Quinn Jean reviews All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout The Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages by Saundra Mitchell cover

[This review contains very vague spoilers (no specific plot points, though) and mentions of violence]

This exceptional short story collection, edited by Saundra Mitchell, is a sterling addition to WLW fiction. The vast majority of the seventeen stories included involve major WLW characters and without fail, every tale is breathtakingly beautiful. The historical settings range from a convent in medieval Spain, to small-town USA in the 1950s, right through to grunge-soaked Seattle in the early 1990s. Similarly, the young women included in the WLW stories vary greatly in their personalities, identities, dreams and loves. The one thing all the stories have in common is that none of the protagonists have unhappy endings. The book has successfully set out to show queer teenagers have always existed and thrived, even in the most adverse circumstances.

The heroism inherent in merely existing as a queer person is captured brilliantly in every story in All Out, with some of the stories including magic and fantasy to further heighten this theme. Leprechauns and witches–as well as peasant girls, waitresses and nuns–all show themselves to be strong, generous and brave when their circumstances would have them give up on life and love. Too often fictional portrayals of WLW in historical settings show these women to be doomed, but these stories reward their characters with happiness and promising futures. And the long past times in foreign places portrayed by the authors never feel distant given the amount of detail and nuance each story is imbued with, so that the reader is transported completely each time.

It is to the reader’s benefit not to know too much about what each story will contain, with only the promise that none end in tragedy, so there’s no need to be anxious when reading. Inevitably certain historical settings mean there are depictions of violence at times, but this is not the over-riding theme of any story, with queer love stories and self-discovery always emerging victorious.

Do not miss this book, it is a glorious expression of the love and light that has always filled WLW.

11 Literally Perfect Sapphic Novels

Here’s another one of my recent booktube videos, this time discussing the sapphic novels and short story collections that I’ve rated 5 stars!

Books mentioned:

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Marthese reviews Gretel and “Dragon Essence” by Niamh Murphy

”She had trusted two strangers in her house, offering them food and shelter. It was nonsense not to trust her.” – Gretel: A Fairytale Retold

With GDPR the copious amounts of author newsletters were at best purgatory. The ‘please subscribe to us’ emails were really great to weed out authors that I am not so interested in reading anymore. One author’s newsletter that I kept was Niamh Murphy’s. This author sends a lot of freebies and previews, is interested in fantasy and historical fiction (she’s actually a historian!) and sends advice and tips on where and what to read. I particularly liked her newsletter of Sapphic Fairytale Retellings! Anyone subscribed to her newsletter has received the short stories I will review below!

Despite knowing of this author, I hadn’t read any of her stories before last week, but now I’m intrigued. I started by reading “Dragon Essence: A Prequel to the Dark Age Trilogy.“This was, and and still is currently, free with a newsletter subscription! I have never read a prequel before the actual series, but this particular prequel was good at introducing the world and making the readers invested in seeing more from from it. The prequel is very short and can be read during a lunch break.

The plot surrounds Andra, a Captain of the Dragon Ward. Andra’s lover, Olwen is a mage set on getting a hold on a dragon egg – which Andra is bound to protect. Olwen gets killed, and the way to bring her back to life may see Andra breaking all sorts of oaths. This was a refreshing read, though very morally dubious. Why I could understand why the characters were acting in a certain way, I didn’t feel it was 100% okay. Be forewarned, there is violence on mythical creatures and violence of the human kind. The story contained also a preview of the first book Dragon Whisper. I love queer fantasy, especially with dragons and I’m interested to see how the wizards vs druids and the humans vs dragons elements will play out. I also do not know many queer fantasy books/historical fiction books with druids.

After I finished “Dragon Essence” I felt like reading the series…only it is not yet out. So I read Gretel: A Fairytale Retold, which as you probably guessed is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel: one of my favourite childhood stories! Gretel isn’t that long and is a bit fast paced, but then again, so was the original story. Hans and Gretel are introduced while running away from wolves and fortunately they are saved by a woman who offers them lodging until Hans heals. Gretel and Hans are away from home and have been looking for work. Maeve, the woman who saved them, lives in a cottage in a fort – all on her own. Gretel and Maeve grow closer in a really sweet way (and sexy way too as it involved a first-time sex scene in the woods!), but Hans is ever suspicious of the ‘witch’. Gretel has always had Hans and Hans had always had her back…until both those things are not true anymore. This story has a happy ending for the couple! It also has one of the best concluding lines from a character that I’ve ever seen.

While short, I think this story was great. It is a fast-paced story but there was no ‘love-at-first-sight’. It also featured a realistic fracturing of a family bond and growing romantic bond. I found Maeve to be an interesting character because she’s kind and feminine but still strong, physically and mentally. I absolutely hated Hans. Perhaps if it was longer, we could have seen a nice side of him. The writing was simple but effective and emphatic. This novella is currently free!

Overall, this is an author I would look into more. Niamh Murphy also has a youtube channel where she talks about books. I enjoyed discovering this author especially because of the fantasy and  retellings with a dash of history. I look forward to discovering new authors of those genres.

Megan G reviews “Wet Nails” by Shira Glassman

Adina Greenberg is taking a small break from her life as a grad student to spend a night watching movies starring her biggest Hollywood crush: Rose Hamilton. Rose Hamilton was a star in the 1950’s, and is definitely dead. Yet, she somehow also manages to step right out of Adina’s television set and into her living room.

The words “ghost” and “erotica” are not words I would often think to put together, and yet somehow, they work perfectly in this adorable and sexy short story.

Part of this, I think, is because “Wet Nails” doesn’t read like a traditional short story. Instead of being terrified by the ghostly apparition of her dead celebrity crush, Adina seems excited and nervous. In fact, the first thing she thinks when Rose Hamilton begins to climb out of her TV is how thankful she is that she just recently showered. At no point does Adina show any fear at the situation, which, while a little odd considering the circumstances, does work to help the “erotica” side of this ghost erotica along.

Another thing, I think, is that Rose Hamilton is not a vengeful ghost, seeking retribution over the horrible things that happened to her in her life. Instead, she claims she is kept alive by her fans, and because of that can occasionally drop in to visit some of them and thank them for their dedication to her.

Something I really enjoyed about this story was Adina and Rose talking about their different experiences with bisexuality. Adina is quite open about liking women – in fact, she shows a clear preference towards women. Rose is open as well, but makes it clear that she was not that open during her life. Any romantic interactions she had with women had to be hushed up, hidden, as they could have ruined not only her career, but her life. Adina, in turn, seems fully aware of the privilege she has in being able to be out and accepted, knowing that it wasn’t always like this and, for some people, still isn’t.

I won’t get too detailed about the “erotica” aspect of this story, but I do promise that it is hot, hot, hot. And yet, somehow also manages to keep that little bit of adorable that has been sprinkled through the entire story.

Overall, “Wet Nails” is a fantastic little story that looks at the different experiences women can have with queerness (bisexuality in particular, in this story), and how despite that, they can still find common ground, even if they are from entirely different generations. They form a sweet, albeit brief friendship, which obviously turns into a little bit more in a way that works perfectly even though one of the women is a ghost. I would highly recommend this story to anybody who is looking for something both sweet and sexy. Shira Glassman will not disappoint.


Danika reviews Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

What a book. What a journey. Her Body and Other Parties is a short story collection that blends feminism, queerness, and fabulism into a haunting read. I have to say, when I saw this book included on queer book lists, I kept my expectations low. I was already sold on reading it (feminism & fabulism & that cover? I couldn’t resist), so I would be happy with any queer story in the collection. So it felt like an abundance of riches to keep reading and finding that almost every story had a queer woman main character! I believe there was only one story that didn’t? I especially enjoyed when in one story, the main character (a writer) is accused of writing a stereotype: the mad woman in the attic–the mad lesbian in the attic, even worse! She replies in frustration that she is writing herself–her gay, anxious self.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and although I enjoyed the experience for the most part, I think this is one I would prefer reading in a physical format. They’re thoughtful, metaphorical stories–women literally fading away and being imbued in objects, lists of lovers that turn into a dystopian narrative, ghost stories brought to life–and they would benefit from time to linger over them, instead of being steadily rushed onward by the narrator. On the other hand, I would desperately have like to skim the SVU novella. This was a riff on Law and Order: SVU, and although I liked the concept and elements of the story, I felt as if it dragged, and it was frustrating not being able to skim or at least see when the next story started.

I can see myself coming back to these stories again and again. The first few were my favourites: “The Husband Stitch,” which retells the classic scary story about a girl with a green ribbon around her neck, while also weaving in more urban legends and spooky stories, exposing the misogyny lurking at the heart of them. “Inventory,” which is a list of the main character’s lovers throughout her life. We slowly learn what lead her to this point of meticulous documentation.

Beautifully unsettling, Her Body and Other Parties cracks open familiar stories to expose the rot beneath. If you’re a fan of magical realism or fabulism, I would highly recommend this one. It will leave you unsettled and thoughtful.

Danika reviews Meanwhile, Elsewhere edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett

This is a huge book. Metaphorically, of course: it’s a big step in queer lit that we have a collection like this now, a collection of SFF stories all by and about trans people. We’re finally moving towards having stories that neither minimize queerness nor make it our only defining feature. But actually, I’m talking about it’s physical size. It’s 447 pages, and the book is taller and wider than your average paperback: more like a textbook than a novel. Although I really enjoyed reading this, it did take me a while to get through, because its physical size makes it awkward to hold and the length was intimidating.

It was well worth the time it took me to read it, though! I was happy to see that there are plenty of sapphic stories included: in fact, at least 10 of the 25 stories has a women-loving-women main character. Although this collection is sci fi and fantasy, and trans people in general, there’s definitely a stronger presence of science fiction and trans women.

As always in an anthology, some of these were bigger hits than others, but even the stories I didn’t personally enjoy I could see other people loving. (Like “It’s Called Fashion,” which I found difficult to follow, but I can see other readers really clicking with.) The stories vary a lot in their scope and premise. Some build a complex cyberpunk world in 20 pages, while others imagine a world only slightly different than ours. One story follows someone in space quietly ruminating about microaggressions, while another follows a woman whose brain-eating amoeba communicates through dreams and grows via orgasms.

A few stories I found so fascinating that I could easily write papers about them: “Satan, Are You There? It’s Me, Laura.” by Aesling Fae attempts to reclaim Satan as a trans woman, and as the protector of trans women. Outside of context, the devil and a trans woman sounds offensive, but Fae makes it an empowering thesis. Like Carmilla the series takes the monstrous lesbian and turns her into a hero, this story does the same thing with the devil.

The other story that really made me think was “Rent, Don’t Sell” by Calvin Gimpelevich. In this world, the technology for body-swapping had been made viable, but under capitalism, it’s used for things like: swapping your body with a trainer’s so they can do your exercise for you, hiring someone to detox for you, and, of course, having sex while inhabiting someone else’s body. This has a lot of interesting discussions about identity. The side character is a trans women who swapped bodies with a trans guy, but now regrets it and wants to transition with her own body, so she’s suing to try to get it back.

Some of my other favorites were “What Cheer” by RJ Edwards, where the main character spends a couple days with her alien close, and learns appreciation for herself and her life; “After the Big One” by Cooper Lee Bombardier, where a motley crew of queer argue about discourse and privilege, but have to come together to survive disaster; and “Gamers” by Imogen Binnie, which is about Zelda and time travel and being in an unhealthy relationship with a dependent girlfriend.

I do want to mention some serious trigger warnings for transphobia, transmisogyny, violence, gore, and rape in various stories. Specifically, the one story I had a problem with is “Delicate Bodies” by Bridget Liang, in which the main character is a zombie who rapes and then kills her ex-boyfriends/crushes. I get the zombie revenge fantasy, but I was getting nauseated reading about her brutally raping multiple people, and the text seems to suggest that they deserve it. They may have been jerks, but they didn’t do anything comparable. It soured the collection some for me. I also want to mention a trigger warning for suicide in “Visions” (though that’s not one of the sapphic stories).

I highly recommend this collection to just about everyone. It’s ambitious and necessary and has some fantastic stories. (And that sapphic story abundance doesn’t hurt!)

Julie Thompson reviews A Heart Well-Traveled: Tales of Long Distance Romance & Unlikely Outcomes by edited by Sallyanne Monti

A Heart Well-Traveled presents nineteen stories, highlighting the stress and strain, and love and hope between couples physically and emotionally separated by circumstance. Long distance love and all of its baggage (distance, work, social obligations, limited free time) are things with which I am all too familiar, making this collection especially appealing to me.

As these short stories unfold, we travel from big cities to wilderness treks, online encounters and trips across State lines and overseas. They also take numerous chances on affairs of the heart between seeming opposites and the risks associated with starting all over again in new places. This anthology does a wonderful job of illuminating the uncertainty, hesitation, anxiety, as well as the exhilaration, passion, and love these women share. We venture into an uncertain union as Cameron, daughter of Hollywood royalty, and Emily, a Nebraska native attempting to navigate the Hollywood machine, play against type in “Just Like in the Movies” by N.R. Dunham. In “Trail Magic” by Michele M. Reynolds, Nat discovers that faith can become a tangible concept when she stops to pick up a Dove. And a two-year relationship facing a fork in the road between Butte, Montana, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

One of my favorite stories, “A Caramel Macchiato with a Friend” by Lila Bruce, takes place between two women who meet at a coffee shop after chatting online for about a year. Remember that X-Files episode, “2Shy” in which women become gelatinous goo after online dating gone very, very wrong? Think of how much heartache (not to mention that whole staying alive part) could have been spared if those women had had a friend standing by with a safe phrase. Lila Bruce’s story is funny, awkward, and cute. Lauren trips all over herself and fumbles her way through her coffee meet-up with Dana in Jerry Lewis-fashion, making what she thinks is the worst possible impression. As varied as these stories are, you’re likely to find one (or two or three) that you relate to in some way. I never did online dating, preferring to read through the Lust and Love Labs in The Stranger. But the swirl of emotions and nerves (and the worries of Katy, Lauren’s friend) resonates with parts of my experiences.

The variety of ways in which these authors define love between women from a wide range of demographics and HEA (Happily Ever After) prevents dull repetition. Overall, it’s a fine romance for hopeless romantics and cautious cynics alike, with plenty of sugar and spice, however (and whenever) you find your sweethearts.

Marthese reviews “Olympic Hearts: A Tale of Two Goddesses” by Madeline Kelly

“As a goddess of love, it’s not my way to stay chaste”

“Olympic Hearts” is a short story by Madeline Kelly. Once I realized what it was about, I started reading it immediately because it combined my loves of reading about mythology and queer women. It helped that it was short, and although I wish I had the time to read more, sadly I don’t. This short story is around 30 pages long!

The story is about Aphrodite and Artemis, who seem to have a thing for each other. They meet during Aphrodite’s marriage to Hephaestus…so you can guess that the story may not be smooth sailing. While the main love, seem to be between the two women goddesses, the marriage to Hephaestus plays an important role in the story. Although non-explicitly, there is content in the story around Aphrodite and men.

That said, while the story is cute, it may not be for everyone. This is Madeline Kelly’s first published work and her passion does show in the writing but some elements were used that I was not convinced about. One such element was the use of modern language and phrases, such as “buddy” or “colour me unimpressed”  that to me, did not seem to resonate with the time that was being written about. I like to immerse myself in the world that is being written about and it’s a pet peeve of mine when languages does not fit with the story.

What I liked about the story is that it portrayed the gods like the mythology make them out to be: not perfect. Indeed, they have many faults and most of the problems were due to these faults.

For being short, the story does have a mild twist towards the end.

The concept of this story is good and I wish to see more similar stories, perhaps going into more depth and longer (let’s hope I will eventually have enough time to read them). People that don’t suffer from my same pet peeve and don’t mind non-same-gender non-explicit content, should give this story a go. We should support new writers so they cultivate their talent and we, as readers, should read different authors to find our styles and perhaps be surprised by liking something different.

Stephanie reviews Her Sigh: A Lesbian Anthology by Victoria Zagar

her-sigh

As most of you know, I LOVE short story collections, so when I came across Her Sigh: A Lesbian Anthology by Victoria Zagar, I thought I’d give it a go.  Short stories don’t get a lot of love in lesbian literature, (most folks want to read romance novels), so I’m always excited when I see that a new collection has been released.

To start, Her Sigh isn’t quite what I expected. Silly me, when I saw that it was an anthology, I thought it was a multi-author collection; it’s not. All fourteen stories are by Zagar, and they mostly have a similar theme: love. Zagar also works hard at creating dystopian/fantasy settings where love seems to conquer all, and in a few of the stories, it does.

For example, both “Sophie’s Song” and “Expiration Date” focus on post-nuclear war society, although neither story gives us much information on the wars, or how far into the future the stories are set. “Expiration Date” is a rather interesting take on family in an era where population control is paramount to society’s existence. In order to quell married couples’ desire for children, the government has come up with a novel solution, the Realichild, where couples are allowed to raise a child for limited period of time. Revealing anything more might spoil the story, but I really liked the way that Zagar normalizes the lesbian couple, but problematizes the ways in which the nuclear family (no pun intended) is still central to a happy family.

A few of the other stories read a bit like fairy tales or fables: a princess must decide whether or not to marry a prince when her true love is a female knight; a young woman seeks an arranged marriage to save her family, but is in love with the village seamstress, and another young woman realizes that she is the reincarnation of an ancient creature’s lover.

Overall, the collection is a solid read although there were a few times when I just rolled my eyes. How many cabins in the woods can there be in lesbian la-la land?  How many old world villages? Additionally, a couple of the stories felt a bit rushed. Short stories are difficult to write, so I understand that everything can’t fit, but I do think that if you’re going to create dystopian societies, space colonies, or old world villages, then make sure that they don’t all feel the same, otherwise your readers might become bored.  Although this wasn’t really my cup of tea, if you like lesbian romance with a flair for the otherworldly thrown in, this may be the collection for you.

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!