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.

#2019Reading Update

Currently Reading: Songs from the Deep, by Kelly Powell

Dear Reader, 2019 has been a wild ride so far. As I’m writing this, we’re about 1/3 of the way through, and I wanted to take a pause to sum up some of the things that have been going on for me and my reading this year. Additionally, I’ve been chronicling my #2019Reading through that hashtag on Twitter – find me @saskeah, and give me a wave! There’s also a book review buried at the end of this post – so if you’re interested in what I thought about SLAY, by Brittney Morris, you can skip all my early chatter, and check that out at the bottom.

eReading

A huge thing that’s happened to me this year is that I started eReading. As someone with very limited income, I debated the decision to buy an eReader a lot – and finally, I purchased a Kobo on sale early this year. I purposely chose the Kobo because I didn’t want an Amazon product, and because I could purchase it through Indigo, the big Canadian book store chain (à la Barnes and Noble). Mostly, though, Kobo now links with Overdrive, the library access app, which means that it is dead simple to withdraw library eBooks on your device.

I primarily invested in the Kobo in order to access low or no cost books. As a blogger and bookseller, I have access to ARCs through Edelweiss+ and NetGalley, if I have a device to read them on, and because of the Overdrive app on Kobo, it’s easy to borrow library books as well. I didn’t know how I would feel about the eReading experience – because I work at an indie, I read exclusively in hard copy before this year.

It turns out that with a Kobo, I read way more. I can read more easily in low light or when my eyes are tired, I can carry multiple titles with me so I can switch what I’m reading to suit my mood and mental capacity, and I can DNF books that I’m not feeling with no financial risk. It’s easier on my body, and the eInk is easy on my eyes. In short: eReading. So accessible. Also, a little bit nostalgic. When I have a really good book and no early morning plans, I love being able to stay up late and read in low light past my bedtime. It makes me feel like a little kid again.

Seriously, yall. My Kobo has become my security blanket. Whenever I leave the house, I can take as many books as I might need with me – something for any mood, so many backups, things I might like to share – and it doesn’t make my bag any heavier. My Kobo comes with me everywhere. It’s the best little robot friend.

My one complaint, and this is an industry gripe, so feel free to gloss over this bit if you’re not knee deep in publishing, but I wish that more publishers would produce ARCs in epub format. I so often receive eARCs in PDF formats that are virtually or literally incompatible with a Kobo. I think it’s clear to most people in the book industry that it would be preferable if Amazon didn’t have a full on monopoly, so it would be nice to see folks in the industry not cater quite as blatantly to Kindle users.

New Things I Want to Discover

No matter how much I read and learn, there are always more things I feel like I don’t know but want to discover. This year, I’ve been trying to get back into SFF, for example, after a long hiatus because of my own mental capacity for processing worldbuilding-heavy stories. One of the things that has really helped that is discovering Nine Star Press, a small New Mexico based press that publishes LGBTQ+ titles, and has released two SFF titles this year that have both impressed me and eased me back into the genre – Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow, which I’ve already reviewed, and The Soulstealers, by Jacqueline Rohrbach, which I’ll review down the line. I also decided to focus some of my reading in 2019 on learning about far right Christian culture in the United States, and I’ll be writing that up in a post in the future as well.

However, two things have emerged that I’m interested in reading more of that I’ve never really explored before. First of all, cozy mysteries, which I had never even heard of until this year! I’ve been skulking around Cozy Mystery.com to get some ideas for what I should read to explore this genre – but I’m also very open to suggestions!

I’m also wide open for recs by your favourite Australian authors. I picked up The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, by Felicity McLean earlier this year, in part because the publicity copy said that the book was “quintessentially Australian” – and I realized that I had no idea what that meant, and no idea if I’d ever even read a book from Australia. And that seemed ludicrous. After loving the Van Apfel Girls (and also deeply not understanding some of the cultural elements of the book!), I’d like to see what else I’m missing!

DNF All The Things!

Something else I’ve been doing in 2019 is DNF’ing. A lot. Often.

I realize that being able to do this is somewhat of a privileged position to be in. I access most of my books for free, and almost all of them at deeply discounted prices, because of my roles as a bookseller and blogger. I also access a lot of books through the library. But either way – I’ve come to peace with it. As I’m writing this, I’ve finished nearly 40 books this year, and I’ve DNF’d 18. I’ve even given up on my long-standing cardinal rule of reading at least 100 pages of any book, to give it a chance.

You know what? There are so many books in the world. If something doesn’t feel good to read and you have no other reason for wanting to read it? Just don’t! Read something different!

SLAY

The cover of Slay, by Brittney Morris.
Do you eat meat?

I was pretty stoked when I got approved for an ARC of SLAY from Edelweiss+. The pub copy bills it as Ready Player One (although a Goodreads user comped it to Warcross, and I think that’s more on point) + The Hate U Give, plus it was blurbed by Nic Stone. It’s a debut YA from author Brittney Morris, with a breathtaking cover design by Laura Eckes, who can be found on Twitter @iamturtlecat.

Probably, nobody needs me to hype this book. Not only was it not written for me, but it was also named by Entertainment Weekly as the YA debut they’re most excited for this year. But I loved it so much that I needed to gush about it, at least a little bit – especially since I don’t think most reviews will mention that there is Black trans representation in this book. It’s a side character whose plotline is heart wrenching, but there are not enough BIPOC trans characters out there yet, and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I realized that there would be in this gem that will likely be very widely read. I think a lot of readers will find mirrors and windows in this book that they won’t find anywhere else.

This book drops in September, and is available for pre-order now. Don’t sleep on this, particularly if you’re a fan of Angie Thomas, or an educator. Morris’ protag, Kiera, is a smouldering Queen of Black Girl Magic, and by this time next year, I’m pretty sure she’ll be SLAYing alongside Starr and Bri. I’m not a Black reader, but from my experience burning through this book in one sitting, it’s fast paced, it’s extremely well-written, it has characters that are highly relatable, and I learned a lot from it.

In an action-packed story with speculative elements, SLAY tackles serious social issues like gun violence, intergenerational relationship building, intercommunity struggles, and cultural appropriation through an accessible and magnetic (slightly near-future) contemporary drama. It interweaves elements of Black diasporic history and current culture in what essentially is a simple story about a young girl, and her video game.

It’s time for this white blogger to step back, but I’ll leave you with the completely extra book trailer that Simon Pulse created for SLAY, if you’re not already convinced that you should be calling up your local bookshop, and asking them to order this in for you, right now. Happy #2019Reading!

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.

2018 In Review

Currently reading: Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

One of the things that I’m really lucky to have access to in my bookish life is Book Riot Insiders, a community which gives me access to some great resources. One of those is a channel of rad book bloggers, who have offered me some great support in getting started out. I am charmed to have been invited to host the year-end tag post for #BookishBloggersUnite, and the theme that was chosen was a 2018 wrap up! 

For the past several years, I have made it my goal to read 50 books. In 2017, I made it to 41. The last book that I read that year was for a queer book club that I was part of at the time, and it also wound up being the most read book in the Toronto Public Library system that year – a pretty impressive feat, given that TPL is the largest library system in all of North America. The book was Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Margaret Thien. I closed out my reading year crying my eyes out over its final pages.

In 2018, I finally surpassed my goal of 50 books. I hope to review and write about many of them in the upcoming year. However, since this is a new project, I thought it might be interesting to offer some information about what I read. For me, 2018 is particularly poignant, because I took a lot of time off of school this year for personal reasons, and had more downtime to play with. I feel like the books I chose this year were really my choices, and say a lot about me as a reader, and probably as a bookseller, as well.

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.