Under the Whispering Door

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Patricia was crying.”
Support your local independent bookstore: Buy it there!
Content: There is some mild swearing and talk of death. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Wallace is a partner in his own law firm, successful, powerful, demanding. He is not well-liked, but that doesn’t bother him. He is determined to milk the most out of his employees and works twice as hard as he demands they do. And yet, one weekend, he finds himself strangely outside his body. That’s odd, but what is even odder is when he finds himself at his own funeral, and the only person who can see him is a woman who calls herself his Reaper. That sets Wallace on a very interesting path as he lands at Charon’s Crossing Tea and Pastries with Mei, the Reapers, and Hugo, the ferryman. Wallace sets about trying to figure out his (after)life, and learning how to live and love better than he did when he was alive.

Oh, my heart. I picked this one up when it came out in October and I have been just waiting to have a chance to sit and savor it. And it was just as wonderful — heartfelt, funny, poignant, bittersweet — as I was hoping it would be. Seriously: if you haven’t given Klune’s books a try, do. His storytelling is incredibly affirming, and you can’t help but be happier having read them. I loved his vision of the Afterlife, of what it means to come to grips with your life and death, and just the overall love and care he put into this story.

I will most definitely be reading everything he writes from here on out.

The Heartbreak Bakery

by A. R. Capetta
First sentence: “The splintered crack of my egg of the counter sounds like an ending.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of sex, and a couple of f-bombs with some mild swearing It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

This book hits all my buttons: it’s a book about food and baking — Syd our main character, loves to bake as self-expression; it’s a book about Austin (which I really do love to visit); it’s a book about friendships and finding love; it’s a book that truly embraces the entire rainbow of LGBTQIAP+ life and culture.

The plot is simple: Syd goes through a bad breakup, and bakes heartbreak into brownies, which get sold at the bakery, and which cause everyone who eats them to break up. Syd, feeling guilty and miserable — the owners of the Proud Muffin bakery where Syd works are one of the couples — sets about with Harley, the delivery person at the bakery, setting things right. There are lessons Learned and Love along the way, along with a smattering of magical baked goods.

Syd doesn’t have pronouns, and identifies as agender, which to be honest, has made writing this really difficult. One doesn’t consider how much pronouns are a part of life until one tries to write a review not using them.

But the book is still cute and light and frothy, following the paces of a foody romance, with an LGBT+ spin. I did like that this one felt Queer in incredibly inclusive ways (I think the only cis/het characters were Syd’s parents); I felt like (as an outsider) that the whole rainbow was represented. As a baker, I love the idea of magical baking, and some of the recipes Capetta includes sound amazing.

I don’t think tis is going to be my favorite book this year, but I am so happy that a book like this exists in the world.

Bingo Love Volume 1: Jackpot Edition

by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some mention of sex. It’s in the Graphic Novel section in the bookstore.

It’s the 1960s, and Hazel has met and fallen in love with (over the course of four years) Mari. The problem, it’s the 1960s, and being a Black lesbian isn’t the most accepted thing. So Mari and Hazel break up, go their separate ways. And marry men, have children and grandchildren. But 50 years later, when Mari shows up back in Hazel’s life, they both realize that being true to who they really are is the choice they need to make. They get divorced from their husbands — their families aren’t terribly happy about that — and end up marrying each other, living out their days together.

I really appreciated a positive portrayal of Black lesbians. I appreciated the historical aspect of this: LGBTQ+ people have never had an easy time being out in public, and this was especially true in the past. I appreciated the positive portrayal of someone who was overweight her weight was never an issue, and it was something that contributed to making her beautiful.

I just didn’t particularly like the story. Perhaps it’s because I’m cis/het, but the whole story fell kind of flat for me. Let’s just say I wanted to like thi one more than I actually did.

Cinderella is Dead

by Kalynn Bayron
First sentence: “Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years.”
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Content: There are illusions to domestic abuse. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In the kingdom of Lille, the story of Cinderella is not just a fairy tale, it’s fact. It’s the book by which every young woman is to live their life. Serve their family. Prepare for the ball, which happens every fall, where they are to be Chosen by one of the eligible men in the kingdom, and then live out their lives happily ever after. There are problems with this, of course: there are rules — curfews, limits on autonomy — that work to keep women and girls in line. Our main character, Sophia, isn’t interested in being chosen — she’s in love with another girl, which is strictly forbidden — and doesn’t want any part of the ball. Unfortunately, that’s not allowed. But, at the ball, she can’t take any more, so she runs off — which is a crime. She hides out in the woods, finds Cinderella’s mausoleum, and meets one of Cinderella’s only living descendants, and discovers the story that everyone in Lille is told is actually built upon a lie.

On the one hand, I’m always down for a new telling of a fairy tale. I adore retellings, and this one does have a unique spin. I liked that Sophia, in the end, was able to begin to fix the country — with help of course — and find her own version of happiness. What didn’t sit right with me was the way she got there. I didn’t like that all the men (except for the gay one) were complete assholes on one level or another. I get that you’re drilling down the misogynistic rules, but “not all men”? It sounds bad saying that, but that’s what I felt reading it. I also felt like Bayron felt she needed to have Sophia be gay because to have her in a hetero relationship would be Bad for the Message. (I just didn’t feel like this book was Queer in the way books written by LGBTQ+ authors are.) It’s not a bad book, but in the end, I didn’t love it.

Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World

by Benjamin Alire Saenz
First sentence: “And here he was, Dante, with his head resting on my chest.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There is much swearing, including many f-bombs, teenage drinking, and some tasteful sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Ah, Aristotle and Dante. I remember liking the first book when it came out, but not loving it. I’ve read Saenz’s stuff since then (like one other book?) And I have respect for his observations on life and living. This is no different.

Picking up where the first book left off, Aristotle and Dante are together, but because it’s 1987, they are not telling many people. Their parents, of course, but really that’s it. See, it’s dangerous to be gay in El Paso in 187. Dante got beat up, as do other characters for being too flamboyant, not “manly” enough. But Ari and Dante learn how to be together, Ari learns how to have friends and be a part of the group, they grw up and graduate, suffer loss, and basically Live.

It’s a beautiful book, full of Love of all kinds, full of Life and Heart. It’s gorgeously written; Saenz knows how to put words that Mean Something on a page. It’s probably a bit long, and the Tragic Event the back cover copy alludes to takes place nearly 2/3 of the way through. But, those re minor complaints. Saenz is a gorgeous writer and this is a gorgeous book.

Hooky

by Miriam Bonastre Tur
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some bullying, and a few intense moments. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I picked this up because it looked cute (“ooh! Witches!”). K saw it when I cam e home and delcared that she loved Hooky and had been following it on Webtoons for ages. So, of course I had to read it.

The basic story is witch twins Dani and Dorian missed the bus to their witch school, and so have to fin alternative schooling for the year because they don’t want their (somewhat powerful) parents to find out they’re not at school. There are adventures involving a missing prince, a princess who is determined to rescue said prince, a soothsayer who has determined that one of the twins was going to be the next witch king, a witches gathering… and many opportunities for growth and figuring out oneself. That makes it sound pretty mundane, but it wasn’t. I adored this – it’s fun, it’s cute, it’s got intense moments, and you definitely get attache to the characters. I’m a little bit disappointed it’s not a single story – the book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m just glad I didn’t have to wait between segments!

It’s a cute fun graphic novel. I cant’ wait to read the rest of the story!

Black Boy Joy

edited y Kwame Mbalia
First sentence: “Homegoing.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: there is some slight romance. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but my teacher considered it a YA novel, so it’ss good for all ages?.

Here are the things I liked about this book:

It’s super diverse, even though all the authors are black men. There are science fiction stories, poems, art, contemporary stories, and ones based in mythology. They have protagonists that are non-binary, interested in sports, and interested in music and art.

It focuses on joy and celebration, even when it touches on hard things like funerals.

It’s a delight to read.

Not all the stories are equal, but that’s to be expected in a short story collection. And sometimes the joy felt unearned, but that’s because we weren’t given enough time with the characters. (Another fault of short stories.)

Even with the faults, it’s an excellent collection. Highly recommended.

Heartstopper Vol 2 and 3

by Alice Oseman
Support your local independent bookstore buy it there! (volume 2, volume 3)
Others in the series: Volume 1
Content: There is a lot of swearing and talk of sex but none actual. It’s in the Graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Oh my heart.

I am totally on team Nick and Charlie. Their romance is the cutest, sweetest thing ever.

In volume 2, Charlie and Nick officially get together, but Nick — who has realized that he’s bi — isn’t quite ready to go public with it yet. That is quite all right with Charlie, because he was bullied last year when he was accidentally outed, and doesn’t want the same for Nick.

It’s super cute, full of clandestine kisses and Nick and Charlie slowly telling everyone that they’re together.

Volume 3 is a summer trip to Paris, learning about Nick’s family, and finally being comforanble being out together. Oh, and Charlie may have an eating disorder.

It was absolutely delightful to read these, even with the high school angst and the bullies and the homophobic families. Nick and Charlie have a fantastic relationship, and I am here for it.

Bring on Volume 4!

Flash Fire

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “‘Nicky, yes,‘ Seth Gray groaned, and Nick had never been prouder of himself in his entire life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Extraordinaries
Content: There is a lot of talk about sex (a lot!) and being horny, but no actual. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8), but might be uncomfortable for some in that age group.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

Picking up a few months after The Extraordinaries left off, Seth and Nick are in a happy, healthy relationship. Seth has embraced his role as Pyro Storm, and Nick is trying to figure out how to control his powers. Things are looking good, and it feels like the only major decision they will have to make is what to wear to Prom.

But, of course, things are not meant to be easy for our heroes. There are some new extraordinaries in town, some of which may be good, but others… not so much. And, of course, Nick and Seth and Gibby and Jazz are going to have to deal with things that are way out of their league.

I think Klune is my new favorite writer! there is something about his writing and his storytelling that just makes me smile. It deals with serious issues — there are bis in here about police brutality as well as being open to admitting, owning, and rectifying one’s mistakes. I love that there are supportive adults in the book, that the kids are allowed to (mostly) be kids. It’s a joy to read and laugh with. It helps that Klune is brilliant at writing all sorts of relationships, as well as action scenes (important in a superhero book!).

I am definitely glad I picked up his books this year. I can’t wait for the next one!


Heartstopper Volume 1

by Alice Oseman
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some bullying and a scene of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I had seen this around the bookstore, and picked it up on a whim when we were in Chicago earlier this summer, with no idea what to expect. Turns out, it’s a very sweet love story between two boys – Nick, grade 10, and an out gay kid at the school; and Charlie, grade 11, a rugby player, who is not entirely sure about his orientation (is he gay? is he bi?) but knows that he really likes spending time with Nick.

There isn’t much story-wise: Nick has been having a secret romance with another kid, Ben, who is pretty toxic. He develops a friendship with Charlie when they are placed next to each other in class, and the friendship develops into a crush, but he thinks Charlie is straight. Charlie becomes a really good friend to Nick, but is struggling: he likes Nick as more than friend, but has always assumed he was straight. What did all that mean?

I really enjoyed this graphic novel! I liked that Oseman highlighted that boys can be on the receiving end of sexual assault, I liked Charlie’s open questioning (rather than shutting everything down), I liked Nick and Charlie as characters. The art isn’t super sophisticated, but it gets the job done, and doesn’t detract from the story.

It’s the first of at least a trilogy, and I will definitely be checking those out.