For one month, and one month only, Rhian’s Rainbow Roundup is becoming the Mr B’s Rainbow Roundup as we all celebrate Pride Month together! I set my colleagues the impossible task of choosing just one of their favourite queer books to recommend this month, and these are their suggestions.
Rhian’s Rainbow Roundup will be back and back on track next month with the ‘T’ of LGBTQIA+ so keep your eyes peeled, and in the meantime, I hope you have all had a lovely pride and are looking forward to what Mr B’s does best – some fantastic recommendations!
We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley follows the long term and ill-defined relationship between middle aged civil servant Frank, and boyish working-class Johnny. Their partnership is tested when Johnny is imprisoned for petty theft. When Johnny’s dog Evie is left in the care of his pregnant wife Megan and his parents, who are ignorant and sometimes cruel, Frank enters into an increasingly desperate and tragic bid to rescue Evie from harm. With one of the best (and most subtle) depictions of the needling, depleting effects of obsession since Suskind’s ‘Perfume’, this dark and understated novel should be on the top of your queer fiction pile – but not for the reasons you might think.
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater is a spin-off series from her quartet The Raven Boys. It dives into the world of Ronan Lynch and his two complicated brothers. As surly, pessimistic Ronan grapples with controlling his inherited dream magic and trying to hold his family together, he’s also fighting for his relationship with his best friend and boyfriend Adam, who he can’t seem to open up to, for fear of both losing him and losing himself. Maggie Stiefvater’s writing is magical and atmospheric in the most enchanting way. And even though Ronan is a bit…okay, a major jerk, he’s a jerk you can’t help but love and root for.
Exciting Times is a witty comedy of manners and study of millennial social disaffection, told from the point of view of Ava, a cynical young Irish expat teaching English in Hong Kong. Dolan turns a classic love triangle plot into a wry, intelligent, and politically engaged analysis of wealth and class, as Ava finds herself torn between the comfortable lifestyle offered by privileged banker Julian, and her growing romantic feelings for wholesome lawyer Edith. This tension lends a neat bipartite structure to the novel, but Ava’s romantic conflict is only one element of the narrative – Dolan’s perceptive skewering of social relationships is spot-on, perfectly capturing the bemusement that comes from living and working in a totally different world to the one you were brought up in, and her writing is diamond-sharp and incredibly funny.
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar begins as Nishat’s home life is falling apart – she’s just come out as a lesbian and her Muslim parents don’t understand it at all. Her last hope for getting her life back together is her school’s business competition, and Nishat has a great idea: henna! But when her childhood friend turned rival Flávia also decides she wants to do henna, things are about to get more complicated…especially when Nishat is harboring a secret crush on her. This book is a perfect mixture of sweet and serious, exploring topics such as homophobia, family, and cultural appropriation with a love story sure to make you smile.
Wranglestone is probably my favourite young adult gay romance zombie apocalypse mystery thriller. Darren Charlton breathes new life into the zombie genre and delivers an unbearably tender love story. The romance between protagonist Peter and tough-but-sensitive zombie wrangler Cooper is central to the plot and to Peter’s character development. Their community encourage and celebrate Peter and Cooper’s relationship; the only threat to their love is the horde of restless dead poised to cross the waters of lake Wranglestone to devour the island-bound refugees just as soon as winter comes and the lake freezes over. But some of those zombies aren’t as shambling and braindead as Peter and Cooper have been led to believe… When Peter is forced to join a mission to the mainland, he and Cooper will uncover a startling truth about the zombie threat. This truth will fracture their world, and force Peter and Cooper to create another for themselves. Rich with descriptive scene-setting, breathless action and more twists and turns than a Curly Wurly, this unique novel deserves a wide readership.
Memorial by Brian Washington is set in Houston, where the relationship between protagonists Benson and Mike is dying a death. Their story kicks off at the point when a break-up feels inevitable – other lovers have entered the picture, there’s tension – but Mike’s sudden departure to reconnect with his estranged father in Osaka leaves them in limbo until his return. With perspectives told from both sides of the relationship, a very literal divide, reality morphs as it’s lived apart. Seeing these two men grow into themselves at the risk of growing further apart from each other felt like such a refreshing, modern take on relationships. This is a beautifully written, honest and at times tragicomic questioning of belonging and the things we deem worth saving even after they’re tainted.
Tom M Recommends:
Thomas Page McBee was assigned female at birth in a small Pennsylvania town. In 2011, after years of passing as a man, he began his medical transition using testosterone injections. In the years that followed he found himself reaping many of the benefits of being a white man in America – confidence, pay rises and power, among other things. But he also found he was regularly challenged to physical fights, often with little or no provocation. Scared and perplexed by these affronts of male violence, McBee decided to take up boxing; he signed up to a white-collar boxing programme with a fight scheduled months later at Madison Square Garden. Amateur is not only a fascinating piece of sports writing as McBee trains for the fight, but also an eye-opening and thoughtful memoir that assesses modern masculinity and both the freedoms and threats that come with being a man.
The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore is by equal parts a heady romp, a twisted thriller, and a seductive romance novel. Set at the height of the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment, we follow brothers Benjamin and Edgar as they embark on their sprawling ‘Grand Tour’ or Europe. From their first stop in Paris, the brothers are thrown into the company of socialite Horace Lavelle. Lavelle’s caustic wit and god-like appearance make him irresistible to Benjamin, yet Lavelle’s motivations for joining the duo remain murky. A mystery that kept me guessing through each twist and turn, The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle is a seductive novel of first love and societal drama. The perfect escapist read for the summer!
Two Bear Mambo by Joe R. Lansdale is set in the 80’s. It’s been described as ‘hillbilly noir’ (who knew that was a genre), and it has a savage sense of humour and a rollercoaster of a plot. Hap and his best friend Leonard, an openly gay black ex-marine with anger issues, are literally the worst couple to investigate the disappearance of a young woman in deep Klan territory. An absolute hoot, if you’re not easily offended.
Lote is the queer Secret History we have all been waiting for. Complete with secret societies, rituals, museum heists, and detestable characters. Frequently hilarious, von Reinhold’s stinging sense of humour is well aimed – often roasting the lofty and meaningless university-speak we have all heard on campuses and coffee shops. At the heart of the novel is Mathilda, a queer, nomadic, intelligent, and curious black woman with an infatuation with early 20th Century socialites. She stumbles across Hermia Druitt, a queer and eccentric socialite who exists as a kind of phantom presence in photos and diary entries of the better known socialites such as Stephen Tennent and Virginia Wolf. Mathilda pursues her with fervour and in doing so reveals the thoroughness of erasure, the embeddedness and fictitiousness of popular historical narratives, and the imperfections of culturally significant icons.
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White is a breakneck adventure that melds science fiction and fantasy and starts this blockbuster trilogy with a bang. It follows two treasure hunters and a murderous exoskeleton as they hunt for the legendary ‘Harrow’, a spaceship capable of unimaginable destruction. Very reminiscent of Firefly with a healthy dose of Becky Chambers and Star Wars. Simply put, it’s great fun!
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins is a fantastic blend of historical, gothic, romance and mystery. Set in 1826, Frannie Langton awaits trial, accused of murdering her master and mistress. With a troubled background and found at the scene of the crime covered in blood, the odds are stacked against her from the beginning. As Frannie waits in her cell she writes down her account of events, starting with her childhood in Jamaica where she was raised on a plantation as a slave. Frannie’s character is multifaceted and unravels as the novel progresses- intelligent and feisty she constantly debates themes such as race, class, science and the complexities of love in all its forms.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, which I’ve been recommending for a decade now, I realise, is such a rare beast in having a cast of 5 main characters who are all likeable, and yet also three-dimensional and believable. Set on an idyllic lakeside American college campus these unlikely lives intersect and, in so doing, break down barriers of class, life experience and perception. If the novel has a “main” player, then it’s Henry Skrimshander, a naïve young man plucked from a small-town baseball diamond to attend this illustrious college on account of his natural sporting talent. But these nearly ivy-leaguers are not Henry’s people – least of all his new gay room-mate Owen who is himself on a collision course for the defining and most complex relationship of his life so far. Cue the widening of horizons and formation of friendships with laughter and plenty of drama along the way.
As always, you can see all of the books together here.