#VillainAThon Wrap Up

Currently Reading: Unfuck Your Boundaries, by Faith Harper

Welcome to the Relaunch of Books Beyond Binaries!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transphobic Hate Speech at TPL

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

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

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

New St. Martin’s Press Book

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

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

New Trans Research

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

A Personal Note

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

A name change certificate from the province of Ontario.

#VillainAThon Wrap Up!

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

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

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

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

The Archived and The Unbound, by Victoria Schwab

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

The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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

Salt, by Hannah Moskowitz

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

I Know You Remember, by Jennifer Donaldson

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

Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado.

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

Half-Resurrection Blues, by Daniel José Older

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

Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha

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

One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski

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

A Place Called Perfect, by Helena Duggan

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

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert

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

The Body in Question, by Jill Ciment

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

Last Girl Lied To, by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

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

The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo

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

The Darkest Corners, by Kara Thomas

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

The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware

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

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

Lies You Never Told Me, by Jennifer Donaldson

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

Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

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

And the Trees Crept In, by Dawn Kurtagich

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

Hocus Pocus and the All New Sequel, by AW Jantha

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

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

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

Death and the Seaside, by Alison Moore

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

The Laws of the Skies, by Grégoire Courtois

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

The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff

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

A Darker Shade of Magic, by Victoria Schwab

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

Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan

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

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

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.