Mallory Lass reviews the Alpennia Series by Heather Rose Jones

The Alpennia Series never stopped surprising me and often put a smile on my face or pulled a laugh from my lips. The theme of “found family” runs through this series and gave me so many warm and fuzzy feelings. I’ve also wanted to give at least one or two of the characters in each book a good shake. I will talk about each book in turn but I wanted to tell you why you should read all three (a fourth is forthcoming). You certainly can read them as stand alone novels, but Heather rewards those who read the series with little threads (both plot points and characters) dropped early on, woven without resolution, and then picked up in later books when you least expect it. The richness of the world of Alpennia, the city of Rotenek, and the characters that inhabit this fictional European place are skillfully built line by line, and by the end you can almost feel the Rotenek river breeze against your face. I am not religious at all, but I found the magical protections, steeped in ancient church rituals, gripping.

These novels are set in the early 19th century and straddle multiple genres with ease. They are historical fiction with a touch of fantasy and a generous sprinkling of romance (not much sex on the page, but the intimacy shown is breathtaking). All three books in this series have a high level of intrigue and mystery at the center of the plot. The characters confront issues of class, gender, race and sexuality. Even though I’m not a big consumer of modern gossip/celebrity news, the societal happenings in Rotenek drew me in and kept me hungry for more, book after book.

Each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective, and by the third book, the cast has grown, and there are six diverse perspectives creating a brilliant tapestry that should be enjoyed with leisure.

Minor spoilers were unavoidable as I discuss later books in the series, but its more the “what” than the “how”, which is the exciting part, so I don’t think it will ruin anything.

Daughter of Mystery

Margerit Sovitre is the goddaughter of Baron Saveze, but aside from providing her a governess, she has little contact with him. She lives with her aunt and uncle in the country and dreams of nothing more than getting to attend university and be a scholar. She has reached a marriageable age and is expected to be presented at society balls in hopes of attracting a suitable husband. Finding a husband is the last thing on her mind.

Barbara is the masculine of center, chivalrous, caring, breeches-wearing character of my dreams. Indeed, she is my favorite of this series. She is an orphaned child, sold into Baron Saveze’s household, and trained up into his armin. A female armin is certainly unique, but the Baron is a bit of an eccentric and he ensures Barbara is trained by the best, so her position is never questioned openly. Being the Baron’s armin shaped her into an incredibly intelligent, strong, loyal woman. She is a keen observer. Known only as Barbara, her identity and past has always been just out of reach for her and the Baron is unwilling to give her the answers she seeks.

Though protecting her charge and anticipating danger is Barbara’s job as an armin, she is frequently called on to leverage those talents to protect those closest to her and she does it with a deftness I find disarming and sexy. Margerit is whip smart, but a bit naive. She has a talent for mysteries that hasn’t been understood or acknowledged. Her determination to control her own destiny and become a scholar is certainly swoon-worthy. The Baron’s death puts these two formidable women in the same orbit, but will his means meet a happy ending, or will it backfire in an unexpected way when his nephew makes a play for the fortune? There is no clear path to freedom, but Barbara and Margerit are destined to walk it together, despite the very real danger lurking in the shadows. Barbara seeks the freedom of knowing who she is, and Margerit the freedom to chart her own course as a scholar, both things neither are in a position to expect. Discovering the mystery of Barbara’s lineage and the expanse of Margerit’s power is a fulfilling journey. Watching their shared love of scholarship grow into friendship with the potential to blossom into something more is one of many delights of this first volume. This story took a while to settle into my bones, but I kept thinking about Barbara and what was next for her and Margerit. Ultimately I wanted more and am grateful this is a series.

The Mystic Marriage (My favorite of the three)

The Mystic Marrage by Heather Rose Jones coverVicomtesse “Jeanne” de Cherdillac is a widower socialite who plays puppet master and matchmaker for Rotenek’s upper crust. She uses her status as both a French Countess and a widower to shroud her numerous flings with various younger female artists, dancers, and singers–and long ago, one notable armin. She is an original cougar, and whoa is she sultry. Her love of women is a bit of an open secret, and as long as her engagements are exclusive to the artist sector of society, her skills in social engineering are in enough demand for people to overlook who she might share her bed with.

Antuniet Chazillen flees Rotenek at the end of the first novel, after her brother’s bid for her uncle Baron Saveze’s fortune meets a perilous end, and the noble Chazillen name is in ruins. She vows to use her skills and passion as a alchemist to benefit Alpennia and restore her family name. She appears in Daughter of Mystery as a bit standoffish and maybe even a little conceited, but also she read queer for me. We share a bit of that “I will be so successful you wont care when you find out I’m queer” vibe. She puts Margerit on the path to discover the expanse of her powers, and I found her intriguing. We get to see her truly vulnerable in this book and she shines. Slowly, through pure desperation she begins forming friendships and alliances again. She seeks out Jeanne early on in hopes that she can find her a female patron for her Alchemy. Jeanne becomes the only person Antuniet feels she can rely on. Jeanne finds herself drawn in by Antuniet’s uniqueness and when she realizes she is in love with her it comes as a great surprise. Antuniet is artfully portrayed as someone who we would now define as demisexual. When Jeanne asks if she would consider a male patron Antuniet replies, “‘I have neither the aptitude nor the inclination to please a man in exchange for his support.’ She left the implications hanging between them.” The tension between Jeanne’s free spirited ways and Antuniet’s reserved nature is deliciously drawn out and negotiated. The dance between them is a courtship for the ages. To work within the constraints of the language and understanding of sexuality in the early 19th century, Heather enlists some endearing metaphors to create a shared understanding of what burns between them. There is more than a little angst here, and it’s all worth it.

In exile, Antuniet discovers a lost alchemist text and hatches a plan to bestow a gift of enhanced gems on Princess Annek to strengthen her court, something valuable enough to restore her name. Unsavory parties are after that same text and maybe her and her work as well. In an effort to outrun those chasing her, she ends up back in Rotenek, a demoted noble with little more than determination to guide her forward. Her motto repeated throughout is “no way out but forward” and she embodies that at every turn and setback. She shares a milder version of Margerit’s power, but her passion lies in the science of alchemy. Will Jeanne be just the person to mend Antuniet’s relationship with Margerit and Barbara and help restore her place in society? Or, will they become the scandal of the city? Can Antuniet really pull off her great vision or will the shadows of the past make themselves known? There are many problems to work through and that kept me on the edge of my seat. I was nervous it would wrap too quickly or unbelievably, but I should have known I was in good hands. That said, as soon as I was done with this one I started the third book!

Mother of Souls

Serafina Talarico, born in Ethiopia and raised in Rome, first makes her appearance at the end of The Mystic Marriage. The wife and assistant of a Vatican archivist, who comes across Margerit’s mysteries and travels to Alpennia seeking out her tutelage for she shares some of the same powers. Her husband travels frequently in search of rare materials keeping him away for sometimes years at a time. Their marriage is more a formality than a reality, but it affords her an allowance which brings her to Alpennia. Serafina is a foreigner to Alpennia in both tongue and body. While the earlier books deal with gender, class, and sexuality issues, Serafina is the catalyst for issues of race to push to the forefront. We see her exoticized and fetishized, even by those close to her. Malice doesn’t color all of the interactions, but Heather does a beautiful job of portraying the pain of otherness. Serafina’s deepest desire is to fit in, a desire Jeanne calls an unfortunate thing to want. That wanting however, leads her to Luzie.

Luzie Valorin is an aspiring composer as well as music teacher and owner of a boarding house by necessity. She is a lonely widow and mother to two boys who attend a boarding school far away. When Serafina takes lodging at Luzie’s house, Luzie’s compositions hold a power she never imagined. Margerit recognizes the power but is skeptical of what role music might play in theological mysteries. Luzie can’t see the power she has so she is skeptical of them both, but finds herself swept up in Margerit’s circle. Jeanne having launched an aspiring violinist in the previous book is poised to launch Luzie as the first female composer of Operas in Rotenek.

While Serafina has had female lovers in the past, and knows the common thread among Margerit and most of Jeanne’s inner circle, Luzie has not been so initiated. In the early days of Serafina’s lodging they forge a connection, in part because of Luzie’s music and Serafina’s ability to see its magic, but also because they both find themselves alone and increasingly lonely. Everyone will need to come together to fight against the mystical attack being waged against Alpennia. One Margerit has been unknowingly on the trail of since her earliest mystical discoveries. Will the bond shared over music composition transport Luzie and Sarafina into something more, just as shared studies did for Barbara and Mergerit? Will they be able to protect Alpennia from outside forces or will it be another misdirection?

If you are looking for a story to spin out like a spool of yarn and then wrap you up into a knitted scarf, get started on this series. The turns of phrase and quiet moments are where Heather’s immense writing talent soars. We are lucky to be the voyeurs of these amazing women loving women of Alpennia and beyond.

Supporting characters of note:

René LeFevre, the well respected business manager of the Baron, and eventually of Barbara and Margerit, is in a romantic relationship with his male assistant, Iannipirt. He is one of Barbara’s oldest friends and serves as a confidant, accomplice, and much more to both Barbara and Margerit. He stole my heart from the beginning.

Tavit, an armin that arrives on the scene in the later half of The Mystic Marriage expresses thoughts in a few different conversations that we would likely classify as gender dysphoria today. Early 19th Century Trans rep, how rad is that?

Bonus: Check out the free short story, “Three Nights at the Opera”, a prequel to Daughter of Mystery, though I think it is more enjoyable if read afterward.

Link Round Up: February 1 – 14

Her Body and Other Parties Carmen Maria Machado cover   Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver cover   Lyric Sexology Vol 1 by Trish Salah cover   Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova cover   Villains Don't Date Heroes by Mia Archer cover

Autostraddle posted 8 Books to Read If You Loved Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Parties”.

Bella Books is holding multiple giveaways through their Facebook page.

Book Riot posted 7 Fantastic Queer Sequels Coming Out in 2018 and 10 Unmissable LGBTQ+ Poets.

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posted Three New Must-Read Queer Canadian Poetry Books.

Lambda Literary posted New in February: Joseph Cassara, Saundra Mitchell, Jeffrey C. Stewart, and Karin Kallmaker.

LGBTQ Reads posted New Releases: February 2018 and Valentine’s Day Reads for Under $5!

Ylva posted Inside India: Writing Lesbian Fiction from the East.

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin cover   Fun Home by Alison Bechdel cover         All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages by Saundra Mitchell cover

“The Lesbian Grandma Romance In “Bingo Love” Will Melt Your Cold, Cold Heart” was posted at Logo.

“Lesbian media representation changed my life” discusses Fun Home and the podcast “Nancy.”

“Remembering ‘Tipping The Velvet,’ The “Joyous” Lesbian Romance That Changed Television” was posted at Decider.

In Croatia, an “enlarged effigy of My Rainbow Family, a picture book created for kindergarten-age children, was put to flames in front of several hundred children and parents on Sunday” at a children’s carnival. Here’s the link to their Indiegogo page to support the authors and get your own copy of the book!

Queerly Loving Vol 1 edited by G Benson and Astrid Ohletz cover   White Houses by Amy Bloom cover      Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover   Loving Her by Ann Allen Shockley cover

Queerly Loving (Volume 1) edited by G Benson and Astrid Ohletz was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

White Houses by Amy Bloom was reviewed at TBO.

What Weaponry by Elizabeth J. Colen was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

The Legend of Korra Turf Wars Part Two by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh was reviewed at Okazu.

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, and Joy San was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann was reviewed at Rich In Color.

An Outsider Inside by R J Samuel was reviewed at Curve.

Loving Her by Ann Allen Shockley was reviewed at Black Lesbian Literary Collective.

Flowers of Luna by Jennifer Linsky was reviewed at Okazu.

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

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Anna Marie reviews Women Lovers, Or the Third Woman by Natalie Clifford Barney 

Women Lovers or the Third Woman by Natalie Clifford Barney is an intense and poetic modernist novel about three women (N, L and M) deeply devoted and in love with each other, and chronicles the transformation of their relationship. The idea of the “Third Woman” is not only a reference to one of the women in the novel being left out by the others, but also to the idea that being a lesbian was being part of a “third sex” (something also explored at around the same time by Radclyffe/John Hall in The Well Of Loneliness and by various sexologists circling around at the time). The novel is also an exceedingly thinly veiled autobiography about Barney’s relationship with Mimi Franchetti and Liane de Pougy, both key figures in sapphic Parisian (generally immigrant) circles in the 1920s.

The language of the novel (in translation from French) is electric and so alive and sensual, just as the love story and relationships it depicts are. L is a decadent woman whilst M is frenzied and soft – “Her hands are more evolved than she herself is, and they get hurt on everything, just as souls do.” Barney’s description of herself, of the character N, is a potent snapshot of a person who constantly feels like the odd one out: “she communes with humans through joyful pleasure, even though she seems to miss out on it in every other way”. I think something in this novel that made it even more captivating than a queer love and loss story might have been is this positioning of some people as “thirds”, as constantly missing out because they don’t have a singular partner or relationship that consistently puts them first. It reminded me a little of this article that Caleb Luna wrote about being “denied intimacy and care… who reserve it for others” the ways that people undermine platonic relationships by focusing so intensely on romantic coupling. Obviously N in the novel has multiple other pairings, so its not an entirely accurate comparison, but I think it adds interesting current contexts for the novel.

The earthy but whimsical tone of Women Lovers as well as the descriptions charmed and inspired me so much. As someone studying the period, it’s also interesting to see who else weaves their way into and through the narrative, from their “Dearest Friend” (the artist and long term partner to Barney, Romaine Brooks) to “The Newly Miserable Woman” (Djuna Barnes author of Nightwood and The Ladies Almanack), as well as references to Radclyffe/John Hall and her partner Lady Troubridge.

Although this word is never used in the novel, it is clear that N and the women she is involved with are in some way polyamorous: they generally participate in and create non-monogamous relationships with each other, overlapping intimacies, so it’s a record of the way that historical queers connected separately and related to their communities and their partners/lovers/friends. The other really enjoyable part of reading this novel is the many ways in which the current sapphic and queer community I witness and participate in mimics these wild lesbian and bi+ women from almost 100 years ago! Just like when I read The Ladies Almanack, this novel/autobiography made me really feel like nothing has changed – we make the same jokes, we care about the same things, we use similar imagery and vocabularies, we have the same issues to work through, we are all dating each others exes and so on!


Megan Casey reviews Swamp Girl by Iza Moreau 

There was a recent article in The Washington Post about young adult novels written from the queer perspective. The gist of the article was that these novels “have begun to feel mainstream.” I’m sure that this is true to some extent; that a queer point of view is becoming increasingly more accepted by today’s readers, especially if these books are being published by traditional publishers. For some queer readers, finding a romance or a fantasy or even a mystery novel with queer protagonists comes as “a happy surprise.”

This last phrase—a happy surprise—is probably the most important idea in the article. Queer teens—or teens who are questioning their sexuality—need these types of books desperately. And not just coming-out stories or romances that end in tragedy—but books where the main characters just happen to be gay and live lives that are as normal as possible in our current society. That’s why Iza Moreau’s first Lesbian YA novel is so refreshing and, yes, important.

First of all, the book is a boisterous adventure that features a cast of almost Dickensian characters. The protagonist, “Sixteen-year-old Trixie McQueen—called Sixteen by her friends—wends her questing way from an abandoned subway tunnel in New York City to the mangrove-wild expanse of the Florida Everglades, where she is threatened by poachers and saved by a group of odd swamp dwellers—some of whom spent hard time as circus acts. Much of the plot involves the attempt of Sixteen and her new friends to uproot the criminals and drive them back to where then came from.

One of the oddest of all the characters is a bangle-and-short-shorts-wearing Valley girl named Raven, who is visiting her estranged mother. Sixteen—who has always accepted her orientation as a lesbian—and Raven—who has not—immediately bump heads, and Sixteen’s attempt to straighten her out—while combating her increasing attraction for the girl—round out the plot.

The first-person point of view is—I doubt if this is accidental—reminiscent of Tom Sawyer or Huck Fin, who have their own adventures to relate and crooks to foil. And, with the help of Voodoo-savvy Burundi, alligator-wrestling Large Lurleen, ex-Marine Big Ned Briscoe, circus-geek Señor Skin, Dorie the philosophy professor, and her other new friends, she manages to do just that. And in doing so, she not only rids the Glades of unwanted vermin, but provides a good, clean adventure for lesbian and questioning teens to enjoy, put on their shelves, and take out again occasionally throughout their lives.

Moreau has announced on her website that she is putting the finishing touches on the first three books in a new lesbian teen mystery series that will give lesbian and questioning teens a Nancy Drew type of hero. It should be interesting because, as far as I know, it will be the first such series. Until then, though Swamp Girl is as thoroughly enjoyable an entertainment as you could want.

Note: I received a review copy of this book that was kindly provided by the publisher in e-book form through Lesbrary.

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


Elinor Zimmerman reviews Set the Stage by Karis Walsh

When I picked up this book, I wasn’t sure if a romance set in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would really be my thing because I’m not a theater person. But Walsh’s vivid descriptions of Ashland, Oregon, of the festival, and of her lead’s clashing career paths were so charming that I was transported. If you want a nice little romance to escape into, this might be the novel for you.

Emilie is an actor with more than a few career regrets who sees her season with the festival as a chance to finally get back on track professionally. She suffers from stage fright and once abandoned her theater dreams and initial acclaim for her work in order to follow her girlfriend, a fellow actor, on tour. She’s determined not to let anything stand in the way of her ambition again.

Arden is a lifelong Ashland resident, daughter of an actor and a director who left her to be raised by her grandparents while they pursued theater careers all over the world. She works in the local park, just like her late grandfather did. She dates actress who come for the festival and regularly gets her heart broken in the process.

Arden and Emilie are drawn to each other from the moment they meet in the park but agree that they should just be friends. Emilie doesn’t want a distraction and Arden doesn’t need another relationship with an expiration date. Over many months of rehearsals and performances, the two grow closer and closer, cheering each other on in their careers even as those ambitions threaten their bond.

The romance in this burns slow but I appreciated that. A lot of the focus is on their connection as dear friends, Emilie’s struggles to perform when her confidence is low, and Arden reconsidering the life she planned for herself and what her professional aims actually are. It’s engaging and fun.

The only thing I didn’t really like was Emilie’s roommate, a graduate student in psychology, who wants to use Emilie for her studies. While I’d buy an undergrad new to the field blurring personal and professional boundaries, by grad school a psych student should know better than to pressure a new roommate into quasi-therapy sessions for her research. Maybe this sort of thing would happen but it sounded unethical. It also seemed to be a way to reveal some of Emilie’s backstory and have her come to realizations. Luckily this roommate basically disappears from the book once she’s served that purpose.

Overall, it’s a fun romance. It made me want to go this festival, which I’d never had any interest in before. Set the Stage is worth a read for fans of romance or theater.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018 and is a contributor to the anthology Unspeakably Erotic, edited by D.L. King, and out now. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com

Thanks To Our Sponsors!

You might have noticed that the Lesbrary now has a few ads! I’ve always been firm in not wanting to put randomly generated ads on the site that would be irrelevant at best and offensive at worst (no diet products on this site, thank you!) Recently, however, I’ve been reaching out to publishers and authors of lesbian and bi women books, and now we have ads that not only help keep the lights on, but are actually relevant to readers! I’m really happy with this development, and I wanted to thank some of the first advertisers with the Lesbrary!

 

You’ll be seeing a lot of Ylva Publishing! They are the top ad spot for all of 2018!

Ylva Publishing is the home of quality lesbian books. Our ever-growing catalogue of award-winning fiction includes everything from lesbian romance to mystery, erotica, and thriller.

 

 

 

The Year of the Knife by G.D. Penman, which also was a Sponsored Review! Check out my full review here.

Agent “Sully” Sullivan is one of the top cops in the Imperial Bureau of Investigation. A veteran witch of the British Empire who isn’t afraid to use her magical skills to crack a case. But Sully might need more than a good education and raw power to stop the string of grisly murders that have been springing up across the American Colonies. Every one of them marked by the same chilling calling card, a warning in the form of a legion of voices screaming out through the killers’ mouths: “It IS tHe YEAr oF the KNife.”

 

Wanderlust for Beginners by Alice Casey:

Welcome to the Moonlit Road is a joyously far-fetched fantasy novel with a queer family focus.

Ngaire and Katy settle in a small town, and set baby plans underway. The baby daddy is Ngaire’s cousin, Nigel, a dairy-farming wizard, and when it turns out that the baby has Down Syndrome, Ngaire asks Nigel to help. He finds an old spell and consecrates an owl to the Welsh Goddess Blodeuwedd, assigning it to watch over the pregnancy and later, the child as she grows up.

 

My Own Human by Arizona Tape:

At only 265 years young, vampire Adrianna has her whole life ahead of herself. But instead of planning out her future, she is fascinated by human history. So far she knows that humans were smart and resourceful, made both love and war, and are undeniably extinct. So can you imagine her surprise when she stumbles upon Heather, a young woman that loves fresh air, dances in the rain, and likes her heartbeat regular. Oh, and is as human as they come.

Travel 2000 years into the future where the vampire race has taken over our Earth. Discover with Heather who those vampires really are and exactly what they are capable of. And maybe, you might find out why they aren’t so different from us after all…

Thanks so much to our sponsors!

Julie Thompson reviews Sugar Town (issues 1-4) by Hazel Newlevant

Sugar and spice and everything nice is what adorable graphic novels featuring queer women are made of. Sugar Town is a sweet story about two women who meet in a bar in Portland, Oregon and fall in love. It’s polyamory and open relationships and queer sexuality. There’s no angst, no heart-stricken-dark-night-of-the-soul about loving more than one person simultaneously. This isn’t to say that the characters lack depth or haven’t wrangled with difficult personal histories, but that’s background to what happens in this volume. Overall, it’s fun fluff that pairs nicely with a lazy night on the couch and a glass of wine.

Author and illustrator Hazel Newlevant blends story and art in a delectable combination. Hazel’s relationships with Gregor, her comic artist boyfriend, in New York City and her burgeoning romance with Argent (“Hazel Hawthorne”), a Portland-based dominatrix, gives me the warm fuzzies. The illustrations are chock full of details that draw out how the characters feel and the overall mood of a scene. Take for instance that magic moment within the first few pages in which the dancers part and Hazel’s heart-shaped pupils lock onto Argent for the first time. It’s a magical moment worthy of the epic swells of Heart’s Alone. Every time I read Sugar Town, I discover new flourishes. And really, isn’t that part of what makes the world go ‘round?

Queer Books That Should Be Made Into Movies

I think everyone can agree that even as an increasing number of books are published about queer women, and written by queer women, we can always use more. In addition to being a writer and avid reader, I’m also a huge fan of movies and TV—the different media highlights different things about characters and world, and I love consuming both. Recently, I’ve been a writer for Tremontaine, a serial story from Serial Box Publishing based on Ellen Kushner’s very queer Riverside series. Because we work and publish on a TV model with a writers’ room, with show runners and a schedule where new episodes go live once a week, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the intersections of story-telling between novels and TV in particular.

As we’ve seen with properties like the Lord of the Rings movies and A Game of Thrones, when big fantasy projects are made into amazing movies and shows people start to pay attention to the genre and even more books are bought and sold. Of course, those two examples have T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E queer representation. My optimistic side thinks that one or two hugely successful movies or shows with queer ladies at the helm, telling queer stories, would go a long way to normalizing such things.

With that in mind, here are five queer books I’d LOVE to see made into movies or TV shows. All of them have queer ladies as main characters or the world itself is queered, and most are by queer authors. (And they’re all fantastic books—you should go right out and read all of them.)

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

This book is amazing—it takes place in an alternate USA about seventeen years after the Civil War was disrupted by the dead rising from their graves! Jane, our bisexual heroine, is being trained at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls to learn to kill the undead and serve as an Attendant to some rich white family. The story travels from war-and-zombie-ravaged east coast out west, and Jane is always getting into trouble. In a world like this, zombies are sometimes the least of her concerns. The scope of the story, the wild west horror, and Jane’s entertaining style would make this a fantastic movie.

 

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

I’ve long wanted one—any!—of Kate Elliott’s series to be made into a sweeping TV series. She is one of the best epic fantasy writers alive, and they all include queer people to various degrees. Her worlds are intricate, her characters and their conflicts layered and intriguing. Black Wolves has everything Game of Thrones has, but better, including a bisexual protagonist. In fact, if HBO wanted to start with the Crossroads trilogy to which this is a companion series, they’d have years of quality programming with 100% less rape, racism, and homophobia.

 

 

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

The imagery of this book (and its sequel) is so haunting I was already imagining it as a movie the first time I read it. It takes place in a Paris that never was, where fallen angels struggle against each other for power. The dark nostalgia and intense atmosphere of post-war love, suffering, and community-building would make this a fascinating movie that I think would really linger in viewers’ minds.

 

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

This hard-core space opera is one of my favorite queer reads, because the queerness—while also present in every layer of culture and world—is inherently a part of the language with which Leckie tells the story. Every character is linguistically gendered female, regardless of how they’re coded in other ways (which run the gamut of gender, not just male/female), which is both a fascinating experiment as well as indicative of the colonial themes in the novel. It would be very difficult to capture in film or television for the reasons I mentioned above: they’re such different media from books. But I’d love to see an ambitious filmmaker try it. And the story itself is thrilling enough to pull viewers along with the experiment.

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
While all Jemisin’s book stick with me because of their incredible characters, worlds, and intense emotional arcs, this first book in her Dreamblood Duology is the one that reads most cinematically to me. Not only is it a murder mystery and thriller, but the characters are so tightly written, and the setting is absolutely alive. It takes place entirely within the city-state of Gujaareh, and these neighborhoods are drawn so vividly, their political flavors so clear, that I felt like I’d visited it myself. There is queer love at the heart of it, and aside from being well written, the main characters are just so cool. It is easy to image them rushing along the shadowy rooftops, like the silent assassins they are. (Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy HAS been optioned for TV, which is super exciting).
Tessa Gratton is the author of the Blood Journals Series and Gods of New Asgard Series, co-author of YA writing books The Curiosities and The Anatomy of Curiosity, as well as dozens of short stories available in anthologies and on merryfates.com. Though she’s lived all over the world, she’s finally returned to her prairie roots in Kansas with her wife. Her current projects include Tremontaine at Serial Box Publishing, her 2018 YA fantasy Strange Grace from McElderry, and her adult fantasy debut, The Queens of Innis Lear, coming in 2018 from Tor. She is the associate director of Madcap Retreats. Visit her at tessagratton.com

Tremontaine season 3 is out now from Serial Box.

Elinor reviews The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

I have long-standing love for Ariel Levy’s work, so I was eager to read her memoir The Rules Do Not Apply. For those who’ve read her essay “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” about her miscarriage at 19 weeks pregnant, you have some idea what you’ll be getting in this book. Essentially, it’s a brutally sad story told gorgeously. The memoir gives context to Levy’s loss of her pregnancy, marriage, and home, all within a single month, and delves into her life before, during and after this central tragedy.

Much of the book explores Levy’s adventures as a successful writer, interviewing fascinating people all over the world, and how her work informed her ideas about gender, family, work, queerness, marriage, and a meaningful life. Alongside this is the story of Levy’s personal life, from a childhood spent witnessing her mother’s long-term affair and the dissolution of her parent’s marriage, to dating men and women as an adult. When Levy falls in love with and marries a woman before such a marriage was legally recognized, you can feel the heady excitement. Together the pair bought a home and wrestled with question when and how to become parents. Though Levy’s marriage was loving, it was complicated by Levy’s destructive affair with a creepy ex and her spouse’s increasingly serious drinking problem. Still, when they decide to have a child after many years together, she believes that they have things under control, that they’d weathered storms and gotten bad behavior out of their systems. Then the unthinkable happens and the story takes a turn Levy never expected.

Levy resists the cultural rules for women throughout her life, managing to have brilliant ambition, professional success, lust, love, adventure and a rich domestic life. But those are only a superficial rejection of the “rules” that the title references. This memoir rejects tidy lessons, platitudes, and the idea that loss is avoidable. Often in stories like Levy’s, the unstated rule is that it all works out in the end, that there’s a silver lining, or that everything happens for some ultimately rewarding cosmic reason. Levy refuses to pretty up her pain or to resolve the story neatly. Here, there is no happy ending. In fact, the book ends ambiguously, with Levy stepping out into an uncertain future.

The rawness and incredible writing draw you in, and leave you unsettled. You might want to line up something soothing after this. I was very glad I didn’t read it until after my child was born, because if I’d been pregnant or trying to get pregnant I would have been an anxious wreck reading this book. Having said that, I still highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating, honest, unique book.

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

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