Writing a short story is kind of a tall order. Thirty pages into a full-length novel, it’s safe to say a reader’s interest has either been piqued or squelched. For first-time writer Elizabeth Andre, thirty pages was all she wrote (pun intended).Learning to Kiss Girls is an unexpected pleasure. Its cover art features the body of a young girl dressed in pink and clutching school books, punctuated by the title and byline in a font from the same family line as Curlz MT, which didn’t exactly gear me up for the next YA masterpiece. But YA this is, and a pink cover certainly attracts the type of audience that would benefit from engaging in this short but sweet text.

If you’re a bit older than the “young adult” crowd (I mean, I’m not exactly raring to drop the “young” title just yet) don’t despair. Andre’s narrator, the fourteen-year-old Helen Blumenstein, speaks from a place that’s not yet wise but not quite green. Her language feels natural, unlike so many other “teen” voices that sound more like parents trying out Facebook. It’s not clear if Helen is speaking to us from her later years as she pulls us along through a few days in her teenage life, and even if she isn’t, I’d still believe her. With lines like, “I didn’t want anyone to know that someone as cool as me might be embarrassed by some nudie picture,” it’s hard not to get brought back to fourteen, to all the stupid things we said when we were self-consciously honest teenagers. Andre has an impressive command of language, a thorough knowledge of Helen’s world, and a refreshing understanding of a young might-be-queer mind that does not feel forced.

Helen is at once innocent and precocious. Her family approaches queerness matter-of-factly if not cluelessly, especially when her gay cousin and his “friend” come to visit and Helen is instructed to take them to the Art Institute, because “they’ll like that.” While never becoming caricature, hers is a Jewish family living in Chicago, complete with plastic-coated dining chairs and plenty of kvetching. Her family is not the issue when it comes to accepting her burgeoning queer identity. Quite realistically, for those of us with benignly uneducated, blissfully ambivalent, or only mildly homophobic families, her issue is that she doesn’t really know if she’s gay yet. She feels weird things for a cute girl in the museum, but she kissed a boy last week. She watches porn and wishes there weren’t so many shadowy regions, but her best friend Anna has a crush on her. It seems coming out for Helen would probably not be a very dramatic, seismic shift kind of ordeal. Helen is no drama queen; she seems to take these seesaw feelings in stride, never really lamenting nor lashing out against them. But things are always hyper-meaningful when you’re a fourteen-year-old girl, aren’t they?

This story left me eager to know what Helen’s life will be like post-first-girl-kiss. Andre’s writing style tends toward bluntness rather than floweriness, so Learning to Kiss Girls felt just the right length. But the ending seemed abrupt, and devoid of at least a modicum of emotion on Helen’s part. Somehow, this doesn’t detract from the honesty, simplicity, and thoughtfulness with which this story was crafted. For Andre’s very first work, this self-published story absolutely holds its own. I would love to see her publish a collection of short stories — perhaps with some edits to this one’s curtailed resolution.

Despite its cartoony cover and sudden drop at the end, Learning to Kiss Girls has depth and heart. I know many young readers will connect with Helen, if not wish to stay with her longer. And for those of us whose ages are better coughed into sleeves, this lovely and well-wrought story will certainly bring you back to adrenaline-coursing adolescence, warts — and kisses — and all.

sigilfire

Sometimes, though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. And sometimes a novel idea that sounds great in the planning stages just doesn’t work in the execution.

As John Updike says in the his 6 Rules for Constructive Criticism, “Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.”

So here’s the synopsis of the book, and we’ll go from there:

Sonia is a succubus with one goal: stay off  Hell’s radar. But when succubi start to die, including her sometimes lover, Jeannie, she’s drawn into battle between good and evil.

Fae is a blood witch turned vampire, running a tattoo parlor and trading her craft for blood. She notices that something isn’t right on the streets of her city. The denizens of Hell are restless. With the aid of her nest mate Perry and his partner Charley, she races against time before the next victim falls. The killer has a target in his sights, and Sonia might not live to see the dawn.

Now I enjoy fantasy, and nontraditional portrayals of scary-monster things is awesome as long as they’re not sparkling in the sunlight. This is definitely meant to be  something a little nontraditional and edgy, throwing some vampires and succubi and whatnot into a murder mystery mixed with some steamy lesbian romance– and lesbe honest, that’s not a plot you can take too seriously, so camp it up and have fun, right? I mean, this is starting to sound pretty awesome!

Weeeeeell, I’m not sure the author quite succeeded at that, though she certainly made an earnest attempt.  We can’t fault her for trying, at least. The writing is not terrible – at least the grammar is there, though the plethora of adjectives sprinkling this piece are like cockroach legs in a streetside noodle stand (namely, distracting and bad for the digestion.)  The tone of this work is just too serious for the plot. There could have been some comedic genius moments, but instead it’s all hard-hitting demon investigators and love-torn succubi with eating disorders.

And then there are the awkward lesbian sex scenes. Let’s just say there’s only so many times you can say “juices” in one scene before my eye starts to twitch, and “seeping pussy” puts me in mind of something decidedly non-erotic. I feel like “seeping” should never, ever, ever in a million years be used to talk about anything relating to sex. It’s just one of those words, like ‘moist,’ that are just Not Okay. Now, writing sex scenes is easy. Writing sex scenes well is incredibly difficult. Bishop doesn’t hold back in the use of her description, which is fine and great and not what I have a problem with. Other than her questionable use of adjectives (seeping? Really?) what I have a problem with is that I can’t really get into the characters’ emotional involvement – the scenes just read like cheap erotic fiction shoved into a lackluster crime novel. Much of Bishop’s oeuvre consists of varying genres of erotica, but it seems in Sigil Fire like these two separate things shoved together: the crime mystery interspersed with bits of erotica that don’t really carry the plot forward, develop the characters in any meaningful way, or even arouse the reader. Maybe Bishop should stick to either one or the other.

I really wanted to enjoy this book because I thought it had a great premise and a lot of opportunity for creativity. But it just didn’t live up to any of my expectations. Unless you’re a big fan of Bishop already or absolutely love the synopsis, I wouldn’t recommend it.

myeducation

I’ve been on a bit of a bisexual book binge lately, so after the Lambda Literary awards were announced and Susan Choi’s third novel My Education was declared the winner in the category of bisexual fiction, I thought I should pick it up.  I have a healthy amount of skepticism about the decision making at the lammies but I decided this book was probably a good place to start.  I’m glad, actually, that I didn’t have high expectations because this book ended up blowing me away.  I loved it. I really loved it.

First of all, I loved the writing.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I found the juicy, exquisite wordiness just so fun.  It was like reading a Victorian novel, but about a biracial, bisexual American woman in the 90s and 2000s.  I totally see how other people find Choi’s style pretentious and excessive, but to me it was self-consciously so, if that makes any sense.  Her sentences are so interesting and versatile.  I particularly enjoyed the discrepancy between the more formal grammar (Choi never ends a sentence with a preposition, but always uses “to/for/in which”, for example) and the emotionally immature and sexy material.  Choi pays really close attention to what her characters are doing and saying and a lot of the descriptions of both mundane and profound events are strikingly beautiful.  Like here:

“My youth was the most stubborn, peremptory part of myself. In my most relaxed moments, it governed my being. It pricked up its ears at the banter of eighteen-year-olds on the street. It frankly examined their bodies. It did not know its place: that my youth governed me with such ease didn’t mean I was young. It meant I was divided as if housing a stowaway soul, rife with itches and yens which demanded a stern vigilance. I didn’t live thoughtlessly in my flesh anymore. My body had not, in its flesh, fundamentally changed quite so much as it now could intuit the change that would only be dodged by an untimely death, and to know both those bodies at once, the youthful, and the old, was to me the quintessence of being middle-aged. Now I saw all my selves, even those that did not yet exist, and the task was remembering which I presented to others.”

When I say some of the material is emotionally immature, it’s because the main character Regina is a twenty-one year old English literature graduate student: she’s fallen head over heels in love for the first time and thinks it’s going to last forever and she’s naïve and passionate and, of course, never going to be the same again.  What I really loved about how the book started is that it sets you up to think that Regina is going to have an affair with an older male professor, when it’s in fact his wife that she ends up falling in love with.  I enjoy the idea of straight people picking up this book and being shocked at the turn of event a few chapters into the book.  It’s a whirlwind affair that you know is not going to end well, but the ride is really fun.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was the academic setting: Choi has kind of the perfect balance of understanding but scrutiny of academia.  Having left academia, I found it kind of fun to have a little fictional sojourn back in its clutches.  These grad students have lots of time for sex and drinking and aren’t all stressed out and competing about who has more work, like the ones in my real-life grad school experience.

My Education doesn’t end when the relationship between Regina and Martha does.  It doesn’t even end when, in their grief, Regina and Nicholas (Martha’s ex-husband) have an affair of their own.  Interestingly, the book skips fifteen years ahead and we get a glimpse of a middle-aged Regina, married to a man and the mother of a young kid.  There’s a focus on catching up on what all the other characters have been doing all these years, and we get to see not only where Regina ended up, but also Nicholas, Martha, their son, and Regina’s old roommate / friend Dutra (who was perhaps my favourite character, although I’m not exactly sure why).  I liked all of the characters a lot more after seeing them in these respective later life stages, actually.  It made me able to forgive them for some of the shitty things they did in the past.  This section just had a fun “what are they doing now?” feel to it.

But it was also necessary to conclude Regina’s emotional journey, which, as she says, is this, essentially: “I didn’t grasp that desire and duty could rival each other, least of all that they most often did.”  The lesson that Regina learns, however, is conservative: despite seeing Martha again and briefly renewing their passionate relationship, Regina returns to her husband and child (pregnant with another one).  In other words, she chooses duty over desire.  But can’t they go together?  Unfortunately for the husband, you never really get why Regina loves him, although you’re supposed to know.  She loves her son—that much is obvious.

And this is where the book kind of loses me.  I mean, it didn’t really lose me but I guess I felt like a bit of something was off, or missing.  What I mean is I would have liked Choi to be a bit more explicit about bisexuality in this book, if only to point out to all the dumbasses calling this a book about two straight women having an affair that they’re both obviously bisexual (the book is even clear that Martha has had more than one relationship with a woman).  There are so few good books about bi women!  Why can’t you use the b word, Susan Choi, just once??

I like the naturalness that flows in the earlier part of the book because nothing outside of the relationship matters.  It would have felt unnatural to get bogged down with identity politics in that section.  But later on in Regina’s life, why doesn’t her husband know about this affair? How could you be married to someone and never have told them about the first time you fell in love?  This feels like (internalized) biphobia to me and I wish the book would have addressed it. How can the relationship with Martha have had no effect on Regina’s sexual identity or later sexual experiences?

Similarly, Regina’s background being both white and Asian is mentioned once and never brought up again.  It’s not like I want the focus of the book to be on her racial and sexual identity, but those things are relevant in real life, they’re a part of real life.  Ignoring them just felt kind of weird at best, and apolitical at worst.  Like, what are you trying to avoid?

Despite (or maybe because of?) my ramblings about the book’s relationship with bisexual politics, I highly recommend My Education.  On top of everything else, I loved, loved, loved the ending.  That is a rare thing indeed for me.

 

annieonmymind   sisteroutsider   PriceofSalt

AfterEllen posted The AfterEllen.com Book Club for July: “Annie On My Mind” and ACT NOW: Keep “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” on summer reading lists.

Autostraddle posted Lez Liberty Lit #49: Spend More Than 19 Minutes Reading.

Diversity in YA posted First Second Acquires KISS NUMBER EIGHT, a Graphic Novel About Growing Up Queer in a Conservative Community.

LadyLike Book Club posted 32 – The Price of Salt.

Lambda Literary posted Re-Education at the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final   sailormoon   KickedOut

The Outer Alliance posted Outer Alliance Podcast #41.

emily m danforth posted School board removes The Miseducation of Cameron Post from summer reading list.

Sarah Diemer posted I Met My Wife Because of Sailor Moon: Or, Why Stories With Queer Characters Really Fucking Matter.

Sassafras Lowrey posted Damaged Books Sale!

Andi Marquette posted Nancy Garden on my mind.

queerandpleasantdanger   beyondthepale   graveyardsparrow

“Queering SFF Pride Month: Brainchild by Suzanne Geary” was posted at Tor.

“A Jewish Reading Guide for Pride Month” was posted at Tablet.

“Making Comics More And More Gay – The Hernandez Brothers, Kate Leth, And Terry Moore Talk LGBT Characters At Heroes Con 2014″ was posted at Bleeding Cool.

Graveyard Sparrow by Kayla Bashe was reviewed at Bisexual Books.

The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam was reviewed at LGBTQ Recs Month.

BlueIsTheWarmestColor   daughterofmystery   westofnowhere

The Lost Women of Lost Lake by Ellen Hart was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones was reviewed at C-Spot Reviews.

West of Nowhere by KG MacGregor was reviewed at Piercing Fiction.

Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh was reviewed at LGBTQ Recs Month.

KillMarguerite   thatsrevolting   teachingthecattosit

Kill Marguerite and Other Stories by Megan Milks was reviewed at Tor.

Corona by Bushra Rehman was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

All In by Nell Stark was reviewed at C-Spot Reviews.

That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore was reviewed at Bisexual Books.

Teaching the Cat to Sit: A Memoir by Michelle Theall was reviewed at Out In Print.

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 twitter pageWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and tumblr.

owleyes

Typically and perhaps ideally, when the exchange of ideas and the sharing of experience take place between a writer and her reader, the inherent value of both roles within the creative process is affirmed. The story would not exist without the writer, and it would have no reason to exist if not for the reader. It’s a profound and powerful act, which deeply touches everyone involved.

Then there is work created solely for cathartic purposes. Perhaps the writer needs to vent, to reframe her experience or re-write history. She is concerned only with what the story means within the context of her experience, rendering the reader unnecessary and wholly irrelevant. This is where literary art ends and narrative therapy begins.

Indeed, Owl Eyes by Georgie Watts is a classic example of a work that sacrifices the reader’s experience for the therapeutic benefits of stringing words together on the page. It is  the story of Sarah, a young woman who finds escape from her stressful job, demanding parents and disordered eating within the act of graffiti writing. Assuming an identity as Owlie for her depictions of… well, owls, Sarah finds a sense of freedom and empowerment within the defiance that fuels the street art scene.

Although I initially found the premise of the novel fresh and exciting, it didn’t take long for me to realize that Owl Eyes has little to do with conveying emotion or telling a compelling story. Given that no apparent effort was put into making the characters three-dimensional or developing a sense of depth or nuance through action or dialogue, it was hard to care about Sarah, her parents, her co-worker or the other graffiti artists she meets (not to mention the wealthy owner of a women’s magazine who somehow winds up facilitating the fulfillment of Sarah’s most treasured dreams). Nothing that transpires within the tale is accompanied by supporting events or foreshadowing and thus feels utterly implausible. We are told that Sarah has an eating disorder but do not witness it; and, we learn that she identifies as bisexual but feel no passion in spite of her burgeoning relationship with Phanatic, a homeless street artist and jiu jitsu master.

I applaud anyone’s engagement in the creative process, no matter what their skill level or experience, for magic is inevitable as long as the intent is pure; however, when one uses words to soothe the ego or prove something to themselves at the expense of the reader, the result can’t help but to fall flat. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that Owl Eyes left me feeling little more than an unwitting target of the author’s cathartic splatter and subsequent quest for validation.

missmcghee

The setting is the Southern USA during the span of time from 1948 – 1965. The title character is sent to the small town of Myrtlewood, Alabama, to work as a secretary for Tommie Dubose. Mary McGhee soon realizes, however, that she is not really working for Tommie, but instead her employer is the beautiful and precious Lila Dubose, Tommie’s wife. Mary becomes infatuated to the point where she can not remain silent but must make her feelings known. Once that small piece of the narrative is surmounted, the real story takes off.

This is a book about the civil rights struggle as seen from the microcosm of a small town in the South. Arguably, towns such as this were the front lines of the struggle. Trigger warnings apply for racism, violence, racist and misogynist slurs, and mentions of the KKK and its activities in every chapter. The author is white but does not censor the use of the n-slur in her writing.
The main characters are believable, even relatable. They have that subtle style of racism that comes from ignorance and is hard to recognize as part of the problem. And they get called out on it (by other white people). I don’t like that the story of the black civil rights movement is told entirely from the perspective of these rich white characters, with the one main black character, Annie, being there to nod and confirm that the white people are in fact right, racism does exist and it is a human rights violation. She is probably thinking “good job catching up on a child’s-level understanding of the issue,” but the book never actually shows what Annie is thinking. Annie is only finally given some character development and agency during the events at the end of the book.
On the other hand, the story does show a very good example of how to use white privilege to help marginalized groups, black Americans in particular. If more people like Mary and Lila (rich white people) put their money where their mouth is and helped the oppressed groups of our country, the social justice movement might finally accomplish some actual justice. Beware viewing the story through a lens of the white savior complex, however, lest we downplay the importance of the struggle that black Americans went through in those turbulent years and still encounter today.
Although the overarching story is that of real history, namely the civil rights movement, there is a major balance of focus on the cast of characters’ interpersonal relationships; between the two main characters, Mary and Lila, between Mary and her arch-nemesis Gerald Buchanan, between Lila and Annie who is her maid, and Lila and her disabled husband Tommie, and many many more characters, all fairly well-rounded and representing different types of people. The social politics of a small town are complicated and dynamic, and Bett Norris does a skillful job of portraying it well.
The one bisexual side character was shown in a bad light, or so I thought at first. The more she developed as a character the more I liked her, despite or perhaps because of her flaws. There was also a hint that she was gender-non-conforming , although no labels and no discussion of any depth about such things was included in the narrative.
In sum, the narrative is well paced and well written, the characters are fleshed out and flawed so as to read like real human beings, and the subject matter is very important, though in this instance it is being discussed by an inappropriate voice. White readers aware of race relations might take away a lesson here and there, as long as they are mindful of the problematic elements in the book. Black readers, especially ones who are lgbt, looking for representation and for their own history, will be disappointed and, quite rightly, insulted to find nothing for them. It is up to white readers whether we can stomach something that is clearly offensive to our fellow human beings, ones who are less privileged than us and used to being ignored and talked over. It would be easy to make excuses, and concentrate on the book’s merits, but I am washing my hands of this book. Despite the fact that it was a pleasant enough read for me, I cannot recommend it knowing that it is not fair to others.

drive

Kate and Susan were best of friends. Then things progressed, yet they tried to keep their relationship a secret from friends and family. And they both promised that they would always be together. Aw, first loves and the hopes we place on them.

When their secret is discovered, things start to unravel, including their relationship.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that every story has two sides. Back in my younger days, I had a hard time seeing that. Everything was black and white. Now, I always (I don’t always succeed) try to step back and see things from both perspectives. Not only is it illuminating, but it can also be terrifying.

That’s the intent of DRIVE.

Every story has two sides, at least. Yet, many novels show everything from one point of view. DRIVE by J. L. Gaynor tells the story from Kate’s and then Susan’s point of views. This could be messy and repetitive, but Gaynor avoids both pitfalls and created an enjoyable, albeit emotional, story. First loves are exciting and can leave permanent scars. This book delves into the importance of relationships, friendships, and forgiveness.

I do wish the author shared more of the story from the beginning instead of diving right in when the unraveling started. I think it would round it out more and make the readers care more about what happened and why it was so devastating to Kate and Susan.

Setting this aside, I enjoyed the story and I look forward to reading more by this author.It’s a wonderful story that sucked me in and made me think.

myeducation   lumberjanes3   loveinthetimeofglobalwarming

The Advocate posted Read This Year’s Best Bisexual Fiction.

Autostraddle posted Lumberjanes #3 Has Adventure, Math and Science and Logic To The Max! and South Carolina Punishes Universities for LGBT Reading List with Extra Dose of America.

Kate Leth posted Comics Alliance Presents Kate Or Die: All-Ages LGBT Content.

“Is This Just Fantasy?: LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction” was reviewed at YALSA The Hub.

otherbound   CallingDrLaura   AmongOtherThings

Tiger Heron by Robin Becker was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis was reviewed at Rich In Color.

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole J. Georges was reviewed at LGBTQ Recs Month.

Deep Merge by Linda North was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney was reviewed at LGBTQ Recs Month.

Skim  thedaylightgate   warofstreetsandhouses

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki was reviewed at LGBTQ Recs Month.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters was reviewed at The Voyage Out Book Club.

In This Small Spot by Caren J. Werlinger was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson was reviewed at Tor.

War of the Streets and Houses by Sophie Yanow 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 twitter pageWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and tumblr.

waterwitch

Novels about lesbians and pirates seem to be an ever-growing popular genre. I’m happy to recommend a book that has these things: Water Witch: The Deceiver’s Grave by Nene Adams.

The story starts as female pirate captain, Bess O’Bedlam, goes to Antigua to follow up on a rumor about the whereabouts of another pirate, Fancy Tom Carew, and his lost ship, the Deceiver. Treasure is believed to have been on board Carew’s ship, and Bess loves gold, so the opportunity seems too good to pass up. She learns that another woman, Marguerite de Vries, may be the key to finding the treasure. So she kidnaps the woman and brings her aboard her ship, the Mad Maudlin.

Marguerite, an orphan-turned-thief, has no idea why she is linked to Tom Carew, except for a strange tattoo on her shoulder that she’s never been able to really explain. At first, she and Bess hate each other and then they try to seduce each other for their own gains, but in reality, there is a genuine attraction between them that neither will admit at first. As they get closer to finding the Deceiver, Bess and Marguerite soon learn that there is a lot more at stake than just lost treasure, and there are supernatural forces at work.

Water Witch, though it takes place in a real time period, has magic, demons, witch-fire, and spook-binding spells that give the book a more ghostly appeal. So many characters in the book have some knowledge of magic. That takes away some realism from the book, but not much, because the rest feels so real. And the magic is a pretty good touch.

The story itself, besides the supernatural, seems very much in keeping with what went on in the Caribbean in the eighteenth century. There is nautical jargon and old slang terms that I had to look up in the glossary. Though annoying at times to stop in the middle of a tense scene to look something up, the story certainly seemed more authentic.

Water Witch was packed with action, especially near the end. Sea battles, demon attacks, sword fights, and a deadly showdown kept me reading. There were unexpected twists and surprises. The book was very descriptive, even at the gory scenes, that I could easily picture what was going on. There were no moments of wondering where the characters were, or what they were doing. Everything was pretty clear, which made it easier to enjoy the book. The best part of the novel was watching Bess and Marguerite slowly acknowledge their love for each other and throw their differences aside. There were definitely “Oh my gosh!” moments, and “How will they make it?” scenes that are nail-biting. But it works out satisfactorily in the end. My only problem with Water Witch was that I didn’t learn much about Bess’s past. Marguerite’s story was well told, as it was necessary for the plot, but I would have loved to know more about Bess’s childhood, her parents, and what drove her to become a pirate. I got tiny hints here and there, but not enough to clearly form her story. This made her a bit less fleshed out than I’d like.

Besides that though, Water Witch: The Deceiver’s Grave was a gripping, well researched read. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but for hardcore pirate fans. Still, the adventure was fun, and the book never got boring once. Nene Adams clearly put a lot of work into her story, and it shows well. I’ll be reading this one again!

owningregina

Owning Regina:Diary of My Unexpected Passion for Another Woman by Lorelei Elstrom is a woman-loving-woman’s answer to E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. Written in diary format, Meg Curtis gives us an up close and personal taste of exploring bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism (BDSM) for the first time. Describing her intense erotic inclination towards the world of dominance and submission, we learn that for Meg, her sexuality is very complex. When realizing she has developed a sincere interest for a woman, having always been with men, she is forced to rethink her sexual orientation. Meg initially struggles with the idea she may be something other than heterosexual, often in conflict with her perception of her future self and her newfound lust. Eventually disregarding the pressure to label herself, Meg is extremely satisfied to indulge in kinky behaviors with another person.

Meg Curtis, 26, meets Regina Baker, 38, at a local yoga class in San Francisco, California and instantly a connection sparks. The two women bond over Meg’s boot fetish and shortly thereafter, Regina senses there may be something worth trying with one another. Elstrom does a thorough job at introducing BDSM and establishing clear boundaries for the role-playing games shared between Meg and Regina. The women often check in with one another outside of the realm of the game to ensure they are on the same page. Adding more rules to maintain a distinction between emotions felt in real life and the harsh dialogue used in the game helps their relationship stay clear of confusion and reinforces consent.

Often BDSM is perceived by society as dirty, abusive, weird, and/or perverted, with a very narrow selection of stereotypical images, such as a woman wearing a latex or leather suit whipping a man’s behind. There is absolutely nothing wrong with BDSM if all of the acts between two (or more) partners are consensual, rooted in trust, and boundaries are respected. Anyone can be attracted to S&M regardless of their experiences. Further, engaging in such behavior allows agreeing adults to explore curiosities and taboo manners in a safe environment. Generally speaking, those who are attracted to BDSM would never intentionally hurt someone outside of the game mode; only in character would they think about participating in such seemingly torturous acts.

All in all, Owning Regina is a strikingly sexy book that I recommend to anyone curious about BDSM. Owning Regina can easily be devoured in one sitting —as the days in Meg’s life go on, there is an urgency for more and Elstrom does not hold back with her delivery. Having taken my first bite into a BDSM fiction featuring two female lovers has opened my mind to endless possibilities outside the lines of a vanilla romance. Aside from the swift declaration of love in a short passage of time (I often find these storylines unrealistic and stereotypical), I found Owning Regina to be a very fun read!

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