Cheesy Goodness: The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz

the cover of The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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Note: Though plot spoilers are restricted to the very end of the review, this review discusses some themes and character arcs in the latter part of the book.

As the first snow falls in my region, it’s a perfect time for a cozy graphic novel with grilled cheese oozing on the cover. Despite some quibbles, I had a great time with The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz, a lighthearted young adult romance inspired by the author’s own love story.

In the kingdom of Fromage, Lady Camembert can’t legally inherit her father’s fortune without marrying a man. Aware that she isn’t into men, her father suggests she move away and pretend to be his son. After his death, she follows his advice. She brings only one servant, Feta, who has been with her since birth. While taking on a masculine persona is no problem for the dashing, gregarious Cam, discretion proves a greater challenge, as she immediately makes waves at the princess’s no-furs ball. Cam has always been a fan of Princess Brie’s activism and develops a crush on her, causing no end of frustration for Feta, who knows Cam could be arrested if her secret gets out. 

If the naming scheme isn’t making it clear, this is a story more interested in a fun time than a realistic time. If you want to be swept away in an earnest fairy tale of a royal romance, be assured that this one doesn’t take itself too seriously. The expressive art style was what personally sold me on it and gave me the most giggles. Cam especially is a bundle of charm thanks to her mannerisms, ranging from debonair to excitable to flustered. The pages’ compositions effectively conveyed the story, with clarity, good flow, and emotional impact. Plus, Brie’s puppy is top-tier precious.

Despite the title, this book is less focused on food (if anything, the main characters are into fashion, which Cam nerds out over adorably) and more on whether it’s worth giving up true happiness to take a path focused only on avoiding pain. As is pointed out later in the book, many people don’t have the luxury of trying to actively pursue a good option in life and must instead choose the least undesirable path. Being a princess gives Brie more freedom to break boundaries and set a new standard, despite the societal limitations around gender and sexuality—yet even as an activist, she balks at the idea of upending the status quo. Meanwhile, from the start, Cam rejects the “safe” path of marrying a man, but then has to choose between the safety of living a secretive life versus pursuing a chance at love. 

Without spoilers, I’ll just say I didn’t personally enjoy how the midpoint turn played out or where it left the status quo of the main characters’ relationship for a portion of the book. I would have preferred a direction that allowed for more interaction between the main couple in the book’s second half. I also wished that Brie’s best friend, Ricotta, got to shine more as an individual. Her design and personality were fun, so I would have liked her to get a bit more depth outside of her support of the main couple, and for her to be more in the loop in the end. In contrast, I thought that the other main supporting cast members, Gorgonzola and Feta, had satisfying character arcs, as some of the most memorable moments involved them changing their approaches to the central conflict and theme. 

Everything else aside, I couldn’t stop grinning at Cam’s reactions from panel to panel, and I’m glad I read this. Order this book up if you like your romance with an extra helping of cheese.

The following content note contains spoilers:

This book contains an instance of a character guessing her love interest’s assigned gender due to a visual cue and then reacting negatively, which may be triggering for trans readers. As implied in the summary, the book also contains parental death and discussions of structural sexism and heteronormativity. 

A Fast-Paced Space Opera: The Splinter in the Sky by Kemi Ashing-Giwa

the cover of The Splinter in the Sky

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Enitan is a scribe focused mostly on figuring out how to grow her tea business on the side, but when her sibling Xiang is kidnapped and the Imperial forces decree that they need a political hostage, she volunteers so that she can go to the heart of the empire and try to find her sibling. Soon she is juggling the larger conflict between the Holy Vaalbaran Empire and the Ominirish Republic, not to mention the attention of the new Imperator and God-Emperor Menkhet. While posing as the perfectly nice political prisoner, Enitan tries to find her sibling and save her homeland without losing her life.

Spies, elaborate and indulgent parties, the dark underbelly of colonization and empire—this book is, first and foremost, fun. It takes the spy thriller angle and runs with it, resulting in a fast-paced adventure of assassinations, high-speed chases, and political machinations. Everyone has an ulterior motive, and few are able to say what they really mean. It reminded me a bit of old noir detective stories with a bit of space royalty thrown in.

For those who might be a bit intimidated by sci-fi, this book skirts around technical worldbuilding for a softer, more approachable version of the genre that will appeal to fantasy readers. That’s not to say that it lacks description. Kemi Ashing-Giwa does a phenomenal job using architecture and food to explore the image-building involved in empire construction, and the result is a lush book tempered with the sting of biting commentary on the true toll of that mythologizing. It’s also a queer-normative world, and so though atrocities under colonization abound (and I suggest that people take a peek at the trigger warnings), it’s refreshing to see a space where sexuality and gender identity acceptance is a given.

At times, I wanted a bit more depth. There’s so much to explore and I wanted the book to linger at some of the descriptions or political relationships, to unpack their impact outside of exposition. As the pacing picks up towards the middle of the book, some of the plot resolutions feel convenient rather than twisty. It could have easily handled another one- or even two-hundred pages.

That said, I still had a great time reading it. I was a bit late to the train and just read A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine last year, and it quickly became one of my favorites. I’m on my way to devouring all of the queer space opera that I can get my hands on. The Splinter in the Sky satisfied my craving for more stories like this while still feeling very much like its own entity. Fans of sci-fi-light books, fantasy with a political bent, or spy thrillers will want to give this a chance. For a debut novel, it promises great things to come.

Trigger warnings: violence, racism, references to suicide, references to genocide, police brutality, sexual harassment, torture

The Perfect Sapphic Halloween Romcom Comic: That Full Moon Feeling by Ashley Robin Franklin

the cover of That Full Moon Feeling

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This is a tiny graphic novel—only 64 pages—so I’ll keep this review short. This is a queer romcom about a werewolf and witch going on their first three dates and getting into supernatural shenanigans along the way. There always seems to be something to ruin the romantic mood, like your ex at the farmer’s market sending an army of skeletons after you and your date. We’ve all been there.

That Full Moon Feeling is absolutely adorable, from the art to the adventures to the cute romance between Suzy and Jada. There isn’t a ton of room for character development or subplots, obviously, but their conversations are relatable, even if their specific magical circumstances are not.

I know there are a lot of people looking for seasonal reads that aren’t horror, and this is a perfect match. It’s a cute fantasy comic you can easily get through in one sitting, and it’s a delight to read. I would definitely read many more of these if they were available, but this also stands well on its own.

(Psssttt, this is exactly what I was hoping Moonstruck would be, but without the uncomfortable relationship dynamics.)

It looks like this isn’t in stock everywhere, but tou can order it directly from the publisher, Silver Sprocket.

If you know any more cute fantasy romcom comics like this, please send recs my way, because it’s one of my favourite things to read, especially around Halloween!

Magical Girls and Sports Gays: Grand Slam Romance by Ollie Hicks and Emma Oosterhaus

the cover of Grand Slam Romance

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For those of you mourning the cancellation of Amazon’s adaptation of A League of Their Own, I offer you an antidote. Grand Slam Romance, which follows the star players of a semi-professional women’s softball league, simultaneously serves romance, sports rivalry, horny locker room encounters, queer community, and a touch of magic. The debut graphic novel from comic creators (and spouses) Ollie Hicks and Emma Oosterhaus, Grand Slam Romance is the first in a planned series, its second installment coming in May 2024. Fun fact: the book originated from a 19-page comic that the couple collaborated on for fun a few months into dating.

Grand Slam Romance centers Mickey Monsoon, pitcher and MVP of the Bell City Broads (BCBs), who are gearing up to dominate the season and take the trophy at the Statewide Softball Tournament. But when Astra Maxima mysteriously shows up to catch for rival team the Gaiety Gals, Mickey knows the BCBs are in danger of losing everything. Not only does Astra have the magical ability to obliterate every team she encounters, she was also best friends (and maybe more) with Mickey before being sent off to a secret softball school in Switzerland as a teenager. Mickey will do almost anything to wreak vengeance for their broken heart, even if it means losing sight of themself and betraying their team.

Though I wouldn’t classify this book as purely sci-fi or fantasy, everything about Grand Slam Romance is a little over the top in a way that elevates the book from your average sports underdog story to a thrillingly queer, action-packed spectacle. For starters, every player on every team is coded queer if not explicitly labeled as such. I can think of only one cishet man who offers any dialogue, and he’s not the coach! Sex scenes materialize at the drop of a hat and escalate quickly. Then there’s the magic, which bestows Astra Maxima and fellow “magical girl” Wolfgang Konigin with supernatural speed, batting prowess, and sex appeal. Both magical girls glow with a visible aura: Astra has luminous pink hair, while Wolfgang generates a force field around her head when she hops on her motorcycle.

Despite these campy elements, though, the authors demonstrate a perfect amount of restraint, making the book approachable to even the most casual graphic novel reader. The illustrations are vibrant but not cartoonish (somewhere between Alison Bechdel and Raina Telgemeier), and are filled with quotidian details that anchor the story in real contemporary life. I had the urge to read this book quickly because there is so much motion on each page, but if you let your eye slow down you’ll notice thoughtful touches in every frame: side conversations, facial expressions, tossed-aside props. It is unsurprising that Grand Slam Romance was published by Surely Books, an imprint curated by Mariko Tamaki, whose books excel at attention to detail and emotional expression.

Read if: 

  • You wish Ted Lasso had more queer content.
  • You identify as a sports gay.
  • You’re looking for a read-alike to Archie Bongiovanni’s Mimosa, also published by Surely Books.

Maggie reviews A Restless Truth by Freya Marske

the cover of A Restless Truth

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Last year, I was delighted by A Marvellous Light, a gay murder mystery/romance in which Robin, a newly-made Baronet, is appointed to the wrong government office and is accidently drawn into the hidden world of magical society when shadowy forces think he knows more than he does. With a curse mark creeping up his arm and no clue how magic works, Robin must work with his liaison, Edwin Courcey, to unravel the conspiracy he’s been plunged into and save England’s magic. It was a delightful book, and now Freya Marske is back for round two in A Restless Truth with Robin’s sister Maud, who is determined to play her role in the events started in the previous book and not let her brother down. With England’s magic at stake, Maud must prove herself and also take her own turn with romance.

Sent to America to escort an elderly lady who knows a piece of the puzzle back to England, Maud instead finds herself embroiled in murder, mystery, and mayhem on the high seas. Not a magician herself, Maud recruits allies to her cause, including Violet Debenham, a newly-minted heiress returning to England from a scandalous stage career, and Lord Hawthorne, a disaffected nobleman who has given up his magic but can’t escape being entangled in this mystery. Maud is reliant on them for magical spells and knowledge, but her wits, stubbornness, and audacity are her own, and she’s not about get off the boat in England without a success to bring to her brother.

This book was a fun romp from beginning to end. Maud is smart and daring, and her instant attraction to Violet is a surprise to both of them. I started laughing at her “Wait…girls are an option?” moment. Violet joins Maud’s quest to begin with mostly because it seems like it will be fun, but soon she finds herself with more feelings than she expected and wanting to live up to Maud’s expectations. The fact that they are on an ocean liner creates a semi-protected bubble where they can explore their feelings without too much dodging of society. I also greatly enjoyed that, while Violet is the more jaded and experienced half of the pair, Maud is the one who takes the lead the most often. It is Maud’s force of personality that pulls together their little investigative band, and I really enjoyed her as a character. Together with the escalating danger of the murder mystery, I had a great time.

In conclusion, you’ll probably want to pick up the first book, A Marvellous Light, before you read A Restless Truth so that you are familiar with the conspiracy that Maud is caught up in. But as a murder mystery on an ocean liner, this book was a high stakes adventure from beginning to end.  It’s a fun and charming read, and I love Freya Marske’s historical magical society.  I do rec them as a read to brighten any week.

Maggie reviews The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin cover

Obviously, there has been a lot going on recently. In light of the new stresses in my, and everyone else’s, lives, what I wanted to read was some light romance as an escape. I turned to The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin, because it had been recommended to me a while ago as a very cute fantasy f/f romance. I liked it immensely. The twin influences of fantasy and romance combined for some highly enjoyable, wish-fulfilling world-building, bulldozing all potential problems to create a fantasy realm where queer romance can reign and the problems are mostly fantasy-plot related.

Princess Esofi of Rhodia has journeyed for months to get to the kingdom of Ieflaria and marry her long-time betrothed, Prince Albion. Although the betrothal was born out of political necessity – Ieflaria needs the battlemages that Rhodia trains in order to fend off escalating dragon attacks – she believes her union with Albion will be a good one based upon the long series of letters they’ve exchanged. However, upon arrival she finds out that Albion is dead. Esofi is left to marry another in the line of succession to keep her and her resources in Ieflaria. Albion’s sister, the Princess Adale, is the logical choice, but Adale never thought she would rule and rejects the violent upheaval of her life. Esofi and Adale have to build their relationship in the midst of dragon attacks, culture shock, rival heirs, and Adale’s own personal crisis.

What I enjoyed about this book was that there was a lot of traditional fantasy elements – magic, dragons, elaborate regency setups – but a strong romance sensibility made it all very soft. Princess Adale has strong feelings about being forced into the position of Crown Princess, a common enough fantasy element, but she starts to reconsider when she becomes enamored of how nice and soft Princess Esofi looks, a common romance element. Watching her become tongue-tied over her feelings is a delight. Court politics and arranged marriages are standard fare in both fantasy and romance, but this book wanted them to be a backdrop, not a real obstacle. Princess Esofi is both incredibly politically savvy and sensible about her position and also more than willing to have an emotional relationship. It was just so nice to take a break from everything happening in real life and watch a disaster princess trip and fall head over heels for a soft but extremely capable princess while also reading about dragons and magic.

What was also very nice about this book was that it was set squarely on Queer Romance and no problem was too real life to get explained away. How can they expect Princess Esofia to switch from marrying a guy to marrying a girl? Obviously Everyone is Pansexual. What about the line of succession? There’s some magic for that. A 400 page fantasy novel would explain and justify all of these things, but this is a romance first and foremost, so you don’t have to worry about it. Neither do the characters – it’s all built into their society from the ground up so they can immediately get to the romancing and the magic. A queer reader can sit back, read some inept wooing and dragon fighting, and feel warm and fuzzy for a while without any of the conflict having anything to do with queerness, which is always an experience I don’t realize I’m missing until I get into a story like this.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Queen of Ieflaria. It’s just the sort of fast-paced but incredibly soft romance I was looking for right now. If you’re at all into fantasy elements, this is a fun and feel-good read, and I’m excited to continue on to the rest of the series.

Mars reviews Hocus Pocus and The All-New Sequel by A. W. Jantha

Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel cover

All her life, Poppy Dennison has known the story of the frightening and magical events that took place in Salem on Halloween night back in 1993. It’s otherwise known as the day her parents really met, or alternatively as the one time her cool Aunt Dani got kidnapped and almost eaten by witches. To be clear, the witches in this book are characters leftover from a coven that was decimated during the actual historical witch hunts of Salem, Massachusetts and not modern practitioners of a particular faith, and should not be taken as such.

The three witchy Sanderson sisters, their book of spells, and the special black flame candle that legend says will raise them from the dead are all still part of the popular Halloween lore that surrounds Salem. Her parents’ part of that story is virtually unknown, and Poppy is determined to keep it that way lest her mean girl nemesis Katie Taylor finds out and makes her last two years of high school its own kind of hell.

For readers who are not familiar with the lovely classic Halloween film Hocus Pocus, have no fear because the Part I of this book is a very close retelling of the movie and sets up Part II very well, detailing Poppy’s own involvement with the Sanderson sisters. Some witches just aren’t very good at staying dead.

This was a surprising and fun read that I just couldn’t put down. With more action, adventure, and character development than I expected, we follow Poppy, her best friend and wingman Travis, her mysterious dream girl Isabella, as well as other characters both new and familiar as they race to stop a new plot hatched by the Sanderson sisters to help them achieve immortality and rain hell on earth. With their witchy powers enhanced by the rare blood moon, the stakes have never been higher (no pun intended).

Much like the original Hocus Pocus (Part I), this story is as much about family, friendship, and loyalty as it is about evil witches enslaving humans and damning their souls for their own enjoyment. Poppy makes a really relatable protagonist. Who hasn’t dealt with trying to mitigate embarrassing family history while tripping over a monster crush?

Danika reviews Heavy Vinyl, Volume 1 by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva

The cover of Heavy Vinyl volume one

What a fun, quick read! Chris is a teenager who has just started working at the local record store. (It’s the 90s.) All her coworkers seem impossibly cool, and she immediately starts crushing on one of them. As the cover would suggest, though, it’s not just music that this group of girls is passionate about. Chris finds herself getting initiated into a network of teen girl vigilante gangs.

A panel from Heavy Vinyl, showing two women talking in a boxing ring

It’s a little bit Empire Records, a little bit Josie and the Pussycats (the movie), with bonus vigilante, mystery-solving teen girl gang and a queer main character. This is set in the 90s, but other than working at a record store and making 90s music references, I didn’t notice that. It’s pretty idyllic: there’s no homophobia shown, and the multiple queer characters are not remarked on.

The strength and weakness of this is how cute it is. You wouldn’t think that a story about a vigilante gang would be so fluffy, but it is! It’s more Scooby Doo than anything else. They rail against the patriarchy more by defending ~girly music than with any real violence. The romance is mostly blushing and flirting–no kissing on the page, nevermind anything else–but it is stated outright, not subtextual.

The overarching plot got a little goofy for me (and invites the Josie and the Pussycats comparison), but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! I will definitely be picking up the next volume when it comes out, but I do hope that it gets a little meatier at that point.

Susan reviews Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Reiss

Space Battle Lunchtime is a two-volume graphic novel by Natalie Reiss, about Peony, a baker who accidentally ends up being an emergency replacement for a cooking show… In space?! Cue sabotage, drama, rival shows with distinctly more cannibalism, and trying to work space ovens.

This is super charming and funny. Peony is both competent and confident in her baking skills, and I loved getting to see her do well even though she was in completely unfamiliar territory. I was so invested in her doing well, which meant that the first couple of issues where she was floundering while surrounded people who just assumed she knew what was going on were very frustrating for me. I know, I know, it’s a trope, but it’s a trope that I hate. But “winning over the cast and crew so they help you” is also a trope and I was so happy to see it here, especially because of the way that the relationships build. Peony is so nice and so confident and just wants to beat everyone fair and square, yay! The way that her relationship with Neptunia comes together works perfectly with that – there’s awkwardness and rivalry and Peony putting her foot down to make sure they can work together, but also sweetness and daring rescues and both of them being supportive of each other and each other’s feelings!

The art is really, really cute and bright and colourful, and the designs of all of the aliens are distinctive and interesting. I especially love the way the Natalie Reiss contrasts appearances and personalities (such as the cute magical girl fox, who is sure a character), and the way that it introduces background details that further the plot and the world building, I thought that was really clever and well-handled. (… I’m sure it’s fine that Cannibal Coliseum, the rival cooking show where contestants literally cook and eat each other, keeps showing up in the background. That’s probably not relevant.)

But of course, what is a cooking comic if there isn’t rampant sabotage, and the ways that the sabotage is revealed is really cool. The reactions especially are great and fun, and the way that Peony and Neptunia deal with the end of the story is great. It was cool and believable and I enjoyed it. … Although I got to the epilogue stories and was suddenly REALLY CONCERNED for the side characters! My only real complaint is that the first volume ends on a massive cliffhanger, so it is worth getting both volumes together if you’re going to get them!

I really genuinely enjoyed this. It’s cute, it’s funny, and seeing Peony rising to her challenges is great. If you like cooking shows, bright and happy graphic novels, and/or ridiculous space drama, this is absolutely your thing.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Danika reviews Love Spell by Karen Williams

Okay, so it may be a little late to pick this up for Halloween, but still!

I’ll admit, I picked up this book entirely because of Rie (Friend of Dorothy Wilde)’s review, so you should probably check that out.

I’m going to go with the negatives first, in a convenient bulleted list

  • There definitely is a cheese factor. The beginning seemed cheesy and kind of sudden (their meeting).
  • There are two characters in the novel that are little people. They are referred to as “dwarves” the entire time, which I understand as being reflective of the 90s, but they are often referred to as “the dwarves” instead of their names. Plus, they are equated with fantasy dwarves.
  • I have a pet peeve about excessive italics, and the dialogue has some.
  • There’s a long party scene with a long conversation with tons of characters that I thought was mostly unnecessary.
  • Pretty much half the women in this small town are lesbians…?

That’s not the whole story, though! Despite the list of issues I had with Love Spell… I also really liked it! I can definitely see the rereadability factor. The characters are likeable and natural. Other than that party scene, the story seems concise and it’s a quick read.

The best for me was the chemistry between the characters. The romance really seemed natural. You could see why they would fall for each other, and their relationship seems to unfold naturally. [spoilers] The one part that seemed odd/unnatural for me was when she finds out that Allegra is green, she instantly thinks that Allegra has cast a love spell on her. It seems like a big leap to go from green -> real witch -> she can do magic! -> she did magic on me! all at once. [end spoilers] 

The chemistry is enough to overrule most of the problems I had with it. I may not be picking it up to reread, but I could definitely see the appeal.