Queer Fiction Blog: May 2020

Welcome to May's edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have a young Iranian teen making friends at the height of the AIDS epidemic, queer spies falling in love in 1930's London, and a manga that focuses on food and cooking!

Happy reading!

Title/Author: Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Reviewer: Allison

Summary: It's 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He's terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he's gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media's images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance ... until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy's best friend, their school's only out and proud teen. He'll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won't break Judy's heart and destroy the most meaningful friendship he's ever known.

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-genre: Young Adult

Book Format: Print

Length: 413 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay

Violence: No physical violence

Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Recommend

Personal Thoughts: I wish I could go back in time and give this book to my high school self. There is so much about the AIDS era that gets left out of textbooks, mainly what it was like to exist in an era when it felt like being queer was a death sentence. This book attempts to bridge that gap. We follow the stories of Reza, Art, and Judy who are growing up in the 80’s, navigating friendships, sexualities, and family relationships against a backdrop of activism and death.

Ever since his family immigrated to North America (first Canada and then the United States), Reza has been confronted with the image of AIDS as something horrible and inevitable for someone like him, someone who likes boys. He buries the feelings down, too scared of what his old-fashioned Iranian mother will think on top of being afraid of dying of AIDS. When he meets Art and Judy, his entire life changes. Art is so open about his sexuality and what he wants in life; he’s the first gay person Reza has met that doesn’t seem afraid. Judy is a fashionista, named after Judy Garland by her Uncle Stephen, who is dying of AIDS and who has already lost so many friends to the illness.

The three of them become a trio, Reza and Judy exploring a romantic relationship, even while Reza and Art grow closer. When Reza’s real feelings threaten to destroy the most meaningful relationships he’s ever had, he has to find the courage to decide who he wants to be.

This book was beautifully heartbreaking. All the drama of coming of age in a time when the global issues feel both far away and right at home. The three characters were messy, believable, and loveable. They were exactly who high school me needed to feel more connected to queer history and queer activism and I’m so glad that today’s kids have this book.

Title/Author: Eleventh Hour & Midnight Flit by Elin Gregory

Reviewer: Jordan

Summary: Miles Siward has been borrowed from the Secret Intelligence Service cipher department to assist Briers Allerdale, a field agent returning to 1920s London with news of a dangerous anarchist plot. They move into a 'couples only' boarding house, Miles posing as Allerdale’s wife. Miles relishes the opportunity to allow his alter ego, Millie, to spread her wings but if he wants the other agent’s respect, he can never betray how much he enjoys being Millie, nor how attractive he finds Allerdale. Pursuing a ruthless enemy who wants to throw Europe back into the horrors of the Great War, Briers and Miles are helped and hindered by nosy landladies, water board officials, suave gentlemen representing foreign powers, and their own increasing attraction to each other.

Series/Standalone: The Carstairs Affairs #1 & #2

Genre/Sub-Genre: Historical Spy Thriller/MM Romance

Book Format: eBook

Length: 195 pages &

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay; Miles likes to dress as Millie, his alter-ego, but does not have sex when dressed as a woman.

HEA/HFN: Yes

Violence: Yes

Ratio of Sex/Plot: Heavy on the plot.

Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Re-read?: I first read Eleventh Hour in 2017 and read it a second time in prep for book two which released in 2019. It was just as good the second time around, and I can easily see myself reading both again in the future.

Personal Thoughts: Overall, I love this series for it’s main characters. The relationship between Miles and Briers starts off rocky as Briers isn’t sure what to make of a man who dresses as a woman, even for an undercover gig. It grows stronger the more they work together and the more they begin to trust each other. They have their ups and downs, yes, but they handle everything like real adults. Miles will get in Briers’ face about whatever is bothering him and they’ll hash it out, even if they dither over it for a short while. It just makes their relationship that much more believable and sweet. The two of them are adorable together, they way they take care of and joke with each other. By the second book, you know they’re not going to split up and it makes for a bit of a comfort read having an established relationship like theirs. My third favorite character is Pritchard, Miles’ valet. He is amazing, keeping huge secrets, always coming through for them just when they need him most, and he has a back story that keeps him realistic. Fourth is Miles’ mother in the second book, who might be a bit well-to-do, but she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty if need be.

Both books had me on the edge of my seat, crossing my fingers that they would get out of whatever disaster they’d gotten themselves into. While the first book does include a lot of sitting, waiting, and watching for Miles as he spies on their neighbors, there is still plenty of action/adventure in these books including car chases, explosions, fantastic escapes, and more. When I say I couldn’t put these down, I really mean it. They’re fast reads, but so much fun. The only real drawback was in the second book where the Secret Intelligence Service and some of the characters didn’t seem to take being undercover as seriously as they did in the first book. They made decisions that seemed to me to be rather careless while trying to keep someone safe. Even so, I still really enjoyed both books and am looking forward to more, should the author write another.

She does have a fun free short story that can be found on her website, called "He’s Behind You", which takes place between the two novels.

Title/Author/Artist: What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga

Reviewer: Veronica

Summary: Shiro, the stern middle-aged heart throb of his law office, goes home every evening to his partner Kenji, an outgoing hairdresser, but first he stops at the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner! This gentle slice-of-life series focuses on the important things in life: love, friendship, and home cooking.

Series/Standalone: Ongoing series with 14 volumes so far

Genre/Sub-genre: Manga

Book Format: eBook

Length: 155 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay

Content Warnings: Shiro deals with a domestic violence case in the first volume, and the depictions of the injuries suffered by his client may be triggering. Microaggressions also abound, and there's a fair amount of discussion about food and weight that isn't sensitively handled.

Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Art/Illustrations: Fumi Yoshinaga has a very distinctive style that can take a little getting used to. That said, I've read many of her books and I really enjoy it now! The characters are often sketched very lightly, sometimes almost caricatured, but they're very expressive. And the level of detail that gets put into the food is incredible!

Would I Recommend?: This is an auto-recommend for me any time someone wants manga that doesn't have explicit content but would be interesting to adults. The relationship between Shiro and Kenji is very understated, so I think even readers who aren't particularly interested in romance might enjoy this, especially if they like reading about food or cooking.

Personal Thoughts: These books are pretty much the platonic ideal of "slice of life". There is no overarching plot; the chapters are unrelated and episodic; the characters develop in fits and starts. The only consistent theme is Shiro's cooking. For me, that's perfect! I'm not much of a cook, but reading about Shiro in the kitchen and the grocery store feels like tagging along with my mom while she relays her cooking wisdom. It's incredibly soothing. There are even recipes included, so you could try cooking Shiro's meals at home!

Like with many slice of life stories, it does take a little while to get invested in the series when there's no plot to carry it along. Shiro is a very prickly character, and while I love his snarky, secretly lazy, penny-pinching inner monologue, he can sometimes come across as almost cruel, especially in the earlier volumes. He only demonstrates his affection through cooking, which can feel unsatisfying in a love story! If you stick with the series for the food, though, I think you'll find yourself becoming fond of Shiro and Kenji's middle-aged escapades as well.

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