Welcome to the April edition of our Queer Fiction Blog! Even while we are working from home, we are still reading and reviewing queer fiction. For this month we have two young men falling in love over bread, love and intrigue in an ancient Mediterranean fantasy world, and a caseworker sent to investigate an affectionate family of misfits.
Title/Author/Artist: Bloom by Kevin Panetta, art by Savanna Ganuchau
Summary: Baked with love! Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom ... that is, if Ari doesn't ruin everything.
Genre/Sub-genre: Young Adult
Book Format: Print
Length: 351 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Unspecified label for two boys with same gender attraction
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: Ari wants nothing more than to move to the city with his friends and leave life at his parents bakery behind. Well, at least that’s what he thinks he wants, he’s not actually … sure. About most things. To help convince his parents that he should be allowed to leave, he searches for someone to replace him at the bakery.
Hector is a culinary school student living in East Beach for the summer to clean out his late grandmother’s house before it's sold. When he sees Ari’s flyer for the position at the bakery, he applies and the two begin working together. Over the course of the summer the two go from being tense acquaintances to best friends to more.
Ari is a hot mess in the charming way only a seventeen year old can be. You wish you could step in and make the choices for him or, at the very least, take him by the shoulders and shake him until he considers someone else’s point of view. I personally don’t think Ari did enough to make amends with the people he’d hurt that summer, but I still find myself thinking about this character fondly, knowing that he will continue to bloom beyond the pages of this book.
Title/Author: Sword Dance, Book 1 by A.J. Demas
Summary: Five years ago, Damiskos’s brilliant military career was cut short, leaving him with a permanent disability and scars that are not all physical. His current job takes him to the remote seaside villa of an old friend, where, among an odd assortment of guests, he meets the eunuch sword-dancer Varazda. Yet as they keep getting in each other’s way at the villa, their mutual dislike is complicated by a spark of undeniable attraction. Then the villa’s guests begin to reveal their true characters and motives—no one here is what they seem—and Damiskos finds himself at the center of a bizarre web of espionage, theft, and assassination.
Series/Standalone: Sword Dance #1
Genre/Sub-genre: Historical/Fantasy M/M Romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 265 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientations: Bisexual & Non-Binary (Varazda is an eunuch but states that he feels like both man and woman, and thinks he’d feel that way even if he wasn’t an eunuch.)
Abuse/Rape: Briefly mentioned as happening in the past. Nothing graphic.
Violence: There is some violence, but it is not graphic.
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Mostly plot!
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written, though I do think the author could have used more pronouns in place of the character’s names.
Would I Re-Read?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: There is great world-building in this fantasy setting based on ancient Mediterranean countries. Many places are mentioned and their customs differ from place to place, making me want to do some armchair traveling in future books of this series! The mystery/intrigue and romance build slowly over the course of the book, making it an enjoyably light read that is also deep and meaningful. It opens up a discussion of gender roles, privilege, cult followings and the roles of teachers and students. The romance was adorable as both characters, but especially Damiskos, are awkward with each other, neither of them ever having fallen into true love before. I appreciated that Damiskos was an older man, retired from the army with panic-inducing mental battle scars and a troublesome bum knee. On the flip side, he loves romantic music! I also appreciated that although Verazda was a little younger and a gorgeous, lithe dancer, he could still hold his own in a fight and take care of himself when he needed to. Not only were the two main characters well-fleshed out, the side characters, mostly women, were also well-rounded and interesting. I really enjoyed reading this one, which was hard to put down, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
Title/Author: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Summary: The magical equivalent of a CPS caseworker is sent to investigate a remote orphanage and its mysterious caretaker. Straitlaced Linus finds himself charmed by the unorthodox, but undoubtedly affectionate, family of misfits on Marsyas Island, but ominous messages from his supervisors constantly remind him not to trust them. Who is the true danger: the children or the bureaucracy that keeps them locked away?
Genre/Sub-genre: Fantasy with romance elements
Book Format: eBook (also available as a downloadable audiobook!)
Length: 352 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay
Violence: There is no physical violence on the page. Child abuse is a major plot point but is not graphically described.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Sure! This is a very fluffy read, but right now I think we all could use one.
Personal Thoughts: A couple of notes right off the bat: the plot is not the strong suit here. The romance is so understated and low-heat that I don't even think the book technically qualifies as a romance novel. And the Evil Faceless Bureaucracy™ is so over-the-top terrible that it sort of beggars belief that our hero, a diligent and fundamentally decent cog in the machine, could have managed to keep his head in the sand as to the true nature of his work for seventeen years.
If none of those things is a dealbreaker for you, this is a very cute story full of found family feels! There's a cranky cat, lots and lots of bonding with the various orphans, and several speeches about how they're all people who deserve to be treated with love and kindness, etc. The late addition of the local mayor, a no-nonsense woman who runs the garden supply store, is a total show stealer. The book ends with the romance and immediate conflict safely resolved, but a battle more global is looming on the horizon, which I think was a great way to wrap the story up!