Danika reviews Crip Kinship: The Disability Justice & Art Activism of Sins Invalid by Shayda Kafai

Crip Kinship cover

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My first introduction to disability justice was reading Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, which was one of the most powerful and thought-provoking books I’ve ever read, so when I saw that Arsenal Pulp had released another book on disability justice, I knew I had to read it. Disability justice is disability activism that centres queer and trans Black, indigenous, and people of colour. It advocated for leadership from the most impacted, and it views ableism as being interconnected with other systems of oppression, including racism, capitalism, transphobia, anti-fatness, and more.

This is a history of Sins Invalid, a disability justice performance project founded in 2006 in San Francisco. It explains how they got started, but more than just recounting, it explores the ideas behind Sins Invalid and why it became such an important outlet for people. It discusses how the mainstream disability rights movement as well as disability studies as an academic framework centre white disabled activists.

Crip Kinship reclaims beauty and sexuality for queer, trans, disabled POC and Indigenous bodies: “Beauty here becomes the limp, it becomes burned glossy skin, and abundant drool. Beauty becomes Mad minds rapid loving and stimming hands. It is the survival magic of all our bodyminds doing beauty by blurring boundaries.” Sins Invalid is “transgressing the ableist assumptions that disabled bodyminds cannot: we cannot dance, we cannot speak through movement, we cannot express beauty in our bodyminds. Instead, participants learn that these limitations on movement and dance are not necessarily coming from their bodyminds, but rather from ableism’s finite imagination of who can dance and of whose movement is deemed beautiful.”

It outlines a different way of organizing as well as a different lens to examine politics. Politics not as abstract, but as material conditions that are life or death right now, and require support and accessibility. Crip Kinship invites readers to imagine what it would look like if we considered all people’s needs and came up with the solution most accessible to all, knowing that some needs will conflict, and that the process will be messy and need constant re-examining and adaption:

“[Y]ou know you’re doing [Disability Justice] because people will show up late, someone will vomit, someone will have a panic attack, and nothing will happen on time because the ramp is broken on the supposedly ‘accessible’ building … Disability Justice, when it’s really happening, is too messy and wild to really fit into traditional movement and nonprofit industrial complex structures, because out bodies and minds are too wild to fit into those structures.”

This is part history, part manifesto, bringing in so many different voices. I especially liked a chapter that discussed how Sins Invalid reclaims beauty for disabled bodyminds, but also gives space for another disability justice perspective that beauty is an unsalvageable concept based in restriction and oppression, and that it is more freeing to reclaim Ugly as a concept.

If all of these concepts and terms seem overwhelming, they are defined in end notes in the book, which is very helpful.

My only complaint was that I would have liked to see more about the people and relationships behind Sins Invalid: we see a few glimpses of conversations had at the beginning, but most of the focus was on the big picture. I would have liked some behind the scenes of what that messy process of disability justice looks like in practice, with creating this organization and keeping it running all these years. I also wanted more description of the actual performances, because what is included is incredible, but I now see that there are clips to watch for free and some documentaries for purchase on the website, so I look forward to watch those!

In fact, I am left with a long reading (and watching and listening) list of books, articles, podcasts, and videos I noted that I wanted to follow up on, and those are only a few of the resources and references collected in this book. The references given are carefully selected, highlighting disabled queer, trans, BIPOC voices, whether that’s in their published books, personal interviews, blog posts, or other formats. This makes for a great jumping off point to follow up these ideas.

I highly, highly recommend this and Care Work to anyone and everyone. It left me with a lot to think about, and I can’t wait to learn more.

Larkie reviews The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

The Jasmine Throne cover

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What a book! I didn’t know all that much about it before I started reading, and all the reviews I read felt like they confused me more. Once I got into this book and realized how complicated it was, I could see why. The first half of The Jasmine Throne is fairly slow, as Suri sets up the world. At its core, this book is about how to remove a fanatical, xenophobic emperor who believes so strongly in his superiority that he is willing to burn his own sister to death. This sister, Malini, is exiled so that she can’t continue plotting her coup to put her other brother on the throne. She is sent to Ahiranya, the weakest state in the empire, with its history of mysterious magic, a reputation for its brothels and loose morals, and a rot that has spread from the crops to the people. There we meet Priya, a maid for the regent of Ahiranya, who just wants to live her life and help the people she can. Priya ends up caught between various rebellions, as her brother Ashok leads a small but violent band of rebels, her sister Bhumika wants to work within the empire’s political system to get more support for the Ahiranyi, and Malini realizes that Priya is more than a simple maid, and therefore she presents an opportunity to escape exile and start a war.

With all the groundwork that Suri does in the first half, this book never felt overly complicated or confusing, even as the plot took off and hardly paused to catch a breath. I appreciated the complexity, because, while I love a good band of rebels fighting an evil empire any day, I often wonder about their society and what they plan on doing after fighting is over. Suri manages to address all the questions I usually have during this kind of story, and while she doesn’t solve everything (that’s what the sequels are for, right?} she does make this feel like a complete, complex world. The characters all have their own strengths and weaknesses, they tend to be right in some ways and wrong in others, and a lot of the tension in this book comes from Priya trying to decide exactly where her loyalties lie and how she wants to navigate these relationships.

When I started this book I was a little worried about some of the characters being almost cartoonishly evil and others were entirely Good and Just, but there is a lot of room for character development and background, and there are a lot of characters to bounce between, so I never got bored with one of them. Rao and Bhumika were probably my favorite POVs, because Rao was the most intriguing and I didn’t know where he fit into the wider story, and Bhumika thought the most like me: she was more worried about civilians being hurt and starving than a lot of the other rebels.
I absolutely loved the setting and the rich visuals in this book. Flowers, mosses, vines, they were everywhere—blooming in people’s hair as they suffered from the rot, springing from Priya’s unbridled emotions as her power grows, or carefully cultivated by Bhumika, the imagery of all these plants made me want to go for a walk in the jungle. I love a good creepy forest, and while I feel like the creepy forest could have been creepier, there is plenty of great scenery. Flower body horror is an acceptable replacement for creepy forests.

Finally I feel like I have to talk about the romance, because that is a lot of what drew me to this book, but it was really secondary to a lot of the plot. Which is fine! I have romance books if I want the romance to be center stage. But also this is definitely going to be a slow burn over however many books are planned for this series—Priya and Malini definitely like each other, and there are lots of gay little moments, but a lot of their relationship is spent in negotiation. Priya knows that Malini is manipulative (by necessity, she had to be in order to survive) and is worried about her feelings not genuinely being returned. Malini’s upbringing was a lot more homophobic and she has a Lot going on. She’s trying to escape a prison, break an addiction, and get back to engineering a coup for a brother who would rather be a priest than an emperor—she doesn’t have a ton of time to think about a crush. And with the way book 1 ended, I’m not sure she’ll find it any time soon, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Sheila reviews Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour #1-2 by Tee Franklin, Max Sarin, and Marissa Louise

Harley Quinn The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour #1 and 2 covers

Considering that I have viewed much of Harley Quinn’s comic, television, and film history from afar until recently (after watching Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, which I felt was one of the best bisexually-focused films I have ever seen. Watch it, and tell me I’m wrong, I dare you.), my thoughts on Harley, other characters, and the comic as a whole might be different than that of fans of The Animated Series show. 

For the past few years, I have seen Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy popping up across social media as examples of a canon sapphic relationship between two big characters in DC comics—one of these characters even big enough to warrant her own, aforementioned film. In the handful of films starring Margot Robbie as Harley, this relationship with Poison Ivy is not shown, mentioned, or even hinted at (though Robbie’s Harley is arguably still a queer character). I was excited after seeing previews of the first issue of this new comic series, which showed not only Poison Ivy in a wedding dress with Harley Quinn, but the two of them pictured in various stages of undress and romantic entanglements.

These images were present, alongside even more passionate moments, but I found myself disappointed by the actual story itself. I felt a little baited into thinking these comics would portray this relationship in a good light, without relationship drama destroying every good moment that Harley and Ivy have. Harley’s character is infantilized even more than in her other depictions across other forms of media, and Ivy spends half her time (the other taken up by seducing or being seduced by Harley) chastising Harley for…being the person and character that (I’m assuming a longtime friend and paramour of the villain would know) she has been all along. I want to be able to look at these characters—villains and antiheroes though they are—as a relationship that can last, and last in a healthy manner (especially considering the abuse Harley suffered at the hands of her longtime partner the Joker).

The art style of this work was lovely, and I think the background bits of the story bring up some interesting points (such as Batman swooping in to stop, not the villains, but Commissioner Gordon, who has gone overboard with his attempts to police Gotham). Part of me wants to see where this story goes, and hopes that this comic ends with Ivy and Harley happy together. I worry, though, that the other issues will be filled with more instances of Poison Ivy shitting on Harley, while still benefiting from the love and passion Harley feels for her. At the moment, the relationship is too unhealthy for me to root for, which frustrates me; I had hoped that this would be my first reading of their relationship in the comics, and that it would make me want to read more and give me a relationship to root for, not just an instance of an unhealthy queer relationship that might be passed off as good just for existing amongst so many other heterosexual relationships in comics.

Wintry Sapphic Reads to Cozy Up With

It’s December, which means the time that I set aside my Autumnal horror and thriller books of months past in favour of some cozy, comforting seasonal reads! If you also like to theme your reading by season, I’ve picked out some great wintry seasonal sapphic reads. Some of these are Christmas-themed, I’ve got a couple of Hanukkah ones, but I wasn’t able to find any other wintry holiday sapphic books. If you know of any, including queer Kwanzaa or Diwali reads, let me know in the comments! I also have ones that are just general snowy reads that would be perfect to curl up with under a blanket.

This video is sponsored by a Kobo exclusive mystery, Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall, which is a sapphic snowed-in murder mystery! More on that at the end of the post.

Fantasy Books with a Winter Setting

The Winter Duke cover

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

This book is set in a world with two kingdoms: an underwater kingdom with mermaids, and a winter kingdom on top of the frozen lake.

It’s a political fantasy about one of the duke’s daughters, who is the only one who has survived a curse. She takes on the title of duke, trying to prevent war and keep the kingdom together.

This is supposed to be part “Sleeping Beauty,” part “Anastasia,” but it’s that permanent winter setting—and that title—that earns it a spot on this list. It also has an F/F romance.

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Robber Girl cover

Robber Girl by S.T. Gibson

This is a Swedish fairy tale retelling with a “Snow Queen” element to it, and you can tell just from the cover that this is a wintry fantasy book.

The main character is a thief who accidentally robs a witch and ends up teaming up with her to try to go kill the snow queen and save the witch’s brother.

This is one of a few fairy tale retellings on this list, so if you want a YA fantasy retelling of “The Snow Queen” with an F/F romance, this will be one for you.

The Raven and the Reindeer cover

The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

And for another sapphic “Snow Queen” retelling, there’s The Raven and the Reindeer!

This is about Greta, who is trying to rescue her childhood friend from the snow queen, but along the way, she meets a bandit princess and teams up with her.

There’s also a talking raven and flying otters, so obviously you have to pick this one up.

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Thorn cover

Thorn by Anna Burke

This is another fairy tale retelling, but this time it’s “Beauty and the Beast”! This is also the same author of the Compass Rose series, so if you like sapphic pirates as well—and why wouldn’t you you?—you can check out that series, too.

This is set in a world of constant winter, and the Beast is the Huntress, who is a literal ice queen and also has a pack of hounds—which I can’t resist.

It includes an iconic Beauty and the Beast library scene, and I am also promised that there is an ice bear in this. What could be better than sapphic books that also have flying otters and ice bears?

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Wintry and Holiday Romances

Snow Falls cover

Snow Falls by Gerri Hill

I am so excited to read this one this month! I cannot resist the forced proximity trope, but especially snowed in romances. I love a snowed in story, and that’s what this is.

Catherine is excited to spend her whole winter alone in her mountain cabin, but then someone gets lost and seeks refuge with her, and they get snowed in together.

Obviously, Jennifer and Catherine end up getting really close, but after the two months they spent together, Jennifer goes back to her normal life and the man who wants to marry her… and she doesn’t actually know Catherine’s real name.

It seems like a lot of this story will be more about how they get back to each other, but I’m so excited for the snowed in setting.

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Fearless by Shira Glassman cover

Fearless by Shira Glassman

Another snowed in love story! There are actually two books by Shira Glassman on this list, because she is giving the sapphic what they want.

This is a novella that takes place at an all-state school band competition. A mom of one of the students, who is newly out, falls for the butch orchestra teacher.

It’s also about finding your way back to music after a long time away. This is a short, super cute read.

Check out the Lesbrary reviews for more information!

Do You Feel What I Feel cover

Do You Feel What I Feel: A Holiday Anthology edited by Jae and Fletcher Delancey

This is just what it says on the tin: it’s 12 lesbian fiction authors who are writing holiday-themed short stories.

Most of these are Christmas romances, but there is at least one Hanukkah story. They’re not all Christmas, and they’re not all romances, but that’s the general theme.

This is also a good way to get a sampling of a bunch of lesfic authors’ writing, and most of them have other books that you can check out if you like these stories.

Collie Jolly cover

Collie Jolly by Leigh Landry

If you know me, you know that I love dogs. I have two dogs that I adore, and I’d have a pack if I could. So obviously, I couldn’t resist this F/F romance that is both Christmas-themed and dog-themed!

I feel like the title and cover alone are enough to sell you on this book, but just in case: this is about Madison, whose girlfriend died a year earlier and she was left with her girlfriend’s puppy. Because of her grief, she wasn’t really able to train this puppy the way that she wanted to, and now the dog is kind of a mess. So she reaches out to a dog trainer, Ashley.

Unbeknownst to her, Ashley actually has zero experience training dogs. She’s never even had a dog. But she managed to interview very well, apparently, because that’s her job now.

This is a cute F/F romance set in New Orleans that takes place over the holidays—and “Collie Jolly”! Come on. You can’t resist that.

cover of Mangoes and Mistletoe

Mangoes and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera

This is a holiday baking competition F/F romance, which checks so many boxes for me.

It takes place in Scotland, and one of them calls herself a “baking brujita”! There’s a bit of a grumpy one/sunshine one dynamic between these two, because they are thrown together into competing as a pair.

This is a cute novella for fans of The Great British Bake Off and other baking competition shows.

Check out the Lesbrary review for more information!

Being Merry cover

Being Merry by Meka James

The last Christmas romance on this list is Being Merry by Meka James. Lennox has been guilt-tripped by her sister into helping out someone who is moving to the city and doesn’t have a place to stay yet, so she is staying in her spare room for the moment.

What Lennox doesn’t know when she agrees to it is that Noelle–yes, Noelle!–is absolutely obsessed with Christmas. She shows up in a reindeer headband, and is trying to win Lennox over to being one of the extremely festive people like she is.

So this has a bit of that forced proximity, but also the dynamic between the Grinch and the very enthusiastically Christmas person. This sounds like a super fun romance read.

If you want even more Christmas sapphic books, check out this Goodreads list of over 100 titles!

Hanukkah Erotica

Eight Kinky Nights cover

Eight Kinky Nights by Xan West

There are two sapphic Hanukkah erotica novels that I know of.

The first is Eight Kinky Nights, which is about two 50 year olds, one a stone butch and one a queer femme, and a series of kink lessons that take place over the eight nights of Hanukkah.

There’s also asexual and pansexual representation, as well as fat autistic and disabled rep.

.

Eitan's Chord cover

Eitan’s Chord by Shira Glassman

The second Hanukkah erotica story I found, and also the second title by Shira Glassman on this list, is Eitan’s Chord.

This is about three fairies and their magical threesome to grant Hanukkah wishes, which is just an amazing sentence to be able to type.

They’re doing this to help out Eitan, who is a trans man, and his cis wife Abigail. They basically need a miracle to make ends meet, and these fairies are here to help.

This is, I believe, not quite a novella—it’s a short story. If you know of any other sapphic Hanukkah stories, please let me know in the comments!

Wintry Mysteries

Watching Over Her cover

Watching Over Her by Ronica Black

While I love a snowed in romance, it’s also the perfect setting for a mystery.

This is another story about two women who are strangers and get snowed in together in a cabin. This time, it’s Riley who’s gone to the cabin to try to be by herself and spend the winter there.

Zoe, on the other hand, is dealing with a stalker, and she intends to also hide herself away for a while. But when she arrives at her grandfather’s cabin, it turns out that no one has been there for many years, and it’s fallen into dangerous disrepair.

Zoe knows that there’s a snowstorm coming and that she needs to be somewhere safe, so Riley and Zoe end up staying together in Riley’s cabin.

It’s not just a romance between the two of them, though, because there is also the ongoing threat of Zoe’s stalker, and as the snow closes in, there’s nowhere for them to run.

Magic, Murder, and Mistletoe cover

Magic, Murder, and Mistletoe by Ellen Jane

If you want your mysteries with a touch of the fantasy genre, this one is perfect for you.

When the Earl of Denbigh is killed by magical means, suspicions fall on the only two magic users in the area: Heather and Sinéad. These strangers are thrown together to try to prove their innocence–and catch the real killer.

There’s a slight hiccup in their newfound partnership, though: Heather is witch, and Sinéad is a sorcerer–these two kinds of magic are like oil and water.

Making it even more difficult, someone is sabotaging their investigation, and time is running out to clear their names.

This is a cozy F/F paranormal mystery romance set at Christmas!

I love winter mysteries—especially snowed in mysteries, obviously—but unfortunately, I don’t see many sapphic ones. I did read one other one, 1222 by Anne Holt, but I didn’t love that one, especially because of the racial representation, which I thought it was questionable. I’m always on the lookout for more sapphic mystery books that have that wintry element, which is why I’m so excited that this video was brought to you by the Kobo exclusive title Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall! (Description from the publisher.)

Murder Most Actual cover

Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall

From the author of Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake comes a cozy mystery that revisits the Golden Age of detective fiction, starring a heroine who’s more podcaster than private eye and topped with a lethal dose of parody — perfect for fans of ClueKnives Out, and Only Murders in the Building!

When up-and-coming true crime podcaster Liza and her corporate financier wife Hanna head to a luxurious hotel in the Scottish Highlands, they’re hoping for a chance to rekindle their marriage – not to find themselves trapped in the middle of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery with no way home. But who better to take on the case than someone whose entire profession relies on an obsession with all things mysterious and macabre? Though some of her fellow guests may consider her an interfering new media hack, Liza knows a thing or two about crime and – despite Hanna’s preference for waiting out the chaos behind a locked door – might be the only one capable of discovering the killer. As the bodies rack up and the stakes rise, can they save their marriage — and their lives?

What are your favourite sapphic wintry reads? Let us know in the comments!

Kayla Bell reviews Mangoes and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera

cover of Mangoes and Mistletoe

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Another holiday season, another sapphic Christmas romance. Cozy up with your favorite holiday baked goods and a cup of hot chocolate, because Mangoes and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera is an awesome addition to the genre.

Our story begins in Scotland, where our protagonist, Kiskeya Burgos, is getting ready to compete in the Holiday Baking Championship. She wants to prove to the world that she is a amazing baker that deserves professional acclaim, and is laser-focused on winning the contest. To Kiskeya’s chagrin, she gets paired with Sully Morales, another Dominican baker who is the bubbly, optimistic extrovert to Kiskeya’s serious, driven introvert. As the contest begins, the two bakers have to learn how to work together if either of them want the chance to win. And, as you can imagine, romantic misadventures ensue.

While this novella definitely served up the holiday fun and whimsy, it also touched on some genuinely powerful themes. Kiskeya and Sully are both Dominican, but they both have very different experiences of the culture and desires for how to showcase that in public. The discussion of how queer people can love their culture but also feel pain at homophobia within it really hit home for me. And the plotline with the Holiday Baking Championship TV show also managed to explore ideas of tokenization and how culture can become commodified. For a novella that was jam-packed with plot as it was, I found it impressive that the book managed to touch on such an important topic in a nuanced way.

At the same time, Mangoes and Mistletoe was also an adorable romance novella. Personally, grumpy sunshine (where one partner is bubbly and happy while the other one is, well, grumpy) might be my favorite romance relationship dynamic, and this story executed it so well. Instead of having flat characters, this book really went into the backgrounds of why Kiskeya and Sully became the way that they are. I really enjoyed seeing them go from being at each other’s throats to truly understanding and relating to one another. Plus, the book is chock full of your favorite romance tropes. There was only one bed! If you aren’t into these tropes, your mileage may vary, but I love seeing couples who historically have not had the chance to star in romances get their turn.

Because I enjoyed the book so much, my only gripe was that I wished it could be longer. Don’t get me wrong, the pacing was great and I love reading a lot of shorter books during the holiday season, but I just wish I had more time with the characters. The author did such a great job of exploring backstory at this length that I wish she had more room to do so further. Hopefully, if books like this are successful, publishers and authors will realize that there is a market for longer f/f romance novels, especially holiday ones.

Based on Mangoes and Mistletoe, I can’t wait to dive into Adriana Herrera’s other books and see what she does next. Happy holidays, readers!

Danika reviews When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll

When I Arrived at the Castle cover

I loved Emily Carroll’s previous book, Through the Woods, which is an unsettling and beautiful horror graphic novel, so I was excited to pick up her next book. When I found out it was a sapphic vampire horror erotica graphic novel, though, I couldn’t believe my luck.

Emily Carroll’s art style is gorgeous and compelling, and the black, white, and red colour scheme works so well in this. The story has a haunting, almost fairy tale feel that slips into the dreamlike. Do I completely understand what happened? No. But I was enthralled by this gory and sexy story. I really want to read more queer horror erotica. This, like Fist of the Spider Woman edited by Amber Dawn, is equal parts erotic and disturbing. There is plenty of gore and blood, but it’s juxtaposed with the sexiness, which just heightens that feeling of unease.

Caroll is a master of page design, and almost every spread is arranged differently: the view through a keyhole, an all-text page telling a story, a coffin illuminated in a ray of light. I’d want them framed and on my wall if there wasn’t the nightmare factor.

a page from When I Arrived at the Castle, showing two figures in the doorway of a room filled with two stories of red doors. The text reads: "Doors. Like a nest of ravenous baby birds, their mouths yawning from floor to ceiling. And I a worm, dangling from her beak."

I read this in October (I’m… a bit behind in reviews), and made for a perfect Halloween themed read, but for those of you who like to get creeped out all year round, definitely add this to your TBR.

This seems to be out of print, unfortunately, and pretty difficult to get your hands on. My library had it, luckily, but hopefully it gets reprinted soon, because I would love a copy for my permanent collection.

Cath reviews Perfect Rhythm by Jae

the cover of perfect rhythm

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Leontyne “Leo” Blake, stage name Jenna, has it all. She’s a world-famous pop star just wrapping up a world tour. Everybody knows her songs, her name (well, sort of). She’s even out as a lesbian and still enjoying her popularity.

Then, just as she walks off stage at a concert, her mom calls and asks her to come home. Her dad has had a stroke. Leo immediately finds herself flying back to the small Missouri town of Fair Oaks that she tried so desperately to leave behind.

Holly Drummond has lived in Fair Oaks for basically her entire life, barring when she was in college. She loves the small-town feel, and she’s glad she was able to return to Fair Oaks as a nurse to support the people she’d grown up around. In fact, she’s now a home health nurse for Gil Blake–Leo’s father. She’s also out as a lesbian in some circles around town, but that isn’t the whole story. Holly is asexual, and while she is definitely romantically attracted to women, there’s no sexual component for her.

When Leo comes home, she and Holly get off on the wrong foot–Leo’s been gone for a long time and never wanted to return, and Holly finds her irritating and self-centered. But they end up spending a lot of time in each other’s back pockets, because Fair Oaks is small to begin with and now Holly is staying at Leo’s family’s house a few nights a week to help Gil and Sharon (Leo’s mom). Leo finds Holly physically attractive, despite their friction, but assumes Holly must be straight when Holly doesn’t seem to return the interest.

The story unfolds at a decent pace at first, not feeling too rushed but also not lagging. Leo and Holly spend a lot of time irritated at one another until they start to realize that they’ve based their views about each other on assumptions that aren’t true. Once they’re able to clear the air a little, they realize they enjoy spending time together, and eventually start to realize they’re developing romantic feelings for one another. But it’s complicated, because Leo is supposed to return to New York, and Holly doesn’t know how to tell her that she’s asexual.

As an ace person myself, I was really excited to read a romance novel with an ace protagonist. I liked Holly’s character a lot, and Leo started to grow on me pretty quickly as she struggled with how to integrate herself back into her hometown and try to repair her relationship with her parents. The romance was very cute and sweet, and I really appreciated that there was a depiction of strained familial relationships that showed you can love somebody dearly and still do things that hurt them, and that it’s possible to try and mend those relationships but it can be difficult.

However, the pacing really started to feel off to me about halfway through the novel. The romance seems to progress both rather quickly and rather slowly, and there are time jumps that had me confused about how much time had passed. Overall, it seems like most of the book takes place over a span of less than two months, which is really very fast for how slow-burn the romance felt at first. I think this is what brought me down to a three-star rating for this book, because when I would start new chapters I would frequently feel like I had missed a portion of the story and go back and check that something hadn’t gone wrong with my kindle.

Still, I really loved the scenes with Holly’s online friends, and the inclusion of a queerplatonic relationship that was every bit as important as romantic relationships around it. The fact that both Leo and Holly were comfortable in their identities was also really refreshing, and it was highlighted by their interactions with a mutual friend of theirs who is not comfortable with her queerness.

A part of the book I’m really uncertain about is that it does include a sex scene. This is entirely consensual, and both Leo and Holly are very communicative about what they want and are in control of what happens to their bodies. The entire scene is presented as a sensual rather than sexual experience for Holly, and I am definitely glad to see the distinction presented, and that some of what Holly experiences as sensual reads as sexual to others and she is adamant that it isn’t for her. But as an ace person, sex scenes with ace characters can be really fraught. This scene might be really validating to some ace people, but it felt somewhat alienating to me.

Overall, I did like the story, and would recommend it for people wanting to read a romance with an asexual wlw character. But the pacing especially, plus the alienation I felt from the sex scene, leave me with a 3-star rating.

Content warnings: stroke, death

Lesbrary Links: Book Bans Reach a Fever Pitch, Sapphic Foodies Romances, and More

A collage of the covers below with the text Lesbrary Links: Bi & Lesbian Lit News & Reviews

I follow hundreds of queer book blogs to scout out the best sapphic book news and reviews! Many of them get posted on Tumblr and Twitter as I discover them, but my favourites get saved for these link compilations. Here are some of the posts I’ve found interesting in the last few weeks. Buckle in for a lot of book bans news up front—and this is just scratching the surface, because I’m only including news stories that include sapphic books, while Gender Queer has been the most popularly targeted.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel cover
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Each of Us a Desert cover

Each of the covers above is a sapphic book that has recently been banned or challenged.

Book Banning Corner:

A Virginia school board member called for burning LGBTQ books found in schools.

Librarians are grappling with conservatives’ latest wave of book bans, especially of LGBTQ and antiracist books. There’s an organized right-wing campaign to ban books across U.S. school and public libraries.

Censorship, especially of LGBTQ and antiracist books, is as a fever pitch right now.

Banning queer books in schools puts young lives at risk.

The proposed Texas book ban of LGBTQ, antiracist, and other “controversial” books would cost the state millions of dollars in staff time to enact, and most Texans don’t trust government officials to decide which books to ban from schools.

A Missouri school district is returning All Boys Aren’t Blue and Fun Home to school shelves after a petition from the ACLU called in unconstitutional.

Speaking of which: Queer Books are a Hydra: An Anti-Censorship Manifesto.

A small Pennsylvania library was denied funding because they host a “hate group”–which turned out to be a local LGBTQ group. In response, the library got tens of thousands of dollars in donations.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
cool for the summer cover
Sister Outsider cover
The Mercies cover

Malinda Lo won the National Book Award for Last Night at the Telegraph Club!

These are the most fanfic-ed TV F/F couples of all time. The fact that Xena and Gabrielle aren’t on this list makes me want to throw out the internet and start over, though.

Bookstagram helps bring LGBTQ people together into a community.

Dear TikTok, please add some description/context to your queer book lists. Queer books aren’t interchangeable!

Here’s what one educator learned from running a national LGBTQ book club for teachers.

Here’s a perfect Emily Dickinson poem for every song on Taylor Swift’s Red album.

These queer Jewish books make great last-minute Hannukah gifts.

It’s not all YA: here are some must-read adult LGBTQ books.

These 20 queer webcomics are must-reads.

Check out these these books about LGBTQ history and these ones.

The River Has Teeth cover
Carmilla edited by Carmen Maria Machado cover
Love After the End cover
Dress Codes for Small Towns cover
Satisfaction Guaranteed cover

Queer horror books to keep you up at night.

How lesbian vampire media stays immortal.

Read these books if you’re queer in a climate crisis.

Queer people don’t just live in cities. These books explore the rural queer experience.

What counts as a queer cookbook?

Read these sapphic foodie romances.

If you loved One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, check out these other great WLW romances.

juliet takes a breath cover
Mean cover
No Straight Lines cover
The Jasmine Throne cover
Greedy cover

Hannah Gadsby is releasing a memoir next year!

Gabby Rivera centers queer Latinx joy in her storytelling.

What’s the deal with dykes and swords?” (On Gideon the Ninth and chivalry.)

No Straight Lines, a graphic nonfiction title about queer comics history, was made into a documentary!

Mean by Myriam Gurba is being adapted into a TV show!

The cover of The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri, the sequel to The Jasmine Throne, has been revealed!

Greedy: Notes From a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much by Jen Winston was discussed at Autostraddle.

This post has the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even more links, check out the Lesbrary’s Twitter! We’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

If you’d like more LGBTQ lit links, subscribe to my Book Riot newsletter: Our Queerest Shelves! I round up the newest LGBTQ book news as well as the most exciting queer new releases out this week, plus each newsletter comes with an exclusive queer books post from me.

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon at $2 or more a month and be entered to win a queer women book every month! $10 and up patrons get guaranteed books throughout the year!

Nat reviews The Headmistress by Milena McKay

The Headmistress cover

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The first thing you should know before you start The Headmistress is not to make assumptions. You may think a book involving Three Dragons Academy is set in a fantasy world and might contain, well, dragons. You may assume a book called The Headmistress will be a kinkcentric read. (Ahem, as in, “yes, mistress.”) You may even approach the truth, and expect this to be a straightforward romance with a thawing ice queen and a bit of an age gap. But even then there will be a few surprises waiting for you. 

Our story takes place in the modern world, on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. I should mention that in the first few chapters I struggled to reconcile the language and cadence used by the characters, which read to me as British English, with the locale. After a while, you just roll with it. Sam Threadneedle is our protagonist and a bit of an underdog. A closeted math teacher at a conservative girls’ boarding school, her life up until this point has been cautiously lived, until a spontaneous one night stand with a beautiful woman in New York City brings it to a record scratch interruption. 

Enter Magdalene Nox. She’s a total character who should have her own walk on music, and while some might find her extreme “villainous” nature off-putting, I personally think her entrance is where the book hits its stride. She’s Cruella de Vil meets Miranda Priestly, and just so you know, you’re all fired. Headmistress Nox, hired by the scheming school board, is about to turn Three Dragons school back to its Puritan religious roots, and ushers in a hurricane of conflict.

Professor Threadneedle was not prepared to see the woman who changed her life again, much less at her own school. What’s worse is that this woman, who’s been haunting her every waking moment since their encounter, is also threatening her livelihood. McKay does a great job with her use of flashbacks to “the night that changed everything.” We see the chemistry between Sam and Magdalene immediately, and having those little vignettes is key to how we view their relationship in the present. 

One of the big tropes in the story is the age gap. Despite more than a decade between them, digging deeper into our main characters we find that they have a lot in common, especially in their search for home and acceptance. Sam was an orphan found on the steps of the school where she teaches. Magdalene may as well have been, considering her transient upbringing, facing rejection and struggling with her identity. Both women are closeted for their own reasons, both seek solace in Three Dragons, as well as each other. 

I spent much of the book rooting for Sam and Magdalene, but let’s not forget about one of the most important secondary characters–the cat. Willoughby the cat has his own icy veneer, and like the Headmistress, this orange tom bows to no one. As Willouhby and Magdalene interact, we see her humanity and vulnerability through her cold facade. 

McKay also expertly weaves a subtle thread of mystery into her story, involving threatening notes and dead rodents, escalating to attempts to harm one of our main characters and those she cares about. She steadily raises the stakes while giving us small breakthroughs in our main characters’ relationships. You can have a little snogging as a treat!

I also love that McKay includes a dynamic trans character, Lily, who serves a more complex role in the story than just being a foil for Sam and Magdalene. She even has a girlfriend! Milena McKay checks all the boxes for me in The Headmistress. Romance. Mystery. Betrayal. A handsome cat. A big reveal and a dramatic climax. And our underdog swinging her way to the top.

Sam reviews The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

The Unspoken Name cover

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I went into A. K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name with no idea what to expect. I’d even say that I came to the novel feeling a little ungenerous, though I’m not sure I could tell you why.  But despite this, The Unspoken Name caught me in the grip of its energetic story and engrossing characters until I surprised myself by finishing it in just a few days.
The book opens on a scene many fantasy readers will recognize: our main character, Csorwe, is a teenage girl raised to be sacrificed to a god of darkness by a religious order obsessed with death. Even without knowing that The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin is the author’s favorite book, the inspiration is easy to spot. But by the time a well-spoken wizard from another world arrives to offer Csorwe a different life, I found I didn’t mind the familiarity. I already liked the characters, and I wanted to find out what happens next.

What happens next, as it turns out, is a pretty good fantasy adventure. The book primarily follows Csorwe as she grows into her own in said wizard’s service, though it occasionally jumps into the perspective of Csorwe’s easily hateable rival Tal. I feel like Tal’s chapters could be a dealbreaker for some readers, as he is an insufferable jerk, but the two play off each other well enough that I didn’t mind (it helps that Tal, like Csorwe, is very gay). In fact, all of the characters in The Unspoken Name are deeply believable, as interesting as they are consistent. I felt like I got to know them as I read, which made any cliché or familiar story beats seem only natural in context. The entire book tends to play out this way, with every semi-predictable development arriving with a satisfying inevitability all the way to the end of the novel.

The book’s setting is as believable and fun as its characters. Larkwood’s collision of fantasy worlds connected by a shattered un-world in the middle is vibrant and imaginative, and all the better for its lack of defined borders and nitty-gritty details. I actually wish that the magic of the setting (which is rather plot-critical) had the same space to breathe; it’s a bit of a personal nitpick, but I’d prefer there remained a bit more mystery to the magic system. It’s saved by just how much the characters themselves believe in it—faith is a critical aspect of magic in The Unspoken Name, and Larkwood does a tremendous job selling the emotional weight of that faith to the reader.

Of course, being the romantic sap that I am, I spent a lot of time looking forward to a lesbian love interest to show up. The wizard-in-training Qanwa Shuthmili does not disappoint when she finally makes her debut. She’s just as fascinating and enchanting to the reader as she is to Csorwe; it’s obvious what’s coming for the two of them, but just like the rest of the book, watching their relationship develop feels natural and exciting rather than trite or played-out. The fact that you can easily read Csorwe and Shuthmili as butch and fem also meant I had basically no choice but to love them.

I actually wish we got to spend more time with Shuthmili, or better yet, had a few chapters reading from her perspective. She’s well written enough that it’s not strictly necessary—her decisions and actions all make sense without hearing an internal monologue—but she’s such an obviously complex character that I can’t help but feel like we’re missing out by only seeing this love story from one side.

The novel ends with the promise of more adventures to come, and I would certainly love to see more of these characters and this world. But if it turns out this was a stand-alone work, I’d be okay with that. There’s no denying that The Unspoken Name is a fun, creative, and deeply satisfying gay fantasy book, and it’s absolutely worth reading for that alone.

Content warnings: mouth/tooth injuries

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends most of her free time running Dungeons & Dragons (like she has since the 90’s), and has even published a few adventures for it. You can follow her @RainyRedwoods on both twitter and tumblr.