Nat reviews Guava Flavored Lies by J.J. Arias

the cover of Guava Flavored Lies by J.J. Arias

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Ever since I read J.J. Arias’s Guava Flavored Lies, I’ve wanted to go to Miami so bad, just to hit up a Cuban bakery or three for a pastelito de guayaba and a cafecito. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Arias, and, as with a lot of prolific authors lately, this recent work is a departure from her normal MO (in this case, exemplified by Vampires and the Goode series).

From two households alike in dignity, Sylvie Campos and Lauren Machado are business rivals and lifelong enemies thanks to a decades long feud between their families. But the conflict for our main characters may be more complex than it seems on the surface – details about Sylvie and Lauren’s past will be revealed along the way that give us a bit more insight into why the anger between the two seems so very… extra.

The story is largely centered around the feuding between the Campos and Machado families, who both own popular Cuban bakeries in Miami, and who each accuse the other of having allegedly stolen family recipes when the founding families parted ways. Opening with a flashback to Lauren and Sylvia’s schooldays, we get a glimpse of how the families’ long time squabbles have affected their kids, who are literally at each other’s throats, though it’s tempered with a hefty dose of humor.

Lauren and Sylvie end up thrown together in the foodie version of the only one bed trope; that is, one food festival and only one functional espresso machine. Aside from their day to day struggles while being stuck side by side at a high profile event, and all the verbal sparring that comes along with it – Sylvie is still determined to try to solve the mystery of the family feud and to prove once that Lauren’s family are recipe thieves.

By the end of the book you’ll have some intense cravings for croquetas and a strong cafe con leche. But the food is also a vehicle for themes of old vs new, as the younger generations of both rival bakeries are being groomed to take over. Lauren wants to modernize some aspects of her family’s business, trying out vegan recipes and experimenting with (much to Sylvie’s dismay) oat milk in her Cuban lattes. Sylvie just wants to perfect the classics and build on her family legacy. Food is the love language of both our MCs, and rather than being at odds, their styles are complimentary, though it takes some translation to realize it.

A satisfying enemies-to-lovers romance, Arias gives us an example of the amazing quality of writing coming from self published authors and small presses these days. Solid, witty prose and dialogue, and pacing and intrigue to move the story along. I hope this is a book that finds its way into a lot of e-readers! And as a long time independent publisher of Sapphic romance, Arias has a backlog of works in the event you fall for her recent bakery wars romantic comedy.

Meagan Kimberly reviews Crossfire: A Litany for Survival by Staceyann Chin

Crossfire cover

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I had the privilege to see Staceyann Chin do a live reading at Miami Book Fair a few years ago, which is where and why I picked up this collection. Her performance was electric and captivating, and that strong voice translates well on the page.

Every piece is propulsive and rhythmic, feeling like there’s a drum beat underlying each one. A lack of punctuation in most pieces creates this movement, forcing you to read line after line after line, all in one breath until you reach the end of the poem, like in “Catalogue the Insanity,” written from start to finish without any punctuation marks, not even a period at the end.

But there are also quieter moments that slow down the rhythm, giving you a chance to breathe. Chin creates this with the use of white space around lines and stanzas, such as in the poem, Love:

“I’ve bought the bloody myth
swallowed that sucker
hairy legs and all
crawled careless into bed with a fantasy
and now I’m hopping antsy with expectation
having drawn these crooked lines
in what looked to me like sand
my uncertain frame stands
hooked
on what I have been promised by the TV
by that saccharine ache Anita Baker
moans from a mass-produced CD…”

The speaker’s language packs a punch, bringing forth fire and anger. Chin is unapologetic in her feminist rage and it energizes the reader, making you feel like burning it all down. Covering themes of sex and sexuality, rape and assault, it can be overwhelming at times. But that’s the point. Her purpose is to be loud and in your face and make it hard for you to look away.

She combines poetic imagery and metaphors with straightforward phrases that don’t mince words to create both art and rant, like in the poem Speech Delivered in Chicago at 2006 Gay Games:

“…even in friendly conversation
I have to rein in the bell hooks-ian urge
to kill motherfuckers who say stupid shit to me
all day, bitter branches of things I cannot say out loud
sprout deviant from my neck…”

Overall, this is a loud and empowering collection of poetry that is accessible to readers who often feel like they don’t understand poetry. It’s an outstanding example of how much we need more diversity and representation to give space for voices that often get drowned out by the mainstream and literary canon.

Content warnings: rape, homophobia, violence

Til reviews Super Adjacent by Crystal Cestari

the cover of Super Adjacent

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Content warning: ableism

Super Adjacent is set in an alternate United States, one in which an official organization of superheroes protects citizens from villainous attacks. Enter Claire: the ultimate Warrior Nation fangirl, she has dreamed of joining the organization since she was ten years old. She’s a regular, non-powered person, but a massive fan. When she becomes an intern, she quickly begins falling for the new hero, Joy, or Girl Power. It’s a massive contrast to the second main character, Bridgette, long-time girlfriend of hero Vaporizer (Matt). The relationship has taken too much from her, and now Bridgette wants out.

This takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to a super story reminiscent of the Silver Age. This was the 1960s and 1970s in mainstream comics, a reintroduction of superheroes who had fallen out of fashion after World War II, and some titles embraced all the potential silliness in those stories. Others, however, gave their characters flaws and inner demons.

That’s where Super Adjacent falls. To Claire, superheroes are larger-than-life figures. Major wow. The book does a great job world-building with things like forum updates, fan theories, and transcripts from news reports. Claire uses fandom jargon that sets her apart from the more corporate aspects of the superhero world. To Bridgette, though? This is old news. She never signed up to be a superhero’s girlfriend, just stayed with her boyfriend as he became a hero. She sees the darker side of it all: both the constant kidnappings of a superhero’s girlfriend and the harassment from his fans. Cestari definitely knows about fandom toxicity.

This is also, unapologetically, a romance. In that way, Claire and Bridgette are perfect foils. Claire is coming into a romance with a superhero; even so, a brief enemies-to-lovers spares her being purely overwhelmed by that super-ness. Bridgette has been worn down by the world of heroic bureaucracy.

I’m not usually one for romances, but there’s quite a bit surrounding it: from kidnappings to art exhibits to GPAs. More than that, it’s painfully realistic. This is the sort of book that came into my life just when I needed it. Having recently ended a relationship, I found it cathartic and validating to read about Bridgette and Matt’s downward trajectory because neither is vilified. They’re just two people who care about one another but aren’t romantically compatible anymore. And that’s portrayed as okay, as it should be.

Thus far, I’ve talked about the first two-thirds of the book, and if that were all, I’d rate it at four stars—a fun, quick read with its own quirky take on superheroes. The characters are distinct and if intense situations are over with a little too quickly, that only contributes to the normalization of a heroes-and-villains setting. Unfortunately, there are some significant drawbacks to this book.

The actual plot follows flat. This isn’t a massive issue because this isn’t a book one reads for the plot. The major challenge listed in the summary doesn’t happen until two-thirds of the way through. Theories, reveals, and disasters all occur at breakneck speed. It’s very well foreshadowed, with hints dropped throughout, the problem is that for two-thirds of the time, this is a romance within a superhero context. Non-powered people didn’t seem like they were second-class citizens, there was nothing to prove; having an action aspect to this storyline felt unnecessary. My attention slipped frequently, which is weird to say about a life-or-death scenario!

The more egregious issue is a consistent undertone of insensitivity. Sometimes it just feels lightly misogynistic, the sort of thing an author might include as an internalized social attitude without really thinking it through—one of the superheroes is clearly more interested in fame and attention, and gets judged harshly for it. Personally I found this distasteful as, at the end of the day, if someone is a superhero who protects the innocent and saves lives, I’m not going to fault them for vanity or ambition. What bothered me considerably more was a character who was portrayed as useless, incompetent… and likely autistic. He’s a has-been superhero whose power involved esoteric knowledge (almost like a hyperfixation), whose contributions were often off-tone and unhelpful (inability to read social cues). This was just a bit uncomfortable until a crisis hit and this character was found hiding under his desk with stim tools. For those not aware, stim tools help some neurodivergent people to focus. I used to fold origami or knit during class, for example; now I bring an infinity cube or tangle to meetings. These activities help divert some excess energy and allow me, and other people like me, to better contribute and participate. Yes, they can help with emotional overwhelms as well, but that wasn’t the portrayal in the book, especially as that scene included the character outright lying and not knowing about technology in his own office. Something associated with neurodivergent people was coupled with the absolute height of this character’s uselessness. It’s just one scene but it felt unnecessary and cruel.

This is a tough book to sum up. It has strengths which are on display for most of the read, making it overall enjoyable. Yet it also has these flaws that can significantly impact the reading experience. I appreciated the sense of immersion in a world in which being super-powered and being queer were normalized, but found myself robbed of a positive experience from the ableism; I enjoyed the romance far more than usual, yet found the plot dull and unengaging. It’s not a bad book. It gives a great vicarious experience of dating Supergirl. But it’s a tough one to recommend all the same.

Kelleen reviews An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

the covers of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor

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I am in the middle of THE most epic reading slump this summer. I haven’t been reading a tenth of what I usually do, and the genres and storylines that usually capture my attention just aren’t doing it for me right now. But I’ve read these books 3.5 times so far in 2022 and I can’t imagine it won’t be more. There’s something about alien invasion and ultra-mega-creepy levels of instant fame that my soul finds very comforting right now.

This duology follows one 23-year-old woman, April May, as she accidentally makes first contact with an alien life force and then even more (or less, depending on who you believe) accidentally becomes wildly internet famous. With her band of friends and enemies and frenemies (including her ex-roommate/girlfriend), April must navigate these hitherto unreckoned dimensions, trying to save the world without losing herself.

The most remarkable thing about these books, in my opinion, is not the aliens or the internet but April herself (at least in the first book). Hank Green writes with such a strong, precise, compelling narrative voice with a narrow, central first person narrator who is so charming and funny as to make you forget how utterly unreliable she is. Especially when read in audio, the whole experience feels like April is telling you a story, directly into your ears, and the intimacy of that narration is electrifying. Hank writes complex, sympathetic, human characters whose humanity is the crux and core of every terrible decision and beautiful triumph. The story is fresh and exciting and dynamic, and then he breaks open all the doors in the sequel lending nuance and dimension with each distinctive POV.

I found myself so invested in the (beautifully executed) intricacies of plot, but even more invested in the humanness and complex hope of each of these characters. In this story, good conquers evil, but not easily. We see the full complexity of humanity, which makes each choice and each word less wholly good or wholly evil, but rather leads us to the only logical conclusion: that on the whole, human beings are good, and with intention and empathy, we can and must save the world.

April is a bi woman, and her identity feels present and honest without being didactic. And the journey we take with her relationship with Maya, the (very low) lows and the (very high) highs is so central to the complex and well-wound project of this story as a whole. It’s hopeful and messy and honest and absolutely essential.

Every time I think about these books, this story, I long to immerse myself inside it once more and then I remember that I am inside it. I live in a world eerily approaching an alien-invasion-meets-socio-political-internet nightmare. And I know there’s reason to be afraid, but I also know there’s more.

On second thought, perhaps it is the overwhelming hope that my soul finds very comforting right now.

DFTBA.

You can read more of Kelleen’s reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.

New Sapphic Releases: Bi and Lesbian Books Out August 16, 2022

Every week, I wonder if it makes sense to do these weekly new releases posts—isn’t is just a repeat of the monthly new releases? But for one, it’s a good reminder that these are out right now, and hopefully it’s a reminder that you should pick them up now! It also gives me an opportunity to highlight some titles that I only mentioned in passing in the monthly round up (though I just choose a few to feature, not all of them). Plus, I get to correct my mistakes! A couple of these weren’t in the monthly wrap up, because I didn’t realize they came out this month until after it came out. Hopefully you find these to be useful!

Romance

Royal Exposé (Royal Generations #1) by Jenny Frame (F/F Royal Romance)

the cover of Royal Expose

Poppy King wants to save the world, but if she can’t do that, then she’ll save her own little corner of it. The realities of a career in the fashion industry leave her disillusioned and, after years working with UNICEF to improve the working conditions of families exploited by the unethical garment industry, Poppy returns home to start her business degree and create her own ethical clothing brand.

Undercover reporter Casey James has spent her career exposing the worst vices of humanity. After witnessing so much corruption, greed, and death, she’s losing sight of who she truly is. When Casey is tasked with a royal exposé on the court of Denbourg, she only has one way in, the Crown Consort’s sister, Poppy.

Poppy meets Casey during her night classes and is instantly annoyed, distracted, and intrigued. When they’re grouped together for a class assignment, Poppy’s enthusiasm for life and love may just save Casey’s soul. But will she ever forgive Casey for using her to expose royal secrets?

Love and Other Rare Birds by Angie Williams (F/F Romance)

the cover of Love and Other Rare Birds

Ornithologist Dr. Jamie Martin doesn’t have time for romance. She’s spent her life living up to her biologist-turned-conservative-senator father’s idea of who she should be. When she discovers that a bird thought to be extinct has been sighted in Alaska, Jaime seizes the opportunity to finally step out of her father’s shadow and make her career her own.

As a park ranger in Alaska’s largest national wilderness, all Rowan Fleming wants is to escape the stress of her failed marriage in the lower forty-eight. She needs solitude to heal her broken heart, so being ordered to act as a guide for an entitled senator’s daughter isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Jaime and Rowan couldn’t be more different, but as the landscape grows treacherous and remote, they’re forced to work together to find the elusive bird. Three arguments, two whispered confessions, and one rogue bear later, they’re beginning to suspect love isn’t extinct, after all.

Fantasy & Science Fiction

The Oleander Sword (The Burning Kingdoms #2) by Tasha Suri (F/F Fantasy)

the cover of The Oleander Sword

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.

Young Adult

the cover of The Drowned Woods

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones (Bisexual F/M YA Fantasy)

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.
 
The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.

Nonfiction

Song of My Softening by Omotara James (Queer Poetry)

the cover of Song of My Softening

The raw poems inside Song of My Softening studies the ever-changing relationship with oneself, while also investigating the relationship that the world and nation has with Black queerness.

Poems open wide the questioning of how we express both love and pain, and how we view our bodies in society, offering themselves wholly, with sharpness and compassion.

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!

Maggie reviews This Wicked Fate by Kalynn Bayron

the cover of This Wicked Fate

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This Wicked Fate by Kalynn Bayron is the sequel to This Poison Heart, her gothic YA fantasy filled with Black girl magic, Greek mythology, and impressive action. This book picks up directly after This Poison Heart and deals with Briseis trying to grapple with the events and betrayals of the last book. Faced with an impossible task, she must embark with her newly-found birth family, her adoptive family, and her new friends on a heroic quest that would do a Greek legend proud. Bayron continues to pull in mythology and plant lore to give Briseis’s world a rich depth and backstory, but the presence of so many adults means that Briseis is less of a star and more caught in the whirlwind of plot.

In This Poison Heart, Briseis is the star as she tries to figure out her magic and her family history by herself. Her moms are aware of her magic, and they are the ones that move them into their newly-inherited house, but the connection to Greek history, the secret of the poison garden, and the source of Briseis’s power are all things that Briseis investigated on her own or with Marie and Karter. In true YA fashion, Briseis often decides that the adults in her life don’t need to know things, because she doesn’t want to worry them—a coming of age literary tradition. In This Wicked Fate, the presence of Circe and Persephone, and the sudden awareness of Moe of just what Briseis has been grappling with, means that Briseis is no longer in charge of the action. Quite reasonably for adults, Circe and Moe and Persephone are the ones making the plans for the Absyrtus Heart, leaving Briseis to insert herself in them and keep up with events as best she can. It’s a logical progression, but I found it less fun to read.

However, This Wicked Fate offers plenty of the amazing relationships that This Poison Heart boasted of. Briseis has a great relationship with her adoptive parents, and now she has to navigate what sort of relationship she wants with her biological family. Bayron handles the issue with depth and grace, leading Briseis and Circe to gradually get to know each other and figure themselves out while dealing with the horrible situation they’re in. Her relationship with Marie also blossoms, as Marie throws herself into their quest and being Briseis’s Muscle. It’s a very sweet relationship considering they met while they were in danger. Briseis even spends time grappling with her feelings about Karter because, even though he did betray her, he was her first friend in a new town, she valued the relationship, and she is starting to see how badly his family treats him. The themes of found family, generational trauma, and love and forgiveness run deep throughout the story and make this duology a worthwhile and entertaining read.

In conclusion, this is a solid ending to the duology started in This Poison Heart. If I found the first book more fun, I found that this book was full of deep meaningful relationships, character growth, queer love, and a satisfying ending. I would encourage any fan of YA fantasy to add it to their list today.

SPONSORED POST: Launch Day for A Taste of Her: Bite-Sized Lesbian Romance Stories

the cover of A Taste of Her

It’s release day for A Taste of Her: Bite-sized lesbian romance stories!

Hey everyone, it’s Tiana Warner dropping in, the author of bestselling sapphic novels like Ice Massacre (Mermaids of Eriana Kwai #1) and The Valkyrie’s Daughter. 👋 I’m excited to be doing a sponsored blog post today!

A Taste of Her is a new collection of over 16 spicy and sweet sapphic short stories, and it’s on sale today for $0.99. The discounted launch runs until August 12th, and you can grab your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B4B1293Z Read on for a couple of excerpts!

Giveaway: I’m running a giveaway for a signed paperback copy. Just retweet/reblog my giveaway posts on my Twitter and/or Tumblr to enter:

https://tianawarner.tumblr.com/

Every RT/reblog is an entry!

About A Taste of Her

Indulge in this collection of 16+ sapphic short stories. These spicy and sweet romances will take you from a pirate town in the Caribbean to a modern-day nightclub to a faraway castle. Find a story to fit your mood: enemies-to-lovers, second-chance romance, forbidden love, masc/femme, non-binary, and more. These stories are for a mature audience (18+) due to sexual content.

Learn more about this book and Tiana Warner’s other books at tianawarner.com

An excerpt from The Tasting Room

The interview room suddenly feels a lot smaller. Marie’s knee grazes mine. Have we been sitting this close the whole time or did we both lean in?

Her perfume is intoxicating. I drop my gaze to her lips, something primal threatening to overtake me.

Beyond the door, a bell chimes, and conversation erupts. We both start, like we’ve forgotten where we were.

Marie’s gaze darts to the clock on the wall. It’s rustic and trendy like everything else about this building. “I have a party to entertain.”

My insides hollow out. “Right. Of course.”

But she definitely made an advance a second ago, right? Is she regretting her words? Maybe she suddenly remembered that this is an interview, and flirting is a terrible idea.

I get up and step toward the door, flustered.

“Let me,” Marie says, hurrying ahead. She stops with a hand on the door. “Kiera, I like your resume. It’s why I called you here. I’m sorry if I…”

We’re standing close together, the air crackling between us.

“I hope you’re not sorry,” I say, the words barely a whisper. I’m not sorry at all. I’m embarrassed and confused, sure, but I don’t regret letting her know that I never got over her.

Her ruby lips part, and her sweet breath tickles my face. Her chest rises and falls more rapidly. There’s a flash of uncertainty behind her eyes, the first glimpse of something other than total confidence. She cups a cool hand to my cheek, leans in…

And our lips meet in a gentle, teasing kiss. It’s the kiss I’ve dreamed about since we met, and it’s better than I imagined. Her lips are full, her taste is sweet, and it sends a tingle all the way through me.

I feel her pulling back, as if she’s ready to gauge my reaction or apologize, but I don’t want the kiss to be over. I slide my hands around her waist, pull her close, and kiss her deeper.

An excerpt from The Knight and Her Princess

The last time we saw each other, we were hardly fourteen. Now, she’s an eighteen-year-old beauty, her face full, her waist curved, her curly red hair well-groomed. Her familiar features pull my memories forward, making my insides tingle—her soft skin beneath my palms, her lips against mine, the rush of something forbidden coursing through me. How often did we escape to the stables during that year together? Fifty, sixty, a hundred times?

Heat rises in my face. God, I thought my feelings had dissolved. With years to forget her, and knighthood to draw my focus, I’d hoped she could become my past and nothing more.

Seeing her now, I’m weak in the knees, and I know I failed to forget about her.

Remembering my duty, I dip into a bow. “Princess Enid, I have ridden here with the Knights of East Abria to rescue you.”

“Brianna?” she says, a hand on her chest.

My heart skips. “Yes. Hi.”

She’s frozen, taking me in with wide eyes. “You’re a knight!”

I look down at myself as if to check whether her words are true. The sight of my armor makes me stand taller. “Yes.”

“But I—I thought your father was going to make you marry that tailor.”

I almost smile. “Princess, do you honestly think I would have given myself over to a man?”

She flushes, possibly remembering how many times I proved to her that I wasn’t interested in men.

Get A Taste of Her for $0.99 until August 12: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B4B1293Z

Learn more about Tiana Warner’s books at tianawarner.com

Rachel reviews Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens

the cover of Briefly, A Delicious Life

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Nell Stevens’s debut novel, Briefly, A Delicious Life (2022), is a stunning historical novel about a centuries-old ghost who falls in love with one of history’s most infamous writers.

The novel is told from the perspective of Blanca, a ghost who has been fourteen for hundreds of years by the time the novel begins in the 1830s. After dying in childbirth in a hilltop monastery in Mallorca in 1473, Blanca spends her (after)life watching over the monastery and haunting those who harm others. When George Sand (1804-1876), a nineteenth century French author famous for both her novels and her penchant for wearing men’s clothes, arrives at the monastery with her two children and her lover, composer Frédéric Chopin, for an extended stay in Mallorca, Blanca falls instantly in love with George, although George has no idea Blanca exists. The novel narrates Blanca’s desire and devotion to George, as well as George’s writerly and motherly struggles in the present and in the past. Blanca quickly becomes an unseen part of the family’s life, and the novel unfolds against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mallorca.

Stevens is a prominent memoirist, with her memoirs Bleaker House (2017), Mrs. Gaskell and Me / The Victorian and the Romantic (2018) winning multiple awards. With Briefly, A Delicious Life, Stevens’ first attempt at fiction, she does not disappoint. This novel is full of the emotional and intellectual vigour of the best historical fiction. Stevens’ novel is poetic without being overwrought, and full of humour and delight as much as it is of sadness and female rage. Although Stevens adapts an episode in the lives of real individuals, she does so with postmodern humour, and Blanca’s perspective was unique and refreshing.

This is a novel to linger over, and it’s one that I was thinking about long after I’d finished it. With this text, Stevens promises to become one of the most prominent authors of queer historical fiction. Briefly, a Delicious Life is unlike any ghost story I’ve read before, and it is a novel of hope, renewal, and the female voice.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Sarah Waters’s or Emma Donoghue’s fiction, or of Emily M. Danforth’s Plain Bad Heroines.

Please add Briefly, A Delicious Life to your TBR on Goodreads.

Rachel Friars is a writer and academic living in Canada, dividing her time between Ontario and New Brunswick. When she’s not writing short fiction, she’s reading every lesbian novel she can find. Rachel holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a PhD in nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history.

You can find Rachel on Twitter @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

Vic reviews Valiant Ladies by Melissa Grey

the cover of Valiant Ladies

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Melissa Grey’s Valiant Ladies, inspired by two real seventeenth-century vigilantes, centers around two teenage girls’ quest for justice and love for each other. While Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza spend their days in the fine home of Kiki’s wealthy father, they spend their nights on the streets of Potosí, engaging in gambling and fighting and other “unladylike” activities. After the murder of her brother on the night Kiki’s engagement to the viceroy’s son is announced, Kiki and Ana set off to discover what really happened while also confronting their feelings for each other.

Perhaps because it is based on real people, this book delights in being separate from actual history, which served the book very well. The characters speak and think in more modern language (though not distractingly so), and the girls are free to be brazenly in love with each other with little more than a scandalized gasp or a “hey, that’s wild” from the people around them, which allowed me, as a queer reader, to also indulge myself in the fantasy of kicking ass, taking down the patriarchy, and getting the girl in the end. (It also means I don’t feel like I’m snooping on real people, because obviously it didn’t happen like this, but it’s still really cool either way.)

That being said, it is not a rosy, completely-divorced-from-history fairy tale either. The world felt well-drawn from the rigid and wasteful aristocracy to the bars and brothels where Ana grew up, and while I always trusted this book would have a happy ending, it also did not pretend life is great for teenage girls at this time. Ana’s background in particular gave the novel plenty of room for acknowledging and criticizing the ways the nobility and specifically Spanish colonizers suck, which, for the most part, it took.

As for the characters, both Ana and Kiki were delights. Their voices were distinct (and so funny), and while they were certainly badass, they were badasses who felt like people, with feelings and vulnerabilities as well as snark. Their romance was likewise really sweet. This is friends-to-lovers at its best. They had the established camaraderie of lifelong friends, as well as some of my favorite pining that I’ve seen in a while, and while romance and crime-solving can be difficult to balance, the one never distracted from the other.

I would not have known about this book if it hadn’t been recommended to me, but I’m so glad it was because it was so good. I didn’t realize before I started reading, but this is the book I have been wanting to read for I don’t know how long. It was fun, it was funny, it was sweet, it was badass. I just had an all-around great time while reading it. I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves badass historical sword lesbians with a little bit of mystery (and really, how could anyone not love that?)

The Top Four Times DC Did Poison Ivy Justice

In honor of the new season of Harley Quinn (squee!!!), I’ve decided to show some love for everyone’s favorite homicidal ecoterrorist and Ph.D who really needs all the hugs Harley has to offer. Below, in order of when they were first published, are the top four comic runs where DC actually did Poison Ivy’s character justice (no surprise, they’re all by women).

1. Batman and Poison Ivy: Cast Shadows by Ann Nocenti and John Van Fleet (2004)

the cover of Batman and Poison Ivy Cast Shadows

Vintage, classic Poison Ivy at her finest. A short, contained collection that perfectly captures the conflicted heart and noirish origins of the character. Ann Nocenti and JohnVan Fleet don’t shy away from the violent capabilities of Poison Ivy’s powers, or the true power of her intellect. But the art style lends the whole affair a sort of gaslamp, dreamlike quality that brings home how, for all her violence, there is true love motivating Ivy’s actions. At this point in her characterization, it was largely love for the planet (and some lingering feelings for Bruce?). But it is one of the earliest comics that gives her a driving role in the narrative while bringing to life the same melancholy, calculating, brilliantly warped mind masking a heart of gold that Harley comes to love.

(Granted, the art did have its detractors, but I think it works so well in bringing the reader into certain characters’ experiences. Which is all I can say without spoilers!)

2. Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death by Amy Chu, Clay Mann, and Seth Mann (2016)

the cover of Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death

If it took half a century for someone to really start writing her right, it took another decade for lightning to strike twice. And it did so with Amy Chu’s colorful, Frankenstein-esque take on the character.

Poison Ivy is tired of being lonely. Not physically, not mentally. But there’s a particular isolation in knowing you are the only one of your kind, the only plant-human hybrid on the planet (well, the only one who isn’t prone to being a fatalistic, moralizing pain in the rear, anyway). So she decides to do what every middle aged woman reconsidering the meaning of life would:

Get a new job, get a new apartment and grow some new daughters.

Yeah, it’s a weird one, but the kind of explorative weirdness that more comics need to come back to, in my opinion. This run is also a standout for Chu’s sense of humor and interesting side characters. When non-MCs get hurt or die in this, I actually felt something! Which is not something DC’s comics for grown-ups had been doing much of at the time. There is also no romance, but Harley shows up to cause a ruckus, as usual!

3. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy by Jody Houser and Adriana Melo (2019)

the cover of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy

Speaking of Harley, here’s a classic. Sure, it was released only a few years ago. But it’s still a classic.

Following in the footsteps of Chu’s novel, experimental take on Poison Ivy’s powers and conflicted sense of humanity, Jody Houser’s run delves deeper into her connections with both The Green and Harley Quinn. We see them as a canonical couple doing cute couple things for the first time! There is mayhem and chaos and fluff and…then things get dark.

Like, I-was-teary-even-though-I-know-how-this-works dark. You don’t get to become a comic fan without your suspension of disbelief building up some tolerance, but stories like this remind you that sometimes, it is the lore that makes the bleak moments sting all the worse. But it’s also that lore that keeps you hoping right alongside Harley, rooting for her and Ivy to find a way through it all.

It’s got poignant moments of dialogue, tonally consistent art and a true love that is messy and complicated and held between two flawed, hurting women who find they hurt just a little less with each other.

Also, really fun fight scene panels.

4. Poison Ivy by G. Willow Wilson, Marcio Takara, and Arif Prianto (2022)

the cover of Poison Ivy #1 (2022)

The time between lightning strikes is getting progressively shorter, and I am living for it. While it’s only a couple issues into the run, G. Willow Wilson’s take on the character reminds me why I loved her Ms. Marvel run when it was still in publication. She is the sort of writer who knows how to write a character to fit the character’s context. And Poison Ivy’s context is, well, scientifically-informed ecoterrorism with a sympathetic heart beating beneath the bloodied blooms and explosions. From Ann Nocenti to Jody Houser, we’ve seen her grapple with everything from her humanity to her heart, watched her struggle between her desire for violent justice and her hope for ecological harmony.

Now, it all is building up into a climactic showdown rooted in the grim reality of climate change. What I’ve read so far has been a visceral narrative that has been leaning very hard into the horror without losing track of the compelling characterization. It is dark, it is deep, and it is building into something I am really excited to watch unfold. Part of DC’s recent slate of Pride month releases, this comic has had me buying single issues again for the first time since high school.

Harley and Ivy have one of the most complex, fascinating romances I have ever read, sapphic or otherwise. Their equally brilliant intellects and capacity for, ahem, “creative” problem solving keep storylines from stagnating, and the depths of their respective histories allows for some lovely explorations of relationship dynamics.

These are my personal favorite takes on Ivy, a uniquely compelling, conflicted character (correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe she was comics’ first major woman character to have a STEM background), and the truly strange places her consciousness can go.