Marthese reviews Aces by Kathryn Burns

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‘I did not adult well’

Aces is a short book on the relationship between Astrid and Hollis, two very creative women living in Seattle. They both work in retail but have a shared passion for writing. The story is told from Astrid’s perspective.

This story feels real, is not that cliché and is very diverse with its characters. Most times, the diversity is built up and not introduced at once and it does not feel like the characters are diverse simply to be so, they just are.

Astrid works at a shoe shop, has had a variety of hobbies and has a lack of self-confidence. She does not, at first, get on with her girlfriend’s flatmate Lloyd. This is however, explained in what I thought was a good reason. Astrid loves Hollis a lot, though she feels that Hollis is always right and keeps her emotions in check too much.

Hollis works in cosmetics but her other passion is blogging and writing. She writes fanfiction as well and has some geeking moments in the book. She also loves her flatmate’s cat Schrodinger. As she likes writing and expresses herself in that method, she writes letters about Astrid which Astrid finds in unexpected places. One of these letters brings about the confession that Hollis is asexual. After that, their relationship has better communication but does not change much.

This book has a lot of cool stuff in it and whether they are mentioned in detail or only in passing, I think that it is a good depiction of queer reality. Currently pop culture and recent history are mentioned but there is a 90s vibe at times. As the characters attend Poetry Slam Mondays, we are introduced to some poetry slam! Video making and blogging are mentioned and are done by at least four characters. Minimalism is also brought about by necessity. Stuff like transitioning, non-binary, dysphoria, period pains, drag, on coming out as a continuous process and bi-erasure are topics of discussion or thought in the story.

There are many characters, whether they appear often or simply once, with various gender identities. The families mentioned are also of different forms. Their group of friends is very varied but like Clementine said, Astrid brings them together.

What I also liked in the story, was that there was the depiction on genuine love, not too perfect and that information processing was done in a healthy way. Although at first Astrid bothered me a bit, she grew on me while I liked Hollis from the beginning because I could relate to her.  I think the best thing was however, when there was a discussion on shipping in fanfiction and how that is still part of asexuality.

I do not have a particular thing that I particularly did not like although Astrid was slightly bothersome in the beginning as I had the perception that she was too self-centred. This was not so much the case and it just takes a while to get used to the character. There was also an instance that the term ‘transgendered’ was used instead of ‘transgender’ however, I think that was due to language use.

I think that there are so few books that speak about asexuality in their plot, much less when they are combined with various other diverse characters and speaking so planning on reality, with deep thoughts as everyday occurrences. Perfect for over-thinkers like me! It truly is a love story that gives you hope. Where the characters do not follow a formula but make the love their own.

I recommend this book for people that want to read a book with an asexual character, for people that want to read more books with trans inclusiveness (including non-binary), for geeky people that like to see fanfiction, slam poetry and internet culture incorporated into the life of the characters and for people that want to read a short but realistic love story.

Amanda Clay reviews What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

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“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, 
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken…”

If only.

Toni and Gretchen have been in love from the moment they met, dancing with each other’s dates at the Junior Homecoming Dance. They don’t differ, don’t disagree, don’t want to do anything but be together. Even after they graduate,   they’ve got it figured out: Toni to Harvard, Gretchen to BU and there will only be a few subway stops between them. Then Gretchen accepts a last-minute admission to NYU and suddenly everything changes. It’s not that she doesn’t love Toni, she just needs to find out who she is, who she can be on her own. And once Toni gets to Harvard and hooks up with the Trans* group, she starts to wonder who she is as well.   It’s a year of change, a year of discovery, love and loss. Who will they be when it’s all over? What will they be to each other?

What We Left Behind is a very good read. The story of Toni and Gretchen–  their actions and reactions, thoughts and feelings–  is not one we’ve read before. All the characters, main and supporting, are so well-imagined and well-presented the reader is at once drawn in to their world; the dialogue so realistically rendered it speaks in the ear.  You want to root for the girls, for their relationship, and for the people they are realizing themselves to be. The disconnect breaks your heart even as it breaks theirs. The only criticisms I have are small~ Toni’s quest for a gender identity label can sometimes seem a bit like a list of every gender expression tumblr has to offer, and in no part of Great Britain is Guinness ‘the ultimate British drink’, but these are minor quibbles and easily overlooked in a major work.  Beautifully done.

Marthese reviews Dare Seize the Fire by Cody L. Stanford

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“gifts sometimes come with sharp edges”

Dare Seize the Fire is a young adult adventure book with a hint of fantasy. The story is set in Philadelphia and follows Katie Zielinski which is also called Kasia, Katarzyna, Kat and my favourite: cutie-Kat. On her way home, Katie finds an escaped tiger and connects with him. His name, turns out to by Jyoti and he can talk and reason when he is around Katie. In turn, Katie realizes she has some sort of powers whenever she is near Jyoti. Which is good, because Jyoti’s previous owner, Zadornin, wants him back.

Zadornin is a warlock and calls Jyoti, Firebright. He has had him since he was a cub, mistreated him a lot and has very sinister plans for Jyoti which expand to even more sinister. Zadornin is a really, really evil person and probably you will become squeamish while he thinks or tells his past. Let’s just say that it’s not only poor animals that he has killed.

Katie, whose only troubles before were that she was in love with her best friend Laurinda (Lauri) and taking care of her autistic brother Cassie, finds herself dodging the warlock’s attempts at getting the tiger back. She does this with the help of the before-mentioned Laurie and Cassie, Agni and his son and a tiger lady. There isn’t just one confrontation between Katie and Zadornin, but several in escalation.

The story is told from multiple perspectives. I thought the writing was realistic in portraying the characters. Stanford, who by the way seems to know a lot about felines, managed to write an autistic mind, a tiger mind and an evil mind quite well, which was a bit scary. Especially at first perspectives changed in the same chapter without warning and it took some getting used to. I would have preferred to have different chapters per character which was done later on. As well, there were some time or place jumps in a chapter without warning. Lines would perhaps have helped the reader orientate themselves.

Katie’s and Laurie’s relationship is based on cuteness, sharp sarcasm and teasing. All in all, very cute. Reading about an autistic character was hard but much needed and hopefully, this will help other  readers know more about autism.

The writing is very funny at times, especially with the similes and metaphors used. One example which I thought was extremely hilarious was: “Like the mincing of an offended flamingo”. The insults thrown around in this book are also quite funny.

There were some irritating things in the plot.  The parents usually make a lot of mistakes. I also thought that leaving parents on their own when you have a powerful enemy was not safe at all! And of course, when someone is in grave danger of losing their lives, no one can agree on anything.

However, all in all, I highly enjoyed this book which also gave me a break from reading just in the Fantasy genre. The main message of the book, I think, is to let go of secrets to feel much lighter and also to unlock the potential already there. Throughout the book, Katie becomes more confidents to protect both herself and the creatures she loves. After having finished the Engelsfors trilogy, reading about a ‘witch’ and her bond with an animal made me go into ‘fond-mode’ and indeed the friendship between Kat and Jyoti was supportive and quite positive. I recommend this book to animal and felines lovers, people that want to read a cute romance that is part of a bigger plot, to people looking for autistic characters and to adventure lovers.

Al Rosenberg reviews Shoulders by Georgia Cotrell

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Shoulders seems like a fictionalized memoir, but reads like a conversation with an old friend. Georgia Cotrell tells the tale of Bobbie Craword, innocent, personable lesbian, and her coming-of-age in the 1970’s. And then it tells of the fallout of all of her decisions in the 1980’s. At moments both heart-warming and anxiety-inducing, Shoulders is one of the most realistic portayals of developing sexuality I have come across.

This novel was published by Firebrand Books, an amazing short-lived lesbian and feminist book press in Ithaca, NY, in 1987 and only received a first printing, which is a shame. Cotrell herself is described on Goodreads as “a software developer and author from Austin, Texas. Her novel Shoulders was published in 1987.” That’s it, just the one book in one printing, which fits my theory that this book is more memoir than fiction.

What I find most refreshing about Shoulders is that it isn’t about the anxiety of figuring out that you’re gay. There’s no angsty self-doubt about being a lesbian, just acceptance that ladies are the prefered romantic interests.

Cotrell reveals Bobbie to us in short chapters, flashes in time. We are taken from her childhood to her teenage years to college in the first few pages. The innocence of childhood sexuality continues throughout her life in the form of romantic innocence. Most of the time Bobbie just doesn’t seem to know what she is doing. She lets her circumstances carry her in confusing and opposite directions throughout her life. I found myself forgiving her for quite a few betrayals and questionable decisions. Perhaps because I could see myself making the same “mistakes,” perhaps because I had grown to love her so dearly.

She meets, loves, befriends such a multitude of women. There are so, so many distinct female characters in this book. That by itself was fascinating and healing and wonderful. Early on in her life she meets Rachel, her dance instructor, who helps her learn about herself. In college she meets the kinds of energetic, life-changing women intellectual environments can offer you. And later in life she find Miriam, who changed my life just by imagining that someone like that might actually exist.

Like a conversation with a close, old friend, Cotrell frankly discusses heartbreak, sex, dildos, jobs that destroy you and work that lifts you up. But mostly she writes about women, in all ages, shapes and sizes. The end of Shoulders had me wishing Cotrell had continued to write, that Firebrand Books had continued to publish. Instead I’ll just reread Bobbie’s life one more time.

Al Rosenberg: Al is Games Section Editor of WomenWriteAboutComics.com. She loves lesbians, lesbians in literature, and the perfect mystery novel. Currently in Chicago working on her tattoo collection.

 

Amanda Clay reviews The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi

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Here’s a confession: I don’t do Jesus.  I don’t like queer books with religious themes, I don’t like books about conversion camps, I don’t like gay Christian apologist books with their interminable, inevitable scenes where one character quotes the Bible and the other character dismantles the hate with explanations of what surely this REALLY means (when actually the word ‘abomination’ is pretty clear). I think these books, these conversations, are boring and I have no sympathy for people who’ve bought into these ridiculous, misogynistic mythologies.  Having said that, Jessica Verdi’s The Summer I Wasn’t Me is still a very good book.

Lexi’s always known she likes girls. She also knows that this is information best kept to herself, especially after the death of her father and its devastating effects on her mother. So Lexi keeps her crush hidden in a secret notebook. Unfortunately she forgets to hide the notebook. When her mother finds it, all of Lexi’s secrets are exposed and she is forced to spend the summer at New Horizons, a camp that promises to cure her of these feelings.

At first it’s not too bad. Lexi really wants to change, to help reconnect with her mother, and she meets sympathetic friends among her fellow campers.  She also meets Carolyn, a beautiful girl whose sadness and struggle surpasses even Lexi’s pain. Soon she and Carolyn are involved much more deeply than camp rules allow, and keeping this new love a secret only exposes the much more sinister secrets of New Horizons. But by this time, Lexi knows that there’s nothing wrong with her, and nothing she won’t do to protect the people she cares about.

What sets this book apart from other books about queer Christians and conversion is the extreme lack of church.  I also think it is this aspect which makes the book most interesting and readable. Instead of pages of Biblical debate, we have time to get to know the characters and care about their connections and journeys and growth throughout the story.  Lexi is a good protagonist, strong and sure of herself, though vulnerable enough for sympathy and an interesting story arc. Carolyn is a worthy crush, relatably flawed,  and theirs is a romance worth rooting for.  The rest of the supporting cast is well drawn, too, from their friend Matthew, the voice of resistance, to the deeply creepy camp founder/director, whose true colors come through all too easily.  This book may not have the most groundbreaking theme, nor the most innovative storyline, but it is a good, realistic and ultimately hopeful read. Something for which we can all be thankful!

TRIGGER WARNINGS: physical abuse, religious bigotry

Krait reviews The Interview by Jacintha Topaz

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I’m pretty much always interested in lesbian erotica, so I was very pleased to have the opportunity to review “The Interview.” It’s a short and sweet story of an interview for a personal assistant job that goes straight into fantasy land. There’s very little padding to this particular story – it opens with Kaylee Hall stepping into an elevator on her way to an interview, meeting a gorgeous woman, and everything spirals out from there. The BDSM themes are very quick to manifest, with Kaylee as a submissive and Doctor Monica Halverson as a domme.

The author prefaces the short story with a note that it’s meant to be “High Fantasy.. unlikely to happen in real life at all,” and I greatly appreciated the note. I love it when authors set up a story with that warning, because it means that I don’t have to consider how thin the walls are or other realistic logistics.

As total fantasy fluff, “The Interview” has some clever wordplay and good dialogue. Kaylee and the doctor have great chemistry. My only quibble is that I wish it was longer. The story is about 40 pages (excluding copyright info, that sort of thing), and only has one real scene between the two characters. I would have loved to see at least another scene with them, perhaps the night together that the narrative hints at.

In short, if you’re on the market for a short enjoyable story that you can pop like erotica popcorn, “The Interview” is an excellent choice. You just might want to have something else to follow it up with.

Amanda Clay reviews Make Much of Me by Kayla Bashe

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You had me at “Jazz Age”.  Truly, in my mind, there is no more attractive time in human history than this fleeting moment between the Great War and the Great Depression. New York, London, Paris, Munich, this is the time to be a woman loving woman and dance about in your sparkly dresses, powdering each other’s knees and seeing if you can get an invite to Natalie Barney’s salon.  I’ll read just about anything set in this era, and am even more excited when I know from the outset that the story will be queer. Therefore I was thrilled to be given “Make Much of Me” and read it all in one gulp.

Four girls– Lily, Laura, Tommie and Jo– meet as new students at New York City’s River School.  Thrown together by chance, they quickly become an inseparable crew sharing their secrets, sadness, desires and dreams. Bisexual Tommie is ashamed of her poverty, but learns that her head, her heart, her talents and her humor are of immeasurable value. Asexual Jo comes from money and privilege, a life many would envy, but at a terrible price. Bold, lesbian Lily lets nothing stand between her and the life and love that she desires. And Laura, whose past is perhaps the most wretched of all, wants only to love herself and ends up finding so much more.

Loosely based on Christina Rosetti’s poem ‘The Goblin Market’, the story follows the girls from their meeting and early misadventures through more difficult trials to their ultimate joining of forces to rescue a friend and lover in need.  The engaging and diverse characters are fun to meet and grow more interesting as the story unfolds.  The book itself, however, is so brief (only 84 pages!) that the story seems rushed in places, especially the end, and some events wrap up with unrealistically neat solutions.

My chief complaint, unfortunately, brings me back to the Jazz Age.  I love historical fiction, and I love this time period in particular, and while it is clear that some research was done (musicians, film stars, all that kicky, kooky slang), the book could have used much more.  Multiplex cinemas, rolling suitcases, LGBT support clubs in elementary and middle schools, all of these glaring anachronisms drew me out of the narrative again and again.  Even the characters’ ease with sexual self-identification was a bit far-out, though I made peace with that for the sake of the story. Choosing to set a work in an historical era demands a certain amount of diligence, and the lack of these efforts mars what is otherwise a sparkling, sweet story.

Trigger warnings: physical abuse, drug abuse, sexual predators

Danika reviews The Abandoned by Ross Campbell

I learned about The Abandoned from Good Lesbian Books’s Lesbian Fiction list. A lesbian zombie graphic novel?! Sounds too good to be true! I tried to brace myself before reading it. Maybe there would just be gay undertones. Nope! It’s established from the first couple of pages that Rylie is into girls, though romance isn’t really a big plot line in the book. And when I actually got The Abandoned in my hands, it looked even better. A fat lesbian PoC protagonist?! And the art is amazing. Rylie is just as awesome as she looks. She and the other characters in The Abandoned have their own interesting personalities and interactions with each other. Rylie is the only person of colour character, but there are other queer characters. Honestly, the only complaint I have is that there isn’t more! I read The Abandoned in one sitting. Apparently, there were supposed to be two additional volumes, but they got cancelled. I wouldn’t say, as some reviews do, that this volume ended on a cliffhanger, exactly, but it is open-ended. The Abandoned also has some hardcore zombie gore. You do see people torn apart. So if you like zombie gore and lesbians, I highly recommend this!

Danika reviews When We Were Outlaws by Jeanne Cordova

It was a happy coincidence that When We Were Outlaws reached the top of my TBR stack just after it won a Lambda Literary Award. I was already looking forward to it, but the win pushed my expectations a little higher. I can definitely see when Cordova won. When We Were Outlaws is equal parts a historical look into the feminist and gay/lesbian activism of the 70s, and a personal memoir about a love affair. It took me a little while to get into, but by the end I was totally gripped.

When We Were Outlaws starts off with a flash-forward. Because I didn’t yet know the political situation or any of the people mentioned, I wasn’t particularly interested at that point, but it all begins to come together later in the story. And it definitely has a story: When We Were Outlaws is written like a novel, and at the height of the story’s drama I couldn’t help but think it was close to a lesbian pulp fiction book. Jeanne Cordova as portrayed in the book is passionate as well as logical. She can map out how activist strategies will unfold and account for the consequences of this, structuring the plans around this. She is logical and fairly realistic in her activism. At the same time, she is floored by passionate romances and twice is spun into deep depression over love affairs.

When We Were Outlaws does a great job of showing the tension between Cordova’s political beliefs and activism, which dominate her life, and her personal relationships, both threatening to overturn the other. Cordova’s relationship with Rachel is heartwrenching (and very, very lesbian). I was torn between needing to see what happened and hardly being able to pick up the book knowing how intense the emotions are, and how I wouldn’t be able to help feeling that vicarious pain.

There were a few minor editing errors in the book–an endnote that led nowhere and a couple paragraphs beginning in the middle of a sentence–and the flash-forward in the beginning didn’t work for me, but those are very minor complaints. Overall, I would highly recommend When We Were Outlaws, both as a historical text (it’s fascinating to see what’s changed and what’s depressingly the same in activism between the 70s and now) and as a memoir.

Danika reviews Eat Your Heart Out by Dayna Ingram

I really wanted to like this book, because I have been looking for lesbian zombie apocalypse books for years (luckily, there are more than just this one now, but still). Luckily, this book is just as good as it sounds. First of all, it’s hilarious. I kept reading out passages to my partner, but I’d only get another sentence in before I wanted to read out more. This is mostly because the main character, Devin, is sarcastic and funny herself.

The zombies appear pretty much from the first sentence, and Devin is already in a lesbian relationship from the beginning, so there’s pretty much no build up to getting to the meat of the story. The zombie action has some of its own mythology, and there is definitely enough gore for a zombie story. In fact, it gets pretty sickening, and Devin sustains a realistic amount of injuries for being a random, untrained person caught in a zombie apocalypse.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was that the book is pretty much one long lesbian zombie apocalypse Michelle

Rodriguez fanfic. She goes by a different name in the book–Renni Ramirez–but the book is dedicated to Michelle Rodriguez, and it’s a pretty obvious substitution. Renni and Devin fight off the zombies together, using Renni’s movie-gained zombie-fighting skills, and attempt to rescue Devin’s girlfriend.

This is definitely a book I’d recommend, and I look forward to more from this author.

Also, check out the awesome inscription by the author.