Danika reviews Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

ascension

 

As soon as I heard about Ascension, I knew I was going to read it. Although I haven’t read a lot of sci fi, it’s a genre that I want to get into more, and adding a lesbian main character is the best way to draw me in. In fact, in theory this seemed like exactly the kind of book I want a lot more of. In addition to being a lesbian, the main character is also black and has a chronic illness. The other main characters of the book are also diverse (in ways that are mostly spoilers), and all wrapped up in a space adventure story. Plus, that cover is gorgeous. In fact, I was a little bit worried to start this book because I wanted so badly for it to deliver.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded. Alana is a compelling lead, and though her life–her passion for repairing spaceships, her frustration with having a chronic illness–is not anything I have experience firsthand, it was described so well that I felt immersed in her experience. The plot was interesting and kept me turning the pages (especially that ending), but it was the characters that made this stand out to me. The romance is well done, but it’s a subplot, not any more important that the relationship between Alana and her sister. All the supporting characters were fleshed out, and I loved the intricate relationships and rapport they have with each other that seems to exist outside of Alana’s role. In fact, she finds it unintelligible at first.

This was a lot of fun to read, but is also thoughtful. There were several times that I stopped to note quotations to come back to, despite the apparent simplicity: “Standing near Tev felt seductively dangerous, like waving my bare palm over a flame.” Or:

My heart thundered. I almost wanted her to not answer Birke, to never move. If she never spoke. . . if we just didn’t look at them, we wouldn’t disturb those possibilities. We wouldn’t shake one reality into existence, eliminating all others. We could just hold our breaths and live inside this moment, letting endless possibility eddy around us. All that potential would go on and on, and one day the glass leaves outside would fall, shattering around us like stars, but we would persist, frozen in time.

There were a few plot points I didn’t understand (Spoiler, highlight to read: why did they have to detonate the device inside the ship? Why not just throw it out the airlock? Why did Birke blow up Adula? The explanation didn’t make sense to me.), but other than that I had no complaints. (And that confusion is very likely my own oversight.) I am really hoping that Jacqueline Koyanagi continues this series, because I’m invested–in the characters, in the world, and in the plot. This works well as a standalone, but I want more.

Lesbrary Review: Crocodile Soup by Julia Darling

The blurbs and back cover of this book, I think, completely misrepresent its tone. The back cover seems imply zany fun times, but though Crocodile Soup is written with humor, I wouldn’t really call it chipper.

The main character, Gert, is a lesbian and the present time plot of the story is mostly about her trying to woo a coworker, but this definitely takes a backseat to Gert’s childhood and family. Crocodile Soup is told in very short chapters, usually only a couple pages each, switching between the present and flashbacks leading you through her childhood. Gert and her twin brother were mostly left to their own devices as kids, leading them to both spiral out wildly in different directions. When present-day Gert starts getting letters from her mother, she has to deal with old memories.

Crocodile Soup deals with a lot of… what do they call that in Literature courses… “magical realism”. Some small, magic-ish things happen, and it’s unclear whether they actually happened, or if they’re metaphors, or if–as suggested by her brother at some point–Gert just has a tendency to exaggerate.

Gert, both in her childhood and in her present life, has difficulty finding direction or purpose. It gives the book a bit of a melancholy feel, and I wasn’t sure whether or not I was liking it most of the way through. By the end, though, I think I did find it worth keeping. Crocodile Soup is definitely intriguing; it was one of those books that when I finished it, I immediately wanted to re-read it from the perspective of what I then knew.

Get Crocodile Soup from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Have you read Crocodile Soup? What did you think of it?

Have you ever read a book that was completely different in tone than what you were expecting?

Lesbrary Sneak Peek: More New Arrivals!

I’m sorry that I haven’t been updating as much this week. I’m taking some pretty intense courses for the next month and a half (Economics?!), so I’ll probably only be posting once or twice a week. Please send in some guest reviews if you’d like to see the Lesbrary update more!

I have gotten a pile of books in the mail this past week and a half, but I’ll start with one I’ve already mentioned: Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg. This book was on the General Recommendations post, but I just bought a new copy; the first time I read it, I got it from the library. I’ve told you why I liked it, but here’s what it’s about: Pages for You follows the narrator, a 17-year-old woman, who falls in love with a teaching assistant 11 years older than her. The title refers to the narrator’s question, “What would happen if I wrote some pages for you? Each day a page…” If you’re wondering why I’m including a book I’ve already read and mentioned on the Lesbrary in a Sneak Peek, it’s because I plan to re-read it and give it its own review at some point (as with all the lesbian books I’ve read but haven’t reviewed).

Get Pages for You from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

I got two others about a week ago through Bookmooch. The first is Stage Fright by Ellen Hart. It’s book three in the Jane Lawless mystery series, but I’m hoping that won’t matter. This book involves investigating a murder of an actor at a theater. A description of the book says she has an “uninhibited crony” named Cordelia who helps her. I’ve still never read a lesbian mystery, though I have access to them, but I’m excited about starting!

Get the Jane Lawless series from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

The next book I got was, embarrassingly, a repeat. It’s called Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn, and it’s book one of the Chronicles of Tornor. I guess I didn’t take it off my wishlist on Bookmooch the first time I got it, so I mooched it again, and now I have a big hardcover ex-library copy and a little slightly beat-up paperback copy. Which do you think I should keep? Watchtower is a fantasy novel about a prince defending a kingdom, but it’s also supposed to have quite a few gay and lesbian characters, both as main characters and as background characters. This seems to have gotten a lot of mixed reviews, so I’m curious to see what it’s like.

Get Watchtower from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Have you read Pages for You, the Jane Lawless series, or the Chronicles of Tornor? What did you think of it/them?

Lesbrary Review: This One’s Going to Last Forever by Nairne Holtz

I wasn’t sure how to sum up This One’s Going to Last Forever, so here’s the blurb:

This One’s Going to Last Forever reflects both the naïve optimism of those who have yet to learn about love — and the cynicism of those who feel that by now they should know better.

Clara, a university student working at the McGill Daily, discovers that in love and politics, commitment is often more imagined than real. Kelly and Sonya share a bond that has less to do with love than with their dependence on each other and a succession of friends who supply them with heroin. A middle-aged man who performs drive-through weddings dressed as Elvis realizes, as he marries his first same-sex couple, that the only domestic partner he is ever likely to have is his ailing father. But when he ends his latest relationship, an unlikely friendship results.

The characters in these darkly comic stories and novella may be searching for love in all the wrong places, but they are also able to find love in the most unexpected places.

Nairne Holtz has a great skill for establishing characters and moods that really stick with you. Each story seems to contain a distinct moment more than a strict plot. Definitely the strongest part of This One’s Going to Last Forever is the characters. My favorite protagonist was Clare of the novella “Are You Committed?” She feels completely clueless compared to everyone around her at McGill: everyone–her roommates, her fellow journalists at the school newspaper, her friends–they all seem to know exactly who they are and what they’re talking about, and she’s still trying to gather enough facts to form an opinion. She doesn’t know what her sexuality is or the difference between the personal and political or what “Silence = Death” means. It makes her relatable.

A few times the book bumps into the gay pronoun problem: if you’re writing about two (or three or more) women, it’s really hard to establish which “she” you’re talking about, to it’s easy to overuse names. Overall, however, the writing is strong.

This One’s Going to Last Forever is a Lambda Literary Awards finalist in Lesbian Fiction. They are a terrific resource for finding quality queer books.

Get This One’s Going to Last Forever from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Have you read This One’s Going to Last Forever or another lesbian short story collection? What did you think of it?

Lesbrary Review: The Guide to Lesbian Sex by Jude Schell

I just wanted to start off this post to say that, believe it or not, I got this book from my local library. Yes, my library is awesome. Anyways, on to the book review.

If you’re looking for a practical how-to guide to lesbian sex, this isn’t it. The Guide to Lesbian Sex is mostly dominated by pictures. Some of them are quite artistic and/or erotic, but a lot of them have weird added textures from a photo-editing program that are really just distracting, and the same couple models are repeated, meaning you see them a couple dozen times in very similar positions, which gets repetitive.

As for the actual content, it doesn’t go into much depth. Most of it is just introducing sexual concepts and uses a tone that’s an odd mix of scientific and sexual, like the introduction to the “Lick” section (the book is divided into sections like Flirt, Lick, Desire, etc, each only a page or a couple of pages):

To lick is to pass our tongue along a surface. The tongue is a large bundle of muscles covered with thousands of highly sensitive taste buds and papillae capable of inducing our sexual appetite and enhancing sexual pleasure. It’s versatile, pliable, moist, and an ideal texture for sex.

Some of the little facts she shares are fairly interesting, like where the word flirt comes from, and some of the sexual tips are good, but there’s not enough depth (it’s only about 200 pages, most of which are pictures) to really offer much in that respect, plus it seems to veer from the very specific to the very general in focus.

Overall, The Guide to Lesbian Sex was an interesting enough read to pass the time and to look at the pictures (at least the ones that aren’t strangely altered), but it didn’t have a lot of practical advice. If you are interested, though, here’s the link to get it through Indiebound.

Although Girl Meets Girl by Diana Cage isn’t exclusively a sex book, I thought its sex section was pretty helpful. Susie Sexpert’s Lesbian Sex World is a bit old, I don’t think it’s outdated; it still is pretty open-minded, even by today’s standards. I’ve just put the other lesbian sex guide at the library (yes, there are two) on hold: The Whole Lesbian Sex Book by Felice Newman, which I’m looking forward to.

Have you read The Guide to Lesbian Sex or another lesbian sex book? What did you think of it?

Lesbrary Sneak Peek (or: Stuff I Got In the Mail This Week)

I’ve got a hundred unread lesbian/queer women books I own (one hundred and four, to be exact) and probably about three hundred more at the library I can access at any point, so even the queer women books I have I’m probably not going to read for a while yet. That’s why I have Sneak Peeks: a look at books that I’ll eventually be reviewing, but I haven’t read yet. I got three queer women books in the mail this week (thanks Bookmooch!), so I thought I’d do my first sneak peek post on them.

Stone Butch Blues is a queer classic and it’s one I’ve been meaning to read for ages. It’s by trans activist Leslie Feinberg and is about the character Jess Goldberg who deals with being differently-gendered/butch in a blue-collar town in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This is said to be one of the first novels that explicitly dealt with transgender issues. I’ve heard this is an incredibly powerful book and I’m very much looking forward to reading it and sharing it at the Lesbrary.

On a completely different note, I also got the book Night Mares in. I haven’t read a lot of mystery… as a matter of fact, I think I’ve only read one mystery, one of the Rita Mae Brown Sneaky Pie Brown ones. I didn’t like it very much, and now that I think about it, that might have been all that it took to turn me off the entire genre. I know that’s ridiculous, so I’ve been searching for queer women mysteries to read and challenge that. This one features a lesbian veterinarian. I doubt I’m the only lesbian that grew up wanting to be a vet, so I figured this would be a great place to start. It’s the second in the series, but I doubt that will make much of a difference.

This one I think speaks for itself. Lesbian feminist science fiction? Sign me up! I haven’t read a lot of scifi, but again, I’m trying to start. This collection is from the 70s and 80s, so it’ll be interesting to get that viewpoint.

Lots of fun new books! Have you gotten any queer women books lately? Are there any you’re particularly excited to read?

Also, have you read The Needle on Full, Night Mares, or Stone Butch Blues? What did you think of them?

Guest Lesbrarian: Stefanie

Welcome to our first Guest Lesbrarian post! This one is by Stefanie for lesbian writer Susan Stinson’s book Martha Moody, published in 1995. She also recommends some of Stinson’s  other fiction, including Venus of Chalk and Fat Girl Dances with Rocks. Please, send in your own guest lesbrarian review!

Susan Stinson’s Martha Moody is an extraordinary and evocative book. Set in the “Old West,” it tells a complex and uneasy story of two women loving each despite their familial and community commitments. I wanted this book to keep going, never to end, so that I could stay suspended in Stinson’s poetic voice.This book is unconventional in many ways (its characterizations, its lush language, its integration of stories within stories) and seeks to fully explore how two individuals choose and are forced to act within their social and personal circumstances. A gorgeous read.

Have you read any of Susan Stinson’s books? What did you think?

Lesbrary Lust: Lesbian Pulp Fiction

Well, I haven’t read any new lesbrary books since last post (I’m still working through a stack of library books), so I thought I’d introduce a new feature: Lesbrary Lust. Lesbrary Lust posts are about books I desperately want to read, but don’t yet own and can’t get through my library. This Lesbrary Lust post is about two books on a central theme: lesbian pulp fiction.

I’ve had a fascination with lesbian pulp fiction for a while now. I have lesbian pulp fiction magnets and the lesbian pulp address book, though I’ve only read three of the actual books: Another Kind of Love and Love is Where You Find It by Paula Christian, The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, and Spring Fire by Vin Packer. That’s because those were at my public library (yes, I have an awesome library) and honestly, they were pretty forgettable. Regardless, just the covers of these books are enough to fascinate me. Just look at the Strange Sisters collection of lesbian pulp covers (wow, I’m using a lot of links this post). The women are almost always at least partially undressed, and often there’s a shadowy, sinister man in the background. The titles are also something, like the classic Satan was a Lesbian, now going from $300-500, though it first sold for 95 cents, which explains why I haven’t read more of it: lesbian pulp fiction tends to be expense, at least $30 for a small used paperback.

It seems odd that lesbian pulp is such a major part of lesbian history, considering it was primarily written for and by straight men. They were considered pretty scandalous for the time, so to get around obscenity laws, these books had to Lesbian Pulp Address Bookhave a moral. Usually this moral was “homosexuality is wrong”. That meant that the vast majority of lesbian pulp ended terribly for the lesbians involved. One or both of the women either died or went crazy. A popular ending was a terrible car crash. Often the remaining partner was swept off by that shadowy man in the background of the cover, having learned her lesson.

Lesbian pulp wasn’t all bad news, though. Regardless of the content, they were proof of one thing: we’re not alone. Closeted lesbians in the 60s and 70s would squirrel these away under their mattress, or pass them between friends. They also advertised a sort of queer mecca, a wonderful place where you could be out and happy (Greenwich Village). Besides, there were even a minority of lesbian pulp writers who were lesbians themselves, or at least sympathetic to them. The Price of Salt was the first lesbian pulp to have a “happy” ending (as in, not a terrible ending), proving that lesbian pulp helped to pave the way for more lesbian literature.

So, to sum up: lesbian pulp is a) campy and hilarious and b) an important part of our collective history. How could anyone not be fascinated by that? Obviously, I want to read more of it, but I don’t have the money to build a collection (at least not yet). I’d be happy to just read more books about lesbian pulp, though, which brings us to the books I’ve been lusting after.

Lesbian Pulp Fiction by Katherine V. Forrest provides a collection of excerpts from 23 of some of the best lesbian pulp out there, as well as a brief overview of lesbian pulp in general, I think. This has been really highly rated and seems to be the book on lesbian pulp, so I obviously want it quite desperately. Well, hopefully I’ll find the cash for it soon, as well as for my next object of lesbrarian lust: Strange Sisters by Jaye Zimet.

Where Lesbian Pulp Fiction is about the best stories lesbian pulp has to offer, Strange Sisters is an examination of the artwork. Strange Sisters includes about 200 different hilarious and sexual covers. Although my lesbian pulp address book has a bit of this (it has about 26 covers and a brief description of the plot), but it’s only a taste; I would love to be able to look through all of these.

Have you read any lesbian pulp, or Lesbian Pulp Fiction, or Strange Sisters? What did you think of them?

Also, feel free to send me a review! I haven’t had any guest lesbrarian posts yet, and I’d love to put one up! It’s easy: just click on the Guest Lesbrarians link at the top (or click here) for details.

General Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with Lesbrary (queer women) reading, here are some of my favourites.

The Classics

1) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae BrownRubfruit Jungle

This 1970s novel is not only a lesbian/queer women classic, it also entertaining and challenges social norms even to this day. I still remember the day I realized I needed to read more queer women books. It was when my mother found out I had not read Rubyfruit Jungle and said “And you call yourself a lesbian.” I’m glad she shamed me into picking it up. Lesbian author.

2) Patience and Sarah (or A Place for Us) by Isabel Miller

Written in 1969, but set in the early 19th century, this queer classic also manages to tell a romance between two women without being depressing. It also influenced my very author’s work: Sarah Waters.

3) Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Do not let this be the first Lesbrary book you read. If I was doing this list by order of which is most classic, I would start with this one, but it violated my cardinal rule: don’t be depressing. Once upon a time, any books that had queer content had to demonstrate that they were not actually advocating for queerness, so they had to either go straight, die, or go crazy. Often a combination of these three. I recommend Well of Loneliness because it’s a classic (published in 1928), because it was actually surprisingly not very difficult to read, and because it was judged as obscene although the hot lesbian love scene consisted entirely of “And that night they were not divided”, but it’s not a pick-me-up book. In fact, if it wasn’t such a classic, I never would have read it at all; I refuse to read books that punish characters for being queer. I also got the suspicion while reading it that the protagonist was transgendered, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Teen

Aaah, what is more lesbian than the coming-out story…

Hello, Groin1) Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie

I found this book after my teens, but I still loved it. Hello, Groin deals with the protagonist’s attraction to women as well as censorship at her school. A book theme inside a lesbian book? I’m in love. It also is well-written and optimistic. I highly recommend this one.

2) Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

The classic lesbian teen book. I read this a while ago, so all I really remember is that I thought they fell in love awfully fast, but I enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a must-read for the well-read lesbrarian.

General Fiction

1) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my very favourite book, queer or not. Sarah Waters has a writing style that I can just sink into, and despite the fact that I rarely seek out historical fiction, I fell in love with Tipping the Velvet. The ending is such a perfect representation of the odd, complicated nature of love. Plus, this is a coming-out story, that classic trope. Fingersmith is a very close second, which also has lesbians, but includes an absolutely killer, twisting plot. If you’re not shocked by the direction this takes, you are much more clever than I am. Lesbian author.

2) Pages for You by Sylvia BrownriggPages for You

This is an odd book for me. In the beginning, I thought, “this is sort of clumsily written”, but by the end I was blown away. I’m not sure what it is, but I really loved this book.

3) Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

This isn’t my favourite of Winterson’s books, but it is, again, a classic. Jeanette Winterson has a beautiful, dream-like way of writing, and I plan to read all of her books eventually, though she is quite prolific. This one is rumoured to be semi-autobiographical, and it’s definitely worth reading. Lesbian author.

4) Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

I have a soft spot for fairy tale re-tellings, so it wasn’t surprising that a lesbian fairy tale re-telling made the list. What is surprising, though, is not only Donoghue’s readable writing style, but her ability to weave each story into the next, creating a whole tapestry connecting some of your favourite fairy tales. Lesbian author.

Memoirs/Biographies

1) anything by Ivan E. Coyote

Coyote is not exactly woman-identified, but ze’s not man-identified either, so that’s good enough for me to make the list. I love Coyote’s style, and the stories including in any of the collections (One Man’s Trash, Close to Spider Man, Loose End, The Slow Fix) are short, to-the-point, and always affecting. Queer author.

Fun Home2) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is the creator of the famous lesbian comics Dykes to Watch Out For. In her graphic autobiography, she illustrates her childhood, constantly drawing comparisons to her father. It may violate my “don’t be depressing” rule, but the comics alone are worth reading it for, and perhaps the uneasy feeling you’ll get afterward. Lesbian author.

3) Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer

I actually read about half of this thinking it was a really elaborate fictional story, so that should tell you how well it was written. Plus, a lesbian love story in Berlin, 1943? You know it’s going to be interesting at the very least.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I hope to get some real reviews up soon! Feel free to start sending in reviews (more lengthy than these general recommendations, hopefully). Just click on Guest Lesbrarians at the top.

Thanks for reading!