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2022 Award Eligibility

November 25, 2022 Leave a comment
2022 Award Eligibility is in black against a blue background. Four digital cover images surround it. One says Decoded with a Black woman in a gold gown in front of a purple background. One says Solarpunk Magazine Lunarpunk Special over an image of a river in a spaceship. One says Vol 3 is Here! justfemmeanddandy.com with a horse, wolf, and a cat in fashionable clothes eating vegetables. One shows a dragon leaning down toward a little girl who touches its nose. Wyrms is in gold above the dragon's head.

I have four pieces eligible for awards during the 2022 award season in three categories.

All of these were first published during 2022.

For the paid stories, I am able to provide author copies for award consideration purposes only. Please email me at mcneil.author [at] gmail.com to request one.

Short Stories

The University of Late-Night Moans” in Decoded Pride: A science fiction, fantasy, and horror story-a-day anthology for Pride month
June 9, 2022, issue 3, $14.99 digital
fantasy romance (sapphic / wlw)
It’s 1998, and Leonora’s friend Virginia is helping her investigate the moans coming from the cemetery across the train tracks from her dorm.

Sister Prudence on the Beach” in Solarpunk Magazine
Issue #6, Lunarpunk Special, Nov/Dec 2022, $6 digital
hopepunk (speculative scifi)
Sister Prudence settles down for her full moon meditation on the beach. But a young one passing by interrupts not just her meditation but perhaps her retirement as well.

Drabble

Bostonians Aren’t Friends With Our Neighbors” in Wyrms: An Anthology of Dragon Drabbles
July 1, 2022, $3 digital, $6 print
fantasy
The first line is “Deadrodents.com said the box on the triple-decker’s porch next door.”

Creative Nonfiction

These Boots Were Made for Who?” in Just Femme & Dandy
July 4, 2022, issue 3, free
digital magazine version (page 105) or html/accessible version
literary fashion magazine through a queer lens
I explore how my favorite pair of thrifted boots helped me develop my queer, bisexual fashion sense and sustained me throughout the pandemic.

Book Review: Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen

November 21, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A large hairy ape hand with a manicure holds a blonde white woman who is holding her phone and taking a selfie.

A reality tv dating show is filming its final four – including a closeted bisexual – on an island in the Pacific Northwest, but things take a fantastical horrifying turn the night before the penultimate decision day.

Summary:
This season’s Catch is a slightly sleazy bachelor who helped fund Glamstapix, which explains why so many of the final four women are Glamstapix stars. There’s Vanessa a car model, Amanda the daughter of two lesbian moms with a fashion Glamsta, Lilah-Mae a Dallas-based Christian influencer, and Renee a Black woman nominated by her coworkers who’s pretty over being the token woman of color on the show. No one is thrilled with the rural Otters Island location in the Pacific Northwest but everyone is motivated to make it to the final two in Palm Springs. Things get heated while they film the final interactions before the Catch chooses who will come with him to Palm Springs but things take a horrifying and fantastical turn when the cameras turn off for the night.

Review:
I did not receive the blurb I gave you above. The blurb I got combined with the title led me to believe that this was going to be a reality tv dating show where one of the women contestants was into another one of the women contestants who then gets abducted by a King-Kong like female creature she has to rescue her from. I still love this idea. But this isn’t what actually happens in the book. At all. It’s not a romance. It’s a funny reality tv show book that takes a horrifying turn in the last third.

I repeat. There is no romance in this book. Unless you count old love letters between an elderly B&B owner and her now dead wife. (Not a spoiler, she’s dead from the beginning). Renee is a closeted bisexual who does have feelings for Amanda (or at least the hots for her) but those feelings are not the focus of the book. The title of the book is misleading because Patricia, the giant ape-like monster, absolutely is not out to cuddle anyone. It’s not some weird cross-species ill-fated romance like King-Kong. Patricia is out to murder. And she murders a lot of people gruesomely. If you don’t like descriptions of a monster tearing people apart, then you won’t like the direction this book goes in. Sorry if you consider that a spoiler but I think it’s essential given how the book is being marketed and how the first two-thirds of the book reads to warn you about the dark, horrific ending before you get there.

Speaking of the first two-thirds of the book, that’s what made me give it three stars. I loved the insider look at the overlap of reality tv and influencer culture. I enjoyed Renee’s scathing observations about it all. I appreciated that there was some understanding and empathy for the influencers, especially that it actually is hard work to get the glamor shots and constantly promote every aspect of your day. It’s a fun, light-hearted read. I was wondering why it was taking so long to introduce Patricia. But then when Patricia came in I understood. The last third was basically a rapid slasher, not a search and romantic rescue. So it didn’t need much room.

The following paragraph is a spoiler filled analysis of the ending. Highlight to read.

Renee is the only one that Patricia doesn’t attack. The book seems to make the point that Patricia doesn’t attack her because Renee doesn’t treat her like a monster, and Renee doesn’t do that because she herself is queer. There’s this queer woman death cult that surrounds Patricia and protects her as well, even killing people to keep her existence a secret. To me this read as that monstrous groups only act monstrously (or seem monstrous) because of how you react to them. This might have worked but Patricia literally immediately tears people limb from limb. It’s not a kind act that’s misinterpreted. She hasn’t gently carried someone away in a kidnapping because she’s lonely. She concusses Amanda when she kidnaps her and then later tears her head off when she dares to try to run out of the cave. She scales the tower Lilah-Mae and Vanessa are on and immediately tackles Vanessa unprovoked. If this is an allegory, it’s a bad one, because Patricia is, in fact, acting like a monster. I think the allegory could have worked if there were real misunderstandings involved instead of the actual gore that occurred.

Overall, this felt like two different works mashed together. The first was a funny and empathic analysis of influencer and reality tv culture. The second was a gore-filled horror slash-fest that would work as a short story. The former is more my taste, but I respect the quality of the latter. The way the two are put together, though, might struggle to find its audience. So if you like a slow burn horror led by reality tv satire, give this one a try.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 256 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen

November 14, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A woman's silhouette reveals 1950s style purple wallpaper. Rabbits run across it. Some of them are bleeding.

A 1952 noir-esque mystery — but everyone from the detective to the murder victim to most of the suspects themselves are part of the queer community.

Summary:
Andy was just fired from the San Francisco police department after he was found in a compromising situation in a gay bar’s bathroom. He’s having one last night of drinks before throwing himself into the bay when a woman shows up asking him to investigate the murder of Irene Lamontaine – the matriarch of the Lamontaine soap company. She wants Andy to do the job because it turns out Irene was a lesbian, and almost everyone in her home is queer. A secret they have to keep if they want to remain an empire.

Review:
All I noticed in the blurb I saw was that this was a queer Knives Out. I somehow missed the historical part. I loved Knives Out but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of period appropriate homophobic content in this one.

This book is authentic to its time period. It doesn’t gloss over homophobia whatsoever. We witness one brutal gay bashing (literal gay bashing) and two other characters reference their own beatings. This is a world of bribes and secrecy from society such that even the happy characters can never be fully happy. Be prepared for the realistic depiction as you go into it.

The family Lamontaine consists of Irene and her partner Pearl. They have a son Henry. I can’t remember whose biological son he is. He has a partner named Cliff. He’s legally married to a woman named Margo who has her own partner Elsie, who is bisexual and runs a queer bar. Margo’s straight mother Alice begrudgingly lives with them. They have a butleresque character who is also gay, as well as another sapphic couple who run the kitchen and garden. They all get to be themselves inside the Lamontaine house but never outside of it. Irene was found dead in the perfume library. The family and coroner rule it a fall, all with the exception of Pearl who suspects foul play. She found out about the recently outed cop and figured he could be their private investigator without risk of outing them all. The characters feel like a lot but are actually easy to keep track of.

I appreciate that there was a bisexual character. I wished that there was more diversity. There was one Filipino bar tender and a rival soap company run by a Jewish family. With all the rampant homophobia being depicted, I was honestly shocked that racism didn’t come up. It would certainly have been period appropriate to, for example, even allude to issues like redlining or racist responses to the Korean War. If one was completely unaware of history coming into this book, one could have left it thinking the only issue of tolerance and acceptance in the 1950s was sexuality. (For a queer book that does explore racism in San Francisco in the 1950s, check out Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club).

Please also note that there is a scene where some rabbits are killed. I don’t think this is a spoiler as it’s alluded to on the cover. I wouldn’t have asked for the book at all on NetGalley if I’d been able to see the full cover as it’s rendered now, because I have a personal love for rabbits so that was distressing to me. One of the characters is depicted as having a drinking problem that they are told to snap out of. This is never followed up on in a way that implies the drinking problem is fine now. This isn’t how a drinking problem works. I found this to be a flawed and misleading depiction of alcoholism that was used as a plot device.

The mystery itself was kind of ho-hum. I suspected who did it from the get-go and was proven correct. The solution seemed….more than a bit obvious to me, honestly. If you’re curious, take a guess in the comments, and I’ll respond with if you’re right. Ultimately though for me I wanted this book to swing more fully into one direction or the other. Either to go full period piece and get into all the nitty gritty or move it into the present and just make it fun.

Overall, if a simply mystery set in the 1950s with a mostly queer cast facing an intolerant society appeals to you, then you should give this one a go.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 274 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Publication Announcement: Hopepunk “Sister Prudence on the Beach”

November 10, 2022 Leave a comment
A digital drawing of three women lying next to a river surrounded by grass flowing through the middle of what appears to be a space station. A robot pays a harp in the foreground. Two herons play in the water near a waterfall Over the top of the image in blue are the words Solarpunk Magazine. IN white are the words Issue #6 Nov/Dec 2022 Lunarpunk Special featuring "Sister Prudence on the Beach" a short story by Amanda McNeil.

I am thrilled to announce the publication of my hopepunk short story in the special Lunarpunk edition of Solarpunk Magazine. What’s hopepunk? It’s speculative fiction that gives a glimpse of a hopeful future. The opposite of dystopia. Think Star Trek style. There’s still conflicts but society has improved. Hopepunk is also called solarpunk. Lunarpunk is on the introspective side of hopepunk.

This issue of the magazine costs $6 and includes 12 other pieces, including poetry and nonfiction.

Here’s a blurb about my piece.

Sister Prudence settles down for her full moon meditation on the beach. But a young one passing by interrupts not just her meditation but perhaps her retirement as well.

Please be sure to check out my Publications Page for my other work.

Book Review: Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell

November 3, 2022 Leave a comment

A YA romp told from the perspective of Mr. Rochester’s ward gives a new view of both Jane Eyre and London’s queer underground.

Image of a digital book cover. A young woman in 1800s period costume stands facing the reader. There's a reddish hate tilted down over her face.

Summary:
Adéle grew up watching her mother dance in Le Moulin in Paris but soon found herself sent away to England with the man her mother said was her father. Mr. Rochester. Soon she meets her governess Jane Eyre and begins her own series of adventures.

Review:
If you have a love/hate relationship with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, then this book is for you. If you love your YA with sapphic romance in period costumes, then get this book immediately.

The thing about Jane Eyre is…Mr. Rochester is terrible. Yet she’s still attracted to him. (This was beautifully summed up in the web comic Hark! A Vagrant). Shifting to Adéle’s perspective gives a whole new angle on just how deliciously insidious Mr. Rochester is. Adéle does not pull any punches when it comes to him. It’s downright cathartic for everyone who tears their hair out about Jane’s love for him.

There’s much more in this story than a shift of perspective on Jane Eyre though. Adéle is well-rounded, and we have entire chapters where Mr. Rochester and Jane aren’t mentioned at all or only in passing. My favorite part is when Adéle goes to a finishing school in London, because this is when the sapphic subtext becomes blatant. Adéle has the hots for more than one other teenage girl. (Both of whom are excellent choices, by the way). There’s cross-dressing! There’s scuttling around on the streets of London late at night in widow’s clothes! But also Adéle has feelings for Mr. Rochester’s nephew she’s been exchanging letters with since she first came to England. What to do. what to do. I loved seeing representation of a bisexual woman who leans more in a certain direction usually. I really like that even though she is capable of attraction to men that the sexist society fizzles it for her, making her a bisexual that leans toward women. What a fun twist on what we usually see in period pieces with fluid sexuality.

The book does start slow. The first chapter in Le Moulin was rough with overly flowery language and stirred up drama. But this drops out as Adéle ages and comes into her own. Perhaps some of this was meant to show how she is a little too idealistic in how she remembers her early years. I suspect the first chapter may have served better as flashbacks from her early time in England, rather than linear.

Please do take a moment to check out the content notes on StoryGraph. The ones listed as of the day I was writing this post are accurate.

Overall, this is a fun twist on Jane Eyre that gives agency to Mr. Rochester’s ward Adéle. Come for the twist, stay for the YA sapphic heart-throbbing.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 288 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gómez

October 27, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A Black woman's face gazes to the right away from the viewer. It looks like her face is part of old paper. There is blood around the edges of the page.

Summary:
A young Black girl escapes slavery in the 1850s United States. When she grows up, she is made into a vampire with her consent. We see her immortal life and her perspective of the US through an imagined 2050.

Review:
The author herself stated in a recent article that she wrote this because she wanted “to see a lesbian of color embark on the adventure of eternal life.” This was something that was hard to find in 1991 when it first came out, and is only a little easier to find even now. There’s more of a twist to this, though, than a Black lesbian vampire.

How vampires work in this story is perhaps the most unique take I’ve read. They usually glamor their sources of blood while they are asleep. They come into their dreams and see something they wish for and leave something behind to help. An example is one time a teenager is hoping to do well on a test, so Gilda clarifies some of his mathematics homework for him. They also don’t use their teeth to draw blood but rather make a slice with a fingernail and then heal the wound magically without a trace. Most fascinatingly, these vampires must always keep their “home earth” close to themselves, or they will lose their powers. They must take large pallets of dirt from their home and sew it into their blankets, clothes, and shoes. One complain I have is that it was unclear to me if this dirt was from where they grew up or from where they were turned. It seems sometimes it’s one and sometimes the other. They also are weakened by all water, not just holy water.

Each of the chapter is set in a different year and place in Gilda’s life. It reads almost like a series of interconnected short stories more than a novel. I was reticent to ever stop in he middle of a chapter. I felt compelled to read each in its entirety in one sitting. This blipping in and out of Gilda’s life helps give the reader a sense of the jarringness of immortality. We just get to know a human, and then they’re gone. But that’s how it is for Gilda too.

This is not an erotic book. Gilda’s maker and another vampire named Bird (who also helps make her) are a couple when we first meet them. Gilda repeatedly becomes infatuated with women, both human and vampire, throughout the book. But we only rarely see any sexual interactions. I’m including even kissing here. The book is less about the sexuality and more about the community formed by queer people, often necessarily in the shadows. The often unrequited yearning. Gilda also has a vampiric encounter with a man that some readers view as sexual. I didn’t read it that way myself. I viewed it as a purely vampiric encounter. But you might feel differently.

Gilda’s perspective as a Black woman is ever-present, as it should be. She is othered by white society even when they don’t sense her vampire nature because of her blackness. But she also finds belonging in a variety of Black communities ranging from rural activists to singing nightclubs. Gilda also later in the book is left wondering how humans can feel such atrocities as slavery are so far in the past when for her it was a blink of an eye. An artful way of getting the reader to question how much time and distance is really between us and our history.

Overall, this is a unique take on vampire lore that centers a Black lesbian. It delivers both fantastic historic fiction and Afrofuturism in the same read. An engaging read for lovers of either.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 252 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.

Counts For:

A light green background. There is a border made up of books and jack-o-lanterns carved into smiles. The heading "A Very Sapphic Halloween Reading Challenge" is centered with a photograph of a Black and a white woman kissing. Under the photo it says "Hosted by opinionsofawolf.com @opinionsofawolf"
A Very Sapphic Halloween Reading Challenge

Book Review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

October 18, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A woman in 1800s clothing stands in the middle of a picture frame. She holds a skull in one hand and skeletons dance under her. Her face is obscured.

Summary:
You saved my life when I was on the brink of death, and I became your vampire bride. But we’ve lived many centuries past those days in Romania. I think your way of loving might be more than I can bear.

Review:
I picked this up because I heard that in spite of the husband/wife part of the summary that there’s a significant sapphic subplot. I’m not sure I’d call it significant so much as being one of the three parts of the book.

It’s written as a letter from the vampire bride Constanta to her vampire husband. In the first part, we learn how Constanta became a vampire and her early years with him. In the second, he adds a second wife, Magdalena. But this is true polyamory in that everyone sleeps with everyone. In the third part, he adds a husband, Alexi. Again, everyone has sex with everyone, although this is not the amicable threesome (and sometimes twosomes in both combinations) it once was. It’s clear that while the sire is fine with Magdalena and Alexi sleeping together, he’s less ok with Constanta and Alexi.

But what is the plot of the book? It’s basically Constanta realizing over time just how cruel her husband is and trying to decide if she should try to escape. The most unique part of this was the second part where Magdalena and Constanta both feel an immediate attraction to each other and then proceed to form a romantic bond as their husband perpetually abandons them for his research. I don’t say this just because it’s sapphic but rather because I think polyamory as opposed to polygamy has less representation in literature. Not that either have a lot.

I want to be clear this is not erotica. If it wasn’t for all the vampire feeding blood, I’d say it could probably pull off a PG13 rating for the sexual content. A lot occurs off-screen or is only vaguely described. There’s really only one scene that I think might warrant an R rating for the sex. This in fact is not a story about sex but one about many centuries of abuse and how the persons being victimized finally break free. The thing is…I was here for romance. And I wouldn’t say that’s what this is.

The language is overwrought in a self-aware way. Constanta is old world. These are her words. She sounds like an 1800s teenager who takes everything far too seriously and has some hilarious turns of phrase. I’m sure some readers would read this as gorgeous as opposed to silly. When I say overwrought 1800s language, I’m sure you can tell how well that will work for you.

While the book engaged me enough to finish it, here wasn’t enough unique about it to make me rate it above average. I wanted more of what makes this vampire bride different and less of the usual tropes. But if you’re a person who loves Old Europe style vampires and wants a dash of f/f love and polyamory in there, then this will likely work quite well for you.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 248 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Counts For:

A light green background. There is a border made up of books and jack-o-lanterns carved into smiles. The heading "A Very Sapphic Halloween Reading Challenge" is centered with a photograph of a Black and a white woman kissing. Under the photo it says "Hosted by opinionsofawolf.com @opinionsofawolf"
A Very Sapphic Halloween Reading Challenge

Book Review: Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty

Image of a digital book cover. A white woman's face is half in light and half in shadow. She wears sunglasses. A bee and planets can be seen reflected in her sunglasses.

Summary:
Mallory is constantly embroiled in murder cases that only she has the insight to solve. But outside of a classic mystery novel, being surrounded by death makes you a suspect and a social pariah. So when she gets the opportunity to take refuge on a sentient space station, she takes it. Surely the murders will stop if her only company is aliens. But when the station agrees to allow additional human guests, humans and aliens alike begin to die…

Review:
A scifi mystery with creative imaginings of multiple alien species and a queer cast.

My favorite part of this book is the various alien species present on the space station. The Gneiss formed from rocks. They don’t ever really die but hibernate then come back in a new form. They can be pebbles, humanoids, or even shuttles. The Phantasmagore have a symbiont vine growing on their ankles that let them camouflage into their surroundings. The Sundry are a hivemind of bee-like creatures that are mysteriously divided into blue and grey factions. Most interesting is that all alien species evolved to have a symbiont. This is another species that merges with them for a mutually beneficial relationship. Only humans didn’t. Why they don’t have one is one of the mysteries of the book.

In spite of the fact that many of the characters are aliens, this still manages to be a diverse book. Multiple characters are Black, one is Korean-American, and the automatic translator uses human names from around the globe to substitute for alien names that humans couldn’t possibly pronounce. (For reasons like that they can’t vibrate to communicate like the Gneiss do).

The marketing I saw was Agatha Christie in space. The storytelling isn’t comparable. Agatha Christie novels are mostly one pov. Third person from the detective’s perspective. This book uses multiple povs. This annoyed me, because at many times, we the readers know things Mallory doesn’t. It removes a lot of the mystery. We end up just sitting there waiting for her to find out something we already know. And it’s not just switching pov in a seen. There are multiple flashback chapters where we go and see a character’s whole backstory. It’s important for an author to know all this detailed information, but not for the reader to. An example is one character who the military recruits to something. We have a whole chapter of flashback to the military recruiting her. Then later Mallory finds out. We didn’t need this chapter about the recruitment. We could have just seen Mallory find it out. More suspense and less dead time (pun intended) waiting for flashbacks to be over. While I liked the story itself, the style of telling it wasn’t for me.

The queer content is that Mallory is bisexual. Another character is a trans gay guy. Another minor character is gay. I appreciate that these identities are not a big deal and mentioned in passing like a character’s hair color. I was a little uncomfortable with one scene with the trans character, Phineas. His brother is trying to reassure him that they’re definitely related. For some reason, the way he reassures him of this is to say his deadname and explain why their father gave him that name. It just seemed like a completely unnecessary use of the deadname to me. (Could have just said…dad named you what he did because of X and that’s why he’s definitely your dad too). I don’t mind characters making mistakes. But it would have been nice to have established Phineas doesn’t mind hearing his deadname. Or to have his brother realize his mistake and apologize.

Recommended for mystery readers who like scifi and multiple povs.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: Paper Is White by Hilary Zaid

September 29, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. The words "Paper Is White" are imposed over a picture of a pile of papers.

Summary:
Oral historian Ellen and her girlfriend decide to get married in 1990s San Francisco. As they beat an early path to marriage equality, a Holocaust survivor draws Ellen into a secret. How much do you need to share to be true to the one you love? 

Review:
This is a rich exploration of two things simultaneously. What it meant to be in a same-sex relationship in the 1990s before marriage equality. And what it means to be Jewish in the shadow of the Holocaust.

There is a sad beauty in how Ellen and Francine find a way to experience the joy of being brides even in the face of rejection and homophobia from many sides. The fact that their wedding can’t be legally recognized. How that is most people’s first reaction. Their parents struggle with accepting and loving them as they are. There’s a real ache to how their parents come down on, essentially, well a lesbian daughter is better than no daughter at all. As a child of the 90s, I recall how that was often viewed as the pinnacle of acceptance from a parent. How sad that was. How well-represented here. But there are still scenes of delightfully bride moments, like Ellen struggling to get the shoes she wants. Or the rabbi who agrees to marry them getting serious about how marriage is about sticking through the hard things too.

I am not Jewish myself, but I did attend a historically Jewish university, and one of my closest friends is Jewish. (She had an interfaith same-sex wedding). So I do have some familiarity with Judaism, while still acknowledging my position as an outsider. From my perspective, this book does a great job depicting the struggle to be Jewish in a way that works for you while under the shadow of the Holocaust. The weight of responsibility many Jewish people feel to carry Judaism forward while also being true to themself.

Something that shows how this can be a struggle is how Ellen and Francine attend a meeting with well-meaning Reform rabbis. They say they want to help same-sex couples have marriages. But Ellen and Francine notice how they keep talking about commitment and not marriages or weddings. They then meet with a different rabbi at the suggestion of a friend. They’re surprised to discover he is part Chinese. And he is more than happy to give them a Jewish wedding. He is non-traditionally Jewish but still Jewish. This is an aha moment for Ellen. Over the course of the book, she comes to talk more about how the Judaism she’s living isn’t what her ancestors would have imagined, but it is still Judaism.

Ellen’s grandmother was someone she had a special relationship with. At the start of the book, her grandmother has been dead for years. Her grandmother was not a Holocaust survivor, as she was an American Jewish person. But Ellen in some way seeks to bond with her grandmother through her work interviewing Holocaust survivors. I won’t spoil the surprise in the book. But I will say that how Ellen comes to terms with her relationship with her grandmother is eloquently handled.

Overall, this is a book that manages a delicate balance. It’s realistic about what it was to be a Jewish lesbian in the 1990s while also depicting both queer and Jewish joy. I highly recommend it.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 318 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.

Book Review: Buffalo Is the New Buffalo by Chelsea Vowel

September 13, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. Two people stand on either side of a mystical ravine. the shadow of a buffalo is in the ravine between them.

Summary:
Inspired by classic and contemporary speculative fiction, this collection of eight short stories explores science fiction tropes through a Metis lens: Nanites babble to babies in Cree, virtual reality teaches transformation, foxes take human form and wreak havoc on hearts, buffalo roam free, and beings grapple with the thorny problem of healing from colonialism.

Review:
This collection contains nine short stories by Indigenous (Métis) author Chelsea Vowel. The Métis are a recognized Indigenous people with a unique culture descended from the pairings of Indigenous with European fur traders (usually, but not always, First Nations women with French men). Most of the stories are set in the same region of Canada, and all of the stories are speculative, containing some fantastical element, whether they are set in the past, present, or future.

The author is queer, and queerness is clearly present in five of the nine stories. These include: a historical woman figure who identifies as a woman, is interested in women, and dresses in male clothing; a woman character who becomes interested in a fox presenting as a woman; a woman character who is in lockdown without her girlfriend who ended up trapped in another town after she went to visit her family; a queer poly family raising a child together in a collective; and a nonbinary femme-presenting character who uses Métis gender-neutral pronouns.

My favorite story of the collection is “Maggie-Sue.” This is the story where an Indigenous woman becomes interested in a beautiful Cree woman she sees but realizes is actually a fox disguised as a woman (this is revealed very early on, so not a spoiler). I loved everything about the fox woman, the mystical adventure the main character goes on, and the ending was a delight to imagine. I also really appreciated the play on words in the title (which I won’t reveal, because it’s more fun for you to realize it when you’re reading it yourself). I thought this story also offered solid critique on the difficulties of being a survivor of ongoing colonization on your ancestral lands, without that criticism ever feeling like telling instead of showing or like academic language sneaking in where a character wouldn’t use it.

The latter is my main complaint for the story I liked least – “Unsettled.” There is a scene where five characters, none of whom are established as academics, sit around having a highly academic conversation for many pages. The story felt more like an academic thought experiment than a story with unique characters and perspectives. I also struggled a little bit with the first story in the book, “Buffalo Bird.” its pacing was slow, which is a challenge for me. I think I would have liked it more further into the collection. I personally need to kind of “know” a writer to trust that a story will ultimately go into an interesting place if it has a slow start.

Something else interesting about this collection is that it has footnotes throughout, where the author explains things or gives historical context. I enjoyed these and felt they added to the stories. They’re not used all the time, sometimes you as the reader do need to figure things out from context for yourself if you’re not Métis (which I, to be clear, am not). But I thought the footnotes struck a nice balance.

The other thing is after each story there’s a short reflection from the author about the story. On the one hand, I liked these because I learned more from them. As an author myself, also, it was interesting to hear from the author on what her goals were and compare them to my actual experience as the reader. On the other hand, I could see some readers not enjoying this aspect of the book, wanting to be left with their own experience with the story and leave it at that. But you can always skip over these essays if you prefer not to have the inside story.

Related to the essays, I do also want to note one additional thing. I do think that an author’s beliefs and politics tend to make it into their writing, whether they intend that or not. I’m not saying every character reflects the author’s worldview, absolutely not, but the more you read an individual author’s work, the more you come to see how they likely see the world. This is even more clear in this collection where each story is paired with a nonfiction reflective essay by the author. The author is an academic Indigenous queer woman, and definitely leans very left. I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing. But I do think it shows through more clearly in some stories than others, and is very present in the essays. Only you, the potential reader, can know if this would be a plus, negative, or neutral for you.

Overall, this is an interesting collection of speculative short stories from a queer Indigenous woman author. I’m glad I took the time to read them and see a different way of storytelling and views on the world within the speculative framework I personally enjoy.

Please note, I calculate a rating for a short story collection by individually rating each story then reporting out the average. This came out to 3.7, so I rounded up to 4.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 272 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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