Laura Mandanas reviews The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

So… before we get started, there are a few things I want to make perfectly clear:

  1. The main character in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a cis male.
  2. The author of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a cis male.
  3. The original Swedish title of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is Men Who Hate Women.

Does The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo qualify as lesbian literature? I mean… not in the strictest sense. (Clearly, right?) But there is the matter of the secondary protagonist, Lisbeth Salandar, who is far and away the most interesting character in the entire series of books.

Here’s how Lisbeth’s sexuality is described:

Salander – unlike Mimmi – had never thought of herself as a lesbian. She had never brooded over whether she was straight, gay, or even bisexual. She did not give a damn about labels, did not see that it was anyone else’s business whom she spent her nights with. If she had to choose, she preferred guys–and they were in the lead, statistically speaking. The only problem was finding a guy who was not a jerk and one who was also good in bed; Mimmi was a sweet compromise, and she turned Salander on. They had met in a beer tent at the Pride Festival a year ago, and Mimmi was the only person that Salander had introduced to the Evil Fingers.* But it was just a casual affair for both of them. It was nice lying close to Mimmi’s warm, soft body, and Salander did not mind waking up with her and their having breakfast together.

There is, in the book, mention of her sleeping with a woman. There is also, in the book, significantly more mention of her sleeping with a man. There are no trans* characters, so there’s no mention of her sleeping with them, but it wouldn’t seem a bit out of place. The book is very sex positive, despite its sundry misogynist characters (who mostly get what’s coming to them).

Speaking of which: trigger warnings. There are graphic descriptions of rape and other sexual violence. There’s murder. There’s animal abuse. There’s child abuse. Lisbeth is described (in passing) as “anorexic-looking.” If you know that you’re very sensitive about these topics, I recommend that you avoid this book. And definitely avoid themovies.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It falls in the category of crime thriller, which I don’t often read, but the journalist-turned-detective thing appealed to me. (Did I not mention the plot yet? It’s a murder mystery that takes place in early 2000s Sweden. We follow recently disgraced political journalist Mikael Blomkvist as he takes on the case of a teenage girl who disappeared without a trace 36 years prior.) The plot is twisty, but not in a unfollowable way. And there’s plenty of action, in multiple senses of the word.

My one pet peeve with the book was how freaking often Larsson sent his characters to go get coffee. Like, every other page. Hooray for characters exhibiting true-to-life human behavior, but, really? Is it really, truly necessary to provide evidence of their caffeine addictions in such banal, repetitive, frequent detail? I almost prefer the remorseless, brutal misogyny. Almost.

*Sadly, the “Evil Fingers” is not a euphemism for any sort of lesbian sex act – it’s just the nickname for her group of friends. Missed opportunities! Alas!

Laura Mandanas reviewed “Blazing Star” by Marie Carlson

Title: “Blazing Star”
Author: Marie Carlson
Genre: Urban Fantasy Erotic Romance
Length: 9,800 words / 20 pages
Initial Release: Cast the Cards anthologyPublisher’s Blurb: Bea is a mind reader, weary of battle, but still with the Star in her eyes. Her lover, Hope, returns to Bea’s sanctuary in need of comfort and guidance, which Bea is only too happy to give. But the respite is short-lived when other Hunters show up at the sanctuary with news of an impending battle. Bea knows she must let Hope go, even though it may be for the last time.Some thoughts about “Blazing Star”:

  1. The world-building was interesting, but blunt. When Bea starts cooking dinner, I don’t need to hear about the “homegrown chickens raised by a guy down the street, payment for carding protection magic into wool that he wove into blankets for his family.” Just tell me that she’s making chicken, and leave the explanation about the bartering system for another time. Or not at all.
  2. The characters were reasonably strong, especially given the story’s short length. I believed them, and they weren’t unbearably stereotypical.
  3. I really wasn’t into the sex scenes. They were long and interrupted the flow of the story. The writing was fine, but I found myself wishing they’d just get it over with. Unfortunately, that’s not really how erotic romance stories work.
  4. Weak editing. There was a weird continuity error involving the death of someone’s mother.
  5. Despite its flaws, at the end of the story, I wanted to know what happened next. I think it’s just the soft spot I have for lesbian literature. This was not a good short story.

“Blazing Star” is available from Storm Moon Press in eBook form for $1.99.

Laura Mandanas reviews Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash by Malinda Lo

The first chapter of Ash by Malinda Lo stopped me in my tracks. Lo’s writing here is not the type that should be read hurriedly — speed reading here would be like sprinting through the Taj Mahal, blindfolded, and calling it sightseeing. Such a waste! No, readers will do best to advance slowly. Pause. Ponder. Resume wandering, slowly. Bask in each word of the luminous and evocative prose. This book is one worth lingering over.

Placed in a vaguely medieval secondary fantasy world, this “Cinderella” retelling follows young Aisling (“Ash”) as she comes to terms with personal tragedy and struggles to work out her place in the world. Curious, independent, and full of longing for her lost mother and the fairy world, Ash reminds me heavily of the character Saaski from The Moorchild. Like Saaski, Ash has to make a choice between two very different worlds. Unlike Saaski, Ash has no human boy companion to help her. Prince Charming does no rescuing; indeed, Ash shows very little interest in him whatsoever. But this does not mean that she is alone.

Though Ash never declares a label for her sexuality, her burgeoning relationships indicate bisexuality. (Note that as a young adult novel, there’s no explicit sex of any kind in the book.) In this world, same sex relationships are as commonplace and unremarkable as opposite sex relationships. Lo explains on her website, “In Ash’s world, there is no homosexuality or heterosexuality; there is only love. The story is about her falling in love. It’s not about her being gay.”

My favorite thing about this book is the depth and realism that Lo depicts in her inter-character relationships. Heartwarmingly full of that familiar first time awkwardness, Ash’s relationship with the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, is a pleasure to watch unfold. Conversely, her incisive relationship with the dangerous and seductive fairy Sidhean is bone-chilling… but mesmerising. Even the complicated sisterly bond Ash has with her two stepsisters — absolutely beautifully rendered.

I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will warn you that it comes without fanfare, tacked on almost as an afterthought. It wasn’t terrible, but the big, book-long buildup had me expecting more. Luckily, there’s a prequel?

Laura reviews Fist of the Spider Woman edited by Amber Dawn

Fist of the Spider Woman, edited by Amber Dawn, is an anthology of 16 poems and short stories written in the queer space where fear meets desire. With subject matter ranging from vampires to pubic lice, this coolly creepy collection is the perfect paperback to pick up as Halloween draws near.

As Dawn notes in the introduction, “Fist’s contributor’s know what it means to operate outside of the norm. This puts us in a position to uncover distinctively queer, distinctively woman-centered horrors, and bring life to empathy-worthy victims and villains rarely seen before.” Yes, yes, and yes. The overall execution is marvelous; I’ve been turning these stories over in my head for weeks now, and I’m still not sick of it. If you’re looking for vivid characters and situations, this collection has it in spades.

While I wouldn’t say that all the pieces are hits, none are misses, either. A few are just stunningly, dazzlingly, take-your-breath-away beautiful. Here are a couple of my favorite passages:

From “All You Can Be” by Mette Bach:

“Do you believe in fate?” Brianna asked. “Do you think that maybe all this was meant to happen so that we could meet?”

Sal, who had always been an atheist and a practitioner of science, mathematics, and calculable randomness, heard her voice declare without hesitation, “Yes. I believe in fate.”

“I really like you, Sal.”

The phrase, like butter melting on toast, seeped into Sal.

“I really like you too, Brianna.”

From “Shark” by Kestrel Barnes:

I’d been scared that Carling would be born a shark, but she wasn’t, I soon satisfied myself of that. Her eyes were green as the tidepools and filled with life. Her mewls held no menace, her mouth was toothless and birdline. She smelled like the rainforest after it rained. She couldn’t swim, not in the bath, where I carefully examined her — no fins, no gills, no cartilage, and no tail. After that I knew for sure Carling wasn’t a shark. She was just my little sister.

For a memorable fix of fantasy mixed with a little terror, you really can’t do much better. Check out this exquisite read out for yourself: $17.95 from Arsenal Pulp Press.

Laura Mandanas reviews “Gigglepuss” by Giselle Renarde

I have to say: I was a bit concerned when, four paragraphs in, the main love interest was characterized as a “Japanese anime schoolgirl.” (Like, really people. Can we just stop with the racist Asian exotification and extraordinarily sleazy fetishization of teenage girls? That would be great.) Normally I would have stopped reading there, but with Lesbrary readers in mind, I continued on. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I expected; as it turns out, Mitsuki is 20, and Asian “othering” is actually mildly poked fun at in this story. So, yay for that. You’re free to read “Gigglepuss” by Giselle Renarde with a clear conscience.

Unfortunately, not having the above information, I found myself entirely unable to get into it on my first read through. By the time I got to the story’s climax, there just… was none. Stereotyping is super unsexy in my book, and though this one redeemed itself by the end, the initial turnoff was overpowering. Despite this, the engaging and cheerfully explicit writing eventually won me over – it just took some time. I quite enjoyed the story on my second read through a couple weeks later. So take that as you will.

Without giving too much away, “Gigglepuss” is an erotic romance about two queer women in a small town. It is not a love story, and it is not a lengthy dissertation with laboriously developed characters. It is short, sexy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously – which feels appropriate, coming from an author who began writing erotica on a dare.

The main highlight of the story for me was the main character: a sweet-talking lady-killer named Lorna. (Think Shane  from The L Word in print form.) I mean, that, of course, and the sex. Always the sex. Even when the occasionally overenthusiastic descriptions made me giggle.

 “Gigglepuss” is available to download for $1.49 at All Romance.

Laura Mandanas reviews Fearless by Erin O’Reilly

Fearless by Erin O’Reilly is a work of historical fiction about the brave members of the Auxiliary Transport Authority who ferried planes during World War II. Delivering aircraft from the factories to Royal Air Force stations throughout the United Kingdom, ATA pilots flew in the face of danger on a daily basis. This book follows pilots of the first all women’s ferry pool at Hatfield.

Now, let me tell you: I wanted to like this book. I really did. Who doesn’t love a tale of scrappy lesbian underdogs? And badass, evil-fighting pilots, at that? Alas, it was not to be.

There were too many characters. Waaaaay too many characters. They were “strong” characters, from a variety of social, economic, and cultural backgrounds, but still. Unnecessary. Most cross center stage just once for their introduction, then fade into the background. After 100 pages of this, you just want to skip past it all.

Worse, perhaps, than the glut of characters was when they actually opened their mouths to speak. To call it “stilted” would be a grievous understatement; the writing quality read like highbrow fanfiction. The characterization had potential, but you could tell the work lacked serious editing. Grammatical errors and typos littered the pages, especially towards the end.

The one thing O’Reilly got right was the research — there were great historical details worked in, however awkwardly — but it wasn’t enough to redeem the rest. For me, the preface was more interesting than the actual plot. So if you’re interested, do yourself a favor on this one: skip the story and go straight to the source material.

You’re welcome.

Laura Mandanas reviews Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

A darker tale than one might expect, Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith is a story of deception, double-dealing, and dysfunction. Opening in 1862 in a dilapidated London slum known as the Borough, we meet heroine #1: 17-year-old Susan Trinder. Orphaned at a young age, Sue has been raised as a fingersmith (pickpocket) by Mrs. Sucksby, a crooked landlady who trafficks in foundling babies dosed with gin. When a smooth talking tenant approaches Sucksby with a get-rich-quick scheme to swindle a sheltered young heiress of her fortune, Sue eagerly volunteers to help.

The young heiress, of course, is heroine #2: Maud Lilly. Also orphaned at a young age, Maud lives a safe but excruciatingly dull existence with her uncle on an estate called Briar in the English countryside. Bored to tears and fits of mindless cruelty, Maud is punished harshly and bullied into submission as she is trained to take over her uncle’s distasteful line of work. Needless to say, when an alternative unexpectedly presents itself, Maud jumps at the opportunity. Though the two women come from opposite positions of poverty and privilege, Sue and Maud are both women confined by their circumstances. Though both are admirably strong-willed and cunning, they are also naive; preoccupied as they are in setting their elaborate traps, they often don’t see the ones set for them by others. (And as you fall for their charms, I daresay, neither will you. The Byzantine twists and hairpin turns of plot in this book are absolutely breathtaking.)

Told as a first-person narrative alternating between Sue and Maud’s points of view, the nuanced characterizations were fresh and a pleasure to read. More strikingly, the descriptive atmospheric details are among the most beautiful and realistic I’ve ever encountered. Waters is clearly a woman at home doing research, and there’s a reason why–prior to writing fiction, she was in a Ph.D. program at Queen Mary’s, studying lesbian and gay historical fiction

Although Waters is famous for penning “lesbo Victorian romps“, the actual lesbian content in this book is “more or less incidental.” And in this setting, I didn’t even mind it. The subtle touch felt right, and honestly, probably played a role in propelling the book to its success with mainstream audiences. As far as I’m concerned, the more people that get to read this lovely book, the better!

Laura Mandanas reviews Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

A few weeks ago, I decided to bring a book into the tub for a relaxing bubble bath. When the temperature was right, I gingerly picked up the paperback and eased my way into the frothy suds, cautiously avoiding the slightest splash. I took careful pains to hold the book a deliberate 6-8 inches out of the water. I even piled up towels at the edge of the tub in case of slippery-fingered emergency. It didn’t matter; within 20 minutes the book was completely waterlogged. The culprit? Not bathwater, but tears. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg had me weeping by the end of the first chapter.
Stone Butch Blues is a beautifully written novel. The main character, Jess, is a young Jewish butch coming of age in the late ‘60s. Drowning in loneliness, Jess finds companionship in the queer community frequenting working-class gay bars. In this pre-Stonewall era, however, their mere existence is enough to prompt brutal attack from all sides. As the story unfolds, each of these characters weather hardships of an enormity I can barely comprehend.

Jess is a complicated character, and the book (thankfully) never backs away from this. I particularly appreciated the range of characters shown throughout in the book. “Butch” identity is not reserved strictly for lesbian women that present themselves in traditionally masculine ways; men, straight and bisexual women, and transgender people can all lay equally legitimate claim to the identity.

 Stone Butch Blues is the winner of numerous literary awards, and its clear to see why. This book is an essential read — and not just for the person who “doesn’t identify as a man and is at least some of the time attracted romantically and/or sexually to others who do not identify as a man” (ha). This is a book for anyone with a soul.

Stone Butch Blues is one of the most widely read pieces of LGBT literature, and appears on the shelves of many major retailers.

Laura Mandanas and Nichole review Sleeping with the Frenemy by KT Grant


I absolutely loved this book. Deborah is possibly one of the most relatable characters I’ve come across in a long time and still she is raw and sweet and a bit of a bitch. She’s been through hell and manages to come out on top and I know I spent the entire book rooting for her success.

Deborah is the main character and from the first page I was drawn into her. She is sexy and shy and oh so sweet, but there is a darker side to Deborah’s life. Grant brings to life in raw, unyeilding terms, the horrors of abusive relationships, which stand true no matter the sex of the partners. But Deborah is not a victim, not anymore anyway.

Perhaps that’s why I clung to every page. She isn’t running, but becoming something bigger, something better and realizing she is deserving of more than the “love” she’s had for four years.

The icing on the cake came with Brigette, a fiery red head with a passion for art and Deborah. Tenderness and an ache for love pulse through her every move and Grant lets you see that in the sweetest way.

Sure there are times when the plot drags and a few choppy sentences, but overall this novel had me spell bound. (I literally read it in one sitting.) A great plot, heavy emotion and a few sweet, sultry love scenes make this book a keeper in my collection. 🙂

– Nichole



I had a bit of a different take on this book. While I found the sex scenes to be compelling and well written, they were the lone bright spots in a sea of mediocrity. Sleeping with the Frenemy is utterly predictable; there’s just no cleverness, no imagination, no life. The plot reads as if Lifetime fired their absolute worst scriptwriter and he or she got a $5 an hour temp job churning out cheap romance paperbacks. The villain even has a classical music soundtrack, for crying out loud.

Also? This is just a minor annoyance I had, but Sleeping with the Frenemy really doesn’t make sense as a title. Frenemy: friend + enemy. Neither of the women the protagonist sleeps with meet this description. A more appropriate title might have been “Damp: Ladies Who Need to Get It On 30+ Times A Day.” Or “J. Anistonitis: Life With Spidey-Sense Nipples.” Or possibly “Foolish: An Abused Young Woman Who Never Even Considers Calling The Police and Almost Gets Killed Because Of It.”

Beyond that, the ebook is cheap and the sex scenes are plentiful. I wouldn’t call this a bad book, but it’s certainly not a good one, either. Your call.

– Laura

Laura Mandanas reviews Forbidden Passages

Forbidden Passages: Writings Banned in Canada is a book of essays, short stories, and excerpts of texts that have been seized and censored in Canada. The collection features a broad range of perspectives and does not shy away from any subject. (Due, unfortunately, to the fact that Canadian censors shy away from just about everything.) Readers who are weak of heart or stomach, consider yourself duly warned: on topics of transgressive sexuality, many of these works are unflinchingly graphic.

So do I recommend this book to you? Honestly, I’m not sure. If you read cover to cover, you will almost certainly encounter things that are not to your taste. When I got to “Spiral” by David Wojnarowicz (excerpted from Memories That Smell Like Gasoline), I started gagging and had to put the book down. It was, like… graphic, rape-y scenes between men and boys who weren’t even old enough to legally consent. Not my cup of tea.

On the other hand, there were also some real gems. I totally loved the excerpt “Mama” by Dorothy Allison, from her 1988 classic, Trash. In particular, I really appreciated the casual treatment of sexual orientation here; the main character’s lesbian identity wasn’t the be-all and end-all. Instead, the focus was on the main character’s relationship with her mother, whose wrinkled hands and gravy-thick accent practically leapt off the page — so skillfully did Allison bring them to life. It was sublime.

Another fine piece of writing: Kathy Acker’s “Dead: Carved Into Roses”, from Empire of the Senseless. Wow. The raw power of her imagery completely blew me away. Also: “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance” by bell hooks, from Black Looks, Race and Representation. Fantastic. Though at times dry and academic, the otherwise frank and intelligent discussion of interracial attraction was spot on. Ooh, and can we talk about Pat Califia’s descriptive detail in “The Surprise Party” from Macho Slutsfor a minute? Excruciating. Whether that’s your scene or not… That, my friends, is how you write pornography. Oof.

For all the good bits, I’ve got to say, this still isn’t a book I’d casually suggest to friends. And if my little sister asked to borrow it, I’d probably conveniently misplace my copy for the entirety of the next decade. Really and truly, this is a book for mature readers who know what they’re getting into. But if that’s you? By all means, go for it. You may be surprised by what you end up liking.

– Laura

[Danika: I read this book recently as well, so I thought I’d chime in. There’s definitely a wide variety of writing in this collection. I had to put down the book at the same spot. I felt physically ill. And I have to admit, some of the academic writing went right over my head. I think the value in this collection is the context: these are all writings banned for similar reasons, as if they are all equivalent. Seeing the erotica, the violence, and the academic writings all side-by-side shows how ridiculous it is to treat them all as the same.]