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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United States of Grace by Lenny Duncan

Rev. Lenny Duncan's first book, Dear Church, implored the ELCA—the whitest denomination in the US—to stop hiding behind its social statements and take action for racial equality and justice. His newest book gets even more personal. United States of Grace is a memoir of growing up Black and queer in the US while experiencing racism, homelessness, addiction, incarceration, and redemption. The book hit me as I was spiraling into such a deep cynicism about this country (hello anti-trans legislation at every turn) I was pretty sure I would be stuck there. It was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. It gave me much-needed perspective and made me think more about my own beliefs and principles. "I believe systemic…

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The Sandbox Revolution edited by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann

Edited by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, The Sandbox Revolution: Raising Kids for a Just World is a collection of essays about parenting with social justice at the forefront of our lives. I need to state upfront that trans readers will want a content warning for two of the essays: Jennifer Castro's essay included gender essentialist phrases like "the power of the feminine body and the sacredness of feminine knowing" when speaking out biological functions such as pregnancy. The essay attempts to be inclusive, but using more personal phrases (like "my feminine body") could have warded off the bio-essentialist feel. Michelle Martinez's essay refers to gendered bodies and uses the term womyn. I want to be clear that, reading these essays in full, I…

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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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Nothin’ But a Good Time by Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock

Nöthin' But a Good Time is a flashback to 80s hard rock music and its history, in uncensored glory. I've never been so giddy to receive a book in the mail. I had my 80s rock Spotify playlist at the ready! The nostalgia was unreal. I loved so many of these bands as a kid, and still do! I was struck by how young these musicians actually were at the time. I was in elementary and middle school in the 80s, so even young 20-somethings seemed "old" to me then. And of course as a kid, especially pre-internet and living overseas, I didn't know much about these musicians' backstories, and didn't hear about all of their antics, which is probably…

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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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