Tag Archives: LGBTQIA+

Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun

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Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun

Cochrun, Alison. Kiss Her Once for Me. 368 pp. Atria Books, 2022. ISBN 978-1982191139 $17.99

*****

I feel the same about LGBTQIA+ romance as I do about science fiction novels: as long as the plot is engaging, the setting is strong, the characters compelling (and their names pronounceable), I’m in, even though I don’t self-identify as a science fiction fanatic or queer. I selected this from NetGalley’s offerings months ago, tugged in by the twisty premise of demisexual girl gets fake engaged for money to her ex’s brother. I felt like I just wasn’t in the mood for a queer romance, or a holiday story, and avoiding cracking open my ARC until there were only about three days left on the ticking clock of the review window. I could not put this one down and finished it just in time.

Told in flashbacks that describe a webcomic series based on a perfect romantic snow day with a mysterious Jack one a year ago, and Ellie’s present day dilemma (should she confess the terms of the engagement to Jack? Disclose to Andrew Jack is the manic pixie dream butch from last Christmas?), the only thing that could make this more perfect is if the described comic sections were actual panels…or if the entire book was a graphic novel, hint, hint, @SimonAndSchuster, get on it already!

Ellie is an empathetic character. An animation school grad who got her dream job and then got let go for not being able to cut it, she landed at a coffee-shop with a terrible boss where Instagramming foam creations on lattes is her artistic outlet. Denied a promotion and facing eviction because her terrible! mother is exhorting her as payback for RAISING her, a wealthy investment banker/hedge fund type overhears her plight, takes her on a date, and suggests they catch two birds with one stone and get engaged to solve her financial troubles and allow him access to his inheritance that will only be unlocked if he marries. Ellie drunkenly agrees, and Andrew whisks her off to spend the holidays at his family’s cabin (read: mansion) to introduce her to his relatives and solidify the relationship. His sister Jacqueline/Jack turns out to be the beautiful butch baker from last year’s Powell’s excursion. In a side plot, her best friend–trans tattooed kindergarten teacher Dylan–was Andrew’s super-sekrit hookup last year when Jack was skipping the family festivities and hooking up with Ellie.

The characters are three-dimensional and pop off the page, and they are also delightfully messy and unexpected. Andrew and Jack’s Korean-Americanism is a subtle undercurrent. The rich widowed grandmothers are best buds with an it’s five o’clock somewhere attitude, and in spite of their imbibing, are more astute than they initially let on. Only Andrew and Jack’s father is stereotypical, with a piece on the side and outdated, unsupportive, critical attitudes. Pop culture is a strong secondary character in the novel, with Alexa playlists popping up to provide the perfect pop music soundtrack. Cochrun pays homage to Taylor Swift, Celine Dion, Fun Home, and While You Were Sleeping. Portland has a life of its, with its lack of snow planning, coffee culture, and queer pride.

It’s difficult not to contrast Kiss Her Once for Me with Not The Plan, which I read in the same week. Both couples have a keyword that means time to tell the truth; “honesty game?” works for Jack and Ellie in a way “blunt, honest?” does not for Isa and Karim. The slow burn and careful respect is hot with Jack and Ellie, and plodding and wooden with Isa and Karim. The detailed sex scenes in Kiss Her Once For Me incorporate sensory detail and delicacy, emotion and acceptance, and make unsexy parts sexy, instead of focusing just on erogenous zones. Bodies in Not The Plan are described in gym-honed terms, firm and perfect, while in Kiss Her Once for Me the imperfections are adualated: stretch marks and soft bellies and hairy legs are celebrated as “so fucking perfect.”

Ironically, what makes Kiss Her Once for Me a 5 star (perfect!) book is how it celebrates messy, looking at failures as falls you can pick yourself back up after. “It’s not a failure to let people see you imperfections, it’s vulnerability,” says the best friend who seems to have her shit together but failed her bar exam. Words to take to heart.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #KissHerOnceForMe from #NetGalley

A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

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A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

Hall, Alexis. A Lady for a Duke. Forever, 2022. 480 pp. ISBN 978-1538753750 $15.99

***

Presumed dead at Waterloo, Viola takes this opportunity to emerge as her true self, leaving behind not just a title and wealth, but best friend and companion the Duke of Gracewood. Reunited after many years, he doesn’t recognize his old friend and she is distressed at his decline from war wounds, PSTD and his grief over her loss in his life. There is a LOT of angst (but not so much around gender/acceptance), a small amount of drama and above all, acceptance in a “the heart wants what the heart wants and parts don’t matter so much” kind of way. Lush, romantic and swoon-worthy, with excellent period details, and finely drawn secondary characters.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #ALadyForADuke from #NetGalley.

Out of the Blue by Jason June

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Out of the Blue by Jason June

June, Jason. Out of the Blue. HarperTeen, 2022. ISBN 978-0063015203. 384 pp. $17.99

***

Merperson Crest is on a coming-of-age journey on land to help a human and earn his return to the sea — if they choose to return after experiencing the wonders of twenty-first century Los Angeles. When Crest, who goes by Ross on land, runs into recently (unceremoniously) dumped Sean, it seems their mission is to help Sean win back his ex, and Crest/Ross becomes a willing participant. Of course, there are rules: no human can find out Crest/Ross’s true nature, and if they return to the sea before the month is up, they will have to remain on land forever. Rules, of course, were made to be broken, amirite?

An accidental reveal at the Hollywood Walk of Fame results in a surprising plot twist that I didn’t see coming–well done on author Jason June, it’s difficult to pull a fast one on someone who has been reading YA romance for 35 years. The writing was a little disappointing overall. Although well-plotted using Sean’s film-making interests and Crest’s time constraints to lay out an agenda, there was a LOT of drama: characters yelling and screaming for emphasis or to TELL us emotion instead of conveying and revealing through action. There was consent in the sexual scenes, but also snapping towels and ass-smacking and a violent outburst from another student.

I’m lumping this into magical realism rather than fantasy, but the worldbuilding for under the water and in the Blue was nicely done, simple and complete. Sometimes the merperson lingo or oceanic references were a little too much, and sometimes, Crest’s/Ross’s dissing of human consumption and environmental concerns struck a didactic note (though I am by no means in disagreement with Crest/Ross’s assessments.

I especially appreciated the diversity of the cast; straight people are the anomaly and like L.A., the book is peopled with real people in all colors, shapes and sizes, and it’s mostly NBFD. I wanted to care more about Crest/Ross and Sean than I did, but the ending definitely tugged at my heartstrings. Like most fake-dating tropes, the characters of course come to care for one another (and are wildly attracted!). When they act on their instincts, it’s developmentally appropriate and safe.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #OutOfTheBlue via #NetGalley

Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

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Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

Rudnick, Paul. Playing the Palace. Berkeley, 2021. ISBN 9780593099414 272 pp. $16

****

This laugh-out-loud funny, boy-meets-prince romance between an urban (assistant) events planner–excuse me, event ARCHITECT–and the heir to the throne is a fast-paced romp littered with pop culture nods, product placement and name-dropping, angst, superhero references, social gaffs and outright disasters, and a dash of social justice.

Carter Odgen, pushing 30 and still trying to figure out his purpose, is six months past a bad breakup when the event he’s coordinating puts him face-to-face with his royal Highness Prince Edgar. Carter’s unsolicited hints to help “the blore” (bland + boring) loosen up before his clean water speech leads to a heated moment, but the two are separated by the Prince’s entourage and security team. But! lack of glass slipper notwithstanding, Edgar feels it too and — swoon! –tracks Carter down as soon as his schedule allows. The couple attends Carter’s sister Abby’s wedding as dates, and shortly thereafter, a shirtless post-coital selfie of the two gents posing in Burger King crowns accidentally goes viral, the Queen demands the shenanigans cease, and instead Edgar whisks Carter off to London for a visit, when he nearly turns the live taping of a Great British Baking Jubilee into an international incident. Things are going swimmingly when Callum, Carter’s opportunistic ex, resurfaces for the boy-loses-boy bit, but as with traditional romances, there is a HFN, if not a HEA.

Told entirely from Carter’s point of view, his snarky tone balances perfectly between self-deprecating and self-doubt/self-loathing, and Carter and Edgar grow throughout the novel Supporting characters — the verbose and scathing Queen, his roommates and hangers on, boss Cassandra, Carter’s great(est) aunt Miriam, his loving friends, and especially James, who is introduced to Carter as the prince’s “chief of staff, factorum, and devoted manservant,” (until James reminds Edgar, “For the last time: you are not Batman.”) are wonderfully multifaceted.

In between the jetsetting, public appearances, and kissing, the novel also manages to challenge societal norms, pay tribute to gay rights, champions the environment and childhood illness, without losing its charm. I love this spin on the Cinderella trope (though, not as much as Red, White and Royal Blue, truth be told) and Playing the Palace does not disappoint.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of PlayingthePalace via #NetGalley.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

McQuiston, Casey. Red, White and Royal Blue. St. Martin’s Press / Griffin, 2019. ISBN 978-1250316776 421 pp. $16.99

*****

I have been looking for something as good as The Royal We for years, and sorry, Heir Affair did not match up. BUT Red, White & Royal Blue might have surpassed The Royal We in writing, plot and snark.

Alex is America’s Mexican-American golden boy, and he meets his match in England’s most eligible bachelor, Prince Henry, who he’s long been fascinated with. They have an antagonist relationship that gets pushed too far when Alex and Henry are roughhousing a bit too close to Henry’s brother’s wedding cake, and Alex’s penance for creating an international incident is to make nice with the Prince and fake a friendship that turns into a real one, with snarky texts and late night calls. It isn’t until the Prince plants one on first Son that Alex has an inkling he might not be as straight as he thought.

Obviously, they have to keep the relationship a secret — neither of them are out, and Henry is expected to marry and and Alex’s mom is up for re-election. Alex has been planning to become the youngest US Senator ever, and it isn’t easy to be an out politician. A media shit storm ensues when their relationship is discovered.

This novel features texts and emails, scripts, powerpoint titles, and other ephemera as well as Alex’s narrative. The voice and pacing are perfect, and it’s lovingly written with wonderful attention to detail, and a healthy dose of White House & Royal life tidbits, American history, and millennial angst.

I bought the book, the ebook, and have read it a half dozen times.

Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond

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Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond

Dumond, Susie. Queerly Beloved. Dial Press, 2022. ISBN ‎ 978-0593243978 400 pp. $17

****

In this queer romance set in Oklahoma in 2013, baker Amy meets a hottie customer (new-to-Tulsa Charley) and makes a bold move to ask Charley out alongside her blueberry muffin. At her next shift, Amy is unceremoniously fired from her job when the homophobic owner discovers “Amelia” is lesbian (and obviously a threat to her daughter and family values).

Amy’s bartending gig is not quite enough to pay the bills or maintain her vehicle, so Amy begins moonlighting as a paid bridesmaid – not quite a wedding planner, but someone who can do emergency repairs on cakes, dresses and even relationships on what is often emphasized as both the most important and possibly most stressful day of one’s life.

Dramatic tension is built by Amy’s love for weddings (and for love) and her understanding that she lives in a red state where the governor is vocally anti-marriage and prevents legislation offering equal rights, let alone protection for the LGBTQIA+ community. Charley seems allergic to weddings, but Amy has grown up with HIV+ uncles in a LTR and knows the kind of loving commitment to aspire to when you choose to walk a path with someone. Amy and Charley’s dating is slotted around Charley’s crazy work and travel schedule and Amy’s bridesmaid gigs. They manage a real connection and a very sweet romance between someone not all the way out who leans to the femme side, and someone rather out more to the masc side, both a little shy and scared and funny and awkward.

The wonderful details about baking, and life in a primarily Christian flyover state is balanced with strongly drawn, non-stereotypical queer characters, a supportive mom turned activist, and realistic tension with less accepting family members. The wedding details range from over the top to hilarious, and tun spur of the moment events at the Wizard of Oz themed gay bar come to life with descriptions about food, decorations, fashion and music. A Thanksgiving cooking competition among family members was a fun detail.

Following a solid and realistic progression of events, this novel is also an examination of how far we have come, even in the last 10 years or so, of accepting people for who they are and who they love, our understanding of gender identifies, and a novel where there are no assumptions and introductions just include pronouns is wonderfully refreshing. And, a conflict between Amy and her best friend is well-resolved, with a believable amount of anger, meanness, stewing, and a strong apology scene.

Overall, Queerly Beloved is a great, solid read with a satisfying ending (and a bonus strawberry champagne cupcakes recipe!)

I received a advance reader’s review edition of #QueerlyBeloved from #NetGalley

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

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Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Kelly, Anita. Love & Other Disasters. Forever, 2022. ISBN 978-1538754849 384 pp. $15.99

****

I love a good cooking competition romance, and this one is unique in several ways, most notably, featuring an openly non-binary character. London comes out in episode one, and almost immediately develops a crush on hottie Dahlia with the seductive hair, smooth cooking techniques, and adorkable awkwardness. Dahlia has found a refuge in cooking after her breakup and job loss, while London aspires to start a non-profit for LGBTQIA+ youth. Their attraction is mutual, palpable, epic and inconvenient.

The foodie details are mouth watering, and the competition believable – except for the cast having their phones and freedom during filming that might be unrealistic, but also allows for development of the character’s secondary relationships with family members, and leaves room for LA to become a character of the novel as well, since part of London and Dahlia’s friendship and then romance is exploring the city, Dahlia being a New Englander living outside of DC, and London hailing from Nashville. Unlike other novels riffing on Food TV reality shows that I’ve read in the last year (Sadie on a Plate, Love from Scratch, Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake), in Love and Other Disasters, the narrative is more focused on the relationship than the competition.

In Judy Blume’s classic Forever, the protagonist Kat is advised to think about how they relationship will end; London and Dahlia avoid that conversation, and things get awkward when one of them is eliminated before the other.

Chapters alternate point of view. Writing and plotting is solid, and the intimate scenes are more lavishly detailed then the food description. This is a great read with plenty of long overdue queer representation.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Love&OtherDisasters from #NetGalley

Chef’s Kiss by T.J. Alexander

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Chef’s Kiss by T.J. Alexander

Alexander, T.J. Chef’s Kiss. Atria, 2022.ISBN 978-1982189082 320 pp. $16.99

****

This is the second cooking show themed queer romance I’ve read this year, and it’s only the third week of January! Pastry chef Simone is as proper, discerning, and uptight as her name implies–trained by the Culinary Institute of America, she has her dream job perfecting recipes for an American institution of a cooking magazine–but in a sudden attempt by the editor to change or die, is informed that video content and social media, both of which she eschews, are the wave of the future and she can get on board with tweeting and offering How to Cook Kale videos or risk losing her job. Along with a layoff of the marketing department, her kitchen has retired and in her place is tall, comparatively boisterous Kay.

Kay launches a informal homebrewing series that gets a lot of hits, but also a lot of flack from the hired guy who wants to be on trend and pay attention to SEO. It’s Ray and Simone’s show, based on Simone’s fresh takes on updating Ray’s outdated 1950’s canned and prepackaged dishes, that garners millions of hits and speculations they like one another.

When Kay reveals her gender neutral pronouns, Simone and a handful of staff immediately get on board–but management and the image rehauling team, not so much. Simone is bi but not out at work, lives with a trans person who schools her on being the best ally, and slowly wakes up to calling out transphobic behavior, and noticing that it’s only the video crew that’s made up of people of color. When Ray takes some earned vacation time to have top surgery, it’s Simone who stays the first night to help them through the post-op healing (and is challenged by Ray’s ex for doing so, until they agree to take nursing shifts).

It takes a little while for the couple to finally get together. The subplot of gender identity is strong and provides insight for cis-het readers and recognition and representation for non-binary readers. The food descriptions are salivating.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #ChefsKiss from #NetGalley.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Wang, Jen. The Prince and the Dressmaker. First Second, 2018. ISBN 978-1626723634 pp. $17.99

*****
A prince angsts over his family’s demand that he find a bride while he moonlights in ladies clothing. Only his talented dressmaker knows his secret… Sebastian’s secret prevents Frances from reaching her own potential, and they seem to be falling for one another. At what point can they continue to deny their true selves and dreams?

The story manages to be both subversive and inclusive. The gender-bending and identity issues will make LGBTQIA+ readers feel seen, and has a modern feel juxtaposed with the historical setting.

This is a beautifully drawn graphic novel with perfect timing and a wonderful sense of movement to it that propels the reader. Wang has crafted gorgeous costumes for her characters. The Parisian setting plays homage to the fashion industry and showcases the artist’s talent not just for fabulous gowns by the the architecture of the times. The setting and courtly life are appealing for fairy tale fans. The romance is so very sweet.

I bought this to own and we ALL loved it (Ms. 8, Mr. 10, myself – 45 – and my partner -48). Our copy is tattered from so many re-reads.

Boy 2 Girl by Terence Blacker

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Blacker, Terence. Boy 2 Girl. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2005. ISBN 978-0374309268.  304 pp.

After the death of his mother, Sam moves to London to reside with his aunt and her family. His cousin Matthew is reluctant to include charmingly abrasive Sam in his social circle after a few awkward situations. They gang decides that Sam must prove his friendship to the “Sheds” before he can join their clique. The hazing: dress like a girl for a week at school. Sam, slight with longish hair, assumes the persona of Samantha with more ease than they are all comfortable with; he manages to soften his male friends and empower his girl friends in one fell swoop. A tough boy with a lot of baggage, the unruly Sam finds that passing as a girl allows him to express his bottled up feelings on a variety of subjects.

The plot complicates when the hunkiest guy in school falls for Sam, and so does a cute musical girl in his grade. No one dreamed that the crossdressing would come in useful when Sam’s dad, newly released from jail, comes to London seeking his son–and his son’s inheritance. The amusing premise has an unexpected depth, and the humor is balanced out with serious issues of honesty, depth, family and gender.

Kudos to Blacker for a unique tale and memorable characters. The story, told from multiple points of view, creates a complete portrait of Sam, whose voice we hear only through the mouths of the other characters. The foreign setting shouldn’t create problems for the average American reader; short chapters make the pages fly by, but it takes a little while to get into the swing of the pace and the voices of all the characters, which tend to blend together. The ex-con path the plot takes is not wholly believable, but enjoyable nevertheless.