A Forgotten Classic of Lesbian Literature: Olivia by Dorothy Strachey

Olivia by Dorothy Strachey cover

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I had found out about Olivia by Dorothy Strachey through the 1951 film of the same name by Jacqueline Audry. MUBI describes the film quite beautifully: “Dreamy laces, soft lighting, and longing glances induce an erotic headiness that renders this landmark lesbian love story a transgressive masterpiece.” I at once started watching the film and loved its atmosphere that was at the same time simple and intense, funny and reflective. The book, on the other hand, was not as funny and simple as the movie was, because of which I loved it even more.

I finally got my hands on the 100-page book with a pretty cover consisting of two women wearing gowns, with their hands slightly touching. I could not quite grasp the exact time-period of the novel, but I presume it’s during the late 1800s, since the novel is partly autobiographical and Strachey was born in 1865. 

The novel is narrated by sixteen-year-old Olivia, who is sent to a finishing school in France. I viewed this novel primarily as a coming-of-age story. Olivia is at an age where one continuously discovers more about oneself and the world. The book depicts the process of this discovery through the clandestine conversions between Olivia and her friend about agnosticism in a strict Wesleyan school, and later through Olivia’s discovery about her love and admiration for her teacher, Mlle Julie, in her finishing school, Les Avons.

I love how passionate and keen the character, Olivia is. The book lets us feel the intensity of Olivia’s emotions ourselves. It has lots of descriptions of theatres and art galleries in Paris, all told through Olivia’s perspective. It lets us feel the excitement of falling in love, as well as the heartbreak that follows when Olivia realises that her love for Mlle Julie has no future.

What I found interesting about this novel was the coexistence of freedom and repression. In the introduction, Strachey writes, “And yet I had an uneasy feeling that, if not a joke, it [her love for her teacher] was something to be ashamed of, something to hide desperately.” Reading some of the descriptions of Les Avons, one would hardly believe that someone could feel so restricted while being allowed to run wildly in the forest full of flowers that surrounded the school. Perhaps this shows that there is more beneath the surface—that a seemingly idyllic setting can foster repression when it comes to certain matters. The relationship between the two heads of Les Avons, Mlle Julie and Mlle Cara, is very interesting, and it is suggested that their relationship was not purely platonic.

Olivia’s morals and her feelings for Mlle Julie contradict each other. She believes that her feelings are shameful: “Was I really capable of vice? Yes, I felt it within me, in this hatred, in this horror, in this confusion itself.” Then again, she thinks, “But love was no vice.” This constant argument with oneself is interesting to observe because we all go through a phase where we realise that our morals and feelings contradict each other and it is up to us to decide which of them to act on. At the same time, Olivia’s thoughts are upsetting to observe, as she was being made to feel guilty when she had done nothing wrong. I think this feeling of guilt is one most of us can relate to, because society often makes us feel guilty for something that literally causes no harm to anyone.

Feelings take precedence over events in Olivia. All the seemingly insignificant events evoke significant emotions, which eventually lead to the “final catastrophe”, as Strachey calls it. The final events of the book are heartbreaking, and are enough to bring tears to the eyes of people as sensitive as I am. In short, I love this book and I don’t know why it isn’t more popular. 

This has been a guest review by “Mysterious”. You can find out more about guest reviews at the Lesbrary on the About page.

Sponsored Post: Falling Through the Night by Gail Marlene Schwartz

the cover of Falling Through the Night

Audrey Meyerwitz wants to fall in love and have a family. But for this queer 30-something insomniac who’s struggled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder since childhood, it’s a goal that’s far from simple. When best friend Jessica, a recovering alcoholic, helps introvert Audrey with a profile on SheLovesHer, Audrey takes that scary first step toward her lifelong dream. Through online dating, immigrating to Canada, and having a baby with Down Syndrome, she struggles and grows. But when Audrey unearths a secret about her mother, everything about her identity as a mother, a daughter, and a person with mental illness ruptures. How do we create closeness from roots of deep alienation? With humor, honesty, and complexity, Audrey learns that healthy love means accepting gains and losses, taking off the blinders of fantasy, and embracing the messiness that defines human families.

Blurbs:

Falling Through the Night is a breathtaking debut novel. Audrey is thoroughly relatable as a person dealing with mental health issues who is also full of talent, courage, creativity, and love. A page turner, the book engaged me as both a human with my own struggles but also as a therapist who understands the complexities of early childhood trauma and all the pain involved in healing. Audrey’s immigration to Quebec was a wonderful opportunity to experience that culture and the particularities of a young queer artist fumbling and learning as she adapts. A wonderful portrayal of a woman doing the personal work we all need to do to grow. Inspiring, engaging, and ultimately incredibly hopeful. 

Glo Harris, therapist and corporate coach

The winning combination of Schwartz’s beautifully crafted prose and attention to detail allows the reader to journey with Audrey across two countries in her quest for a new family and a better life. Falling Through the Night shines a light on the ups and downs of anxiety disorder and spins a story where the LGBTQ protagonist learns to recognize and accept herself, but so does everyone else.

-Lori Shwydky, Publisher, Rebel Mountain Press

Falling Through the Night is a beautifully crafted and moving look at the ways in which anxiety and family issues intersect. The book is one part magical romance and two parts unflinching account of a queer woman’s messy journey. Audrey’s path is to create a healthy family despite and because of a past shaped by lies and haunted by a mother she never knew. The book could be described as a page-turning beach read, as we are privy to the whirlwind, sweet, and romantic lesbian love story at the heart of this book. But Falling is so much more than that–it is also a deep dive into family, friendship, addiction, and mental health, at times leaving the reader breathless with all the complexity and beauty that is life.  

Dr. Jennifer Marlow, author and Professor of English, College of St. Rose
Gail Marlene Schwartz, author of Falling Through the Night

Find out more about Falling Through the Night at Demeter Press!

This is a sponsored post. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s advertisement options.

A Sapphic Marriage of Convenience Manga: I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama cover

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

Machi has been going along with what other people want for as long as she can remember, but she’s so sick of her parents nagging her to find a husband that she’s ready to marry someone they’d hate to spite them. She wasn’t expecting her (female) best friend Hana to volunteer for the role, though!

Yep, we’re skipping the fake dating and going straight to marriage, that’s how we roll here.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a fast, tropey read with a really cute art style. Machi and Hana have been friends for a long time, and work as a classic “the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one” pair, so their teasing and support for each other is lovely! And while the relationships starts off feeling unbalanced due to Hana’s pushiness and Machi’s passivity, its gradual evening out is fun.

I have so many mixed feelings about Hana’s pushiness, by the way; she’s mostly a cheery and flirty character, with her arc being all about revealing the serious core beneath that. But her response to Machi’s internalised homophobia (or what looks like homophobia) is sexual aggression that borders on harrassment. It’s presented as her issuing a challenge in the face of Machi’s previous knee-jerk reactions, and she always backs off without needing to be told, but it’s such a weird off-note with the rest of the manga. The manga’s tone is mostly funny, with jokes about boobs and playing with the stereotypes of heterosexual marriage! Hana pinning Machi to a bed to prove a point didn’t fit with that, to me.

But there is a serious core to I Married My Best Friend, in the form of Machi’s character arc—it’s my favourite part of the book. Machi grows so much as a result of living with Hana. She starts out completely detached from her own life, only doing what’s convenient and never actually thinking about what she wants. Her growth is entirely realising that there are things she cares about, and she’s allowed to say so! Whether that’s asserting herself at work, standing up to her homophobic mother for the first time, or trying to move from fake dating Hana to really dating her, she’s growing and changing for the better!

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a lot of fun. If you’re in need of some f/f fake dating in the new year: this is a good place to start!

Caution warnings: homophobia, sexism, parental abuse

Susan is a queer crafter moonlighting as a library assistant. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, reviewing for Smart Bitches Trashy Books, or just bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

The Lesbrary’s Favorite Sapphic Books of 2023

Every year, Danika and the other Lesbrary reviewers talk about our favorite sapphic books we read this year, whether they were published in 2023 or not. This time, there are so many reviewers at the Lesbrary that we needed to split this into two posts. The next one will round up Danika’s top ten-ish sapphic books of the year, and this one is the top sapphic book from nine of the other Lesbrary reviewers.

These picks range from brand-new 2023 releases to a 1950s novel, and they include genres from fantasy and sci-fi to memoir to graphic novels, romance, and more. There’s something here for everyone!

Without further ado, here are the Lesbrary reviewers’ favorite sapphic books they read this year!

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

the cover of The Chosen and the Beautiful

My favorite sapphic read of 2023 was The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. This made me appreciate The Great Gatsby more, as I never really liked the original. But coming from Jordan’s perspective, it really fleshed the side characters out more and left Jay Gatsby on the sidelines.

The added magical elements gave it another dimension that melded well with the setting, including the racial tensions happening between Asians and Asian Americans in the country.

Check out my full review for more of my thoughts.

—Meagan

Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H.

the cover of Hijab Butch Blues

Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H. is a coming-of-age memoir that connects stories from the Quran to the author’s own experiences, from discovering her sexuality and gender, to navigating crushes and dating, to moving to the U.S. and struggling to find community as a queer hijabi Muslim. With honest reflection, the author discusses such issues as having white Americans invalidate her queerness for, among other things, choosing not to come out to her parents, as well as the string of straight women she crushed on in order to feel safe from the murky waters of the next steps. In each case, her faith provides strength and solace.

This memoir is something special. Despite the audiobook not being narrated by the author, listening to it felt as personal as if it were. The book’s depiction of survival in the face of alienation particularly resonated with me, especially with all the ways the author finds to both connect with and stay guarded from themself and others. The book is beautifully written and deeply contemplative, with the stories from the Quran providing a compelling framework for each essay. I’m sure many readers will find meaning in this bold tale of reclamation.

Content warnings: suicidal ideation; bigotry including islamophobia, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny; and discussions of domestic abuse. —Emory Rose

If You’ll Have Me by Eunnie

the cover of If You'll Have Me

Everyone who knows me knows I love, love, love graphic novels. Every sapphic I’ve spoken to this summer knows that I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS BOOK. It is the perfect blend of fluffy, sweet, funny, heartfelt, sincere, aching-but-not-torturous. The main characters are delightfully charming but still fully realized, multidimensional and struggling with their own conflicts and baggage.

I’ve already reviewed it here, but it’s basically a peak low-stakes slice-of-life fluff and healing relationship dynamics. It’s not a manhwa/manga, though there is a undeniable stylistic influence. But it is SO GOOD and should be right up there with Heartstopper and Bloom and Lumberjanes and all those other coming-of-age graphic novels, even if this one is set in college and deals with slightly older characters than those. —Anna N.

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane

the cover of I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself

I Keep My Exoskeletons To Myself is a fascinating look at an autocratic society that relies on shame and guilt as a form of punishment. The story is told in the second person, with Kris (our protagonist) speaking to her baby and offering some small bits of background as the story progresses. It is very character-driven as we see Kris’s world form and change around her child, even as she questions the injustices of the world she was born into. For a book that deals with some incredibly hard themes, I Keep My Exoskeletons To My Self is surprisingly accessible and simple. I would recommend this book for fans of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Julia Armfield’s Our Wives Under the Sea.  —Chloe

Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date by Ashley Herring Blake

the cover of Iris Kelly Doesn't Date

As a massive fan of the Bright Falls series, picking my favorite book of the year was pretty easy. Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date has all the same emotional weight, charm, and humor of the previous entries in the series. The chemistry between Iris and Stevie is palpable, with plenty of tantalizing lead-up to their eventual realization that their “fake relationship” was something more. The way Ashley Herring Blake plays with common tropes in romance was also fantastic. Lastly, what really sets the book apart from so many other was how love and affection were represented as sometimes as just being there for your partner and putting in the work when they need you. It’s a definite must-read for any fan of contemporary sapphic romance. —Jamie

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Price of Salt cover

This book is the epitome of sapphic yearning. I’m so glad to have finally read a sapphic classic with a happy ending. It was the healing I desperately needed. What I loved most about the book is how openly and intimately we delve into the character’s thoughts and feelings. The movie adaptation, starring Cate Blanchett, was brilliant and breathed new life into the characters! It was refreshing! Rarely do I love both the book and the movie adaptation and this was one of those remarkable exceptions!

I loved how Highsmith crafted each scene: it was profoundly contemplative and emotionally charged. A masterpiece! —SK

The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

The Raven and the Reindeer cover

This felt like such a wonderful year of sapphic reads that it’s hard to pick just one, but I think that I’ll have to go with The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher. Maybe it’s cheating because technically I read it years ago and it’s one of the first sapphic books I read, but this was the first year that I revisited it to see if it held up. It absolutely did! It’s a reimagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” and is the perfect wintry read. The story follows Gerta, determined to find her friend Kay stolen away by the Snow Queen, but she quickly learns that perhaps this isn’t as simple of a story as she thought. It has bandits and witches and magical flying otters, and yet amidst all of this, Gerta feels so real as a girl finally coming into her own. I’ll read anything by T. Kingfisher, but a sapphic retelling with a snarky raven named Mousebones will always rise to the top for me. —Katherine

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

the cover of Some Desperate Glory

My favorite sapphic book of 2023 was Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh.  Tesh wove an incredible queer space opera with complex worldbuilding, a space cult, and aliens. Then she gave her main character Kyr one of the best redemption arcs I’ve encountered since Zuko in Avatar: the Last Airbender. I’ve rarely experienced such a complete turnaround in going from finding a character insufferable to rooting for them completely, and I want everyone to enjoy this expert character work with me.

The field of hit science fiction has been joyfully crowded the past couple of years between The Locked Tomb and Murderbot, but if you’re in between books of those two worthy series, I would pencil Some Desperate Glory into your schedule. I couldn’t put it down once I got started. —Maggie

Those Who Wait by Haley Cass

the cover of Those Who Wait by Haley Cass

My favorite sapphic romance that I read this year is Those Who Wait (2020) by Haley Cass. Hopeless Sutton Spencer meets the much more confident Charlotte Thompson after Sutton’s friend signs her up for a dating app. Sounds good, but what’s the twist? Sutton is a congressman’s daughter, and Charlotte is trying to get that congressman’s endorsement as she attempts to become one of the youngest people ever to be elected to Congress. Oh, and Charlotte is also the granddaughter of a former president. If you miss The West Wing but could live without the Sorkin gaze, then read Those Who Wait immediately. Here’s hoping a studio or streamer picks this novel up and gives it the Bridgerton treatment in 2024. —Liv

Enter to Win 1 of 10 Free Copies of FIT FOR THE GODS!

the cover of Fit for the Gods

To celebrate the release of Fit for the Gods, co-editor Jenn Northington is giving away ten copies.

There are so many retellings of Greco-Roman mythology out there—and now there are 15 more! For all the other fans who cannot get enough and are always hoping to see new takes and new identities on the page, and new authors playing fast and loose with one of the most well-known mythologies in the world, Fit For the Gods: Greek Mythology Reimagined is an anthology of gender-bent, queered, race-bent, and inclusive retellings. 

Co-edited by Jenn Northington and S. Zainab Williams, who grew up on these stories and are always ready for more, the anthology includes short fiction from across genres by authors including Zeyn Joukhadar, Sarah Gailey, Mia P. Manansala, and Alyssa Cole. Want a non-binary Odysseus in space, or a lesbian Aeneas of Kumeyaay descent? How about a trans Tiresias in Italy, or a Blind pansexual, polyamorous Aphrodite? All these and more await you! 

Northington will choose ten winners from her list of TinyLetter subscribers on September 21st using a random number generator.

Subscribe by midnight EST on September 20th to be eligible. Are you already subscribed? Perfect! You’re automatically entered into the drawing. Subscribers receive emails when she remembers to send one, which is currently less than five times per year.

Subscribe here to enter to win one of ten copies of Fit for the Gods!

This is a sponsored post. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s advertisement options.

SPONSORED POST: The Buy-In by Hakeela Buford

It was a love story…

that WASN’T supposed to be a love story.

The Buy-In, an interactive romantic comedy novel
——

What do authors and culinary arts grads meeting in late summer have in common?

What do past-life marketers/copywriters and actors have in common besides just selling a story?This is a sponsored post from I Heart Lesfic. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s advertisement options.

What do unhealthy obsessions with Lipton Brisk iced tea and mysteries set over a DeBarge album really have in common with a mastered bowl of curry while listening to some Coi Leray?

Maybe a whole lot.

Maybe a whole not.

Or maybe, one has to stop thinking and actually test out the vibe, no matter how unfamiliar or unimagined, to know for sure…

Especially when everyone’s talking about you (two).
—–

After returning home from a book signing for her latest release, Arielle “Elle” Smith (@ElWordSmith) walks in on a surprise that is unfortunately not really such a surprise and makes a vow right then and there that selling stories is all she’ll be focusing on for the foreseeable future.

That is until, just a matter of weeks later, the Las Vegas-based, now relationship-jaded, Black lesbian rising author receives a business proposition from the mysterious LA-based actress/aspiring restaurateur Jae’cy Carter (@J_Carter)

and then some.

In this serious yet funny yet suspenseful (sometimes even a bit steamy) “learning to love again” story, two Black women, two Millennials are just trying to write their next big book so as to never return to the corporate world again (introverted yet unintentionally charming Arielle), open their dream café to prove it to themselves (collected yet passionate Jae’cy), and do everything else BUT fall in love. But the heart wants what the heart wants, no matter how much one tries to fight it. No matter the differences—beyond one being lesbian and the other (?)…, beyond one loving R&B while the other prefers rap, beyond the surface.

Speaking of music…

READ IF:
✓ You’re as obsessed as Elle is with all things ’90s and 2000s R&B

✓ You like a slow-paced romance mixed in with some shouting aloud at the characters in frustration

✓ You like a good friends to lovers trope

Sounds good?

THEN READ HERE:

Pre-Orders (ebook only) Available Now https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C8KFTW2S?ref_=ast_author_dp#detailBullets_feature_div

On Sale (ebook and print) July 28th

This is a sponsored post. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s advertisement options.

9 Essential Books for Baby Gays

Books for Baby Gays graphic

I have personally identified as bi since I was about 22, and 5 years on, I’ve now started thinking about what might have been different if I’d realised that any earlier, if my personal queer revelation had arrived during uni or high school. In this alternate imagined past, are there any books that could have fast-tracked my identity discovery? Or, are there any books that I didn’t know I needed or to look for when I ended up having my epiphany? My book picks have always felt very organic to me, but at the same time I seem to lean towards queer genre fiction a lot — a preference which is definitely not universal. And with all these thoughts recently running through my head, I decided while it may be too late to sit my past self down and make her think about what she wants and needs in light of the new perspective, it is definitely not too late to do the same for others.

So. The below is a non-comprehensive list of books you might consider picking up if you’re questioning your sexual orientation, or have recently started to identify as sapphic in whichever way that is for you. I’ve aimed for happy endings and not too much tragedy or pain over the course of these stories. With the help of some friends I managed to identify a number of categories that you might wish for in such a situation. Here I have highlighted one book per category, but you can find a larger list of suggestions on my blog (though without any blurbs). Now, without further ado, read on one and all!

Coming Out Under the Age of 12:

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee cover

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee (bi main character)

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play. Gemma, the new girl at school and crush in question, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British. As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama!

Coming Out in High School:

the cover of You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson (Black lesbian main character)

Alright yes, everybody and their mother is recommending this one, but clearly that means there’s a reason! Liz Lighty has a plan that will get her out of her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College and become a doctor. But when the financial aid she was counting on falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down—until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. Despite her devastating fear of the spotlight, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington. The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen…

Coming Out at University:

Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss cover

Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss (fat Puerto Rican lesbian main character with anxiety, panromantic ace love interest with ADHD)

With only two semesters of law school to go, Elena Mendez’s dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions, but she has no idea how much her life will change the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin. Over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other. College may be strict, but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.

Coming Out Later in Life:

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman cover. It shows an illustration of two women kissing and a cat playing with yarn.

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman (Jewish lesbian main character)

Small-batch independent yarn dyer Clara Ziegler is eager to brainstorm new color combinations.

When she sees Danielle Solomon’s paintings of Florida wildlife by chance at a neighborhood gallery, she finds her source of inspiration.

Outspoken, passionate, and complicated, Danielle herself soon proves even more captivating than her artwork…

Life After the Big Come Out:

Double Exposure by Chelsea Cameron cover

Double Exposure by Chelsea Cameron (bi trans woman main character, pan woman love interest)

Anna Corcoran’s life is hectic, but that’s how she likes it. Between her jobs at the Violet Hill Cafe, the local library, and doing publicity work for authors, she doesn’t have much time for anything else. Until Lacey Cole walks into the cafe and she feels like she’s been knocked off her axis. Lacey’s a photographer and writer and wants to do a profile on the cafe, including an interview with Anna. She’s game, but after spending a few days with Lacey, Anna is falling. Hard. The only problem is that Lacey isn’t going to be sticking around. As they get closer and closer, Anna wonders if maybe this would be the one time when Lacey would decide to stay put. With her.

Proper Escapism:

Water Witch cover

Water Witch: The Deceiver’s Grave by Nene Adams (identities unknown)

It is the eighteenth century in a world filled with magic and the Caribbean are a haven for pirates; the most feared of them all is Bess O’Bedlam, known as the Water Witch. Bess’ lust for riches knows no bounds and she is on the trail of the greatest prize ever taken—and thought lost for twenty-five years. When Bess meets Marguerite de Vries, the Dutch thief does not know she is the key to a king’s ransom. The Water Witch will use any means to find the loot, including seduction, but she had not reckoned on a fiery-tempered opponent determined to protect her heart at any cost. As the women are pitted against a deadly magical curse, they must overcome many enemies in their quest for the treasure… and each other’s love.

Romance Takes a Back Seat:

the cover of The Black Veins

The Black Veins by Ashia Monet (no romance, queer found family, bi Black main character, British Chinese ace trans man and Black bisexual ensemble characters)

In a world where magic thrives in secret city corners, a group of magicians embark on a road trip. Sixteen-year-old Blythe is one of seven Guardians: magicians powerful enough to cause worldwide panic with a snap of their fingers. But Blythe spends her days pouring latte art at her family’s coffee shop until magician anarchists crash into said coffee shop and kidnap her family. Heartbroken but determined, she packs up her family’s bright yellow Volkswagen, puts on a playlist, and embarks on a road trip across the United States to enlist the help of six strangers whose abilities are unparalleled—the other Guardians.

Classic:

Carmilla edited by Carmen Maria Machado cover

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, edited by Carmen Maria Machado (lesbian main character and love interest)

Isolated in a remote mansion in a central European forest, Laura longs for companionship when a carriage accident brings another young woman into her life: the secretive and sometimes erratic Carmilla. As Carmilla’s actions become more puzzling and volatile, Laura develops bizarre symptoms, and as her health goes into decline, Laura and her father discover something monstrous.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s compelling tale of a young woman’s seduction by a female vampire predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by over a quarter century.

The History:

Sapphistries cover

Sapphistries: A Global History Of Love Between Women by Leila J. Rupp

From the ancient poet Sappho to tombois in contemporary Indonesia, women throughout history and around the globe have desired, loved, and had sex with other women. Sapphistries captures the multitude of ways that diverse societies have shaped female same-sex sexuality across time and place. We hear women in the sex-segregated spaces of convents and harems whispering words of love. We see women beginning to find each other on the streets of London and Amsterdam, in the aristocratic circles of Paris, in the factories of Shanghai. We find women’s desire and love for women meeting the light of day as Japanese schoolgirls fall in love, and lesbian bars and clubs spread from 1920s Berlin to 1950s Buffalo. And we encounter a world of difference in the twenty-first century, as transnational concepts and lesbian identities meet local understandings of how two women might love each other. Rupp also creatively employs fiction to imagine possibilities when there is no historical evidence.

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

This post was originally published in 2021.

Sponsored Post: Kickstart This Sapphic Fairy Tale Visual Novel!

an illustration of Robin shooting an arrow

Red Rebellion is a sapphic fairy tale fantasy that follows Robin Hood and Red Riding Hood as they team up to save their village while navigating their growing feelings for each other. It combines magic and folklore with real history, and aims to accurately explore the lives of queer folk living in late Medieval England.

an illustration of two women touching foreheads and smiling

You can check out the demo (PC/Mac/Linux) here, which contains the first chapter of the story: https://aikasacolle.itch.io/red-rebellion

And you can learn more about the characters and setting in our ongoing Kickstarter campaign: https://bit.ly/3Hcrwpl

Our first, completed project is also available on the Kickstarter at a steep discount for backers: Mizuchi, a sapphic retelling of the Legend of the White Snake.

an image of three figures holding hands

The group behind these projects is Aikasa Studio, a queer, WOC-lead team that loves fairy tale retellings, and is dedicated to the representation of minority voices in historical fiction.

We’re also passionate about interactive fiction. We love being able to explore the different ways a story could end. Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books from your childhood? We create stories with choices – and also with sound, visuals and animation.

an image of two figures embracing while falling through the air, roses falling around them

Thank you for checking out Red Rebellion. We hope you’ll join us in making this fairy tale a reality!

Nat reviews Pack of Her Own by Elena Abbott

the cover of Pack of Her Own

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I picked up this li’l werewolf book off of a Twitter recommendation – vampires, ghouls, shifters – I expected something of a campy read. Who knew we would be exploring identity, found family, and processing trauma from various angles? If you plopped down a literary fiction tome and told me that we’d be dealing with complex themes like those, I’d say no thank you, I’ve read the news this week and I’m already a bit depressed. But give me some vampires, a full moon, and a happily ever after and that is the spoon full of sugar I need to tackle these issues. 

Natalie Donovan is a young, transgender woman with a traumatic past – she’s looking for a fresh start, or at least to begin to heal from a lifetime of abuse, both physical and emotional. Wren Carne (yep, Carne) is a werewolf living in a small town of paranormal misfits, her dark past only a few counties away – she’s also had to escape an abusive situation because of her true nature; she’s an Alpha wolf who ought to be on the path to forming her own pack. 

There’s quite a bit of trauma processing in this book between our two main characters, though Wren has already had some time and space to rebuild her life. At times Natalie’s point of view can really be heart wrenching because you’re watching in real time as her thoughts sometimes spiral with insecurity and feelings of worthlessness, or of being a burden to her friends. She believes she’s incapable of being loved, thanks in part to her abusive ex and her trashcan parents. Most of these issues are tied to her trans identity. 

Let’s take a moment to talk about were-books with romantic leanings. I’m certainly no expert on them and haven’t read them extensively, but there often seems to be a power dynamic, the Alpha/Omega, dominant/submissive relationship between the love interests. This dynamic exists in some form in the book, though the problematic bits of such relationships are called out, especially the issue of consent. Wren is fleeing what is essentially a toxic, cult-like situation built on abuse of power and fear – she believes this is how all packs operate, and vows to never have one of her own. (The story also has the fated mate trope, which involves an inexplicable, magical sort of connection between our main characters.)

Our main characters have so much in common and a lot of the book explores those commonalities, even though the circumstances in their lives are quite different. Both are harboring secrets that they think stand in the way of their happiness; both have suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to protect and support them. 

Pack of Her Own isn’t perfect, and there are a handful of inconsistencies that distracted me from time to time, little moments where one fact contradicted another. Also, for me, the ending felt a bit rushed; what I thought should be the epilogue was just a last chapter, so there’s a time jump and suddenly everything is great for Natalie and her new life, in a way that doesn’t jive with the tone and pace of the rest of the book. One of the last core scenes of the book is really intense, and could have used a smoother transition to prevent whiplash. But! The pros outweigh the cons by far. There’s big series potential here, so I’m curious to see where it goes!  

Trigger warnings: depictions of past physical abuse, emotional abuse/manipulation, gaslighting, assault

Rachel reviews The Disenchantment by Celia Bell

the cover of The Disenchantment

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Celia Bell’s debut novel, The Disenchantment (Pantheon 2023), is a stunning example of queer historical fiction at its finest. 

Set in seventeenth-century Paris, The Disenchantment follows Baroness Marie Catherine, who lives in a world of luxury, entertainment, and intrigue. However, there is also an undercurrent of darkness racing through Parisian nobility: rumours of witchcraft, deliberate poisoning, and fraud abound, and the voracity of the rumour mill means no one is completely safe. Marie Catherine hides her own secrets. Her tyrannical and distant husband is an oppressive and regulatory force, and when he is home she does all she can to protect her children from him by telling them fairy stories. However, when he is away, Marie Catherine is free to engage with her intellectual pursuits, including salons and spirited conversations with female scholars and writers. 

Furthermore, at the heart of Marie Catherine’s liberated existence beyond her husband is Victoire Rose de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Conti. Androgynous, bold, and seemingly fearless, Victoire and Marie Catherine are lovers, and Victoire quickly proves to be a source of joy in Marie Catherine’s life. She admires Victoire’s confidence and freedom, and as the situation becomes more and more volatile in her home, Marie Catherine knows she must escape. When a violent murder occurs involving those close to Marie Catherine, she is faced with a choice, and the one she makes leads her down a path she could never have predicted, and toward people who are committed to protecting their own interests. 

I loved this novel. It’s difficult to talk about this book without giving too much away, but the twists and turns of this plot are completely gripping. Bell’s writing is immersive, and captures the atmosphere and drama of this plot so thoroughly that I was hardly able to put it down. Lesbian historical fiction is undeniably my favourite literary genre and this book did not disappoint. The Disenchantment is well-researched, comprehensive, and draws on little-known moments of French history, expertly weaving fiction and fact together to create a wholly original novel. This book is perfect for fans of Maggie O’Farrell’s The Marriage Portrait (2022) or Emma Donoghue’s The Sealed Letter (2008). 

Marie Catherine and Victoire were characters I loved and believed in, and Bell captures their unique and sometimes warring motivations. However, Bell doesn’t only pay attention to upper-class perspectives in this novel, and the text is a much wider examination of Parisian society in this period. This novel felt like a mix of genres in the best way—part literary fiction, historical fiction, crime fiction, mystery, and Gothic. It kept me guessing until the very end and felt like a thoroughly original, gorgeous historical portrait. 

I highly recommend The Disenchantment for fans of queer historical fiction and/or literary fiction. This is undeniably one of my top queer reads of the year. 

Please add The Disenchantment to your TBR on Goodreads and follow Celia Bell 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.