A Dazzling Debut: How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler

the cover of How Far the Light Reaches

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I first learned about Sabrina Imbler (they/them) last year when my girlfriend and I traveled to Seattle to watch the UConn Women’s Basketball team compete in the Sweet 16. Whenever I travel, I like to visit a local bookstore, which is how we ended up in the gorgeous Elliott Bay Book Company, a woman and queer owned business located in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. When I asked one of the booksellers what LGBT books she recommended, she enthusiastically suggested Imbler’s gay volcano chapbook Dyke (geology) and a signed copy (Imbler’s name flanked by two cute goldfish) of How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures. Two gorgeous books by a queer person of color? I was elated.

Imbler is a writer and science journalist with a gift for storytelling. How Far the Light Reaches is organized into ten essays wherein Imbler masterfully weaves facts about sea creatures and phenomena with meditations on survival, identity, body image, family, relationships, and community. While the essays stand alone and can theoretically be read out of order, they have a clear throughline. As a reader who began How Far the Light Reaches with limited knowledge of marine biology, I was shocked by how many facts I retained from each essay. Imbler’s essays are crafted with care and intentionality. They don’t just state facts about each sea creature, they reflect on their essence, treating each with reverence.

In “My Mother and the Starving Octopus,” Imbler introduced readers to Graneledone boreopacifica and highlighted one of the most renowned of these purple octopuses: a mother who starved herself for 53 months (four and a half years) while she focused on the task of brooding her eggs. Imbler interspersed reflections on their mother’s sacrifices and on how Imbler learned to find their own body desirable through reveling in queer bodies.

In “Pure Life,” Imbler marveled at deep sea dwellers—vent bacteria, tube worms, and yeti crabs—which survive by using chemosynthesis for energy in the absence of sunlight.  Imbler likened hydrothermal vents in the ocean to queer spaces and communities—both representing oases providing rest, nourishment, and safety: “Life always finds a place to begin anew, and communities in need will always find one another and invent new ways to glitter, together, in the dark.”

In “Hybrids,” Imbler juxtaposed their biracial identity (half Chinese, half White) with a hybrid butterflyfish, the offspring of two different species. Imbler examined how The Question: “What are you?” is itself an act of taxonomy. They also reflected on the irony of their frustration with The Question, but also their endless curiosity about other mixed people.

In a word, How Far the Light Reaches is spectacular. The more I reflect upon it, the more I love it. I read it over the course of a few days, but Imbler’s writing is so thought-provoking, you may want to savor the book over time. I really hope Imbler will write another book, but in the meantime, you can check them out at Defector, an employee-owned sports and culture website, where they cover creatures.

Trigger warnings for sexual assault, lack of consent, rape, body mutilation, racism, body image, disordered eating, and animal death/harm.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey.  She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

A Kind Voice from the Unkind Days of Early 2020: Care of by Ivan Coyote

the cover of Care of by Ivan Coyote

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Ivan Coyote is one of my all-time favourite authors; I love their short stories and their essay collections. I’ve gotten to see them perform several times, and it’s always an amazing experience. Which is why I was thrown when I listened to the audiobook of Rebent Sinner when it came out and… didn’t love it? I didn’t know what to think. Was it me? Or had their writing changed? So, while I went out and bought a new, still-in-hardcover copy of Care of—something I very rarely do—it sat unread on my shelves for months, because I was nervous that I wouldn’t like it, either. Luckily, I was completely wrong.

I ended up listening to the audiobook of this one, too, and as soon as I hit play, I wanted to be listening to it all the time. Ivan Coyote has such a comforting, kitchen table storyteller way of speaking. It’s soothing to listen to, while the subject matter addresses issues like transphobia.

This is a collection of letters. During the early months of the pandemic, their shows had to come to a halt, and they used that newfound time to answer emails and letters that they had been saving until they had the time to give them the attention they deserved—some had been waiting years for that response. I’ve realized lately that I love these sort of collections in audiobook: Dear Sugar and Dear Prudence are two other audiobooks I couldn’t stop listening to.

As always, Coyote is a compassionate, thoughtful voice no matter whose letter they are answering. I actually feel like I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to listen to it even when I was too distracted to pay as much attention as it deserves, so I plan on rereading/relistening to this again very soon.

Even though it’s written during the early days of the pandemic, it doesn’t feel dated. The topics being addressed are just as relevant now as they were then, and I think having a little bit of distance from 2020 helped me appreciate that aspect more; I’m not sure I could have listened to/read it during 2020, if it had been released then.

Despite my comparisons to Dear Sugar and Dear Prudence, these aren’t really letters with advice. They’re more responses with commiserations, with stories that the original letter reminded them of, and sometimes with questions or pleas for the letter writer. They’re personal, considered, and empathetic responses to all kinds of different people who have reached out to them.

If you haven’t read Ivan Coyote’s books before, this is a good place to start. And if you have, you won’t be disappointed by picking this one up, especially as an audiobook.

A Queer Guide to Home Repair: Safe and Sound by Mercury Stardust

the cover of Safe and Sound

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I’ve been following Mercury Stardust, aka the “Trans Handy Ma’am” on Instagram for a while now to get my fix of approachable, around-the-house repair tips with an added bonus of corny dad jokes. Recently she released a complete guide for DIYers of all levels, specifically geared toward renters, and it’s a gem. Admittedly I haven’t really invested much in home repair books; having the magic of the internet, I typically just look up a video if I need to fix something around the house. The beauty of their book is that you get the best of both worlds. A bit of a handy reference book that has plenty of QR codes sprinkled throughout each section so you get a thorough explanation in text, the tools you need for the job, as well as a portal to a video for those of us who learn better with a visual demonstration. 

But before you run off in search of your left handed hammer, let’s take a beat and discuss some of what makes this book so special. Written by an industry professional, someone who has been a maintenance tech for years and knows how apartment complexes and landlords operate, the book provides lots of practical advice. There are plenty of nuts and bolts when it comes to maintenance, from a simple tightening of a loose door handle or how to hang a picture without damaging the wall, to weather stripping and outlet replacement. We also get the kind of direction our parents should have given us but totally didn’t—like how to budget for rent, and don’t forget to read the lease, kids!

Now I don’t know how many home repair books exist that suggest taking a break and acknowledging your feelings. That section seems to be omitted in the Black and Decker guide to home repair, which has 2000 photos, but no one to sit you down and tell you “hey, this sh*t is stressful, maybe eat a Snickers and take a deep breath.” But this is *queer* home repair, so we will be processing some emotions and *not* operating power tools while hangry. 

While plenty of DIY books and websites explain how to fix your house, not many tell you how to make it a home. And home is a word that is not just on the front cover, but appears many times throughout the book. You might be renting, but it’s still your home, your safe space. There are sections on how to match paint and snake a sink, but also ones to make you think about how many points of entry you have to your building, and how to pack a go bag for emergencies. How to ask for help before taking matters into your own hands, and what to do if that request is ignored by your landlord. This book should be on everyone’s holiday gift list this year, whether you rent or own, whether you’re getting your first place or have owned for years. 

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

the album cover of Snow Angel

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

“Pretty Girls”

the cover of Girls Like Girls

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

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

“Tummy Hurts”

the cover of she is a haunting

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

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

“I Wish”

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers cover

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

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

“Willow”

the cover of Even Though I Knew the End

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

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

“23”

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

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

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

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

Trans Horror Satire with a Beating Heart: Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky

the cover of Boys Weekend

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Boys Weekend a satirical horror graphic novel about Sammie, a trans feminine person who is invited to a bachelor party of an old friend as the “best man.” While there, Mattie seems to be the only one concerned about the cult sacrificing people. This was already on my TBR, and I was happily surprised to find out this one is sapphic! Sammie has a wife.

This is illustrated in a style I associate more with adult cartoons than graphic novels, but it works well for this dark comedy. Sammie is conflicted about whether to attend Adam’s bachelor party, but Adam has been fairly accepting after they came out, so they decide to take the leap. The party takes place at a sci-fi, ultra capitalist version of Las Vegas: it’s called El Campo, and on this island, anything goes. Including hunting your own clone for casual entertainment. Adam’s friends are all tech bros, and Sammie is uncomfortable with them on multiple levels: while their home is decorated with ACAB signs and pride flags, Adam’s friends are interested in strip clubs, get rich quick schemes, and everything else associated with hetero masculinity.

Even before the outright horror elements come in, this is an unsettling and upsetting environment to be in. Sammie constantly misgendered, both from strangers and friends/acquaintances who should know better. The horror plot is really just an exaggeration of the cult of masculinity that the bachelor party is so devoted to. There is some gore, but as a whole, it is focused on the satire, not being outright scary.

It’s difficult reading Sammie experience the unrelenting transmisogyny that they do, but there’s also a defiant, hopeful element to this story. It explores the complicated question of which relationships are worth holding onto after coming out—what about the friends and family who don’t get it but aren’t actively hateful? When is it time to walk away, and when is it worth reaching out and trying to repair the relationship?

Despite the horror, the micro- and macroaggressions, and the constant misgendering, this wasn’t bleak. Sammie reaches out to their wife and other queer friends throughout the story, asking for their advice and support over the phone, so even when they are surrounded by assholes, they don’t feel alone. Sammie is secure in their identity and self-worth and has support from coworkers, friends, and in their marriage.

While having lots of over-the-top elements—El Campo is something else—I actually teared up a bit at the end. The setting and plot might be cartoony, but the emotion is grounded. I recommend this both to horror fans and to those less familiar with the genre: as long as you’re okay with a few pages of gore, this is well worth the read.

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

the cover of The Fall That Saved Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A High-Heat Heist: Double Exposure by Rien Gray

the cover of Double Exposure

Note: While I’ve avoided major plot spoilers, this review is relatively detailed regarding the character arcs and themes.

Fittingly enough, I’ve been exposed to Double Exposure by Rien Gray twice. The first time was through the Happily Ever After Collective, which releases monthly romance novellas from a variety of authors. Last year, Double Exposure released to patrons along with other second chance romances, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m delighted to have my own print copy of this book due to its recent wide release. 

Double Exposure is a romantic suspense novella about a pair of rival art thieves, Jillian Rhodes and Sloane Caffrey, who are hired to steal the same target—a never-before-seen collection of infamously scandalous photos. Ever since a steamy encounter gone awry, they have been at each other’s throats from a distance, but competing to pull off a heist at the Art Institute of Chicago brings the tension between them up close and personal. The stakes rise as they realize a larger game may be afoot—if they can overcome their own drama to uncover it. 

Jillian’s client is the son of the late photographer whose scandalous affair is depicted in the photos. For the client, retrieving them before the exhibit opens is a matter of his family’s honor. For Jillian, it is a matter of bragging rights. Sloane is just as determined to prove they’re the best by stealing the photos for a greedy baron. Though they loathe him, they’re happy to take a large sum of his money in exchange for a successful heist.

While the thieves are equals in ambition and ability, their approaches and backgrounds couldn’t be more different. As a charismatic con artist born into a rich family, Sloane steals to redistribute the wealth and return pieces stolen by colonizers. Meanwhile, the ever-pragmatic Jillian prefers stealth to small talk. She grew up with next to nothing and survived alone at a young age, so she still prioritizes self-preservation and independence. For all their differences, each acknowledges the other as their only worthy rival. What they lack is trust. After a messy misunderstanding left them brokenhearted, they have spent years sabotaging each other, turning to vengeance rather than risking reaching out. They’ve isolated themselves by placing each other on pedestals, untouchable, when they both yearn to be with the one person who might understand them.

Their second chance at love echoes a second chance at life, as the characters have already remade themselves. After traumatic childhoods, they cut ties with their families and built up their careers. Jillian has fought to claim the freedom, security, and access she once lacked, while Sloane strives to heal the damage of their family’s harmful legacy. Each of them attempts to take charge of their own futures and change the world around them. Double Exposure is interested in the different ways that people wield power, and what happens when that balance shifts, whether the power stems from perception, money and status, or institutions. This is mirrored in the ways that Sloane and Jillian, as exes and rivals, are constantly trying to one-up each other. Neither is used to the vulnerability that comes from a willful give-and-take, and they have already been burned by their last attempt to open up to each other. 

If you’re interested in romance that doesn’t follow the traditional formula, a second chance romance novella offers a unique opportunity. Because the two have already met, tried to be together, and broken up, this book reads almost like a more developed third act of a traditional romance novel. It explores the already established barriers between the two and challenges them to overcome those barriers. Meanwhile, they have a heist to worry about, as well as threats they aren’t even aware of.

Double Exposure effectively maintains its gripping suspense. The prose is precise, with each word and detail carefully chosen and arranged. The writing itself feels confident in a way that sells the characters’ competence. It leans hard into the satisfaction of watching masters at work, as both Sloane and Jillian approach the heist fully aware they are at the top of their field, with plenty of specialized knowledge woven into the narration to demonstrate it.        

For me, the most memorable aspect is the characters. I was especially drawn to Sloane due to their charm, cunning, and life’s mission. Being nonbinary, Sloane is keenly aware that their gender presentation affects how people perceive them, and they must keep this in mind as they take their more public, sociable approach to their work. This blog’s readers may also be glad to know that Jillian is bisexual and a side character is a lesbian.

If mutual pining, cutthroat competition, and intoxicating intensity appeal to you, then give this book a chance to break and mend your heart.

Content notes drawn from the book: In addition to explicit sex between consenting adults, this book contains “brief references to societal transphobia, historical anti-Black racism in Chicago, class discrimination, and exploitation of the opioid epidemic, as well as one incident of gun violence.”

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

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

the cover of Even Though I Knew the End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is “Queer Enough?”: Greedy: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much by Jen Winston

Greedy cover

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In their book of essays, Jen Winston (she/they) covers various topics about her bisexual experience, from the adoption of random behaviors as “bisexual culture” out of a desperation to be seen to the grief of friendships evolving when your best friend becomes a “we.”

Winston talks through internalized biphobia and not feeling queer enough to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Throughout her journey of accepting her bisexuality, they learn that it’s not just an identity, but rather a lens through which to reimagine the world. This speaks to the idea that one’s sexual orientation is about more than just sex. It’s about breaking systems that hold us down and don’t allow us to demand what we deserve.

A few essays, especially toward the end of the collection, begin to show Winston’s journey through gender identity as well. She comes to the realization that much of her identity in womanhood is performative and created based on patriarchal values. Accepting their bisexuality led to an understanding of their gender being on the nonbinary spectrum.

BEGINNING OF TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT

Winston also opens up about instances of rape and sexual assault in essays like “A Girl Called Rhonda,” “The Power Dynamic” and “The Neon Sweater.” She goes into quite a bit of detail about the events, working through the question that many who experience assault do: Is this really rape? The lines of consent feel blurred in different situations because of social conditioning that tells women not to make a fuss. They even discuss how active, verbal consent isn’t nuanced enough because everybody reacts differently to different situations. Not saying no doesn’t mean it’s a yes.

END OF TRIGGER WARNING

One of the most fun essays was a piece written in the fairytale format. Winston tells the story of being attracted to emotionally unavailable men, an issue that stems from a culture of fairytales.

Overall, this is a funny, heart-wrenching and provocative collection of essays.

Rebel Lesbrarians in a Dystopian Western: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey cover

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I’m not sure when I bought the ebook for Upright Women Wanted. It was probably on sale, and when I heard that there were lesbians and rebel librarians in a western-themed dystopian setting, I guess I thought it was too good to pass up. Like most of my ebook purchases, it sat on my Kindle for an indeterminate amount of time, passed up by groups of library ebooks (that mostly also go unread), until I finally decided that I’d dallied long enough. I’d recently learned that Sarah Gailey is an excellent horror writer in Just Like Home, so it was stupid to keep procrastinating on a novella that so clearly fits my niche. My friends and gays, it is everything I could have wanted.

Our main character, Esther, has decided to escape the horrible fate that just befell her best friend: engaged to a man just as horrible and controlling as her father, hanged for possession of Unapproved Materials, the only relief being approved novels about queer women who die—and seeing that tragic ending made reality spurs her to hide in the back of the first wagon out of town: the librarians’ store wagon. Of course, the librarians are more than just meek women distributing state propaganda. Shockingly, people who dedicate their lives to the spread of information don’t like being told what information is and isn’t acceptable, and any profession that’s limited to one gender will attract plenty of queers.

One thing I appreciated about this novella is that Gailey uses a light touch with their worldbuilding, letting us fill in all the details. Despite the fact that the book opens on a hanging, there’s no real dwelling on excessive cruelty and pain. We know that Esther’s father was abusive and controlling, and the man he picked out to be her fiancé is probably just as bad. We know that there are strict gender roles, which is why Cye takes the time to put on a skirt any time they get close to town or approached by any potentially dangerous travelers. We don’t really need to know what the war is or what the state’s justifications are for it; it’s enough that there’s an excuse to ration supplies and set up checkpoints. We don’t need to see the minutiae of the world, because the details don’t really matter. Is the State run by an emperor? A president? What kind of history do they teach about how democracy fell and they got caught up in a seemingly endless war? I don’t really care. Considering how our politics are going, it’s believable enough that I don’t need elaboration. Besides, it doesn’t really matter to Esther anyway. She’s just trying to survive the next week and maybe get her life into a place that allows for some form of happiness.

I’d also be remiss not to mention the characters, because again, they felt perfectly crafted to my specific tastes. Bet and Leda are really my ideal couple dynamic—small hard angry lesbian with her big, soft wife who wears her heart on her sleeve (but who will still kill a man, like, don’t get me wrong: she will absolutely kill someone). I could collect them forever. And I appreciated that Cye was the right mix of gruff without being rude or unlikable. They won’t take any shit, but they aren’t unnecessarily mean, even when they think Esther is just going to be a waste of water in the desert. I also appreciated Esther herself and her emotional journey with self-acceptance. Much in the way that the narrative doesn’t dwell on society’s cruelty, Esther doesn’t dwell on self-hatred, even when she firmly believes that there’s something wrong with her. She’s very matter-of-fact, and manages to be a people pleaser without being self-detrimental. There are the perfect number of characters for this little novella, and they’re all given a chance to shine.

All in all, this is a perfect bite sized story that manages to blend the classic Western aesthetics with a queer speculative twist, and I only wish it was longer. There’s nothing in this story that feels stunted or left out, but I could easily see the characters and situation being worked into a larger story. Esther’s involvement feels like a piece of a larger narrative, one that she could easily be either an active, driving force in, or a side character offering support. I do love a good novella tie-in where side characters are given center stage, so I wouldn’t complain if we got a novel focused on new characters. However, it’s great for what it is, and I think a novella is really what I needed to read right now. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a quick, satisfying story with just the right amount of everything.