Tag: July

2020 in review: July – December

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This is Part II of my 2020 review – everything I did in the second half of the year, including some travel stats and final thought on 2020.

You can read the first part here.

Here is what I got up to from July to December 2020:

July: Germany

I finished my 14-day quarantine at my sister’s house, and then I packed my bags: it was time to travel a bit. My first stop was Leipzig, where I spent a week with my nieces, my brother and my sister-in-law, and then I drove to Bavaria to surprise one of my best friends for her 40th birthday. I spent a week with her and her family and then I went back to my sister’s to hang out with my niece and nephew. And I got to spent time with all of my favorite animals, as you can see in the pictures below. I also saw some other friends who still live in my hometown, and I couldn’t believe how normal life felt in Germany. Sure, people were wearing a face mask in supermarkets and shops, but restaurants were open and they were as busy as ever, movie theaters and gyms were open, and one night we even walked by a classical concert (outdoors) that was packed with people. There were concerts happening throughout the summer, beer gardens were open, beaches were crowded. I took my friend’s daughter to a swimming pool and for me, coming from NYC, nothing about it felt right, but nobody in Germany seemed to worry much about COVID. On the contrary: Everyone I talked to was planning their summer vacation. So much so that I decided that I wanted to go on vacation, too!2020 review - July

Best moment

Surprising my friend for her birthday

My friend had invited me to her birthday party early: She told me LAST SUMMER when she’d be celebrating her 40th birthday. But I had told her back then, in summer 2019, that summer travel is always difficult for me, and two trips to Europe during the summer would be impossible (I had a trip booked to Germany for August 2020 for a family event). But because of COVID, I found myself in Germany for her milestone birthday! With the help of her husband, I was able to surprise her. She had no idea that I was even in Germany – I had kept it a secret from her until I showed up on her doorstep.

This is one of my oldest friends (I’ve known her for 23 years!) and we rarely get to see each other, which is why I was super stoked to be there for her birthday party, and to spend a few days with her and her family afterwards.

Actually, July was a month filled with birthdays: I was in Germany for my niece’s birthday, my god daughter’s birthday, my best friend’s birthday and my brother-in-law’s birthday. I am never there for any of these birthdays, so this was a nice treat.

Worst moments

Reading COVID-19 news from the U.S. / Marathon cancellations

Meanwhile, I kept reading about rising COVID numbers back in the U.S. – something that I had not expected. When I left New York, I thought that the U.S. had the worst behind it. I assumed that the reopening of NYC was well underway and that I’d return to a fairly functional city later this summer, possibly even offer some tours. But looking at the speed with which COVID spread throughout the U.S., my hope to return to a more relaxed COVID situation began to diminish. The first grim news came on 7th July, when the U.S. saw 250,000 new COVID cases in just five days, then a day later, the U.S. was about to hit 3 million COVID cases, and only around two weeks later, on 24th July, the U.S. hit 4 million COVID cases. The numbers reported in the U.S. were mind-boggling to me, considering that Europe was doing fairly well in containing the virus and most countries had re-opened for tourism. As a result of the virus spiraling out of control in the U.S., many marathon cancellations started to pour in: Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia… and ultimately, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., which I was supposed to run on 25th October. I had initially booked a return flight for early August, but I decided to postpone my return to the U.S. until September, because I didn’t anticipate the situation to change much before then.

August: Germany, Austria, Switzerland & Liechtenstein

I was ready for a vacation. I helped out my sister with childcare while she was finishing her dissertation for the first couple of weeks, and then they left for their summer vacation. This meant I was released from my nannying duties! A friend had suggested we’d go on vacation together, but first I went to Leipzig where I looked after a little zoo while my brother went on vacation: my brother’s dog, my mother’s dog, two guinea pigs, a bunny and a kitten. A couple of friends came to visit me while I was there and I also had a couple of days to myself – for the first time in over two months.

As soon as my brother returned, I was able to go on vacation myself. My friend and I had vague ideas for our trip: we knew that we didn’t want to fly anywhere, we wanted to do a road trip, and we wanted to leave Germany. That left us with a wide range of options: France is only a 5-hour drive away, Italy a 6-hour drive, Prague a 4-hour drive, Austria a 4-hour drive, Belgium and the Netherlands are around 4 hours away, and Poland around 3 hours.

Eventually, we decided to drive down to Italy to experience places like Venice and Rome without the usual summer tourist crowds. On the way south, we stopped in Salzburg, where she’d never been, and somehow we ended up staying in Austria. I felt a huge pull towards the mountains, and luckily my friend was game and agreed to a vacation surrounded by nature instead of the city trip we’d originally envisioned.

I ended the month with a big family event which I was scheduled to travel to Germany for – pre-pandemic. I honestly didn’t think I’d still be in Germany at the time of the event when I left New York in June.2020 review - August

Best moment

Visiting Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein

The trip to Austria, which included day trips to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, was, without a doubt, the highlight of the month. I don’t think I would’ve been able to go on a trip had I stayed in the U.S., and being able to just get in the car and drive to another country felt so good. I also loved the areas of Austria I got to explore – besides Salzburg, which I had already visited, I went to places that were new to me: Vorarlberg and Feldkirch. We based ourselves in a small village for a few days and used our vacation rental as a base to go on hikes around beautiful lakes, and then we used Feldkirch, which is minutes away from the border with Liechtenstein and Switzerland, as a base to visit these two countries. It was a fantastic trip and I even got to visit a new country (Liechtenstein) and added a new stamp in my passport.

Worst moment

A cable car ride in Austria

This experience was almost as bad as my flight from Atlanta to Germany back in June. The cable car was supposed to run at 50% capacity because of COVID-19 but when we entered the crowded cabin I wanted to die. This was definitely more than 50% capacity! Luckily, the ride was only 3 minutes long, and the Luenersee Lake atop the mountain (pictured above) made up for this dreadful experience.

September: Germany and England

I was scheduled to return to New York on 1 September, but because the city was still far from “back to normal” and I was still not able to run my Brooklyn tours, I decided to postpone my flight for another month. I felt much safer in Europe, despite COVID numbers slowly rising again, while the U.S. hit a sad milestone: a COVID death toll of 200,000. Germany, in comparison, had managed to keep its death toll below 10,000 (at that time).

Once I had changed my flight, I decided that staying in Europe for four months and NOT visiting some of my best friends in the UK was not an option, and spontaneously booked a ticket to London. My friend Kate and I rented a small house in the Cotswolds for a few days where we held our own little writers retreat – and it was exactly what I needed after a couple of months during which I focused more on helping out my family than writing (other than some paid work). We spent the mornings at the house, working, and the afternoons either on long walks or visiting nearby towns. We spent an afternoon in Oxford, where I hadn’t been in over ten years, and also visited Burford, a picture-perfect Cotswolds market town.

I also spent a few days in London where I treated myself to a hotel instead of crashing on my friend’s couch, and I was so happy with that decision. It allowed for some desperately needed “me time” and I was able to plan my days without having to consider other people’s work schedules. I went for long runs (including a half marathon to Richmond), took myself out on brunch dates and just wandered around my favorite neighborhoods. I hadn’t been able to enjoy London in such a relaxed way since I left the city in 2010 and it reminded me just how much I love my former home. I even considered moving back there should the U.S. election not go the way I was hoping for.

Things in London felt pretty normal while I was there: street and food markets had re-opened, people crammed into restaurants and pubs. It still felt weird to have very few tourists around though – the London Eye had not a single guest when I was walking down the South Bank Promenade, and I was the only person outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, a place that’s usually packed with tourists. I was really lucky with the timing of my trip, because shortly after my visit, London started shutting down restaurants and pubs again.

Thanks to my London trip, I also got to spend 24 hours in Berlin, because my flight left from Berlin’s Tegel Airport. It was not enough time in one of my favorite cities in the world, but enough time to go on a street art walk, have some good coffee and Vietnamese food, meet up with friends and remind myself that Berlin is one of the greatest cities in the world.2020 review - September

After I returned to Germany, we celebrated a good friend’s birthday and my sister’s birthday, and then it was time for me to get ready for my flight to the U.S. I also happened to get work that had nothing to do with travel or tourism, which was a big relief, since a freelance project I’d worked on over the summer had been put “on pause”.

Best moment

Returning to London

London is the only other city – besides NYC – where I resided for several years as a grown-up, and every time I get the chance to visit my old stomping grounds, I’m reminded of how much I loved living in London. Since London was very different because of COVID-19, I spent most of my time walking around the neighborhoods I used to live and work in, to see how they’ve changed over the years and to see which of the places I used to frequent were still there. I got to enjoy some of my favorite markets (Portobello Road Market and Borough Market), I went to all my favorite parks (Regents Park, Hyde Park, Green Park, Kensington Gardens and St James Park) and even made it to Richmond Park, famous for the 600 deer that roam freely there – a park I always loved but didn’t make it to very often when I lived in London.

I also got to check out a new rooftop space: the Skygarden, atop the “Walkie Talkie Building”, which opened only a few years ago. I met up with a couple of friends, ate at some of my favorite restaurants, and checked out new street art in East London. It was almost a perfect London trip, despite the circumstances, but seeing the Westend theaters closed and usually crowded places like Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square completely deserted was heartbreaking. There were barely any tourists around, and tourist attractions were empty. As someone who earns her living in travel & tourism, it is utterly depressing to see this industry suffering so much.

Worst Moment

Driving in England

I consider myself a fairly confident driver, even though I don’t own a car and I don’t drive very often. So I didn’t think twice about renting a car to get to the Cotswolds. However, it had been a while since I’d last driven in London, with the steering wheel on what I consider the passenger side. And it turned out traffic in London was still mad – even during a pandemic. Picking up the car from a Central London rental office seemed convenient, but it meant I didn’t have any time to adjust to driving “on the wrong other side of the road” again, Instead, I was thrown in the deep end. Let’s just say that this was probably the most stressful moment I’d had in months. There were tears, and I was close to having a nervous breakdown when I fully blocked the road sideways after a failed U-turn attempt and I couldn’t figure out how to get the car in reverse. Looking back at it now, I can laugh about it, but back then I wouldn’t have been able to fix the situation without the lovely EMT Driver who came to my rescue.

October: New York City

After nearly four months away, I was back in New York City. I had been nervous to return, because seeing the city I love so much going through such a painful time in the spring had not been easy. But my worries were unfounded: I returned to a city that was so much livelier than it had been when I left in June. It seemed like people had adjusted to life with Covid and had learned to coexist with the virus. Initially, wearing a mask again outdoors was a bit off-putting and seemed strange to me after so many months in Europe, mostly mask-free, but having lived through the horrible COVID-19 months in the spring, I understood why it was necessary to have very strict rules in place. Nobody wanted to relive the dark months of March and April 2020. Other than mask wearing, life seemed much more normal again than four months prior: restaurants and bars were packed, and almost all the eateries had added an outdoor seating area (indoor dining was still not allowed when I came back and was only allowed at 25% capacity in mid-October).

The subway was also busier again, and shops had reopened (they were only open for curbside pick-up when I left New York in June). Midtown Manhattan felt much more crowded again, even though only about 10% of office workers had returned to their office towers. But it was notable that one thing was missing: tourists. With New York still being closed off to most of the world and around 40 U.S. states on a strict 14-days quarantine mandate upon arrival in New York, not a lot of people were able to visit New York. This, of course, meant that my business was still far from recovering, and the same goes for every single tourism business in NYC. I tried to resume my walking tours, but demand was low and I made barely any money. Luckily, a friend had recommended me for a temp job which brought some extra income.

When I wasn’t working, I tried to take advantage of “tourist-free” New York and visited the MoMA (where I hadn’t been in years because it is usually too crowded for me), went to see two exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum, ran two half marathons and caught up with friends. I went on a 50-mile bike ride to New Jersey, marveled at the fall colors in Central Park and Prospect Park, I celebrated Halloween (a little bit), and I spent a sunny afternoon on the beach in Coney Island. Fall is such a beautiful season in New York, and I was so happy to be back – for exactly one month.2020 review - October

Best moment

Celebrating Halloween

To be honest, I was a bit wary of getting together with a small group, but we were only six people and spent most of the day outside in a small park in Brooklyn where a drag show took place. It was very low-key, but simply dressing up (can you recognize me in the photo below?), buying some Halloween candy and making some party snacks felt wonderfully normal.

Worst moment

Election anxiety

Returning to New York a month before the election meant not being able to escape any of the pre-election madness. Reading and hearing about the election every day wasn’t great for my mental health. From stupid remarks by Trump on Twitter (who would’ve thought that this is a thing of the past now?!) to watching the disastrous presidential debates to a general fear of the outcome of the 3rd November election – I felt anxious for most of the month, had trouble sleeping and couldn’t wait for the election to be over.

November: Florida

Shortly after arriving in New York in October, a client whose cat I had looked after regularly in Brooklyn contacted me and asked me if I’d consider coming down to Florida for a month to care for their cat while they’d be away on an essential trip. They had relocated to Florida to self-isolate there when COVID hit New York hard, and they offered me a nice house with a backyard, a nearby beach, and the use of their car. They didn’t have to ask me twice. The housesit was in a region that didn’t have a lot of COVID-19 cases, and the house itself was also fairly isolated, so that social distancing wasn’t going to be a problem.

So I swapped New York’s grey and cold November for sunny Florida, and I am so grateful that I got to spend a month in a state I hadn’t spent much time in. I was able to do some exploring – mainly solo hikes in state parks near where I was staying, but I also went on a day trip to St Augustine, the oldest city in America, which I’d heard a lot about. It didn’t disappoint, even though I was shocked by the amount of tourists in the city (on a random Monday) – it almost felt like there wasn’t a pandemic going on.

After the housesit, I decided to fly back from Miami instead of Orlando and road trip along Florida’s west coast. A friend of mine had offered me to stay at her place in Miami (she was not there, unfortunately) and I wanted to get at least a taste of Miami, even though I knew it wouldn’t be the same because of COVID. I was able to do some of the things I’ve had on my travel wish list for years, including the Wynwood Arts District (the street art there was amazing!), the Art Deco architecture in Miami Beach, and Little Havana. I also spent a day in the Everglades where I spotted the first wild alligator of the trip (I’d been on the lookout for the famed Florida alligators all month, and I finally saw one three days before my flight back to New York). I want to return to Miami when things are “back to normal”, to enjoy the restaurant scene, dance the night away in South Beach, and spend more time in the Everglades (I ran out of time for an air boat ride, which I think is the quintessential to do there).

November turned out to be the most unexpected month of the year: Four weeks earlier, I hadn’t even known that I was going to spend my birth month (during which I usually go on a big trip) in Florida. And I got to visit a city in Miami, one of the top five U.S. cities on my list (I’ve visited most of the cities on my travel wish list over the years, but the other four I haven’t been to yet that I really want to see are Portland, OR; Milwaukee, WI; Pittsburgh, PA and Detroit, MI). And I even got to tick off a major bucket list item: swimming with manatees – which was definitely the best moment of the month:2020 review - November

Best Moment

Swimming with manatees

Swimming with manatees has been on my bucket list ever since I found out that hundreds of these gentle giants gather in the waters of Florida in November to spend the winter there. When I found out that one of the most popular places to swim with manatees was only 2.5 hours from where I was staying and that the manatees usually arrive there mid-November, I knew I had to go there. I looked int the logistics and COVID-19 safety and found a tour company I felt was taking COVID-19 measures seriously and booked a 7am manatee swim in the hope that other people would be too lazy to get up that early. My theory was right: I ended up being alone on the boat with my guide and the boat driver and had the best time swimming with manatees.

On these tours, it’s actually not guaranteed that you get to see manatees, let alone swim WITH them, but I lucked out: We found a large group of about a dozen manatees shortly after leaving the port and had them all to ourselves for a while before another boat with a large group arrived. We then decided to leave and look for manatees in a different spot, and again, we got lucky. There, we were the only boat and I saw so many manatee mommas with their babies and friendly manatees that swam up to us and said hi. This experience definitely lived up to my expectations. In fact, it even exceeded it, since because of COVID-19 there weren’t many tourists around. From what I’ve heard, the boats are usually fully booked and up to 60 people (from a number of boats) can be in the water with the manatees at the same time – and I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed that.

Worst Moment  

Nothing really terrible happened in November, but I wasn’t feeling great this month. I was in a funk. Before the pandemic, I had big, exciting travel plans for my 40th birthday. Instead, I spent it all by myself in Florida. This did weigh on me, despite all the great experiences I had in Florida.

I was also disappointed not to be in New York City when Biden was announced winner of the presidential election for the very first time on 7 November. All of New York City broke out into one huge celebration, while I found myself surrounded by Trump supporters who took to the streets immediately to start their “the election was stolen from us” protests. After all the tension of the previous months was finally released, I would’ve loved to join the cheering crowds in New York. The outcome of the election was, of course, a giant relief for me, but I’m going to be honest here: I am still extremely disappointed about the huge number of people who voted for Trump and everything he represents. I wasn’t surprised by it – I wouldn’t have been that worried had I not thought he had a very good chance to get re-elected – but seeing that over 74 million people would like to see him rule the U.S. for another four years after his first term, his actions during COVID and during the last four years, and pretty much everything he’s ever said, was extremely disheartening to see.

December: New York City & Germany

I returned to New York and spent just enough time in the Big Apple to get a glimpse of the Christmas lights in Midtown Manhattan, marvel at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and enjoy the Light Show at Saks Fifth Avenue. I also went ice skating in Bryant Park with my friends Kristin and Adam – something I hadn’t done since 2016! I combined these trips to Manhattan with some last-minute Christmas shopping, and when I arrived in Germany, I was beyond relieved that I’d done the majority of my Christmas shopping in New York because I arrived in Germany just in time for a strict lockdown which required all retailers to shut down – a week before Christmas!!

There were no Christmas markets anywhere in Germany this year, which I was very sad about, and because of the strict lockdown and quarantine requirements I didn’t even get to see any friends. I got some quality time with my family, however, and that was why I took another trip to Germany in the first place. This Christmas trip had been planned before COVID-19 hit, because I only get to spend every other Christmas with my family. I felt pretty confident about flying because New York was pretty much “open”. I surely did not expect to fly into a strict lockdown! In the summer, it had been the other way around – I’d flown from New York, which was still pretty much “closed” back then, to Germany, where life felt so much more normal. This time around, I was coming from a city where COVID-19 seemed under control, and arrived in a country with rapidly rising COVID cases.

Despite some COVID worries and the lockdown, my siblings and I managed to pull off a pretty epic Christmas for the kids, who were almost more excited about spending time with other kids (their cousins) than their gifts, because they didn’t get to see their friends during lockdown. I was so grateful that I got to spend the Holidays surrounded by loved ones, that everyone in my family was healthy, and that I was able to do travel to Germany again – something I do not take for granted.2020 review - December

Best Moment

Baking parties with family and friends

While I was still in New York, I was able to join my friend’s “Christmas cookie baking extravaganza”, which was a lot of fun, and then I had more “baking parties” with my sister and my niece, and I love baking so much. Having an excuse to make hundreds of cookies fills me with so much joy – as does gifting homemade cookies to friends.

Worst Moment

Family issues

I want to keep things real: Even though I love my family and was happy to spend time with them and we had a nice time together, things aren’t always perfect. There were tensions and arguments and frustration and even tears. While most of it has been resolved, there are still things happening in my family right now that make me sad and leave me with a hurting heart.

2020 review

Some 2020 travel stats

I want to end my 2020 review with some travel stats, since I’m a numbers person. I am sharing some of the same statics I’ve shared in previous annual round-ups, although this year I’ve obviously traveled less. Thanks to my Australia trip at the beginning of 2020, I racked up quite a few flights and hostels, and even an uncomfortable night on a bus:

Where did I sleep?

Australia

  • 14 hostels
  • 3 hotels
  • 1 housesit
  • 1 night bus

Europe

  • 2 hotels in Austria
  • 1 vacation rental in Austria
  • 1 hotel in London
  • 1 Airbnb in the Cotswolds
  • 1 hostel in Berlin

U.S.

  • 1 housesit in NYC
  • 1 housesit in Florida
  • 1 hotel in Florida
  • 1 apartment in Florida (my friend let me stay at her place in Miami while she was out of town)
2020 review

How did I get around?

Flights

These were my flights pre-Covid:

  1. New York – Long Beach
  2. LAX – Brisbane
  3. Brisbane – Melbourne
  4. Sydney – Proserpine
  5. Proserpine – Brisbane
  6. Brisbane – Perth
  7. Perth – Melbourne
  8. Melbourne – LAX
  9. LAX – New York City

…and these were my flights during the pandemic:

  • 10 LaGuardia – Atlanta
  • 11 Atlanta  – Frankfurt
  • 12 Berlin – London
  • 13 London – Berlin
  • 14 Frankfurt – Atlanta
  • 15 Atlanta – LaGuardia
  • 16 New York City – Orlando
  • 17 Fort Lauderdale – New York City
  • 18 Newark – Frankfurt

Interestingly, I didn’t fly much less in 2020 than I did in 2019, when I took 23 flights. However, my Australia trip did account for half of my flights, and four out of eight flights during the pandemic were my trip to Europe, broken up into two flights, since Delta, the airline I chose because of their COVID-19 precautions, flew to Germany via their main hub Atlanta.

Buses

  • Melbourne – Sydney (Australia)
  • Brisbane – Byron Bay (Australia)
  • Byron Bay – Brisbane (Australia)
  • Leipzig – Berlin (Germany)

I took one bus in Germany during COVID-19, and while restrictions were fairly relaxed during that time and COVID numbers were low, I didn’t feel safe on the bus

Car share

  • 1 car share in Germany (I wasn’t sure how I felt about sharing a car with a stranger during COVID-19, but the car sharing app I used made users sign an agreement that they would take COVID-19 precautions which included only one passenger per ride and mask wearing during the ride. Unfortunately, the driver did not oblige to the COVID-19 measures at all and had more passengers in the car than allowed. I also had to insist on mask wearing – there are people who don’t take COVID-19 seriously everywhere.)

Ferries

  • Whitsundays boat rides
  • Staten Island Ferry

The only boat rides I took this year were the boat excursions in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, and I took the Staten Island Ferry on a sunny day in May because the ferries were only transporting a fraction of their usual passenger load and it felt glorious to take in the beautiful Manhattan views without the usual tourist crowds on the free ferry.

Trains

  • Frankfurt – Erfurt (Germany)
  • Erfurt – Leipzig (Germany)
  • Frankfurt – Erfurt (Germany)

Cable Car

One cable car in Austria – a terrible experience. In fact, the worst moment of August 2020, you can read more about it above.

Road Trips

  • Australia’s Great Ocean Road
  • Florida Road Trip
  • Cotswolds Drive in England
  • Road Trip through Austria and Switzerland

2020 Review: Final Thoughts on 2020

2020 was a strange year because nothing – except for my Australia trip – went according to plan. Everything that happened was beyond my own control. I had such high expectations for the growth of my business and was excited about the trips I’d planned, but when none of those things happened, and the situation didn’t seem to improve, it became harder and harder to stay motivated and positive that the pandemic would come to an end eventually. Watching my savings dwindle caused me sleepless nights and financial worries like I haven’t had them in years. But I am trying to keep things in perspective. This was (well, in most places it still is!) a period of standing still like we’ll probably never have again during our lifetime. A lot of people who I’ve talked to about this unrequested “pause” in our lives told me that they actually benefited from it, and I think in some ways, I can include myself in this.

Life in New York City is always full-on – juggling three jobs, my social life and relationships, exploring and taking advantage of all the great things NYC offers – there’s not much time to sit down and reflect and to be introspective. There’s never time to tackle all the projects I’ve got on the back burner, or time for self-improvement.

This forced standstill allowed me to do many of the things I am usually too busy to do, to grow personally, to improve my businesses, to educate myself, to learn. I even got to spend some quality time with myself – something that I often miss when I fill my calendar to the brim. COVID also brought me closer to many friends around the world who I usually don’t talk to on a regular basis, but when the world went into lockdown, we set up regular WhatsApp or FaceTime calls and checked in with each other much more often than we used to do.2020 review

And how privileged am I that I was even able to stay at home and have all this additional time? I felt for all the frontline workers during the months of lockdown, who had to risk their lives day after day and did not have the luxury of quality family time, the opportunity to start a side hustle, or to use alone time in lockdown for self-improvement.

Nonetheless, it felt like a punch to the face to realize that I wouldn’t make any money this year. Worrying about my business recovering from this (will it? and if so, when? I still don’t know.), and being able to pay my rent. But money isn’t everything and I am incredibly grateful for the last couple of profitable years which allowed me to put some money aside so that I don’t have to worry about running out of money anytime soon (only about my retirement fund, ha.)

However, the longer the pandemic lasted, the harder it became for me to stay positive and not to lose my optimism. As 2020 came to an end, it didn’t look like things were going to change anytime soon – on the contrary: many countries that had reopened went back into lockdown, a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 was found in the UK, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to make money in travel again anytime soon.

At this point, I have no idea what 2021 will look like. I flew back to New York after the Holidays and am trying to focus on some positive things. I got into the Berlin Marathon, which is supposed to happen on 26th September, which means I’d fly back to Europe then. Other than that, I don’t have any trips planned, I don’t know if I’ll still be working in travel 12 months from now, I don’t even want to get my hopes up that the marathon will actually happen. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this pessimistic about the year ahead. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so defeated. I don’t even want to allow myself to feel this way, because I know I still have it so much better than most people who’ve lost loved ones to COVID, lost their business, haven’t been able to travel anywhere. And yet, I can’t shake these feelings off, and I still mourn my pre-COVID life, I miss seeing my friends and being able to hop on a plane whenever I want to, or to simply be out and about in New York City the way I used to until last spring.

I am trying to end this 2020 review on a positive note, but I don’t really know what to say. I guess life can’t always be all sunshine and rainbows, and for now I just hope that the world will be largely COVID-free twelve months from now. I hope that the majority of people will have received a vaccine, and that the world can slowly come out of lockdown, that businesses can reopen, that people can travel again and that I’ll be able to put my stash of face masks in the far back of my drawer and never look at them again.2020 review

Masks on masks on masks, best of Queerty’s Instagram, July edition / Queerty

Masks on masks on masks, best of Queerty’s Instagram, July

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Quarantine Transformation

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From @thegregbloomer – “So I wasn’t going to post this on Instagram, because… well yeah (sorry grandma), but after the overwhelming reaction on Twitter and the article on @queerty I have decided to share. It’s been 90 days since I decided to make a big change in my life. A month into quarantine I was depressed and gaining weight which scared the hell out of me. I had always wanted to lose weight, and was actually working out about 3-5 times a week before quarantine which helped my health greatly, but I wasn’t shedding lbs. I decided to give a keto (very low carb) diet a chance, and the results have been almost unbelievably quick. I am also doing 45+ minutes of cardio 4+ times week. It’s not easy, but seeing the change has been extremely motivating for me. I don’t hate the attention either…. I feel better than I have in possibly my entire life, and am proud to post this picture. Being overweight (which I still am) is always difficult as it’s been so stigmatized, especially in the gay community. There is no right body type — whatever makes you happy, and has you feeling good, is the right answer for you. If someone doesn’t like it, they can choke. I’m excited to see what happens in the next 90 days! Sorry in advance for being a thot on the internet.”

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42 Bi & Lesbian Books Out in July! – The Lesbrary

42 Bi & Lesbian Books Out in July! – The

July Sapphic New Releases cover collage

Young Adult:

I Kissed Alice by Anna BirchI Kissed Alice by Anna Birch

For fans of Leah on the Offbeat and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, Anna Birch’s I Kissed Alice is a romantic comedy about enemies, lovers, and everything in between.

Rhodes and Iliana couldn’t be more different, but that’s not why they hate each other.

Rhodes, a gifted artist, has always excelled at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts (until she’s hit with a secret bout of creator’s block), while Iliana, a transfer student, tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce.

They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a webcomic. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other… a lot. When the truth comes out, will they destroy each other’s future?

Melt My Heart by Bethany RutterMelt My Heart by Bethany Rutter

Lily Rose is used to people paying attention to her gorgeous twin sister, Daisy. But even though Lily loves her own fat body, she can’t shake the idea that no one would ever choose her over Daisy – not when they could have the thin twin.

That is, until she meets Cal, the gorgeous, sweet guy from New Zealand who can’t seem to stay away. The gorgeous, sweet guy who also happens to be Daisy’s summer crush. Lily can’t seem to figure out why she isn’t as into him as she should be. She should be head-over-heels in love, not missing time at the ice-cream shack with her life-long best friend, Cassie. Not wondering what Cassie is getting up to with Cal’s friend Jack, or what she’s thinking about when they’re alone . . .

With University threatening to tear Cassie and Lily apart at the end of summer, trying to keep Cal a secret from Daisy and a growing right-wing threat disturbing the usual quiet of their pleasant seaside town, Lily’s summer is set to be far from relaxing.

Melt My Heart is a hilarious and inspiring coming-of-age YA novel from Bethany Rutter: influencer, editor and a fierce UK voice in the debate around body positivity.

[bisexual main character]

You're Next by Kylie SchachteYou’re Next by Kylie Schachte (YA Thriller)

Flora Calhoun has a reputation for sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. After stumbling upon a classmate’s body years ago, the trauma of that discovery and the police’s failure to find the killer has haunted her ever since. One night, she gets a midnight text from Ava McQueen, the beautiful girl who had ignited Flora’s heart last summer, then never spoke to her again.

Just in time to witness Ava’s death from a gunshot wound, Flora is set on a path of rage and vengeance for all the dead girls whose killer is never found. Her tunnel-visioned sleuthing leads to valuable clues about a shocking conspiracy involving her school and beyond, but also earns her sinister threats from the murderer. She has a choice: give up the hunt for answers, or keep digging and risk her loved ones’ lives. Either way, Flora will regret the consequences. Who’s next on the killer’s list?

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory PowerBurn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power (YA Horror)

Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

[sapphic main character]

Faith: Taking Flight by Julie MurphyFaith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy (YA Superhero)

Faith Herbert is a pretty regular teen. When she’s not hanging out with her two best friends, Matt and Ches, she’s volunteering at the local animal shelter or obsessing over the long-running teen drama The Grove.

So far, her senior year has been spent trying to sort out her feelings for her maybe-crush Johnny and making plans to stay close to Grandma Lou after graduation. Of course, there’s also that small matter of recently discovering she can fly….

When the fictional world of The Grove crashes into Faith’s reality as the show relocates to her town, she can’t believe it when TV heroine Dakota Ash takes a romantic interest in her.

But her fandom-fueled daydreams aren’t enough to distract Faith from the fact that first animals, then people, have begun to vanish from the town. Only Faith seems able to connect the dots to a new designer drug infiltrating her high school.

But when her investigation puts the people she loves in danger, she will have to confront her hidden past and use her newfound gifts—risking everything to save her friends and beloved town.

Young Adult Fantasy:

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa BashardoustGirl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Melissa Bashardoust’s Girl, Serpent, Thorn is “an alluring feminist fairy tale” (Kirkus Reviews) about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse.

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

[bisexual main character]

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn BayronCinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Girls team up to overthrow the kingdom in this unique and powerful retelling of Cinderella from a stunning new voice that’s perfect for fans of A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

A Wicked Magic by Sasha LaurensA Wicked Magic by Sasha Laurens

Dan and Liss are witches. The Black Book granted them that power. Harnessing that power feels good, especially when everything in their lives makes them feel powerless.

During a spell gone wrong, Liss’s boyfriend is snatched away by an evil entity and presumed dead. Dan and Liss’s friendship dies that night, too. How can they practice magic after the darkness that they conjured?

Months later, Liss discovers that her boyfriend is alive, trapped underground in the grips of an ancient force. She must save him, and she needs Dan and the power of The Black Book to do so. Dan is quickly sucked back into Liss’s orbit and pushes away her best friend, Alexa. But Alexa has some big secrets she’s hiding and her own unique magical disaster to deal with.

When another teenager disappears, the girls know it’s no coincidence. What greedy magic have they awakened? And what does it want with these teens it has stolen?

Set in the atmospheric wilds of California’s northern coast, Sasha Laurens’s thrilling debut novel is about the complications of friendship, how to take back power, and how to embrace the darkness that lives within us all.

[Alexa is bisexual]

The Green Ray of the Sun by Reinhardt Suarez

The summer after riding shotgun on the nerdiest odyssey this side of the Pecos, plucky misanthrope Ryland Taggart finds herself on a Tuscan farm assisting her dangerously impractical botany professor investigate a rash of unexplained crop failures. They find more than they were prepared for when Ryland begins to get nightly visits from the ghost of 19th-century bandit-king, Domenico Tiburzi, pleading with her to save the land.

Si deve seguire il raggio verde, he implores. You must follow the green ray.

When she is given an 1883 edition of Jules Verne’s The Green Ray accompanied by a photo of an unnamed woman, Ryland takes up Tiburzi’s challenge and embarks on a cross-European quest to uncover the farm’s mysterious past. But can she escape the ghosts at her heels—both the mostly dead kind and the phantoms woven from her own regrets—long enough to find how the farm’s destiny is entwined with her own?

[lesbian main character]

Ghost Wood Song by Erica WatersGhost Wood Song by Erica Waters

Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut, where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead. 

If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.

Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.

But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.

In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.

Family secrets, a gorgeously resonant LGBTQ love triangle, and just the right amount of creepiness make this young adult debut a haunting and hopeful story about facing everything that haunts us in the dark.

[bisexual main character]

The Shadow of Kyoshi by F. C. YeeThe Shadow of Kyoshi by F. C. Yee

The epic, can’t-miss follow-up to the New York Times bestselling Avatar, The Last Airbender:The Rise of Kyoshi

Kyoshi’s place as the true Avatar has finally been cemented—but at a heavy cost. With her mentors gone, Kyoshi voyages across the Four Nations, struggling to keep the peace. But while her reputation grows, a mysterious threat emerges from the Spirit World. To stop it, Kyoshi, Rangi, and their reluctant allies must join forces before the Four Nations are destroyed irreparably. This thrilling follow-up continues Kyoshi’s journey from a girl of humble origins to the merciless pursuer of justice still feared and admired centuries after becoming the Avatar.

[bisexual main character]

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Fiction & Mystery:

The Pull of the Stars by Emma DonoghueThe Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

In Dublin, 1918, a maternity ward at the height of the Great Flu is a small world of work, risk, death, and unlooked-for love, in “Donoghue’s best novel since Room” (Kirkus Reviews)

In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s regimented world step two outsiders — Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police , and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.

In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.

In The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue once again finds the light in the darkness in this new classic of hope and survival against all odds.

[f/f relationship]

The Feasting Virgin by Georgia KoliasThe Feasting Virgin by Georgia Kolias

Xeni is a first-generation Greek American, raised in the Greek Orthodox faith, and trained in all the essential skills of a traditional Greek housewife. She knows how to make any Greek dish scrumptious, but the one recipe she hasn’t mastered is how to make a baby―by virgin birth. Xeni is a lesbian and struggles daily to resolve what she wants with what doesn’t―praying for a miracle.

Meanwhile, free-spirited Callie, who ended up with a baby conceived during a boozy one-night stand, is trying to bridge a cultural divide with Gus, her Greek American baby daddy, by learning to cook just like his mother. When Xeni spots Callie in the produce aisle selecting limp spinach and tofu for spanakopita, she’s compelled to offer her assistance. After all, food can create miracles, and they both need one.

With undeniable chemistry from their first cooking lesson, Xeni and Callie sublimate their intense attraction to one another by creating mouthwatering meals. But their good intentions are blown to shreds when Gus’s mother arrives from Greece and decides that Xeni, not Callie, would make the perfect Greek wife for Gus. Now Xeni must once and for all reconcile her religious beliefs with her sexuality―and decide which love is ultimately the higher power.

The Feasting Virgin is a delectable novel that is full of heart, humor, magical realism and a veritable feast full of tasty recipes.

My Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog by Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, translated by Megan McDowellMy Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog by Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, translated by Megan McDowell

My Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog is a novel told in fifteen stories, linked by the same protagonist, our narrator, who–in her own voice and channeling the voices of others–creates an unsparing, multigenerational portrait of her native Cuba. Though she feels suffocated by the island and decides to leave, hers is not just a political novel–nor just a queer novel, an immigrant novel, a feminist novel–but a deeply existential one, in which mortality, corporeality, bureaucracy, emotional and physical violence, and the American Dream define the long journey of our narrator and her beloved pet dog, who gives the book both its title and its unforgettable ending. In its daring style and structure–both playful and profound, youthful and mature – and its frank discussion of political and sexual identity, My Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog marks the emergence of an original and essential new voice.

Utopia Avenue by David MitchellUtopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Utopia Avenue is the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967, and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss and guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet, Utopia Avenue embarked on a meteoric journey from the seedy clubs of Soho, a TV debut on Top of the Pops, the cusp of chart success, glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American sojourn in the Chelsea Hotel, Laurel Canyon, and San Francisco during the autumn of ’68.

David Mitchell’s kaleidoscopic novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue’s turbulent life and times; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of voices in the head, and the truths and lies they whisper; of music, madness, and idealism. Can we really change the world, or does the world change us?

[Elf is sapphic]

Tack & Jibe by Lilah SuzanneTack & Jibe by Lilah Suzanne

Raised on a small island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Willa has a picture-perfect nautical life: hanging out at the beach with her friends, living in a cozy seaside cottage, working at a sailing store, and running a hugely popular sailing Instagram. It’s so convincing that her overzealous online followers register her to compete in the High Seas, a televised national sailing championship.

Too bad Willa doesn’t actually know how to sail.

Desperate to protect her carefully curated life, Willa tracks down four-time High Seas champion Lane Cordova, and begs her for a crash course in sailing before the race begins. But Lane’s mastery of the water is matched only by Willa’s ineptitude—and her growing crush on Lane isn’t helping matters. When the competition threatens to go awry and take her idealized life with it, Willa has to figure out if she can save her reputation from sinking while taking a chance on love.

No Regrets by Tabitha WebbNo Regrets Tabitha Webb

Best friends Stella, Ana and Dixie have always lived life to the full. But now they’re approaching their forties, reality is starting to kill the mood…

Stella loves her children, but misses her glittering career. Plus she can’t even remember the last time she had sex.

Ana is trying for a baby with her partner Rex. So why can’t she stop thinking about the one that got away?

Dixie is the wildest of them all. A Tinder addict who’ll never settle down. But has she accidentally found Mr Right…?

It’s time for the friends to shake things up and start having some fun. Because you only regret the things you don’t do, right?

[Stella is sapphic]

Once You Go This Far by Kristen LepionkaOnce You Go This Far by Kristen Lepionka (Mystery)

Junior-high school nurse Rebecca Newsome was an experienced hiker―until she plummeted to her death at the bottom of a ravine in a Columbus metro park. Her daughter, Maggie, doesn’t believe it was an accident, and Rebecca’s ex-husband is her prime suspect. But he’s a well-connected ex-cop and Maggie is certain that’s the reason no one will listen to her. PI Roxane Weary quickly uncovers that the dead woman’s ex is definitely a jerk, but is he a murderer?

As she pieces together the days before Rebecca died, what Roxane finds doesn’t quite add up. From a series of trips to Detroit and across the border to a casino in Windsor, Canada, to strange calls from Rebecca’s home to a charismatic political candidate, to a women’s health organization, to a secretive church group that seems to have more information about its members than it should, Roxane needs to figure out how everything is connected before a dangerous secret gets someone else killed.

[Roxane is bisexual]

The Lady Upstairs by Halley SuttonThe Lady Upstairs by Halley Sutton (Noir Thriller)

A modern-day noir featuring a twisty cat-and-mouse chase, this dark debut thriller tells the story of a woman who makes a living taking down terrible men…then finds herself in over her head and with blood on her hands. The only way out? Pull off one final con.

Jo’s job is blackmailing the most lecherous men in Los Angeles–handsy Hollywood producers, adulterous actors, corrupt cops. Sure, she likes the money she’s making, which comes in handy for the debt she is paying off, but it’s also a chance to take back power for the women of the city. Eager to prove herself to her coworker Lou and their enigmatic boss, known only as the Lady Upstairs, Jo takes on bigger and riskier jobs.

When one of her targets is murdered, both the Lady Upstairs and the LAPD have Jo in their sights. Desperate to escape the consequences of her failed job, she decides to take on just one more sting–bringing down a rising political star. It’s her biggest con yet–and she will do it behind the Lady’s back, freeing both herself and Lou. But Jo soon learns that Lou and the Lady have secrets of their own, and that no woman is safe when there is a life-changing payout on the line.

A delicious debut thriller crackling with wit and an unforgettable feminist voice, The Lady Upstairs is a chilling and endlessly surprising take on female revenge.

[f/f relationship]

Romance:

https://amzn.to/3231Nw7Kiss Me Every Day by Dena Blake

Wynn Jamison is turning thirty. Her career has made her rich, but her love life is sorely lacking. She’s okay with that until she spends her birthday dinner with the woman who could’ve changed it all. There’s only one problem. She’s married to Wynn’s sister.

Carly Evans is tired of her wife ignoring her needs to put her career first. Family has always been important to her, and Jordan just doesn’t seem to care.

A freak thunderstorm rages during the night, and Wynn finds herself catapulted back in time to the day she made the worst decision of her life―stepping aside to let her sister romance Carly. Reliving the day over and over again, Wynn must decide what is most important: success, loyalty, or love. Given a second chance at happiness, will she take the opportunity and change her destiny?

Entangled by Melissa BraydenEntangled by Melissa Brayden

Josephine Wilder’s torrid love affair is with Tangle Valley Vineyard, her family’s legacy. She’s grown up dreaming between the vines. She’s always had secret ideas about how to make the place shine, so when it passes to her, Joey vows to make Tangle Valley everything she knows it can be. Her biggest obstacle? That overly commercial hotel going up, and the uppity manager trying to kill the vineyard’s rustic charm.

Becca Crawford loves to unwind with a good glass of wine. An astute business woman who has climbed the hospitality ladder, she’s the perfect person to head up Elite Resorts’ newest property, The Jade Hotel, and give tourists all the luxury they desire. As a bonus, The Jade is not far from the cutest vineyard with the best pinot she’s ever tasted. If only the captivating owner would get on board with her plan and stop badmouthing the hotel to everyone in town.

Is it possible that a nice glass of red could help Becca and Joey see each other in a new and alluring light?

Love Actually by M. C. Cerny

Carmen Malone’s love life was sadder than a soufflé. Every new relationship puffed up with hope and then fizzled just as quickly once her partners got comfortable. Was is possible she was a magnet for all the cheaters in the Tri-state area? She was in love with the idea of love, and the perfect relationship, but had no idea how to execute it unless it was in the form of a twelve tier wedding cake… complicated, covered in fondant, and sticky sweet.

Louisa Cox could spot a bad dye job and split ends a mile away. Her salon, the Vodka and Wash was the best day spa boutique in upstate NY. She worked her tail off to get this far in her career, and for what it was worth, she wasn’t about to lose it… until Carmen walked in looking like Medusa with trust issues as wide as the Grand Canyon. Louisa was willing to give love a second chance, but a reluctant Carmen shot her down.

Carmen was stuck between a doughnut and a croissant and there was no cronut on the planet that could help her figure it out. Guys? Girls? It was a nightmare series of bad dates until she met Louisa. Now she has to decide, keep pleasing those around her or step out and start pleasing herself?

One Woman's Treasure by Jean CopelandOne Woman’s Treasure by Jean Copeland

After Daphne accidentally “steals” a family heirloom from Nina’s front lawn thinking it’s junk left for trash pickup, she learns she’s wanted by the police for questioning. Once the dust settles, Daphne and Nina form a friendship inspired by their mutual love for antiquing and a desire for a fresh start in their lives.

As they grow closer, their attraction moves way beyond friends. But who will be brave enough to confess her feelings first? Daphne, the self-conscious procrastinator who’s working hard to get her new business off the ground, or Nina, the newly-out mom whose priority is creating a stable life for her son? Before they can take a chance on becoming lovers, they’ll have to decide if love is worth the risk.

Things Hoped For by Chencia C. HigginsThings Hoped For by Chencia C. Higgins

Can two women who only want to be loved, find a home in each other when the world around them is moving too fast for them to settle down?

Growing up in an intolerant town, Latrisha Martin was used to shrinking the most important parts of herself. She hid her loneliness within a busy life and kept the yearning in her heart tucked away from those closest to her. Just as the façade became too heavy to maintain, Trisha received wise words from a strange woman that helped redirect her life’s journey. On a whim, she relocates to Houston, and while adjusting to a new normal, she finds that those desires she’d once hidden begin to manifest in ways she never imagined.

With her star attached to a rocket ship, Xenobia Cooper was quickly transforming from a locally known talent into a name known in households across the nation. Viewed as an overnight success to many, the only thing that the veteran of the Houston underground music scene hadn’t prepared for was living a life without someone to come home to at the end of the day. A reckless tweet sent out in the middle of the night brings an influx of women with stars in their eyes, but they all lack the key component that Xeno is looking for. A chance encounter after her largest show to date and she’s convinced that those things she’d hoped for are just within her grasp.

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia WaiteThe Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

When Agatha Griffin finds a colony of bees in her warehouse, it’s the not-so-perfect ending to a not-so-perfect week. Busy trying to keep her printing business afloat amidst rising taxes and the suppression of radical printers like her son, the last thing the widow wants is to be the victim of a thousand bees. But when a beautiful beekeeper arrives to take care of the pests, Agatha may be in danger of being stung by something far more dangerous…

Penelope Flood exists between two worlds in her small seaside town, the society of rich landowners and the tradesfolk.  Soon, tensions boil over when the formerly exiled Queen arrives on England’s shores—and when Penelope’s long-absent husband returns to Melliton, she once again finds herself torn, between her burgeoning love for Agatha and her loyalty to the man who once gave her refuge.

As Penelope finally discovers her true place, Agatha must learn to accept the changing world in front of her. But will these longing hearts settle for a safe but stale existence or will they learn to fight for the future they most desire?

Storm Lines by Jessica L. WebbStorm Lines by Jessica L. Webb

Constable Bridget “Marley” Marlowe is always doing the wrong thing for the right reason. This time she’s skating the line of police procedure by protecting a young girl caught up in her father’s designer street drug ring. But when Marley gets injured, she needs help from someone she can trust.

Dr. Devon Wolfe is a burned out psychologist on leave from her job in a busy hospital trauma unit. When Devon meets the injured Marley, she doesn’t know what to make of the bright and beautiful―and occasionally rogue―cop. Devon decides to help Marley and gets mixed up in the world of addictive street drugs, a young girl who knows something but won’t speak, and the uncertainty of knowing right from wrong. All Devon knows is she and Marley are in this together.

Hairpin Curves by Elia WintersHairpin Curves by Elia Winters

RITA® Award—winning author Elia Winters delivers a sexy, playful frenemies-to-lovers road-trip romance.

Megan Harris had hopes of seeing the world, but at twenty-five she’s never even left Florida. Now a wedding invitation lures her to Quebec…in February. When her ex-friend Scarlett offers to be her plus-one (yeah, that’s a whole story) and suggests they turn the journey into an epic road trip, Megan reluctantly agrees to the biggest adventure of her life.

A week together in a car is a surefire way to kill a crush, and Scarlett Andrews has had a big one on Megan for years. The important thing is fixing their friendship.

As the miles roll away, what starts as harmless road-trip games and rest-stop dares escalates into something like intimacy. And when a surprise snowstorm forces Megan and Scarlett to hunker down without the open road as distraction, they’ve got a bigger challenge than making it to the church on time: facing the true nature of their feelings for each other.

Carina Adores is home to highly romantic contemporary love stories where LGBTQ+ characters find their happily-ever-afters.

Love Bites by Ry HermanLove Bites by Ry Herman (Paranormal Romance)

Angela likes Chloe. Chloe likes Angela. It should be simple enough – there’s just the small matter of Angela’s aversion to sunlight. And crosses. And mirrors . . .

In 1998, Angela was a smart, gothy astronomy student ­- until her then-girlfriend accidentally turned her into a vampire. A year later, she divides her time between her post-graduate degree (working on it in a dark, basement room, and only at night) and controlling her need for human blood.

Then she meets lonely but wryly humorous slush-pile reader Chloe, who’s battling demons of her own. Chloe’s anxiety and depression can make it hard for her to leave the house, while memories of her ex haunt her at night.

As sparks fly and romance blooms, Angela and Chloe struggle to hide their difficulties from each other – but sometimes the only way out is to let someone else in.

Infaemous by Arizona TapeInfaemous by Arizona Tape (Paranormal Romance)

Rich people with fat wallets shimmer.

With the help of her trusty deck of talking cards, Rie has always been able to detect the presence of money on her marks long before she picks their pocket.

When she picks the wrong target, she gains the attention of a mysterious gang. To pay for her mistake, she has no choice but to lend them her powers and hustle the richest man in the city. After a rough life on the streets, she’s just the woman for the job.

[f/f romance]

Science Fiction and Fantasy:

Unconquerable Sun by Kate ElliottUnconquerable Sun by Kate Elliot (Science Fiction)

GENDER-SPUN ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE

Princess Sun has finally come of age.

Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected―and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme―and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.

To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

Take the brilliance and cunning courage of Princess Leia―add in a dazzling futuristic setting where pop culture and propaganda are one and the same―and hold on tight:

This is the space opera you’ve been waiting for.

[sapphic main character]

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavour by Hank GreenA Beautifully Foolish Endeavour by Hank Green (Science Fiction)

Who has the right to change the world forever? 
How will we live online? 
How do we find comfort in an increasingly isolated world?

The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While the robots were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction with only their presence. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories.

Months later, April’s friends are trying to find their footing in a post-Carl world. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda is contemplating defying her friends’ advice and pursuing a new scientific operation…one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension. Just as it is starting to seem like the gang may never learn the real story behind the events that changed their lives forever, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers—all of which seems to suggest that April could be very much alive.

In the midst of the search for the truth and the search for April is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is the bold and brilliant follow-up to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It is a fast-paced adventure that is also a biting social commentary, asking hard, urgent questions about the way we live, our freedoms, our future, and how we handle the unknown.

[bisexual main character]

I Come with Knives by S.A. HuntI Come with Knives by S.A. Hunt (Fantasy/Horror)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets Joe Hill in S. A. Hunt’s I Come with Knives, a horror-tinged action-adventure about a punk YouTuber on a mission to hunt witches, one vid at a time

Robin – now armed with new knowledge about mysterious demon terrorizing her around town, the support of her friends, and the assistance of her old witch-hunter mentor – plots to confront the Lazenbury coven and destroy them once and for all.

Meanwhile, a dangerous serial killer only known as The Serpent is abducting and killing Blackfield residents. An elusive order of magicians known as the Dogs of Odysseus also show up with Robin in their sights.

Robin must handle these new threats on top of the menace from the Lazenbury coven, but a secret about Robin’s past may throw all of her plans into jeopardy.

[bisexual main character]

Ashes of the Sun by Django WexlerAshes of the Sun by Django Wexler (Fantasy)

Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy.

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

Nonfiction:

Heathen Vol. 3 by Natasha AltericiHeathen Vol. 3 by Natasha Alterici (Comics)

At last Aydis enters the land of the gods, but when she comes face-to-face with the god king Odin, will she be able to sway him? Meanwhile, the friends she’s left behind must band with Aydis’s family to stop Odin’s army, even if it means standing against the Valkyrie themselves.

[lesbian main character]

SFSX, Vol 1 by Tina HornSFSX, Vol 1 by Tina Horn (Comics)

From notorious kink writer TINA HORN and featuring a diverse group of artists comes SFSX (SAFE SEX), a social thriller about sex, love, and torture. It’s SEX CRIMINALS in Gilead, Hustlers with a SUNSTONE twist.

In a draconian America where sexuality is strictly bureaucratized and policed, a group of queer sex workers keep the magic alive in an underground club called the Dirty Mind. Using their unique talents for bondage and seduction, they resolve to infiltrate the mysterious government Pleasure Center, free their incarcerated friends, and fight the power!

[lesbian and bisexual characters]

Is Rape a Crime?: A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto by Michelle BowdlerIs Rape a Crime?: A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto by Michelle Bowdler

The crime of rape sizzles like a lightning strike. It pounces, flattens, destroys. A person stands whole, and in a moment of unexpected violence, that life, that body is gone.

Award-winning writer and public health executive Michelle Bowdler’s memoir indicts how sexual violence has been addressed for decades in our society, asking whether rape is a crime given that it is the least reported major felony, least successfully prosecuted, and fewer than 3% of reported rapes result in conviction. Cases are closed before they are investigated and DNA evidence sits for years untested and disregarded

Rape in this country is not treated as a crime of brutal violence but as a parlor game of he said / she said. It might be laughable if it didn’t work so much of the time.

Given all this, it seems fair to ask whether rape is actually a crime.

In 1984, the Boston Sexual Assault Unit was formed as a result of a series of break-ins and rapes that terrorized the city, of which Michelle’s own horrific rape was the last. Twenty years later, after a career of working with victims like herself, Michelle decides to find out what happened to her case and why she never heard from the police again after one brief interview.

Is Rape a Crime? is an expert blend of memoir and cultural investigation, and Michelle’s story is a rallying cry to reclaim our power and right our world.

[lesbian author]

Imagining Latinx Intimacies Connecting Queer Stories, Spaces and Sexualities by Edward A. ChamberlainImagining Latinx Intimacies: Connecting Queer Stories, Spaces and Sexualities by Edward A. Chamberlain

Imagining Latinx Intimacies addresses the ways that artists and writers resist the social forces of colonialism, displacement, and oppression through crafting incisive and inspiring responses to the problems that queer Latinx peoples encounter in both daily lives and representation such as art, film, poetry, popular culture, and stories. Instead of keeping quiet, queer Latinx artists and writers have spoken up as a way of challenging stereotypes, prejudice, and the lived experiences of estrangement and physical violence. Artistic thinkers such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, and Rane Arroyo have challenged such socio-political problems by imagining intimate social and intellectual spaces that resist the status quo like homophobic norms, laws, and policies that hurt families and communities. Building on the intellectual thought of researchers such as Jorge Duany, Adriana de Souza e Silva, and José Esteban Muñoz, this book explains how the imagined spaces of Latinx LGBTQ peoples are blueprints for addressing our tumultuous present and creating a better future.

Storytelling in Queer Appalachia by Hillery Glasby, Sherrie Gradin, and Rachael RyersonStorytelling in Queer Appalachia: Imagining and Writing the Unspeakable Other by Hillery Glasby, Sherrie Gradin, and Rachael Ryerson

In one of the first collections of scholarship at the intersection of LGBTQ studies and Appalachian studies, voices from the region’s valleys, hollers, mountains, and campuses blend personal stories with scholarly and creative examinations of living and surviving as queers in Appalachia. The essayists collected in Storytelling in Queer Appalachia are academics, social workers, riot grrrl activists, teachers, students, practitioners, scholars of divinity, and boundary crossers, all imagining how to make legible the unspeakable other of Appalachian queerness.

Focusing especially on disciplinary approaches from rhetoric and composition, the volume explores sexual identities in rural places, community and individual meaning-making among the Appalachian diaspora, the storytelling infrastructure of queer Appalachia, and the role of the metronormative in discourses of difference. Storytelling in Queer Appalachia affirms queer people, fights for queer visibility over queer erasure, seeks intersectional understanding, and imagines radically embodied queer selves through social media.

Lady Romeo by Tana WojczukLady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America’s First Celebrity by Tana Wojczuk

For fans of Book of Ages and American Eve, this illuminating and enthralling biography of 19th-century queer actress Charlotte Cushman portrays her radical lifestyle that riveted New York City and made headlines across America.

From the very beginning, she was a radical. At age nineteen, Charlotte Cushman, America’s beloved actress and the country’s first true celebrity, left her life—and countless suitors—behind to make it as a Shakespearean actress. After revolutionizing the role of Lady Macbeth in front of many adoring fans, she went on the road, performing in cities across a dividing America and building her fame. She was everywhere. And yet, her name has faded in the shadows of history.

Now, for the first time in decades, Cushman’s story comes to full and brilliant life in this definitive, exhilarating, and enlightening biography of the 19th-century icon. With rarely seen letters, Wojczuk reconstructs the formative years of Cushman’s life, set against the excitement and drama of New York City in the 1800s, featuring a cast of luminaries and revolutionaries that changed the cultural landscape of America forever.

A vivid portrait of an astonishing and uniquely American life, Lady Romeo reveals one of the most remarkable women in United States history, and restores her to the center stage where she belongs.

Check out more LGBTQ new releases at:

(Re)building Our Nation: July 4th, Hamilton, and LGBTQ Families

(Re)building Our Nation: July 4th, Hamilton, and LGBTQ Families

I am thinking this July 4th week of a song from the musical Hamilton, which sees its television premiere today. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr sing together to their children about their new country, “We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you./ If we lay a strong enough foundation/ We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you/ And you’ll blow us all away.” What is the world we want to leave to our children? What do we need to do to make it happen?

American flag with children's silhouettes

Those questions feel more imperative than ever. The direction of our country is frightening for many reasons, but I want to focus here on some specific issues for LGBTQ families. Last week—the fifth anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established marriage equality nationwide—Indiana asked the Court to take a case that would, if decided in the state’s favor, revoke the right of married nonbiological mothers in same-sex couples to be recognized as parents and be put on their children’s birth certificates without second-parent adoptions.

Indiana’s challenge seeks to deny children of same-sex parents the protection of having two legal parents from birth, one of the primary benefits of marriage equality for many same-sex parent couples (even though the major LGBTQ legal organizations still advise second-parent adoptions as well, for greater legal security). The Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will take the case—but the mere fact that Indiana is pursuing it says much about the animosity that remains towards LGBTQ families.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department is continuing to deny equal citizenship rights to children born abroad to married same-sex couples—although a federal court last week said they were wrong to do so in one case. At least three other same-sex couples have also sued the State Department for similar reasons; their cases are still pending.

And 11 states (Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) now allow foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. All but Alabama and Michigan allow them to do so even if they receive taxpayer money. One case now before the U.S. Supreme Court involves a child services agency seeking to do the same in Philadelphia; the Trump administration in early June filed a brief in support of the agency. Not only that, but the administration in November 2019 proposed a rule to allow such discrimination nationwide by all recipients of grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which could impact not only child services but also programs dedicated to youth homelessness, HIV, and more.

We did have a huge win June 15 when the Supreme Court ruled that people cannot be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Just days before, however, the Trump administration finalized a rule that says health care anti-discrimination protections don’t cover discrimination based on LGBTQ identities. And transgender people continue to face trans-specific discrimination and anti-trans violence.

Add to all this the ongoing racism that impacts LGBTQ families as much as any others, the systemic injustice woven into the fabric of our nation from the time European settlers seized it from the indigenous peoples.

How can we celebrate the birth of such a country, especially under a current federal administration that seems only to exacerbate bias and divisiveness?

How can we celebrate the birth of such a country, especially under a current federal administration that seems only to exacerbate bias and divisiveness?

There’s no simple answer, but Hamilton may again be instructive. When Hamilton tries to convince Burr to support the new U.S. Constitution, Burr objects, “It’s full of contradictions.” Hamilton replies, “So is independence. We have to start somewhere.”

Our country is imperfect. For many, it is oppressive. Our country, like our constitution, is messy and full of contradictions. Yet here we are at this messy, contradictory moment in time. This is the somewhere from which we must start.

During this July 4 week, then, perhaps we can best celebrate our country not with fireworks, but by taking action to improve it. A few ideas, if you need them:

Those are only a few ideas. I hope you find others with causes that matter to you.

Hamilton speaks in the musical of “the notion of a nation we now get to build.” Let’s use our nation’s birthday to reflect on our vision of that notion and then get to work, building and rebuilding.

(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)