Shira Glassman reviews The Gift of Your Love by Kayla Bashe

The Gift of Your Love by Kayla Bashe is a good fit for anyone looking for woman-centered SFF, f/f without graphic sex scenes, or shorter queer fiction.

Neely is a foreigner who only ended up in this city by accident — she traveled here with her merchant father as a child, but he ended up dead and she grew up in an orphanage far from home. Now she’s living on the street, not just because of her lack of local family, but because of a recent heartache — an abusive boss who tossed her out into the cold world. She needs people and safety and healing — but right now, she needs apples. Tasty, tasty apples. Too bad that just after stealing them, she gets attacked by a gigantic tentacle monster.

BUT HEY, that’s not so bad if it means you get rescued by a cute butch woman whose family then takes you in under their wing? All of whom have magical powers? (As does Neely, by the way.)

Here, let me let Forester sweep you off your feet, too—

“Not a diet. I just like eating foods that will give me big muscles.” She glanced down at her already-intimidating body, which Neely thought was the perfect combination of soft and strong. “Well, bigger. My dream is to be strong enough to carry a hunting dog under each arm. That way, I’ll bring joy to anyone who sees me, because they’ll be able to get kisses from two dogs at once.”

I love the writing craft in this description of her, when we first meet her, bolding mine: “And those eyes… a wolf’s eyes, a warrior’s eyes, the deep blue at the heart of a fire.”

Also, she uses potatoes as a weapon because once they’re underground they can grow, and that’s a superpower that sings to my very heart. As well as amusing me because using a potato as a weapon.

This is Kay Bashe’s latest “adorable queer people doing their best in a speculative world while recovering from trauma” romance — yes, it’s a brand image at this point. If you’re not familiar with Bashe’s work, they often contain teams of magical girls (and sometimes nonbinary people, too, although we don’t get any in the immediate family here) that read as somewhere between superhero found-families like X-Men or Avengers plus the magical girl squads of Sailor Moon and Read or Die–except, heavily slanted towards queerness and disability representation (often reflecting Bashe’s own) and sometimes more ethnically diverse. There’s usually a heavy focus on interpersonal relationships and character development alongside the adventure itself, which is sometimes just a framework on which to hang the former meaty emotional stuff. This one slots neatly into that subgenre.

It’s short and sweet, and most of the romance consists of mutual pining for each other before a closing scene get-together — and yes, it’s that characteristic Bashe type of pining where both ladies think the other one is Far Too Amazing to Like Someone as Trash As Me (while, being anything but trash, and saving each other, and doing all kinds of brave and magical things.)

Gift of Your Love also gives us an older woman mentor figure as part of the family. For those of us who couldn’t get enough of General Organa (or having her and Admiral Holdo in the same movie!) and feel a deep emptiness that we won’t get more, this is neat.

Bashe’s characters face microaggressions and stresses that are clearly plucked from real life. One of the other ladies in the little magical family has a peanut allergy, and only the other characters’ vigilance saves her from the casual dismissiveness of a disbelieving restaurant employee–which could have led to her serious disaster. The love interest, Forester, worries that she’s not a good enough feminist because of the way her OCD causes her to hyperfocus on the picayune details — this could easily be any one of us after reading the wrong thinkpiece.

In fact, Forester’s struggles with her violent intrusive thoughts, and the way she copes with the accompanying guilt, are especially poignant having been written by an author with same. (I’ve written #ownvoices intrusive thoughts myself, with Prince Kaveh, but they’re of a different type and it was interesting for me as someone with a similar-but-different issue to see what else is out there in brainweird land.) I hope anyone else out there whose brain betrays them like this finds community in the representation and validation in her heroism.

Incidentally, the main characters are coded Jewish inasmuch as they’re outsiders from somewhere else who don’t eat pork and are written by a Jewish author.

Oh and did I mention, there’s a “oh no we’ll have to share the only bed” trope at one point? This story is adorable. Even through all the heavy themes of women struggling to find value in themselves and being far from home with nobody there for you.

Shira Glassman is a hair factory and storyteller living in a bi townhouse on the moon. She just released a new high-heat f/f romance in which a super hero lady finally asks out the damsel-in-distress she’s been rescuing (and flirting with) for months. But will they ever get to have a normal date or are there too many Monsters of the Week? Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor is $1.99 on Kindle!

Danika reviews Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert is a quiet, thoughtful book that deftly handles complex subjects. It immediately reminded me of Radio Silenceanother YA novel that explores race, sexuality, mental health, and adolescence seamlessly. I’m grateful that we now live in a time where queer young adult books have really matured, so to speak. In the days of Annie On My Mind, just being a white teen coming out as gay was scandalous enough, nevermind having anything else going on in your life.

Now, we finally have books that even when addressing the coming out arc can have more complexity and layers. Suzette is black, bisexual, and Jewish, and those aspects of her identity all interact and affect her everyday life. I liked how it addressed the challenges of coming out even in a fairly positive environment: the embarrassment in having to announce this intimate part of yourself, the tension in seeing what people’s reactions will be, the irritation of having it involuntarily become your defining feature, the general awkwardness.

But this story isn’t about Suzette’s sexual identity. It’s about her relationship with her brother, and how they’ve recently grown apart, to her dismay. Lionel has recently been diagnosed as bipolar, and shortly after that, Suzette was sent away to boarding school. They haven’t seen each other a lot, and they aren’t sure how to go back to the closeness they once shared. It’s painful. And it only gets more complicated when they both fall for the same girl.

The blurbs for this title seem to suggest that Suzette and her brother are pitted against each other, competing for the same girl. That’s not accurate. The core of this story is Suzette and Lionel’s relationship, and Suzette wouldn’t endanger that for a crush. So there is a love triangle, but it’s not as dramatic as that would suggest.

I really enjoyed Little & LionIt has a lot of subtle aspects that make the reading experience richer, including microaggressions (whether that’s racism, ableism, biphobia, or antisemitism). For example, I loved when Suzette got frustrated at the double-standard that bi people are not able to have a crush on two people, especially of different genders, at the same time, for fear of being associated with anti-bi stereotypes. I rolled my eyes at a review on Goodreads which played into this and accused Suzette of “emotional cheating,” despite her not even being in an official relationship.

I can’t comment on the mental health representation here, because I don’t have significant knowledge of bipolar disorder, but overall I thought this was a beautiful book, and makes me feel optimistic about the of queer lit, and specifically bi & lesbian young adult books, to know that these sorts of stories are being published. It’s about time!

Shira Glassman reviews The Dyke and the Dybbuk by Ellen Galford

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Ellen Galford’s The Dyke and the Dybbuk is, for only being eighteen years old, fairly iconic and hallowed in the tiny subgenre in which I spend most of my writing time. In other words, it may very well be the first great piece of sapphic Jewish fantasy. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know about more! In any case, it was a pleasure to read–sarcastic, sardonic, hopeful, enthusiastic, both a love story to our culture and a sharp criticism of some of its more tiresome features.

The initial premise stems from a trope some people may find painful, but is all too realistic thanks to the way society overwhelmingly pressures cis women to marry cis men. Namely, two young women in historical Jewish Eastern Europe are in love, until one of them leaves to marry a man. The jilted woman (herself somewhat of an outcast for her mixed parentage) responds by cursing the bride with demon possession. Thus enter our “what if Loki was a lesbian” demon, the hilarious–and also sapphic–dybbuk of the title. But she winds up imprisoned in a tree instead of being able to haunt the married woman and her daughters and granddaughters per the curse’s instructions, so it isn’t until the ninth generation of offspring that she gets a chance to escape and begin her assignment.

And this ninth generation is a British lesbian film critic who drives a taxi for her day job.

Rainbow Rosenbloom’s more at odds with her Judaism than I am, but, firstly, the book was written in an earlier generation, and secondly, there are pretty much twice as many ways to be Jewish as there are actual Jews in the world. I am confident that her experiences accurately reflect many other people’s relationship with their Jewishness. She’s surrounded by paternal aunts and she’s over-aware of the ways her preference for women—as well as her self-chosen first name, and also eating treyf–puts her in direct opposition to the way they want her to live.

The dybbuk decides that Rainbow’s already weird enough and has already maxed out ‘acting out’, so she can’t possibly make her look any weirder by ordinary possession. Therefore, she decides as her project she’s going to give Rainbow a massive crush on–Riva, a married Orthodox woman with six children! So suddenly, she’s super interested in her faith in a way she never was before (the irony being that it’s only because of a demon’s influence.) In comes an intense crush that I totally recognized from various straight girls I’ve crushed on.

Now, I have a soft spot for pious women, so like the sucker I am, I did fall hook line and sinker for the Rainbow/Riva ‘ship in this book. Spoiler warning: the author went somewhere else, but that’s okay. The book does deliver happy f/f endings, and even the demon herself gets to have some fun.

As far as the issue of how the book made me feel as a bisexual woman — the line “trendy bisexual” was used at one point in dialogue, but I do feel like any criticism of bi women’s choices was intended as unreliable narrator because from what I can remember it’s followed up with a reminder that they don’t actually know if the olden-days bride was bi or if she just married a man to appease cultural traditions which is extremely possible, given the circumstances. I beg of those reading this review to please be gentle with me if your experiences lead you to feel differently, because the week after I read the book my spouse ended our thirteen year relationship and so 1. I am not particularly able to hold my own in discourse at the moment and 2. I am writing this a month after reading the book and after a considerable amount of pain, so my memory isn’t perfect.

Either way, if you’re a Jewish woman who likes women, it’s worth checking out even if you aren’t a fan of spec fic. The speculative elements are lighthearted and easy to process–among themselves, the demons’ society is a parody of modern corporate culture and office politics. It’s out of print right now but worldcat.org has it listed in libraries all over the place, and I had no trouble getting a hold of it through interlibrary loan, so if you don’t mind using the system—and plenty of librarians told me that using a library actually helps libraries and isn’t a strain on them at all—it should be relatively easy. Besides, used copies are not hard to find.

Content warning: I have vague memories of there being the g-slur (for Rromani) in there someplace.

olive-conspiracyThank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, Jewish fantasy about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.

Marthese reviews Climbing the Date Palm by Shira Glassman

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“Bravery isn’t all swordfighting and  riding dragons”

Climbing the Date Palm is the second book in the Mangoverse series by Shira Glassman. This series is a fantasy series with Jewish traditions and has a diverse cast with the main characters being Queen Shulamit and her girlfriend Aviva and Rivka, Shula’s head guard and Isaac, her companion.

The book picks up a little while after the first book ends and starts with Aviva encountering a near-to-death horse rider who turns out to been Prince Kaveh from the city of red clay who came to Riv- who is mistaken by most as a man, who has a male companion- to ask for help as his sweetheart Farzin was imprisoned by his father.

Our group of intrepid heroes, or well Shula’s group of close friends work to save Kaveh’s life. Rivka’s mother also joins the palace while Shulamit, who more than ever has her whole country on her shoulder comes up with a plan to sire and heir with the bisexual prince.

The plot follows the casts’ trials as they try to save Farzin’s life. Farzin, an engineer and old friend of Kaveh’s was imprisoned for siding with his  workers when they were not paid as they should; as well as for ‘corrupting’ Kaveh.

More than the plot, the story offers interesting conversations between the characters that allow the readers to think about life and its lessons in a very simplified way. The way that Glassman put things into perspective may sometimes be too simplistic but still very thoughtful. Things like bisexuality- and not being interesting in everyone, stereotypes on women and gay and bisexual people, parenting, being responsibility and insecurity and discussed in a mature but not complex way. Isaac provides very good pointers on how to strike up a conversation, if you ever need to gather intel!

I felt that this book, as mentioned, deals with heavy and exhausting topics – most of which many of us have to repeat over and over- in an interesting, sometimes metaphorical and simple way that almost everyone would be able to get. I felt it was more complex than the first book and the characters are growing into themselves. As it’s the second book, I cannot give much spoilers but the answer to problems in this world is answered with geekery from everyone, charm, persistence, team-work and effort.

The relationships in this book are very mature for the most part. Although there was a lesbian couple, and Shula is the protagonist; the story was more than that and included a lot of flashbacks from Farzin and Kaveh’s time together. The diverse characters work well together and are like a puzzle that fits with the story.

Climbing the Date Palm was a highly enjoyable read and as it’s part of a fantasy series, we get to immerse ourselves in the world for the duration of other books as well! I’ll definitely continue with this series.

Laura Mandanas reviews Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

A few weeks ago, I decided to bring a book into the tub for a relaxing bubble bath. When the temperature was right, I gingerly picked up the paperback and eased my way into the frothy suds, cautiously avoiding the slightest splash. I took careful pains to hold the book a deliberate 6-8 inches out of the water. I even piled up towels at the edge of the tub in case of slippery-fingered emergency. It didn’t matter; within 20 minutes the book was completely waterlogged. The culprit? Not bathwater, but tears. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg had me weeping by the end of the first chapter.
Stone Butch Blues is a beautifully written novel. The main character, Jess, is a young Jewish butch coming of age in the late ‘60s. Drowning in loneliness, Jess finds companionship in the queer community frequenting working-class gay bars. In this pre-Stonewall era, however, their mere existence is enough to prompt brutal attack from all sides. As the story unfolds, each of these characters weather hardships of an enormity I can barely comprehend.

Jess is a complicated character, and the book (thankfully) never backs away from this. I particularly appreciated the range of characters shown throughout in the book. “Butch” identity is not reserved strictly for lesbian women that present themselves in traditionally masculine ways; men, straight and bisexual women, and transgender people can all lay equally legitimate claim to the identity.

 Stone Butch Blues is the winner of numerous literary awards, and its clear to see why. This book is an essential read — and not just for the person who “doesn’t identify as a man and is at least some of the time attracted romantically and/or sexually to others who do not identify as a man” (ha). This is a book for anyone with a soul.

Stone Butch Blues is one of the most widely read pieces of LGBT literature, and appears on the shelves of many major retailers.