Bite-sized reviews of the LGBTQ books I’ve read in the past week. All titles are linked to their Goodreads page.
Between March 18th and 24th, I read:
On a Summer Night by Gabriel D. Vidrine (2018)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is bi and trans; his best friend is aro-ace; several secondary characters are gay or bi; a camp counselor is gender nonconforming
Thoughts: This is a summer camp story about 14-year-old Casey, who has convinced his overprotective parents to let him go to a regular summer camp with his best friend Ella, instead of the camp for trans kids he’s been attending the past few years. Casey wants to go “stealth” and have the same camp experience as everyone else, but can he really hide his identity for the whole summer? And should he have to? This is a nice younger YA with some interesting questions and a healthy dose of camp drama.
Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery (2020)
Queer rep: Lavery is trans
Thoughts: I generally really like Lavery’s writing and I was looking forward to his memoir…and I did not like it at all. It’s basically a collection of personal essays rather than a straightforward memoir, and a lot of the essays focus very heavily on Christianity and his Christian upbringing, or on pop culture from when he was growing up. I don’t have the frames of reference to appreciate those topics and allusions and I didn’t enjoy the analysis of different Bible stories or a deep dive into Star Trek. I think this is going to be a very hit-or-miss book for people.
Everything Is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid by Yao Xiao (2020)
Genre: fiction/graphic novel
Queer rep: The MC is queer
Thoughts: This collection of comics is inspired by Xiao’s experiences as a queer, Chinese-born immigrant, but is told through the fictional lens of our main character, Baopu. I was familiar with Baopu comics from Autostraddle so I was happy to see a full collection. This is an interesting book; it’s not one cohesive story but it’s also more than a collection of individual comics. The story is more episodic than not, but at the same time there’s a clear theme and a timeline running through everything. The art style is bold and deceptively simple and it balances well with the text.
Cleaning House by Jeanne G’Fellers (2018)
Queer rep: The MC is genderqueer and pansexual; the main cast includes a gay man, a trans woman, and multiple nonbinary (nonhuman) characters
Thoughts: This is a very creative modern fantasy set in Appalachia. Centenary Rhodes fled Hare Creek, Tennessee, as soon as she could and never planned to go back. But her life in Chicago isn’t working out, and when her Great Aunt Tess calls for help and offers free room and board in the bargain, Cent gives in. In Tennessee, the life Cent fled catches up with her in spades as she learns her aunt’s superstitions and rituals actually have power behind them – and that Cent’s an old soul with dozens of lives under her belt and a deep connection to the local elemental spirits. When an evil spirit targets her homestead, it’s more urgent than ever that Cent regain her memories and her magic. I liked the characters and the story, but it gets a little bit repetitive; as Cent regains her memories, we revisit her past lives with her, and the same pattern plays out over and over in all of them, the pattern she’s trying to break out of in her current life. I think we could’ve gotten the same effect with fewer flashbacks. But overall I liked this a lot.
Summer Lessons (2016) and Fall Through Spring (2019) by Amy Lane
Queer rep: The MCs in Summer Lessons are both gay; in Fall one is gay and the other is bi; both have multiple gay and bi secondary characters
Thoughts: Books two and three in the Winter Ball trilogy. I read the first book back in December 2018 and gave it a rather mixed review, but the redesigned covers caught my eye and I decided to give the rest of the series a shot. And Summer Lessons was great. It had everything I liked from the first book (endearing characters, strong friendships, soccer) and avoided everything I disliked (stilted dialog, shoehorned sex scenes). It built on the first book and kept all the same main cast involved even though the focuses switches to another pair of characters. I liked it so much it made me want to reread the first book, so I then went into Fall Through Spring with my expectations raised. And it disappointed me. For whatever reason, I just didn’t click with the main characters, even though I’d liked them just fine as secondary characters in the prior books. I think part of the problem was the timeline overlaps so much with Summer Lessons that I felt like I already knew the story. So overall I’d give Winter Ball about three stars, Summer Lessons a solid four, and Fall Through Spring two and a half.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley (2015)
Genre: historical fantasy
Queer rep: two mlm MCs
Thoughts: I read this back in 2015 when it first came out and liked it tremendously. A sequel was just published, so of course I had to reread this in order to read the sequel, and I liked it just as much the second time around. (Although parts of it were a lot sadder than I remembered!). It’s 1883 and Thaniel Steepleton returns home from his telegraphist job at the Home Office to find his tiny London flat has been broken into…by someone who washed the dishes and left a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious watch saves his life by drawing him away from a bomb that destroys Scotland Yard, which prompts Thaniel to go in search of the watchmaker: Keita Mori, a kind Japanese immigrant who professes no knowledge of the bombing. Thaniel believes him, but it’s soon evident that Mori is hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly gets involved, a chain of events gets set into motion that could destroy everything.