Shira Glassman reviews Eelgrass by Tori Curtis

Eelgrass by Tori Curtis is an intimidating book to review because reading it was such a powerful experience that I’m scared of failing to do it justice. It mirrors its protagonist’s span of two worlds — she’s a selkie so both the sea and the shore communities are home — inasmuch as it comfortably straddles Irish historical fantasy and literary fiction (as well as lesfic!) It’s firmly woman-centered; most of the characters are women whose motivation is keeping other women safe.

This is the kind of book where a selkie asks a siren the What are we relationship question. I will reproduce the following deliciously incongruous quote here: “Around here, people decide they want to get to know each other and they — they court. And if that goes well, they marry. Are we courting?” This juxtaposition of conservative, period-piece village daintiness with a literal seal-woman and a bloodthirsty mermaid, I mean, freaking sign me up and sell me the Extras package.

The core of the story is Efa’s drive to rescue her best friend and fellow selkie Bettan from the fate every selkie woman knows about from birth–if a human man gets a hold of your sealskin, you become bound to him. When we finally get to see this up close, it’s a sort of emotional slavery that’s as subtle as feathers but harsh and binding below the surface.

Bettan and Efa’s relationship is the foundation of the book’s story, and I’m very drawn to stories of women as rescuers, especially of each other. I also really like how intense but platonic they were together, because it reaffirms that f/f and f-f friendship stories can support and coexist each other rather than threatening each other. Bettan and Efa literally promise to be best friends forever, which felt good to read.

I loved all the care and thought Curtis put into the details of her worldbuilding. For example, the selkie civilization on human land is more suited to their biology than human villages would be — the houses are very simple, shops are run out of the houses instead of being in separate buildings, etc. In the nearby human village, selkies are accepted as real–they’re othered and exoticized a little, but they’re a familiar presence. In contrast, sirens (called “fishwives” by the humans) are treated as more fantastical. As Efa says:

“I didn’t know fishwives were real,” she said, barely able to form the words over her blush. People told stories about them, but then, people told stories about kings, too. She’d never known anyone who met one.

As for Ninka the Siren/Fishwife herself, here she is in one quote: “Whatever I want. I go exploring, and fish, and bother sailors and seduce young women on the seashore.” Sounds like a nice life! I’d ask where I can sign up, except violins are easily waterlogged.

Ninka is described as “so beautiful Efa didn’t know how she’d ever thought she’d want boys.” Speaking of which, I loved the worldbuilding’s approach to queerness. For example, here’s a conversation between Efa and a male siren:

“I was with a human once. It didn’t end well.”

“With,” she repeated.

“A blacksmith,” he said.

Efa scrunched up her nose. “That’s as human as you can get without being a miner,” she said. And then frowned. “Are all sirens – do men always fall in love with other men?”

“A lot of us do,” he said, “but she was a woman.”

I like the creative decision to have selkie culture and siren culture show different approaches to male-male and female-female love—Efa’s community never presented it as an option, but it’s totally commonplace in Ninka’s. I don’t think I’ve run into this before, this contrast between two different fantasy creature communities. Usually it’s all “how does this group differ from humans.

The entire book draws heavily on symbolism that can easily parallel real-world sexual assault, domestic violence, or bisexual women coerced into permanent relationships with allo cis hetero men rather than pursuing happiness with any gender wherever life leads them (which, yes, may happen to be a man like that but that’s different from ending up with one through social pressure.)

The most poignant and pithy representation of these connections is when Bettan asks Efa, “What if he turned me human?” What if he changed me irrevocably? What if I’ve lost something that made me fundamentally me? This works for all of these real-world parallels. Another quote: “You think people can’t do those kinds of things to you, but obviously they can.” And then, when Efa says, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re free now.” I’m probably making this sound heavy-handed, but it’s really not. It’s exquisite.

After all–

“But no one will take this seriously. It happens all the time.”

“I don’t see why we don’t stop it,” she said. . . . There were selkies who came home ten years, twenty years later, their sealskin won back, and never spoke of what had happened while it was kept from them. There were mothers so determined not to be trapped that they abandoned their sons and daughters. Efa knew people, a dozen of them at least, who stayed away from their human forms forever out of fear that their sealskin might be taken again. She couldn’t imagine losing one world to save the other, but they did it, and trembled at the thought of shedding their sealskins.

There may be some awkward and unintentional racial coding going on in the selkies having slightly darker skin than the human characters–between that and the “lol you’re sexy but exotic and othered” treatment from the human fishermen, plus all the themes of escaping coercion, one could see symbolism for women of color. However, as a fairly light-skinned white Jew, I’m still darker than the white Irish people in my life, so the selkies could still be white if thinking of them any other way gets awkward. A WoC will be better able to speak to this than I can.

Speaking of marginalization, though, the book had a neat moment where Efa forgets about the existence of Deaf people and Ninka (the siren) corrects her. Again, here for a siren “calling in” a selkie as if they were both, like, activist friends of mine or something.

I’m not sure if I was reading an earlier draft because I was given a review copy as a Lesbrary reviewer, but halfway through the book random hyphens started appearing in words that weren’t at the end of lines on the mobile version. It happened at least three or four times and I just wanted to give a heads up that other than this, the book was impeccably edited and didn’t have any other artifacts of Indie Life. Also, I’m not a fan of the cover and feel that it gives the wrong impression of the contents; it looks too modern to me and almost looks like a beachy wedding shoot. Would love to see it with the kind of sweeping fantasy art the story cries out for.

The ending is a little bit unresolved as far as relationships go – there’s an unambiguous f/f ending for Efa that seems like it could lead to future complications (but I’m pretty sure there’s a sequel in the works) plus a m/f resolution for other characters that seemed like a giant maybe. But life itself is unresolved and in continual flow, so I don’t have a problem with this. The plot and adventure part of the story are definitely resolved and complete, and overall this was a riveting read that I’m awarding five stars for quality and being thoroughly absorbing.

Trigger warning for on-the-page controlling husband behavior and “underwater fantasy violence”, as the MPAA might phrase it. These are not Lisa Frank mermaids.

Also, this book will make you thoroughly hungry for fish (if you eat fish.)


Marthese reviews A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman

‘’Not everybody reads encyclopaedias for fun’’

A Harvest of Ripe Figs is the third book in the Mangoverse series. It takes place a bit after the epilogue in the second book. I loved this book so much I binge read it.

This book combines two genres which I love: fantasy and mystery. Shulamit and her family have settled with what happened at the end of  book two . Things are quiet, and indeed, the plot does not revolve much around Shula’s group drama! A violin/fiddle of importance gets stolen (I’m still confused about the difference between a violin and a fiddle!) and Shulamit uses her intellect and deduction skills along with some help from her family to discover what happened to it.

During the mystery, it comes out that Shula is a good interrogator (no torture involved–don’t worry) while Riv stops a lot of bullshit – which I loved. Isaac is smug but helpful and Aviva is supportive and introspective. There is a lot of gender talk and criticism of stereotypes.

I liked the down to business element. For example Riv may be attracted to Isaac but she focuses on her job first. There is no ‘but they couldn’t help themselves’ element.

The accepting diversity is what draws me to this series and in this book, there is very minor ace representation (like blink and you miss it; but I appreciated that it was there).

There is also young trans representation! Aviva sums it up perfectly ”That’s the boy who exists. Anything else is a story” and although Shula doesn’t get it at first, she is very protective of her people. Indeed, she’s a great leadership example (despite it being not a democracy). Shula has plans for giving more females more power in her city. She’s ok with sharing power.

Another thing that was super squee worthy for me was the mention of pests and tropical plants. At the moment, I’m working on a campaign for fair and sustainable tropical fruit (make fruit fair) so it’s something that I became familiar with. The pests are a real problem to our food security and farmers’ livelihoods and Shula really cares about her farmers – the backbone of Perach.

Shula is all about responsibility -whether her own of the wrongdoers responsibility. Wish the world was more like that.

The word ‘Feminism’ is actually used! Women supporting women is also another feature of the book. There was lots of body positivity – especially surrounding maternity and different sizes.

There’s also an example of a toxic relationship and an entitled ‘nice guy’ who wants to be the center of attention and expects things for his ‘sacrifices’. This is dealt with rather than ignored or condoned.

Apart from all the simply narrated but complex topics, it’s simply a fun read. There are some funny elements like the stories about Riv – which turn out pretty helpful in the end.

For me, a good mystery isn’t necessarily complex but it must be clean and rounded-up. Things that were mentioned throughout find their use in the conclusion to the mystery and so for me, while predictable it’s a good mystery.

There were many metaphors also about ripening and maturing – people developing and becoming more themselves. Of course, much food talk as well which I came to expect from this series.

What I wanted to see was Kaveh and his companion again (see I even forgot his name). They were mentioned but in passing. Would have been good if they visited or had visible correspondence at least; considering that they are family.

All in all, it’s a fun read. Fluffy-ish fantasy without too much drama. The pages just seemed to scroll by. I was already used to the world and the characters and it was an enjoyable and fun read. While it may seem an easy read, it still points critically to problems in our society and speaks about different issues.


Shira Glassman reviews Ripped Pages by M. Hollis

Ripped Pages is a cute addition to the thank goodness growing collection of YA where a fairy-tale princess’s happy ending is with another girl. I’ve said before that since for so many of us, fairy-tales are our first exposure to romance, whether it’s bedtime stories or Disney movies, and that means for those of us who are attracted to the same gender, these same fairy tales were the first place we learned we didn’t exist. That’s what’s so soothing about being included in fairy-tales, even when we’ve moved beyond the age where they comprise the bulk of our romantic daydreams.
The story is a Rapunzel retelling that changes several details to carve its own place in the world–instead of adhering to the original legend where a baby is stolen from loving parents, this time it’s the cruel father himself who locks his daughter away from the world (not because she’s a lesbian, but because she stood up to her father when he said awful things about her or her dead mother.) It’s got to be baffling and invalidating for children of abusive parents to see story after story where the only reason a parent was abusive was that they were the step-parent or kidnapper, when they know they’re enduring such hardship from a blood connection. Hopefully some of the folks out there like that will take comfort in Valentina’s escape.
That escape, actually, is the main focus of the story, as well as Valentina’s new life with the family of the pan-or-bi girl who rescues her. Ripped Pages‘s short length and fairy-tale narrative structure (it literally starts with “once upon a time, in a land far, far away”) mean that Agnes, the love interest, isn’t the most fleshed-out of characters, but if you go into this expecting a fairy-tale instead of a fully fleshed-out fantasy novel it’s a satisfying and complete little read.
The worldbuilding was one of my favorite things about this book. The location is never identified, but I know the author is Brazilian and the names and place-names at least to my outsider eyes seem Brazilian or at least Brazilian-adjacent. (The geography seems to be made up of multiple small countries.) On a more intimate scale, Agnes’s family life, which includes a brother with a husband, several younger siblings, and two affectionate parents, was a neat enough place to “visit” that I’d gladly go back there for a sequel.
Speaking of the treatment of queerness in Hollis’s worldbuilding, the books Valentina finds in her tower include references to women loving each other, attraction to multiple genders, nonbinary people, and asexuality, both of which appear so seamlessly and naturally that it really shows how easy it is to do that when you’re writing in a fantasy world where you literally control everything.
See here:
There were girls kissing other girls! They could kiss whoever they wanted! And some people in the book didn’t want to kiss anyone. There were even those who didn’t call themselves men or women, but something else, something entirely their own.
and then, when another character is speaking:
“I love men, women, and people who are neither or both at the same time. Why do you ask?”
See? This stuff is pretty easy, once you remember that since you control everything about your fantasy world, you don’t have to adhere to any specific period in Earth’s real history. (That being said, there are still valid reasons to include discrimination and/or erasure–for example, getting to watch characters like you vanquish your IRL foes. I’m not saying either way is right, just that Maria Hollis’s way needs to get way more airtime!)
It’s hard to do complicated in a story that’s only fifty or sixty pages, but I liked the nod to the complex emotions that go along with escaping a bad situation and then having to think about it again when towards the end of the story Valentina has to decide how to move forward with her healing. I liked the decision Hollis made about how to tie up that particular loose end.
And of course I was charmed by a reference to pitanga, also known as Suriname cherry–the casual appearance of tropical fruit in fantasy lit being a particular interest of mine.
Really, the only thing that would have improved it for me is if I had a better grip on Agnes, other than as “the spunky love interest”, but the story still works without that particular kind of depth.
There are several trigger warnings, but the author has provided all of them in the intro page: Ripped Pages contains scenes of emotional abuse, forced imprisonment, child abandonment, minor violence, and trauma recovery. Shira’s additional note: when Valentina’s mother dies in the beginning of the book, it felt realistic and familiar to me as someone who has lost a lot of family, so if that’s something that’s likely to set you off, tread lightly until Valentina is already in the tower.
Shira Glassman is the author of the fluffy queer Jewish fantasy series the Mangoverse and also light contemporary f/f romances like Knit One Girl Two. Her next release, coming this winter, is the superheroine/damsel in distress adventure Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor, which you can TBR on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36321936-cinnamon-blade-knife-in-shining-armor


Shira Glassman reviews How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake is the queer girl version of the classic trope of two lonely teens bonding over understanding each other’s parallel, if not similar, sadness. Having lost a lot of family within a relatively short span of years, there’s a part of me that became a Harry/Luna ‘shipper from the moment we saw them sharing loss in the kind of profound way neither does with the other kids, and that’s what I got from Grace and Eva in this book. Not that they’re mourning the same loss — Grace wishes for a sober, stable mother who cares about her as more than an extension of herself, and Eva’s reeling from her mother’s sudden death due to surgery complications.
But still, it’s the story of two young women, a pianist and a ballerina, whose shared emptiness creates a pull that draws them magnetically toward each other. They are healthy influences in each other’s lives, and it’s so good and affirming to see teen girls loving each other framed as “a healthy part.” In fact, Grace has had a super fucked up childhood and adolescence thanks to her mother, but her bisexuality is one of the few parts of her life that’s healthy and normal and hasn’t been ruined by the kind of parenting that drags the kid around from boyfriend’s house to boyfriend’s house until the new boyfriend catches you stealing again.
I will never get tired of this.
I’ll say it again: I’ll never get tired of this. I will never tire of framing a girl’s noticing of other girls “that way” as one of the ways to be a normal teen, as one of the ways to be a child, as one of the ways to be functioning as opposed to code language for someone being dysfunctional. Especially a bi character, because so many people have used that as a shortcut for how out of control we’ve let ourselves get.
Eva’s a lesbian and she’s awarded that innocence, too. We both need it, lesbians and bi girls alike.
Grace’s description of what it was like for her, as a bi girl who her ex-boyfriend “used to turn [her] into a puddle”, to crush on the friendly, alluring, straight lifeguard Natalie lined up exactly with what my straight-girl crushes were like at that age and–dammit–continue to be like. (Ladies, you are lovely.) It’s nice to be allowed to feel kinship with that moment, and be validated that yes, plenty of other girls who are still attracted to men can feel what we feel when that girl is with us, and that it’s okay to open up that path to all it has to offer. I also found an echo of my own past in Grace’s mom’s response in the past to when she came out. To respond to a declaration that someone likes girls with Well, sure, who doesn’t? is very, very familiar.
The main plot of the book isn’t just the romance, though, but Grace dealing with her mom, who’s the kind of person who steals from your piggybank to buy swag to throw you a birthday party with all her own favorite colors–on the wrong day. Given that I have the kind of mom who fled Irma two days before everyone else because she’s so careful and on-the-ball, this made for a fascinating read into a terrifying version of teen years when a minor is forced to parent her own parent. Blake does a wonderful job of showing the walls closing in, of the mindset that traps you into thinking that you can’t leave, you have to stay, because how else will she be safe? She needs you.
Except, no. That isn’t actually helping anyone. I was rooting for Grace the whole time and rest assured, the book delivers.
You can watch Grace teetering over the edge and pulling back over and over again in a kind of deftly unreliable narrator voice that reminds you that you’re listening to a teenage survivor who’s almost half brainwashed. She catches herself, for example, about to make assumptions about Eva based on her own mother and then hates that her mother is turning her into something “unfeeling and cold.”
I read it in one sitting with my cat lying on my chest–the prose and the chatty way the narrator talks to the reader carries you along in a swift current of plot and description. The characters and scenery are all pretty vivid and easy to picture. Also, I love this  book’s depiction of male-female platonic friendship, between Grace and her buddy Luca, with Luca’s adorable mom being the Adopted Mom foil for Grace’s own mother.
Emetophobia trigger on page 91 from walk-ons at a teenage party. Also, at one point the annoying teenage boy character (the ex-boyfriend from the puddle line) calls Eva “exotic” but it’s called out a few pages later and Eva is given a lot of space to discuss how it made her feel and why she doesn’t like it.
Shira Glassman is either a bisexual Jew or twelve tiny bisexual Jews in a trench coat; either way, she lives in north central Florida and plays violin when she’s not yelling “what are you EATING?!” at the cat. Her latest release is Knit One Girl Two, a fluffy romance between two Jewish girls bonding over fandom, making art, and dealing with the changes in their lives.

Susan reviews Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman

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

Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two is a story about a yarn dyer who meets a local artist while searching for inspiration, and they fall in love over fandom, cats, and crafting—and it’s extremely cute!

Clara (the yarn dyer) and Danielle (the artist) are both really well drawn characters that I was immensely fond of almost immediately from their intros, and they felt very realistic! I really appreciated seeing a relationship that found its footing through fandom, where they exchange links to fanfic in the middle of the night and Danielle draws fanart, because not only did it feel immensely true to my experience, but it was super charming. (Plus, it contained references to knitting drama that I remember, and Archive Of Our Own, which delighted me.) And Clara at least was part of a local queer community! Fitting characters into a world that has other queer characters is the surest way to my heart.

Another thing that I liked was that the problems were all small-scale, plausible problems for a contemporary setting–a business expanding too fast, crafting accidents involving cats… I appreciate the way that the conflict of the story (such as it is) is resolved, and that Clara considered Danielle’s feelings first, before she took any actions; I was honestly bracing for the worst so two characters using their words to resolve a problem was so nice and refreshing.

(Especially refreshing: Danielle is fat, and this isn’t treated like a problem, or a thing that needs to be discussed at length–she just gets to be stylish and an artist!)

My only complaints about Knit One, Girl Two is that the reveal of Danielle’s problem seemed a little sudden, and there are some places where the tone didn’t flow well. But those are very minor niggles for the amount of enjoyment I got out of it. Like Humanity For Beginners, it is a generally cheerful story that reads quickly and brightened my day.

If you want a cute, heart-warming story about two artists falling in love and talking about fandom, or if you want to read about crafters and artists struggling to work, I definitely recommend Knit One, Girl Two.

This review is based off a copy provided by The Lesbrary.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Shira Glassman reviews Bliss by Fiona Zedde

Bliss by Fiona Zedde is a finding-your-place story as much as it is a love story; or you could say it’s a love story between a woman and the self she’s supposed to be or the type of life she’s supposed to be living. It’s also highly erotic, reveling in the sensuality of its characters’ bodies, but in a respectful and almost reverential way that elevates ordinary body parts to a sort of glowing, visceral divinity.

Bliss Sinclair, a Jamaican-American woman who goes by Sinclair in honor of her dead mother’s surname, has been living a fairly tropey “money can’t buy you happiness” existence as a high-powered accountant on the gazillionth floor of a fancy building. She doesn’t really have friends who mean anything to her and she tolerates her boyfriend’s affection because it’s what you do. Lesbian identity is sitting on her emotional front porch stoop playing on its phone but she hasn’t quite had the courage to open the door yet.
When she finally does get a chance to figure out that she’s really only attracted to women, she gets taken advantage of by a woman who is pushy and misleading. The inevitable happens, at which point she heads back to Jamaica for an extended vacation to see her father and meet his new wife and kid.
She quickly winds up introduced to the local lesbian community and has to learn everybody’s old drama as she’s also getting used to being around her family again. I found most of the supporting characters and the relational world Zedde sets up for this story really appealing–there’s an immense sense of interconnectedness that includes the dead characters we never get to meet in person as well. Zedde also gives us a rich, vivid, and easy to picture world of tropical plants, Jamaican food, what kinds of things there are to do in Jamaica if you’re there on vacation, and what kinds of jobs the locals do. Whiteness hovers in the background as a clueless, absent employer but is never really present on-screen.
There is a lot of sex in this book, but there are also a lot of scenes of the main character playing tourist on beaches and historic buildings, going to parties or restaurants, enjoying time with her family, etc. I just feel like if I had been counting the sex scenes I would have run out of fingers (and yes, I phrased it that way on purpose 😛 )
This is not a book that ignores the violent reality that anyone visibly queer in Jamaica may encounter, but because Zedde is writing from the inside and not from the point of view of some privileged white non queer writer, both the book’s scenes of attempted sexual violence from the hands of multiple strange men are:
1. foiled, completely and utterly
2. take up a very brief space in the narrative; they occur over the course of a page or two, are fended off, are processed emotionally with tears or a day of quiet or whatever else is necessary, and then we move on
3. they are not intended as a rejection of Jamaica. This is important. Over at WritingWithColor, we all get questions from people outside various marginalized groups trying to write about the ways that group mistreats vulnerable folks within its own LGBT community. I prefer to leave this narrative to people in the overlap of both groups, because comparing what Zedde writes to what some of these privileged writers write you can see the difference — at one point, one of the Jamaican lesbians even says “you have to love Jamaica anyway.” This is home; the food, the culture, the scenery, the history, the music. The problem is recognized but it’s not enough to drive them out and away into other places that may very well be just as physically dangerous.
I found the main character herself more appealing as a person than any of her love interests, honestly — obviously the first one was pushy beyond belief, but one on the island came on really strong as well and I had to just believe in Sinclair’s immense attraction to her being what wore down her initial “I have a broken heart and you come on super strong, meep” feelings.
Another topic about which Zedde writes much better than a privileged person trying to write about a marginalized community further marginalizing its LGBT members, is Sinclair’s father’s reaction to her lesbianism. I was stunned at how well this was pulled off because I’d never seen a character come around so realistically and so quickly. He’s upset, but a few pages later he dials it back and says that a lot of his upset is probably unfair. Can white, non-queer people trying to write about “oppressive” non-white or non-American parents please take a lesson from this book?
Anyway, aside from that issue I thought it was a great and realistic and familiar depiction of what happens when a parent who loves their child has discomfort with their choice of partner or sexuality but is trying to work around it. We don’t see too much of that in LGBT fiction; I’ve seen a lot of either ultra-acceptance (realistic for some of us, and even those who aren’t need some wish fulfillment) or ultra-disgustingness (cathartic and important to write from the inside; tragedy porn and sometimes not even written in a way that rings true, when writing from the outside.) A family that invites a girlfriend over for dinner and no horrible “I knew you’d ruin the evening!” argument happens even though one of the members feels negatively about the idea of a gay daughter is another way to be realistic, and belongs on the page. And it’s not like you as a reader are constantly made aware of his negativity, either.
Some choice quotes, so you can get a feel for the book’s snappy dialogue and evocative descriptors:
Sinclair: “Do you come downtown often?”
First girlfriend: “If you’ll let me, I’ll come at least two times today.”
Waitress: “Can I get you two anything to drink today?”
One of the main characters, about the other main character: “Some manners for her.”
Island love interest about the first girlfriend: “If she was worth half your sighs she would have been here with you on her knees apologizing for hurting you.”
Description of main character’s young stepmom: “short reddish hair that stood up around her head like a tamed flame”
Overall, the story tells itself; it flows really well and makes you want to keep reading. This isn’t the kind of book where you read a paragraph and then have to read it again because you didn’t catch what happens. In other words, Also, kudos to Zedde for using the phrase “maggot-white penis” to refer to a naked white guy in a BDSM club, because it reminded me of those posts pointing out how nobody talks about whiteness with the kind of evocative overscrutinizing detail usually afforded to darker skin in fiction.
Trigger warnings: two foiled attempts at sexual assault by multiple men in the Jamaica half of the book. The second time the women beat up the men pretty badly; it’s over quickly and you can skip the second time if you nope out for a couple of pages when they get to a place in the woods with tons of pretty tropical flowers.
Also, the first girlfriend’s behavior is borderline abusive in the sense that she puts Sinclair in situations she doesn’t want to be in and basically demands a veto as negative consent instead of asking if things are okay beforehand, and I’m talking big deal things like surprising her with orgies or kink clubs. Sometimes they are okay and sometimes they are not and Sinclair takes steps accordingly each time. Plus, she’s the kind of person who says “You’re an incredible fuck. Yet you’re so naïve. You’re like my lost childhood. My virginity.” which I know someone who had that said to them in real life and I’ve always found it super creepy (so does Sinclair.)

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.