Hey, y’all! Happy November!
[I just realized this post never went up on Thursday…whoops!]
This month, I read 23 books. I’m so excited to share them with you!
Call Me By Your Name
Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.
The psychological maneuvers that accompany attraction have seldom been more shrewdly captured than in André Aciman’s frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. Call Me by Your Name is clear-eyed, bare-knuckled, and ultimately unforgettable
So, I didn’t feel like this book lived up to its hype. I found the story really awkward and uncomfortable. The writing was good, but that was about the only thing I liked about it, and it didn’t seem to fit the actual tone of the book. While it does a decent job of portraying someone’s sexual awakening, I found the relationship flimsy and the overall story shallow. [And, of course, there’s the peach scene. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean.] I don’t know, I suppose I’ll just have to stay the minority on this one, but I did not enjoy this book and I don’t recommend it.
Given to the Sea
Everyone has a place.
Khosa was born to be fed to the sea, to prevent the kind of wave that once destroyed the Kingdom of Stille. She can’t be sacrificed until she produces an heir, but human touch repulses her…except for the touch of the Indiri.
Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race with magic that’s seductive—a force of nature—but dwindling since the Pietra slaughtered their people.
Witt leads the Pietra, the fierce warriors who are now marching on the Kingdom of Stille. The stone shores of Witt’s kingdom harbor a secret threat, and to ensure the survival of his people, he’s prepared to conquer every speck of Stille’s soil.
Vincent stands to inherit the throne of Stille, but has no wife to share it with. When the beautiful and mysterious Khosa arrives without an heir, Vincent knows that his father will stop at nothing to make sure she fulfills her duty. Torn between protecting his kingdom and protecting the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is soon at odds with his heart.
While royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the Indiri struggle to survive, the rising sea calls for its Given, and Khosa is destined to answer.
This is not a true high fantasy, so those who enjoy that genre may not love this book. I’m personally glad it wasn’t–I don’t enjoy reading high fantasy–and I found it easier to connect to the characters because of this. The story also offers a wonderful commentary on consent and rape culture–unexpectedly and with poise and point. I love McGinnis’ writing for the way she doesn’t shy away from the complex issues. I recommend it to those who enjoy brief fantastic stories and are unafraid to encounter dark, “controversial” topics in the books they read.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years—except Biff, the Messiah’s best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story in the divinely hilarious yet heartfelt work “reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams” (Philadelphia Inquirer).
Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons, and hot babes. Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Savior’s pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. But there’s no one who loves Josh more—except maybe “Maggie,” Mary of Magdala—and Biff isn’t about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.
The premise of this book was great, but it was a little too long and it offered only one brand of humor. I liked the beginning and ending of the book–perhaps because it caricatured available Scripture rather than narrating stories based on “conjecture.” Also, it just ended up feeling too long; the middle of the book dragged a lot for me. And I got very sick of the basic guy humor (I like some types of “guy humor,” but not this kind). Ultimately, I see the brilliance of the story, but I think it needed better execution.
A Whole New World
Welcome to a new YA series that reimagines classic Disney stories in surprising new ways. Each book asks the question: What if one key moment from a familiar Disney film was changed? This dark and daring version of Aladdin twists the original story with the question: What if Jafar was the first one to summon the Genie?
When Jafar steals the Genie’s lamp, he uses his first two wishes to become sultan and the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Agrabah lives in fear, waiting for his third and final wish.To stop the power-mad ruler, Aladdin and the deposed Princess Jasmine must unite the people of Agrabah in rebellion. But soon their fight for freedom threatens to tear the kingdom apart in a costly civil war.
What happens next? A Street Rat becomes a leader. A princess becomes a revolutionary. And readers will never look at the story of Aladdin in the same way again.
This was another middle-of-the-road book for me. On the one hand, it was so fun to read a retelling of one of my favorite Disney movies! On the other, I’ve realized recently how culturally insensitive Aladdin is, and while this book was written almost two decades later, the cultural topics still aren’t handled well. I also didn’t like Genie as much in this story as in the original. And Jafar was a weak antagonist, overall–he didn’t seem as hard to defeat as the resistance made him sound.
But, it was still fun to revisit my childhood! And I loved that the romance between Aladdin and Jasmine felt more realistic–it actually had time to blossom, and with honesty! I’m sure other Disney fans will like this one!
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
An award-winning memoir and instant New York Timesbestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.
When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?
In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.
I’m so glad I finally read this one! It was way more engaging than I expected it to be. It read like an investigative journalism piece (which makes sense, considering Cahalan’s profession!). It’s amazing to hear Susannah’s story and what she and her family went through. The book had me thinking a lot about mental and physical health, as well as the American healthcare system… I was also surprised to be completely chilled by some of the comparisons Cahalan makes between her experience and historical accounts of demonic possession! Creepy!!! I think this is one many memoir lovers will enjoy, and it’s also just a really engaging nonfiction book for those who like a good investigative narrative.
The Way I Used to Be
In the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault.
Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.
What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.
Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.
I thought this was going to be the hardest book I read this month (I was wrong; more on that later). I started reading this the day after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, and to say emotions were already high would be putting it mildly.
Amber Smith does a great job of capturing trauma and PTSD in this book. Because it’s told in the first person, you can really connect with and feel what Eden is feeling–for better or for worse. I think this is an important story that needs to be told. I have only one negative thing to say about it, and it’s more of a caution: While Eden responds to her trauma with promiscuity and sexual recklessness, not all people who are assaulted react this way. But, this is one account, and if you treat it as such, it’s just incredible. I think everyone should read this one, and books like it, especially right now.
Moonstruck, Volume One: Magic to Brew
Grace Ellis & Shae Beagle
Werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on a date to a close-up magic show, but all heck breaks loose when the magician casts a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late.
Another great, cute, queer graphic novel to add to the canon! I liked the characters in this book–especially Chet! I also enjoyed some of the humor, and the artwork is phenomenal. I felt like the overall plot was a little wobbly; pacing was odd and at times confusing. Of course, it’s the first in a series, so it has plenty of time to improve. I say, give it a try!
Saga, Vol. 5 & 6
Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Multiple storylines collide in this cosmos-spanning new volume. While Gwendolyn and Lying Cat risk everything to find a cure for The Will, Marko makes an uneasy alliance with Prince Robot IV to find their missing children, who are trapped on a strange world with terrifying new enemies.
After a dramatic time jump, the three-time Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series continues to evolve, as Hazel begins the most exciting adventure of her life: kindergarten. Meanwhile, her starcrossed family learns hard lessons of their own.
I am so in love with this series. At this point, it’s hard to post reviews without spoilers, so I will just say that I love the direction the plot is taking, and the new characters we’re meeting. I’m anxious about coming to Vol. 9, which is the most recent release, because I don’t want to have to wait for more! If you haven’t tried Saga yet, please do.
The Story of Diva & Flea
Mo Willems & Tony DiTerlizzi
Diva, a small yet brave dog, and Flea, a curious streetwise cat, develop an unexpected friendship in this unforgettable tale of discovery.
For as long as she could remember, Diva lived at 11 avenue Le Play in Paris, France. For as long as he could remember, Flea also lived in Paris, France-but at no fixed address. When Flea flaneurs passed Diva’s courtyard one day, their lives were forever changed. Together, Diva and Flea explore and share their very different worlds, as only true friends can do.
This book was so cute! The story is exactly what you’d expect from a great storyteller like Mo Willems. The artwork is absolutely incredible. And the friendship is simple and adorable and wonderful. This has a decent message about stepping outside your comfort zone, as well. I think it’s one for all ages to enjoy.
Giant Days, Vol. 4 & 5
John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Whitney Cogar, & Jim Campbell
It’s springtime at Sheffield University — the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and fast-pals Susan, Esther and Daisy continue to survive their freshman year of college. Susan is barely dealing with her recent breakup with McGraw, Esther is considering dropping out of school, and Daisy is trying to keep everyone and everything from falling apart! Combined with house-hunting, indie film festivals, and online dating, can the girls make it to second year?
Going off to university is always a time of change and growth, but for Esther, Susan, and Daisy, things are about to get a little weird.
Their freshman year is finally coming to a close and Daisy, Susan, and Esther say goodbye to Catterick Hall forever. Literally forever. It’s being bulldozed and re-purposed as a luxury dorm next semester. But as one door closes, another opens and between end of semester hookups, music festivals, and moving into their first home together, the life experiences are just getting started.
I’m still continuing on with this series, even though I haven’t loved any of it. Enjoyed it, sure–but the stories themselves aren’t overly incredible. I do really enjoy Esther. And I wish we spent more time with Daisy. I’m going to give it at least one more volume, and then we’ll see how I feel about it.
[Side note: Have you heard about the novelization by Non Pratt?! I’m definitely going to check this out!
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson
Archie, a snarky genderqueer artist, is tired of people not understanding gender neutral pronouns. Tristan, a cisgender dude, is looking for an easy way to introduce gender neutral pronouns to his increasingly diverse workplace. The longtime best friends team up in this short and fun comic guide that explains what pronouns are, why they matter, and how to use them. They also include what to do if you make a mistake, and some tips-and-tricks for those who identify outside of the binary to keep themselves safe in this binary-centric world. A quick and easy resource for people who use they/them pronouns, and people who want to learn more!
I’m so grateful to Archie and Tristan for writing this book. I work in an academic library, and we have a few nonbinary/agender/genderfluid patrons and student workers. This was a good educational piece for our staff, as well as reminder about why we need to do our best to use everyone’s correct pronouns. It certainly doesn’t cover everything, because it’s pretty short. But I think it’s a great introduction, and it’s an easy one to share around with people who may or may not be familiar with “they/them” pronouns and who may use them.
The Little Stranger
One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.
This book held my attention until nearly the end, and then I was largely disappointed by the conclusion. I think my issues with it started with our narrator, whose intentions always seemed a little off to me (I think the “off-ness” was supposed to be part of the plot twist, but if you’ve been here long, you know I notoriously ruin mysteries for myself. I saw this particular “twist” from Page 2.). I always got the feeling that he was more obsessed with the house than the family, so any twists related to that were somewhat of a letdown. I also never “believed” in the romance throughout the book–and predicted everything related to that. So, overall, Dr. Faraday was a huge letdown.
But, all of that aside, this book had a seriously eerie factor to it. At times, it had me so on edge I had to put it down. So, if you’re into spooky, weird, and the unexplained–and don’t mind a rather predictable ending–I think you’ll enjoy this one!
A teen rockstar has to navigate family, love, coming out, and life in the spotlight after being labeled the latest celebrity trainwreck in Jen Wilde’s quirky and utterly relatable novel.
As a rock star drummer in the hit band The Brightsiders, Emmy King’s life should be perfect. But there’s nothing the paparazzi love more than watching a celebrity crash and burn. When a night of partying lands Emmy in hospital and her girlfriend in jail, she’s branded the latest tabloid train wreck.
Luckily, Emmy has her friends and bandmates, including the super-swoonworthy Alfie, to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She knows hooking up with a band member is exactly the kind of trouble she should be avoiding, and yet Emmy and Alfie Just. Keep. Kissing.
Will the inevitable fallout turn her into a clickbait scandal (again)? Or will she find the strength to stand on her own?
I made it through this one in a single day, and I loved so much of it! The representation is phenomenal. I was swooning over Alfie alongside Emmy, and every second of their romance gave me “all the feels.” The plot was quick, but it kept the pace of the book going well. I had some issues with the “villains” of the story (I would describe this as Matilda, in her teens, with no Miss Honey and no magical powers…), but otherwise I think it’s a stellar read. I’m excited to read Wilde’s other books now! If you like queer contemporary fiction, check this out!
A Madness So Discreet
Grace Mae knows madness.
She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.
When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.
In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.
I kept putting off reading this book because it’s historical fiction (I don’t usually read historical fiction, except when it’s creepy), but now I think it’s my favorite Mindy McGinnis book! The plot is great–twisted and turny, but we get a happy ending. And the characters are some of the best she’s ever written, for sure.
In Mindy’s books, our attackers always get their comeuppance. That’s one of the biggest reasons I love her books. And this one is no exception. I highly recommend all of her books if you’re looking for strong female protagonists.
I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You
I have a confession to make.
I think I am in friend-love with you.
What’s friend-love? It’s that super-awesome bond you share with someone who makes you happy every time you text each other, or meet up for an epic outing. It’s not love-love. You don’t want to swap saliva; you want to swap favorite books. But it’s just as intense and just as amazing.
And it’s this search for that connection that comic-book artist Yumi Sakugawa captures in I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You. It’s perfect if you’ve ever fallen in friend-love and want to show that person how much you love them…in a platonic way, of course.
This book was so cute! I loved the super simple illustrations. And I have also totally felt this way. I know there are people I could give this to, in the hopes they understand what they mean to me as a friend.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.
Another good Halloween read! I like Shirley Jackson’s work. Her stories can be confusing, as they’re so convoluted and complex. But I think that’s what makes them so good! If you’ve never experienced a Shirley Jackson story/book, you definitely should–and this is a good place to start.
In her blazingly original and unforgettable debut novel “Any Man”, Amber Tamblyn brings to startling life a specter of sexual violence in the shadowy form of Maude, a serial female rapist who preys on men.
In this electric and provocative debut novel, Tamblyn blends genres of poetry, prose, and elements of suspense to give shape to the shocking narratives of victims of sexual violence, mapping the destructive ways in which our society perpetuates rape culture.
A violent serial rapist is on the loose, who goes by the name Maude. She hunts for men at bars, online, at home— the place doesn’t matter, neither does the man. Her victims then must live the aftermath of their assault in the form of doubt from the police, feelings of shame alienation from their friends and family and the haunting of a horrible woman who becomes the phantom on which society projects its greatest fears, fascinations and even misogyny. All the while the police are without leads and the media hound the victims, publicly dissecting the details of their attack.
What is extraordinary is how as years pass these men learn to heal, by banding together and finding a space to raise their voices. Told in alternating viewpoints signature to each voice and experience of the victim, these pages crackle with emotion, ranging from horror to breathtaking empathy.
This. This was the hardest book that I read this month.
Seriously. This book, and its exploration of sexual assault and victims, is painful. It was so triggering, I’m not sure it was completely healthy for me to read it.
It’s a very quick read. It’s also a super important story. And it points an unapologetic finger at the media and culture for the way they/we treat victims. I think this is one that we all need to stomach at some point, at least to hear this conversation. But, if sexual assault is at all triggering for you, do not put yourself through this. Come to it when you feel you are able.
The Kids of Appetite
The bestselling author of Mosquitoland brings us another batch of unforgettable characters in this tragicomedy about first love and devastating loss.
Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.
It begins with the death of Vic’s father.
It ends with the murder of Mad’s uncle.
The Hackensack Police Department would very much like to hear it.
But in order to tell their story, Vic and Mad must focus on all the chapters in between.
This is a story about:
1. A coded mission to scatter ashes across New Jersey.
2. The momentous nature of the Palisades in winter.
3. One dormant submarine.
4. Two songs about flowers.
5. Being cool in the traditional sense.
6. Sunsets & ice cream & orchards & graveyards.
7. Simultaneous extreme opposites.
8. A narrow escape from a war-torn country.
9. A story collector.
10. How to listen to someone who does not talk.
11. Falling in love with a painting.
12. Falling in love with a song.
13. Falling in love.
I love David Arnold’s writing so much. Mosquitoland is phenomenal. I have a deep appreciation for this one as well. It explores grief, friendship, and community in ways you don’t often see for this age group. The characters are distinct, quirky–my favorite types! I will say I did not care for the writing style of this one as much. I ended up finding and listening to the audiobook instead–and then enjoyed the book much more. If you have read and enjoyed Mosquitoland, I say give this one a chance. It’s a good book for those who enjoy slightly-bizarre contemporary YA with emphasis on friendship.
The Great American Whatever
Quinn Roberts is a sixteen-year-old smart aleck and Hollywood hopeful whose only worry used to be writing convincing dialogue for the movies he made with his sister Annabeth. Of course, that was all before—before Quinn stopped going to school, before his mom started sleeping on the sofa…and before Annabeth was killed in a car accident.
Enter Geoff, Quinn’s best friend who insists it’s time that Quinn came out—at least from hibernation. One haircut later, Geoff drags Quinn to his first college party, where instead of nursing his pain, he meets a guy—a hot one—and falls hard. What follows is an upside-down week in which Quinn begins imagining his future as a screenplay that might actually have a happily-ever-after ending—if, that is, he can finally step back into the starring role of his own life story.
This was a middle-of-the-road read for me. On the one hand, I enjoyed the focus on the brother-sister friendship (and this was another book that tackled grief and its many forms). On the other hand, I didn’t enjoy Quinn as a main character very much. He was pretty self-centered, and even though another character called him out on it, he never really changed his ways. I also didn’t care for the relationship in this one. I found it a little predatory, and rather shallow. Still, it was an interesting premise that made for a unique read. I’d recommend it as YA LGBTQIA+ canon, but there are others I’ve read that I’d recommend first (stay tuned for one such title…!).
A Room of One’s Own
A Room of One’s Own is considered Virginia Woolf’s most powerful feminist essay, justifying the need for women to possess intellectual freedom and financial independence. Based on a lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge, the essay is one of the great feminist polemics, ranging in its themes from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte to the silent fate of Shakespeare’s gifted (imaginary) sister and the effects of poverty and sexual constraint on female creativity.
I can’t believe I’ve taken this long to finally read this essay, and now I’m glad I have. This book is so important. Even today, it is relevant. And we should not be quick to forget it. It’s written in typical Woolf fashion–very stream-of-consciousness, somewhat sporadic–but it’s still delivering a clear message. If you haven’t read it, you really should.
Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.
But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.
It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.
I feel like this is a good book to end the month on. I have never read another Christina Lauren book, but this was a great introduction. I think they did a good job of handling a pretty sensitive topic. This was a cute love story set in a less-than-typical place. For the most part, I felt like the religion “stuff” was handled really well. I also liked how the story was framed. The characters were easy to connect with. I think there were some troublesome bi tropes here, but they were handled in unexpected ways. So, still a great book, even if it wasn’t perfect. Yet again, one for the “queer” canon.
November will be a slower reading month for me, as I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo! Last year, I wrote about half of a novel during November; I’m hoping to finish that book this year. Is anyone else participating? Let me know!