Danika reviews The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

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This October I decided that I wanted to devote some time to Halloween reads. My top pick was a lesbian vampire classic (no, not that one), The Gilda Stories. It’s not the first lesbian vampire book I’ve read, but this one stands out for being neither horror nor erotica. It follows a vampire from just before her change, when she is escaping from slavery, to two centuries afterwards (yes, to 2050). It is almost like a collection of short stories, each set a decade or two after the previous one. I found this a fascinating structure, because for one thing, it really imagines the scope of being immortal. You get an idea of how many different cities and time periods she’s lived in and adapted to, in a way that a one-off sentence about being centuries old just can’t encapsulate. It also is just as much a history of racism and slavery in the United States, with Gilda noting the patterns that emerge through time, and her attempts to be involved in progressive change.

Another thing I appreciated about The Gilda Stories was the vampire mythology. As I said, this isn’t a horror book. Vampires in this novel need to feed on human blood, but it’s ideally not a violent act. Gilda and her family have a strict moral code, involving giving something to everyone they feed on. Vampires are able to manipulate people’s thoughts, and Gilda and her ilk read what a person needs (comfort, decisiveness, hope, etc), and leave that with them. They also heal the wounds they cause, making it, in their opinion, an even exchange. In addition to being able to influence thoughts, these vampires also have super strength and, obviously, are immortal. In the “noble” vampire sense, they remind me of more current-day vampire mythology, who aside from brooding and not dying, don’t differ much from humans. On the other hand, they have to carry around earth from their birthplace, a tradition most modern vampire stories drop. (They weave it into hems of clothing and into their shoes, and sleep on a pallet of it.) This helps protect against indirect sunlight and being around bodies of water, though both can still weaken them. And yes, they sleep in the day.

I really loved this book. The writing is great, the characters are so interesting, and I loved this queer, black take on the vampire story. It’s definitely neither horror nor erotica, and Gilda’s lesbianism is basically a non-issue, but also not brushed over. If you’re looking for a different take on the vampire, definitely pick up The Gilda Stories, even if you’re not usually the “scary story” type!

Danika reviews Charm School Book One: Magical Witch Girl Bunny by Elizabeth Watasin

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I’m very glad this book exists. It is adorable. It takes place in Little Salem, a magical place filled with monsters, faeries, and supernatural beings of all kinds. Bunny is a cute witch with a badass, butch, biker, vampire girlfriend, Dean. Their relationship is really sweet, and Dean is the quintessential swoonworthy bad boy butch. And they go to queer youth meetings with zombies, mummies, demons, and lots more people! Oh, and they attend Haunt High, where they learn about potions, magic, and other supernatural elements.

Unfortunately, Bunny’s problem is that she’s always had a thing for faerie girls, who are unattainable–closer to gods than mere mortals. When Fairer Than, a gorgeous faerie girl, takes a liking to Bunny, her relationship with Dean is in danger. But Fairer Than isn’t like other faeries (or, after all, she wouldn’t be slumming with witches). What’s her motivation?

I also appreciated that although Bunny and Fairer Than appear to be white, Dean is asian (or, at least, her birth name is “Yu Ying”) and Bunny’s best friend Blanchet is black. Unfortunately, Dean’s father kind of looks like a caricature of an asian man, and Blanchet is a “voodoo princess”. So I’m not sure how to think about Charm School’s depiction of race. Still, I’m used to Fantasy books using supernatural creatures as stand ins for minorities and not including any people of colour at all, so I’m guess my bar is pretty low.

Just having a supernatural world with a biker butch vampire and a cute lesbian witch was really fun for me. It sort of reminds me of Halloweentown, if that was a lesbian teen cartoon. I would love to read the next book if I can get my hands on it, and I think this would make a great, fun Halloween read.

Alyssa reviews Night Weaver by Madeleine Lycka

Night Weaver by Madeleine Lycka is an erotic vampire romance that centers around three vampire women. Two of them, Isabel and Ankit, have been undead for hundreds of years, and the third, Arrow, has just been turned into a vampire by Ankit. The story revolves around romance, art, sex, jealousy, and some minor politicking. Overall, I enjoyed Night Weaver. Although it suffers from some flaws and a lack of polishing, it is enjoyable, with hot sex scenes, well choreographed action scenes, solid characters, and a pleasing conclusion.

Like many independently published novels, Night Weaver is unpolished: it contains typos, a few confusing scene breaks, and at least one extraneous sex scene. Additionally, while the ending is satisfying in terms of content and loose ends, it feels abrupt and like it ought to have been fleshed out more. Despite these issues, I enjoyed reading Night Weaver. The story and characters are strong and well developed, and the characters’ internal universes—Ankit’s and Arrow’s both center around making art—are interesting to explore. The erotic scenes are also fun to read. Isabel, Ankit, and Arrow, the three vampire women, form a love triangle: Isabel and Ankit were together for a long time, but no longer, and Ankit and Arrow begin to fall in love, which enrages Isabel, who also happens to be queen of the vampires. Ankit is a painter and tattoo artist, and Arrow weaves tapestries; they are drawn together by their similar artist souls.

For vampire lore connoisseurs: these vampires have limited qualms when it comes to feeding on the blood of living humans. The protagonists in Night Weaver often kill to eat and rarely feel guilt over these actions. The origin of vampires is not explored in this setting, and some of the typical lore is ignored. These are nocturnal vampires who will burn in the sun, and can be killed only by sunlight or very violent physical trauma. We see Arrow work on one or two occasions to control her “beast,” but the vampires in Night Weaver are generally in control of themselves, and the only drawbacks to immortality seem to be night living, loss of human food, and occasionally deadly politics.

Ultimately, I would recommend checking out this book—it’s only four bucks for the electronic version on Amazon, and free to borrow if you have Prime—especially if you’re looking for vampires or vampire erotica in your lesbian fiction, or just some erotic, somewhat kinky, romance punctuated by action and high stakes.

Islay reviews Raven Mask by Winter Pennington

Raven Mask is the second in Winter Pennington’s series featuring the adventures of ‘preternatural investigator’ werewolf Kassandra Lyall, and I would most certainly recommend reading the first before the second as Raven Mask picks up fairly seamlessly from where the first novel leaves off. It is, however, an enjoyable romp told with flare and good humour and scattered with a decent number of extremely intense sex scenes which should keep any lover of Sapphic fantasy fiction very happy.

The plot is fast-paced and intriguing, and if it occasionally feels somewhat disjointed it’s more than made up for by their being a juicy love scene within the first couple of chapters to wet the reader’s appetite for what’s to come. This is the first of several love scenes between Kassandra and her vampire lover Lenorre scattered throughout the novel, which all manage to be both erotic and entertaining without overcrowding the plot. It’s somewhat unfortunate that here in Britain ‘Lenore’ is actually the name of a leading brand of fabric softener and couldn’t be less vampiric sounding if it tried – but I’m prepared to forgive Pennington that given that this book was clearly written with an American audience in mind.

Kassandra Lyall is a likeable, sympathetic and frequently funny heroine, and Pennington sets her up well amongst a brace of other quirky, intriguing characters – I developed a particular soft spot for the Beta werewolf Rosalin. The cast of vampires, however, feel a little over-egged: I for one think we’ve really moved past the point where blood suckers must all be faux-Gothic cartoons who dress like bastardised Victorians and speaks with British accents. We now live in the age of True Blood and Being Human, after all, and those shows have been so successful at re-popularising vampire fiction because they resist the Anne Rice style of vamp that permeated 80s and 90s cult lit. Pennington might be a little more successful at getting me to take her vampire characters seriously if she wrote them in a style that didn’t feel so dated.

However, I can’t be completely sure she isn’t doing so with a wink and a nod anyway – her tone is characterised by a slightly tongue-in-cheek mischievousness which shows most clearly in Kassandra’s wry wit and commentary on outrageousness of the situations she gets into. Pennington can just about get away with pantomime vampires where a less skilled author wouldn’t, because her narrative voice is so appealing.

Kassandra does occasionally stray into feeling like an insert for Pennington herself, however. Not only is she a gutsy lesbian werewolf, but a Celtic pagan witch with a particular affinity with ravens. This would be fine if the fact of her being a witch had any bearing on the plot whatsoever – but it doesn’t, and left me wondering why such a detail kept being shoe-horned in. Being a Hellenic polytheist myself I wont criticise the respectful inclusion of a Pagan belief system – neo-Pagans are sorely lacking representation in any kind of popular literature – but it does feel somewhat convenient that Pennington’s blurb mentions that she too is a pagan on a Celtic path with a great fondness for ravens and crows. No author separates themselves from their characters entirely, nor should they have to, but the tongue-in-cheek style which allows Pennington to get away with her vampires is missing from her descriptions of Kassandra’s spirituality and that leaves those sections feeling a little forced and out of place. She doesn’t need to be a witch on top of everything else – there’s no benefit to the narrative – and as such Kassandra being a Celtic pagan feels self-indulgent and jars the reader somewhat.

That being said Kassandra remains an appealing narrator and Raven Mask an entertaining novel – highly recommended to anyone looking for a sexy, funny, escapist bit of fluff to bury themselves in for an afternoon.

Danika reviews Fireflies by Lacey Reah

I had all these notes written down about Fireflies and I lost them! Sigh. I’ll just do a short form review, then.

Pros:

  • I adore this cover. This is probably my favourite cover ever. I’m not sure why, but I just think the art is fantastic, and it’s sexual without being creepy. Also, it actually is a scene in the story and ties in the title! Perfect.
  • I was really intrigued by the plot. Well, it’s less about plot and more about character, but Linda trying to figure out who she is and what she is was fascinating, and I kept looking forward to the end to see what the final judgment was.
  • The characters were fairly interesting. Not the most dynamic, but compelling enough for a 95-page novella.
  • It was a new (for me) take on erotica. In fact, I’m not sure how to categorize it. There’s a lot of sex (some straight sex, too, just so you know), but the thread of the story is Linda’s inner turmoil, and it really takes precedence.

Cons:

  • The writing felt clunky.  The sentences were almost all very short and often didn’t flow–enough that it distracted me from the story. There was also some awkward wording, and a few wrong homophones. (Someone talking about a towel around their “waste” was particularly jarring.)
  • I didn’t feel like the ending quite tied things together. The entire time I was reading Fireflies, I thought the ending would decide what I thought about it, because I couldn’t quite figure out how Linda was going to reconcile everything. By the end, I was still puzzled. There didn’t seem to be much resolution.