I read books by and about LGBTQ+ characters all year round (because they’re awesome!), so you’ll see such titles worked into many of my posts. Since it’s pride month, though, I’ve been focusing even more intentionally on queer reads and wanted to share some of my recent finds with you in the spirit of celebration. Happy Pride!
Reverb by Anna Zabo
Mish is the bass player in a band, and her bandmates are her family. They’ve put in the work for years and are now seeing success and fame, but that all comes with a dark side. After threatening messages appear on social media that target Mish specifically, the band hires David, a military veteran and security expert who is also a trans man, to keep Mish and her bandmates safe. What David didn’t count on is falling for the woman he’s supposed to be protecting (bodyguard trope, anyone?), and he definitely didn’t expect to feel like the band could be his safe haven too. The book maybe could have been shorter with less repetitive inner monologue-ing, but the found family/total acceptance gooeyness made me really happy.
The True Queen by Zen Cho
If you haven’t read Sorcerer to the Crown, you should definitely read that first before jumping into The True Queen, not because the books can’t stand alone, but because they’re both so delightful you owe it to yourself to read them both. (We named our cat, Prunie, after Prunella Gentleman from Sorcerer to the Crown!) In this follow-up novel, Muna and Sakti are sisters who washed up on a beach with no memory of where they came from. They’re taken in by a powerful magician, but even her magic can’t restore their memories. When Sakti starts fading away before Muna’s eyes, the sisters undertake a dangerous journey through Fairy to England, where they hope the Sorceress Royal will be able to help them. Cho is a lovely writer, and the fantasy world she’s created is one I love getting lost in.
The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang
Everything in this novella was totally new to me--the Asian-inspired fantasy world, the way characters conceive of gender, the rules of Tensorate magic, everything--and thus it stretched my focus. I found myself having to go back and reread sections, especially in the first half, but eventually my brain snapped like a rubber band and I settled into the story. I was listening to the audio version of a traditionally Western, patriarchal fantasy at the same time as reading this book in print, and it makes me want more fantasy novels like this that challenge Western patterns and tropes, that don't start from the same set of tired assumptions that white people must be central, that men must be in charge, that queer people either don't exist or exist only to be punished.
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
I haven't read very many fantasy/mystery mashups, but now I want to scent them all out like a hound dog because this was a fabulous reading experience. I loved the setting of a private school for mages paired with Ivy, the adult outsider narrator, because frankly I can only take so much teenage drama. This way you get the fun setting but the angsty bullshit is filtered through a snarky, tough-but-damaged-inside PI who is not going to be drawn in by the schoolkid shenanigans (or is she?). Tons of heart here, too, with complicated sister feels and reflections on how life is versus how it could have been.
Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy
A literary mystery set in a girls' boarding school in India in the '70s. Lots of pot and acid, a queer romance, and all kinds of secrets and intrigue. You get the perspective of a young teacher who becomes a suspect in a murder, as well as a bright student who sees more than she truly understands. Perhaps a bit overlong for me at 500 pages, but if you're looking for the quiet, creeping kind of mystery instead of the flash-bang kind, this will be your speed.
Heat Stroke by Tessa Bailey
All the feels! Tessa Bailey writes instantly recognizable characters--she gives you a few carefully chosen details and you're immediately on board. This is a male/male romance between two lifeguards. Marcus is a CrossFit enthusiast with dreams of opening a juice bar, and Jamie is a high school teacher who helps out at the family’s bar during the summer. I loved Jamie and Marcus so much! They complement each other so well, and Marcus is the most lovable, Andy Dwyer-style "fine but simple" hero. And then Jamie is so smart and sweet and caring...! Ugh. I just loved this. Would definitely reread when I need a pick-me-up.
Better Off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon
I'm not usually one for vampire stories, but I also didn't think I'd be into the male nanny trope and Rebekah Weatherspoon convinced me otherwise, so I decided what the heck, I'll give vampire sorority sisters a chance. And credit where credit is due: the plot surprised me a couple of times, and the politics and power dynamics between all the undead ladies were more layered and complex than I expected. It's also smoking hot, and the physical connection between Camila and Ginger is central to the story. I will say, having read some of Weatherspoon's other books, this one is her first novel and she's definitely honed her craft since it was published.
Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian
A small-town historical mystery à la Agatha Christie with a charming romance between a WWII veteran doctor and a spy who never lets anyone get too close and doesn't know how much he wants a true home until his job brings him to a sleepy village to investigate the murder of a charwoman. The best part of this book is the quirky but lovable cast of characters, from the harried, unkempt vicar's wife, to the two elderly spinsters who took in an apparently orphaned teenage eccentric, to the two leads themselves, whose connection is immediate but necessarily postponed due to, well, murder. I was lucky enough to visit the Cotswolds last year, and picturing the characters inhabiting one of the picturesque towns we walked through--even if they were investigating a suspicious death--was great fun.