BREAK OUT THE SCISSORS

Happy Monday, theydies and gentlethems. This week, I’m pleased to share with you a review of Avalon’s Last Knight, an #OwnVoices LGBTQ2S+ novel by trans author Jackson C. Garton. I’m also thrilled to host a guest post from dark fantasy author A. J. Vrana on one of my favourite editorial topics: HOW TO CUT WORDS. Thank you so much for your continued support of this space! If you want to throw a coin to your blogger, my ko-fi is linked at the end of the post.

Review: Avalon’s Last Knight, by Jackson C. Garton

I’m so pleased that author Jackson C. Garton sought me out and shared this book with me, and I owe him a public apology, because it took me forever to finally pick this up. 2020 has been a hard year, and if I had known that I would enjoy this as much as I did, I may not have waited so long. Sorry, fam!

Avalon’s Last Knight from Pride Publishing is loosely categorized as LGBTQ Urban Fantasy, but I think it is more accurately described as an LGBTQ2S+ romance with speculative elements. I’m not usually all about retellings, but Garton managed to skillfully integrate the old and the new in a way that wasn’t distracting from the thrust of the narrative. Set in the rural American south – a rare bird for LGBTQ2S+ fiction – Garton’s book follows Lance and Arthur, high school BFFs turned sweethearts, as they learn to navigate their new relationship, and all the complications that come with it.

With strikingly raw prose reminiscent of the fiction of the Trans Vanguard, Garton expertly weaves thematic aspects of the original tales of Avalon through a diverse and contemporary romance flavoured with a taste of the occult. Emotions right on the surface, this book tackles the complexity of transition, love, and the cultural tension of progressive life in a conservative setting.

My only criticism of this book is that, to my knowledge, the racial representation is not based on lived experience. For me as a reader, it felt as though the diversity aspects were handled sensitively, and this remains a book that I would recommend. As a white reader, I would be interested to see reviews of this title from POC.

When I asked Garton what book he would recommend by a Black author, he suggested Kacen Callendar’s Felix Ever After, which was featured on Santana Reads! I’m thrilled to have been introduced to Avalon’s Last Knight, and I look forward to seeing what Garton comes up with next.


The Baldwin quote above is the banner that I use on my editorial reports for my lit agent clients. It feels appropriate here, because today, I am completely stoked to be hosting one of those clients with a guest post on one of my FAVOURITE editorial topics: how to make deep cuts. There is nothing more satisfying than a manuscript with good economy of language, and no one knows how to achieve that better than A. J. Vrana. Her method is just… *chef’s kiss*. I asked her to write this as much for my nerdy brain as for anyone else’s benefit. I hope you’ll all enjoy as much as I did.

In the meantime, if I haven’t shouted about it enough, A. J. Vrana’s beautiful debut dark fantasy novel is also now available for purchase, if you’d like a book-length example of the kind of results you can get with her editorial methods.

How to Cut Words: Guest Post by A. J. Vrana

There is no shortage of jokes about writers. Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, you’re bound to encounter a quip or two about creative types and their stubborn dedication to their artistic vision. Creative people are sometimes incorrectly stereotyped as being spacey, unmoored, and impractical, much to my personal chagrin. Of course, if that were true, none of us would have succeeded in making a living with our creative work, least of all in a business that is primarily concerned with one thing: making money.

There is no separating creative writing from the publishing industry if, well, you want to be published. While there are many talented, visionary writers out there, navigating the business side of publishing can prove frustrating and alienating for many people. However, if we want our work read, we need to come to terms with the fact that publishing is a business, and businesses will always be concerned with how to maximize their profits. One of the ways they do this is by becoming intimately acquainted with the market. For a book to be publishable, it needs to have commercial potential. It doesn’t matter how breath-taking, eloquent, or poetic your writing is; if it isn’t something a publisher feels they can sell to a market they themselves have carved out through a long history of curated publication and advertisement, there is little hope the manuscript will be acquired by an agent or an editor.

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

One of the often understated facets of marketability is word count. See, when I say, “markets that have been carved out through a history of curated publication,” I’m talking about genre conventions that have slowly but surely become cemented in readers’ understanding of literature, and subsequently inform their expectations. Word count is one of the many markers of how well a work fits within its intended genre. It has implications not only for a publisher’s production costs and returns, but for how the market will actually receive the work.

So, what is an acceptable word count for your next best seller? Well, it depends on the genre. Here are some general figures for popular genres; these can be easily found on the interwebs:

  • Mainstream Romance: 70,000–100,000 words
  • Subgenre Romance: 40,000–100,000 words
  • Science Fiction / Fantasy: 90,000–120,000
  • Historical Fiction: 80,000–100,000
  • Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime: 70,000–90,000 words
  • Young Adult: 50,000–80,000
  • Middle Grade: 25,000–40,000 words
Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

With the exception of kidlit and SFF, you’ll notice immediately that the upper end of the word count bracket for most genres is 100k. However, I would argue that if you’re a debut author, your SFF should also be around or under 100k. Once you go over this mark, the work becomes an increasingly difficult sell for both agents and publishers.

I myself am a verbose gal. When I wrote the first draft of my debut, a contemporary dark fantasy, it was 135,000 words! I justified this massive word count by convincing myself it was what I needed to tell the story, but I was a DIRTY LIAR. In truth, the long word count reflected several of my weaknesses as a writer: I sucked at pacing. My first 50 pages were way too slow in getting to the action. I overwrote emotions. I spent too much time on scenes that didn’t move the plot forward, and I did so under the guise of ‘character development’. I underestimated how few words I needed to get my point across. After several rounds of substantive edits and several more of line edits, I parred the beast down to 97,000 words. The final manuscript upon publication? 98,300 words. The best part? The major plot beats and structure hadn’t even changed.

But how the heck do you chop a novel’s worth of words out of your manuscript to appease your agent or editor’s pragmatic bones? Well, let me tell you. Here’s how to murder your beloved in three, excruciating steps.

Photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash

STEP ONE: Reverse Outline Your Book

The first step to chop-chop-chopping is to get rid of any large chunks of text that are unnecessary to the plot. But how do you know what’s unnecessary to the plot? That three-page meditation on the movement of celestial bodies and their implications for the fate of the family cat provide the reader with such a keen glimpse into your character’s psyche.

To figure out whether your reader will give a rat’s ass about the family cat’s natal chart, try a reverse outline. To do this, make a note of your book’s conclusion, then work your way backwards. What event prompted the ending? What then triggered the event that prompted the ending? Keep working your way backwards until you reach the beginning of your book. The catch? Don’t look at your manuscript when you do it. You, as the author, should be able to backtrack through your entire manuscript and communicate the book’s major inciting events without analyzing the text.

Once you’ve done this, take a look at your manuscript and make note of everything that falls outside of those core events, then ask yourself if those scenes are truly necessary. After reverse outlining your book, you should have a little more distance to judge whether these outliers are really needed. If you aren’t sure, cut and paste them in a separate document and see if the story still works without them. If the answer is ‘yes,’ DELETE DELETE DELETE. I don’t care how much you like it; GET RID OF IT. You won’t notice it after it’s gone, I promise.

One other option is to consolidate chapters that deal with similar events or circumstances. Are there two chapters where your protagonist visits a creepy old man in the woods to get information about a certain mystery? Slap ’em together, delete all the dialogue and prose that isn’t vital for your reader, and maintain the core purpose of both chapters—but in one!

Photo by Alex Gruber on Unsplash

STEP TWO: Economy of Words

This is the more detail-oriented and pain-staking method of cutting words, but people grossly underestimate just how much can be excised with careful line edits. The goal here is to make sure that not a single word is wasted. There is no one method of doing this, but I’ve learned a few tricks that can go a long way.

Contractions. This one took me a while to get used to because I got my start in academic writing, where contractions are a big no-no. However, using contractions in non-academic writing, especially creative writing, can reduce word count significantly. Use Ctrl+F to find common phrases that can be replaced with contractions.

That. Many a time, the word ‘that’ is not really necessary. I was told that I’d have to cut at least 10,000 words from my book. See what I did there?

Sentence Structure. Sometimes, switching up syntax and playing with verb conjugation can spare a word or two per sentence. It may not seem like a lot, but when you have thousands of sentences, it adds up.

For example: He stared at the maskless buffoon and then wondered if humanity was done for.

Alternative: He stared at the maskless buffoon, then wondered if humanity was done for.

Even better alternative: He stared at the maskless buffoon, wondering if humanity was done for.

Now, you don’t want to use the same sentence structure over and over again. Don’t get too nitpicky with this, because sentence variety is more important than cutting a single word per sentence. Don’t forget that you can also change what order your clauses are in. Be conscious of modifiers and subordinate clause placement, as sometimes these can needlessly lengthen sentences.

Example from this very verbose blog: When I wrote the first draft of my debut, a contemporary dark fantasy, it was 135,000 words!

Alternative: The first draft of my contemporary dark fantasy debut was 135,000 words.

Photo by Wajih Ghali on Unsplash

Starting sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But’. This is probably the thing I struggled with most. I loooove starting sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but,’ especially when establishing a character’s voice. Sadly, it’s not necessary most of the time. Occasionally it’s fine if used for emphasis or in dialogue, but try to minimize this as much as possible.

Adjectives and adverbs. Remember when I said I overwrite emotions? Yeah, this. Listen, there is NOTHING wrong with a good adjective or adverb, but when you find yourself piling them on like a grocery list comprised entirely of snack foods, reign yourself in. Pick ONE snack food. Even better—ask yourself if there is a more accurate noun or verb that can replace the adjective + noun or adverb + verb you’re using.

Don’t repeat yourself. Sometimes when we try to communicate something, we spend too many sentences expressing the same sentiment. This is natural, as overwriting is how we explore the best way to get a point across. However, once we’ve done this, it’s a good idea to go back and pick one sentence that best communicates the intended point.

Metaphors > Literal Description. This can be a tough one as it forces you to exercise your poetic brain, but I promise it pays off and makes your writing more interesting. Literal descriptions of settings or a character’s emotional state tend to be quite lengthy, and if you have the attention span of a kitten like I do, they can be kind of boring too. Sometimes, an apt, pithy metaphor can convey all that needs to be conveyed in far fewer words than a very literal description. Don’t be afraid to experiment with similes and metaphors; if it doesn’t work, someone will let you know with their confusion! As with the suggestion about sentence structure, you shouldn’t turn every description into a metaphor, but it can help add some variety!

Example: On the weekends, the sidewalks were crowded with people pushing past one another.

Metaphor: On the weekends, the sidewalks [crowded] like an ant colony.

Photo by Dani Rendina on Unsplash

Don’t start sentences with ‘There was’.  This is best illustrated with an example.

Example: There was a child napping in the shade.

Alternative: A child napped in the shade.

Eliminate the obvious. This is another trick best illustrated with an example:

Example: The sky was grey. The clouds hung low, heavy with unfallen rain.

Alternative: The grey clouds hung low, heavy with unfallen rain.

Since clouds are inherently in the sky, we don’t have to mention the sky and the clouds.

Eliminate absences. One trick to using precise language is to eliminate any mention of things being absent, and instead focusing on what is present instead of the absence. Here’s what I mean:

Example: She stared at her estranged mother and felt nothing. The love was gone.

Alternative: She stared at her estranged mother. The love was gone.

Here, it’s redundant for us to say that someone felt nothing; instead, we can infer that there is an absence by noting that ‘the love was gone’.

Photo by Dani Rendina on Unsplash

STEP THREE: Repeat Step 2.

Seriously. You need to do the line edits like three times, because as you progress through your manuscript, you will grow lazy and let things slip. The first time I finished cutting on a line level, I’d eliminated 3000 words. After my second round, I’d eliminated 6000 words. By my third round, I’d cut a total of 8000 words.

And it was great.


Alex’s recommendation for a book by a Black author to check out is the Binti trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor. I had the pleasure of hearing Okorafor speak in Denver a couple of years back, and she blew my mind. This book is definitely worth the read!

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

All Eyes on Her

I could not be more excited for today’s post. I am super thrilled to welcome back BBB contributor Jack for another incredible review. This time, Jack writes about a forthcoming LGBTQ2S+ novel, Seven, by Farzana Doctor, an author of colour in my local, Toronto. Then, I am deeply honoured to be hosting a post by another Ontario author, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, whose new YA thriller, All Eyes On Her, comes out later this month. She addresses a super challenging topic in writing, and one that she proves herself to be a master of in her upcoming title that I couldn’t put down: multiple POV.

Before we jump in, I just want to put in a quick plug for an upcoming LGBTQ2S+ contemporary indie press book by my client, author CM Harris. Maiden Leap releases on September 1st, and you can read more about it here!

In addition, as a follow up to last week’s post on chapter books, huge congratulations to Theanne Griffith, Reggie Brown, and their whole team – there are more Magnificent Makers books on the way!

Jack’s Review of Seven, by Farzana Doctor

I have such a fondness for Farzana’s work, which I discovered years ago through our mutual connection to the social work profession. I was super glad when Jack chose this book to check out. Seven comes out later this year, and is available for pre-order now.

Farzana Doctor’s novel Seven is the kind of novel that, like the scent of baked bread wafting over from a bakery, lures you in. In her fourth novel, Seven, Doctor explores themes of personhood, motherhood, and the concept of individuality in a collective community. The novel borrows from Farzana’s Indian ancestry, specifically her Dawoodi Bohra community and carefully braids truth and fiction into a family’s intergenerational story. What begins as an insight into a familial tree takes Sharifa through past and present becoming a story of chosen family and the fortitude of relationships.

Seven, is a layered concoction which reveals itself to its reader in pieces. In the novel, Doctor questions how people define “harm”, challenging the notion of harm and family as mutually exclusive. Doctor represents social justice on the public scale we are familiar with, and through the individual experience which personalizes pain.

Photo by Jill Dimond on Unsplash

CW for this book include sexual violence and gas-lighting. I found enlightenment in the presence of both sexual violence and strategies of healing. I recommend this book to readers in their young adulthood. It is also an insight into the different types of activism and stands one can take.

Farzana Doctor is a Canadian author, activist, and psychotherapist. She is a careful writer whose embroidery of Intergenerational trauma, the politicization of women’s bodies and the human experience, is both brilliant and alluring. What happens when trauma is weaponized as a vehicle of obedience and victims become perpetrators? How can multiple truths co-exist?

During this year’s Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), I had the pleasure of attending the virtual What We found discussion, where she posed thoughtful questions about identity, about writing. The thoughtfulness is evident once again in the configuration of Seven, a novel full of questioning.

The novel begins with Sharifa, a woman who feels broken. Sharifa and her family decide to go to India, where Murtuza (her husband) will be working and Sharifa will be on sabbatical. Sharifa plans on researching her family, specifically Abdoolally’s role as the family’s patriarch, while homeschooling her daughter.  Her daughter, Zee becomes a focal point, reminding Sharifa of herself as a child when she would travel back to India. During her research, Sharifa begins to identify the ways in which people can inflict harm their loved ones. Even though this is a work of fiction, the character of Abdoolally was inspired by Hussonally Dholkawala, Doctor’s great-great grandfather, and the character are based on the very real Dawoodi Bohras’ community.

Photo by Yaopey Yong on Unsplash

In many ways, the novel is an account of the experiences of a cultural transplant with sexual violence, generational trauma and belonging. By showing the varying ways in which trauma shows up for the same experience, Doctor explores the complicated nature of trauma.

In Seven, the reader is given pieces of a puzzle and asked: “what happens if we believe in the wrong thing, the wrong people?” What does healing look like?

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, Author of ALL EYES ON HER

I met Laurie through this blog, when I first wrote about one of her titles, Last Girl Lied To, which I read during the #VillainAThon last year. I could not put this book down. Since then, I’ve learned that Laurie herself is as much of a delight as her books are, as she’s peppered me with recommendations for other un-put-down-able titles over the last several months. I think that I can safely say that we share a passion for messy teenaged femme characters, and I have never been disappointed by a book that she’s suggested for me.

I am honoured to have met Laurie, and to have received an ARC of her forthcoming YA novel, All Eyes On Her to screen read for my bookshop. It was the first book I read in 2020, while I was going through a very difficult time in my life, and it was immersive and escapist and everything I’d hoped. The ending drove me bananas in the best possible way. The last chapter was absolutely delicious, and kept me guessing through the very last page. All Eyes On Her comes out on August 18th, and is available for pre-order now.

More recently, Laurie has achieved incredible success, and as a reader I could not be happier, and as one of her supporters, I am deeply proud. Her adult debut was recently acquired by Simon and Schuster, and optioned for television by AMC. I can’t wait to read this book, and I hope desperately that we’ll all get to watch it come to live as a super bingeable series.

For this post, I am so grateful that Laurie addressed multi-POV writing. As I wrote at the top of this post, she executes it perfectly in All Eyes On Her, and it’s something that takes so much technique, precision, and dedication to master. Thank you so much for this, Laurie, and congratulations for all that is to come!

As is tradition, I asked Laurie to recommend some books by Black authors that readers of this blog should check out alongside All Eyes On Her. Her choices were Some Other Now by Sarah Everett, which releases in early 2021. She also loved Allegedly, by Tiffany D. Jackson, and You Don’t Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow. 

Voices in a Crowd: Writing Multiple POV

When I started writing All Eyes On Her, I didn’t have a plot or an outline—just a vaguely drawn idea about a boy and a girl who went into the woods, and only the girl came back. The first voice that came to me was the main character Tabitha’s best friend, Elle, and the next thing I knew, Tabby’s sworn enemy needed a say too. Before I knew it, several other characters had emerged from my imagination, all of them with one thing in common: They knew, or had known, Tabitha Cousins, and thus felt qualified to weigh in on her guilt or innocence. To act as a sort of jury, convincing the reader of her true nature.

I drafted the novel in a fast and furious blur. By the time I finished, there were five main point of view characters, each with a different relationship to Tabby and her deceased boyfriend Mark, as well as several peripheral characters with their own chapters. To complicate matters, the story also involved news articles, blog posts, texts, diary entries, and police transcripts. 

I give huge credit to my editors for not balking at the idea of a novel with so many different POV characters and formats. They were fully on board and excited about the concept from the start. I knew the challenges I was facing—to successfully execute the style I wanted the novel to take, each voice had to sound unique, and each character had to provide different information that informed the narrative and moved the plot along. It was in editing and revising that I really learned what worked and what didn’t, and I came up with these tips for anyone else working on (or wanting to start) a multiple POV novel!

Know Your Characters

You need to know your characters no matter how many POV characters you have, or how the story is told. But it’s especially important when you have a cast of characters whose voices each need to sound distinct. Each time I entered a new perspective, I settled into that character’s head, and that informed the voice. I often asked myself, is this something she would say? Is this a reaction she would have? I also challenged myself to memorize each person’s motivations—why he feels this way, and why he thinks the reader needs to be made aware. I aimed to know instinctively how each character would react to a situation, even if it was a situation that wasn’t happening on the page. 

The Why

Ask yourself why a certain character’s POV needs to be included. What does it bring to the story? What information or insight does this person provide that another one can’t? A few side characters with POV chapters in the first draft of All Eyes On Her were cut in revisions, because as fun as they were to write, they weren’t adding any new or crucial information to the narrative.

Try Different Formats

While most of my POV characters have first-person present-tense chapters, I wrote one entirely using a police transcript format. At the time, I wasn’t sure why his story needed to be told this way, but looking back, I can see the reason. I didn’t necessarily want the reader in his head as much as directly outside of it. I wanted to showcase his personality through dialogue and intentionally keep certain thoughts off-limits. Which brings me to the next point…

Hide and Seek

Just because you have multiple characters doesn’t mean you need to give readers their every thought. In fact, it’s more effective when you don’t (especially if you’re writing a thriller where everybody may be a suspect…). Think as much about what you choose not to share as what you do. Give your readers tantalizing little gaps to fill in. Consider why a character may not be saying something, and what that tells readers about him or her. The only thing I love more than an unreliable narrator… unreliable narrators.

The only thing I love more than an unreliable narrator… unreliable narrators.

Show, Don’t Tell

This is solid advice for writing in general, but I find it especially helpful for navigating a multi-POV book. If readers are simply told every thought in a character’s mind, they’ll get bored easily, and you run the risk of one character blending into the next. Show how the character interacts with others. How she walks and talks. What her hobbies are. How she acts at parties. How she behaves around friends versus parents. What her secrets are, and how she conceals them…

Streamline Information

Something to avoid with a large cast of POV characters is each section feeling like an info-dump, or a repetition of information another character already shared. Ideally, you want each character’s next chapter to piggyback off the one before it, ramping up to the climax of the novel. The order needs to be determined by underlying tension, and what comes next to ratchet up that tension. Every author has a different strategy, and there’s no wrong way. Some write all of one character’s chapters before moving into the head of another, and some write mostly in chronological order. For this book, I head-hopped and wrote mostly in order, which I think helped with the pacing, and ensured that every new event built on the one before it to create momentum.

Motivation is Key

Since character arcs are so important, this is a challenge when you have several characters whose stories need to feel compelling on their own, as well as part of a whole. Make sure you always know what each character wants, and what’s standing in the way of them getting it. I also like to keep in mind what each character is hiding, or what they don’t want people to find out. Having character arcs overlap and inform each other is like putting together a (sometimes frustrating, sometimes extremely satisfying) puzzle.

Differentiate Speech and Mannerisms

A trick I employed as I edited All Eyes On Her: If I picked up the manuscript and flipped to a random chapter, would I know whose head I was in within a couple sentences? If the answer was no, I looked at why. Had I fallen into similar phrasing? Made everyone constantly push their hair back behind their ears? Did the dialogue feel familiar? Voice is everything in a book with several of them, so having consistent go-to mannerisms or expressions that feel familiar to a character helps them stand out.

I hope these tips are helpful to anyone writing multiple POV! All in all, try to think of it for what it is… a very fun experience, and a challenge that will improve your writing. If you’re someone who gets bored easily (hi, me) or something doesn’t feel right in your book from just one POV, it might be worth figuring out whose voice to potentially add to the story. Listen to what that character has to say—because it may be quite telling.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Chapter Books… What’s GOOD?

New (to me) Resource

Before I get into content, I do want to throw up a new Enby Book List that I discovered on Twitter this week! Compiled by Jeanne G’Fellers, this is a new resource that I’ve now added to the BBB Links and Resources page! This is a great list, especially if you’re looking for indie or harder to discover titles featuring non-binary authors and characters.

Chapter Books… What’s GOOD?

Thanks to some inspiration from one of my clients, Marissa Ellor, I’ve decided to finally write a comprehensive list of chapter book recommendations. This is a post that I’ve been meaning to make for a while, and it’s a total bookseller post, but I hope that it will be useful to parents and kidtlit writers as well.

The bookshop where I work is in a neighbourhood with a lot of young families in it, and we also do the majority of our business with the local school boards. Our store specializes in social justice and diversity, so as curators and booksellers, we are very mindful and selective about the books that we choose. For a while now, there has been fantastic YA to choose from, and picture books are getting better and better every day. Board books are catching up, and there’s starting to be some good MG out there. When you’re looking at kids who are still learning to read independently, though, finding really good chapter books, early readers, and graphic novels for the developing (or “reluctant”) reader can be super challenging. I hope that my recommendations can make finding the gems a little bit easier for those who are overwhelmed!

There was a period of my life when I was spending a lot of time in suburban Colorado, and probably once a week I found myself at the 2nd and Charles in Aurora. This store is an oasis of used kids’ books. They have a massive selection in a clean and well-organized space, and they often do ridiculous sales. At the time, I was co-parenting, and one of my favourite things to do was to bring the kids to these sales and give them free rein to pick whatever books looked good, and then spend time sitting at one of the kids’ tables with them, discussing what we were going to bring home and why it was awesome.

A bearded person stands in front of shelves of picture books with their arms full of books. They are laughing.
Photo from the 2nd and Charles Facebook page, May 22 2019.

Part of the fun of this for me was rediscovering the books that in large part made me who I am today. I was that kid who used to bring their maximum number of library loans home every week, and had to carry a stack after the Scholastic order came into my classroom in elementary school. I was lucky enough to be allowed to read whatever I wanted, and I read a lot. Some of my favourites were chapter book series – from The Chronicles of Narnia to The Saddle Club to Goosebumps and Bunnicula… I loved these stories. The bad news is? A lot of them haven’t aged so well. The good news is? There are a LOT of new things on the market for this reading group.

Unfortunately, sometimes too many choices can be overwhelming, and because chapter books are chronically under-screened and under-reviewed compared to books in other categories, it’s hard to know what’s good. Taking a peek at Barnes and Noble’s selection, for example: there are over 27 000 titles available through their website categorized as paperback, ages 6-9, and that cost between $5 and $10 USD. The Toronto Public Library lists 5 816 results for “easy-to-read” stories. Important to note: neither of these outlets for books for kids actually categorize books AS chapter books. Where does a reader even start to look? I hope that by providing some recommendations for my favourite chapter book series, it will make the selection process a little more manageable!

A close up of a child reading a book, one eye visible, and the book large and out of focus in the foreground.
Photo by Johnny McClung on Unsplash

I’ve chosen the series listed below for a number of reasons, and diverse representation is at the top of that list. That said, probably the BIGGEST fault in chapter books right now is that you actually can’t judge books by their covers. Although so many of these titles look super inclusive, there is a serious dearth of #OwnVoices stories, and even most of the books that feature diverse casts are still written by white folks. It’s time for kidlit publishers to seek out better representation among their authors for books in this reading level.

I am also not a fan of “potty humour” in books, so there’s not a lot of that here. For each category, I’ve profiled my favourite selection briefly, and then included a list of other titles in that category underneath. You will see that the book listed is always the first book in the series (where the series are numbered), but as a rule, it is not necessary to read chapter books in the order in which they are published! They are typically stand alone stories. Where the series name isn’t obvious, I’ve included that in parentheses following the title.

A child looks at a bunch of books on a shelf.
Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

Books with Animals as Characters

When you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing book for a group of young kids, or a great read aloud, it’s hard to go wrong with anthropomorphic animals just living their lives. The Heartwood Hotel series, written by Canadian author Kallie George and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin is a wholesome series about a super-cozy hotel for forest animals. Themes of friendship and community come through in these books accompanied by black and white illustrations.

The cover of Heartwood Hotel: A True Home, showing a tree with a small mouse sitting on a branch.
  • Eva’s Treetop Festival (Owl Diaries)
  • A True Home (Heartwood Hotel)
  • Rabbit’s Bad Habits (Rabbit and Bear)
  • A New Friend (The Adventures of Sophie Mouse)

Stories for Animal Lovers

The Jasmine Green books by Helen Peters and illustrated by Ellie Snowdon are about a young girl who lives on a family farm with her parents and siblings. Her mom is a veterinarian, and each book in this series sees Jasmine helping an animal in need. This is the perfect series for compassionate education in a classroom, or for any kid who loves animals.

The cover of A Piglet Called Truffle, featuring a pink piglet running through the grass.
  • Mercy Watson to the Rescue
  • Megabat
  • Amy and the Missing Puppy (The Critter Club)
  • A Piglet Called Trouble (Jasmine Green)

Books about Friendship

I love Megan Atwood’s books. At a more accessible level for readers, the Dear Molly, Dear Olive series features two young girls who are cross-country Email penpals. One lives in a city, and one lives in a rural area. The books follow the girls as they tell each other about their adventures, and the reader explores the ups and downs of long-distance friendship. At a more advanced level are the Orchard Novels, of which there are four, one for each season. These follow four kids who live and work together on a New England apple orchard. Like Dear Molly, Dear Olive, these lighthearted books feature a diverse cast.

  • Ivy and Bean
  • Best Friends Forever? (Ashley Tall and Ashlee Small)
  • A Fall for Friendship (An Orchard Novel)
  • Dear Molly, Dear Olive
  • The Baby-Sitters Club

Books about Making Stuff

The Magnificent Makers series is an #OwnVoices series of books about kids making stuff, written by Theanne Griffith, PhD. She is not only a children’s author, but also a neuroscientist. The illustrator for this series is Reggie Brown, who specializes in diverse representation. These books are charming, well-written, and they are a brilliant fresh perspective for a space where we are only just starting to see #OwnVoices stories come to light.

The cover of Magnificent Makers: How to Test a Friendship, showing three children of colour looking at a biodome on a table.
  • Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters (Questioneers)
  • Ellie, Engineer
  • The Un-Friendship Bracelet (Craftily Ever After)
  • How to Test a Friendship (The Magnificent Makers)

Mysteries

My favourite series in this whole post is the Museum Mysteries series. While I wish that the creators behind this series (Steve Brezenoff and Lisa K. Weber) were a little more diverse, the books themselves offer a fresh new take on classic whodunnits with an inclusive Scooby Squad cast of characters and beautiful covers. They’re quick reads with awesome classroom tie-ins, and if your household is playing a LOT of Animal Crossing right now (like mine is), fans of Blathers will be super into the varied museum settings of these stories.

The cover of The Case of the Haunted Mystery Museum, featuring a child looking up at a large museum with lightning in the background.
  • Ada Lace on the Case
  • The Case of the Haunted History Museum (Museum Mysteries)
  • King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats

Spooky Stories

Obviously, my favourites. I wish that my childhood chapter books had aged a little better, but I’m glad that there are new spooky series taking up the mantle – like Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol, by Andrés Miedoso and illustrated by Víctor Rivas. This is a classic monster-of-the-week series (appropriate for the faint of heart!) featuring the fearless Desmond Cole, and his sidekick who is afraid of everything: Andrés.

The cover of Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol, which shows two children in the foreground and some spooky houses and ghosts in the background.
  • Ghoulia
  • The Haunted House Nextdoor (Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol)
  • Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts
  • Isadora Moon Goes to School
  • Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball

Fantasy

There are so many good fantasy chapter books, and they range from epic to urban to friendship stories about yetis. There’s something for every reader. Left wanting for an #OwnVoices series in this category, I still love Zoey and Sassafras, by Asia Citro and illustrated by Marion Lindsay. This whimsical series is a blend of science and magic with lots of illustrations, featuring a young girl, and her cat.

The cover of Zoey and Sassafras, which shows a young girl and a cat looking at a small dragon.
  • Upside-Down Magic
  • Dragons and Marshmallows (Zoey and Sassafras)
  • Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
  • Rise of the Earth Dragon (Dragon Masters)
  • Bo’s Magical New Friend (Unicorn Diaries)
  • Sparkly New Friends (Unicorn and Yeti)
  • Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell)

STEAM (Science, Math, and More)

At a slightly more advanced reading level, the Elements of Genius series is ideal for a reader transitioning to MG novels. This series is written by Jess Keating who is herself a zoologist, and illustrated by Lissy Marlin, an artist from the Dominican Republic now living in the US. Lissy has done all kinds of cool projects, including the Magic Misfits series by Neil Patrick Harris. the Elements of Genius are witty and trendy and feature a badass feminine protagonist as she navigates a new school for gifted kids.

The cover of Elements of Genius, which shows an adolescent girl in the foreground and a ferret reaching toward a laser gun in the background.
  • Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray (Elements of Genius)
  • The Friendship Code (Girls Who Code)
  • Frankie Sparks and the Class Pet
  • Super Amoeba (Squish)

Graphic Crossover (Illustrated)

I challenge anyone not to love the CatStronauts, a graphic series by Drew Brockington featuring astronaut cats in weirdly scientifically accurate NASA-type situation. They’re wonderful. I have nothing else to say about these books.

The cover of CatStronauts, which shows four astronaut cats on the moon.
  • CatStronauts: Mission Moon
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: New School Nightmare
  • Sparks!
  • The Way Home (Owly)
  • Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (Narwhal and Jelly)
  • Hildafolk (Hilda)

Heroes and Adventure

There are a lot of really good hero books out there, but none as weird and charming as Gum Girl by Rhode Montijo. These books have bubblegum-scented covers (yeah, for real), and feature a feminine protagonist who literally changes into gum and goes on adventures. With a little bit of Spanish sprinkled throughout, I love the writing in these books, and I love the bizarre concept. They’re heavily illustrated, and they’re funny.

The cover of Gum Girl, which shows a character made of gum flying through the sky.
  • Mia Mayhem Is a Superhero
  • Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue
  • Chews Your Destiny (Gumazing Gum Girl)
  • The Jolly Regina (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters)
  • The Princess in Black
  • The Bad Guys
  • An Extra-Ordinary Girl (Ellie Ultra)

Contemporary

They’re a bit on the ridiculous side, but if the #OwnVoices Alvin Ho books aren’t relatable, I don’t know what are. They’re about a kid who’s afraid of everything, and basically just has to figure it out. Alvin Ho is written by Lenore Look, who has been creating kids’ books since she was a kid herself, and illustrated by the incredible LeUyen Pham, who also illustrates the Princess in Black series, and is co-creator of Real Friends with Shannon Hale.

The cover of Alvin Ho, which shows a scared child on the front.
  • Good Dog McTavish
  • Katie Woo Has the Flu
  • Alvin Ho Allergic to Girls, School, and other Scary Things
  • Sadiq and the Desert Star
  • Yasmin the Builder
  • Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business
  • Stella Díaz Has Something to Say

…last but not least: Sports, Choose Your Own Adventure, and Personal Faves

There are SO MANY CHAPTER BOOKS that I couldn’t not mention just a few more. On the top of this list is a standalone chapter book level novel called Coyote Tales. It’s written by acclaimed Indigenous author Thomas King, and tells two stories about Coyote that demonstrate his skillfulness as an author, as well as his humour. This is a rad book that we sell a lot at the shop, and although it’s a bit difficult to categorize, I would be remiss not to mention it here. It’s the perfect note to close out on.

The cover of Coyote Tales, where a coyote looks up at the moon, who frowns back.
  • Coyote Tales
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School
  • Flying Ace: Errol’s Gander Adventure
  • Little Shaq
  • The Ice Chips and the Magical Rink
  • Choose Your Own Adventure
  • Yael and the Party of the Year (Yes No Maybe So)
A small child reading on a couch.
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

…and we’re back!

My dearly departed laptop.

It was bound to happen some time! Two weeks ago, my beloved Frankenstein of a laptop finally died, and I simply did not have it in me to fight to assemble a blog post. It’s the first time that I’ve missed a planned post since I started this blog, so I’m super happy to be back in action this week with a post that’s super exciting. I’m so pleased to host a review of forthcoming LGBTQ2S+ novel You Exist too Much, by BIPOC author Zaina Arafat, by BBB’s new regular contributor, Jack.

I’m also thrilled to be able to share a guest post from an author for whom I have deep admiration, Isabel Stirling. She is the creator of some FABULOUS queer witches in her YA novel These Witches Don’t Burn, and its upcoming sequel, This Coven Won’t Break! I feel especially attached to celebrating Isabel’s latest book because I celebrated my own birthday on May 3rd, and her book releases on May 19th, so we are Taurus twins! More on that later…

First! I want to share a quick shoutout to AJ Vrana. Her debut novel, The Hollow Gods, comes out with Parliment House Press on July 28th. I participated in the cover reveal for this novel on Twitter, and since then, AJ’s joined the list of authors who I represent as an agent. I’m super proud that The Hollow Gods was reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly this week!

Jack’s Review: You Exist too Much, by Zaina Arafat

Zaina Arafat is an American and Palestinian writer and journalist and teacher. Her debut novel You Exist too Much is a diasporic piece of fiction. The story is told in flashbacks, beginning with the shaming of a twelve-year-old Palestinian girl, whose feelings of not belonging are externalized. It’s a story told in cyclical flashbacks, similarly to how we live life. Geographically, the novel mainly alternates between the US and the Middle East, between New York and Palestine.

This novel explores the meaning of living on the margins, of wanting to fit in a neat category. As an American and Palestinian woman, who has loved both men and women, she exists in the overlapping centre of a Venn diagram. The protagonist exists too much, yet, struggles to occupy space for herself. Arafat explores the pervasiveness of intergenerational trauma, and how it affects one’s identity.

Content warnings in You Exist Too Much include Emotional manipulation and Eating Disorders. While at a retreat, topics including sexual assault (from the perspective of the perpetrator) and substance abuse are mentioned.

When the novel begins, we know that the protagonist is in pain. It is the kind of emotional pain that manifests physically, the pain that makes You Exist too much an accusatory statement. The protagonist attempts to heal by falling in love with others, eventually realizing that one person can’t simultaneously occupy two bodies. We follow the protagonist as she confronts the different ways in which she exists.

This is a novel about existing and occupying space, it’s a novel about visibility and acceptance. The protagonist is presented as out of sync with the world, her live-in girlfriend and her own self. The novel embraces missed connections and opportunity, depicting the fleetingness and intensity of desire. You Exist Too Much is a story about identities and the complexities of attachments. Arafat invites us to question what obsessions, attraction and attachments all have in common.

YA Fantasy

Before I jump into Isabel Sterling’s awesome and creative guest post, I want to talk a little bit about why the publication and popularity of These Witches Don’t Burn and This Coven Won’t Break are such huge accomplishments.

YA fantasy is a hard market in traditional publishing. Looking at the deals made so far in 2020, there have only been 10 acquisitions in children’s (including MG and YA) fantasy, across all imprints, this year. One of them is a Lucasfilm IP property, and one is the next in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, so really, it’s more like 8 deals total for new books in that space, in the span of nearly 5 months. In 2019, there were 11 total deals in that space that were not series continuations. The competition is fire!! And yet, Isabel’s books are doing great.

Also, shoutout to writer KJ Aiello, who helped me out with this post, and asked: does crossover potential (ie, books that could appeal to YA or adult audiences) help fantasy books that are going on submission in traditional publishing? The unfortunate reality is, when a book is submitted to an imprint, you either sub to a YA imprint, or an adult imprint. The only real exceptions to that are SMG, which has St. Martin’s/Wednesday and acquires for both age groups, Tor, which encompasses Tor Teen, and Amazon, which publishes specifically with an eye to YA that is actually written for adult audiences.

BUT. When you see “crossover potential”, “millennial fiction”, “college-aged YA”, these kinds of terms, what they are actually code for, in the industry, is “New Adult”. Publishing’s unspoken secret is that we do publish NA, all the time. It’s just not branded as NA anymore, because the way that that experiment played out like, 5-10 years ago, is that the term has a negative connotation (ie, it just means YA books with erotic content now, basically), so we have to call it something different.

But adult appeal in YA-branded books is actually somewhat essential. A little over 50% of YA readership IS adults, and in addition, YA novels have to appeal to adults because they are often the ones with the purchasing power even if the books’ audiences are younger. Educational wholesale markets are a huge part of that – so not only are publishers aiming to appeal to adult readers of YA, but they’re also aiming to appeal to parents, teachers, and librarians. Fantasy novels aren’t seen to have as much of a place in a classroom setting as some other kinds of novels, partially because of the stigmas that surround all genre works as being seen as less-than compared to more “literary” work. Also, YA as we know it has only existed since the 1970s, so it’s by far the newest category in the traditional publishing industry, and it’s only been seen as legitimate since the late 1980’s, early 1990s.

If you want to learn more about YA books in general, YA fantasy, and on the attitudes toward genre versus literary works in broader publishing, here is some further reading:

  1. How Young Adult Fiction Blossomed With Teenage Culture in America
  2. A Brief History of YA Literature: An Infographic
  3. Home and Away, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  4. The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  5. How Horror Helps Us Overcome Our Fears, by Adam Pottle

This Coven Won’t Break Tarot Reading, by Isabel Sterling

Hello, Readers! Isabel Sterling here. To celebrate the upcoming release of This Coven Won’t Break, emmy suggested a tarot reading for my three main girls, and I thought that sounded like a wonderful idea. I don’t normally let myself think about what happens to my characters after their book is done, so getting to read for Hannah, Morgan, and Gemma was really fun! The cards had some interesting things to say. 

For this reading, I used the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot Deck. I really enjoy this deck, especially because all of the major love cards are same-gender couples, and there’s racial diversity in there, too. Definitely a step up from many super white, heteronormative traditional decks.

Since This Coven Won’t Break is her story, I started with Hannah.

(Pictured: Seven of Pentacles, Ten of Wands, and The Sun)

In This Coven Won’t Break, Hannah works a lot with the Council, the organization responsible for protecting the three Witch Clans and keeping everyone in line. Hannah plants a lot of seeds with them, so the Seven of Pentacles tells me she’s going to be working to help those efforts grow and bloom. Unfortunately, it looks like Hannah will try to bite off more than she can chew and work harder than she should (Ten of Wands). If she’s not careful, some important things could end up dropped. Luckily, she has Morgan and Gemma to remind her to actually get out and have some fun in the sun, and overall, she has a really awesome summer.

Hannah definitely deserves some rest, relaxation, and brightness in her life. So The Sun card was nice to see. It also looks like she has some babysitting in her future, and perhaps some unexpected twins from Sarah and Rachel? (Who knows! Not me! Like I said, if it didn’t happen in the book, I honestly don’t know.)

Next, let’s take a peek into Morgan’s summer.

(Pictured: Queen of Swords, Two of Cups, and Two of Wands)

Well, without getting into spoilers, Morgan kinda Goes Through It during the course of This Coven Won’t Break. As a result, the Queen of Swords is telling me her mom gets a little over-protective about things. Which, honestly, is reasonable. With the Two of Cups, though, it looks like Morgan still has plenty of time to hang out with Hannah. I see lots of dates at their secret spot in the woods. (And see what I mean about the same-gender couple! I love this deck.) 

With everything that happens to Morgan, the Two of Wands tells me she’s a little nervous about leaving the nest to go to college. She’s just finally putting down roots in Salem and isn’t sure she’s ready to move on and start her “real” life.

Finally, let’s take a look at Gemma’s reading.

(Pictured The Tower, The Empress, and the Ace of Cups)

Well, The Tower is a total spoiler, so I can’t really say much except Gemma’s world turns upside down a bit near the end of the book. The Empress, though, tells me Gem spends much of her summer further honing her interest in all things witchy–tarot cards and crystals and everything. The Empress is often linked to motherly instincts, but in Gemma’s case, I see that as her connection with Hannah’s boss, Lauren, and Gemma getting into with her feminine intuition. 

Finally, it looks like there might be some romance waiting for Gemma with that Ace of Cups. Her crushes in These Witches Don’t Burn didn’t turn out so great, so she definitely deserves a little post-graduation fun. Maybe she can double-date with Hannah and Morgan! 

That’s all the cards had in store for us tonight. I hope you found this fun, and if you haven’t yet, you can order These Witches Don’t Burn here and This Coven Won’t Break over here! Happy reading! 

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Changing of the Seasons

I am staggered these past few weeks about how much can change in, seemingly, the blink of an eye. The world feels so different now than it did mere weeks ago – and yet, since the day I started Books Beyond Binaries, I haven’t missed a scheduled post, so the band plays on.

The last couple of years have been very challenging for me, and in 2019, I began tweeting about celebrating small joys. I’m not a naturally optimistic person, and in times of difficulty, embracing things like Pokémon GO and homemade ice cream has helped more than I’d readily admit. These days, as most days, I’m taking a great deal of solace in books, so I’m grateful to have this space to share.

And share I shall! Today is extremely exciting for me, because I get to introduce you all to BBB’s first repeat contributor! I reached out on Twitter seeking collaborators for this blog, and I am deeply lucky that Jack reached back out to me, and will be contributing her ARC reviews to enrich the content of this space over the coming months!

An image of Jack, a Black queer woman, eyes closed, wearing gold jewellery, and covered in powder-like, colourful paint.

Jack is a queer writer and artist who is completing her English and Cultural studies B. A
at McMaster University. She likes to read psychological thrillers, Afrofuturistic works and
genre-bending memoirs that include Auto-Theory. Also, she enjoys watching films,
writing short stories, drawing and desserts that are sweet, but not too sweet. It is my absolute pleasure to give over my platform to this brilliant reader and writer, and welcome her reviews of forthcoming queer books!

There are two other firsts that I’ll be celebrating in this post, as well: the book birthday of Mia Siegert’s Somebody Told Me: the first traditionally-published novel to feature a bigender protagonist… AND IT’S A YA SUSPENSE NOVEL. I’m hyped!

Last, but not least – if you’ve been following me for a little while, you’ll know that I’m on the planning team for the Festival of Literary Diversity, held each year in Brampton, ON. It is my favourite lit festival on the planet. In light of current events, the FOLD will move online, for free, for the first time ever this year. There are 19 virtual events this year, and all you need to attend – from anywhere in the world – is to register on Eventbrite. There is one event that I’m going to highlight, though, that everyone who reads BBB should attend – both because it’s going to be AWESOME and also because it’s on my BIRTHDAY. The Art of Craft: Trans Brilliance Edition! Organized by the FOLD and Kai Cheng Thom partially in response to the transphobic violence perpetrated by the Toronto Public Library this year, this event features some mind-blowing trans writers and creators: Gwen Benaway, Ali Blythe, Casey Plett, and Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, as well as Kai herself.

Poster for The Art of Craft: Trans Brilliance Edition

Jack’s ARC Review: Broken People, by Sam Lansky

Sam Lansky’s Broken People, a work of fiction with autobiographical undertones, makes a clear distinction between a physical journey and a spiritual quest. His diction is hypnotizing, twisting and twirling until the tale he has woven is all you can think about devouring. The protagonist’s sense of awareness or lack of, drives the story. It’s a work of art that reminds us that, writing is not healing, rather, it is the reflection, the learning and understanding, that leads to healing. Similarly, the main character’s healing process begins when he faces himself in the process of what he has written.


Lansky writes a riveting tale of growing up, of finding your voice and the cyclical nature of healing. Today, we’ve cultivated the unrealistic expectation of achieving all our life goals age thirty, convinced that not meeting this constraint is an act of failure. The reader is implicated in a story of growth, one that comes from understanding one’s experience rather than just experiencing. It’s difficult to articulate what we feel and how that may have led us to act a certain way, but Lansky does it expertly. He creates characters who come to life by simply existing, making choices, breathing.


CW for this book include eating disorders, substance use and partner violence (verbal and emotional). I found myself at certain scenes conflicted, but it was in that space that I was able to acknowledge the nuances of interpersonal relationships. I recommend this book to readers in early adulthood, who are looking for something.

The cover of Broken People, by Sam Lansky, which features a hummingbird.


There are similarities between Sam Lansky the author, and Sam the main character. Broken People references the protagonist as a writer whose memoir explores substance use, which is like the content of Sam Lansky’s previous work The Gilded Razor: a memoir. Sam crafts a journey of love and forgiveness and situates it in a work of fiction.


We meet Sam, a man who seems stuck and the story is full of flashbacks. He is living the dream before the dream: moving in with a friend, dreaming about becoming a published author.


The more he can afford, the emptier Sam feels. We follow Sam through the vulnerability in the wake of sexual encounters, heartbreak and career successes. We become entrenched in what it means to explore one’s love language when loving yourself did not seem to be an option.


I am currently writing a paper where I explore the relationship between the physical body and orientation, of both gender and sexuality. Lansky writes of self-discovery through both the body and the external world. How do you explore the world when you do not feel at home in your own body? How can you escape who you are? He does not answer these questions, rather, he offers possible paths. Lansky explores consumption of relationships, food and substance use. “Your body is a temple”, but what if you don’t know how to praise whom the altar belongs to? What if you don’t know yourself? There is no single cure or quick fix to the struggles of real life, but there is learning, through trial and error. So that is my take-away. Reading Broken People felt like making a home out of a story. It’s a story about the coming of age of the coming of age story.

Broken People is scheduled to be released in June 2020, and is available for pre-order now.

Happy Book Birthday to Somebody Told Me, by Mia Siegert

Yall, it is a weird time to be celebrating a book birthday, but we are here, and it is happening, and I have been waiting for this little gem for a while!

Somebody Told Me is the first novel to be traditionally published featuring bigender representation, and it came out this month from Carolrhoda and is available to buy now. Mia’s described this book as the French film Améie, but if it went terribly wrong… and given that Amélie is a huge favourite of mine, I am so here for this.

The novel follows Russian Jewish protagonist Aleks/Alexis as they navigate gender, and the fallout after they are sexually assaulted in their fandom community. It explores themes of gender presentation as the MC tries to solve a mystery before someone else gets hurt, and in doing so, confront their abuser and their own trauma. It’s not a light and fluffy read, and CWs also include trans and queerphobia, and religious content. That said, this is the kind of nuanced diversity representation that as a reader, I’ve been waiting for, and I would say: don’t sleep on this.

For a taste of what you can expect from this book, check out the book trailer above, voiced by Katelyn Clarke and Zeno Robinson. And while you’re at it, head on over to Mia’s Twitter, where you can check out the this spectacular book look featuring colourways from the bi-coded book cover, and wish a happy book birthday to Somebody Told Me!

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Neglected Favourites of 2019

Currently Reading: You’re Next, by Kylie Schachte

LGBTQ2S+ POC Authors Are #CanLit

A handful of rad authors, many of whom are LGBTQ2S+ POC, have been announced as part of the delegation representing Canada at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year! So happy to see so many authors who have been celebrated in this space before (and who will continue to be!) get the public recognition they deserve. Special congrats to Billy-Ray Belcourt, Canisia Lubrin, Catherine Hernandez, Farzana Doctor, Joshua Whitehead, Tanya Tagaq, Tanya Talaga, Téa Mutonji, and Vivek Shraya!

Looking for 2020 Reads?

I love being able to shout out other trans and/or non-binary content creators! Recently, Books Beyond Binaries has extended support to Santana Reads, a book blog by a rad content creator. Carolina is a bi, genderfluid, Puerto Rican 16-year old teen book blogger who is very passionate about diverse literature. When they’re not reading a good book, they can be found snacking on gingerbread cookies, napping, playing with their dog, and marathoning TV shows on Netflix. They are one of the co-hosts of the Latinx Book Club, and their latest post is a review of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, which comes out later this year. Thank you so much for this insightful review, Carolina!

If you are a non-binary content creator, and you can think of ways that this blog can support you, feel free to reach out through the contact form!

Genderqueer blogger and author Corey Alexander has put together another bang-up list of new release books with trans and/or non-binary authors for early 2020. So many rad titles on this list, but the ones I want to shout about are: Blood Sport, by the indelible Tash McAdam, which is a perfect pick for educators or those who want a more accessible reading level; Common Bonds, an anthology which has hella incredible rep across the aromantic spectrum; The Subtweet, by Vivek Shraya, who has never once disappointed me with anything she’s created; and The Thirty Names of Night, by Zeyn Joukhader, an #OV Syrian trans novel with an almost entirely QTPOC cast.

A mood board for Tundras, Travelers, and Other Travesties, featuring mostly a lot of mist and snow.

One of the other options on this list is Tundras, Travelers, and Other Travesties, by the fabulous enby author and online community builder who likely none of us could do without, Amara Lynn. It is a prescient solarpunk post-apocalyptic sci-fi short with a queer protagonist that is available now. I am thrilled to be able to share a preview of Amara’s newest offering in this space. Buckle in.


Excerpt: Tundras, Travelers, and Other Travesties

“I don’t understand. You live outside of Earth?”

“Yeah. In space. On an artificial planet, made for people to live on instead of Earth when it became too polluted and unlivable. Why don’t you know any of this?”

I shrug. I’m having trouble taking this in, confused by what it all means. I know that our outpost and greenhouse is built into the side of a hill of landfill waste, and the solar panels were built atop the highest landfill peaks to take in maximum sun exposure. All I know is this tundra, this landfill outpost. Zaza and Nana never told me anything about why there were so few people, why we never received travelers. Is it because they all live on this artificial planet Earth?

I clutch my knees to my chest, which aches along with my ribs. I don’t even realize I’m rocking until the traveler’s hands touch my shoulders.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to shock you.”

I look up, staring at those bright pools. “Who are you?” I blurt the question without thinking about it.

“The name’s Ignis. I use he, his, and him pronouns.”

“Eis. What are pronouns?” I am unfamiliar with this concept.

Ignis seems confused that I don’t know. “They’re used to refer to a person when you’re not using their name. They vary based on a person’s gender. I’m a man and I use he, him, and his pronouns. Someone who is a woman might use she, her, and hers. There are also people who don’t have any particular gender or who fluctuate and use neutral pronouns like they and them, ze and zir, or ze and hir. Those are just a few.”

“Oh…” I have never known anyone else besides my parents. Now, thinking about it, I recall Nana used ze and zir when referring to Zaza, and Zaza had used they and them for Nana.

“Why don’t you know that?”

“I…I’m not sure. My parents did use some of those for each other, but I’ve never been asked about myself. I’m not sure I know what gender I would be.”

“That’s okay. Would you like me to use neutral pronouns for you? They and them, or ze and zir? I can list some others if you like.”

“Oh…maybe ze and zir?” That’s what Zaza used.

“Okay.” Ignis smiles. “And if you change your mind later after learning more about it, that’s totally okay, too.”

“Okay.”

If you want to read the rest of this story, it is available on B&N, Universal, Gumroad, and (if all else fails) Amazon, or it can be added on Goodreads! You can find Amara Lynn on Twitter!


Unsung Favourites of 2019

This post comes at a time when we are experiencing the fullness of a complicated world. I didn’t have a collaborator or special theme of this week, so I thought that I’d write about some of the best books that I read in 2019 that I didn’t get to talk about in this space. Hopefully, these recommendations will serve everyone who is new to social distance well! If you can, order these titles from your local indie, since many of them are suffering right now, and lots of them can take online orders and provide delivery.

There’s nothing that’s a better distraction, in my opinion, than a good thriller, and these two were page-turners. A Madness of Sunshine is the first crime book from NYT bestselling contemporary fantasy romance author Nalini Singh. This atmospheric story set in a vividly imagined small coastal town in New Zealand features a diverse cast including many Indigenous characters and a slow-burn romantic subplot. It’s a clever twist on a formulaic crime novel from a WOC that features enough predictable elements to feel recognizable, while still hinting at searing political commentary in the best of ways. Despite a few loose ends at the conclusion of the book, I would recommend this to anyone seeking a great mystery. CWs for domestic violence, substance use, murder, violence against women, some ableist language, police protagonist, violence against animals (one scene, with warning indicators before violence occurs).

I am a huge fan of UK-based author Fran Doricott, and I ate up her twisty abduction mystery thriller After the Eclipse. It’s a complex mystery with a badass femme journalist protagonist, and it’s hella queer. This one requires all the CWs, in particular for violence, child abduction, confinement, imprisonment, sexual assault, rape, pregnancy, and stalking, off the top of my head. However, I loved about this book that it had a positive, satisfying outcome, despite its grim themes.

The Collected Schizophrenias by LGBTQ2S+ author Esmé Weijun Wang, and Consent by Donna Freitas, were two of my favourite non-fiction books from last year. I bought Wang’s collection of essays at the Tattered Cover in the Denver airport, (unsuccessfully) holding back tears, in the middle of a mental health crisis. I could not have made a more perfect choice. Not only did the author respond with such generosity and care when I reached out to let her know that her book was in an airport display – a long-standing wish of hers – but the collection is moving, relatable, and insightful. It is the book about psychiatric disability that I have always needed. In contrast, Consent is a timely, chilling, and all-too-familiar story of an academic relationship gone awry for Freitas, a student at the time, who ultimately gets stalked by her mentor. Freitas’ story is an unflinching tale that every femme will be able to see themself in, and a searing social commentary.

I struggle to describe what I loved so much about the fever dream that is Gingerbread, by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s one of the few books in my life that I have finished, and then immediately felt the urge to flip back to the first page and read again. I had never read any of Oyeyemi’s work before Gingerbread, and I am delighted that she has such an extensive backlist for me to discover. This book is a strange and wonderful delight.

By contrast, Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age is a quick, engaging, millennial fiction, that I found instantly relatable in so many ways. You know that white girl who got rich off Instagram? Yeah, her. This book is both about her, and so not about her. With aspects of political commentary, a twisty romantic subplot, and the best-written child character I have ever read, I would recommend this one to anyone. It is a perfect book conversation starter or club pick, and it’s a great gift for the college freshman who loved The Hate U Give.

I don’t read a tonne of MG, as is probably evident from what I tend to review on this blog, but I picked up a few last year that I loved. I listened to The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, on audio, and it was fantastic. I love twin books to begin with, and this one was a love story to weird junk shops, featuring adolescent social awkwardness (hard relate) and an unpredictable, fairy-tale-inspired plotline. If you liked the Hazel Wood, you’ll like this, too.

I loved Jinxed so much that although its sequel hasn’t been released in Canada yet, I actually begged a UK-based friend to mail me a copy. Canadian-born Amy McCulloch’s book is set in a near future Toronto, and I picked up the ARC on a whim while I was bored between bookselling at an event. I read it in one sitting, and I loved every minute. Jinxed is about a realistic electronics tinkerer protag, in a world where smart phones have been replaced with personalized robotic animal companions, and features one of my favourite things: a school for the elite! It’s an engaging mystery, and ultimately our fair protagonist is left facing off against the corporate overlords. Jinxed has been released in North America now, and the sequel, Unleashed, is available across the pond. Also, look out for McCulloch’s forthcoming YA Gothic thriller, co-written with Zoe Sugg (aka Zoella), The Magpie Society (!!!).

I feel like there was literally no way I was going to miss these last two books. I think I’m physically incapable of passing on cheerleader intrigue or witchy 90’s throwbacks – and I stan. Squad is a short but impactful YA contemporary by non-binary author Rae (Mariah) McCarthy about a cheerleader who gets dumped by her friends, has to navigate newly-discovered mental health struggles, and figure out who she really is. All I can say about this book is that it’s charming AF, and I hard relate. It’s well-written, and it’s a story that I think any teenaged femme (or formerly teenaged femme) will see themselves in. It also has a well-crafted transgender secondary character, and a tough-to-navigate romantic subplot with aspects of “what does transition mean anyway?”… without spoiling the entire book – if you are a fan of Complicated Friendship Stories, this one’s for you.

As for The Babysitters Coven, by Kate Williams, I’m delighted to report that this book is exactly what it says on the label. 90’s throwback. Magic. Baddies. Femmes save the day. Babysitters. It’s brain candy, and it’s great. My bookshop sales rep from PRH Canada tossed me a copy of this when I told them that I basically wouldn’t be able to wait for its release date, so shout out to them for always humouring me with such good will. Especially at a time when the world feels heavy, this is a kitschy delight to spend an afternoon on.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Never Have I Ever

Currently Reading: Darling Rose Gold, by Stephanie Wrobel

Non-Binary New Release

Just a quick heads up before I jump into the theme of today’s post: non-binary poet Danez Smith’s newest title dropped on January 21st, and although I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, I hope that all of you will! It’s called Homie, and it’s a mixtape-styled collection that celebrates Black love, while lamenting the harm done to Black people.

Arospec Awareness Week!

Happy Aromantic Spectrum Awareness week! Over the past few months, I’ve been embracing my arospec identity for the first time. This is my first Arospec Awareness Week, and I wanted to remind everyone about the Aromantic and Asexual Characters Database! It’s always linked in my resources page, and it’s the best way that I know of to find great books by and about arospec folks.

FOLD Reading Challenge: Caribbean Author

If yall are reading along with the FOLD 2020 Reading Challenge, then you know that we are on month two, and this month’s challenge is to read a book by a Caribbean author. Truth be told, this is an area where I have serious gaps in my knowledge, but I put together a quick list of authors to check out this February…

  • Marlon James
  • Afua Cooper
  • Jamaica Kincaid
  • Roxane Gay
  • Ben Philippe
  • Ibi Zoboi
  • Claire Adam
  • Lilliam Riviera
  • Candice Carty-Williams
  • Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Zalika Reid-Benta
  • Nicole Dennis-Benn
  • Ann Dávila Cardinal
  • Maika and Maritza Moulite

…and last, but not least, non-binary author Kacen Callendar. If you take a look at some of the works by these authors, there really should be something for everyone, and that speaks to the sheer breadth of cultural and literary diversity that bursts forth from this region of the world.

Wet’suwet’en Strong

A drawing of the hereditary chiefs, with text that says "The hereditary chiefs say NO to all pipelines".
Art by Christi Belcourt

I see part of the work of this blog is lifting up marginalized voices, including those of the Indigenous community. For that reason, I want to issue a short solidarity statement from this platform, even though it is small. I am so humbled by the Wet’suwet’en land protectors and the incredible work that they are doing. So proud of all they are achieving. If you are not doing everything you could be to support them, you should make better choices.

Today’s Post

It’s a long one, so I’m going to jump right in! I’m so excited today to be featuring two spooky titles by LGBTQ2S+ authors; one from a small indie press, and one that was crowd funded. They both also have gorgeous covers.

I wanted to do something fun and creative with this one, so rather than focusing too much on the texts themselves, I’ve asked some of the rad authors of these works to share a bit about themselves, a teaser of their writing, and play a good old fashioned round of the classic adolescent party game, Never Have I Ever. Snuggle down, and pour yourself the beverage of your choice. Never have I ever made poor choices playing this game…

In Restless Dreams, by Wren Handman

In Restless Dreams is the perfect indie book for fans of The Hazel Wood duology, by Melissa Albertalli, or Holly Black’s Cruel Prince series. Written by an openly queer author, this book has so many elements I love in an urban fairy tale… careful handling of mental health issues, a MC who finds herself suddenly wealthy, a fancy prep school, and – of course – a little trickster magic. With this beautiful cover, it’s practically impossible to resist, and I’m thrilled to feature this title in this space.

Wren Handman

About the Author

Wren Handman is a novelist, fiction writer, and screenwriter. She’s written three novels: Last Cut (Lorimer Ltd 2012), Command the Tides (Omnific 2015), and In Restless Dreams, which was originally self-published and has now been released from Parliament House Press. Wren was pleased to be part of the team that wrote The Switch, a comedy about trans life in Vancouver. Her next book, Wire Wings, comes out with Parliament House on June 23rd, 2020. Follow her blog, or on Twitter.

Never Have I Ever…

For this post, Wren and I brainstormed, and she came up with an awesome idea… to have her main characters from In Restless Dreams play a good, old fashioned game of Never Have I Ever. Please enjoy this casual preview of Wren’s charming characters from her newly released novel, and, peripherally, the first fiction that I’ve ever had the pleasure of hosting on this blog!

“Never have I ever…been in a situation like this.” It might not be in the spirit of the game, but it’s true. I’m just a normal girl from Topaz Lake, Nevada. Or I was, until I moved to New York to live with my disgustingly rich Christmas-and-birthdays Dad. Now I’m just a disgusting rich girl from New York, New York. Which, in my neighbourhood, is sadly also normal.


Then again, I’m currently sitting in Fairy, which is about as far from normal as you can get. Yup, that Fairy. Magical world just a step away from our own. There’s a campfire, sort of, but the fire burns hot blue and dancing purple, and the sparks that drift away from the wood flicker and live on like tiny stars. On the other side of the enchanting flames are two people who make my heart beat faster, and I’m not sure if it’s from fear…or something else entirely.


One of them brings his drink to his lips and takes a long, deep gulp. His eyes are dancing with light of their own, and it’s the only brightness about him. The rest of him is nothing but shadow, from the living shadow-grey mass of his hair down to the pitch shadow-black of his skin. I don’t know his name, so I’ve taken to calling him Stranger.


“You really shouldn’t have been in a situation like this before,” the third person says to Stranger, chiding. “Interacting with humans is a breach of the Accord.” Royan is the embodiment of a young girl’s fantasy of a knight on horseback. Blond wavy hair, eyes an emerald that humans just don’t have, chiselled jaw that could cut his marble abs. I mean, I can’t see his abs, I’m just imagining them. I mean, I’m not imagining them! I’m just saying. He’s hot.


Stranger just shrugs at the hostility. He’s not afraid of the Knight. “I said like this, not exactly this. It’s your turn, Knight.”


“Never have I ever…been a Commoner.”


“No targeted ones,” I object. “It has to be something that could hit both of us.”


“I didn’t take you for a cheater,” Stranger teases.


“I was not cheating. I merely misunderstood the rules,” Royan says, though I’m not sure I believe him. “Never have I ever…eaten a hamburger.”


I laugh and take a drink. They tell you not to eat or drink in Fairy, in all the stories, but Stranger promised the drink wouldn’t hurt me, and I believe him. There’s something about him that just makes you feel safe. Maybe it’s his smile.


Stranger drinks, too, and Royan looks at him with narrowed eyes but doesn’t say anything.


“Never have I ever had a threeway,” Stranger says without missing a beat.


I snort out an awkward laugh, very unladylike, and no one drinks.


“Oh, wait.” Stranger rubs his head. “Sorry, no. That’s no good. Oh! I’ve got a better one, anyway. Never have I ever fallen for a mysterious stranger.”


They both look at me as my cheeks burn red hot. I don’t care if it’s cheating, there’s no way I am drinking! “You’re both giving yourself way too much credit,” I say, knocking my cup against the log I’m sitting on to show I’m not bringing it to my lips. “Never have I ever met royalty.”


They both drink, though Stranger shakes his head at me. “I feel like that’s cheating.”


I grin. “Or is it just playing smart?”


“Never have I ever kissed two people in the same night,” Royan says.


Stranger and I both drink, and when our eyes meet I giggle. “New Year’s Eve,” I explain. “You?”


“Madcap love affair with a forest nymph and its estranged troll lover,” he says, and I can’t tell if he’s joking. I guess being more than a thousand years old, you’re bound to have had some pretty wild experiences. But not Royan. I look at him when he isn’t looking, watching the light play across his cheekbones. He always seems sad, when you catch him unaware like there’s something he can’t quite let go of.


“Your turn,” I remind Stranger, who drums his fingers against his lips.


“Never have I ever…ridden on an airplane.”


I drink, not calling him out even though I think that techncially counts as targeted. They don’t have airplanes in Fairy.


“Do the sky bison of the Northern Mountains count?” Royan asks.


“Oh, yes, definitely,” Stranger says, and Royan shrugs and drinks.


“Never have I ever stayed awake more than thirty hours,” I say.


Royan looks confused, and Stranger shrugs. “Time sort of…works differently here. It’s narrative.”


“Time is narrative? What does that even mean?”


“It means that it moves more quickly when you are between important moments,” Royan explains.

“So technically, we experience very little non-meaningful time.”


“So that’s a no for both of us,” Stranger says with a grin.


“I think I should get a re-ask,” I complain, but I’m smiling, and neither of them takes me seriously.


“Never have I ever lost a fight,” Royan says. Stranger and I both drink, laughing, but this time we don’t share the stories behind it. I notice we have more in common than I expected, and once again I wish I knew his story. Who is it, really, behind the laughter and the mystery?


“Never have I ever started a fight,” Stranger says, and Royan and I both quickly drink. I’m not proud of my temper, but it’s there, all right. Sometimes I make bad choices.


“Never have I ever been in love,” I blurt out, before I can stop myself. I watch them both closely.

Royan smiles, softly, and takes a drink like he’s thinking about something pleasant from a long time ago. Stranger drinks, too, but he hesitates before he does, and the drink is quick, almost angry. It’s the exact opposite reaction to what I was expecting. Stranger, with his laughter and his promises of the truth; and Royan, with his honor and his uptight attitude.


They both have such huge lives beyond me. And there’s still so much I don’t know.


It isn’t anyone’s turn, but I drink anyway. Maybe I just need a drink. Or maybe my turn wasn’t as true as I thought it was…

Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology

I could not believe it when I saw the Kickstarter for Unspeakable, a collection of creepy and transgressive queer gothic tales. Is there anything more on brand for this blog?! I’m so excited to be part of the tour of this collection of stories, and to feature a few of the authors in this space. There are four trans and/or non-binary writers who contributed to Unspeakable, and today, I’m pleased that you get to know a little bit about three of them here.

The cover of Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology, which features a skeleton wearing a flower crown and collar on a rainbow backdrop.

Meet Red!

Claire Hamilton Russell, aka Red

Claire Hamilton Russell lives in Glasgow, Scotland and is usually known as Red. They are one of life’s natural Disaster Bisexuals, hence why they are genderqueer/genderfluid/nonbinary, because choosing anything as solid as a distinct single gender identity is clearly antithetical to them. They are disabled and neurodiverse, and have a grand ambition to eventually cover all their various mobility devices in cool geeky stickers.

A former worker with disabled children and young people, refugees and torture survivors, they had to give up full time work due to chronic illness and now spend their time blogging about disability and LGBT+ rights issues, writing, embroidering, playing or running tabletop roleplay, LARPing with mobility aids and listening to podcasts. They are currently developing a podcast on Scotland’s lesser-known industrial and post-industrial history with their wonderful husband, Mark, occasionally hindered by their beloved Staffie, Jasmine.

Let Down: Teaser!

A tower, lit up at night, reaching into the clouds.
Photo by Victor Malyushev on Unsplash.

“Let Down” is a darker, nastier, and queering take on the Rapunzel faerytale. The Lady Melisandre is trapped in an isolated tower under a horrifying curse decades after rejecting a proposal from a very incel prince. She has long since given up on rescue, but it turns out the patriarchal mindset can leave some unexpected loopholes in curses.

Never Have I Ever…

Zip-lined across the River Clyde (I haven’t, sadly)
Left Europe (I haven’t, and I’ve taken the Flight Free pledge)
Gone on a rollercoaster (I haven’t – I have POTS so it would be distinctly unfun)
Petted a wolf (I have, and I’ll do it again at every possible opportunity)

Meet Avery!

Avery Kit Malone

Avery Kit Malone is a long shadow in a dark hallway. He is a researcher in psychology, as well as a writer of dark, and often weird and surreal, fiction. His work appears or is forthcoming in Aphotic Realm, The Gateway Review, Pseudopod, and other venues. You can call to him across the void: @dead_scholar

Doctor Barlowe’s Mirror: Teaser!

A person's face, partially obscured, wearing a headscarf and reflected in a mirror.
Photo by Rendiansyah Nugroho on Unsplash.

In “Doctor Barlowe’s Mirror,” an inventor creates a strange device that conjures the image of a perfect version of oneself. This vision is not, however, all that it appears to be. As the doctor’s assistant discovers, something unsettling lurks within that handsome visage the longer he looks…

Never Have I Ever…

I have never owned a pet rabbit.
I’ve never gone swimming in the sea (or anywhere else. I can’t swim).
I’ve never been bitten by a centipede. As far as I know…
I have driven across the United States alone in my car more than once. Once, I took a wrong turn during a snowstorm and ended up driving through a national forest. Road conditions were fairly poor, and I was quite alone there, but sight of the sun coming muted through the fog between these giant evergreens, snow blanketing the ground beneath them and everywhere else, was lovely, in a lonely kinda way. I’ll never forget it.

Meet Jen!

Jen Glifort

Jen Glifort (she/they) is a nonbinary writer and editor living in Connecticut. When she’s not writing, she’s usually playing trumpet, losing at Overwatch, or giving presentations about robots in media for pop culture conventions. She can be found on Twitter!

Taylor Hall: Teaser!

A manor house in a foggy evening.
Photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash

Taylor Hall has always been a sanctuary to Kit Taylor—a place to hide away when the world felt overwhelming. But when Kit develops feelings for a new roommate, the ancient family manor is all too happy to intervene, digging up emotions Kit would rather keep hidden.

Never Have I Ever…

One thing I have done: Gotten caught trespassing on a graffiti-covered abandoned highway.
Three things I haven’t done: Taken a cruise to visit the US Virgin Islands. Sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” at karaoke. Been drunk at Disney World.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

A book with a spine on its spine.

Queery Me This

Currently Reading: Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

News

I have a couple of neat resources to share this week, but before I do that, I want to pop in a quick personal note. One of my colleagues at the Rights Factory, Cecilia Lyra, announced her new two-book deal this week! CeCe is a multicultural author originally from Brazil, now living in Canada. She is a brilliant feminist with a background in law, and I love working with her. Her novel The Sunset Sisters was previously published in Germany under the title Sisters for a Summer, where it was a #1 bestseller. The Sunset Sisters will be available digitally in English through Bookouture/Hachette in June! I can’t wait to read her books! If you want to read The Sunset Sisters, please consider pre-ordering an affordable digital copy! If you do so, it will be of most benefit to CeCe, and it will positively influence Amazon’s algorithms – something we should all want to do to support deserving authors.

CeCe Lyra, author of the Sunset Sisters.

Resources

For those of you who have been following the violence toward trans people recently perpetrated by the Toronto Public Library, I want to share THREE resources. The first is an informative thread written by trans Indigenous author Gwen Benaway, linked below, who breaks down 191 pages of internal Emails from the TPL released in a freedom of information request regarding the violent incidents.

The second is a great article by Toronto-based journalist Michael Rancic, who writes about the incident to date, as well as TRANScend TRANSform, the related teach-in that happened last week. If you, like me, weren’t able to attend this event in person (don’t worry – there were over 200 attendees!), the third resource is the high-quality video recording of the event, which was hosted by the bookshop where I work. Shoutout to Anju Gogia from Another Story, and Kai Cheng Thom, for putting in the legwork to make this happen, and to get both a live video stream, and this high quality version, online.

I have also updated my own Links and Resources page with a compilation of all of the information that I have posted about the incidents surrounding transphobia at the TPL for quick reference.

On a lighter note, ReQueered Tales, a re-publisher of post-Stonewall pre-2000 queer literature, posted this great Canadian LGBTQ2S+ history resource: unearthed 1970’s interviews with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera from CBC Radio.

Last, but not least, Lee and Low Books released the results of their recent Diversity in Publishing survey this past week… and guess what? Surprising no one, we’re still super white. Check out the full blog post here.

Guest Post from Rhynn Bowlick-Evans

Given my recent forays into the publishing business, I’ve been thinking so much about the process of writing and publishing a book for the trade market. This post delves into Rhynn Bowlick-Evans’ intensely personal experience of querying an agent for publication… and ultimately deciding instead to turn their back on the process.

Queery Me This, by Rhynn Bowlick-Evans

I did a lot of research when I started querying a couple years back. I had spreadsheets galore, bookmarked articles with click-batey titles about how to write the perfect pitch, meticulously prepared sample pages, and a deep, oppressive sense of longing.

You see, everything had really gone to shit. My family was crumbling. Posturing as cishet was becoming too exhausting, but my queerness scared me. I’d just finished grad school, which had completely destroyed me. I was stranded on the East Coast with no community, no connections, and no career prospects.

Writing was the light at the end of the tunnel, and as my characters helped pull me back into the real world, I wondered if they might do the same for others who were struggling. Thus, I did what I felt was the only logical thing at the time: I began the disheartening process of querying.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Swing and a Miss

I say it was disheartening, because the things I was searching for were not anything that literary agents could or should replicate.

I knew my word count was too high for a YA Fantasy manuscript. My fantasy of manners-esque style and florid prose didn’t necessarily pitch well, without a high-stakes hook. And yet, knowing this, I queried anyway. My manuscript was #OwnVoices—there was queerness throughout the manuscript that I wasn’t ready to call my own, though, and I couldn’t bring myself to type out the words I was abused, this is my story, which meant it was hard to explain why I should be telling this story, and why others should bother to listen.

At a certain point, the shiny new luster of querying started to wear off. Some of the agents I was lusting after made a questionable tweet (or six), and as I began to follow authors who were represented, it quickly became apparent that being agented was not the be-all, end-all fix. Many still worked day-jobs, and a handful were brutally honest about what it meant to not be the agency’s golden child. And beyond the realities of publishing lay uncomfortable truths about my sense of self—I could not pitch this book without owning the parts of it that belonged to me. And yet, to own those parts—to stand up and say I am hurt, I am queer felt like handing over my trauma a la some twitsted sort of currency to buy marketability, and I was expected to do it in pursuit of love I should’ve been seeking elsewhere.

Authors absolutely must be asking why they’ve chosen to query. Why do they want to be represented? Why do they want to be published, and more than that, why is this method of publishing right for them and their story?

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Here’s the Deal

I got some fantastic feedback from my time querying. I also realized that I was waiting for someone to give me permission to be excited about my work.

At some point, I got it into my head that I needed to earn my own enthusiasm. That, with enough collective approval, I could cash in and start gushing about my project. And let me tell you, friends, it is exhausting, waiting to be excited about something you’re so passionate about.

In a lot of respects, querying was a way of searching for affection that my community wasn’t giving. It was the first step to building a collective that better reflected my interests and passions, that would get excited about the things I loved. And, too, I think the agent search was really a quest to lend some legitimacy to a project even I wasn’t taking seriously at the time—as much time and effort as I put into my manuscript, I still saw it as a cry for help from a desperate person.

Most of my querying was waiting for someone to hand my manuscript back to me and say, Your feelings are so valid, darling, so valid in fact that we must share them with the world. This—and I cannot emphasize this enough—is not an agent’s job.

I wanted someone to tell me that it was all going to be okay. That it was okay that my manuscript was front-loaded with the queer, masc characters like me. It was okay, writing about how difficult it was to maintain connections with people post-trauma, and too, that it was okay to craft a family on paper like the one I wanted in my real life. And above all this, I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to love that manuscript. Because that manuscript still feels like me, and it’s okay to love me. I am loveable.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Contracted Advance

I’ve seen a lot of people saying how 2020 is the year they write what they want. The distinction between marketable and good can, at times, be quite vast, and so it’s good to be aware that the story you love may not be a story that’s selling well right now.

I made a promise to myself, when I started writing. An internal contract that I would write what I needed to, and that this project would never be for anyone but myself. I broke this contract, querying.

I didn’t want to traditionally publish. There’s a lot of reasons why, some practical (retaining rights and control), others, not (I’m impatient and wanted to publish faster than a trad publishing timeline allowed). The most important reason, though, was that trad publishing could not give me self-love. It could not make me come to terms with myself. And it didn’t really matter which publishing avenues I was exploring—if I couldn’t find self-acceptance, it would be a miserable journey, no matter the path.

Intrinsic appreciation of the craft was something that I had to nurture. It’s a balance between writing for yourself and still being able to work with readers and editors, all while retaining confidence in your work. And really, it comes back the the interminable question every good writer should be asking, the one thing we all must wonder to spin the narratives: but why?

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

2019 In Review

Currently Reading: Keystone, by Katie Delahanty

News!

Get ready for your TBRs to balloon for the new year! Fellow trans blogger Corey Alexander brings you all the titles published in late 2019 with trans and/or non-binary authors. My top pick from this list are Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi, which I previewed earlier this year, and I’m most looking forward to Beyond the Black Door, by A. M. Strickland, which is on my TBR!

In response to the recent transphobic events at the Toronto Public Library, local independent bookstores are coming together to support trans writers and activists by co-hosting a teach-in at the 519 Community Centre on January 23rd. The store where I work is one of the organizers, so if you’re nearby, please come out and support the local trans and non-binary community.

Re-Introduction

When I first started this blog, one year ago, I wrote an introductory post, which gives a little bit of a window into what I’m about as far as my literary life is concerned. Because this blog and my reading in general is fairly politicized, and I believe that the personal is political, I’d like to offer a bit more information about myself that might give context to some of the 🔥hot takes🔥 that I post in this space.

A selfie of me in the bookshop where I work. I have medium complexion white skin, pink curly hair that is shaved on the right side and has dark roots, clear plastic frame glasses, and no makeup. I'm wearing a black tank top and a grey sports bra, and tattoos are visible on my shoulders. Bookshelves are visible in the background.
Me! 2019.

These are the facts about me that my Twitter bio won’t tell you!

  • Although legally I have to, I don’t capitalize my name. It’s emmy!
  • I’ve been (as) vegan (as possible, depending on where I was living) for more than 20 years! That said, I am firmly in solidarity with Indigenous and other marginalized people who cannot or do not engage with that life – especially (but not limited to) the Indigenous people who sustain their communities through the seal hunt and the deer harvest at Short Hills.
  • I’m a social work researcher, mostly focusing on LGBTQ2S+ health, and wellbeing of working dogs in therapeutic environments. In my previous life, I went to college for circus arts, and spent nearly a decade performing and coaching at a professional level. My specialities were juggling and group acrobatics.
  • I grew up in Newfoundland, an island off the east coast of Canada, in the North Atlantic. The island is the occupied territory of the Innu, the Mi’kmaq, and the Beothuk, who were victims of genocide. My family in Newfoundland can be traced back at least 7 generations on the maternal side, and we are white colonizers. I was raised in a house with my mom, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother, just the four of us most of the time.
  • J’ai appris le français quand j’étais très jeune, et j’ai vécu la grosse majorité de ma vie l’en parlant comme langue principale, alors que je me considère comme francophone.
  • My hobbies, when I have the time and energy, include film photography, snail mail (I collect postcards), roller skating, embroidery, cooking, and recently I’ve started playing video games occasionally. Oh! I also like to read!
  • I share my life with a lot of pets! Right now, that includes living primarily with an eleven year old retired racing greyhound, two formerly feral maine coon cats, and one five month old (by the time this gets posted!) deaf Dalmatian puppy. Their names are Boom, Whisper, Willow, and Pavot (pronounced pav-oh, it’s French for “poppy”, as in poppyseed). You can find them on Insta!
  • I’m polyamorous and have two relationships with genderqueer trans folks. My partner lives in Toronto, and I have a theyfriend and Denver. I am questing for a word that accurately describes “polyamorous but in no way seeking new romantic relationships,” because my life is as populated as I can handle it being.
  • I have diagnosed psychiatric disabilities and chronic illness, both of which are hormone-related (PMDD, chronic major depression, general and social anxiety, and PCOS). It’s also likely that I am on the autism spectrum, and I have most of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, although these are both more or less undiagnosed.
  • Other alphabet soup diagnoses that play a big role in my life through the people I love are PTSD and DID.
  • I have a very small social circle, and most of my close friends are relationships that I primarily nurture online, in large part because I have am neuroatypical and have a disorganized anxious attachment style.
  • I love bees and kākāpō, but I have a lot of favourite animals.
  • Recently, I have been trying to come up with the books that I would take with me if I was going to be indefinitely stranded on a desert island, and so far, I think they would be The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende; The Tea Dragon Festival, by Katie O’Neill; Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi; Our Homesick Songs, by Emma Hooper; Gingerbread, by Helen Oyeyemi; and Not Quite Narwhal, by Jessie Sima.

2019 By the Numbers

All these numbers are current as of December 20, 2019.
My 2018 In Review can be seen here!

How many books I read in 2017: 41
How many books I read in 2018: 57
How many books I read in 2019: 124
First book read: One of Us is Lying, Karen McManus
Last book read: Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty
Average length: 287 pages

Books by POC: 52
POC MC: 43
Male authors: 33
Female authors: 160
Non-binary and/or trans authors: 5
Queer authors: 46
Queer MC: 45

Middle Grade: 18
YA: 74
Adult: 101
Graphic: 5
Short story or anthology: 1
Non-fiction: 37
Memoir: 9
Lit Fic: 55
Poetry: 3
SFF: 46
Thriller: 28
Horror: 18

Purchases: 26
Library: 60
ARC: 105

Digital: 108
Print: 50
Audio: 36

½ Star Books: 3
⭐️ Books: 21
⭐️ ½ Books: 0
⭐️⭐️ Books: 27
⭐️⭐️ ½ Books: 9
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Books: 24
⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ Books: 28
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Books: 26
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ Books: 9
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Books: 41

January: 8
February: 11
March: 6
April: 11
May: 14
June: 16
July: 11
August: 11
September: 17
October: 7
November: 6
December: 6

Reading challenges I participated in: #VillainAThon

DNF: 68
Currently reading (unfinished in 2019): Keystone, Katie Delahanty; The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Ruth Ware; Amanda Greenleaf, Ed Kavanagh
Favourite books of the year: Little Apocalypse, Katherine Sparrow; The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang; The Wise and the Wicked, Rebecca Podos; Wilder Girls, Rory Power; Pilu of the Woods, Mai K. Nguyen; Pet, Akwaeke Emezi; In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado; The Tea Dragon Festival, Katie O’Neill; The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black; I Know You Remember, Jennifer Donaldson; Your House Will Pay, Steph Cha; We Unleash the Merciless Storm, Tehlor Kay Mejia; The Seep, Chana Porter
Favourite picture books released this year (not otherwise included in stats above): My Footprints, Bao Yi; Stormy, by Guojing; No Room for a Pup, Laurel Molk and Liz Suneby; It Feels Good to Be Yourself, Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni; King Mouse, Cary Fagan and Dena Seiferling; Princess Puffybottom… and Darryl, Susin Nielsen and Olivia Chen Mueller, Truman, Jean Reidy; Ping, Ani Castillo; The Cyclops Witch and the Heebie-Jeebies, Kyle Sullivan and Derek Sullivan, The Scarecrow, Beth Ferry and the Fan Brothers; The Rabbit Listened, Cori Doerrfeld

Upcoming in 2020

So far, I have three 2020 plans. First: to integrate the reading challenge that my online book community, the Rogue Book Coven, is hosting for next year! Just to be clear, I had no hand at all in creating this – but I’m really glad for the work of some of our other members, who put this majestic thing together. If you want to read along with us, find us on various social media platforms at #CovenBookChallenge throughout 2020! POI for anyone who decides to follow along: we use the octopus emoji (sometimes, gratuitously) to mean hugs!

Second, to my actual delight and pleasure, I recently joined the planning team for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), held in Brampton each May. As such, I’m looking forward to curating and participating in the FOLD reading challenge in 2020 as well. The challenges aren’t 100% finalized yet, but you can check out past challenges here.

Last but not least, following a tweet from Esmé Weijun Wang, I committed to reading two Big, Long, Old Russian Books. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, and The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is legitimately the challenge that I’m most worried about so… wish me luck?

Most Anticipated of (Early) 2019

Wondering what you can look forward to me chatting about next year? In January, I’m going to be previewing Karen McManus’ upcoming sequel to One of Us is Lying, the bestselling YA thriller, and chatting with author Chana Porter about gender and her Jewish Indigenous trans MC in The Seep, her unsettling and heartwarming dystopian alien invasion literary horror novel.

Some other Winter 2020 releases that I’m excited about reading? Non-binary Latinx author Anna-Marie McLemore’s new YA fantasy, Dark and Deepest Red, is a spooky modern fairy tale that spans generations. It drops on January 14th, and it’s right in my wheelhouse. I’m also looking forward to The Truants, by Kate Weinberg. It’s a thriller, and I’m curious to see if this NA is another millennial-appealing book in the vein of Such a Fun Age and Normal People, which I read earlier this year.

Kacen Callendar is the non-binary author of Hurricane Child, my favourite middle grade book of all time, and their next book, King and the Dragonflies, comes out this February. I’ll also definitely be checking out The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly, by Meredith Tate. It’s a spooky YA thriller, and my own teenage heart is stoked that this book has a musical, geeky protag, as a former band geek myself.

There are two final February releases I’m hoping to get to. I’m all about fancy school dramas, and Privilege by Mary Adkins is a feminist NA that deals with themes around sexual assault on a college campus. Since the #MeToo movement began, books with similar themes have definitely become more visible, and I’m hoping that Privilege will have something unique to offer. Finally, with some skepticism, I’m eyeing A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch. This is Sanam Maher’s debut book, however she works as a journalist in Karachi, Pakistan. Without knowing a great deal about Baloch’s story, I’m hoping that Maher will have handled her story with sensitivity and respect.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Sign off image - an open book with a bright green glowing eye in the centre and several small eyes around it.

#VillainAThon Wrap Up

Currently Reading: Unfuck Your Boundaries, by Faith Harper

Welcome to the Relaunch of Books Beyond Binaries!

A green book that says "Books Beyond Binaries". There is an actual bone spine on the book spine with a skull at the top. Creepy stuff oozes out of the pages, and there is a purple background.

Since I started this blog last year, it has been my plan to commission a non-binary artist to create an aesthetic for this project that would be unique, and capture my personality and my interests, so that when people come to this site, it feels like something special. I was so lucky to get a chance to work with Ice, aka Bill Underwood, who created the incredible artwork that is now featured on this blog.

I love spooky books, and while I always want this blog to focus on LGBTQ2S+ literature, with a keen eye to trans and/or non-binary authors and books, I always want the blog to reflect me as its creator. I will always have a special place in my heart for spooky spec fic and feminist thrillers, and I believe that these books are often queer and move beyond binaries in their own ways. I grew up on fantasy novels and 90’s kidlit horror like Bunnicula and Goosebumps. Currently, YA and adult dark fantasy, paranormal horror, dystopian, post-apoc, magical realism, mystery, paranoid fiction, true crime, memoir, and thrillers make up a large portion of what I like to read. I am so excited to have this blog reflect these interests, and feel more like my space, thanks to the incredible art that Ice has produced for it.

To celebrate, and spread the word about my blog, I’ve decided to host a giveaway on my Twitter! If you help Books Beyond Binaries by spreading the word about the relaunch, you can get your hands on some awesome stickers of some of the art that Ice has created for this page. Keep your eyes on this space, because winners will be notified just in time for Halloween!

Also, if you’re as into Spooky Season as I am, @genderqueerwolf created a partially crowdsourced Halloween playlist, and honestly, I couldn’t make a better mood list for this site if I tried.

News: Transphobia Locally and in Publishing, and New Trans Research

Transphobic Hate Speech at TPL

The Toronto Public Library is one of the biggest and most well-used library systems in the world. It is a cornerstone of the Canadian literary community, and a community institution of which I am generally incredibly proud and fond of. However, the TPL recently chose to uphold a room reservation for a sold-out event that will give a platform to transphobic hate speech, by well-known trans-exclusive radical feminist Megan Murphy.

I am incredibly grateful to the folks who have spoken up in our community. First and foremost, trans folks in the literary community, including Indigenous poet Gwen Benaway, who has done some community organizing around this issue. In addition, the Toronto Public Library Workers, who create the safe spaces that myself and others inhabit when they visit the libraries, other author allies, Toronto Pride, Another Story Bookshop (the indie where I work), and even the Conservative city mayor, John Tory.

The event will go ahead tomorrow evening, and I encourage anyone in Toronto to attend the protest at the library where the event will be hosted.

New St. Martin’s Press Book

A book listing on Edelweiss+ for Savage Messiah: How Dr. Jordan Peterson is Saving Western Civilization.

Unfortunately, transphobia is also alive and well in publishing at large, and I was extremely disappointed to find a book entitled Savage Messiah, by Jim Proser. Proser has written two books for St. Martin’s Press previously, both biographies of conservative, American white male military personnel. His next book profiles transphobic Toronto-based psychologist Jordan Peterson (click for some background info). It is a huge disappointment to see St. Martin’s support this project, and if you would like to tell them about how this affects you or your community, they can be contacted at publicity@stmartins.com.

New Trans Research

I am part of a Facebook group for trans PhD students. This new academic article, entitled Tumblr Was a Trans Technology, was posted there this week. The authors met in the Facebook group, and co-authored this rad paper together. It’s open access, so be sure to check it out.

A Personal Note

I found out this week that my legal name change has been finalized! …that’s the tweet. I’m super excited.

A name change certificate from the province of Ontario.

#VillainAThon Wrap Up!

I am participating in my first ever readathon right now, the #VillainAThon! I need to say, for various life reasons, I am rocking this thing (even if it means that I’m struggling in some other areas!). You can read an update from the host blogger participants here, and I’ve decided to write mini-reviews for all the books that I’ve read over the past two months below.

Ky, aka @genderqueerwolf, visits Victoria Schwab, one of the inspirations for the Villain-a-Thon, at a public appearance at the Tattered Cover in Denver, CO.

I have read 15 books that qualify for this readathon, and I am super proud of myself! Since I love spooky books, especially around Halloween season, this Villain-themed readathon is right in my wheelhouse. The mini-reviews are posted in (mostly) chronological order below.

The covers of The Archived and The Unbound, which depict a key and ring respectively, with smoke coming out of the bottom of them, and a feminine face visible in the smoke.

The Archived and The Unbound, by Victoria Schwab

I had never read any of Schwab’s books before this challenge, and my experiences with them were mixed. One of the requirements was to read any of her books, so I went to my library and put holds on a bunch of them at the beginning of the month. I started with The Archived because it was the first one to be available. This book is set in a world where the souls of the dead are stored in an archived, and a girl who is charged with returning the dead to their places in the stacks when they escape. I liked it so much that I wound up reading its sequel as well, and just found out that it’s been optioned. It was a compelling duology with a unique premise, and I enjoyed reading both.

The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I’m a bit type A, so I decided to get all the required reads for the challenge out of the way first. Schwab was the first that I completed, and then I had to choose a book off of the list provided by the host. The list was great, but included a bunch of books that I’d already read or DNF’d (The Devouring Gray, We Hunt the Flame, Sawkill Girls), which made it challenging to choose what I’d check out next! I landed on The Naturals, the first in a series about a group of teenagers with talents that lead them to be scouted by the FBI for a special training program. This book is tropey and unrealistic and fast-paced and everything I wanted it to be. If you’re looking for a good read for a night in the bath or plane ride, I would definitely recommend this series.

Salt, by Hannah Moskowitz

I immediately added Salt to my best books of the year when I finished it. It’s a story about a group of sea monster hunting siblings out to find their missing parents, and try not to get outwitted by pirates on the way. Romance isn’t the main plotline, and I loved every character in this book. It was haunting, and the world-building was detailed, but easy to digest. I loved it.

I Know You Remember, by Jennifer Donaldson

I can’t even say very much about this book, except that it has one of the best HOW DARE YOU moments of any YA thriller that I’ve read. It’s set in Alaska, where the author is from, and depicts a setting that is not often seen in mainstream literature. Coming from Newfoundland myself, it was highly relatable. Put this on your TBR – you won’t regret it.

Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado.

Machado’s debut collection of short feminist horror stories got so much buzz in my circles, so although I am struggling with shorter forms lately, I decided to finally pick it off my shelf for this challenge. After reading an ARC of Machado’s memoir in September, though, I have to say that I had mixed feelings about this first book. Some of the stories were fantastic and chilling, but others, I didn’t wind up finishing. Although I would recommend Machado’s writing without hesitation to a horror fan, I would say that Her Body and Other Parties was more of a mixed bag for me than anything.

Half-Resurrection Blues, by Daniel José Older

So. I don’t read many books by men. But this one had been recommended to me by folks from my online book community, the Rogue Book Coven, and I decided to give it a chance because of Older’s great reputation. One of the things I loved about this book is that it’s so evident that it’s written by a person of colour in the best possible ways. One of the things I didn’t love about this book is that it’s so evident that it’s written by a man in the worst possible ways. I read it, but the toxic masculinity throughout, particularly obvious in the author’s portrayal of feminine characters, really ruined the experience for me.

Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha

This book is finally available in stores, and if you don’t have it yet, it’s time to call your local indie and make sure they’re carrying it. This one is a must-read. An LA noir, Your House Will Pay felt like The Hate U Give for grown ups. I couldn’t put it down.

One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski

This is my kind of beach read. Set in a seaside town in the dead of winter, and featuring a house that might be haunted and a girl who might have been murdered AND a badass roller derby team, this feminist thriller is spooky and winding and drew me in. I’m so glad that the thriller genre is finally producing powerhouse books written by and centred on feminine people. Pick this up when you need a summer chill on the seaside.

A Place Called Perfect, by Helena Duggan

I have not been in the headspace for a lot of middle grade recently, and it had originally been my plan to also read The Trouble With Perfect. That one is still on my TBR, though, because A Place Called Perfect was fantastic. Age-appropriate for middle grade, offbeat, and chilling. Bleeding eyeball plants, yall. True horror writing for the little ones. I would have eaten this up when I was a kid (and I ate it up now! No regrets).

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert

I debated about including this book in my list, because the only requirement for books to be included was that there had to be a villain. Now, in thrillers, mysteries, and a lot of books for younger readers, the “bad guy” was pretty clear – at least by the end of the book. In Salt, there was no real antagonist, but sea monsters? Pretty villainous. In Your House Will Pay, ultimately there were multiple villains, and they were more complex and less straightforward. When I first listened to The Hazel Wood, having recently received an ARC for its forthcoming sequel, I was like, nope, no villain. I changed my mind, however. I think that there are a few candidates in this delicious fairy tale story for the title of villain, and I’d love to know who others think they might be.

The Body in Question, by Jill Ciment

After The Hazel Wood – yall, I hit a DNF wall. Part of it was just that woah life stuff came at me out of nowhere, and suddenly I had no real brain power for reading. I picked up The Body in Question because it was short, and murdery, and as has become PERFECTLY clear throughout this challenge… murder is my comfort read. This was a great book. Ultimately, it ended up being more about a woman coming to terms with a lot of heavy life stuff, and reconciling a lot of real world responsibilities in not-so-neat-and-tidy ways, and less about murder. Even so, it grabbed my attention enough to read the whole thing and really enjoy it.

Last Girl Lied To, by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

I started this thriller on audio during the same stint of low executive function as when I picked up The Body in Question. By contrast, this was exactly what I expected it to be. Fast-paced, spine-tingling, high suspense, lots of twists and turns. As I tweeted at the author when I’d finished it, I’ve learned this year that “manipulative best friend who I am also kind of in love with” is very complex, and also possibly my favourite. Also in this vein, The Best Lies, and I Know You Remember (above).

The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo

I came across this book on a list of spooky books for Halloween season, and I noticed that it had already been optioned for Netflix. It was available as an audiobook, so even though it skews somewhat historical fiction, I decided to go for it. Yall, it took me a minute to get through this one. Last Girl Lied To was actually a brain break I took in this middle of beginning The Ghost Bride on audio, and my three week loan expired and I had to borrow the eBook from the library to finish it. Although the ending of this book was unexpected and had me questioning the protagonist’s decision making skills, I still really enjoyed it. Filled with mythology and in an uncommon setting for books in the North American market, this book was lush and like nothing I’d ever read. I’m dying to know what the adaptation will be like, and that’s not a familiar feeling for me.

The Darkest Corners, by Kara Thomas

When I tweeted about having read Last Girl Lied To, the book’s author was kind enough to respond with some of her favourite toxic friendship book recs, including See All the Stars, by Kit Frick, and “any thriller by Kara Thomas. I went to Overdrive, and The Darkest Corners was available. I started reading it after a whirlwind week of relationship turbulence, puppy care, vet visits with my older dog who is on palliative care, and some strife in my PhD studies, on a day when my brain needed a break.

The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware

It was members of my online book community, the Rogue Book Coven, who originally recommended Ruth Ware to me. I was wary of trying her books, because it’s very unusual for me to enjoy books by a mainstream author. However, The Lying Game was available on audio through Libby one day before I had to take a long drive, and I started it, and I couldn’t put it down. I’m a sucker for any book with a spooky seaside setting, but this unsettling story with sublime pacing captivated me. I’ve already put all Ware’s other titles on hold through the library. Add this to your list of toxic friendship books that bowled me over.

And then, as anyone who follows my Twitter or Goodreads knows, I DNF a lot. Maybe more than a person should. I wanted to document the books that I tried to read, and didn’t quite get through, during this readathon. So here they are…

Lies You Never Told Me, by Jennifer Donaldson

The style of writing in Donaldson’s first book just wasn’t for me. Now that I know how good her second book is, though, I’m definitely going to go back and give this another go.

Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

This book is a classic example of why I’m sometimes hesitant about mainstream authors. I started listening to this on audio, I was into it, and then suddenly there was a bunch of content about unhealthy substance use that just came out of nowhere. It felt unnecessary, and it totally turned me off of the book.

And the Trees Crept In, by Dawn Kurtagich

Seemingly unnecessary ableism in the first couple of chapters around one of the main character’s bodies made me DNF this immediately.

Hocus Pocus and the All New Sequel, by AW Jantha

I had hoped this 90’s cult classic would have aged better, and I was looking forward to the queer rep in the new book. Spoiler alert: it did not age well. Stick to the movie.

My Story, by Elizabeth Smart, and What is a Girl Worth, by Rachael Denhollander

I started both of these books, and it quickly became evident that they would be oriented toward a very white Christian worldview. Given our current political climate, I simply cannot with that.

Death and the Seaside, by Alison Moore

I gave this one a college try, but I was just bored by both the narrative, an extremely unsympathetic main character, the novel-within-a-novel format, and what felt like a touch of ableism.

The Laws of the Skies, by Grégoire Courtois

This book became gruesome too quickly for me. I’m not down for the shock-and-awe for its own sake kind of horror, and this felt like it was going to be that. Serves me right for considering a book by a male author for a change?

The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff

I enjoyed a few chapters of this very long book before I became lost in the details of names and dates and was unable to commit to it in the long haul.

A Darker Shade of Magic, by Victoria Schwab

Maybe it was my mood, but I just wasn’t interested in any of the characters in this book at all. I think that Schwab has a lot more affection for men than I do in general, but I found none of the MCs in this book drew me in. Without anyone to root for, I couldn’t stick it out.

Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan

I was having a rough time when I started this one, and there was some swift and disturbing animal violence right up front. I may give this one a chance another time, but for now, it’s not for me.

A badge that reads Spellhacker, by M K England: Launch Crew Member.