five brilliant reads of 2020 ft. queer magical books (part two)

Image: cottonbro

In case you missed part one, you can find it right here and read about about my love for the Greenhollow Duology and The Starless Sea.

I have genuinely missed this blog and this community and hopefully, 2021 will bring with it more time and energy to be more active in this space. And thank you to everyone who visited, followed, and/or commented on my blog this year. Talking about books with all of you is one of the best parts of my day and I look forward to more such conversations in 2021.

Now, for the second half of a list of books with queer main characters!

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

My love for queer rom coms reached new heights this year with the discovery of Boyfriend Material. In fact, when I first saw the book, I thought it would be very similar to Red, White, & Royal Blue which is also very gay and very rom-com-y (please tell me that’s a real word). Honestly, the similarities end with the genre and the book covers but I would recommend checking out Red, White, & Royal Blue if you enjoyed Boyfriend Material and vice versa.

“I knew how to make him angry and how to make him laugh, and I hoped I could make him happy.”

I reviewed Boyfriend Material a few months ago but honestly I’m still not over it. It’s British and hilarious and one of the best takes on the fake dating trope I’ve ever seen. We’ve got Oliver, the stiff posh barrister, and Lucian, one hot mess gay, and they’re just fumbling their way through life. I related to both of these characters for different reasons – reasons that I don’t usually talk about on this blog. For instance, Lucian has a great deal of self loathing which I’ve struggled with too thanks to depression. But he also has this incredible group of friends who will literally drop everything to come over and help him clean out his flat. Unfortunately, he gets so caught up in trying to fix his life and pull himself together that he forgets he already has people who adore him regardless of the state of his kitchen sink.

“Mum patted him reassuringly. “Oh, Oliver … I am sure you are one of the best gays.”
I glanced back to find Oliver looking faintly flustered. “Mum, stop ranking homosexuals. It doesn’t work like that.”

I didn’t expect to relate to Oliver because (like Lucian) I assumed he’s got his life together and while I’m not as much of a mess as Lucian, I’m still in the figuring-out-what-to-do phase of my (early!) twenties. But about three quarters through the book, I realised Oliver is just trying really hard to please his parents and be good enough for his family. He’s constantly comparing himself to his siblings and falling short of “perfection” – which is exactly how I’ve felt for most of high school and all of university. Plus Oliver has a lot of anxiety which makes it difficult for him to fall asleep. There was a line in the book about how he works out obsessively to manage said anxiety and this reminded me of how I went through a similar phase at uni when I was going for runs at 5 or 6 AM.

“In any case, I wasn’t prepared for the truth of you.”

I’m fairly confident this book will make your skin glow and fix all your problems and…okay, maybe that’s a tall order. But it will make you laugh and remind you of how much you have to gain by being honest and emotionally vulnerable with the people you love. It hasn’t been long since I listened to the audiobook but I think I’m already due for a reread.

When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey

When We Were Magic starts with an Alexis accidentally killing a boy. Yep, it’s a gory premise and therefore, I didn’t expect this book to be so damn wholesome. Also: brutal, heartbreaking, and honest.

“But we have to at least make an effort. I think we have to try to do the right thing, before we can find excuses for having done the wrong thing.”

When We Were Magic explores some of the strongest female friendships I’ve ever seen in a YA novel and it left me feeling nostalgic for high school and the moments I shared with my best friends back then. Alexis also reminded me a bit of myself because she keeps feeling that she had to earn her friends’ love. Her worries that she isn’t good enough for them and isn’t saying the right thing because she doesn’t know how to respond are, simply put, relatable. I think we’ve all been there – trying our best but afraid that our best just isn’t good enough. And yet, Alexis’s friends love her unconditionally and they prove time and again that they will do anything and everything for each other. In fact, this love also extends to pushing each other to do better when they screw up and not just blindly accepting excuses.

“My friends love me more than I deserve. That’s never been a question. The question is, how long will it take them to realize that?”

Alexis and her relationship with her fathers is one of my favourite relationships in When We Were Magic. There’s this scene where they sit down to talk to her about what’s going on with her and they’re so sensitive and thoughtful. Something I’ve always disliked seeing in books (and in real life) is the way adults tend to dismiss kids or teenager’s problems as if they aren’t as real or important. It’s refreshing to see that not only do Alexis’s fathers care about her, they also treat her with respect.

“She wasn’t saying ‘I love you in spite of who you are.’ She was saying ‘I might screw this up a lot, but the biggest thing is that I love you. The most important thing in my heart is that I love you.’ Does that make sense?”

I read this book in two days and it helped me escape my reading slump. Afterwards, I wrote in my goodreads review: i haven’t travelled since flying home in march but this kind of reminds me of that feeling i’d get when i’d sit in an airport or on the plane reading and i would forget myself and afterward, it was like surfacing from something.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Last year I read The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow and it was so brilliant, I immediately knew I would have to read anything else Harrow wrote. Still, The Once and Future Witches is a lot darker and grittier than Ten Thousand Doors of January.

“One witch you can laugh at. Three you can burn. But what do you do with a hundred?”

At the heart of this book is feminism and magic. Harrow unapologetically dissects misogyny and other patriarchal bullshit through her portrayal of female oppression. This book made me furious for what women are put through and forced to suffer. The Eastwood sisters are consistently ignored, underestimated, talked down to, and even tortured for being the kind of women who fight for a better future. Agnes works in the factory and sees girls being groped and sexually harassed on a daily basis. While she intervenes as much as she can, she also knows that all the women will pay the price for resisting the unwanted advances of their overseer.

“It’s a risk just to be a woman, in my experience. No matter how healthy or hardworking she is.”

These women want to be witches because they are powerless and vulnerable. They want to protect themselves and their daughters. For them, this is about being able to move through the world as freely as a man – without worrying about being followed late at night or being harassed and hurt.

What I found especially exciting was the way in which the smallest, simplest, spells disseminated by Juniper and her sister transformed the everyday lives of these women. They were able to discourage leering men from touching them and become invisible when drunk men approached. Magic provided safety and comfort to those who needed it.

“That’s all magic is, really: the space between what you have and what you need.”

The Once and Future Witches is slow-paced but the character development is exemplary. James Juniper is this loud-mouthed blunt reckless woman who will do anything to survive. Agnes Amaranth is like a mother to her sisters – kind, fierce, and protective. Agnes takes care of people and it takes her awhile to accept that other people want to take care of her too. Beatrice Belladonna is shy, bookish, and gay. Bella’s also a librarian and enjoys taking notes and scouring books for useful spells. All three women discover their own strength, power, and confidence over the course of the story while coming to value sisterhood.

“We may be either beloved or burned, but never trusted with any degree of power.”

This isn’t an easy book to read or listen to. Harrow doesn’t shy away from exploring the nuances of female suffering. Nor should she. I love how much anger and hope there is in these pages. Watching these characters fight for their happy ending – with everything they have – made me feel stronger and braver too.

now, i would love to hear from you! have you read any of these books? are you excited for the new year? what is something you are looking forward to (or something you are dreading)? what was the last book that made you smile?

21 thoughts on “five brilliant reads of 2020 ft. queer magical books (part two)

  1. Best of luck with blogging more frequently in 2021, that’s something that I’m also hoping to do (and looking forward to)! I unfortunately haven’t read any of these books, but I’ve heard a lot of praise from the book blogging community about all three. And the last book that made me smile…I’d have to give that to Rebel by Marie Lu, the last book in her Legend series. I didn’t particularly enjoy the story (honestly it felt like an unnecessary extension of what could have been a trilogy), but the ending was 100% fanservice that I had been looking forward to for the duration of the series haha.

    claire @ clairefy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah thank you! Ah yes I saw some positive reviews on Goodreads which was I ended up giving them a go. Oh I don’t think if I’ve read Rebel but I remember reading the previous books in the series. I’m glad it made you smile! Ah okay, that’s interesting. Lol I know fanservice endings can be annoying sometimes but I totally agree it can be equally satisfying when it’s something you really wanted to see happen. Thanks for dropping by, Claire! Have a lovely day.

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  2. When We Were Magic has such a cool cover, and it sounds like the book itself is even cooler! I love that it emphasizes strong female friendships; thank you so much for the recommendation!! (I’m always done for books with feminism and magic, hehe. ❤ ❤ )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, female friendships are so important! Well if you like feminism and magic, then it’s definitely the book for you haha. Thanks for dropping by my blog, Lulu! ❤

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  3. Ahh.. You’ve so made me want to read Boyfriend Material from the descriptions of the characters qualities such as dealing with wanting to be perfect and always comparing, as well as self loathing. I really loved hearing your opinion and how much it meant to you!!
    I’ve heard so many good things about the once and future witches so I’m glad to see you also loved it. I will definitely have to pick it up one day!!
    Thank you for sharing this list, I really enjoyed reading it!! 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

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