Sash S reviews Spellbound by Jean Copeland and Jackie D.

“Hazel Abbot spent her whole life unaware she was a witch. When a spell thrusts her great-aunt Sarah Hutchinson forward from the Salem witch trials of 1692 and lands her in Hazel’s bookstore, everything Hazel thought she knew about herself changes…”

If you want a read that’s fast-paced, fun, and filled with well-rounded and likeable characters, look no further than Spellbound, a perfect blend of paranormal action and lesbian romance.

We start directly in the middle of the action, with protagonist Raven Dare—sexy, solemn and mysterious in equal measure—doing what she does best: hunting demons. Armed with gold knives and a wit that’s just as sharp, Raven kicks butt whilst quipping about American Idol, and it’s all in a day’s work for this demon hunter with a tortured past.

In a story about time-travel, supernatural monsters and women-fearing cults, it is the characters in Spellbound that are the true heart of the novel. There are a great many interesting dynamics at play between the central cast, and as a reader, you’re immediately drawn to them. The four main women are strong in their own ways, and their interactions are alternately warm, fierce and sizzling with tension. It’s great to see them clashing with the main villains of the novel, but just as fun to see them in their downtime, and there’s plenty of both due to the novel’s excellent pacing.

Sarah is great fun; immediately likeable and not one to take her strange circumstances sitting down, she takes agency and adapts to the world she’s living in, though finding it bizarre at times. Hazel, too, takes up her new mission with an admirable courage, spurred by the attraction she feels towards Raven. Morgan is aloof, sarcastic, but caring underneath. There are two main love stories in Spellbound, and though different in tone, both are equally compelling.

My favourite thing about this book is how down to earth it is, whilst dealing with the supernatural. Vivid descriptions of car rides, plane journeys and cities build up the real world, juxtaposed with fights against demons and monsters; the authors do a great job of nailing magical realism.

To that end, too, the villains of the story are rooted in very real prejudice despite their paranormal nature: whilst the protagonists clash with banshees and hellhounds, the writers don’t shy away from the fact that the real evils of this tale are prejudice, a fear of women and their strength, and a need to subjugate others for one’s own gain. The supernatural elements of Spellbound are a great vehicle for a story that’s ultimately about overcoming these things, celebrating the strength of women and doing what’s right.

This is such a fun read, with excellent pacing, engaging romance and a realistic, compelling cast of characters.

Rating: *****

Meagan Kimberly reviews Always Human by Ari North

Always Human by Ari North

Ari North’s Always Human first appeared as a serial on WebToon, running from 2015-2017. Yellow Jacket published it as a collection in May 2020 as part of a sponsorship with GLAAD.

This comic series follows two young women, Sunati and Austen, as they navigate a new, romantic relationship. Set in a future world where almost everyone wears body mods, a technology used to enhance appearance or capabilities, the sci-fi scenery is lush and intriguing. But not everyone can wear body mods. Some, like Austen, have Egan’s syndrome, a condition that compromises the immune system, making body mods impossible to wear.

The story is filled with sweetness and angst as Sunati and Austen learn to understand one another, making mistakes, pulling apart and coming back together. Sunati first finds Austen attractive because she thinks she’s so brave for not using body mods. When she finds out it’s because of her Egan’s syndrome, Sunati puts Austen up on a pedestal, making it seem like her life with a chronic illness is an inspiration.

It really speaks to the attitude that exists in the real world about able-bodied language and perspectives. Those with different abilities are often held up to these impossible standards to serve as inspiration and awe for able-bodied people. Austen also frequently deals with others tiptoeing around her, because they think if they use body mods around her she will get upset. She doesn’t want special treatment and she doesn’t want others to look at her as some kind of saint. She just wants to be human.

Throughout the series Sunati and Austen get to know each other in the sweetest scenarios, creating that warm, fuzzy feeling that readers love about romance. The characters are honestly two huge dorks in their own ways, but that’s what makes them so loveable and perfect for each other. But perhaps the best aspect of their relationship is the open and honest communication. They don’t always get things right, but they talk through their problems and come to see the world through one another’s eyes, gaining a better understanding each time. It’s a wonderful example of a healthy, happy relationship.

Maggie reviews Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

I was very excited to get ahold of this ebook, because I’ve been listening to a lot of YA audiobooks lately while doing other things, and so I’ve gotten on a fantasy YA kick. It’s great to read some exciting new releases and promote new books during a time when we all desperately need good distractions. Cinderella is Dead is not a re-telling of Cinderella, which is a trope that I do love but that I’m getting a tad bit weary of. Rather, it’s something I found even more exciting: imagining the consequences of a fairy tale after the tale, not just for the characters themselves, but generations down the line. Cinderella is Dead is perfect for those who want something more from the original Cinderella story.

The legend of Cinderella isn’t just a tale to the citizens of Lille. Rather, Cinderella was a real woman, and her legacy has grown and has been codified into the very law of the land. Every girl in the city must not only know the story by heart, but they are all commanded to dress up and attend a ball at the palace, just like Cinderella did. But rather than a romantic tradition, the events have been corrupted and used to control the citizenry by the corrupt monarchy. People pray to the spirit of Cinderella, not to wish for happiness, but to hope their daughters won’t be disappeared by the palace guard. Girls hope to find a suitor at the ball–but only because if they don’t they risk disappearing or being forced into menial labor. And they don’t get a choice about what man chooses them, or how he treats them after they get married. It’s truly a grim but intriguing imagining of how a beloved fairy tale could play out and be corrupted. CONTENT WARNINGS: this story deals with domestic violence, abuse, homophobia, human trafficking, and mentions of rape. The culture of Lille is dark, and its citizens who are not straight men go through a lot, which may seem like a lot in a book aimed at young adults, but what I find important is that our protagonists stand up to it, and meet and encourage other people to not accept these things as normal.

Enter Sophia, who harbors a forbidden love for her friend Erin, and a deep terror at being forced into a marriage where she will have no rights or say in her own life. Sophia refuses to accept the reality of Lille and wants to try to run away with Erin before the night of their own Ball when they’ll be trapped, but Erin can’t imagine taking such a risk and wants to do what is necessary to remain safe. The night of the Ball, Sophia is forced to flee by herself, and then she meets Constance, the last descendant of Cinderella’s Stepsisters. Confronted with new information about the true story of the Cinderella legend, and growing new feelings for a girl who is willing to fight by her side, Sophia has to decide how far she’s willing to go to create a better life for everyone in Lille.

It was really interesting to see not just the long-term effects of a fairy tale, but characters interacting with true events vs fictionalized versions. Over and over Sophia has to confront how the history she took as true but corrupted was actually propaganda from the start. And this book really took all the instantly recognizable elements of Cinderella–a blonde and beautiful Cinderella, glass slippers, the fairy godmother–and flipped them around while remaining firmly rooted in the original fairy tale.  The cover proclaims that Cinderella is Dead while Sophia stares out at us, Black, curly-haired, wearing the iconic blue Cinderella gown, but unabashedly, from page one, not interested in marrying a prince, and the story promptly drags us away from magicked pumpkins and mice and into witches, necromancy, and anti-royalist rebellion. In Lille, Cinderella was real, and her history was complicated, but her legacy is now Black, queer, and invested in taking down a tainted, misogynist monarchy.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun read, and the world-building and action picked up quickly. I really liked the slow peel-back of the Cinderella story, combined with how straightforward and brave Sophia and Constance were. [spoiler, highlight to read] I also really loved that Sophia had a first love, but then slowly realized she was more compatible with Constance. [end spoilers] The twists and turns managed to surprise me and keep me involved. It’s just a really good read, and we need more like it on the shelves, especially for young readers today.

Carmella reviews LOTE by Shola von Reinhold

LOTE by Shola von Reinhold cover

I first discovered the Bright Young Things at an exhibition of Cecile Beaton’s photography. His pictures capture the dazzling, decadent world of these young British socialites of the interwar period–their fabulous costume parties, heavy drinking, artistic flair, and taste for excess. After tearing through a number of biographies, my favourite figure became Stephen Tennant. He was–in the words of writer Lady Caroline Blackwood – “just an eccentric gay who didn’t really do anything”. What a magnificent way to be remembered!

The narrator of LOTE, Mathilda Adamarola, is also fascinated by Tennant and his friends. She experiences what she calls ‘Transfixions’–intense emotional and sensory connections to historical figures that can be strong enough to leave her in a giddy daze. Like Mathilda, most of these figures are queer and many are Black. In order to emulate her Transfixions, she has constantly reinvented her identity over the years in a series of ‘Escapes’, transforming into an ever-more dramatic version of herself. This isn’t without its problems–Mathilda explains that “People rarely allow for Blackness and caprice (be it in dress or deportment) to coexist without the designation of Madness”–and she’s certainly capricious. As a narrator, she’s wonderfully fun to spend time with.

While volunteering in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, Mathilda is delighted to discover a new photograph of Stephen Tennant. But what is even more exciting is the young Black woman posing with him, dressed as an angel: a forgotten Scottish modernist poet called Hermia Drumm. Mathilda is immediately Transfixed and becomes determined to learn all about her.

After discovering that Hermia spent some time in a small European town, Mathilda applies to an artists’ residency there–winging the application and phone interview without knowing anything about the programme–and is soon travelling overseas to continue her detective work.

Mathilda’s fellow residents turn out to be fanatical adherents to Thought Art–an obscure strand of theory centered around minimalism, discipline and self-effacement. They are an almost unbearable contrast to the luxury-loving Mathilda. The residency is a brilliant satire of academic bullshit, with Mathilda forced to sit through mind-bogglingly dull, jargon-filled conversations about ‘Markation’ and ‘Dotage levels’. Von Reinhold’s send-up of predominantly posh, White institutions is one of the best features of the book.

While Mathilda assumes at first that there can be no connection between the residency’s austere academia and the vibrant Hermia, she soon finds something that did link them together: an enigmatic group known as LOTE. But what was LOTE? What happened to Hermia? How does it all link together? The questions become ever more tangled the more Mathilda learns.

Mysterious, decadent, and unapologetically flamboyant, LOTE is a dazzlingly good read. Behind all the champagne and cults, it’s also an intelligent interrogation of the politics of aesthetics, eurocentrism, and the presence/absence of Black figures in the artistic canon. It asks us: in a world that remembers Stephen Tennant, how many Hermia Drumms have disappeared into the archives?

Shana reviews The Deep by Rivers Solomon 

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

The Deep is the most beautiful book that I’ve read this year. It’s a lyrical novella based on a Hugo Award-nominated science-fiction song by clipping, a hip-hop group. The Deep is a reimagined mermaid story about an underwater society descended from African women tossed overboard during the transatlantic slave trade. We learn about the culture and history of these people, the wajinru, through the eyes of Yetu, their newest Historian.

Historians are responsible for holding the memories of every wanjinru who has lived, allowing individuals to live unburdened by the trauma of their collective past, only regaining temporary knowledge of their history through a yearly magic ritual. Yetu didn’t have a choice in taking on this calling, and she is overwhelmed by the weight of so many memories. In desperation, she tries to escape her role and carve a different path, one that brings her adventure, love with a surface dwelling “two-legged” woman, and a new respect for the power of memory.

Solomon packs a lot of eloquence into this small package and makes daring choices, like having the wanjinru appear fearsome to humans, rather than seductive sirens. The Deep feels longer than its 166 pages, in a good way. I enjoyed the wanjinru’s creative perspective on gender and relationships, and the way Solomon slowly explains the mystery of how their society came to be.

The story smoothly segues between Yetu’s present and the memories she carries. I sometimes dislike time jumps, but the inventive structure of the book made them feel seamless. However, I love complex worldbuilding and I found myself wishing for more explanation of the wanjinru’s fraught interactions with surface dwellers, alluded to through mentions of shipwrecks and oil rigs. The book’s atmospheric tone is gorgeous, but it also leaves some details to the reader’s imagination. For example, we never know exactly where in human geography Yetu is living.

The book imaginatively explores the nature and purpose of memories, generational trauma, and collective healing. It is so insightful that several times I gasped out loud while reading it. I appreciated the balance between the joy and ingenuity of the wajinru, and their painful history. I love books that use alternate history as social commentary and The Deep incorporates this with a light touch. It’s a powerful book, but also an engaging story with a sympathetic heroine. The Deep is a compelling and absorbing read that would appeal to lovers of feminist science fiction, underwater fantasy epics, or stories from the African diaspora.

Danika reviews Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir by Kimiko Tobimatsu, illustrated by Keet Geniza

Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir by Kimiko Tobimatsu, illustrated by Keet GenizaKimiko Does Cancer is about about a queer, mixed-race woman getting breast cancer. This is a short book, only 106 pages, and it moves quickly: the first page is about Kimiko finding a lump above her breast, and then it moves through her diagnosis, treatment, and the aftermath. Tobimatsu explains in interviews/articles that she wanted to write this book because the mainstream narrative around cancer didn’t include her experience. She wanted other queer people with cancer to have a reference that better reflects their lives.

For one thing, she comes into this experience already skeptical of doctors, especially around sexual health. One panel shows a doctor saying, “Only women who sleep with men need Paps,” (labelled on page as “Bad medical advice”). This is something that I was also told by a doctor, after she blushed and seemed flustered when I told her my sexual experience was with AFAB people. Although she’s grateful for her medical team, she also finds it overwhelming, especially when they give different advice. She also continues to face similar microagressions: a doctor who assumes she’ll immediately want reconstructive surgery on her breast before asking her–Kimiko had been interested in exploring what a mastectomy would mean for her exploration of gender. Later, another doctor asks if she’d like both breasts enhanced as long as they’re “plumping” one.

In her article on Rethink Cancer, she explains,

I didn’t want to talk about how to recover my sense of femininity despite breast scars and menopause; I wanted to explore how losing my breasts might allow me to lean into my masculinity. I didn’t want to talk about how changing femininity could affect a hetero relationship; I wanted to talk about the implications of breast cancer on queer relationships between women.”

This genderizing of breast cancer extends outside assumptions around patients’ relationships to their breasts. In “Straight Cancer in a Queer Body” at The Polyphony, Tobimatsu explains,

Whether we know it or not, ideas around gender are frequently at the forefront of conversations about breast cancer. Little is as connected to notions of femininity as breasts, hair and fertility – all things that can be lost following a breast cancer diagnosis. Perhaps for this reason, society’s response to the disease is to throw pink ribbons, make-up tutorials and a peppy outlook at the problem. For many queers and gender non-conforming folks, this feminization of the disease is stifling…

A page from Kimiko Does Cancer showing Kimiko meeting three women in a cancer support group. They introduce themselves and then transform magic girl style into feminine fighters. "I'm Macy, Stacy, Lacy! We're survivors, fighters, warriors! We kick cancer's butt! And look good while doing it~"

Page from Kimiko Does Cancer

Not only is Kimiko uncomfortable with the whiteness and heteronormativity/gender norms, she also is alienated by how apolitical these spaces are. Kimiko considers the ethics and greater implications of each of the choices she’s making in this journey, and the structure around them. She recognizes the privilege she has to be in Canada and have the medical support she does, and the special treatment she gets as a young cancer patient. She contemplates the ethics of freezing her eggs for $7,000 when she’s not sure whether she even wants kids–or whether it’s ethical to bring kids into a climate crisis. On top of that, she feels pressure to have had some great epiphany as a cancer survivor: to have a whole new outlook on life, and no longer care about the “little things.”

Kimiko Does Cancer follows the aftereffects of her treatment as well. She has menopause induced to (hopefully) prevent cancer from recurring. This leaves her with hot flashes, which play a major role in her life. I had no idea what having hot flashes really entailed:

Page from Kimiko Does Cancer shows stages of a hot flash, including anger, raging heat, hunger, and more.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope that it finds its way into the right hands. I’ll leave off with one last quotation from the author, who explains the importance of changing this narrative. She explains that vague cancer fundraisers often get more attention than specific actions needed to improve marginalized peoples’ lives. (And of course, it’s all connected: racial justice and ending poverty are inextricably linked to health.)

When we centre certain bodies and not others, it has dire consequences – black women with breast cancer get diagnosed at later stages than white women and have lower survival rates… By depoliticizing cancer, it becomes an easy cause to support. Pink ribbon campaigns offer a way to give money to an easy-to-sympathize-with-cause that doesn’t force engagement with more difficult issues like poverty or racial justice.

“Straight Cancer in a Queer Body,” The Polyphony

Lesbrary Links: Queer Bookish TikTok, Medieval Lesbian Lit, and Books like “The Half of It”

Lesbrary Links cover collage

I follow hundreds of queer book blogs to scout out the best sapphic book news and reviews! Many of them get posted on Tumblr and Twitter as I discover them, but my favourites get saved for these link compilations. Here are some of the posts I’ve found interesting in the last few weeks.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo  Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers  My Footprints by Bao Phi   It's Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake by Claire Christian  Bruised by Tanya Boteju

If you want to do some good in the world by getting LGBTQ picture books into pre-K to grade classrooms, support Pride and Less Prejudice! They use donations to send free age-appropriate book bundles to teachers who request them.

And for more ways to spend your money supporting queer books, LGBTQ Reads has a list of queer books available at various indie bookstores, complete with buy links! It couldn’t be easier to pick up some new to you authors while giving indie bookstores the support they need right now.

Looking to blow up your TBR pile/preorder list? Check out Sasha and Amber Read’s 2021 – The Year of Sapphic Excellency. There’s also Hsinju’s Lit Log’s 2021 Sapphic Releases from LGBTQ+ Indies for even more. If you can’t preorder all the titles you’re interested in, I recommend putting them in your Google Calendar and sending a reminder the day before. Then you can put it on hold at the library! That’s how I keep my library holds always maxed out.

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang  Burning Roses by S.L Huang  Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain  Love After the End edited by Joshua Whitehead  Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo

Of course, if you want to be aware of queer books coming even further out, there’s LGBTQ Reads’s August Book Deal Announcements post, which includes books that may not be out for years.

If you’d rather check out new releases that are coming out soon, try Autostraddle’s 65 Queer and Feminist Books Coming Your Way in Fall 2020.

Now that you’ve spent all your money ordering and preordering books, you can get instant gratification with Book Riot’s 12 of the Best Queer Webcomics You Can Read For Free. I used to be a big webcomics fan, so this is reminding me that I should jump back in!

@ellelillylew

#diversebookrecs #queerbookrecs the straights have had that trope forever. It’s our turn now

♬ original sound – ellelillylew

Now I have to share the post that had me clicking the fastest: 15 TikTok Accounts That’ll Help You Dive Into LGBTQ+ Literature. I blame Pop Sugar for me now contemplating getting TikTok. No one told me there were queer book TikTokers!

YA Pride interviewed teenagers about how queer books have affected their lives at Teens Talk About LGBTQIAP+ YA. If you, like me, are over 25, you will feel old reading these. But either way, they are heartwarming, and include how some of these teens explored and discovered their identity through books.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister edited by Helena Whitbread  I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch  You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson  The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski  Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

Lambda Literary posted Queer Diaries Are Celebrations of a Secret History, which looks at the history of Lou Sullivan’s, Anne Lister’s, and Mary MacLane’s diaries–as well as a suggested queer diary reading list.

Reads Rainbow has a rapid-fire recommendation post of Sapphic YA Fantasy Recs, with the reasons you should read each pick.

The always-wonderful Casey wrote 8 Queer YA Novels With Coming of Age Hope to Relive Alice Wu’s “The Half of It”–and if you haven’t watched The Half of It on Netflix yet, run and do that first! I loved it. These books include: “falling in love through letter writing, figuring out your queer identity, keeping secrets, new friendships, small towns, and slowly getting to new your new girl crush.” Who can resist?

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron  Zami by Audre Lorde  About Love by Anondra Williams  The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde  Femme Like Her by Fiona Zedde

YA Pride’s The Path to Publication: Writing the Queer Black Girls of Cinderella Is Dead has Kalynn Bayron describe the obstacles to publishing Cinderella is Dead, including being told in writers’ groups that it wasn’t mainstream enough, while agents insisted the fairy tale retelling was overdone: “It’s not standard practice to reply to an agent at all, much less with the question, ‘How many of those reimaginings center BIPOC? And how many of them are also queer?'”

Fiona Zedde posted on Woman and Words Black LesBiQueer Books, Y’all!, highlighting some recent releases by Black queer women, including lots of romance and erotica recs!

Oprah Magazine has a list of 5 Best Audre Lorde Books to Read Right Now, because there’s never been a better time to read them. Speaking of Audre Lorde, Autostraddle’s Year of Our (Audre) Lorde continues with August’s New Spelling of My Name, which contemplates Zami and how it relates to Jehan’s own relationship with New York City.

The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud by Kuniko Tsurita  Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell  In the Great Green Room by Amy Gary

The Atlantic’sThe Groundbreaking Female Artist Who Shaped Manga History, about Kuniko Tsurita, whose “Occupants” depicted a lesbian relationship, and who included gender noncomformity and queer coding in her work.

If you are a lesbian literature nerd like me, you will love this story that was posted on twitter: Resurfaced medieval tale has the most incredible queer plot twist. Explicitly queer medieval lit! With no real judgement of them!

Speaking of queer lit crit, did you know that one of the most popular board books of all time has a queer backstory? If you didn’t, you need to read Lambda Literary’s ‘Goodnight Moon’ and the Queer Love Story of the Great Green Room.

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! $5 and up patrons get guaranteed books throughout the year on top of the giveaways!

10 Queer Roller Derby Books for When You Miss the Track

10 Queer Roller Derby Books for When You Miss the Track graphic

It seems ridiculous to try to explain why roller derby appeals to queer women. A woman-centric sport? People with different body types playing a hardcore sport together? Puns? What’s not to love? Unfortunately, there have not been nearly enough books or movies to capitalize on the inherent potential of an amazing F/F roller derby romance. (I’m looking at you, Whip It.) I have been able to put together a list of 10 sapphic books that feature roller derby, but unfortunately, this is a very white list. There is one book on this list out in 2021 by an author of colour, but I hope that publishers seek out more roller derby stories from a variety of authors in the future, offering different points of view, because there’s no reason this list should be so white.

Kenzie Kickstarts a Team by Kit RosewaterKenzie Kickstarts a Team (The Derby Daredevils #1) by Kit Rosewater, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse

One of the most exciting things I’ve seen in queer lit in the last five years or so is the emergence of LGBTQ middle grade novels! For a long time, we had picture books and YA, and nothing in between. The Derby Daredevils is a series about a junior roller derby team started by Kenzie, who is the point of view character in this first volume. Her mother is a derby girl, and she desperately wants her and her best friend to play in the new junior league, which means they have to put together a team, pronto. This is an adorable short chapter book with tons of illustrations, and a diverse cast of characters in terms of race, personality, and body types. Kenzie has a crush on a girl, and she also has a trans dad. This is a perfect pick for kids just starting to get into chapter books. (Or adults, because I loved it.)

Bruised by Tanya BotejuBruised by Tanya Boteju (March 2021)

Okay, I’m a little early on this, because Bruised doesn’t come out until 2021, but I am eagerly awaiting it. From the author of Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, this follows Daya, who is just beginning in the roller derby world. She and her parents were in an accident, and only she survived; since then, she’s been looking for ways to deal with it, usually by throwing herself into physically painful situations. She hopes that the bruises from roller derby will distract her from the emotional pain, but being part of this community ends up meaning a lot more than an excuse to throw herself into danger. I’m not sure of the exact sapphic content in this yet, but I’ve been assured that it’s there, and given her previous novel, I see no reason to doubt that!

On a Roll (Lumberjanes Volume 9)On a Roll (Lumberjanes Volume 9) by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Carolyn Nowak, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese, and Brooklyn Allen

There’s never a bad reason to read Lumberjanes, and volume 9 just happens to include a roller derby bout against some yetis. Lumberjanes has been queer from the beginning, with an adorable romance between two of the girls, and it also has trans representation in the later volumes. This volume even has a nonbinary character who starts using gender neutral pronouns and is immediately accepted! As always, this is just a fun, happy read.

Slam! by Pamela Ribon and Veronica FishSlam! by Pamela Ribon and Veronica Fish

Jennifer and Maise meet at “Fresh Meat” orientation and immediately hit it off—unfortunately, they’re put onto different teams. As they go from being rookies to finding their places on their teams, they begin to grow apart. Does this sound like the beginning of a friends-to-rivals romance? It does. Unfortunately, this isn’t that, but we do get a lesbian character in Jennifer (who is on the cover). Part of the appeal of roller derby is the close-knit friendships and community that grow from being part of a team, and that’s what Slam! focuses on—so this is more about the romance of friendship!

Roller Girl by Vanessa NorthRoller Girl by Vanessa North

I might have done a romance bait-and-switch with Slam!, but don’t worry: most of the books on this list are proper romances. Roller Girl is about Tina, who is a recently divorced trans woman looking for a fresh start. When her very attractive butch plumber Joanna recommends roller derby, she jumps at the chance. The only problem is that Joanna is the coach, which means the plumber/derby girl is off limits. Will they be able to resist their mutual attraction? Will the sexual tension ever be resolved? Okay, yes, obviously. But will they be able to keep their secret relationship from the team?

Kat & Mouse by Jacqueline HeatKat & Mouse by Jacqueline Hear

Dot Mauser is the “bad girl” of the roller derby rink. As far as she’s concerned, the referee Kat has it out for her. Little does she know that while Kat is handing Dot plenty of penalties, she has her eye on her for different reasons. During the derby’s Pride event, these two find out that they’re both artists: Dot upcycles “junk” and Kat is a photographer. They form an unlikely alliance, though Dot is sure Kat hates her. There’s plenty of drama, and some darker topics than the premise would suggest, but there’s also a lot of heat between the two characters. Bonus: this is written by a roller derby girl herself, with a preface and appendix with more information.

Crash Into You by Diana MorlandCrash Into You by Diana Morland

Megan’s life revolves around roller derby, and she takes it very seriously. Yes, she’s constantly surrounded by beautiful women, but she’s never let that distract her. That is, until she finds herself falling head over heels (literally) for the opposing team’s blocker Gianna. Megan is determined to keep her focus on the competition, but it’s definitely hard to keep her eyes on the prize when she can’t stop looking at her opponent. This is a quick, fun romance with a fat love interest and some steamy scenes.

The Real Thing by Laney WebberThe Real Thing by Laney Webber

Virginia Harris is the star of a lesbian web series, and it’s gone to her head. She’s used to being recognized, and has no problem finding women. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when she is told by Allison that she was catfished by someone using her photo. Allison seems like the perfect girl, but she’s disheartened by the whole dating app experience and is ready to jump back into roller derby before she meets Virginia—can she separate the real Virginia from the catfish version she just fell for? This is one for fans of complex and “unlikable” female characters, because Virginia is a divisive love interest.

Troll or Derby by Red TashTroll or Derby by Red Tash

And now for something completely different. Roller Deb is an outcast in her town, but when her popular sister goes missing, it’s up to her to rescue her. In her search, she finds a world of trolls, fairies, gangsters, and a bloodthirsty version of roller derby. This is a dark fantasy and includes sex, drugs, and violence. Roller Deb first is pulled into this world as part of her rescue mission, but her roller derby skills make her powerful and sought-after here, and she will have to resist being pulled under completely if she wants to escape with her sister.

Color Jam Roller Derby Coloring Book by Margot AtwellColor Jam Roller Derby Coloring Book by Margot Atwell

While I may hold roller derby’s appeal to queer women to be self-evident, Margot Atwell wrote a Huffington Post article called Why Is Roller Derby Important To So Many Queer Women? In it, she talked about why she wanted to honour queer women in her kickstarted roller derby colouring book, including how being part of the roller derby community helped her to discover her own sexuality and come out. This includes several portraits of queer roller derby role models.


And that’s it for sapphic roller derby books I could find! Feel free to let me know (@lesbrary) if I missed any! There is also a novella in Hot Ice: 3 Romance Novellas: “Ice on Wheels” by Aurora Rey, so there’s a bonus for you. I hope that in the coming years, we’ll see many more queer roller derby books come out, whether they’re F/F romances, nonbinary YA novels, bisexual comics, or anything else under the rainbow & roller derby umbrella!

This post originally ran on Book Riot.

The Life and Times of Butch Dykes by Eloisa Aquino

The Life and Times of Butch Dykes by Eloisa Aquino

The Life and Times of Butch Dykes was originally a series of zines, now collected in a highly illustrated hardcover. I was on board from the title page, where the publisher says, “If you bought this on Amazon, I’m so sorry because you could have gotten it cheaper and supported a small, independent publisher at www.Microcosm.Pub” That turns out to be true: Microcosm Publishing has a sliding scale price!

The day that I read this book, twitter was having an argument about the use of the word “dyke,” so it was fascinating to read the intro and see how the author and publisher had considered this term. They explain that gender is fluid, that some of the people featured in the zine now identify as men (and were left out of the collection on request). Some presented their gender differently later in life. Some are non-binary and use they/them pronouns. Others we have no idea how they would identify if they had access to the vocabulary we have today. They all, however, are queer, love women, and defy gender expectations, which is the thread that holds this together.

Each zine (some have been digitally reconstructed) has a different subject. Most are biographies of individuals, but others are broad categories, like butch filmmakers, or Brazilian fern-haired singers. Every other page is an illustration, and the text is hand-lettered. There are many quotations from the people featured. This is a beautiful book to flip through.

Some of the people included are well-known figures like Audre Lorde, while others were people I’ve never heard of, like a 5’7 tattooed Japanese butch lesbian who became a hugely successful fashion model in the 90s. Even if I was familiar with the people being described, I loved seeing all the portraits. For the people I didn’t know, this acted as a great teaser, providing just enough tantalizing information that I wanted to seek out more.

I loved how diverse this collection is–not only in terms of gender and sexuality, but also race and nationality. Eloisa Aquino is Brazilian-Canadian, and she features butches from all over the world (and across time). Each gets a short biography, which often has very little to do with gender or sexuality. Instead of acting as a 101 on who and what a butch dyke is, this collection offers beacons of people throughout history and around the world who have lived their authentic lives, which inherently encourages the readers to live their own.

This is a great little coffee table book, and I think it would make a perfect gift for fans of butch dykes, gender nonconforming, queer history, or zines! I did have some minor issues: the digital reconstruction means that some illustrations have noticeable pixelation, and one line (pg 52) seemed to imply that coming out as bisexual didn’t count as really coming out, but overall I thought this was a great, one-sitting read.

This was the book voted on by my Patrons to vlog about in August! Here is my vlog, which also discusses some other sapphic books, and features my bookshelf reorganization and my dogs!

If you’d like to pick what I read next, you can support me on Patreon, and you’ll also get queer women books in the mail throughout the year!

Danika reviews Love after the End edited by Joshua Whitehead

Love After the End edited by Joshua WhiteheadLove after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit & Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction edited by Joshua Whitehead is a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories by Indigenous authors. It’s edited and introduced by Joshua Whitehead, the author of Jonny Appleseed and full-metal indigiqueer. In that introduction, Whitehead reflects on the intersection between Indigeneity and queerness: “How does queer Indigeneity upset or upend queerness? Are we queerer than queer?” He goes on to explain that originally, Love after the End was going to be a collection of dystopic stories, but they pivoted towards utopias: “For, as we know  we have already survived the apocalypse—this, right here, right now, is a dystopian present.”

The introduction alone is thought-provoking and sometimes intimidating. Whitehead brings his study of theory to this work, and some of the ideas went over my head. I appreciated being introduced to these ideas, though, and it definitely left me thinking, including his mention of “contemporary erasures and appropriations of the term Two-Spirit by settler queer cultures who idealize, mysticize, and romanticize our hi/stories in order to generate a queer genealogy for settler sexualities.” Besides, this is an anthology by and for Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous people; as a white settler reader, I know I’m not going to understand every reference. The authors are from many nations across North America, and many stories include untranslated words from different Indigenous languages.

Although the introduction is academic, the stories themselves are written accessibly. They cover a lot of different topics, but many come back to the idea of space travel, and especially of evacuating a dying Earth. In one story, a portal is made that allows travel to an almost identical, uninhabited planet. The main character has a white partner who doesn’t understand the main character’s reluctance to leave, or her distrust of the supposedly peaceful government’s settlement of a “new world.” The Earth is ravaged, and left for dead by most–Indigenous communities are some of the few people who are willing to stay. Another story has the characters’ escape hinge on space travel that will use the Earth’s kinetic core energy to fuel it, leaving the planet destroyed. Each character has to decide whether they will stay or go, and what that means for their identity and relationship with place.

As I was reading Love after the End, I was reminded just how colonialist SFF often is as a genre, whether it’s about “conquering new worlds” and literally establishing colonies, or centring Medieval England in fantasy stories, or just holding up white, straight, cis, male protagonists as the heroes. This collection is such a refreshing change of perspective. These stories include a relationship with the land that isn’t common in science fiction stories. They assume a greater responsibility for protecting the Earth than I’m used to from a dystopia. The question of whether to stay on a planet that’s been destroyed by (white, wealthy) human activity is very different here than in a typical white space travel story.

“How to Survive the Apocalypse for Native Girls” is about a “Native girl who loves other girls” writing a manual on how to survive in this post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s also an exploration of what systems would replace the white colonial system once it collapsed. She explains, “See, when the borders broke, people decided that Kinship should be our main law instead. Except the problem was that Kinship means different things to different people. And sometimes people who should see each other as kin, inawemaagan, reject each other.” She loves and respects her culture, but is also critiquing this new system of power: who is left out? She find that Two-Spirit people, including her friends, are not always respected the way they should be. She grapples with the idea of what it means to be kin, and who decides.

Many of these stories use Nation-specific language for identity, which doesn’t neatly map onto white, European categories:

“The boys made fun of Kokomis ’ shirt. They said I’m a girl and girls shouldn’t wear men’s clothes. They said I’m wrong.” Her mother crooned. She gently grasped her face. “When you were born, your Kokomis held you in his arms and he looked at me with tears running down his face because he had been waiting his whole life for another îhkwewak like him, and there you were, I gave birth to you, and I was never more grateful for anything else in my life. You are a gift, Winu. And people are often jealous of gifts that are not for them.”

Reading this collection also reminded me of what I’ve read about Indigenous survivance. Gerald Vizenor, the Anishinaabe scholar who coined the term, says: “Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy, and victimry.” I recommend reading more about it, including at survivance.org. The stories in Love after the End position Indigenous people in the future, instead of the past. They frame Indigenous nations as not only subsisting, but using traditional knowledge and culture as strengths in current and future societies.

… There’s also an m/m romance story between a teenage boy and an AI who is also a cyberengineered super-intelligent rat! (In this story, same-sex relationships are accepted, but human/AI romantic relationships were the “the sort of thing that was whispered about, something that lived in the shadows.”)

I really enjoyed this collection, both as an addition to queer lit and as a much-needed collection of SFF. This is a great way to be introduced to a lot of talented authors, some of whom also contributed to Love Beyond Body Space and Time and some who are new to this collection. Usually in an anthology, I concentrate on the sapphic stories, but because Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer identities don’t neatly fit into white western categories of sexuality, I’m not going to try to separate those out. I will say that I think this collection is definitely relevant to Lesbrary readers, and it left me hungry for more Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer SFF!