Danika reviews Melt With You by Jennifer Dugan

the cover of Melt With You

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

This is a sapphic YA romance with an ice cream truck road trip, and if that doesn’t intrigue you, we have very different tastes in books. To be more specific, it’s a friends-to-lovers-to-enemies?-to-lovers? ice cream truck road trip sapphic YA romance.

Fallon and Chloe were best friends practically their whole lives. Their moms are best friends who own a gourmet ice cream truck together. (It’s called Love at First Bite, and all the flavours are romance movie puns.) Their moms imagined they’d be as close as sisters, but that’s not exactly how it turned out. Instead, they ended up sleeping together. But Chloe cancelled on Fallon the next day and disappeared to university, and they haven’t really spoken since.

For Fallon, it just reinforced that the night meant nothing for Chloe, and she was foolish to think otherwise. After all, Chloe’s motto is, “It’s not that deep.” When Chloe shows up in town acting like nothing happened, Fallon is pissed and wants nothing to do with her.

That’s when their moms drop the bomb that they have an important business meeting at the same time as their biggest moneymaker event of the year. They need Chloe and Fallon to work at the event, or Love at First Bites will likely go under. But that means driving the truck out there and working shoulder to shoulder for the event. It’s a nightmare for Fallon, but she can’t exactly say no. Meanwhile, Chloe seems to be using the opportunity to win Fallon back over, but she doesn’t understand why Fallon is so angry in the first place.

It’s hard to imagine a better premise for a sapphic summer read! I didn’t love this quite as much as I hoped, but I think that I might have to face that YA romances just aren’t clicking with me lately, so I think that’s a me problem. We’re firmly inside Fallon’s head for the narration, and I found her directly addressing the audience (“I know what you’re thinking, but…”) a little akward.

Also, this book is dominated by miscommunication. Fallon even addresses that she knows everyone will think they just need to talk, but she’s sure she knows what Chloe is thinking and that it’s not worth talking about. This made the middle chunk of the book drag for me, because despite road trip hijinks, the dynamic between Chloe and Fallon is stuck in this dynamic, which made it feel like there wasn’t any progression in the core story.

Still, it delivers on the promise of the description, and it was a quick, light read. If the premise appeals to you and you don’t mind a miscommunication-based plot, toss this one in your tote bag for your beach reading this summer!

New Sapphic Releases: Bi and Lesbian Books Out May 31, 2022

The 5th Tuesday of the month is usually light on releases, but today has some great ones you won’t want to miss! Some of my most-anticipated releases of the year are out today, including Yerba Buena, Nina LaCour’s adult fiction debut, and Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson, a transphobia-fighting sapphic witches fantasy! This is the perfect time to make some last-minute additions to your Pride TBR.

Fiction

Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin (Queer and Trans Short Stories)

the cover of Rainbow Rainbow

A fearless collection of stories that celebrate the humor, darkness, and depth of emotion of the queer and trans experience that’snot typically represented: liminal or uncertain identities, queer conception, and queer joy

In this exuberant, prize-winning collection, queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming characters seek love and connection in hilarious and heartrending stories that reflect the complexity of our current moment.
 
A nonbinary writer on the eve of top surgery enters into a risky affair during the height of COVID. A lesbian couple enlists a close friend as a sperm donor, plying him with a potent rainbow-colored cocktail. A lonely office worker struggling with their gender identity chaperones their nephew to a trans YouTube convention. And in the depths of a Midwestern winter, a sex-addicted librarian relies on her pet ferrets to help resist a relapse at a wild college fair.
 
Capturing both the dark and lovable sides of the human experience, Rainbow Rainbow establishes debut author Lydia Conklin as a fearless new voice for their generation.

The Golden Season by Madelina Kay Sneed (Lesbian Fiction)

the cover of The Golden Season

How do you love a place that doesn’t love you back?

Emmy Quinn is West Texas through and through: her roots run deep in the sleepy small town of Steinbeck, where God sees all and football is king. She loves her community, but she knows that when she comes out as a lesbian, she may not be able to call Steinbeck—which is steeped in the Southern Baptist tradition—home anymore.

After a disastrous conversation with her dad, Emmy meets Cameron, a charismatic, whip-smart grad student from Massachusetts who hates everything Texas. But Texas is in Emmy’s blood. Can she build a future with a woman who can’t accept the things that make Emmy who she is? 

Steve Quinn has just been offered his dream job as head coach of the struggling high school football team, the Steinbeck ‘Stangs. The board thinks he can win them a state championship for the first time—but they tell him he can’t accept the position if he’s got any skeletons in his closet. Steve is still wrestling with Emmy’s coming-out: he loves his daughter, but he’s a man of faith, raised in the Baptist community. How can God ask him to choose between his dreams and his own daughter? 

This lush, gorgeously written debut is a love letter to the places we call home and asks how we grapple with a complicated love for people and places that might not love us back—at least, not for who we really are. The Golden Season is a powerful examination of faith, queerness and the deep-seated bonds of family, and heralds the arrival of a striking new voice in fiction. 

Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour (Sapphic Fiction)

the cover of Yerba Buena

The debut adult novel by the bestselling and award-winning YA author Nina LaCour, following two women on a star-crossed journey toward each other

When Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen, she leaves behind the girl she once was, capable of trust and intimacy. Years later, in Los Angeles, she is a sought-after bartender, renowned as much for her brilliant cocktails as for the mystery that clings to her. Across the city, Emilie Dubois is in a holding pattern, yearning for the beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but unable to commit. On a whim, she takes a job arranging flowers at the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena and embarks on an affair with the married owner.

The morning Emilie and Sara first meet at Yerba Buena, their connection is immediate. But the damage both women carry, and the choices they have made, pulls them apart again and again. When Sara’s old life catches up to her, upending everything she thought she wanted just as Emilie has finally gained her own sense of purpose, they must decide if their love is more powerful than their pasts.

At once exquisite and expansive, astonishing in its humanity and heart, Yerba Buena is a love story for our time and a propulsive journey through the lives of two women trying to find somewhere, or someone, to call home.

Fantasy

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson (Sapphic Fantasy)

the cover of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven

If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

Juno Dawson explores gender and the corrupting nature of power in a delightful and provocative story of magic and matriarchy, friendship and feminism. Dealing with all the aspects of contemporary womanhood, as well as being phenomenally powerful witches, Niamh, Helena, Leonie and Elle may have grown apart but they will always be bound by the sisterhood of  the coven.

Horror

The Book of Queer Saints: Horror Anthology edited by Mae Murray (Queer Horror Anthology)

the cover of The Book of Queer Saints

In this debut horror anthology by editor Mae Murray, queer villains reign supreme. 

The Book of Queer Saints features 13 short stories and a lineup that includes renowned authors Eric LaRocca, Hailey Piper, and Joe Koch. Joining them are the innovative visions of Briar Ripley Page, Nikki R. Leigh, Joshua R. Pangborn, Eric Raglin, Belle Tolls, Perry Ruhland, James Bennett, LC von Hessen, K.S. Walker, and George Daniel Lea.

A fresh blend of transformative body horror, crimson-coated romance, and monstrous eroticism, this anthology is sure to satisfy your every depraved itch.

Foreword by Sam Richard of Weirdpunk Books.

Young Adult

Flip the Script by Lyla Lee (Bisexual F/F YA Romance)

the cover of Flip the Script

The first rule of watching K-dramas: Never fall in love with the second lead.

As an avid watcher of K-dramas, Hana knows all the tropes to avoid when she finally lands a starring role in a buzzy new drama. And she can totally handle her fake co-star boyfriend, heartthrob Bryan Yoon, who might be falling in love with her. After all, she promised the TV producers a contract romance, and that’s all they’re going to get from her.

But when showrunners bring on a new lead actress to challenge Hana’s role as main love interest—and worse, it’s someone Hana knows all too well—can Hana fight for her position on the show, while falling for her on-screen rival in real life?

Summer’s Edge by Dana Mele (Bisexual and Lesbian YA Paranormal Thriller)

the cover of Summer's Edge

I Know What You Did Last Summer meets The Haunting of Hill House in this atmospheric, eerie teen thriller following an estranged group of friends being haunted by their friend who died last summer.

Emily Joiner was once part of an inseparable group—she was a sister, a best friend, a lover, and a rival. Summers without Emily were unthinkable. Until the fire burned the lake house to ashes with her inside.

A year later, it’s in Emily’s honor that Chelsea and her four friends decide to return. The house awaits them, meticulously rebuilt. Only, Chelsea is haunted by ghostly visions. Loner Ryan stirs up old hurts and forces golden boy Chase to play peacemaker. Which has perfect hostess Kennedy on edge as eerie events culminate in a stunning accusation: Emily’s death wasn’t an accident. And all the clues needed to find the person responsible are right here.

As old betrayals rise to the surface, Chelsea and her friends have one night to unravel a mystery spanning three summers before a killer among them exacts their revenge.

Deep in Providence by Riss M. Neilson (Lesbian YA Fantasy)

the cover of Deep in Providence

For best friends Miliani, Inez, Natalie and Jasmine, Providence, Rhode Island has a magic of its own. From the bodegas and late-night food trucks on Broad Street to The Hill that watches over the city, every corner of Providence glows with memories of them practicing spells, mixing up potions and doing séances with the help of the magic Miliani’s Filipino grandfather taught her.

But when Jasmine is killed by a drunk driver, the world they have always known is left haunted by grief…and Jasmine’s lingering spirit. Determined to bring her back, the surviving friends band together, testing the limits of their magic and everything they know about life, death, and each other.

And as their plan to resurrect Jasmine grows darker and more demanding than they imagined, their separate lives begin to splinter the bonds they depend on, revealing buried secrets that threaten the people they care about most. Miliani, Inez and Natalie will have to rely on more than just their mystical abilities to find the light.

Thrilling and absorbing, Deep in Providence is a story of profound yearning, and what happens when three teen girls are finally given the power to go after what they want.

Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches by Kate Scelsa (F/F YA Fantasy)

the cover of Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches

Seventeen-year-old Eleanor is the last person in Salem to believe in witchcraft—or think that her life could be transformed by mysterious forces. After losing her best friend and first love, Chloe, Eleanor has spent the past year in a haze, vowing to stay away from anything resembling romance.

But when a handwritten guide to tarot arrives in the mail at the witchy souvenir store where Eleanor works, it seems to bring with it the message that magic is about to enter her life. Cynical Eleanor is quick to dismiss this promise, until real-life witch Pix shows up with an unusual invitation. Inspired by the magic and mystery of the tarot, Eleanor decides to open herself up to Pix and her coven of witches, and even to the possibility of a new romance.

But Eleanor’s complicated history continues to haunt her. She will have to reckon with the old ghosts that threaten to destroy everything, even her chance at new love.

Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches is a romantic coming-of-age about learning to make peace with the past in order to accept the beauty of the present.

Children’s Books

the cover of The Rainbow Parade by Emily Neilson

The Rainbow Parade by Emily Neilson (Two Moms Pride Picture Book)

A sweet and celebratory story of a family’s first time at Pride

One day in June, Mommy, Mama, and Emily take the train into the city to watch the Rainbow Parade. The three of them love how all the people in the street are so loud, proud, and colorful, but when Mama suggests they join the parade, Emily feels nervous. Standing on the sidewalkis one thing, but walking in the parade? Surely that takes something special.
 
This joyful and affirming picture book about a family’s first Pride parade, reminds all readers that sometimes pride takes practice and there’s no “one way” to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Nonfiction

By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Manga & Anime by Erica Friedman (Nonfiction)

the cover of By Your Side

The Untold Story of Lesbian Love in Japanese Anime and Comics

From the pen of Erica Friedman, lesbian icon and possibly the foremost expert on Yuri (lesbian) Anime and Manga in the Western Hemisphere:

“By Your Side is the complete Yuri resource I only ever dreamed could exist. Decades in the making, this glorious collection surveys, analyzes, and contextualizes Yuri with unparalleled detail and enthusiasm. Friedman graces readers with illuminating insights as they follow her through a century of the genre’s evolution and revolution. By sharing her extraordinary knowledge, she provides inquirers, scholars, and aficionados alike with a deeper appreciation and understanding of lesbian anime and manga while galvanizing them towards the next era of Yuri.”

-Nicki Bauman, Yurimother

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

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

Nat reviews Stud Like Her by Fiona Zedde

the cover of Stud Like Her by Fiona Zedde

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

I actually read Stud Like Her for the first time as soon as it came out, and thought about reviewing it then, but then I thought *everyone* was going to be reviewing it because there are so few books about studs loving other studs. As I was rereading it, I realized I had actually not seen much written about it. 

While this book isn’t erotic romance, it does frequently present imagery of sex, sexual desire, and attraction. There’s a lot of pining for the body of another in great detail and sprinkled generously throughout. If that’s not your jam, this may not be the book for you. But if it is, read on!

Our tormented main character, Chance Cooper, is a stud; meaning she’s a masc of center Black lesbian, and she just so happens to be attracted to other butch women. She’s pushed aside this attraction for nearly a decade, essentially still living in the closet. Much of the book centers around her fighting the constraints of her community and having the courage to live an authentic life. 

Zedde tackles a lot of subjects that are tough to wrangle, so expect a fair amount of angst and frustration as Chance works out her issues. One of the difficult themes is internalized homophobia, with studs loving other studs being seen as “too queer” in the Black community. There’s a lot of shame assoicatied with her attraction, and discussions of being “out” not as a gay woman, but as a gay women attracted to another stud within the gay community. We see these restrictive, hetronormative rules applied to queerness, leading to the same destructive results as if Chance were simply in the closet as a lesbian. This bleeds into another theme, internalized misogyny. The rigid butch/femme structure of Chance’s community leads to toxic masculinty. There’s a lot of us vs them, femmes vs studs heteronormative attitudes that are not doing anyone any favors. 

One of the things I really liked in the book was Chance overcoming her insecurities and breaking away from destructive friendships. As with most queer stories, and in real life, found family is the thing that keeps us afloat. We often see examples of supportive and loving friendships, contrasted with  toxic and problematic family. In this case, it’s the opposite, with Chance having a supportive and loving family, but the worst ever so-called friends.  Like I said, no shortage of angst, but to see our MC come out on the other side is worth the sweat and tears. 

All that serious business aside, there are still plenty of playful moments and humor throughout. We mostly get this after meeting Garret, the young stud who Chance wants to date even though she’s terrified of what others will think. Garret the Hotness, or G-hot, is an Instagram star who gives zero foxes about what other people think of her. She’s young and idealistic and exactly the sort of polar opposite that Chance needs to course correct and finally be happy. 

Overall, consider this an angsty romance filled with self reflection, overcoming fear of rejection, and self-loathing, while exploring issues within the Black queer community. I’m on my second read of the book now, so put it on your summer reading list!

Danika reviews Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life by Rowan Ellis

the cover of Here and Queer

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

It was interested to read this book at about twice its target demographic, because it made me reflect back on how I learned this sort of information when I was a teen. This is a YA nonfiction book introducing queer girls to the basics of what it means to be a queer girl (or think you might be one). My first impression after finishing it was that it didn’t offer a lot that was new, but then I realized that a) it is likely new to the queer teens reading it and b) that I guess there haven’t really been self help books specifically for queer teen girls before! It feels like that should have happened by now, but I can’t think of any.

I liked that this is a highly illustrated, colourful book with glossy pages, which I think makes it a little more accessible. Speaking of accessible, though, I did find that some elements of the design left pages hard to read, with small font or dark text against a dark background.

It’s divided into three parts: Coming Out, Doing It, and Finding Your Community. The advice overall is fairly vague: how do you know if you’re queer? No one else can tell you. Take your time. Pay attention to how you feel. These are all accurate, but I’m not sure how helpful I would have found it as a teen. For me, I learned about this stuff mostly pieced together from tumblr posts, which probably isn’t the best source, but it worked fairly well for me. I would have appreciated more practical tips, but I know it’s tricky to get into specifics on topics that are so different from person to person.

One aspect I really appreciated was that Ellis brought in several different people who represent other experiences in the queer community, including being a queer woman of colour, being trans and queer, and being disabled and queer. They have an essay each to talk about their own lives and give advice to queer teen girls, which I think is really valuable. (Unfortunately, those are the sections that are hardest to read because of the design.)

While I kept reminding myself that this is meant as an introduction, it sometimes felt like it fluctuated between providing introductory, very general advice and including things that don’t have enough context for someone encountering this concept for the first time. For instance, the Stonewall Riots are described as: “… outside a bar in New York, tensions boiled over into an uprising. Police raids at the The Stonewall Inn were nothing new, but something was different this time around.” It doesn’t explain what it means for a gay bar to have a police raid, or what the specific mistreatment was that was being protested. It goes on to name some of the people involved, then says the riots lasted for days and that they inspired Pride celebrations that continue today, but I think if this was the first I’d heard of the Stonewall Riots, I wouldn’t really get what happened to start them.

I think the concept of this book is strong, but it didn’t live up to what I wanted from it. Then again, I’m not a teen queer girl, and I am glad that a book exists specifically for their questions, even if the answers aren’t exactly what I’d like to see. It is trans-inclusive and also addresses questioning your gender, which is great! While I don’t whole-heartedly recommend it, I do think there will be teens who appreciate having access to it, so it will be a good title to stock for public and school libraries (for the librarians who order, stock, and defend queer books: you are heroes who deserve so much better).

I hope that soon there will be many more advice and self help books for queer teen girls!

Danika reviews Spear by Nicola Griffith

the cover of Spear by Nicola Griffith

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

The first book I read by Nicola Griffith was Hild, a 560 page (for the first book in the trilogy) meticulously-researched historical fiction title that left me feeling like I was wandering through a dense fog of unfamiliar names and terms–and yet, it was so engaging that I couldn’t put it down. So although this is a standalone novella, I went in feeling a little bit intimidated.

That instinct wasn’t wrong: I was immediately confronted with Welsh people and place names I’ve never seen before, as well as vocabulary I’m not familiar with. This is a retelling of the Arthur legends, so if you’re more familiar with these stories (or with Welsh words!), you’ll probably be less lost than I was in that first chapter.

Still, I knew that I would be rewarded for hanging with it, and I definitely was. Reading Griffith’s books feels like an intellectual expansion for me: it’s clear how carefully she considers her words and how deeply the setting is researched. While that can feel like a barrier to get into it, it also means that there is so much depth and richness to the story, which more than makes up for me stumbling through the first chapter or so.

This follows an unnamed (at least, at first) main character raised in isolation, closely connected to nature, who disguises herself as a man and sets off to become a knight of King Artos’s court. This is a lofty goal for a girl in scavenged armor riding a bony horse, but she knows it’s her destiny. While she is assumed to be a man by most people she meets and she does sleep with women (who know she’s a woman), at first, this isn’t a major part of the story–but it only gets more queer as it goes.

She’s a fascinating character who has a synergistic relationship with nature: she has reflexes and senses that are beyond what humans are normally capable of because of it, which is what allows her to slowly make her way closer to the possibility of being one of the chosen few knights of Artos.

While I enjoyed the whole book, I thought the section that takes place at King Artos’s court is the most interesting. There, we learn about (spoiler) the Lancelot character’s relationship with both the Guinevere and Arthur characters. (end spoiler) Our main character also begins to question deeply for the first time her destiny, her upbringing, and her instincts. She enters this space feeling confident in herself, but she begins to wonder if she should feel ashamed, if she is somehow “unclean”. (Which not really about homophobia, aside from the metaphor.) There’s also an enthralling love story with a woman intertwined with her destiny.

This is one of the few books I’ve ever read that made me gasp out loud as I read it. I’m not usually an expressive reader, so that was a surprise. This novella is precisely plotted, both building up an expansive world and mythology while moving through a lean story that deserves its own spot among the most renowned Arthur legends. It feels timeless, but also has a depth that makes these people feel real and relatable.

I enjoyed reading the afterword, where the author both lays out her substantial research into the setting while also delighting in being able to create a mishmash of many different Arthur stories–with her own queer twist, of course. She describes how this is the great tradition of Arthur stories: they are all essentially fan fiction, remixing the versions that came before. Though Griffith borrows elements from many other stories, this narrative stands alone, feeling cohesive and layered, even if you (like me) don’t recognize the references or inspirations. (Oh, and I didn’t even mention the handful of gorgeous illustrations throughout!)

This is a small book that packs a big punch, and I was surprised how moved I was by the love story, considering that romance didn’t play much of a role for the first section of the book. I am definitely now on board for anything Griffith writes, and I can’t wait to explore her backlist. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just read her Writer’s Manifesto, and I’ll be off fanning my face for a bit.

7 Sapphic YA Graphic Novels I Read at Work

Alright, I didn’t really read these while at my job. Contrary to what many seem to believe, library workers don’t actually get to read on the clock (much to our chagrin). But I do see a lot while I am shelving, sorting, shipping, and receiving books, and graphic novels are especially eye-catching. Sometimes I’ll see a book go by and think, “Hey, that looks like it might be gay.” Sometimes I’m able to check it out and see, and sometimes I have to remember to look it up later. The following graphic novels I spotted while working at the library, and actually managed to get around to reading—on my own time, of course. Mostly.

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu is a cute little story about professional witch-in-training Nova Huang and her childhood crush, runaway werewolf Tam Lang, reuniting when an unruly forest demon starts haunting their hometown. It’s all very surface depth—the romance is straightforward and without drama, the characters are likable in very obvious ways, and the story is a basic set-up and knock-down affair that practically advertises its happy ending. That said, the graphic novel is executed clearly and effectively, and it ends with a complete tale all told. A lot of people will be happy with the variety of representation on display here, and for what I think started off as a serial webcomic, Mooncakes isn’t half bad.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama (Amazon Affiliate Link)

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko is a short, stand-alone manga, punctuated with what seems to be the first chapter of a completely different manga over halfway through the book. It’s exactly what the title says—serious businesswoman Morimoto Machi enters into a domestic partnership with her lesbian friend Agaya Hana to get her parents to stop pestering her about finding a man. It’s certainly a bit contrived, although the manga does have some rudimentary exploration into the personal and societal forces that might push two people into the titular situation. Overall, though, I found the pacing awkward (it also ends rather abruptly), and the humor a little immature for my tastes. But while I can’t bring myself to call the writing good, it’s at least written with heart. I can see this being someone’s favorite manga, but I personally wouldn’t keep space on my bookshelf for it.

the cover of Kiss Number 8

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw is a story about a teenage girl at a Catholic high school grappling with a crush on her best friend, conflicting pressures from her parents and peers, and a long-buried queer history in her own family. I’ll be frank, I did not like this book—largely for personal reasons, though I feel I ought to give a warning in case others might feel the same. A lot in Kiss Number 8 (especially the hook of seven poor kisses with boys, followed by the titular eighth with a girl) lead me to believe that the protagonist’s primary struggle would be that of a lesbian wrestling with compulsory heterosexuality. This is not the case; she is solidly bisexual, and in fact has sex with the brother of the girl she shared her eighth kiss with. This is not a problem in and of itself, but the surprise of it did sour my experience with the graphic novel.

the cover of What If We Were… by Axelle Lenoir

What If We Were… by Axelle Lenoir feels like a cross between a classic graphic novel and a collection of Sunday newspaper comic spreads, a la Calvin and Hobbes. It introduces us to teenage best friends Nathalie and Marie, who pass time imagining themselves as wildly different people in a variety of hilarious situations. This isn’t a metaphor or a rhetorical tool—many pages are just spent on the visual spectacle and humor of this (granted, quite cute and imaginative) game. It was the humor that I found fell somewhat flat; it relies heavily on absurdism and overreaction in a way that just didn’t click for me. The anxious teenage romance between Nathalie and her crush Jane Doe carried the rest of the story, but without it I don’t think I’d have much to say about the writing.

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash is a graphic memoir recounting the author’s first lesbian crush at an all-girls summer camp in the American South. Honor Girl was the first of these graphic novels that I felt really had something to say, where the pieces all came together to form something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also just good memoir writing. Autobiography can be hard to nail, but Maggie Thrash has an excellent sense on which details to include and what moments to linger on, and they manage to weave a bittersweet and melancholy story without the sense of contrivance that a too-neat memoir can impart. Some graphic novel aficionados might pass Honor Girl by on account of the rough and raw art style, but if so, they’re missing out.

the cover of Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is a wonderfully drawn and well-written graphic novel about a bad relationship. Freddy Riley loves Laura Dean, but Laura Dean neglects, isolates, takes for granted, and yes, keeps breaking up with Freddy. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me feels layered in a way that the other graphic novels here so far haven’t, and I really liked how the authors would just let certain moments or transitions breathe. That said, this book is never going to be a favorite of mine—and not just because it isn’t a happy romance. The characterization of Laura Dean clearly evokes the imagery of butch lesbians; it’s what makes her so “cool,” so desirable, but it’s also inextricably tied to what makes her a bad girlfriend. This isn’t to say that the story is invalid because I didn’t like how a character was coded; butches can, of course, be bad partners. But considering how poorly masculine women are still treated today, it honestly hurt a little to read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me and see such an obvious elevation of queer femininity at their expense.

The Girl From the Sea cover

The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag takes the cake, hands down, as my favorite graphic novel of the bunch. It’s about a closeted teenage lesbian living in a small island town, whose teetering life balance is completely upended with she falls in love with a selkie. Everything I saw the other graphic novels in this list reach for, The Girl From the Sea pulls off. The romance is adorable and sweet, but the characters have their own nuances that keeps it from feeling flat or predictable. The story is tight and well-paced, but there’s enough complexity going on that I don’t feel like a second read-through would be merely perfunctory. The art is great, the humor lands well, and I finished the book wanting more but feeling satisfied with what I had.

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends most of her free time running Dungeons & Dragons (like she has since the 90’s), and has even published a few adventures for it. You can follow her @RainyRedwoods on both twitter and tumblr.

Danika review Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

the cover of Burn Down, Rise Up

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

I have to say, although I love the illustration of Raquel, I don’t think cover does justice to this being a horror novel. I got sports vibes from it. I didn’t notice the little monster claws/legs in the background on first viewing. But this is definitely horror, with some blood and gore, so be prepared for that going in.

This is a YA horror novel about a nightmare version of the Bronx where people are infected with mold until it consumes them, where fires burn endlessly, and where giant centipedes roam the streets and eat anyone they can catch. It’s bloody and has some serious body horror. But it’s also about the history of the Bronx, the racist policies that led to real-life horrors, and what it takes to try to rebuild when the fires still aren’t completely out.

People keep disappearing from the Bronx, and even the white teenagers who get a full police investigation aren’t found. It’s just background noise in Raquel’s life, until one day her mother goes into a coma after coming in contact with a patient covered in strange mold who then fled. Her crush, Charlize, confides in her that she saw her cousin Cisco before he disappeared, and he was covered in that same mold. If he was the one who infected Raquel’s mother, maybe finding him will be the key to helping her.

Aaron, Raquel’s best friend who also has a crush on Charlize (Awkward.), agrees to help, and the three of them try to research what happened to Cisco. Meanwhile, Raquel has started having disturbing visions and dreams, including one that leaves her with a burn on her skin. After going down some Reddit rabbit holes, they learn about the Echo game, also known as the Subway game. It involves going into the subway tunnels at exactly 3 A.M. and chanting, “We are Echobound.” The rules are strict, and it’s said that if you break them, you will never come back. Forums online are full of people’s stories of this Echo place, a nightmare version of their city.

The Echo game sounds a lot like the sort of creepypasta horror stories that get passed around Reddit and other forums, with just enough specificity to have you questioning whether they’re real or not.

Between a school assignment and the Echo research, Raquel learns about the darkest time in the Bronx’s history, which is taken to the extreme in its Echo. She learns about the racist policies that led to low income houses burning down constantly, killing many residents. She identifies the villain at the centre as the Slumlord who profited off the Bronx’s unsafe living conditions. I did feel like this got a little bit didactic at times, but I think that’s a complaint coming from being a 32-year-old reading a YA novel and not necessarily an issue with the book itself.

Charlize, Aaron, and Raquel gear up to enter the Echo to find Cisco and bring him back, but despite their research, it’s much more than they were prepared for. To find Cisco, first they’ll have to find a way to survive at all.

This is being marketed as Stranger Things meets Jordan Peele, which I think is a fair comparison: it definitely has social thriller elements, and it has the weirdness of Stranger Things, but with a little more gore. If you want an antiracist sapphic YA social thriller and can stomach some body horror, give this one a try.

Content warnings: gore, violence, racism, gun use, police brutality, discussion of cannibalism, fire injuries/burns

New Sapphic Releases: Bi and Lesbian Books Out May 24, 2022

While June always (well, at least in the last few years!) comes with a deluge of queer new releases, there are also plenty coming out in the lead up to Pride this week! We’ve got a selection of bisexual books, including some bi M/F romances. There are also some fascinating nonfiction titles hitting the shelves, including a queer roller derby memoir and a YA nonfic book about queer behaviour in animals!

Since I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading all of these, I’ve used the publishers’ descriptions.

Which queer books coming out this week are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments!

Fiction

Solo Dance by Li Kotomi, translated by Arthur Reiji Morris (Queer Literary Fiction)

the cover of Solo Dance

A powerful novel about the LGBTQ rights movement and gay love in Japan and Taiwan, from the most important queer voice of East Asia’s millennial generation.

Cho Norie, twenty-seven and originally from Taiwan, is working an office job in Tokyo. While her colleagues worry about the economy, life-insurance policies, marriage, and children, she is forced to keep her unconventional life hidden―including her sexuality and the violent attack that prompted her move to Japan. There is also her unusual fascination with death: she knows from personal experience how devastating death can be, but for her it is also creative fuel. Solo Dance depicts the painful coming of age of a gay person in Taiwan and corporate Japan. This striking debut is an intimate and powerful account of a search for hope after trauma.

Romance

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi (Bisexual M/F Romance)

the cover of You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty

Feyi Adekola wants to learn how to be alive again.

It’s been five years since the accident that killed the love of her life and she’s almost a new person now—an artist with her own studio and sharing a brownstone apartment with her ride-or-die best friend, Joy, who insists it’s time for Feyi to ease back into the dating scene. Feyi isn’t ready for anything serious, but a steamy encounter at a rooftop party cascades into a whirlwind summer she could have never imagined: a luxury trip to a tropical island, decadent meals in the glamorous home of a celebrity chef, and a major curator who wants to launch her art career.

She’s even started dating the perfect guy, but their new relationship might be sabotaged before it has a chance by the overwhelming desire Feyi feels every time she locks eyes with the one person in the house who is most definitely off-limits—his father.

This new life she asked for just got a lot more complicated, and Feyi must begin her search for real answers. Who is she ready to become? Can she release her past and honor her grief while still embracing her future? And, of course, there’s the biggest question of all—how far is she willing to go for a second chance at love? Akwaeke Emezi’s vivid and passionate writing takes us deep into a world of possibility and healing, and the constant bravery of choosing love against all odds.

Young Adult

Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster by Andrea Mosqueda (Bisexual YA Contemporary)

the cover of Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster

Growing up in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Maggie Gonzalez has always been a little messy, but she’s okay with that. After all, she has a great family, a goofy group of friends, a rocky romantic history, and dreams of being a music photographer. Tasked with picking an escort for her little sister’s quinceañera, Maggie has to face the truth: that her feelings about her friends―and her future―aren’t as simple as she’d once believed.

As Maggie’s search for the perfect escort continues, she’s forced to confront new (and old) feelings for three of her friends: Amanda, her best friend and first-ever crush; Matthew, her ex-boyfriend twice-over who refuses to stop flirting with her, and Dani, the new girl who has romantic baggage of her own. On top of this romantic disaster, she can’t stop thinking about the uncertainty of her own plans for the future and what that means for the people she loves.

As the weeks wind down and the boundaries between friendship and love become hazy, Maggie finds herself more and more confused with each photo. When her tried-and-true medium causes more chaos than calm, Maggie needs to figure out how to avoid certain disaster―or be brave enough to dive right into it, in Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster.

Beauty and the Besharam by Lillie Vale (Bisexual M/F YA Contemporary)

the cover of Beauty and the Besharam

Seventeen-year-old, high-achieving Kavya Joshi has always been told she’s a little too ambitious, a little too mouthy, and overall just a little too much. In one word: besharam.

So, when her nemesis, Ian Jun, witnesses Kavya’s very public breakup with her loser boyfriend on the last day of junior year, she decides to lay low and spend the summer doing what she loves best–working part time playing princess roles for childrens’ birthday parties. But her plan is shot when she’s cast as Ariel instead of her beloved Belle, and learns that Ian will be her Prince Eric for the summer. [Cue the combative banter.]

Exhausted by Kavya and Ian’s years-long feud, their friends hatch a plan to end their rivalry by convincing them to participate in a series of challenges throughout the summer. Kavya is only too eager to finally be declared the winner. But as the competition heats up, so too does the romantic tension, until it escalates from a simmer to a full-on burn.

Primal Animals by Julia Lynn Rubin (Sapphic YA Horror)

the cover of Primal Animals

Arlee Gold has always lived in the shadow of her successful mom; even after everything Arlee’s been through, her mother still expects nothing but the best. In an effort to get her daughter back on track after a less-than-stellar few school years, she’s enrolled Arlee as a legacy at Camp Rockaway, an elite college prep summer camp deep in the North Carolina wilderness. On her own for the first time and buzzing with anxiety, Arlee is intimidated by the camp’s shiny exterior, suffocated by the relentless, thick summer heat…and tormented by the ceaseless stream of crawling, slimy, flapping bugs that seem to come straight from her nightmares.

In the midst of her brewing dread, Arlee is relieved to find a queer sanctuary in her bunkmates, and is especially drawn to Winnie, the enigmatic girl who sleeps in the bunk above her. Except Arlee starts to notice whispers in her wake, and how so many others recoil from her as if she were as creepy as the insects that terrify her. Struggling in her prep classes and feeling increasingly paranoid, Arlee can no longer suppress her panicked glitches.” Winnie, too, seems to become wary, and Arlee’s worst fear is confirmed: even here, in the place her mother promised was “going to change everything,” she’s been found out as a freak.

Just as she’s facing a summer completely alone, another rising junior slips her a mysterious invitation, and Arlee finds herself caught up in a secret society that expects its sisterhood to protect each other from any and all who would harm them―by any means necessary. Here, finally, Arlee feels like a part of something bigger, something that matters. Guided by their cunning leader, Lisha, a rising senior with a smile sharp enough to cut bone, the sisterhood will stand against any threat, unquestioningly. But when Winnie is put in grave danger, Arlee is forced to confront just how far her sisters will go, and whether they truly protect the girls.

A Cruel and Fated Light (The Hollow Star Saga #2) by Ashley Shuttleworth (Sapphic and M/M YA Fantasy)

the cover of A Cruel and Fated Light

Half-fae Arlo becomes entangled in the courtly intrigue at the Seelie Summer palace as danger for ironborns mounts in this gripping sequel to A Dark and Hollow Star.

After thwarting the man behind the gruesome ironborn murders—and breaking several fae laws to do so—all Arlo wants is a quiet summer. As the deity of luck’s Hollow Star, capable of bringing about endless possibilities, this shouldn’t be too much to ask, right?

But someone is still trying to summon the mythical Seven Deadly Sins. All signs point to immortal meddling, and if this is the gods’ attempt at returning to the Mortal Realm, it’s Arlo they’re going to use to do it.

When Queen Riadne offers to host Arlo at the Seelie Summer palace, she jumps at the chance. She’ll get to see more of Vehan and Aurelian and perhaps even work out her complicated feelings for the gorgeous ex-Fury, Nausicaä. But no one trusts the infamous Queen of Light, even as Arlo wonders if she’s just been greatly misunderstood.

With the Summer Solstice quickly approaching, everyone expects Riadne to finally challenge the High King for his crown. And as Arlo struggles to get control of her powers and take charge of her destiny, she’ll soon be faced with a choice that won’t only change the fate of the Mortal Realm forever but could condemn it to a cruelty the likes of which the Courts have never known.

Queer Ducks (And Other Animals): The Natural World of Sexuality by Eliot Schrefer (Queer YA Nonfiction)

the cover of Queer Ducks (And Other Animals)

This groundbreaking illustrated YA nonfiction title from two-time National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Eliot Schrefer is a well-researched and teen-friendly exploration of the gamut of queer behaviors observed in animals.

A quiet revolution has been underway in recent years, with study after study revealing substantial same-sex sexual behavior in animals. Join celebrated author Eliot Schrefer on an exploration of queer behavior in the animal world—from albatrosses to bonobos to clownfish to doodlebugs.

In sharp and witty prose—aided by humorous comics from artist Jules Zuckerberg—Schrefer uses science, history, anthropology, and sociology to illustrate the diversity of sexual behavior in the animal world. Interviews with researchers in the field offer additional insights for readers and aspiring scientists.

Queer behavior in animals is as diverse and complex—and as natural—as it is in our own species. It doesn’t set us apart from animals—it bonds us even closer to our animal selves.

Middle Grade

Fight + Flight by Jules Machias (Sapphic Middle Grade Contemporary)

the cover of Fight and Flight

Avery Hart lives for the thrill and speed of her dirt bike and the pounding thump of her drum kit. But after she’s diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a disease that affects her joints, Avery splits her time between endless physical therapy and worrying that her fun and independence are over for good.

Sarah Bell is familiar with worry, too. For months, she’s been having intense panic attacks. No matter how much she pours her anxiety into making art, she can’t seem to get a grip on it, and she’s starting to wonder if she’ll be this way forever.

Just as both girls are reaching peak fear about what their futures hold, their present takes a terrifying turn when their school is seemingly attacked by gunmen. Though they later learn it was an active shooter drill, the traumatic experience bonds the girls together in a friendship that will change the way they view their perceived weaknesses—and help them find strength, and more, in each other.

Nonfiction

Brace for Impact: A Memoir by Gabe Montesanti (Queer Memoir)

the cover of Brace for Impact

Growing up queer in a conservative Midwestern town, Gabe Montesanti never felt comfortable in her own skin. A competitive swimmer, she turned to perfectionism and self-control to create a sense of safety, only to develop an eating disorder and constantly second-guess her instincts. When she enters graduate school in St. Louis, she is determined to put the baggage of her childhood behind her. With no prior experience, she joins Arch Rival, one of the top-ranked roller derby leagues in the world. Gabe instantly falls in love with the sport’s roughness, intensity, and open embrace of people who are literally and figuratively scarred. She soon finds community and a sense of belonging, reveling in the tattoos, glitter, and campiness. 

But when Gabe suffers a catastrophic injury, she can no longer ignore the parallels between the physicality of roller derby and the unresolved trauma of her upbringing. Rendered inactive, forced to be still, Gabe realizes she needs to heal her emotional wounds as much as her physical ones; she must confront her fear and self-diminishment in order to feel truly alive.

Told with unflinching honesty and a giant dose of wonder, Brace for Impact is a tender, inspiring memoir about the everyday heroism of pursuing a life less ordinary, and the deeply human need to be at peace with who you are.

Don’t You Dare: Uncovering Lost Love by Gayla Turner (Sapphic Biography)

the cover of Don't You Dare

Don’t You Dare is a compelling story that weaves together a current-day journey of discovery and a true-life love story between two women that took place over a hundred years ago. Newspaper headlines and stories back then didn’t mention LGBTQ people. The LGBTQ community loved and lived in the background of society because it was too dangerous to do otherwise. All were hidden, just like the wedding photos belonging to author Gayla Turner’s grandmother – Ruby. This unforgettable book begins with the discovery of these hidden wedding photos dated June 8, 1915. As these photos unveiled an awe-inspiring secret, Gayla Turner embarked on a seven-year journey to find out more about her grandmother and the woman standing next to her dressed as the groom.

Curiosity led to extensive research that uncovered a love story between Ruby and the mystery woman in the photos. The author also uncovered a secret lesbian social club that was formed in the early 1900s by a local businesswoman. Women from as far away as Chicago traveled by train to the little farm town of Amherst, Wisconsin, to attend her exclusive parties. The local town people thought Cora held private tea and card parties so single young ladies could talk about how to find a husband. Little did they know, finding a man was not a subject of their conversations.

Public Faces, Secret Lives: A Queer History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement by Wendy L. Rouse (Queer Nonfiction)

the cover of Public Faces, Secret Lives by Wendy L Rouse

Restores queer suffragists to their rightful place in the history of the struggle for women’s right to vote

The women’s suffrage movement, much like many other civil rights movements, has an important and often unrecognized queer history. In Public Faces, Secret Lives Wendy L. Rouse reveals that, contrary to popular belief, the suffrage movement included a variety of individuals who represented a range of genders and sexualities. However, owing to the constant pressure to present a “respectable” public image, suffrage leaders publicly conformed to gendered views of ideal womanhood in order to make women’s suffrage more palatable to the public.

Rouse argues that queer suffragists did take meaningful action to assert their identities and legacies by challenging traditional concepts of domesticity, family, space, and death in both subtly subversive and radically transformative ways. Queer suffragists also built lasting alliances and developed innovative strategies in order to protect their most intimate relationships, ones that were ultimately crucial to the success of the suffrage movement. Public Faces, Secret Lives is the first work to truly recenter queer figures in the women’s suffrage movement, highlighting their immense contributions as well as their numerous sacrifices.

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

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

Meagan Kimberly reviews Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Fledgling by Octavia Butler cover

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Waking up with amnesia in a cave and having no knowledge of who or what she is, the protagonist of Fledgling undergoes a painstakingly slow journey of discovering she is what’s called an Ina, or more popularly thought of as a vampire. She appears as a 10-year-old child but finds she’s actually 53 years old. As the story progresses, she learns more about her family, the way of the Ina, and who killed her family.

Because of her appearance as a child, Shori’s relationships with her symbionts are highly uncomfortable. More than that, she’s a Black child, which portrays how Black girls are often hypersexualized in real life. It’s also significant that although she’s Ina, she’s also a Black child, and that she is the result of experimentation, which can’t be ignored, as historically the U.S. government has experimented on Black communities.

The story unravels at an infuriating pace, but it makes sense as readers learn about what happened and about the Ina at the same time Shori does. Butler’s writing is effective in showing how frustrating and maddening it feels to have knowledge slowly come to you but no memory of how you know things.

While Shori engages in sexual relationships with both her male and female symbionts, it doesn’t seem like she particularly identifies as being on the bi/pan spectrum. On paper, it seems like it should be defined that way. But because Shori’s relationships are instinctual because of her Ina nature, it’s hard to say how much of her feelings are part of her sexuality, rather than part of her survival instincts.

Their relationships also bring up important questions about consent. When Shori finds herself needing to take over the symbiont relationship of Celia and Brook, her brothers’ former symbionts after they died, they agree to the bond. However, the chemical and hormonal responses between both Shori and the symbionts make them physically repulsed by one another and resist the transition. So, can this truly be considered consent?

The Ina culture hinges greatly on the separation of sexes between males and females being seen as men and women. The way Butler has written this society shows there’s no nuance for gender identity and what that means for the roles each individual plays in their culture. But much of what Shori learns about herself and the Ina comes from the word of Iosif, her father, meaning she must rely on the word of others around her to know how to behave. Butler shows that Shori trusts them based on instinct, so it presents the question of how much does social conditioning become encoded in one’s DNA?

There are so many layers and complex themes that Butler addresses with Fledgling. It would be impossible to hit every note in one book review. Overall, it’s a weird book with a lot to make readers uncomfortable. But if you can roll with that, then this is certainly a new take on the vampire mythos that I wish we’d had more room and time to discover. It reads like this was meant to be part of a new series, but it was the last novel Butler wrote before she died.

Trigger warnings: pedophilia

Til reviews Take Me Home by Lorelei Brown

the cover of Take Me Home

In Take Me Home, Keighley answers an ad offering a fake date for Thanksgiving, hoping to annoy her Conservative aunt. Thus she meets Brooke: a confident, outgoing, snarky tattoo artist to whom Keighley is immediately attracted. What starts as a single fake date escalates to enjoying one another’s company, caring for a hurt puppy, and intimacy—both physical and emotional.

I decided to give myself something of a new experience this month and try reading a romance. It’s a genre I have consistently avoided, in part due to a perceived prevalence of toxic tropes, in part because I struggle to feel engaged with the low-stakes question of whether two people will continue to date one another.

Take Me Home is a novella, with story beats hit so quickly they’re almost perfunctory. For someone not overly engaged with this sort of narrative, that was perfect. Yet, I think romance fans might enjoy this as well. Yes, the story moves quickly, but Keighley and Brooke are distinct characters with genuine chemistry and nice banter. The two bond over some casual things like dogs, and some deeper things, like their beliefs. I believed their interest in one another came from a real place.

Overall, this is an enjoyable, quick romance between two characters with genuine chemistry, with a cute puppy thrown in. Romance fans may want more—but as it’s part of a series, they’ll know where to go next. It didn’t make a convert out of me, but I found the read pleasant all the same.