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ARC Book Review and Interview with the Author. Boy Queen by George Lester

Title: Boy Queen

Author: George Lester

Length: 389 pages

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Synopsis: Robin had it all figured out: a future on broadway, a top secret boyfriend and two ride-or-die best friends. Then all his worst nightmares came true. Now, his life is a hot mess. With nothing left to lose, Robin falls wig-first into the glittering embrace of Drag, and comes face-to-face with the queen he was always meant to be. Robin’s about to lest that sometimes your new self is your true self.

This was absolutely delightful. That was literally my first thought when I finished the book. I put it down and said in my head ‘that was absolutely delightful’. I would even quite like a sequel if I’m honest.

I loved the characters. They are eccentric but so real. Robin is a fantastic character. He was a wonderful protagonist for us to follow on his journey of self discovery. His friends were great. George made us care about these characters and it gives even more meaning to the book.

I love to read this in a book, a femme character taking centre stage. Robin at one point in the novel says ‘I’m camp’ and he wears it like a badge of honour and I love that. It’s representation like this that will help so many young people reading this book. It’s so important. Representation matters and I’m so proud of George for writing a character like this. I love it.

The relationship in the book are so important. I loved the relationship between and his mum. It was beautiful to read. I loved the romance too, but I won’t say anymore on that because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it was swoon worthy. And a slow burn and you know I love those. I also love the relationship Robin has with himself, it’s amazing to read how he comes to realise what he deserves and it’s so important for young queer people to read.

Of course the drag is fabulous. I want to go the club, I want to see Robin perform and I want to hang out with him and his wonderful friends. It makes me a little sad that I can’t.

I can’t recommend this book enough, it’s once of those charming, important quick reads (because you won’t be able to put it down, I couldn’t). And like I said, I want a sequel!

Thanks to Amber at panmacillan and MyKindaBook for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review.

And now for the interview. Thank you so much George for agreeing to do this. I really appreciate it.

1) What was your main inspiration for the book? This book is very much the combination of a lot of the things I love rolled into one. First of all, I am a theatre kid. I am a performer under a different name ( George Lennan, if you must know) and did dance classes and theatre growing up. I even did an MA in theatre at Mountview. It’s been a massive part of my life and is now one of the many careers I am pursuing. Second of all, I am a huge drag race nerd and on my MA I did a 45 minute solo drag show and created That Gurrrl (my drag persona) who has had such a huge impact on my life. And finally, I am a huge fan of queer romance and YA contemporary fiction, so if you put all those things in a pot, throw in a Lorelai Gilmore/Rory Gilmore mother/son dynamic and some glitter. You probably have Boy Queen. The other thing have that inspired this book heavily was wanting show drag as something more that what is shown on Drag Race. I feel like I’ve written this sentence some many times over the past few weeks, but there is so much more to drag than you see on Drag Race. I love the show, I do, but what you see on the show is just a fraction of the absolute magic and brilliant creativity and imagination that exists on the community. If you are a fan, I urge you to go out and look for it! It will blow your mind!

2) I love the relationships in this book. Can you talk a little more about them? Absolutely! As I mentioned in the previous question, was the Gilmore Girls-esque mother/son dynamic. I am a huge fan of the show and remember tweeting many moons ago that I wanted a YA novel version of it but ( as far as I’m aware) that just never happened. So I decided to write it into Boy Queen. This wasn’t just fun for the mother/son dynamic though, I really enjoyed having that in other characters too. My favourite kind of books and tv shows are the ones where characters have their own language that they speak in, a collection of references that each other just get that implies a history and I hope that came across with Natalie, Greg, Priya and Robin. The snappy dialogue and quips were honestly one of the most joyful parts of the book to write. And then of course comes the drag artist where I really had to sharpen my reading glasses. Where this probably became the most fun was with Seth because he was brand new to Robin, so he had to spend some time establishing exactly how to speak to him. And getting tongue tied because… you know… cute boys.

3) What do you hope young queer people get out of this book when they read it? Above anything else, I hope they get a really fun and joyful read featuring queer characters. Sure, the book has it’s dramatic moments and it’s sadder moments, but above everything else I wanted the book to be joyful and a celebration of queerness and drag. I hope it puts a smile on some faces. That would be wonderful! The other thing would be that not getting into drama school isn’t the end of the world. I know for a fact (having experienced it first hand) that it really can feel like that. When you live and breathe theatre, everything becomes a few clicks more dramatic, so not getting into drama school can feel like your life/career/everything is over. It’s not. Rejection is hard, it really does suck the big one, but it’s a part of life! ( A very big part of life of you’re going into the creative industry! Wow!) So take a deep breathe, reassess, do not give up. Keep working. I didn’t go the drama school when I was 18/19 years old. I got rejected from almost everywhere. I ended up studying for a BA in drama and Creative Writing, following which I went to work in publishing. When I realised just how much I missed acting, I started doing amateur theatre and, when I felt like I was ready, did an evening course at ArtsEd followed by my MA at Mountview. It was all about timing. This was the right time for me. Sometimes the universe just knows better!

4) Did the story change over time? Oh absolutely! Every single draft there was something new going in and something old coming out. We tried a lot of different things as the story went by and I am certain there has to be a good twenty to thirty thousand words on the cutting room floor. (They were replaced by other things in the book, I didn’t write a 110,000 word book! Jesus!) But that is the magic of editing. I don’t know where I would’ve been without my editors. They aren’t as close to the book as you are so they see things that you can’t and help you hone the story in ways you couldn’t even imagine. Priya wasn’t even in the first draft and now I can’t imagine the book without her. There is a scene where Robin and Seth are at Eternity together, and that wasn’t in the original draft either but it is such a fab scene that I can’t imagine it any other way! The only problem with this is when I come to write my next book and I find myself comparing the draft zero to my fully edited, copy edited and proofread draft of Boy Queen. Don’t do that. That way sadness lies.

5) How does it finally feel to have your first book out in the world? It is honestly the most surreal feeling in the world. This has been such a dream for me and has been for so many years that it is just surreal, that’s the best word for it. The team at PanMacmillan are working so hard on this book, and I feel every day something cool gets tweeted or posted and I have to pinch myself because I cannot believe it’s been happening to me. I feel so lucky. I have had a literary agent for about six years, I’ve written four books with him ( this is book five), and there were I wondered if maybe it would just never happen for me. So the fact that this is happening, just at the right time (pandemic aside!) with what turned out to be just the right book (I honestly couldn’t be happier Boy Queen is my debut!) is just wonderful.

George’s new book Boy Queen is out from August 6th 2020, £7.99 and is available from all good Bookshops. You can find him on Instagram @TheGeorgeLester or in drag @ThatGurrrlQueen.

A huge thanks to George for agreeing to do this little Q+A. It was absolutely fantastic and is filled with some brilliant advice.

It’s out now.

Until the next review

JTH

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Pride Month Adult Recommendations

It’s Pride Month. *Does celebratory dance*. While many pride events have been cancelled this year. Maybe it’s time to lose yourself in some wonderful queer fiction.

I’ve picked a few adult queer fiction books that I’m going to recommend to you. Now trust me when I say there’s plenty more out there, and trust me even more when I say I want to read them all. I’ve recently put up a post for YA pride recommendations (which you can check out here) so I thought it’s time to share some adult fiction.

These books are raw, hard-hitting and wonderful. I’m going to try and feature as many own voices as I can but some won’t be. They are just too good to not to share.

So here they are.

‘Lie With Me’ by Philippe Besson. Remember when I said these books were raw and hard-hitting? This one takes the cake. It’s so beautiful but it broke me. It left me weeping in a mess. Real ugly crying. But it’s beautiful. I’m actually looking forward to rereading it. I also feel like this one is a little bit slept on, so definitely check it out.

‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer. This book is so good. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2018 and I can see why. It’s such a beautiful, in-depth look into someone soul. And there’s a twist at the end that I’ll never forget. I just loved it so much.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ by André Aciman. I think most people have read this by now, but it’s sort of become a staple for queer fiction. The intensity and longing André creates in the romance between the two characters is one of a kind. I’ll never forget reading this for the first time.

‘Rainbow Milk’ by Paul Mendez. This was released in April and needs to be on your list. It’s fantastic. My favourite queer read of the year so far. It deals with so much and Paul handles it all effortlessly. It’s amazing. Seriously, don’t miss this one.

‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara. Well, I read this on vacation by the pool and I cried. In front of everyone and I have no regrets! This will break you. There’s no other way to say. It deals with some hard issues, but there’s a tenderness and vulnerability to this book that is breathtaking.

‘All Of My Friends Are Rich’ by Michael Sarais. This is my most recent queer read and it was a good one. A wonderful own voices novel, that is very sexual, but has a strong message with it. This is a debut novel from an Indie author that made me care about the characters and it also made me cry.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. I haven’t read this one. But it is so high up on my list, people have been recommending it to me for years. I’ve not met anyone who hasn’t loved it. I like to think this one I’ll read in June for Pride Month, but we’ll have to wait and see.

There are so many more books that I could go into detail about, but I won’t. I’ll name a few and let you check them out. ‘Swimming in the Dark’ by Tomasz… , ‘What Belongs to you’ by Gareth Greenwell, ‘The Line of Beauty’ Alan Hollinghurst and ‘The Great Believers’ by Rebecca Makkai.

I’m always looking to add to my collection, especially hardbacks. It’s my little mission for 2020, to buy more queer hardbacks.

Let me know if there’s any here you love, or if there’s any that I’ve missed that I should read.

Until the next review

JTH

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ARC Book Review: Queen of Coin and Whispers’ by Helen Corcoran

Title: Queen of Coin and Whispers

Author: Helen Corcoran

Length: 464 pages

Publisher: O’Brien Press

Synopsis: When Lia, an idealistic Queen, falls for Xania, her new spymaster – who took the job to avenge her murdered father – they realise all isn’t fair in love and treason. Lia won’t mourn her uncle: he’s left her a bankrupt kingdom considered easy pickings by its neighbours. She’s swarm to be a better ruler, but if she wants to push through her reforms, she needs to beat the court at its own games. For years, Xania’s been determined to uncover her fathers murderer. She finally gets the chance when Lia gives her a choice: become her new spymaster, or take a one way trip to the executioner’s axe. It’s an easy decision. When they fall for each other, their love complicates Lia’s responsibilities and Xania’s plans for vengeance. As they’re drawn together amid royal suitors and new diplomats, they uncover treason that could not only end Lia’s reign, but ruin their weakened country. They must decide not only what to sacrifice for duty, but also for each other.

This book was so enjoyable. For so many reasons. Full of romance, intrigue and fantastic characters. I needed a good YA book in my life and this one was it.

We follow Lia, who is a newly crowned Queen, with big ideas to return her kingdom to glory. We also follow Xania, who is hired as the queen’s spymaster.

There’s so many things I loved about this book. I don’t know where to start. I guess I’ll start with the intricacy and the detail. I loved how it allowed you to really loose yourself in the story. When a story is as detailed as this, it sets such a solid foundation for the rest of the story and it’s works beautifully in this book.

The romance! Oh the romance. It was F/F and it was heaven. It was a lovely slow burn romance (you know I love those) and it was so well done. I loved that it wasn’t the main plot, but was still so beautifully done. It always great so see LGBTQ+ representation in books, especially when it’s so well done like it is in ‘Queen of Coin and Whispers’. There’s some beautiful, tender scenes between the two. I also loved how the relationship dealt with the political side of things.

Queen of Coin and Whispers read to me at times like a political thriller. Full of the inner workings of a queen and her government, it has some great characters and I didn’t know who to trust, it was wonderful. It really kept me intrigued as a reader. With the assassination attempts in queens life and the spymaster trying to solve it, it gave the story and the characters a great dynamic. It all made for a thrilling read.

Can I say how much I loved the characterisation in this book. It didn’t focus on either characters looks, of course they were described, but it was refreshing to read about to two strong, fierce, flawed, intelligent women. Especially in young adult. It’s so desperately needed and Helen Corcoran delivers.

This is Helens debut novel and I can firmly say she has made a fan! To create such a well rounded, intriguing story with fantastic characters, I was hooked from start to finish. I’ll look forward to seeing what she does next. I couldn’t recommend this book more. Don’t miss this one. The perfect read for Pride Month.

Thank you to O’Brien press for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review. It’s out June 1st.

Until the next review

JTH

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ARC Book Review: Camp by L. C. Rosen

Title: Camp

Author: L. C. Rosen

Length: 384 pages

Publisher: Penguin

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Randy Kapplehoff loves spending the summer at Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. It’s where he met his best friends. It’s where he takes to the stage in the big musical. And it’s where he fell for Hudson Aaronson-Lim – who’s only in straight-acting guys and barely knows not-at-all-straight-acting Randy even exists. This year, though, it’s going to be different. Randy has reinvented himself as ‘Del’ – buff, masculine and on the market. Even if it means giving up show tunes, nail polish and his unicorn bedsheets, he’s determined to get Hudson to fall for him. But as he and Hudson grow closer, Randy has to ask himself, how much is he willing to change for love? And is it really love anyway, if Hudson doesn’t know who he truly is?

I absolutely loved this book. I just think it’s brilliant. And more than that it’s important. For me, it was the perfect YA. Can we have more books like this one please? Especially own voices, like this one.

I loved the premise and the setting for this book. I don’t know if this kind of place is real (I’m old) but it’s fantastic. It great place for the story to take place. It was so inclusive. It also gives the story a great foundation and it really takes off from there.

‘Camp’ has such amazing characters. I love Del, he was sweet. I loved that he was so multifaceted. Even though he’s changed himself to be loved, he accepted that this part of himself was also real. But he also knows who is and loves himself for it. Ugh, I love him. His two best friends George and Addy were amazing. They made me laugh out loud. I even liked Hudson, even though he had the most problematic views, he was never unlikable. L C Rosen really has created fantastic characters. They were also beautiful written. All complex and real.

I love the romance. I just loved it. It was so well done. Even though a lot of it’s circumstances were fake because of both boys lying. There connection felt real. I was rooting for them. It was also very sex positive. Which is important for young adults, especially queers one to read.

This book is loveable and fun, but it definitely shouldn’t be underestimated because it is so important. This is a book where queer kids shine. In every way. They aren’t the sidekick, or the one being bullied. They are all the stars and it’s fantastic to read. This book isn’t another of those stories of the straight acting guys who just happened to be gay, these are femme gay guys who love themselves.

L C Rosen is out here giving a voice to so many people that have often been overlooked in every way. I can’t think of another author that is doing it, especially not this well. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

I hope every young adult (even adults) reads this book. Queer teens we see themselves represented in this book, many for the first time. Representation is so important. We see so many different kinds of queer representation in this book. I know I keep going on about it really is important. I think this book will give so many people hope. It’s the kind of book I wish I had around when I was younger.

I can’t recommend enough, in case you couldn’t tells tell. I loved every second of this book. I already know this is going to be on all my books of the year lists. It’s that good.

Thank you to Penguin for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review. It’s out now.

Until the next review

JTH

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Pride Month YA recommendations.

Pride Month is upon us. It’s a very exciting time. Last month, I spent the whole entirety of June nothing but queer books and it made my heart very happy. Very happy indeed. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that this month, so I thought I’d share my recommendations.

These book are all YA. I truly think YA books have some fantastic options for us to read with some fantastic representation. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again. Representation Matters. I’m trying to keep all these books as Own Voice options, but at the bottom of the blog, I’ll put a little section that aren’t own voices.

These books will help young queer people to find themselves, find others like them and I can’t tell you how important that is. It’s all about acceptance. I remember being a young queer boy and desperately trying to find the courage to be able to buy a queer book in my local bookstore. Now, there’s only a little hesitation when I buy them.

I’ll be doing another post for some adult literature queer books, a bit later.

So let’s get started shall we.

‘History Is All You Left Me’ by Adam Silvera. This book is so beautiful, heartbreaking and emotional. It was the first queer book I read, so it owns a very special place in my heart. It deals with so much, and there’s some beautiful queer representation at its heart. This was the book I had to pluck up the courage to buy and I’m so glad I did. In the photo above are some more of Adams books if you’d like to check them out. But History really is the most beautiful for me.

‘Camp’ by L.C.Rosen. Boy oh boy, do I love this book. It took queer to another level. It put femme characters centre stage and it’s brilliant. It’s not something I’ve seen before, and I hope more books follow. It’s a beautiful story of self acceptance, queer love, and being proud to be you. It’s just so celebratory. Rosens other book ‘Jack of Hearts’ also very good. I really can’t recommend this one enough. It’s out May 28th. Just in time for Pride Month.

Felix Ever After by Kacen …. Now, I am going to be honest and say I haven’t actually read this one, but I’m going to recommend because it’s got Trans POC representation, which is so underrepresented. The story revolves around Felix, who learns to love himself. And I can’t think of a more positive message than that. Also, let’s just look at the cover. STUNNING.

Hideous Beauty by William Hussey. This is a queer thriller and it’s fantastic. While this one had a love story that will make you heart soar, it’s also going to break it. It’s filled with mystery and romance. It’s a little darker than some of the others on this list, but just as beautiful. This one is also out on the 28th. Just in time for Pride.

Boy Queen by George Lester. Another book I’ve read recently and loved. Again, we have another femme character at the centre and I love it. This book is delightful. It’s full of drag queens, romance, self pride and love. This is definitely one to add to your queer collection. It’s out August 6th.

Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazemian. Again, I have to confess I haven’t read this book. I’m mentioning one I haven’t read just to bring them to your attention and maybe you’ll like the sound of them. This one is set in the 1980s and centred around the Aids crisis, a moment in queer history we can never forget. But it’s from teenagers perspective. I can’t tell you how badly I’m looking forward to reading this one.

Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. Again, this is another one I haven’t read but want to highlight. This has got an abundance of different representations. Queer, Mental Health and POC. And this book is getting a sequel so it can’t be bad right? A friend recommended this to me and I trust their opinion highly. I am incredibly excited to read it.

‘Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe’ by Benjamin Alice Sáenz. Well this book reads just like a love song. It’s stunning. Quiet and impactful and it will have you weeping at the end. Beautiful. Just beautiful. And highly underrated.

There are so many more books out there, like ‘ I Wish You All The Best’ by Mason Deaver, ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper, ‘ziggy, stardust & me’ by James Branderson. ‘Alex in Wonderland’ by Simon James Green, ‘The Black Flamingo’ by Dean Atta and ‘Wranglestone’ by Darren Charlton. I encourage you to look all these Own Voice books up.

Now for some of those books that aren’t own voice. ‘Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli. ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ by Casey McQuiston, ‘Only Mostly Devastated’ by Sophie Gonzales, ‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell and ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ by Jandy Nelson.

I also really need to add some F/F books. I did recently read ‘Queen of Coin and Whispers’ by Helen Corcoran which was fantastic. And waiting for ‘The Henna Wars’ by Adiba Jaigirdar to arrive, which I can’t wait to read.

So there we have, some fantastic books that celebrate inclusivity, queer love, queer pride and self acceptance. They all teach such valuable lessons.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Let me know if there’s any I’m missing, or if you’ve read some of these and you love them, or if they’ve helped you.

Until the next review

JTH