A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel. Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day. The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship. She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into. Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings, although I can be fairly picky about whether or not I like them. But Rapunzel is a tale that is not redone often enough, in my opinion, and the fact that it was a lesbian version made me jump at this novella.
It’s nice that the retelling doesn’t just change the genders of the main romantic pairing and leave it at that. In the original version, a married couple steal from a witch’s garden and in payment they must give her their unborn child who she then locks up into a tower. She would let her long hair down for her witch/mother to use as a ladder to get into the tower. A prince years later hears her singing in the tower and helps her escape. In this retelling, the people worship a tree. When the tree starts to die they tie its spirit into a person. That person lives on a platform in the tree and the people pray to him/her. When the person dies, the fate to be tied to the tree randomly chooses a baby by putting a tree pattern on their chest. This fate is supposed to be Gray’s, but her mother somehow acquires another baby, Zelda, and with magic cuts the fate out and ties it to her instead. Gray knows this and at first visits Zelda out of guilt but eventually falls in love with her. This version, surprisingly, is actually a lot more fantastical and magical. There is even a quest within an alternate dimension/dream world. I enjoyed the increase in the otherworldly feel, and I liked that it lent the twist of a parent trying to protect her child rather than a mother smothering her child.
The writing has an earthy, magical quality to it. It’s definitely language that is looking to be pretty, and it mostly succeeds. The romance between Zelda and Gray is sweet and very YA. Their passion revolves entirely around kissing and holding. I like that it gives a soul and connection to the romance without ignoring the physical aspect. It’s the perfect balance for this type of story.
While I enjoyed reading the story, I must admit it wasn’t my ideal retelling of Rapunzel. I didn’t like the religious aspect that was drawn into it, and I did feel that Zelda falling for Gray was a bit fast, particularly given the fate switching aspect of the story. I was also disappointed to see that in spite of all the other changes in the story, the Rapunzel character is still blonde. I’m not sure why no one ever seems to change this when retelling Rapunzel.
Overall, this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel. Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales. The novellas may be mixed and matched. Recommended to GLBTQ YA fans who enjoy a fairy tale.
4 out of 5 stars
Jeanette has the dubious distinction of being raised by one of the most vocal women in the fire-brand style Evangelical church in a small British town. Although she at first is different among her school chums for her beliefs, soon she becomes marked as different in her church for her homosexuality. Her journey from differently religious to outcast young adult is chronicled here.
I picked this up when I heard that it’s a lesbian classic that simultaneously addresses being raised fundy. Having been raised fundy myself (and left to become staunchly atheist), I tend to find these leaving the faith stories highly relatable, and I knew the added GLBTQ element would just make it all the more interesting of a read for me.
One interesting thing to note about this book is that no one can quite agree if it’s a novel or a memoir. Winterson herself says that while this was inspired by her own childhood, it is the lite version. Hers was much worse. Given this statement, I choose to respect the author and view this as a novel, but potential readers may want to be aware of this element of the book.
Jeanette (the character) is immediately immensely likeable. Whereas her mother is overbearing and negative, Jeanette is highly intelligent and witty. Her observations on the Bible and religion in the early parts of the book before she realizes she is gay are hilarious, particularly to anyone raised in a fundamentalist faith.
I didn’t know quite what fornicating was, but I had read about it in Deuteronomy, and I knew it was a sin. But why was it so noisy? Most sins you did quietly so as not to get caught. (location 533)
As the book moves from Jeanette’s early life to her adolescence the writing style changes a bit. Winterson inserts various fantastical fancies of Jeanette’s that are clearly her way of trying to discover who she is and explore her options. Some readers might be thrown by these, but I found them delightful. It’s a coping mechanism that I think many people use but few authors put down on paper.
Through these periodic fantastical tales combined with the more traditional narrative, we slowly see Jeanette fall in love with another girl at her church. We then see the fall-out. The two girls torn apart. The attempts at exorcisms. Jeanette is left bereft and confused because, unlike myself, she still wanted her faith. She wanted to believe in God the way she was raised to and to be allowed to love women. She can’t figure out why she can’t have both and thus is left wandering lost and confused.
The novel never makes it clear if Jeanette comes to terms with her lesbianism by letting go of her religion or by finding a more accepting one. It kind of ends on an uncertain, agnostic if you will, note. But that’s really irrelevant. What matters is how beautifully the novel shows the pain that adolescents are needlessly put through when those around them won’t love them for who they are.
At last she put on her gloves and beret and very lightly kissed me goodbye. I felt nothing. But when she’d gone, I pulled up my knees under my chin, and begged the Lord to set me free. (location 1180)
It’s not a book with a clear ending or easy answers, but neither is life really, is it? What it does possess though is a great ability to show a reader the life of a child raised Evangelical who later just cannot fit the mold demanded of her. And that’s a powerful story that needs to be told over and over again until people get it that we can’t do that to children.
Recommended to those with an interest in unique story-telling techniques and coming out stories.
4 out of 5 stars
Alexia Tarabotti isn’t just suffering from being half-Italian in Victorian England, she also is soulless. Unlike vampires, werewolves, and other supernaturals who successfully changed thanks to an excess of soul, or even having just enough soul like day dwellers, she simply has none. Plus as a preternatural she turns the supernaturals human when she touches them. Obviously they aren’t a fan of that. Except for one particularly persnickety werewolf, Lord Maccon, who is Scottish to boot. And to top it all off a mysterious wax-faced man suddenly seems very interested in kidnapping her. None of this seems particularly civilized.
The Parasol Protectorate series was all the rage when this book made it onto my tbr pile back in 2010. That was kind of the beginning of the steampunk craze, before you could find gears on everything in the costume shop. I can see why this series is popular, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
The world building is wonderful and is what kept me reading. A good steampunk blends history, science, and fashion to make for a semi-familiar but deliciously unique world that’s delightful for history and science geeks alike to play around in. Carriger pulls this off beautifully. The fashion is Victorian with a steampunk edge. The politics are recognizable but with the supernatural and steampowered sciences taking a role. A great example of how well this world works is that in England the supernatural came out and became part of society, whereas America was the result of the Puritans condemning the acceptance of the supernatural who they believe sold their souls to the devil. This is a great blend of reality and alternate history.
The plot wasn’t a huge mystery, which is kind of sad given the complexity of the world building. What really bothered me though was the romantic plot, which suffered badly from a case of instalove. Although we hear of delightful prior encounters between Alexia and Lord Maccon, we didn’t see them. We mostly see him going from hating her to loving her and demanding her hand in marriage. It just felt lazy compared to the other elements of the book. I get it that Carriger could be poking fun at Victorian era romances, but I think that would have worked better if it didn’t have such a Victorian ending. Plus, I didn’t pick up this book to read a romance. I wanted a steampunk mystery with a strong female lead. I didn’t like how quickly the romance took over the whole plot.
Potential readers should take a glance at the first chapter and see if Carriger’s humor works for them. I can see how if I was laughing through the whole book I’d have enjoyed it more, but the…decidedly British humor just did not work for me. It didn’t bother me; I just didn’t find it funny. I mostly sat there going, “Oh, she thinks she’s being funny…..” Humor is highly personal, so I’m not saying it’s bad. It just isn’t my style. It might be yours.
Overall this is a creatively complex steampunk world with an unfortunately average plot overtaken by instaromance and seeped in dry, British humor. It is recommended to steampunk fans who find that style of humor amusing and don’t mind some instalove all up in their story. That does not describe this reader, so I won’t be continuing on with the series.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Something strange is happening in Spokane, and the US military has taken control of the city, closing it and its happenings to the press. Dean sees this as the perfect opportunity to break into photography before he graduates from college and is forced into giving up on his artistic dreams to work a regular 9 to 5 job. So he sneaks into Spokane, where he meets an intriguing young woman and her rag-tag household of survivors, and quickly starts to see the inexplicable things that are going on inside the city.
Dark fantasy is one of my favored genres, but unfortunately not a ton comes out in it in any given year. So when I saw this title available on NetGalley, I just had to snatch it up. I’m glad I did, because it’s a truly enjoyable read.
The basic plot uses a trope of dark fantasy–a creative outsider comes to a town where bizarre things supposedly happen then starts to document them happening. The twist here is that the creative type is a photographer, so the art form being used is photography. This was an incredibly refreshing way to approach the topic. Each chapter opens with a description of a shot that Dean will get at some point in that chapter. It’s fascinating foreshadowing, and also Gropp shows real talent in describing photographs of both the fantastical and more ordinary varieties. The descriptions also talk about more technical aspects of photography, and these show up within the story too (such as lighting and shutter speed). Describing instead of showing the photographs was a choice that I at first was not certain of but I ultimately appreciated. By not reproducing the photographs, Gropp leaves quite a bit of the mystery up to the reader and doesn’t spoil whatever images the reader has already established within her own mind. But the descriptions are also so well-done that the impact of seeing one brief moment in this surreal world is still rendered. It’s a unique and well-done choice, and I’d recommend this read to people based on that creative storytelling aspect alone.
It’s also great to see a story centering primarily around 20-somethings. Often literature tends to stick to YA (teens) or jump right over those of us who are in that truly young adult phase of our lives and into 30-somethings. Although the primary focus of the story is what precisely is happening in Spokane, conflicts frequently faced by 20-somethings come up within this framework–what to do for a career, do you give up on your dreams and settle down into a cubicle or not, when and with whom should you settle down, should you settle down at all, when should you respect your parents and their experience and when should you stand up to them, etc… Long-time followers know that one reason I enjoy genre literature is it addresses these real life issues within the context of the fantastic, and the good ones do it integrated and in a thought-provoking manner. This book achieves that.
The main character also is bisexual, while being primarily interested in a woman. It was so awesome to get to see a bi male main character and have it be presented as just a part of who he is and not a big deal at all. Although there is certainly a need and a place for the coming out tales and stories where the character’s sexuality is a central issue, it is also nice to see glbtq characters where that is just one aspect of who they are and is not dwelled upon much. It is just a part of who Dean is.
As for the central plot–what is happening in Spokane–I admit that I hoped for slightly more answers than we ultimately get. Readers looking for nicely tied up endings or even a hint at an answer will be left wanting. I enjoy an ambiguous ending, but I also felt that perhaps the plot could have been a bit clearer. In particular, without giving anything away, I felt that the scenes revolving around the hospital while powerful left me feeling a bit like perhaps even the author doesn’t really know what’s going on in Spokane. Perhaps that is the point, but it did leave me feeling that the plot was not as up to par as the world building and characterization.
Overall, this is a wonderful addition to the dark fantasy genre. Gropp gives us a unique main character and also utilizes writing about photography in a creative manner. I highly recommend it to fans of dark fantasy, particularly 20-somethings and those with an interest in photography.
4 out of 5 stars
It’s the 1960s, and Barbara thinks she has enough on her hands handling medical residency as a woman. She doesn’t need the complications of dating women on top of that…or the risk to her profession of rumors that she’s a lesbian. But when she meets local cook, Nicky, all these cautions go out the window. Soon they’re a couple, and Nicky is determined to have a baby for them to raise together.
I read this book because my previous read from this indie publisher (Bold Strokes Books) was such a unique, well-written piece of GLBTQ lit, and I was excited to get more. Unfortunately, the quality of this book does not come close to that of Lemon Reef. Admittedly, Lemon Reef is by an entirely different author, but one does expect similar quality levels from the same publisher. That was, unfortunately, not the case this time.
The plot is moderately common in lesbian fiction. Girl meets girl. Couple wants a baby. Girl gets pregnant. Can they raise the baby and keep the relationship going. With the added backdrop of prejudice and changing rights from the 1960s through the 1980s, it had the potential to be more unique and add an interesting twist, particularly since Nicky is supposed to be involved in the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, none of this really pans out. There are tantalizing teases of something more or something unique such as when Nicky gives a ride to a black man trying to escape from mob “justice” in the small town or when Barbara cheats on Nicky in New York City, but none of these ideas are brought to fruition. In fact, the whole book feels more like a moderately fleshed-out plot outline for a future book. Like, here are the key points, and I’ll flesh them out later. Only this is the finished book. There will be no more fleshing out of the plot. It’s frustrating to read because just when you think something is about to happen, the idea gets dropped and you skip ahead a few years.
Similarly, the characters are never fully realized. They are extremely two-dimensional, even the two main characters. I actually found myself mixing Barbara and Nicky up repeatedly, which is intensely problematic. They are two separate people, and their relationship is the focus of the novel, yet even after the entire book they are mostly unclear to me, except that Nicky has green eyes. They simply don’t feel like real people to the reader at all, which is a problem in general but even more so when the book is trying to both be character-driven and address rights issues.
A book needs at least a compelling plot or engaging characters to be readable and both to be great. This book has neither. I can see potential in the plot and sentence structures for good writing, but the author needs to work on both expanding into greater plot detail as well as on improving characterization.
2 out of 5 stars
Jenna is a high-powered, newly appointed commissioner in San Francisco where she lives with her wife and their dog. Life is good, and Jenna tries not to think too much about her rough childhood and teen years growing up in Florida. But a phone call comes in. Her first love, Del, has died diving at lemon reef at the young age of 30. The mutual friend invites Jenna to the funeral, but when she arrives in Florida, she discovers that there’s more to it than that. Del’s mother, Pascale, wants her help in getting custody of Del’s daughter, Khila, instead of her father, Talon, who Pascale insists must have murdered Del.
This book was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster to read, which of course is a sign of a good book.
The plot structure is incredibly complex and engaging without ever being confusing. There is the mystery of Del’s death, but also (for the reader) the mystery of why and how Del and Jenna’s romance ended tragically, as it is evident it did. In addition there is the powerful emotions of a first love and first romance for a pair of teens who must grow up too fast thanks to the rough circumstances they find themselves in. Silverman handles the past reminisces intermingled with the current mystery and discoveries quite eloquently. I found myself admiring her talent in plot structuring throughout.
There are no easy answers in this book, and no one is easily demonized, including Talon. Every single character has flaws and good qualities. Del stands up for her siblings but won’t stand up for her love of Jenna. Jenna loves people but can sometimes get too caught up in her own world and her own needs. Pascale was an alcoholic when Del was in highschool but successfully quits in order to be able to spend time with her granddaughter. Del’s sister Nicole breaks a lot of laws (including breaking and entering and prostitution), but she is fiercely loyal and stands up for those she loves. The complexity of the characters and the situation is part of what makes it such an emotional read. There’s no one to easily blame for the problems these women find themselves in. I think this complexity points to Silverman’s experience both as a counselor and a lawyer. She clearly understands human psychology and how problems are not always black and white but can be very gray.
The writing is lovely and fills in the framing of the plot and the characters. There are lines that just totally grab you.
Because minds do blow and hearts do break. Those are not just sayings. And wolves and roaches are not the only creatures that chew off their legs to get out of traps—human beings do that, too. (location 3058)
I also really enjoyed that while Jenna’s coming out story (told in flash-backs and reminiscing) is rather typical, Del’s is much more complex. She is bi but is uncomfortable with the fact that she likes women too. She doesn’t want people to know, doesn’t say a thing about it to her sisters, denies it even. But we find out later that there were other ways in which it was clear she did identify as bi and part of the community. I won’t say how, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise. But I found this complexity interesting. It shows how for Jenna she had to push and come out because there was no other option. Del could sometimes pass but not always and clearly it was a struggle for her throughout her whole life. This shows an understanding of what it is to be bi that I honestly was not expecting, as it is hard to find that in novels.
There were, unfortunately, a couple of things that didn’t quite live up to the rest of the book. There were a few passages that weren’t as well-written or well-edited that detracted from the overall beauty of the book. For instance, there is a scene in which a character points a flashlight at a floor but the narrator calls it the ground. Things like that that are periodically clunky. I’m sure this will improve with time, though, as this is Silverman’s first work of fiction.
I also was disappointed that we didn’t get to see very much at all in regards to how this whole drama of the first love’s mysterious death impacted Jenna’s relationship with her wife. I was hoping this would be at least touched upon in the last chapter, but instead we just see Madison show up with Jenna for the funeral. Since I had come to care for Jenna, I wanted to know how such a dramatic, emotional event would affect her new life and marriage with Madison. It seems obvious to me that such an incident would at least lead to a few discussions and maybe difficult moments between a married couple. I wanted to see that and not seeing it made Madison and Jenna’s marriage to her feel more like a prop than an actual element of Jenna’s life.
Overall, though, this is a unique work of GLBTQ lit. Its themes of reconciling with your past, coming out, being queer, and first love are all beautifully told within a plot that keeps the reader invested and interested. I highly recommend it to GLBTQ readers, but also to anyone with an interest in stories addressing the complexity of human relationships and the long-reaching impact of first loves.
4 out of 5 stars
Dawit is a twenty year old Ethiopian refugee hiding out illegally in Paris and barely surviving. One day he runs into the elderly, famous French writer, M., in a cafe. Utterly charmed by him and how he reminds her of her long-lost lover she had growing up in Africa, she invites him to come live with her. But Dawit is unable to give M. what she wants, leading to dangerous conflict between them.
This starts out with an interesting chance meeting in a cafe but proceeds to meander through horror without much of a point.
Although in the third person, we only get Dawit’s perspective, and although he is a sympathetic character, he sometimes seems not entirely well-rounded. Through flashbacks we learn that he grew up as some sort of nobility (like a duke, as he explains to the Romans). His family is killed and imprisoned, and he is eventually helped to escape by an ex-lover and makes it to Paris. This is clearly a painful story, but something about Dawit in his current state keeps the reader from entirely empathizing with him. He was raised noble and privileged, including boarding schools and learning many languages, but he looks down his nose at the French bourgeois, who, let’s be honest, are basically the equivalent of nobility. He judges M. for spending all her money on him instead of sending it to Ethiopia to feed people, but he also accepts the lavish gifts and money himself. Admittedly, he sends some to his friends, but he just seems a bit hypocritical throughout the whole thing. He never really reflects on the toppling of the Emperor in Ethiopia or precisely how society should be ordered to be better. He just essentially says, “Oh, the Emperor wasn’t all that bad, crazy rebels, by the way, M., why aren’t you donating this money to charity instead of spending it on me? But I will tooootally take that cashmere scarf.” Ugh.
That said, Dawit is still more sympathetic than M., who besides being a stuck-up, lazy, self-centered hack also repeatedly rapes Dawit. Yeah. That happened. Quite a few times. And while I get the point that Kohler is making (evil old colonialists raping Ethiopians), well, I suppose I just don’t think it was a very clever allegory. I’d rather read about that actually happening.
In spite of being thoroughly disturbed and squicked out by everyone in the story, I kept reading because Kohler’s prose is so pretty, and I honestly couldn’t figure out how she’d manage to wrap everything up. What point was she going to make? Well, I got to the ending, and honestly the ending didn’t do it for me. I found it a bit convenient and simplistic after the rest of the novel, and it left me kind of wondering what the heck I just spent my time reading.
So, clearly this book rubbed me the wrong way, except for the fact that certain passages are beautifully written. Will it work for other readers? Maybe. Although the readers I know with a vested interest in the effects of colonialism would probably find the allegory as simplistic as I did.
2 out of 5 stars
Book Review: The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder by Olga Trujillo, JD
Olga was a young, successful lawyer in DC when she suddenly started having inexplicable panic attacks and episodes of blank stares or rapidly moving eyes. She sees a psychiatrist and is diagnosed with a moderate case on DID. On the spectrum, she has multiple parts but not exclusive personalities and still has a central core. These parts have kept the memories of her extraordinarily violent, abusive childhood from her consciousness thereby allowing her to function, but just barely. In her memoir, Olga tells what she has now remembered of her childhood and how she has now discovered she managed to function and be surprisingly resilient. She then delves into her long-term therapy and how she has come together into mostly one part and usually no longer dissociates.
I always find memoirs by those with DID or dissociation completely fascinating. Even just the ability to write the book and explain the disorder from the insider’s perspective is a remarkable achievement. I previously read When Rabbit Howls, which is written by a person much further along on the spectrum where completely different personalities wrote the different parts. Since Olga has a centralized part that has integrated most of the other parts, she writes with much more clarity and awareness of when she dissociated as a child, the process through therapy, and integration and her new life now. This ability to clearly articulate what was going on and how dissociation was a coping mechanism for her survival makes the book much more accessible for a broader audience. I also appreciate the fact that someone with a mental illness who is Latina, first generation American, and a lesbian is speaking out. Too often the picture of a person with a mental illness is whitewashed.
Olga offers up a very precise trigger warning of which chapters could be dangerous for fellow trauma survivors. That said, I found her reporting of what occurred to her to be respectful of herself as a person. She never shirks from what happened to her, but is sure to couch it in concise, clinical language. I respect this decision on her part, and again believe it will make her book more accessible to a wider audience. People can see the results of the trauma without finding themselves witnesses to the trauma itself.
The book right up through about halfway through her therapy is clear and detailed, but then starts to feel rushed and more vague. Perhaps this is out of respect for the people currently in her life, but personally I wanted to know more. For instance, how was she able to make a drastic move from DC to the middle of the country without upsetting her healing process? How do the phone sessions with her therapist work? I think many advocates of those with mental illness would appreciate more detail on how she is able to have a healthy, happy relationship now, especially since we witness the dissolution of her first marriage. Similarly, I wanted to know more about her coming out process. She states that she knew at 12 she was a lesbian, but pretty much leaves it at that. I’m sure it was easier to embrace her sexuality the more integrated her parts became, but I am still interested in the process. She was so brave recounting her early life that I wonder at the exclusion of these details.
Overall this is a well-written memoir of both childhood abuse, therapy for DID, and living with DID. Olga is an inspirational person, overcoming so much to achieve both acclaim in her career and a happy home life. I recommend it to a wide range of people from those interested in the immigrant experience to those interested in living with a mental illness.
4 out of 5 stars