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Book Review: Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca Thorne

January 23, 2023 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A high level view of a room with a large fireplace and a wall of bookshelves. There are plants near the rafters. Two people sit in cozy chairs near the fireplace.

A sapphic (wlw) cozy fantasy where a woman commits treason by running away from her lifelong job as the Queen’s private guard to start a remote tea shop with her girlfriend.

Summary:
After an assassin takes Reyna hostage, she decides she’s thoroughly done risking her life for a self-centered queen. Her girlfriend Kianthe, the most important mage in all of the land, seizes the chance to flee responsibility. Together, they settle in Tawney, a town nestled in the icy tundra of dragon country, and open the shop of their dreams.

What follows is a cozy tale of mishaps, mysteries, and a murderous queen throwing the realm’s biggest temper tantrum. In a story brimming with hurt/comfort and quiet fireside conversations, these two women will discover just what they mean to each other… and the world.

Review:
This might be the first time I’ve ever impulse read a book on my kindle’s “recommended for you” list. I was precisely in the mood for something lighthearted and escapist, and none of my library books or currently owned ebooks fit that bill. When I saw this title, I laughed. Then I read the description and, delighted to see it was a cozy fantasy decided to give it a whirl. (What exactly is cozy fantasy? It’s a newly defined genre, but I like the devoted Reddit subgroup’s definition. The Kenosha Public Library is a little more specific in their definition.)

I mostly expected a plot about opening a tea shop in a fantastical land with dragons. That was really one of three plots. The other two involve Reyna’s treason and Kianthe’s role as the most powerful mage. It was a little more high stakes than I was expecting. People’s lives are at stake at quite a few points. It didn’t particularly stress me out, but I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of – oh no we’re out of honey and can’t get anymore for a month because the dragons are blocking supply chains – sort of thing. That said, even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was still a relaxing, escapist read to me.

I like the main couple. They have a sweet dynamic with things to overcome. Mainly that Reyna was raised to a role of servitude to those born to power, and Kianthe was born to power. Reyna has to come to understand her worth, and Kianthe does amazingly supporting her through that. I also loved the dragons and griffons. There are two nonbinary secondary characters, both of whom use they/them pronouns. Although the word isn’t used, it’s strongly hinted at that a secondary character who is a woman married to a man is bisexual.

Kianthe is a woman of color, although I personally was left confused by what exactly her skin tone is. It is described as “the color of drying clay” (page 42). I checked on Writing With Color’s skin tone guide, and they do suggest clay as a reference. From the picture on their page, I think it’s supposed to denote reddish-brown. For me, though, when I was reading, I thought of gray clay. Writing With Color does state that creative descriptions can be confusing to the reader and suggests using additional descriptives to help. I don’t think drying brings much clarity to the sentence. Who’s really stood around watching clay dry? They also suggest to consider the associations that come up with a word. Clay is malleable, and I think Kianthe is anything but. Similarly, while Reyna’s hair is described many times as the typical shimmery blonde, I’m still not sure what Kianthe’s looked like due to a lack of description.

The tea shop itself ends up being a giant room full of plants that Kianthe keeps magically alive in the cold climate. I loved that aspect of it. The tea itself is largely inspired by our own world’s tea, and the goodies are essentially the same as here as well. The only exception being bagels with “creamed cheese.” The bagels are treated as kind of exotic and that confused me. Why are bagels exotic and not the scones? Why is cream cheese spelled differently and not bagels? One other thing that bugged me so much I ran an Instagram poll about it is that the tea shop owners make tea incorrectly. They add tea bags to cups of hot water. While this is totally fine in one’s own home when using a microwave and in a hurry, the proper way to make tea is by pouring the hot water over the leaves. Only one respondent in my entire poll said they do it the other way around, and they messaged me to tell me they do it that way because they have to microwave their water. This is a nice tea shop, and Reyna and Kianthe don’t make tea correctly! It hurt my escapism a bit. I wanted scenes of making various types of tea in the various different ways required. I wanted a matcha whisk and special timers for different steep times and different pots for black tea and green tea and herbal tisanes. I wanted Kianthe and Reyna to offer to make special mixes for customers based on something about them like this one tea shop in Portland, Maine did for me once. Essentially, I wanted less book time spent on the stakes and more on the tea. Bonus points if there was a fantastical tea with some wild steep requirements like, I don’t know, you have to add a molted scale from a dragon.

Overall, this is a different fantasy read featuring a w/w couple at the lead. It’s a fun universe to visit and was escapist for me. Recommended to readers looking for a quick, light read who don’t mind some stakes in their cozy.

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 codes. Thank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 339 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Kindle Unlimited

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: A Restless Truth by Freya Marske (Series, #2)

December 5, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A green background with blue flowers coming out surround two women in silhouette. They are in 1900s period costume and are in yellow. An empty bird cage hangs above them.

A murder mystery on an ocean liner cruising from the US to the UK in the early 1900s being solved by two women – one of whom is a magician. Both of whom are into each other. Things get spicy…and dangerous.

Summary:
When Maud voyages from the US to the UK on RMS Lyric, she finds a dead body, a disrespectful parrot, and a beautiful stranger in Violet Debenham, who is everything—a magician, an actress, a scandal—Maud has been trained to fear and has learned to desire. Surrounded by the open sea and a ship full of loathsome, aristocratic suspects, they must solve a murder and untangle a conspiracy that began generations before them.

Review:
I’m not sure how I ended up with an advanced copy of the second book in The Last Binding series – when I hadn’t read the first. I’m assuming either I requested it, not realizing it was a second book or it was sent to me based on my reading history with the assumption it didn’t matter. The series aspect is less “the story happens in a row” and more “everyone featured is living in these alternate history version of the early 1900s plus magic.” Apparently the first book in the series features a m/m pairing (Amazon, Bookshop.org), whereas this one stars a f/f pair.

I didn’t struggle too much to figure out what’s going on. The author does refrain from explaining much for the first chapter or two. But that’s because the book starts essentially in media res – with the murder happening. After that has occurred we slow down for a minute, and there’s a refresher of the rules of the universe. It didn’t take me too long to catch up and get into it.

One thing that did surprise me was the spice level of this romance. I was expecting very light spice with most encounters occurring off-screen after a fade to dark. That is not the case. Things get very explicit. Let’s put it this way….at least one of the scenes would have had to have been cut to manage to squeak in an R rating for explicitness. There are three scenes total, and each takes up a whole chapter. To me, this much spice feels like erotica jammed into a romance. I prefer the two separately.

The pairing here is grumpy/cheery. Violet is the grumpy, and I adored her. I liked Maud too, but Violet was someone I could see a whole book’s perspective on. Perhaps I’m biased since Violet is bisexual and the quintessential theater geek. I just really enjoyed her. But Maud is nice enough too. I liked their pairing well enough.

The mystery is substantial enough to hold up a plot. I enjoyed the animals and sneaking around the boat. I did think a bit more attention could have been paid to the class and race issues that sort of came up and got a bit glossed over. I don’t expect preaching in a book but it might have been interesting to at least have Maud and Violet see the second or third class areas of the ship on one of their many attempts to outrun their pursuers. (Somehow they always seemed to end up in the cargo hold instead). Maud talks with disdain of her parents only giving charity when others can see it, but Maud herself doesn’t seem to do much giving either. Violet, at least, offers to become the patron of an all-Black opera. (The real history of Black opera.)

Overall, I liked getting to know Violet, and it was an interesting world to visit. But the spice level was far too hot for what I personally prefer in romance, sliding more into an erotica category in my opinion. It also seems to me that the first book may have been quite different from this one, so readers of the first should come in aware of these differences.

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: 388 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

5 Holiday Gift Ideas for the Sapphic Reader (with coupons)

November 28, 2022 Leave a comment

Have someone in your life you need a gift for who loves sapphic (women loving women) books? Want a few book ideas but also a few ideas that aren’t reads to fill up the gift basket? Look no further, my friends, I’m here to help.

Let’s start with a holiday themed book.

Image of a digital book cover. Two women stand facing each other in the snow. One has an axe and the other has coffee. They are both white.

In the Event of Love by Courtney Kae was just released this season, so it’s possible your intended recipient might not have read it. It’s a sapphic holiday small town romance. Think Hallmark movie but queer. Get it on Amazon or Bookshop.org. If you think they’d enjoy having a book club discussion about this read, I have a digital one available.

Image of a digital book cover. A bird with red outline and black legs is on the cover.

Whether your intended recipient already has a diversified shelf or not, Solo Dance by Li Kotomi translated from Japanese this year will likely be a welcome addition – provided they enjoy tear-jerkers. Get it on Amazon or Bookshop.org. If you think they’d enjoy having a book club discussion about this read, I have a digital one available.

Image of a notebook. Three fairies dance on a flower.

What reader doesn’t also love notebooks? This blank, lined notebook features a three beautiful fairies that one could easily read in a sapphic manner, and it’s just $5.99.

Image of a plant on one side says best sellers under it. Image of a plant on the right says rare under it.

What reader doesn’t love a little greenery around the house? And succulents and cacti are easy to keep alive if the owner perchance forgets to water while engrossed in a read. Succulents Depot ships well and has a delightful collection of both popular and rare species. Get a 15% off coupon.

Image of a pile of boxes of soap with some out on top with bubbles coming out of them.

Help your reader pamper themselves with Ethique’s zero waste body care products ranging from scrubs to lotions to lipsticks. Plus they have holiday gift sets ready to go. Get 20% off your first order.

I hope you found this list helpful! Please share it if so.

*Note: I receive a 15% off coupon for every referral to Succulents Depot and 100 reward points for every referral to Ethique. I also receive a small commission for purchases made through my Amazon or Bookshop referral links.

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: 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.

5 Sapphic Dark Fantasies for Halloween

September 20, 2022 Leave a comment
An image that says 5 Sapphic Dark Fantasy Reads for Halloween. It has a greenish background with two smiling jack-o-lanterns and an image of a bookshelf on the borers. The covers of five books are featured. The Drowning Girl, The Haunting of Hill House, Maplecroft, The Queen of the Cicadas, and Sorrowland.

I am running A Very Sapphic Halloween Reading Challenge, which isn’t just for reading and reviewing new books but also for highlighting books you’ve read before (or hope to read) that fit the challenge. Something Halloweeny featuring women loving women.

This is my first list of suggested reads – 5 dark fantasies.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan

India Morgan Phelps, Imp to her friends, is sure that there were two different Eva Cannings who came into her life and changed her world.  And one of them was a mermaid (or perhaps a siren?) and the other was a werewolf.  But Imp’s ex-girlfriend, Abalyn, insists that no, there was only ever one Eva Canning, and she definitely wasn’t a mermaid or a werewolf.  Dr. Ogilvy wants Imp to figure out for herself what actually happened. But that’s awfully hard when you have schizophrenia.

A beautiful thing about this book is how it’s up to the reader to decide if fantastical things actually happened or if they’re all symptoms of Imp’s schizophrenia. Told in the first person from Imp’s perspective, it’s a uniquely different mystery. (my full review)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Dr. Montague is a scholar of the occult, and he invites three other people to stay with him in Hill House, which is notorious for being haunted.  There’s jovial Theodora, timid Eleanor, and the future heir of the house, Luke. What starts as a light-hearted adventure quickly turns sinister in this horror classic.

This is considered a sapphic classic, but it was published in the 1950s so the sapphic part is pure subtext, due to censorship at the time. A haunted house story that’s not too scary to most modern readers but a fun, quick read. (my full review)

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

“Lizzie Borden took an axe; gave her mother forty whacks….”
Any New Englander knows the nursery rhyme based on the true crime story of Mr. and Mrs. Borden who were murdered with an axe in 1892.  In spite of being tried and acquitted for the murders, their daughter (in the case of Mrs. Borden, step-daughter), was widely believed to actually be responsible for the murders.  In this book, she definitely was, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
A darkness is trying to take over Fall River, Massachusetts, and Lizzie and her ailing sister Emma are all that might stand between the town and oblivion, with Lizzie’s parents being the first casualties in the battle.

Lizzie Borden’s axe murder actually had to do with an eldritch horror, plus Lizzie has a girlfriend, Nance. Think Stranger Things but in the 1890s and the lesbian is the main character instead of the sidekick. (my full review)

The Queen of the Cicadas / La Reina de las Chicharras by V. Castro

You’ve heard of Bloody Mary and Candyman but have you heard of La Reina de las Chicharras? The legacy says she’s a Mexican farmworker named Milagros who was brutally murdered in 1950s Texas then given new supernatural life by the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacíhuatl. In 2018, Belinda Alvarez arrives in Texas for a friend’s wedding on the farm that inspired the legacy of La Reina de las Chicharras. But is it just a legacy or is it real?

This struck me as a Latina version of Candyman, where the wrongs instigating the righteous vengeance are colonization and taking advantage of migrant farm workers. I can’t reveal the sapphic content without spoilering, but trust me, it’s there. (my full review)

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Vern desperately flees the strict, religious, Black Power compound she was raised on while she is heavily pregnant with twins. Giving birth shortly thereafter and raising her babies in the woods, she finds herself transforming inexplicably. But what is she transforming into? Why? And can she protect her children from both the compound and the world?

This is a beautifully grotesque book that reminded me of watching season 1 of Hannibal – but with a Black lead with albinism who is a woman who loves women. (my full review)

Do you have suggested sapphic dark fantasy reads not on this list? Let us know in the comments!

If you found this list 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!

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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