The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club
by Doug Henderson
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 15 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 15 Apr 2021
University of Iowa Press, University Of Iowa Press
On Thursday nights, the players assemble in the back of Readmore Comix and Games. Celeste is the dungeon master; Valerie, who works at the store, was roped in by default; Mooneyham, the banker, likes to argue; and Ben, sensitive, unemployed, and living at home, is still recovering from an unrequited love. In the real world they go about their days falling in love, coming out at work, and dealing with their family lives all with varying degrees of success. But in the world of their fantasy game, they are heroes and wizards fighting to stop an evil cult from waking a sleeping god.
But then a sexy new guy, Albert, joins the club, Ben’s character is killed, and Mooneyham’s boyfriend is accosted on the street. The connections and parallels between the real world and the fantasy one become stronger and more important than ever as Ben struggles to bring his character back to life and win Albert’s affection, and the group unites to organize a protest at a neighborhood bar. All the while the slighted and competing vampire role playing club, working secretly in the shadows, begins to make its move.
“Henderson has created something special—part Hobbit and part Breakfast Club—a bittersweet story of love and friendship that tackles big subjects like homophobia, social anxiety, and coming out with a touch of magic. Even if you can’t tell neutral-chaotic from lawful-good, or a paladin from a druid, you’ll be swept up with Ben and his lovable band of outsiders—where the game becomes a map for real life and real life sets the course for the game.”—K. M. Soehnlein, The World of Normal Boys
“It turns out that you don’t have to be a gay gamer nerd from Ohio to love Doug Henderson’s novel The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club. You just need to be someone who likes to laugh, or likes to watch people awkwardly attempt love and friendship, or likes to read a sweet, funny story about that time the geek got the boy. Henderson is a quirky, terrific, entertaining storyteller.”—Lori Ostlund, After the Parade
Average rating from 111 members
A unique story about a group of friends and their struggles in love. I enjoyed the good characters and fun plots.
As someone who's never played a ttrpg before (but does love gaming) this book was a gamble and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The feel of this book brought back memories of movies in the 80's centered around high school, growing up and slowly moving into your adult life. I liked the mix of characters and the slight nerdiness that surrounded them, they came across as realistic. The writer handles different topics like coming out, first love, discrimination and treats the characters with respect while also leaving the reader with a satisfied feeling at the end. The balance between the characters felt a little off for me personally...it seemed like Ben and Mooneyham had a more fleshed out character with growth towards the end of the book, while Celeste remained very superficial and Valerie had a little more depth but it did feel like she hadn't gotten as much attention as the two boys. Nevertheless, I recommend this book to anyone who likes reading about new adults and their adventures. In real life and game life. *** An ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for a honest review. ***
I'll admit I'm a bit of a geek, I enjoy conventions, and role playing, and dungeons and dragons. So when I saw the title of this book I thought "heck yeah, this is my jam." And ya know what? It really was. Sometimes I read fandom books and it's just so obvious that the author is trying to jam every single nerdy thing they can in there and it's honestly annoying, but honestly this just felt like a Friday night with my friends. I especially love Valerie, she's so funny and kind of self-aware. Like some vampire dude yells at her and she's just like "bruh." She's wonderful and I love her. Mooneyham is great too, like his intro is just bursting into the room and calling everyone fudge nuggets and I could not stop laughing. Although Valerie is my favorite character, I liked Mooneyham's story the best out of all the characters. And Ben and Albert were cute as well, I thought they had good chemistry. This was a really cute book and if you like dungeons and dragons and other nerdy things you should definitely check this out!
This was wonderfully written and incredibly descriptive! It had a story within a story and I didn't want either of them to end. Seeing characters who were so human and so relateable going through their everyday lives was so enjoyable. Its just a lovely, lighthearted read that really made me smile. I hope that Doug Henderson writes more of these, because I will happily sit down to read more stories about Valerie, Celeste, Mooneyham, Huey, Ben and Alfred exploring the depths of Dungeons and Dragons, and seeing how they grow and mature as people.
Loved this book. Liked the characters and I also liked the storyline for each character. It was fast paced and an easy read. I feel like this book will do well with young people because of the different characters and LGBT + representation which we need so much more of it in books.
I’ll confess — I thought this book was fantasy when I saw the description; my brain obviously tricked me into thinking it was some kind of queer “the sleeping dragon”. What it is instead is a cute story about a group of LGBTQ friends whose real lives are reflected in their role-playing adventures. The real world climax harkened back to the queer activism of the late 90s and early 2000s, when kiss-ins and guerilla gay bars cast defiance at homophobia. While this book was not what I’d expected, it was what I needed - a reminder that every day is an adventure, that every one can be a hero, and that love is the real magic.
I love D&D. I first started playing when I was in high school. I would always play a paladin or a ranger. My ranger was always named Ranger Rick James because, come on, if you have a good name, you stick with it. One night, we were playing at my house instead of our DMs. We played until around 5 AM in our dining room. Joel kept wanting a tower shield for no other reason than that it is cool. Bill made sure we were trap free as we ventured through a dungeon, constantly stopping to “check for traps!” He somehow found a toy magnifying glass in my house and, man, that was funny. Eventually, we were all goofing off when someone somehow rammed the back of their head into Ian, our DMs, face and gave him a real bad black eye. I found some frozen veggies for his eye. It was the most memorable game I played with them. The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club by Doug Henderson took me back to those high school campaigns. The groups were full of angst and internal conflicts, but they all gathered for the love of their favorite game. The book focuses on three characters: Valerie, Mooneyham, and Ben. Celeste, their DM, introduces a new person into their group, Albert. He’s beautiful and cool and Ben doesn’t think he is there for all the right reasons. But, he’s also nice to Ben, something he isn’t used to. During their first session as a group, Ben’s character is killed. Albert, the paladin (oh yeah baby), wants to venture into the City of the Dead to bring him back. Of course, this is all the proof Ben needs that Albert likes him. Unfortunately, he’s dating Ben’s sort-of ex boyfriend. Meanwhile, Valerie is being followed by a top-hatted mystery man named Varnec. He’s one of those guys who dresses up like a vampire and is just straight-up weird. All the while, she’s trying to adapt to working a full-time job for the first time in her life. Mooneyham is closeted and works at a bank where he’s part of a group of guys who are aiming for the top. Things are going great until his boyfriend informs him that he was by a group of men while walking home from work. When Mooneyham finds out that one of the guys from the bank is in the group, he struggles with how to come out to these hyper-masculine idiots that he works with. It’s a beautiful book full of love and humor and heartbreak and joy. Anyone who grew up against society’s norms can see themselves in some character of this book. Henderson’s understanding of not only the game, but of how people interact during a campaign is something to behold. I’m most likely going to pick this up when it comes out on April 15, 2021. 5/5, 10/10
How could you not want to read a book called The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club? Doug Henderson’s new book had me from the title and fun cover. Luckily, I got an ARC from Netgalley and University of Iowa Press to allow me to write an honest review. This book about a group of friends who play Dungeons and Dragons every week was a nice light book that was just what I needed during a dreary winter. Was it perfect? No, but I was willing to let the flaws slide. I wish Ben wasn’t written as the stereotypical nerd, but there is enough diversity within the cast of characters that he made up for it. There were actually too many characters in my opinion. and the storyline got muddled with things that weren’t important or necessary (ie. the vampire story). I think Henderson wanted to tackle a lot of issues from love to sex to discrimination to anxiety and more, which is great, but leads to us just getting a taste of each instead of a full meal. I don’t feel like I fully understand most of the characters.
Okay, this was so cute!! I went into this thinking it was going to be a fantasy but it turned out to be a contemporary story about the people in that role playing club and them playing out some of the scenarios from their real life and I kinda fell head over heels in love with these doofuses! Found family and unlikely friendships always get me going and this was just such a nice example of that! Definitely a great pick-me-up after a long week at work!
I’ve been thinking a bit about how to approach reviewing this novel. Let me be very clear, I absolutely loved it, and I really enjoyed the very raw and emotional struggles and triumphs Mr. Henderson very smoothly navigates in it. My quandary comes from approaching this book without discounting the very heartfelt issues presented within. Yes, this is a LGBTQ+ focused story, but, while the viewpoint is presented from and about largely homosexual characters, the core story presents situations and feelings that are far more inclusive. Plus, its about the amazing glue that a game of Dungeons & Dragons sticks people together with. Ben is a young man of twenty-five who lives in his parents basement with his cat — Onigiri — and spends his time thrifting and selling old toys and collectables online. Ben is openly gay, but has never really had a real relationship. Ben is also a member of a gay gaming group at a Cleveland-area local comic book and gaming shop along with the other primary characters of this story. This is the annoying part of any of my reviews where I tell you that I’m not going to tell you anything more about the story, but, in this case, I think that it is particularly important not to. The primary charm for me, aside from the amazing role play that happens during the gaming sessions, is how each character, and their story, unfolds in the context of where everything opens. The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club (a title that I absolutely love and is an utter mouthful) is about how each of these individuals set up their personal orbits: how each of the characters sees themselves, and the whos and whats they surround themselves with. Everything in this book seems so incredibly personal to me, and, while I started out trying to identify with it as a gamer, I realized very quickly that the identification really came from being a normal human with human doubts, fears and desires. This story loops way out into the day-to-day hopes and angst of just being a member of society in a harsh reality, and then circles right back in to the semi-controlled comfort of the Thursday night gaming session. There is even a little jab at discrimination that doesn’t exactly land where the reader thinks it might land. This was a hidden gem for me. I really thought there might be more “in-world” parts of the book, but I found myself turning more from that aspect being the core of the story to seeing as the neutral ground each of the characters could work out their inter-personal issues with. Kudos to Mr. Henderson for presenting probably the most realistic — to my experience — gaming session presentation I have ever read about in a work of fiction. This one is a real winner.
I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to others and would read more by this author in the future.
A touching story of finding your way through life and love. The story follows a group of nerds who meet weekly to send their paladins, wizards and bards on magical adventures. Each player has real life issues of loneliness, acceptance and terrible awkwardness that seem to follow them through the adventures in the game. When a new handsome player enters the game, it shakes up the friends in unforeseen ways. The characters in the game have enemies to contend with and that mirrors events in the real world for the players. Even though I am not a gamer, I've had enough exposure to it to appreciate the love the players have for the game and truly did find myself laughing out loud numerous times. There is a wonderful mix of humor and longing that feels very much like the gang in the movie The Breakfast Club. I enjoyed the story of the game and really would have loved more of it, and it was woven into the larger story very effectively. It doesn't matter if you have never been a gamer or are unfamiliar with D&D, you can find connections to these characters and their struggles with discrimination and intimacy.
I loved the way the author did the RPG portions of the book. They blended this game into the story and wrote it as if we're actually happening instead of "they played D&D and fought about what to do next." The main character was a bit dramatic, but in a believable way. The interactions between character felt genuine, but I did feel we could have explored more with Valerie and Celeste. The LGBTQ aspects of the book seemed forced at first. The author seemed to be yelling "look we're gay!" It got more subtle as it went on and overall I liked the book. I'd recommend this to all your RPG gamer friends and your nerdy gay friends, as well!
The absolute best part of this book was how wonderfully nerd centric it was! Role playing, D&D, cosplay, comic books, action figures, video games, Ninja Turtles. It was all oh so wonderful. And I really loved the way the book would move between reality and the game. We would be in the game play watching the characters go through it. Which was a really fun way to incorporate the fantasy element! I enjoyed the beginning and most of the middle part of it. The characters were cute and I enjoyed getting to know them. But somewhere just past the halfway point we started getting chapters about more and more of the characters in the club and while I wanted to learn about them it felt like taking snippets of lots of things instead of big chunks of a few. Basically we only got to we only got to scrape the surface of everyone instead of really learning about them. I felt like some of the characters were cheated out of a real story. And then the ending kind of wrapped up too perfectly and too quickly and by focusing on only a couple of the characters. I enjoyed the read and would recommend it but I did feel like the author was trying to hard in places. But it did have some really fun moments.
I read this book as an ARC from Netgalley--thank you! Every Thursday, a small group of queer friends meet in the backroom of a local comic bookstore to play D&D. But a way too cute new member, a creepy local vampire dude, and a homophobic encounter at a nearby bar will soon push the group to the edge of disaster. Though it has a few problems, I found myself often charmed by this book. The writing is really solid and the characters are sympathetic. I liked the chapters of D&D gameplay and the cute little ways that the real world would invade the game--and vice versa. The heart of the book is Ben, and his journey is definitely the most compelling part. This book is a peaceful weekend read. Though the story is not fully realized (often lost the plot), and the ending felt like it ran out of steam a little, the book's heart kept me quite engaged. This story of found family and nerd love will surely find a home with many readers, as it did with me. CW: deadnaming
Since I have only received, read and reviewed a very few ARC's yet, this definitely won't sound as impressive as I wish it would, but I still have to say that this has been, by far, the best ARC I have had the chance to read. I enjoyed how there were scenes from the fantasy world of the roleplay inserted between the "regular" scenes. I loved how every character was unique, different and interesting, and I loved how they all had their own story. Yes, it was still obvious and easy to tell that Ben was the main character, but the other characters weren't pushed into the background and into the shadow just so Ben could shine. Thing is, Ben didn't shine, actually. He is a very flawed character, who makes mistakes, bad decisions, and has his fair share of a messy life - but that's exactly what makes him so likeable. He is a nerd, he's unemployed, has no real relationship experience, live with his parents... And honestly, I don't think I've ever related to a character as much as I did to him. I loved the characters' friendship dynamic. I loved that they're the type of friend group where they don't hang out all the time, where they don't know every tiniest detail about each other, but they still know they can count on each other and would stand up for each other. The story was slow, but that suited this book well, and what I especially liked is that even the "bad" characters had good sides too, they weren't just there so readers could hate on someone. You could actually understand what they do and why they do it. My only problem with this book was that it was too short, and it ended right at the best part. Please, please, please, someone let the author know that I would absolutely adore a sequel. Or several sequels. A whole series. Seven books like Harry Potter. Pretty please just give me more of these adorkable geeks. Thank you!
I don’t know why this book doesn’t have better reviews, I thought it was fun and clever and I liked the characters. Certain moments of the D&D story were absurd in the best way and I got looks from my fiancé for chuckling out loud several times. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d love a sequel with a different campaign. I think Celeste would make a great protagonist. Thank you NetGalley, author and publisher for the arc in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.