Danika reviews Meanwhile, Elsewhere edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett

This is a huge book. Metaphorically, of course: it’s a big step in queer lit that we have a collection like this now, a collection of SFF stories all by and about trans people. We’re finally moving towards having stories that neither minimize queerness nor make it our only defining feature. But actually, I’m talking about it’s physical size. It’s 447 pages, and the book is taller and wider than your average paperback: more like a textbook than a novel. Although I really enjoyed reading this, it did take me a while to get through, because its physical size makes it awkward to hold and the length was intimidating.

It was well worth the time it took me to read it, though! I was happy to see that there are plenty of sapphic stories included: in fact, at least 10 of the 25 stories has a women-loving-women main character. Although this collection is sci fi and fantasy, and trans people in general, there’s definitely a stronger presence of science fiction and trans women.

As always in an anthology, some of these were bigger hits than others, but even the stories I didn’t personally enjoy I could see other people loving. (Like “It’s Called Fashion,” which I found difficult to follow, but I can see other readers really clicking with.) The stories vary a lot in their scope and premise. Some build a complex cyberpunk world in 20 pages, while others imagine a world only slightly different than ours. One story follows someone in space quietly ruminating about microaggressions, while another follows a woman whose brain-eating amoeba communicates through dreams and grows via orgasms.

A few stories I found so fascinating that I could easily write papers about them: “Satan, Are You There? It’s Me, Laura.” by Aesling Fae attempts to reclaim Satan as a trans woman, and as the protector of trans women. Outside of context, the devil and a trans woman sounds offensive, but Fae makes it an empowering thesis. Like Carmilla the series takes the monstrous lesbian and turns her into a hero, this story does the same thing with the devil.

The other story that really made me think was “Rent, Don’t Sell” by Calvin Gimpelevich. In this world, the technology for body-swapping had been made viable, but under capitalism, it’s used for things like: swapping your body with a trainer’s so they can do your exercise for you, hiring someone to detox for you, and, of course, having sex while inhabiting someone else’s body. This has a lot of interesting discussions about identity. The side character is a trans women who swapped bodies with a trans guy, but now regrets it and wants to transition with her own body, so she’s suing to try to get it back.

Some of my other favorites were “What Cheer” by RJ Edwards, where the main character spends a couple days with her alien close, and learns appreciation for herself and her life; “After the Big One” by Cooper Lee Bombardier, where a motley crew of queer argue about discourse and privilege, but have to come together to survive disaster; and “Gamers” by Imogen Binnie, which is about Zelda and time travel and being in an unhealthy relationship with a dependent girlfriend.

I do want to mention some serious trigger warnings for transphobia, transmisogyny, violence, gore, and rape in various stories. Specifically, the one story I had a problem with is “Delicate Bodies” by Bridget Liang, in which the main character is a zombie who rapes and then kills her ex-boyfriends/crushes. I get the zombie revenge fantasy, but I was getting nauseated reading about her brutally raping multiple people, and the text seems to suggest that they deserve it. They may have been jerks, but they didn’t do anything comparable. It soured the collection some for me. I also want to mention a trigger warning for suicide in “Visions” (though that’s not one of the sapphic stories).

I highly recommend this collection to just about everyone. It’s ambitious and necessary and has some fantastic stories. (And that sapphic story abundance doesn’t hurt!)

Julie Thompson reviews A Heart Well-Traveled: Tales of Long Distance Romance & Unlikely Outcomes by edited by Sallyanne Monti

A Heart Well-Traveled presents nineteen stories, highlighting the stress and strain, and love and hope between couples physically and emotionally separated by circumstance. Long distance love and all of its baggage (distance, work, social obligations, limited free time) are things with which I am all too familiar, making this collection especially appealing to me.

As these short stories unfold, we travel from big cities to wilderness treks, online encounters and trips across State lines and overseas. They also take numerous chances on affairs of the heart between seeming opposites and the risks associated with starting all over again in new places. This anthology does a wonderful job of illuminating the uncertainty, hesitation, anxiety, as well as the exhilaration, passion, and love these women share. We venture into an uncertain union as Cameron, daughter of Hollywood royalty, and Emily, a Nebraska native attempting to navigate the Hollywood machine, play against type in “Just Like in the Movies” by N.R. Dunham. In “Trail Magic” by Michele M. Reynolds, Nat discovers that faith can become a tangible concept when she stops to pick up a Dove. And a two-year relationship facing a fork in the road between Butte, Montana, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

One of my favorite stories, “A Caramel Macchiato with a Friend” by Lila Bruce, takes place between two women who meet at a coffee shop after chatting online for about a year. Remember that X-Files episode, “2Shy” in which women become gelatinous goo after online dating gone very, very wrong? Think of how much heartache (not to mention that whole staying alive part) could have been spared if those women had had a friend standing by with a safe phrase. Lila Bruce’s story is funny, awkward, and cute. Lauren trips all over herself and fumbles her way through her coffee meet-up with Dana in Jerry Lewis-fashion, making what she thinks is the worst possible impression. As varied as these stories are, you’re likely to find one (or two or three) that you relate to in some way. I never did online dating, preferring to read through the Lust and Love Labs in The Stranger. But the swirl of emotions and nerves (and the worries of Katy, Lauren’s friend) resonates with parts of my experiences.

The variety of ways in which these authors define love between women from a wide range of demographics and HEA (Happily Ever After) prevents dull repetition. Overall, it’s a fine romance for hopeless romantics and cautious cynics alike, with plenty of sugar and spice, however (and whenever) you find your sweethearts.

Rebecca reviews of Love on the Road 2013 edited by Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila

Love on The Road 2013 edited by Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila is an anthology of twelve stories depicting love and travel in diverse locations like India, Alaska, and New York. I really wanted to enjoy this collection because it seemed like a promising and fun concept. However, I just couldn’t get into several of the stories at all. I loved Doreen E. Massey’s “The Upside Down Trees” and Kimberly Cawthon’s “Cindy in Manhattan” which are really well-written with fascinating and layered characters. However, a few of the other pieces suffer from dull or stereotypical characters and pointlessly meandering plots. There are a few LGBTQ characters featured in the stories but they are side characters. However, there are two stories where women’s romantic relationships with women are featured.

Mohita Nagpal’s “The Girl with the Egg-Shaped Face” is well-written and interesting. The author labels her piece as “seventy percent non-fiction.” The female protagonist is instantly attracted to the titular girl with the egg-shaped face, Shilpi, when they meet on a bus while travelling to the Jaipur Literature Festival. The main character is well-crafted and her pining for the object of her affection is relatable. The brief interactions between Shilpi and the narrator are poignant and painfully realistic. However, the narrator’s crush soon takes an invasive turn. She goes from entertaining harmless fantasies in her head to Facebook stalking and she even obtains personal information about Shilpi and follows her to another city. Her intrusive actions are disturbing but you cannot help but feel empathy for the narrator who has been unlucky in love and is entranced by her fantasies. Although the melancholy ending may disappoint some readers, I believe that it is a satisfying and organic conclusion.

Naima Lynch’s fictional work “All That You Forgot to See” takes readers from New York City to Egypt with Althea, a lonely middle-aged woman who is sleepwalking her way through life. Although she displays racist and xenophobic behaviour, the story’s gently optimistic ending indicates that there may be some hope for Althea. However, her repression and her inability to connect with people as well as her sad and stagnant life are achingly realistic. Lynch makes a seemingly unrelatable character all too human. Althea’s best friend, Lorraine, is the heart of this story and the nuances of their relationship are poignant and well-developed. Lynch does not assign labels to the women and, without giving too much away, the characters and the nature of their relationship are surprising but still seem true to life.

If you’re looking for a lot of LGBTQ characters and stories, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you like travel anthologies, it is a decent one time read with several well-crafted gems sprinkled throughout. I would definitely reread Mohita Nagpal’s “The Girl with the Egg-Shaped Face” and Naima Lynch’s “All That You Forgot to See.”

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. She is an avid but sadly not very prolific reader and writer.   

Rebecca reviews Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South edited by Connie Griffin

The 2015 non-fiction collection Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South edited by Connie Griffin is interesting and moving but sadly not very diverse. The book focuses on the coming out experiences of Southern lesbian, queer-identified, gay, and transgender people. The book’s unique title is inherently Southern. It comes from the chant that young Southerners use to spell Mississippi. These sixteen first-person essays chronicle experiences which range from both mundane and extraordinary to hopeful and devastating. These deeply personal narratives examine first love, gender identity and performance, homophobia, finally learning the language to describe themselves, belonging, and death.

The collection includes several noteworthy stories from lesbian perspectives. Stephanie Woolley-Larrea’s “Straight as Florida’s Turnpike” is an interesting and well-written narrative which recounts the author’s exploration of her identity and her journey to become a mother. She also recalls her search for a community and a sense of belonging. Woolley-Larrea’s relatable journey to understand her identity and sexuality even includes her unsuccessful attempts to adopt different lesbian personalities including ‘Nature Lesbian’ and ‘Activist Lesbian.’ In an endearing touch, the narrative includes the author’s conversation about marriage with her young triplets.

Susan L. Benton’s “The Other Side of the Net” is a unique and inspirational essay. She details her life as a sorority girl which is at first fulfilling and happy because she finally feels that she belongs. She even has a secret romance with a fellow sorority sister. However, Benton is soon outed and kicked out of her sorority. Despite these devastating setbacks, she emerges victorious in academia and on the sports field as she triumphs over her former sorority sisters in an important college volleyball match.

Another notable essay is Merril Mushroom’s informative and disturbing “The Gay Kids and the Johns Committee” which highlights the horrors experienced by lesbians and gay men in South Florida. She carefully captures the fear and hysteria during the late 1950s as she recalls how gay people were hounded. Mushroom recounts newspapers gleefully outing people and publicly revealing their personal information. The author deftly combines historical events with personal memories of the era as she also recollects her experiences of surviving during this dangerous time. She even briefly pretends to be straight to escape a detective who was seeking to expose gay people. She also remembers police officers harassing and arresting people at gay clubs and the gay beach. Mushroom’s essay is an unforgettable and important read. Although the incidents are horrifying, it is vital that readers learn about these tragedies and injustices.

While I did enjoy many of the narratives in this collection, I was extremely disappointed with the lack of narratives from people of colour. Although the book’s editor, Connie Griffin, briefly acknowledges the collection’s glaring lack of diversity, she does not really address it. While the essays do encompass a variety of experiences and readers of different backgrounds and sexualities may find elements to relate to, this collection is overwhelmingly white. Therefore, it misses the abundant opportunities to explore the rich intersections of sexuality, race and gender.

“Ben’s Eyes” by Louie Crew is the only piece which represents a gay African-American’s experience. This engaging and well-detailed narrative follows young Ernest Clay as he discovers his sexuality with his older cousin, Ben while at his grandmother’s house in Georgia. The essay provides an invaluable look into the lives of African-American people in the South. It also examines strong family dynamics and debunks negative stereotypes of Southern African-American people, especially with regards to homosexuality. However, this piece is written by a white man. Although Crew is Clay’s husband and the essay is sensitively written, it is sad that this collection’s only representation of black people has been presented to readers by a white man.

James Villanueva’s “The Gathering” is another notable essay which is well-crafted and intensely moving. The narrative focuses on a family party for a gay man who is dying of AIDS. Villanueva also recalls his own coming out journey and he examines the complexities of family, death, and identity. His interactions with his family and especially with his sick Tío Jacob are touching and optimistic. Villanueva’s piece is a little lengthy but it is not noticeable because his story is so rich and fascinating. The essay’s inclusion of aspects of the author’s Mexican culture is a welcome addition as it provides some much-needed variety in this collection.

Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South contains many original narratives which are poignant and eloquently written. While these essays do not hesitate to recall the loneliness and pain associated with being different and coming out, there are instances of optimism, love and acceptance. However, the book is not a casual or easy read. The essays are lengthy and quite dense because they confront heavy themes like death, identity, and religion. There are also instances of homophobia and violence so readers sensitive to these issues should be vigilant. While I did enjoy the collection, the lack of representation of and from people of colour was disturbing. The book claims to represent a cross-section of Southerners but the narratives are almost exclusively white. I would have liked to see a variety of experiences and voices.

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. She is an avid but sadly not very prolific reader and writer.  

Marthese reviews The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance edited by Melanie Gillman and Kori Michele Handwerker

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“Anyway, I’m pretty sure malevolent spirits wouldn’t scrub your bathtub”

The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance is, as the name implies, a queer paranormal romance comic anthology, published in July 2016. I had donated to a crowd-funding campaign for this anthology and I’ve been meaning to read it since it arrived in my inbox.

The anthology starts with some words from Melanie Gillman on the importance of representation in literature. A little disclaimer from my end; this is not a lesbian anthology, it’s a queer anthology which represents various genders. The stories are all non-explicit and quiet romantic.

I cannot go into much detail since the stories are short by my favourite stories were “Ouija Call Center”, “Shadow’s Bae”, “Till Death” and “Yes No Maybe”. “Ouija Call Center” is about a client that uses an Ouija call center to contact someone diseased and the operator! “Shadow’s Bae” is about a monster that becomes friends with a human and they stand up for each other. “Till Death” is a cute story and critical comic about an elderly couple and ghosts that stand up for their community against gentrification. Finally, “Yes No Maybe” is a comic about a tenant who tries to contact the ghost that’s in the apartment and is really adorable.

The art in the anthology varies from piece to piece; they are all so different from each other but this helps to distinguish one story from the other. The length on the story, I believe, is just right–not too long or too short.

The anthology as a whole has a lot of diversity in its representation of gender, ethnicity, culture and age. This collection does not shy away from using different cultures and mythologies for its base and does not include just stories with young characters. Many characters were people of colour. The relationships in the different stories are usually between a human and a supernatural being. Overall, most of the stories are really fluffy and cute so be warned! Although some had a darker tint.

What I like about this anthology are two things: its general cuteness and its queerness. There is a lot of representation for people out of the gender binary spectrum. This book is like a safe space, to enjoy a story rather than who is in the story. I’d recommend this book to those interested in comic anthologies, quirky criticism, cute stories, paranormal and overall stories that go beyond gender.

Stephanie reviews Her Sigh: A Lesbian Anthology by Victoria Zagar

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As most of you know, I LOVE short story collections, so when I came across Her Sigh: A Lesbian Anthology by Victoria Zagar, I thought I’d give it a go.  Short stories don’t get a lot of love in lesbian literature, (most folks want to read romance novels), so I’m always excited when I see that a new collection has been released.

To start, Her Sigh isn’t quite what I expected. Silly me, when I saw that it was an anthology, I thought it was a multi-author collection; it’s not. All fourteen stories are by Zagar, and they mostly have a similar theme: love. Zagar also works hard at creating dystopian/fantasy settings where love seems to conquer all, and in a few of the stories, it does.

For example, both “Sophie’s Song” and “Expiration Date” focus on post-nuclear war society, although neither story gives us much information on the wars, or how far into the future the stories are set. “Expiration Date” is a rather interesting take on family in an era where population control is paramount to society’s existence. In order to quell married couples’ desire for children, the government has come up with a novel solution, the Realichild, where couples are allowed to raise a child for limited period of time. Revealing anything more might spoil the story, but I really liked the way that Zagar normalizes the lesbian couple, but problematizes the ways in which the nuclear family (no pun intended) is still central to a happy family.

A few of the other stories read a bit like fairy tales or fables: a princess must decide whether or not to marry a prince when her true love is a female knight; a young woman seeks an arranged marriage to save her family, but is in love with the village seamstress, and another young woman realizes that she is the reincarnation of an ancient creature’s lover.

Overall, the collection is a solid read although there were a few times when I just rolled my eyes. How many cabins in the woods can there be in lesbian la-la land?  How many old world villages? Additionally, a couple of the stories felt a bit rushed. Short stories are difficult to write, so I understand that everything can’t fit, but I do think that if you’re going to create dystopian societies, space colonies, or old world villages, then make sure that they don’t all feel the same, otherwise your readers might become bored.  Although this wasn’t really my cup of tea, if you like lesbian romance with a flair for the otherworldly thrown in, this may be the collection for you.

Julie Thompson reviews Me and My Boi edited by Sacchi Green

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“Gender has no boundaries, and neither does lust.” — Sacchi Green, Introduction

Me and My Boi, edited by Sacchi Green, is a collection of twenty erotic encounters between those who, in addition to identifying as lesbian, also identify as bois, butches, masculine-of-center, or eschew gender labels altogether. These individuals seek out sexual romps and emotionally charged situations. Sometimes they satisfy existing desires or discover new ones when paired with the right partner at the right time. The diversity of experiences showcased in this volume allow for a greater possibility of connection with readers. That being said, not every story will resonate with every reader; we all have personal preferences that will find a home in (hopefully) at least one or two of the stories presented here.

The stories unfold against quotidian and risqué situations, well-worn paths and the unknown. Readers peer in on a car garage in the English countryside as two women get acquainted (“A Fresh Start” by Melissa Mayhew); join long-term partners on their Parisian honeymoon (“Gargoyle Lovers” by Sacchi Green); and get locked into a bar bathroom with a bittersweet memory (“Hot Pants” by Jen Cross). The characters negotiate intimacy dynamics and grapple with what their choices may or may not communicate about their identities (“Nisrine Inside” by Pavini Moray; “Resurrection” by Victoria Villasenor).

While I enjoyed the collection overall, there were a few stories suited to my personal taste and that I look forward to revisiting. Strong women who are handy with a tool, sport grease smudged jeans, and possess a subtle tenderness, are the characters that melt me to the page. In Sommer Marsden’s Bennie, Ava finds her long held desires reciprocated with the handsome butch-next-door, Bennie. I appreciate how Me and My Boi (M&MB) shares a range of sexual desires, which include needs for hard and soft; fast and slow; bound and free; and more. For people who want to flirt with danger, M&MBhas it. For people who want a safer, yet no less lusty fling, they’ll find it here. I admit that I struggled with the first half of “Resurrection” because I wasn’t sure how much was consensual seduction and how much was coercion. I know that as a reader I engage with stories through my own lenses. I’m interested in how other readers interpreted that portion of the story.

Other stories engaged me more on an emotional level than on an erotic one. One such story  is “Not Just Hair” by Annabeth Leong. Darla is eager to find a butch that will allow her to act out her desires as a femme top. The usual kink crowd gathers around scenes of controlled lust or cruise for playmates. Observing and participating femmes, butches, tops, and bottoms assess each other for possibilities and compatibility. Darla struggles against the restrictions imposed on her as a femme, by her partners, and by the group. When she thinks she’s spotted an unfamiliar butch, she eagerly approaches, only to find that it’s someone she knows. Shawn, at heart a butch bottom, is also breaking out of the stifling role as a femme bottom that her partner had expected. The two women see each other and embrace the opportunity to be who they are inside and out.

The stories offer reflections of how we see ourselves and how we see others, as well as how we believe others should think of us and of themselves. It’s a mouthful and a mindful to process. Yet, more often than not, erotica at its best is a delectable mixture of physical, intellectual, emotional elements.

Elinor reviews Best Lesbian Erotica 20th Anniversary Edition edited by Sacchi Green

Best Lesbian Erotica 20th Anniversary Edition, edited by Sacchi Green, delivers seventeen creative stories with all the heat you’ve come to expect from the series. It offers everything from a pro Domme feeling more than expected for a hot female client (“A Professional,”) to tryst with a hitchhiker (“Dust”) to werewolf sex (“Hot Blood”). A cop and a jewel thief get it on in a moving subway car in “The Further Adventures of Miss Scarlet.” Doppelgangers switch roles again and again in “Mirror, Mirror.” In “Luscious and Wild,” a kinky young couple enjoys a weekend in a hotel room. A troupe of drag kings pull an audience member on stage for flirtatious attention and she surprises them all with her response in “Easy.”

This edition had a surprising number of musician-themed stories, so if you’re longing for lesbian musician erotica, you should definitely pick this up. Girls form a band, and fall into bed with each other, in Liverpool in the 1960s in “Ascension.” An aging rockstar has a secret, kink-filled relationship with an emerging star and tour mate in “Reunion Tour.” In “Give and Take,” a former up-and-coming musician turned venue tech has a one-night stand with a younger up-and-comer.

In addition to “Ascension,” this anthology has a few other stories set in the past. “The Royalty Underground” shows two young British women meeting and having sex in a crowded tube station-turned-shelter during a World War II air raid. In “Grindhouse,” a burlesque dancer in 1950s New York dabbles in kinky female-only films and gets exactly what she wants from her co-star after the cameras stop rolling.

My favorite story was probably “Tomato Bondage.” In this, the only story about long-term partners, a pair of farmers–and switches–get creative with outdoor bondage. I appreciated the practicality of these inventive heroines, and that the sex in the story seemed to benefit as much from the couple’s bond as from their originality. I also really liked “Make Them Shine,” in which a fat femme dominant gets her boots shined, and more, by a genderqueer sub. The descriptions in this story were rich and evocative, and I loved the narrator.

There were a few stories that weren’t my cup of tea, though they might be yours. In fairness, I’m in the first trimester of pregnancy right now (yay!) and I know my distaste for “Smorgasbord,” in which a food artist and a food writer indulge in a sexual and artistic food-filled romp, was due in part to the all-day morning sickness I’ve been experiencing for weeks. Descriptions of all sorts of culinary delights smeared on somebody’s body are a lot less appealing after weeks of unrelenting queasiness and I couldn’t judge this story fairly. I’ve also been hormonally emotional, and the grief of “Tears from Heaven’s” narrator over her recently deceased dog, lost due to absentmindness on the part of her younger lover, made it more weepy than erotic for me. Similarly, the infidelity-themed “The Road to Hell,” which begins and ends with the narrator lying to her partner of two decades, bummed me out tremendously. All of these are perfectly fine stories if they sound appealing to you.

My only real complaint is that I would have liked more diversity in this anthology. Only two stories appeared to explicitly feature people of color, no one seemed to have a disability of any kind, and nearly all of the stories were about sex with new partners. I especially like erotica that features long-term couples who still have a sex life along with a domestic one and there wasn’t much of that here. That’s my bias and I know not everyone is looking for that.

There were a lot of interesting scenarios, though. There was plenty of hot sex ranging from vanilla to kinky, many different voices and styles, and many sexy characters. I highly recommend it.

Elinor reviews Best Lesbian Erotica 2015 edited by Laura Antoniou

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Some of the stories in Best Lesbian Erotica 2015 are among the best erotic writing I’ve read. Whether or not you’re a big erotica fan, there are stories in this anthology that so well written that they warrant a read because of how well they show nuanced lesbian relationships. Some of these authors took big swings and came up with exciting, original tales. Stories like, “The Last Last Time,” “Second Date,” and “Behrouz Gets Lucky” show us a diverse cast of queer people dating and falling in and out of love in ways that feel true and meaningful, as well as offering some hot sex. “Andro Angel” gives us a sexy, anonymous threesome, while in “A Knock at the Door” the two women write erotica together via email, imagining the encounter that they’ve yet to have. Because of the skill of these writers, even stories I would not have chosen based on their description turned out to be gems, particularly Tina Horn’s “Wet Dirt.” In another example, I found the love interest in “Learning to Cook” incredibly unappealing but the story so good that by the end I’d lost all my resistance.

This collection takes us to other times and places too. “Lovely Lady Liberty” is a delightful romp in the middle of World War II. “Arachne” reimagines a Greek myth as erotica with surprisingly great results. “The Bullwhip and the Bull Rider” seems like it’s from another time, though it’s not explicitly, and it actually made the rodeo sound sexy–a compliment that should be taken seriously since I grew up in small-town Idaho and the memory of rodeos, with their hay-and-manure smells, still makes my nose twitch.

There’s a wide range of characters and sexual expression in this book. There’s plenty of kinky and vanilla adventures alike, and characters of many races, gender presentations, and different ages. With authors like Sacchi Green, Xan West, Miel Rose, BD Swain and many, many others, there is a ton to savor in this collection.

That being said, this anthology felt uneven. Rarely will anyone like every story in an anthology, but the high quality writing in the best pieces made the less polished stories a let down. Some, like “Late Show,” tried to pack in way too much relationship angst and sudden commitment in a short erotica piece. “Girlz in the Mist,” on the other hand, presented an intriguing premise but the sex scene read like a blase recitation of acts without desire or pleasure, with a narrator who is “tolerating her own violation.” Despite an interesting set up at an all-female bath house, ultimately it reminded me of the bland girl-on-girl erotica you find written for a male audience. Worse was “Kristie’s Game,” in which a rough consensual hook up between strangers turns disturbing when one woman physically overpowers the other and threatens to penetrate her while the physically weaker woman says “no” repeatedly. The reader is told she’s afraid, but the sex scene doesn’t stop and in the end we’re told this behavior is a habit for the stronger woman. I felt incredibly frustrated because this story could have been consensual with a brief conversation early in the hookup to determine safe words, providing a clear line between playing with power and actual fear of rape. There was no need to include the threat of rape, which it should go without saying I do not expect from the erotica I read. This story also had a notable spelling mistake and a few very clunky phrases, giving the impression that it had not been edited.

I do recommend this book, but please skip “Kristie’s Game.” It’s unfortunate that this is included in an otherwise great, if not flawless, erotica anthology.

Elinor reviews Best Lesbian Romance of the Year: Volume One edited by Radclyffe

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I am so happy I read this anthology. The introduction starts with an Audre Lorde quote, which is the right way to kick off a book. The stories ran the gamut from meeting cute to the culmination of decades of longing. Every story ended happily, those happy endings felt genuine and deserved, and drama and angst never overwhelmed any of the love stories. Romance can be hard to condense into a short story, but editor Radclyffe curated a solid collection of 18 tales. This book includes stories from established writers like Sacchi Green, Rebekah Weatherspoon, and Giselle Renarde, among many others.

There’s plenty of sex in this anthology, a lot of which rivals some erotica anthologies in terms of heat. I was delighted by this. The sex scenes seemed largely organic to the relationships in these stories and were an extension of the romance. Not every story included sex, and some of my favorite stories involved little more than kissing, a testament to the great writing in this book.

I was glad that this collection had so many stories of long-term couples. This included a couple of more than a decade trying to beat the heat by getting out of their old and AC-less house (and having hot sex) in “Cooling Down, Heating Up.” In “Little Bit of Ivory,” a couple reconnects after one woman has been traveling for work. “A Royal Engagement” offered up a lesbian member of the British royalty and gave her a charming engagement story, while “Going to the Chapel” features a couple bringing out the best in each other, even in absurd circumstances, on the way to their own wedding. “Gargoyle Lovers” rounds out the wedding theme with a sexy Parisian honeymoon. “Wiggle-Wiggle-Womp” comes with a cute twist. “Beautiful” features a kinky narrator and her partner returning to their local BDSM scene after a battle with cancer has transformed the narrator’s body. I loved the way “Beautiful” showcased the tenderness and freedom submission can bring, all while rejecting normative ideals about bodies and beauty. My absolute favorite story in this collection was Rebekah Weatherspoon’s “Forever Yours, Eileen,” about Eileen and June, lifelong friends over the age of sixty who are finally exploring the relationship they’ve both wanted, and waited for, for years. June and Eileen were friends as children in the South, separated when June’s family moved north in fear of 1950s racial violence. Their love bloomed in letters and brief visits even as they married men, raised children, and built typical-looking lives. Now both single, Eileen is meeting June in New York. This one made me cry in a good way.

There were also plenty of couples starting new relationships, too. Radclyffe’s lovely story “Bad Girls and Sweet Kisses” reminded me of being eighteen and in love for the first time. A stuck light bulb sparks new feelings about a helpful friend in “Light.” Camping sounds a lot more fun in “Waterfall” (even though there’s a concussion in this story). You get to indulge your barista-crush in “Red Velvet Cake.” An out-of-character nude modeling gig leads to self-discovery and romance in “Some Nudity Required.” Grumpy teenagers find love with some help from a hippie in “Love Dance.” An ex shows growth in “Dance Fever,” and an assistant gets to see a softer side of her sexy, ice queen boss in “Unexpected Bliss.” “Long Drive” is unique and charming because it focuses on a couple who have been conducting their relationship via phones and Internet after meeting online, and are meeting in person for the first time. Though a few of these new couple love stories seemed to progress their relationships quite fast, it didn’t seem all that unrealistic.

The only story I didn’t really like was “Like a Breath of Ocean Blue,” about a woman crushing on her coworker by the sea. It was just too overwritten for me and the love interest didn’t read like an authentic person. One lackluster story in a collection of eighteen is not bad though.

I was very happy that there was some diversity in gender presentation in this book, and people of different sizes and ages. I wanted more racial diversity, though. With a few exceptions, like “Going to the Chapel” and “Forever Yours, Eileen,” there were a lot of white people in this book. This might just be me, but I also wished Best Lesbian Romance of the Year: Volume One had included a story about lesbians raising kids or on the road to parenthood.

Quibbles aside, this is an excellent anthology of lesbian romance. If you’re at all interested in the genre, you should read this. Highly recommended.