Stephanie reviews Blue Talk and Love by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan

blue talk and love mecca jamilah sullivan

Trigger warnings: Rape threats, mild violence, fat-shaming.

As soon as this book was released I knew I had to have it. Stories about Black queer women written by a Black queer woman? Yes, please! I was a little worried that I wouldn’t connect to them; they are all set in and around New York City, a place I’ve only visited once as a kid.  It is a testament to Sullivan’s skill and talent that I was immediately drawn into this book. Not only that, her vivid descriptions of various part of New York made me feel as if I were right there with her characters. Indeed, I could smell the smoke and coconut oil in Earnestine’s father’s hair in “Blue Talk and Love,” the second story in the collection.   Still, the specificity of the locales might alienate some readers as it draws in others.

The first story in the book, “Wolfpack” is drawn from real-life events: the trial and subsequent conviction of several young Black lesbians charged with stabbing the man who had threatened to rape them. The story begins with a directive: “This is a story that matters, so listen.”  Those of us who remember this event are immediately drawn into this story, which retells the events of that summer night from several perspectives. The voice that resonated with me the most was Verniece’s (oddly spelled two different ways in the story).  She tells her story with a quiet resolve: her desire to become a mother, her love for her girlfriend of two years, as well as her constant battles with her mother over her sexual orientation. “Wolfpack” is heartbreaking as well as anger inducing. Black lesbians are all too familiar with how attempts to protect ourselves from harm are often met with backlash. The judge that sentences these women suggests that they should have ignored the “I’ll fuck you straight,” as if those words didn’t imply an impending action. Sullivan does a wonderful job of transporting us back in time to that summer night, and in doing so, begs the question, what right do Black lesbians have to defend themselves from bodily harm?

Another favorite is “A Magic of Bags.” Sullivan transports us to a starkly different section of New York, that of the upper-middle class world of the Harlem Grange Homeowners’ Council, where “Most of the Grange’s young people spent their free time hopping subway turnstiles on the way home from their private schools, smoking looses in Riverside Park in feeble defiance of authority, plotting futures with one-another, most of which ended with masters’ degrees from MIT and expensive wedding receptions in opulent hotels downtown.”  The story’s protagonist, Ilana, is alienated from this world, even her mother tries her best to maintain her place in it. Ilana is large and strange (she carries a bag of broken baby dolls wherever she goes), and sees herself as gifted, although it is not altogether clear the specific nature of her gifts. The story meanders a bit, as Ilana’s main purpose is to cause trouble for folks that she sees as victims of “horizontal thought.”  This includes her mother, the women in the neighborhood, and her one friend, DeShawn.  Still, Ilana’s keen observations on the trappings of domesticity and upper middle-class Black life are what make this story so interesting. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, as I feel that Sullivan might have missed an opportunity to push Ilana out of her comfort zone.

Other stories in the collection include “Saturday,” where eight year-old Malaya is forced to attend a weight loss support group with her mother because she has fallen off of the program wagon. Malaya daydreams of French fries and eats cold Chinese food in her room at night, yet often dreams of one day waking up “with a lightness and a spring.” Me-Millie and Me-Christine are the conjoined twins in “A Strange People,” sisters searching for a show that will accept them after their former slave-owner dies. The story offers keen observations on race, (dis)ability, performance, and desire in the 19th century.

Most of the stories in this collection focus on Black and brown bodies, queer in their sexual orientation, size, ability, and often a combination of all three. Sullivan reminds us that fat queer bodies are often the objects of ridicule and pain, but that they also are sites for joy and self-acceptance. We want, no NEED more from this writer.

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Julie Thompson reviews Roller Girl (A Lake Lovelace novel) by Vanessa North

roller girl vanessa north

Riptide Publishing
Release date: July 25, 2016

Roller Girl is the third installment of Vanessa North’s “Lake Lovelace” series. It stars Tina Durham, a retired pro wake boarder, who finds herself at a crossroads in her life. One of her main concerns is relying on other people too much. After her divorce (which happens before the novel begins), she reflects on how her ex-wife had taken care of most of the day-to-day maintenance of the house, as well as other tasks. Tina asks herself throughout the story if she can take care of herself. Where is the line between asking for help and over relying on other people to solve her problems? Late one night, her washing machine goes on the fritz.

Enter Joanne “Joe Mama” Delario, coach of the local women’s roller derby team and plumber extraordinaire. It’s lust at first sight, though Joe also sizes Tina up as a perfect addition to the derby team. The two women hit it off and meet up for a casual date soon after. It’s Tina’s first foray into the dating world after her divorce and since she began publicly living as a woman.

When Tina shares her identity as trans woman on the first date, Joe isn’t fazed. The major kink in their relationship has nothing to do with Tina’s gender identity. Rather, it centers on whether or not the two of them dating will wedge the roller derby team apart. The last thing Tina wants is for her potential teammates to think that she was awarded special privileges by hooking up with the coach. She’s a professional athlete and prides herself on her hard work and skill. Support comes from all corners – her friends and their partners, Ben and Davis, Eddie and Wish; roller derby teammates; her boss and clients; and local media. Tina experiences a lot of game changing moments in her life over a short period of time, but the author does a good job of weaving them towards a satisfying conclusion.

The author makes sure that her leading lady experiences everything from the tremulous nerves of a first date to heart pounding sweaty sex to the ultimate question of what does this relationship mean to you and do we have a future? Tina doesn’t have “fade to black” or “the door slowly closes” sex. The bedroom scenes are respectful, but not to the extent that the women are held with kid gloves. Both women’s bodies are a beautiful tangle of limbs and pleasure, not objects of revulsion or something to be fetishized.

The Lake Lovelace Rollergirls give Tina an outlet for her competitive drive, as well as a chance to make new friends and join in a sisterhood of strong women. It’s been awhile since she’s participated in anything athletic outside of the small gym where she works as a personal trainer. The team interactions as the women gear up for practice, tryouts, and bouts, are fun, with a fair amount of mental and physical bruises. Tina comes up with a saucy, meaningful derby moniker, but I’ll leave that as a surprise.

Roller Derby is the first lesbian romance I’ve read that stars a transgender woman. It also features one of my favorite sports, roller derby. These women are hell on wheels, but are ultimately a welcoming and supportive bunch. The novel paints an overall positive picture for Tina, though there are enough hurdles in her path to cause interesting drama. If you’ve read lesbian novels with trans women as protagonists, please let me know in the comments section below!

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) has a gender statement on its website. It’s an inclusive organization where all are welcome. Go derby!

Women’s Flat Track Derby Association: https://wftda.com/wftda-gender-statement

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Danika reviews Marian by Ella Lyons

marian ella lyons

How’s this for an elevator pitch?: Lesbian YA Robin Hood retelling. If you’re anything like me, that immediately added Marian by Ella Lyons to your TBR. There’s just one problem: that’s not exactly what Marian is.

This novella (135 pages) follows Marian, a daughter of a knight, who finds herself thrust out of her country home into the opulent castle of the king. She feels completely out of place attending balls and taking embroidery lessons, until she meets Robin Hood: a small, redheaded girl with a big personality.

This is cute lesbian historical fiction, but other than the names, it doesn’t have much to do with Robin Hood. She learns archery, but she’s trying to become a knight. And there’s no sense of mystery or disguise about that: her given name is Robin Hood, and she’s openly trying to be a knight as a woman. I feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities for shenanigans. There’s a Little John, but there’s no merry band of any gender. Robin doesn’t even steal from the rich and give to the poor, though Marian does a little bit of that.

I think that there were two ways that this book could have succeeded. One is if it didn’t bill itself as a Robin Hood retelling. It’s a good story! It’s bittersweet and deals with court politics, and I enjoyed Marian learning her way to scheme and use gossip/contacts to survive and even flourish in a restrictive environment. The romance between Robin and Marian is heartwarming, and their personalities are vibrant. I liked seeing Marian mature and make sacrifices while still remaining true to herself. But because I was expecting Robin Hood, I was always impatient for the “real” book to start. I wanted hijinks and medieval heists. I wanted Robin competing in the trials in disguise, and pulling off her hood theatrically to reveal herself as a woman when she won. I wanted a queer merry band! Those things are not present.

The other way I would’ve enjoyed this story more is if it were a prequel. It’s fairly common now for successful YA series to have ebook-only novellas to fill in backstory and offer bonus material, and this reminds me of one of those. It feels like the origin story of Marian and Robin Hood, not the story itself.

I would blame myself for having the wrong expectations for this book, but it does bill itself as “lesbian Robin Hood”. This isn’t a bad novella, but calling it lesbian Robin Hood and referencing that story didn’t do this story any favours.

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Aoife reviews Training Ground by Kate Christie

training ground kate christie

I was not, unfortunately, super into this book. Training Ground is the first book in the Girls of Summer series by Kate Christie, and to be honest, it reads more like a prequel – the whole book is just backstory for book 2. She categorises TG as a ‘contemporary lesfic with a romantic arc, but not a traditional romance’, and that seems accurate for what I know about the rest of the series, but the first book falls into YA for me – it’s about queer teenagers growing up and having messy teenage romances. Also sport.

The book follows two young girls who meet ‘by chance’ at a hotel after a soccer tournament. It’s a classic YA set-up: girl meets girl, they share a mutual attraction, one has a boyfriend and secret crushes on girls, the other has a Dark Secret. No one has ever understood Jamie/Emma like Emma/Jamie understands Jamie/Emma, and they share so many interests – including a secret love of some cooking show. Over time, they become close enough for Jamie to share the story of her trauma, and they become best friends and possibly more. They are each other’s anchors, and Emma buys Jamie a bracelet with an anchor on it to prove it.

Unfortunately, the book falls into a common YA trap: Too Much Angst. Jamie has a lot of (very valid) angst surrounding her trauma, Emma has a rocky relationship with her dad and a lot of angst about liking girls as well as guys, both girls have a lot of angst about liking the other, and after becoming even closer after Tragedy strikes, the relationship falls apart. This was annoying because not only were Jamie and Emma genuinely adorable together, the disintegration of the relationship was both predictable and so easily fixable. Obviously they had to move away from each other for the storyline in the next book to work, but I feel like it didn’t have to go quite the way it did for what will obviously be a dramatic meeting and falling in love ten years after the events of Training Ground.

A lot of this book didn’t ring true with me. I’ve long accepted that while some things in life are universal, American high school isn’t one of those things, but in regards to the things I can comment on, the writing missed the mark. The dialogue, with a few surprisingly funny exceptions, didn’t seem very natural to me, and though the writing was okay, I felt that it leaned a little too heavily on clichés about teenagers. I have no idea how realistic the soccer bits are, being allergic to sports – but hey, Jamie and Emma are cute together, and I’m a big fan of Jamie’s therapist, Shoshanna.

(My biggest problem with this book – which 2003 do you know where teens vape??? It is not a 2003 I have lived in.)

Despite my review of this book, I’d consider picking up a copy of Game Time when it’s released in spring (autumn for you northern-hemisphere folk) this year, because I’m hopeful that Christie will be on firmer ground with not-teenagers. And I mean, who doesn’t want to read a romance about two pro soccer players?

TW for rape/sexual assault, homophobia and transphobia.

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Link Round Up: June 20 – July 3

of fire and stars   the emerging lesbian   a darkly beating heart   gilda stories jewelle gomez   not your sidekick

ALA GLBT Reviews posted Under an Eastern Moon: Writing LGBT China.

Autostraddle posted Lez Liberty Lit #100: One Hundred Bookshelves Full of Queer Lit.

Gay YA posted

LGBTQ Reads posted TBRainbow Alert #2.

the abyss surrounds us   labyrinth lost   FallingInLoveWithHomonids   run   CallingDrLaura

“22 of Our Most Anticipated LGBTQ YA Books of the Second Half of 2016” was posted at Barnes & Noble Teen.

“The 15 Best LGBT YA Books of 2016 (So Far)” was posted at Bookish.

“Bookish and Proud: Literary LGBT Pride Month Flag” was posted at Bookish.

“(Lesfic) Books as Comfort Food & Security Blankets” was posted at Omnivore Bibliosaur.

georgia peaches and other forbidden fruit jaye robin brown   look both ways alison cherry   poppy jenkins   All Inclusive farzana doctor   lesbian decadence

Lesbian Decadence: Representations in Art and Literature in Fin-De-Siecle France by Nicole G. Albert was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Poppy Jenkins by Clare Ashton was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown was reviewed at AfterEllen.

Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry was reviewed at Queer Lit On My Mind.

All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor was reviewed by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler was reviewed at Queer Lit On My Mind.

Walking the Dog by Elizabeth Swados was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even  more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitterWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

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Shira Glassman reviews Drag Prince Charming by BA Huntley

drag prince charming cover

The pitch for Drag Prince Charming by BA Huntley: conflict-averse lesbian takes her girlfriend’s drag persona to meet Mom to avoid homophobic drama. The execution wound up being pretty cute and low-stress. Push past the slightly awkward, narrated beginning to get to some chemistry that really flows, both between the protagonist and her flock of sisters, and between the protagonist and her love interest. I read a ton of romance and it’s made me fairly picky about how well the couple ‘clicks’–this one passes the click test for me.

And urgh, I don’t know if this is appropriate for a lesbian romance review, but I’m bi, and the love interest’s entrance in male drag was thud-swoonworthy for me. “Mateo” isn’t just male-presenting but suave, seductive, and swanning around in a fancy suit. Bear in mind that this is a lesbian romance that includes a woman who plays with gender presentation, not a trans m/cis f romance, but the scenes with Renata presenting male–including packing–totally made my Cis Wife bells ring.

A sample of the sisters’ banter:

“It’ll kill Mom,” Emma groaned. “We’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Come on, we never hear the end of anything,” Charlotte reminded her.

There’s an adorable old lady living next door, too. I like all of these characters and I was happy to spend the story’s short span of time with them.

By the way, this is one of those elusive “chubby main character who doesn’t lose weight” f/f  stories people have been looking for. That was cool!

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Kalyanii reviews Starting from Scratch by Georgia Beers

 

starting from scratch

An author skilled at her craft has a way of holding a mirror to the psyche of her reader – which is often not the most comfortable of experiences, as enlightening as it may be – and, Georgia Beers is no exception. In fact, while writing in the seemingly innocuous genre of lesbian romance, Ms. Beers adeptly yet inconspicuously infiltrates our inner mechanisms, unearthing the rustiest bits and pushing buttons we forgot we even had.

Graphic designer by day and avid baker by night, Avery King doesn’t miss a single wayward glance, much less the passing of an appreciable hourglass figure. If truth be told, she even admits to a tendency to drool, which she deems not worth the effort controlling – especially in the presence of Elena Walker, the manager of her local bank branch, who it turns out may have the additional tie or two to her daily life. Yet, Avery hasn’t dated much since the demise of her relationship with Lauren, who continues to call every couple of weeks to catch up on the latest, generous enough, at one point, to share the news that she has decided to have a baby so many months after Avery put the kibosh on the idea back when they were still together.

It’s not that Avery doesn’t like children. Her best friend Maddie and even her own grandmother, who raised her from the age of four, contend she is quite good with them. She’s simply uncomfortable making conversation with the little crumb snatchers and has never envisioned motherhood in the grand scheme of things, given the residue from her own early childhood. It’s a moot point, really, when one spends her off-time alone, attempting to elicit the affection of her pampered shelter-adopted terrier, Stephen King, while baking muffins and other sweet treats to bring into the office the following morning, is it not?

With knee surgery and several weeks of rehab looming, Maddie discovers that she’s neglected to consider her obligation to coach within the upcoming season’s youth tee-ball league. Given that, back in the day, Avery professed owing Maddie and her wife, J.T., big time after they helped to extricate her from her toxic pre-Lauren ex, Maddie decides that it’s time to cash in on the favor. After ample protesting, Avery resignedly agrees to lead practices until Maddie is able to return, presumably in time for the team’s first game.

Days later, while Maddie is rehabbing and quickly tiring of the requisite rest and relaxation, she relieves her boredom by taking it upon herself to create an online dating profile for her friend, which miffs Avery to no end, in spite of the fact that Maddie’s initiative has generated a handful of viable prospects. Most notably, Pinot72, a single mom who works in finance, captures Avery’s attention; and, in the midst of one of several rounds of chat, she startles to a knock on her door.

Yes, Starting from Scratch is an endearing love story. There are titillation and intrigue, sexual tension and moments smack on the cusp of heartbreak; yet, it is the exploration of what it means to navigate a relationship with a woman devoted to her young son when childrearing was never part of the plan that gives the meat, the savoriness, to the otherwise toothsome sweetness of a burgeoning romance.

As for the mirror held, Avery’s over-the-top lustfulness would have easily resonated with me ten years ago, when I was in my early thirties, fresh out of a heaven-and-hell-bent relationship, or even last summer, when I (in not my finest moment) assumptively slid into bed, after several incredibly delicious glasses of cabernet, beside Julia, my best friend from way back when; but, in the present, Avery’s acute awareness of the female form struck me as undermining to her other assets – her intelligence, creativity and generosity of spirit. And, as the mother of a now twenty-something, highly-evolved, metrosexual male, I could identify all too well with the varied perspectives on the parenting issue. After all, I once had a small child to consider, have lost a fair number of loves, had at one point determined that both I and my son would have fared better had I sworn off dating altogether during his formative years and, now, if honest with myself, doubt I’d be up for taking on the challenges of motherhood once again.

But, then, I remember what it was to love such a precious being, to take in the scent at the nape of his neck….

Fortunately, the novel was nearing its conclusion as the baby cravings began.

I’ve got to hand it to Ms. Beers. Within Starting from Scratch, she’s created a remarkable narrative that extends far beyond the parameters of lesbian romance and straight into the glorious muck of compelling literary fiction. I’m quite certain I’m not the only one who has been given pause by her wordsmithing, for I can only imagine the number of relationships that have been touched by the gleaming shards of wisdom interwoven within this thoughtful tale as well as the multitude of women who have benefitted from the gentle prodding to contemplate that which was once beyond the realm of consideration, much less possibility.

Ms. Beers, “just” romance writer? I think not.

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