Dig Two Graves review

Graves
Dig Two Graves by Gretchen McNeil
352 pages
published April 26th, 2022

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy!

One of Us is Lying meets Hitchcock in this novel from celebrated author of the #MurderTrending series, Gretchen McNeil. 

I did my part, BFF. Now it’s your turn. 

Seventeen-year-old film noir fan Neve Lanier is a girl who just wants to be seen, but doesn’t really fit in anywhere. When Neve is betrayed by her best friend, Yasmin, at the end of the school year, she heads off to a girl’s empowerment camp feeling like no one will ever love her again. So when she grabs the attention of the beautiful, charismatic Diane, she falls right under her spell, and may accidentally promise to murder Diane’s predatory step-brother, Javier, in exchange for Diane murdering Yasmin. But that was just a joke…right? 

Wrong. When Yasmin turns up dead, Diane comes calling, attempting to blackmail Neve into murdering Javier. Stalling for time, Neve pretends to go along with Diane’s plan until she can find a way out that doesn’t involve homicide. But as she gets to know Javier – and falls for him – she realizes that everything Diane told her is a lie. Even worse, she discovers that Yasmin probably wasn’t Diane’s first victim. And unless Neve can stop her, she won’t be the last. 

In this twisted game of cat and mouse, the reader never quite knows who’s telling the truth, who’s playing games, and who is going to end up dead.

This book was WILD and NOTHING MADE SENSE, even on a reread. However, it was a great ride! And it’s sapphic! What’s not to love? Well, there’s the writing, the dialogue, and the major plot holes. But other than that! I would have loved reading this at my middle school library. Three stars. 

Arden Grey book review

Arden2
Arden Grey by Ray Stoeve
288 pages
published April 26th, 2022

An insightful, raw YA novel about a young photographer navigating toxic relationships and how they influence her identitySixteen-year-old Arden Grey is struggling. Her mother has left their family, her father and her younger brother won’t talk about it, and a classmate, Tanner, keeps harassing her about her sexuality–which isn’t even public. (She knows she likes girls romantically, but she thinks she might be asexual.) At least she’s got her love of film photography and her best and only friend, Jamie, to help her cope. Then Jamie, who is trans, starts dating Caroline, and suddenly he isn’t so reliable. Arden’s insecurity about their friendship grows. She starts to wonder if she’s jealous or if Jamie’s relationship with Caroline is somehow unhealthy–and it makes her reconsider how much of her relationship with her absent mom wasn’t okay, too. Filled with big emotions, first loves, and characters navigating toxic relationships, Ray Stoeve’s honest and nuanced novel is about finding your place in the world and seeking out the love and community that you deserve.

This book is genuinely very good, with a very good main character voice and excellent side characters as well. Arden reminds me a lot of myself as a teenager, and the ace/aro representation here in Arden is incredible. I’m really glad this book is out and incredibly glad that I got to read it. Four stars.

The Mapmakers book review

Mapmakers
The Mapmakers by Tamzin Merchant and illustrated by Paola Escobar
384 pages
published May 3rd, 2022

Cordelia Hatmaker has saved England from war. She stopped Lord Whitloof’s sinister plans, rescued the King and Princess, and restored the Makers Guild. But she still hasn’t found her missing father. Ever since Cordelia discovered the hidden map in her father’s telescope, she’s been searching the streets of London by starlight, trying to uncover its secrets.

She never expects to stumble upon a secret society of Mapmakers–or to learn that magic isn’t limited to the few Maker families, but instead is all around, if you know where to look. But danger is lurking around every corner, and Cordelia must convince the rival Maker families to work together for once–not only to bring her father home, but to save the very essence of magic itself. . . .

With exceptional and inventive storytelling and a lionhearted heroine, Tamzin Merchant once again draws readers into her captivating London and takes them on a breathless new adventure full of wildness, wit, warmth–and magic.

Once again this is the second book in a series and I did not read the first! The first is called The Hatmakers, and I had enough “backstory” in this one to get up to speed. This is a fantastic little fantasy novel that really reminded me a lot of my own favorite book series, the Fly by Night books by Frances Hardinge. (Weird to call them a series but there are only two. Possibly more eventually??) I love Cordelia, the main character of this book, and it’s an excellent middle grade. Five stars. Would recommend to any middle-grader. Bookshop link.

When You Call My Name book review

My name
When You Call My Name by Tucker Shaw
368 pages
published May 3rd, 2022

Film fanatic Adam is seventeen and being asked out on his first date–and the guy is cute. Heart racing, Adam accepts, quickly falling in love with Callum like the movies always promised.

Fashion-obsessed Ben is eighteen and has just left his home upstate after his mother discovers his hidden stash of gay magazines. When he comes to New York City, Ben’s sexuality begins to feel less like a secret and more like a badge of honor. 

Then Callum disappears, leaving Adam heartbroken, and Ben finds out his new world is more closed-minded than he thought. When Adam finally tracks Callum down, he learns the guy he loves is very ill. And in a chance meeting near the hospital where Callum is being treated, Ben and Adam meet, forever changing each other’s lives. As both begin to open their eyes to the possibilities of queer love and life, they realize sometimes the only people who can help you are the people who can really see you–in all your messy glory. 

A love letter to New York and the liberating power of queer friendship, When You Call My Name is a hopeful novel about the pivotal moments of our youth that break our hearts and the people who help us put them back together. 

This book is set during the height of the AIDS epidemic and it’s about two gay teenagers (17 and 18, I think), coming of age. It’s technically a romance between these two gay teenagers, but their coming of age is more at the forefront, I think? You kind of know that they’re eventually going to get together, and I didn’t really feel one way or another about it. The pop culture references in this book are also kind of rough, especially because for a lot of them, I Simply Didn’t Get Them, I Am Too Young.

And it’s really sad, and really slow in some places, and I think maybe I’d like to read it slowly, over the course of a summer instead of fairly rapidly for a review. (Honestly I was approved for this in December so that one’s on me.) Four and a half stars, rounded down for NetGalley.

The Queen of Junk Island book review

The queen
The Queen of Junk Island by Alexandra Mae Jones
400 pages exactly
published May 3rd, 2022

From debut author Alexandra Mae Jones comes a compelling, nuanced exploration of bi identity and body image with a ghostly backdrop–perfect for fans of Nina Lacour.

Still reeling from a recent trauma, sixteen-year-old Dell is relieved when her mom suggests a stay at the family cabin. But the much-needed escape quickly turns into a disaster. The lake and woods are awash in trash left by a previous tenant. And worse, Dell’s mom has invited her boyfriend’s daughter to stay with them. Confident, irreverent Ivy presses all of Dell’s buttons–somehow making Dell’s shame and self-consciousness feel even more acute. Yet Dell is drawn to Ivy in a way she doesn’t fully understand. As Dell uncovers secrets in the wreckage of her family’s past–secrets hinted at through troubling dreams and strange apparitions–Ivy leads her toward thrilling, if confusing, revelations about her sexuality and identity.

Set during a humid summer in the mid-2000s, The Queen of Junk Island simmers with the intensity of a teenage girl navigating the suffocating expectations of everyone around her.

This is the book you need for your mom trauma, your identity issues, your coming of age around generational trauma. It’s that Rory Power novel from last year (burn our bodies down) with less horror elements. It’s like reading your own journal written by someone else. It’s incredible, It’s affective (and also effective). It takes place before 2015 probably which is NOT clear anywhere in the marketing but Whatever (some things feel dated or weird). If you like the cover, the description, or my review, you should pick it up.

Bookshop link.

Now is the Time for Trees book review

Trees

Now is the Time for Trees by Dan Lambo
216 pages
publishes April 12th, 2022

“Celebrates the power of trees to oxygenate the planet, purify water and air, lower city temperatures, provide habitat, nurture the soul, and provide essential food sources.” —Booklist

Trees and forests are the number one nature-based solution for revers ing the negative effects of a changing climate. If ever there was a time to be planting trees, that time is now.

Inspired by a collective sense of urgency, a global movement to plant trees is gaining momentum. To move the needle, we need to act on a massive scale and plant millions of trees today to have a measurable and lasting impact on billions of lives tomorrow. In Now Is the Time for Trees, the experts at the Arbor Day Foundation will inspire you to do your part by showing you everything you need to know to plant trees at home or in your community. From advice on choosing the right size and type of tree to tried-and-true tips for planting success, this book will help you plant a tree today and leave your own legacy of hope.

Equal parts inspiration and advocacy, Now Is the Time for Trees is a rousing call for environmental action and a must-have book for nature lovers everywhere.

This is a lovely book about environmentalism for kids! The photographs are great, and its language is age-appropriate. Five stars. Bookshop link.

In the Key of Us book review

Key of us
In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington
368 pages
publishes April 26th, 2022

From the author of the critically acclaimed novel For Black Girls Like Me, Mariama J. Lockington, comes a coming-of-age story surrounding the losses that threaten to break us and the friendships that make us whole again.

Thirteen-year-old Andi feels stranded after the loss of her mother, the artist who swept color onto Andi’s blank canvas. When she is accepted to a music camp, Andi finds herself struggling to play her trumpet like she used to before her whole world changed. Meanwhile, Zora, a returning camper, is exhausted trying to please her parents, who are determined to make her a flute prodigy, even though she secretly has a dancer’s heart. 

At Harmony Music Camp, Zora and Andi are the only two Black girls in a sea of mostly white faces. In kayaks and creaky cabins, the two begin to connect, unraveling their loss, insecurities, and hopes for the future. And as they struggle to figure out who they really are, they may just come to realize who they really need: each other. 

In the Key of Us is a lyrical ode to music camp, the rush of first love, and the power of one life-changing summer.

In the Key of Us is a dual-perspective summer camp book perfect for this summer. It’s a middle grade novel about girls struggling with identity, and it’s told with such sincere voice and heart that you can’t help but love it. If you were in a middle-school band, then you’ll identify with a lot of this — I definitely flashed back to how incredibly stressful chair auditions were in middle school, which I haven’t thought about until right now. (I consistently scored dead last because I never practiced at home, and I still don’t! But I do love playing cello when I get around to it.) It’s a sweet book, and it’s also hopeful for the future; I remember being twelve and it felt like I was on the brink of a lot of different things, and this book captures that feeling perfectly. Four and a half stars, rounded up for NetGalley. Bookshop link here.

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester book review

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor
360 pages
publishes May 3rd, 2022

In this queer contemporary YA mystery, a nonbinary autistic teen realizes they must not only solve a 30-year-old mystery but also face the demons lurking in their past in order to live a satisfying life.

Sam Sylvester has long collected stories of half-lived lives—of kids who died before they turned nineteen. Sam was almost one of those kids. Now, as Sam’s own nineteenth birthday approaches, their recent near-death experience haunts them. They’re certain they don’t have much time left. . . .

But Sam’s life seems to be on the upswing after meeting several new friends and a potential love interest in Shep, their next-door neighbor. Yet the past keeps roaring back—in Sam’s memories and in the form of a thirty-year-old suspicious death that took place in Sam’s new home. Sam can’t resist trying to find out more about the kid who died and who now seems to guide their investigation. When Sam starts receiving threatening notes, they know they’re on the path to uncovering a murderer. But are they digging through the past or digging their own future grave?

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester explores healing in the aftermath of trauma and the fullness of queery joy.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy.

Back when I was a kid coming out, the only book around for nonbinary pals was I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST by Mason Deaver, which is a really boring book. (Sorry, it’s just that nothing happens in it). Now THIS book? About a nonbinary teenager solving a murder mystery? AND ALSO THEY’RE AUTISTIC? Excuse me??

Let’s pull out some bullet points:

  • a little bit paranormal!
  • ace spectrum
  • adoptee
  • a great dad!!!!
  • starting over at a new school!
  • new friendships!

Honestly, this is a queer cozy mystery that really just needs like, a couple more puns for it to hit four stars for me. The writing feels somewhat stilted and weird, and it never drew me in enough to ignore the fact that the NetGalley copy was a PDF, which is the absolute worst way to read an eARC. Three and a half stars, rounded up for NetGalley. Storygraph link. Bookshop link.

Bite-sized reviews: April Edition

What’s this again? Everyone’s least favorite style of post? A BITE-SIZED REVIEW ROUND-UP? That’s right, it’s finals for me and I am So Stressed because if I get One B I will die and lose my dreams of going to the University of Michigan for Grad School. So I read some books this week but I’m not going to talk about them at length! Let’s go!

Sofi and the Bone Song

Sofi
Sofi and the Bone Song by Adrienne Tooley
416 pages
publishes April 19th, 2022

In this gorgeous, queer standalone fantasy, a young musician sets out to expose her rival for illegal use of magic only to discover the deception goes deeper than she could have imagined–perfect for fans of An Enchantment of Ravens! 

Music runs in Sofi’s blood. 

Her father is a Musik, one of only five musicians in the country licensed to compose and perform original songs. In the kingdom of Aell, where winter is endless and magic is accessible to all, there are strict anti-magic laws ensuring music remains the last untouched art. 

Sofi has spent her entire life training to inherit her father’s title. But on the day of the auditions, she is presented with unexpected competition in the form of Lara, a girl who has never before played the lute. Yet somehow, to Sofi’s horror, Lara puts on a performance that thoroughly enchants the judges. 

Almost like magic. 

The same day Lara wins the title of Musik, Sofi’s father dies, and a grieving Sofi sets out to prove Lara is using illegal magic in her performances. But the more time she spends with Lara, the more Sofi begins to doubt everything she knows about her family, her music, and the girl she thought was her enemy. 

As Sofi works to reclaim her rightful place as a Musik, she is forced to face the dark secrets of her past and the magic she was trained to avoid–all while trying not to fall for the girl who stole her future.

-sapphic!
-Deep, Involved Fantasy!
music as magic
a RIVALRY that ends in KISSING?
-GENERATIONAL TRAUMA?

This is many things I enjoy in a book. Four stars. Bookshop link here.

 

A Fatal Booking

Booking
A Fatal Booking by Victoria Gilbert (Booklover’s B&B Mystery #3)
304 pages
publishes June 7th, 2022

Victoria Gilbert’s third Booklover’s B&B Mystery, a treat for fans of Mary Daheim and Kate Carlisle, finds owner Charlotte Reed and her former spy neighbor, Ellen Montgomery, pitted against a tea-party poisoner. 

Booklover Charlotte is delighted to welcome an eclectic group of guests to Chapters Bed and Breakfast for a book club retreat focused on fairy tales and classic children’s literature. But when one of the guests is poisoned at a Mad Hatter tea party, Charlotte realizes she’s fallen down a rather unpleasant rabbit hole 

The victim – an opinionated busybody whose jewelry store sold original designs, along with some possibly “hot” merchandise – had plenty of enemies, spurring Charlotte and Ellen to offer their well-honed investigative skills to assist the local police. But as they delve deeper into each of the guest’s stories, they realize all of them had a motive, and the means, to close the book on the unfortunate victim. 

Enlisting the aid of a few local residents, as well as their new ally, agent Gavin Howard, Charlotte and Ellen vow to reveal the truth, even if the path to any sort of happy ending is strewn with deadly danger.

-I’m taking a ballads and folktales course this semester as part of my children’s literature degree and I thought about it so much while reading this book
-the theme is Alice in Wonderland
-EVERYONE has a motive which I think is very good
-this is definitely a good afternoon read with a cozy cup of coffee

Four stars.

 

Spear

Spear
Spear by Nicola Griffith
192 pages
publishes April 19th, 2022

If Le Guin wrote a Camelot story, I imagine it would feel like Spear: humane, intelligent, and deeply beautiful. It’s a new story with very old bones, a strange place that feels like home. –Alix E. Harrow, author of A Spindle Splintered

She left all she knew to find who she could be . . . 

She grows up in the wild wood, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake drift to her on the spring breeze, scented with promise. And when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she decides her future lies at his court. So, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and sets out on her bony gelding for Caer Leon. 

With her stolen hunting spear and mended armour, she is an unlikely hero, not a chosen one, but one who forges her own bright path. Aflame with determination, she begins a journey of magic and mystery, love, lust and fights to death. On her adventures, she will steal the hearts of beautiful women, fight warriors and sorcerers, and make a place to call home. 

The legendary author of Hild returns with an unforgettable hero and a queer Arthurian masterpiece for the modern era. Nicola Griffith’s Spear is a spellbinding vision of the Camelot we’ve longed for, a Camelot that belongs to us all.

On the surface, this is everything I love in a book (queer Arthurian retelling! Welsh Arthurian retelling! sapphic!), but it really unfortunately felt like it Was Not For Me, which I don’t think was any particular fault of the book itself, it was honestly probably just the fact that it is Finals Week and also Migraine Week for me. I think if you liked Cursed which was an Arthurian retelling on Netflix that premiered at the start of the pandemic, you’ll really like this book, but I couldn’t get into that for similar reasons (it was the start of a pandemic and I was very stressed about it). Three stars but like, I’m sad about it. Rating systems suck.

dancing upon that woven life (the men: a hate review)

The men
The Men by Sandra Newman
272 pages
publishes June 14th, 2022

This review is by my roommate, Jude, who read this because I sure was not fucking going to. Take it away, Judah!

the main issue with this book is that our dear latitude, owner, author, and editor of this blog, my favorite roommate, would disappear on account of their xy chromosomes.

but really — so many things about this book are bad – the racism, the plot, the prose, the ableism, the ~twist~, the ending (it’s a dream, really? what is this, tumblr 2010?), the transmisogynistic premise, the racism. honestly this book felt like nothing happened and a white woman is just malcontent about her life. because in fact, nothing happened, and a white woman is just upset about her life choices.

here’s the main events of the book: jane pearson is camping with her husband and young son. while they go to bed in the tent she falls asleep outside, in a hammock. she wakes up and they’re gone. she stays on the mountain 10 days trying to find them. she comes down and realizes all the men (technically everyone with xy chromosomes) has disappeared. she eventually seeks out her old good friend/almost lover, evangelyne moreau, a black political revolutionary and the only remotely interesting character. the book is interspersed with details about a mysterious site that has videos of the disappeared people in weird, trippy settings. eventually evangelyne’s past with a bipolar girl comes out and it’s somehow all her fault, and she asks jane to choose her over her husband & son, and if she doesn’t choose evangelyne everything will go back to the moment the men disappeared – including evangelyne with a police mob surveilling her house.

jane pearson is insufferable the entire story. the men is just a book about her feeling bad about her cushy life that she is unwilling to leave, even though she is bored and unhappy. and the story really didn’t need to be 200 pages of annoying racist comments to be told. far too frequently a white character would be like “I had this racist impulse/thought and was ashamed” and it never added anything to the story but it kept happening, just a book of white guilt. jane’s ultimate choice at the end directly causes evangelyne to be murdered by the police in her own home.

jane talks about the advantages of men disappearing as if women have no agency, as if all women go around appeasing the men in their lives and putting all women’s behaviors at the behest of men. the prose also just says some inane stuff sometimes, like this quote:

it has always astonished me how women talk. men talk, but women talk as if engaged in research, talk in no direction, pondering, investigating, acting out scenes, asking open-ended questions, spinning a life like a spiderweb and dancing upon that woven life

like first of all this is just a wild romanticization of how women talk, and, i’ve been a woman in my time, i’ve navigated social spaces both as a woman and as a man (and as a gnc woman, a trans man, as genderqueer, a dyke, a fag – plenty of genders i’ve acted out!) and this is an absolutely buckwild thing to write. the painting of men as a monolith of terribleness, of maladjustment and violent and stupid and oh women are never these things – is extremely gender essentialist and also the most stupid, basic, boring analysis of gender.

on the subway, two people asked if ruth wanted help, and when she got down from the train platform, for the first time ever it didn’t smell of urine. that undid her, and she was sobbing on the train, so furious at the men. of course you couldn’t know their disappearance was punishment, but who didn’t think it was punishment? after all the wars, the pollution, the rapes? they even had to piss on the train platforms! they had to keep misbehaving until they got erased.

we all know women of course wouldn’t cause war, pollution, or rape, or piss outside of toilets (also, you think the piss on train platforms is because dudes wanted to piss there or do you think maybe the lack of public bathrooms might be related). narrowing every social issue down to “oh it’s because of men” is such a nearsighted analysis – as if all the bullshit we live with can be boiled down to manhood. wealth, race, religion, greed, selfishness, individualism – so many things contribute to the evils of the world, and those wouldn’t disappear if men weren’t around. powerful women would be there ready to take up the gauntlet.

 i was also the nice white girlfriend who could give white donors a feeling of safety, a girl with a radiant public goodness like a stained-glass window, like eva perón. in this connection, my sex offender status only seemed to add a little spice, as perhaps fascism had for eva.

this is an insane sentence i don’t need to say anything more on it.

the way that the book throws in some “oh i saw trans women in the weird videos of the men also” and “there was a trans man but he got sexually assaulted in the street” is absurd considering that the book is still entitled *the men* and the mention of transness and gender and sex variance aren’t investigated in the context of the story at all. honestly i’d rather the editor who advised newman to write those mentions in didn’t do so because somehow it makes the “everyone with xy chromosomes disappears” premise worse. i’m more offended by the shitty attempt of inclusion than i would be by the run of the mill sex-based essentialism that i experience every day.

my rating: 1/5 stars

i’m just a dumb stoner, but you should consider reading gretchen felker-martin’s review, which is much smarter than mine. or, better yet subscribe to her patreon and also purchase and devour manhunt, an actually good book.

i read this as an ARC and would not recommend anyone spend money or time on this book. unless you want to hate-read it to gossip about it, which is why i read it, but please don’t pay for it otherwise we are not friends anymore.