reading room

Seedy bath houses, apocalyptic manhunts, & daddies from hell: 8 not-so-cutesy queer books

If you’re like us, you devoured season 2 of Heartstopper (based on the popular graphic novels by Alice Osman) within hours of it dropping on Netflix.

Same with Prime Video’s recent gay romcom, Red, White and Royal Blue, based on the novel of the same name by Casey McQuiston.

Which we get. Nothing beats the warm-and-fuzzy feeling of reading (or watching… or re-watching) a cutesy story about finding love when you are queer.

But let’s be real: cutesy doesn’t always cut it.

As grown ass, LGBTQ-adults, sometimes, we need to be reminded of life’s sexy, thrilling, disturbing horrors: No adorable meet cutes, no will-they-won’t-they sexual tension, and especially no strictly-sensual sex scenes clearly written for young adult audiences.

No, sometimes all we need is a good ol’ queer story written entirely for adults–full of passionate gay sex, graphic horror, meaningful social commentary, and the kind of twists that will leave your head spinning.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of 8 not-so-YA-friendly LGBTQ+ books geared specifically toward adults, all written by members of the LGBTQ+ community. They’re exactly the kind of books that would make Heartstopper‘s Charlie and Nick blush…

The book that puts the ‘T’ in trauma: The Lookback Window by Kyle Dillon Hertz

The Plot: Growing up in suburban New York, Dylan lived through the unfathomable: three years as a victim of sex trafficking at the hands of Vincent, a troubled young man who promised to marry Dylan when he turned eighteen. Years later—long after a police investigation that went nowhere, and after the statute of limitations for the crimes perpetrated against him have run out—the long shadow of Dylan’s trauma still looms over the fragile life in the city he’s managed to build with his fiancé, Moans, who knows little of Dylan’s past.

Then a groundbreaking new law—the Child Victims Act—opens a new way forward: a one-year window during which Dylan can sue his abusers. But for someone who was trafficked as a child, does money represent justice—does his pain have a price? As Dylan is forced to look back at what happened to him and try to make sense of his past, he begins to explore a drug and sex-fueled world of bathhouses, clubs, and strangers’ apartments, only to emerge, barely alive, with a new clarity of purpose: a righteous determination to gaze, unflinching, upon the brutal men whose faces have haunted him for a decade, and to extract justice on his own terms.

What Readers Say: “The portrayal of PTSD was well written and the impulsive behaviors Dylan uses to cope add a layered morally grey aspect to his character and the story. While there are some consensual gay ‘spicy’ moments, a lot of the content and detailing of Dylan’s past is disturbing and vividly detailed.” – M Sloan on Amazon

“It’s truly a sadly realistic look at the effects of abuse- he is a frustrating character to follow, you SO BADLY want to root for him, but he just keeps spiraling down destructive paths and decisions, relying heavily on drugs and other sexual experiences to fulfill. It’s very raw and watching Dylan unravel can be difficult to stomach at times, but it’s… fascinating and important.” – Matt on Goodreads

The whimsical book that’ll make you laugh and cry: Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

The Plot: When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.

And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.

But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home.

What Readers Say: “I loved the representation in this book. With characters of color and/or from the LGBTQ+ community, it’s beautiful to be able to read a book with representation… I would recommend this to any fantasy lovers who like emotional moments in their novels!” – Ellie on Goodreads

“Make sure you have a box of tissues, and you’re somewhere you can ugly-cry because this book has all the feelings. While death is traditionally a complex topic, I appreciate how Klune allows hope and light to come from what is usually a somber event.” – Beguiled by Books on Amazon

The coming-of-age novel that will leave you speechless: My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson

The Plot: Earl “Trey” Singleton III arrives in New York City with only a few dollars in his pocket. Born into a wealthy Black Indianapolis family, at 17, he is ready to leave his overbearing parents and their expectations behind.

In the city, Trey meets up with a cast of characters that changes his life forever. He volunteers at a renegade home hospice for AIDS patients, and after being put to the test by gay rights activists, becomes a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Along the way Trey attempts to navigate past traumas and searches for ways to maintain familial relationships―all while seeking the meaning of life amid so much death.

Vibrant, humorous, and fraught with entanglements, Rasheed Newson’s My Government Means to Kill Me is an exhilarating, fast-paced coming-of-age story that lends itself to a larger discussion about what it means for a young gay Black man in the mid-1980s to come to terms with his role in the midst of a political and social reckoning.

What Readers Say: “The author perfectly captures the conflicting emotions of [the 1980s]. The joy of self-discovery and acceptance, independence, and reveling in the days of uninhibited sex, clashing with the societal oppression, ignorance and the fear and confusion caused by the AIDS pandemic.” – Robert A. Karl on Amazon

“I am left speechless.” – Ines on Goodreads

The LGBTQ+ thriller that’ll keep you guessing: Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon

The Plot: Oliver Park, a recovering addict from Indiana, finally has everything he ever wanted: sobriety and a loving, wealthy partner in Nathan, a prominent DC trauma surgeon. Despite their difference in age and disparate backgrounds, they’ve made a perfect life together. With everything to lose, Oliver shouldn’t be visiting Haus, a gay bathhouse. But through the entrance he goes, and it’s a line crossed. Inside, he follows a man into a private room, and it’s the final line. Whatever happens next, Nathan can never know. But then, everything goes wrong, terribly wrong, and Oliver barely escapes with his life.

He races home in full-blown terror as the hand-shaped bruise grows dark on his neck. The truth will destroy Nathan and everything they have together, so Oliver does the thing he used to do so well: he lies.

What follows is a classic runaway-train narrative, full of the exquisite escalations, edge-of-your-seat thrills, and oh-my-god twists.

What Readers Say: “This book was sexy, smart and had me guessing to the end. I thought I had it figured out part way through, and so smugly started dancing in my seat at the end because I thought I got it right, only to be smacked across the face with the truth. Damn. The pacing was on point. The characters were complex. Add in a touch of steam?! Double damn.” – Laura B. on Amazon

“Think you know where this book is going? Trust me. You don’t. Great characters and pacing will keep you turning pages until the end.” – Eileen C. on Amazon

The divisive (and we mean divisive) TERF-hunting, post-apocalyptic novel: Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin

The Plot: Beth and Fran spend their days traveling the ravaged New England coast, hunting feral men and harvesting their organs in a gruesome effort to ensure they’ll never face the same fate.

Robbie lives by his gun and one hard-learned motto: other people aren’t safe.

After a brutal accident entwines the three of them, this found family of survivors must navigate murderous TERFs, a sociopathic billionaire bunker brat, and awkward relationship dynamics―all while outrunning packs of feral men, and their own demons.

What Readers Say: “The characters feel so real, they are written with such raw honesty. I have never seen trans characters written in such a way. Often I’ve seen writers avoid the messier, ‘unacceptable’ aspects of trans characters for fear of being misunderstood… Felker-Martin does not shy away from this, and in fact seems to lean into it… The subject matter is gruesome and exposed in an impressive level of disgusting detail. Not for the faint of heart.” – Danny on Amazon

Manhunt is a ruthless novel that nobody is prepared for. This is going to change horror for the better. This is a dystopian work filled with bloodshed, engaging characters, and showers the reader with trans normality, queer love, diversity and the oppression that one has to suffer through for being true to themselves.” – Toby on Goodreads

The book that introduces you to a daddy from Hell: Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage

The Plot: Jonah Keller moved to New York City with dreams of becoming a successful playwright, but, for the time being, lives in a rundown sublet in Bushwick, working extra hours at a restaurant only to barely make rent. When he stumbles upon a photo of Richard Shriver—the glamorous Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and quite possibly the stepping stone to the fame he craves—Jonah orchestrates their meeting. The two begin a hungry, passionate affair.

When summer arrives, Richard invites his young lover for a spell at his sprawling estate in the Hamptons. A tall iron fence surrounds the idyllic compound where Richard and a few of his close artist friends entertain, have lavish dinners, and—Jonah can’t help but notice—employ a waitstaff of young, attractive gay men, many of whom sport ugly bruises. Soon, Jonah is cast out of Richard’s good graces and a sinister underlay begins to emerge. As a series of transgressions lead inexorably to a violent climax, Jonah hurtles toward a decisive revenge that will shape the rest of his life.

What Readers Say: “Wow. Yes, Daddy is thought-provoking, disturbing, and emotional commentary on the power dynamics in a relationship and how easy it is to find yourself powerless. It’s a fascinating look at #MeToo from a gay man’s perspective.” – Larry H on Goodreads

“I can’t even begin to tell you how very dark this book is. It’s excruciating at times. I was cringing and squirming while reading several scenes all the while my blood was boiling and my heart was breaking. That is no easy feat for an author to pull off but Jonathan Parks-Ramage did it effortlessly.” – Michelle on Goodreads

The book that could basically be its own Black Mirror episode: The One by John Marrs

The Plot: How far would you go to find The One? A simple DNA test is all it takes. Just a quick mouth swab and soon you’ll be matched with your perfect partner—the one you’re genetically made for.

That’s the promise made by Match Your DNA. A decade ago, the company announced that they had found the gene that pairs each of us with our soul mate. Since then, millions of people around the world have been matched. But the discovery has its downsides: test results have led to the breakup of countless relationships and upended the traditional ideas of dating, romance and love.

Now five very different people have received the notification that they’ve been “Matched.” They’re each about to meet their one true love. But “happily ever after” isn’t guaranteed for everyone. Because even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking than others…

What Readers Say: “This book took me by surprise and absolutely wrecked me. The different story lines and short chapters made this book hard to put down… Nick’s story made my little gay heart happy by including an LGBT storyline.” – Stacy on Goodreads

“This story is unlike any I’ve read in a long time. I loved the cleverness and the imagination, the thrills, the chills, the twist and turns, and how thought provoking it was, considering the atmosphere. This is wild, crazy ride, riveting, wildly entertaining, and at times darkly humorous.” – Julie on Goodreads

The gay open marriage thriller we never knew we needed: Seeing Strangers by Sebastian J. Plata

The Plot: Life is going well for Greg Kelly. He’s married to Cristian, a Spanish-born artist who is handsome, kind, and can even cook. Greg’s work as a translator for an IT startup allows them to live comfortably in a chic Bushwick two bedroom and enjoy just about all NYC has to offer―including sleeping with other men. Greg and Cristian’s marriage has been open for the past few years, and this arrangement has been particularly appealing to Greg due to his voracious sexual appetite. But as they approach their mid-thirties, fatherhood and adulthood call and they enlist a friend to act as surrogate.

In order to focus on building a family, Greg and Cristian decide to close their marriage when the baby arrives. Greg is going to miss his hookups, but he has the summer for one last hurrah. He methodically plans his connections via Grindr and Tinder, carefully coordinates train routes for lunchtime trysts, and scouts potential candidates anywhere, anytime.

As their baby’s due date draws closer, anxiety sets in over Greg’s impending parental responsibilities, the loss of his sexual freedom, and even his marriage to Cristian. But before he can sort out his feelings, an old hookup reappears―Russell, an arrogant tv producer, who Greg spurned. And the problem is, Russell just won’t go away, infiltrating himself into Greg’s life in the worst ways possible, threatening his marriage and sanity. But what Russell doesn’t know is that Greg will stop at nothing to protect both.

What Readers Say: “This book messed me up… I think every gay relationship has a moment in their lives where they question if polyamory would be for them—whether they’d actually want to do it or not. This book scared the F outta me because having trysts with people who could potentially seek and destroy what you love most is my worst nightmare. This book is steamy AF and juicy as hell, and when the book turns upside down, you’ll be on the edge of your seat.” – Dennis on Goodreads

Alright, enough from us! Tell us fellow bookworms: which LGBTQ+ novels did we miss?