Super Monster by Claud

Support a non-binary artist and discover some catchy new music on Super Monster by Claud.  How to describe their style? Well, here’s what they say on their website: “claud mintz (they/them) makes the kind of pop that goes well with a late night snack.”

If that doesn’t clear it up for you, here’s my take: this is a pop sound similar to twin icons Tegan and Sara, and the California band Muna, but also with shades of Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. With simple hooks and honest lyrics, Claud combines soft, musing ballads with more fast-paced, playful tracks for a mix that is overall optimistic, affectionate, vulnerable, and proudly queer. Listeners will be drawn in by bright, quirky album art and intriguing song titles including “Cuff Your Jeans” and “That’s Mr. Bitch to You”.

Incidentally, “That’s Mr. Bitch To You” is probably my favorite track for its light-hearted energy in response to hate (definitely my new personal anthem) – but most tracks are relaxing and enjoyable to listen to. I also recommend “Overnight” and “Falling with the Rain” for more romantic vibes, and “Ana” for a lost-love story.  Most tracks will leave you humming for the rest of the day, and the lack of cynicism will keep you coming back for more.

Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky

Film buffs rejoice! Timothy Janovsky has written the ultimate romance for you in Never Been Kissed, featuring summer at the drive-in, a cranky and reclusive legendary film director, and second-chance romance with a childhood crush.

Wren has never been kissed – not only a big regret for him as a lover of rom-coms, but also a major source of teasing from his friends. Considering he’s also graduating college without a plan beyond his regular summer job at the drive-in, it’s especially hard for Wren to feel like a grownup. After a few too many at his 22nd birthday he decides there IS something he can do about one of his problems – he can send out all the emails he’s written to the boys he almost kissed over the years, and launch a quest to get himself kissed. In the morning, this was obviously a terrible idea, but it did reopen communications with childhood friend (and major crush) Derrick, who just so happens to be ALSO working at the drive-in this summer… awkward! Not to mention he’s juggling being a manager at the drive-in, for the first time, with also trying to save it from shutting down by hosting a big event featuring the the local film legend, reclusive director Alice Kelly. Through it all there’s Derrick, and some uncomfortable conversations about what happened to them in high school that need to be faced if there’s a future for them now.

At first I wasn’t sure about the 90s rom-com vibes of this book, or about how immature Wren seemed, dodging his problems and clinging to the past. But over the course of the book, while the film nostalgia stayed strong, Wren started to change, to learn and grow and face his uncomfortable truths. By the end his confidence has grown and he’s acting like a real adult — making the book not only satisfying but relatable, as we all face that moment of growing up and taking responsibility sooner or later. In general, this book was strongly Gen Z, both in terms of lingo, film references, and openly affirming things like mental health, found family, and a wide spectrum of identities. It’s a major milestone for the romance genre that this book openly discusses being demi (which means only feeling certain attractions once a strong emotional bond has been formed) and how important it is to have words to understand yourself. In fact, the atmosphere of acceptance was strong and unquestioned, which was refreshing to read.

This is the 90s romantic comedy movie rewrite I didn’t know I always needed — if you like New Adult coming-of-age stories, second chance romances, or just jump at the chance to go to the movies, I definitely recommend you read this book and then take a trip out to your nearest drive-in theater to keep tradition alive.

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Sick of horror stories where able-bodied straight people are the only ones smart and strong enough to survive? Try Even if We Break by Marieke Nijkamp. This deeply inclusive YA thriller is a love letter to RPGs, a Breakfast Club vibe (with shades of One of Us is Lying), and a typical “remote-cabin-on-haunted-mountain” campfire story.

It’s been three years of high school since disabled goth Finn (he/him), cash-strapped game master Ever (they/them), autistic former athlete Maddy (she/her), hardworking “new money” Carter (he/him), and wealthy aspiring seamstress Liva (she/her) first started playing their role-playing game in the mythical land of Gonfalon. Once, the game made them inseparable. Now, they’re barely speaking, and all hiding secrets. Carter is bitterly resentful, Maddy is lost and desperate, Finn is consumed with anger and mistrust, Liva feels disrespected, and Ever is just desperate to keep the friendship going a little longer. They’ve gathered, one last time, at Liva’s mountain cabin to play an immersive game. But soon, strange things start happening, and then in the darkness, someone vanishes, leaving a pool of blood behind…

This book is priceless because of its effort to accurately and compassionately portray the lives of queer, disabled, and trans teens, through their own voices. Touching on chronic pain, the opioid epidemic, poverty, bullying, neurodivergence, and more, this is a thoughtful portrayal of a group of friends and how their circumstances can drive wedges between them. What this book does best is show the friends’ processing of trauma and secrets in order to get back to a place of trust and honesty. While slightly less effective, the thriller plot unravels at just the right rate to keep readers on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next and who’s behind it.

Both the frequent heart-to-heart talks and inconsistent serial-killer-stalking stretch the limits of believability to some degree and, combined, make for a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but as a pioneer of inclusion in the genre – and a nuanced portrayal of disability – this is a tour de force.  Recommended for fans of Stephanie Perkins’ horror work and Karen McManus’ multi-perspective whodunits.

This title is also available on Overdrive.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

One of Sarah Gailey’s older works (relatively speaking – after this 2019 volume came a flurry of hits including 2020’s Upright Women Wanted and 2021’s The Echo Wife), Magic for Liars is a feminist gumshoe detective story set in the American version of Harry Potter’s world. While highly original, the story pays homage to a number of tropes: magic abounds in an impossible high school (complete with a boy convinced he’s the Chosen One of prophecy), our cynical narrator spends lots of time brooding in bars even while investigating a grisly murder that has shocked the community, and two estranged sisters forced together must finally face what has divided them. Best of all, a sapphic thread runs through the characters – women loving women is common and routine in this world, though it may have been a motive for murder…

Ivy Gamble is almost successful as a private investigator. She’s almost got a handle on her drinking. And she’s almost definitely not jealous of her magically-gifted sister Tabitha. When a suspicious death rocks the school where Tabitha is a professor of Theoretical Magic, Ivy is called in to investigate. Out of her depth in the investigation and in the world of magic, Ivy quickly starts to question everything she thought she knew about magic, the world, her sister, and herself.

Gailey has created such a unique character in Ivy – she’s a mix of Stephanie Plum’s flawed detective and Petunia Evans Dursley’s bitter resentment, but fully lucid of her flaws, and able to grow, change, and face her mistakes. Tabitha, meanwhile, has the charm of Lily Evans and the haughty emotional distance of Minerva McGonagall (if either of those icons had been lesbians) but the obsessive, secretive temperament of Severus Snape. Spoilers — this is a risky combination. I don’t know that I was totally convinced by the book as a whole — between the mystery, the sibling tension, the high school drama, facing personal demons, AND an unlikely romance, it seemed like the book was trying to do too much and didn’t do each component full justice — but as a reinvention of classic tropes it’s very clever and original, and the normalization of queer identities is very refreshing.

More than that, the pace of the book was addictive, and ended in a way that leaves the reader wondering whether the book was supposed to be part of a bigger, as yet unfinished, story. Will Ivy ever get a sequel to continue her journey? Only time will tell; for now I do recommend this book to all those who enjoy books with gumshoe murder mysteries, high school drama, estranged siblings, bizarre modern magic, and all the dark sides of love.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

I’m a bit of a picky reader, wanting mostly to read books with LGBTQ-diverse characters. Often (as you’ll know if you’ve read my posts) this leads me to fantastic books in the romance genre. However, there are more titles available in other genres, though they’re trickier to find. Most recently I’ve been exploring sci-fi titles, starting with Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell.

Kiem is a very low-level royal in the Iskat Emperor’s family, and he’s got a bit of a bad reputation from his student days that he just can’t shake. Jainan, meanwhile, is well-respected and has been representing the planet Thea for the empire quite well with the help of his Iskat partner Taam. But just as the Empire enters high-stakes negotiations with the ominous Auditor of the Resolution, Taam is killed in an accident, and it’s very important Jainan remarry to present a strong and united front. Enter Kiem – whose main qualifications are his bloodline and his ability to look confident in photos. One quick marriage ceremony later, Kiem and Jainan are struggling to navigate dangerous galactic politics, trying to find out if Taam’s death was really an accident, and feeling surprisingly attracted to each other…

I saw this described as Ancillary Justice meets Red, White, and Royal Blue and I do think that’s a cleverly apt description – although I personally think Boyfriend Material is a closer fit (and the book I prefer between the two). The space opera / imperial conspiracy / political maneuvering elements are a big part of the story and its setting, but Kiem adds some much needed humanity and humor to the story. Throw in a murder mystery and it’s practically a gay version of Star Wars. Better yet, this is a universe that’s very honest, frank, and unconcerned about LGBTQ relationships and identities – which was delightfully refreshing to read.

If you’re a sci-fi reader looking for more representation, don’t miss this critically-acclaimed book!

I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson

If you like classic rom-coms and stories where hard lessons come with plenty of laughs and inevitable happily-ever-afters, you’ll want to try I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson. Characters leap off the page, warm, diverse, and real, and none of their thorny emotions are swept under the rug; readers will root for Kian as he learns to grow up and love himself.

Kian will be the first to admit his life isn’t going great. His dream of being a journalist seems to be just out of reach, while his younger brother seems to have effortless success. He’s not even doing well at getting over his ex, partly because his ex just texted to ask for a favor…Turns out Hudson never told his parents they’d broken up, and needs Kian to pretend they’re back together for an evening. In exchange, Hudson will put in a good word with a journalism bigwig he knows. Unfortunately, the dinner doesn’t go as planned and Kian finds himself going to a wedding with Hudson’s family in Georgia. Will this be a second chance at love – or a repeat of the worst heartbreak Kian ever had?

I loved reading from Kian’s perspective, because he’s so extra, larger-than-life and full of wit and pop culture references. Watching him embody the modern proverb “If I’m too much, go find less” was empowering and delightful to read, since his attitude and general chaos occasionally caused major disruptions around him. Reading from his first-person POV also meant seeing his vulnerability, insecurity, and deep love for his friends and family. In places the introspection and wildly pop-culture-packed internal monologue is almost too much, distracting from the plot so it feels rushed or uneven (not to mention giving rise to concern that the novel will age rapidly out of relevance) but the narrator’s self-awareness, emotional maturity, and excellent friends balance out the faults to make a very enjoyable reading experience.

If you’re looking for a wild romantic ride, or love 90s rom-coms and Crazy Rich Asians, this is the book for you.

Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler

If you like Stephanie Plum, Agatha Raisin, and cozy mysteries with unique casts of characters where shenanigans ensue, you won’t want to miss Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler. Funny and warm, with a caring center, this whodunit is both a fascinating mystery and a love letter to Seattle and the LGBTQ community.

Hayden has had an interesting night. At his regular queer bar last night, he’d finally worked up the courage to tip the handsome go-go boy dancing on the table, only for the dancer to lose his balance and kick him in the face. Despite the black eye, it wasn’t a total loss, because the dancer turned out to be a sweetheart named Camilo, who took Hayden home. Unfortunately, when Hayden woke up the next day, there was no sign of Camilo anywhere, just his dog Commander. Oh, and the police at the door. Hayden can’t shake his concern, and starts asking around to see if anyone knows where Camilo has gone (not least because having Commander at his apartment is escalating his feud with a nasty neighbor). In consequence, he meets Camilo’s friends Burley and Hollister, and all three are swept up in a quest to get to the bottom of the mystery and bring Camilo home.

What works well in this mystery is a balance between serious caring and lighthearted fun; for instance Camilo’s immigration status and Hollister’s experiences as a 6 foot Black lesbian are treated sincerely as good reasons to feel unsafe around (and less than confident in) law enforcement, but this is balanced with Hayden charmingly out of his depth (but remaining compassionate) as a petite teacher/blogger thrust into a world of jealousy and danger.

Mystery readers, don’t miss out on a self-identified “pocket gay” going on a journey of dog-sitting, wise 90-year-olds, butch lesbians, sinister pet stores, a borrowed Prius covered in religious bumper stickers, and a missing go-go dancer with a heart of gold.

In Defense of My Own Happiness by Joy Oladokun

Raw emotions and deep insights are combined with catchy, hopeful melodies to make truly captivating music in Joy Oladakun’s (oh-LA-da-koon) most recent album, In Defense of My Own Happiness.

24 unique tracks are packed into the album, each with its own viewpoint delving into love, society, struggle, beauty, or some combination thereof. What all the songs have in common is Oladakun’s signature singer-songwriter style. She’s described on her website as “a new kind of american troubadour” and her music reflects that – while your toes are tapping, head bobbing along to the beat, your mind and heart are absorbing deeply intentional lyrics. Particularly powerful is the specific perspective she brings on the world.

“i feel like it’s not an accident i’m a queer black woman writing and making music,” says the Nigerian-American singer. Her singles criticizing religion and systemic racism, among other topics, have been widely acclaimed. However, as the album’s title suggests, the music at its core is about hope and happiness wherever and however it can be found. “when you listen to me, i want you to feel like you’ve taken an emotional shower. that’s what i’m trying to accomplish for myself. to me, music is a vehicle of catharsis. i write a lot of sad songs, but i always push for a sliver of a silver lining or glimmer of hope it could be better. that’s why i’m writing in the first place. i want you to be changed when you hear me, and not because i’m special, but because i make music with the intention to change myself.”

I was surprised, touched, and fascinated by this album; I kept expecting to find a track that didn’t hook me, something that I didn’t like, that I’d skip past, but I never did. Every song was gentle on the ear but persistently catchy, with lyrics that kept you waiting to hear what came next. There was nothing superficial or frivolous going on, and everything felt like an authentic, intentional celebration of life – the good and the bad. Whether you’re into the singer-songwriter style of folk music or not, I definitely recommend you give a listen to this powerhouse album.

The Best Corpse for the Job by Charlie Cochrane

A satisfying cozy mystery woven with a well-drawn gay romance, this book reads like a modernized Agatha Christie Miss Marple story or a more diverse Midsomer Murders adventure.

In The Best Corpse for the Job by Charlie Cochrane, Adam is a young teacher expecting nothing but boredom and sniping from the process of selecting a new Head Teacher for St. Crispin’s school. The board of governors is prickly at the best of times, after all. But things go beyond gossip when one of the applicants is found dead. The police send Robin, a police Inspector and an alumni of St. Crispin’s, to investigate, much to his regret. Memory lane only brings up the traumas of bullying he endured, so he’s eager to get the case resolved. But the case is trickier than it appears, not least because Robin and Adam feel an instant attraction to each other that’s hard to fight. They start to work together to piece together clues, but struggle to keep up after a second body is discovered. The stakes have never been higher with justice, love, and careers on the line.

In terms of plot and pacing this is a highly readable mystery, with sympathetic characters and a relatively believable resolution. The balance between romance and mystery was good, which kept both the calm domesticity of the characters’ attraction as well as the methodical police procedural, from getting dull or repetitive. There’s also a very strong sense of place rooting the story strongly in England, and as an Anglophile I was delighted  a cozy mystery that is true to the genre and evokes classic tropes while seamlessly including gay main characters.

If you’re looking for a light, quick read that is thoughtful and positive in its depiction of LGBTQ life, but focused on a mystery plotline, this is a good pick for you.

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor

“‘I always thought it was us women who were the fools,’ I whispered. ‘But I was wrong, it’s been the men all along…'”

I am so excited to share yet another retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with all of you. Due to this classic recently entering the public domain, this is already the second retelling I have been privileged to read over the last few months (please see my previous post for the title The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo for another great retelling). While I enjoyed Vo’s version of events, I have to admit I liked Jillian Cantor’s Beautiful Little Fools even more, so let’s dive right in!

As a brief recap for the original narrative, The Great Gatsby is set over the course of one summer during the Roaring Twenties on Long Island (New York) and primarily revolves around Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man of great wealth, and Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful socialite he falls in love with before going off to war. Taking place a few years after their initial meeting, this book picks up with Daisy having married a wealthy and unfaithful husband (Tom Buchanan) and Nick Carraway, Daisy’s distant cousin, unknowingly moving next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby. Before long, Nick plays a key role in reuniting Daisy and Gatsby once again.

While Fitzgerald’s story lends Nick the sole perspective as narrator, this retelling features three female voices: the aforementioned Daisy; Jordan, Daisy’s best friend from childhood; and Catherine, the sister of Myrtle Wilson (Myrtle is a rather major character in the original, while Catherine is not). While each of these characters is in the original story, the text never reveals their thoughts and backstories, forcing readers to assume their motives, so this shift in storytelling turns the original on its heels and lends the female leads a complexity that truly makes this book one of my top reads of the year thus far.

As an example, while Daisy is originally characterized as superficial and driven by materialistic motives, this story reveals a tragic past forcing her to to sacrifice her love in order to care for her family. In Jordan’s case, rather than a scandalous  golfer appearing to be unsympathetic to Nick’s innocent advances, she is forced to navigate making her father proud on the course while hiding her love for a fellow female golfer on the tour. Lastly, while Catherine is merely mentioned as another body at a party in the original, she is a strong and passionate suffragette who refuses to give up her ambitions and be suffocated by the societal expectations to marry and become a mother.

In addition to exposing the thoughts, motives, and backstories of the women, Cantor also flips the script by giving readers the female insight on the male characters. For instance, while I tend to think of Gatsby’s character as a desperate and naïve lover,  but in a sort of innocuous way (especially when compared to characters like Tom Buchanan), this retelling portrays Gatsby not as a blameless lover, but as manipulative, possessive, and, in some moments, predatory. The only male perspective presented in this retelling is that of a detective who suspects one of these women of being the true culprit behind Gatsby’s murder (did I mention this version has murder mystery flair?).

All in all, this retelling has bestowed power and agency to several new literary voices and given the women in this story the nuances and complexity they deserve. Cantor did a masterful job of taking a renowned classic and recasting it in her own compelling way!

This title is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook