Queer Fiction Blog: February 2020

Welcome to the February 2020 Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have a sweet love story between two older women rediscovering their love for each other, a beautifully written murder mystery featuring a gay detective, and a crazy, lesbian, steampunk, wild west mystery.Title/Author: Bingo Love by Tee Franklin

Reviewer: Allison

Summary: When Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray met at church bingo in 1963, it was love at first sight. Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid-'60s, Hazel and Mari reunite again at a church bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage.

Series/Standalone: Standalone (though there is bonus content available via e-book)

Genre/Sub-genre: Graphic Novel

Book Format: Print

Length: 88 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual

Violence: No physical violence

Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes

Personal thoughts: This was a quick and adorable read! My only real criticism of this book is that it felt a bit rushed. The book definitely could have benefited from another 10 pages or so to really delve into the emotions of the main character and her relationships with her family members.

Hazel, called Elle, and Mari start off as good friends. From the beginning, Hazel knows that what she feels for Mari is more than friendship, but she isn’t sure if Mari feels the same. It’s also 1973 and Hazel knows that loving a woman can have dangerous repercussions. The two finally admit their feelings for each other and begin a relationship. However, they are soon caught out and forbidden from seeing each other. The girls are separated and go on to accept marriage proposals from men under extreme pressure from their families. They don’t see each other for fifty years.

Their reunion at the bingo hall is unbelievably sweet. You spend every single page of this book rooting for these two women to find each other again and when it happens, the payoff is both incredible and incredibly messy. They have families to consider as well as what it means to restart a relationship after fifty years apart, now that they’re older. The happiness that they find in each other is a breath of fresh air. While I don’t necessarily agree with how they handle everything, I understand and support both characters desire to finally grab hold of the joy that they were denied in their youth.

Title/Author: The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

Reviewer: Jordan

Summary: In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn once left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, losing his family too. Now, a body has been found on the beach nearby and the case calls Matthew back into the community he thought he had left behind. Deadly secrets hidden at its heart are revealed, and his past and present collide.

Series/Standalone: Two Rivers #1

Genre/Sub-genre: Mystery

Book Format: eBook

Length: 376 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay

Violence: Off page violence is mentioned and discussed

Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes

Personal thoughts: This is beautifully written with a setting that comes alive for readers and realistic characters that don’t look or act like Hollywood cops. I wanted to hug and protect these characters, and other townspeople I was unsure about trusting until the bitter end. While it’s not stated outright, some of Matthew’s thoughts and actions led me to believe he might be somewhere on the Autism spectrum. His insecurities really bring out his humanity as he hunts for a killer. His new husband, Jonathan, might also be involved in his case, if he’ll even pause to think about that. The mystery was a super tough puzzle that kept me reading and guessing with a nasty little twist at the end I never saw coming. At its heart, we also have several people with Downs Syndrome, vulnerable to so many things in life, whose lives are in danger through no fault of their own. Cleeves writes these characters with a lot of care and research that shows in her writing. I highly recommend this as I couldn’t put it down!

If you’re looking for more books by Ann Cleeves, I also recommend her Vera Stanhope series, which was turned into a TV show several years ago, and starts with The Crow Trap. While not LGBTQ, Vera is one of those standout characters you’ll never forget.

Title/Author: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Reviewer: Veronica

Summary: Karen Memery (like “memory” but with an “e” in the middle) earns a comfortable if not idyllic living working at Madame Damnable’s establishment in Rapid City. All of that changes when she and the other girls take in an escapee from a less reputable whorehouse and earn the enmity of the local slumlord. Misfortunes cascade: a serial killer who preys on prostitutes turns up in Rapid City, pursued by a Federal Marshal; evidence mounts that a mind control device is being used on the citizens of Rapid City to rig the upcoming mayoral election; and someone is trying to burn down Madame Damnable’s brothel. Karen, determined to protect her makeshift family (and hopelessly in love with Priya, the young woman they took in), isn’t going to take the chaos lying down.

Series/Standalone: First in a duology (followed by Stone Mad)

Genre/Sub-genre: Steampunk/Western

Book Format: Paper

Length: 350 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: The protagonist is lesbian. Several other characters are queer and at least one is trans.

Violence: This book contains graphic depiction of torture and murder victims and sexual violence is discussed, but not shown on the page.

Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes!

Personal thoughts: First of all, I would be remiss if I reviewed a steampunk book without linking you all to my favorite explanation (in song) of what the genre is and isn’t. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of steampunk, you may be quite surprised when submarines and mind control devices start popping up in the otherwise roughly historical Old West setting of Karen Memory. I thought it was just plain delightful — a perfect mix of the old-timey feel of a historical western with a science fictional expanded realm of possibility. I especially loved the dialect! I normally hate first person POV like fire, but Karen's turn of phrase is deeply entertaining. At one point the brothel madam is described as having, despite the encroaching years, "a balcony you could do Shakespeare from" and I will carry that description with me to my grave.

The heart of the story is the friendship among the women who work at Madame Damnable's. I found Karen's relationship with Miss Francina, an older transwoman with a loyal group of customers, really touching, and Madame Damnable herself steals every scene she's in. The romance between Karen and Priya moved a little quickly for my taste — Karen falls in love almost at first sight — but other than that, I really enjoyed the plot as well. Once things get moving, they move fast! Buckle up. It's a fun ride.