Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Introducing Lesbian Fiction: Cat

I'm one of the two reviewers here on Good Lesbian Books, and as one of the final posts for the event, I've written up my recommendations for a first lesbian book. It was... not easy. Not easy to stop piling on new titles that is! For every book I thought of, two similar titles sprang to mind.

Coming Out
For dealing with coming out, adolescence, family, coming of age and first loves, you can't really beat some of the young adult novels available. By nature they tend to be 'issue' books, so this is where you'll find the majority of the best coming out stories.

My current top picks are Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters and Gravity by Leanne Lieberman. The former because it deals brilliantly with all the pros and cons of coming out, and is quite contemporary (one girl is out, the other is not, homophobia exists, but discrimination is illegal). The latter covers a great deal more, and is a bit weightier, throwing in coping with the demands of religion (Judaism in this case, but applicable across the board), unsuitable first loves and family as much as with sexual preferences.

I haven't read enough of the available lesbian YA yet to pick the absolute best though, and there's plenty I think look fantastic, that I just haven't managed to read yet (e.g. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Far From Xanadu, Gravel Queen, Pages For You, Wildthorn, I Don't Remember You). While a lot of people recommend Ash  by Malinda Lo [review], I didn't  find it that good; if you want fantasy, her follow up novel Huntress was much, much better [review].

Classic romance; if you want a literary novel that is 'simply' about two adult women finding love, then I have to recommend Jericho by Ann McMann. It has replaced Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest as my personal classic of lesbian romance literature. Curious Wine is also worth picking up, and similar in theme, if not in scope, and was the best selling lesbian romance novel for years, but I think Jericho will replace it.

Both follow two women, one fresh out of a failed relationship, the other already aware she likes women, and their instant friendship and the development of their love and attraction. I recommend Jericho because it is amazingly well written, and contains delightful dialogue, marvellous characters, and a lot of story. I recommend Curious Wine because it is a beautiful love story, and a classic in the field of lesbian fiction, but it is shorter, much more focused on the lesbian relationship (with less story left over for anything else) and slightly dated, compared to Jericho.

Graphic Novels
Don't overlook them just because they have pictures. Two of the best written (and illustrated - bonus!) lesbian series I know of are both graphic novels. However, they may not appeal to all readers. But they will appeal to almost all graphic novel readers.

Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore is one of the best stories I have ever read, but it can be a bit confusing on the first two or three reads. I love the fact I found more and more each time I read the books, but they can be confusing, and they contain an awful lot - random poetry, song lyrics, scenes from alternate futures and pasts that never actually happen but could have. The whole story is about the shaky relationship and love between two girls, Katchoo and Francine (and their beloved third wheel, David). Katchoo is gorgeous, an artist, madly in love with Francine, dysfunctional, abused, and has a nasty history with the mob; Francine is kind, ordinary, dreams of finding the right man, pretends Katchoo is 'only' her best friend, is self conscious about her weight, and the one thing keeping Katchoo sane. Highly recommended to everyone, really.

The Secret Six is a graphic novel series from DC comics, written by the talented Gail Simone. It is violent and nasty and graphic, so it will not be for all readers. But it's also smart, and funny, and touching, and has a fantastic open lesbian relationship. It follows a team of 'loser' villains, whose redeeming grace is that they never give up, no matter what the odds. Really, no matter what the odds. They get beaten on a lot. The smart and semi-immortal Scandal Savage is their on and off leader, and the heart of the group, and her true love is initially the demigod Knockout, and later the nice stripper Liana. They get more lesbians as real characters screen time than any other current superhero comic from DC or Marvel. Though Renee Montoya and Batwoman are coming close, so if you like slightly gritty heroes keeping the peace, pick up some of the stories from Greg Rucka's Detective Comics instead (top picks are Gotham Central - Half A Life and Batwoman: Elegy).

If you just want a decent fantasy, and don't really care about it being All About Lesbians (i.e. you just want to give someone a book that just happens to feature lesbian characters, but doesn't make a big deal of it), then I can recommend several fantasy novels.

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines is the first book in a kickass adult fairytale parody series (in that it rewrites all kinds of fairytale elements into a real story, rather than simply making a joke out of them), which follows the adventures of three fairytale princesses, as they act together to save their adopted kingdom. One of the three main characters is lesbian, and her love for another character becomes increasingly important throughout the story (it barely features in the first book, which is mostly about one character, but the second - The Mermaid's Madness - gives the lesbian character equal screen time and importance as the other two).
  • Lesbian Fairytale Fiction is actually pretty popular, and tends to be fairly readable. It's certainly a good place to start, spinning a familiar story in a new way.  
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks is also a good fantasy about a country at war, that happens to feature two women who are vitally important and happen to be drawn to each other. And Lythande by Marion Zimmer Bradley is a collection of classic fantasy short stories from Robert Lynn Asprin’s shared-universe series, Thieves’ World. Lythande is a mysterious female mage who happens to like women, though this only comes up in a couple of the stories.

Science Fiction
For science fiction, The Telling by Ursula Le Guin is a slightly dry, but interesting, story about culture, books, religion and politics (which seems to be the theme of a lot of her books), and follows an indian lesbian character as she strives to remain a disinterested observer, recording the language and culture of a planet that has undergone an overwhelming cultural revolution. I also have to recommend the truly astonishing anthology Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction, edited by Stephen Pagel and Nicola Griffith, which is a fantastic collection of gay and lesbian science fiction stories. The Fantasy anthology is also very good, but not as good as the science fiction one.

Antiheroes, Violence and Sex
Branded Ann by Merry Shannon is for those who like dashing piracy, sexy sparks, and real villains, antiheroes, moral quandaries and mutinies, with plenty of lesbian tension, flaunting the hate-love-hate relationship between the vicious captain, Branded Ann, and her beautiful, manipulative captive, Violet - a whore, turned wife, turned widow at Branded Ann's hand, in all kinds of delightfully unpredictable ways. If murder, rape and realistic piracy isn't your thing, check out The Sublime & Spirited Voyage of Original Sin by Colette Moody for a fluffier 'kidnapped by dashing lady pirate adventure romance'; it pales compared to Branded Ann in my opinion, but it's essentially the 'nice' version of lesbian pirate kidnap.

For similar in your face sexiness and general awesomeness - and violence - as Branded Ann, pick up The Gunfighter and The Gear-head by Cassandra Duffy, a post-apocalyptic steampunk western.

There are a lot of lesbian mysteries out there and I haven't read many. The best I've read so far are Nicola Griffith's books about scary Norwegian Aud Torvingsen [series review]; The Blue Place [review], Stay and Always [review].
Well, I could recommend a lot more, and there are dozens of books out there that I think might be even better, but I just haven't read them yet. But these are the books I want hand to a first time reader - which of these books would based on their tastes, of course! I have read all of the above books, and almost all of them have been reviewed on this site (the remaining couple should have reviews up soon) and you can find a list of all our book reviews here.

Cat is one of the reviewers of Good Lesbian Books, who has discovered more lesbian fiction in the last year than they ever thought possible.

Further Reading


  1. Cat:

    You don't read very much, do you?

    Seriouly, you could teach a gradute-level liturature class on lesbian literature. (Maybe you do already?)



  2. Looks like a great list! I haven't read any of these. For romance, I really enjoyed Georgia Beers' Starting from Scratch and Radclyffe's Innocent Hearts. I think both are good starter books.

  3. Hi Cat and Cress! Congratulations on a year of avid reading! I wanted to alert you to my book, Rose's Will, published by 48fourteen. It's based on a true story and although it's not technically lesbian fiction, it does have a strong lesbian main character who is in a long term relationship. We don't see too many of those around. It might be good to recommend a book about a lesbian who has managed an 11 year relationship and isn't in the closet. Novel idea, huh? It's a character driven novel with a ton of themes to discuss, not just about lesbians but life in general. Let me know if you'd like to review it.