All posts by Dahlia Adler

Exclusive Cover & Excerpt Reveal: In the Role of Brie Hutchens… by Nicole Melleby

Happy National Coming Out Day! What better way to celebrate than with a cover reveal for a coming out story that must be on your radar for 2020??

Nicole Melleby is no stranger to the site, and should certainly be no stranger to any fans of queer MG, with Hurricane Season now behind her and several more coming up, including the beauty whose cover we’re revealing today: In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, which releases from Algonquin on April 21! Here’s the official copy for the book:

Introducing Brie Hutchens: soap opera super fan, aspiring actor, and so-so student at her small Catholic school. Brie has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to be the star of the school play and convince her parents to let her go to the performing arts high school. But when Brie’s mom walks in on her accidentally looking at some possibly inappropriate photos of her favorite actress, Brie panics and blurts out that she’s been chosen to crown the Mary statue during her school’s May Crowning ceremony. Brie’s mom is distracted with pride—but Brie’s in big trouble: she has not been chosen. No one has, yet. Worse, Brie has almost no chance to get the job, which always goes to a top student.

Desperate to make her lie become truth, Brie turns to Kennedy, the girl everyone expects to crown Mary. But sometimes just looking at Kennedy gives Brie butterflies. Juggling her confusing feelings with the rapidly approaching May Crowning, not to mention her hilarious non-star turn in the school play, Brie navigates truth and lies, expectations and identity, and how to—finally—make her mother really see her as she is.

And here’s the rainbowtastic cover, with art by Stephanie Singleton, design by Carla Weise, and hand lettering by Maeve Norton!

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Can’t wait to dive in? Good news: you don’t have to! We’ve got the first chapter right here:

Brie was almost positive her mom didn’t like her.

That wasn’t to say her mom didn’t love her. But Brie had a hard time believing that she liked her. For example, Brie didn’t think she was the type of girl her mom would point at and go “Now that is a good girl” if they met elsewhere. Someone like Kennedy Bishop, on the other hand, was the quintessential good girl. Everyone’s mom liked Kennedy Bishop.

Kennedy was destined to be the eighth grader chosen to crown Mary at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s annual celebratory mass in the spring. Brie wouldn’t have cared which of her classmates was chosen—really, she wouldn’t have—if it hadn’t been for Kelly Monaco’s boobs.

Look, first of all, Kelly Monaco was Brie’s favorite soap opera star, and she also had really great hair. Even Brie’s mom thought so. They’d had an entire conversation about it while watching General Hospital together. “Kelly Monaco has really great hair,” her mom had said.

“She has really great everything,” Brie had responded— immediately turning red. Her mom hadn’t noticed.

Later Brie Googled photos of Kelly Monaco’s really great hair. How was she supposed to know Kelly had done Playboy photos and that they would be the first thing to pop up? Really it was her mom’s fault, since she had brought up Kelly Monaco’s hair to begin with, and honestly Brie kept looking at the photos only because she was curious.

Well, curious . . . and maybe a little flustered.

Of course that flustered moment was when her mom decided to waltz into her room, carrying Brie’s laundry and lecturing her about the need to unfold socks before throwing them in the hamper. Brie’s backpack was strewn on the floor, and—miracle of miracles—her mom tripped over it, stum- bling just enough to shift her eyes away from Brie’s computer screen. Brie—flushed and about to burst into flame—caught sight of her religion book as it slipped out of her bag. A statue of Mary with her arms outstretched beckoned from the cover. That was the moment Brie practically shouted, “I’m going to crown Mary!”

At the time it seemed like divine intervention.

Her mom was delighted. Brie closed her browser. Crisis averted.

Well, at least that crisis. The bigger problem was she hadn’t been chosen to crown Mary. No one had. The selec- tion wouldn’t happen for weeks, because, needless to say, the May Crowning was in May. The students of Our Lady of Perpetual Help still had fourteen weeks of regular masses to prepare for the eighth-grade event.

It was a big deal in Catholic school, or at least at Brie’s. May was the month they honored and celebrated the Mother of God by holding a special church mass during school and inviting the rest of the parishioners to attend. The eighth- grade students got all dressed up—out of their uniforms and into their Sunday best—and the rest of the school gathered in the church to watch as the chosen one went up on the altar and put a crown made of flowers on the Mary statue’s head. Since Brie had gone to OLPH since kindergarten, she’d sat through eight May Crowning masses. Now she would need to do more than sit through the ninth.

***

Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. When she’s not writing, she can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.

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Authors in Conversation: Maulik Pancholy and Phil Stamper Talk Mental Health

Today is World Mental Health Day, and I’m thrilled to be celebrating it by having two wonderful gay kidlit authors discuss the representation in their book!

Maulik Pancholy (r.) is the author of the newly released The Best At It, a Middle Grade contemporary starring a gay Indian boy with OCD who’s starting seventh grade and getting used to lots of new changes, and Phil Stamper (l.) is the author of the upcoming The Gravity of Us, a contemporary YA love story between two boys who happen to be the sons of astronauts who are on the same mission to Mars. They’re here to talk about the roles mental health plays in their books, especially as it relates to queerness, pressure, and competition. Please welcome them!

Maulik: Hi Phil! I’m excited to get to do this with you. I loved The Gravity Of Us. I wanted Cal’s FlashFlame show to be real so I could actually tune in, and I was rooting for him and Leon from the first moment they met. I also lived in Houston for a year, so I related to all the characters having to deal with all that humidity! For folks who haven’t read it yet, want to give us a quick recap?

Phil: Thank you so much! A bit about my book: The Gravity of Us is a queer teen love story set against the backdrop of a present-day NASA mission to Mars. The story follows teen social media journalist Cal, whose carefully planned life is uprooted when his father is picked as an astronaut for the Orpheus missions to Mars. Amidst the chaos, and the move from Brooklyn to Houston, Cal meets the son of another astronaut on the program and finds himself falling for him—fast. But when Cal uncovers secrets about the program, he must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Do you want to give a brief rundown of The Best at It as well? It’s such a fantastic story. I love Rahul (and Chelsea! And Bhai! And the whole gang, really) and I remember having a similar need to be “the best” at something when I was his age… even if I could never quite figure out what that “something” was.

Maulik: Thanks! I’m glad it resonated with you. The Best at It is about Rahul Kapoor, a 12-year-old, Indian American boy who is just beginning to realize that he might be gay. He’s dealing with anxiety around that, and he’s also being bullied for multiple layers of his identity at school. One night, his favorite person in the whole world, his grandfather, Bhai, tells him a story that makes Rahul believe that if he’s just the best at something, all of his other problems will disappear. So with his best friend Chelsea by his side, he sets off on a mission to prove his self-worth. He’s only got two problems: What is he going to be the best at? And what if he falls short?

Phil, one of the things that I was struck by, is that in both of our books we have characters dealing with different forms or manifestations of anxiety. In your book, Becca, Cal’s mother, struggles with anxiety in a way that really hit home for me. I was drawn in by the way you described her facial expressions, and how it affected Cal to see that. Want to talk about that a bit?

Phil: Ah, that’s so great to hear. Becca’s anxiety was based off of my own experience, but it was really interesting writing Gravity from the perspective of someone who does not share those experiences. At that time, I think I was trying to be more cognizant of what happens to me and how that might affect or appear to people, and that really helped when describing the smaller physical manifestations of her anxiety.

Cal’s mom was such an interesting character, because I wanted to play against the “perfect astronaut wife” trope of the 60s. While she still knows there’s an expectation of her to be polished, steady, and camera-ready when it comes to the media circus of the launch, she gets to break down some of those expectations with Cal and her family, because she’s so open and clear about her experience with anxiety.

While we’re on the topic of mental health, one thing about The Best at It that stuck with me was how naturally Rahul’s experience with probable OCD was “revealed” on the page. Oftentimes with mental health in media, especially with OCD rep, we get something that’s a little less nuanced, but the way it was shown in your story made his experience seem so authentic and relatable. How did you choose to show this throughout the story?

Maulik: Rahul’s behaviors in the book are similar to some of the “checking” behaviors that I dealt with as a kid, and honestly still do as an adult. In my experience, those behaviors presented in different ways. Sometimes it was just checking something, like a lock, in a seemingly absent-minded manner, not really aware of the impulse why. Sometimes it was having an overwhelming feeling that something bad would happen if I didn’t check something, repeatedly. That dread of, “Is the stove really off? Am I SURE?” And, for me, these patterns were certainly triggered–and intensified–by stress, including emotional stress.

I’m hearing from middle school teachers that they see more and more kids dealing with anxiety. So, I didn’t want to shy away from this in the book. I also wrote the scene between Rahul and his father to model the kinds of conversations that I think adults and kids can be having around this.

For Rahul, his checking escalates as the level of competition in the book grows. In your book, Leon is dealing with depression related to the competitive world of Olympic athletics. Would you say that Leon is affected by competition in a similar way to Rahul?

Phil: That’s an interesting comparison, because I do think Leon and Rahul have a similar experience in that competition is a trigger for them. Gymnastics is a really intense sport that is full of pressure, and Leon’s response to that pressure was to pull back, to withdraw from the world and sort of shame himself for feeling this way, even if he couldn’t control it. That said, Leon’s a few years older than Rahul, and he is more-or-less removed from his Olympic trajectory by the time we get to meet him, even if the media conveniently forgets that on occasion.

Not a big spoiler here, but in the end, Leon finds a way to rekindle his passion for gymnastics, without subjecting himself to the pressure of competition. Similarly, and hopefully not a spoiler, but Rahul realizes that finding something you love and doing it until you get better is a better fit for him than competing. Does it mean that Leon and Rahul no longer experience depression or probable OCD, respectively? No, of course not.

But I do think it’s really important that both of these characters are learning more about themselves so they can hopefully better communicate that to their loved ones. Pivoting back to Cal for a moment—while I think Leon actually has a grasp on how to best avoid triggers like pressure and the spotlight, Cal’s kind of torn. He’s used to being in the spotlight, and he wants to be the one to break any and every news story, but he really gets himself into a mess in Houston, and you can really see the pressure and people’s expectations getting to him.

The more I think about it, Cal’s and Rahul’s stories both deal heavily with competition and perfection. With Rahul though, he’s experiencing this need for perfection all while trying to understand more about his queer identity. How do you think this affects his competitive nature?

Maulik: Rahul’s perfectionism and his need to win are 100% about proving his self-worth in a world where being different makes him feel less than. And his queer identity is one layer of that for sure. I just want to say, though, that it was important to me not to pathologize being gay. His mental health struggles are not because he’s gay. It’s the feeling less than, the wanting to fit in, that is stressful for him. And I think there’s something universal about that. What kid–or even adult–hasn’t felt like an outsider at some point?

Speaking of which, I think empathy for other people’s experiences really comes through in both our books, even if the characters themselves aren’t always perfect at expressing it. Rahul’s Dad doesn’t have all the language to talk about OCD, and in your book, you write about Leon’s parents choosing not to push the conversation around depression. In fact, it’s Leon’s sister, Kat, who’s a real ally to her brother. And Cal, of course, has Deb much in the same way Rahul has Chelsea. Was there a reason you wrote such great allies in the form of siblings and friends?

Phil: I guess I’ve written some really great allies and supporting characters, because the amount of comments I get about wanting to see more of Kat or Deb are astounding! Deb is loosely based around one of my best friends from high school, and she was so much fun to write. In the book, she’s the steadfast ally any queer kid would want, but I wanted to make sure she had her own story, her own arc, and didn’t exist solely for the benefit of Cal. So, I got to play with the boundaries of allyship and best friendship a bit. I also got to reflect on my own selfish tendencies, especially while I was in high school, and show how an ally can both offer unfaltering support about you and your identity while also being there to tell you to shut up when you’re out of line!

From our personal experiences with mental health, identity, and even the friendships we’ve had, it looks like we’ve both put a lot of ourselves into our debut novels. Would you like to talk briefly about why you chose to do this?

Maulik: Sure. The characters in my book go on a journey: they change, and they learn things about themselves. And maybe that allows readers to see themselves more clearly as well. What I really wanted was to tell a great story–grounded in reality, with both humor and pathos–and to hold up a mirror for kids who deserve to see themselves in the books they read. I guess that’s why I was willing to be so personal: I wanted to write a book that I could have used as a kid. But I have to say, it’s been gratifying to hear how many people–with experiences far different than mine–have made their own connections to Rahul’s story.

Phil: That’s fantastic. I set out to showcase a queer love story in a unique setting, so the feedback from the romance between Cal and Leon has been amazing. Less intentionally, though, I leaned on my own experiences with mental health while creating characters like Leon and Cal’s mother, and it’s been great to see readers connecting to that too.

I’m so glad we got to chat about this, Maulik! It’s been great getting to know a little bit more about your experience developing and writing The Best at It, and I can’t wait for readers everywhere to get their hands on a copy. And super special thanks to Dahlia and LGBTQ Reads for hosting us!

***

Buy The Best At It: B&N | Amazon | IndieBound

Preorder The Gravity of UsB&N | Amazon | IndieBound

New Release Spotlight: Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

One of my favorite things about blogging is pushing myself into reading new things, and I could not have made a better choice for my first graphic novel than Mooncakes, written by Suzanne Walker and drawn by Wendy Xu. This book is a freaking delight, targeted to a YA audience and featuring a queer hard-of-hearing witch who lives with her grandmas and is delighted at the return of her old friend, a non-binary werewolf. Together, they fight a demon and celebrate Jewish and Chinese heritage and honestly it is all just glorious! 

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Your Weapon of Choice: a Guest Post by Master of Restless Shadows Author Ginn Hale

Today on the site we’re welcome back Ginn Hale, whose fantasy Master of Restless Shadows, part of the Cadeleonian world (but kicking off its own new series) releases today! It’s full of espionage and other courtly intrigue, not to mention magic, witches, and romance. Here are the details:

Freshly graduated Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm has left his home in Anacleto and journeyed to the imposing royal capitol of Cieloalta intent upon keeping the youthful oath he made to a troubled writer. But in the decade since Narsi gave his pledge, Atreau Vediya, has grown from an anonymous delinquent to a man renowned for penning bawdy operas and engaging in scandalous affairs.

What Narsi―and most of the larger world―cannot know is the secret role Atreau plays as spymaster for the Duke of Rauma.

After the Cadeleonian royal bishop launches an unprovoked attack against the witches in neighboring Labara, Atreau will require every resource he can lay his hands upon to avert a war. A physician is exactly what he needs. But with a relentless assassin hunting the city and ancient magic waking, Atreau fears that his actions could cost more than his own honor. The price of peace could be his friends’ lives.

Buy it: Blind Eye Books | Amazon | Smashwords

And here’s the guest post on making choices in the world of weaponry in Epic Fantasy, complete with fabulous exclusive art from cover designer Zaya Feli!

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Epic fantasy is full of weapons. Swords are particularly common. Some are imbued with specific and significant cultural meaning, such as Excalibur or Kusanagi-no-tsurugi. Others, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gurthang or Sikanda from The Never Ending Story are magical to the point of sentience, while others are simply notable for their history, quality or the use they are put to, such as Mr. Smee’s Johnny Corkscrew in Peter Pan—so named because of the way the sailor twists the blade in the wound after stabbing his opponent.

But it’s not just magical, mythical, or infamous weapons that convey information about the their world and the person wielding them. After all swords, spears, bows, guns, etc. are real tools with real histories. Everything about them—from how they’re made, how they’re adorned and who can carry them—has been shaped by particular places and times in human history.

To me as an author, this means that who I arm and how I choose to arm them can serve the story.  Even when the choice of weapon might seem little more than costume to a reader, often much more thought has gone into the matter.

When I began writing my Cadeleonians series—Lord of the White Hell, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf and Master of Restless Shadows—I called on personal experience, and a passing familiarity with the history of weapon to arm my protagonists and also to personalize how and why they fight.

Since the series begins inside a military academy, it only made sense to employ weapon preference and fighting styles to characterize the students and to add depth to their duels. (Not to mention the ambushes and battles they would later be involved in.)

Slim and smart, Kiram Kir-Zaki is far more interested in his mechanical studies than swordplay, so he relies on tactics more than strength. He also hails from a different culture than his sword-swinging Cadeleonian classmates, so his weapon of choice is a bow, which offers him the advantage of distance. Archery allows him to hunt birds, while his classmates gripe about winter rations of cabbage stew. His inventiveness also means that he eventually crafts his own unique weapons to defend himself and his family of choice.

His roommate Javier on the other hand is an excellent swordsman, but because his instructors believed he’s cursed he’s forced to undergo a regime of religious penance that leaves him physically weak. This leads to his decision to forgo both shields and longer, heavier swords, as just carrying them would exhaust him. Instead he relies on a light rapier—not unlike an early épée. Of course stepping into a dueling ring armed with such a fragile-looking sword broadcasts his vulnerability. Javier’s solution is to play up his weakness—expending the minimum of his strength to elude his opponents and hold them at bay all while lulling them into overconfidence. Then, having conserved his strength and lured his opponent into the range of his shorter, lighter weapon he strikes his winning blow.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is their friend Elezar, who possesses exceptional strength and reach. He comfortably wields a longer, much heavier sword; one that readily tears through the armored enemies he faces on the battlefield. Since the majority of his fighting is done while mounted I imagine him armed with something between an estoc and a broadsword. On foot, his weapon of choice is probably something like a bastard sword, (likely a hand-me-down and quite out of fashion, but comfortable to him and a reminder of the people he’s left behind when he journeys to other lands.) That said, Elezar has also won his way through couple predicaments by employing a woodcutter’s maul—ouch!—and his coin purse.

Master of Restless Shadows introduces a new character: Sabella, who is a professional fighter. But unlike the nobles who schooled at the Sagrada Academy, Sabella’s battles are fought in dueling rings of sword houses and serve as entertainment for gamblers and the general public. Her weapon is a civilian sword, a rapier. It’s easily sheathed and unsheathed in close quarters and meant for combat on city streets against unarmored opponents. Like Sabella herself, a rapier is agile and deadly. It’s also something a rarity for any woman to possess, as sumptuary laws would normally bar a Cadeleonian woman from wearing a sword. (Though my books are fantastical, sumptuary laws aren’t. They were and are still used to suppress gender and class freedom. Fascinating historical figures like as Mary Frith (aka Molly Cutpurse) and the extraordinary duelist, La Chevalier d’Eon number among the many people who struggled to live authentically under such laws.)  But since I took my initial inspiration from the real life figure of duelist and opera singer Julie D’Aubigny in creating Sabella, I allowed her to win a special dispensation to dress in men’s clothes—which includes her beloved rapier.

Master of Restless Shadows also introduces Delfia who, like Sabella, has been expertly trained in combat since childhood. But since she and her brother are assassins, it would hardly do for her to flout sumptuary laws or strut through the capitol with a rapier at her hip. Instead she carries a fighting knife, which her decorative sheath and full skirt help to disguise as a mere belt knife. And, of course, she also employs poison. Being smaller and less menacing in demeanor doesn’t make her less deadly. It does however mean that her greatest weapon is the element of surprise. (As in, ‘Surprise! That tiny jab from a lace needle was loaded with poison!’)

Ariz

And last but not (I hope) least is Delfia’s brother, Ariz. He puts me in mind of a quote attributed to Confucius: Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance. In his guise as an instructor of fencing and dance, Ariz often plays down his facility for swordplay. But his grace, balance and speed as a dancer really ought to betray him, particularly when it comes to sword dancing. (Most sword dances actually began as forms of military exercise and training, so that ought to be a give away right there.) However Ariz presents himself and his personal weapons in the most lackluster manner possible. Instead of using the eye-catching effect of bluing to bring out the splendor of his heavy rapier and dagger, Ariz’s weapons are russeted or browned. This chemical process renders the flats of the blades a dull black-brown. At a glance his drawn dagger can appear to still be sheathed.

This detail, is a small one but to me it is central to Ariz’s characterization. Not only does it display just how he fights and survives but it serves as a metaphor for the man himself. That’s not too shabby of a feat for a homely sword with a deadly point to pull off.

***

Ginn Hale lives with her lovely wife in the Pacific Northwest. She spends the many cloudy days observing plants and fungi. She whiles away the rainy evenings writing fantasy and science-fiction featuring LGBTQ protagonists. Her first novel, Wicked Gentlemen, won the Spectrum Award for best novel. She is also a Lambda Literary Award finalist and Rainbow Award winner.

Her most recent publications include the Lord of the White Hell, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf and The Rifter Trilogy: The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road, His Sacred Bones.

She can be reached through her website: www.ginnhale.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Her Instagram account, however, is largely a collection of botanical photos…so, be warned.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska

I know everyone’s in the mood for spooky reads this month, and full moons definitely fit the bill. They also happen to be at the center of The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska, an enemies-to-lovers bi f/f YA fantasy releasing from Sourcebooks on June 1, 2020, whose cover you can see as soon as you’re done checking out this witchy blurb!

THE DARK TIDE COVER

Every year on St. Walpurga’s Eve, Caldella’s Witch Queen lures a young boy back to her palace. An innocent life to be sacrificed on the full moon to keep the island city from sinking.

Convinced her handsome brother is going to be taken, Lina Kirk enlists the help of Thomas Lin, her secret crush, and the only boy to ever escape from the palace. Working together they protect her brother but draw the Queen’s attention.

Eva cast away her heart when her sister died to save the boy she loved. Now as Queen, she won’t make the same mistake. She’ll sacrifice anyone if it means saving herself and her home.

When Thomas is chosen as sacrifice, Lina takes his place and the two girls are forced to spend time together as they await the full moon. But Lina is not at all what Eva expected, and the Queen is nothing like Lina envisioned. Against their will, they find themselves falling for each other. As water floods Caldella’s streets and the dark tide demands its sacrifice, they must choose who to save: themselves, each other, or the island city relying on them both.

Here’s the delightfully eerie cover, designed by Nicole Hower with art by Helen Crawford White!

THE DARK TIDE COVER

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Alicia Jasinska author photoAlicia Jasinska is a queer fantasy writer hailing from Sydney, Australia. A library technician by day, she spends her nights writing and hanging upside down from the trapeze and aerial hoop. THE DARK TIDE is her debut novel.

Excerpt from Crier’s War by Nina Varela

Today on the site we have an excerpt from Crier’s War by Nina Varela, a YA fantasy with a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers f/f romance set against a political backdrop that just released on October 1! First, check out the book:

Like all Automae, Crier was made to be perfect. Her design was created and approved by her father, the sovereign King Hesod of Rabu. However, when her new fiancé presents her with proof that there is a flaw in her design—one that shows she has the very human trait of passion—she worries it will lead to her downfall.  For years, Ayla has been quietly plotting her revenge, after being born into subjugation. In Rabu, humans are inferior to Automae and considered second-class citizens. Hesod took Ayla’s family, so she intends to take his—by killing Crier.

Then, one fateful night, Ayla ends up saving Crier’s life instead. Out of gratitude or curiosity, Crier requests Ayla as her new handmaiden. And though Ayla tells herself she only accepted the position to infiltrate her enemies, she starts to realize that Crier is nothing like she previously believed.  But as humans and Automae are on the brink of war, Ayla and Crier’s relationship may be a catalyst for a battle that could end all of civilization.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

And here’s the excerpt!

Benjy opened his mouth to say something else, but Rowan cut him off. “Stars and skies, birdy,” she said, her brown eyes lit up in the sunlight. She looked less like a sparrow and more like . . . like a warrior, fierce and brilliant and flush with hope. Like the warrior she had been in past uprisings; like the warrior she would be again. The revolutionary, the leader. “Ayla, my love,” she said. “This is incredible, this is—this is the best chance we’ve had in years. You can be our eyes and ears on the inside, love. Stationed right at the heart of the spider’s nest, imagine that. And—personal handmaiden to Lady Crier? Gods, it’s like they want a coup.”

“So you think I should use my position,” said Ayla, unable to keep the triumph out of her voice, even as she saw Benjy’s scowl deepen. “You think I should be a mole.”

“Yes,” said Rowan. “Yes, gods, of course. Though”—here her voice changed a little, grew harder—“it will be dangerous. Ayla, you have to focus on the Scyre. He’s the one with knowledge about the Iron Heart. Maybe he’s even got a map of the Aderos Mountains, or of the trade routes, a ledger of all the heartstone traders, something, anything. Whatever you can find, it’ll be valuable.” She grinned, sharp and bright, and cupped Ayla’s face in both hands, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “You clever girl. Oh, you clever, fearsome girl.”

Ayla grinned back, but her mind was already spinning. Was it possible? Was there a chance that Scyre Kinok really did have a map of the Aderos Mountains—a map that could lead them to the Iron Heart itself?

If he did . . .

No more white dresses hanging over the marketplace like ghosts.

Because humans wouldn’t have to kill Automae to set themselves free. The Automae would die, all at once. During Ayla’s first year working under Sovereign Hesod, the orchards had nearly been wiped out by an infestation of locusts. It was an unusually hot spring: the kind of spring where the end of winter felt less like a rebirth, like shaking the weight of snow off your shoulders and emerging lighter for it, and more like a slow descent into boiling water. The air was thick and wet as steam. Sometimes it ached even to breathe. When the locusts came, settling over the orchards like a living, buzzing shadow, even they seemed a little exhausted by the heat. They ate slowly: first the budding fruits, then the blossoms, then the leaves. They ate nonstop for days. All the servants were panicking, because no one knew what to do about the loss of the fruit harvest. And what happened when the locusts stripped the fruit trees bare? Would they fly away, or would they just migrate to the gardens? The fields of barley and sea lavender? Would the entire year’s crop be devoured?

It was Nessa—the head servant—who saved them. Nessa who got the idea to spray the locusts with clouds of poisoned water. It wouldn’t hurt the trees—and besides, most of them were already naked and dead-looking—but it began to kill the locusts the second it touched their shiny green skin.

Within a single day, the trees were empty. The dirt below their branches was littered with millions of dead, silent locusts, their bodies piled ankle-deep. Ayla was one of the servants assigned to clearing them away. Barefoot, she waded through the orchards, filling her basket over and over again with corpses and then loading the baskets onto a cart, dragging the cart out to the bluffs, tossing the contents of each basket over the edge and into the waiting sea. The locusts’ tiny iridescent wings caught the sunlight as they fell; with each basket, Ayla felt like she was pouring out a cascade of glittering gemstones.

One day’s work and all the locusts were dead; the orchards were saved.

That was what would happen if the Iron Heart was destroyed, if the Automae were deprived of heartstone dust. One day’s work. A living shadow lifted.

Ayla blinked. Realized Rowan was still watching her, waiting for her response. Benjy wasn’t looking at either of them. He was staring at the dirt floor, jaw working.

“I’m going to work for Lady Crier,” said Ayla. “I’m going to spy on the Scyre and learn everything I can about the Iron Heart.”

“What about your revenge?” Benjy mumbled.

“I won’t be rash,” she promised. There was no point in telling Benjy that the fire in her hadn’t diminished—had grown, even. This killing fire inside her—he didn’t need to know just how long and cruel it had been burning. Just how charred and scarred she was. Somewhere in the back of her mind, her brother’s voice echoed. Act only when the odds are on your side, Ayla. Gamble with bread and coins, not your life. “I swear to you, Benjy,” she said. “I won’t do anything to Hesod or Crier until I’ve found enough information to destroy the Iron Heart. I won’t let my revenge compromise the Revolution.”

Rowan patted her cheek, beaming. “That’s my girl.”

And even though her eyes were still watering from the terrible stench of the latrines, even though the idea of serving Crier disgusted her, even though part of her wasn’t sure she’d be able to find any information on the Heart at all . . . For the first time since that day, Ayla had a plan. Not just the nebulous, half-formed notion of I want to hurt Hesod. I want to take away his family like he took away mine. But a real plan. Something so much bigger than Crier, Hesod, Kinok, even herself. It felt like—like this was what she was meant to do.

Her heart was lit up with something quick and hot. A lightning storm inside her.

Somewhere along the line, she’d forgotten how it felt to begin.

***

Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.

 

Happy National Poetry Day!

In celebration of National Poetry Day, check out these Poetry titles that discuss queerness, sexuality, identity, and more. This year’s theme is “Truth,” and given how much of queerness is grappling with that concept, whether for yourself or making other people understand yours or both, you can’t really go wrong here. (For a longer but less detailed list, check out our Poetry page.)

Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist

42363258In her powerful debut collection of poetry, Arielle Twist unravels the complexities of human relationships after death and metamorphosis. In these spare yet powerful poems, she explores, with both rage and tenderness, the parameters of grief, trauma, displacement, and identity. Weaving together a past made murky by uncertainty and a present which exists in multitudes, Arielle Twist poetically navigates through what it means to be an Indigenous trans woman, discovering the possibilities of a hopeful future and a transcendent, beautiful path to regaining softness.

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Masquerade by Cyrus Parker

Non-binary poet Cyrus Parker returns with an all-new collection of poetry and prose dedicated to those struggling to find their own identity in a world that often forces one into the confines of what’s considered “socially acceptable.”

Divided into three parts and illustrated by Parker, masqueradegrapples with topics such as the never-ending search for acceptance, gender identity, relationships, and the struggle to recognize your own face after hiding behind another for so long.

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Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul by Ryka Aoki

25352976Following up her 2014 novel, He Mele A HiloWhy Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul is Ryka Aoki’s first book dedicated completely to poetry.

Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul is currently a finalist for the 2016 Lambda Literary Award in Transgender Poetry.

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Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway

In her third collection of poetry, Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway explores the complexities of being an Indigenous trans women in expansive lyric poems. She holds up the Indigenous trans body as a site of struggle, liberation, and beauty. A confessional poet, Benaway narrates her sexual and romantic intimacies with partners as well as her work to navigate the daily burden of transphobia and violence. She examines the intersections of Indigenous and trans experience through autobiographical poems and continues to speak to the legacy of abuse, violence, and colonial erasure that defines Canada. Her sparse lines, interwoven with English and Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), illustrate the wonder and power of Indigenous trans womanhood in motion. Holy Wild is not an easy book, as Benaway refuses to give any simple answers, but it is a profoundly vibrant and beautiful work filled with a transcendent grace.

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Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

23841432Ocean Vuong’s first full-length collection aims straight for the perennial “big”—and very human—subjects of romance, family, memory, grief, war, and melancholia. None of these he allows to overwhelm his spirit or his poems, which demonstrate, through breath and cadence and unrepentant enthrallment, that a gentle palm on a chest can calm the fiercest hungers.

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Feed by Tommy Pico

Feed is the fourth book in the Teebs tetralogy. It’s an epistolary recipe for the main character, a poem of nourishment, and a jaunty walk through New York’s High Line park, with the lines, stanzas, paragraphs, dialogue, and registers approximating the park’s cultivated gardens of wildness. Among its questions, Feed asks what’s the difference between being alone and being lonely? Can you ever really be friends with an ex? How do you make perfect mac & cheese? Feed is an ode of reconciliation to the wild inconsistencies of a northeast spring, a frustrating season of back-and-forth, of thaw and blizzard, but with a faith that even amidst the mess, it knows where it’s going.

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Exclusive Cover Reveal: The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth

I don’t mean to shock anyone when I say this, but I loooove rom coms, and while this one definitely made me both laugh and cry, it’s got nods to the greats down pat, and yes, this beautiful cover represents one of its best! The Falling in Love Montage releases from HarperTeen on June 9, 2020, and here’s what you can expect!

Saoirse doesn’t believe in love at first sight or happy endings. If they were real, her mother would still be able to remember her name and not in a care home with early onset dementia. A condition that Saoirse may one day turn out to have inherited. So she’s not looking for a relationship. She doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out.

But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.

Unbothered by Saoirse’s no-relationships rulebook, Ruby proposes a loophole: They don’t need true love to have one summer of fun, complete with every cliché, rom-com montage-worthy date they can dream up—and a binding agreement to end their romance come fall. It would be the perfect plan, if they weren’t forgetting one thing about the Falling in Love Montage: when it’s over, the characters actually fall in love… for real.

And here’s the adorable, beautiful cover, designed by Jenna Stempel-Lobell with art by Spiros Halaris!

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Ciara Smyth studied drama, teaching and then social work at university. She thought she didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up. She became a writer so she wouldn’t have to grow up. She enjoys jigging (verb: to complete a jigsaw), playing the violin badly, and having serious conversations with her pets. Ciara has lived in Belfast for over ten years and still doesn’t really know her way around. Visit her online at www.ciarasmyth.com.

New Releases: October 1-15, 2019

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Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia (1st)

43453737When Zora Novak is framed for a crime she didn’t commit, she must track down the true culprit and clear her name before it’s too late. But in a small town obsessed with ghosts, getting people to believe the truth might prove to be impossible. Fans of Riverdale and Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious will devour this eerie murder mystery. Features spot art and a map by the author.

Zora Novak has been framed.

When someone burns down the home of the school janitor and he dies in the blaze, everyone in Addamsville, Indiana, points a finger at Zora. Never mind that Zora has been on the straight and narrow since her father was thrown in jail. With everyone looking for evidence against her, her only choice is to uncover the identity of the real killer. There’s one big problem—Zora has no leads. No one does. Addamsville has a history of tragedy, and thirty years ago a similar string of fires left several townspeople dead. The arsonist was never caught.

Now, Zora must team up with her cousin Artemis—an annoying self-proclaimed Addamsville historian—to clear her name. But with a popular ghost-hunting television show riling up the townspeople, almost no support from her family and friends, and rumors spinning out of control, things aren’t looking good. Zora will have to read between the lines of Addamsville’s ghost stories before she becomes one herself.

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The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (1st)

drakebookThe Larkin family isn’t just lucky—they persevere. At least that’s what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn’t drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family: Tall, funny, musical Violet can’t stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family’s missing piece-the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

Epic, funny, and sweepingly romantic, The Last True Poets of the Sea is an astonishing debut about the strength it takes to swim up from a wreck.

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Crier’s War by Nina Varela (1st)

41951626After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

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Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt (1st)

Kate and Tam meet, and both of their worlds tip sideways. At first, Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And the more they keep running into each other, the more they surprise each other. Beneath Kate’s sleek ponytail and perfect façade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Tam’s so much more than a volleyball player, Kate realizes: She’s everything Kate wishes she could be. It’s complicated. Except it’s not. When Kate and Tam meet, they fall in like. It’s as simple as that. But not everybody sees it that way. This novel in verse about two girls discovering their feelings for each other is a universal story of finding a way to be comfortable in your own skin.

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The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith (1st)

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell….and Earth.

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Freeing Finch by Ginny Rorby (1st)

When her father leaves and her mother passes away soon afterward, Finch can’t help feeling abandoned. Now she’s stuck living with her stepfather and his new wife. They’re mostly nice, but they don’t believe the one true thing Finch knows about herself: that she’s a girl, even though she was born in a boy’s body.

Thankfully, she has Maddy, a neighbor and animal rescuer who accepts her for who she is. Finch helps Maddy care for a menagerie of lost and lonely creatures, including a scared, stray dog who needs a family and home as much as she does. As she earns the dog’s trust, Finch realizes she must also learn to trust the people in her life–even if they are the last people she expected to love her and help her to be true to herself.

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Right After the Weather by Carol Anshaw (1st)

It’s the fall of 2016. Cate, a set designer in her early forties, lives and works in Chicago’s theater community. She has stayed too long at the fair and knows it’s time to get past her prolonged adolescence and stop taking handouts from her parents. She has a firm plan to get solvent and settled in a serious relationship. She has tentatively started something new even as she’s haunted by an old, going-nowhere affair. Her ex-husband, recently booted from his most recent marriage, is currently camped out in Cate’s spare bedroom, in thrall to online conspiracy theories, and she’s not sure how to help him. Her best friend Neale, a yoga instructor, lives nearby with her son and is Cate’s model for what serious adulthood looks like.

Only a few blocks away, but in a parallel universe we find Nathan and Irene—casual sociopaths, drug addicts, and small-time criminals. Their world and Cate’s intersect the day she comes into Neale’s kitchen to find these strangers assaulting her friend. Forced to take fast, spontaneous action, Cate does something she’s never even considered. She now also knows the violence she is capable of, as does everyone else in her life, and overnight, their world has changed. Anshaw’s flawed, sympathetic, and uncannily familiar characters grapple with their altered relationships and identities against the backdrop of the new Trump presidency and a country waking to a different understanding of itself. Eloquent, moving, and beautifully observed, Right after the Weather is the work of a master of exquisite prose and a wry and compassionate student of the human condition writing at the height of her considerable powers.

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The Trans Space Octopus Congregation by Bogi Takács (5th)

Lethe Press is excited to be releasing the debut short story collection by Bogi Takács. Takács may be known more for their recent editorial efforts, winning a Lambda Literary Award for Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Themed Speculative Fiction. But Takács is a talented storyteller and poet. An uplifted octopus finds a strange capsule in the water and wonders if one of the long-vanished humans might be found inside; a team of scientists perform some reverse-engineering on a space station and shapeshifting becomes political; and other tales of AI, hybrids, and the far future.

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American Love Story by Adriana Herrera (7th)

Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.

All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.

For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward…together.

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Master of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale (8th)

Freshly graduated Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm has left his home in Anacleto and journeyed to the imposing royal capitol of Cieloalta intent upon keeping the youthful oath he made to a troubled writer. But in the decade since Narsi gave his pledge, Atreau Vediya, has grown from an anonymous delinquent to a man renowned for penning bawdy operas and engaging in scandalous affairs.</p>

What Narsi―and most of the larger world―cannot know is the secret role Atreau plays as spymaster for the Duke of Rauma.

After the Cadeleonian royal bishop launches an unprovoked attack against the witches in neighboring Labara, Atreau will require every resource he can lay his hands upon to avert a war. A physician is exactly what he needs. But with a relentless assassin hunting the city and ancient magic waking, Atreau fears that his actions could cost more than his own honor. The price of peace could be his friends’ lives.

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Frankissstein by Jeannette Winterson (8th)

Lake Geneva, 1816. Nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley is inspired to write a story about a scientist who creates a new life-form. In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI and carrying out some experiments of his own in a vast underground network of tunnels. Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with his mom again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere. Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryogenics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.

What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? In fiercely intelligent prose, Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realize. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself.

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Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (8th)

Hazel knows a lot about the world. That’s because when she’s not hanging with her best friend, taking care of her dog, or helping care for the goats on her family’s farm, she loves reading through dusty encyclopedias.

But even Hazel doesn’t have answers for the questions awaiting her as she enters eighth grade. What if no one at her new school gets her, and she doesn’t make any friends? What’s going to happen to one of her moms, who’s pregnant again after having two miscarriages? Why does everything have to change when life was already perfectly fine?

As Hazel struggles to cope, she’ll come to realize that sometimes you have to look within yourself—instead of the pages of a book—to find the answer to life’s most important questions.

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A Wild and Precious Life by Edie Windsor (8th)

windsorbookA lively, intimate memoir from an icon of the gay rights movement, describing gay life in 1950s and 60s New York City and her longtime activism which opened the door for marriage equality. 

Edie Windsor became internationally famous when she sued the US government, seeking federal recognition for her marriage to Thea Spyer, her partner of more than four decades. The Supreme Court ruled in Edie’s favor, a landmark victory that set the stage for full marriage equality in the US. Beloved by the LGBTQ community, Edie embraced her new role as an icon; she had already been living an extraordinary and groundbreaking life for decades.

In this memoir, which she began before passing away in 2017 and completed by her co-writer, Edie recounts her childhood in Philadelphia, her realization that she was a lesbian, and her active social life in Greenwich Village’s electrifying underground gay scene during the 1950s. Edie was also one of a select group of trailblazing women in computing, working her way up the ladder at IBM and achieving their highest technical ranking while developing software. In the early 1960s Edie met Thea, an expat from a Dutch Jewish family that fled the Nazis, and a widely respected clinical psychologist. Their partnership lasted forty-four years, until Thea died in 2009. Edie found love again, marrying Judith Kasen-Windsor in 2016.

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By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery (8th)

40651526On the day Torrey officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bee farm his beloved uncle Miles left him after his tragic death is being foreclosed on.

Torrey would love nothing more than to leave behind the family and neighborhood that’s bleeding him dry. But he still feels compelled to care for the project of his uncle’s heart. As the farm heads for auction, Torrey precariously balances choosing a major and texting Gabriel—the first boy he ever kissed—with the fight to stop his uncle’s legacy from being demolished. But as notice letters pile up and lawyers appear at his dorm, dividing himself between family and future becomes impossible unless he sacrifices a part of himself.

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How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (8th)

jonesbookFrom award-winning poet Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.

“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”

Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

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The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy (8th)

Rahul Kapoor is heading into seventh grade in a small town in Indiana. The start of middle school is making him feel increasingly anxious, so his favorite person in the whole world, his grandfather, Bhai, gives him some well-meaning advice: Find one thing you’re really good at and become the BEST at it.

Those four little words sear themselves into Rahul’s brain. While he’s not quite sure what that special thing is, he is convinced that once he finds it, bullies like Brent Mason will stop torturing him at school. And he won’t be worried about staring too long at his classmate Justin Emery. With his best friend, Chelsea, by his side, Rahul is ready to crush this challenge…. But what if he discovers he isn’t the bestat anything?

Funny, charming, and incredibly touching, this is a story about friendship, family, and the courage it takes to live your truth.

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Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn and Claire Roe (8th)

dunnbookTwenty-one-year-old Madison T. Jackson is already the star of the Emerson College student newspaper when she nabs a coveted night internship at Boston’s premiere newspaper, The Boston Lede. The job’s simple: do whatever the senior reporters tell you to do, from fetching coffee to getting a quote from a grieving parent. It’s grueling work, so when the murder of a prominent Boston businessman comes up on the police scanner, Madison races to the scene of the grisly crime. There, Madison meets the woman who will change her life forever: prominent socialite Dahlia Kennedy, who is covered in gore and being arrested for the murder of her family. The newspapers put everyone they can in front of her with no results until, with nothing to lose, Madison gets a chance—and unexpectedly barrels headfirst into danger she never anticipated.

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The Athena Protocol by Shamim Sarif (8th)

Jessie Archer is a member of the Athena Protocol, an elite organization of female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world.

Athena operatives are never supposed to shoot to kill—so when Jessie can’t stop herself from pulling the trigger, she gets kicked out of the organization, right before a huge mission to take down a human trafficker in Belgrade.

Jessie needs to right her wrong and prove herself, so she starts her own investigation into the trafficking. But going rogue means she has no one to watch her back as she delves into the horrors she uncovers. Meanwhile, her former teammates have been ordered to bring her down. Jessie must face danger from all sides if she’s to complete her mission—and survive.

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Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor (15th)

43319680The Lunar Chronicles meets Rook in this queer #OwnVoices science-fantasy novel, perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer and Sharon Cameron.

A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher’s chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog—donning the moniker Technician—to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner’s tyrannical laws.

Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner’s son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father’s respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father’s elusive affection is worth chasing at all.

Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner’s secrets at any cost—even if it means betraying her own heart.

When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic—before the Commissioner ends them first.

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The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco (15th)

36321739Frozen meets Mad Max in this epic teen fantasy duology bursting with star-crossed romance, immortal heroines, and elemental magic, perfect for fans of Furyborn.

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun.

While one sister rules Aranth—a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wracked sea —her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.

But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses—along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and a mouthy desert scavenger—set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands.

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Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (15th)

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

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Homesick by Nino Cipri (15th)

Dark, irreverent, and truly innovative, the speculative stories in Homesick meditate on the theme of home and our estrangement from it, and what happens when the familiar suddenly shifts into the uncanny. In stories that foreground queer relationships and transgender or nonbinary characters, Cipri delivers the origin story for a superhero team comprised of murdered girls; a housecleaner discovering an impossible ocean in her least-favorite clients’ house; a man haunted by keys that appear suddenly in his throat; and a team of scientists and activists discovering the remains of a long-extinct species of intelligent weasels.

In the spirit of Laura van den Berg, Emily Geminder, Chaya Bhuvaneswar, and other winners of the Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize, Nino Cipri’s debut collection announces the arrival of a brilliant and wonderfully unpredictable writer with a gift for turning the short story on its ear.

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Call Me Max by Kyle Lukoff, ill. by Luciano Lozano (15th)

When Max starts school, the teacher hesitates to call out the name on the attendance sheet. Something doesn’t seem to fit. Max lets her know the name he wants to be called by–a boy’s name. This begins Max’s journey as he makes new friends and reveals his feelings about his identity to his parents.

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30 Dates in 30 Days by Elle Spencer (15th)

Veronica Welch has made it. She’s about to be named a partner at one of the most prestigious law firms in New York C ity. She’s on top of the world, except for one tiny ridiculous thing: she promised herself she’d be married by thirty-five. After a drink too many, she accidentally lets her “life plan” slip to Bea, her steadfast, ever meddling assistant, and now Bea won’t let the idea go.

Rachel Monaghan doesn’t do serious relationships. As a busy wedding photographer, she’s jaded about lasting love, has a thriving repeat business, and hasn’t had much luck with love herself. While bartending at her cousin’s bar, Rachel learns of Bea’s plan to get her boss married off by scheduling thirty dates in thirty days.

In this sophisticated contemporary romance, Veronica Welch tries to find love in the most efficient way possible, while Rachel Monaghan avoids love at all costs. What could possibly go wrong?

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