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justgirls

Just Girls is one of the new releases that I was most excited about reading, because I found the premise very interesting. It tells the story of two women in college: Tucker, an out cis lesbian, and Ella, a bisexual trans woman. The book cycles between their perspectives. When Tucker finds out that people are speculating about who the trans woman is in the dorms and being generally hateful, she angrily defends the anonymous student and spontaneously “outs” herself as trans in order to take the brunt of the hate herself. The idea of a cis person pretending to be trans for any reason could go very badly, no matter how noble the intentions (not to mention that the author is also cis), but I still wanted to see where the story would go–not to mention that lesbian fiction is severely lacking in trans women characters.

Surprisingly, though the premise should have been much more of a minefield than Gold’s previous book, Being Emily, I ended up really loving this one. Emily and Claire (her girlfriend) do make appearances in this one, but they are minor characters, and you don’t have to read the two together or in order. The two things that really struck me in this narrative were the realism and the scope of the novel. While Being Emily is narrowly focused on the experience of being trans, its successor weaves this in with other issues of sexism and being queer. It also shows a different reality than the previous book: while Emily experienced a lot of push back from her coming out, Ella had a supportive family and community. She was able to access the hormones and surgery that she needed, and she had a strong support system. That isn’t to say that it was easy for her, but it was definitely different from Emily’s experience, and I appreciated the acknowledgment that there isn’t just one trans experience.

Again, I can’t speak to how accurate the portrayal of being a trans woman is, but the depiction of the LGBTQ crowd on campus definitely rang true. The drama, the friendship, and [spoiler, highlight to read] yes, even the abuse [end spoiler] seemed to mirror the community that I participated in during university. I had to laugh at the paragraph

Tucker pulled a piece of paper out of her notebook and scrawled on it: Are Vivien and Summer still together? Yes. No. Cal was sitting next to her and she put it in front of him. He looked at it for a minute, then picked up his pen and circled both Yes and No.

Ella also has to deal with sexism on a daily basis, especially as a woman in science. She has several great moments where she reacts against these microaggressions, including when she’s questioned on her gaming prowess and says

“All my high scores are in Pretty Princess Magical Rescue Adventure,” I deadpanned back.

“Me, too,” Shen said in mock surprise.

“I bet my unicorn would own yours,” I told him.

There is also quite an array of diversity in Just Girls; I was especially glad to see that Ella is bisexual (although she doesn’t necessarily identify as such yet, the word “bisexual” is actually used in text, which shouldn’t be worth nothing but still is), and there are PoC characters, though both Ella and Tucker are white. Nico, Ella’s friend/ex is genderqueer and Ella describes per/yo (Nico changes pronouns fairly regularly) as looking, in one outfit, like an “Afro-Asian god/dess”. One of Ella love interests is Shen, who is Chinese, and his cousin Johnny, who is Chinese-American, also a significant side character. Shen is quiet and subtle, and may have come off as stereotypical if he was the only Asian character in the novel, but Johnny’s boisterous personality balances them out.

As for my original concerns with the premise, like If You Could Be Mine, I thought that it managed to navigate that minefield pretty well, but I recognize that other people might disagree. (Hang on, why do this book, If You Could Be Mine, and Adam all feature cis characters pretending to be trans? And written by cis women? That’s an alarming trend. Though this book also features a trans woman main character, of course.) I was worried about it: there is a moment where Tucker attempts to look more masculine to fit the trans persona, and at some point Ella looks at her with tears in her eyes and says she’s “so heroic”, which screams “cis saviour” to me (like “white saviour“). Another character also says that Tucker is being brave for pretending to be trans, and Tucker says that more people should do so.

At the same time, it made me think about the various protests where straight people have “played gay” as protest to anti-gay demonstrations, and this generally viewed positively. Is “playing trans” to protest anti-trans sentiment a similar action? What really changed my mind, though, is that Tucker faces consequences for this action. (More on this in the spoiler section.) And Ella acknowledges the difference between Tucker saying she’s trans and the reality for trans people, when she thinks that sure, if a cis woman tried to use the men’s room as protest they’d just be told to stop, “but what if she’d been a trans student?” As a cis person, Tucker can step away from this, at least to some degree, if she chooses to.

I really think this book has so much packed into it. As I started to write this review, I realized how much I want to say about it. If you’re curious about Just Girls and wanted to remain unspoiled, I definitely recommend giving it a try. The characters are complex, the story is compelling, and it’s packed with things to think about. Highly recommended, though I would definitely put some trigger warnings on that recommendation (transphobia, violence, rape).

Lots of the things I want to discuss happen in the latter half of the book, so spoilers below.

One of the things that I really loved about this book was how the idea of community was handled. There is an LGBTQ community, but that community isn’t necessarily safe. Ella (and Tucker, when she is “playing” trans)  is rejected by both feminist and queer community members (though they are accepted by others in that community). Nico has yos gender interrogated by LGBTQ community members. The TA in Tucker’s Gender Studies class is openly transphobic. In contrast, when she outs herself to Shen, he is completely supportive. That isn’t to say that there isn’t positive queer communities, only that Ella is able to find community in a range of places: through select queer people, cis/straight people, and even supportive strangers.

Shortly after Tucker “comes out” as trans, she is attacked because of it. It’s an odd mix, because Tucker faces the physical effects of this, but Ella deals with the personal effects of knowing that she was the person who that attack was meant for. Later, Tucker is raped by her ex-girlfriend, a woman well-respected in the Gender Studies field and part of the school’s LGBTQ community. Ella tells Tucker that since she protected Ella earlier in the semester, she would protect Tucker now.  When she goes to the administration, she doesn’t get a lot of support. Ella realizes “So she could end up having to walk to class every day on the same campus as her rapist”–which instantly reminded me of the Columbus student who is protesting her rapist’s continued presence on campus by carrying her mattress as a visual sign of the weight of her trauma.

Ella rallies support around Tucker, partly by rallying a crowd through Johnny and Shen’s gamification of a protest, and partly by coming out to said crowd and indicating that Tucker had put herself on the line in order to protect Ella. This protest as game is ingenious as a strategy, and it also is heartwarming. I found myself tearing up as I read about this group of people willing to protect victims and protest the school board’s lukewarm attention to this. Again, I was reminded of the follow-up protests in Columbia, in which other students helped to carry the mattress in solidarity. In this community, Tucker is able to feel safe as she is escorted to classes. When she finds out that Lindy’s previous girlfriend was also abused, she is able to access that rage and act on it, not to protect herself, but to protect others. Both Tucker and Ella grow a lot throughout the book, and are able to support each other to get through it. I think that is what saves it from being a “cis saviour” narrative: first, Ella is just as big a part (if not bigger) of this story than Tucker is, and second because the support is mutual, and they end up on even ground.

I do have some complaints. There are some remarks through the book that I disagree with, but I acknowledge that Ella and Tucker are not perfect, and that doesn’t mean the book supports their views. (For example, Tucker pities the plight of women in far off countries who are being oppressed, and wishes she could take them to the US to be saved. Ella, when being concerned about having sex, thinks that some people fetishize the “hermaphrodite” look.) One point that I couldn’t dismiss, though, was the ableism: Lindy’s abusive actions are chalked up to some indeterminate mental illness, as if neurotypical people cannot be abusive, or people with mental illness are more dangerous (instead of the reality, which that they’re more likely to be victims of violence and abuse). Also, when Ella meets Lindy she muses that maybe she has “high-functioning, undiagnosed Asperger’s” (which doesn’t even make any sense: how would you know whether she’d been diagnosed?) Also, as a small complaint, I’d rather that Lindy hadn’t been a plagiarist. The truth is that there are people who are well-respected in their field and who are also abusive. It seems too simple to say “Well, she was a terrible person, therefore that paper than was so acclaimed must not have actually been written by her”.

Another minor point, but I also thought the depiction of the Gender Studies class was pretty unrealistic. In one, the teacher asks how many people think sexism is over and feminism is no longer needed, and half the class raises their hands? Maybe it was the hippie left coast university I went to, but in my experience, almost no one takes Women’s Studies or Gender Studies who isn’t already feminist-leaning. People who disagree with feminism tend to have very little interest in those classes. Also, the teacher (who is supposedly trans positive) takes on an openly transphobic TA, and then doesn’t correct her while she is spouting off transphobic, ridiculous arguments to a student? And then says “I want you to learn to stand up to an opposing viewpoint on your own,” though she acknowledges that she wouldn’t expect that if it was anti-feminist criticism? Again, maybe it was just my hippie university, but I have never seen a Women’s Studies teacher do that, at least not one who’s well respected.

I do have some complaints, and I definitely think that other people could get completely different things out this book (I would love to read some reviews by trans women in comparison), but I would definitely recommend this book, if just for the sheer amount of discussions it raises. As a beginner to trans issues, I’d recommend this over Being Emily, and I think it would be a less triggering read for trans readers as well (though it does deal with transphobia, violence, and rape), because the main characters begin the novel already trans positive. I’m really glad this book is out there, and I hope it gets a lot more attention.

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.

emlynandthegremlin

I love quality children’s literature. Books for children, in my opinion, require all of the elements necessary in producing a good book for any other age group (a plotline! characters!), but also: whimsical rhymes, eye-catching illustrations, and maybe maybe maybe a gentle nudge in some moral direction.

Steff F. Kneff’s Emlyn and the Gremlin has 2.5/3 of these things, making for a pretty quality read. Emlyn is a little girl with two mothers – but, as the title shows, her parents’ relationship isn’t central to the plot. A very tiny gremlin is. The story begins with Emlyn convinced that a nasty gremlin is stealing and breaking all her shiny things – but she’ll find out, in a gentle way, that maybe she shouldn’t have judged the gremlin before meeting her.

I liked the rhyming, the storyline, and the addition of Emlyn’s dog Moose (cute!). I loved that Emlyn’s two moms weren’t scrutinized or “explained”. Emlyn’s prejudgments about the gremlin could obviously be linked to Emlyn’s parents, of course, but Kneff thankfully took a more nuanced route.

The illustrations could perhaps be improved upon. The characters look vaguely reminiscent of manga characters, and I’m not sure the style quite fits with most current children’s literature. Still, children may very well take to the brightly-colored pictures regardless, and the story is good enough that it shouldn’t be passed up.

betteroffred

Ginger’s goal as a college freshman is to maintain her 4.0 GPA without being driven batty by her roommate Amy’s obsession with Greek life. But when she agrees to look at them to get Amy off her back, she can’t take her mind off the gorgeous girls of Alpha Beta Omega. Somehow, she finds herself invited to their secret initiation ritual, and that’s when things get weird. Everyone expects odd mystic rituals from a fraternity or sorority, but ABO is hiding blood-bonds and vampire queens. What’s Ginger to do when her secret crush turns out to be the top vamp?

I really wanted to love this book going in: with sororities, secret vampires, lesbian erotica, how could it go wrong? But while it had some great moments, I think the book suffers from a major lack of conflict past about the first third. Ginger drives herself mad over Camila, insisting to herself that there’s no way vamp-queen Camila could have feelings for her. Normally, I wouldn’t blink at that – mysterious motives of a love interest are a tried-and-true story element. The problem is, as the reader, it was pretty damn clear after about the second round of sex that Camila is deeply, unreservedly into Ginger, so Ginger’s cluelessness didn’t reflect terribly well on her. However, minus the emotional whirlwind, Ginger is relatable and funny, and gets in some good mental quips.

Between the current sorority sisters, the vampire-queens, and the new pledges, the book establishes a fairly diverse cast of ladies. But because we meet them through Ginger’s first-person perspective, there’s a lot of objectifying language used to describe their introduction. I was a little uncomfortable with the focus on their exotic beauty, and I don’t feel like we ever get great character development for the other sister-queens (as the book calls them). But thankfully, after the first introductions, the other sorority sisters are fleshed out enough that their backgrounds aren’t their only signifier.

Overall, if I was giving a grade, I’d give Better Off Red a C+. It’s light on plot and I wish that the vampire mythology had been fleshed out further, but the erotica was well-written, and I don’t regret reading it. Pick this up if the concept grabs you and you don’t mind a focus on sex.

october

In many ways, October feel like a snippet from someone’s real life. It’s as if you sat someone down and said “So, what’s your story?” or “How did you two meet?” and they decided to tell you the whole story. It’s a short book, but it keeps a slow pace for the most part, focusing on the tentative development of a relationship between two wounded people.

Jo, the main character, is a photographer in Johannesburg, and she bounces between parties that she shoots at mindlessly, and coming home to spend time with her family. Her life revolves around her mom, her brother, and her niece and nephew. Her brother, Brian, is disabled, and unfortunately seems to largely serve as a tragic backstory for Jo. Especially in the beginning of the book, there’s a lot of focus on how Brian has impacted Jo’s life, but not a lot of development for him as a character in his own right.

Jo’s life is quickly thrown into upheaval when, in quick succession: her parents have a messy divorce, her father has a stroke and loses most of his memory, and her sister forbids Jo from seeing her niece and nephew because apparently being gay is contagious. These events happen so quickly in the narrative that I thought at first that they were flashbacks. After this is established, however, the rest of October is concerned with the fallout of these events on Jo’s life. I couldn’t help sympathizing with Jo’s mourning of her niece and nephew, because my role as an aunt is a hugely important part of my life, and I couldn’t imagine not being allowed to see my nieces. This is unfortunately still a reality for way too many queer people, and I respected that October really allows room for Jo’s grief.

For the most part, though, this is a love story. Jo meets Leigh, a former pop singer dealing with her own trauma. They are drawn together, but are hesitant of hurting themselves and each other. They negotiate their emotional boundaries, and the majority of the narrative is spent on their careful courtship, allowing each other to be in their lives.

The photos include add another layer to the novel. I didn’t really get a lot out of the small black-and-white photos that preceded each chapter, but once I got to the full colour prints in the middle of the book, I realized how they related to the story. They are sparse, with a lot of empty space, and it’s fitting for a novel dealing so much with loss.

There were some typos throughout the book, and I did have some problems with it, but if you’re looking for a romance that feels realistic and unhurried, you should give this one a try, especially for a different setting than is usually written.

hardlove

I first read Hard Love in 8th grade, about ten years before I figured out I was a lesbian. Later, I decided my fascination with this novel should have been a clue that I was gay—the bashful curiosity that caused me to shut myself in my bedroom and tear through this book in just a few hours was probably a result of my literary crush on one of Ellen Wittlinger’s main characters, Marisol.

John (or Gio, as he dubs himself) is a bit of a loner, navigating his parents’ divorce through his newly founded zine, Bananafish. As Gio explores more of the indie zine culture, he discovers Marisol’s zine, Escape Velocity. Impressed with both her writing and her openness about her identity, Gio vows to seek out Marisol, hoping to gain some inspiration. Marisol agrees to teach him the ways of zine-making, and soon their relationship evolves into a true friendship, for which neither character is totally prepared.

I’ve always been fascinated by the ambiguous line between friendship and romance. This book takes that ambiguity and brings it into focus, as Gio and Marisol try to figure out how to be friends when there are some questionably more-than-friendly feelings involved.

Marisol is an amazing character. She is witty, sarcastic, super intelligent and incredibly confident. She knows more about herself than most adults do, and is constantly trying to understand her identity better. Her introspective side manifests itself in Escape Velocity, in which she validates her identity by naming it in a very Audre Lorde-like manner (“Marisol Guzman, Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school-gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love”).

But even Marisol doesn’t have it all figured out. As she advises Gio on his writing and his life, her attitude suggests that she sees the world in black and white—she honestly believes there is one right way to approach a situation. For this reason, she is caught off-guard when her friendship with Gio gets more complicated than expected.

I have much less patience for Gio than for Marisol. I always want him to grow more courageous as the story progresses, but when he decides to do something drastic, it is often without any consideration for the consequences. However, I do prefer Gio as a narrator: in Wittlinger’s companion book, Love and Lies: Marisol’s Story, I found that having insight into her point of view took away from her allure.

The primary flaw of Hard Love is its narrow-mindedness; it excludes any identity other than gay or straight. (For example, asexuality is deemed “a defect.”) Similarly, the novel relies on stereotypes of lesbians that made me a bit uncomfortable during my latest reading. I hate to think that the depictions of lesbians I saw in Hard Love defined what the term meant for me as a supposedly straight teenager.

At the same time, readers should remember that Hard Love was published in 1999, many years before the Malinda Lo and David Levithan age of LGBTQ YA. Only recently has the genre expanded to include such varied stories of queer youth. As such, Wittlinger was certainly a frontrunner in creating space for lesbian characters in mainstream YA literature—in fact, Hard Love won the Lambda Literary Award for YA fiction in 2000.

Though it is arguably less progressive than more recently published books, I still highly recommend Hard Love. Marisol and Gio’s struggle to define friendship will always be relevant, whether you are a teenager just trying to make it through high school or a twenty-something who wishes she had recognized the feelings this book conjured so many years ago.

mapofhome

Like many a classic coming-of-age or fictional autobiography, A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar begins with the birth of the heroine.  What you don’t usually see, though, is a screaming match in an American hospital in Arabic between the mother and father after a disagreement about the baby’s name.  If you don’t know any Arabic words, this is an interesting introduction by the main character Nidali’s mother: “Kussy?  Kussy ya ibn ilsharmoota?” “My pussy, you son of a whore?  Don’t concern yourself with my pussy, you hear?  No more of this pussy for you, you … ass!”  When Nidali’s father tries to stop his wife from swearing at the top of her lungs in public, she protests that no one in the States understands them anyway and to prove her point tells a white woman her baby looks like a monkey. The woman nods and smiles.

This beginning sets the irreverent, raw, no-holds-barred tone of Jarrar’s first novel.  Hers is the kind of infectious narrative voice that’s easy to fall in love with; you want to find out what happens to Nidali even before you know much about her.  Actually, just reading the initial description of her on the book jacket should be enough to pique your interest: “the rebellious daughter of an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father narrates the story of her childhood in Kuwait, her teenage years in Egypt … and her family’s last flight to Texas.”  The novel is a great mix of what’s now considered history—like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990—and personal experience; it’s not that Nidali’s story is interesting because of the significant world events she’s living through but that her individual perspective can teach us about these historical events and this history sheds light on who she is.

In addition to the combination of history and the personal, the novel is a fascinating mix between serious material and a comic outlook.  I suppose it’s that mentality of ‘if you don’t laugh, you might cry.’  Nidali’s father, for example, is both verbally and physically abusive but the tone that the narrator recalls this in is not what you might expect: it’s the same wry attitude she paints everything with.  Recounting the humiliating experience of going through an Israeli checkpoint to visit family in Palestine, Nidali ends the scene by describing a woman whose shoes mysteriously disappear after the intensive search.  After convincing the soldier to return her stolen shoes, the woman says: “First my land, now my Guccis!  Goddamn it.”  It’s hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time—pretty exemplary of this whole book, actually.

The idea of home is, of course, central to A Map of Home.  It’s a feeling Nidali is looking for throughout the story, not quite sure about her father’s proclamation that Palestinians can carry a sense of home around with them.  She just wants to feel like she belongs to a place, and that it belongs to her, and whenever she starts to feel a connection with somewhere, it is ripped from her grasp.  Later on in the book she seems to make peace with this feeling of placelessness while looking at a map:

I stared at the whiteness of the paper’s edges for a long, long time. The whiteness of the page blended with the whiteness of my sheets. ‘You are here,’ I thought as I looked at the page and all around me. And oddly, I felt free.

Jarrar is a talented writer, as you can see in that quotation, crafting unusual and striking similes like “guilt descended like a fat mosquito and sucked out all our blood” and “the onus of renaming a son after my grandfather was [one] [Nidali’s father] brushed off his then-solid shoulders unceremoniously, like a piece of lint or a flake of dandruff.”  I’m really interested to see what she writes next, in particular to see if she focuses on queerness a bit more.  If you’re looking for a book with a lot of queer content, A Map of Home certainly isn’t it; the character is definitely bisexual and talks in passing about her feelings and narrates one brief same-sex experience, but the different gender relationships take up a lot more narrative space.  I certainly wouldn’t fault the novel for this, especially as it ends when Nidali is only in her late teens, but I would be interested to know how Nidali explores her sexuality more in her future.  It would be especially interesting to see how Nidali’s multi-cultural and racial background play out with a non-monosexual identity.  You know, if she was a real person and stuff and not a work of fiction.

hild

 

When you open up a book and it includes a map, family tree, glossary, and a pronunciation guide, you know you’re getting into something big. Hild is the first book in a (3 part?) series that explores the life of St Hilda of Whitby. Hild starts with her childhood and her ascent into being a king’s seer. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, so I was pretty quickly overwhelmed by the scope of this book. Little did I know that I would soon wish that the family tree included was about three times as large. The story deals with a lot of political intrigue, and depends on keeping track of who is related to whom, and how royalty is passed through family lines in medieval Britain. Personally, I’m already terrible with names, so throwing in a lot of names that I’ve never heard before made it even harder for me to try to puzzle out what was happening. Add in vocabulary that I wasn’t familiar with (again, I ended up wishing more was included in the glossary), and I’ll admit that sometimes I just gave up on really understanding where the plot was heading. Take this paragraph, for example:

As the weather improved, messages began to come in from all over the isle. Two, from Rheged and from Alt Clut, said the same thing: Eochaid Buide of the Dal Riata was sending an army to aid the Cenel Cruithen against Flachnae mac Demmain of the Dal Fiatach, and chief among the Dal Riatan war band were Idings–though the man from Rheged thought two, Oswald and Osric, called the Burnt, while the messenger from Alt Clut thought three, Oswald, Osric the Burnt, and the young Osbald.

I’ll admit that that is a bit of an exceptional example, but it does give you an idea. Subsequently, I found getting through Hild to be a bit of a slog at times. Surprisingly, though, I never wanted to put it aside for something else. Partly it was because I’d heard such good things about it, but also because the story still had so much to offer, even when I wasn’t sure who had just been unseated and what that meant for political climate. (The political aspect of the novel resembles an elaborate chess game.) For one thing, Hild is a fascinating character. Her mother had a vision while she was pregnant with her that Hild would grow up to be the “light of the world”. Her mother raises her to become this, training her on how to be a seer–which mostly involves being very, very observant. Hild grows up to be keenly aware of everything happening around her, using this knowledge to make seemingly uncanny predictions of what will happen next. Between her and her mother, they demonstrate how women are able to find ways to exercise power even when society is stacked heavily against them, and other female characters show this in more subtle ways. Even the fact that Hild constantly references this political landscape as a fabric being woven shows this: the mix of the traditionally masculine political world contrasted with “women’s work”.

The story also shows the changing social climate of the time, specifically of what it looked like when Christianity was just beginning to be widely recognized and taking over older systems of belief. Nature also remains a constant theme in the novel, really immersing you in the landscape. Griffith is a fantastic author, and manages to balance many different aspects of this story effortlessly, often subtly alluding to earlier themes that I hadn’t even consciously noticed until they were perfectly tied in again. Hild is equal parts an expansive story about the rise and fall of kingdoms, and a coming of age story.

Then, of course, we have the reason this review is at the Lesbrary: Hild’s bisexuality.

Spoilers below.

The fact that Hild is bisexual (though, of course, she doesn’t use that vocabulary) is a nonissue in her life. In fact, it’s referenced several times that it’s not unusual for gemaecce (female friend pairings) to have sex with each other, but it’s discouraged simply because if the sexual relationship sours it creates tension in the friendship. Hild doesn’t end up with her gemaecce, but instead with her slave, which definitely comes with a lot of power dynamics. Gwaldus, her slave, is the one who initiates the relationship and who dictates the terms, but that doesn’t negate the fact that she is owned by Hild. Sex is treated differently in the story, however: it’s handled as a physical need, as Gwaldus soothing Hild, not unlike brushing her hair or any of the other services she provides. Still, Hild eventually frees Gwaldus and ends the relationship, implicitly acknowledging that she was at fault. It’s definitely not a focus of the story, and it only comes up near the end of the book, but if you’re looking for a book that “just happens” to have a queer main character, this definitely fits the description.

Despite being a little lost a lot of the time while reading it, I enjoyed Hild and will definitely be continuing with the series. Although this was an ambitious and satisfying book, I can see how it could also be setting up for the main story in the next volumes, so I look forward to that. I would recommend this one, especially if you’re a fan of historical fiction (or epic fantasy, because several reviews compare it to “Game of Thrones without the dragons.”

lymelight

 

Lyme Light is a memoir by Natalie H.G. London that focuses on her experiences with Lyme disease. This is the first time I’ve read a memoir focused around an illness, and I’ll admit, I was skeptical about how much London could write about having Lyme disease without rehashing the same topics. I was definitely underestimating both London’s storytelling abilities and her circuitous route from first being infected to being diagnosed and treated.

This is not just a description of having Lyme disease, however. Where Candace Walsh used food in Licking the Spoon and Barrie Jean Borich used geography in Body Geographic, London uses illness as a theme and framing device while exploring many different aspects of her life. She delves into being a musician, her time as a student in Columbia, as well as many different relationships (familial, romantic, platonic) forming and falling apart over time. Woven into this is the first appearances of symptoms and her attempts to self treat them, then eventual visits to numerous supposed professionals to get diagnosed, bouncing from psychologists to clinics to hospitals, getting different answers every time. Meanwhile, London discovers which of the people in her life are willing to stick around while she is going through this, and finds comfort in endless reruns of Roseanne and Beverly Hills, 9020.

It’s a fascinating read, both for London’s personal story and her skill at representing what it’s like to be chronically ill. It’s a story that definitely won’t give you a whole lot of faith in the medical profession, but it will give you an idea of what it’s like to have to deal with it. London has an understated humour in Lyme Light, which, along with her flowing narration, makes this a quick read despite dealing with extremely dark subjects.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed about this book was that it’s the first queer memoir I’ve read that doesn’t include a coming out story in any way. London is bisexual, but this is just taken as given the entire story. No one makes any comments, there’s no story of her telling anyone, it’s just casually stated. At one point, London starts flirting with a girl in front of her own mom, and when the girl leaves her mom says that she thinks the girl likes London. There’s not even an acknowledgement of “Yeah, my mom is cool like that”. As much as I do enjoy reading memoirs that do tackle that, it’s refreshing to have a narrative that doesn’t revolve around coming out.

There are some errors (typos, grammatical errors) in Lyme Light, and the writing is easy to read but not especially poetic or quotable, but it gets the job done. The story is definitely worth the read. I also found it intriguing when I was picking up the book that a) Natasha Lyone (from Orange Is the New Black) voices the audio book and b) multiple Roseanne (including Roseanne herself) and Beverly Hills, 90210 actors blurb the book very highly. So if the review doesn’t convince you, maybe a sample of the audio book will:

outofthisworld

For once, I’ve found a lesbian erotica novel that has good proofreading, a solid plot, and steamy scenes that don’t make me cringe. And it’s not every day that I find one of those.

Let’s get into a bit more detail here.  First, the synopsis.  Protagonist Iris finds herself trying to make a new beginning and get over her ex by traveling to Amsterdam. In a taxi from the airport, the world around her changes – she falls asleep in said taxi only to find herself waking in a beautiful woman’s bed. Predictable scenes ensue, but again they don’t make me cringe! It’s so very exciting. Now her new lover Anandra reveals herself to be from a different world, a world full of magic. And Iris is stuck in this world.  Anandra and Iris set out to find a way back to Iris’ world, and lots of steamy sex ensues.

While I find the plot secondary to the sex scenes, which is my main complaint with this book, it does fulfill its niche.  However this does mean that the characters come across as rather flat and, dare I say, unfulfilling? Not that everyone is going to find this one a drawback, but I feel it fair to lay out my own observations here.

Now, on to the writing itself. It’s pretty good! It’s solidly constructed, titillating without being over-the-top, and the grammar is excellent. For a grammar perfectionist like myself, finding a well-edited and proofread book from a small publisher is a major bonus, and a gift not to be taken for granted.

As a further bonus, the lesbian relationships are seen as legitimate things, which again is a surprisingly common problem – a book features lesbian/bi/queer protagonists, only for their relationships to come off as slightly (or not so slightly) inferior to their straight counterparts. And sex is seen as a positive, not something shameful or embarrassing, which is yet another good point for this novel.

Overall, I’d give this a score of 4 out of 5 if you’re looking for some steamy lesbian erotica, and a 2.5 out of 5 if you’re looking purely for a solid fantasy book that just happens to feature lesbian protagonists.

The author, Maggie Morton, published her book with Bold Strokes publishing. Out of This World was published this year and if you enjoy it, Morton has published quite a few other books in the same general vein, all erotica, and most a bit more spicy than this one.

puzzledbytheclues

“Fill me in, Nora. A dope-buying professor, a group of Nazi sympathizers, this is way beyond Chicago politics as usual.”

That quote seems to nicely encapsulate the ambience of the second book in the Nic and Nora series. Puzzled by the Clues is involved with a much more dramatic plot than its predecessor, She Overheard Murder, which I reviewed previously. This installment in the 1940’s lesbian noir mystery series follows two threads of action.

The first is an investigation into a suicide that Anna Owen, aunt of one of the series’ title characters, Nic Owen, strongly believes was actually a murder since it did not make any sense that the victim, an old friend of Anna’s, would take his own life. Charles Bohn worked creating crossword puzzles for the newspaper. After his untimely death, it is up to the Owen women and Nic’s girlfriend Nora to find the clue Charles left behind that could point to the real cause of his death.

The second plot thread involves a mysterious and sinister organization that causes mayhem at construction sites and attempts to murder not only a city official, but also Nic herself, for reasons that are not at all clear to begin with. Eventually it begins to seem as if this shady group might have had something to do with Charles Bohn’s death, for he was snooping around in their business, and the research he left behind becomes invaluable in the detectives’ investigation. But the case is not so cut-and-dried; aside from the suspicious nazi-like group he was investigating, it seems Charles Bohn had other enemies as well! The plot thickened continuously throughout, twisting and turning among Chicago’s myriad faces and conspiracies of corruption and hate, and keeping me interested while also keeping me guessing!

The characters were as engaging as ever. Just as in the first book, I felt a warmth for and connection with the main cast of characters, making me wish they were real people, people I could meet and with whom I could become friends. I love reading about kind and good characters with fun personalities and strong common sense. The dialogue is natural but lively, and the emotional journeys each character’s arc takes them on are realistic and at times quite relatable.

If you enjoyed the first book in this series, you have to read this one. I think you will love it. Puzzled can be read alone, however, and if you don’t have the time to start a new series, or if you just don’t think you will like reading a series of mysteries, then I recommend skipping the first book and at least reading Puzzled by the Clues. It has more adventure, excitement and fun packed into it and will keep you flipping the pages till you find you’ve finished it faster than you wanted and leave you hoping for the next book to be published soon!

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