I read across a large variety of genres. I grew up riding around Tortall with Alanna, devoted much of my education to voyaging around Dublin with Leopold Bloom, ultimately traveling to Paradise, Lancantamara with Mala Ramchandin. I am also a devotee of romance, both paranormal and not. I believe literature can help us understand perspectives different than our own. I'm a disability studies scholar and teacher by trade and am always looking to learn something new!
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SPOILERS FOR LEGENDBORN AHEAD
Bloodmarked begins with Bree trying to make sense of and process the seemingly endless revelations of the last few months—family secrets, magical societies, and an impending apocalypse—all while still grappling with the trauma of her mother’s death. Now she must master not one but two sets of magic while stepping into a leadership role she neither asked for nor wanted. With threats around seemingly every corner, Bree barely has time to catch her breath, let alone find (and eventually rescue) her almost-boyfriend and ex-scion of Arthur Nick Davis. I will never stop recommending Legendborn and Bloodmarked was everything I wanted in a sequel—an expanding world, higher stakes, new morally grey and complex magical characters, and even more delicious brooding from one Selwyn Kane.
This book is a beautifully written gut punch that eloquently eviscerates so many aspects of the language of the university. In the 1830s, Babel tower at Oxford is the domain of the translators—those who practice silver-work, inscribing silver bars with different words, capturing what is lost in translation and using it to power new inventions. From cameras to railways, Kuang’s England is dependent upon the labor of the Babblers. Robin, born in Canton and saved from the brink of death by his new benefactor, Professor Lovell, wants nothing more than to be one of them. However, life at Babel is not as glamorous as he once hoped. As Robin learns more and more about silver-work, he must confront hard truths about his position and purpose at Oxford. Through beautiful storytelling, and exquisite detail, Babel reckons with the connection between universities and empire, a history that has long perpetuated inequities through a valorization of “genius” that has always only been accessible to a few.
Peter and Maria had a one night stand. Now Peter and Maria are co-stars in Gods of the Gates, filming on a remote island off the coast of western Ireland for several months of the year—for the next several years. The sexual tension is high. However, jeopardizing the biggest career opportunity they’ve ever had with anything more than friendship is out of the question (at least for Peter). But then filming ends, and the relationship both Maria and Peter have been hoping for can finally begin. The third book in Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert series, Ship Wrecked is just as emotional, funny, and spicy as the previous two. Dade is a master of witty banter. Her books always jump to the top of my TBR and I am never disappointed.
For Carlota, the titular daughter of Doctor Moreau, Yaxaktun is paradise. She grew up there alongside the hybrids, the part human, part animal results of her father’s experiments are her friends and constant companions. However, the insular harmony of Yaxaktun cannot last forever. Her father’s sponsor is getting restless, eager to see the results of his funding. But, when the sponsor’s son comes to investigate, he sets his sights on Carlota. Eduardo’s infatuation with Carlota’s beauty (inherited from her indiginous mother) and their ensuing relationship pushes everyone to their breaking point, fracturing what is known and ushering their world towards disaster. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau asks readers to reckon with what makes someone Other, blurring boundaries of what and who we assume to be civilized. Moreno-Garcia reinvigorates H.G. Wells sci-fi classic, drawing on Mayan lore to imbue it with anti-colonial themes that underline the conflict between human, animal, and hybrid, paying tribute to the original while reinventing it for a new audience.
It’s a bit like You’ve Got Mail but with a demi-god cowboy, a female undertaker who just wants to keep her family’s business afloat, and a wise-cracking mailrabbit that drinks whiskey and talks like an old-timey gangster. Bannen brings together the cozy and the macabre to create a love story that had me smiling from start to finish. If you’re looking for a book that is both spooky and sweet, but that also has a dash of spice, this is it!
Spice Level: 3.5/5
are only dreamscan never hurt you and you will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant"
Ghouls have always been Olivia's companions. Growing up at Merilance School for Girls, they lingered in the garden shed and stalked the hallways. Picked on and dismissed by the other girls at school, Olivia clung to her mother's journal, a collection of words that make only half-sense periodically interrupted by seemingly shapeless drawings--the lines and colors bleeding together. It tells her to stay away from Gallant. But when the opportunity to escape Merilance arrives, Olivia can't help but be excited--even if it does mean going to the one place she had been told to avoid. Perhaps it won't be as bad as the journal implies? But, while Olivia has seen ghouls her whole life, at Gallant the ghouls are much more familiar. And at night, when it's difficult to tell what is real and what is just a shadow, Olivia begins unravelling Gallant's terrifying secrets, trying to uncover a past she has always yearned to understand. Gallant is Stardust meets The Secret Garden but make it extra spooky--a haunting fantasy full of mystery, exquisite imagery, and characters that you will root for from start to finish.
My first exposure to Hannah Gadsby was watching Nanette on Netflix. Nanette is funny, witty, heartbreaking, and excruciatingly well crafted. Gadsby’s memoir about the experiences that led her there is no different. Ten Steps to Nanette is many things. Gadsby elegantly synthesizes the narrative threads of her childhood, family, queerness, and neurodivergence to tell the story of how Nanette came to be. Listening to Gadsby’s expert narration, I was in awe of the complexity and nuance of her craft. Her approach to writing is unique. She does more than tell a story. Rather, she leads her reader through an experience, communicating through form what goes beyond just words on a page. As Gadsby states throughout the memoir, “there is no straight line through trauma.” I felt this in my core and will be thinking about Gadsby’s illustration of the different ways trauma weaves its way in and out of experience for a long time to come.
Mack is good at hiding. Really good. Mack is also broke. Really broke. The lure of a high-stakes hide and seek competition with a reword that could set her up for life is impossible to resist. All she has to do is win. However, as Mack and the other “contestants” enter the abandoned Amazement Park, where rust and weeds have long since over run the landscape, they quickly find that not all is as it seems. Something sinister is stalking the grounds. Mack quickly figures out that what’s hunting her and the other players is much more vicious than they could possibly imagine, and that those who care for it are desperate to keep it fed. Hide is terrifyingly fun! I enjoyed this fast-paced thrill ride from beginning to end.
Jessie Mihalik is the queen of fast-paced space operas that weave together character and world building as part of an action filled adventure. Hunt the Stars is the start of a new series, and introduces us to the close knit crew of soldiers turned bounty hunters aboardStarlight's Shadow. Humans and Valoffs spent years at war. Octavia Zarola was an officer. Now she is a ship captain, leading her former team members around the universe as they pick up odd jobs tracking lost things, of course all for a small fee. But money is tight and Torran, a former general of the Valoff army with whom they spent years at war, makes them an offer they can't refuse. I cannot speak highly enough about the way Mihalik weaves together plot, character development, and world building. The characters of Hunt the Stars have amazing chemistry (romantic and otherwise). I devoured this book. It is an incredible space adventure and slow burn enemies to lovers romance perfect for fans of Firefly and Battlestar Galactica.
New Haven, Connecticut looks nothing like it does today. In the future, the wealthy have migrated to space, colonizing the stars. Earth has become toxic (literally) and those left behind must fend for themselves. Goliath moves between different points of view as the characters work to make their way in a version of our future where both nothing and everything have changed. In Goliath, Onyebuchi gives us the dystopian result of ignoring contemporary issues of class, race, and violence. Reading Goliath, I could feel the characters. Onyebuchi does a beautiful job using form--the shifting perspectives and nonlinear narrative--to evoke feelings of fragmented devastation and stagnancy. Goliath sticks with you, hooking and drawing you into a world that challenges you to see the dangers of our present in a future that is closer than we might want to imagine.
By the Book is a modern fairytale retelling that celebrates the joy of writing and creativity. Izzy (the beauty) is an overlooked and burnt out publisher’s assistant. Beau (the beast) is a reclusive celebrity who refuses to respond to emails but is theoretically writing a memoir. When Izzy decides to track Beau down in person and demand a draft, she finds herself in a battle of wills that somehow ends with her agreeing to live with Beau, becoming his temporary writing assistant/instructor/cheerleader. Through discussions of craft and a shared love of snack foods, Beau gradually reveals he’s more than just a jaded party boy and Izzy rediscovers her own love of books and writing. By the Book is a refreshing retelling of my favorite fairytale by one of my favorite authors. Jasmine Guillory always makes me smile, and By the Book was no exception.
Spice Level: 3/5
House of Sky and Breath takes us back to Crescent City, three months after the end of House of Earth and Blood. I adored getting to know the characters better as their chemistry deepened. The world of Crescent City is large, with a history and mythology riddled with half truths and outright lies. As Bryce begins to unravel fact from fiction, she finds the world to be much more vast, and her role in it much more important, than anyone had previously known. HOSAB hit the ground running, answering questions left at the end of HOEAB but leaving new ones unanswered, all while following a group of characters I love more and more (especially Ruhn!).
Spice Level: 4/5
We know two things: first, Shara Wheeler disappeared on prom night. Second, Shara Wheeler kissed three different people in the hours leading up to her disappearance—her boyfriend Smith, her neighbor Rory, and her arch-nemesis and rival for valedictorian Chloe. As the three band together to unravel the clues Shara left behind (all written on absolutely obnoxious, and not at all enticing, perfect pink stationary), they find that Willowgrove Christian Academy’s literal poster child is not quite as she appears. As Smith, Rory, and Chloe learn more about Shara, they also confront inner truths about identity, gender, and sexuality, that the conservative community around them has done its best to smother. Kissed is a thoughtful and nuanced portrayal of teenagers on the verge of adulthood learning to reconcile their authentic selves with who society tells them they are supposed to be. Casey McQuiston’s YA debut is a wonderful blend of mystery and romance that is guaranteed to make you smile and will have you cheering on our accidental detectives from start to finish.
Noor is a fast paced Africanfuturist adventure that pulls readers into a quest for freedom set in a not-too-distant Nigeria. AO and DNA are each running for their lives--thrown together by accident, but seemingly drawn to the same fate. The two join forces on a quest for survival that forces them to reckon with questions of ability, technology, and control, all of which ponder what it means to be human in a world where the lines between machinery, animality, and personhood are constantly blurred. I was drawn in by the characters' relationship to themselves and each other and was on the edge of my seat the whole time!
"Nightmares hunt like beasts of prey, vanquished in the light of day"--or so Ekon has been told.
But not all fears are so easily vanquished. In Beasts of Prey, Koffi and Ekon are two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood who find themselves in an uneasy partnership. Both want to find the mysterious shetani that has terrorized their village for a century and so they embark on a shared quest. However, even as a tenuous trust builds between them, Koffi and Ekon keep their personal motivations to themselves. As they traverse the Greater Jungle in search of their goal, they find many nightmares, both of the mind and the flesh, some more easily vanquished than others. And, while some nightmares are disarmed by the light of day, others are unmasked and become far worse than Either Koffi or Ekon could ever imagine. Ayana Gray's writing drew me in with its vivid imagery and rich use of African mythology. The plot is full of twists and turns and left me at the edge of my seat eagerly awaiting her next novel!
Katee Robert’s version of a slow burn romance almost killed me. The TENSION! The ANTICIPATION! Cassandra and Apollo’s chemistry is exquisite. If you are looking for a spicy romance set in a world of increasingly complex and suspenseful political intrigue, the Dark Olympus series should move right to the top of your TBR pile!
Psyche and Eros have always been my favorite. I have read and re read the original and its retellings ad nauseam. In Robert's version, Psyche, Olympus's darling socialite, is caught in a compromising position with Eros, Aphrodite's son and most deadly weapon. A threat to her own political power as well as Eros' affection, Aphrodite demands Psyche's heart. While Eros' life has long been at the mercy of his mother's violent urges, this is one order he just cant bring himself to obey. The solution: a marriage of convenience. Even Aphrodite wouldn't try to murder her own daughter in law right? Wrong. Electric Idol is a wonderfully exciting and sexy follow up to Neon Gods. I adore Psyche and Eros and loved delving deeper into the intricacies of Roberts' Olympus.
If you've been on Book-tok, you've heard about Neon Gods: a spicy re-telling of the Hades and Persephone myth set in an Olympus straight out of an urban noir. When Persephone's politically-minded mother attempts to wed her to Zeus, a man who's previous wives have each passed under mysterious circumstances, she runs straight across the River Styx and into the arms of Hades, "Olympus' Boogey Man" who had become little more than a myth in the public eye. To Persephone's surprise, he turns out to be very real, and as she strips away the layers of political artifice saturating Olympus' dark history, she finds herself entrenched in the cutthroat politics she has spent her life trying to avoid. But she only needs to last the winter. If Hades can protect her until her 25th birthday, she will be able to leave Olympus forever. Unfortunately that would also mean leaving Hades... which of course makes everything more complicated.
Redemptor picks up right where Raybearer leaves off--Tarisai, the new Empress Redemptor, must find her place alongside the Emperor Dayo. Between anointing her own council, the prospect of entering the underworld in just a couple years, a handful of assassination attempts, uprisings led by the mysterious Crocodile (who she ideologically tends to agree with), and the ghostly children who haunt her at every turn demanding she pay for the sins of her bloodline's past, Tar has got her work cut out for her. The stakes have officially been raised. Redemptor is a stunning and fulfilling follow up to Raybearer. The characters are exquisitely crafted and the world elegantly carved--this duology will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish!
Anna and Quan have my whole heart. The Heart Principle is exceptional. I have been a fan of Hoang's work since The Kiss Quotient was released and have loved every word she's ever written. However, The Heart Principle is different than her earlier novels. It is more intimate. More personal. In the afterward Hoang shares that the narrative was inspired by her own experience as a caregiver and her experience of burnout. I happened to read The Heart Principle while experiencing my own burnout. I felt how Anna felt. I watched my partner work to support me as Quan worked to support Anna. Hoang's depiction of love blossoming amidst extreme emotional exhaustion and distress is exquisite. The Heart Principle beautifully balances the joy and excitement of new love without shying away from the challenges posed by neurodivergent experiences in a neurotypical world.
In A Court of Silver Flames, Sarah J. Maas returns to the world of Prythian and the Night Court's inner circle with Nesta and Cassian's story. Nesta is difficult. Haunted by the horrors of the Cauldron and war that followed its discovery, she can only snap at those around her, drowning her thoughts in wine and men night after night. The friends and family Nesta has all but destroyed come up with an ultimatum: leave the Night Court or go to work. Enter Cassian. Now Nesta must spend her mornings training with the person who has born witness to the worst version of herself. But despite all she's done, Cassian is undeterred, and when the passion that has simmered just below the surface from the moment they met erupts, even the mountains seem to shake. Unfortunately acting on their attraction doesn't quite trigger a happily ever after. As Nesta continues to work through her personal demons, an old foe with a score to settle is on the rise, searching for objects of power long lost to the ravages of time. A welcome and exciting addition to Maas' Court series, ACOSF lives up to expectations with all the beautifully complex female characters, sexy romance, and political intrigue fans have come to expect. If you have missed these characters as much as I have, dive back into the City of Starlight to meet them again as the Night Court family grows in more ways than one!
All the Feels is an appropriately titled book. I felt all the feels. Alex is pure chaos. He is fiercely loyal, loves hard, and just can't seem to keep himself from doing what's right, even (especially) at his own expense. Lauren is supposed to be his nanny, a shadow intended to keep him from spoiling the final season of Gods of the Gates before it airs. The thing is, Alex (along with all the other cast members) hates that final season, and when given the choice between his career and standing up against misogynist pricks, he chooses the latter. Despite her absolute bafflement at Alex's abysmal self-preservation instincts, Lauren begins to admire Alex, and the business arrangement turned friendship just keeps evolving. This is a perfect slow burn spicy romance that will give you, you guessed it, All the Feels!
Sorrowland is a hauntingly grotesque yet beautiful engagement with legacies of queerness, race, and gender in America. At the intersection of gothic fiction, fantasy, and horror, Sorrowland will leave you thinking long after putting it down. This novel draws on histories of anti-Black medical experimentation, Black utopian communities, and activism as it navigates issues of race, disability, gender, and sexuality. I was immediately drawn into the narrative, navigating the wilderness alongside Vern, Feral, and Howling as they ran from the Fiend and the specters of Vern's past--some imagined and some not--but all very much real. The characters sunk themselves deep into my psyche through a visceral narrative that I felt deep in my bones. Sorrowland is perfect for fans of Lovecraft Country and Ring Shout!
At its core, Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is a book about friendship and what it means to recognize and come to terms with bodies that do not always do what they should. O'Neal's debut novel moves seamlessly between contemporary everyday questions of acceptance and more extraordinary concerns like "Is 'The Bellows Beast' really the name we're sticking with?" The novel is told through Priya, a nineteen year old college student currently on medical leave following an extensive hospitalization cased by Lyme disease. Struggling to understand and cope with her new body, now permanently altered by a chance encounter with a tick, Priya meets Bridget. Bridget is dealing with a chronic condition of her own, one that began in puberty and flairs about once a month (hint: it isn't her period). But soon Bridget's condition starts to worsen, becoming unpredictable and occurring more often (the whole thing about werewolves only turning at the full moon? we can thank Hollywood for that). With the help of the members of their online chronic illness support group and a not not attractive animal control officer named Spencer, Priya and Bridget investigate both myth and science, looking for anything that might help. Both poignant and funny, Lycanthropy is a refreshingly original book that reckons with very real contemporary experiences of chronic illness and disability, while using myth to complement and explore those experiences in a new and innovative way.
I LOVE Jasmine Guillory's books. If you are looking for a wonderful, socially engaged romance, look no further! While all of Guillory's books are a delight, While We Were Dating, kicks it up a notch and hits all of my favorite romantic elements. Anna and Ben hooked me immediately and quickly became one of my favorite couples in Guillory's series (tied with Theo and Maddie from The Wedding Party!). While We Were Dating, like all of Guillory's novels, centers around two unique and complex characters. Anna is a Hollywood starlet recovering from a mental health crisis while trying to secure her place as a leading lady amidst a chorus of nay sayers doubting her main stream appeal (ie. her skin tone and body type). Ben is a marketer at a local advertising firm hired to work with Anna on a new cell phone campaign. From the moment they meet, to the end of the novel, Anna and Ben's chemistry sizzles on the page as they go from crushing on one another, to having a secret fling, to being in a public (albeit fake) relationship. While We Were Dating is a thoughtfully engaged romance novel that provides a nuanced depiction of what it means to deal with anxiety and depression as a part of everyday relationships, while celebrating many of the tropes romance readers love!
Kira has been in Zalindov, a prison where most die in a matter of months, for ten years. She has survived by staying under the radar as much as possible, making herself useful as both resident healer and the warden's reluctant informant. When Jaren arrives, Kira is sure it will only be a matter of time before Zalindov breaks him as it has so many before. But, even as the days within the prison seem to endlessly run into each other (Jaren seemly set on sticking around), the world outside is changing. When the queen of a rebel movement is captured and brought into Kiva's care, Kiva must put her own life at risk to protect those she loves the most. The Prison Healer is a dark YA fantasy that fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas will love. The world of The Prison Healer is brutally bleak. However, the characters within it will draw you in--gradually revealing the many mysteries shrouding their individual pasts as together they move towards a future that can only be better than the present.
I'm a sucker for the return of a lost love, so it was no surprise that I devoured A Lot Like Adiós. Gabe and Michelle grew up together, best friends and co-authors of the hit fanfic "Celestial Destiny." Both were secretly in love with the other, but they had time to get there. However then Gabe moved to California and effectively cut off all contact with his family and anything else that reminded him of his former life (including Mich). He had his reasons, but never really got around to explaining them. Now, thirteen years later, Gabe needs Mich's help opening a new location for his gym in NYC. Gabe is terrified, but Mich takes this as an opportunity to get some closure and perhaps begin best friendship 2.0. What neither expects is the degree to which their teenage attractions have escalated. Despite having much to work through, they just can't keep their hands off each other. But is that attraction and their newly rekindled friendship reason enough to admit their vulnerabilities? I adored every second of this novel. Adiós is a wonderful follow up to You Had Me at Hola and perfect for anyone looking for a fun and steamy romance with just the right amount of angst.
I can't get enough of the Russian and was unbelievably excited to see him shine in Isn't it Bromantic?! Everyone's favorite cheese loving hockey player and champion of the Grand Gesture finally takes center stage. The fourth installment of Adams' Bromance series has all humor and heart I expected, while also offering a poignant (and angsty in all the ways I love) backstory of childhood friends. Vlad and Elena grew up secretly in love with one another, but each too afraid to say anything. Now, several years later, they are in a marriage of convenience--living separate lives in different cities. But Vlad decides he wants more than convenience. Unfortunately, the chasm between him and Elena is more than geographical. With the help of the book club, some meddling neighbors, and a black market cheese monger, Vlad and Elena begin to find their way back to one another. But are either truly ready to bare their hearts and find the happily ever after they deserve? This series is excellent for anyone looking to laugh, cry, and sigh and Isn't it Bromantic? is my favorite installment thus far!
A Master of Djinn takes us back to the Egypt of Clark's earlier short story, "A Dead Djinn in Cairo," and novella, The Haunting of Tram Car 015. It's 1912 and Cairo is a thriving epicenter of magic and technological innovation where Djinn of all sorts mix with the locals and Fatma el-Sha'arawi, a bad-ass suit and bowler hat wearing, cane wielding, investigator for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities has a new case to solve. When all members of a secret brotherhood are murdered--burned alive in a way that consumed their bodies but left everything, including their clothes untouched--Fatma must unravel the mystery. Finding the murderer is easy. But unmasking their true identity and understanding their motives is another matter entirely. Along with her new partner Hadia, her lover Siti, and a handful of other familiar faces, Fatma must uncover clues that ultimately lead to a secret history that is far closer to repeating than anyone would like. A Master of Djinn is a steampunk fantasy full of enough twists and turns for any mystery lover, a perfect pick for fans of either genre.
Ring Shout or Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times is a classic monster hunting tale where the metaphysical power of hate physically manifests itself in a very visceral way. Ring Shout exposes the extent to which economies of hatred (a phrase borrowed from Sara Ahmed) mobilize communities against one another, a power equally present in 1925 when the novel set as it is today. P. Djèlí Clark uses horrific imagery and mystical distortions to expertly unveil the insidious ways hatred is spread, as his protagonist Maryse and her crew must grapple with the seemingly unstoppable spread of hate that turns Klans into Ku Kluxes through the proliferation of racist propaganda. Ring Shout wrestles with the complex relationships between generational trauma, revenge, vengeance, and hope that fuel the fight for change in the face of the myopic cyclops that is racist ideology. This novel is incredible. It acknowledges histories of Black pain and suffering, but empowers its heroes and gives them the ability to triumph over evil. By materially manifesting the language of monstrosity that is so casually bandied about in popular discourses to describe otherness, P. Djèlí Clark reveals the grotesque underpinnings of rhetorics of exclusion while creating a space to fight back, to shout at those who would rather stay silent and interrupt the spread of hatred.
Former sex worker Naomi helps young rabbi Ethan bring new congregants to his synagogue by hosting a series of lectures on modern intimacy. It is an A+ set up. What follows is a book full of heart and sass that beautifully takes up questions of faith and love while confronting stigma about sex workers. Danan deftly navigates the relationship between modern ideas about sex and traditional values or assumptions, getting at serious questions about identity while never losing its sense of fun and joy. The Intimacy Experiment, while admittedly beginning similarly to the start to a bad joke (as Naomi muses near the start of the novel, “a porn star walks into a synagogue...”), what follows is a humorous, nuanced, and sexy novel about two people finding and holding on to love, both for one another and themselves.
Every time I started a new installment in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series I was convinced it couldn't top the last. I was always wrong (and have the text receipts expressing my repeated excitement to prove it). How to Catch a Queen is Shanti and Shanyu’s story and begins a new spinoff series, Runaway Royals. I was hooked immediately. We got a mere glimpse of Shanti and Shanyu’s relationship in A Prince on Paper, and I couldn’t wait to know more. At the beginning of Queen, Shanti is nearing the potential end of her marriage trial period to King Shanyu of Najza, an isolated African nation unfriendly to outsiders that has a reputation for queens coming and going in the blink of an eye. Shanti, who was first introduced as Naledi’s theoretical competition turned unwitting vomit catcher in A Princess in Theory, is now a leading lady struggling to make her voice known in a country seemingly hell bent on erasing her from their history. Shanti, who has spent her life studying political theory, economics, and everything else queen-hood entails, does all she can to help herself, her husband, and her new country before the timer on her marriage runs out and she is sent away. Shanyu, who has been told all his life he could never live up to his father’s strength feels suffocated and powerless, afraid to to fail, but more afraid to acknowledge any emotional attachments that might make him weak. Like all of Cole’s novels, How to Catch a Queen is full of life, with each character carving out their own identity amid political drama, emotional reckonings, and, of course, love. Shanti and Shanyu are a welcome addition to Cole’s contemporary pantheon of African royalty and I can’t wait to see where the series takes us next.
If I weren't already a fan of Alyssa Cole's work, the premise of How to Find a Princess would have hooked me--a queer retelling of Anastasia? yes please! Junior Investigator for the World Federation of Monarchies Beznaria Chetchevaliere has been searching for the long lost heir to the Ibarania monarchy for years now. New Jersey is the last place anyone thought the lost princess would be. Makeda Hicks has had a rough week. She was passed over for a much deserved promotion and then fired. Then her girlfriend left her. Beznaria showing up bearing news of her possible royal birthright was the last thing she expected or wanted. Unfortunately for Makeda, she is out of options. Following Beznaria to Ibarania might be the only way to save her grandmother's inn, as well as her only chance to squash the royal aspirations of her mother which made her childhood a nightmare. On a cargo ship headed for Ibarania (it was free!), Beznaria and Makeda wind up in a fake relationship and in a cabin with only one bed. As they learn more about one another, each slowly lowering their walls, pretending to be married starts to feel less like work and more like.....fun? As with all Cole's novels, How to Find a Princess is a fun and exciting romance that reinvents classic tropes of the genre in innovative ways. I can't wait to welcome Beznaria and Makeda to the Reluctant and Runaway Royal family.
The first in Julie Murphy's upcoming adult romance series, If the Shoe Fits is a delightful mash up of Cinderella (with a nice step-family!) and The Bachelor that had me smiling from beginning to end. When recent Parsons grad Cindy returns home to Los Angeles to regroup and figure out what's next, she finds herself a last minute contestant on her Before Midnight, a reality show juggernaut founded by her step-mother where women compete for the love of a single suitor. Without any other real commitments, Cindy figures at the very least it will give her shoe designs some exposure she could potentially translate into a future job. But when the suitor turns out to be Prince Charming and Cindy's style and charm turn her into a national phenomenon things start to get complicated. If the Shoe Fits is a perfect pick-me-up for anyone looking to indulge in love, for both one's self and one's family, and all that comes with it.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Tarisai grew up secluded. Her mother, known as The Lady, was always away. The house’s staff would not touch her. And when Tarisai is finally given a shot at a family, a shot at the warmth, comfort, and stability of love she has always craved, it comes with a dangerous caveat. Tarisai is caught between all she’s ever wished for and the fate that seems impossible to avoid. At its core, Raybearer is a book about love, and all that we do for it. It’s a book about the relationships between mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, and the sacrifices that we make and are made for us in the name of what we believe is right. Tarisai fears the darkness inscribed in her by others. But, as she learns to trust her own voice, she finds her footing as part of a family greater than she’d ever dreamed. Raybearer foregrounds literal black girl magic, demanding that it be shared and embraced. It is a powerful fantasy debut full of action, mystery, and a dynamic group of culturally rich characters, that left me eager for the next book in the series. Raybearer is perfect for fans of Bethany C. Morrow, Sabaa Tahir, and Tomi Adeyemi!
If you had to live forever, how would you spend each day? The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a magical and nuanced meditation on the relationship between love, art, and identity. Upon striking a faustian deal, Adeline LaRue escapes an unwanted marriage, and is given the freedom of time. However, there is of course a catch. Addie is destined to live forever, but doomed to be forgotten as soon as she steps out of sight. Over 300 years Addie learns to survive both physically and emotionally, saving her skin while feeding her soul. As Addie spends her days in search of new experiences— new places, spectacles, and beauty—she learns to plant bits of herself in the ideas of others, creating lasting meaning in the face of constant erasure. Until, one day, someone remembers her. Schwab’s novel is a love story about a girl and a boy and about artists and their creations. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a refreshingly new fantasy that revels in the beauty of invention while reckoning with the fleeting nature of mortality.
This book is pure joy from start to finish. It checks so many boxes for me: confident and interesting female protagonist with a cool job who knows what she wants before the novel even begins? Yes. A romantic interest who, while aware of the pervasive nature of patriarchy does not spend the whole book agonizing over it and fighting his “male” instincts? Yes. Thoughtful and nuanced portrayal of disability? Yes. Steamy romance? YES. A book that revels in the joy and power of fan fiction communities? Yes! Spoiler Alert is a wonderfully refreshing romantic comedy. The synopsis hooked me immediately, and as I devoured it page by page it only got better. Dade’s embracing of fan culture made me intermittently squeal with delight and snort laugh, while her deft illustration of the complexities of familial relationships and internalized prejudices made me truly fall in love with the characters. April and Marcus, the two protagonists, have each struggled with their identity in face of mainstream discrimination: April because of her weight, and Marcus because of his dyslexia. However, this is not a novel about them overcoming their past and learning to love themselves. They’ve already done that! Rather Spoiler Alert delves into the ways traumas of our childhood continue to affect our adult selves and relationships, even when we have already embraced them as part of our identity. April and Marcus may have come to terms with their respective insecurities, but that doesn’t mean the surrounding world has. Spoiler Alert shows what happens after we take the step of accepting and loving ourselves, and the ways we often must fight to show others what we know to be true. April and Marcus’ relationship does not grow out of shared insecurities, but rather out of a willingness to be vulnerable in the face of a dominant culture that would rather see those insecurities erased.
In Haunting, Clark returns to the Egypt first introduced in “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” (a short story published in 2016). In Haunting we follow Hamed Nasir and his young new partner, Onsi, as they are called on to solve the dilemma of a haunted tram car. As they investigate, the Agents of the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, encounter a djinn whose gender constantly shifts before their eyes, an illegal sweets smuggling operation, and a creature out of foreign folklore, all set against the backdrop of women’s suffrage. Haunting is a great hybrid of mystery and ghost story, with some buddy-comedy thrown in. Haunting draws you into Clark’s Cairo of 1912, rich with detail and brimming with supernatural secrets. It is a wonderful mix of the known and the unknown in a world more magical than ours, but that feels none the less real.
When all of Jane Austen’s heroes and heroines are gathered for a house party, they never expected the notoriously wicked George Wickham to crash the event, much less turn up murdered! To uncover the perpetrator, the children of two of Austen’s beloved couples, Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney, must sift through clues and interview house guests (too many of whom have just reason to want Wickham gone). In The Murder of Mr. Wickham, Claudia Gray does an excellent job re-presenting the world of Jane Austen, paying homage to Austen’s famous wit through pitch-perfect dialogue while guiding us through a delightful who-done-it where one of literature’s most notorious villains gets what he deserves.
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
“Never come to Hellfire House without wearing a mask.” Thus begins Janella Angeles’ debut novel, Where Dreams Descend. Hellfire House is a magical nightly masquerade existing in the Forrests beyond Glorian, a town that wears its own mask, with a shrouded past that is seemingly insulated from the surrounding world. But when a Competition of Magicians calls for contestants to breach the city’s walls, Kallia, Hellfire House’s headliner, sees her ticket out. The fame and freedom winning the competition would provide become Kallias’ single-minded goal. But as the ghosts of Hellfire House bite at her heels, Glorian’s secrets both entice and threaten her to further push the limits of her power, putting both new friends and old dreams at risk. Perfect for fans of The Night Circus, Caravale, and The Crown’s Game, Where Dreams Descend is new tale of old magic, and the unmasking of secrets that drive both audiences and performers to thirst for more.
Rear Window meets Get Out in Cole’s thriller debut. Brooklyn is changing. Black homeowners are being pushed out as the neighborhood is gentrified, an unfortunately common occurrence in US history. But something a little extra sinister is at play here... People aren’t just moving, they’re disappearing. Sydney has lived on the block her whole life. As a seemingly random series of unnerving and threatening incidences start to make a twisted sort of sense, Sydney must risk all that she clings to to save not just her house, but her home. When No One is Watching sent shivers down my spine and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, not knowing who to trust or where to turn!
A novel in verse, The Black Flamingo is an elegantly written and refreshingly new coming of age story. Atta’s poetic voice beautifully illustrates Michael’s journey as he navigates life at the intersection of race, sexuality, class, and gender. The son of a Jamaican father and Greek-Cypriot mother, Michael narrates his transformation from a child unsure of where he fits in the world, to a teen navigating new friendships and beginning to explore his sexual identity, to a university student who finds his tribe as part of the Drag Society. A Stonewall Book Award Winner, The Black Flamingo is a poignant and nuanced novel that engages contemporary issues of race, sexuality, and identity. As Michael embraces the different layers of his own identity, he finds the transformative power of drag and learns how acceptance and the support of a community can set us free.
You Had Me at Hola is a wonderful romantic comedy that takes place on the set of Carmen in Charge, a new American series based on a telenovela. Ashton is a fiercely private telenovela star trying to break into the American market while keeping his personal life hidden from the tabloids. Jasmine is a soap opera star trying to focus on work in the wake of an incredibly public break up. When the two meet, sparks fly. But are they both willing to let go of what they thought they wanted in order to find something new and better than either could imagine? You Had Me at Hola is full of angst, joy, and romance! If you loved Ugly Betty and Jane the Virgin you will love this book. It was such a fun read and I would recommend it to any romantic comedy fan!
A Song Below Water blends the real world with fantasy to beautifully illustrate the need for sisterhood in the face of racism and misogyny. ASBW centers on sisters Tavia and Effie as they navigate life as Black young women in a world trying to silence them. Tavia is a siren passing as a normal teenager, gathering the courage to speak up for herself and the rights of others like her in the face of national persecution and state-sanctioned violence. Effie is a mermaid (or at least she plays a mermaid at the Renaissance Faire every year). As she prepares for the new season, suddenly mysterious events of her past seem to recur, all while Effie faces some physical changes, the least concerning of which being her hair moving on its own. As the political world around Tavia and Effie increasingly mirrors our own, the girls must decide where they stand, and embrace what makes them different to stand up for what’s right. Tavia and Effie, may have fantastic powers, but they are still real girls. The fantasy of Morrow’s world is not metaphoric. Rather, she wonderfully blends the real with the supernatural to paint a nuanced picture of what it means to grow up as Black women in contemporary America. ASBW is a timely read that will become a timeless addition to the bookshelves of YA Fantasy lovers.
Sarah J. Maas’ writing is addictive! The first in her Court series, ACOTAR introduces us to Feyre, a human living just beyond the border to fae lands. An adaptation of Beauty and the Beastand the Scottish tale Tam Lin, ACOTARis overflowing with magic, romance, and adventure. When Feyre shoots and kills a fae disguised as a wolf while hunting, she is brought to the Spring Court and forced to live with the High Lord in exchange for the life she took. As Feyre becomes increasingly implicated in a longstanding mystery pervading the fae lands, familiar fairy tales are reinvented as something new. Maas is an expert at developing plots driven by strong and nuanced characters. Please join Feyre as she explores this new world, meeting creatures and beasts who are not always as they appear and who her to become braver than she ever knew.
Gay’s incredibly insightful and vulnerable memoir shares her history with trauma and the profound effect it has on her identity and her relationship to her body. Gay takes a critical yet emotionally intimate eye to her past and present, sharing the ways in which her experiences with violence have shaped her present as a fat queer black woman living in a society that valorizes the opposite. Hunger is, in Gay’s words, truly “necessary” (303). Necessary for her to write, and essential for others to read. It is an astonishingly personal book that asks its readers to reckon with their relationship to both their own bodies, and those around them.
In Thick, Tressie McMillan Cottom takes on popular culture, in particular its relationship to beauty, race, and class. A professor of Sociology, Dr. McMillan Cottom has been likened to other great writers as bell hooks, Rebecca Solnit, Janet Mock, and Roxane Gay (the last of whom just so happens to be her co-host on the podcast Hear to Slay). Thick is an excellent black feminist cultural critique of modern culture.
In Bad Feminist Roxane Gay “rais[es her] voice to show all the ways we have room to want more, to do better” (xiv). Gay grapples with her own relationship to feminism (or feminisms) in the context of her black and queer identities. The essays in this collection touch on a wide array of popular culture from Tyler Perry, to how Twitter can create community, to the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Roxane Gay has her finger right on the pulse of popular culture and writes with a uniquely individual, nuanced, and unforgettable voice.
Polaris Rising, Book 1 of The Consortium Rebellion trilogy, drops you right in the middle of the action. Ada von Hasenberg is on the run, trying to carve out a life for herself beyond the preening and cutthroat aristocrats of the Consortium. Ada meets Marcus Loch when she is dumped into a shared holding cell after being captured by mercenaries. However, Ada has little need of a rescuer. Taking matters into her own hands she hatches an escape plan that offers Marcus his freedom as well. What follows is a fast-paced adventure complete with political intrigue, space pirates, and sizzling romance. Lovers of smart and strong female heroines and innovative world building should dive headfirst into this series!
Chaos Reigning is a steamy and action filled romance starring another truly kick-ass space princess. Battles come to a head, and more than one secret is revealed in the finale of The Consortium Rebellion Trilogy. Chaos follows Caterina, the youngest of the von Hasenberg siblings. Cat knows she is strong, in more ways than one, but it is a strength she has kept closely guarded for most of her life for fear of it being used against those she loves. She has spent her public life building a reputation as a shallow society girl. Most of the time she is happy to step into that role. When Cat orchestrates an invitation to a party at the estate of a rival family, her sister Bianca hires the mysterious but obviously handsome Alexander Sterling to be her bodyguard. Accompanied by Alex as well as his adopted sister Aoife, Cat charms the crowds by day while searching for evidence of betrayal at night. However, when the traitors reveal themselves and inter-space communications and travel are shut down, Cat, her former bodyguards, and a few friends are all that’s keeping the Consortium from becoming a brutal dictatorship. Chaos Reigning is a thrilling conclusion to the Consortium Rebellion Trilogy. Jessie Mihalik has crafted some of the most exciting and brilliant heroines I have read in years, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Tamora Pierce. The von Hasenberg sisters are an incredibly strong group of women, confident in their own intelligence and abilities, and working to make the next generation of leaders kinder and more just than the ones that came before.
This was the first book I ever loved. I have read the Lionessand Immortalsquartets more times than I can possibly count. While any of Tamora Pierce’s series can stand by themselves, many take place in the Tortall universe. I recommend starting with Alanna. Alanna is expected to become a lady. But she could not imagine a more boring future. To escape, she disguises herself as her brother and heads to the royal court to take his place as a knight in training. With the help of her friends, Alanna begins to find her footing. But as a series of seeming accidents befall members of the royal family, Alanna must learn to trust her instincts as the kingdom may need her help sooner than she expected. Over the course of the series, Alanna grows up, learning the importance of friendship, love, and fighting for what you believe. I hope you enjoy her adventures just as much I do!
Stella is far more comfortable dealing with numbers and analytics than she is with romantic relationships. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, she has learned to deal with her sensory sensitivities and is perfectly fine living her life as it is. However, to appease her loving yet overbearing mother, she makes it her mission to learn to become more comfortable with physically intimate relationships. In a gender-swapped Pretty Woman move, Stella hires Michael, a professional escort, to help her with this task. Hoang’s novel is a much-needed representation of an adult autistic woman claiming her own sexuality. Hoang, who also has Asperger’s, offers a novel that is first and foremost a fun, heartfelt, and sexy romance centered around a strong and confident protagonist who just so happens to share that diagnosis.
In her follow up to The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang introduces us to Esme and Khai. Khai's mother is determined to find her son a partner and Esme, who she meets while visiting Ho Chi Minh City, seems like the perfect candidate. So she does what any caring if also meddling mother would do: she brings Esme to America with her on the condition that she seduce and marry Khai. Motivated by the need to provide more security for her family, Esme finds that seducing Khai is easier said than done. An autistic man, Khai had long ago given up on love, thinking he was defective and preferring to keep to himself. But Esme's presence turns everything topsy turvy and Khai realizes his previous failures in love might not have been a problem with him at all, just a symptom of the different ways his brain works. But realizing that is only the first step. Esme and Khai must learn to navigate their growing emotions and simmering attraction to one another if there is any hope of finding a happily ever after. Partly inspired by her mother's experience moving to America as a refugee, Hoang's sophomore novel is a beautiful follow up to her blockbuster debut and will make you laugh, sigh, and cry in turn as you fall in love with Esme and Khai.
Maddie and Theo hate each other. That night a few months ago? Definitely a fluke. Really, they can’t stand each other. However, they both love their friend Alexa. And now, as co-Maid and Man of honor for Alexa’s wedding, they are going to be seeing a lot of each other. Suddenly those flukes seem to be happening a lot more often. The third book in Guillory’sWedding Dateseries, The Wedding Partyis full of her trademark humor and heart. As Maddie and Theo each discover that the other person is not quite who they assumed them to be, they must decide if their enemies with benefits relationship might indeed be something more.
Olivia knows first-hand how men in power respond to intelligent, strong, and self-assured Black women. She recently moved to LA to found an independent law firm, and while she knows she has what it takes to make it, she also knows everything that can go wrong. Max is a young hot-shot senator who sincerely wants to make a difference in the world, but whose optimism and excitement sometimes cause him to run before he walks. After a memorable debate in a hotel bar about the best flavor of cake and where to find it, they go their separate ways. When they happen to be at the same fundraiser a few weeks later, the chemistry (and love of cake) remains. Jasmine Guillory’s novels are all joyously delightful, and some of the best contemporary romances out there. They are always some of the first I recommend. Guillory is the master of humorous, socially conscious (the first thing Olivia googles after learning Max’s identity is “Max Powell Black Lives Matter”), and heartfelt romance. I have followed this series from the beginning and it just keeps getting better!
Kazuo Ishiguro’s use of language is breathtaking. He is a master at crafting narratives rich with deeply nuanced emotions. In Never Let Me Go, we follow Kathy, Ruth and Tommy as they grow up at a boarding school in the English countryside. While their lives seemed idyllically normal as children, as an adult Kathy begins to remember certain inconsistencies. There is an underlying darkness to their purpose, the reality of which they could not grasp as children. As Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy delve deeper into their shared histories they are confronted with questions about how we define humanity and what makes a life worth living.
In Dream House, Machado is a conductor, and the readers her orchestra, as she masterfully directs us through the highs and lows of her relationship with the unnamed woman from the Dream House. Dream House is built through a series of vignettes, each in its own genre, that play on readerly expectations. Machado deftly manipulates these expectations, building tension as she draws her audience into the Dream House alongside her and asks them to share in her experience of desire, terror, and paralysis. The story of the Dream House is a recognizable horror, one that is unfortunately far too easy to connect with than history would have us believe. As Machado notes throughout, abuse in lesbian relationships, while not often mentioned, is in no way new. In the Dream House excels at synthesizing lived experience with shifting genres and outside research. Much like Machado’s previous work, Her Body and Other Parties, Dream House puts its readers on edge through eerie and uncanny imagery, but is all the more terrifying for its realness. In the Dream House is an entirely original and gripping narrative representation of what it means to find yourself torn between past fantasies, present horrors, and future realities.