A Manga About Love of All Kinds: Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon by Shio Usui

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Vol 1 cover

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Last month, I raved about She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki. It was a pretty solid guess that I would also enjoy Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon by Shio Usui, as they’re both slice-of-life manga about adult women who fall in love while eating plenty of food (with less of a focus on cuisine in Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon, to be fair). Both titles also explore the characters’ family lives, develop a strong ensemble, and feature asexual characters discovering who they are and who they love. Possibly my favorite shared aspect, however, is how each series presents the theme of acceptance. That isn’t to say the two series are the same—in fact, having some overlap in topics can make contrasts in execution stand out—but nonetheless, I would happily read other slice-of-life manga in this vein.

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon is a complete four volume series following Uno Hinako, an office worker who fixates on being “normal” in hopes of attaining the acceptance of her coworkers, her mother, and herself. To her, this means maintaining both her makeup and her smile, as well as finding a boyfriend. Despite this, she doesn’t develop feelings for any men, nor does she experience sexual attraction to anyone—but when she grows closer to her seemingly aloof coworker, Sato Asahi, she develops romantic feelings for her. Asahi, however, has been too focused on raising her little sister to foster her own relationships. After the first volume, an additional wrinkle occurs when Asahi’s long-time friend shows up out of the blue.

My favorite part of this series was definitely how the relationships unfolded. Even when the characters don’t understand their own wants, or when their desires conflict, they wade through those murky waters. This series celebrates love of all kinds, demonstrating that no type of love is lesser than any other, while acknowledging the heartache and complexities that love brings. Conflicts between characters are not introduced and drawn out for the sake of pointless drama, but exist to explore these complexities and push the characters to grow more fully into themselves. Without spoiling anything past volume one, I wasn’t initially sure whether I would enjoy the addition of the final character I mentioned, but her arc ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the story. 

As I said, this series focuses on the idea of acceptance. While She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat uses the motif of cookie cutters to represent that people come in all forms, Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon posits that like both doughnuts and phases of the moon, people don’t have to seem whole in order to be worth cherishing. As also stated, both series feature asexual protagonists. In She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat, the words asexual and lesbian are used and defined on the page. While of course there is a place for works that explicitly label and describe sexuality, I appreciated how Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon manages to show the characters working through their feelings without having to break out an infographic. Having words for your identity can be incredibly important, but it can be equally important to show characters simply experiencing these feelings and being able to create their own happiness, regardless of what terminology they have access to. 

To be clear, none of these comparisons are meant to undermine either work. I do, however, have to say that after reading Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon, I had renewed appreciation for how the art and storytelling in She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat managed to feel grounded in a way that suited the maturity of its characters, while maintaining those classic shoujo blushes and warm fuzzy feelings. At times, the execution of Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon didn’t feel particularly distinguishable from a high school manga. The mangaka even mentions in one author’s note that the characters are almost like teenagers at times, so perhaps it was intentional to bring this youthful feeling to a story about adult characters. 

Ultimately, this series may have based its motifs around the idea of not being whole, but it certainly didn’t leave me feeling empty.

Content warnings: one instance of homophobia from a family member, depictions of pressure for women to conform to femininity and heteronormativity, and an occasional appearance from a boss who is a bit of a creep

Take a Shot on How You Get the Girl by Anita Kelly

the cover of How You Get the Girl by Anita Kelly

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While coaching East Nashville High’s girl’s basketball teen, Coach Julie Parker expects passionate players and quick springs, not for the star of her fantasies, ex-WNBA baller Elle Cochrane, to show up with the niece she’s fostering. Despite being all heart-eyed and tongue-tied, Julie convinces Elle to become her assistant coach, allowing Elle to keep an eye on her niece. Neither expects sparks to fly along with basketballs shooting across the court, even as Elle helps Julie navigate the unfamiliar terrain of dating. Will they continue sitting on the sidelines of their own lives, or finally take a shot?

Dear Anita Kelly. Thank you. Thank you for a story about two beautifully, vulnerably queer women who are so real and authentic and layered. What easily could have been a trope-filled sapphic sports romance is instead a stunning exploration of identity, mental health, and personal growth. Bear with me, Lesbrary readers, as I try to find my words. This story started with Julie’s megawatt heart-eyed celebrity crush and a little forced proximity, but it became so much more. Between her queer twin and best friend, Julie always thought she was a little behind in defining her queerness, but there’s no timeline, no deadline. She always struggled to find her label, her place (only to realize they’re just… whatever!), and it’s not until Elle steps into her life and throws her out of her comfort zone that Julie gets the chance to grow into herself. I also adored that Jules couldn’t fully pick one label (“15 percent general queer, 10 percent lesbian stereotype. 20 percent ace, 55 percent dumbass.”) because identity is in fact a spectrum. She does mention the possibility of being demisexual at one point, which my girlfriend identifies as, and honestly… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character recognize that as an option before. To say it brought tears to my eyes is an understatement.

In a way, Elle has been stuck in a comfort zone, too, until she starts fostering her niece and coaching alongside Jules. Elle is so patient with Jules, so willing to step back and give Jules the chance to process her own thoughts, recognize her own needs. There’s a give and take to their relationship: when one falters, the other steps in to help them find their balance again. There are so many layers to this story: “There’s this idea embedded into our culture of getting over things,” “Maybe all love is a surprise, followed by practice,” “You can be happy and still feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing.” There’s so much to appreciate in the little lessons these women learned. Together. (If we’re keeping track, I cried three times while reading this book: when seeing “demi,” at the news clipping, and during Jule’s speech. I need more tissues now, thank you.)

There is one topic I wish received a little more attention, namely because it isn’t discussed often enough. Elle meets with the school’s weights guy, who assumes all the players on the team are girls: “the ingrained hierarchy and immovable binary of most sports.” Elle and Julie made a “space for any player who wanted to put in the work, regardless of their identity.” Kelly mentions fighting for equality in sports within her acknowledgments, but I do wish we’d seen a little of that fight as a source of conflict within the book.

The story is a bit slow at the beginning, but once it finds its momentum, it GOES. I will say I wasn’t aware this was a duology when I grabbed this ARC, but the references to the previous story weren’t so heavy that you can’t enjoy this one as a stand-alone.

Recommended to all readers, whether you’re looking for a sports romance, sapphic romance, or simply a good book with lots of mental health love. This one is going to stay with me for a long while.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Vibes

🌈 Sapphic Ship – Lesbian/Demi
💞 Fake/Practice Dating
🏀 Sports/Workplace/Forced Proximity Romance
🏆 Mental Health Rep
📚 Part of the Nashville Series
🏆 Contemporary Romance
🏀 Dual POV
💞 Smut
🌈 Queer Main & Side Cast

💬 Quotes

❝ Any relationship that’s worthwhile, whether it’s friendship or romantic or sexual, only really works when you try. ❞

❝ But that when it came to identity, when it came to queerness, the whole point was that there were no tryouts. If you were even thinking about it, you were already on the team. That labels weren’t meant to confine, only to bring comfort to those for whom they were useful. That Julie didn’t need to ascribe to any of them, if she didn’t want to. ❞

❝ “There’s nothing wrong with you, Julie,” Elle said in that same half-whisper that was slowly going to kill her. “You’re not behind on anything. There’s nothing for you to be behind on. There’s nothing, and no one, you have to track your own life by.” ❞

❝ Maybe all love was a surprise, followed by practice. A step out of comfort zones, followed by hard work. Lurking in all the places you didn’t expect, places that become a forever part of you. ❞

Jamaican Joan of Arc: So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole

the cover of So Let Them Burn

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I first saw Kamilah Cole describe her debut, So Let Them Burn, as a Jamaican Joan of Arc, which was enough to grab my attention even before the book had a cover. To be more specific, So Let Them Burn is the first book in a YA fantasy series that follows former chosen one Faron Vincent and her older sister, Elara. Five years after the war for their island’s independence, Elara inadvertently forms a bond with an enemy dragon, while Faron determines she will stop at absolutely nothing to save her sister from the threat of both the bond and the empire itself.  

Like I said, I was sold on the concept the minute I heard about it, but even the coolest concept can turn out to be a let down in the wrong hands. Kamilah Cole is not the wrong hands. It took less than half a page for me to determine that I was going to love this book, and as the story unfolded, I only got more invested. Every time I had to put the book down, I was just a little bit resentful that I couldn’t keep reading.

Something that I thought was really fun is that while I knew this book follows a chosen one after she’s done her duty, Faron is not the only one who fits into a popular fantasy archetype. One dynamic I found particularly fascinating is the one between chosen one Faron and Queen Aveline, who spent the first seventeen years of her life on a farm with no knowledge of her true identity and now resents Faron a little bit for the fact that when the war ended, Faron got to go home and Aveline didn’t.

Literally all of the relationships were wonderful, though. The romantic relationships had me hooked, as did the friendships, but the central relationship between the two sisters just felt so real. They both loved and admired each other so much that, despite the hints of jealousy on each side and the expected annoyances, they were both so determined to keep each other safe, whatever the cost. I loved them both, and I am terrified for what the next book will bring for them.

I also really enjoyed the narrative voice, which was the first thing to win me over. It made me laugh throughout, though it never detracted from the more serious themes. Since this was third-person, I’m much less inclined to be annoying about how distinct the perspectives did or did not feel from each other, but there was at least enough difference that I never forgot which sister’s head I was in, even when they were in a scene together, so I’m quite satisfied on that front.

I already know I’m going to miss these characters when the series is done, but fortunately I’ve got some time until then. (Less fortunately, it also means I have to somehow survive that cliffhanger until then.) Even more fortunately, this series is not the only thing I have to look forward to from Kamilah Cole. Not every book that sounds amazing ends up living up to my expectations, but this one definitely exceeded them. I recommend it with my whole heart.

A Sapphic Asexual Manga Romance: Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Series by Shio Usui

the cover of Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Vol. 1

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I’m always looking for more sapphic manga with adult main characters: until recently, yuri stories between schoolgirls was about all I could find available in English. While some of those are great, I am excited to see more queer manga coming out now with other kinds of representation, including some fantastic F/F love stories between adults.

This four-volume series is a quiet love story between two coworkers. In volume one, Hinako is self-loathing. She feels defective for failing to fall in love (with men) and spends spends her time and energy trying to be normal through makeup, fashion, and unsuccessful dating. Meanwhile, Asahi is isolated because she had to raise her little sister when their parents died, which meant she had to grow up fast.

As the two of them begin to bond over lunch breaks, sharing donuts together, they struggle to define what they are to each other. Heteronormativity and allonormativity make it difficult for them to understand how they can be so important to each other without wanting a sexual aspect to their relationship.

This has a melancholic tone, but it’s also gentle and comforting. I liked the slow build of their relationship, and I was happily surprised that this has asexual representation. (The terms aren’t used, but both characters are probably lesbians on the asexual spectrum.) I also appreciated the side characters, like Asahi’s best friend Fuuka and her little sister Subaru. They added some levity and excitement to a more slow-paced love story between Asahi and Hinako.

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon isn’t my favourite sapphic manga: it’s a little sadder than I’d prefer, I wish the representation was a bit clearer, and the conclusion is a bit abrupt, but I still really enjoyed it, and I’m happy to see more adult sapphic manga available in English now!

All The Pretty Girls Read Sapphic Stories: More Readalikes for Reneé Rapp’s Snow Angel

the album cover of Snow Angel

If you have Reneé Rapp’s album Snow Angel playing on repeat, these are the sapphic books you need to read! Pick up the one that matches your favorite song, or get the whole stack if it’s too hard to pick. You can get a copy of any of these titles from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop. Click here for Part One! 

“Pretty Girls”

the cover of Girls Like Girls

In the p.m., all the pretty girls/They have a couple drinks, all the pretty girls/So now, they wanna kiss all the pretty girls/They got to have a taste of a pretty girl

Pretty Girls is a song for people who keep falling for “straight” girls, and a celebration of those exploring their sexuality, even if it feels frustratingly drawn out to the other person. In the same vein, Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko, inspired by the sapphic anthem of the early aughts, follows the story of Coley and Sonya, two teenage girls in rural Oregon who each find themselves falling for the other girl. This lyrical debut novel fills out the gaps in the plot to Kiyoko’s music video, but balances the overall sweetness of the summertime romance with an exploration of grief and what it means to be out in today’s society. I think Pretty Girls would fit in beautifully during the summer romance montages that Girls Like Girls lays out.

“Tummy Hurts”

the cover of she is a haunting

Now my tummy hurts, he’s in love with her/But for what it’s worth, they’d make beautiful babies/And raise ’em up to be a couple of/Fucking monsters, like their mother and their father

In Tummy Hurts, Rapp explores a past relationship through an analysis of heartbreak, grief, and bittersweet predictions of the continuing cycle of unhealthy relationships. This song contradicts and supports the exploration through using a childlike imagery of an upset stomach and the consequences of an unhealthy romance. If you are looking for a book that explores being haunted by a past relationship or dysfunctional relationships, I would recommend reading She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran. In this horror young adult novel, Jade is visiting her estranged father and her only goal is to end the five-week visit with the college money he has promised her—but only if she can seem straight, Vietnamese, and American enough. However, Jade can’t ignore the effects of colonization on the house or a ghost bride’s warnings to not eat anything. She is a Haunting explores the concept of places being haunted by dysfunctional family dynamics, just as “Tummy Hurts” explores the haunting of a romantic relationship.

“I Wish”

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers cover

I wish I could still see the world through those eyes/Could still see the colors, but they’re not as clear or as bright/Oh, the older we get, the colors they change/Yeah, hair turns to gray, but the blue’s here to stay/So I wish, I wish

“I Wish” is the Pisces moon of Snow Angel, with Rapp singing about how she wished she didn’t know about death as a concept. This sweet ballad mourns the loss of an important figure and the resultant loss of innocence in the world around her. Similarly, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers explores themes of existential dread, fear of not living up to people’s expectations, and a loss of innocence once you grow up. Twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes to Vegas to celebrate getting her PhD in astronomy, but accidentally ends up getting drunkenly married to a strange woman from New York. This triggers a rush of questions about herself, including why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled in her life, and Grace flees home to move in with her unfamiliar wife. Honey Girl is a story about self-growth, finding queer community, and taking a journey towards better mental health, and it honestly made me cry as much as I Wish did the first time I listened to it.

“Willow”

the cover of Even Though I Knew the End

Don’t cry, don’t cry, Willow/I’ll cry, Willow/Willow/I’ll cry for you

Willow is another sad ballad, in which Renee talks to her younger self (metaphorically) under a willow tree, and tries to reassure them that everything will be alright. This concept of wanting to take away someone’s pain, regardless of your own, made me think of one of my favorite novellas, Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk. Elena Brandt is the hardboiled detective of mystery noire past, with her private eye set up in a magical 1930’s Chicago, and a lady love waiting in the wings for her. However, Elena’s days are numbered and she decides to spend the last of them with said lady love, Edith. Just as she is about to leave the city, a potential client offers her $1,000 to find the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. To sweeten the pot, the client offers something more precious—the chance to grow old with Edith. As Elena dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life, she learns that nothing is as she thought it was. If you want a read that will capture your mind and heart for an afternoon, then grab a copy of C. L. Polk’s Even Though I Knew the End. 

“23”

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

But tomorrow I turn twenty-three/And it feels like everyone hates me/So, how old do you have to be/To live so young and careless?/My wish is that I cared less/At twenty-three

Finally, 23 explores the emotional turmoil and questioning that can come with turning twenty-three years old. Rapp’s lingering lyrics ask why she doesn’t feel like she has been succeeding in life, especially when compared to society’s expectations and assumptions about her career. By the end of the song, Rapp expresses the hope that she can grow into herself as a person and learn to love herself more by her next birthday. In the same vein, Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kahn is about a nineteen Black year old college student named Alice, whose summer was going to be perfect until her girlfriend broke up with her for being asexual. Alice had planned on remaining single as to never experience being rejected for her sexuality again, but then she meets Takumi, and Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood. A huge theme in Alice’s story is that of figuring out what you want to do and/or be as opposed to what your family and friends (or society) expects from you, whether it is about your sexuality or career choices. I think Alice would be wistfully listening to 23 right before the climatic third act, as she contemplates what to do.

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, they act in local community theaters, play D&D, and are halfway through their MLiS program. You can find them on Goodreads, Twitter, or Instagram.

A Thrilling Serial Killer Suspense Novel: The Final Child by Fran Dorricott

the cover of The Final Child

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Content warnings: child abuse, child death, trauma

Back in the 90s, a serial killer known as the Father kidnapped and murdered children, always siblings. Only one survived: Jillian, who became Erin, and she just wanted to forget the whole thing. But Harriett, whose cousins were among the Father’s victims, still needed to untangle the mystery that broke her family so many years ago. Together, the two start to pull at the threads that never made sense, bring back Erin’s memories of what happened the fateful night she survived, and learn who has returned to take up the mantle of the Father.

Harriett channels her obsession through the book she writes about the victims. Rather than focus on the serial killer and the pain he caused, she chooses to uplift the stories and memories of the children whom he murdered. Through her perspective, Dorricott presents commentary on our culture’s macabre obsession with true crime. More often than not, true crime junkies focus on the pain, horror and criminal rather than the victims or survivors.

Dorricott creates thrilling suspense as she drops clues about who the Father is and how Erin survived. There are enough clues to lead the reader in the right direction and figure out at least part of the mystery. But there’s enough doubt to leave you wondering what actually happened until the very end.

It’s interesting to see how Erin starts out hiding within her new identity, choosing to distance herself from “little Jilly” who survived. As the story unfolds and she starts to remember the trauma, she embraces her past as Jillian and uses that to propel her forward into becoming a new Erin.

Harriett and Erin grow closer, creating a trauma bond that starts to turn into a sort of romantic relationship. I say sort of romantic because as events unfold, Harriett drops details that indicate she is on the ace/aro spectrum. She talks about how she had “never thought of being with anybody, never mind a girl like Erin.” However, something about the relationship never felt organic, so it fell flat. It almost felt like they should have grown a close friendship rather than a romance.

Overall, this is a strong thriller, but the romantic subplot let it down.

All The Pretty Girls Read Sapphic Stories: Readalikes for Reneé Rapp’s Snow Angel

If you have watched The Sex Lives of College Girls or Mean Girls (the musical), then chances are that you’re familiar with bisexual singer/actor Reneé Rapp. In 2022, Rapp released her debut EP Everything to Everyone, which featured nine original songs about mental health, her queer identity and love. Most recently, Rapp released her first full-length album, Snow Angel, on August 18th, 2023 and will be starting on an international tour in mid-September. Snow Angel has been on repeat in my household for the last month and as is usually the case, listening to sapphic music reminds me of sapphic titles I have read. Down below is part one of readalike titles for songs on Snow Angel. You can get a copy of any of these titles from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop.

“Talk Too Much”

the cover of Leah On the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

“I’m here again/Talking myself out of/My own happiness/I’ll make it up ’til I quit/I wonder if we should just sit here in silence ’cause/Ooh/Ah, just shut the fuck up!”

“Talk Too Much” is one of my go-to bi girl songs as I feel that it speaks to how bi women constantly have to prove their sexuality while maintaining the status quo around them. Upon hearing Talk Too Much for the first time, I immediately pictured one of my favorite heroines in her bright yellow dress, sunglasses, and coffee in hand—Leah Burke in Becky Albertalli’s Leah on the Offbeat. Leah is externally defined by her boldness and confidence; however, she is struggling with keeping her friend group together and whole while also struggling with self-doubt about her talents and her sexuality. I think she would pull off the intense talking bridge Rapp slid into Talk Too Much with immense pleasure.

“I Hate Boston”

the cover of For Her Consideration

“How’d you make me hate Boston/It’s not its fault that you don’t love me/Had its charm, but it lost it/It’s not its fault, just a casualty/And casual’s the way you chose to leave”

I barely made it into the first chorus of this ballad about hating a town due to an ill-fated romance when For Her Consideration by Amy Spaulding came to mind. In this contemporary romance, Nina Rice now stays far away from romance, scriptwriting, and her former community of LA proper after a horrific breakup three years ago. However, after she begins working for queer B-list actress Ari Fox, Nina begins to feel like it may be less terrifying to bring back the good facets of her old life. As she reconnects with her former community and begins to edit her old script, a relationship with a movie star feels like one more impossible thing to add on – but why not at least try? This story is as much a love story about the community found within L.A. and overcoming that hauntedness as it is a love story between script writer and actress.

“Poison Poison”

the cover of We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman

“You gеt on my nerves/You’re so fucking annoying, you could poison poison/You’rе the worst person on earth/Forgiving you is pointless, you could poison poison, baby girl”

As I was good-naturedly mumbling along to Rapp’s various expletives in the boppy vitriol “Poison Poison,” I could feel the spirit of Cass in We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman spitting those same words out. Cass is an unlikeable protagonist, hiding out in L.A. until her actions at a big New York City party create a little less gossip. While out there, she gets involved with her next-door neighbor, a documentarian obsessed with filming the high school girls running their own Fight Club. If Cass heard Poison Poison today, she would be wishing her nemesis, Tara Jean Slater, the pain of those lyrics. 

“Gemini Moon”

the cover of Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

“I bet you’re sick of it/Believe me, so am I/Always the problem kid/I could never pick a side/I bet you’re sick of it (Ah-ah)/I could blame the Gemini moon/But really, I should just be better to you”

“Gemini Moon” is a softer, more self-aware version of “Talk Too Much,” where Rapp knows that she will never feel comfortable in the relationship until she works on herself. With “Gemini Moon”’s bittersweet lyrics about self-doubt morphing into self-sabotage, I have to compare it to Jennifer Dugan’s Verona Comics, a bisexual Romeo and Juliet retelling set in the world of comic books. Jubilee and Ridley fall in love at a comic con prom and strive to keep their relationship secret, even as Jubilee struggles with prepping for college auditions and Ridley struggles with his mental health. [SPOILER] The two eventually break up, recognizing that they have to work through their various issues with codependency and depression before engaging in a romantic relationship, bringing to mind the soft-spoken chorus of “Gemini Moon.” [/SPOILER]

“Snow Angel”

the cover of Planning Perfect

“I’ll make it through the winter if it kills me/I can make it faster if I hurry/I’ll angel in the snow until I’m worthy/But if it kills me I tried/If it kills me”

“Snow Angel” is the most poignant and vulnerable song on this album; full of heartbreak, loneliness, trauma, and euphemisms for substance abuse. This may not seem like a song for a light and happy recommendation, but take my recommendation of Planning Perfect by Haley Neil with a grain of salt. In this young adult novel, Felicity loves putting together gorgeous, heartfelt events and takes on the momentous task of planning her mother’s wedding with a month to spare. After her long-distance friend Nancy offers her her family’s apple orchard for the wedding, Felicity and her family end up spending the summer with Nancy and the two friends become closer despite Felicity’s ongoing issues with anxiety, perfectionism, and trying family members. Felicity’s internalization of needing to be perfect to make up for everyone else around her rings true with Rapp’s title track, making Planning Perfect a perfect readalike.

“So What Now”

the cover of Kiss Her Once for Me

So, what now/Should we talk/If we run into each other on the street/Should I keep walking/So, what now/Do you tell your friends/That things ended well/That I’m overdramatic, it was chill/Do you lie and say you don’t wanna see me again/’Cause I do it too

“So What Now” chronicles Rapp’s struggle with an ex coming back to town and not knowing whether to welcome them back into her life or to oust them and immediately invokes to mind Kiss Her Once For Me by Alison Cochrun. Last Christmas, Ellie fell in love with both Portland and Jack, the woman showing her around, only to be betrayed and fired a short time later. In the present, Ellie agrees to a marriage of convenience with her shop’s landlord and to meet his family during Christmas, only to find out that Jack is her future sister-in-law. “So What Now” brings to life Ellie’s frantic attempts to figure out if continuing with the marriage is worth being around Jack and if she’d been too hasty last Christmas with casting Jack aside, making the two a marriage of equals. 

“The Wedding Song”

the cover of That Summer Feeling

“You are my one, you set my world on fire/I know there’s Heaven, but we must be higher/I’m gonna love you ’til my heart retires/Forever will last/I think it went something like that”

“The Wedding Song” starts off gorgeously with a celebration of love between Rapp and her partner and fades into obscurity as Rapp realizes that she can’t remember this once-consuming song that she had created. In the same vein, Garland Moore in That Summer Feeling (written by Bridget Morrissey) has sworn off romantic love after being surprised with divorce papers on Valentine’s Day, and is determined to let go of her past at adult summer camp. However, she never accounted for Stevie, the sister of the man who she’d had a premonition about years ago, and for summer camp to help her heal. I’d like to think that “The Wedding Song” would morph eventually into That Summer Feeling, allowing for peace and second love to come to both Rapp and Garland.

Keep an eye out for Part Two!!

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, they act in local community theaters, play D&D, and are halfway through their MLiS program. You can find them on Goodreads, Twitter, or Instagram.

#SapphicSoccerStoryGoals: You Don’t Have a Shot by Racquel Marie

the cover of You Don't Have a Shot

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You Don’t Have A Shot is sapphic soccer-rivals-to-lovers perfection set in present-day Southern California. If you’re still mourning the fact that the Women’s World Cup is over or you agree that “fútbol is life” a la Danny Rojas from Ted Lasso (but with a queer Latina twist), this book is for you!

In this heartwarming YA novel, Racquel Marie (she/her) introduces readers to Valentina “Vale” Castillo-Green, who is half Colombian, half Irish, and all about soccer. At the outset of the novel, we learn that Vale’s dream of playing college soccer has just imploded after her high school team, the Ravens, suffer a devastating loss at the hands of Hillcrest/her archrival, Leticia Ortiz. Although Vale is the captain of her team, it is apparent that she has lost her way as its leader. Vale intends to spend the summer before her senior year sulking at a low-stakes, sleepaway soccer camp she hasn’t been to in several years with her best friends and teammates, Dina and Ovie. Unbeknownst to Vale, soccer camp has gotten way more competitive in the last few years and she isn’t the only SoCal Latina planning to spend the summer there. Leticia will be attending as well, and sparks are sure to fly!

Vale is a character with depth and substance. Her inner monologue is sharp and hilarious. She is flawed, relatable, and always growing. Early on, we learn that her mother died of cancer a few years ago when she was thirteen and she is continuing to work through that grief. Unfortunately, that process is exacerbated by her complicated relationship with her father, who really wants Vale to excel in soccer, but has a penchant for negative, and often cruel, reinforcement that borders on emotional abuse. In his eyes, nothing Vale does on the pitch is ever good enough, and she has internalized his criticisms, as evidinced by her anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Notwithstanding her fraught relationship with her father and the loss of her mother, Vale is incredibly resilient and well-adjusted. She is in for an unforgettable summer where she is going to have to figure out what kind of leader she is and grapple with what soccer truly means to her.

The world that Racquel Marie builds is rich with diversity. Vale is biracial, queer, and asexual. Leticia is Cuban, a lesbian, and has two moms. There are several women of color who play important roles in Vale’s life, as well as significant bisexual, pansexual, gay, and trans characters. Although not a criticism, I really wanted to hear more about Vale’s queer asexuality. I thought it was an important aspect of her identity that I don’t usually see represented in YA literature and that Racquel Marie could have spent a little more time developing it. 

Overall, I loved this book. I coveted sapphic YA when I was in high school, but I couldn’t always find it. When I did, the characters didn’t usually share my cultural background. You Don’t Have a Shot is the kind of feel-good, representative book I wish I had growing up. Read it.

Trigger Warnings: anxiety, death of a loved one, and emotionally abusive language.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey. She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

Cath reviews The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz

the cover of The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz

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The Cybernetic Tea Shop has been one of my comfort reads for years now, one of those stories I can reread over and over. Clara Gutierrez is a technician for Raises — small, animal-shaped robotic companions with a limited range of intelligence and emotions. She doesn’t like settling down in one place, choosing instead to move on frequently, with her only consistent companion her own Raise, a hummingbird called Joanie. On a whim, she decides to move to Seattle.

In Seattle is Sal — a robot, which are specifically differentiated from Raises because of their developmental AI that makes them truly sapient. While the creation of robots has been illegal for quite a long time because of the ethical conundrums they present, Sal predates the law, as she is almost three hundred years old. Her owner purchased her to help with running a tea shop, but passed away years before the story takes place. Sal has continued running the tea shop, clinging to her memories of her owner Karinne.

Clara visits the tea shop at the suggestion of a new coworker, and she and Sal eventually become friends. After a while, Clara also offers to try and help Sal with mechanical problems she’s been having, and with that and Clara helping support Sal after the tea shop is vandalized, their friendship progresses to something different. Both Clara and Sal are asexual, though, and Sal is extremely grateful that she won’t be asked to provide sexual gratification for someone when she doesn’t want or need it herself.

The story is quite short, but it is so cozy and comforting, and it feels like coming home every time I return to it. Most of the story is tightly focused on Clara and Sal and their emerging relationship, which makes sense for a short story, but it’s also clear from their interactions with others that they are cherished parts of other people’s lives. The storyline is fairly straightforward, but definitely makes you think about the way we treat others who are different, even though we in our present day don’t have sapient robots in the world. Sal’s shop is vandalized, she faces discrimination both legal and personal on a regular basis — these are things that real people in our daily lives experience, even though they aren’t sapient robots, and stories like this can help us examine how we react to those real-life stories when we encounter them.

There’s also a big emphasis on memory and how it impacts us as we move forward, and what it means when memory starts to fail. As I am currently going through a family member’s experience with losing memories, this hits harder than it used to, but the calm seriousness with which the story treats it makes it feel like a hug.

I read this book for the first time a few years ago, when there were even fewer books with asexual protagonists than there are now. I likely would have enjoyed the story even if the protagonists were not both explicitly asexual (while the word is not used, they both describe themselves as not feeling sexual desire), but their asexuality is definitely one of the things that keeps bringing me back to this book. As with the use of the story to cover difficult topics in ways that make you think, the presence of asexual characters also makes me feel seen, as if I am also a part of the world.

I know I’ll come back to The Cybernetic Tea Shop many times in the future, as I have many times in the past, and I look forward to it every time.

Rating: 5 stars

Content warnings: discrimination, vandalism, sex that was technically consented to but was not wanted (in the past)

Cath reviews Perfect Rhythm by Jae

the cover of perfect rhythm

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Leontyne “Leo” Blake, stage name Jenna, has it all. She’s a world-famous pop star just wrapping up a world tour. Everybody knows her songs, her name (well, sort of). She’s even out as a lesbian and still enjoying her popularity.

Then, just as she walks off stage at a concert, her mom calls and asks her to come home. Her dad has had a stroke. Leo immediately finds herself flying back to the small Missouri town of Fair Oaks that she tried so desperately to leave behind.

Holly Drummond has lived in Fair Oaks for basically her entire life, barring when she was in college. She loves the small-town feel, and she’s glad she was able to return to Fair Oaks as a nurse to support the people she’d grown up around. In fact, she’s now a home health nurse for Gil Blake–Leo’s father. She’s also out as a lesbian in some circles around town, but that isn’t the whole story. Holly is asexual, and while she is definitely romantically attracted to women, there’s no sexual component for her.

When Leo comes home, she and Holly get off on the wrong foot–Leo’s been gone for a long time and never wanted to return, and Holly finds her irritating and self-centered. But they end up spending a lot of time in each other’s back pockets, because Fair Oaks is small to begin with and now Holly is staying at Leo’s family’s house a few nights a week to help Gil and Sharon (Leo’s mom). Leo finds Holly physically attractive, despite their friction, but assumes Holly must be straight when Holly doesn’t seem to return the interest.

The story unfolds at a decent pace at first, not feeling too rushed but also not lagging. Leo and Holly spend a lot of time irritated at one another until they start to realize that they’ve based their views about each other on assumptions that aren’t true. Once they’re able to clear the air a little, they realize they enjoy spending time together, and eventually start to realize they’re developing romantic feelings for one another. But it’s complicated, because Leo is supposed to return to New York, and Holly doesn’t know how to tell her that she’s asexual.

As an ace person myself, I was really excited to read a romance novel with an ace protagonist. I liked Holly’s character a lot, and Leo started to grow on me pretty quickly as she struggled with how to integrate herself back into her hometown and try to repair her relationship with her parents. The romance was very cute and sweet, and I really appreciated that there was a depiction of strained familial relationships that showed you can love somebody dearly and still do things that hurt them, and that it’s possible to try and mend those relationships but it can be difficult.

However, the pacing really started to feel off to me about halfway through the novel. The romance seems to progress both rather quickly and rather slowly, and there are time jumps that had me confused about how much time had passed. Overall, it seems like most of the book takes place over a span of less than two months, which is really very fast for how slow-burn the romance felt at first. I think this is what brought me down to a three-star rating for this book, because when I would start new chapters I would frequently feel like I had missed a portion of the story and go back and check that something hadn’t gone wrong with my kindle.

Still, I really loved the scenes with Holly’s online friends, and the inclusion of a queerplatonic relationship that was every bit as important as romantic relationships around it. The fact that both Leo and Holly were comfortable in their identities was also really refreshing, and it was highlighted by their interactions with a mutual friend of theirs who is not comfortable with her queerness.

A part of the book I’m really uncertain about is that it does include a sex scene. This is entirely consensual, and both Leo and Holly are very communicative about what they want and are in control of what happens to their bodies. The entire scene is presented as a sensual rather than sexual experience for Holly, and I am definitely glad to see the distinction presented, and that some of what Holly experiences as sensual reads as sexual to others and she is adamant that it isn’t for her. But as an ace person, sex scenes with ace characters can be really fraught. This scene might be really validating to some ace people, but it felt somewhat alienating to me.

Overall, I did like the story, and would recommend it for people wanting to read a romance with an asexual wlw character. But the pacing especially, plus the alienation I felt from the sex scene, leave me with a 3-star rating.

Content warnings: stroke, death