Queer Fiction Blog: June 2019

Welcome to Pride Month, June 2019! For this month's Queer Fiction Blog, we have highlighted some of our favorite books from the Boston Public Library's 2019 We Are Pride book list. This list comes out every June and includes LGBTQ+ fiction and nonfiction for children, teens, and adults.

For more LGBTQ+ resources, please visit the BPL’s We Are Pride webpage, which stays up all year. Here, you can find:

  • Links to other LGBTQ+ book lists, including the expanded We Are Pride lists for this year
  • Links to any and all pride programming happening at the BPL this month
  • LGBTQ+ resource guides such as an LGBTQ+ Health and Wellness Resource list and an LGBTQ+ History of Boston

Also, the Boston Public Library will be at the Pride Festival on Saturday, June 8th at Government Center! Come find our booth and let's talk books!

Title/Author: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian

Reviewer: Jordan
Summary: Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches. Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Genre/Sub-Genre: Historical Romance
Book Format: Ebook
Length: 320 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gender neutral, bisexual
Abuse/Rape: None
Violence: None
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Heavy on the plot
Well Written/Editor Needed: Well written
Would I Re-Read?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: A well written historical romance you won’t want to put down! I enjoyed how simple, and yet how complicated, this novel was as more secrets were revealed over time. There was a point when I didn’t think Robin and Alistair would be able to get their Happily Ever After, but they were dead set on being who they are no matter what, and that was great! What went a long way to that HEA was the fact that Alistair was bisexual. I think that made it easier for him to accept Robin (his name for Charity/Robert) as someone born a woman who refuses to wear dresses and act ladylike. This was a very affirming book for queer folks!

Both main characters had things to learn about what it would take to love someone who was different from the majority and different from them. (He likes to stay at home and she prefers to go out with a crowd.) But I honestly didn’t expect some of the lessons Alistair learns about what it means to be happy, in regards to his own life and his father’s. It was a nice twist from the usual theme of parents with mistresses and illegitimate children.

The only real complaint I had was that I wanted to see more of the side characters. Characters like Alistair’s father’s mistress, were interesting and really fun to read about, but they weren’t on the page very much. I love it when servants are complicit in whatever secrets their masters are up to, a lot like Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Robin’s servant, Keating, was one such servant we didn’t see much of. I was also curious to know how Alistair’s butler, Hopkins, felt about everything that was going on. (Was Hopkins named after Anthony Hopkins, who played the main role of butler in The Remains of the Day? Curious minds want to know!)

Lastly, I appreciated the author’s note at the end, in which Cat Sebastian explains her use of the female pronouns for Robin throughout the book and some of the research she’s done on gender queer people in history which helped to shape the narrative.

Title/Author: The Universe Between Us by Jane C. Esther

Reviewer: Kirsten
Summary: Ana Mitchell has been preparing her whole life for a covert mission to Mars, where she and a small crew will become the first successful off-world colonists. Needing someone who will take care of her high-tech house and orchard once she’s gone forever, she places a personal ad for a roommate to live with her until she gets her affairs in order. She didn’t plan on falling in love with said roommate, feisty art student Jolie Dann …
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Genre/Sub-Genre: Romance/Speculative Fiction
Book Format: Ebook
Length: 352 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian
Abuse/Rape: None
Violence: None
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Slightly more plot heavy, with several explicit sex scenes in a row after they get together and a few later on. No “fade-to-black” here!
Well Written/Editor Needed: Well written
Would I Re-Read?: Probably not. It was an enjoyable read, but I didn’t connect with the characters enough to consider it a re-readable novel.
Personal Thoughts: Don’t let the cover fool you: calling this a sci-fi novel is generous. While it is set in the near-future and revolves around a secret mission to Mars, it is a romance novel at heart. The relationship between Ana and Jolie takes precedence over science and technology. Still, I enjoyed how the author wove in advanced technology, like the interactions with the house's Virtual Intelligence and the intricate details of Ana’s mission preparations. They remind you that the book takes place in the future and make for a convincing sci-fi setting.

I couldn’t help but laugh at one of the oldest “new roommate” clichés in the book: accidentally running into someone who’s just stepped out of the shower and witnessing them naked. It served its purpose in upping the sexual tension between Jolie and Ana though, especially since their relationship is very much a case of “love at first sight.” Unfortunately, the impending Mars mission throws a wrench in things, and about 40% of the novel is angst over their separation. The characters make some questionable choices, which could be frustrating. But that is pretty standard romance fare, in my limited experience with the genre. I did enjoy some of the side characters, and I liked that almost every woman was a wlw. There was also some nice polyamory representation with two of the side characters, which I wasn’t expecting!

Ultimately, I don’t think this was the book for me. I’m not the biggest fan of the tropes often found in romance novels and have a hard time connecting to the characters, who often aren’t given enough depth. I prefer genre or contemporary fiction with explicitly queer characters and relationships that come second to the plot. My personal tastes aside, this is still a good choice for romance fans who are looking for something a bit different!

Title/Author/Artist: Kase-san and Morning Glories by Hiromi Takashima

Reviewer: Veronica
Summary: Yamada has never felt special – her grades are average, she isn't especially popular, and her only afterschool activity is the not-so-glamorous Greenery Committee. But one day while she's watering the flowers, she catches the eye of Kase-san, the star of the track team. Yamada can hardly believe that someone like Kase would be interested in her, but she can't help falling for her. Will Yamada's lack of self-esteem sabotage what could be a beautiful relationship?
Series/Standalone: series, five volumes so far
Genre/sub-genre: manga
Book Format: print
Length: about 160 pages per volume
LGBTQ+ Orientation: lesbian
Violence: n/a
Well written/Editor Needed: well-written
Art/Illustrations: The art is SO CUTE! It's somewhere between a realistic and a slightly chibified cartoon style. As is usual for manga, the book is primarily in black and white, but there are a few color pages at the beginning of each volume. This is obviously a matter of personal taste, but I also really love that the artwork in Kase-san doesn't feel at all like it's drawn to attract the male gaze. Some of the yuri I've read feels exploitative in its sexuality – and of course the flip side to that is that a lot of yuri is so chaste that it plays into stereotypes about a lack of sexual desire in lesbian relationships. Kase and Yamada's attraction to each other is clearly visible on the page in the Kase-san series, but it's very tastefully portrayed. (Even the volume in which they consummate their relationship is rated Teen rather than Mature.) It's just awkward enough that it feels real.
Would I Recommend?: Yes!!! This is the first title I reach for if someone mentions that they want to try yuri (aka lesbian anime/manga).
Personal thoughts: I love, love, love this series. I love the art. I love the characters. I love how sweet and awkward the romance is. It's a surprisingly slow-moving story considering how quickly our heroines get together. And Yamada's constant self-doubt can become annoying. (How much more obvious do you want Kase to make it that she adores you???) At the same time, I thought it was really relatable that a girl who's never been popular and never dated before thinks her devoted beautiful jock girlfriend is too good to be true. In a subgenre where queer relationships are often implicitly assumed to end with graduation, this is a story about making a high school romance go the distance. I fought for a long time to get Kase-san on the We Are Pride list! We ended up scrapping it last year in favor of Hana and Hina After School (also a very cute series), but I knew I had to stick to my guns this year. I hope that other readers will pick it up and love it as much as I do.

The rest of the series can be found here:

Kase-san and Bento

Kase-san and Shortcake

Kase-san and An Apron

Kase-san and Cherry Blossoms