Hi and welcome to the July 2022 edition of the Queer Lit Review! What have we been reading? This month we have enemies to lovers on the same college hockey team, a lesbian detective fighting a villain who will not leave her alone, and an ambassador to a conquering space empire getting caught in court intrigue.
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Title/Author: Icebreaker by A.L. Graziadei
Summary: Mickey James III is following in his father's (and grandfather's) skates by playing hockey at Hartland University, but he is not enjoying the situation. For one thing he is seriously depressed and unsure of anything, even whether he can make it as a hockey player (or wants to). More troubling, his rival, Jaysen Caulfield, is also on the team and seems to bitterly resent him — and Mickey actually finds Jaysen very attractive and does not know how to deal with that.
Genre/Sub-Genre: Young Adult
Book Format: Print
Length: 314 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual and gay
Content Warnings: Anxiety, mental illness, alcohol
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written, the ending just felt rushed
Would I Recommend: Yes
Personal thoughts: Ugh, I was so into this right up until the very end. The author really fumbled it right at home plate. (Get it? It’s a sports joke because this book is about hockey.)
Anyways, diving right in! (Another sports reference! I’m on a roll!) I loved Graziadei’s portrayal of Mickey and his depression. It was complex and handled with care while remaining relatable and realistic. Mickey’s struggle to connect with his teammates on and off the ice and the incredible pressure he finds himself under because of his family legacy added layers to his personality and love of hockey, but I would have liked us to dig a bit deeper into his relationship with his father — a man who essentially left Mickey behind at hockey camp while the entire family moved away together. We scratch the surface of how that choice has messed with Mickey’s head and perception of his family, but we never dive into it and the resolution of it doesn’t land with the emotional impact it had the potential too.
Enter Jaysen Caulfield, our love interest. If you follow this blog, you know I love rivals to lovers, but what you might not know is that I especially love rivals to lovers when they can’t get away from each other. It would have been easy for Jaysen and Mickey to be on different teams, but it’s so much better that they had to find a way to work together on the collegiate level, while still competing against each other for a chance at the pros. The tension between the two players is palpable and enticing (though I do think we jump into the physical intimacy a bit too quickly!).
The relationship between Jaysen and Mickey was what I was most looking forward to in this book and, honestly, it didn’t fully deliver in that sense. This was more of a character study of Mickey with a bit of plot and a bit of romance thrown in. Which is not a bad thing! But it was different from what I was expecting, so I hope that this review will help you go into it with a bit more information than I had.
Okay, and finally! The dreaded ending. It was so incredibly rushed. Things got resolved off-page that I wanted to see fully play out. We never fully see Mickey address his fear of coming in second to Jaysen and how that will affect their relationship, we’re just supposed to assume that they have talked about it and are both fine with it. We see almost no conversation about what Mickey’s future holds, especially as he moves into the NHL and Jaysen stays behind to finish college. It felt very sudden, and I would have preferred a book that was ten pages longer and took the time to really figure things out for these characters. Overall, I still definitely really liked it and do recommend it, but I will say that the romance is not the central part of the story, unlike what the summary may imply.
Title/Author: The Dime by Kathleen Kent
Summary: Brooklyn's toughest female detective takes on Dallas — and neither is ready for the fight. Betty takes on drug dealers of the worst kind, until one of them kidnaps her in an attempt to sway her to the other side.
Series/Standalone: Complete trilogy - Betty Rhyzyk #1-3: The Dime, The Burn, & The Pledge. This trilogy is also known as the Detective Betty Series and the Betty Rhyzyk Series.
Genre/Sub-Genre: Thriller/police procedural
Book Format: eAudiobooks
Length: The Dime (352 pages), The Burn (352 pages) & The Pledge (400 pages)
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian
Content Warnings: Lots of extreme violence, character deaths, mentions of homophobia, mentions/threats of rape.
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes, though this isn’t for the faint of heart.
Personal thoughts: Back in 2018 I read and reviewed the first book in the series, The Dime, and could not put it down. Since the third book came out last year I determined to reread the first book and finish the trilogy. Each book is a thrilling, twisty read with new villains, yet the main villain stays throughout all three books. Action packed, Betty doesn’t go down without a fight, and even when she’s knocked down, she gets right back up again, even swaying with a concussion, which may be a little unrealistic, but makes for a fun read.
I really appreciated that the people around Betty were not afraid to talk about mental health issues and to give advice, some of which she heeded, others she did not. “Don’t get stuck in the abyss of your own morass” was a phrase her late Uncle Benny, a veteran cop, had told her many times, and one she repeats to herself throughout the series.
Having a support system is key for Betty: her girlfriend, Jackie, is a strong partner by her side who never gives up on her despite all the violence and trouble that follows Betty around. The two of them argue a lot, but they do manage to make up too. Betty’s working relationships with her new team are realistic and relatable as everyone is a little wary of her in the beginning, but over time learn to trust her.
This time around I decided to go with the audiobook version for all three books, and I really liked the narrator, Cynthia Ferrell. She did a fabulous job with the various Spanish words as well as the different voices for each of the characters.
Title/Author: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Summary: The hapless new ambassador from a small space station to the all-conquering empire that lurks on its border swiftly finds herself embroiled in deadly intrigue at the imperial court. Has her predecessor been murdered, and why? Is she in greater danger from the Teixcalaanli soldiers and politicians that threaten Lsel's sovereignty, or from sabotage at the hands of her own countrymen who fear her affinity for Teixcalaan and its culture will lead her to betray her home?
Series/Standalone: Complete duology - Teixcalaan #1-2: A Memory Called Empire & A Desolation Called Peace
Genre/Sub-Genre: Science fiction
Book Format: Print
Length: A Memory Called Empire (462 pages) & A Desolation Called Peace (496 pages)
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian romance between two protagonists
Content Warnings: Violence up to and including murder and attempted genocide
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes, absolutely. An instant classic of contemporary space opera, worthy of standing next to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy.
Personal thoughts: I read A Memory Called Empire in April 2021 and immediately requested a review copy of A Desolation Called Peace... which I then proceeded to ignore for over a year. Not because I hadn’t enjoyed the first book, but because I had enjoyed it too much! It required a lot of brainpower, though, so I waited until had the energy to think about what I was reading again.
This is truly a series that has it all: a lovable (but not always likeable) protagonist, suspenseful court intrigue, slow-burn sapphic romance, intricate worldbuilding complete with linguistics, reflections on the nature of empire and what it means to love the culture of the conqueror. I loved the way Arkady Martine depicted the ever-hungry empire of Teixcalaan, which reminded me intensely of Rome, and the mixed feelings of her protagonist, who deeply admires Teixcalaanli literature and culture but knows that she will never be accepted as anything but a barbarian. Without giving spoilers, the way the story opened up and expanded in the second book absolutely blew my mind.
If you, like me, read Ancillary Justice back when it was winning every award in sight and thought, “Wow, I’ll never read space opera this good again,” think again.