Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
For the past couple of years, I've been able to read more than 100 books per year. I know this speaks more to my large amount of leisure time pre-baby more than it does any real achievement, but I'm still pretty proud of that number. This year, however, I'm struggling - it's June and I've read just 18 books. The thing is, it's not really about the numbers (although it is nice to see them ticking up) but just about making time for something I really enjoy. Plus, there are so many amazing books being published every week, and if I don't at least try and keep up, my 'to be read' list will be my biggest regret on my death bed. So, I need to step it up a little. Stop scrolling on my computer during my lunch break and find a little nook to read in, or actually pull my Kindle out during my bus trips rather than getting distracted by Instagram. There's room enough for both things, if I make room.
The Last Romeo by Justin Myers*
You'll probably know Justin better as The Guyliner, the pseudonym under which he wrote for many years both as a dating blogger and an advice columnist for Gay Times. His takedowns of the Guardian Blind Dates column are well worth diving into, by the by. I've followed him for a while, and have always admired the way he balances his acerbic wit with gentleness and fairness.
This is his debut novel, and some of the ground will be familiar to those who have followed him for a while. The book follows James as he goes from devastating break-up to dating blogger, on a quest to find his 'Last Romeo' by plundering the world of online dating and beyond. Of course, it's a book about dating but it's also so much more than that, as James also navigates his career, friendships and living alone for the first time in a long time alongside his love life.
As the book is about a dating blogger, naturally we get excerpts from the blog, and it's a further peak into James' world as you watch how he experiences the dates and then how he presents them for the world. Of course, you can speculate all you like about how much of it is fiction and how much of it is drawn from Justin's own experiences (and maybe that's the point) but at the end of the day, it's funny and warm, insightful and emotional. I was rooting for James from the off, and his inner monologue is a joy to follow as he goes from heartfelt moments and realisations to humorous observations about humans and dating, even when he's not always the 'good guy'. It's real and relatable and should definitely be on your to-read list.
How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne*
I'm already a big fan of Holly's young adult novels (her Spinster Club series is really a must read for anyone of any age) so I was excited to see that she's started making the foray into adult fiction, too. Holly's known for weaving feminism into her work, both explicitly and implicitly, and How Do You Like Me Now? is no exception, which I love.
Tori Bailey is in her early thirties, and she seems to have it all. At least, that's what she's selling to her audience. She wrote an Eat, Pray Love-style memoir in her twenties that skyrocketed her career, and now she's giving TED talks and packing out auditorium's with her fans. The problem is, she's not really as happy as she makes out. Her relationship certainly isn't all that, and everyone around her seems to be getting married and having babies, and she doesn't want that, but also she doesn't *not* want that. And her publisher is asking for a second book, but how can she write self-help when she can't really help herself?
I think a lot of people will find this book relatable; even though Tori can be spiky and vain, we've all had our moments where we are very Tori-like, whether it's lying on social media whilst pretending to be 'real, thinking something a bit bitchy about someone who's made a different life choice to us, or (and I think this is the best part of the novel) staying in a relationship far too long. Tori's relationship with Tom is toxic, and he is *awful* to her, but you can understand why she stays, why it feels too scary to start again. We've all either been there, or watched from the outside as friends go through the process, getting too drunk to forget, making excuses, brushing off worries.
There were a couple of moments where I felt like this book missed the mark, but that may be because of who I am reading it (the mothers in this book are universally pretty awful, which is a little jarring for me - I hope I'm not like that!) but there really is so much to unpack here, and it grows on me the longer I step away from it. I absolutely raced through it, and was on tenterhooks by the end waiting to see what decision Tori would make. Like all of Holly's other books, this is definitely one that everyone should read.
The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara*
In this beautiful, moving book, Joseph Cassara paints a fictionalised account of the House of Xtravanganza, the first all-Latinx house on the Harlem ball circuit Without doing more reading, it's impossible to tell what is fact and what is fiction, but it's certainly piqued my interest and I'm interested to watch Paris is Burning, the documentary that first introduced these figures to the world. We follow along as Angel, Venus, Juanito and Daniel battle with their pasts and come together to form a house (and more than that, a family) in the face of adversity - bound by their situation but also by their love of the drag scene.
At times it's fun and bright and joyful, and at times it's sad and moving and beautiful. But I guess, that's what life is like, and even more so for the LGBTQ+ community in New York in the 1980s. The threat of AIDS and the people they've lost haunt the book and the characters, and I was moved to tears on more than one occasion.
There's little plot, and as a result I found myself lapsing in focus, often putting this book down and not returning for a few days or a week. But, I always returned, drawn by the vivid characters and the gorgeous writing. This book feels like a love letter to the characters, and, although Angel and Venus are definitely the stars that burn brightest, you almost feel enveloped in their little family as you watch them navigate the drag world, their own gender expression, sex work and addiction. At times Cassara is scathing and witty, but he's always tender and caring, and it makes for a really lovely reading experience.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and buy something, I may receive a small commission. Books marked with a * were provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.