Final Fall 2019 Previews

Currently Reading: A Place called Perfect, by Helena Duggan

This post is in part a news update, and then I have two more exciting fall books to talk about! First, I want to talk about Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In The Dream House, that comes out in November, and then I will talk about the Canadian launch of Naomi Klein’s newest book, On Fire, which is already on shelves.

Blog Redesign

It’s coming! For those of you who don’t know, I’ve commissioned an incredible artist, Bill Underwood, who also goes by Ice, to create some beautiful work so that this space will reflect more about who I am, and what my blog is all about. It’s going to be spooky and delightful, and I can’t wait to show it to you… AND share it with you. Ice has graciously agreed to let me create some small tokens of my appreciation for followers of this blog featuring some of their artwork, so keep your eyes on my Twitter account when we get closer to the relaunch for the chance to snag some spooky literati swag…

Image is of a spooky cat. The body of the cat is purple and has skeletal-style shadows over its body. Two front legs are visible, as well as a thick tail that branches into two ends. The top half of the cat's face is a skull.
A preview of some of Ice’s final art for this blog!

Non-Binary News and Reviews

If your identify is part of the non-binary umbrella, and you want to give your work a little boost next month, mark your calendars for October 1st, which is the next #IAmNonbinary day. If you are not non-binary, it’s a great time to be an active ally. Peruse the hashtag, boost non-binary creators, and drop a little cash to those who need it if you can!

Thank you to Almost, Almost for posting some great ARC reviews of trans and/or non-binary books recently! They/Them/Their: A Guide to Non-Binary and Genderqueer Identities, by Eris Young, is a new book that was released on September 19th. Much of the content is UK-specific and the book trends a little toward the dense side, but it’s an interesting new resource to have on hand. You can read a full review of this book here.

The cover of They/Them/There: A Guide to Nonbinary and Genderqueer Identities is on the left. The title is purple text on a vibrant yellow background. The cover of Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You is on the right, the letters are in the colours of the trans pride flag on a charcoal background.

Trans+, by Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne is a broad sexual and relationship education text intended for teenagers. It includes references to additional materials, as well as #OwnVoices materials supporting the provided information. You can read a full review of this book here. Thank you again to Almost, Almost for providing such thoughtful reviews!

Useful Databases

There are so many people putting together great resources to support members of the literary community these days. I wanted to share two here. One is the Aromantic and Asexual Characters in Fiction database. This is a resource that is particularly useful to those interested in underrepresented groups under the LGBTQ2S+ umbrella. The other is the New Adult database, which is still in development. As it grows, this database will be an index of books that would otherwise be classified as “late YA” or “YA/adult crossover titles”. These books feature characters and themes relevant to those in the 18 to 29 age bracket and/or lifestyle bracket. This is a genre that has traditionally faced a great deal of stigma in publishing, and thus NA books can be difficult to find for the readers who find them relatable (like me!).

In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House is the much-anticipated memoir of Carmen Maria Machado, following her feminist horror fairytale collection that was released last year, Her Body and Other Parties. Machado’s memoir tells the story of a prominent queer relationship in her life that was extremely abusive, and seems to have affected her deeply. It is also a book that plays with narrative style and genre, each chapter playing with a different literary form – including my favourite, the choose-your-own adventure book.

I have never read a memoir like this one. It was artistic and captivating, as well as deeply relatable and in that way, chilling. This was a book that rippled through me. I read it shortly after reading Machado’s short story collection, and in many ways, that was extremely satisfying. It felt as though I understood more deeply some of the ways in which Machado had used her experiences as inspiration for some of the stories in Her Body and Other Parties after reading this book.

I was in awe of this rich, devastating book. I am so grateful that it exists, and it seems like with this work, Machado was able to articulate experiences that are underrepresented both in literature and also in sociocultural conversation. I would recommend it to anyone, but particularly to people who are of the opinion that abuse only exists in relationships that include men. CWs for abuse perpetrated by a woman (physical, emotional, sexual).

On Fire, by Naomi Klein

On the left, the cover of Naomi Klein's new book, On Fire. It is a red cover with yellow text, where the word "fire" is represented by the flame emoji. The subtitle reads, "The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. The author's name is in white text below. On the right is a popular image of Klein, a white woman with brown hair, looking directly into the camera. She is against a grey backdrop, holding her glasses in her hands, and wearing a black jacket over a pink shirt.

I didn’t preview On Fire in my last post about CanLit because I don’t know that I have anything to say about Naomi Klein and her work that hasn’t already been said over and over. However, the shop where I work in Toronto, which happens to be Klein’s local indie, was the book vendor for the Canadian launch last night, and when I left feeling inspired and touched after the event had ended, I knew I needed to say something.

I have been a fan of Klein’s work since Shock Doctrine, and the first time that I ever heard her speak was in 2016 at an event raising funds for families of MMIW, where she delivered a speech about Bella Laboucan-McLean. You can listen to Bella’s story as told by Klein, with music from Cris Derksen, here.

Since then, I had the pleasure of seeing Klein regularly, when she came into Another Story, often with a plate of pasta from Roncesvalle Italian eatery Alimentari, to sign copies of her books, and to pick up something to read. I’ve definitely missed my encounters with her since she took a position at Rutgers as the Gloria Steinhem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies. She was always humble, charming, warm, and sharp to interact with. She was no different at last night’s launch, which began with a video that Klein was involved in about the Green New Deal that left me in tears.

“I think hope is something that we earn,” Klein said early on in the evening, when she spoke about having spent the day conversing with the Canadian media. Admittedly, I came to the event assuming that I would leave feeling incredibly sad. I was impressed by Klein’s ability, after so many years in climate activism, to remain positive and motivated. She pointed out that she gets asked often how she can remain hopeful, and I appreciated her reframing of this idea throughout the evening.

The theme of Klein’s launch was undeniably one message: that climate activism is urgent, and that it must be intersectional. “We can each put the devil’s advocate questions to each other, and it is all just a massive waste of time,” she said, speaking about Canada’s centrist media, Jonathan Franzen’s recent article, and the distractions of conservative politicians in the climate dialogue.

Despite Klein’s many mentions of race, gender, and other aspects of intersectionality in climate justice, I would be remiss not to make a note that in her acknowledgements, I was disappointed to hear one of my most admired authors make a mention of Judy Rebick on the microphone at the AGO, as one of the activists who paved the way for Klein’s work. Although Rebick has undeniably made a huge impact in Canadian activism with her second wave feminist work on reproductive rights, and as founder of Rabble.ca, she has also maintained a trans-exclusionary stance throughout her life in the public eye. To assert that activism must be intersectional, but to overlook these problematic views feels antithetical.

Even as someone who follows the news around climate justice and global warming, I learned a great deal from Klein’s Q&A with Democracy Now’s Ishmael N. Daro, including but perhaps especially about a valuable voting resource as we approach Canada’s upcoming federal election: Our Time. Klein asserts, and I must agree, that our best case scenario for the upcoming election is to vote very strategically to achieve a Liberal minority government, in which Liberals are forced to make alliances with the NDP and Green Party.

The cover of No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, a plain grey cover with black text. The title is small, and the author's first name, GRETA, is the largest text, at the top of the cover.

One resource which Klein failed to mention during her launch that I would recommend especially readers who can’t make the commitment to read Klein’s longer works, is the new short book by youth climate justice leader Greta Thunberg, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference. I would also recommend Kai Cheng Thom’s new book, I Hope We Choose Love, to Klein and readers who enjoy On Fire. I reviewed it in my post two weeks ago. It feels to me as though Klein and Thom are definitely working in similar theoretical spheres with their philosophies for the future.

An excerpt from On Fire, which is available now, can be read here. I would like to close this post with Klein’s closing words from her launch, which were, “What scares me most is not the weather, it’s how people can turn on each other if we don’t invest in infrastructures of care.”

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

Fall Preview: Music and Monsters

Currently Reading: NW, by Zadie Smith

I am super lucky that for this upcoming season, I was gifted some amazing (and in some cases, very high profile) ARCs, either for the purpose of screen reading them to see if they’d be a good fit for the bookshop where I work, or for review. Some came directly from incredibly generous publicists, and others came from the shop’s hardworking sales reps. Others came from Edelweiss+ or Netgalley. EITHER WAY, for the next couple of months, I’m going to do my best to share the wealth and feature some of these hot new titles in this space.

If you’re interested in my own personal reading, I stumbled across this read-a-thon that’s too perfect for me to pass up! It’s called the #VillainAThon, and I’ll be participating until the end of October. It’s my first ever read-a-thon! (When do I get my merit badge?) I’ve paired the information about the #VillainAThon with a fall preview that would be a perfect fit!

Before I get to these great ARCs, I stumbled across a new resource recently that is incredible. Compiled by Ray Stoeve, it’s the YA Trans Ownvoices Masterlist – a list of all the trans, young adult lit that is written by trans authors. Check it out, and if you like it or find it useful, please remember to show your appreciation through ko-fi.

High School, by Tegan and Sara

Cover image of High School, by Tegan and Sara. Image is of two twins with long, thick hair, standing back to back, looking into the distance. Image is black and white, on a light gray background. Image is oriented in landscape, although the book is oriented in portrait.

I first discovered Tegan and Sara’s music when I was an unaware queer teen, living in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It wasn’t even that I was closeted, it was that I was so unexposed to the breadth of LGBTQ2S+ experiences that I didn’t know that there was queerness beyond gay, white men. I had no idea that I could be anything other than a cis, het, woman. And even so, something in their music spoke to me in a way that most other music never had. So Jealous became the soundtrack to my life overnight, and awakened something in me that had yet to be discovered.

I’ve been a huge fan of theirs since then. The Con guided me through much of my early twenties, and I can sing every word of Sainthood by heart. I’ve seen them in concert in arenas and grassy fields, and heard their music echo off the towers of the Toronto skyline during Pride. When I heard that they had a book coming out, I was so excited.

High School isn’t exactly what I expected. When I saw the previews online, I imagined a glossy, hardcover book, with loads of photos, lyrics sprinkled throughout, something abstract and commemorative – but the book is a straight memoir. While there are photos included, the book is a collection of autobiographical essays, alternating authors, that chronicles the artists’ lives from tenth through twelfth grade, in downtown Calgary, Alberta.

This memoir feels very CanLit to me. Written in a chronological timeline, the stories are set on a backdrop of cold, Alberta winter days that turn the skin of the white authors’ knees purple through their ripped jeans, and freeze car batteries. There are stories of weekends spent in Jasper, and shows at the Saddledome. The anecdotes that Tegan and Sara tell are also very 90’s throwback. I think any white, middle class, Canadian Millennial who picks this up will find something relatable in the ambling stories of twins who troll Value Village for striped sweaters, write long notes to their friends, and fight over the telephone.

I almost felt like this book was told in two parts. Tegan and Sara before music entered their lives, and after. *High School* is the story of three tumultuous years, and the first half of the book is an exploration of budding queerness, the complex relationship that exists between twin sisters and their adolescent friends, and (CW) more alcohol drug use than I expected. For me, it was honest, complicated, and relatable. While I enjoyed reading Tegan and Sara’s musical origin story, the second half of the book focused much more on their fledgling career. I wished that the themes of the first half had bled a little more into the later part of the book.

Now having read the whole thing, I’m glad that I did, and I would recommend it to fans of Tegan and Sara’s music, CanLit memoir fans, or young queer Canadians still learning about their identities. The one burning question that I felt the book left unresolved for me – and maybe this is petty – is how “Sara and Tegan”, used throughout the entire text of the book, became “Tegan and Sara”?!

*High School* comes out on September 24th, and is available for pre-order now. Peripherally, Tegan and Sara’s new album, “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” comprised of songs unearthed while working on writing the memoir, will drop on September 27th. If you’re a fan of their older music like I am – I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about this new album, and I could be ready for a nice nostalgic Spooky Season this year. If you haven’t seen the preview video for the new album, you can watch it below, and get hyped for all this fresh Tegan and Sara content…

Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

Cover of Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi. Letters of the title are large and blocky, filled with cream-coloured feathers. They are set against a map of a neighbourhood in purple and cream. In the foreground stands a young Black girl in pajamas and slippers, holding a large feather in her right hand.

…cue the gushing. I’ve written about Emezi before on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that when I heard they had another book coming out, I was immediately eager to read it. Even with my high level of anticipation, this book blew me over in so many ways. First, when talking to one of my partners while I was reading, I described the worldbuilding in this book as setting a high bar for what the norm for books of the future should be. To begin, Pet is set in a fictionalized world, post-revolution, in a time of relative peace. Emezi takes this basic, familiar setting, and masterfully crafts their main character, Jam, and her surroundings in a way that sets a fresh standard for what diverse representation in novels should be.

Race, transness, queerness, disability, and neurodiversity all get a place to unapologetically shine in this book in a way that regularly brought me to the edge of tears. I am doing my best to be acutely aware of my privilege as a white, settler reader, as I write this next bit. I had to read Pet more slowly than almost any book that I’ve ever read, and part of the reason for that is because it was so much to take in. I was completely overwhelmed by the way that Emezi’s poetic prose and nuanced, loving character development served as both a window and a mirror for me over the course of this book.

I felt deeply reflected in this book by the implicit rejection of gender norms, the generous depictions of characters with a rich internal worlds and varying outward capacities, and the tacit portrayal of non-monogamous and queer bio and found family structures. Meanwhile, the dialogue, clothing, and foods that the characters take up through this story were a window into a racial and cultural world that both felt welcoming and nurturing, and utterly unfamiliar to me.

Emezi achieves in Pet much of what they achieve in their previous fictionalized memoir for adults, Freshwater, which is to say that it is a paradigm-shifting gem of a book, but it unfurls in a way that feels more accessible to younger readers or people who may be triggered by some of the content of Freshwater. It also feels more plot-driven – and the story itself is a wild ride about a fantastical creature that is accidentally summoned from a painting in the first few pages of the book, who challenges Jam’s perceptions of the world, but also of her dearest friendship. But I wouldn’t want to spoil it anymore than that.

Pet is exquisite, and it comes out on September 10th. It’s available for pre-order now, and I would encourage you to do that through your local brick and mortar book shop. (CW for mention of child abuse, not very detailed.)

The #VillainAThon

I stumbled across Kailey Steward’s Villain-themed read-a-thon just in time for my favourite time of the year: Spooky Season! I always read a lot of horror, thriller, and paranormal books, but I definitely try to indulge even more in my favourite genre as October approaches. Even though I’ve never participated in a read-a-thon before, I figured this would be the perfect chance, given that the bar for participation was low, and it would give me a chance to chat about my favourite kind of books with some other people who were also excited about them!

My only hesitation in participating is a feeling that’s new to me, but there are a lot of rad folks on Twitter these days who are so much younger than me! While I definitely appreciate that youth and young adults are doing such cool things and using the internet in the best ways, I’m also 31, and always a little nervous about sticking my nose in where I’m just going to be an intrusive elder. But. I decided in this case that talking about spooky books is something I’m willing to do with just about anyone, so I’m pushing my internalized ageism aside and hoping that I’ll be welcome.

If you’re interested in more details on the #VillainAThon, check out Kailey’s post about participating, and choose something from the required reading list! It’s a super accessible event, and if you’re going to participate, please let me know, so I can give you a wave on the bird site!

The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring

Cover image for Sara Faring's The Tenth Girl. Background is an ice blue, with branches and birds silhouetted against it. There are some letters and numbers indistinct in darker ink. The primary image is of a large, dark, manor house that is suspended in the middle of the cover. It fades to black and then into the background.

Kailey has put together some great recommendations for Villainous reading, but I thought that I’d pile on with one more. I read this book so long ago that I nearly forgot to write about it at all, even though it made my head spin at the time, so I’m very glad that trying to think of something to recommend for the #VillainAThon brought it back to mind. Two of my favourite spooky aspects are morally ambiguous characters, and haunted houses that become characters in their own right. This book has both of those in spades, nothing in this book is as it seems.

This book is a suspenseful, historically situated, complex horror novel, by Argentine-American author Sara Faring. It has dual narrators, which I initially had a negative reaction to, but once I read a few chapters, I had trouble putting it down. I’m so glad that I persevered. The characters and the setting of this novel are well-developed and compelling. The Patagonian setting is unique, and I would encourage educators to recommend this book to students who are interested in history, political resistance, and dictatorships in general. For someone looking for a bit of a more mature read, this would be another book that I would recommend as an alternative to Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

The plotline is extremely complex, with one of the most shocking twist endings I’ve ever read. That said, I question this novel’s categorization as a young adult read. None of the main characters are teens, and this book is one of the more chilling horror novels I’ve read this year – the scare factor is high. It works well as NA, or as a YA/adult crossover. I would recommend this book to fans of Tananarive Due’s The Good House, or Sarah Maria Griffin’s Other Words for Smoke, which I blogged about earlier this year.

Who is the villain in this book? One of the things that I like about it is that I think that many readers would give many different answers. Without spoiling the book, I’d have to say that to make that judgement, you’d have to read it for yourself when it comes out on September 24th. In the meantime, check out the Den of Geek’s interview with Sara Faring, and the book trailer for The Tenth Girl.

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

Spooky Books for Sunny Seasons

Currently Reading: Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

Recent Picture Recent Releases

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

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

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

New Releases to Give You Chills

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

Spring 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

July

The cover of The Best Lies, by Sarah Lyu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August

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

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

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

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

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

Non-Fiction about Gender and Trans Experiences!

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

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

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

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

Adult Non-Fiction (General)

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

Adult Political Non-Fiction

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

Adult Workbooks and Educational Resources

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

Adult Memoir

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

Adult Fictionalized Memoir

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

Adult Non-Fiction Poetry

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

Graphic Non-Fiction

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

Young Adult Non-Fiction

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

Young Adult Memoir

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

Children’s Non-Fiction

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

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

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

Guest Post by Lisa Bunker

Introduction…

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

The cover of Felix Yz, by Lisa Bunker.

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

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

The cover of Zenobia July, by Lisa Bunker.

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

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

What The World Needs Now is Post-Binary Narrative

A guest post by Zenobia July author Lisa Bunker

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

Human Scale

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

No Evil

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

Challenge “Normal”

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

Fight Injustice

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

Remember “We”

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

Practice Love

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

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

New Trans Lit for Spring 2019

Currently Reading: Our Symphony with Animals, by Aysha Akhtar

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

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

The cover of Uncomfortable Labels, by Laura Kate Dale.

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

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

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

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

The cover of Some Girls Bind, by Rory James.

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

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

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

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

from West 44.

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

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

The cover of Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee.

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

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

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

The cover of Zenobia July, by Lisa Bunker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Spooky New YA

Currently Reading: Witchmark, by C. L. Polk

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

In my life, Spooky Season isn’t just October… it’s a year-round celebration. I love spooky reads. This week, I’m going to offer up three reviews for books that all drop this month: Out of Salem, by Hal Schrieve, which hit shelves on March 5th, Other Words for Smoke, by Sarah Maria Griffin, which came out just last week, and The Devouring Gray, by Christine Lynn Herman, which is set to release on April 2nd. In this post, I’m bringing you previews of the QT zombies, witches, superpowers, monsters, haunted houses, and talking cats of your dreams. But first! A little trans lit news…

News!

I’m so pleased that this time around, I just have two quick, positive things to share. One, in a trans-affirming move, some libraries will no longer be collecting gender data on library card applications, since it became clear that the data collected was both not useful and also a barrier to access for some.

Also, for anyone who read my post on trans-affirming middle grade books, or who’ve picked up The Moon Within since it dropped recently, listen to author Aida Salazar on the Scholastic Reads podcast! If you haven’t read the book yet, make sure to grab a copy, because it’s great.

Out of Salem

A photo of a physical ARC of Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve on my bed.

Before I write anything about this title, I need to offer a little background. First, I only really discovered Urban Fantasy as a genre in its own right back at the end of 2018, when a friend asked me for some book recommendations (to be revealed in a future post!). Before I could deliver, I had a lot to learn. Since having my interest piqued, I decided to try to delve into the genre in my own reading – inspired partly by my return to PhD studies after a leave of absence, since it was really by chewing through urban fantasy YA like the Twilight series that got me through my undergrad studies.

Based on that information, my friend recommended that I try Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for a taste of what’s going on in that genre almost a decade later. I listened to it on audio through the Libby app on a drive from Denver to Toronto, all in one sitting, and it delivered. Tropey, but complex enough to draw me in, with fantastic original worldbuilding, the spooky story kept me company all the way home.

As such, I was excited when a copy of Shrieve’s Out of Salem landed in my lap. I was hesitant, because zombies have never been my thing… but I had hesitated about Dread Nation before caving to curiosity in 2018, and I had loved that book. Since then, I’ve been educated about some of its more problematic elements, unfortunately, and in addition the author has said some pretty horrible and transphobic things on Twitter. Tread carefully. But – Out of Salem has an enby author and an enby MC… what could go wrong?

Well. I am a firm believer that there is a perfect book for every reader, and a dream reader for every book, and this one just wasn’t for me. I’ll read 100 pages of anything – that’s my rule – but after 160 or so of this one, I finally had to let it go.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters, which kept me laughing and interested, especially because of the diversity of the cast and the richness of the contemporary fantasy universe that Shrieve has built. The book tackles complex and important social issues through monstrous allegory. Impressive, considering that Shrieve is a twenty-one-year-old debut author.

Eventually, though, the zombie aspect began to wear on me. I’m neurodiverse and working on sorting out some family stuff… so maybe it was just a touch too dark for this moment in my life, but my anxiety was building hard about the MC, who seems destined to just painfully waste away over the course of book. I couldn’t handle the graphic imagery on the page of the decaying enby who I was growing to care for.

Additionally, perhaps due to my own experiences as a fat enby who has suffered at the hands of bullies, this book was just a little too edgy for me. The imagery around oppression and the violence that some of the characters experience in this gritty universe just felt harsh. The use of slurs felt gratuitous, and hit a little close to home. Considering whether I’d feel triggered and anxious carrying on to the end of this 450 page book, I finally had to put it aside.

That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend this book. It feels resonant to me, and I’m still curious what happens to the cast of characters – especially the elder lesbian bookseller witch who takes our fair MC under her wing – so if you can stomach a little more than I can? Order this book while it’s still hot off the presses, and fill me in on the ending. It dropped on March 5.

Other Words for Smoke

The cover of Other Words for Smoke, by Sarah Maria Griffin.

I received an ARC of Other Words for Smoke by from Edelweiss+. This YA haunted house story is Irish author Sarah Maria Griffin’s third book, following another YA title, Spare and Found Parts, and her memoir, Not Lost.

The blurb for this book basically gives the punch line. It’s a story primarily about six characters, a set of twins, a witch and her ward, a cat called Bobby, and and owl called James. The book takes place in the small town where Rita resides, and I have to admit, even as a Newfoundlander, the names of characters and settings in this book made a lot more sense when I looked up the author and found that she was Irish.

My favourite part of this book is how Rita’s house itself becomes sort of a seventh central character. Aspects of the house and the way it behaves really tugged at the heartstrings of mine that loved the moving staircases at Hogwarts. None of the characters in this book are as simple as they appear on the surface. The story and the development of the characters are both full of spellbinding surprises. Nothing is quite as it seems.

We know the end of the story before we know how it begins: their house burns down, and the witch and her ward are never seen again. What we get through this book is the suspenseful, labyrinthian ride through two summers preceding this dramatic event. I was drawn through this book, even with its somewhat slow pacing, because I was dying to know what happened next, and I didn’t want to pull myself out of the lush imagery of the fantastical, haunted world that Griffin creates.

Unfortunately, all of the characters in this book appear to be cisgendered, but there is great queer representation. Other Words for Smoke came out on March 12th, so you can enjoy it right away.

 The Devouring Gray

A selfie of me with green hair, holding a physical ARC of The Devouring Gray, by Christine Lynn Herman.

I was excited to receive Chrstine Lynn Herman’s the Devouring Gray as an ARC back in December 2018, just in time for my first holiday celebrations in years. It seemed fitting, since my partner and I were attempting to spookify our slightly modified Christmas-esque traditions. It is an atmospheric page-turner, and it completely drew me in as I read it over the few days of my holiday celebrations.

Herman’s debut is the first of at least two books in this universe; its sequel will drop in 2020. Its publicity copy describes it as a young adult contemporary fantasy, and compares it to the CW/Netflix show Riverdale. As a fan of the show, I was pleased to find that the comp is accurate, but based on the suspense and pacing, I would describe the genre as speculative horror (content warnings for the book can be found here). Queerbabes: this book is worth the hype. It made me feel everything. Pre-order it if you can! It comes out on April 2nd. 

There is skilful, plot-relevant queer representation in this book, despite a lack of trans or enby inclusion, and on this front, the book is #OwnVoices. I checked. Herman does a particularly noteworthy job of writing a character with a physical disability: a feminine MC who lost part of her arm, and is a practised sword fighter. Although there are romantic relationships between some of the characters, they are not the focal point of this story, which includes a rich cast of nuanced, morally ambiguous main characters. Each of the characters had their own complicated appeal for me, and they relate to one another as friends, foes, and family members. 

The most unexpected and charming aspect of this book for me was that it is written with book lovers in mind. Both library and archives are settings in this book, and characters include a corrupt rebel librarian and bibliophile MC. Gift this one to the broody Ravenclaw in your life – you won’t regret it. The Devouring Gray is available for pre-order now.

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