A Sweet and Steamy Polyamorous Romance: Triple Sec by T.J. Alexander

Triple Sec cover

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Before this book had even come out (happy release day, Triple Sec!), I’d already been recommending it nonstop on Our Queerest Shelves. Ever since I finished it, I haven’t been able to stop talking about. It’s definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far, and in my top five favourite romance novels I’ve ever read.

This is about Mel, who is a bartender who’s jaded about love ever since her divorce. But then Bebe walks into the bar, and they have undeniable chemistry. Bebe is interested in dating Mel — she’s also married and polyamorous. Mel has never tried an open relationship, but it seems like a good way to tiptoe back into dating. This will be totally light and casual, right? They mutually agree: no falling in love. And Bebe’s nonbinary wife Kade is so intimidating that Mel can’t imagine actually being a part of their lives. But obviously, feelings don’t obey even the most clearly written out agreements.

I’ve long thought that reality TV shows are missing out by not casting all bisexuals. (Other than that season of Are You the One?) Think of the drama potential! The opportunity for different pairings increases exponentially. Since reading Triple Sec, I feel the same way about romance novels and polyamorous main characters. You can have two falling-in-love scenes in the same romance! Twice the first kisses! Two — or more — completely different relationship (and sexual) dynamics! I feel like I’ve been spoiled and will have trouble going back to two-person romances.

I know romance novels are so specific to each reader, but I loved the relationship dynamics and especially the dialogue. When Mel shows Bebe her tattoo of Pompeii and Bebe replies, “I love a good disaster myself” — look, I also would have fallen in love right then and there. I also liked the friendship between Mel and her roommate, who both agree to follow the good word of Saint Channing Tatum.

It’s also very steamy. I’m not going to get into it, but wow.

I enjoyed the ongoing rewriting of Bebe and Mel’s relationship agreement as they renegotiate things like pet names, catching feelings, and the dynamics between Kade, Mel, and Bebe.

While the central plot is the relationships between Mel, Bebe, and Kade, there’s also a subplot about a cocktail competition. I don’t drink, but I still found it fascinating to read about Mel’s different creations and how she keeps reworking her creations leading up the competition. Winning would mean she could buy her own bar, a dream of hers.

I also liked reading about Mel’s job: Terror & Virtue is a high-end cocktail lounge, and Mel is very skilled and passionate about her work — but it’s also customer service. It means dealing with drunk, rude customers and worrying about your next paycheck. In fact, the only criticism I had with Triple Sec is that I feel like the class difference between Mel and Bebe/Kade wasn’t really explored, other than Mel admiring their apartment and feeling a little out of place. Bebe and Kade are wealthy — Kade is a successful artist and Bebe is a lawyer defending workers’ rights.

That’s a very small complaint, though, especially since the ending didn’t go where I thought it would. If you want a fun, queer, polyamorous romance with lots of kind people learning how to best support each other, I highly recommend Triple Sec.

An Emotional Demon Hunter Romance: The Fall That Saved Us by Tamara Jerée

The Fall That Saved Us cover

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Tamara Jerée’s The Fall That Saved Us centers around Cassiel, a former demon hunter who has left her abusive family behind in favor of a quiet life in a little bookshop she now runs. When a succubus named Avitue shows up one day, the two fall into a dangerous albeit passionate love affair that threatens both of their places in the world.

Despite such high stakes, this is a deeply personal book. In fact, when I think about this book, the word that jumps to mind is affectionate. This book had so much affection for its characters and their journeys, and it made it so easy for me to share that affection. While this book felt really heavy at the beginning, due to all of the religious trauma Cassiel was working through (and boy does this book do religious trauma really well!), by the end I was left feeling lighter. The relationships certainly helped with that, but even more so was the book’s emphasis on being kind, both to yourself and to others.

As for the relationships, I don’t only mean the romantic relationship between Cassiel and Avitue, though of course that is the main one. Cassiel’s friendship with her neighbor Ana, a witch who runs a nearby cafe and who gently but firmly encourages Cassiel to open up about her past when she’s ready, was a particular light. Likewise, the more complicated relationship with Zuriel, the sister who stayed behind, will likely resonate with many readers who come from difficult family situations.

Something I really appreciated with Cassiel and Avitue’s romance was the honesty. With a setup like this one, I find I expect a lot of secrecy and drama of the “how can I trust you!” variety. To my delight, however, Avitue was clear almost from the beginning about who she was, why she was here, and what each of them was risking by being together. This allowed the focus to remain on the actual building of a relationship, and it also made room for much more interesting conversations about how people deserve to be treated and what kind of future there is for a mostly-mortal and an immortal demon.

The only criticism I had was the pacing felt a bit off at the beginning, almost like things were being skipped over or time was moving weirdly or something I could never quite put my finger on. However, I didn’t notice that as an issue in the second half. While some might say the final conflict wrapped up rather quickly, that’s a feature for me rather than a bug, and honestly, I do think that choice ultimately served the book better as a whole. This is very much a character-driven book, and a drawn-out battle would almost feel like a detraction from a story that should center on Cassiel’s internal journey.

I am certainly planning on checking out Tamara Jerée’s next book, and if they ever wrote another book in this world (maybe about Zuriel and/or Ana), I would read it without hesitation. Though I would suggest  taking care if one struggles with religious themes, I heartily recommend Tamara Jerée’s The Fall That Saved Us.

A Blossoming, Neurodiverse Love: Late Bloomer by Mazey Eddings

Late Bloomer cover

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After winning the lottery, Opal Devlin puts all her money in a failing flower farm, only to find an angry (albeit gorgeous) Pepper Boden already living there. Though she’s unable to find her grandmother’s will, Pepper claims she’s the rightful owner of Thistle and Bloom Farms. While they agree to cohabitate, Opal and Pepper clash at every turn. Can something softer blossom between these polar opposites, allowing a new dream to take root and grow?

Oh. My. (Sappho.) Goddess. You may think you know Mazey Eddings’ writing style, but I assure you, you do not. Many of us read The Plus One and/or Tily in Technicolor last year, but Eddings has far exceeded herself with this one. As a neurodivergent author, Eddings’ stories often have some element of neurodiversity/mental health, shining a light on the different ways people’s brains work while embracing those differences through beautiful, realistic characters. Opal and Pepper are no different, both on the spectrum yet unique in their behaviors and view of the world. These women are not predictable, pre-programmed components of a story; they are ever-blooming, learning how to plant roots alongside one another, share sunlight, and rise despite being different species. Both plants, growing and adapting to different elements, yet very much the same. While Opal and Pepper have always struggled to fit in with the world around them, they manage to cultivate a safe, healthy garden for one another.

This is one of those overwhelming, layered, awe-inspiring sapphic stories that will tug at your heartstrings long after you read it. Eddings’ language leaps off the page, making it a little reminiscent of One Last Stop (be still, my little sapphic heart). I’ve beyond annotated Late Bloomer, when I’m usually selective about choosing quotes. You don’t just see love blossom between these two women; you feel it. It made me smile, laugh, get all messy and misty-eyed. As I said, neither woman is predictable. Opal feels directionless at the story’s start, allowing her (fake) best friend and (on/off) ex to step all over her. I expected her to be the wallflower, especially with the BITE we see from Pepper (pun unintended) in her first chapter, but the two balance each other out. When Pepper feels uncertain or anxious, Opal steps forward, bold and unwavering. When Opal begins to crumble, Pepper holds her up. They support each other, never allowing the other to wilt.

Unfortunately, this book relies heavily on miscommunication. Both women are eager to hide their real feelings at the risk of scaring the other. That lack of communication continues until almost the last chapter.

Recommended for fans of One Last Stop and Imogen, Obviously. Side note: please, please read the author’s note. Good goddess.

✨ The Vibes ✨

❀ Neurodivergency/Autism Spectrum
❀ Sapphic Romance
❀ Grief/Healing
❀ Forced Proximity
❀ Spicy/First Time
❀ Cottagecore Vibes
❀ One Bed
❀ Touch Her and You Die
❀ Dual POV
❀ Miscommunication
❀ Flower Competition
❀ Grumpy/Sunshine

 Quotes

❝Slowly, she leans toward me, and my heart pounds so violently in my chest that my head swims. Is she . . . It almost seems like she’s going to press that smile to my mouth. Teach me how it tastes.❞

❝Ah. There’s the you I missed.❞

❝I used to stress over finding a label that fit me. Lesbian. Bisexual. Pan. Demi . . . I’ve filtered through them all many times over, none ever feeling quite right. Just say queer and move on with your life, Diksha finally told me late one night after what was probably my sixth sexual identity crisis of my early twenties. But what does that mean? I’d wailed, draining more boxed wine into my plastic cup. My brain loves order and labels and concise frameworks to understand things, and not knowing where I fit feels unbearable. It means you’re you, and only you get to decide who you like and when you like them, Tal had said from their chair in the corner. The name of your feelings isn’t anyone’s business but yours.❞

❝But instead, she reaches out to me—opening her hand like a flower unfurling its petals to the sun. I stare at it. The ink stains and calluses and chipped nails and bitten cuticles. For a moment, that hand looks like a second chance.❞

❝Her poems spoke softly—as intimately as confessions between lovers—about the terrible, wonderful ache of being in love.❞

A Sapphic, Victorian Parent Trap: Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend by Emma R. Alban

Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend cover

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Pretty much as soon as I discovered Emma R. Alban’s Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend, I was excited to read it. From the frothy cover to the Taylor Swift lyric title (admittedly I don’t actually know Taylor Swift’s music well enough to recognize that on my own, but I generally love the vibe of song lyric titles) to the actual book description, it seemed incredibly up my alley. A hijinks-filled sapphic historic romance? Sign me up! To my absolute delight, the actual contents of the book completely delivered on the promises its outside made.

Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend takes the familiar premise of a reluctant young debutante, Beth, who must find a wealthy husband for the sake of her family and adds a dazzling lesbian, Gwen, with an idea—their parents have clear chemistry and a history, and it would really solve all of their problems if Beth and Gwen set their parents up instead. Over the course of the season, the two come up with a variety of schemes, and as their parents grow closer, so do Beth and Gwen.

I had so much fun reading this book! It was exactly the kind of sweet, banter-and-shenanigans-filled romance I hoped it would be. I read most of the book at work, and it still had me smiling and giggling throughout. I loved both Beth and Gwen, and I believed their romance from the beginning, as well as their friendship. I understood immediately why they liked each other, which I think is particularly important in a friends-to-lovers romance like this. They constantly made each other laugh, as well as myself, but there were also plenty of those delightfully agonizing finger brushes one expects to find in a historical romance.

Beth and Gwen’s relationship was not the only important one in this book, of course. Considering the setup of this book hinges on a parent-trap plot, it’s particularly important to manage the balance between making me care about and believe the parents’ romance as well without them taking the spotlight away from the romance I actually came here for. Admittedly, I was a little worried this book wouldn’t manage it, but I actually thought it did a fantastic job of that. It even made me care about an entirely separate background romance, and the epilogue provided a wonderful preview of the next book’s romance, which I am very much looking forward to. I really loved the characters here.

I will note readers looking for historical accuracy may find themselves frustrated. The language in particular tends a bit more casual than I would have expected. However, I personally did not find myself bothered by it at all. As casual as the language was, the many detailed clothing descriptions and the subplot centered around the social politics of the Matrimonial Causes Act made it clear that this was a deliberate choice. And besides, a strong sense of verisimilitude was not my main concern when I picked up a parent-trap-inspired sapphic romcom with a Taylor Swift lyric in the title. I came here simply to be delighted, and I got more than my money’s worth of that.  If that is what you too are looking for, I heartily recommend Emma R. Alban’s Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend.

A Muffin Baking- and Hijinx-Filled Romantic Comedy: Vengeance Planning for Amateurs by Lee Winter

Vengeance Planning for Amateurs cover

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Vengeance Planning for Amateurs by Lee Winter was published February 2024 and is Lee’s first intentional romantic comedy. The book follows muffin baker Olivia Roberts, her beloved stuffed penguin Trip, and her band of book club misfits that meet at the local crime bookstore. When one of her exes steals Trip, Olivia sees red and has decided enough is enough. She has had a terrible string of relationships with people who have been varying levels of awful, and she decides it’s time to take her life back in the form of revenge against every ex that has hurt her. She posts an ad for a henchperson at the bookstore, and she is truly shocked when the person who sits across from her is none other than the owner of said bookstore: Margaret Blackwood. Margaret keeps to herself and is rarely seen. Olivia’s only real interaction with Margaret has been Margaret’s commentary from her office during Olivia’s book club. When the stoic and beautiful Margaret signs up to be her henchperson, Oliva isn’t sure why this brilliant, mysterious, woman would want to help her. However, Olivia’s other candidates are less than stellar, so Margaret gets the job. What ensues is an absolutely beautiful, chaotic, and laugh-out-loud story about two people that offer the other a chance to start over. 

I am a huge fan of Lee Winter. I have read every book she has written, some multiple times. I was excited to see how she would handle a romantic comedy, a different flavor from her usual books (though almost every one of her others also made me laugh out loud at times). I was not disappointed. Nor was I surprised that even though it had that romantic comedy feel throughout, it still packed an emotional punch. There is a cleverness that is always present in Lee’s books, and this book was no different. While the baking puns are plentiful (and I enjoyed every one), there is also not a wasted word or character. Every plot point is well thought out, every person has a purpose. A romantic comedy follows a certain formulaic path, but even so there needs to be something new, and Olivia hiring a henchperson certainly adds something fresh. Every visit upon one of Olivia’s exes provides not only an opportunity for hijinks, but a moment for Olivia and Margaret to learn more about each other and grow as individuals.

As I said, there is an emotional component to this story that I felt was incredibly well written. While I won’t give spoilers, Lee handled Margaret’s backstory in a beautiful way that was written with immense care. The way she chose to give us insight into Margaret, through diary entries, offers an intimate look at her thoughts and emotions. Without those entries, I think it would have been difficult to understand someone that keeps her cards so incredibly close to her chest. But it allows you to see who Margaret truly is, and it provides context to her other actions throughout the book. (Some of those entries made me cry, but we are going to forgive Lee for that.) In a scene towards the end, I Lee captures an emotion in the best way I have seen in a novel dealing with this particular topic. It is a sentiment I will be thinking about for a long time. 

Margaret and Olivia are two very different people, but I loved them together. In any pairing, there needs to be a balance, and as a reader you want to be able to understand why these people are drawn to each other. Margaret and Olivia each offer the other something that has been missing in their lives. Olivia has only ever been treated as expendable, as someone people use to get what they want and leave when they don’t find her useful any more. She has never been put first and has been with some truly terrible people. She has rarely experienced loyalty or someone asking: what do you want? What can I do for you? Other than her sister, she has never had someone who had her best interest in mind. With Margaret, she has found someone loyal and who not only has her best interest in mind, but that actively goes out of her comfort zone to help her. Margaret’s life in many ways has been closed off and has been dark for many years. Olivia is the opposite of that, and offers Margaret light in a way she has been desperately needing. Even more, despite all the things that have been thrown at her, Olivia continues to shine that light, and I do think that is part of why Margaret is so drawn to her. I loved these two together. I loved how they each showed through actions how they felt about the other, even before any words of that nature had been uttered. 

I will also always go a little feral for a character that goes into protective mode, and this story has that in spades. I think Lee is one of the best at writing that dynamic, and I adored those scenes. I also happen to think that she is the best at writing two oblivious people who clearly like each other, but are so lesbian that the thought never occurs to them that the other might like them back. That scenario is top tier in this novel, and I loved every moment. 

If you’re in the mood for a romance with unhinged chaos, laugh out loud moments, character growth, a cast of hilarious side characters, and beautiful moments of communication and vulnerability, this is your book. I can’t recommend it enough.

A New Classic of Queer Memoir: Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H

the cover of Hijab Butch Blues

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I have had Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H on my list since it came out, and I am so glad my library hold on it finally came in. Lamya narrates a series of essays tying together her queer coming of age and her reconciliation of that with being a devout Muslim woman in a very satisfying way, providing deep insight into her personal journey and growth in both her faith and herself. Whether you are looking for a queer memoir to dive into, or a new perspective, or simply to hear the thoughts of someone who boldly references Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, this book will take you on a journey and leave you thinking by the end. 

Lamya starts off with recollections of her childhood, when she started questioning what the Quran was saying, or not saying, about gender and how it lined up with her own feelings. When the adults in her life were unwilling to entertain her lines of questioning, Lamya started a habit of deep inner reflection and questioning that is apparent in every section. Arrayed in mostly linear fashion, the essays cover her realization that she was queer, her move to America in college, and her struggle to find either queer or Muslim community where she didn’t feel like the other half of her was being excluded. They link to specific sections of the Quran as she meditates on what they mean to her on a personal level. Lamya is painfully ready to dig into her own inner thought processes and reflections, including her own internalized biases and homophobia she had to recognize and overcome before she could move forward. Her struggles and her sincerity shine from every page, drawing you in and inviting you along with her through the process. 

I love reading queer memoirs because a queer coming of age is a journey that can be so personal and yet so relatable to anyone else that has done it themselves. On paper, I do not have much oin common with Lamya beyond us both being queer. And yet, when she spoke of her friend questioning why she didn’t transition if she was going to keep becoming more butch—and her sound rejection of the idea—I felt such empathy and connection, because that was a thought process I had also gone through. The idea that we could be so different and yet so similar is heartwarming to me. Simultaneously, I gained new perspective and appreciation for Lamya’s circumstances and choices. This is a memoir that invites both learning and empathy. It also rewards personal reflection, since it is more than just a recounting of her life events. If you don’t normally read memoirs, Hijab Butch Blues is a book that will make you appreciate the genre more. 

I believe that Hijab Butch Blues is going to go down as seminal work in queer narrative canon, and certainly as an eminently readable, unflinching memoir about reconciling faith, life circumstances, and an “authentically queer experience.” I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

A Standing Ovation for Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo cover

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“There is another girl / on this planet / who is my kin. / My father / lied to me / every day of my life. / [ . . . ] I want to put my fingers / against my sister’s cheek. / I want to put my face / in her neck & ask / if she hurts the way I do.”

And so begins Clap When You Land, a gorgeous dual narrative novel in verse about grief, loss, and the healing power of family written by acclaimed Dominican-American poet and writer Elizabeth Acevedo (she/her).

Camino and Yahaira (Yaya) are 16-year-old young women living in the Dominican Republic and New York City, respectively. Neither knows the other exists until the tragic death of their beloved Papi upends each of their lives and reveals that they are sisters. As Camino and Yahaira grieve and desperately try to make sense of a world without Papi, they must also navigate their complex feelings about each other and figure out what it means to be sisters.

Acevedo is a masterful storyteller. Her use of dual narrative and verse made for an enjoyable and accessible reading experience. The alternating perspectives kept me engaged, and there were never too many words on a page, which allowed me to really savor what I was reading. As a Latina, I felt a swell of pride every time I saw Acevedo describe a quintessential visual from our shared experience: curious neighborhood women in batas and chancletas; a mother with rollers stacked high atop her head; a community coming together to solemnly mourn a loved one with a rosario. I also really appreciated how Acevedo highlighted the range of Afro-Latine beauty through not only her descriptions of the different characters, but also the affirmations and terms of endearment Papi used with each of his daughters.

The representation in Clap When You Land goes beyond race and color. Although all the characters have a connection to Papi, it is the strong female relationships that are the novel’s throughline. Camino refers to Tia, the curandera (healer) that raised her, as “the single love of [her] life”. Tia has showed up for Camino in ways her parents could not. Camino’s belief that “curing is in [her] blood” and her aspirations of being a doctor are borne of her deep respect and admiration for Tia. Yahaira “likes girls” and has a girlfriend named Andrea (Dre). Although Yahaira’s sexuality is a core aspect of her identity, it is free-flowing and doesn’t require exposition. Dre is Yaya’s rock. Acevedo paints a beautiful picture of how a healthy and steady love can ground you in your darkest times.

I loved this book. It was my first experience reading Acevedo’s writing, but it definitely will not be my last. If you’re looking for a quick read with lots of great Latine representation that packs an emotional punch, you should pick up this book. Acevedo has also authored Poet X, With the Fire on High, and Family Lore. You can find her on Instagram @AcevedoWrites or on AcevedoWrites.com.

Trigger warnings for descriptions of a plane crash, death, sexual assault, and colorism.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey. She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

Jamaican Joan of Arc: So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole

the cover of So Let Them Burn

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I first saw Kamilah Cole describe her debut, So Let Them Burn, as a Jamaican Joan of Arc, which was enough to grab my attention even before the book had a cover. To be more specific, So Let Them Burn is the first book in a YA fantasy series that follows former chosen one Faron Vincent and her older sister, Elara. Five years after the war for their island’s independence, Elara inadvertently forms a bond with an enemy dragon, while Faron determines she will stop at absolutely nothing to save her sister from the threat of both the bond and the empire itself.  

Like I said, I was sold on the concept the minute I heard about it, but even the coolest concept can turn out to be a let down in the wrong hands. Kamilah Cole is not the wrong hands. It took less than half a page for me to determine that I was going to love this book, and as the story unfolded, I only got more invested. Every time I had to put the book down, I was just a little bit resentful that I couldn’t keep reading.

Something that I thought was really fun is that while I knew this book follows a chosen one after she’s done her duty, Faron is not the only one who fits into a popular fantasy archetype. One dynamic I found particularly fascinating is the one between chosen one Faron and Queen Aveline, who spent the first seventeen years of her life on a farm with no knowledge of her true identity and now resents Faron a little bit for the fact that when the war ended, Faron got to go home and Aveline didn’t.

Literally all of the relationships were wonderful, though. The romantic relationships had me hooked, as did the friendships, but the central relationship between the two sisters just felt so real. They both loved and admired each other so much that, despite the hints of jealousy on each side and the expected annoyances, they were both so determined to keep each other safe, whatever the cost. I loved them both, and I am terrified for what the next book will bring for them.

I also really enjoyed the narrative voice, which was the first thing to win me over. It made me laugh throughout, though it never detracted from the more serious themes. Since this was third-person, I’m much less inclined to be annoying about how distinct the perspectives did or did not feel from each other, but there was at least enough difference that I never forgot which sister’s head I was in, even when they were in a scene together, so I’m quite satisfied on that front.

I already know I’m going to miss these characters when the series is done, but fortunately I’ve got some time until then. (Less fortunately, it also means I have to somehow survive that cliffhanger until then.) Even more fortunately, this series is not the only thing I have to look forward to from Kamilah Cole. Not every book that sounds amazing ends up living up to my expectations, but this one definitely exceeded them. I recommend it with my whole heart.

A Small Middle Grade with a Big Punch: The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

the cover of The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

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Sunny St. James has a new lease on life. In her case, this is literal after she receives a heart transplant and finally, finally has a chance to have something close to a normal summer. Swimming in the ocean, staying up late to watch movies, and devouring junk food are now actual possibilities rather than daydreams.

This also means that she can finally begin implementing her new life plan:

Step One: Do awesome amazing things I could never do before.
Step Two: Find a new best friend.
Step Three: Find a boy and kiss him.

At first, her plan is off to an incomprehensible level of success when Sunny meets Quinn Ríos Rivera and finds that making a new best friend isn’t that hard. However, it doesn’t take long for her to realize that the rest of her plan is going to be a bit more difficult. Between struggling with the fallout of her relationship with her Former Best Friend (FBF), to the unexpected arrival of her estranged mother, to the realization that maybe she doesn’t even want to kiss boys in the first place, Sunny is struggling to figure out how all of the different parts of herself fit together.

This was such a fun book, pure and simple. I’ve read Ashley Herring Blake’s middle grade work before in Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, but she continues to blow me away with how well she portrays the experience of being an awkward twelve-year-old with a first crush. Sunny is the perfect balance of exasperated and exasperating in the way that kids can be and I love how Blake doesn’t shy away from her characters making mistakes.

I’m also always amazed at how much Blake can pack into her books. It’s about being a twelve-year-old. It’s also about coming to terms with queer identity in a world that can be hostile to that, and unusual family structures, growing out of friendships, and how to wrestle with a constant stream of anxious thoughts. I especially love how the book handles the complexity of Sunny’s relationship with her mom, a woman who hasn’t been in her life in almost a decade due to her struggles with alcoholism. The book doesn’t shy away from the tougher conversations, but they are approached with such thought and care.

If you’re a fan of Blake’s adult romances like Delilah Green Doesn’t Care or Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date, I suggest giving these a try—you’ll find a lot of the same things that make her other books so much fun. For me, they are such a wonderful escape into a cozy world where things turn out alright in the end as long as you’re true to yourself.

Content warnings: surgery, illness, homophobia, references to addiction

A Comforting Queer Cozy Fantasy Comic: The Baker and the Bard by Fern Haught

the cover of The Baker and the Bard

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One of my favourite micro niches is queer cozy fantasy middle grade comics—which mostly just means I adore the Tea Dragon series by K. O’Neill. I have a print from that series on my wall. I have the box set. I have the card game! And since I read it, I’ve been looking for something else that is just as sweet, comforting, kind, and magical. When I heard about The Baker and the Bard, it rose to the top of my most-anticipated queer books of 2024. I’m happy to say that it lived up to those expectations.

Juniper and Hadley are friends in Larkspur: Juniper is a baker’s apprentice, while Hadley is trying to make it as a bard. When the bakery receives a very expensive rush order for galettes, the two of them set out to try to gather the rare mushrooms the recipe requires. Along the way, they discover that a nearby town has been dealing with something coming out of the woods and devouring their crops at night—a mystery Hadley is determined to solve.

I really don’t want to say much about the plot, because this is a short comic and would be easy to spoil. I’ll instead say that while they do go on a little adventure, it’s fairly low-stakes, just as I’d expect from a cozy fantasy. They make some new friends, including encountering fantasy creatures, which is a huge plus for me. I never really got past the Pokemon stage of wanting to collect and care for a variety of beautiful fantasy animals (though I never wanted them to fight).

Hadley is nonbinary, and there’s a little romance subplot between these two friends. It’s very cute.

If you like The Tea Dragon Society, cozy fantasy, or gentle and comforting comics, you have to pick this one up. I want a hundred more just like it.