25+ Years of Tegan and Sara

Like most aging people I’m starting to realize just how long my favorite artists have been around. For example the iconic band Tegan and Sara have been making music since 1995, recording on cassette tapes. If you don’t know them, Canadian twins Tegan and Sara Quin have been vitally important to building a more mainstream LGBTQ music scene. Their music has the earworm elements of pop music and an unapologetically sapphic core – and recently they’ve grown more reflective about their public image.

Their early music, starting in about 2002, quickly gained popularity in Canada and with teen listeners, featuring albums The Con and Sainthood. Both albums were generally acclaimed as their sound both matured and experimented. It was the seventh album that was perhaps the most successful, and the one I know best: Heartthrob in 2013, followed by Love You to Death in 2016. This is where their indie pop sound really hit its stride with songs like Boyfriend and Closer, featuring danceable beats mixed with melancholy feelings. Incidentally this is also where I heard I’m Not Your Hero, whose hook will forever live in my head rent-free: “I’m not their hero / but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave”.

This is a band that doesn’t forget its past: in 2017 their big tour and promotion was celebrating 10 years since the release of The Con (including the creation of an album of other artists’ versions called The Con X: Covers) and in 2019 they released Hey I’m Just Like You, which shares recordings of songs they initially wrote as teenagers. The influence of rock and punk bands like Nirvana, Hole, or the Smashing Pumpkins is more apparent here, and the album as a whole reads more pop-punk than their more recent compositions. In the same spirit they made an all-acoustic version of their 2004 album, So Jealous, which was released as Still Jealous in February.

But the big news of recent years was the release of High School, a memoir about their experiences coming-of-age, which was adapted into a TV series on Amazon Freevee. Viewers are offered a glimpse into a teenager’s life in the early 2000s including the pains of exploring your sexuality and deciding who you want to be. This is definitely a band for you if you’re someone into memoir, legacy, and writing your own history. They’re also politically engaged, passionate activists for causes including cancer research and LGBTQ rights.

This year they released the all-new Crybaby with a new record label. Written during the pandemic, this is the album that nearly wasn’t: originally they were recording standalone singles I Can’t Grow Up and All I Wanted, but were inspired to spin the two into a whole album — luckily for all of us that need more T&S in our lives.

If you like indie music, are a longtime fan, or want exposure to more LGBTQ music artists, definitely listen to some Tegan and Sara today.

House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson

If you like Dracula, Rebecca, Mexican Gothic, Plain Bad Heroines, or Priory of the Orange Tree, you’ll probably want to read House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson. This sapphic take on vampire lore is a lush, gory, hedonistic roller coaster with a dash of social commentary to boot, and it will definitely take your breath away.

Marion Shaw’s world is strictly divided — there’s North and South, haves and have-nots. She has always been strictly in the “have-nots” camp, struggling to survive in the slums of Prane, a city in the South. When she gets the chance for a different life, she jumps for it. The only people who move from South to North, from poor to rich, are the bloodmaids: young women (always young, always women) who are employed specifically so their wealthy patrons can drain and drink their blood to protect their health. In exchange, bloodmaids get generous pensions at the end of their tenure. Marion is lucky enough to be employed by the noble House of Hunger, to bleed for the Countess Lisavet, who is beautiful, enigmatic, alluring… and desperately in need of blood to prop up her failing health. Even as Marion falls hard (and bleeds hard) for her magnetic employer, she can’t deny the signs that something is wrong; household members are disappearing, the bloodmaids are becoming ill to the point of madness, and Lisavet keeps disappearing somewhere at night. If Marion doesn’t figure out what’s going on soon, she’ll lose more than a little blood in the House of Hunger.

I loved that this is a version of the vampire story that blurs the line between monster and victim — Marion is definitely no damsel in distress, and takes action for herself, even to the point of crossing moral lines where need be. Her and Lisavet’s queerness is also clear and unapologetic, refreshingly, but unfortunately the book is still not particularly sex-positive. The lush worldbuilding of the novel — while very atmospheric — is mostly about showing how decadent and corrupt the nobility is, wallowing in every kind of vice, which ends up making any sexuality in the book feel  hedonistic and distasteful, lumped in with the rampant and destructive drug use.

What is very effective about that, however, is the social commentary underlying it; the reader cannot help but come away thinking about how much wealth is wasted on these kinds of activities while workers like Marion can barely make ends meet to survive. It’s an alternate universe version of the Gilded Age, primed for unions, labor laws, and a drastic redistribution of wealth. Pair that unique premise with a tight, fast-moving plot and you’ve got yourself a deeply compelling story.

So if you like your gothic novels bloody, intricate, feminist, sensual, and fighting for basic human rights, this book is for you.

The Verifiers by Jane Pek

“If this were a novel, he might simply be a poorly written character. But there are no poorly written people. Only ones you don’t yet understand.”
― Jane Pek, The Verifiers

Jane Pek’s debut novel, The Verifiers, follows the life of Claudia Lin, the youngest of three siblings whose Chinese mother wants her to marry a nice Chinese boy already. Her older brother has a high paying job and can’t understand why Claudia doesn’t simply get a job like he has. Her older sister dislikes Claudia as their mother always treats Claudia like the privileged perfect child. While dealing with everyone’s expectations, Claudia finds herself keeping secrets that would shock them. First of all, Claudia prefers girls over boys. Second, Claudia has a job, but she can’t talk about it as it would be unsuitable for what her family thinks she should be doing.

Claudia works at Veracity, a detective agency that operates out of a Manhattan townhouse. This business is rather unconventional. Veracity is hired by their clients to verify people’s online dating personas. Claudia spends her days chasing down liars and cheaters. As a lifelong reader of mystery novels, she sometimes finds herself carried away by the backstories she invents in her head. When one of Claudia’s clients winds up dead, she is told to drop the case. Dead client means no more verifying on her behalf. Claudia can’t let it go. She breaks Veracity’s protocols and decides to investigate what really happened. She doesn’t believe the story she was told, but the more she digs, the more she discovers just how big the web of lies extends. Her client, the circumstances surrounding her death, the myriad dating platforms, her coworkers, and even her own family aren’t being honest with her. Claudia decides to tear down the truths she has been told in order to figure out what she should believe.

This book is also available in the following format:

The Jane Lawless Series: Vital Lies by Ellen Hart

Published in 1993, Vital Lies is the return of Ellen Hart’s restaurateur and sleuth Jane Lawless, featuring a remote island setting, wolves (real and imaginary), an escalating pattern of pranks and sabotage, and a motley cast of suspects. Come for the Murder, She Wrote vibes, and stay for the thoughtful insights into homophobia and coexistence.

Jane’s old friend Leigh has opened up the inn of her dreams – or it would be a dream, if someone wasn’t intent on sabotaging it. There’s been broken glass in the parking lot, gruesome surprises in the guest rooms, and the kitchen has even been ransacked. Leigh is starting to show the strain, just as Jane and Cordelia arrive for a stay. Jane suspects these attacks are deeply serious, a feeling confirmed by a death in the hotel. Now it’s up to Jane to figure out the who, how, and why before anyone else dies. It’s not going to be easy, either, considering the hotel’s current head count includes Leigh’s money-strapped partner Stephen, her quirky aunts, one of whom may have a secret romance brewing, Leigh’s troubled cousin Ruthie, a father and son with skeletons in the closet and a desire to own the inn themselves, a Wiccan practitioner, and her lover Tess, a woman definitely keeping something back — not to mention the new waiter, the cook with his young son always underfoot, and the grouchy handyman. Oh, and her melodramatic best friend Cordelia, stricken with an apparently dreadful cold. Jane’s got her work cut out for her on multiple fronts, as a determined and methodical killer gets ever closer…

I’m biased in this case because Murder, She Wrote is one of my comfort TV shows, but I found this very enjoyable. It’s very plot-focused, so we don’t see a lot of Jane’s internal life (though we do get some, including more information about her late partner Christine) and it’s more like a classic Golden Era whodunit or a stage play murder mystery. At the same time, there’s also honest portrayals of life as an LGBTQ person including parental rejection AND, more importantly, queer joy. After the rampant homophobia Jane runs up against in Hallowed Murder, it’s refreshing in this case to see Jane, Cordelia, and Winifred and Tess just living their lives as lesbians unapologetically and mostly unchallenged. I’m especially glad to be reading this series because it reminds me that LGBTQ authors have always existed and have been working for positive representation for a long time.

For me it falls in the cozy genre (which I don’t like quite as much), but book 2 in the Jane Lawless series still gets my thumbs-up, and you may like it too if you’re a fan of: Murder She Wrote, country house murder mysteries, vintage LGBTQ reads, or determined amateur sleuths unearthing long-buried secrets.

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!

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.