Nicole reviews The Melody of Light by M. L. Rice


In which I review another book from Bold Strokes Publishing.  This YA drama enters around a girl names Riley, whose childhood has been traumatic – double orphaned and abused by her aunt and uncle, her and her brother Aiden grow up in a foster home where she gets yet more abuse from Mean Girls. As she grows up, she has to learn how to deal with her past and navigate dating as a young lesbian. And, well, that’s it.

First, let’s get the bad out of the way.  The plot lacks suspense or excitement. There’s a prologue which shows Riley in a dramatic moment, and this has been copy-and-pasted directly from the climax of the book. This, to me, is just lazy writing. It also backfired, because I forgot completely about the prologue until I reached that point in the book and realized that it sounded vaguely familiar.

Second, the book is so heavy on the telling and light on the showing that it kind of reads like a really, really, really really long synopsis. “This happened and then this and then this and then she felt this way but then this happened and she realized that this was not an interesting style to read at all.” Basically, as soon as one scene is set up, the reader is whisked away to another scene and given no time to be absorbed by the story.

And third, the characterizations. Riley is the epitome of the Not Like Other Girls.  She finds other girls shallow and vapid and doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t like her, working constantly towards her goals and never relaxing and also being consumed by “demons of fear.”  Throughout the book, however, Riley displays very little personality. Her responses are limited to responding in abject fear or unreasonable anger to situations, with no real in-between.

I can’t mention Riley’s characterization without mentioning the Other Girls as well. During her time in a group home, she gets intensely bullied both by the girls she lives with and the ones she goes to school with. This seems more like a gimmicky plot device on Rice’s part to make Riley a more sympathetic character with an even more traumatic past, because the bullying seems all out of place and the reactions to it vague at best. Having been a girl who went to high school, I am aware that bullying does occur, but if it gets to the levels described here, something is usually done about it. And not everyone in the world is a bully, yet Riley has no friends, or even acquaintances, during high school. Not a one. Zip. Nada. All other girls are described as faceless, shallow beings who exist purely to torment her.

In college, these faceless girls are given a name and a voice in the form of Riley’s new roommate, Brooke. Brooke goes out drinking and partying, has a boyfriend, and is mean to Riley. Again, Other Girl syndrome. Luckily, as Riley overcomes her problems and makes friends, Brooke kind of symbolically vanishes into the ether, so that’s good I guess.

Alright, enough with the negativity. Let’s talk about the good. Because despite all of the massive problems that this book has, there are some good points as well.

Riley’s relationship with her brother is presented very well. They have a funny, sweet and believable bond that was probably the only thing that kept me reading through the first part of the book. Their repartee, while verging into annoyingly witty at times, was a breath of fresh air after all the telling-not-showing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that dialogue and presenting relationships are Rice’s strengths as a writer.

Which brings me to talking about Riley and her sexuality. She’s a bullied unpopular high school kid, so doesn’t have any relationships then, but her burgeoning awareness of her sexuality is presented casually and naturally. She has no moments of big coming-out declaration – she just knows, and her brother takes it as par for the course. And I think that’s GREAT.  That no matter who you’re attracted to, it’s all equally as valid and real and there’s not always a big climactic coming-out moment.

And again, in college, there’s no drama about ‘finding the other lesbians’ – she just meets girls, who also happen to be gay, and is attracted to them, or becomes friends with them, and that’s cool too.  Because again, we’re not in some secret club and hide out. There are lesbians everywhere! You find us in coffeeshops and bookstores and bars and recital halls! Again, normalizing the LGBTQ community is fantastic.

The relationships that Riley builds in college are also done fairly well and probably my favorite part of the book. I could see a young me relating to her in her struggles to navigate the gay dating scene – because it’s not like we get any tips from mainstream media. And this point, that her relationships are valid and fairly well-written and relatable – is the main redeeming feature of The Melody of Light. It’s the only reason I’d recommend it to someone.

If you’re looking for an exciting read with high-quality writing, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you want something featuring high-quality lesbian relationships and a bit of mediocre drama doesn’t put you off, then you may want to check it out.

If you liked this review, you can check out my book review blog at

Nicole reviews Afterworld by Lois Walden


Egads, I have such mixed feelings about this novel.  But the first thing I have to mention is that there wasn’t actually much L in the LGBTQ aspect.  There were a few gay men, and a woman who was possible bisexual, but that was the extent of the queer woman dynamic here. So that was a bit misleading, as the author requested this book for review through the Lesbrary site.

Anyways. Beyond that, the story itself was interesting and unconventionally-written. It follows a strange family from Louisiana and gives each of the family members a voice as they recount their twisted histories and unconventional relationships. The last third of the book occurs around the characters as they live through Hurricane Katrina.  The title itself, Afterworld, I’m supposing comes from the fact that several of the characters contribute their stories from beyond the grave – and could be an allusion as well to the world of Louisiana after Katrina. Although considering the first third of the book doesn’t even touch on that topic, I’m unsure.

I think there is sometimes a danger in using too much regional slang, trying to write in the vernacular, because if you’re not very careful and very good at it, it just comes across as insulting to the characters. Walden, for the most part, does fine with her use of the vernacular and it helps to give the many characters a distinctive voice, but there are a few times when it gets a bit heavy-handed and overbearing.

There are also a lot of adult themes in this book, which are mostly handled acceptably well.  I find nothing wrong with this.  However, sometimes I found the inclusions unnecessary, and feel that they were thrown in purely for the shock value.  There’s a surprising amount of pedophilia and incest, and one of the primary characters (who is a gay man) was the victim of such abuse. This kind of stereotype that childhood abuse leads to one becoming gay later in life I find insulting and outdated, as though being gay is a defensive reaction to some past trauma and not something that’s natural.

But I shall give the author the benefit of the doubt here because at least she doesn’t try to implicitly connect the two things.  So moving on from this quibble, we have the writing  itself. It’s very good – most of the time – although this is one of those books I feel that would have benefited from a more stringent editor. Not so much for proofreading purposes, but to take out the random bizarre sentences and to cut some of the story arcs, which just fade away with no conclusion.

This has been a difficult review to like. Overall, I enjoyed this book. The characters were alive and distinct, the events were interesting, and I think it’s done in a very original manner. However, the problems I talked about were too many for me to give this a rave review.  And the fact that it doesn’t really mention queer women, only men, kind of sours me – not on the book itself, but that it was submitted for review here. I kept reading, waiting for the queer women to appear, but they never did.

Nicole reviews Out of This World by Maggie Morton


For once, I’ve found a lesbian erotica novel that has good proofreading, a solid plot, and steamy scenes that don’t make me cringe. And it’s not every day that I find one of those.

Let’s get into a bit more detail here.  First, the synopsis.  Protagonist Iris finds herself trying to make a new beginning and get over her ex by traveling to Amsterdam. In a taxi from the airport, the world around her changes – she falls asleep in said taxi only to find herself waking in a beautiful woman’s bed. Predictable scenes ensue, but again they don’t make me cringe! It’s so very exciting. Now her new lover Anandra reveals herself to be from a different world, a world full of magic. And Iris is stuck in this world.  Anandra and Iris set out to find a way back to Iris’ world, and lots of steamy sex ensues.

While I find the plot secondary to the sex scenes, which is my main complaint with this book, it does fulfill its niche.  However this does mean that the characters come across as rather flat and, dare I say, unfulfilling? Not that everyone is going to find this one a drawback, but I feel it fair to lay out my own observations here.

Now, on to the writing itself. It’s pretty good! It’s solidly constructed, titillating without being over-the-top, and the grammar is excellent. For a grammar perfectionist like myself, finding a well-edited and proofread book from a small publisher is a major bonus, and a gift not to be taken for granted.

As a further bonus, the lesbian relationships are seen as legitimate things, which again is a surprisingly common problem – a book features lesbian/bi/queer protagonists, only for their relationships to come off as slightly (or not so slightly) inferior to their straight counterparts. And sex is seen as a positive, not something shameful or embarrassing, which is yet another good point for this novel.

Overall, I’d give this a score of 4 out of 5 if you’re looking for some steamy lesbian erotica, and a 2.5 out of 5 if you’re looking purely for a solid fantasy book that just happens to feature lesbian protagonists.

The author, Maggie Morton, published her book with Bold Strokes publishing. Out of This World was published this year and if you enjoy it, Morton has published quite a few other books in the same general vein, all erotica, and most a bit more spicy than this one.

Nicole reviews Sigil Fire by Erzabet Bishop


Sometimes, though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. And sometimes a novel idea that sounds great in the planning stages just doesn’t work in the execution.

As John Updike says in the his 6 Rules for Constructive Criticism, “Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.”

So here’s the synopsis of the book, and we’ll go from there:

Sonia is a succubus with one goal: stay off  Hell’s radar. But when succubi start to die, including her sometimes lover, Jeannie, she’s drawn into battle between good and evil.

Fae is a blood witch turned vampire, running a tattoo parlor and trading her craft for blood. She notices that something isn’t right on the streets of her city. The denizens of Hell are restless. With the aid of her nest mate Perry and his partner Charley, she races against time before the next victim falls. The killer has a target in his sights, and Sonia might not live to see the dawn.

Now I enjoy fantasy, and nontraditional portrayals of scary-monster things is awesome as long as they’re not sparkling in the sunlight. This is definitely meant to be  something a little nontraditional and edgy, throwing some vampires and succubi and whatnot into a murder mystery mixed with some steamy lesbian romance– and lesbe honest, that’s not a plot you can take too seriously, so camp it up and have fun, right? I mean, this is starting to sound pretty awesome!

Weeeeeell, I’m not sure the author quite succeeded at that, though she certainly made an earnest attempt.  We can’t fault her for trying, at least. The writing is not terrible – at least the grammar is there, though the plethora of adjectives sprinkling this piece are like cockroach legs in a streetside noodle stand (namely, distracting and bad for the digestion.)  The tone of this work is just too serious for the plot. There could have been some comedic genius moments, but instead it’s all hard-hitting demon investigators and love-torn succubi with eating disorders.

And then there are the awkward lesbian sex scenes. Let’s just say there’s only so many times you can say “juices” in one scene before my eye starts to twitch, and “seeping pussy” puts me in mind of something decidedly non-erotic. I feel like “seeping” should never, ever, ever in a million years be used to talk about anything relating to sex. It’s just one of those words, like ‘moist,’ that are just Not Okay. Now, writing sex scenes is easy. Writing sex scenes well is incredibly difficult. Bishop doesn’t hold back in the use of her description, which is fine and great and not what I have a problem with. Other than her questionable use of adjectives (seeping? Really?) what I have a problem with is that I can’t really get into the characters’ emotional involvement – the scenes just read like cheap erotic fiction shoved into a lackluster crime novel. Much of Bishop’s oeuvre consists of varying genres of erotica, but it seems in Sigil Fire like these two separate things shoved together: the crime mystery interspersed with bits of erotica that don’t really carry the plot forward, develop the characters in any meaningful way, or even arouse the reader. Maybe Bishop should stick to either one or the other.

I really wanted to enjoy this book because I thought it had a great premise and a lot of opportunity for creativity. But it just didn’t live up to any of my expectations. Unless you’re a big fan of Bishop already or absolutely love the synopsis, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Nicole reviews A Good Death by Helen Davis


To begin: this book is very well written. The prose is crisp, adept, and emotionally evocative. I read the entire book in two absorbed sittings. It’s a refreshing piece of literature. It also, towards the end, gets crazy insane. Let’s start from the beginning.

This novel covers the story of four close friends: Helen, Sophie, Theo, and Georgie. All strong, independent, beautiful women, the main character, written in the first person, is Georgie, who is straight. Helen and Sophie are a lesbian couple, and Theo is their rakishly seductive straight friend. Written in a non-linear format, the book jumps back and forth from current time (a weekend together at Helen and Sophie’s house when they are nearing fifty) and a trip to Peru they took together when they were twenty and in university, which events have far-reaching effects on their current lives.

The mystery of What Happened on that fateful Peruvian trip is teased out until about the three quarter mark of the book, at which point the secret is revealed.  Up to this point, the book is a tightly-written, clever little piece of work that I found myself absorbed in. Once the secrets are revealed however, things go a bit crazy – it’s difficult to say more without spoiling the plot for prospective readers.

I am in two minds about this insanity. On the one hand, I think it’s kind of great. It’s a far better alternative than sticking to tried-and-true (and boring!) tropes. And it’s difficult to imagine the book ending in a different way that would still be as interesting.  On the other, it throws the reader a bit of a curveball, which is unexpected, and throws one out of the plot somewhat. It’s almost as if the book changes genres halfway through – it goes from being a creative story about past events and future consequences spiced with mystery and some dark intrigue, and turns into urban fantasy or fantastic realism. The clues that the universe our characters inhabit involve this fantasy element are not well established in the first three-quarters of the book, which is why the sudden switch is so…strange.

With that being said, don’t let it put you off reading A Good Death.  It displays some excellent writing skills from Helen Davis and it’s one of the better books I’ve read recently.

In terms of the LGBT aspect, the main character is straight, but a lesbian couple is well-represented within as strong secondary characters. Their relationship, and their individual personalities, are excellently done – no falling back on cliches and caricatures. Sophie’s strained relationship with her disapproving family is a story that many of us can relate to and feel empathy towards.  If you’re looking for a book that does not necessarily revolve around a queer protagonist but does provide excellent representation, then I’d recommend checking this one out.

Check out more of Nicole’s reviews at her book blog, Books I Should Have Read A Long Time Ago.

Nicole reviews Sister Girl by Jonna Ivin


This novel follows the life of a girl named Tess, who is four at the time the story begins.  Her family is just taking home her new baby sister, Grace, which changes her single-child world immensely. Through the viewpoint of Tess we see her dysfunctional parents as they argue and bicker their way through several years of parenthood, until the inevitable divorce happens and the girls’ father leaves them. After that, Mama raises the girls on her own, struggling to make a life as a single parent, and Tess has to grow up quickly to take care of her little sister Grace as their Mama works all the time. Along the way, Tess realizes she hates skirts and hates the pressure of being a girl when it’s much more comfortable and fun to act like a boy.  The book follows the tumultuous, often crazy lives of this strange little family until Tess graduates from high school, joins the army, and comes out as gay.

This reads as a barely-veiled story of the author’s own childhood, which I believe it is from the author’s blurb – the author was the younger sister, Grace. Which fact has two sides: on the good side, it gives this story a specificity and realism that makes it very interesting. And it is an interesting book, despite its flaws.

On the bad side however, this book has a tendency to ramble. And ramble. There’s no real plot, just the (sometimes uneven) progression of Tess from young child to young adult, and the growth and changes of her family around her. If that’s something that you enjoy, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. If, however, you need a plot and a proper narrative, this might not be the book for you. While I’ve included most of the major events of the book in the review, I wouldn’t count them as spoilers because nothing is really a surprise.

Tess’ dislike of ‘feminine’ things is represented in an increasingly heavy-handed manner, and the inevitable realization that she’s gay at eighteen comes across as slightly unbelievable.  What makes it fall so flat is the fact that Tess has never, apparently, encountered any mention of homosexuality before, or never thought about it, despite the fact she kissed a girl at twelve and is very vocal about her disdain for men and her love for doing boy’s activities. Only when she begins a relationship with a woman at eighteen does she suddenly realize that she’s gay, which strikes me as…overly simplistic.  Though the book follows the viewpoint of Tess in the third person, it reads as though the author had no proper insight into Tess’ thoughts and emotions.

Now, I grew up in a small town in the Midwest where being gay is not presented as an option, and despite this, I had my doubts about myself while I was growing up – and while it took me until I was twenty for the penny to finally drop, this was not a sudden realization, but one built upon over a period years. I find it hard to believe that a girl growing up in the ’70’s, raised by a liberal, progressive mother would never even think about the possibility of being gay.

The quality of the writing is reasonably strong, though there were several typos and a plethora of you’re/your errors, which seem like basic mistakes that should have been fixed before publishing.  This is my biggest pet peeve. If a book is going to be self-published, it’s already going to have to fight a difficult battle to gain attention and readers. Send your book out into the world with the best editing possible. Get your friends to read it. Pay for a professional editor! If you care enough about a story to write it and publish it, care enough about it to make sure your grammar is correct.

Despite these criticisms, Ivin has produced an interesting, relatively realistic portrait of a girl and her family growing up together.  Overall, if you really enjoy the topic matter then you will find merit in this book. If not, you may want to give it a miss.

Nicole reviews Digital Divide by K.B. Spangler


This month’s book selection is Digital Divide by K.B. Spangler. Initially described as a kind of sci-fi mystery tale with a lesbian protagonist, I found that that, indeed was exactly what the book delivered.

Set in a near-future alternate Earth where several hundred people have been turned into, essentially, cyborgs in order to become ultimate weapons for the United States government, our protagonist is Rachel Peng, one of these first human-machine hybrids. Blind in real life, technology gives her the ability to see, not just in the visible light spectrum but in many other intriguing spectrums as well. The technology also allows them to ‘plug in’ to the internet, or any electronic device – they can hack into systems with nothing more than a thought.

Writing about this kind of thing can be tricky, because the writer runs the risk of a) using useless, dated jargon and skipping any kind of realism completely in order to make the tech more interesting or b) going too far into the mechanics of how such a theoretical system might actually work and turning their work of fiction into a dry treatise. Neither of these options is especially pleasurable for the reader. Spangler has, fortunately, walked the narrow line between these two extremes and delivered an adequate compromise.

I say adequate because it is just that. There are no groundbreaking new ideas here – it’s essentially basic human meets machine, which is something that’s already been covered by quite a few great science fiction writers. But though it’s a bit generic, it’s certainly not bad.

In terms of the plot itself, the story follows Rachel Peng, who works for the government and is attempting to prove to the world that she is not a scary cyborg monster but a real human being with real human emotions. Meanwhile a shadowy antagonist pulls several stunts in order to make the cyborgs look bad, so Rachel and her team must track him down and stop him, all while maintaining their image in the public eye. There are explosions and gunshots and sleuthing.

In terms of Rachel, our protagonist, she is a lesbian though it is not made a plot point. It is simply another aspect of her, like her hair color or shoe size. I find this refreshing to encounter in literature, and think it’s a good trend. Using a character’s sexual orientation as a cheap way to stereotype their personality, appearance, or behaviours, to turn a character into a caricature, is annoying at best and offensive at worst. However, through the course of this book Rachel is never romantically involved with anyone else; her feelings, at least in terms of sexual relationships, is never discussed. Which is fine. It’s not a love story, after all; it’s a sci-fi cop novel. Just be aware that if you’re looking for lesbian love, or romance, it’s not found in this book.

Overall, I found the writing engaging and the story complex and intriguing enough to keep me through to the end. It was nice to see a strong female lesbian character in fiction, especially in this genre. It’s a light read, something great for taking on the train or to the beach (for all you Northern Hemisphere denizens who are heading into summer.) If you’re a fan of science fiction, or police mystery novels, then I think you’ll enjoy this book!

Nicole reviews Amara’s Daughter by E H Howard


For my first book review for the Lesbrary, I decided to go with a fantasy novel called Amara’s Daughter by EH Howard.  I have a soft spot for fantasy, especially the kind of female-warrior-turned-hero that Tamora Pierce captivated me with as a child. How great it would be, I thought, to read a lesbian strong female warrior fantasy book. It would basically be all the boxes, ticked. So I went into this book with high hopes, as the description says:

“Friend, lover and more, Amara’s Daughter is a turbulent rite of passage story tracing Maryan’s growth from naive schoolgirl to the woman destiny needs her to be.”

Disappointingly, I came away with very mixed feelings. To focus on the good points first, there were were threads of an interesting plot. There was complexity and intrigue in some of the ideas presented, and that kept me reading through to see what the conclusion would be.

The plot itself runs roughly like this: a young woman named Maryan lives in her vanished warrior mother’s shadow.  She lives in a small nation of warrior-women called Serenia, where men aren’t allowed to hold weapons. The queen uses her as a pawn in her political games. This goes tits-up when her new husband, the prince of a neighboring nation, is killed by dark forces and Maryan is forced to flee for her life back to Serenia.  In Serenia, Maryan and her band of friends must save the country.

But I feel that this book needed a lot more editorial work before it was ever published, and this unfinished feel made it much more difficult to become absorbed in the story.  My biggest complaint here was the pacing, which was, to put it bluntly, bizarre.  Entire events were skipped or mentioned only in a brief sentence. Plot twists were not explained, leaving me flipping back and rereading multiple times to try and puzzle out what happened.  I believe several years are meant to have passed through the course of the book, but there is little to hint at that except for a few sentences like “she’d grown from a child to a woman” etc. There is no hint of character growth, of learning from prior events. Characters die and are whipped away into the past with nary a tear shed nor emotion felt by the surviving characters.

I can’t even call it fast-paced, because it really just feels like someone smashed out a first draft and called it a day. This book would benefit greatly from further editing and revisions.  In addition, there were many interesting questions presented in the story that were never answered or brought up again, and one thing I hate is loose plot threads there for no reason. For instance, where did Maryan’s mother go? The title of the book is Amara’s Daughter, for goodness’ sake. I’d imagine Amara’s storyline would rate a passing conclusion, but no.  The same with the ‘dark forces’ that eventually kill Maryan’s  husband. What are their motivations? What happened to them? Nothing is explained.

But putting all these plot quibbles aside, what about the love? Now, I was expecting lesbian themes here, but what I got at best was bisexual.  At the beginning, Maryan shares a bed with one of her fellow female warriors-in-training, which is presented as the done thing in Serenia.  Later, she develops a crush on a visiting male, and when she’s shipped off to be married to a neighboring king, she falls in love with him (quickly, with no hint of her inner turmoil, apparently overwhelmed by desire for his penis.)  Later still, she quietly goes back to her old warrior friend. There’s nothing wrong with this, except that Maryan’s male relationships are presented with passion and delve into her emotional love for them, while the female relationships are presented in passing, as though they sleep together for lack of something better. This inequality in presentation sits uneasily with me.

Overall, I must give credit to the author for creating a strong enough plot to keep me reading despite the poor pacing, editing, and questionable presentation of lesbian themes. However, I’d like to see this book undergoing heavy revisions and republished, as it does hold promise, but in its unfinished state I find myself unable to recommend it.