New year, who dis?

Happy 2021, theydies and gentlethems! A quick personal note to start this post: Books Beyond Binaries may look slightly different this year, in terms of content. Part of the reason for that is because I have recently transitioned my Twitter account to announcements-only for the foreseeable future. I’ve come to accept that posting my updates and checking my mentions through Hootsuite is a lot better for my mental health and time management than reading my feed every day, even if it does mean that I miss out on content sometimes. If you see anything on Twitter that you think should be featured in this space, feel free to tag me or send it my way via DM or the contact page!

Now, on to the good stuff. I’m thrilled that for the first post of a new year, I have some super special content to share. CeCe Lyra has reviewed Susan Mihalic’s novel Dark Horses. This one holds a special place in my heart, because I grew up horseback riding every chance I got, competing, and devouring “horse girl” books. Not only are these coming back in MG and YA literature lately, which is a welcome trend over here, but I am hype for the books coming out for former horse girls turned reading adults.

I am also super excited to welcome an author who I’ve been following for a few years now for his first feature post in this space, Sam J. Miller. I first discovered Sam through his acclaimed YA novel, Destroy All Monsters, which I featured in a post back in 2019. At the time, this poignant and bizarre novel had become a staff favourite at Another Story, the local indie where I worked as a bookseller.

Sam’s fourth novel, The Blade Between, recently dropped, and I’m honoured that he was willing to put together a super cool post for us about some of the research that he did when writing the book. Sam’s books are spooky and fascinating and, in his words, “gay as heck.” If you’re new to his writing, I hope that this post will encourage you to dive in, because you’ve been missing it in your life. I promise.

Review of Susan Mihalic’s DARK HORSES, by Cecilia Lyra

The cover of Dark Horses.

Fifteen-year-old Roan Montgomery is a competitor in the exclusive, high-stakes equestrian world with a goal of becoming an Olympian. She has good reason to think she’ll get there: Roan is talented, hard-working, and genuinely passionate about riding. She’s also pedigreed—her father has several Olympic medals of his own and wrote the book on eventing. It’s no surprise then that he is Roan’s coach, publicist, and agent. What is a surprise: he’s been raping her since she was six years old. A greater surprise still: Roan’s mother knows.

An image of a chestnut horse wearing a harness eating hay.
Photo by Emmy Nordstrom Higdon; Cape Breton, 2011. Taken on Portra 160 VC; Minolta.

To survive (a word Roan would undoubtedly resent), she compartmentalizes. She tells herself it’s not all bad. That staying silent is her choice. That she would rather be complicit than a victim. That what really matters are her riding ambitions. As with all emotions, perhaps a lot of it true, or perhaps all (or none) of it is. But truth in emotions is beside the point. What is the point: Roan’s indomitable, clear-eyed strength. It is this strength that guides her as she struggles to comprehend and navigate her circumstances, not just the conflicting emotions she feels towards her father, but also the role she feels she plays in their relationship. Throughout the novel, we watch Roan’s sense of self grow stronger, which in turn causes her father to tighten his grip on her. This is exacerbated by the fact that Roan’s mother leaves, taking with her what little protection she could offer, and that Roan falls in love with Will, a classmate at her exclusive prep school. Although she is, without a doubt, a victim of abuse, Roan does not come across as a victim. She’s a fighter—has been from page one, and as the story unfolds, we watch her battle with growing fortitude.

Set against the backdrop of competitive riding, DARK HORSES moves along nimbly, with explosive stretches that made my pulse race. Typically, when I’m reading a book that I know I will later review, I make notes as I turn the pages. I jot down my impressions on the narrative flow, themes examined, and characters I meet along the way, pausing to reflect on their fatal flaws (I have a thing about flaws). I’m a natural note-taker and, more to the point, I find it helps with my reviews. I couldn’t do that with this novel. Its pull was all-consuming, like being sucked in by a tidal wave. I had no time—or headspace—to make notes. It’s quite a feat for any novelist, holding a reader’s attention like that. But given the disturbing nature of the subject matter it’s even more impressive.

A black Newfoundland pony, wearing a harness, grazing, seen through a white fence.
Photo by Emmy Nordstrom Higdon; Newfoundland, 2011. Taken on Portra 160 NC; Minolta.

DARK HORSES had everything to be a story of privilege. A poor-little-rich girl narrative with a horsey twist. Instead, it’s an exploration of power, control, and desire as told through the lenses of a girl who refused to be broken. It’s a powerful novel—in more ways than one.


Along with Dark Horses, CeCe recommends readers check out Aftershocks, by skillful Black author Nadia Owusu. It comes out on the 21st of this month.

The cover of Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Feature Post: Author Sam J. Miller on THE BLADE BETWEEN

Hudson is a weird distinctive haunted looking town, and so I had a huge assortment of creepy fascinating spaces at my disposal when I started writing my gentrification ghost story The Blade Between. And while I hope I succeeded in rendering those locations vividly enough on the page, the reality of the city is worth sharing. 

The cover of The Blade Between.

Here are eight of the locations where key events take place, along with a quote from the book describing each. If you’ve already read THE BLADE BETWEEN, I hope they help you compare the space as it really is to the way you imagined it. And if you haven’t read it, I hope they spark your interest enough to want to visit Hudson… even if it’s only on the page. 

A brown brick building against a blue sky with dry greenery in front and bare trees. Text reads, Every building on that block looked like something out of Meet Me in St. Louis, great gingerbread monstrosities of nineteenth-century wealth, ;wide, deep porches and Tiffany glass, ; porticos and gables and other words I never knew before I started researching Hudson home prices - the better to burn them all down.
A bridge covered in faded graffiti over a worn concrete road. Text reads, A set of rusted black trestles carried the train tracks over Power Avenue.
An American diner on the corner of a street, red and white with silver metallic accents. Text reads, The familiar sooty chrome exterior of the Columbia Diner caught my eye, sucked me inside by awakened twenty-year-old instinct - an entire childhood's worth of Saturday morning breakfasts with my dad, on our walk to work at the butcher shop...
A road on a tree-lined street in winter, after the leaves have all fallen. A new-looking house sits on the corner. Text reads, Walking south on Second Street, up the steep block that fell away to a ravine on either side, where the rain still fell from the trees and the air smelled like rot and wilderness, I heard a voice say: Why so glum, glummy?
Twilight, a street with train tracks embedded in it, lined on one side with run-down buildings, and on the other side with parked cars. Text reads, Freight train tracks run right through upper Hudson, along sixth street, right below the park.
An evening sky with a streetlight on in the foreground, over a quiet back alley. Text reads, He puts a brown paper bag on the hood of her car, and stalks off into the alley dark. She hollers at him to wait - even turns on her cell phone's flashlight function and hurries after him - but he's already gone.
A bridge over the Hudson River. The sun shines through the clouds, reflecting off the water. Text reads, I was kneeling on the pedestrian walkway of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Staring down into the same dizzying dark, the same twenty-story fall that swallowed up my mother.
The inside of a library with marble floors and white-painted shelves. Text reads, ...the Hudson Library, which before being a library had been a mental institution and before that a foundlings' home, and both of those establishments had been in need of a cell in the basement for their most recalcitrant occupants.

In addition to The Blade Between, Sam J. Miller (and I!!!) recommends that readers check out A Spectral Hue, by Black author Craig Laurance Gidney. Sam writes: A gorgeous, creepy, rapturous story, told in incredible prose, and if there was any justice it would have already won ALL THE AWARDS. 

The cover of A Spectral Hue.

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

Spooky Books for Sunny Seasons

Currently Reading: Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

Recent Picture Recent Releases

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

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

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

New Releases to Give You Chills

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

Spring 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

July

The cover of The Best Lies, by Sarah Lyu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August

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

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

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

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

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