Shira Glassman reviews Escape To Pirate Island by Niamh Murphy

Escape to Pirate Island cover showing a woman in a flowing red dress looking over the ocean at a pirate shipEscape to Pirate Island is basically just what it says on the tin–a rambunctious, seafaring pirate adventure full of treasure maps and double-crossing, only this one stars women who wind up loving each other, getting by in a man’s world by the sheer strength of their determination, each in their own way. The book’s timeline flows well and features several of the type of vivid scenes that would make a wonderful movie.

Cat is a young smuggler whose hometown adventures are cut short by 18th century cops; Lily is the daughter of a retired pirate captain left broke by his debts when he dies. They don’t even meet until we’ve already come to know both of them pretty well, which made me more invested in both of them as characters rather than putting all the story’s weight on just their relationship arc alone.

Murphy did a great job making all the scenes come to life without making the reading feel like work–I breezed through this book in two days. This is the kind of book that puts you right into the middle of the action over and over again without making any of it hard to follow–with Cat, we climb up cliff faces, get into fights, hide underground with conspirators, and even have a job interview! (Yes, a pirate job interview is just as intimidating as it sounds.) Lily’s POV sections were less compelling for me but I was still pretty invested in her happiness as a character. She gets the rug pulled out from under her rather a lot over the course of  the book and still holds her head high, refusing to let the undertow of life take her.

I was particularly entertained and enthralled by Cat’s storyline, with her cleverness and bravado and ability to adapt to a wild variety of situations. She’s married at the beginning of the book and her husband gets fridged as part of one of the book’s many MANY action scenes, so I was expecting her to be bi (obligatory bi-rate pun) but as the book unfolds it’s explained that she married her childhood bestie to get out from under her father’s thumb, a choice which I’m sure many real women of her time would find familiar. After her sexual encounter with Lily–which only takes up a page or two so if you’re looking for an action-adventure-and-feelings-heavy book rather than one with a lot of erotica, you’ve come to the right place — she realizes that she understands desire for the first time. That to me indicates a lesbuccaneer interpretation rather than bi-rate. (Yes, I just did that.) I also admire the author’s deftness in showing that Cat’s initial dislike and assumptions of Lily in reality came from a lingering dislike for her own upbringing, a lavish lifestyle she assumed Lily was both from and still enjoying. She was humble enough to backpedal as soon as she discovers her mistake.

There are many things I was afraid would happen in this book that didn’t — I love that she has a “found-father”-figure who doesn’t die. (Grizzled, tough older men who protect young lesbians instead of acting predatory toward them are very much a trope that makes me happy.) The women are threatened with sexual assault, but it stops at words. There isn’t any ethnically diverse representation, but that’s not as bad as having overtly racist tropes which I’ve encountered before in books set around this period. And though there’s a metric fuckton of double-crossing in this book Because Pirates, the tension between Lily and Cat over Cat’s behavior never lasts long enough to hurt the reader, and Cat isn’t betrayed by as many people as she could have been.

Props for the line “whose countenance was so livid that Lily wondered if the hair from his balding crown had been terrified into quitting his head.” Also, a possibly naïve comment: I grew up in South Florida and I was a little confused about how they could be so cold after it rained, once they were in the Caribbean, because it’s the kind of warm down there — and even up here, in summertime! — where rain doesn’t leave you chilled, if that makes any sense. It feels different from other places. But then again: that’s specifically Ft. Lauderdale/Miami; I’ve only been to the Caribbean itself on cruises in my teens and I don’t think it rained while we were there so I don’t actually know. And heaven knows it’s not that important of a detail; it just took me out of the story for 2 seconds.

I think this is self-published but I only noticed two minor copyediting errors; everything flowed nicely and I feel like I had a quality reading experience. By the way, TW for some uncomfortable and only partially challenged moments of whorephobia.
Shira Glassman writes fantasy and contemporary fiction where girls get to kiss. Her latest, Knit One Girl Two, features an indie dyer who meets a cute wildlife painter while looking for inspiration for her next sock club.

Megan G reviews Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman

Clara Ziegler is a part-time theater clerk, and a full-time knitter. Clara dyes yarn, and sells it as part of her sock club – a subscription service for yarn, where every other month you receive a surprise colour of yarn. The only problem? She used all her best ideas on the first round, and is now worried she has no best ideas left for round two. While searching for yarn colours and patterns, Clara finds Danielle Solomon, an artist whose paintings spark inspiration within Clara. Of course, inspiration is not all she finds in Danielle.

Knit One, Girl Two is probably the sweetest, most wonderful story I have read this year. Clara and Danielle are wonderful, both independently and together, and the easy development of their relationship feels incredibly natural. Glassman somehow managed to create a romance within a short story that feels more organic than most romances I’ve read in full-length novels. Clara and Danielle fit together in a way that makes me want to believe that love at first sight exists, if only so that I can claim it happened for them.

One of the most refreshing aspects of this story occurs early on, during one of the first conversations Clara and Danielle have. While out for lunch at a restaurant, they begin to discuss what types of traditional Jewish food they both like and dislike. I don’t think I have ever read a conversation between two women–one of whom is specifically described as being chubby–that revolves around food, and that isn’t about calorie counting or dieting. There is no shame present in their conversation, or in their internal thoughts. They’re simply two girls talking about food. The only instance when discussion of weight comes up is when Danielle explains that she dislikes scales because of how they make us feel about ourselves. Clara instantly agrees. I had the biggest grin across my face as I read these scenes; I must have been reading all the wrong books for too long, because I have never read a story that involves a chubby character, talk about food, and discussion of weight, that doesn’t delve into fatphobia and implications that the fat character wants to change her appearance to be happy. Danielle is happy. Not despite being fat, but just because she’s happy. End of.

This story also includes some wonderful discussions on feminism, anti-Semitism, and queerness that have an air of authenticity unlike any I’ve read before. The conversations that Clara has with Danielle and some of her friend’s sound like conversations I’ve had with my own friends. Not only that, but discussion of fandom is clearly coming from the perspective of somebody who knows and understands fandom, not somebody who is trying to be hip by including references to fanfiction without ever having read one (there is even an amazing reference to Archive of Our Own being down and Clara going to their twitter page to see what’s up!). You can tell when a story is written in Own Voice, and it makes for a far more enjoyable read.

Overall, Knit One, Girl Two is sweet, pleasant, and refreshing. It’s a quick read that will make you grin the whole way through, and put you in the mood to fall in love.

Shira Glassman reviews The Rosebush Murders by Ruth Shidlo

Ruth Shidlo’s The Rosebush Murders is a lesbian thriller/detective mystery set in Israel. A woman is found shot in a park, and the police detective, a lesbian named Helen with a chatty narrative voice, sets to work unraveling whether her wife, psychology/IVF clients, or hospital colleagues could have had anything to do with it. I found it a solid whodunit in which it was easy to imagine the scenes and characters and get invested in the discoveries and solution.

Pluses:

  • Well-constructed thriller plot and I loved that I called some of the most twisted parts before the detective got there
  • Setting is Israel, so unlike a lot of thrillers, it’s sunny and warm so this Florida girl was right at home
  • Setting is Israel, so everything is sort of casually Jewish including in that secular way that America is casually Christian
  • Main character is a lesbian and there are several other gay or lesbian characters
  • Positive depiction of someone’s mom being totally okay with them having a lesbian wife and being cute about it
  • Main character and one of the other characters are classical musicians, so by that point I felt right at home along three or four different axes
  • I did not know German Jews are called “yekke” — being that I’m from that background on one side, I’m going to look into this more!

It does have a “dead lesbian”–the primary murder victim–but:

  • once I got past the initial sting of watching her wife and daughter grieve her it didn’t bug me as much, because the detective narrator is a lesbian, so there’s plenty of “alive lesbian” screen time
  • literally nothing about her death was gay-related.
  • The narrator gets into a relationship by the end of the book (note: this relationship felt relegated to the background and in the next book, set two years later, she’s dating someone else from this book with whom she had more chemistry. I didn’t care for the mystery plot of the other book as much as this one, though.)
  • In nearly every scene the way people interact with the crime shows her being treated the same as a straight victim, her wife being treated as a legitimate wife, etc.

Minuses

  • Casual fatphobia and (mental) ablism on the part of the narrator. None of this was integral to the story because it usually relates to her internal monologue about extremely minor characters
  • Sometimes we get to watch the narrator do mundane things like eat dinner with the kind of detail that doesn’t always contribute to characterization
  • Baffling use of italics for the word “sushi”–although maybe in Israel it hasn’t been adopted into the local speech the way it is here? Don’t know. Also, a German character’s accent is written out, which isn’t my preference but I ordinarily wouldn’t comment on it, but his mispronounced words are then italicized, which creates strange things like “zee” for “the”–if you’re writing out his accent, why italicize it? Especially if italics are for foreign words. Italicizing it makes me think he’s actually saying a word in his own language, so my brain switched over to German, where “zee” (sie) means she and then I just got confused. I realize this is an editorial decision and probably not under the author’s control, but I write these reviews for free so I get to say what I want 😛
  • This is not a minus but sort of a warning sign: there are unflattering comments made about Orthodox control of certain aspects of Israeli life, specifically in regards to how the murder victim’s wife feels about the funeral arrangements. This is an Israeli issue that as an American I have no desire to get involved in, but if you yourself are Orthodox I just wanted to warn you that the line is there.
  • Not a minus but a point of confusion: references to “a kid on Christmas” and someone swearing by saying “Jesus.” Maybe people in Israel do talk like this but I still noticed it. Again, that could be me being wrong.

Trigger warning for some really twisted medical stuff (don’t take this lightly and I’m happy to provide details but I’d rather do it privately since it’s a huge spoiler), and for a brief mention of Nazis.

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.

Shira Glassman reviews Mistress Moderately Fair by Katherine Sturtevant

The English Restoration, i.e. when Charles Stuart II returned to England to take his father’s throne back from the Puritans, fascinates me for being a renaissance of both art and hedonism. Theaters opened again after being banned, and all kinds of sexual openness flourished. I purposely sought out queer lit set in this time period–not that there’s much, given that historical LGBT romance skews heavily Regency–and was rewarded with Mistress Moderately Fair by Katherine Sturtevant. I think it’s out of print, but WorldCat has it at these libraries and Amazon has used copies.

Mistress is about a woman who comes to London to become an actress, and in the course of doing so falls for the lady playwright who’s been helping her hone her skills. It delivers most generously on lesbian romance, on plot twists and turns, and on evocative language. The author’s also done a remarkably good job at bringing a time period to life pretty vividly without falling prey to “look at meeee, I’m so well researched!” I felt the exciting earthiness of the time.

The actress, who is going by Amy but that isn’t her real name–she’s the Beauty with a Mysterious Secret Tragic Past trope–is scarred across her face, prompting the line: “I know I have a garden in my face–the roses and the thorns.” How it got that way, and what she’s hiding from, comprise the main conflicts of the book. She’s never heard of queerness before she came to London, not understanding why she’s so immensely, irrevocably drawn to her playwright friend Margaret, until one of her fellow actors gossips to her about their gay boss. Wait, that’s a thing people can do? Is that why I–

And straightaway, beautiful sensual sapphic prose starts gushing out all over the reader:

“I have deceived you,” [Margaret] said. “I have no poetry to share with you.”

“You are deceiving me now,” Amy said in a shaking voice, “For you are yourself a poem, and I have been hungering for you to share yourself with me.”

Their sex scenes glorify in sensuality, with that enthusiastic appreciation of breasts that validates my own impulses so soothingly. Amy is “my type”–a buxom, squishy, gorgeous brunette with luxurious hair and a tragic past. Margaret is one of those independent, outspoken, able to live slightly outside of society’s rules widow characters. They have chemistry from their very first encounter, and are totally believable as a couple.

“MARGARET AND I HAVE BECOME FRIENDS!” Amy gushes into her diary, too cautious to write what she really means. She goes on to add “I will say that we wrote poetry together, and whenever I read those words, I will know what they mean. And they are true indeed, for we have writ such poetry as I never dreamed of!” The metaphor doesn’t stop here, so the book is almost worth it for the “cunnilingus = poetry” jokes alone.

I love the way this book talks about writing inspiration and the way we create idealized and alternative versions of the people in our lives to interact with on the page. So very relatable.

The liveliness of the time period is evident in the snappy dialogue:

“I heard you had returned from the dead,” says the gay theater owner to someone recovering from violence. The man’s reply is “I did not like being dead, for the plays in heaven were quite dull and not the least bawdy.”

In one scene the two leading ladies recognize and mourn how it was easier for a man to be accepted for sleeping with men than a woman with other women, mainly because of misogyny. Incidentally this is a book that recognizes bisexuality as a phenomenon (without actually anachronizing by using the word), which was a nice touch.

My one quibble, and it’s a major one that’s the reason for the missing star, is the treatment of the book’s minor characters of color. Since it’s out of print, it would satisfy me deeply if this book were to return to print with those parts reexamined especially since they could be tweaked with zero impact on the actual story itself. I like the fact that the enslaved cook from next door insists right away that the main character call her by her real African name instead of the English name her own captor gave her–and that Margaret immediately does so–and I like the fact that the main character buys her and frees her at the end. But both she and her friend, another African captive, speak in broken English that felt awkwardly executed to me, and there are passages exoticizing her religious beliefs without actually adding anything to the story itself. I’m glad she was freed at the end but it would have been even more satisfying if she’d left England with the main character’s blessing after being freed instead of being asked to stay on as a servant and sneak out.

Trigger warnings: sexual assault in a flashback, and also for a brutal attack sustained by the gay supporting character from his lover’s brother’s henchmen. I found the lesbian positivity in the book so overwhelmingly affirming that it didn’t bother me as it ordinarily might have, but it’s there all the same.

Thank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, Jewish fantasy about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.


Shira Glassman reviews Flowers of Luna by Jennifer Linsky

My recs pitch for this book is: fashion college on the moon, with femme on femme Asian diaspora lesbian romance. Yes, I said on the moon.

Flowers of Luna, by biracial Japanese-American author Jennifer Linsky, has a very familiar structure and feel if you’ve been reading a lot of young adult and new adult contemporary f/f. Ran has just started college in fashion design, and the story is mainly about how she falls for a sexy, adventurous engineering student. Hana shows her a great time on the weekends but holds back a little too much of herself otherwise, which eventually causes problems. There are plenty of B-plots about group projects with Ran’s classmates, creating new clothing designs, and in staying in touch with her sister at another school far away.

Except, this one takes place on the freaking moon. So there’s an extra layer of fun and sparkle on top of the familiarity. The main character is biracial, and fairly in touch with her Japanese roots thanks to the moon’s culture having a lot of Japanese influence as a result of some postapocalyptic stuff that happened in Japan, driving everyone to seek homes elsewhere. She’s also a second-generation lesbian (or “mirror-biased”, in the slang of this imagined future; bisexual is “parallel-biased”) raised by two moms on a mining ship. Her parents were big heroes in some kind of major event that happened when she was too little to be involved, so she’s a little bit celebrity-adjacent and every once in a while it influences her interactions with the world and with strangers/new people.

But she’s on the moon to study fashion design, and on the moon you can socially get away with wearing clothing from different time periods or cultures to suit your whim, PLUS machines replicate whatever you design, so there’s basically no limit to what she can invent. (She does like doing some hand work, if she has the time for it.)

Hana, who Ran meets as a result of some weird posturing and playacting involving an insult in cosplay and the subsequent duel, is a Japanese diaspora engineering student who has to play it drab during the week so her being a cute lesbian doesn’t make her male classmates not take her seriously. But on the weekend, with Ran, she’s pretty sexually adventurous–for example, there’s a running gag about her not wearing underwear, even in public.

It’s hard to maintain true intimacy when one of you is holding back, so that’s the main conflict of the book, and there was a point in my reading where I kind of expected them to stay broken up and the MC to wind up with the nonbinary character she’d flirted with near the beginning. But the book’s main couple do work things out. I think I just wanted to be more convinced. Ran does acknowledge in the postlude that she has no idea what the future holds, but they’re enjoying themselves right now.

The moon environment itself is a very appealing place to spend your imaginary time, as a reader. There are cities, mostly Japanese and Russian influenced, with fake day and night, where you can visit cozy restaurants carpeted in tatami mats and floor cushions. “Shoes,” Hana reminds Ran. “The Moon is not a foreign country.” After the Japanese dinner they pop into Mr. Chung’s ice cream shop, where he does his best to balance heat and coolness with flavors like curry ice cream. “You must be careful to avoid an excess of yin; we live on the moon!”

They take a weekend date trip to Heinleinburg–many places in the moon civilization honor real historical figures in science and science fiction. Linsky writes, “Heinleinburg was settled by corporate pioneers who came to get wealthy from the moon. Set in Shoemaker Crater to be near the south polar ice fields, it had attracted everyone who dreamed of the moon; everyone who dreamed of riches; everyone who dreamed.” Love that kind of prose.

I want to specifically note that I initially overlooked this book because I thought, from the sample, that it was a different type of book, much weightier (the sample is from the insult scene in the beginning and I didn’t realize that was only cosplay playacting.) Had I known it was “lesbian college fluff on the moon”, I would have picked it up a lot sooner. Also, for a book that truly and thoroughly celebrates visual beauty, both of clothing and of women’s glorious, exquisite bodies, I think it would be better served by a different cover — just one woman’s opinion, of course!

In summary, Flowers of Luna is remarkably contemporary-feeling for sci-fi, a good gateway for SFF-intimidated f/f fans especially because the conflicts aren’t SFF-specific, while also including enough cool details to keep sci-fi fans happy.

Thank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, Jewish fantasy about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.

Shira Glassman reviews The Dyke and the Dybbuk by Ellen Galford

dyke-and-the-dybbuk

Ellen Galford’s The Dyke and the Dybbuk is, for only being eighteen years old, fairly iconic and hallowed in the tiny subgenre in which I spend most of my writing time. In other words, it may very well be the first great piece of sapphic Jewish fantasy. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know about more! In any case, it was a pleasure to read–sarcastic, sardonic, hopeful, enthusiastic, both a love story to our culture and a sharp criticism of some of its more tiresome features.

The initial premise stems from a trope some people may find painful, but is all too realistic thanks to the way society overwhelmingly pressures cis women to marry cis men. Namely, two young women in historical Jewish Eastern Europe are in love, until one of them leaves to marry a man. The jilted woman (herself somewhat of an outcast for her mixed parentage) responds by cursing the bride with demon possession. Thus enter our “what if Loki was a lesbian” demon, the hilarious–and also sapphic–dybbuk of the title. But she winds up imprisoned in a tree instead of being able to haunt the married woman and her daughters and granddaughters per the curse’s instructions, so it isn’t until the ninth generation of offspring that she gets a chance to escape and begin her assignment.

And this ninth generation is a British lesbian film critic who drives a taxi for her day job.

Rainbow Rosenbloom’s more at odds with her Judaism than I am, but, firstly, the book was written in an earlier generation, and secondly, there are pretty much twice as many ways to be Jewish as there are actual Jews in the world. I am confident that her experiences accurately reflect many other people’s relationship with their Jewishness. She’s surrounded by paternal aunts and she’s over-aware of the ways her preference for women—as well as her self-chosen first name, and also eating treyf–puts her in direct opposition to the way they want her to live.

The dybbuk decides that Rainbow’s already weird enough and has already maxed out ‘acting out’, so she can’t possibly make her look any weirder by ordinary possession. Therefore, she decides as her project she’s going to give Rainbow a massive crush on–Riva, a married Orthodox woman with six children! So suddenly, she’s super interested in her faith in a way she never was before (the irony being that it’s only because of a demon’s influence.) In comes an intense crush that I totally recognized from various straight girls I’ve crushed on.

Now, I have a soft spot for pious women, so like the sucker I am, I did fall hook line and sinker for the Rainbow/Riva ‘ship in this book. Spoiler warning: the author went somewhere else, but that’s okay. The book does deliver happy f/f endings, and even the demon herself gets to have some fun.

As far as the issue of how the book made me feel as a bisexual woman — the line “trendy bisexual” was used at one point in dialogue, but I do feel like any criticism of bi women’s choices was intended as unreliable narrator because from what I can remember it’s followed up with a reminder that they don’t actually know if the olden-days bride was bi or if she just married a man to appease cultural traditions which is extremely possible, given the circumstances. I beg of those reading this review to please be gentle with me if your experiences lead you to feel differently, because the week after I read the book my spouse ended our thirteen year relationship and so 1. I am not particularly able to hold my own in discourse at the moment and 2. I am writing this a month after reading the book and after a considerable amount of pain, so my memory isn’t perfect.

Either way, if you’re a Jewish woman who likes women, it’s worth checking out even if you aren’t a fan of spec fic. The speculative elements are lighthearted and easy to process–among themselves, the demons’ society is a parody of modern corporate culture and office politics. It’s out of print right now but worldcat.org has it listed in libraries all over the place, and I had no trouble getting a hold of it through interlibrary loan, so if you don’t mind using the system—and plenty of librarians told me that using a library actually helps libraries and isn’t a strain on them at all—it should be relatively easy. Besides, used copies are not hard to find.

Content warning: I have vague memories of there being the g-slur (for Rromani) in there someplace.

olive-conspiracyThank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, Jewish fantasy about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.

Lauren reviews Fearless by Shira Glassman

fearless-cover

Lana is a divorcee and mother of two who has been out of the closet for less than a year. Although her lesbian social circle and dating life are dry as a desert, she finds purpose in other areas of life, including her role as a supportive band mom.

The story opens at her teenage daughter’s (Robin) All-State rehearsal, which takes place at a large convention hotel. Robin is a talented clarinetist whose affinity for music was clearly inspired by her mom. Lana loves the violin but hasn’t played in many years. She has limited herself to the vicarious excitement of her daughter’s talent and fellow band mates.

Though the atmosphere inside is swarming with students and the sounds of instruments, the weather is relentless. It seems like a typical, snowed-in day until Mel Feinberg steps into the picture. Ms. Feinberg is an orchestra director that immediately piques Lana’s attention.

Mel is attractive and self-assured, and she stealthy leads Lana to address her desires and fears. After all, Mel may be the oasis that Lana has been waiting for.

My only issue with the story is the relationship between Lana and her ex-husband. Though the reasons behind their marriage and behaviors are completely understandable (I’m avoiding a spoiler here), the fact that both Lana and Steve parted for the same reason seems a little far reaching. Lana acknowledged that he was doing much better with his new social life than her. Though this hints at male privilege, it wasn’t addressed in the story.

Fearless will transport you to a world of high school bands and tireless teenagers. I especially enjoyed the mini adventure between Lana and Mel near the closing. In the end, Fearless reminds us that dashes of courage and new tides often come at the most unexpected moments.

Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, The Dawn of Nia (Resolute Publishing, 2016). Outside of reading and writing, she enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter, www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.

Shira Glassman reviews Roller Girl by Vanessa North

roller girl vanessa north

To me, Roller Girl by Vanessa North is a roller derby book that includes a lesbian romance, rather than being a roller derby romance; there was a lot more going on in the book besides the relationship between Tina and her girlfriend–a lot that in my opinion enhanced the book and broadened its appeal. I’m no derby girl, but the game shines through the book–its appeal to Tina in the beginning, her anticipation as she auditions, the friendships she forms during practice–and I think that this element would please anyone who wants to read a women’s sports book, romance fan or no. In fact, I learned a lot about the game from the book, and I can understand a little more of the conversation–and starry-eyed face–of my college roommate who joined her local team just around the time the book came out.

My favorite relationship in the book was actually between Tina and her straight, married “derby wife” Lauren, an affirming platonic friendship that I truly felt and radiated off the page, but the romance between Tina and Joe was at least believable and hot. The sex scenes between them were definitely sizzling.
There are a ton of other awesome platonic interactions between LGBT folks in the book. Tina has a bunch of close male friends (from her former career in wakeboarding, which she used to fund her transition) who are all paired off with each other — they’re apparently main characters in North’s previous books, but I haven’t read them and never felt like I had missed essential details. And of course there are other f/f couples and women-attracted women both in Tina’s derby team and in the teams they play. Also, what would a sports book be without one of those “the not-sports part of televised Olympics coverage” heartwarming moments? Tina winds up getting to be a trans role model for a trans kid in one scene, and that was beautiful. So if you are specifically looking for this, especially given how important a part of our real lives our intra-umbrella friendships are and how if we reflect that in our literature it gets accused of being unrealistic, this book is a perfect fit.
I’m not sure how plausible it is for there to be turmoil over the idea of a player dating the coach in a situation made of 100% adults and it’s not a matter of employment, but by the time the relationship was revealed, North sort of fixed my skepticism by making it more about friend drama than “I can’t date one of my players”, which is totally understandable and realistic and made a lot more sense to me. Never believe that friend drama ends at high school, folks. My mom is a boomer and recently navigated some drama over where to have the bluegrass jam.
I am pleased to report that I have no idea what Tina’s deadname is, and that the team tells her from the beginning that if anyone tries to be transmisogynist — it’s a women’s team, so she was concerned — they’ll shut it down.
Since it takes place in Central Florida, I would have appreciated something that felt like home–I’ve read books that reference Publix subs, for example–but I’m at least happy that North didn’t get anything wrong about the region.
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Thank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.

Shira Glassman reviews Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee

not your sidekick

I’m surprised by how slowly the indie SFF world seems to be responding to fandom’s current preference for superheroes. Maybe that’s because superheroes originated in print to begin with, so anyone wanting to write them goes for graphic novels rather than prose. But CB Lee’s Not Your Sidekick is a much-needed contribution for those of us who for whatever reason just don’t tend to read comics very often and want superhero stories anyway.

When you read a book where the protagonist has both the same heritage and sexuality as the author (bisexual and mixed Chinese-Vietnamese), the whole thing shines with authenticity and verisimilitude. All the details that white cis/straight authors tend to shove in like political campaign fliers left wedged behind a doorknob are instead seamlessly woven into the text, as her default, whether they’re Vietnamese swear words, shame over how her former friends from Chinese school have become the “cool girls” and don’t talk to her anymore, or how she’s bi in the same awkward “I have crushes on the Talented Overachieving Femmes at my high school but I’m just gonna sit in a corner” way that I was at that age.
But the book isn’t about any of those things. It’s that kind of SFF so many people crave, where these marginalized kids get to battle evil forces and root out conspiracies as if–gasp–kids from marginalized cultures or sexualities have other enemies besides racism and queerphobia.
The book is really easy to read; CB Lee manages to explain a totally unfamiliar future following wars and radiation events without once losing me under a blanket of worldbuilding. Jess’s world of self-driving cars, electronic wrist devices, and three-dimensional holographic (I think) television seems completely normal and at times I almost felt like I was reading YA contemporary that happened to take place in a world with robots and superheroes, especially when she and the love interest, Abby, were flirting through school projects together.
But then the plot picks up, and the layers of twists begin to unpeel. There’s a really obvious twist that I saw coming because I have a similar one in my first book, but for me it almost served as camouflage and kept me from seeing all the other twists yet to come. For me, anyway, this didn’t turn out to be a predictable, simple book, and it had a lot of good things to say about the way we define heroes and villains in the public eye. Lee also came up with some pretty creative powers and super-identities that didn’t seem like the same old same old.
What I appreciated about the book is that even when things are Not Great, it never feels bogged down with that hopelessness and overwhelmingly dystopian feeling that it easily could have, given the subject matter. I mean, some people could plop you down as a reader in the middle of the desert in a future where there isn’t really enough good food to eat and various old forms of entertainment are forbidden, and it would seem depressing, but this just seems normal and even chirpy. I mean, it’s Jess’s normal. She just thinks she’s a regular kid, with a friend group and kids at school she feels weird around and homework and insecurities and crushes both on classmates and celebrities.
The ending isn’t really an ending at all, which is frustrating, but at least it’s not a cliffhanger, just the first book in the kind of trilogy where all three books tell one complete story. And yes, the girls end up together and alive. Behold the low bar television has set for SFF–the bar is on the ground. But this is, happily, more than just a book where Girl A gets with Girl B and fight some bad guys.

More of Shira Glassman’s reviews here.

Shira’s fluffy f/f fantasy series about a lesbian queen with a bi partner and a warrior/wizard sidekick couple here.