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Friends, here we are again, at the end of another exhausting year.  We made it! I never lost my reading momentum this year and I’m truly grateful.  In fact, I think reading constantly has been the key to my mental and emotional stability this year (such as it was, which is to say, not great).  I’m definitely a mood reader and this year for the first time I didn’t fight my moods, which were, understandably, somewhat volatile and tumultuous. I didn’t make myself read things I thought I “should.”  Instead, I went where my moods* took me.

I dove into mostly fantasy fiction this year,** immersing myself in stories that are DEFINITELY not real (escapism really works, friends!). On the other hand, I also took deeper look at individual, true-life stories, told in folks’ own voices.  My love for memoirs really snuck up on me, and those listed here are just a handful of my favorites among a large list of wonderful ones. Because when the world feels hostile and uncaring, apparently I yearn for empathy both in myself and in others.  Sharing in the pain and joy of others reminded me of the humanity in all of us (a spoonful of humanity makes the despair go down).

Another habit I’ve honed this past couple of years is not finishing books I’m not liking. As a result, I really loved almost everything I read (my average rating is 4.0+), so making this list was hard.  That’s why there are more honorable mentions then there are favorites. Here’s to another year of moodiness!

Essays: My newfound love for essays has also surprised me this year.  Essays are the perfect format to throw into a mix if you (like me) read more than one book at once.  They are easy to pick up and put down.  My hands-down favorite this year was Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno, which I’ve already talked about in another post.  Her writing is beautiful and her exploration of gender, sexuality and identity is eye-opening. [Trigger warning for SA]

Honorable mention #1: Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough.  Lauren grew up in an honest-to-goodness cult.  Her essays walk us through her cult years growing up and her Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell years in the military, and what she did with herself after being “asked” to leave the military.  She’s also a great person to follow on Twitter.  [Trigger warning for SA]

Honorable mention #2:  Here for It by R. Eric Thomas is hilarious and engaging.  His story about his school newspaper article that got him labeled a ‘typical racist white dude’ is unforgettable. His Twitter feed is worth a follow too. 

Nonfiction:  The costs of structural racism in our country are often unseen but white citizens. We seem to think that either they aren’t there or, if we are being honest and know that they are, we have a sneaking suspicion that they are not our costs to pay (spoiler: they are). In The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee, an expert in economics and policy, shows readers how these costs (in housing, healthcare, voting, lending, the job market) hurt us all. And how helping the most vulnerable helps us all.

Honorable mention #1:  This Book Will Make You Kinder by Henry James Garret is a book about empathy and all the obstacles we put in our own way to keep us from being kinder, more empathetic people.  It’s filled with silly (and educational!) drawings but don’t be fooled, this book is for real.

Honorable mention #2
Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male Power by Ijeoma Oluo.  At perhaps no better time than now, in the middle of a botched pandemic response, do we need to examine our cultural need to follow the leadership and authority of folks who are clearly not up to the task.  This book examines the historical context of why we arrived here and what we need to do to change it. 

Memoir (LGBTQ+): It only took a few pages before I fell in love with Ivan Coyote, author of Tomboy Survival Guide.  This is a memoir told as a series of stories of his Canadian upbringing and transition into his true authentic self.  This year I really leaned into stories of identity, specifically gender identity and sexual orientation and this is one of the best I read.  Turns out I’m easily swayed to read anything with Tomboy in the title, and this one didn’t disappoint.  In fact, it sets the bar high for all other tomboy books.

Honorable mention #1:  The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood by Krys Malcolm Belc is the emotional and engaging memoir of a trans man who transitioned during his pregnancy for his second child (and first pregnancy).  We follow Kris as he journeys through parenthood and pregnancy with all the unique emotional and logistical challenges that such a pregnancy presented. 

Honorable mention #2:  Stuck in the Middle with You by Jennifer Finney Boylan.  I was introduced to Jennifer Finney Boylan when I read her book Good Boy, about being raised as a boy with his childhood dogs.  Her writing is beautiful and so relatable.  This memoir includes not only the story of Jennifer’s experiences as a parent in more than one gender (she had her children before she transitioned), but also interviews with other parents regarding gender and identity. 

Memoir: If you think that I got a lot of my book recommendations from folks I follow on Twitter you would be correct.  Ashley C. Ford is a gorgeous writer, plain and simple.  I will read anything she writes.  In Somebody’s Daughter she explores shares her deepest self with us and in doing so shows us how we can approach family, love and loyalty while still being true to ourselves.  [Trigger warning for SA]

Honorable mention:  I automatically buy any book that Jenny Lawson writes.  Her previous books have delved into mental health issues in Jenny’s hilarious, chaotic and inimitable way.  Broken follows in this tradition of the author sharing her truest, weirdest, most ridiculous and funniest self.  It’s a book that made me cry but also laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe.

Antiracist: Clint Smith, the author of How The Word Is Passed is a literal poet.  And this fact shines through every sentence of this powerful book.  He takes us on a journey around the country, exploring parts of the U.S. with ties to racism:  Monticello Plantation, Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery and Galveston Island.  His descriptions are so powerful that the reader can see what he sees, which adds an additional emotional impact to the stories of our horrific past.

Honorable mention #1:  Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson is a gut-punch of a book.  Every beautiful, brutally true sentence requires your full mental attention and emotional investment.  Each chapter is addressed to a soul tragically lost to unnecessary and yet all too common violence against Black bodies:  Elijah McClain, Emmett Till, Eric Gardner, Breonna Taylor and others.  It should be read slowly, carefully, and unflinchingly. 

Honorable mention #2 & #3:  The most basic thing we white folks need to do to educate ourselves about racism is to listen to BIPOC voices.  Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho and The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Joseph, Frederick are two wonderful gifts from the Black community to us white folks – these are books explicitly written for us so that we can hear the things we need to hear.  I recommend both of these books for those just starting their antiracist journeys or for kids.  Uncomfortable Conversations even has a specific young readers version (which I got both my kids!)

Middle Grade: I read Verdigris Pawn by Alysa Wishingrad in less than a day.  I could not put it down.  It’s a delightful middle grade fantasy with characters you really root for.  It has some magic and also some mystery and just enough stakes to have you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next. 

Honorable mention #1 (&2):  I stayed up until 2am reading Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter.  It’s a story about orphans and mysteries and dark cloaked figures who are up to no good.  There is murder and intrigue and danger at every turn. There is a group of scrappy kids who are not to be trifled with. When I was done, I went out to buy the sequel. Winterborne Home for Mayhem and Mystery proved just as engaging (requiring another late night).  My kid, my mother and I all loved this series, so it’s good for all ages)

Horror:  Chuck Wendig has no right (as the kids say) to go this hard, not after what he did to us in WanderersThe Book of Accidents is, in many ways, a straightforward horror book.  There is a serial killer, plenty of gore, and some scary-as-shit, unexplained phenomenon.  But there are also portals and magic and demons.  I don’t know how he keeps all these threads together, but he does.  This book defies boundaries and genres.  And it’s so damn good. 

Honorable mention #1:  Dark Waters by Katherine Arden is the third in her Small Spaces Quartet.  This one is set in Spring (the previous two were in Fall and Winter).  The author does “horror for kids” as well as my perennial favorite, Neil Gaiman.  Because it’s middle grade, I always believe the kids will be alright, but there are just enough stakes to make me question this every once in a while.  As an adult, I find these books scary in that atmospheric way that is thrilling.  She’s a great storyteller.

NOTE: I started using The StoryGraph this year instead of GoodReads and consider this an unofficial plug to try this site out. It gives you great end of the year stats (see below for my Moods* and Fiction/NonFiction**)

In the summer of 2019, I read Wanderers (an amazing book) when it was still fiction.  In it, Chuck Wendig weaves a sprawling story filled with plagues and politics that was eerily prescient for the events that would hit us in 2020.  Thankfully, I was able to enjoy this book from the safety of precedented times. I’m never sure I can responsibility recommend it during The Unprecedence.

But maybe I still can. Since the pandemic began, many folks have flocked to apocalypse and plague fiction.  Some surely sought it out for solace (the fictional folks have it worse than us, right?  RIGHT?).  Others sought it out for the pain, much like when we push on a bruise to see if it still hurts.  Perhaps still others searched for answers in the fiction; maybe there are some helpful hints to be mined to help survive the reality we’re living in. There are likely many reasons I can’t even fathom because fear and trauma makes us humans unpredictable.

Whatever the reason(s), these stories have continued to be very popular, in a time when it feels like we’re living through our own version of the Apocalypse.  For those looking for stories of the END of things, for stories of the After-times, for stories of humans fucking everything up, comics offer us many Apocalypses to explore (not even including the actual Marvel character of Apocalypse. If you are looking for him, the X-men comics are the place to go).  Here are some of my recent favorites:

Marvel’s Dark Ages is a new limited series about what happens when the Marvel Universe is unmade.   There is an enemy buried with the earth.  An enemy that that the Avengers, the X-men, and every other superhero known on Earth cannot defeat. Not Thor, not Iron Man, not Dr. Strange, not even Wanda. The heroes have incredibly and thoroughly lost.  And as a result, the Earth is left dark.  What now? I adored the first issue of this comic and can’t wait to see where it goes.

What happens if fictional superheroes and villains come to life and battle it out in the real world?  In Cross Over, what happens is total destruction.  That is, until a superhero creates a dome over the city of Denver, Colorado.  Anyone outside or inside are trapped.  The dome keeps people out and supers in.  Or does it?  This comic is extremely meta and very funny.

Eve grew up in a virtual reality simulation, unaware that she was really trapped in a pod until it was her turn to save the world.  When it finally is her time, she wakes up to a planet of zombies and a flooded landscape.  Alone except for her robot protector (disguised as a teddy bear) she must find the clues to save the world and the few remaining people left. This comic keeps you guessing and has a lot of important (timely) messages about environmental issues.

In Bubble, based on the podcast of the same name, Earth overrun with aliens.  Humans live in Fairhaven, a bubble set up to keep them isolated from the monsters.  But the monsters still get in, with concerning (and surprising) regularity.  So monster-hunters are in high demand.  Kids who grew up outside the bubble are enlisted to use their hard-earned survival skills to help the community.  They sign up for an Uber-esque social media app.  Hilariously funny and a great social commentary about social media, capitalism and government corruption.

In We Live the Earth is overrun by a group of genetically-modified, psychedelically-colored animals.  Humans can’t survive anymore and their extinction is a matter of time.   A select group of children are given a bracelet that allows them access to the ships escaping the Earth.  But they need to make it safely to the extraction point.  Tala needs to get her brother Hototo there no matter what (and there is a lot of What to be dealt with).  The art is this comic is beautiful, vibrant, and creepy. 

In Skyward the Earth has lost a significant portion of its gravity.  The rich have figured out ways around this using their money and their power, while the poor must squeak by as best they can.  There is a real danger of flying off into the atmosphere, but Willa doesn’t care.  She’s fearless and reckless and fierce.  She has never really known gravity.  But then she stumbles upon some inconvenient truths about how the low-gravity happened and how it (maybe?) can be fixed.  So she has to leave her home and survive obstacles (like giant bugs) to find the truth.   Giant bugs. I’m not sure what else I need to say.

Like in many other dystopian stories, in Origins humans have created their own extinction; human technology evolved into a tech-virus that kills or corrupts all living beings and replaces them with a networked AI.  It’s been 1,000 years and the only survivors are androids and one human – David.  But who is he and why is he the only one left? Even he doesn’t know, but he needs to find out before the AI finds him.  The art in this comic is as unnerving as the story. 

The Unfortunates were born without any luck into a world of chaos created by the powers of Good Luck and Bad Luck.  In their world Luck is a resource that can be measured and hoarded and distributed.  But the Unfortunates never have any Luck. These five kids have been training for years so that they can be unleashed directly into the chaos to restore everything to normal.  Except without luck, there is quantifiably no chance they will succeed.  But they try anyway. After having read issue #3, I’m still not sure I know what’s going on, but I’m invested. Artie and his Unfortunate friends are the ultimate underdogs. They literally can’t win.

What to do if the entire MULTIVERSE is at stake? Well, in Commanders in Crisis, you steal the best of the best from other multiverses to help. Until they figure out that something weird is afoot and they stop helping. And what if Empathy itself is murdered, what then? This comic will make your head spin a bit, but in a good way.  Like a glass to many of champagne. It’s silly, it’s raunchy, it’s sexy it’s snarky. Thoroughly enjoyable.

For those of us who are crowd-averse introverts, or those of us still lurking on the sidelines because of the pandemic, Pride may look a little quieter this year. And that’s ok, there are still many ways to celebrate besides parades and parties. In my experience, the best way to be with people without actually being with people is definitely to indulge in some really good books. So whether you are a proud member of the community or a supportive ally, here is a list of 30 LGBTQIA+ books to celebrate Pride Month.

Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Joyride (volumes 1-3) by Jackson Lanzing (teen)
  • Valor (volumes 1&2) by Fairylogue Press (teen)
  • Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer (teen)
  • Paper Girls (volumes 1-6) by Brian K. Vaughan (teen)
  • Fence (volumes 1-3) by C.S. Pacat (teen)
  • Always Human by Ari North (teen)
  • Isola (volumes 1&2) by Brenden Fletcher (*adult*)
  • Commanders in Crisis (volume 1) by Steve Orlando (*adult*)
  • Heathen (volumes 1-3) by Natasha Alterici (*adult*)

Memoirs and Essays

  • Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough
  • One Life by Megan Rapinoe
  • We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
  • Here For It by R. Eric Thomas
  • Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno

Young Adult Fiction

  • Cemetery boys by Aiden Thomas
  • Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe (series) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  • Call Down The Hawk (series) by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
  • Every Heart a Doorway Every Heart A Doorway (series) by Seanan McGuire
  • Shades of Magic (series) by V.E. Scwab

Adult Fiction

  • Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Sleeper And The Spindle by Neil Gaiman
  • The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry by C. M. Waggoner
  • This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
  • The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey

Middle Grade Fiction

  • The Tea Dragon Society (series) by K. O’Neill
  • Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo
  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
  • Princess Princess Ever After by K. O’Neill

This week, Arkansas became the first state in the U.S. to ban trans-affirming healthcare for transgender youth.  This bill, not yet signed into law, succeeded in the state legislature despite the Endocrine Society, Child Mind Institute, and the American Psychological Association all supporting affirming care for transgender youth.  Even worse, it appears that 2021 is shaping up to an aggressively anti-trans year; 28 states have anti-trans bills on their legislative agendas. 

But the fact is that the need for social acceptance and affirming healthcare is vital to the continued mental and physical health of all transgender folks, young and old alike.  Current statistics on transgender youth are particularly devastating.

(Source:  The Trevor Project

Which makes International Transgender Day of Visibility (3/31) this year more important than ever.  Lost in the all the anti-trans rhetoric and policy are the stories of actual trans people, people who are harmed most directly by these bigoted and harmful policies. It is their lives at stake but we aren’t able to hear their stories because representation of trans people (both real and fictional) is not yet commonplace in media. And support for trans creators is still sorely lacking. 

Reading, to me, has always been the easiest way to to learn about people who are different than I am. Stories, both real and fiction, are the easiest place to learn about someone else’s life – to follow along with their sorrows and triumphs, their success and their challenges. By diversifying our bookshelves and expanding our worldview to include trans experiences, we can cultivate much-needed empathy to help us combat the bigotry and discrimination that we are seeing (and have been seeing) play out in our politics.  Empathy and acceptance start with awareness and understanding. There is no better way to understand someone than to read their story. So here are some of my favorite books about trans people and by trans people.

Graphic Novels

One place where trans characters seem to abound, especially for younger readers, is graphic novels set in fantasy settings.  Books like The Witch Boy series by Molly Ostertag deal with themes of identity and acceptance and can be read as allegories for transness.  But many others have explicit trans themes and characters.  The themes of love and self-discovery, identity and acceptance run throughout all of the books listed below. They are a great way to introduce younger readers (and their parents!) to trans characters.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh is the story of a (gender non-conforming) girl named Snapdragon and her best friend Lu, a transgender girl. Snap’s other best friend is Jacks, the local witch, who teaches her magic.  Every character in this book is quirky, authentic and endearing.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, Wendy Xu (Illustrator) follows the story of Nova, a teenage witch, and her best friend (and childhood crush) Tam, a nonbinary werewolf.  Together they fight evil magic.  This story and its heroes are enchanting (pun intended). 

Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter (Illustrator)  Ash and his new friends from the Pride Club at school jokingly use a spell from Ash’s mom’s “imaginary” spellbook to travel to a land where only girls are allowed.   Except that it’s not imaginary and they actually end up in the magical land of Koretris.  They all do, including Ash, and he doesn’t know how that’s possible.  Because he’s a boy.  Or is he?

Lumberjanes Series by Lilah Sturges and polterink (Illustrator) This series of original graphic novels follows the characters from the Lumberjanes comics on crazy magical adventures at summer camp.  The gang includes Jo, a transgender girl and Barney, a nonbinary camper who joins the team from the boy’s camp.

Other Graphic Novels for younger readers include Witchy by Ariel Slamet Ries, and the Moonstruck comics by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle (Artist), Kate Leth (Artist)

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I spent a good deal of 2020 reading things other than books.  Like many of us, I spent WAY too much time on social media, glued to the constant and horrifying news cycle and reading painful and scary news headlines daily.  Somewhere around May I was finally able to break my addiction to doomscrolling and actually read some books.  Even then, despite my post about reading funny and light reading, I didn’t take my own advice and I read a lot of heavy nonfiction (there will be another AntiRacist post soon!).  I learned a lot, but turns out none of it could help me control the craziness of 2020, so toward the end of the year I returned to fiction as escapism.  I limped over the finish line of my reading goal for this year, but barely.  My middle grade books did a lot of heavy lifting this year. 

So I’m here to share the fruits of my reading labors.  I present a list of my 10 favorites (and some -ok a BUNCH- of honorable mentions) from this difficult year.

Memoir:  A very popular memoir, Untamed by my most beloved, Glennon Doyle, has taken up a lot of air time so I will say, yes, I adored that book. Go read it.

But I believe that my favorite memoir of 2020 was actually a much less famous one – Raising A Rare Girl by Heather Lanier.  I first saw her TedTalk about raising her daughter, who was born with a rare syndrome.  Ms. Lanier is both a wonderful speaker and a gorgeous writer.  This book is filled with emotion, acceptance and love.  It is a small and steady light of goodness in the darkness. 

Politics: It’s clear every day in almost every way that we have a serious problem with how our (American) government is run.  In Why We’re Polarized, Ezra Klein  explores where we used to be [sidenote:  as a Gen Xer I was flabbergasted at how different politics were before the 1980’s], how we got here, and what we do now that we’ve arrived at this seeming impasse. Despite the heavy subject matter, this is a fascinating book and easy to read.  Moreover, it is important; it is only when we understand the context of the undercurrents of our political system that we can change it for good (in both senses of that word).

Essays:  In case you need a break from politics Lindy West is back with a series of essays about movies called Shit, Actually.  If you’d rather fight about whether Love, Actually is a good movie or not (it isn’t) or whether Face Off is a bad movie (it is), jump right in.  West’s humor was a great salve to the mayhem of 2020.  She eviscerates movies that we love, some we hate and some we love to hate.  Reading these essays made me realize I needed to re-watch a whole lot of the insanity that was cinema in the 1990’s. As always, West’s references are on-point for a small subset of late Gen Xer/early Millennials. 

Graphic Novel:  My daughter had a call with her teacher last spring and her teacher asked her what she was reading.  “Bloodlust and Bonnets,” she answered (by Emily McGovern).  Her teacher took a beat and then laughed.  This book is hilarious and I’ve talked about it before in a previous post (see link above). 

Fiction:  A lot of folks know Frederik Backman from A Man Called Ove, a book that made the bookclub circuit in a big way a few years ago.   He is one of my very favorite authors, and despite his books’ potentially heavy material (life, death, suicide) they are explicitly and sometimes subtly hilarious.  Anxious People is his newest release and so far it is my second favorite of all his books (after My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry – if you haven’t read that one, do it ASAP!).

Fiction Honorable Mention:  Apparently I love the Swedish sense of humor (no doubt due to the several large dollops of Swedish blood from my Grandmother’s family) because An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten was amazing as well.  Murderous old ladies are my jam.

AntiRacist Non-Fiction:  I think I highlighted about half of this book; I hungrily ate up every chapter and then had to pause to digest it all.  Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall is a necessary book for anyone calling themselves a feminist.  It illustrates how the mainstream (white) version of feminism ignores, circumvents and obscures the needs of BIOPOC and women of color in favor of what is useful and helpful to white women.  As in many things, our white ignorance is dangerous.  I will no doubt re-read this book, more than once.

Anti Racist Non-Fiction Honorable Mention:  I cannot believe it took me so long into my adulthood to read Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis. This small book taught me more about the history of slavery, racism, patriarchy and classism than anything in my entire life.  Each chapter was filled with hard-hitting facts that I was never taught in school, as well as the context of these issues that so many of us are missing in today’s perspective. 

Fantasy:  I loved V.E. Schwab for quite some time, and I read a bunch of her work in 2019.  This year I read four of her books, but my absolute favorite was her long-awaited The Invisible Life of Addie Larue.  This book got a lot of press and I usually keep such books off my “best of” lists, but I love it so much I don’t even care.  This book deserves every single ounce of praise.  It is a beautiful book.  It is also part of a sub-genre I’m fascinated with: “Young woman vs. immortal or omnipotent god-like being.” [maybe I’ll do a post on the many wonderful books in the subgenre].  Addie LaRue makes a deal with maybe a literal devil and she is made immortal but cursed so that no one will every remember her. 

Fantasy Honorable Mention:  The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern also got a LOT of press this year.  And again, I just don’t care.  It’s a lovely story, beautifully told. It is another one of my favorite things:  a story about stories.  The plot loops back on itself several times and you don’t always know what end is up.  It is just as visual and intricate as The Night Circus but lighter and airier. 

Fantasy Honorable Mention:  Crossings by Alex Landragin is a book that defies description.  But a few things are true.  1) it’s a story about three overlapping and interconnected stories 2) it’s about magic and 3) it might make your head spin.  There are two ways to read this book – the typical start on page one and go until it says the end (the Traditional Way) and by following the sequence of numbered pages that the book sends you on (The Baroness’ Sequence).  I read the Baroness’ Sequence, because it’s 2020 and all bets are off. 

Middle Grade Fiction:  Sweep by Jonathan Auxier made me cry.  I got really attached to the main characters, a chimney sweep named Nan Sparrow and her companion Charlie, immediately.  Nan’s background and current situation is full of sadness but also full of hope and beauty.  Auxier is a great middle grade author; his stories engage you from page one and his characters linger in your heart long after you are done reading. 

Middle Grade Honorable Mention:  Katherine Arden’s Dead Voices (sequel to Small Spaces) is so well written that her description of a storm that her characters are caught in made me grab a blanket.  I literally felt cold for them.  This series can be best described as “middle grade horror” and includes a Big Bad and some ghost henchmen.  Like similar books (e.g. Coraline) but they are legitimately creepy, even for adults. 

Middle Grade Graphic Novel:  Lightfall; The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert is bright and shining and filled with visual delights.  I spent an inordinate amount of time distracted by the scenery and the art in this book.  Which is saying a lot, because the characters are lovely and the story is interesting.  The Girl (Bea) and the Galdurian (Cad) meet unexpectedly and head off on a Quest to find Bea’s forgetful grandfather (the Pig Wizard) who may or may not be in danger. 

Novella:  Thanks to Seanan Maguire (of The Wayward Children series fame) I’ve grown to love the idea of novellas.  I used to think they weren’t enough, being so short.  I’m a big fan of long, complicated stories and tomes that make your arms hurt. But a novella, done well, is like a satisfying and rich piece of chocolate cake.   Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh (and its sequel Drowned Country) are both gorgeous.  I’m still not sure how Ms. Tesh created an entire world with such visual beauty AND such well-developed characters in 112 pages.  She must be a magician.  Both books follow the “Wild Man” of the Greenhollow Forest and Henry Silver, the new owner of the estate in which the forest resides.  Everything and everyone is more than meets the eye, including Henry’s mother, who is by far my favorite character.

My fellow white people, we have some catching up to do.  And we need to do it fast.  While it would be nice to consider women like Amy Cooper “crazy” or anomalous in some other way, she is everywhere.  She is us and we are her.  Derek Chauvin may be an extreme and horrific example of the abuse of power, but the core nature of this power is used against people of color (POC) every day, in small and large ways.  White people use their race privilege as a weapon against POC constantly, and until we are aware of it and do something about it, it will continue, with disastrous results. The fact is, and it should abundantly clear to even the most resistant of us, that because of white people and our commitment to racism, POC are dying.

The argument isn’t, as many “good” white folks frame it, whether we are racist. As Americans, we have all been raised in a country founded by racism.  We have been breathing it in, absorbing that thinking, and benefiting from the structures that racism built (for our benefit) for our entire lives.  This will likely make us uncomfortable at first.  It may never have occurred to us.  Everyone wants to believe that they are “good.”  We like to think that racist people hate other people, that racism is individuals vs. other individuals.  That is not true. As white Americans, every single one of is racist.  Our society, our laws and our governmental structures support white supremacy and we participate in upholding those structures every single day.

We may reject this idea.  We may think it doesn’t apply to us.  We may even say “I don’t see color; everyone is the same.”  But our color blindness is a privilege, because whiteness is the default.  We don’t have to think about race because our race is the one in power. Everything is set up for the advantage of white people.  The most important thing we can do as white people is to realize that our willful blindness to this fact has been endangering those who are not white for centuries.

So, assuming we don’t want to continue this ignorance, we may now feel guilty or heartbroken or helpless (or all of those things) and ask ourselves and others but what do we DO?  The answer is straightforward. We need to become not just “not racist” (which most people consider themselves as long as they are in the KKK) but anti-racist.  Which means we need to actively fight racism, to resist it ourselves and call out other white people who are supporting it.  In order to do that, we need to challenge our fundamental thinking and learned behaviors so that we are best prepared to speak against racism and respond to racist thinking and behaviors.  We need to change our perceptions so that we can see what we have maybe never seen before.

The first step toward doing anything meaningful is to educate ourselves, and we need to do it ourselves and not rely on POC to educate us (although there are many willing to educate us and we should listen when they do).  The good news is that there are books aplenty to help us along this path.  Below is the curriculum of sorts that began my anti-racist journey.  I am no expert, I have not been trained in anti-racist work.  I’m just a white lady who reads a lot and has a strong intention to learn more about being anti-racist.  These are just some of the books I have read, and there are many more I plan to read (listed at the end of this post). I’d love to see your recommendations in the comments.

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I’m having trouble reading lately.

Global pandemics can do that to a person.  I need mental and emotional space to fall into a story, and the constant, low-level buzz of worry prickling and poking around in my brain is getting in the way.  I’m definitely not alone. To complicated things, the kind of stories I like to read involve life’s complexity – death, birth, love, tragedy, and loss.  Frankly, real life is too full of drama for me.  I read Wanderers and loved it.  But now we’re living it and it’s not as much fun.

I know a lot of us are in the same boat reading-wise, and feeling a bit sea sick.  I also know that the best antidote to anxiety is laughter.  And the best way to conquer a reading slump is to read something easy, funny, and entertaining.  So I have compiled a list of 11 Delightful, Entertaining, Hilarious, Funny Reads to get us through these wild and scary times.  This list (in no particular order) includes all levels of reading, some comics, some graphic novels, some traditional books.  If you have recommendations, please share!


Battlepug by Mike Norton.  What’s that?  Battle-what?  Yes, PUG.  As in a small, arguably adorable, snuffly, chubby, mild mannered companion.  This comic (vol. 1 available) is an adventure story that features a large, half-naked, Conan-eque hero who can communicate with animals telepathically, including an over-sized pug.  He fights homicidal elves with his band of companions, whom he mostly deserts because he’s that dude.  And there are horse thieves (they’re thieves but they are also HORSES!).  If you want the full Battlepug experience, start with the Compugdium, which includes all the background you need for the new issues of the comic.  But you can skip that if you want; you’ll catch up pretty quickly.  Reading level:  This is for adult or older teenage readers.  There is blood, profanity and nudity.


Knights vs. Dinosaurs [also Knights vs. Monsters & Knights vs. The End (of Everything)] by Matt Phelan. King Arthur’s knights are fond of telling tall tales, especially regarding their alleged prowess in battling dragons. Merlin decides it’s time to give the knights a chance to prove themselves and so he sends them back in time to fight dinosaurs.  Sir Erec, Sir Bors, Sir Hector, Squire Mel and the mysterious Black Knight join forces in an endearing, awkward, bumbling and, in the end, very lucky adventure. When they work together, they conquer their foes.  Reading level:  This is a middle grade book series with lots of great pictures.  A great read-along book for younger readers.


Phoebe and her Unicorn by Dana Simpson. This series of graphics novels follows Phoebe, a girl who accidentally finds a unicorn who grants her a wish.  Phoebe wishes for the unicorn to be her best friend.  And so Marigold Heavenly Nostrils becomes her BFF and helps Phoebe navigate school and parents and bullies with a little bit of magic and a WHOLE lot of sarcasm.  These books are both obviously and subtly funny and adults will find as much to love as kids will. They do not need to be read in order.  Reading level:  This is a middle grade graphic novel series sprinkled with gems of adult humor.


The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White.  Anne, the hero of this story, is an orphan who lives at Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children.  This rollicky, hilarious series (There is a Guide to Dragons and a Guide to Treasures) is nonstop adventure and laughter.  This series is engaging for both the young readers it’s written for and also any parents who might want to read along (or read alone!).   Reading level:  Middle grade novel series with occasional illustrations.  


I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young (Vol. 1-4 available). Gert is a 40 year old woman stuck in a 6 year old’s body.  She stumbled into Fairyland and was told if she found the key, she could go home.  But that was almost 30 years ago.  Cynical, tired, ruthlessly homicidal and still endearingly cute, Gert is both accidentally and intentionally chaotic in her quest for revenge on Fairyland.  Her Fairyland guide and friend (?) is a cigar smoking fly named Larrigon Wentsworth III who can’t seem to contain Gert or her rage. Reading level:  Adults only.  Lots of violence, and swearing. 


Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern. Lucy is a British gentlewoman, a gentle lady, until she unleashes her bloodlust on what turns out to be a bevy of vampires.  “How did you know they were vampires?” she is asked after she dispatches the lot of them (reader, the answer is she didn’t know they were vampires! Girlfriend is just ragey).  This incident sets her on the hunt for Lady Violet Travesty, during which she accidentally assembles a team of wayward companions including the arrogant, blustery Lord Byron and the mysterious and confusing Sham, a bounty hunter.  The art in this graphic novel is half the hilarity, but the puns and mayhem are the other half.   Reading level:  Hard to say, there is violence and some nudity, but the drawings are so cartoony, it’s hard to take seriously.  My 10 year old read it and LOVED it. 


The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters by Kara LaReau. This series (there are currently three:  The Jolly Regina, The Uncanny Express and the Flight of the Bluebird) follows sisters Kale and Jaundice, who like their monotony thankyouverymuch.  They have order, they have predictability, and they have a schedule. They liked cheese sandwiches and that which is familiar.  But their oddly missing parents have other plans for them, and they keep sending the sisters on adventures, which the girls would rather not participate in.  Reading level:  Middle grade, and a great read-along for parents, who will chuckle at all the little things the kids miss.


Folklords by Matt Kindt and Matt Smith (Issues #1-5 available). Ansel lives in a world populated with ogres and trolls and elves and dwarves.  He’s at the age when he has to choose his Quest, but he has these elaborate dreams of a world so unlike his own, with technology he doesn’t understand.  He seeks the Folklords as his Quest, in the hopes they can explain his dreams, and why he doesn’t fit in.  But he is denied and told the information he seeks is forbidden.  Which of course only makes him sneak off to find his Quest anyway.  Reading level:  Teen and adult, there is some violence.

Pretty Violent

Pretty Violent (with lots of swears) by Derek Hunter (vol. 1 available). Based on the covers alone, it should be no surprise that this comic is brought to us by one of the creators of I Hate Fairyland.  The premise and images are similar.  In this case, an adorable young girl has named herself Gamma Rae and is trying her damned best to be a superhero but just keeps messing it up.  Like really badly.  EPICALLY badly.  Her family of supervillains tries to keep her from what seems to be a fruitless endeavor, but she is undaunted.  She will be the best damn superhero there is if she has to kill everyone trying.  Reading level:  Adult. Violence and swears are right in the title. 


Sparks! By Ian Boothby.   Two cats, dressed in a dog suit, fighting an evil alien named Princess, who basically looks like a adorable toddler.  I mean, what else do you need?


Loki (2019) by Daniel Kibblesmith. This comic got cancelled and that’s a damn shame.  Brought to us by the man who wrote Santa’s Husband, the Loki presented here is funny and arrogant and laugh out loud funny.  If you’ve ever wondering “What would Loki be like as a cowboy?”  this is your series.  The ending of this run is masterful, especially considering it was done the last minute.  If you enjoy Marvel and Loki then check this out, it’s a mere 5 issues, but it should have been more.  Mr. Kibblesmith is also the author of Marvel’s Lockjaw which is, oddly, about an extra large pug, so we have come full circle.

When I was a girl, growing up in the 1980’s, I was definitely not encouraged to read comics. To be fair, even many boys (then, as now) were often discouraged from reading them.  It wasn’t considered “real” reading (spoiler alert:  it is ).  Thankfully that idea is finally changing (however slowly).  It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s, at the insistence of our very own Jesse, that I went to a comic book shop for the first time.  Even with the moral support, it was hard not to be overwhelmed.  Without a lifetime of comic reading under my belt, I felt like they were speaking a language I couldn’t decipher.  And even in the early aughts, there wasn’t a crowd of women in the shop.  I latched onto the Origin limited series, since I was a huge fan of Wolverine, but nothing else ever stuck with me.

It wasn’t until my daughter was old enough to read that it finally clicked for me.  Again, thanks to Jesse, who, when asked for recommendations, sent me graphic novels for both my kids from his bookstore.  They loved them.  I loved them.  We wanted more.  Fortunately, our new interest coincided with what would turn out to be the advent of a surge in middle-grade graphic novel publishing.  It was a veritable explosion.

In searching for feminist stories for my daughters (and honestly, I didn’t have to search too long), I easily found a swath of diverse characters, LBGTQ representation, protagonists of color,  subverted gender stereotypes, and fairy tale tropes turned on their heads.  I was looking for stories written by women, for women, with female heroes and female-centric story arcs.  And they were EVERYWHERE.  More important, they were NEW.  No one else had the advantage of history.  I didn’t feel behind the times.  I felt, for once in my life, on the cutting edge. I could go into the comic book shop and ask for the new release.  And I did, with such regularity that the shop guys now know me by name (full disclosure: at first I was ‘that women who’s always in here buying comics for herself and graphic novels for her kids’).  I’m still one of only a handful of women who frequent the shop.

So ladies, girls, fellow feminists, if you are curious and don’t know where to start, I’ve compiled a list of recommendations below. The list could be longer, but these are my absolute favorites.  I am inclined toward the fantasy genre as you will see. I’ve left off superheroes, even though I’m a huge fan, because their backstories and history can be intimidating.  I’ve noted the trade paperback volumes, which have past issues compiled, though some of these are ongoing and you can get in new issue form once you’ve caught up. Others are limited release and all the issues are out (and compiled in a trade paperback) already.

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It’s December and we’re all a bit tired.  2018 was a hard year.  If modern women were allowed to “take to their beds” like Victorian women often did, I would have done so.  The next best thing was to bury myself in books.   This year I read not only the most I’ve read in a decade – 30,000 pages and counting (thank you to Goodreads for the calculation), but I read some of the best books I have in years.

This year I tried very hard to incorporate diverse voices with stories by and about BIPOC, LBGQTIA+ and women.  The real world might have been a burning, stinking dumpster fire this year, but the reading world was such a joyous experience.  Here are my favorites.

Science Fiction:

Space Opera by Cathrynne Valente.  Ms. Valente is probably the best author you might have never read.  Despite being quite prolific, brilliant and hilarious, she’s not generally popular (though she absolutely should be).  She has a decidedly cultish following, of which I am a proud member.  If you only ever read one of her books (and I recommend you read ALL of them), it should be Space Opera.  As the title suggests, it’s a space opera – about SINGING IN SPACE.  Get it?  Amazing.  As always, her writing style is mind-bogglingly, psychedelically wonderful.  Her prose is to be savored, not rushed through.  The characters are compelling, and the story is laugh out loud funny.

Honorable mention:  The Power by Naomi Alderman.  In the year of #MeToo, this book was cathartic and thoughtful.  The premise is that young women around the world suddenly have the power to send electric shocks from their body.  These young women are also able to awake this power in adult women.  The shifts in power, politics and culture that result are instantaneous and the fallout is fascinating.

Adult comics:

Monstress Volumes 1-3 by Marjorie Liu. These comics are gloriously drawn and are both breathtaking and terrifying to look at.  The story involves a non-human young woman named Maika Half Wolf and her discovery of a monster that lives inside her, one that she cannot completely control.  Her dystopian story of self-discovery is violent and mysterious and filled with fantastical creatures and characters.  She is a warrior and fair warning; this comic is often graphically (pun intended) violent.  Definitely not for kids.

Middle grade Graphic Novel (standalone):

The Prince and The Dressmaker by Jen Wang. This book is just plain wonderful.  It is the story of a prince who loves to wear dresses and the seamstress who helps him awaken into his true (beautiful) self.  It’s about self-acceptance and unconditional love.  Beautifully drawn with engaging characters, this book is great for both children and adults.

Middle grade Graphic Novel (series):

Delilah Dirk Volumes 1-3 by Tony Cliff was one of my favorite series I read this year.  Delilah Dirk and her companion, Selim (who she almost haphazardly picks up on one of her adventures) are one of the best relationships I’ve seen in middle grade writing.  Their repartee is funny and interesting and real.  Full disclosure:  My 8-year-old daughter had zero interest in these.  I, on the other hand, found it delightful.


This year I discovered Anne Bronte and I’m here to tell you she is by far the very best Bronte sister.  It is a tragedy that she only published two books.  Tennant of Wildfell Hall is the better of the two. The story is mysterious and compelling.  It must have been downright scandalous at the time.  Anne’s mature and full realized characters reveal just how shallow and flighty those of her sisters’ books are.  She’s definitely the Bronte for adults.


Shrill by Lindy West.  On page 3 of, Ms. West writes about the body positive role models of her youth.  She begins her list with Lady Kluck and Little John aka Baloo (in drag) from Disney’s Robin Hood.  Like many women of a certain age, this movie is a touchstone of my childhood; it is part of my DNA.  So when I read this, I was filled with pure joy.   I have never fallen in love with an author quicker.  I recommended this book to my sister based solely on those 3 pages. The rest of the book did nothing to dampen my adoration.  She is a voice everyone should hear.  BONUS:  Shrill is becoming a TV show starring the gloriously funny Aidy Bryant.

YA Fantasy Series (A Tie Because I Couldn’t Decide):

The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater (4 books total) is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read, not just this year, but ever. It has a bit of teen romance among an overarching story involving dead kings, magic, ghosts, and demons.  Despite what the “boys” of the title may suggest, there are many strong female characters.  The plot is intricate, and each book is a page turner.  If you like her writing, I also highly recommend her standalone novels All the Crooked Saints (her best work so far) and Scorpio Races.


The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.  Nothing I can say would do Ms. Bardugo justice.   If you like Fantasy, just do yourself a favor and go ahead and read everything she’s ever written, including the Six of Crows Duology and  The Language of Thorns. I read her entire works in 2018 and I look forward to her new series coming in 2019.


Small Animals by Kim Brooks.  In a dumpster-fire world, it’s not hard to feel anxious or terrified.  As a parent, it’s especially hard to keep actual danger vs. perceived danger in perspective.   This book is part memoir of a fearful parent and part researched assessment of today’s anxiety-ridden parenting culture.  It explores why we are so afraid and what we can do about it.  A must read for all parents.

Middle Grade Fiction (Another Tie Because I Can’t Decide):

In this banner year of books, my absolute favorite was Thisby Thestoop and The Black Mountain by Zac Gorman.  A middle grade book about a girl who grows up as the gamekeeper of monsters inside a black mountain.  This book is funny and endearing, with a strong female main character and a hilarious assortment of supporting characters.  My 8-year-old supports this rating.


There is a revealing moment in The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, a story about Baba Yaga, her granddaughter and a house with (yup) chicken legs,  when I said “Woah” and had to place the book in my lap and breath for a second.  It wasn’t so much a surprise I didn’t see coming, it was the unexpected emotional impact of what was revealed.  This story is about Life and Death and Love and it doesn’t shy away from the impact of any of these things.  This book is written for middle grade; however, the emotional landscape of this story is powerful for adults as well. Both my mother and daughter wholeheartedly agree that this is a great read.

Adult Fiction:

Kate Morton is one of my perennial favorite authors.  With The Clockmaker’s Daughter she doesn’t disappoint.  Every time I think I’ve got her formula figured out, she surprises me.  As with her previous books, there is a mystery and a multi-generational perspective.  This book is ambitious with four different timelines.  Ms. Morton handles this deftly and almost seamlessly.  She makes you think you’ve got it figured out (you don’t).

YA Fiction:

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl.  This story defies description, which is entirely the reason I loved it.  It’s part mystery, part fantasy (there are some “time-y wimey” things happening), part existential teen angst, and part nihilism.  I’ve never read anything like it.

Zone OneI love big words.  I have a solid vocabulary, built on the foundation of obsessive reading since childhood.  I rarely have to stop and look up words while reading.  Although we have dictionaries all over the house, my husband instead often chooses to yell at me  “what does X mean?” while he’s reading.  But to me there’s a limit, a line between being well-read and being pompous.  Which is not to say I don’t enjoy the impossibly big words too.  It’s just that they’re too special for everyday usage.  Like using Grandma’s fancy china for Sunday dinner, when you take them out everyone’s a little bit stiff and uncomfortable.  And let’s face it, they usually come out when company is over and you’re trying to impress someone.

I can’t tell you what word of Zone One first hit a discordant note for me.  I think instead it was the general rhythm that felt clunky and ponderous to me.  I do remember a vague jarring feeling after the first few pages.  It’s the feeling that I would get (I imagine) if I saw a Shakespearean actor starring in a romantic comedy.  I was uneasy.  I was confused.  I thought this was a zombie story.

I don’t mean to imply that zombie stories aren’t smart.  Or that smart people don’t read them.  Clearly I’m a thinking person and I love zombie apocalyptic mayhem.  But with this book I kept thinking what is going on here?  We’re busting out the china and we don’t even have visitors coming.  When on page 75 defenestration was thrown out there (pun intended), I audibly groaned.  Who says that in pre-apocalyptic society?  Besides overly literate teenagers having fun placing it in casual conversation.  Are we assuming a higher level of erudition in the masses surviving zombie slaughter?  We shouldn’t.  My guess is the dudes slinging dead zombie bodies out windows would be saying “later motherfuckers!”  On that same page came the words (also regarding the defenestration of zombie corpses)  “. . .splashing him with ichor and grue.”  So hard on the heels of defenestration, these words almost did me in.  If I hadn’t just read a review in the New Yorker about Magic Mike XXL, I would have thought the world was ending.  Clearly there are no boundaries for the highly articulate.

There is no doubt that Mr. Whitehead is a clever writer.  Sadly, his subtle, snarky asides reminded me of a precocious child screaming for attention in a room full of adults. I do not like precocious children.  He wants us to see how clever he his.   Which, being the contrary person I am, makes me want to ignore him entirely.

So why did I finish the book?  Well for one, I’m also stubborn besides contrary. It amounts to a very petulant attitude of You think you’re more clever than me?  I’ll show you.  And also, as I kept reading I found out just how clever Mr. Whitehead really is.  When he’s not trying to show off, his legitimate brilliance eked out.  The following paragraph made me stop and say out loud “Now THAT is good writing!”:

“Parenthood made grown-ups unpredictable.  They hesitated at the key moment out of consideration for their kid’s abilities or safety, they were paranoid he wanted to rape or eat their offspring, they slowed him down with their baby steps or kept him distracted as he pondered their erraticism. . .The parents were dangerous because they didn’t want your precious supplies.  They possessed the valuables, and it hobbled their reasoning.”

THAT is what I want to think about when I think about zombies.  I want the humanization of a world filled with unhumans.  Tell me what it’s like to live with the undead and survivors.  No fancy words required.

Finally, begrudgingly I came to really like this book. I may even read it again, defenestration, ichor and all.   By the end I was satisfied with story.  It was simple and rang true.

“The world wasn’t ending:  it had ended and now they were in a new place.  They could not recognize it because they had never seen it before.”

Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading