Acclaimed author of Ash Malinda Lo returns with her most personal and ambitious novel yet, a gripping story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare.
“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.
America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
What a really lovely first read of 2021! I’ve never read any Malindo Lo before, but I was very interested in this historical YA exploring the intersection of lesbian culture and Chinese American culture. And I’m so impressed! I thought this was a really excellent book, Lo really captures such a clear picture of life in the 50s. The book is absolutely dripping in lesbian culture, and I think the historic details and setting were written exceedingly well.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows Chinese American Lily, a baby gay who is just beginning to realise there is something different about her. She becomes friends with the only other girl in her advanced math class who introduces her to a lesbian club, the Telegraph Club, where she begins to explore her identity and tries to figure out how she can be both Chinese American and lesbian.
I thought Lo did an absolutely brilliant job of writing in this time period. You can really tell everything has been so excellently researched. It’s quite a slow book because a lot of time is spent on lots of small details and worldbuilding around the 50s time period, from larger details like the Red Scare/communism, down to the small things to do with clothes or food. I can definitely see that some people might not like this style. But I love books like this, ones that really give you such a perfectly clear vision of the world and setting. I loved the exploration of queer identity during this time period in particular, Lo drops subtle details that really help show what life was like for queer people in this era – my absolute favourite moment of this was Lily being fascinated by the lesbian pulp novels she found at the back of a drug store, and these being what led her to first start thinking she might be lesbian. It’s so funny to me that in the 50s queer people were discovering their identities in the same way I did 70 years later: just through a slightly different medium of literature (pulp novel in a drug store, vs fanfic online!)
The relationship between Kath and Lily was also expertly written. I think it might be one of my favourite relationships in YA. There was such a sense of magic and beauty that is so inherent in your first teenage relationship. It really captured that sense of first love, but in a very queer way – that sense of happiness when you first figure out what your feelings mean, that pure joy when you touch someone, but also that sense of shame and guilt that sometimes follows. The juxtaposition of the shame and happiness was written particularly well, and Lily’s journey to fit her lesbian culture into her Chinese American family was really exceptionally written and very honest.
There were some small issues I had. My main complaint is the small sections interspaced throughout Lily’s story where we got a POV from Lily’s parents or aunts from several years previously. I know these probably were included to give a better understanding of the time period and more history for the communism plot line but they felt very out of place to me. I didn’t really care about them at all, they just kept taking me out of Lily’s story – sometimes even at big cliffhanger moments!! Tell me what’s happening to Lily and Kath please and not her parents 20 years ago! It did also end quite abruptly. After quite a slow, tender and gentle story, the ending felt very rushed in comparison.
But overall, I thought this was a really excellent historical fiction YA. This book just exudes lesbian culture and it was fascinating to read about this time period and explore how queer culture developed during a time where it was illegal. I also thought Lo expertly explores the intersection of Lily’s lesbian and Chinese American culture, it felt like a very honest and very personal story and was beautifully written.
One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.
Content warnings: suicide (graphic description in prologue, mentioned throughout), animal death, graphic description of dead animals, killing animals (on page and mentioned), blood and gore (related to taxidermy work), cheating, brief scene of underage sexual assaultbetween Bryce’s mother and Jessa, teen pregnancy
Do you ever read a book that you just look at the Goodreads rating and go ‘what the actual fuck were all these other people reading?’ The award for the Everyone Else on Goodreads is Wrong award this year goes to Mostly Dead Things! Oh my god, I loved it so much?! Why does it have such a low rating?!
Mostly Dead Things is a very strange book, about a taxidermist whose father commits suicide, and mother starts making erotic art out of her taxidermy animals in response. It follows a family in the wake of this tragedy, but a family which is also still reeling from a tragedy years earlier: Bryce, wife to a brother and sleeping with his sister, who left the family and her children and never returned.
Our three main characters are:
Bryce: I’m starting with Bryce because although she is by no means the main character (in fact, she does even appear on page in the present time), she is the thread that holds these characters together. She is the girl who loved a sister and a brother, married and had kids with one, and then ran away one day, leaving her children behind. She is the one who still has such a tight grip around each member of this family, who have never healed from when she left them behind.
Milo: the brother of the family, the one who turned away from the family taxidermy business because he threw up at the sight of his father working on the animal carcasses. He is the one who, to Jessa, came into her friendship with Bryce and took her away, married her, and loved her in a way that Jessa couldn’t provide.
And finally we have Jessa: we follow the book from Jessa’s POV. She is the taxidermist of the family, and the one who has to hold the family together. She must do this, because her father designed his suicide so she would be the one to find him, because he knew she would be able to handle it, and so it is his last request to her, in a way. But Jessa is stuck in the past. In between the present story, we get short extracts from the past, when Jessa was a teen and fell in love with her best friend, Bryce. We see glimpses of this childhood and see the hold that Bryce still has over this family, even after she left years before. Jessa is so deeply scarred and broken from this love affair that she effectively destroys everyone around her, even as she tries to hold them all together. I thought Jessa was just perfectly written: the raw pain she feels on every single page binds this story together expertly and despite her many, many flaws, you can’t help but hope that she is able to heal and move on.
Mostly Dead Things is a book about pain and grief and love. It’s a hard book to feel happy as you read, because there is so much raw pain in this novel. Following a family that has been broken, this book doesn’t shy away from creating powerful, hugely gutrenching moments that felt like someone was clawing me open. It has been so long since I’ve had such an intense reading experience. This book is so sensual and visceral and it creates such an intensity that you feel as cut open as these characters are. It just sucks you into the hot muggy world of Florida and you feel as if you’ve been transplanted there, as if the writing actually transports you to the swamps of Florida.
The fact that these characters are such horrible people and that I loved them all the same is just? Amazing? The fact that I was rooting for the family to find each other again, rooting for them to tear each other open in agony so they could heal in the wake of such a tragedy. The way this family were broken and torn apart juxtaposed with the way the animals were broken and torn apart and then lovingly were healed again was just *chef’s kiss*
GOD THIS WAS JUST SO FUCKING GOOD, Goodreads reviewers whhhyyyyyy?! I loved this one so much. It is intense and visceral and I had one of the best reading experiences of the year. What a fucking fantastic debut novel.
Synopsis:An outcast teenage lesbian witch finds her coven hidden amongst the popular girls in her school, and performs some seriously badass magic in the process.
Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.
Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent on stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?
Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.
The Scapegracers is a the gayest, witchiest book in the world and I loved every second of it. Whilst it is more of a slowburn plotwise, the focus on the characters and this deep connection that is formed between the four witches in the new coven was so brilliant. It completely subverts the mean girl trope and I found it one of the most refreshing and exciting portrayals of female friendship that I’ve read in a long time.
The Scapegracers follows Sideways, a lesbian witch who is invited to perform her magic at a party organised by three popular girls who want their party to be the spookiest in memory at the school. But instead of just getting a killer cool bit of magic out of it, the new coven finds friendship and support like never before. The four of them team up to help Sideways with her new crush, as well as fight off the modern day witchhunters who want to take their magic from them.
The Scapegracers is a slow book, I won’t deny it. There isn’t a clear enemy or plot across the book as you would expect from a YA fantasy novel. Instead, this book is more of an exploration of friendship with a side of fantasy as the girls investigate and try out their new powers. And whilst I wasn’t expecting that, I loved this surprise! The Scapegracers has one of the best portrayals of female friendship I’ve ever seen. Clarke has taken the trope of mean, popular school girls, and thrown everything you think about them into the bin. Here, these girls are so supportive, so badass and the way they take Sideways into their group is so incredibly beautiful and heartwarming. It’s done so well that I found myself tearing up when Sideways is just in awe that these beautiful, loving people want to be her friend because she’s so fucked up from being so alone. I also loved that these girls were allowed to embrace their femininity if they wanted and it was amazing because they can still be badass witches too? So often, YA fantasy has to feature “girls who aren’t like other girls”, ones who need to throw away their femininity in order to be cool and kick butts with magic. But The Scapegracers is just the opposite of that in every way: here are these girls who love make up, who wear tight dresses, who flirt, but can still kick butts with magic. More of this in fantasy please!
I also want to praise the casual queerness in the book which was so great to see. We have a lesbain main character, bisexual and queer side characters, and Sideways has two dads! And that leads me to my second favourite part of this book: Sideways is so. fucking. gay. She is such a clueless lesbian, it is amazing. I loved her pure awed joy when interacting with Madeline, which lead to lines like this: “Hell, if Madeline offered to beat me up, I’d probably weep with joy and give her a hearty tip when she was done” and “She wanted my number in a potentially gay way. Oh God, I wanted to die.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her, she’s such a great character who is a complete mess when she has a crush and it was so great to see.
I enjoyed the bringing of witchhunters into the modern world. Although it was only a small section, I loved finding out about the history of these witchhunters, it was so fascinating how they came to be and how they track witches. The reason I didn’t give this a full of five stars is because it did slow quite a lot, particularly in the middle of the book, when the witchhunters seemed to disappear. I think they could have been a bit more prominent to add a sense of tension and urgency to the book as they were a great, creepy villain!
All in all, I really loved this book! I’ve been having a bad run with YA fantasy this year, but because this was so different to what I expected from YA fantasy, it resulted in something so much better than I hoped for! The Scapegracers is a really lovely look at female friendships and had such a kickass group of queer witches, so much casual queerness, and a clueless lesbain crushing so bad it made for the funniest lines. Highly recommend this one!
This February I’ve been participating in FFFebruary, a readathon run by Charlotte (@darashirazi) on Twitter. As well as reading only sapphic books for all of February, I’ve also been posting every day on Instagram to celebrate my favourite f/f books. So continuing this trend, today I want to talk about the 2020 sapphic releases I can’t wait to read! This list is by no means exhaustive, it’s just some of the incredible books coming our way this year!
This book published in January, and my pre-order finally arrived in Australia this week! I’m already half way through and it is such an interesting read. Part social commentary, part alien invasion, The Seep follows trans woman Trina as tries to grieve and recover from when her wife wished to be a baby again, and the aliens give her that wish.
Another January release, Scavenge the Stars follows a chaotic bisexual in this genderbend retelling of The Counte of Monte Cristo. Not gonna lie, a woman with a dagger on the cover will always sell a book to me.
Cherry Beach is all about the power and love of friendship. Hetty and Ness have been best friends forever, and are now moving from Melbourne to Toronto. But Ness has a secret: she’s hopelessly in love with Hetty. In Toronto, in contrast to their life growing up, Hetty’s life seems to disintegrate, whilst Ness meets Hope. But as Hetty falls apart, Ness might lose the person she loves most. This dark, sapphic book just sounds so incredible! Publishing: February 4
This is the first of Gailey’s 2020 releases and it is a good one!!! Queer librarian spies on horseback trying to save the world from fascists with resistance propaganda in a Western style setting. Publishing: February 4
The Mercies is inspired by the true events of the Vardø storm, which wiped out all the men of Vardø, and the 1620 witch trials. A witchhunter Scotsman and his wife, Maren, travel to Vardø to find the women independent and free. As Maren grows close to one of the women, the witchhunter sees evil and seeks to rule. I can’t wait for this feminist, witchy novel about love and evil to arrive. Publishing: February 11
Csorwe knows when she’s going to die. She’s a sacrifice to her gods. But on the day she’s supposed to die, a powerful mage offers her freedom to follow him, and become his sworn shield, assassin and thief. Also including a very slow burn f/f romance! Publishing: February 11
This sequel to 2019’s excellent We Set the Dark on Fire is one I can’t wait for! After We Set the Dark on Fire was written from Dani’s POV, We Unleash the Merciless Storm looks to Carmen and her role in the rebellion. Publishing: February 25
This is set in the same universe as The Winner’s Trilogy (which I haven’t actually read so know nothing about). But sapphic fantasy is always high on my list to read so here this is! Nirrim is one of the low-class inhabitants of the Ward. There, she cannot wear colour or eat sweets. When she encounters Sid, a traveller who brings rumours of magic, she is persuaded to seek the magic for herself. Publishing: March 3
2020 is the year of queer witches, and this is just one of them! This one sounds particularly intriguing to me as it’s inspired by Celtic mythology, features a bi teen in a conservative small Irish town who suffers from somatic OCD, and an infamous serial killer called The Butcher King. Sign me up right now. Publishing: March 3
Bi! Romcom! Science! Geek! I adored Laura Steven’s The Exact Opposite of Okay, it holds the award for funniest book I’ve ever read. So of course when she announced a bisexual romcom about a teen who discovers a scientfic breakthrough that makes you irresistible to everyone around you, I have to read it! Publishing: March 5
OHHHH this one sounds so good! During WW2, Hetty is tasked with evacuating and looking after the mammals from the natural history museum. At Lockwood Manor, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty finds herself drawn to the mysterious and traumatised daughter of Lord Lockwood, Lucy. But animals start disappearing and Hetty is sure she’s being followed down dark corridors… Publishing: March 10
Angelina only just escaped from under her violent fathers’ thumb. But after a car accident, now she’s back. As her father aggressively pushes for an accident settlement, she grows close to Janet, an artist who inspires her to create unsettling art that shows her scars and forces her to face the abuse. Publishing: March 10
Cheerleading but make it really really gay: enter this book. Mack doesn’t expect to fit into at school. She’s well used to being different. But now she’s mysteriously become a cheerleader magnet, but is it a set up, or could she actually have a chance at romance? Publishing: March 15
Another one that sounds so incredibly interesting with an odd profession at its heart! Nell works in biological sciences exploring poisons and antidotes. She’s also obsessed with her mentor, Dr Joan, writing journals and research notes dedicated to her, as the lives of her and Joan along with several others become tangled in a web of desire and affairs. Also check out that cover!!! Publishing: March 31
Codi and her friends spend most of their time inside playing games, not out at parties. But when they decide to crash a party, Codi finds popular kid Ricky, kissing another boy, and the two form an unexpected friendship. As the summer progresses, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and introduces her to popularity, parties, and a cute girl called Lydia. Only problem is, her friends have no idea. Publishing: April 21
Another stunning cover!! On a pirate ship, Flora takes the identity Florian to earn respect amongst the crew. But on board, Florian is drawn to passenger Lady Evelyn, who is on her way to an arranged marriage. With witches and mermaids, gender fluidity and Asian folklore, I predict this book will be one of my favourites of the year! Publishing: May 5
Nothing beats the description from the author’s Twitter for this one: “pitched as stranger things in the french revolution, there’s an ensemble cast of queer disasters, two girls in love and a bi love triangle. plus strange science, swashbuckling action and a little magic 💀”. THE BI LOVE TRIANGLE IS HERE AND WE LOVE TO SEE IT. Also I lucked out with an ARC for this and I literally cannot get the song “I’ve got a golden ticket” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory out of my head when thinking about this. Publishing: May 5
Lesbian witch forms a coven with three popular girls after she casts a spell for them. This books aims to subvert the traditional ‘cliquey mean girls’ and instead focuses on the strength of female friendship as they fight the witchhunters who want to steal their magic. Publishing: May 12
Two teens set up rival businesses, Nishat is celebrating her culture, Flávia is appropriating. But as they get to know each other, Nishat can’t quite get over her crush. Discussions around the intersection of queerness and race by a QPOC! If you support any book this year, support this one! Publishing: May 12
A 1920’s New Orleans SUPER QUEER historical murder mystery oh my days this is perfect! I give you a tweet from the author:
“🏳️🌈MC Millie is bi (hello bi love triangle!) 🏳️🌈Her BFF Marion is gay & performs in drag 🏳️🌈Her aunt is a lesbian in a committed relationship w/ a woman 🏳️🌈They all work in a queer-friendly speakeasy 🏳️🌈A few people are straight I guess?”
Also it comps to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery and this makes me even more excited!!
By day: rivals at a competitive Arts Conservatory, fighting for the chance to win a scholarship. By night: unknowingly collaborating with each other on a fanfiction graphic novel. What happens when their online personalities begin to fall in love? Any romcom with fanfiction has me SOLD! Publishing: May 26
More of that good enemies to lovers shit but make it S A P P H I C. Each year, the Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. But when Lina tries to save her brother from the fate, the friend who helped her is chosen instead. So Lina offers up herself. Enter love stuff. City dying. All the tragic must choose who to save, the city, or each other. I LOVE IT. Publishing: June 2
This book explores the life of a woman caught between her culture, religion and sexual identity. From the age of 12, when she was yelled at by a group of men for baring her legs in the biblical city of Bethlehem, through her time in the US, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, we follow her as she is lead to The Ledge, a treatment facility for “love addiction”. Publishing: June 9
Modern day noir thriller, set in Hollywood, with a sapphic lead who spends her time blackmailing lecherous old men. But when one of her targets ends up dead, she takes on one last job to get out of the game for good. A twist on the feminist revenge story! Publishing: July 14
A lesbian love story set in the afterlife! When Ash dies, she becomes a girl-reaper, someone who collects the souls of the dead and takes them to await their fate. But she vows to see her first love again, dead or alive… Publishing: August
Crier’s War was one of my favourite sapphic reads last year and I have no doubt Iron Heart will be just as good! Filled with all the enemies to lovers to enemies trope we could ever need, I won’t say much as I don’t want to spoil the first one if you haven’t read it yet. But watch out for this one. Also THAT COVER!! So SHINY. Publishing: September 8
This book has another of my favourite covers, look how gorgeous that pink is!! When Corinne’s secret girlfriend dies, she struggles to mourn for a person no one else knew existed. The only person she can talk to is her dead girlfriend’s ex. A story about making sense of grief and how to be honest with yourself. Publishing: September 15
Two queer older ladies, combining Western and Chinese folklore (Red Riding Hood and Hou Yi the Archer). The two must join forces to fight deadly sunbirds, and embark on a quest for immortality. Publishing: September 29
I very recently read the absolutely amazing The Library of the Unwritten and it was one of the most fun fantasy novels I’ve read in years! The sequel is out this October, and we go back to Claire and Brevity, Hero and Ramiel to solve new mysteries in the library. Oh and did I mention Claire is a pansexual librarian which literally just fills me with so much delight because it’s the first time I’ve ever seen pansexual written down in a fantasy novel before?! Publishing: October 6
The Never Tilting World was my first Rin Chupeco book and I really enjoyed it! A kingdom split in two, half in unending heat and sun; the other in constant snow and ice; one of twin sisters at the helm in each realm. This is the sequel and will carry on the quest to put the world back together. Publishing: November 10
A sapphic phantom of the opera, hell to the yes. Cadence has been forced to torture the nobility with her magic voice, under the rule of her Queen. But when an old friend comes back into her life, she has to decide whether to rebel or become a monster. God this sounds so good. Publishing: November 24
This is an f/f retelling of the Portugese myth A Miracle of Roses, where a princess wants to reverse a gift that turns all the food she touches into flowers. This sounds so different to any other fairytale I’ve read so very excited for it! Publishing: December 4
There isn’t much about this one in the public yet, but it sounds INCREDIBLE. The author’s website describes it as “coven of queer witches at an elite women’s college who employ their powers to exact revenge on the frat boy warlocks using magic to cover up sexual assault on campus”. Publishing: fall
I give you one of the most amazing author descriptions for a book ever: “If you like: magic derived from bones, migratory islands, a distant DOOM, a failing empire, a palace of locked doors and secrets, an heir with a father she can’t help but disappoint, a jaunty smuggler with a tragic past, creepy magical constructs, DOOM getting a bit more real now, two women in an established relationship working through class differences, magical animal companions, and dumplingssss!” Publishing: 2020, I assume fall/winter
Wow what a list!! 40 super sapphic books! I’m so excited for all of these. I know there are some amazing ones I’ve missed or not heard of yet so I apologise if I missed your favourite! But I would love to know: what’s your most anticipated 2020 sapphic book release? Let me know in the comments!
February is a very exciting month! As well as participating in the incredible story-driven readathon the Pondathon, I will also be joining with the #FFFeb. This readathon is run by Charlotte (@darashirazi on Twitter) and involves trying to read all (or mostly!) sapphic books in February! Charlotte has created 9 challenges to read and so I’ve created my TBR around those. To see what I’m reading, or to get some wonderful sapphic recs, check out my #FFFeb TBR below! And if you want to join in with the fun, follow @darashirazi on Twitter to find out more.
Any series called ‘The Nightmare-Verse’ sounds exactly my cup of tea. Add to that it’s an Alice in Wonderland retelling? Where Alice fights monsters? Plus that killer cover?! I am so excited to read this one!!
I’ve heard really awesome things about this book from a fellow book blogger whom I highly trust to recommend great reads. This combines fabulism, Irish history, & mental health and promises to be one of my favourite books of the year (we’ll see if my prediction comes true…)
I feel like this was THE sapphic romance of 2019 and therefore I feel rather guilty I still haven’t read it. So FFFeb seems like the perfect time to jump into this enemies to lovers, high school cheerleader romance!
So I believe this kind of has a romance, but it’s really not the main focus. And I’ll be honest, pretty much all of the f/f books I’ve got or found at the library seem to have a romance, so I decided to just roll with a book where the romance is very much not the focus! Hence this science fiction, political intrigue novel with murder and aliens.
Challenge 8: Book by an author you’ve never tried before
Killer mermaids lure warriors to their deaths every year – so one town decides to send women instead of men to try and fight the lure of the mermaids and get rid of the threat once and for all. Battle trained girls + mermaids + f/f romance = amazing novel.
And if I manage to finish all of the above, I also have the following books on my shelf just waiting to be read!
As I’m on Team Varian for the Pondathon, it does bring a further challenge to reading a mix of genres – so I may end up not completing all of the FFFeb challenges, or swapping some of the additional books around with my current Challenge TBR. Either way, I plan to read all sapphic books in February and I cannot wait!
In addition to this readathon, I’ll also be doing a FFFeb Instagram challenge – basically whereby I challenge myself to post everyday to celebrate all my sapphic books. So do give me a follow if you’d like to see: sapphic books in wild gardens, cutesy wallpaper backgrounds, or bee lights.
Are you participating in FFFeb? Let me know what’s on your TBR in the comments!