Lesbians in Space: Cosmoknights, Vol. 1 by Hannah Templer

the cover of Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer

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In this queer space adventure, our main character Pan has grown up alongside her best friend Tara, a princess who is soon to be married off to the winner of the interplanetary jousting game that’s about to take place in their town. Tara can’t stand the thought of accepting her fate and allowing herself to become “claimed”. So, with Pan’s help, she escapes. A few years later, two strangers appear at the door of Pan’s family home, injured and needing medical attention. When Pan discovers that these two women are undercover Cosmoknights who win tournaments and help the princesses escape the patriarchal system they’re being forced into, our main character realizes that this is her chance to get off her planet, discover what the world has to offer outside of her father’s mechanic shop, and maybe… find her best friend again.

This graphic novel is, first and foremost, absolutely stunning. The art style is really wonderful and Templer does an incredible job with colour. I took pictures of multiple panels because I was so in awe of the cosmic landscapes, the character designs, the colour schemes. Before even getting into the story itself, the book is worth opening simply for the sake of appreciating the beauty that is within its pages. It without a doubt reignited a love for graphic novels within me and reminded me just how powerful of an effect amazing art can have on a person’s state of mind and emotions.

Regarding the story itself, I really did enjoy the premise. I think it’s unique, it fits well within the sci-fi setting while still feeling contemporary and relatable. Even though it’s a quick read, each of the characters felt well-developed, including the ones that were in the story only for a short amount of time. I think the friendship (*cough* unspoken romance *cough*) between Pan and Tara was incredibly sweet. We only got a short snippet of them together at the beginning of the story and a few moments of sapphic yearning later on, and it was still enough to get me to root for them so intensely.

Of course, the queer found family aspect of this is also great. Cass and Bee as mentors or parental figures for Pan is so effective. Pan does seem to have a decent relationship with her actual parents, but you can tell that the way that she feels and acts around them is a quieter version of who she actually is. Although they aren’t bad parents per se, they do inherently force her to exist and live within a society that punishes her for trying to save her friend, that belittles her, that disrespects her, and it all clearly takes a toll on her—which is exactly why creating that parallel relationship between her and Cass and Bee was so powerful. Your parents not actively harming you isn’t necessarily enough. Having a support system that really allows you to grow and stand up for yourself is so important, especially for young people who are already struggling to understand who they are and to assert themselves within the world. Cass and Bee taking Pan under their wing and allowing her to participate in the dismantling of the Cosmiknights system while simultaneously exploring the world and maybe finding her purpose is such a beautiful representation of what found family actually means, especially to queer people.

But by far, my absolute favourite part of this book was the butch representation. Cass as a butch lesbian was phenomenal, both in character design and for her role within the story. If you know me then you know I adore a beefy butch lesbian. The fact that she is genuinely muscular and not simply toned is so wonderful. She’s tall and broad-shouldered, she dresses in a very masculine way, she’s strong and puts up a real fight for the other Cosmoknights—which is incredibly satisfying to witness. She has that smirk and that charm and that slight cockiness that makes me weak in the knees, and there is not a single thing about her that exists to placate her masculinity. Of course, people can exist within whatever bounds of femininity and masculinity they want to, and gender expression is something so personal to every single individual. But there is a habit, in media and art as a whole, to “feminize” butch lesbians so as to not make them “too masculine”. It is so refreshing to come across a character that embraces her masculinity, that loves the way that she is, that proudly rejects the femininity that was forced upon her—not because she looks down upon feminine traits, but simply because it is not who she is, and she will not let anyone take her masculinity away from her.

The other great thing about Cass is that Templer uses her character to perfectly exemplify butchness as being a protector. It is more than just dressing a certain way or keeping your hair short: butches hold an actual role in butch/femme communities and history, and I think it is so beautifully showcased in this story. I loved her not just as a character but as a representation of all the butches I’ve known and loved.

Her relationship with Bee is also fantastic. Bee is sort of the brains behind their operation; she’s incredibly cunning and does a lot of the planning and strategizing. She’s very tech savvy and she supports Cass in the battlefield a ton. Their relationship is so heartwarming and works so well as a whole. They balance each other out perfectly and every panel where you see them simply holding hands made my heart instantly melt.

I am so excited to pick up the second volume for this and I cannot wait to see how their story continues. If you’re a fan of graphic novels or sci-fi stories, or taking down the patriarchy, or pretty colours, or lesbians, then I wholeheartedly recommend this to you.

Representation: sapphic MC, lesbian couple, butch lesbian, Black lesbian

Content warnings: blood, violence, injury, misogyny, sexism

The Joy of Demolishing Your Life: Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail by Ashley Herring Blake

the cover of Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail

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I read Delilah Green Doesn’t Care almost two years ago and loved it—especially the dynamic between Delilah and Astrid—so I couldn’t tell you why I took this long to read the next book in the series. I still find Astrid to be a fascinating character, the sex scenes were just as steamy, and I still really enjoy this group of characters… but it didn’t have quite the same magic for me this time around. There were elements I really enjoyed, but I felt some distance from the story.

We start this story with a meet-disaster between Astrid and Jordan. Astrid’s business is failing—which is even more stressful with her hyper-critical mother always looking over her shoulder—and this opportunity to renovate the Everwood Inn for the popular TV show Innside America could be her last chance to turn things around. Since she left her fiancé last year, she needs a win. Jordan is also in a tumultuous time in her life, trying to come back from a low point where she may have almost started a fire out of rage at her worksite. Whoops. Now she’s back in her hometown to help with the reno of her grandmother’s inn. Astrid and Jordan both need this to go well. But instead, their first encounter is Jordan accidentally running into Astrid, spilling coffee all over her very expensive white dress, and Astrid cursing her out in a cutting speech that could have come straight from her mother’s mouth. When they meet again at the inn and realize they’re working together, they immediately square off—which makes for great TV. But then that spark turns into a different kind of heat.

The most interesting part of this book for me was Astrid, who I was also intrigued by in the first book of the series. She is a case study in upholding expectations, designing her whole life to be the kind of person her mother wants her to be. Even after she walks away from the prospective of a perfect-on-paper (and awful in real life) marriage, she just turns her attention into trying to have a perfect career in interior design, without ever considering whether this is even something she wants to be doing.

I feel a kind of sociological fascination in this because it’s so different from my own experiences. I’m the kind of person who’s much more likely to reflexively refuse to do something when I’ve been told to, even when it makes sense and would benefit me, versus reflexively going along with what I’ve been told. I always like getting the chance to be in the head of someone who thinks differently than I do, and I appreciated seeing Astrid’s hard-won journey to living for herself instead of her mother.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, for some reason I just couldn’t get into this book like I did Delilah Green. It also had a couple of tropes that irritate me, even though they’re very minor. (Spoilers, highlight to read.) The first one is when a woman says “I haven’t orgasmed from sex before” and their partner immediately says they will make them orgasm. I could go on a whole rant about this, but I’ll just say that you’re placing way too much pressure on your partner to orgasm just to make you happy, which is more likely to backfire. The other minor trope I bristled against was Jordan mourning her relationship for so long and then suddenly realizing that actually that relationship was terrible the whole time and it was good that it ended. I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I see it more than I’d like in romance novels. I don’t know that I’ve read any romances where a previous relationship actually was good unless that previous partner died. In real life, relationships end for all kinds of valid reasons that aren’t “this was always bad and never should have happened”! (End of spoilers.)

Those are minor points I probably wouldn’t have thought of for more than a few seconds if I had otherwise been absorbed in the story, though. I can’t say what it is that didn’t work for me here, so I’m going to chalk it up to being a problem with me, not the book. I’m still going to read book three, because it follows my favourite character of the friend group. Hopefully, I’ll like it as much as I did Delilah Green!

A Holiday Romance with Depth: Season of Love by Helena Greer

the cover of Season of Love

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Every year, I intend to read a bunch of queer holiday romances in December, but I don’t usually follow through with it. The holiday romances that I have read were often flops, which doesn’t help. This year, I gathered together my collection of sapphic holiday romance novels and sampled each one. I ended up picking Season of Love because I clicked with the first few pages the most, and I’m so glad I did.

When I think of holiday romances, I think fluff. So I was a little trepidatious about diving into this one, because it is not the lightest of romance reads: it’s fundamentally a story about grief, trauma, and the damage that comes with it. Even the romance starts with a lot of tension: despite being immediately attracted to each other, Miriam and Noelle immediately bump heads, to the point where Miriam thinks Noelle hates her—which isn’t entirely inaccurate, at first.

Even when they are able to get past that initial tension, Miriam and Noelle do run into (believable) road blocks in their relationship. Their trauma has resulted in them having clashing instincts, like Miriam wanting to run at the first sign of danger, and Noelle fearing abandonment. They have to work to overcome that—but they are also compatible and have a lot of chemistry, so it felt worth it.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this tension and darkness just added depth to this holiday love story, though. Maybe that’s why I was having such bad luck picking up Christmas romances: I actually don’t need it to be all fluff to enjoy it.

Season of Love also has an interesting contrast in its setting: the Christmas tree farm that Miriam, Noelle, and Miriam’s cousins inherit is a Christmas wonderland of over-the-top decorations, just outside the town of Advent. It’s dripping in Christmas charm. But it’s run by a Jewish family (Miriam is Jewish), which adds more depth to the setting and doesn’t let it become too cloyingly Christmas.

Another aspect I loved about this story is right there on the front cover: Noelle is a fat butch woman who Miriam is incredibly attracted to. Despite reading a lot of lesbian and sapphic books, I still don’t see fat butch women celebrated as love interests very often.

That leads me to my only, very minor, complaint: this is a closed door romance, which normally I don’t mind, but we spent so long hearing about the sexual tension between them that I was a little disappointed to have it resolve in a fade to black scene, especially because fat butches have so little representation in romance and erotica.

I’m really glad I read this over the holidays, and as long as you’re up for a holiday romance that isn’t pure fluff, I highly recommend it.

Swashbuckling, Time Travel, and Sapphic Romance: Isle of Broken Years by Jane Fletcher

the cover of Isle of Broken Years

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The first thing I have to say about Isle of Broken Years is that I didn’t want it to end, and it’s been a while since I felt that way about a book. The second thing you should know is that this isn’t just a book about pirates, though the cover and description, if not carefully read, may lead you to believe that’s where you’re headed. To be fair, we do begin the adventure with lots of swashbuckling and a bit of kidnapping, but this book is really more of a time travel story with lots of unexpected surprises. If Lost, Gideon the Ninth, and Their Flag Means Death had a weird little baby, it might be Isle of Broken Years.

Our main characters are Catalina de Valasco, a Spanish noblewoman being married off by her family and en route to her betrothed by way of galleon; and Sam Helyer, the cabin boy of a privateer ship intercepting said galleon. Sam, as it turns out, is not a cabin boy at all. The beginning starts off strong, with lots of action, a battle at sea, a little hostage taking (as a treat) and some getting to know our main characters. Content warning: there’s a lot of talk/threat of potential sexual assault in the beginning pages—it doesn’t happen, but it drives the opening of the book as Sam is trying to keep Catalina safe from the other sailors.

Just when you’re comfortably settled into your colonial era pirate world, the book makes a major shift. Sam and Catalina end up stranded on an island that’s not at all what it seems, and meet up with a group of other survivors previously stranded there. The diverse cast of characters and their interaction is one of the really fun aspects of the book, as they share vast cultural differences, and sometimes struggle to communicate from language barriers. While a lot of this is comedic, there are also some serious discussions involving slavery and human rights. Meanwhile, Catalina and Sam are at odds with each other, as the former has no love for pirates and thinks they all should hang—fair, considering how the book kicked off. Catalina and Sam eventually have to learn to work together, and a fun little romantic arc unfolds as well.

This book checks all the boxes: pirates, aliens, murder, creepy islands, betrayal, comedy, time travel, mystery, and yea, a lil bit of kissing. It’s a fun ride, but has a number of serious moments including struggles with identity and sexuality. My main complaint is that it wasn’t longer. There were a number of places that Fletcher could have expanded the narrative, including some of the side characters’ back stories, and even the romantic element between Catalina and Sam. But I guess it’s always better to be left wanting more!

Content warning: mention of past sexual assault, threat of sexual assault

A Fraught, Erotic Fever Dream: Mrs. S by K. Patrick

the cover of Mrs S.

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Every so often I read a novel that just has the perfect summer energy about it—and even though I read a review copy of Mrs. S by K. Patrick (Europa Editions, 2023) in the spring, I was thinking of summer the entire time. Perfect for fans of novelists like Emma Cline, Mona Awad, or Leon Craig, Mrs. S is an unforgettable novel. 

This novel is the kind of fascinating, character-driven historical fiction I’m drawn to. Set at an English boarding school sometime in the second half of the twentieth century (the timeline isn’t clear), an unnamed narrator arrives under the position of matron at the school. As butch lesbian from Australia, our narrator feels like an outsider in more ways than one. That is, until she meets Mrs. S, the headmaster’s alluring and captivating wife. At first, Mrs. S seems to be the narrator’s opposite in many ways—primarily through her self-assuredness and her carefully performed femininity—but as the summer wears on and the two women grow closer together, the narrator comes to realize that the two have far more in common than she thinks. 

A lesbian affair conducted in secret at a British boarding school? There is no novel I would rather read. Plus, a butch lesbian protagonist is a refreshing perspective. I read Mrs. S in one sitting, and it was exactly the kind of fraught, erotic, fever dream novel I hoped it would be. I loved the narrator’s insular personality and her struggles with her queerness were issues I could both sympathize and identify with. Although this novel is framed as the narrative of an affair, it is really more about the narrator and her thoughts, feelings, and journey to come to terms with who she is—a journey that isn’t close to complete by the novel’s end. 

The narrator’s relationship with Mrs. S has the kind of chaotic, fated, anxiety-inducing intensity that I hoped for. Mrs. S has an untouchable, unknowable air about her that always keeps the narrator (and us) on the outside, even when she appears to let us in. Nevertheless, we fall in love(?) with her alongside the narrator, and the second half of the novel seems to hurtle toward the end. While it seemed to take a long time to get to any kind of movement in the plot between these two characters, I now think that that’s a result of this novel really being about the protagonist’s trying to find a place in the world. 

Speaking of places, the boarding school setting is so fabulous, and there’s a reason why queer authors return again and again to the idea of a girls’ boarding school, a place that supposed inculcate “proper” heterosexist codes of femininity and often ends up complicating them instead. Mrs. S’s status as the headmaster’s wife further undermines the “power” of the boarding school as an institution and I think there’s so much to be said about the usefulness of this setting for Patrick. The atmosphere of this novel—contributed to by Patrick’s sensual descriptions—is part of what kept me reading. 

I highly recommend Mrs. S as your queer novel of the summer! 

Please add Mrs. S to your TBR on Goodreads and follow K. Patrick on Twitter

Rachel Friars is a 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 lesbian 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 @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

Nat reviews Pack of Her Own by Elena Abbott

the cover of Pack of Her Own

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I picked up this li’l werewolf book off of a Twitter recommendation – vampires, ghouls, shifters – I expected something of a campy read. Who knew we would be exploring identity, found family, and processing trauma from various angles? If you plopped down a literary fiction tome and told me that we’d be dealing with complex themes like those, I’d say no thank you, I’ve read the news this week and I’m already a bit depressed. But give me some vampires, a full moon, and a happily ever after and that is the spoon full of sugar I need to tackle these issues. 

Natalie Donovan is a young, transgender woman with a traumatic past – she’s looking for a fresh start, or at least to begin to heal from a lifetime of abuse, both physical and emotional. Wren Carne (yep, Carne) is a werewolf living in a small town of paranormal misfits, her dark past only a few counties away – she’s also had to escape an abusive situation because of her true nature; she’s an Alpha wolf who ought to be on the path to forming her own pack. 

There’s quite a bit of trauma processing in this book between our two main characters, though Wren has already had some time and space to rebuild her life. At times Natalie’s point of view can really be heart wrenching because you’re watching in real time as her thoughts sometimes spiral with insecurity and feelings of worthlessness, or of being a burden to her friends. She believes she’s incapable of being loved, thanks in part to her abusive ex and her trashcan parents. Most of these issues are tied to her trans identity. 

Let’s take a moment to talk about were-books with romantic leanings. I’m certainly no expert on them and haven’t read them extensively, but there often seems to be a power dynamic, the Alpha/Omega, dominant/submissive relationship between the love interests. This dynamic exists in some form in the book, though the problematic bits of such relationships are called out, especially the issue of consent. Wren is fleeing what is essentially a toxic, cult-like situation built on abuse of power and fear – she believes this is how all packs operate, and vows to never have one of her own. (The story also has the fated mate trope, which involves an inexplicable, magical sort of connection between our main characters.)

Our main characters have so much in common and a lot of the book explores those commonalities, even though the circumstances in their lives are quite different. Both are harboring secrets that they think stand in the way of their happiness; both have suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to protect and support them. 

Pack of Her Own isn’t perfect, and there are a handful of inconsistencies that distracted me from time to time, little moments where one fact contradicted another. Also, for me, the ending felt a bit rushed; what I thought should be the epilogue was just a last chapter, so there’s a time jump and suddenly everything is great for Natalie and her new life, in a way that doesn’t jive with the tone and pace of the rest of the book. One of the last core scenes of the book is really intense, and could have used a smoother transition to prevent whiplash. But! The pros outweigh the cons by far. There’s big series potential here, so I’m curious to see where it goes!  

Trigger warnings: depictions of past physical abuse, emotional abuse/manipulation, gaslighting, assault

Nat reviews Tailor-Made by Yolanda Wallace

Tailor-Made by Yolanda Wallace

I went looking for one of Wallace’s newer books at the library and, to my delight, stumbled on a few of her older books, which is always a nice surprise when you find a new author you like. Instant book list! Tailor-Made is an opposites attract, forbidden love romance with a lot of interesting dialogue on gender and bias, which while sometimes clumsily explored, shows good intention. 

Grace Henderson is a tailor working for her father, and set to take over the family business when he retires. Grace is a daddy’s girl, and still lives at home with her family, including her two sisters. It’s a full house with not a lot of privacy. Grace is out to her family, and while they’re church-going folks who care about their standing in the community, and who lean on the conservative side, they’re supportive in a conditional sort of way. As long as Grace is dating “respectable,” feminine women, they really don’t care about her sexuality. 

Enter Dakota Lane, bad boi lesbian and famous men’s clothing model. She’s butch, white, and always in the tabloids with a new woman. When Dakota and Grace have instant chemistry during a suit fitting, they try and fail to stay away from each other. Grace struggles with her undeniable attraction to a masculine woman and repeatedly tells herself Dakota is “not her type,” as her childhood posters of Janet Jackson prove. 

Gender presentation is a really important theme in the book, though there are some awkward moments during the exploration. One of these speed bump moments is courtesy of Dad, who is maybe a little out of touch in that boomer sort of way. There’s a moment near the beginning of the book that gave me pause, with Dad describing a new, transgender client as “a woman who used to be a man,” and it took a few more pages to confirm this was Dad’s voice and a tool to introduce the topic of gender identity, rather than a direct reflection of the author. A few more pages clears this up nicely, but I did tilt my head and brace for the worst. Grace realizes she has something to learn about the transgender community, pronoun use, and her unconscious bias toward masc of center women. This leads to some exploration of what it means to be visibly queer vs passing, and a well-placed, very real and uncomfortable scene where Dakota goes through an airport scanner and is misgendered. 

There are some issues and tension with one of Grace’s sisters that largely remain unresolved, not a huge deal as far as loose ends go as the sister wasn’t a main part of the plot, but she did introduce a healthy amount of negativity and resentment toward Grace. I think one of my larger disappointments came with how Grace handled her budding relationship with Dakota, which was filled with miscommunication. After a pep talk from her other, more supportive sister about not letting your parents dictate your decisions and life, she still didn’t really make the decision to embark on her independence both in terms of her career and romantic relationship without daddy’s approval. That irked me a little bit, even though things worked out for her—of course, it is a romance—I was really rooting for her to reach a point where she didn’t need her father’s acceptance to move forward. 

There could have also been a touch more groveling at the end after Grace and Dakota part ways in our third act conflict. Poor Dakota was way more forgiving than warranted considering how things go down (though that is a frequent complaint of mine in a lot of recent contemporary romances). Girl, make her work for it! Wallace’s Tailor-Made may not be the bespoke suit of romance novels, but it’s certainly a fun read to add to your list. 

Sapphic Novellas To Read In November (Or Any Time!)

You won’t catch me trying to write any novellas this November (respect for anyone who tries to write 50,000 words in a month, it’s just not in my plans any time soon), but I did read a few! To my mind, novellas occupy a challenging space when it comes to fiction. They need to be so much more tightly focused than a novel, and when done poorly they can feel anemic by comparison. On the other hand, novellas have vastly more space to breathe and play than a short story ever could; when done well, they’re like a satisfying main course next to a short story’s minimalist appetizer. The following novellas ran the spectrum in my opinion, though I think there’s something worthwhile in each of them for readers and writers of novellas alike.

Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry

Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry is a very loose retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in mid-2000’s rural Texas. It is also absolutely brutal to read. The underworld here is a conversion therapy camp that lesbian teenagers Raya and Sarah are sent to after their relationship is discovered. Raya is bent on saving Sarah and leading them out of there, but the things they are forced to endure are not easy to stomach, especially with the knowledge that this sort of thing still happens today. Of the novellas I read this month, Orpheus Girl is the only one that I felt had more words to play with than was strictly necessary, and could afford to spend them luxuriously. I can tell that the author was primarily a poet before moving to fiction. Still, reading Orpheus Girl left me in a half-heartbroken haze—I appreciate books like these, but they’re the reason I generally stick to lesbian fantasy and sci-fi more than any other genre of sapphic fiction.

Content Warnings: homophobia, transphobia, child abuse, self-harm, suicide attempt, torture

the cover of Fireheart Tiger

Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard is a small, anxious story about finding agency while trapped in restrictive relationships. Princess Thanh and her kingdom of Bình Hải are stuck in several, be it with more powerful nations, former lovers, or even Thanh’s own mother. Fireheart Tiger is the shortest book here, and I felt like it struggled the most with the novella format. A large portion of this book is spent telling rather than showing, and the overall effect is that most of Fireheart Tiger feels like it is spent deep inside Thanh’s internal ruminations. Which isn’t to say that the situations it presents aren’t compelling; Thanh’s political predicament is a thorny one that presents no clear solution, likewise Thanh’s struggle to reconcile her troubled relationship with her mother and their cultural tradition of filial piety. However, Fireheart Tiger lost me at its treatment of the only overtly masculine sapphic character. I understand what Eldris is supposed to represent in the narrative—both the threat and unavoidable gravity of an imperial nation—but in practice it just feels like she was written like a man, which is a stereotype of masculine lesbians that I hate to see in any story.

the cover of Spear by Nicola Griffith

Spear by Nicola Griffith is another loose retelling of old myths, this time a clever weaving of medieval tales regarding Peretur—also known as Perceval, Parzival, or Peredur—along with a handful of other Arthurian elements. Set in 9th century Wales, Spear is a bewitching read right from the beginning, steeped in that subconscious feeling of agelessness that only really good fantasy can instill. The magic is mysterious and wild, the people historically grounded and human; each familiar name and face feels appropriately placed, and yet the story itself felt gripping and fresh. It has a young butch disguising herself as a man (without slipping into questioning her gender), a tender and passionate romance between a knight and a witch, a special import given to both etymology and food—in short, it feels like this book was written just for me, and I wish it were about a million times longer. As much as I want more lesbian low fantasy like this in my life, though, I can admit that Spear is only as long as it actually needs to be. Should I try to write a novella after all? …Maybe next November. Maybe.

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends most of her free time running Dungeons & Dragons (like she has since the 90’s), and has even published a few adventures for it. You can follow her @RainyRedwoods on tumblr.

Kelleen Reviews Three Novellas to Marathon This Summer

Caroline’s Heart by Austin Chant

the cover of Caroline’s Heart

I read Caroline’s Heart by Austin Chant for the first time this month and it blew my mind. It’s a queer trans historical western fantasy novella and it’s just so GOOD. I don’t read a lot of fantasy and I don’t read a lot of westerns, but I love a queer historical, so I jumped in with both feet. I don’t want to give too much away, but it follows a bi trans witch who’s trying to resurrect her lost lover and the bi trans cowboy who has her lover’s heart in his chest. And then, they fall in love. The stakes are so high, the world building is so precise, and the romance is so addictive. It’s tender and raw and absolutely electrifying. It’s the perfect Pride read for historical and fantasy lovers alike!

Representation: bi trans heroine, bi trans hero, bi trans author

Content warnings: death of a loved one, blood, violence

Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole

the cover of Can't Escape Love

Alyssa Cole writes the most dynamic, diverse, relatable romance worlds and this little novella is no different. The fourth in her Reluctant Royals series, this novella follows Reggie, the badass CEO of the nerdy girl media empire Girls with Glasses and the video creator she used to have an internet crush on. When Reggie’s insomnia has made it impossible for her to keep working, she turns desperately to Gus, whose puzzling livestreams are the only thing that ever soothed her enough to fall asleep. And then, they fall in love. Reggie never actually names her identity on page, but she’s polysexual of some kind. She is also a wheelchair user. Both Reggie and Gus are neurodivergent and the way their brains work together is so lovely. These two understand each other better than anyone else does and they make something so beautiful together. The book is sexy and smart and nerdy and hilarious and absolutely delightful. Alyssa Cole is always a must-read, but this novella is EXCELLENT, and perfect for the second half of your Pride TBR.

Representation: queer, neurodivergent, wheelchair using Black heroine, neurodivergent, Vietnamese-American hero, queer, neurodivergent, Black author

Content warnings: roofies (off-page, mentioned), discussion of hospital stays

Wherever is Your Heart by Anita Kelly

the cover of Wherever Is Your Heart

Anita Kelly has given us a gift for us in the Moonies series, a series of novellas that center around a queer karaoke bar. This one, the third and final in the series, is sapphic and is my favorite of the lot. It’s a soft novella about blue collar soft butch lesbians in their late 40s, early 50s who are ready to settle down and fall in love and I love it with everything that I am. And then, they fall in love. I don’t really know how to describe it, but this book is about soft butches but it also feels like it IS a soft butch? Like it’s an embodiment of soft butchness in book form. It’s so tender and gentle and beautiful. The book takes place during Pride at a karaoke bar so now’s the perfect time to read it! My predominant feeling when reading an Anita Kelly book is warmth—I feel warm and safe and seen and celebrated, and what more could you want from Pride?

Representation: middle aged, plus sized, butch lesbian heroines, chronic pain, nonbinary author

Content warnings: Drunk driving, alcoholism, death of parent, weed

Sometimes, in my life existing as a twenty-something butchish queer disabled woman and experiencing different aspects of my community online and in the world, I worry that I am not cool and hip and irreverent enough. And sometimes, this makes me feel not only like I’m not connected to my community but that I have no business calling it my community. But all three of these books never fail to remind me that queer people are also silly and awkward and quiet (I’m not quiet) and soft and nerdy and dramatic and complicated, and that there is not one acceptable way to be queer.

You can read more of Kelleen’s reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.

Sam reviews Gideon the Ninth & Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

the covers of Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the NInth

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For Pride this month, I’m going to treat myself a little bit—I would like to talk about Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, the first half of the Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir (the half that’s been released, at time of writing). Now, if you like to read books about lesbians and also spend any time on the internet, you’ve probably been told to read these books already. They’ve gotten very popular over the last two years, and for good reason! But the ubiquity of Gideon the Ninth recommendations amongst queer women online is almost a meme at this point, and there are perfectly good reviews for both these books up on the Lesbrary already.

And yet, like everyone else I know who has read the Locked Tomb, I can’t stop thinking about it. But it’s not the goth-Catholic space necromancy worldbuilding, or the twists and turns of Muir’s buckwild mystery ride, or even the shockingly good humor peppered with actual internet memes that has its hooks in me. It’s something I don’t see a lot of people talking about, actually. It’s the fact that clearly, and yet so surprisingly, series deuteragonists Gideon and Harrow are written to be butch and femme.

Okay, granted, many people have called Gideon butch in the last two years, usually in regards to her being a strong, crass, bullheaded woman who is extremely and unapologetically into other women. And don’t get me wrong, this alone is worth celebrating—I read a lot of lesbian books, especially lesbian science fiction and fantasy books, and it is still painfully rare to see a lesbian protagonist that is undeniably masculine. But that isn’t all Gideon is. Gideon Nav is thoughtful and observant in her own way, and she has a surprisingly strong sense of justice for the society she grew up in. She also has a deep well of compassion and pity hidden beneath her anger and sarcasm. She wears irreverence and irony like armor to protect this emotional vulnerability, but cannot stop herself from leaping to the aid of others when they need help.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Gideon’s relationship with Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Despite her objections to playing Harrow’s knight, Gideon slips into the role of protector and confidante naturally and quickly. No matter how much Gideon claims to hate the Reverend Daughter, her mind is constantly considering Harrow’s emotional state, her well-being, and her safety. And as they grow closer, Gideon starts taking her armor off. No one else gets to see the softness of Gideon’s heart—no one but Harrow.

On Harrow’s part, there’s a lot more to the vicious, uptight necromancer than meets the eye. This is my more contentious point by far, a realization that felt obvious to me but I rarely hear mentioned. Harrow is aptly named for what she has had to endure in life; she is a scarred, starving rat of a girl, deeply traumatized and burdened with unbearable expectations, dreadful ambitions, and untreated mental illness. She isn’t exactly the classic image of a femme lesbian.

And yet, there is so much about her that complements and contrasts with Gideon. Where Gideon is bold, brash, and courageous, Harrow is careful, resilient, and tenacious. Like Gideon, Harrow has a steady moral compass that points slightly off from what her parents, her peers, even her God says is right. Harrow, too, wears armor—not of dumb jokes and a fuck-you attitude, but of protocol, of social cues and cultural symbols, of robes and veils and make-up masks. But beneath it, just like Gideon, Harrow cares, more than she dares let on. The depth and intensity for how much she feels for Gideon, for her house, for even a sacred corpse is shocking when it finally comes out. She’s been forced to bare her steel all her life, but there is a vulnerability in her that only Gideon has the lived context to understand.

This is reinforced in the second book (slight spoilers ahead), when we get to see what a Harrow without Gideon would look like. She feels lost at sea, missing a vital piece of herself through which her resilience and determination slowly drains away. I know many people are into the perhaps-romantic tension between Harrow and Ianthe, but to me the main narrative purpose of that story thread was to showcase exactly why Harrow needs Gideon. Gideon and Harrow make each other better people, whereas Ianthe would make Harrow a far worse version of herself. And when it’s finally time for Harrow to admit her feelings for Gideon, it’s the heretical skeleton-raising goth space witch who has the softest, most tender and romantic passages in the series.

All in all, Gideon and Harrow are different in the most complementary ways, covering for the other’s shortcomings while encouraging each other’s strengths. They’ve both been through terrible experiences, but are also uniquely equipped to help each other process and move past them. In a horrific, hostile universe that seems corrupted to its very core, their love feels like the one light strong enough to defy it. And you can’t convince me that’s not butch and femme.

Content Warnings: violence, gore, character death (including murder and suicide), unstable/unreliable subjectivity. If you want to know more about the rest of the Locked Tomb’s content, I recommend you look up our other reviews of Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth.

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends most of her free time running Dungeons & Dragons (like she has since the 90’s), and has even published a few adventures for it. You can follow her @RainyRedwoods on both twitter and tumblr.