FutureDyke   safegirltolove   womensbarracks

Autostraddle posted Drawn to Comics: Lumberjanes #4 has Hipster Yetis, Friendship High-Fives and Archery and 10 Hilarious And Historical Sex Scenes From Lesbian Pulp Fiction.

FY Lesbian Literature posted Why Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Should Have Been Queerer (mild spoilers).

Piercing Fiction posted Why you need to attend a GCLS conference if you read lesbian literature.

Women and Words posted Faces to go with Names.

FUTUREDYKE by Lea Daley was reviewed at Terry’s Lesfic Reviews.

A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

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

howstillmylove

I was looking for a fluffy contemporary romance when I picked up How Still My Love, and with a few caveats, I think it delivered.

The novel follows Beth, a woman who’s thrown herself into work at her successful graphic design studio after the end of a disastrous (and abusive) relationship several years past. Her best friends set her up on a blind date with Toni, a local schoolteacher, and the romance blooms from there. Through a few time skips – some more successful than others – we follow Beth and Toni through a delightful honeymoon period, buying their dream house together, and then smack into the wall of the overarching conflict. Toni desperately wants a baby and Beth can’t articulate just how terrified that makes her. A roller-coaster of miscommunication and misunderstandings follows –including the use of a classic, if a bit cliché Big Misunderstanding – until finally, several years later, Beth and Toni earn their happy ending.

I will admit, I struggled a lot with the first third of this book. Beth’s whacky-but-loveable friends come off as, well, pushy and kind of terrible. Our first introduction to Laurel, her best friend, involves her carelessly injuring Beth in a way that invokes the specter of Beth’s physically abusive ex-girlfriend, with the implication that, tee-hee, this happens all the time. Her company is so tight-knit that everyone shows up to pressure Beth to go on this blind date she’s really quite opposed to. I eventually warmed up moderately to Laurel and her husband, but they had to combat an awful first impression.

Toni, on the other hand, is lovely once she’s introduced. She seems to be nice, attracted to Beth, and a generally sweet and sensible person. Honestly, for that first chunk of the book, I would have rather been in Toni’s head, not Beth’s. Beth falls head-over-heels in lust with Toni at their first meeting, and head-over-heels in love with her after three days. And during that time period, there’s a great deal of tell, not show, language. Everything Toni does is ‘sexy.’ Her hair twirling, her dimple, the never-identified nail color on her toes. Toni is also written with instant mind-reading powers – she reads Beth like an open book, which juxtaposes oddly with their later communication problems.

Thankfully, after some significant time skips – three weeks, six months for a single chapter, three years later – the novel smooths out. Toni’s significant flaws fill her out as a character, and we see Beth grow up a lot over the intervening time. Without going into any more detail, I will say that Beth and Toni are a brilliant demonstration of the importance of couple’s counseling. Still, I did feel like they deserved their happy ending, and I was glad to see them find it.

Overall, How Still My Love is a decent contemporary lesbian romance. If you don’t mind fairly simple prose and a dash of misunderstandings and family-related angst in your fluffy romance, you’ll probably enjoy it.

polymorph

I debated whether or not to review this book at the Lesbrary. It’s definitely not a lesbian book, but it is queer, and since I have a policy of reviewing every book I read that could be posted here, I decided to go ahead. I found Polymorph in a crowded used bookstore while travelling, and picked it up because the idea of a person who changes their body completely at will was fascinating to me, especially since the back cover promised to play with gender. And the other factor was that this is by Scott Westerfeld! I’m pretty familiar with Westerfeld’s books, working in the kids’ section of a bookstore, but I’d never heard of this one. He usually writes teen books, that in my experience are entertaining, but fairly forgettable. It turns out that this is his first novel, written in 1997, and it diverges hugely from his now established genre. It’s adult sci fi, and it’s challenging and sexual and queer. Look at that front cover blurb! Poppy Z. Brite (known for her queer horror books)! And the back cover shows a blurb by Melissa Scott, author of one of the most well-known lesbian sci fi books, Trouble and her Friends! This is not the sort of company Westerfeld’s books share now.

Needless to say, I was very curious picking up this book. And as I started it, I was immediately hooked. Our main character, often (but not always) known as Lee, calls themselves a “polymorph”, because they can change their body at will, though not without a huge amount of effort. Lee spends most of their time trying on different faces and hitting the clubs, studying anatomy texts and club goers to perfect striking, distinct bodies. Around this depiction of Lee everyday life, Westerfeld builds up an interesting view of the near future. In fact, because this is written in 90s, the future it depicts would be about now. It has a cyberpunk feel, with technology and the internet constantly a presence in the background of the novel (reminding me of Cory Doctorow’s books). I loved Westerfeld’s depiction of the future, which felt much more thought-out than his Uglies series. It’s a little bit odd, because most of it still seems possible for the near future, but it also has a 90s feel to it, a slightly dated future world.

But the aspect that drew me to Polymorph and captured my attention so thoroughly at the beginning of the book was the queer nature of being a polymorph. Queer in both the gender/sexuality sense, and also in the theory sense. Lee has no sense of permanent identity. They are just as comfortable in a “male” body as a “female” one, and also changes race throughout the book, noting how this aspect changes how they are treated. In a way, it’s a critique of racism, but the casualness of putting on another race made me hesitant to see how it would be handled throughout the novel. (Small spoiler: it’s not really addressed, but Lee was born Dominican and grew up as this identity until they began to change their body, in their teens.) Lee also mentions sleeping with men and women, gay and straight in the past. In fact, near the beginning of the book, Lee goes to a lesbian bar that they regularly frequent.

As I’ve mentioned, this was really promising for the beginning of the novel. Unfortunately, though the premise of the book is extremely queer, Westerfeld doesn’t seem to be able to follow through on it. You may have already noticed the binaries in Lee listing their lovers as men or women, gay or straight. Although bisexuality is mentioned once (the club has a “bi-night”), that sort of binary still seems to be the established norm. And though Lee is this person with no connection to a certain body, sex, or gender, there’s still quite a lot of transphobia mentioned. Lee sees “transvestites” in the street and notes that they are all “really” men. It’s also interesting that there is a scene, where Lee is changing their body from one with a vagina to one with a penis (which Lee does every time they want to change gendered bodies, though it’s apparently the most difficult thing to change), and pronouns change from she to he as soon as Lee forms a penis.

[Spoilers follow]

The scene that really solidified Westerfeld’s inability to realize this queer premise, though, is when Lee encounters another polymorph. This take place at the lesbian club, and Lee doesn’t realize that the other person is a polymorph at first. They begin to full around, and eventually Lee realizes, because Lee notices that this person has an essential essence different from themselves, which is that this person was born male. Because apparently even polymorphs, who have no “home” body and switch genitals, gendered characteristics, etc, constantly, still are really either men or women. And then Lee discovers that this person has come into a lesbian club with a penis, and it is appalled, because “this is not a place for pricks“. In fact, Westerfeld somehow manages to write a book about someone who changes gendered bodies at will without acknowledging the existence of trans people. And this is in addition to some questionable depictions of race. There is a Japanese, deaf character in the book, but there’s also a scene of Lee pitying him for being deaf, though Sam is extremely wealthy and seems pretty satisfied with his life.

Perhaps more damning than the offensiveness of certain aspects in Polymorph is the plot. I was completely engrossed in Lee’s everyday life, but once it reached the actual plot of the book, I lost interest. Lee discovers another polymorph, but he’s a monster. (I say “he” because Bonito seems to prefer it, and Lee insists he’s a “man at heart”.) Lee tries to track him down, with  a new boyfriend and his hacking friend, and hopefully prevent him from doing something heinous and also meet more polymorphs. Bonito is such a flat, evil-for-the-sake-of-it character (though with a little contemplation for how he could have ended up that way) that I found any part of his story boring. I prefer my villains complex, even sympathetic. Although dramatic, it wasn’t particularly interesting, and I was particularly disappointed with it ending with Lee getting raped (in the most horrifying, consuming way possible).

I’m glad I read Polymorph, because the first 50 pages or so were worth it, but the rest was disappointing, mostly because I feel like Westerfeld has this great idea, but his own cissexist worldview didn’t allow him to fully imagine it.

annieonmymind  Gravitybetweenus   PayingGuests

AfterEllen posted ACT NOW: Keep “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” on summer reading lists and The AfterEllen.com Book Club: “The Gravity Between Us”.

Autostraddle posted LGBTQ Students Need Representation in Textbooks — and a Whole Lot More and Lez Liberty Lit #50: Summer Reading Lists.

CBC Diversity posted Remembering Nancy Garden, Author of ‘Annie on My Mind’.

Diversity In YA posted “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” Removed From Delaware Summer Reading List – UPDATED.

Silhouette of a Sparrow   heiressesofruss   Queer Quartets

Frivolous Views posted GCLS 2014 – Portland, OR.

Gay YA posted Enter to win a signed copy of Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin!

Lambda Literary posted New in July: Judith Frank, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, Mary Meriam, Genny Beemyn, and Jason Whitesel and Stacey D’Erasmo: On Music, Writing Straight Characters, and Creating a Literary Legacy.

The Rainbow Reader posted TRR Takes on Poetry with Carbinela and Kaminski.

Women and Words posted Photos from the GCLS con! and Golden Crown Literary Society Awards List, 2014.

TroubleandHerFriends   rentgirl   the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final

emily m danforth posted Win the Entire, Original, UnCensored Blue Hen Reading List for Summer 2014! and My Letter to the Members of the Cape Henlopen School Board About Their Censorship of my Great Big Gay-YA Novel.

Malinda Lo posted Some context on book challenges and Midsummer Updates.

Catherine Lundoff posted On LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1990s.

“Queering SFF Pride Month: Wrapping Up the Extravaganza” was posted at Tor.

“5 Essential Lesbian Book Reads – #OutWriters” was posted at KitschMix.

“Lesbian Historic Motif Project” (research on lesbians and “lesbian-like” people in pre-modern Europe) was posted at The Rose Garden.

lesbianpulp   genderfailure   queerlybeloved

Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders by Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Olive Oil & White Bread by Georgia Beers was reviewed at C-Spot Reviews.

Nightingale by Andrea Bramhall was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon was reviewed by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

Lesbian Pulp Fiction: The Sexually Intrepid World of Lesbian Paperback Novels 1950-1965 by Katherine V Forrest was reviewed at Curve Magazine.

HelloGroin   backwards to oregon   pissinginariver

Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie was reviewed at Queer Book Club.

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin was reviewed at Gay YA.

Backwards to Oregon by Jae was reviewed at Loving Venus – Loving Mars.

Positive Lightning by Laurie Salzler was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Pissing in a River by Lorrie Sprecher was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Ebenezer by JoSelle Vanderhooft was reviewed at Bisexual Books.

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

MermaidinChelseaCreek

This book is a gift to the world. As I read it I imagined wrapping it up in pretty colored paper and giving it to someone I love, to imagine them discovering it for the first time. Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is everything I’ve ever wanted from a Young Adult, “Chosen One” fantasy novel. I began this book looking for a light, summery mermaid read, and found something worth so much more.

Our protagonist, the realistic, sometimes-bratty-but-ultimately-good-hearted Sophie, is the daughter of a working single mother. Her mother is tired, burnt-out, and neglectful. Sophie feels unloved.

This was my favorite part of the novel, although it may seem depressing. I’ve never read a fantasy story featuring a neglectful parent before. Harry Potter has a nasty aunt and uncle and the Disney movie Tangled has an abusive mother – who is not, in fact, an actual mother at all. But in children’s fiction there is a dearth of children who are genuinely unloved or neglected by their biological parents but do amazing things anyway. The world needs these stories. We have an overabundance of dead parents in prose, but there’s always this assumption that these dead parents would have loved their children. Harry’s mother’s love reaches beyond the grave. And that’s a beautiful story, but it’s a story that many children can’t relate to. Give them something they can relate to, and then give them hope. Neglected children, too, get to be the Chosen Ones.

Onwards: I loved the fantasy elements mixed with stark realism. Sophie lives in a grubby city which contains a polluted creek. This creek is not only unimpressive, but thoroughly revolting. And yet it is here where the mermaid lurks, waiting to inform Sophie of her destiny.

The mermaid, herself, is perfectly magical, but she, too, is of this world: She’s from Poland, speaks accented English, and, what’s more, has a very foul mouth. A mermaid with a pirate mouth.

Another important setting is “the dump,” where Sophie discovers that a place filled with discarded items and heaps of broken glass is, just like the mermaid, enchanted: “The whole place was a mixture of sparkle and grit, sort of magical in an ordinary way…”

Throughout the novel the ordinary is made beautiful, the mundane and magical intertwined until the two become indistinguishable from one another. Reflecting this theme is the prose: Michelle Tea writes beautifully, but sometimes conversationally. Her characters, too, speak not like characters in a book but like real people. They curse and have accents and say ‘like’ too many times. This theme – the ordinary is deeply, profoundly beautiful – is reinforced by every aspect of the book.

Also, I know a lot of people don’t like pigeons, but I love them. Michelle Tea, too, has been fortunate enough to realize their beauty, and she writes about them in her book, putting them on the magical pedestal they deserve.

I saw on Amazon that a reviewer said this book would “have difficulty finding an audience.” This book includes American immigrants from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Poland; a lesbian mentor in the form of Angel; a girl with a single-parent household; and more. Sounds like Tea’s reached out to a pretty wide audience to me.

Also, teeny tiny side note: This book has no romantic lead. For a YA book, that is very, very rare. Plenty of YA authors need to insert a romantic subplot before their novels can be published. I was relieved and refreshed to see Sophie too busy with magic to be kissing mediocre thirteen year-old boys (or girls).

I hold this book close to my heart, now. I hope you will, too.

KisstheGirl

Kiss the Girl is Melissa Brayden’s fourth book, after How Sweet It Is, and contains similar strands of enduring friendship and sweetness mixed with serious themes.

Brooklyn Campbell co-founded a small but successful advertising agency with her three lesbian best friends from college. She’s a fast-driving, energetic whirlwind who follows one rule: never get too involved. Jessica Lennox is a quintessential high-powered advertising executive who spends all her time thinking about work. The two women meet by chance and feel an immediate spark of attraction, then discover that their companies are rivals for a coveted account and will be forced to work on the same campaign until one is chosen.

Initially, both women agree that any potential relationship between them is impossible considering the potential breach of professionalism it would entail. Brooklyn, who grew up in and aged out of the foster system, also battles confusion after she’s told that her birth mother wants to get in touch for the first time. Events conspire to throw Brooklyn and Jessica together several times, forcing them to realize that it might just be worthwhile to take a chance on a real relationship. Brayden supports their story with a full cast of supporting characters.

Overall, I recommend this book for fans of initially adversarial romantic relationships and corporate intrigue. Brooklyn’s reasons for not committing to Jessica felt valid, given her emotional background. A side plot with Jessica and a neighbor’s daughter ended up feeling a little unresolved, and I was left wanting to know more about the lives of Brooklyn’s friends. Maybe Brayden will write a book for each of them? I can only hope that’s true, given the “A Soho Loft Romance” tagline.

I received an advance copy of How Sweet It Is, which comes out this month, through Netgalley. For another tale featuring a corporate lesbian powerhouse, try The Blush Factor by Gun Brooke.

everythingleadstoyou

I heard a lot about this book before its release in May, so I made sure to place my hold on it as early as possible and eagerly anticipated its arrival. Having not read Hold Still or The Disenchantments, I was not sure what to expect from Nina LaCour – but I’m happy to say that Everything Leads to You definitely lived up to the hype.

Best friends Emi and Charlotte have just graduated high school in Los Angeles when the book begins. Toby, Emi’s older brother, who works in the movie industry, is going abroad for the summer and leaves the girls his apartment as a graduation present. His only stipulation is that something epic takes place there while he is away – not a massive party, but something even more amazing.

Toby has also secured summer jobs for the girls at the studio he works for (although it is clear that Emi has established herself as a talented set dresser already and is working her way up the production ladder). One morning, Charlotte is at an estate sale in search of props and set pieces, when she realizes she is at the home of Clyde Jones, a John Wayne-esque actor who has recently died. Star-struck, the two girls purchase some of Jones’ belongings for themselves, including a Patsy Cline record with a mysterious letter hidden inside. The contents of the letter lead them on a hunt for the recipient of Jones’ inheritance, exposing the personal life of an actor who avoided the spotlight outside of his film endeavors… and, ultimately, allowing them to fulfill Toby’s wish of having something great happen in his apartment.

Emi is an entirely lovable, hard working and passionate teenager with a sincere love of the movies and her role in making them.  She acts mature beyond her years in the job realm; while most people her age have a stereotypically mundane summer job, she is pursuing her dream career path. What is refreshing about Emi is that she takes the leap in accepting a job as a production designer, even when it seems more than a little bit beyond her experience. In this way, Emi is a wonderful role model for young female readers, forging her path in an industry that isn’t always seen as the friendliest to women.

While all of this is wonderful, I have to point out that I was more than a little skeptical of her ability to snag such a position right out of high school. Any reader will have to employ some serious suspension of disbelief as they watch Emi fall into situations that only the most privileged teenager could encounter.

Though her job is quite unrealistic, readers are drawn into the story because we believe Emi is a truly talented artist with a keen eye. The “collapse of the fantasy” concept often comes up in Emi’s narration, as she muses about how both the movies and the great mysteries of people’s lives become less enticing the more you learn about them. But even knowing that Emi’s job situation (and, in fact, the entire plot) plays out a bit too perfectly, we are still compelled to read with the same enthusiasm. The experience of reading LaCour’s story is similar to that of watching a movie – even though we know that both are fabrications of a person’s mind, even though we know that each paragraph and prop are intentionally placed – we still read and watch just as eagerly as if it were happening in real life.

Of course, Emi has some romantic situations throughout the novel, which I will try to keep mostly a secret so as not to ruin the mystery. In any event, Emi matter-of-factly talks about her sexuality from the very beginning, as she attempts to get over her ex-girlfriend, Morgan, who also works on the same set. The wonderful thing about having already established lesbian characters is that it allows the plot to be about more than just sexuality. In doing this, LaCour can write a young love story uncomplicated by the coming-out process, something that is still rare in YA fiction.

LaCour’s up-front writing of Emi’s sexual orientation is just one example of how she casually incorporates diversity into the novel. Further on in the story, one character meets Emi’s parents and discovers that she is mixed-race, a fact that he had never really considered, and that she didn’t deem it necessary to mention. While I love that this was a surprise (I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I did not originally pictured Emi as anything other than white), I do wish LaCour had unpacked Emi’s identities a bit more. Older readers may be more equipped to recognize the implications of Emi’s privilege on her nonchalance regarding her race/sexuality (both of her parents are professors, so she grew up in both a financially stable and intellectually progressive household), but younger readers may not entirely get the subtlety.

Overall, I would highly recommend this incredibly sweet and super intriguing story to a variety of readers. Not only did I love the combination of romance and mystery, but I was really captivated by the descriptions of Emi’s design work, and I will be sure to pay extra attention to the set and props when I watch a film in the future.

 

Writing a short story is kind of a tall order. Thirty pages into a full-length novel, it’s safe to say a reader’s interest has either been piqued or squelched. For first-time writer Elizabeth Andre, thirty pages was all she wrote (pun intended).Learning to Kiss Girls is an unexpected pleasure. Its cover art features the body of a young girl dressed in pink and clutching school books, punctuated by the title and byline in a font from the same family line as Curlz MT, which didn’t exactly gear me up for the next YA masterpiece. But YA this is, and a pink cover certainly attracts the type of audience that would benefit from engaging in this short but sweet text.

If you’re a bit older than the “young adult” crowd (I mean, I’m not exactly raring to drop the “young” title just yet) don’t despair. Andre’s narrator, the fourteen-year-old Helen Blumenstein, speaks from a place that’s not yet wise but not quite green. Her language feels natural, unlike so many other “teen” voices that sound more like parents trying out Facebook. It’s not clear if Helen is speaking to us from her later years as she pulls us along through a few days in her teenage life, and even if she isn’t, I’d still believe her. With lines like, “I didn’t want anyone to know that someone as cool as me might be embarrassed by some nudie picture,” it’s hard not to get brought back to fourteen, to all the stupid things we said when we were self-consciously honest teenagers. Andre has an impressive command of language, a thorough knowledge of Helen’s world, and a refreshing understanding of a young might-be-queer mind that does not feel forced.

Helen is at once innocent and precocious. Her family approaches queerness matter-of-factly if not cluelessly, especially when her gay cousin and his “friend” come to visit and Helen is instructed to take them to the Art Institute, because “they’ll like that.” While never becoming caricature, hers is a Jewish family living in Chicago, complete with plastic-coated dining chairs and plenty of kvetching. Her family is not the issue when it comes to accepting her burgeoning queer identity. Quite realistically, for those of us with benignly uneducated, blissfully ambivalent, or only mildly homophobic families, her issue is that she doesn’t really know if she’s gay yet. She feels weird things for a cute girl in the museum, but she kissed a boy last week. She watches porn and wishes there weren’t so many shadowy regions, but her best friend Anna has a crush on her. It seems coming out for Helen would probably not be a very dramatic, seismic shift kind of ordeal. Helen is no drama queen; she seems to take these seesaw feelings in stride, never really lamenting nor lashing out against them. But things are always hyper-meaningful when you’re a fourteen-year-old girl, aren’t they?

This story left me eager to know what Helen’s life will be like post-first-girl-kiss. Andre’s writing style tends toward bluntness rather than floweriness, so Learning to Kiss Girls felt just the right length. But the ending seemed abrupt, and devoid of at least a modicum of emotion on Helen’s part. Somehow, this doesn’t detract from the honesty, simplicity, and thoughtfulness with which this story was crafted. For Andre’s very first work, this self-published story absolutely holds its own. I would love to see her publish a collection of short stories — perhaps with some edits to this one’s curtailed resolution.

Despite its cartoony cover and sudden drop at the end, Learning to Kiss Girls has depth and heart. I know many young readers will connect with Helen, if not wish to stay with her longer. And for those of us whose ages are better coughed into sleeves, this lovely and well-wrought story will certainly bring you back to adrenaline-coursing adolescence, warts — and kisses — and all.

sigilfire

Sometimes, though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. And sometimes a novel idea that sounds great in the planning stages just doesn’t work in the execution.

As John Updike says in the his 6 Rules for Constructive Criticism, “Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.”

So here’s the synopsis of the book, and we’ll go from there:

Sonia is a succubus with one goal: stay off  Hell’s radar. But when succubi start to die, including her sometimes lover, Jeannie, she’s drawn into battle between good and evil.

Fae is a blood witch turned vampire, running a tattoo parlor and trading her craft for blood. She notices that something isn’t right on the streets of her city. The denizens of Hell are restless. With the aid of her nest mate Perry and his partner Charley, she races against time before the next victim falls. The killer has a target in his sights, and Sonia might not live to see the dawn.

Now I enjoy fantasy, and nontraditional portrayals of scary-monster things is awesome as long as they’re not sparkling in the sunlight. This is definitely meant to be  something a little nontraditional and edgy, throwing some vampires and succubi and whatnot into a murder mystery mixed with some steamy lesbian romance– and lesbe honest, that’s not a plot you can take too seriously, so camp it up and have fun, right? I mean, this is starting to sound pretty awesome!

Weeeeeell, I’m not sure the author quite succeeded at that, though she certainly made an earnest attempt.  We can’t fault her for trying, at least. The writing is not terrible – at least the grammar is there, though the plethora of adjectives sprinkling this piece are like cockroach legs in a streetside noodle stand (namely, distracting and bad for the digestion.)  The tone of this work is just too serious for the plot. There could have been some comedic genius moments, but instead it’s all hard-hitting demon investigators and love-torn succubi with eating disorders.

And then there are the awkward lesbian sex scenes. Let’s just say there’s only so many times you can say “juices” in one scene before my eye starts to twitch, and “seeping pussy” puts me in mind of something decidedly non-erotic. I feel like “seeping” should never, ever, ever in a million years be used to talk about anything relating to sex. It’s just one of those words, like ‘moist,’ that are just Not Okay. Now, writing sex scenes is easy. Writing sex scenes well is incredibly difficult. Bishop doesn’t hold back in the use of her description, which is fine and great and not what I have a problem with. Other than her questionable use of adjectives (seeping? Really?) what I have a problem with is that I can’t really get into the characters’ emotional involvement – the scenes just read like cheap erotic fiction shoved into a lackluster crime novel. Much of Bishop’s oeuvre consists of varying genres of erotica, but it seems in Sigil Fire like these two separate things shoved together: the crime mystery interspersed with bits of erotica that don’t really carry the plot forward, develop the characters in any meaningful way, or even arouse the reader. Maybe Bishop should stick to either one or the other.

I really wanted to enjoy this book because I thought it had a great premise and a lot of opportunity for creativity. But it just didn’t live up to any of my expectations. Unless you’re a big fan of Bishop already or absolutely love the synopsis, I wouldn’t recommend it.

myeducation

I’ve been on a bit of a bisexual book binge lately, so after the Lambda Literary awards were announced and Susan Choi’s third novel My Education was declared the winner in the category of bisexual fiction, I thought I should pick it up.  I have a healthy amount of skepticism about the decision making at the lammies but I decided this book was probably a good place to start.  I’m glad, actually, that I didn’t have high expectations because this book ended up blowing me away.  I loved it. I really loved it.

First of all, I loved the writing.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I found the juicy, exquisite wordiness just so fun.  It was like reading a Victorian novel, but about a biracial, bisexual American woman in the 90s and 2000s.  I totally see how other people find Choi’s style pretentious and excessive, but to me it was self-consciously so, if that makes any sense.  Her sentences are so interesting and versatile.  I particularly enjoyed the discrepancy between the more formal grammar (Choi never ends a sentence with a preposition, but always uses “to/for/in which”, for example) and the emotionally immature and sexy material.  Choi pays really close attention to what her characters are doing and saying and a lot of the descriptions of both mundane and profound events are strikingly beautiful.  Like here:

“My youth was the most stubborn, peremptory part of myself. In my most relaxed moments, it governed my being. It pricked up its ears at the banter of eighteen-year-olds on the street. It frankly examined their bodies. It did not know its place: that my youth governed me with such ease didn’t mean I was young. It meant I was divided as if housing a stowaway soul, rife with itches and yens which demanded a stern vigilance. I didn’t live thoughtlessly in my flesh anymore. My body had not, in its flesh, fundamentally changed quite so much as it now could intuit the change that would only be dodged by an untimely death, and to know both those bodies at once, the youthful, and the old, was to me the quintessence of being middle-aged. Now I saw all my selves, even those that did not yet exist, and the task was remembering which I presented to others.”

When I say some of the material is emotionally immature, it’s because the main character Regina is a twenty-one year old English literature graduate student: she’s fallen head over heels in love for the first time and thinks it’s going to last forever and she’s naïve and passionate and, of course, never going to be the same again.  What I really loved about how the book started is that it sets you up to think that Regina is going to have an affair with an older male professor, when it’s in fact his wife that she ends up falling in love with.  I enjoy the idea of straight people picking up this book and being shocked at the turn of event a few chapters into the book.  It’s a whirlwind affair that you know is not going to end well, but the ride is really fun.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was the academic setting: Choi has kind of the perfect balance of understanding but scrutiny of academia.  Having left academia, I found it kind of fun to have a little fictional sojourn back in its clutches.  These grad students have lots of time for sex and drinking and aren’t all stressed out and competing about who has more work, like the ones in my real-life grad school experience.

My Education doesn’t end when the relationship between Regina and Martha does.  It doesn’t even end when, in their grief, Regina and Nicholas (Martha’s ex-husband) have an affair of their own.  Interestingly, the book skips fifteen years ahead and we get a glimpse of a middle-aged Regina, married to a man and the mother of a young kid.  There’s a focus on catching up on what all the other characters have been doing all these years, and we get to see not only where Regina ended up, but also Nicholas, Martha, their son, and Regina’s old roommate / friend Dutra (who was perhaps my favourite character, although I’m not exactly sure why).  I liked all of the characters a lot more after seeing them in these respective later life stages, actually.  It made me able to forgive them for some of the shitty things they did in the past.  This section just had a fun “what are they doing now?” feel to it.

But it was also necessary to conclude Regina’s emotional journey, which, as she says, is this, essentially: “I didn’t grasp that desire and duty could rival each other, least of all that they most often did.”  The lesson that Regina learns, however, is conservative: despite seeing Martha again and briefly renewing their passionate relationship, Regina returns to her husband and child (pregnant with another one).  In other words, she chooses duty over desire.  But can’t they go together?  Unfortunately for the husband, you never really get why Regina loves him, although you’re supposed to know.  She loves her son—that much is obvious.

And this is where the book kind of loses me.  I mean, it didn’t really lose me but I guess I felt like a bit of something was off, or missing.  What I mean is I would have liked Choi to be a bit more explicit about bisexuality in this book, if only to point out to all the dumbasses calling this a book about two straight women having an affair that they’re both obviously bisexual (the book is even clear that Martha has had more than one relationship with a woman).  There are so few good books about bi women!  Why can’t you use the b word, Susan Choi, just once??

I like the naturalness that flows in the earlier part of the book because nothing outside of the relationship matters.  It would have felt unnatural to get bogged down with identity politics in that section.  But later on in Regina’s life, why doesn’t her husband know about this affair? How could you be married to someone and never have told them about the first time you fell in love?  This feels like (internalized) biphobia to me and I wish the book would have addressed it. How can the relationship with Martha have had no effect on Regina’s sexual identity or later sexual experiences?

Similarly, Regina’s background being both white and Asian is mentioned once and never brought up again.  It’s not like I want the focus of the book to be on her racial and sexual identity, but those things are relevant in real life, they’re a part of real life.  Ignoring them just felt kind of weird at best, and apolitical at worst.  Like, what are you trying to avoid?

Despite (or maybe because of?) my ramblings about the book’s relationship with bisexual politics, I highly recommend My Education.  On top of everything else, I loved, loved, loved the ending.  That is a rare thing indeed for me.

 

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