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myeducation

 

I have a weakness for media about a certain kind of relationship. The passionate, destructive, almost-certainly-doomed kind. (This probably doesn’t say anything good about me.) My Education fits neatly into this category, and it definitely delivered the kind of drama that I was looking for.

Regina, a university grad student, can’t resist the urge to take a class with a professor notorious for sleeping with this students. She finds herself drawn to him and his wife, and soon her life is absorbed in this love affair. I could relate all too well to Regina’s inability to extricate herself from an obviously damaging situation. She is convinced that this kind of love takes precedent over anything else, and when the inevitable moment arrives when it all comes crashing down, she is shocked. My Education deals equally with this relationship and the fallout, even more than a decade afterwards.

This was well-written and evocative, but I suspect that you’ll have to be a certain kind of reader to enjoy it. All the characters are insufferable in their own ways, but they’re understandable. They make the mistakes we wish we didn’t also make. Susan Choi effectively draws you into Regina’s emotions and perspective even when you know that she’s mistaken.

I found it funny that while listening to the audiobook, I found myself constantly thinking Of course you think that, you’re so young. This is a story about being young and feeling everything intensely. But Regina is 21, and I’m only a few years past that myself! I wouldn’t be surprised if some teenagers read this and had the same reaction, though. Maybe it’s less to do with age and more to do with having one’s first all-consuming love.

I really enjoyed this one, keeping in mind that all the characters are flawed and I disagreed with some of the things they would say. I thought this worked well as an audiobook, too. If you’re intrigued by catastrophic love stories, give My Education a shot–dip your toes into literary fiction with a generous helping of soap opera.

babyji

I don’t know what to think about Babyji. This is going be less of a review and more of an unpacking of my emotions. It’s one of the most uncomfortable reading experiences I have had. I assume that is purposeful, but it means that I can’t seem to get a handle on my own emotional reaction. Anamika is sixteen, and the narrative focuses on her three simultaneous love affairs: two with older women, one with a female classmate. If this was a heterosexual book, I would immediately see her as a victim and the older characters as perpetrators, regardless of context, I’m sure. So I should feel the same way about a same-sex relationship, presumably… but I don’t, exactly. The power dynamics are complicated: one of her relationships is with her servant, which makes me uncomfortable in the opposite way. Anamika has such power over her that it seems like a manipulative relationship no matter Anamika’s intentions (and they’re not always good). Her relationship with the woman she calls “India” should be more straightforward. India is a woman that Anamika hardly knows before she arrives on her doorstep and invites herself into the woman’s bed. India should have refused her, and there are moments where her age asserts itself and makes it clear that the relationship is unbalanced, but frankly it doesn’t disturb me as much as her other love affairs. Anamika is manipulative and demanding, frequently pushing into areas of questionable consent with all three of her partners. Maybe it’s as simple as saying that Anamika functions as both victim and perpetrator in this book, often at the same time. And maybe that’s a reality that I don’t want to face, that it’s possible to be both, and that the question of who’s in the right is not so easy to answer.

The relationships are the focus of the novel, and it was interesting to see how they could both empower her and overwhelm her. Anamika is swept up into a sexual world that she sometimes embraces wholeheartedly and sometimes shrinks away from. Once she begins to pursue India, it seems like she gets advances from every direction, and those moments where she seems to be drowning in this new environment were gut-wrenching. Her thought processes, her unpredictable moods, her erratic priorities all felt very true to being a teenager and discovering yourself. Her philosophical tangents may not have been earthshattering, but they did feel familiar to where I was at that time period. In fact, the whole novel seems messily realistic. It didn’t seem to follow an arc to me, and it concludes abruptly, but it just felt like being abruptly dropped into her life.

One aspect that I found interesting is that I’m not sure how Anamika would identify. She is attracted to women, that’s for sure, but she also identifies with men quite a bit. In her fantasies she often sees herself as a man–usually a man that was power over women. She reads Lolita at some point and compares herself to Humbert Humbert multiple times, which she doesn’t seem to find worrying at all. It’s hard to say whether she identifies with men in a personal identity way, or just aspires to the power that these men have over women.

I finished the book feeling unsettled. I wasn’t sure not only how I felt about the characters and their actions, but even how the author intended them to be received. Everything felt murky and troubling. If you’ve read this, I’d love to get your thoughts, because I don’t know how to arrange mine on the subject.

 

ascension

 

As soon as I heard about Ascension, I knew I was going to read it. Although I haven’t read a lot of sci fi, it’s a genre that I want to get into more, and adding a lesbian main character is the best way to draw me in. In fact, in theory this seemed like exactly the kind of book I want a lot more of. In addition to being a lesbian, the main character is also black and has a chronic illness. The other main characters of the book are also diverse (in ways that are mostly spoilers), and all wrapped up in a space adventure story. Plus, that cover is gorgeous. In fact, I was a little bit worried to start this book because I wanted so badly for it to deliver.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded. Alana is a compelling lead, and though her life–her passion for repairing spaceships, her frustration with having a chronic illness–is not anything I have experience firsthand, it was described so well that I felt immersed in her experience. The plot was interesting and kept me turning the pages (especially that ending), but it was the characters that made this stand out to me. The romance is well done, but it’s a subplot, not any more important that the relationship between Alana and her sister. All the supporting characters were fleshed out, and I loved the intricate relationships and rapport they have with each other that seems to exist outside of Alana’s role. In fact, she finds it unintelligible at first.

This was a lot of fun to read, but is also thoughtful. There were several times that I stopped to note quotations to come back to, despite the apparent simplicity: “Standing near Tev felt seductively dangerous, like waving my bare palm over a flame.” Or:

My heart thundered. I almost wanted her to not answer Birke, to never move. If she never spoke. . . if we just didn’t look at them, we wouldn’t disturb those possibilities. We wouldn’t shake one reality into existence, eliminating all others. We could just hold our breaths and live inside this moment, letting endless possibility eddy around us. All that potential would go on and on, and one day the glass leaves outside would fall, shattering around us like stars, but we would persist, frozen in time.

There were a few plot points I didn’t understand (Spoiler, highlight to read: why did they have to detonate the device inside the ship? Why not just throw it out the airlock? Why did Birke blow up Adula? The explanation didn’t make sense to me.), but other than that I had no complaints. (And that confusion is very likely my own oversight.) I am really hoping that Jacqueline Koyanagi continues this series, because I’m invested–in the characters, in the world, and in the plot. This works well as a standalone, but I want more.

autobiographyofafamilyphoto

 

I recently read my first Jacqueline Woodson book, The House You Pass On the Way, and really enjoyed it. I was expecting Autobiography of a Family Photo–same author, similar size, both with queer content–to have a lot in common with that book, but this turned out to be a completely different reading experience. Autobiography of a Family Photo is arranged in very short chapters, usually between one and three pages, and the next chapter often leaps forward a year. They tackle the turmoil of a family, and the tone is pretty dark. Poverty, sexual abuse, war, and homophobia are all touched on in this slim volume.

The short scenes feel like they just offer a glimpse at what is going on. They reminded me of poetry in that there was clearly a lot to be unpacked from each scene. What seems to tie this book together is trauma, both personal and the broader trauma of growing up poor and black (and queer) in an environment that punishes you for existing. It’s how each character attempts to deal with this trauma, including self-destructive behaviour. It’s the ongoing process of survival, all while trying to come to age and build an identity.

I read this during the 24 hour readathon, and that was clearly not the best context for this book. Although it is a small book, it would benefit from reading in small doses with a lot of time for reflection. Jacqueline Woodson’s writing is evocative and sparse. This isn’t a book that I would pick up lightly. It’s bleak, and it leaves a lot to the reader to interpret and connect. If you’re willing to commit to to it, though, I think this has a lot to offer.

Ash

Anyone into lesbians living in a fantasy/medieval world should pick up this Cinderella retelling, Ash by Malinda Lo. Having read it twice, I’m very impressed with the details and the culture of this beautiful novel.

In a fantasy world, young Aisling “Ash” has lost her mother. Before she can properly grieve, her father leaves on a business trip…and returns with Ash’s new stepmother and two stepsisters. Her father takes ill soon after and dies, leaving Ash’s stepmother, Lady Isobel, in charge. Ash is uprooted from her childhood house and forced to be her stepmother’s servant. Treated badly by Isobel, Ash turns to her book of fairy tales, and soon meets a real fairy: Sidhean. As Ash grows up, she and Sidhean share an understanding, though Ash is not allowed to question him about where he lives. By the time she is eighteen, Sidhean reveals that he wants Ash to be his. Tired of being Isobel’s slave, Ash is ready to agree. But then she runs into Kaisa, the king’s new huntress, and the two become fast friends. Slowly, Ash’s feelings for Kaisa turn into a deep love. Torn between her potentially dangerous promises to Sidhean, and her love for Kaisa, Ash must make her choice about who she wants to be with.

Ash takes a whole new twist to the classic fairytale in an interesting way. There are elements of the old tale, such as the prince looking for a bride, and the evil-stepmother scenario. But it’s refreshing that Ash has no romantic interests in the prince, and instead loves the huntress.

Fairies are a very important part of the novel. Sidhean is the one we see the most, but the book provides glimpses of more. But unlike the real Cinderella story, the fairies in Ash are much darker in personality. They are known to lure humans into their circles, and to be deadly about keeping their secrets. Sidhean is one of the more lenient fairies, but even he seemed temperamental and rude at times.

The story itself is descriptive of Ash’s culture and the world she lives in. Lo clearly paints the settings around Ash: from the Wood where the fairies live, to the palace’s lavish parties. I really got to know Ash, the beliefs she grew up with, and her plight. The author even showed some examples of the fairy tales Ash grew up with, providing an even clearer idea of how important magic was to her culture. This added to the story, in my opinion.

Homosexuality in Ash is portrayed in a good light. Most people in the story expected Ash to fall in love with a man, but the ones who knew about her loving Kaisa didn’t seem unsettled or disturbed by the idea of her loving another woman at all. And one fairy tale in Ash’s book was about female/female love, so I got the impression that homosexuality was generally accepted, even if people didn’t think about it much. Ash feels no shame with Kaisa because of their gender, and vice versa. The typical agonizing questions “Why am I gay?” and “Can I change?” are not an issue in this book because the culture is so accepting. To people like Ash, there was no problem with their sexuality at all. This was quite refreshing, to get a glimpse of a more understanding world.

All in all, Ash is an enjoyable read. It’s easy to get lost in the story as you root for Ash and the choices she must make to secure her own future. A wonderfully descriptive novel, this book should be a classic; not because of its ties to Cinderella, but because of its own merits.

itscomplicated

Tori works at the hospital where her lover, Liz, has been in a coma and on life support for the last few years. Tori spends her days, almost all of them, working and sitting with Liz. Her only friend is a nurse named MJ. Then enters Bev. This slightly older woman takes an immediate liking to Tori after a very cute meet-cute. She’s beautiful, athletic, intelligent, and wealthy. But Tori can’t leave Liz, even knowing there’s no hope of her recovering. Thus begins a very sexually tense and overwrought friendship.

Tori and Bev begin to spend a lot of time together. More time than the worst lesbian joke would have you believe lesbians spend together. They go biking, the go hiking, they make meals together and for each other. They set up their best friends with each other, who end up moving even faster than the two main characters. And they talk. They talk incessantly. They talk about their feelings, and their attraction to each other, and how poor Liz is in the way of them being together. They talk until they kill the very chance for subtle tension or believable attraction for the reader.

The narrative is reiterated every new conversation. Tori talks to her parents about it, to her therapist about it, to her best friend about it. Yet it only becomes more confusing why Tori can’t work on letting go of Liz, who she accepts as having died long ago, and start working on a relationship with Bev. A relationship that is already happening in all but name. Tori takes Bev to her parents place where they are a little farther away from Liz and deeper into the constant feelings processing with each other.

Bev has her own dark, sad background, but not her own voice. The words that are attributed to her could easily have come out of Tori’s mouth. The therapist is another series of conversations that give Bev room to tell the reader absolutely everything that she is thinking and feeling. The only villains in the story are Liz’s entirely absent homophobic parents, and Tori’s own self-doubt. Only one of these is conquered.

The tagline on Adaire’s site is “Let me tell you a story with a happy ending,” and that rings true here as well as her other works. This is not a great romance, but it is a lesson in being overly honest and upfront with your feelings.

sisteroutsider

Audre Lorde is such an influential writer in lesbian, black, and feminist (and black lesbian feminist) literature and theory that frankly I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t read anything by her. I decided to finally rectify that by picking up her work that I’d heard the most about, Sister Outsider. This was an interesting read for me, partly because it’s a book that I’ve read many quotations from and paraphrases of, and partly because it’s a book for a specific period (1980s america) and audience (primarily other black women) that I don’t share.

This was the first book that I read by Lorde, and after reading a few essays and especially the interview, I regretted not starting with her poetry. I think Audre Lorde is known more now for Sister Outsider and Zami than her poetry, but she really self-identifies as a poet, and discusses poetry as basically her first language. Her theory and prose is inspired by and rooted in her poetry, and although I planned to pick up Zami after this one, I think I’ll be backtracking and reading a collection of her poetry first to get a better grounding in her work.

Much of what Lorde discusses is recent events and current politics at the time she was writing. Some of this doesn’t completely translates, but some is horrifyingly still current, such as her referencing recent shootings of unarmed black men by police, which could easily have been written yesterday. Overall, even if the examples that she offers are not current, the ideas are still very much relevant today. Some of it I felt like I was muddling through, and I knew I would need to reread it to fully absorb. Some ideas stopped me in my tracks. As a white reader, not all of the strategies and topics were meant for me, but I think that any reader will find Sister Outsider enlightening, even if they’re not able to engage with every subject.

This was a great mix of ideas and tones. I liked reading Lorde’s journal entry and interview alongside sharply honed essays. It’s clear that Lorde is a poet: she crafts lines carefully and I found myself noting many quotes that I wanted to post on the Lesbrary tumblr or just to remember for myself. Like this one:

We had to metabolize such hatred that our cells have learned to live upon it because we had to, or die of it. Old King Mithridates learned to eat arsenic bit by bit and so outwitted his poisoners, but I’d have hated to kiss him upon his lips! Now we deny such hatred ever existed because we have learned to neutralize it  through ourselves, and the catabolic process throws off waste products of fury even when we love.

If you’ve been inexplicably putting off reading Audre Lorde, I highly recommend you take this as your cue to pick up one of her books. Maybe start with some of her poetry, but either way, you’ll find a lot to consider in Sister Outsider.

 

endofapril

Tor Cross is a special kind of private Investigator: one who is trained to authenticate and preserve documents. Her great aunt—an Oxford professor—hires Tor for both of her skills. Not only does and want Tor to validate the authenticity of handwritten Victorian-era erotica, but also to investigate a series of threatening messages received by a law student at Oxford—a beautiful law student, named April Tate. But April dismisses the threats and Tor has to go into overdrive to make sure that April’s complacence doesn’t get her killed. And that means finding whoever is sending the notes.

The setting conjures up Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night. In fact, one of the characters even mentions that iconic title. But it also brings to mind other books in this side-genre of lesbian mysteries: murders in the halls of academia. A few come to mind: Report for Murder by Val McDermid, Angel Food and Devil Dogs by Liz Bradbury, Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart, and even Agenda for Murder by Joan Albarella. I happen to like this motif; the educational settings seem to give the books a grounding in the literary.

The End of April is constructed differently than many other lesbian mysteries in that Tor gets the girl right away—without having to wait until near the end of the story when the mystery has been wrapped up and the love interest is no longer a suspect. And unlike the relationships in some books—in Stoner McTavish, for instance—the attraction between the two women is easy to understand. Both Tor and April are intelligent, outgoing, and immersed in their own special talents. It is a rather spare, easy-to-read novel and because Tor is likable, her first-person narration makes the novel smooth and enjoyable. The writing is always adequate, but in places—like when Tor thinks she has lost April for good and waxes poetic about love—it is both exquisite and wise.

One problem, though, is that it is a chore to remember the actual perpetrator even a day or two after finishing the book. This seems to indicate that the criminal was not really a major character. That’s all right; I don’t believe that the criminal even has to be part of the story at all. What I argue with is that, if the criminal is present, he or she should be memorable. Another small peeve is that Tor’s job transcribing Victorian-era porn gets a way-too-brief mention. Neither the job nor the author of the manuscript she is transcribing is adequately described. It is not impossible that Sarah Waters, in her dazzling Fingersmith, took it upon herself to finish what Sumner started. Kudos to Waters but not to Sumner.

This 1992 novel is part of the second wave of Naiad Press mysteries. As such it has historical significance in the LGBT publishing world. It was even edited by two of Naiad’s shining lights—Katherine V. Forrest and Clare McNab, who wrote the popular Kate Delafield and Carol Ashton series of mysteries respectively. The End of April is a better-than-average mystery with better-than-average characters. Give it somewhere between 3 and 4 stars and add it to the burgeoning list of mysteries set in academic surroundings.

 

sphinx   thatcertainsomething   WhereWordsEnd

Lambda Literary posted New in April: Larry Kramer, Mark Doty, Roz Kaveney, Sassafras Lowrey, and Dale Peck.

The Lesbian Review posted 10 Best Lesbian Books.

Over the Rainbow Books posted March 2015 nominations.

Alison Bechdel‘s Broadway musical adaptation of Fun Home was reviewed at Okazu.

fortheloveofcake   webs   funhomemusical

The Bookworm Literary Festival’s panel Rainbows in the Night: Chinese Contemporary Queer Writing and Filmmaking was discussed at VCinema.

Batwoman, Volume 5: Webs (The New 52) by Marc Andreyko was reviewed at GLBT Reviews.

For the Love of Cake by Erin Dutton was reviewed at read all about queer lit.

Forever Faithful by Isabella was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even  more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitterWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

Ash

Oh, wow! I’ve finally gotten to my first Malinda Lo book. It will not be the last. Ash is a retelling of Cinderella. It’s twisty, it has a fair amount of the fair folk, and it has some great love interests. It’s also one of those books I knew would already have been reviewed a couple times here. I looked at Katie Raynes’ review and appreciated her take on the story’s roots in the wild hunt, and in Lo’s vivid evocation of landscape. Laura Mandanas’ review focuses more on relationships and a little gender theory. What can I add or emphasize? I was surprised that this was a retelling of Cinderella where the prince isn’t even really a thing. He’s barely a plot device (and a sulky, sullen one at that).

One of the lovely things about this book is that it fully realizes the progression of Ash’s journey from beloved daughter to maligned stepchild. Too often, this feels rushed or glossed over, and hence unbelievable, but I could buy this. Another lovely thing is that we as readers actually get a sense of Ash’s mother as a character, and the mother is an integral character even after her death. Her influence is woven into the plot. There: The prince doesn’t matter, the dead mother does.

In this homophobia-free world, homosexuality is like being left-handed. Perfectly natural, but generally, people aren’t. Ash’s slow realization of her attraction to Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, is all the more lovely for being tinged with nothing but wonder and curiosity. Meanwhile, although the sulky human prince isn’t a contender, Ash is indeed attached to a prince. He’s a brittle, glittery Jareth who takes the word “glamorous” back to its original meaning. Old, old magic against real, young love: so there’s the excellent internal conflict against a backdrop of a fabulous world, and in living conditions that are fairly awful (though not all of the stepfamily is painted with the same broad strokes).

On a final note, the fun factor of this book was through the roof. It was tremendously enjoyable. If it’s been on your long list, maybe bump it up?

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