Anna Marie reviews Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang

[The book and this review (although briefly) has these content warnings: transmisogyny, transphobic physical assault, death/grief]

I read this book in one day and it was the best decision! Like the ghosts/people who resurface throughout the novel I have felt its presence ebb in and out of my consciousness as I go about my life for the past week. It is a kind, sensitive, introspective and honestly deeply beautiful novel that had me marking half its pages because of the lyrical softness of the prose, or the relatability of the text or the enjoyment I had of tracing motifs and metaphors through it.

Small Beauty tells a meditative and sincere story of a mixed race Canadian Chinese trans girl named Mei. She spends a lot of time by herself in her dead relative’s home with her griefs over the death of her cousin, Sandy, her Aunt Bernadette and her grandma Nei Nei. But its not just a novel of sadness, instead it documents times before and after the various departures of her family and friends and showcases her complicated experiences and her heartfelt anger and love.

Mei, within the subtle, sweet and baring prose, doesn’t ever offer explanations of her identity to the reader or to anyone within the text either. Her transness and her whole self is allowed to simply be. Mei does experience a transphobic physical assault [pages 66-67 if you want to skip it!] but what is evidenced in the aftermath of this is her community, especially in the form of an older Chinese trans woman named Connie, supporting and looking after her. The evidence of some kind of intergenerational community was really warming and tender. The older “woodsy dyke” Mei meets whilst staying in the country is transmisogynistic but that too is treated with a softness, a multifaceted-ness and ultimately a forgiveness granted by Mei. The novel regularly refuses to pander to cis people and the narratives for trans folks that they create and one of the major reasons is because it treats things with nuance. Its also important to note that this is an own voices novel – that is that the author is a mixed race trans woman like Mei.

Trying to find an adequate example of the prose was difficult because so many small beauties are weaved throughout it. So this is one example of many of the soft ways in which images and words are formed:

The air is cold but he welcomes it. It is grounding and relieving to feel the ephemeral character of body heat. In the moment between chopping the last of the wood and the somatic realization of Winter, he is a new planet, a molten core spinning furiously, volcanic plumes billowing out of his breath. If not for the solidity of the ground below him he would believe that he orbited the forest instead of walked in it.

I loved the motif of the geese, which flies throughout Small Beauty and was done with this care and openness I really enjoyed. The geese offer a really lovely representation of community and family and ghosts. The geese, much like the prose, become this familiar presence to you, with this quiet strength. In Kai Cheng Thom’s review she wrote that it was a “deeply communal and strikingly unique” novel and I cant help but agree!

Tierney reviews Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

Werebear Zelda is lusting after hunky werewolf Jake–while simultaneously nursing a longstanding crush on her gorgeous coworker Janine. (Yes, werebear–as in, Zelda turns into a bear once a month.) And on top of everything, she’s been tasked by her boss with guarding Benedict, an insufferable member of the Fae. All of which combined leads to quite the whirlwind few days for Zelda.

Bearly a Lady is a cute, breezy novella, with chatty first-person narration and a refreshing way of portraying the supernatural–the author describes it as a “paranormal rom-com,” which certainly rings true. Zelda is an enjoyable character–her running commentary is endearing. And the supernatural chick lit angle is a lot of fun: the novella isn’t overly dramatic or self-important about the Fae in a way that feels welcome, and lets the cheerful romance go hand in hand with this casual conception of the paranormal. Plus I just love the idea of there being all kinds of were-animals running around.

As a novella, it’s quick read – I definitely felt like I would enjoy reading more of this story, and in fact there were moments where things felt a little convoluted and lacking in detail or connections, likely because of the novella format. I would have loved to see things a little more fleshed out – more details about the Fae and descriptions of the characters (especially Benedict, who is a bit of a flat antagonist), some more of Zelda’s backstory with both Jake and Janine than the little that is alluded to…

Bearly a Lady is a fun, lively supernatural romance–the little snags in the story are outweighed by the enjoyable world that Khaw has built, and the feel-good romantic ending (spoiler alert: she gets the girl!). Give it a try–supernatural chick lit is the genre you didn’t even know you needed.

Shira Glassman reviews Bliss by Fiona Zedde

Bliss by Fiona Zedde is a finding-your-place story as much as it is a love story; or you could say it’s a love story between a woman and the self she’s supposed to be or the type of life she’s supposed to be living. It’s also highly erotic, reveling in the sensuality of its characters’ bodies, but in a respectful and almost reverential way that elevates ordinary body parts to a sort of glowing, visceral divinity.

Bliss Sinclair, a Jamaican-American woman who goes by Sinclair in honor of her dead mother’s surname, has been living a fairly tropey “money can’t buy you happiness” existence as a high-powered accountant on the gazillionth floor of a fancy building. She doesn’t really have friends who mean anything to her and she tolerates her boyfriend’s affection because it’s what you do. Lesbian identity is sitting on her emotional front porch stoop playing on its phone but she hasn’t quite had the courage to open the door yet.
When she finally does get a chance to figure out that she’s really only attracted to women, she gets taken advantage of by a woman who is pushy and misleading. The inevitable happens, at which point she heads back to Jamaica for an extended vacation to see her father and meet his new wife and kid.
She quickly winds up introduced to the local lesbian community and has to learn everybody’s old drama as she’s also getting used to being around her family again. I found most of the supporting characters and the relational world Zedde sets up for this story really appealing–there’s an immense sense of interconnectedness that includes the dead characters we never get to meet in person as well. Zedde also gives us a rich, vivid, and easy to picture world of tropical plants, Jamaican food, what kinds of things there are to do in Jamaica if you’re there on vacation, and what kinds of jobs the locals do. Whiteness hovers in the background as a clueless, absent employer but is never really present on-screen.
There is a lot of sex in this book, but there are also a lot of scenes of the main character playing tourist on beaches and historic buildings, going to parties or restaurants, enjoying time with her family, etc. I just feel like if I had been counting the sex scenes I would have run out of fingers (and yes, I phrased it that way on purpose 😛 )
This is not a book that ignores the violent reality that anyone visibly queer in Jamaica may encounter, but because Zedde is writing from the inside and not from the point of view of some privileged white non queer writer, both the book’s scenes of attempted sexual violence from the hands of multiple strange men are:
1. foiled, completely and utterly
2. take up a very brief space in the narrative; they occur over the course of a page or two, are fended off, are processed emotionally with tears or a day of quiet or whatever else is necessary, and then we move on
3. they are not intended as a rejection of Jamaica. This is important. Over at WritingWithColor, we all get questions from people outside various marginalized groups trying to write about the ways that group mistreats vulnerable folks within its own LGBT community. I prefer to leave this narrative to people in the overlap of both groups, because comparing what Zedde writes to what some of these privileged writers write you can see the difference — at one point, one of the Jamaican lesbians even says “you have to love Jamaica anyway.” This is home; the food, the culture, the scenery, the history, the music. The problem is recognized but it’s not enough to drive them out and away into other places that may very well be just as physically dangerous.
I found the main character herself more appealing as a person than any of her love interests, honestly — obviously the first one was pushy beyond belief, but one on the island came on really strong as well and I had to just believe in Sinclair’s immense attraction to her being what wore down her initial “I have a broken heart and you come on super strong, meep” feelings.
Another topic about which Zedde writes much better than a privileged person trying to write about a marginalized community further marginalizing its LGBT members, is Sinclair’s father’s reaction to her lesbianism. I was stunned at how well this was pulled off because I’d never seen a character come around so realistically and so quickly. He’s upset, but a few pages later he dials it back and says that a lot of his upset is probably unfair. Can white, non-queer people trying to write about “oppressive” non-white or non-American parents please take a lesson from this book?
Anyway, aside from that issue I thought it was a great and realistic and familiar depiction of what happens when a parent who loves their child has discomfort with their choice of partner or sexuality but is trying to work around it. We don’t see too much of that in LGBT fiction; I’ve seen a lot of either ultra-acceptance (realistic for some of us, and even those who aren’t need some wish fulfillment) or ultra-disgustingness (cathartic and important to write from the inside; tragedy porn and sometimes not even written in a way that rings true, when writing from the outside.) A family that invites a girlfriend over for dinner and no horrible “I knew you’d ruin the evening!” argument happens even though one of the members feels negatively about the idea of a gay daughter is another way to be realistic, and belongs on the page. And it’s not like you as a reader are constantly made aware of his negativity, either.
Some choice quotes, so you can get a feel for the book’s snappy dialogue and evocative descriptors:
Sinclair: “Do you come downtown often?”
First girlfriend: “If you’ll let me, I’ll come at least two times today.”
Waitress: “Can I get you two anything to drink today?”
One of the main characters, about the other main character: “Some manners for her.”
Island love interest about the first girlfriend: “If she was worth half your sighs she would have been here with you on her knees apologizing for hurting you.”
Description of main character’s young stepmom: “short reddish hair that stood up around her head like a tamed flame”
Overall, the story tells itself; it flows really well and makes you want to keep reading. This isn’t the kind of book where you read a paragraph and then have to read it again because you didn’t catch what happens. In other words, Also, kudos to Zedde for using the phrase “maggot-white penis” to refer to a naked white guy in a BDSM club, because it reminded me of those posts pointing out how nobody talks about whiteness with the kind of evocative overscrutinizing detail usually afforded to darker skin in fiction.
Trigger warnings: two foiled attempts at sexual assault by multiple men in the Jamaica half of the book. The second time the women beat up the men pretty badly; it’s over quickly and you can skip the second time if you nope out for a couple of pages when they get to a place in the woods with tons of pretty tropical flowers.
Also, the first girlfriend’s behavior is borderline abusive in the sense that she puts Sinclair in situations she doesn’t want to be in and basically demands a veto as negative consent instead of asking if things are okay beforehand, and I’m talking big deal things like surprising her with orgies or kink clubs. Sometimes they are okay and sometimes they are not and Sinclair takes steps accordingly each time. Plus, she’s the kind of person who says “You’re an incredible fuck. Yet you’re so naïve. You’re like my lost childhood. My virginity.” which I know someone who had that said to them in real life and I’ve always found it super creepy (so does Sinclair.)

Alice reviews Unicorn Hunting by Roya Hellbender

Emerging from the woods was a form so white it hurt Cal to look at it… The unicorn could never have been mistaken for a normal horse… Hardly noticing the tears that spilled down her cheeks a the purity of the creature, Cal  was shocked when the unicorn slowed to a walk and approached her.

This book is a 3* Fantasy Romantic Adventure.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I love unicorns. It was an affair that started when I was about four, and has manifested itself in me being an adult who will grab any book with ‘unicorn’ in the title or on the front cover. Needless to say when I saw a book called unicorn hunting, I heard that little voice in my head purr, and read it.

I’m so glad I did. The story is about a young woman, Cal, who lives in a world where unmarried women have two choices, become a Unicorn hunter, or join the nunnery. But Cal wants to know why, and in world of secrets that’s not an answer she finds easily. Living in a world where killing these beautiful creatures is the only way for a girl to make money, Cal and her friends have to figure out where they draw the line, and who’s side are they really on?

I enjoyed this story, it was a simple fantasy adventure with a couple of interesting ideas, a likeable cast, and a reasonable pace. The only gripe I had was the author seemed a little afraid of tension, giving the payoff as soon as she’d set an idea up, which whilst it does move the story along, can make things feel a little anti climatic. The story has one example of a hate crime against immigrants,  and yet the book showed no real cultural or racial diversity, with everyone fitting into a similar mold, despite the country being split into four distinct zones with four distinct languages.

I loved the main character though, I suspect she thinks a lot like me, and there was more to her than who she was in love with, which is a nice thing to happen in a ‘romance’ book. The unicorns, by the way, were great, and the author had some brilliant little ideas for them, and a flair for rich description. I enjoyed the love story, and the secrecy of the world Cal moved through.

Overall it’s an enjoyable book, that supplies what you’d expect from a Lesbian Unicorn story, however it is let down in places by underdeveloped characters with two dimensional motives, or a brilliant idea that is rushed into and away from far too quickly. It’s quick to read, and well worth the time, and certainly left me with a smile on my face.

Megan G reviews Quiet Shy by Brandon L. Summers

All Alexandria Fix wants to do is stay at home with her beautiful wife Quiet Shy, a woman from the future of an alternate reality. Unfortunately for Alex, her job continuously gets in the way of her time with her wife. Things only get worse when Alex becomes entangled in the doomsday plans of a dangerous cult.

Considering Quiet Shy is a relatively short novel, there’s a lot going on. Almost too much going on. There’s a large plot revolving around a cult wanting to bring about the end of the world, but it often seemed to get lost in the background of Alex and Quiet Shy’s relationship, as well as Alex’s frustrations with her work. There is also a subplot with Alex’s boss that ends in what I can only assume was meant to be a plot twist, but because there is so much else happening in the book it barely affected me at all. It took me a second to realize that a major piece of information had been revealed, because it came so seemingly out of the blue.

What frustrates me about all this is that because there is so much happening in this story, I couldn’t fully enjoy the sweet moments we get between Quiet Shy and Alex. There is an incredibly sweet section of the book where Alex and Quiet Shy go away on vacation together, yet all I could think of for the entire time they are away was “Do they really have time for this?” If the other aspects of the plot had been lengthened slightly, then having two or three chapters of just the girls alone on a vacation may not have felt so unnecessary and out of place. As it was, instead of basking in the domestic sweetness of Alex and Quiet Shy, I just scratched my head and wondered when they would get back to the action.

As well, most major plot points are resolved quickly and innocuously. As I already mentioned, a rather large plot twist evoked no emotion from me because there had been very little build-up and it was so sudden and, after a little bit of dialogue, never spoken of again. The cult plot is equally dealt with, and so is a strange, completely unnecessary, self-harm subplot.

Another frustration I had that could largely be attributed to the length of the story was the way that Alex spoke of Quiet Shy. All she ever seemed to have to say about her wife was that she was beautiful, sexy, gorgeous. Almost every compliment about Quiet Shy is based on physicality, and while I think it’s healthy for couples to be vocal about their attraction to each other (in fact, I think it’s necessary within a relationship), it did concern me that that was all that Alex had to say about Quiet Shy. Even when she is telling the antagonist how powerful Quiet Shy is, she prefaces it with “Not only is she incredibly sexy,” as if that’s somehow important to her statement. Perhaps if the story had been longer, Summers could have delved further into the intricacies of their relationship instead of keeping it as surface as it was.

All of that aside, I found the story unique and interesting. We weren’t bogged down by world-building, or too-long descriptions of characters and locations. The plot was original, and blended science-fiction and fantasy in a very interesting way. This was not a book that I had to force myself to finish, as I was genuinely interested in the outcome of the plots, albeit a little frustrated in how quickly everything came about.

I will give one warning about this book, however: it deals very explicitly with self-harm, both physical and mental, and overall this adds very little to the story, if anything at all. If this in any way triggers you, it would be best to give this book a pass.

Megan Casey reviews Edited Out by Lisa Haddock

Edited Out by Lisa Haddock cover

It would be easy to just say that this is a really good book and that you should put it high on your list of things to read. but I guess that would be shirking my responsibilities as a reviewer. But if you’ve read any of my other reviews you’d know that several things catch my imagination when I read, three of which are the writing, the plot, and the characters. Edited Out is written in the point of view most favored by lesbian mystery authors, first person past—“I did this, I went there” etc. It’s a good point of view because it brings the character closer to the reader than standard third person limited or omniscient. But it is also an easy POV to make mistakes in because it most easily reveals a character’s personality. And if you don’t like the personality of the main character, chances are you won’t like the book.

I like Carmen Ramirez. She is the daughter of a Puerto Rican dad and a mom of Irish descent. After her mother’s death when she was still a baby, Carmen was sent by her dad to live with her racist, homophobic, and bible-quoting grandmother in Frontier City, Oklahoma—a very thinly disguised Tulsa, complete with a famous evangelist and religious university. Somehow, Carmen has come through her girlhood strong enough to embrace her sexuality and to land a job as copyeditor for the local newspaper. But when she is assigned to work on a story about the murder of a young girl by a lesbian schoolteacher, she must make the hardest decision of her career.

When I first read the description of this book, I was hesitant to open the pages; it was bound to be filled with depressing scenes of homophobia and confrontation. But Haddock manages to turn the story in a completely different direction. Even when Carmen interviews a number of unsavory characters, she does it with such style that even if her questions are not answered, I felt I had nevertheless learned something important.

Like many lesbian detectives in the genre, Carmen is running from a bad relationship (see Claire McNab’s Kylie Kendall, Elaine Beale’s Lou Spencer, ad infinitum). She has been very shy of getting into another until she meets college student Julia Nichols (who reminds me very much of a young Aimee Grant in Katherine V. Forrest’s novels), who identifies as straight. Their developing romance—as well as Carmen’s love/hate relationship with her grandmother—give balance to the book and intersect with the plot in important ways. All the elements combine for an exciting—and hopeful—finish. It’s hard not to credit editor Katherine V. Forrest for the smoothness of this book, especially after having just read several Naiad books edited by others.

There is a lot of religious stuff here but again, Haddock uses the subject as a literary device without actually proselytizing or bashing. Remember that the book is set in Bible-Belt Oklahoma, where churchgoing is as natural as breathing. Does it get a little over the top sometimes? Well, maybe, but there are some enjoyable parts, too, like when Julia argues scripture with her fundamentalist cousin in order to rescue a confused young woman from a room filled with Prayer Warriors. And maybe there are a few too many coincidences in the solution, but hey, doesn’t every mystery have these?

And here’s a question for someone to write an article about: why do so many lesbian mystery protagonists have a gay man as their best friend (not counting their lovers of course)? Carmen has one. So does Bill in Joan Opyr’s books, Lamaar in David Galloway’s Lamaar Ransom, Private Eye, Barbara Johnson’s Colleen Fitzgerald, etc, etc. Is this true in real life? Very few, like Nikki Baker’s Virginia Kelly and Vicki P. McConnell’s Nyla Wade, seem to have same-sex best friends.

Ultimately, Edited Out is a really good book and you should put it high on your list of things to read. In the same league with She Scoops to Conquer, give this one a 4+.

For more than 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

Danika reviews Mara by Brian Wood, Ming Doyle, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles

Mara is a comic trade about Mara, a 17 year old who’s been trained as a professional athlete since she was 4 years old. This is her whole life, and in this future world, athletes are the peak of celebrity, and Mara is at the top of it all. When a broadcast of her game reveals her manifesting super powers, though, the life that’s been set for her starts to crumble.

I have to admit, I felt conflicted about MaraWhen I was midway through, I though the ending would help me resolve my feelings, but that didn’t help. It wasn’t until I was flipping through it again and notices the very first page, which has just the text “A COMING-OF-RAGE STORY” that I began to understand what this story is doing.

Mara has had her whole life decided for her. When she was 4, she was sent to a training camp, and since then, all of her time has been dedicated to training and securing sponsorships. She has a relationship with a teammate, Ingrid, but that isn’t explored much in the narrative, other than the press speculating about it. The super powers she acquires are wide-ranging, incredibly powerful, and entirely unexplained. It is quickly obvious that she is now on a completely different plane from other humans, and she tires of the military (and society in general) trying to control her.

She’s a teenager, and she’s justifiably furious at a world that has stripped her of choice and of the people she loves. It’s interesting to see a character with super powers who becomes apathetic to the world. She’s not a villain or a hero: she’s completely disinterested in human beings. She’s not prey to their judgments anymore, and she never will be again.

This is a very quick read, and Mara’s journey has a lot of similarities to Doctor Manhattan. Also, to admit my own bias, and I’m sure the bias of most Lesbrary readers, I wanted more from the Ingrid/Mara relationship than a few pecks and everyday conversations. I didn’t get a sense of emotional closeness from them, and if they weren’t close, what was the point of the relationship at all?

It made for an interesting afternoon’s read, but I wanted more from it. It felt more like a thought experiment that anything. If this was a continuing series, I’d be interested as to how it would play out, but as a stand-alone volume, it felt weak.

Maddison reviews Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Ascension follows Alana Quick, a sky surgeon AKA starship mechanic, who stows away on the Tangled Axon when the crew comes in search of the services of her sister, Nova. Alana has a chronic and debilitating illness that requires expensive medication and her ship repair yard barely brings enough in to cover her expenses, so she sees the Tangled Axon as an opportunity to leave her circumstances. However, aboard the Tangled Axon, things do not go according to plan. With a wily crew led by a too-hot-to-handle captain, Alana quickly finds herself in over her head. As the story develops it becomes clear that the Tangled Axon and their client are after Nova, not her abilities.A nefarious plot is unveiled, and Alana and the crew of the Tangled Axon have to try to make it out alive.
When I first saw this book I was really excited. Queer WOC in space! What more can a girl ask for? Ascension delivered what the cover and description promise: an immersive space adventure with a lovable and diverse cast. Koyanagi’s writing draws you into Alana’s character and her role on the ship.
One of my favourite parts of the book is that Alana is allowed to make mistakes, and does she ever. Despite being 30 system-years old, I found Alana’s character to read as young and arrogant. She believes in her abilities and her decisions wholeheartedly, even if they are not well thought through. Aboard the Tangled Axon, Alana has to prove herself and her claims that she is “the best damned sky surgeon.” Her attempts to prove herself don’t always go according to plan, and her often selfish decisions backfire, but she lives with the consequences of those action and learns from her mistakes.
For some, Alana might be too introspective of a character, but for those of us who love to get into a character’s head, Koyanagi creates an interesting and well developed character.
I have seen critiques of the way the Koyanagi handles Alana’s chronic illness and pain. I don’t have chronic pain, so I don’t think that it is my place to judge, but Koyanagi writes from a place of experience as she lives with a chronic illness. I found that there were many small details in her descriptions of Alana’s experience with a chronic illness that lent believability to the story.
For me, the ending of the novel–without going into any spoilery details–was very strange. I did not see the final plot twist coming, so if you enjoy the unexpected, then you will definitely enjoy the ending.
Would I recommend Ascension? For sure! If you enjoy lesbians in space, an introspective main character, and action, Ascension is the book for you.

Susan reviews Humanity For Beginners by Faith Mudges

Humanity For Beginners by Faith Mudges is an absolutely charming novella about a group (not a pack; definitely not a pack) of lesbian werewolves running a B&B in the Lake District.

Gloria has, unintentionally, set up a half-way house for lesbian werewolves. She is a former soldier, and the owner of the B&B; Nadine is the cook, who escaped from an abusive pack; Lissa, is a nervous former street-kid turned waitress; and Louisa dropped out of university to join the team and process being a werewolf after meeting Lissa on tumblr. They have a good routine down… Until Louisa’s family comes looking for her, and the beginnings of a new pack move into the area.

The world-building is interesting–a lot of it is done through the headlines in the newspapers, with typical punny-headlines in the wake of the full moon, or in the hints that are dropped about characters’ pasts (such as Nadine’s.) What hints we get highlight that the four of them are explicitly rejecting the norms of the world-setting for werewolves; they have opted out of what might be described as the “traditional” werewolf power structures, forming a family (not a pack) where Gloria manages to be the de-facto leader while also explicitly rejecting the idea of alphas and being an alpha. I found the depiction of being werewolves and the explicit separation of wolf-dynamics from people-dynamics to be really interesting.

Humanity For Beginners has a great sense of humour as well! Gloria’s low-level exasperation with being a werewolf made me laugh from page one, along with how well thought out the coping strategies for being werewolves are (it involves a lot of chew-toys.).

The humour’s balanced out by the beautiful relationships. The relationships between the four women are really well-sketched and heart-warming. There is a genuine sense of responsibility, protectiveness and respect for the autonomy of everyone running the B&B (even if sometimes they go too far into the opposite direction), and seeing the two romantic relationships grow delighted me. Even the relationships with outsiders (such as Gloria’s brother, or the B&B’s gardener) are well done, and have genuine affection in them. It’s particularly interesting contrasting the relationships everyone has with the people at the B&B with the relationships it’s hinted at them having outside of it.

I think what I really liked about it was that it’s a quiet story. There is some conflict–both socially, in the form of Louisa’s family and in Nadine and Gloria attempting to renegotiate their relationship; and physically in the form of the new pack who want to absorb Gloria’s family into theirs. The resolution to all of these felt so satisfying, but all of the reactions felt realistic and sensible instead of melodramatic, which I appreciated.

If you like stories about women building their own families; if you want sweet, heart-warming romance; if you want an urban fantasy story that is more funny and peaceful than action-heavy; if you want middle-aged women falling in love; this is the book for you, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

CW: Mentions of abuse, but nothing explicit.

Julie Thompson reviews Freiya’s Stand by Anastasia Vitsky

Freiya’s Stand gives room for queer women to embrace their religious faith, kinky desires, and career aspirations, as well as room for dreaming. Freiya and Sabrina live strictly compartmentalized lives as teachers at St. Agatha of Sicily, a private Catholic school for primary and secondary students, lest anyone find out that they’re dating. Both women grew up in Catholic families and value their faith, even though this sets them at odds with school policy and family. The couple alternates commute routes, maintains a professional facade, and keeps spanking behind closed doors. They also face staff lay-offs, dwindling funds, large classroom sizes, and reduced support for teachers. When the principal mandates all teachers sign a “Covenant of Faith” condemning “perverted sexuality” and other “immoral or unethical behavior”, Sabrina and Freiya butt heads. Sabrina wants to sign the form, but Freiya resists. Most of the faculty eventually go along with it in order to keep their jobs. When Freiya fails to play ball with the new requirements, her life falls under the principal’s close scrutiny.

The novella alternates between past and present, illuminating pivotal moments in the women’s lives that color their relationship, family interactions, and careers. Quick pacing allows Vitsky to move between key events and establish character personalities. Sabrina is an exemplary high school English teacher with exacting standards, both for her students and for her choice of ketchup. Freiya, a new kindergarten teacher, has a soft heart for her students and a penchant for culinary confections. Sabrina’s Gran is the most vibrant and essential secondary character. A full-length novel treatment would give room for fleshing out events mentioned only in passing and for less nuanced characters that seem to exist primarily as plot drivers. Certain elements of the conclusion (the final two to three pages, in particular) feel rushed. It works well, for the most part, as a novella. Overall, Freiya’s Stand is a thoughtful and engaging tale.

Freiya and Sabrina have a consensual kink arrangement. This drives their dynamic at home, as well as how they behave in the wider world. One of my favorite moments involves Shakespeare and spanking. I’ll let that sit with you until you read it for yourself! While Sabrina assumes the dominant role, Freiya is vocal in what is and is not okay. Readers first encounter this aspect of their relationship after they disagree over the “morality” contract at school. Some of the interplay between emotional and physical exchanges becomes muddled as their stress increases. It does not cross over into domestic abuse. However, some readers may find certain passages distressing.

Catholicism also plays an integral part in how the characters view themselves, deal with challenges, and guide their lives. Both women value their faith, but don’t agree on how it intersects with their sexuality and public life. This provides much of the friction between them throughout the story. This is the second story that I’ve read in which the reconciliation of faith and queerness are central themes. The other story (which I definitely recommend) is Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown.

LGBT+ folks can still lose their jobs in many states or have limited protections based on sexuality and gender identity. Visit the Human Rights Commission at HRC.org for more information. It is heartening to see local religious congregations marching in support at Pride and to see rainbow flags near the front doors of churches, welcoming everyone.

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)