Tag Archives: VSBR

Very Specific Book Recs: Books without Romance by Amanda

Sometimes I have a great deal of sympathy for tiny Ben Savage in The Princess Bride when he doesn’t want to listen to “the kissing parts.”  Sometimes, the kissing parts are the last thing you want.  Whether it’s because you’re lonely or because of a recent heartbreak or because you like being single and wish authors would write books where it’s okay to be single, goddamn it, WE DON’T ALL HAVE TO END UP WITH SOMEBODY, OKAY or you know, whatever less reveling about me reason you might have, here a few books with little to no romance in them, thank god.

mechaniqueMechanique by Genevieve Valentine

Where to start with Mechanique.  It has steampunk sensibilities and a non-chronological timeline.  It also has a circus and is about family of choice and doing what is right, even if that’s not nice or easy.  It’s about people who have found a place in a world that is falling apart and who are willing to fight to keep that place, and the people who make it up, safe.  It’s evocative and moving and so, so lovely.  Read it now.

 

772606Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff

Space Marines!  With Tanya Huff’s wonderful sense of humor!  What, you need more?  Alright.  The main character, Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr, is a complete badass and I’m not sure if I’d rather be her or marry her.  It’s the start of a series, but only this first one is romance free.  Fair warning, these books are about active duty soldiers and can be heartbreaking, despite the well-developed humor throughout.

 

71X23Oy4s6LThe Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Gen claims he can steal anything.  He backs his claim by stealing an official seal from an important government minister.  Due to his bragging after the fact, Gen is caught and thrown into prison.  The king’s Magus offers Gen a deal.  Steal the unstealable, a mythical gem that will win the Magus’s king the right to rule the next kingdom over, and Gen can go free.  Is Gen up to the task?  Read the book and find out!

 

pegasusPegasus by Robin McKinley

I hesitate to recommend this one because it is the first half (or third, depending on which of Robin McKinley’s blog posts you’ve read) of a book and ends on what may be the biggest cliffhanger I’ve ever experienced.  The second half (or third) has not been published yet and the last I saw on McKinley’s blog said it was due out in 2014 and, well, *looks around at all the 2015 up in here*.  That said, if you’re good at dealing with cliffhangers, this is a really, really fantastic book.  Where it shines is the (non-romantic!) relationships between the characters.  Father to daughter, friend to friend, princess to wizard, they’re all fascinating.  Whatever else is to come, this first half (or third) of the book is truly fantastically written.
18p0vr2afhl88jpgYou by Austin Grossman

Oh, You.  I first read it when I was the same age as the protagonist and it really spoke to my wandering-late-20s-what-am-I- doing-with-my-life soul.  It is largely a book about video games and the video game industry, but other than the occasional bout of Tetris with my mom and step-sister, I haven’t played video games since about 1996 (when the old Nintendo finally crapped out on us) and I never felt left out of anything while reading this book.  It’s also a book about building relationships, finding where you belong, and self-exploration.  It’s a bit slow at times but lovely nonetheless.
81dSlqYK3SLThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

To paraphrase kids these days, I can’t even with Ursula K. Le Guin.  She’s beyond amazing and if I were to ever meet her in person, my fangirl weeping would surely embarrass us both.  The thought, the depth, the understanding of humanity she puts in her writing is both inspiring and breathtaking.  Not to oversell her or anything.  This book explores gender, how society functions, friendship (oh my goodness, the friendship!  Seriously, can’t even), and basic human nature.  Seriously, so read all the Ursula K. Le Guin you can, as soon as you can.  You won’t regret it.
*Inspired by a request for recommendations from the marvelous Miranda and suggestions from the lovely Liyana.

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Amanda enjoys making people laugh and receiving compliments about her pretty, pretty hair.

 

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Books with Hats: Part One

Back when we first considered a feature like Very Specific Book Recs one of the examples tossed out to illustrate the idea was “Books with Hats.” This was surprisingly popular with Sheroes. So today by popular demand we bring you “Books with Hats.” This post was fun to research. We got to revisit old favorites and check out new books from the library. One of the nice things about this topic is that it allows us to cut across genres. Some these books are picture books, some are fantasy, and some are non-fiction.  Hopefully you will find something to enjoy.

 MadeleineMadeline and The Bad Hat by Ludwig van Bemelmans

You could pick just about any of the Madeline books if you wanted to find one with a hat. After all, twelve little girls with little yellow boaters in two straight lines are something of a feature of these books. But in this story the twelve little girls gain a neighbor with a tall Spanish hat. And, well, story ensues.

CapsforSaleCaps for Sale told and illustrated by Esphyer Slobodkina 

This picture book featured a cap peddler carries all of his caps on the top of his head who takes a nap and is surprised when monkeys steal his wears. The pictures of the peddler with all the caps on his head and of the monkeys wearing caps are delightful. Glory read this many times as a child, and now enjoys reading it to her niece.

howlsmovingcastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

Sophie is the oldest of three sisters and thus convinced that she will never make her fortune. When her father dies she stays and helps her step-mother in the family hat shop. There she makes different kind hats for different buyers, some of which have surprising effects. However her adventures really began when the Witch of The Waste comes to the shop and curses her. This book is one of Dianna Wynne Jones most popular, and features her trademark topsy-turvy plot, with mix of silly and serious.

TopHatandTaiahaTop Hat and Taiaha and other stories – Leslie Chapman

The title story is set in a small historic house in the middle of nowhere, where a schoolgirl is caught by imagination and plays a trick… Involving a Top Hat and a Taiaha. But there are a great number of other stories in this collection, set in all manner of places, and each providing a glimpse into another world. We  often think that  of the marks of a good short story is wishing there was more, and many of these tales met that.

FinishingtheHatFinishing The Hat by Stephen Sondheim

Look I Made A Hat by Stephen SondheimlookIMadeaHat

These two collections of lyrics, comments, principles, anecdotes, miscellany etc are chock full of all you might expect of a collection of notable Sondheim music and lyrics, and a little more besides!  Ever wondered about the differences between the West Side Story of the stage and that of the silver screen? And where did the idea for Jack’s song come from? Or how about the collaboration process between composer and lyricist? Well, here’s where you’d come to find out the answers to all those questions, and many more you didn’t even think of asking.

These two collections are more to be books to dip into for an insight into the lyrics of your favorite Sondheim musical, than as books to read cover to cover….

Probably more delightful for the music you already know than for the songs you don’t.

 Wyrd-sisters-coverWyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

How can one have a blog post about books with hats, and thus, books with people known for wearing hats, and thus witches, without mentioning Terry Pratchett? This is the first of Pratchett’s Discworld books to feature all three of his trio of whiches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. (Granny Weatherwax first appears in Equal Rites.) The three are delightful together as they bring out the best and the worst of each other. The three must work together to save the kingdom.  Of course, witches hats aren’t the only hats of importance in Wyrd Sisters. The story has barely opened before Magrat points out the significance of the ‘spiky bits’ on the crown found along with a two year old boy – and it’s the crown which is of vital importance to the story.

“When shall we three meet again?”

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.  Ratesjul is an avid reader (of almost anything) and keen amateur (emphasis on the amateur) photographer. She loves looking through collections of family photos and hearing family stories – and is in awe of her aunt’s collection of photo albums.

Very Specific Book Recs: Historical Queer Ladies

When I was about 5 years old, my father read Watership Down out loud to me. I was way into the characters, the epic adventures they had, and even the stories they told each other about Ancient Rabbit Heroes With Unpronounceable Names, but I was less enamored of the long descriptive passages. According to my dad, I’d sit patiently for a paragraph or two of description, but if Richard Adams’s depiction of the countryside went on any longer than that, I’d interrupt with a plaintive, “But Daddy, where are the rabbits?”

Much as I love the genre, that’s generally how I feel when I read historical fiction as an adult, only replace “rabbits” with “queer ladies.” At least 1/10 of the ladies in history must have been queer, so where the hell are they? And why doesn’t the author of the book I’m reading seem to care? And if the author doesn’t care about what was happening to people like me during the time period they’re writing about, how much do I care about what happens to any of their straight characters? (Spoiler alert: probably not that much, unless they are a Naguib Mahfouz level literary genius, because I am a cranky queer feminist, and that’s how I roll.)

Fortunately for me (and for you), there are some brilliant historical fiction writers who have not only considered my “But where are the queer ladies?” question, but have answered it with, “Right here, being awesome!” Here are some of my all-time favorite books starring historical queer ladies:

1. Hild by Nicola Griffith

9780374280871_custom-dba405fdd210ea13df71aefd93403eaf3d8501dc-s6-c30What it’s about: The first book in a planned trilogy about the life of Britain’s St. Hilda of Whitby, Hild traces the title character’s life from age 3 to age 19 as she and her family navigate war, court politics, and religious shifts in 6th century Britain.

Read this if: You want a gorgeously written, immersive experience that will make you feel like you’re navigating serious sociopolitical issues and intense emotional journeys right along with Hild, and/or you’re intrigued by the idea of a writer combining historical research with science-fiction-honed world-building skills to breathe the 6th century into life.

No, really, read this even if: You’re intimidated by trying to navigate Anglo-Saxon and Old Irish names and places on this large a scale, because never fear! Nicola Griffith has created a wealth of supplemental materials to help you through.

Steer clear if: You will find discussion of rape and consent issues triggering, or you’re not feeling up to reading about the realities of war.

2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

ColorPurpleWhat it’s about: Through a series of letters spanning several decades, Celie chronicles her life in early 20th century Georgia, from her girlhood with an abusive father to her arranged, exploitative marriage to her coming into her own, finding her voice, and creating a community for herself.

Read this if: You want a breathtakingly beautiful and compulsively readable novel about passion, love, unconventional families of choice, the discovery of self, and the survival of terrible things, and/or you are tired of white ladies hogging the historical fiction spotlight.

Steer clear if: You will find depictions of physical abuse, rape, and virulent Jim-Crow-era racism triggering.

3. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

10836810 What it’s about: Rafaela Fano, a young Italian-American fleeing an arranged marriage, accepts a job modeling for Neoclassical Cubist painter Tamara de Lempicka in 1920s Paris. Great art, love, and betrayal ensue until World War II ruins everything.

Read this if: You want a passionate story of intense love and loss that might remind you of your own first love, and/or you find the idea of running into Gertrude Stein (and the rest of the era’s famous ex-pats, including an alternate-universe Hemingway) in a social context thrilling.

Steer clear if: You find unreliable narrators irritating or will find depiction of prostitution, rape (both statutory and otherwise), and anti-Semitism triggering.

4. Life Mask by Emma Donoghue

9781443406956What it’s about: Celebrated actress Eliza Farren, convention-defying sculptor Anne Damer, and peer of the realm Edward Smith-Stanley navigate high society and weather scandal (including accusations of lesbianism against the ladies) in 18th century London.

Read this if: You want a slow-paced, slice-of-life exploration of high society social interactions and artistic pursuits written in such a pitch-perfect historical voice that excerpts from the characters’ real-life letters are woven in seamlessly.

Steer clear if: You will be annoyed that you have to wait more than 400 pages for it to be confirmed whether any of the ladies are actually queer, let alone for any queer ladies to make out with each other.

5. Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller

f23860What it’s about: Two young women fall in love in early 19th century New England and overcome class differences, societal expectations, and homophobia in order to build a life together.

Read this if: You want a sweet, well-written love story with plenty of hot lesbian sex scenes, and/or are intrigued by the idea of 19th century non-binary gender expression.

Steer clear if: You will find depiction of sexual assault and violently homophobic families triggering.

6. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

9781860495243What it’s about: When she falls in love with a professional male impersonator, Nancy King leaves her life as an oystergirl in small town, Victorian-era England and begins an odyssey of self-discovery that includes drag show performance, cross-dressing prostitution, forays into the high society lesbian kink scene, and socialist organizing.

Read this if: You want characters who are beautifully, infuriatingly real and unpredictable, compelling plots.

Steer clear if: You are not in the mood for a potentially-disturbing detour into the seamy underbelly of the Victorian kink scene.

7. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

9781555838539_custom-5c027f71c8b1d234dfc81f043c01bb8afc5dc50b-s6-c30 What it’s about: After growing up working class in a small town in the 1950s, labor organizer Jess Goldberg navigates life in the violently transphobic and homophobic mid-century United States first as a butch lesbian, then as a trans person.

Read this if: You want a front row seat for the development of the LGBT rights movement, both pre- and post-Stonewall, brought to life through such vivid description of individual experience you’ll feel like you’re living it along with Jess.

Steer clear if: You don’t think you can handle being hit with the emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer right now. ALL OF THE TRIGGER WARNINGS APPLY. NO, REALLY. ALL OF THEM.

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Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

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Very Specific Book Recs: Bringing up babies

Throughout human history, all over the world, babies have started out life pretty much the same – slimy, squishy, and totally unable to take care of themselves.  Whether their first moments are in a sterile operating room or a tent with a dirt floor, newborns want to be warm, full, and snuggly.  But from that first breath onward, the way adults perceive and treat children varies tremendously between cultures.  As a nanny, I love reading about childrearing practices of all types – it’s a good reminder that there’s no “right” way to raise a child!  Here are some of my favorite books and movies for the baby-crazed.


Babies ‘round the world

12470851How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood

What it’s about: A journalist and mom combines personal experiences with research to cover childrearing practices from a variety of world cultures.  It’s a quick read with lots of anecdotes about babies all over the world.

Read this for: An overview of styles without any preaching.

Don’t read this if: You’re looking for something comprehensive or scholarly.

 

 

 Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman13152287

What it’s about: An American mom raising her young daughter in France discovers the significant differences between parenting styles in each county.  Interestingly, the common French methods fall well into line with RIE or respect-based parenting, but the French parents Druckerman talks to don’t see their parenting as following any specific philosophy.

Read this for: A personal exploration of French and American parenting styles

Don’t read this if: You’ll be offended that she has strong preferences and opinions about the two philosophies.

 

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein8565083

What it’s about: Raising girls in an era of “princess culture.”  Orenstein discusses the Western focus on pretty pink princesses, early sexualization, advertising to children, and the negative effect on girls. This is easily my favorite book on the list, possibly my favorite nonfiction book of any sort, and I wish every American parent and caregiver would read it!

Read this for: A very readable feminist smackdown.

Don’t read this if: You are fiercely loyal to Disney.

 

Babies, then and now

15594 A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

What it’s about: A biography of an 18th century New England midwife by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (author of the now-famous quote “well-behaved women seldom make history”).  Martha Ballard kept a daily record of her life and work as a Maine midwife and nurse for nearly 30 years, and, amazingly, the diary has survived to the present.  It gives a remarkable look into the untold history of women’s lives in an era defined by men’s political actions.  There’s an associated PBS documentary which I recommend as well.

Read this for: A scholarly historical work.

Don’t read/watch this if: You are looking for a light, quick read, since it’s long and quite dense.

 

 6114607The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

What it’s about: A memoir of a midwife in 1950’s London – this is the book and the woman that the popular British TV show Call the Midwife is based on.  Worth was a district nurse and midwife in one of the poorest areas of post-war London, delivering babies in often miserable conditions before the advent of birth control or hospitalized birth.

Read this for: A world of bicycles and babies that will make you want to join a convent.  Then watch the TV show!

Don’t read/watch this if: You are easily grossed out by birth, blood, or grime.

 

Bonus! documentary

Babies (2010) babies-documentary

What it’s about: A documentary that follows 4 babies from the US, Japan, Mongolia and Namibia for their first year of life.  It’s entirely footage of the babies, and the simplicity of the format emphasizes the differences in parenting and the similarities in the babies themselves.  You might be surprised at which practices you identify with!

Watch this for: The babies.  Duh.

Don’t watch this if: You will be bored by the lack of narration or plot.

 


Stellata is an infant/toddler nanny living in Washington, DC.  When she’s not baby-wrangling, she loves baking, handcrafts, reading, and museum-hopping.  Online, she is on the Sheroes Blog editorial team and serves as the Sheroes Central rep to the Board of Directors.  Her book blog can be found at The TBR Shelf.

 

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Very Specific Book Recs: Queer ladies who kick ass and take names

We’ve all been in that “I want to read a very specific kind of book” mood and then had to go on a mini-quest through the wilds of the internet to figure out which books might hit the spot. Since books about stompy, badass queer ladies who kick ass and take names own one of the happiest places in my heart, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time searching them out and now have a short list of all-time, hit-the-spot favorites to show for it. So, if that’s the mood you’re in, allow me to shorten your quest! If you want some Stompy, Badass Queer Ladies Who Kick Ass and Take Names (and really, who doesn’t?!), here’s what you should read.

1. Aud Torvingen Books (The Blue Place, Stay, and Always) by Nicola Griffith

blueWhat they’re about: Aud Torvingen, a Norwegian-American ex-cop turned sometime-PI, sometime-bodyguard, and all-the-time-badass, solves mysteries, kills people who need killing, falls madly in love, makes good friends, and tries to deal with having feelings she can’t shut down for the first time.

What’s awesome about them: Nicola Griffith’s breath-catchingly glorious writing, which creates the immediacy of a first-hand experience. Aud Torvingen’s complete and total badassery and amazingness. The well-rounded cast of supporting characters. The attention to detail. The intricate and true-feeling emotional journeys. The everything.

What’s not so awesome: These are some of my favorite books ever, so I’m going to say everything about them is awesome. But you should be warned that not all of the books end happily, some of them get very dark indeed, and the second and (to a lesser extent) third books deal heavily with emotional and physical abuse and rape. (It’s handled very responsibly, but it’s there, it’s disturbing, and it could potentially be triggering.

2. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

santa oliviaWhat it’s about: Born in a militarized, no-man’s-land, dystopian quarantine zone between the United States and Mexico, Loup Garron uses her secretly enhanced DNA, fearlessness, and general badassery to go on a crusade to get justice for her people through secret vigilantism and competitive boxing.

What’s awesome about it: What’s not to like in a book about a queer social justice fighter sticking it to The Man? The dystopian aspects are well-developed and completely believable, and the writing style is spare, straight-forward, and lovely—modern-day speculative fiction really seems like Jacqueline Carey’s forte to me! Loup and her friends/chosen family are real, complex, flawed-but-lovely people. The plot is intricate and navigates multiple strands of character concerns with seamless grace. And while I generally give exactly zero fucks about boxing,  Loup and Santa Olivia made me care while I was reading this book.

What’s not so awesome: Again, I’m going to go with everything is awesome! However, be warned that there are some sexual assault triggers (again, handled responsibly). Oh, and the ending clearly leaves space for a sequel, but after hearing my good friend’s thoughts on how bad-fanfic-y and strange the sequel is, I’ve decided to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

 3. God’s War by Kameron Hurley

9359818What it’s about: Nyxnissa so Dasheem—a badass, hardass, bisexual war veteran in a country fighting a centuries-old religious war—starts off as a government assassin, becomes a bounty hunter, and is offered a bounty by the government. Then all hell really breaks loose.

What’s awesome about it: Feminist dark-and-gritty-realities-of-war speculative fiction! Planet exclusively colonized by Muslims, most of whom are people of color! Completely badass and heartbreakingly awesome protagonist! Plotting and world-building so intricate that any brief summary feels woefully inadequate. Characters so real that it hurts. Nuanced exploration of gender roles, race, power, oppression, religion, and a whole host of other social issues, all integrated seamlessly into the story and never given easy answers.

What’s not so awesome: The fact that I haven’t had time to dive into the sequels yet? Honestly, I think everything about this book is awesome!  But you should know going in that it is pretty fucking dark, and it is not the book to read if you want an uncomplicatedly happy ending. Sexual violence is also hinted at a few times but always handled responsibly.

 4. Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

ascensionWhat it’s about: A down-on-her-luck woman of color starship mechanic with a chronic pain disorder stows away on a cargo ship whose crew is looking for the mechanic’s metaphysically gifted sister. Interstellar intrigue and action sequences, complicated sibling relationships, and adorable polyamorous romances ensue.

What’s awesome about it: Queer, disabled, completely badass woman of color protagonist! Insubstantial starship pilots! People who might be wolves who might be people! Really hot, really competent, really badass starship captains! Sisters who are really different and can’t stand each other, but still love each other fiercely and will do anything to protect each other! Polyamory!

What’s not so awesome: If you spend more than five seconds thinking critically about the world-building, the character development, the plot progression, or the villain’s motivations and actions, the entire thing will collapse in a heap of inconsistency and “Wait, what??” But who needs to think critically when there are badass poly queer ladies running around blowing things up? Not me!

5. Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino

790426What it’s about: A 6th-century Celtic harper who escaped from Fairyland discovers that the way to free her lesbian lover, who is still trapped there, is to form an all-women ‘80s metal band in Denver, Colorado.

What’s awesome about it: ‘80S METAL BAND IN DENVER, COLORADO FIGHTS FAIRIES THROUGH THE POWER OF ROCK AND ROLL. Do I really need to say more? I especially love this because heavy metal makes me ridiculously happy, so badass queer ladies being literal rockstars and making close female friends and fighting evil fairies with minor-key power chords is just kind of a trifecta of things that make me happy.

What’s not so awesome: Everything about the way the one major character of color is written is racist and paternalistic. Also, there is a bunch of pretty explicit “Wicca and paganism are the best, most enlightened religions ever!” proselytizing. Also, trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse apply.

 6. Dust by Elizabeth Bear

2353644What it’s about: Two extraordinary women with biotechnologically-derived super powers (and their allied angels) battling it out with their evil, corrupt, super-powered relatives (and their allied angels) for control of a stranded generation spaceship.

What’s awesome about it: Centuries-old, half-forgotten biotech giving rise to a mythos of angels, basilisks, necromancers, knights, and chivalry on a spaceship, all narrated in gorgeous prose. Lots of badass ladies with specialized knowledge of everything from swordplay to science! People with genetically-engineered wings! Asexual and sexual people creating relationship structures together that work for all of them! Nonbinary characters!

What’s not so awesome: The main romance is between women who are biologically half-sisters, and even though they didn’t grow up together and incest is culturally common among their family and justified by the world-building, it’s still a little weird. Also, Dust is the first book in a trilogy, and while the trilogy as a whole ends fairly happily, Dust doesn’t…and the two sequels are not quite as well-written or fun, so it takes a little slogging to get to the happier ending. (I don’t actually mind that Dust doesn’t end 100% happily, but I think it’s only fair to warn you guys.)

 7. The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

185867What it’s about: Katherine’s eccentric ducal uncle invites her to court, but instead of giving her the traditional court debut and young noblewoman’s social season she expects, he orders her trained as a swordsman.

What’s awesome about it: Courtly intrigue and swordplay! Katherine’s determination to make the best of her weird, not-what-she-would-have-chosen situation  and carve out an unconventional place for herself in high society. The close female friendships with undertones of feudal vassalage, which are really rare in a fantasy novel about women. Katherine’s innocent and joyous discovery of her own sexuality in a completely no-fuss, “Hey, I think I like those girls! And this boy! Whee, this is fun!” sort of way.

What’s not so awesome: Even though Katherine is bisexual, this is not the book to read if you’re in the mood for queer lady-on-lady action. Also, it deals a lot with sexual assault and its aftermath, and even though they are handled very responsibly, there is an unrelated sex scene later on which sets off all of my “WHOA, BACK UP, THAT WAS NOT CONSENT!” alarm bells, even though the writer very clearly meant it to be a consensual scene.

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Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

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