Audrey reviews Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash

Oh, wow! I’ve finally gotten to my first Malinda Lo book. It will not be the last. Ash is a retelling of Cinderella. It’s twisty, it has a fair amount of the fair folk, and it has some great love interests. It’s also one of those books I knew would already have been reviewed a couple times here. I looked at Katie Raynes’ review and appreciated her take on the story’s roots in the wild hunt, and in Lo’s vivid evocation of landscape. Laura Mandanas’ review focuses more on relationships and a little gender theory. What can I add or emphasize? I was surprised that this was a retelling of Cinderella where the prince isn’t even really a thing. He’s barely a plot device (and a sulky, sullen one at that).

One of the lovely things about this book is that it fully realizes the progression of Ash’s journey from beloved daughter to maligned stepchild. Too often, this feels rushed or glossed over, and hence unbelievable, but I could buy this. Another lovely thing is that we as readers actually get a sense of Ash’s mother as a character, and the mother is an integral character even after her death. Her influence is woven into the plot. There: The prince doesn’t matter, the dead mother does.

In this homophobia-free world, homosexuality is like being left-handed. Perfectly natural, but generally, people aren’t. Ash’s slow realization of her attraction to Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, is all the more lovely for being tinged with nothing but wonder and curiosity. Meanwhile, although the sulky human prince isn’t a contender, Ash is indeed attached to a prince. He’s a brittle, glittery Jareth who takes the word “glamorous” back to its original meaning. Old, old magic against real, young love: so there’s the excellent internal conflict against a backdrop of a fabulous world, and in living conditions that are fairly awful (though not all of the stepfamily is painted with the same broad strokes).

On a final note, the fun factor of this book was through the roof. It was tremendously enjoyable. If it’s been on your long list, maybe bump it up?

Marthese reviews Adijan and Her Genie by L-J Baker

adijanandhergenie

I love queer fairytale retellings! Although I do not think this is much of a fairytale. It’s set in the Arabian Nights fantasy world and has a few elements of the folktale Aladdin, in the sense that there is a poor messenger who’s however a girl and there is a genie, who’s not really a genie.

Adijan is a messenger girl, who dreams of having her own business and is a bit too fond of drinking despite being really hard-working. She’s married to Shalimar, a very kind woman who is always happy and yet always thought of as simple, much to Adijan’s annoyance. It is evident that Adijan loves Shalimar, but she is also slave to vices and wasn’t such a good spouse. This book, full of adventure and Adijan being kicked out from countless places, follows the journey of Adijan to try and get back Shalimar from where she is being kept by her brother Hadim.

While set in an invented Arabian country, Adijan and Shalimar’s relationship is accepted and legitimate. The problem lies in wealth not in their orientation and love. Something that really bothered me was that Adijan was continuously misgendered and most times she did not correct these assumptions where from her gender expression and clothing her gender was judged.

Adijan and the ‘genie’, don’t really get on at first. However, I thought it was great that even though they did not like each other, they were respectful, using correct names, considerately describing time and place and consoling one another. They eventually come to understand and care for one another. Nonetheless, you also see two people battling their wills against each other because they both have big and fundamental dreams.

Injustices to the social system, especially in courts and wealth are addressed. It’s a book that says a lot about non-materialistic values. For someone that was looking to get rich, Adijan got that freedom and love were priceless. Privilege was understood as it was lost. For being a fun book, it also has serious themes.

I really enjoyed the characters of Zobeidé once she stopped getting on my nerves, and of Adijan’s aunt Takush who owns a ‘friendly house’ and her suitor Fakir. A bonus in this book were the insults which often contain some form of ‘camel’ to them.

I liked how Zobeidé did not forgive simply because her old tutor apologized and said he was set up to do what he did. Stripping freedom from someone is inexcusable.

This book ended on a great note. Something that was lost, even if in a land of magic, was still not magically made better and in that it was realistic. To end, you find yourself being angry at Adijan, then pitying her and then laughing at something. This book is a fast read and a true adventure.

Tag reviews Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte

FairyTales
Fairy tales have always been one of my favourite things to read, and I’ll eat up retellings of them like nobody’s business. So it should be fairly apparent that I was excited to read lesbian retellings of popular fairy tales. Fairy tales! Modern retellings! Lesbians! That’s a perfect formula for me.
The tales in this book are The Princess and the Pea, The Swan Princess, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and The Frog Prince(ss). It’s a good selection and the storytelling is engaging, and beyond that, they aren’t to-the-letter adaptations. The retellings follow the general meaning of the original tales (a woman cursed to be a swan half her life, a girl cursed at birth to die by pricking her finger) but they’re retold in interesting and unique ways. In The Princess and the Pea, the rich character is a CEO rather than a member of royality; in Beauty and the Beast the beautiful character (in this case, Baker) is a business owner as well. Despite familiarity with each of these tales, I found myself wanting more and more to know exactly how each story would develop and unfold. My personal favorite was The Swan Princess, as it had a surreal and melancholy aesthetic to it that I really enjoyed.
While the storytelling was engaging, one thing I was very disappointed by in this collection is how badly it needs editing. The formatting needs work, and there are many, many typos and grammatical errors– so many that it honestly took away from my enjoyment of the stories. The tone of the writing is solid and fits the fairy tale format well, solemn and interesting without being too involved in nitty-gritty details, so I think with editing this collection would be a fantastic read that I could happily recommend.

Katie Raynes reviews Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte

Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte is a collection of classic fairy tales retold in a modern setting with lesbians as the main couples. It includes adaptations of “The Princess and the Pea,” “Swan Lake,” “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Frog Prince”.

The stories are set in the modern world, but the language of each one retains the “once upon a time” lyricism of classic fairy tales. I found this method of using old-fashioned language to describe modern things and concepts (such as cell phones and rock stars) charming. Each heroine met and wooed the girl of her dreams, and I appreciated that attention was not drawn to the characters’ sexual or romantic orientation as if it needed some sort of explanation. While I think stories in which a character’s status as a gender or sexual minority is discussed are very important, I also long for stories in which nobody blinks an eye when a girl kisses another girl. These were those kind of stories.

I did have some problems with this collection, though. It really could have used a more thorough editing–I was thrown out of the story countless times by misspellings, misused words, and incorrect punctuation. More importantly, I was disturbed by the standards of beauty these stories upheld. White skin was consistently used as an indicator of beauty–I felt I was supposed to understand that the heroines or their objects of affection were beautiful simply because of how white their skin was. There were women of color, but they were always the “exotic other,” the object to be obtained or saved, rather than the central character who did the saving. I really feel it’s important to avoid using language that supports white skin as the default and brown skin as something that sets a character apart. Also, while the heroines did have a variety of body types, one of the evil stepsisters in the Cinderella story was described as fat and the narration used a lot of negative fat talk (comparing her to a pig, etc.) to illustrate how ugly she was. These undertones all made me very uncomfortable.

Alyssa reviews Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte

Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte is a collection of fairy tales retold with both a lesbian and a modern twist. The beast and her prisoner, the sleeping beauty and her savior, are all women, and the pea put under the princess’ mattress is a USB drive. The narrative style is simplistic in the tradition of folk tales such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm, and I can imagine one reading them aloud to a child at bedtime, or to a lover, snuggled up in bed on a rainy day. I was pleased with the stories themselves, and the collection gets points for having at least one sad ending.

Unfortunately, this collection also has a bit of an issue with race. All the women followed by the narration are described with Caucasian features, and most of the other characters are white as well. Three of the main characters, lovers of the women followed by the narration, are women of color. (One antagonist is also a woman of color, but she is the twin of one of the protagonists, essentially her reflection.) If this had been handled correctly by the author, I would stop here and deem the POC representation decent, if limited. However, these three characters are also the three characters in the collection who have been trapped in animal forms: a swan, a beast, and a frog. They eventually turn back into humans; one dies, while another retains some animal characteristics. Furthermore, one of these characters, referred to as “Indian,” is described as having “exotic beauty.” I’m not going to go into why these things are a problem, here, aside from the fact that they’re racist; if you don’t know why they are a problem, I recommend doing some google searches.

As the author has made their POC characters, and only their POC characters, animals and exotified them, I am going to have to refrain from recommending the purchase of this collection. There is no excuse for this in a book published in 2012, and the stories are not outstanding enough to recommend in spite of problematic elements.

 

Guest Lesbrarian: Emily

For Once, Being Gay Isn’t the Problem

Most lesbian literature to date, it seems, details the common struggles of coming out and of dealing with the consequences of being a homosexual in a heterosexual world. Not Ash, the new teen novel by former afterellen.com editor Malinda Lo.

A revisionist Cinderella novel complete with pagan holidays and faeries reminiscent of those rampant throughout Irish and British folklore, the novel is indeed a modern fairy tale. Instead of a submissive Cinderella, Ash is a rebellious teenager. Instead of getting wishes from a kind fairy godmother, Ash makes a deal with a dangerous fairy knight. But what at first appears to be the most significant twist, that Cinderella falls in love with a woman, is not. What is truly refreshing about this story is that her falling in love with a woman, not a man, doesn’t bother anybody.

“It was clear to me from the beginning that I didn’t want to have a world where there was homophobia,” said Lo in an interview with afterellen.com’s Heather Aimee O’Neill. “I decided to not make [homosexuality] an unusual thing.”

It’s easy to see, reading her book. Casual references to women loving women are sprinkled here and there throughout the text, and when you read that “a young couple stumbled away from the dance hand in hand, one woman dressed in gold, the other woman in green”, or that one character nonchalantly voices her opinion that Ash, the cinderella character, is one of the “many who would cast themselves as the huntress’s lover”, you begin to understand that in the world of Ash, there is no “gay” or “straight”. There is only love, and the gender of the person you love doesn’t matter.

“She has enough problems,” said Lo, without having to deal with a world discriminatory towards gays. It is the difference in class between Ash and her “true love” that rankles with her society, not the lack of difference in gender. While many factors impede the progress of their relationship, stigma associated with sexual orientation, for once, is not one of them.

Ash really is a fairy tale. A world in which being gay isn’t a problem—doesn’t that sound like happily ever after?

Interview with Malinda Lo, conducted by Afterellen’s Heather Aimee O’Neill on October 15th, 2009: http://www.afterellen.com/people/2009/10/malinda-lo

Lo, Malinda. Ash. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. p. 106

Lo, Malinda. Ash. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. p. 184

Interview with Malinda Lo, conducted by Afterellen’s Heather Aimee O’Neill on October 15th, 2009: http://www.afterellen.com/people/2009/10/malinda-lo

Thanks to Emily from Wacky Word Woman for this excellent guest review! I’ve been wanting to read Ash for a while, and this just moved it up the list. Definitely check out Emily’s blog. It’s new and awesome, but she doesn’t have a lot of followers yet.

Have you read Malinda Lo’s Ash? What did you think of it?

Bi & Lesbian Book Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with queer women books, 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 lesbian 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. 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 transgender, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Young Adult

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 Brownrigg

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 rumored 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 Home by Alison Bechdel cover2) 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).

Thanks for reading!