30 Days of Pride: Retellings but make it gay

Hi everyone,

I feel like 2020 publishing is a pretty major year for retellings, whether that be retellings of fairytales, historical events, classics, or mythology. Now I’m a pretty big fan of retellings, but you know what make them reach new heights of epicness? Making them gay! There’s just something about taking an old, boring, cishet book and making it sparkle with queerness instead. So here’s some of my favourites as well as some of the ones I’m most excited to read!

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies has been one of my favourite reads of the year so far. This is a retelling of the year 1617 Vardø storm, a storm which wiped out the men in a small fishing village in Norway. The village of newly independent women must come together to survive in the cold and harsh climate. But then a commissioner is sent to the village to help lead them, a witch hunter from Scotland. What follows is a story focused on the destruction of this village, as the witch hunter riles up suspicion and hatred amongst the group of women as he tries to control them with his Godly, just ways. This book is so fantastic. There is a soft, sapphic relationship (one of my favourite couples!!), a dark descent to villainy and evil, strong friendships, and an absolutely enthalling and enchanting gothic setting. Highly recommend! You can check out my full reivew here.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Okay I know we’ve all read it. But like. It’s so bloody good. I couldn’t leave it off this list! The Song of Achilles reimagines the myth of Achilles and Patroclus, their life growing up together, the journey which takes them to Troy and the long Trojan War, and their era-defining love (yes I said it, this book is ERA-DEFINING). If you were a fool like me, you might not have realised the ending of this myth before you read this book the first time, and holy fuck, what a mess that resulted in. This book is a beautiful, poetic and HIGHLY EMOTIONAL (I’M NOT FUCKING KIDDING) retelling that will no doubt break you heart but also make you fall in love with Madeline Miller and her Greek retellings.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this, and everyone is in for a treat when this releases next month!! Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a Persian mythology inspired fairytale about a princess who is poisonous to the touch and her journey to discover the power in her gift. This book has so many of my favourite tropes: enemies to lovers, morally grey MC, descent to villainy, a bisexual mc, soft sapphic romance, monster girlfriends, and wings!!!! Yes I have a thing for characters with wings, I blame it on a fanfic I read as an impressionable teen. I loved exploring all the Persian mythology, and the journey Soruya, the main character, goes on. A girl terrified of hurting someone with her poison, to someone who embraces her differences and learns to see their power, is sapphic goddess win.

A Blade so Black by L.L McKinney

Okay so I admit I’ve only read half this book, because I ran out of time and had to return it the library. Once libraries reopen I will be re-borrowing it to finish it off! This is an Alice in Wonderland retelling where Alice fights monsters with massive knives and doesn’t that just sound fantastic?! Add to that a lesbian romance and this book is killer. Alice almost dies when she is attacked by a Nightmare, a creature from Wonderland, a kind of dream realm. So of course she decides to train up and fight them. But when her mentor is poisoned by one of the Nightmares, she needs to travel far into Wonderland to find a cure, fighting monsters all the way.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

This beauty released in January this year, and has an absolutely killer cover!! This is a retelling of The Counte of Monte Cristo, which whilst I’ve never read, I have seen it discussed in the film V for Vendetta every Guy Fawkes night for the last 10 years. So. That counts. This is a book full of revenge, with Amaya looking to bring down the man who ruined her family and stole her life. I hope she stabs him. Surely that’s what that knife on the cover represents?!

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

This is the Captian Hook x Peter Pan fanfic you always wanted. I literally described this book to my partner and all he could say was ‘wow that sounds like your cup of tea’. And it so bloody is!! With a trans mc, a Peter who left Neverland to live as Wendy Darling but has come to accept his identity as a man and is now returning to Neverland as an adult. And now he has the hots for his old enemy, Captain Hook. I literally want to sob at how perfect this is.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead is one of the books releasing later this year which have caused me to dub 2020 Publishing as The Year of the Retelling. This time, of Cinderella (obviously). This is set 200 years after the story of Cinderella, in a world where girls are now required to appear at a ball once a year, where the men of the kingdom make their choices for brides based on the beauty and finery of the girls. If you aren’t picked, you’re never heard from again… Sophia, who would rather marry her best friend Erin instead of any man, runs away and hides in Cinderella’s mausoleum where she meets the last descendent of Cinderella and together they plan to take down the king for good.

A Miracle of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

This retelling sounds so brilliant and I can’t wait to see the cover when it gets revealed!! It’s a historical fantasy retelling of a Portugese miracle about a girl who turns all food she touches into flowers, following an actual Portugese saint Yzabel of Aragon. Plu! It’s sapphic! There’s an f/f relationship between Yzabel and (I assume) the enchanter she goes to to try reverse her miracle (or curse…)

Ruinsong by Julia Ember

Of all the retellings coming this year, I think this might be my favourite. I am such a big gothic fan. I’m currently taking my partner through all my old gothic films after watching the stage version of Phantom of the Opera on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s weekly Youtube musical release. I adore Phantom. Book, film, and show! So when I heard there was going to be an f/f Phantom of the Opera I think I might have died a little. In a world with music magic, Cadence has been forced to sing to torture the queendom’s disgraced nobility at the queen’s bidding. But when reuinted with a childhood friend, she needs to decide whether to free their country or become a monster herself. Is it bad that I….kinda want her to be the monster?! This sounds so brilliant, morally grey characters, possible descent to villainy, music magic and sapphic relationships, I cannot wait till November!

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

A King Arthur retelling that’s queer as fuck?! Hell fucking yes. At a local university program for talented high school students, there are demons, a secret society of Legendborn students who fight down the demons and a mage called Merlin who wants to wipe Bree’s memory when she sees one of these demons attack on her very first day on campus. The attack unlocks Bree’s own magic and memories of the death of her mother. Bree vows to become a Legendborn initiate to find out how her mother died. But the Legendborn reveal themselves as descendants of King Arthur and his knights and claim a magical war is coming. Bree must decide whether to take them down, or help them fight.

I hope you enjoyed reading about these super queer retellings and found some new books to add to your TBR! Are there any I’ve missed which you love?? I struggled narrowing down this list so they might be appearing on my blog another day this month…

Book review: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Title: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Publisher: Zephyr

Publication date: eBook – 7 May 2020 (Print: Summer 2020)

Genre: Historical | Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 432 pages


Goodreads blurb: Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Do you hear the people sing?! Singing the song of angry men! It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again!

I always knew “disaster queers in the French Revolution era” was exactly my type of shit and this book just proved it times like a million. This was such a fun riot of chaos: a rag tag group of teens get in way over their head when they rescue a prisoner who happens to control electricity. With both the Revolutionaries currently in control of France, and the Royalists desperate to return to power, both searching for the girl, the Battalion des Mortes must use all their wit, charm and sheer dumb luck to escape the clutches of all who chase them.

In Dangerous Remedy, the Revolution hasn’t really improved things all that much. Instead of a free France for all, the Revolutionaries have taken over with the same terror and fear as the Royalists before them, sending all to stand against them (and even some who don’t) to the guillotine, the symbol of the revolution. At the heart of this story are the Battalion des Mortes, a group of outcast teens trying to save the innocent from the guillotine. Our crew:

  • Camille, leader of the Battalion: headstrong, combatant and, despite her appearance of planning for her heists, sooooooo impulsive. She is at times a difficult character to like (her unwillingness to communicate causes oh so many problems and got me so mad) but this all comes from her complete devotion and passion to the Battalion which sometimes clouds her ability to think clearly.
  • Ada, our clever science researcher, desperately in love with Camille and terrified that Camille will never choose her over the Battalion. And also hiding a big secret about her father that she knows Camille will kill her for if she ever finds out.
  • Al, who I think is my personal favourite: destructive, sarcastic and just as combative as Camille, terrified to let anyone close in case they don’t care for him as he does for them, broken beyond belief thanks to his parents, and drinking himself to a slow death.
  • Guil, ex military softie, the biggest brain of them all, calm and clear headed in a crisis and the man we all need around to get us the fuck out of situations.
  • Olympe, the girl with magic, otherwise known as able to control electricity, scared and fearful of the world who hurt her but who will do whatever it takes to bring them down.
  • James, the man from Camille’s past, the healer who seemingly will do all he can to protect Cam.

These six will race against time to fool the Revolutionaries and Royalists in the most fun adventure ever. When Kat Dunn described this team as “queer disasters”, we all really underestimated how much disasters they would be, I love all of them so much. I just adore the way Dangerous Remedy opens and we’re immediately thrown into a prison break that keeps going wrong and then wrong again and then wrong again. I adore Ada’s complete “for the love of God/sounds about right” attitude throughout as disaster after disaster follows the team. They are simply the most fun to be around. I love the way Dunn both plays into and laughs at common tropes. The humour and snark really added to this book and made it into even more of the delightfully fun romp it is.

The setting is of course also fabulous. We are embedded in the artsy underworld that made Paris such a centre of the art scene, from the decadent, absinthe clubs, to the theatre scenes, I thought it perfectly captured the essence of Revolution France.

All in all this was a fabulously fun read and I can’t wait to see what happens to the Battalion des Mortes next. More disasters probably. Vive la révolution.

Book review: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Title: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Publisher: Mantle

Publication date: 10 March 2020

Genre: Historical | Adult | Gothic romance

Page extent: 352 pages


Goodreads blurb: Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .

August 1939.

Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.

Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.

As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?

Part love story, part mystery, The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is a gripping and atmospheric tale of family madness, long-buried secrets and hidden desires.

If gothic mystery and soft sapphic love surrounded by a creepy setting of taxidermy animals sounds amazing, then this is the book for you! I thought this was absolutely gorgeous, so much so, I have now added several of my favourite gothic classics to my immediate TBR and looked out all my old gothic romance films I watched as an impressionable young adult so I can show my partner and he can see how I became who I am. And why I really have A Type when it comes to my film and literature crushes.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor has one of the most interesting premises of all books releasing this year. Yes I said it! What kind of premise makes me give this statement? Well, it’s the start of WW2 and the Natural History Museum is evacuating its animals from London. Hetty, a young assistant at the museum, is tasked with looking after the mammal collection as it travels and stays at Lockwood Manor, a mysterious and haunting old manor house in the country, ruled by the irascible Lord Lockwood, a man who scorns and belittles Hetty for her passion, and his daughter, Lucy, a woman as equally mysterious as the house, who Hetty is immediately drawn to despite her oddity. (Well that was a long sentence). But when the animals start going missing, Hetty’s future at the museum is at stake as she fears any damage to the collection will be held as sorely her responsibility. And with Lord Lockwood refusing to aid in her efforts to find the thief/ghost/mysterious person behind the damage, she must discover the culprit herself.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor is a beautiful return to the setting of all of my favourite classics. This gothic romance and mystery is so reminiscent of my favourites, from Wuthering Heights to Dracula (though Lucy isn’t quite as brooding a love interest). I found the use of the museum’s creatures as a setting absolutely perfect for this style of book. It created such a disturbing atmosphere, always surrounded by thousands of the dark beady eyes of the animals, no matter where Hetty returned something following her and looking at her. It was so creepily delightful!! The story did perhaps start a little slowly, the more mystery part of the book not picking up until further through, but I found I really didn’t mind that much because the language and setting were so captivating I was happy to luxuriate and laze my way through the story.

When the mystery does kick in, the story heats up as Hetty struggles more and more viciously to live with Lord Lockwood as he exerts his control all through the house. You never really know who the real threat is, which is one the things I most adore about these gothic style novels. I was both overwhelmed with hatred for Lord Lockwood and the way he treated Hetty and the museum as if he owned them, whilst simultaneously being completely engrossed in the more supernatural elements: the woman in white who haunted Lucy’s mother and seems to haunt Lucy herself. And the longer Hetty stays at the Manor, the more she seems to be under the spell of this haunting as well…

Of course no book such as this is complete without the seemingly effortless romance of Hetty and Lucy. I love reading romances set in this time period, because the way everyone seems to laze about and lounge and languish is just so perfectly romantic to me. The start of this novel had me squealing in delight as Hetty and Lucy danced around each other, it was such a gentle and unhurried rush to the romance, full of soft brushes of fingers, a glance across a room and of course the drunken brush of lips against a cheek.

Healey has created an absolutely marvellous addition to the gothic romance genre, one I am pleased to say was as beautiful and mesmerising as I expected!

Book review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Title: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Publisher: Picador

Publication date: 11 February 2020

Genre: Historical | Adult

Page extent: 336 pages


Goodreads blurb: After a storm has killed off all the island’s men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves.

Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty evil.

As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.

Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials, The Mercies is a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.

The Mercies is an absolutely phenomenal book from the first page to the very last. It is both an incredibly detailed and well researched historical novel, and a stark and destructive picture of the brutality and devilry of human behaviour.

I’m new to Kiran Millwood Hargrave (though I do actually have another of their books on my shelf which I’ll certainly be picking up a lot sooner than anticipated!) But I’m so glad this is the novel I started with, as it is spectacular. The Mercies is inspired by the very real event of the 1617 Vardø storm, a sudden and catastrophic event which killed the majority of the men in a small fishing village in Norway. A village of newly independent women struggle between themselves for power and life in the wake of the tragedy, when to their surprise, a commissioner is brought in to lead them, a witch hunter from Scotland. He is a terrifying figure, one who works to control with his just and merciless Godly ways against “witchcraft” wielded by the indigenous peoples of Vardø.

What was most spectacular about this novel for me was the subtle and inevitable struggle between the women which results in their own downfall. The way the commissioner manipulates the women into turning on each other, destroying their friends, and becoming the despicable devils they fear, is so well done. It was so darkly written – the path to destruction was so brutally obvious and I just wanted to scream at these women to realise what was happening, despite knowing that of course there was no other way for this novel to go. It is both a story of the life of 1620 Vardø, and a depiction of the horrifying nature of humanity.

In contrast to this slow destruction is the blossoming friendship between Maren, one of the young women of the village, and Ursa, the commissioner’s innocent and unworldly wife. They are instantly besotted with one another, though of course neither realises at first, thinking their closeness and wonder of each other merely friendship. Their relationship was delicate and touching, and their love shines through even on the darkest of pages.

The Mercies is an excellently researched historical novel. The sense of setting and the life of those on Vardø is perfectly rendered, and makes for a both haunting yet enchanting setting. I was just completely enthralled.

Each and every character seemed extremely realised and considered. We have:
Maren: a young women of Vardø who is fascinated by Ursa and befriends her. She is a lonely and hurting character, destined to watch the destruction of those she loves and somehow keep living, from the brother and betrothed she lost in the storm, to her mother and Ursa.
Ursa: the young wife of the Commissioner, paid for and given away by her father to travel to the distant north and live as she has never been accustomed to before. Her delicate and nervous nature grows stronger and fiercer as her friendship and love for Maren grows.
Absalom: the terrifying Scottish Commissioner, filled with pride and undisguised glee that God’s will allows him to hunt down witches.
Dinna: destroyed and broken wife of Maren’s dead brother, trying to mother a child, and as one of the Indigenous people, forced to battle hatred and evil as those she lives with come to fear her.
Kirsten: strong and capable Kirsten who takes leadership in the village after the death of the men, who saves them from starvation, and who earns the wrath of those who wish to be in power.

The Mercies is a fabulous historical novel, showing the way fear corrupts even at the very edge of the world, a brutal and honest take at how humans can come to commit atrocities, and a beautiful and touching love story between Maren and Ursa.

Book review: Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Title: Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication date: 4 June 2019

Genre: Historical (1980s) | Young adult

Page extent: 432 pages

Goodreads blurb: It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.


Sometimes you find a book you know reading will change you. And as I now sit, my face aching from clenching my jaw to stop tears, my heart feeling ripped open and feeling the strength and courage that raged through this book, I am not surprised. Because Like a Love Story is one of those powerful, unflinchingly beautiful stories about friendship and family, love and fear, but above all else, the power of life. 

Set in the late 80s, during the height of the AIDS crisis, Iranian Reza, closeted gay teen, has moved to New York with his family. There he meets Art, beautiful, strong Art, who is so colourful and brave and lights up Reza’s life. But Reza is growing up in the age of AIDS, with the fear being drilled into young people so much that he cannot face who he is, the terror that he might die overwhelming him. Instead, he finds himself befriended by Judy, Art’s best friend. Judy is Reza’s first friend, and in his struggle to accept himself and fear of losing Judy, he begins to date her. In the backdrop of the story of these three friends, told across each of their POV’s, is the struggle and fight of the ACT UP movement. We met Stephen, Judy’s gay uncle, slowly deteriorating as the disease takes over, who introduces these teens to the world of activism and the ACT UP movement. We meet so many beautiful characters, their utter strength and courage singing through the pages, even if we only see them for a glance. Art, budding photographer, photographs individuals across the book, taking snapshots of people and moments of history, and through these images he takes and his descriptions on the page, we see these characters in such a startlingly colourful way. From just a few lines describing a moment in the book, it feels like we know them so much more as Art brings these characters to life in his POV. 

The raw emotion sweeps through this book. But despite the pain and the honest depiction of loss and death, there is such a powerful message of hope and love. We see this in the scenes at protests, the fire and drive of this community roaring; we see it in the extracts from Stephen’s notebook, a series of numbered life notes on topics like Madonna, High School and Love. But most of all, we see it in the very fabric of the book, in the relationships between these characters and they’re ability to overcome such intensely difficult odds to survive. 

Art is such a powerfully intense character – his impulsiveness drives him and his complete fearlessness in the face of fighting. 

Reza, sweet innocent Reza who is so terrified of a disease which might kill him, and so hates himself from being unable to face the truth. 

Judy, kind and loving Judy who just wants someone to appreciate her and love her, and latches on to the first person to do so. I do admit, I disliked her more than the others – I couldn’t really forgive her for her horrific reaction to Reza’s coming out, no matter how terrible that must feel to her, particularly given the way she seemed to throw herself at Reza from their first meeting without ever really waiting for him to even acknowledge or show interest in her. As Art notes, the assumptions of the heterosexuals… 

These three characters are so different and yet so entwined and their individual voices shine through so well. These characters are each spectacular in all these flaws, but I thought it was Stephen who really shined through the most. He was so vibrant on every page, across every POV, being such a driving force in the journey of each of the three teens – and ultimately, driving their acceptance of themselves, and teaching them how to love themselves as he loves them.

Whilst there are moments of pain, these are always accompanied with joy and laughter, love and life: because even when dying, there is life and love and that is the legacy of these characters, this book, and the huge history on our shoulders that is left behind. This book felt like a slice of history, I could feel the power of the ACT UP movement, the unequivocal power of Madonna and the strength she gave, and even the brief mentions of Princess Diana and the way she changed the world by shaking someone’s hand.

This book is beyond phenomenal for so many reasons. For the hope, the passion, and the raging desire to fight back and be unashamedly who you are. 

Paws out,
Rach + Draco