Susan reviews Sweet Blue Flowers by Takako Shimura

Sweet Blue Flowers Vol 1 by Takako Shimura cover

Sweet Blue Flowers Volume 1 is the latest series from Takako Shimura, the creator of the excellent Wandering Son. Sweet Blue Flowers follows Fumi and Akira, former childhood friends who are reunited when Akira rescues them from gropers on the train to high school, as the girls have to reckon with their own romantic entanglements and those of their friends.

The art is incredibly cute, as you could probably expect from Takako Shimura; it’s spare but emotive, and all of the teenage characters actually look like believable teenagers! They behave like them too – the thing that I like the most about Sweet Blue Flowers is that all of the characters have realistically complicated and messy relationships for high school students. There are crushes that don’t lead anywhere! There are break-ups at the worst possible times and in the worst possible ways! There are friends trying to choose between supporting a friend who was rejected by her crush, and the friend who got asked out instead! There are miscommunications and active choices against communicating that might be frustrating in another setting, but because it’s a high school, it all makes perfect sense to me. It’s delicious in its drama and the recognisable (and surprisingly realistic for a manga) responses all of the characters have to it.

It’s also possibly the first manga I’ve seen where there’s actual coming out scenes to someone who isn’t the inevitable love interest! I liked the different reactions to people coming out – Akira’s immediate response to Fumi coming out is to ask how she can support her and what she needs, which is the purest and sweetest thing in the entire manga, especially because when Fumi tells her, she actually goes through with it! I absolutely need more friendships like that in my media. And the flip side is that when Fumi’s girlfriend comes out to her family (and by extension, outs Fumi), their reaction is to treat it as a joke, or ask invasive questions. Both of them are believable, and neither of them are a thing that I’ve seen represented in manga before despite experiencing both in real life!

My only concerns about representation is whether Yasuko’s character is going to play into biphobic stereotypes in the future for reasons that are entirely spoilery (I’m happy to give details in the comments!), and whether the feelings these girls have get dismissed as pashes or pretend relationships. I have faith in Takako Shimura that they won’t do either of these things, because their depictions of queer characters are generally kind! I am hoping that there is an accounting for Fumi’s crush on her cousin, and how many of her tangled feelings about her queerness are because of that relationship.

In conclusion: I really recommend Sweet Blue Flowers. It’s cute and emotional, and is a marginally more realistic depiction of teenage romantic drama than I expect from manga!

[CW: sexual harrassment from strangers on trains, mentions of emotional incest, outing]

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.

Mary Springer reviews The Wolf Diaries by Bridget Essex

The Wolf Diaries by Bridget Essex cover

I love this book. Preferably, I would have a better way to segue into this review, but there’s no way to better introduce it than to say, I love this book.

Jadin is a werewolf with a big heart, and when the lonely and lovely Tess (also a werewolf) asks her to be her pretend girlfriend, she can’t help by say yes. Jadin immediately falls for Tess, but Tess is unfortunately still hung up on her ex-fiance Laurie. Laurie, who doesn’t deserve such devotion from Tess, and whose wedding is the exact reason Jadin has a reason to spend time with Tess while pretending to be her girlfriend.

The first thing that really hooked me into this book was Jadin’s wonderful voice that jumped off the page and along with that her sense of humor. There were many parts where I laughed out loud at Jadin’s jokes, sometimes at her own expense and sometimes at the situations she finds herself in.

Jadin’s character really came through vividly and the same can be said for the rest of the characters. It was easy to stay engaged when I felt like I knew these people and easily care about what happened to them. Jadin clearly genuinely cared about Tess from beginning. I was surprised to find myself falling for Tess as Jadin did. This isn’t told from both their POVs, just Jadin’s. Usually I don’t like this in romance because then it’s harder to relate and engage with whomever doesn’t have a viewpoint portion in the book. However, Jadin’s narration made me feel like I knew Tess the way she did.

There were also several side characters that were just as easy to engage with. Laurie was a fantastic, believable antagonist and I had fun hating her. Mona was Tess’s best friend and had a great sense of humor as well as was a wonderful friend that helped move the plot along while also being a great addition to the cast. Finally, there’s Jadin’s mom, who was a fun and interesting hippy kind of character, as well as believable and engaging.

The romance was believable, and I found myself cheering Jadin and Tess on through the whole story. There was a good balance of physical attraction as well as genuine emotional connection.

My only complaint, and it is a small, nitpicky one, is that the werewolf element felt a bit too low key. There were parts where elements of being a werewolf were incorporated to the story. For example, smell was something Jadin picked up on and often described, which added to the character and world building. There was also a few other world building elements that were fun. However, it felt very little to what I expect when I find a book with werewolves. Again, though, it is a small complaint.

Overall, this was a great book that I highly recommend for anyone looking for a fun romance with the elements of the fake relationship and werewolves.

Megan G reviews Pulp by Robin Talley

Pulp by Robin Talley cover

Janet Jones and Abby Zimet are two lesbian teens living in Washington DC, separated by sixty-two years. In 1955, Janet discovers lesbian pulp fiction and finds herself truly represented for the first time in her life. In 2017, Abby decides to complete her senior project on lesbian pulp fiction, becoming obsessed with one particular author: Marian Love.

This is the second Robin Talley novel I’ve read in a short period of time, and to be perfectly frank I think I am falling in love. Her writing pulls me in from the moment I open the book and has me wanting to keep turning pages deep into the night, even when I know I will regret it in the morning. Her characters are real and independent, always having unique and powerful voices.

In Pulp, Talley does a magnificent job of contrasting the difference in the lives of two lesbian teenagers living in the same city only sixty-two years apart. While Janet struggles with the constant threat of being discovered (which would effectively ruin her life as she would lose her place in college, her job, and would be cut off completely from her family), Abby struggles with an ex-girlfriend who doesn’t seem to want to get back together as much as Abby does, and her parents’ inescapable divorce.

I will be honest – at some points in the novel, I felt frustrated with Abby because of this. Janet’s problems felt so much more real and life-altering, whereas Abby continually made poor decisions because of something that most likely over 50% of the population experiences. Talley deals with Abby’s parents failing marriage and the threat of Janet’s homosexuality being exposed with similar weight, which I felt was wasn’t completely fair. Yes, the point is that even though Abby doesn’t have to deal with as much oppression regarding her being a lesbian she still has problems, but those problems feel trivial when compared to Janet’s experiences.

Still, despite my frustrations with this comparison, I did appreciate that Talley allowed Abby to be a flawed human being. She doesn’t make perfect decisions (and she often doesn’t even make good decisions), but she grows from her mistakes, she learns from her failings, and by the end of the novel it is more than clear that she is headed down a good path.

The only other thing I was a little iffy about is that, in having Abby and Janet’s stories run concurrently, there was often a fair bit of repetition. [minor spoiler] It’s clear that Janet is Marian Love, the author that Abby becomes obsessed with. Often chapters told from Janet’s perspective mirror whatever Abby has just learned about her in the present, which can feel a bit redundant [end spoiler].

Overall, I found this book to be engaging and thought-provoking. Seeing the way lesbians were treated back in the 1950’s is horrendous, but also incredibly important. Getting to contrast that with the life of a modern lesbian, who came out at fourteen and is part of a friend group where everybody is queer, feels even more important. The message of this book is clear, and vital: don’t forget where we came from, and especially don’t forget who fought for all the rights we have in the present. Some of us younger queer people (myself included) often forget how things were, and how they still are in some parts of the world. We never, never should, and this book illustrates that perfectly.

WARNINGS: homophobia, internalized homophobia, sexism, misogyny, compulsory heterosexuality, heterosexism

Megan Casey reviews Fighting for Air by Marsha Mildon

Fighting for Air by Marsha Mildon cover

This book is a prime example of why ebook samples should be longer. If Fighting for Air had been available as an ebook when I read it, I would have given up after the ten-percent sample that Amazon offers. At the time, however, there was no ebook—New Victoria came out with one in 2016—21 years after its paperback publication and several years after I read it. So I persevered and was rewarded. Am I rich because of it? No. But I gained something I didn’t have before.

Calliope Meredith is a private detective and former scuba diving enthusiast living in a coastal town in Canada. When she is invited to participate in a dive off Anemone Island, she is at first reluctant because her lover was killed in a diving accident only a year previously. But she is persuaded by her good friend Jay, who is running a diving certification class and wants Cal to help her out. Then the unthinkable happens: one of the students drowns and Jay is arrested for homicide-by-negligence. Unless Cal can prove that the diver, an Ethiopian graduate student named Tekla, has been murdered—and figure out who murdered him—Jay might be sent to jail for life, just as Cal is falling in love with her.

Mildon’s cast of characters is a rich one, with beautiful lesbians a-plenty: Cal, her best friend Danielle, Danielle’s lover Sally, and the likable old Faith, who keeps an eye out for all of them when she can. But many characters makes for many suspects, and one of Cal’s friends may be a murderer.

As mysteries go, this one is better than most, but you may have to do some research into scuba diving for it to ring true. I did, and I learned a lot about how poisonous carbon monoxide can find its way into scuba tanks. In fact, the whole diving motif was extremely well done—accurate and interesting. The author also goes into the theme of activism vis a vis third world countries. It seems that Tekla was a relation of the deposed emperor Heile Selassie, and harbored the grandiose  scheme of returning to his country and taking over power from the military. The history of Ethiopia’s aggression toward the neighboring state of Eritera is also gone into in some detail.

Cal is not a particularly noticeable character. She plods from one suspect to another determined to exonerate her lover even after Jay gives up and resigns herself to prison life. Cal’s status as a P.I. is stated but not gone into with enough detail for us to really believe it. These are a couple of minor but important detractions. A more significant flaw is in Cal’s relationship with Jay. Quite simply, it isn’t written very well. Cal’s previous friendship with Jay is told in asides and occasional flashbacks, not as part of the story line, so it seems very abrupt when Cal touches Jay’s shoulder comfortingly and shudders with sexual feeling. The flashbacks explain after the fact. And because Jay has heretofore been straight, I felt like I was missing out on a lot of foreplay.

Despite the flaws and the non-flaws, give this book an average rating. 2.5. You’ll learn some important things, but you’re not likely to be very engrossed in the story.

Note: I read the first New Victoria printing of this novel.

Another Note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

The Half-Light Makes for a Clearer View: Genevra Littlejohn reviews On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

I’m writing this from inside of a curious space. About a week ago I stood up into a cabinet and gave myself a concussion, which I then immediately exacerbated by doing Chinese lion dance in four shows for a local production of The Nutcracker. So my life for a few days was cut harshly between periods of bright light and motion, and periods of sleep. Being awake has felt like one of those dreams where I’m just a little late to everything. Being asleep has felt like falling into a well. And then Winter Storm Diego hit my part of Virginia, and everything, everything stopped. My little house in the woods got fifteen inches of snow over as many hours, and since we’re a quarter of a mile from the closest paved road, gone was every possible excuse for getting up and doing things. In previous winters over the five years I’ve lived here, this is when I would read. I’d cover the available space in the tiny living room with quilts and pillows, hunker down with some snow snacks, and only get up to find another book.

But. Concussion. Trying to sit and read a novel proved…problematic. It’s been dreamlike and odd, the quick-slow jittery passage of time, the way that things don’t seem to stick right in my memory.

And then. Somehow, by chance, I found this lyrical, poetic, beautiful treasure-box of a graphic novel.

There are a lot of things to read in the world. I could do a review here every single day for months on end and not run out of my TBR list. That’s what I’m telling myself, when I’m asking how I never heard about On A Sunbeam until now, even though it started serializing as a webcomic a couple of years ago. Named for a Belle and Sebastian song, On A Sunbeam is set in a future so far from ours that its technology is more or less unrecognizable, though people are still more or less the same. It takes place after human expansion into deep space, and after–like a bacterial bloom dying back from lack of resources–the collapse of civilizations. People traveled so far into the dark that they weren’t able to come home again, and the most distant of them have sat for generations, just barely getting by. Barely daring to hope for rescue, because who would come for them? And there are some old colonies that don’t want any contact with anyone else, like the people of The Staircase, a settlement on the edge of known space mostly mentioned in legends and ghost stories.

But all of that, all of that seems very far away from the protagonist, a young girl named Mia. Her story is split raggedly between two timelines: the one where she’s a student at a boarding school-cum-space colony, and the one a few years later where she works with a team of antiquity restorers/maybe something more to mend abandoned colonies and architecture that has long since fallen into ruin. It’s an interesting juxtaposition; the story is pulled like a rope between this girl with great potential and very few aspirations, stumbling through life, causing trouble, and the older, quieter version of herself who spends her days cleaning up after the consequences of others’ centuries-old mistakes.

The first three quarters of the comic are colored largely in shades of Payne’s Grey and in oranges. I thought at first that this was just a pretty sort of contrast in the minimalist style so popular to indie comics and webcomics these days, but about halfway through, I remembered all at once those distant high school lessons about redshift and the Doppler Effect, how speed and distance turn what you see from red to blue. The past looks different than it really is. The future can’t be seen clearly, even if we think we’re sure what is going to happen. And like the narrative, we’re pulled taut between those two points, looking forward and back but pinned to the inescapable Now.

The line weight and panel structure reminded me a lot of the early days of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1980’s Nausicaa manga. On A Sunbeam has the same sort of dreamlight vagueness to some of its figures and landscapes, a knobbly intricacy to its plants and architecture. Even the edges of the panels waver, mirage-like. Things swim into focus and out as if with the attention of the protagonist, and scenes that in a more action-oriented comic might be very close to the viewer are instead distant and hazy as with memory, as much concerned with the landscape as with the characters living in it. Because you never can clearly remember everything about your first love, can you? Even if you write it down event by event, there are always going to be things that dissolve into the dim red past. You can’t hold tightly enough to ensure that nothing escapes.

The characters have complicated relationships and love each other deeply, but all the same every one of them has stories they don’t tell the others. Every time you describe something, scientists say these days, you’re changing your memory of it. It might be that to preserve something flawlessly, it must never be spoken aloud. Or maybe it’s just about self-protection, because if you like the way she looks at you right now, why damage that fragile connection by showing her the darkest places you’ve had to walk? But, as everything has a flipside, if you don’t share anything, if you’re never truly seen, can you be sure they love you?

This review is not purposefully vague. I could give you a cold recital of events, chapter by chapter, but that would be as lifeless as a sparrow dissection, and this work deserves much better treatment than that. It has a dream’s motion to it, inexorable but winding. There’s nothing extra, nothing that could be cut away, but it doesn’t feel spare or thin. The world is never explained with any clarity (why do the spaceships all look like koi, and how do they travel so quickly? Why isn’t there a single male character? What’s the political power structure of the human universe?) and simultaneously, it’s not necessary. This is a love story, and a story about finding family in unexpected places, and it’s enough to know that all the science and history exists at all in the world. We don’t need to see it, because it’s not what we’re focusing on.

As I read, I kept being reminded of a sonnet I memorized a decade ago, Against Entropy by Mike Ford. There’s a bit in it that goes:

The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
although some of the colors have to fade,
do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.

There are things we get to choose, and things we don’t. We get to choose how to respond to a given situation; we don’t get to choose how others will respond. We don’t get to choose the consequences for the things we do. We don’t get to choose to make the world hold still until we’re good and ready to move forward. We don’t get to choose what we remember, and what our minds leave behind. Mia, exhausted, says “Sometimes I just wish…everything would slow down…I fuck things up, or everything turns sour, and it just rushes by me. And I’ll take a second to catch my breath… But by then it’s too late. Everything… everything is gone.” She’s young, and she’s still learning what should be held on to, and what should be let go. She is constantly deciding between wakefulness and sleep, between flying and falling. But this deftly-crafted story isn’t going to let her, or the reader, hit the ground too hard.

Final rating: Five out of five stars. I’m buying multiple copies to give as Christmas presents, because this is the most enjoyable graphic novel I’ve read all year.

CONTENT WARNINGS (spoilers!):

There is no sexual violence in this work. There is no parental abuse in this work. There is no partner-to-partner domestic abuse in this book (there are a couple of arguments, but they are not abusive, just snarly). There is no male-against-female violence in this book.
Some school bullying, both physical and emotional, but not extreme.
Death of a mentor.
Automobile accident (non-lethal).
PG-13 bloody violence (less than a video game, but against a protagonist).
Attempted lynching (unsuccessful).

Danika reviews Mistletoe Mishap by Siri Caldwell

I went into this fully expecting it to be lesbian Christmas erotica–which would have been fine, as a fun, quick read! Instead, Mistletoe Mishap has a lot more nuance that I expected. Viv and Kendra are married, and their sex life has fizzled out a bit. Kendra is trying to reintroduce sex to the relationship, and they begin to negotiate their physical relationship. I appreciated that this acknowledges that it’s easy to fall into a rut in a relationship, and that it can even be a bit awkward to try to regain it. Although they have been together a long time, Kendra is still insecure about whether Viv has anywhere near the same sexual drive towards her as she has towards Viv.

It’s also nice to have a romance between two women who are not teens or twenty-somethings. They’re middle-aged women, and they’re both mature, as well as being settled into their professions. They’re both scientists! And professors. It’s not discussed a lot, but there’s an undercurrent to the plot about being semi-closeted and how that affects their relationship. Through this little bet for who can make each other have the most orgasms, there are also subtle shifts in their relationship outside their sex life, including how much they hide their relationship while out in public (especially at the university they teach at).

In fact, despite the premise, I would call this more of a romance. There are sex scenes, but they aren’t as much the focus as their relationship in general is. If you’re in the mood for a short, holiday-themed read that has sex scenes, but also some nuance around negotiating an established relationship, I think this is well worth the read!


Marthese reviews Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen

Her Name In the Sky cover

“Her stomach hums with the familiarity of it all”

Let me start with a short disclaimer: This is not a ‘holiday’ read, but for people that want to read something angsty and somewhat deep, this may be what you are looking for. Her Name in the Sky follows Hannah, a teenage girl that goes to a Catholic school and who is in love with her best friend, Baker. Baker may love her too, but for sure it’s not going to be smooth sailing! Something happens that is a turning point in the book, in Hannah and Baker’s lives and for their friend group.

Hannah’s friend group consists of Baker, Hannah’s sister Joanie, Luke, Clay and Wally, and together they are the six-pack. They have teenage shenanigans and are overall great friends. This book is one big angsty wound that you cannot help but love. It’s full of questions that most religious people would have asked – it’s very realistic in its sadness. However, the cute moments are plentiful – both the romantic ones and the friend one: organizing small parties in their friend’s style, cleaning up together, touching shoulders and calling each other shortened named and sleeping over, all small things that are as cute in reality as in the book. In the first half of the book, there’s a lot of banter as well.

Hannah is competitive. She goes back and forth between not wanting her feelings and accepting them. She cares deeply for Baker and her friends, although she does not always show it.

Baker is kind and smart. She feels a lot of pressure and tries to do what she thinks is right. Baker, for all her ‘level-headedness’ can be a bit dramatic! Both Hannah and Baker have lashed out in the book, but this is due to them dealing with the big elements of God and society and their feelings.

Religion is a big theme in the book, which is what makes this book even more angsty for me as I come from a Roman Catholic background.

The parents in this book were wonderful. They may not understand exactly how their children feel and their wake-up-calls may have been a shock but they are supportive of their children and they love them. It’s so easy to fall to hate, as we see in this book but the parents don’t do that.

Hannah and Baker date two boys from their group. As friends the boys are great apart from certain moments which they apologize for. As romantic partners, they are problematic and selfish – especially one of them.

There is one instance in the book where Hannah deals correctly with offensive language which was meant to be a joke. I felt so proud that it was addressed! Hannah and Baker, when they are on speaking terms have a healthy relationship. Baker asks for a little drink? Hannah gives her a little; compared to other friends who offered her more. These small instances are what makes you as a reader, root for them. Both also chose to work on themselves before getting together – that is very healthy and the kind of literature that teens should be exposed to.

There’s a big time elements, the teens are at a stage where they have to move for college. Will their whole life change? Do they have to change? There’s a lot of confusion as well: who is right?

I listened to this book as an audiobook and apart from the story, the narrator is really good. She does many voices and each character is recognizable. The acting is superb; crying voices, constricted voices, gentle voices–all voices are done well! I highly suggest this as an audiobook.

Although this book is listed as YA, I doubt it is. There are some adult elements and the theme feels too heavy. However, it’s a book that teens and other ages can read for a realistic depiction of the struggle between faith and same-gender attraction and how institutions and support-systems help of hinder in this struggle. This book is not light, but it’s a great read. Get ready some tissues!

Mallory Lass reviews Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes

Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes cover

Content warning: violence against women, murder of women, homophobic father, abandoned by father, alcohol abuse

Unsolved serial murders committed by one, or maybe two people, will keep you guessing in this thriller that takes place in the dead of winter. Nothing like solving a murder over Christmas. It is low on holiday feels, and high on intrigue.

Joanna, an ex-cop who served time for killing a serial offender in cold blood, just can’t seem to let her old life go. Or maybe, her past has a way of catching up with her. Her life after prison is simple, if not boring. She works in a warehouse and spends time with her two straight female friends: a former fellow inmate, Kira, and the IAB cop that sent her to jail, Vanessa. Her and Vanessa spend most of their time together getting drunk, arguing, and picking up respective one-night stands. An attempted murder in her hometown, with a profile like one of her old cases, forces her to navigate her relationship with her former partner on the force, Theo.

I went through a Patricia Cornwell phase where I read about twenty Scarpetta novels in a year, and I’ve watched my fair share of crime shows, but crime thrillers are not my go to genre, and I haven’t read many lesbian ones. This was a good entrée into the genre.

Killer Instinct is an entertaining read. I didn’t personally like the snippets into other character points of view—it happens infrequently and with different characters points of view being told throughout the book that it seemed more distracting than beneficial. I would have preferred finding out plot points and relevant case information at the same time the protagonist Joanna does. But, as a reader, knowing outside information did increase the suspense factor. My other critique is that the supporting cast was not developed enough to be really invested in them. I wanted to know more about their back story and certainly more about Joanna and Venessa’s road to becoming friends.

Overall, there were enough twists and turns for me to consider this book a “page turner”, and at 165 pages it is definitely a quick read. This is a thriller, but there is also a romantic undercurrent, and despite Joanna’s penchant for one-night stands (the sex throughout is of the fade to black variety), she might have finally met a woman worth having a relationship with. Will her past will keep coming back to bite her, ruining her chances at a longer term relationship? Will she help her old partner solve the case and finally exercise her demons? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

Susan reviews My Solo Exchange Diary Volume 1 by Nagata Kabi

My Solo Exchange Diary cover

Nagata Kabi’s My Solo Exchange Diary Volume One is a follow-up to her hit autobiographical manga My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (which I reviewed in June!). It is an autobiographical essay collection talking about her depression, her attempts to leave home and gain her independence, and her relationship with her family; and it is harrowing. Compulsive, excellent reading, but it left me feeling like I’d been hit by a truck afterwards.

It’s a very introspective series of graphic essays, where she talks about her realisations in the past month and the work that she has done on her own well-being. Sometimes this means that the essays meander a little, and sometimes it means that they’re laser-focused on one issue, like having to be confident in her own identity before she can let herself be influenced by others. The art style is still the same as in My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, so it’s still cute and cartoony, but the contrast between that art style and the subject matter alternates wildly between making things more bearable and making things harrowing.

If anything, My Solo Exchange Diary is even more clearly and explicitly about Nagata Kabi’s loneliness, despite it being about her search for connection and friendships! It analyses her support network (which… Isn’t really a network), and how unsupportive her family is, not just of her as a creator, but of her as a human being, and that is rough. (If you remember in My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, how she said that she had the classic traits of someone who was abused as a child despite not being abused? Yeah, about that.) She’s also frank to the point of cruelty about her own self-harm and suicide attempts (which she mentions not necessarily casually, but almost as a background detail for what’s going on) and readiness for relationships, which means that the end of the book is really hard to bear! To the point where I just had to put the book down and stare into space for five minutes to process how it was making me feel.

The first volume of My Solo Exchange Diary is a beautiful, gutting read. If you liked My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness then it is definitely worth picking up, but it is a lot rougher emotionally!

[Caution warnings: depression, self-harm, emotional neglect/abuse, mentions of eating disorders]

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.

Guest Reviewer Marieke reviews Summer of Salt by Katrine Leno

[this review contains plot spoilers and discussion of rape]

The first half of this novel reads like a landscape painting and the second half reads like a murder mystery featuring an emotional climax, with a sweet but slightly underdeveloped romance sprinkled throughout. In a town on a small nondescript island, magic and salt are always in the air. Georgina Fernweh is the twin sister to Mary, and she’s the only living Fernweh whose magic has apparently not yet manifested itself. This, combined with the fact she’ll leave the island for the very first time when she turns 18 in late August, means her summer is set for the perfect coming-of-age tale.

The first half of the book mostly concerns itself with worldbuilding and character introductions. While the absence of a strict plot makes for slower pacing, it’s done gorgeously and allows the reader to immerse themselves in the life of Georgie. We get to follow the relationships and quirky behaviours of Georgie and Mary (who could not be more polar opposites), their mother, and the cook (the Fernwehs run a B&B) as they prepare for the tourist season. We meet some minor local characters, some of whom endear themselves immediately (best friend and proud aro/ace Vira) and some of whom leave a bad taste in the mouth (side-eyes Nice Guy™ Peter).

Over the course of the book a sweet romance blossoms between Georgie and Prue (one of the tourists), with some adorable hiccups: while Georgie is out (alternately using ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ to describe herself), she still needs to figure out if Prue is interested in women. Prue explains she’s only known she’s not straight for about a year and she doesn’t use a label for herself, but she’s definitely attracted to men and women. In a lovely montage of Georgie coming out to those she cares about individually, all of them accept her, but she also realises that she doesn’t know what Prue’s life off the island is like. This is the clearest indication that Prue is unfortunately underdeveloped as the main romantic interest.

At the midway point there’s a very stark shift in tone [minor spoilers moving forward] as the island discovers the murdered body of their main attraction, 300-year-old bird Arabella. Suddenly rain won’t stop pouring down, to the point that the weather becomes a character of its own. Mary is acting strangely, and most everybody suspects her of killing Arabella. Georgie teams up with Prue’s brother to prove Mary’s innocence, which makes for a budding friendship. While this half is more action-driven, it never loses the magical tone or the family focus which form the heart of the story. As the murder mystery format dictates, there is a final unveiling, and it is not a pleasant one. I’ll leave you to discover the details in the book, but [major spoiler] Peter raped Mary. [end major spoiler]. Leno treats this topic with great care. It was painful to see Mary turn completely into herself and disappear, so her choice to eventually share what happened to her becomes all the more poignant. As a result, the reader is presented with a bittersweet ending in Mary’s resolution and an open-ended conclusion for Georgie and Prue.

I wish we could have explored the various minor characters a bit more, especially Prue and Vira and the ways they care about Georgie and the island. Still, this does not take away the fact that The Summer of Salt is a lovely book with an oddball murder mystery, vibrant background characters, so many different types of female connections, a great boy & girl friendship, wlw and lesbian and aroace representation, organic integration of magic, and gorgeous worldbuilding.

Marieke (she / her) has a weakness for fairy tale retellings and contemporary rom coms, especially when combined with a nice cup of tea. She also shares diverse reading resources on her blog letsreadwomen.tumblr.com