I’m usually a romance and sci-fi gal, but over the last hew years I’ve been working to broaden my reading. So here’s a roundup of some of my fave fiction about queer folks, heavily weighted towards work by queer authors, that I’ve been super-impressed by in the last few years. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
Any book on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
The blurb starts like this: “Anna landed in London with a suitcase, dual citizenship, and a pale strip of skin on her left ring finger. Oh, and a shiny new autism diagnosis that has both made sense of and shaken her entire world.” So that’s a big change. We meet Anna as she’s been in London for a while, but finally has to start (re)building a life and a nurturing community for herself. Along the way, there’s also a lovely sapphic romance subplot.
It’s one of those books where the main character and the people around them are just so *nice*, and you enjoy seeing them bond, open up to each other, and find ways to get what they need.
Jules Kelley is one of my auto-buy authors, and this sapphic fiction about discovering your identity is absolutely amazing.
“1995. A young woman. Her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. The small Alabama town neither of them can escape. And a ghost.
Lilly Ann Guthrie is living with a man she isn’t married to; she can’t hold down a job, and she can’t sit in a moving vehicle without having a panic attack. It isn’t the life she once imagined for herself, but she can’t complain. She has a roof over her head and food on her table, and she doesn’t owe either of those things to her only living relative, an aunt whose disdain almost makes her wish she’d died in the same car wreck that claimed her brother and parents. So it could be worse.
But in late summer, life decides it has other ideas. Her boyfriend’s infamous ex, Jolene, comes back to town and turns everything on its ear, including Lilly’s ability to be satisfied by her current circumstances, and strange things start happening around her house. Voices in empty rooms, fleeting glimpses of someone in her peripheral vision. Is she on the verge of losing everything, including her mind, or is she standing on the precipice of having even her most secret wishes granted?”
“What do you do when you fall through the loopholes in the system and all you have to rely on are your own wits?
Lois and Sophie have scrambled and saved for years, planning for their retirement in Florida. But now they’ve lost it all, and Lois’s sniper training from her long-ago service as an Army nurse leads to a desperate career choice.
When Detective Morgan Holiday is assigned to investigate a spate of sniper killings, it’s just one more stress point in her already overburdened life. But as she grows increasingly solitary - coping with an Alzheimer’s-plagued mother who refuses to be confined to a nursing home, and a police partner counting the days to retirement – she comes to realize that these murders may cut close to home.
A modern morality tale of justice, retribution, and women who refuse to be politely invisible.”
“Thomas McGurrin is a fourth-grade teacher and openly gay man at a private primary school serving Portland, Oregon’s wealthy progressive elite when he’s falsely accused of inappropriately touching a male student. The accusation comes just as Thomas is thrust back into the center of his unusual family by his younger brother’s battle with cancer. Although cleared of the accusation, Thomas is forced to resign from a job he loves during a potentially life-changing family drama.
Davison’s novel explores the discrepancy between the progressive ideals and persistent negative stereotypes among the privileged regarding social status, race, and sexual orientation and the impact of that discrepancy on friendships and family relations.”
A queer Jewish New York City retelling of Pride and Prejudice centered around 20-something trans guy Ari Wexler and his best friend, cis dude Itche Mattes. It’s a book about love of so many different kinds: friendship, romantic love, familial love. On one level it’s a romantic comedy, but it’s deeper than I usually expect those to be, kind towards every member of its large cast, and full of a sense of wonder at the world and humanity. Despite all the interpersonal drama, it has a very relaxed feel; you know everything really will be okay in the end. I really enjoyed reading it despite having zero knowledge of Pride and Prejudice.
As the cover of the first book says of our lesbian anti-hero, “Cash Braddock just wants to hang out with her cat, fall in love, and deal drugs. What’s the problem with that?” I’m going to struggle to rec this without spoiling, but I can say this: Cash does fall in love, with the woman of her dreams, and that’s what just about ruins her life. I don’t know quite how to classify this series, but it’s well worth your time.
Cash isn’t be a particularly moral person, but she has her own code. The money laundered from Cash’s dealing of various “light” pills (Adderall, Xanax, etc.) subsidizes her beloved uncle’s growing organic farm and pays college tuition for her assistant. She’s close friends with her neighbor and the neighbor’s awesome lesbian daughter. She’s a nice person. If you ignore the illegal business. When she meets Laurel, she’s smitten, and Laurel is smitten back. Cash worries that Laurel will eventually decide dating a drug dealer isn’t for her. However, as their relationship develops, it starts to seem like Laurel’s the one holding back a secret that will break them up.
The first two books of the series revolve around investigations into problems related to Cash’s business. They’re suspenseful in parts, emotionally raw where it fits – especially at the end of the first book, ow! – but by the end of the second book I felt okay again about Cash’s life and even hopeful for her. I loved the importance of friendships here, especially female friendships, and how messy and painful Bartlett was willing to make things for Cash to create conditions for her to grow.
(As a side note, this is a small thing in book two but so emotional: I appreciated the spotlight on how men sometimes don’t believe women about other men’s violence, and how brutal that is for women.)
The third and fourth books were great, and honestly I think this is one of the most underrated queer series out there.
“At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.
A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born.
As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.”
Of course, Nick might have already missed his shot at the one, and it might be too late. Still, after fifteen Christmases, Nick is ready to risk it all for the best present yet.”
One of the messiest, most painful, ultimately hopeful books I’ve read. Andy Nocera is a gay man married to a woman. When he’s arrested for public indecency after truck stop sex with a man, he loses his wife, his home, and his job, and is sentenced to probation that includes a year of therapy. Socially isolated, living with his dying mother, it’s tough to see how anything in his life will ever get better. But it does. Not with a sudden light bulb moment, not with sustained optimism and hard work, but through a series of small changes, painful revelations in therapy, and finally at least some degree of self-acceptance.
An unflinching look at the damage homophobia and toxic masculinity inflict on men, but intensely compassionate towards its main character and his healing.
Two mid-twenties guys who graduated from college but can’t seem to figure out adulthood. Not usually my cup of tea, but Ben Monopoli knows how to break my heart in a good way. Vince, who is bi, had an unrequited crush on his straight best friend Griff that was so painful, he ended their friendship before graduation without explanation. When Griff shows up unexpectedly at Vince’s house during a snowstorm, Vince can’t help but hope (against logic!) that it means more than Griff needing a place to stay. But if anything, Griff’s more lost than Vince, since inheriting money means he doesn’t even need a job to help tether him to reality.
As the two spend time together, and with Vince’s other crush Zane, Vince has to figure out how to untangle his grief and his various kinds of love for the two men in his life. IMHO this is the antithesis of the gay-for-you trope in romance novels, and it honors lifelong love that is not romantic or sexual as well as the difficulty of having people in your life in a way that doesn’t match society’s script for how love and family should be organized. Sometimes hard to read, but well worth it.
“Ava Simon designs storage boxes for STÄDA, a slick Brooklyn-based furniture company. She’s hard-working, obsessive, and heartbroken from a tragedy that killed her girlfriend and upended her life. It’s been years since she’s let anyone in.
But when Ava’s new boss—the young and magnetic Mat Putnam—offers Ava a ride home one afternoon, an unlikely relationship blossoms. Ava remembers how rewarding it can be to open up—and, despite her instincts, she becomes enamored. But Mat isn’t who he claims to be, and the romance takes a sharp turn.
The Very Nice Box is a funny, suspenseful debut—with a shocking twist. It’s at once a send-up of male entitlement and a big-hearted account of grief, friendship, and trust.”
Not an easy read, but I loved this novel about a Sri Lankan-American lesbian, Lucky, who’s in a sham marriage to a gay man. Lucky reconnects with her first lover, Nisha, right as Nisha’s about to get not-sham married to a man so she can continue pretending to be heterosexual. Lucky doesn’t want Nisha to get married, while Nisha wants Lucky but also safety…
The ending is bittersweet but left me feeling good about where Lucky was headed. Really powerful book that stayed in my thoughts for quite some time after the last page.
I appreciated Suchi’s review on Goodreads.
Gorgeously raw while still being deliberately and beautifully crafted.
“Wendy Reimer is a thirty-year-old trans woman who comes across evidence that her late grandfather–a devout Mennonite farmer–might have been transgender himself. At first she dismisses this revelation, having other problems at hand, but as she and her friends struggle to cope with the challenges of their increasingly volatile lives–from alcoholism, to sex work, to suicide–Wendy is drawn to the lost pieces of her grandfather’s life, becoming determined to unravel the mystery of his truth. Alternately warm-hearted and dark-spirited, desperate and mirthful, Little Fish explores the winter of discontent in the life of one transgender woman as her past and future become irrevocably entwined.”
Plett’s next book, the short story collection A Dream of A Woman, is also amazing.
This book is fantastic. A magical realism pseudo-memoir that’s nonetheless a true story. I thought Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian’s review of it was quite good.
“The highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home in a rainy city called Gloom. Striking off on her own, she finds her true family in a group of larger-than-life trans femmes who live in a mysterious pleasure district known only as the Street of Miracles. Under the wings of this fierce and fabulous flock, Dearly blossoms into the woman she has always dreamed of being, with a little help from the unscrupulous Doctor Crocodile. When one of their number is brutally murdered, the protagonist joins her sisters in forming a vigilante gang to fight back against the transphobes, violent johns, and cops that stalk the Street of Miracles. But when things go terribly wrong, she must find the truth within herself in order to stop the violence and discover what it really means to grow up and find your family.”
I was completely engrossed by this historical dystopian noir that revolves around police entrapment of queer people and conversion therapy. Highly recommended if you’re in a place where the subject matter works for you, especially if you’re a fan of alternate histories, interpersonal intrigue, and main characters who are doing the best they can to maintain a life under an oppressive system. Waters is a talented writer and I’ll be digging into more of their work, for sure.
“In an alternative history 1950s, where atomic war was waged on the US during World War II, birth rates are dangerously low. As a result, The Department of Virtue was founded to ensure that not only are people procreating, but they’re doing it the right way. The Virtuous Family is a ubiquitous reminder of all that Americans should strive to be.
Greer’s life is ruled by the DOV. An invert reformed in one of the nation’s many Sanctuaries, he is employed as a “Screw” (Sex Crime Worker). It’s his job to entrap other men into making advances so they can be arrested and similarly “reformed”. His wife, Alice, is a cured invert as well, prescribed by the state and ordered to attempt procreation. By chance, they have met another invert couple, Bill and Sally. Their romance must remain a secret, or else they may not be given another chance. For Greer, there are eyes in every window and shadows down every side street waiting to catch him slip.
When Greer is assigned Matthews as a new partner, he has to wonder if this man is a plant, meant to keep an eye on him, or if this new Screw is just another victim of Virtue.”
“The 29th Amendment guarantees everybody one monogamous romantic and sexual partner. As a detective with the Boston Police Department’s Intimacy Allocation Unit, Sean hunts down the hoarders who violate this law.
Sean likes his job. It’s the perfect cover.
But when Sean gets invited to an underground play party, his safe, simple life becomes…complicated. Every hour he spends with these outlaws, leading their life—the life he could have had—makes them seem less like targets, and more like people.
With career — and life — on the line, Sean must decide whether his loyalties lie with his job, his friends, and his old way of doing things — or with a group of complete strangers who somehow feel like family.”
Fantastic queer speculative fiction by a nobinary author.
“Berlin: a megacity of 24 million people, is the world’s first gay state. Its distant radio broadcasts are a lifeline for teenager William, so when his love affair with Gareth is discovered the two flee toward sanctuary. But is there a place for them in a city divided into districts for young twinks, trendy bears, and rich alpha gays?
Meanwhile, young mother Cissie loves Berlin’s towering highrises and chaotic multiculturalism, yet she’s never left her heterosexual district – not until she and her family are trapped in a queer riot. With her husband Howard plunging into religious paranoia, she discovers a walled-off slum of perpetual twilight, home to the city’s forbidden trans residents.
As William and Cissie dive deeper into a bustling world of pride parades, polyamorous trysts, and even an official gay language, they discover that all is not well in the gay state – each playing their part in a looming civil war…”
Fun light entertainment with a big heart! I can’t even remember where I came across this but I’m glad I did.
“Sacked from his first job in Dublin, Mark McGuire arrives in the dismal town of Ashcross to take up a new role as customer service assistant for Ireland’s second-biggest pet food brand, WellCat. From his initial impressions, it’s a toss-up whether he’ll die of misery or boredom.
He couldn’t be more wrong. For starters, the improbably cute receptionist, Kevin, seems willing to audition as the man of Mark’s dreams. There’s also the launch of a hush-hush new product, Future Fish, on the horizon. Not to mention the ragtag band of exorcists, alien-hunters and animal rights warriors who are all convinced WellCat is up to no good.
Why are these crackpots so keen on getting close to Mark? And will their schemes ruin his career prospects?”
And here are two bonus recommendations for y’all that don’t quite fit the list, one short story and one non-fiction storytelling collection, because I love them both and I have no other blog post where they could live!
This is by one of my auto-buy authors, and I adore it.
“‘I love him,” Cai argued. “Just, lately things have been…’
Cai put his bottle on the floor and pushed himself up on one knee. ‘It’s nothing.’
Maryanne wrapped her hand around his arm. ‘I’m pretty sure you don’t think it’s nothing.’
He sagged back to the floor. ‘It’s just that lately, he’s been…’
‘Distant? Cold? Acting suspicious?’
Cai sighed. ‘He’s been really irritating.’
Struggling with the ‘long-term’ part of ‘long-term relationship,’ Cai attends a party where he evades his partner, bitches to his best friend, makes the same resolution for the dozenth time, and has an intimate encounter with someone who may or may not be a mysterious stranger.”
I meant to read this a couple of stories at a time, but it didn’t happen. Just kept reading. I walked away from this collection feeling better about the world, which as I’m writing this in July 2023 is hard to come by. I have my next Ivan Coyote book on my TBR already.
“Ivan E. Coyote is a master storyteller; her beautiful, funny stories about growing up a lesbian butch in the Canadian north attract audiences both gay and straight. In her fifth collection, Ivan addresses issues of family, queer youth, and homophobia with a trenchant and wistful eye.”
And that’s the list! Hope you found something interesting for your TBR!