Welcome to the August 2022 edition of the Queer Lit Review! This month we have a lesbian romance at a sister's wedding, a gay romance dealing with an old missing child case, and a second lesbian romance featuring a reluctant princess.
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Title/Author: Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake
Summary: When Delilah’s estranged stepsister, Astrid, pressures her into photographing her wedding with a guilt trip and a five-figure check, Delilah finds herself back in the godforsaken town that she used to call home. She plans to breeze in and out, but then she sees Claire Sutherland, one of Astrid’s stuck-up besties, and decides that maybe there’s some fun (and a little retribution) to be had in Bright Falls, after all.
Series/Standalone: Standalone within a series
Book Format: eBook
Length: 390 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian and bisexual
Content Warnings: Alcohol as a coping mechanism; grief; offscreen parental death
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend: Yes
Personal thoughts: I was delighted to see that Ashley Herring Blake made the leap into adult romance! I’ve enjoyed her middle grade books in the past, so I couldn’t wait to dive into Delilah Green.
I love Delilah Green. She’s so prickly from a combination of grief (she lost both of her parents young), abandonment (her stepmother wanted nothing to do with her after her father’s death), a past relationship (that ended when her girlfriend went back to her ex), and frustration about her career (she feels stalled out) and I love her. As we slowly chip away at the walls she’s built up to keep herself safe, what we find is a deeply flawed and broken woman just looking for a family that accepts her. When she finally finds it, it’s incredibly satisfying for the reader.
Love interest Claire was also wonderful! With her own dose of abandonment issues (her father left when she was young) mixed with a complicated relationship with the father of her child on top of raising a pre-teen daughter with a stubborn streak a mile-wide, Claire is hesitant to fall in love again, especially with Delilah, who plans to go back to New York as soon as her sister’s wedding is over. Typically, I am not a fan of romance where there are children, but because of Blake’s background in middle grade, Claire’s daughter felt like a real kid instead of just a plot point. The love scenes between Claire and Delilah were also incredibly sexy and sensual and only got better as their emotions came in to play.
I do think that Blake falls into her usual pattern of having just one too many things going on (the third-act breakup in this book happens for a silly reason, rather than one of the fully legitimate reasons already present) and while Blake does address that the reason given isn’t the real reason for either character, it still feels a bit contrived. Something I did really appreciate about this book was that while this is definitely a romance book, the plot surrounding it still felt equally as important as the love story. Delilah’s relationship with her sister, in particular, was a stand-out for me and made me extra excited for Blake’s next book, which will follow Delilah’s sister.
Title/Author: Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon
Summary: Twenty years ago young Brian Arlington, heir to Arlington fortune, was kidnapped. Though the ransom was paid, the boy was never seen again and is presumed dead. Pierce Mather, the family lawyer, now administers and controls the Arlington billions. He's none too happy, and more than a little suspicious, when investigative journalist Griffin Hadley shows up to write about the decades-old mystery. Griff shrugs off the coldly handsome Pierce's objections, but it might not be so easy to shrug off the objections of someone willing to do anything to keep the past buried.
Book Format: eBook
Length: 226 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay
Content Warnings: Griff has several panic/anxiety attacks
Ratio of Sex/Plot: The sex is evenly paced and there is way more plot than sex.
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Re-Read?: This is actually my third time reading this one, so yes!
Personal Thoughts: This is one of Josh Lanyon’s best standalone novels and if you’re looking to read something by Josh for the first time, I highly recommend starting with this one. It has all the elements Josh loves to write about, but in a small, standalone package rather than a five book series.
This is an atmospheric mystery with a sweet romance that pops up in all the right places. An enemies to lovers trope here, it’s easy to see why the Arlingtons' lawyer, Pierce, doesn’t want Griff to write his book. Then, with threats to Griff’s life coming from an unknown source, their relationship begins to blossom over the course of the week Griff is staying at the Arlington estate.
While the main mystery might be obvious early on to the reader, it isn’t for all of the characters and watching them figure it out is half the fun. Plus, the suspense elements and all the twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the book.
If you’re interested, the title of this novel comes from the song Stranger on the Shore by Aker Bilk. Here’s an article about the song, it’s creation, and its popularity. Also, follow this book up with a reread of The Great Gatsby, Griff’s favorite book that led him to discover the Arlingtons in the first place.
Title/Author: How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole
Summary: After losing her job and her girlfriend in the same day, inveterate people-pleaser Makeda Hicks is determined to turn over a new leaf. She's going to stop bending over backwards for everyone and learn to stand up for herself! When Beznaria Chetchevaliere shows up on Makeda's grandmother's doorstep claiming to be looking for the long-lost heir of Ibarania, Makeda's in no mood to humor her. But Bez isn't going to take no for an answer. She'll do whatever it takes to convince her princess to come home!
Series/Standalone: Second in the Runaway Royals series, which is itself a spinoff of the Reluctant Royals series. However, How to Find a Princess doesn't really feature any characters from previous books and can easily stand alone.
Genre/Sub-Genre: Contemporary romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 388 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian
Content Warnings: None
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written and very fun!
Would I Recommend?: Yes, to contemporary romance fans
Personal thoughts: If you've ever read any of the Reluctant Royals books (including Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, reviewed in May 2019) you know exactly what you're getting here: a super-cute romance with lots of winks to a genre-savvy audience. Alyssa Cole knows you know the plot of Anastasia already, and she's having fun with reader expectations. We've got a long-lost princess, a fake marriage, and "there was only one bed"... and none of it turns out quite the way you might be thinking. If you're looking for royal romance done straight, I'm not sure this will be the book for you! Despite the title, very little of the book focuses on the glamor and trappings of royalty. It's all about the journey, not the destination.
Also as one might expect of Alyssa Cole, How to Find a Princess has a strong theme of accepting how your own brain works rather than trying to conform to what’s "normal". Bez is cheerfully matter-of-fact about her own ADHD: while her different approach to things gets her into hot water at work, she knows it’s often more effective than conventional methods. Because she comes from a family who loves and accepts her for who she is, she has (refreshingly!) no inner conflict to overcome. Makeda goes on more of a journey throughout the book. I was pleasantly surprised that the ultimate solution to her co-dependent, people-pleasing ways is not “stop being nice to people” but rather to recognize and accept that she likes making other people happy, and just needs to set boundaries to stop being taken advantage of. If you’ve ever worked a job where a coworker constantly used your willingness to help against you, Makeda’s workplace vindication will make you want to cheer.
Despite the fact that both heroines are concealing important information from each other for a significant chunk of the book, I didn’t personally feel that the lying/miscommunication was egregious or that the plot was overly dependent on it. I was actually surprised by the twist at the end! There was less denouement than I would expect from a romance novel, but I’m sure we’ll catch a glimpse of Bez and Makeda’s happily ever after in another book in the series.