“Write a new world…” — JLR Interviews Kris Ripper

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I emailed Kris a couple of weeks ago to say how much I enjoyed reading zir queer fantasy story, “The Queen’s Reflection”, in the Follow Me Into Darkness anthology. We ended up chatting about what stories we want to see more of, and the struggles with writing characters outside our comfort zones. I was extremely curious to know more about writing Isah (as well as other non-cisgender characters, of which ze has written several), so I was thrilled when Kris offered to answer my questions!

Thank you so much to Kris for agreeing to this interview! I’ll jump right in:

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Book Review: “From the Stars They Fell” by H.R. Harrison

harrison-from-the-stars-they-fellFrom the Stars They Fell, by H.R. Harrison
Publisher: Less Than Three Press (October 28, 2015)
Word Count: approx. 23,000 words
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy; Genderqueer; Pansexual; Non-Binary; Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5

Buy Links: Publisher

* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. * 

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Science fiction meets fantasy in this delightful short story about understanding, tolerance, and finding love against all odds. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story… I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I think it was a great blend of multiple genres, with interesting characters and a fantastic plot.

An alien ship crash lands on Earth, leaving its only occupant stranded. But in a fortunate twist, Earth is a hospitable planet for Veni, from the atmosphere and food to the friendly and intelligent inhabitants.

The first such inhabitants Veni meets call themselves dwarves. And though they don’t understand the technology that brought the alien to them, they insist on being hospitable. Sure, Veni doesn’t understand why the inhabitants of this land insist on speaking a language that modifies for gender, but ze is anything if not adaptable—especially after ze meets Wystan, a man who speaks only with his hands.

I will admit that I’m not very familiar with non-gender binary characters in a novel. My previous experience with gender-neutral characters was another science fiction, “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie, where all characters were referred to with the female pronoun. So I apologize if I make any errors in my review; please know that it is not intentional, and I am trying to respect the author and character to the best of my knowledge.

The Earth of Harrison’s short story isn’t the one we’re familiar with; this is a land of dwarves and humans, where magic lurks in the forest. When Veni crash-lands, ze are lucky to be rescued by a group of dwarves who help hir adapt to this new planet. While language isn’t a difficult barrier to overcome, thanks to translation chips and advanced technology, Veni is baffled by the dwarves question of whether ze is male or female.

“So, I never did get the chance to ask, Veni. Are you a man or a woman?”

I tilted my head to express my confusion. “I do not understand.”

Ze seemed perplexed, as if I’d just said I didn’t understand that things fall when dropped. “You know… Are you the sort to carry the baby or the one to put it there?”

My head remained tilted. “My kind lays eggs.”

The romance between Veni and Wystan is really fantastic. They’re two characters who are different from those around them, and who bond because they’re able to see beneath the surface. Wystan is deaf, and Veni is one of the few who is able to communicate with him. And Wystan finds beauty in Veni, even when he’s confused or frightened by hir foreign customs.

And there’s a plot! I know, you’re thinking “why is this something to get excited about”? But I find that short stories rarely have elaborate plots with twists and backstories. Harrison has done a fantastic job of weaving together multiple plots to create a story with a great pace, and an antagonist who is more than just a caricature.

This was a great short-story, and I think it will appeal to anyone looking for something different. The sci fi and fantasy elements were subtle, the characters diverse and unique, and the plot entertaining. It’s a quick read, but I’d love to see more with these characters!

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Excellent… but not remotely as advertised! — Book Review: Heart of the Liliko’i, by Dena Hankins (Rating: 3/5)

hankins-hear-of-lilikoiHeart of the Liliko’i, by Dena Hankins
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books (October 19, 2015)
Page Count: 240 pages
Genre: Genderqueer Romance; Mystery, Crime/Thriller

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Summary:

Human remains tangled in lilikoi roots bring the authorities to Kerala’s construction site. Native Hawaiians say the passion fruit vine marks an ancient burial ground protected by guardian spirits, the ’aumakua. But these aren’t ancestral bones. The fractured skull points to murder.

Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty campaigns hinder the project Kerala leads: building an eco-dream vacation home for Ravi, CEO of a solar power company. Proud to be a tough dyke in the trades, Kerala can’t believe she’s so hot for the masculine genderqueer scientist. Their sexual connection is volcanic, but Ravi’s craving for love and family aggravates burn scars from Kerala’s past. As the lovers pursue justice for Hawaii and its people, Ravi turns his gift for harnessing the sun’s strength toward cultivating his own power, and Kerala wonders if building deep, lasting love could be even more satisfying than constructing a home to last the ages.

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My Review:

This novel was LONG. I’m not talking physically, but it felt like every one of these 240 pages was five times as long as a normal page. The plot crawled by at times, and I kept waiting for the promised conflict of the summary… a promised conflict that didn’t come until more than two-thirds through the narrative.

Look: if the very first line of your summary promises a murder mystery tied to the native Hawaiian traditions, then DELIVER on that! When your main plot point doesn’t occur until the 70% point of the novel, you may want to rethink the basic premise.

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This novel was not at all what was promised. I thought I’d be reading a fast-paced mystery with “Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty”, revolving around a murder found on a construction site. This is not what I read.

Now, the novel I read was good. It was, in fact, EXCELLENT. But it was a slow-paced character study about Kel, a lesbian construction worker, and Ravi, a genderqueer scientist. It was a love story set against a backdrop of Hawaiian politics.

If the summary had reflected the story accurately, I would have given this novel 4 or 4.5 out of 5 stars. But I was disappointed, and felt betrayed, because the story I got was not the story I was promised.

In the game of Diversity Bingo, this novel definitely wins a blackout. Lesbian main character, genderqueer love interest who is also a POC and a trans man, native Hawaiians vs. white ‘haole’… there’s no shortage of representation here. And Dena did a great job of integrating all of these elements, although at times I didn’t feel like the novel was a bit too political.

“I use genderqueer to say that my gender is complicated and won’t match your expectations, and that I won’t adopt a label that doesn’t work just to fit into or rebel against those expectations.” (Kindle Loc. 2094)

Do NOT read this book if you’re looking for a murder mystery/crime thriller. DO read this book if you want a lovely, evolving romance focusing on the relationship between two interesting characters.

(I find it interesting that this book is filed under just the “romance” genre on both BSB and Amazon, with no mention of a “mystery” or “crime” genre. This makes me think the summary was written to deceive readers, to make them think the novel was something that it isn’t.)

If the author and publisher changed the summary to reflect what this novel was actually about, I would recommend it much more highly. But basing your summary on the last 30% of the actual novel is a no-go for me.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books About the Ocean

This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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This week’s theme is a freebie, so in honor of the end of summer I wanted to list my Top Ten Books that feature the ocean! I’ve also scattered in a few photos of the ocean that I took over the last couple of weeks, since I’m lucky enough to live in a place where it’s (usually) pretty gorgeous and warm.

So here’s my list, and I’d love to know what your favorite books about the ocean might be!

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chevalier-remarkable-creatures

This is a gorgeous novel by an author that I really love, about two women who revolutionized the scientific community in the 1800s by discovering a series of fossils on the English seaside. I had never heard of Mary Anning before reading this, but this is a fictional account of actual historical facts!

On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: “the eye” to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man.

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Jordan L. Hawk’s Whyborne and Griffin series is one of my favorite in the m/m romance genre. It’s a paranormal historical set in a fictional sea town, where dark magic cults and monsters lurk beneath the surface of an otherwise normal city. I won’t spoil too much, but Whyborne has a great connection to the sea, in a plot twist that I absolutely love!

Between his bullying father and dissolute brother, Percival Endicott Whyborne has quite enough problematic family members to deal with. So when his sister returns to Widdershins asking for help solving the mystery of a derelict ship, Whyborne is reluctant to get involved. Until, that is, a brutal murderer strikes, leaving Whyborne and his lover Griffin no choice but to take the case.

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klune-art-of-breathingTJ Klune’s Bear, Otter, and the Kid trilogy is about two brothers who build their own family after their mother abandons them. The ocean plays a huge role in all three books, as both brothers go to the beach to find their calm when things start to get overwhelming. I picked the cover for the third book for this meme only because it’s more fitting.

Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.

lewis-dawn-treader-narnia

I think The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is one of the weaker books in the Narnia series, but I really loved it, and I actually really enjoyed the movie as well. Okay, I really enjoyed Ben Barnes, but whatever. In typical Narnia fashion, children from our world are called into the fantasy world to help save the day, this time by sailing to the furthest reaches of the world.

“Why should your Majesty expect it? My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.” – Reepicheep

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This book won a whole slew of awards when it first came out, and was later turned into a movie (which I never saw). It’s a little bit magical and a little bit philosophical, but somehow Yann Martel manages to tell a story about a boy and a tiger trapped in a small boat together in a way that is not just interesting, but fully captivating for hundreds of pages!

When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.

mccarry-about-a-girl

I actually reviewed this book over the summer. It’s the third in a trilogy that blends Greek mythology with modern day. About a Girl is a gorgeous story that loosely follows the story of Jason and the Argonauts, as a young woman named Tally travels to the Pacific coast in search of answers about her past.

Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There’s no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty–or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born. But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past–and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future.

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riordan-percy-jackson

I don’t even care that the Percy Jackson books are written for younger kids… I love them! Here’s another series that combines mythology and modern day, this time in the form of a boy named Percy, who discovers that he is the half-human son of the god Poseidon.

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

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If you’ve ever poked your head into the m/m romance genre, you’ve almost certainly heard of the Cut & Run series by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux. The series follows two FBI agents who are partnered together against their will, only to find themselves falling in love.

Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are back on the job, settled into a personal and professional relationship built on fierce protectiveness and blistering passion. Now they’re assigned to impersonate two members of an international smuggling ring—an out-and-proud married couple—on a Christmas cruise in the Caribbean. As their boss says, surely they’d rather kiss each other than be shot at, and he has no idea how right he is.

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sfef-monster-eths-skin

Eth’s Skin is a gorgeous work-in-progress web comic set in a fantasy version of British Columbia, where mermaids and magic coexist alongside the fisherman and townsfolk. The art is beautiful, and the story is lovely so far! You can read the webcomic here!

Under a sickle moon on an empty stone beach Eth mistakes a selkie skin for their own, and ends up having to make a journey to a distant cove in order to put things right.  It’s a queer (and genderqueer) fantasy full of monsters and low tides, cool non-binary individuals, queer relationships, and a pet pygmy harbour seal named Goblin.

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I love love LOVE everything that Anna Zabo has written, including this urban fantasy. It’s another m/m romance set on a cruise ship, but this time featuring fae, vampires, and one very confused artist. It’s super hot, has some great mythology, and the characters are fantastic!

On a transatlantic cruise to New York, sculptor Rhys Matherton struggles to piece his life back together after losing his mother, inheriting a fortune, and finding out his father isn’t his father after all. He spills a tray of drinks on a handsome stranger, then he finds himself up against a wall getting the best hand-job he’s ever had. And for the first time in his life, he feels whole.

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And a bonus book:

Cullinan-CarryTheOceanCarry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan is probably one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year. It’s not about a literal ocean, but instead a metaphorical one. The story follows two boys, one who is autistic and the other who has serious depression and anxiety attacks.

my emotions feel loud and big. its hard for me to keep hold of them. they weigh me down. make me heavy and tired and overwhelmed. sometimes I feel like everyone else is carrying a bucket of water but I’m trying to carry an ocean. its very hard. sometimes I would rather not carry my ocean, even if it meant I couldn’t be alive… (ePub page 87)

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Review: Another Day, by David Levithan (Rating: 4/5)

levithan-another-dayAnother Day, by David Levithan
Publisher: Penguin Random House/Knopf (August 25, 2015)
Page Count: 336 pages
Genre: Young Adult Romance (Genderqueer/Genderfluid)

Rating: 4 out of 5

* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

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Summary: Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person . . . wasn’t Justin at all.

Notes: I will be reviewing Another Day with the assumption that anyone reading this has previously read Every Day (although I will avoid spoilers for either). While both novels can stand on their own, I’m not sure how I would separate out my feelings about Every Day in order to review Another Day without any emotional bias… the novels are just too entwined in my head!

My Review: This was an extremely difficult book to write a review about. Normally when I start a review, I ask myself a few easy questions: Did I love the book? Were the characters interesting? Was the relationship realistic, organic, and compelling? Did I find myself absorbed by the plot?

When it comes to Another Day, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “yes”. However, that’s also true of the prequel-slash-companion novel, Every Day. They are, in fact, the same story told from the differing points of view of the main characters.

Another Day is told from the point of view of Rhiannon, a girl who is struggling to understand what love truly means. She thinks that she loves her boyfriend Justin, and that love is something you have to work for, compromise for. But then she meets A and her entire definition of love changes; here is someone who puts her first, who asks her opinions, and who doesn’t let her settle for less than she deserves.

There’s only one problem: A has no body. Every day, A wakes up in someone else’s life, a spirit hitchhiker of sorts. And when A wakes up one day as Justin, A quickly falls in love with Rhiannon. But Rhiannon has framework to be in a relationship in which the other person changes bodies every day. Some days A is a skinny nerd, other days he is a football player, and some days she’s a gorgeous black girl. Rhiannon struggles to see through the outer package, but even she admits that the A she pictures is a boy; it’s not that she doesn’t try, and she constantly questions her own inability to think past the stereotype, but every day is a battle between what she wants and what A actually is.

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Now, here’s the difficult part… how do I rate this? Getting to see Rhiannon’s side of the developing relationship, her confusion about A, these things made the novel unique from its predecessor. But the plot was the same. There were no surprises, because we have already seen most of the events from A’s point of view. So it’s a novel that has to balance solely on Rhiannon’s emotions, and the emotions of a teenage girl in love are not exactly stable support.

If I had never read Every Day, I would say that the novel is fantastic. I would give it five stars in a heartbeat, because the plot is original and the writing is witty and the characters are complicated and brilliant and utterly realistic in the way that only teenagers can be. But having read Every Day, I want to say this novel is just average, a 3/5 rating. It’s 300+ pages of a plot that I’ve already read (but really enjoyed, and didn’t mind re-reading), and the only new parts were when Rhiannon tries to work through her gender stereotyping and to understand that what’s inside doesn’t always match what’s outside.

So I’m going to split the difference here, and give this a 4 out of 5. Still recommended even if you’ve read Every Day, although I’d start with that one if you’re new to A and Rhiannon’s relationship.

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Review: Bound With Passion, by Megan Mulry (Rating: 4/5)

Bound With Passion, by Megan Mulry
Publisher: Riptide Publishing (July 6, 2015)
Page Count: approx. 253 pages
Genre: Threesome (M/F/M) Erotica/Historical Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5 (what this rating means)

* I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

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Cover Artist: L.C. Chase

Cover Artist: L.C. Chase

Summary: When Lady Georgiana Cambury’s best friend informs her that he can’t inherit his family’s country house unless he marries, Georgie thinks she’s found the solution to all of her problems. She can help Trevor with his legal issue, and continue traveling Egypt in search of new horse stock to purchase without the burden of being an unwed woman. A marriage in name only. But Trevor is already madly in love with his long-time partner James, and Georgie doesn’t expect to find herself attracted to both of them as they begin to prepare for the wedding.

My Thoughts: Before you start reading this book, make sure you’re alone in the room and have a glass of ice water next to you, because damn this novel is hot! There’s a lot of sex here, in every combination you can imagine. But there’s also a really fantastic relationship winding its way through the passion, and that’s what made this novel so great for me.

Sometimes Georgie prefers to be the regal Lady Georgiana, while other times she prefers to be George, a slightly effeminate lad. But with whatever gender she prefers that day, the one thing she never wants is a relationship… she’s vowed to never fall in love.

James and Trevor want Georgiana and George both, but they’re going to have to work hard to chip away at her shell and unlock the love and emotions that she keeps hidden away. And Georgie is going to have to decide if she’s willing to give up her independence for a relationship, even if that relationship is one filled with love.

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Blog Tour: Family Time Anthology (Various Authors) — Excerpt and Giveaway!

Cover Artist: BSClay

Cover Artist: BSClay

Family Time Anthology (Torquere Press, June 17, 2015)
Word Count: approx. 77,000 words

With Stories By: Sean Michael, Jessica Chase, Nicole McCormick,
Nora Birch, Lynn Townsend, K. Lynn, RJ Schmidt, Katherine Halle,
Rob Rosen, Mychael Black, Andrea Dalling, and Yolande Kleinn

Genres: Lesbian (F/F) Romance, Gay (M/M) Romance, Asexual Romance
(Please keep in mind that as an anthology, not all stories may reflect all categories.)

Thanks for joining me on the blog tour for Torquere Press’ latest release, Family Time Anthology, with works from twelve incredibly talented authors focusing on the joys and trials of building a family and raising children. Please keep reading for an excerpt from First Day of School, a “And Manny Makes Seven” short by Sean Michael, as well as a great giveaway!

These twelve stories range from first-time parents, to a couple still trying to conceive, to a ready-made family hoping to make it official, to parents just trying to get from one day to the next.

But it can’t all be about the kids. Especially when the kid to parent ratio favors the kids. You might have sneak out of your own house. Or remind your spouse what grown-ups can do when the kids are away.

From veteran and new authors, these families contain several m/m couples, an F/F couple, and an asexual mom who has some explaining to do to her genderfluid teen.

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Friday Five: Free Fiction

I know, the alliteration is cheesy, but I couldn’t help myself.

It’s Friday, which means the weekend is almost upon us! And since everyone loves free things, I wanted to recommend five of my favorite novel-length romances… all 100% free to read online! So if you’re not sure what to do with your weekend, give one of these recs a try; you may end up getting so hooked that you’ll forget to do laundry and run errands, but you won’t regret it!

In no particular order…

More Than You Know, by ColdCoffeeEyes25: She’s an incognito pop star trying to break away from her white-supremacist family while fighting off paparazzi, homesickness and forbidden romantic feelings that could sever her family ties once and for all. This novel is absolutely beautiful! Pop star Liberty was raised by a prominent white-supremacist family, but has finally left her childhood home to go to college and study music. There, she meets Max, whose dark skin is almost as forbidden as the sexual relationship she offers. Liberty slowly grows into her own person with her own opinions as the relationship blooms between her and Max.

Shadow of the Templar, by M Chandler: Simon Drake is an up-and-coming young FBI hotshot, an agent with a personal track record so outstanding that it borders on unbelievable. Jeremy Archer is the brilliant and unpredictable scion of a long line of international art thieves, and one of the most infamous criminals in the world. This is a classic, although I’m surprised by how many people haven’t heard of it. Simon is snarky and rude, but the best at what he does, and he has an amazing team backing him up at the FBI. But when he ends up having to work with Jeremy Archer– sarcastic but brilliant– to stop a dangerous criminal, sparks start to fly. Simon plays by the rules, and Jeremy doesn’t even know what rules are! (Short version: like the gay version of White Collar, but with more profanity.)

Failte-GirlForMeThe Girl for Me, by failte200:
Straight jockboy Kevin thinks he has gay, cross-dressing Danny under his thumb. Kevin only likes girls. So… why does he keep thinking about her? Or him. Whatever. (Warning for dubcon.) Kevin is kind of an idiot, but he’s amazing at reading people and knowing if they’re genuine or phony. When he first sees Danny at a party in drag (going by Dani), Kevin isn’t sure what to think; his instincts tell him that Dani is genuine, and a beautiful woman, but his mind tells him that it’s just a guy in a dress. But Kevin isn’t as dumb as he looks, and he quickly learns to accept Dani for who she is. Some of the plot is a bit over-the-top, but Kevin’s progress from dumb, lazy jock to caring boyfriend is actually really great.

Close Protection, by Cordelia Kingsbridge aka ckingsbridge: After three consecutive expulsions for sexual misconduct, Luca D’Amato has no choice but to return to America. Jacob Ryder is the man charged with protecting him from his family’s many enemies – but who will protect Ryder from Luca? This story is hot, hot, HOT. Luca is wealthy, spoiled, and attractive, all of which help his craving for sexual relationships. Ryder is Luca’s bodyguard, openly gay, and is the first person Luca’s met who won’t respond to his advances. Luca wants what he can’t have, but Ryder isn’t willing to give in to his own attraction. The relationship here is stunning; Luca is smart and calculating, but also fragile, and Ryder is struggling to protect Luca from attacks on his life while trying to maintain a professional relationship.

ChaosLifeLogoChaos Life, by A. Stiffler & K. Copeland: ChaosLife is a semi-autobiographical comic, focusing on a queer relationship between A. Stiffler and K. Copeland, who create the comic! It also delves into politics, GSM issues, mental health, pop culture, cats and other randomness. While technically not fiction, I’m still including it on this list because it’s a really great (and funny) look into the creators’ relationship. It’s also been running for almost four years, so I think it qualifies as ‘novel-length’ by comic standards! Stiffler and Copeland are a married couple, and are super geeky and hilarious. My favorite comics are about their ridiculous cats, but they also talk about being agender, weird animals who are not their cats, and Batman’s beauty regime (which is actually the comic that first brought me to their site). Start from the beginning and read them all, I highly recommend it!

There are hundreds more free stories out there, and some are extremely well known, but I’d love to know if anyone else has recommendations! All images are (c) their respective authors/artists.