Starting Fresh

Currently Reading: Normal People, by Sally Rooney

One of my favourite things to do as a bookseller is to work with customers to find them the perfect book. It helps that the shop that I work in is so well-curated, because it makes the job a lot easier. I also understand that not everyone has a carefully curated indie accessible to them, and not every bookseller loves to give recs. Sometimes, in my spare time, I’ll give recs to folks in my life or online for fun, or for practice looking for something that’s outside of my wheelhouse. 

When a mutual of mine on Twitter mentioned that they had been a voracious reader as a child, but had had trouble finding books that resonated with them as an adult, I was excited to give them some recs, as they’d recently been working through a shelf purge and needed some enticing things to fill in the gaps. 

They told me:
1. They wanted to read more LGBTQ lit, but that they wanted to avoid anything that addressed trauma.
2. They enjoyed reading YA.
3. Three of their recent faves included Looking for Alaska, Roller Girl, and the Dispossessed

My Picks

My first pick was Check, Please!, by Ngozi Ukazu. This is a new YA graphic novel about sweet, queer, masculine hockey players. I picked this in part because I knew the person I was picking these books for through #DerbyTwitter, and thought that maybe another heartwarming, sports-related graphic would go over well. 

Next, I picked a charming, character-driven graphic novel. I personally read this in one sitting while selling books at a vendor table, and despite the bubblegum pink cover, it charmed the hell out of me. The book is The Prince and the Dressmaker, from Jen Wang. I gave this book bonus points for having positive non-binary trans representation, and pretty (drawings of) dresses, which is a total soft spot of mine.

Because they had mentioned the Le Guin, I also sought out a future dys/utopian hero story, and landed on Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles, even though it’s not explicitly a queer book. Later, I learned that it falls somewhat into the “bury your gays” trope – so if it’s something that a reader is particularly sensitive to, I won’t go down this road again. That said, it is a book that has strong WOC protagonists, and it is #OwnVoices. Now, you can also check out the second book in the duology, released earlier this year.

Finally, riffing on the John Green fave from above, I sought out a dramatic, queer, contemporary love story. I gave these recs a while back, and at the time I decided on Nic Stone’s newest, hadn’t been released yet. Odd One Out is a fresh take on an old story, a teenage love triangle. Unfortunately, this book has turned out to have some awkward bi-shamey content. If I were giving these recs now, I’d instead turn to a fan favourite – Red, White, and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston, is a quippy, fast-paced, fluffy contemporary queer romance that I enjoyed earlier this year. One of my favourite aspects is that it also paints a picture of an alt-history United States that made my political heart yearn for better times.

Response?

Well, the person who I gave these recommendations to raved about the Prince and the Dressmaker in particular – and also read it in a single sitting. Ftw! 

If you enjoyed reading these recommendations, and would like some of your own, head on over to my contact page, and send me a message! I love giving recs and readers’ advisory, and have lots of experience from my work as a bookseller.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Spooky Books for Sunny Seasons

Currently Reading: Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

Recent Picture Recent Releases

The cover of When Aidan Became a Brother, by Kyle Lukoff and Kaylani Juanita.

Before I dive in to the recommendations I have this week, I want to make quick reference to two recently-released picture books featuring trans characters. Both of these books came out on June 4th, and would be a great addition to any personal or classroom library. They are, When Aidan Became a Brother, by Kyle Lukoff, and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, and It Feels Good to Be Yourself, by Theresa Thorn, and illustrated by enby artist Noah Grigni. Be sure to check these out, and if you’re able, consider ordering them through your local independent bookshop!

The cover of It Feels Good to Be Yourself, by Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni.

New Releases to Give You Chills

I grew up on an island in the North Atlantic. My body was not built for hot weather! If you’re like me, and you are seeking some spooky stories to beat the heat this summer, or a captivating thriller to keep you enthralled on the beach, I have recommendations for you, because there are some incredible grimdark tales set to release in the summer months this year.

Spring 2019

The cover of the Wise and the Wicked, by Rebecca Podos.

There are a couple of books that came out this spring that definitely fit the bill in terms of un-put-down-able reads for a spooky summer. I’ve written about one of these already, The Wise and the Wicked, by Rebecca Podos, which came out this May, but it deserves a second mention here. This is one of my favourite reads of 2019 so far, hands down, and as a bonus, it features affirming and interesting trans representation. This YA title came out in May, and is available now.

The cover of The Van Apfel Girls are Fone, by Felicity McLean.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, by Australian author Felicity McLean, also came out this past spring. This book is described as a thriller, and although I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it that way, it is a great, suspenseful book. I’ve seen it categorized as YA, but it has great potential as a YA/adult crossover.

I got a review copy of this book through Edelweiss+, and I loved it. I picked it up in part because it was described as “quintessentially Australian”, and I’d never read an Australian title before, so I wanted to see what that meant. In the end, I could not put this book down, and I learned a lot. It made me curious to read books by other Australian authors!

Although the plotline is focused on the disappearance of three girls, the narrative centres on how we process childhood memories as a adults, and how we come to terms with childhood grief. The story is not super sad, and it’s extremely compelling. CW for missing children, cancer, and death. The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone was released in April, and is available now.

July

The cover of The Best Lies, by Sarah Lyu.

Sarah Lyu’s The Best Lies is the perfect one-sitting YA thriller for a rainy day at the cottage or sprawling on the beach. I grabbed this book from Edelweiss+ because I thought it would be fast-paced and formulaic – but wow, was I wrong. This psychological thriller gets deep fast, and I didn’t want to put it down. We know from the beginning of this book that the protagonist’s boyfriend is dead, that he was shot, and that the person who killed him is the MC’s best friend. Very quickly, we learn that nothing is as it seems for this character, an unreliable narrator, or for the reader.

This story is told in two timelines – one that begins three hours after the death of Remy’s boyfriend, and one that begins nearly a year earlier, when Remy met her best friend for the first time. As the plot of this murder mystery unfolds, the pacing and suspense both build, and readers are lead through an exploration of trauma, abuse, queerness, gun violence, and love. It’s a fantastic, if difficult read. I would recommend this book to any teen, educators interested in inclusive discussions about healthy relationships and boundaries, and adult readers alike. CW for domestic violence and obsessive behaviour. The Best Lies is available for pre-order now, and will be released on July 2nd.

The cover of Destroy All Monsters, by Sam J. Miller.

Both of my other July recommendations are books that deal with issues of mental health in a nuanced, sometimes suspenseful, and sometimes fantastical way. Both of these books reflected aspects of my own experiences in ways that kept me reading. I got an eARC of Destroy All Monsters from Edelweiss+ based on the recommendation of one of the owners of the shop where I work. Her description of this YA title really drew me in. Destroy All Monsters is by Sam J. Miller, a gay author, and is told from the perspectives of two friends, Solomon and Ash, who both experienced a traumatic event prior to the beginning of the narrative. Solomon suffers from psychosis and inhabits a rich inner world that is explored through his fantastical chapters, whereas Ash only experiences Solomon’s fantasies through the lens of her camera. The friends do not remember the trauma that they share, and this book explores their journey of discovery together.

I loved aspects of this book, but there were aspects that were disappointing. The treatment of mental illness in this book was skillful, however the ending was particularly unsatisfying for me, given the centrality and depth of the narrators’ friendship throughout the book. That said, for readers interested in exploring themes around trauma and who like fantasy worlds with awesome sky-dragons and suspenseful plotlines, this book is still a great read. This book comes out on July 2nd, and is available for pre-order now. CW for childhood trauma and sexual abuse.

The cover of Fractalistic, by Gerardo Delgadillo, which shows the image of a girl with eyes closed and hair spread above her head, as though she is floating. The background is a mixture of opaque images of stars and waves, and the cover is largely in monochromatic colours.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know already that it’s not often that I will pick up a book that’s written by an author who appears to be a cis het white man… but seriously, if that cover doesn’t draw you in, I’m not sure what will. Shoutout to Shayne Leighton, who designed this, and most of the other Parliament House Press Covers, for grabbing my interest in Fractalistic, by Gerardo Delgadillo, which I got as an eARC through NetGalley.

For me, Fractalistic did have some tell-tale signs regarding the author’s privilege. None of the feminine characters in the book had the understanding of technology that the MC’s male love interest did. The male love interest’s future was also of great concern, whereas the futures of the female characters was never discussed in seriousness. In addition, although the book featured a racially diverse cast, the Spanish used because of the Mexican setting was all translated nearly word for word, and other aspects of diversity were lacking. All of the characters in the book were cisgendered, and the multiple romantic storylines were all heterosexual.

The other aspect of this book that was disappointing was that the technology itself was not well-described. I was surprised to read that the author is himself a coder, since it felt to me as though it was written by someone without a thorough understanding of the subject matter, but obviously it was a problem of translation and not of comprehension.

Even with the books flaws, I have to say that I ate it up. It’s a YA/adult crossover, so I would recommend it to mature readers of any age. Fractalistic is an absolute fever dream, and it was a spooky pleasure to let it wash over me. What was even more of a pleasure was that the surprising conclusion of the book was emotionally satisfying and had a lot of poignant things to say about the experience of mental illness. As a reader who has experienced many symptoms of neurodivergence and mental illness throughout my life, this book felt resonant and reflective of my experiences, and it was really enjoyable to read. Fractalistic comes out on July 9th, and is available for pre-order. CW for death of a parent, psychosis, gaslighting and manipulation.

(PS, if you like Fractalistic, but you are also a fan of cozy mystery, YA romance, and publishing world intrigue? Keep your eye out for The Undoing of Thistle Tate, by Katelyn Detweiler, which comes out on July 23rd. I DNF’d this book because the tropes weren’t for me – but it’s a bit more lighthearted than Fractalistic and has a lot of similar appeal!)

August

The cover of Here There Are Monsters, By Amelinda Bérubé.

I got an eARC of the YA novel Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé through NetGalley. Although Here There Are Monsters might not have been my favourite spooky read of this year, I think it might be the perfect book to take to a beach. This book is a classic monster murder horror story. There’s nothing too heady here, and there’s a lot of really great, creepy imagery. The main character’s sister disappears in the first pages of the novel, and the rest of the story follows the MC’s quest to get her back from the monsters in the haunted wood behind their house.

Although this story is predictable and tropey, it’s well-written, and the characters are relatable. It’s a quick read, making it perfect for evoking spooky feels on a summer day. I didn’t have strong feelings about this book, but I enjoyed it. CW for violence, and off-the-page death of an animal. Here There Are Monsters drops on August 1st, and is available for pre-order now.

If you enjoyed reading these recommendations, and would like some of your own, head on over to my contact page, and send me a message! I love giving recs and readers’ advisory, and have lots of experience from my work as a bookseller.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Non-Fiction about Gender and Trans Experiences!

Currently Reading: A Dress for the Wicked, by Autumn Krause

A question that I get asked all the time is what people should read if they want to learn about trans experiences. Most often, this question comes from people who have a trans person in their social circles, and folks are almost always seeking non-fiction titles. For a long time, I’ve been maintaining a long list of recommendations, and I figured it was high time to publish it as a resource here.

It’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list. These are the books that I would personally recommend – as a non-binary trans person, as a bookseller at a shop that specializes in LGBTQIA2S+ non-fiction, and as a reader in community. It should also be noted that not all of these books speak directly to the experiences of trans people, however all of them are trans-affirming. FINAL NOTE: These titles are listed in no particular order, because I struggled to land on an organizational system and finally just… didn’t.

I hope that this resource will be useful, and that if you feel I’ve missed something significant, you’ll fire me a message and let me know!

Adult Non-Fiction (General)

  • Transgender History, Susan Stryker, 2008
  • Who’s Your Daddy?, by Rachel Epstein and Tobi Hill-Meyer, 2009
  • Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, by Julia Serano, 2013
  • To My Trans Sisters, by Charlie Craggs, 2017
  • Tomboy Survival Guide, by Ivan Coyote, 2016
  • “You’re In The Wrong Bathroom”: And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People, by Laura Erikson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs, 2017
  • I’m Afraid of Men, by Vivek Shraya, 2018
  • The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution, by Ann Travers, 2018
  • Fired Up About Reproductive Rights, by Jane Kirby, 2017
  • She/He/They/Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters, by Robyn Ryle, 2019
  • Queer Magic: Power Beyond Boundaries, by Lee Harrington, 2018
  • Fucking Trans Women, by Mira Bellwether, 2010
  • Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives, by Nia King, 2014 (and Volume 2, 2016)
  • Trans/Love: Radical Sex, Love, & Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary, multiple authors, 2011
  • Life Isn’t Binary: On Being Both, Beyond, and In-Between, by Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker, 2019

Adult Political Non-Fiction

  • Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, by Anne Fausto-Sterling, 2000
  • Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class, and Gender, by Mia McKenzie, 2014
  • Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity, by C Riley Snorton, 2017
  • The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care, multiple authors, 2016
  • Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, by Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith, 2011
  • Going Stealth: Transgender Politics and US Surveillance Practices, by Toby Beauchamp, 2019
  • Histories of the Transgender Child, by Julian Gill-Peterson, 2018
  • Life and Death of Latisha King: A Critical Phenomenology of Transphobia, by Gayle Salamon, 2018
  • Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature, by Qwo-Li Driskoll, 2011
  • Queer Indigenous Studies, by Qwo-Li Driskoll, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, Scott L. Morgensen, 2011
  • Struggling for Ordinary: Media and Transgender Belonging in Everyday Life, by Andre Cavalcante, 2018
  • Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, adrienne marie brown, 2019

Adult Workbooks and Educational Resources

  • Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community, by Laura Erickson-Schroth, 2014
  • The Queer and Transgender Resilience Workbook, by Anneliese A. Singh, 2018
  • Gender: Your Guide, by Lee Airton, 2018
  • You and Your Gender Identity: A Guide to Discovery, by Dara Hoffman-Fox, 2017

Adult Memoir

  • Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More, by Janet Mock, 2014
  • Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, by Jacob Tobia, 2019
  • A Two-Spirit Journey, by Ma-Nee Chacaby, 2016
  • Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality, by Sarah McBride, 2018
  • The New Girl: A Trans Girl Tells it Like it Is, by Rhyannon Styles, 2018
  • A Life in Trans Activism, by A. Revathi and Nandini Murali, 2016
  • Tranny, by Laura Jane Grace, 2016
  • Uncomfortable Labels, Laura Kate Dale, forthcoming in 2019
  • Butch is a Noun, by S. Bear Bergman, 2006
  • Blood, Marriage, Wine, & Glitter, by S. Bear Bergman, 2013
  • Butch Heroes, by Ria Brodell, 2018
  • Born Both: An Intersex Life, by Hilda Viloria, 2017

Adult Fictionalized Memoir

  • Small Beauty, by Jiaqing Wilson-Yang, 2016
  • Nevada, by Imogen Binnie, 2013
  • Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, by Kai Cheng Thom, 2016
  • Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi, 2018
  • A Safe Girl to Love, by Casey Plett (Short Stories), 2014

Adult Non-Fiction Poetry

  • Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway, 2018
  • Disintegrate/Dissociate, Arielle Twist, 2019
  • a place called NO HOMELAND, Kai Cheng Thom, 2017
  • Even This Page is White, Vivek Shraya, 2016

Graphic Non-Fiction

  • Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag, by AK Summers, 2014
  • First Year Out: A Transition Story, by Sabrina Symington, 2017
  • A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson, 2018
  • A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities, by JR Zuckerberg and Mady G, 2019
  • Super Late Bloomer, by Julia Kaye, 2018
  • Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe and Phoebe Kobabe, 2019
  • Death Threat, by Vivek Shraya and Ness Lee, 2019
  • Queer: A Graphic History, by Meg-John Barker and Julia Sheele, 2016

Young Adult Non-Fiction

  • The ABCs of LGBT+, by Ashley Mardell, 2016
  • Trans Teen Survival Guide, by Owl Fisher and Fox Fisher, 2018
  • Proud: Stories, Poetry, and Art on the Theme of Pride, multiple authors, 2019
  • The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater, 2017
  • transVersing: Stories by Today’s Trans Youth, multiple authors, 2018
  • Girl Sex 101, by Allison Moon, 2015
  • Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, by Sarah Prager and Zoe Moore O’Ferrall, 2017
  • The Book of Pride, by Mason Funk

Young Adult Memoir

  • Before I Had the Words, by Skylar Kergil, 2017
  • Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, by Jazz Jennings, 2016
  • Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard, by Alex Bertie, 2019
  • Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen, by Arin Andrews, 2015

Children’s Non-Fiction

  • Gender Identity Workbook for Kids, by Kelly Storck, 2018
  • Who Are You: The Kids’ Guide to Gender Identity, by Brook Pessin-Whedbee and Naomi Bardoff, 2016
  • Gender Now Coloring Book: A Learning Adventure for Children and Adults, by Maya Christina Gonzales, 2010
  • What Makes a Baby, by Corey Silverberg and Fiona Smyth, 2012
  • The Gender Wheel: A Story About Bodies and Gender, by Maya Gonzales, 2017
  • It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, by Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni, 2019
  • Sex is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and YOU, by Cory Silverberg, 2015
  • They She He Me: Free To Be!, by Maya Gonzalez and Matthew Sg, 2017

If you enjoyed reading these recommendations, and would like some of your own, head on over to my contact page, and send me a message! I love giving recs and readers’ advisory, and have lots of experience from my work as a bookseller.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Guest Post by Lisa Bunker

Introduction…

I am super excited to be hosting a drop in post today from Lisa Bunker, author of two middle grade books featuring trans main characters. Bunker’s first book, Felix Yz, was released in 2017, and was a science fiction story about a child who had an alien inside of him, and who faced a dangerous Procedure to separate the two beings. Felix Yz is told as a series of journal entries written by the main character as he anticipated the Procedure.

The cover of Felix Yz, by Lisa Bunker.

This year, Bunker released her second middle grade novel, Zenobia July, which I reviewed back in April. As I told Bunker during our correspondence, this book wasn’t necessarily the book for me, however I am a huge supporter. There needs to be a diversity of voices in middle grade books, especially when it comes to books that represent trans, non-binary, and other LGBTQ characters. My shop carries the book, and I advocate for it with our school board and educator customers.

This gentle story about trans character Zen navigating life at a new school and solving a cyber mystery is a great path for readers who may not know a lot about trans issues, and perfect for young trans readers looking to see themselves reflected in literature.

The cover of Zenobia July, by Lisa Bunker.

The other reason I advocate for Bunker’s books is because of the author herself, and her strength as a role model for trans and other LGBTQIA2S+ readers. A trans woman herself, Bunker is not only a successful published author, and a pioneer of #OwnVoices trans literature for the middle grade bracket, but also an accomplished politician. Bunker is currently a Democratic state rep in New Hampshire. Following the election of Danica Roem in Virginia in 2017 that gave her a boost of confidence to run for office as a trans woman, Bunker used her decades of activist and community organizing experience to become one of New Hampshire’s first trans legislators.

For all of these reasons, I’m proud to host Bunker herself on my blog today, the only (to my knowledge) #OwnVoices author of trans middle grade books!

What The World Needs Now is Post-Binary Narrative

A guest post by Zenobia July author Lisa Bunker

No doubt binaries come in handy. We humans need to be able to sort and classify our worlds, in order to be safe and productive. But binaries can also easily get out of hand, and are susceptible to abuses. As a trans author of stories with lots of queer characters, I am on a mission to keep binaries under good management and to push back against the abuses. I’ve gathered my ideas about this mission under the new-minted genre descriptor Post-Binary Narrative. And, in order to make it manageable and memorable, I’ve come up with the following six quippy characteristics of this kind of writing.

Human Scale

How many times do plucky protagonists have to save the world (again) before we become completely numb? The whole Marvel Universe arc that just ended with “Avengers: Endgame” is a perfect example of scale overkill. I don’t know about you, but I left that movie feeling bludgeoned and empty. Could we please get back to stories driven by the struggles, choices, defeats, and victories of individual characters? I think such stories can actually have a bigger impact, because a reader who invests will be able to connect in a way that feels right-sized for once. In my new story, Zenobia July, someone hacks the school website, protagonist Zen deals with teasing at school while living in stealth, friendships form, and a family starts to come together. Those are the biggest plot elements, but they make just as engrossing a story as if Zen were single-handedly averting Armageddon (again).

No Evil

Note the capital E. I’ve gotten so tired of villains who are just purely, cartoonishly vile. Disney, much as I love many of the movies, is particularly egregious about this. Jafar, Scar…there’s no way to understand them as human (lion), and the good guys flatten out as well, because they are so completely Good in contrast to the Evil. I try to write gloriously imperfect humans coming into conflict with other gloriously imperfect humans, with everyone doing what they do for reasons that make sense to them, and I strive to write them all sympathetically. That’s not to say that Evil has never existed in the world, but plenty of other story-makers are making those stories. Too many. For deconstructing binaries, No Evil is the way to go.

Challenge “Normal”

Inevitably, in each binary we humans invent, one side weighs heavier than the other side, and then some less-than-ideal things start to happen. One is that generally the heavier side gets to decide what counts as “normal,” and that can lead to the lighter side getting defined as abnormal, freakish, less than, other. To counter this, Post-Binary Narrative includes the idea of challenging and even subverting this pattern. I have gotten reviews that complain that there are too many queer characters in my stories. In my first book, Felix Yz, I did it just for the lark, but in the new one it’s very much on purpose, as queer family of choice is a powerful force for good in Zen’s life. Within the bounds of both these stories, the nerdy geeky Rainbow Folk are the “normal” of the story, and the cis/het characters are the ones fluttering around the edges. This subversion jostles the comfortable in a fruitful way, and is definitely part of the playbook.

Fight Injustice

This is a distinct and more serious version of challenging “normal.” When the imbalance of power in various binaries gets entrenched in how our culture operates, we get outcomes like systemic racism and the glass ceiling. I mean, for crying out loud, when are we going to finally elect our first female President? Such interleaved injustices are challenging to name, describe, and dismantle, not least because those in power constantly offer counter-narratives that tell us that we’re wrong, that we’re imagining it, that we’re over-reacting, that they’re just kidding, that it’s our own damn fault anyway. Gaslighting is rampant around these ingrained power-imbalances, and we have to keep crafting narratives that push back against it. It’s crucial to the future well-being of our species as a whole.

Remember “We”

In these increasingly polarized and reactive times, I think it is essential that at least some of us keep trying to find ways to say “we” and “us” that actually mean all of us, not just other humans sharing our particular bubble. And, we need to do it while holding the “fight injustice” provision in our hearts at the same time. It’s like when #blacklivesmatter happened, and there was the immediate reactive response of #alllivesmatter. The Post-Binary Narrative response to that is, “Yes, true, in one sense, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now. We’re talking about a world where unarmed black teens get gunned down by police and then told it was their own fault. Of course all lives matter, but we have a problem, all of us together, that we still need to fix.

Practice Love

I’ve chosen the verb on purpose for its dual meanings: “practice” as in enacting something in the world, and “practice” as in continuously working at it because it’s hard to do. In particular, it can be hard to give some version of love back to someone who is pointing hate at you. Sometimes we can’t, and that’s OK too. But as much as possible, speaking for myself, I try to offer love back to everyone, all the time. Or, at least, refrain from hating back. Not much more to say about this – it’s pretty simple.

Human scale stories, with no Evil, that challenge accepted ideas of what constitutes “normal” and that fight injustice, while recognizing that we are all humans and that all humans are worthy to love and be loved. That’s Post-Binary Narrative. I respectfully submit that our poor over-burdened planet needs more of it.

Vamps in Denim

Currently Reading: Red, White, and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston

One day, I had a little spare time and was feeling restless, so I asked a friend of mine who I knew was a bit of a bookworm if she wanted to me to do some reading recommendations for her. As luck would have it, her taste as a big fan of urban fantasy was way outside of my wheelhouse. Some day, I’m going to do a Read Harder challenge, or at least make a reading goal to do a cursory read of some genre fic… in the meantime, I learned a lot giving these recommendations, and as a result, I’ve spent some time reading some urban fantasy on my own. In this post, I review an upcoming YA urban fantasy novel that drops in May – Carmilla, by Kim Turrisi – and I’ll offer up my recs. Special thanks to @genderqueerwolf and the SFF channel over at the Rogue Book Coven for being my go-to experts and helping me figure this one out! 

Carmilla

I received an ARC of Carmilla by Kim Turrisi from Edelweiss+. I saw it on a list of queer books coming out this year, and when I saw that this was about lesbian vampires and was based on a web series, I was like… yes. Obviously. And simply put, the book completely delivers. It’s tropey, it’s charming, and it’s clearly written for fans of Buffy or who have Twilight among their problematic faves. I loved it.

I don’t have a whole lot else to say about this book except that it made me laugh in a way that a lot of books don’t, and I was truly surprised that in a pretty light read, it had fantastic, accessible genderqueer representation that made this enby’s heart swell. Carmilla came out on May 7th, so order it, and treat yourself. Get a spooky bath bomb, too. (Unfortunately, the one in the photo is out of production, but my forever fave is Secret Arts.) You won’t regret it.

Recommendations

Here’s what I knew:

  1. Reads mostly urban fantasy
  2. Favourites are Anne Bishop’s Others series, and all of Holly Black’s novels 
  3. Most recently read books include Karen Marie Moning’s Fever books.

My Picks

I’m going to start out with two recommendations that aren’t strictly urban fantasy, but will still appeal to fans of the genre. Both are superhero books in contemporary settings. The Heroine Complex books, by Sarah Kuhn, are an award-winning series that features Asian-American superheroines, and was pitched as “The Devil Wears Prada with superheroes”. This is a compelling comp for me, because The Devil Wears Prada has long been one of my comfort-watch movie go-tos. There are three books available in this series right now.

The cover of the Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn.

The Santa Olivia series by Jacqueline Carey is also a superhero series, but unlike Kuhn’s books, they also integrate fantasy creatures: comic book superheroes, meet werewolves. Carey is probably best known for her Phèdre Trilogy, the epic fantasy series which begins with the award-winning Kushiel’s Dart. In Santa Olivia, Carey brings the fantastic to a more urban, near-future setting, in a disenfranchised town between Texas and Mexico. My only caution with this series is that I couldn’t find any claim to Mexican heritage in my research that I did on Carey, and because of the setting of this book and use of “Santa Olivia” – a seemingly fabricated town and patron saint – I can’t be sure whether or not readers will encounter culturally appropriative elements in this series.

The cover of Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey.

The Root is the first novel in the Wrath and Athanaeum series, by Black, queer author, named Na’amen Gobert Tilahun. This is a gritty series set in San Francisco, and featuring gods, secret government agencies, and hidden magic. It has a super diverse cast, including trans representation, and monster butt-kicking. The Root is Tilahun’s debut novel, and the third in the series is forthcoming.

The cover of The Root, by Na'amen Gobert Tilahun.

Next up, I propose Mishell Baker’s Borderline. This is the first book in the Arcadia Project series, a three-book series. This book was a Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominee, and has characters that are queer, disabled, and neurodiverse… and fantasy creatures, of course.

The cover of Borderline, by Mishell Baker.

Indigenous literature seems to be taking the world by storm these days, and this isn’t the first time I’ve recommended Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse. It isn’t without a caveat, since this book has been criticized by some Indigenous community members as containing some culturally appropriative material. That said, this powerhouse #OwnVoices novel is still on my own TBR, and has been nominated for several awards – just know when you read it that no book exists in a political vacuum, especially if you’re picking this one up as a settler reader.

Since the release of Trail of Lightning, Roanhorse has also finished a young adult novel called Race to the Sun, to be released in January of 2020, and has released the second book in the Sixth World series: Storm of Locusts, which continues the story of Diné monster hunter, Maggie Hoskie.

The cover of Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse.

Okay, yall. Let’s talk Hillary Monahan for a second. Earlier this year, I picked up The Hollow Girl while on a plane ride between Toronto and Denver. This is a gruesome book, about the revenge of a Welsh Romani girl who is sexually assaulted and tortured by the son of her chieftan. I will write a full review of this book another day, but I could not put it down. It was an incredible book.

So when I was looking for diverse urban fantasy, I was scanning LGBTQ Reads, and came across a book called Snake Eyes, by Monahan. It is the third in the Gods and Monsters series. The first two are written by different authors, so I can’t vouch for them, but they appear to stand alone either way. If Snake Eyes is anywhere near the quality of the Hollow Girl, it is well worth giving this book a try – but if I know Monahan, this book may not be for the faint of heart.

The cover of Snake Eyes, by Hillary Monahan.

Finally, I thought that Malinda Lo’s fast-paced, character-driven style might appeal to a fan of urban fantasy, even if I’m not sure that’s how her work is typically characterized. Her novel Huntress features the strong female protagonists that are typical of urban fantasy, in an adventure prequel to Lo’s most well-known work, Ash, an #OwnVoices title featuring Chinese cultural influences.

The covers of Ash and Huntress, by Malinda Lo.

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#2019Reading Update

Currently Reading: Songs from the Deep, by Kelly Powell

Dear Reader, 2019 has been a wild ride so far. As I’m writing this, we’re about 1/3 of the way through, and I wanted to take a pause to sum up some of the things that have been going on for me and my reading this year. Additionally, I’ve been chronicling my #2019Reading through that hashtag on Twitter – find me @saskeah, and give me a wave! There’s also a book review buried at the end of this post – so if you’re interested in what I thought about SLAY, by Brittney Morris, you can skip all my early chatter, and check that out at the bottom.

eReading

A huge thing that’s happened to me this year is that I started eReading. As someone with very limited income, I debated the decision to buy an eReader a lot – and finally, I purchased a Kobo on sale early this year. I purposely chose the Kobo because I didn’t want an Amazon product, and because I could purchase it through Indigo, the big Canadian book store chain (à la Barnes and Noble). Mostly, though, Kobo now links with Overdrive, the library access app, which means that it is dead simple to withdraw library eBooks on your device.

I primarily invested in the Kobo in order to access low or no cost books. As a blogger and bookseller, I have access to ARCs through Edelweiss+ and NetGalley, if I have a device to read them on, and because of the Overdrive app on Kobo, it’s easy to borrow library books as well. I didn’t know how I would feel about the eReading experience – because I work at an indie, I read exclusively in hard copy before this year.

It turns out that with a Kobo, I read way more. I can read more easily in low light or when my eyes are tired, I can carry multiple titles with me so I can switch what I’m reading to suit my mood and mental capacity, and I can DNF books that I’m not feeling with no financial risk. It’s easier on my body, and the eInk is easy on my eyes. In short: eReading. So accessible. Also, a little bit nostalgic. When I have a really good book and no early morning plans, I love being able to stay up late and read in low light past my bedtime. It makes me feel like a little kid again.

Seriously, yall. My Kobo has become my security blanket. Whenever I leave the house, I can take as many books as I might need with me – something for any mood, so many backups, things I might like to share – and it doesn’t make my bag any heavier. My Kobo comes with me everywhere. It’s the best little robot friend.

My one complaint, and this is an industry gripe, so feel free to gloss over this bit if you’re not knee deep in publishing, but I wish that more publishers would produce ARCs in epub format. I so often receive eARCs in PDF formats that are virtually or literally incompatible with a Kobo. I think it’s clear to most people in the book industry that it would be preferable if Amazon didn’t have a full on monopoly, so it would be nice to see folks in the industry not cater quite as blatantly to Kindle users.

New Things I Want to Discover

No matter how much I read and learn, there are always more things I feel like I don’t know but want to discover. This year, I’ve been trying to get back into SFF, for example, after a long hiatus because of my own mental capacity for processing worldbuilding-heavy stories. One of the things that has really helped that is discovering Nine Star Press, a small New Mexico based press that publishes LGBTQ+ titles, and has released two SFF titles this year that have both impressed me and eased me back into the genre – Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow, which I’ve already reviewed, and The Soulstealers, by Jacqueline Rohrbach, which I’ll review down the line. I also decided to focus some of my reading in 2019 on learning about far right Christian culture in the United States, and I’ll be writing that up in a post in the future as well.

However, two things have emerged that I’m interested in reading more of that I’ve never really explored before. First of all, cozy mysteries, which I had never even heard of until this year! I’ve been skulking around Cozy Mystery.com to get some ideas for what I should read to explore this genre – but I’m also very open to suggestions!

I’m also wide open for recs by your favourite Australian authors. I picked up The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, by Felicity McLean earlier this year, in part because the publicity copy said that the book was “quintessentially Australian” – and I realized that I had no idea what that meant, and no idea if I’d ever even read a book from Australia. And that seemed ludicrous. After loving the Van Apfel Girls (and also deeply not understanding some of the cultural elements of the book!), I’d like to see what else I’m missing!

DNF All The Things!

Something else I’ve been doing in 2019 is DNF’ing. A lot. Often.

I realize that being able to do this is somewhat of a privileged position to be in. I access most of my books for free, and almost all of them at deeply discounted prices, because of my roles as a bookseller and blogger. I also access a lot of books through the library. But either way – I’ve come to peace with it. As I’m writing this, I’ve finished nearly 40 books this year, and I’ve DNF’d 18. I’ve even given up on my long-standing cardinal rule of reading at least 100 pages of any book, to give it a chance.

You know what? There are so many books in the world. If something doesn’t feel good to read and you have no other reason for wanting to read it? Just don’t! Read something different!

SLAY

The cover of Slay, by Brittney Morris.
Do you eat meat?

I was pretty stoked when I got approved for an ARC of SLAY from Edelweiss+. The pub copy bills it as Ready Player One (although a Goodreads user comped it to Warcross, and I think that’s more on point) + The Hate U Give, plus it was blurbed by Nic Stone. It’s a debut YA from author Brittney Morris, with a breathtaking cover design by Laura Eckes, who can be found on Twitter @iamturtlecat.

Probably, nobody needs me to hype this book. Not only was it not written for me, but it was also named by Entertainment Weekly as the YA debut they’re most excited for this year. But I loved it so much that I needed to gush about it, at least a little bit – especially since I don’t think most reviews will mention that there is Black trans representation in this book. It’s a side character whose plotline is heart wrenching, but there are not enough BIPOC trans characters out there yet, and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I realized that there would be in this gem that will likely be very widely read. I think a lot of readers will find mirrors and windows in this book that they won’t find anywhere else.

This book drops in September, and is available for pre-order now. Don’t sleep on this, particularly if you’re a fan of Angie Thomas, or an educator. Morris’ protag, Kiera, is a smouldering Queen of Black Girl Magic, and by this time next year, I’m pretty sure she’ll be SLAYing alongside Starr and Bri. I’m not a Black reader, but from my experience burning through this book in one sitting, it’s fast paced, it’s extremely well-written, it has characters that are highly relatable, and I learned a lot from it.

In an action-packed story with speculative elements, SLAY tackles serious social issues like gun violence, intergenerational relationship building, intercommunity struggles, and cultural appropriation through an accessible and magnetic (slightly near-future) contemporary drama. It interweaves elements of Black diasporic history and current culture in what essentially is a simple story about a young girl, and her video game.

It’s time for this white blogger to step back, but I’ll leave you with the completely extra book trailer that Simon Pulse created for SLAY, if you’re not already convinced that you should be calling up your local bookshop, and asking them to order this in for you, right now. Happy #2019Reading!

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

New Trans Lit for Spring 2019

Currently Reading: Our Symphony with Animals, by Aysha Akhtar

Every time I look at the list of titles by trans authors or featuring affirming trans content that are coming out this year, and realize that there is no possible way that I could read or review them all, my heart just swells. There’s a lot in that stack now. As is more typical, from my perception, there are a few adult literary fiction titles, there are some memoirs, and the list of trans YA titles is getting longer and longer every year. It’s amazing.

That said, they’re not all the perfect book for me. In this post, I’m going to touch on five books that are coming out soon or have come out recently, but unfortunately, I’ve been DNF’ing a lot this year. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m reading more than I have in the past, or if it’s because I have less attention span when it comes to reading things that I don’t immediately connect with. That said, I’m glad that these books exist as choices in the world, and I hope that other readers check them out! I’m going to end with my most positive review, so stick with it…

The cover of Uncomfortable Labels, by Laura Kate Dale.

Although Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale is a memoir, I was impressed that it explores the intersection of multiple identity labels in such a thorough way. The title and cover alone, for anyone who’s familiar with sensory sensitivity, was a great nod to the content of the book.

I received an eARC of Uncomfortable Labels through NetGalley. This book piqued my interest because one of my partners is queer, autistic, and transfeminine. I, too, am queer, have some neurodivergences that resemble autism spectrum experiences, and am trans. The same partner also has experiences with MDMA, and introduced me to roller derby… eerily, these are also topics that Dale dedicates chapters to.

Here’s the thing: this is a great book! The downside of it being so relevant in my life is… I basically didn’t get anything novel out of it. The upside of it being so relevant in my life is, I’m so glad that someone wrote this book. If you look at the reviews that already exist on Goodreads, you’ll see that lots of readers are learning a lot from it.

I’ve accepted that this one wasn’t written for me. I’ve learned a lot about the identity experiences explored in this book from years of living alongside my partner and learning from zir, and from parallel experiences in my own life. But for cis or neurotypical readers, this book is a gem. It’s clear, it’s thorough, and it’s extremely vulnerable. There is so much that makes this a memoir worth reading. Uncomfortable Labels comes out in July, and is available for pre-order now. CW for detailed descriptions of bullying, mention of substance use, and exploration of biomedical diagnostic processes.

The cover of Some Girls Bind, by Rory James.

Some Girls Bind, by Rory James, was released in February of 2019. I received an eARC through NetGalley.

This book is a format anomaly. First, it’s a novel in verse – growing in popularity, this format is still coming into its own in the world of YA lit. Second, this book is Hi-Lo. This is a format that’s written with a high or mature interest level, but at a lower reading level. Typically, Hi-Lo books appeal the most to high school students who are developing literacy skills, adult learners, or mature students learning English as an additional language. I will champion Hi-Lo books any day, because they are super accessible, even though they often deal with more involved subject matter than other books written at an introductory reading level.

That said, because this is a book with a genderqueer protagonist, and this is an author who is unknown to me, I wanted to do some digging. There is very little information available about the author of this book. The only bio I could find was from the publisher, West 44, and it reads,

Rory James is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She holds degrees in creative writing, English, and political science. Rory now teaches test prep classes to high school students. Inspired by her own experience with gender issues, Rory hopes to reach the many young people with struggles or questions of their own.

from West 44.

…so I approached this book with some skepticism, since it appears to me to be a book written about a genderqueer character by a cis woman author.

Unfortunately, my skepticism was relatively warranted. Although I wasn’t offended by the content of this book, I was disappointed. The verse in this novel is exceedingly simple, and I think that the quality of the writing was a hindrance to the plot. Although it was intended for a younger audience, I would be quicker to recommend The Moon Within by Aida Salazar, which I have reviewed previously, than this title. That said, I think that this book may still have its place in an educational context, and I hope that teachers and librarians will consider seeking both books out.

The cover of Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee.

I finally discovered Yoon Ha Lee earlier this year, and I was so excited to see a trans author of colour writing sci fi that folks around me were just loving. I eagerly checked Ninefox Gambit, an adult title, out from the library, despite the fact that it’s been a minute since I read Serious Science Fiction. I started reading it without knowing much more about it beyond the fact that it had a trans author. Unfortunately, I was quickly overwhelmed by the technical aspects of the book, and that it was so focused on war. Other readers encouraged me to check out Dragon Pearl, since it’s a YA title, and is based a little more on mythology, and less on math.

Unfortunately, I gave this book my obligatory 100 pages, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that books based on war in space, no matter what the context, may not be my jam. That said, the writing in this book is precise and unique, and the author’s expertise in the genre shines through. The mythological aspects of the book were fascinating, artistically portrayed, and totally enjoyable, and from the first pages, the main character charmed me.

I would recommend Dragon Pearl to any sci fi fan, or a kid who is into science, math, or mythology. It seems like a great book, and I think that every trans or gender creative kid should have the opportunity to have books like this in their hands, as examples of what really accomplished and skillful trans folks are doing out in the world. This book is reviewing well, and my bookshop colleagues and customers are loving it. And I mean, listen, with Rick Riordan behind it, this book is basically selling itself. It’s available for purchase now.

The cover of Zenobia July, by Lisa Bunker.

It was actually kind of a struggle to get an ARC of Zenobia July, and I am extremely grateful that the generous author, Lisa Bunker, was willing to facilitate getting one into my hands. This is Bunker’s second #OwnVoices middle grade book featuring a trans MC, her first being Felix Yz. And Bunker herself is a powerhouse – on top of being an accomplished author, she also does political work and had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting (I am a HUGE public radio fan). Yall. I wanted to love this book so badly.

Listen – if I was an eight year old, I probably would have. But again: this book just wasn’t written for me. A lot of what Bunker wrote in terms of gender really rang true to my experiences with transfeminine youth and partners who I’ve had who are trans women. I loved the affirmative parenting of older lesbian aunts. The story feels contemporary and relatable for a younger audience. But I just couldn’t get into it.

I tried to dissect why that is, and I think that compared to other middle grade titles that I’ve loved, the writing is a little bit plainer on the page, whereas I tend to lean more toward more poetic prose when I’m reading works intended for younger readers.

That said, I would put this book in the hands of any young reader, likely from age 8 or so onward. It’s an accessible read, and it would be a useful book for an adult involved in the life of a trans youth as well. I so appreciate the existence of this book – like all of the books in this post – even if it’s not something that I could really dig my own teeth into. This book is available for pre-order now, and will release at the end of May.

Two images, the cover of The Wise and the Wicked, by Rebecca Podos, and a picture of me, looking down, holding an eReader in my hand. My cat is laying beside me, resting his chin on the arm holding the eReader.
The cover of the Wise and the Wicked, and my kitten’s attempt at interrupting my reading.

AS PROMISED, I end this blog post on a high note, with Rebecca Podos’ The Wise and the Wicked! I was so fortunate to receive an ARC of this book through Edelweiss+, and I even held off for months reading it because I was so looking forward to it. As you can tell from the photo above, even my formerly feral kitten bb loved it!

Podos has an impressive pedigree. Her first novel was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016, and her second was a Lambda award winner in 2018. I anticipate that this book will be no less lauded, if it gets the attention that it so deserves.

The Wise and the Wicked is one of the best YA I’ve read this year. It’s a contemporary story for older teens that deals with friendship, romance, navigating complex and multi-generational family bonds, family history, and struggling with moral ambiguity, all based on captivating Russian folklore.

As I would expect from an author who holds a recent Lammy, this book is an #OwnVoices title featuring fantastic and nuanced queer representation, and although Podos is cisgendered, it also has impressively affirming and accurate transmasculine representation. I loved about this rep that the transness of the character played a role in the plot, but wasn’t the central feature of the character themself.

Anyone who likes a spooky read, with a nod to a culture that is infrequently written about in North American titles, is going to love this book. If you’ve been captivated by recent titles such as House With Chicken Legs (Sophie Anderson) or Finding Baba Yaga (Jane Yolen), this book is definitely up your alley. It’s available for pre-order now, and will release on May 28th. Call up your local indie: you will not regret it. (CW for sexual content and substance use.)


AND, if you’ve made it this far in this mammoth blog post, I have two easter eggs to share from book Twitter. One, Podos dyed her hair to match her book cover. HOW RAD IS THAT.

Also, my cat really did have feelings about me reading The Wise and the Wicked, and the full photo documentation can be seen below.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.