girls, and she learned relatively early that those feelings are ‘sinful’ and ‘against God.’ When she has to join with Linda – a very popular white girl and daughter of the very conservative editor of the local newspaper – for a French group project, that self denial and testing of identity become very prominent. Linda is a staunch segregationist, but she’s also intelligent. She doesn’t want it to come out (and she especially doesn’t want it to come back to her father) that she’s working on a school project with a Black student, so they find a quiet space where no one will see them. While this escape from the public eye is for clearly racist reasons, it provides both Sarah and Linda with a space to speak more freely, even while they know they can’t have this kind of open discussion outside of closed doors.

It is the first time either of them can speak so freely with someone of a different ethnicity, and Linda especially is forced to reconsider some of the party lines she has been parroting all her life. As soon as someone asks her to use her mind and actually consider the implications and internal contradictions of her arguments, that starts a process within her that can’t be stopped. She carries her questioning mind into other conversations, with white peers and white figures of authority. This is not a straightforward journey, and for every step she makes forwards, she will make some kind of step backwards as well. It’s confusing for both girls, and the fact that they are both developing feelings doesn’t make matters any less confusing.

The relationship development between these two characters is the core of the book, and it is very strong and thoughtfully written. The author adds plenty of (well researched) historical background and notes, and fleshes out all main, side, and background characters well. This book makes you think a lot, about the insidious ways racism and other forms of bigotry work and interacted, with small throw away lines occasionally making you sit down and think through the various implications.

Content warnings: racism, homophobia, internalised homophobia, general bigotry, violence, physical abuse, domestic abuse, bullying, racial slurs, hate crime, religious bigotry

Meagan Kimberly reviews Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn, illustrated by Claire Roe

Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Madison Jackson started as an intern at The Boston Lede, fetching coffee and grabbing quotes for senior writers. But she finds herself thrust into the spotlight when Dahlia Kennedy, a prominent socialite charged with a gruesome murder, latches onto her. Madison must decide how far she’s willing to go and how much to trust Dahlia to get her shot at becoming an ace reporter.

The story starts strong, pulling the reader in with the mystery. A constant back and forth of whether or not Dahlia actually committed the murder creates a palpable tension that moves the mystery forward. But about halfway through, the push and pull without any clear evolution in sight for the characters becomes tedious. After so much buildup on the mystery, when the truth comes to light, it’s more a relief than satisfying.

While the overall plot falls flat, Dunn does capture the newsroom politics well. It’s the nature of these dynamics that define Madison’s character development throughout the story. She starts as a typical, shy intern and it seems like she’s going to make a name for herself. But the path she takes to do that leads to selfish decisions that hurt others, making her a rather unlikeable character.

Unlikeability in a character isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but between her devolving character arc and the tiresome plot, it doesn’t leave much for the reader to root for. Especially because most of the characters are unlikeable. The diversity of supporting characters made the story feel real, but there was very little to like about most of them.

The artwork helps keep the story moving even after the pacing starts to fall short. Vibrant colors make every panel pop on its own. And yet it has a style that still feels very noir, keeping in line with the mystery genre.

Bury the Lede is a solid 3 stars because it did keep me entertained for the most part.