The Names We Take Book Review

Disclaimer: Some of the links in my review for The Names We Take by Trace Kerr are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

A version of this book review first appeared in The Lesbrary.

book cover of the names we take


This young adult dystopian novel takes place in Spokane, Washington after an epidemic called the One Mile Cough wipes out a huge chunk of the population. Pip, the protagonist, is an intersex trans girl just trying to survive. But a group of bounty hunters has a different idea. They seek women and children to gather for a supposed safe haven called Thistle Hill Orchard. When Pip takes charge of a girl named Iris, she must keep the child safe and do what’s best for their newfound family.

Plot of The Names We Take

The novel moves at a good pace as the action keeps its momentum going forward while the moments of peace allow the characters and reader to breathe. Kerr is adept at unraveling details about the characters throughout the narrative without falling into info dumps. While the character development shines, the plot development fell a bit by the wayside.

The story proposes that a plague called the One Mile Cough hit Spokane’s population, but it doesn’t get much page time other than to say that it caused this post-apocalypse world. The story never details the disease’s origins or spread, and the reader doesn’t know for sure how far it hit. You assume the whole United States at least as the citizens of Spokane have been left to fend for themselves. But the narration never confirms that guess.

Another delightful aspect of the novel is its inclusion of periods. Post-apocalypse stories often stay away from the subject of menstruation, but more stories should tackle it, as people who menstruate continue to exist even after the world as we know it ends. Kerr doesn’t shy away from the topic and details how Pip gathers pads and teaches Iris what to do when the young girl gets her first period.


As Pip goes through the new world after civilization has crumbled, she faces a great deal of the same prejudice and bigotry as she did before the world ended. People misgender her constantly and she experiences violence at the hands of men. It’s a brutal pill to swallow as she continues to assert her existence as her true self, fighting narrow-minded bigots and righteous zealots who feel they know best for her.

But Pip finds reprieve in her relationships. Whistler, a survivor of One Mile Cough with PTSD is her protector. Iris becomes the little sister she must guide and protect. Fly is the beautiful girl she falls for in the middle of the chaos around her. The protagonist and supporting cast dynamics make this book such a fascinating read. It’s the story of the family forged when people take a stand and fight for who they are.

The most interesting development in Pip’s character is her demeanor toward Iris. It’s clear that Pip doesn’t lack compassion, but she does lack patience. Running around with a twelve-year-old girl prone to pouting and eye-rolling, even in the apocalypse, teaches her a great deal of patience and love.

Gender and Identity

The language around Pip’s gender and sexual orientation is careful and precise. It’s explained that she was born intersex and that her parents chose male for her at birth, but when she hits puberty and gets her first period, that’s when she finds out she was born intersex. As she grows she becomes sure she wants to be a girl and takes steps to make her body appear as her true identity.

Throughout the novel the audience sees her struggling when she’s called a boy or questioned about her gender. She clearly still holds insecurity and body dysmorphia over her masculine appearance in many ways. But Iris accepts Pip as a girl, even if the others in Thistle Hill don’t. Pip also reveals she is bisexual when she starts developing a crush on Fly. Her feelings fill her with fear, but Fly assures her it’s okay, as does another friend at the sanctuary.

Rating for The Names We Take

Overall, The Names We Take is a satisfying read with rich character dynamics that keep you hooked. The plot needed a little more world-building to understand their environment, but it had enough intrigue to keep me reading.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

You can buy The Names We Take here.

Behind the Poems: Tocarla

“Tocarla” is the next one in my series “Behind the Poems.” See other posts in the series here.

This poem first appeared in Lady Lit Magazine, an online journal that is now deactivated.

screenshot of a poem in the shape of a guitar

I remember how excited and nervous I was when I first wrote this poem and submitted it for publication. It was my first attempt at what I like to call a “spicy” poem. Something about it felt forbidden, which made it all the more enticing.

Coming from a bilingual background, I wanted to make a double entendre. Tocar translates to “to touch” in Spanish, but it’s also a verb used to refer to playing an instrument. So, to say, “To play the guitar,” you’d say, “Tocar la guitarra.”

I haven’t played guitar in a few years, but I used to practice periodically throughout college. I noticed one day the perfect way the curve of the instrument fit my lap. Leaning against its smooth wood, one hand moved up and down strumming the strings and the other glided up and down the neck from fret to fret. It’s a feeling of connection like the instrument became an extension of me.

This experience spoke to me about how sensuous the act of playing an instrument can actually be, which then inspired the idea to create a parallel scene. My poem depicts a lover holding a woman in his lap and touching her to “make her sing” the way a guitarist plays the instrument to make music.

I shaped the words on the page to emulate the curve of a guitar, which could also be seen as the curve of a woman lying on her side. I remember feeling particularly clever when I laid out the poem this way. Perhaps it’s not so genius, but at the time, writing about such a forbidden subject and creating a visual with the words on the page felt empowering to me.

Remember November Book Review

A version of this book review for Remember November by Cameron Darrow first appeared in The Lesbrary.

remember november by cameron darrow book cover


Remember, November follows Millie, Elise, Victoria and their coven of witches as they learn their powers in the aftermath of World War I. The coven is under the employment of The Allied Directorate for Alternative Means (ADAM), a government-sanctioned operation that wants to use magic to fight wars.

On Christmas night, Victoria goes missing. The split point-of-view narration reveals she has lost her memory and doesn’t know she’s a witch. After a series of strange mishaps that seem impossible, she submits herself to the mercy of a psychiatric hospital, hoping to find answers. But the kind doctor and hospital are not all they appear. It’s up to Millie and Elise to rescue their lost friend.

Plot of Remember November

The mysterious plot, historical fiction and romance between Millie and Elise make this novel delightful. It’s easy to keep turning the pages as the action never gets bogged down in too much detail.

While the writing is strong and compelling, it’s not particularly tight. There are moments when the story becomes hard to follow due to typos and convoluted grammar. The book needed more effective editing before going to publication. But the narrative is still strong enough to keep readers wanting more.

As the story unravels and readers go along for the ride, clues and details lead them to certain conclusions. That’s why the plot twist with how Victoria lost her memory packs a powerful punch. It’s a possibility that doesn’t pop up at the top of the list of answers to the question, “What happened?”

The correlation between science and magic lacked exploration. Darrow touches upon the relationship between two seemingly opposing concepts with Elise and Victoria, but the idea never blooms further than a few buds. The story could have been made richer with a deeper dive into how science and magic go hand in hand.


The moments of character development give the reader an opportunity to breathe and get inside the characters’ heads. Each character has a strong, distinct voice that makes readers want to get to know each one on their own.

But that doesn’t mean their relationships with one another fall by the wayside. The bond created between the three new witches as well as their mistresses, ancient witches who are mentoring the new generation, comes through clearly as they do anything and everything to protect one another.

Darrow’s writing ability shines during moments of introspection, developing each main character within their thoughts. As Millie and Victoria navigate their world and consider their relationships with other characters, their voices are clear and distinct, making them complete and rounded-out people. It’s an impressive feat with Victoria, as for most of the book she is without her memory.

The novel establishes Elise and Millie’s romantic relationship early on. But for fans of a slow burn, their pining makes up a great deal of this romance. Everything about their feelings always feels genuine and organic. Millie’s characterization is especially sweet as her demeanor softens when she’s around Elise, whereas with others she tends to be sarcastic.

Rating for Remember November

A fun and compelling read all the way through. Although Darrow left certain aspects underdeveloped, it still holds a captivating allure with its fantastical elements and friendships.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Behind the Poems: Speak Easy

Another one for the “Behind the Poems” books. See other posts in the series here.

“Speak Easy” was first published in Lady Lit Magazine, an online journal that is now deactivated.

Arco de la Victoria in Madrid Spain
Arco de la Victoria in Madrid Spain

Speak Easy

We walk into pitch black edges with only silhouettes
of people and wine glasses and beer bottles on high
top tables. At the forefront of it all: a swirling flame of red
and black surrounded by an orange glow. The flamenco dancer.

Her hurried clogging against a weathered wooden stage echoes
and shouts like a raging thunder against the howling wind
of the impassioned, chanting vocals known as
la música de los gitanos.

The guitar strings are plucked faster and faster like an oncoming downpour
of rain, frenetic clapping and deep rumblings of a drum quickly following
following the flamenco’s swirling frame and frenzied jumping until

it stops.

Or so it seems.

There’s a soft tapping and snapping now, like whispers through the trees
as she appears to float mere inches above the stage, only the tips
of her toes transcending the space and tap tap tapping while the lithe
fingers above go softly snap snap snapping.

Not a single word is spoken. Not a single breath released.

And then the snapping turns to clapping. She descends from her feat,
the tapping becomes a stomping and the eye of the storm has passed
as flurry after flurry of the twirling flamenco skirt brings on another
riotous gust followed by the howl of the gitano as he cries for lust
and lost love. It’s all a cacophonous symphony of tragedy and rage
and obsession, on and on it goes, the fire of music and chanting and
stomping and clapping until the final throe

and her arms swoop in a finishing arc to come to a stop above her head
and at her waist, a punctuation to his last anguished cry.

There is silence. And then there’s whispering in the audience
that turns to waves of awe and swells into bursts of excitement.

A standing ovation.

I went to Spain in 2015 with my parents and our trip started in Madrid. During our first few days there, we made friends with a local restaurant owner originally from Colombia. He asked us if we’d like to see a flamenco show, to which, of course, we said yes. We hopped in the taxi that took us to a restaurant that, upon our arrival, was totally empty.

We thought at first there must have been a mistake or perhaps we’d somehow been duped. But then others began to arrive and look around in confusion as well. That’s when one of the waiters came over and asked us if we were all here for the flamenco show. All of us, strangers to each other, nodded in unison. He smiled and led us over to what looked like a plain wall at first, but then slid open a hidden panel.

Behind the panel, sitting in a booth cut into the wall that seemed to go further back than it first appeared, a man greeted us and asked for our names for the tickets. Finding us all on the list, the wall gave way, revealing a doorway that led back into a dark room. My dad and I felt giddy as we said, “Oh wow, a speakeasy.” Thus, this poem was born.

The forbidden atmosphere and captivating performance entranced me. It felt like an unreal scene straight out of a movie. And the way the dancer moved in total sync with the singer’s wailing song created a heart-pounding moment. I had a sensation of being led to my roots, because yes, the reality is my bloodline also comes from the colonizing Spaniards. It’s hard to believe such a beautiful cultural heritage lives side by side with a horrific history of genocide and conquering. But that makes up my own history. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

The Athena Protocol Book Review

Disclaimer: Some of the links in my review for The Athena Protocol are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

A version of this book review first appeared in The Lesbrary.

book cover of the athena protocol


Jessie Archer is an agent of Athena, a secret women’s organization that does the government’s dirty work of bringing down bad guys without the red tape. But even Athena has its rules, and Jessie is a loose cannon. When the organization fires her, Jessie takes matters into her own hands. She goes on a mission to bring down Gregory Pavlic, a Serbian politician known for human trafficking. Along the way, she falls for Paulina, the forbidden love interest and daughter of the enemy. Jessie must earn her old team’s trust and work with them to save Gregory’s victims from a grisly fate.

Plot of The Athena Protocol

The pacing and action of the story keep it moving, making the book a quick read. The fight scenes are exciting and keep the reader hooked, wondering what comes next and if the hero will escape certain death. Jessie’s computer and tech skills are also a point of appreciation. Her technical prowess makes her a formidable agent of good, as she offers both brain and brawn.

Ultimately, the action and pace are what keep the novel going. The character development and dynamics don’t delve deep enough for readers to create an attachment to the people and their conflicts. There was potential for rich relationships, but the writing only scratched the surface with Jessie and her comrades.


Jessie is a hard protagonist to like and cheer for. She’s immature and impatient, causing her to make the same mistakes over and over again. She messes up and expects immediate forgiveness as soon as she shows remorse, never allowing her loved ones the time and space they need to heal from the hurt she caused.

She also has a righteous complex that is obnoxious. Jessie falls into the “not like other girls” trap, considering women who engage in activities considered narcissistic as beneath her. She also tends to lean toward a colonizer’s savior complex, which is especially poignant when she talks to her friend Hala, a woman she brought into the fold after helping her seek asylum in England when Hala was accused of being a terrorist.

Being unlikeable doesn’t make her a bad character though. It just makes her a frustrating one. However, her inner dialogue reveals the reasons behind her actions and adds a layer of sympathy. Jessie recognizes that while Athena’s vigilante missions do good, they can’t pretend they don’t ever do bad things in the process. It makes up the hero’s internal conflict throughout the novel. Jessie constantly questions how much bad Athena can do for the sake of good before they themselves become the bad guys.

Overall, the characters felt shallow. Especially with Jessie, it felt like a great deal of the emotions and behaviors were unexplained or unearned. Most of what her character did felt out of left field.

The best part of the book is its diverse cast of characters. Athena is made up of women from various backgrounds, from British to Arabic to American and Black. Its founder is an Asian woman who reads like a Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark type, using her billions and tech company to fund the espionage organization.

Queer Identity and Relationship

The most interesting character dynamic was Jessie and Paulina, as their roles created a star-crossed lovers scenario. With Jessie being on the side of good and Paulina being the daughter of the villain, it seemed like readers could tell where that relationship was going. But the twist at the end came as a surprise and made for a satisfying bit of character growth.

The way Jessie’s queer identity is handled seemed odd at the end. Throughout the novel, she’s not exactly shy about the way she feels about Paulina. She’s not running around the streets yelling it at the top of her lungs, but she doesn’t run away from the bond they create either.

So in the end, when her mother, Kit, reveals that she didn’t know Jessie liked women, it was confusing. Jessie never explicitly discusses her sexuality with other characters, so it felt like common knowledge and accepted. Kit’s revelation indicates otherwise though.

Rating for The Athena Protocol

Overall, the premise and characters had a lot of potential, but I don’t think Sarif reached it. It is still a fun and fast read for anyone looking for an action-packed book with kick-butt ladies.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

You can buy The Athena Protocol here.

Behind the Poems: Drill Sargeant Dad

Welcome to my series “Behind the Poems.” You can read the other posts here.

“Drill Sargeant Dad” was originally published in December 2016 in an online journal called Page & Spine that is no longer active.

father and daughter standing in front of a building in Spain

Drill Sergeant Dad

I. Second Grade

I came home from school each day with homework, but didn’t need to start
until after my break. I had an hour to eat, watch TV and do nothing.
Then it was back to business.

My dad pulled out the high black chair in the kitchen and had me sit
at the green countertop that looked out at our cluttered Florida room.
Math didn’t call my attention as much as his tools strewn across
the dirty floor outside, with cobwebs covering the corners where a broom
hadn’t reached in eons.

A stern gaze on the back of my head reminded me it was time to practice.
Low whispers like the turning pages of a book came out of my mouth as I recited
the multiplication table to myself. Eight times six is forty-eight.
Nine times five is forty-five. Six times seven is forty-two. On and on
like an unstoppable machine.

After an hour, my dad pulled out the other chair and sat next to me.
He took the paper from my hand and started the drills. Five times seven?
Thirty-five. Six times six? Thirty-six. Nine times six?


Nine times six?

A beat.
I don’t remember.

You know this. You just looked at it.

I felt the tears well behind my eyes.
I’m sorry. I don’t remember that one.

C’mon, don’t be lazy. Think.

I shook my head and a single sob escaped my lips.

There’s nothing to cry about. Just think.

The tears poured out and my vision blurred. He said something
I couldn’t hear over my crying, but I felt the paper settle back down
on the counter in front of me.

After a while I only hiccupped. I recited the one that had escaped me.
Nine times six is fifty-four. Nine times six is fifty-four…

II. Fourth Grade

I started doing real book reports. Same as usual. Came home.
Took an hour to myself. Sat down at the same counter looking out
at the same cluttered room, this time full of hockey sticks, helmets
and elbow and knee pads.

My dad had me read four chapters. Okay, what did you read?
The main character just escaped from her grandmother’s ghost that tried to grab her.
Do you know why the ghost tried to grab her? No, it didn’t say. Can you guess why?

Silence. I looked down at my hands and fidgeted.

Go skim that part again and tell me why.

But that’s not part of the assignment.

Do it anyway. And no whining.

I muttered under my breath and curled my fingers. I gave a dramatic
sigh and opened the book to read again.

III. Sixth Grade

I played on the girls’ soccer team and dreaded my father’s presence at the games.
He always yelled to go faster, be more aggressive, and don’t be afraid of the ball.
After my first game (we’d lost) I came home and sat at the same counter
to take off my cleats. I swallowed hard to keep from crying.

Hey, you don’t have to cry. It’s one game. You’ll do better next time.

No, I won’t. My voice shook. Not with you yelling at me.


I’m sorry. I’m not yelling to be mean. I just want you to push harder.

Well, I can’t. I’m doing my best and it’s not good enough.

I know you’re trying, but you can always do better. I know you can
because I’ve seen it. I just want you to know it, too.

I looked down at my lap. He kissed the top of my head and left me
sitting in the high black chair. I blinked away a stray tear,
took a deep breath, and got up.

IV. University

I can’t forget that nine times six is fifty-four. I can do basic math in my head
quicker than it takes most to pull out their phone calculators. I’m a worthy opponent
in a game of Ninety-Nine.

I can’t read anything without questioning everything, trying to decipher
what’s between the lines, behind all the writers’ masks.

I don’t play soccer anymore. But I still run when I can. I push against the fading
breath. I struggle with the pain in my side and chest. I feel the shock go up
my shins with each pounding step against the concrete. Keep going until I can’t.

V. Today

Everyone waits until someone’s gone to remember what made them important.
But I want to remember now. My dad deserves to know while he’s still around
that what he did and said mattered.

I didn’t understand then why he yelled, and pushed, and trained me.
Like I wasn’t a kid. Like he expected me to be something more.
Because I could be something more. That was how he communicated.

I just had to read between the lines and calculate his words.

I’m so proud of you and I love you.

Me too.

Journey to the Past, Present, Future

It’s only now occurring to me that this is the longest poem I’ve ever written. I’d originally called it “Eulogy to my Still Living Father.” I wanted to write something that commemorated my complicated relationship with my dad. There’s always been a great deal of love between us, but it hasn’t always been easy.

The older I get, the more I understand how my father shows his love. And the more stories I consume from other children of immigrants, the more I realize it wasn’t just me. There’s so much trauma to unpack from one generation to the next. This poem started me on my journey toward learning that.

It’s funny how I’m revisiting this poem now, during a time when I recently went to therapy and talked through my old resentments. I’m reminded that I’ve gone down this road before.

I have to constantly remind myself that my dad is a human too. I have to remember that I’m human. Neither of us is perfect. We’re both flawed. But every day we get better at knowing and understanding each other.

The Labyrinth’s Archivist Book Review

A version of this book review for The Labyrinth’s Archivist first appeared in The Lesbrary and contains spoilers!



The Labyrinth’s Archivist is the first in the Broken Cities series. It follows Azulea, the daughter of the Head Archivist and granddaughter of the former Head Archivist. The Labyrinth contains winding paths and hallways with gates to other worlds. The Residence, which houses the Archive, acts as a safe way station for passing travelers and traders. But when Azulea’s Amma dies unexpectedly, she suspects foul play. It’s up to Azulea and her friends to solve the murder mystery before the killers take more Archivists.

Plot of The Labyrinth’s Archivist

Azulea’s mother is stubborn and rooted in the old ways. But her Amma always believed she could follow in their footsteps. That’s why when her grandmother dies under suspicious circumstances, Azulea charges forward with the task of finding her killer. She does so despite the doubts coming from her community and even her own mother. It’s this persistence to succeed in a world that favors the able-bodied that makes Azulea such a great character to root for.

The queer romance did not dominate the story, but it added another element to the sci-fi murder mystery arc. Azulea and Melehti have a history, and as events unfold, that chemistry returns, hard to ignore. The narration states that their relationship didn’t work out because Azulea felt that accepting Melehti’s help made her dependent. As a blind woman, she didn’t want to lean on anyone’s help for too long.

This aspect of the story brings another layer to Azulea’s characterization. It shows that even she suffers from her society’s mentality of disabilities. In a world that deems the disabled as incapable, Azulea puts herself through many hoops to prove she isn’t, often to her detriment.

Culture and Setting

Al-Mohamed creates a rich and diverse world with her multi-species cast of characters and delightful sci-fi setting. The story never reveals if this world is set on the Earth as we know it. But enough clues make it sound like it’s off planet. The bustling marketplace life with its many beings from different worlds strongly resonates with the world-building of Star Wars.

Though that is the case, it is clear that Middle Eastern culture heavily influences the makeup of this world. The characters refer to the marketplace, where a majority of the story takes place, as the souq. This gives readers enough detail to know Arabic or Middle Eastern society and culture inspired this world’s creation. Details abound about the food people eat, like aish, and the use of spices like cumin and cardamom, common in South Asian and Arabic cuisine, indicate these cultures as the foundation for the Residence’s world.


My favorite aspect of the whole story is Azulea’s character. She is a queer woman of color with a disability; she is blind. In the Archivist tradition, individuals should be self-sufficient and able to complete the tasks the job entails without assistance. Azulea challenges those traditions by enlisting the help of her best friend and cousin, Peny, coded as having a learning disability. Together, they can be Archivists. While Azulea is the mind that processes and analyzes information quickly, Peny is the eyes that can see and draw the maps Azulea describes.

Readers can interpret the Archivist society’s views of people with disabilities as a commentary on how our own real-world society treats the disabled. Azulea proves that, given the proper tools and resources to even the playing field, she is just as capable of getting the job done as an able-bodied person.

But Azulea isn’t the only one proving this. Peny also defies expectations by supplying the main character with the skills she lacks, as well as by learning the trade despite her learning disabilities. Al-Mohamed portrays another character named Handsome Dan as an amputee with a symbiotic tentacle as his “prosthetic” leg. The novella is rife with people with disabilities, and they are all full, complex characters, capable, competent, intelligent, and independent spirits. The fact that they need assistance doesn’t make them any less so.

Rating for The Labyrinth’s Archivist

Overall, the biggest weakness of the novella is just that: it’s a novella. Many places in the story felt like they needed a deeper dive and more room to breathe, which the author could have accomplished with a full-length novel.

Even the Labyrinth in the title barely gets explored throughout the story. It never details where the Labyrinth came from, how a city arose around it, and the role it plays in their world. It spends a lot of time on its Archivists and how they interact with it, but apart from the Residence, not much is known about the Labyrinth itself, which makes the story feel like it’s missing something, considering the novella’s title.

That being said, it is still an excellent read and highly recommended. I know I want to read the rest of the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Behind the Poems: The Crayola Dance

Welcome to the next installment of my series “Behind the Poems.” You can read the other posts here.

“The Crayola Dance” is the last piece published in The Cypress Dome, UCF’s literary journal.

As you can see from above, I am not an HTML coder and cannot properly display the poem but this is close enough.

I have an obsession with color. My mom even tells the story all the time of how she taught me to read. She had to color in the white letters on the green chalkboard background of the alphabet posters she bought. It was the only way to capture my attention.

Naturally, I leaned toward coloring books which means I had to have the Crayola box. My mom even sprung for the 64-count box with the built-in crayon sharpener. Even more than the colors themselves, I loved the names. I even tried creating a few color combinations myself and giving them new names.

It’s also how I passed the time when my parents dragged us with them to Home Depot. I would stay in the paint aisle, perusing the color cards and marveling at the names, trying to understand how the name of the color could evoke its emotion. What can I say? I was a weird kid.

I experimented with movement on the page with jagged lines to show the difference in movement between the younger and the older. My mother is a dancer, so I wanted to show that with smoother lines that moved gracefully, while the younger, me as a child, are less assured.

My First Published Poems

I haven’t talked about my experience yet with these having these poems published in The Cypress Dome. I submitted them for publication during my last semester, just before I graduated.

In one of my classes, a professor asked if anyone had submitted and had their work accepted for publication. No one raised their hands, myself included, even though I knew I had been accepted. I had a habit of never touting my own accomplishments.

The next thing the professor said gave me pause. “That’s okay. It’s not expected for you to get your work accepted yet. If you do, it usually means you’re not bound to get anything else published ever again.” I don’t remember if those were the exact words, but that was the gist.

My friend sitting next to me, who also knew the journal accepted my work, looked at me out of the corner of her eye, clearly astonished at what our professor had just told us.

I’m happy to say that teacher was wrong, and I have been published a few times since. I continue to submit my work and poetry and hope to one day become a published author of a novel.

The Sanctuary of Themyscira Book Review

The Sanctuary of Themyscira is the first in the Amazons series by Leila Hedyth. This review first appeared in The Lesbrary.



A mysterious group of women rescue Kylla from imprisonment and throw her into an otherworldly adventure on the mythical island of Themyscira, home of the legendary Amazonian women. However, the paradise of a land ruled by women, away from the patriarchal world, is not all it seems. Kylla soon learns the history of the Amazons, as well as their secrets and regrets, and what role she plays in it all.

Plot of The Sanctuary of Themyscira

The novel lacks a setup for the world Kylla lives in before the Amazons rescue her and take her to Themyscira. It’s a vague context of an overly patriarchal world that uses and abuses women, but not enough time is spent developing that world to show why Kylla is whisked away to safety and refuge. Throughout her time on the island, there are a few details sprinkled about her clan, giving the reader the idea she might come from indigenous people, but it’s never made clear.

I had a hard time getting into this book, as the language felt awkward and out of place, not only in the dialogue but in the exposition. I do recognize that this was written in translation, so it could simply be a matter of that. It seems like such a small detail to nitpick, but the constant repetition of certain words, like “grandiose” to describe everything that left Kylla in awe or “piercing” to describe everyone’s eyes, is distracting when trying to follow the story.

The most compelling content in the novel is the second section, which goes into the history of the Amazons. For those familiar with Greek mythology and the mythos of the Amazons, this part of the story holds strong. It relies so much on familiarity with the myths, that without it, the novel as a whole could not stand on its own. However, within the section about the Amazons’ history, there is a standout character named Phoebe. Her story and her character are by far the most developed in the book, which keeps the reader engaged and interested to see how it all ties together.


As the story unfolds, it introduces more and more characters. There are the Amazons Ines, Cynthia, Lorelei, Re’gan, Johanne, the Queen Iris, and so many more. With such a wide cast of characters, the reader never has enough time to get to know anyone in particular. In fact, it’s even hard to remember that Kylla, the main character of the novel, is indeed the main character. She fades too easily into the background of what’s going on around her, never making a lasting impression.

Because of this lack of character and relationship development, the stakes fail to land and leave a meaningful impact. By the time the reader gets to the end of the book, they wonder why they should care. Between the overwhelming number of characters and fast pace of sequence of events, it’s easy to tune out while reading and miss so many details. It felt like the author tried to make one book out of two or three.

The language also felt stilted and unnatural, as if the author/translator tried to create a lofty voice for the Amazons. The problem this creates is one in which not a single Amazon is discernible from another. Even the main character sounds like this, but she comes from “the real world,” so there isn’t a clear reason as to why she speaks this way.

The story doesn’t focus on any specific sapphic pairing, but there are a couple of main ones that take place throughout the novel. But again, there was such a lack of development between the characters that these romances fell short of the potential they had to bloom and depict a healthy, loving example of queer women’s relationships. This underdevelopment is detrimental to the inclusion of people of color among the characters as well. Brief, surface descriptions when a new character is introduced are the only indicators that this world even has black and/or brown women. Their ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds are so minimally important that it reads more like the author was working off a checklist of diversity.

Rating for The Sanctuary of Themyscira

Overall, I’d rate the book somewhere between 2.5 and 3 stars. There are moments that kept me reading and intrigued, but on the whole, I felt it needed more development.

Behind the Poems: D Major

Welcome to the next installment of my “Behind the Poems” series. Check out more of these posts here.

This is another poem published in my alma mater’s literary journal, The Cypress Dome. It’s one of my earliest forays into acrostic poems and it set off my love for the format.

Fingers on the frets of a guitar

D Major

Calloused fingertips press against steel and nylon strings. They curl,
Hammer-on some notes, and let others sing a softer song. One, two,
One, two, three, four…The tempo pulses like a hammering heart.
Relax, press, pick, strum. I pluck each note with intent. Start
Down the frets, fingers slide, making a tinny squeal.

Swaying my body with the four-four beat I nod my head and
Tap my feet. The instrument’s curve and my lap fit one another
Readily, like lock and key. Vibrating strings buzz at my fingertips.
Up and down, up and down, my hand strokes the six lines,
Mesmerized, intoxicated, giving in. I’m letting the music play.

For those unfamiliar, an acrostic poem uses the letters of a word(s) as the first letter of each line to create a piece about the word(s) itself. How the poem relates to the chosen keyword(s) is open to interpretation by the poet.

Here, I wrote about the feeling of playing guitar. It’s been years now since I took lessons and played the instrument. But reading over this poem, I remember clearly the sense of harmony that overcomes me when I’m lost in the music.

I tend to stay away from most structured formats of poetry, as I feel restricted when I start to focus too much on elements like meter count and rhyme scheme. I often feel locked by these mechanisms. But something about an acrostic format feels like just enough restraint and challenge with the freedom to make the poem work as I need it.

In fact, the acrostic format to me feels the way music does. You can stay within the chord structure and hit the necessary notes, but the freedom comes in the texture you choose to convey those notes. While I may play or sing in D major, I decide if it will be a straight note or reverberate.

I chose the title “D Major” because that’s the key of my favorite song at the time, Good Charlotte’s “Let the Music Play.” It was such a favorite of mine that I even have a tattoo of it on my ankle. I think I fell in love with poetry because I already loved music. The two feel like cousins to me.