Maggie reviews Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

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Honey Girl is Morgan Rogers’s debut romance between Grace Porter, newly minted Doctor of Astrology, and Yuki Yamamoto, late night radio host and part time monster-hunter. The two characters could not seem further apart, both physically, with Grace habituating on the west coast and Yuki being a New Yorker, and emotionally. And yet, when they get drunk and married during a long weekend in Vegas, they’re both determined to hold onto and deepen the bond they created that night. The book also deals with Grace’s struggle to gain her footing post-graduate school and figure out who she is and what she wants out of life now that she has her degree and she’s not following her detailed PhD plan.

What I really liked most about this book was the sensory experience it created while reading it. Grace doesn’t exactly remember her Vegas wedding clearly, but what she remembers are details like how Yuki smelled – like sea salt and sage – and what Yuki remembers most about her is along the same lines – the vivid color of Grace’s hair. The whole book is like that. From the orange grove Grace’s mom runs to the tea shop where she works part time while finishing her doctorate, the book is loaded with details that draw the reader in with all of their senses. Even sound – Yuki has a late night radio show titled “Are you there?” that pulls at the heartstrings of loneliness and is about the late night reach for connection but is also a monster-hunting show. The story is alive with sensory details, and it really brings the characters and their lives to life.

I also enjoyed that it was a book about self-discovery. I think a lot of people will connect with Grace’s post-college troubles in figuring out how to start her career and the rest of her life. And a lot of people would connect with Yuki – trying to keep their passions and hobbies alive while going about the business of day to day living. Both characters end up in Vegas, drunk and getting married to a stranger on a whim, but their wedding isn’t the bulk of the story – Grace and Yuki using their instant fascination and trying to navigate into a real connection while dealing with the outside pressures of jobs and families is. Meanwhile, Grace is really struggling to translate her academic life into a life after college after a disastrous job interview drives home the point that hard work and a great mentor don’t guarantee anything if you’re Black and queer and what that means, both in practical terms of what she wants to do next and in an emotional one of what her priorities towards herself should be. I think this book did a very good job of mixing wish-fulfillment romance ideals with real world work and themes that will resonate with readers.

In conclusion, I found this debut romance to be a delightful yet emotional journey that does an excellent job of evoking both a romantic fantasy and real trouble and difficulties and emotional work. Grace and Yuki have both an instant, ephemeral connection and the knowledge that they must put in work to build a real relationship. The writing is charming, the problems are relatable, the family expectations are stressful, and overall this was a queer romance that I fell headfirst into and would not hesitate to recommend.

Shira Glassman reviews Worthy of Love by Quinn Ivins

Worthy of Love cover

The plot: Closeted political lawyer newly released from prison on a corruption charge and therefore utterly friendless and disgraced, ends up working random retail where she meets an adorable, hospitable Southern femme.

I’ve been in a huge reading slump since the lockdown started, sticking with familiar stories I already knew–to the point where there’s at least one Agatha Christie book I’ve read multiple times now in the same pandemic. Quinn Ivins’ Worthy of Love is one of the first unfamiliar books I’ve been able to get myself to read, which I attribute to two things: the exciting plot and the snappy prose. To put it baldly, the text of this book simply was not work to read. Even though the tone of the first third–specifically–was a gritty and somber hellscape, as both heroines battle hopelessness and microaggressions, I kept wanting to know how it was going to turn out all right and turned page after page of snappy narration. (And that’s unusual for me. I prefer comfort reads.)

I want to be honest that this book has sharp edges. For one thing, one of the heroines is presented right off the bat as the most hated woman in America, and the other heroine fends off sexual assault in the parking lot of her workplace. But then the more upsetting material gives way to the love story and the “solving”, and everything works out in a very complete, satisfying, and vindicating way. One of the reasons I ultimately decided to write this review was a positive plot bombshell I hesitate to telegraph–but it’s there. Another reason is one of the deftest Checkov’s Guns I’ve ever seen fired in a book. In other words, a wonderful “oh I GET HOW THIS IS GOING TO WORK OUT AS A HAPPY ENDING” that you don’t see coming until the page it happens. I tip my giant pink-grapefruit hat to the cleverness with which Ivins set that up.

One of the heroines has undiagnosed ADHD for which she begins to get treatment within the book. This, I believe, is written from the inside and elegantly rendered. The other heroine is Filipina, at the request of the author’s wife who is Filipina. This heroine does experience more microaggressions in that first third of the book than I’m comfortable with reading from a white writer, so that is also something I wanted to be up front about. However, I am white, and I don’t want to speak for Asian readers. Additionally, though this book takes place in a fictionalized America with different presidential candidates, this book will not allow you to live a “45”-free existence (although he’s got a different name and only gets mentioned a few times.) Just in case that’s something you needed to know before diving in.

I wish this book was a movie also. Now that I know how satisfyingly everything works out, I’d love to see it dramatized–and structurally, it hits dramatic “beats” like a movie. Who knows, maybe some day!

Shira Glassman is the author of Knit One Girl Two and other queer Jewish fiction, both fantasy and contemporary.

Carolina reviews One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston [Out June 1, 2021]

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

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Casey McQuiston’s first novel, Red, White and Royal Blue, changed the new adult literary romance genre with its compelling love story of the prince of England and First Son, cementing queer stories’ places on bestseller lists, bookstore shelves and the general public’s hearts. Their follow up, One Last Stop, lives up to all the hype surrounding the release and surpasses it, crafting a beautiful romance in the heart of New York City, all tied up in that beautiful pastel cover.

August rides the Q Train to and from her minimum wage job at a local pancake restaurant as she wades through her senior year of college and comes to terms with what lies ahead in her future. One day, she locks eyes with a kind, handsome butch named Jane Su on the train and falls in love with this stranger’s gentle kindness and fierce devotion to her fellow commuters. After a series of casual conversations, August realizes Jane’s vintage protest pins and Walkman aren’t just a commitment to a retro aesthetic; she has become unstuck in time from the 1970’s and is doomed to ride the train in 2020 for the foreseeable future. August decides to help Jane go back to her own time, trying every Groundhog Day style idea they can think of, falling in love all the while. Can August let Jane go back to her own time, losing the girl of her dreams, or can they find a happy medium?

One Last Stop was a delightful page turner, chock-full of McQuiston’s signature laugh-out-loud dialogue and biting wit. They’re able to pinpoint the pulse of New York City’s magic, and the hidden gems and mom-and-pop shops that make the city so special, warning against the insidious gentrification plaguing the city and turning special oases into yet another Starbucks. Not only is this novel a love letter to a city, but it’s also an ode to the mixed-up magic of a twenty-something discovering themselves, and the different kinds of love we make and find that last a lifetime. One Last Stop is a microcosm into your early 20’s, complete with every late-night roommate conversation, every doubt and regret and hope for your future, and every heated glance with a hot subway stranger, filling the gap in the literary market for people in their early to mid-20’s.

It also stresses the importance of queer friendship, community and history. August’s roommates are a fun, ragamuffin bunch of queer individuals sharing a space and a life with each other, there to the bitter end. Jane devotes herself to preserving the memory of her gay friends in the past, and making sure the world she and her friends fought for does not forget their contributions. Jane offers a window into little-known facets of gay history, focusing on the role of Asian-American leaders in the gay liberation movement, and on the much-overlooked Upstairs Lounge fire in New Orleans.

One Last Stop is part campy time travel comedy, part sexy romance, part lesson in queer history, part murder mystery, and part coming of age story. This gem of a novel will stay with readers for a long time after the last page, leaving a lingering scent of sugary pancake syrup and a feeling of nostalgia and rightness.

Thank you for the publisher and Edelweiss for the advanced copy!

Trigger warnings: homophobia, racism