Family-Friendly Gift Requests

Currently Reading: Soulstealers, by Jacqueline Rohrbach

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for, 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.


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.


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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Spooky New YA

Currently Reading: Witchmark, by C. L. Polk

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for, 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…


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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Book Riot Breakup/down

Currently reading: Other Words for Smoke, by Sarah Maria Griffin

Several of the former members of the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack community have likened their grief over cancelling their memberships to the emotional experience of a bad breakup. Many of us have dated this guy. You know him. He’s extremely charismatic. Everyone loves how friendly he is, how he espouses his feminist values, how he knows all the right words to say to make people feel heard, and special. But when the shine wears away, you start to see the cracks in that veneer. You suspect that perhaps his values don’t exactly align with what he’s been telling you all along. He begins gaslighting you, and blaming you for the problems in your relationship. And if you’re lucky, that’s when the whole thing falls apart.

What is Epic Insiders?

Before I explain what happened and why it’s a problem the literary community should care about, it’s important to understand what Book Riot Insiders (BRI) actually is – or, I should say, was?

Book Riot is a media conglomerate that produces book-related content including blogs, podcasts, newsletters, and reading challenges, as well as related products, like the Read Harder Journal, which can be purchased from their online store. They purport themselves to be big believers in diversity, although their official belief statements don’t follow through on that. The staff and contributors list for Book Riot itself is extensive, and lacks transparency about the roles that each of the people involved plays.

A screen cap of the Book Riot values, from the About Us section of the website on February 21, 2019. The values are, 1, We create; 2, We always prefer the book to the movie; 3, We riot as a team; 4, We geek out on books; 5, We're leaders; 6, We practice charity; 7, We miss our subway stop cause the book is that good; 8, We are non-traditional; 9, We believe in family (bookshelves and cats count).
Book Riot values, screencapped from the About Us section of the Book Riot website on February 21, 2019.

Book Riot is a property of Riot New Media, a company which creates “content driven communities around niche interests that delight fans and celebrate their diversity” (from the Riot New Media website, 21/02/2019). The CEO of Riot New Media is Jeff O’Neil, and the COO is Clinton Kabler, both white cis men. There are 16 staff members of Riot New Media. (On a personal note, as a trans former-Insider, it is noteworthy that none of the staff members of Riot New Media are out as trans.)

Insiders (BRI) is described as the “exclusive digital hangout for the Book Riot community” (from the BRI website 21/02/2019), but is a paid subscription service that supports the Book Riot platform. It mirrors what you might see on Patreon, but internally hosted. Until recently, subscribers could choose between three levels of support: Short Story, Novel, and Epic. Epic was the highest, at $10 a month, and gave subscribers access to the New Release Index (a curated index of books and when they release to the public), Insider-specific newsletters and exclusive podcasts, a monthly prize drawing, a rotating deal on merch, and the Insider-only forum.

The forum was a Slack (see how Slack works), hosted on the free version of the platform, and capped at 275 Epic subscribers, plus the Book Riot staff, and some contributors. Separate Slacks exist that are exclusively for Book Riot contributors, and for staff only. The Slack was active, and many Epic subscribers joined specifically for access to that exclusive community. The Slack was the only interactive element of the “digital hangout” that BRI purported to offer.

New Policy

On February 12, 2019, a new platform-wide Book Riot policy was announced by a moderator in the General channel of the BRI Slack. At the time that the announcement was made, there were 397 members in the channel, which had the description, “mayhem and anarchy”. One section of the new policy was specifically highlighted by the mod: going forward, no generalizations made about any group of people would be tolerated in the “public” channels on the Slack – that is those spaces open to all paid Epic subscribers. The examples of “groups of people” that were given were specifically “men”, and “Republicans”. As soon as the announcement was made, the moderators began to delete custom emoji that users had created in the forum, including one that read, “WHY ARE MEN”.

Screencap of a post made in the BRI slack, noteworthy content described below.
Post made in the BRI Slack on February 12, 2019.

Noteworthy in this post is the moderator’s casual tone, and referring to BRI members as “thoughtful, wonderful, considerate, magical unicorns!”, as well as which portion of the policy the staff chose to highlight when making the announcement to the Epic Insiders.

The culture of the BRI Slack was assertively progressive and anti-oppressive. Many members of marginalized groups, including but not limited to BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ people, were among the very active daily users of the digital space. This policy was suggesting a massive, mandatory culture shift.

Within minutes, users began to react: very few were having positive reactions to a policy that amounted to institutionalized tone policing. Users argued that the policy contributed to a culture of oppressive exceptionalism. Despite purported “activist” values of the organization, the policy suggested dismissal and delegitimization of marginalized perspectives – #NotAllMen and the notion of “reverse racism” were repeatedly cited as examples of the kind of culture the policy would foster. The Epic Insiders agreed that for Book Riot to enforce their policy in what was an exclusive, pay-for-access, community space, was to actively stifle the very voices they performatively lifted up in the content created for Book Riot. Users questioned the motivation behind rolling out such blatant respectability politics in the space. The policy was violent.

The original post was made at 2:03 PM EST. At 4:49 PM EST, the same moderator announced that the staff were “headed out for the evening,” and would be discussing the feedback in due time. Three and a half hours after the policy announcement, 72 BRI members had joined a private channel and were making plans for an alternate Slack for folks who no longer felt safe, and who were prepared to cancel their memberships in protest of the change in policy. The conversation in the public Slack channel among users and the occasional staff person continued in full force until 5:38 PM, and then with less immediacy into the days that would follow.

Epic Insiders voiced their dismay in tones ranging from indignant to assertive to brokenhearted to scared. Members also pointed out the deep hypocrisy of the staff who were rolling out this policy – who, only the previous day had been making posts that would now be considered in violation of their own policy.

Screencap of a moderator post in the BRI Slack that reads, "i cannot bring myself to read anything about the Bezos thing, i'm so tired of men"

Doubling Down

The moderators and staff who stepped in to reply doubled down. They noted that the policy would be platform-wide, and apply to contributors, staff, and Insiders alike. The full, current Book Riot “Community” Guidelines can be found here. They apply to all Book Riot spaces and all content created for the media conglomerate.

One question that, even in the days that followed, staff refused to answer: who was the team who wrote this policy, and what was the motivation to roll it out for the exclusive BRI Epic Slack?

Moderators and staff responses included:

…And this is really hair-splitting — the reality is, you can still criticize people and systems, just as the site has. But generalizations about entire groups of people who have as many intersecting identities as us just aren’t the thing now.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 4:59 PM.

Surely, the difference between criticism and name-calling is clear.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 5:14 PM

We anticipated some questions, but we clearly underestimated, and it is clear that we have some discussion and clarification to make to this policy. […] we’ll make updates or clarifications here as we come to them.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 5:33 PM

All I can say is that I promise you this community has not been made unsafe.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator, February 13, 2019, 7:51 AM

You can still express yourself. The first thing done was saying private channels would allow you to say the broad generalizations [if] you wanted to continue.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator, February 13, 2019, 8:02 AM

(Spoiler alert: after many days of supposed discussions among staff, no satisfactory clarifications or updates would ever come.)

At 10:38 AM on February 13, 2019, a forum moderator posted the editorial team’s “clarification”.

Screencap of a post made in the BRI Slack, noteworthy content described below.
Post made in the BRI Slack on February 13, 2019.

Noteworthy in this post is the significant change in tone from the initial announcement. The shift is from conversational and friendly to formal and authoritative. The hypocrisy inherent in this policy continues, for example, the post references the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s definition of a hate group in opposition to the characterization of “Republicans” (as a group) in this way under the new policy. However, in some jurisdictions, Republicans have officially been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre because of their anti-LGBTQIA2S+ stances.

In this post, the moderator characterizes the culture of the BRI Slack negatively, a theme that is recurring as I write this post. They write about the lack of moderation in the forum, that was “allowed to go on too long.” Further, they trivialize the Epic Insiders’ financial contributions to the company, noting that “this was in no way a decision required to keep the lights on or keep Book Riot in business. That is not a concern.”

The post also discouraged BRI users from continuing to discuss the policy in the Slack, and instead, encouraged the use of an Email address for providing feedback confidentially.

One follow-up announcement was made that offered no additional details or policy shift. The moderator stated at this time,

Cathartic conversations for marginalized groups are important, and can and should happen in safe spaces. Within the Book Riot platform, cathartic conversations that include name-calling and personal attacks on groups in public channels are no longer acceptable in public channels, but we understand that private channels may include those.

BRI Forum Moderator

Later, a note from another Book Riot staff and moderator stated,

Book Riot has evolved over time […]. If you don’t believe that, or believe that we are operating out of some other motive, then it is probably time for our paths to diverge.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator

The new guidelines went into effect on February 18, 2019. At this time, Book Riot offered Epic Insiders who had pre-paid for their annual membership a refund for the rest of their renewal term if they cancelled their memberships by February 28, 2019.

After the last announcement, I cancelled my own membership. That was on February 13, 2019. When I cancelled, I received a notification that my membership would remain active until the 20th, which was the end of my current pay period. Within minutes, without warning, my access to the BRI Slack was revoked.

Show Me the Money!

It is perhaps worth noting here that for some BRI contributors, the $10/month paid for access to the Slack was not a financial burden. However, because of the diverse nature of the community that Book Riot had built with the Insiders program, many contributors had to budget carefully in order to be able to afford to support the company and be part of the exclusive Slack. For many, it was well worth it, as they felt that they had “found their people” – some for the very first time. A group of book lovers and enthusiasts as concerned with social justice as they were with finding their next great read. At least, on the surface.

Even so, by the time this response was posted, over 80 BRI users had joined the private channel and voiced an interest in leaving the Slack if the policy remained in place. $9 600 a year didn’t seem like money that should be trivialized in such a way, particularly when Riot Media boasted so few full time staff.

It is also worth speculating that Book Riot underestimated the amount of financial support they would lose from the BRI community. That $9 600 – which would rise to about $14 400/year within a week and a half – did not take into consideration that the subscribers to this program were some of Book Riot’s biggest supporters. Not only did they consume much of Book Riot’s content, they also attended live shows when they occurred, spent money on merchandise, and many subscribed to TBR, an additional paid subscription service that offered custom readers’ advisory. At the top tier, the service costs $300 USD per year, per subscriber.

What Happened Next?

There were several unusual occurrences over the following days. Some BRI members who still subscribed continued to critique the policy, but these critiques were at best ignored, and at worst, silenced. Moderators followed up with members to “remind” them that things like profanity (in any context) were not allowed in the Slack – something that had not been previously enforced. Members were also reminded that criticism of Book Riot, and discussion of the policy, was discouraged.

By February 14th, 2019, 111 former Epic Insiders who objected to the BRI policy change had created and joined an alternate Slack to continue the community that we had created in the BRI program. There were 73 channels, and nearly 3500 messages had already been sent at that time. By February 15th, that number had climbed to over 10 000 messages.

Meanwhile, the Epic Slack was essentially silent, save for a few conversations fuelled by Book Riot moderators and staff, some of whom the members couldn’t remember ever having interacted in the community before. The activity that was happening in the Slack was happening in private channels. The ongoing lack of participation in the BRI Slack under the new policy highlighted the hypocrisy of the policy itself, apparently created in part because some users had told moderators that they felt uncomfortable with the political tone of the conversations. If this had been a reality, participation in the Slack should have flourished, once those who had spoken out about the policy’s oppressive nature had cancelled their memberships and left. Instead, there was almost nothing left.

See caption for description, noteworthy content described below.
A graph of the activity in the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack from January 21st, 2019 to February 18th, 2019. Purple indicates the % of reading by users in public channels, black indicates the % of reading by users in private channels, and red indicates the % of reading by users in DMs.

The two charts included here clearly document the impact of the policy announcement on the Epic Insiders Slack. The sudden peak of participation in private channels coincides with the announcement of the policy, and the sudden drop off coincides with the creation of the replacement Slack that was created, and the cancellations of the users who migrated.

See caption for description, noteworthy content described below.
A graph of the activity in the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack from January 21st, 2019 to February 18th, 2019. Purple indicates the % of messages sent by users in public channels, black indicates the % of messages sent by users in private channels, and red indicates the % of messages sent by users in DMs.

On February 20th, at 2:30 PM, an Email went out to Insiders, the subject line of which read, “An Epic Announcement.” The same message was posted to the General channel of the BRI Slack. The full message can be read here. The announcement was that the Epic Insiders Slack – the only interactive element of the “exclusive digital hangout for the Book Riot community” – was being shut down on Friday, February 22nd, 2019, at 5 PM. Ten days after the announcement of a violent and oppressive policy, the company doubled down again. Rather than learning from the feedback of their financial supporters and engaged community members, they chose to delete the space they had created for them, and any record of what they had chosen to do.

It’s noteworthy that the tone of this message took the level of formality even higher than previous messages had, sounding almost as though it has been written with the advice of legal council. Furthermore, the message that was distributed placed the blame for this choice squarely on the shoulders of those who were brave enough to speak out against the policy. Below are some excerpts.

We’ve looked hard at our own editorial beliefs, seen how for many members of the BRI slack those beliefs ran against their own. We’ve had messages of support for the new policy, and extraordinarily strong reactions against it. Expressions of pain and disappointment caused us to take a long look at what and why we were doing what we were doing.

And what we’ve discovered is that while a specific policy is the fulcrum of this moment, it is about something more than that policy. It is about the very nature of this space.

Our staff’s safety is our highest priority, and we’ve come to believe that the nature of Slack communication, with its speed, informality, and never-ceasing schedule, exacts an emotional toll on our staff that is unsustainable.

From “An Epic Announcement,” distributed on February 20, 2019.

Probably not coincidentally, some former Insiders have noted that since the policy rollout on February 12th, Book Riot CEO Jeff O’Neal deleted his public Twitter presence completely, and both Rebecca Schinsky, and Amanda Nelson are using tweet delete apps to remove their histories. Presumably, this is to remove evidence of behaviour that they had all engaged in in the recent past that would now be in violation of a policy that they themselves had created. There are some things still on the internet that are in violation, of course, including a (formerly public, now made private) Spotify playlist called “Why Are Men”, of which several former Insiders are followers.

A screencap of a Spotify playlist entitled "Why Are Men," created by user Rebecca Joines Schinsky.

The BRI Epic Slack disappeared at 5 PM on February 20th, almost precisely. In the Slack populated by former Insiders, folks reflected on the feeling that this was the end of an era for many of them: from the success of Book Riot Live in 2016, to the creation of the Insiders program, and the fostering of a rich, progressive community, to its total collapse less than two years’ later.

How to Respond

The crux of the issue is this. Book Riot announced a terrible policy change to their biggest supporters. That could have been rectified. Instead, the staff doubled down. Even then, if the policy had been revoked and apologies made to those who felt violated, maybe the bad blood could still have been mitigated. Instead, the program was cancelled. Evidence of hypocrisy was erased as thoroughly as possible. Blame was placed on people who were in a position of less power and privilege than those who had written the policy in the first place. Marginalized voices and huge supporters of Book Riot were alienated, then silenced.

Since then, a lot of troubling information about past and recent actions of Book Riot staff have been brought to light by former Insiders who now convene elsewhere. These stories, by and large, are not mine to share. I would privately share stories of the queerphobia I experienced at the hands of one of the Book Riot staff and Slack moderators, and of my complicated feelings about the TBR program, and the tone shift that the launch of that for-profit service signalled within Book Riot’s messaging, with anyone who is interested.

Ultimately, so many of the experiences shared and the actions taken since February 12th are the deal breaker for me, and why I can no longer support this performatively progressive company. Their actions signal such a huge disparity in values between what Book Riot says they are about and what they are clearly actually about that I can no longer see them as trustworthy. In a literary and media landscape where privileged voices are often the loudest, and there is an ongoing struggle for diverse voices to be heard and recognized as legitimate and skillful – this is no longer a company that I support, or feel anyone else should support, through being an audience member, or through financial contributions.

The ambiguous “team” who lead Riot New Media, or perhaps Book Riot itself, were the ones to write and enforce this policy, and it has been put in place for the entire company, which means all of its content is also influenced. The company has not yet shared its motivation for engaging so thoroughly in respectability politics, while still profiting from its image as a progressive, even activist, organization.

If you have feedback about this policy, Book Riot’s behaviour, and its impact on the literary community, I would urge you to direct it to

Update: March 6 2019

For further reading on this topic, check out other posts by former Epic Insiders, Off the Beaten Shelf, The Bookish Cronk, and the Wicked Bookworm.

Also, if you’ve found this post informative, please consider donating to my ko-fi! I’m functionally unemployed right now, so a few dollars goes a long way!

Black History Month Recs and a Taste of Salt

Currently reading: Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for, 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!

Black History Month Non-Binary Reads

The covers of Hurricane Child, by Kacen Callender (formerly under a different name), and Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi.

Two of my overall favourite reads of 2018 happened to be by Black, non-binary authors, and I thought this would be the perfect time to give a shoutout to these books – although they hardly require it. The first is a middle grade debut novel called Hurricane Child, by Kacen Callender (formerly under a different name), and the second is a fictionalized memoir called Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi.

Callender, the author of Hurricane Child, was born and raised in the St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, which also serves as the setting for this book. It is a poetic gem that features a black, queer MC, who is 12 years old, and was born during a hurricane. The character is navigating falling in love for what appears to be the first time, and trying to find her missing mother. It’s the best-written middle grade book I’ve ever read, while being age-appropriate, and it’s spooky. Callender’s second novel and first foray into young adult lit, This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, dropped in October. It is my hope to see works featuring enby characters from Callender, but I would recommend anything they write.

Freshwater, (CW: trauma and sexual assault) is nothing short of breathtaking. Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil author, and this magical realism memoir is also their debut. They have a YA novel, Pet, forthcoming in 2019, and a second adult novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, also forthcoming. Emezi is trans, non-binary, and ogbanje, a Nigerian identity that involves aspects of plurality and of being a trickster spirit.

Freshwater is visceral and unique and bizarre and authentic. It took me a minute to get into the writing style, and this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Once I was able to process it, I was completely unable to put it down. Despite being fully an outsider to this story, I share with Emezi that I am non-binary and have experiences of trauma, and in addition one of my partners is plural, so aspects of the tale were very relatable for me. For a taste of Emezi’s writing, they have also written several short stories, including Who Is Like God, and a Curaçao fairy tale.

Trans Lit News

Unfortunately, some negative news in the trans lit world this week. The woman author of the 2018 book Invisible Men: Inside India’s Transmasculine Networks, Nandini Krishnan, committed ethical transgressions against the trans people featured in her book. These included, but were not limited to, misgendering, dead naming, erasure of Indigenous histories, and violation of consent.

Invisible Men was published by Penguin India, and is Krishnan’s second book. Firstpost has reported in their deep dive article on the book that Penguin has not admitted fault or taken action based on Krishnan’s transgressions. The book was reviewed in the News Minute by Gee Imaan Semmalar, one of the people portrayed in the book, who recommends Revathi’s A Life in Trans Activism as an alternate title on this topic.

In addition, I want to put a plug in for author and fellow trans book blogger, Bogi Takács. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, Bogi was recently forced to leave their doctoral studies. This is a great time for other folks in this community to step up and support their work!

Slightly Salty

I feel like this has been the week of people using performative inclusivity for profit, while being exclusive and silencing marginalized voices in practice, and I am upset about it.

The first instance of this I want to address is the Kickstarter for 99% Chance of Magic, an anthology from Heartspark Press. The marketing copy for this book, which has raised thousands of dollars in donated funding, claims that this book is the world’s first chapter book for transgender kids. This is problematic for two reasons. First, this book is an anthology, not a chapter book, and there are some other great anthologies out there for trans youth (the first that comes to mind is transVersing, published in 2018, an #OwnVoices anthology by and for trans youth).

The second issue was clear to me after reading the marketing copy for this book, reading information about the contributors, researching (and Tweeting at) Heartspark Press, and reviewing the calls for contributors that the press made for this anthology. This project is not inclusive of a breadth of trans experiences. All contributors, and all people included in Heartspark in general, are (C)AMAB ((coercively) assigned male at birth). The calls for contributors were made specifically with the #girlslikeus hashtag. The Heartspark Press online mission page reads, “Join us in lifting the voices of (C)AMAB trans people everywhere.” However, it is not made clear in the branding of this anthology that transmasculine and (C)AFAB non-binary voices were excluded from this project.

This isn’t the only Heartspark project that is branded ambiguously. On the homepage of their website, The Resilience Anthology is described as “the largest literary collection of trans women and non-binary writers”, and The Sisters from the Stars is described as “a new children’s book for trans kids and weirdos like us”. I have spoken to several enbies who have supported this press under the assumption that they are inclusive of all members of the trans community, when that is not the case.

An #OwnVoices project for and by (C)AMAB folks is great! There is so much space for trans literature in the world. However, it should be clear to folks who donate that the anthology does not reflect experiences of many non-binary, transmasculine, or intersex people. This information is important to provide to folks who purchase the anthology for, or sell it to, trans or gender creative children or youth. If given this book without context, it could easily and unintentionally worsen feelings of isolation or dysphoria.

The LGBTQ+ lexicon is ever-evolving, and the mobilization of identities for profit can be tricky. It’s time for organizations like Heartspark Press to update their marketing practices. Enbies (myself included!) are tired of microaggressive gatekeeping, binarizing of the non-binary, and neglect of transmasculine people. Say “trans” if you mean to include everyone in the trans community. If what you mean is something different, please say that. (And thanks to Laura Bishop, who articulated this better than I could have!)

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Affirming Middle Grade Gems for Spring 2019

Currently reading: Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for, 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!

Trans Book News

At the end of 2018, I sent some feedback to the hosts of my favourite podcast, Book Riot, that I thought they should have included more content about LGBTQ+ (and specifically trans and enby) people, content, and issues in their last couple of episodes of the year. Well, it appears that they listened. In their latest episode, they discuss some relevant bookish news stories that specifically focus on censorship of trans content in libraries, and opposition to drag queen storytime, both in the US. Take a listen here.

I’m really excited about this one: a new picture book about gender by enby illustrator Noah Grigni (and written by Theresa Thorn) is coming out this May. It looks like a beautiful book. If you’re in Canada, you can pre-order it here, and in the US, pre-order it here. Pre-orders support authors so much, and if you use these affiliate links to order, you’ll be supporting my work, too.

Last week, Ceillie Simkiss posted an important review of a forthcoming YA novel featuring a trans character, which is written by a cis author and riddled with problematic content. It’s not recommended for trans readers. Read the full review here.

Good news for trans representation in books and non-binary authors this week! Jessica Love’s Julián is a Mermaid, which I featured in my 2018 Trans-Affirming Picture Book Wrap Up, was a recipient of the Stonewall Book Award at ALA Midwinter! Another recipient was Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child, which – spoiler alert! – I will be discussing next week, as part of my Black (History? Future? Present?) Month post. See the full 2019 Rainbow List here.

The Moon Within

A selfie of me, with green hair, looking sleepy, and holding an ARC of The Moon Within, by Aida Salazar.

See the suspiciously sleepy-looking eyes in that photo? Yeah. It’s because it was after midnight, because once I picked this book up, I couldn’t put it down. No one is more surprised than me, and I’m thrilled to admit it.

I actually wound up with two hardcopy ARCs of Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within from the shop where I work. Perhaps because the rest of the staff saw it and had the same reaction I did: this is a middle grade, novel-in-verse. See me: skeptical. Yet, coming of age stories are usually among my favourites, and this one is by a Latinx author and features a mixed-race MC with a genderfluid best friend. I decided to give it a chance.

But let’s be totally transparent. I picked it up on the night that I did because I’d been in a bit of a reading slump, and I thought, this book is short, and I’m probably not going to like it anyway. Might as well. I ended up so glad that I did. This is me, with the humble pie over here.

This coming-of-age story is a charming exploration of many tensions that will resonate for readers: reclaiming Indigenous culture in contemporary America, navigating early love, and overcoming challenges in deep friendships. This book is entirely age-appropriate as a middle grade novel, with writing that remains poetic and descriptive. This story spans a relatively long period of time, enabled by the verse format, which avoids the passage of time and depth of emotion feeling cumbersome to the reader. Spanish language is woven into the text of this novel, at times with and at times without translation and explanation, and I expect that this will enrich the cultural experience of this text for Latinx and other Spanish-speaking readers.

The only aspect of this book that I found challenging as an AFAB trans enby was the focus on menstruation as a theme in the text. While I imagine that it would be empowering for girls and women, this was at times a struggle for me to navigate, because of the troubled relationship I have with my own body and its hormonal cycles. I did appreciate that the text touched on this tension as well, with reference to the AFAB genderfluid character in the book, but (my biased perspective is that) I thought that it could have been more thoroughly probed.

I’m thrilled to be able to recommend this book, which drops on February 26th, but can be pre-ordered now. Give this one to your kids. Point your teacher friends toward it. Send it in the mail to your enby friends in Oakland, like I’m going to do. It’s a gem. You won’t want to miss it.

Little Apocalypse

The cover of Little Apocalypse, by Katherine Sparrow.

Note: I received an eARC of Little Apocalypse through Edelweiss+.

I requested an ARC of Katherine Sparrow’s Little Apocalypse out of personal interest, because I love a good spooky story, even if it doesn’t have explicitly LGBTQ+ content. It was appealing in part because comped to Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters, which I read in 2018, and loved. Much like when I read The Moon Within, I picked it up because it was a middle grade book, and I’d been battling a cold, so that’s about where my executive function level felt comfortable at the time. But again like when I read The Moon Within… once I picked this up, I had trouble putting it down.

Maybe it’s about time that I checked my own prejudices about MG books, because despite being written for a young audience (I know, I know), the world-building in Little Apocalypse was rich and deep. I probably would have anticipated that had I been familiar with Sparrow before picking up this book – although this is her MG debut, she’s hardly a novice writer. Sparrow has four previously-published adult novels in a series called the Fay Morgan Chronicles, and one of her short stories, The Migratory Patterns of Dancers, was nominated for a Nebula award.

This is a monster-fighting book with a Strong Feminine Protagonist that is perfect Buffy or X-Files fans (or future fans of Buffy, or maybe Buffy herself). If you’re buying this one for a kid, and they enjoy superhero stories, it’s a great step up from something like Buffy: New School Nightmare, the Desmond Cole series, or the Goosebumps books. Parents will love about this book that although there aren’t a lot of responsible adult figures around while the plot is unfolding (surprise!), the main character’s love for her family is clear and abiding throughout the book, even as she truly comes into her own as the protagonist.

My favourite things about this book are that, 1, it was written for book lovers. It has a bookworm MC, features a library in one of its settings, and even some of the most dramatic apocalyptic imagery was book-evocative. 2, it’s a friendship book. There are little hints at romance in places in this novel, but ultimately, it is all in on nuanced, complicated, platonic relationships. 3, the monsters are awesome. 4, the author does not shy away from moral ambiguity in this book, and I love the depth and complexity of that gray area.

But ultimately, (spoiler alert) one of the things that I love about this book is that in the end, the main character undergoes a pretty significant physical and emotional transformation. Although it’s dramatic and complicated, she and her parents work through it together, and they wind up having a happy, loving life, all together. The book doesn’t gloss this over, but the happy ending was heartwarming. It was this part of the book that I felt would be really affirming to any kid, but especially to kids dealing with transition or coming out to their caregivers. (end spoilers)

I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of 9 or so (only because any younger, and I feel like it might be edging on nightmare territory), including adults. Little Apocalypse is available for pre-order now, and will be released on March 19th, 2019.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!