Within an inventory of my virtues, I guarantee that patience will not be listed as one. Thus, had I not been relegated to bed for a week in order to ride out a nasty virus, chances are that I would have abandoned Trouble and Her Friends within the first fifty pages. However, lacking the energy or even the motivation to venture toward my bookshelf for a different title, I stuck with the novel ‘til the end – and now feel extremely fortunate for that fact.
After Evans-Tildale passes, Cerise returns home to discover her apartment half-empty and her lover, Trouble, nowhere to be found. Trouble, after all, had made it quite clear that if the new law meant to police the net were put into effect, she would be leaving the shadows. It was far too dangerous to continue “cracking” (hacking) within an environment controlled by real-world authorities.
Three years later, Cerise and Trouble as well as most of their friends, have abandoned their activities, relegating themselves to working within the “bright lights,” often as consultants or syscops themselves. Yet, after Cerise’s company, Multiplane, is hacked by someone calling themselves Trouble, whose immature and sloppily destructive style shows him as an imposter, the crew finds themselves reunited in an effort to stop the one who has upset the net and usurped Trouble’s name.
There is no denying that, especially within the first half, the novel moves so very slowly due to the amount of detail provided. Yet, what kept me going was my desperate need to know what would transpire once Cerise and Trouble reunited against a common enemy. The strength of their connection remained palpable in spite of Trouble’s absence, yet the nuances of their relationship were revealed without any of the professions of love that typically send me running.
Both Trouble and Cerise are, after all, incredibly competent hackers. They’re simply not wired for overt sentimentality, well aware that allowing emotion to override intellect may well prove deadly. Not only does this make for a much more interesting story, but that coolness comes across as incredibly sexy, especially as worn by Trouble, herself.
Published in 1994, Trouble and Her Friends engages with the virtual world in a manner that reflects the time. It actually rendered me a bit nostalgic for the early days of the Internet – minus the pay-by-the-minute usage rates. However, given the way in which the complexity of the plot was executed, the badass and incredibly likable protagonists and the subtly philosophical undertones, Trouble and Her Friends remains far from obsolete. Rather, it just might be considered something of a cyberpunk classic.
It’s hard to describe a book like Sister Mine. It would probably suffice to say it is just as surreal as the cover would suggest, but I’ll make an attempt anyways.
Makeda is a twin–originally conjoined twins–and is trying to strike out on her own. She and her sister have always been very close, but Makeda is sick of Abby’s controlling and overprotective attitude. It doesn’t help that while they are both mortal demigods, Abby has a magical gift with music, while Makeda is left with no mojo at all. She wants to make it on her own in the claypicken (human) world–but it’s not easy escaping from her supernatural family, when the unreal seems to follow her around.
There is a lot going on in this book. While it starts off following Makeda’s attempts at getting an apartment and establishing a “normal” life for herself, it quickly slides back into Fantasy. She’s being followed (hunted?) by a haint, her sister is dating the magical embodiment of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, her mother is cursed into being a sea monster, her father is temporarily human and has Alzheimer’s, and there’s something unnatural about her apartment complex. Phew.
Although there’s a ton going on in terms of gods, mojo, and the Fantasy world-building, Toronto as a setting is given just as much detail and life, which includes addressing the casual racism that Makeda deals with in the claypicken world.
Nalo Hopkinson throws you into the deep end in terms of introducing characters and lore. I wasn’t always completely sure what was going on–especially with the revelations around Abby and Makeda’s birth–but I was always immersed and fascinated. I love her writing. Everything I’ve read by her has been surreal and sometimes overwhelming, but always satisfying.
The queer aspect to Sister Mine requires a little bit of explanation that may be considered spoilers. Basically, the gods and demigods in this world don’t have a lot of qualms about sex and romance, which means that basically they’re all polyamorous and pansexual–oh, and also have sex with family. So even though Makeda in her claypicken life doesn’t seem to have any romantic or sexual interest in women (and makes a gay joke at one point?), she does have sex and date god/demigod women. Including her twin sister. To be honest, it made sense while I was reading it, and it didn’t occur to me until afterwards that it might be controversial.
If you’re looking for a surreal, immersive read, this is definitely one I would recommend.
You know a novel is well-written if you find yourself sucked into the story, feeling every single emotion the characters are feeling, and either moving you to tears or making you smile without realizing. Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen, a YA lesbian romance, is precisely that kind of book, and what makes it even more impressive is it is Quindlen’s first lesbian novel, and she packed it with so many of the real feelings and real agonies that lesbians first coming out to themselves often face.
In the spring of 2012, seventeen-year-old Hannah Eaden is in her final months of high school, working to pass her exams and choose the right college. She has a strong network of friends, including her best friend, Baker Hadley. The girls know each other so well and do pretty much everything together. Along with Hannah’s sister and three male friends, the group, known as “Six-Pack”, is inseparable. But Hannah begins to realize her love for Baker is more than the love of a friend, and Baker too, seems to be feeling the same way. They try to deny their feelings, but one night during spring break changes everything. Brought up by their school, community, and religion to believe their feelings are sinful and unnatural, Hannah and Baker retreat inside themselves, trying to make their love for each other go away and learn to live a “normal” life. But these feelings will not be quelled, leading to an extremely emotional yet enlightening journey towards acceptance.
Her Name in the Sky is one of the best novels I’ve read that covers the day-by-day thoughts and experiences of a teenage girl dealing with learning her sexuality. Hannah is a highly relatable character, with her doubt, her pleas to God to “make it go away”, and suffering both happiness and guilt from her love for Baker. Her story reflects that of millions of other lesbians who first react negatively upon realizing their sexuality and the terror of their entire lives being uprooted by the knowledge. As my first reaction to my own sexuality was shame and horror, many of the things she thought or said resonated with me. As a result, the novel reached much deeper than any of the others I’ve read. Still, I believe anyone can get immersed in this book whether they had similar experiences or not. Quindlen is honest and to-the-point in her story.
The setting of the novel was another very interesting aspect. Hannah lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and attends a devout Catholic school. Quindlen’s descriptions of Mardi Gras celebrations, Easter Mass, action-packed vacations and proms give a very good idea of the community Hannah and Baker live in, their standing in school and social circles, their friends and relationships, pretty much their entire world.
Quindlen also was great with showing people’s varying reactions to homosexuality, some being kind and others outright violent. One of Hannah’s teachers, Ms. Carpenter, is one of my favorite characters in the book. She is compassionate and easy-going, yet will not shy away from letting someone know they are being cruel and are potentially hurting another person. Out of all the characters, she is one of the most sympathetic and open-minded.
Her Name in the Sky is a masterpiece. However, people looking for a light-hearted story might want to save this novel for another time. It’s deeply intense and emotionally exhausting. But these raw and genuine feelings are what make this book so wonderful.
It’s rare for me to pick up a book and be surprised to see it has queer representation. That’s part of being so immersed in the LGBTQ book internet: I’ve usually heard about the representation before picking it up. I picked Everfair because I was intrigued by the premise: a steampunk alternate history of the Belgian Congo. I like steampunk, but I’m even more interested in steampunk that isn’t in a European context. I was happily surprised to see that in addition to that premise, this book also has several queer women main characters!
This is an incredible and complex story. I wouldn’t pick this up as a light or quick read: it definitely took me a while to get through. Each chapter switches perspectives, and there are tons of point of view characters (I actually lost count). This means that you get to see the story from so many angles: the well-meaning white supporters of Everfair, the existing king and queen of the region trying to regain control, the Chinese workers brought in by the Belgium king, mixed-race European Everfair inhabitants, etc.
The story spans decades, tackling politics, war, espionage, grief, love and betrayal. The alternate history of the Congo was fascinating, and although the steampunk element was more subtle than I was expecting, there was so much going on that I didn’t notice. There are a lot of nuanced political machinations taking place, including negotiations between the people who helped to found Everfair and the rulers of the area who preceded the existence of Everfair.
At least three of the points of view characters are queer women, along with more minor characters. I would argue that the relationship between two of them is at the core of the book. They definitely don’t have a simple, sweet romance. It’s complex and deeply flawed, but it’s also passionate, genuine, and loyal. I didn’t always like the characters (okay, one of the characters, but I won’t spoil it for you), but I always appreciated the layered, believable relationship they built between them, which spanned continents and many years.
This is an ambitious novel, tackling difficult and multi-faceted topics (including war, colonialism, and racism). It is thoughtful and unafraid to deal with uncomfortable conversations. I highly recommend this if you’re looking to dive into a book that is far-reaching and thought-provoking.
Within a few chapters of starting The Buddha of Lightning Peak, I thought I understood where the story was going: Plucky teenager takes on corporation to save the environment! Having been environmentally-focused as a teenager, this was a plot that would have been just fine by me. By the midway point of the book, however, it was obvious this wouldn’t be the Disney Channel version of that narrative.
Dee is a black lesbian teenager with a lot on her plate. Her brother is in jail, her grandmother is abusive, and the place that she feels most at peace is scheduled to be bulldozed. Dee is determined to save Lightning Peak, but no one else seems to care–not even the environmental groups that would usually be the leading the fight. She doesn’t always feel like the different parts in her life meld, but she will have to draw on her family, her friends in the Gay-Straight Alliance, and the connections she’s made through a Buddhist meditation group in order to fight back. Even if that means risking her life.
As you might be able to tell, there’s a lot going on in The Buddha On Lightning Peak. On one level it can be read as a young adult environmental thriller about an activist taking on a suspiciously powerful mining company, but that ignores both the scope of the plot and the other aspects of Dee’s life. She’s also becoming serious about pursuing Buddhism as a life path and trying to incorporate that into her identity (there aren’t a lot of other black Buddhists that she knows, nevermind black Buddhist lesbian teenagers). She’s feuding with her ex, attempting to maintain a relationship with her incarcerated brother, and struggling to maintain her friendships at the same time. There is a huge cast of side characters in this book as well. Though I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the amount of names (a personal flaw of mine), I did appreciate how many side characters became well-developed over the course of the novel.
Dee is an engaging protagonist, but she’s not perfect. She is impatient and often angry, even when dealing with her closest friends. While continuing to fight a seemingly unwinnable battle to save Lightning Peak, Dee also begins, possibly unconsciously, to come to terms with her own more generalized anger. She draws on the lessons she’s learned from her Buddhist mentor in order to have more empathy and understanding for the people around her, and see things more broadly.
This definitely became more complex and had higher stakes than I was expecting. Dee becomes involved in something much bigger than she anticipated, and soon seems to be regularly putting her life at risk for her goals, which definitely kept me flipping pages.
This isn’t a perfect book, however. The major problem I had with it was the use of slang, which often felt dated and awkward to me (“Kicking it at a party”, “check it”, etc). The book is from Dee’s point of view, so it’s not just her dialogue that uses slang, but the entire narration. Even when it didn’t seem dated, seeing words like shoulda, mighta, or ’em in the narration would often throw me out of the story. There is a lot to do with race and racism covered in this story as well, which I can’t speak to in terms of representation: I’m white, and the book is not own voices. I’d be interested to read a review by a black reader, especially a queer black reader.
I also am not Buddhist, so I also don’t have a lot of context for its representation here, but the author is a Buddhist practitioner. I got the impression that at the core of this series of books was to the representation of Buddhism, but although it was a major part of the story, it didn’t feel pedantic or preaching to me.
Despite my issues with the narration, I really enjoyed both the well-rounded characters and the nerve-wracking plot of this. Not only was there a lot of action, but events kept surprising me (mostly because everything seemed to keep going wrong). If you want a more intense take on the “plucky teen takes on evil corporation” plot, with added Buddhist subplot, I’d recommend giving this one a try.
This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.
Hunter’s Way by Gerri Hill revolves around two homicide detectives: Tori Hunter and Samantha Kennedy. They are the classic opposites buddy-cop duo: Hunter is aggressive and antagonistic, burning through six partners in seven years but apparently being a good enough detective alone to make up for it. Samantha Kennedy is on the surface a much more personable officer who has to juggle a new job, a demanding boyfriend, and Hunter.
There are a lot of moving parts to this book; the relationships between both Sam and Tori and Sam and Robert, a suspected terrorist attack, drug busts, and a serial killer attacking young lesbians. With so much going on, it’s only inevitable that pacing seems a little odd – beats of the crime that you’d expect to have more resonance or time spent on them (for example, the death of a named character who had been helping the investigation gets barely a page and is never mentioned again), and some scenes are repeated over and over (such as Tori’s emotional conflict about getting close to Sam, or Robert’s constantly contacting Samantha and saying he’ll take it to dinner.). I appreciate that the former is presumably to make room for everything else, and the latter is to emphasis how terrible Robert is as a partner, but taken together it seems odd.
The pacing does leave enough room for Sam’s slow realisation of her own sexuality, which I appreciated a lot. Sam trying to work out her own feelings by talking to people and reflecting on what she wanted seemed quite reasonable and realistic to me, even if some of the responses were disappointing. It especially entertained me that some of Sam’s ideas about lesbians appeared to be quite stereotypical; there’s a scene where she has to go undercover at a gay bar, and her idea of appropriate wear is mostly her normal clothes, but no bra; other people’s feelings may vary!
I like the way the relationship between Tori and Sam builds as well; they have complementary skills, and once they start bonding (over escaping from armed men!), I enjoyed reading about them getting closer. The characters of everyone who isn’t Tori, Sam, or their commanding officer are left a little sketchier though; even some of the plot critical characters like fellow detectives Adams and Donaldson are given only the barest scrape of personality. I don’t feel like the mystery seemed to be handled quite as well; the resolution seemed rushed and the escalation to be very sudden; there are quite a few revelations that could have been seeded into the story before the last couple of chapters, and that might have evened the pacing up a little and given some of the blander characters a little more depth.
(Or a related topic: all of the murder victims are queer. There are a number of young lesbians who are murdered, and a trans person is murdered and the investigation is handled badly. Please bear that in mind if you’re going to read it!)
SPOILERS AND CAUTION WARNINGS IN THIS PARAGRAPH: Sam is raped in the middle of the book, and I’m not going to lie: it’s not great. I can’t shake the impression that it was put in as a way to establish that Robert is an awful human being (his immediate response is to make her rape all about him and his feelings, I hate him.) and force Tori and Samantha to get closer. I feel like the same effect could have been achieved from the scene where Tori getting shot? But on the plus side, no one suggests that the attack on Sam has anything to do with her lesbianism, which is something that I was braced for all the way to the end of the book.
Hunter’s Way is mostly enjoyable; it’s a queer police procedural, and that’s what I want. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and I’m very excited to read the rest of it!
Caution warnings: murdered lesbians, there are some transphobic comments and police mishandling of a trans person’s murder; onscreen rape.
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-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.
Jo Summers is kind of a social worker. She is the office manager of a London hostel for the disadvantaged. I’m not sure we have the equivalent in the U.S—halfway house, maybe—but the residents of her house are ex-drug addicts, ex-prostitutes, or abused men and women who have been approved to live in inexpensive housing until they can get back on their feet. When one of Jo’s favorite residents is found dead of an overdose, Jo suspects foul play of some kind. The police, of course—including an old flame—don’t agree, so Jo is forced to investigate the death on her own. Other deaths follow in short order.
In the course of her investigation, she is thrown into contact with a number of savory and unsavory characters—some of which she spends the night with. As in all good mysteries, one interview leads to another to another and to another until at last she seems to understand what the hell is going on. It is kind of a unique novel in that there is not a similar novel that comes immediately to mind. Maybe Looking for Ammu, although the resemblance is slight.
The best thing about this book is its consistent quality in every aspect of the writing. Jo’s first-person point of view narrative is a thing of beauty, such as when she describes the relationship between one of her friends and his lover: “to say that the two of us didn’t get on is like saying that Tom and Jerry had their little differences of opinion.” The descriptions of the hostel and of its work for the community are interesting and progressive. The characters are well drawn and the mystery is logical and puzzling. Few books are so well done A-Z.
Having heaped up those particular praises, I need to add that, although good, it is not a great book. The characters are not quite interesting enough, the crime doesn’t have that extra twist that brings it up to Poe level. Kudos to Onlywomen Press, who are “Radical lesbian feminist publishers,” for printing a book whose life may not yet be over.
The real crime here is that such a good book has not yet had a single review either on Amazon or on Goodreads (except mine). I’m going to go ahead and give this one a 4 plus. It may not be on the level of a Nikki Baker or a Kate Allen, but it is close. It’s not going to appear on many Top-10 lists, but it is a book I would recommend to you or anyone. And I can’t say that for many books I read. Get in touch, Vivien. Let’s get Dirty Work formatted as an e-book. And maybe we can share a bottle of Glenmorangie.
For 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/ or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries
Undercover Girl chronicles the exploits of Angela Calomiris, an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during the 1940s. An otherwise easy-to-miss figure in history, author Lisa E. Davis goes behind-the-scenes to reveal a more complex story of Calomiris’s life. The depiction of her impoverished childhood in New York through her fifteen minutes of fame as a witness for the prosecution during the Smith Act trials of 1949, and how it clashed with the version that Calomiris presented to the press, is fascinating. Author Lisa E. Davis also explores the divisive nature of Red Scare tactics, the ways in which it pitted groups against each other, and promoted fear, xenophobia, racism, and homophobia. This provides essential context for Calomiris’s behavior and how her fabrications were positively received by mainstream American citizens, the press, and government agencies. Davis’s appraisal of her subject is critical and well-researched.
The Photo League (TPL, 1936-1951), a club focused on capturing the lives of ordinary folks, was Angela’s primary target during her time as an FBI informant. TPL drew the attention and ire of the FBI due to its advertisement of club classes in The Daily Worker, a newspaper of the Communist Party USA, and its photographs chronicling New York City life, which included images of African-Americans. Her bread and butter income came from divulging names and activities, as well as her own amateur photographs, of the TPL to the FBI. A closeted lesbian, Calomiris played up her public image as an “All-American girl” (read: America first, heterosexual). As Davis delves into Calomiris’s appearances in the media and on the witness stand, contradictory information proves challenging to untangle. Readers are treated to an epilogue of the informant’s life after the trial. Did she attain wealth and lasting fame, as some of her fellow informants did licensing their stories in film and television? Did her duplicitous and fabulist tendencies continue to isolate her from friends and community?
Davis draws from de-classified FBI reports available through the Freedom of Information Act; oral interviews with people who knew Calomiris during the 1940s-1950s; archival collections; film, radio, scripts, and sound recordings; newspaper and journal articles; theses; and books. All of these materials enrich the narrative and provide the work with a credibility lacking in its subject’s own life. Calomiris’s keen desire for fame and fortune is perhaps one reason she meticulously preserved her extensive collection of newspaper and magazine articles, correspondence, and other ephemera. The large collection was ultimately bestowed, through the executrix of her estate, to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City.
An engrossing tale for researchers, history buffs, and casual readers alike. Undercover Girl: The Lesbian Informant Who Helped the FBI Bring Down the Communist Party is slated for release in May 2017.
You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)
Different for Girls by Jacquie Lawrence, is a fast-paced and vibrant read that will keep you turning the pages and gasping for more.
Featuring a smorgasbord of central characters, its hard to not feel completely engulfed by Lawrence’s world including bar owner Cam and drug user Fran, stay-at-home-mother Brooke and wandering-eyed Nicole, their GBFs and baby daddies Ivan and Claude, closeted Gemma, her gay beard Kirby and her suspicious girlfriend Jude. My own confinement of these characters to stereotypes is an unjust judgement of predominantly complex and relatable individuals realised in totality throughout the book. In fact, the connectivity of the character lineup adds to the realism, with the plot casually shifting in and out of situations chapter to chapter. The broad themes in Different for Girls include motherhood, friendship, adultery, coming out and more broadly, self understanding vs public persona. The sex scenes (yes there are some!) aren’t over the top or seeking attention in any way–they fit well within the created world and represent their characters respectively.
The lesbian characters (more then 6!) are multifaceted and beautifully different (instead of tired, repeated cookie-cutter replicates). These are the exact sort of characters I crave for across the broader lesbian literature; oft littered with predictably questioning married women wanting to be freed from their straight bedroom boredom. My own imagination ran rampant with suggested plot twists, and I was repeatedly surprised by the written outcome.
I’d recommend Different for Girls as one of the best modern lesbian fiction reads, if only in that Lawrence treats each character with respect and honesty. As always, it is so satisfying to have a nourishing meal after many mediocre snacks.