Hello and welcome to the November 2023 edition of the Queer Lit Review! This month we have a nonfiction title all about bisexuality, women's hockey coaches reconnecting off the ice, and a queer undead polycule in an ancient Greece-inspired world.
These titles may be available in other formats or languages. Check our catalog for availability.
Title/Author: Bi by Julia Shaw
Summary: Julia Shaw, a bisexual psychologist, gives an overview of the modern gay rights movement (with an emphasis on bisexuality), the many issues bi people across the world face, and the science of attraction.
Book Format: eBook
Length: 240 pages
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written (at least, regarding grammar and sentence structure)
Would I Recommend?: No
Personal Thoughts: The concept of this book is really great. There is a dearth of nonfiction about queerness in general, but there’s a significant lack about bisexuality. Shaw provides excellent research and writes in a conversational, down-to-earth way that we rarely see in academia. She also doesn’t shy away from difficult topics; this book tackles unjust immigration systems and violent, homophobic laws, to name a few. I appreciated Shaw’s dismantling of biphobic talking points as well.
However, a majority of this book read like a “which sexuality is the most oppressed?” contest. That bothers me. With homophobia and transphobia increasing in the U.S. and across the globe, the LGBTQIA+ community needs to come together, not generalize and attack other members. Shaw also didn’t acknowledge asexuality at all, which felt particularly ignorant when she asserted that everyone likes sex and secretly wants a threesome. Ultimately, it felt as if Shaw’s main purpose was to convince readers to start identifying as bi and practicing ethical non-monogamy. As a queer woman herself, she should know that sexuality isn’t a choice.
My other issue is the sense of privilege throughout the book. Shaw has a PhD and identifies herself in this work as cisgender, white, upper-middle-class, from an accepting family, and in a straight-passing relationship. This is reflected in her writing. While she of course faces disadvantages, she quite literally views herself as only a step or two removed from people who are murdered for their queerness. Furthermore, her statistics center white cisgender people — which she acknowledges, pointing out the lack of inclusion in professional research — but I assume that someone who’s written two other nonfiction books knows how to conduct her own investigation. There are so, so many bisexuals who are trans+ and/or BIPOC…especially in London, where Shaw lives. I find it disappointing that she didn’t think to seek other perspectives out, instead centering whiteness and cisgender-ness.
In short, I respect Shaw’s mission and voice (we need more easy-to-read nonfiction!), and hope it starts a trend of publishing books about queerness by non-white and non-cisgender people.
Title/Author: Calling the Shots by Kelly Farmer
Summary: Years ago, Regan and Tierney spent one perfect week together...only for Regan to totally ghost Tierney. Now, Regan has accepted a job as the head coach of Boston’s professional women’s hockey team, the league where Tierney already coaches. As Regan and Tierney become professional rivals, they also start to reconnect off the ice.
Series/Standalone: Series, but they can be read out of order
Genre/Sub-Genre: Sports romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 342 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian
HEA/HFN: Happily ever after
Content Warnings: Nothing major
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Everything was fade to black — but about 85/15 plot to foreplay
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Decently written
Would I Recommend it?: Sure.
Personal Thoughts: I love hockey and romance novels, so I read a lot of hockey romance novels. However, I haven’t read any set in the world of women’s professional hockey — so this was a fun change of pace!
Overall, I thought this was a perfectly fine romance. I liked Regan and Tierney as characters, and I thought Farmer did a good job of giving them distinct personalities despite having a lot in common. In terms of supporting characters, I also really loved Tierney’s precocious kid, Hope. In fact, the co-parenting plotlines and Hope having to adjust to her moms having new partners were the most compelling parts of the book for me.
I did think that the relationship between Tierney and Regan could have been developed a bit better. I don’t usually love flashbacks, but I think having some flashback chapters to their initial week together would have done a lot to show the reader that they had a real connection. As it was, them reuniting seemed to happen sort of out of nowhere. I believed that they would want to stay together because of their shared love of women’s hockey and because of how their personalities complemented each other, but I would have expected more resistance from Tierney initially since she was ghosted the first time around. The stuff around their fight/mini-breakup also could have been better resolved. It wasn’t believable that Tierney would just totally resolve her issues surrounding Regan’s public persona in the span of a week...and I didn’t love that she was so anti-couples counseling since these characters would definitely benefit from therapy!
In terms of hockey, this, for better or worse, felt pretty accurate in terms of the women’s professional leagues that have existed in the U.S. and Canada. It did feel kind of wild that Regan coached in Boston and lived in NYC, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if players or coaches in some of the previous women’s leagues have done that. I’ve read my fair share of hockey romances with huge inaccuracies in terms of terminology or rules, and this wasn’t bad in terms of that. The one thing that stuck out to me was that Regan and Tierney made a bet where the losing coach had to wear an old mascot costume, and even a silly bet like that between coaches seems like something a league would not be thrilled with.
Overall, this is solidly a three-star read for me. I had a fine time reading it and there was nothing about it that really bothered me, but there also was nothing about it that I really loved. I also can’t remember the last time I read a romance that truly was fade to black in terms of sexy content — if you prefer that, you might love this, but it wasn’t what I personally expect out of a romance novel. I think if you like hockey romances and read quickly, it is worth checking out just for something different within the subgenre, but I wouldn’t say it is a must-read.
Title/Author: In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland
Reviewer: Puck M.
Summary: In Thanopolis, those precious few gifted with magic are assigned undead spirits who guard them — and closely control them. Ever since Rovan's father died trying to keep her from this fate, Rovan has hidden her magic. But when she accidentally reveals her powers to save a life, she's bound to one of the undead and thrust into a world of palace intrigue and deception.
Series/Standalone: Seems to be standalone, but would work as the start for a series, so hope springs eternal
Genre/Sub-Genre: Teen/New Adult Dark Fantasy
Book Format: Physical Book, though the audiobook is also good
Length: 390 pages; 15 hours
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Pansexual POV character; lesbian, nonbinary, and ace side characters
Content Warnings: Some graphic violence and gore; institutional and interpersonal queer-antagonism, misogyny, and gender essentialism; many, many deaths; mention of off-screen rape and domestic abuse; mild body horror; some alcohol abuse; a couple of sex scenes (only mildly explicit); ableist language
Well-Written/Editor Needed: The book is well-written; the audiobook narrator mispronounces many things, so could use an edit
Would I Recommend?: Absolutely!
Personal thoughts: November 23 is National Polyamory Day in Canada, so of course I had to dedicate my November review to the book featuring my favorite queer undead polycule! Those last two words are technically spoilers, but honestly, a) if you are like me and are sick of love triangles in YA fantasy, then knowing ahead of time that the main character is not going to waste valuable political conspiracy and magic shenanigans time on agonizing over which love interest to end up with can only be a plus, and b) the way the undead thing happens is unique and surprising, so knowing it ahead of time cannot prepare you for what happens.
Overall, I enjoyed the book immensely. The worldbuilding is entirely fascinating, with the blood magic and death magic built out thoroughly and interacting in interesting and complex ways. The material culture of Thanopolis is clearly inspired by ancient Greece — folks are wearing chitons, peplos, and himations and using appropriate weaponry (at least to my lay understanding) — but the religion is entirely focused on a threefold goddess and the first king of Thanopolis, Athanatos, who, we’re told, first brought blood magic to Thanopolis. And that’s not to mention Skylea, land of funky-colored-hair and eyes, and the Blight that lies between the lands.
Rovan’s head is a fun place to spend most of the book in. There are so many aspects of her character that I kept expecting to be annoyed by — her selfishness and impulsivity first and foremost — but because her character is written so consistently, her choices make sense for who she is. Despite her copious mistakes, I was always rooting for her because her position in the palace is so untenable and her passions are so clear.
The rest of the eventual polycule are also wonderful characters: two are fellow blood mages — Lydea, the lesbian princess who wants nothing more than to escape the fate of being married off and forced to bear heirs, and Jaffe, her fabulous and irreverent nonbinary ace cousin; the third is Ivrilos, the ancient shade assigned to guard and control Rovan, who has secrets of his own.
I read the book physically first and then listened to it on audiobook to reread in preparation for writing this review. Despite the copious errors I mentioned above, I found the audiobook narrator very engaging, so it’s still a fun listen if you prefer audiobooks to text. My only real complaint is that the pacing of the book feels somewhat off. The last quarter of the book feels like several major plot and emotional climaxes happen one after another. In contrast to the relatively slow pace of the first chunk of the book as Rovan gets accustomed to life as a warded blood mage and immersed in the politics of Thanopolis, it felt somewhat jarring to jump to nonstop action in the latter chapters.
Finally, far be it from me to quibble over marketing categories, but I would consider this book “New Adult” rather than “Young Adult,” given the graphic nature of the violence here.
Overall, though, if you like blood, murder, queerness, and polyamory, this is the book for you.