The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

“For the falling star and the rising ape to meet, the former must first be debased. No myth can remain terrifying when you’ve seen it broken and beaten, rendered as toothless as an old crone.”The Salt Grows Heavy, Cassandra Khaw

In an attempt to read more broadly, I picked up The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw, a 2023 horror novella. This novella is a somewhat sequel to Khaw’s short story, And In Our Daughters, We Find a Voice, which can be found printed at the end of this novella and also online. While it isn’t necessary to read the short story first, it did provide background to one of the main characters in the novella that I appreciated.

Let’s get into The Salt Grows Heavy!

While I wouldn’t typically reach for horror, the first paragraph on the inside cover pulled me in: “You may think you know how the fairy tale goes: a mermaid comes to shore and weds the price. But what the fables forget is that mermaids have teeth. And now, her daughters have devoured the kingdom and burned it to ashes.” I grew up adoring The Little Mermaid, but as an adult, looking into the classic tales and different myths surrounding mermaids has consumed my interest. Seeing this novella as a twisted version of The Little Mermaid, I decided to give it a read.

The Salt Grows Heavy is dark and twisted, full of bloodshed and gore. At the core of this novella lives a mermaid and a plague doctor. The mermaid’s children are cannibals – the story begins with her daughters having massacred the entire kingdom, hungering for more. Amidst the carnage lies their father, the prince. The mermaid isn’t sad, as he was incredibly cruel to her, keeping her locked away and denying her true nature. In the aftermath of the massacre, the mermaid teams up with the plague doctor, a nonbinary, mysterious, and gender-free calming influence. The two leave the ravaged kingdom behind, searching for something unsure. On the run, they stumble upon a mysterious village deep in the snowy forest full of ageless children and the ‘saints’ who control them.

I don’t know what I was expecting in this novella, but it far exceeded whatever I was. The language is flowery, the words chosen are long (and sometimes required me to look up the definition of), and the fairytale is messy and twisted. Unexpectedly, this novella also sports romance! The mermaid and plague doctor are loyal to each other, willing to die if needed. I was a tad confused why the mermaid cared so much as her entire character rebels against such close bonds. Seeing their relationship change from beginning to end was intriguing nevertheless. The plague doctor was compelling, sympathetic, and blessedly nonbinary. Given this was also a short novella, I enjoyed how quickly the read went. Add in the bonus of a twisted fairy tale and I’m certainly on the hunt for other similar titles!

GoodReads Choice Awards 2023 Winners

Goodreads has announced their 15th Annual Choice Awards winners for 2023. Even though there is controversy regarding category removals, we still want to highlight the winners as they are decided by readers! Below you will find the results of these annual awards from 15 different categories with 300 nominated books. The chosen categories are fiction, historical fiction, mystery & thriller, romance, romantasy, fantasy, science fiction, horror, young adult fantasy, young adult fiction, debut novel, nonfiction, memoir & autobiography, history & autobiography, and humor.

At the time of this writing, all of these titles are owned by the Davenport Public Library. The descriptions are provided by the publishers.

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Fiction: Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars. But Athena’s a literary darling. June Hayward is literally nobody. Who wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song—complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves. – HarperCollins

This title is also available as a Libby eBook, Libby eAudiobook, and large print.

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Historical Fiction: Weyward by Emilia Hart

I am a Weyward, and wild inside.

2019: Under cover of darkness, Kate flees London for ramshackle Weyward Cottage, inherited from a great-aunt she barely remembers. With its tumbling ivy and overgrown garden, the cottage is worlds away from the abusive partner who tormented Kate. But she suspects that her great-aunt had a secret. One that lurks in the bones of the cottage, hidden ever since the witch-hunts of the 17th century.

1619: Altha is awaiting trial for the murder of a local farmer who was stampeded to death by his herd. When Altha was a girl, her mother taught her their magic, a kind not rooted in spell casting but in a deep knowledge of the natural world. But unusual women have always been deemed dangerous, and as the evidence of witchcraft is laid out against Altha, she knows it will take all her powers to maintain her freedom.

1942: As World War II rages, Violet is trapped in her family’s grand, crumbling estate. Straitjacketed by societal convention, she longs for the robust education her brother receives––and for her mother, long deceased, who was rumored to have gone mad before her death. The only traces Violet has of her are a locket bearing the initial W and the word weyward scratched into the baseboard of her bedroom.

Weaving together the stories of three extraordinary women across five centuries, Emilia Hart’s Weyward is an astonishing debut, and an enthralling novel of female resilience. – Macmillan Publishers

This title is also available as a Libby ebook, Libby eAudiobook, and large print.

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Mystery & Thriller: The Housemaid’s Secret by Freida McFadden

“Don’t go in the guest bedroom.” A shadow falls on Douglas Garrick’s face as he touches the door with his fingertips. “My wife… she’s very ill.” As he continues showing me their incredible penthouse apartment, I have a terrible feeling about the woman behind closed doors. But I can’t risk losing this job—not if I want to keep my darkest secret safe…

It’s hard to find an employer who doesn’t ask too many questions about my past. So I thank my lucky stars that the Garricks miraculously give me a job, cleaning their stunning penthouse with views across the city and preparing fancy meals in their shiny kitchen. I can work here for a while, stay quiet until I get what I want.

It’s almost perfect. But I still haven’t met Mrs Garrick, or seen inside the guest bedroom. I’m sure I hear her crying. I notice spots of blood around the neck of her white nightgowns when I’m doing laundry. And one day I can’t help but knock on the door. When it gently swings open, what I see inside changes everything…

That’s when I make a promise. After all, I’ve done this before. I can protect Mrs Garrick while keeping my own secrets locked up safe.

Douglas Garrick has done wrong. He is going to pay. It’s simply a question of how far I’m willing to go… – Bookouture

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Romance: Happy Place by Emily Henry

Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.

They broke up five months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.

Which is how they find themselves sharing a bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blissful week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.

Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week…in front of those who know you best? – Penguin Random House

This title is also available as a Libby eBook, large print, CD audiobook, Libby eAudiobook, and Playaway audiobook.

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Romantasy: Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away…because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom’s protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die. – Entangled Publishing

This title is also available as a Libby eBook, Libby eAudiobook, and Playaway audiobook.

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Fantasy: Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

Find a gateway to the underworld. Steal a soul out of hell. A simple plan, except people who make this particular journey rarely come back. But Galaxy “Alex” Stern is determined to break Darlington out of purgatory—even if it costs her a future at Lethe and at Yale.

Forbidden from attempting a rescue, Alex and Dawes can’t call on the Ninth House for help, so they assemble a team of dubious allies to save the gentleman of Lethe. Together, they will have to navigate a maze of arcane texts and bizarre artifacts to uncover the societies’ most closely guarded secrets, and break every rule doing it. But when faculty members begin to die off, Alex knows these aren’t just accidents. Something deadly is at work in New Haven, and if she is going to survive, she’ll have to reckon with the monsters of her past and a darkness built into the university’s very walls.

Thick with history and packed with Bardugo’s signature twists, Hell Bent brings to life an intricate world full of magic, violence, and all too real monsters. – Macmillan Publishers

This title is also available as a Libby eBook, Libby eAudiobook, and in large print.

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Science Fiction: In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune

In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots—fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe.

The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled “HAP,” he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio–a past spent hunting humans.

When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio’s former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic’s assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming.

Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: Can he accept love with strings attached?

Inspired by Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, and like Swiss Family Robinson meets Wall-E, In the Lives of Puppets is a masterful stand-alone fantasy adventure from the beloved author who brought you The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door. – Macmillan Publishers

This title is also available as Libby eBook and Libby eAudiobook.

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Horror: Holly by Stephen King

Stephen King’s Holly marks the triumphant return of beloved King character Holly Gibney. Readers have witnessed Holly’s gradual transformation from a shy (but also brave and ethical) recluse in Mr. Mercedes to Bill Hodges’s partner in Finders Keepers to a full-fledged, smart, and occasionally tough private detective in The Outsider. In King’s new novel, Holly is on her own, and up against a pair of unimaginably depraved and brilliantly disguised adversaries.

When Penny Dahl calls the Finders Keepers detective agency hoping for help locating her missing daughter, Holly is reluctant to accept the case. Her partner, Pete, has Covid. Her (very complicated) mother has just died. And Holly is meant to be on leave. But something in Penny Dahl’s desperate voice makes it impossible for Holly to turn her down.

Mere blocks from where Bonnie Dahl disappeared live Professors Rodney and Emily Harris. They are the picture of bourgeois respectability: married octogenarians, devoted to each other, and semi-retired lifelong academics. But they are harboring an unholy secret in the basement of their well-kept, book-lined home, one that may be related to Bonnie’s disappearance. And it will prove nearly impossible to discover what they are up to: they are savvy, they are patient, and they are ruthless.

Holly must summon all her formidable talents to outthink and outmaneuver the shockingly twisted professors in this chilling new masterwork from Stephen King. – Simon & Schuster

This title is also available as a Libby eBook, Libby eAudiobook, large print, CD audiobook, and Playaway audiobook.

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Young Adult Fantasy: Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross

When two young rival journalists find love through a magical connection, they must face the depths of hell, in a war among gods, to seal their fate forever.

After centuries of sleep, the gods are warring again. But eighteen-year-old Iris Winnow just wants to hold her family together. Her mother is suffering from addiction and her brother is missing from the front lines. Her best bet is to win the columnist promotion at the Oath Gazette.

To combat her worries, Iris writes letters to her brother and slips them beneath her wardrobe door, where they vanish—into the hands of Roman Kitt, her cold and handsome rival at the paper. When he anonymously writes Iris back, the two of them forge a connection that will follow Iris all the way to the front lines of battle: for her brother, the fate of mankind, and love.

Shadow and Bone meets Lore in Rebecca Ross’s Divine Rivals, an epic enemies-to-lovers fantasy novel filled with hope and heartbreak, and the unparalleled power of love. – Macmillan Publishers

This title is also available as Libby eBook and Libby eAudiobook.

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Young Adult Fiction: Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood

Mallory Greenleaf is done with chess. Every move counts nowadays; after the sport led to the destruction of her family four years earlier, Mallory’s focus is on her mom, her sisters, and the dead-end job that keeps the lights on. That is, until she begrudgingly agrees to play in one last charity tournament and inadvertently wipes the board with notorious “Kingkiller” Nolan Sawyer: current world champion and reigning Bad Boy of chess.

Nolan’s loss to an unknown rook-ie shocks everyone. What’s even more confusing? His desire to cross pawns again. What kind of gambit is Nolan playing? The smart move would be to walk away. Resign. Game over. But Mallory’s victory opens the door to sorely needed cash-prizes and despite everything, she can’t help feeling drawn to the enigmatic strategist….

As she rockets up the ranks, Mallory struggles to keep her family safely separated from the game that wrecked it in the first place. And as her love for the sport she so desperately wanted to hate begins to rekindle, Mallory quickly realizes that the games aren’t only on the board, the spotlight is brighter than she imagined, and the competition can be fierce (-ly attractive. And intelligent…and infuriating…) – Penguin Random House

This title is also available as Libby eBook and Libby eAudiobook.

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Debut Novel: Weyward by Emilia Hart

See above!

This title also won the Historical Fiction category for 2023.

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Nonfiction: Poverty, By America by Matthew Desmond

The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why? Why does this land of plenty allow one in every eight of its children to go without basic necessities, permit scores of its citizens to live and die on the streets, and authorize its corporations to pay poverty wages?

In this landmark book, acclaimed sociologist Matthew Desmond draws on history, research, and original reporting to show how affluent Americans knowingly and unknowingly keep poor people poor. Those of us who are financially secure exploit the poor, driving down their wages while forcing them to overpay for housing and access to cash and credit. We prioritize the subsidization of our wealth over the alleviation of poverty, designing a welfare state that gives the most to those who need the least. And we stockpile opportunity in exclusive communities, creating zones of concentrated riches alongside those of concentrated despair. Some lives are made small so that others may grow.

Elegantly written and fiercely argued, this compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond builds a startlingly original and ambitious case for ending poverty. He calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom. – Penguin Random House

This title is also available as a Libby eBook.

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Memoir & Autobiography: The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

The Woman in Me is a brave and astonishingly moving story about freedom, fame, motherhood, survival, faith, and hope.

In June 2021, the whole world was listening as Britney Spears spoke in open court. The impact of sharing her voice—her truth—was undeniable, and it changed the course of her life and the lives of countless others. The Woman in Me reveals for the first time her incredible journey—and the strength at the core of one of the greatest performers in pop music history.

Written with remarkable candor and humor, Spears’s groundbreaking book illuminates the enduring power of music and love—and the importance of a woman telling her own story, on her own terms, at last. – Simon & Schuster

This title is also available as a Libby eBook, Libby eAudiobook, and CD audiobook.

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History & Biography: The Wager by David Grann

On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, and they had an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. The men, after being marooned for months and facing starvation, built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing nearly 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes.

But then … six months later, another, even more decrepit craft landed on the coast of Chile. This boat contained just three castaways, and they told a very different story. The thirty sailors who landed in Brazil were not heroes – they were mutineers. The first group responded with countercharges of their own, of a tyrannical and murderous senior officer and his henchmen. It became clear that while stranded on the island the crew had fallen into anarchy, with warring factions fighting for dominion over the barren wilderness. As accusations of treachery and murder flew, the Admiralty convened a court martial to determine who was telling the truth. The stakes were life-and-death—for whomever the court found guilty could hang.

The Wager is a grand tale of human behavior at the extremes told by one of our greatest nonfiction writers. Grann’s recreation of the hidden world on a British warship rivals the work of Patrick O’Brian, his portrayal of the castaways’ desperate straits stands up to the classics of survival writing such as The Endurance, and his account of the court martial has the savvy of a Scott Turow thriller. As always with Grann’s work, the incredible twists of the narrative hold the reader spellbound. – Penguin Random House

This title is also available in large print, Libby eBook, Libby eAudiobook, CD audiobook, and in Playaway audiobook.

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Humor: Being Henry by Henry Winkler

From Emmy-award winning actor, author, comedian, producer, and director Henry Winkler, a deeply thoughtful memoir of the lifelong effects of stardom and the struggle to become whole.

Henry Winkler, launched into prominence as “The Fonz” in the beloved Happy Days, has transcended the role that made him who he is. Brilliant, funny, and widely-regarded as the nicest man in Hollywood (though he would be the first to tell you that it’s simply not the case, he’s really just grateful to be here), Henry shares in this achingly vulnerable memoir the disheartening truth of his childhood, the difficulties of a life with severe dyslexia, the pressures of a role that takes on a life of its own, and the path forward once your wildest dream seems behind you.

Since the glorious era of Happy Days fame, Henry has endeared himself to a new generation with roles in such adored shows as Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, and Barry, where he’s been revealed as an actor with immense depth and pathos, a departure from the period of his life when he was so distinctly typecast as The Fonz, he could hardly find work.

Filled with profound heart, charm, and self-deprecating humor, Being Henry is a memoir about so much more than a life in Hollywood and the curse of stardom. It is a meaningful testament to the power of sharing truth and kindness and of finding fulfillment within yourself. – Macmillan Publishers

This title is also available in large print, Libby eAudiobook, and CD audiobook.

Stone Blind: Medusa’s Story by Natalie Haynes

“Why would anyone love a monster?’ asked Perseus.
‘Who are you to decide who is worthy of love?’ said Hermes.
‘I mean, I wasn’t…’
‘And who are you to decide who is a monster?’ added the messenger god.”
― Natalie Haynes, Stone Blind: Medusa’s Story

Greek mythology has been a love of mine for decades. Medusa is one of my favorites, as she is misunderstood and usually only seen as a gruesome monster. My latest read is all about Medusa and other feared women. Stone Blind: Medusa’s Story by Natalie Haynes is full of snarky, sarcastic women and goddesses tired of putting up with anyone’s crap. This was a gorgeous retelling of a classic mythical tale.

Medusa is the youngest of the Gorgon sisters. She is also the only mortal in a family of gods. Unlike her two older Gorgon sisters, Medusa feels pain, grows older, and, confusingly for her family, needs to eat and sleep. Being a mortal, Medusa’s lifespan is also significantly shorter than her sisters. Medusa knows she will die, just not when.

Athene is angry. The sea god Poseidon, her uncle, has assaulted Medusa in Athene’s own temple. She is absolutely furious that her sacred space has been violated. Needing to take out revenge, Athene decides to punish Medusa. Waking from what she thinks is a dream, Medusa is forever transformed into the monstrous creature that is remembered by all throughout history. A writhing mass of snakes has replaced her hair. Medusa’s gaze also holds the power to turn any living creature to stone. Terrified of her new power and scared she will accidentally destroy her sisters with one look, Medusa binds her eyes, winds her way deep into the caves, and decides to spend the rest of her days in solitude with only her snakes for company.

The Gorgons’ lives are forever changed when Perseus agrees to fetch the head of a Gorgon to save his mother from forced marriage to a king. His decision to do so without understanding the consequences means that Perseus has to call upon the help of his father Zeus and other gods, goddesses, and creatures to complete his task. He bumbles his way to the Gorgons, wreaking havoc along the way and forever changing the lives of people he has never met.

Stone Blind: Medusa’s Story is the story of women tired of being used. It tells the story of Medusa, bringing emotion, nuance, sarcasm, wit, and empathy into the devastating life of a mortal woman turned into a monster by a god’s actions. Medusa is blamed, punished, and turned into a monster because of an act that was done to her by a powerful man. She was the victim, yet most retellings of her life only show the monster. I enjoyed Haynes’ retelling as it gives the story of Medusa a modern feminist twist.

 

Fantasy Series: Hell’s Library trilogy by A.J. Hackwith

“Stories can die. Of course they can. Ask any author who’s had an idea wither in their head, fail to thrive and bear fruit. Or a book that spoke to you as a child but upon revisiting it was silent and empty. Stories can die from neglect, from abuse, from rot. Even war, as Shakespeare warned, can turn books to graves. We seek to preserve the books, of course. But we forget the flip side of that duty: treasure what we have. Honor the stories that speak to you, that give you something you need to keep going. Cherish stories while they are here. There’s a reason the unwritten live on something as fragile as paper.”
― A.J. Hackwith, The Library of the Unwritten

Books that aren’t finished by their authors live in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell. A.J. Hackwith examines this concept in the first book in the Hell’s Library series entitled The Library of the Unwritten. I found this title to be fascinating, but the beginning felt a bit like I was being dropped into a new world with no idea of what was happening. After a couple chapters, I was fully acclimated and ready to follow the story.

Claire, the Head Librarian in the Unwritten Wing in Hell, has massive responsibilities. This library is a neutral zone where all stories that are not finished by their authors come to live. Demons and others in Hell yearn to possess the potential that resides in those items, making the Unwritten Wing in constant need of safe-guarding. In addition to normal library duties like repairing and organizing books, Claire must also keep a watchful eye on restless stories who materialize characters out of their books and into the world. Every once in a while, a character escapes the library, forcing Claire and her assistant to track them down. Such a calamity has occurred: Hero has broken out of his book and is on the hunt for his author. Claire, her assistant and the former muse Brevity, and a demon messenger named Leto are Earth-bound to track down Hero before he gets into any trouble.

Claire and her sidekicks should be in for a very simple retrieval, but of course, their best laid plans result in a mess. Ramiel, a terrifying angel, attacks them under the belief that they have possession of the Devil’s Bible. That text is an immensely powerful weapon of which Heaven and Hell are desperate to possess. Wars have been started over far less. Claire, Brevity, and Leto have a new mission: find the Devil’s Bible before disaster strikes. Will they succeed? They certainly hope so as the fates of Heaven, Hell, and Earth all rest in the balance.

Hell’s Library series

  1. The Library of the Unwritten (2019)
  2. The Archive of the Forgotten (2020)
  3. The God of Lost Words (2021)

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

“Just as when we come into the world, when we die we are afraid of the unknown. But the fear is something from within us that has nothing to do with reality. Dying is like being born: just a change”
― Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

Isabel Allende was born in Peru to Chilean parents and became an American citizen in 1993. Her first book, The House of the Spirits, was published in 1982. This book began as a letter to her dying grandfather. Since then she has sold more than 77 million books that have been translated into more than forty-two languages. Allende is an accomplished writer who devotes much time to human rights causes. She has also received fifteen honorary doctorates as well as more than 60 awards in over 15 countries, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. Allende has been on my radar for many years, but I had never read any of her books. After talking to another librarian, I decided to read The House of the Spirits. I’ll admit it took me some time to get involved in the story, but listening to the audiobook definitely helped (it’s over 19 hours though)! Let’s talk about this sweeping family generational novel.

Spanning four generations, The House of the Spirits weaves a story of triumphs and tragedies and all the small moments in-between. The patriarch of the family, Esteban, is a very proud man. His volatile attitude sets his tennants and family on edge. Over his entire life, Estaban’s political ambitions defined his actions and behaviors. His ambitions and explosive behavior are only softened by his deep love of his wife Clara. Clara is a delicate woman with a mysterious connection to the spirit world. Living in a world of her own, Clara floats through life, managing the family, their friends, and the two properties they rotate between.

Clara and Estaban have three children: one girl and two boys. Their eldest daughter Blanca proves to be a headache to her father when she starts a forbidden love affair with a man she has known since she was a small child. Estaban is vehemently against their relationship, threatening her lover with bodily harm. The result of their union is his granddaughter Alba. He adores her. She is a beautiful child, who proves to be just as strong-willed as her grandfather. Alba’s beliefs vary greatly from her elder family members. As she grows older, Alba begins to explore revolutionary ideas, which she introduces to her family in the hope that their beliefs will change.

This novel covers multiple individuals in the Trueba family, even venturing back to Esteban and Clara’s parents and various other family members. This is a sweeping generational family saga full of eccentric characters. In addition to learning about the family members, readers learn about the area’s history, politics, and the forces of nature behind the actions of others.

This book is also available in the following format:

“The point was not to die, since death came anyway, but to survive, which would be a miracle.”
― Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

Winners of the 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards

The winners of the 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards have been announced! We’ve gathered up the winners and listed them below. We would love to hear your thoughts on the winners in the comments! Summaries of the books have been provided by the publishers and authors.

Best Fiction: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Mystery & Thriller: The Maid by Nita Prose

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Historical Fiction: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

In spite of it all, Carrie Soto is back, for one epic final season. In this riveting and unforgettable novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells her most vulnerable, emotional story yet.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Fantasy: House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas’s sexy, groundbreaking CRESCENT CITY series continues with the second installment.

Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal-they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.

The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

In this sexy, action-packed sequel to the #1 bestseller House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J. Maas weaves a captivating story of a world about to explode-and the people who will do anything to save it.

This title is also available in the following format:

Best Romance: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming…

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Science Fiction: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Horror: Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

Mallory Quinn is fresh out of rehab when she takes a job as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. She is to look after their five-year-old son, Teddy.

Mallory immediately loves it. She has her own living space, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.

Then, Teddy’s artwork becomes increasingly sinister, and his stick figures quickly evolve into lifelike sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old. Mallory begins to wonder if these are glimpses of a long-unsolved murder, perhaps relayed by a supernatural force.

Knowing just how crazy it all sounds, Mallory nevertheless sets out to decipher the images and save Teddy before it’s too late.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Humor: The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

An intimate, behind-the-scenes, richly illustrated celebration of beloved The Office co-stars Jenna Fischer & Angela Kinsey’s friendship, & an insiders’ view of Pam Beesly, Angela Martin, & the unforgettable iconic TV show. Featuring Jenna and Angela’s many personal photos.

Receptionist Pam Beesly and accountant Angela Martin had very little in common when they toiled together at Scranton’s Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. But, in reality, the two bonded in their very first days on set and, over the nine seasons of the series’ run, built a friendship that transcended the show and continues to this day. Sharing everything from what it was like in the early days as the show struggled to gain traction, to walking their first red carpet—plus exclusive stories on the making of milestone episodes and how their lives changed when they became moms — The Office BFFs is full of the same warm and friendly tone Jenna and Angela have brought to their Office Ladies podcast.

This title is also available in the following format:

Best Nonfiction: Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.

Over the past two decades, Brown’s extensive research into the experiences that make us who we are has shaped the cultural conversation and helped define what it means to be courageous with our lives. Atlas of the Heart draws on this research, as well as on Brown’s singular skills as a storyteller, to show us how accurately naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power—it gives us the power of understanding, meaning, and choice.

Brown shares, “I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that, with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Memoir & Autobiography: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best History & Biography: Bad Guys by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller

We all remember Oscar Wilde, but who speaks for Bosie? What about those ‘bad gays’ whose unexemplary lives reveal more than we might expect? Many popular histories seek to establish homosexual heroes, pioneers, and martyrs but, as Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller argue, the past is filled with queer people whose sexualities and dastardly deeds have been overlooked despite their being informative and instructive.

Based on the hugely popular podcast series of the same name, Bad Gays asks what we can learn about LGBTQ+ history, sexuality and identity through its villains, failures, and baddies. With characters such as the Emperor Hadrian, anthropologist Margaret Mead and notorious gangster Ronnie Kray, the authors tell the story of how the figure of the white gay man was born, and how he failed. They examine a cast of kings, fascist thugs, artists and debauched bon viveurs. Imperial-era figures Lawrence of Arabia and Roger Casement get a look-in, as do FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover, lawyer Roy Cohn, and architect Philip Johnson.

Together these amazing life stories expand and challenge mainstream assumptions about sexual identity: showing that homosexuality itself was an idea that emerged in the nineteenth century, one central to major historical events.

Bad Gays is a passionate argument for rethinking gay politics beyond questions of identity, compelling readers to search for solidarity across boundaries.

Best Graphic Novels & Comics: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

Charlie and Nick are at the same school, but they’ve never met … until one day when they’re made to sit together. They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is more interested in Charlie than either of them realised.

By Alice Oseman, winner of the YA Book Prize, Heartstopper is about love, friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.

Best Poetry: Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

The breakout poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman

Formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, the luminous poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing. In Call Us What We Carry, Gorman explores history, language, identity, and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage. Harnessing the collective grief of a global pandemic, this beautifully designed volume features poems in many inventive styles and structures and shines a light on a moment of reckoning. Call Us What We Carry reveals that Gorman has become our messenger from the past, our voice for the future.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Best Debut: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Young Adult Fiction: The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Avery’s fortune, life, and loves are on the line in the game that everyone will be talking about.

To inherit billions, all Avery Kylie Grambs has to do is survive a few more weeks living in Hawthorne House. The paparazzi are dogging her every step. Financial pressures are building. Danger is a fact of life. And the only thing getting Avery through it all is the Hawthorne brothers. Her life is intertwined with theirs. She knows their secrets and they know her.

But as the clock ticks down to the moment when Avery will become the richest teenager on the planet, trouble arrives in the form of a visitor who needs her help—and whose presence in Hawthorne House could change everything. It soon becomes clear that there is one last puzzle to solve, and Avery and the Hawthorne brothers are drawn into a dangerous game against an unknown and powerful player.

Secrets upon secrets. Riddles upon riddles. In this game, there are hearts and lives at stake—and there is nothing more Hawthorne than winning.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Young Adult Fantasy: Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for Girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home; it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile, or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

New York Times–bestselling author V. E. Schwab crafts a vivid and lush novel that grapples with the demons that are often locked behind closed doors. An eerie, stand-alone saga about life, death, and the young woman beckoned by both. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Melissa Albert, and Garth Nix will quickly lose themselves in this novel with crossover appeal for all ages.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Middle Grade & Children’s: I Am Quiet by Andie Powers and Betsy Petersen

Emile is not shy—he is quiet.

Emile may seem timid and shy on the outside, but on the inside he is bustling with imagination. While grownups and even other kids may see Emile as the shy kid who doesn’t raise his hand in class, we know that Emile is actually a high-seas adventurer, a daring explorer, and a friend to wild beasts.

This story honors and encourages the beauty of knowing ourselves for exactly who we are. Emile’s world shows us that the mind of a quiet child can be as rich, expansive, and bold as that of any other (more extroverted) child.

Young Adult Series: The Dreamer Trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater is a master of young adult fantasy. She writes a wide variety of novels with some of them bring New York Times Bestsellers. She plays musical instruments, makes art, and loves cars. If you don’t follow her on social media, I highly recommend.

I became aware of Maggie Stiefvater through The Raven Cycle series. She also has two older series that I haven’t read yet, plus other series/novels that are on my to-read list. Let’s talk about what drew me in. The Raven Cycle is a well-written series about discovering identity and magic, while finding your home. After the end of The Raven Cycle, Stiefvater remarked that she spent years thinking about continuing the story of the Lynch brothers. She wanted The Dreamer Trilogy to move past the themes of The Raven Cycle though, to be dark and weighty, specifically looking at the joys and burdens of creativity. The Dreamer Trilogy focuses on the Lynch brothers and their work to sharpen themselves.

“Belonging in more than one world means that you end up belonging in none of them.”
― Maggie Stiefvater, Call Down the Hawk

The Dreamer Trilogy dives more into the lives of the Lynch Brothers. The first book in The Dreamer Trilogy is Call Down the Hawk. This book is the story of dreamers, the dreamed, and the hunters.

Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. His father before him was also a dreamer, but he died before he could truly teach Ronan about his powers. Ronan was left to figure out the extent of his abilities on his own, but always felt like he was missing something. Even though he could pull items out of his dreams, Ronan’s reality continuously felt compromised.

Jordan Hennessy is a thief. For as long as she can remember, she has had the same dream. She brings back the same thing from each dream every time. Hennessy knows what she wants from her dream, but the closer she gets to it, the more tied to it she becomes. She is terrified that her dream will one day kill her and has no idea what to do in order to survive.

Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. This was not the profession that she wanted. Instead her brother’s actions determined her fate. You see, Carmen’s brother was a dreamer and a killer. In order to prove her loyalty to the moderators, she must help hunt the dreamers. Carmen has firsthand experience of what dreaming can do to a person and has seen the horrifying damage that dreamers can do. If they don’t find the dreamers and get them to stop dreaming, unimaginable destruction will be unleashed upon the world.

This title is also available in the following formats:

The Dreamer Trilogy:

  1. Call Down the Hawk (2019)
  2. Mister Impossible (2021)
  3. Greywaren (2022)

My Favorite Books as Taylor Swift’s New Album

Recently Taylor Swift’s new album Midnights snagged all top ten spots on the US Billboard charts, a major and unprecedented coup. On a more personal note, I’ve had at least one of the songs from the album stuck in my head on and off since I first listened to the album — and you probably have too, if you’ve listened to it. So I decided to make lemonade from lemons and tell you how my English major brain has associated songs from Midnights with different books. All the books (and very soon the album) are available for checkout from our library, so you can double-check my findings for yourself.

“So real, I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say / No deal, the 1950s shit they want for me / I just wanna stay in that lavender haze”

When I listen to Lavender Haze I hear love that pushes against expectations and conventions for what a relationship should look like, and therefore think immediately of The Love Study by Kris Ripper, which is only the first of a trilogy all about relationships outside of conventional norms, and about customizing your relationship to what works for you.

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“The burgundy on my t-shirt when you splashed your wine onto me / And how the blood rushed into my cheeks, so scarlet, it was / The mark you saw on my collarbone, the rust that grew between telephones / The lips I used to call home, so scarlet, it was maroon”

Maroon to me is about a vivid, passionate love that ended, and is remembered, as vividly as it lived. For sheer emotional power, and the strength of love and memory, this song has to be The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay FayeThis book is an unforgettable Hamlet retelling with a powerful (and, spoilers, doomed) love at its core.

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“It’s me / Hi! / I’m the problem, it’s me / At teatime / Everybody agrees / I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror / It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero”

Antihero is the song I (and many others) can’t get out of our heads — it’s catchy, self-aware, self-destructive, and self-deprecating, with paranoid fear of losing relationships and (for me anyway) a hint of glamour. What it made me think of is my favorite romance book of all time, Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (the sequel, Husband Material, works as well) because of its self-deprecating humor, self-destructive tendencies, and an unforgettableness not unlike an earworm.

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“Are we falling like / Snow at the beach / Weird but it was beautiful / Flying in a dream / Stars by the pocketful / You wanting me / Tonight / Feels impossible / But it’s comin’ down, no sound, it’s all around”

Snow on the Beach is all dreamlike, surreal vibes, with a star-crossed type romance running through it, which for me echoes the magical realism in One Last Stop by Casey McQuistonOur lovable leads in that book find themselves in a similarly bizarre situation which they end up embracing.

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“What’s a girl gonna do? A diamond’s gotta shine / Best believe I’m still bejeweled when I walk in the room / I can still make the whole place shimmer”

Now, I fully believe you’ll have a better pick for this one, but Bejeweled‘s theme of claiming your power from a repressive relationship made me think of In Deeper Waters by FT Lukens, because among other things this book is about the main character embracing his power and identity and breaking free from fear and repression, and I just love to see it.

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“Sweet like honey, karma is a cat / Purring in my lap ’cause it loves me / Flexing like a goddamn acrobat / Me and karma vibe like that”

Okay, another unconventional pick, but the smugness of Karma, waiting for the other shoe to drop, reminded me of An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten. Our elderly protagonist is similarly convinced of the justice of her actions – to very entertaining effect.

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“Everyone’s up to somethin’ / I find myself runnin’ home to your sweet nothings / Outside, they’re push and shovin’ / You’re in the kitchen hummin’ / All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothin'”

Sweet Nothing is about finding a haven and home in someone who doesn’t burdern you with the expectations and pressure you receive everywhere else, which for me had to be The Bookseller’s Boyfriend by Heidi CullinanAlso a cautionary tale about celebrity and social media, the romance in this book is all about an overworked, overwhelmed person finding rest in another’s company.

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“So I told you none of it was accidental / And the first night that you saw me, nothing was gonna stop me / I laid the groundwork and then saw a wide smirk / On your face, you knew the entire time / You knew that I’m a mastermind / And now you’re mine”

Not exactly the same vibe, but Mastermind‘s ending, when the singer realizes that though they thought they were being subtle, they were actually transparent to their partner, reminded me of Love is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann, in which another scheming narrator discovers the joy of being known and accepted for all your faults.

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Let us know, do you agree with my associations? Which books would you pick?

House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson

If you like Dracula, Rebecca, Mexican Gothic, Plain Bad Heroines, or Priory of the Orange Tree, you’ll probably want to read House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson. This sapphic take on vampire lore is a lush, gory, hedonistic roller coaster with a dash of social commentary to boot, and it will definitely take your breath away.

Marion Shaw’s world is strictly divided — there’s North and South, haves and have-nots. She has always been strictly in the “have-nots” camp, struggling to survive in the slums of Prane, a city in the South. When she gets the chance for a different life, she jumps for it. The only people who move from South to North, from poor to rich, are the bloodmaids: young women (always young, always women) who are employed specifically so their wealthy patrons can drain and drink their blood to protect their health. In exchange, bloodmaids get generous pensions at the end of their tenure. Marion is lucky enough to be employed by the noble House of Hunger, to bleed for the Countess Lisavet, who is beautiful, enigmatic, alluring… and desperately in need of blood to prop up her failing health. Even as Marion falls hard (and bleeds hard) for her magnetic employer, she can’t deny the signs that something is wrong; household members are disappearing, the bloodmaids are becoming ill to the point of madness, and Lisavet keeps disappearing somewhere at night. If Marion doesn’t figure out what’s going on soon, she’ll lose more than a little blood in the House of Hunger.

I loved that this is a version of the vampire story that blurs the line between monster and victim — Marion is definitely no damsel in distress, and takes action for herself, even to the point of crossing moral lines where need be. Her and Lisavet’s queerness is also clear and unapologetic, refreshingly, but unfortunately the book is still not particularly sex-positive. The lush worldbuilding of the novel — while very atmospheric — is mostly about showing how decadent and corrupt the nobility is, wallowing in every kind of vice, which ends up making any sexuality in the book feel  hedonistic and distasteful, lumped in with the rampant and destructive drug use.

What is very effective about that, however, is the social commentary underlying it; the reader cannot help but come away thinking about how much wealth is wasted on these kinds of activities while workers like Marion can barely make ends meet to survive. It’s an alternate universe version of the Gilded Age, primed for unions, labor laws, and a drastic redistribution of wealth. Pair that unique premise with a tight, fast-moving plot and you’ve got yourself a deeply compelling story.

So if you like your gothic novels bloody, intricate, feminist, sensual, and fighting for basic human rights, this book is for you.

Young Adult Series: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,’ Neeve said. ‘Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.’
― Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys is the first book in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Stiefvater has created a gorgeously written world for her characters that will leave you wanting to learn more. She leaves hints in books that you pick up later that will leave you wondering at the way that Stiefvater constructs these books.

Blue Sargent has grown up in a family of clairvoyants. For as long as she can remember, her house has been full to bursting with random cousins, aunts, and friends of her mothers who all have some version of clairvoyance. Blue, however, doesn’t have any abilities. Instead she is like a battery – she makes other people’s talents stronger. Blue amplifies the powers of others. That’s why her mother takes her with to the churchyard on St Mark’s Eve to note the names of the soon-to-be dead walking past. In that freezing churchyard, Blue meets Gansey for the first time and her life is changed.

Blue discovers that Gansey is one of the rich students who attends Aglionby, a local private school. She has no desire to learn what is going to happen to that Raven Boy, what they call the Aglionby Boys, as her association with them can only mean trouble.

Despite her declaration to stay away from Gansey and the other Raven Boys, their paths continue to cross. When Blue realizes that Gansey is more than his good looks and family money, she finds herself drawn into a quest that has consumed Gansey and his friends for years. The problem: for as long as she can remember, Blue has been told that she will cause her true love to die. If she kisses her true love, he will die. This has never been an issue for Blue until she starts hanging around with the Raven Boys. Their life is strange and sinister and full of more mystery than she ever thought possible.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Raven Cycle series

  1. The Raven Boys (2012)
  2. The Dream Thieves (2013)
  3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue (2014)
  4. The Raven King (2016)
  5. Opal (2018) – a novella that takes place after the events of The Raven King

Related to The Raven Cycle series, Stiefvater has written the Dreamer Trilogy which delves more into Ronan Lynch:

  1. Call Down the Hawk (2019)
  2. Mister Impossible (2021)
  3. Greywaren (2022)