A Cozy Queer Comic of Community: Matchmaker by Cam Marshall

the cover of Matchmaker

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This was a surprise, last-minute entry in my list of favourite reads of 2023!

I stumbled on this while researching new releases for Our Queerest Shelves, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was by a local British Columbia author/artist! I requested it from the library knowing pretty much nothing else about it except that it was queer and looked cute. I ended up devouring it in a couple days, and I’m now mourning that it’s over.

This follows Kimmy and Mason, best friends and roommates trying to survive the early 2020s in their early twenties. Kimmy is a nonbinary/genderfluid transfem lesbian, and Mason is cis and gay. As the title suggests, Kimmy is determined to set Mason up with his first boyfriend, which is made a lot more complicated during a pandemic when Mason is high risk.

This was originally a webcomic, which is obvious from how each page is set up to be somewhat complete in itself, but there is a narrative. We follow Kimmy and Mason through dating, breakups, and accumulating a growing group of queer friends. I loved these characters so much, and I was laughing out loud at several pages. It’s just such a cute, funny, and relatable read.

Kimmy is an unforgettable character. They’re over-the-top bubbly and silly, and they radiate confidence. I really appreciated reading about a fat transfem character who is so secure in themselves. They usually use they/them pronouns, but they also experience gender fluidity and change pronouns some days.

About halfway through the book, we find out Kimmy has depression, and they have to taper off their medication to start a new kind. As they go off their depression medication, they become an almost unrecognizable numb, closed-off version of themself Mason calls “Normal Kimmy.” Their friends support them through the weeks of this until they’ve adjusted to the new medication and begin to feel like themself again, including being able to better take in what’s happening around them.

This community of queer friends was the strength of this story. Not only have Mason and Kimmy been best friends since high school, but they also make connections with other queer people, quickly growing a supportive friend group. Despite the struggles they’re dealing with in terms of employment, the pandemic, dating, capitalism, and more, that rock solid foundation made this a comforting and cozy read.

This is not a short comic: it’s 280 pages. But by the time I finished it, I was already missing spending time with these characters.

I do have one complaint, though, and I hope it’s changed in later editions, because it doesn’t fit with the range of queer identities represented positively in this story: Kimmy refers to their lack of libido from being off their medication as being asexual, including triumphantly declaring, “I’m not ace anymore!” when their sex drive returned, which isn’t great, especially because I believe that’s the only mention of asexuality in the book.

That unfortunate inclusion aside, I really enjoyed this book. You can also still read it as a webcomic!

All The Pretty Girls Read Sapphic Stories: More Readalikes for Reneé Rapp’s Snow Angel

the album cover of Snow Angel

If you have Reneé Rapp’s album Snow Angel playing on repeat, these are the sapphic books you need to read! Pick up the one that matches your favorite song, or get the whole stack if it’s too hard to pick. You can get a copy of any of these titles from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop. Click here for Part One! 

“Pretty Girls”

the cover of Girls Like Girls

In the p.m., all the pretty girls/They have a couple drinks, all the pretty girls/So now, they wanna kiss all the pretty girls/They got to have a taste of a pretty girl

Pretty Girls is a song for people who keep falling for “straight” girls, and a celebration of those exploring their sexuality, even if it feels frustratingly drawn out to the other person. In the same vein, Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko, inspired by the sapphic anthem of the early aughts, follows the story of Coley and Sonya, two teenage girls in rural Oregon who each find themselves falling for the other girl. This lyrical debut novel fills out the gaps in the plot to Kiyoko’s music video, but balances the overall sweetness of the summertime romance with an exploration of grief and what it means to be out in today’s society. I think Pretty Girls would fit in beautifully during the summer romance montages that Girls Like Girls lays out.

“Tummy Hurts”

the cover of she is a haunting

Now my tummy hurts, he’s in love with her/But for what it’s worth, they’d make beautiful babies/And raise ’em up to be a couple of/Fucking monsters, like their mother and their father

In Tummy Hurts, Rapp explores a past relationship through an analysis of heartbreak, grief, and bittersweet predictions of the continuing cycle of unhealthy relationships. This song contradicts and supports the exploration through using a childlike imagery of an upset stomach and the consequences of an unhealthy romance. If you are looking for a book that explores being haunted by a past relationship or dysfunctional relationships, I would recommend reading She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran. In this horror young adult novel, Jade is visiting her estranged father and her only goal is to end the five-week visit with the college money he has promised her—but only if she can seem straight, Vietnamese, and American enough. However, Jade can’t ignore the effects of colonization on the house or a ghost bride’s warnings to not eat anything. She is a Haunting explores the concept of places being haunted by dysfunctional family dynamics, just as “Tummy Hurts” explores the haunting of a romantic relationship.

“I Wish”

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers cover

I wish I could still see the world through those eyes/Could still see the colors, but they’re not as clear or as bright/Oh, the older we get, the colors they change/Yeah, hair turns to gray, but the blue’s here to stay/So I wish, I wish

“I Wish” is the Pisces moon of Snow Angel, with Rapp singing about how she wished she didn’t know about death as a concept. This sweet ballad mourns the loss of an important figure and the resultant loss of innocence in the world around her. Similarly, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers explores themes of existential dread, fear of not living up to people’s expectations, and a loss of innocence once you grow up. Twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes to Vegas to celebrate getting her PhD in astronomy, but accidentally ends up getting drunkenly married to a strange woman from New York. This triggers a rush of questions about herself, including why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled in her life, and Grace flees home to move in with her unfamiliar wife. Honey Girl is a story about self-growth, finding queer community, and taking a journey towards better mental health, and it honestly made me cry as much as I Wish did the first time I listened to it.

“Willow”

the cover of Even Though I Knew the End

Don’t cry, don’t cry, Willow/I’ll cry, Willow/Willow/I’ll cry for you

Willow is another sad ballad, in which Renee talks to her younger self (metaphorically) under a willow tree, and tries to reassure them that everything will be alright. This concept of wanting to take away someone’s pain, regardless of your own, made me think of one of my favorite novellas, Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk. Elena Brandt is the hardboiled detective of mystery noire past, with her private eye set up in a magical 1930’s Chicago, and a lady love waiting in the wings for her. However, Elena’s days are numbered and she decides to spend the last of them with said lady love, Edith. Just as she is about to leave the city, a potential client offers her $1,000 to find the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. To sweeten the pot, the client offers something more precious—the chance to grow old with Edith. As Elena dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life, she learns that nothing is as she thought it was. If you want a read that will capture your mind and heart for an afternoon, then grab a copy of C. L. Polk’s Even Though I Knew the End. 

“23”

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

But tomorrow I turn twenty-three/And it feels like everyone hates me/So, how old do you have to be/To live so young and careless?/My wish is that I cared less/At twenty-three

Finally, 23 explores the emotional turmoil and questioning that can come with turning twenty-three years old. Rapp’s lingering lyrics ask why she doesn’t feel like she has been succeeding in life, especially when compared to society’s expectations and assumptions about her career. By the end of the song, Rapp expresses the hope that she can grow into herself as a person and learn to love herself more by her next birthday. In the same vein, Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kahn is about a nineteen Black year old college student named Alice, whose summer was going to be perfect until her girlfriend broke up with her for being asexual. Alice had planned on remaining single as to never experience being rejected for her sexuality again, but then she meets Takumi, and Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood. A huge theme in Alice’s story is that of figuring out what you want to do and/or be as opposed to what your family and friends (or society) expects from you, whether it is about your sexuality or career choices. I think Alice would be wistfully listening to 23 right before the climatic third act, as she contemplates what to do.

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, they act in local community theaters, play D&D, and are halfway through their MLiS program. You can find them on Goodreads, Twitter, or Instagram.

Fake Dating at Its Best: Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date by Ashley Herring Blake

the cover of iris kelly doesn’t date

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

Delilah Green Doesn’t Carethe first book in Ashley Herring Blake’s Bright Falls series, was the first sapphic romance I had ever read. It is still my favorite because, not only is it an excellent book, but I credit it with opening up an entire new world for me. Nowadays, I’m predominantly reading either sapphic romances or stories with sapphic subplots. Astrid Parker Can’t Failthe second book in the series, was also outstanding, so when I saw that Iris Kelly, the sassy and playful side character in both books was getting her own story, I was excited. As soon as I had my copy of Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date, I dove in. I am delighted to say that Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date, doesn’t disappoint. It is a hilarious and heartwarming story of a short-term fake romance that leads to long-term love.   

Iris Kelly is surrounded by love. Her best friends have found love. Her parents are still madly in love after decades of marriage. Her brother and sister each are married and have kids. Iris, on the other hand, is committed to commitment-free hookups. She has experienced the pain of what a relationship can do to a person, and wants no part in it. This aversion to romance is at odds with her career as a romance author. And this creates the worst case of writer’s block while working on her next novel. Meanwhile, Stevie is a struggling actor who is also struggling to cope with the fact that her ex-girlfriend of six years is now dating their mutual friend. Looking for a good distraction, Iris runs into Stevie at a bar one night and there is instant chemistry. However, their one-night stand ends up going horribly wrong (seriously, it’s so bad). While both of them would rather forget the night and move on, fate brings them together when Iris auditions for a play Stevie is in. With all Stevie’s friends assuming that Iris is auditioning because they are dating, Stevie asks Iris to play along. Seeing this as an opportunity to get some inspiration, Iris agrees. The arrangement is simple: Iris and Stevie will pretend to date until the end of the show. Stevie will save face and get her friends to stop pressuring her to date around. Iris will use the experience for inspiration on her next novel. However, as the two spend more time together, things become far less simple.

The “fake dating” trope is not one that I often gravitate towards. This is because, being a terrible liar myself, I struggle with the idea of maintaining the lie of a fake relationship long enough for anyone to buy it. That being said, Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date won me over so quickly with how it creatively uses this trope. For starters, it felt more believable than other “fake dating” stories because the only people being lied to here were Stevie’s group of friends and members of the play’s cast and crew. It also was not a lie that they needed to maintain for too long. The stakes of the lie are also fairly low compared to other “fake dating” books I’ve seen out there. It is not some grand scheme for money or a promotion. Stevie just needs a rebound so her friends will back off and stop pitying her. Iris just needs material for her book. Lastly and most importantly, I really liked how quickly the emotional connection between Stevie and Iris developed. Ashley Herring Blake skipped a lot of the standard casual fake dates you see in these romances. Instead, she dove straight into highly emotional moments for both Iris and Stevie, letting them build their connection more quickly. While it still did take them a while to act on their feelings for one another, their emotional connection began to develop much earlier on. Altogether, these things made the scheme feel more plausible and hooked me in very quickly.  

Something else I have loved about the Bright Falls series is how emotionally authentic and heart-wrenching these books are. Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date continues this trend with a story of two  characters dealing with some real heavy issues like General Anxiety Disorder, self-doubt, insecurity, and hopelessness. The way each of these is handled feels so genuine. How Stevie and Iris talk to and about themselves mirrors things I have heard myself or others say when struggling with these feelings. It made me want to reach into the book, hug them, and go, “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”

At the same time, Ashley Herring Blake also expertly shows how love can help us overcome issues such as these. She doesn’t treat love as a panacea, though. It’s not that these characters just suddenly feel better and solve all their problems once they find each other. Instead, she shows how a loving relationship is about being there for each other. Stevie and Iris put in a lot of tough emotional work into helping each other when they are at their lowest. It isn’t always easy for them, just like it isn’t always easy in the real world. And just like in the real world, Stevie and Iris still have a lot to work on individually even after the events of the novel. As a reader you walk away knowing that, together, they can overcome it all. That’s what a fantastic love story is all about. 

In addition, Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date is a really funny book. The banter between characters is playful and witty. Scenes which could be played as embarrassing are painted in a more humorous tone. Ashley Herring Blake also has fun playing with other common romance tropes, setting you up to expect one thing and then giving you something else. Also, as a fan of puns, I was happy to see several really good ones. For example, this book has inspired me to find ways to name all my group chats using puns with the word “queer” in them. Lastly, it’s also a really spicy book, with plenty of tantalizing lead-ups to some really hot sex scenes.    

If you’re a fan of the previous books in the Bright Falls series, you will also really appreciate all of the call-backs and references to those books. Delilah, Claire, and Astrid play sizable roles in the story, for both Iris and Stevie, in ways that do not feel shoehorned in. I can’t say much more because of spoilers, but trust me when I say that Ashley Herring Blake closes out this series in a way that is satisfying for all Bright Falls fans.

All in all, I adored Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date. It gave me everything I want in a sapphic romantic comedy and so much more. I highly recommend it for any fan of the genre, whether it be your first in the Bright Falls series or not.  

A Sapphic Romance That Soars: Fly With Me by Andie Burke

the cover of Fly With Me

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They were mirrors in a way. Both of them watching their loved ones suffer. Both unable to help in any meaningful way. Both coping—one with work and the other with a list. Both scared shitless of hurting the other one.

Content Warnings: Terminal illness, chronic illness, misogyny, toxic relationship, grief, traumatic brain injury

ER nurse Olive Murphy’s fear of flying doesn’t stop her from getting on a plane to honor her brother, but it seems her fear is misplaced. A medical emergency forces Olive to leap out of her seat and into action, only for the flight to get redirected. She would have missed the marathon she was meant to run at Disney if not for Allied Airlines pilot Stella Soriano: a gorgeous, type A woman who captivates Olive with a glance. They share a magical day at Disney together as the video of Olive saving a man’s life goes viral (after all, she did TECHNICALLY save Mickey Mouse), prompting an uptick in positive press and sales for the airline. Stella sees it as an opportunity to earn her long-deserved promotion and asks Olive to play the role of her fake girlfriend as they generate more press. Can Olive stand playing a fake role when her heart is already on a one-way flight?

Get ready for a sassy, steamy, sapphic love story bound to soar into your heart. Andie Burke’s debut novel has a little of everything; an insta-crush, fake dating (complete with a binder full of rules and research!), sharp and witty banter, plus some real and raw mental health rep. Between their anxieties, family responsibilities, and messy emotions, both Olive and Stella are relatable main characters you can’t help but fall in love with. Sparks fly from the moment Olive and Stella meet, and Olive’s mega-crush is adorable without making her seem adolescent. We gain a lot of insight into both characters’ lives despite the fact that the story sticks with Olive’s point of view, which isn’t always an easy feat. The prose is descriptive but not overly flowery, but it’s the character development that really flies off the page. I absolutely adored Olive’s best friend, too (imagine Felix from Orphan Black).

Burke does a wonderful job of normalizing mental health conditions without it being the main focus. Olive’s symptoms are as much a part of her as the heart-eyes she wears when Stella is in the room. After her (toxic) ex broke up with Olive because her anxiety disorder and panic attacks were “too much,” Olive is afraid her symptoms will eventually scare Stella away. Meanwhile, Stella’s responsibilities as her father’s caretaker (who has Parkinson’s) create the cracks in her type-A facade and show us why she’s so committed to earning her promotion. Both characters encounter misogyny as well. While some readers might feel that there’s too much going on, Burke carefully stacks these issues atop of one another. That’s life; we’re all juggling multiple conflicts, both internal and external. Read the quote I selected again. These women are mirror images of one another. Their struggles, while different on the surface, make it all the easier for them to empathize with and support each other. There’s also no perfect, easy solution to the problems these women are facing because, again: that’s life.

A part of me does wish this story split the POV, allowing us to see Stella’s perspective. Keeping the focus on Olive ensured Stella’s feelings for her remained hidden, but…come on. We all know where a sapphic romance novel is bound to end: with a sapphic romance. The “fake dating girlfriends with benefits” situation is where the story really gets messy. It’s difficult to believe that Stella doesn’t have romantic feelings for Olive at that point. The miscommunication trope is still my least favorite, but it lingers much too long in this one, leading to a not-at-all surprising third-act breakup. Even so, this remains the best sapphic romance I’ve read so far this year.

Recommended to fans of the fake dating trope, serious character development, and a heart-eyed, healing main character.

 The Vibes ✨
✈️ Fake Dating
✈️ Bisexual Main Character
✈️ Sapphic Ship
✈️ Panic Attacks/Depression/Mental Health Rep
✈️ Debut Author

Major thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC of this book via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion regarding the book.

Healing in Queer Community: Old Enough by Haley Jakobson 

a photo of Old Enough on a shelf

Thank you to PENGUIN GROUP Dutton and Netgalley for this E-ARC in exchange for an honest review. (Published June 20, 2023)

I’ve followed Haley Jakobson’s social media for a while, so I was thrilled to hear news of her debut novel. And let me say, it did not disappoint! 

Old Enough follows our main character Savannah (Sav, for short) in two timelines: The present timeline focuses on Savannah in college during her semester in a Women and Gender Studies course. In another, we flashback to high school Savannah’s point of view. Throughout the novel, we learn the circumstances surrounding a traumatic event she experienced during high school and her subsequent social and emotional fallout. Chapter by chapter, readers witness Savannah’s healing journey as she confronts the past, cultivates new friendships, and exercises her autonomy. 

There are several key takeaways from this novel: 

Jakobson impressively deconstructs cultural norms surrounding “forever friendships” and the sunk-cost mindset of holding on for history’s sake. Additionally, we are introduced to a distinct cast of characters that become Sav’s safe place to land amidst the tumult of growing pains. There are knockout conversations on justice versus healing, plus beautiful depictions of a joyful queer community as Sav explores her bisexuality. 

This is a mature, new-adult coming of age story that covers a lot of ground, and it does so with vulnerability and precision. Old Enough is Savannah’s story, but it’s a story that will resonate with so many. (I highly recommend listening to Haley Jakobson’s episode on the “Sad Girls Who Read” podcast after finishing the book!)

FINAL NOTE: I would encourage readers to check content warnings, because there were several heavy topics addressed throughout the novel including (but not limited to): sexual assault, transphobia, and alcohol use.

Join the Henchfolk Union: Strictly No Heroics by B.L. Radley

the cover of Strictly No Heroics

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Strictly No Heroics is a YA urban fantasy novel that treats “super” as an adverb as much as a noun. It introduces a world of supers—superheroes, supervillains—who are super dangerous to normies (non-powered humans) and super helpful to the forces of gentrification. Main character Riley has simple desires: earn enough money for therapy, look out for her little sister. A normie from a normie family, she finds herself drawn into conflicts both super and ordinary when she joins Hench, the supervillain equivalent of TaskRabbit.

The queer content is great. Being queer is normal—sometimes wonderful, sometimes stressful, but never tragic. Riley deals with crushes and worries about coming out, though she knows and understands her own identity already. It’s not news to her that she’s queer—but it might be news to her friends and family. A secondary character is an older man whose husband somehow puts up with him. Their situation is unexpectedly sweet and domestic for a team leader of Henchfolk: they’re married, they banter, their twins frequently remind them about the swear jar.

This is a working person’s superhero world. This novel offers strong “average working day” vibes in a non-average setting. Look, supervillains are busy people. Who do you think picks up their coffee and cleans their labs? That’s right: the underpaid worker drones at Hench. Sometimes, work is boring and unfulfilling. It also offers extreme workdays—because sometimes you’re cleaning a villain’s lab and other times you’re helping construct his laser! This is where it gets really interesting to me. The Henchfolk are not actually evil. Some of this is explored jokingly, as when Riley is trained in anti-marksmanship, but some serves as a very clear parallel for weaponized incompetence, such as when they “can’t find” the deadly laser’s instruction manual. Finally, it introduces the real solution when Riley finds herself flirting with unionization—quite literally, as the lead organizer becomes a secondary love interest!

This is also a story about quiet, everyday love. Sometimes that love is romantic, like the feelings brewing between Riley and Sherman, her spiky, motorcycle-riding, union-touting teammate. Other times, it’s familial. That can be simple, like the love between Riley and her annoying little sister Lyssa; it can be complicated, like the love between Riley and her guardian, Lyssa’s bio-dad, Hernando. As a reader, I found it clear from the start how much Hernando loved Riley, but understood her feelings of uncertainty due to a complicated relationship with her deceased mother.

Finally, this book has excellent disability representation. Both Riley and Lyssa were left disabled by the car crash that killed their mother. Riley has PTSD and Lyssa has a prosthetic leg. It’s not uncommon for superpowered stories to treat disability as a metaphor or trait to be overcome with those powers, and I appreciated a book that wasn’t like that at all.

Strictly No Heroics is about power, family, and the inconvenience of falling in love. It’s about the devastation Superman leaves behind, the lives ruined in his wake, and the gentrifiers who see opportunities. And it’s about being a snarky, genre-wise teenager with very unfortunate crushes.

Content warnings: significant inclusion of PTSD, panic attacks; tangential inclusion of sexual assault, racism

When We Find Our Bodies in the Cornfield: What Stalks Among Us by Sarah Hollowell

the cover of What Stalks Among Us by Sarah Hollowell

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I don’t know if this book will be for everyone, but it was a perfect read for me.

The premise of this YA horror novel is that two friends get lost in an ever-shifting corn maze, and then they find their own dead bodies in the maze and have to figure out how to avoid the same fate. I love a horror premise like this: we’re thrown into a messed up supernatural situation and have to figure out what’s going on and how to escape without turning on each other. But typically, in a horror book, it takes a while to get there. Not so here! On page one, they’re in the maze. By page nine, they’ve found the body.

Sadie is fat, bisexual, and has ADHD and anxiety. We’re very much inside her head: she ruminates constantly about what the right thing to do or say is. Logan is also bisexual and has ADHD, and they’re both close, but they’ve only been friends for about a year, and she’s worried about driving him away or having him judge her. It doesn’t help that she was recently in an abusive relationship and lost her friendships during it. So she doesn’t let him in—knowing that doing that also pushes him away.

The voice in this novel is so strong: it really does feel like being inside the head of someone with ADHD and anxiety. Often, Sadie struggles to know how to respond to people and imagines a video game-style dialogue tree of what to say next. She is constantly referencing (out loud or just internally) memes and pop culture. The reason I think this might not be for everyone is that all these references seemed pretty millennial to me (“heckin’ windy”, Pirates of the Caribbean, Supernatural, etc), but since I’m a millennial, they were spot on for me. I’m just not sure teens today would relate.

As for the plot, as I mentioned, I loved that we got dropped immediately into the maze. It’s also not one of those in medias res beginnings were we immediately jump back in time and spend five chapters building up to that point; the majority of the book is set in the maze. I wasn’t sure if that would get old, especially since this is nearly 400 pages, but I never got tired of it. The mystery unravels steadily throughout, and the tension keeps building.

It feels weird to call a horror novel heartfelt, but that is what I was left with. I love books with queer friendships, and I appreciated Logan and Sadie reaching out for each other even when it was difficult. Despite being fairly new friend, they clearly care about each other deeply. Also, despite the time loop murders, the supernatural corn maze, and all the other horror elements, this is fundamentally a story about trying to find your self worth after abuse and trauma. And a good part of that happens in community. Major spoiler, highlight to read: I especially enjoyed that they ended up befriending their murderer. The power of friendship! End of spoilers.

I can’t set aside that part of why I loved this book is that I felt Seen. I’m also a fat bisexual with anxiety (who has also been putting off getting assessed for ADHD). I’ve been in an abusive relationship as a young person and had to rebuild my self worth. I could definitely relate to Sadie, especially since I recognized all the references she made. So it’s hard for me to have any objectivity about this story.

Even if you don’t deeply relate to Sadie, though, I think you’ll really enjoy What Stalks Among Us. Despite this not being particularly short, I read it in one day—almost in one sitting. I was completely absorbed in the story, charmed by the characters and their relationships, and invested in figuring out what was happening in this maze. The answer/ending was satisfying, and matched the bigger themes of the story. If you’re looking for a horror book you can marathon read on Halloween, you need to pick this one up.

A Sapphic Gothic Fairy Tale: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

the cover of Down Among The Sticks And Bones

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My favourite holiday of the year is Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, particularly the October readathon. My roommate and I spend all day reading horror books and snacking. It is a delight. Last year, I read Every Heart a Doorway and really enjoyed it. The horror/fantasy novella series felt like a perfect fit for the October readathon, so I decided I’d read one every year. Each follows different characters, and this one has a sapphic main character (who was also a side character in the first volume).

I still love the writing style, including the little asides to the reader, and I was especially delighted by the first chapter: The Dangerous Allure of Other People’s Children, which explains how easy it is to see families that seem picture perfect on the outside while missing the real difficulties and messiness of raising kids. Jacqueline and Jillian grow up with parents who are determined to have perfect children to further their own image. They were hoping for a boy and a girl, but they’ve made the best of having twin girls by assigning one the role of tomboy (Jillian) and one the expectations of femininity (Jacqueline).

This beginning section explores gender roles, showing how both Jill and Jack chafe against these expectations, and how every person is a constellation of many characteristics that are gendered in a variety of ways. They are raised to compete with and judge each other, and they have no safety with their parents. It’s no surprise they want to escape.

As is the premise of this portal fantasy series, they find a door to another world—but it’s a gothic world, with vampires and resurrected corpses. Before long, they both feel at home here, able to explore the sides of themselves that they repressed as children. Jillian is enraptured by being chosen by a vampire lord, enrobed in the fancy dresses she was previously denied, and with freedom she couldn’t previously dream of. Jack is able to find value in hard work and her own intelligence instead of just as an adornment. Both can see a future for themselves in this world, and Jack even finds a girlfriend. But this is a gothic story, so you know we’re not heading towards a happy ending.

I enjoyed this book and will definitely be continuing this series, but I did like Every Heart a Doorway better. This is the backstory of two side characters from the first book, so I already knew the ending of this one. Spoilers, highlight to read: I knew that Jack and Jill change their gender presentations from what was assigned to them as kids. I know that they don’t stay in that world. And, the biggest spoiler: I know Jill is a murderer. End of spoilers. It was hard to have much tension with that in mind.

I still am glad I read this one, but it was a little disappointing after loving book one. This is an atmospheric gothic read with sapphic and OCD representation in Jack. It has engaging writing and a dramatic plot. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it before the first book. I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the series compares, but I’m predicting that I’ll enjoy the books set at the school more than the books set in the different worlds.

Not every book in this series is sapphic, but it seems to include different kinds of queer representation throughout.

If you’re looking for a queer gothic fairy tale to read on a blustery Autumn evening, definitely check this one out. It works as a standalone, so you don’t need to read any other books in the series—though you’ll probably want to. And it’s short enough that you still have time to read it before October ends!

For some other perspectives on this Down Among the Sticks and Bones, check out Marike’s and Til’s reviews.

All The Pretty Girls Read Sapphic Stories: Readalikes for Reneé Rapp’s Snow Angel

If you have watched The Sex Lives of College Girls or Mean Girls (the musical), then chances are that you’re familiar with bisexual singer/actor Reneé Rapp. In 2022, Rapp released her debut EP Everything to Everyone, which featured nine original songs about mental health, her queer identity and love. Most recently, Rapp released her first full-length album, Snow Angel, on August 18th, 2023 and will be starting on an international tour in mid-September. Snow Angel has been on repeat in my household for the last month and as is usually the case, listening to sapphic music reminds me of sapphic titles I have read. Down below is part one of readalike titles for songs on Snow Angel. You can get a copy of any of these titles from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop.

“Talk Too Much”

the cover of Leah On the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

“I’m here again/Talking myself out of/My own happiness/I’ll make it up ’til I quit/I wonder if we should just sit here in silence ’cause/Ooh/Ah, just shut the fuck up!”

“Talk Too Much” is one of my go-to bi girl songs as I feel that it speaks to how bi women constantly have to prove their sexuality while maintaining the status quo around them. Upon hearing Talk Too Much for the first time, I immediately pictured one of my favorite heroines in her bright yellow dress, sunglasses, and coffee in hand—Leah Burke in Becky Albertalli’s Leah on the Offbeat. Leah is externally defined by her boldness and confidence; however, she is struggling with keeping her friend group together and whole while also struggling with self-doubt about her talents and her sexuality. I think she would pull off the intense talking bridge Rapp slid into Talk Too Much with immense pleasure.

“I Hate Boston”

the cover of For Her Consideration

“How’d you make me hate Boston/It’s not its fault that you don’t love me/Had its charm, but it lost it/It’s not its fault, just a casualty/And casual’s the way you chose to leave”

I barely made it into the first chorus of this ballad about hating a town due to an ill-fated romance when For Her Consideration by Amy Spaulding came to mind. In this contemporary romance, Nina Rice now stays far away from romance, scriptwriting, and her former community of LA proper after a horrific breakup three years ago. However, after she begins working for queer B-list actress Ari Fox, Nina begins to feel like it may be less terrifying to bring back the good facets of her old life. As she reconnects with her former community and begins to edit her old script, a relationship with a movie star feels like one more impossible thing to add on – but why not at least try? This story is as much a love story about the community found within L.A. and overcoming that hauntedness as it is a love story between script writer and actress.

“Poison Poison”

the cover of We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman

“You gеt on my nerves/You’re so fucking annoying, you could poison poison/You’rе the worst person on earth/Forgiving you is pointless, you could poison poison, baby girl”

As I was good-naturedly mumbling along to Rapp’s various expletives in the boppy vitriol “Poison Poison,” I could feel the spirit of Cass in We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman spitting those same words out. Cass is an unlikeable protagonist, hiding out in L.A. until her actions at a big New York City party create a little less gossip. While out there, she gets involved with her next-door neighbor, a documentarian obsessed with filming the high school girls running their own Fight Club. If Cass heard Poison Poison today, she would be wishing her nemesis, Tara Jean Slater, the pain of those lyrics. 

“Gemini Moon”

the cover of Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

“I bet you’re sick of it/Believe me, so am I/Always the problem kid/I could never pick a side/I bet you’re sick of it (Ah-ah)/I could blame the Gemini moon/But really, I should just be better to you”

“Gemini Moon” is a softer, more self-aware version of “Talk Too Much,” where Rapp knows that she will never feel comfortable in the relationship until she works on herself. With “Gemini Moon”’s bittersweet lyrics about self-doubt morphing into self-sabotage, I have to compare it to Jennifer Dugan’s Verona Comics, a bisexual Romeo and Juliet retelling set in the world of comic books. Jubilee and Ridley fall in love at a comic con prom and strive to keep their relationship secret, even as Jubilee struggles with prepping for college auditions and Ridley struggles with his mental health. [SPOILER] The two eventually break up, recognizing that they have to work through their various issues with codependency and depression before engaging in a romantic relationship, bringing to mind the soft-spoken chorus of “Gemini Moon.” [/SPOILER]

“Snow Angel”

the cover of Planning Perfect

“I’ll make it through the winter if it kills me/I can make it faster if I hurry/I’ll angel in the snow until I’m worthy/But if it kills me I tried/If it kills me”

“Snow Angel” is the most poignant and vulnerable song on this album; full of heartbreak, loneliness, trauma, and euphemisms for substance abuse. This may not seem like a song for a light and happy recommendation, but take my recommendation of Planning Perfect by Haley Neil with a grain of salt. In this young adult novel, Felicity loves putting together gorgeous, heartfelt events and takes on the momentous task of planning her mother’s wedding with a month to spare. After her long-distance friend Nancy offers her her family’s apple orchard for the wedding, Felicity and her family end up spending the summer with Nancy and the two friends become closer despite Felicity’s ongoing issues with anxiety, perfectionism, and trying family members. Felicity’s internalization of needing to be perfect to make up for everyone else around her rings true with Rapp’s title track, making Planning Perfect a perfect readalike.

“So What Now”

the cover of Kiss Her Once for Me

So, what now/Should we talk/If we run into each other on the street/Should I keep walking/So, what now/Do you tell your friends/That things ended well/That I’m overdramatic, it was chill/Do you lie and say you don’t wanna see me again/’Cause I do it too

“So What Now” chronicles Rapp’s struggle with an ex coming back to town and not knowing whether to welcome them back into her life or to oust them and immediately invokes to mind Kiss Her Once For Me by Alison Cochrun. Last Christmas, Ellie fell in love with both Portland and Jack, the woman showing her around, only to be betrayed and fired a short time later. In the present, Ellie agrees to a marriage of convenience with her shop’s landlord and to meet his family during Christmas, only to find out that Jack is her future sister-in-law. “So What Now” brings to life Ellie’s frantic attempts to figure out if continuing with the marriage is worth being around Jack and if she’d been too hasty last Christmas with casting Jack aside, making the two a marriage of equals. 

“The Wedding Song”

the cover of That Summer Feeling

“You are my one, you set my world on fire/I know there’s Heaven, but we must be higher/I’m gonna love you ’til my heart retires/Forever will last/I think it went something like that”

“The Wedding Song” starts off gorgeously with a celebration of love between Rapp and her partner and fades into obscurity as Rapp realizes that she can’t remember this once-consuming song that she had created. In the same vein, Garland Moore in That Summer Feeling (written by Bridget Morrissey) has sworn off romantic love after being surprised with divorce papers on Valentine’s Day, and is determined to let go of her past at adult summer camp. However, she never accounted for Stevie, the sister of the man who she’d had a premonition about years ago, and for summer camp to help her heal. I’d like to think that “The Wedding Song” would morph eventually into That Summer Feeling, allowing for peace and second love to come to both Rapp and Garland.

Keep an eye out for Part Two!!

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, they act in local community theaters, play D&D, and are halfway through their MLiS program. You can find them on Goodreads, Twitter, or Instagram.

#SapphicSoccerStoryGoals: You Don’t Have a Shot by Racquel Marie

the cover of You Don't Have a Shot

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You Don’t Have A Shot is sapphic soccer-rivals-to-lovers perfection set in present-day Southern California. If you’re still mourning the fact that the Women’s World Cup is over or you agree that “fútbol is life” a la Danny Rojas from Ted Lasso (but with a queer Latina twist), this book is for you!

In this heartwarming YA novel, Racquel Marie (she/her) introduces readers to Valentina “Vale” Castillo-Green, who is half Colombian, half Irish, and all about soccer. At the outset of the novel, we learn that Vale’s dream of playing college soccer has just imploded after her high school team, the Ravens, suffer a devastating loss at the hands of Hillcrest/her archrival, Leticia Ortiz. Although Vale is the captain of her team, it is apparent that she has lost her way as its leader. Vale intends to spend the summer before her senior year sulking at a low-stakes, sleepaway soccer camp she hasn’t been to in several years with her best friends and teammates, Dina and Ovie. Unbeknownst to Vale, soccer camp has gotten way more competitive in the last few years and she isn’t the only SoCal Latina planning to spend the summer there. Leticia will be attending as well, and sparks are sure to fly!

Vale is a character with depth and substance. Her inner monologue is sharp and hilarious. She is flawed, relatable, and always growing. Early on, we learn that her mother died of cancer a few years ago when she was thirteen and she is continuing to work through that grief. Unfortunately, that process is exacerbated by her complicated relationship with her father, who really wants Vale to excel in soccer, but has a penchant for negative, and often cruel, reinforcement that borders on emotional abuse. In his eyes, nothing Vale does on the pitch is ever good enough, and she has internalized his criticisms, as evidinced by her anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Notwithstanding her fraught relationship with her father and the loss of her mother, Vale is incredibly resilient and well-adjusted. She is in for an unforgettable summer where she is going to have to figure out what kind of leader she is and grapple with what soccer truly means to her.

The world that Racquel Marie builds is rich with diversity. Vale is biracial, queer, and asexual. Leticia is Cuban, a lesbian, and has two moms. There are several women of color who play important roles in Vale’s life, as well as significant bisexual, pansexual, gay, and trans characters. Although not a criticism, I really wanted to hear more about Vale’s queer asexuality. I thought it was an important aspect of her identity that I don’t usually see represented in YA literature and that Racquel Marie could have spent a little more time developing it. 

Overall, I loved this book. I coveted sapphic YA when I was in high school, but I couldn’t always find it. When I did, the characters didn’t usually share my cultural background. You Don’t Have a Shot is the kind of feel-good, representative book I wish I had growing up. Read it.

Trigger Warnings: anxiety, death of a loved one, and emotionally abusive language.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey. She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.