Megan G reviews Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn 

Lai has spent her entire life training to be a priestess for the gods, taking in her mother and grandmother’s steps. Yet, when her trials arrive, she finds herself rejected by the gods after a mysterious vision from her favourite goddess. Confused and lost, Lai makes the decision to leave the only home she has ever known, and venture out in search of her true fate.

Keeper of the Dawn is a novella with the plot of trilogy of novels. So much happens that if you get distracted for even a moment, you can lose your place in its chronology. Now, this allows for a quick read, but honestly, I would have preferred the story be longer. There is so much that goes unexplored that could have strengthened the story. Every aspect of the story is important, too, meaning that Gunn could not really afford to cut any of it. The problem was that, because it was a novella, a lot of what happened was condensed greatly, to the point where at times several years passed over the course of a paragraph.

The length also affected the characterization of essentially every character, but Lai, the protagonist, in particular. By the end of the story, I felt like I barely knew her outside of her devotion to her religion and her ancestry. Because of this, I found it difficult to become invested in her and in the relationships she formed, especially the romantic relationship she enters about half-way through the novel. I would have loved to learn more about Lai and about her motivations. As it is, her desires seem shallow, and I am unsure if she really felt a connection to her goddesses outside of the fact that her mother and grandmother were strongly devoted.

Something I did not realize when I began this novel is that it includes an asexual character! Which was quite a pleasant surprise, even if I’m not entirely sure if I’m comfortable with the way it was handled (before she admits her lack of desire for sex, she is questioned by her girlfriend about what “normal couples” do in bed. The use of the word “normal” to describe a sexual relationship felt a bit off for me). I would not advertise this as an asexual novel, however, as I feel that anybody reading it exclusively for asexual representation will feel let down.

Although not as developed as I would have liked, the relationship between Lai and her love interest, Tara, is quite sweet. It provides several nice scenes, and is a necessary reprieve from the action within the novella.

A few short warnings about this novel is that it isn’t explicitly racially diverse, so while technically you could assume all the characters are of different ethnicities, it is most likely that Gunn wrote them all to be white. There are non-explicit mentions of dangerous levels of homophobia, but these mentions are brief. There is also some fatphobic implications, in that there are only two characters throughout the entire novella who are described as fat, and both are villains. As well, there is quite a large amount of violence throughout.

Overall, Keeper of the Dawn was an enjoyable story. The only true complaints that I have can all be reduced to the length of the story, which was far too short for the amount of plot that Gunn included. I would still recommend it to any lovers of fantasy, though, especially those looking for fantasy with a queer female protagonist.


Danika reviews The Year of the Knife by G.D. Penman

Sully has not been having a good summer. She works for IBI, the investigation bureau of the British empire, and despite the strikes against her–woman, Irish, gay–she has managed to gain some respect by being the best in the field. She may have learned from a hedge witch, but she can hold her own against any university-educated magic user. But she may officially be in over her head: every day, a new person, seemingly possessed, has been acting out public, grisly murders. That’s impossible, though: demons can’t possess living people. The body count is climbing higher, and her boss being stuck as a parrot isn’t helping any. Can she end the reign of what the killers keep calling “The Year of the Knife”?

The Year of the Knife is a grungy, gory urban fantasy. While the plot focuses on Sully attempting to solve this string of crimes, most of them gruesome mass stabbings, there are a lot of balls in the air: in this world, the British empire still rules much of the world, including New Amsterdam (which seems to be near Brooklyn), where Sully lives. There is an undercurrent of tension around this: in Ireland, for instance, hedge witches with borrowed power have attempted revolution many times, each time getting cracked down on by imperial power, which causes more resentment, fueling the next rebellion.

On top of the mystery and alternative history elements, of course, there’s the magic system. I was impressed by how complex this world is, and I appreciated that the magic system seemed to be cohesive and clearly defined: magic users have to speak spells, draw glyphs in the air, and often work out mathematical equations (if you fudge the numbers in a travel spell, you might find yourself lodged in a wall when you arrive). Whenever I’m reading about a world that has magic, I want to know that the author has thought it out. Specifically, there needs to be clear limits to magic, or else there can never be believable tension. This world comes with a magic system that makes sense to me. In case there wasn’t enough going on, there are also demons in this world, pushing through from another plane of existence. And those might not be the only dimensions at play!

While I was intrigued by the world, I had trouble connecting with the main character. I’m all for a gruff, unlikeable female character, but Sully takes it to another level. She cackles as people die under her use of magic–seeming to take pleasure in it even when the person being killed deserved, at the very least, some pity. At the same time, she can’t handle being in charge because she can’t deal with deaths of her colleagues on her conscience. She has her own resentment of the British empire, but she seems to judge other groups who speak out against it. What really got to me, though, was the multiple times when Sully mentions seeking out young, possibly underage women to have sex with. She goes to student nights at bars to take home “presumably legal” experimental college students. She wakes up with a girl and wonders if she was a teenager after all. That is not cute. Sully is nowhere near these women’s ages, and it’s skeezy at best and illegal at worst.

Sully does have a girlfriend–sort of. She has a tumultuous relationship with her ex. At one point, they were engaged, but after her girlfriend left her at the alter, things have been tense. They still sleep together occasionally, usually when her ex needs some blood. (Did I mention that she’s a vampire?) They punish each other while still not being able to let each other go. I was interested in their relationship, but it felt like there was something missing. I didn’t quite understand why they had the dynamic they did, and they seemed to quickly fall back into a loving relationship, so I didn’t feel like I really understood them as a couple.

I did have a couple of concerns, the most major of which was the racism. I understand that the idea is that with the empire still ruling most of the world, racism is even more entrenched than it is now, but having, for instance, Chinese people described as “Oriental” and an Egyptian guy as “swarthy”–while apparently all Native Americans Sully has ever known have been breathtakingly beautiful, though for some reasons they’re all deeply bigoted against vampires–pulled me out of the story. There are a lot of instances like these: casual racism scattered throughout the text. It was jarring enough for me as a white reader. I can imagine many readers of colour wouldn’t find it worth pushing through them.

My other major complaint was with the specific focus of the book. Maybe it’s the Canadian in me, but focusing on New York in this alternate timeline of continued British occupation felt like the most uninteresting take on the idea. I would have liked to see pretty much anywhere else in this world: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and India, to name a few. [spoilers, highlight to read] Near the very end of the book, the plot ground to a halt with an extended flashback to 1775. Flashbacks during the climax of the plot are dicey at the best of times, but personally, I find the American Independence setting deeply boring. If there had been some way to incorporate this flashback into smaller ones throughout the book (if they were made vague) would have worked better for me. Even if it was condensed into a smaller amount of exposition, I would have felt less whiplash. Going from the most dramatic part of the book to the slowest section is not the best reading experience. [end spoilers]

This sure was an interesting reading experience! I will be watching to see if this is spun into a series, because the world definitely could support it.

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.


Whitney D.R. reviews The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale

Victoria “Vix” Vincent is an alt-country rocker girl and Sawyer Bell is a sweet, innocent violinist running away from Juilliard to join in Vix’s band. Vix is an out bisexual and Sawyer is figuring out whether or not she’s a lesbian (spoiler: she is). I feel like this might be a basis for an Avril Lavigne-type song. Now I have “Sk8r Boi” stuck in my head.

I’ve always wanted to be in a band and go out on the open road with my friends and play music. The Love Song of Sawyer Bell didn’t candy coat how hard it would be to live that kind of life when you don’t have financial backing of a major label. Touring is grueling and often gross, but at least you’d be doing it with your band-family instead of completely alone. And you’d get to live the dream of being a performing musician. It’s not glamourous, but the book still made it seem fun, and I felt like I was there with the band.

The relationship between Vix and Sawyer was just so…normal. I don’t mean that in a bad way. These two women would have fights, sulk about it for a day or two then talk it out and make up. Just like most normal couples do, but with a little flair to kick up the story. I did think Sawyer, perhaps because she was newly out and insecure about her place in the world outside of being a fiddler, was quick to push Vix away. While Vix was afraid of telling Sawyer how she really felt. Both are perfectly relatable for ~us millennials~ who are still figuring our lives out while entering into a new relationship.

Sawyer’s unhappiness at Juilliard and her bit about feeling betrayed that something she wanted she got, but ended up hating it really resonated with me. It’s hard when you work hard towards something, think you made it, and then it turns out worse than you expected.

I did find Vix to be a bit preachy about bisexuality, but with so much erasure and misunderstandings in all forms of media, I couldn’t really be mad at it.

Completely unnecessary for this review, but can I say that my fancasts for this book are totally Melanie Scrofano for Vix and Dominque Provost-Chalkley for Sawyer? I know they play sisters on tv and the opposite in height, but it’s who I pictured the entire time I was reading.

I liked The Love Song of Sawyer Bell. I’ll definitely read the next book in the series and I hope Victoria Vincent gets the success they deserve.


Megan G reviews Mail Order Bride: A Romantic Comedy with a Lesbian Twist by Rachel Windsor

Liz Coleman likes to think of her life as a romantic comedy. She has her two best friends, Ann and Elle, a decent job, and quirky neighbours. All that’s really missing from her romantic comedy is, well, a love interest. A moment of impulsivity causes her to sign up for a mail order bride program, in hopes that this will finally be her happy ending. The only problem? The first thing her mail order bride says to her when they meet is “You are not a man.”

Are you looking for a light and easy romance? Do you love romantic comedies, but find yourself asking “why can’t this story be about lesbians?” when you watch them? Do you want to just curl up an lose yourself in a book for a couple of hours? Well, look no further, because this is the story for you!

Mail Order Bride is just on the right side of corny. The story is a bit cliched, but it works within the confines of the genre. Reading this book really felt like watching a romantic comedy play out before me. Although the writing is a bit simplistic at times, and a lot of moments feel rushed, Rachel Windsor really has a way of putting you right in the moment. I could literally see the story as if I were watching a movie (which, by the way, I would love to see this made into a movie).

My only real frustration comes in the form of the love story. While there’s definitely build-up to it, I never really felt like these two characters had much romantic chemistry, and when they finally get together it feels almost random. It’s too fast, honestly, and comes after an unnecessary amount of ups-and-downs (the kind that work really well in movies, but in books leave you scratching your head and wondering how things got resolved and then messed up again so quickly).

There is a bit of racism sprinkled throughout the text, in the form of Liz’s neighbor and landlord, who is also believed to have gotten a mail order bride. His, of course, is an Asian woman (whose country of origin is never specified) who is twenty years younger than him. It is pretty frustrating, especially since Liz’s mail order bride comes from the Ukraine, and therefore it’s clear that the author is aware that she didn’t have to include a racist stereotype in order to move that particular aspect of the plot forward. It’s also frustrating considering Ming Ling is the only explicitly non-white character in the story.

All of that aside, this book is sweet and sincere, with just the right amount of cheese. The friendships make me yearn for a close group of queer women friends, and the way that Liz’s mail order bride slowly fits herself into the group is so fun to read. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick read about an adorable lesbian just looking for The One and getting into a few romantic-comedy-style mishaps along the way.

Megan G reviews One Exquisite Night by Annie Anthony

Allie Jordan is a 38-year-old single mother who just recently came out of the closet. Terra Rossi is a 40-year-old who just ended a decade-long relationship with her married best friend. They are brought together by an unusual dating service called 1Night Stand. Neither expects more than a single night of passion and fantasy, but that is, of course, until they meet each other.

I had mixed feelings while reading this story. On one hand, it was so refreshing to read a story about older women becoming infatuated with one another (I really don’t want to use the words “falling in love”, since the story takes place over the course of 24 hours, but it really does feel like the author was going for “falling in love”). It was especially refreshing considering this is an erotica, and women over the age of thirty are often portrayed by the media as less sexually appealing (which just isn’t true). Allie and Terra were turned on by each other, and their sexual encounter did not feel any less sexy because of their age. If anything, their interesting combination of experience and lack thereof made for a more unique, satisfying read.

On the other hand, I felt as though the emotional side of the story was pushed a little too hard. It’s clear from the first moment they meet that Terra and Allie have a connection that will transcend the single night they paid for, but by the end of their time together they are talking about plans at least a year in the future. Having a connection is one thing; talking about still being a couple a year in the future after spending a day together seems a little intense. There is also a rather extended section of the story in which Terra and Allie give detailed speeches about their past partners, which felt a little strange considering the length of the novella, as well as how little time the women have known each other. I would have much rather more time be spent on the sexual connection between the women than have an overload of emotional connection after only a day. It’s clear these women will be seeing each other again after their one night is over. There’s no need to beat your reader over the head with it.

As this is an erotica, I think I would be remiss not to mention how scorching hot the sex scenes are. These women are incredibly attracted to one another, and it shows. My only complaint is that a few of the scenes felt cut unnecessarily short. As already mentioned, I would have rather read longer, more drawn out sexual scenes between the women, than get bogged down with a continuous repetition of “these women are soulmates”.

My only other complaint is that there was a moment in which the author could have included mention of trans lesbians, but instead chose to keep things rather cis-gender specific.

I know it sounds like I’m being a little harsh, but the truth is that I did enjoy this story. It was hot, it was original, and it left me wishing it had been a full-length novel, which is always a good sign of a novella. I would recommend it for anybody looking for something quick and sexy to read

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.

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.

Megan G reviews Forget Yourself by Redfern Jon Barrett

Blondee’s world is comprised of fifty huts divided between four groups of people: least, minor, moderate, and severe. Each person is grouped based on what crime they committed in their previous life, though nobody can really know for sure what their exact crime was, as everybody comes into this world with no memories of who they previously were. The few memories people have are recorded in a book and used as rules to govern this world. The memories Blondee begins to have, however, will change the course of her world.

This is a tough book to review. It’s speculative science-fiction unlike any I’ve read before. Blondee’s world is new, both to the reader and to the characters, creating a deep sense of uncertainty throughout the novel that never fully dissipates. Every character is an amnesiac, making the world outside their prison compound a complete mystery and creating a strong sense of claustrophobia. We don’t know where we are, and we don’t know where we came from. I will admit, the eventual reveal left me scratching my head, but it also left me thinking in a way that very few dystopian novels ever have.

The issue of sexuality is just as complex as the rest of the narrative. Although Blondee’s world seems far more open-minded than our own, monogamy is still the law of the land, and when Blondee begins to shift into the world of polyamory she is quickly shunned by the rest of the compound. This is a world where everybody must act in the same way and follow the same rules, and having two lovers simply doesn’t fit with those rules. Despite the reaction of the rest of the compound, Blondee continues to date Burberry and Fredrick simultaneously, and, for a short time, this works for all three. Then, Blondee begins having memories.

The way that memory is dealt with in this book was something I found particularly intriguing. Everybody arrives into the world fully formed, but with no idea of who they are. When they do have memories, they’re vague. “If one person cheats, the other breaks up with them.” Nothing is personal or specific, and so it is believed that all memories are simply reminders of how the world works. When you’re with someone, they live with you. When you break up, you have sex once, and then one of you moves out. Things that in our world are decided based on personal preference are rules in Blondee’s world. This eventually leads to terrible consequences when Blondee remembers marriage, finds a bridal magazine, and re-introduces heteronormativy and traditional gender roles into a world that operated rather smoothly without them. This shift is one of the many social commentaries embedded within the narrative, and it may potentially be the only one that I fully grasped.

There are a few warnings you should be aware of before picking this book up. There is a decent amount of fatphobia within this book, all dealt with in a very casual way. Suicide is also a theme, and while it is not omni-present, it is rather explicit when it comes up. [major spoilers]This book also includes the death of a queer woman and of several queer men [end spoilers]. There is also explicit sexual content throughout the book, if that is something you prefer to avoid.

Overall, Forget Yourself is a tightly woven, complex story that deeply examines our society, sexuality, and the personal in contrast to the general. While I did greatly enjoy this story, I must admit that a lot of what happened in the final section went over my head, leaving me confused and a little unsatisfied. A second read might be in order, now that I (sort of) know where everything ends up.

One final note about Forget Yourself: don’t be fooled by the quick pace. This book initially seems like a light, easy, mindless read. It isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

Danika reviews Girl Friends: The Complete Collection 1 by Milk Morinaga

Everything I’ve read talking about yuri seems to mention Girl Friends, so I thought it was time for me to read this quintessential yuri series. And I can see how it’s the example of yuri! It’s school girls, and a lot of blushing, and the typical “girls don’t do this” heteronormativity. I read this in the omnibus, and talk about a slow burn! This is almost 500 pages, and mostly just about Mariko making a new friend, falling in love with her, and then (much later) realizing that she’s fallen in love with her.

Girl Friends is super cute: exactly what you’d expect from the title and cover, though there is the melodrama of agonizing over a crush on a girl, but that should go without saying. It is also set in high school, so it does have some nudity, talk about sex, and underage drinking. (The cotton candy cuteness made me a little shocked by the nudity, for some reason.)

Interestingly, about three quarters of the way through, we get a perspective shift. After spending so long reading about Mariko’s doomed crush on Akko, we get to see Akko’s (mostly oblivious) reaction, and perhaps see the same thing happen to her? Maybe that’s what’s going to take up the next 500 page omnibus?

This is a fun, quick, addictive reading. I was craving it between readings. I’ll definitely be continuing on with the series!

Megan Casey reviews Black By Gaslight by Nene Adams

There’s a lot to say about this novel—both good and bad. It starts out like a house on fire but finishes in smoldering ruins. Here are some of the good things. First, there is the setting: 1888 London, smoggy, dark, and smelly. Lady Evangeline (Lina, or “the dark-haired lady”) St. Claire is an independently wealthy private investigator. She is tall and strong and versed in the martial arts, like Xena, who, along with Sherlock Holmes, is her inspiration. The Gaby/Watson character is called Rhiannon Moore, who Lina rescues from a life on the streets after falling in love with her at first sight.

In an odd twist, there is another Sherlock Holmes character that plays a big role in the novel. He is called Sherrinford Pike, who lives with his lover, Dr. Ormond Sacker. Lina’s love/hate relationship with Pike is charming and often hilarious. When she accuses him of shooting at her through a dressmaker’s window, he denies it, “even if I did once introduce a cobra into your sitting room. . . . Besides, I thought that you’d sworn not to mention that unfortunate incident with the air rifle again, St. Claire. . . . [and] the arsenic-filled bonbons were an honest mistake committed only once.”

And if that sounds a bit over the top, well, so is everything else in Black by Gaslight. Lina’s language is the language of Jane Austen squared—or maybe the language of the penny dreadfuls that Rhiannon delights in reading. “Rage beat at her and filled her veins with liquid fire. A red mist enshrouded her vision.” And to be truthful, the language is often so well—or oddly—crafted that it escapes being simply romance-novel drivel and often rises to the level of actual creativity. So does the relationship between Lina and Rhiannon. Both are smitten with the other at once, but neither thinks it appropriate to mention it to the other. And when their passion gets the best of them—as it does in strange situations, such as in a carriage when they are chasing a murderer—they will then play it down, or try to pretend it didn’t happen.

But it is almost as if the author gets tired of the novel halfway through. Repetition creeps in, as do inanities. The language becomes tedious, the amount of attention to describing Victorian-era women’s attire takes up too much space, the love story becomes sappy, important incidents are forced—rather than intelligently woven—into the plot, gore is splattered more-than-generously on virtually everything. And then there is the ending, where at least one of the women takes a series of actions so stupid that it defies even my imagination—which is one that has seen more than its share of ridiculous endings. It becomes just another Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the ripper novels, with Jack as someone that constantly hears the voices of prostitutes talking to him. Motivation? Backstory?

The main thing wrong with this novel is the same thing that is wrong with most independently published books in general and lesbian mysteries in particular: the lack of an even halfway-decent editor. Yes, this is an Uber novel and one that was almost certainly first posted to a fan site. And yes, fan sites are notorious for their unabashed enthusiasm for everything Xena (or everything Hermione or everything Kate Janeway) and lack of critical sensibility.

But lack of critical thinking bespeaks a lack of education, and a lack of education is the downfall of civilizations. If you don’t believe me, look around you. What’s worse, competent editors are very few and far between—it takes a great deal of study and reading to even attempt it, while university courses in the fine arts are becoming more and more unfunded. And let’s go even further; good editors command a respectable fee—as indeed they should—and few budding authors or even independent presses can afford one.

So too bad, what started out as a potential Top 20 List novel turned into something that I finished with a sense of relief. What could—with a very competent editor—have been rated near a 5 ends up at somewhere near a 3.

For 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