The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco (6th)
Alma Rosales is on the hunt for stolen opium. Trained in espionage by the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency—but dismissed for bad behavior and a penchant for going undercover as a man—Alma now works for Delphine Beaumond, her former lover and the seductive mastermind of a West Coast smuggling ring.
When product goes missing at their Washington Territory outpost, Alma is offered a promotion if she can track the thief and recover the drugs. In disguise as the scrappy dockworker Jack Camp, this should be easy—once she muscles her way into the organization and wins the trust of the local boss and his boys, all while keeping them from uncovering her secrets. Her identity is not all she’s hiding: At the same time she’s searching for the missing opium, Alma is sending coded dispatches to the Pinkerton’s agents detailing the smuggling ring’s operations.
As the sailors tell it, Port Townsend is just five miles from hell. Which suits Alma fine. It’s the perfect setting for her game of aliases and double-crosses. But it’s getting harder and harder to keep her cover stories straight. And to know who to trust. One wrong move and she could be unmasked: as a woman, as a traitor, or as a spy.
This is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow (6th)
It doesn’t matter what the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is this year.
Who cares that’s it’s fifteen grand? Who cares about a gig opening for one of the greatest bands to ever play this town?
Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning Sun City. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And ever since Hanna left — well, there hasn’t been a band.
It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now — and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship. No contest can change that. Right?
But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge — to ignore the past, in order to jumpstart the future — will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.
Rebecca Barrow’s tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks — what will you fight for, if not yourself?
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (6th)
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.
But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
TW: violence and sexual abuse.
Illusions by Madeline J. Reynolds (6th)
I know you’re angry. It’s true, I was sent to expose your mentor as a fraud illusionist, and instead I have put your secret in jeopardy. I fear I have even put your life in jeopardy. For that I can only beg your forgiveness. I’ve fallen for you. You know I have. And I never wanted to create a rift between us, but if it means protecting you from those who wish you dead―I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to keep you safe, whatever the sacrifice. Please forgive me for all I’ve done and what I’m about to do next. I promise, it’s one magic trick no one will ever see coming.
The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion by Lynn O’Connacht (6th)
All Marian wants is for society to accept that she’s just not interested in… whatever society thinks she ought to be interested in. A princess with a reputation for insults and snide remarks, she’s afraid to show anyone who she would be if people would let her. In a fit of temper at her refusal to marry, her father creates her worst nightmare: she is to be wed to the first beggar who arrives at the gates.
Edel was visiting purely for diplomatic reasons, aiming to ensure her daughter inherits a strong and peaceful kingdom. She sees something in Marian that is achingly familiar and when Edel hears the king’s proclamation, only one thing is on her mind: to protect Marian from the fate that had befallen Edel herself.
Their lives threaded together by magic, Edel and Marian will have to find their way in the world in this queerplatonic, sapphic verse novel retelling of King Thrushbeard.
Jilted by Lilah Suzanne (8th)
Carter’s fiancé is in love with someone else. Link has just been left at the altar. After bonding over mutual heartbreak at the would-be reception’s open bar, Link and Carter pass out in the honeymoon suite—and are mistaken for the happy newlywed couple the next morning. Reluctant to deal with the fallout from their breakups, they embark on an exciting week of fake honeymooning, during which Carter starts to have real feelings for Link. A genderqueer artist who lives life by their own rules, Link inspires Carter to build a new future. Against the eclectic and electric backdrop of New Orleans, Carter and Link have to decide if a second chance at love is in the cards, or if they’re only meant to be sidelined in someone else’s story.
Sugar & Ice by Brooklyn Wallace (11th)
One ice queen, one sweetheart, one last chance at happily ever after.
Gwendolyn Crawford is Superwoman personified. She runs her ex’s senatorial campaign while battling gossip rags, sleazy opponents, and her self-righteous former father-in-law. She does the job well, and as far as she’s concerned, that’s all she needs. Besides, there’s no time for romance. Not even when a pair of bright eyes catch hers at the highly exclusive Rose club.
Jacklyn Dunn is stuck in a rut. After a devastating stress fracture ended her WNBA career, she’s mostly been dodging her agent and binging TV. Then she meets Gwen and starts to wonder if there’s more to life than wishes and regrets.
There’s no denying the sparks between them. Jackie thrills in melting Gwen’s ice queen heart, and Gwen is instantly hooked on Jackie’s sweetness. But romance isn’t easy for two women in the spotlight. Stress, tabloids, and their own fears threaten to shake the foundation of their budding relationship. After years of building up walls, the two must open themselves up to love—and to getting hurt—to find what truly makes them happy.
Buy it: Amazon
Pulp by Robin Talley (13th)
In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.
Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.
In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times-bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski by Cáel M. Keegan (15th)
Lana and Lilly Wachowski have redefined the technically and topically possible while joyfully defying audience expectations. Visionary films like The Matrix trilogy and Cloud Atlas have made them the world’s most influential transgender media producers, and their coming out retroactively put trans* aesthetics at the very center of popular American culture.
Cáel M. Keegan views the Wachowskis’ films as an approach to trans* experience that maps a transgender journey and the promise we might learn “to sense beyond the limits of the given world.” Keegan reveals how the filmmakers take up the relationship between identity and coding (be it computers or genes), inheritance and belonging, and how transgender becoming connects to a utopian vision of a post-racial order. Along the way, he theorizes a trans* aesthetic that explores the plasticity of cinema to create new social worlds, new temporalities, and new sensory inputs and outputs. Film comes to disrupt, rearrange, and evolve the cinematic exchange with the senses in the same manner that trans* disrupts, rearranges, and evolves discrete genders and sexes.
Gunsmoke and Glamour by Hillary Monahan (20th)
Marshall Clayton Jensen’s job is to fix things for the people too weird for the government to touch—witches, fairies, monsters. When Clay finds himself on the receiving end of a witch’s curse following a breakup from the love of his life, a fairy named Cora, Clay enlists the help of his best friend Doc Irene and his ex-girlfriend’s promiscuous sister Adelaide to search for a cure before time runs out
Runebreaker by Alex R. Kahler (27th)
This is the second book in the Runebinder Chronicles
Magic is sin.
Aidan desires only one thing: to rule. Arrogant, headstrong and driven by the element of Fire, he will stop at nothing to bring the evil Howls that destroyed Scotland to their knees. But Fire is a treacherous element, and the very magic that brought him to power could burn his world to ash.
Especially with the blood of his fellow Hunters on his hands.
Driven by a bloodlust he can’t control and dark whispers that may not be entirely in his head, he and his magic-eschewing friend Kianna will do whatever it takes to liberate their broken world. Even at the risk of confronting the Church. Even at the risk of losing his humanity.
But power isn’t the only thing on Aidan’s mind. He’s falling for the intoxicating Tomas, an Incubus who offers everything Aidan desires. For a price.
And if that price burns the world down, well… Aidan is used to playing with Fire
Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi (27th)
The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.
To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.
She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.