Love is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann

I like YA books, but no other narrator has ever felt as authentically fifteen as Phoebe, the voice of Love is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann. Slang, text-speak, cringe, angst, and a heaping helping of dense obliviousness all combine for a laugh-out-loud, queer, teen, and generally updated retelling of Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Phoebe is living in London with her mum’s best friend Kate (a Persian cat mom who runs a charity shop), AGAIN, since her mum is a doctor with Medecins Internationale and has run off (AGAIN) to help disaster victims. Adding to Phoebe’s feelings of abandonment is a rift with her best friend Polly after Polly finally gets a boyfriend (Tristan, who’s so useless he can’t even ride a bike) and won’t talk about anything else (when she even remembers Phoebe at all). Phoebe has vowed to never get emotionally attached, since falling in love is such a degrading loss of sanity (and frankly gross to look at – who makes out in public?). And that could’ve been the end of it, until one of Kate’s designer Persians escapes while in heat, costing Kate a lot of money she could’ve charged for full pedigree Persian kittens. Determined to pay her back, Phoebe goes out to get a job, ending up working at Kate’s charity shop (humiliating) where she comes face-to-face with Emma, who’s got the bluest eyes Phoebe has ever seen, not to mention beauty and class…

Not only is this book funny, but it delves into a ton of tough topics including loss, grief, selfishness, community, how to be a good friend, emotions, heritage, and what makes a family. The short-form diary entry structure makes the book more addictive by being quick and immersive to read. Heartwarming, hopeful, and inclusive, this is a book for anyone who’s tried to shut away their feelings to keep from being hurt, AND a good readalike for Fredrik Backman’s many fans (A Man Called Ove is a similar vibe).

My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham

YA feminist horror is one of my new favorite genres – there’s nothing like a squad of friends battling the forces of evil (and the patriarchy) in between classes. My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham is a Pretty Little Liars-style journey into peer pressure, manipulation, and gaslighting through a paranormal lens, and with a heartwarming sapphic love story to balance out the scares.

Finch has wanted to attend Ulalume, an elite private school on a remote and sinister peninsula, ever since she heard of it, despite the expense. Luckily her piano audition goes well, but scholarships are the least of her concerns when she and her parents are in a catastrophic car accident on the way home, after veering to avoid what looked like (though couldn’t have been) an eight-eyed stag in the road. Finch could have sworn she drowned when the car went in the lake, but she recovers, although finds herself changed – pale, cold, with a weak heartbeat. When she starts at Ulalume, more odd things start happening including strange new feelings for the local queen bee, Selena. But new love may be no match for what’s waiting for Finch in tunnels under the school…

I really enjoyed the romance between openly bi Selena and newly-out lesbian Finch. Their growth from enemies to friends to girlfriends is a realistic journey that is easy to root for, and Selena’s supportive advice as Finch fumbles through coming out is tender and respectful. In some ways the author prioritizes the romance over the horror plot, so readers will have to decide if a happy ending is worth a plot hole or two. The horror plot is an original take on the deal-with-the-devil or cult narratives, adding in an insightful element of gradual, insidious manipulation. The setting also contributes a Gothic atmosphere, complete with creepy forest, bleak lighthouse, and dank tunnels. In short, while some plot elements could be stronger, this female-centered ghost story compellingly asks what it’s worth losing to find the power and belonging you’ve always wanted.

A worthy addition to the realm of progressive horror novels, this is a good read for those who loved Plain Bad Heroines or other queer love stories where things go bump in the night.

This title is also available on Overdrive.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

One of Sarah Gailey’s older works (relatively speaking – after this 2019 volume came a flurry of hits including 2020’s Upright Women Wanted and 2021’s The Echo Wife), Magic for Liars is a feminist gumshoe detective story set in the American version of Harry Potter’s world. While highly original, the story pays homage to a number of tropes: magic abounds in an impossible high school (complete with a boy convinced he’s the Chosen One of prophecy), our cynical narrator spends lots of time brooding in bars even while investigating a grisly murder that has shocked the community, and two estranged sisters forced together must finally face what has divided them. Best of all, a sapphic thread runs through the characters – women loving women is common and routine in this world, though it may have been a motive for murder…

Ivy Gamble is almost successful as a private investigator. She’s almost got a handle on her drinking. And she’s almost definitely not jealous of her magically-gifted sister Tabitha. When a suspicious death rocks the school where Tabitha is a professor of Theoretical Magic, Ivy is called in to investigate. Out of her depth in the investigation and in the world of magic, Ivy quickly starts to question everything she thought she knew about magic, the world, her sister, and herself.

Gailey has created such a unique character in Ivy – she’s a mix of Stephanie Plum’s flawed detective and Petunia Evans Dursley’s bitter resentment, but fully lucid of her flaws, and able to grow, change, and face her mistakes. Tabitha, meanwhile, has the charm of Lily Evans and the haughty emotional distance of Minerva McGonagall (if either of those icons had been lesbians) but the obsessive, secretive temperament of Severus Snape. Spoilers — this is a risky combination. I don’t know that I was totally convinced by the book as a whole — between the mystery, the sibling tension, the high school drama, facing personal demons, AND an unlikely romance, it seemed like the book was trying to do too much and didn’t do each component full justice — but as a reinvention of classic tropes it’s very clever and original, and the normalization of queer identities is very refreshing.

More than that, the pace of the book was addictive, and ended in a way that leaves the reader wondering whether the book was supposed to be part of a bigger, as yet unfinished, story. Will Ivy ever get a sequel to continue her journey? Only time will tell; for now I do recommend this book to all those who enjoy books with gumshoe murder mysteries, high school drama, estranged siblings, bizarre modern magic, and all the dark sides of love.

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring-Blake

How do you make peace with your past? In Delilah Green’s case, the answer is to fall in love with the last person she’d have expected – an experience which gives her a whole new perspective on everything, including her most painful memories. Give love a chance in the Cinderella-like (complete with evil stepmother and second chances) Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring-Blake.

After Delilah’s father died, Delilah was left in the care of her cold stepmother Isobel and her distant stepsister Astrid, who never made her feel welcome or wanted. She’s been living in New York, chasing her dream of being a photographer and having a string of one-night-stands to keep her company. Then Astrid gets engaged, and hires Delilah to photograph the wedding. When she arrives, Delilah is blindsided by her attraction to Astrid’s best friend Claire, now a single mom running a bookstore and struggling to trust her unreliable ex. As the wedding draws closer, so do Delilah and Claire – but the wounds from their pasts are never far away…

This is a very steamy romance, but it’s well-balanced with character development, real emotions, and healing from childhood trauma. Claire in particular is a well-rounded and relatable character, as is her daughter Ruby, in a refreshing portrayal of single motherhood and complex co-parenting. As for Delilah, readers will be just as invested in her fragile relationship with stepsister Astrid as in her sweet romance with Claire.

Recommended for fans of Roan Parrish, Kris Ripper, and other queer romance authors who show the depth of emotions and growth that goes into crafting a happily-ever-after.

Filling Gaps: expanding our LGBTQ music offerings

When ordering music CDs, I aim to have something for everyone so that our collection represents our whole community. Lately I’ve been working on expanding our LGBTQ CDs with these hidden gems that may have been overlooked when they were first released. If you’re looking for a new dance, pop, or singer-songwriter obsession, look no farther than these underground classics. (And if you’re disappointed Lil Nas X isn’t on this list, I’m still waiting for a physical CD to be released, but never fear – Montero is available now on our Freegal digital music service! It’s free to log in with your library card and PIN number, so don’t miss out on all the great offerings there as well.)

If I Could Make it Go Quiet is the third album by Girl in Red, the musical project of Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven. Her passionate following considers her a prominent voice of lesbian and sapphic women in music. She has an indie pop sound and has focused primarily on songs about romance and mental health; this album apparently focuses on the idea that there are things you’d like to say to others but say only to yourself instead.

 

Chris by Christine and the Queens is the sophomore album from Christine and the Queens, alter ego of French singer Heloise Letissier. It was released in both English and French versions (ours is only the English version) and is a defiant, though emotionally nuanced, exploration of Letissier’s identity as a queer feminist woman claiming her feelings of power.

 

About U is the debut album by Muna, another iconic group for lesbian and sapphic women, well-known for tracks like I Know a Place. It’s pop vibe is dark and 80s-inspired, using strong hooks and lyrical melodies to trace life’s sometime’s dramatic ups and downs. Muna as a band portrays real life experiences of its LA-based trio of LGBTQ women and doesn’t shy away from political statements.

 

Bold by Mary Lambert is a pop album by the honest, unapologetic singer featured on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ famous track Same Love – an unprecedented song explicitly arguing for marriage equality which also acted as a major break in Lambert’s career. She later used it to develop her own song She Keeps Me Warm. Bold is her third EP, bursting with bright, danceable tracks.

 

99.9% by Kaytranada is the highly-rated 2016 debut album for the gay Haitian-Canadian producer and DJ, also known as Louis Kevin Celestin from Montreal. All 15 songs on the R&B album were written by the artist, and almost all were produced by him as well. A wide range of guest artists appear on the tracks, and Kaytranada also included samples of several other works in his tracks.

 

Choreography by Bright Light Bright Light is an energetic dance album by the Welsh-born, NYC-based artist (also known as Rod Thomas) which features collaborations with Elton John, Alan Cumming, and the Scissor Sisters. Bright Light Bright Light’s work has been called electropop, house, or nu-disco, and this album is just a tiny sampling of the performer’s prolific body of work.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Morgan Rogers has created a masterful debut novel full of raw emotion and expressive language. Honey Girl is a coming-of age novel that deals with tough topics that many adults may find themselves dealing with today.

Grace Porter is confused. A 28-year-old woman who recently completed her PhD in astronomy, Grace and her friends are in Las Vegas to celebrate her major achievement. What no one expects is for Grace to get incredibly drunk and marry a woman whose name she doesn’t know. She wakes up the next morning with vague memories of what happened the night before, remembering that she got married to a mystery woman who she wants to know better. Armed with friends who support her no matter what, Grace goes back home to deal with the aftermath.

Back home with her friends, Grace struggles with her mental health, with her existing relationships with her family and friends, and with what she wants to do with her career. Hitting barrier after barrier as Grace works to get a job in her field, she is unable to find solace in her father who grows increasingly frustrated with Grace’s ability to adhere to her established life plan. Fed up and exhausted with her current life, Grace decides to search for the person who she believes may hold the answers: her mystery wife. Traveling across the country, Grace finally meets her wife and is forced to deal with all of the conflicting emotions raging inside. Grace cannot outrun reality though and even though she finds some escape with her wife, she must find a way to balance her fears, her new love, her career, and her family.

This book is also available in the following formats:

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Young adult fiction hardly ever fails me. When I need a pick-me up read, I can generally find one in the young adult section with little effort. My latest read came recommended by another librarian, so I knew I would most likely enjoy it and it didn’t disappoint!

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is so many things: a romance, an underdog story, friends becoming lovers, but most of all it is full of yearning. Liz Lighty has grown up believing that she is never enough. She’s awkward, poor, black, and doesn’t fit in with the rich and prom-obsessed kids who go to her high school. Liz isn’t what people expect her to be in her tiny midwestern town of Campbell, Indiana, but she has always known that she has an escape. Liz plans on getting out of this super small town to attend Pennington College to play in their orchestra. Eventually she wants to become a doctor in order to treat patients who have the same life-threatening condition that killed her mom and is ravaging her younger brother.

Liz’s senior year is sailing by and the world finally seems to be on her side. All of that comes crashing down when Liz learns that the financial aid and scholarship she was depending on in order to go to college falls through. She is $10,000 short and has no idea how she will get the money to cover the cost and let her keep her Pennington hopes alive. Knowing that her grandparents would sell their house to support her, Liz is desperate to find a solution on her own.

The solution she finds? She must win prom queen. Why? Her school awards a scholarship to the prom king and queen. The very last thing that Liz wants to do is campaign to be prom queen, but with no other options, she reluctantly turns to her friends to help her win. Her high school’s competition for prom court is elaborate: full of mandatory public events, social media popularity, and fellow contestants willing to do whatever it takes to sabotage Liz so they will win. With her friends by her side, Liz struggles to get over her fear of being the center of attention in order to get herself to Pennington.

At the first prom meeting, Liz meets a new student who rocks her whole world. Mack does not fit into the cookie cutter mold that Campbell tries to put their students in: she’s hilarious, smart, and different enough to repeatedly catch Liz’s eye. The only downfall to Liz is that she is also running for queen. The closer the two get, the more Mack wonders if their relationship will keep her from getting to Pennington. What is she willing to risk?

This book is also available in the following formats:

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth

I think I’ve already mentioned that Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books. The strong female lead, the fairly unconventional take on romance, the theme of independence all really resonate with me as a reader. I’ve also mentioned that I was trying this fall to read more spooky books to get into the spirit of the season. One such book I read was Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth. I discovered it by chance on the homepage of the library catalog as one of the new books being ordered for the collection, and after reading the synopsis I was hooked. It has similar themes: lots of female characters, unusual and unconventional romances, and a strong theme of struggling for independence.

The book is told in alternating perspectives: first, in 1902, you hear the story of a girls’ boarding school as it’s rocked by a series of grisly deaths, all revolving around a mysterious and inflammatory book. Then, you’re transported to the early 2000s as Hollywood discovers the story of the cursed boarding school and starts to make a movie about it. The movie seeks to capture the horror of the original 1902 events, but succeeds too well as bizarre and frightening events start to happen on set. Caught in the middle are a number of fascinating characters – in 1902, the headmistress Libbie and her lover Alex strive to understand and overcome the boarding school’s sinister atmosphere, and they fail to protect several of their students including Flo and Clara, a bold pair of lovers, and ghostly Eleanor Faderman, who idolizes them. In the modern story, wunderkind writer Merritt, lesbian star Harper, and Audrey, daughter of an iconic scream queen, find themselves thrown together both in fear and mutual attraction as they work on the film.

The appeal of the book is partly its strong characters, complicated and fairly relatable, and partly its wry writing style. Like Jane Eyre, the narrator addresses the reader directly to tell the story (“Reader, I married him”, etc.), and the author really leans into the style, adding lots of footnotes and asides during the narrative. While it’s a fairly thick volume, with lots of story to tell at both points in history, I found that I kept reading without fatigue because of the tense atmosphere and slow-burn action. Typical of horror-style stories, you’re filled with an increasing sense of dread that something awful is going to happen. However (spoiler alert), I was surprised and a bit disappointed that while the 1902 story was full of horrible things happening, and its ending was decently grim, the modern story had a more ambivalent ending, neither grim nor hopeful. I was left with a sense of lingering questions and an uncertain future. As far as I was concerned, the last page could have read The End? (spoiler alert: it didn’t.)

Here’s my theory as to why that is: the underlying theme of both stories is resistance to oppressive norms, expressed particularly in the form of lesbian relationships. This book and its characters are entirely, staggeringly, defiantly sapphic, which comes with certain realities. My guess is the 1902 story had to end grimly, because the outlook for independent women and lesbian love at that time was decently grim. In the modern era, however, things aren’t so final. There’s more freedom and acceptance, but sexism and homophobia still exist, making for an uncertain, cloudy outlook. Therefore, the modern characters couldn’t be said to have completely defeated the curse, but they stand stronger against it. Of course, there’s a lot more going on in the book, especially as the characters struggled for independence in various ways. Some wanted to be independent of everyone, some wanted to be independent from their parents or their past, some wanted to be independent from society’s rules, and some wanted to be independent from their fame. (Their success at achieving independence predictably varied.) Altogether, I thought this was a thought-provoking, engaging book with lots of thrills and chills.

If you like historical fiction, horror fiction, dramedies, or feminist histories, I recommend you try this book. (Although, if you’re afraid of wasps, bees, and yellow jackets, you might want to think twice. They’re EVERYWHERE.)