Megan G reviews Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

Megan hasn’t spoken in months. Not since that horrible day. She worries that if she starts talking, she won’t be able to stop, and there are some things she simply cannot tell anybody. Except suddenly Jasmine moves to town; kind and talkative Jasmine. And for some reason, Megan finds herself wanting to speak again.

This is one of those typical young adult books that those of us who enjoy YA eat up, and those who don’t roll their eyes at. I have to be honest, I think I would have rolled my eyes a bit if the main couple hadn’t been two girls. It’s just that type of YA book.

I mainly picked this book up because the main character’s name was Megan, and I have to admit that I did enjoy her as a protagonist for the most part. She’s obviously very internal, as she doesn’t speak, but Rushton still manages to do a good job of displaying her character through her inner thoughts and her actions. My only frustration about this is that at times her actions can feel random and quite jarring, and are never truly explained beyond the overall theme of “she’s sad and lonely.” These moments seem to be there more for the sake of drama than to truly advance Megan as a character.

Jasmine, Megan’s love interest, is very interesting and enjoyable overall, but at times falls a little flat. Again, this is a very typical young adult book, so of course the love interest at times feels like she’s there for little more than to be the love interest. Still, as far as young adult love interests go, she’s decently entertaining and at least somewhat fleshed out.

All the young adult cliché’s aside (which, honestly, are not much of a deterrent for me, especially in queer YA), the main thing that frustrated me about this book is that there is a background male character who is assumed to be gay, and bullied because of this at random intervals throughout the book. Halfway through the novel the author seems to forget about him, so the last we see of him is him running from homophobic taunts while Megan thinks to herself that she’s glad she isn’t the one being bullied for once. I’m a big fan of mlm/wlw solidarity, and that was severely lacking in this particular book. I almost rather that tiny little subplot hadn’t even been included, as it doesn’t really add anything to the story and just made me feel annoyed.

Still, overall this is a cute and charming little story with a bit of a mystery to it and a sweet wlw love story. It’s a fast read that I think any YA-loving wlw will enjoy.

Marthese reviews Firework by Melissa Brayden

Firework by Melissa Brayden

“There were olives in her drink, she could fashion an olive branch”

It’s summer (here), which means beach reading! Granted, I live on an island and have not yet gone to swim but you get what I mean: giving romances another try. I settled on Firework by Melissa Brayden because it’s a novella and it sounded interesting.

Firework is about Lucy, a CEO of a Global Newswire and Kristin, a reporter. They meet when Kristen goes to interviews Lucy about a PR her company helped to issue, only it was more of an interrogation because that story ended up being false and the company does not fact check. Despite the bumpy start, they meet at Lucy’s favourite bar. Kristin is new in town and she starts going to the local queer bar of course.

Lucy is feminine, classy and attractive and successful. Kristen can be a bit intimidating and persistent and wants to succeed. They at first have very little in common but start to show each other their world.

Lucy and Kristen are both stubborn and both want to make each other understand, both are also lonely. Kristen just moved and Lucy’s best friend has a family (on which the novel in the series is actually based on but you can read this book without the other). They state they don’t hate each other (solid basis for a relationship!) and start to get to know each other. There is something bubbling between them and their relationship is very much based on give and take. In a way, it felt both stable and a whirlwind romance.

I liked that despite Lucy being a CEO, in her relationship she’s not controlling. In fact I would say that most of the time, it was Kristen that steered the relationship. The fact that they were different made the romance more interesting. My favourite moment was very realistic and involved a protest. Lucy cares! She’s not a cold-blooded CEO. It was cute and ‘squee’-worthy. Down with apathy!

Ignoring the work issue however, is not good. I liked that it was a very realistic work issue and that ethics were discussed. On this, I was on Kristen’s side. If you’ve read this novella, whose side where you on when the issue happened?

One thing which irritated me was at the start of the novella, when they see each other at the bar. It went from considering that Kristen is straight to ‘’so she’s a lesbian’’ with no consideration for other sexualities. Authors please take note that casual erasure is not cool.

The fact that their chemistry was ‘off the charts’ was repeated several times. I guess, since it’s a novella it’s harder to show but the repetition irked me.

If you like romance, this is a perfect summer read (especially if you’re interested in the US). For those that don’t like much romance, I found this book interesting because of the ethical issues and the activism mentioned (environmental). I could definitely relate to that part and the protest and after were definitely romantic in a caring-for-where-we-live way.

This novella is also available as an audiobook, perfect for transits and relaxing moments.

Mallory Lass reviews Fearless Defenders by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Will Sliney and Stephanie Hans.

Fearless Defenders Vols 1 and 2

As you may know from some of my earlier reviews, I am new-ish to comics and therefore discovering old gems all the time. Fearless Defenders (2013) is a 12 issue run that has been captured into two trade paperback volumes. Some of the individual issue covers are nothing short of amazing, including a romance novel themed one and a Sailor Moon themed one. This review contains minor spoilers about some characters sexualities, but hopefully without giving too much context, the stories will still feel fresh when you read them.

What I enjoyed most about this series is that it is fun and campy and unapologetically female fronted. The costumes are often over the top, the locales exotic (from the cosmos to the home of the Amazons), the character combinations bordering on weird, but somehow it all works perfectly. The Fearless Defenders is a group helmed by Valkyrie, and made up of a misfit group of fearsome ladies, with varying levels or superpowers and super abilities including the likes of Clea, Dani Moonstar, Hippolyta, and She-Hulk. Their objective is to grow their team and protect the universe from evil forces and the various brewing plots to bring down humanity.

There are two explicitly queer female characters in this run, and even though her sexuality is not really discussed in these pages, Valkyrie is canon bisexual and certainly can be read that way in Fearless Defenders. No coming out stories here, when romantic relationships between women come up, they just happen without any commentary, and that is a big plus for me. There is so much good banter, especially instigated by Misty Knight, a bionic private eye with a gorgeous afro, who happens to be one of my favorite characters from this series. She is best friends with lesbian Archeologist Annabelle Riggs and also ocasionally her contract employee.

Dr. Annabelle Riggs is a human (midgaurdian) about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. She is what I affectionately call “adorkable:” basically, if Daria and Lara Croft merged, you would get Annabelle. She has the cutest freckles and Rachel Maddow level cool glasses. Plus she is intelligent and kindhearted. There is no shortage of Misty giving her friend a hard time about her love life, and how much of a disaster gay she is. Annabelle is one of the throughlines of this series, and I think it is one made stronger by having a human to balance out all the superheroes.

The other queer character is baby gay Ren Kimura, and dancer who unexpectedly develops superpowers. Ren shows up in the back half of the series (or tpb Vol 2) and is new to this whole superhero thing. She is also a young adult trying to figure out her life while living with overbearing and conservative parents, so, highly relatable. In my opinion, her story doesn’t get enough air time, but it is still a nice ‘coming into adulthood’ journey. The ferocity with which she fights, all instinct, no training, is inspiring.

Another really cool thing about this series is that most of the villains are female, including the ring leader Caroline Le Fay. Many of the superheroes she recruits or hires to do her bidding are powerful ladies who chose the dark side, and I thought that was a really great contrast to our band of Defenders. I don’t see a lot of female v. female fights in comics, so if you are into that, this is the story for you.

If you want a diverse female centric run of comics with an enjoyable superhero storyline, this is definitely a series for you.

Susan reviews Hell’s Highway by Gerri Hill

Hell's Highway by Gerri Hill

Hell’s Highway by Gerri Hill is the sequel to Devil’s Rock, a procedural following FBI agents Andrea Sullivan and Cameron Ross (that I reviewed here!). In Hell’s Highway, they are working and living together in Cameron’s fortified motorhome-slash-giant-mobile-computer-lab, when they’re sent to track down a possible serial killer preying on women along the I-40.

I… Had some problems with it. I’ll start with a problem that has carried over from Devil’s Rock, which is Cameron Ross. She freely acknowledges that she is a petty bully, but this acknowledgement doesn’t come with any particular change of behaviour, which makes her really frustrating to read about. There is even a scene where she makes another character surviving an assault all about her own feelings, to the point where more time is spent on Cameron’s fear of loss than the pain of character who was actually assaulted!

Which leads nicely to another problem I had – there is consistently very little emotional resonance. Characters are killed, and no one cares because they were pretty much blank slates. There’s no tension about the investigation, or the final scene where they confront the serial killer – the former because it’s suspiciously easy, with the serial killer practically walking up to them on their first attempt, and the latter because it’s accidentally defused by the characters not taking the confrontation seriously. The entire mystery feels too straightforward, which is regularly lampshaded by the characters going “But how are you using a computer to get this information?” and “But this is all speculation!” which does not help. If you’ve ever read the In Death series by J. D. Robb, where the police can get probability readings on their hunches, it feels a little like that, but without the scifi underpinnings to back it up. (Also, J. D. Robb actually allows her computers to be wrong occasionally.)

Apart from that, it managed to be a story about the murder of sex workers that never actually showed a living sex worker on page, which was impressive in a bad way, and it also highlights some of the plot holes in the novel and never resolves them, like “How did the killer get so much C4?” and “Why would an explosives expert aware of that the killer sets traps not check for booby-traps?” It feels lazy, to be honest, and I think that’s what’s frustrating about it. The author is clearly aware of the problems with Hell’s Highway, but never fixes them. It doesn’t help my frustration that it has characters who are law enforcement cheerfully planning extra-judicial killings from the get-go. I know the book was published in 2011, but seriously?!

(I am VERY frustrated by the way Gerri Hill presented Carina by the way; she finally gives us textual acknowledgement that bisexuals exist, after several books where characters have slept with both men and women, but have to be monosexual! But she seems to conflate Carina’s enjoyment of casual sex and polyamory with her bisexuality, and makes her an antagonist to Andrea and Cameron’s relationship in a way that telegraphed her eventual fate in big letters. It was Not Great.)

Hell’s Highway was written competently enough that I did read the whole thing, but I honestly couldn’t say I recommended it unless you enjoy yelling about things on twitter.

[Caution warnings: attempted rape; kidnapping; sexual assault; offscreen rape, murder, necrophilia, and mutilation]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Danika reviews “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” by Jaymee Goh

New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

New Suns is an anthology of speculative fiction by people of colour, and it does include a few queer women short stories, but one really stood out to me: “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” by Jaymee Goh. The author describes it as “A pornographic triptych of three different individuals encountering a creature part human, part bobbit worm.” This story perfectly combines two tropes that need more f/f content: human/mermaid love stories and human/monster sexuality. Any time a movie like The Shape of Water comes out, it sparks a new rehashing of the age-old question: “Why are so many people attracted to monsters?” I’m not here to answer that question, only to recognize its truth, and this is the perfect short story to explore it.

Mayang is not a mermaid: her bobbit worm-like traits, including mandibles, are too disturbing to fit our sexualized and Disneyfied vision of a classic mermaid. But she is a fantastical creature who lives in the water, who is fascinated by people, but also separate from them. Salmah and Mayang have a relationship, but there is tension there: they belong in different places. Salmah can’t reconcile this relationship with her life or future. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it is Mayang’s next, unexpected relationship that bring her more acceptance and really explores what is possible between their different lives (and bodies).

Part erotica and part revenge-against-misogynists story, with an undercurrent of the grotesque that leaves you equal parts disturbed and enthralled, this is a story I think a lot people have been looking for without knowing it.

Mary Springer reviews Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterspoon

Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Trigger warnings for mentions of homophobia and abuse

The relationship between sapphic women and Christianity is a complicated and sometimes tragic and violent one. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a semi-autobiographical story based around the author’s life raised by an evangelists in an English Pentecostal community while discovering her attraction to women.

Jeanette is devoted to her religion and the Christian path her mother has determined for her. She’s admired for being a good Christian girl and absolutely faithful to her community. That is, until she falls in love with another girl, Melanie.

Their relationship makes Jeanette so happy she tell hers mother about it, but only finds her mother angry and upset. Up until this moment, Jeanette has been everything her mother wanted her to be, and her mother in turn as loved and supported everything she did (because everything she did was what her mother told her to do). This change is traumatizing enough for Jeanette without what happens next.

Jeanette and Melanie are forced to undergo exorcisms at the church. Melanie, who has always been the more subservient and less confident of the two, repents. Jeanette refuses and is locked in her parlor by her mother. This whole process takes several days and the author does not shy away from it, probably because she experienced something close to, if not that exactly as it was.

Jeanette eventually pretends to repent simply out of a desperate need for food. However, she remains steadfast in her belief that nothing is wrong with her love for Melanie and that she can maintain that love alongside her faith.

Jeanette remains faithful to her religion because of its ties to love. She loves her mother and believes her mother loves her back. She loves the people in her church and up until this moment they have always loved her back. She loved Melanie, and didn’t see how that love was any different than those others felt. Alongside all of this is her, her love in the God of her church and her belief that he loves her back.

Her church takes an opposite perspective, turning to hate her in a snap judgement of her different sexuality. Jeanette finds herself alone, without the love her community that she was so devoted to.

The bravest part of Jeanette is that despite all of this not only does she not stop loving herself, but she never stops being compassionate and kind. She doesn’t let the hatred of her church sink her from her beliefs in her religion or herself.

The book does a great job of showing how the hatred of the Church members is so contrasted by Jeanette, the lesbian’s, purposeful love, kindness and faith. This book was published in 1985, a time when such depicts would have been shocking. The author takes her time to show the community and it’s members, so you grow attached to them alongside Jeanette, and then feel the same pain she does when she is rejected.

The story is empowering in Jeanette and her ability to take everything in stride and continue to love herself and those around her.

Megan G reviews Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Each year, the Demon King is presented with eight young women of the lowest caste — the Paper caste — who will serve as his concubines for a year. While some girls dream of being selected, it was never in Lei’s plans. Her family has already suffered enough at the hands of the Demon King. Despite her reluctance, however, she soon finds herself in the position of Paper Girl, ripped from her home and family, wondering how anybody could see what she is being forced to do as a privilege.

I was immediately impressed by Girls of Paper and Fire due to the inclusion of trigger warnings at the beginning of the book. The author herself warns readers that the book deals with issues of violence and sexual assault, allowing readers to decide before even starting to read if this is the book for them. I’m beyond thankful that these types of warnings are becoming more common, and seeing it at the beginning of this book made me feel sure that these topics would be handled well within the story. They were.

The world presented in this novel is incredibly original and clever. It is a perfect blend of fantasy and reality, feeling incredibly believable despite the fact that a large amount of the population of this world are literal demons. The way Ngan describes everything is incredibly vivid, too. I often felt as though I were watching a movie instead of reading a novel.

The characters are layered in the most wonderful ways. Although there are issues of internalized misogyny that play out throughout the story, they are dealt with genuinely, treating all parties as people who have value despite their flaws. Girls are not written off as merely jealous or petty — they are given reasons for the ways in which they act, as well as possibilities for redemption. It’s actually quite refreshing for a YA novel.

The protagonist, Lei, goes through an incredible amount of character development throughout the story. She’s extremely likable despite some frustrating qualities, and is very easy to root for. You want her to succeed, not simply because she’s the protagonist but because her worth shines through. She’s strong and courageous, but also weary and at times frightened. First and foremost she is human, making human choices and thinking human thoughts. Because of it, she sometimes does things that make you want to smack her, but don’t all young adult heroes do such things? Like with all the characters, it’s refreshing that she’s allowed to have flaws and make mistakes without immediately being labelled a failure or worthless by the narrative. She’s allowed to grow and learn, and it’s wonderful to experience.

I don’t want to say much about the love story because I feel it should be experienced as I did — blindly and with complete surprise. It’s not easy to see at the beginning who the love interest will be, and it was wonderful to read how it developed without knowing anything in advance. I promise, it’s worth the vagueness and mystery.

One small warning is that this is the first book in a trilogy, so of course the story is not completely finished. Still, I felt incredibly satisfied by the story told here, and am anxiously awaiting the release of the second book so that I can once again lose myself in this fantastical world and in Lei’s life. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Jen Wilde’s Books are the Feel-Good Sapphic YA You’ve Been Searching For

Did you know I (Danika) have a booktube channel? Along with the Lesbrary, the Bi & Lesbian Literature tumblr, and Book Riot, I talk about books there, too! Apparently I can’t say enough about them. Most of my content is about queer women books, and I even have a playlist of just my sapphic book videos. Consider this video my review of Going Off Script by Jen Wilde (suffice to say, I loved it).

For exclusive videos and to be entered in monthly queer book giveaways, support the Lesbrary and this channel on Patreon! 

Books mentioned:

More links worth knowing:

Mars reviews Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi 

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi cover

Happy Pride Month, Lesbrarians! I am swooping in from the ether to volunteer this review of Aminah Mae Safi’s much anticipated Tell Me How You Really Feel on this most auspicious month. It’s a charming read, a very well-executed story, and has been on my pre-order list for months.

Safi starts us off with a fact that stands as an overarching conflict of the book: Cheerleader Sana Khan is perfect, and there is no one who finds that more infuriating than her classmate Rachel Recht.

Rachel is a perfectionist filmmaking scholarship student on the fast-track out of her elite private school in Los Angeles to NYU’s film program, where she is going to share her vision with the world. (Accolades will follow, of course.)

Sana is an annoyingly good student on her way to Princeton, where she’ll set herself up perfectly to go on to med school and make her whole family proud (or at least that’s what she’s telling people).

Told alternatingly from Sana and Rachel’s perspectives, Tell Me How You Really Feel recounts the end of the girls’ high school experience, as they both march towards deadlines over which they have no control. For Rachel, it means she has one month to pull together a disaster film project which could jeopardize her hard-won spot at college. Rachel has had her mind made up about Sana, her self-assigned mortal enemy, since an embarrassing incident in freshman year, but after a chance accident means she’s forced to rely on her enemy for help, the film student realizes there is more to the picture than she’s been seeing. For Sana, it means possibly giving up her dream fellowship abroad that she’s secretly applied to in lieu of accepting her spot at Princeton. If she doesn’t get the fellowship by the time she loses her spot at the Ivy league, her carefully constructed house of cards will come crashing down.

This is the sweetest enemies-to-more story I’ve read in a long while, and Rachel and Sana are complicated protagonists whose growth from beginning to end had me both entertained and anticipatory. Rachel and Sana are opposites in so many ways; Rachel spews profanity, has a mean glare, and works at a diner on the other side of the tracks to make ends meet; Sana locks away her discontent with a smile, and has lived a life committed to smoothing over a complicated familial relationship between the high standards of her grandparents and the irreverent independence of her mother. Ultimately, however, they are bound by a shared hunger for more than life wants to give them, and an ambition that leaves them each taking more risks than they ever realized they could.

There are apparently some serious references to Gilmore Girls (referenced very early on in the Dedication, actually) but they all go over my head because I’ve never watched the show. If you are a Gilmore Girls fan, this will apparently be a delightful shout out. If you aren’t, I promise you this is still a lovely read that is worth your time and you won’t feel like you’re missing anything.

Marthese reviews Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

“We’re not allowed to touch any of them, no matter what they do to us”

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley was a difficult book to read, but an important one. While it is a fiction book, it is realistic; it could have happened. I found this book at the library. It hadn’t been on my radar but don’t you just love when you recognize books as being queer that’s to their covers?

Lies We Tell Ourselves is set in 1959 in Virginia during Integration and it tells the story of Sarah – one of the first few black students who are trying to integrate into a previously all white school – and Linda, the daughter of a newspaper editor who heavily influences people and is against forced integration. Sarah is one of three senior, who try to take care of their younger peers. Sarah’s sister Ruth also is one of the new students and so Sarah is constantly worrying about her.

The high school is a hostile place. Almost nowhere is safe and almost no one stands up for them. What follows from day 1 isn’t just bullying, it’s torture. Sarah thinks it won’t get better and she isn’t wrong: mostly because in public, things stay the same but in private, thanks to the classic group project, she starts to befriend (or be cordial with) Linda and her friend Judy who doesn’t mind that Sarah is black. Judy was in fact Sarah’s first connection. The development of Linda and Sarah’s relationship was realistic. It took time and they had a lot of disagreements.

Deep down, Linda knows she is wrong. Linda is trying to escape her father’s house by getting married to an older man. Despite being a public figure due to her father, even when she had not yet realized that she was wrong, Linda is compassionate. Yet, she cares very much what people say about her. Breaking down such ingrained feelings is evidently hard. The same goes for Sarah. She lets her parents dictate her life for her and to take her life back from them, it’s a long journey. The chapter titles and themes are all lies that Sarah and Linda tell themselves and the slow deconstruction of them.

Sarah and Linda both feel invisible despite being so public, no one knows who they really are. This bonds them in a way that nothing else would. They grow together and decide their own future. The romance part of the book I think was not as important as the rest of the plot but if romance were to overshadow something so harsh like integration and systematic racial hatred and discrimination, it would be a problem. Romance is not a solution, simply a by-product realisations and character development.

Every step is a struggle. The plot deals with some major triggers of violence. I found myself scared for the black students at every page that took place in school. There were some major incidences of violence, although I can safely assure that no one dies. There is also a lot of victim blaming, so beware.

It’s a difficult read but an important one. There is plenty of build-up for the relationship and issues aren’t magically resolved through attraction, which I appreciated. There is great character development, and I grew attached to the side characters as well: they were all so strong.

I’d recommend for anyone that has enough strength to read something like this. Something that didn’t necessarily happen as is, but with the possibility that the different instances did happen to people in the past and with the hard truth that some of these things still happen.