Alice reviews Escape to Pirate Island by Niamh Murphy

Escape to Pirate Island cover showing a woman in a flowing red dress looking over the ocean at a pirate ship

This book! I want to take this book, parcel it into treasure map wrapping paper, and post it back in time to my fifteen year old self. Not that it’s a book for teenagers specifically, but it’s the book I craved so deeply back then. I loved it, it really did, and I hope you do too.

The story follows two daring ladies and their friends, the daring, smart smuggler Cat Meadows, and the brave, proud Lily Exquemlin, as they flee the day they lost everything and peg all their hopes on a ship and the hope of treasure. With pirates, betrayal, marooning, and swinging from the high ropes, this book is thrilling. You, my friend, are on the edge of an adventure.

It’s is a well-written tale, with an engaging and distinct cast of characters which all manage to come across and individual, self motivated people, with clear personalities. Perhaps the bad guys are little too bad guy without reason, but it wasn’t something I even noticed when I was reading as my heart was in my mouth all the way through for Cat, Lily, and their friends.

Sadly, despite being a pirate story, there is no apparent racial diversity in the book, and the only disabled character in the book gets killed off nice and quickly to put the main character down the path she needs to for this story to work. This is always frustrating with pirate stories, as pirates came from all corners of the world, and with sea surgeons hacking of every other limb to stop gangrene, there were plenty of seafarers who weren’t as able bodied as the cast of this story.

I grew up on the British coast and this story made me heartsick for the sea, for the promise of freedom that the horizon seems to promise, and why else would you be reading a pirate book? The romance was sweet and standard for a YA, which I feel is where the story tone sits best, but be aware it does have one ‘Mature’ scene. The story celebrates loyalty, yet understands loyalty.

Honestly? Read this story. It’s fun, well paced, well written, you lose all track of the real world when reading it… it’s a wonderful little book. I recommend it for anyone who is fed up of the mundane and wants a swashbuckling adventure alongside a cast of real people whom you’ll feel you know well.

Megan G reviews Forget Yourself by Redfern Jon Barrett

Blondee’s world is comprised of fifty huts divided between four groups of people: least, minor, moderate, and severe. Each person is grouped based on what crime they committed in their previous life, though nobody can really know for sure what their exact crime was, as everybody comes into this world with no memories of who they previously were. The few memories people have are recorded in a book and used as rules to govern this world. The memories Blondee begins to have, however, will change the course of her world.

This is a tough book to review. It’s speculative science-fiction unlike any I’ve read before. Blondee’s world is new, both to the reader and to the characters, creating a deep sense of uncertainty throughout the novel that never fully dissipates. Every character is an amnesiac, making the world outside their prison compound a complete mystery and creating a strong sense of claustrophobia. We don’t know where we are, and we don’t know where we came from. I will admit, the eventual reveal left me scratching my head, but it also left me thinking in a way that very few dystopian novels ever have.

The issue of sexuality is just as complex as the rest of the narrative. Although Blondee’s world seems far more open-minded than our own, monogamy is still the law of the land, and when Blondee begins to shift into the world of polyamory she is quickly shunned by the rest of the compound. This is a world where everybody must act in the same way and follow the same rules, and having two lovers simply doesn’t fit with those rules. Despite the reaction of the rest of the compound, Blondee continues to date Burberry and Fredrick simultaneously, and, for a short time, this works for all three. Then, Blondee begins having memories.

The way that memory is dealt with in this book was something I found particularly intriguing. Everybody arrives into the world fully formed, but with no idea of who they are. When they do have memories, they’re vague. “If one person cheats, the other breaks up with them.” Nothing is personal or specific, and so it is believed that all memories are simply reminders of how the world works. When you’re with someone, they live with you. When you break up, you have sex once, and then one of you moves out. Things that in our world are decided based on personal preference are rules in Blondee’s world. This eventually leads to terrible consequences when Blondee remembers marriage, finds a bridal magazine, and re-introduces heteronormativy and traditional gender roles into a world that operated rather smoothly without them. This shift is one of the many social commentaries embedded within the narrative, and it may potentially be the only one that I fully grasped.

There are a few warnings you should be aware of before picking this book up. There is a decent amount of fatphobia within this book, all dealt with in a very casual way. Suicide is also a theme, and while it is not omni-present, it is rather explicit when it comes up. [major spoilers]This book also includes the death of a queer woman and of several queer men [end spoilers]. There is also explicit sexual content throughout the book, if that is something you prefer to avoid.

Overall, Forget Yourself is a tightly woven, complex story that deeply examines our society, sexuality, and the personal in contrast to the general. While I did greatly enjoy this story, I must admit that a lot of what happened in the final section went over my head, leaving me confused and a little unsatisfied. A second read might be in order, now that I (sort of) know where everything ends up.

One final note about Forget Yourself: don’t be fooled by the quick pace. This book initially seems like a light, easy, mindless read. It isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

Megan Casey reviews The Slayer by Nadine LaPierre

Whoa. Here’s something I wasn’t expecting. I purchased The Slayer primarily so I could get free shipping for a recent book order. At the time I ordered it, I was not even sure that it was a mystery. The book, when it arrived, was an attractive size and it was well formatted—more accessible for my taste than the often-unwieldy RegalCrest/Quest books. Because it was almost certainly printed by CreateSpace, I assumed it to be self-published (under the aegis of Frisson Books. So far so good.

The prologue—although just as unnecessary as most prologues, was written better and held my interest better than most. Then we meet RCMP Constable Danielle (not Dannie, please) Renaud, who has left her birthplace near Quebec to take a job in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At first blush, she is simply Claire McNab’s Carol Ashton transplanted from Australia to Canada—an incredibly beautiful, statuesque out blonde with a hard-to-match work ethic. But I think Danielle is a more rounded, more-professionally written character than Carol. And she has a good backstory. She has a habit of speaking her ideas into a tape recorder: a convincing and fairly unique motif. So, still good.

In fact, once you get through the first dozen chapters and figure out who the characters are, The Slayer is a pretty remarkable book. On loan from her department to the Special Crimes Unit, Danielle is assigned to look into a cold case—the death of a nurse a year and a half before. Danielle digs into this seemingly impossible-to-solve case and manages to dig up a few new facts no one else had been able to find, while trying to juggle a personal life that includes no less than five women dancing around each other like mating birds. Misdirections abound—but they are misdirections well conceived.

The reader (along with Danielle) learns a lot about forensics and psychology without the author making us think of homework. Danielle’s knowledge of different types of data searches gets a bit forced, but everything else—including a knowledge of veterinary supplies and types of drugs—are spot-on believable. And hey, LaPierre knows her way around the bedroom, too; you can look forward to a couple of delicious sex scenes that are almost worth the price of the book (plus shipping).

The author takes a lot of chances and almost always gets away with what she attempts. The plot often careens like a tilt-a-whirl, but rather than thinking that there might be a method to the madness, I suspect that there is genius in that madness instead. The Slayer is simply one of the most well-plotted books I have ever read. Add this to a plethora of interesting characters and a total lack of typos, and you have the makings of a must-read.

But the book is not all gold and emeralds. It is difficult at times to figure out who is romancing who, a couple of these relationships are not properly brought to a close, there are a few clumsy point of view shifts, needless dream sequences are thrown in here and there, and don’t even get me started on the last paragraph!

All in all, though, it is an exciting and well-written mystery. I recommend this book pretty highly and wish the author would tweak it just a bit. And here’s a clue. Books published at CreateSpace are free to revise and the author doesn’t have to even buy any copies herself. Ditto for e-books. Second edition, anyone? As it is now, I’ll call it 3.7.

For over 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/ or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Susan reviews Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

Heather Rose Jones’ Daughter of Mystery is a fantasy of manners, set in the fictional European country of Alpennia during the early nineteenth century. The focus is on Margerit, who wishes to be a scholar and inherits a Baron’s fortune… And his bodyguard, much to their mutual dismay. Barbara, the bodyguard and a feared duelist, was promised both freedom from the Baron’s service and the truth of her parentage, which she is denied in favour of being bound to Margerit’s service until they are eighteen. Together, the navigate intrigues, Regency-era society, and the titular mysteries.

This book managed to consistently confound my expectations. Every time I thought I knew what I was getting, I turned out to be wrong. I was expecting a Regency romance with minimal physicality and maximum philosophy from the reviews I’d already read, but I somehow managed to miss that this was a fantasy series as well! The focus is also not as much on Margerit achieving her goals as a scholar and her introduction to society as it is on the philosophy and mechanics of what she’s studying, which threw me at first. Daughter of Mystery does not throw aside Margerit’s goal of going to university, which I appreciate, it just didn’t spend more time on it than was required to establish that she found Her People through it, and that they would be working together.

The subject of this work is one of the mysteries of the title: in Alpennia, appealing to the Saints in a specific manner can produce magical effects, known as Mysteries. The way Mysteries are written and discussed has a very academic, technical tone to it, especially as a fair amount of the discussion is how to reconstruct them from conflicting sources, which I quite enjoyed! (If you have ever studied history or philosophy, this tone is probably going to sound familiar to you.) If you decide that this is not for you, however, there is a lot of it and it is quite slow. I have to admit that missed that this was the philosophy that everyone mentioned in reviews the first time around, as I mentally filed it as “the magic system” and made no further demands of it, so it is possible to let it wash over you if that’s what you prefer!

But these are not the only mysteries in the book. There is the mystery of what Baron Savese (Margerit’s benefactor and Barbara’s former… Patron? Owner?) was scheming before his death, as those schemes have repercussions that ripple out and affect both protagonists long after his death; there is the mystery of Barbara and who her family was; and there is attempting to work out which factions are working against Barbara, Margerit, or both. The resolutions to the web of secrets around Barbara was particularly nicely handled, I thought? Daughter of Mystery dug into the the reactions of the reveal, which was particularly satisfying to see because usually those emotions are left unresolved, especially when it is too late for there to be repercussions for the secret-keeper. And it leads to an explicit conflict in how the protagonists view a character, which was excellent to read.

But I’ve not gone into the characters or the romance yet! I adored most of the female characters in this book; Margerit’s guardian has an arc about getting into a relationship as an older woman, and Antuniet is a prickly fellow-scholar who is the protagonist of the second book. (The male characters mainly serve as obstacles and threats, with maybe a few exceptions.) Margerit is passionate about her learning in a way that I enjoyed, and she just discovering that it’s possible to be in love with a woman, which is written in a very sweet way that I enjoyed – if you, like me, enjoy a lot of unspoken desperate longing, hyper-awareness of the other person’s presence, and two people desperately trying to protect each other without letting the other one know, do I have a recommendation for you! But Barbara is my favourite, as a fierce and protective woman trying to steer Margerit safely when Margerit has no concern for the hazards of what she does. The book is also very clear in using Barbara’s in-between position (not quite a servant, not quite a noble, but the one who understands both worlds) as a contrast with Margerit’s status (country nobility and new money, with no understanding of the position she’s been thrown into) to explore class and classism, which I enjoyed. My biggest problem with their relationship is that towards the end, the “unspoken” part of their longing crosses the line into melodrama, in a way that distorts their characterisation somewhat and could have been resolved with literally a five minute conversation.

My biggest problem with this book, honestly, was not the ending though. It was that the pacing is a bit odd. It’s a Regency novel with a philosophical bent, so I was expecting it to be a little slow, but there is a point towards the end where literally all the main characters do is sit around and wait for four months. This was partially to give depth to the romance and aid in the resolution of Barbara’s parentage, but it stuck out to me because that four month timespan has so much activity happening against Margerit and Barbara, but we see none of it. I suppose that’s a problem that shows up earlier in the story; it’s told from a very restricted point of view, the villains move in very different circles to our protagonists, and the schemes tend to have many moving parts behind the scenes, so we only see the results, if that? But it was very puzzling to read.

All of that said: I found this very compelling! I was so invested in the relationship between Barbara and Margerit, and I did manage to hand-sell this book to three people after I read it. If you like fantasy, Regency romances, and/or reading about characters piecing together history, I definitely recommend it.

Caution warning: there is an attempted sexual assault early in the book.

(The copy I read was a review copy from The Lesbrary)

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-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Elinor reviews Bound By Love by Megan Mulry

Bound By Love is a Regency era novella about Vanessa and Nora, women who have been together for twenty years. They’ve raised Vanessa’s children from a previous marriage and built a happy life together in the English countryside. Then Nora learns that her daughter, who she believed was stillborn just before she met Vanessa, may in fact be living nearby–and that Vanessa may have known there was a possibility Nora’s daughter was alive all along.

This is such an interesting set up for a story! It starts off strong, with alternating chapters in 1810 and in 1790, when Vanessa helped rescue Nora from her abusive husband and the two women fell in love. I’m not a huge Regency person but I thought the tone was fairly on point. I liked having a long term couple at the center of the story. Megan Mulry’s imagined pansexual, kink- and poly-friendly Regency England is charming.

Unfortunately, the tension wasn’t allowed to build enough, so the emotional pay off was limited. Even very serious issues are resolved quickly and without much lingering impact. I wanted the story to dive deeper, especially when Nora meets her possible daughter. Some problems seemed tacked on, which was unnecessary considering the potential for conflict and emotion provided by the premise. I had fun reading this, but in the end it seemed more like a draft than a finished novella.

This book is the second in a series of queer Regency romances by Mulry, which include kink, poly relationships, and which all connect. The final section of this book is the lead in for the next in the series and didn’t tie into the central plot all that well. If you have been longing for queer Regency, you might like to explore the series, especially if you just want a light romp. As a stand alone book, though, this didn’t impress me too much. Hardcore f/f Regency fans might want to check it out, but you’re not missing much if you skip it. Two out of five stars.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com

Danika reviews Girl Friends: The Complete Collection 1 by Milk Morinaga

Everything I’ve read talking about yuri seems to mention Girl Friends, so I thought it was time for me to read this quintessential yuri series. And I can see how it’s the example of yuri! It’s school girls, and a lot of blushing, and the typical “girls don’t do this” heteronormativity. I read this in the omnibus, and talk about a slow burn! This is almost 500 pages, and mostly just about Mariko making a new friend, falling in love with her, and then (much later) realizing that she’s fallen in love with her.

Girl Friends is super cute: exactly what you’d expect from the title and cover, though there is the melodrama of agonizing over a crush on a girl, but that should go without saying. It is also set in high school, so it does have some nudity, talk about sex, and underage drinking. (The cotton candy cuteness made me a little shocked by the nudity, for some reason.)

Interestingly, about three quarters of the way through, we get a perspective shift. After spending so long reading about Mariko’s doomed crush on Akko, we get to see Akko’s (mostly oblivious) reaction, and perhaps see the same thing happen to her? Maybe that’s what’s going to take up the next 500 page omnibus?

This is a fun, quick, addictive reading. I was craving it between readings. I’ll definitely be continuing on with the series!

Danika reviews Citrus, Vol 1 by Saburo Uta

Generally I don’t subscribe to the idea of “guilty pleasure” reads, but yuri manga is definitely the closest that I’ve come. The ones I’ve read have been addictive, engrossing, but they leave me with the same feeling binging on junk food does. Citrus Vol 1 definitely fit into that category for me, though it did some things better than most of the other yuri I’ve read. It was a fun, sort of trashy read.

The strength is definitely the art. Especially in the first few glossy, full-color pages (the rest is in black and white), I was impressed by the attention to detail, especially in the girls’ faces. The main character is Yuzu, a loud, mischievous, and overall adorable girl who has just moved. She’s shocked by the strictness of her new school, which leaves little room for fashion or boy-chasing, her usual pursuits. She immediately comes into conflict with Mei, the student council president, who has no tolerance for her. Then, plot twist, Mei turns out to be Yuzu’s new stepsister! (One of the Goodreads reviews calls this “incest erotica,” which I think is going a little far. There are some make out scenes, and they do go on about the “sisterly love” thing more than I’d like, but they are stepsisters who have just met, and it doesn’t approach what I would call erotica.)

There is definitely some questionable consent in several scenes in this, but I think what sets Citrus apart is that there is reason for this: Mei is repeating the sexual abuse that she’s experienced. Where Yuzu is generally carefree, Mei is reserved and brooding, and we learn that she’s in a relationship with a teacher who is using her for her family connections. She has largely accepted this is her fate, but she lashes out at Yuzu because of this pain–which doesn’t excuse it, but it does explain it. They definitely don’t have the healthiest dynamic because of this, but you can really see that she’s coming from a place of pain and of self-sabotaging any relationship she might have with someone who cares about her.

This does have the heteronormativity and internalized homophobia that I’ve come to expect from yuri: lots of “that’s not what girls do” and being called a “deviant,” for example. For all its faults, though, I think the art style and the nuance to their personalities made this stand out for me. I have already requested the next two volumes from the library, so that tells you what I really think of it.

If you have yuri recommendations, especially ones without the heteronormativity and internalized homophobia, let me know!

Maddison reviews The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse: A Nancy Clue and Cherry Aimless Mystery by Mabel Maney

Who hasn’t fantasized about Nancy Drew being at least a little bit gayer? If you are anything like me and the subtext between Nancy and George isn’t quite enough for you, then Cherry Aimless and the Not-So-Nice Nurse has got you covered.

Cherry has been working as a nurse and is finally going on her two week vacation. Cherry is eager for her trip to San Francisco where she plans to visit her spinster aunt. She has almost escaped the hospital when the intimidating head nurse stops her to ask a favour. Cherry, eager to please, accepts the request to deliver the package as it is on her way. But, when Cherry arrives in San Francisco she finds her aunt kidnapped, and to add to the disheartening news, her idol Nancy Clue has gone missing. It’s up to Cherry and her rag-tag crew of queer women to solve the case and save Cherry’s aunt. And how is the head nurse and her package tangled in this whole mess?

Cherry has a sweet, naive innocence which drives her interactions with other characters. Over the course of her adventure she slowly meets a friendly crew of queer women. She never questions their sexualities, or even her own, but accepts love as love. While Mabel Maney never uses the word lesbian in the work, the relationships between the characters are explicit.

Cherry Aimless and the Not-So-Nice Nurse is a fun parody of Nancy Drew that pokes fun at the original without being mean spirited. It is a light romp which holds a special place in my heart. Told from Cherry’s perspective, she wears rose tinted glasses that create a lighthearted version of the 1950s. The book brushes with issues like racism and homophobia, but Cherry doesn’t pay these issues much heed.

Would I recommend the book? Definitely! It is an easy read, it is funny, and who wouldn’t want a reality where every woman you meet is queer?

Julie Thompson reviews Butch Lesbians of the 20s 30s and 40s: Coloring Book edited by Avery Cassell and Jon Macy, Foreword by Sasha T. Golberg

From the publisher of The Queer Heroes Coloring Book (featuring a delightfully bedecked Edward Gorey on the cover) comes Butch Lesbians of the 20s 30s and 40s: Coloring Book, a collection of performers, mechanics, millionaires, and unknowns, from the 1920s through the 1940s. Nineteen artists, including Maia Kobabe (Louise), Avery Cassell, and Jon Macy (X Garage), bring these figures to life. The expressive takes on famous photographs and persons allow you to fill in each image with your own technicolor sensibilities, as well as fill in gaps in your own knowledge of queer history. The more time you spend with the woman or women on the page, carefully selecting just the right shade of purple for a suit jacket, the more time you end up spending thinking about who it is you’re looking at. Who is this defiant individual gazing back at me from a mugshot? What does it mean to find community in a public place, yet remain anonymous to history? I love the assortment of intimate moments between couples; the affability and charm exuded in solo portraits, coming across more as a conversation between the subject and the viewer; and the moments that project calm or exhilaration, and everything emotion in between. In the foreword, Sasha T. Goldberg, offers up her thoughts on butch identity and history. Goldberg acknowledges that the lens of experience and parameters through which she sees this collection and the identities of its subjects, may differ from yours.

Biographies of known persons and historical context for unknown persons, found at the back of the book, provide this collection with extra heft. A few of the images were familiar to me during my own readings of the eras covered here, such as thrill seeking heiress Joe Carstairs and the X Garage she ran with friends following WWI; night club performers, Gladys Bentley and Buddy Kent; and writers Djuna Barnes, Willa Cather, and Radclyffe Hall. There are a few historical figures that I’m unsure about, though, regarding their inclusion as butch lesbians. For instance, I haven’t found information about Bessie Coleman’s sexual preferences, though I admit I don’t know much about her aside from tales of her aviation prowess. The collection could also benefit from the addition of a book list for further reading. Readers and colorists will better connect with the writers’ and artists’ intentions of honoring these women.

I had a lot of fun (and plenty of hand cramps and that red indent on my ring finger) coloring in Louise and the X Garage crew. Coloring books for adults are seeing a surge in renewed interest, popping up as library programs, meditative exercises, and small gatherings. Does your book club need an excuse to spend afternoons coloring and discussing art and history? The end of the coloring book includes three discussion questions from Ajuan Mance about gender, how artistic visions influence a viewer’s interpretation.

I’ve included a list of titles if you’d like to learn more about these women’s lives or want a more general context of what life was like for queer people during the 1920s-1940s. The list is by no mean comprehensive and the asterisked titles reside on my TBR shelf. You can help grow this list by adding suggestions in the comments below.

Further Reading:

Danika reviews Honey Girl by Lisa Freeman

It’s 1972, and while Nani may not be familiar with California, she’s a Hawaiian teenage girl, and she knows the rules of the beach. Rules like: Never cut your hair. Never go anywhere without a bathing suit. Don’t let boys see you eat. Armed with this knowledge, she’s determined to break into the line up of local beach girls and become a true honey girl. But beach girl culture is cutthroat, and it’s not so easy to earn a spot.

Rarely has historical fiction pulled me so completely into the atmosphere. This takes place entirely during the summer, right after Nani and her mother have moved to California after her father’s death. She’s struggling with his death, the move, and dealing with her (white) mother’s refusal to acknowledge her Hawaiian culture, all while trying to fit in in a whole new social scene. Honey Girl perfectly captures that feel of summer vacation sun-drenched days that seem to stretch on forever. It was fascinating to see the intricate power plays that happened between all the girls on the beach, who are competing for the attention of Rox and Claire–the rulers of the beach girls–almost as much as they compete for surfers’ attention.

Nani takes her reputation on the beach very seriously, and she calculates every word and movement to ensure that she follows the rules of the beach, which she is sure will be her ticket to success. I really liked Nani. She has a tumultuous relationship with her mother, who wants a quick route to a shiny, rich, Christian, American life. Nani wants to keep the memory of her father alive, and is determined to go back and take over his bar once she’s of age. She resents her mom, but she’s also the only family she has.

The beach has the real cast of characters, however. Rox and Claire, especially, are fascinating, but even the minor characters seem to have more going on than is explicitly written, like they’re wandering off the page to continue their own stories. Initially, I was briefly worried that I had somehow gotten confused, and that Honey Girl wasn’t a queer book. Then Nani talked about secretly looking at her uncle’s Playboys, and I stopped worrying. Still, although she acknowledges that she might be a funny kine girl (Hawaiian Pidgin for lesbian), her romance with a boy is a significant part of the story. It is not, however, the only romance she has.

[spoilers] 

Some people might be concerned about the cheating/”slutty” bisexual trope used here, but I enjoyed Rox as a character a lot, and both Nani and Rox seem to agree that in their situation, a beard boyfriend is necessary for keeping up appearances. I wasn’t sure if Nani was bisexual or a lesbian, by the end. She doesn’t use a label, but she seems to come to a general both/and conclusion for the dichotomies in her life: Hawaiian and white, Fiji and Nigel, Mom and Jean, Hawaii and California.

[end spoilers]

I really enjoyed this one, and I am very glad that I have the sequel lined up, because I really got sucked into the atmosphere of this story.