Queer Lit Review: June 2023

Hello and welcome to the June edition of the Queer Lit Review!  

Every June the library puts out a long booklist of LGBTQ+ books that came out the previous year called We Are Pride. This list includes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. Pick up a printed copy at your local branch, or check out the online edition and borrow a new book today! Learn more about LGBTQ+ events and resources at the library on our Pride page

This month we have an investigation into a mass murder in steampunk Cairo, a single mom raising her daughter in an age of public shaming for wrong-doing, and an interior designer falling hard for the carpenter on her current project. 

These titles may be available in other formats or languages. Check our catalog for availability.

Happy Pride Month and Happy Reading!

Title/Author: A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark 

Reviewer: Veronica 

Summary: In a steampunk version of Cairo in the early 1900s, the course of history has been forever changed by the emergence of the mysterious al-Jahiz, who brought djinn into the human world and then vanished. Fifty years after al-Jahiz's disappearance, Special Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities is assigned to the case of a gruesome mass murder — and the perpetrator claims to be al-Jahiz returned.  

Series/Standalone: This book is the first novel-length installment in the Dead Djinn universe, but I highly recommend reading the short story "A Dead Djinn in Cairo" first, and optionally the novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 as well. You'll be able to pick up on what happened in those stories without too much trouble, but it's more fun to read them than just hear what happened in them!  

Genre/Sub-Genre: Fantasy 

Book Format: eBook 

Length: 392 pages 

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian 

Content Warnings: Violence, but nothing beyond the expected level in a supernatural murder mystery 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written!  

Would I Recommend?: Yes, absolutely — and specifically in the reading order I suggested above.

Personal thoughts: This book was an absolute delight. The descriptions of alternate steampunk Cairo were so vivid and fun! The worldbuilding surrounding the djinn and other supernatural entities unfolded in a way that fit perfectly with the default-Muslim setting, made sense of both their strengths and corresponding weaknesses, and was — most importantly — extremely cool. And speaking of extremely cool: a dapper butch heroine solving crimes with the help of her femme fatale religious nonconformist girlfriend? Yes, please! I adored every single reference to Fatma's fancy suits, ties, and walking stick. And the costume wasn't just window dressing; the way she dresses is clearly an integral part of Fatma's character, both how she presents to the world and how she views herself. 

"Stylish" describes the book overall as well as our heroine. I could see the twist coming but it was extremely satisfying to be right! The one thing I expect may be divisive about A Master of Djinn is how openly it's in conversation with very contemporary rhetoric. I personally really enjoyed the sprinkling of memes into the prose, especially the "thanks, ya Jahiz" echo of "thanks, Obama" — it almost reminded me of Gideon the Ninth in how unabashed it is about anachronism in service of the vibe the author wants to convey. I love it, but if you're a stickler for linguistic register, I can see how this might not be the book for you.  

Title/Author:  I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane

Reviewer:  Jordan

Summary:  The Department of Balance has adopted a radical new form of law enforcement: rather than incarceration, wrongdoers are given a second shadow as a reminder of their crime—and a warning to those they encounter. Kris is a Shadester and a new mother to a baby born with a second shadow of her own. Grieving the loss of her wife and thoroughly unprepared for the reality of raising a child alone, Kris teeters on the edge of collapse. Yet as the kid grows, Kris finds her footing, raising a child whose irrepressible spark cannot be dampened by the harsh realities of the world.

Series/Standalone:  Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre:  Experimental Dystopian

Book Format: Print

Length:  342 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian MCs, Trans & Nonbinary side characters

Content Warnings:  Homophobia and sexism are the main things, but really, prejudice and bigotry runs rampant in the background on a scale much larger than the few main characters, and spares no one except white men without extra shadows, it seems. The MCs also occasionally engage in, or talk about, BDSM.

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Very well-written!

Would I Recommend?: Yes! If you’re looking for books to read for the Adult Summer Reading Bingo challenge, this book fills the following squares: Debut Author & Queer Author!

Personal thoughts: This is a very unique read and I was truly delighted by it. It’s mostly told in vignette form, where the scenes are slice of life and very short, interspersed with pop quizzes (Q: What does it mean to harm someone? A: Define someone.), and a few word searches. It’s written in first person, the narrator addressing her late wife, Beau. All dialogue is written in italics without quotation marks. It may sound strange, but it works really well for this story.

This book brings out some tough questions about how we punish people and who gets punished for what crimes and offenses. For example, the kid in this story (who is always referred to as “the kid”) was given a second shadow just after her birth for “killing” her mom in labor. The officers of the Department of Balance decide who gets punished and it’s very often not fair and full of bigotry. The point is to publicly shame people by giving them something visible that everyone can see, at least in daylight.

But the kid isn’t shamed by her shadow. She’s bold, fierce, and fearless and I love her for it. Even while she’s misbehaving in class and I occasionally felt for her teachers trying to wrangle a full classroom, I couldn’t help but root for her, especially amongst bullies and school administrators who don’t care.

While it seems like most of the book is a bit doom and gloom, there is plenty of growth and learning. It ends on a hopeful note that doesn’t tie everything up in a neat bow, keeping it realistic and leaving the reader wondering where their lives will lead them next.

Title/Author: Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail by Ashley Herring Blake 

Reviewer: Allison 

Summary: Ever since she broke up with her fiancé a year ago, Astrid Parker has been focused on her career as an interior designer. When she’s asked to be the designer for the Everwood Inn's renovation that will be broadcast on a popular home improvement show, Astrid knows this is the answer to everything that is wrong with her life. However, Astrid never planned on Jordan Everwood, the granddaughter of the inn’s owner and lead carpenter for the renovation, who despises every design decision Astrid makes. When that turns into a little light sabotage, the showrunners ask Astrid and Jordan to play up their tension. But somewhere along the way, their dislike for each other turns into something quite different, and Astrid must decide what success truly means. Is she going to pursue the life that she's expected to lead, or the one she wants? 

Series/Standalone: Series (See my review of Book one here.)  

Genre/Sub-Genre: Romance 

Book Format: eBook 

Length: 386 pages 

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual/lesbian  

HEA/HFN:  Yes 

Content Warnings: Cancer  

Ratio of Sex/Plot: 70% plot, 30% (incredibly well-done) sex 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written 

Would I Re-Read?: Personally, no, but I almost never re-read books!  

Personal Thoughts: Right off the bat, let me just say that I deeply appreciate Ashley Herring Blake’s commitment to making the Bright Falls friend group as queer as possible at every opportunity. It’s what we all deserve! Okay, let’s dive in to Astrid 

I love Astrid Parker. I love her. She’s such a disaster in all of my favorite ways. A perfectionist who is also desperately chasing a sense of self, unable to let herself mess up along that journey even though it’s inevitable. It takes the arrival of Jordan Everwood (and Astrid’s immediate attraction to her) to make Astrid start questioning not only her sexuality, but the entire life she’s designed for herself. Her entire narrative was great and her growth was, honestly, unmatched by any of Blake’s other characters for me so far.  

Love interest Jordan Everwood was a bit of a letdown for me this time around because of one single thing that’s kind of a spoiler so I can’t talk about it in detail, but when you hit that part of the book I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about immediately! One of the worst “plot twists” I’ve ever read! Quite honestly, if I didn’t love Astrid herself so much, I might have put the book down when this moment happened! Otherwise, I enjoyed Jordan and her journey to accepting the love Astrid wanted to give and her boundary-setting around what she would and would not accept when it came to Astrid figuring out her sexuality in terms of what it meant for Jordan. I just wish that I hadn’t spent the first 40% of the book being emotionally manipulated for no reason!  

As a very quick side note, I think very few people in modern romance are writing sapphic sex scenes better than Herring Blake. She’s, quite frankly, a master at it, along with being a master of the sensual build-up leading up to the first bedroom scene.  

I’ll definitely be reading and enjoying the third of the Bright Fall series (which follows the last single gal in our friend group, Iris), but I don’t know if Herring Blake can top Astrid as a character for me. I guess we’ll see!