Flung Out of Space by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer

This is a story I believe is worth telling. That being said, I want to be clear: The protagonist of this story is not a good person. In fact, Patricia Highsmith was an appalling person. – Grace Ellis, author’s note in the beginning of Flung Out of Space

Flung Out of Space: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith by Grace Ellis and illustrated by Hannah Templer was a book that had my feelings twisted multiple directions. Patricia Highsmith is problematic. She was a comic book writer and a lesbian during a time when those things were very much frowned upon and seen of as wrong and immoral. Pat’s own feelings towards herself are not positive – she goes through conversion therapy during the book. She is portrayed more as an antihero that readers aren’t sure how they should feel towards. Throughout this book, she is portrayed as bitter, caustic, and lashes out to anyone who gets too close. Pat is deeply flawed. This graphic novel is full of casual sexism, a male-dominated hierarchy, antisemitism, and prejudice against homosexuality. The swirling issues surrounding homosexuality are never really called attention to, but instead are present in Pat’s intense self-loathing of herself amongst other things. Hence my twisty feelings.

This graphic novel begins with Pat working as a writer of low-brow comics. She knows she can do better, but doesn’t do so. She drinks, smokes, and generally goes about life with an immensely surly attitude. As she goes about her day to day, Pat is consumed with thoughts of the novel she should be writing, which will eventually become Strangers on a Train, which will then be adapted into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951.

While she works to write Strangers on a Train, Pat is consumed with self-hatred as she battles the fact that she is a lesbian. She tries conversion therapy, which instead provides her with more women to love and leave. One of those encounters plants the seed of another book in Pat’s head: a story of homosexual love that would give the lesbian protagonists a happy ending – a first! (this would eventually become the book, The Price of Salt).

As I talking about before, this title gave me conflicting emotions. Pat became an unintentional queer icon, but also held incredibly problematic views on multiple topics which made her legacy controversial. It’s a good read, but please read with care.

A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

“But here’s the important thing when it comes to art. This is what I’ve learned: The art is greater than you and your feelings. You have to serve it. It is not you…Whatever you’re creating may come from within you and your life, but then…it walks away and affects other people you don’t know and have never met. That’s the beauty of it.”
― Malinda Lo, A Scatter of Light

Discovering who you are can be a messy process. Malinda Lo tackles self-identity in A Scatter of Light. Set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage, Lo has created another queer coming-of age story that is bittersweet, romantic, and full of love and loss.

Rural California, 2013. Chinese-American teenager, Aria West, has big summer plans. After high school graduation, she plans on spending her summer with her two best friends in Martha’s Vineyard. After Aria becomes entangled in a scandal at a graduation party, she instead finds herself uninvited to Martha’s Vineyard and exiled to spend the summer with her grandmother, artist Joan West, in California. Aria isn’t sure what to do with herself until she meets her grandmother’s gardener, Steph Nichols. Aria quickly becomes friends with Steph and Steph’s group of friends, all of whom are queer. Aria finds herself second-guessing who she is when she develops a crush on Steph, throwing their friend group into turmoil. That summer in California points Aria down a life path that she didn’t think possible for herself. What she thought was going to be a boring and lost summer ends up becoming a summer of reflection, poetry, and self-discovery that changes her future.

Told from the viewpoint of adult Aria looking back at her eighteen-year-old self, readers relive her transition from leaving her school and childhood behind to her start towards independence. This is a  gloriously messy coming of age story all about how messy self-discovery can be. Lo wrote so beautifully that I felt my own teenage angst echoed through Aria’s actions.

A Scatter of Light is considered the companion novel to Last Night at the Telegraph Club. It’s not necessary for you to read one to understand the other, although A Scatter of Light ties up loose ends and answers questions I had after finishing Last Night at the Telegraph Club.

“…how we were only a small moment in time. In the scale of the universe, we’re just a blip.”
― Malinda Lo, A Scatter of Light

This title is also available in large print as well as an Libby eBook and Libby eAudiobook.

Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith

From writer Jamila Rowser and artist Robyn Smith comes Wash Day Diaries. This graphic novel follows Kim, Nisha, Davene, and Cookie, four friends in the throes of their twenties, complete with group chat drama, toxic exes, and dance parties. 

The four narratives are woven together, independent until the novel’s finale. Each character’s storyline has a different color palette and drawing style, conveying a distinct sense of mood and establishing the characters’ different personalities. 

The otherwise light-hearted and ordinary narratives profoundly rest on the ritual of Black women’s hair care. We see each of the main characters wash, comb, and style their hair, delicately depicting the intimacy that accompanies braiding one’s own hair and the hair of loved ones. 

So much of Wash Day Diaries is playful, both in its story and illustrations. Still, there is a tenderness to each woman’s story that undercuts its light-heartedness. Our main characters struggle with depression, self-esteem, relationships; their trials and tribulations are distinctly their own, but there’s an undeniable sense of comradery amongst the group of women that is easily enviable. 

Rowser and Smith’s graphic novel is whimsical, gorgeously crafted, and toe-curlingly sweet. A love letter to Black women and sisterhood, Wash Day Diaries deserves as much adoration as it gives the women on its pages.

 

Romance Reads: Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper

‘That was the thing about growing up with magic. Until you left it behind for good, you had no idea how incredible it felt just to be around it.’ – Lana Harper, Payback’s a Witch

Over the last year, I have noticed an increase in paranormal witchy romances, so naturally I decided to read some! My latest adventure into this genre was the first in the Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper titled Payback’s a Witch. I found this title to be uniquely engaging and full of world-building, yet not overwhelming with the amount of information given.

Emmy Harlow is back in Thistle Grove. After leaving this magical town right after high school, she never though she’d be back. Harlow may be a witch, but she’s not a very powerful one. The time she has spent away from Thistle Grove, plus the physical distance separating her from the town, has depleted her magic. Her exile from her family has been self-imposed due to a complicated relationship with her family, her family history, and relationships with her peers. Emmy has always wanted to forge her own destiny that had nothing to do with being a Harlow witch in Thistle Grove. Add in a nasty breakup with Gareth Blackmoor when she was in high school and Emmy was drawn to leave quicker than she had planned. After all, Gareth is the heir to the most powerful magical family in town. He oh so casually shattered her dreams and broke her heart without a second thought. She had to leave.

Flash forward: Emmy is back in Thistle Grove to perform her family’s role as arbiter in a spellcasting tournament held every fifty years. A massive guilt trip from her family and the lure of tradition was enough to bring her back. Emmy’s plan is to do her duty as arbiter, spend time with her best friend Linden Thorn, and then immediately leave to head back to her life in Chicago. The universe has other plans.

On her first night back in town, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov at a local bar. Talia is another heir to a different magical family who practices darker magic. She is also fresh off a bad breakup of sorts with Gareth Blackmoor. It turns out that Gareth was also dating Emmy’s best friend Linden, at the same time he was messing around with Talia – with both women not realizing the either was in a relationship with him! Scandal! Linden and Talia want revenge on Gareth and believe that with Emmy they can finally get back at him for what he has done to all three. Emmy has to decide if she wants in and if so, what the plan should be. Add in friend drama and romantic drama between the three and Emmy’s short trip home becomes even more complicated than she originally hoped.

This book is also available in the following format:

Witches of Thistle Grove series

  1. Payback’s a Witch (2021)
  2. From Bad to Cursed (2022)
  3. Back in a Spell (2023)

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.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Have you ever wanted to be a librarian? What about a rebel librarian? Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted is a twisted dystopic pulp western where librarians are the only way to get approved information, but things are never as they seem.

Before we get to the librarians, we need to start with Esther. Esther is a stowaway. After seeing her best friend executed at the hands of her father for being in possession of resistance propaganda, Esther has run away and hidden herself in the book wagon the librarians are taking across country. In this future American Southwest full of bandits and fascists, librarians trek to small towns to deliver materials approved by the government. Desperate to escape the marriage that her dad has arranged(to a man who was previously engaged to her now dead best friend), the librarians are Esther’s quickest way to escape and to be her truest self. Maybe she will start to heal her broken heart. Her best friend wasn’t just her best friend. Esther was in love with her.

Discovered by the librarians, Esther is introduced to a life she never thought possible. The more she learns about the librarians, the more she realizes that they are not as straight-laced as they appear. Instead they are queer librarian spies working with a secret network to spread resistance materials and supplies to those in need. The librarians are trying to do the right thing, but putting up a front of normalcy is the only way that they can survive.