Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

"My body is not my own." I'm speechless and my stomach is in knots. The social commentary in Sayaka Murata's Earthlings (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori), about the expectations and pressures society puts on people, and how people put those pressures on each other, is delivered so matter-of-factly and dealt with so aggressively that it heightens disturbing events to a level of disturbing I didn't think was possible. And THAT ENDING, what the hell?! Murata does not hold back. Earthlings is so incredibly weird, devastatingly sad, and deeply distressing, and then the ending got gruesome and even WEIRDER. This would make a good pick for the bravest of book clubs, because you would have endless things to talk about, and…

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Father Guards the Sheep by Sari Rosenblatt

The Iowa Short Fiction Award consistently gives us wonderful short story collections like Sari Rosenblatt's Father Guards the Sheep. These are strong, character-driven stories focusing on different ways fathers watch over their families, from the perspectives of their children, in different ages and stages of their lives. Each story stands alone, but they're also loosely connected in a way that rounds out and finishes the collection well. Rosenblatt writes interesting, complex, and realistic characters. Pick up this book when you want to cozy up with some good people stories.

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Alpha Bots by Ava Lock

Alpha Bots is a take on The Stepford Wives with a robot-powered feminist uprising front and center. It's fast-paced, funny, satirical, and absurd, with some campy horror thrown in (some parts are downright gruesome). Other readers have said this is Stepford Wives meets Fight Club meets Truman Show, and I think that's pretty spot-on. These AI women represent the desires of bottom-of-the-barrel cishet men, from expectations of submissiveness to racial fetishism, but will they be able to push beyond their programming? The satire gets dark, and this is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's not for the faint of heart, for sure. I feel like Alpha Bots caught me when I was in just the right mood…

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Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred was my second experience reading Octavia Butler and I'm now convinced I must read everything she's written. Good thing I signed up for the Octavia E. Butler Slow Read! Over the course of two years, we'll be reading Butler's entire body of work. Plus, I need to discuss this incredible book with others. It's a damn shame this wasn't required reading in my high school. Kindred got me thinking more about history, ancestry, racism and colorism, enslavement, and intergenerational trauma. It was terrifying and real; Butler's writing style gets the reader fully absorbed in both the setting and the main character's state of mind. And the way she implemented time travel made it so difficult to put the book down.…

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Ciel by Sophie Labelle

Ciel is a character-driven, slice-of-life, coming-of-age novel featuring a gender nonconforming trans kid named Ciel as they start their first year of high school in Montreal. For my fellow American readers (I had to google this myself), that covers ages 12-17. Ciel and their friends are on the lower end of that age range, so this is solidly a middle grade novel. Kids will relate to the excitement and anxieties that come with being in a new school, making new friends, having crushes, further exploring one's own identity, and having the courage to be themselves. Ciel's inner dialogue will resonate really well with tweens and young teens. Best of all, trans and nonbinary kids get to see themselves in a…

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Mini Reviews: Transathon Wrap-Up

All of July was Transathon, hosted by Ocean over on Twitter. This event was about reading and enjoying books by transgender and non-binary authors. I do this year-round, but it was the perfect opportunity to focus solely on my huge list of books by not-cis authors I've been meaning to get to. I ended up reading a total of 9 books for Transathon! I've already posted about Homesick by Nino Cipri (review here) and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (review here), but here are mini reviews for the 7 other titles I read during this event: Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Lavery A memoir rooted in faith, literary classics, pop culture, and the author's experiences being…

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Homesick by Nino Cipri

I love speculative, fabulist fiction, and Nino Cipri's short story collection Homesick delivered. The formats of some of these stories were so creative. "Which Super Little Dead Girl Are You" is written as a quiz. "Dead Air" is an epistolary short story, using recordings, and whoa was it ever creepy! In "Before We Disperse Likestar Stuff," speculative elements served as a backdrop to give us a taste of Cipri's talent for writing character-driven stories. Homesick put me in awe of the breadth of their imagination. I really enjoyed this collection, just as much as I loved their novel Finna.

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The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele

Published by Algonquin Books, The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele is now out in paperback. Check out that stunning cover! I'm a sucker for bokeh against a mostly-monochrome background like this. So pretty. . If you're looking for post-apocalyptic fiction with an optimistic, hopeful take, where there is good within all of the chaos, where the focus is on how we rebuild and the connections we make with others, this just might be the book for you. See what others had to say about this title: . "The Lightest Object in the Universe is a hopeful, heartbreaking post-apocalyptic novel set in a world where half the population has been killed by a widespread flu and electricity and…

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The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

I read Erica Bauermeister's The Scent Keeper for a book club discussion. There was a lot I loved about this book, especially early on: how magical things seemed when Emmeline was viewing things as a child, and how that gently shifted as she matured; the mystery of why she and her father were on this island, and how she didn't know anything about the rest of the world; the way scent can trigger memories and feelings. The book fizzled out in the last third, though. What had felt like hints of magical realism didn't carry that same intrigue. There was more telling than showing, characters started to become flat and one-dimensional, and things wrapped up far too quickly and neatly,…

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The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love by Chuck Augello

I love people stories, I love fabulist fiction, and Chuck Augello's collection The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love is an interesting mix of both. These stories explore the human condition, especially grief and fear, through a hint of bizarre. The way I was left hanging on "The Prerogatives of Magic" was infuriatingly satisfying. "In Two" ripped my heart out. I'd normally race through an under-200-pages book like this. But I found myself reading through it slowly, wanting to savor each story before moving on. Every story in this collection is a gem. Consider this a must-read.

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