Shira Glassman reviews “Né łe” by Darcie Little Badger (from Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time)

If I told you there was a short story where two women of color fall in love in outer space, surrounded by puppies, you’d go out and buy it right away, right? No, you’d invent a time machine and go back in time and buy it five minutes before you started reading this review. That’s how badly you want cute f/f in space WITH PUPPIES.

“Né łe” by Darcie Little Badger was my favorite story in the Indigenous LGBT SFF anthology Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time, which incidentally includes at least two other f/f pieces, so if you only read f/f it’s still very much worth it. Forty chihuahuas (and one husky!) need care when the dog stasis on the transport to Mars malfunctions and they all wake up, so the crew wakes one of the human passengers, an Apache veterinarian on her way to the Martian colony to start over after a breakup.
Since she needs to stay conscious and take care of the dogs, over the remaining months of  the voyage she grows closer with the pilot, who turns out to be not only Navajo but also another lesbian. They weather the ups and downs of space travel and astronomical doggie care together, and the protagonist has a decision to make once they reach Mars. It’s well-written and easy to follow, with–and you know this is always a priority with me with SFF–approachable worldbuilding.
The world needs truckloads more stories like this one, where not only folks in the LGBT umbrella but also marginalized ethnicities (or ability levels, or marginalized faiths) get to have fluffy and imaginative adventures in space, underwater, or in magical faraway kingdoms. Thank you for this one.

Danika reviews Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

This. Was. Adorable. I was between rating this 4 stars or 5, but I couldn’t think of anything that I would change about it to improve it, so I guess that makes it an automatic 5 stars!

Queens of Geek follows two point of view characters, Charlie and Taylor, as well as their friend Jamie. All three are going to Supacon, a big fandom convention. Charlie is a Chinese-Australian actress who is at Supacon both for the fun of it and to promote her movie. She’s also bisexual! Unfortunately, she is still living in the shadows of her ex-boyfriend and co-star, whom the fans would love if she got back together with (even though he’s a real jerk). Taylor is fat, geeky, anxious, and has Asperger’s. She’s excited to experience the fandom that she loves in real life, but she’s also overwhelmed by all of the elements of the con that can increase her anxiety. Luckily, Jamie is there to make everything seem less terrifying. He’s supportive, kind, and funny–and Taylor doesn’t want to endanger their friendship by acknowledging her feelings for him.

That’s a lot of summary, but it’s because there’s so much here that I love! I’ve only gone to a few conventions so far, but I absolutely love the ones that I have been to. The energy has been amazing and sometimes overwhelming. The idea of reading a whole book set at a con was exciting! And Queens of Geek lives up to that, really capturing the frenetic energy of a convention. It also reads like a love letter to fandom (while still acknowledging some of its faults). There are so many geeky references, too! And Taylor posts on Tumblr throughout the book!

As the cover would suggest, this is also about the two love stories of Taylor and Charlie. Although I picked this book up for the f/f romance, I was charmed by Taylor’s friends-to-lovers plot line with Jamie. They have a good friendship, built on trust and support. They also have some solid banter. Of course, I was just as invested in Charlie’s romance! In fact, given her experience with her awful ex, I was desperately hoping that she got a healthy, drama-free love story. Of course, it’s not much of a story with no drama at all, but I still was very happy with where it lead. Charlie meets a fellow Youtube star, and it turns out they are both fans of each other! Their flirtation is adorable, and it’s great to read a book that includes a romance between two women of colour.

Another thing that I appreciated in Queens of Geek is that there is no contrived obstacles to the romances. Typically, I find, a romance has a standard plot: couple gets together -> couple splits up because it’s not the end of the book yet, so the author had to invent a reason to break them up -> couple gets back together at the end of the book. Usually this contrivance is something that a simple conversation between the two would have fixed. Instead, the obstacles that Taylor/Jamie and Charlie/Alyssa face makes sense to their characters. Taylor is reluctant to add another change to this tumultuous time in her life while dealing with all of the anxiety that this change invites. Charlie is dealing with a very public break up and is reluctant to have another relationship in the public eye, while Alyssa’s last relationship was with someone who refused to acknowledge their relationship in public for the entire time they were dating (more than a year). Those are all legitimate positions to hold, and ones that conflict. It makes sense that it takes them some time in the book to work those out.

Did I mention that I read this book in one day? I don’t usually do that, and I wasn’t intending to, but I just kept getting drawn back into the story. I also found myself laughing aloud several times while reading. The banter between both couples works really well, and when there’s a fandom joke thrown in as well, I can’t resist.

Besides all of the diverse elements (did I mention that it actually uses the word “bisexual”?) and geeky fun, there’s also a well-paced plot, compelling romances, and memorable and fully-realized characters. This was such a fun, heartwarming read. Just lovely.

Stephanie reviews Don't Explain by Jewelle Gomez

 

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Don’t Explain is a collection of short stories by Black lesbian author, activist, and philanthropist Jewelle Gomez. Most widely known for her Black lesbian vampire novel The Gilda Stories, Gomez’s Don’t Explain is a collection of nine stories that employ rich, sensual, language to introduce readers to several carefully constructed characters whose stories set our minds and bodies afire. Although the collection was written in 1998, the stories are as poignant and relatable as they were when the book was published nearly twenty years ago.

For example, my favorite story in the collection, “Water With the Wine” is a new take on an old trope, the May-December romance. Gomez carefully deconstructs the most commonly held notions about romance between older and younger lesbians, and posits another reality for the women in her story. Alberta and Emma meet and become involved at an academic conference; however, differences in age, class and race threaten to destroy their budding relationship. Gomez deals sensitively and honestly with these issues and deepens our understanding of what it means to fall in love after the blossom of youth.

“White Flower” is a chronicle of desire, not quite erotica, but pretty close. Luisa and Naomi “can’t have a relationship, it’s too consuming too everything,” so their meetings are infrequent but filled with all of the lust and passion that two women can share. This story will leave you panting, it will also leave you wondering at what point the unbridled desire turns to obsession and manipulation.

In “Lynx and Strand,” the longest story in the collection, Gomez forays into the genre where I believe she does her best writing, speculative fiction. To put it simply, speculative fiction is not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, but an imaginative blend of the two genres, and in this story, explores what it means to live in a future where same-sex relationships are still policed by the state. Here, Gomez tackles issues of futuristic state governments, homophobia, body art, and what it means to truly become one with your partner.  The story is timely, some might say prophetic, because even though it was written nearly two decades ago, LGBTQ persons’ right to bodily autonomy is still being challenged, even threatened, in 2016.

For those familiar with Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, “Houston” offers a new chapter into the life of her Black lesbian vampire and offers a provocative look at what it means to be humane when you actually aren’t human at all.

All of the stories in this collection are sensitive, sensual, and offer a pleasant alternative to “mainstream” lesbian fiction.  The collection also focuses on Black women’s experiences, and this is what truly sets it apart from most of the lesbian fiction on the market today. The collection is short, only 168 pages long, but each of the stories offers entrée into the life of Black women, mostly lesbian, that illuminates the complexity of our lives and the power of our loving. If you have not had an opportunity to read any of Jewelle Gomez’s work, start with this collection and I am certain that you will want to read more!

Shira Glassman reviews Date with Destiny by Mason Dixon

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Date with Destiny is a Black lesbian thriller–written by a Black woman, prolific author Yolanda Wallace writing under the name Mason Dixon–set in the banking industry of Savannah, Georgia. Rashida, the lead, is a driven, frugal Black bank executive who has risen to the top of the bank her grandmother once cleaned as a janitor. Her work-oriented but lonely life is headed for a collision course with the unemployed, blue-collar Destiny, who she meets at a coffeeshop one morning. Is finding Destiny a job at her bank a worthy act of kindness or a dangerous temptation? After all, the bank has strict policies against workplace dating–but Destiny’s sexuality is practically a force of nature.

There’s a lot more going on here than I can even describe without spoiling the plot, so this is a good bet for you if you like twists, suspense, and intrigue. I’d even say it’s reminiscent of movies like Memento and The Usual Suspects, including the way Dixon employs the device of showing the same scene through different character’s eyes. (Some readers may find some of the repetition tedious, so feel free to skim through it looking for the new information.)
As a beautiful old city, Savannah makes a wonderful backdrop for the story’s dramatics. This obviously won’t apply to readers outside the coastal South but it’s fun getting to read an adventure and recognize all the places from real life instead of from other works of fiction–Richmond Hill? I can picture the highway exit. I know what I-16 is.
I found the prose well-paced and easy to breeze through; I read the book pretty rapidly over a weekend and never got bogged down or bored. There’s some negative messaging about closeted vs. non-closeted queer people that I didn’t agree with — we still live in a world that sometimes necessitates closets, sadly — but it wasn’t a loud enough message to significantly tarnish my reading experience. There’s representation of lesbians who have endured family rejection and moved on, recognizing the event without wallowing in it as tragedy porn.
I’m not sure how I feel about the ultimate ending of the book; I do want the ending the author gave us, but I would have preferred being more convinced about it. That scene in particular I think would have been more effective on film. However, I do like the fact that Rashida was finally enjoying herself after a lifetime of workworkwork and having to overachieve to overcome misogynoir. She deserves it after working so hard and what the plot put her through.

Date with Destiny is full of sensuality between women and eventually love but it’s not entirely a romance; it’s a thriller that will be more fun for the reader if they go in expecting a wild ride.

Stephanie reviews Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

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I can’t remember the last time I read a book in two days, but I have to admit that once I started reading Juliet Takes a Breath, I couldn’t put it down. I laughed, cried, raged, and wondered at Juliet’s antics and her naiveté, and fell more in love with this book every time I turned the page.

The novel’s protagonist is Juliet Milagros Palante, a 19-year-old Puerto Rican college student from the Bronx. She’s pretty sure she’s lesbian, and has been reading her feminist idol Harlowe Brisbane’s Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind, to help her learn more about feminism as well as her own sexual orientation. On a whim, Juliet writes Harlowe a letter and the author responds with an invitation to Portland to work as her intern for the summer.  After an awkward dinner where she comes out to her family, Juliet hops on a plane to Portland to try to figure it all out.

Harlowe is every white lesbian feminist hippie stereotype rolled into one. I have a feeling this was purposeful, since a good portion of the latter half of the novel is spent questioning Harlowe’s intentions and the one egregious act that sends Juliet away from Portland for a few days.  Still, Rivera’s characterization of Harlowe is hilarious as well as fodder for serious eye rolling. For example, when Juliet starts her period early, Harlowe tells her “My cycle is probably going to mentor yours.” Another gem:  After Juliet experiences a few intense days, Harlowe declares, “Not talking about a break-up can totally lead to a yeast infection.” There’s more of this, but again, I think the stereotyping is intentional; Rivera’s purpose is to question the universality of feminism and sisterhood, and Harlowe is the vessel through which she works through these issues in her novel.

My favorite character is probably Juliet’s cousin Ava, who calls Juliet out on her obtuseness after she flees to Miami to process what happened at Harlowe’s reading at the bookstore in Portland. My favorite line: “Girl, c’mon you could have realized that she was some hippie-ass, holier-than-thou white lady preaching her bullshit universal feminism to everyone.” Welp. I have to admit, I’d been waiting for someone to say this to Juliet the entire novel.  Regardless, Ava helps her to understand that queer Brown communities just might be the place where she can be her entire Puerto Rican, feminist, queer, curvy, self.   Ava takes Juliet to the Clipper Queerz party, a Black and Brown people only space, where it’s “less about there being ‘no white people’ and more of a night for us to breathe easier.”  Black and Brown folks are often accused of being exclusionary when we carve out spaces for ourselves, and Rivera does a great job of making it clear why these spaces are necessary for our mental, emotional, and yes, physical health.

I really loved this novel. However, there were a couple of times where I shook my head in disbelief as I was reading. For example, while Juliet’s naiveté is mostly endearing, there are places where it’s a bit over the top. How has she not heard of Chicana feminists Cherríe Moraga or Gloria Anzaldúa? Even her white feminist lesbian girlfriend Lainie seems to have a better grasp of Latina activists than Juliet, given her knowledge of Puerto Rican history and Lolita Lébron.  I was also a little troubled by the scene where she bleeds all over the bed at Harlowe’s house. Let me be clear, the bleeding wasn’t my issue, but who on earth tries to clean blood off of sheets using deodorant? Juliet is 19, not nine, so it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t know how to get a bloodstain out of her sheets.  There were a couple of other minor snafus as well, (the novel was preachy in places, and we don’t know that the novel is set in 2002 until halfway through), but these issues don’t detract much from the story.

All in all, this novel is a welcome addition to lesbian literature that focuses on Latina experiences. It’s a “fish out of water” type bildungsroman, with a Queer Brown twist. Does Juliet figure it all out in Portland? Is she able to reconcile all the parts of her intersectional identity? Can all women truly be sisters? I can’t promise that Juliet Takes a Breath offers tidy answers to any of these questions, but I can promise that you’ll have the time of your life finding out.

 

Alyssa reviews Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte

Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte is a collection of fairy tales retold with both a lesbian and a modern twist. The beast and her prisoner, the sleeping beauty and her savior, are all women, and the pea put under the princess’ mattress is a USB drive. The narrative style is simplistic in the tradition of folk tales such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm, and I can imagine one reading them aloud to a child at bedtime, or to a lover, snuggled up in bed on a rainy day. I was pleased with the stories themselves, and the collection gets points for having at least one sad ending.

Unfortunately, this collection also has a bit of an issue with race. All the women followed by the narration are described with Caucasian features, and most of the other characters are white as well. Three of the main characters, lovers of the women followed by the narration, are women of color. (One antagonist is also a woman of color, but she is the twin of one of the protagonists, essentially her reflection.) If this had been handled correctly by the author, I would stop here and deem the POC representation decent, if limited. However, these three characters are also the three characters in the collection who have been trapped in animal forms: a swan, a beast, and a frog. They eventually turn back into humans; one dies, while another retains some animal characteristics. Furthermore, one of these characters, referred to as “Indian,” is described as having “exotic beauty.” I’m not going to go into why these things are a problem, here, aside from the fact that they’re racist; if you don’t know why they are a problem, I recommend doing some google searches.

As the author has made their POC characters, and only their POC characters, animals and exotified them, I am going to have to refrain from recommending the purchase of this collection. There is no excuse for this in a book published in 2012, and the stories are not outstanding enough to recommend in spite of problematic elements.