Welcome to the October 2021 edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have fake boyfriends falling in love, lesbians falling in and out of love for political reasons, and a second chance romance for two previous best friends.
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Title/Author: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
Summary: Wanted: one (fake) boyfriend. Practically perfect in every way Luc O'Donnell is tangentially and reluctantly famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he's never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad's making a comeback, Luc's back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything. To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship ... and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come.
Series/Standalone: Series (sequel comes out in 2022)
Book Format: eBook (also available as downloadable audiobook)
Length: 425 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay
Content Warnings: Homophobia, disordered eating
Ratio of Sex/Plot: 97% plot; this book is very much "fade-to-black." While there are references to sex, we don’t get on-page sex scenes
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Re-read?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: What a fun read! Hall’s characters are so intensely loveable and their banter is so charming that I was instantly hooked. We remain in main character Luc’s point of view the entire time, something you don’t see too often in romance (but something that I LOVE). We watch him grow as a character without feeling as if we’re being monologued at. Another friend of mine didn’t enjoy this book because she said it was “too much angst, not enough sex.” But I think that without the angst and subsequent character growth, this book would not have been as good as I believe it to be.
This book begins as a traditional fake dating narrative—there is a contrived reason that the main character must pretend to date someone and as they date, they start to develop real feelings. (There could be many, MANY other possible solutions to this problem including, in this book, Luc simply quitting his job or at the very least suing them for workplace discrimination.) It’s a trope as old as time and yet ... there is nothing else quite like it. Hall’s take on the trope was well-done and realistic. The characters never fell by the wayside in pursuit of the love story and, in fact, the betterment of the characters was the real heart of this story. The way the characters communicated and fell in love felt realistic and I enjoyed the entire train wreck of them navigating their fake relationship turned real as both Luc and Oliver struggled with being vulnerable with each other.
Hall is releasing a sequel to this book (Husband Material, due out summer 2022) and while I’m sure I will deeply enjoy revisiting Luc and Oliver to see how their life together has progressed, I’m also very happy with where this book ended. I'm very sure that this couple stays together even after their story comes to an end, sequel or no sequel.
Title/Author: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Summary: Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but also by the magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace. Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.
Book Format: Book (also available as an eBook)
Length: 103 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian
Content Warnings: Some manipulation/abuse from a potential wife
Ratio of Sex/Plot: One off-page sex scene but mostly plot
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Maybe
Personal Thoughts: This fantasy setting is reminiscent of Vietnam facing colonial encroachment, has an all-female cast (with the exception of one eunuch), and at least one fire elemental. I liked the premise, the fact that we dived into colonialism from the perspective of those once under colonial rule, and the smooth writing style of the author. However, I felt that both the world-building and the romantic relationships needed to be fleshed out a lot more. In the world-building I wanted to know more about this matriarchal society that didn’t seem to have any men and how that worked. I also wanted to know more about the magical elements. Here we have one fire elemental, but are there others? Are there water elementals? Earth elementals? How common are they?
In terms of the romance, everything felt rushed and I didn’t feel any actual romance. One of Thanh's romantic interests keeps calling her Big Sis, which seemed odd to me for the relationship. Thanh also called her Lil Sis for double the confusion. Do they view each other as sisters or as potential girlfriend material? It’s hard to say. Both characters seemed a little young and naïve even though Thanh says she’s 24.
I found most of the characters, from Thanh’s queen mother to Eldris, her one-time lover, to be one-dimensional. They didn’t have enough time on the page to become well-rounded people with multiple interests and abilities. Overall, this was a simplistic story with a lot of potential that I think could have been brought out if the book had been a full-length novel, instead of a short novella.
Summary: It's the end of the McCarthy Era and the star of the Cabots, a Democratic powerhouse family from New England, is on the rise nationwide. When Tommy Cabot divorces his wife and comes out to his family, they immediately banish him from Washington. He returns to Massachusetts to be near his son’s boarding school, fix up a house, and lick his wounds in peace. But on his son’s first day of school, Tommy happens to run into the new math teacher—Everett Sloane, the best friend who left the country when Tommy got married and never spoke to him again.
A year later, Tommy’s nephew Peter is graduating from Harvard and desperate for something, anything to get him out of joining his father on the presidential campaign trail. Driving a stranded classmate all the way to California? The perfect excuse. Not even the massive chip on Caleb Murphy’s shoulder could stop him from taking this cross-country road trip.
Series/Standalone: The Cabots #1 & #2
Genre/Sub-genre: Historical Romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 102 + 212 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay
Content Warnings: Off-screen family dysfunction and period-typical homophobia, but honestly these are both very fluffy reads.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written, well-edited, well-designed! I would absolutely hold this series up as proof that you can still have high production values while self-publishing.
Would I Recommend?: YES
Personal thoughts: If you like “the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one,” this whole series is a delight! I have a particular weakness for both “learning how to love yourself through domestic labor” and second-chance romance. Tommy Cabot Was Here especially hits my buttons, but I loved both books. Cat Sebastian tends to write very kind, gentle romances where everyone is trying their best and nobody wants to hurt anyone else. These are very much on-brand. If you tend to go for high intensity and dramatic redemption arcs, you might be bored. But if you want a nice read about nice people (eventually) getting nice things, look no further. I tore straight through each book in a single day, and if any of the above tropes appeal to you, I expect you will too!
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Peter Cabot Gets Lost since the premise (enemies to lovers during a cross-country roadtrip) seemed like it would fit comfortably into a novella of a similar length to Tommy Cabot Was Here, but it’s a full-length romance novel! I really enjoyed the time spent getting to know both Caleb and Peter, and to SEE them move from barely acquaintances to "Yeah, they're in this for the long haul." As expected from a Cat Sebastian novel, the historical details are delightful, the class conflict is on point, and the writing is just plain fun. Fingers crossed for a Pat Cabot Gets the Girl prequel at some point! Pat and Harry's cameos in both books were, as the kids say these days, #goals.