Amanda Jean shares the best of 2017’s LGBTQ+ litfic, nonfiction, romance, and poetry books.
I spend most of my days editing queer fiction and queer romance, and while those genres share shelf space with indie lit, there’s less crossover in terms of audience than I’d like. So I’m calling on you, dear Coil readers, to follow my lead and read some of my favorite books of 2017 that feature queer characters (and romances). I pulled from litfic, nonfiction, romance, and poetry, so there’s sure to be something in here for the pickiest of bookworms.
Spectred Isle (Green Men #1)
KJ Charles is one of my insta-buy authors, a forever favorite who frequently delves into gaslamp fantasy (see the Charm of Magpies series) and, lucky for me, hits all of my buttons across multiple genres. This one, about a disgraced archaeologist forced to make ends meet working for a rich enthusiast and seeker of the paranormal, is set in post-WWI and quietly laments the changes of industrialized London, the cost of being outed in the 20s, the scars of the war itself, and how even magic isn’t safe from bureaucracy.
Ghosts of St. Vincent’s
St. Vincent’s Hospital had an extraordinary 161 years, caring for everyone from Titanic survivors to victims of the 9/11 attack, but its role in the AIDS crisis is what Eubanks focuses on. The book is an interesting peek into 90s gay culture in NYC, during one of its most fraught and fantastic eras. There’s levity among the trauma — fictional little tales of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Vito Russo — but more importantly a grounding: for younger queers like myself, it can be easy to see our recent history with soft edges, blurred and just out of reach. There are no soft edges in St. Vincent’s.
Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
What it’s like to be a black man; to endure brutality; to be queer; to be HIV+ in America. Violence and tenderness. Some of the best poetry I’ve read in the last five years. It’s an elegy to dead black men and a rallying cry for hope.
“ dear ghost i made
i was raised with a healthy fear of the dark
i turned the light bright, but you just kept
being born, kept coming for me, kept being
so dark, i got sca … i was doing my job”
This is an unholy mashup of genres that shouldn’t have worked but did: religion and mythology are stacked on a New York noir murder mystery, and all of it is balanced atop queerness and queer sex. There’s really no clever way to summarize what happens in this: it’s about the formation of a new religion around old myth, a satire of cubicle life, and lots of sex and art. It was a romp, and interesting, but to my surprise it lingered. I kept having these strange moments — me, areligious through and through — where I realized I’d made my own religion out of bits and bobs just as surely as the characters in #gods had.
The Lawrence Browne Affair
Not sure if my gushing over KJ Charles clued you in, but I adore historical novels and historical romance, and Cat Sebastian was a breath of fresh air in the genre. This is book two in her Turner series, about a mad earl living like a recluse in a crumbling estate and his secretary — who may or may not be more than a secretary. I like the underlying theme of identity, what’s hidden underneath our roles, and I also really like the flavor of Beauty and the Beast and good old-fashioned Regency romance with queer men.
River of Teeth
Early 1900s alt history with HIPPOS. I adore this book, mostly because it’s kooky and fun, but also because it has a wonderfully diverse cast (Women! Nonbinary folks! Heavy people and people of color!) of LITERAL HIPPO WRANGLERS.
This one’s a bit of a cheat, because I definitely acquired Peter Darling and was one of its editors (and I, uh, co-host a podcast with its author), but if you don’t mind blatant favoritism, I can talk about why Peter Darling was so important to me. 1.) Grown-up Peter Pan revisits Neverland and sees how much it isn’t the playground it was in his youth (in case you’re like me and enjoy crushing childhood nostalgia into the ground); 2.) Chant examines the camp, queer coding of Captain Hook by making him a real queer dude (!!! the roles we play just to survive); and 3.) Oh, yeah, Peter Pan is a transgender man (TRANSFORMATIVE WORKS ARE MY JAM). The book takes a seemingly silly concept — grown-up and queered Peter Pan — and kind of devastates me with it.