Bite-sized reviews of the LGBTQ books I’ve read in the past week. All titles are linked to their Goodreads page.
Between May 13th and 19th, I read:
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (2020)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is a trans guy further exploring his gender; most (all?) of the main secondary characters are queer – gay, bi, lesbian, trans, nonbinary, questioning
Thoughts: This is so heartfelt! Felix Love is very aware of the irony of having his last name when he’s never been in love – and he so wants to be. When he starts getting anonymous transphobic messages from another student – one who put Felix’s deadname and pre-transition photos up at school – Felix’s thoughts turn from love to revenge. But the catfish scenario he sets up to flush out the culprit leads to complicated, love-adjacent feelings… Felix feels everything so strongly and is in such a turbulent time in his life that every action and emotion comes across so viscerally. The transphobia he encounters also comes across viscerally – like a gut punch. It was hard to read, but it’s not done gratuitously and Felix’s reactions to it are spot on. This is definitely an immersive read and the ending is very satisfying.
The Armored Saint by Myke Cole (2018)
Queer rep: The MC is lesbian, a secondary character is gay
Thoughts: Well. I didn’t like this. The primary rule of Heloise’s world is “suffer no wizard to live”, because their magic inevitably opens a portal to hell and floods the world with demons. As a result, the Order that is tasked with finding and killing wizards is very powerful and makes full (mis)use of that power. Events make Heloise question the Order’s power and how magic really works. The pace is frenetic and it kept me turning pages but I ended up having so many problems with this book. Heloise is 16 but is written much younger, both the way she acts and the way she’s treated by other characters. Until her age was finally stated (on page 75!!), I thought she was 12. She’s also acts in extremely shortsighted ways. Literally every bad thing that happens is either straight up her fault, or was instigated or provoked by her terrible decisions. There’s a ton of violence, including multiple deaths and maimings, and most of them involve the very few queer characters in an explicitly homophobic world, so that was ~super fun~. I will most definitely not be reading the rest of the trilogy.
A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian (2018)
Genre: historical fiction/romance
Queer rep: The two MCs are gay, a few secondary and minor characters are queer
Thoughts: Book two of the Sedgwick series, following It Takes Two to Tumble. This focuses on a different Sedgwick brother, and I think it could stand alone, but at the same time the background from the first book is helpful as there are recurring characters, allusions to prior events, etc. So, in this one we follow Harley Sedgwick, who has been shunned by London’s elite following some salacious gossip, and Sam Fox, an ex-boxer and current owner of a pub that’s become a haven for London’s Free Black community. Sam is trying to recover a risqué portrait of his friend from Lord Easterbrook, not knowing that the lord is dead and Harley has inherited his town home. Harley, of course, has ample reason to hate the dead lord and jumps at the chance to take revenge against his estate, even as small a revenge as stealing a portrait. Harley and Sam are both wonderful characters individually, and the way they fit together was even better. I really liked the way Harley’s anxieties and PTSD-like behaviors were treated and the way Sam accepted them. A very satisfying read and I’m excited that I got an ARC of the next book in the series 🙂 Look for that review soon!
Proper English by KJ Charles (2019)
Queer rep: The MC is lesbian, f/f romance; a secondary m/m couple
Thoughts: Patricia Merton – Pat – is looking forward to a shooting holiday with her favorite brother at an old friend’s country estate, but what she thought was going to be a small gathering turns out to be anything but – and some of the guests are highly unpleasant. Not to mention that Pat is falling for none other than her friend’s fiancée, Fenella! But social missteps are the last thing on anyone’s mind when a body is found. Can Pat and Fen solve the murder before the police investigation uncovers everyone’s other secrets? I was a little thrown by this at first because from the back copy I was expecting most of the book to be taken up with the murder investigation; however, the murder happens quite late on, and everything before that is focused on developing the cast of characters and the budding romance. It made the pacing feel off to me because I kept waiting for the murder. But overall I did end up liking this!
Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu (2020)
Genre: fiction/sports/graphic novel
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC and LI are gay; several queer secondary characters
Thoughts: Part two and the conclusion of Check, Please!, a series about hockey, baking, and college. Originally a web comic, it was released in print by First Second. I was kind of underwhelmed by the first volume – I liked the art, but found the plot a bit disjointed since it’s largely episodic, framed by our MC Bitty’s vlog entries – but I’m glad I continued on to volume 2 because I liked this a lot. Well, initially I had the same feelings about it being a bit disjointed, but I thought it grew a lot in depth as it went along. There was a big overarching plot about Bitty navigating a long distance relationship and the pressure of doing so while closeted, and then of coming out to his teammates and his family. Having that underpinning everything really made it more cohesive, and it’s a story line that’s done really well.
Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia by Slobodan Randjelović (2018)
Queer rep: Features individuals across the LGBTQ spectrum
Thoughts: I’m continuing to make my way through the Arcus Foundation and EWS’ LGBTQ photography book series. This one looks at the complicated situation for LGBTQ people in Serbia, where there is a lot of both religiously- and politically- motivated homophobia and transphobia. The first ever pride parade in Serbia was attempted in 2001 and was attacked by a violent ultranationalist mob. It wasn’t until 2010 that another march was attempted and again it was attacked. There are no legal protections for LGBTQ people and trans people aren’t permitted to change their IDs without (prohibitively expensive) surgery, which leads to dangerous situations where appearances don’t match identity documents. This is definitely one of the bleaker books in the series, at least of the ones I’ve read so far, but as usual the photos are captivating.
Heavy Vinyl, Vol. 2: Y2K-O! by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva (2020)
Genre: fiction/graphic novel
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC and multiple secondary characters are lesbian; a secondary character is trans
Thoughts: This is a fun series set in a music store with a secret: all the employees are part of a vigilante girl gang fighting against a conspiracy in the music industry. It’s 1999 and the dreaded Y2K bug is on the horizon…and the nefarious music industry is planning to use the bug to destroy the budding digital music revolution. Chris and the gang need to uncover and foil their plot…while entering a Battle of the Bands…and navigating some budding relationships. It’s fun; a little wacky, for sure, but big-hearted and cute.
~Bonus book: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018) has a secondary gay character