Kayla Bell reviews The Tea Machine by Gill McKnight

 The Tea Machine by Gill McKnight
I think I would have liked The Tea Machine a lot more if I had read it back in 2015, when it came out. That was the height of the Doctor Who craze (and the height of my love for the show), which clearly influenced the story of this book. However, where Doctor Who keeps its stories somewhat episodic and grounded in the real world, The Tea Machine goes off the rails and takes big swings at establishing alternate timelines.

Here’s the story: a steampunk lady in Victorian London named Millicent messes around with her inventor brother’s time machine. She ends up in an alternate timeline where the Roman Empire never fell and is instead a futuristic society. There, she meets RJ Sangfroid, a female centurion who Millicent falls for quickly. Unfortunately, RJ sacrifices her life for Millicent’s. The rest of the book is Millicent messing around with the timeline in order to get her lover back.

Overall, it’s a pretty fun story and doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Like Doctor Who, it takes a very lighthearted and often absurdist tone. For the most part, that worked well for me. It would have taken me out of the story if the characters were taking the tentacle monster fighting completely seriously. Unfortunately, most of the jokes didn’t really work for me. There was an ongoing bit where Millicent’s sister-in-law Sophia continually misgenders RJ and that went on way too long, in my opinion. And in general, the jokes were just kind of based on the characters being stereotypes: Sophia and Millicent as the prim and proper Victorian ladies thrust into brutal Roman society, and RJ as the masculine, aggressive centurion. More importantly, though, the lack of depth made the love story fall flat for me. I just didn’t really connect with either Millicent or RJ. I wish that the connection between the two women had been taken more seriously and developed more. That being said, though, I really did like how the two of them ended the novel.

One thing I loved about The Tea Machine was alternate Rome. What a cool idea! It was very interesting to see how the author blended aspects of Roman culture and mythology with future technology. This would be a cool world to read more stories in, and it got me thinking of other sorts of fun alternate histories. It also didn’t shy away from highlighting the negative aspects of Roman culture, especially for the women. This kept me reading even when the structure was confusing and I lost interest in the characters.

If you’re looking for a fun, quick, romp through alternate history, The Tea Machine might be for you. It lacks depth and the characters aren’t the most developed, but it does have an interesting world. This book was honestly not my cup of tea (pun intended), I thought it was a little too superficial for my tastes. I read for character, so I found myself losing interest a lot. However, this book did feel like a fun read.

Kayla Bell is the pen name of an author, reviewer, and lover of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can catch up with her on Instagram @Kreadseverything for more book reviews and on Twitter @Kreadsitall for more about her writing.

Sapphic Summer Reads: 21 Bi & Lesbian Books Perfect for the Beach!

Sapphic Summer Reads: 21 Bi & Lesbian Books Perfect for the Beach!

Everyone seems to have a slightly different perspective of what a beach read or summer read is. To me, it’s a book that is absorbing, but not too emotionally or intellectually demanding. It’s something that will suck you in when you pick it up, but you can also put it down to run into the waves and not be lost when you come back to it. The definitions for “summer read” and “beach read” vary a lot, though, and there don’t seem to be a lot of resources for bi and lesbian summer reads, so I’m making one myself!

Of course, despite all the debates about what makes a bi or lesbian beach read, a book that is actually set during the summer is a bonus! Here are some of the books that I’ve read that I think are perfect for beach reading:

YA and Middle Grade:

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca BarrowThis is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

This is less fluffy than most of this list, but, honestly, the cover alone of this one makes me happy. Dia, Jules, and Hanna used to be inseparable, and they played in a band together. Meanwhile, Dia’s boyfriend, who she was just starting to get close with, was killed in a car accident. Weeks after the funeral, Dia finds out she’s pregnant and decides to keep the baby. Hanna and Dia walk away from each other, and Jules sides with Dia. Now, their city is holding a music competition that includes a $15,000 prize, and they just might have a chance to win it–but it means getting the band back together.

As you could guess from that description, there is definitely seriousness here, but it’s also about friendship, and a budding adorable F/F relationship. Also, there’s an adorable toddler who is a fan of a dog named Waffles, so what more could you want? Despite their hardships, this is an optimistic and beautiful book.

Check out my full review here.

Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow coverDrum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

This is a middle grade book that takes place at summer camp, so it makes for a perfect summer read. It’s about music and friendship and divorce and growing up and crushes, but mostly it’s just about Melly finding herself and being true to herself.

I loved reading about this tiny clueless bisexual’s first foray into crushing on a girl. She gets butterflies in her stomach, and then: “I looked at her hard, trying to understand. But I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, so how was I supposed to recognize it when I saw it?”

Check out my full review here.

Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer DuganHot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

The cover, title, and blurb of this makes it seem like it will be pure fluff, but be warned that it does come with a fair share of angst. It’s so summer-y, though, that I couldn’t leave it off this lsit!

Lou is gearing up for The Best Summer Ever, and even being cast as the hot dog at her summer carnival job doesn’t break her stride. Sure, her crush is literally dating the Princess of the park, but she’s got a plan to snag this diving pirate for herself. And as for the apparent closing of the park, which has been one of the few constants in her life, she is determined to find a way to save it. When she ropes her best friend, Seeley, into fake dating her, Lou is surprised to find that her various schemes aren’t going exactly to plan…

This turns into a fake dating love pentagon with a slowburn F/F friends-to-lovers romance. Hot Dog Girl is a queer YA romcom that makes for a perfect summer read.

Check out my full review here.

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David LevithanYou Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

You Know Me Well takes place during Pride! Mark and Kate both go to the same high school and are both gay, but they don’t know anything about each other until they meet by chance at a bar during Pride. After their chance meeting, they become the other’s main source of support and guidance during a pivotal point in their lives.

I love this story of friendship and change. Probably my favourite thing to read about is queer community, so this one made me feel warm & fuzzy.

Check out my full review here.

Going Off Script by Jen WildeGoing Off Script by Jen Wilde

Jen Wilde’s books are my go-to for queer, escapist, fluffy, fun reads. Going Off Script is about a teenager who gets an internship at her favourite TV show. Her boss is a jerk, and when she writes a script to try to prove her worth, he takes it as his own, and straight-washes the lesbian character.

This is a real celebration of queer fandom, and it ends up being a very fluffy, geek revenge fantasy, as the queer actors and fandom team up to take down the homophobic showrunner. There’s a huge queer community in this book, which makes any homophobia not sting as much. If you’re a queer geek, definitely pick this one up.

Check out my full (video) review here.

Romance:

My Lady's Choosing by Kitty CurranMy Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris

Imagine reading a M/F romance novel: you’re plodding along, all the love interests have been introduced, and your friend (with whom you clearly have more chemistry than with the dudes) throws out that, hey, if you want, you can travel to Egypt with her instead. You reach that point in the book and sigh. Image if she had taken her up on that! Imagine if instead of heading to the drafty castle or trading quips with the asshole rich guy, you just skipped town and went on an Egyptian adventure instead! Only this time, you can!

Most of the storylines you can choose from in this interactive romance novel are tongue-in-cheek takes on classic romances, including a Gothic Jane Eyre-esque plot line, or more of a Pride and Prejudice angle, but the F/F storyline is totally original: search for an artifact stolen from an Egyptian museum, and encounter your lady love interest’s angry ex-girlfriend! Maybe end up in a lesbian pirate gang! (Yes, you can do that. Definitely try to get to that point.) As an added bonus, I enjoyed this so much that I even went back and read the M/F plots. That’s how good this is.

Check out my full review here.

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman cover. It shows an illustration of two women kissing and a cat playing with yarn.Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman

Shira Glassman’s books are a paragon of queer joy. This is a cute, mostly fluffy story that has a wide appeal: Jewish readers, queer ladies (including bi women), and artists will all find aspects that have special interest to them. It was also nice to read about a fat love interest. This definitely felt like a “slice of life” story. It’s realistic, and as if you’re just being dropped into a short period of these people’s lives, but the characters seem to live outside the words on the page, as well.

This isn’t entirely a traditional romance novella: there is a romance, but it’s just as much about Clara and Danielle’s art, or their relationships with their siblings, or their shared love of fandom. If you’re looking for a quick, light, but satisfying read, pick this one up!

Check out my full review here.

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra KhawBearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

I was sold immediately when I heard “Bisexual werebear novella.” The book opens with Zelda irritated that her transformation into a bear is continually destroying her wardrobe. She works for a fashion magazine, so she doesn’t take this lightly.

This is such a fun, light read. It’s quippy and snarky and smart, and because it’s only just over 100 pages, it moves quickly. The romances are mostly M/F, but the most significant relationship is F/F. Bisexual werebear novella!

Check out my full review here.

Roller Girl by Vanessa NorthRoller Girl by Vanessa North

Roller Girl follows Tina, a trans woman who has recently divorced as well as retiring as a professional athlete. She’s adrift. So when she gets invited to play on the local roller derby team, she jumps at the opportunity. And it doesn’t hurt that the coach is a swoonworthy butch woman. They are drawn to each other, but Joe doesn’t want to endanger the team by admitting to dating a teammate, and Tina doesn’t want to stay a secret forever.

This is a quick, fun read with steamy sex scenes!

Check out my full review here.

Comics:

Space Battle Lunchtime Vol 1Space Battle Lunchtime Volumes 1 & 2 by Natalie Riess

This comic is an all-ages queer women comic about a competitive cooking show… in space. What could be better?? Peony agrees to be in a competitive cooking show, only to be transported onto the spaceship it’s being filmed on. That’s when she realizes that this isn’t space-themed, it’s literally in outer space. But she takes the existence of aliens in stride, and concentrates on the competition. And, okay, maybe one of the cute alien contestants.

I highly, highly recommend reading volume 1 & 2 back to back, because they really are one complete story. This is such a joyful book!

Check out my full review here.

Lumberjanes Vol 1Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Shannon Watters

This one gets bonus summer points for following a group of girls at summer camp! Where they get into fantastical adventures. The strongest part of the series is the dynamic between the 5 main characters. They all have different personalities, strengths, fears, priorities, etc, but they are a tightly-knit group. They support each other. And we get to see each one spotlighted at some point.

This is also a diverse cast, including multiple trans characters, and two of the girls start dating. This is a fun series to read as an adult, but I’m especially glad it exists for kids and teens. The main characters are different ages and also a little ambiguous, so this really works as a recommendation for 9 and up, I’d say. And it’s still going!

Check out my full review here.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko KodamaI Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama

This short, standalone manga is about a fake marriage: Morimoto is sick of being constantly set up by her parents. Her friend Hana suggests that they get married to shut them up.

Unsurprisingly, Hana and Morimoto’s relationship changes as they live together. Morimoto also finds new confidence in herself: she is inspired by Hana, by her dedication to her passion (art) and her defiance in being unapologetically out. It was gratifying to see an out character, one who even uses the word “lesbian,” in the pages of a yuri manga. This has all of the appeal that yuri manga usually has for me: it’s a quick, absorbing, and adorable read. But it adds more depth and realism than I expect from this genre. It had me absolutely grinning as I read it.

Check out my full review here.

Girl Friends Vol 1Girl Friends: The Complete Collection by Milk Morinaga

This seems to the quintessential yuri series:  It’s school girls, and a lot of blushing, and the typical “girls don’t do this” heteronormativity. I read this in the omnibus, and talk about a slow burn! This is almost 500 pages, and mostly just about Mariko making a new friend, falling in love with her, and then (much later) realizing that she’s fallen in love with her.

Girl Friends is super cute, but with the melodrama of agonizing over a crush on a girl. This is a fun, quick, addictive read.

Check out my review of volume 1 and volume 2.

Bonus:

A bonus recommendation for a book that I love that has summer in the title, but is definitely darker than most of this list:

The Summer We Got Free by Mia MckenzieThe Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie

This is a beautiful, haunting book about family, and when the history you’ve been running from finally catches up with you. When we meet Ava, she is closed off and practical. Through flashbacks, we meet her vibrant, unrestrainable childhood self–what happened to take her from that to this is the central question of the story. Everything comes to a head when Ava finds herself kissing a woman she doesn’t know on the front porch (while her husband, unknowing, waits inside).

Read this at your kitchen table on a hot summer’s night, as the humidity envelops you, and you feel the crackle in the air of a thunderstorm just about to happen.

Check out my full review here.

For even more fluffy sapphic books, check out 25+ Happy Sapphic Books to Make You Feel Warm & Fuzzy.

Summer Reads On My TBR:

So those are some of my recommendations, but it’s far from a complete list! Here are a few books on my TBR that looks like perfect summer reads, with the publisher’s blurbs.

The Summer of Impossibilities by Rachael AllenThe Summer of Impossibilities by Rachael Allen

Four girls. One summer. And a pact to do the impossible.

Skyler, Ellie, Scarlett, and Amelia Grace are forced to spend the summer at the lake house where their moms became best friends.
One can’t wait.
One would rather gnaw off her own arm than hang out with a bunch of strangers just so their moms can drink too much wine and sing Journey at two o’clock in the morning.
Two are sisters.
Three are currently feuding with their mothers.
One is hiding how bad her joint pain has gotten.
All of them are hiding something.
One falls in love with a boy she thought she despised.
One almost sets her crush on fire with a flaming marshmallow.
One has a crush that could change everything.
None of them are the same at the end of the summer.

Kings Queens and In-Betweens by Tanya BotejuKings Queens and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

Judy Blume meets RuPaul’s Drag Race in this funny, feel-good debut novel about a queer teen who navigates questions of identity and self-acceptance while discovering the magical world of drag.

Perpetually awkward Nima Kumara-Clark is bored with her insular community of Bridgeton, in love with her straight girlfriend, and trying to move past her mother’s unexpected departure. After a bewildering encounter at a local festival, Nima finds herself suddenly immersed in the drag scene on the other side of town.

Macho drag kings, magical queens, new love interests, and surprising allies propel Nima both painfully and hilariously closer to a self she never knew she could be—one that can confidently express and accept love. But she’ll have to learn to accept lost love to get there.

From debut author Tanya Boteju comes a poignant, laugh-out-loud tale of acceptance, self-expression, and the colorful worlds that await when we’re brave enough to look.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah JohnsonYou Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

I'll Be the One by Lyla LeeI’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

The world of K-Pop has never met a star like this. Debut author Lyla Lee delivers a deliciously fun, thoughtful rom-com celebrating confidence and body positivity—perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Julie Murphy.

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.

She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.

When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.

But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.

When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin StevensonWhen You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson

Follow cousins on a road trip to Pride as they dive into family secrets and friendships in this contemporary YA novel — perfect for fans of David Levithan and Becky Albertalli.

As kids, Mark and his cousin Talia spent many happy summers together at the family cottage in Ontario, but a fight between their parents put an end to the annual event. Living on opposite coasts — Mark in Halifax and Talia in Victoria — they haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it.

Mark and Talia are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common, other than the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.

When a series of complications throws everything up in the air, Mark and Talia — with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow — decide to hit the road for Toronto. With a bit of luck, and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is, if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.

[May 4, 2021]

This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae SafiThis Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi

Set over the course of one day, Aminah Mae Safi’s This Is All Your Fault is a smart and voice-driven YA novel that follows three young women determined to save their indie bookstore.

Rinn Olivera is finally going to tell her longtime crush AJ that she’s in love with him.

Daniella Korres writes poetry for her own account, but nobody knows it’s her.

Imogen Azar is just trying to make it through the day.

When Rinn, Daniella, and Imogen clock into work at Wild Nights Bookstore on the first day of summer, they’re expecting the hours to drift by the way they always do. Instead, they have to deal with the news that the bookstore is closing. Before the day is out, there’ll be shaved heads, a diva author, and a very large shipment of Air Jordans to contend with.

And it will take all three of them working together if they have any chance to save Wild Nights Bookstore.

[October 13, 2020]

The Summer of Jordi PerezThe Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosse playing bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is.

Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?

Honor Girl by Maggie ThrashHonor Girl by Maggie Thrash

All-girl camp. First love. First heartbreak. At once romantic and devastating, brutally honest and full of humor, this graphic-novel memoir is a debut of the rarest sort.

Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.

Let me know in the comments what your favourite bi and lesbian summer reads are! You might also want to check out Autostraddle’s 8 Summer Affair Books featuring Lesbian and Bisexual Women and on the Lesbrary, Kathryn Hoss Recommends Lesbian Beach Reads.

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon to get queer books in the mail throughout the year!

Maggie reviews The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin cover

Obviously, there has been a lot going on recently. In light of the new stresses in my, and everyone else’s, lives, what I wanted to read was some light romance as an escape. I turned to The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin, because it had been recommended to me a while ago as a very cute fantasy f/f romance. I liked it immensely. The twin influences of fantasy and romance combined for some highly enjoyable, wish-fulfilling world-building, bulldozing all potential problems to create a fantasy realm where queer romance can reign and the problems are mostly fantasy-plot related.

Princess Esofi of Rhodia has journeyed for months to get to the kingdom of Ieflaria and marry her long-time betrothed, Prince Albion. Although the betrothal was born out of political necessity – Ieflaria needs the battlemages that Rhodia trains in order to fend off escalating dragon attacks – she believes her union with Albion will be a good one based upon the long series of letters they’ve exchanged. However, upon arrival she finds out that Albion is dead. Esofi is left to marry another in the line of succession to keep her and her resources in Ieflaria. Albion’s sister, the Princess Adale, is the logical choice, but Adale never thought she would rule and rejects the violent upheaval of her life. Esofi and Adale have to build their relationship in the midst of dragon attacks, culture shock, rival heirs, and Adale’s own personal crisis.

What I enjoyed about this book was that there was a lot of traditional fantasy elements – magic, dragons, elaborate regency setups – but a strong romance sensibility made it all very soft. Princess Adale has strong feelings about being forced into the position of Crown Princess, a common enough fantasy element, but she starts to reconsider when she becomes enamored of how nice and soft Princess Esofi looks, a common romance element. Watching her become tongue-tied over her feelings is a delight. Court politics and arranged marriages are standard fare in both fantasy and romance, but this book wanted them to be a backdrop, not a real obstacle. Princess Esofi is both incredibly politically savvy and sensible about her position and also more than willing to have an emotional relationship. It was just so nice to take a break from everything happening in real life and watch a disaster princess trip and fall head over heels for a soft but extremely capable princess while also reading about dragons and magic.

What was also very nice about this book was that it was set squarely on Queer Romance and no problem was too real life to get explained away. How can they expect Princess Esofia to switch from marrying a guy to marrying a girl? Obviously Everyone is Pansexual. What about the line of succession? There’s some magic for that. A 400 page fantasy novel would explain and justify all of these things, but this is a romance first and foremost, so you don’t have to worry about it. Neither do the characters – it’s all built into their society from the ground up so they can immediately get to the romancing and the magic. A queer reader can sit back, read some inept wooing and dragon fighting, and feel warm and fuzzy for a while without any of the conflict having anything to do with queerness, which is always an experience I don’t realize I’m missing until I get into a story like this.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Queen of Ieflaria. It’s just the sort of fast-paced but incredibly soft romance I was looking for right now. If you’re at all into fantasy elements, this is a fun and feel-good read, and I’m excited to continue on to the rest of the series.

Danika reviews I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama

I know, I know. This seems pretty silly. I’ll admit that I sometimes pick up yuri manga as a guilty pleasure: most of the yuri I’ve read has been absorbing, but comes tainted without enough homophobia and male gaze to sour the reading experience. I’m happy to say that this book really surprised me.

This short, standalone manga is about a fake marriage: Morimoto is sick of being constantly set up by her parents. Her friend Hana suggests that they get married (or, at least, get an equivalent partnership certificate offered in some regions). Morimoto finds herself agreeing to this plan, despite her parents’ outrage and despite her knowledge that Hana is an out lesbian and had feelings for her in high school.

Another thing that I often find myself recoiling from in the manga I’ve read is an unhealthy attitude towards consent. In this story, Hana “playfully” pins Morimoto down, asking if she’s afraid of sleeping in the same room as a lesbian. Morimoto immediately goes limp and glassy-eyed, and Hana backs off, explaining that she was joking, and seemingly thrown by her reaction. This scene also explains how Morimoto got in this situation: we find out that her parents are controlling and emotionally abusive, not allowing her to make any real decisions in her life. She has been trained to follow along meekly in what is expected of her, which explains how Hana was so quick to convince Morimoto that she should be able to live in her apartment in exchange for housework.

Unsurprisingly, Hana and Morimoto’s relationship changes as they live together. Morimoto also finds new confidence in herself: she is inspired by Hana, by her dedication to her passion (art) and her defiance in being unapologetically out. It was gratifying to see an out character, one who even uses the word “lesbian,” in the pages of a yuri manga. [spoilers:] It was inspiring to see Morimoto stand up to her abusive and homophobic mother. [end spoilers]

This isn’t perfect, of course. Morimoto is drawn with fan service-y unrealistic breasts, and sometimes Hana pushes Morimoto (but always backs off). But it’s so refreshing to pick up a manga that really seems queer. It feels genuine. This has all of the appeal that yuri manga usually has for me: it’s a quick, absorbing, and adorable read. But it adds more depth and realism than I expect from this genre. It had me absolutely grinning as I read it. Be warned that the end of this volume is an unrelated short story, so it is pretty short. I loved this, despite the laughable title. I highly recommend it, whether you’re already a fan of yuri manga, or if you’re looking for a place to get started.

Jen Wilde’s Books are the Feel-Good Sapphic YA You’ve Been Searching For

Did you know I (Danika) have a booktube channel? Along with the Lesbrary, the Bi & Lesbian Literature tumblr, and Book Riot, I talk about books there, too! Apparently I can’t say enough about them. Most of my content is about queer women books, and I even have a playlist of just my sapphic book videos. Consider this video my review of Going Off Script by Jen Wilde (suffice to say, I loved it).

For exclusive videos and to be entered in monthly queer book giveaways, support the Lesbrary and this channel on Patreon! 

Books mentioned:

More links worth knowing:

Mars reviews Hocus Pocus and The All-New Sequel by A. W. Jantha

Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel cover

All her life, Poppy Dennison has known the story of the frightening and magical events that took place in Salem on Halloween night back in 1993. It’s otherwise known as the day her parents really met, or alternatively as the one time her cool Aunt Dani got kidnapped and almost eaten by witches. To be clear, the witches in this book are characters leftover from a coven that was decimated during the actual historical witch hunts of Salem, Massachusetts and not modern practitioners of a particular faith, and should not be taken as such.

The three witchy Sanderson sisters, their book of spells, and the special black flame candle that legend says will raise them from the dead are all still part of the popular Halloween lore that surrounds Salem. Her parents’ part of that story is virtually unknown, and Poppy is determined to keep it that way lest her mean girl nemesis Katie Taylor finds out and makes her last two years of high school its own kind of hell.

For readers who are not familiar with the lovely classic Halloween film Hocus Pocus, have no fear because the Part I of this book is a very close retelling of the movie and sets up Part II very well, detailing Poppy’s own involvement with the Sanderson sisters. Some witches just aren’t very good at staying dead.

This was a surprising and fun read that I just couldn’t put down. With more action, adventure, and character development than I expected, we follow Poppy, her best friend and wingman Travis, her mysterious dream girl Isabella, as well as other characters both new and familiar as they race to stop a new plot hatched by the Sanderson sisters to help them achieve immortality and rain hell on earth. With their witchy powers enhanced by the rare blood moon, the stakes have never been higher (no pun intended).

Much like the original Hocus Pocus (Part I), this story is as much about family, friendship, and loyalty as it is about evil witches enslaving humans and damning their souls for their own enjoyment. Poppy makes a really relatable protagonist. Who hasn’t dealt with trying to mitigate embarrassing family history while tripping over a monster crush?

Danika reviews Heavy Vinyl, Volume 1 by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva

The cover of Heavy Vinyl volume one

What a fun, quick read! Chris is a teenager who has just started working at the local record store. (It’s the 90s.) All her coworkers seem impossibly cool, and she immediately starts crushing on one of them. As the cover would suggest, though, it’s not just music that this group of girls is passionate about. Chris finds herself getting initiated into a network of teen girl vigilante gangs.

A panel from Heavy Vinyl, showing two women talking in a boxing ring

It’s a little bit Empire Records, a little bit Josie and the Pussycats (the movie), with bonus vigilante, mystery-solving teen girl gang and a queer main character. This is set in the 90s, but other than working at a record store and making 90s music references, I didn’t notice that. It’s pretty idyllic: there’s no homophobia shown, and the multiple queer characters are not remarked on.

The strength and weakness of this is how cute it is. You wouldn’t think that a story about a vigilante gang would be so fluffy, but it is! It’s more Scooby Doo than anything else. They rail against the patriarchy more by defending ~girly music than with any real violence. The romance is mostly blushing and flirting–no kissing on the page, nevermind anything else–but it is stated outright, not subtextual.

The overarching plot got a little goofy for me (and invites the Josie and the Pussycats comparison), but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! I will definitely be picking up the next volume when it comes out, but I do hope that it gets a little meatier at that point.

Susan reviews Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Reiss

Space Battle Lunchtime is a two-volume graphic novel by Natalie Reiss, about Peony, a baker who accidentally ends up being an emergency replacement for a cooking show… In space?! Cue sabotage, drama, rival shows with distinctly more cannibalism, and trying to work space ovens.

This is super charming and funny. Peony is both competent and confident in her baking skills, and I loved getting to see her do well even though she was in completely unfamiliar territory. I was so invested in her doing well, which meant that the first couple of issues where she was floundering while surrounded people who just assumed she knew what was going on were very frustrating for me. I know, I know, it’s a trope, but it’s a trope that I hate. But “winning over the cast and crew so they help you” is also a trope and I was so happy to see it here, especially because of the way that the relationships build. Peony is so nice and so confident and just wants to beat everyone fair and square, yay! The way that her relationship with Neptunia comes together works perfectly with that – there’s awkwardness and rivalry and Peony putting her foot down to make sure they can work together, but also sweetness and daring rescues and both of them being supportive of each other and each other’s feelings!

The art is really, really cute and bright and colourful, and the designs of all of the aliens are distinctive and interesting. I especially love the way the Natalie Reiss contrasts appearances and personalities (such as the cute magical girl fox, who is sure a character), and the way that it introduces background details that further the plot and the world building, I thought that was really clever and well-handled. (… I’m sure it’s fine that Cannibal Coliseum, the rival cooking show where contestants literally cook and eat each other, keeps showing up in the background. That’s probably not relevant.)

But of course, what is a cooking comic if there isn’t rampant sabotage, and the ways that the sabotage is revealed is really cool. The reactions especially are great and fun, and the way that Peony and Neptunia deal with the end of the story is great. It was cool and believable and I enjoyed it. … Although I got to the epilogue stories and was suddenly REALLY CONCERNED for the side characters! My only real complaint is that the first volume ends on a massive cliffhanger, so it is worth getting both volumes together if you’re going to get them!

I really genuinely enjoyed this. It’s cute, it’s funny, and seeing Peony rising to her challenges is great. If you like cooking shows, bright and happy graphic novels, and/or ridiculous space drama, this is absolutely your thing.

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.

Cara reviews Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

Under the Lights is a great light lesbian romance that’s about growing up and finding friends in unlikely places. There’s no deep trauma or life-or-death stakes here, and while there’s some light angst and the characters have real problems, the narrative never dwells on them too long or loses sight of the truth that the characters are pretty fortunate.

The story is told from the point of view of two coprotagonists, Josh Chester and Vanessa Park, both of whom are teenaged actors and minor celebrities in Hollywood. While they have a lot more money than most teenagers and some problems only celebrities do, the core conflicts are all about them figuring out what they want, notwithstanding what their parents want for them. It’s definitely YA and the sequel to a previous book of Adler’s, Daylight Falls, that features many of the same characters but different protagonists. You don’t need to have read it to read Under the Lights. (I still haven’t.)

The biggest reason I can see someone might not like this book is Josh Chester, so I’ll address him first. Josh is kind of a jerk. He intends to offend, for instance referring to Vanessa as “K-drama” for most of the book, insults everyone, and acts callous as hell. He tries to be unlikable, and I can see how some readers might find his voice to be such a turnoff that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy Vanessa’s. He’s funny, though, and his jerkiness more superficial than heartfelt. He doesn’t hurt people, and the girls he has no-strings-attached one-night stands with are every bit as interested in no-strings-attached sex with Josh Chester as he is in sex with them. I’m willing to forgive rudeness when it’s not coupled with malice, so Josh and his arc work for me.

Beyond that, I read enough lesbian romance that I’m tired of the formulas, and what I found refreshing about this novel is that it doesn’t follow them. How many lesbian romances have a het male coprotagonist who shares equal time with his female counterpart? The whole story is a beautifully-executed bait-and-switch playing on the structure of romance and YA romance in particular. In another book, Josh and Vanessa’s early relationship would be belligerent sexual tension. Because I’m reviewing this book for the Lesbrary, I’ve spoiled that part for you already: Josh and Vanessa do not end up together. You’d know the same if you read the blurb and know that “feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship” means “gay.” None of the relationships in the book end up coming out the way the characters expect them to. I want more books like this.

Vanessa’s coming to terms with falling for a girl felt real to me. When she angsts, it’s less because of internalized homophobia and more because she loves acting and worries that being a double-minority in Hollywood will cost her her career and that it will give her parents another reason to dislike her. I’m long past the drama of coming out myself, but sadly I can still relate to feeling like a perpetual disappointment to one’s parents. Vanessa and her future girlfriend hurt each other some times with the all-too-accurate clumsiness of teenagers working out how relationships go.

The dialogue’s good enough to have made me laugh out loud several times when I was writing this review. I’d quote it here but outside of the context and the characters, it would lose its punch. The plot and development of the characters are well-structured and have interesting symmetry with some depth I didn’t notice on my first reading. Under the Lights is romance done well.

Danika reviews You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

you know me well

This book is a romp. Ever since I read Boy Meets Boy, I’ve been looking for a queer women’s equivalent: a cotton candy book that, despite any issues it addresses, fills you with a sense of hope, warmth, and happiness. This book seems to do the trick quite nicely, and it’s no surprise that it’s cowritten by David Levithan himself (though I now have to seek out Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads To You, because if it’s anything like this, it’s a must-read.)

You Know Me Well is told in alternating chapters. Mark is head-over-heels for his best friend, but despite the fact that they’ve been fooling around for years, he still can’t seem to get them in the “relationship” category. Meanwhile, Kate has fallen in love with a girl she’s never met, and is terrified at the chance of actually meeting this mystical, circus traveler, dream girl. They’re both in a topsy-turvy point in their lives when they bump into each other in a bar during Pride. They’ve seen each other at school before, but after this chance meeting, they become the other’s main source of support and guidance for this pivot point in their lives.

The book unfolds in only a week or so, but it’s a week that causes them both to reconsider their lives’ trajectory. They are finding themselves, deciding their priorities, considering whether they want to be whole new people. Having someone new–someone who understands and is also not invested in them staying the same–is hugely affirming for both of them. This is a story celebrating queer friendship, and that’s what is at the heart of it. That’s what makes me want to hug this book. In addition to the main characters, there are many queer minor characters (though, sadly they are [almost?] all white, and there’s not a lot of trans representation).

If you’ve been craving a fluffy read, this one will definitely hit the spot. I think it would be perfect to give to a teenager just coming out as gay or lesbian, because it so hopeful, and it celebrates the queer community. I’m really glad that this book is out there, and I hope that it finds its way into the hands of the people who could use it most.