Shana reviews The Deep by Rivers Solomon 

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

The Deep is the most beautiful book that I’ve read this year. It’s a lyrical novella based on a Hugo Award-nominated science-fiction song by clipping, a hip-hop group. The Deep is a reimagined mermaid story about an underwater society descended from African women tossed overboard during the transatlantic slave trade. We learn about the culture and history of these people, the wajinru, through the eyes of Yetu, their newest Historian.

Historians are responsible for holding the memories of every wanjinru who has lived, allowing individuals to live unburdened by the trauma of their collective past, only regaining temporary knowledge of their history through a yearly magic ritual. Yetu didn’t have a choice in taking on this calling, and she is overwhelmed by the weight of so many memories. In desperation, she tries to escape her role and carve a different path, one that brings her adventure, love with a surface dwelling “two-legged” woman, and a new respect for the power of memory.

Solomon packs a lot of eloquence into this small package and makes daring choices, like having the wanjinru appear fearsome to humans, rather than seductive sirens. The Deep feels longer than its 166 pages, in a good way. I enjoyed the wanjinru’s creative perspective on gender and relationships, and the way Solomon slowly explains the mystery of how their society came to be.

The story smoothly segues between Yetu’s present and the memories she carries. I sometimes dislike time jumps, but the inventive structure of the book made them feel seamless. However, I love complex worldbuilding and I found myself wishing for more explanation of the wanjinru’s fraught interactions with surface dwellers, alluded to through mentions of shipwrecks and oil rigs. The book’s atmospheric tone is gorgeous, but it also leaves some details to the reader’s imagination. For example, we never know exactly where in human geography Yetu is living.

The book imaginatively explores the nature and purpose of memories, generational trauma, and collective healing. It is so insightful that several times I gasped out loud while reading it. I appreciated the balance between the joy and ingenuity of the wajinru, and their painful history. I love books that use alternate history as social commentary and The Deep incorporates this with a light touch. It’s a powerful book, but also an engaging story with a sympathetic heroine. The Deep is a compelling and absorbing read that would appeal to lovers of feminist science fiction, underwater fantasy epics, or stories from the African diaspora.

Shannon reviews I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

I'll Be the One by Lyla Lee

If you’re looking for something to make you smile just as much as it makes you think, Lyla Lee’s debut I’ll Be the One is the perfect book for you. It’s categorized as young adult romance, but don’t let that put you off. I’m in my forties and I loved every second I spent with these characters.

Skye Shin has grown up knowing she wants to be a K-Pop star. She’s devoted every spare moment to practicing both her singing and dancing, and even though those around her haven’t always been as supportive of her dreams as she might like, she’s determined not to let this get her down. Sure, she’s a self-professed fat girl whose mother is constantly telling her to lose weight before taking the world by storm, painful to be sure, but if her deep love for K-Pop has taught her anything over the years, it’s that she has to believe in herself one-hundred percent, even if she’s the only one who does.

When You’re My Shining Star, a talent competition focused on K-Pop, holds auditions in her area, Skye knows she has to try out. So, she skips school and shows up for what she hopes will be her chance to totally wow the judges. Unfortunately, while her performance is one of the best she’s ever given, some of the judges aren’t eager to take a chance on Skye. Suddenly, in front of tons of other would-be contestants as well as a camera crew, Skye is forced to defend not only her lifelong dream, but the right for anyone who isn’t extremely thin to create art.

What follows is not only a behind-the-scenes look into the making of a reality TV show, but a deep and often heart-wrenching look into one young woman’s journey toward self-acceptance. Skye is a remarkable heroine, more self-assured than I could have even dreamed of being at her age, smart, resourceful, and unwilling to back down. She knows what she wants, and even when things get rough, she plows ahead, sometimes making mistakes, but always seeking the best, most fulfilling way to be who she’s meant to be, and lest she seem too good to be true, let me assure you that she’s not always sure of her identity. She considers herself bisexual, but because of her contentious relationship with her mother, she’s afraid to come out to anyone but her closest friends, and yet, her unwillingness to come out makes her feel hypocritical at times.

As the competition heats up, Skye throws herself wholeheartedly into a grueling schedule of rehearsals and performances. Plus, she’s still in school and letting her grades fall is not an option. Needless to say, she’s busier than she’s ever been, but things aren’t all work and no play for her and her fellow contestants. Fast friendships are formed, and Skye even gets a shot at first love, even if that love comes from a direction she never anticipated.

If you’re sensitive to fat-phobic commentary, I’ll Be the One might prove difficult for you to read. Skye is bombarded with anti-fat rhetoric from her mother, from the judges, and from several of the other contestants, so proceed with caution if you decide to pick this book up.

Nothing I can say can adequately convey my love for I’ll Be the One. It’s the kind of book I would have loved to read as a teenager struggling to fit into a world that didn’t always feel welcoming. Lee has created the perfect combination of lighthearted fun and introspective wisdom, making this a great book for readers both young and old.

Trigger Warning: Fat-phobia

Zoe reviews Beyond II: The Queer Post-Apocalyptic & Urban Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfé R. Monster and Taneka Stotts

Beyond II: The Queer Post-Apocalyptic and Urban Fantasy Comic Anthology

Beyond II: The Queer Post-Apocalyptic & Urban Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfe R. Monster and Taneka Stotts is the second of its series, following Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology, both of which were highly successful Kickstarter projects. The preface, which never fails to make me tear up, reads “These stories are for you. You’re not alone. We’re so glad you’re with us. We’re so glad you’re here.” It sets the tone for the rest of the anthology.

The anthology includes 25 stories by 36 contributors, which range from cryptids in the sewers to strangers waiting out the acid rain in a post-apocalyptic world to a fairy on a quest to make her human lover dinner. Each story features a new artist and writer, so the styles vary significantly and there is never any sense of repeat. Each comic has a completely new take on the genre. One interprets urban fantasy as an ancient Greek Olympics with mythological creatures like minotaurs, and another represents the genre with a story about a satyr and a dryad babysitting the seven werewolf kids in the apartment below them.

What I found most valuable within this anthology is how it interrogates the apocalypse from a queer lens. We’re used to the apocalypse in our media as being a place of fear and despair, whether it be caused by zombies, nuclear explosions, or mysterious diseases. The main character’s objective is typically to survive rather than thrive. Beyond II asks, among all this wreckage and loss, where can we find the good? How do we reclaim spaces that have been denied to us? One of my favorites from the anthology, “Pilot Light” by Steve Foxe and Paul Reinwand, has a post-apocalyptic wandering hero sworn to destroy the monsters roaming the land finding her true purpose in found family at a queer-owned outpost.

The sheer diversity and ingenuity in each comic honestly made me interested in urban fantasy and post-apocalyptic stories again, where before I had tended to write them off as overdone or ineffective.

Within Sarah Stern’s story “Cuchulainn,” humans hide behind walls from ‘Bodachs,’ predatory robots. The plot revolves around a boy named Jestin who figures out how to tame one. It’s a story about sacrifice and redemption, and it ends on a bittersweet note. Though Jestin exists in a broken world, he still has room to hope and try to make it better.  Another story, “Time Will Tell” by Samantha Cox and Ria Martinez, follows a male/male couple who explore the overgrown remains of our world, and in the process rescue a baby monster. The world is undeniably wounded, possibly even dying, but the focus is on the love between the two main characters. Beyond II is the kind of book where you didn’t know how much you were missing until you read it. If you can’t tell from this review, I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Something I truly appreciate about the anthology is the casual nature of representation. The stories are undeniably queer, but they aren’t about queer struggle. It doesn’t shy away from conflict, but that conflict is never based in homophobia or transphobia. In fact, the redeeming aspects of terrible situations is queer love. It also isn’t entirely about romantic love either. The book makes a statement about the importance of queer community in both happy and tragic circumstances. It declares that queer love is something that will save us all, even when everything is going wrong, and I, for one, agree. Beyond II is one of those books that makes you feel less alone. It gives you a sense of hope as well as entertainment, especially in these times where it seems as if everything is falling apart. It’s a celebratory anthology that revitalizes two genres that have often shunned queer people.

Carmella reviews All Men Want to Know by Nina Bouraoui

All Men Want to Know by Nina Bouraoui

Content warning: this review references sexual assault

In the first chapter of her auto-fictional novel All Men Want to Know, Nina Bouraoui (translated from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins) writes: “I want to know who I am, what I am made of, what I can hope for; I trace the thread of my past back as far as it will take me, making my way through the mysteries that haunt me, hoping to unravel them.”

This is just what the book sets out to do, exploring the narrator’s adult sense of identity–lesbian, writer, French, Algerian–through her past. Born to a French mother and an Algerian father, Bouraoui lived in Algiers until the age of fourteen, when her family relocated to France. Through this fictionalised narrative, Bouraoui ‘unravels’ her personal history, from a sun-baked childhood idyll in an Algeria threatened by the looming civil war of the 90s, to her search for connection as an 18-year-old in the lesbian nightlife of Paris, to her mother’s own life and experiences of sexual assault.

The story is told through beautiful vignette-like chapters that flicker between time periods and locations, mixing past and present, Paris and Algiers. It’s an experimental form that risks becoming frustrating, but I found the short chapters page-turningly compelling. The lack of fixed time and location represents Bouraoui’s own feelings of belonging between places: “I can’t choose one country, one nationality, over the other, I’d feel I was betraying either my mother or my father.”

In the Algerian chapters, headed as ‘Remembering’, Bouraoui writes vividly of desert holidays with her mother and sister alongside the horror of political unrest and violence. Roadblocks, harassment, and murders intertwine with family anecdotes and capers with her childhood best friend Ali.

As an 18-year-old in Paris, Bouraoui begins frequenting a women-only nightclub, looking for love but too terrified to act upon her desires. In this intimately anonymous setting, she feels part of the gay community (“I like these two words, they don’t so much belong to me as own me”) but experiences disconnection from her new lesbian social circle (“The women I spend time with are my rivals, women I go out with, not my friends”). Away from the club scene, she also begins to write. These chapters–headed ‘Becoming’–are reminiscent of the Parisian chapters of The Well of Loneliness as well as the works of Qiu Miaojin in their haunting sense of alienation.

The final narrative strand offers an account of Bouraoui’s mother’s youth in a war-torn France and the barriers surrounding her cross-cultural marriage. These ‘Knowing’ chapters mix family oral history with omniscience – how much would the narrator have been told and how much has been imagined?

All Men Want to Know is an evocative, heartfelt novel that explores psychological questions of self, belonging and knowing. While it covers distressing topics, it’s ultimately a beautiful and hopeful account of coming of age while straddling opposing identities.

Content warnings: rape, sexual assault, suicide, racism, murder, war, addiction, homophobia, sexism

Rachel Friars reviews Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Kalynn Bayron’s Cinderella is Dead is the queer fairy-tale retelling we needed in 2020.

Bayron’s novel is doing amazing things for queer fiction, fantasy, and YA. If there’s anything we need more of, it’s books like this, and more from Bayron herself. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Cinderella with queer girls. I can only recall Malinda Lo’s Ash (2009), which I read as a very confused teen, and still have on my shelf to this day. Bayron’s innovative and sparkling retelling is such a joy to read.

Cinderella is Dead takes place 200 years after the death of Cinderella. Based on the palace-approved version of the fairy tale that sixteen-year-old Sophia and her friends know by heart, Cinderella married her prince and lived happily ever after—for a time. Now, as a homage to Cinderella and her story, teenage girls are forced to appear at an Annual Ball, presided over by the current king, where all eligible men in the kingdom are free to select their wives. If a girl remains unselected…they are forfeit.

The novel opens with our main character, Sophia, preparing for the ball. However, Sophia would rather not go to any ball to be paraded in front of men who would have the authority to use her as they saw fit. Instead, she would rather marry her best friend, Erin. But things are complicated—the ball is not optional, and neither is conformity. After fleeing the palace the night of the ball—much like Cinderella herself, although under very different circumstances—Sophia finds herself in Cinderella’s tomb surrounded by the story she’s always known. However, when she meets Constance, the last descendant of Cinderella and her stepsisters, she learns that Cinderella’s story may not be so idyllic after all. What happened to the fairy godmother? Were the stepsisters actually ugly and monstrous? Sophia is determined to find the truth.

The novel is miraculous not only for its representation of queer and Black characters, but for its world, which seems to draw on both the conventions of the Cinderella story and history itself. Sophia is living in a world where queerness isn’t unheard of, but exists underground, subtly, or silently. She lives in a world where being different is unsafe, and the world around her struggles to catch up to her own bravery. In a world that demands absolute conformity, dissent comes at a steep price, and Bayron, through her characters, allows us to see the way queer people avoid that price in order to be who they are. This isn’t unheard of in centuries—or even decades—past, and is still relevant in some parts of the world today. So, even though the world of Cinderella is Dead has those elements of magic and fantasy that make the story so thrilling, there are also pieces of history that make it a important piece of queer literature.

The characters are vivid and thoughtfully presented, and each person close to Sophia presents us with a different view of queerness in a post-Cinderella world. Luke, the son of a family friend, is our window into the avenues through which people can explore their queerness, and the consequences of being discovered. Erin, by contrast, is one of the many portraits of the painful position of women—especially queer women—in this society. The fact that this story, with all of its intricacies, is structured around the story of Cinderella, makes it doubly fascinating.

One last word about the romance: Constance and Sophia are such a great pair! After a fraught dynamic with Erin, who struggles with her sexuality and society’s expectations, it’s clear that the relationship between Constance and Sophia is meant to be a vibrant alternative. Although I felt that their relationship could have used more detail in terms of the natural progression of their feelings for one another, that could just be me wanting more.

Overall, I loved this book and it was so much fun to read Bayron’s novel and to discover a world where queer girls can, quite literally, do anything. Although queer fairy-tale retellings have become more popular in recent years, we always need more, and we especially need more written by people of colour, and this one is particularly beautiful and unique.

Please visit Kalynn Bayron on her website, or on Twitter @KalynnBayron.

Content Warnings: abuse, domestic violence, homophobia.

Rachel Friars is a creative 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 queer 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 @MsBookishBeauty or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

Shannon reviews Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin Gough

Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin GoughErin Gough’s Amelia Westlake Was Never Here is one of those hidden gems I want the world to wholeheartedly embrace. On the surface, it’s a rom/com of sorts, with a delightful enemies-to-lovers romance, but if you look a little deeper, it’s message is timely and important.

Harriet Price is pretty sure she’s got her life perfectly planned out. She works hard, makes good grades, has a beautiful and ambitious girlfriend, and is just waiting for her chance to take the world by storm. So, if everything is going so well for her, what could have possibly possessed her to team up with troublemaker Will Everheart to bring to light some of the many problems experienced by students of Rosemead, the elite school the two girls attend? Harriet tells herself she’s seeking justice for those who feel powerless to speak up for themselves, but the reader is aware pretty early on that there’s more to it.

Will can’t stand Harriet. At least, that’s what she tells herself on a regular basis. Harriet is far too prim and proper for Will’s taste, and she takes life way too seriously. Still, she’s the perfect person for the hoax Will has in mind, and Will is nothing if not steadfast when she’s got a point to prove.

Together, Will and Harriet come up with a daring plan to create change in the hallowed halls of Rosemead. Using Will’s artistic talent and Harriet’s way with words, they create a fake social media profile for a student they christen Amelia Westlake. In Amelia’s voice, they recount the many injustices faced by various Rosemead students, and find themselves drawn closer together in the process.

Both Will and Harriet are well-drawn and likable characters. The author manages to give them distinct personalities with very realistic strengths and weaknesses. I loved getting to know them as they get to know one another. The novel is a fabulous reminder to look beyond our initial impressions of those we encounter, but the author doesn’t hammer the point home in an aggressive way. Instead, she allows the relationship between Harriet and Will to organically evolve, a much more subtle and meaningful way to get her point across.

I didn’t find much in the way of troubling content here. The story examines class differences and privilege in a way most readers should be able to identify with, though there is a bit of an emphasis on bullying. The descriptions aren’t overly graphic though, so I encourage you to give this delightful novel a try. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my summer reading so far.

anna marie reviews Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai is a gooey treat of a book, full of nauseating smells, intoxicating feelings and so much juicy/murky/enticing fluid. In other words it was really great, even better than The Tiger Flu (2018) in my opinion, which I read last year and enjoyed immensely too. Both novels in fact share certain preoccupations with gross bodily queerness as well as dystopian capitalist futures and clones.

Published in 2002, the novel tells a dual or even quadruple story at once. It floats out of time frames, bodies and characters but the main focal points are two protagonists. Nu Wa & her story, generally in nineteenth century China, and her experience falling in love with the salt fish girl who works at the market and Miranda, who’s growing up in the technocapitalist Pacific Northwest from 2042 onwards, and who has the pungent smell of the durian fruit constantly emanating from her whole being and whose family is trying to find a cure.

I was prepared to love the book, it had been recommended to me by a friend, and, as I said I’d already enjoyed another of Lai’s novels. From the first lines I knew I would like it–lines on the first page about loneliness and primordial sludge made me pause with wonder. I was sold; “It was a murkier sort of solitude, silent with the wet sleep of the unformed world,” writes Lai. Salt Fish Girl has this incredible, in many ways relatable, blending of a gross, pervasive sickness/smell with a sensitive, handsy queerness that vibrantly articulates something very truthful, I felt, about the experience of being a child dyke. Full of clumsy encounters and fraught yet attempting-to-be-loving relationships which the novel clung to me, and I took, much like the smell of durians following Miranda, to bringing the book with me into any room or space that I went to, whether or not I actually did any reading.

The novel is about sickness, as well as about the bizarre coupling of mutation, love and reproduction (again much like The Tiger Flu). It also has mermaids and a mythic focus and swelling that was so compelling and really quick to read. The pacing never fails to feel exciting and the dual story pulls you along so that it’s hard to put the book down, each storyline pulling you along to the next installment and on and on.

Funnily enough, the compulsion that pulled me through the book, after the first few chapters settled me into the story, is how I feel about picking up another Larissa Lai novel! I’m really looking forward to reading When Fox is a Thousand, which was her debut in 1995, and rereading The Tiger Flu when I’m next near my copy.

11 Literally Perfect Sapphic Novels

11 Literally Perfect Sapphic Novels

I don’t give out five stars on Goodreads very easily. Basically, the only times I do
are either when I can’t think of any way it could have been improved, or when they
are life-changing books for me, even if they are flawed in some way. (It’s hard for straight lit to make the cut, because I always think “Would it have been better if it were queer?” And I think you can guess my answer there.)

There are a few books, though, that I think are absolute perfection. They are thought-provoking, emotional, and told skillfully. For this post, I’ve stuck with novels and short story collections, all of which I’ve rated 5 stars on Goodreads. This was originally a video, so scroll down if you’d like to see that.

The Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzieThe Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie

This book feels like the moment before a summer thunderstorm: that feeling where the air is charged, and it’s claustrophobic and humid and tense. It’s about a family that’s haunted by its past. The story alternates between the present and the family’s history, and there is some sort of trauma, an unnamed tragedy that happens in between. In the present, you’re dealing with the fallout. I loved the main character, Ava. When you see her as a child, she is this vibrant, passionate, unrestrained kid who is so alive. As an adult, she is very closed off, as if she’s been dulled over time. Part of the journey of the book is her finding her way back to her childhood self.

The queer storyline takes place in the present, when Ava finds herself surprisingly, suddenly attracted to this woman who comes to visit and stay with them. She finds herself kissing this woman the first day that she arrives, and is trying to figure out what that means, because she is married to a guy. This also has an element of fabulism, which I loved.

Check out my full review here.

Hero Worship by Rebekah MatthewsHero Worship by Rebekah Matthews

This feels like a painfully personal book for me. It’s about Valerie, who is twenty-something, and she is writing letters to her ex-girlfriend about how she still hasn’t gotten over her–even though she’s not really sure if her ex- girlfriend ever really liked her that much? Valerie has this desperation for love and attention which was uncomfortably relatable. I felt like I was flinching sympathetically every other page, but it was so realistic to that aimless twenty-something period of life. This felt like someone exposing a part of my personality that I would much rather keep hidden, but it’s so beautifully done. I really wish that I could hear more people talking about this, because it made such an impact on me.

Check out my full review here.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah WatersTipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my favourite book of all time. This is another personal book for me, partly because of when I read it. It was after I had a very tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship that lasted the whole four years of high school. After high school, I was trying to get over it, but was thinking that nothing was ever gonna be so intense again. Reading Tipping the Velvet helped me realize that A) that intensity is maybe not the best or most romantic thing, and B) that you can have incredible, beautiful, meaningful relationships that aren’t your first love, that aren’t incredibly dramatic, and that come from mutual support and a slow build of intimacy and trust. In fact, those relationships are infinitely more valuable and more useful to you. That is a very small part of this book, but it is what imprinted so dramatically on me. I’ve since reread it, and I still love it. Sarah Waters described this as a “lesbo-Victorian romp.” There’s a lot that happens, it does get pretty dark at parts, there’s a whole socialism and activism element, it gets pretty sexy, gets a little bit weird–it’s just a very enjoyable book to read, and it’s one that means a lot to me.

Fingersmith by Sarah WatersFingersmith by Sarah Waters

It’s not surprising to me that two books by Sarah Waters made this list, because she is my favorite author. I would say that Tipping the Velvet is my favourite book, but I think of Fingersmith as the best book that I’ve read: it is so intricately plotted. If you haven’t heard of it before, it is another lesbian historical fiction set in Victorian times. It is about a “fingersmith,” who is basically a thief, who is part of a con. She is going to play the role of a lady’s maid in order to convince this woman to marry a friend of hers, and then they’re going to split her inheritance. But after she pretends to be the lady’s maid, she falls in love with her. It is incredible, and so fascinating, but Fingersmith also dark. It talks about insane asylums in the Victorian era, which is horrifying, and there is abuse and sexual abuse and, of course, gaslighting–but that plot just completely blew me away. I’ve never read anything like it before or since.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Monique is a journalist in a fashion magazine, and she previously wrote for something like BuzzFeed, so she is shocked to be picked by Evelyn Hugo, an aging Hollywood starlet, to write her biography. The story alternates between their meetings, where Monique trying to figure out why she’s been tapped for this role, and Evelyn talking about her past. The title refers to the fact that Evelyn Hugo was married seven times in her life. This is kind of part of her mystique, and the question at the heart of her biography is: which one of those was your grand love, the love of your life? Spoiler: the love of her life was a woman, and so much of the story is her being closeted as bisexual in old Hollywood (as well as passing as white), and the things that she had to do to keep herself safe, to keep her relationship safe, and to keep her career. It is beautifully written. Evelyn Hugo is a fascinating character, because she is really complicated: she does a lot of morally questionable things, but I couldn’t help but be on her side most of the time. She does what she thinks she has to do to protect herself and her family. Even if that Hollywood glamour story doesn’t immediately appeal to you, I would still recommend picking this up, because it is just so impeccably written.

Check out my full review here.

The Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is a classic for a reason. It is dark: it starts off with the main character getting raped as a child and later having her children taken away from her. It is brutal. But it is also hopeful. It’s about a group of women who come together and support each other. I was under the impression that had some lesbian subtext, but that’s not true: it is very openly queer. The main character is in love with a woman named Shug. They have a romantic and sexual relationship–it’s not subtext.

It closely looks at some of the greatest horrors in the world, the worst of misogyny and racism and specifically anti-black racism, and still somehow manages to have the sense of community, of hope, of belonging. It says that yes, those things are true, and they are terrible, but there are also things that are beautiful and that make life worth living. Those are the books that I find to be the most nurturing. If you can truly acknowledge the worst parts of the world and still find a way to live through it, and to have a fulfilling life, that is incredibly powerful.

Check out my full review here.

The Collection edited by Tom Leger and Riley MacleodThe Collection edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod

The Collection is a trans short story collection–it isn’t all sapphic stories, but almost a third of them are. Usually in an anthology like this, there’s some big ups and downs, and there are some stories that I’m not as interested in, but all of the stories in The Collection are really well-written. They are also are well-paced. Instead of feeling like excerpts from a novel, they are complete narratives in themselves, with a huge range of subject matter and protagonists. A lot of the stories in this collection do deal directly with prejudice, with microaggressions, and they can be pretty uncomfortable to read, but they are really well done.

Check out my full review here.

Lizzy & Annie by Casey PlettLizzy & Annie by Casey Plett

Lizzy & Annie by Casey Plett is actually a short story that is included in Plett’s A Safe Girl To Love, but I originally read this story in a kind of a zine-style illustrated format. It’s about two trans women in a relationship, and the way that they talk to each other and what they talk about just feels so familiar and true to life. Annie Mok’s illustrations are a beautiful addition that add a lot of depth to the story.

A Safe Girl To Love is well worth reading in its entirety, but if you can get your hands on the illustrated version of this story, I think it stands well on its own. It deals with racism, sexism, and transmisogyny. It shows the different ways that people can be supportive or oppressive: from outright harassment, to supportive, to theoretically supportive but clueless, to fetishizing. It’s a glimpse into these two characters everyday lives, and it’s one that makes me hungry for more stories like this in all media.

Check out my full review here.

Missed Her by Ivan CoyoteMissed Her by Ivan Coyote

This title stands in for basically anything by Ivan Coyote: I had a bunch of their books in my 5-star collection. I love Coyote’s writing style. When I first started reading their stories, they identified as a butch lesbian, and while they still ID as butch, they have come out as non-binary and goes by they/them pronouns.

Missed Her is my favorite of their short story collections, but honestly anything by them is amazing. I really love their kitchen table storytelling style: it really feels like you’re there with them, and they’re spinning you a yarn. They often have a rural perspective to their stories, which is really nice to see, because most queer stories come from a big city perspective, and don’t seem to acknowledge the possibility of having a happy queer life in a small town or in a rural environment. They tell the most beautiful, broken, enduring love stories. While I find their stories comforting, they also push me to be better. I can’t recommend their books highly enough.

Check out my full review here.

Falling in Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson coverFalling In Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

This is a short story collection, and only the novella has sapphic content, but the entire book is amazing. In the introduction, Nalo Hopkinson talks about having a fractured relationship with other human beings, and trying to come back to this idea of falling in love with humanity as a whole–which I empathize with, especially right now. It’s mostly fantasy stories, and stories that just include just a bit of magic or the fantastical. Their novella is set on the Borderlands, and it is this thought-provoking look at queer communities and what happens there, and what we can accept and forgive, and what we shouldn’t. But I loved all of the stories in this collection: there’s one that’s about this gay couple who are in a BDSM relationship, but the story is just about them trying to track down their missing chicken. It’s perfection.

Check out my full review here.

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Kissing the Witch is one of the best books with the worst covers that I’ve ever seen, which is why I am respectfully leaving the cover off of this post. It’s a collection of feminist retellings of fairy tales, most of which are also queer. They are beautifully written, and each fairy tale ties into the next one: a character from the previous fairy tale is telling the next story. I always love fairy tale retellings, especially if they are feminist or queer or both, so obviously I adored this one. Ignore the cover and pick it up anyway.

Those are my favorite sapphic novels and short story collections! Let me know in the comments which bi and lesbian novels or short story collections you think are perfection!

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Carmella reviews Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Hex is a dark, uneasy novel about poison and desire. It follows the main character Nell, a PhD candidate in biological science, who’s expelled from Columbia after her labmate dies in an accident with plant toxins. Derailed, depressed and desperate, Nell steals the killer seeds to continue the work from a grim apartment in Red Hook. While she tries to engineer an antidote, she’s also writing a series of obsessive journals dedicated to ‘you’ – Dr. Joan Kallas, the lecturer she’s in love with.

Nell and Joan are caught up in not so much a love triangle as a love hexagon: there’s Nell’s medievalist ex-boyfriend Tom; her glamorous best friend Mishti; Mishti’s boyfriend Carlo; and Joan’s creepy husband Barry. Despite its botanical backdrop, the novel spends most of its time focusing on these tangled relationships, and the webs of desire between them are just about as toxic as the seeds germinating in Nell’s apartment.

If it sounds incestuous, claustrophobic and messy – it is. There’s a sense of ‘dark academia’ in Dinerstein Knight’s portrayal of campus politics. If you enjoy novels where everyone’s brainy and unpleasant (think The Secret History or Bunny) then this is one for you.

Nell herself is a compelling character to spend time with, not despite her unpleasantness but because of it. It’s always refreshing to read female characters who are allowed to be grotty. Not showering for days? Keeping a mushy banana in your pocket? Having toenail fungus? That’s feminism! Well, maybe not, but it makes for an interesting narrator. Nell’s world view is – for lack of a better word – weird. Her ‘journals’ are studded with surprising images, odd tangents, and strange yearnings: “I wished I could carve you a pumpkin”; “I wanted immediately, with my whole self, to be your cat”; “I thought it might be pleasant to be one layer of uncolored nail polish lying in rest over your fingernails”. I loved this depiction of desire – at once so unique and yet completely familiar.

The novel interrogates the idea of desire throughout. What do the characters want for themselves? For each other? From each other? Nell doesn’t always know what she wants, but she is always wanting, so that the act of wanting almost becomes an activity in its own right. After all, what’s more important to her: Joan, or the act of wanting Joan? As Nell wonders aloud to Mishti, “Which is fuller, the longing or the union?” Whatever the answer is for Nell personally, it’s certainly the longing that makes this novel a success.

Bee reviews Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology edited by Celine Frohn

Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology edited by Celine Frohn

This book had me in two words: queer. Gothic. I have long-held passions in both areas. The gothic is the realm of the outsider, the rejected, the monstrous. It lends itself to queer interpretation–and that is mostly what queer gothic is. Just interpretation. The height of gothic literature was, of course, the 18th and 19th Centuries, beginning with The Castle of Otranto and spidering out into different sub-genres and interpretations right up to the present day. There are queer interpretations of gothic literature, definitely: my favourites include Susan Stryker’s “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage,” and Skin Shows by Jack Halberstam. There is obviously The Picture of Dorian Gray, but also the interpretation of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as being an allegory for the closet, and the ambiguous sexuality of Dracula. The gothic is queer, inescapably. So when I saw Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology, my true reaction was to say, “oh. Finally.”

The anthology spans identities, each story offering up new characters with new queerness. A large proportion of the stories are about WLW–women who are seduced by vampires, who dance with the ghosts of their murdered wives, who kill their lovers, and fall for monsters from the deep. Sometimes these women are the ones who are monstrous, which is of course, the potential of the gothic. This is the most exciting thing for me, a feeling which is only compounded by the fact that their queerness is not what makes them monstrous. They are given power in their monstrosity.

The contributors to this anthology understand the genre to its core. There was not one story that felt amiss, each with the kind of rich and immersive prose which typifies gothic writing. I was pulled into each chilling tale easily and readily, the language acting as a kind of through-line for this diverse collection of stories. Even though each is by a different author, with a different approach to the genre, they read as part of a whole. The anthology is cohesive and interconnected, with some stories sharing similar themes and imagery in a pleasing way–the same hallmarks of the genre, used to different effect.

There are all kinds of queer women in these pages. Some of my favourites were the stories that explored the idea of a woman out of time–a woman with an identity which we might now refer to as butch, but constrained by Victorian sensibilities. There is something eminently enjoyable about a rakish and debonair Byronic hero in cravat and breeches, but oh wait! She’s a woman, and she’s here to seduce your wives. I enjoyed the troubled Kat in “Hearteater” by Eliza Temple, who has exactly the right amount of tortured soul.

And on that point–seduction. I haven’t yet mentioned one of the drawcards of the gothic, that being the simmering eroticism of all things dark and disturbed. There’s a reason why we find vampires so sexy. The authors of Unspeakable haven’t forgotten this, either. A number of the stories are filled with just the right amount of sexual tension and saucy contact. It is sometimes devilish, and always welcome. “Laguna and the Engkanto” by Katalina Watt stands out: a story with a folk tale feel which absolutely sizzles.

The stories that don’t have that note of the erotic are filled with another gothic (and queer) emotion: yearning. The sense of something lost, of a need to pierce the veil, to find some fulfilment and compromise your own goodness to do so… these are all gothic elements that are woven through the stories of Unspeakable. Remember that while the gothic is horror, it is also romance: it is heightened emotions, a deep plunge into the psyche and the human condition. “Moonlight” by Ally Kölzow is one such narrative, which left me with such a deep sadness that I am still thinking about it, days later.

It bears mentioning that a lot of these stories rely on tropes. These are, of course, conventions of the genre, and some might call them clichés. I think it is important to be reminded, however, that applying these “clichés” to queer narratives is something completely new. It is a reinvention, and it is inspired. Even though some of the stories are familiar and predictable, the expected outcome is the desired outcome: we deserve our turn with these stories, and they are all the more enjoyable for it.

This anthology is a powerhouse of an introduction to the work of some very exciting writers. Their dexterity within the genre is admirable, and made this collection an utter pleasure to read. For lovers of the gothic, it is an absolute delight. If you are unfamiliar with the genre, it is a perfect introduction (although be prepared for any further forays to be a lot more subtextual on the queer front). It was so soothing for me to be able to read within a genre so dear to my heart, and to see it full of queerness. At the risk of sounding over-the-top and extremely sappy, my devoted thanks go out to Celine Frohn and the contributing authors. They have created something truly special, which feeds the monster in us all