Welcome to the new year! For your January reads we have two young royal men falling in love, a non-binary character with musical powers falling for a cursed bear spirit, and lesbian insects wreaking havoc on men who prey on women.
Title/Author: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Summary: When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, and genius, his image is pure millennial marketing gold for the White House. There's only one problem; Alex has a beef with an actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse. Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control, staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper — and more dangerous — than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. This raises the question, "Can love save the world after all?" Where do we find the courage and the power to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?
Genre/sub-genre: New Adult/Romance
Book Format: Print
Length: 421 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual/gay
Violence: No physical violence
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Resounding yes
Personal thoughts: While this is not the most recent book I’ve read featuring queer characters, this is one of my all-time favorite books. (Yes, it only came out this year. Yes, I still stand by this statement!)
This is one of the most well-done, heartwarming, and enjoyable books I have ever read. While 421 pages can seem daunting, they really do fly by. Listening to main character Alex interact with the people around him (particularly his sister and best friend) was like overhearing a conversation between my own friends. Watching Alex stumble through first his crush and then his full-fledged feelings for Henry was both beautiful and hilarious to read. McQuiston captured well what it feels like to fall in love for the first time and not know if the other person feels the same way, as well as the giddiness that comes from finding out that they do.
McQuiston also does a fantastic job of building the tension. With two high-profile love interests, you know it is only a matter of time before they are going to get caught. The tension ratchets up subtly, hitting you when you least expect it. No worries, though, McQuiston resolves the tension masterfully and believably.
I truly cannot say enough good things about this book. I loved it so much I bought a “lending copy” for my home library. I can give it to friends to read immediately so I will have more people to talk about this book with. This book spoke to me in a way I didn’t realize I had been missing my whole life. What is it like to be young and queer and in love? McQuiston understands it and that understanding comes across on every page.
Title/Author: Lord of the Last Heartbeat—A Fantasy Romance by May Peterson
Summary: Only death can free Mio from his mother’s political schemes, and so he’s put his trust in the enigmatic Rhodry—an immortal moon soul with the power of the bear spirit—to put an end to it all. But Rhodry cannot bring himself to kill Mio, whose spellbinding voice has the power to expose secrets from the darkest recesses of the heart and mind. Nor can he deny his attraction to the fair young sorcerer. So he spirits Mio away to his home, the only place he can keep him safe—if the curse that besieges the estate doesn’t destroy them both first.
Series/Standalone: The Sacred Dark #1
Genre/Sub-Genre: Paranormal fantasy/romance with strong horror and mystery elements
Book Format: eBook
Length: 351 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: non-binary/intersex and pan-sexual
Abuse/Rape: Mio describes his own powers as “mind rape” and his mother emotionally abuses him by making him use his powers so she can get what she wants.
Violence: Yes, there is a lot of violence and talk of suicide throughout the book.
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Mostly plot
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written, but needs some minor proofreading.
Would I Re-Read?: There are so many intricate details here and so much happening that it’s not always easy to follow along. As this is the first book in a series, I’m assuming the confusion will lessen with the second book, but I think I will need to reread this one in order to fully understand what is going on.
Personal Thoughts: Wow! This is Peterson’s first novel, and it sure packs a punch. While this wasn’t 100% well-done, there is a lot of promise for this author and the series. The world building is exceptionally detailed and the characters are richly nuanced. The book is centered around Mio’s unique magic powers which encompass language and music. Music has the capacity to bring people together and it does that here in a way that nearly had me in tears toward the end. Rhodry is a bear spirit, but since we spent so much time with Mio and his powers, I want to know more about Rhodry’s!
I appreciated that these two, who have a huge power imbalance, had a very sweet relationship and talked everything through like real adults. There was no miscommunication when there easily could have been. The sweetness, however, is balanced by a good dose of horror, suspense, and a big murder mystery.
Mio almost seems too childlike to me in the way he’s described by Rhodry and the way he acts for most of the book, but he does grow and change toward the end, which I was glad to see. He explains that he prefers he/him pronouns, but doesn’t feel like a man, though being called “boy” and “brother” are okay. It also might be helpful to know that the author, May Peterson, is transfem.
Summary: Lalita, a mixed-race woman who has married into English aristocracy, escapes her abusive husband's clutches with the help of her maid and lover, Mariah. Their method may surprise you: using a spell (and some old-fashioned sodomy) they conceive a baby together and implant it in his chest, which rips him apart in the birthing process. Also, Lalita transforms into a man-eating butterfly monster. Now a happy family, they dedicate themselves to protecting their newborn son … and proceed to cut a swathe through the ranks of Victorian society in order to rid the world of men who prey on women.
Series/Standalone: series, complete in two volumes
Genre/sub-genre: graphic novel
Book Format: print
Length: 312 pages across both volumes
LGBTQ+ Orientation: lesbian
Violence: so much blood, so many dismembered bodies
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Art/Illustrations: I actually didn't like the art that much. It's in a style that calls back to the Vertigo comics from the '80s, which I don't care for. However, I can appreciate that the art here is serving a purpose even if it's not personally to my taste.
Would I Recommend?: Well, certainly not to children! That said, I think readers who like horror, especially body horror, will get a lot out of it. It's over the top and violent, but as a feminist revenge fantasy, that's part of the appeal.
Personal thoughts: I don't normally read a lot of horror, and this is some extremely graphic horror, with lots of dismembered bodies and insect imagery. Still, I got into the story more as I went along. If you're into the idea of a rape revenge fantasy that involves women turning into giant bugs and a man having a baby burst out of his chest like that one scene in Alien, it is everything the premise promises. If that sounds way too weird for you ... yeah, it gets weirder the further along it gets. I'm glad I read this book, but I don't anticipate picking it up again. Long story short: if an explicitly feminist cross between Monstress and The Sandman sounds up your alley, you'll love this, but if either of those comics is too much for you, this will also be too much.