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demonglass

Hex Hall is a paranormal teen series with a straight main character. In fact, a lot of the personal drama of the book is a love triangle of her trying to choose between two guys. So why am I reviewing it at the Lesbrary? Because I loved her best friend Jenna too much not to share. I actually picked up the first Hex Hall book not knowing that there was a lesbian character at all (they must just be magnetically drawn to me at this point), so it was a pleasant surprise to find out that Sophie’s roommate at her new school (for magical beings) is a lesbian vampire!

I remember liking the first book, but this one really made me fall in love with Jenna and how she’s portrayed. For one thing, how common is it for a straight main character to have a lesbian best friend? The stereotypical sassy gay friend is done fairly often, but a straight girl who emotionally relies on her lesbian BFF? I was surprised at how appreciative I was of their relationship, because I feel like I haven’t seen it before. Sophie in the first book is immediately protective of Jenna, who’s an outcast at the school for being a vampire (metaphors!). Sophie obviously goes through her own struggles in that first book, and they begin to rely on each other. By Demon Glass, they have a rock solid relationship. When Sophie is offered a trip to go on, her first response is that she’ll only go if Jenna comes with her. Also, side note, Jenna is this tiny blonde vampire obsessed with the colour pink, which makes for a pretty different take on the trope.

In Demon Glass, Jenna takes on the protective role when Sophie is stuck with her usually-absent father. Along with being emotionally supportive of each other, Jenna and Sophie both gossip about their love lives, with each of them saying something to the effect of “Your girlfriend is so dreamy!” “I know, right?!” I also found it interesting that we see Sophie being jealous of Jenna’s girlfriend. As much as I’d love to see this series going towards Sophie being bisexual, I think it’s more likely that this just shows how close they are, and how much Sophie depends on her. I rarely see close relationships between gay characters and same-sex friends, especially ones that are as unselfconscious and unapologetic as this one.

Jenna doesn’t play as big a role near the end of the story, but I still feel like she is essential to the book as a whole. [spoilers] At first I was disappointed that Jenna and Sophie get in a big argument, because as I have said, I love their friendship, but it’s actually another good moment of characterization for Jenna. She doesn’t just exist to help Sophie along; she has her own values and priorities, and they don’t necessarily match Sophie’s. 

I actually tweeted while reading this that I was enjoying Jenna so much as a character that I was suddenly terrified that Hawkins was going to kill her off (the Bury Your Gays trope). Then came the end of the book, and I was FURIOUS. I nearly threw the book. I had to go and google the next book as quickly as I could to make sure that Jenna lived. Luckily, she does, or it would have negated this whole review. [/spoilers]

So if you’re looking for a quick, fun teen series with a lesbian subplot/secondary character, I really recommend the Hex Hall series (at least the first two books: I haven’t read the next ones yet).

daretruthorpromise

In this 1997 novel by Paula Boock, Dare, Truth, or Promise explores the lives of two New Zealand teenage girls, and their budding romance.

Louise “Louie” Angelo is a confident girl preparing to become a lawyer. She meets Willa, a quiet new girl at her school who wants to be a chef. From the beginning, Louie is fascinated by Willa, who is reeling from a painful breakup with a girl that almost cost her everything. The girls become good friends, and Willa finds herself falling in love again. Soon, Louie’s admiration turns to love, and the two become lovers. But when Louie’s uptight mother finds out, a rough road is in store for both Louie and Willa. They must confront old demons and their own fears of homosexuality in order to be together.

Dare, Truth, or Promise is an easy read, told from both Louie and Willa’s perspectives, and the characters are realistic. It’s interesting how the two leads, Louie and Willa, are so opposite. Louie is from a rich family, lives in a big house, and is in a practicing Catholic family. Willa, on the other hand, is living in a pub her widowed mother owns, and is an atheist. Still, the girls have an undeniable love, and really care for each other. Other characters are interesting, such as Susi, Louie’s mother, who suspects her daughter’s relationship from the beginning. Other characters include Mo, Louie’s best friend at their all-girls school, Cathy, Willa’s ex-girlfriend, and of course, Willa’s adorable dog, Judas.

The fears the girls have over their relationship is very real. Louie worries that she is a sinner, while Willa worries of having her heart broken again. For a while, things are tense as Louie and Willa try to sort their emotions out, as well as gain acceptance from their families, friends, and religious groups. There are even a couple of nail biting moments that really drew me in.

This book, which takes place in New Zealand, has a glossary of words for the grammar and slang used in the story. And though tense at times, Dare, Truth, or Promise has really funny moments, such as the dog’s antics, or the banter between Louie and her brother and sister. And the moments where Louie and Willa are together, whether watching airplanes take off, or swimming in Louie’s Jacuzzi, add to the story. They have their disagreements; neither of them is perfect. But that accurately reflects all couples, be they gay or straight.

Though it’s a relatively short novel, (170 pages), it packs a punch and is very entertaining. Dare, Truth, or Promise is an exciting addition to teen lesbian literature.

whiteisforwitching
I’m not sure I know how to summarize White is for Witching. It’s a bit of a haunted house story, sort of postmodern, Gothic-esque, definitely unsettling. It follows the story of Miranda, who at the beginning of the novel has disappeared. Her twin brother and the house she grew up in narrate the events that lead up to her disappearance, with her girlfriend getting the occasional paragraph of her perspective as well. (Yes, the house narrates part of the story. That tells you a lot about the kind of book this is.)

Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say about this one. The writing is beautiful, but I just didn’t really connect to the book as a whole. The only character I really found interesting was Ore, who doesn’t have a huge role to play in the story. In fact, most of her scenes are Ore and Miranda’s dysfunctional relationship, which left me disappointed. (Which was deliberate: this isn’t a romance, it’s more like a Gothic horror story.)

As for the plot itself, I spent a good portion of the book trying to sort out the narrators and what exactly was happening. (It took me while to really accept the house as a voice, even though it’s clearly labelled from the beginning.) After that, the events are dark and unsettling in exactly the way I’m looking for from an October read, but I think my experience with the book really suffered from reading it so quickly after House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (sadly, not a lesbian book). House of Leaves is also a haunted house story and does that incredibly well. White is for Witching is partly inspired by that story, and although they go in completely different directions, I think that Oyeyemi’s story wasn’t given a fair shot in my reading of it, since I was still trying to process House of Leaves.

I still enjoyed this book, and I definitely plan on reading more of Oyeyemi’s books, but White is for Witching never quite came together for me. I would still recommend it as a queer creepy read, perfect for a stormy October night, but I was looking for a little something more from it.

 

carmilla

Carmilla is a lesbian vampire novella that predates Dracula by over 25 years. I had been meaning to pick this book up for years, just based off that description, but I wanted to save it for an October read. This year I finally got around to it, and I think it makes the perfect quick sapphic Halloween read.

If you’re anything like me, you probably expect Carmilla to be pretty subtextual. This is the Victorian era, surely this isn’t a blatantly lesbian book? As I began to read it, though, I found more and more passages that were fairly straightforward. As the two girls meet, Laura and Carmilla, they hold hands, smile, and blush. Carmilla fawns over Laura, calling her darling, and making Laura confused and uncomfortable.

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever.” Then she has thrown herself back in her chair, with her small hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling.

Living in such an overwhelmingly heteronormative time, Laura can’t fathom why Carmilla would act like this. She asks whether they’re related, and muses that maybe Carmilla is a man in disguise trying to seduce her, like sometimes happens in storybooks. (This was a time so heteronormative that Boston marriages and romantic friendships were seen as totally acceptable for straight women.)

So how did a book so blatantly queer get published in 1872? Because Carmilla is a monster. Laura is simultaneously repulsed and attracted to this queer monster. But because she is a vampire, Carmilla’s actions and attractions are unambiguously cast as bad, therefore letting the story get told. (Lesbian pulp followed this formula: the ending had to punish the gay characters, to make the whole book seem like a warning, despite anything that happened beforehand.)

As Carmilla proves, vampires have been associated with lesbianism for more than a century. And this book shows how those fears can be tangled together in a straight society. The idea that the charming young woman your daughter is associating with could be the enemy, that she could invade your home under the guise of something as sweet and pure as female friendship: what a terrifying thought! The lesbian vampire is a monster in disguise, a monster that can appear as angelic as a young, fragile woman. Like lesbian pulp, this image is something I find hilarious now, but in the context of the time period does show the overwhelming homophobia of the environment. (Though even this iteration of vampire lore does offer some sympathy to Carmilla.)

This is a great read for a look at the beginnings of vampire lore as we know it now, as well as having the allure of being able to read a Victorian lesbian story. Unfortunately, the compromise is that the plot of Carmilla relies almost entirely on the reader not already knowing that Carmilla is a vampire, which is pretty impossible to miss as a modern reader. Luckily, this is a short book, and still well worth the read even with that caveat.

unicornhunting

I was very excited when I first saw the blurb for this book – lesbian unicorn hunting, grey morality choices, fantasy realm! From the start, you know the author is full of ideas and has this really complex fantasy world in mind. Unfortunately, I found that the ideas were great, but the book really suffered from poor execution. This review will have some spoilers, so be warned.

Cal and her two best friends have chosen to become unicorn hunters, a task reserved for virginal young women, rather than getting married or going to a nunnery. Cal’s mother is an ex-unicorn hunter, so the hunting seems to be a job you can pick up as a young adult and put down when you’re ready for the rest of your life. After about a half-day of training, all two-hundred of the first-year hunters are sent out in pairs into the forest to hunt down unicorns, and most of the pairs are successful. It never really made sense to me why they’d need a dedicated training school if unicorn hunting was so easy that two untrained girls can take down multiple unicorns on their first day. There’s a great deal of mystery around the reasons for hunting at the beginning – and most of the unicorn hunters have no idea why they’re doing it, although Cal soon finds out.

There are monsters, intrigue, and betrayal, but I was never able to get past my initial problems with the world building. There are so many interesting ideas – the reproduction of unicorns, for example – but the world is full of holes. And now we get into the spoilers proper.

If hunting unicorns is so vital to the world, and there are so many unicorn hunters around, why did no one ever notice that unicorns clone themselves (much like flatworms) nigh-instantly? If the world depends on unicorn blood to provide healing, why haven’t they just started farming unicorns? I understand that unicorns are magic and probably couldn’t be domesticated, but the first thing that came to mind when I saw how the unicorns reproduced – and that the hunters are paid per unicorn killed – was how you could easily set up a system to provide yourself with almost infinite unicorns.

I also wasn’t terribly fond of Cal, unfortunately. She went from awed by the beauty of unicorns to SlaughterCal-9000 over the course of a day, and these extreme changes in views weren’t well explained. I appreciated the way that the narration showed that she was attracted to women in general, not just her first crush, but I was never really able to relate to her.

Overall, I think Unicorn Hunting definitely feels like a first novel – it has some great ideas, but would benefit from a lot of polishing. I think, for me, if the author sat down with her world-building and took her ideas to their logical conclusion, they’ll really have an interesting story on their hands.

morningrising

This is the story of Kara and Dylan or as they are known to some people; the Guardian and Morning. This story started with a very contemporary feel and then quickly introduced some fantasy elements, which were not what I was expecting but in a good way! This story left me with a thirst for fantasy.

In short, the story is about Dylan and Kara who were in our human world but they are not from here. They are from InBetween and were only in the human world for their protection. This story, despite being very short manages to be very original and serves as a good introduction to the following two books. The world building is original and practical  as there are elements of fantasy and of our lives mixed together. There is magic but this world is also practical and adaptable. They take inventions from other worlds and are not afraid to use them. In some ways, very much like our own world. As you read along you can imagine the world and experience it as Kara relearns.

We see as Kara and Dylan’s roles are reversed and this applies also for the other two books. First, it was Dylan that needed to be strong for Kara and then the other way round, though by no means does that undermine Dylan’s strength. We also see how Kara gave in to Dylan in the Human World but then in Inbetween, Dylan needed Kara so listened to her.

Along the way there are some nice touches to make us dive deeper into their world. For example, an allergy mentioned in the beginning of the book is later on explained as a common trait.

The style is nicely written in general but sometimes it’s especially awesome and funny. For example:

“Some theme parks could take a few hints from this place”
Samantha Boyette, Morning Rising

There are great moments in the book, because they feel very real. We learn to empathize with the characters and their feelings. We feel frustrated with the situation as Kara is frustrated.

I would recommend this book for fantasy/urban, action, young adult and series lovers. This book is part of the Guardian of Morning trilogy (Morning Rising, Darkness of Morning, When Morning Dawns). The plot although written in a few pages, has a lot of twists and will probably surprise you.

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Despite the recent conservative controversy surrounding Vicky Beeching’s coming out, the Christian community is no stranger to revered spiritual musicians coming out. Jennifer Knapp’s memoir Facing The Music is a soul-searching, earnest examination of the Christian music scene and self discovery including her own coming out in 2010.

Knapp begins her life as a twin in a dysfunctional and divided household. As her parents were separated, she spent her youth navigating the complex conditions of custody, living predominantly with her father and step-mother and occasionally holidaying with her mother. Her first love is discovered and passionately explored as she teaches herself trumpet and becomes enamoured with music. Not being musical myself but living with a musician, I was enthralled in Knapp’s diligent and often demanding relationship with instruments. In fact, her first decision to learn an instrument comes at the direct expense of her limited time with her mum. Her passion continues as she breathes in instrument after instrument, ultimately leading her to study music teaching at college.

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After a period as a wild child, filled with sexual exploits and significant alcoholism (not explicitly explored), Knapp falls for the grace of God and begins to party Christian style; with worship music and religious conversation. Her account for her rise to Christian ‘rock-star’ status is told passively, as though everything just happened around her; her own involvement often reluctant and riddled with self-doubt. I feel this early Christian experience is written through the lens of a changed woman and wonder about the difference in explanation if one had been able to be transcribed at the time. Yet, this is how all memoirs are written; by the hands of current understanding, so I need not fault Knapp for that.

As a Christian myself, I recognised many of the evangelical experiences Knapp described and would advise non-Christian readers not to be put off by this inside look at the Contemporary Christian music scene. Her insights are often darkly described, almost in despising tones and I think Christians will have a harder time processing Knapp’s truths then non-religious individuals.

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Two thirds into Facing The Music, Knapp addresses her sexuality, her withdrawal from the Christian music scene and life as she knows it. She isn’t one to kiss and tell, so if you are hoping for long paragraphs of lesbian liaisons, this isn’t the love story for you. Instead, she recounts her internal coming out experience and the feelings associated with identifying as both gay and Christian, both personally and within the public  eye.

Knapp’s memoir is also littered with unexpected interesting insights, including her involvement with signing Katy Perry as well as adventures in outback Australia.

Personally, I strongly related to her difficulty fitting into certain circles in Christian churches, wearing cargo pants instead of skirts at church services. I also understood her difficulty with self-acceptance and the shame often associated with sharing an experience that strays from the acceptable testimony within church circles. I applaud her personal strength and faith to share her own story and to take her own time to do so.

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Facing The Music is written with honesty, integrity and emotion and will likely captivate fans, memoir readers, Christians and the questioning masses.

For those who enjoy Jennifer Knapp’s memoir, I would strongly recommend Chely Wright’s memoir Like Me, which explores coming out within the conservative country music world. You can also view the documentary Wish Me Away which follows Chely before and after coming out.

If you are looking for music to listen to while reading, Jennifer Knapp’s new album Set Me Free (released by Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records) is just out.

courtship

Courtship is a forthcoming novel from criminal defense attorney and author Carsen Taite.  It’s the story of law school dean Addison Riley and Julia Scott, a campaign manager with a very successful track record.

When Chief Justice Weir of the United States Supreme court dies suddenly, Julia Scott–fresh from a successful presidential campaign–is put in charge of getting a replacement on the fast track to confirmation. The president wants a quick and easy choice, pushing for a moderate rather than a choice that will make waves in the legislature, and Julia is accustomed to doing whatever her employer wants. But there’s another name that keeps appearing on the Democratic shortlists, despite Julia’s wishes and everyone’s expectations: Addison Riley.

Addison, a former law clerk and solicitor general who had a close relationship with the deceased chief justice, is not a safe choice for confirmation. But she’s got the liberal values that Julia, if she allowed herself to have a personal opinion, would endorse herself. And whenever they meet, there’s a definite spark between them. As circumstances continue to throw Addison and Julia together, attraction–and dilemmas–abound. When it becomes clear that the former chief justice’s death might not have been accidental, things heat up even more. Will Julia be able to get Addison’s nomination confirmed without compromising her professional integrity? Will Addison become the nation’s first female supreme court chief? Who is responsible for Justice Weir’s death?

The addition of the conspiracy/thriller angle to Courtship made it a bit more than the will-they-or-won’t-they workplace romance I was expecting, and the details about campaign management, White House politics, and Supreme Court confirmations were something I hadn’t encountered before. This is not a book for readers who want their heroines to spend a great deal of time together; the road to happiness for Addison and Julia is fraught, but ultimately comes to a satisfactory conclusion. For me, it was tempting to say “get on with it!” at the end, but if it had been a movie I would have watched raptly. For those interested in other political romances, try Madam President by Blayne Cooper and T. Novan or Tracey Richardson’s The Candidate.

Courtship will be coming out in November 2014 from Bold Strokes Books. Advanced copy courtesy of Netgalley.

LittleBlackDress

Linda Palund’s young adult mystery, Little Black Dress, starts with high school student Lucy Linsky dreaming about the funeral of her late girlfriend, Carmen. The story flashes back to the evening that Carmen was abducted and murdered, then flashes back again to Lucy meeting the mysterious Carmen and the teenagers falling in love. Just a few chapters later, Lucy begins to investigate Carmen’s murder, which has the police stumped. With some help from Carmen’s visiting older brother James, Lucy’s old friend Wendy and new friend Seth, and possibly a little intervention from Carmen’s ghost, Carmen’s murder is eventually solved, and Lucy learns some of her late girlfriend’s secrets along the way. First, though, the teenagers discover that Carmen was not the only young woman victimized by the killers, and find themselves in danger too.

The novel is well-paced, engaging, and I cared about finding Carmen’s killers. However, I was not prepared for the amount of sexual violence in this book, or the way it is discussed by the characters. From quite early in the book, you know that three males were involved in Carmen’s kidnapping and death. Without giving too much away, not all the killers were new to abusing young women, and investigating Carmen’s death leads Lucy to some of the predators’ living victims. These girls were victimized largely through coercion and exploitation rather kidnapping, and Lucy’s comments about them disturbed me. At one point Lucy tells the reader that some survivors of a serial rapist “let themselves be raped and kept their mouths shut,” as though they had the option of not “letting” themselves be sexually assaulted. At another juncture, she attributes other survivors’ silence about their sexual abuse to their shame at having “sunk” to being abused, without disagreeing with their self-blaming thinking. Lucy is the narrator, and no one challenges some of the subtle rape culture attitudes she expresses. Worse, toward the end of the book, a sympathetic character arranges for one of the suspected killers to be raped, the scene that is played for humor rather than horror. I also found the level of graphic detail about the many sexual assaults and about Carmen’s murder did not add to the story. At about the third detailed retelling of sexual violence, I wondered why I was reading this book, but at that point I was invested in finding out who killed Carmen, so I slogged through it. If I’d known how many scenes of rape and attempted rape I was in for, I would not have picked up this novel.

The most disturbing thing in this book, though, was all the shame and secrets about things that weren’t shameful. Despite living in present-day Westwood, Los Angeles, with at least one supportive, liberal parent and caring friends, Lucy remains closeted to almost everyone for the entire book. No one but Seth and a few people at a gay-friendly café in Santa Monica ever know that Carmen was more than Lucy’s best friend. She mourns her girlfriend without saying that Carmen was actually her first love. Lucy even possibly hinders the police investigation by hiding her relationship with Carmen when the police wrongly suspect Carmen had a boyfriend who could have been involved in her death. Though Carmen’s family came from the South and seemed to be more conservative, it didn’t make sense to me that Lucy seemed to accept herself as a lesbian but did not consider coming out or even discuss her motives for staying closeted. Midway through the book Lucy gives a little anti-butch rant that suggested to me that she’s less at ease with her sexuality than she claims, but it isn’t examined further. It’s uncomfortable to read a lesbian book where the young lesbian narrator bashes masculine women and stays unquestioningly and dedicatedly closeted.

The shame and silence doesn’t stop there, either. Carmen and her family lived with a troubling number of secrets long before Carmen’s tragic murder. More than one living survivor of the future killers is racked with shame over being sexually assaulted and is terrified of what people will think of her if they found out. The rapists should have been ashamed, not the victims, but no one ever says that. The killers are able to operate brazenly because of this culture of misplaced shame and secrecy, and yet this fact is never explored. In the end, the guilty individuals are found out but no one resolves to stop blaming exploited teenage girls for their abuse, or comes out, or challenges the structures that let sexual assault be an open secret in the first place.

I hesitate to recommend this novel, which is too bad because most of it is a decent read. I would be especially wary of giving it to teens, its target audience. Anyone who reads it ought to also read What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman as a counterpoint. If Lucy had come out to her friends or family, if one of the survivors had refused to take the blame for her abuse, if anyone had challenged some of the troubling thinking in this book, I’d feel differently. But as it is, Little Black Dress was not what I look for in a lesbian mystery novel, and it probably isn’t what you’re looking for either.

howstillmylove

Familiar with Diane Marina’s work, I expected quite the good read as I delved into How Still My Love; however, I did not anticipate that I would be thrust into a world of characters who could so effortlessly elicit an emotional investment beyond what I am willing to contribute to my own experience. Navigating the mundane aspects of my day-to-day life while between chapters, I’d find myself swept away by everything from desire and intimate surrender to desperation and heartbreak. Time and time again, I’d have to remind myself that I was indeed not in the throes of passion or crisis; yet, upon setting the book down for the night, this more vivid world inhabited my dreams.

Having sustained a broken heart in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship several years before, Beth Anders pours her passion into her graphic design studio. Sure, she’s had a few casual encounters, but she has no interest in risking further hurt. That doesn’t dissuade her best friend, Laurel, from matchmaking however; and, Beth reluctantly concedes to a dinner with Laurel, her husband, and her co-worker, Toni Vincent, who Laurel believes to be the woman of Beth’s dreams.

Indeed, it’s lust at first sight and love shortly thereafter. Beth and Toni’s feelings for one another grow quickly, and it doesn’t take long for them to begin building a life together; yet, just a way down the road, they find that they may not have fully grasped one another’s visions for the future. Such a conflict of needs tends to have no easy resolution, but the couple’s lack of communication, resentments and fear-based behaviors turn a challenging situation into something that very well may prove downright devastating.

Be they scenes of intimacy, ecstasy or gut-wrenching loss, Marina writes them all with power, clarity and an understated intensity that packs all the more punch for its skillful lack of melodrama. All the while, I found her sense of pacing, character development and plot progression to be flawless. The unfolding of Beth and Toni’s relationship is nothing shy of masterfully executed for I felt so palpably the lusty anticipation of intimacy, the comfort and familiarity a few years in and the mingling of desperation and rage in the face of betrayal. Lest I neglect to mention, her penning of the bedroom scenes is sexy without an ounce of the lewd or ridiculous.

As much as I appreciate Marina’s strengths as an author, it is the impact and resonance of her work that left me in a state akin to afterglow upon turning the final page. In that moment, I experienced an undeniable sense of gratitude that Marina would provide such a lush and poignant experience for her readers. I certainly don’t indulge in emotionality or invest my heart to the extent I did while immersed in the life Beth and Toni shared; and, from one jaded soul to perhaps another, that vicarious surrender is a rare and precious gift.

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