Danika reviews One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

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“August believes in nothing except caution and a pocketknife.”

I first have to establish that I never read Red, White, and Royal Blue. I know that everyone and their sister was raving about that book, but as you probably can guess, I tend to centre women in my reading. Also, at a certain point the hype became overwhelming. So when I picked up One Last Stop, despite the author’s reputation, I was fully ready not to like it in some sort of defiant stubbornness. Instead, I am here to tell you that this author has earned the hype.

Although I read a lot of books, this is the first read in a long time that’s completely immersed me in it. It was the kind of book where you have to shake your head when you surface, because you’ve completely forgotten that the real world exists or that time has been passing.

This is about August, a twenty-something who has recently moved to New York with no plan other than switching into a new school. She has been doing this for years–switching schools, majors, and cities without ever fully unpacking or settling down. Growing up, it was just her and her mother against a hostile world. Her mother’s brother went missing in the 70s, and her mother made it her life’s mission to find out what happened to him. August’s first word was “case.” She was raised on a diet of true crime and survival strategies. She always carries a pocketknife and never goes to a second location.

At the beginning of One Last Stop, August is looking for a cheap apartment in Brooklyn. Obviously, she doesn’t have a lot of options. She decides to move in with three weirdos despite her misgivings–one is a psychic and another is building a sculpture with frog bones. I was hooked from the first page, where their roommate notice is a) taped to a garbage can and b) reads, in part: “Must be queer & trans friendly. Must not be afraid of fire or dogs. No Libras, we already have one.” (Of course, she ends up becoming fast friends with them.) I love the quirkiness of these characters that never becomes over the top or too cutesy. As for representation, August is white and bisexual (yes, this uses the word bisexual!) and there are significant POC, queer, and trans side characters. The love interest is Chinese-American and butch!

Speaking of the love interest, this is a romance, so let’s get to the heart of it. August is on her way to her first day of class when she spills coffee on her shirt on the Q train. The aforementioned cute butch, Jane, smiles at her and gives her a scarf, and August is immediately smitten–who wouldn’t be? One of my favourite parts of the book is August daydreaming about Jane assembling a bed frame. If fantasizing about cute butches putting together furniture isn’t sapphic culture, I don’t know what is.

There’s just one problem. Jane is stuck on the subway. And has been since the 70s. Now, August has to work a new case to try to figure out how to save her crush stuck in time–even if it means she’ll never see her again.

All of the reviews I’ve seen for this book talk about how cute and delightful it is, which is fair, but it’s also got some depth and darkness to it. August feels lost and isolated. It’s the story of her beginning to make connections and put down roots, and maybe lay the knife to the side sometimes. There are family secrets, betrayals, and tragedies. While this is a love letter to New York, it’s also a celebration of queerness, found family, and community. We get to see what Jane’s experience was like, growing up in the 70s as a butch punk Asian lesbian. The Stonewall Riots were not history for her. It explores queer history in New York and uplifts what queerness looks like there now–including some very memorable drag nights.

It’s also sexy and romantic. August and Jane have an almost supernatural connection. Jane has forgotten most of her life, and together they try to regain her memories, usually through recreating elements of her past. August brings her endless coffee order and snacks to try to find one that sparks a memory. They have great banter–in fact, the quippy dialogue is a strength in this novel overall. Even as they get closer, Jane’s situation pulls them apart. Even if they can find a way to reverse this situation, will Jane stay here or go back to her time? Which does she want? They have undeniable chemistry and there are some seriously steamy scenes. (Content warning for semi-public sex.)

I am fully on board the Casey McQuiston train (puns!), and I highly recommend you come along. This was a 5 star read, and one I look forward to rereading. It’s a sexy, romantic celebration of queerness and New York. Believe the hype.

One Last Stop comes out June 1st.

Shira Glassman reviews Worthy of Love by Quinn Ivins

Worthy of Love cover

The plot: Closeted political lawyer newly released from prison on a corruption charge and therefore utterly friendless and disgraced, ends up working random retail where she meets an adorable, hospitable Southern femme.

I’ve been in a huge reading slump since the lockdown started, sticking with familiar stories I already knew–to the point where there’s at least one Agatha Christie book I’ve read multiple times now in the same pandemic. Quinn Ivins’ Worthy of Love is one of the first unfamiliar books I’ve been able to get myself to read, which I attribute to two things: the exciting plot and the snappy prose. To put it baldly, the text of this book simply was not work to read. Even though the tone of the first third–specifically–was a gritty and somber hellscape, as both heroines battle hopelessness and microaggressions, I kept wanting to know how it was going to turn out all right and turned page after page of snappy narration. (And that’s unusual for me. I prefer comfort reads.)

I want to be honest that this book has sharp edges. For one thing, one of the heroines is presented right off the bat as the most hated woman in America, and the other heroine fends off sexual assault in the parking lot of her workplace. But then the more upsetting material gives way to the love story and the “solving”, and everything works out in a very complete, satisfying, and vindicating way. One of the reasons I ultimately decided to write this review was a positive plot bombshell I hesitate to telegraph–but it’s there. Another reason is one of the deftest Checkov’s Guns I’ve ever seen fired in a book. In other words, a wonderful “oh I GET HOW THIS IS GOING TO WORK OUT AS A HAPPY ENDING” that you don’t see coming until the page it happens. I tip my giant pink-grapefruit hat to the cleverness with which Ivins set that up.

One of the heroines has undiagnosed ADHD for which she begins to get treatment within the book. This, I believe, is written from the inside and elegantly rendered. The other heroine is Filipina, at the request of the author’s wife who is Filipina. This heroine does experience more microaggressions in that first third of the book than I’m comfortable with reading from a white writer, so that is also something I wanted to be up front about. However, I am white, and I don’t want to speak for Asian readers. Additionally, though this book takes place in a fictionalized America with different presidential candidates, this book will not allow you to live a “45”-free existence (although he’s got a different name and only gets mentioned a few times.) Just in case that’s something you needed to know before diving in.

I wish this book was a movie also. Now that I know how satisfyingly everything works out, I’d love to see it dramatized–and structurally, it hits dramatic “beats” like a movie. Who knows, maybe some day!

Shira Glassman is the author of Knit One Girl Two and other queer Jewish fiction, both fantasy and contemporary.

Mo Springer reviews Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda LoAmazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Lily Hu has always been at least somewhat aware of her attraction to women. But after seeing a lesbian novel in a store, a poster for a male impersonator, and her classmate Kath in the Telegraph Club, she knows she has to be honest with herself. However, this honesty and living with it even what small amount she thinks she can afford, could put herself and her whole family at risk. But 1954 America is not only discriminating violently against gay people, but also Chinese people, who are at risk for deportation as well. But Lily wants to have a life of her own, to date who she wants, and to be happy with Kath.

Lily is a dynamic character who you sympathize with and understand very well at every point in the story. She’s mature for her age because she has to be, but also is a teenager who is experiencing so many firsts while also under immense pressure that no teen should have to bear. Through her, we get to see a large cast of characters similarly feel real and complex.

In particular, I really loved how much we got to see of Lily’s family and how each member stood out with their own needs, wants, and opinions. The chapters from the point of view of her parents and aunt were great to see the background of Lily’s culture, family, and how all of that has led to the current situation.

Kath and the women Lily meets at the Telegraph Club similarly feel real and complex. Lily has to deal with finding a queer community for the first and also with the reality so many of us face: not everyone in the community will be your best friend, or even your friend at all. There is a unity we see in the people who go to the club, but Lily stands out as the only Asian American there.

Lily and Kath’s relationship is endearing and cute, and I found myself cheering them on, but also biting my nails in anticipation of what happens next. Her relationship with her best friend Shirley was also a roller coaster ride of emotions that created a mirror to her relationship with Kath.

This is one of those great historical novels that don’t make you feel like an outsider looking in, but does a great job of engaging with the reader so that the time period feels natural. I loved learning about the history of this time and place, but also never felt like I was being lectured. This story is incredibly immersive, and you forget you haven’t actually been there.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in sapphic romance sent in 1950s America.

Lesbrary Links: 2021 LGBTQ Books, Sappho Accessories, and Lesbian Gunslingers

If you’ve been following the Lesbrary for a while, you probably are familiar with the bi-weekly link round ups. They’re when I share all the queer sapphic stuff happening on the rest of the internet worth checking out. If you’re new here, though, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, because I fell a little bit behind… Like 6 months behind. And because I am stubborn, I refused to just let it go. I kept saving up links for an eventual round up. I’ve finally gone through them all, though, and I’m ready to share them with you–in 3 parts! This one is 2021 new releases and posts about specific authors and books. If you want even more bi and lesbian lit links, check out the Lesbrary Tumblr and Twitter!

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

First off, we have all the LGBTQ+ books you should have on your radar for 2021–even though we’re well into the year now. Still, many of these have yet to be released, and the ones that have certainly haven’t gone bad since then! Check out Cosmo’s 30 New LGBTQ+ Books to Add to Your Reading List in 2021, Advocate’s 22 LGBTQ+ Books You Absolutely Need to Read This Year, and Oprah’s 42 LGBTQ Books That Will Change the Literary Landscape This Spring. For some upcoming releases, try Logo’s 17 Exciting Queer Books to Savor This Summer.

KA Doore’s 2021 Queer Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy Books list just came out, which is always a highlight for me. They find and document so many books I’ve never heard of before, plus all the bullet points that make you excited about reading a book, like “gay heist book!!! Slowburn sapphic romance!!!”

And now, all the queer 2021 YA book lists: Buzzfeed’s 30 LGBTQ+ Young Adult Books We Think You Should Read This Spring, LGBTQ Reads’s 2021 LGBTQ YA Starring People of Color, and Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s and YA LGBTQ Books: Spring 2021–including a Afro-Latinx non-binary middle grade Choose Your Own Adventure book!!

Remember 2020? Wish I couldn’t! Still, there were some great queer books published that year that didn’t get the attention they deserved, so check out Autostraddle’s 67 of the Best Queer Books of 2020.

Price of Salt cover
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
The Cancer Diaries by Audre Lorde

Did you know Simone De Beauvoir wrote a same-sex love story that wasn’t published until now?

New biographies of a few authors came out, so read about Loise Fitzhugh–the lesbian author of Harriet the Spy--on Washington Post, NY Post, New Republic, and Jezebel. Did you know she wrote a lesbian YA as her follow-up book, but the publisher wouldn’t take it and it’s been lost to time?

Also read about Patricia Highsmith, who was a terrible person but a fascinating author. Emily M. Danforth says Highsmith’s The Price of Salt has the best sex she ever read.

Read about Audre Lorde in The New Republic’s Audre Lorde Broke the Silence.

Her Body and Other Parties Carmen Maria Machado cover
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Sappho art print
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West Love Letters

There are no authors quite like Carmen María Machado, but if you liked her books, you’ll probably enjoy these authors, too.

Adrienne Rich is a part of lesbian literary history, so read about her in The Many Lives of Adrienne Rich and The Long Awakening of Adrienne Rich, but remember that Adrienne Rich was also involved with the transphobic book The Transsexual Empire.

Do you like Sappho? Do you want to decorate your home and clothing with images of Sappho? Of course you do: Suffering Sappho! Sappho of Lesbos Decor and Accessories to Collect. (I wrote this!)

Speaking of complicated sapphic literary history: Untangling the Legacy of “The Color Purple”.

Alison Bechdel discusses the perfection of the love letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Gideon patch
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Amazon Affiliate Link)
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Tamsyn Muir had so much written about her that she gets her own section. Read this one with her about cyberpunk lesbian gunslingers. And this one about the butch lesbian sci-fi aesthetic. And this one where the author of Gideon the Ninth explains herself.

Here’s Gideon the Ninth, broken down trope by trope. Harrow the Ninth is about profound grief and terrible puns. Gideon and Harrow show the value of problematic relationships in fiction.

Can’t wait for the next book in the Locked Tomb series? Read These 10 Books Like GIDEON THE NINTH and buy these GIDEON THE NINTH Goodies for Locked Tomb Fans (I wrote this one!)

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.

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!

Danika reviews The Key to You and Me by Jaye Robin Brown

The Key to You and Me by Jaye Robin Brown cover

You know when you see a book and think, “I’m already on board: stop selling,” and you try to avoid any other details about the book, because only the most vague premise is enough to get you to read it and you want to go in as uninformed as possible? I fully admit that I played myself doing this with The Key to You and Me. I saw the cover and thought, “F/F YA road trip novel. SAY NO MORE.” Here’s the thing, though: this isn’t a road trip novel. It doesn’t claim to be a road trip novel. The cover is referring to a character teaching the other to drive. My expectations were completely unfounded, and it’s not this book’s fault that it didn’t meet them.

I shouldn’t have picked it up, honestly. I read Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit when it came out and didn’t enjoy it, but because I was so much in the minority in that opinion, I decided to give the author another go–mistakenly thinking it had one of my favourite tropes. Here’s what the book is actually about, not just my speculations based on cover design: Piper is an equestrian who wants to compete in the Olympics. After her girlfriend dumps her, she stays with her grandmother for the summer–an ultra-competitive woman who was once a professional equestrian herself. Piper is 18 and doesn’t have a driver’s license because she has a fear of driving, so her grandmother hires local teen Kat to teach Piper to drive, and Piper takes pictures with her to make her ex-girlfriend jealous. Unbeknownst to her, Kat is questioning her sexuality and quickly crushes on Piper. We alternate between their points of view.

I appreciate that Kat is questioning her sexuality and unsure at the start of the novel. She’s not just closeted: she genuinely doesn’t know–although she suspects she’s attracted to girls. Piper, on the other hand, has been out as a lesbian for years. I’m also glad that we have some horse girl representation here, which is sorely needed in sapphic lit.

Because Kat is questioning and unsure of herself, she does have some moments of homophobia. She’s so afraid of being outed that she can overcompensate to try to distance herself. Her best friend (who is a closeted gay guy) and her sister both suspect that she’s gay and voice it often, which just drives her further into the closet. I wish more time was spent on how damaging this can be: everyone has the right to come out on their own timeline, and having people say they already knew robs you of that agency. Piper, on the other hand, is heartbroken that her ex left her–and for a guy. She has some moments of biphobia around this (which is not supported by the text).

One element I really didn’t enjoy, though, was the romantic/sexual relationships between teens (18 year olds in high school) and 20-somethings. Kat and Piper go to a party and Kat is immediately aggressively hit on by a 24 year old woman who also pressures her to drink. Despite this clearly making Kat uncomfortable, no one calls this woman out on it, and it doesn’t seem to be treated as a big deal. (Spoiler:) Kat goes on to lie to another 23 year old, claiming to be her age, and they make out (etc). When Kat finally tells her the truth, she says she’s not interested in being with a high schooler, but she also doesn’t seem upset or hold it against her. (End spoiler) Although she’s 18 and this isn’t illegal, it still is… creepy to me.

Putting aside all those details, though, the biggest reason I didn’t enjoy this one was the writing style. I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but I kept bouncing off of it. The writing felt a little choppy, with a ton of dialogue, and it didn’t flow naturally for me as I was reading. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with it, but for some reason I could not seem to immerse myself in it.

I’m sure that, like her earlier book, this one will have a lot of fans, but it wasn’t a great match for me.

Shira Glassman reviews Who We Could Be by Chelsea Cameron

Who We Could Be cover

I think this book is going to be chocolate cream pie for readers who are suckers for friends-to-lovers f/f.

Who We Could Be by Chelsea Cameron is pitched as (grown) Anne/Diana from the beloved Anne of Green Gables series. Cameron has definitely captured the magic of the conventional girl (Diana, or “Monty” in this book — Montgomery, possibly as a nod to the inspiration’s author) dragged eagerly into the creative, spontaneous, and unconventional schemes and adventures of her red-haired best friend (Anne, or “Tess” in this book.)

We’ve moved about 300 miles west from Prince Edward Island to Maine, and 150 years forward into the present day, but Cameron preserved the general part of the world, the small-town feel, and most importantly, the dynamic of the original relationship. As mentioned above, Tess has the imagination, quirks, and impulsiveness of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or the original Anne Shirley. In addition, the initial best friend relationship between the two leads has that intense obsessive feel that causes some readers to long for Anne/Diana in the first place.

Let’s put it this way: there are characters in this book who are basically waiting for Tess and Monty to realize they’re in love with each other, because they kind of act like they already are, way before it happens. For one thing, when Monty’s engagement goes up in smoke, Tess goes on the honeymoon with her instead. Which is in Savannah, Georgia, by the way, if you want to vicariously enjoy it with them. Actually, to be frank about that, there are degrees of this intensity that felt a little smothery to me, but I’m going to be aboveboard and admit that I’ve got specific, personal experiences that color my thoughts here. And not every fictional relationship is going to be 100% perfect for every reader.

Another pleasant and unexpected deviation from the original canon: first of all, Tess, unlike Anne, is not an orphan. She’s part of a large, noisy family (that includes a trans lesbian aunt and her wife, who is also trans!) This is a fun wish fulfillment that I feel the original Anne would be touched to know about. By the end of the book, it has really leaned into the well-noted phenomenon of friend groups who all eventually come out because of the way we find each other before we’re even out to ourselves.

The sex scene toward the end of the book is hot and satisfying. And it’s a really slow burn because both girls start the book thinking they’re straight so it’s good to have a well-written payoff after all that.

I want to leave a warning on this book, by the way, that will only be relevant to a few readers but for those readers it will matter. Many of the supporting female characters in this book (although not the two leads) are either pregnant or in the process of arranging motherhood some other way. If you would rather avoid that, perhaps wait on picking up this title.

Shira Glassman is the author of fluffy, feel-good f/f fiction such as Knit One Girl Two about an indie dyer and the wildlife painter who inspires her next round of sock club, or Fearless, about a band mom who’s swept off her feet by the music teacher.

Shira Glassman reviews Wrong Number, Right Woman by Jae

Wrong Number, Right Woman by Jae

I’d read and enjoyed some fanfic pieces that use the trope of “romance that blossoms when a friendship starts after a wrong-number text responds to the sender,” including a cute “no powers” alternate-universe short with Steve and Bucky, so I was excited to hear that beloved lesfic author Jae had written a whole novel on this premise. Hers sounded even cooler than the other ones I’d read, because she also tossed in the trope of one of them being a “I thought I was straight until now!” So I was excited to read Wrong Number, Right Woman, and the book happily obliged my expectations.

Jae took full advantage of what I find most appealing about the wrong-number-text trope, namely, that without any of the weight of the other layers of human interaction–if you already know someone from work or because they’re a friend of a friend–you are starting from a completely blank slate. You’ve both been reduced to nothing beyond the content of your communication, the output of your brain, and that leads to an interesting type of correspondence. In some cases, you may not even know what the other looks like. Eliza, the “I thought I was straight, so what am I doing in this Jae novel?” character, thinks the other heroine Denny is a man at first, and you can tell there’s chemistry right off the bat. In other words, their souls already click through words before anything like “what you look like” or the social weight of newfound queerness shows up 15 minutes late with Starbucks.

This will be a good book, by the way, for those looking for a fluffy comfort read. Both heroines are charming with no sharp edges, Eliza works literally the coziest job I have ever read in one of these books (she works for an indie company that makes homemade BIRD TOYS, y’all), and both of them have close, affectionate relationships with family and friends. This is also a good book for those looking for representation for women who haven’t decided whether bi or lesbian fits them better. She has, in a lot of ways, the ideal coming out experience, with accepting and supportive family–except for one weird page with one sister, but it makes sense in context–and a trans lesbian bestie at her side. If this is something you want to witness, you will find it here. (Also, I relate ever so much to Eliza’s reaction to Denny’s breasts. Thank you for that. We can never get enough of women’s desire for other women presented as wholesome.)

I also liked the detail that, while Denny is not in touch with her parents, it’s because they kicked out her little sister for being pregnant 12 years ago, not because Denny likes girls. (However, that may be triggering for other readers, so I’m mentioning it up front. I also want to reassure other readers, with other triggers, that pregnancy is not a trope in this book. The “baby” is now a tween, having grown up raised by her mother and aunt, and there’s a moment you think the mom is pregnant again, but she’s not.) In any case, it was reassuring to me, because while queer conflict with parents is a very important theme and I am not at all advocating that it disappear from literature, it’s nice to be able to pick up something fluffy, too.

Denny and Eliza’s undeniable chemistry radiates off the page even when they’re just trying to get to know each other as friends without any other expectations on the table. They already feel like they’re dating when they meet up for the first time to go to the fair, which both of them notice, even though at this point both of them still think that Eliza is straight. It is so meant to be. And that, in my opinion, is what makes a romance novel worth reading–does the author make you want the characters to get together? Jae has succeeded. Their connection is magnetic, and very, very cute.

Shira Glassman is the author of fluffy contemporary and fantasy f/f fiction, including the superhero/damsel-in-distress romance Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor which, like the book in this review, also features a love interest who isn’t sure whether she’s bi or lesbian.

Meagan Kimberly reviews Grimmer Intentions by Jodi Hutchins

Grimmer Intentions by Jodi Hutchins

This is the second in the Tales from the Grim series. I picked it up not realizing it was the second book, so I recommend reading the first, because it felt like much of the story’s background was missing without it.

Although readers can pick up on who the characters are from the previous book without having read it, they still lack depth. Throughout the story, the strongest relationship dynamic happens between Margo and her adopted brother Luis. The rest tend to fall flat and rely on previous knowledge of the last novel.

The romance felt secondary to the plot, but that may be because it didn’t feel like there was much chemistry between the characters. Even if there had been build up in the first book, this one felt lacking in the connection that brought them together.

The politics and magic of the world were a more interesting plot. Again, it needed more development, as there wasn’t much background on Margo’s djinn heritage. It’s a world in which mixed-blood, paranormal beings are held in disdain, which could have made the story powerful as commentary on real-world issues. But it never delved far enough.

Despite its shortcomings, the novel did move at a fast pace and keep me intrigued. It’s well written and keeps you turning the pages. It shows there’s great potential for more from this world and this writer. I might go back and read book 1 to get the complete picture of these characters and their story.

Marieke reviews Daughter Of The Sun by Effie Calvin

Daughter of the Sun

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Anybody who gets me talking about books in any amount of time will swiftly learn there are a few niche genres I’m an absolute sucker for: weird murder mysteries (see: Jane, UnlimitedMeddling KidsThe 7 ½ Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle), atmospheric fairy tale retellings (see: Blanca & RojaThe Girls At The Kingfisher ClubDaughter Of The Forest). But another genre I love deeply, to the point I’ve made a Spotify mix for it, is involuntary road trips. A friend pointed out that’s just a fancy way of saying kidnapping, but that’s not what I mean by the term (though it sometimes applies). It’s two people who may not have a common cause, but who share a common destination and/or mutual benefit in travelling together while absolutely not wanting to travel together. For this genre, think of stories like Jaime & Brienne, Arya & The Hound, the Witcher, Fire by Kristin Cashore, etc. It just so happens that Daughter Of The Sun exactly fits in this genre as well, which was a major contributor to my enjoyment of it.

It’s the second instalment in the Tales Of Inthya series, but as the title suggests, all books are individual tales set in the same world. I don’t believe you would need to have read the first book, as Daughter is unrelated to it in plot terms. The only benefit you might glean is a slightly stronger understanding of worldbuilding, but a lot of that is covered in this book as well. The eponymous Daugher is a Paladin who travels the world of Inthya to vanquish chaos gods and other demon-y issues. After she unwittingly fails to banish one such chaos goddess, they meet again while the goddess is disguised in human form and after a discussion end up traveling together to deliver the ‘human’ to her ‘brother.’ Of course, on this journey they run into obstacles of all descriptions and grow closer together throughout, with the secret identity of the goddess looming ever larger…

While the status of Aelia as a goddess might create an unequal power balance in their relationship, she is rather weak as a result of her duel with the Orsina the Paladin – who is blessed with some magic power from her patron god as well, so they are actually on relatively equal footing in that regard. No, the instability in this relationship is created by Aelia choosing to hide her chaotic identity, which requires her to lie and generally be secretive, which puts a significant strain on their relationship. While this is a topic Aelia chooses to not speak freely on, I was glad to see that honesty and communication were strong facets in all other areas of their burgeoning relationship. They obviously have completely different life experiences and backgrounds, but never use this to judge the other (or when Orsina unconsciously does, Aelia immediately calls her out on it and Orsina apologises and makes efforts not to do so again – which makes for refreshingly healthy communication).

Combine strong communication practices with lots of time forcibly spent together (occasionally in small quarters) and a chaos goddess eager to learn about the human world, and you have the makings for a pretty sweet romance. Sweet is the territory where it remains though, as this never becomes one of those epic or sweeping romances at the heart of some other fantasy road trips. While there is a clear progress of shared moments that signpost the road towards romance and emotional intimacy, it’s that exact signposting that feels a bit too fabricated and like a checklist being followed. This means that the growing chemistry between the two characters never comes across as ‘real,’ which is where showing vs. telling may come into the equation with an unfavourable result.

This issue is exacerbated by one of the most common tropes in any romance: The Other Woman. When Orsina left to travel the land fighting demons and other creatures, she left behind a pampered noblewoman who was leading her on. It is clear from the get go that this noblewoman never valued or properly appreciated Orsina, and so Orsina’s going-on-two-years hang-up seems especially fabricated as a romantic obstacle in the way of her relationship with Aelia. This is not helped by the fact that the noblewoman plays no significant part in the development of the plot whatsoever and could functionally have been left out of the story altogether with no major consequences.

While it is always lovely to read a story where queerness is an accepted fact and queerphobia does not feature at all, it would be even more enjoyable if the queer relationships it champions feel more natural and realistic.

Content warnings: grief, fantasy-typical monsters and violence, injuries, child death (background), emotional manipulation

Marieke (she/her) has a weakness for niche genres like fairy tale retellings and weird murder mysteries, especially when combined with a nice cup of tea. She also shares diverse reading resources on her blog letsreadwomen.tumblr.com  

Sinclair Sexsmith reviews Sunstone by Stjepan Sejic

Sunstone Vol 1

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Kinky lesbian literature is hard to find. So when I hear of one that I haven’t read, and it has a good review or five, or a solid recommendation from a friend, I snap it up.

That’s how I found Sunstone by Stjepan Sejic, who is a Croatian comic book writer and artist, known for many different comic series. Sunstone happens to be the one where dominant-inclined Ally and submissive-inclined Lisa meet online and decide to get together in person, and we follow their sexcapades, their relationship, their falling in love, and their group of friends.

It was, though beautifully drawn, disappointing. Maybe if I wasn’t a nonbinary queer who has been kinky for 25 years and active in the leather and kink communities for 20, I would find this more relatable. It wasn’t that the information was wrong, it just felt like a very superficial sense of what kink is, and mostly just hung sexy kink illustrations around a weak story.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the author, just the title, when I ordered it, but a few chapters into it, I said to my partner, “I think this was written by a man.” And that was the other piece … though the story features two women as main characters and focuses on their sex and kink life together, it all reads as though it is for a male gaze. Both characters have ex-boyfriends, who feature prominently in the story and both sexualize them and think they are somehow responsible for their hotness, and there is just no context of lesbian community, identity, development, connection, lineage, or anything. It’s more like these two women live in a completely heterosexual world and just happen to find themselves compatible and together. In the beginning, they even have their relationship set up where they refer to each other as their “best friend” and think how great it is that her best friend can scratch that D/s itch that she has really wanted to be satiated and explored.

There was some representation of kink culture and community, but it was quite foreign to me — it didn’t feel like anything I’ve seen or witnessed; it read more like a fantasy of a kink community. And while that’s good and fine (for example, I did enjoy The Marketplace series by Laura Antoniou, which is absolutely a fantasy kink world), it just wasn’t clear to me if this was supposed to be a fantasy, or if this is what the author really thinks happen at kink clubs or in kinky lesbian bedrooms.

I also wonder about the cultural differences. I’m not sure English was Sejic’s first language, and sometimes I wonder if part of my critique is because it was in translation and that some of the cultural context didn’t transfer. Or, that coming from a United States leather community context, I just didn’t connect with it because he is referencing other kinds of communities in other places. So it’s possible that the things Lisa and Ally struggle with will still connect with readers, if perhaps you are beginning your journey into BDSM, and there are many sweet moments between them, and dozens of pages of smoldering hot illustrations.

Perhaps I expected too much of Sunstone — and perhaps I expect too much of queer, trans, and kinky literature in general — when I want it to be rooted in some sort of queer community or kink community. Or perhaps I am too self-centered, that I expect the queer and kink communities in books to be communities that I recognize. But either way, I was disappointed in the male gaze in this comic, but still enjoyed the beauty (and fetish) of it very much.