Danielle reviews Sirens & Muses by Antonia Angress

the cover of Sirens and Muses

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Sirens & Muses by Antonia Angress is a novel that follows four artists as they embark first on art school before conquering New York City. I loved everything about this novel. Everything. The characters are rich: Angress has done a phenomenal job of creating realistic characters who are not always likable—which, to me, makes them even more real. The four artists are flawed, have their own anxieties and grievances, and are at times self-conscious. Despite times throughout the novel when they are extremely unlikeable, by the end of the novel, two of the four characters, Karina and Louisa, have become some of my favourite fictional characters. It’s important to note that Angress seems to be a master of character development. Cruel at times, each character stumbles. I loved watching each character change direction and reach their potentials despite their earlier suffering and anxieties.

The dynamic between Karina and Louisa is what makes Sirens & Muses for me. Its 368 pages simply don’t have enough of them together. Karina is the character I found most difficult to like at the start of the novel, while Louisa is easy to love. By the time I finished reading, I’d fallen in love with both of them. Between the lines, they have a beautiful love story: obscured by the other two characters’ stories, Angress gave just enough to pull me into their relationship, and desperately hope for some sort of sequel to their story.

My heart hurt for the characters throughout Sirens & Muses. I found myself truly caring about them, and in that sense, Angress has created a masterpiece. The novel is part academic, part love story, part art discourse, and she weaves all of those themes together seamlessly. It is a smart, well-written book that I was immediately captivated by, and have remained captivated by weeks after reading it.

It was the perfect length, leaving you satisfied yet still wanting more, and with such realistic and detailed descriptions of the characters’ art, I felt as though I was walking through an art gallery of their creations: a fictional art gallery filled with the fictional art created by fictional characters. Angress has written a vivid and captivating novel that comes to life off the pages.

Danielle is a Lesbrary guest reviewer. If you would like to submit a review to be featured on the Lesbrary, check out the About page for more information.

Maddison reviews The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood

Firstly, thank you Tor, for the e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood is an action-packed, high fantasy, coming-of-age story (orcs, necromancers, mages, giant snakes, and countless fantasy races!). Csorwe lives in the House of Silence as the Unspoken One’s chosen bride. On her 14th birthday she is to walk into the shrine, never to be seen again. But a mage, on a quest for a lost relic, persuades her to turn away from her god and join him. She leaves the shrine, alive, by his side and sets out on adventure. With training and endless tutors, she becomes his sword hand and together they will reclaim his seat of power. Of course, it doesn’t end there, and Csorwe’s story of adventure continues. At its core, The Unspoken Name is a book about choices and their importance.

You really get three stories for the price of one with The Unspoken Name. Other authors may have drawn out each of Csorwe’s main adventures into its own book, but A. K. Larkwood utilizes every single one of those 464 pages to the max. A lot happens, enough that I questioned how so much happened, but it never felt like too much and it never felt rushed. Her prose is (forgive the genre-related pun) fantastic, and it really drew me into the story. The writing is descriptive and clever. The small pieces of comedy, amid what is often chaos and destruction, were a relief and were really well done.

I really loved that we followed the story of a young female orc. I think it was a refreshing change. Typically, these coming-of-age stories, especially those sold as fantasy, follow men – rogues, mages, swordsmen, but almost always mostly human. It was fun to follow a different type of character through a familiar genre.

Csorwe’s character development is realistic, as are her relationships with the main cast of the book. And I would be remiss not to include the gradual relationship progression between Csorwe and Shuthmili. It was sweet to watch their relationship progress, and to see how these two young women changed for it, developed around it. Like most of what I read, Csorwe’s sexuality wasn’t at the forefront of the book, it was just a part of her character. Because of this, the relationship between the two women isn’t necessarily at the forefront of the story, but it becomes a driving motivation and the story would have been entirely different, with different emotional stakes, without it.

From one SFF lover to another, you should read The Unspoken One. It is a wonderfully well written story, and if you are disappointed you can come fight me about it online (but I’m almost sure that you won’t).

When Lesbian Fiction, Politics, and Life Intersect (Plus Giveaway!)

Guest post by lesbian romance author Lucy J. Madison

Lately, I’ve been thinking entirely too much about male, white, patriarchy. I have to admit, back in college, I probably dozed off whenever this topic came up in class. It never really mattered to me because when I was much younger and wrapped up more fully in my own world, I never had to think much about it. I was a Title IX baby. I grew up playing sports, reveling in being a tomboy, and being appreciated for my athletic prowess. Male patriarchy seemed far away from my own personal experiences. I received opportunities, I worked hard and advanced.

I prefer to write stories that help people escape from the real world for a while. I take that role seriously, and intentionally choose not to inject politics into my lesbian romance novels because I know that when I sit down with a romance novel, politics is really the last thing I want to read about.

Furthermore, I’ve never really looked at myself as on the front-lines of any particular political cause or effort. I write stories because I love to, not because I necessarily believe that I must prove some underlying point or highlight a specific message. These are personal preferences for me, and I certainly don’t judge any readers who love reading those types of books or think less of writers who choose to write them.

But with the insanity of our politics right now, and the real fears LGBTQ+ people across this country feel every single day as their rights are being quietly chipped away by this current administration, I’m more cognizant of my job as a romance writer to provide an escape. I am also much more keenly aware of my role as a lesbian writer to tell stories about women who live in a world where male, white, entitlement does not rule the day.

Ruminating on this, I looked back at everything I’ve written over the course of my life from a non-fiction book on women’s basketball to feature film scripts and lesbian romance novels. Not one story depicts characters in a world dominated in any way by men. Without even thinking about it, I have only chosen to tell stories where Wonder Woman’s home of Themyscira not only exists, but it is the rule rather than the exception.

My closest friends know that I am generally the type of person who lives in the moment rather than pondering the past or worrying too much about the future. Lately, I’ve done a great deal of forward and backward thinking. Like so many women, I’ve had my own #MeToo moments. Four of them, actually. The most brutal being a sexual assault when I was in my early twenties. I can’t tell you the time of year or what bed and breakfast it was at, or what day of the week it was. I have no recollection of how I got home, but I know it happened in Saratoga, New York, and I know with 100 percent certainty who did it. I only told one person in all these years. This is the first time I’m speaking about it publicly. It’s still incredibly painful and a memory I’d prefer to keep buried. #IBelieveHer

I write lesbian romance novels because I love to tell stories about two women falling in love. That is my happy place. It is my hopeful place. It is my most treasured space, where my hopes for this life are firmly rooted. Love. The love between women in a world fully open to women where good men do not dominate but co-exist equally. This is why I write. This is what I write. There is power in that. There is power in reading that.

Enter to win an ebook of Lucy J. Madison’s newest novel, A Recipe for Love: a Culinary Romance by commenting! A winner will be announced October 17th!

A Recipe for Love by Lucy J. MadisonPiermont, New York. Danika Russo is 55, newly retired from a 30-year career as a mail carrier, and stuck in a rut. After putting her own needs on hold to care for her terminally ill partner and her unloving father, Danika is holed up the childhood home she inherited, a claustrophobic time warp from the 1970s complete with brown Formica and linoleum, and not sure what to do next. 

Her best friend Natalie suggests making a list of things she has always wanted to do. Stepping outside her comfort zone, self-deprecating Danika opts for taking an Italian cooking class, not knowing that she will both impress the appreciative chef with her tasting skills and meet a mysterious younger woman there, Finn Gerard, who will capture her heart and teach her the recipe for love. But Finn is withholding a grim secret and, despite her initial passion, appears unable to commit to Danika fully. Will Danika allow herself to let go and fall in love for the first time in her life, even if there are no guarantees? Even if she must learn to let go?

This complex lesbian romance touches on themes of rediscovery and transformation, showing that while love can be the answer, real healing always starts from within.

Lucy Madison’s latest will appeal to fans of fine, well-crafted lesbian fiction and authors like Caren Werlinger. Readers will enjoy a bonus cookbook section at the back, featuring all the recipes mentioned in the book!

About Lucy J. Madison

Lucy J. Madison is a novelist, poet, screenwriter, and ghostwriter. Her short stories, articles, and poems have appeared in dozens of literary magazines and publications nationwide. She resides in shoreline Connecticut and Provincetown, MA. www.lucyjmadison.com Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @lucyjmadison. Catch Lucy in Provincetown at Women’s Week! A Recipe for Love: A Lesbian Culinary Romance, Lucy’s third novel, is available worldwide.

Mehek Naresh reviews Falling into Place by Sheryn Munir

When my friend Shira Glassman was asked to review this book for The Lesbrary, she immediately thought of me, thinking that an own voices review would serve the review reading community better. While I may not be the perfect person to review this book, Falling into Place is one of the rare books I read through and enjoyed with no frustration about cultural inaccuracies, largely in part to the authors Indian heritage and her living in India. Sheryn Munir grew up and currently lives in Dehli, so her ability to write authentically about her own culture is unparalleled. But beyond that, is this book any good?

When Sameen barges into Tara’s cab on the way home to her boyfriend’s birthday party, she has no idea that their second run in will turn into something more. Tara, a journalist living with her mother, is resisting a marriage arrangement her mother is prodding her toward, and Sameen, a commissioning editor living with boyfriend Rohan, is wrestling with her draw to Tara. When the meet cute of jumping into another woman’s cab turns into regular carpooling, that’s when the story really begins.

Set in Delhi, this book has the familiarity of winters spent in India when I was a child. I grew up here in the states, and immigrated here as a baby, so my brief, fleeting memories of Mumbai are of taxis between my grandmother and aunt’s apartments and eating cheese toast at my grandmother’s country club. My ability to compare this book to real life in India or adult interactions with Indian people is minimal, since the last time I visited India I was eleven.

What I love about this book is how authentic it is. The author doesn’t shy away from simply stating that the characters are getting a specific food and doesn’t feel the need to explain things. What is frustrating about so many books either set in India or featuring Indian-diaspora characters is the author wanting to explain everything to the reader. There are context clues, but for the most part, reading this book felt like being amongst my Indian friends, where I didn’t have to suffer through long descriptions of what exactly a samosa is.

Tara coming out to Sameen and the subsequent romance doesn’t hit the same usual notes of this sort of story. Imagine Me and You comes to mind, in which a married woman falls for the florist at her wedding and subsequently she cheats on her husband with this woman. Rather, Tara and Sameen naturally build up a close, honest friendship, and as Tara grows closer, the more her closeted life plans start to come apart. The last third of this novel does follow the pattern stated above, but genuinely, this novel is different because of how the first two thirds are developed. This book made me feel all of the feelings I could have about a romance, and as one of those stony people who doesn’t cry at much, I did tear up just a tiny bit at the end of this.

I see so much of myself in Tara, vowing to myself in younger years that I would just marry a man for the sake of making my parents happy, or simply refuse to get close to anyone in an effort to just bypass the issue entirely. But that isn’t a way to live a life, and in truth, that’s what Tara learns over the course of this novel.

Ultimately, this is a meet-cute that offers so much more than the average. Are there parts of this book I’d change? Sure. This book skims over large swaths of time, tells instead of shows, and the pacing can be a little odd, but these are blips of imperfection in an otherwise smooth diamond. Go get this book, go read it, and go encourage this writer to write more, because I want more Indian F/F romance, asap.

Mehek Naresh in an Indian-American writer living and working in Florida. She is a graduate of the University of Florida with a B.A. in Political Science. She has previously written for The Rainbow Hub, The Mary Sue, and The Fandomentals. Follow her on Twitter @MehekNaresh.

Elinor reviews A Fairytale of Possibilities by Kiki Archer

British wedding planner Lauren is in the business of making dreams come true for other people. But in her own life she’s been pining over her straight best friend Rachel since they were teenaged university students together. In their eleven years of friendship, Lauren has drifted from girlfriend to girlfriend every several months while nursing her secret crush. Rachel, meanwhile, married the boyfriend she met at university, had a son and became a stay at home mom, and was widowed. It’s been two years since her husband died and Rachel decides she’s ready to get back out there–possibly with women. After so many years of fantasizing, though, making Lauren’s dreams real isn’t as easy as the fairytale she’s had in mind.

Lauren and Rachel’s friendship is full of banter and flirtation from the first pages of the novel and has the shared language of long-time friends. The pair’s conversations hooked me and are just plain fun to read. It made sense to me that Lauren didn’t want to risk a friendship that fulfilled her in so many ways by making advances she thought would be rejected. It also made sense that Rachel had more complicated feelings for her friend than she’d previously explored.

The characters shine in this book. I really appreciated that Rachel’s son Parker behaved like an actual kid. Writing children can be tough and I’ve read a few romance novels featuring single moms in which the kids are placeholders. Not so here. Parker is his own character. Plus Lauren has her own loving relationship with Parker, another thing she doesn’t want to risk. Rachel is a devoted mom doing the right things: taking her son to a grief support group, keeping him connected to her in-laws, trying to determine what’s best for him as she considers what she wants. Other highlights include Lauren’s ridiculous, but ultimately helpful, assistant Trudy, and Lauren’s absurd clients, whose relationships offer some unexpected lessons in love. Though Rachel’s pestering brother-in-law is a cartoonish antagonist and could be much more nuanced, he keeps the story moving along.

The obstacles in the way of the relationship develop, and are resolved, organically. Lauren’s competitiveness and Rachel’s conflict avoidance pop up throughout, so when these cause problems, it makes sense.  I appreciated that Rachel doesn’t have an identity crisis about her interest in women and that it’s Lauren’s idealizing that throws many a wrench in things. I also liked that Rachel’s late husband isn’t an afterthought, and he and his accidental death have an impact throughout the novel. Near the end this involves a pretty intense conversation that neither main character handles well. I thought this made sense and that a romance involving a relatively recent widow is going to have some painful moments. Also, a friendship as intertwined as Lauren and Rachel’s will have clashing perspectives and hidden fears about shared grief. It might be heavier than some readers want, though, especially because the rest of the book is quite light and at times pretty silly. I liked the angst near the end but if you don’t want that, skim this conversation and skip ahead a bit.

Overall, Archer combines great dialogue, occasional low-brow humor, and hot sex for a fun read.  This is a great easy read for lesbian romance fans.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018 and is contributor to the anthology Unspeakably Erotic, edited by D.L. King, out this month. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com

Guest Post by Victoria Elliott: Why We Need Diverse Book Covers

Someone like you belongs on a book cover, but, depending on who you are, it’s appalling how hard you are to find. My wife and I have launched an Indiegogo campaign, We Need Diverse Book Covers, to change that..

A few years ago, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign launched to advocate for improved diversity in children’s literature. This was followed by #weneeddiverseromance with a similar aim for romance fiction. (Both are great. Check them out.) Our IndieGoGo campaign will start with improving the covers of our books, but we’re hoping it does much more than that and ripples outward. We need diversity in what we read, but we also need diversity in the images that we see.

When we started writing and self-publishing lesbian fiction under the pen name Elizabeth Andre, it was like exhaling after holding our breaths for too long. Finally, after years of writing for somebody else’s markets, we were able to write the diverse stories we always wanted to and publish them for the people that we always knew wanted them. They just weren’t of interest to traditional publishers. Since we started self-publishing in 2014, we’ve written about 65-year old lesbians—one Caucasian, one Asian-American—who have sex and fall in love on a cruise. We’ve written about two thirty-something African-American lesbians who cross class lines to find true love. We’ve written about lesbians with disabilities, and we’ve just started a story about a big beautiful woman who, yes, falls in love. Our novels about lesbian ghost hunters are due out in the fall. We also write diverse gay male fiction under the pen names Kendall Morgan and Danielle Summers.

We can do the writing. We have years of writing experience and a wall full of writing awards. We have a dynamite editor. We can layout and produce the books. It’s the covers that haven’t always done our stories or our characters justice. More often than not, we’ve been stymied in our search through stock photo libraries for the wide range of people we write about. This means that, instead of sexy couples, we have photos of sexy individuals or objects suggestive of the story within but not truly reflective of it, not truly reflective of you.

When you don’t see yourself reflected, it’s like you don’t exist. You know you do, but you can feel invisible. We know how that feels. Or maybe there are images that are like you, but they are so distorted that you feel ugly. We need images that reflect how sexy our characters are, that reflect how sexy you are.

And diversity needs to be defined broadly. It’s not just black and white, literally. The diversity we are working toward includes diversity by race, ethnicity, body type, body size, disability, ability, and gender. I have no doubt that we’ll be adding to this list.

It’s an economic injustice that authors who write about white heterosexual couples can go to just about any photo library and for a modest fee download images that look like their characters. We have to go to greater effort and pay more for images, and we will because everyone involved in this project will be paid fairly.

Consider being a part of our Indiegogo campaign in some way. Share it on social media. Blog about it. Talk about it. Contribute. Perks include signed and advance copies of our books as well as opportunities to be the star of our next romance story. Sign up to be one of our models.

You belong on a book cover, too, and you can help make book covers more diverse.

Shira Glassman reviews “Né łe” by Darcie Little Badger (from Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time)

If I told you there was a short story where two women of color fall in love in outer space, surrounded by puppies, you’d go out and buy it right away, right? No, you’d invent a time machine and go back in time and buy it five minutes before you started reading this review. That’s how badly you want cute f/f in space WITH PUPPIES.

“Né łe” by Darcie Little Badger was my favorite story in the Indigenous LGBT SFF anthology Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time, which incidentally includes at least two other f/f pieces, so if you only read f/f it’s still very much worth it. Forty chihuahuas (and one husky!) need care when the dog stasis on the transport to Mars malfunctions and they all wake up, so the crew wakes one of the human passengers, an Apache veterinarian on her way to the Martian colony to start over after a breakup.
Since she needs to stay conscious and take care of the dogs, over the remaining months of  the voyage she grows closer with the pilot, who turns out to be not only Navajo but also another lesbian. They weather the ups and downs of space travel and astronomical doggie care together, and the protagonist has a decision to make once they reach Mars. It’s well-written and easy to follow, with–and you know this is always a priority with me with SFF–approachable worldbuilding.
The world needs truckloads more stories like this one, where not only folks in the LGBT umbrella but also marginalized ethnicities (or ability levels, or marginalized faiths) get to have fluffy and imaginative adventures in space, underwater, or in magical faraway kingdoms. Thank you for this one.

Tierney reviews Consequences by Sarah Libero

[Trigger warning for sexual assault.]

When Emily, a systems analyst, meets Kay, a detective, at their Maine police station, both feel an instant connection: Emily is all too happy to provide her expertise on Kay’s investigation of a drug gang, and she begins questioning her twenty-five-year marriage to her husband, Tom. Then when Tom is killed in a suspicious car accident, Kay takes the case–and her relationship with Emily deepens. As they untangle a complex web of crimes, the two become more and more entangled in each other’s lives. Consequences is a fast-paced romance, with plenty of external cop drama to keep things moving.

Emily and Kay are perfectly likable characters–but their characteristics and character development seems to take a backseat to the novel’s intricate plot twists, and Consequences suffers somewhat for that. For example, the novel opens with Emily getting attacked and sexually assaulted by a stranger, decades prior to the novel’s main events. Ostensibly this prelude serves to explain why she married Tom, instead of pursuing her nascent attraction to women (she states later in the novel that she married him because he helped her feel safe after the attack), but the event’s inclusion and explicitness feel weird and out of place, because it operates as a graphic plot point rather than a traumatic event that Emily works through and that contributes to her character development in some way.

*spoilers in this paragraph* I half expected Emily’s attacker to be somehow involved in the drug-smuggling ring, because everything else in the novel seems to tie back to this investigation, and every other issue in the novel is neatly tied up with a bow when this case is solved. It turns out that Tom was run off the road by one of the drug dealers in the ring, because he had found out about their illegal activities and had incriminating pictures on his phone. And even minor plot points end up leading back to the drug gang: it turns out that the worst player on the station’s poorly-ranked softball team is a crooked cop who was messing with evidence on behalf of the criminals–so with him gone, the team will be on the up and up! It all seemed a little too convenient for each and every obstacle faced by the characters to connect back to the drug investigation. *end spoilers*

Despite all the plot’s dramatic twists, turns, and reveals, I did find myself rooting for Emily and Kay. Their romance had great chemistry–and their first sex scene showcases some pretty great modeling of consent. Read Consequences if you like your romances with a heaping helping of mystery and suspense.

Guest Lesbrarian Lindy Pratch reviews One in Every Crowd by Ivan E. Coyote

Ivan E. Coyote’s autobiographical stories are especially chosen for a teen audience in the collection One in Every Crowd. I was pleased to encounter many of my favourites from previous collections. In the same way that I like listening to some songs over and over, it’s nice to read a good story more than once. I don’t usually allow myself this pleasure, since I don’t often reread books. (Mostly because there are too many new books to get to.)

“No Bikini” — about not being trusted with a two-piece bathing suit as a child — is in here. So is “The Red Sock Circle Dance” — about a friend’s child who started crossdressing when he was still a toddler. There are also three more stories about this boy, Francis, and it’s nice to see him get older through Coyote’s eyes. In “Imagine a Pair of Boots,” Coyote talks about gender pronouns, saying she doesn’t have a preference because neither one fits her: “she pinches a little and he slips off me too easily.”

Coyote writes about her childhood in Whitehorse, Yukon, and about her current home in Vancouver. Many of the newer pieces are about Coyote’s storytelling performances in schools across Canada. Her anti-bullying message is so important, as she explains in “As Good as We Can Make It”:

Bullies grow up — their behaviour gets modified and sometimes their language gets slicked over with education — and they become the political, financial, and social arbiters of life as we know it. I bet you any money that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a bully in school, and don’t we all wish now that someone had nipped him in the bud before it was too late for Canada.
(Yes, I certainly do.) Coyote speaks directly to young butches later on in the same essay. “Do not cave into the pressure from the queer community to fit in, either. Make your own decisions, and trust your own heart. Being butch is not just a bus stop on the highway to transitioning.”

Twenty years ago, I sang in Edmonton Vocal Minority, a gay and lesbian community choir. One of the other altos always wore a dress shirt and skinny tie. She was a little more than 5 feet tall and totally butch. During a break in rehearsal one day, when she complained that customers at the electronic store where she worked always called her “sir,” one of the other lesbians suggested that it might be because she wore men’s clothing. The petite butch was rightfully indignant: “They’re not men’s clothes, they are my clothes.”

Gender nonconformists are teachers, whether they choose that role or not. Coyote’s storytelling has an educational element, no matter what age her audience happens to be. Best of all, she is genuinely warm and funny, whether on the page or in person. I’m looking forward to hearing her again at the Vancouver Writers Fest in October 2012.

The young person illustrated on the cover of One in Every Crowd looks both tough and vulnerable against a background of school lockers; someone who is beginning to grow callouses from daily verbal abuse. Someone who may, or may not, live to survive high school. The art is by Elisha Lim, who also did the cover forPersistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (which is on my TBR pile). Lim obviously has a thing for butches; one of her recent creations is a graphic novel, 100 Butches. Images from 100 Butches can be viewed here, and isn’t it delightful?

Find more of Lindy Pratch’s reviews at her book blog, Lindy Reads and Reviews!