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The Dearth of Working-Class Queer Novels

A gap in our reality and imaginations remain and disadvantage the realities for many queer people.

For many decades, queer people in the US flocked to NYC and San Francisco as a refuge against homophobia and transphobia. As a teen in the 1990s, my best friend would tell me about her NYC dreams. They were important, safe places for us, and queer narratives are full of dreams of those two cities. I relocated from rural Oregon to Seattle for my safety and security. In my hometown, the first openly queer and trans city councilor recently resigned due to racism, transphobia, and homophobia. (They were also the first person of color on the city council.)

But 30 years later, US-based LGBTQ+ stories stay confined to major cities and center on white cis gay men and lesbians who are either comfortably middle class or upper class. The Will & Grace NYC-based characters were lawyers, interior designers, and actors who lived in multi-million dollar condos. In the current re-imagining of The L Word: Generation Q, even broke characters always bounce back with robust family and friend support, and many are still incredibly wealthy: wearing designer clothing, flying private planes, buying a nightclub on a whim, hiding away in vacation mansions, etc., in Los Angeles. Very few break this mold, like P-Valley and (I believe, but haven’t watched myself) the recent reboot of Queer as Folk.

The political realities of LGBTQ+ people and class

It’s not surprising that, after 2016, the New York Times couldn’t find a single queer person in rural or “red” America. LGBTQ+ political issues were for the “coastal elites.” Clearly, every queer person had escaped or would escape these terrible places!

US class statistics show more working-class and low-income LGBTQ+ people than not.

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Bookworm corner 📚

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Aristotle and Dante #1) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz  ⭐ 2/5 stars
Genre: YA literature

Things I appreciated about this book:

- I was pleasantly surprised at how well Sáenz's poetic writing translated into a YA novel. There were beautiful moments.

- All the love for everyone who finds direct representation in this book, especially queer Latinx readers. There are too few queer books and even fewer for those at further intersections in our large community.

Things I didn't like and my ultimate two-star review:

- The transphobia of Bernardo killing a trans woman and the constant misgendering of her. There is a no "it was of a time" excuse. (I'm very aware of the language used for trans people and its evolution in trans community and wider Western society since modern Western concepts of queerness came about.) There is simply no reason for this sex worker to have been trans except to show the author's transphobia.

Because yes, Sáenz is transphobic. The Ari & Dante film director is a trans woman who Sáenz has publicly deadnamed and misgendered. He's even used her correct gender and then misgendered her in the same sentence in a single tweet. Furthermore, when asked about the transphobia in the book and corrected about his misgendering, Sáenz has blocked trans people on social media instead of being better.

Additionally, if Ari was 4 when Bernardo killed this trans woman, it would've happened roughly in 1976. I do not believe Bernardo (even factoring in racist cops) would've been prosecuted and convicted. The "trans panic" defense has been used successfully in the US to allow cis men who have sex with or date trans women off the hook for murdering them. As recently as this year, a young cis man successfully used the "trans panic" defense to get away with murdering his trans girlfriend.

It makes me extra sad (but perhaps not surprised) that prominent LGBTQ+ book organizations overlooked this transphobia and gave this book multiple awards.

- Sáenz avoids digesting and digging into systemic issues his characters face. This is a problem with the writing style and the generation of writers he's from, where talking about social and systemic issues was seen as tacky. (This is still pushed by literary gatekeepers and is a longer dive in American Lit history since the Cold War.)

Ari believes his problems are within himself, never outside himself. Same with his beliefs about his parents' struggles. And yes, Ari has a ton of internalized homophobia (magically whisked away by his mom's words at the end). Many times in this book, Sáenz almost gets there, but then he pulls back or has another character undermine it. Ari's gay Mexican-American identity is inherently political because we live in a society that makes it that way.

And something else I want to say that's not the book's fault and all to do with my expectations coming in based on recommendations and categorizations of this book:

- This is not a Romance. This is a YA literary Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel), and I assume by the end of the sequel, Ari will be a "man."

The main reasons that this isn't a Romance are Ari's complete ignorance of his romantic feelings until the end of the book. We only have a "will they, or won't they?" because we've seen booktoks and book recommendations, and that a bunch of kissing in the final pages does not equal an HFN (Happy For Now) and certainly not a HEA (Happily Ever After). Ari and Daunte have not entered into a romantic relationship.

Best Friends to Lovers is one of my *favorite* Romance tropes, but Sáenz is not taking us on a Romantic journey. Ari runs (literally) away from any and all sexual and romantic attraction; his internalized homophobia is so deep that he's a teenager who doesn't masturbate. Ari and Dante have a beautiful friendship with a layer of romantic attraction under there, but the work of them having a beautiful romance is not there.

Being Neighborly by Meka James ⭐ 3/5 stars
Genre: contemporary m/f romance novella

Fun and just as advertised. The characters are cute, and there's a little drama but overall, a spicy romp.

📽️ Watch my Being Neighborly review on TikTok
Bending The Landscape: Science Fiction Anthology, edited by Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel ⭐ 2/5 stars
Genre: short stories sci-fi

A real mixed bag and most of them are not great. It is interesting to read queer stories after good HIV meds were available and before marriage equality, or perhaps evoking my late teens. Visions of the future were also extremely different pre-9/11.

The best stories were:

"Time (g-slur)" by Ellen Klages - the downside is the title; the rest is intriguing and looks at time travel in the way only a marginalized person would.

"Silent Passion" by Kathleen O'Malley - which was my favorite as it's a romance, found family trope, and an exploration of disability (specifically deafness) as an advantage in diplomacy and study of different alien species on other worlds.

"Dance at the Edge" by L. Timmel Duchamp - perhaps one of the few metaphor manifestations of queerness that actually works, plus an actual f/f couple.

"On Vacation" by Ralph A. Sperry - what happens when a workaholic alien is dragged to P-town by his husband.

The anthology very much focuses on only G & L stories. There was one gender story, about an AI becoming a real girl that felt trans, but I don't think it was intended.

A big downside was that straight authors also contributed, which feels very 1999. Sometimes, it felt exceptionally awkwardly obvious that a story was written by a straight person. Especially if homophobia came up and felt like a fun house mirror reflection of homophobia.

There were a few tacky homophobia-focused stories and one where an enslaver falls in love with the man he's enslaved. Gross.

I probably would've enjoyed this more if I'd read it when I bought it years ago. I've had it on my shelf since at least 2003.
📽️ Watch my Bending The Landscape review on TikTok

Best Laid Plans (Garnet Run #2) by Roan Parrish ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: contemporary m/m romance

This series continues to hit all the things I want, and this book touched on something personal that's not my story but part of my life and highly resonated.

📽️ Watch my Best Laid Plans review on TikTok
Bitter Bite (Elemental Assassin #14) by Jennifer Estep ⭐ 3/5 stars
Genre: urban fantasy

It could've been about 100 pages shorter, and Gin was especially poor at putting the clues together. That said, Estep did a good job at showing Gin and Finn's sibling relationship and the emotional process they both went through. The side characters only played tiny roles, and it might've been stronger if more characters than Roslyn had been on vacation.

I do always forget the tiny time span in these books. Owen and Gin have only been together for ~8 months, and Fletcher has been dead for a little over a year. The latter happened in the first book, and this is book 14. This series could use some time jumping, even if just between books.
📽️ Watch my Bitter Bite review on TikTok
Boyfriend Material (London Calling #1) by Alexis Hall ⭐ 3/5 stars
Genre: contemporary m/m romance

Perhaps overly bantery and too referential, but this book has some heart. In the end, I did think that Lucien and Oliver worked together.

(I kept having to look up annoying British things, and I dated an Englishwoman for a decade.)

This book doesn't bang. This seems grouped in an illustrated cover queer niche in Sourcebooks Casablanca where the sex scenes are either not there or highly redacted, like Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert. My marketing brain says this is to capture a YA audience that wants adult content but is still conservative about on-page sex. (Sourcebooks submission page says they take erotica.)

Here Lucien tells us their sex life is private. Yet, I read 400+ pages of this man's emotional disorders and abandonment by his father and his boyfriend's eating disorder and abusive parents.

While these characters don't go to therapy, Hall seems to have thought through their specific disorders in how he writes them. (Lucien seems to have BPD and depressive tendencies with a classic narcissist father, and Oliver has an ED and CPTSD if I'm going to armchair diagnose fiction characters.)

Wow, I made this book sound like a bummer. It's not. It's funny and a rom-com. Sometimes, it tries too hard.

-1 star for multiple HP references. One makes fun of R*wl*ng's poor imagination and the English upper class, but the rest feels pointless.

Lucien is an event organizer and PR person, so another book with a character who does my job. I do think he'd be working a lot more around the event, but that would've been boring. Otherwise, no complaints.

I liked Oliver's sweetness and the setup of how in their fake dating, Oliver's own issues (revealed later as Lucien is our narrator’s POV) reflect in how they interact in private versus public.

The fake dating trope was lightly applied. Oliver and Lucien were never really faking it after sharing a bed and cuddling the first time. (Even if they held off having sex.)

I'm unsure if I'll read the sequel, mostly because I'd rather read Hall's other books. Though I would like to see Oliver deal with his parents.
📽️ Watch my Boyfriend Material review on TikTok
Cleanness by Garth Greenwell ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: Contemporary LGBTQ+

Most of this was like an intense BDSM scene without aftercare. Until the dog at the end.
📽️ Watch my Cleanness review on TikTok
The Companion by E.E. Ottoman ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: historical m/f/f romance

A beautiful, spellbinding book that's a trans fairy tale, or historical romance in this case.

It's not that transphobia and other hurts by the greater world don't exist, but this posits a haven from that. There are no cis characters here. I've never read a book without cis characters, and it's magical.

Madeline, Audrey, and Victor all deal with that hurt in separate ways and blossom fully only together. Victor lets in criticism of his writing but won't go to town. Audrey makes her art for herself and no one else but will take what she wants or needs from the world. And Madeline is somewhere in the middle. Victor is the Beast in his castle, Audrey is the witch in the woods, and Madeline is the lost princess who loves them both. Except everyone is very hot and sexy, don’t worry.

The sex was sweet and hit some sexy moments. Ottoman balances both historical sex language with trans-inclusive sex language well.

Some of this is charmingly convenient. But Ottoman is writing a haven in the backdrop of hate and danger happening to trans people today. (This was published in 2021.)

I wanted to sit with these characters on their plant-covered porch, eat popcorn, and smoke weed. Maybe they'd let this non-binary writer join them.
📽️ Watch my The Companion review on TikTok
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner ⭐ 2/5 stars
Genre: nonfiction memoir

I struggled with this. It's hard to say someone's memoir is bad. But even as Zauner writes about herself, she sounds like an insufferable.

The book claims to examine Zauner's relationship with her mother but only hints and fails to expound below the surface of their issues and the clear abuse that happened. The writing was shallow.

I love food writing but failed to connect even with that beyond the part about the kimchi fridge.

The passage that summed it up for me was Zauner's incredibly late realization — when she's an adult and after her mom's passed — that someone else (specifically her aunt) might feel different than Zauner about grief. There's no one way to experience grief, which can make you myopic in your own pain, but arriving this late at any understanding that others experience the world differently than you is a sign of deeper issues.

DC Pride 2022 #1 by various creatives ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: superhero comics

Mixed bag with some Devin Grayson fail.

I appreciate DC's thoughtfulness in allowing Nicole Maines and Kevin Conroy to write for this since both bring a real human connection to the superhero stories. I appreciated Maines addressing the ongoing violent backlash against all queer people, especially trans people. And Conroy's experiences as a gay man translating into his becoming the voice of Batman was beautiful. A lesser team behind the scenes would've just wanted all happy party, all the time.

Alysia's, Tim's, and Ivy and Harley's stories stood out for me writing-wise. There was also great art in Ivy and Harley's and Conner's layouts were stunning with the use of space.

I am sad there was a lack of Apollo and Midnighter. But I am glad there are many more queer characters in the DC universe, especially targeted at teens, even if I, an old, don't know who they are.
📽️ Watch my DC Pride 2022 #1 review on TikTok
DC Pride: Tim Drake Special by Meghan Fitzmartin, Belén Ortega, and Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque ⭐ 1/5 stars

This was not good. The writing was all over the place, the stories disjointed, and the art disappointing. Also ACAB.

For those saying there are too many bisexual characters in comics, we bisexuals make up the majority of the queer community. We're also less likely to be out due to biphobia from straight and gay/lesbian monosexuals, along with the other reasons people don't come out. It makes sense for characters with 30+ years of comic history to come out as bisexual to 1) not discount past relationships and 2) because changing sexual identity is too nuanced for most people to handle IRL and comics are often terrible at nuanced conversations.
📽️ Watch my DC Pride: Tim Drake Special review on TikTok
Deceived by the Gargoyles (Monstrous Matches #2) by Lillian Lark ⭐ 2/5 stars
Genre: monster f/m/m/m romance

My favorite part is that Alasdair is blatantly Goliath from Gargoyles, except a little younger and less sure of himself.

This wasn't quite the romp I wanted, though it had a good start.

The knotting and breeding kinks killed off many of the spicy parts for me. Even though the "swords cross," except for the first Elliot and Broderick scene, the men didn't have enough intimacy with each other, especially since Elliot brought Grace into their triad to bring more intimacy.

(Don't ever bring a new person into your rocky established relationship as your relationship will still have all the same problems with an added human complication.)

While I appreciated that Grace's relationships with each gargoyle developed on its own, there were bits of the overall plot that fell apart. Wouldn't it have been cool if Mace had teleported Grace's parents there to yell at them?
📽️ Watch my Deceived by the Gargoyles review on TikTok
Dewdrop by Kay O'Neill ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: fantasy children’s picture book

Incredibly cute and great for kids. I love how O'Neill adds information about each species of animal.
📽️ Watch my Dewdrop review on TikTok
Distortion by Max Traster ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: fantasy superhero

Perfect for those who love superheroes but want more about their interior lives than what's on offer by other superhero media. If you like stories about exes or people who work through their problems, you'll also enjoy this.

Traster loves superheroes but doesn't approach them without a critical eye for how they'd impact the world. The two leads are exes: Jason, a depressed, benched superhero, and Sarah, a burned-out human without powers. They both drink too much. When the bank that Sarah works at is attacked by supervillains, Sarah's mom calls Jason to save her. It's not a warm and cuddly reunion.

Distortion is extremely violent in that Traster doesn't hold back on either the physical violence or the emotional violence as these two try to figure out what's next for them. And also stop more attacks from supervillains. Traster adds plenty of humor to cut through anything too grim, and plenty of the fight scenes lean into the absurdity.

Sarah is the only non-superhero perspective as Traster adds in other POVs to round out world-building and offer little glimpses into a diversity of perspectives based on identity: such as race, sexual orientation, class, familial backgrounds, and superpowers.

It was smart for Traster to have people develop powers due to a villain releasing a type of gas that gave some people powers since we don't have anyone here who's chosen to have powers. Instead, they have randomly been forced to have them, providing more emotional fodder for how well each person deals with having powers or not, what their powers are/what power level they are, and how they choose to use them. Ultimately, acceptance and use are all each character can control.

Too often, books deal with trauma but don't deal with what comes next or how you work on healing yourself, forgiving yourself, and offering apologies and forgiveness to others through taking responsibility. Distortion tackles all of these with very messy and relatable characters.

Plus, the last 40% is just a bloody romp.

Disclaimer: Max Traster is a good personal friend of mine. I'm thanked in the afterward, and I read both the final and earlier versions. While I'm certainly biased, I wouldn't be writing a review if I didn't enjoy Max's book, and I purchased this final version with my own funds.

The Doctor's Discretion by E.E. Ottoman ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: historical m/m romance

A gentle m/m historical romance that doesn't gloss over racism, slavery, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and the horrors of medicine. That said, Ottoman balances all this by ensuring his queer characters get love, some hot sex, and happy endings. Sometimes, we deserve nice things.
📽️ Watch my The Doctor's Discretion review on TikTok
The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by R.F. Kuang ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: historical fantasy

The Poppy War series continues to be brutal, both in the amount of violence in its depiction of war and the interpersonal violence the traumatized characters take out on each other. As Kuang subverts tropes that only add a new stinging layer to the story.

After the first book, I had to set this series down, and I was a bit weary of picking it up again. I listened to this on audio, and it took me several months to finish it.

At the very beginning of The Dragon Republic, Rin makes a critical choice. She makes it because of her trauma and coping addiction, which has more far-reaching consequences than she could have imagined. I'm actually excited to read the third book as Rin comes fully into herself and her power and as she finally chooses to wield her full power (not just the Phoenix powers or soldier training).

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi ⭐ 3/5 stars
Genre: contemporary LGBTQ+

I loved Emezi’s Pet, so I went into Freshwater with very high expectations. The writing was a bit too loose for me, and this concept of Ogbanje wasn't as unfamiliar or novel to me as other white Western readers seem to be. Parts of Freshwater captured me more than others, and some of Emezi's writing around non-binary identity resonated with me, particularly the part about dreams.

However, it bothered me that non-binary identity would be looped into the rest of Ogbanje manifestation when the Ogbanje only came out as a trauma response turned mental health crisis. While gender is an embodiment, and I can see how Emezi tied accepting gender and accepting mental health status as a full embodiment, there wasn't a single positive Ogbanje trait except for gender truth. But even then, life-saving top surgery was presented in the same way as cutting oneself in either worship of gods, a mental health crisis, or a manifestation of both. Emezi leaves it up to the reader to decide.
📽️ Watch my Freshwater review on TikTok
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein  ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: nonfiction gender and queer studies

This book sat for too long on my shelf. I've had it for at least 10 years, if not much longer. We won't look too closely at this.

Both Bornstein's thoughts and their writing style walked so Tumblr could run. It felt like their blog, only written 20 years before Tumblr.

Despite being an "older" text in modern Western trans time, a lot of the way Bornstein breaks down gender, binaries, and sex is still on point with nuggets of wisdom and ideas to noodle on or come to your own conclusions. You can see the embryo of nonbinary identity.

I will admit that I skipped the play. Sorry, not sorry.
📽️ Watch my Gender Outlaw review on TikTok
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: Classic LGBTQ+ fiction

I first read this book 19 years ago when I was a very different, yet the same, person, without the hindsight of time and experience.

That first read, David's American shame matched the era and my rural upbringing. Though I felt I had one up on the character, given that I was out of the closet about my sexuality. I felt progress from David and Giovanni.

This read, I fear this place 30% of Americans desire a return to and are driving us back to and how some of the most beloved people in my life are talking about fleeing abroad.

But will we really be free? Or do we just punch vertically and harm each other? Will we queer Americans once again be specters in Paris?

I adore Baldwin's writing, but Hella is his worst female character as her femininity is only a tool for David to question his manhood against.

Though how much more do we understand Giovanni? I suppose we do get his story by the end.
📽️ Watch my Giovanni's Room review on TikTok
The Heart Principle (The Kiss Quotient #3) by Helen Hoang ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: m/f contemporary romance

Anna's story was poignant, sad, heartbreaking, triumphant, horrifying, and all too common. Hoang's writing is beautiful on Anna's late-in-life autism diagnosis, her family's response, and having to suddenly become a full-time caretaker after her father suffers a massive and life-ending stroke.

My four-star rating is because Quan's story is unbaked, and it fully serves Anna's. Previously, he was established as the rake archetype. When we learned that he put that rake life behind him after he had recovered from testicular cancer, I was skeptical of that creative choice. (Or maybe flashbacks to when another rake, Brian Kinney on Queer as Folk, was "changed" by the same disease, which was sloppy writing there.) As I finished the Heart Principle, I realized that to serve Anna's story, Quan had to have a failure of his body.

I agree with those who've said this is a wonderful women's fiction book but a slightly underdone romance.

Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory (The Murderbot Diaries #4.5) by Martha Wells ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: sci-fi novella

It was great to be back in Murderbot’s head. You’ll want to read this with the other books.

Hulkling & Wiccan (2022) #1 by Josh Trujillo and Jodi Nishijima ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: superhero comic

This is fine. It's cute enough without pushing boundaries and still pushing things like monogamy and one true love. I do miss dinner parties. The art was either great or just okay. I'm sad that Marvel seems to be moving all the ongoing series with queer characters by queer writers to the Marvel Unlimited platform.
📽️ Watch my Hulkling & Wiccan (2022) #1 review on TikTok
A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark #1) by Kresley Cole ⭐ 2/5 stars
Genre: paranormal m/f romance

Massive CW: dubious consent at best, rape at worst, kidnapping, lots of violence as supernatural creatures

Listen: This world-building is more interesting.

Lachlain is an awful hero. I wasn't even convinced he was hot because we didn't get a proper appreciation of his looks. If he has PTSD, then it could've been nuanced.

Neither he nor Emma hit the character mark on identification. For a still inexplicable reason, Emma hadn't even held a man's hand, let alone kissed one, before Lachlain. The never having sex before is fine for her as it's tied to her vampire stuff.

(But also, they have sex that first time he fingers her, and she gives him a handjob unless you read it as rape. All the other consensual sex is sex, not just when he finally puts his giant dick in her vag.)

I liked the parts about Lachlain learning about the world. I liked his relationship with Bowe and Harmann. Emma was much better when we learned what she liked about life, like tell me more about this pop culture degree, than all her worries around losing control.

Emma has to relive Lachlain's memories for these two to connect. And kill her father.

This was published in 2006, and yeah, the non-con assault alpha male stuff doesn't surprise me; it just bored me and made me consider if I was DNF with this book and if I would continue to read the series.

The other books don't have the same issues, and there's at least one book with a queer couple. (Sorry, authors, immortals would never be all cishet.) So I will continue on.
📽️ Watch my A Hunger Like No Other review on TikTok
A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: historical m/f romance

I freaking loved A Lady for a Duke. It's so romantic and swoony and sexy when it gets there. I am typically not someone who gets swoony, so this hit my buttons.

Best friends to lovers may be my very favorite Romance trope.

Hall said he wanted to write a book about a trans woman where being trans wasn't the center of the plot. I'm not sure he exactly achieved that, but there were plenty of other plots and interesting characters that Viola's story had more layers than only her transition.

I found Gracewood the more relatable character through his struggles with the specter of his father's expectations and Gracewood's disability. But Gracewood and Viola got down to their very tender cores as they came back together as friends and lovers.

The cast of characters around them was delightful and felt fleshed out without serving as only props for the main two. The epilogue's ending was perfect, giving me all the feels about coming into yourself.
📽️ Watch my A Lady for a Duke review on TikTok
Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels #7) by Ilona Andrews ⭐ 2/5 stars
Genre: urban fantasy

The plot was inventive, and these writers are talented at pulling in different types of magic and magical creatures.

However, the writing needed a strong edit. There were a lot of repetitive words and phrases around each other that weren't there purposefully. Example: "He closed the distance between us. His arms closed around me."

Additionally, the entire narrative felt like two novellas pasted together.

I didn't want Kate and Curran to fight over their choices in this book, but it would've been nice to have some couple negotiations.

Or maybe Kate responding a bit more emotionally. Like when Curran called her his wife.

Ghastek could've had a more interesting character arc as he learned Kate's identity.

I was very pleased that the writers didn't kill their only gay characters. There were a few times I worried.
📽️ Watch my Magic Breaks review on TikTok
Mamo Vol. 1 by Sas Milledge ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: YA fantasy graphic novel

Mamo is how you do an entire plot in 5 issues. The pacing was perfect. The art was lovely and worked with the magical country setting. Jo and Orla were the sweetest, and you saw how they worked better together.
📽️ Watch my Mamo Vol. 1 review on TikTok
Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2) Lisa Kleypas ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: historical m/f romance

Rhys Winterborne may have ruined all other Romance heroes for me. He immediately insisted she brings all 200 of her orchids (and books!), and he learned about the orchids and built her a greenhouse. This is some daddy energy I can get behind.

Marrying Winterborne is my first Lisa Kleypas book, and I was not disappointed. (I might as well start with one of the highly recommended and beloved ones.) I'm sure it's not surprising that Kleypas knows how to write, and I greatly enjoyed how she worked modern sensibilities into her characters, especially Rhys.

Listen, at the end of the day, Rhys Winterborne is basically Victorian Jeff Bezos, only he's hot, has ethics, and supports labor rights. Rhys' superpowers are his incredible will, immense fortune, and the 1,000 people under his employment. I appreciate that while Kleypas shows Rhys taking on emotional labor, she doesn't shy away from the fact that his employees are doing most of the heavy lifting and details. But written in 2016, Marrying Winterborne may not go far enough into labor issues for my 2022 brain.

Helen's no lightweight, either. She is sheltered and naive in many ways, but she has her own will of steel. Helen takes incredible risks and won't allow herself to be unwillingly under anyone's thumb. "After all... I am a Winterborne." may be the best ending line ever in showing Helen's true self and evolution from the virgin caretaker in mourning she appeared to be in Rhys' office.

The sex was great. Rhys may have thought about his big 🍆 on page 11, but clearly, it's his tongue. I sometimes stumble over cishet historical romances where our heroine is a virgin. Still, Kleypas deftly used this "education" to show not only Helen's ignorance (and how she's going to ensure her younger sisters know what's what) but also Rhys' beliefs around sex and their balance with each other. He's not perfect about it, either.

The side characters were fabulous, and I wanted books about all of them. Kleypas' turning on the 3rd act breakup was brilliantly executed. Enormous stakes for Helen and significant life changes, but essentially she only breaks up with Rhys in her head, even as he suspects something's wrong, so her anguish is defused sharply.

I loved Marrying Winterborne. It was incredibly romantic, and I melted at so many points. Like when Helen placed an orchid on Rhys' jacket, he correctly identified it as a Dendrobium.
📽️ Watch my Marrying Winterborne review on TikTok
Moon Blooded Breeding Clinic (Cambric Creek #3) by C.M. Nascosta ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: m/f monster romance

Multiple parts are the worst, and I have many questions about the choices made here.

There is absolutely no reason why Nascosta included COVID as part of the storyline. The heroine Moriah is human, and the hero Lowell is a werewolf. All the monsters are immune to COVID, so Cambric Creek doesn't shut down at all.

But Lowell acts like he's isolating, and instead of actually flirting during their first meeting (at 40% of the way through the book), they complain about COVID. Plus, Nacosta employs a flashback when switching POVs, so we hear it paraphrased again! The complaints are the basic shit we've all been whining about, and both characters have class privilege that protects them from the fallout of COVID. Even if Lowell's out of work for a while, he's extremely wealthy with inherited wealth and family who will care for him.

The flashbacks, time structure, and pacing are everywhere. It needs to be clear when you write tight books that deal with time (monthly cycles for fertility and werewolfing). The bopping around at the end was terrible.

Moriah may be in therapy, but she's choosing to get filled with cum instead of paying attention to her needs. Or listen to her therapist.

Knotting is not my thing. I know it's a very popular kink; that's fine. But after a Minotaur and a Mothman, a Werewolf seemed a little generic on the monster front. Though Moriah did fuck Lowell in wolf form. Me: 😐

I understand the "good boy" dog criticisms. It is funny. But how Lowell's characterized is a brat with a praise kink, so it works.

Lowell’s dad Jack tells all his six sons not to knot with their partners. I expected this to come back at the end when Lowell goes to Jack for advice.

So Lowell never tells Moriah that he's bisexual. While this happens a lot in real life, it's very dangerous for your mental health and because some straight people lose their minds over discovering their partner is bisexual. Cis bisexual men do face high risks of IPV and rejection related to their sexuality. Certainly, something to mention before Lowell and Moriah move in together.

Moriah never confesses about the birth control pills. I hope no one believes that regular birth control pills would override the effects of fertility treatments. Even non-werewolf heat-inducing fertility treatments cannot be overridden by BCP. Yes, BCP would cause problems with fertility treatments, but not ensure Lowell's buckets of cum didn't impregnate Moriah or even a human cis man amount.

Also, in wolf form, his dick was supposed to have a unique shape to seal over the cervix and pump the sperm directly into her womb... Kind of glossed over.

I do like this small town, but the world-building isn't there, and interesting characters keep getting discarded.

Finally, they end up going to Tokyo. Nacosta could've picked any other country but chose one with the strictest COVID protocols. A dear friend of mine lives and works in Tokyo. He's an American who couldn't leave Japan until the summer of 2022 to visit his family in the US because even with a work visa, Japan wouldn't have let him back in. You can barely go to Japan as a tourist right now.

I give Lowell and Moriah about 6 months.

Monstress Vol. 7: Devourer by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: historical fantasy graphic novel

Ren and Kippa! 😭💚

The world-building is perhaps a little shakier here as the plot escalates. But overall, Monstress is still one of the best ongoing fantasy comics.

Morning Glory Milking Farm (Cambric Creek #1) by C.M. Nascosta ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: monster m/f romance

Dang. I have so many thoughts about this book.

1. Don't read this book if you don't aesthetically enjoy penises.

(Compulsory heterosexuality is cis straight women that don't like dicks. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.)

2. This is actually a very sweet romance.

3. How is Morning Glory Milking Farm, a book about a cis human woman who jacks off cis minotaur men for a living, less bio essentialist than half of the contemporary cishet romances out there?

Rourke has a giant cock, but this book avoids size shaming while also describing in detail his dick; the head is the size of Violet's fist. It's not the size that ultimately ruins her for other men, but that he knows how to use it.

4. In the print version, the typesetting and layout have a ton of errors. (I'd never take away stars for publishing errors. It's like saying you hate a product because the delivery service smashed the box.)

5. Violet was relatable. (It's been a while since a woman in a cishet romance was the character I personally identified with.)

6. The world building has the same issues as any universe with 1 planet and multiple thriving Turing-passing species. That's not the book's point, and I did enjoy the thought put into the parts that mattered.

7. Rourke is a gentleman. He is all about consent (and eating pussy).

8. Yes, side characters and friends! Mentions that gay people exist too!

9. In this world, the monsters are minorities, and like many texts who do this, we don't know how this affects the human majority and world setup. The metaphor only goes so far. (I've read enough X-Men comics to know this.)

10. Violet says it doesn't go super well with her mom when she tells her she has a minotaur boyfriend, but we don't know their actual exchange. I also wondered if Violet's parents purposely lived in an all-human community.

11. If Violet can watch minotaur porn on the internet, she could undoubtedly google some of her monster cultural and anatomical questions. She does come off as a lookie-loo in some of her questions.

12. Nascosta's prose is enjoyable, and I'm here for her growth in prose strength as her ideas and thoughtful writing really stood out.

13. I cannot wait to read the next in the series.
📽️ Watch my Morning Glory Milking Farm review on TikTok
Nevada by Imogen Binnie ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: contemporary LGBTQ+

I love some messy queers, and Maria and James certainly qualify.

Parts of this book I underlined, which I rarely do. It resonated for me, even as a non-binary person coming from another side of the rainbow.
📽️ Watch my Nevada review on TikTok
Romancing the Werewolf (Supernatural Society #2) by Gail Carriger ⭐ 2/5 stars
Genre: historical urban fantasy m/m romance

Unfortunately, I found this lacking despite my love of Biffy and Lyall and them together. The novella simply wasn't long enough to explore them in depth. There were beautiful moments, but not enough brought together.

I would not recommend reading this unless you've read the other Parasolverse novels starring Alexia.

The short with Alessandro was simply dreadful.

Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: workplace horror and sci-fi

A rapid read, especially if, like me, your brain has been warped by reading Slack messages, IMs, tweets, and all the other tiny bits of communication we now send each other all the time.

This was horrifying and too relatable as Gerald finds himself trapped inside his workplace’s Slack. This is the second book I've read this month where characters had my job, which is surreal.

I did laugh a lot, and I'm glad the book ended on a good note for Gerald and Pradeep. I heard an interview with Kasulke on Gender Reveal before I read it, and it does turn into a secret queer romance and a very trans book about your body and learning to appreciate it.
📽️ Watch my Several People Are Typing review on TikTok
She-Hulk Vol 1 by Rainbow Rowell ⭐ 3/5 stars
Genre: superhero graphic novel

Rowell's She-Hulk plays it safe. It follows the format of Slott's and Byrne's runs, where Jen has gotten herself into a pickle with her job and housing, but also she's full of privilege.

It's hilarious to see Marvel bring forward all the Avengers characters that Brian Michael Bendis killed or put on ice from the main cast.

Jen Bartel's covers are fire, as always.

If you love the new She-Hulk show, this is a good book to pick up.

Stalked by the Kraken (Monstrous Matches #1) by Lillian Lark ⭐ 3/5 stars
Genre: monster m/f romance

Kraken sex. Yes.

Everyone in this universe is bisexual and polyamorous/open. Double yes.

Rose runs an inclusive sex club with magic. Triple yes.

This is a sweet monster romance between a Kraken Gideon and a matchmaker witch Rose. Gideon immediately knows by her scent that she's his mate. Still, Rose is off game professionally and personally due to a shitty breakup with Jackson, who she matched to herself as "perfect."

However, I had one major issue with this book: the horned in human trafficking and slave auction plot.

Lark content warns for the breeding kink and mentions of infertility, but NOT the trafficking and enslavement?!?! If an author gives CWs, these are huge ones to overlook.

Moreover, it wasn't needed. Jackson was already a grade-A asshole. He was already emotionally abusive and manipulative to Rose, destroying her self-confidence and stealing from her business in a way that was wrecking it. Jackson didn't need to go from "the terrible ex" to "the terrible human trafficker ex." Gideon would've already strangled him, and Rose might've still fried his soul.

Busting the auction pre-event still could've been an action scene and a dramatic confrontation over Jackson's established awful behavior. This took too much away from Rose and Gideon, especially since everything else could've been the same. Trafficking added a deep level of unnecessary human horror and took away from an otherwise entertaining sex-positive and tentacle-filled romp.

I don't know if I will continue with the series.
📽️ Watch my Stalked by the Kraken review on TikTok
Steeple Volume 3 by John Allison ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: fantasy graphic novel

Allison nails small-town English and insular Cornwall Coast life.

Billie and the Reverend have great character-building here, but I wasn't as pleased about Maggie's daddy issues.

The jokes are great. Charlotte's cameo was cute, but I'm not sure how much it added.

Sweet Berries (Cambric Creek #2) by C.M. Nascosta ⭐ 3/5 stars
Genre: monster m/f romance

Mixed here.

The story needed a lot of tightening and work to show Grace and Merrick's motivations and evolving relationship. It started off stronger than it ended.

I love a *holds nose while saying this* beta *takes a deep breath* man. Merrick had a ton of potential to make me adore him. I know a bunch of awkward scientists, and yep, they're just like this. I'm a huge plant nerd, so I know a bunch about pollinators and farming.

(Side note: if this is set in a fictional North America, there are NO native honeybees to the Americas. Basic fact.)

But the character work wasn't there.

Grace also said she'd take cunnilingus from a mothman over therapy. Her emotional issues are way underdeveloped, and we never find out if Grace was his first time having sex.

The sex was decently hot, but perhaps Nascosta could've played with Merrick's unique anatomy a bit more. What I really appreciated about MGMF was the 🍆 size glorification that stayed away from size shaming and was more matter-of-fact. Here Grace's POV is everywhere, from it's too big to disappointed about the possible size to horny for size. In general, there are other things to compliment cocks on. Like, this one vibrates.

I'm mixed about continuing with this series. The next book is a breeding kink with knotting, which are both not for me but fine for you.
📽️ Watch my Sweet Berries review on TikTok
Take a Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters #2) by Talia Hibbert ⭐ 5/5 stars
Genre: contemporary m/f romance

Yes, I loved Zafir and Dani and how much he loves love. Hibbert's writing definitely leveled up in this second book.
📽️ Watch my Take a Hint, Dani Brown review on TikTok
Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: historical noir

It's been a while since I've read a book with unlikable protagonists. But it fits the genre. Moreno-Garcia is a highly talented writer, and especially the last 25% of this was shining and engaging. It did fail to capture me on the emotional level, so minus one star.
📽️ Watch my Velvet Was the Night review on TikTok
You Had Me at Hola (Primas of Power #1) by Alexis Daria ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: contemporary m/f romance

It took me about 160 pages (basically to the first sex scene) to get into this book. The story within a story didn't work for me as I didn't care how Victor and Carmen would connect, and the script does too much heavy lifting for Ashton and Jasmine. But I do respect the writerly ambition.

Except for the last episode twin reveal, Carmen was not very telenovela in drama, indicating that Daria knew this.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. It felt real that each character had their own priorities in life, bringing out the drama in their relationship.

The sex was hot, and omg, a cishet couple used lube! It's a miracle!

The grand gesture by Ashton was set up from the start. But I'm a huge sucker for sweet grandparent relationships, which made me miss my grandparents.

I laughed at the epilogue, including therapy for everyone. Same with the trans characters always being gendered correctly. Ah, fiction.

As a softer heroine, Jasmine worked for me. This felt unique as a celebrity romance since it's them doing their jobs, not just being famous.
📽️ Watch my You Had Me at Hola review on TikTok
Young Men in Love: A Queer Romance Anthology, edited by Joe Glass and Matt Miner ⭐ 4/5 stars
Genre: romance graphic novel

Super cute and sweet. This anthology is definitely in the vein of old-school romance comics, just that all feature m/m couples.

My favorites are:

"The Treasure Map to my Heart" by Oliver Gerlach and Daryl Toh
"Theater Kids" by Dave Ebersole, Robert Ryan, and Vincent Batignole
"Act of Grace" by Anthony Oliviera and Nick Robles
"The Way Home" by Paul Allor and Lane Lloyd
"Thingaversary" by Sina Grace
"Love Yourself" by Joe Glass and Auguste Kanakis
📽️ Watch my Young Men in Love review on TikTok

Other Things 🎶

I cannot stop listening to Orville Peck’s album Bronco. My gender is currently sad gay cowboy; thanks for asking. Peck captures many of the emotions and threads of growing up as a queer person in the rural parts of this world and enduring loneliness.

Hope you know more than a bunch of sorrow,


Erica McGillivray

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