Interview with a Queer Reader: Natalie Cannon Talks KUSHIEL’S DART, Gay Sherlock and Watson, Ace Romance Novels, and More!

natalie-cannonNatalie Cannon is a person of many hats: writer, editor, and reader for three. She writes urban fantasy short stories for her MFA Fairleigh Dickinson University and her first short story is going to be published in Ink & Locket’s Warrior anthology! She also copyedits everything from YA novels to yard sale guidebooks. She said her “personal appetite for books is an endless bi space void.” She loves reading and thinking about storytelling and thinks of them as her own form of magic. You can find her on Twitter @NMCannon if any of these shenanigans interest you. She tweets a lot about diverse books, intersectional feminism, writing, and smashing the patriarchy. (Uh, who wouldn’t want to hear about that?)

Here’s a peek into Natalie’s queer reading habits, where she talks about finding queer subtext in the original Sherlock Holmes books, Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy trilogy featuring a pansexual protagonist, wondering if there are any good asexual romance novels, and more. You should probably pull up your Goodreads or whatever else you use to keep track of the books you want to read, cause Natalie’s about to give you some awesome recs.

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)

Haha, that’s a bit complicated. Growing up, I didn’t know queer identities existed, and my big introduction to the LGBTQ world was through BBC Sherlock. After watching the TV series, I was really excited about all things Holmesian and re-read Doyle’s work with an eye for queer subtext (hint: there’s a lot). I had read Doyle before, but not through that lens. However, whether Holmes and Watson are queer is debatable and unproveable, so I’m unsure if those count as queer stories.

kushiels_dartSo, just to make sure I really answer this question, the first book I ever picked up knowing what queerness was and actively seeking out queer lit was Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. Basically, Phédre, a biracial, pansexual woman, becomes a courtesan spy and tears down entire regimes and regicide plots with her monk boyfriend. It’s excellent.

What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?

OOO, this will be difficult. Hmmm….Since I mentioned Kushiel’s Dart, I have to recommend the whole series, Kushiel’s Legacy. This consists of two trilogies, and there’s another trilogy after that for those who don’t want to leave Carey’s world behind (I mean, why would you, it’s expertly crafted, beautiful, and devastatingly thrilling).

Second, I’d have to say If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo because it’s so, so fantastic. Trans girl Amanda decides to switch high schools after she transitions, hoping for a fresh start. But this is small town, Deep South, and Amanda struggles to keep her secrets and have a normal high school life. This is a brilliant read for those looking for a friendly introduction to what being trans is like and an affirmation for those who live it already.

shallow-gravesThird, Kali Wallace’s Shallow Graves. It’s effortlessly diverse, which means the author put in a lot of work. Breezy goes to a party and wakes up as a member of the undead. If that doesn’t raise enough questions, I don’t know what else will. I read this in October to scare myself, and it worked.

Last, a classic: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. It just about squeezed all the blood out of my heart.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

girl-friends-l0Ah, so this will reveal my true nerd, but the books that most reflect back my own experience, to the point of it being kind of creepy, is the Girl Friends manga series by Milk Morinaga. While I wasn’t into fashion or clothes during high school, the characters’ experience of awkwardly, confusingly, and desperately falling in love with their best friend is my story too.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

I’m sure the instant I say something, someone will post a listicle with this exact thing. Recently though, I’ve been wondering if there’s any asexual romance novels. As in, romance novels that feature an asexual protagonist. That sounds like an oxymoron, but here me out: ace people not only being present, but being loved. Wild idea, I know, but maybe someone has published that somewhere.

One of the perks of being a writer is that I can write the stories I think are missing. If no one posts a listicle, I claim my own prompt.

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Bookstores with good signage are also wonderful, but free wifi or a good data plan get me where I want more often than not. I read a lot of articles with book recommendations, and I keep track of the ones I want to read through GoodReads. GR also will suggest books based on my past reads, and the lists are stupendous. With the Internet, it’s easy to find titles and stories with LGBTQ themes and characters.

However, it’s another adventure to actually lay hands on the digital or physical copy of the books I want. I walk over to my local library 90% of the time and search those stacks until either I find what I’m looking for or something equally gay. Sometimes that is easy. Sometimes that is difficult. Inter-library loan is a lifesaver.

The other 10% of the time, I purchase the book. I try to do this through my local bookstores, but more often then not I have to go online.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? Why or why not?

I don’t have a strict community of LGBTQ readers, but more of an informal, freeform group of friends and family. My partner and I talk about books constantly. When friends or family are curious about queerness, they come to me, and I tell them to read such-and-such book to grow their understanding and empathy.

Online, I participate in Twitter’s lively writing community with #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #ownvoices, and #YAlit. Young Adult as a genre is experiencing a huge push towards diversity right now, and I find books, people, articles, and affirmation aplenty there. Plus this blog! It was on it for ten minutes and I came away with ten books I wanted to read!

Thank you for the lovely interview and happy reading, everybody!

Thank you Natalie for your lovely in-depth answers!

                                                                                                                                                                                               

Interview with a Queer Reader is a series where I talk to everyday LGBTQ2IA+ readers just like you about all the queer book things. If you’re interested in participating, send me an email at stepaniukcasey@gmail.com. You can do the interview via email, Skype, or in person if you’re in the Vancouver area. Happy queer reading!

Posted in Black, comics, Fantasy, Fiction, Interview with a Queer Reader, mystery, Trans, Trans Feminine | Leave a comment

Four Cozy Queer Canadian Comfort Reads

I don’t know about you, but these days I’m in need of some serious self-care, which for me and I’m sure many of you, means reading comfort books. You know, fluffy books, books that you make you feel like you’ve been wrapped in a big blanket, books that are the literary equivalent of a cupcake or a big dollop of mashed potatoes. Here are some options of the queer and Canadian variety for your escapist pleasure. There’s no dark stuff in any of these, or if there is it’s quite minimal.

band vs band coverImagine a comic that spans the L, G, B, and T parts of the rainbow and is the best possible combination between the Pussy Cat Dolls and Archie and you’ll have something of an idea of what Band Vs. Band by Kathleen Jacques is. This comic could not be more fun if it tried: Band Vs. Band is up-beat, adorable, femme-centric, and hella queer. You can probably tell from the name that it’s about band rivalry: girl bands to be exact, both led by femmes of very different varieties. Band Vs. Band is available in one print volume so far as well as an updating web comic. Honey Hart is the leader of The Candy Hearts and she couldn’t be more different from Turpentine and her band The Sourballs. Pretty much all you need to know about the bands’ members and their music is in their names. What you’ll also want to that Honey and Turpentine’s frenemy relationship is a slow, slow burn romance and that this comic is laugh-out-loud funny. Did I mention the gorgeous, retro-inspired blue and red-pink drawings?

landing-by-emma-donoghue_5790661I’ve talked about Landing by Emma Donoghue in many different corners of the internet and I’m gonna talk about it again here because I just love it so much. People, it is everything that is good about romantic comedies, but in book form with queer and POC characters! It’s a book about the kinds of people you know, in situations you can relate to, in places you recognize, but Donoghue’s talents for dialogue, characterization, and old-fashioned storytelling make this opposites-attract story exceptional. Jude is a twenty-five year old archivist born, raised, and still living in a small town in Southwestern Ontario; Síle is a thirty-nine year old Indo-Irish flight attendant from Dublin who considers herself a citizen of the world.  The funny thing is, Jude is really an eighty-year-old in disguise, whereas Síle still has the stamina of an eighteen-year-old. Jude is a rural butch, and Síle is an urban femme. Can they overcome these obstacles to be together? Well of course they can, but the journey there is pretty awesome, and hilarious and full of side characters that I loved just as much as the main ones.

100 crushes100 Crushes by Elisha Lim is essentially a long, beautifully illustrated love letter to queer and trans people of colour. What is not to love about that? It’s a compilation of comics that Lim has worked on over five years. It starts off with a section about their own crushes, where they talk about and draw their own real-life crushes and historical legends. Basically they’re trying to figure out this: “How do you explain the moment when you just get knocked out by someone? How do you describe that effect, when you just think, whoa, baby.” Later it moves into pieces that are kind of portraits of people Lim has encountered all over the world on their travels. In the text, people speak in their own words about their personal stories, along with a lot of interesting and complex thoughts about racial, sexual, and gender identities and words. Then of course there are Lim’s totally stunning, gorgeous illustrations. So much of this book is frankly adorable, but there is also such a depth in what Lim and the people they’re quoting are doing that it makes for a heart-warming, affirming read that is also super smart. It’s great to read slowly to savour each story.

dontbangthebarista1Have you ever wished you could read a 21st century queer story that had everything you loved about 50s lesbian pulp and none of the horrible stuff? Don’t Bang the Barista by Leigh Matthews is your answer. I had so much fun reading this book, which is the sexy drama-filled romp you might expect given its pulp inspiration but also smart and funny and so true to its East Van roots. Like Landing, it’s kind of like reading about the queer people in your life but everyone is a bit funnier and hotter and the drama is a little more over the top. So the book is about British ex-pat, Kate, living in Vancouver, trying to sort out her sorry love life.  She’s still heart-broken over her ex, but she’s pining after Hanna, the barista at the coffee shop she and her friend Cass frequent. When it seems like something might actually take off with Hanna, though, things start to get weird with Kate and Cass, who is the tough-girl lady killer type. Who really has a crush on who? And who is going to hook up and how? You’ll have to read to find out.

Bonus! Did you enjoy this review or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched last month! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up. I’m currently at $54 a month, working towards my next goal of $75!

 

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Canadian, comics, Emma Donoghue, femme, Fiction, Graphic, Lesbian, Queer, Romance, Rural, South Asian, Toronto, Trans, Trans Masculine, Vancouver | Leave a comment

A Quiet, Unassuming Book of SMALL BEAUTY: A Review of jia qing wilson-yang’s Debut Novel

small-beauty_cover_rgbDon’t you just love when a book that you had little or no expectations for blows you away? This is what happened to me with Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang.

I first heard of this book when it won an honour of distinction last year from the Writer’s Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize for emerging LGBT writers. The jury of the prize had this to say: “A concise jewel weaving in and out of time, wilson-yang’s Small Beauty is a gorgeous debut. ” So I guess I had an idea that it was a good book. But I really had no idea how good.

Small Beauty is a quiet, meditative, introspective book. I read a lot of it when I was in the bath, and that seemed like the perfect place. The novel invites you to be in that kind of space, because that’s exactly where the main character Mei is. Mei is a young, queer, mixed-race trans woman dealing with some big stuff: her cousin—who was like her brother—recently passed away and now she has to deal with all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including leaving the big city she lives in and going to the small town where her cousin and aunt (who had passed away previously) used to live, living in the house she has now inherited. (The locations are interesting, in that as far as I can remember, they’re unnamed, but the big city is quite clearly a stand-in for Toronto and the small town is obviously also in Southern Ontario).

While Mei is at her cousin’s house, she is slowly unravelling some of the details of his and her aunt’s life, including unearthing some secrets that show she’s not the only queer person in the family. She spends a lot of time alone, and this space allows her a lot of time to think about herself and her family, including her aunt and cousin as well as her mom who has left Canada to go back to China. She especially reflects on being trans and on having Chinese and white ancestry. Flashbacks also take us to her city life, where scenes with her friend Connie, who’s also trans and Chinese, were some of my favourite in the book.

If I had only one word to describe this book, it would be authentic. I don’t mean authentic in that the author shares gender and racial identities with the main character, although it is significant to have trans people of colour especially telling their own stories. It’s more that every moment of this novel felt like real life, in a way that felt both unremarkable and extraordinary at the same time. I really loved how wilson-yang doesn’t explain anything to her readers, instead just baring Mei’s life for us as if every detail were just … normal. Cis white straight dudes get their stories told like this all the time and it was so refreshing to see it done with a character like Mei. From everything from little things like how exactly new characters are related to the protagonist to details about Chinese food to Mandarin words to the big and small occurrences of transmisogny Mei has to contend with, wilson-yang presents Mei’s life just as it is, no explanations necessary.

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jia qing wilson-yang, image via plenitudemagazine.ca

Characters are likewise allowed to exist as real people, some likable, others unlikable, everyone with their flaws. Even one character who initially appears to be family—in more ways than one—who ends up being a TERF (a transmisogynist “feminist” who thinks trans women aren’t women) isn’t an unequivocal villain. Mei’s cousin Sandy, an all-round great guy, has some issues that he lets out in ways that are not cool.

All this to say: Small Beauty is a quiet, unassuming book won me over so hard. Oh, and yes, there is significance to the geese on the cover, in addition to them looking very pretty and Canadian. You should all read this book.

(If you like the sound of this book, you should check out my other post on Six Canadian Trans Women Writers You Should Know, where I featured jia qing wilson-yang).

[Trigger warning: one scene of transphobic physical assault and some transmisogynist so-called feminist rhetoric]

Bonus! Did you enjoy this review or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched last month! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up. I’m currently at $46 a month, which is so close to my goal of $50!

Posted in Asian, Fiction, Toronto, Trans, Trans Feminine | Tagged | 5 Comments

Four Queer Black Canadian Women Writers You Should Be Reading for Black History Month

It’s February, and that means it’s Black History Month! Check out these four queer Black Canadian women authors whose books you should definitely have on your shelves.

Dionne Brand

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It’s no exaggeration to say that Dionne Brand is a superstar and legend in the Canadian literary scene. The author of at least seven books of poetry, three novels, and two books of non-fiction, Brand is a born writer and a poet in particular. Honestly the way she writes even her fiction and non-fiction is so beautiful I imagine it would be nice to read things like her grocery and to-do lists. She was Toronto’s poet laureate from 2009 to 2012, a much deserved and fitting position especially given that so many of her characters are Torontonians. Brand often explores the complexities of Black and other people of colour’s—most of them queer—lives in Toronto and sometimes in Brand’s native Trinidad. In Another Place, Not Here follows two Black Trinidadian star-crossed women lovers between Canada and the Caribbean, touching on anti-racist and anti-capitalist activism and diasporic life as well as queer relationships and erotics. Even if you don’t know what Brand is talking about, I promise the beauty of her writing will win you over. Here’s a small slice of her poetic fiction:

I sink into Verlia and let she flesh swallow me up. I devour she. She open me up like any morning. Limp, limp and rain light, soft to the marrow.

Suzette Mayr

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I only recently read my first book by Calgary fiction writer and academic Suzette Mayr, who’s got mixed Afro-Caribbean and German background. Venous Hum is a satire set in Calgary full of wacky stuff like vegetarian vampires, extramarital affairs, and high school reunions, while the African-Canadian mixed race lesbian main character Lai Fun (named because her father loves the Chinese noodle of the same name) stumbles through her late thirties. It’s weird, and really funny. Mayr’s most recent novel is Monocerous, which has won and been nominated for lots of awards like the 2012 ReLit Award, the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Award, and more! It’s a tragicomic story about the aftermath of the suicide of a 17-year-old bullied gay boy and how his death affects everyone around him. Her previous novels are The Widows and Moon Honey—don’t you just love her unique, inventive book titles?—are about topics as diverse as three older women deciding to go over Niagara Falls in a bright orange space-age barrel and white lovers magically waking up Black. Hers is fiction to read if you are looking for a new take on magical realism and are bored of all the same-old, same-old tales about lesbian relationships. Her next book is due out later this year, and is called Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall.

Nalo Hopkinson

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Nalo Hopkinson is hands down one of my favourite authors. Like Dionne Brand, she’s originally from Trinidad, but she works in a very different space: science fiction, fantasy, and folk tales. She’s Octavia Butler’s lesser-known writer twin, writing fiction just as wildly inventive and, frankly, genius as Butler. Since her first novel in 1998, Brown Girl in the Ring—set in post-apocalyptic Toronto, Hopkinson has gone on to put out some of the best fiction that I’ve ever read. I personally think both of her short story collections Skin Folk and Falling in Love with Hominids are the very best work she’s done, but her novels such as The Salt Roads and Sister Mine are also excellent and ranging from Afro-Caribbean mythological urban fantasy set in Toronto and magical historical tales of Black queer women in different eras and places in the world. In her short stories you’ll find topics like future sex toys who have a life of their own, lesbian/genderqueer erotica set in a brothel, body swapping, zombies who only morph when they hit puberty, and time-travelling art historians taking over the bodies of children. If you haven’t been reading Hopkinson and you like speculative fiction, you are seriously missing out!

Makeda Silvera

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Makeda Silvera is a Toronto-based Jamaican-Canadian literary fiction writer and editor, most notably editing the ground-breaking anthology Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology which came out back in 1991 and was nominated for a Stonewall Book Award. Piece of My Heart was published by the press Makeda Silvera and artist Stephanie Martin co-founded in response to mainstream publishing’s racist and sexist practices: it was the first Canadian press devoted to publishing Black women and women of colour. In the 15 years the press ran, it published over 50 books. Previous to Piece of My Heart, Silvera had released two books of her own, one a work of oral history with Caribbean domestic workers (Silenced) and the other a collection of short stories called Remembering G. Also the author of Her Head a Village & Other Stories, Silvera’s most recent fiction is The Heart Does Not Bend, a novel about mothers and daughters in a Jamaican family. Spanning generations and countries—Jamaica and Canada—The Heart Does Not Bend is both a queer love story and an intergenerational saga of a family led by a matriarch whose younger members must rebel against in order to live their own lives.

Bonus! Did you enjoy this post or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched four weeks ago! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up. I’m currently at $45 a month, which is so close to my goal of $50!

Posted in Black, Canadian, Caribbean, Dionne Brand, Fantasy, Fiction, Lesbian, Nalo Hopkinson, paranormal, Poetry, Postcolonial, Queer, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Toronto | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Introducing “Interview with a Queer Reader” and A Recap of My First Month on Patreon

It’s the first of February, which means it’s been a whole month since I first launched a Patreon account for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian! It’s been, in my opinion, really successful so far, most of all because the many, many kind messages of appreciation and thanks that I’ve gotten from readers and authors. It made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside! So thanks to not only the lovely people who’ve signed up to be patrons, but also to everyone who wrote thoughtful, generous things about my work on the blog and who shared the various social media posts I made with the announcement of the Patreon. So far I’ve got 17 patrons and am at $45 a month!! My goal to make doing the extra posts and the work of sending out rewards sustainable is $50 a month, so I am really close already after only a month!

In case this is the first you’re hearing about this whole Patreon thing, it’s an online platform where online creators can provide rewards for their readers/etc. and those readers can support the creator by giving monthly contributions. Many people are giving just a dollar a month, and that is totally great! You can check out my Patreon page for more details on specific rewards for people contributing at different levels (and a video I made talking about the Patreon launch, which should be encouraging to anyone else who thinks they suck at making videos!).

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This is kind of an irrelevant photo, but I thought you all would appreciate this picture of all the books I own by Arsenal Pulp Press–a great queer publisher based in Vancouver.

I’ll give you a quick rundown here of rewards too. The three big rewards are entries in a monthly draw to win a free queer book and have it mailed to you (Canada and the US only, sorry other folks!), entries in a monthly draw to have me pick a book recommendation just for you and send it to you on a postcard, and a guaranteed spot in my upcoming “Interview with a Queer Reader” series. If you’re interested in the book recommendations, it’s an especially good deal right now since there is only one person currently signed up at that level! Your odds are very good.

I’ve been preparing the “Interview with a Queer Reader” series questions, and thought I’d give you all a scoop of the kinds of things I’m going to be talking to people about:

  • What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)
  • What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?
  • Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?
  • Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?
  • How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?
  • Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? Why or why not?

Let me know if there are other things you’d like to know about your fellow queer readers! And if you’re not a patron but are also interested in participating, send me an email at stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com. I’d love to talk queer reading with you!

I just sent did the draw for the first winner of a free queer book and sent them a photo of the options. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the books that are available. Which one would you pick?

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Finally, I want to thank each and every patron who’s signed up so far to support Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. You wonderful folks are: Danika, Leigh, Anna Marie, Kim, Jane, Jakelene, Emmet, Madeline, Heather, Rhiannon, Carla, Naz, Laurita, Kirsten, Ashleah, Jason, and Jillian!

Thanks to everyone for your support and I hope you’ve been enjoying the extra posts this month, especially this really popular post on Six Canadian Trans Women Writers You Should Know, a review of Suzette Mayr’s book Venous Hum (a satire of race, sexual identity, and high school reunions), and a list of Nine Muslim Canadian Authors You Should Read (many are also LGBTQ+) in response to the Islamophobic shooting in Quebec City.

Posted in Interview with a Queer Reader, Patreon | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Nine Muslim Canadian Writers You Should Read

When I heard about the racist Islamophobic hate crime committed by a white nationalist in Quebec City on Sunday January 29th, I was disgusted and distressed like I’m sure all of you were. I wondered what I could do. I wrote to the Minister of Immigration at Minister@cic.gc.ca voicing my concern and asking for 1) the refugee cap to be removed and 2) the end of the safe third country agreement in order to help Canada offset the US’s horrific travel ban for certain Muslim countries. (You should too! It only takes a few minutes). You can also email or phone your MP; look here for contact information for them. Afterwards, my mind turned to books as it always does and I thought what better time to be reading Muslim Canadian authors and listening to their voices. Here are some of the writers I knew of before and some new ones discovered through research. Many of the people listed below are also LGBTQ+. I’m so excited about the authors who are new to me! Please add any other suggestions you have in the comments.

Ishara Deen

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I couldn’t for the life of me find a picture of Ishara Deen. But her book cover is sweet.

Ishara Deen just published the first book in what I’m sure is going to be a longstanding YA series about a teenage Muslim girl detective! It’s called God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems, and it looks super rad, everyone. Bengali-Canadian teen Asiya Haque is the amateur detective who stumbles upon a dead body while on a walk—really, just an innocent walk!—with her crush/friend Michael, who mysteriously goes missing right after. Michael is then accused, leading Asiya to investigate his innocence in spite of the ignorant cops and her strict parents. If you check out Deen’s website and sign up for her newsletter, you can read the first four chapters of the book free! Have a look at this in-depth review by Saadia Faruqi at Blue Minaret. 

Hasan Namir

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Hasan Namir

Hasan Namir is actually already kind of a gay Muslim literary superstar: his debut novel, God in Pink, won the 2016 Lambda Literary award for gay fiction. Kind of a big deal. God in Pink is set in Namir’s native Iraq and adds some much needed underrepresented Arab and Muslim perspectives to that genre. The book is about where cultural and religious politics meet sexuality, and is alternately brutal and sweet as the main character Ramy makes what compromises he can live with in a place where he can never be openly gay. As he says in detail in this interview with Out Magazine, one of Namir’s inspirations for the novel was his own struggle reconciling his faith with his sexuality.

Sajidah K Ali

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Sajidah K Ali

Like Ishara Deen, Sajidah K Ali is another new Canadian YA author you should be excited about. You won’t be alone in your excitement, since Ali’s upcoming book Saints & Misfits was just listed on Entertainment Weekly’s most anticipated 2017 YA novels. CBC is also pumped, as they featured the book in their Spring Book Preview. Have a look at this CBC article for a short excerpt! Dubbed as “My So-Called Life as narrated by a hijabi teenager,” Saints & Misfits follows fifteen-year-old Janna Yusuf, an Arab Indian-American teen. She’s a book nerd and photographer as well as the daughter of the only divorced mom at her mosque. Read the book to see how Janna re-examines her faith and relationships in the wake of an assault.

Ausma Khan

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Ausma Khan

Like Ishara Deen, Ausma Khan’s writes mysteries featuring a Muslim detective, although this one is middle-aged and male. Esa Khattak is an older Canadian police investigator who works on the minority-sensitive cases team with Rachel Getty, a loyal younger detective. The third book in the series is due out later this year: it’s called Among the Ruins, and was also featured on CBC’s Spring Book Preview List. Follow Getty and Khattack as they tackle cases like whether a death was of the accidental falling-off-a-cliff variety or the murder of war criminal from the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 hiding under a fact name (The Unquiet Dead, book 1). If you like smart, complex, well-written mysteries and/or are a fan of Tana French and Walter Mosley, you’ll love Ausma Khan!

Kamal Al-Solaylee

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Kamal Al-Solaylee

Kamal Al-Solaylee is a Toronto journalist who’s published two books to date: the 2016 Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone) and Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, which you might remember as a 2015 Canada Reads choice. Brown was a finalist for the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction, as well as on a slew of best-of-2016 lists by newspapers and magazines. It’s a global, intricately researched—Al-Solaylee visited 10 countries over 2 years—look at the social, political, economic and personal implications of being a brown person today. Intolerable is a memoir of growing up gay in various countries in the Middle East as Al-Solaylee’s family moved around after being forced from their native country of Yemen.

Farzana Doctor

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Farzana Doctor

Farzana Doctor is the Toronto-based queer author so far of three novels: Stealing Nasreen, Six Metres of Pavement, and All Inclusive. Her books just keep getting better!  Doctor is a progressive Dawoodi Bohra Muslim and you can look forward to her writing more explicitly about faith in her upcoming fourth novel! Her second novel Six Metres of Pavement features an Indo-Canadian Muslim protagonist and it is all round a fantastic book about second chances. It follows Ismail Boxwala, a man in his fifties who has never recovered from the worst mistake of his life: forgetting his baby daughter in the car on a hot summer day. It’s a really moving novel about Ismail finding love (and an “adopted” queer daughter) while finally learning to forgive himself.

Irshad Manji

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Irshad Manji

Most well-known for her bestselling, translated-into-many-languages 2003 book The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, author and journalist Irshad Manji also published Allah, Liberty, and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom in 2011. The Trouble with Islam Today is an open letter to Muslims and non-Muslims and a queer and feminist interpretation of Islam that is a resounding call for change as well as a practical vision. Allah, Liberty, and Love takes a more aspirational approach, again addressing Muslims and non-Muslims in writing about transcending our fears and living with integrity; its been called a “gutsy guide to being a global citizen.”

Rukhsana Khan

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Rukhsana Khan

Last, but certainly not least is Pakistani-Canadian author and storyteller Rukhsana Khan, who writes children’s, middle grade (for ages 9-12), and YA books. The list of books she has published is long, but you can check them all out here on her website. Her writing is set in Canadian multi-cultural contexts as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan, featuring Muslim young people, immigrants, people with disabilities, and/or refugees. Her most recent book from 2014 is King for a Day, which is set in Lahore, Pakistan centring on a boy named Malik and his dream to become “king for a day” by flying his kite at the spring festival of Basant. Khan also has an amazing resource list of kids’ Muslim books that you should check out!

Posted in Canadian, disability, Farzana Doctor, Fiction, memoir, mystery, Queer, South Asian, Toronto, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

A Review of FOR THE CLAN by Archer Kay Leah: A Military Science Fiction / Bisexual Erotic Romance (That I Didn’t Like)

for-the-clanI’m just gonna say up front that I’m conflicted about writing this review, cause it’s so hard to review a book that you didn’t like! The one I’m going to talk about, For the Clan by Archer Kay Leah, was sent to me to review for the blog, which is why I’m going to go ahead and write about it, but please take this review with a grain of salt, and check out some of the positive reviews on Goodreads for balance!

Okay, that disclaimer is over and now I can talk about my thoughts. Phew. Part of my bad experience with this book actually is that as far as I remembered I thought this had bisexual women (or maybe non-binary) characters, but it actually has cis bisexual men characters. That’s totally my bad for accepting it for review on my blog when that’s not actually in my purview, but you know how your expectations for a book can colour your reading of it? Well, this totally happened here. But that’s not all.

For the Clan is a military science fiction / erotic romance that has some ideas with great potential behind them that aren’t fully realized. It takes place in 2165 AD in what was Southern Ontario, when a combined government and military—called the governtary—controls most everything and the majority of the population live in military-patrolled urban compounds. A small number of resistance groups live off the land on their own terms. It’s in one of these groups—called clans—where the book is set. There are lots of regular humans, and there are also these people who’ve been genetically modified called Vens. They’ve got special powers, which the governtary wants to use and that most humans have learned should be something to fear.

If you’re thinking this sounds like a pretty rad sci fi book, I agree! The problem is that the book doesn’t use this setting—what I would say is the biggest strength of the novel—to shape any of the other parts of the book: plot or characters. The scaffolding is there, but there’s a lot that needs to be filled in. What a missed opportunity!

For example, there’s a plot about the people of this particular clan rebelling and fighting the governtary. Rebellion against a fascist military government, great! But it’s underdeveloped to the point that it just kind of seems tagged on to the romance story. It just happened, kind of randomly at the end of the book?

Parallel to the military sci fi action is a romance mostly between two guys Jace and Roan (who’s a Ven), which later becomes polyamorous when they form a triad with Cayra, Jace’s wife. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance sub-plot. And although I’m not personally really into guy-guy erotic scenes, I have no doubt that the few drawn-out explicit sex scenes will be much appreciated by other readers. I’m not basing my judgement on that! My main complaint here is that never Jace nor Roan really felt like real people to me, thus I was never excited about their romance or relationship. The eventual poly turn of the romance, with the addition of Cayra didn’t really help, although she definitely felt more fully drawn than either of the men. If you asked me to differentiate between Roan and Jace personality-wise, honestly I wouldn’t have anything to say.

I think a balance of erotic romance and other kind of plots must be hard to negotiate. I mean, it’s easy to weave in sex scenes in a book that is only a romance plot-wise; the sex is tied to the romance plot, it reveals character, it pushes the romance / relationship plot forward. But in For the Clan, the sex and relationships didn’t have a link to the military plot, which left the novel feeling disjointed. It was like it couldn’t decide which to be, erotic romance or military sci fi, and then was left not really being either. (By the way, I think Lise MacTague’s On Deception’s Edge series, of which I’ve reviewed the first and second books, does an admirable job of juggling these two genres).

One last thing I want to warn readers about: there’s some oppressive language used uncritically in this book that definitely bothered me. Some of it is ableist: using “retard” and “deaf” as insults / negative terms. The word “bitch” is also used by male characters uncritically, which just makes me squirm. I’m fine with “bitch” being used by women in a reclaiming or humorous context talking about themselves or people they know well, or in fiction with an understanding that the novel isn’t condoning it, but this was not that context.

And two last good things! For the Clan has main character representation of people of colour, which is exciting to find here because it is definitely lacking in science fiction generally. Cayra is coded as Latina and Jace as South Asian, although their cultural/ethnic identities don’t really factor into their characters. I also appreciated the careful depiction of triggers during sex for Roan after having been assaulted while he was being held by the governtary and used for research.

Bonus! Did you enjoy this review or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched two weeks ago! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up. I’m currently at $42 a month, which is so close to my goal of $50!

Posted in Bisexual, Erotica, Fiction, Science Fiction | 3 Comments