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.

Critical Publicity

Currently Reading: After the Eclipse, by Fran Dorricott

On Talking About Books

Recently, I was listening to an episode of the Print Run Podcast that was about the nuances that exist in talking about books, particularly the difference between writing about books for the sake of criticism versus writing about books for the sake of publicity. I spent the remainder of my drive after the episode ended thinking about my own talking about books, and considering why it is that I do what I do, and exactly what it is that I think I do, both in my personal life, and in this blog.

I have lots of qualifications that mean that I am well-suited to write literary criticism. I am a published doctoral student with a speciality in critical theory, and I spend a lot of time evaluating, peer reviewing, and producing academic writing. I am also a bookseller in a small, independent, justice-oriented bookstore in Toronto. If I’m feeling particularly self-confident, I would tell you that my marginalized identities and my social location mean that I bring a unique perspective to the books that I read.

That said, I would be lying to myself and anyone who cared to ask if I didn’t say that even when I’m providing criticism of a book, I’m ultimately doing it for the purposes of sales. It will probably damage my anti-capitalist street cred to say that, but living in a capitalist world, when I look around me and I consider what luxury purchases I want people to spend their surplus money on, and what investments I want people to make with their time? I want them to spend it on books.

A lot of that is selfish. Publishing is not a perfect industry, by any stretch – and mass market publishing is such a small part of the publishing sector as it exists in the world. But as person who has often felt isolated in the world, it’s not an exaggeration when I say that books have often been my closest friends, and there are many parts of my life that I never would have survived without them.

Reading is formative for me. It has made me who I am and continues to make me. Book sales provide some of my very limited income. And one of the only things that I have strong faith in is the ability of ideas to make the world better… so ultimately, I spend a lot of my energy trying to get the books that I think will do that into the hands of people who need them.

I’m not always sure that readers understand all of the moving parts that is the giant machine of mass market publishing. I know that I don’t fully understand it yet, and I had an even more limited grasp before I began working as a bookseller. From conception to writing to physical production to distribution to sales, there are so many links in the chain that need to remain strong for books to make it into the hands of readers.

Right now, at the shop where I work, there are some scary conversations happening. Toronto is one of the most expensive cities in Canada, so the basic costs of maintaining a storefront in this city are a challenge for any retail business, especially one with profit margins as small as bookselling has. Although my shop still maintains a storefront, we also do the vast majority of our business through school board contracts and with educators – whose budgets are getting slashed by our current provincial government. That means fewer book fairs, fewer vendor fairs, and fewer librarians, lib techs, and teacher librarians who are ordering from us.

On a more macro level, things like paper shortages and tariffs on books will impact our tiny store’s ability to get newly published titles in a timely manner, especially in comparison to places like Amazon and Indigo, who are able to order much larger quantities of books pre-sale. Because of this political climate, the amount of backorders and slow reprints that we have to manage these days is much higher than it was in the past, which makes it difficult to please educators and retail customers.

And more than ever, authors are being pressured by their economic situations and also by the publishing industry to always, always, always be focused on that elusive measure of success… the pre-order. But so often, I see huge authors – in some cases, very successful people who have won the majority of their recognition in part due to the efforts of independent booksellers – promoting their pre-sales through Amazon, or other big chain bookstores. Authors are my heroes, but it hurts my heart to see those links. Indies (and other brick and mortar stores) can take pre-orders, too!

When I review a title, I always try to offer a critical perspective. I choose diverse titles to read on purpose. I almost never read books written by allo cis het men, and I try to read as many books by underrepresented authors and with characters who embody marginalized identities as possible. No matter what I read, I try to write reviews honestly and analytically.

But when I review a title… I am always hoping that someone is going to go out and buy a book, or visit their local library and take one out. I always hope that someone is hearing about a book that they need to read, or that someone they know needs to read, when they open my blog on a Monday afternoon – or, that they’re hearing about a book that they should absolutely avoid, but in favour of something that’s going to do the job better. I don’t think that that makes my reviews less legitimate, or that it makes my perspective less valuable. Publicity for any individual book is important, but whether I review a single title well or poorly, I like to think that that is publicity for books… and for me, that is the most critical thing of all.

Review: Wilder Girls

The cover of Wilder Girls, by Rory Power.

…which brings me to my review this week. I almost don’t even need to review Wilder Girls, by Rory Power, which was released on July 9th. As I’m writing this, it currently sits at the top of the Goodreads list of top titles published this month, with over 40 000 users having added it to their “want to read” shelf. No one needs me to recommend them this book (content warnings found here), because chances are good, if it’s for you, you’ve heard about it already.

What the publicity copy on this book won’t tell you, though, is that this is a book that I needed, and that the world needs, so badly. The book is gripping. I stayed up way past my bedtime and woke up long before my dogs were hungry the next morning just to finish it. In so many ways, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for a book like this one.

This is a YA title, but this book is straight up genre fiction. It’s definitely a horror title that stands on its own legs outside of the YA category – and for me, that’s important in and of itself, because it demonstrates the depth and breadth that YA titles encompass these days. More than that, this book is queer AF. Three are three main protagonists in this story, and all three of them are queer women. But the best thing for me? That’s not what the book is about. The book is about politics, infectious diseases, climate change, adaptation, transformation, disfiguration, trauma, coming of age, mental health, love, friendship, and ALSO… queerness.

The protagonists of Wilder Girls are complicated. The relationships that exist between them and that the characters have with themselves are morally ambiguous and messy and raw… and this book isn’t even about all that. We are finally getting books that embody those aspects of queer life and community, but also have riveting, thought-provoking, surprising plotlines. This is one of the first times that I have ever felt myself reflected in a book in an authentic, multi-faceted way, and I am deeply grateful for the weird and wonderful experience that that was.

Listen. It surprises me more than anyone that 40 000 want to read about infectious queer girls sprouting gills and fighting over food and trying to save their friends from dying, literally. But I am here for it.

If you didn’t pre-order Wilder Girls, and you think that it’s your speed, don’t sleep on it. Your local bookshop can and should hook you up, and while you’re at it, put in a request at your local library, too. Out there, there’s a teenaged me who’s going to have a very different life than I did because this book landed in their hands early on.

Starting Fresh

Currently Reading: Normal People, by Sally Rooney

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

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

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

My Picks

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

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

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

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

Response?

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

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

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

Spooky Books for Sunny Seasons

Currently Reading: Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

Recent Picture Recent Releases

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

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

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

New Releases to Give You Chills

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

Spring 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

July

The cover of The Best Lies, by Sarah Lyu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August

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

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

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

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

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

Family-Friendly Gift Requests

Currently Reading: Soulstealers, by Jacqueline Rohrbach

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!

This is a slightly overdue recommendations post that I wrote much earlier this year, and I’m only just now getting around to posting. Before I get to it, I have just two little tidbits of news to share. One, I need to boost a newly-released book, by Alicia Elliott. I was honoured to have the chance to attend her Toronto release with my shop, and to have received an ARC of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground last year. I read it in one shot on a plane ride, and it’s a must-read, full stop. It’s available now.

I also wanted to share a list compiled by fellow genderqueer book blogger Corey Alexander, which is a look at books published early this year with trans and non-binary authors. It’s a fantastic list. You’ll see some of the books I’ve mentioned in this blog on it, but also a few others that I haven’t gotten to. Don’t miss out on Dragon Pearl, Squad, Once and Future, Disintegrate/Dissociate, or the Lost Coast. These are all high up on my TBR.

Prompt

Back in December, I had a friend post on Twitter that they were looking for some book recommendations for things that they could ask their somewhat conservative family for for the holidays, specifically titles that were available as Kindle eBooks. Although I didn’t get around to posting these back then, I’m hoping that this list will still be helpful to anyone who has a gift-receiving holiday coming up, since these are mostly 2018 releases.

Some of these books would also serve pretty well as a response to a question I often get in the bookshop: I have a conservative family member, and I’d like to give them something that they will read, but that will also offer them a progressive message, just a little under the radar.

Here’s what I knew:

  • Hadn’t read anything family-friendly in a while
  • Likes John Green and Harry Potter, but also adult books in similar veins
  • Likes Ivan Coyote and Andrea Gibson
  • Likes books about sexuality, gender, and feminist issues
  • Reads both fiction and non-fiction, adult and YA
  • Does not read thrillers or horror
  • Things that were off-limits included anything about kink, sex, or non-monogamy
  • Special interest in silly detective books, à la Brooklyn 99
  • These would probably be read in an ebook format

My Picks

I don’t do a lot of detective reading myself, but after reading a lot of 2018 wrap ups prior to giving these recommendations, I knew that as a silly detective rec, I was heading straight for Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery, a detective story featuring past president Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden as MCs. This book is described as part noir thriller, part bromance, by the publicity copy.

Whenever someone mentions John Green in their past-loved titles, I go straight for a dramatic book about a romantic relationship… which, for me, almost always means LGBTQ+ romance. Tin Man, by Sarah Winman, which is a gay relationship story that comes highly recommended by my fellow Another Story staffers, but that’s not super obvious from the publicity copy, making it a perfect under the radar rec.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou is a Book Riot dubbed Swiss Army recommendation of a sharp new release non-fiction that’s edgy in a way that might appeal to someone with some kink interests, but it’s not scary. Every time I think about this particular recommendation, it calls to mind Bill Gates’ super trippy holiday recommendations video from the end of 2018, and the syringe holiday light display! On the surface, this is a book about the tech industry, but underneath is about corporate corruption. It was featured on Book Riot’s Best of 2018 list, and is a non-violent true crime story. Another non-violent true crime that might appeal to someone who’s into over the top mystery like this reader is Kirk Wallace Johnson’s the Feather Thief, which I also added to this list.

Because this reader had mentioned Harry Potter, I also wanted to throw in some YA fantasy. Tomi Adeyemi’s debut Children of Blood and Bone is a story that draws on the author’s Nigerian roots, and has serious intersectional feminist appeal, but it’s still mainstream enough (particularly with its early movie adaptation) to be family-friendly.

Alexander Chee’s essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel has a lot of sexuality writing tied up in it, also without it being blatant from the dust jacket. My shop hosted an event around this book and Darnell Moore’s No Ashes in the Fire, and I think that both books have poignant and important things to say about racialized experiences of queer life and history in North America.

Response

I was disappointed that the person who I offered these recommendations to didn’t receive any of them for the holidays! Their response to these picks was positive, and I was hoping to see them get to enjoy reading them. If you’d like to complete this experience for them (and for me!), you can visit the contact page of their website, and they’ll send you details of how you can send them one of my book picks! Remember to use one of my affiliate links in this post, if you choose to send them a gift – that way, both of us will feel your love!

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

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

Spooky 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.

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.