Kathryn Hoss reviews Juliana by Vanda

Juliana is actually the story of Alice Huffman, “Al” for short, a small-town girl who moves to the Big Apple in the 1940s to pursue a musical and acting career. She ends up spending very little time working on said career, and more time alienating her friends while having a constant, back-and-forth existential crisis about her sexuality.
I knew I was in trouble when the book began with an apology:
“I wrote this novel to be accurate for its time. That means there may be occasional words used to refer to certain groups of people that would be consider [sic] inappropriate today; therefore, I wish to formally apologize to Roman Catholics, African Americans, Jews, the Japanese, and the disabled.”
That apology could have also gone out to the LGBT community. Though this is a story about and supposedly for queer women, there is so much homophobia depicted in these pages that I was tempted to give up 10% of the way through– and would have, if I wasn’t reading to review.
We pressed our own noses against the glass to see what was going on. Inside there were real homosexuals eating breakfast. When they saw us staring, the men homosexuals did a fairy dance like they were girls and the girl homosexuals, wearing suits and ties, kissed each other on their mouths. It was disgusting.
Worse than the homophobia surrounding Al is her own internalized homophobia. Every time it seems as if Al is about to grow from an experience, she immediately backtracks. In one scene she is kissing Juliana, in the next berating her for leading her down an immoral path. I failed to understand why a semi-successful club singer like Juliana would be interested in such a stick-in-the-mud, unless she wanted to take advantage of Al’s insecurity and naïveté.
The unhealthy nature of their relationship may be the main reason this novel didn’t work for me. At no point do we get a window into Al’s feelings, aside from sexual desire for Juliana. And even while Al’s body is saying “hell yes,” her mouth is saying “no.” Juliana pursues a sexual relationship with her anyway, making this an extremely uncomfortable read for people like me, who value such things as consent.
If the (lack of) consent between Juliana and Al isn’t questionable enough, Al is also sexually assaulted by one of her closest friends earlier in the story. She immediately forgives him and acts as if this violence never happened for the remainder of the novel, a response which I cannot logically reconcile without deciding Al is just an inconsistent character.
The supporting cast is not much better. The only living, breathing part of this novel, for me, was the setting. Vanda grew up in Huntington NY according to her bio, which is where this story begins. It is clear that plenty of research went into the location and time period, sometimes to the detriment of the plot. I got the impression that the author was more keen on hitting all the historical bases than in telling a coherent story. Yes, the setting is beautifully portrayed, but at what cost?
History buffs may find Juliana an engrossing read, but for those of us looking for lesbian romance, it leaves much to be desired.

Kathryn Hoss reviews Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee

not your sidekick
Five words: lesbian, bisexual, and trans superheroes.
Wait, I think I need a few more.
Lesbian, bisexual, and trans superheroes taking on the kyriarchy, falling in love, and just… being kids.
Jessica Tran doesn’t fit in. I know, not the most original premise. But along with all the normal crap teenagers worry about– mediocre grades due to excessive daydreaming, crushes on intimidating Volleyball players, jobs and internships and college applications… Jess has the added pressure of being the only person in her family who hasn’t exhibited superpowers.
It’s been ten years since I was Jess’s age, and the world has changed a lot since then. Back in my day, most of us didn’t have smartphones, or Facebook, the endless scroll of notifications. Not Your Sidekick takes that technology a step further, into a world with holographic communication devices on every wrist, driverless cars on every street, and a robot housekeeper in every home. Despite the surface convenience, the infrastructure of North America has crumbled, good jobs are scarce, and all that flashy technology? It’s constantly malfunctioning.
Is this gonna resonate with the tumblr generation, the “millennials,” those of us disenfranchised by our currently-crumbling systems of government? Oh hell yes.
The cool thing is, Not Your Sidekick doesn’t just offer up a hopeless dystopian nightmare– it shows the world on the verge of being fixed.
This is a story about false binaries, and how one can go about smashing them. Jess starts off the story as bisexual with no qualms about it, which is refreshing. She does struggle with her cultural identity, as the child of Chinese and Thai refugees from the Southeast Asian Alliance– too American for the Thai sandwich shop, too fobby for her old friends from Chinese School. Finally, there’s the titular binary, the concept of heroism versus villainy. Who decides which is which, and why?
Okay, so I’m a sucker for worldbuilding, especially when it doesn’t forget that a major continent exists. But I also thought this novel shone when it came to its portrayal of the intense platonic love that can form in a tight-knit group of friends, as well as the complicated dynamic of idolization turning to genuine love.
The novel is not without its flaws. Some of the prose seemed unpolished, the twists predictable, the pace a little too rushed. But Not Your Sidekick is also Not Your High Literature. It’s camp. It’s trope-y. It frequently defies the laws of physics. (When one or more of your characters can manipulate gravitational fields, that will happen.) If anything, the way the narrative played so seamlessly into superhero tropes made me visualize it as a movie–and man, that would be a good movie.
Let me put it this way: there is a glut of blatant wish-fulfillment books, movies, and TV shows about male superheroes. There is a handful about female superheroes. Before Not Your Sidekick, I could think of one lesbian or bi superhero whose sexuality was explicitly mentioned in a long-form work, and she was killed off (Black Canary on Arrow). Not Your Sidekick is the story LGBT fans deserve, AND the one we need right now. My biggest problem with it?
It’s the first of a trilogy, and we have to wait until 2017 for the next one.

Kathryn Hoss Recommends Lesbian Beach Reads

Every summer my entire obnoxious/lovable extended family rents a beach house in the Carolinas for a week, and every summer I end up scouring Goodreads, Amazon, and the Lesbrary for “lesbian beach reads.” Usually, that phrase yields zero-to-few results.

I’m here to change that.

funhomemusical   unbearable lightness portia de rossi   PriceofSalt   FriedGreenTomatoes   the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final

Looking for a juicy tell-all for the drive down?
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is one of my all-time favorites. The graphic memoir explores Bechdel’s fraught relationship with her closeted gay, perfectionist father and his unexpected suicide. Despite the subject matter, Bechdel’s tone is more thoughtful than ruminating, probing for the truth in a situation with many sides. As someone who was a baby butch at one time, it was a breath of fresh air to see myself reflected in child- and college-Alison. This read can be accomplished in a few hours.
Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi is another quick read, but it is not light. The memoir recounts de Rossi’s lengthy struggle with bulimia and anorexia, her journey from rock bottom, when her organs nearly shut down, to a very nice life with Ellen Degeneres and their horses. I will say it brought back eating-disordered feelings from adolescence that I didn’t know I still had– de Rossi’s devastating internal monologues can be triggering– but it’s an important story and an engrossing read.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith might be the perfect road-trip story, straddling the line between pulp novel and classic literature. You’ve probably already seen the 2015 movie, Carol, but I’m gonna say the book is worth reading too. Highsmith’s prose tends to maunder in details that I thought not at all necessary to plot or characterization, but I found it interesting on an anthropological level to see Therese and Carol’s relationship unfold in 1952. Elements of the story are lifted straight out of Highsmith and her friends’ lives, adding to the realism. For the romance crowd, if you like the “Oh no, there’s only one bed and we have to share it!” trope, you’re gonna love this.

Looking for something profound so that when your relatives ask what you’re reading, you don’t have to feel ashamed?
I actually haven’t finished Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg, only because the prose lends itself to be read slow as molasses. There is definitely a lot in this book that would not be considered politically correct. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, “Is this a White Savior narrative?” The romance is also only one thread in a rich tapestry of family and food. But Fried Green Tomatoes feeds my soul because it depicts a lesbian-headed family living in the south, in the 20s and 30s, and no one ever says a word about them being different or wrong. I actually tried fried green tomatoes (the food) the other day. Spoiler alert: They were delicious.

I was going to do a separate YA section, but then I was like, nah. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth is Literature. Set in small-town Montana in a fully-fleshed out fictional city, The Miseducation is so hyperreal, I kept thinking, “This has to be autobiographical, right? No way someone could make up that much detail.” And yet, danforth did. Right down to watching the girl you like skid her flip flop a little too far away and lunge to pick it up with her toes. A bittersweet story of parental mortality, thwarted teenage love, and coming of age, I couldn’t bring myself to read this one on the beach because it made me feel like my heart was in my throat.

secondmangocover   LoveDevoursbySarahDiemer   ClimbingtheDatePalm-200x300   BrandedAnn   olive conspiracy

Looking for adventure, romance, and fantasy all rolled into one beautiful escapist mess?

Not gonna lie– this is what I consider a Certified Lesbian Beach Read. Sitting ankle-deep in the surf with wind sand-blasting my face and the sun encroaching ever-closer to my beergarita, I’m not exactly looking to think too hard. I want to see some salty pirate pansexuals, some transcendentally beautiful trans mermaids, and some lesbian ladies in full 16th-century attire making out on a tropical island.

First off, I can recommend Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration by Sarah Diemer. You can download “The Witch Sea” for free on Amazon separately, but my favorite story in this collection is “Seek.” I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say this: Mysterious sea woman. Girl-knight seeking to win the hand of a beautiful princess. Sultry enchantress. Intrigue! Also check out The Monstrous Sea by Sarah and Jennifer Diemer for its trans girl YA mermaid story, “True if By Sea.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Second Mango by our own Shira Glassman for its lesbian princess, her woman-knight BFF, her bisexual long-lost love, and the tropical, vaguely Floridian setting in which they frolic.

Finally, Branded Ann by Merry Shannon was a recent standout, well-plotted with a careful balance of romance and adventure. This is the lesbian Pirates of the Caribbean– a search for lost treasure, threats of mutiny, mayyyyybe some kind of supernatural being?? I also came away feeling like I learned something about 16th century piracy, all while enjoying sizzling hot sexual tension. My only gripe is the character description. I felt like had no idea what most of the characters looked like, except the two main characters, who were described in frequent and florid detail. Still, this was all I ever wanted, all I ever needed in a pirate romance novel. (This one comes with a trigger warning for sexual assault mentions.)

What are your favorite LBT beach reads? Let me know on the Goodreads list! (https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/100656.Lesbian_Beach_Reads)

Kathryn Hoss is an aspiring author and singer-songwriter from Ohio. She can be found at kathrynhoss.tumblr.com.