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.

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring-Blake

How do you make peace with your past? In Delilah Green’s case, the answer is to fall in love with the last person she’d have expected – an experience which gives her a whole new perspective on everything, including her most painful memories. Give love a chance in the Cinderella-like (complete with evil stepmother and second chances) Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring-Blake.

After Delilah’s father died, Delilah was left in the care of her cold stepmother Isobel and her distant stepsister Astrid, who never made her feel welcome or wanted. She’s been living in New York, chasing her dream of being a photographer and having a string of one-night-stands to keep her company. Then Astrid gets engaged, and hires Delilah to photograph the wedding. When she arrives, Delilah is blindsided by her attraction to Astrid’s best friend Claire, now a single mom running a bookstore and struggling to trust her unreliable ex. As the wedding draws closer, so do Delilah and Claire – but the wounds from their pasts are never far away…

This is a very steamy romance, but it’s well-balanced with character development, real emotions, and healing from childhood trauma. Claire in particular is a well-rounded and relatable character, as is her daughter Ruby, in a refreshing portrayal of single motherhood and complex co-parenting. As for Delilah, readers will be just as invested in her fragile relationship with stepsister Astrid as in her sweet romance with Claire.

Recommended for fans of Roan Parrish, Kris Ripper, and other queer romance authors who show the depth of emotions and growth that goes into crafting a happily-ever-after.

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

An anthology of David Sedaris’ work, The Best of Me is a great introduction to his style for the new reader, or a type of “greatest hits” album for his longtime fans. It abridges his former books including Me Talk Pretty One Day, Calypso, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, among others. As you read, you move through Sedaris’ whole life up to the present (or just about), laughing all the way.

The effect is interesting because where each of his previous essay collections had individual moods, this book has all of them– just about every conceivable feeling is present. The bittersweet feeling of aging and loss from Calypso is there, alongside the whimsical and sardonic tone of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. His iconic struggle with learning French, full of self-deprecation and humility, is present, as are plenty of childhood reminiscences and portraits of his activities and fixations as a settled, partnered adult (shopping for taxidermy and terrible clothes, living abroad, collecting trash, etc.). This is probably the closest a book can come to a portrait of a life and a representation of a body of work — and, typical of Sedaris, the result is readable, funny, soothing, thought-provoking, and relatable in different ways.

Besides being funny, and easier to carry around than a collection of 5 to 7 individual books, this book is honest, and for me it served as a comforting reminder that no matter how quirky your tastes may be, it’s always possible to craft a life that works for you. For that matter, it’s also good to be reminded that none of us are quite as saintly as we may like to think we are; Sedaris is an expert at giving voice to the less altruistic feelings and motives we all secretly relate to – while not trying to justify them or rally readers behind these feelings. Also interesting is the thread running through several essays about how different it was for Sedaris to grow up as a gay man than it is to be in the LGBTQ community now.

Basically, this book is full of good humor and helpful reminders about the realities of human nature – including not to take yourself too seriously. Highly recommended for those wanting to revisit, or discover, the unique reading experience that is David Sedaris.

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

If you like queer-inclusive stories of scrappy coming-of-age superheroes such as The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner, and Hero by Perry Moore, you may want to try the Not Your Sidekick series by C.B. Lee. I recently read the first volume, and it’s a fun YA story of longing for superpowers, landing mysterious (but well-paid) internships, navigating first might-be-mutual crushes, feeling like a disappointment to your parents, learning to distrust the government, and just generally missing what’s right in front of your face.

Jess is almost seventeen, and it looks like she’s never going to have superpowers. Most people manifest their powers by their seventeenth birthday, including Jess’ ultra-perfect sister Claudia, but despite testing herself on every potential power she can think of, Jess has got nothing. This would be a bummer even if her parents weren’t low-level superheroes Shockwave and Smasher, even if Jess wasn’t already the mediocre middle child between Claudia and super-genius Brendan. But Jess decides to make the best of it, and looks for an internship instead. She ends up working for a company owned by her parents’ villain nemeses, the Mischiefs, partly because she thinks it’s both rebellious and hilarious to work for her parents’ enemies, but mostly because she’s working with her longtime crush, Abby. Their growing friendship is great, but the longer she works there the more Jess starts to suspect there’s more going on underneath the surface – with Abby, at the internship, in her edited history textbooks, and with her suddenly elusive friend Bells. And where are the Mischiefs, anyway?

I recommend this to fans of The Extraordinaries partly because it’s a similar universe, and partly because Jess is very similar to Nick in her lovable cluelessness. Readers will probably start to suspect things long before Jess does, but they’ll root for her as she figures it all out – especially with Abby. Another great aspect of this book is the thoughtfully-assembled post-apocalyptic universe; the explanations of solar flares, WWIII, and societal restructuring, are plausible and well-sprinkled through the story. Some of the writing and dialogue comes off stilted at times, but the plot and messaging is on point.

The cast of characters, and society as a whole, is heartwarmingly queer-inclusive; Jess, her friends, and the school not only include the LGBTQ individuals, but bigotry is also notably absent in their experiences. All the same, this utopian vision has its share of social commentary – the Rainbow Club at Jess’ school is critiqued as primarily a clique of the school’s gay boys and their friends, which translates to issues in the real world with whose voices are heard and represented in LGBTQ spaces and media exposure. There’s also some racial and ethnic diversity; Jess’ Vietnamese and Chinese heritage is explicitly explored, and Bells’ family owns a Creole restaurant in honor of their Louisiana heritage.

If you want a light-hearted opening to a government-overthrowing superhero saga, don’t miss Not Your Sidekick. This first series installment is available through our Mobius interlibrary loan system, with its sequels through our Rivershare system.

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

“Everyone loses their way at some point, and it’s not just because of their mistakes or the decisions they make. It’s because they’re horribly, wonderfully human. And the one thing I’ve learned about being human is that we can’t do this alone. When we’re lost, we need help to try to find our way again.” – T.J. Klune, Under the Whispering Door

Under the Whispering Door was an incredibly powerful read that had me feeling a wide variety of emotions. (If you haven’t read The House in the Cerulean Sea by Klune, you should do that too – check out Anna’s blog to learn more about it). Klune sprinkled so many profound nuggets of wisdoms throughout this book that I still find myself thinking about it days after finishing.

Wallace Price is troubled. He spends his entire life at the office trying to understand why people behave the way they do. As a lawyer, Wallace craves order. His life changes when he wakes up at his own funeral. When a woman approaches him and says that she is a reaper come to collect him, he is confused and outraged. First of all, he can’t be dead. Secondly, there is only a handful of people at his funeral. Utterly ridiculous.

The reaper takes him to Charon’s Crossing, a slightly irregular tea shop. It sits on the outskirts of a small village off the beaten path that runs through the mountainous woods. Hugo, the owner, is there to help Wallace in any way he can. He works as a ferryman who helps souls cross over.

The more time Wallace spends time at the tea shop talking with Hugo and the others, the more Wallace thinks he might actually be dead. He isn’t ready to abandon his life just yet though. He didn’t actually live his life to the fullest. Wallace spent his time alive at work, but he spends his time dead really living: joking with the others at the tea shop, manifesting new clothing, and noticing the stars with Hugo. Just as Wallace settles into a comfortable rhythm however, the all-powerful Manager descends upon Charon’s Crossing with a deadline that will change them all forever.

This book is available in the following formats:

Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

An inclusive romance for fans of reality cooking shows, Love and Other Disasters follows recent divorcée Dahlia and non-binary London as they compete on a show called Chef’s Special, and find themselves falling in love along the way. Delicious, steamy, thoughtful, and trailblazing, it’s vital reading for romance lovers.

London Parker is nervous enough about being out as non-binary on national TV, and about which competitors refuse to respect their pronouns, without their unexpected attraction to the messy woman at the station in front of them. Dahlia Woodson, meanwhile, is struggling to figure out who she is after getting divorced from her high school sweetheart and quitting her unfulfilling job. She was hoping to win the prize money and maybe make a few friends, but is caught completely by surprise when her very cute competitor becomes something more. Now it’s down to both of them to figure out what they can be to each other, especially when the competition brings glaring scrutiny to their budding relationship.

I cherished this book for its accurate and heartwarming portrayal of living life as a non-binary person, as well as the nods to famous cooking competitions like the Great British Baking Show. All the characters are distinct and unique, as are their respective journeys. This is a book that knows there are no easy happily-ever-afters, especially because everyone has a different path to walk. The emphasis of the story is on the importance of doing the work of introspection and communication to create the life you want for yourself. I think many people will relate to Dahlia’s predicament of feeling like a disappointment or that she’s not where she ought to be in life, while also enjoying watching the romantic comedy unfold.

There’s also thoughtful message of how unpleasant or unfair it can be to be in the spotlight and have very personal issues be treated as entertainment. In an important narrative choice, the book itself never explicitly misgenders London or gives voice to the ignorant or hateful comments they receive on social media, while acknowledging that those things do happen; in this way it stays both accurate and respectful, and offers an example of how to use language to avoid doing harm. And of course, there’s lots of descriptions of delicious food, which both soothes the soul and whets the appetite!

If you’re looking for a book about love, cooking, fame, and the joys and frustrations of being different, this is the perfect cozy read for you.