Tag: Emily

Rachel reviews Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth – The Lesbrary

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

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A dark, haunting, gothic novel, Emily M. Danforth’s Plain Bad Heroines (2020) is a delightfully dark queer book with a complex and fun premise that was right up my alley.

Set across two separate timelines, the first begins in 1902 Rhode Island at the Brookhants School for Girls. Two students, Flo and Clara, are known to be uncommonly devoted to one another and to a writer named Many MacLane and her book. The two girls form The Plain Bad Heroine Society based around their love of each other and the book. But when their secret meeting place in the school’s apple orchard becomes the scene of their violent and startling deaths, a series of bizarre events begin to take place on the campus—haunting the students and staff until the school shutters for good five years later.

The second timeline finds us in the present day. Merritt Emmons publishes a hugely popular book about the darkly queer history of Brookhants School. The book inspires a film adaptation that introduces the reader to a cast of main characters. These three heroines will return to Brookhants for filming, but as they do, “past and present become grimly entangled” and the haunting forces that terrorized the Brookhants Heroines from a century ago may not be quite finished with their curse.

A layered story with multiple timelines and black and white illustrations by Sara Lautman, Plain Bad Heroines is an example of the neo-Gothic at its best. I absolutely loved this book. I ordered a copy as soon as a heard about its release, and I was not disappointed. Dark and Gothic, with characters that are thoroughly compelling and mysterious. The book alternates timelines and perspectives across chapters, but I never felt lost or confused. The narrative of Danforth’s novel is a complex one—it has many clues, red herrings, and conspiracies that constantly kept me guessing. And even then, I couldn’t guess the ending. I loved Danforth’s use of symbol and metaphor, and her investment in making both of her timelines as real and vivid as possible. In addition, the narration—with a cheeky narrator who addresses the reader and draws attention to the ‘storied’ nature of the novel—was fun and exciting and helped to organize the book’s complex plot.

The best part of Plain Bad Heroines is that nearly everyone is queer. Queer people abound across both timelines and I was particularly interested in Danforth’s portrayal of the queer women. Not only does Danforth link her modern and historic queer characters with each other through their shared and haunting experiences, but she also imagines a version of queer life in the early twentieth century that has an element of realism amongst her haunting and supernatural plot.

I could not recommend this book enough for those who love queer historical fiction, horror and the Gothic, or a good and dark mystery!

Please visit Emily M. Danforth on Twitter or on her website, and put Plain Bad Heroines on your TBR on Goodreads.

Content Warnings: Violence, physical and verbal abuse, homophobia

Rachel Friars is a writer and academic living in Canada, dividing her time between Ontario and New Brunswick. When she’s not writing short fiction, she’s reading every lesbian novel she can find. Rachel holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a PhD in nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history.

You can find Rachel on Twitter @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

Danika reviews Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth – The Lesbrary

Susan reviews The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

I finished this book back in November, but I have frankly been intimidated to review it. This is a big, twisty, ambitious novel that I’m still processing now, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

I have been eagerly awaiting this book ever since I finished the last page of The Miseducation of Cameron Post. This is my favourite YA book of all time, and ever since it came out, I’ve been following Danforth online to see what would come next. At some point, she talked about two different books she was working on: one tentatively titled CELESBIANS! and one that followed a copy of The Well of Loneliness throughout time called Well, Well, Well. As the years went on, I thought those had been abandoned, but after reading this book, I can see how they got incorporated into this story.

Plain Bad Heroines is a horror story that begins in a girls’ boarding school in 1902. There, a writer named Mary MacLane is getting a cult following. MacLane was a real-life figure who published her scandalous memoirs, now titled I Await the Devil’s Coming. They are feminist, bisexual, and blasphemous. (The ARC came with a page from Danforth explaining her coming across this author, and how frustrating it is that she only heard of her recently from a footnote.) There are two girls at this school who are particular fans of MacLane, and they sneak off into the woods to read it together (and to make out, let’s be honest). One day, a relative tries to split the two of them up, and they run further into the woods to try to escape. Instead, they stumble on a sprawling wasp nest and die gruesomely. They are found with MacLane’s book beside them, and more deaths begin to be associated with this copy of the book.

More than a century later, a book has been written about this history, and it is being made into a movie, and the women involved in the production begin to feel haunted by the past. There is Merritt, the young (cranky) genius who wrote the original book; Harper Harper, the “celesbian” star of the film; and Flo, a relatively unknown actor playing Harper’s love interest. They’re all queer, and they have a complicated relationship between the three of them. Merritt is critical, Flo feels out of her depth and vulnerable, and Harper tries to keep the peace between them (and hit on them). As they’re filming, though, they encounter mysterious events on set–it’s unclear whether this haunting has continue with them, or whether it’s all part of an immersive Hollywood experience.

That is the very bare-bones description of the plot, but that’s only scratching the surface. We also get the fascinating story of the headmistress’s founding of the school and the feud between the brothers on that land that is said to have started the haunting. There are so many different stories spiraling together, and almost all of them have sapphic characters (including the headmistress and her partner). The characters are flawed and complicated; they clash with each other.

This is billed as a horror-comedy, and there definitely is wry humor included. It’s self-referential and plays with horror tropes. At the same time, it is creepy and disturbing: you’ll never look at a wasp the same way again. This book is intricate and incredibly well-crafted: I was about two chapters into it when I thought, “Oh, this is how books are supposed to be written.” Even though it bounces around in time and between characters, it all locks together and never feels out of place.

I appreciated the skill involved here, and I love that this is such a queer book absolutely brimming with sapphic characters, but I’m not sure I’d say I enjoyed reading it. It was unsettling. I also felt like I couldn’t quite penetrate through to the core of the story. What started this haunting? What does it mean? I love that there are so many queer characters, but it also means that they are the ones being targeted: why? Is it a metaphor for homophobia? That feels too pat for this story, and it doesn’t quite fit. Is even asking that question too simplifying? I’m not sure I have the skills to unpack everything this story is trying to accomplish.

This is a complicated, ambitious novel that will leave you thinking about it long after you’ve put the book down.

Emily reviews Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur – The Lesbrary

Emily reviews Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur –

Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (Amazon Affiliate Link)

This book is sold as Bridget Jones meets Pride and Prejudice, and it does have nods to both of those, but it’s a delightful story all of its own. The story begins with Darcy and Elle having a disastrous first date. However, Elle is working with Darcy’s brother, so they can’t just pretend it never happened. After Darcy pretends to her brother that it went well in order to stop him setting her up again, she has to persuade Elle to fake-date. If you’ve read much romance you can probably predict most of the plot from there–shenanigans as they play up the romance in public and the inevitable development of real feelings.

As ever with this trope the “reasons” they fake date are a little dubious, but in this case it made sense within the story. It helped that both Darcy and Elle were very well realised characters. At the start of the book, Darcy appears to be anti-social, particular about her life and married to her work. Elle seems like a fun-loving free spirit. However, throughout the book we learnt more and more about them and they both became increasingly complex. We got to dive quite deep into their characters and the way their personalities interacted. They were very different–the book had both of their points of view, which I loved–and the way their contrasting personalities gradually came to complement each other was really well done. You got to see opposite points of view on several topics, which was fun. Both of them were also really sweet and likeable. I found it impossible not to root for them. Their romance was also well developed. It was really shown how much the characters came to like each other as friends as well as just being attracted to each other. This is something I find is often underdone in romance books, so I was pleasantly surprised by how well it was done here.

I also loved that both of the characters had other problems that they were working through, and that they both developed throughout the story. There’s a storyline about Elle’s relationship with her family, her business and one about Darcy’s past relationships. I will say some of this I found to be less interesting than other bits–for example, there’s quite a lot of astrology in this book, which personally I’m not super interested in. On the other hand, neither was Darcy, so the book did acknowledge the sceptic point of view.

The story is obviously quite focused on Elle and Darcy, but the side characters that were introduced were also given a lot of personality and I enjoyed reading about all of them. Elle’s best friend Margot and Darcy’s brother Brendan get quite a bit of page time, and it was really enjoyable to see the different ways they acted and were perceived in each of the points of view. Bellefleur did a great job of avoiding some obvious cliches for these characters too. All of their actions felt extremely realistic and character driven, rather than just to drive forward the romance plot (which can be another common pitfall of romance books).

There is some miscommunication in this book, so be aware if that’s something you dislike in romances. However, it’s very minimal, and I think it was justified well by the character’s backstories.

Overall this was a lighthearted read that I got through very quickly, and the most enjoyable romance I’ve read in a while. If you’re looking for a sweet sapphic romance you should definitely pick this up when it comes out!