Danika reviews A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

the cover of A Scatter of Light

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As I was reading A Scatter of Light, I saw a tweet from Malinda Lo discussing how hard she’s finding summarizing this book into tropes and graphics to advertise it. I completely understand. This is a book about slowly unfolding self-discovery, the practice of making art, and the beauty of astronomy. It’s about grief and messy first love and different ways of looking at time. It’s a quiet, moving coming of age story that explores complex and difficult emotions–it’s definitely not something that can be distilled easily into a few hashtags.

A Scatter of Light follows Aria as she spends the summer between high school and university (in 2008) with her grandmother, Joan, in California. I think this is such a rich setting for YA novels, because while every summer as a young person feels like a strange, transitionary, surreal time, nothing epitomizes it more than being done high school but not yet starting the next stage of your life. This is the perfect backdrop for Aria’s story, who is in a pivotal point in understanding her own identity.

This wasn’t how Aria planned her summer. She was supposed to split the time between staying with her two best friends, Haley and Tasha, while her father is at a writing retreat and her mother (as usual) is overseas–she’s an opera singer, so she is rarely home. But then a boy posted topless photos of her on Tumblr without her permission, and she faced sexist slut-shaming backlash not only from classmates but also from her friends’ parents. That’s how she ended up spending the summer with Joan instead. And that’s when she meets Joan’s gardener, Steph.

It’s through meeting Steph (who is probably nonbinary, but is still figuring out her gender identity) that Aria realizes that she’s not straight—and also that there’s so much more to attraction that the emotionally-distanced fooling around she’s done with boys in the past.

Steph’s queer friend group immediately adopts Aria, even before she comes out to them, and she is swept into a queer community celebrating the recent defeat of Prop 8 in California: gay marriages are happening all around them. I really appreciated the queer community and friendship showcased, and I especially loved Tasha and Aria’s friendship, which feels like a breath of fresh air among all the messy, complex emotions and relationships. With these new friends, Aria attends a Dyke March and a Queer Music Festival. She falls hard for Steph. Of course, the problem is that Steph already has a girlfriend.

This is definitely a story about a messy first love and about coming out: her attraction to Steph is top of Aria’s mind this summer. But it’s also far from the only thing happening. Joan is a respected artist who Aria has always been proud to be related to. This summer, she’s helping Joan with a project related to her late grandfather’s astronomy work–Aria is going to school to pursue the same field. She finds her grandfather’s old lectures on tape and watches through them. But capable, creative, inspiring Joan is beginning to lose her memory.

The process of making art and prioritizing it in your life is also woven throughout this story. Aria begins to work on her own painting to try to sort through her emotions, with influences from Bernice Bing, a Chinese American lesbian painter, as well as Adrienne Rich’s poetry. (Aria is mixed race: her mother is Chinese American and her father is white.) Meanwhile, Steph is a musician who is deciding how much time and attention she should be putting into her own art. Aria’s mother has always made her art a priority in her life–over Aria, she feels. Aria’s father is an author struggling through years of writer’s block after a successful novel.

The motifs of astronomy, time, and art weave effortlessly through this pensive coming of age story. Despite everything going on, this is a quiet story about Aria coming to terms with herself–not just the label of being queer/bisexual/lesbian/other, but with her own emotions. A Scatter of Light captures the tumultuous, heady feeling of teenage first love: how it’s all-consuming, illogical, and often ephemeral while feeling like the most important thing in the world.

For Last Night at the Telegraph Club, there’s a brief update on the main characters, but it’s only a few pages, so don’t expect this to be too closely tied to that one!

I was 18 in 2008, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this took me back to my teenage self and my own messy first love. Despite this being a quietly unfolding story of self-discovery, I was rapt and couldn’t stop flipping the pages. If you appreciate introspective, character-driven YA, I can’t recommend this highly enough, whether or not you’ve read Last Night at the Telegraph Club.

Note: some of these content warnings are spoilers, but I know they’re also dealbreakers for some readers, so consider that before reading.

Content warnings: cheating, hospitalization, stroke, death of a loved one, grief. Content note: on page sex scenes.

Danika reviews Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Payback’s a Witch cover

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If you’re looking for a book equivalent of watching Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown–but as a bisexual romance novel–this is the book for you. Emmy Harlow left her childhood home of Thistle Grove after a humiliating breakup. She was determined to make a new life for herself in Chicago, leaving behind her friends and family and cutting her waist-length hair to her chin. And she did reinvent herself: she’s happy with her new life and her new job… even if she is a little lonely. Now, though, she’s on her way back to Thistle Grove to visit, because she has duties to fulfill as the scion of House Harlow. Because Thistle Grove isn’t your average small town: it’s magic, with 4 families of witches that date back to the 4 founders.

Gareth Blackmoore is the scion of the Blackmoore family, the most powerful one in Thistle Grove, as they are happy to tell you. Their family has run the town for generations, slowly squeezing out the other families. And he’s also the one who broke Emmy’s heart.

Emmy has returned to town to be the arbiter of the spellcasting tournament, a competition between the families that Blackmoore has won every year. It gives the winner more power as well as leadership over the other families. This time will be different, though, because Emmy quickly realizes she’s not the only one Gareth has wronged. Her high school crush, Talia, and her best friend, Linden, have since had relationships with him–and for each of them, he insisted on keeping their relationship a secret and then dumped them because they didn’t live up to his standards of greatness. The three of them make a pact to get revenge on Gareth, and the competition might be the perfect opportunity to give him a taste of humiliation.

I cannot overstate how much Halloween is packed into this book. Not only is it about witches, but the town itself doubles as a Halloween tourist trap, with visitors blissfully unaware of the real magic going on just out of sight. Every restaurant or bar is decked out in decorations and has witchy cocktails. Mixed in with the fake stuff are real seances, spells, and more. It even got a little bit over the top for me sometimes, like being punched in the face with Halloween, but I know that’s what a lot of people are hoping for.

While this is a fantasy novel, there’s also a strong romance component. Emmy and Talia immediately have a lot of heat between them, and you know it’s only a matter of time before they give into it. It’s not instalove, because they knew each other a bit in high school, but it is insta-attraction. Insta-lust. The romance builds based on that. I never got fully invested, I’ll be honest, because I couldn’t get a good sense of their dynamic (other than Emmy drooling over Talia), but I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority there.

More than the romance, the revenge, and even the competition, though, this is about Emmy’s struggle with where she belongs, where home is. When she left Thistle Grove, it meant leaving behind her magic–which was never very strong, but it was a part of her. Her cousin is eager to step into the role of scion, waiting for Emmy to officially give up that title, but she’s not sure. Returning has made her realize how much she missed this place, her family, and Linden.

There’s an aspect of “blood family is the most important” and “there’s nowhere like home” that I don’t love, but it is discussed some. She left town to run away from a bad relationship with a guy. Yes, she balked at how Thistle Grove slots people into roles based on their family, but she wouldn’t have left if Gareth didn’t taint the place for her.

If a bisexual romance novel version of Halloweentown appeals to you, definitely pick this one up. It’s perfect for diving headfirst into Halloween, and it’s a cute, fun read–just what you want from a holiday romance. The competition aspect is also exciting and cinematic: I’d love to see it on screen. This is the first in the series, with the next following another Thistle Grove inhabitant!

42 Bi and Lesbian Books Out in October 2022!

a collage of new sapphic book covers, with the text Sapphic Books Out In October!

Would you believe that more than forty sapphic books come out this month? It’s true! Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find out which books have queer representation, or what kind of representation they have. So here’s a big list of bi and lesbian books out this month, sorted by genre. I’ve highlighted a few of the books I’m most interested in and included the publisher’s description of those, but click through to see the other titles’ blurbs!

As always, if you can get these through an indie bookstore, that is ideal, but if you can’t, the titles and covers are linked to my Amazon affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, I’ll get a small percentage. On to the books!

Adult

Fiction

the cover of The Call-Out

The Call-Out: A Novel in Rhyme by Cat Fitzpatrick (Queer and Trans Women Fiction)

A fast-paced, debut tragicomedy of manners written in verse about queer (mostly trans) women that is funny, literary, philosophical, witty, sometimes bitchy and sometimes heartbreaking.

Anvi, Kate, Bette, Keiko, Gaia, and Day are six queer, mostly trans women surviving and thriving in Brooklyn. Visiting all the fixtures of fashionable 21st century queer society—picnics, literary readings, health conferences, drag shows, punk houses, community accountability processes, Grindr hookups—The Call-Out also engages with pressing questions around economic precarity, sexual consent, racism in queer spaces, and feminist theory, in the service of asking what it takes to build, or destroy, a marginalized community.
 
A novel written in verse, The Call-Out recalls the Russian literary classic Eugene Onegin, but instead of 19th century Russian aristocrats crudely solved their disagreements with pistols, the participants in this rhyming drama have developed a more refined weapon, the online call-out, a cancel-culture staple. In this passionate tangle of modern relationships, where a barbed tweet can be as dangerous as the narrator’s bon-mots, Cat Fitzpatrick has fashioned a modern novel of manners that gives readers access to a vibrant cultural underground.

the cover of Daughters of the New Year

Daughters of the New Year by E. M. Tran (Lesbian Fiction)

In present day New Orleans, Xuan Trung, former beauty queen turned refugee after the Fall of Saigon, is obsessed with divining her daughters’ fates through their Vietnamese zodiac signs. But Trac, Nhi and Trieu diverge completely from their immigrant parents’ expectations. Successful lawyer Trac hides her sexuality from her family; Nhi competes as the only woman of color on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show; and Trieu, a budding writer, is determined to learn more about her familial and cultural past.

As the three sisters begin to encounter strange glimpses of long-buried secrets from the ancestors they never knew, the story of the Trung women unfurls to reveal the dramatic events that brought them to America. Moving backwards in time, E.M. Tran takes us into the high school classrooms of New Orleans, to Saigon beauty pageants, to twentieth century rubber plantations, traversing a century as the Trungs are both estranged and united by the ghosts of their tumultuous history.

A “haunted story of resilience and survival” (Meng Jin, Little Gods), Daughters of the New Year is an addictive, high-wire act of storytelling that illuminates an entire lineage of extraordinary women fighting to reclaim the power they’ve been stripped of for centuries.

the cover of Jade is a Twisted Green

Jade Is a Twisted Green by Tanya Turton (Queer Woman Fiction)

For readers of Queenie and Honey Girl, a coming-of-age story about queer Black identity, love, passion, chosen family, and rediscovering life’s pleasures after loss.

Jade Brown, a twenty-four-year-old first-generation Jamaican woman living in Toronto, must find a way to pick up the pieces and discover who she is following the mysterious death of her twin sister.

Grappling with her grief, Jade seeks solace in lovers and friends during an array of hilarious and heartbreaking adventures. As she investigates some of life’s most frustrating paradoxes, she holds tight to old friends and her ex-girlfriend, lifelines between past and present. On the journey to turning twenty-five, she finally sees that she belongs to herself, and goes about the business of reclaiming that self.

Through a series of whirlwind love affairs, parties, and trips abroad, Jade stumbles toward relinquishing the weight of her trauma as she fully comes into her own as a young Black woman and writer.

Romance

the cover of Season of Love

Season of Love by Helena Greer (F/F Holiday Romance)

Thanks to her thriving art career, Miriam Blum finally has her decoupaged glitter ducks in a row—until devastating news forces her to a very unwanted family reunion. Her beloved great-aunt Cass has passed and left Miriam part-owner of Carrigan’s, her (ironically) Jewish-run Christmas tree farm.
 
But Miriam’s plans to sit shiva, avoid her parents, then put Carrigan’s in her rearview mirror are spoiled when she learns the business is at risk of going under. To have any chance at turning things around, she’ll need to work with the farm’s grumpy manager—as long as the attraction sparking between them doesn’t set all their trees on fire first.
 
Noelle Northwood wants Miriam Blum gone—even if her ingenious ideas and sensitive soul keep showing Noelle there’s more to Cass’s niece than meets the eye. But saving Carrigan’s requires trust, love, and risking it all—for the chance to make their wildest dreams come true.

the cover of Mistakes Were Made

Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner (F/F Romance)

When Cassie Klein goes to an off-campus bar to escape her school’s Family Weekend, she isn’t looking for a hookup—it just happens. Buying a drink for a stranger turns into what should be an uncomplicated, amazing one-night stand. But then the next morning rolls around and her friend drags her along to meet her mom—the hot, older woman Cassie slept with.

Erin Bennett came to Family Weekend to get closer to her daughter, not have a one-night stand with a college senior. In her defense, she hadn’t known Cassie was a student when they’d met. To make things worse, Erin’s daughter brings Cassie to breakfast the next morning. And despite Erin’s better judgement—how could sleeping with your daughter’s friend be anything but bad?—she and Cassie get along in the day just as well as they did last night.

What should have been a one-time fling quickly proves impossible to ignore, and soon Cassie and Erin are sneaking around. Worst of all, they start to realize they have something real. But is being honest about the love between them worth the cost?

the cover of The Lonely Hearts Rescue
the cover of Rooting for You
the cover of Three's a Crowd
the cover of Foolproof
the cover of Make You Mine This Christmas
the cover of Hard Pressed
the cover of A Cutting Deceit

Mystery/Thrillers

the cover of Pacifique

Pacifique by Sarah L. Taggart (Queer Thriller)

Is love real if the beloved isn’t? Girl, Interrupted meets Rebecca in this taut tale of love and madness

When Tia meets Pacifique, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime love. They spend five wild days and nights together, and then Tia wakes up in an ambulance with a collarbone broken in a bike accident — and no trace of Pacifique. Unable to convince anyone that Pacifique exists, Tia winds up in a psychiatric ward, forced to face the possibility that this perfect lover may be a figment of her imagination. While there, Tia meets Andrew, a contemplative man with schizophrenia, who falls in love with Tia. He, too, tells her to forget Pacifique. Who to believe? The medical establishment and her fellow patients? Or her frail human memory? And if Pacifique truly is a figment, is life in the “real world” with Andrew enough?

Fantasy

Queer Little Nightmares

Queer Little Nightmares: An Anthology of Monstrous Fiction and Poetry edited by David Ly and Daniel Zomparelli (Queer Fantasy Anthology)

The fiction and poetry of Queer Little Nightmares reimagines monsters old and new through a queer lens, subverting the horror gaze to celebrate ideas and identities canonically feared in monster lit. Throughout history, monsters have appeared in popular culture as stand-ins for the non-conforming, the marginalized of society. Pushed into the shadows as objects of fear, revulsion, and hostility, these characters have long conjured fascination and self-identification in the LGBTQ+ community, and over time, monsters have become queer icons.

 In Queer Little Nightmares, creatures of myth and folklore seek belonging and intimate connection, cryptids challenge their outcast status, and classic movie monsters explore the experience of coming into queerness. The characters in these stories and poems—the Minotaur camouflaged in a crowd of cosplayers, a pubescent werewolf, a Hindu revenant waiting to reunite with her lover, a tender-hearted kaiju, a lagoon creature aching for the swimmers above him, a ghost of Pride past—relish their new sparkle in the spotlight. Pushing against tropes that have historically been used to demonize, the queer creators of this collection instead ask: What does it mean to be (and to love) a monster?

Contributors include Amber Dawn, David Demchuk, Hiromi Goto, jaye simpson, Eddy Boudel Tan, and Kai Cheng Thom.

the cover of Kalyna the Soothsayer
the cover of Into the Riverlands
the cover of Katalepsis
the cover of The Stars in their Eyes
the new hardcover of A Dowry of Blood

Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga

the cover of The Summer You Were There Vol. 1
the cover of I'm in Love with the Villainess (Light Novel) Vol. 5

Young Adult

YA Contemporary

the cover of Twelfth Grade Night

Twelfth Grade Night by Molly Horton Booth, Stephanie Kate Strohm & Jamie Green (Bisexual YA Retelling of Twelfth Night)

The course of true love never did run smooth . . . and neither does high school in this new graphic novel series for fans of Heartstopper and The Prince and the Dressmaker. Vi came to Arden High for a fresh start and a chance to wear beanies and button-ups instead of uniform skirts. And though doing it without her twin feels like being split in half, Vi finds her stride when she stumbles (literally!) into broody and beautiful poet-slash-influencer, Orsino. Soon Vi gets roped into helping plan the school’s Twelfth Grade Night dance, and she can’t stop dreaming about slow dancing with Orsino under the fairy lights in the gym. The problem? All Vi’s new friends assume she’s not even into guys. And before Vi can ask Orsino to the dance, he recruits Vi to help woo his crush, Olivia. Who has a crush of her own . . . on Vi. Star-crossed love abounds in this hilarious and romantic story of self-discovery, mistaken identities, and the magic that happens when we open our hearts to something new.

the cover of A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo (Sapphic YA Contemporary)

Last Night at the Telegraph Club author Malinda Lo returns to the Bay Area with another masterful queer coming-of-age story, this time set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage. 

Aria Tang West was looking forward to a summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her best friends—one last round of sand and sun before college. But after a graduation party goes wrong, Aria’s parents exile her to California to stay with her grandmother, artist Joan West. Aria expects boredom, but what she finds is Steph Nichols, her grandmother’s gardener. Soon, Aria is second-guessing who she is and what she wants to be, and a summer that once seemed lost becomes unforgettable—for Aria, her family, and the working-class queer community Steph introduces her to. It’s the kind of summer that changes a life forever.

And almost sixty years after the end of Last Night at the Telegraph ClubA Scatter of Light also offers a glimpse into Lily and Kath’s lives since 1955.

the cover of Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things

Drizzle, Dreams and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad (Sapphic YA Contemporary)

Four sisters, four seasons, four flavors of romance.

The Singh sisters grew up helping their father navigate the bustle of the Songbird Inn. Nestled on dreamy and drizzly Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest, the inn’s always been warm and cozy and filled with interesting guests―the perfect home. But things are about to heat up now that the Songbird has been named the Most Romantic Inn in America.

Nidhi has everything planned out―until a storm brings a wayward tree crashing into her life one autumn . . . and along with it, an intriguing construction worker and a yearning for her motherland. Suddenly, she’s questioning everything she thought she wanted.

Avani can’t sit still. If she does, her grief for Pop, their dad’s late husband, will overwhelm her. So she keeps moving as much as she can, planning an elaborate Winter Ball in Pop’s memory. Until a blizzard traps her in a barn with the boy she accidentally stood up and has been actively avoiding ever since.

Sirisha loves seeing the world through her camera, but her shyness prevents her from stepping out from behind the lens. Talking to girls is such a struggle! When a pretty actress comes to the Songbird with her theater troupe, spring has sprung for Sirisha―if only she can find the words.

Rani is a hopeless romantic through and through. After gently nudging her sisters to open their hearts, she is convinced it’s finally her turn to find love. When two potential suitors float in on a summer breeze, Rani is swept up in grandeur to match her wildest Bollywood dreams. But which boy is the one she’s meant to be with?

Ultimately, the magic of the Songbird Inn leads the tight-knit Singh sisters to new passions and breathtaking kisses―and to unearth the truest versions of themselves.

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, this sparkling YA rom-com celebrates sisterhood, family, and the love all around us.

the cover of Anne of Greenville

Anne Of Greenville by Mariko Tamaki (YA Anne of Green Gables Retelling)

This is the story of how I became Anne of Greenville. It’s also the story of how I found my true true, and how I needed to maybe come to Greenville, of all places, to make that happen.

In this modern reimagining of Anne of Green Gables, Anne is an ABBA-loving singer/actor/writer of disco-operas, queer, Japanese-American who longs to be understood for her artistic genius. Recently relocated to middle-of-nowhere Greenville and starting at a new school, Anne has a tendency to A) fall in love quickly, deeply, and effervescently and B) fly off the handle in the face of jerks. Both personality quirks quickly come into play when the soccer team boos the premiere of her disco performance, which―in a roundabout way―introduces her to her new BFF, Berry, and she soon after meets the girl of her dreams, Gilly.

Falling quickly into that age-old trap of ignoring the best friend for the new crush, Anne soon becomes embroiled in a series of dramatic and unfortunate events, and quickly finds herself wrapped up in a love triangle she never expected. Is she MTB with Gilly? Or is Berry her true soul mate? Only time (or 304 pages) will tell.

In this coming-of-age novel by fan-favorite author Mariko Tamaki, see the classic tale in a whole new light. Refreshingly bold and unapologetically unique, Anne of Greenville will make you want to stand up and sing!

the cover of Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken

Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken by Nita Tyndall (F/F YA Historical Fiction)

For fans of Ruta Sepetys and Malinda Lo, a heart-wrenching queer historical YA romance set in the Swing Youth movement of World War II Berlin

Charlotte Kraus would follow Angelika Haas anywhere. Which is how she finds herself in an underground club one Friday night the summer before World War II, dancing to contraband American jazz and swing music, suddenly feeling that anything might be possible.

Unable to resist the allure of sharing this secret with Geli, Charlie returns to the club again and again, despite the dangers of breaking the Nazi Party’s rules. Soon, terrified by the tightening vise of Hitler’s power, Charlie and the other Swingjugend are drawn to larger and larger acts of rebellion. But the war will test how much they are willing to risk—and to lose.

From the critically acclaimed author of Who I Was with Her, this beautifully told story of hope, love, and resistance will captivate readers of Girl in the Blue Coat and Last Night at the Telegraph Club.

YA Mystery/Thrillers

the cover of The Restless Dark

The Restless Dark by Erica Waters (Sapphic YA Thriller)

Sadie meets Wilder Girls in this unnerving tale about the struggle for survival, the twisted satisfaction of revenge, and the darkness hiding in all of us. From Erica Waters, the acclaimed author of Ghost Wood Song and The River Has Teeth,this mystery will haunt you to the end.

The Cloudkiss Killer is dead. Now a true-crime podcast is hosting a contest to find his bones.

Lucy was almost the serial killer’s final victim. Carolina is a true-crime fan who fears her own rage. Maggie is a psychology student with a little too much to hide.

All of them are looking for answers, for a new identity, for a place to bury their secrets.

But there are more than bones hiding in the shadows…sometimes the darkness inside is more frightening than anything the dead leave behind.

the new paperback cover of A Line in the Dark, showing a person in the woods

YA Horror

the cover of A House Unsettled

A House Unsettled by Trynne Delaney (Queer YA Horror)

Ghosts aren’t the only thing that can haunt a house. Trynne Delaney’s debut novel explores the insidious legacies of violence and oppression—and how Black, queer love and resistance can disrupt them.

With her dad’s incarceration, escalating fights with her mom, and an overbearing stepdad she’s not sure she can trust, Asha is desperate for the fresh start promised by a move to the country. Her great aunt Aggie’s crumbling, pest-ridden house isn’t exactly what she had in mind, but the immediate connection she makes with her new neighbor Cole seems like a good sign. Soon, though, Asha’s optimism is shadowed by strange and disturbing occurrences within the old house’s walls: footsteps stalking the halls; a persistent chill; cold hands around her neck in the middle of the night . . .

Fearing for her loved ones’ safety—and her own—Asha seeks out the source of these terrifying incidents and uncovers secrets from the past that connect her and Cole’s families and reach into the present. But as tensions with her mom and stepdad rise and Cole withdraws, Asha is left alone to try and break the cycle of violence that holds them all in its haunting grip.

YA Fantasy

The Name-Bearer

The Name-Bearer by Natalia Hernandez (Queer YA Fantasy)

For her entire life, the Name-Bearer’s sole purpose has been to receive and deliver the names of the future monarchy from the Flowers of Prophecy. But when the child is finally born and the Name-Bearer is sent to the Flowers, they refuse to name him. Instead they deliver a prophecy; another child was born who is more worthy of the Naming, and if they are found and brought before them it will usher in a reign of peace.

Having failed in her duties the Name-Bearer is considered a traitor to the crown, and must hide among an elite sect of warrior women where she experiences found family, friendship, and love. Her training as a warrior helps prepare her to embark on her quest to find the Unnamed Prince, clear her name, and bring peace to her realm.

A story of magia, warrior women, found family and love – and not accepting who you are told to be, but embracing who you are destined to become.

the cover of The Sevenfold Hunters

YA Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga

the cover of Thieves by Lucie Bryon

Thieves by Lucie Bryon (Sapphic YA Graphic Novel)

What happened last night? Ella can’t seem to remember a single thing from the party the night before at a mysterious stranger’s mansion, and she sure as heck doesn’t know why she’s woken up in her bed surrounded by a magpie’s nest of objects that aren’t her own. And she can’t stop thinking about her huge crush on Madeleine, who she definitely can’t tell about her sudden penchant for kleptomania… But does Maddy have secrets of her own? Can they piece together that night between them and fix the mess of their chaotic personal lives in time to form a normal, teenage relationship? That would be nice.

the cover of Hollow

Hollow by Shannon Watters, Branden Boyer-White, and Berenice Nelle (F/F YA Fantasy Graphic Novel)

Sleepy Hollow and queer romance meet in this coming-of-age tale from the co-creator of Lumberjanes!

Isabel “Izzy” Crane and her family have just relocated to Sleepy Hollow, the town made famous by–and obsessed with–Washington Irving’s legend of the Headless Horseman. But city slicker-skeptic Izzy has no time for superstition as she navigates life at a new address, a new school, and, with any luck, with new friends. Ghost stories aren’t real, after all…. Then Izzy is pulled into the orbit of the town’s teen royalty, Vicky Van Tassel (yes, that Van Tassel) and loveable varsity-level prankster Croc Byun. Vicky’s weariness with her family connection to the legend turns to terror when the trio begins to be haunted by the Horseman himself, uncovering a curse set on destroying the Van Tassel line. Now, they have only until Halloween night to break it–meaning it’s a totally inconvenient time for Izzy to develop a massive crush on the enigmatic Vicky. Can Izzy’s practical nature help her face the unknown–or only trip her up? As the calendar runs down to the 31st, Izzy will have to use all of her wits and work with her new friends to save Vicky and uncover the mystery of the legendary Horseman of Sleepy Hollow–before it’s too late. New York Times-bestselling writer Shannon Watters (Lumberjanes) and debut author Branden Boyer-White are joined by artist Berenice Nelle (Wanderlicht) in a coming of age tale that’s at once a faithful homage and a free-wheeling spin-off of the classic Legend of Sleepy Hollow and everyone’s favorite headless specter.

Children

Middle Grade

the cover of Where the Lost Ones Go

Where the Lost Ones Go by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Sapphic Middle Grade Fantasy)

Eliot is grieving Babung, her paternal grandmother who just passed away, and she feels like she’s the only one. She’s less than excited to move to her new house, which smells like lemons and deception, and is searching for a sign, any sign, that ghosts are real. Because if ghosts are real, it means she can find a way back to Babung.

When Eliot chases the promise of paranormal activity to the presumably haunted Honeyfield Hall, she finds her proof of spirits. But these ghosts are losing their memory, stuck between this world and the next, waiting to cross over. With the help of Hazel, the granddaughter of Honeyfield’s owner (and Eliot’s new crush), she attempts to uncover the mystery behind Honeyfield Hall and the ghosts residing within.

And as Eliot fits the pieces together, she may just be able to help the spirits remember their pasts, and hold on to her grandmother’s memory.

the cover of Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One by Maggie Horne

Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One by Maggie Horne (Queer Middle Grade Contemporary)

A funny, feminist, and queer contemporary middle grade debut about 12-year-old loner Hazel Hill, who after one of her classmates is harassed online, devises a plan to catch the school’s golden boy in the act. 

Seventh grader Hazel Hill is too busy for friends. No, really. She needs to focus on winning the school-wide speech competition and beating her nemesis, the popular and smart Ella Quinn, after last year’s embarrassing hyperbole/hyperbowl mishap that cost her first place.

But when Hazel discovers Ella is being harassed by golden boy Tyler Harris, she has to choose between winning and doing the right thing. No one would believe that a nice boy like Tyler would harass and intimidate a nice girl like Ella, but Hazel knows the truth—and she’s determined to prove it, even if it means risking everything. 

Deeply relatable and surprisingly humorous, Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One is a wonderfully empowering story about friendship, finding your voice, and standing up for what you believe in. 

the cover of Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros

Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros (Sapphic Middle Grade Graphic Novel)

In this modern graphic novel retelling of Anne of Green Gables from graphic novelist Kathleen Gros, foster kid Anne Shirley finally lands in a loving home and befriends a girl who she may have more-than-friends feelings for.

Anne Shirley has been in foster care her whole life. So when the Cuthberts take her in, she hopes it’s for good. They seem to be hitting it off, but how will they react to the trouble that Anne can sometimes find herself in . . . like accidentally dyeing her hair green or taking a dangerous dare that leaves her in a cast?

Then Anne meets Diana Barry, a girl who lives in her apartment building, the Avon-Lea. The two become fast friends, as Anne finds she can share anything with Diana. As time goes on, though, Anne starts to develop more-than-friends feelings for Diana.

Nonfiction

Memoirs & Essays

the cover of The Family Outing

The Family Outing: A Memoir by Jessi Hempel (Queer Memoir)

Jessi Hempel was raised in a seemingly picture-perfect, middle-class American family. But the truth was far from perfect. Her father was constantly away from home, traveling for work, while her stay-at-home mother became increasingly lonely and erratic. Growing up, Jessi and her two siblings struggled to make sense of their family, their world, their changing bodies, and the emotional turmoil each was experiencing. And each, in their own way, was hiding their true self from the world.

By the time Jessi reached adulthood, everyone in her family had come out: Jessi as gay, her sister as bisexual, her father as gay, her brother as transgender, and her mother as a survivor of a traumatic experience with an alleged serial killer. Yet coming out was just the beginning, starting a chain reaction of other personal revelations and reckonings that caused each of them to question their place in the world in new and ultimately liberating ways.

the cover of Life In Every Breath
the cover of Heretic

General Nonfiction

the cover of The Future is Disabled

The Future Is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Queer Essays)

In The Future Is Disabled, Leah Laksmi Piepzna-Samarasinha asks some provocative questions: What if, in the near future, the majority of people will be disabled―and what if that’s not a bad thing? And what if disability justice and disabled wisdom are crucial to creating a future in which it’s possible to survive fascism, climate change, and pandemics and to bring about liberation

Building on the work of her game changing book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Piepzna-Samarasinha writes about disability justice at the end of the world, documenting the many ways disabled people kept and are keeping each other―and the rest of the world―alive during Trump, fascism and the COVID-19 pandemic. Other subjects include crip interdependence, care and mutual aid in real life, disabled community building, and disabled art practice as survival and joy. 

Written over the course of two years of disabled isolation during the pandemic, this is a book of love letters to other disabled QTBIPOC (and those concerned about disability justice, the care crisis, and surviving the apocalypse); honor songs for kin who are gone; recipes for survival; questions and real talk about care, organizing, disabled families, and kin networks and communities; and wild brown disabled femme joy in the face of death. With passion and power, The Future Is Disabled remembers our dead and insists on our future.   

the cover of It Came from the Closet

It Came From The Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror edited by Joe Vallese (Queer Nonfiction)

Through the lens of horror—from Halloween to Hereditary—queer and trans writers consider the films that deepened, amplified, and illuminated their own experiences.

Horror movies hold a complicated space in the hearts of the queer community: historically misogynist, and often homo- and transphobic, the genre has also been inadvertently feminist and open to subversive readings. Common tropes—such as the circumspect and resilient “final girl,” body possession, costumed villains, secret identities, and things that lurk in the closet—spark moments of eerie familiarity and affective connection. Still, viewers often remain tasked with reading themselves into beloved films, seeking out characters and set pieces that speak to, mirror, and parallel the unique ways queerness encounters the world.

It Came from the Closet features twenty-five essays by writers speaking to this relationship, through connections both empowering and oppressive. From Carmen Maria Machado on Jennifer’s Body, Jude Ellison S. Doyle on In My Skin, Addie Tsai on Dead Ringers, and many more, these conversations convey the rich reciprocity between queerness and horror.

the cover of This Arab is Queer

Check out more LGBTQ new releases by signing up for Our Queerest Shelves, my LGBTQ book newsletter at Book Riot!

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon to get queer books in the mail throughout the year!

Maggie reviews Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

the cover of Siren Queen

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In Siren Queen, Nghi Vo brings to old Hollywood a fascinating premise: What if the magic of the silver screen was actually magic? What if the studio system literally owned everything, from looks to talent to one’s very name? Nghi Vo spins out a shadowy, dangerous world filled with fey magic and dangerous deals, where every movie is a chance at literal immortality or complete destruction. It’s lushly imagined, a fully-fleshed world full of dark corners and terrible consequences, and I loved every page of it. Nghi Vo delivers on magic, glamor, and the desperate underground queer love of the era in a thrilling journey where every gift comes at a terrible price.

Luli knows the dangers of the Hollywood Studios, but the lure of the silver screen is in her blood from the moment she sees her first picture and she’ll do whatever she must to become a star. She also knows that a Chinese American girl from a poor neighborhood has even fewer avenues to stardom than most of the hopefuls that swan through the studios. Through cunning, a little bit of knowledge, and luck, Luli claws her way into a chance with a studio and lays out her terms. She won’t play maids, she won’t talk funny, and she won’t play a fainting flower for every leading man to discard for someone whiter and blonder. Her refusal to back down makes the power that runs the studios furious, but Luli is determined to hold onto what she can, even as she’s forced to concede her name, her background, even her relationships. If she won’t play a maid, and they won’t let her play a leading lady, Luli finds the role left to her is monster, and it’s up to her to embrace it.

What I loved most about this book was the glamour and scandal of Pre-Code Hollywood is enhanced but not overshadowed by the mystical. The Hunt may ride once a year, but in the meantime, everyone is in fierce competition for access to the best scripts, the best roles, and the best connections. Luli goes into the dangers with her eyes wide open, but the lure of becoming a star is too much for her to resist.  Luli also grapples with the limits the studios impose on her versus the importance of being seen as a Chinese American star. It also reveals the thriving but underground queer scene of the era. While the studios literally matchmake and arrange marriages for their stars for maximum marketing potential, Luli discovers the trick of navigating between a public persona and private relationships through a series of girlfriends, underground clubs, and meeting with other queer actors. Luli’s queer relationships are both shaped by the omnipresent pressure of the studio system she lives in and one of the major parts of her life that are hers and not for publicity, and as she realizes she has more to lose, she also learns what she is willing to compromise about herself.

In conclusion, I loved this detailed, gorgeous trip through Pre-Code Hollywood, where both the beauty and the danger are greater than ever. Luli is a ruthless and yet complex main character, existing at the nexus of a number of different worlds, and she kicks and struggles to have the life she wants. Any one of Hollywood with magic, a Chinese American actress struggling to make a name for herself, or undercover queer culture in Hollywood would be interesting, and Nghi Vo masterfully mixes them all together for one unforgettable book. I definitely do not regret picking this one up.

Kelleen reviews Patience & Esther by SW Searle

the cover of Patience & Esther by SW Searle

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I don’t know why more people haven’t read this book. I don’t know why I never see this book discussed whenever folks are talking about historical romance, or graphic novels, or the greatest sapphic graphic novel historical romance (is that a genre?) novels ever crafted. 

To be honest, I’m not big on graphic novels (I have a learning disability and read mostly with my ears, so graphic novels don’t always work for my brain), so it never occurred to me that I need a romance novel with pictures. I have a great imagination! And I love narration! And isn’t it maybe weird to write sexy scenes in graphic novel form? But alas, this book is exactly what I needed and so much more. 

This interracial erotic historical Edwardian romance graphic novel (whew, lots of adjectives) tells the story of two women working in service in England—one an Indian lady’s maid and one a new Scottish maid of all work—as they fall in love and navigate a changing world of industry and identity at the turn of the century. It is domestic and comforting and beautiful and I simply could not get enough.

It is so deeply romantic, and so steamy (there are historical sex toys)! The illustrations are exquisite and beautifully detailed, and show real, beautiful bodies. One of the heroines is fat and is drawn with rolls and stretch marks, and it was such a profound experience for me to see a body like that (a body like mine) being loved and desired and sexy in illustrations along with text. 

Because of the identities of the heroines as Indian, Scottish, working class, and sapphic, there was so much interesting conversation about how these women fit into the social political movements of the time. We see the racism, classism, and exclusivity of the Suffragists Movement and the way that the horrors of colonialism strip people of their names, families,  cultures, and identities. The exploration of the changing social and political atmosphere at such an integral, fast-paced time in history was so engaging and was intertwined so well with captivating the emotional span of the romance. 

One thing that I really loved about the romance is that these two are always on each other’s side. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t hard and emotional and conflict-ridden and romantic, but these two are such a good team, fighting for each other and for their relationship every step of the way. 

This book is literally everything I love. It’s like a steamy, sapphic Downton Abbey, and my heart was going pitter-pat the whole time I was reading. I cannot recommend this genre-bending book enough. If you are a sapphic reader (or a reader of sapphics, whichever), pick up this book. You will be charmed, you will be delighted, you will be swooned and amazed and intrigued and you will not be sorry. 

You can read more of Kelleen’s reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.

Rachel reviews Small Angels by Lauren Owen

the cover of Small Angels

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Dark, Gothic, and atmospheric, Lauren Owen’s new novel Small Angels (August 2022) is perfect for fans of spooky queer fiction and it’s out just in time for autumn! This book is definitely one to add to your Halloween TBR. 

Small Angels begins in a small English village with a story that unfolds across decades—or centuries. In the present day, Chloe has looked forward to her wedding to Sam for months, and to her there is no more perfect place to hold the ceremony than at the local village church, Small Angels, in the place where Sam and his sister Kate, grew up. But Small Angels is no ordinary church, and the residents of the village know to stay away. Soon, the locals recount harrowing stories of violent hauntings and dark rituals associated with the church and the infamously reclusive Gonne family who tended it, and what’s worse, Chloe begins to see and hear things she can’t begin to explain. 

At the same time, Sam’s sister Kate has been reluctantly drawn home for her brother’s wedding. Narrating her memories, Small Angels and the nearby Gonne family estate hold many painful memories. Escaping her parents’ fighting as a teenager, Kate was drawn into the lives of the four Gonne sisters and their complex relationship with Small Angels. She learns that the woods behind Small Angels are home to a malicious and unsettled ghost whose violent death has led him to haunt the woods and the Gonne estate. For generations, the Gonne’s have appeased the ghost and prevented him from attacking the villagers beyond the woods, but a terrible event disrupts the tentative harmony of the Gonne’s and the ghost. 

Chloe’s wedding begins to awaken something in the woods beyond Small Angels, and if Kate and the one remaining Gonne sister can’t stop it, there’s no telling what might happen. 

Although the plot of this book seems complex, Owen unfolds Small Angels beautifully. There is a lyrical, unsettling quality to the novel that threads together a number of events and perspectives in a way that I found engaging and intriguing. Owen develops the world of the novel slowly, framing the events around an isolated English village as both out of time and place, and yet vividly real nonetheless. 

The ghostly mystery and paranormal action of this novel make it a perfect read for fall, and Small Angels strikes an excellent balance between literary fiction and horror writing. Each of the characters was effectively drawn, and multiple perspectives allowed for a thorough representation of the world in this novel and all of its intricacies. I felt as though the pacing of this book left me unable to put it down, and I finished Small Angels in a matter of days. I highly recommend this book for fans of Alix E. Harrow, V.E. Schwab, or Julia Armfield. 

Not to mention, this is a queer novel! I haven’t seen that aspect of this text as widely talked about (probably due to my own failing), and I didn’t know when I started reading that the novel would be partially centered around a lesbian love story, but it was a pleasant surprise and a very happy discovery. I highly recommend Small Angels as a spooky read for any time of the year, and I’ll definitely be reading Lauren Owen’s fiction from now on. 

Please add Small Angels to your TBR on Goodreads and follow Lauren Owen on Twitter.

Rachel Friars is a writer and academic living in Canada, dividing her time between Ontario and New Brunswick. When she’s not writing short fiction, she’s reading every lesbian novel she can find. Rachel holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a PhD in nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history. You can find Rachel on Twitter @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

New Sapphic Releases: Bi and Lesbian Books Out September 27, 2022

I’m very satisfied by how evenly the genres are distributed this week. There’s literary fiction, romance, gothic horror, queer teen witches, bisexual preteen robotics teammates, a queer bootleg DVD ring graphic novel, and more. Let’s dive in!

Fiction

Concerning My Daughter by Kim Hye-Jin, trans. Jamie Chang (Queer Fiction)

the cover of Concerning My Daughter

When a mother allows her thirty-something daughter to move into her apartment, she wants for her what many mothers might say they want for their child: a steady income, and, even better, a good husband with a good job with whom to start a family.

But when Green turns up with her girlfriend, Lane, in tow, her mother is unprepared and unwilling to welcome Lane into her home. In fact, she can barely bring herself to be civil. Having centred her life on her husband and child, her daughter’s definition of family is not one she can accept. Her daughter’s involvement in a case of unfair dismissal involving gay colleagues from the university where she works is similarly strange to her.

And yet when the care home where she works insists that she lower her standard of care for an elderly dementia patient who has no family, who travelled the world as a successful diplomat, who chose not to have children, Green’s mother cannot accept it. Why should not having chosen a traditional life mean that your life is worth nothing at all?

In Concerning My Daughter, translated from Korean by Jamie Chang, Kim Hye-jin lays bare our most universal fears on ageing, death, and isolation, to offer finally a paean to love in all its forms.

Romance

Broken Beyond Repair by Emily Banting (F/F Romance)

the cover of Broken Beyond Repair

Sydney MacKenzie, personal assistant to the rich and famous, is looking forward to a well-earned break to go travelling in her beloved VW camper van, Gertie — that is, until Gertie cries off sick. When her boss calls in a favour, one that will pay Sydney handsomely and put Gertie back on the road, she can’t refuse.

Internationally renowned actress Beatrice Russell — adored by her fans and despised by those that know her — is splashed across the tabloids, all thanks to her broken leg. She limps back to her palatial English country estate to convalesce for the summer, where she finds herself in need of yet another new assistant.

Enter Sydney, who doesn’t take kindly to the star’s demands, attitude, or clicking fingers — much less her body’s own attraction to the gorgeous diva. If not for that, and Gertie’s worn-out engine, she would leave tomorrow. Or so she tells herself.

As the summer heats up, the ice queen begins to thaw, and Sydney glimpses the tormented woman beneath the celebrity bravado, drawing her ever closer to the enigmatic actress — sometimes too close.

Can Sydney reach the real Beatrice and help heal her wounds before the summer ends and she returns to filming in the States, or is the celebrity broken beyond repair?

Horror

House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson (Sapphic Horror)

the cover of House of Hunger

WANTED – Bloodmaid of exceptional tasteMust have a keen proclivity for life’s finer pleasures. Girls of weak will need not apply.

Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation are all she know. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper seeking a bloodmaid.

Though she knows little about the far north—where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service—Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery. At the center of it all is Countess Lisavet.

The countess, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when she discovers that the ancient walls of the House of Hunger hide even older secrets, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home—and fast—or its halls will soon become her grave.

Fantasy & Science Fiction

We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2021 edited by L. D. Lewis and Charles Payseur (Queer SFF Anthology)

the cover of We're Here 2021

This second volume in Neon Hemlock’s yearly series celebrating the wonder and breadth of queer speculative fiction contains stories of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and many spaces in between.

Edited by LD Lewis and series editor Charles Payseur.

Enjoy stories from C.L. Clark, H. Pueyo, Aliette de Bodard, Watson Neith, Sam J. Miller, Laurel Beckley, Alexandra Seidel, LA Knight, Bogi Takács, Fargo Tbakhi, Ann LeBlanc, Cheri Kamei, Sharang Biswas, Jen Brown & Shingai Njeri Kagunda.

Young Adult

How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy (Sapphic YA Fantasy)

the cover of How to Succeed in Witchcraft

Magically brilliant, academically perfect, chronically overcommitted—

Shay Johnson has all the makings of a successful witch. As a junior at T.K. Anderson Magical Magnet School, she’s determined to win the Brockton Scholarship—her ticket into the university of her dreams. Her competition? Ana freaking Álvarez. The key to victory? Impressing Mr. B, drama teacher and head of the scholarship committee.

When Mr. B asks Shay to star in this year’s aggressively inclusive musical, she warily agrees, even though she’ll have to put up with Ana playing the other lead. But in rehearsals, Shay realizes Ana is . . . not the despicable witch she’d thought. Perhaps she could be a friend—or more. And Shay could use someone in her corner once she becomes the target of Mr. B’s unwanted attention. When Shay learns she’s not the first witch to experience his inappropriate behavior, she must decide if she’ll come forward. But how can she speak out when her future’s on the line?

Middle Grade

The Trouble With Robots by Michelle Mohrweis (Bisexual Middle Grade Contemporary)

the cover of The Trouble with Robots

Evelyn strives for excellence. Allie couldn’t care less. These polar opposites must work together if they have any hope of saving their school’s robotics program.

Eighth-graders Evelyn and Allie are in trouble. Evelyn’s constant need for perfection has blown some fuses among her robotics teammates, and she’s worried nobody’s taking the upcoming competition seriously. Allie is new to school, and she’s had a history of short-circuiting on teachers and other kids.

So when Allie is assigned to the robotics team as a last resort, all Evelyn can see is just another wrench in the works! But as Allie confronts a past stricken with grief and learns to open up, the gears click into place as she discovers that Evelyn’s teammates have a lot to offer—if only Evelyn allowed them to participate in a role that plays to their strengths.

Can Evelyn learn to let go and listen to what Allie has to say? Or will their spot in the competition go up in smoke along with their school’s robotics program and Allie’s only chance at redemption?

An excellent pick for STEAM enthusiasts, this earnestly told narrative features a dual point of view and casually explores Autistic and LGBTQ+ identities.

Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga

Forest Hills Bootleg Society by Dave Baker & Nicole Goux (Lesbian YA Graphic Novel)

the cover of Forest Hills Bootleg Society

Set in 2005, this gorgeously illustrated, funny, and honest graphic novel follows four teens who stumble into an illicit anime DVD-burning business that shakes up their conservative small town…and their friendship.

When Brooke, Kelly, Maggie, and Melissa buy a bootleg anime DVD at a gas station, they get much more than they bargained for with Super Love XL, a risqué move featuring—among other things—a giant mecha who shoots lasers out of her chest. The four girls are horrified (and maybe a little fascinated). It’s so unlike anything they’ve seen, would probably shock everyone else in their town, and definitely would take over their extremely conservative Christian school. That’s when they have the idea to sell copies to local boys…for twenty dollars a pop.

At first, everything goes perfectly, with the friends raking in cash—pretty soon they’ll even have enough money to buy the matching jackets they’ve always dreamed of! But as the market for mildly titillating anime DVDs grows, the girls realize they’ll need new material. On top of figuring out how to replicate their first success, there’s growing tension within the group. Brooke and Kelly’s romance is on its last legs, and hurt feelings are guaranteed when Melissa starts falling for one of them.

Will the four girls’ shared history be strong enough to see them through this upheaval? Or will they learn that some things can only end in heartbreak?

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Meagan Kimberly reviews A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria

A Lot Like Adiós cover

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Gabe and Michelle had been best friends since childhood. As they grew into teenagers, their feelings took a turn toward romantic, but before they did anything about it, Gabe left.

Over 10 years later, Michelle works as a freelance marketing specialist in the Bronx and Gabe owns a gym in LA, and they haven’t had contact since he left, until now. Gabe makes a return to New York to work with Michelle on a marketing campaign to open a new branch of the gym. Emotions run high, lies become tangled and it’s time for both of them to face the past if they’re going to reach their happy ending.

This is a Latine story on every level. Sprinkled with Spanglish and Spanish throughout narration and dialogue, mentions of Puerto Rican and Mexican foods and their families being way too involved in their relationship all create a familiar environment for Latine readers. Gabe’s strained relationship with his parents is also a familiar situation that many children of immigrants can relate to and plays a central role in his character development. Throughout the novel, Gabe begins to untangle his old feelings and realize a great deal of miscommunication occurred between them.

Meanwhile, Michelle works toward untangling her relationship with work and burnout, especially as how those parts of her life act as a crutch to keep her from making meaningful relationships. As she reconnects with Gabe, she begins to let go of control and stop doubting herself and her abilities.

As the story unfolds, there are inserts of a fanfic Gabe and Michelle wrote together as teenagers called Celestial Destiny. They shared a love for a sci-fi TV show that finally gave them Latinos in space and then was canceled after only one season, a stituation too many of us are all too familiar with. But these inserts serve as a fantastical way to convey a lot of character development that Michelle and Gabe keep from one another and even themselves.

Bisexuality is dealt with subtly in this book. There’s a conversation early on between them where Michelle states, “Gabe, are you telling me we’re both bisexual?” They have a brief conversation about their past relationships regarding being bi and that’s the last you hear of it. It’s a different way for bisexuality to play a role in an f/m romance story than I’ve seen before. There’s never a big deal made about it. It’s addressed but it doesn’t make up the bulk of the plot or character development. But that doesn’t make these characters any less queer.

Within the little bit about the characters’ sexualities, however, there is more nuance given to Michelle. She speaks about dating people of different genders but never having sex with women. She doesn’t hide her sexual orientation from her family, but she doesn’t discuss her dating life with them either. It seems like she’s still getting comfortable with her bi identity.

For those who like their romance novels extra steamy, you’re in luck! A Lot Like Adiós includes lots of hot sex, dirty talk and wonderful examples of consent. Alexis Daria did a fantastic job of portraying a passionate relationship without shying away from sex, desire and pleasure, making it all guilt-free and without shame. It’s totally sex-positive,

Til reviews The Lock-Eater by Zack Loran Clark

the cover of The Lock Eater

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The Lock-Eater tells the story of Melanie Gate, an orphan sent on an adventure with a gearling in a land of power-hungry wizards, invisible unicorns, humanoid animals, true friends, and cute seamstresses. This is a book that feels very aware of its adherence to the typical—the author definitely knows what he’s doing when he diverges from expectations. It’s clear from the beginning. Rather than happily sending away another worthless foundling, matron Mrs. Harbargain truly cares for Melanie and sends her off to become a witch’s apprentice only because she’s in a very tight situation. Even as readers embark on the journey alongside Melanie and Traveler, we see that there are good people in this world.

And what a world it is! There are generations of warfare and extortionate treaties woven into this book. There are magical beasts and the less-than-pleasant, delightfully realistic observation that living just below an aerie of gryphons means living just below an aerie’s worth of gryphon-sized poos. For all its lighthearted moments, the book has seriousness, too, including a small nation under colonial rule, the magical equivalent of a nuclear weapon, and far too many dosed cups of tea. The strongest consistent thread isn’t exploration or magic or even coming of age. It’s community. Sometimes Melanie has to solve tough problems on her own. Often she has support. Though she has a talent for magic, she’s not the only one, and she loves her friends for their talents, too. This novel pulls off “everyone’s special” so well.

So, what kind of queer representation can you expect? In my opinion, the perfect amount for a middle grade adventure. Melanie likes girls. Not only is that outright stated, she meets a seamstress who immediately takes away her powers of speech—not through magic, but a keenly relatable awkwardness! The crush is reciprocated and sweet. I don’t tend to enjoy overwhelming romances; usually, once it becomes more than ~35% of the story, it’s too much romance. That’s one of the things I like about middle grade fiction. Lock-Eater does a great job being a comfortable, supportive queer narrative that embraces the import of identity, with or without romance.

No disrespect intended to all the romance fans out there, of course!

The book also has some comments on gender and identity. They’re less centered, but undeniably present. Melanie is repeatedly judged for being a girl in a boy’s coat, but she loves its starry design and doesn’t care who it was “meant” for. She is not explicitly stated to be nonbinary, just refusing to be overly confined to societal expectations. Another character chooses a new name for herself late in the story. This is treated as extremely powerful. Her choice is honored. I’m not someone who can or would try to speak for the trans community, but as someone who has never felt entirely comfortable within gender norms, I found these little touches to be absolutely wonderful.

The Lock-Eater is a sweet adventure story about a magical world with a very human protagonist, and it isn’t afraid to explore emotional depths and darker outcomes.

Vic reviews Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

the cover of Burn Down, Rise Up

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I am still a relative newbie when it comes to horror, but Vincent Tirado’s Burn Down, Rise Up served as a fantastic entry point for me.  When Bronx high schooler Raquel’s mother falls into a coma with a mysterious illness on the same day that her crush’s cousin disappears, Raquel has no choice but to team up with her crush, Charlize, to save them both. In doing so, they learn of the deadly Echo Game, an urban legend based in the horrifying history of the city, and must put their knowledge as well as their survival skills to the test in order to make it out alive..

This book held my attention from beginning to end—I never wanted to put it down. Though it is a young adult novel, it does not hold back on the horror, the most significant being the real-life history that inspired the Echo. The Echo, we quickly learn, is born of the worst thing that happened in a particular location. The Bronx Echo, then, is filled with decaying buildings and people who are literally on fire, having lost their lives in the 1970s Bronx burning. In defining the Echo, Tirado skillfully weaves in the history of gentrification and redlining so that it feels natural and informative without simply stopping the narrative for a history lesson.

For all of the horror in this book, however, it is also brimming with love—between the individual characters, yes, but for the Bronx itself as well. That theme of community began right from the dedication, and it both raised the stakes and grounded the book in something positive, something hopeful.  When a horror story exists in something terrible, the goal is to simply survive, to get out; here, there was something to fight for, something to save.

As for the characters themselves, they shine. I would even go so far as to say Raquel might be one of my absolute favorite YA protagonists. She was clever and determined, and she felt like a real teenager with real teenage concerns on top of the life-or-death scenario she willingly enters to save the people she cares about. What I found particularly effective is that the book takes all of these parts of her seriously.  While Raquel worries about her mother and Charlize, she also reminds herself that her mother would not be happy if she woke up and found Raquel had let her grades all fall by the wayside, reinforcing the idea that she has a life outside of these dangers, that she should have a life beyond these dangers.

The relationships that drive the book are strong enough in their portrayal as to be believed. The familiar childhood crush who actually likes you back was adorable, but Charlize as a person was a lot more than simply an object of affection—a particularly impressive feat, considering she is in fact the center of a love triangle featuring both Raquel and Raquel’s best friend. As for the love triangle, it could very easily have become a distraction, but I thought it worked well enough, mostly because, again, Charlize was a strong enough character in her own right that it was easy to see why they liked her so much, but the love triangle always took a backseat to the actual threat to their lives.

My one complaint, nitpicky as it may be: the rules of the Echo seemed unclear in parts. I had to reread certain parts to see if I had misunderstood the rule or the scene, and writing this now, I am still not sure which it was. However, I want to be very clear that this was a minor detail that had no impact on the story itself or my overall enjoyment of it. Everything significant in this book is drawn so vividly that it made this one point stand out to me, but it is very likely other readers will miss it entirely.

Perhaps one of the biggest marks of success for a book is to encourage one to want to read more in its genre, which Burn Down, Rise Up has certainly achieved for me. For readers who are more familiar with horror, however, it is well worth a read on every level, from the frights of the Echo to the even more terrifying history that inspired it.