Larkie reviews Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Nothing But Blackened Teeth cover

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Trigger warning for suicidal ideation 

A compact novella with a haunted house story, strained friendships, and a hungry ghost, I had high expectations for Nothing But Blackened Teeth. Were they met? Kind of, but overall the book fell a little flat for me.

First off, there are five leads: the main character Cat, rich white guy Philip, engaged couple Talia and Faiz, and snarky comedian Lin. They’ve rented out a haunted Heian period mansion (which, of course, is said to be haunted) for Talia and Faiz’s wedding. Most of the book focused more on their friendship dynamics and how quickly they fall apart, like…literally from the get go they’re already at each other’s throats. This trip sounds like it would have been a nightmare even without a ghost trying to keep one of them as her eternal companion. 

The creep factor started in early as well, as Cat indulges some morbid fantasies around the legends of the house, and in the beginning I really enjoyed it. Cat has a tendency to go on rambling tangents that have a bit of a darker turn, due in part to her previous struggles with her mental health, and it really adds to the setting. 

However, after the first visual appearance of the ghost, I found a lot of the scares to be a bit of a let down. The characters seem more focused on fighting each other and discussing how the narratives of horror movies usually spin out than they do on the ghost, who is perfectly happy to watch them destroy themselves rather than contribute much of anything on her own. It feels like Khaw is trying to spin the narrative on who horror movies usually treat as fodder—the queer characters, the comic relief—versus who is allowed to be the hero. But it bogs down the whole story and detracts from some of the excellent imagery and visceral horror that is there. Maybe I would have liked some of the later horror sections more if they were really allowed to shine, but the horror elements feel like they’re secondary to the somewhat forced melodrama of the characters.

Rachel reviews Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens

the cover of Briefly, A Delicious Life

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Nell Stevens’s debut novel, Briefly, A Delicious Life (2022), is a stunning historical novel about a centuries-old ghost who falls in love with one of history’s most infamous writers.

The novel is told from the perspective of Blanca, a ghost who has been fourteen for hundreds of years by the time the novel begins in the 1830s. After dying in childbirth in a hilltop monastery in Mallorca in 1473, Blanca spends her (after)life watching over the monastery and haunting those who harm others. When George Sand (1804-1876), a nineteenth century French author famous for both her novels and her penchant for wearing men’s clothes, arrives at the monastery with her two children and her lover, composer Frédéric Chopin, for an extended stay in Mallorca, Blanca falls instantly in love with George, although George has no idea Blanca exists. The novel narrates Blanca’s desire and devotion to George, as well as George’s writerly and motherly struggles in the present and in the past. Blanca quickly becomes an unseen part of the family’s life, and the novel unfolds against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mallorca.

Stevens is a prominent memoirist, with her memoirs Bleaker House (2017), Mrs. Gaskell and Me / The Victorian and the Romantic (2018) winning multiple awards. With Briefly, A Delicious Life, Stevens’ first attempt at fiction, she does not disappoint. This novel is full of the emotional and intellectual vigour of the best historical fiction. Stevens’ novel is poetic without being overwrought, and full of humour and delight as much as it is of sadness and female rage. Although Stevens adapts an episode in the lives of real individuals, she does so with postmodern humour, and Blanca’s perspective was unique and refreshing.

This is a novel to linger over, and it’s one that I was thinking about long after I’d finished it. With this text, Stevens promises to become one of the most prominent authors of queer historical fiction. Briefly, a Delicious Life is unlike any ghost story I’ve read before, and it is a novel of hope, renewal, and the female voice.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Sarah Waters’s or Emma Donoghue’s fiction, or of Emily M. Danforth’s Plain Bad Heroines.

Please add Briefly, A Delicious Life to your TBR on Goodreads.

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

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

Megan G reviews “Wet Nails” by Shira Glassman

Adina Greenberg is taking a small break from her life as a grad student to spend a night watching movies starring her biggest Hollywood crush: Rose Hamilton. Rose Hamilton was a star in the 1950’s, and is definitely dead. Yet, she somehow also manages to step right out of Adina’s television set and into her living room.

The words “ghost” and “erotica” are not words I would often think to put together, and yet somehow, they work perfectly in this adorable and sexy short story.

Part of this, I think, is because “Wet Nails” doesn’t read like a traditional short story. Instead of being terrified by the ghostly apparition of her dead celebrity crush, Adina seems excited and nervous. In fact, the first thing she thinks when Rose Hamilton begins to climb out of her TV is how thankful she is that she just recently showered. At no point does Adina show any fear at the situation, which, while a little odd considering the circumstances, does work to help the “erotica” side of this ghost erotica along.

Another thing, I think, is that Rose Hamilton is not a vengeful ghost, seeking retribution over the horrible things that happened to her in her life. Instead, she claims she is kept alive by her fans, and because of that can occasionally drop in to visit some of them and thank them for their dedication to her.

Something I really enjoyed about this story was Adina and Rose talking about their different experiences with bisexuality. Adina is quite open about liking women – in fact, she shows a clear preference towards women. Rose is open as well, but makes it clear that she was not that open during her life. Any romantic interactions she had with women had to be hushed up, hidden, as they could have ruined not only her career, but her life. Adina, in turn, seems fully aware of the privilege she has in being able to be out and accepted, knowing that it wasn’t always like this and, for some people, still isn’t.

I won’t get too detailed about the “erotica” aspect of this story, but I do promise that it is hot, hot, hot. And yet, somehow also manages to keep that little bit of adorable that has been sprinkled through the entire story.

Overall, “Wet Nails” is a fantastic little story that looks at the different experiences women can have with queerness (bisexuality in particular, in this story), and how despite that, they can still find common ground, even if they are from entirely different generations. They form a sweet, albeit brief friendship, which obviously turns into a little bit more in a way that works perfectly even though one of the women is a ghost. I would highly recommend this story to anybody who is looking for something both sweet and sexy. Shira Glassman will not disappoint.


Alyssa reviews Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt

SometimeYesterday

In addition to being a romance story, Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt is also a horror mystery. I really enjoyed this book; it had a couple iffy parts, but overall I had fun reading it and was caught up in both the romantic plot and the mystery.

There are two lesbian couples in Sometime Yesterday, which mirror each other: one in the past, and one in the present. In present day we meet Natalie, a painter who has just divorced her ex-husband and purchased an idyllic-looking house in a small town. She soon meets Van, a butch landscaper with a tragic past and a chronic avoidance of commitment. Natalie’s new house turns out to be haunted, and through the haunting, she and Van learn about the two women who used to love each other in that house. The lovers of the past were doomed by circumstance, but Natalie and Van have a chance at a future together.

I enjoyed the romance in the story the most, although the haunting, which escalates over time, gives it vital tension. Van and Natalie make a believable pair, and reading about them was a sweet experience. The haunting and its mystery unfold well, although it was at times too gory for my tastes. If you don’t like gore or violence, I would look for your romance elsewhere. For the record, since I like to note these things down in my reviews, the cast is mostly white (except for an important background character who I believe is supposed to be Hispanic), and the characters are gay but not very queer. I’d also like to warn for the following triggers: abuse, rape, and murder.

I would definitely recommend Sometime Yesterday if you’re looking for an enjoyable lesbian romance, and don’t mind some ghosts thrown in—or vice versa.