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

A Slice-of-Life Manga Good Enough to Eat: She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki

the cover of She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Yuzaki Sakaomi

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When I was younger, I wasn’t aware of many f/f manga about adults, so I’m glad to be able to enjoy series like She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki. After reading the first three volumes of this ongoing series, I’m gobsmacked by how exponentially my investment in it grew over the course of just three volumes. 

Usually, if I find it difficult to express why I like a work without spoilers, it’s because the initial premise is in some way flipped on its head. She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat is exactly what it says it is: a story about two women who bond over food, with one providing for the other. It remains a slice-of-life series focused on their relationship as they cook and eat various meals together. That premise builds on itself beautifully as their routines develop new layers of significance. 

The first volume introduces Nomoto, a woman with a passion for cooking that outmatches her appetite, who dislikes the societal pressure to use that interest to provide for a man. When she meets the woman who lives two apartments down, Kasuga, and happens to learn that she has a large appetite, Nomoto offers to cook for her. The two enjoy this so much that they continue meeting up to cook and eat. 

I was already charmed by this premise, especially with how Nomoto outright swoons over Kasuga voraciously eating her food; it usually isn’t depicted as desirable for women to have big appetites. However, at that end of volume one, I still felt that the series had a chance to become somewhat forgettable or repetitive. I’m rarely this glad to be wrong. By the end of volume three, this series had thoroughly gripped my heart. 

As said, it’s difficult to get into why. What I’ll say is that the characters begin to open up about their lives outside of their time together, which adds new context to their interactions. By the time the reader learns why the main characters’ dynamic is particularly meaningful, that dynamic is well established, letting the reader sit with the implications of that meaning as it continues to deepen. Over time, new characters are also introduced as effective narrative foils to the protagonists, and a delightful ensemble dynamic develops. 

What really struck me about this work is how affirming it is. It affirms that women should be allowed to have whatever relationship to food suits them, and explore that in their own way, without judgment. Ultimately, it’s a story about how special it can be to share space and time with others, and the importance of being able to choose who you share that with—specifically, people who accept you for who you are and accommodate whatever needs come with that. 

The food itself is, of course, rendered in many drool-worthy panels. I also appreciated the depiction of asexuality within the lesbian community, and how sexuality is portrayed as something with no one-size-fits-all mold. I’ll definitely be gobbling up the rest of this heartfelt series as soon as more volumes are localized.

Content notes: This manga includes content warnings before the relevant chapters. As a general overview, I’ll warn for one chapter depicting homophobic language, as well as depictions of familial abuse, food-related trauma, and misogyny. These topics are brought up thoughtfully rather than gratuitously. 

A New Take On the 20-Something F*ckup Novel: All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

All This Could Be Different cover

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I have heard only great things about this book since it came out in 2022, but I somehow didn’t actually pick it up until my queer book club chose it for this month’s pick. I vaguely remembered downloading an ARC on my ereader, so I opened that up and jumped in. I was immediately struck by two surprises: 1) I wasn’t really enjoying the book, though I had been expecting to love it, and 2) I had started this book already. I was eight percent of the way through—which is not a lot, but it means at some point I started and abandoned it. Aside from the unease of reading through highlights I couldn’t remember making, I was also beginning to have a sinking feeling that this was not going to live up to the glowing reviews I’d heard.

Sneha is not an easy main character to like in the beginning of the story. She’s freshly graduated from her program and starting a new job in a new city: Milwaukee. She doesn’t have any real connections here, and she struggles to find her footing. Her property manager lives downstairs and erupts in anger if she makes the slightest noise. Her job is demanding and unpredictable. She hooks up with women without looking for anything lasting. And throughout it, she simmers with self-loathing that periodically boils over into cruelty and judgement.

Sneha is a queer woman of colour who has a lot of internalized racism, sexism, and homophobia. She thinks hateful things about other women, people of colour, and queer people. She’s angry and judgmental, but she’s also passive. She feels constrained by being an immigrant, especially because her father was deported. She worries that any misstep will result in failure—not just her own, but also failure to live up to her parents’ dreams.

“What nobody told me when I was a very young person was that obedience, fearful toeing of every line, chasing every kind of safety, would not save you.”

At this point in the story, I was having trouble with it. It was interesting enough to keep going, but I began to think that maybe I’ve grown beyond identifying with 20-something fuckup literary fiction—a genre I loved when I was younger. I might have even DNFed it, if it weren’t for my book club. But then…it got me. Somewhere along the way, I realized I’d gotten invested in Sneha and the network of relationships she formed.

There’s such a payoff in Sneha’s character growth—not that she becomes a perfect person, but that she becomes more accepting of herself and others. And that payoff feels so powerful because she was such a mess in the beginning. So I can’t fault the book for that, and I will say it’s worth sticking with through those beginning chapters, when she is being insensitive and even cruel.

If you’re a fan of messy found family dynamics, I definitely recommend this one. All the characters are complex and flawed, but they come together to support each other. Tig is definitely the standout character of the novel: a charismatic Black nonbinary philosopher who imagines a better world and both accepts Sneha and holds her accountable.

“This is my tragedy and my great good fortune, to be the recipient of this bond, to be kept alive under its crushing warmth and weight, to be given it so freely, so much more than I have ever deserved.”

The small section of the book that takes place in India adds a lot of depth to the story, I think. Even Sneha’s mother is a complex character—maybe more so than Sneha originally gives her credit for.

I was also surprised to see how the story is structured: while most of the book takes place over a small time span, there are a few chapters that go over several years. I think some readers will find that jarring, but I appreciated seeing the bittersweet aftermath of this formative time in these characters’ lives.

I definitely recommend this as a book club book, because there is so much to pull out and discuss, from issues of classism and appropriation to it being set during the recession to Sneha’s character arc to Sneha’s relationship with Marina and a lot more. It’s definitely one I think I would appreciate even more on rereading.

Medieval Queer Chaos: Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher

the cover of Gwen and Art Are Not In Love

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Gwendoline and Arthur have been betrothed to one another since birth. Too bad they absolutely hate each other. When forced to spend a summer in Camelot together, Gwen and Arthur discover tantalizing secrets about one another: Gwen witnesses Arthur kissing a boy, while Arthur learns that Gwen has a crush on the kingdom’s lone lady knight, Lady Bridget Leclair. Stuck at a stalemate, they make a reluctant pact to cover for one another. While Gwen and Bridget finally connect, Arthur finds himself enamored by Gwen’s brother. Can they navigate their messy feelings to find their own places in history?

Oh my goddess, the queer chaos in this is everything. Lex Croucher has spun Arthurian legends of old into a queer medieval YA rom-com that could easily alter history as we know it. Gwen is a bi baby, newly navigating her feelings for a badass lady knight, while Arthur is a gay, sassy messy shooting heart-eyes at Gwen’s brother (the one-day king). The dialogue is EVERYTHING: sassy, quick-witted, and all too entertaining. There’s somewhat sexy sword-fighting (come on, sword-fighting is always sexy, but when your queer crush is schooling you, it’s all the better), fake dating (does it count as fake dating when you’ve been betrothed since childhood?), and heart-warming found family vibes. The queer panic and nervous humor were all too relatable, even though the story is set in medieval times. That’s a true feat; you can connect with the queer chaos, even if you’re shooting heart-eyes in the 21st century.

That being said, let’s talk about Gwen and her lady knight. I mean, get ready to absolutely SWOON alongside Gwen. Lady Bridget Lechlair is all fierce confidence—a necessity, when everyone has an unpopular opinion of you simply because you’re a woman, regardless of your badass abilities—but she’s also an enigma with a gooey interior. I loved seeing Gwen find her confidence through Bridget, discovering her voice and standing up for them both when necessary. Though Gwen is a royal, she’s questioned her inner power and authority, as everyone around her has made it clear her only worth is in her marriage to Arthur as a political move. Spending time with Bridget gives Gwen the chance to realize she’s worth so much more. Though the story’s quick wit and banter stand out, I think this character development is the story’s real strength. Sometimes, you need someone who believes in your potential before you can see it yourself.

The only real hang-up for me was the pacing. The ending felt especially rushed, which was a disappointment after the queer chaos dragged a bit. I wonder if the writer paused for a moment, then returned to finish the latter half of the story. I also found the relationship between Arthur and Gabriel (Gwen’s brother) a little underwhelming when it had so much potential at the start. Regardless, I appreciated all the queer hijinks and humor.

Recommended for fans of Heartstopper, Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow trilogy, Red, White, & Royal Blue, and the TV show Merlin. Get ready for a swoon-worthy, medieval mess of pining and romance!

The Vibes
⚔️ All the Queer Ships (w/ Serious Queer Panic)
⚔️ Fake Dating
⚔️ YA Debut
⚔️ Found Family
⚔️ Medieval/Historical Fiction/Rom-Com
⚔️ Enemies to Allies

What classic story would you love to read a queer retelling of?

A Cozy Queer Comic of Community: Matchmaker by Cam Marshall

the cover of Matchmaker

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This was a surprise, last-minute entry in my list of favourite reads of 2023!

I stumbled on this while researching new releases for Our Queerest Shelves, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was by a local British Columbia author/artist! I requested it from the library knowing pretty much nothing else about it except that it was queer and looked cute. I ended up devouring it in a couple days, and I’m now mourning that it’s over.

This follows Kimmy and Mason, best friends and roommates trying to survive the early 2020s in their early twenties. Kimmy is a nonbinary/genderfluid transfem lesbian, and Mason is cis and gay. As the title suggests, Kimmy is determined to set Mason up with his first boyfriend, which is made a lot more complicated during a pandemic when Mason is high risk.

This was originally a webcomic, which is obvious from how each page is set up to be somewhat complete in itself, but there is a narrative. We follow Kimmy and Mason through dating, breakups, and accumulating a growing group of queer friends. I loved these characters so much, and I was laughing out loud at several pages. It’s just such a cute, funny, and relatable read.

Kimmy is an unforgettable character. They’re over-the-top bubbly and silly, and they radiate confidence. I really appreciated reading about a fat transfem character who is so secure in themselves. They usually use they/them pronouns, but they also experience gender fluidity and change pronouns some days.

About halfway through the book, we find out Kimmy has depression, and they have to taper off their medication to start a new kind. As they go off their depression medication, they become an almost unrecognizable numb, closed-off version of themself Mason calls “Normal Kimmy.” Their friends support them through the weeks of this until they’ve adjusted to the new medication and begin to feel like themself again, including being able to better take in what’s happening around them.

This community of queer friends was the strength of this story. Not only have Mason and Kimmy been best friends since high school, but they also make connections with other queer people, quickly growing a supportive friend group. Despite the struggles they’re dealing with in terms of employment, the pandemic, dating, capitalism, and more, that rock solid foundation made this a comforting and cozy read.

This is not a short comic: it’s 280 pages. But by the time I finished it, I was already missing spending time with these characters.

I do have one complaint, though, and I hope it’s changed in later editions, because it doesn’t fit with the range of queer identities represented positively in this story: Kimmy refers to their lack of libido from being off their medication as being asexual, including triumphantly declaring, “I’m not ace anymore!” when their sex drive returned, which isn’t great, especially because I believe that’s the only mention of asexuality in the book.

That unfortunate inclusion aside, I really enjoyed this book. You can also still read it as a webcomic!

A Fantasy of Community: Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

the cover of Legends and Lattes

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Legends & Lattes has been reviewed at the Lesbrary before, and it’s certainly gotten a lot of praise online in general, so why do I feel the need to add my own positive review to the mix? I think it’s because the reason I loved it isn’t one I’ve seen touched on much, and it’s also why I think cozy fantasy has a particular appeal to queer readers—I adored it when I first encountered it in The Tea Dragon Society, and this series has only cemented that love.

I’m here to argue that queer cozy fantasy isn’t just about low stakes. It’s about building community, and that’s why it—like the found family trope—is so popular with queer readers.

To be clear, this series is cozy on several levels. The chapters are short and easy to read. It’s fairly low-stakes, it has a cozy setting—a coffee shop—and even the plot mirrors the home renovation TV shows so many people put on for something comforting. The romance is a gentle slow burn built on establishing trust and mutual respect. There’s a ratkin baker who invents cinnamon rolls. There’s a lot of coziness to go around.

But what I found the most cozy, comforting, and heartwarming about this book was the building of community. Viv sets out to start a coffee shop, and that’s inherently something you can’t do alone. She needs help to build and design the physical space as well as to staff it when it’s done. Because she’s starting this in a new town, she needs to build relationships in order to complete this goal.

Viv isn’t exactly the poster child for extroversion and teambuilding. She’s an orc, and that means many people are intimidated by her and associate her with violence. It doesn’t help that she was a fighter, and this is her attempt to retire from the adventuring life. She can be a little gruff, but she’s also kind. She reaches out to people, and almost despite herself, she build a community around the shop, allowing space for everyone’s talents and interests.

This is a story about finding your people. It’s found family, sure, but it’s also not just that. This is a community. Even if they’re not over for dinner every night, they have each other’s back when needed. Family is important, but I think focusing on found family can ignore the many ways we form connections with each other. A handful of essential relationships—family—in our lives is necessary, but so are the network of connections we make in other types of community. The friends who you only see a few times a year, but will always show up in an emergency. The ex-coworker who lets you know when a job possibility perfect for you opens up. The coffee shop owner who lets you host open mic nights there.

This community also allows for reinvention. Almost everyone associated with the coffee shop is exploring a role outside of what’s been assigned to them by society. Can an orc leave violence behind? Can a succubus be respected for her people skills without being reduced to “seductress”? Can a ratkin be a baker? Of course they can. Together, they’re able to support each other as they defy the expectations that have restrained them for so long.

It’s also a story about resilience and hope. The kind of hope that can have you build a business from the ground up, (spoilers, highlight to read) and run into the flames of it burning down to rescue the cappuccino machine so you can do it all over again. That hope blooms from the reciprocal generosity of true community. Being part of a network of people, all supporting each other in their own ways, allows you to have the confidence to begin again.

Human beings are meant to live in community with each other. We’re a social species. We depend on each other to survive. But consciously building these connections is something queer people are more likely to do, because we know that the family we’re born with could very well be conditional. Coming out tests all the relationships in our lives, and even if they survive, it’s hard not to be aware of how precarious they can be. I think that’s why cozy fantasy like this speaks to us so much: it reminds us that we can find family and community by reaching out to other people seeking connection. It can be messy and unconventional, but beautiful both in spite and because of that.

I did not think this cute fantasy book would have me thinking about the nature of human connection as it relates to queerness, but here we are! Whether you’re looking for a comforting read or inspiration to build community in your own life, pick this one up.

LA as a Not-So-Urban Jungle: Undergrowth by Chel Hylott and Chelsea Lim

the cover of undergrowth

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Seventeen-year-old Mariam finds herself surviving a Los Angeles that has been overrun by a magic jungle of horror. Along the way, she meets a group of other survivors, and together they become a family. But Mariam has her secrets. She magically heals and cannot die thanks to a deal with the devil her father made on her behalf. And the jungle they find themselves in has been caused by her father as well. She must learn to put her faith in others and earn their trust in return to undo the mess he made.

There’s a strong sense of setting here that feels a lot like Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. The lush descriptions of an LA gone to hell under a horrific jungle and the introduction of Mariam as a tough-as-nails type make it an intriguing story and give it a strong start. Unfortunately, that doesn’t hold.

Mariam tries to keep herself emotionally distant to avoid the pain of loss but ends up getting attached to a rag-tag found family. But she still tries to hold her secrets, and that ends up hurting them. At every turn in the story when Mariam is given a chance to be honest, she chooses to lie and continues to create a rift between herself and her new family. She never seems to learn that taking this route causes more pain and danger, and so it doesn’t feel like she undergoes a major character arc.

Additionally, the pacing happens too fast to feel like her attachments are believable. Her crush on Camila quickly evolves into a deep connection between the two girls, but it doesn’t seem organic. Despite this, the relationship that starts to blossom between them is sweet, and it adds a sense of levity to the apocalyptic situation.

Throughout the novel, the author sprinkles details about Mariam’s cultural heritage, with tidbits like talking about her Ramadan dinners and the names she calls her family by. Readers can appreciate the subtle way Mariam’s background comes to light, giving her some depth without overexplaining everything.

There is also a transgender character, Hana, whose identity is revealed in a moment when her hair has to be cut because of lice. It adds another interesting layer to the story without turning into a teaching moment. The author writes many of these character revelations well, showing representations of body dysmorphia and disability in the middle of the end of the world.

As the novel ends, it all happens rather fast and feels like it gets tied up in a neat bow, considering the situation. There is a lack of satisfaction with so many unanswered questions about the world itself. It’s never discussed exactly how long the jungle apocalypse occurred until the very end. The story never shows how the world outside of LA coped or reacted to the events outside of a few glimmers of a military scene at the beginning.

Overall, none of the characters have much development, especially not Mariam or her dad, the villain. But it does get a happily ever after for her and Camila, and it was a fun adventure.

Mechanized Deities and Queer Perseverance: Godslayers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

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In her acknowledgements at the end of Godslayers, the second book of her Gearbreakers duology, Zoe Hana Mikuta writes, “Okay. So. I’ve been incredibly mean to my characters.” She is spot on. Eris, Sona, and the rest of the cast go through so much in this book. There’s psychological terror, disfigurement, death of close friends, and a constant looming threat of annihilation. As a reader fully invested in the well-being of these characters (thanks to Zoe’s fantastic writing), I couldn’t help but feel their pain and anguish every step of the way. But, in the end, it was all worth it. It all drove home the central theme of the entire duology: the power of love and hope can help us endure and triumph over all. 

Warning: mild spoilers ahead

At the end of Gearbreakers, Sona, former Windup pilot turned Gearbreaker, and Eris, life-long Gearbreaker, had struck a massive blow to the tyrannical Godolia. The majority of the Windups (mechas) worshiped as Gods by the citizens of Godolia and symbols of oppression by everyone else have been destroyed. The leadership of the empire has been reduced to one Zenith named Enyo, a teenager seemingly unprepared for the role he has been pushed into. But Eris and Sona paid dearly for this success. Both were captured, and while Eris has been held prisoner and tortured, Sona has been corrupted, a form of cybernetic and psychological brainwashing. She now believes that Eris had kidnapped and tortured her into attacking Godolia rather than the truth: that she and Eris escaped together and fell in love. She’s also been made the right-hand woman of the last Zenith as he seeks to assert his power and destroy the rebellion. However, Sona’s corruption is not complete. No matter what the doctors of Godolia and Enyo do, there is always her love for Eris holding her back and keeping the corruption from completely taking over her mind. When Enyo orders her to kill Eris, she can’t, instead standing idly by as she escapes. Eris, realizing that Sona can be saved, knows what she must do: bring back the love of her life.  

When Sona accompanies Enyo to a gala to open a new Windup pilot academy in the city of Ira Sol, Eris knows this is her chance to rescue Sona. Little does she know that this is actually a trap meant to capture her and her sister. Through the help of her crew, she narrowly escapes the trap and rescues Sona while also helping the Gearbeakers capture the city of Ira Sol. Sona initially resists Eris’ attempts to help her see the truth of their relationship. Eventually, though, she is able to overcome her corruption and remember how in love with Eris she is. Over the following months, the pair rekindle their relationship and try to take care of their found family of a crew. However, Sona still struggles with the lingering effects of her corruption. Even worse, almost every good moment is met with tragedy as Godolia and their true believers continue to try to kill them. Eris, Sona, and the rest of the Gearbreakers suffer tragedy after tragedy until they realize that the only way to end it is to take down Godolia once and for all. 

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but see the struggles Eris, Sona, and the rest of the Gearbreakers go through as powerful metaphors for the lives and struggles of queer people in an often tyrannical conservative religious society. While Eris has fought against Godolia all her life, deep down her ultimate goal isn’t its complete destruction. Rather, her goal is simple: keep the love of her life and her found family safe. Every day, she fights to help Sona recover from her torturous corruption. Every day, she fights to eke out a peaceful and happy life for the members of her family and the rest of Gearbreaker society. Sona tries to do the same while also hoping against hope that she can save Enyo, who she believes can be saved despite his complicity in all of the things done to her and the Gearbreakers. She’s seen him struggle with the weight of all his new responsibility and thinks he may not be a true believer. And yet, despite all of their best efforts, every little victory is met with defeats inflicted on them from a society wholly devoted to the deific worship of Windups and Zeniths. Despite this, they continue to fight on.

Later in her acknowledgements, Zoe writes that, ultimately, this book and the entire duology are a story about love and hope and how they can help us persevere in a world that seeks to destroy us and our communities. I wholeheartedly agree. Godslayers is not only a thrilling dystopian science fiction story filled with great action and well-written characters, but also a one that shows us that while all may appear lost, we can continue on. By holding on to the love we have for each other and the hope that, together, we can make it through, we can persevere. Our communities can survive. Not only that, but through the collective power of love and hope, one day we will be victorious. In times like these, this is a powerful message that every member of the queer community needs to hear.

A Sapphic Romance at Adult Summer Camp: That Summer Feeling by Bridget Morrissey

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That Summer Feeling delivers exactly that. A beach read set at an adult summer camp, this read is low angst and very wholesome. The beginning of the book starts out with a bit of chaos: a flashback to the past, a bit of family history to set the stage, and a frantic rush through the airport to catch a flight—not to mention a vision (there’s a light helping of woo in the beginning, but the book doesn’t involve much magical realism). But the pace slows considerably after the prologue, as the rest of the book spans the course of only seven days. 

Our main character Garland requires a bit of patience—she’s 32 years old with zero sense of self identity, though the thing she’s got going for her is the awareness of that flaw. It’s one of the reasons she’s at this camp. Garland is licking her wounds from a recent divorce (to a man; this a toaster oven situation) but is also sort of letting the divorce define her in the same way that the relationship defined her. She was Married—now she’s Divorced. And she might just be done with romance, unless of course her fella decides to take her back. She’s hoping this summer camp will lead to a new start. 

On paper, Garland is the sort of character that should really annoy me. She might really annoy you. But I found her to be so obtuse about her own feelings that it was actually kind of hilarious. When she meets Stevie, her roommate at camp, she’s immediately fascinated by her, and the two form a “camp alliance.” Despite enjoying her new friend’s company more than is typical of a platonic relationship, Garland takes a while to come around to realizing her queerness. It’s not for a lack of having queer friends or exposure to the idea of sexuality being fluid, she’s just been so caught up in a heteronormative idea of things like marriage as a measure of success she’s never paused to consider her sexuality. 

Vague spoilers, highlight to read: Once she realizes her feelings for Stevie are romantic, it opens the floodgates for her Big Moment of Self Realization. For those who hate the instalove trope, you’ll likely not love Insta I Just Figured My Shit Out either, so you’ve been warned! It does make for a refreshing third act when our main character, in a situation where a main character usually does something monumentally stupid, instead shows her growth as a person. It’s tough to pull off that kind of low angst read yet still maintain tension through the end of the book, but That Summer Feeling gets it right.

There are also some solid themes of found family, not needing others to define your worth, and the difficulty developing adult friendships. With the addition of tropes that keep things light and help make this a pretty fluffy book overall, this is perfect for a relaxing day at camp.

A Wholesome and Messy Queer Romcom: Wild Things by Laura Kay

the cover of Wild Things

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Laura Kay could teach a masterclass on the low-key, wholesome, slightly messy queer rom com, as exemplified in her third novel, Wild Things. El is stuck in a rut, both personally and professionally. Still in her dead-end job at a London newspaper, she spends most of the workday making photocopies rather than researching stories, as the job had initially promised. Meanwhile, El’s roommate leaves passive-aggressive notes on the fridge while otherwise disregarding her existence. But worst of all, El harbors a gigantic, unrequited crush on Ray, her best friend of five years and also her coworker.

In an attempt to scoop herself out of said rut, El plots to do one “wild thing” each month for a year. In January, she drinks ten shots of tequila. In February, she gets a butterfly tattoo. In March, El experiments with MDMA. In April, she has a failed threesome. (You get the idea.) But when El, Ray, and their mutual friends Will and Jamie devise a plan to move to a fixer-upper farmhouse in the countryside, El finally begins to feel alive again. The catch: El must regulate her feelings for Ray now that they live (and work) in close proximity 24/7. Will she choose to protect their years-long friendship, or risk it all by spilling her feelings for Ray?

Wild Things is a friends-to-lovers romance, yes, but also a heartwarming exploration of found family. Kay breathes life into the book’s characters, all of whom are flawed and lovable and distinctly themselves. Ray, the effortlessly cool lesbian love interest, is spunky and enters every DIY farmhouse project with infectious enthusiasm. Will is the group’s token straight man, a sensitive soul leaning hard on his friends following a breakup with the woman who was supposed to have escaped to the countryside with him. Jamie is a Thai, biracial gay man who drags his friends to karaoke nights and forges a bond with the commune’s four chickens. It is impossible not to feel the love between this motley crew of friends, who simultaneously lift each other up and call each other out on their bullshit. Even minor characters (El’s queer mentee Rozália, the local townspeople, etc.) feel fully realized and essential to the plot, driving home the notion that family extends far beyond blood relations, that everyone has a place to belong. 

Recommended for fans of droll British humor, readers of In at the Deep End and Queenie, and watchers of Fleabag and Feel Good.

Content warnings: absent/distant parents, cheating (not related to main character)