Piercingly Insightful Poetry: The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals by Mimi Tempestt

the cover of The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals by Mimi Tempestt

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From the epigraph to the end, this book is clear-eyed about its aims and its author’s perspective. Tempestt’s writing draws the reader in as a participant, with mentions of readers, watchers, audiences that are not confrontational, but certainly not abstracted. Reading this collection felt like watching spoken word, or another kind of embodied performance. Even their most numinous ideas are tangible, and felt within the reader’s body. This sort of experience can become consumptive, but Tempestt’s lyrical acknowledgement of these possible dynamics means the close reader has to interrogate their own relationship to the text.

What are the boxes offered to you, and what becomes of you when you cannot fit, contort yourself to fit, or decide to totally reimagine the presumed binary of these interactions entirely? It’s like those Barbara Kruger pieces—what do you hope art will do for you even when, especially when, it’s not a mirror?

Tempestt adds to that conversation, questioning how the commodification of artists’ pain and grief perpetuates power dynamics, and reflects entrenched values that prioritize certain approaches over other, equally poignant but under-published ones.

She understands the demands of performance acutely, intimately, and expresses them with a beautiful poeticism. The deforming weight of others demands and needs—both the explicitly coercive and the more implicit, insidious sorts that can arise in intimate relationships and workplaces and alike—are all rendered here. But it is not a bleak work. The poems are full of anger, frustration, also strength, joyful reminiscence, and even a sort of timeless expansiveness in the titular one.

I hesitate to use the word “metaphysical” because it conjures up the sort of philosopher-types whose practices and philosophies are shot through with the sort of categorical essentialism that does not necessarily align with this work’s core spiral symbolism. Or the synecdochal head-shop proprietor whose commercial enterprise’s interiors have sensorially co-opted incense from the practices of currently colonized faiths. But it is either that or the word “transcendental,” and personal connotative grievances aside, there is a sense of something magical in Tempestt’s verse. It is grounded, but there is also something more beneath that earth.

Death and discontent can become defanged when broken into art. But Tempestt’s writing keeps its edges, its piercing-flesh insights. The last piece, a short immersive play, was one of my favorites. The prose was incisive, with both the violence and precision of a fine scalpel, cutting through thick skin and protective coverings to reveal something visually red and viscerally tender. 

All that said, I’ve always been drawn to the ambiguousness of poetry, where the interpretation often says as much about the reader as the creator. It can be a site for shared understandings, or one that clearly demarcates the reader’s alienation from the emotional truths of the poet. 

This collection was engaging, clever, poetic and expressive. I strongly recommend it to people who enjoy formally-unconstrained but deftly shaped poetry with word-playfulness that seamlessly maintains its heft and intensity.

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

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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.

Magical Girls and Sports Gays: Grand Slam Romance by Ollie Hicks and Emma Oosterhaus

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For those of you mourning the cancellation of Amazon’s adaptation of A League of Their Own, I offer you an antidote. Grand Slam Romance, which follows the star players of a semi-professional women’s softball league, simultaneously serves romance, sports rivalry, horny locker room encounters, queer community, and a touch of magic. The debut graphic novel from comic creators (and spouses) Ollie Hicks and Emma Oosterhaus, Grand Slam Romance is the first in a planned series, its second installment coming in May 2024. Fun fact: the book originated from a 19-page comic that the couple collaborated on for fun a few months into dating.

Grand Slam Romance centers Mickey Monsoon, pitcher and MVP of the Bell City Broads (BCBs), who are gearing up to dominate the season and take the trophy at the Statewide Softball Tournament. But when Astra Maxima mysteriously shows up to catch for rival team the Gaiety Gals, Mickey knows the BCBs are in danger of losing everything. Not only does Astra have the magical ability to obliterate every team she encounters, she was also best friends (and maybe more) with Mickey before being sent off to a secret softball school in Switzerland as a teenager. Mickey will do almost anything to wreak vengeance for their broken heart, even if it means losing sight of themself and betraying their team.

Though I wouldn’t classify this book as purely sci-fi or fantasy, everything about Grand Slam Romance is a little over the top in a way that elevates the book from your average sports underdog story to a thrillingly queer, action-packed spectacle. For starters, every player on every team is coded queer if not explicitly labeled as such. I can think of only one cishet man who offers any dialogue, and he’s not the coach! Sex scenes materialize at the drop of a hat and escalate quickly. Then there’s the magic, which bestows Astra Maxima and fellow “magical girl” Wolfgang Konigin with supernatural speed, batting prowess, and sex appeal. Both magical girls glow with a visible aura: Astra has luminous pink hair, while Wolfgang generates a force field around her head when she hops on her motorcycle.

Despite these campy elements, though, the authors demonstrate a perfect amount of restraint, making the book approachable to even the most casual graphic novel reader. The illustrations are vibrant but not cartoonish (somewhere between Alison Bechdel and Raina Telgemeier), and are filled with quotidian details that anchor the story in real contemporary life. I had the urge to read this book quickly because there is so much motion on each page, but if you let your eye slow down you’ll notice thoughtful touches in every frame: side conversations, facial expressions, tossed-aside props. It is unsurprising that Grand Slam Romance was published by Surely Books, an imprint curated by Mariko Tamaki, whose books excel at attention to detail and emotional expression.

Read if: 

  • You wish Ted Lasso had more queer content.
  • You identify as a sports gay.
  • You’re looking for a read-alike to Archie Bongiovanni’s Mimosa, also published by Surely Books.

Getting the Band Back Together: It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland

It Goes Like This cover

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It Goes Like This is a story about friendship, second chances, and not giving up on the people who care about you. The story follows the former members of Moonlight Overthrow, a band of teenagers who split up a year and a half before the events of the novel. Celeste and Gina, two of the members, have built new solo careers for themselves in music and acting. Steph has disappeared from the public eye and cut off all communication with their former friends. And Eva is a college student, writing music and closely following the fandom of her former band on Tumblr on a secret account. When dire circumstances cause the band to come back together for a one-time charity concert, the former friends are forced to confront their past together and decide if they’re really better off without each other. 

Each of the four members of Moonlight Overthrow are featured and are fully fledged, three-dimensional characters. However, Eva is the clear primary protagonist. The core of a story is a pair of questions, both centered around her. Will the band get back together, now that they’ve seen what their lives are like without each other? And will Eva and her ex, Celeste, rekindle the relationship that they were in for much of their time in the band? As the story goes on, it becomes clear that the answer to both questions depends on Eva, as she was the person most hurt by the end of both the band and her relationship.

Eva’s journey is deeply sympathetic. Through a series of flashbacks in the story, we see how deeply hurt she was by the band’s breaking up, the only person who wanted to stay together. How abandoned and lost she felt in the immediate aftermath. We also see her fear over seeing her best friends back together, and her ex-girlfriend, whom she still has strong feelings for, reaching back out. These people hurt her without warning before, and it’s hard for her to decide to trust them again, no matter how much she wants to.

Celeste’s story revolves around Eva. A successful solo performer now, Celeste still finds herself writing songs about her ex, even more than a year after their unceremonious breakup. Now, finally with the chance to make things right, she’s desperate to show Eva that she’s realized that breaking her heart is the biggest mistake of her life. Her coming to terms with the ways that she has hurt and continues to hurt Eva is a compelling part of the story.

Gina’s story is more introspective than the previous character’s. Her primary conflict of the novel revolves around how she, and the world at large, perceive her. Throughout the story, she refers to herself as the next Rihanna, or the next Beyonce, comparing herself to other successful Black performers. As the story goes on, she’s forced to confront the ways she’s comparing herself to others, and the ways that has caused her to push away those close to her. 

Finally, Steph’s story is much smaller in many ways than the other characters. After Moonlight Overthrow broke up, Steph disappeared, returning to the band’s home of Duluth and cutting off contact. Their conflicts within the story primarily revolve around the fears around the effects of being a nonbinary person in what was most well known as a “girl band”, and around the effect that being in a band had on their family, who also feature prominently in the story.

Miel Moreland has a talent for writing sapphic romance, and this story is no exception. The “will they, won’t they” tension between Eva and Celeste is palpable throughout the story, especially with the commentary from their friends and flashbacks to their time together. Celeste grows to understand the ways in which their breakup hurt Eva, and takes actions to rebuild her trust. The regrowing friendship between them and questions about more make a compelling romantic core for the story.

Gina also has a sapphic romance of her own, though it is less relevant through the story. Her girl back home serves less as a romantic subplot and more of a chance for Gina to open up to her old friends and show her willingness to rekindle the friendship that has long since died out.

The real representational win though is Steph and their identity. Cleverly, though Steph’s identity isn’t revealed to the characters until the end of the first act and there are several flashbacks throughout the story, these parts of the book are written so that rather than either misgender the character or have a character use they/them pronouns they wouldn’t know to use, pronouns are avoided altogether. Not gendering Steph until the characters are aware of their gender identity makes the world feel more natural, without resorting to misgendering the character. 

And Steph’s identity does form an undercurrent through the story. One of the primary reasons that they left the band was its identity as a “group of queer girls”. When their friends re-enter their life, Steph is unsure whether they have a place in this group, and their friend’s quick acceptance and willingness to defend them is a heartwarming piece of the story.

All in all, It Goes Like This is an excellent read. The story flows well and stays engaging, with multiple POVs and a few flashbacks helping to keep up the pace and stop things from feeling too slow. The story has some good thematic depth as well, though we can’t get into specifics there without spoiling the story. Rest assured, this is a story that stuck with me after I finished reading it, and even inspired a reread to see these characters I enjoyed so much again. You won’t regret your time with Moonlight Overthrow.

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.

Kids Can Fight Injustice Too: Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston by Esme Symes-Smith

the cover of Sir Callie

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“My name is Callie, and I’m not a girl. I am here as Papa’s squire, and I want to train as a knight.”

Content warnings: verbal and physical abuse from parental figures; internalized homophobia/transphobia; deadnaming; bullying; queer-coded distrust of magic; parental figure with implied depression; implied suicide of SC; death of sibling to SC; grief, anxiety and other traumas 

Rep: nonbinary/sapphic MC; sapphic SC; genderqueer SC; gay parental figure; bi parental figure 

I received an e-arc from Netgalley and Labyrinth Road free of charge, and my opinions are completely my own.

As an adult reading middle-grade, I am often wary of either reading a narrative that infantizes the reader or overestimates their experiences. When I read Sir Callie for the first time, I was delighted to see that I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Syme-Smith’s voice is an entrancing one, with their writing transporting the reader back to being twelve years old and having an idealized version of the world. Callie’s perspective on her family and her reactions to Helston’s intolerance feel incredibly true to not only the character that Syme-Smith skillfully crafted, but to tweens everywhere, regardless of sexuality or gender. Beyond Callie, the rest of the cast is as wonderfully wrought, whether you look at Elowen and her fierce determination for equality, at Willow and his fear of letting down his kingdom, or at Edwyn and his desire to please his father (the villain of the book) battling what he believes to be good and true. Even the adults shine as full-fledged characters who are not necessarily demons or angels, but rather are judged by their intentions and interactions with their privilege. 

Sir Callie is a book that validates the childhood experiences of readers who have experienced prejudice, abuse from parental figures, and internalized and externalized queerphobia. I personally fell in love with Sir Callie because I felt seen—the things that happened to me as a child were acknowledged with a gentle hand, and I saw kinship in Willow’s struggles with magic and Elowen and Edwyn’s relationships with their parents. Readers of all ages can find healing amongst Callie’s family, both birth and chosen, as Symes-Smith assures us (through Nick) that as kids, our only job is to be a kid.  

Of course, I cannot NOT talk about the queer representation within Sir Callie! We come into Callie’s story with them having realized that they are not cisnormative, and fast-forward to their identifying proudly as nonbinary. The words that Symes-Smith uses to describe being nonbinary are simple, and yet lifechanging. Here are one of my favorite quotes: “I wasn’t a she, and I wasn’t a he, I was just . . . Callie. Eventually, I put on “they,” and I haven’t taken those shoes off since.” Beyond the nonbinary representation, Symes-Smith makes having magic (and not being a girl) immensely queer-coded, especially when seen in Prince Willow, who is bookish and wants to please everyone around him. There is little to no romance in Sir Callie—the only romance blossoming is between Nick and Neal, Callie’s dads, and perhaps a slight crush on a certain girl…But no spoilers!  

Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston (I dare you to say that five times fast) has become one of my absolute favorite middle grade books with its placing queer characters and realistic themes front and center. This is an incredibly important title that I can see being discussed in schools and library book clubs—and should be! The fantasy elements bring a bit of distance to a plot that discusses real life issues such as prejudice, intolerance, and abuse, and treats its readers with respect and care. The only real complaint that I could have about it is that the ending felt a little too perfect. However, Symes-Smith has since revealed that Sir Callie was just book one, and will be part of a four-book series. Sir Callie and the Dragon’s Roost is set to focus on obstacles outside of Helston and to show how fighting for justice never ends at getting rid of one villain. 

Are you still not sure about reading Sir Callie? Well, if you like these books: 

  1. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle 
  2. The Sun and the Star, by Rick Riordan 
  3. The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag 
  4. Dear Mothman, by Robin Dow 

Then you’d definitely want to grab a copy of Sir Callie! You can get a copy of Sir Callie from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop

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.

A Brutal and Beautiful Chinese Epic: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun cover

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If you have even a passing interest in sapphic fantasy, you have almost certainly heard about She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan. A reimagining of the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty’s rise to power, it begins with a young boy who is destined for greatness and a young girl who is destined to be nothing. When the boy instead follows the rest of the family into death, the girl takes on both his name and his fate, doing whatever she must to not only survive but to rise higher and higher until she finally reaches that fated greatness she so desires.

For so long, I put off reading this book because while I love nothing more than a beautiful sapphic fantasy, all I heard people say about this book (besides that it is brilliant) is it is brutal and it will wreck me. Having now read it for myself, I can confirm all of those things: it is brutal, and it did wreck me, and it is legitimately one of the best books I have read all year (perhaps equal only to its follow-up, He Who Drowned the World). I say this having read a lot of great books that I loved this year. I am absolutely obsessed with this duology.

When I say it is brutal, though, I am actually not really referring to on-page violence. Part of the reason I think I put off reading it for so long is because the war setting made me assume there would be a lot of graphic battle scenes, which I personally have never cared for. As it turns out, however, the battles are much more political than combat-based, even while many of the main characters are warriors. There is violence, to be sure, but it is not particularly drawn-out.

Where Parker-Chan’s real interest lies is in the characters and their relationships, and that, too, is where I found the most brutal thing about this book. I don’t want to say too much because I think spoiling anything in this book is practically a crime, but when I say that I don’t think I have read a more terrible and beautiful and painful and complex relationship than some of the ones in this book, please understand that I have read Tamsyn Muir. The agony I experienced reading this book was somehow even more intense than what The Locked Tomb did to me. One particular scene between Ouyang and Esen made me actually scream, and if you’ve read this book, it’s probably not even the one you’re thinking of.

For all the agony this book caused me, however, it was also so much funnier than I expected. Zhu, our protagonist, was particularly funny, but it wasn’t just her. I alternated between laughing and almost crying so many times while reading this, and neither emotion ever felt like it was encroaching on the other. The mood of every scene was masterfully written, so nothing felt out of place.

I have to talk about Zhu some more, though, because while I loved (and also hated, sometimes at the same time) so many characters in this book, Zhu in particular stood out. I don’t think I’ve read another character like her. As I said before, she was surprisingly funny, but she was also the most determined, ambitious, ferocious force of nature. Her character arc is as complex as anything else in this book—think “I support queer rights, but I also support queer wrongs,” as, like pretty much all of the characters in this book (except Ma, who is lovely and deserves the world), her choices are never unbelievable from a character perspective, but they are not always what one would call “morally defensible.” (Who, after all, strives for greatness while remaining good?) Despite that, she remains compelling, and somehow I never stopped rooting for her.

I can see why this book isn’t for everyone–it is rather dense and truly horrifying at times, and the sequel, which comes out next week, is even worse. However, this is a book that knows exactly what it is, and it does it so well. It is a brilliantly crafted epic about power, greatness, and gender, and it took my breath away. I would say, if the premise sounds interesting and the trigger warnings sound manageable, make sure you’re in the right headspace and give this series a shot. Let it wreck you—I promise it will be worth it.

Trigger warnings: War, violence, death, child death, misogyny, sexual content, animal death, torture, internalized homophobia, mutilation.

Read These Sapphic Books by Trans Authors During the Trans Rights Readathon!

a graphic with the text Sapphic Books by Trans Authors for the Trans Rights Readathon with flowers around it

In case you missed it, there’s a Trans Rights Readathon happening next week! Read books by trans authors and raise money for trans organizations.

I wrote a post about it at Book Riot with more info, but the short version is that this is a great time to read books by trans and nonbinary authors, promote them online using the #TransRightsReadathon hashtag, and donate to trans rights organizations.

Of course, this is the Lesbrary, so I thought this was a great time to promote some sapphic books by trans and nonbinary authors! Some of these have trans main characters, some don’t, but all of them are by trans or nonbinary authors. Most of them have Lesbrary reviews linked. (Note: I’m including nonbinary books that might not fit neatly under the term “sapphic,” but I’m going broad to include as many book recommendations as possible.)

Fiction:

the cover of Nevada

Nevada by Imogen Binnie (review): this is one of my favourite books, following a trans lesbian who steals her ex-girlfriend’s car and goes on a road trip. It’s introspective, sarcastic, and unforgettable–and it recently got republished!

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote (review)—and everything else they’ve ever written: Ivan Coyote is an incredible storyteller, and I recommend not only all of their books, but also checking out their videos on YouTube.

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (review): It’s hard to overstate the important of Leslie Feinberg’s work in queer and trans literary history. You can download this for free on hir website.

The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard edited by Tom Léger (review): this is a great way to be introduced to a bunch of trans authors, and it includes several F/F stories.

Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey (review): a queer punk BDSM retelling of Peter Pan.

A Dream of a Woman: Stories (review) and A Safe Girl to Love (review) by Casey Plett: beautiful literary short stories, most with sapphic trans women main characters.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: this won the PEN/Hemingway Award along with many other honours and became an instant classic of trans literature.

Romance:

the cover of Wherever Is Your Heart

Chef’s Kiss by TJ Alexander: an F/NB romance with a foodie element.

Who We Could Be (review) and many more by Chelsea Cameron: this is a grown up Anne of Green Gables-inspired romance (between Anne and Diana, obviously), but Chelsea Cameron writes lots of “tropetastic sapphic romances”!

Caroline’s Heart by Austin Chant (review): paranormal romance with a bi trans heroine and bi trans hero.

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly (review): an F/NB romance set at a reality TV baking competition!

Wherever is Your Heart by Anita Kelly (review): a butch/butch romance novella.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (review): if you somehow haven’t already read this F/F time travel romance, now is a good time!

Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner (review): the milf F/F romance. You know the one.

SFF:

the cover of Light from Uncommon Stars

Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett (review): this is a fantastic collection that is also an introduction to a ton of trans authors, and it’s finally back in print!

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (review): one of my favourite reads of last year! This has two sapphic main characters and a trans woman character. It’s genre-blending and heartwarming—but also, check the content warnings.

From A Shadow Grave by Andi C. Buchanan (review): this is an experimental collection of connected short stories told in the second person about a trans girl in 1930s New Zealand.

Finna by Nino Cipri (review): this a wacky sci-fi adventure set at an Ikea. Ava and Jules are exes and coworkers who have to rescue a customer who went through a wormhole.

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (review): an intense, unforgettable military fantasy inspired by the French colonization of North Africa. It has a will-they-won’t-they F/F relationship.

the cover of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson: a fantasy trilogy following witches who fight the patriarchy and also fight TERFs.

The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw (review): “a little bit heist novel, a little bit noir narration, a hint of Lovecraftian, and a whole lot of gritty sci fi.”

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (review): military science fiction with intense worldbuilding and a lesbian main character.

A Lake of Feathers and Moonbeams by Dax Murray (review): this is a queer, polyamorous Swan Lake retelling with a nonbinary main character!

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (review): an epic queer fantasy that begins with a sister assuming her dead brother’s identity in order to claim his destiny for greatness.

Unwieldy Creatures by Addie Brook Tsai: “a biracial, queer, nonbinary retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.”

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey (review): a Western dystopian about a queer caravan of librarians.

Horror:

the cover of The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin (review): this is a gruesome post-apocalyptic zombie story with queer trans main characters.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan (review): an unreliable main character narrates two different version of events, and it’s unclear which really took place–if either did. This has a lesbian main character with a trans girlfriend.

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan (review): one of my favourite horror reads, with a cantankerous lesbian main character who discovers a hidden manuscript that suggests a tree on the property she just moved into is haunted. It’s blurbed by Neil Gaiman.

Graphic Novels:

the cover of Eat the Rich

Eat the Rich by Sarah Gailey, Pius Bak, and Roman Titov (review): an over-the-top, gruesome, funny, anti-capitalism, queer graphic novel!

Stone Fruit by Lee Lai (review): this is a graphic novel that follows Bron (a trans woman) and Ray (a cis woman) and their complicated relationship to each other and their families. 

Darlin’ It’s Betta Down Where It’s Wetta by Rosalarian, writing as Megan Rose Gedris (review): silly lesbian mermaid erotica comics.

I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space!!! by Rosalarian, writing as Megan Rose Gedris: I’m linking a pirate website (appropriately) because the rights to this comic were essentially stolen from the author and it’s no longer available legitimately, sadly.

Young Adult:

Once and Future cover

The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta (review): this is a heartwarming, super queer fabulist baking story with an agender/gender-fluid romance—not sapphic, but I can’t miss a chance to recommend it.

The Lost Coast by A.R. Capetta (review): a surreal story about six queer teen witches who band together to save one of them who disappears and then returns…empty behind the eyes.

Once & Future by A.R. Capetta and Cori McCarthy (review): “a queer, sci fi retelling of the Arthur myth, with a female Arthur. It’s somehow simultaneously dystopian, sci fi, and fantasy.”

The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco: a sapphic YA fantasy dulogy pitched as Frozen meets Mad Max.

Dreadnought (review) and Sovereign (review) by April Daniels: a trans lesbian YA superhero story–but do be prepared for a lot of transphobia included in the story.

Iron Widow cover

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (review): More teen superheroes! This one has a bi girl main character, but each book in the series has a different POV, including a trans guy.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (review): “a dark academia, witchy, teenage boarding school sapphic romance which includes seances, a three hundred year old murder mystery, and ghosts.”

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston (review): this has an F/F enemies-to-lovers story at its core, but it has a big queer cast.

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve (review): a paranormal YA novel starring a nonbinary witch zombie and a Muslim lesbian werewolf.

A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth: an urban YA fae fantasy with four queer teen main characters.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (review): a bisexual, polyamorous, feminist YA novel with mechas and influence from Chinese history.

YA Graphic Novels:

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms cover

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier, illustrated by Val Wise: an F/F YA graphic novel about two cheerleaders, one a trans girl.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman (review): this is a YA graphic novel about a queer Brown kid on a (white) feminist spiritual backpacking trip, where she feel very out of place until she bonds with a trans girl there.

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman (review): this is a fast-paced Western comic with a trans Latina main character and a heist plot!

YU+ME: dream by Rosalarian, writing as Megan Rose Gedris: this began as a webcomic in 2004 and ended in 2010, and there are some very big changes that happen in between. It’s a teenage love story–that then turns fantastical and experimental.

The Avant-Guards, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin and Noah Haye: the adventures of a ragtag college basketball team.

Heavy Vinyl, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva (review): it’s like Fight Club, but teenagers at a record store.

Middle Grade:

the cover of Other Ever Afters

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass: a sapphic middle grade contemporary with an autistic main character and nonbinary side character.

Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales by Melanie Gillman (review): This is a middle grade graphic novel collection of queer fairy tales, most of which are sapphic!

Aquicorn Cove by Kay O’Neill (review): I love all of Kay O’Neill’s graphic novels, especially the Tea Dragon Society series. This is a MG fantasy book about grief with a sapphic subplot.

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill (review): this is an all-ages comic about a princess acting as the knight in shining armor for another princess! It’s super cute.

Lumberjanes series by N.D. Stevenson (review): a fun and silly fantasy graphic novel set at a summer camp, with several queer characters and trans characters.

Nonfiction:

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha cover

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote (review) and Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon (review): you should read everything Ivan Coyote writes, for beautiful thoughts about gender, love, and being a human in the world.

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler: This was one of my favourite reads of last year! It beautifully weaves together Imbler’s memoir, including being Asian and nonbinary in the U.S., with science writing. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Kicked Out edited by Sassafras Lowrey (review): This was published in 2010, so keep that in mind while reading it, but it’s an invaluable look at the experiences of homeless LGBTQ youth, told from their own perspectives.

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (review): This work is about disability justice: disability activism that centres queer and trans black, indigenous, and people of colour.

The Future is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (review): this is another collection of essays about disability justice, but focused on the experiences of disabled people during the (ongoing) pandemics.

Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (review): accessible, powerful poetry about being a queer disabled femme of colour. This is my favourite poetry I’ve ever read.


This isn’t a complete list! Let me know in the comments which books I’ve missed that have sapphic content and trans/nonbinary authors.

Danika reviews How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler

the cover of How Far the Light Reaches

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This may be my favourite book I’ve read this year, and there’s been some stiff competition.

How Far the Light Reaches is exactly what the subtitle promises: a life in ten sea creatures. It weaves together facts about aquatic animals with related stories from the author’s own life. For example, the beginning essay is about feral goldfish: how these goldfish released into the wild—which we think of as short-lived, delicate animals—are actually extremely hardy, taking over ecosystems and growing to huge sizes. In the same essay, Imbler describes queer communities: “Imagine having the power to become resilient to all that is hostile to us.”

This is an immersive, gorgeous book that reminded me of Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller, which I also loved. Clearly, I need to pick up more memoirs infused with writing about nature and animals. I would be interested in either of these versions of How Far the Light Reaches, if the two had been separated: the memoir or the science. Imbler’s writing on marine biology is accessible and fascinating, so while it’s not my usual genre, I was completely pulled in. By braiding these two threads together, though, it’s more than the sum of its parts.

Essays structured like this could be gimmicky, but this book doesn’t use easy metaphors or simplify the biology side to lend itself better to the accompanying social commentary. Imbler, a science writer/reporter, shows their deep appreciation for these animals in their own right, and the two approaches complement each other without being reductive.

Their writing is in turns beautiful, funny, and striking, with so much packed into spare sentences. Like this passage: “Before the class, M knew how to draw whales and I did not. After the class, I was in love with M and they were not in love with me.” Even without any other context, it’s still so affective. And I had to laugh at their description of returning home to visit and checking dating apps: “I told myself I was there to see my old classmates, to see who was newly hot, newly gay, or both.”

While the queer content in Why Fish Don’t Exist was a bonus I wasn’t expecting later in the book, in How Far the Light Reaches, it’s at the heart of the book. It’s a gloriously queer narrative, exploring Imbler’s relationships, gender, and queer community more generally. They also discuss their mixed race identity, both personally and in relation to their mixed race partner. In one essay, they write about how to give a necropsy report of dead whales, and then they reiterate different versions of the necropsy report of a previous relationship (M, mentioned above), giving a different proposed cause of death each time.

I savored reading this book, looking forward to ending each day with an essay. It’s philosophical, curious, thought-provoking, and kind. It explores queer people as shapeshifters, as swarms, as immortal. I never wanted it to end. Even if you aren’t usually a reader of science writing—I usually am not—I highly recommend picking this one up, and I can’t wait to see what Imbler writes next.

Content warnings: discussion of weight and weight loss, fatphobia, war

Larkie reviews Finna by Nino Cipri

the cover of Finna

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I first came across this book when I was looking for a Christmas gift, and even though it didn’t quite fit the gift idea that I had in mind, I knew that I had to read this book. Finna is an absurd little story that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of working a low wage corporate retail job. The plot is simple: Ava and Jules work in definitely not IKEA, and a shopper’s grandmother has wandered off into a wormhole and gotten lost in the maze of multidimensional Scandinavian furniture store hell. Their supervisor sends them after her. Also, they just broke up.

The premise is a little ridiculous, but it feels totally plausible. Of course corporate downsizing eliminated specialized teams who used to handle interdimensional recovery! When has any large corporation cared about the safety of their workers? And training naturally consists of watching a single VHS tape that was filmed decades prior, before you’re expected to just…do whatever it is the company needs you to do. Capitalism is bleak, but we live in it, and we have to play by its rules. Some people, like the manager, embrace these rules because they think that playing by the rules will get them somewhere. Others, like the main duo, are just trying to get by, and try their best to create the best out of a bad situation.

This brings me to the relationship between Ava and Jules. As readers, we come into the relationship at its worst. Ava is anxious and overbearing, constantly thinking of how things can go wrong and trying to mitigate every possible disaster. This includes managing Jules, who is adamant about being their own person, despite the soul crushing job and their difficult past. The relationship wasn’t an inherently bad one: Jules managed to ease some of Ava’s tension, while Ava was more on top of things like dishes. But Ava’s need to fix anything grated on Jules’ desire for independence, and their reluctance to open up just made her worry harder. I really appreciated how there wasn’t any blame or fault assigned to the breakup, it was just a bad thing that had happened. But we also see the good parts of their relationship, how they started as work friends with fun little injokes, the kind of bonding that only happens in work situations. Their relationship is probably the reason why they both stayed in the bad job in the first place, and it made a bad situation bearable. And sometimes, what you need to work out your problems is some quality time together to talk about your feelings, while also escaping carnivorous chair plants and fighting off creepy clones.

This book was fun, and also really heartfelt. It’s about deciding what’s really important and the kind of people you want to spend time with in your life. It’s about queer love and the many forms that can take. There’s so much packed into such a little package, and even more that I haven’t touched on here. I had a hard time putting it down, which meant it was good that it wasn’t that long, because I wouldn’t have been able to get anything done if it was any longer!