This week’s Sapphic Reading Challenge features sapphic books with a main character who isn’t Hollywood beautiful–they don’t fit the beauty standards that Hollywood imposes on women, where only characters who are thin, toned, young, and have perfect hair are portrayed as beautiful.
For this reading list, I’ve picked books with protagonists who don’t fit those standards. They might have love handles, like Denny, the main character in Wrong Number, Right Woman, or consider their nose to big, yet they will always be beautiful in the eyes of their love interest.
Send in your reading lists!
Just a reminder: Once you wrap up your reading for the year and complete your reading lists for the Sapphic Reading Challenge, please send me your list so I can enter you into the drawing for the giveaway on December 31!
15 sapphic books with a main character who isn’t “Hollywood beautiful”
I put together a list of 15 sapphic books featuring main characters who don’t fit Hollywood’s beauty standards.
Wrong Number, Right Woman by Jae
A single text message can change everything!
Flirting has never been Denny’s strong suit, but so what if she’s too shy to ask women out? She’s content with her simple life, working as a cashier and helping her sister raise her niece.
But then she gets a wrong-number text message from a stranger named Eliza, asking her of all people for dating advice!
Eliza is Denny’s total opposite: witty, outgoing—and straight. Despite their differences, the accidental text sparks an unlikely friendship. Soon, Eliza—self-proclaimed queen of disastrous first dates—would rather banter back and forth with Denny than to keep trying her luck at online dating.
When they meet in person, there’s an instant connection. But what Eliza is feeling can’t be attraction, right? It doesn’t mean a thing that she’s starting to wish the guys she dates would be more like Denny. Or does it?
Can the wrong number lead to the right woman after all?
Everything Between Us by Harper Bliss
Pink Bean barista Josephine Greenwood is utterly starstruck when she meets her feminist idol, Caitlin James.
When Caitlin starts showing a more than friendly interest in her, Josephine can’t believe Caitlin’s advances are genuine. Her issues with her body and how people see her, threaten to cut off any prospect of romance before it has the chance to blossom.
Will Caitlin be able to break down the walls Josephine has built around herself and open her mind to the possibility of romance?
Hooked on You by Jenn Matthews
Anna’s life’s in a bit of a rut. As a teacher with two great kids and a boyfriend, she seems to have it all. Except…she’s bored as hell. Perhaps a new hobby’s in order? Something…crafty? Divorced mother and veteran Ollie has been through the wars, emotionally and physically. To relax, she runs a quirky crochet class in her London craft shop. She can’t help but notice the attractive, feisty new student. A shame Anna’s straight as an arrow.
But somewhere between the chain stitches, doubles and trebles, Ollie and Anna form a powerful connection they never expected.
Second in Command by VK Powell
Lieutenant Jazz Perry finds a young girl wandering the downtown streets alone late at night. As the child becomes attached to her, Jazz is reminded of her own experiences in foster care and takes a personal interest even when she knows she should maintain professional distance.
Social worker Emory Blake is good at her job helping children in challenging situations. She believes in the system and knows it works if you let it. When Jazz starts interfering in the case and bypassing the rules, Emory is torn between her responsibilities and an unwelcome attraction she can’t deny.
When on the job responsibilities collide with desires of the heart, becoming personally involved is the only choice.
The Shape of You by Georgia Beers
Personal trainer Rebecca McCall is furious when her coworker is sidelined and she’s forced to teach the “Be Your Best Bride” class. As if being a size two for your wedding photos is all exercise is good for. Could the whole thing get more vain and sexist? The class is full of preening, giggling Bridezillas, but one woman stands out. The one who confesses she’s only there because her fiancée signed her up. Who does that to someone they care about? And why can’t Rebecca take her eyes off her?
Spencer Thompson is a second-guesser. After making the worst mistake of her life, she’s happy to abdicate responsibility and let other people make her decisions for her. She’s always felt a little bit too soft, a little bit too curvy in all the wrong places. Her fiancée apparently agrees because she signed Spencer up for a class at the gym. Terrified by the online profile of the instructor, the epitome of Zero Body Fat, Spencer is relieved to find someone new, and realistic looking, leading the class. Except the instructor seems to hate her and Spencer has no idea why.
When a perfectly innocent post workout smoothie leads to an earth shattering kiss, Rebecca wonders if she’s been wrong all along, and Spencer is challenged to make another decision that could change her life forever.
Fishwives by Sally Bellerose
Eighty-nine-year-old Regina and ninety-year-old Jackie met in 1955, an era when women were rounded up and jailed simply for dancing together or dressing like a man. On a cold winter day they manage to get themselves out of the house with the help of TJ and Ramon, two young men from their working-class neighborhood in Western Massachusetts. They tie their long-dead Christmas tree to the top of their car and, using a screwdriver in place of a broken gearshift, slowly make the drive to the dump.
This is also the day when everything changes.
During the course of their adventure, memories are triggered. Their history as a passionate and devoted, but troubled couple at the intersection of historic cultural and political change unfolds via scenes from the past—including their first meeting during a police raid on a bar and Regina’s epiphany that she could truly love another woman. In the early years, they often live apart as they flee landlords who discover their secret. As their journey leads them to seek jobs and a sustainable life, they are sometimes separated—but always find their way back to each other.
44 Hours by Donna Jay
The universe is definitely trying to punish Jennifer Andrews. Her new colleague, Ellaine Baxter, is not only an annoying, ambitious hard-ass, she’s the woman who broke Jennifer’s best friend’s heart. Now, for added torture, they have to drive to a teambuilding conference together.
On their three-hour journey, things go from tense to catastrophic after an unscheduled stop in New Zealand’s wildly beautiful Kaimanawa Forest. Getting lost is just the start of the nightmare.
For forty-four exhausting hours, the warring pair must find a way to work together. They might even survive…if they don’t kill each other first.
Invisible, as Music by Caren J. Werlinger
Henrietta Cochran has spent nearly forty years dealing with the effects of the polio she contracted in 1945. Her braces and crutches restrict her, define her, but they also give her independence. Almost. She hates that she has become increasingly reliant on a series of live-in companions to help her. For some reason, the companions never seem to want to stay very long. So Henrietta retreats further and further into her art, where her physical limitations don’t matter.
Into her life sails Meryn Fleming: out, outspoken, and fiercely political. She’s young, enthusiastically diving into her first job as a history professor at the local college. When she falls, almost literally, into Henrietta’s path, she seems like a godsend.
Little does Henrietta know that this young woman is about to upend her carefully structured existence. Ryn challenges everything, barging right through the walls Henrietta has built to keep others at a distance.
To Ryn, Henrietta is an enigma: prickly and easily insulted at the slightest suggestion that she can’t do things for herself; a brilliant artist capable of producing the most beautiful paintings; and sometimes, when Henrietta doesn’t realize she’s letting her guard down, a tender and sensitive woman.
With Meryn’s youthful optimism pitted against Henrietta’s jaded acceptance of the world as it is, life will never be the same for either of them.
Riverfinger Women by Elena Dykewomon
Written when she was just twenty-four years old, Riverfinger Women is Elana Dykewomon’s beloved, intimate coming-of-age novel about Inez and her circle of friends—the Riverfinger women—struggling to find themselves amid the changing social mores of the Civil Rights era. Inez has known she was a lesbian since childhood, and while moving between Highland, her boarding school, and her friends’ Greenwich Village apartment, she experiences longing and disappointment, friendship and romance, and her first real relationship, with schoolmate Abby. Along with their experimental and outgoing friend Peggy, Inez and Abby graduate from Highland and move into adulthood, confronting the prejudices of the larger world as they go.
Told in an engrossing interweaving narrative, Riverfinger Women explores the characters’ brushes with sexual violence, prostitution, drugs, love, and, ultimately, happiness amid the thrills and challenges of lesbian life during the second women’s liberation movement.
Lost and Found by Elle Hyden
Two lost souls are on a collision course. One searching for a life partner while the other mourns the loss of hers.
Selina is at a crossroads. No job, no home to call her own, and no partner. She has to turn her life around, but in which direction? Returning to her Native American roots, she seeks mystical aid from the spirit world, to find the life she hungers for.
Rea has been able to find a measure of solace after her wife’s death but longs for the crack in her heart to heal. Sighting a falling star, she sends her wish out into the universe, where it’s heard by the most unlikely allies.
Selina and Rea’s paths crossed many times in the past, but they’d never connected. Now they are being inescapably drawn together by fate, desire, and a touch of the mystical. Will love and trust prevail over loss and fear, so they can have their shot at being found forever?
Run in the Blood by A.E. Ross
Raised on the high seas as an avaricious corsair, Aela Crane has turned her back on her roots, but she can’t seem to stem the ancient magic that courses through her. Del is a soft-spoken soldier who seems to know more about Aela’s inherited powers than she does. Brynne’s the crofter’s daughter who’s reluctantly learning to become a princess, if she could just get a certain swashbuckling someone off her mind.
Originally hired on (okay, blackmailed) by the King of the island nation of Thandepar, Aela’s light monster extermination gig takes a fast turn into kidnapping-for-profit. Del tries to ignore family issues by searching for a long lost friend, and ends up getting both for the price of one. Brynne’s prepared to give up her heart for her country until her own personal heartbreaker shows up with the most terrible timing.
As the three of them become more entwined in their own political predicaments, and each other’s lives, they may discover that the legacies their parents have left them aren’t as solid as they seemed. In fact, they may just slip through their fingers, leaving all three fumbling to forge their own future, before the kingdom comes crashing down around them.
Love Burns by Adrian J. Smith
Kimberly Thompson—or Kim Burns, her stage name—is a celebrity chef whose career is taking off. As a single mom who has a penchant for being a bit of a bitch, she goes through nannies like the flavor of the month until Becca Kline is sent to her by Kiddie Academy.
Becca—known as ‘the fixer’—is often sent to homes considered to be troublemakers. In charge of caring for four-year-old Michael, she is determined to make this job her last before student teaching in the fall and finishing up her degree, which she has been working on for the better part of a decade.
Neither Kimberly nor Becca are prepared for the changes headed toward them, and they both have to learn the hard way that love doesn’t wait or discriminate.
Clio Rising by Paula Martinac
In 1983, Livvie Bliss leaves western North Carolina for New York City, armed with a degree in English and a small cushion of cash from a favorite aunt. Her goal is to launch a career in publishing, but more important, to live openly as a lesbian. A rough start makes Livvie think she should give up and head home, but then a new friend helps her land a job at a literary agency run by the formidable Bea Winston.
Bea hopes Livvie’s Southern charm and “boyish” good looks will help her bond with one of the agency’s most illustrious clients—the cranky Modernist writer Clio Hartt, a closeted octogenarian lesbian of the Paris Lost Generation who has rarely left her Greenwich Village apartment in four decades. When Livvie becomes Clio’s gofer and companion, the plan looks like it’s working: The two connect around their shared Carolina heritage, and their rapport gives Clio support and inspiration to think about publishing again.
But something isn’t quite right with Clio’s writing. And as Livvie learns more about Clio’s relationship with playwright Flora Haynes, uncomfortable parallels emerge between Livvie’s own circle of friends and the drama-filled world of expatriate artists in the 1920s. In Clio’s final days, the writer shares a secret that could upend Livvie’s life—and the literary establishment.
Murder and Gold by Ann Aptaker
New York City, 1954.
Two women are found murdered. One is Lorraine Quinn, Cantor Gold’s most recent one-night-stand. The other is political power broker and aspiring New York socialite Eve Garraway, a regular client of Cantor’s stolen art trade.
Police nemesis, Lieutenant Norm Huber, wants to pin the murders on Cantor, send her to prison, and put her in the electric chair. He’ll get evidence on her any way he can. Into this cauldron of danger and death come two other women, each with ties to Cantor’s past. One hates her until passion intervenes; the other harbors darkly hidden feelings.
Set during the earliest stirrings of the Homosexual Rights Movement, Cantor begins to question her own tenuous identity, and the trade-offs she must make to get what she wants.
Cantor Gold, dapper butch art thief and smuggler for whom survival is everything, must now grapple with two fronts: surviving the shifting sands of the criminal underworld, and navigating the changing tides of society.
Leave a comment
Leave a comment and let us know which book you’ll be reading for the “character isn’t Hollywood beautiful” category!
The 2022 Reading Challenge: Sapphic Book Bingo
There will be a year-long reading challenge in 2022 too! I’m working on putting together a Sapphic Book Bingo. Make sure you subscribe to my blog to get the Sapphic Book Bingo posts sent to your in-box starting on January 1!