5 Spooky Queer Women’s Halloween Reads

Happy almost October! Doesn’t it just feel like the right time of year to be reading scary books? Is it dark and blustery where you are? Are the pumpkins out yet? Have you been drinking delicious hot beverages while wearing sweaters? Even if you haven’t done any of those autumnal things, you should read one of these seasonally appropriate queer books to get in the Halloween mood. If you want more scary queer books, check out this list I made a few years ago featuring The Haunting on Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire edited by Amber Dawn and more!

The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan
What is it?
India Morgan Phelps—Imp to her friends—is schizophrenic. She can no longer trust her own mind, because she convinced that her memories have somehow betrayed her, forcing her to question her very identity. Struggling with her perception of reality, Imp must uncover the truth about an encounter with a vicious siren, or a helpless wolf that came to her as a feral girl, or neither of these things but something far, far stranger…

Why should you read it?
Well Morgan M Page says this is the best piece of writing Kiernan has ever done. Plus, it features a queer relationship between a cis woman and a trans woman in addition to being smart and creepy!

How Scary?
More haunting than actually scary, and haunting in a kind of intellectual, post-modern kind of way. But maybe scarier if the idea of not knowing what is real or not is especially frightening to you.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
What is it?
The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards (fiction and science fiction) The Gilda Stories is a very American odyssey. Escaping from slavery in the 1850s Gilda’s longing for kinship and community grows over two hundred years. Her induction into a family of benevolent vampires takes her on an adventurous and dangerous journey full of loud laughter and subtle terror.

Why should you read it?
I mean, Black lesbian vampire superhero and a Lakota lesbian vampire mentor. ‘Nuff said. Okay, also, this is a vampire book that will appeal to people who don’t usually like vampire books.

How Scary?
There are scary things in this book, not so much to do with vampirism and other paranormal stuff as with how fucking terrifying it can be to be a Black woman in the US at pretty much any stage of the 19th, 20th, or 21st century.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
What is it?
A collection of scary graphic stories that have a distinct fairy tale feel, albeit a very creepy fairy tale: ‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’ Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll. Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…

Why should you read it?
In addition to the deliciously creepy tales that seem like they’ve been handed down for generations, the illustrations are fucking amazing; they’re the kind of thing I’d frame and put on my wall.

How Scary?
I admit I was scared to turn the light off and go to sleep when I read this before bed, so pretty damn scary? There were also a few times I was afraid to turn the page. Souls braver than me will probably be fine to read this at any time of day they want, but if you’re a bit wimpy like me you might want to read this in the daylight. This will likely creep you out and make you a little jumpy.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
What is it?
Set against the tumultuous political backdrop of late ’60s Chicago, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is the fictional graphic diary of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, filled with B-movie horror and pulp monster magazines iconography. Karen Reyes tries to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, while the interconnected stories of those around her unfold. When Karen’s investigation takes us back to Anka’s life in Nazi Germany, the reader discovers how the personal, the political, the past, and the present converge.

Why should you read it?
First of all, for the messy but gorgeous art that is presented as if it really were a girl’s diary. Also, if the idea of literal monsters but also the figurative monsters within intrigues you.

How Scary?
Scary as in real people can be monsters but not scary as in you’re going to be jumpy after reading it. There are lots of monstrous things in here, especially Karen’s drawings, that aren’t necessarily scary even though they feel very Halloweeny.

White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
What is it?
In a vast, mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the hole punched into its heart. Lily is gone and her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, the gentle Luc, mourn her absence with unspoken intensity. All is not well with the house, either, which creaks and grumbles and malignly confuses visitors in its mazy rooms. Generations of women inhabit its walls. And Miranda, with her new appetite for chalk and her keen sense for spirits, is more attuned to them than she is to her brother and father. She is leaving them slowly, slipping away from them. And when one dark night she vanishes entirely, the survivors are left to tell her story.

Why should you read it?
Oyeyemi has a beautiful flare for writing stories that feel at once like timeless fairy tales but utterly modern. In this case, she is channeling the lengthy tradition of the Gothic haunted house story but also investigating racism, sexuality, and the particular bonds that twins have.

How scary?
Pretty fucking scary and dark, in the way that books where you know things are not going to end well from the beginning manage to keep you rapt to find out just how badly things will go. It’s about the same level of scariness as The Haunting on Hill House, with its obvious parallel of the question: are there really spirits in the house or are they a result of someone’s imagination?

Posted in Black, comics, Fiction, Graphic, Non-Canadian, Short Stories

Connecting with LGBTQ+ Librarians, Authors, Book Bloggers, and Other Queer Bookish Folks on Social Media

rainbow booksFor a lot of LGBTQ+ people when they’re first coming out and beyond, especially ones living in rural areas, the internet—social media being an important part of that—is the go-to place for information. For one thing, it can feel a lot more private and therefore safer than say, checking out a big gay book from your school or public library. Another thing that so many LGBTQ+ folks find on the internet is community; often, in fact, reliable information about being LGBTQ+ comes from LGBTQ+ communities. Although in urban areas there are now some pretty awesome in-person resources like GSAs (or other more inclusively named LGBTQ+ clubs) for teens, finding like-minded people on the internet to know that you’re not alone can be empowering and fun and potentially life-saving, particularly at a young age.

One of the amazing things about finding LGBTQ+ community on the internet and social media in particular is that you can find niches of queer people and build up a community that you might never be able to in person, simply because of sheer numbers. For me, when I first started my other blog Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, that community was queer women book lovers. One of my other first forays was starting to write reviews for the amazing, comprehensive, enormous resource that is The Lesbrary, a lesbian book blog run by Danika Ellis and featuring reviews of all different kinds of books featuring LBT women, as well as round-ups about every two weeks on queer women’s bookish stuff happening on the internet. There is an awesome rotating group of women who write for the blog—which I obviously recommend checking out—but that community was only the beginning.

lesbrary

When I started my own blog, I really had no idea the journey of networking with LGBTQ+ bookish people that it was going to put me on. I also had no clue how exactly to go about getting followers, which has happened very gradually and probably reached its peak (after all, people interested in LBTQ+ Canadian fiction are a pretty niche group). But one thing I did do initially to reach out to people, in addition to promoting my blog on my personal facebook page, was join twitter.

It was on twitter where I really discovered the array of LGBTQ+ librarians, authors, book bloggers, publishers, and other queer bookish folks there were. (I say LGBTQ+, although most of the bookish people I’ve connected with via twitter are LBT women, actually). It was pretty cool when I realized I had actually started networking with librarians way before I was even in library school! And it was awesome to see what the perspectives of LGBTQ+ librarians on their profession were.

Like with the followers on my blog, it has taken me quite a while to build up my network on twitter, but a few things I’ve noticed that help make connections are:

1) Not just retweeting someone, but adding your own comment so they know you’ve actually read the article they’re linking to (and sometimes written themselves), understood the context of their tweet, etc.

2) Asking for help / advice from people by directly tagging them! I’ve been so surprised at how complete strangers—sometimes people I don’t even follow on twitter—are so willing to offer their expertise and knowledge when I’m doing research for my LGBTQ+ reader’s advisory column or just looking for personal recommendations. LGBTQ+ people like sharing what they know—I guess it’s all a part of the idea of community and all of us knowing how hard it can be to find the kind of queer books you want!

zoe3) Complimenting people! I pretty much always tag an author—if they have twitter—in a tweet about my positive review of their book and I get responses from a lot of them! At first I was pretty star-struck when I first started communicating with authors via twitter (I remember being super pumped when Zoe Whittall said thanks for and retweeted a review I had done of one of her books), but realized that authors really appreciated that I was essentially promoting their books for free!

4) Ask interesting and sometimes difficult questions—they’ll spark a conversation. I ended up tweeting with Malinda Lo (who’s kind of a big deal in the LGBTQ+ YA world!) after I tweeted my blog post about how hard it is to find LGBTQ+ fiction and how the blurbs on back covers often disguise queer content.

Oddly enough, I’ve begun to realize lately that I’ve been so immersed in the queer women’s bookish online world that if I want to be more well-rounded as a librarian—one specializing in LGBTQ+ materials and just in general—I should probably actually start reading some books by/about/for GBT men and—gasp!—non-queer books. So I guess that is kind of coming full circle. But the queer women’s book world will always have a special place in my queer heart.

 

Posted in Social Media Lesbrarian | 1 Comment

A Tiny Gem of a Book: A Review of Graphic Novel STEAM CLEAN by Laura Ķeniņš

Steam Clean by Toronto-based comic artist and writer Laura Ķeniņš is one of those tiny little gems of a book that takes you by complete surprise. The unadorned, colourful illustrations are deceptively simple. And for a small graphic novel that’s easy to read in an hour or two, it has surprising depth and punch.

Steam Clean takes place over a single night at a queer women’s sauna party somewhere in Northern Europe on a cold autumn night. If you’re the kind of comics reader who wants lots of “action,” you might be disappointed with this book, because it’s the kind of story where the conversation is the action. It reminded me viscerally of communities of queer women that I’ve been a part of, the good parts and the bad. It also made me think of Dykes to Watch Out For, another (more famous) comic centred on a group of queer friends, in that it feels like a glimpse into an intimate group of queer women friends written with a queer audience in mind.

kenins_itsnicethat_steamclean24The people attending this queer women’s sauna all have distinct personalities—an impressive feat in such a short span of space. One of the attendees is there reluctantly because their ex dragged them there even though they don’t identify as a woman anymore. Other characters include a woman navigating the nasty world of queer online dating while being trans, an opinionated woman who bullies her friend about how she views her past sexual relationships with men, a bisexual goddess—yeah, literally a mythological goddess—who needs some motivation to come out of in the closet, and a woman dealing with systemic sexism in the workplace.

In the quiet story of Steam Clean, these people get sweaty in the sauna, verbally airing their tensions as the heat works the tension out of their muscles. Sometimes they get up to cool off—literally and figuratively—outside or in a cold pool. The seeds of a small, budding romance appear. Friendships are tested. New ideas take root in some people’s minds. And then at the end of the night, everybody goes home. Nothing is solved, nothing dramatic happens, the world is much the same as it was before. It’s like the literary equivalent of actually going to hang out with some friends for a sauna. In other words: Steam Clean is a lovely slice of life comic. I’m excited to read whatever Laura Ķeniņš does next!

Posted in Bisexual, Canadian, comics, Fiction, Graphic, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Queer, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender | 2 Comments

“This is what I did with my heartache”: A Review of THE CLOTHESLINE SWING by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan is one of those books that makes me feel privileged just to have gotten the chance to read it. One of the most amazing things about reading (and there are many) is how it allows you to get a glimpse into other people’s lives and places that you might otherwise never have access to. The Clothesline Swing is set partially in Vancouver (where I live!) but also Syria and it features a gay Syrian couple who end up coming to Canada as refugees. it’s so special to get to spend some time seeing the world from the perspectives of these people. But The Clothesline Swing is not only an incredible window for readers different than the main characters and a mirror for readers similar to them. It’s also a beautiful piece of literature reminiscent of some of my favourite living writers.

The Clothesline Swing is a poetic, elegiac novel, Ramadan’s first published work in English (he’s also the author of two short story collections in Arabic). The structure surprised me when I started the novel with the knowledge that it was about Syrian refugees coming to Canada. Instead of chronicling the journey chronologically going from Syria to Canada and leaving the story with a “happy ever after” after they have arrived in Canada (this expectation likely stems from my Western position and its fondness for linear narratives), Ramadan makes the fascinating choice to tell the story from the perspective of one of the men as he is elderly. I tell you, when did you last read a queer book from the perspective of a gay elder? This elderly gay Syrian man is unnamed but you know him as Hakawati, which means storyteller. So, of course, he is the narrator of the novel and spends the narrative telling stories as he looks back on his life while his partner is dying.

The stories go back and forth in time, taking place in Canada, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. Hakawati tells us about his childhood in Damascus, early queer relationships, homophobic violence he suffered at the hands of supposed friends and family, leaving Syria only to return to war, meeting the man who became his life partner, and the surreal experience of trying to maintain a semblance of a life as war rages around you in your beloved hometown. He also tells traditional, fairy tale-like stories that sometimes stand on their own and are sometimes embedded within other stories. All of these stories are addressed to a ‘you,’ making the narration feel startlingly intimate, even though you know the ‘you’ is Hakawati’s partner.

Although the setting changes often, the spectre of Syria lies heavy in most of the stories, even in the ones told in the present of the novel (which is actually the future). Hakawati says: “We were all children of this dying nation; although our mother’s steady march toward death brought us destruction, we didn’t want to abandon her.” This haunting affects the tone of the whole novel; the ache of missing a place that exists only in your memories, the pull of wanting to return to a home that is no longer there, these feelings permeate Hakawati’s stories. In addition to the more figurative haunting of the country both men left and that in reality doesn’t exist anymore, there is also a literal haunting: that of death himself, who’s hangs out in the couple’s apartment, joining their conversations, drinking their coffee, smoking their joints, and generally eavesdropping on their lives.

AhmadDannyRamadan

Ahmad Danny Ramadan, via harbourpublishing.com

The timeless, fairy tale feel of Hakawati’s stories reminded me of both Helen Oyeyemi and Jeanette Winterson, other writers who manage simultaneously to write about specific historical times and places while making their stories feel eternal and ancient. Hakawati’s sacred job as storyteller through which Ramadan narrates the novel adds to its timeless feel; readers feels more like listeners, as if gathered at the feet of a wise queer Syrian elder. When Hakawati asks near the approach of his partner’s death “What’s a storyteller without a listener? … Who will listen to my stories without him?,” the answer might be us, the readers.

Although The Clothesline Swing is dark at times (content includes suicide, mental illness, gay-bashing, and sexual assault), the book is ultimately life-affirming as well as healing. I know it was for me as a reader and I imagine it would be for other readers as well as the author himself (who is a gay Syrian refugee like his protagonist), for his dedication reads: “To the children of Damascus, This is what I did with my heartache…What about yours?” To reference the aptly chosen epigraph from Gabriel García Márquez, which describes a person “unable to bear in his soul the crushing weight of so much past,” the end of The Clothesline Swing feels like a magnificent lifting of a burden too long shouldered.

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Gay, magic realism, Queer, Vancouver | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Bisexual Erasure and Monosexism in Rainbow Rowell’s CARRY ON

Bisexual erasure is always a piece of poopy garbage, but it’s especially disheartening to encounter it while reading a book during Bi Visibility Week. Let me explain:

I recently read the fantasy YA book Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I had a few apprehensions before starting it, to be honest, because I tried to read Eleanor & Park earlier this year and found it boring as well as a pretty sloppy handling of race by a white author. But the two women of one of my favourite podcasts Witch Please were going to discuss the book in the context of it being a part of the Harry Potter world (it’s legitimized Harry Potter fanfiction, essentially). The old English Lit student in me could not bare to listen to the podcast episode without having read the book. (Sidenote: if you like Harry Potter and the idea of two self-described lady scholars talking about Harry Potter with equal parts affection and critical eyes, you should definitely be listening to Witch Please, it is awesome).

At first, I loved Carry On! I loved the interrogation of so many of the details of the Harry Potter and Hogwarts world–like, house elves aren’t necessary if the students just do some of their own fucking chores. I also loved how Rowell used linguistics as the basis of magic. Magicians, aka witches and wizards, use nursery rhymes, song lyrics, and popular phrases to cast spells! I loved that Penelope/Hermione was explicitly brown! I was even amused at Agatha, a person with magic who kind of just wanted to forget about it and live in the normal world and ride horses and get manicures. And I was soooo into the Harry/Draco Simon and Baz queer romance, at least at first.

But then this book disappointed me in a way that makes me angrier and angrier the more I think about it. Namely: the way Carry On deals with queer sexuality is so deeply monosexist (enforcing the assumption that people are either gay or straight and therefore erasing bisexuality) that I want to chuck it at the wall. Unfortunately I was listening to the audiobook so I had nothing tangible to throw.

In case you haven’t read Carry On: the character named Simon who is essentially Harry Potter is in his 8th year at Watford, aka Hogwarts, and has a roommate named Baz who is pretty obviously Draco. I mean, he even slicks his hair back like Draco. For the first part of the book Simon has a long-term girlfriend Agatha, who breaks up with him. It’s clear their relationship is not great and they’re just kind of going through the motions so it’s not surprising. Pretty early on in the story we get Baz’s perspective (one of the other interesting changes Rowell has made to Rowling’s formula is that she offers readers direct points of view from multiple people). Baz tells us straight up that he’s gay and hopelessly in love with Simon. Simon never tells readers directly his sexual orientation or that he’s interested in Baz before they kiss, although many readers will likely suspect something since Simon is kind of obsessed with this guy he claims is his enemy. Some other plot stuff happens, but what we care about is that eventually Simon and Baz kiss. Squee!! So great. Unfortunately, after Simon and Baz get together there isn’t much time for adorableness before monosexism rears its ugly head.

I want to be clear I understand gay people have many different paths to how they came into their sexuality. Many gay people have stories of having different gender relationships they knew they didn’t want, especially as young people, because of the overwhelming pressure of compulsory heterosexuality. I also know some gay people who never had viscerally negative reactions to different gender relationships (sometimes only feeling a kind of ‘meh’) but feel infinitely more excited and fulfilled by same gender relationships in a way that made them realize they’re gay. If Simon had either of those experiences, that’d be great! Yay for showing the complexities of sexual identity.

But Simon’s relationship with Agatha is not presented in either of those ways. Readers are not given any indication that he dated her for three years because of heterosexist pressure or that he discovers something new with Baz that he never felt with Agatha. In fact, all I could see in my reading is that Rowell gives us evidence that Simon had genuine romantic and/or sexual feelings for Agatha, and even continues to have those feelings after she breaks up with him. In particular, Rowell shows that Simon has feelings for Agatha because he is (ironically) jealous of what he thinks might be a burgeoning relationship between Agatha and Baz. If you’ve read this book and have a different interpretation of Simon and Agatha, please let me know in the comments!

In the context of what I understood about Simon’s dating history, Simon wondering “if he is gay now” after kissing Baz and Baz badgering him about “not even knowing if he’s gay or not” are just hurtfully monosexist, even if they are realistic given the monosexist culture we live in. Not one person mentions the word bisexual or the concept of a sexual orientation of attraction to more than one gender. It is as if Simon’s newfound feelings for Baz completely negate any previous feelings he had for Agatha. I kept hoping that even the possibility of bisexuality would be brought up until near the end of the book, but the last comment about sexuality is where Simon flippantly says “I guess I am gay.”

What’s worse is that Rowell is actually using monosexism as a narrative device: a lot of the tension of whether Simon could possibly reciprocate Baz’s feelings hinges on the fact that he has/had a girlfriend and therefore could never also like a boy. I don’t think I’m alone in having found the signs that Simon was into Baz from the beginning pretty obvious, but one way Rowell gets away with that is by using readers’ assumptions that Simon must be straight because of his relationship with Agatha. The romance is essentially structured around the erasure of bisexuality! And it’s especially crappy because there are so few fiction books with bisexual boy/men characters; this is a serious missed opportunity!

Despite all the good this queer relationship in a mainstream YA novel will do and probably has done for some queer teens, I’m really sad that this unequivocally “gay now” narrative is what Rowell is presenting readers. These narratives are really harmful for bi people. The very least Rowell could have done is mention the possibility of a non-monosexual identity even if she didn’t give want to give any explanation for Simon’s dating history. I simply can’t forgive stories like this anymore because I realize looking back that they’re the kinds of cultural narratives that made me not be able to come out as bi and actually see bisexuality as a valid sexual identity until I was almost 30, over 10 years after realizing I was queer.

On a happier bisexual note, you should check out some of the other writing I’ve been doing for Bi Visibility Week, including a 100 Must-Read Bisexual Books post for Book Riot and 15 Must-Read Bisexual Nonfiction Books for Autostraddle. And in case you missed it, my last post on Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian was 10 Canadian Bisexual Books to Read for Bi Visibility Week.

(By the way, I realize this post has no Canadian content but y’all said you wanted more opinion pieces and personal essays. So here you go!)

Posted in Bisexual, Fantasy, Fiction, Non-Canadian, Queer | Tagged , ,

10 Canadian Bisexual Books to Read for Bi Visibility Week

Whether your jam is urban fantasy, food memoir, erotica, graphic coming-of-age, epic fantasy, romance, or contemporary queer realism, there’s a bisexual Canadian book on this list for you!

She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya

In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she. Two cells make up one cell. This is the mathematics behind creation. One plus one makes one. Life begets life. We are the period to a sentence, the effect to a cause, always belonging to someone. We are never our own. This is why we are so lonely.” This is just a beautiful, poetic novel that I think everybody should read. It tells two stories, reimagining more than one Hindu mythological tale and combining that with the contemporary narrative of an unnamed bisexual protagonist “he.” It’s an exploration of queer identity, but also the body and emotions, and how all of these are tied together. What does it mean to love who we love?, the book asks. The illustrations by Raymond Biesinger (see the cover for an example) are delightful and add so much to the experience of reading the book.

What the Mouth Wants by Monica Meneghetti

This mouthwatering, intimate, and sensual memoir traces Monica Meneghetti’s unique life journey through her relationship with food, family and love. As the youngest child of a traditional Italian-Catholic immigrant family, Monica learns the intimacy of the dinner table and the ritual of meals, along with the requirements of conformity both at the table and in life. As Monica becomes an adult, she discovers a part of her self that rebels against the rigours of her traditional upbringing at the same time that she is discovering her sexuality in the wake of her mother’s death from breast cancer. And as the layers of her bisexuality and polyamory are revealed she begins to understand that like herbs infusing a sauce with flavour, her differences add a delicious complexity to her life.

The Change Room by Karen Connelly

The Change Room is a beautifully written literary novel with a lot of graphic, lovingly depicted sex—between women and between men and women—with a lot of attention to the emotional aspects of sex but also just pleasure for pleasure’s sake. In fact, the novel is about searching for erotic and sensual pleasure amidst the weight of mid-life middle class married life with young children. Eliza Keenan is a woman in her early forties who lives in Toronto with her beloved family. She loves her math professor husband Andrew—who is adorably described as “deliciously rumpled.” Eliza runs her own high-end floral business. They have two young sons to whom both parents are tenderly dedicated. They own a house (plus a mountain of debt from renovating it). She is living the middle-class dream. How could she possibly ask for more? See my full review here.

All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor

If someone had told me, hey, Farzana Doctor’s All Inclusive is a critical look at all-inclusive resorts, bisexuality, swinging and polyamory, spirituality, death, and terrorism, I probably would have said, are you kidding? But Doctor manages to make her third novel a huge success. As always with Doctor’s novels, there’s her trademark sharp insight into the human psyche and this gentle, calming, empathetic lens as she explores her characters. Ameera is the late twenties biracial (white and Indian) main character. She works at an all-inclusive in Mexico, where she’s discovered since arriving that she’s bisexual and enjoys having sex with (mostly man-woman) couples. But just when you’re settling into her story, the perspective shifts, and we get someone named Azeez, but back in 1985 instead of Ameera’s 2015. You guess immediately that Azeez is Ameera’s father and you know that he’s never been a part of her life. But you’ll never guess why he disappeared… (Full review here).

Long Red Hair by Meags Fitzgerald

Long Red Hair is a graphic memoir of coming-of-age, bisexual coming out, and teenage rebellion. It’s heartbreaking when Meags tells her friend: “I just want to be gay or straight. Being bisexual is way too confusing … If I’m bi that means I don’t have a soulmate and I’ll never be satisfied loving just one person for the rest of my life. It’d be like … a curse.” This memoir is also full of the kind of weird stuff I was super into when I was a teenager: conducting séances and chanting Bloody Mary at sleepovers, wanting to be a witch / identifying very strongly with witches, watching scary movies, and being obsessed with make-believe and the powers of your imagination at an age when you’ve supposed to have grown out of that already. It’s also chock-full of 90s witchy pop culture references from Buffy to Charmed to Sabrina the Teenage Witch to Hocus Pocus. Full review here.

Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica  

Amazing, unique world building?  Dynamic bisexual main character whose sexuality is named and not a big deal?  Where have you been hiding, Indigo Springs, oh wonderfully imaginative, queer fantasy novel? Indigo Springs is based on a tried-and-true formula that there is magic hidden beneath our everyday, and that this magic might have dangerous and unexpected consequences. Joining Astrid the main character on this magical journey are her best friend Sahara and ex-stepbrother/friend Jacks.  They make quite the interesting trio: Astrid is quiet, smart, accommodating, and constantly refereeing conflicts between the two people most important to her: Sahara, a charismatic but manipulative woman, and Jacks, an almost-too-sweet outdoorsy sweetheart.  This is a love triangle but in an unexpected way. You can bet that these three are not going to be able to agree on how to deal with the bright blue liquid magic that is spewing out of a hole in their living room floor. See my full review here.

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Our (bisexual) protagonist is Makeda and she has a unique yet familiarly dysfunctional relationship with her twin sister Abby.  They were born conjoined and Abby was left physically disabled –she uses crutches – and Makeda has been left with a distinct lack of celestial magic as a result of their separation. But that’s the ‘normal’ part of their life, because their father is a demi-god.  Their dad’s family wasn’t exactly thrilled with his choice of a human partner so they’ve punished him by turning him into a mortal and Makeda’s mom into a giant silver lake creature. When her father goes missing Makeda is forced to reconcile with her sister and jump back into the magical world she tried to leave. Tackling themes of sibling rivalry as well as reimagining sexuality that lacks the taboos of queerness, polyamory, and incest, Sister Mine is set in a fantastical world informed by Afro-Caribbean mythology, but this is mixed with a realist, contemporary Toronto. Full review here.

Holding Still For As Long As Possible by Zoe Whittall

Reading Zoe Whittall’s Toronto-set novel Holding Still For As Long As Possible is kind of like reading a wittier, more exciting version of my urban early-to-mid-twenties queer life in the 2000s. I mean, in a very specific and limited but amazing way: these are white, bike-riding, middle-class background, artsy, educated, FAAB queers. Holding Still is about two cis queer/bisexual women and a straight trans guy, with a kind of bisexual love triangle, character-driven storyline. Billy is an ex-teen girl singer-songwriter who used to be famous in the hey-days of Lilith Fair—a has-been at the ripe old age of 25 dealing with anxiety and a lack of direction in life. Josh is the sweetest of the three characters and the most grown-up: he’s got a ‘real’ job as a paramedic. Amy is a sometimes self-righteous and hypocritical hipster who wants to look broke and bohemian for lots of money, and she’s a filmmaker. Also, she’s hilarious and so is Zoe Whittall. Read my full review here.

The Way of Thorn and Thunder series by Daniel Heath Justice

One of the main characters in this queer feminist Indigenous fantasy is Tarsa: a bisexual former warrior whose destiny to be a Wielder—a kind of healer/priestess/witch. Abruptly ripped from her community because of her now marked difference, she begins a journey with her aunt to learn how to be what she has now discovered she is. This journey, however, is fraught with danger, because everything is changing for the different peoples in the once-peaceful Everland: Men are threatening their sovereignty, with an eye to their natural resources. The love triangle that has been dangling on the edges of Tarsa’s story swings more towards centre focus in the third book, as she is now travelling with two love interests: Jitanti, a female Kyn warrior, and Daladir, a male Kyn diplomat. Bisexual drama! You might be interested to know that this storyline takes a polyamorous turn, which is fun and totally appropriate for the world building. Check out my review of the first, second and third books in this fantastic series.

Spelling Mississippi by Marnie Woodrow

Spelling Mississippi begins with an extraordinary event: Cleo, a Canadian in her late twenties visiting New Orleans, witnesses a striking older woman jump headfirst into Mississippi river in the middle of the night, wearing full evening dress including a tiara and high heels. Cleo, assuming the dive is a suicide, is momentarily stunned and then runs panicked from the scene. This initial encounter between Cleo, a traveller in search of meaning and belonging, and Madeline, the bisexual diving diva who it turns out is not suicidal but seeking the exhilaration of danger, is the catalyst for a moving love story. Although at first terrified to face the consequences of what she saw, Cleo becomes obsessed with the mysterious midnight swimmer once she discovers that the woman is still alive, ending up haunting the streets of New Orleans’s French quarter, a kind of detective hunting down clues about Madeline’s eccentric life and, consequently, falling in love with her. Read my full review here.

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Black, Canadian, Caribbean, comics, Coming-of-age, Erotica, Fantasy, Farzana Doctor, Fiction, Graphic, Indigenous, list, memoir, Nalo Hopkinson, Queer, Romance, South Asian, Young Adult | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Interview with a Queer Reader: Al Talks the Legacy of DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR, Lesbian Mysteries, Tamora Pierce, and more!

Al Kornelsen is a queer, demi-romantic, non-binary person living on Vancouver Island. They’re a piano accompanist who plays for musicals, choirs, singers, and church services, a piano teacher, and they also work at a coffee shop on the side. Al has been a voracious consumer of all kind of queer culture since high school, particularly books and film, but also music. (They recently finished graduate studies where they wrote their thesis on riot grrrl music in lesbian film. Woot.) Al loves reading fantasy, science fiction, regular old novels —(what is the genre name for these?)—, and mysteries; plus, they have a penchant for reading (skimming?) cookbooks from the library.

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Keep reading to learn more about which romantic stories this mostly aromantic reader likes, great lesbian mysteries, the amazing legacy of Alison Bechdel’s ground-breaking lesbian comic series Dykes to Watch Out For, Tamora Pierce, Nicola Griffith’s mystery novel Always and how she never directs violence at queer characters because of their gender or sexuality, and more!

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)

I’m not sure what the very first LGBTQ2IA+ book I read was, though I can picture the cover in my mind and I have the impression in my head that it wasn’t a very uplifting story. After that though, I started devouring all the queer YA books I could get my hands on. Julie Anne Peters’s Keeping You a Secret figured high on the list, and I also remember reading Annie on My Mind. I quickly started delving into the “grown-up” fiction and read a lot of the “classics” – Rubyfruit Jungle, Curious Wine, Desert of the Heart, The Color Purple, etc., all of which I love and have read multiple times.

What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?

These books are all books that I own and that I have read over and over and over, because they’re fun and a bit escapist.

As a largely aromantic person who is a sucker for romantic stories, my go to book is 100% Emma Donoghue’s Landing. It’s just so cute and relatable (to a white settler Canadian with a Christian upbringing anyways) and familiar and re-readable.

My other favourite book is Nicola Griffith’s Always. After devouring most of the “regular” lesbian/queer fiction at my library, I discovered the lesbian mystery genre, which is still one of my favourite things to read today – generally not too dark, a bit goofy, and a touch romantic. Authors like Katherine V. Forrest, Claire McNab, Val McDermid (nowadays she writes mainstream scary mysteries, but back in the 80s and early 90s she wrote a series of lighter lesbian mysteries), and Alma Fritchley are great, but Always is definitely my favourite, I think because it’s a more serious than most of the genre without getting into the kind of stories that will keep you up at night. The story alternates between the main character teaching a weekly self-defence course to a group of women in the past, and the main character in the present trying to solve a mystery on a movie set. Nicola Griffith’s writing is just amazing to read, her characters are interesting and engaging, and (as she recently wrote on her blog) the violence in her stories is never directed at characters because they are LGBTQ2IA+.

Next on my list is Tamora Pierce’s The Will of the Empress. This book is a bit of a side-step from LGBTQ2IA+ books “proper,” but as a life-long Tamora Pierce fan, this was the first time one of her characters was written as explicitly queer and I’m still psyched about this book (there was some subtextual queerness in earlier books but I’m not good at picking up subtext so…). This book is a continuation of Pierce’s Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens quartets, but in this one the four main characters are now young adults who have reunited after being apart for a couple of years. One of the four characters, Daja, a mage whose magic manifests through metal-working (she was obviously always my favourite if only for having this amazing skill/talent), falls in love for the first time (with a woman!), which threatens to break up the group again. The whole thing is a sweet side note to a great main plot.

Anything by Ivan E. Coyote. Their books are just so inspiring, because they tend to see the good in almost everyone, and because they inspire trust and hope, even when their stories talk about and embrace tough situations. I’m not sure which to recommend specifically, so I’ll go for The Slow Fix and Missed Her since they’re on my bookshelf.

Finally, Alison Bechdel’s The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, but I’ll talk about that in the next section.

All of these books were just incredibly affirming to me as a young queer person, and I still love them 10 years later as a less young queer person.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

I think I see my experiences most represented in Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For comics, which are all compiled in The Essential Dykes to Watch Our For. It’s so rare to see books that represent such a wide variety of LGBTQ2IA+ characters and I can identify with many of the characters in different ways – Clarice’s and Toni’s struggle to balance their careers with their values, Ginger and Sydney’s academic lives, Lois’s exploration of gender, Sparrow’s negotiation of being a queer woman in a relationship with a cis man. On the whole, though the characters don’t exactly match the people in my life, they do seem similar to my friend group and to me in many ways and provide affirmation for many of the different ways LGBTQ2IA+ people live and exist in the world.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

I’m not sure that I would say that these books don’t exist yet, but, I’d love to read more books about non-binary characters (and other trans characters) and polyamorous/ethically non-monogamous characters (and families built around these relationships), both of which I think these are underrepresented in fiction. I’d also love to read a more contemporary version of the lesbian mystery genre, that might represent a more diverse array of LGBTQ2IA+ characters, particularly trans people and people of colour (ideally with a protagonist who isn’t a white cisgender woman), and that might be a bit more intersectional in its approach.

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

The search box on the public library website is my friend! However, I also find a lot of book suggestions on this blog or Autostraddle and sometimes through friends.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? What’s it like? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t say that I’m involved in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities, but whenever I meet another queer who likes to read I’m all about finding new books to read and suggesting books I think they might like.

Thanks for sharing with us Al! You talking about Dykes to Watch Out For has made me really want to re-read that series. It’s one of my absolute favourites too. Reading it is like visiting old friends.

Posted in Canadian, comics, Emma Donoghue, Fantasy, Graphic, Interview with a Queer Reader, Ivan E. Coyote, Lesbian, mystery, Non-Canadian, Queer