A Ferocious, Devastating YA Thriller: A Review of SADIE by Courtney Summers

I had already finished reading YA thriller Sadie by Courtney Summers when I looked up the author and realized she was Canadian. I am thrilled to get a chance to think and write more about this book for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian! I’m also excited to report that the book just won the 2019 Edgar Award (for mystery and thriller books) in the YA category. So very well deserved!

Sadie is an intense, heartbreaking book. It’s on the older end of the YA spectrum, and definitely a YA book that will hold appeal for adults as well. Sadie is a fascinating and gripping character. It’s the kind of novel that you’re left thinking about for a long time after you close the last page.

Sadie is a 19-year-old with nothing left to lose. She’s struggled for years to keep her and her younger sister Mattie’s heads afloat after their mom—who had drug abuse problems—left. She was doing her best to raise Mattie amidst poverty and very little support, even dropping out of school in order to be a better parent. When Mattie is found dead and her murder goes unsolved due to a lazy and botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to track down her younger sister’s killer. As I said, she has nothing left to lose. Mattie was her whole world. She doesn’t care if she makes it out of her investigation alive, she just wants answers … and revenge. As Sadie says:

“She’s dead,” I whisper and I don’t know why this is the thing I choose to say out loud because it hurts to say it, to feel the truth of those words pass my lips, to have them be real in this world. But She’s dead is the reason I’m still alive.

She’s dead is the reason I’m going to kill a man.

Sadie hits the road in her old car with only a few meager clues to follow up on. She connects with many people along the way: a cranky waitress at a truck stop diner, a fellow young woman who’s on the run whom Sadie picks up as a hitchhiker, some regular middle class high school kids whose lives are so unbelievably far from Sadie’s despite the fact that they’re the same age, and more.

You can’t help but feel for Sadie. Summers has done an excellent job in characterizing her—Sadie’s not an easy or a traditionally “likable” character (honestly, fuck that anyway) but she is so real, and so relatable. I especially liked how Sadie’s stutter was depicted—it’s there as something that Sadie has to deal with, that she knows affects people’s impressions of her, and that impacts her confidence and ability to talk with new people especially. But it doesn’t define her, and it doesn’t stop her from asking the hard questions she needs to while trying to find the answers she needs about what happened to Mattie.

My heart ached for Sadie, who is so starved for love and who has so much to give:

I tried not to think about that kind of stuff, because it was painful, because I thought I could ever have it, but when I did end up liking someone, it always made me ache right down to my core. I realized pretty early on that the who didn’t really matter so much. That anybody who listens to me, I end up loving them just a little.

I never know what to do with girls. Pretty girls. I want them to like me. It’s a strange, almost visceral *need* that settles itself inside and it makes me feel stupid and weak because I know it’s a fault line I can trace all the way back to my mother.But while the narrative follows Sadie on her journey to follow the clues to find the monster who murdered her sister, there is another story happening at the same time. The book alternates between Sadie’s story of going after the murderer and the transcript of a true crime Serial-esque podcast about Sadie and Mattie titled, aptly, “The Girls.” West McCray is a radio journalist who was working on a story about forgotten small-town America when he hears about Sadie’s story just by chance. This leads him to trace Sadie’s steps, trying to find Sadie before it’s too late to find her.

courtney summers

Courtney Summers / image via courtneysummers.ca/bio

On the surface, this is another story centred around a dead girl. One of the first lines in the podcast is: “And it begins, as so many stories do, with a dead girl.” But it’s also about the girl who still lives, who is fighting tooth and nail for the girl who died and for herself, and for all the girls. The book is also an examination of true crime podcasts that take the real life horror stories of actual people, often women and girls, and bleed them for entertainment.

All in all, Sadie is a riveting story, or rather a set of two stories that will keep you turning pages. It is excellently told in Summers’s restrained, pitch perfect writing. I need to say: this book need a strong content warning for childhood sexual abuse and pedophilia, although this is not included in a gratuitous or exploitative way. This is a ferocious, devastating book. It is bleak. But Sadie is a book worth reading. For the girls.

Posted in Bisexual, Canadian, Fiction, mystery, Queer, Young Adult | 1 Comment

Sarcastic Sex Workers and Lesbian Frog Catchers in Emma Donoghue’s Historical Novel Frog Music

I remember going to a talk by Irish Canadian author Emma Donoghue years ago at the University of Western Ontario (or so it was called then) where she discussed researching and working on her 2014 novel, Frog Music. I recall her telling a story that went something like: “Someone told me there was a mistake in my Wikipedia page. It said that the latest novel Emma Donoghue is working on is historical fiction about a frog-catching lesbian. They said, that can’t possibly be true! Then they were aghast to discover, that, yes, that was indeed an accurate depiction.” Of course, this being a book about a frog-catching lesbian isn’t really the full story of Frog Music; it is but a fascinating piece of this odd, vibrant novel.

Frog Music is at once an intriguing character study, a murder mystery, and atmospheric historical fiction set in 1870s San Francisco that truly brings the period to life. It has content and themes ripped from the headlines like her most famous (not queer) novel Room, but this time the headlines are old: from 19th century American newspapers.

Did you know it was illegal for a woman to wear “men’s clothing” in 1800s San Francisco? And that they’d actually arrest you, throw you in jail for a while, and your so-called crime would be reported in the newspaper alongside other misdemeanors? Jenny Bonnet was one such real woman that Donoghue learned about in her research. But while Bonnet was known for her unrepentant cross-dressing, she ultimately become famous posthumously when she was the victim of an unsolved murder which took place in a room she was sharing with another woman on the outskirts of the city. Check out this interview for more info on Donoghue’s research.

The novel reimagines Jenny’s life and that of the woman who was with her at her death, Blanche Beunon. Lest you’re worried that the enigmatic woman Jenny will be absent from the novel because of her untimely death: Frog Music alternates between past and present, telling both the story of the two women’s meeting and developing friendship and that of Blanche trying to solve Jenny’s murder after her death. The structure makes for a thrilling story. I will say, however, that the protagonist is distinctly Blanche, rather than Jenny, as much as we get a lot of Jenny.

emma donoghue

Emma Donoghue / image via The Irish Times

There are a few things about this novel that I really liked. The first is how richly the historical setting is created. Donoghue’s San Francisco in the summer of 1876 feels like a character unto itself, one that you know with all your senses. You can feel the smoldering humid heat of the summer, hear the burlesque songs, taste the frog legs cooked in butter, and see Jenny flying down the cobbled street on her strange 19th bicycle (one of those ones with a giant front wheel and a tiny back one). Donoghue doesn’t sugarcoat the sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia of the times, but she also doesn’t let it define the characters the injustices are affecting or fetishize them. I don’t know how to describe it except the book feels utterly of a different time.

The second aspect of Frog Music I appreciated was how Blanche is made to be neither necessarily ‘likeable’ nor ‘good’. She’s a loving but ambivalent mother, a sex worker, a burlesque dancer, a woman who likes to have lots of sex, sarcastic, and more than occasionally bitchy. She has sometimes terrible taste in men, and is frustratingly unaware of how she’s being taken advantage of by the men in her life. She has no qualms, as a French immigrant, of declaring how superior the French and their ways of doing things are. I love how angry she gets when Americans mispronounce her last name, missing the nasal “n” sound.

My third favourite thing about Frog Music was how unusual the novel’s main relationship is. Blanche and Jenny first meet when Jenny literally runs into Blanche in the street while riding her bicycle. Blanche, true to her character, is pissed and lets Jenny know. It’s a strange start to a friendship, if you can call it that. The two women quickly become entangled in each other’s lives. Jenny is instrumental in getting Blanche to wake up and stand up for herself in her relationship with her “maque” aka live-in boyfriend of a sort Arthur. But it’s hard to say whether Blanche and Jenny really like each other. They’re nothing like two 21st century BFFs. At times they feel distinct disdain for one another. There’s also definite sexual attraction between them although they’re certainly never girlfriends. I thought this ambiguity of relationship type and label was just fascinating!

I listened to this novel as an audiobook and I also have to praise the voice acting performance! Khristine Hvam, the voice performer, does a marvelous job of capturing the various accents (notably, French and American), as well as taking on actually singing the variety of music that is included in the novel. It is called Frog Music after all. If you’re at all into that format, I definitely recommend listening to this book. I found the middle of the book sagged a bit in pacing, but the audiobook format carried me through.

This is the first historical novel I’ve read by Emma Donoghue, but I’m sure it won’t be my last. Has anyone else read Frog Music, or any of her other historical books? Which other one should I dive into next?

Posted in Canadian, Emma Donoghue, Fiction, Lesbian, mystery, Queer, Sex Work | 7 Comments

“riot grrrl raised me, I’m rigorous af, and I breathe the fire of nookomis into everything I do”: A Review of nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon

nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon is the kind of book that makes you feel grateful to get a chance to peek into someone else’s mind. It’s a unique, genre-defying book that I still vividly remember despite having read it in November of last year! (Yes, I’m very behind in my reviews). I am so excited about the great stuff that Metonymy Press is putting out. See also my reviews for Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars and Small Beauty for other examples of their great unique books! 

Nixon is a two-spirit Cree, Saulteaux, and Metis writer (among other things). This is their first book, a memoir about “blood and chosen kin.” They write about: queer love and betrayal, the unexpected death of their white adoptive mother, being a prairie punk, the complex intersections of queer and Indigenous identities, and living in different parts of the prairies and the world, and more. It’s funny, sad, clever, tender, and biting. It’s fun to read, and profound and heartbreaking.

Nixon’s style is intriguing and non-hierarchical. Throughout the book there are footnotes with references, like you might read in an academic essay. (Nixon is a McGill Art History PhD student, and this is clearly one mode they’re used to writing in). But when you flip to the back to see what they’re referencing, it’s just as likely to be Missy Elliot as Judith Butler. Nixon keeps you asking as you read: wait, what is this book? I think that’s the point.

Tonally the book keeps you on your toes too. Nixon can be bitter sarcastic:

“That’s cook, K-Town—keep destroying one another over that little plot of land that the man gave you, calling it the holy land while dictating what NDNs are good enough to swim in your bourgeois waters, as if you could own the waters to begin with. Much teachings. Very tradish.”

But a few pages later, heartbreaking and sincere:

“Can my dad ever truly love me, like decolonially love me, the way my tired spirit deserves? What is corrupt love other than obligation?”

Then they can slip into academic discourse:

“Instead, my intent is to acknowledge the insidious colonial masculinities that have poisoned my patrilineal lines, turning many of my men kin from reciprocal relations into perpetrators of harm, and to describe the parts of my family’s identity that cannot be restrained by colonial law and categorizations of our communities.”

And flow effortlessly into internet speak:

“Tl;dr: the yt men in my family came looking for victims, and the Native men took what was left.”

Throughout, there is beautiful poetic writing and startling realizations, the kind that make you gasp with recognition and awakening. Like when Nixon writes:

“There’s always that yt that wants to say I’m ‘just starting shit.’ Little grrrl, I think what you meant to say was that it makes you uncomfortable that I don’t take shit and that I’m not quiet about it, when you’ve spent your whole life quieting yourself for the status quo, and now do the same in your supposedly radical queer community.”


“Maybe today will be the day my roof is torn off by the prairie wind, exposing me to the open sky. I’ll close my eyes and soar into the emptiness.”


Lindsay Nixon / image via metonymypress.com

This is turning into one of those reviews where I just quote and quote the book until the review is more the author’s words than mine—oops. But this is what happens to me when I read something like nîtisânak, where it’s just so much its own thing that it feels impossible to convey what it is like except by showing excerpts and saying, see, this is like this, but also like this, oh and also this. The pieces in this book are essays, stories, poems, letters—sometimes all at once. Sometimes they’re only two sentences, like in the section titled “Bitch”:

“I’m not such a man-hater. It’s just that riot grrrl raised me, I’m rigorous af, and I breathe the fire of nookomis into everything I do.”

If you’re a fan of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson‘s work, you will definitely enjoy nîtisânak. Both those writers work from their Indigenous perspectives to defy colonial expectations of form and genre to genuinely fun and profound effects. There’s also an irreverent Indigiqueer humour Nixon’s book that reminded me of Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed. (I’ve reviewed that novel too: check it out here).

All these words to say I loved nîtisânak, and I think you will too. Have I convinced you? Buy the book from Metonymy here.

Posted in Canadian, Indigenous, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Queer, Rural, Trans, Transgender | 1 Comment

Big News: No More Patreon

Hi everyone!

I’ve made the hard decision to cancel my Patreon account, effective immediately. As I’m sure some of you have noticed, my posts have been few and far between lately, and I’m very sorry for that! At the end of last year I got a second part-time library job and have been working a lot at this new job, meaning sometimes with the two librarian jobs I’ve been working 6 or 7 days a week. This has been great for my library experience and paying off my student loan but not so much for keeping up with my online writing jobs.

The blog Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian is definitely here to stay, but I’ve decided it’s not fair to my Patreon supporters and to myself and my mental health to keep the account and try to hold myself to a minimum of monthly posts. Unfortunately although I love writing about queer books online, the amount of money I make working at the library is literally like three times as much (or more) per hour on average for freelance writing. With trying to pay off my student loan and living in a super expensive city, I have to prioritize those higher wages right now!

I want to express my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has supported me for the last few years of Patreon. As a thank-you, I’d like to send each and every current Patron a free queer book! (FYI: this will be folks regardless of what level they pledge at but only those whose payments haven’t been declined). So look out for an email from me with some options for you. I will be sending a big list (with a photo) to everyone, so reply ASAP in order to get your top choice book!

Thanks so much again everyone and I’ll see you on the queer bookternet!

Posted in Patreon, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My 2018 Year in Reading: Favourite Books of the Year, Most Memorable Character, Best Cover, and More!

I love looking back on what I read the past year, don’t you? This is a kind of survey that I’ve adapted a bit from where I originally found it on The Lesbrary in 2014. If you’re not following The Lesbrary, you’re missing out on a lot of rad lesbian and bisexual women’s bookish content! And without further ado, here’s a recap of my 2018 reading, including my favourite reads of the year, most memorable character, best cover, and more!

1. Best book you read in 2018

So I find it very hard to not cheat on this question a bit, because, really, who can pick just ONE favourite? In no particular order, here are my absolute favourite reads from 2018. There’s a nice mix of YA fantasy, romance, graphic novels, mystery, and lit fic. I’ll talk about all of them in more detail further down!

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2. Favorite new author you discovered in 2018

Okay, this is going to have to be a tie between Alisha Rai and Courtney Milan, because I really can’t choose. Both Alisha Rai and Courtney Milan are new-to-me romance authors whose work I never would have checked out if I hadn’t decided to broaden my genre horizons in 2018 (more on that in question #3). Rai writes contemporary erotic romance and Milan writes historical romance. (Actually, Milan also writes contemporary, but I haven’t read any of those yet). Both effortlessly integrate diversity into their stories, including queer characters, people of colour, and people with mental and physical illnesses. Alisha Rai’s books made me cry, and Courtney Milan’s made me laugh. Both deliver really compelling characters and interesting, complex, believable romantic plots.

I especially appreciate how Milan’s books authentically integrate interesting contexts from the past, like 19th century scientific discoveries and fights for women’s and working class rights. I especially appreciated how Rai dealt with emotional complexities that included, of course, the romantic/sexual relationship between the main characters, but also complicated family and friend relationships. I am definitely going to be reading many more books by these two women in 2019! I’m excited about Alisha Rai’s upcoming The Right Swipe. With Courtney Milan, I think I’ll try one of her contemporaries; Hold Me (the second book in her Cyclone series) looks particularly interesting—it has a bisexual hero and a trans woman heroine!

3. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read

So in 2018 I decided I wanted to do another “new-to-me” genre project. I’d never really given romance a try—despite usually being a big fan of romance subplots in other genres—so in 2018 I solicited a bunch of recommendations for romance authors and went wild! There were some definite duds that I thought were terrible and/or reinforced for me all the negative assumptions I had about romance being poorly crafted and supporting stupid sexist gender relations (sorry Sonali Dev, Beverly Jenkins, Patricia Oliveras, Laura Lee Guhrke, and others). But on the flip side, there were many books that I simply adored and thought were moving, smart, sexy, funny, and just plain great books.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai was the first of the romances I read where I was like, wow, I might actually love this genre? It was only the second book in my romance reading project and it was a total knockout! To my admitted surprise, I ended up LOVING this book. I loved and empathized with the main characters so much. I was impressed at Rai’s talent for dealing with emotional complexities (romantic, familial, and otherwise). This book actually made me cry in TWO places! I was totally shipping these two from the beginning, and the obstacles they had to overcome were very realistic (old family business feud stuff, mostly). Both the hero and the heroine’s individual journeys dealing with old trauma were compelling stories in and of themselves too. And their relationships with other characters were multi-layered and well developed. Just all around fantastic characterization. Plus: POC heroine who has depression! Secondary queer characters! Smoking hot sex scenes! I liked this book so much I went out and bought the sequel (Wrong to Need You)) immediately. I also went out and bought my own copy later since I’d initially borrowed it from the library but felt a very strong need to own it.

4. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2018 to finally read

Since it seems like too much of a cop-out to just pick the entire genre of romance here, I think I’ll go with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. I am a MASSIVE Buffy fan, but for whatever reason—maybe that I just spend my time rewatching the series—I had never read any of the comics. This is pretty unbelievable actually, considering how long and how much I have love(d) the show.

I found them very hit or miss in seasons 8 and 9, although I did really love season 10 as a whole, which was done by a solid, consistent team of Christos Gage writing and Rebekah Isaacs drawing (with some guests). At their best, the comics really brought back the best of the show for me, especially that warm and fuzzy the gang’s all here fighting evil together and the unique combination of heart-wrenching drama (Andrew trying to bring back Tara from the dead and Willow stopping him was particularly memorable) and comedy (basically everything Spike says and does). I’m going to try and track down season 11, which for some strange reason my library doesn’t have? If you’re also a Buffy fan who’s been on the fence about reading the comics, I definitely think they’re worth the time, overall.

5. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray is the third in her Diviners series and it is, in my humble opinion, definitely the best installment so far. I really could barely put this book down; since I was listening to the audiobook, this meant I was very driven to clean my house and other usually unpleasant tasks so I could keep listening. I don’t have words for what an incredible book this was, honestly. The last time I was so enthralled by a novel was N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season; if you know my feelings about that book that says a lot. This is Bray, truly a genius storyteller, at the height of her powers, weaving a dizzying amount of plotlines featuring incredibly nuanced, diverse characters set in a wonderfully authentic and playfully recreated 1920s New York with a paranormal twist. Also: the audiobook performance by January Lavoy is, I think, the best I have EVER heard. When I say diverse characters, I mean it: this book has gay, black, Jewish, Irish, Chinese, asexual, disabled characters, and more! Starting this series at the beginning with The Diviners is definitely worth your time.

6. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2018

This is also the most unique and weirdest and most suited to the book cover of a book I read this year: Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another book cover that so strongly says QUEER TRANS HARD FEMME, just like that, in all caps. The details—check out the wrinkles on the hands, the lightning coming from her fingers, and the index finger nail ring— and the pink and purple colour tones are all just perfect.


7. Most memorable character of 2018

EVELYN MOTHERFUCKING HUGO. What a woman. The titular character of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2017 novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was definitely the most memorable, fascinating character from a book I read last year. In the present of the novel, she’s an elderly Hollywood legend who has been reclusive for years until she solicits a specific young journalist Monique who she wants to tell her life story to. The novel goes back and forth, telling Evelyn’s story as she tells it to Monique and also telling Monique’s story.

Evelyn is ambitious, hard-working, confident, and cut-throat. She describes herself in this way: “I’m cynical and I’m bossy and most people would consider me vaguely immoral.” She’s also explicitly, wonderfully BISEXUAL. I knew the book had queer content going in, but I had no idea that it tackled bisexual identity so specifically. There’s a specific scene early on in the interview process where Evelyn coolly asserts that she’s bisexual, and not gay as Monique has just assumed. Evelyn makes it clear she loved her husband and then a woman, so “don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don’t do that.” It was such a perfect slap in the face of monosexism. GO EVELYN. This section, as well as more than one other part in the novel, brought me to tears.

8. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love but didn’t

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie was one of those books that I had meant to read for, like, ever. It had been recommended to me by lots of people. It won both a Hugo and a Nebula award! So when I finally picked it up one day at work at the library after seeing it on the shelf dozens of time, I was pumped. But something about this feminist science fiction novel never clicked for me. I’m still now sure if there’s something I missed from the plot/characterization/etc. that’s a failure on my part or if I did get it all and it just genuinely didn’t do it for me? I do know I found Breq, the protagonist, an elusive character, which is always a hard sell for me. Oh well!

9. Most beautifully written book read in 2018

So I’m adapting this question a bit because I want to gush about how beautifully drawn this debut graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters is. I don’t even have enough extolling adjectives to describe what Emil Ferris has done. The detail and range of what she has achieved is just stunning. She draws real people, 1960s Chicago street scenes, copies of vintage horror magazine covers, reproductions of classic art, and more—all using ball point pens only!! The novel is structured as the notebook of the tween main character Karen. Check out these amazing works of art:





10. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2018

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead was also one of my favourite reads of 2018 that didn’t quite make the top ten list above. What I liked most about this debut novel was the main character’s distinctive, mesmerizing voice. It was the kind of book where I was constantly underlining Jonny’s words, which were alternately hilarious and heart-breaking. Here are some of my favourite excerpts:

“Humility is just a humiliation you loved so much it transformed.”

“I texted him back with a simple ‘No.’ I made an emphasis to punctuate my text. In the digital universe, a punctuated sentence is as powerful a slap as slamming down the landline.”

“Funny how an NDN ‘love you’ sounds more like ‘I’m in pain with you.’”

11. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2018

Roxane Weary!!! She’s the bisexual protagonist of Kristen Lepionka’s new mystery/PI series, the first book of which is The Last Place You Look and the second of which is What You Want to See. I totally fell in love with her. In the first book, Roxane is at a pretty low point: she’s been drinking too much while grieving the death of her cop father, who she had a complicated relationship with. She’s messy, she makes mistakes, and she’s got some troubles with emotional intimacy but at the same she’s really smart, persistent, compassionate, and has a big heart that loves people who perhaps don’t deserve her and wants to help people. In the second book she’s at a bit more of an emotionally healthy place, but not so much as to make her boring, you know? I was really kicking myself when I realized after I had published this article on Book Riot, 5 More Queer Book Characters I Would Totally Date (And Why), that I had failed to include Roxane. What. Was. I. Thinking. Oh well, there’s always next time.

12. Best worldbuilding / most vivid setting you read this year

These two books also would have been good contenders for I-can’t-believe-I-waited-until-2018-to-read. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo were just. so. good. I had very high expectations and they were absolutely met, possibly even exceeded. These two books were my introduction to Bardugo’s “Grishaverse,” the dark fantasy world she’s created. I tend to find European-inspired fantasy tired, but Bardugo’s world-building in the Grishaverse is anything but. This duology is set mostly in the city of Ketterdam, an Amsterdam-like bustling, dirty, gritty city full of the sins of sex, gambling, and thievery. (The last of which is the speciality of our rag-tag gang of characters). The city felt so alive.

But it wasn’t only Ketterdam that Bardugo brought so vividly to life: settings in other Grishaverse fictional countries were also fascinating, as was every single lovable, broken, complicated, little criminal in the group of protagonists. It’s rare to find a novel with complex, authentic characters just as vivid and sophisticated as the speculative world-building. But Bardugo has totally achieved it, with both books in this duology. (FYI: I wouldn’t recommend reading the second book in public, as I did. I cried big tears of hearbreak but also joy and it was a bit embarrassing). These books are thrilling, funny, romantic, clever, heart wrenching, healing, dark, and ultimately unputdownable. Also: thoughtful representations of disability, bisexuality, trauma, and people of colour.

13. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2018

If I’m being honest, like half of the books in my top ten picks of the year made me cry. But I’ve already talked about Crooked Kingdom, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Before the Devil Breaks You, and Hate to Want You. So I’m going to talk about In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, which was the first book I finished in 2018. I was on the YA committee of the Bisexual Book Awards last year, and I was so thrilled to get to vote for Brennan’s novel, which won in the YA category! It made me cry (sad and happy tears), true, but it also made me laugh a lot. It took me a little bit to get into this YA fantasy, but once I was on board with the dry snarky humour and understood who Elliot the main character was (obnoxious little turd that he is who has never been loved), I could not stop reading this book.

It’s a wonderfully nuanced portrayal of a bisexual boy and about a kid who goes away to a portal fantasy world that isn’t quite the idealized thing he imagined. Eliot is a kid who’s built up so many walls around him to protect himself from a world who doesn’t care about him. Just like the people around him in the book, when I first met Elliot I found him abrasive and obnoxious; but it didn’t take me long to love him. It was so amazing to watch his journey, where he gets to this point: “Elliot could not help but think of how often he had struck out wildly to defend himself, when just saying what he felt would have worked. Except it would not have worked, not on his father, or his mother, or on Jase or Adara. It only worked when someone cared how you felt. He did not know how to act, if Luke cared what he felt.” I was not expecting this book to make me cry, but that part did.

Did I mention it has an ADORABLE queer love story? Also, there are unicorns and harpies and mermaids who are also nasty but also flawed species just like humans. And the humour is great! It had me laughing out loud many, many times, most of all at Elliot’s friend Serene’s matriarchal elf speeches about protecting fair gentlemen and how women are especially suited for the battlefield. (I also loved how Brennan interrogated that matriarchal way of thinking and didn’t idealize it). Serene and all the supporting characters, especially Luke and his family, were wonderfully drawn. Do I need to gush more? Just read it!

14. Book that made you laugh out loud the most in 2018

My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris was by far the funniest book I read in 2018. I was constantly laughing out loud, like the snorting-milk-out-of-your-nose-a-la-middle-school kind of laughing. My Lady’s Choosing is a choose-your-own-adventure (hence the title) historical romance novel. From witty banter with a Darcy-esque aristocrat to pirate adventures in Egypt with your lesbian lover to do-gooding with a rogue Scotsman to paranormal intrigue with Lord Craven aka Rochester, all the plotlines were creative and most of all side-splittingly funny. It hits the perfect spot between a genuine homage to and affectionate parody of the genre. You get to choose between endings like “Upon travelling to Egypt and falling in love with the lady you are accompanying, you and she join a band of lesbian pirates” or “Co-running an orphanage with your husband Mac, a taciturn but kindly Scotsman who eschews social conventions and likes to have sex in the stables.” Or how about “The Reverend next door to the house where you work as a governess ends up being a sexy villainous vampire and you join him, becoming a vampire Queen and taking over the Lord’s mansion.” Whatever way you go, a happy ending is in store for you!

15. Best 2018 debut

I apparently didn’t read any 2018 debuts?? But Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom is a 2017 debut which I loved very much and you should read my full review here.

Runner-ups for my favourite books of the year also include Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead (full review), Little Fish by Casey Plett (full review here), All Violet by Rani Rivera (full review here), The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (probably the gayest book about a straight teen girl ever written), andWhite Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (a really fantastic and helpful break-down of the concept for white progressives like me and maybe you!).

You’ll probably also be interested in my The 10 Best Queer Books of 2018 (that I read, at least). There’s a bit of overlap with this post, for obvious reasons but I also talk about some books there that I don’t mention here at all!

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Canadian, comics, disability, Erotica, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Graphic, Indigenous, latina, Lesbian, list, mystery, Non-Canadian, paranormal, Queer, Romance, Sex Work, South Asian, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Young Adult | 3 Comments

The 10 Best Queer Books of 2018 (that I read, at least)

Some of these were published in 2018, some I just read in 2018! They span pretty much every genre and are all 5 stars, I-can’t-believe-how-much-I-loved-this-book kind of books.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

I predicted in my January 2018 Goodreads review that this would be my favourite bisexual book of the year, and I was right! It took me a little bit to get into this, but once I was on board with the dry humour and understood who the main character Elliot was (obnoxious little turd that he is who has never been loved), I could not stop reading this book. It’s a wonderful nuanced portrayal of a bisexual boy. It’s about a kid who goes away to a portal fantasy world that isn’t quite the idealized thing he imagined and who’s built up so many walls around him to protect himself from a world who doesn’t care about him. Just like the people around him in the book, when I first met Elliot I found him abrasive and obnoxious; but it didn’t take me long to love him. It was so amazing to watch his journey. I was not expecting this book to make me cry, but the parts about Elliot confronting how he has dealt with the trauma in his life did. Did I mention it has an ADORABLE verrrry slow burn queer love story? Also, there are unicorns and harpies and mermaids who are also nasty but also flawed species just like humans. And the humour is great! It had me laughing out loud many, many times, most of all Elliot’s friend Serene’s matriarchal elf speeches about protecting fair gentlemen and how women are especially suited for the battlefield.

All Violet by Rani Rivera

WOW. What a stunning collection of poetry. Themes include fleeting moments of connection, bisexual dating and crushes, drug / alcohol use and addiction, music, depression, and the humanity of people dehumanized by society. Often sad, raw, but occasionally very funny, with beautiful unique imagery. This is a really amazing poetry collection and I wish more people knew about it. Let me convince you to read it: here’s full review on my blog. And here’s an excerpt from one of my favourite poems:

I love them
broken and beaten badly,
pock-marked and toothless,
spent and riddled with rue.

I love them lying
with sleep in their eyes,
the sunlight curdling
in sweet bellies
heaving with an unrest of a few
too many.

I love them motherless
and taunted. Violent
and entitled.

I love them on fire. I love them on ice.

I love them hairy and unclean.
Hearts pierced and sagging.

I love them old. I love them new.

I love them mean.
I love them talking and talking.
I love them destructed and
pinned with little needles,
smokestacks of inconstancy.
Nailed to the wall and stuck on
with glue.

I love them dancing, dancing.

Little Fish by Casey Plett

What are you doing with your life if you haven’t read this book? Plett’s debut novel is a hard-hitting, beautiful, and thought-provoking novel. Amazing, complex, authentic characterization; Plett isn’t afraid to make her characters messy. I was especially astounded at how she dealt with religion in the lives of some characters. She is also really talented at dialogue. I always marvel at how her characters sound like such real people. The novel is about a 30-year-old trans woman named Wendy living in Winnipeg, her group of trans women friends, and her Mennonite family. The crux of the plot is Wendy discovering her grandfather might have also been trans but it’s just as much about other issues like alcoholism, sex work, friendship, suicide, and being poor. This was the kind of novel that broke me but also built me back up. Full review here.

My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris

This ridiculous tongue-in-cheek book was probably the most fun I had reading all year. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure historical romance novel. From witty banter with a Darcy-esque aristocrat to pirate adventures in Egypt with your lesbian lover to do-gooding with a rogue Scotsman to paranormal intrigue with Lord Craven aka Rochester, all the plotlines were creative and most of all side-splittingly funny. This book had me laughing out loud many times. It hits the perfect spot between a genuine homage to and affectionate parody of the genre. You get to choose between endings like “Upon travelling to Egypt and falling in love with the lady you are accompanying, you and she join a band of lesbian pirates” or “Co-running an orphanage with your husband Mac, a taciturn but kindly Scotsman who eschews social conventions and likes to have sex in the stables.” Or how about “The Reverend next door to the house where you work as a governess ends up being a sexy villainous vampire and you join him, becoming a vampire Queen and taking over the Lord’s mansion.” Whatever way you go, a happy ending is in store for you!

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom

There aren’t many books in my lifetime that I’ve read that I would truly consider a work of genius. I mean the kind of book that feels timeless and like it should be read and discussed far into the future; the kind of book that is really doing something unique and ground-breaking. But debut novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom is one of those books. (By the way, I also loved her debut poetry collection, A Place Called No Homeland, so you can count me among her top fans now, eagerly awaiting whatever she does next). Fierce Femmes is a funny, dark, innovative story that completely takes apart the genre of the trans memoir. The subtitle, A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, is only the first clue that you are about to read a mind-blowing breakdown of genre and gender. Kai Cheng Thom’s writing is the kind of beautiful that grabs you by the throat. For example: “Little cocoon apartment, I love how you rattle and shake in the wind. You are mine like nothing has ever been before. Someday you’ll tear open, and I will fly out with the wings I have grown inside you. Still shimmering. Still wet.” She also plays with genre, the concept of truth, and the self to wonderful and provocative effect. See here for my full review.

The Last Place You Look and What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka

These first two books in Lepionka’s new mystery/detective series were just excellent. The Last Place You Look was a fabulous and assured debut mystery, and the second one was even better. It begins with Roxane Weary, a bisexual PI who’s been drinking too much while grieving the death of her cop father, who she had a complicated relationship with. A new case, which starts off as a missing person sighting related to an old murder case, becomes more complex the more Roxane investigates. The mystery in What You Want to See is even more complicated—the kind that starts one place (supposedly cheating spouse) and ends up somewhere else (murder and real estate fraud) entirely. Really amazing, messy, authentic characterization and relationships and some beautiful understated writing. Lepionka has Roxane in a slightly better place in book two, which is some fascinating character development but not too emotionally healthy to be boring, you know?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This complex, beautiful novel is perhaps one of my favourite reads of all time?? I was completely mesmerized by the complex characters, 110% invested in their lives, fascinated by the historical details and insights into the human condition, and unbelievably moved by the story. I cried so many times! It follows two women’s lives: Evelyn Hugo, a legendary 1950s movie star who’s famously reclusive, and the young journalist she’s chosen to tell her life story to, Monique Grant. It has a beautiful epic love story that spans most of Evelyn’s life, and a wonderfully nuanced and smart portrayal of a bisexual woman! Evelyn was such a fascinating character—she describes herself like this: “I’m cynical and I’m bossy and most people would consider me vaguely immoral”—and she’s bisexual to boot.It’s one of the best bisexual characters and bisexual representation I have ever encountered. There’s one particular scene where she specifically addresses her sexual identity that was so incredible. Also: fabulous audiobook voice acting; I definitely recommend checking it out in that format. I just want to start re-reading this now that I’m thinking about it again.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

I was completely blown away by the intricate and varied art in this graphic novel, which is all done with ballpoint pen! It’s unbelievable! Ferris draws real people, Chicago street scenes, copies of 1960s horror magazine covers, reproductions of classic art, and more. You won’t believe it until you see it for yourself:



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And the story is similarly impressive, with multiple plotlines happening for tween Karen who’s growing up poor in 1960s Chicago. Lots of tough stuff in here: sexual assault (not pictured), death from cancer, the Holocaust, and forced prostitution. But even though it had a dark feel (sometimes in fun, campy old horror movie way and sometimes in a very real way), it didn’t make me feel dark. Karen is a little baby dyke, which I somehow didn’t know going into this book? For that reason and many more, she is very lovable. It’s a powerful story of a kid dealing with a lot of grown-up stuff that even the grown-ups in her life aren’t equipped to deal with. This includes: her Holocaust survivor neighbour’s dark story in Europe and mysterious death in Chicago, her brother’s sexual and emotional intimacy issues, and what happens in the US when you’re poor and terminally ill. Also, she thinks of herself—and draws herself—as a monster. A really incredible work of visual art and storytelling. I can’t wait to read volume 2.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

What a motherfucking duology of books. Everything I hoped they would be, and I had VERY high expectations. The books feature an incredible, nuanced cast of broken and criminal young people who are nevertheless not without hope and redemption. I loved the characters and their complicated relationships with each other while wanting sometimes to smack them on the side of the head. Bardugo’s world-building and plotting (high stakes heists and cons on the best con artists themselves) are equally impressive. I loved the world Bardugo has created, this complex, sophisticated dark fantasy world. This duology was by turns thrilling, funny, romantic, clever, heart wrenching, healing, dark, and ultimately unputdownable. I CRIED TEARS OF HEARTBREAK BUT ALSO JOY. Both were one of those books that reminded me of how joyful but also painful reading a truly great book is. I may never forgive Leigh Bardugo for some of the things she put me through in the second book. But I really did love how she dealt realistically with trauma and recovery, especially in Kaz and Inej’s stories. And intensely adorable romantic bantering between Nina and Matthias, one of my all time favourite couples. Fantastic representation of bisexual (boy), gay, and disabled characters.

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

What a beautiful, sad, funny book. It’s the most poignant reminder I’ve had in a while about how powerful and effecting a first person narrative can be. Jonny, the Two-Spirit main character, carries the book with his raw, hilarious, and insightful voice. The story meanders through his memories, mostly of his kokum, mom, and his great first love Tias, while in the present Jonny prepares to go back to the rez for his mom’s boyfriend’s funeral. A lot of the novel focuses on the women in Jonny’s life and the impact they’ve had on him. This was one of those books where I underlined so many passages because they just got me right in the feels—of the sad and funny variety. Jonny says: “Humility is just a humiliation you loved so much it transformed.”; he says: “I texted him back with a simple ‘No.’ I made an emphasis to punctuate my text. In the digital universe, a punctuated sentence is as powerful a slap as slamming down the landline.”; and he says: “Funny how an NDN ‘love you’ sounds more like ‘I’m in pain with you.’” Full review on my blog!

What were your favourite queer reads of 2018? Let me know in the comments!

Want more of the best of the best queer books? Check out my last year’s post The Best (Mostly Queer) Books I read in 2017.

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Canadian, Casey Plett, Coming-of-age, disability, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Graphic, Indigenous, Lesbian, list, mystery, Non-Canadian, Poetry, Queer, Sex Work, Toronto, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Young Adult | 7 Comments

Not as Scary As I Hoped, but Cute Lesbians?: A Review of THE DARK BENEATH THE ICE by Amelinda Bérubé

This review is just in time before the spooky Halloween fall season turns irrevocably into the winter holiday season. The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé is a kind of paranormal queer horror YA novel by this Ottawa-based debut author. It’s definitely the kind of book meant to be read on a long dark October or November night.

The Dark Beneath the Ice was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Let’s talk about one of the good things first! This book is set in Ottawa, which I found quite different and refreshing. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book set in the Canadian capital! Having never visited Ottawa, it was fun to get a chance to experience a novel set there. In particular, the Ottawa river that is such a prominent feature of the city plays a not too insignificant role in The Dark Beneath the Ice (hence the ice). The strong presence of the river gave the book quite a particular feeling of place, but one that’s probably different than what you might think about Ottawa, which I appreciate.

You’re probably wondering what this is all about with the river. Let me start at the beginning: Marianne is a teenager who’s having a rough time. Her parents have recently separated and she just quit doing high-level ballet, for reasons Bérubé slowly reveals. But that’s not even the worst of it. Lately Marianne has started to feel like she can’t trust her own mind. She’s losing time, “waking up” in the middle of her day with no recollection of how the time has passed. She’s having nightmares involving a dark creepy river covered in ice that are increasingly terrifying. She’s being faced with evidence that she’s done things that don’t seem like her at all.

Are you scared yet?? This all sounds like a good psychological horror. I think it might be scary for some people. For me, the scariness factor was a bit disappointing unfortunately. I was hoping it would be as scary as the synopsis promised it would be, but I wasn’t scared at all! Am I tougher than I thought after all? I’m not sure. All I know is I wanted this book to give me that deliciously creeped out Halloween feeling and it did not. Maybe it did / will for you? Let me know!


I think Bérubé was going for some ambiguity about whether the haunting was real or just in Marianne’s head. This is the most interesting kind of haunted story to me, and I don’t mind and I think might even prefer if it’s never clear whether the supernatural element is “real” or not. (Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a great example of this. It’s also one of my all-time favourite scary (queer) books). However, The Dark Beneath the Ice it didn’t succeed at this ambiguity at all for me.

The Dark Beneath the Ice also felt like one of those books where the main character doesn’t take much action and the aimless plot just kind of happens to her. I wanted Marianne to be more take charge about this crazy scary thing taking over her life! I also wished the plot was less rambly.

amelinda berube

Amelinda Bérubé / image via twitter

But … (here’s the final compliment sandwich part of this review) there’s a cute lesbian romance side plot! Marianne connects early on in the book with Rhiannon, aka Ron (haha, what’s more high school baby dyke than giving yourself a boy’s name as a nickname, eh?). It’s not a spoiler to say lesbian feelings are soon had! Ron is a cool goth girl who also used to play rugby (and still remembers how to tackle someone). She also has a mom who’s a psychic; those skills come in quite handy with the mysterious haunting and all. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Ron was definitely my favourite character.

I can see The Dark Beneath the Ice appealing to teens more than it did to me. They are, after all, the intended audience for this YA book. Check it out—whether you’re a teen or an adult—and let me know what you thought!

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Lesbian, Queer, Young Adult | 2 Comments