Maggie reviews A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

the cover of A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

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I was ecstatic when I heard that Malinda Lo was writing a loosely connected follow up to Last Night at the Telegraph Cub because Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a hugely important lesbian coming of age novel set in 1950s San Francisco Chinatown that A) I wish I had had access to as a teenager and B) I’m so happy the youths have access to today. In A Scatter of Light, Lo attempts to recreate that same sense of teenage discovery and feelings in a more recent decade and succeeds wildly. I listened to the audiobook and had a fantastic experience. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Lo is unparalleled at invoking the teenage experience, where your feelings are huge and undefined and you don’t yet have the life experience to have perspective.

In A Scatter of Light, when recently graduated Aria West arrives at her eccentric artist grandmother Joan’s house in California for the summer, she’s upset that she’s not spending the summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her friends as planned and doesn’t expect the summer to come to much. But Joan, rather than judging her for the high school scandal that landed Aria in California, encourages her to pursue her interests, interrogate her own perspectives, and look at things in new ways, leading Aria to both connect with her past and push her boundaries with art while she’s there. Aria’s summer is further derailed by Joan’s gardener Steph, an aspiring musician, who invites Aria into a community of working class lesbians and queer events that Aria had previously never thought about. What started out as just killing time until she could leave for college turns into a life-changing summer as Aria learns several new things about herself. Dyke marches, art history, music festivals – Lo balances the nostalgia-drenched coming of age experience with real emotion for a surprisingly solid teenage narrative.

What I loved best about this book is that Aria’s beautiful emotional queer journey happens with all the grace of getting tackled by a football player and all the emotional subtlety of a fireworks show. It’s perfect and wonderful and great fun to read because Aria feels and loves with all the explosive power of a teenager who doesn’t have the experience to put her emotions into context. And many times her narration had me screaming with glee and with the experience of an adult perspective. It was an absolute blast to watch Aria have her hot lesbian summer, I had the most fun time listening to the audiobook.

Alas for Aria, not everything is as simple as getting flirted with by several lesbians and slowly realizing her feelings are not just friendship. For one thing her grandmother Joan, her ostensible reason for being in California to begin with, encourages her to explore art, something that Aria had never considered but starts mixing with her passion for astronomy and her history with her deceased grandfather. Her mother delivers some family news that sends Aria into a minor tailspin. (spoilers) And Steph, the object of Aria’s newly awakened queer desire, comes with an established relationship, albeit one that is making both halves of it miserable. It all comes to a head when Joan’s physical condition abruptly worsens, bringing Aria’s summer of awakening to an emotional close. (end spoilers)

A Scatter of Light is a dramatic, and fun ode to early 2000’s queer culture, coming of age, and teenage feelings, and I am so, so glad that youths today can just pick it off of any shelf. The characters feel deeply, the decisions are messy, and the open mic nights are queer. And journeying along with Aria while she had a wild summer awakening was the highlight of my fall. I appreciated the masterful way Lo handled themes of growing up and reaching new emotional maturity and dealing with life’s complicated circumstances. I especially appreciated that the summer remained what it says in the title – a scatter of light, a transient experience, a bubble of time that changed everyone involved but was not a lifetime commitment at 18. This book was amazing to read as an adult, would have absolutely given me new thoughts and perspective if I had had it available as a teen, and would be a great addition to your to-read list.

Giveaway of 3 Signed Copies of Sapphic Romance! (SPONSORED POST)

To celebrate the release of Fire, Water, and Rock, Alaina Erdell is giving away three signed copies.

When budding geologist Jessica Sterling arrives to work on her thesis while camping in Washington’s Dry Falls State Park for the summer, she shatters park ranger Clare DeVere’s hope for an uneventful season.

Read more about this age-gap, contemporary sapphic romance here.

Alaina will choose three winners from her list of newsletter subscribers on January 1st using a random number generator.

Subscribe by midnight EST on December 31st to be eligible. Are you already subscribed? Perfect! You’re automatically entered into the drawing. Subscribers receive less than ten emails per year.

Subscribe here.

Rachel reviews House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson

the cover of House of Hunger

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From the author of The Year of the Witching (Penguin 2020) comes a new queer Gothic novel about blood, power, and control. House of Hunger (Penguin 2022) was enthralling until the very last page, and I still want more! 

House of Hunger is set in a world where the upper class literally feed on the blood of lower-class women they enlist into their service. Marion Shaw has been born and raised in the slums of her city, and she works as a maid to make ends meet for herself and her brother who has fallen into a drug addiction that takes him out of the world he lives in. Her life appears monotonous and dismal, dominated by tyrannical others who seek to use her for their own ends. One day, though, she sees an ad in the newspaper: someone is seeking a new bloodmaid. Although there is an enormous stigma amongst the lower classes around such a job, it is the only way Marion can hope to escape her circumstances. She applies to the position and is whisked away into a new life, leaving behind all she knows, in a matter of days.

What follows is a shocking and unfamiliar journey into the far north, where Marion is drawn into the upper classes as a bloodmaid in the House of Hunger, an infamous and ancient clan of vampiric aristocrats. Surrounded by debauchery and hedonism, Marion is quickly swept away by her new mistress, Countess Lisavet. Marion’s blood keeps Lisavet healthy, and Marion is drawn in by Lisavet’s magnetic pull, but soon she realizes that things might not be as they appear. Suddenly, bloodmaids begin to go missing, and questions begin to arise about what exactly happens once a bloodmaid has outlived her term at the House of Hunger. Eventually, it is up to Marion to uncover Lisavet’s secrets and save herself and her friends. 

When I read The Year of the Witching, I couldn’t put it down, and when House of Hunger arrived, I had high hopes it would be a similar reading experience and I was not disappointed! This novel is a fresh and exciting take on the idea of the vampire, with adaptive elements from folklore and legend that I really appreciated. The world Marion lives in is a haunting and exaggerated comment on class systems, gender roles, and exploitation. It was exciting to see Countess Elizabeth Bathory queered in the figure of Lisavet (as she arguably always should be). Marion’s character is someone we root for, and it was interesting to experience so much of this world for the first time alongside her. 

This novel definitely has the Gothic intensity I’ve come to expect from Henderson, and the plot is fast paced, engaging, and kept me guessing until the very end. I could very easily spend more time in this world and I think others could too; there is so much I still want to know about Marion’s society and many other plots to follow. 

If you’re looking for a gripping read this holiday season, House of Hunger is definitely it. I will be reading Henderson’s fiction for a long time to come! 

Please add House of Hunger to your TBR on Goodreads and follow Alexis Henderson on Twitter

Content Warnings: physical violence, gaslighting, assault. 

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.

Danika reviews How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler

the cover of How Far the Light Reaches

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This may be my favourite book I’ve read this year, and there’s been some stiff competition.

How Far the Light Reaches is exactly what the subtitle promises: a life in ten sea creatures. It weaves together facts about aquatic animals with related stories from the author’s own life. For example, the beginning essay is about feral goldfish: how these goldfish released into the wild—which we think of as short-lived, delicate animals—are actually extremely hardy, taking over ecosystems and growing to huge sizes. In the same essay, Imbler describes queer communities: “Imagine having the power to become resilient to all that is hostile to us.”

This is an immersive, gorgeous book that reminded me of Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller, which I also loved. Clearly, I need to pick up more memoirs infused with writing about nature and animals. I would be interested in either of these versions of How Far the Light Reaches, if the two had been separated: the memoir or the science. Imbler’s writing on marine biology is accessible and fascinating, so while it’s not my usual genre, I was completely pulled in. By braiding these two threads together, though, it’s more than the sum of its parts.

Essays structured like this could be gimmicky, but this book doesn’t use easy metaphors or simplify the biology side to lend itself better to the accompanying social commentary. Imbler, a science writer/reporter, shows their deep appreciation for these animals in their own right, and the two approaches complement each other without being reductive.

Their writing is in turns beautiful, funny, and striking, with so much packed into spare sentences. Like this passage: “Before the class, M knew how to draw whales and I did not. After the class, I was in love with M and they were not in love with me.” Even without any other context, it’s still so affective. And I had to laugh at their description of returning home to visit and checking dating apps: “I told myself I was there to see my old classmates, to see who was newly hot, newly gay, or both.”

While the queer content in Why Fish Don’t Exist was a bonus I wasn’t expecting later in the book, in How Far the Light Reaches, it’s at the heart of the book. It’s a gloriously queer narrative, exploring Imbler’s relationships, gender, and queer community more generally. They also discuss their mixed race identity, both personally and in relation to their mixed race partner. In one essay, they write about how to give a necropsy report of dead whales, and then they reiterate different versions of the necropsy report of a previous relationship (M, mentioned above), giving a different proposed cause of death each time.

I savored reading this book, looking forward to ending each day with an essay. It’s philosophical, curious, thought-provoking, and kind. It explores queer people as shapeshifters, as swarms, as immortal. I never wanted it to end. Even if you aren’t usually a reader of science writing—I usually am not—I highly recommend picking this one up, and I can’t wait to see what Imbler writes next.

Content warnings: discussion of weight and weight loss, fatphobia, war

Susannah reviews Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner

the cover of Mistakes Were Made

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Mistakes Were Made, Meryl Wilsner’s second f/f romance following 2020’s acclaimed Something to Talk About, is billed as “a sexy rom-com about a college senior who accidentally hooks up with her best friend’s mom.” While I anxiously awaited this book as much as the next reader of queer romances, I admittedly postponed picking it up, afraid that a relationship between a college student and a woman one generation her senior would be too problematic, or too cringe, for me to root for. But Wilsner proved me wrong–this book is funny, nuanced, deeply empathetic, and piping hot.

It’s Family Weekend at Keckley College, but not for senior Cassie Klein, who is effectively estranged from hers. Cassie goes to an off-campus bar to escape the festivities, not to cruise for hookups, but when a statuesque older woman catches her eye from across the room, she can’t resist sending a drink her way. Erin Bennett is not there to cruise for hookups either. A recent divorcee splitting Family Weekend visiting hours with her ex-husband, she is simply killing time in a college town. But when a bold younger woman sends a drink across the bar, she has trouble turning down the opportunity to enjoy her relatively new singlehood. A steamy backseat romp ensues, and the two women part ways–no numbers exchanged and no plans to meet up again.

When Cassie’s best friend Parker invites her to tag along to breakfast with her mom the following morning, Cassie comes face-to-face with Erin–the Erin from the bar last night, the Erin she never intended to see again, the Erin who is also her best friend’s mom.What was meant to be a one-night fling becomes impossible to ignore as Cassie and Parker become closer friends and Cassie’s and Erin’s paths repeatedly cross. 

When Parker surprises Cassie by inviting her home for the holiday break, Cassie can’t say no despite the, um, complication of cohabitating with Erin. Unsurprisingly, she can’t say no to Erin either, who is still as alluring as she was the night they met. Erin and Cassie start to sneak around behind Parker’s back as their fling morphs into something more serious. (A side effect of their sneaking around is a liberal number of very hot sex scenes in a variety of covert locations.) This begs the question: will Cassie and Erin come clean about their secret relationship at the risk of losing the most important people in their lives, or will they end it and live with the heartbreak?

While I scoffed at the likelihood of Cassie so cavalierly hitting on Erin in the opening chapter, Wilsner expertly develops both Cassie’s and Erin’s characters and shines light on their motivations. Cassie is a whip smart, ambitious aeronautic engineering major whose hardscrabble youth has translated to a resilient, confident demeanor. Erin is a highly successful attending physician whose professional badassness is not evinced by her interpersonal skills. A bisexual reentering the dating scene following a suffocating marriage, Erin lacks the self-assuredness to confidently go after what she wants. This sometimes comes across as iciness toward Cassie. Aside from these few moments of emotional withholding, however, the dynamic between the two women feels authentic and relatively balanced. That said, it can’t be ignored that given her age and independent wealth, Erin inherently holds some amount of power over Cassie, a young woman only on the cusp of post-college adulthood.

Surprisingly, the one factor about this book that didn’t sit well with me was not the age-gap trope, but the tokenizing of Cassie’s and Parker’s friend Acacia. Through the course of the book, Acacia, who is the only Black main character we meet, is the sole person who carries the secret of Cassie’s and Erin’s affair. That Acacia has to do the emotional labor of navigating this extremely sensitive situation for an entire academic year feels like an unfair burden to throw on her, and I would be remiss not to mention it.

Ultimately, this is a thought-provoking contemporary romance that challenged some prejudices I carried about age differences in relationships. And that, to me, is the mark of a well-crafted book: to make readers open their minds and hearts to situations and people that make them feel uncomfortable.

Content warnings: alcohol consumption, alcoholic parent (mention), cheating partner (past), divorced parents, misogyny, parental neglect, recreational marijuana use.

Susannah (she/her) is a public librarian and writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She consumes mostly queer literary fiction, with contemporary romance novels as palate cleansers. You can find her on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/ohhsusannah and at https://www.susannahbt.com/

Larkie reviews The Verifiers by Jane Pek

the cover of The Verifiers

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Claudia is a private detective, of a sort: she works for Veracity, an exclusive company that investigates people who are lying to their partners who they met through an online dating platform. When one of her clients shows up dead, she can’t help but dig into some of the lies that the client herself told—and the increasingly mysterious circumstances around her death.

I loved this book. I thought that the prose was beautiful, with fresh metaphors and musings on the nature of humanity and romance, seen from the perspective of a terminally single lesbian. Pek investigates how, in a space designed for like minded people to meet each other, it can still be so difficult to find someone you want to be with—if you even know what it is you want in the first place. Whether it’s through Claudia’s roommate and his latest fling, her sister’s somewhat rocky relationship, or even Claudia’s own relationship with her brother, Pek examines how people misrepresent themselves in order to get what they want (or rather, what they think they want).

I love a good murder mystery, and this book had so many great mysterious elements, but also included enough clues that I was able to piece together a broad picture of what had happened before the final reveal. I really appreciated that there wasn’t a huge twist surprise ending just to surprise the reader, and I could see all the pieces falling into place, but I didn’t quite get all the details right, so there were still plenty of surprises! It’s not the fastest paced book, and Claudia is often frustrating in an incredibly relatable way, but I enjoyed it a lot and I can’t wait to see what Pek writes next.

22 Bi and Lesbian Books Out In December 2022!

a collage of the covers listed with the text Sapphic Books Out in December

December is a slow publishing time, but there are still some gems out this month you shouldn’t miss! It’s not always easy to find out which new releases have queer representation, or what kind of representation they have. So here’s a big list of bi and lesbian books out this month, sorted by genre. I’ve highlighted a few of the books I’m most interested in and included the publisher’s description of those, but click through to see the other titles’ blurbs.

As always, if you can get these through an indie bookstore, that is ideal, but if you can’t, the titles and covers are linked to my Amazon affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, I’ll get a small percentage.

This month includes a thoughtful literary fiction book about growing up as a queer Muslim girl in 80s Queens, a queer YA heist story on the Titanic, a bunch of new yuri manga titles, a nonbinary essay collection that stole my top spot for favorite books I’ve read this year, and some just-in-time F/F Christmas romances. On to the books!

Adult

Fiction and SFF

the cover of Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion

Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion by Bushra Rehman (Sapphic Literary Fiction)

For readers of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and My Brilliant Friend, Bushra Rehman’s Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion is an unforgettable story about female friendship and queer love

Razia Mirza grows up amid the wild grape vines and backyard sunflowers of Corona, Queens, with her best friend, Saima, by her side. When a family rift drives the girls apart, Razia’s heart is broken. She finds solace in Taslima, a new girl in her close-knit Pakistani-American community. They embark on a series of small rebellions: listening to scandalous music, wearing miniskirts, and cutting school to explore the city.

When Razia is accepted to Stuyvesant, a prestigious high school in Manhattan, the gulf between the person she is and the daughter her parents want her to be, widens. At Stuyvesant, Razia meets Angela and is attracted to her in a way that blossoms into a new understanding. When their relationship is discovered by an Aunty in the community, Razia must choose between her family and her own future.

Punctuated by both joy and loss, full of ’80s music and beloved novels, Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion is a new classic: a fiercely compassionate coming-of-age story of a girl struggling to reconcile her heritage and faith with her desire to be true to herself.

the cover of The Ivory Tomb

Romance

the cover of Picture-Perfect Christmas

Picture-Perfect Christmas by Charlotte Greene (F/F Holiday Romance)

When Nicole Steele left the small mountain town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, she thought she’d never look back. Almost twenty years later, all she wants is to move home. She’s delighted to be hired to take photographs for Glenwood’s new tourism campaign. Instead of her usual week-long visit, she gets to spend the entire holiday season in town. But there’s a hitch: Quinn Zelinski.

Quinn’s working on the tourism project, too, and she and Nicole have a history: high school rivalry, teenage longing, and one memorable kiss. Then Nicole left for college, Quinn stayed, and except for a few fleeting glimpses, they haven’t seen or spoken to each other since.

Nicole and Quinn can’t avoid each other forever, and the magic of the Christmas season might rekindle the romance between them if they don’t let old hurts and rivalry ruin a picture-perfect reunion.

the cover of Camp Lost and Found
the cover of Reindeer Games
the cover of I Saw Mommy Kissing the Nanny
the cover of Only This Summer
the cover of Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Volume 7

Young Adult and Children’s Books

the cover of A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar (YA Historical Thriller)

Josefa is an unapologetic and charismatic thief, who loves the thrill of the chase. She has her eye on her biggest mark yet—the RMS Titanic, the most luxurious ship in the world. But she isn’t interested in stealing from wealthy first-class passengers onboard. No, she’s out for the ultimate prize: the Rubiyat, a one of a kind book encrusted with gems that’s worth millions.

Josefa can’t score it alone, so she enlists a team of girls with unique talents: Hinnah, a daring acrobat and contortionist; Violet, an actress and expert dissembler; and Emilie, an artist who can replicate any drawing by hand.

They couldn’t be more different and yet they have one very important thing in common: their lives depend on breaking into the vault and capturing the Rubiyat. But careless mistakes, old grudges, and new romance threaten to jeopardize everything they’ve worked for and put them in incredible danger when tragedy strikes.

While the odds of pulling off the heist are slim, the odds of survival are even slimmer…

the cover of This Cursed Crown
the cover of Together: A First Conversation About Love

Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga

Run Away With Me, Girl Vol. cover

Run Away With Me, Girl Vol. 1 by Battan (Yuri Manga)

A dramatic, funny, and painful romance manga between two women about how, sometimes, you need to run away in order to find where you truly belong. Perfect for fans of coming-out yuri like How Do We Relationship? and masters of adult drama like Akiko Higashimura (Princess Jellyfish) and Takako Shimura (Even Though We’re Adults).

You know that one person you just can’t forget? Not the one that got away, but the one you had, until suddenly you didn’t?

Maki’s first love was her high school classmate, a girl named Midori. But Midori broke up with Maki at graduation, saying they were now “too old to be fooling around dating girls.” Ten years later, Maki still can’t get Midori off her mind, and when the two women reconnect after a chance encounter, Maki realizes that, while her feelings haven’t changed, Midori has long moved on—in fact, she’s engaged. Yet the more Maki hears Midori talk about her soon-to-be-husband, the more red flags she notices. And Midori has another secret, one she hasn’t yet shared with Maki. Will it be the last blow to Maki’s hopes that their romance might be rekindled? Or will it be the push that sets them on a new path—one they’ll travel together?

the cover of My Cute Little Kitten Vol 1

My Cute Little Kitten, Vol. 1 by Milk Morinaga (Yuri Manga)

A budding romance between female roommates is spurred on by the rescue of a rambunctious kitten in this yuri/Girls’ Love romcom. By the beloved creator of Girl Friends!

Rena has had a crush on her roommate Yuna since college, but Yuna has never noticed. One night, Yuna brings home a tiny kitten, even though their apartment doesn’t allow pets! Rena decides it would be better to let Yuna find her own place. But when Yuna says she wants to stay with Rena forever, Rena’s feelings are forced to the surface. Can Rena make Yuna understand what being together forever really means?

the cover of The Legend of Korra Patterns in Time
the cover of The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This, Vol. 2
the cover of Citrus Plus, Vol. 4
the cover of Whisper Me a Love Song, Vol. 6
the cover of The Summer You Were There, Vol. 2
the cover of Hello, Melancholic! Vol. 3
the cover of Adachi and Shimamura (Light Novel) Vol. 10

Nonfiction

the cover of How Far the Light Reaches

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler (Queer Nonbinary Essay Collection)

TIME Must-Read Book of the Year  •  A PEOPLE Best New Book  •  A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2022  •  An Indie Next Pick  •  One of Winter’s Most Eagerly Anticipated Books: VANITY FAIR, VULTURE

A queer, mixed race writer working in a largely white, male field, science and conservation journalist Sabrina Imbler has always been drawn to the mystery of life in the sea, and particularly to creatures living in hostile or remote environments. Each essay in their debut collection profiles one such creature, including:

  • the mother octopus who starves herself while watching over her eggs,
  • the Chinese sturgeon whose migration route has been decimated by pollution and dams,
  • the bizarre, predatory Bobbitt worm (named after Lorena),
  • the common goldfish that flourishes in the wild,
  • and more.

Imbler discovers that some of the most radical models of family, community, and care can be found in the sea, from gelatinous chains that are both individual organisms and colonies of clones to deep-sea crabs that have no need for the sun, nourished instead by the chemicals and heat throbbing from the core of the Earth. Exploring themes of adaptation, survival, sexuality, and care, and weaving the wonders of marine biology with stories of their own family, relationships, and coming of age, How Far the Light Reaches is a shimmering, otherworldly debut that attunes us to new visions of our world and its miracles.

This may be my favorite book I’ve read all year! Check out my review for my thoughts.

the cover of Young Bloomsbury

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!

A previous version of this post included Home for the Holidays by Erin Zak, but that book will not be published until next year.

Danika reviews A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

the cover of A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

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This is a YA sapphic heist story set on the Titanic. I’m sure most of you have already stopped reading to go add it to your wishlist, but just in case, I’ll keep going.

This is from the author of The Henna Wars and Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, but while there is a romantic subplot in A Million To One, it’s not the focus as it was in her previous two books. This follows four point of view characters, all of whom have their own reasons for wanting to pull off a heist that could set them up for life opportunities that have previously been unimaginable.

Josefa is the mastermind and leader of the operation. Thievery is how she gets by day-to-day, and this is the job that’s going to change anything. She wants to steal the Rubaiyat, a jewel-encrusted book being transported that is worth more than any jewelry the first class passengers are wearing. She’s already managed to steal some tickets, but she can’t pull off this heist alone.

The easy choice to join her is Violet, a friend who has helped her out on several other jobs before. Violet is a very convincing actress, making her the perfect choice to be the face of the operation. She can charm almost anyone, which will help get them out of any tight spots. In her real life, though, Violet is closed off and suspicious, especially of the much less seasoned additions to their team.

The next person Josefa recruits is Hinnah, a circus performer and contortionist. In order to steal the Rubaiyat, they need someone who can fit into tight spaces. She’s eager to walk away from her life and pursue something new, even though she’s never done anything like this before.

Emilie is the last addition to the team, and the most unlikely. She’s a painter who is feeling lost after her father died. She lives in a different world than the other three young women, making Violet suspicious of her motives and capabilities. Still, Josefa is adamant that they need someone to forge a convincing copy of the Rubaiyat to buy them time. And it doesn’t hurt that she also has a crush on Emilie and has been looking for an excuse to spend more time with her.

Each chapter begins with a countdown (3 DAYS, 7 HOURS, 25 MINUTES), because, of course, this is a Titanic story. While the characters are busy trying to pull off a heist, we know there’s something much bigger and more dangerous approaching. Meanwhile, they have to dodge the Matron suspicious of four young women travelling without an escort as they navigate their tenuous relationships with each other–including a budding romance. And they’re all keeping secrets about what really brought them to this mission.

As with Jaigirdar’s previous books, the main characters all live in Ireland. Josefa is originally from Spain, Emilie is part Haitian and part French, Violet is from Croatia, and Hinnah is from India.

I found it interesting how this diverse group in a very rich, white environment was written. Racism is mentioned in the novel, but it doesn’t play much of a role while they’re on the Titanic, and as far as I remember, homophobia isn’t mentioned at all. I can’t imagine I would have enjoyed a book that realistically describes how queer women of colour would have been treated in this situation, but it feels like this exists somewhere between an alternate history and a realistic depiction, which was a little hard to pin down for me.

If the premise intrigues you, definitely pick this one up, though of course keep in mind that it takes place on the Titanic, so you know how it will end. I sometimes felt like I wanted to spend more time with the characters and their relationships to each other, but that’s a function of the genre, I think: it’s more focused on the plot than the characters, especially with four POVs to juggle in a fairly short book.

… Did I mention this is a sapphic YA heist on the Titanic?

Meagan Kimberly reviews White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

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It’s hard to summarize Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching, as this is a novel less with plot and more with vibes. But to the best of my ability, a young girl, Miranda, develops an eating disorder called pica, where she eats and hungers for things that are inedible, after suffering through grief from the loss of her mother. She is haunted by the ghost of her mother, aunt, and grandmother, who call to her from the other side.

The novel reads more like one long ritual, with rhythmic language that mimics the casting of a spell. This ties into the witchcraft subject and its role in Miranda’s life. There is an interesting dynamic between the dark magic and Miranda’s eating disorder. As with all Gothic novels, it’s hard to tell what’s supernatural and what is mental illness, or how the supernatural exacerbates mental issues.

It reads like an amalgamation of memories and hallucinations, making it hard to follow the story. The jarring jumps in point of view make it difficult to tell who is speaking when one scene ends and another begins mid-thought. The switch from one narrator to another in the middle of a scene or thought reads as though there are lapses in the narrator’s memory.

Miranda has a twin brother, Eliot, who takes over the narration when her point of view shifts. Miranda’s perspective is told in the third person while Eliot’s takes place in the first person. This indicates how Miranda feels outside of herself. But there’s magical mischief afoot that suggests there may be a creature causing havoc and taking on Miranda’s image.

The narration takes a wild turn when the house becomes a narrator from time to time. It becomes an entity with a mind of its own and plays a role in Miranda’s haunting. Her family home becomes a containment vessel that holds the ghosts of Miranda’s ancestors and calls for her to become one of them.

For a time, Miranda gets away from the house and its hauntings when she leaves to attend college. This is where she meets Ore and begins a relationship with her. But the house’s call is too strong, and soon with her pica, Miranda becomes too ill to continue school, so she goes home and leaves Ore behind. It becomes a question of whether or not the house itself causes the illness and creates Miranda’s pica the way the disease took her mother as well.

There are some weird moments of incest between Miranda and Eliot, as well as Ore and her sister Tijana. Meanwhile, in the background, there’s a growing hostility toward refugees and those considered outsiders. These particular points play such a minuscule role in the overall story that it’s easy to forget they ever happened, or feel like they were random.

Oyeyemi’s book is a strange tale that would be easier to follow visually. I’d be interested to see it adapted as a television series or movie, as that would make the Gothic elements stand out so much more. Especially with how the story ends, leaving the reader questioning what actually happened.

Content warnings: eating disorder, incest

Sapphic Novellas To Read In November (Or Any Time!)

You won’t catch me trying to write any novellas this November (respect for anyone who tries to write 50,000 words in a month, it’s just not in my plans any time soon), but I did read a few! To my mind, novellas occupy a challenging space when it comes to fiction. They need to be so much more tightly focused than a novel, and when done poorly they can feel anemic by comparison. On the other hand, novellas have vastly more space to breathe and play than a short story ever could; when done well, they’re like a satisfying main course next to a short story’s minimalist appetizer. The following novellas ran the spectrum in my opinion, though I think there’s something worthwhile in each of them for readers and writers of novellas alike.

Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry

Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry is a very loose retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in mid-2000’s rural Texas. It is also absolutely brutal to read. The underworld here is a conversion therapy camp that lesbian teenagers Raya and Sarah are sent to after their relationship is discovered. Raya is bent on saving Sarah and leading them out of there, but the things they are forced to endure are not easy to stomach, especially with the knowledge that this sort of thing still happens today. Of the novellas I read this month, Orpheus Girl is the only one that I felt had more words to play with than was strictly necessary, and could afford to spend them luxuriously. I can tell that the author was primarily a poet before moving to fiction. Still, reading Orpheus Girl left me in a half-heartbroken haze—I appreciate books like these, but they’re the reason I generally stick to lesbian fantasy and sci-fi more than any other genre of sapphic fiction.

Content Warnings: homophobia, transphobia, child abuse, self-harm, suicide attempt, torture

the cover of Fireheart Tiger

Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard is a small, anxious story about finding agency while trapped in restrictive relationships. Princess Thanh and her kingdom of Bình Hải are stuck in several, be it with more powerful nations, former lovers, or even Thanh’s own mother. Fireheart Tiger is the shortest book here, and I felt like it struggled the most with the novella format. A large portion of this book is spent telling rather than showing, and the overall effect is that most of Fireheart Tiger feels like it is spent deep inside Thanh’s internal ruminations. Which isn’t to say that the situations it presents aren’t compelling; Thanh’s political predicament is a thorny one that presents no clear solution, likewise Thanh’s struggle to reconcile her troubled relationship with her mother and their cultural tradition of filial piety. However, Fireheart Tiger lost me at its treatment of the only overtly masculine sapphic character. I understand what Eldris is supposed to represent in the narrative—both the threat and unavoidable gravity of an imperial nation—but in practice it just feels like she was written like a man, which is a stereotype of masculine lesbians that I hate to see in any story.

the cover of Spear by Nicola Griffith

Spear by Nicola Griffith is another loose retelling of old myths, this time a clever weaving of medieval tales regarding Peretur—also known as Perceval, Parzival, or Peredur—along with a handful of other Arthurian elements. Set in 9th century Wales, Spear is a bewitching read right from the beginning, steeped in that subconscious feeling of agelessness that only really good fantasy can instill. The magic is mysterious and wild, the people historically grounded and human; each familiar name and face feels appropriately placed, and yet the story itself felt gripping and fresh. It has a young butch disguising herself as a man (without slipping into questioning her gender), a tender and passionate romance between a knight and a witch, a special import given to both etymology and food—in short, it feels like this book was written just for me, and I wish it were about a million times longer. As much as I want more lesbian low fantasy like this in my life, though, I can admit that Spear is only as long as it actually needs to be. Should I try to write a novella after all? …Maybe next November. Maybe.

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 tumblr.