Allysse reviews Sapphistires: A global history of love between women by Leila J. Rupp

Sapphistires: A global history of love between women

By Leila J. Rupp

Sapphistires: A global history of love between women is a non-fiction book that aims to take the reader through the history of love between woman from all era and all places. Leila J. Rupp succeeds quite well in doing that. Her perspective is truly global as all part of the world are mentioned at some point in the book. I found this book to be a good introduction to this topic. I barely knew anything about it, especially about what happened/is happening outside of the western world and I found the book to give a good overview of things.

As you can imagine there is not a great deal of written information about love between woman in the past, but it didn’t stop the author from mentioning all eras. When there are no historical evidences she uses myths, legends, and stories to tell what might have been. I like the use of those stories to illustrate possible past. Of course, for an academic book it isn’t very well regarded to have no proof of what is said, but the author does make it clear that she uses myths, legends, and stories as a guiding point and that it is not necessarily the truth, just one possibility of truth.

The title is made vague on purpose. The author tries to include as many sort of relationships as possible and not label any of them. The chapter about naming and labeling was in that regard extremely interesting. The author tries to tell a story of love/desire/sex for other woman in whatever form possible. She uses women in a biological term. I did think that for a few cases she mentioned it might have been a story of transexuals but history doesn’t give us the luxury to know how people identified themselves at the time. They didn’t have the plethora of labels we had and very rarely left any evidence of how they felt. The author did address this question in the book.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this book. The writing was easy to read and comprehend and the text flowed easily. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in getting a general introduction to love/desire/sex between women.

Allysse reviews Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller


Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller

Patience and Sarah is a novel about two girls falling in love and trying to live together in the 19th century.

Love is a strong element in the novel. It is what drives the main characters into action but it is not the only kind of love we discover while reading. Patience sister in law has a longing for Patience and Parson falls in love with Sarah while she passes as a boy. But we can also find a more platonic love like the one Patience brother has for his sister. I really enjoyed how all the relationships were described, it always felt very true. I especially liked having the novel narrated alternatively by Patience and Sarah. It allows the reader to get a wider picture of both characters, getting their thoughts on the same situation. They both have very distinctive voices so it was never boring to switch voice and read again about what had already happened.

However the story is much more than a love story, it’s also a journey Patience and Sarah have to undertake before being able to live together. At first their love is instinctive, like love at first sight, and they are in consequence too quick in their reaction. Sarah is too innocent while Patience too cautious. They both have to undertake a long journey within themselves before being able to be re-united and in a way to test their love. I especially enjoyed Sarah’s journey and how she grew up, becoming more aware of the world.

Another aspect of the novel I really appreciated is how religion is treated and how Patience sees it. She never really think herself as a sinner because she feels that something as good as love cannot be a sin in God’s eyes. I really enjoyed how she relates her life to the Bible to create her paintings.

All in all it is an excellent book and I would recommend it to everyone. There was a few things I didn’t enjoy such as the change of tense in the verbs, but overall I loved Patience and Sarah and it is definitely going in my to reread list.

Allysse reviews Hellebore & Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff


Hellebore & Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic
Edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff

This anthology has previously been reviewed by Danika. It is one of the reason that drove me to read it. The other reason, as for Danika, was the cover.

I agree with everything she wrote in her review. The anthology is a collection of really well-written short stories which are able to establish a world and an atmosphere in the short span of pages they have to exist.

I plunged into the anthology with high expectations and I have never been disappointed. All the stories appealed to me and got me hooked from their very first words. There was a nice variety of genres and styles but not of quality. All the stories were good. I would definitely recommend this anthology to anyone and not just to a lesbian audience. Like Danika mentioned the stories are not about being lesbians, they are just fantasy short stories with characters who happens to be lesbians ,and most of the time it isn’t relevant to the story.

If you like fantasy, short stories with an added bonus of lesbians I would highly recommend you read this book. And if you like fantasy and short stories I would also highly recommend it.

JoSelle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff did an excellent job with editing the book. I’ve previously read Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories edited by them which was also of very high quality. After reading those two anthologies I am now definitely keeping an eye on whatever they will edit in the future.

Allysse reviewed Super by Mari Sroud


Super
by Mari SroudSuper is the story of (humans) super-heros who wander the streets at night to make cities safe. The book follows the life of Ophelia. She is not the narrator per se but very well could be. We live the adventure through her eyes.

Ophelia is a rich heiress by day and a super-hero by night with her girlfriend. Everything is going perfectly well in her world until other super-heros starts acting strangely, attacking each other. Soon Ophelia finds herself caught up in what is happening and has no choice but to go to the bottom of the mystery if she wants to live. She is helped by her girlfriend, her ex-boyfriend Marcus, and a couple of other super-heros.

The intrigue is fairly simple as a whole but well thought and well developed. I have never been really surprised by anything but it is really fun to read and well-written. The story is always moving forward, no scene is unnecessary and brings new information. I appreciated how the moments of actions are mixed with the more emotional ones. It is always well paced and the moments of calm and intimacy give reality and personality to the characters, making them feel three dimensional.

I also really enjoy the interactions between the characters. I could feel they all share a common past and histories. Enough is revealed to make us understand who they are to each other but never the entire explanations. Blanks are left and they made me very curious about the characters and their pasts. I’m hoping to get to know them better in the rest of the series.

The book is highly entertaining and I devoured it very quickly, enjoying plunging into this world of super-heros. After reading the book I found out it is the start of a series and I’m really happy about that because it means I’ll get to read more adventures with those characters.

While the book will probably never make it to my list of favourites, it is very well written and it makes for a light, easy and entertaining read. I’ll definitely read the second book and I hope it’ll be just as good or even better than the first. In any case, the first book promise a good second one.

Allysse reviewed “Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese” by Nicola Griffith

Song of bullfrogs, cry of geese

By Nicola Griffith

Song of bullfrogs, cry of geese is a science-fiction short story set in a world in which a disease – or symptoms as it is named – is weakening the human race, slowly making it die. The story particularly focus on one immunologist, Molly. She lives on her own, recluse, near Atlanta. She is given food and supplies regularly by the city in hope that she would change her mind and come live with them and not outside. They want her because they believe she can find a cure, or at least try to. But she doesn’t want to.

The reason for it is simple: Helen died in the place Molly lives in and it is the last link to her she has. The story might be set in a science-fiction setting but it is very much a story about loss and grief. Molly is staying because of all the memories of Helen, because of all that the place reminds her of.

In spite of being alone, the place Molly lives in is full of life and buzzing with animal activity. It feels a little like she is not that alone until she realizes that the animals don’t care about her. SPOILERS She is just another animal for them and she doesn’t belong in this place in which she can’t survive on her own, in which Helen is no more. It is not until she comes to realize that she has been living a lie, staying here because of her grief that she is able to heal and understand that no matter what her love one will not come back and that she can do better with her life than wait and watch. END OF SPOILERS

Like I mentioned earlier this short story is very much about grief and loss and the slow process of healing from it. It might be science-fiction but the genre is barely visible, simply being in the background. The story is well written and it all flows easily under the reader’s eyes. I won’t remember it as exceptional and will probably never reread it, but I enjoyed it while reading and loved the images Nicola Griffith used in it, it made me curious about her other works.

If you want to read the story, you can find it here @nicolagriffith.com.

Allysse reviews Time Well Bent edited by Connie Wilkins


Time Well Bent
Edited by Connie WilkinsA Wind Sharp as Obsidian by Rita Oakes
The Final Voyage of the Hesperus by Steven Adamson
Roanoke by Sandra Barret
A Marriage of Choice by Dale Chase
The High Cost for Tamarind by Steve Berman
A Spear Against the Sky by M.P. Ericson
Sod‘Em by Barry Lowe
Morisca by Erin Mckay
Great Reckonings, Little Rooms by Catherine Lundoff
Barbaric Splendor by Simon Sheppard
Opening Night by Lisabet Sarai
A Happier Year by Emily Salter
The Heart of the Storm by Connie Wilkins
At Reading Station, Changing Trains by C.A. Gardner

This anthology has a very interesting theme. It aims to retell some historical events with a twist: what if the major characters of those events hadn’t been straight?

As soon as I learned about this book I wanted to read it. I love History, short stories and obviously I love reading books with non major heterosexual characters. So that one was bound to be perfect. But it turned out not to be as much of an exciting read as it promised to be, at least not for me.
The problem was, a lot of the historical events portrayed in the book are minor ones, not always well known. It made the reading difficult at first as I was trying to guess where and when I was in time and couldn’t really enjoy the stories themselves. So after a while, I just stopped trying to guess and just enjoyed the stories as they were, forgetting all about the premise of this anthology and found I was enjoying the stories much more this way.
There are, at the end of every story, a little talk from the writers about their choice of historical events and explaining them a bit which was helpful to place the stories in time. But that was not enough for me to really enjoy the retelling. I prefered to think of the stories as not related to a real History when I didn’t know anything about the historical events behind the words.

Though, what I found to be a problem is not necessarily one. The range of events and places in the world covered by the stories is quite extensive, making room for a lot of different civilisations, which I think is a strength in itself. It only become a weakness if like me, you’ve been raised and taught about the Western world and not much else (and haven’t read much about the rest either).

The stories in themselves were all well written and quite enjoyable to read. The styles are varied and everyone can find a story to enjoy. The tones as well are always really different, for example I found Sod‘Em by Barry Lowe to be really funny, while A Marriage of Choice by Dale Chase was more dramatic and Barbaric Splendor by Simon Sheppard full of colours and sensations.

All in all I would recommend this anthology, but I would advise you to forget about your History lessons and just enjoy the stories without the real historical background in mind.

Allysse reviews Women’s Barrack by Tereska Torres


Women’s Barracks
by Tereska TorrèsWomen’s Barracks is a novel by Tereska Torrès. It depicts the lives of a few women and girls who worked for the Free French Forces that existed in London during World War 2. The novel is a sort of collection of snapshots of their lives. It is based upon the journals the author wrote during her time in the Free French Froces.There is no plot per se but only the portraits of those persons trying to live through the war.

Our point of entry in the story is the voice of the narrator who was one of those women, who experienced everything with the rest of the protagonists in the book. However she never really takes any part in any of the actions. She is a constant presence, someone in whom everybody confesses their story and she merely relates them to us, always staying in the background herlsef, never involved in anything. She is just a witness relating what she saw and heard. It can be easily understood though. The novel was apparently the first pulp novel to candidly address lesbian relationships and the author married at the time might have not want to be associated with the lives of her characters. She even refused its publication in France (where she lived), but later on published her journals there under another title. I haven’t read or even had a look at her journals so I don’t know how much of the novel is based from her observations and reality compared to and how much she created for the novel.

To get back to the characters… they are a mix of women and girls, all of them out of their country with no home and no family. Dynamics soon takes place between them, the older women trying to protect the younger ones, to educate them. It is an extraordinary time – in the sense of out of the ordinary – and as time goes by and the war doesn’t end there is a loss of hope for everyone. War is becoming the everyday life, chaos normal, and the island that is the Free French Forces constitutes the home of those women and girls. They seek confort among each other, security and reassurance in a world that is becoming familiar, filled with people they understand and that understand them.

The author mentions a few “real” lesbians but they are merely in the background of the novel, appearing here and there but never really taking the main place in the novel. However the author describes to us the relationships of other women who sleeps with other women but are not normally lesbians. I actually like how she describe those relationships. For Claude and Ursula for example it is a simple relationship of love/control/fascination. Claude being much older than Ursula she is sort of her teacher that Ursula idolized. As for Claude and Mickey it is pure amusement. Mickey is depicted as a lover, as a woman always having fun and making the most of life. She simply loves anyone regardless of their gender.

I really enjoyed the novel but I have to admit that at first I expected it to be more scandalous. But then, I remember that I am a reader in the 2010’s and that I definitely don’t live in the same cultural environment and experience as people in the 1950’s.
But still, I didn’t find the novel really shocking and to me it is not about the lesbian relationships that happened during World War 2 between the women of the story. It is a story about people who were all lost in some way, seeking comfort and warmth among each other, clinging to what they knew, to what felt familiar and safe. It is also a novel about life trying to keep on as normal in extraordinary circumstances, a world in which games of love still happened. I especially like this quote “There seemed to be only frenzied sexual adventures, promiscuity, or these sad, strange inversions. I wondered unhappily wether love could exist in out upset wartime world, the plain, faithful love between one woman and one man.” because I feel it sums up the novel quite well. In spite of everything all those women are simply looking for love but don’t know how to find it in a world in which your lover could be taken away from you and die at any moment.

Allysse reviews Burning Bright by Melissa Scott


Burning Bright
By Melissa Scott

Burning Bright is a story about power struggle set in a science-fiction universe in which two different races co-exist – the Human and the Hsai – but are battling for power. Burning Bright is the name of the planet in which pilot Quinn Lioe docks her ship for repairs which makes her spend a few days on the planet. This planet is an important commercial link between the Human Republic and the Hsai Empire, but it is also a centre of activity for the Game. Lioe is a designer of scenarios for this Game and is aiming to spend her few days on the planet to launch her newest one. However her interest in the Game soon involves her in the power struggle that is happening between Humans and Hsai.

The plot of the novel is complex and the author takes the time to settle the characters, the places, and the plots. At the beginning we feel all the characters are connected via one another but we can’t quite see how they are all going to move towards the same point. The novel being science-fiction the author has to explain to the reader all the aspects of the world she creates and Melissa Scott does it very well. All the explanations come from the thoughts and actions of the characters and nothing feels forced on the reader. We gather all the information we need from the characters at the same time than the plots moves forward. Nothing ever feels unecessary and we dive easily into the world created by Melissa Scott. We slowly discover the game of power and the role of the different characters and as we turn the pages everything falls into its right place making the picture clear for the reader. It is a very gripping book. Once you start reading it you want to know more, you want to discover who’s who and who does what and why. This is another strong point of the novel: its characters. All the main characters are fully developped and have complex personalities. They are not black and white with a single motivation to do good or evil. They are shades of grey, with a past that has modelled them towards a future they are trying to build for themselves. Some of the characters become caught in the plot without wanting to and Melissa Scott transcribes very well their reactions and feelings.

So far I haven’t talked about why I picked this novel to review for The Lesbrary. In the author’s world, the characters have fluid sexuality. It’s not something that is questionned or even important, they just sometimes fall in love with men or with women and it’s just the same. In regards to The Lesbrary, the pilot Quinn Lioe has an affair with the docker and gamer Roscha. I liked the reality of their story which begins as a one night stand but evolves into something more complicated as the story goes on. I especially liked the subtle treatment given to it by the author which made their story feels very real. The only point I didn’t understand well was their love scene. It’s not that it was badly written but it felt unecessary. Every scene of the novel brings information to the reader about the world, the plot, or the characters but this scene didn’t bring any useful information at all. I think the scene could have been cut and the story wouldn’t have suffered for it. But that’s really my only negative point about the book.

In her novel Melissa Scott succeeds in creating very interesting and deep characters as well as a very intriguing plot, in a rich and complex setting, that goes at a pace that keeps the reader hooked to her words. This is a very good read and I would highly recomment it.

Allysse reviews Becoming by Wendy Clark


Becoming
Wendy ClarkBecoming is the story of Alison and Marilyn. Told from the point of view of Alison, we follow her life from the moment Marilyn reappears in it while wandering into their common past at university.

The novel is divided into two parts. The first one, called “cocoon”, introduces us to the characters and their present. However the present is not as important as the past and only serves as an excuse to dive into Alison’s recollection of what happened during her time at university with Marilyn.
The writing is often slow and repetitive and as a result Alison appears quite dull to the reader. It wasn’t much fun to read this part but I was curious about the past and it is what kept me going. I didn’t care about the present because all that was happening seemed to always trigger the same reaction from Alison and so created the effect of repetition.
The name of that first part is quite adequate. Alison is in fact trapped in a cocoon, the cocoon of her everyday and repetitive life. In the second part however, the pace changes as we witness Alison breaking free from her safe (and boring) cocoon to emerge into life.
In the second part we remain in the present – most of the past having been explored before – and Alison is finally learning to break free from the very strict rules that had always dictated her life. She is learning to make her own choices and to question her past and the decision that have been made for her. The contrast with the first part is quite clear by the fact that we stay in the present and that we are moving instead of staying put. Marilyn and Alison embark in a road trip for Marilyn’s job which mark a the start of actual physical movement as well as psychological one.

The novel is build around the two main characters. They met at university, Alison being the shy girl from a very religious background while Marilyn is the adventurous, free and wild girl. At the contact of Marilyn, Alison learns to slowly break free from her rules. Their relationship is quite complicated. Alison is fascinated by Marilyn and her wildness. It attracts her, introduces her to a world she had been taught to think was evil but she discovers it is not as bad as she thought. She is a sort of experiment for Marilyn at the start but rapidly become her friend. Their relationship never appeared to me to be more than friendship, adoration, and idolatry which made me wonder why my library had shelved this book under the “Gay and Lesbian” fictions. Of course some moments of their relationship could be read as subtext for a lesbian love but it never felt quite right. I could only see a strange friendship in the author’s words.

SPOILERS I finally understood in the last scene of the book the shelve choice of my library, when both Alison and Marilyn finally share their burdening secrets, breaking free of those burdens and getting ready for a new life. Though what I didn’t understand was the love scene itself. For me the relationship between the two women had never been related to love in that sense. I could picture Alison wanting Marilyn because that was made quite clear but for me she was more fascinated with that woman who opened up her world than really loving her. However I really couldn’t picture Marilyn loving Alison in that way. This is probably due to the fact that we never have her point of view and always see her through Alison but still the last scene felt entirely wrong and unnecessary, like it was ruining their relationship. END OF SPOILERS

In spite of my comments, I still enjoyed reading the book as a whole (when I ignore the last scene). The first part was excrutiatingly slow sometimes and it probably could have been shorter but it made sense in the end with the second part and the liberation of Alison. However the last scene was unecessary and didn’t quite fit with the rest. For me the book is about two broken women, two women who had suffered some kind of sexual trauma and have tried to live with it as best they could, and finally breaking free of their cocoons with the help, presence, and support of each other.
I wouldn’t particularly recommend this book, but if you’re interested in a story with characters trying to break free from a very strict religious background and trying to live with the burden of a kind of sexual trauma to finally come of age and accept oneself, then the book might interest you.

Allysse reviews The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif


The World Unseen
by Shamim SarifThe World Unseen is set in South Africa in the 1950’s and relates the story of two women – Miriam and Amina – and the way their lives impact each others.

Let me start this review by saying that I love this book. After a lot of trouble to get it from my library I read it in two days, unable to put it down unless I really had to.
What I love most about the novel is that Shamim Sarif takes the time to explore the two main characters but also their family and surroundings. The story is divided into three main sections and we can feel those separations quite well when reading the novel. However it is a smooth and logical process. Every part is introduced and possible only from the actions and developments of the previous sections.

Through the pages we are introduced to a culture, an environment, and we feel as a foreigner getting to understand an unfamiliar place. All characters’ point of views are explored objectively. We may dislike a character but it is from our own choices as we are given the key to understand them and their behaviour.
The author takes us into a different era and a different culture but it feels like we are with the characters, getting to know them and sharing their lives. We can sense the political background of South Africa in the 1950’s. It is fully present but only through the lives and actions of the characters. It is not emphasized or put in the front line of the text, it is simply there as a fact of life of those characters.

Shamim Sarif is a very skillful writer to set the tone of a character, a culture, and a place. She never uses many words but in a few lines, through a few gestures and thoughts, she conveys all the meaning necessary for the reader to understand each character and its motivation.

There is one minor aspect of the novel I didn’t enjoy much. It is the use of non-english words. I wouldn’t have minded so much if a glossary or footnotes had been included to give a translation or definition of the terms. Most of the time the context provides a sort of definition but the words mostly remained vague to me and I was feeling a bit irritated at not understanding them fully.

All in all I highly recommend this novel for its numerous interesting characters as well as for the discovery of another culture. I am not an expert about Idians in South Africa in the 1950’s, but it does feel like Shamim Sarif transcribed the feel of a period and culture very well.

On a none literary note, I also highly recommend the film. Directed by Shamim Sarif herself, it is very respectful of the book but the focus is put more on Amina and Miriam than in the novel. The book really is more about them and their environment, their families and friends, taking the time to explore the life of behaviour of all.