Black Sapphic 2020 Releases

Black authors and anti-racist books have recently began to get possibly more attention than ever before, despite the recent protests being only the latest in a long history of Black people speaking out against police violence and systemic racism. I’m glad that these books are getting attention now, but it’s important that this isn’t a passing blip: Black authors face systemic racism at all levels, from getting less in advances to getting less publicity to facing conscious and unconscious racism by white readers. These books are often even better than their white counterparts, because they have to be twice as good to get attention from publishers.

As we finish out Pride month, I wanted to point out some new Black sapphic releases that deserve your attention. They’re all published in 2020, so some are already out and some can be preordered. (Preordering is a great way to support the authors! More preorders means more books will be printed in its first run, and it will likely get more advertising.)

The blurbs are the publishers’ own. All the authors are Black and all the books have sapphic content, but I don’t know how each author identifies.

Young Adult:

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth AcevedoClap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah JohnsonYou Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn BayronCinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron (YA Fantasy)

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

[Comes out July 7th]

Legendborn by Tracy DeonnLegendborn by Tracy Deonn (YA Fantasy)

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

[Comes out September 15th]

Deathless Divide by Justina IrelandDeathless Divide (Dread Nation #2) by Justina Ireland (YA Fantasy)

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodemus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears—as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by—and that Jane needs her too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive—even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

The Sound of Stars by Alechia DowThe Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (YA Sci Fi)

Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.

Today, seventeen-year-old Ellie Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. With humans deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, emotional expression can be grounds for execution. Music, art and books are illegal, but Ellie still keeps a secret library.

When young Ilori commander M0Rr1S finds Ellie’s library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more.

Humanity’s fate rests in the hands of an alien Ellie should fear, but M0Rr1S has a potential solution―thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous journey with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while creating a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.

If you’re looking for LGBTQ Black YA more generally, check out my Book Riot video that includes these titles as well as other queer new releases:

SFF:

The City We Became by N.K. JemisinThe City We Became (Great Cities #1) by N.K. Jemisin (Fantasy)

In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.

In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her.

In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.

And they’re not the only ones.

Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (Science Fiction)

An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.

But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

[Comes out August 4th]

Romance:

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia HibbertTake a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Romance)

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When big, brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and former rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact to him, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Suddenly, half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf is secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.

The easy lay Dani dreamed of is now more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

[M/F romance with bi main character]

Things Hoped For by Chencia C. HigginsThings Hoped For by Chencia C. Higgins

Can two women who only want to be loved, find a home in each other when the world around them is moving too fast for them to settle down?

Growing up in an intolerant town, Latrisha Martin was used to shrinking the most important parts of herself. She hid her loneliness within a busy life and kept the yearning in her heart tucked away from those closest to her. Just as the façade became too heavy to maintain, Trisha received wise words from a strange woman that helped redirect her life’s journey. On a whim, she relocates to Houston, and while adjusting to a new normal, she finds that those desires she’d once hidden begin to manifest in ways she never imagined.

With her star attached to a rocket ship, Xenobia Cooper was quickly transforming from a locally known talent into a name known in households across the nation. Viewed as an overnight success to many, the only thing that the veteran of the Houston underground music scene hadn’t prepared for was living a life without someone to come home to at the end of the day. A reckless tweet sent out in the middle of the night brings an influx of women with stars in their eyes, but they all lack the key component that Xeno is looking for. A chance encounter after her largest show to date and she’s convinced that those things she’d hoped for are just within her grasp.

Poetry:

Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle BlainBurning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain

In this incendiary debut collection, activist and poet Cicely Belle Blain intimately revisits familiar spaces in geography, in the arts, and in personal history to expose the legacy of colonization and its impact on Black bodies. They use poetry to illuminate their activist work: exposing racism, especially anti-Blackness, and helping people see the connections between history and systemic oppression that show up in every human interaction, space, and community. Their poems demonstrate how the world is both beautiful and cruel, a truth that inspires overwhelming anger and awe — all of which spills out onto the page to tell the story of a challenging, complex, nuanced, and joyful life.

In Burning Sugar, verse and epistolary, racism and resilience, pain and precarity are flawlessly sewn together by the mighty hands of a Black, queer femme.

This book is the second title to be published under the VS. Books imprint, a series curated and edited by writer-musician Vivek Shraya, featuring work by new and emerging Indigenous or Black writers, or writers of color.

[Comes out September 29th]

The Gospel of Breaking by Jillian Christmas The Gospel of Breaking by Jillian Christmas

In The Gospel of Breaking, Jillian Christmas confirms what followers of her performance and artistic curation have long known: there is magic in her words. Befitting someone who “speaks things into being,” Christmas extracts from family history, queer lineage, and the political landscape of a racialized life to create a rich, softly defiant collection of poems.

Christmas draws a circle around the things she calls “holy”: the family line that cannot find its root but survived to fill the skies with radiant flesh; the body, broken and unbroken and broken and new again; the lover lost, the friend lost, and the loss itself; and the hands that hold them all with brilliant, tender care. Expansive and beautiful, these poems allow readers to swim in Jillian Christmas’s mother-tongue and to dream at her shores.

dayliGht: Poems by Roya MarshdayliGht: Poems by Roya Marsh

dayliGht is a dazzling collection of poems from a necessary new voice, at once a clarion call for stories of Black women and a rebuke of broken notions of sexuality and race.

Growing up, Roya Marsh was considered “tomboy passing.” With an affinity for baggy clothes, cornrows, and bandanas, she came of age in an era when the wide spectrum of gender and sexuality was rarely acknowledged or discussed. She knew she was “different,” her family knew she was “different,” but anything outside of the heteronorm was either disregarded or disparaged.

In her stunning debut, written in protest to an absence of representation, Marsh recalls her early life and the attendant torments of a butch Black woman coming of age in America. In lush, powerful, and vulnerable verses, dayliGht unpacks traumas to unearth truths, revealing a deep well of resilience, a cutting sense of irony, and an astonishing fresh talent.

Nonfiction:

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha IrbyWow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby (Essays)

Irby is forty, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin despite what Inspirational Instagram Infographics have promised her. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and has been friendzoned by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife in a Blue town in the middle of a Red state where she now hosts book clubs and makes mason jar salads. This is the bourgeois life of a Hallmark Channel dream. She goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “tv executives slash amateur astrologers” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” who still hides past due bills under her pillow.

The essays in this collection draw on the raw, hilarious particulars of Irby’s new life. Wow, No Thank You. is Irby at her most unflinching, riotous, and relatable.

If you’re looking for more LGBTQ 2020 releases by Black authors, my Book Riot video includes these titles as well as other LGBTQ representation.

Of course, these are just the titles that I know about that are out this year! There are lots more that were published previously and are coming out later. Some sapphic books by Black authors that I’m looking forward to coming out in 2021 are:

  • Darling by K. Ancrum: A queer, modern-day YA retelling of Peter Pan
  • Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson: Four days. Two girls. One life-changing music festival.
  • A Crown So Cursed (The Nightmare-Verse #3) by L.L. McKinney: a dark Alice in Wonderland YA retelling
  • Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: a found family Vegas F/F romance

And if you’re looking for sapphic books by Black authors, check out

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon at $2 or more a month and be entered to win a queer women book every month! $5 and up patrons get guaranteed books throughout the year on top of the giveaways!

Reading Black Joy: F/F Romances by Black Authors

The first Pride was a riot. A riot against police.

This Pride, support Black Americans protesting for their rights. When you’re building your Pride TBR, support Black LGBTQ authors and Black-owned bookstores.

Black Lives Matter protests have brought a shift in bestsellers: anti-racist books are selling out, and Black authors are getting a bit of the recognition the extremely white publishing industry usually robs them of. As crucial as those books are, though, it’s not enough. Many Black authors are asking readers to read and buy not only the difficult, dark stories centring racism, but also stories about Black joy. Which brings me to this post! “Black lesbian romance” has been a common keyword search that leads people to the Lesbrary, which reveals how little coverage there is, because although we have a general Black Bi & Lesbian Book Recommendations post, it is light on romance recs, so it’s past time to have some more relevant suggestions.

If you’re looking for Black lesbian romance, you need to immediately bookmark Sistahs on the Shelf and Black Lesbian Literary Collective. They both aren’t exclusively romance, but SotS especially reviews quite a few.

Katrina Jackson, author of many queer Black romances, has a twitter thread where she discussed how Pride coverage of queer books is usually extremely white, especially outside of YA & kidlit. She rightfully calls out white readers and reviewers for not reading queer Black romance, prioritizing interracial romance with a white partner, fetishizing Black queer men and erasing queer Black women. This post features any F/F romances by Black authors, while her thread showcases Black-authored queer romances starring Black people (no interracial romances with white characters). This post is thanks to her recommendations, and her work, so please check out her titles first.

I am just featuring one or two titles from each author, but many of these authors have multiple queer Black romances, so make sure to click through and check out their other titles!

Breaking Jaie by S. Renée BessBreaking Jaie by S. Renée Bess

Twenty-eight-year-old Ph.D. candidate Jaie Baxter is supremely confident about three things: She will become a noted writer. She’ll win the prestigious Adamson Prize. And she can have any woman who grabs her attention. But Jaie’s arrogance begins to slip away the day she meets Terez Overton, a woman whose ethnicity matches hers, but whose background is the exact opposite.

Dawn of Nia by Lauren CherelleDawn of Nia by Lauren Cherelle

Nia Ellis is grief stricken when, Pat, her mentor passes away. At the funeral, Nia is blindsided by Pat’s deep-seated secret, which sparks feelings of betrayal. Weeks after the funeral, Nia is still figuring out how to handle her wavering emotions and the unexplained secret– until the opportunity for answers forces her to step outside of her comfort zone. Nia believes she is in control of her guarded emotions when sidetracked by curiosity and thrust into a battle zone with Pat’s sisters.

Romance was the least of Nia’s concerns until a fling matures and challenges her lingering insecurities. Nia learns there is a thin line between love and hate when former relationships and loyalties are lost in her circle of friends. In the end, she realizes that Pat’s secret was a blessing in disguise.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa ColeOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole

While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.

When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

That Could Be Enough by Alyssa ColeThat Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole

Mercy Alston knows the best thing to do with pesky feelings like “love” and “hope”: avoid them at all cost. Serving as a maid to Eliza Hamilton, and an assistant in the woman’s stubborn desire to preserve her late husband’s legacy, has driven that point home for Mercy—as have her own previous heartbreaks.

When Andromeda Stiel shows up at Hamilton Grange for an interview in her grandfather’s stead, Mercy’s resolution to live a quiet, pain-free life is tested by the beautiful, flirtatious, and entirely overwhelming dressmaker.

Andromeda has staid Mercy reconsidering her worldview, but neither is prepared for love—or for what happens when it’s not enough.

This is an angsty but fluffy F/F novella with a happy ending for both of our intrepid heroines.

21 Questions by Mason Dixon21 Questions by Mason Dixon

Kenya Davis’s ability to find the perfect employee is unparalleled. Her ability to find the perfect mate? Not so much. After she takes a chance on speed dating, she finds herself with not one but two chances to find true love. But with her spotty romantic track record, how can she be sure which woman is Miss Right and which is only Miss Right Now?

Simone Bailey works as a bartender at one of the hottest nightclubs in South Beach, has more female attention than she knows what to do with, and spends her spare time following her musical ambitions. Then she meets Kenya Davis. After her initial attempt to charm her way into Kenya’s heart fails, she resolves to reach her ultimate destination one question at a time.

Four Letter Word by Ava FreemanFour Letter Word by Ava Freeman

They say love comes when you least expect it and Anais Gibbons definitely has no expectations. Dating has led to nowhere and she still entertains her ex while yearning for something more fulfilling. Her coworker Maya Banks has been her work “best friend” for years despite Anais’s desire to take things to another level.

After a girl’s night out a real friendship emerges and the possibility for a deeper connection. Reluctant to take the next step, Anais has to decide whether taking a chance on love is worth risking it all or if love is just another four letter word.

Midtown by Alix B. GoldenMidtown by Alix B. Golden

Midtown, the center of everything gay in Atlanta, GA. Friends from FAMU live together, work together, and sleep together.

Eva Daniels, aka Ed, has a pretty girlfriend, works for herself, and has plenty of love in her life. She floats on Cloud Nine, until she catches her girlfriend cheating. Taylor Collins is the blonde haired blue eyed All American girl with a strong appetite for beautiful girls. While her heart is committed to Ed, her body is not. Keikou Satou, Ki is what the ladies call her. Looks can be deceiving though, because Ki really only has eyes for one woman. Brie Allen isn’t looking for Miss Right, she’d settle for Miss Right now if they are skilled in the bedroom. Will the love of a good woman be enough to make her settle down? Ashley Johnson can’t turn down the opportunity to bail a friend out of a tough spot. What will her friends think about her newly discovered sexuality? And what will one friend think when she confesses her love?

What happens when 5 same sex loving friends co-habitat? Visit Midtown and find out!

When I Was Your Girlfriend by Nikki Harmon

How can you be sure that your first love wasn’t your true love?

Dee Armstrong leads a seemingly charmed life. She has a successful midwifery practice, a supportive family, and an exciting romantic life. But when Dee mistakenly believes she will have to confront her first love and first heartbreak, Candace, it sends her tumbling back into her memories to re-live the terrifying and exhilarating joy of being a teenager in love … with another girl.

Suddenly convinced that Candace was her one true love, Dee sets off on a tumultuous cross country journey to find her in hopes of renewing their relationship. When she does not find the reconciliation she had hoped for, she dives into a new relationship with Noema, an outspoken artist. She feels completely vindicated until she makes the awful discovery that this too, has been more fantasy than the real love she desires.

Dee’s quest leads to some serious soul searching and the realization that maybe love wasn’t the only thing that she lost all those years ago.

Things Hoped For by Chencia C. HigginsThings Hoped For by Chencia C. Higgins

Can two women who only want to be loved, find a home in each other when the world around them is moving too fast for them to settle down?

Growing up in an intolerant town, Latrisha Martin was used to shrinking the most important parts of herself. She hid her loneliness within a busy life and kept the yearning in her heart tucked away from those closest to her. Just as the façade became too heavy to maintain, Trisha received wise words from a strange woman that helped redirect her life’s journey. On a whim, she relocates to Houston, and while adjusting to a new normal, she finds that those desires she’d once hidden begin to manifest in ways she never imagined.

With her star attached to a rocket ship, Xenobia Cooper was quickly transforming from a locally known talent into a name known in households across the nation. Viewed as an overnight success to many, the only thing that the veteran of the Houston underground music scene hadn’t prepared for was living a life without someone to come home to at the end of the day. A reckless tweet sent out in the middle of the night brings an influx of women with stars in their eyes, but they all lack the key component that Xeno is looking for. A chance encounter after her largest show to date and she’s convinced that those things she’d hoped for are just within her grasp.

Being Hospitable by Meka James

Some houseguests are more enticing than others…

Kiki Jenkins knows that opening her home to her best friend’s younger sister means giving up some solitude. What she doesn’t expect is for her new roommate to become temptation in the form of novelty panties and flirty innuendos. But Charley is off limits…for several reasons.

Charley Graham wants to be seen as more than her brother’s little sister. And she wants Kiki to do the seeing. Her new internship provides the perfect opportunity. Plan in motion, she’s not going to let their close living quarters go to waste.

The arrangement is supposed to be temporary, but as they grow closer a permanent change of address might be in order.

Goslyn County by A.M. McKnightGoslyn County by A.M. McKnight

A mostly black community with its roots in farming, Goslyn, Virginia lay just south of the State’s Capital. The once small, close-knit county had grown rapidly in the past two decades and boasted a population of just over fifty thousand. But the county’s crime stats had grown as well, and the latest offenses included several break-ins and rumors of a meth lab. Time had brought many changes, and many of the longtime folks of Goslyn no longer recognized their community and longed for days gone by.

Goslyn PD Detective Olivia “Ollie” Winston loves her family and friends and shows it through her sense of humor. Just like her neighbors, she too worries about the recent events, and it’s her job to find out who’s behind the crime spree.

While investigating three burglaries, Olivia meets IRS Special Agent Maureen Jeffries who is pursuing a tax fraud suspect. Their cases are connected, and both soon discover they have much in common, personally and professionally.

A Girl Like Me by J. NicholeA Girl Like Me by J. Nichole

Lo made her feel like nobody had ever made her feel.

That smile made Skylar feel like she was wrapped in a warm hug, like she was secure.

She was inspired, motivated to move out of her comfort zone.

With just one look from Lo, Skylar felt like the sexiest woman alive.

Lo was proving to be the love Skylar hadn’t realized she deserved.

But there was only one thing Skylar didn’t expect —  Lo, was a girl like her.

The EXchange by Nikki RashanThe EXchange by Nikki Rashan

Can exes be friends? The answer to this question is tested and revealed in The EXchange, the third installment in the story of Kyla. When readers first met Kyla, she was a confused young woman struggling with her sexuality. By the time we met her again, she was a loose philanderer, bed-hopping in her search for love. She found it with the beautiful, no-nonsense Asia. After nine years of solid commitment, Kyla is bored with the monotony and simplicity of their day-to-day relationship. She soon finds the excitement she craves, but not in the right place. Angie, her ex turned longtime friend, is single again, and she’s ready and willing to fill the void Kyla feels. Will Kyla trade the stability she has with Asia for the passion she’s been missing?

Full Circle by SkyyFull Circle by Skyy

It’s been two years since Lena decided to take time away from drama to find herself and focus on her child. But the present finds her staring at images of Denise, the one who got away. Will Lena finally move on to someone new, or go after the one she’s wanted all along?

Sugar & Ice by Brooklyn Wallace

[Currently unavailable to buy]

One ice queen, one sweetheart, one last chance at happily ever after.

Gwendolyn Crawford is Superwoman personified. She runs her ex’s senatorial campaign while battling gossip rags, sleazy opponents, and her self-righteous former father-in-law. She does the job well, and as far as she’s concerned, that’s all she needs. Besides, there’s no time for romance. Not even when a pair of bright eyes catch hers at the highly exclusive Rose club.

Jacklyn Dunn is stuck in a rut. After a devastating stress fracture ended her WNBA career, she’s mostly been dodging her agent and binging TV. Then she meets Gwen and starts to wonder if there’s more to life than wishes and regrets.

There’s no denying the sparks between them. Jackie thrills in melting Gwen’s ice queen heart, and Gwen is instantly hooked on Jackie’s sweetness. But romance isn’t easy for two women in the spotlight. Stress, tabloids, and their own fears threaten to shake the foundation of their budding relationship. After years of building up walls, the two must open themselves up to love—and to getting hurt—to find what truly makes them happy.

Tailor-Made by Yolanda WallaceTailor-Made by Yolanda Wallace

Before Grace Henderson began working as a tailor in her father’s bespoke suit shop in Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn, she established a hard and fast rule about not dating clients. The edict is an easy one for her to follow, considering the overwhelming majority of the shop’s clients are men. But when Dakota Lane contacts her to commission a suit to wear to her sister’s wedding, Grace finds herself tempted to throw all the rules out the window.

Dakota Lane works as a bicycle messenger by day and moonlights as a male model. Her high-profile career, gender-bending looks, and hard-partying ways garner her plenty of romantic attention, but she would rather play the field than settle down. When she meets sexy tailor Grace Henderson, however, she suddenly finds herself in the market for much more than a custom suit.

Soul to Keep by Rebekah Weatherspoon Soul to Keep by Rebekah Weatherspoon

College junior Jill Babineux knows where her priorities lie. Between a full course load, her blood pledge to feed a certain vampire, and all the community service hours she’s got to log with her sisters in Alpha Beta Omega Sorority, the last thing on her mind is finding love, especially with an immortal.

Which works out just fine for Miyoko “Tokyo” Hayashi who’s been so busy enjoying her wild days and even kinkier nights, she’s never had a reason to speak to the tiny know-it-all. But after a random run-in and a few carefully plotted encounters, Miyoko learns that there’s more to the sorority’s least favorite member.

Miyoko never thought she’d actually start to like the girl, let alone love her, but when true evil comes for Jill, Miyoko finds herself willing to do anything to protect her. Anything.

Treasure by Rebekah WeatherspoonTreasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Her sister’s bachelorette party is the highlight of a miserable year for Alexis Chambers, but once her bridesmaid’s dress is packed away, she’s back to coping with her life as a once popular athlete and violinist turned loner and the focus of her parents’ disappointment. She isn’t expecting much from her freshman year of college until she finds herself sharing a class with Treasure, the gorgeous stripper from her sister’s party.

Trisha Hamilton has finally gotten the credits and the money together to transfer to a four-year university. Between classes, studying, and her job as a stripper, she has little time for a social life, until she runs into the adorably shy baby butch from the club. Trisha can’t seem to hide her feelings for Alexis, even when Trisha discovers what she has been through, but will Alexis have the strength to be just as fearless about their new love?

Drawing the Line by K.D. WilliamsonDrawing the Line by K.D. Williamson

Pediatric resident Dr. Dani Russell is focused on her career and there’s no room for anything else since her last relationship crashed and burned. She’s seen as standoffish and cold to everyone except her patients and her best friend Rick. That’s just fine with her.

Detective Rebecca Wells, newly appointed to Atlanta’s Juvenile Missing Person Unit, is a woman in a state of flux and on a mission to fix her unsatisfying personal life. That means reaching out to her ex, Dani, to make amends. But after sizing up the once warm, friendly woman she loved, Rebecca can’t believe how unrecognizable she now is or how hurt she is.
Is it too late for them? Has too much time passed to make things right?

An enemies-to-lovers, second-chance lesbian romance that’s powerful, sizzling, thought-provoking, and everything in between.

A Drop in the Ocean by Nikki WinterA Drop in the Ocean by Nikki Winter

It was a small lie, really. Nearly white because of how minuscule she intended it to be. And yet Kairo Maftah’s small, nearly white, very minuscule lie had managed to turn into something large and pink and pachyderm shaped in silhouette. One might’ve asked how and she might’ve been inclined to say, “Oh, my knob of a younger brother has taken it upon himself to get tied in a matrimonial union with my ex-girlfriend who I really shouldn’t call names—but I do it anyway because what the f$&@?!—and I may have roped my best friend into playing my newest love interest at their ceremony because I don’t want to look pathetic and alone and Audrey Hart, that’s my best friend, is such an amazing person that she’s agreed to spend a couple weeks of her vacation days here in Queensland convincing everyone we’re in love. But she kind of doesn’t know I really am in love with’er so I have to pretend I know how to function on a basic human level past grunts and happy sighs when she’s around. Did you get all of that? I hope so because I really don’t feel like repeating it.” That would have been a ridiculous response to that question right? Right?

Every Dark Desire by Fiona ZeddeEvery Dark Desire by Fiona Zedde

Naomi lives an almost idyllic life in Jamaica. She has a daughter who adores her, a close-knit community that looks out for its own, and paradise as her playground. But she secretly longs for the touch of other women. It is a longing she finally gets to satisfy during a trip into the tourist heart of Jamaica. When she surrenders to the seduction of a compelling stranger, however, she is savagely transformed into Belle, a ruthless beast whose hungers know no bounds.

Now Belle is part of a vampire clan, reveling in an existence that lays bare the dark hungers within every soul. Part of her hates her new world, but another part glories in it and in the explosive sexual connection she shares with the powerful head of the clan. But as magical as her new world is, it also has its dangers. Dangers that threaten the people she loves.

Bonus Bisexual Black M/F Books

If you’re looking for Black queer women romances in general, check out these M/F Black romances about bi+ women!

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia HibbertTake a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When big, brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and former rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact to him, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Suddenly, half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf is secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.

The easy lay Dani dreamed of is now more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

Pink Slip by Katrina Jackson Pink Slip (The Spies Who Loved Her #1) by Katrina Jackson

Kierra was a poor poet looking for a job while she worked toward her dream of becoming a published poet. One day she accidentally becomes the personal assistant to married spies. For the last three years she’s lusted after them, not very secretively, until finally she decides it’s time to move on with her life and gives her notice.

During her last week of work, her bosses whisk her away to Serbia for a top secret mission that only she can help them complete. And in the middle of dispatching a European dictator, Kierra and her bosses give in to their deepest desires.

Pink Slip is the first in an erotic/suspense/spy/comedy series that wonders what James Bond’s receptionist’s life might have been like. If James Bond had a wife and they both wanted to shag the receptionist. But the dirty American version of that. And all of the possible entanglements in between.

Something Like Love by Christine C. JonesSomething Like Love by Christina C. Jones

Eddie is arrogant, quite vain and slick at the mouth – or simply confident, discerning, and unafraid to speak his mind, if you ask him. Astrid is annoyingly perky, unpolished, and a little delusional about Eddie’s attraction to her – or, according to her, energetic, authentic, and absolutely spot on about the driving factor of a certain local tattoo artist’s “hatred” of her.

Undeniable attraction.

They may think they’re opposite, but have more in common than they think. For both of them, finding a connection that is deeper than surface-level is rare. Someone they can learn from, grow with, someone who can show them things they haven’t seen before and feel things they’ve never felt, with anyone.

No labels, no boxes.

Just…maybe… something like love.

This is far from a complete list! Check out the Sistahs on the Shelf Romance tag for more Black lesbian romance, and Katrina Jackson’s twitter thread for more queer Black romance.

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon at $2 or more a month and be entered to win a queer women book every month! $5 and up patrons get guaranteed books throughout the year on top of the giveaways!

Maggie reviews Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

I really enjoyed Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, and it is on my rec shortlist when people want fantasy or YA recs. So when I walked by the sequel in stores I was incredibly excited at A) the fact that it was out and B) how amazing the cover is. The complete drama of those outfits with the understated blood splatter is everything I wanted. Black heroines looking fancy? Black heroines looking so fancy while still fighting zombies? The amazing cut of Jane’s suit and blouse and her intimidatingly direct stare? I love every single thing about it. Of course, between wanting to reread Dread Nation so I could remember every detail and library hold lists and just everything else that has happened this year, it took me longer than planned to get ahold of the audiobook, but I am so happy I finally did, and that I get to review it right after reviewing Dread Nation.

In Deathless Divide, Justina Ireland picks up exactly where Dread Nation left off: with Jane, Kate, and a group of miscellaneous other people they’ve accumulated escaping the doomed town of Summerland ahead of a horde of zombies. In possession of a letter that says that her mother is no longer at Rose Hill plantation but is instead headed for California, Jane wants to head that way to find her, but lack of supplies and the needs of the civilians with them force them to head for the nearby town of Nicodemus. There they are reunited with past acquaintances and have to convince the people of their temporary home that the town’s defenses will not stand against the oncoming horde in a frightening echo of their time in Summerland. The ending of Nicodemus, like Summerland, is catastrophic for everyone there, and Ireland uses its demise as a point for a time jump that has both Jane and Kate trying to make new lives for themselves in California, but separated from each other and facing terrible hardship and prejudice once again. Between proper Kate struggling to find a place for herself where she feels fulfilled and vengeance-obsessed Jane making a name for herself but being unable to rest, Ireland highlights a full range of experiences and difficult choices they face as Black women trying to survive in country filled with racism, misogyny, and, of course, zombies.

The choice between love and vengeance is a pretty standard one in literature, but Ireland explores the whole spectrum of love that can drive people. From family – where Jane’s memories of her mother are part of what drives her to keep moving and her subsequent grappling with how memory doesn’t match reality – to friendship – Jane and Katherine are continually motivated by the friendship they’ve forged through shared tribulations – Jane and Kate struggle to make sense of the world where they find themselves and what they want out of life. Romance gets a full treatment too, even though it isn’t the main focus. Kate is asexual, and her musings on whether she should try to stomach getting married for the benefits it would provide for her and others, as well as her remembering how trapped she felt as a youth when she thought it was her only option, were poignant and incredibly emotional for me. Kate’s journey is about her finding what makes her thrive in life while struggling with how that doesn’t line up with society’s expectations, and I think it is an incredibly great arc to see in what is ostensibly a historical horror/thriller.

Jane, on the other hand, has to deal with the price of vengeance versus what she wants out of life outside of it. She has some brushes with romance – honestly her relationship with Callie was refreshing both in that it was queer and that she accepted its short-term nature with a foray into heartache that is quickly tempered by pragmatism, something lacking in a lot of YA – but her real motivation for much of the time is getting vengeance on Gideon, the scientist whose experiments have killed a lot of people Jane cared for and irrevocably changed her own life. Becoming a bounty hunter in order to gather information to track him down, Jane enters a brutal world and becomes equally as brutal herself to survive. Over and over again she is forced to choose pursuing vengeance at the cost of her relationships with others, and every time she chooses vengeance she can feel the toll it takes on her soul. It was refreshing to see a character who could admit to her changing attitude and frankly start to wonder if it was all worth it or what would be left after she accomplished her goal. On top of that she has to deal with how the world perceives her. While Kate has to deal with the physiological ramifications of being white passing and of being attractive to men when she is not attracted to them herself, Jane has to deal with her reputation. Her nickname – The Devil’s Bitch – manages to be both threatening and derogatory, and she is forced to be aggressive when dealing with the rest of the world and face the reactions to an aggressive Black woman who doesn’t hesitate to use violence to protect herself. Her emotional journey through grief and vengeance to something more peaceful feels entirely earned and not any sort of magic switch moment, and I felt like the ending was satisfying and was something entirely true to the growing they all did throughout the book.

In Deathless Divide, Justina Ireland continues her fascinating story of life in a post-Civil War, post-zombie apocalypse America. I thought this continued the first book extremely well, and I really enjoyed how the characters stayed true to themselves. It would have been really easy for the vengeance quest or their constant journeying to become flat, but each character really grew and had a lot of great introspective moments. Jane and Kate’s wildly differing worldviews contrasted well, and I really enjoyed the casual queerness and asexuality rep. Whether you’re here for the zombies or for queer action women with swords, it’s a very satisfying story. I also highly recommend the audiobook version. Bahni Turpin and Jordan Cobb are amazing narrators, and I was really pulled into the story and the rotating POVs so well.

Black Bi & Lesbian Book Recommendations

Black Sapphic Book Recs

The first Pride was a riot. A riot against police.

This Pride, support Black Americans protesting for their rights. When you’re building your Pride TBR, support Black LGBTQ authors.

I have a bittersweet relationship to Pride every year, because although I appreciate LGBTQ lit getting more attention, it’s frustrating to see so many people only pay attention in June. This Pride, we’re seeing Black Americans fighting against police brutality. The Stonewall riots were marginalized people–many of them also Black, people of colour, trans, gender-nonconforming–who were pushed past their limits by police harassment and violence. If you celebrate the anniversary of that brick-throwing violent uprising (and you should), it’s crucial that you support the uprising happening right now. (Here’s a good place to start.)

But just like LGBTQ people (and books) shouldn’t only get attention and a platform one month of the year, we should be supporting Black creators all year round, not just during Black History Month or when someone becomes a hashtag. If you’re looking for Black bi and lesbian books, The Black Lesbian Literary Collective is a fantastic resource, and I highly recommend checking it out. Also check out Sistahs on the Shelf and Black Lesbian Fiction.

If you want a short list to get started, though, here are some of my favourite Black bi and lesbian books, and some of the ones that are on my TBR right now. You can also browse these at Bookshop.org, where your purchases support indie bookstores.

Fiction:

The Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is a classic for a reason. It does have brutal subject matter, including rape and racism, but it somehow manages to have an overall message of hope and resilience. My favourite part about this book was the huge cast of diverse, complex female characters that all form a network of support with each other, finding connections across difference.

Speaking of relationships between women, the description of this book often downplays the queer content. Celie is proudly gay. She has romantic and sexual relationships with women in this book. It’s not subtext: it’s a major part of the plot.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

The Summer We Got Free by Mia MckenzieThe Summer We Got Free by Mia Mckenzie

The overwhelming image I get when trying to describe The Summer We Got Free is the moments just before a summer thunderstorm: the charged anticipation, the humid heat, the claustrophobia of it. This is about a family and a house haunted by its past. In an alternating structure, we learn about Ava as a vibrant, unrestrainable child, and the closed-off and dulled person she is now. Slowly, we build up to the event that caused this shift. This is a brilliant and affecting book that should be recognized as a classic of black lesbian fiction and of literary fiction in general.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

YA and Middle Grade:

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca BarrowThis is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Who can resist a literal getting the band back together book? Dia, Jules, and Hanna used to be inseparable. But the band and friendship fell apart when a) Dia’s boyfriend died b) Dia discovered soon after that she was pregnant and c) Hanna’s alcoholism landed her in the hospital. Dia cuts ties with Hanna, and Jules sides with her. Now, Hanna is sober, Dia is a mom of a toddler, and there’s a Battle of the Bands that could change all of their lives, if they can mend their friendship. These are multifaceted people with complex relationships with each other. There’s also a cute F/F romance (with Jules)!

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Little and Lion by Brandy ColbertLittle & Lion by Brandy Colbert

A quiet, thoughtful book that deftly handles subjects like race, sexuality, and mental health. Suzette is black, bisexual, and Jewish, and those aspects of her identity all interact and affect her everyday life. I liked how it addressed the challenges of coming out even in a fairly positive environment: the embarrassment in having to announce this intimate part of yourself, the tension in seeing what people’s reactions will be, the irritation of having it involuntarily become your defining feature, the general awkwardness. But this story isn’t about Suzette’s sexual identity. It’s about her relationship with her brother, and how they’ve recently grown apart, to her dismay. Lionel has recently been diagnosed as bipolar, and shortly after that, Suzette was sent away to boarding school. They haven’t seen each other a lot, and they aren’t sure how to go back to the closeness they once shared. It’s painful. This is a beautiful book with a lot of depth.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Full Disclosure by Camryn GarrettFull Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure is about Simone, a teenager who’s been HIV positive since birth. At her last school, her status was revealed without her consent, and now that she’s switched schools, she’s keeping it under wraps–but just as she’s getting comfortable, she starts getting blackmailed. This is a book packed full of queer characters: Simone is bisexual (her current love interest is male, her last one was a girl), she has two dads, and one of her best friends is bi and the other is an ace lesbian.

There is tension between the lightheartedness of the book as a whole, and the serious underpinnings. It meshes well, though, and doesn’t feel like bouncing between emotional extremes. Instead, it portrays that HIV positive teens can have happy, fulfilling lives and also have to worry about unfair, hateful treatment. They can be carefree in most aspects of their lives, and also have to take their health very seriously.

Full Disclosure is masterful, including well-rounded characters, an adorable love story, and a protagonist who grows and matures over the course of the novel. I highly recommend this, and I can’t wait to read more from Camryn Garrett.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda PetrusThe Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

It’s the classic story: girl meets granddaughter of pastor, girls falls in love, girls get caught and sent away to separate countries. That is only the beginning, though.

This is a book with a strong voice and focus. I appreciate that this isn’t written to pander to a white American audience–it trusts that readers will ether understand or accept being a little lost. It makes for an immersive, powerful read.

I really appreciated the skill at work here. Audre and Mabel are well-rounded characters, and I loved their relationship. Mabel pushes away the people in her life when she becomes seriously ill, and they also don’t know how to be around her. Audre is determined to keep their friendship, and she continues to show up for Mabel. They develop a stronger relationship through this. Audre is also still dealing with the rejection from her mother, and slowly becoming closer to the father that she has spent very little time with in her life.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

The House You Pass On the Way by Jacqueline WoodsonThe House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson

This is a tiny (99 pages) book with a lot of layers. It’s the story of the summer when Staggerlee was fourteen, and when she felt confused and alone. It’s also the summer when she met her (estranged, adopted) cousin Trout. It’s atmospheric and emotional. Staggerlee is struggling with being small-town famous for her grandparents dying in an anti-civil rights bombing. She feels set apart for being mixed race, and is also questioning her sexuality. She is able to process a lot of this with Trout, finding ease in not yet having the answer. “Staggerlee and Trout were here today. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t be gay.” This is a slow, thoughtful read.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender coverHurricane Child by Kacen Callender

A middle grade novel with a lot of complexity. It’s set on the US Virgin Islands, and Caroline is struggling with a lot: she is ostracized at school, her mother has gone missing, and as she begins to develop feelings for a new girl at school, she is met with waves of homophobia. This is a difficult and sometimes surreal book–Caroline sees spirits. This is a messy story, not in writing skill, but because it realistically depicts this overwhelming and confusing point in Caroline’s life.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Goldie Vance Volume 1Goldie Vance series by Hope Larson (Author) and Brittney Williams (illustrator)

This is an all-ages comic with a black teenage girl detective! The plot is a little more serious/political than I’d expect with something like Lumberjanes, but this is still a lot of fun.

Of course, what really made me love this is the queer content. Goldie meets Diane and is immediately enamored with this girl rocking the James Dean look. Their romance is adorable, and I look forward to seeing more of them.

(Note: Brittney Williams is the co-creator, and she does the illustrations in this first volume, but isn’t involved in the subsequent volumes.)

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Science Fiction & Fantasy:

The Salt Roads by Nalo HopkinsonThe Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

This is historical fiction following three black women in different places and times (18th century Haiti, 19th century Paris, and 4th century Egypt). All three are sometimes possessed by Elizi, a spirit.

The Salt Roads is a hugely ambitious book exploring racism throughout time, and how these women survive and fight back. It is also incredibly queer. I was assigned this in a university class, and I was pleasantly surprised to find 2 lesbian sex scenes within the first 15 pages.

This is a stunning book that made me a lifelong Nalo Hopkinson fan.

Skip my review and check out Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian’s.

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

Did I mention being a lifelong Hopkinson fan? I’ll admit that this collection only has one sapphic story, but it is the longest story in the collection, and there are other queer stories. I was hooked  from the first sentence: I didn’t used to like people much.

“Ours Is the Prettiest” is part of the Borderlands series, which is a series of books and stories where authors share the same characters and settings. I thought this worked really well as a stand-alone. I can’t say how well it fits into the established world–in the introduction Hopkinson mentions getting complaints that her more diverse take was criticized by some readers–but I am definitely inclined to side with this story, which felt like it had more world-building informing it than even made it into the text.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Everfair by Nisi ShawlEverfair by Nisi Shawl

This is a steampunk alternate history of the Belgian Congo. It is a brilliant, dense, thought-provoking story about colonialism told from a huge variety of perspectives. This means that you get to see the story from so many angles: the well-meaning white supporters of Everfair, the existing king and queen of the region trying to regain control, the Chinese workers brought in by the Belgium king, mixed-race European Everfair inhabitants, etc.

The story spans decades, tackling politics, war, espionage, grief, love and betrayal. There are three queer women point of view characters, and the complicated, deeply flawed, compelling relationship between two of them is at the heart of this story.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle GomezThe Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

This follows a vampire from just before her change, when she is escaping from slavery, to two centuries afterwards (yes, to 2050). It is almost like a collection of short stories, each set a decade or two after the previous one. It really imagines the scope of being immortal. It also is just as much a history of racism and slavery in the United States.

I also loved how Gomez incorporated vampire mythology (about running water and connection to the earth) as well as developing a vampire moral code: Vampires are able to manipulate people’s thoughts, reading what a person needs (comfort, decisiveness, hope, etc), and leaving that with them. They also heal the wounds they cause, making it, in their opinion, an even exchange.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Better Off Red by Rebekah WeatherspoonBetter Off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Another lesbian vampire book, but with a very different tone. This is an erotica (vampire sorority sisters!) I did have some issues with the plot, but overall this is a really fun, sexy story that manages to convincingly have vampires with consensual relationships.

Despite the vampire orgies, this ends up having compelling characters. I look forward to reading the next books in the series, especially because focuses on my favourite supporting character, Cleo.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Nonfiction:

Hunger by Roxane GayHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger follows Roxane Gay’s journey with her body, from when she was a kid to her present day, and how the trauma in her life has played out over her body. It talks frankly about her rape as a child and how she has lived with that experience for the rest of her life. It talks about the way our society views fat bodies, how that fatphobia affects her in so many ways. It talks about her disordered eating, the unhealthy relationships she’s had (as well as the healthy ones).

Despite the subject matter, Gay writes in approachable style that feels like she’s having a conversation with you, making this easier to read than I was expecting. She also discussed coming out as bi, and some of her relationships with women. This is dark, sometimes brutal book, but it’s also a masterful one.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Of course, this only scratches the surface! Here are a few more on my TBR pile:

In Another Place, Not Here by Dionne Brand  The Heart Does Not Bend by Makeda Silvera  Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Barnett  Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair  Don't Explain by Jewelle Gomez

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole  Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon    Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron  You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin  Homegirls: A Black Feminist Anthology edited by Barbara Smith    The Complete Works of Pat Parker    Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney

Maggie reviews Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is one of those rare books where an interesting concept is upheld through thorough world-building and great writing. It posits “What would happen if the zombie apocalypse happened at the end of the Civil War?” and follows through with that idea – building an amazingly detailed post-war, post-undead world and filling it with political conspiracies, combat schools, small life details, and plenty of drama.

The story follows Jane McKeene, a student at one of the most prestigious combat schools for black girls in the Baltimore area. She is training to be an attendant, a highly skilled position that is meant to protect the life and virtue of wealthy white women, but Jane has her own plans to return to the plantation where she was born, which is now being run by her mother. Before she can graduate and strike out for home, however, she is caught up in a series of events that takes her out of Baltimore and to the Kansas prairie town of Summerland. Stranded there with her fellow school-mate Katherine, Jane discovered that the torturous living conditions of Summerland cover up even worse problems coming for the inhabitants.

What I really liked most about this book was the care that was put into creating the world and the atmosphere of the book. It’s not logical to plop down zombies into the Civil War and keep everything else the same, but the author carefully layered her story with details about how life would play out, right down to acceptable skirt lengths and Jane’s utter shock at seeing real horses in Summerland. It’s the sort of world-building that I love to immerse myself in. Please, tell me more about the history of combat schools, how zombie fighting techniques evolved, and the effect of the undead on post-Civil War life. Add to that the weird cult-like atmosphere in Summerland, and you have an engaging and evolving read that really fleshes out the premise of a historical zombie apocalypse. There’s also plenty of straight-up zombie fighting included too, for a nice balance of action and plot-building. Jane is an extremely capable person who is absolutely deadly with her zombie-fighting scythes. A child of her time, she doesn’t waste time on the nostalgia of those older than her, who long to go back to the way things were before the undead rose up. Zombies and post-war politics are simply a fact of life for her, and she switches back and forth between doing what she needs to survive zombies and doing what she needs to survive white society, although her strong independent streak does get her in trouble a lot.

Another thing I liked about this book was how quietly, and normally, queerness crept into it. At first, Jane shows both that she has been involved with Jackson Keats, a local boy, and an appreciation for Mr. Redfern, a trained fighter who works for the Mayor. Later though, she reveals that she has had relationships with girls in the past, and it was, in fact, a girl who taught her how to kiss. I really enjoy that this information is revealed so casually, and that Jane herself is very casual about it. At once her sexuality is a real and explicit part of her character and not a guiding part of the plot at all. I guess that fighting zombies means that she does not have time to worry about who she wants to be with, or perhaps she came to terms with herself with her first girlfriend. Either way, Jane McKeene does what she wants, whether that’s fighting zombies or kissing girls, and it was nice to have it be such a nonissue for a historical character. Kate, on the other hand, is outwardly bossy but intensely private about her personal life. Even when she and Jane grow closer through their shared struggles, she doesn’t like to talk about her past. Finally though, she confesses to Jane that she isn’t interested in sex or marriage. This happens towards the end of the book, so there isn’t time to develop this more, but I was genuinely excited for ace rep, and I really appreciated the antagonists-to-friends arc that her and Jane went through.

I’m excited to see how Jane and Kate grow in the next book, and I’m also excited to see what society looks like as Jane and Kate move west across the frontier!

Susan reviews Bingo Love by Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin cover

I’m pretty sure that I can’t discuss Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge’s Bingo Love without spoilers, because the things that naffed me off the most about it are all massive honking spoilers. It’s a second-chance romance; Mari and Hazel meet again in their sixties and decide to pick up where they left off as teenagers when their homophobic families forcibly separated them. The art is fantastic, I especially love the way that the colours are done, everyone’s looks are excellent. I liked how supportive and loving Hazel’s children were eventually, although the fact that Hazel gets homophobia from all generations of her family is upsetting. The dialogue was quite stilted, but some of the conversations – especially the ones about boundaries–were pretty good. And… That’s the most I can say about it without spoiling anyone. Abandon hope all ye who enter here and all that jazz!

Okay, so I was mostly on board with Bingo Love until it turned out to be The Notebook with queer women. (I wasn’t kidding about the spoilers!) Like, my hatred for The Notebook is as deep as the sea, so that particular reveal was hugely disappointing to me! It turned a few things that I thought were continuity errors into foreshadowing, which was good! It made the cold-open make sense, because as it was Hazel appears to hear someone begging for help after being made homeless by their homophobic family and immediately make it about how much worse queer people had it when she was a kid. No! It’s just how she launches into telling her life story to her wife with dementia. I guess queer women (and especially queer women of colour) deserve to have their own version of The Notebook, if that’s what they want? But for me, it was the tipping point where I couldn’t ignore the things that bugged me anymore.

For example: Mari and Hazel seeing each other for the first time in forty years and immediately running to kiss each other was baffling to me. They’re different people now! Surely there needed to be some build-up or getting to know the adult versions of themselves before the kissing and leaving their husbands! … Actually, I think lack of build-up is the problem for most of the book, because fifty to sixty years are whizzed over at lightspeed, which means that the relationships don’t feel like they have a solid foundation. Not to mention I’m fundamentally suspicious of Hazel’s therapist drawing a distinction between “someone who is the same gender as you” and “someone who identifies as the same gender as you,” because I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be trans-inclusive and missed, or if it’s just being transphobic.

I think what I’m saying here is that Bingo Love is flawed but could be serviceable for someone who isn’t me. The art is good, and getting to see two queer women of colour getting married with their families around them was worth the price of admission. It was just the stuff around that making me twitch.

[Caution warnings: homophobia, adultery, dementia]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for SFF Reviews and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She brings the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Carmella reviews The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

“How can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?”

It’s 1826, and Frannie Langton is standing trial for the murder of her employers, the Benhams. She can’t remember a thing from that night, but she’s certain she didn’t do it – because she was in love with Mrs Benham. As she awaits sentencing, Frannie makes use of her time in Newgate prison to write her confessions.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins is a Gothic murder mystery/romance reminiscent of Alias Grace or The Paying Guests, by way of Beloved and Wide Sargasso Sea. It takes us from a Jamaican plantation, where Frannie – a mixed-race house slave – is taught to read by her bored mistress, to a London townhouse, where she works as a maid for the beautiful Marguerite Benham. As Frannie writes of her emotionally-charged affair with Marguerite, she also reveals the traumatic secrets of her childhood, unravelling the two time periods side by side.

The concept alone would have been enough to win me over: it meets all my literary tick-boxes, and how often do you get to see a Black lesbian protagonist in mainstream historical fiction? (As Collins says, she was inspired to write about Frannie after questioning “why hadn’t a Black woman been the star of her own Gothic romance?”)

But alongside that, Sara Collins is a fantastic character writer. She crafts a strong and distinctive voice for Frannie, who makes a compellingly unreliable narrator, veering from intimate truth-telling to coy amnesia so you’re never sure if you should trust her. It takes a confident author to pull off a ‘whodunit’ where the main character is both the lead suspect and the lead detective, but Collins sustains the mystery to the end.

It’s important with historical fiction to transport your readers into the time period, and this is another place where Collins is adept. Her descriptions of life on a plantation and in 19th century London are beautifully vivid. They’re also clearly the product of careful research, with events and characters like Olaudah ‘Laddie’ Cambridge (a former servant of the Benhams now turned celebrity boxer) inspired by true history – in this case Bill Richmond. Although topics of racial, sexual and gender identity are often considered a modern preoccupation, Collins embeds them seamlessly into her historical setting, where they seem perfectly at home.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is an intense, twisty read, which would appeal to anyone interested in Gothic romance, historical fiction, or a good mystery. I would give one word of caution, which is that the novel contains multiple depictions of gore and violence. It’s not for the faint-hearted (or weak-stomached) – but if you’re a fan of the penny dreadful genre then it’s perfect for you!

CONTENT WARNINGS: Slavery, racism, miscarriage, rape mentions, murder, violence

Danika reviews Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure is about Simone, a teenager who’s been HIV positive since birth. Her dads have done their best to make sure she has the best possible life, and as long as she takes her medication every day, her day-to-day isn’t much different from her peers. The problem is not so much with symptoms or medical care, but stigma. At her last school, her peers turned on her when they found out her diagnosis, and she had to switch schools. Now, she just wants to enjoy directing the high school play and hanging out with her friends and crushing on a boy without having to think about how people would react if they knew. Which is why getting blackmail notes threatening to out her if she doesn’t stay away from her crush is particularly terrifying.

I will say up front that this has a bisexual main character, and the central romance is M/F. But even aside from the bi main character, there is queer rep aplenty: Simone has two dads, one of her best friends in an asexual lesbian, and the other best friend is also bisexual. In fact, it’s partly because Simone is surrounded by confident, out queer people in her life that she doesn’t feel like she can claim the word bisexual for herself. Sure, she has crushes on celebrity women, but that doesn’t count, right? And liking one girl isn’t enough to be able to call herself bisexual, right? An undercurrent of the story is Simone coming to terms with her sexuality, and realizing that she can claim that identity. (Also, her–almost?–ex-girlfriend is awful.)

I find this book a little difficult to describe, because on the whole, I found it a fun, absorbing, even fluffy read. Simone is passionate about musical theatre, and she is excited and intimidated to be acting as director. She is swooning over a cute guy (also involved in the production), and their romance is adorable. Simone’s friends are great–even if they have some communication issues–and so is her family. She is surrounded by support, and there is a lot of humour sprinkled throughout.

On the other hand, Full Disclosure also grapples with the stigma around HIV positivity. Simone’s dads felt that it was fitting that they adopt an HIV positive baby, after having lost so many people in their lives to HIV and AIDS. There is discussion of what living through the epidemic was like, and the extreme bigotry towards people with HIV/AIDS. Simone is being blackmailed, and she lives in fear of having people turn against her again. She doesn’t feel like she can even talk to the principal about it, because it could mean that the information could get out. Even her best friends don’t know.

There is tension between the lightheartedness of the book as a whole, and the serious underpinnings. It meshes well, though, and doesn’t feel like bouncing between emotional extremes. Instead, it portrays that HIV positive teens can have happy, fulfilling lives and also have to worry about unfair, hateful treatment. They can be carefree in most aspects of their lives, and also have to take their health very seriously.

Full Disclosure is masterful, including well-rounded characters, an adorable love story, and a protagonist who grows and matures over the course of the novel. I highly recommend this, and I can’t wait to read more from Camryn Garrett.

Black Bi & Lesbian Book Recommendations for Black History Month and F/F February

February is Black History Month, and I thought I’d use this time to promote some black lesbian books! (And black bisexual books, black sapphic books, black queer books, etc.) Black lesbian fiction is one of the keywords that leads a lot of people to the Lesbrary, and I can see why. A quick Google search doesn’t bring up a lot of helpful posts. The Black Lesbian Literary Collective is a fantastic resource, though, and I highly recommend checking it out.

To help add to your Black History Month TBR, here are 15 black bi and lesbian books that I love. Most are by black authors and feature black characters, but there might be a few that are just one or the other. Let me know in the comments what your favourite black lesbian fiction is, or any other black queer books you recommend!

I’m going to start out with 15 black sapphic books that I have read and loved, and then I’ll share some of the top ones on my TBR. I talked about them in my latest Book Riot video, or you can scroll down if you’d rather read my thoughts on each!

Fiction:

The Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is a classic for a reason. It does have brutal subject matter, including rape and racism, but it somehow manages to have an overall message of hope and resilience. My favourite part about this book was the huge cast of diverse, complex female characters that all form a network of support with each other, finding connections across difference.

Speaking of relationships between women, the description of this book often downplays the queer content. Celie is proudly gay. She has romantic and sexual relationships with women in this book. It’s not subtext: it’s a major part of the plot.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

The Summer We Got Free by Mia MckenzieThe Summer We Got Free by Mia Mckenzie

The overwhelming image I get when trying to describe The Summer We Got Free is the moments just before a summer thunderstorm: the charged anticipation, the humid heat, the claustrophobia of it. This is about a family and a house haunted by its past. In an alternating structure, we learn about Ava as a vibrant, unrestrainable child, and the closed-off and dulled person she is now. Slowly, we build up to the event that caused this shift. This is a brilliant and affecting book that should be recognized as a classic of black lesbian fiction and of literary fiction in general.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

YA and Middle Grade:

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca BarrowThis is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Who can resist a literal getting the band back together book? Dia, Jules, and Hanna used to be inseparable. But the band and friendship fell apart when a) Dia’s boyfriend died b) Dia discovered soon after that she was pregnant and c) Hanna’s alcoholism landed her in the hospital. Dia cuts ties with Hanna, and Jules sides with her. Now, Hanna is sober, Dia is a mom of a toddler, and there’s a Battle of the Bands that could change all of their lives, if they can mend their friendship. These are multifaceted people with complex relationships with each other. There’s also a cute F/F romance (with Jules)!

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Little and Lion by Brandy ColbertLittle & Lion by Brandy Colbert

A quiet, thoughtful book that deftly handles subjects like race, sexuality, and mental health. Suzette is black, bisexual, and Jewish, and those aspects of her identity all interact and affect her everyday life. I liked how it addressed the challenges of coming out even in a fairly positive environment: the embarrassment in having to announce this intimate part of yourself, the tension in seeing what people’s reactions will be, the irritation of having it involuntarily become your defining feature, the general awkwardness. But this story isn’t about Suzette’s sexual identity. It’s about her relationship with her brother, and how they’ve recently grown apart, to her dismay. Lionel has recently been diagnosed as bipolar, and shortly after that, Suzette was sent away to boarding school. They haven’t seen each other a lot, and they aren’t sure how to go back to the closeness they once shared. It’s painful. This is a beautiful book with a lot of depth.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda PetrusThe Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

It’s the classic story: girl meets granddaughter of pastor, girls falls in love, girls get caught and sent away to separate countries. That is only the beginning, though.

This is a book with a strong voice and focus. I appreciate that this isn’t written to pander to a white American audience–it trusts that readers will ether understand or accept being a little lost. It makes for an immersive, powerful read.

I really appreciated the skill at work here. Audre and Mabel are well-rounded characters, and I loved their relationship. Mabel pushes away the people in her life when she becomes seriously ill, and they also don’t know how to be around her. Audre is determined to keep their friendship, and she continues to show up for Mabel. They develop a stronger relationship through this. Audre is also still dealing with the rejection from her mother, and slowly becoming closer to the father that she has spent very little time with in her life.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

The House You Pass On the Way by Jacqueline WoodsonThe House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson

This is a tiny (99 pages) book with a lot of layers. It’s the story of the summer when Staggerlee was fourteen, and when she felt confused and alone. It’s also the summer when she met her (estranged, adopted) cousin Trout. It’s atmospheric and emotional. Staggerlee is struggling with being small-town famous for her grandparents dying in an anti-civil rights bombing. She feels set apart for being mixed race, and is also questioning her sexuality. She is able to process a lot of this with Trout, finding ease in not yet having the answer. “Staggerlee and Trout were here today. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t be gay.” This is a slow, thoughtful read.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender coverHurricane Child by Kacen Callender

A middle grade novel with a lot of complexity. It’s set on the US Virgin Islands, and Caroline is struggling with a lot: she is ostracized at school, her mother has gone missing, and as she begins to develop feelings for a new girl at school, she is met with waves of homophobia. This is a difficult and sometimes surreal book–Caroline sees spirits. This is a messy story, not in writing skill, but because it realistically depicts this overwhelming and confusing point in Caroline’s life.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Goldie Vance Volume 1Goldie Vance series by Hope Larson (Author) and Brittney Williams (illustrator)

This is an all-ages comic with a black teenage girl detective! The plot is a little more serious/political than I’d expect with something like Lumberjanes, but this is still a lot of fun.

Of course, what really made me love this is the queer content. Goldie meets Diane and is immediately enamored with this girl rocking the James Dean look. Their romance is adorable, and I look forward to seeing more of them.

(Note: Brittney Williams is the co-creator, and she does the illustrations in this first volume, but isn’t involved in the subsequent volumes.)

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Science Fiction & Fantasy:

The Salt Roads by Nalo HopkinsonThe Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

This is historical fiction following three black women in different places and times (18th century Haiti, 19th century Paris, and 4th century Egypt). All three are sometimes possessed by Elizi, a spirit.

The Salt Roads is a hugely ambitious book exploring racism throughout time, and how these women survive and fight back. It is also incredibly queer. I was assigned this in a university class, and I was pleasantly surprised to find 2 lesbian sex scenes within the first 15 pages.

This is a stunning book that made me a lifelong Nalo Hopkinson fan.

Skip my review and check out Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian’s.

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

Did I mention being a lifelong Hopkinson fan? I’ll admit that this collection only has one sapphic story, but it is the longest story in the collection, and there are other queer stories. I was hooked  from the first sentence: I didn’t used to like people much.

“Ours Is the Prettiest” is part of the Borderlands series, which is a series of books and stories where authors share the same characters and settings. I thought this worked really well as a stand-alone. I can’t say how well it fits into the established world–in the introduction Hopkinson mentions getting complaints that her more diverse take was criticized by some readers–but I am definitely inclined to side with this story, which felt like it had more world-building informing it than even made it into the text.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Everfair by Nisi ShawlEverfair by Nisi Shawl

This is a steampunk alternate history of the Belgian Congo. It is a brilliant, dense, thought-provoking story about colonialism told from a huge variety of perspectives. This means that you get to see the story from so many angles: the well-meaning white supporters of Everfair, the existing king and queen of the region trying to regain control, the Chinese workers brought in by the Belgium king, mixed-race European Everfair inhabitants, etc.

The story spans decades, tackling politics, war, espionage, grief, love and betrayal. There are three queer women point of view characters, and the complicated, deeply flawed, compelling relationship between two of them is at the heart of this story.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle GomezThe Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

This follows a vampire from just before her change, when she is escaping from slavery, to two centuries afterwards (yes, to 2050). It is almost like a collection of short stories, each set a decade or two after the previous one. It really imagines the scope of being immortal. It also is just as much a history of racism and slavery in the United States.

I also loved how Gomez incorporated vampire mythology (about running water and connection to the earth) as well as developing a vampire moral code: Vampires are able to manipulate people’s thoughts, reading what a person needs (comfort, decisiveness, hope, etc), and leaving that with them. They also heal the wounds they cause, making it, in their opinion, an even exchange.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Better Off Red by Rebekah WeatherspoonBetter Off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Another lesbian vampire book, but with a very different tone. This is an erotica (vampire sorority sisters!) I did have some issues with the plot, but overall this is a really fun, sexy story that manages to convincingly have vampires with consensual relationships.

Despite the vampire orgies, this ends up having compelling characters. I look forward to reading the next books in the series, especially because focuses on my favourite supporting character, Cleo.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Nonfiction:

Hunger by Roxane GayHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger follows Roxane Gay’s journey with her body, from when she was a kid to her present day, and how the trauma in her life has played out over her body. It talks frankly about her rape as a child and how she has lived with that experience for the rest of her life. It talks about the way our society views fat bodies, how that fatphobia affects her in so many ways. It talks about her disordered eating, the unhealthy relationships she’s had (as well as the healthy ones).

Despite the subject matter, Gay writes in approachable style that feels like she’s having a conversation with you, making this easier to read than I was expecting. She also discussed coming out as bi, and some of her relationships with women. This is dark, sometimes brutal book, but it’s also a masterful one.

Check out my full Lesbrary review.

Of course, this only scratches the surface! Here are a few more on my TBR pile:

In Another Place, Not Here by Dionne Brand  The Heart Does Not Bend by Makeda Silvera  Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Barnett  Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair  Don't Explain by Jewelle Gomez

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole  Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon    Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron  You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin  Homegirls: A Black Feminist Anthology edited by Barbara Smith    The Complete Works of Pat Parker    Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney

If you like what we do here at the Lesbrary, consider supporting the Lesbrary on Patreon! At $2 or more a month, you’re entered to win a queer women book every month! You can also check out the Lesbrary Amazon page for lists of all the sapphic books I recommend.

Danika reviews Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

 

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this one. Initially, I was really excited to pick it up! A black, biromantic, asexual main character in a YA romance? That is definitely not an intersection often explored. I was looking forward to something fun and fairly light, and initially, I thought that was what I was getting. Alice is an adorable main character. She’s still mostly closeted as asexual, but she’s done a lot of thinking about it. She’s developed a Cutie Scale, which basically measures her aesthetic attraction–not just to people, but to all kind of cute things. (Alice is obsessed with cute.)

I loved Feenie–the grouch–immediately. She hates everyone but her boyfriend (Ryan) and Alice. The three of them live together, and form a tight-knit family. Feenie has always been fiercely protective of Alice, including punching a girl in the face in high school who made fun of Alice for being asexual. She’s rough around the edges, but I was invested in their little family. And–initially–I really liked Takumi as well. He almost seemed too perfect (which they flat-out say in text). It was a promising beginning! But… little irritations started to add up.

They didn’t seem major at first. For example, Alice works at the library, but doesn’t seem to care about it or enjoy it that much. She’s constantly off in a corner with Takumi, not working. Her boss also doesn’t like being a librarian. This is a very minor point, but it was puzzling to me: librarianship is a highly competitive field that doesn’t pay well. How would people who are indifferent to it get in and keep these jobs? And then there were some weird class moments, but that’s eventually addressed (Alice keeps saying that she’s poor and her parents are rich, but that’s not really what being poor is. Alice has a safety net, even if it comes with restrictions she doesn’t want. She equates the idea of being cut off from their money as being disowned.)

Her family is also… Well, they seem realistically complicated, but I can see how Alice was constantly stressing about it. She’s the youngest sibling by decades, and everyone seems to be determined to make her decisions for her. Her mother, especially, insists that she has to go to law school or she’s throwing away her future. Every time she does anything that her mother doesn’t approve of, all of her older siblings call and text constantly to criticize her. There is love there, but it had me stressed out just reading about it.

Soon, even the aspects I was enjoying started to fizzle out (or explode). Feenie went from gruff-but-lovable to downright shitty. Feenie and Ryan are engaged, and although the three of them are theoretically a unit, Alice is often the third wheel. Which is fine, until Alice starts going off with Takumi and Feenie goes into a rage over it. Both Feenie and Ryan seem to expect Alice to constantly be available to them, though that’s not equally true of them.

Spoilers follow for the rest of this review, because I have Thoughts.

When Feenie and Alice finally discuss what’s come between them, it turns into Alice calling herself an asshole and saying she’s been selfish, which is… not what I had been seeing. Although they form a shaky truth, it didn’t feel resolved for me. Feenie stopped being a favourite and instead felt like a toxic, possessive relationship.

And speaking of relationships! I was into Takumi at first because, as stated, he seemed pretty much perfect. Which meant the ending gave me whiplash. On reflection, I realized that I felt like there was no middle to the book. Alice and Takumi get closer and closer, without any real conflict between them until the end. They basically seem to already be dating. So it was a shock to me that when Alice finally (finally) actually asks him out, he spouts off the same ignorant things that we’ve already heard from her previous ex. Takumi–who knew Alice was asexual, who had seemed supportive–says that if she really loved him, she would let him have sex with her. Which is appalling to me. Why would you ever want to have sex with someone who didn’t want to be there? I can understand him saying “I don’t think I could give up sex.” But that was terrible to read. I actually found my eyes skimming over his whole speech, because I couldn’t understand why Alice was going through this again, when it had already happened in the beginning of the book. He did later sort of take it back, but to me, the damage was done. I no longer saw it as a happily ever after, because I didn’t like Takumi anymore.

I did read a review of an earlier draft of this book that clarified some things for me. Apparently in earlier drafts, Takumi was not a saint. In fact, he was downright skeezy at points. And that explains why I felt like there was no middle to the book: originally, it was a push and pull between Takumi and Alice, with Takumi pressuring Alice into things she wasn’t comfortable with. Understandably, that was criticized, and most of that was removed, but that puts the ending in context, as well as their lack of conflict in the middle of the book.

I’m disappointed, because I was really enjoying the read for the first 3/4 of the book, even with the minor issues I had with it, but the ending left my unsatisfied. Takumi went from eerily perfect to (in my eyes) irredeemable on a dime. Alice’s relationships with her family–both by birth and chosen–were still strained. It was far from the fluffy, uplifting ending I was expecting, though I know it was supposed to be a HEA.

I know other people really enjoyed this book, and I can see why. But it left me stressed and sad, which I don’t think was the intention.