Anna K. reviews Elissa Janine Hoole’s Kiss the Morning Star

In Elissa Janine Hoole’s Kiss the Morning Star, Anna takes a roadtrip with her best-friend-for-years, Kat, to find proof of God’s love. It’s a few weeks before Anna’s 18th birthday, and a few months after her mom died in a house fire and her pastor father stopped preaching, and speaking altogether. A lesbian, Young Adult, coming-of-age novel centering on faith? you ask. Yep. And it’s good.

I was skeptical at first, waiting to get hit over the head with moralizing. But that doesn’t happen (excepting a couple less-than-ecstasy-inducing drug experiences and a nearly PG sex scene). Katy Kat and Anna babe, as they call each other, use Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums as a guide by choosing their next move with closed eyes and a finger on a random page. They get tattoos, get caught in a Mexico-bound bus full of missionaries stalled on train tracks, meet the shaman (a musician/spiritual leader), and have an encounter with a bear while backpacking. Along the way, Anna mourns the loss of her mother, tries to mend her relationship with her father via text message, begins to let go of some her burdensome fears and limiting routines, and recognizes that she is in love with Katy.

They find God subtly–the reader is left only to suppose they succeed–and falling in love with each other is a huge step of their journey. This sweet, teenage road novel is so satisfying I only wish I could have read it when I was a teen, but it’s just as fulfilling as an adult.

Anna K. reviews Times Two by Kristen Henderson and Sarah Kate Ellis


Sarah Kate Ellis is the vice president of marketing at Real Simple magazine, and Kristen Henderson is the bassist and a founding member of the band Antigone Rising. And they’re a lesbian couple who both became pregnant via the same donor on the same day. Terrible plan, you think? Maybe…if it had been the plan. In Times Two: Two Women in Love and the Happy Family They Made, they narrate the long road that led them to such a scary, coincidental, but joyous family trajectory.

After they met through mutual friends in New York City and got together in 2005, they shared their dreams of motherhood and family. By 2008, both in their mid-thirties and after weeks spent surfing for the perfect donor and one miscarriage, they’d both had rounds of the fertility drug Clomid, and Sarah was pursuing IVF. Their difficulties conceiving were far from their early dreams of starting a family together, in which Sarah would carry a baby while Kristen toured with her band, and then Kristen would get pregnant. After a number of frustrated attempts, they both went forward with trying to get pregnant. They experienced each stage of their pregnancies in tandem and gave birth to healthy “twins,” a boy and a girl, three weeks apart, in the same hospital room.

This memoir of their struggles to get pregnant is narrated by both partners in alternating segments. This structure provides tons of relatable information and support for any woman (gay or straight) struggling with fertility, but it takes away from the sense of Sarah and Kristen as a couple in love. As partners navigating this unique territory, they could have included more on their feelings toward each other in these emotional times and how their relationship faltered and grew. They each briefly discuss their coming-of-age, coming out, and meeting each other, but the bulk of the book is about fertility, pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood. It’s a touching, quick read, especially for those seeking lesbian nonfiction that is more “everywoman” than political. Also recommended for those interested in personal, individual perspectives on pregnancy and trying to conceive.

Anna K. reviews Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

With 19th-century British asylum scenes reminiscent of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith, Eagland’s YA novel, Wildthorn, is in turns suspenseful, sad, and romantic. Louisa Cosgrove is sent by her brother to the home of a wealthy family to be a companion for another young lady. But instead of a cushy manor, she finds herself left at Wildthorn Hall, an asylum for the insane, and is told that her name is not Louisa Cosgrove but Lucy Childs.

However, in childhood flashbacks portraying Louisa’s stuffy, well-mannered mother; kind, physician father; and indulgent aunt, readers begin to trust in the narrator’s sanity.

The majority of the book takes place in the asylum. Accurately reflecting Louisa’s suspension from real life and lack of connection to the outside world, these scenes can grow tiresome. Readers will be with Louisa throughout as she tries to figure out how she ended up in her current situation–betrayal, mistaken identity, or did someone find out about her “unnatural” attraction to her cousin Grace.

But it is Louisa’s love for another woman that provides a more significant arc in the novel. She develops a warm, slow, wholly natural love with a nurse at the asylum, and their sweet romance is easy to identify with.

As a young adult novel, the plot-centric nature of the book and its somewhat stereotypical tropes–a tomboyish girl in 19th-century Essex wants to be a doctor and rebels against social customs and her mother’s guidance–are to be expected. With a satisfying love story and a likable, smart protagonist, this is an enjoyable read for fans of YA.

Anna K. reviews Inferno: A Poet’s Novel by Eileen Myles

Poet and former artistic director of St. Mark’s Poetry Project Eileen Myles—who is also a lesbian, although “lesbian poet” is an identity with which her protagonist grapples—presents Inferno as “a poet’s novel,” but what keeps it from nonfiction is unclear. It reads as a rambling, associative, nonlinear memoir of her career, as she name-drops from 1970s Greenwich Village to Germany (via reading tour with Semiotext[e]). On her website, Myles explains thatInferno “chronicles the adventures of a female writer in hell very much like Eileen Myles. Inferno is actually a künstlerroman,” a type of bildungsroman that portrays an artist’s development.

The second part of the novel is presented as a grant proposal, complete with an abstract. Yet the style and form do not change (except for the occasional self-conscious note on whether what she’s writing belongs in a grant proposal). Throughout the book, Myles embeds her poems. Although I no doubt missed much in the way of literary hearkening to Dante’s Divine Comedy and references to decades of the New York poetry scene, Myles’s writing is generally so big and beautiful that I was rewarded for powering through the only difficult part (surprisingly little amid all this timeless, sometimes placeless personal narrative)—i.e., in-depth descriptions of her plays.

Myles will teach you about life and living in such a roundabout way that you can’t help but accept her wisdom. She describes watching her dog take a shit, how her love makes her attuned to the faintest changes as her dog prepares. It’s the kind of book in which you highlight pages and scribble in the margins, only to return to the fragments and wonder what you were thinking.

The narrator relates how she became a lesbian (her phrasing) and her loves and lovers. She writes, “There’s a moment in a woman’s life when she discovers she can have sex with as many people as she wants. Suddenly everyone is a potential partner. That’s when men get in the act which is why lesbianism isn’t really a thing it’s just this unbridled lust. It’s like god. If writers are the only people, I mean the last ones who have lives lesbians are the only people who have sex.” Her descriptions of sex are artful and hot and rear up unexpectedly as the book winds to a close.

What I was left with is akin to what struck Myles’s as she read Deleuze’s Masochism: “He said the masochist habitually lays out a story, a fetishized chain of objects or events, in which the seeker must thoroughly immerse herself in order to reach the unexposed but desired conclusion. Which was…” On reading poetry, she writes, “Succumb, don’t resist. Because we do get to choose what we are succumbing to. We create worlds out of what we put into our heads. I don’t know about you. It’s why I read.”

Agreed. Succumb.

Anna Katterjohn reviewed Come and Go by Lee Harlem Robinson

Lee Harlem Robinson, the fictional narrator of Come and Go (and the pseudonym for first-time novelist Hannelore Arbyn), was transferred to Hong Kong after a relationship with her boss in London. As the novel opens, Lee has just gotten out of a relationship with Stella, who left her for an intern, and she is far from over it. The writing is generally innocuous and unobtrusive but occasionally cringe-inducing; on Stella, Lee wonders, “What is it about her that made me fall so hard and deep so quickly, anyway? I was smitten after the first night. Her lips, I tell myself. Those sparkly pink chunks of flesh.” In present-tense, short, simple sentences, Lee narrates nights out drinking and macking with her posse of gay boy friends. Unfortunately, these men are nearly indistinguishable as they are introduced generally only as Chinese or not, perhaps with a quick once-over of their outfit, and differentiated primarily by their level of cattiness or sexual prowess. They tend to just drink and talk about sex–albeit with sometimes-humorous rapport, à la a gay and lesbian Sex and the City.

Lee goes on to sleep with a few women, obsess about Stella, go back to her a couple times, and finally meet a promising alternative–Nikki. She then drinks some more, makes bad decisions, loses Nikki, considers moving away from Hong Kong, and generally finds romantic happiness at the end of the book. The sex scenes and descriptions of the various women Lee beds are satisfying, but will often make readers want to smack themselves in the forehead in frustration over Lee’s self-sabotage.

This title is a sequel to a story about Lee that was serialized on the author’s blog ( from October 2010 to February 2012. Come and Good would have been much better presented in the same format, as daily blog updates. In book form, it is difficult to retain concern for any of the characters beyond Lee and her two main romantic interests. Hong Kong as a setting has so much potential, but the bits of atmospheric description here are not enough to satisfy. Generally, readers could get a better breakup/breakdown/makeup/move-on story while they enjoy a night out with wine and cocktails and their own humorous posse.

Anna Katterjohn reviewed Shadow Swans by Laura Thomas

Laura Thomas’s Shadow Swans is by no means a romance novel. It is a love story. It is also a story of change, of the deliberate destruction of all that comes after a coming-of-age.

Ruby Cooper is a 22-year-old millionaire; she created a social networking website for computer geeks. She chooses to make her home in an abandoned building and rails against the mundanity and passivity of the lives of all the people bustling about her in New York City. One day, she simply remains on the subway platform for hours rather than continue her commute to the office. And there she meets Credenza (Den), who changes Ruby’s life. Den lives underground in the subway tunnels and has never been outside–owing to an allergy to the sun or simply from her mother’s fear and years of being told she’ll die should she attempt it. Also, she’s read that it’s not so great in the exposed world, either, as Ruby well knows.

Despite Den’s rough exterior, Ruby is immediately attracted to her, and their friendship grows slowly and cautiously.

Ruby’s trips into the tunnels are reminiscent of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, with steam coming from New York City’s underground systems in the modern day rather than in a steam-powered alternate past. But the foreignness and fear are the same as Ruby encounters giant rats and cockroaches, pitch black, and all make and matter of hopeless souls.

Beyond these adventures, Ruby and Den embark on an even riskier journey, and, as Ruby explains after first meeting Den, “On that particular day in February, my writing was filled with wildly optimistic dribble that failed to portend the untamed tornado that my life would soon become.” There is dark foreshadowing throughout, so it is not a spoiler for me to tell you there is no happily-ever-after ending.

Yet, in the meantime, the two fall in love and live with every ounce of their beings, refusing to settle into the societally accepted status quo.

I would have liked an author’s note about what research Thomas did and what parts of the book are based on reality or even rumor. I’ve been intrigued by the so-called mole people ever since I first heard the phrase when I moved to NYC ten years ago.

Although Ruby and Den could have been developed more fully and the plot often stretches believability, the author allows readers to escape from mundanity if they are willing to suspend disbelief to experience the somewhat far-fetched adventure she’s created for the protagonists. Thomas beautifully captures the tenuous exploration between two people from different worlds, who are both dissatisfied and seeking yet afraid to let down their walls for the other to bulldoze in.