Danika reviews Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

This is a fairy tale about misogyny. About the men who pit women against each other, and force them into limited roles. And the relationships that form between these women regardless. The love that they share even when told they should they should hate each other. The revolutionary power of love and forgiveness to break apart these narratives and allow for a new beginning. Ostensibly, this is a retelling of Snow White, but while it uses touchstones from that story, it isn’t restricted by it.

Mina is a girl who’s been raised her whole life to replace her dead mother. Her father fawns over her similarities to his late wife, but Mina is uncomfortable being shaped into the mirror image of someone she’s never known. She wants the chance to be her own person.

The story alternates between her story and Lynet’s backstory–Mina’s stepmother and the only mother figure she’s ever known. Mina adores Lynet, but Lynet has a more complicated relationship with her. The only value she can see in her own life is her position as queen, and Mina is a threat to that. We get to see how Lynet was groomed into this “Evil Queen” role by her father, who is manipulative and unkind and uses his daughter to gain power. She uses everything at her disposal to escape her father, but she’s told that the only value she has is her beauty. No one will ever love her for anything else. (Those are the words from her father that continually echo in her mind.)

I loved that Girls Made of Snow and Glass took this fairy tale trope of the “Evil Queen”/”Evil Stepmother” and did a deep dive into imagining what could lead someone to feel like that was their only option. Why would someone act so unfeeling? Why would she be so cutthroat in her pursuit of the crown? Lynet can be ruthless, but she’s sympathetic. She’s been told her whole life that she is unlovable, that the only value she has is in her appearance. The only way out of that she can see is to become queen and be loved by her subjects. And if she has to scheme her way there, well, that’s what’s necessary.

The complex relationship that Lynet and Mina share is the central tension of the story. They are constantly pitted against each other, but they’re reluctant to follow through. Lynet has been told by her husband not to get too close to Mina (no one can replace her real mother!) but Mina has grown up with her. She’s the one who finger-combs Mina’s hair every night to gently release the tangles. She’s the person that Mina feels loves her for who she is.

There is, of course, an F/F romance in here as well. Nadia is the court surgeon, and Mina is immediately drawn to her. To be honest, I don’t feel like I can comment on this storyline without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say that I think it complemented the other narrative threads well. All three women are trying to create the most promising futures they can with the circumstances available to them, but they’re hemmed in by the expectations and limitations placed on them by the men in their lives. When they seem to have found a loophole, they’re somehow pulled back and forced to make the choice to hurt the people they love or hurt themselves. It feels so inevitable and tense that you can only anticipate that final moment, where they seem to have no option but to fall into the roles provided for them. But despite what they’ve been raised to believe, despite the hurts that they inflict on each other because of this, despite the mistrust and skepticism and pessimism, they still find a way to reach out–however briefly–and find connections with each other. And the bonds they form, the love that develops even then, creates the shimmer of other possibilities for them.

Susan reviews Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory is a steampunk alternate universe set in Seattle during the Gold Rush, following a prostitute named Karen Memery (“like memory but with an e”) as she and her colleagues investigate the murders of streetwalkers, attempt to help rescue of women who have been trafficked, and also have to deal with a rival brothel owner trying to drive them out of business using mad science and mind control. I feel like everyone I know has read and recommended this book at least once to me since it came out, and they were exactly right because it falls squarely in the middle of my interest in both queer mysteries and genre-crossing SFF!

Karen’s narration is written in a really strong voice – it felt quite natural and dialectic to me, although knowing that every “should of” or non-standard grammar choice was a deliberate choice from the author really helped me to shut off my inner grammar snob. Some of the descriptions were hard for me to follow, though – I could not for the life of me parse what was going on with the street levels of this city, and learning that they’re real has honestly actually clarified everything magnificently; and I honestly had no idea what to picture for the Singer sewing machine at all until Karen started using it in ways that definitely were not intended by the manufacturers and I went “OH, IT’S A MECH!” – but it worked out.

(The mix of real history with the alternate universe and steampunk elements are really cool by the way – the man who comes looking for the murderer, Marshall Bass Reeves, was a real person, and Rapid City’s raised streets are based on the actual Seattle Underground (which I didn’t know was a thing until I started reading around for this review!)

And the characters! I adored Karen and her friends; Karen in particular is very well drawn, and her awkwardness in trying to show her interest and regard for Priya warmed my heart, especially because it’s such a slow-moving romance and it’s really sweet – and her admiration for Priya is so sincere! I love that completely. Plus, the friendships are lovely between all of the women, and the way that everyone goes out of their way to help each other in the face of racism and stigma against their profession, I also like that despite the majority of characters in this book being sex workers, there’s no actual onscreen sex – it’s very much depicted as a boring job that people have different preferences about. It’s refreshing!

But yes, Karen Memory is fun and action-filled, with a sweet romance running through it and some really cool ideas and inventions – see also, sewing machine machine mech – and all of the social commentary that you’d hope for in a steampunk story. My only real complaint about the book is that the pace and scale of the last quarter or so of the book escalated really suddenly. It makes sense, considering that its supposed to read like a dime novel (Was I delighted by that aspect of the story? Of course I was.).

I did think that this was a standalone book, but it turns out that there’s a a sequel called Stone Mad due out on the 20th of March, and I am really excited, so that might be worth keeping an eye out for! But in the mean time: hello, this is a book about sex workers investigating murder and using a sewing machine as a mech, it’s great.

[Caution warnings: misgendering, historical racism, human trafficking, mostly off-screen torture and abuse, off-screen murder of sex workers]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Marthese reviews Dragon Horse War: The Calling by  D. Jackson Leigh

‘’I am this animal because they need me and my warriors to protect their reign of peace’’

I made a yearly resolution to read more fantasy, especially series since those are the kind of books that I end up enjoying the most. I did some research and found this series which is centered around queer women (after I got the third book as an ARC on Netgalley…I thought it better to start from the first!). Happy Woman’s day (for yesterday!) this book series does contain some kickass and imperfect women.

The story is set in the future. After religious wars, people have recognized the Collective and most people are enlightened on the fact that they had past lives. The story follows Jael and Alyssa, however, there are some parts told from other characters’ point of view. In fact, the story starts from the antagonist’s Cyrus’ point of views and there are some parts from his views, but only a little. Most of the chapters follow Jael and Alyssa. Jael has been a warrior for the Collective in all her lives. She burns the bodies of those that die alone in order to release their soul; she also kills those that are badly-born in one life in order to have peace in another. Alyssa is a healer type and an Advocate for the Collective. Jael has some interesting abilities and Alyssa also. They are the ultimate power couple…only they do not always agree on the methods to use. This is very much a plot where one character finds light and the other darkness, in order to form gray together.

As I mentioned, some parts are told from other characters’ points of views. One of them follows Kyle, Cyrus’ daughter. Cyrus became a prophet for the One – a monotheistic god from ancient religions. He also became a preacher for capitalism in a world that distributes fairly and treats everyone equally. Kyle is very much not like him but for a while, she does not know what to do.

The main plot point is that the Natural Order formed by Cyrus is becoming too dangerous. Food and medicine is being stolen and redistributed by them in a world which is facing many natural disasters in all of its borderless territories. The Guard, which Jael is the leader on, are assessing people that have heard the Collective’s calling and training them…to become Dragon Horse warriors. Yes, the Guard have a bond with horses that come darkness, sprout wings.

This book is part of a trilogy – both the name and the plot itself show this. This is only the beginning. It does not start too fast but the end has some interesting action. I have to admit that it took until almost the end for me to become interested in what would happen.

I have been researching and discovering what makes good plots and characters and this book had all the right things in place. However, one thing really bothered me, enough for me considering quitting. This book was published in 2015, so not that long ago. To me, there were two main problems. The first is that the Guard are pureblood descendants. The Natural Order is also preaching pureblood-ness (and are racist, unlike the Guard). At least, the Guard have a reason for this, although it confused me why they should keep to ethnic couples if they all had the gene. Perhaps that will be explained later on. I admit to not knowing a lot of biology. This factor bothered me a bit but I could understand that it was a plot point not ideology pushing as the people of this Collective world, do not care much for ethnicity.

The second factor that bothered me was that the author, in my opinion, confused gender and sex. A person that is intersex but identifies more towards being male, is said to be a third gender. There was also the phrase ‘same-sex oriented’ being used which is used in today’s reality but it would be more accurate to say, especially towards one particular character, that it was same-gender oriented. I have to admit that I cringed a bit with all these happenings in the book. At one point, ‘gendered’ is used. It’s also a very binary world still…you would think that it being set in such a fair and enlightened future, that it would be otherwise.

Despite this, the world building was okay. It was interesting to see what things from today would be called then. The horses were interested and the powers as well. It was interesting to see how Jael and Alyssa changed each other. Jael is a realist and Alyssa is an idealist but they both question what needs to be done. Jael at times was a bit too aggressive and at the beginning to sexually driven (she saw Alyssa as a sort of spoil of war! That changed quick however). Alyssa was very interesting. Although she’s a first life-er and Jael has so much experience, she isn’t pushed around. Even during sex, she doesn’t just sit there but she initiates as well and is active. There isn’t a lot of sex scenes although there are a few. There was one however, where even I (somewhat asexual and I tend to skim them) thought it was very hot and different from how they are usually written.

The fact that they like each other, doesn’t resolve their problems and their incompatibility. The characters are realistic, not always likable and that’s ok. Their relationship has chemistry but I found it a bit squeaky that they had sex before discussing and that one is super-protective even though Second, another character, said that Alyssa is a grown adult who makes her own decisions. Jael especially is ethically dubious, not in the fact that she must kill people but in the way she acts.

Overall, I’m intrigued enough to continue reading the series. I would give this book 3 stars. The ending was better than the start or the middle. I want to see the characters evolve. Whoever is interested in reading the series should proceed with caution on the topics mentioned above.

Megan G reviews Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Danika reviews The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang

This is a fascinating novella. It’s a dark, reversed retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” from the point of view of a human scientist who acts in an anthropological capacity studying the atargati (definitely not “mermaids”). If “dark queer retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid'” didn’t already hook you, I don’t really know what else to say.

I really liked the author chose to not only have the atargati not have gender, but to also have a nonbinary human character (who uses hir/zie prounouns), so that it wasn’t presented as an alien concept:

We did try to describe binary genders to [the atargati] once. Of course Dr. Hansen jumped in and tried to expand the conversation to sex versus gender, and to explain intersex and genderqueer people, and I tried to stop hir because I thought that would be too confusing, but it turned out that part made more sense to them than what we tried to tell them about men and women.

This also had personal appeal to me because the main character falls in love with one of the atargati (of course), and really grapples with what this means for her identity as a lesbian, especially when she had to fight so hard to claim that space in the first place:

I lost my whole identity. I had to rebuild myself brick by brick and seal a shield around myself with the label “lesbian.” I’m attracted to women. I was born that way. I’ve always been that way. If that’s not true, then my whole life, every relationship, every broken tie—it was all a lie. …

I’ve never been attracted to a human man, and still can’t conceive of such a thing. But maybe… maybe I can’t be slotted into a box either. Maybe I don’t have a definition

Have I mentioned that this is a dark retelling? And that it is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s original, and not the Disney version? I probably should have paid more attention to that, because I was disappointed by the ending. I was looking for a little more from the story: I think I was so intrigued by the world that I wanted to spend more time with it, even outside of this specific story. I wanted to know what happened after the story was over. I wanted to learn more about the atargati.

Still, this science fiction, queer, dark take on “The Little Mermaid” is compelling and memorable. You can easily finish it in one sitting, but it will stick with you long after that.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Danika reviews Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

What a book. What a journey. Her Body and Other Parties is a short story collection that blends feminism, queerness, and fabulism into a haunting read. I have to say, when I saw this book included on queer book lists, I kept my expectations low. I was already sold on reading it (feminism & fabulism & that cover? I couldn’t resist), so I would be happy with any queer story in the collection. So it felt like an abundance of riches to keep reading and finding that almost every story had a queer woman main character! I believe there was only one story that didn’t? I especially enjoyed when in one story, the main character (a writer) is accused of writing a stereotype: the mad woman in the attic–the mad lesbian in the attic, even worse! She replies in frustration that she is writing herself–her gay, anxious self.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and although I enjoyed the experience for the most part, I think this is one I would prefer reading in a physical format. They’re thoughtful, metaphorical stories–women literally fading away and being imbued in objects, lists of lovers that turn into a dystopian narrative, ghost stories brought to life–and they would benefit from time to linger over them, instead of being steadily rushed onward by the narrator. On the other hand, I would desperately have like to skim the SVU novella. This was a riff on Law and Order: SVU, and although I liked the concept and elements of the story, I felt as if it dragged, and it was frustrating not being able to skim or at least see when the next story started.

I can see myself coming back to these stories again and again. The first few were my favourites: “The Husband Stitch,” which retells the classic scary story about a girl with a green ribbon around her neck, while also weaving in more urban legends and spooky stories, exposing the misogyny lurking at the heart of them. “Inventory,” which is a list of the main character’s lovers throughout her life. We slowly learn what lead her to this point of meticulous documentation.

Beautifully unsettling, Her Body and Other Parties cracks open familiar stories to expose the rot beneath. If you’re a fan of magical realism or fabulism, I would highly recommend this one. It will leave you unsettled and thoughtful.

Shira Glassman reviews Eelgrass by Tori Curtis

Eelgrass by Tori Curtis is an intimidating book to review because reading it was such a powerful experience that I’m scared of failing to do it justice. It mirrors its protagonist’s span of two worlds — she’s a selkie so both the sea and the shore communities are home — inasmuch as it comfortably straddles Irish historical fantasy and literary fiction (as well as lesfic!) It’s firmly woman-centered; most of the characters are women whose motivation is keeping other women safe.

This is the kind of book where a selkie asks a siren the What are we relationship question. I will reproduce the following deliciously incongruous quote here: “Around here, people decide they want to get to know each other and they — they court. And if that goes well, they marry. Are we courting?” This juxtaposition of conservative, period-piece village daintiness with a literal seal-woman and a bloodthirsty mermaid, I mean, freaking sign me up and sell me the Extras package.

The core of the story is Efa’s drive to rescue her best friend and fellow selkie Bettan from the fate every selkie woman knows about from birth–if a human man gets a hold of your sealskin, you become bound to him. When we finally get to see this up close, it’s a sort of emotional slavery that’s as subtle as feathers but harsh and binding below the surface.

Bettan and Efa’s relationship is the foundation of the book’s story, and I’m very drawn to stories of women as rescuers, especially of each other. I also really like how intense but platonic they were together, because it reaffirms that f/f and f-f friendship stories can support and coexist each other rather than threatening each other. Bettan and Efa literally promise to be best friends forever, which felt good to read.

I loved all the care and thought Curtis put into the details of her worldbuilding. For example, the selkie civilization on human land is more suited to their biology than human villages would be — the houses are very simple, shops are run out of the houses instead of being in separate buildings, etc. In the nearby human village, selkies are accepted as real–they’re othered and exoticized a little, but they’re a familiar presence. In contrast, sirens (called “fishwives” by the humans) are treated as more fantastical. As Efa says:

“I didn’t know fishwives were real,” she said, barely able to form the words over her blush. People told stories about them, but then, people told stories about kings, too. She’d never known anyone who met one.

As for Ninka the Siren/Fishwife herself, here she is in one quote: “Whatever I want. I go exploring, and fish, and bother sailors and seduce young women on the seashore.” Sounds like a nice life! I’d ask where I can sign up, except violins are easily waterlogged.

Ninka is described as “so beautiful Efa didn’t know how she’d ever thought she’d want boys.” Speaking of which, I loved the worldbuilding’s approach to queerness. For example, here’s a conversation between Efa and a male siren:

“I was with a human once. It didn’t end well.”

“With,” she repeated.

“A blacksmith,” he said.

Efa scrunched up her nose. “That’s as human as you can get without being a miner,” she said. And then frowned. “Are all sirens – do men always fall in love with other men?”

“A lot of us do,” he said, “but she was a woman.”

I like the creative decision to have selkie culture and siren culture show different approaches to male-male and female-female love—Efa’s community never presented it as an option, but it’s totally commonplace in Ninka’s. I don’t think I’ve run into this before, this contrast between two different fantasy creature communities. Usually it’s all “how does this group differ from humans.

The entire book draws heavily on symbolism that can easily parallel real-world sexual assault, domestic violence, or bisexual women coerced into permanent relationships with allo cis hetero men rather than pursuing happiness with any gender wherever life leads them (which, yes, may happen to be a man like that but that’s different from ending up with one through social pressure.)

The most poignant and pithy representation of these connections is when Bettan asks Efa, “What if he turned me human?” What if he changed me irrevocably? What if I’ve lost something that made me fundamentally me? This works for all of these real-world parallels. Another quote: “You think people can’t do those kinds of things to you, but obviously they can.” And then, when Efa says, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re free now.” I’m probably making this sound heavy-handed, but it’s really not. It’s exquisite.

After all–

“But no one will take this seriously. It happens all the time.”

“I don’t see why we don’t stop it,” she said. . . . There were selkies who came home ten years, twenty years later, their sealskin won back, and never spoke of what had happened while it was kept from them. There were mothers so determined not to be trapped that they abandoned their sons and daughters. Efa knew people, a dozen of them at least, who stayed away from their human forms forever out of fear that their sealskin might be taken again. She couldn’t imagine losing one world to save the other, but they did it, and trembled at the thought of shedding their sealskins.

There may be some awkward and unintentional racial coding going on in the selkies having slightly darker skin than the human characters–between that and the “lol you’re sexy but exotic and othered” treatment from the human fishermen, plus all the themes of escaping coercion, one could see symbolism for women of color. However, as a fairly light-skinned white Jew, I’m still darker than the white Irish people in my life, so the selkies could still be white if thinking of them any other way gets awkward. A WoC will be better able to speak to this than I can.

Speaking of marginalization, though, the book had a neat moment where Efa forgets about the existence of Deaf people and Ninka (the siren) corrects her. Again, here for a siren “calling in” a selkie as if they were both, like, activist friends of mine or something.

I’m not sure if I was reading an earlier draft because I was given a review copy as a Lesbrary reviewer, but halfway through the book random hyphens started appearing in words that weren’t at the end of lines on the mobile version. It happened at least three or four times and I just wanted to give a heads up that other than this, the book was impeccably edited and didn’t have any other artifacts of Indie Life. Also, I’m not a fan of the cover and feel that it gives the wrong impression of the contents; it looks too modern to me and almost looks like a beachy wedding shoot. Would love to see it with the kind of sweeping fantasy art the story cries out for.

The ending is a little bit unresolved as far as relationships go – there’s an unambiguous f/f ending for Efa that seems like it could lead to future complications (but I’m pretty sure there’s a sequel in the works) plus a m/f resolution for other characters that seemed like a giant maybe. But life itself is unresolved and in continual flow, so I don’t have a problem with this. The plot and adventure part of the story are definitely resolved and complete, and overall this was a riveting read that I’m awarding five stars for quality and being thoroughly absorbing.

Trigger warning for on-the-page controlling husband behavior and “underwater fantasy violence”, as the MPAA might phrase it. These are not Lisa Frank mermaids.

Also, this book will make you thoroughly hungry for fish (if you eat fish.)


Marthese reviews A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman

‘’Not everybody reads encyclopaedias for fun’’

A Harvest of Ripe Figs is the third book in the Mangoverse series. It takes place a bit after the epilogue in the second book. I loved this book so much I binge read it.

This book combines two genres which I love: fantasy and mystery. Shulamit and her family have settled with what happened at the end of  book two . Things are quiet, and indeed, the plot does not revolve much around Shula’s group drama! A violin/fiddle of importance gets stolen (I’m still confused about the difference between a violin and a fiddle!) and Shulamit uses her intellect and deduction skills along with some help from her family to discover what happened to it.

During the mystery, it comes out that Shula is a good interrogator (no torture involved–don’t worry) while Riv stops a lot of bullshit – which I loved. Isaac is smug but helpful and Aviva is supportive and introspective. There is a lot of gender talk and criticism of stereotypes.

I liked the down to business element. For example Riv may be attracted to Isaac but she focuses on her job first. There is no ‘but they couldn’t help themselves’ element.

The accepting diversity is what draws me to this series and in this book, there is very minor ace representation (like blink and you miss it; but I appreciated that it was there).

There is also young trans representation! Aviva sums it up perfectly ”That’s the boy who exists. Anything else is a story” and although Shula doesn’t get it at first, she is very protective of her people. Indeed, she’s a great leadership example (despite it being not a democracy). Shula has plans for giving more females more power in her city. She’s ok with sharing power.

Another thing that was super squee worthy for me was the mention of pests and tropical plants. At the moment, I’m working on a campaign for fair and sustainable tropical fruit (make fruit fair) so it’s something that I became familiar with. The pests are a real problem to our food security and farmers’ livelihoods and Shula really cares about her farmers – the backbone of Perach.

Shula is all about responsibility -whether her own of the wrongdoers responsibility. Wish the world was more like that.

The word ‘Feminism’ is actually used! Women supporting women is also another feature of the book. There was lots of body positivity – especially surrounding maternity and different sizes.

There’s also an example of a toxic relationship and an entitled ‘nice guy’ who wants to be the center of attention and expects things for his ‘sacrifices’. This is dealt with rather than ignored or condoned.

Apart from all the simply narrated but complex topics, it’s simply a fun read. There are some funny elements like the stories about Riv – which turn out pretty helpful in the end.

For me, a good mystery isn’t necessarily complex but it must be clean and rounded-up. Things that were mentioned throughout find their use in the conclusion to the mystery and so for me, while predictable it’s a good mystery.

There were many metaphors also about ripening and maturing – people developing and becoming more themselves. Of course, much food talk as well which I came to expect from this series.

What I wanted to see was Kaveh and his companion again (see I even forgot his name). They were mentioned but in passing. Would have been good if they visited or had visible correspondence at least; considering that they are family.

All in all, it’s a fun read. Fluffy-ish fantasy without too much drama. The pages just seemed to scroll by. I was already used to the world and the characters and it was an enjoyable and fun read. While it may seem an easy read, it still points critically to problems in our society and speaks about different issues.


Maddison Reviews The Year of the Knife by G. D. Penman

Agent “Sully” Sullivan is a witch and agent for the Imperial Bureau of Investigation in this book where the United States never gained independence from Britain. Sully is tasked with putting an end to a series of bizarre and gruesome murders proclaimed the year of the knife. As Sully becomes more entangled in the mystery, she and those close to her are put into danger, and it becomes more important than ever for Sully to solve the case and escaped relatively unscathed.

I saw this book a few months ago, and was excited by the premise of the book, and ready to spend my hard-earned cash on it – but, boy, am I glad that I didn’t spend money on this book. Sully is an unsympathetic, and in my mind, often unredeemable character. The book opens with Sully liquefying a perpetrator who she has tracked into the subway, cackling the entire time. Even when she accidentally kills possessed civilians she shows no remorse for her behaviours.

And veering away from the issues I take with the protagonist of the book, the author inserts some racist, classist, sexist, and otherwise problematic elements.

For one, Sully is treated as if she is the most oppressed character in the book because she is Irish. This is despite the fact that we meet multiple characters from India and Africa, who are arguably worse off in this British imperialist alternate reality.  Some prize quotes that further the issues of racism include “in all of Sully’s limited dealing with the Native Americans, she had never met one that wasn’t beautiful”, and “He was a tiny Oriental man, known as the Eternal Emperor.” And as if describing the man as ‘oriental’ wasn’t bad enough, the man’s translator was previously a sumo wrestler – because, you know, what else do Japanese people do?

Despite Sully being one of the poor and oppressed in this book, and one who hates the British Empire and what it stands for, we still never see her having sympathy for other oppressed parties. In fact, the author gives us this gem, “Malcontent poor people who blamed the empire for every tiny problem in their life,” which entirely ignores and dismisses the problems that poor and oppressed peoples struggle with.

And finally, on to the sexism. Sully is an almost forty year old woman who the author refers to as a “not bad for a girl pushing forty.” This unfortunate turn of phrase that infantilizes women is only one example of issues with sexism in this book. Many of these also operate within the intersection of her being a woman and a lesbian. Sully is presented as the predatory lesbian stereotype, with this quote really exemplifying the stereotype “Thursday night was student night at many of the nightclubs in the city, and Sully had always had her pick of the presumably legal and fairly experimental art students. She liked to think of herself as a formative experience for a lot of girls out there in the world.”

I also take issue with the way the antagonist is forgiven for his acts. The antagonist possesses and kills hundreds of innocent civilians, but because he was doing it for a greater cause, his actions are forgiven and he is rewarded for them. I can’t go into too many details, without majorly spoiling the plot.

I wish I had only taken issues with these elements of the book, but the writing, and plot are both amateur. There are references to past cases, and past events that are never explained as if this were a latter book in a series, which it is not. When demons shout, their speech is written in all capital letters, which I am blaming the editor for because that should have been changed. The plot is convoluted and uninspiring. The ending is rushed and unrealistic within the canon of the story, and the romance between Sully and Marie leaves a lot to be desired.

Would I recommend The Year of The Knife? No.