Rachel Friars reviews Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Content Warnings: abuse, domestic violence, homophobia.

Rachel Friars is a creative writer and academic living in Canada, dividing her time between Ontario and New Brunswick. When she’s not writing short fiction, she’s reading every queer novel she can find. Rachel holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a PhD in nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history.

You can find Rachel on Twitter @MsBookishBeauty or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

Danika reviews Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Papi was a man split in two,
playing a game against himself.

But the problem with that
is that in order to win, you also always lose.

Yahaira and Camino are half-sisters, but they don’t know it. Yahaira lives in New York City with her mother and father, though he goes to the Dominican Republic every summer. She has recently discovered the reason he makes this journey every year and is furious, refusing to speak to him (or let him know what’s wrong). Camino lives in the Dominican Republic and looks forward to her father’s yearly visits, especially since her mother passed away. They are both heartbroken when their father’s plane crashes and he passes away, unaware of their shared grief.

I was immediately interested in the premise of Clap When You Land. I have a big, messy family–we even discovered a long-lost aunt at one point–so I wanted to be able to read about these two characters discovering that they’re family, and figuring out how to assimilate that into their understanding of themselves.

This is my first Acevado book, and I’ve heard amazing things about them. I knew that some of her books are written in verse, but I wasn’t sure if this one was: I ended up listening to it as an audiobook, and I still wasn’t sure when the novel began. I realized that it is written in verse, but it works in spoken format, and sounds natural most of the time. There are also two narrators for the point of view characters, which I appreciated.

I loved the characters: they felt well-rounded and real, and I felt for them. Yahaira is trying to understand her life now that she knows her father has been lying to her. She had turned away from him and the values that he instilled, freezing him out before he got on the plane. She has stopped playing chess, which used to be a big part of their shared lives. She is lost afterwards, struggling to deal with the messy aftermath of death: her mother making funeral arrangements (in the Dominican Republic? In New York?), distant family members showing up at the door when the settlement money is brought up, and her teachers and classmates not knowing how to speak to her. She also has a girlfriend, who lives next door, and they have a very sweet relationship. It’s nice to see an f/f relationship that is already established and comfortable. It has flaws, but is fundamentally a source of comfort and happiness for both of them.

Camino’s everyday life is very different. She wants to be a doctor, and already has experience caring for the sick and dying as an apprentice. She is used to friends her age having children and possibly dying from it, because there isn’t adequate medical supplies and treatment. She goes to a private school paid for by her father, in the hopes of eventually going to the U.S. for university. After he passes, not only is she left orphaned, but she is incredibly vulnerable. Her school asks for tuition she doesn’t have, and she is being recruited into sex work by a man who was once paid by her father to leave her alone. Her options are running out, and she is willing to take a desperate risk to save herself.

Even the side characters are complex and interesting, even if we don’t see a lot of them. Yahaira’s mother and Camino’s aunt are mostly background characters, but we can see how their grief affects them, and the strength that it takes to continue onward and to take care of them as much as they can. This is primarily a story about grief, so it isn’t fast-moving. Instead, we stay with Yahaira and Camino as they try to process, and we sit with that discomfort.

From the premise, I knew that eventually the two half-sisters would have to meet, or at least become aware of each other, and that was the moment I was waiting for. Unfortunately, it came a lot later in than I was hoping for. They aren’t even aware of the other’s existence until the latter half of the book. I was excited to get to that point, but it felt a little bit rushed. I wanted to see the two of them establish a relationship and then see it change and mature. I wanted to see how their lives changed with each other in them.

This is a thoughtful, poignant story about grief, and I can see why Acevado is celebrated as a writer. I didn’t get the resolution I was hoping for from Yahaira and Camino’s relationship, but that’s a personal reaction, and it’s still one I would recommend.

Mo Springer reviews The Dawn of Nia by L. Cherelle

Dawn of Nia by Lauren Cherelle

This review contains minor spoilers.

Nia’s life and self have been shaped by her friendship with her mentor Pat and is grief stricken when she dies. At the funeral, she meets a mysterious woman who turns out to be none other than Pat’s estranged daughter, Deidra. Nia is left feeling confused and betrayed–why did Pat keep this secret from her, when Nia had shared everything? Her life and feelings about Pat are further complicated when she enters a relationship with Deidra. Can they weather this storm of complicated feelings surrounding a woman who was so complicated herself, and let go of past trauma?

Both Nia and Deidra are characters who have been through a lot of trauma and a lot of demons in their pasts. It was interesting to see how they deal with the challenges and obstacles that rose from this baggage. Both of them make good and bad decisions, which helped make the story and their characters more realistic and believable. Sometimes the best people make the worst decisions, and they have to deal with the consequences of that.

You didn’t get to meet Pat, Nia’s dead mentor who was so very close to her, and Deidra’s dead mother, who she was so very distant from. But you get an intimate picture of her character from both women’s perspectives and through them see what a complex person she was. Sometimes people are bad parents, but very good in other roles of life, and you get to see how Deidra and Nia both have to grapple with how each other see someone who has had such a tremendous impact on both their lives.

In L. Cherelle’s Goodreads author page, she describes this book as being about “transformative love”, which is the best way to put it (she would know, being the author). A lot of romance stories focus on the lead up, the rising tension, the hot scenes, and the will-they won’t-they. And there is a lot of that here (with some wonderfully hot scenes), but it doesn’t detract from that transformative love theme. You don’t just get to see two characters grow and develop in separate narratives. Nia and Deidra’s character arcs are tightly wound together.

Another thing I loved about this book was how realistic all the characters were, not just Nia and Deidra. There’s a large ensemble cast of characters and they each get a moment to shine and show their true colors–for better or worse. A lot of the dialogue felt very real and lifelike, as if I was a fly on the wall in the characters’ homes.

With these characters there was also an interesting exploration of sexuality and how labels function for different people. Nia describes herself as 99% of a lesbian, having a very slight attraction to men but not the desire to pursue relationships with them. Deidra describes herself as bisexual, but also later on calls herself a lesbian to indicate her monogamous, long-term relationship with Nia.

Adding more to the realistic theme of the book is how it ends. I won’t give anything away, but the way different story threads are wrapped up felt true to life while still being a satisfactory fiction element. Chapters of your life don’t always end with a bang, but sometimes with just a whisper. You don’t always get a big scene of drama: sometimes you just have a conversation in your living room and leave it at that. Having said that, this book does have some great scenes of big drama, and where it does, it always feels like it fits the characters involved and the tension that has led to that moment.

Overall, this was both an incredibly fun and fulfilling read that I highly recommend.

Danika reviews Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

Zami by Audre Lorde

Images of women flaming like torches adorn and define the borders of my journey, stand like dykes between me and the chaos. It is the images of women, kind and cruel, that lead me home.

Audre Lorde is a name that looms large in lesbian literature, in Black history, and in her legacy in poetry. I have read some of her essays and poems, but I hadn’t before read a long-form work by her. Zami is her autobiography, starting from early childhood and covering up to about her mid-20s. It was interesting to read about this period of her life, because I think some part of me imagined Lorde as appearing fully formed as the imposing figure she became. I’m also used to memoirs, which focus on one aspect of the author’s life, where this explores many subjects, from relationship to her mother, her education, her various jobs and relationships, and growing up as a Black gay woman in the United States in the 40s and 50s. I didn’t realize how early she wrote this: we don’t get to see her as the established poet she became, or as a lesbian activist or leader–instead, this is her journey to get there.

Lorde’s foundation in poetry is definitely visible here. While some passages are matter of fact, others are phrased poetically or even have whole excerpts of poems. I’ll admit that I was a little bit intimidated to pick this one up because of her reputation as both a poet and a theorist. This isn’t a book to speed through: like a poem, it’s packed with so much to pause and consider. Some lines I couldn’t understand, but that’s just the nature of reading poetry.

Lorde’s observations are often timeless or depressingly still timely commentary, while other aspects are firmly rooted in the time period she was coming of age. At some points she seems to have a wild and enviable youth: moving to Mexico on her own just for the love it, entertaining a rotating cast of down-on-their-luck friends piled in a room together, experimenting with drugs and relationships–while the next page will bring something truly horrific. Having to work a bad job as a young person is relateable, but having that job expose you to harmful levels of radiation (Lorde would develop cancer later in life) is not. Trying out polyamory, having endless lesbian processing, relationship miscommunication, that could all have been written yesterday. But having your partner go through shock therapy for her mental illness is very different. It was surreal to see historical events occur casually in her life, such as McCarthyism resulting in the FBI showing up at her door multiple times.

Her crispy hair twinkles in the summer sun as her big proud stomach moved her on down the block while I watched, not caring whether or not she was a poem… I loved her, because she moved like she felt she was somebody special, like she was somebody I’d like to know someday. She moved like how I thought god’s mother must have moved, and my mother, once upon a time, and someday maybe me.

The structure of Zami is a tour through the women that shaped Lorde’s life, from her mother to long-term relationships to brief friendships or conflicts. From the perspective of reviewing for the Lesbrary, it was interesting to see how Lorde’s sexual orientation comes up. This isn’t a “coming out” story–there’s no tearful reveal to her mother, no angst-ridden turmoil over choosing a label–it’s just a gradual exploration of her feelings for women. Her observation about lesbians I found to often be applicable still:

Meeting other lesbians was very difficult, except for the bars which I did not go to because I did not drink. One read The Ladder and the Daughters of Bilitis newsletter and wondered where all the other gay-girls were. Often, just finding out another woman was gay was enough of a reason to attempt a relationship, to attempt some connection in the name of love without first regard to how ill-matched the two of you might really be. Such were the results of loneliness…

That loneliness and confusion about coming out or just beginning relationships with women is, sadly, I think something lesbians and queer women still deal with.

In wonder, but without surprise, I lay finally quiet with my arms around Ginger. So this was what I had been so afraid of not doing properly. How ridiculous and far away those fears seemed now, as if loving were some task outside of myself, rather than simply reaching out and letting my own desire guide me. It was all so simple. I felt so good I smiled into the darkness. Ginger cuddled closer.

Reading about Lorde’s first relationships–intoxicating, all-encompassing, and burning at both ends–was painfully nostalgic. I wanted to reach through the pages and try to reason with her, but only because I want to do the same thing with my own past.

Each one of us had been starved for love for so long that we wanted to believe that love, once found, was all-powerful. We wanted to believe that it could give word to my inchoate pain and rages; that it could enable Muriel to face the world and get a job; that it could free our writings, cure racism, end homophobia and adolescent acne. We were like starving women who come to believe that food will cure all present pains, as well as heal all the deficiency sores of long standing.

Her romantic relationships are not the only women showcased in Zami, though. One person I found interested was a roommate who was dedicated to the feminist cause. Unfortunately, the feminist movement at the time was anti-gay, seeing at as somehow bougie–something only frivolous capitalists did. (Interestingly, since the government at the time seemed to associate with communism.) This roommate had a string of disastrous relationships with men, and Lorde speculates about how she must have felt seeing Lorde’s happy “incorrect” relationship, when she couldn’t make it work in a “correct” relationship. The schisms within “the movement” also strike a chord today:

Every one of the women in our group took for granted, and would have said if asked, that we were all on the side of right. But the nature of that right everyone was presumed to be on the side of was always unnamed.

Of course, the woman that played the biggest role in her early life was her mother. Lorde’s mother is almost a mythic figure in these early chapters–fitting, for how a young child perceives their parents. She commands attention and respect. She is strong, unrelenting, and Lorde would grow up to clash with her–then we see very little of her after Lorde’s teenage years. This makes sense from a real life perspective, but from a story view, I wanted to see more of her. Unsurprisingly, racism plays a major role in this narrative, and we see how Lorde’s parents try to shield her from it. When white people in the street spit on 4-year-old Audre’s jacket, her mother wipes it off (keeping a handkerchief for this purpose) and chides people for carelessly spitting on the street and missing. When Audre asks to eat in the dining car, her parents say it’s too expensive–never mentioning that it was illegal for them as a Black family to each there. Of course, they can’t protect Lorde from the everyday racism of growing up Black in the 40s and 50s, but it did confuse her about the source of these common indignities. As a child, she internalized her ill treatment by others as something wrong with her personally, having no words for racism.

Once we talked about how Black women had been committed without choice to waging our campaigns in the enemies’ strongholds, too much and too often, and how our psychic landscapes had been plundered and wearied by those repeated battles and campaigns.

It wasn’t until Lorde grew up, as a teenager and young adult, that she began to really understand how she was treated differently as a Black woman. She dreams of going to Mexico, working grueling, mind-numbing jobs to save up the money. Once there, she revels in being able to look around and be surrounded by Brown faces, by people who were friendly and curious about her instead of hostile.

Lorde faces the intersecting oppressions of being Black, gay, and a woman, finding very few people who can relate: she explains that most Black lesbians were closeted. Being a Black woman was a difficult enough hand to play, and most say being Black, gay, female, and out as suicidal. In lesbian circles, her Blackness is erased. Her white girlfriend is confident that being gay is the same as being Black: they’re both outsiders. Lorde can’t find the words or strength to fight her on this. The book ends with a sexual encounter with another out Black lesbian, and although it is a brief relationship, it’s a sigh of relief to see her find a connection where she doesn’t have to explain or hide any aspect of herself.

I remember how being young and Black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.

There were no mothers, no sisters, no heroes. We had to do it alone, like our sister Amazons, the riders on the loneliest outposts of the kingdom of Dahomey. We, young and Black and fine and gay, sweated out our first heartbreaks with no school nor office chums to share that confidence over lunch hour. Just as there were no rings to make tangible the reason for our happy secret smiles, there were no names nor reason given or shared for the tears that messed up the lab reports or the library bills.

We were good listeners, and never asked for double dates, but didn’t we know the rules? Why did we always seems to think friendships between women were important enough to care about? Always we moved in a necessary remoteness that made “What did you do this weekend?” seem like an impertinent question. We discovered and explored our attention to women alone, sometimes in secret, sometimes in defiance, sometimes in little pockets that almost touched (“Why are those little Black girls always either whispering together or fighting?”) but always alone, against a greater aloneness. We did it cold turkey, and although it resulted in some pretty imaginative tough women when we survived, too many of us did not survive at all.

Zami is not an easy read. Lorde goes through some horrific things, including an unsafe illegal abortion. Trigger warnings for pedophilia, an incest fantasy, self-mutilation, racism, and homophobia.

It’s also a book that asks to be read slowly and thoughtfully. I feel like I’ve just skimmed the surface of it. Don’t expect this to be Audre Lorde’s full story–it’s more like the prologue to the woman we remember her as today.

I also wanted to shout out Autostraddle’s 2020 feature, the Year of Our (Audre) Lorde, where every month, Jehan examines one of Lorde’s essays or poems and discussed how it is relevant today for queer and trans people of colour. I highly recommend it.

I look forward to reading more of Lorde’s work, especially her poetry, though I now know to be prepared for some slow reading, leaving lots of time for contemplation. Have you read any of Audre Lorde’s books? What did you think of them?

Maggie reviews Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon

In these trying times, the romance stories I am drawn to most right now involve two characters taking one look at each other and going “Oh.” Enemies to lovers or any variation thereof has its place, and is a trope I do enjoy, but right now what I want is two characters just being into each other. Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon fulfills that need. It’s a cute rich girl/working girl novella featuring two black characters, one of whom is a stripper and the other of whom is still trying to get a feel for her own sexuality and style.

Alexis Chambers is a freshmen in college who is trying to figure out her identity amongst family expectations and the pressures of going off to college. Trisha “Treasure” Hamilton strips nights to make money and is going to school so she has a good career after she’s done with dancing. They first notice each other during Alexis’s sister’s bachelorette party at the club where Trisha works, and then later they find out they have a class together. The connection between them is almost instantaneous, although Alexis is shy, leaving Trisha to make the first moves. Although they come from different backgrounds, and each has their own family issues, their instant attraction is undeniable. CONTENT WARNING: There is talk of a suicide attempt in Alexis’s past. It is talked about, but there’s no graphic flashbacks or descriptions.

What I liked most about this book is how sweet they both are towards each other. Alexis is head over heels about Trisha but suffering from low self-confidence. Trisha is besotted with Alexis but dealing with her own baggage. But their sheer attraction to each other makes every milestone–from holding hands to having sex–both supercharged and incredibly sweet. It’s adorable and every page made me so happy. I also love that they are both aware of their own and each other’s issues but are determined not to push or make the other feel uncomfortable. I also love how chill Alexis is about Trisha’s stripping. It’s refreshing because it feels so natural to Alexis and Trisha is so charmed by it. It’s just good to read about characters who are unambiguously into each other.

My only complaint is that the climax felt a little contrived. It’s the most obvious roadblock to introduce to their relationship, but to introduce it, there’s a very contrived appearance by a minor character. It all felt very “well they need to have at least one (1) problem.” But honestly that’s not a terrible problem for a romance to have, and, obviously, they make up very quickly.

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!

Let’s Talk About Racism in Lesbian Publishing

Racism in Lesbian Publishing

As we continue to have an international conversation about anti-blackness and systemic racism, it becomes more and more obvious how racism exists in every industry, and needs to be rooted out and addressed. Recently, KD Williamson, a Black f/f romance author, brought this discussion to the forefront in lesfic.

[Edited to add: of course, Black authors have been speaking out about this for years:]

First of all, what exactly is “lesfic”? It’s an abbreviation for “lesbian fiction,” but it’s usually used to mean a certain kind of lesbian fiction. It’s almost always f/f romance, and it’s usually published by a lesbian publisher (like Bold Strokes Books, Bella Books, or Ylva Publishing). Although I obviously read a lot of queer women lit, I’ve never been very involved in the “lesfic” world, so take these opinions with a grain of salt, but this is what I’ve observed. Lesfic seems to be a pretty insular environment. Authors are almost entirely white, middle-aged women–at least, the ones who get the most press are. It’s also specifically lesbian. Although there is the occasional bi woman character, that’s only when they’re in a f/f relationship, and even that is pretty rare.

GCLS is the Golden Crown Literary Society, an organization that promotes lesbian literature. It began in 2004, and began giving out awards and holding annual conferences in 2005. It’s this annual conference that began the conversation on twitter. KD Williamson pointed out that the conference’s invited authors are overwhelmingly white. This is not new, but it’s particularly troubling because this year’s event–due to COVID-19–was held entirely online. Because no one had to travel to participate, it offered an opportunity to reach out to a more diverse selection of authors. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

https://twitter.com/DataLover916/status/1274473759676588032

KD Williamson also pointed out that her complaints are about the homogeneity of lesfic as a whole: not just the lack of Black authors, editors, etc represented, but of people of colour in general, of bisexual people, of trans people.

Other authors began to join in that they, too, have experienced feeling unwelcome at GCLS. Amanda Radley wrote about how last year she had asked GCLS to change its naming conventions to be more accepting of bisexual and other non-lesbian queer authors. In response, GCLS changed the language to “lesbian-themed” instead of lesbian (??), but rejected the motion to include “bisexual” or any other labels.

One Black author mentioned feeling unsafe at lesfic conferences because she found that some white authors there wouldn’t even speak to Black authors. Stephanie Andrea Allen spoke about trying to reform the GCLS awards process from the inside, and realizing that it was going nowhere, and wasn’t worth the energy:

Many authors talked about how they had quietly walked away from GCLS and not bothered to even submit their books for awards, because they knew they wouldn’t be chosen. Rebekah Weatherspoon spoke about how being used as a token women of colour made for painful lesfic conference experiences:

This isn’t isolated to GCLS, however. It’s a systemic problem–in publishing in general, but also in lesfic in particular. Publishers and event organizers to drastically change to address this. Here’s what I suggest they do to get started:

1) You can’t fix a problem until you’ve identified it. Do you have data on your organization?

  • What percentage of the people at your organization/business are white?
  • What about the authors you publish?
  • If you don’t know, start from there. Do an internal audit.

2) Do those numbers reflect the greater population?

  • But also keep in mind that you are speaking to a global audience.

3) What are your internal policies around antiracism?

  • What concrete policies do you have to make a safe working environment for people of color?
  • Kay Acker added: “If anti-racism policies are in place, what are the concrete plans for enforcement? Are the expectations and steps in the process clear? Who has to report issues, and how are the reporters protected?”
  • Do you require antiracism training for your employees?
  • For editors and employees who work closely with authors, what policies do you have around their interactions with authors, especially authors of color?

4) If your organization is disproportionately white, what strategies will you use to fix that?

  • What goals do you have, and what’s your plan to get there?
  • How can you reach out to potential employees of color?
  • Do you have an internship program? Is it paid?
  • Where do you advertise job openings?
  • Do you have a mentorship program?
  • If you don’t know how to find employees of color–do the research. Hire someone to figure it out.
  • Tara Scott added: “what will you do to bring Black women and other WOC into editing and acquiring books? When your white authors are writing BIPOC characters, will you pay sensitivity readers to ensure the books aren’t full of microaggressions?”

5) For publishers:

  • What percentage of the books you publish each year are by authors of color?
  • What is your goal? What’s your plan to get there?
  • What does your contract look like?
  • Do you rely on agents to find new authors?
  • How might these be barriers to acquiring authors of color?
  • Are your rates competitive?
  • How can you make your company more welcoming and safe for authors of color?
  • Are the people that the authors work closely with people of color?
  • Heather Rose Jones added: “When an author is looking for potential publishers for their work, they look to see who and what that publisher is already publishing. Publishers can’t just passively say, “why don’t POC submit to us?” if they don’t look interested.”
    • This is something LGBTQ publishers should be aware of! Perceived hostility by general publishers is probably how you got started!

6) For event organizers:

  • What percentage of the authors at your events are people of color?
  • What is your goal? What’s your plan to get there?
  • Do you pay authors?
  • Do you pay for their transportation costs and accommodations?
  • What barriers might exist for authors of color?
  • How will you fix them?

7) While you are doing this work, consider other intersectionalities: most of these same questions should be asked for disabled people and trans people as well.

To be clear: I can only speak from my own perspective, and I’m white, so I will have oversights. Please add anything I’ve missed! The Lesbrary has a long way to go, too. I only recently added a max percentage of white authors to cover as a reviewer, and I need to diversify my own reading more, and reach out to more reviewers of colour. I commit to keep doing this work.

After I posted this on twitter, Bywater Books reached out to me to discuss their new imprint, Amble Press, which is run by an author of colour and was started to acquire more authors of colour (while continuing to add authors of colour to Bywater Books as well).

[Edited to add: The imprint was also started for male and non-binary authors, however, and it looks like so far only one of the three authors they have signed on is a person of colour, though the imprint is new and still revolving. KD Williamson also points out that separate imprints for authors of color is not what they’re asking for:]

This isn’t a particularly organized post, because the situation is still evolving, but I wanted to put it out there as an introduction into the conversation, especially if you’re not on twitter.

Finally, if you’re looking for Black f/f authors, here are some of the names that came up during this conversation!

As well as the organizations Black Lesbian Literary Collective and Sistahs on the Shelf.

At the Lesbrary, you can also check out:

While you’re here, check out the Black Lives Matter carrd for petitions to sign, places to donate, resources to educate yourself, and more. Also, support Black LGBTQ authors and Black-owned bookstores.

10 Poetry Collections by Black Queer Women

Poetry has always been an artistic expression. From declarations of love to contemplating the meaning of life, poetry has a way of putting the human experience into words. It’s also an effective way to take a political stance or spark compassion for others’ cultures and ways of life. Here are 10 poetry collections that delve into the experience of Black bisexual, lesbian, and queer writers.

How to Get Over by T'ai Freedom FordHow to Get Over by T’ai Freedom Ford

Ford’s debut collection of poems reads like a lyrical train of thought. Jumping from one piece to the next, each poem holds a life of its own but remains connected to the collection’s overall narrative. Ford’s writing has a melodic sense that will make you stop and listen, not just read the words on the page.

 

 

Crossfire by Staceyann ChinCrossfire: A Litany for Survival by Staceyann Chin

Full of feminist rage, Chin’s collection of poetry Crossfire is aptly named. It brings forth the activist’s voice, full of power, anger, and sass, the very qualities for which the white patriarchy condemns black women. Chin and her work are the definition of noncompliance. Her poetry raises her voice with no apologies for justified anger.

 

 

The Works of Alice Dunbar Nelson by Alice Dunbar NelsonThe Works of Alice Dunbar Nelson by Alice Dunbar Nelson

Nelson was among the first generation born free in the South after the Civil War. Born in New Orleans, Nelson became a prolific poet that influenced the blossoming of the Harlem Renaissance. The Works of Alice Dunbar combine poetry, novellas, and autobiographical stories, giving one point of view of Black women’s lives during her time.

 

June Jordan's Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint by June JordanJune Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint by June Jordan

The Caribbean-American Jordan inspires poets and readers far and wide to this day. Her program Poetry for the People was highly innovative and successful, inspired by her work as a teacher. This poetry collection is a combination of poems for the people who took her class and by the people who participated.

 

American Dreams by SapphireAmerican Dreams by Sapphire

Mixing poetry and prose, Sapphire creates a collection of poems that are at once a lesson on sensuality and allusions to prophecy. No matter what topic she takes on in her work, she does so with brutal honesty. Born to the name Ramona Lofton, Sapphire took on her pen name after becoming entrenched in poetry in New York City in the late 70s.

 

 

Inventory by Dionne BrandInventory by Dionne Brand

Inventory isn’t so much a collection of poems as it is one long story written as a poem. This long-form poem turned story takes stock of the ongoing violence that comes from upheavals and wars within a community’s own streets. It makes an account of the horror that has become commonplace and no longer holds the sensation it once did.

 

 

Living as a Lesbian by Cheryl ClarkeLiving as a Lesbian: Poetry by Cheryl Clarke

Clark’s work pays tribute to the very subject in the title. Her work ranges from jazz music to her childhood in Washington, D.C. to singing the blues. This collection of poems is filled with rhythmic and lyrical lines that convey Clark’s adept hand at poetry. It’s intimate and personal and yet universal in its themes.

 

 

The Complete Works of Pat ParkerThe Complete Works of Pat Parker by Pat Parker

This poetry collection compiles all of Parker’s pieces from two complete books of poetry and three chapbooks, plus other previously unpublished work. Parker’s work as a Black lesbian feminist poet has influenced and inspired others across generations. Her poems have had such a lasting influence, that even artist Solange has paid homage to her in her music.

 

Proxy by R. Erica DoyleProxy by R. Erica Doyle

This collection tells the story of an unrequited love through prose poetry. Doyle’s poems tell the story of love as landscape. It traverses the likes of New York City, the Caribbean, and North Africa. In a collection of poems that tells all by proxy, nothing is as it seems. There are always countless layers to each piece.

 

 

Head Off & Split by Nikky FinneyHead Off & Split by Nikky Finney

Finney’s work examines Black life through various lenses, including the real and surreal. Her work focuses on studies on Rosa Parks and civil rights marches to a closer look at former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Political and personal, Finney’s work is intimate and exacting.

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.