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

the album cover of Snow Angel

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

“Pretty Girls”

the cover of Girls Like Girls

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

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

“Tummy Hurts”

the cover of she is a haunting

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

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

“I Wish”

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers cover

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

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

“Willow”

the cover of Even Though I Knew the End

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

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

“23”

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

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

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

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

Gory, Queer Cosmic Horror: The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey

the cover of The Dead Take the A Train

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This plunge into cosmic horror follows Julie, an almost-thirty-year-old woman with a diet mainly consisting of alcohol and whatever brand of drug she has lying around, through the streets of New York as she tries to keep herself afloat doing odd monster-hunting jobs. What really kicks the story off, though, is her best friend from forever ago bouncing back into her life with the desperate need to hide from her abusive husband, forcing Julie to reckon with feelings she never really thought she’d have to grapple with again. Julie also has to hunt whatever horrific creature keeps killing everybody at her crappy ex-boyfriend’s firm, and it turns out she might have helped bring it into the world. Fun!

First things first, this novel doesn’t shy away from the “cosmic” or the “horror” elements of its genre, something I greatly appreciated it. We have eldritch-style creatures around every corner, three of which have pretty big influence over the plot: The Proctor, The Mother Who Eats, and Akrasiel. Before we get to any of them, we are introduced to Julie during one of her grand misadventures as she attempts to rid a bride-to-be’s body of the monstrous eggs that a horrid creature is trying to implant inside of her. Yeah. It’s as gruesome as it sounds.

That’s another thing this book does right. If you want gore, you have found the right place! This book did not disappoint at all in that regard. Detailed descriptions are given to every awful, bloody thing that happens in this book. Every action has a consequence, and Khaw and Kadrey make sure that you know it. Where I might have expected other stories to refuse to look at the carnage, one of the strengths of The Dead Take the A Train is that it refuses not to look. If someone is eaten, you see the blood get splattered on the walls. If a monster wears a human skin suit, you see the way they acquired that human skin suit. There isn’t a whole lot that is simply left to the reader’s own devices; this is horror that believes what it describes is much worse than anything you could think of on your own. And it’s right—so many times, I thought I knew the extent of the gore I was about to witness, and so many times, I was decimated by what was actually on the page.

I also appreciated the romance… mostly. (More on that later.) Julie is ride-or-die for Sarah the second she sees her again, and their friends to lovers approach to being together is so romantically stupid that even two side characters, Dead Air and St. Joan, call them out on it multiple times. Everyone wants them to kiss. It is so apparent that these two need to be together, and I kind of love how quickly they get attached to each other again after not talking for so long. When Julie does what she inevitably was always going to do in order to beat her big bad in this book, it felt perfect for Sarah to be there with her. Right before she does it, we see Sarah attempt to stop her, and she’s smart about it in a way that surprised me—Julie and I figured out what Sarah had done/was trying to do at the same time, and I absolutely loved it. I wasn’t entirely sold on Sarah’s side of things until a few chapters before this scene, and this is the part that really pulled the romance together for me.

One thing I found interesting about the structure of this story was the multiple points of view. There are, to be entirely truthful, too many points of view. However, a lot more of them worked well for the story. Julie is the main character and the main POV, but we also routinely get a peek into how Tyler, Julie’s ex, is doing as he works on things adjacent to the main plot. Some characters only come into play for one section or two, but I was mostly fine with those, and I absolutely adored the tiny bit of story we got from a small character named Clarice. The bits and pieces we saw from inside characters who were about to die or from the monstrous entities that set out to kill them worked extremely well most of the time, but by the end of the book, I felt like I should have been keeping a list of all the characters who got some POV time because I had forgotten half of them. The world both feels too big and too small at the same time. I know that doesn’t make sense, but what I mean is that I know a lot about how magic functions in this world, but everything is also kind of written like I’m familiar with the rules way before I reached that point in the story. Something would happen, and I would have to put it in a stack with the rest of the things that happened without adequate explanation. Then something else would happen later to explain it, and I would finally have a new rule of the world, but by then, it was too late for me to apply it.

Spoilers ahead.

Another part of the story I found interesting is Sarah herself. She is interesting to me because she didn’t become a fully-developed character until we got to the end of the book. I didn’t really expect a lot out of her in regards to the monster-killing side of things—she is new to all of this, and she’s shown a remarkable amount of guts for looking scary things in the face, but she’s never actually fought one of them. However, when she stuck her neck out for Julie at the end and tried to save her without caring about the consequences she’d face, it hit like a wake-up slap to the face. I found myself wondering where this version of Sarah had been the whole time. Instead of being this demure angel, suddenly here she was with substance. When she proceeded to try and give her life up for Julie’s, I was surprised because that was something I had never expected her to do. She calls herself Julie’s spouse when she goes to look at her dead body; she uses the monkey’s paw to bring her back to life, side effects be damned. She became so much more at the end than she had been throughout most of the novel, and I kind of wish we’d seen more of this version of her before the last, like, hundred pages. While we’re on it, I’m all for major character death with a resurrection, but Sarah bringing Julie back seemed to happen too quickly and too perfectly. I wanted Sarah, Dead Air, and St. Joan to have to deal with Julie’s death in a real way. She kills herself in Sarah’s arms in order to kill the angel-thing that wants to eat New York. That’s a lot to handle, and it seemed like the writers didn’t want Julie’s people to have to really and truly accept that fact.

End of spoilers.

Despite all of this, I found myself really enjoying this book, and I will definitely be ready to read the sequel when it comes out. Trigger warnings for: lots of gruesome death (multiple self-inflicted), Lovecraftian abominations, and vivid descriptions of dead and dying bodies (seriously, if you aren’t comfortable with maggots, eggs, and/or eyes, stay away).

Healing Through a Haunting: The Fall That Saved Us by Tamara Jerée

the cover of The Fall That Saved Us

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The author’s content notes, which also apply to this review: “While Cassiel’s story is focused on healing, heavier themes of trauma and shame are explored to give context to the protagonist’s journey. Please consider the major content notes: cutting scars, brief self-harm ideation, discussion of an eating disorder, family emotional abuse, and a manipulative mother. This book contains sexual content and is only intended for adult readers.”

The first time I learned about Tamara Jerée’s The Fall That Saved Us, I was sold. A sapphic paranormal romance with a protagonist who runs a bookstore and heals from trauma? That sounded like the perfect way to ring in October. I’m happy to say that not only did it meet my expectations, but it became a favorite of the year.

Cassiel has cut off ties with her divine family of demon hunters, other than her sister, with whom she now has a complicated relationship. She has spent the last three years living in the ordinary world for the first time, trying to establish a life independent of the oppressive rules of her mother, Gabriel. She runs a bookstore and is friends with Ana, a witch with a coffee shop. Still, she won’t fully open up even to Ana, and she has struggled to integrate into society or unpack her internalized shame, as she was raised to avoid pleasure of any kind.

Though Cassiel is laying low, she attracts the attention of the succubus Avitue, who has been ordered to steal Cassiel’s soul. Avitue haunts Cassiel, attempting seduction through gifts and shared dreams. But by the time the two meet face-to-face, Avitue has realized that Cassiel is more than meets the eye, as someone who has been harmed by her family and is trying to escape the life of a demon hunter. Ordinarily, a confrontation between a succubus and an angel’s descendant ends in violence, but they both exercise restraint. This gives them enough pause that they develop a tentative trust and a less tentative chemistry. When Cassiel’s family gets involved at the same time that Avitue’s superiors apply pressure, they must team up to navigate these threats while also navigating their feelings.      

A whirlwind romance with a succubus pushes Cassiel out of her comfort zone in more ways than one, forcing her to confront the idea that demons are more complex than her family claimed and allowing her to embrace sensuality for the first time. Initially, going against her conditioning makes her recoil. However, Avitue understands that it’s important for Cassiel to push herself toward new ground on her own terms. When she falls, Avitue is there to catch her.                  

As an immortal succubus who fell millennia ago, Avitue is chaotic, morally grey, and distant from humanity. She is electrifyingly charismatic and doesn’t mind wielding this as a tool. However, coming into contact with Cassiel forces her to question her own assumptions about their natures. From the start, Avitue cares for and refuses to hurt Cassiel. Their developing relationship involves all of the negotiation and communication that this sort of dynamic requires, without shying away from the darker aspects of Avitue’s life.  

The theme of healing from trauma, especially religious trauma and familial abuse, stood out to me the most. Cassiel is reclaiming her own body, her own divinity, and her own experience with the world. As she explores all of the things she was denied, she finds that rather than being cut off from her power as her mother had claimed, she is actually growing more fully into herself. The narrative is a celebration of love, warmth, and tenderness, and an indictment of forcing people to sacrifice parts of themselves in order to fit into narrow boxes. 

This book understands that healing is not linear. Cassiel has already spent years living out in the world, but she still hides herself away from it, and she relapses into shame when she experiences attraction, enjoys food, or tries to wear nice clothing. Because she has people who genuinely care about her, she is able to pick herself back up when she falls. Healing may not be a straight path, but time marches onward, and so does she.

As someone who hasn’t read a lot of paranormal romance, the pacing of some books can require adjusted expectations, with characters who’ve only known each other a short time falling in literally eternal love. However, I realize this is a genre convention borne of the combination of high-octane plots and immortal characters, and that this type of story asks for suspension of disbelief. What’s important is that I bought into these particular characters’ dynamic given their circumstances. The story calls for a breathless intensity that the book delivers on. I was also impressed with the layered ending, as the book’s complex conflicts weren’t wrapped up in a tidy bow after one event. 

An additional note that made this nonbinary reader happy: while the synopsis refers to both characters as women, Avitue doesn’t feel a connection with the concept of gender due to her experiences as a succubus. Being nonbinary doesn’t require any specific pronouns or presentation, so I was glad to read about a femme-presenting character who uses she/her pronouns and does not identify with gender.  

The Fall That Saved Us is haunting yet hopeful, with lush writing and aching devotion in every line. If that’s how you’d like to experience your fall, there’s still time to pick this one up before Halloween.

Emory Rose is a lover of the written word, especially all things whimsical, fantastical, and romantic. They regularly participate in National Novel Writing Month as well as NYC Midnight’s fiction writing challenges. They are fueled by sapphic novellas and chocolate.

10 Sapphic YA Horror Books to Read In October

With fall finally here, you might be looking for some spooky books to read in October and to get you in the perfect eerie mood. Featuring ghosts, aliens, demons, and zombies, these books are a great way to get in touch with your sinister side and prepare yourself for the best night of the year: Halloween!

Before we get into it, it’s important to remember that, as readers, we owe it to ourselves to respect our boundaries and know our limits. This is especially true with horror books, as they can address some heavy topics and depict different levels of gore and bloodshed. Young adult novels are a good way to ease into the genre, but that doesn’t mean that they are free of any type of violence or pain. Make sure to read the content warnings and don’t hesitate to draw the line in the sand if necessary.

That being said, turn off your lights, burn a candle, play some ominous music, and curl up under your blankets. Here are 10 spooky sapphic YA horror novels to check out!

the cover of Night of the Living Queers

Night of the Living Queers: 13 Tales of Terror Delight edited by Shelly Page and Alex Brown

In this YA horror anthology, authors explore a night when anything is possible under the blue moon: Halloween. Featuring queer characters of colour written by queer authors of color, this collection puts some fresh spins on classic horror tropes and tales. The stories are told through the lens of different BIPOC teens, including many sapphic main characters, as they experience the night that changes their lives forever.

This is perfect for people who are still discovering horror and looking to figure out which subgenres they find most entertaining, which messages speak most personally to them, and which themes they’d like to explore further. The anthology touches on a whole plethora of topics such as grief, guilt, race, gender identity, and complex family dynamics, and it features a wide array of subgenres including paranormal horror, monster horror, body horror, and horror comedy.

Content warnings: body horror, gore, blood, suicidal ideation, animal cruelty, death, child death, death of a parent, homophobia, transphobia, violence, racism, grief, blood, bullying, abandonment, mentions of substance abuse, alcohol addiction and drug overdose.

the cover of Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

Set in the Alien universe, Alien: Echo follows Olivia and her twin sister, Viola, as their family settles on a new colony world, where their xenobiologist parents expand their research into obscure alien biology. One day, an alien threat unlike any other is seen and, suddenly, their world is ripped apart. Their colony collapses into chaos, and Olivia has to use the knowledge she’s picked up over the years following her parents around the universe to escape the monster and protect her sister, all while grappling with the discovery of a shocking family secret.

This is the perfect novel for sci-fi fanatics, as it really delves into the science at the core of the story, in a way that is suspiciously believable.

Content warnings: body horror, blood, violence, gore, death, child death, death of a parent, animal death, xenophobia, grief, bullying, discrimination, severe injury.

the cover of This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham

This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham

In this horror comedy, four best friends venture out into the desert for one last music festival before graduation. The twist? They’re zombies. A few years prior, an unknown pathogen was released onto the world, causing certain people to undergo the Hollowing: a transformation that made them intolerant to normal food and unable to gain sustenance from anything other than human flesh. While humanity slowly returned to normal after scientists were able to create a synthetic version of human meat that would satisfy the hunger of these “ghouls”, one of the girls goes feral at the festival and accidentally kills another attendee. The group suspects that someone is drugging them to turn them feral, but can they figure out who it is before they all lose themselves too?

A horror comedy is a great way to get into a spooky mood while still being able to sleep at night. With an all-queer cast, including a bisexual main character, a trans and bisexual love interest, and lesbian and bisexual side characters, this is perfect for people who are looking to sink their teeth into mess and chaos.

Content warnings [as listed by the author]: alcohol consumption by minors, anxiety disorders, blood and gore depiction, body horror, cannibalism, captivity and confinement, dead bodies and body parts, deadnaming, death of a grandparent, death of a sibling, drugging, drug use, fire, grief and loss depiction, gun violence, intrusive thoughts, murder, needles and syringes, nightmares, parental neglect, pandemic, scars, sexism, suicidal ideation, transphobia.

the cover of Burn Down, Rise Up

Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

This is the story of Raquel, a young sapphic Afro-Latina from the Bronx whose mother has recently come down with a mysterious illness that the doctors can’t explain. At the same time, multiple Black kids have been disappearing from the city without a trace, and the police are doing very little to investigate, not particularly concerned about these children’s whereabouts. One day, Raquel’s crush, Charlize, asks for her help to find her recently missing cousin, and the girls end up following an urban legend called the Echo Game, which leads them down to a sinister, unknown, underground part of the city.

This debut novel is a deep dive into the racist policies of the Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s, including the redlining, the slumlords, and the gentrification. It is the epitome of “disgusting” and will keep you on edge from start to finish.

Content warnings: gore, violence, death, racism, gun use, police brutality, discussion of cannibalism, fire injuries/burns, missing family members, sick family members, homophobia.

the cover of We Don’t Swim Here by Vincent Tirado

We Don’t Swim Here by Vincent Tirado

In their second novel, We Don’t Swim Here, Tirado tells the story of two Afro-Latina cousins, Bronwyn and Anais. Anais lives in Hillwoods, a small, secluded town to which Bronwyn is forced to move, as her family wants to be near her grandmother in her final moments. However, Bronwyn struggles with the move, as the people in Hillwoods are predominantly white, particularly weird, and eerily standoffish. Her cousin also warns her about some unspoken rule that exists within the town which bans anyone from swimming—a big issue for Bronwyn who was a competitive swimmer back home. The story follows her as she tries to navigate this unsettling community, as well as Anais who tries to keep her cousin in the dark as much as possible and protect her from the town’s sinister past.

If you love sapphic final girls who feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, or characters who try to fight back against the idea that they do not belong or are not allowed to belong in certain spaces, you will love this novel.

Content warnings: body horror, blood, murder, grief, death, child death, racism, hate crime, gun violence, kidnapping, medical content.

the cover of Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls is the story of very different girls who live in a small community on the island of Sawkill Rock. As beautiful as the town may seem, behind the campfires and blue waves crashing against the shore, there lies a dark secret. For decades, girls have been disappearing inexplicably, allegedly taken away by an inhuman spirit. But what happens when the awkward, plain new girl, Marion, unwillingly joins forces with Zoey and Val to fight this legendary evil and save the girls in their community, including themselves?

Featuring a cast of sapphic and asexual main characters, this book is perfect for people who are all about dismantling decades-long, misogynistic traditions and who like a weird, genre-bending twist to their stories. 

Content warnings: gore, violence, blood, murder, aphobia/acephobia, loss of a loved one, grief, child abuse, cults, fire, pedophilia, sexual assault, animal death.

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould cover

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

Courtney Gould’s debut novel, The Dead and the Dark, is set in smalltown Snakebite, Oregon, where everything seems to be going wrong. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and the community seems hellbent on blaming it all on Logan’s two dads—hosts of a popular ghost hunting TV show—after they’ve decided to return to town. Although Logan has never lived in Snakebite before, she agrees to help Ashley, whose boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, in her investigation into the town’s deepest secrets. As they uncover the truth about the people in their community, they also start to uncover the truth about themselves and their growing feelings for one another.

Great for readers who are looking for some romance in the horror stories they pick up, this book will put you in the perfect eerie mood, while also reminding you of the power of family and love.

Content warnings [as listed by the author]: homophobia, child death, murder, claustrophobia, drowning, slurs.

the cover of Where Echoes Die by Courtney Gould

Where Echoes Die by Courtney Gould

In this second novel by Courtney Gould, we follow Beck, a young lesbian who has been struggling since her mother’s death, desperate for things to return to the simpler, happier days of her childhood. Wanting to understand more about her mother, a brilliant but troubled investigative reporter, Beck travels to Backravel, the town that was the center of her mother’s journalistic work for years. Followed by her younger sister, Riley, Beck soon realizes that there is something off about the small, secluded town. Although everyone’s memory seems to be filled with holes and missing information, the people seem eerily at ease with the otherwise inexplicable happenings of their community. With the help of the daughter of the town’s enigmatic leader, Avery, Beck must uncover the secrets of Backravel before her or her sister get hurt… or before she loses herself completely.

Touching on the struggle of death and grief, this novel packs an emotional punch, while keeping its readers guessing from the first page until the very last.

Content warnings [as listed by the author]: death of a parent, death of a loved one, emotional abuse, gaslighting, emetophobia/vomiting.

As I Descended by Robin Talley cover

As I Descended by Robin Talley

In this modern, dark academia retelling of Macbeth, Maria and Lily are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them. The only thing that stands in their way towards a perfect future together is the golden child of their school, Delilah. Maria needs to win the Cawdor Kingsley Prize, as the scholarship money would allow her to attend Stanford and keep her relationship with Lily alive. The problem is that Delilah is seen as the presumptive winner of the award. What she doesn’t know is that Maria and Lily are ready to do anything to make their dreams come true, including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on their school campus.

This book is filled with ghosts, Shakespearian tragedy, and queer teenagers quickly delving into chaos. Featuring a disabled lesbian and her sapphic girlfriend as the main characters, this story will have you questioning the limits to which people will go for love and victory.

Content warnings: blood, gore, death, violence, self harm, suicide, murder, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, lesbophobia, forced outing, forced drug usage, panic attacks, psychosis, racism, slavery, grief, child death, emotional abuse, religious bigotry, bullying, car accident, fire.

the cover of Damned If You Do

Damned If You Do by Alex Brown

Heavily inspired by Filipino folklore, this horror comedy features Cordelia, a high school stage manager who spends her days focusing on the school play, trying to keep up with her grades, and desperately pining over her best friend, Veronica. One day, the demon to which she sold her soul seven years ago comes back to see her under the guise of her new school guidance counselor and requires that she pay back the deed. The two must work together to defeat a different, more powerful demon who looks to harm her hometown and all those in it.

This book features the perfect amount of entertaining high school drama and fiendishly clever demons, all while it explores the type of trauma that some children face at the hands of a parent and the ever-lasting impact that it has on them and those closest to them.

Content warnings: child abuse, murder, violence, gore, blood, body horror, depictions of verbal abuse, mentions of physical abuse, loss of a parent.


Looking for even more sapphic horror books? Check out the Lesbrary’s horror tag for many more sapphic horror recommendations! You can also browse just the YA horror reviews. Happy Halloween reading!

A Supernatural Noir Novella About Love at All Costs: Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk

the cover of Even Though I Knew the End

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What would you give up everything for? If you knew you were doomed, would you keep fighting?

In fewer than 140 pages, the award-winning Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk posits these questions with a heroine whose love and determination propel her through a fast-paced investigation to catch a killer and save her soul.

Ten years ago, Helen Brandt sold her soul to the devil to revive her brother from an accident that claimed her whole family. He’s not exactly grateful to be yanked from paradise by the sister who’s been branded a warlock, but in the meantime, Helen has met the love of her life in a lesbian bar and made a living as a mystic in 1940s Chicago. Just before Helen reaches her expiration date, she’s given one last mission, with the reward being the return of her soul. While her ultimate fate is still eternal damnation, if she catches an infamous serial killer, she can live out the rest of her mortal life with Edith Jarosky.

To say more would be saying too much, but rest assured this is a story that builds on itself until the end. My favorite novellas work in perfect choreography, with no paragraph wasted and every storytelling element woven together around a central ribbon. To me, Even Though I Knew the End is one such novella. Rich in atmosphere and with a poignant thematic core, it is paced to keep the reader achingly aware of the protagonist’s countdown clock as the stakes of her mission only increase.  

Helen is an intensely devoted, driven, and charismatic protagonist. The natural affection between her and Edith makes their relationship heartwarming. As revelations about Edith come to light, I do wish she got more of a chance to shine with her own contributions, especially as she is Helen’s driving force. The couple are shown to work together in perfect harmony, and I would have loved to see their teamwork demonstrated more, as well as have Edith’s character explored. 

Two other characters stood out to me in particular. Without getting into spoilers, if you enjoy powerful, charismatic (and not-so-charismatic) beings in your supernatural fiction, this cast will be for you. Edith’s complicated relationship with her brother rounds out the dynamics. With a smoky atmosphere evoked in pointed descriptions, even though I know the end, this is a book I would happily revisit.

A note on the worldbuilding: This is set in a world with nonbinary angels, where being gay will not condemn you, but warlock deals and sacrilege will.

Other content warnings include death and violence as well as references to period-typical homophobia, sexism, ableism, institutionalization, and conversion therapy. 

Emory Rose is a lover of the written word, especially all things whimsical, fantastical, and romantic. They regularly participate in National Novel Writing Month as well as NYC Midnight’s fiction writing challenges. They are fueled by sapphic novellas and chocolate.

A Sapphic, Filipino Horror Comedy: Damned If You Do by Alex Brown

the cover of Damned If You Do

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Filled with imagery and stories from Filipino folklore, Damned If You Do follows high school stage manager Cordelia Scott, as she prepares to put on the annual school play, struggles with passing her classes and imagining a future for herself, and tries to push down her not-so-subtle crush on her childhood best friend, Veronica. After having sold her soul to a demon seven years prior, in a last-ditch effort to get her abusive father to leave her and her mother alone, that very demon comes back demanding that Cordelia return the favour and help him save her hometown.

At the cusp of perfectly entertaining horror comedy and peak YA fiction, this book dares to ask the question: what if your dad was such a terrible person that a demon with a habit for bad puns replaced him as your father figure and managed to be significantly better at parenting?

I think the tone and narrative voice of this novel is so perfectly aimed at its YA audience. Brown clearly knows how to expertly meld entertaining high school drama with deep-set family trauma, folding it all into a fun yet heart wrenching story. A book that can make you chuckle out loud while tears are actively streaming down your face is one worth picking up.

I really enjoyed the romance between Cordelia and Veronica. I don’t actually remember the last time I rooted so wholeheartedly for a book couple to get together, but their relationship was the perfect amount of pining, confusion, and “ride-or-die” friendship, so I couldn’t help but fall in love with them. I had so much fun with this book that I finished it within a day; I found myself simply unable to put it down.

Horror comedy sometimes falls flat for me, in that it focuses so much on making the characters “funny” that you lose a lot of the substance of the horror genre. But this book manages to keep up with the witty inner dialogue and conversational tone throughout the story, without letting everything fall so deep into the “comedy” aspect that it misses out on any depth or analysis. There’s a fascinating discussion in here surrounding trauma and father figures that really molds itself through the character development, and that really grounds you as a reader into the general message and theme of love and survival.

I also greatly appreciated the way that Brown didn’t shy away from addressing the very real effects that abuse from a parental figure can have on a child, and exploring all those complex feelings that creep up within you no matter how much you try to ignore them. Our main character struggles so much with feelings of guilt, regret, anger, and frustration, and the story really gives her that space to finally deal with all those emotions and face them head-on.

Of course, I will always adore a sapphic final girl who feels like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and it’s so easy to become instantly attached to Cordelia. This is the perfect book for someone who loves completely oblivious sapphics (and I mean completely oblivious), or someone who wants a fresh new take on the exploration of queerness through monstrosity in a way that is loving and positive instead of filled with repressed shame.

Representation: sapphic, biracial, Filipina main character and love interest

Trigger warnings: child abuse, violence, gore, blood, depictions of verbal abuse, mentions of physical abuse

Danika reviews The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

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When I heard that a queer Vietnamese American The Great Gatsby retelling was coming out, I immediately requested a review copy. I can’t resist sapphic retellings, especially literary ones. There’s one little hiccup to me reviewing this book, though: I’ve never read The Great Gatsby. I haven’t even seen a movie version. I’ve absorbed some things from popular culture and gave the Wikipedia page a glance, but don’t expect a lot of side-by-side comparisons between this and the original.

As I said, I only needed to hear the barest of elevator pitches before adding The Chosen and the Beautiful to my TBR–so I went in knowing very little about it. As Jordan describes her and Daisy floating on the ceiling of rooms, I spent the first chapter going back and forth about whether it was metaphorical or whether this was a fantasy story and I wasn’t aware. Then there were mentions of characters literally selling their souls to demons for power, and that settled that. I should have guessed, considering Vo’s previous books, The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, are also fantasy.

Still, although this is a fantasy novel, the magic is in the background for most of the story. Gatsby’s parties employ magical entertainment and decor–but that’s not dramatically different from the lavish parties he would throw without it. The book has a languid, dreamy quality. Time passes unpredictability: we are just seeing the beginning of Nick and Jordan’s relationship when she mentions how it ends. The first chapter has Jordan and Daisy gaze over her sleeping daughter, and then we see Daisy and Tom’s wedding further in the book.

Jordan is a fascinating main character. She’s adopted from Vietnam and was raised in a wealthy family. Her mother died when she was young, leaving her with a strict father. When he passes, she’s taken in by a feminist, independent aunt. Her aunt expects her to continue in the family tradition and manage the household when she passes away, not really acknowledging that Jordan’s claim to that position is challenged by the racist society they live in. Jordan has to learn how to navigate this world, spending most of her girlhood being treated as exotic by friends before they grew up and abandoned her for more respectable companions. She may seem to others to be a spoiled, overindulgent, “careless” young woman, but she’s constantly aware of not truly fitting in.

She has plenty of love affairs with men and women, and she even frequents a gay bar. In this version of the story, Nick and Gatsby have their own romantic relationship, which makes the love triangle (or square or pentagon) between Daisy, Tom, Gatsby (and Nick and Jordan) even more fraught. Nick is reluctant to acknowledge that he has any inclination towards men, but he clearly cares deeply about Gatsby and their… dalliances, even if Gatsby doesn’t take them seriously.

This is a beautiful, absorbing story with an overwhelming atmosphere of magic, indulgence, and tragedy–this time with queer and Asian American angles that add depth to the story. R.F. Kuang called this “Gatsby the way it should have been written” and the Kirkus review reads “Vo has crafted a retelling that, in many ways, surpasses the original.” This does so much more than I would have hoped for from the original. I know that if I do pick up The Great Gatsby now, it would just be to better appreciate The Chosen and the Beautiful.

Sash S reviews Spellbound by Jean Copeland and Jackie D.

“Hazel Abbot spent her whole life unaware she was a witch. When a spell thrusts her great-aunt Sarah Hutchinson forward from the Salem witch trials of 1692 and lands her in Hazel’s bookstore, everything Hazel thought she knew about herself changes…”

If you want a read that’s fast-paced, fun, and filled with well-rounded and likeable characters, look no further than Spellbound, a perfect blend of paranormal action and lesbian romance.

We start directly in the middle of the action, with protagonist Raven Dare—sexy, solemn and mysterious in equal measure—doing what she does best: hunting demons. Armed with gold knives and a wit that’s just as sharp, Raven kicks butt whilst quipping about American Idol, and it’s all in a day’s work for this demon hunter with a tortured past.

In a story about time-travel, supernatural monsters and women-fearing cults, it is the characters in Spellbound that are the true heart of the novel. There are a great many interesting dynamics at play between the central cast, and as a reader, you’re immediately drawn to them. The four main women are strong in their own ways, and their interactions are alternately warm, fierce and sizzling with tension. It’s great to see them clashing with the main villains of the novel, but just as fun to see them in their downtime, and there’s plenty of both due to the novel’s excellent pacing.

Sarah is great fun; immediately likeable and not one to take her strange circumstances sitting down, she takes agency and adapts to the world she’s living in, though finding it bizarre at times. Hazel, too, takes up her new mission with an admirable courage, spurred by the attraction she feels towards Raven. Morgan is aloof, sarcastic, but caring underneath. There are two main love stories in Spellbound, and though different in tone, both are equally compelling.

My favourite thing about this book is how down to earth it is, whilst dealing with the supernatural. Vivid descriptions of car rides, plane journeys and cities build up the real world, juxtaposed with fights against demons and monsters; the authors do a great job of nailing magical realism.

To that end, too, the villains of the story are rooted in very real prejudice despite their paranormal nature: whilst the protagonists clash with banshees and hellhounds, the writers don’t shy away from the fact that the real evils of this tale are prejudice, a fear of women and their strength, and a need to subjugate others for one’s own gain. The supernatural elements of Spellbound are a great vehicle for a story that’s ultimately about overcoming these things, celebrating the strength of women and doing what’s right.

This is such a fun read, with excellent pacing, engaging romance and a realistic, compelling cast of characters.

Rating: *****

Megan G reviews Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Each year, the Demon King is presented with eight young women of the lowest caste — the Paper caste — who will serve as his concubines for a year. While some girls dream of being selected, it was never in Lei’s plans. Her family has already suffered enough at the hands of the Demon King. Despite her reluctance, however, she soon finds herself in the position of Paper Girl, ripped from her home and family, wondering how anybody could see what she is being forced to do as a privilege.

I was immediately impressed by Girls of Paper and Fire due to the inclusion of trigger warnings at the beginning of the book. The author herself warns readers that the book deals with issues of violence and sexual assault, allowing readers to decide before even starting to read if this is the book for them. I’m beyond thankful that these types of warnings are becoming more common, and seeing it at the beginning of this book made me feel sure that these topics would be handled well within the story. They were.

The world presented in this novel is incredibly original and clever. It is a perfect blend of fantasy and reality, feeling incredibly believable despite the fact that a large amount of the population of this world are literal demons. The way Ngan describes everything is incredibly vivid, too. I often felt as though I were watching a movie instead of reading a novel.

The characters are layered in the most wonderful ways. Although there are issues of internalized misogyny that play out throughout the story, they are dealt with genuinely, treating all parties as people who have value despite their flaws. Girls are not written off as merely jealous or petty — they are given reasons for the ways in which they act, as well as possibilities for redemption. It’s actually quite refreshing for a YA novel.

The protagonist, Lei, goes through an incredible amount of character development throughout the story. She’s extremely likable despite some frustrating qualities, and is very easy to root for. You want her to succeed, not simply because she’s the protagonist but because her worth shines through. She’s strong and courageous, but also weary and at times frightened. First and foremost she is human, making human choices and thinking human thoughts. Because of it, she sometimes does things that make you want to smack her, but don’t all young adult heroes do such things? Like with all the characters, it’s refreshing that she’s allowed to have flaws and make mistakes without immediately being labelled a failure or worthless by the narrative. She’s allowed to grow and learn, and it’s wonderful to experience.

I don’t want to say much about the love story because I feel it should be experienced as I did — blindly and with complete surprise. It’s not easy to see at the beginning who the love interest will be, and it was wonderful to read how it developed without knowing anything in advance. I promise, it’s worth the vagueness and mystery.

One small warning is that this is the first book in a trilogy, so of course the story is not completely finished. Still, I felt incredibly satisfied by the story told here, and am anxiously awaiting the release of the second book so that I can once again lose myself in this fantastical world and in Lei’s life. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Marthese reviews Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

scalebrite

Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a novella based on Chinese mythology that takes place in modern Hong Kong. This was an interesting premise and although I found it somewhat different from the fantasy that I usually real, it came recommended by a friend, so I gave it a go.

The story follows Julianne Lau, a 24 year old Hong Kong native. She lives with her two aunts, Houyi and Chang’e who to be clear are married to each other not related! This story starts with Julianne meeting a viper, a creature that looks like a human but isn’t. The viper is draw by the divine aura around Julianne which was acquired with her living with goddesses. The viper, called Olivia or Xiaoqing tells Julianne who she meets a couple of times that she wants a meeting with Chang’e, her aunt. Grudges among divine creatures last very long and there are a lot of enemies or past enemies for such a short book.

Julianne has body image issues, self-esteem issues and had encounters with depression. However, she is trying to be better. Like her aunt Chang’e, she is kind and she tries to control her sense of wanting attention sometimes with consequences.

There are some interesting relationships in the story. First off, I want to mention that we see some of Julianne’s past and about to be past relationships with women. For being such a short recount, it’s very queer.

Chang’e and Houyi have a good relationship based on affection and trust and so Julianne takes them as role models for her love life. Houyi buys Chang’e candies dates even when Chang’e is abroad and she picked her up from the airport in a tuxedo. That’s the level of sweetness that their relationship has. Despite this, they do not spend that much time together as their divine jobs take over a lot of time. Their past as well is tangibly full of sorrow apart from love.

Interesting was to see Houyi’s relationship with Julianne. Although she is technically only an in-law, she seems to be the main ‘caretaker’ while Chang’e, with her kindness takes over soothing roles when needed.

The relationship, as abrupt and like staccato as it was, between Xiaoqing and Julianne was also interesting. Xiaoqing shows Julianne that demons are complex and tells Julianne her story, after which she says she wants Julianne for who she is. Julianne for her part doesn’t care for what her partner looks like and learns to not judge people by the myths that are on them.

‘Demons’ , in this novella, are not villanized instead they are shown to be flawed and wanting to survive but also very diverse and complex with a system of their own

The writing is very descriptive, sometimes like poetry but I felt that at times it was just stretching too much. There are some styles that I liked such as sentences with only one word to describe routines. At times, as there were two sets of names being used, it is very easy to get confused especially if you are not familiar with the myths involved. It also takes a while to make sense after the beginning of a new segment as there are time and special hops, without much explanation.

We see the briskness of Hong Kong. I think this novella captures the metropolitan feel with its description of people and business and billboards.

This story takes on elements from myths such as the gods of sun and moon and the white snake and queers them up. Apart from the queer spins and retellings, it is heavy laden with gender issues and thought. Needless to say, but I will just in case, that this story being based on myth inherits all the strange gore that myths tend to have, so beware!

To end, I thought it was interesting reading a queer retelling of Chinese mythology by a Thai author no less,  instead of British, Canadian or American. I think the style would need some time to get used to, but it’s worth to read it. It lulls between complexities of plot and gender and the easiness of long descriptions that relax you (like one of those relaxation classes).