They Drown Our Daughters by Katrina Monroe

If you like feminist, multi-generational sagas of mothers and daughters struggling to love and trust each other across an abyss of misunderstandings and generational trauma — with a hint of ghost story mixed in for the bargain, you should try reading They Drown Our Daughters by Katrina Monroe.

It starts with Regina in 1881, a woman scorned, and a terrible accident in the dead of night. Then, in the present, we meet Meredith, a woman stinging from the split from her wife, and her young daughter Alice. With the end of her relationship Meredith has been drawn irresistibly back to her childhood home and to her troubled, distant mother Judith, who is now forgetful and more convinced than ever that evil is waiting in the ocean for them. As the little family struggles against what seems like their inevitable doom, the reader meets their ancestors: Grace, who can’t give up hope that her mother Regina will return; Beth, crushed by depression and grief, even in pregnancy; Diana, who wishes it would all just go away; and finally Judith as she was, a child desperate to understand all the heartbreak around her. And there’s another woman – a mysterious red-haired girl who appears around every corner as disaster after disaster rocks Meredith’s conviction that the curse isn’t real. Finally, at the end of her rope, Meredith has had enough and declares that one way or another, the curse ends with her – but so have all the women before her…

For the most part, this is a deeply unhappy book, and that can be very hard to read. But the determination of women is always inspiring, and the author is kind enough to give a ray of hope at the end. The book it most reminded me of is The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb (a superb retelling of The Little Mermaid story featuring the power of music) with its themes of mothers and daughters, a curse passed down the line, and the irresistible call of the ocean. In this case, however, it’s more of a ghost story with a hint of witches thrown in. The multiple time jumps add a sense of history and fate to the central conflict of Meredith vs. the curse, and honestly the chance to meet so many women that are all distinct and different and complicated, and deal with the curse in their own ways, is fascinating to read and shows the author’s skill.

That said, while the characters are vivid and realistic, they’re not necessarily your favorite people. Meredith for instance, with whom we spend the most time, is stubborn, close-minded, and hopelessly out of her depth in a supernatural conflict, not to mention a conflicted parent. Even Judith, who we root for as someone fighting the curse, is cold and distant to her daughter and generally does poorly in her personal relationships – which for me at least was not endearing to read. But again, this is partly the mark of a skilled writer showing that people are not always heroic or villainous but shades of gray; the inclusion of a lesbian main character in a nuanced and complicated family relationship is also refreshing to see.

Don’t miss They Drown Our Daughters for a complicated family saga, a slow-burning horror story, and a meditation on home and belonging.

The Jane Lawless Series: Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart

After loving Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler (you should read it!!) I was on the lookout for more LGBTQ mysteries, and discovered that Ellen Hart created a cult classic lesbian detective in Hallowed Murder, published 1989. Best of all, most of this series is still available through Rivershare at our local libraries.

In Hallowed Murder, we meet restaurateur Jane Lawless (and her theatrical friend Cordelia Thorne) and learn that she has started volunteering at her old college sorority, against the objections of Cordelia, who feels that Jane gives the sorority too much loyalty, considering it would have rejected her outright if it had known Jane’s sexuality. But then one of the senior students at the sorority dies suddenly, and while the police are dismissive (especially after the girl’s relationship with another woman comes out), Jane feels there’s more to the story and starts to investigate. Soon she finds herself drawn into a world of religious fanatics, blackmail, and fear, but remains determined to find out the truth.

As a longtime Agatha Christie reader I loved that this book paired a vintage tone and writing style with LGBTQ-inclusive characters. Like Christie’s work, it’s a product of its time, but in this case its time was the 1980s and 1990s, so it’s more aware of modern sensibilities and ethics. Unlike other modern cozy  mysteries, however, it doesn’t have that (apparently compulsory) formulaic storyline of the feisty heroine getting drawn into a turbulent relationship with a strong but sensitive local man or two — yawn! Instead there are slow hints of a relationship in Jane’s past that still haunts her, which is truer to Christie’s Poirot (as most recently shown in the recent Poirot films Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile by Kenneth Branagh) than to a modern cozy detective.

It’s definitely fascinating to read a work of 80s queer literature in 2022 and see how the language has changed around identity, not to mention social perception. The religious abuse and general scandal that the LGBTQ characters face in this book paints a stark picture of what it was like to be queer at that time, and remind us that some places still feature this kind of social and religious persecution toward LGBTQ people. At the same time, Hart also chooses to have one toxic character begin to realize how flawed religious ideas are, which lends the whole thing a hopeful air.

I’m excited to see where this series goes and how Jane Lawless develops as a character – if you’re looking for an inclusive cozy mystery series to try, come along with me on this journey!

Sebastian and Waite: Historical LGBTQ Romances

When we were teenagers, my sister and I loved reading Avon romances. Now that I’m older and want to read more diverse books, I’ve been delighted to find a few authors that provide steamy period pieces for an LGBTQ audience. Here are two entries published in 2021, both involving career criminals transformed by true love.

In The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, a nobleman needs a highwayman’s help retrieve something precious, but the thief is retired and will only help by teaching the man what he knows about stealing. As the lessons go on, though, they each want more than just a business arrangement… Cat Sebastian is a writer with a number of series under her belt, including Seducing the Sedgwicks (featuring Two Rogues Make a Right) and the Turner series (featuring The Soldier’s Scoundrel and The Ruin of a Rake).

The Hellion’s Waltz focuses on a Robin-Hood-style swindler and the swindler-hating woman she must seduce to bring off her heist. But though funding a weaver’s union is a good cause, morality and unexpected love may lead them astray. Olivia Waite has also written The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics and the Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows in this same universe of historical sapphic feminists.

Though perhaps not going to win any literary awards, everything I’ve read by these authors is funny, heartwarming, poignant, addictively readable, and just generally good romantic escapism. If Downton Abbey, Bridgerton, and other swooning period pieces have captured your heart, you may want to try the work of Cat Sebastian and Olivia Waite. (And if you’re just looking for unconventional bodice-rippers, I can also recommend the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, starting with Soulless).

You’re Not Edith by Allison Gruber

you're not edithThe English student in me cringes whenever someone says, “Let’s read an essay” because in my mind, the term “essay” is still equated with the five-paragraph, three-reasons-why type essays that you had to write in high school. When I was flipping through Allison Gruber’s You’re Not Edith, a book exclusively filled with autobiographical essays, I noticed that instead of the traditional format, her essays read like chunks of a story broken apart for relief, flashback, comedy, and a wide variety of other purposes. I started reading You’re Not Edith and discovered that I was in fact reading an autobiography with much shorter chapters, something that my brain found easier to digest because there were breaks where I could stop if I had to go do something else and I found that I was able to finish this book much quicker than I was other books. Books containing autobiographical essays have begun to grow on me.

In You’re Not Edith, Allison Gruber reflects upon her entire life as she’s experienced it so far. Just like in her life, Gruber takes risks when she explodes her life into these essays for readers to dissect. She pulls no punches as she describes how she tried to use her fascination with Diane Fossey to help her win her girlfriend in high school or how she was diagnosed with breast cancer as she was teaching at the collegiate level. Gruber is a hilarious writer who speaks with shocking candor and isn’t afraid to tell the truth about her struggles with cancer and how she figured that even though she wouldn’t allow others to take care of her, she would still be able to care for Bernie, a little dachshund who didn’t fit her perfect ideal of the Edith dog, but ended up being exactly what she needed.

I encourage you to pick up this book to check out her feelings on weddings, her father’s mental problems, and how she came into her own through music, drama, English, and many other interconnected things.

June is LGBT Pride Month

The six-colour version of the pride flag is the most commonly used version. The original version from 1978 had two additional stripes — hot pink and turquoise which were removed due to manufacturing needs. Via Wikimedia Commons.
The six-color version of the pride flag is the most commonly used version. The original version from 1978 had two additional stripes — hot pink and turquoise which were removed due to manufacturing needs. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In honor of LGBT Pride Month, we are featuring films, novels and media created by and for the LGBTQ** community on this blog. We’ll also have an ongoing display of these materials at the DPL’s Main branch.

First, a little history …

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month  is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, New York City. The Stonewall riots  – occurring over the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 – were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. While protests for LGBTQ rights had occurred prior to the Stonewall riots, many considered the riots as a “shot heard round the world,”* the first to garner large-scale media attention for a population that had, prior to then, been forced to live in secret.

156px-Stonewall_Inn_1969
Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, New York City, USA, Via Wikimedia Commons.

Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street (where the Stonewall Inn was located); with simultaneous Gay Pride marches in Los Angeles and Chicago, marking the first Gay Pride marches in U.S. history.  Since then, Gay Pride marches have occurred annually in major cities across the U.S.  to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

On June 2, 2000 President Bill Clinton declared June “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month”.  On June 1, 2009, President Barack Obama declared June 2009 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, citing the riots as a reason to “…commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans.” Read President Obama’s  2015 declaration here.

If you’d like to learn more, the Library of Congress hosts many historical documents, photos and recordings about LGBTQ Pride month, as well as the history of the LGBTQ movement in the United States. Check it out here: http://www.loc.gov/lgbt/

National Public Radio’s StoryCorps produced the documentary “Remembering Stonewall” on the 20th anniversary of the riots. You can listen it here: http://storycorps.org/remembering-stonewall/, as well as explore other stories from their OutLoud initiative, founded to preserve LGBTQ  voices and stories across the U.S. On the 40th anniversary of the riots, NPR’ Margo Adler produced another retrospective, “Years Later, Stonewall Riots Remembered”

Check back here next week for a look at LGBTQ literature for all ages!

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*Faderman, Lillian (1991). Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America, Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-017122-3

**A note on terminology: The acronym LGTB and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) are both used in the official Presidential declaration. According to the GLAAD and The New York Times style guidelines, LGBT is the preferred term, based on universal acceptance and recognition. However, I’ve chosen to use LGBTQ throughout, except when citing a direct quotation, or using the name of a specific organization or event.