Shadows Over Baker Street: A Holmes Meets Lovecraft Collection

I’ve been on a kick of discovering older books recently, and really enjoyed the classic Shadows Over Baker Street from 2003, edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan. It’s a collection of short stories from a number of fantastic authors including Neil Gaiman and Billy Martin (writing at the time as Poppy Z Brite). The stories feature characters from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes universe, set in a world of HP Lovecraft’s monsters. The notoriously logical Holmes faces mysteries without rational explanation, tied to eldritch beings and their fanatical human worshippers.

The benefits of a short story collection are many. For one thing, the short form keeps the book readable and fast-paced; in this case there was still some feeling of repetitiveness by the end of the book, but it still held your interest as it moved through various vignettes. Because in this format, each story can take a different approach, timeframe, and set of characters, which lets the reader discover not only more of Lovecraft’s plots and characters but also more of Holmes’ cases and adventures. While many of the stories do rely on a Watson-and-Holmes-at-Baker-Street structure, a good number find Holmes in different places, with different narrators or helpers. In one case, Holmes doesn’t appear at all, and the story connects to him through Irene Adler (Tiger! Tiger! by Elizabeth Bear). The overall effect is of a somehow cozy journey into the terrifying and impossible adventures of yesteryear, like ghost stories told by the fire. If you like Sherlock Holmes, HP Lovecraft, or similar universes like Doctor Who, this is a great book to curl up with as the nights start to get colder and spookier.

However, if you’re looking for something slightly more recent but with the same vibe/premise, I’m planning to try 2019’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall, which is also a Sherlock Holmes retelling set in an alternative universe, with plenty of monsters and action, but with all of Alexis Hall’s charm, humor, and LGBTQIA diversity.

What’s YOUR favorite Sherlock Holmes read?

Dead Collections by Isaac Feldman

Are you a dedicated user of our Special Collections department, or another archive? Do you love urban vampire stories or LGBTQIA literary fiction? If you said yes, or are intrigued, definitely try reading Dead Collections by Isaac Fellman. I checked it out because I had heard it was good transgender representation set in an archival setting and was delighted by the love story and identity exploration amidst an archival mystery. Here’s a quick summary:

When archivist Sol meets Elsie, the larger than life widow of a moderately famous television writer who’s come to donate her wife’s papers, there’s an instant spark. But Sol has a secret: he suffers from an illness called vampirism, and hides from the sun by living in his basement office. On their way to falling in love, the two traverse grief, delve into the Internet fandom they once unknowingly shared, and navigate the realities of transphobia and the stigmas of carrying the “vampire disease.” Then, when strange things start happening at the collection, Sol must embrace even more of the unknown to save himself and his job.

I loved reading both the experiences of trans man Sol and Elsie, who goes down a rabbit hole of gender exploration while falling in love with Sol. I also thought the way the story’s different threads wove together was clever and unique; this isn’t just a romance, or an urban fantasy, or a literary fiction, or a mystery, it’s a truly unusual blend of all of these, and reads like a prose poem. Sol’s narration is also reminiscent of the storytelling in Life of Pi by Yann Martel, incorporating glimpses of and insights from different times in Sol’s life. Different formats (email, scripts, etc.) were also woven into the narrative to echo the multimedia landscape of modern life.

As someone who reads more genre fiction than literary fiction, I did find the poetic writing style difficult in places, but the raw and real emotions, in all their complexity, that the characters lived through were really powerful and profound. I recommend this quirky and moving book to anyone looking for a one-of-a-kind reading experience full of queer representation, cool libraries, and mysterious goings-on.

Key Changes: Machine Gun Kelly and Mainstream Sellout

As someone who’s had the song Emo Girl (featuring Willow Smith) stuck in their head on and off for weeks, I think this is a perfect time to explore controversial artist Machine Gun Kelly’s professional journey from hip-hop and rap to pop-punk and mainstream success, culminating in 2022’s appropriately-named album Mainstream Sellout.

He rose to fame with a series of rap and hip-hop mixtapes (generally acclaimed) before releasing studio albums, starting with Lace Up in 2012, General Admission in 2015, and Bloom in 2017. Notable features included rapid-fire flow and pride in an unattractive underdog image. Then in 2020 he made a dramatic shift from rap to pop/punk with the release of Tickets to My Downfall – a shocking, impressive, and fluid album still with rap-inspired elements.

Why did he make the move? Without knowing details, it reminds me of Lady Gaga’s professional journey (which is a blog post in itself) in which she made mostly loud statement pieces until she’d captured public attention and then, fame established, moved to a more stripped-down mainstream sound in albums like Joanne. (Lady Gaga, of course, has now moved back to her outlandish roots with the flashier album Chromatica, but I digress.) Sometimes musicians want to try something different and explore their other interests, but don’t have the freedom to do so until they’ve reached a certain level of success.

Whatever the reason he seems satisfied with his new career track, since he continued with pop/punk in 2022’s album, Mainstream Sellout. The reviews have been mixed, but the album has had big commercial success debuting high on the Billboard 200 charts. Emo Girl ft. Willow is particularly good track (though I may be biased in saying that) — it’s a good example of the overall pop punk revival going on in the 2020s, partly because it’s extremely self-aware of how it’s referencing a scene more than participating in it. Rolling Stone called it “gleefully derivative” and on the whole the feeling is of playing a part and having a ton of fun with it.  Willow Smith’s vocals shine, her gen Z energy a good balance to Kelly’s so-called “buzzsaw bubblegum”.

For myself, I haven’t heard the whole album yet, but I enjoy Machine Gun Kelly better in pop-punk, which is one of my favorite genres. I know I may be in the minority; what are your thoughts on Machine Gun Kelly, Willow, or the pop-punk revival? Let us know in the comments!

Raising Men: Reads for Modern Masculinity

I recently spotted How to Be a Real Man by Scott Stuart at our Fairmount branch and I really recommend you check it out. This super cute children’s book draws you in with verse and a gently progressive message about identity and value. First, it examines different “tough guys” from history — vikings and pirates, etc. — and how “tough” they were. Then it offers a real set of guidelines for good men: fight for what’s right, express your feelings, help others. It’s a good read for all ages and genders to feel a hopeful breath of fresh air.

Here are some reads from the adult section that share a more enlightened view of masculine identity:

Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity by Justin Baldoni

In this urgent, groundbreaking and provocative reimagining of what it means to be man enough, Justin arms readers with new tools and the ability to have both compassion and empathy for themselves and the men in their lives.

Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and how to glow up too) by David Yi

In this inclusive, illustrated history and guide to skin care and beauty, journalist and founder of Very Good Light David Yi teaches us that self-care, wellness, and feeling beautiful transcends time, boundaries, and binaries-and that pretty boys can change the world.

Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad by Jordan Shapiro

Shapiro presents an exploration of the psychology of fatherhood from an archetypal perspective as well as a cultural history that challenges familiar assumptions about the origins of so-called traditional parenting roles.

Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency by Andrew Reiner

How modern forms of masculinity are harming men-and what we can do about it.

Tough: My Journey to True Power by Terry Crews

Not only the gripping story of a man’s struggle against himself and how he finally got his mind right, but a bold indictment of the cultural norms and taboos that ask men to be outwardly tough while leaving them inwardly weak. 

Redoing Gender by Helana Darwin – Now on Overdrive

Remember my previous posts on transgender and non-binary reads (Either Both Neither and Invisible In-betweens)? Well, buckle up, because I’ve got a new read to help you build compassion for non-binary folks, by reading their experiences in their own voices. The book is Redoing Gender: How Nonbinary Gender Contributes Toward Social Change, by Helena Darwin, and it’s an ebook available through Overdrive or the Libby app. Check out this description from the e-resource:

Redoing Gender demonstrates how difficult it is to be anything other than a man or a woman in a society that selectively acknowledges those two gendersGender nonbinary people (who identify as other genders besides simply man or woman) have begun to disrupt this binary system, but the limited progress they have made has required significant everyday labor. Through interviews with 47 nonbinary people, this book offers rich description of these forms of labor, including rethinking sex and gender, resignifying genderredoing relationships, and resisting erasure. The final chapter interrogates the lasting impact of this labor through follow-up interviews with participants four years later. Although nonbinary people are finally managing to achieve some recognition, it is clear that this change has not happened without a fight that continues to this day. The diverse experiences of nonbinary people in this book will help cisgender people relate to gender minorities with more compassion, and may also appeal to those questioning their own gender

It’s easy to understand diversity as a concept, to imagine that there are a wealth of experiences in the world, but it’s a different thing to hear directly about some of those different experiences. This book helps to bridge that gap between intellectual understanding and real insight, combining sociological practices and academic rigor with a deep care for inclusivity and respecting LGBTQIA experiences. Moreover, it begins to fill a glaring gap in research literature, which is mostly focused on divisions between “men” and “women” without any imagination of other genders.

A good read for sociology buffs and allies alike, this book is recommended for anyone who loves an ebook and likes picking apart harmful patriarchal structures.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

Did you love The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery? If yes, then you should definitely read The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey.

Bailey’s life was forever changed after a vacation where she caught an unknown illness, which quickly snowballed into a bevy of mysterious, chronic, and debilitating conditions. While grieving this change, she was gifted a companion: a wild snail found in the woods near her house. Observing and caring for this snail helped Bailey cope and launched her on a journey to learn more about this underappreciated animal.

This is a book about slowing down, with a thoughtful, lyrical pace to match. The fascination with our tiny neighbors is contagious, with interesting facts throughout helping to balance the author’s poignant emotional journey of being betrayed by her body. Honest, understated, and with a deep appreciation for nature and wildness, this bittersweet book will help you rest and see the world around you more clearly.

It’s also available in large print, so don’t miss out on a great piece of nature writing.

Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards

I live for the drama of a teen psychological thriller, and Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards is no exception.

One year ago, Cleo’s boyfriend Declan drowned during a river rafting trip with their friends. Even though she has a new boyfriend now and is waiting for a scholarship to Michigan State to become a forensic scientist, she’s never really been able to leave Declan in the past. This makes it all the more chilling when on her eighteenth birthday, she starts to receive a cryptic and vaguely threatening clues leading her on a scavenger hunt, one that’s increasingly all about her rocky relationship with Declan. All her friends deny their involvement, even her brother Connor, so it’s up to Cleo and her best friend Hope to chase down the clues, racing the clock to keep their secrets from getting out, and hopefully to find out just who’s behind this – friend, foe, or Declan himself.

This is a vividly drawn and fast-paced story, full of twists, flashbacks, and revelations of all kinds. It engages with issues of race, domestic violence, blame, poverty, and trust, but is also full of loving, supportive friendships and family relationships.

If you loved All Your Twisted Secrets, One of Us is Lying, or Five Total Strangers, you’ll love Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards.

This title is also available on Overdrive.

Loveless by Alice Oseman

Georgia has always assumed she’d find love. No, she hasn’t ever dated anyone, or kissed anyone, or had a crush on anyone, but that’s normal, right? It’ll happen eventually… right? It isn’t until she graduates from school and is about to go to university that she realizes how different she is from everyone else. Feeling panicked, behind, and alone, she decides to reinvent herself and become the kind of girl who’s a social butterfly, that falls in love and enjoys kissing. She enlists her roommate Rooney and her friends Jason and Pip in her quest, but it never starts to feel easier, to feel right. It’ll take time, soul-searching, and the help of Sunil, president of the Pride Society, to figure out what she wants and where she belongs.

Loveless by Alice Oseman is a great book for a lot of reasons, including its representation of people who have always been treated like they’re broken: introverts, asexuals, and aromantic people. Georgia is flawed and real as she struggles and angsts her way into self-acceptance and self-love, leaving some chaos and hurt in her wake. Oseman doesn’t shy away from showing Georgia’s culpability for that hurt, or the complicated process of making amends, not to mention the natural grieving process that comes with being different. In this and many ways (though I can’t vouch for the depiction of British university life) it’s a refreshingly realistic book. Despite the title, love is the thread that runs through the book – through Georgia’s friendships, Rooney’s relationship to Shakespeare, Pip’s cultural heritage, and Sunil’s feelings for the Pride Society.

For a fresh and educational coming-of-age with strong friendships, diverse characters, realistic portrayals of asexuality and aromanticism, and quick, addictive chapters, this is the best book you’ll read this year.

This title is also available on Overdrive.

Two Truths and a Lie by April Henry

If you love Agatha Christie’s classic play The Mousetrap, or you’re longing for a good high school theater production, you should read Two Truths and a Lie by April Henry. It’s packed with classic characters from stage play whodunits, updated for more realistic diversity of course, and it’s an homage to theater and murder mysteries.

Nell and her theater friends are on their way to a conference and competition, and their spirits are high – until a blizzard chases them off the road and into a weird motel in the middle of nowhere. It’s full of strange knick-knacks, it’s oddly laid out, and it’s nearly deserted, except for a few truckers, a handyman, and the owner. Luckily another group of high schoolers turns up similarly stranded, and the evening turns to games and flirtation. But during a group session of Two Truths and a Lie, a terrifying anonymous message is found: “I like to watch people die. I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve killed.” When students start to go missing it’s a terrifying scramble to find them and figure out the truth, even as the storm gets worse outside…

Tropes and references to horror movies and stage plays (Agatha Christie in particular) abound; these are theater kids, after all, and so the book can read as staged in places. Also familiar is the love triangle/mysterious love interest, but the other characters are diverse in race, religion, and sexuality in an authentic way. The plot is also suspenseful enough to keep you hooked and full of twists and surprises.

Don’t miss this snowed-in teen thriller for chills of all kinds! This title is also available on Overdrive.

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

It’s proven that reading fiction about people different from us helps us build empathy and understanding – Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki was a powerful example of this for me. I feel I know so much more about trans women’s experiences and Asian culture in California after reading this book. It’s also a genre-bending, compassionate, hopeful look at Faustian bargains, intergalactic refugees, and family of all kinds.

Violinist Shizuka Satomi has a deal with Hell – she’ll win back her soul and her ability to play music if she delivers seven souls to Hell. After years of work she’s carefully selected, molded, and delivered six, with just enough time before her deadline for the last one. But her final student isn’t what she expected – Katrina Nguyen is an abused, terrified runaway, a trans girl with no confidence, no hope, and nowhere to go. But when she plays her violin, the music is indescribable. Shizuka takes Katrina into her home and starts to teach her, only to find her own world and heart irrevocably changed by this unexpected and gentle girl. At the same time, she finds herself growing closer to the enigmatic Lan Tran, owner of a donut shop, mother of four, and alien refugee in disguise. All three women have battles to fight, and will have to lean on each other and learn to let go of their pasts to find a new way forward.

There are so many reasons to love this book, from the descriptive prose to the vivid characters. It’s an unflinching portrait of a trans girl’s experiences, but hopeful at every turn, flouting tropes, conventions, and the expectations you might have for a book about trauma and deals with the devil. There’s all kinds of families on offer here, including found family helping each other heal from their old wounds, choosing kindness, connection, and tender care over fear and conflict. The blend of genres is innovative and mostly effective, as the supernatural melds with sci-fi and contemporary fiction, with a hint of sapphic romance. Aoki not only makes these elements stand together, but also uses the combination to hold up a mirror to our complex, diverse society that struggles to see, understand, and respect the myriad experiences being lived around us. Perhaps most powerful is the strong thread of feminism running through the story as multiple women grapple with generational trauma and patriarchy that has been harming them, and find their own way out and into a place of power and self-trust.

If you like stories of classical musicians finding their voice, urban sci-fi, Good Omens-style fantasy, pacifist themes, the young and old teaching each other valuable lessons, and/or queer romances and coming of age stories, this would be a great book for you.