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Currently Reading

  • Shady Hollow by Juneau Black
  • Last Updated: 5 May 2023

    Planned Reads

    • Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater
    • The Pisces by Melissa Broder
    • Across a Field of Starlight by Blue Delliquanti
    • Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

    Book Reviews for 2023

    Warning: This section contains mild spoilers.

    Flowerheart by Catherine Bakewell |
    Tags: Light Fantasy, Magic, Mental Health, Family Tension, Friends to Lovers, Light Romance, Young Adult | One of my goals this year is to start reading more fantasy novels and this was a good way to ease into the genre. In this world, magic is connected to your emotions so there is a balancing act one makes in order to balance those so that they can maintain control of their power. The two leading characters, Clara (a girl with wild magic so potent that the magic counsel is threatening to take it away) and Xavier (a boy who struggling to live up to the expectations of his family title), were pleasant enough but I wish they were a bit more dynamic. The stakes in the book are high but the story never gets too intense, which makes sense for YA. That said, I think the ending is wrapped up a bit too quickly and tidily... specifically because I'm not convinced by its language about justice or the choice that Clara makes in its pursuit. I would love a sequel to this book to further explore and complicate those thoughts and to see these two characters grow even more, but I'm also okay with it being left as a standalone piece.

    Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying |
    Tags: Grief, Parental Death, Eating Disorder, Fatphobia, Intergenerational Trauma | Beautifully illustrated story about a teenager who struggles under the pressure of her mom's obsession with keeping her thin in order to be "healthy." The book's overall message is good and I am glad that her own beliefs were challenged and that it doesn't conclude in the way that a lot of other stories might. One criticism that I hae is that the ending felt a little fast for me since I wanted the main character to reckon with her thoughts a bit more.

    The Ojja-Wojja by Magdalene Visaggio and Jenn St. Onge |
    Tags: Horror, Eldritch, Queer/Trans Representation, Autism Representation, Young Adult, Graphic Novel | This was an interesting time! I love that we have one autistic main character and one trans main character at the forefront and that those aspects of their identity are relevant to their navigation of the world. That said, I think the story itself was okay. The fourth-wall breaking didn't work for me, and I think some people will be unsatisfied with how the big confrontation is resolved. I appreciate its messaging! But I was still left wanting more in terms of the relationships between characters, especially the two leads, and the central antagonist.

    Chlorine by Jade Song |
    Tags: Horror, Body Horror, Self Harm, Mutilation, Mental Health, Child Abuse, Sexual Assault, Queer, Chinese/Own Voices, Young Adult | This was an interesting read because when a narrator tells me something about their understanding of the world and their identity, I go into the reading experience accepting them at face value even at the expense of heavily suspending my disbelief. I read a lot of reviews by people who were seemingly unwilling to do that and didn't enjoy the reading experience as a result. This is a dark, heavy book. Despite that, the narrator firmly tells us that she is in a transcendent place now. We, as readers, might firmly disagree. We have reason to observe her as an "unreliable narrator," to see this not as magical realism but a massive depressive spiral spawned by a complex system of failures to protect her. Your own mileage might vary. In general, I'm also not fond of reviews that say "thsi book was so fucked up and horrifying you should read it if you want something traumatizing." If the triggers put you off, don't read it. If you're just seeking this out for pain, don't read. If you want a complex story about a queer, Chinese athlete's girlhood - all its messy horror, real and unreal - then give this one a read.

    The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay |
    Tags: Thriller, Gay Characters, Chinese Adoption, Gore, Brutal Violence, Cult, Religion, Ambiguous Ending | There are a couple more spoiler-y triggers so please look them up before reading if you are concerned. I went into this one with an open mind since I have been on this journey trying to find what kind of horror/thriller books align with my own reading sensibilities. While this was a page-turner and I finished it in about a day... but I wanted it to leave a move lasting, meaningful impression on me. I find it difficult to pin down what I didn't like about the experience. For as much as this is written like a movie, it's funny to me how bad the plot of the adaptation seems to be compared to the book.

    The Moth Keeper by K. O'Neill |
    Tags: Light Fantasy, Atmospheric, Lonely, Found Family, Abandonment, Mental Health, Anthro, Queer, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel | O'Neill has become one of my favorite writers this year. I love their character designs and visual world building. This was an immersive, lonely read with a quiet, slow-progressing plot, compelling characters, and an important lesson about mental health, found family, and memory. It's on my list of "books I've read this year I want a physical copy of one day."

    Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser |
    Tags: Black Womanhood, Slice of Life, Mental Health, Community, Adult, Graphic Novel | My reading experience of this was dampened by Libby refusing to load the pages very well. I would like to reread this one day as a physical copy to check if I missed out on any pages due to the app. I really liked getting to know each of these women as they went about their day. It's an exploration of womanhood, community, and Black experience in relation to hair, while also threading in the ways in which these women do NOT relate to one another -- their differing relationships to romance, sexuality, mental health, art, confidence, etc. I wish that it was a bit longer to more fully explore some of these elements, particularly with Davene's lot. I would definitely read more works by Rowser though!

    The Legend of Brightblade by Ethan M. Aldridge |
    Tags: Fantasy, Adventure, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel | This is a great fantasy story following Alto, a Prince who struggles living in the shadow of his Mother - a legendery Bard who brought peace to the world but now struggles to maintain that not through magic but diplomacy. After running away, Alto finds himself back on a path home this time in attempt to save the day with two bards he meets along the way. This was a delightful read with good parallels to racism with the elfish main Kingdom and trolls (Ebbe, the first bard Alto encounters is delightful), a compelling magic system, and strong themes of friendship, honesty, intergenerational differences. Middle Grade fantasy is such a breath of fresh air and I will be reading Aldridge's Deephaven when it comes out.

    Baby-Sitter's Little Sister: Karen's Birthday by Katy Farina |
    Tags: Baby-Sitter's Club, Children's Lit, Graphic Novel | This was an interesting story for Karen who is used to having two families: two moms, two dads, two houses, etc. But for her birthday, all she wants is her families to come together. Unfortunately, she doesn't know how to communicate that wish to her parents, its importance to her, or to accept the difficulties this poses for her divorced parents. Karen's tantrums in this book make sense, as do her kid logic for how to try and parent-trap her family into combining again.

    Princess Princess Ever After by K. O'Neill |
    Tags: Light Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Queer | Short and sweet. Not much to say about it to be honest! This is more like a short story in graphic form as it was one of O'Neill's earliest forays with publication. Still a nice gem to flip through but I usually seek out more robust stories.

    Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata |
    Tags: Neurodivergence, Weird, Literary Fiction, Novella | Maybe it's because I'm in a very transitory part of my life right now and deeply jaded by capitalism... but I found this story deeply upsetting to read. On the one hand, I understand where Keiko is coming from. She's found a place in life she is comfortable with and yet the capitalist, het-comp society she lives in are entirely judgmental about the ways in which she has adapted to not merely survive but to derive pleasure from the mundanity of her routine. She is so thoroughly misunderstood by others that they celebrate and are relieved by inarguably awful prospects such as dating a deadbeat man (better than being single forever, amirite?) Still... it made me feel so depressed in the pit of my stomach. Not because I think Keiko should want better for herself, but... just the everything of society as a whole. My rating is more reflective of my negative reading experience and how the book made me feel than the quality of its writing, which I don't feel like I can objectively communicate. If you enjoy Murata's other spec fic, then you might try this one out too.

    Bunny by Mona Awad |
    Tags: Horror, Animal Death, Body Horror, Gore, Drugs, Mental Health, Speculative Fiction, Weird, Gothic-y, Queer, R-Slur | One day, I'll write a longer essay about this book. The one thing I want to say up front is that I think the weird WTF-yness of this book is a tad exagerrated. This book IS weird. Intentionally. But the amount of people writing about it as though this is an incomprehensible story is very strange to me. For my part, I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a good page-turner that dares you to try to guess what is going to happen next. There's a trace of Frankenstein here with a lot to explore about creator/creation especially within the sphere of art/artist in this graduate writing program. As with other books that have hit me hard, the setting itself disturbed me greatly. Awad is too accurate at capturing the bitchy, catty, self-righteous attitudes of academia and the uncaring, passive gaze of the professor. The most horrifying moments to me by far had nothing to do with the gore. That's what I love the most in a good horror story.

    The Honeys by Ryan La Sala |
    Tags: Horror, Body Horror, Assault (Sexual/Violence), Queerphobia/Transphobia, Young Adult, Queer, Gender Fluid | The vibes of this book were immaculate. I believe this was pitched as The Heathers at Summer Camp but make it queer? The beginning moves super fast as we are thrust immediately into a horrific situation that our main character needs to make snappy decisions about. There's investigation, trials of fitting in, atmospheric details, some memory-warping revisions, and a healthy dose of body horror. I want more horror with trans main characters, which thoroughly contributed to my positive experience reading this novel.

    Honey & Spice by Bolu Babalola |
    Tags: Romance, Black Leads, College, Fake Dating, Mildly Spicy | This was as close to a perfect romance novel as I have read (step aside Emily Henry lol) I loved the two lead characters independelty and together. They both grew as a result of their friendship and romance. The Fake Dating facade was a fun way of bringing these two together, but there was so much genuine connection between them. There were so many moments that had me grinning and the finale was spectacular. Would 100% more by Babalola.

    Earthlings by Sayaka Murata |
    Tags: Child Sexual Assault, Pedophilia, Incest, Misogyny, Compulsory Heterosexuality, Rape Culture, Speculative Fiction, Weird | There are additional topics that warrant trigger warnings but they are heavily into spoiler territory. Please check full spoilers on StoryGraph! | This book was a LOT. This is one of those books that was being passed around on social media almost like a dare, a challenge. Can you stomach it? Don't read it for that reason. I picked this up because I was told it is solid speculative fiction by a Japanese woman who explores asexual-spectrum themes in her writing that are thought-provoking. The first section of the book was incredibly difficult to read due to the subject matter and the first-person narration of a child who suffers through immense trauma and disassociation. The book doesn't slow down from there as we shift into the adult narrator for the rest of the book. Similar to Murata's other writings, I don't find this book "weird" so much as depressing. It's a brutal look at the failings of society and trauma and the impacts of both on the body and one's psyche. Personally, I don't know if I would tag this as "magical realism, certainly not "fantasy," but at the same time a review labeling it as "gruesome dystopia" is also accurate. As with all horror I find compelling, the traces of the real in here are far more horrifying than even the most grotesque weird moments in the finale.

    Minecraft Volume 2 by Sfe R. Monster and Sarah Graley |
    Tags: Minecraft, Middlegrade, Friendship, Bullying, Graphic Novel | A fun follow-up to the first book in this series. This time we follow Evan as he deals with bullying at school and then again unexpectedly on their Minecraft server. This contains good lessons on balancing standing up for yourself and leaning on others for support. Loved the artist and writer notes at the end giving additional insight into the characters!

    Catboy by Benji Nate |
    Tags: Silly, Light Humor, Comics, Graphic Novel, Young Adult | This was a fluffy read that made me giggle at many moments. I love that the kitty wears whatever clothes he wants without subjecting to weird human gender norms.

    The Sprite and the Gardener by Joe Whitt |
    Tags: Fantasy, Fairies, Environment, Graphic Novel | This is one of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels that I have read. Every line is so satisfying to trace. Though we are in a world where fairy's have the power to help plants grow, they currently live hands-off from altering the landscape of humans... until now when magic and a human love for the earth might be able to make a positive change one little garden at a time.

    Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen |
    Tags: Grief, Loss, Mental Health, Anxiety, Light Fantasy, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel | This is a story about facing your inner demons to protec those you love from succombing to a similar grief and guilt that you have been harboring. Gorgeous artwork, realistic preteen characters and sibling relationships.

    Teen Titans: Robin by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo |
    Tags: Super Hero, Adaptation, Sibling Struggles, Fluffy, Young Adult, Graphic Novel | I know some people were disappointed by this one for being "filler," but I thought it was a breath of fresh air before the wild storm that is coming ahead in the next volume where we will meet Starfire. I loved getting to observe the relationship between Damian Wayne and Dick Grayson - two Robins with similar training but very different personalities. Each Titan undergoes training to try and gain more control over their respective abilities and conduct research trying to get one step ahead of Slade and his organization. Sometimes "fluff" is just what I want and what the longer narrative needs.

    The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz |
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    Bingo Love Volume 1: Jackpot Edition by Paulina Ganucheau, Gail Simone, Marguerite Bennett, Sara Alfageeh, Shawn Pryor, Beverly Johnson, Ariela Kristantina, Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge |
    Tags: Queerness, Elder Romance, Black communities, Graphic Novel, Adult | While there were plenty of cute moments and the narrative circles important stories that are underrepresented, I found some of the writing cheesy. It felt like younger people writing a second chance romance for older women. This is also not entirely an Own Vocies lineup and I wonder how different the story would have been if an older, queer Black woman had been the one at the helm writing the story even if other illustrators were adapting it. I don't know! Just some of my thoughts reflecting back on this months later.

    Cheer Up! Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier |
    Tags: Queer, Transgender, Coming fo Age, Young Adult, Graphic Novel | This story was cute! I love the friendship between the two lead characters. Annie learns an important lesson that being there for Beatrice, her out trans best friend, is more than fighting vocal battles for her. There's a good lesson in here for parents of queer/trans kids, especially from Annie's mom who had such a sweet moment with Beatrice. I wish that we got to see more Cheer. One reason why I loved Check Please! was that hockey played an important role in the storytelling. We were immersed in that world alongside the people in it. Cheer felt a bit tangential to the relationships in the story. Not a horrible thing by any means, but I wanted more!

    The Tea Dragon Tapestry by K. O'Neill |
    Tags: Grief, Fantasy, Anthro, Dragons, Middle Grade, Queer/Trans, Disability, Mental Health, Graphic Novel | I cried a whole lot. This is one of my favorite books that I have read this year and I need a copy of it. There's a moment where Minette confesses "I feel homesick for the person I used to be" and that hit me so hard. Theres an element of honoring who you used to be, mourning them, and then reconnecting with yourself and who you can be moving forward. It's a beautful conclusion to this trilogy - though I could live in this fantasy world forever.

    The Tea Dragon Festival by K. O'Neill |
    Tags: Fantasy, Anthro, Dragons, Middle Grade, Queer/Trans, Disability, Mental Health, Graphic Novel | This installment in the series goes back in time to tell us an origin story for the Tea Dragon Society. I loved getting to explore a new area of this world, to meet more dragons, and explore more about the source of magic and wonder. There's a very "Howl's Moving Castle" element to this one. Great story about family, love, and tradition, and freedom.

    Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead by Elle Cosimano |
    Tags: Mystery, Comedy, Thriller Lite, Mafia, Divorced Mom, Series, Adult | Even though I still read this sequel about as quickly as the first one, I wasn't feeling the story as much. Love triangles remain one of my least favorite romance tropes. I knew going into this one that the pathway to get Finlay into a mess was going to be convoluted. It was fun how that intersected with her need to write a sequel to her own book and that meta-framework really worked for me. Some elements in the back half, however, were just a bit much for me lol And I've heard the third one only goes heavier in that direction. So I think I'm going to cap it off here for the series!

    The Tea Dragon Society by K. O'Neill |
    Tags: Fantasy, Anthro, Dragons, Middle Grade, Queer/Trans, Mental Health, Graphic Novel | The first entry to this series is short and sweet. I wish it was a touch longer, but it's a good story about finding your own creative expression while also keeping alive the traditions of your family. The world building is lovely and makes me want more! I'm greedy for good middle grade fantasy, what can I say?

    Catherine House by Tim Probert |
    Tags: Speculative Fiction, Mystery-ish, Horror-ish, Gothic-y, Adult, College Setting, Queer | Trying to encapsulate the genre of this book eludes me. Whatever it is, I genuinely enjoyed reading it. Schools can be exploitive and fucked up. The bachanalian, panopticon that is Catherine House is haunted mainly by its current students whose footsteps, moans, and screams echo off the walls in the background and by its murky past that only comes back to the main character, Ines, in pieces. While reading this book, I was highlighting long stretches of text. Some were bits of foreshadowing that I wanted to keep tabs on. Others were the kind of fucked up things I know eerily well from my own observations in academia, which, honestly, is pretty horrific in itself. I've read reviews by a lot of people who hated this book, found its characters dull and flat, and thought the finale was too underwhelming to be remotely satisfying. For my part, I liked the characters well enough and actually thought they had a subtle depth to them that I guess others don't agree with from their own experience. But like many other great pieces of gothic fiction, the most standout character is the House itself.

    Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano |
    Tags: Mystery, Comedy, Thriller Lite, Mafia, Divorced Mom, Series, Adult | This was such a fun reading experience. I was hooked in the first couple of chapters. Finlay is a great narrator and the more her life starts to fall apart, the more fun the mystery gets. This is an off-the-walls, laugh-out-loud, mystery that isn't quite "cozy," but still lighter than any serious crime drama. Even if you don't want to stick around for the long series, I would still recommend this first volume.

    Miles Morales: Stranger Tides by Justin A Reynolds and Diablo Leon |
    Tags: Super Heroes, Spider-Man, Miles Morales, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel | I will read every single Miles Morales comic that comes out because I just adore that this character exists. The art in this one is so beautiful. It's colorful and fun and matches the energy of this being aimed at a slightly younger target demographic. The villain and action segments are okay, and there's a bit of retconnning from other entries in the canon, but I was just vibing with the story.

    Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann |
    Tags: Asexuality, Romance, College Setting, Black Lead, Young Adult | I really, really wanted to like this book. It was a fast read for me that I completed in about a day and some change. But I had several problems with this book. The main character was pretty juvenile, often relying on others to do everything for her. This isn't inaccurate from my experience attending college. In fact, I knew several graduate students who were still like that into their early to mid-20s. But it was no less frustrating to read about. Second, I am still angry about how her friend treated her. She blew up so much and demanded an apology when I still think she was the one in the wrong. And last, much like others, the imbalance in romantic experience between the main character and her boyfriend is just a bit much for me. I want to read more Asexual Romance stories as a demi-sexual bi, but this just wasn't the right one for me. And after reading all of the complaints from people when this was an ARC... I kind of see why there were lingering issues in the final edit.

    The Legend of the Fire Princess by Gigi D.G. |
    Tags: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Young Adult, Graphic Novel | I love Gigi D.G.'s art so this has been on my TBR for a long time. I think it pretty faithfully translates the characters from the show into the comic for this brand new story that takes place somewhere in the earlier seasons of the show. It's good for fans who want some additional lore building and to see their faves interacting again. My only complain is that this is the only comic we got in this series. Definitely blaming Dreamworks/Netflix for that decision.

    Other Ever Afters by Melanie Gillman |
    Tags: Fairy Tales, Original Stories, Short Graphic Stories, LGBTQ | I really enjoyed this anthology, but since it has been a while I can't remember specific features that I enjoyed. I do remember there being recurring characters in the background, which was really cool. It's also nice that not every storiy in this one is a Romance. There are plenty of other kinds of queer love, including community building, that are genuinely heartwarming. This book is queer not only for having LGBT romances, but for challenging monarchy, authority, distribution of resources. I would definitely buy a copy for myself to revisit.

    Avatar: The Search by Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante Dimartino, Gene Luen Yang |
    Tags: Fantasy, Avatar Universe, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel | This series was okay. It has a better premise than The Promise, in my opinion, as Aang helps Zuko look for his mom. We get to read Ursa's story in the past as Team Avatar (and Azula) follow clues to uncover what happened to her once she was banished by Lord Ozai. While I enjoyed Ursa's story, especially how deeply complicated she is as a character, the series treatment of Azula is pretty infamously uncomfortable. It's enough to dampen my reading experience so I don't think I would pick up my own copy of it.

    Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie |
    Tags: Mystery, Classics, Hercule Poirot | This one was still not as enjoyable to read as Murder on the Orient Express, but it was still relatively okay enough. There were a few more... problematic sections, though I can't remember them all right now. The queer-coding, for example, at first went over my head but once I read up on the references hoo-boy.. it wasn't comfortable. I'm sure there were moments of racism and xenophobia, though I can't remember specific details now. I think most people praise this book for the iconic twist at the end. The first half of the book, however, is simultaneously under- and overwhelming. I just find myself constantly on the edge of my seat waiting for Poirot's bit to take over in full force lol

    The Babysitter's Club: Mary Ann's Bad Luck Mystery by Ann M. Martin and Cynthia Yuan Cheng |
    Tags: Babysitter's Club Adaptation, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel | This was a funny story lol I love getting to see a more defiant side to Mary Ann as she stands up for her friends and resists superstition (at least at first!) In general, I feel like the GN series has really hit its stride lately.

    Twelfth Grade Night by Stephanie Kate Strohm and Molly Horton Booth |
    Tags: Romance, High School, Shakespeare Adaptation, LGBTQ, Young Adult, Graphic Novel | This was a fun, queer retelling of Twelfth Night that follows Vi as she acclimates to life at Arden High apart from her twin brother, Sebastian. This art is beautiful and I love the potential to write additional adaptations set at the same school, especially since some characters from other plays have already been introduced such as the fae creatures from Midsummer Night's Dream. However, it was really difficult for me to turn off my Lit Crit brain while reading and lamenting some of the edits that I would have made if I were consulting the authors. I think a lot of the stakes of the original play are minimized by the way they navigate the mistaken identity component of Vi and I felt that Sebastian was pretty underutilized, especially with how they complete Olivia's story. I also felt that Maria came off as meaner in this book than Malvolio who just seems kind of dweeby. I would still read more if this were a series, but ultimately it made me want to brainstorm my own retellings lol

    D&D Dungeon Club: Roll Call by Molly Knox Ostertag |
    Tags: Fantasy, LGBT Questioning, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel | This story centers aroudn Jess, a girl who doesn't quite fit in at her school and is often teased for it, who has a difficult time reckoning with the prospect of her best friend tarting to branch outside of their safe bubble as a duo. There are dual stories here with the fantasy DnD Campaign where Jess roleplays as a confident, lone wolf and the halls of the middle school where you can't just roll a die to deal with a bully or successfully patch up a friendship. I hope that Ostertag is signed on to write more in this series, because I would like to see more adventures with this group.

    Teen Titans: Beast Boy by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo |
    Tags: Teen Titans, Super Heroes, Young Adult, Graphic Novel | Kind of reading this out of order since I finished Beast Boy Loves Raven last year, but this was still a fun entry into the adaptaton series. Garfield is an interesting character since he tries so hard to be the goofball to fit in at his high school, but he comes into his self-esteem more as he begins to learn about his powers. There's a lot of classic high school struggles in this book, similar to Raven's story.

    Avatar: The Promise Part One by Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante Dimartino, and Luen Yang |
    Tags: Avatar Universe, Fantasy, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel | I did not like this entry into the Avatar comic series lol The diplomacy between the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom was interesting to think about in terms of colonialism, and a potentially good tension between Aang and Zuko. The writing wasn't doing it for me, though, especially the cutesy talk between Aang and Katara. I'm in the minority of people who are okay with Kataang as a ship, but the way they call each other "sweetie" constantly in the comics is incredibly juvenile and cringey to read.

    Jo Bright and the Seven Bots by Deborah Underwood |
    Tags: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Robots, Invention, Picture Book, Children's Literature | This was a cute little fairy tale about a girl who loves inventing robots. The illustrations are bursting with color and fun designs, but I remember very little about it since it has been a few months.

    Book Reviews for 2022

    Warning: This section contains mild spoilers.

    Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal, Nicole Andelfinger |
    Tags: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Adaptation, Sweet Valley Twins | This was cute! I have memories of owning the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books, but I read very few of them. I mostly liked thumbing through the covers because they had so many pretty colors on them despite seeming pretty dated even when I was looking at them lol Jessica is pretty unlikeable for a decent chunk of the book, but I think she goes through a phase that is pretty realistic for teens. I'm not sure that I'm sold on how the central conflict is resolved, but I think the lesson that it is okay to change... if you are changing for the better is a decent one.

    The Heartstopper Yearbook by Alice Oseman |
    Tags: Romance, Young Adult, LGBTQIA, Graphic Novel | This was a cute supplementary release for fans of The Hearstopper series. We get some cute bonus comics, short stories, and background information about the webcomic and author. A fun quick read, but not much really stuck with me after.

    Lore Olympus: Volumes 1-3 by Rachel Smythe |
    Tags: Romance, Fantasy, Mythology, Graphic Novel, Webtoon; rape, sexual assault, abuse | My brother and his wife gifted these to me for Christmas and despite having read them twice on my phone already, I devoured them over the course of a day or two. It's great having a physical copy I can reference at any point since the artwork is so lucious to pour over. This is a Persephone and Hades mythology retelling that navigates consent, trauma, and power in such a compelling way. One of my favorite webtoons of all time. Will 100% get every new print release.

    Baby-Sitter's Club: Jessi's Secret Language by Ann M. Martin and Chan Chau |
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Baby-Sitter's Club, Series, Middle-Grade, Deaf Representation | I think that I can confidently say that this is one of my favorite in the series so far. First of all, I adore Jessi so I am happy that she is the one to have this story arc. I loved seeing Matt come into his own with the neighborhood kids, the class being invited to the ballet performance, and Jessie receiving a sign name. Since reading this, I have read a few reviews by deaf people and it has been very informative for what to look for in future books with respect to Deaf representation.

    Doodles & Me by Stephanie Evans |
    Tags Autobio Comics | This is a short collection of comics and short stories by a YouTuber I have been following online for several years now from the channel Doodle Date. Gifted this to my spouse and read it together. It's short but quite cute! I do think it's mostly something that fans of the channel would enjoy though.

    My Aunt is a Monster by Reimena Yee |
    Tags: Fantasy, Adventure, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Blind Representation, LGBTQIA, Found Family | This was a FUN one. With whimsical narration akin to Pushing Daisies or A Series of Unfortunate Events, Yee sweeps us away in a story with a tragic beginning but a whimiscal journey full with adventure and love. I am craving more fantasy stories with older protagonists and Auntie Whimsy is such a fun character to explore in this regard: someone who has long been retired but gets to stretch her legs and fall back in love with the life she had left behind not only for herself but also through her recently adopted kin. Middle grade literature at its finest with plenty of lessons without being heavy-handed or oversimplified. Would absolutely read more by Yee.

    The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie |
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    Cain's Jawbone by Torquemada, E. Powys Mathers
    Tags: Puzzle, Mystery, Crime | I don't feel like this is book I read for its prose so I am going to decline to rate it. However, I had a lot of fun hyperfixating on trying to solve this puzzle and ended up reading it cover to cover 3-4 times as a result.

    Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie |
    Tags: Mystery, Classic, Hercule Poirot | Since reading this, I've read a few more Christie novels and short stories, but this one is still my favorite. It moves quickly, has a fun organizational struture where you experience interrogating the witnesses, searching the train, assessing the evidence, and Poirot's speculation of what actually happened. I didn't fully put together the exact ending, but it didn't feel like a cheap plot twist. Great introduction to the genre, but I also feel spoiled by it since I haven't liked another story quite as much since.

    Lightfall: Shadow of the Bird by Tim Probert |
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure, Mental Health | The stakes get much higher in this second entry in the Lightfall series. There are reunions and partings, prophecies, and uncertainties. I wish that Bea was able to trust her own intution more, but such is part of the learning process. I hope that she is able to stand up for her perspective more in the next installment instead of giving way to Cad and trusting his judgment over her own. The art is stunning as always and I loved getting to see new environments in this world.

    Karen's School Picture by Ann M. Martin and Katy Farina |
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Children’s Lit, Adaptation, Babysitter’s Club, Slice of Life | This was a cute one! This is a good story about bullying that veers more on teasing rather than something even more harmful. I think Karen navigates her emotions and situation pretty realistically in different phases. My one point of confusion is why we get this story before the one about her adopted sister. She's mentioned in this book as though she'd always been there.

    I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy |
    Tags: Memoir, Nonfiction, Mental Health, Eating Disorders, Parental Abuse, Alcohol Abuse | All the praise for this book is deserved. I wasn't here for the Hollywood gossip. In fact, I was a little too old to watch iCarly, Sam and Cat, or most of the Nick shows referenced in the book. McCurdy's writing style is phenomenal. It's personal, biting, humorous, and heartbreaking. There's horror and heart in all of these pages. I really hope that she writes more - fiction or nonfiction.

    Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto |
    Tags: Romance, Mystery, Adult, Humor, Comedy of Errors, Racism | This book is hilarious. It took me a beat to get into the writing, including the narrator, but once I was on board with the premise, I was laughing every chapter. It's not a mean-spirited book, either. I think if you enjoy situational comedies, like... high farcical plots, then you'll deeply enjoy this read. The romance on the side was also fantastic. I'm not sure what to expect from the sequel, but I will definitely check it out.

    The Dabbler's Guide to Witchcraft: Seeking an Intentional Magical Path by Fire Lyte |
    Tags: Witchcraft, Nonfiction, Spirituality | This was an interesting read! Lyte relates a lot of witchcraft to popular culture, provides some historical background context, primes the reader for important issues such as cultural appropriation, and offers templates for a few spells. There were some sections that I skimmed rather than deep read. I'm still not sure whether spellcasting is something that I'm going to incorporate into my life, but it was refreshing to read about someone's experience that aligns more with S.A.S.S.

    Farm to Trouble by Amanda Flower |
    Tags: Cozy Mystery, Parent Death, Car Accident, Body Insecurity/Fat-Shaming | This book was fine! I enjoyed the reading experience a bit more than some of the cozies I've dabbled with due to the quick pacing and tighter storytelling. The villain reveal got a little... almost cartoonish? But the family dynamics were strong including the doggy sidekick. I could do without Shiloh's constant insecurity around her weight though.

    Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe |
    Tags: Memoir, LGTBQIA+, Graphic Novel, Nonfiction | Wow. Even though my experience growing up was pretty different from Kobabe, I related heavily so much to their story, especially as someone who is both nonbinary and asexual. This book provides such a frank examination of gender and sexuality over the coruse of someone's coming of age process (which does not end in the teen years but is an ongoing process) and it fills me with such hope for all the young people who might read this and feel less alone. It fills me with such rage that this book has been heavily targeted for removal from schools, libraries, and bookstores.

    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol (reread) |
    Tags: Children's Literature, Classic Literature, Victorian | It had been over a decade since I last this book and you know what? It's still really good lol It was so much fun reading this out loud with my wife at bed time to keep our sanity during the heatwave in early September.

    Lightfall: The Girl & The Galdurian by Tim Probert |
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure, Mental Health, Aging, Adoption, Found Family | This was a recommendation from Katey Bellew a couple months ago and I finally snagged an eBook copy from the library. This has a similar vibe to Amulet, which is another middle grad series with pretty high stakes for its heroine! Bea embarks on a journey with Cad, who introduces himself as the thought-to-be-extinct Galdurian race, to find her adopted, forgetful grandfather: the Wizard Pig, all while trying to protect the Endless Flame. Katey was spot on when she said the series provides a great visualization of anxiety when moments get tense. I already have the second volume on hold!

    Louijain Dreams of Sunflowers by Lina Al-Hathloul, Auma Mishra-Newbery with illustrations by Rebecca Green |
    Tags: Children's Literature, Picture Book, Saudi Arabia, Gender, Discrimination | Aside from when my wife and I browse the book section at Target, we don't read a ton of picture books. When I get my library card, I might change that since this was such a visually striking story. It offers a good metaphor for gender-based discrimination impacting Saudi women today.

    Apple Crush by Lusy Knisley
    Tags: Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Blended Family, New School, Childhood Crushes/Romance, Making Friends, Autumn | This is a cute follow-up to the first book in the series where Jen is a little more settled with her life in the countryside but now has to contend with starting a new school, not knowing how to make friends, and feeling like an outsider in a new way. Even when she goes to the city to visit her dad, there are some things that are familiar and fun (especially the food!) and other things that make her miss being with her mom (like how her dad makes her wear fancy dresses and flirts with the waitresses.) I also love the main plot because I relate a lot to Jen feeling awkward when everyone around her seems wrapped up in romance and smooching and all she wants to do is read dragon novels and doodle.

    The in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
    Tags: Children's Literature, Classic, Pastoral, Talking Animals, British Literature, G-Slur, Fatphobia | Honestly, I'm shocked that I didn't read this book when I was younger because it is 100% up my alley as someone who devoured every Beatrix Potter book and reread Frog and Toad dozens of times. From the first few pages, Mole is an utterly charming character and his friendship (?) with Rat is such a precious thing. Despite Disney centering Toad so dang much, Mole and Rat are truly the stars of the show. The chapter where Mole contends with homesickness broke my little heart. The book is fairly dated in its remarks on race, gender, and class, however, which might prevent some people from wanting to go back to it.

    Book Lovers by Emily Henry
    Tags: Adult Fiction, Romance (Mildly Spicy), Rom-Com, City Girl in the Country, Ice Queen, Sister Bonds, Grief, Parent Death, Family Obligation | Easily my favorite Emily Henry novel. Wow. I fell in love with Nora from the beginning. The premise of writing a romance from the perspective of the career-driven, icy woman most guys leave to be with their small town, country girl with good values is incredibly refreshing especially since she does so without falling into the "I'm not like other girls whom I loathe with a great passion" mentality since she openly acknowledges that her younger sister pretty much is the sunshine and rainbows kind of girl-next-door that usually gets the romantic ending. Charlie is also my favorite love interest, though I really, really hope that Henry lays off on describing people's mouths and smirks a touch in her forthcoming book haha

    Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
    Tags: Adult Fiction, Romance, Exisential, Depression, Self-Harm, Complicated Parent-Child Relationships, Diverse Cast, LGBTQ | Wow... there's so much that I relate to in this novel. Grace Porter is a recently graduated Astronomy Ph.D. who struggles to adjust to life now that her Big Plan has been derailed after an job interview that didn't go quite as planned... especailly after a bender in Vegas where she married a girl she had just met that night. As a semi-recently graduated Literature Ph.D., there was so much about the protagonist's struggle with "the real world" that I related to, especially when you feel like a token minority that gained your department some clout but the broader academic/research industry has little to no interest in supporting you beyond that degree. Rogers's writing style is marked by a few of my pet peeves (lots of repetition of key phrases, full names, etc), but I found the characters to be sympathetic and interesting.

    Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Moving Away, Blended Family | In this story, Jen's mom moves out to the countryside to live with her boyfriend, Walter, and start a farm together. She has a garden and tasks Jen with raising chickens. Accustomed to the city, Jen starts off really disliking the move and struggling to find her place. This is complicated even more when Walter's kids start spending weekends at Peapod Farm. The story captures what it is like to move from the city to the country, being a creative-minded person in a world that tends to hold more value in physical capacity and business-mindedness. Walter is an absolute asshole and I expect there to be more tension with his role in the next book. The story is short, wonderfully drawn by Knisley, and there is enough depth in the main cast that I want to read more about where their story goes.

    Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker with Wendy Xu
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Fantasy, Witchcraft, Werewolves, LGBTQIA, Disability Representation | I started reading Mooncakes back when it was still a webcomic and I'm happy to see its story finally told to completion as a graphic novel. There's a fantastic range of representation in the book (race, gender, sexuality, age, body type, ability - hearing) and the visual environmental storytelling lends well to the "show don't tell" approach to the narrative. This is a quick story about how the protagonist, Nova, a queer and hearing-impaired witch, reunites with her childhood crush, the nonbinary werewolf Tam, during a chance encounter in the woods. After catching up, they agree to combine forces to tackle a demon in the forest who can only be stopped with wolf magic. In the backdrop of the action plot is a story about grief, identity, and finding your path in the world. I love Nova's grandmothers to pieces and would love to read a sequel, but the narrative is solidly wrapped up as is.

    The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
    Tags: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Slow-Pace, Poetic Language, Domestic Abuse, Death, Body Horror | I read this on recommendation from Free the Uglies on YouTube. This draws on similar speculative fiction novels like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, but I appreciated that this story is told from the POV of a woman who is unable to rebel in the same way as those class male characters. We are called upon to empathize with a helpless situation and to bear witness to the stories shared with us. The book is a bit slow with small slices of the day-to-day lives of the three main leads all the while we barrel toward an inevitable conclusion. If you're into speculative fiction and want to read more of it from BIPOC, I'd recommend giving this one a go!

    People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
    Tags: Romance, Friends to Lovers, Mutual Pining, Miscommunication, Past and Present| It took me a moment to warm up to Poppy, but I’m glad that I stuck through the first few chapters because by the time I learned the origin of her friendship with Alex, I was so much more invested in how they ended up not talking to each other for two years. Friends to lovers stories always get me in the gut. I’ve had my own life trials with losing friendships that meant a lot to me. And I’m also in the fortunate position of having married my own best friend. Henry is excellent at giving her central characters realistic flaws, letting them fuck up as a result of them, and then grow and heal. I think the ending of this one was a little rushed in the way that rom coms tend to wrap things up a little more tidily than I’d like. But there are so many sweet moments in this one that I had a blast reading it.

    Blue Flag by Kaito
    Tags: Manga, Slice of Life, Romance, Love Triangle, LGBTQIA | Such an incredible high school series. It’s not as over-the-top dramatic as some that I have read in the past. There’s something more quiet and pensive to the angst of our central protagonists. Love triangles are rarely my cup of tea, but this one feels done very well especially since no party is made out to be a villain. I’m genuinely surprised how many people knock the ending as well saying that it was rushed or came out of left field. Even though I would have loved more details and depth, I felt like this epilogue made a lot of sense from my reading experience and it brought me a lot of joy on a gray summer afternoon.

    The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
    Tags: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure, Mythology | While I think they're fairly comparable in quality, I enjoyed Last Olympian a little more than this one. The introduction to New Rome took a good chunk of time and meant that the opening of the novel was a little bit slower for me as an adult reader. The transition to Hazel and her connection to Nico, however, was fantastic and the snippets of her and Frank's respective backstories were easily the most compelling part of the book. Some of the modern-fantasy elements like the Amazon warriors were a little too goofy for me, though.

    The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta
    Tags: Queer/Trans Representation, Romance, Young Adult, Light Magic Usage, Dysphoria/Euphoria, First Person POV | Fast-paced, fluffy romance. The book blurb's sell this one short imo because Capetta's own writing about LGBTQIA community spaces is much more natural in the novel itself. It was a very "I feel seen" reading experience that depicts a variety of queer/trans characters. The main character is flawed and does need to work through those flaws before the end of the novel (so don't let it to deter you if you find it frustrating early on!)

    Squire by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Middle East/North Africa AU, Fantasy, Otherness, Discrimination, Disability | The world building in this is excellent. Very quick read - wish it was longer in a good way because I didn't want to say goodbye to the characters yet. Very timely observations about colonialism, war, and rebellion.

    Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven by Kami Garcia with Gabriel Picolo
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Adaptation, Superheroes, Teen Titans, Trauma | I’m so happy to be able to see Picolo’s versions of Raven and Beast Boy interacting at last. The plot for this one is pretty simple, but I ate up every second of it. The meet cute between the two protagonists is believable as is their unlikely friendship as they explore the city while waiting for their respective meetings. I hope this won’t be the last in the series and still need to get my hands on Beast Boy’s story.

    Miles Morales: Shock Waves by Justin A. Reynolds with Pablo Leon
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Adaptation, Superheroes, Spider-Man, Miles Morales | First of all, the artwork for this comic is incredible—love the color scheme, stylization, environments… wow. The story itself is pretty good too, especially how they weave in current events to bring Miles’s Puerto Rican background into the narrative in a meaningful fashion. I love the scenes where he talks with his mom about her childhood and his heritage and the ending was very sweet.

    The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
    Tags: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure, Mythology | What a fun return to Riordan's world! It was pretty gutsy to provide us with three brand new protagonists and it pays off: Jason, Piper, and Leo are all great narrative leads. The book is quick-paced and provides you with enough teasers that you can solve the mystery as you read. I know there have been reader reservations for how Riordan navigates issues like race throughout this series, but I want to take the time to formalize my thoughts on this holistically when I finish the series since this is my first read through.

    Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku by Fujita
    Tags: Manga, Fujoshi, Romance, Slice of Life, Childhood Friends to Lovers, Slowish Burn, Office Romance | What a breath of fresh air! This was a breezy read. Loved all of the main cast to pieces. On paper, the main plot didn't sound interesting to me, but the characters are so compelling and they really captured those good doki doki feelings. I'm not sure how interested I would be in seeing the Anime version of the story, but I might look into it one day.

    Beach Read by Emily Henry
    Tags: Romance, Grief, Cheating, Divorce, Rivals to Lovers, Miscommunication, Mildly Spicy | Probably my favorite modern romance writer at the moment. Her prose is excellent, the protagonists are believably flawed, their relationship progression didn't feel forced. The ending was a little too indulgent, and the author definitely repeats a few key phrases too often, but I would still recommend those interested to give this one a go and will eventually read her other two books.

    Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia with Gabriel Picolo Tags: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Adaptation, Superheroes, Teen Titans | Very speedy read! Raven’s found family is excellent and I love that even though she’s a very private and introverted teen, Raven hasn’t walled herself completely away from her peers. This is a good origins story that paves the way for the broader plot in this series.

    The Legend of Korea: Turf Wars Part Two and Three by Michael Dante DiMartino with Irene Koh and Killian Ng (third entry)
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Adaptation, Legend of Korra, Fantasy, Adventure | While this was a fun romp back into the world of Avatar, I thought the comic series was just okay. I never found myself completely immersed in the storyline. That’s no to say that there aren’t some great bits! I loved witnessing characters respond to Korea and Asami’s relationship and Zhu Li’s plot was incredible from start to finish. I’m curious how the other Avatar comics stack up.

    The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    Tags: Romance, Alternating POV, Fake Dating, Miscommunication, Mildly Spicy | This was a fun read mostly because Guillory's prose is really good, but both of the protagonists are quite privileged and I found Drew pretty annoying (especially when you learn his backstory.) It was a good "read on the plane" kind of book, but not one I woudl revisit.

    Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore
    Tags: Romance, Alternating POV, Enemies to Lovers, Mutual Pining, Mildly Spicy, Victorian AU | An excellent "guilty pleasure" kind of period romance where the protagonist is a proto-feminist doing activist work for suffragettes and the love interest is a cold, patriarchal, asshole and they end up in a very hetero man/woman relationship dynamic later on. This all sounds terrible on paper and I truly hate the way they talk about their feelings for each other, but it's so well written that it was enjoyable despite that. I would just go into this one knowing that it's going to have annoying Gender Stuff in it. I'll probably read one more of her novels to see if a different relationship dynamic improves upon this first one.

    Good-Bye Stacey, Good-Bye by Ann M. Martin and Gabriela Epstein
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Adaptation, Babysitter’s Club, Slice of Life | I started reading the comic adaptations of the Babysitter’s Club last year after binge-watching the new season of the Netflix series. This was a sweet continuation of that series with a poignant plot about how to navigate friends moving away, testing the strength of those friendships, and imagining the future. Stacey’s send-off was really sweet and I hope that we get to see this depicted in the next season of the show (if one is in the works that is!)

    Witch Please by Ann Aguirre
    Tags: Romance, Alternating POV, Mutual Pining, Modern Witchcraft, LGBTQ, Spicy, Miscommunication | I read this on a flight and was completely caught off guard by the spicy scenes haha To be honest... this one didn't do it for me. The plot is a little thin for my liking and I wish that the magic storyline was more fully explored. Most of the LGBT content is in the background or present in one major side character. I feel like the internal monologue of both protagonists got a little annoying... especially in trying to make the man seem like Mister Perfect. Probably won't revisit this series!

    Karen’s Kittycat Club: A Graphic Novel by Ann. M. Martin and Katy Farina
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Children’s Lit, Adaptation, Babysitter’s Club, Slice of Life | Even though I have been enjoying the Little Sister tales well enough, this one felt a little too baby for me lol In this tale, Karen learns a lesson about bossiness/control, exclusion, and failure. I’m sure I would have loved this series as a kid, though, and probably could have benefited from a lesson on not being a brat.

    Kristy and the Snobs by Ann M. Martin and Chan Chau
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Adaptation, Babysitter’s Club, Slice of Life | I didn’t grow up in a great neighborhood, so Kristy’s feelings of being a fish out of water in the new rich and popular environment kind of make me laugh. The subplot about her dog was so good, though. I almost forgot this was adapted into the second season, probably because I watched it while depressed. I might go back and rewatch it now that I have more context.

    Claudia and the New Girl by Ann M. Martin and Gabriela Epstein
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Adaptation, Babysitter’s Club, Slice of Life | Is it just me or was Gabriela no where near this mean in the Netflix show? She was possessive and rude throughout the whole book. No matter how much I like Claudia, this one just wasn’t as enjoyable for me. At least I enjoyed the resolution to her art gallery submission though!

    Minecraft Volume 1 by R. Sfé Monster and Sarah Graley
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Children’s Lit, Minecraft, Slice of Life, Adventure, LGBTQIA | What a cute story about maintaining friendships after moving away! I think this is such an important lesson for kids to learn. I can imagine a kid picking this at the scholastic school fair and reading it over and over again until the spine starts falling apart. Even though I don’t play Minecraft (just watch other people do it!) this provides plenty of context for parents to read alongside their kids.

    Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall with Lisa Sterle
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQIA | The more time passes after I finished reading this the less I like it. The premise of the book is pretty dark, but that’s not the only problem. I don’t feel like privilege is navigated in a satisfying manner and I’m not wholly convinced of the personal growth of the main character. I don’t know. Maybe this kind of plot just isn’t for me.

    Au Haru Ride by Io Sakisaka
    Tags: Manga, Shoujo, Romance, Childhood Friends/Crush, Grief, Depression, High School Hijinks, Miscommunication/Missed Opportunities | Wow, what a fun series haha It sure went places. Watching Futaba grow is a great joy, especially as she develops more meaningful friendships and learns to think about love beyond nostalgia. There's a great running theme of learning to be honest with yourself, especially what you want and need. I had a great time reading it, but it didn't have a transformative impression on me and I likely won't return to it again. But if you're looking for a romance drama to sink into, this one is considered a classic at this point for a reason.

    Book Reviews for 2021

    Sweat and Soap by Kintetsu Yamada
    Tags: Manga, Seinen, Romance, Slice of Life, Spicy | When Laura Neuzeth recommended this series on Tik Tok, I was immensely skeptical that I would ever be able to get past its base premise (a soap-maker with a keen nose disrupts a woman's personal boundaries by sniffing her and becoming obsessed with her smell.) But unlike Perfume: The Story of a Murderer where this kind of obsession is a marker of a serial killer, Natroi helps Asako develop self-confidence and they bring the best out of each other. They have such a tender relationship and it's impossible not to root for them. I finished reading this series when I was going through a very difficult time in my life and seeing how far these two come by the end of the 11-volume series... really makes you want to keep perspective on what's precious to you as well.

    In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
    Tags: Memoir, Non-Fiction, LGBTQIA, Domestic Violence, Abuse | This was a heavy book to read on a plane heading into Christmas break, but I devoured it in one airport trip. Machado's writing is haunting, touching, curious. It takes this "what if the relationship is the haunted house" kind of twist on horror.. except this actually happened, and you're asked to consider the real people, the real trauma, even in this meta-fiction presentation. I'm not sure that I know how to effectively describe the reading experience since I'm new to writing reviews, but I will read every book that Machado writes.

    The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore
    Tags: Young Adult, Magical Realism, LGBTQIA, Rape, Assault, Trauma, Homophobia | Probably the heaviest McLemore book that I have read to date. The narrative use of time took a moment for me to get used to and I also didn't warm up to the main character right away, but eventually I was fully immersed in the stories of both main characters. McLemore has a way of making me fall for all of their leads. The stakes are very high in this story and the magic, wow, the magic in this book is so good in its metaphorical presence without ever needing to be overexplained like in fantasy.

    Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
    Tags: Cozy Mystery, Own Voices, Filipino | I wanted to like this one more than I did, especially after being disappointed by Collette's novel. I love that Lila is fiercely protective of her family, the setting of her family's restaurant, and that the stakes are genuinely high (ex-boyfriend murdered in her mom's restaurant? charged with suspicion of foul play? scandalous!) But... I think her best friend was a little over-eager with the investigatory process, which also took a lot of time... and it was also a little silly to me how every man she encountered seemed besotten with her beauty lol But I loved the aunties, the small town gossip, and the delicious food descriptions.

    Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu
    Tags: Webcomic/Graphic Novel, LGBTIQA, Young Adult, Romance, Slow Burn, Sports | Wow, I wasn't expecting to like this one, but now I feel like I've been missing out by not reading all the homoerotic sports manga out there lol This one is really sweet. Eric Bittle is a fantasticly charming protagonist with his southern charm and love for baking. It was a joy watching his teammates warm up to him, especially Jack. The plot progressed at an excellent pace that kept me hanging on for each volume. Genuinely can't wait for Ukazu to write another series!

    The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
    Tags: Horror, Psychological, Haunted House | After being pretty disappointed by the Haunting of Hill House Netflix series (especially in comparison to my friends), I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. To be blunt, I'm not generally a horror person. It's not that I scare easy... it's that they don't usually do anything for me. I think this is the first time a book crept up on me and made me feel unsettled. It wasn't even the spooky hauntings like cold spots, doors that open, and tappings that grow louder and closer... it was the main character's internal monologue. The familiarity of that intense social anxiety. I felt too seen.

    A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette
    Tags: Cozy Mystery, Own Voices | I really, really wanted to like this one... but I didn't connect with the writing and the investigation was a little too simple. The protagonist didn't feel solid in her role. The ice cream shop setting was so good, especially rescuing the history of her family's store and trying to find ways to make it succeed. But I'm not entirely sure yet whether I would read a second book in the series.

    When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Memoir, War, Refugees | Quick and immersive read. Omar is a compassionate boy responsible for taking care of his younger brother Hasaan after being separated from their mother when fleeing Somali for a refugee camp in Kenya. When Omar begins attending school, he's faced with all kinds of new challenges. It's an emotional read with a very sweet illustrative style.

    The Adventure Zone: The Crystal Kingdom by Clint McElory and Carey Pietsch
    Tags: Grahic Novel, Fantasy, Adaptation, Dungeons and Dragons | I know plenty of people who aren't fond of the McElroy's and The Adventure Zone... but I love the Balance Arc and it affected me emotionally during a time when I needed to hear a story like it. Carey Pietsch's artstyle is also perfect for this adaptation. It's so satisfying to visually observe these seens that I've listened to several times as a podcast. They have been so thoughtfully realized and I can't imagine the characters looking any other way now. This volume introduces some of my favorite characters and I love how the plot is beginning to thicken.

    Frog and Toad: The Complete Collection by Arnold Lobel
    Tags: Children's Literature, Picture Book, Classic, ReRead | My younger brother and his wife gifted this to me for my birthday and I am utterly delighted to own this series I read over and over again as a kid not realizing that I would one day connect with the queerness of this amphibuous couple. My wife and I read the book cover-to-cover that night and the stories just make me feel so peaceful.

    A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman
    Tags: Cozy Mystery, Historical Setting (Victorian) | This was my first dip into cozy mysteries and I loved it... there's something about Freeman's writing style that I like. Frances Wynn is a great protagonist outside her element following the death of her cheating husband, the Count of Harleigh. Unlike the other mysteries I read in 2021, I enjoyed the investigation process a lot more in this book and the flirtatious friendship she has with her next-door-neighbor are quite fun. I'll continue reading the series to see how I get on with the rest.

    Boy Crazy Stacy by Ann M. Martin and Gale Galligan
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Babysitter's Club, Adaptation | In this episode, Stacey and Mary Anne go on vacation with the Pike family as their babysitters. Stacey, however, has other ideas as she spends too much time flirting with life guards rather than watching over the kids. It's a good story about crushes, friendship, and responsibility. Galligan is one of my favorite illustrators for this series, too. Her artwork is consistent and the character designs bring the cast to life in a way that I enjoy far more than Raina Telgmeier (more on that later!)

    Logan Likes Mary Anne by Ann M. Martin and Gale Galligan
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Babysitter's Club, Adaptation | First of all, Logan's design is incredible. I appreciate how this adaptation is injecting diversity when possible and not just for background characters. I've read too many reviews to the contrary complaining about shoe-horning in reace where it doesn't belong... lol The plot itself is also quite relatable as Mary Anne struggles with feeling awkward and embarassing around her crush, which is a nice progression in her story of developing a greater sense of identity and independence, while also wanting to stay true to herself..

    Dawn and the Impossible Three by Ann M. Martin and Gale Galligan
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Babysitter's Club, Adaptation | Honestly... I don't remember this book at all lol Dawn was never my favorite club member and I don't even remember very many meaningful plot points with her since this book.

    Karen's Worst Day by Ann M. Martin and Katy Farina
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Children's Literature, Baby-sitter's Little Sister, Adaptation | The plot has that similar vibe of Alexander and the Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. It has a good lesson about what to do when a bunch of little things happen that are frustrating enough to deal with individually all happen at once. The GoodReads reviews all claim that Karen is a whiny brat in this book, but I think there are plenty of adults who still throw temper tantrums when they have off-days like this (I know I have) and how to channel those bad feelings is good for kids to learn early on!

    The Witch Boy Series by Molly Knox Ostertag
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Magic, Big Families, Gender | I read all three books in this series in 2021 and loved them all. The story follows a family whose magic is divided into traditional gender roles where the girls learn magic and the boys learn how to shapeshift. Except the protagonist, Aster, is much more interested in learning magic than shapeshifting. It leads him onto a journey of intergenerational trauma and self-acceptance that extends beyond his own blood-family into the found family he meets as the series continues.

    Heartwood Hotel: A True Home and The Greatest Gift
    Tags: Children's Literature, Chapter Book, Cute Animals | The first two installments to this series are very sweet (have yet to get a copy of the third!) and just the sort of story I would have adored as a kid. Mona is an orphaned mouse who, over the coruse of the first book, finds a home at Heartwood Hotel. In the second one, she racks her brain to figure out how to give back to all of the people who have generously provided for her. These books are very cozy reads, though they do rely on a trope I'm not fond of where all the prey animals are civilized, kind, and good and all the predators are evil lol

    Claudia and Mean Janine by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgmeier
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Babysitter's Club, Adaptation | I don't really remember this one very well either. Pretty straight-forward story about the clash between two siblings: the creative and the academic. This bond becomes more strained when their grandmother, Mimi gets hurt and the two squabble over who loves and cares for her more. At least that's what I recall. It's not a bad story by any means, but I'm not super fond of the art style... especially when Claudia and her family are at center stage. I just feel like the WOC who have taken the healm of this adaptation have drawn the characters of color much better.

    Kristie's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgmeier
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Babysitter's Club, Adaptation | I'm not sure if I genuinely read these out of order or if I logged them funny on GoodReads lol This is the first book in the graphic novel reboot. It's a great introduction to the characters and my first time actually reading this series in any form! I dislike how all of the main characters have very similar body types and skintones. It really stands out on the cover.

    The Truth About Stacey by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgmeier
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Babysitter's Club, Adaptation | I just find the plotline kind of baffling tbh! Why would it be a big deal that she has diabetes?? I'm not sure if this is one of those... I don't click with the wealthy girl from the big city storylines... or if it's that this plot from a book written in the 80s just isn't translating for me in the 00s and beyond.

    Mary Ann Saves the Day by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgmeier
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Babysitter's Club, Adaptation | Even though the art isn't my favorite, I'm such a sucker for Mary-Anne. She's my favorite of the babysitters, especially in the Netflix show, and all of the plotlines in this one do it for me from small rebellions against her over-protective father to fighting with her close friends.

    On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, LGBTQIA, Science Fiction, Found Family | My introduction to Tillie Walden was her memoir Spinning, which, while beautifully illustrated, didn't connect with me. This print of her webcomic, however? Perfection. The narrative is constructed from moments from the past and present interspliced together. There are whole sections that are much lighter on dialogue, allowing you to immerse yourself in this post-apocalyptic space world populated exclusively by women and nonbinary people (at least form what we experience in the story!) It's one of those books that I would love to teach one day.

    The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask by Akira Himekawa
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Video Games, Legend of Zelda, Adaptation | This is a cute little adaptation of one of my favorite Zelda games. The artstyle is pretty adorable and I thought it would be way more distracting to have Link speak, but it was fine. None of the dialogue felt forced or awkward. The ending is very cute, too! It makes me miss the world of this game in a good way.

    Witchlight by Jessi Zabrasky
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Magic, BIPOC, LGBTQIA | Cool artwork, sword lesbians, magic, fantastic worldbuilding, but some character development choices (including those early on) that were a touch frustrating. I felt like I wanted to like this book even more than I did, but it's been a little too long for me to recall with precision what that might have been. I at least enjoyed it enough to borrow it from the library again one day to refresh my memory. If I follow through with that, I'll update this post!

    Karen's Roller Skates by Ann M. Martin and Katy Farina
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Children's Literature, Baby-sitter's Little Sister, Adaptation | The lesson of the day is not to tell tall tales as Karen's exagerrations about how she injured her arm grow bolder and wilder with each time she tells the story. It's a simple plot, but the resolution is satisfying and I'm glad to see a story that encourages kids to not be afraid of going to the doctor even for more serious reasons.

    We Do This Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba
    Tags: Non-Fiction, Transformative Justice, Activism, Essays | Honestly, this is a must read that has fundamentally changed my understanding about activism, especially with respect to the Prison Industrial Complex though the vision of this book extends to all social systems. It's also a quick and accessible read since the majority of entries are interviews and short essays. If you want to get a sense for Kaba's philosophy and style, you can read some of her pieces for free online.I recommend starting with "So You're Thinking About Becoming an Abolitionist".

    Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
    Tags: Short Story Collection, Horror, Psychological, Magical Realism, Graphic Sex, Eating Disorder, Body Horror, Rape/Sexual Assault | When I assigned this book to my students for a Women Writers class, I hadn't read any of Machado's work before. Hoo-boy was I in for a treat haha And after a heap of content warnings, my students were SO into it and elected it the favorite of the semester. The only reason why I knocked a star back is that there are a couple of stories that don't do it for me, such as "Especially Heinous" (also the longest entry in the collection) and "Eight Bites." The highlights for me are "The Husband Stitch" (a great spin on the Green/Black/Velvet Ribbon), "Inventory" (timely to read this during a pandemic) and "The Resident" (which has so many eerily similarities to Haunting of Hill House by sheer coincidence.) I'm constantly recommending stories from this collection to other people.

    Freshwater by Awkaeke Emezi
    Tags: Fiction, Igbo Religion, Label-Defying, Self-Harm, Rape, Suicide Attempt, Eating Disorder, Sexual Asault, Child Abuse | This is a very challenging book to read in both its construction (shifting from plural to singular narrators across various periods in the central character's life) and its content (see tags.) That said, I was enraptured from the first page. Emezi is not writing for the ease of their reader and defies us from pathologizing or squirming away from what the narrative requires you to accept at face value: Ada is an ogbanje who is connected to the other brother-sisters and when she experiences a traumatic event in college, one of the other ogbanje takes control of the fleshy vessel that contains them all. Resisting this literal reading, trying to recontextualize this as a disassociative disorder or as a metaphor for trauma/trans experience removes us from the spiritual and cultural premise of the story. It's very fascinating and another one that I enjoyed teaching even though my students had a difficult time with it.

    The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, LGBTQIA, Light Fantasy, Romance, Coming Out | A delightful about a closeted queer girl, Morgan, who reunites with a childhood crush - an unusual girl who happens to be a Selkie. This is a refreshing coming out story because Morgan isn't exactly worried that her family or close friends are bigoted and will reject a queer person in their close circle. At its core, she's afraid of change and of people looking at her and treating her differently as a result of confiding this secret. Keltie's reappearance pushes Morgan to grapple with what she wants to bury deep, especially since the girl from the sea wholly embraces who she is so much more freely. The imagery is fantastic in this story, the characters wonderfully realized, and the author is so dang good at establishing a clear sense of setting.

    Karen's Witch by Ann M. Martin and Katy Farina
    Tags:Tags: Graphic Novel, Children's Literature, Baby-sitter's Little Sister, Adaptation | The first of the little sister series opens with a great start. Karen is convinced that her dad's neighbor is a witch and she's determined to prove it with the assistance of her friend, Hanni. I'e skimmed through reviews of this on GoodReads and I'm baffled by how many adult readers have terrible things to say about Karen. Is she a bit of a bossy brat? Yes. She's also a literal child lol And it's not like Kristy hasn't had her moments where she needs to step back, reflect on her bad behavior, and fix things with those she's wronged. It's important for kids to read about other kids who make mistakes, even pretty bad ones, and for things to still turn out okay as long as they make an earnest effort to set things right. Saying that Karen's behavior is what led to 'literal wars against real witches' is absurd lol

    Fruits Basket Another by Natsuki Takaya
    Tags: Manga, Slice of Life, Intergenerational Trauma | My main complaint is that I wish there was more! It's a lot of fun getting to see the next generation of the Sohma kids even if it requires a certain suspension of disbelief regarding how many of them remained with their childhood sweethearts following the concluson to the main series. Another element that I enjoyed was how different th personalities of Mutsuki and Hajime are compared to their respective dads lol There's a certain catharsis to it since it feels like they behave how their dads might have had they not been subjected to so much trauma by their own parents. [Note: I still need to read the fourth volume and will bump this to my 2022 reading list when I do!]

    Super Late Bloomer by Julia Kaye
    Tags: Graphic Novel, Comic Strips, Memoir, Diary Comics, Transgender | I've been following Julia Kaye's work online for years now and finally picked up one of her books last year when I was considering assigning it for a class. It's a quick and simple read that documents the first year or so in Kaye's transition spanning the messy and embarassing parts as well as the euphoric and hopeful ones.

    Peach Girl by Miwa Ueda
    Tags: Manga, Slice of Life, Romance, Love Triangle, Drama, Miscommunication | There's a lot in this manga that is pretty outdated, overdramatic, and headshakingly stupid. But I loved reading it haha I can't help it! Even though it features the dreaded forced love triangle as a result of a misunderstanding, this time due to the manipulations of Saw (who is made increasingly more crazed in order to make Momo look all the better), I was really invested in where the story might go! Btw, I'm 100% team Ryo. Sorry Toji fans.

    Our Dreams at Dusk by Yunki Kamatani
    Tags: Manga, Magical Realism, Slice of Life, LGBTQIA, Suicidal Ideation, Homophobia and Transphobia | Wow. This manga is breathtakingly beautiful and heartwrenching. The last queerish manga I truly loved was Wandering Son, but it makes such a difference to read a story written by a nonbinary person. Tasuku struggles with putting a name to his sexuality, especially following a near suicide attempt. But when he finds purpose and people, he begins to wonder whether he can hope for some kind of future for himself. It's a great story about found family, queer community, and the growing pains of high school.

    The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente
    Tags: Young Adult, Fantasy, Pastiche, ReRead | Valente's fairyland series means a lot to me personally. It had been a while since I read the second book despite reading the first one many, many times by now. It's such a good follow-up examining the shadow world and the duality contained within the people we know. September is such a compelling heroine and she grows even more in this book now that she has already her heart. One day, I'm planning to do a write a much longer essay examining the series holistically, but know that I love them dearly!

    Steven Universe: End of an Era by Chris McDonell, Rebecca Sugar, N.K. Jemisin
    Tags: Art Book, Cartoons, LGBTQIA | This isn't a literary book, but I wanted to include it anyway because there is a significant enough amount of writing. If you like Steven Universe, this is a great book to check out since there are so many tidbits about the development of this series from the very beginning. It's amazing to me how much was planned out in advance and it makes me want to write my own stories.

    The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth
    Tags: Young Adult, Romance, LGBTQIA, Miscommunication | It's been well over a year since I read this book and I don't really remember much about it. Clearly, it was compelling enough that I finished reading it. The Meet Cute moment between the two main characters was fun enough, but I think the drama that surfaces between the two of them kind of threw a wrench in my reading experience. I know it's realistic that high schoolers will stop talking to each other over miscommunications (this happened often enough to me personally), but it's not a very satisfying conflict point for me.