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.

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.


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.

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.

Krait reviews Love’s Perfect Vintage by Elizabeth Andre

lovesperfectvintage

Would you let your mother find your next girlfriend? Beautiful thirty-two year old African-American Aisha Watson works hard all week as a budget analyst and plays hard all weekend as a competitive longsword fighter. But her heart was recently broken, and she’s not even so sure she wants to be in love again after a series of dating disasters. Aisha’s mother decides to find her a nice girl and introduces her to Kris Donnelly.

Kris, with long chestnut brown hair and vibrant green eyes, is Aisha’s former high school classmate who is all grown up and become one of Chicago’s leading sommeliers. In between choosing fine wines, she’s just getting back into dating as Aisha is leaving the scene, but Aisha is about to learn that her mother may be right about something. Could Kris be the woman for whom she’s been searching?

To be released on February 19th, Love’s Perfect Vintage is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of ‘Lesbian Light Reads.’ Despite being light on page count (42 pages, according to my Kindle) as well as tone, Love’s Perfect Vintagemanages to give us a believable Meet Cute and happy ending for a well-adjusted lesbian couple.

Right off the bat, both Aisha and Kris feel like fully-fledged adults. Aisha has a career and hobbies and a life before she meets Kris and she continues to enjoy them once she and Kris start dating. Neither heroine is a flat archetype, and I really enjoyed Aisha’s relationship with her parents. Andre also sells the chemistry between Aisha and Kris when they meet at a barbeque thrown by Aisha’s family. A short line establishes that they were acquainted in high school, making the instant “Wow, you’ve grown up” feel believable.

The narrative feel of the story puts me in mind of the story a new friend might tell you about how they met their partner. There’s no real conflict, just a couple of months of them getting to know each other, working dates into their schedules and realizing the relationship is a serious one. I appreciated that both Aisha and Kris continued to go out on exploratory dates with a few people (though we don’t see the dates) before realizing how well they fit together. The whole situation feels like the organic growth of a healthy relationship, and it really does feel realistic.

If you need a reminder that happy lesbians in healthy relationships exist this Valentine’s, this is definitely the story for you. I’m so impressed with what Andre managed to do in 42 pages and I’ll definitely look at her other work.

(And the blurb mentions it, but a black lesbian heroine! We absolutely need more of that).

Danika reviews Lizzy & Annie by Casey Plett

lizzyandannie

Lizzy & Annie by Casey Plett is an illustrated short story bound zine-style. It follows a romance between two trans women in New York City and it’s pretty much perfect.

When I heard about about the premise of Lizzy & Annie (trans lesbians story? trans lesbians of colour? written by a trans woman? with gorgeous watercolour illustrations??), I immediately had to pick it up. It’s only about 25 pages, but it is packed with so much. I had read Casey Plett’s story in The Collection (which also absolutely amazing and you should all read it), and this story definitely lives up to that as well as the premise. Most of all, this story felt so real. Lizzy and Annie, even though they’re given such a small amount of space to be described, feel like people I know. The dialogue is very natural, and issues that are brought up, of racism and sexism and transmisogyny, they all are incorporated in their everyday lives.

I think I realize why this story feels so real to me: because most mainstream media does not. Reading about straight cis white people who only ever interact with straight cis white people is a weird alternate reality that we are constantly submerged in. The way most stories tell it, trans people and people of colour and queer people either don’t exist, or only exist briefly in Very Special Episodes. Having the vast majority of media ignore reality is disconcerting, but you get used to it. It isn’t until I read a story like this that is really hits home what we’re missing out on. Lizzy and Annie talk like me and my friends do, and they talk about the things that we do. I can’t make any claim on the representation of trans women or trans women of colour in particular in this story, though, because I am cis and white. But even from that perspective, reading a story like this is a relief. It’s discussions of racism and hangovers and exes and weird dads and transmisogyny and BDSM and Facebook.

Even aside from the main characters, the people that populate the book feel like people I’ve met. And Lizzy & Annie also shows all the different ways that people can be supportive or oppressive. From outright harassment to supportive to theoretically supportive but clueless to fetishizing. Lizzy and Annie both deal with this completely differently, too.

This isn’t a plot-driven story. It just explores the dynamic between these two women and how it develops, as well as their everyday lives. But the characterization and writing is so strong that it will keep you flipping the pages. The illustrations are beautiful and evocative, as well. The only complaint I have about this story is that it makes me impatient. Impatient that there are so few of these stories being told, and that they aren’t getting a larger audience. Impatient that mainstream TV and movies and books are still set in the same bizarre privileged fantasy world when there is a huge plethora of people who don’t get to be main characters. Impatient for more from Topside Press and Casey Plett and other fantastic trans women authors. Luckily, that one I don’t have to be too impatient about, because Casey Plett is coming out with a new book, A Safe Girl To Love, within the month! I’m not sure if it’s a lesbian/bisexual book, so I’m not sure if it’ll be reviewed on the Lesbrary, but either way I’m excited to read it!

Definitely go buy Lizzy & Annie. It’s $5. You won’t regret it.

Laura reviews “Thicker Than Blood” by Avery Vanderlyle

Publisher’s Blurb:

When the Nanotech Plague began killing off the large population of America using the tiny, implanted robots, the so-called “normals” took it upon themselves to wipe out the rest to prevent the spread. Now, fourteen years later, performer Ayana is in a dangerous position. Her nanotechnology implants are impossible to hide, having been tattooed onto her skin. Worse, the nanobots in her brother James are malfunctioning and slowly killing him. The pair of them, along with Ayana’s lover Yan, are slowly making their way across the fractured country, hoping to find a sanctuary and a cure.

David was only five when his parents died in the Plague. It wasn’t until he was grown that he realized that he’d been born with his own ‘bots, passed down from mother to child. Now, his second generation nanobots may be James’ salvation, if only Ayana and Yan can convince him that the nanobots aren’t a curse or a disease, but the key to rebuilding their ruined society.


Some thoughts:

  1. For an 11,000 word short story, there’s an awful lot of exposition. I mean, there’s definitely a need for explanation when the setting is… what it is. But this format really struggled to accommodate it all. A little breathing room would have been nice.
  2. That said, I wasn’t exactly choking it down. I found the premise really interesting. If Vanderlyle wrote another piece set in this world, I’d probably pick it up.
  3. It totally took me by surprise when the characters started boning. Storm Moon Press is apparently an erotic fiction publisher — and I’ve read another story of theirs, so I probably should have known that coming in. But, uh, yeah. This is erotica.
  4. Regarding the sex scenes: there was a lot of shimmying. I wasn’t crazy about it, but… I guess it could have been worse? There’s no lesbian sex, although there are two women in a relationship together. There are explicit M/F and M/M scenes.
  5. What actually happens in this story is ridiculous. You think it’s going to be mediocre erotica, and then at the end… Well, it’s one of those things where it’s so bad, it comes back around again and is brilliant. And hilarious. On this basis (and this basis alone), I recommend it.


“Thicker Than Blood” by Avery Vanderlyle is available for $1.99 in eBook format.

Laura Mandanas reviews “Gigglepuss” by Giselle Renarde

I have to say: I was a bit concerned when, four paragraphs in, the main love interest was characterized as a “Japanese anime schoolgirl.” (Like, really people. Can we just stop with the racist Asian exotification and extraordinarily sleazy fetishization of teenage girls? That would be great.) Normally I would have stopped reading there, but with Lesbrary readers in mind, I continued on. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I expected; as it turns out, Mitsuki is 20, and Asian “othering” is actually mildly poked fun at in this story. So, yay for that. You’re free to read “Gigglepuss” by Giselle Renarde with a clear conscience.

Unfortunately, not having the above information, I found myself entirely unable to get into it on my first read through. By the time I got to the story’s climax, there just… was none. Stereotyping is super unsexy in my book, and though this one redeemed itself by the end, the initial turnoff was overpowering. Despite this, the engaging and cheerfully explicit writing eventually won me over – it just took some time. I quite enjoyed the story on my second read through a couple weeks later. So take that as you will.

Without giving too much away, “Gigglepuss” is an erotic romance about two queer women in a small town. It is not a love story, and it is not a lengthy dissertation with laboriously developed characters. It is short, sexy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously – which feels appropriate, coming from an author who began writing erotica on a dare.

The main highlight of the story for me was the main character: a sweet-talking lady-killer named Lorna. (Think Shane  from The L Word in print form.) I mean, that, of course, and the sex. Always the sex. Even when the occasionally overenthusiastic descriptions made me giggle.

 “Gigglepuss” is available to download for $1.49 at All Romance.

Kristi reviewed “Better With Age” by Beth Wylde

Olivia just went to pick up a birthday cake for her daughter Felicity, not to revisit the past. Yet when she discovers the shop owner is none other than her first — and last — love, Aleesha, everything comes back. As a kiss has Olivia thinking about her own mother’s actions which resulted in their parting, she faces a situation at home that, while Felicity may find hard to believe, Olivia knows all about. Will Olivia do the right thing by both the people she loves?

Beth Wylde presents a short story (only 42 pages) that packs a sweet and sexy reunion of two women separated by circumstance and a mother/daughter story that comes full circle. Twenty years ago Olivia and Aleesha were young lovers torn apart by Olivia’s mom. As both continued on with their lives, including careers and children, a chance encounter brings the passion back.  The secondary storyline of Olivia’s daughter, Felicity, and their meeting at home echoes what happened between Olivia and her mother, [spoilers] but with better results. A fast and cheerful conclusion to all, but who doesn’t want a happy ending? [end spoilers]