Susan reviews Fearless by Shira Glassman

Fearless by Shira Glassman is a short and sweet romance about a newly-out divorced woman, her crush on a music teacher at her daughter’s school, and falling back in love with music.

I quite liked this one! The story takes place over two days of rehearsals for a high-school music event, where Lana’s daughter is playing, and they get snowed into the hotel. Lana was very sweet, and the story’s depiction of her struggle to work out how to meet people as a middle-aged newly-out queer woman felt very realistic to me as a queer woman who has also struggled to find community. Plus, her kindness and obvious pride in her daughter’s accomplishments really touched me; Fearless is a story of such lovely affection, both familial and romantic, and I found it so warm and lovely.

The romance itself was slow-building in a realistic way – it’s very much about a crush and the flustering rush of feelings at the start of a new relationship! Mel is depicted as talented and kind, and it is very easy to see how Lana found her attractive! Especially because a lot of the story is spent on establishing common ground between them and talking about their shared love of music, which is something I always appreciate. But I especially liked the arc running through it of Lana coming back to music herself after twenty years; the fear and longing felt very believable, and Mel’s understanding of it despite her own confidence was really good to read.

Honestly my only complaint is that some of the descriptions of people felt a little clunky to me, but it wasn’t distractingly so, so your mileage may vary! If you want a peaceful story without much conflict, but with a well of kindness and warmth running through it, Fearless is worth checking out!

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.


Shira Glassman reviews Ripped Pages by M. Hollis

Ripped Pages is a cute addition to the thank goodness growing collection of YA where a fairy-tale princess’s happy ending is with another girl. I’ve said before that since for so many of us, fairy-tales are our first exposure to romance, whether it’s bedtime stories or Disney movies, and that means for those of us who are attracted to the same gender, these same fairy tales were the first place we learned we didn’t exist. That’s what’s so soothing about being included in fairy-tales, even when we’ve moved beyond the age where they comprise the bulk of our romantic daydreams.
The story is a Rapunzel retelling that changes several details to carve its own place in the world–instead of adhering to the original legend where a baby is stolen from loving parents, this time it’s the cruel father himself who locks his daughter away from the world (not because she’s a lesbian, but because she stood up to her father when he said awful things about her or her dead mother.) It’s got to be baffling and invalidating for children of abusive parents to see story after story where the only reason a parent was abusive was that they were the step-parent or kidnapper, when they know they’re enduring such hardship from a blood connection. Hopefully some of the folks out there like that will take comfort in Valentina’s escape.
That escape, actually, is the main focus of the story, as well as Valentina’s new life with the family of the pan-or-bi girl who rescues her. Ripped Pages‘s short length and fairy-tale narrative structure (it literally starts with “once upon a time, in a land far, far away”) mean that Agnes, the love interest, isn’t the most fleshed-out of characters, but if you go into this expecting a fairy-tale instead of a fully fleshed-out fantasy novel it’s a satisfying and complete little read.
The worldbuilding was one of my favorite things about this book. The location is never identified, but I know the author is Brazilian and the names and place-names at least to my outsider eyes seem Brazilian or at least Brazilian-adjacent. (The geography seems to be made up of multiple small countries.) On a more intimate scale, Agnes’s family life, which includes a brother with a husband, several younger siblings, and two affectionate parents, was a neat enough place to “visit” that I’d gladly go back there for a sequel.
Speaking of the treatment of queerness in Hollis’s worldbuilding, the books Valentina finds in her tower include references to women loving each other, attraction to multiple genders, nonbinary people, and asexuality, both of which appear so seamlessly and naturally that it really shows how easy it is to do that when you’re writing in a fantasy world where you literally control everything.
See here:
There were girls kissing other girls! They could kiss whoever they wanted! And some people in the book didn’t want to kiss anyone. There were even those who didn’t call themselves men or women, but something else, something entirely their own.
and then, when another character is speaking:
“I love men, women, and people who are neither or both at the same time. Why do you ask?”
See? This stuff is pretty easy, once you remember that since you control everything about your fantasy world, you don’t have to adhere to any specific period in Earth’s real history. (That being said, there are still valid reasons to include discrimination and/or erasure–for example, getting to watch characters like you vanquish your IRL foes. I’m not saying either way is right, just that Maria Hollis’s way needs to get way more airtime!)
It’s hard to do complicated in a story that’s only fifty or sixty pages, but I liked the nod to the complex emotions that go along with escaping a bad situation and then having to think about it again when towards the end of the story Valentina has to decide how to move forward with her healing. I liked the decision Hollis made about how to tie up that particular loose end.
And of course I was charmed by a reference to pitanga, also known as Suriname cherry–the casual appearance of tropical fruit in fantasy lit being a particular interest of mine.
Really, the only thing that would have improved it for me is if I had a better grip on Agnes, other than as “the spunky love interest”, but the story still works without that particular kind of depth.
There are several trigger warnings, but the author has provided all of them in the intro page: Ripped Pages contains scenes of emotional abuse, forced imprisonment, child abandonment, minor violence, and trauma recovery. Shira’s additional note: when Valentina’s mother dies in the beginning of the book, it felt realistic and familiar to me as someone who has lost a lot of family, so if that’s something that’s likely to set you off, tread lightly until Valentina is already in the tower.
Shira Glassman is the author of the fluffy queer Jewish fantasy series the Mangoverse and also light contemporary f/f romances like Knit One Girl Two. Her next release, coming this winter, is the superheroine/damsel in distress adventure Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor, which you can TBR on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36321936-cinnamon-blade-knife-in-shining-armor


Anna reviews The Jewel Box by Alcamia Payne

Clemmie Beaumont is a just-widowed southern belle who prefers the company of women. Pearl, a recently freed slave, is her new maid. She’s described as a sensual, “exotic” creature who has been watching Clemmie from the shadows and jumps on her first opportunity to slide a well-formed and “dextrous” [sic] toe up Clemmie’s skirts. Yes, The Jewel Box, by Alcamia Payne, is that kind of story, in which women meet and then, an hour later, are riding out toe-inspired orgasms in public. Clemmie also has a box of jewelry which could save her plantation from financial ruin if she sold the contents, but she isn’t willing to part with any of those bright baubles–mirroring the fact that she’s not willing to sell herself to a new husband, even though she’s strikingly beautiful and could have her pick of men. Instead, she and Pearl [Spoiler Alert], who by the end of the story (perhaps even the end of their first mutual sexual encounter, it’s not clear) consider themselves married, have concocted a plan to rob other members of Clemmie’s social class at fancy parties.[1]

I am sorry to report that the story (a slim 70 pages) is wildly improbable at best. The historical setting–the waning days of the Civil War–is potentially interesting. Just think, one could explore race, class, post-war economics (beyond the light treatment that drives Clemmie’s dilemma), sexuality and gender roles, and so on. However, the way characters interact, and Clemmie’s opinions, are decidedly modern. Clemmie is known to parade around her plantation in men’s clothing, believes women and men and blacks and whites should be equals, etc., but also seems unwilling to indulge her forbidden desires. She casually accepts the toe-fondling, then initially pleads innocence when Pearl offers her more intimacy. After that initial encounter, the author lets weeks pass during which, it is revealed later, they have circled each other in a dance of increasing sexual fascination. However, that build-up is tossed away in a few lines of dialogue, in favor of an encounter over Clemmie’s jewels that takes up half the story.

The overall concept–a forbidden affair between a privileged white woman and a former slave–could have been handled better in about a hundred different ways, but it was really the writing that disappointed the most. Take, for example, this sentence, which is something that Clemmie thinks idly to herself: “That hard rod beneath a man’s pants doesn’t arouse me in the least, whereas the prospect of that soft triangle of pink flesh concealing the womanly jewel makes me run like a river.” Between the flat characterizations, the strangely fast-then-slow seduction story, the constant comparison of female anatomy to jewels, and choice phrases such as “opulent breasts,” “pendant orbs,” and “formidable clitoris,” this short novella managed to drag on an epically long time.

[1] Which Pearl attends with Clemmie, even though she is a former slave. And dressed, not as a maid, but in Clemmie’s clothes. They have matching diamond nipple piercings. Er, spoiler.

Danika reviews The Voting Booth After Dark by Vanessa Libertad Garcia

This book is a little difficult to review, because it’s not a novel. It doesn’t have a plot. It’s a collection of fragments, snippets, of different people’s lives. The description calls it a collection of short stories and poems interwoven into a narrative that follows a group of addicted gay & lesbian Latino club kids destroying themselves throughout the course of the 2008 elections. It’s unclear which fragments/poems are attached to which narrator. The narrators rarely get names.  Instead, you just get a sense of the overall frustration, self-destructiveness, and even despair of the group as a whole. In that way, all their lives weave together.

I found it a little like reading scraps of people’s diaries. The context wasn’t given, nothing was explained for you (including things that seem like inside jokes), and it wasn’t always grammatically correct. It felt authentic, but it also completely lost me a couple of times. Despite the blurb, the election wasn’t given as much attention as I was expecting. It’s more of a setting and context for the stories than the focus of them. The subject matter is dark, from addiction to suicide attempts. It’s definitely not a light read.

The Voting Booth After Dark is an unusual little book (only 70 pages), but if you enjoy taking a peek into the minds of people, you should find it interesting.