The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado

Dominican-American author Brenda Peynado's short story collection, The Rock Eaters, is perfect for readers who enjoy magical realism, fabulism, speculative fiction, and social commentary. The collection begins with the shocking "Thoughts and Prayers," a story about the fruitless ways adults react to school shootings that have become all too common. This story is a provocative way to start off a book, and sets the stage for Peynado's no-holds-barred approach to satire. You can read an excerpt on Literary Hub. "The Touches" felt like Wool meets The Matrix meets a plague. It was published on Tor.com November 2019, where you can still read it, and boy did this hit hard now that we're all experiencing a pandemic. This story was so…

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Sybelia Drive by Karin Cecile Davidson

Karin Cecile Davidson's debut novel Sybelia Drive follows three childhood friends (and the people in their lives) as they come of age. Set against the Vietnam War, the novel explores personal as well as societal impacts. The pacing is a bit on the slow side, but in a gentle, luxurious way. You can feel the muggy heat of Florida, the joy and freedom of childhood, but also the weight of heavy things on the minds of all the characters. The chapters switch perspectives and hop around in time. This was an aspect I found more distracting than expected, because that's something I normally love in a book. But I couldn't tell which character I was reading right away, and that…

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Geekerella by Ashley Poston

The first book in Ashley Poston's Once Upon a Con trilogy, Geekerella is a Cinderella retelling set around a sci-fi TV show, Starfield, and its annual convention. This story will resonate with teens who feel the angst and frustration that comes with being mature enough to determine their own futures, but trapped because their parents still make most of the big decisions in their lives. Darien and Elle are both in situations where the adults in their lives are excessively controlling, and they're both almost, but not yet, old enough to escape it. The characters feel authentic, and their friendship and budding romance is super cute. Honestly, all of the friendships in this book are wonderful! "You don't have to…

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Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders is a wholesome YA space opera full of friendship, bravery, and adventure. There's a ton of great rep in this book, and fantastic modeling of consent and respect. Characters ask permission before giving hugs. They give each other space when they need time to decompress. And they're all introduced with their pronouns, thanks to the EverySpeak universal translator. There's a really thoughtful thread in this novel about what it feels like to have conflicting feelings about a person; remembering that there were good memories with that person, but feeling awful when you think of them. These conflicting feelings occur due to an outside force, yet there's still truth inside this plot detail…

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Titan by Francois Vigneault

Set in a mining colony on Saturn's moon Titan, this graphic novel by François Vigneault is far-future sci-fi that tackles issues of class, workers' rights, colonization, genetic engineering, and other political, social, and ethical issues. There are times when white text is printed on a light(ish) pink background (see image below). I hate to say how frustrating this was for me. My eyes simply aren't good enough to handle that without lighting that's much brighter than I prefer to read with. Aside from this one issue, I did love the artwork and that minimalistic color palette overall. It drew me in to the story and felt perfect for this off-world setting. I'm a huge sucker for a story that brings…

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

"If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?" The Immortalists hinges on the question above, and explores how four siblings' lives play out after finding out, as children, the dates of their deaths. This was my virtual book club's March pick. I finished reading it a week ago, but I feel like I'm still processing some things about this book. It'll be interesting to see how tonight's conversation goes. I loved Chloe Benjamin's writing. The prologue starts off with our four sibling protagonists as children, and it reads like an especially beautifully-written middle grade novel. This style places you right into the children's perspective, complete with all their wonder and curiosity, bravery and trepidation.…

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Unity by Elly Bangs

When Tachyon Publications reached out to me about Unity, Elly Bangs's post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, sci-fi debut, I couldn't resist accepting a review copy based on the blurbs I read. The novel is said to "evoke the perilous grittiness of Mad Max and the redemptive unification of Sense8." And then Meredith Russo's description really got my attention: "Imagine Neuromancer and Lilith’s Brood conceived a baby while listening to My Chemical Romance and then that baby was adopted by Ghost in the Shell and Blue Submarine no. 6." Does that sound super creative and unique, or what?! I know it also sounds like there's a lot going on, but Bangs ties it all together so masterfully, it reads at a smooth, fast, thrilling…

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The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley's The Guest List was my virtual book club's pick for February. Our book club started at the beginning of the pandemic, and we chose this title because we realized we hadn't yet read a thriller. I was on the edge of my seat reading this book, ready to shout, "I knew it!" even though I wasn't exactly sure I really did "know it." And turns out, I didn't! I never did, even at the end! And wow, was this was ever a fast, curvy roller coaster by the end. The pacing was great, I loved the different points of view, I loved the execution of the jumps in time, and I loved her writing style. Even the teaser…

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Let’s Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih

Zak Salih's debut novel Let's Get Back to the Party is a look at cultural identity (specifically, gay identity) in the midst of a rapidly changing society. Set in the year between the U.S. marriage equality ruling and the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, the novel follows two gay men, Sebastian and Oscar, childhood friends recently reunited after years of estrangement. I enjoyed the character-driven, leisurely pace of Salih's writing. He digs deep into the psyches of these two men, and the slower pace and alternating points of view gave me the opportunity to get to know Sebastian and Oscar on a profound level. Let's Get Back to the Party explores cross-generational friendships within the gay community—and the feelings…

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Catch Lili Too by Sophie Whittemore

Catch Lili Too was an unusual reading choice for me, but when the author approached me about their "queer punk fantasy" book, something about this description was irresistible: Lili is a Mesopotamian siren, and life as an immortal being is hard enough as it is. She’s asexual (which is incredibly difficult to reconcile if your entire point as a mythical being is to seduce people to death). She’s also struggling with depression from being alive for so long. She moonlights as an immortal detective trying to track down a serial killer so ruthless that it makes even her murderous soul uneasy. However, there’s something larger at work than just one serial killer. A small town is hiding an even deadlier, global-scale…

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