Super Monster by Claud

Support a non-binary artist and discover some catchy new music on Super Monster by Claud.  How to describe their style? Well, here’s what they say on their website: “claud mintz (they/them) makes the kind of pop that goes well with a late night snack.”

If that doesn’t clear it up for you, here’s my take: this is a pop sound similar to twin icons Tegan and Sara, and the California band Muna, but also with shades of Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. With simple hooks and honest lyrics, Claud combines soft, musing ballads with more fast-paced, playful tracks for a mix that is overall optimistic, affectionate, vulnerable, and proudly queer. Listeners will be drawn in by bright, quirky album art and intriguing song titles including “Cuff Your Jeans” and “That’s Mr. Bitch to You”.

Incidentally, “That’s Mr. Bitch To You” is probably my favorite track for its light-hearted energy in response to hate (definitely my new personal anthem) – but most tracks are relaxing and enjoyable to listen to. I also recommend “Overnight” and “Falling with the Rain” for more romantic vibes, and “Ana” for a lost-love story.  Most tracks will leave you humming for the rest of the day, and the lack of cynicism will keep you coming back for more.

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Sick of horror stories where able-bodied straight people are the only ones smart and strong enough to survive? Try Even if We Break by Marieke Nijkamp. This deeply inclusive YA thriller is a love letter to RPGs, a Breakfast Club vibe (with shades of One of Us is Lying), and a typical “remote-cabin-on-haunted-mountain” campfire story.

It’s been three years of high school since disabled goth Finn (he/him), cash-strapped game master Ever (they/them), autistic former athlete Maddy (she/her), hardworking “new money” Carter (he/him), and wealthy aspiring seamstress Liva (she/her) first started playing their role-playing game in the mythical land of Gonfalon. Once, the game made them inseparable. Now, they’re barely speaking, and all hiding secrets. Carter is bitterly resentful, Maddy is lost and desperate, Finn is consumed with anger and mistrust, Liva feels disrespected, and Ever is just desperate to keep the friendship going a little longer. They’ve gathered, one last time, at Liva’s mountain cabin to play an immersive game. But soon, strange things start happening, and then in the darkness, someone vanishes, leaving a pool of blood behind…

This book is priceless because of its effort to accurately and compassionately portray the lives of queer, disabled, and trans teens, through their own voices. Touching on chronic pain, the opioid epidemic, poverty, bullying, neurodivergence, and more, this is a thoughtful portrayal of a group of friends and how their circumstances can drive wedges between them. What this book does best is show the friends’ processing of trauma and secrets in order to get back to a place of trust and honesty. While slightly less effective, the thriller plot unravels at just the right rate to keep readers on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next and who’s behind it.

Both the frequent heart-to-heart talks and inconsistent serial-killer-stalking stretch the limits of believability to some degree and, combined, make for a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but as a pioneer of inclusion in the genre – and a nuanced portrayal of disability – this is a tour de force.  Recommended for fans of Stephanie Perkins’ horror work and Karen McManus’ multi-perspective whodunits.

This title is also available on Overdrive.

Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

An inclusive romance for fans of reality cooking shows, Love and Other Disasters follows recent divorcée Dahlia and non-binary London as they compete on a show called Chef’s Special, and find themselves falling in love along the way. Delicious, steamy, thoughtful, and trailblazing, it’s vital reading for romance lovers.

London Parker is nervous enough about being out as non-binary on national TV, and about which competitors refuse to respect their pronouns, without their unexpected attraction to the messy woman at the station in front of them. Dahlia Woodson, meanwhile, is struggling to figure out who she is after getting divorced from her high school sweetheart and quitting her unfulfilling job. She was hoping to win the prize money and maybe make a few friends, but is caught completely by surprise when her very cute competitor becomes something more. Now it’s down to both of them to figure out what they can be to each other, especially when the competition brings glaring scrutiny to their budding relationship.

I cherished this book for its accurate and heartwarming portrayal of living life as a non-binary person, as well as the nods to famous cooking competitions like the Great British Baking Show. All the characters are distinct and unique, as are their respective journeys. This is a book that knows there are no easy happily-ever-afters, especially because everyone has a different path to walk. The emphasis of the story is on the importance of doing the work of introspection and communication to create the life you want for yourself. I think many people will relate to Dahlia’s predicament of feeling like a disappointment or that she’s not where she ought to be in life, while also enjoying watching the romantic comedy unfold.

There’s also thoughtful message of how unpleasant or unfair it can be to be in the spotlight and have very personal issues be treated as entertainment. In an important narrative choice, the book itself never explicitly misgenders London or gives voice to the ignorant or hateful comments they receive on social media, while acknowledging that those things do happen; in this way it stays both accurate and respectful, and offers an example of how to use language to avoid doing harm. And of course, there’s lots of descriptions of delicious food, which both soothes the soul and whets the appetite!

If you’re looking for a book about love, cooking, fame, and the joys and frustrations of being different, this is the perfect cozy read for you.